Actions

Work Header

Bad Things Happen Bingo

Chapter Text

Stars/Done // Moon/requested // Eye/next  

Chapter Text

For what must have been the fourth time in the last ten minutes, Nightwing futilely tugged at the ropes holding his wrists behind his back. He was gloveless, shoeless, weaponless. All he had was his suit and mask, and thank goodness they at least let him keep the mask.

Whoever "they" were.

All he knew was that thirty minutes ago, he was patrolling Gotham with Robin and Batman, and in the middle of jumping building to building, something sharp was shot into his neck and he collapsed unconscious not long after. He woke up in a dark room, stripped of everything useful, dumped in a corner, and tied quite effectively hand and foot.

He could only hope that Batman and Robin had noticed he was missing. They must have. They would find him soon.

He tugged at the ropes on his wrists again, hissing as the fibers rubbed his skin raw. He groaned and glared around the room. It was square, not more than seven by seven feet. The walls were painted in shadows as the only light source came from the crack from under a wooden door. A wooden door that he had already found to be locked after he had awkwardly wiggled over there and maneuvered his fingers over to the handle. After finding the handle stuck in place, he went back to his corner and renewed his attempt to get free.

However, it was clear he wouldn't be going anywhere.

"This sucks," he growled to himself. "At least the floor is carpeted."

Then, suddenly, footsteps sounded. His heart sped up at the possibilities of who could be on the other side of the door. All of them were bad except for Batman. Hopefully it was Batman.

It wasn't.

The door handle jiggled, clicked unlocked, and swung open to reveal a group of people Nightwing didn't recognize. There were five of them, all wearing expensive suits and stoney faces. Only one was a woman, but she looked scariest out of all of them. There was a look in her eye that she meant business and she will not tolerate anything else.

"He's awake," one of the men, a balding one with a rather large nose, helpfully announced.

Nightwing put on his best grin. "Yeah, I had a great nap," he said. The woman leveled her steely glance on him and pressed her lips into a thin line. "Thanks for that, but I really must check out now."

The woman turned her head away and simply nodded to one of the men, this time a buff bull of a man who looked like he could pass as Dwayne Johnson.

Dwayne immediately strode away from the group and stomped over to Nightwing. He barely had enough time to acknowledge the fear that fluttered in his stomach before his collar was grabbed by two beefy hands and he was lifted to his feet and slammed into the wall. His back and arms cried in protest and his skull pounded from where his head hit the hard surface behind him. His legs dangled.

"You will remain silent," the man growled.

"Okay," Dick ground out through gritted teeth.

And then he lifted his legs and kicked the man in the gut.

Not his smartest move, but damn it was satisfying to watch the man's face as his breath left his lungs. Whoever these people were, they clearly were not up to what normal kidnappers would be.

He only slightly regretted it when the hands disappeared and he fell hard onto his butt. He didn't have time to think about his new aching tailbone, because next thing he knew his jaw was a hair's breadth from dislocated from an angry fist.

His head spun with the realization that maybe antagonizing the kidnappers while bound hand and foot wasn't a very good idea. Meaty hands were once again dragging him to his feet and slamming him hard back into the wall. A hand reached back to make another blow and Nightwing could hardly repress a flinch, but before another punch could be made, a smaller hand was placed on Dwayne's shoulder, stopping the action that would surely cause a nasty concussion before it could commence.

"We're not here to damage him," the woman said. Her lips barely even moved, which freaked Nightwing out just a bit. "We were asked to move him."

Dwayne's nostrils flared before he lowered his fist and renewed his grip on Nightwing's suit.

"Where you taking me?" Nightwing asked. He wiggled in his bonds as Dwayne pinned him effectively against the wall. His heart stuttered when the three other men began to approach. His throat bobbed. "What are you doing?"

One of the men were holding something. Leather.

Collar. A leash attached.

"Oh hell no," Nightwing struggled harder against the body pinning him. "Get away from me with that!"

They ignored him as hands reached up to his neck. Nightwing was a pretty easy going guy, but in no circumstances would he allow anyone to collar and leash him. He attempted again to kick the body crushing him against the wall, but it was all futile when Dwayne shifted his own legs and trapped Nightwing's own. Nightwing growled out and shook his head back and forth. A hand got too close for comfort and he did the only thing he could think of.

He bit it.

The man belonging to the hand screeched as skin broke and bones crunched under clenched teeth now stained red. He didn't let go until something slammed his head against the wall and the world tilted. His eyes fluttered and he spat out copper. Something cold was wrapped around his neck and locked in place. It was tight, he could feel his throat bob against the leather, just one setting away from choking him.

He was suddenly dropped back to the floor and he grunted when his bruised backside obtained more damage. He blinked, desperately trying to banish the swirling images in front of him. It took a few tries, but in time, he was clear headed enough to see five people standing over him, one held their bleeding hand close to their chest.

The woman looked down at Nightwing with a disappointed frown and Nightwing glared right back. Something swirled in his stomach at the sight of Dwayne holding the end of the leach connected to the collar that now sat uncomfortably tight around his neck. He spat out more of the man's blood.

Her eyes slid away from Nightwing and she turned to the balding man. "Get the muzzle."

Nightwing's stomach flipped. "What?"

They all ignored him as the man left the room. Panic flared up in his chest and he couldn't help but freak out a bit. There was no way he was going to let them collar, leash, and muzzle him like a dog!

The man came back and Nightwing really started to panic. He uselessly kicked his legs as his eyes met the sight of the contraption in the man's hands. It looked like half a face mask, made of metal and made to fit over the whole bottom half of its wearer. He kicked his legs again when hands grabbed his arms and shoulders to keep him in place. His legs were soon pinned in the same way and all he could do was wiggle and jerk uselessly in the restraining hold.

"Get that away from me!" He yelled as the man came closer. "Who are you people!? Let go! Back-" he choked on his words when the collar around his neck was viciously tugged. His neck ached but he continued his protests and struggling the moment he could.

It didn't matter in the end because it was only a matter of minutes the muzzle was forced over his face. Something rubber was shoved in his mouth, effectively gagging him. The cold metal was pressed tight against his nose, lips, and jaw, grinding his teeth together painfully and locking in place. He desperately shook his head, but soon straps we're pulled to the back of his head and tightened, pressing his lips against his teeth and digging into his skull.

The hands disappeared and he reluctantly slumped against the wall behind his back and breathed heavily through his nose. The mask was so tight against his face that it felt like his teeth were digging into his gums and the small holes punched into the space by his nose to allow him to breathe didn't give him quite enough air to properly catch his breath.

He flinched again when fingers grabbed at his legs, but all they did was loosen the ropes holding his ankles together. He was just about to kick out with his newly freed legs, but before he could do so his collar was yanked and he was dragged to his feet by a crewel noose.

"That's better," the woman said. She gave him a once over before striding out of the room.

Nighting was quickly dragged along by his neck.

The leather edges of the collar dug into his skin and rubbed his neck painfully, but that didn't stop him from digging his feet into the ground to make the statement he was not under any circumstances willingly being lead by a leash. He considered fighting back for a second. He was highly trained and he could most definitely take out quite a few people with just his legs, however all thought of fighting back left him when he noticed the slightest of bulges near the hips of each of his captors.

Guns changed things.

The leash was painfully pulled taut and constricted his windpipe, he grudgingly moved his legs so he wouldn't be strangled. They walked him out of the room and onto a hallway like he was a disobedient dog. It was humiliating, dehumanizing, and he would be lying if he said that didn't mess with him a bit.

He would definitely tell them off if he didn't have the muzzle pulled painfully over his face. The hard edges scraped his skin and worked into his cheeks and nose. It was, if it were possible, more annoyingly frustrating than the collar and leash that dragged him around a corner into another hallway filled with doors.

His eyes caught sight of a guard standing in the shadows of the hallway, a rather dangerous looking gun sat comfortable in his hands. The guard gave the five captors and their captive a uninterested glance before going up to a seemingly random door and pulling out a key.

The group surrounding Nightwing stopped and waited for the door to open, Nightwing could do nothing but stand as far from the man holding the end of the leash as possible. Nothing but glare. Nothing but hope whatever was on the other side of the door included Batman and freedom.

He was wrong.

Again. That seemed to be happening a lot that day.

Instead, when the door swung open, he was tugged into a room about the size of a master bedroom. Not the manor's master bedroom, more like a humble middle class one. His stomach dropped and bile rose to his throat when his eyes looked through the dim lighting and caught on what must have been a dozen cages lined up along the walls. The need to throw up became unbearably strong when he saw people lying in each of the cages. Some were muzzled, some were naked, some you could see how sunken their cheeks were. All wore a collar and leash, with the ends tied in a knot around the bars of their cages. Some had blood crusting on their necks and others were just beginning to be rubbed raw. They all had dead, dazed looks on their faces.

Nightwing was the only one with his arms still tied.

They were willingly keeping the collars on.

And that wasn't the worst of it. One of the cages at the far side of the room were empty, and he was being walked right over there.

Yeah, no. Hell no. There was no way.

He jerked his body back and grunted through his nose, he ignored the stinging rawness of his neck and the way his air was cut off the more he struggled because there was absolutely no fucking way he was letting them shove him in a cage.

The captors, the absolute monsters, seemed to anticipate his reluctance and moved to grab his squirming and struggling body. The woman gave him an unimpressed look as hands tugged on his collar and wrapped around his biceps and tugged at his hair. To Nightwing's right, a young man whimpered and grabbed at his ears and to his left a woman curled up tighter in her cage with silent tears trailing her cheeks.

There were too many hands and his kicking was doing nothing. He could feel himself slowly suffocating from the small amount of air being allowed in the muzzle and from the constant tugging and twisting of the collar. The world spun in his panic and he was forced lower to the ground, lower and lower until he was pinned by unforgiving hands to the ground. His nose flared and his eyes desperately flickered back and forth to find a way out. Despite the way he was pinned, he continued to wiggle and jerk and attempt to free himself. He could distantly feel the ropes on his wrists finally cut through skin, but that didn't matter because he could hardly breathe and they were going to lock him in a dog's cage.

"From now on we will punish him," he heard the woman say. "I had hoped he'd cooperate if we allowed him to keep his mask, but it seems that will not be the case."

Nightwing screamed through his nose and renewed his attempt to get free with new vigor. He actually felt some restraining hands struggle to keep a grip on his arms and head.

And then soft, woman hands touched the edge of his mask and he stilled completely, breathing hard and trying to give her his best pleading look.

Because suddenly, being locked in a cage like an animal seemed better than his eyes being able to be seen.

The woman didn't stop her prying fingers. She easily dug her nails in between his skin and the mask. It was hard to stop tears forming in his eyes as the adhesive tugged painfully at his skin.

Then the mask was off and he squeezed his eyes shut.

And he was being dumped into the cage with the leash being knotted around one of the wire bars. The door closed with a gut wrenching bang. Footsteps retreated and left, leaving a clicking door in their wake.

He didn't want to open his eyes, because he suddenly wasn't Nightwing.

He was Dick Grayson.

Dick Grayson who was bound, collared, leashed, unmasked, caged, and muzzled.

And cold. And confused.

And scared.

Chapter Text

Cars drove past, spraying up small bursts of mist from the downpour that ended just ten minutes ago. Harsh yellow lights from lamps and different shops reflected off the sidewalk. Dick walked with his hoodie pulled up and his hands stuffed in his pockets.

He was just coming back from doing homework with Barbra. They shared a couple difficult classes in school, of which all of them decided to have pretty big tests on the same day, so they decided to hang out and do some studying together. After getting permission from both Bruce and Captain Gordon, they got together and got a lot done. Soon, the sun went down and Dick realized he had patrol in a couple hours, and Bruce wouldn't be happy if he missed that. He said bye and began his trek to the nearest bus station that would take him just a fifteen minutes walk from the manor grounds.

"Excuse me," Dick mumbled when a person got to close. He went to dodge the person, but a hand suddenly shot out and grabbed Dick's bicep. The realization that this person had been heading straight towards him on purpose hit him like a truck.

Three more people, all male, emerged from the shadows and surround Dick. Dick felt something sharp poke into his side.

"Where's your wallet?" The man holding a knife to his stomach asked. It was deep and raspy with something stronger and more illegal than a cigarette. Weird rashes covered his face.

"Um," Dick said as he flicked his eyes over each of the muggers and around him. There was no one; the street was empty, which meant he was alone. If he were Robin, he could easily grab the man's arm and launch an attack that would leave all men crying on the ground, but he wasn't Robin. He was Dick. Great, time to willingly let himself get mugged and act scared while doing so. "back- back pocket."

One of the muggers friends instantly reached towards Dick's back side. Dick flinched in discomfort when the hand touched him, but it thankfully only lasted a second before his wallet was extracted.

"Found it," the friend said. He began to dig into the wallet and everyone watched him do so.

"Um, can I go now?" Dick asked. He squirmed a bit when the hand tightened on his arm and the knife poked just a bit harder.

The friend suddenly made a choking noise. "What brat has two hundred in cash in their wallets!?"

"What?" Another mugger asked.

The man holding Dick made an interested noise in the back of his throat and Dick felt his stomach drop. Damn Bruce for making sure Dick had some money and for being a rich guardian that didn't know what the normal amount of pocket change was. Damn him.

"Yeah, there's two flipping hundred," the fourth mugger said with awe in his voice.

Dick watched as the man who took his wallet looked through the cards and various pockets before pulling out Dick's drivers license. He suddenly started laughing. "Hey, it's that Wayne kid!"

"No way," the man holding Dick's arm said.

"Ah- I found that wallet-" Dick started, he was cut off when the man readjusted his grip on the knife.

A hand grabbed Dick's other arm and another pulled down his hoodie. "Well, look at that. It's the same kid."

Dick could see the exact moment all four of the muggers got the same idea. It was the glances they gave each other, the widening of smiles, the shifting of feet.

Dick really didn't feel like getting kidnapped again. Seven years with Bruce and it's happened too many times. It got old after number four. So he did what he thought most kids at risk of being kidnapped by four men who probably knew more about drugs than basic math would do. He stomped as hard as he could on the man holding his arms and booked it the moment the grip loosened.

Dick heard the man say a word Alfred would not approve of before he yelled at his friends to chase after Dick. Soon, four sets of frantic footsteps were behind him. Dick picked up his pace and ran faster than what Bruce would probably approve of, but there was no way he was going to allow himself to be taken by druggies. Hired help? Men in suits with ego issues? Middle class citizens down on their luck? Sure. But city bums who made their living on crime and lost it to addiction was not okay.

He had preferences on who could kidnap him. What was his life?

He made a turn down an alleyway next to a shady looking tattoo parlor that lead to a street that had more chances of pedestrians and sprinted past various dumpsters and crates of random items. He could hear the pounding footsteps behind him, but they were getting further. He was getting close to the other end of the alley when he tripped.

Over a black cat disguised in the shadows with their black fur.

The cat made an evil yet wounded yowl and Dick felt claws and teeth dig into his shins as he went down. He landed hard on his stomach with the pavement below him scraping his palms and knees, the force of his chin hitting the ground shoved his jaw up and made his teeth painfully bite into the corner of his tongue. He attempted to get up again but the cat made a point of it's hurt and annoyance by screeching and swiping at his face. Dick whipped his hand out to push the cat away, which thankfully made the cat make one last hiss before spitting and running away back into the shadows. Dick put his hands below him and ignored his stinging wounds while he pushed himself up.

However, he misjudged how close his pursuers were and how much time he lost during his mishap. He was grabbed around his middle and hefted up so he was held against someone's chest with his feet dangling.

"Got'cha!"

Dick wasted no time to start kicking his legs and clawing at the arms wrapping around his chest.

"Let go! I gave you my wallet!"

The man holding him grunted with Dick's foot connected with his legs, but the grip only tightened. "You'll be giving us more soon," the man said. Dick winced at his rancid breath. "Daryl, grab his legs!"

"No," Dick growled and kicked harder. This had gone far enough. "Help! Someone help!" He screamed. One of his legs were grabbed and he desperately tried to free it with the other. "HEL-mffh-"

A hand wrapped around his mouth and his other leg was grabbed. All he could do was jerk his body, hoping to get free and use his hands that were still free to move the restraining holds. He moved his mouth around and tried to bite the hand gagging him.

"Will someone grab his arms, little shit scratched me" the man holding his upper body hissed. Dick had clawed through the skin of the arm around his chest in his attempts to get free, he hadn't even noticed the blood of another man staining his fingers until his wrists were grabbed and torn away from his body.

In the end, Dick was restrained by three men. One held his waist and covered his mouth, one had his legs, another held his wrists off to the side. All he could do was scream into the gag and twist his body, which wasn't doing much help with anything. No one was coming and no matter how much he tried to bend his knees or buck his hips, not one limb got out of the hand holding it.

He was trapped, and he was being carried away from where help could possibly be.

He tried to scream through his nose as they carried him deeper into the alleyway. Dick may not be allowed to "Boy Wonder" his way out of the situation, but he sure as hell but wasn't going quietly.

"Damn, he's going to get us caught," the man holding his legs said with a tight expression. He shifted Dick's legs from his hands to his elbows and waist, forcing them around his body and locking them in place. If Dick remembered correctly, Bad Breath behind him said his name was Daryl.

"We just need to find a way to quiet him," the guy who wasn't holding a body part said quite helpfully, "knock him out for something, I don't know."

The man holding Dick's wrists put on a thoughtful look before he turned to Mr Helpful. "Take his arms, I have an idea."

Mr Helpful took Dick's arms and held them while the man who Dick had now dubbed Knifey—he was the guy who held the knife to Dick's stomach—told the group to stop walking and keep Dick still. They did their best, but Dick still stubbornly managed to find a way to make it hard for them.

"Okay," Knifey said, like he himself was a bit unsure of the idea. He walked up to Dick's upper body and looked at him for a moment, and then he lifted his hands and grabbed Dick's neck.

It was so sudden that Dick didn't have time to turtle up his neck before he was being strangled. He frantically kicked harder when he could no longer get air.

"Woah! Quiet him! He's no use to us if he's dead!" Bad Breath said. Dick would have agreed with him if he could breathe!

Knifey got an unsure look on his face and his hands loosened just a fraction before determination took its place and he dug his fingers deeper into Dick's windpipe. "It's just till he passes out…"

Dick didn't hear anything else. His heart was pounding so hard and he so wanted to breathe. Ringing started in his ears and his vision had already started to blur. It was scary how he could feel his limbs lose strength. Scary that he couldn't remember what Batman told him to do if some bad guy ever wrapped their hands around his neck.

What does he do? He… he needed to BREATHE!

His stomach and chest shuttered as muscles uselessly tried to get him to suck in air... he lost all strength in his limbs… he... he couldn't see… his eyes closed and…

And nothing…



"-up."

Dick groaned and immediately regretted it when his throat burned with fire. He squeezed his eyes shut tight and tried to fall back asleep. He hurt so badly.

"Chum, it's me, wake up."

He forced his eyes open and blinked and had to blink a couple times more before he could get a clear picture of what was in front of him.

Or in this case, who.

"B-" he tried to say his name, but pain in his throat flared up and he erupted into the most agonizing coughing fit in the history of ever.

When he was all done, Bruce was holding a glass of ice chips witch a pained look on his face. Dick flicked his eyes around the room and noticed he was at Leslie's clinic. "How?" He whispered, and even his whispering voice sounded like sandpaper.

Bruce handed Dick the cup. Dick popped one of the chips in his mouth and let the cold water soothe his throat.

"A boy heard the men trying to take you and went to grab a couple officers. They came back while the men were in the middle of strangling you."

"Boy?" Dick asked.

Bruce nodded. "Disappeared during the scuffle."

"Oh."

Awkward silence filled the room. Things between Bruce and Dick had been a bit awkward for awhile. Arguments broke out multiple times between them a week, some even had to be broken up by Alfred. Dick was growing and his opinions were starting to differ. It was no surprise Bruce didn't want to talk to him too much, even in a hospital room after just having been strangled and almost kidnapped.

"Dick," Bruce suddenly said. Stand Dick corrected.

"Yeah?"

"I'm... glad you are okay."

Dick smiled and moved one of his hands onto one of Bruce's. That was the closest to 'I love you, and this whole event scared the crap out of me' Dick would get and he would take it.

"Love you too," he whispered.

Leslie walked in a few minutes later, finding both of her regulars—she shouldn't have regulars, the idiots—enjoying each other's company in silence.

Chapter Text

Dick was working over time. Being a cop wasn't all shooting guns and arresting bad guys, if anything most of it was sitting at a desk and filing paperwork. It was all extremely boring and a huge waste of time, stealing precious hours that could be used cleaning up the only city in the world that would consider Gotham a nice tourist spot.

In the end, it was probably a pretty good thing he was at the precinct, because he was right there when the captain barged out of his office, red in the face and chest heaving, announcing that two detectives undercover had been discovered by the very gang they were in.

And that Batman and Robin were there.

Dick almost snapped the pencil in his hand at that announcement. As he jumped from his desk and rushed with the other cops in the room assigned to go and help get those detectives out , Dick couldn't help but seethe with annoyance and anger. Of course Bruce would come to Blüdhaven with the new kid and mess everything up for two good people that were good detectives. He had almost forgot that the gang that they were undercover in used to be centered in Gotham. Of course Bruce would follow them to Blüdhaven even though Dick had made it clear he didn't want him anywhere near his city.

Especially with the new kid.

Dick worked on his bullet proof vest and checked over his gun next to half a dozen other officers. Officer Jones turned to Sanchez. "I can't believe Gotham's finest are there," he said.

"Yeah," Sanchez replied as he pulled a jacket over his vest, "what are they doing here in Blüdhaven?"

Stepping on my toes and rubbing it in my face that Bruce doesn't need me, Dick almost replied. Instead he grunted and shoved his pistol in his holster before walking out of the precinct. He sprinted into one of the patrol cars with a few other officers, and then sped off into what surely would be a bloodbath.



They heard the gunfire a block from where they were heading. In the fifteen minutes the cars had to speed down narrow streets in the wake of flashing red and blue, the situation had escalated to an all out gang war between two different families. Batman and Robin did not help in the least. Reports of injured civilians and casualties.

No word on detectives Brooks and Delatejera.

Civilians had gotten word and warnings via cell phones of the gang war, which left the roads thankfully clear in the surrounding area.

Now all that was left to do was get out of the cars and stop an all out gang war.

Easier said than done.

Nonetheless, Officer Grayson jumped out of the car with his gun held up, ready to shoot. There were already SWAT troops and some agents from the FBI building housed in central Blüdhaven, so thankfully most of the fighting had been stopped—while jurisdiction would normally be argued, the situation was serious enough that stopping more bloodshed was more important. There were still the telltale sounds of gunfire further down the block, but it looked like the SWAT team had that covered, with their fancy Shields and big guns and all. Dick and his fellow officers ran through the messy, eerily abandoned streets, arresting stragglers and helping the wounded get to the paramedics stationed a safe distance from the eye of the storm. Dick tried his best to ignore the puddles of red on the ground, the groaning civilians and gangsters alike with red, yellow, green, white, and black tags. The body bags. The sirens.

He hadn't seen Batman and Robin, most likely they were held up in the epicenter of this man-made disaster. He desperately wanted to ditch his police uniform and join them, fighting bad guys and using his skills to make the battle shorter. He already heard a few officers ask where Nightwing was, but he knew if Officer Grayson suddenly disappeared, questions would be asked.

What must have been hours passed until until the gunfire settled down to minutes between each shot, that was also when a young woman was being dragged out with her arm wrapped around the SWAT agent's shoulder. Detective Delatejera had blood trailing down here forehead from under her hijab and a nasty chunk of flesh missing from her calf, but a look of pure determination was worn on her face as she was helped over to paramedic hands and the captain. Dick hefted up a gangster he caught trying to flee the scene—his hands were zip tied because there were only so many pairs of handcuffs to go around—and followed after Delatejera to hear what she had to say, because from the way her eyes were narrowed and her lips pursed, it was clear she had a lot to get off her chest.

Dick handed the gangster over to an FBI agent that were stuffing their uninjured perps in those huge trucks that could hold a dozen prisoners, and sprinted back over towards Delatejera and the captain.

"-in there, we can't just leave him!" Delatejera snarled, even as a paramedic worked on her nasty leg wound.

"What happened?" Dick whispered over to the officer next to him.

Officer Parker leaned over closer to Dick. "Detective Brooks was taken hostage by Gallo," he said.

Martin Gallo, the head boss of Blüdhaven's version of the mafia. A nasty man who only cared for his family and gold. Betrayal was worse than murder, and he had ways to take out traitors. BCPD had been working for months to take him down, not having any sufficient evidence to put away for as long as he deserved.

"What is he demanding and why hasn't the FBI handled it?" The captain growled and glared at the FBI's Assistant Special Agent.

"We don't make deals with terrorists," the agent growled, "and what he's demanding is absurd."

Both the captain and Delatejera looked like they were about to blow a casket.

"I have a detective in there," the captain said in a scary calm voice that Dick could just barely put on the level of angry Batman's voice, "you will tell me the demands and I will tell you if they're worth the life of Brooks or not."

"That's the thing, sir," the SWAT agent said who had dragged Delatejera over from the heat of gunfire, "he doesn't want to talk to the FBI or SWAT. He wants to talk with an officer."

"Which is why I need to go back there!" Delatejera said angrily through clenched teeth. Whatever the paramedic was using to clean her leg must have stung. "I know Gallo, he'll talk to me."

"There is no way I'm letting you back in there," the captain said, switching his glare to the detective.

Dick stepped forward. "I'll go."

All eyes turned to him in various amounts of surprise and annoyance.

"Grayson-"

"I have experience in dealing with terrorists," Dick said, defending himself. Both as a cop and as a vigilante, he had had events with talking down criminals. "I can do this."

The FBI Assistant Special Agent looked at the captain with a disbelieving look, and then he proceeded to splutter after seeing the captains considering look. "Don't tell me you're actually thinking of going through with this."

"Where are the Bats?" The captain asked slowly.

Delatejera scoffed. "Disappeared after the last shot was fired."

"So they're either gone, or going in to take out Gallo."

Dick almost wanted to groan in frustration. "Sir, we cannot rely on Batman and Robin, I came from Gotham. I know that they cause just as many problems as they solve. The best bet is to get to Gallo before they do."

The captain gave Dick a long look before he sighed. "Get better gear on, Grayson, and get my detective out of there."

"You've got to be shitting me," the Special Agent groaned.

"Grayson is one of my best, there is no one else I would trust more with this," the captain said stubbornly.

"Sir," Dick said. He nodded down at Delatejera before he turned on his heels and sprinted over to where Gallo would be waiting.

And probably Batman and Robin too.



The SWAT lended him a better bullet proof vest, a communication device, and a helmet. How nice of them. In minutes time, he was briefed on the building Gallo and Brooks were held up in, and then he was marching in, flashlight in one hand, gun in the other, wrists crossed.

He was just barely a few hallways into the building when he saw a flicker of black in his peripheral vision, something any normal person wouldn't have noticed. Dick made sure his comm was turned off before he talked to the shadow.

"Please tell me you weren't the one who gave Delatejera and Brooks away," he whispered.

The shadow dropped to the ground in front of him and Dick kept both of his hands up where they were, used the flashlight to better see Batman and used the gun to make a point. It must have irked Batman to see him with a gun.

"You didn't tell me they had undercover cops in there," Batman growled.

Great. He was pinning the blame on Dick. Typical.

"I don't have to tell you that, I told you to stay out of Blüdhaven. You should have respected that."

"Don't get your panties in a twist, Goldie," a new voice said. A boy dressed in red, yellow, and green—Dick's colors—emerged from the shadows with an easy-going grin on his face.

Dick felt something angry build up in his chest when he looked at the boy who wore his suit and went by his name. He had to remind himself for the thousandth time that it wasn't Jason's fault, it was Bruce's.

"Just get out of my way," Dick said, ignoring Robin's comment, "and let me save Detective Brooks without you messing things up more."

With that sentence, he turned back on his comm and shoved himself past Batman and Robin. He heard Robin make a rude remark, but ignored it and went deeper into the building.

Dick checked each room as he went deeper, and with each one turning up empty, the more unease started to grow.

"Grayson, report," came the voice of the Captain in his ear.

Dick lifted a hand to his comm and kept the other holding his gun steady. "All clear so far, sir."

"When you find him, keep communication on so we can talk you through negotiations," the SWAT commander said.

"Yessir."

There were only a few more rooms left in the building to check besides the roof. He quickly went through the rest of the building with narrowed eyes and sharp ears. He had finally reached the last room when Dick felt the familiar presence of Batman behind him. He was standing back at a respectable distance, as if he were willing to let Officer Dick Grayson take the wheel for a moment.

Or if he were willing to wait for him to fail.

Dick ignored him and opened the door to the last room, inside he was met with a livid looking Gallo standing with a few family members, two of which were holding a halfway conscious detective Brooks between them, standing about the room.

Brooks looked worse for wears. Blood oozed from multiple cuts on his body. There was a worrying amount of blood seeping out from his left shoulder. His wrists were tied behind his back.

"Officer," Gallo said, opening his arms wide. "Please, put the weapon down. We're all friends here."

"Put it down, Grayson, but keep it close " the captain said.

Dick lowered his gun and flashlight, but didn't out down his defensive posture. He felt the presence of Batman and Robin enter the room, unseen.

"Ask him about his terms," the SWAT commander said.

"Your terms?" Dick asked.

Gallo smiled, but the anger in his eyes shown. "We can't talk until I know we're alone."

One of the Gallo family members walked up to Dick with a nasty gun in one hand and the other one held out expectantly.

"Officer, do not give-"

Dick turned off the comm and pulled it out of his ear. He handed it to the member and then allowed another one to step up and pat him down. Dick was surprised when they didn't take his gun. It seemed they were more concerned with outside communication.

"I appreciate your honesty, officer," Gallo finally said once the search was completed. Dick cleared his throat and let his arms fall stiffly to his side.

"Your terms?"

"That depends on what you want."

Dick swallowed. "All I want is to get detective Brooks and myself out of here."

Gallo smiled, "you make a hard request, but we can bargain because I want the same thing for me and my brothers and sisters."

Dick didn't say anything and waited for Gallo to continue.

"But, you see, for four months I thought Dian and Jason were apart of my family," Gallo continued as he began to pace, "they betrayed me, and I do not let traitors off easy."

"What do you want?" Dick asked through gritted teeth.

Gallo stopped in place and fixed Dick with a piercing look. "If you want to get yourself and your detective out of this building, you will simply tell your commanding officer to step away. If you want to get yourself and a breathing detective out, you'll need to do one more thing."

Dick was getting tired of this. He wanted things to get to the point, but he also knew he was dealing with a cornered mad man that knew more about the criminal web than most others. He could easily make Dick's life a living hell even if he was placed in jail.

"What's that?"

Gallo gave the two family members a glance, and then Brooks was being dragged to the middle of the room and shoved to his knees. It was a miracle Brooks had enough strength left to keep upright. "Whenever I find a traitor in my family, they are always offered redemption. Family makes mistakes, you see, and we are not savages," Gallo said as he walked closer to Brooks, "we give them a fair trial, offer the chance for their siblings to defend them. He is your brother in arms, correct?"

"Where are you going with this?" Dick asked with narrowed eyes.

Gallo looked up and smiled. "If you want him out alive, defend him. Get on your knees and cry for his forgiveness. Beg."

It was silent in the room after the demand was made. The presence of Gotham's Dynamic Duo became so much more prominent to Dick in that moment.

"That's... That's it?"

"Of course not," Gallo said with a shrug, "it's not as easy as saying please and thank you. You have to convince me his life isn't worthless. Lower yourself to a crying sibling."

Dick swallowed. "I'll do it."

"Fantastic." Gallo backed away from Brooks and leaned against the back wall of the room. "Convince me."

Even before it started, Dick could feel heat rising to his cheeks. He didn't know what he was going to say or… or how he was going to beg. He'd never had to do that before. He had always been in a position where he could just flex some muscles and throw a few sharp weapons and walk out of there. He didn't even know Brooks that well, all he knew was that he had the biggest crush on Delatejera and that he had his thirty-second birthday a couple weeks ago.

He was almost tempted to turn around and let Batman and Robin take care of it... but deep in his gut he knew that that would be even more humiliating.

Dick knelt down on his knees and placed his hands carefully flat on the ground in front of him. His stomach twisted and he could feel the intensity of the blush on his cheeks and neck, but he lowered his face and opened his mouth anyway.

"Please," he whispered. His fingers shook and humiliation pooled in his gut. He forced his voice to go louder. "Please let him go, it wasn't his… or Delatejera's fault." C'mon Grayson! You're an actor! He took a deep breath and did his best to start getting tears flowing, or at least a wobble to form in his voice. It was surprisingly easy, all he had to do was think of Batman watching him, with his judging stare digging into his unprotected back, stronger than any beam Superman could make with his laser vision.

"They were just doing their job, I'm... I'm begging you."

God, it was so quiet in the building and he could feel Batman looking at him. He could practically see his tight jaw, veins popping out in disapproval. Was Gallo listening to him or was he just making a complete fool of himself in front of the only man Dick had ever respected after his own father?

"They- they are good people, good people that Blüdhaven needs, and… and you have to- to"

His chest heaved, it was getting hard to breathe. Why couldn't he breathe? Why was it so quiet? Oh God, he was freaking out in front of Batman… in front of Jason to something so trivial. Tears rolled down his cheeks.

"You have to forgive them! They have so much to live for, and so many people waiting- waiting for them to come home. They've- they've made mis-" he had to stop and take a shuddering breath, he lifted a hand and desperately wiped at his cheeks, "mistakes, but they're working on it. Please, I'll do anything, just- just p-please let… let them-"

He broke down. God damnit he broke down. "Please!" He yelled, lifting his head and looking Gallo straight in the eye. Gallo actually looked taken aback. "Give them- them a second chance. I'm b-begging you. P-"

Gallo suddenly stepped forward and placed a hand on Dick's shoulder. "Enough," he said quietly.

Dick shut his mouth and tried to get his sobs under control, but the thought of Bruce watching him blubbering and begging made bile climb to his throat and more tears build up. Gallo held a hand down in front of Dick, and it took Dick a second to realize Gallo was offering to help him up to his feet. He swallowed and forced Bruce to the back of his mind and took the hand. He was helped up.

"Officer, what is your name?"

"Dick Grayson," he replied without really thinking.

And all thought left him when arms were suddenly wrapped around him and held him close in a hug.

"Dick," Gallo said as he broke the hug, he held Dick by his shoulder and looked him in the eyes, "clearly your family means much to you. You have fulfilled your end of the bargain."

Dick could only stare as Gallo leaned in and kissed both of Dicks cheeks. Which was a little weird if Dick were honest.

The family member who took Dick's comm handed it back when Gallo stepped away. Dick carefully placed it in his ear and wiped off his tears.

"All you have to do is tell your officers to let us go, and then you and your brother can leave."

Dick nodded and turned the comm back on.

"anmit! Where the f-"

"Captain, I'm back," Dick said. His voice was wobbly, he cleared his throat.

"GRAYSON! Where the HELL have you been?!" The captain roared. "What happened?!"

"Gallo wants us to back off and give him and his family passage out."

There was a tense moment of silence before the SWAT commander replied. "Is that all?"

"Yessir, he is allowing Brooks and I to leave if that one demand is met." He sniffed and wiped under his eyes again.

Another moment of silence. "Tell him we'll see what we can do."

Gallo didn't look surprised from the answer, but he still aloud Dick to walk towards Brooks who was starting to slump downwards with his eyelids slowly flickering. Dick gave them weary looks before he bent down, untied the ropes binding his wrists, and slung Brooks arm around his shoulder. He hefted up the detective with a groan and gave Gallo one last glance at Gallo.

Gallo nodded and Dick turned around and started to drag Brooks out of the room.

He could feel Batman's stare on his back as he left. Dick knew the moment Dick was out of the room with the hostage, Batman and Robin would take out Gallo and his family, Batman was even less partial to making deals with criminals than the FBI were.

He knew that attack was launched when Dick was ten meters out of the room and the first gunshot sounded.

Brooks flinched at the sound and groaned in pain.

"Don't worry," Dick said quietly, not even sure if Brooks were lucid enough to be listening, "it's just Batman and Robin taking the last of them out."

There was a crashing noise and a scream followed by more gunfire, Dick continued on like he didn't hear it.

He was so close to the front door of the building when Brooks suddenly hissed in agony. "You know," he started, in a quiet and pain laced voice. Dick almost flinched at the sound, he had thought Brooks passed out, "I always thought you were just a spoiled rich kid from Gotham- ah!" He exclaimed when Dick shifted him to renew his grip as he pushed open the doors.

"Most people do," Dick said.

Dick and Brooks emerged from the building and into the rising sun. It had been a long night. Outside were SWAT teams lined up with guns pointed, patrol cars with cops taking shelter behind the vehicles, and FBI agents doing much of the same thing but with their own slick black cars. Dick ignored the relieved faces of the different kind of law enforcement and headed straight towards the waiting hands of the paramedics.

They took Brooks from the Dick the moment he got to them. Brooks' face twisted up in discomfort when they laid him on the ground the began treating his immediate injuries. Dick patted him on the shoulder before he stood up.

"Grayson," came a week, tired sounding voice. Dick turned and faced Brooks. "Thanks, it must have been difficult to do that."

You have no idea, he thought as he said "You'd do the same for any other officer."

Another call of his name caught his attention, he turned his head and met the sight of the captain sprinting over to Dick. "What happened in there?"

"I negotiated his terms. When I left, Batman and Robin arrived to take them out, my bets are that if we head back in, well find the rest of them knocked out cold."

The captain looked at Dick with surprise before he cleared his throat. "Your work is finished, Grayson," he said. He put a hand on Dick's shoulder, "go home and rest."

Dick nodded, suddenly bone tired. "Yessir."

He walked away from the scene just as Gallo and his family were dragged out of the building in cuffs. Gallo didn't look surprised, just content and tired. Batman and Robin were nowhere to be seen. Next to him, the paramedics ran Brooks in a stretcher over to the dwindling number of ambulances. It seemed most of the injured had been processed and sent to the nearest hospital.

"Grayson, get over here!"

Man, everyone wanted to talk with him.

He turned his head and saw Delatejera sitting by an ambulance with a shock blanket wrapped around her shoulders and a bandage poking out from under her hijab. "Detective," Dick said, forcing a smile.

She smiled back and patted the spot next to her. Dick complied and lowered himself so they were sitting shoulder to shoulder.

"I don't know how to thank you," she said quietly, looking off to where Brooks was being loaded into an ambulance.

"Saying 'thank you' is usually how it's done."

"Smart-ass."

Dick made a genuine smile and chuckled. "Why aren't you at the hospital?"

"Wouldn't let them take me until I knew Jason was okay," she replied. "Hey, do you think that Robin kid is a bit of a punk? You came from Gotham, right? Was he always like that?"

Dick shrugged. "Hell if I know, all I know is that I hope they leave and don't come back."

Delatejera lifted an eyebrow. "Not a fan of superheroes?"

"I- uh- no, I like superheroes, but wasn't this whole thing kind of Batman's fault?"

Delatejera suddenly groaned and rolled her eyes. "Not you too!" When Dick gave her a confused look, she sighed like she was about to explain something to a toddler. "Look, it wasn't Batman and Robin's fault. Jason and I blew our own cover. Got some facts wrong on our backgrounds and we were outed at the worst time. Gotham's finest jumped into the fray before Jason and I could be killed. Without Batman and Robin, I'm pretty sure you wouldn't have known we died until you found our bodies dumped in a ditch somewhere. I already had to explain that to so many people."

Dick considered her words for a moment. "I understand," he said slowly.

"Good, now you look like hell, go home and sleep, Grayson."

"That was what I was going to do before you dragged me over here."

Delatejera smiled and punched his shoulder.



Three weeks later found Dick standing on the stage with about six other officers. He was being called a hero, his name was printed in papers as Blüdhaven's White Knight.

"Congratulations, officers," the commissioner said as each cop being honored lowered their heads and let the red ribboned metal be slipped over their necks. Flashing cameras started up and clapping hands began. Dick put on his best smile and looked into the crowd and faltered when he saw three familiar faces.

Honestly, he wasn't surprised Bruce knew about the ceremony. He hadn't told Bruce about the ceremony, but there was no doubt he found out on his own. What he was surprised about was that he was actually there, sitting with Alfred and Jason in the front row, clapping his hands and smiling just a fraction.

After a couple more speeches, Dick jumped down from the podium and made his way over to Bruce and the others. Once he got there, he saw Bruce chatting with the captain and Alfred standing politely off to the side. Jason was the first one to notice he had joined the party. A mischievous smirk spread on his face.

"I can't believe they gave you a metal for being a drama queen, Goldilocks." Jason said with no scarce of snark.

Dick grinned. "I know right, I'm finally getting the recognition I deserve."

Jason's smirk was wiped off his face. He rolled his eyes. "Ass."

"Dick."

Oh man, he'd recognize that monotonous voice anywhere. He looked away from Jason to Bruce. The captain was gone, probably to chat with other members of law enforcement. "Hey," he said quietly, "thanks for coming."

"We would have appreciated an invite, Master Dick," Alfred said, and while he did sound a little disappointed, the look on his face was that of pride.

Dick reached up and rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah, sorry about that… slipped my mind." Alfred humphed and Dick gave him a lopsided grin. He returned his gaze to Bruce and cleared his throat. "Um, I'm sorry about how I acted… back there." Bruce narrowed his eyes. "I found out what really happened and I shouldn't have yelled at you or blamed you."

Bruce was silent for a second before he opened his mouth. "There is no need for an apology," he started slowly, "I was overstepping the boundaries you set and you did not know the whole story. We both could have handled it better."

That was a pretty good apology considering who it came from.

Alfred suddenly cleared his throat, making Bruce stand up a bit straighter. "Dick, we-" Alfred cleared his throat again, "I, would… appreciate it if you joined us at the manor for a celebratory dinner."

It was cute how hard he was trying. "Yeah, sure, that sounds great," he said, smiling.

Bruce seemed to relax a bit and Jason elbowed Dick in the side.

"Hey, you could show me your gun-" Bruce growled a bit at the sentence, but Jason plowed on ignoring him- "and you can also show me your room. Bruce won't let me in there. We could tell dirty secrets and you can show me your secret stash of porn-"

"Master Jason!"

Dick laughed harder than he had for awhile, so hard he almost cried. He clapped Jason's shoulder. "No porn, but we can hang a bit," he said once he had caught his breath. "Anything for my little bro, Jay bird."

"Oh God, he gave me a nickname," Jason said, looking like he regretted even opening his mouth, but everyone knew that he was just a little excited to finally spend a little time with his big brother.

Chapter Text

Every villain had different ways of going about their evil deeds. Joker liked to cause mass panic, killing more people by having them trampled by fellow victims. Two-Face enjoyed order while keeping an element of surprise and randomness to make him both intimidating and hard to figure out. Penguin liked to sit back and let grunts do the dirty work, Ra's Al Ghul fancied being an intimidating figure to make you believe you'd rather fight his underlings than face him.

But there were other villains in the world, villains that didn't have an MO, that popped out of nowhere and threw everyone through the loop.

No one knew his name, all they knew was that he wore a mask and gave long speeches on hacked TV's before a bomb was set off, destroying entire blocks of Blüdhaven, killing hundreds in one fell swoop of terror.

Nightwing was frantic, the terrorist attacks were so random and spread apart that it had been two weeks and no leads had been found. Seven bombs had been activated, killing thousands, hundreds more were wounded, a gut wrenching amount were missing, probably buried in a grave made of rubble… or burned into ash from the heat of the explosion. People had been told to leave the city, or at least get out of the most popular areas, but it was impossible to evacuate at City of that size. It was like trying to moving an elephant. So Nighting did his best, losing countless hours of sleep trying to track the bomber down. Batman and Robin were busy with the Joker—who was on his own special rampage—so Nightwing was alone.

That was until Oracle forced him to let her in.

She made him get sleep while she worked on her computer. She had been present for the past three bombings, doing her darndest to grab the signal of the broadcasting, but every time she found the signals we're expertly bounced off different satellites.

It was day 19 when broadcast number eight came in. One of her screens lit up and instantly shown her the newest video. She began to trace it without hesitation. She absently felt her phone buzz in her pocket, so as she typed away with one hand, her second pressed the answer button and put it on speaker.

"You see it?"

Dick's voice. He sounded tired. Exhausted. When this whole thing was over, she was forcing him to take a trip to Hawaii or something.

"Already on it," she answered.

She glared at the screen showing the broadcast and continued to trace.

The screen showed an empty white room, it was always the same room. A couple seconds passed before a figure practically danced into the frame, the lower half of his face was covered with a skull bandana and a Blüdhaven Bloodhounds baseball cap sat on his head. The rest of his body was covered in a black hoodie and skinny jeans of the same color. "Good evening, Blüdhaven!" The man said joyfully. He clapped his hands.

"Good news! This will be the last time you hear from me. I have accomplished what I have been working towards from the beginning." The man gave himself a round of applause.

"That doesn't make any sense… the bombings are random," Dick suddenly said over the phone. His voice sounded far away, like he had put her on speaker as well. She figured he was busy putting his suit on. "What would they have accomplished?"

Barbra was quiet for a moment as she watched the man laugh and explain how much fun he had playing with Blüdhaven.

She pulled up a map that shown each location of the explosions. To anyone's eye, even Batman's when he had agreed to look at it while Joker was being silent, it looked completely random. The citizens who lived and worked in each location were of all different kinds of classes. Casinos were just as destroyed as churches, shopping districts were torn to shreds just like parks.

"And Nightwing, I must say bravo!" The terrorist said. Barbara looked at the screen in surprise, never once had the man mentioned Blüdhaven's very own dark night. " You always got to my party tricks in the nick of time ."

The way he said that made Barbara's stomach churn. Something wasn't right.

She looked again at the map and narrowed her eyes. "Dick… how often did you leave to the bombings from your apartment?" She asked slowly, praying to God she was wrong.

"Um… all of them? I couldn't find a way to get the streaming to connect to my phone, so I had to wait for them at my TV." 

"It's been a lovely game, Nightwing," the terrorist continued. Barbara looked at the map again, and then it all made sense.

She swore.

"Dick, you have to get out of there, now."

"What? Babs, I-"

"But I'm afraid I have to now bid adieu-"

"Damnit Dick, he's been triangulating your location!"

The broadcast cut off, and so did the phone call with Dick.

She sat still at the computer, not even breathing. A second passed. Two.

She shakily grabbed her phone and redialed Dick's number.

"C'mon, c'mon, c'mon," she chanted. Her hands began to shake. "Pick up, Dick. C'mon…"

Live news feed popped up on one of her screens, showing a fuzzy video someone captured on their phone of the exact moment a group of apartment buildings went up in flames.

"You've reached the phone of Dick Grayson, please leave a message after the beep! BEEP!"

Beep. 

Barbara dropped her phone onto the ground and hardly even noticed the tears that streamed down her face.



Waking up was agony, no doubt about it. His skin felt pulled tight over his muscles and bones, like the slightest movement would split it open. His head pounded and it took several attempts to actually open his eyes. He groaned when he did, being met with only a world of blurry grays and whites that made his pupils ache. It was hard to breathe, like something was stuck in his lungs. Every inhale of air made a weird noise come from his chest.

He hissed in pain when his hand twitched against his will, but it also made his world pause for a second when the movement caught his attention onto something else.

He couldn't move his hand. Both of them for that matter. After a bit of painful twitching, he found he couldn't move his legs from their position as well.

Despite the agony racing through every nerve in his body, he forced his head up to get a look at what was causing his lack of movement. He looked down first, because whatever he was laying on was tilted at an angle and it was easier on his neck to fo so, and what he saw made his stomach do a cartwheel.

His legs were a mess of red, pink, and scabbing skin, but the state of his legs didn't matter when he saw the leather straps wrapped around his ankles.

Frantically, he looked up to his wrists that we're stuck above his head, and they too were restrained to the surface below him.

"The hell-" he whispered before his body cut him off with a collection of throat tearing coughs.

Once his body settled down, all he could was go limp against the surface below him and attempt to catch his breath, eyes shut closed. All his energy was drained, spent against his will.

A couple seconds passed and he couldn't take the quiet stillness around him. The least he could do was open his eyes again and look around him. All he knew at the moment was that he was restrained spread-eagle to a titled table and in a state of intense, pulsing pain.

He forced his eyes open again and this time looked at the space in front of him. He was met with a boring white wall. He carefully tilted his head to look over his shoulders, and found he was met with the same scenery.

Okay. He was in a small room. Good to know.

He looked again at the state of his legs and hissed when he saw his raw looking flesh wasn't the only thing there. What looked like melted wax colored blue and black wound around his calves and came up into some horrid, melted version of his Nightwing costume higher up his legs. He felt the material of his suit sit uncomfortably around his crotch and stomach, it sat snug and deformed against his chest and latched onto his neck. He knew without looking that his arms would be in the same state of his legs, blistered and so close to bleeding with the sleeves of his suit melted onto his skin.

A clicking caught his attention behind him. He wished he could turn his neck and look, but the pain he knew would come with the movement made him second guess. Before he could work up the courage, the sound of footsteps came up behind him and then the figure belonging to them came into his peripheral vision.

He couldn't stop his small gasp of surprise.

It was the bomber... The one he and Oracle had been tracking down for the better part of two weeks. Flashes of television screens and phantom pain of his eardrums bursting with the sound of an explosion attacked him. He suddenly remembered that the last thing he had been doing was getting into his suit as Barbara screamed something over the phone… there was a flash, a moment of intense pain... and then nothing.

The bomber wore the same thing he had in the video. He stopped right in front of Dick and stood with his hands behind his back and a thoughtful tilt in his head.

Dick opened his mouth. "H… how?" He whispered because his throat burned and his lungs felt clogged.

The bomber's eyes crinkled up around the edge, making it known a smile had grown.

"Simple, actually," the bomber said. He suddenly walked up to Dick and looked him over with intense eyes. Dick shifted uncomfortably and tried to fight against his restraints. "Just timed how long it took for you to get to each bomb, calculated your average speed, and pinpointed your location."

He suddenly reached out a hand and picked at some of the melted suit on Dick's legs. Dick sucked in a breath when the suit had began to be pulled away from his skin.

A strip of black came off painfully and with no expense of difficulty, leaving Dick's skin stinging and slightly bleeding where the melted piece pulled off scab with it.

"Wh-what if… I died in t-the explosion?"

The bomber shrugged. "Then I'd be known as the guy who killed Nightwing, but since you lived and I got to you in time," his eyes narrowed dangerously, making Nightwing think he was smirking under his bandana, "I'll be known as the guy who tortured Nightwing."

Dick repressed a hiss of pain when the bomber reached over and tore off another melted piece of suit, this time from his arm. Blood oozed lazily over his sensitive skin.

"Kevlar doesn't melt," the bomber said in a bored tone of voice, "but it looks like you have some spandex blend in there. Bad choice for a fire, isn't it?"

Dick leaned his head back and locked his jaw, deciding it would be best to just ignore the psycho for the time being and try to figure out a way out. He tugged at the leather belt restraining his wrists as the terrorist continued to pull off each melted piece of suit off from his skin, tearing up scabs and layers of the skin with it, making his whole body shutter with the burning pain that came when each strip came loose.

Dick's been burned before. You don't move into an appointment alone and try to cook by yourself for the first time without getting a major burn somewhere on your body. He remembered that the little area where his forearm somehow touched the side of a sauce pan was an angry red for a couple days, constantly in considerable and tight pain, before it scabbed over and scarred after what must have been a week or two.

He didn't have to go to a doctor to know his new burns were worse than that one, and that they were all over. Blisters ooze foul smelling pus and scabs littered everywhere on his body, sloppily. Everywhere was agony.

It didn't help that the man leaning over him was having fun peeling off melted spandex, some pieces were difficult to get off and they were tugged off like duct tape, almost getting him to vocalize how much pain he was.

However, even as the hours ticked on, Dick remained glaring and the ceiling and and grinding his jaw. The only movement he made was when his body's natural reaction to pain made a limb jerk or his breath catch.

Eventually, Dick was left in a suit that really only managed to cover his chest and lower body. His legs and arms were a mess of pulled scabs and blood mixing with blister fluid. He could feel a nasty cut on his neck where the bomber decided to tear off a particularly "tempting" (his words, not Dick's) strip of melted suit.

Finally, from what must have been hours, the bomber slouched away from Dick and wiped his bloodied hands on his pants. "You're boring," the terrorist said. He stared at Nightwing as Dick ignored him. The torturer suddenly shrugged and patted Dick's cheek. "Don't worry, we have all the time in the world."

That didn't sound good.

The terrorist didn't specify before he sniffed and then turned to walk out the room. When the door clicked shut behind Dick, he let his tense muscles relax with a strangled whimper of pain escaping his lips. He angrily strained once again against his restraints.



The eighth bombing, true to the terrorist's words, was the last one. It was also the first one Nightwing did not show up to. Up to three hundred people lived in that block of apartment buildings that were now grounded like old ruins. Many people were injured, many more had been trapped under rubble with third degree burns until they've been dug out.

Many died.

And Nightwing didn't bother to show up.

At least, that was according to the public. To Bruce, it was like a slap-in-the-face reminder that Nightwing.… Dick was missing. It wasn't rare to not find people after attacks like that, the flames were so intense that flesh was melted right off skeletons, the debris crushing bones and blackening them so they looked no different from the ash around them. Sometimes the damaged buildings were so large that as it was cleared away over a series of weeks, more bodies would be found.

He just wished that, as the time went by, someone would find something relating to Dick Grayson in the rubble of his apartment.

Even if that something was a body, because  thinking that his body was completely destroyed in the explosion made him want to scream. Even though the thought that his eldest died in the midst of a terrorist attack made his skin crawl, the thought of never even seeing him again hurt even worse.

The cops and firefighters seemed to understand that, telling him that they haven't found anything, so there was still hope, his son was just missing.

Missing.

However, as hard as he tried to convince himself that Dick was just trapped, probably pinned under rubble and unable to help himself, waiting for someone to move the last stone, sitting with his lopsided grin… as hard as it was to force himself to go to Blüdhaven and search himself during the night even though the Joker was still in his latest reign of terror… days past. Days that would kill anyone from dehydration and starvation, days that made headlines on newspapers change from "BILLIONAIRE BRUCE WAYNE SON RICHARD 'DICK' GRAYSON: MISSING" to "DICK GRAYSON: WAYNE FAMILIES SECOND TRAGIC DEATH".

Days that involved the traitorous voice in the back of his head tell him he needed to start preparing a funeral.

Eventually, he gave into it.



Time ticked slowly when Dick was alone, stuck in place with straps digging into his skin, tearing his wrists with his struggles, doing nothing but adding precious blood to the rest of his filthy body. Time went even slowly when the bomber strolled in, with a knife or a a bag of salt or a taser… whatever he was in the mood for. Dick could do nothing but glare through his halfway melted mask on his face and count in his head.

Fifteen, a broken finger. Eighty, a icepick stuck in the palm of his hand. Two-hundred, hands tearing at his skin, reopening wounds that were stubborn enough to close during the periods he wasn't being tortured. One thousand, a taser shoved inside his inner thigh.

He screamed at number five-thousand-fifty-seven when an acid was poured over the knife wounds in his chest. After that, he couldn't stop. Everything hurt so much , and he couldn't do anything about it. The bomber didn't want information, he didn't want to humiliate, he didn't want to negotiate. He just wanted to kill Nightwing as slowly and as painfully as possible, take a selfie when he's done, and get on the good side of Blüdhaven's villains.

The bomber dropped the bucket of acid off to the side and laughed as Dick desperately tried to catch his breath and restart his counting, because that was the only thing keeping him sane.

"You have such a lovely voice," the bomber said, dragging a gloved hand over Dick's chest, pressing and making the wounds sting and hiss, "you should use it more."

The numbers jumbled up in his head and he couldn't help but break his trance and glare at the terrorist. "Y-you w… won't get… get away-" he groaned when the bomber pressed harder on a particularly deep wound in his shoulder.

"You think Batman is going to save you?" The bomber asked. Dick groaned when the terrorist started to dig his fingers into the wound. Blood squirted and trialed down Dick's chest.

"H-he'll- ah!" The bomber pulled his hand away from Dick's wound and backed up, grinning under his bandana.

"He's not coming, none of them are," the bomber said as he ungloved his hands. Dick glared and the bomber laughed. "I'm serious, here, I'll show you."

The bomber walked behind the table Dick was strapped to and came back a second later with a newspaper 

"Just look at the headline," the bomber said excitingly. He held up the paper and Dick couldn't help but pale.

BRUCE WAYNE ANNOUNCES PRIVATE FUNERAL FOR DICK GRAYSON.

Dick let his eyes trail over the article. "Tim Drake asks to let family grieve in peace." "Damian Wayne had to be pulled back from attacking a pushy reporter" "second death in the family" "Bruce Wayne takes a break from Wayne Industries"… suddenly, the paper was torn away from Dick's eyes only for the bomber to turn and look at the article himself.

"I mean, I've spent enough time with you to know who you are," the bomber said quietly, "it was only a matter of time I found out who the rest of the family are. Don't worry though, I won't give away your identities or anything." He threw the paper down onto the floor and looked Dick straight in the eye. "They think you're dead, and technically, they're not wrong. You'll be gone soon, I just don't want to give you false hope that someone is actually looking for you."

Dick was silent as the bomber walked away. He felt pressure build at the back of his eyes when the door clicked shut, but he didn't let himself cry. Instead, he tugged his wrists again. If Bruce wasn't going to look for him, he'd have to escape by himself.

The thought of no one coming for him did the opposite of what the bomber intended, it filled him with determination.



Jason was the first to bring up the idea, Tim just wished he had waited until after the funeral. It was an early May morning and he sat at the dining table, poking at his omelet and tugging at the tie wrapped around his neck. He hadn't taken a single bite of food, but he knew that if he did it wouldn't taste the same. It would taste just a bit off, proof that Alfred was grieving too.

Jason burst into the dining room, dressed in his classic leather jacket and cargo jeans. He hadn't bothered to take off his boots.

"Jason, why aren't you dressed?" Bruce growled from the head of the table. Damian scoffed and angrily took a bite of his breakfast.

"Because I'm not going," Jason said. He stood in the doorway and folded his arms, not even flinching when Bruce slammed his hands down on the table.

"Why not?" Cass asked quietly.

Before Jason could answer, Bruce stood up. "This is your brother's funeral. I will not allow you to just skip it."

Jason glared back at Bruce. "I'm going to Blüdhaven. I'm going to find that bastard terrorist and put him six feet under."

"You can't wait three hours? You can't do something this simple for Dick?" Bruce snarled.

Jason out up an offensive posture. "Back off old man," Jason growled, "I don't see the point of wasting my time on an empty casket when I could be out there catching the guy who did this!"

Tim looked back down at his omelet and stabbed it with his fork as Bruce argued back. It turned into a screaming match where both parties were so hurt and neither had no clue how to deal with the guilt and disbelief swirling inside them. Alfred eventually had to step in before Bruce and Jason could throw hands.

"Master Jason," Alfred said dangerously calm, "you will put on the tuxedo I left for you and you will attend the funeral. I will not take no for an answer. Leave this… revenge till after."

Jason opened and closed his mouth a couple times before he huffed angrily and stormed out of the dining room, hopefully to put on the suit. Bruce sat back down at the head of the table and put his head in his hands.

Four hours later, a broken family walked back into the manor. Alfred walked past and disappeared into the kitchen, either to begin dinner or to mourn in his own way while the rest of the family all stood in the middle of the front room.

Bruce suddenly cleared his throat. "Be in the cave in ten," he said before he stalked away.

For a second, Tim almost asked "what about the Joker?" and then he watched as Jason followed after Bruce, already pulling off the tie around his neck, and he realized that at that moment… the Joker didn't really matter. There was a bigger monster out there, one that took away his big brother.

Tim met eyes with Damian, who had been practically silent ever since Barbara called the manor, sobs present in her voice, before they both began to run over to the entrance of the cave.

Cass wasn't far behind.



Dick had no idea how he was still alive. Days must have passed, leaving him starving and thirsty, and he had lost an amazing amount of blood. The bomber forced Dick to drink water every once in awhile, but that was about it. He also discovered he had an infection on one of his many wounds, giving him a fever and making him prone to vomiting.

But, even though his body had begun to shut down on him, he didn't give up on rubbing his wrists into a bloody mess in the leather belts. He discovered some fraying at one of the seams and since them, whenever the bomber wasn't watching, Dick had worked tirelessly to get his wrist free.

Finally, his wrist came free from the table with the sound of tearing leather.

He would have celebrated, but it was at that moment he heard footsteps approaching. He ignored the way his limbs shook with agony as he reached over and sloppily undid the restraint on his other wrists, and then he was bending down and getting his ankles free. Once he was free, he shoved himself away from the table and planted his feet on the cold, tiled floor below him.

And he promptly fell over.

He cursed and shoved his shivering arms below him and he eventually pushed himself up so he was leaning against the wall behind him.

It was at that moment the bomber opened the door.

The bomber stopped in his tracks at the sight of Dick no longer pinned to the table. He slowly clicked the door behind him and took a step towards Dick.

"What are you doing?" The bomber asked, amusement lacing his tone. Dick glared and repositioned his arms on the wall to better hold himself up. "You know, trying to escape is hopeless, right? You're weak, and I'm stronger than-"

Dick didn't listen to another single word. He forced himself on autopilot and pushed his body away from the wall, throwing his fist into the jaw of his torturer. There was a painful sounding pop and the bomber fell to the ground with a groan. Dick didn't bother to stay in the room, and next thing he knew, he was grabbing the door handle and stumbling into a long hallway.



The building was only two stories tall, but even Batman could feel something intimidating resonating from it. After hours of research, he—with the help of Oracle and Red Robin—had managed to find a potential hide out of the terrorist. The clan suited up and began their way towards Blüdhaven directly after that.

"Kick ass, guys," Oracle said. There was no way to see her, but they all knew she had a determined glint in her eyes.

They got to the building in record time, the only reason of why they got there so fast would be because no cop would pull over the Batmobile.

"Red Robin," Batman said as he climbed out of the mobile, the rest of the bats were not far behind, "head to the roof of the opposite b-"

"No way," Red Robin said, glaring hard, "I'm going in there too."

"Don't even ask," Robin chimed in.

Red Hood shrugged, "Don't look at me."

Batman sighed and looked at Orphan, who only said "no" before she folded her arms around her chest.

Batman was about to argue back, but then the noise of a heavy door being opened caught all of their attention. They spun around and Batman quickly cursed himself for not surveying the building first when the door swung open, expecting the bomber to walk out…

But it wasn't the bomber… it was a familiar head of black hair whose body was covered in so many bruises and cuts and burns that of it wasn't for the shredded remains of a black and blue suit, Batman wouldn't have recognized him.

"DICK!" Red Robin screamed as the body tripped and fell limp onto the asphalt below him.

Next thing he knew, Bruce was sprinting.

He didn't pay any mind to the footsteps running after him, all he cared about was that Dick—it had to be some sort of trick!!—was groaning on the ground and desperately trying to lift himself up. Bruce skidded to a hault just inches from Dick, he felt himself lower his body and hold a hand out, as if to touch him but afraid that if he tried, the smoke and mirrors will become a reality.

He was also afraid that anywhere he put his hands would hurt him.

Dick gasped and reached out instead, weak hands clawed at Bruce's chest. "You- you c-ame-" he said in a broken whisper.

Bruce knew he was crying. His son's hands were so real against his chest. He took a shuddering breath and carefully gathered Dick into his arms as Dick broke out into sobs as well.

They sat like that, for what amount of time neither of them could tell. Bruce felt more bodies join their hug, he could see Damian gently grasp on to Dick's waist and Tim grab onto Bruce's arm with one hand and desperately wiped at his eyes with the other as Cass crawled in next to Damian. 

It took a moment for Bruce to realize someone was missing.

"Where is J-"

A series of gunshots came from inside the building.

Bruce knew instantly what had happened, but for the moment he didn't care. He'd reprimand him about it later… for now he lifted Dick, who was slowly losing consciousness, into his arms. He needed a hospital… therapy maybe… a few surgeries to get rid of the scars… but for now he was alive, and that was all that mattered.

Chapter Text

First, it was the poster. Haley's Circus, whenever preparing for another show, would print out hundreds of posters unique to that show and plaster them on lamp posts and billboards. It was hard to have internet connection when you were constantly on the move, so the circus enjoyed spreading the word the old fashioned way. Dick remembered that the Strong Man enjoyed grabbing one of each poster after a show and stashing them away, a remembrance of each performance in their exciting lives.

Now he was 26, and he had seen the posters here and there when he happened to be in the same city as his old family. The cartoon-ish faces of the circus members have changed over the years, but each poster had that pizzazz that gave someone the feeling of "wow, the circus looks fun!" The borders were bright colors and striped, not a boring spot even in the golden, cursive letters. Pop Haley used to joke that PT Barnum only wished his circus posters could inflict as much excitement as his own circus.

Dick had one or two posters, just his favorite ones that his parents remembered to find before they left to the next city. All the ones he owned had his parents and himself drawn into a spotlight, announcing that the one and only Flying Grayson's would entrance the crowd with their magical, death defying stunts. Whenever he looked at them, he found himself missing the trapeze and the smell of peanuts and the tight, flashy jumpsuits.

He always associated those posters with happy times in his life… never… never this.

He had just jumped out of the taxi, waving goodbye to the taxi driver he was lucky enough to get twice that day (siriously, what were the chances of that?) as he walked up the two flights of stairs up to his apartment door.

He didn't even notice it taped up on his door until he dug out his keys from his pocket and lifted them to his door handle.

The first thing he noticed was the familiar golden lettering, and he almost smiled at it. For a second, he thought that maybe his downstairs neighbor whom Dick found out had gone to a couple shows way back when Dick was still apart of it had taped it there. Some kind of gift or something, but then his eyes trailed down and his blood turned to ice. He recognized the poster, each were unique, designed to appeal to the people of each different area they performed in. This one was a mixture of grays, blacks, and dark blues, designing a dark city in the background. The main attraction of the poster would be the fire breather, spitting fire like a dragon. The fire swirled and made different loops, showing different acts like a tiger jumping or the fat lady singing. In one of the hoops there were three figures and a trapeze: one was a woman, one a man, one a young boy.

It was the poster of his last ever performance in the circus, the one that invited Bruce Wayne and covered the streets of Gotham.

And if that wasn't bad enough, over the faces of his parents were two, drawn on red "X"s. Red circled Dick's own face, as if to say "It's your turn."



Dick's apartment complex didn't have cameras. It would be more difficult to perform as Nightwing in the dark if there were cameras; so there was no way besides good, old fashioned door knocking to try and figure out who was moronic enough to threaten him; with his parents last performance no less.

However, after hours of dusting the poster for fingerprints and even running the X's through a handwriting recognition program, he came up with nothing. He went to every single door of his complex and asked if they'd seen anything and every person said no. He looked at the camera feed from the surrounding buildings and traffic intersections but he couldn't pick out anyone suspicious from a group of completely random.

Eventually, the sun was going down and there became nothing he could do besides drop the poster in the sink, drizzle on some lighter fluid, burn the poster, and hope that the whole issue didn't forecast something horrible.



Nothing happened the next day, or the one after that. When Officer Grayson holstered the gun and normal Dick walked up to his apartment, there were no more posters or foreboding messages threatening him. As time progressed, he became halfway convinced that whatever happened was a highly over the top prank from someone who must have really hated him.

That was until he decided to be a responsible adult and go out to get his mail. He opened his front door, rubbing his eyes with morning grogginess, and stepped on something. He looked down and sitting on the ground looking too damn innocent was a yellow folder file. He bent down and slowly picked it up. Just from the weight of it he could feel multiple papers residing inside.

Then he opened it.

"What the hell," Dick whispered to himself as he lifted the first of many full-sized photos up for him to get a closer look at.

It was of him walking down one of the busier streets of Blüdhaven. He recognized the clothes he was wearing as the exact outfit he wore just a couple days ago. The small numbers that made a date at the bottom right hand corner confirmed his suspicions.

He looked at the next of what must be at least 30 pictures with a pit of something like dread forming in his stomach. All were of him wearing various outfits and doing different things. Some were of him sitting in the patrol car on stake out others were of him sitting at one of his favorite Café's sipping coffee.

Dick has had people follow him around with cameras before. You don't become the eldest son of Bruce Wayne without media taking attention to you. When he was younger, he'd find paparazzi sitting outside his school, sometimes he'd be reading in the library and he'd notice the flash of a camera. Usually he'd be able to catch the photographer as they're taking the picture or even before the flash goes, but sometimes he missed one or two, and he'd be scrolling through articles on his phone or walking past a shelf of magazines and he'd see a picture he didn't know was taken. It was off putting in the worst way possible. It made it feel like his life was out of control and that he may be trained by the best, but he still missed things.

He only felt better after those times after Bruce himself admitted to having his picture taken multiple times without having noticed, and it was nothing to be ashamed of, just be more careful next time.

But this? This was 36 photos of him in the span of three days. He should have noticed all of them, or at least one or two. It didn't matter who the photo taker was, he should have noticed then eventually. No one had ever been able to follow him without his noticing for longer than five hours, and Cass and Damian shared that record time.

He didn't go down to get the mail. He back back into his apartment, dropped the file on his coffee table, and pulled out his computer once again to try and find out who had left the next gift at his doorstep.



Out of pure stubbornness, Dick walked to work the next day. He hadn't found a single thing on his new aparent stalker, so he figured he'd offer himself as bait and wait for the stalker to come to him. His senses were on high alert, dialed up to 11. Dialed up to Nightwing.

Halfway through the walk to work, he was happy to notice that it worked. For the past five minutes there had been a figure dressed in raggy brown and a beanie tailing him. Their head was low and their hands were in their pockets, but Dick was sure this person was following him. He decided it was time for confrontation, so he took a sharp turn down an alleyway and hid behind a dumpster. A couple seconds later, the tail jogged into the alley with their head turning back and forth wildly.

They hissed swears and curses under their breath before they looked further down the alley and started to run again. Suspicions confirmed, Dick pounced out from behind the dumpster, grabbed the person, and roughly shoved them against the wall.

"Who are you?" Dick hissed. Spittle flew from his clenched teeth and sprayed the face of the stalker. The stalker flinched and whimpered as they brought their hands up to Dick's to try to get free. When Dick breathed in he could smell the tell tale scent of pot.

Dick couldn't believe it. This person was the one who had been making him lose hours of sleep? The same one who left the poster and folder file? Anger fueled his arms to relax just a bit to allow him to slam the stalker against the wall again.

"Who are you?" He repeated himself, but with just a bit more threat laced in his tone.

The figure shook his head. "Sorry! I'm sorry! Let go, man!"

"What do you want? Why were you following me?" Dick brought his face closer to intimidate the stalker despite the nauseating smell of drugs.

"Look!" The stalker said frantically, "I was told to follow you! Said he'd give me a hundred!"

"He? He who?"

"I don't know! He just came up to me and gave a hundred! I was just doing what he said!"

Dick was silent for a second as the stalker... the random druggie that apparently just apart of the real stalkers plan whimpered against the wall.

Then, suddenly, the click of a camera and the slight flashing of a light. Dick released the druggie—who slumped down to the ground to whimper some more—and spun around to see a camera being lowered at the other end of the alley, where a man had began to run away.

"I'm not done with you," Dick growled before he ran after other man. He heard a small sniffle behind him but that no longer mattered. What mattered was that the man with the camera took a sharp turn out of the alley. Dick forced his legs to move faster and in just a few seconds he burst onto the sidewalk of a busy street.

There were people everywhere.

Dick swore and spun his head around, looking at each pedestrian that walked past him. He grabbed shoulders and looked at the faces of those who looked like they were wearing the same jacket, but after a couple minutes, Dick was left with a heaving chest, standing on the middle of a sea of people.

Suddenly, there was the sound of a gunshot.

People around him screamed but Dick only swore. He spun on his heel and pushed himself through the panicking crowd until he got back to the mouth of the alleyway. His blood ran cold.

There, right where Dick left him, was the druggie, completely still with blood pooling down the hole in the middle of his forehead, brains and chunks of skull painted the wall behind him.



"Are we done here?" Dick asked, shifting in the cold metal chair of the police interrogation room. "I gave you my statement, and my shift started an hour ago."

Or a modified one. Dick was walking to work and he heard the gun. It wasn't like he could tell the cops he slammed the victim against the wall multiple times before the time of death. Dick would become a suspect and he really didn't need that.

The detective looked through a couple of her files in her arms before she nodded. "Yeah, looks all good, officer."

"Thanks," Dick replied as he pushed himself to his feet, "I'll see you, later."

He was let out of the interrogation and he continued to begin his day time job.

And try to ignore the sick feeling in his stomach.



The last thing Dick needed was to see another present sitting on his doorstep when he came home, but there it was, sitting all smug on his welcome matt like it owned the place.

It was another folder file, but when he bent down and opened it, there was a single picture sitting there.

A picture of Dick holding Mason Jeffords—homeless, know for spending any money he got on drugs, a victim of murder earlier that morning—against the wall angrily. At the bottom of the picture was the time, just a couple minutes before the time of death.

Dick sighed and was about to close the file before he noticed something was written on the back.

He honestly didn't think he'd be even more surprised by what his stalker was willing to do until that moment, because in the middle of the black backside of the photo were the words "One of two, await further instructions" written in sharpie.

Great. So not only was Dick getting majorly stalked, but he was just set up for blackmail.



"You're getting blackmailed?" Bruce growled, like it was Dick's fault. Dick glared at his laptop screen and lowered his newest gift down from when he had been showing Bruce.

"And stalked," Dick said. Bruce narrowed his eyes and there was the sound of Tim scoffing from off the screen.  "Look," Dick continued, "I don't need your help, B, but I'm asking for it. These guys are constantly three steps ahead of me."

Bruce was silent for a second, frowning. Finally, he looked up. "How long has this been happening?"

"Almost a week," Dick said.

Tim squawked on the other side of computer while the look on Bruce's face darkened.

"Bruce?" Dick asked. Something was up… something Bruce knew that Dick didn't. "What's going on?"

"You didn't tell him?" Tim asked suddenly.

"Tell me what? Bruce, what's he talking about?"

Bruce stared at his own screen for a couple seconds before he sighed a heavy sigh. "There was a breakout from Gotham jail about a week ago."

"What does this have to do with me?"

"Dick," Tim said quietly as he shuffled into view behind Bruce, "Tony Zucco was the escapee."

The world froze over. "What?" Dick asked quietly. "Tim, that's not fun-"

"It's true, Dick," Bruce said sternly. "I didn't tell you because I had hoped to find him sooner."

Dick felt his hands begin to shake. "I had every right to know anyway!" He yelled. "And now he could be the one stalking me?!"

"Dick-"

"Piss off, Bruce," Dick snarled before closing their video chat. Dick sat in his sofa, chest heaving and vision swirling red, for a few seconds—just watching his laptop announce that Bruce was calling back.

There was a knock on the door.

Dick slammed his laptop closed and grabbed his gun, not even hesitating to do so because he was so angry and pissed off, and if Zucco was on the other side of the door he would shoot that bastard in the forehead without question.

Thankfully he pocketed his gun before  he answered the door, because he didn't know how to feel when it was just the pizza he ordered before his pleasant chat with Bruce about the man who ruined his life.

The pizza boy handed him his pepperoni pizza—still warm—and Dick, almost in a trance, handed him the money. He probably tipped too much. The boy was about to leave before he gasped.

"Oh! I almost forgot," the boy said, "some guy told me to tell you your ride's here."

Dick blinked and the boy was going back down the stairs and towards his own car. Dick followed and saw a black car with extreme tinted windows parked by the curb of his complex, engine on. There was a man leaning on the hood, and when he noticed Dick watching, he waved.

Await further instructions .

Dick took a deep breath and set his pizza down on the floor before closing his door. Thankfully, he hadn't bothered to kick off his shoes when he got back home.

"Dick Grayson," the man said when Dick approached. He released a breath Dick didn't know he was holding when the man turned out to not be Zucco. He was too muscled and his voice was too deep.

"What do you want?" Dick demanded.

The man simply opened the back door and waved his hand vaguely. Inside, Dick could see another man that was way too muscled for his own good. There was another man in the driver's seat, though he seemed to be more normally structured.

The man made an inpatient growl and Dick got the message. He sighed and climbed into the back seat. He was about to buckle himself in and demand to know what was happening when he was shoved further into the car, into the middle seat. Mr beefy sat down by the window and Dick found himself trapped between two walls of meat.

Then, suddenly, his arm was grabbed around  his biceps roughly and something sharp was jabbed into his neck.

"What the f-" Dick tried to say when he realized he was stabbed by a freaking syringe, but before he could even finish his swear, the world got tipsy turvy. His tongue felt big and his muscles suddenly didn't work. He felt himself unwillingly relaxing as the syringe was pulled out from his neck.

The last thing he was aware of was a black cloth bag being forced over his head.



He woke up to the sound of bees, whether they were around him or in his ears was impossible to determine in his groggy, drugged state. Thankfully, his head was clear, it was only his body that was sluggish and still trying to process.

He flexed his arms as the bees seemed to clear out (yup, just in his ears) and wasn't that surprised to discover he couldn't move them. His legs were stuck too and it only took a moment more to realize that he was taped to a wooden chair. He hesitantly opened his eyes and was met with black.

The bag was still over his head.

"Do you know," came a voice. It was chillingly familiar, "what it's like to constantly be looking over your shoulder?"

"Zucco," Dick growled and tugged on the tape restraining him. Just hearing his voice made his blood boil.

"You figured it out quickly," Zucco said. Dick could hear a smug grin in his voice. There were chuckles from other voices, giving Dick the idea that there were more people standing in front of him than just his parents murderer.

"Fuck you."

More chuckles. Suddenly, a fist to his stomach. He coughed and leaned forward in his bonds, but not being able to go far thanks to the tape wrapping around his chest. A rough hand grabbed the back of Dick's neck and pulled him forward. Someone's hot breath was right in his ear.

"I'll let that slide this once," Zucco said, and Dick shivered at the thought of him being so close. "I could kill you now, you're at my mercy. You ruined my business, sent me to jail, I have every right to blow your brains out."

Dick jerked his body away from Zucco and hated how the hand on his neck only tightened its grip, Dick was stuck. "You murdered my parents."

Zucco hummed and suddenly let go of Dick. Dick took multiple deep breaths to try and get himself in some form of control. "Enough of the pleasantries, you're here because I have something I need you to do, and you'll do it unless you want a certain photo to make its way to the police."

"You murdered that man to blackmail me. You won't get away with it."

"Yeah, but so far I am. Are you ready to hear what I need you to do or should I just give the photo over now?"

Dick thought for a moment, finding no way out besides the two options offered to him. If he refused, Zucco may as well just kill him, but if he accepted he'd have more contact with Zucco, making more windows for Dick to take him out.

"Fine. What?"

Zucco grabbed his shoulder and he could hardly repress his disgusted flinch. "The circus still owes me money," Zucco said almost in a whisper. Dick felt a chill run down his spine, "I need you to collect. They'll be in Central City next week."

"This is what's it's about?" Dick growled. "Money?"

He heard the ruffling of clothes, maybe Zucco shrugged. "Isn't it always? Your task is to just get my money. It's been a few years, interest had piled up, I'd say the circus owes me everything they have."

"You want me to steal from my family."

"Steal? Ask? I don't care. I just want my money, Grayson."

Dick wanted to scream. Zucco had no right so say his surname; his parent's name.

Instead, Dick took a deep breath. "I'm not stealing from Haley's Circus."

There was a sad sigh, or a mock sad one as if Zucco hadn't actually expected Dick to agree. Suddenly, Dick was punched once again in the stomach, and Dick cried out when it didn't stop at one. A heavy fist slammed across Dick's jaw, making his world spin despite the bag still over his head. The assault continued with no end in sight, and for a minute, Dick was afraid he would die like that. He couldn't get out of the bonds, his limbs we're still too lethargic and he had no weapons on him, even the gun he put in his pocket was now noticeably missing.

Right when Dick felt a tooth break from another blunt hit to his jaw, something bounced on the hard ground below him, hissed, and exploded.

A smoke bomb.

Through the confused yelling from Zucco and his men, Dick heard the slight whistle of a batarang slice through the air. It made impact on the tape holding Dick's left arm to the chair.

Suddenly, Dick was free.

Without wasting a moment, Dick ripped his arm free and used the sharp weapon to saw through the rest of his bonds as the shouts if panic turned into the explosions of gunpowder. He heard the flap of a cape just as he ripped off the hood from his face.

Smoke was receding around him, so he could just barely see his surroundings. It was some kind of abandoned factory, probably located somewhere at the edge of Gotham (or in the middle, you'd never know). Rusted tanks and conveyor belts littered the floor and the only light source came from the moon shining through the sky lights. Running about twenty feet up we're a series of ramps and walkways.

It was chaos, men were running and shooting wildly as red and green swung from the rafters, taking then out one by one, red and Black moved in the spots were visibility was low, and pitch black fought from the shadows like a demon.

Great. So even Damian knew about Zucco before Dick did.

Also, Zucco was nowhere to be found. Great. Just great.

One of Zucco's grunts noticed Dick was free and broke away from his comrades. Normally, in any situation that involved Dick being a hostage, he would back off and just try to run away, but then he saw a man begin to climb up the ladders leading up to the walkway system. He recognized the fine tailored suit and the pepper grey hair. Nothing about Zucco had changed at all.

Not bothering to drag out a fight because he was a poor, helpless hostage, he grabbed the man running towards him and kick the man where it counted. The man made a pathetic cry as he stumbled and Dick gave him no time to recover before he kicked the man's temple, knocking him out cold.

"What the hell, Dick!" Red Robin suddenly said as he ran closer to Dick. Dick hadn't even noticed him running over to save him.

Dick gave him a glare that he knew he'd regret later—it wasn't anyone's fault other than Bruce, once again—but he spun tail and ran full speed at the ladder he saw Zucco escape up. Red Robin let out a squawk and tried to run after Dick before he was distracted by a more grunts.

Dick ignored how his limbs still felt a bit weak as he climbed up towards Zucco. He could see him crouching like the coward he was up on the walkway. He was working on aiming a pistol down at any shape with color. Dick pushed himself up on the walkway with the sheer force of anger and began to sprint down towards the man that ruined everything. Zucco looked up a bit too late and Dick was upon him like a dark entity. Dick kicked Zucco in his side and then elbowed his face. He heard a satisfying snap as blood exploded down the murderers nose. Zucco yelled out in pain and desperately tried to back away from Dick.

He lifted his hand that was holding the gun and he fired before Dick would do anything. Dick felt fire rip through his bicep. He cursed himself when he felt red heat trail down his arm. Zucco scrambled to his feet, blood steadily dripping down his chin onto his dress shirt and splashing on the metal walkway below them. For a millisecond they locked eyes; two men hell bent on making the last blow. Then, Zucco charged. The collar of Dick's shirt was grabbed and Dick found himself being shoved back against the rusting railing behind him. The horizontal bar dug into the small of his back, making him almost tip over and fall a possible fatal distance below him, but he was able to ignore the screaming agony in his arm and steady himself by grabbing on to Zucco.

He put all of his strength in his legs and pushed .

Zucco and Dick stumbled the other direction and Zucco's back slammed into the railing behind him. The rusted bars creaked dangerously and then broke off whatever remains of screws that used to hold them up.

Zucco called out in panic as he lost whatever support from the now clattering railing that was now two stories down. The only thing holding him up was Dick, who was having a hard enough time holding up his arms. His left arm was shaking violently from the gunshot wound and his right arm still had effects of whatever drug he had been injected with, adrenaline could only get so far.

"Richard!" Came Batman's voice. He was somewhere below Dick, nowhere near enough to stop Dick from just… letting go.

He could do it. He could kill. He'd done it before. He strangled the Joker and let Tarantula shoot Blockbuster, and he realized that as Zucco desperately grabbed at Dick's forearms, it would be so easy to do.

Footsteps pounded on the walkway to his left and he flicked his eyes to see a familiar glare worn on a boy with red and green. Robin.

Robin stopped just a few feet away from Dick and Zucco.

"Grayson," he said quietly, surprisingly so. Dick was kind of expecting a growl or a hiss or something similar to that, but Robin sounded just a little gentle, like he was talking to a scared, wild animal. Damian was always good with animals. "Let him go, it's over now."

Dick flicked his eyes to the ground level and saw each of the goons hog tied on the ground with zip ties. Red Robin was grabbing his grapple from his belt when Batman stopped him and pointed at Dick, saying something Dick couldn't hear. Great, they're planning how to catch Zucco if… if he decides to let him drop. Let him die the same way as them, poetic justice.

He tightened his grip on Zucco's shirt and Zucco whimpered pathetically, scratching at Dick's wrists. "Listen to the kid, Grayson-"  Zucco said, desperation dripped from each word, making Dick sick to his stomach, "you won. Just- just let me go-"

Dick growled. "It's never over," he whispered, "it's never over, you keep coming back. You- you killed them. You didn't let them go- you didn't give then the option .

Something in Dick's eyes must have terrified Zucco because he began to release ugly sobs. This pathetic piece of filth killed his mom and dad. He almost let go at that moment, but Robin spoke up.

"This isn't you, Grayson," Robin said, walking slowly towards Dick with his hands slightly raised, "you don't kill."

"You don't understand!" Dick practically screamed. Everything was so fuzzy and he knew he wasn't thinking straight. Drugs, adrenaline, and gunshot wounds didn't mix very well but at the moment he didn't care.

He didn't care that Robin flinched.

"You're right," Robin continued, "I- I don't understand. I live with my biological father… my mother is still alive, but I have an older brother who told me we can't let revenge cloud our minds. He told me we'd lose ourselves. Become the enemy. Don't become Zucco, Dick."

Warm escaped Dick's eyes and trailed down Dick's cheeks. Leave it to Damian to use his own words against him. He gave one last glance at Zucco before he shoved him away from him... and onto the hard metal of the walkway. Multiple breaths from different people were released in relief, Dick could see how Batman's shoulders relaxed a bit, how Red Robin slumped a bit, but his legs were trembling and his arm pulsed in waves of unbearable agony. He stumbled backwards and landed on his butt on the walkway. Robin gave him a look before he ran over to Zucco to restrain him.

He heard the sound of a grapple and suddenly Red Robin was besides him, lifting up the sleeve of his t-shirt. Red Robin hissed at whatever he saw, but at the moment, all Dick could feel was a painful numb.

"Does… does it ever stop hurting?" Dick asked, not towards anyone in particular.

Red Robin looked up from the wound and bit his lip for a second before he answered.

"I don't think it's supposed to."

Chapter Text

Ever since Jason was brought into the Wayne family, kidnappings came to be a rare occurrence. Dick's theory was that most criminals realized how stupid it was to go after Bruce Wayne, especially now that he was more public with funding Batman and the Justice League. Dick had been kidnapped hundreds of times and not a single perp got a single coin out of it. Just a lot of bruises from Batman and a long sentence to prison.

Jason... when he was alive… got kidnapped once or twice, but he was usually rescued fairly quickly since the only people risking getting Batman and the League on their tail were idiots. As he grew up and Bruce hadn't met a single demand of any kidnapper and still got Jason back safe and sound, and as time went by kidnappers just kind of… gave up.

And then Bruce adopted Tim, and no one remembered that kidnapping was a thing until Bruce got the phone call.

Dick happened to be there. He was over visiting the manor mostly because Alfred mentioned how lonely the manor had been and how Tim spent most of his days locked up in his room. Another reason for being there was that Bruce was still hurting and brooding over the grave, as if it was his fault Ra's Al Ghul and Joker decided to be evil. Dick was still aching too, he would be lying if he said he didn't hope to see a shit-eating grin on a familiar boy's face when he walked in.

He was sitting in Bruce's study, just lounging on one of the chairs set off to the side that were set there just in case Bruce actually wanted to talk to people in his office. Bruce usually didn't, but that never stopped Dick from barging in, plopping himself down on a chair, and pulling out his phone to play whatever weird app he found a couple minutes before. This time it was a color by number game.

He was working on the number 25 when the phone on Bruce's desk began to ring. Bruce looked up from whatever papers he had been going through and lifted an eyebrow at the phone. It was almost three in the afternoon and Bruce had no scheduled talks or meetings with anyone, so the caller could be just some random phone solicitor that got lucky enough to call Bruce Wayne. After a few more rings, Bruce sighed and lifted the phone to his ear.

"Bruce Wayne speaking," he said in a perfect businessman tone.

Dick rolled his eyes and went back to his game, but his attention was quickly back on Bruce when he heard a sharp growl. "What it the meaning of this?!"

A deep pit suddenly formed in Dick's stomach as his mind went through all the scenarios that could get this reaction out of Bruce.

"Don't touch a hair on his head," Bruce practically yelled into the phone and Dick felt like he needed to puke. Bruce looked genuinely worried. "You hear me?!"

It hit him like a truck when Dick realized school ended more than a hour ago.

Tim should have been home.

"I want to talk to him."

Dick remembered all the times Bruce said that, but it was Dick he wanted to talk to. There were a number of different ways the criminals would react to that. Some would hand Dick the phone, some would shove the phone against his ear, some would refuse, and there were a rare, heartless few that-

The sound of a agonized filled scream sounded over the phones speakers, reaching Dick's ears. He stood up from the couch and stood there helplessly as Bruce yelled into the phone.

A rare, heartless few that proved life by making it known they have no problem taking it.

Dick could hear sobbing over the low, incoherent voice of the kidnapper from the phone. It made Dick want to join in on crying.

Suddenly, all noise cut off with a beep and Bruce was left yelling at a ended call to not hang up!

"Bruce?" Dick asked. Dick never had that much experience with being on this end of kidnappings. Sure, it had happened a couple times with Jason but Dick never got used to it.

If the way Bruce was getting up from his desk and slamming the phone down on sharp and jerky movements was anything to go by, Bruce had never gotten used to it too.

"Go to the school. Trace his steps," Bruce ordered.

"What about you?" Dick asked, already backing up towards the study door.

"I'm calling Commissioner Gordon, then Batman will join you."


Batman never joined. The reason being so was that Bruce Wayne got another call from the kidnappers to negotiate the life of a 14 year old boy while with Gordon. He was practically being forced to stay at home with a couple cops to watch over him. Thankfully, Gordon didn't exactly know Dick was back in town.

So he was forced to find out out on his own what happened. He first went to the school and checked the cameras. Tim made it out in one piece, he was busy talking to some friends and their conversation lasted until he got to the front gates of the school. There were no more cameras from there, so he checked the traffic cameras. There weren't many, just mostly at the intersections to check for people running red lights, but was able to follow Tim a couple blocks. He was probably going to the public bus stop since Alfred was out of town—he insisted on just taking the bus and Bruce and Dick didn't fight him on it.

Dick checked the cameras at the bus stop and waited… Tim never showed up.

So, in-between the last traffic intersection and the bus stop, Tim was taken. That's a whole block of street.

As Dick Grayson, dressed in inconspicuous attire, he walked up and down the street with a picture of Tim. He couldn't find any cameras so he had to resort to asking side street shops, homeless people, and street performers if they've seen "my little brother".

Hmm, he looks familiar… oh yeah, he was that kid who waved at me earlier. I think he was just walking down the street.

He gave me a twenty after my song. Nice kid. But he looked a little nervous. He turned the way he came from and walked quickly away. I hope he's okay.

Yeah the brat ran into me like a bat out of hell. Knocked my groceries everywhere.

Ah, he ran into the alley. Was there anyone following him? Ah… I think a car turned into the alley a bit after him. Make and model? What are you a cop?

Spare some change? Oh. That boy... Yeah… I saw him… look, I can't just give information for free… oh thank you kind sir. Right, so he ran in here looking all crazy. I hid behind the dumpster because… crazy people are bad news for people like me. It's a good thing I did because this black van pulled into the alley and drove up next to him. Some guys came out and grabbed him, I think they drugged him I don't know, and drove off. Yeah, I did nothing! Its none of my business.

The homeless person shuffled away to heaven knew where and Dick was left standing in the middle of stinking alleyway, limply holding a picture of Tim. Black van. Classic but effective. It's also easy to find on a traffic cam.


Dick checked every camera he could and after a few agonizing hours, he finally found the van just barely skimming the corner of the feed of a camera on the inside of a gas station. The van purposely avoided every camera that watched the streets, but Dick thankfully lucked out. The van was black and there was a blurry image of a man at the steering wheel. The more he looked, he noticed the black of the van was actually a sloppy paint work. Probably spray paint. He zoomed in and used every program he had access to to clear up the image. Under the black paint was a logo… if he could just get it clear enough to read…

Finally, the logo became clear enough for him to read. Without wasting a second, Dick slipped into his suit and swung out into the now darkening city.


It was the logo of an old grocery shop down in the slums. It remained open mostly because it was the only cheap place to get okay food for the people that lived in the area. The grocery shop used to do house orders, which is the reason they would have cars with logos on them.

It only took Nightwing thirty minutes to arrive at the store. It was closed and the lights on the inside were off. Didn't matter, Nightwing just went there really to see if he could find a list of the employees, but when he looked to the side of the building he saw a familiar van.

All of a sudden, things were so much more urgent because Tim was in there.

He snuck over to the windows and looked inside. The aisles were short and close together, most were pretty bare, waiting for someone to restock. Other than that, the building was eerily empty.

He silently picked the lock on the doors and went inside like a shadow. It was silent, not even a humming of the AC could be heard. He swallowed and continued deeper into the building. He turned into a door that said "employees only" and slipped in.

The other side of the door was split into three areas. One lined the back of the fridges where chilled items like milk and eggs could be stocked easily. There were boxes stacked on top of boxes in that section, it was also about the temperature of a fridge, but other than that, it was empty. The second section was filled with large metal structures for normal storage. Glass jars and chip bags stuffed into boxes sat on the shelves. Nightwing took his time looking around each corner of the section, there were too many places for someone to hide it seemed, but after extensive search, Nightwing's search came out to be fruitless.

The last section was behind a large metal door with big red letters that said "KEEP CLOSED". Nightwing had to put his whole body weight into sliding the door open, and when he did he was met with below zero temperatures.

The freezer.

He stopped at the entrance and looked into the darkness of the freezer with nothing but his night vision. There were metal shelves and pallets littering the floor. Too many places to hide, but not a very comfortable one. He could see his breath puff up in front of his face and the cold was already biting through his suit. At first glance, the freezer looked empty. He sighed, watching his breath rise, already considering leaving and looking for other places the kidnappers could have hid.

However, for the first time since he got to the grocery shop, he heard something.

It was muffled and scared sounding. Whimpers and sniffles.

Tim.

Nightwing went deeper into the freezer, ignoring how he could already feel goosebumps forming on his arms. He turned around a shelf and came to a stop when he saw Tim.

Or at least, Tim was the first thing he saw. He was tied to a metal chair with his hands probably duct taped behind him. His ankles were restrained in a similar way to the legs of the chair. He had a length of tape stuck over his mouth and even more wrapped around his head to blindfold him. A dark stain covered his shirt near to his shoulder, probably blood from whatever they've done to him when Bruce asked to talk to Tim. He was shivering, stripped down to just his undershirt and boxers. Snot ran out of his nostrils and trailed over the tape gagging him.

Unfortunately though, Tim wasn't alone.

There was a man standing casually behind Tim, one arm wrapped around Tim's shoulders and a hand pressed a gun to Tim's temple like it was the easiest thing in the world. He had a ski mask on.

"Well," the man said and pressed the gun harder into Tim's temple, making a horrid mark, "I was expecting Batman."

Expecting?

Stars exploded at the back of his head.

Nightwing felt the world tilt and his body go down with it. He stumbled and landed on the ground, just barely able to catch himself on his hands and knees. He immediately pushed himself to his feet to face whoever had snuck up on him while he was busy being terrified of how terrible people could be, but the world exploded into blinding light.

Or someone just turned on the lights and his night vision freaked out.

Nightwing called out and squeezed his eyes shut. His skull ached from whatever he had been hit with and the cold was numbing his hands. He could only imagine how cold Tim was.

He heard something swing, but he wasn't fast enough to dodge some kind of bar as it swung at his head. It cut the skin above his eyebrow and knocked him off his feet. He landed roughly on the ground and groaned when hands latched onto him and began to take his escrima sticks.

He forced his stinging eyes open, thankful that his mask had automatically turned off the night vision, but the sight that he saw was the man grinning from his eyes and holding the gun store an uncomfortable angle under Tim's jaw.

"Stand down or I blow the kids brains out."

Tim tried to shove the man off to the best of his abilities, but the man held him too tight. Dick had no doubt the man would shoot Tim. By the looks of it, he already stabbed him. Nightwing forced him to relax into the ground. He forced himself to allow gloved hands to lift him up and shove him against one of the shelves of the freezer.

Forced himself to remain still as his suit was put in the process of being stripped from his body.

"Where's Batman?" The man asked. Nightwing glared and ignored how his shoulders were shaking. He clenched his jaw to stop the chattering before it started. The man sighed at Nightwing's silence and pressed the gun harder into Tim's jaw. Tim made a strangled whimpering sound at the back of his throat. "Where's the Bat, Nightwing?"

Nightwing loosened his jaw and shot a quick glare at the men, there were multiple, who had finally stripped home down to his underwear. All he had was his mask which he hoped beyond hope they would leave alone. Before he knew it, his hands were zip tied in front of him with multiple and heavy duty ties. "Not coming," Nighting growled out, "he couldn't make it. Sent me."

The ties dug into his skin as the men shoved him forward and forced his arms upward, where chains were hanging. His arms were wrapped up in the chains and a lock and key held them tight against his bare arms. The metal felt colder than ice and the air on his bare skin felt like torture. His jaw was shaking even as he tried to keep it still.

The men backed off and the man who held the gun against Tim finally lowered it. Nightwing couldn't help the shuddering breath of relief that came out of him. The man cut the tape holding Tim's ankles to the chair and hefted Tim up by the back of his shirt. Tim shook his shoulders but he didn't look strong enough to shake off a fly, let alone the grasp of a psycho.

"I suppose we'll have have to hope you're telling the truth, or else the kid gets it."

"D- don't do this," Nighting tried, as last resort, "there's oth-other w-w-ays-"

His whole body was shaking and his fingers were already numb. The man laughed and began to drag Tim out of the freezer. No one said anything more as one of the other men slapped a piece of tape over Nightwing's mouth and followed the leader out. The lights were shut off and the door of the freezer was rolled shut. There was the sound of chains on the other side of the door and Nightwing realized that they were locking the door shut. Even if he got out of his restraints, he would still be stuck.

He shivered in the dark, desperately looking for ways to escape and save Tim, but as his nose began to run, he already knew there were no options other to wait. He couldn't move from his spot and his limbs were too numb to try and escape the locked chains. All he could do was wait and try to keep his body temperature up for as long as he could.

He lasted an hour and a half. He stopped shivering and blood trailed down his arms from the ties. His legs were so week he could hardly stand up any longer, leaving him to dangle from the chains, which would have hurt if his whole body wasn't so numb.

His eyes were too heavy to keep open, and he realized that with Bruce being public about his funding both forced the idiots to stop trying, and the smart ones to get smarter.


Tim didn't know what they did to Nightwing. He didn't know anything of what was happening, he was too hot and too much in pain. Even in the freezer he felt hot, and now that he was out, the warm Gotham air hit him like opening an oven. The shivers died down once they threw him into a trunk of a car, but the numbness remained.

He figured that was because of the blood loss. Or the constant doses of drugs they gave him. Maybe a bit of both.

He couldn't do a thing with his hands tied so tight behind his back, even if he were Robin he wouldn't be able to escape from this. The men who took him were too smart.

They took down Nightwing after all.

Tim wondered what Bruce was doing. Batman wouldn't just be too busy to save him. Something was holding him back, keeping him from rescuing Tim and helping Nightwing.

God, Tim hoped they didn't leave Nightwing in the freezer. It really sounded like they did.

He took deep breaths through the snot clogging his nose and tried to shift in the small trunk he was stuffed in. It was a different car than the one they took him in. Probably less conspicuous. It was an older car, judging by the sharp corners of the trunk and how it was a trunk . Most cars had the back of the car open to the back seats, not closed off in it's own hellish compartment.

Maybe he could kick out the tail light. Find a way to wave at passing cars. Get someone to call for help, because this wasn't about only him anymore. Dick was in trouble too, and Bruce probably didn't even know.

He tried to shift in the small space he was crammed into, but his stomach revolted as the newest dose of drugs he was dosed with began to kick in. His body felt like a broken puppet and before he knew it, staring off into the darkness behind the tape became so much more interesting then trying to escape.



The parking garage was empty except for Bruce Wayne. Dick hadn't been answering any attempts of communication, and the cops were sticking too close to Bruce, so he was forced to go through with the kidnappers demands.

Alone. Suitcase of 4 mil. Cash.

If I see a single person, let alone a cop, that's not you: you get the kid back in plastic sandwich baggies.

After a tense hour of waiting, a car finally arrived into the parking garage. An old Kia colored an off white color. It came to a stop and immediately four men climbed out of the doors. All wore ski masks and made a point of holding their pistols in front of them. There was one more left sitting in the driver's spot, probably to drive off if anything went wrong.

"Where's Tim," Bruce demanded.

"You have the money?" The one who got out of the passenger seat asked casually. He stood a bit in front of the others and looked a bit smarter than the rest. Bruce recognized his voice from the phone calls. He must be the leader.

"Yes, now let me see Tim."

The leader looked Bruce up and down and then rested on the suitcase. "Show me it's all there, then you'll see the kid."

Bruce never felt more angry as he was forced to comply. He bent down and unzipped the case before laying it down on the pavement. He picked up a wad of cash, each around three thousand, and showed it so it was easy to see. One of the men walked forward at the whispered request of the leader and looked in the bag himself. Bruce hated how close the man was, someone who would willingly hurt a kid for money, let alone Tim , are lower than scum.

"Looks to be all there, boss," the grunt said before walking away back to his group.

The leader took a couple seconds to just stare before he nodded at the driver still in the car. The driver nodded back and popped open the trunk of the car. The bastards shoved Tim in the trunk.

One of the grunts walked over to the trunk and opened it the rest of the way before he pulled a bound, blindfolded, and gagged Tim with a rough hand clutching bare arms hard enough to leave bruises. Tim was shoved forward and he stumbled, the man who grabbed him had to both adjust and tighten his grip to keep him standing. Bruce could see from where he was that Tim would definitely need a hospital. Blood dried on his white shirt by his left shoulder around some edges, but he could still see how the light glistened off the crimson red in the middle of the stain. Tim’s still bleeding and he had been for awhile. He had dried mucus and dirt all over his face and his skin was dangerously flushed.

He also looked extremely confused, even with the blindfold and gag.

“Tim, I’m here,” Bruce called out. Tim looked up, a bit more aware even though the man who grabbed him had to hold all of his body weight as if he were a corpse.

Tim made a muffled sound and was handed over to the leader.

Bruce forced himself to look away from his youngest over to the leader and to remain civil. He didn't want to anger the men who held his kid’s life in their hands. “How do we do this?”

“My man will walk over with the kid, grab the suitcase, and we leave,” the leader replied. “It’s as simple as that.”

Bruce took a deep breath. “Okay.”

The leader shoved Tim over to the same man who grabbed him from the trunk. The man gripped Tim, since Tim looked like he could hardly think clearly let alone stand or walk on his own. Maybe they drugged him, Bruce realized with a flash of anger. Blood loss and drugs.

Bruce forced himself to remain still, standing next to the open case of cash that the kidnappers deemed the amount of Tim’s life. He would have payed more. He would have dressed up in a monkey suit and did the hula if it meant all of his family were safe, especially Tim who was still aching from his own father’s demise. Especially Dick who was his rock and the reason he was still sane. Especially… especially Jason.

Finally, after what must have been years but was only a couple moments, Tim was within arms reach. Bruce didn’t bother to watch the kidnapper zip up the case and roll it away because he was too busy grabbing at Tim and gently lowering him to the ground. Tim’s head rolled limply as Bruce shifted him. He heard the sound of an engine and screeching tires and silence befell over Bruce and Tim.

He didn't waste a second longer to help Tim. He pulled out his phone with one hand and dialed Gordon, and with the other he gently ripped off the tape covering Tim’s mouth.

“Bruce…” Tim whispered sloppily. His speech was slurred but at least he knew Bruce was there.

“It’s okay, Tim,” Bruce said. He put the phone between his shoulder and ear so he could get a better grasp on the blindfold. He was in the middle of unwinding it when Gordon finally answered. The parking garage had terrible reception.

Bruce, what happened? Is Tim okay?

“He needs an ambulance. He’s possibly drugged and lost a lot of blood,” Bruce said. He finally got all the tape off and winced at the dazed look in Tim’s eyes. He shifted Tim over and worked on his bloodied wrists where his tape restrains had rubbed the skin raw and sawed through the layers.

“Brss… Dick…” Tim said slowly like he was trying very hard just to say the names.

“Dick’s not here,” Bruce said with a bit more growl than what he had meant to put in there. Nightwing was supposed to find Tim, but he now wasn't bothering to answer his phone or communicator. It wasn't like Dick to ignore Bruce when something so serious, so vital to his sibling’s survival, was happening.

“No… no… t-trubl…”

Bruce, are the kidnappers gone? Did you see their faces or get-”

“Just get an ambulance,” Bruce said. “Get it over here, quick.”

Then he hung up because he knew that soon he wouldn’t be able to control his emotions. Tim was so small in his arms and untying his wrists opened up what wounds were lucky to scab. Dick was unresponsive, and he had just let criminals win.

“Don’t worry, buddy,” Bruce said as he shifted Tim once again, this time to a more comfortable position for the both of them so he could wipe off the gross from his face with his tie. Tim squirmed and squeezed his eyes shut, his hands shot up to try and fight off Bruce. “Tim, it’s me, just let me clean your face.”

Tim shook his head. “Dick… he- he’s…”

“Tim.”

“No. no no no… t-trouble… f-” Tim made a frustrated noise at the back of his throat. Only Tim would be this frustrated with himself while drugged. He opened his eyes and surprised Bruce by looking straight into Bruce’s eyes. He started again, speaking slowly and as clear as he could. “Dick… Nightwing… he’s- t-trouble.”

“Dick’s in trouble?”

“Yeah… yeah…”

Bruce didn’t even consider that the reason Dick wasn’t answering was because of something other than ignoring Bruce. He cursed himself for that. He was so busy worrying over Tim he didn’t even think for a moment that something had held Dick up.

Tim’s eyes were blinking slowly, like consciousness was becoming a losing battle.

“Where is he, Tim,” He said as sirens began to be heard in the distance. Hopefully it was an ambulance. “Where is Dick?”

He gently shook Tim when Tim’s eyes were more closed than open. Tim blinked frantically and shook his head. “F…” he said, trying out the word, as if it were the first time he had ever said it. “Freezer… locked… I- I think.”

And then the ambulance and multiple police cars tore into the garage. In the matter of minutes, Tim was torn from his hands and loaded into a stretcher. Bruce watched as they strapped Tim in and placed an oxygen mask on his face. Paramedics rushed to get everything that they could taken care of. They rushed him into the ambulance and one of the paramedics kept the doors open, welcoming Bruce to ride along. Bruce caught sight of Tim glaring at him behind the mask on his face, daring him to join him on the ambulance.

“No…” Bruce said, backing away, “There is something I need to take care of.”

The paramedic looked shocked, but Tim’s condition and his job was more important than convincing someone to crowd the back of an already small compartment up more. Soon Bruce was left with Gordon standing behind him and the other cops.

“Bruce, we need to talk,” Gordon said as he placed a hand on Bruce’s shoulder.

Bruce moved forward to brush off the shoulder. “Later,” he said, and before Gordon could reply, he ran off to his car, jumped in, and started the engine. Gordon and the other cops were racing to his car but he ignored him and floored it.


It took too long to go through Dick’s computers and thought process, and when Batman finally arrived at the grocery store he couldn’t help but feel he had already failed Dick; that in the process of saving Tim, he had lost someone else.

Please not someone else, please not Dick too.

He raced inside the building and practically jumped over counters and kicked down doors to finally arrive at the freezer. His blood ran cold when he saw the freezer humming quietly, constantly keeping the inside colder than the temperature that humans can survive in for long. He cut the chains off from the handle and the pole that kept the door shut tight, and then shoved open the freezer with all the strength he had. He turned on the lights and came to a stop when he saw a figure hanging limply from the chains connected to the ceiling.

His pulse was so weak and his skin was so cold. He was way past the beginning stages of hypothermia. When Batman cut him down and dragged him out of the freezer, he ripped off the mask covering his eyes and hated how they were still open; open but sightless. He was looking at something else, probably hallucinating.

Batman could do nothing but try his best to warm him up in the safest way possible—and after a bit he realized, with no expense of horror, that Dick was hardly even breathing, he ended up having to breathe for Dick—but as the minutes passed and nothing had changed, Bruce took over and called Leslie, he told her to go to the Batcave, that Dick was so close to death and he needed to warm up or else…

Or else he wouldn’t last the next thirty minutes... if they were lucky.

The Batmobile with just outside… but as fast as his car was, he almost didn’t get there in time.


 

Tim woke up feeling like he was flying. His whole body felt like cotton candy and his brain was a bit fuzzy, but he was still able to instantly recognize the hospital and remember most of what had happened to put him there. He was also able to recognize Bruce who sat just off his hospital bed.

“Dick?” He asked quietly.

Bruce looked up from whatever he had been looking at and smiled at Tim. Smiled. Something Bruce was notorious for never doing. Something terrible must have happened. Oh god, did he not find Dick? Did Dick die ?!

Bruce must have saw the panic on Tim’s face because he quickly changed his expression to something more monotonous, familiar… Bruce.

“Dick is fine,” Bruce said quickly. Tim felt like the world had just fallen off his chest and it left him breathing like he’d never breathed before. “Woke up a bit before you. He has a nasty cold so he wasn’t able to be here for you when you woke up.”

Tim smiled and leaned back in his chair. “Tell him it’s fine. I’m just glad he’s okay.”

Bruce let out a small chuckle. “I’m glad you both are okay.”

God, so was Tim.

Chapter Text

He was running; trying to escape. That was all that mattered at the moment, not how he got there or why he was trying to leave. Not how badly his whole body absolutely ached with a bone deep pain that he didn’t quite understand because it didn’t matter.

All that mattered was his bare feet slapping against the cheap tile below him, the left turn here and the staircase there, the sound of pursuit behind him.

His arms were cold and the inside of his elbow protested with each movement. If he had bothered to look down at his arm while he was running, he would have found multiple puncture wounds from and IV or from different syringes they had forced into him.

“He’s entering level B!” He heard behind him, “catch him!”

He gasped in a mouthful of air and pumped his legs harder because he couldn’t let them catch up. He couldn’t let them take him and bind him back down and do who knew what to his body. He just wanted to stop hurting. He didn’t want knives slicing through his skin or needles being jammed into his muscles. He wanted a hug. He wanted Bruce. He wanted home.

Tears clouded his vision, he didn’t know he still had some of those left. He thought for sure they had dried up and gone away just like his voice after hours of begging and screaming.

A figure stepped out in front of him and his stomach rolled at the familiar white of their garments.

Nightwing stopped in his tracks and attempted to back up, but arms wrapped around his middle and all he could do was buck and scream out in panic. The arms holding him tightened and slammed him down to the ground. He groaned at pains the blow flared up on his body but did his best to ignore it as he desperately rolled onto his back and kicked and punched out at the figures standing above him, frantically trying to hold him down. His heart was in his throat and his whole being was screaming fight or flight but he couldn’t do that because someone had finally pinned down his legs and another was getting close to doing the same with his arms. He screamed out in panic when one of the hands came to his neck, holding a sickeningly familiar form of a syringe.

“No no no nononono, stop please, STOP!” he begged but that didn’t stop them from shoving the cold needle into his neck and pressing down. His arms were inevitably held still and he was robbed of all movement besides bucking his hips and shaking his head back and forth, but whatever they had stuck in him was fast working and soon his world became a blur of white and pain.

Then, there was dark.

-o-o-o-o-

Nightwing woke up to cold. He was familiar with it, it was always with him. It was inside the padded room they kept him in, it was on the metal table they strapped him on, it was in liquid of his IV’s when they decided he needed another dose of nutrients to live. He was always cold, but he never found himself getting used to it. It always surprised him when his sore eyes opened behind a tattered mask they had for some reason allowed him to keep. Maybe it was the same reason they sometimes gagged him when he screamed, they couldn’t stand to hear him plead like a human so why would they want to look into the eyes of one when they sliced open flesh and carved out bone and organs and-

They frog marched him through the hallways and he did his darndest to fight them. They had his wrists tied in leather cuffs in front of him and his legs had similar restrains around the ankles. The manacles and shackles eached had less than an inch of give between them, not much for any hostage but enough to annoy the ever loving hell out of these psychopaths. However, his struggles, while they succeeded in delaying his forced movement, were also weaker than what they should have been. They've had him in their clutches for what must have been at least a week, and in that whole time he'd been expertly restrained and drugged to keep him more “manageable”, they've also refrained from giving him food, resorting to using an IV line after they drugged him to sleep each night. There was literally nothing he could do to stop them from dragging him into a new room that awaited more horrors.

His limbs jolted and he realized where he was and for a long moment he wanted to cry because out of everything they have done to him, this was the worst. It was the thing that broke him, that changed him from a tight jawed vigilante into a victim.

The room was shaped like a hexagon, nothing like the harsh rectangles and squares of each and every other torture room they had brought him to. The walls were padded with a soft, white looking fabric and the tile from the hallways and labs was replaced with a shaggy carpet that felt like heaven on his sore feet—they had just finished whipping the soles just an hour ago… or what he thought was an hour ago… time gets harder to keep track of the more it passes. In the middle of the room was a fancy padded chair that looked like it could be used for a dentist chair; could be if the ridiculous amount of restraints were removed then sure. He fought them the best he could, but they eventually forced him into the chair and began to strap him in after removing his previous bindings one at a time. His wrists, elbows, shoulders, waiste, hips, thighs, knees, shins, and ankles were fully restrained with plastic like cuffs that bit into his skin tightly, even through the cotton hospital gown they had forced him into when he first woke up in the hell hole. He tried to bite at the fingers that pulled the finale straps across his neck and forehead, and another was looped under his jaw to keep his mouth shut. He was completely immovable, and helpless when they approached him with a syringe.

He was restrained in the same way now, in the same chair and in the same room. The only difference now was that his mouth was free. He couldn’t tell if that was good or not. Maybe they wanted him to talk, or maybe they finally decided that they liked listening to him scream. He tugged at the plastic bindings, but there were no give. Already, they were making prints in his skin and cutting off circulation in his fingers and toes. He couldn’t move his head, but he could look around him. He was alone for the moment, but he knew that wouldn't last long. Any moment that door hidden behind padding would slide open and one of his torturers would come waltzing in. Panic set into his very bones, he hated the chair he was strapped into. Hated it so, so much. With every fiber of his being. Before the chair he had hope that Bruce would notice he was missing and he and his little siblings would all come and save him, after the chair he lost all of that, not the slightest sliver of hope towards seeing the sun again or not being restrained in any way. He had forgotten how to move his arms freely until his miraculous escape attempt, and he hated how they didn’t quite feel like his.

He found himself tugging at the straps again, harder. He remembered for a fraction of a moment that Bruce had trained him to remain calm and preserve energy but that didn’t stick along long enough for Nightwing to actually consider calming down. Bruce hadn’t been in the chair. He hadn’t been forced to sit and suffer and-

The door slid open with a hiss and in walked one of the torturers. He recognized this one, which was a rare thing for him because each of these captors looked the same to him, except for this one. She was shorter than Nightwing, skinnier, and just all around smaller, but Nightwing knew she was a demon and that she, without a doubt, held his life in her hands. He was at her mercy, and that terrified him.

“I’m sorry,” Nightwing suddenly found himself saying. A thought swirled at the back of his head, telling him that he was pathetic and that he would never apologize or beg towards a monster, he was trained to harden his features, think clearly, and when there was no escape he should relax and wait. Save himself from unnecessary damage… but none of that was working. Every day he was dragged out of his cell and attached to the newest device or torture and help was not coming. “I’m sorry!” he repeated, louder this time when the woman took a step closer to him without a single change in her expression.

“I promise I won’t try to escape again,” Nightwing pleaded. His voice was scratchy and his throat throbbed with every breath. “Please, just get me out of this chair!”

“How did you escape?” The woman said. Nightwing stopped in the middle of his next plead and stared at her with wide eyes hidden behind his mask. They had never… talked to him before, or acknowledge him at all for that matter.

“What?”

“How did you escape?” She said, surprisingly patient sounding. “You were locked in your cell, and then you were out. How did you do it?”

Nightwing stared at her. How did he escape? He… how did he do it? “I… I don’t know,” he whispered, and he meant it. He didn’t know how it happened, just one second he was writing on the padded floor of his cell, suffering the after effects of some kind of poison they force fed him, and the next he was running down the hall with his whole mind focused on one thing: escape.

The woman sighed. “I had really hoped you would have remembered, because, you see, I know how you did it, but that doesn’t matter. That just means my research is working, but apparently not well enough,” she suddenly pulled out a syringe and Nightwing’s body fought against the restraints automatically because he knew what that was and it terrified him.

“You see,” the woman continued as she stepped even closer to Nightwing; she ignored every please and wait and stop that came out of his mouth, “I’m not a common criminal. I don’t enjoy listening to you scream and beg. I am a scientist, looking to make a better future for us all, unfortunately my work requires you to be put under great amounts of stress and pain.” She stopped next to Nightwing and gently brushed her hand across his forehead, wiping away his loose hair. He flinched at the touch. “When you escaped, I thought the next phase of my experiment could commence, but it seems you were too unfocused to even remember what you did.” She placed the syringe on his lap, teasing him by letting him be so close to his nightmare but not allowing him to do anything about it. Her hands traveled up to his shoulders and his stomach flipped as a scene of a raining rooftop and the smell of blood danced through his memory. He desperately blinked, trying to remain in the present as his fingers dug into the arms of the chair. “Do you want to know what my project is? What role you have in it?”

His heart was racing and he could hardly find the state of mind to open his mouth. The scientist smiled and leaned in closer towards him. “You are apart of a revolutionary experiment, one that will allow the common human to become more than that. Yes, I know that you are anything but common, but we both know for a fact you are just extremely trained and good at what you do. Not a single strand of meta inside of you.”

“Meta?” Nightwing asked as he tried to lean away from her trailing fingers that brushed over his chest. It was too similar to her on that rooftop. He could see it in the woman’s eyes that she knew she was making him extremely uncomfortable… uncomfortable was a oddly tame word for it too, but she knew what she was doing. He swallowed. “Wh… what do you mean?”

She laughed slightly under her breath. “I have a classic evil scientist back story. I have revolutionary ideas that are too inhumane to test, so I go off grid and test them myself. It’s not very fair that only certain people have super powers, isn't it?” Her fingers brushed up by his cheek and caressed his jaw. “Wouldn’t it be amazing if we all had powers? We wouldn’t need superheroes to save us, we could save ourselves. That’s what I’ve been doing, Nightwing. Everynight I pump into your body my very own homemade meta genes to give you superpowers.”

Nightwing went still even though her hands continued to travel. “I… I don’t understand.”

She laughed through her nose and finally backed away from him. “Approximately two hours ago, you were in your cell and then the next minute you werent. That’s not something any human can do, trained by Batman or not. My experiment is working, you showed signs of meta capabilities with my artificial genes, even though you were not aware of it.” Nightwing wanted to shake his head no, because that was a lie and Bruce already tested him for meta dna and there was none, but he wouldn't shake his head and the plastic restraint dug into his skin. “You bleed into the shadows and emerged into the hallway. Now all we have to do is make you aware of your new abilities so you can activate them at will, then I’ll know all my hard work had finally paid off. Of course, we’ll have to kill you when we’re through, but aren't you excited to be a real superhero?”

The old Nightwing, the brave and sarcastic one that he used to be, took over for just a second and he launched the biggest wad of spit he could make right onto her face. She gasped and brought her sleeve up to her face and wiped at the fluid. Nightwing instantly regretted his action when she brought her arm down roughly and stomped all the way towards him. He felt an apology crawl up to his throat, a sign that the current and afraid Nightwing had made his return, but was unable to get it out when the final strap was forced under his jaw and locked tightly, making his teeth clenched tightly together.

“I have many other experiments, Nightwing,” the woman growled. Her eyes were like fire, dangerous and unpredictable. Her hand shot down to his lap, making him violently flinch, but she only picked up the syringe… he didn’t know if he should be thankful about that or not because he hated that syringe but he also hated what her hands could potentially do to him instead. “This,” she continued in a low voice, “is one of my best. All I have to do is shove it in your neck here-” her cold fingers brushed the base of his neck where his tendons popped in his struggles “-and the solution will enter your bloodstream. It will attack your spine and your brain stem, paralyze the nerves in your body and make is so you will not be able to feel a single thing.” Nightwing jerked in fear when the needle was suddenly jammed into his neck, and he wanted to cry when her thumb pressed down and allowed his most feared torture to enter his body. “The genius thing about this solution is that it will not affect any of your major organs, they will continue to work as if you were sleeping. They will also leave your eyes alone, leaving that the only thing you can control. You already know all of this. I’m positive the way your hands are going numb is familiar.”

She was right, his grasping hands loosened against his will and his fingertips felt far away.

“In two minutes you will not be able to feel your whole arms and most of your legs. It will travel throughout the rest of your body in just a minute after that. You will be left here for hours, only being able to watch, and I will record every moment, because this is the thing you fear most. Being helpless.” Tears dripped down from his eyes and he could no longer feel his feet. “My hope is that you are able to get out of this, because if you don't, I will do it again. Over and over and over again until you fight back and prove me right.”

She pulled the needle out of his neck and dropped it onto the floor.

“You’ll have lots of time to think about how to activate your powers. Relax, take your time.”

Then, she turned and walked out of the room, leaving the door to seal shut behind her, and Nightwing was left terrified behind her, only able to blink and stare desperately as his breathing slowed down and his heart beated in a fraction of a more relaxed pace. He would scream if he could feel anything besides the raging terror of his mind that he was all of a sudden stuck in.

It took two days straight for the shadows to finally bend to his will.

Chapter Text

Nightwing landed hard but silent at the top of a metal structure by the dockside. The moon had rose to its highest point and the cool night air, air that was somehow colder than Gotham, breezed past, ruffling his loose hair and sinking through his suit. Below where he perched were a group of classic baddies doing classic baddie business. He watched silently as one hefted a box into a shipping container and another marked a tally on a clipboard.

He didn't know what were packed into those boxes being loaded, but he did know that the man leading the operation wouldn't be taking charge of innocent boxes of cereal. No, Gave Jones—a leading force in Blüdhaven's gangs that was not someone to cross unprepared—dealt in drugs.

Nightwing had been tracking Gave for the better part of a week, which is just a bit shorter than the time Dick Grayson had been in Blüdhaven. He was Dick— Nightwing's —first bad guy since he moved out of the manor, well, first actual bad guy. In the time he'd been in Blüdhaven, he'd definitely had his fair share of criminals show up during his patrols. Back in Gotham, perps got the idea pretty quickly that they had a small window to actually try to mug someone or rob a bank before Batman and Robin showed up, but in Blüdhaven it was like the purge became a reality. Corruption ran all the way to the mayor's chair and cops did nothing about it. Nightwing ran into a criminal every other street all the way into the morning, and even then crime did not sleep. It bled into the day and continued onto the next night. Crime was like a fire ant nest, you can take a couple soldiers and workers out, but they'll continue to swarm and build up until they're fighting back with a nasty bite.

But Gave wasn't a soldier or worker, more like a general. A man no one messed with, who controlled instead of worked. Not quite a queen ant, but taking him out would throw off a whole fleet.

Therefore: first bad guy of Blüdhaven.

Right now, Gave and about twelve underlings and five hired guns moved boxes too and from crates, taking things out and putting others in. Nightwing figured that whatever were in the crates was bad, and whatever they were putting back—probably as an exchange—was just as bad. If not worse. Bad guys usually sell the bad stuff rather than buy it.

Something suddenly crashed and Nightwing tensed as Gave whipped around from where he was counting goods and began to stalk with a face of murder to a young man who dropped a box that he was attempting to lug into a crate. The man whimpered before he hurriedly began to apologise profusely but Nightwing wasn't paying too much attention to that; what he was paying attention to was to the fallen crate with shattered walls, halfway laying on the ground, halfway collapsed into it. Around the cracks pooled a yellow substance that Nighting wished would just go away.

"Of course," Nightwing growled to himself quietly, "of course it's Venom."

It's like every time he and Batman get rid of it, more of it pops out somewhere, stronger and more dangerous. Civilians that use it never learn, at first they take it as an untraceable steroid, and then the addiction gets to them and they turn into raging King Kong's, the only difference is that women they kidnap don't usually end up leaving their meaty fists alive.

It looked like they were sending Venom out of the country, not in. That fact both relieved and worried Nightwing, because at least he knew it wouldn't be Blüdhaven that will be flattened by humans turned Hulk; but third world countries—where, to Nightwing's best judgement, the Venom was most likely going—were harder to infiltrate and clean up. That also meant that somewhere in Blüdhaven was a secret Venom lab that Nightwing hadn't found.

Hopefully, taking out Gave would lead him to that lab.

"How stupid are you! Are you trying to make us lose profit!" Gave was screaming, catching Nightwing's attention.

"Oh shit," Nightwing cursed himself. He was too busy glaring at Venom to notice that Gave had pulled out a gun and was ruthlessly shoving it into the chest of the man who dropped the crate. Other workers averted their eyes and continued their work as the hired guns snickered and watched the cowering man with blood thirsty eyes.

"I'm sorry!" The man sobbed.

"Do you have any idea how much this costs?" Gave snarled and Nightwing flexed his muscles when Gave's finger brushed over the trigger of his gun. "This is coming out of your paycheck!"

Nightwing watched as Gave suddenly stopped yelling and a thoughtful look appeared on his face. Nightwing instantly knew what was going to happen.

"Or, we can just eliminate your paycheck all together," Gave said with an evil smirk.

The man got a confused look, and then a look of dawning spread through his features and he attempted to back up in horror.

Okay, enough is enough , Nightwing thought with a sigh. He had been waiting for the perfect moment to make his move, but letting one casualty—even that of a criminal—slip by wouldn't make Nightwing that much of a bigger person. Ends don't justify means and all that stuff.

Gave readjusted the hold on his gun and Nightwing grabbed an escrima stick from the holsters strapped to his back—heavens above did he love his escrima sticks, definitely a step up from a pole—and launched it through the air. It whizzed and hit directly on Gave's gun hand, snapping the weapon out of his fingers and probably breaking a couple small, fragile bones. Gave screamed in pain as a shot of electricity—god he loved his escrima sticks—ran through his body, disorienting him just enough for Nightwing to remove himself from his perch and begin his attack.

He quickly dodged and hid behind a beam of metal scaffolding when one of the hired guns did the admittingly smart thing and fired in Nightwing's direction, where the stick came hurtling from out of nowhere. Nightwing saw another hired gun leave his spot and start running over, but Nightwing didn't worry too much about that guy, he was heading towards juuuust the wrong direction.

Silence fell over the group of criminals as Gave spat and hissed like a wounded alley cat, clutching at his hand and swearing up the wall.

"The fuck ?!" Gave screamed finally and the man he had been previously threatening whimpered. "Was that!?!"

"I think it's that Batman wannabe," sad a hired gun that run over to Gave's side, probably to protect him for another flying stick. He was eyeing the offending stick—that was casually sitting on the asphalt like it hadn't just broken a man's hand—with distrust.

Nightwing both bristled and smirked at the recognition in the hired guns voice. Finally he was gaining a rep in Blüdhaven, but it still stung to be compared to Batman. Maybe he should just tell everyone that he used to be Robin. That'd scare em.

Gave growled unintelligently and started to command the hired guns to find "that Batman copycat" and at the workers to work faster. Nightwing squeezed himself into a nook when he saw the gun that had ran over to find him had turned in his direction. At that same moment, Gave grabbed the cowering worker with his good hand and shoved a syringe into the man's arms.

Nightwing's blood froze when Gave hissed, "make yourself useful."

"Crap."

He spun from his hiding spot and ran in the shadows directly to the hired gun. The hired gun only got to see Nightwing for a brief second before Nightwing has roadhouse kicking him over the temple. The man let out a strangled sound of surprise and then fell to the ground, knocked unconscious. Nighting continued his sprinting, jumping bar to bar until he was down on ground level, but he was too late.

The man who dropped the crate dropped the syringe onto the ground with shaking hands.

"Crap." Nightwing repeated.

The man doubled over and clutched at his stomach, erupting into a painful scream as muscles we're already rippling and growing at a gross and alarming speed. Nightwing jumped from the shadows and sprinted through the dock, alerting every criminal there to his presence in quite a spectacular way—"oh where's that Nightwing guy? Woah, he's running suddenly towards us!!!"—and jumped onto the back of the Venom infested man. He whipped out his other stick and tried to knock the guy out, but the Venom took over and the man threw Nightwing with a mighty yell that would make the Hulk jealous.

A fist that was five times the size it was a couple seconds ago knocked into Nightwing's side and sent him hurtling through the air in a similar way his escrima stick had a few minutes ago. He let out a moan when he felt his ribs give in just a bit as he spun in the air. Thankfully, he quickly orientated himself and landed—albeit sloppily—on the pavement before launching himself to the side as bullets sprayed where he had just been. The bullets ricocheted off the asphalt and kicked up bits of stone and sparks.

Nightwing flipped across the ground and grabbed his other escrima stick before taking cover behind a shipping compartment, the sound of bullets hitting metal followed him.

"GET HIM." Someone, probably Gave, screamed through the gunfire.

Nighting only had a second to catch his breath and convince his brain to ignore his jostled ribs before a hand three times the size of Nightwing's hand slammed around the corner of the container, each of its sausage like fingers sunk deep into the metal, bending it in ways that shouldn't be possible. The container was whipped aside, flying through the air and landing on the scaffolding Nightwing had been hiding at a few minutes ago and knocking the whole structure over. Nightwing barely had time to think that the Venom this time was either extremely strong or shouldn't be taken by the vial before he was back flipping out of the way of the hand belonging to the man turned monster. Metal screeched as scaffolding collapsed on itself and the monster in front of his yelled in a chaotic rage. He swung another blow and Nightwing just barely was able to bring his sticks in front of him to at least block the blow.

The force of the blow alone hurt like a mother, but Nightwing was able to force the hit to his side and the monster ended up slipping and hitting the ground with enough power to shake the ground and make a hand shaped print in the asphalt.

Nightwing didn't give the monster any time to recover before he jammed the ends of his escrima sticks into its side, feeding it enough electricity to knock out a gorilla. The monster screamed and spasmed before, in one last attempt, it the out it's arm and swatted Nightwing aside like he was a fly. The monster stumbled and fell to its knees, but Nightwing was more worried about trying to land once again without jostling his ribs that he was sure a few were broken now. He wasn't so lucky this time, he ended up rolling on the the ground quite a few times before coming to a painful stop.

Everything went silent as Nightwing did his best to not throw up.

"Is… is he dead?" Asked a voice, not Gave.

"I don't know, go check!" Ah, there is Gave.

Nightwing heard multiple pairs of footsteps begin to approach him and he went still, playing dead for the moment. A foot jammed into his side and it took all of his training to not grunt out in pain.

"He looks dead to me," the man who kicked him said. Nightwing waited a few more seconds before two more footsteps arrived. His eyes shot open and he launched his attack with a complicated spin on his hands with his legs in the air—it looked more like a hip hop move, but it was still useful for fighting. His ribs protested in pain as his feet connected with the faces of three out of four conscious hired guns and he flipped onto his feet and got into a fighting position. Because of his ribs, the move wasn't as effective as he would have liked, only knocking one of three out and making the other two stumble.

Nightwing launched his attack viciously. There were two burly looking men standing in front of him with guns they definitely knew how to use, so he had to act quickly before they got the idea to pull their triggers. Nightwing went to hit one of them with his escrima sticks and watched the other one carefully—who was standing off a bit looking pissed off.

The man—who seemed to be buff and fast—dodged to the side and went to sucker punch Nightwing's side, which Nightwing just barely managed to block with his other hand. He quickly returned attack and bitch slapped him across the jaw with his stick. The man stumbled back with a moan and Nightwing was instantly under attack from the other hired gun. He gasped as meaty arms wrapped around his middle, trying to knock him down wrestling style, but Nightwing planted his feet and grabbed his shoulders. His ribs ached with fire yet he continued to ignore it as he shoved the other man away and threw his escrima stick at the first thug who had been trying to aim his gun without hurting his partner. The gun flew out of his hand and Nightwing sprinted towards him to finish him.

The man recovered quickly, which was a sad fact about much Blüdhaven criminals. They weren't skittish like Gotham scum, but hardened criminals that really knew how to fight.

And the fight continued, a fight filled with Nightwing throwing sticks and dodging punches from two men who could be mistaken as bears.

At some point, Nightwing lost both of his Escrima sticks and his hair began to stick to his forehead. He hadn't had a fight this intense in awhile… which is why he had tried to wait for a better moment. He was using his forearms to block blows from the two men who decided to proceed onto him at the same time and slowly backing up with each blow. He growled and was just about to finally return a punch when both the men got horrified looks on their faces and backed away.

Nightwing was just able to feel a little confused before his whole upper body was encased in a giant hand.

He couldn't stop the agonized scream that escaped his lips when the hand squeezed violently before throwing him across the courtyard.

Nightwing landed hard against one of the containers, knocking every body part he had against cold metal, before he flopped down onto the ground. Before he could even take a shuddering breath, he was dragged up to his feet by the Hulk and lifted up by one hand around his neck.

Now he really wished he had that time to take a breath, and now he's being strangled when he's already out of air.

He felt blood trail down his forehead and leak over the lenses of his mask as his feet dangled helplessly below him. The monster was holding him up at arm's length, a length that was just barely out of Nightwing's kicking range. He brought his hands up to the hand around his neck and clawed as hard as he could, both trying to get out of the grasp and hold himself up by something other than his neck.

Nothing was working and his ears were ringing.

To his side, he noticed Gave poke his head out from behind a compartment—the coward—and smirk at Nightwing's. One of the hired men brushed off his hands like he did all the work.

Gave walked up to where Nightwing dangled and his grin widened. "This is the Batman copycat? Pathetic."

"He fights like he's used to someone having his back," one of the guns said.

Nightwing lost the next thing to be said in his own ringing hearing and blurring vision. He felt hot breath on his face and the hand around him felt cold as ice.

He let one hand fall to blindly search for something .

"Just finish him-" someone said through the ringing.

Where…

There .

He grabbed his grappling gun and jammed the pointed end into the hand holding him up.

The monster wailed and dropped Nightwing like a rag doll onto the ground. Nightwing didn't like hurting people, there's a reason he used blunt force weapons instead of sharpened batterangs, but in that moment he was so deep in fight or flight that he didn't care. He somehow kept a grasp on the grapple and it slid out of the monsters palm with a slick pop with him as he landed hard on the ground. Before anyone could question what happened, Nightwing took the arguably heroic—though at the moment he felt like a coward—way out. With black rimming his vision and his whole body in total agony, he shot the bloody grapple towards the distance and retreated. He kept going until the smell of the sea was far behind him and his legs gave out. He stumbled in the dark streets and slid against one of the buildings brick walls, breathing hard.

"Damn," he whispered as the clouds opened up to rain.

"Damnit."

Chapter Text

Dick groaned. Even behind closed eyes his vision swirled; not making his mysterious headache feel any better. He felt like he was waking up with a hangover, but he didn't remember drinking… not that most people that wake up with hangovers actually remember getting drunk. For a moment, he thought that maybe he had gone to a party, but then he remembered that the only thing worth celebrating in his plans for the next two months was Tim's birthday, and alcohol would absolutely not be present there.

It took a few seconds of wracking his brain for his body to jolt and for him to realize that the last thing he remembered was patrol. His nerves awoke with a spark of electricity and he recognized the familiar feeling of his Nightwing suit tight around his skin. The pressure at the top of his nose became significant to him, making him almost sigh in relief that his mask was still on.

He dared himself to move—surely if his head hurt so much his whole body would as well—but when he began to shift his hand up to his forehead, his wrist met resistance. His stomach sunk with the sound of chains clinking and if were any less trained, he would have jerked up and struggled. Instead he carefully moved his other limbs and unfortunately met the same resistance of shackles and manacles.

He opened his eyes and ignored how his headache seemed to travel to the back of his irises.

He had expected to be chained down in some kind of dungeon or torture room, but he was surprised to meet the sight of a normal bedroom ceiling; the kind where children would lay on the ground and make shapes out of the random squiggles like they would with clouds. It took him a couple seconds to look around the rest of the room he was in, and with those few seconds his confusion grew.

He was in a normal bedroom… by the looks of it it belonged to a teenaged girl—judging by the bright colored walls that popped out even in the shadows of the moon clawing itself through the closed curtains above the window. Posters were taped to the wall, of various bands and celebrities, and a wardrobe sat half open to reveal clothes that definitely belonged to a girl. He found himself in a full sized bed placed center of the far wall across the door. He was chained spread-eagle to each of the bed posts with just enough room to slightly bend his knees and wave his arms in an "are you kidding me" kind of gesture.

He flicked his fingers towards his wrist and his gut dropped when they get nothing. He lifted his head from the plush pink pillow below him and studied his outstretched arm with a growing sense of horror.

He was disarmed… effectively. With a bit of searching, he found all of his secret pockets and hidden weapons searched and made useless. At the moment, he was just an abnormally strong guy in a kevlar suit. He was practically reduced to a Dick Grayson wearing oddly good cosplay.

The metal bands circling his wrists and ankles we're thin but extremely tight and didn't look cheap. The chains connecting from the bands to the bed posts were about the thickness of his own pinky finger, but they too didn't look like cheap metal, that—along with the thick padlock securing the chains around each post—did not bode well.

Then it hit him.

There was only one person who could effectively kidnap, disarm, and restrain Nightwing.

A chuckle reached his ears just as a growl rumbled in his throat. "Deathstroke," he snarled and kicked at the quilt below him to scoot himself up into a somewhat sitting position.

Out from the shadows emerged the one and only Slade Wilson. His mask sat annoyingly on his face, cored half yellow and half black, allowing a hole for only one eye. Deathstroke wore his classic uniform which made him look like he crawled out of a call of duty game. The last part of Nightwing's patrol suddenly came back to him; he remembered jumping over the gap between two apartment buildings before something stabbed his neck mid leap. He could feel the bruises on his shoulders and ribs start to smart as he recalled fumbling the landing on the other building and rolling into darkness.

"What's your game?" Nightwing growled as he tugged on the cuffs on his wrists. They were too tight, cutting off circulation and making sure that if Nightwing dislocated his thumb to get out the escape would be very painful band would permanently damage his digits.

Deathstroke let out a cocky snicker at the back of his throat and casually leaned back against the wall, folding his muscular arms across his chest. "You think this is for my own amusement?" Deathstroke asked with a smirk lacing his vocal chords. "Not everything is about you, Grayson. Actually, this is just a job, you squirming, trapped, is just an added bonus."

Nightwing's muscles rippled with the mentioned use of his name; reminding him that Deathstroke knew full well what his real identity was, but he pushed that to the back of his mind because he already knew that Deathstroke knew, right now the important thing was that a third party excited in the situation, which was never good.

"So?" Nightwing said slowly as he attempted to shift into a more defensive position—though he failed miserably in the sense he had a very limited range of motion. "Are you going to kill me?"

Deathstroke suddenly took a step forward with heavy boots pounding even on the carpeted floor, yet the chuckle that reached Nightwing's ears were so much louder. He felt his throat go dry and his fingers cold as the fact that if Deathstroke really wanted to kill him: he'd most certainly be dead.

"Now that would be the norm, wouldn't it?" Deathstroke asked with an almost bored tone of voice. He stopped just a few feet from the bed and stared through his mask like Nightwing was an interesting animal. Nightwing tensed his muscles and stretched his limbs to the limit so he could sit with Deathstroke in front of him… so he could attempt to defend himself if Deathstroke decided the talking was over. "However, my job is already done. I was paid just to bring you here and leave you to whatever my payer has planned."

Nightwing snarled and jerked his arm when Deathstroke put a hand on his shoulder. It churned his stomach when he couldn't remove the hand from his body; it made him feel completely helpless… completely open for any kind of attack.

"Make sure you get out of this one, kid," Deathstroke said, leaning forward, "it would be a shame if this defeated you."

"Let me go, Deathstroke," Nightwing said lowly, granted it hurt his pride to say that to Wilson, but he honestly had bad feelings about where he was and what could happen. He'd much rather take a blow to his ego by begging a bit than whatever Deathstroke's "payer" had planned.

Deathstroke didn't say anything, but Nightwing could just tell that he was grinning. He gave Nightwing's shoulder a pat before he stood and began to walk over to the door.

"Wilson!" Nightwing called out. He pulled against the chains and kicked his legs, in futile hope to get free, as Deathstroke opened the door and closed it behind him. Nightwing swore and began to recheck his suit, hoping that just maybe there was a lockpick that had been missed. He heard the low, smooth voice of Slade Wilson say something difficult to make out on the other side of the door, followed closely by calm and retreating footsteps.

Nightwing took a deep breath of air and forced himself to relax against the pillows behind his head so he could think . There was nothing he could do. Even trying to make the looping chains shift over the top of the bed posts revealed itself to be an impossible feat with how elegantly carved each post was. The chains were locked around the smallest parts of each post, between bumps and mountains of wood. His suit was lacking of all weapons and tools, making an attempted to escape almost impossible.

The only way out, he realized, was to permanently damage his thumbs in the process.

With that happy detail in mind, the door suddenly opened, and who walked through made him still completely and… stare.

"Sorry about the room," the woman said quietly. She gently closed the door behind her with a soft push, though Nightwing didn't miss how her thumb brushed over the lock before she approached further. "It's my old one, my new room is a lot less… pink." She laughed to herself like she said something hilarious. When Nightwing continued to study her, she almost nervously adjusted the bathrobe that had been tied around her slender body. "Though, I had to put you here… it's the least…"

Escapable .

She took a small step towards the bed and Nightwing flexed his jaw at the gesture. "What are you doing?" He finally when he found his voice. He hadn't expected the person who bought a mission from Deathstroke to look so petite and womanly. He was expecting a perverted old man or a greedy grin, not a slight figure clothed in a thin, almost skimpy bathrobe that left almost nothing to imagination, not a woman with soft looking skin and wide eyes that glinted in the moonlight squeezing itself through the shut curtains. "Deathstroke isn't someone you want to make deals with."

"But I had to have you," she said, suddenly desperate.

Her hands came up to the neck of her robe and she lowered the neck ever so slightly. If… if Dick hadn't been back with Babs and of he wasn't, you know, chained to the bed, he would have found the action extremely arousing. Under any other circumstances, the woman before him was a beauty, a sight to behold, but… something was wrong. Something in the way she held herself screamed danger, screamed that he had to get out of there quickly. For a moment, he thought he caught the whiff of a perfume he hadn't smelt for a very long time, the smell of her , and that scared him out of his mind.

"I can't just…" she continued as she took small but quick steps closer to him, "just… go to Blüdhaven and wait for you to sweep me off my feet… I have to have you now." Before Nightwing could process her words, he found the side of the mattress tilting with the weight of another person and his stomach lurched with it. "Need you now…" she whispered, crawling towards him like a desperate puppy.

His whole body flinched when one of her hands placed itself in the middle of his chest and he almost choked on his breath when another gently began to comb through his hair. When a leg lifted over his waist and allowed the woman to straddle him… he suddenly couldn't breathe at all.

"Don't touch me…"

The feeling of rain.

"I'm..."

The smell of blood.

"Quiet, mi amor. Callado."

Hard cement below... warm body above.

"Poisonous."

And then he was back with lips forced onto his own. His arms jolted like they were electrified, if he weren't restrained, he would have thrown the woman off him and across the room. Her hands moved up his chest to his hair and her legs hugged his own and he desperately wanted to cry because he thought he had finally moved on, accepted what happened and that it wasn't his fault and that there were just monsters in the world that-

/That's good, that's right. We're free now… alive."

The body above him shifted like a snake wrapping up it's prey and Nightwing's lungs were completely out of air, he could just barely take a gasping breath when her lips released him with her own hard breathing… yet she wasn't breathing hard for the same reasons he was.

"St… stop," Nightwing said, hating how small his voice was and how hard the bed suddenly felt. Hated the sounds of thunder and the smell of copper and- "get- get off."

She didn't listen, she was too lost in some sort of distorted lust. Her hands went up to her bathrobe as fast at the lightning flashing behind his eyes and suddenly there was a woman whose naked form he could just barely make out through the fog in his eyes reaching down to unzip his own clothes.

Fight of flight took control, it didn't matter how scared or lost in the last he was he was trained to not let himself become victim. He let himself once, lost in the haze of cold blooded murder and hands he trusted, but not once again.

"Need you…" she whispered between gasping breaths and he screamed the moment her fingers touched the hem of his suit around his neck.

That shocked her, but he didn't take too much notice in the way her hands came up to her chest or how her eyes got a bit clearer. He jerked his hips and waste as hard as he could, and thanks to her small build, she was easily thrown off. He didn't allow himself to ask why he hadn't just done that before she started to forcibly make out with him as he desperately focused on the cuffs on his wrists.

For a moment, his mind was clear enough to realize he'd rather no longer have working thumbs than ever have… that happen to him again.

"No, no, no," came a quiet plea that he couldn't afford to listen to, "you don't understand- I need you!"

He was too busy focusing on how much his thumb was about to hurt when the hands were back and the legs were wrapped so tight and her mouth was on his with strands of both their hair between their lips and his thumbs were in the worst possible position and-

"GET OFF HIM!"

And he could breathe.

-o-o-o-o-

Cold wind blew, not like that was new. Nights in Gotham could only be compared to a bat, like it's protector. Cold, quiet, teeth as sharp as knives. Well, not like Batman bad sharp vampire teeth, but that was the metaphor and Jason was sticking with it. However, he wasn't in Gotham. He was where the nights were more cold, more silent, more deadly, like a dark room that spiders made their home in; the feeling of poisonous legs crawling up your spine, seeping through your clothes and biting into your skin no matter what you did.

Yeah, if Gotham's nights were a bat, Blüdhaven would definitely be spiders.

"Anything?"

Hood sighed and looked around the rooftop he was currently perched on top of and the apartment complexes surrounding him. "Nothing out of the norm." He bent down and lifted a small furry thing. "Dead rats… smell of drugs… grime that won't wash out with one shower, so yeah, nothing different. Can I go now?"

"No…" Oracle said impatiently through his ear piece. "His transmitter cut out there… I need your help finding where he went."

Hood sighed. Why did he have to be in the area and why did she have to be so good at her night job that she knew that. Now he was like… expected to help out. "Maybe he just got tired of you watching his ever step and he cut it himself."

"Shut up."

"Maybe he's just back at home taking a long nap. Have you tried texting him?"

"Hood I'm going to stab you."

"Okay okay," he laughed and stood up, dropping the rat back onto the muck covered ground with a gross sounding plop . "But seriously, there's nothing here besides normal Blüdhaven crap and a couple knocked over boxes."

"Are there any cameras around you?"

Hood sighed and glanced around the rooftop again. Nothing too suspicious about it, definitely not the kind of place Nightwing would disappear from the face of the Earth from. No, he'd do it more dramatically, somewhere that screamed extra ; not this run of the mill building top whose most attractive feature included a clothing line with some hanging under garments attached. Too bad those were boxers, not panties.

The sound of police sirens met his ears and soon followed the angry barking of some kind of demonic sounding dog. How could anyone focus in this armpit of America? God, it smelled worse than Tim's room.

"Ah, there one is," Hood said cheerfully. Right above the door leading to the roof, looking all innocent and almost too clean to be in the city at all was a small, white device that definitely recorded some crap.

"Good, get me the information I need to hack into it."

Hood gave her what she needed before he sat down on the edge of the roofs railings. His legs hung over the edge and he leaned back as far as he safely could before falling backwards. He could go. Not that Oracle could really stop him from doing so, but he decided the polite thing to do was to wait it out a bit and not completely leave her high and dry. Try to be a decent person… remind himself that he's trying to get along with everyone instead of trying to kill them. What's the harm in finding where your adopted older brother disappeared to with his cool girlfriend?

None.

Didn't stop him from being bored and rather wanting to be sleeping.

"Hood." Her voice suddenly rang out in his ear, urgent… sounding almost scared.

"What?" He said, sitting himself up straight. Even though there was no point in lifting his hand up to his ear (because of the helmet and Batman tech) he still did, just as his bodies natural reaction to something serious. "What happened?"

" Deathstroke. " She said, almost like one who was a wizard would say Voldemort.

 

The name make Hood pause a second and draw his eyebrows together. “You saw him on the camera?”

 

Y-yeah. Nightwing was jumping across the building when he suddenly went unconscious mid jump… Deathstroke enters the frame a couple seconds later and just… picks him up.

 

“No, Deathstroke wouldn’t just pick Nightwing up on camera. He’s smarter than that.”

 

Well… whoever he is, he took Nightwing. I’m going to try to follow where he went with traffic cams.

 

Hood sighed and stood up from the edge of the rooftop as Oracle began her search. Every few minutes, she’d a sound of frustration or of excitement before telling him to go to that intersection or this coffee shop camera and soon he was on a rather easy chase after a man who kidnapped the most kidnappable person in the world. Before he knew it, he was on his motorcycle going ninety away from Bludhaven towards a plot of land owned by a family of very rich people. Not as rich as the B man, certainly not able to really count as a 1 percenter, but definitely rich enough to pay Deathstroke—apparently—for a job.

 

He takes Nightwing out of the trunk at this part and carries him inside the building. The trail ends here. ” Oracle said as he pulled his motorcycle to a halt about a mile away from the manor. Crickets sang softly in the distance and the lowering moon cast silver shadows over the forest trees around him. Seriously, why did rich people buy so much land just for most of it to just be untamable forest? He’d have to ask big old Mr Bat that one later.

 

He took off the cycling helmet from his head and ruffled his mostly black hair—stupid stubborn piece of white, if L’Oreal couldn't fix it, he’s not sure anything could—before he reached into his backpack and pulled out Hood’s helmet. He popped it over his sweaty hair and back onto his face. “So he hasn’t left, or you just lost him?” He asked as he stepped over his bike and kicked down the kickstand. He began to ruffle further into his bag, digging out weapons and such, as one does.

 

“You doubt me? ” She said with a false tone of playfulness. Hood knew full well that she was about a centimeter from snapping. “ He’s definitely still in there. I don’t know why he wouldn’t make an effort of hiding just to disappear now. Just be careful when you get there.”

 

“Will do,” he replied.

 

Warning you now, we may loose connec-.

 

“Figured.” Losing connection seemed bound to happen judging by how the last part of just cut off.

 

Curse the service. They’ve been to the moon but they couldn’t keep phone connection strong outside of any major city. For a second, it occured to Hood that maybe they should have borrowed some of Bruce's nice tech that could transmit across space and probably time—they’ve tested space, time was a bit harder to test—instead of taking classic wireless earbuds. Hood avoided using much of anything that he didn’t obtain himself and he was still a bit petty and liked to refuse help from Bruce whenever possible, so maybe it was his fault that the connection went out. Or it was Verizon's fault for being more crappy than they let on. Either way, Red Hood was on his own with his only back-up being a woman in a wheelchair on bad connection.

 

“Damn,” he sighed. He finished putting a pistol together and attaching it to the holster at his hip before swinging the bag over his shoulders and making his hike through the untamed wilderness of rich people front yards.

 

It took about ten minutes for him to half walk half jog up to the manor. His calves burned just a little bit from the steady, unpaved, and uphill climb up, but he eventually got to a point where he could see the towering white building up ahead, poking up behind trees. He snuck closer, keeping to the shadows and bushes, hoping beyond hope that there weren’t any body guards. He didn’t want to waste his energy on half trained wannabees. He’d much rather go straight to the manor, kick Deathstroke’s ass, then take the damsel in distress out from wherever he was being held prisoner. Three steps, simple, easy, most definitely realistic.

 

He came to the edge between the forest and the white paved driveway and was just about to somewhat confidently approach when the front doors (rich people and their stupid double doors) swung open. Hood just barely managed to dive behind a pathetic looking bush—thankfully, the darkness of night kind of made up for it—before a figure began to descend down the front steps.

 

Deathstroke.

 

Yup. Hood would recognize that mask, build, and old-man-pretending-to-be-young posture anywhere. He briefly wondered what’s Slade’s game was, what plan he had hidden up his stupid sleeves, before he forced his mind to go blank and body to go still. He watched and practically held his breath as Slade’s boots pounded heavily down the front steps and onto the driveway. Hood felt his body naturally tense as Deathstroke started to approach his spot, praying just a little bit that Deathstroke wouldn’t notice him. Yes, he did just literally say a bit ago that he wanted to kick that guys caboose, but honestly, there was a reason the guy was still out of jail even though Nightwing was constantly on his tail and Batman always helping from the shadows. Deathstroke was good, and Hood had a bruised enough ego to admit that if he faced Deathstroke head on… he may find Nightwing by becoming his prison mate.

 

His breath caught in his throat when Deathstroke suddenly stopped walking just a couple feet from Hoods super secret dead bush with his head tilted just so slightly to the side like he heard something. Maybe he did. He did have super abilities after all. Right when Hood was about to resign himself to Deathstroke’s version of fe-fi-fo-fum, I smell Batman proteges behind a dead bush, Deathstroke let out a breathy chuckle and walked away. Hood continued to hold his breath and count his miniscule amount of lucky stars until Deathstroke jumped into the driver's seat of the car he had originally come in and drive off. For a second, Hood chastised himself for not thinking about putting a tracker on the car, but then he remembered that Deathstroke kind of sort of entered the house with an unconscious guest, and said guest did not leave with him.

 

No matter how much it would boost Nightwing’s ego, Hood had to admit that at the moment, Nightwing was more important.

 

“Ho-kay,” Hood said quietly to himself. He placed his hands firmly onto his knees and hefted himself up. He wondered how Deathstroke didn’t notice him and why he ended up being so easy to track down, but he pushed that all to the back of his mind. One thing at a time. Action now, questions later.

 

Instead of barging through the front door like his head strong personality oh so desperately wanted to do, he walked over to the lowest point of the shingled roof top and heft himself up by the means of awesome parkour (ie; he found a sturdy looking gutter and did a pretty impressive pullup) and searched for a good window to break in from.

 

It did a bit of shimmying to get to the first window, which just happened to be a fancy double window like a double door that opened from the sides instead from the bottom like a normal window. The other side of the glass was dark, both from the lights that must have been turned off and from thick looking curtains. It was a simple latch that kept the window closed, simple to unlock too. All he would have to do is-

 

Something was on the other side of the window. He just barely managed to catch the dark shadows moving, actually he was kind of surprised he caught it in the first place. That would make things difficult. People on the other side would complicate things. By the looks of it… and by that, if he tilted his head just a bit and squinted his eyes… it looked like there were two people… on a bed…?

 

Oh man he did NOT want to walk in on that. Dis-gu-sting.

 

He was just about to turn away when the sound of a… terror filled scream met his ears followed by thumping noise of something hitting the ground hard. His blood ran cold when he recognized the voice belonging to the scream. Instantly, before he could question anything like a good ex-Robin should probably do, he was hefting the latch up and swinging the window open. He shoved the curtains aside just in time to see a woman completely in the nude straddling a chained man in familiar black and blue.

 

He saw red.

 

“GET OF HIM!” He roared.

 

His body moved on its own, his legs pushed him onto the soft carpet and his hands grabbed her by the hair, throwing her across the room like she was a vile rodent. His chest heaved and he didn’t even bother to remember who was chained to the bed before he was bending down and grabbing the woman by her forearm, hefting her up, and slamming her into a wall before she could even call out for any help. She made a pathetic sounding whimper and crashed against the wall, slamming her skull into the pink wallpaper, splattering it with something darker. He could hear her choked sobs and he just didn’t care. How dare she. How dare she!

 

“HOOD!” Came a voice; he didn’t listen. He was too… too disgusted to care about anything other than that the woman clawing at his arms as he lifted her again. Again, he slammed her into the wall and something choked escaped her throat. Someone called out again, but it was far away. Once again, he lifted her, but this time she was limp, but that didn’t matter- what mattered was-

 

“JASON STOP!”

 

Dick.

 

Dick mattered.

 

Oh god, Dick.

 

He let go of the limp woman and allowed her to flop onto the ground before he turned and finally saw the room without the red painted rage that took over his eyes. There, in the bed pushed against the wall, was Nightwing, looking both horrified and relieved beyond all doubt. His chest was heaving and his libs were straining against their restraints.

 

“Shit,” Hood whispered before leaving the woman… the monster… on the ground and practically flying over to Nightwing. Under any other circumstances, he would have made fun of Nightwing for getting caught. He’d call him a princess trapped in a castle. Princess goldilocks, or something like that. But this? This was vile. This wasn’t something you could cover up with a sarcastic joke and a pat on the back. This was worse than torture.

 

He stopped himself a few inches from the bed. Nightwing kept looking between him and the woman on the floor like he couldn’t quite believe what happened. Hood… Hood couldn’t quite believe it himself.

 

“Did… did she…” Hood started.

 

“No,” Nightwing replied with a swallow, “she didn’t…”

 

Hood could have passed out with relief right there, because no one would deserve that, least of all Nightwing. Rape… rape was something that was so wicked that it should not exist.

 

“If… if you could get me out?” Nightwing suddenly spoke up.

 

Hood looked down at Nightwing and it took him a moment to realize he had slipped so deep into his thoughts that he forgot Nightwing was still tied down. “Yeah, yeah give me a moment.”

 

He dug into one of his many pockets and pulled out some lock picks. It took all of his self control to not let his hands tremble as he leaned down to begin on the first lock around Nightwing’s left wrist, but he brought his hands back to his chest like he’d been burned when Nightwing violently flinched when his hands got too close. He suddenly realized that Nightwing could be lying.

 

“I’m-” Hood managed to strangle out “are you okay?”

 

Nightwing looked pissed, whether it was at himself or at Hood was unknown. “I’m fine. Sorry. Just get me out.”

 

Hood nodded, not wanting to push further and flip the switch on Nightwing’s famous temper. He leaned down lower than last time and was able to to poke the head of the lockpick into the cuff lock without any further accidents, though he could see Nightwing clenching his jaw and glaring at the ceiling while Hood wooked. Nightwing’s fingers trembled and his arm muscles rippled beneath his suit. Finally, after a few moment’s of tense silence, the lock on Nightwing’s wrist clicked open, letting one limb free. Without any warning, Nightwing’s arm shot out and made a mad grasp for Hood’s hands, and without thinking, Hood pulled back.

 

Nightwing narrowed his eyes and Hood realized that he just made a mistake. “Give me the pick, Hood,” Nightwing practically growled. Hood was almost inclined to do so, let the guy get himself out before he snapped, but his eyes trailed down to Nightwing’s shaking hands. If Nightwing was under any king of control, his hands wouldn’t have been shaking.

 

“You’ll just hurt yourself,” Hood said quietly. “Your hands are shaking.”

 

Nightwing glanced down to his free hand that he had extended out in a give me gesture before he clenched his fist. “Give. It. To. Me,” he repeated, staring at Hood with stone cold resolve.

 

Hood knew there was no talking Nightwing out of it, not when he was so worked up and not when his bipolar temper was so very easy to activate. He swallowed and carefully stepped over with the pick extended in his hand. Before he could even say Bob's-your-uncle, the pick was snatched out of his hand and shoved into the lock of Nightwing’s other trapped wrist.

 

It was amazing what Batman’s training could do and how it could kick in, even with hands shaking enough to cause a 4.0 magnitude earthquake, Nightwing managed to completely free himself in less than a minute.

 

Hood carefully approached and went to help Nightwing up from the bed, but Nightwing got himself up on unsteady legs before Hood could get too close with his chest heaving. Hood decided it may not be a good idea to get too up in Nightwing’s limited personal space.

“Let’s go. Call and ambulance,” Nightwing said, glancing over to the unconscious molester and Hood wanted to scream. How dare Nightwing continue to treat people like they were worth keeping alive after what just—almost, dear god let it be almost—happened to him.

 

However, Nightwing had a set jaw that said if Hood didn’t call an ambulance, Nightwing would… well Hood didn’t know what he would do but he’s sure he wouldn’t like to find out. Hood dug out a burner phone and was about to dial the police when he looked up and saw Nightwing shifting foot to foot, rubbing one wrist almost like it was a second thought compared to actually needing to rub any chafing. Hood cleared his throat. “You sure you’re okay?”

 

Nightwing looked up and glared and this time Hood got the message. If he asked again, the woman wouldn’t be the only one leaving the manor in an ambulance. Sibling status or not, Nightwing would beat Hood into next week.

 

He swallowed and looked back down to the phone.

 

-o-o-o-o-

 

Jason sighed and collapsed onto the crappy sofa in Dick’s crappy apartment. Somehow, the walk back to the motorcycle had calmed Nightwing down enough to be okay with touch, so he didn’t have to find an alternate way back to the city. In complete silence, they made it to Dick’s apartment and separated to gather their bearings in whatever way they could. Jason prefered to sit down and pretend nothing happened while Dick, with a locked jaw and sharp eyes, disappeared into his bedroom, followed shortly by the sound of a shower.

 

Jason could leave. He wasn’t exactly needed anymore, and Dick hadn’t made any comment about wanting him to stick around, so by all means he could bid farewell to Bludhaven and take a vacation.

 

However, an hour later found him still chilling on the sofa, waiting for Dick to walk out.

 

Thankfully, it didn’t take too much longer for Dick to come out his bedroom door, garbed in warm looking pajamas. His eyes trailed down to Jason, who was sprawled out in a position that shouldn’t be as comfortable as it was and half asleep.

 

“Sure, make yourself at home,” Dick said, smirking ever so slightly.

 

Jason let go of a breath he had no clue he was holding, and suddenly his whole body felt so much more relaxed with that one sentence. Thank the lord above that Dick was as quick to his happy self as he was to anger. He must have been okay.

 

“Too tired to go. Crashing here,” Jason said.

 

Dick shrugged and walked over to Jason. “Where’s the remote?”

 

“How the hell am I supposed to know?”

 

“Move, I think you’re sitting on it…”

 

Jason pointlessly argued back, only to be shoved completely off the couch to reveal the missing remote. Dick sat down and Jason begrudgingly sat down next to him and soon they were both emotionally involved in The Princess Bride as the numbers on the clock above the stove blinked midnight. As Inigo Montoya fought Westly atop a cliff, Jason looked away from the screen to give Dick one last worried glance.

 

“You… you sure you’re okay?” He risked quietly.

 

Dick tensed and Jason wondered if they would ever find his body before Dick sighed. “I will be. Thanks.”

 

“Y-yeah. No prob.”

Chapter Text

The car came to a stop and Robin couldn't help but wince as the movement pulled ruthlessly at his bonds. He was tied up in such a way that made his shoulders and collar bones ache, with cuffs cutting off circulation to his wrists behind his back and tape digging into his upper arms and chest, making it difficult to breath.

He was disappointed in himself. He hadn't felt this useless since… since Grayson was Batman. He shouldn't have been caught. He could have easily fought off a hundred thugs by himself and still be home in time to take Titus on a walk, however he had been recovering from the flu, which made him a bit below par in his fighting abilities. It didn't help that he and Batman decided to split up to cover more ground and that he was completely alone when the very people he saved from getting mugged started to attack him. A cliche, yet apparently an effective one. Fighting off seven muggers and two faux victims became his down fall when combined with his weak state. It was only a matter of time before a taser was jammed ruthlessly into his gut.

He blacked out, then woke up a second later to find himself restrained and crammed into the trunk of Kia.

He heard the sound of footsteps approach the back of the car and he tensed up. He wasn't about to allow them to do whatever they wished with him. If he had to fight then with just his legs he would. He could, even. He was trained by Ra's and Batman themselves, he could one hundred percent take on even Grodd with just his legs.

The trunk popped open and Robin was about to jump out and kick ass, but it unfortunately seemed that kidnappers were not about to take any chances and he was suddenly being pinned down by multiple pairs of hands. His shoulders were roughly pressed further behind his back, making his chest protest in agony, as his head was shoved hard enough down for him to see stars. He kicked out his legs, catching one of the kidnappers under the jaw, but it was a short lived victory when his legs too were being locked down. He violently twisted himself, attempting to get free or at least bite the hand bruising his cheek, but he could hardly do a thing. He was helpless. Tt.

"I told you to tie his legs," a deep voice said. Robin couldn't see who spoke and who was holding him down with his face pressed down the way it was.

"Ran out of tape," explained a second voice.

"I gave you a whole roll?! How-"

Robin worked a leg free and kicked the hand that had been holding it. His foot slammed the hand between it and the wall of the trunk he was stuffed in and he heard satisfying snaps and an agonized scream.

"The brat!" The man who now sported a broken hand snarled with tears in his voice.

"Just get him to the chair!" The first voice yelled as he himself grabbed Robin's legs.

Robin lashed out, counting four pairs of hands on his body and calculating in his head how long it would take to kill each of them. The hand digging into his cheek was removed but before Robin could even think about moving his neck, rough fabric was shoved over his head. He yelled out in frustration as he was forcibly lifted from the trunk with bruising grips on his upper arms and legs. He kicked and squirmed, trying to get free and trying to get the bag that smelt like flour off from his head. It was all for naught as he was eventually shoved into a hard wooden chair and held down as his legs were shoved against the chair's legs and duct taped in place.

"Let me go!" Robin snarled in frustration, shaking his head, as three pairs of hands held him against the chair and another worked off the layers of tape around his chest, moving his cuffed hands behind the chair and taping his chest back again with a new roll of tape.

A new voice suddenly called out. "Holy shit, is that the demon brat?"

Robin was so surprised by the voice that he stilled just long enough for the kidnappers to finish securing him to the chair.

Todd…?

"We're all in suits," spoke another voice suddenly. Drake.

Or, Red Robin, more like it.

Great. Not only had he been kidnapped, but he had been kidnapped with Red Robin and Red Hood, two of the most annoying people he knew.

"Enough," said one of the kidnappers. A new voice. How many kidnappers were there?

The man must have given some kind of silent command, a nod or something similar, because suddenly the flour bag was ripped off Robin's head, tugging some of his hair with it. He winced as a bright beam of light assaulted his vision but thankfully it didn't take much blinking to focus on the scene before him.

His gaze darted around rapidly, instantly taking in the underground parking garage, the number of kidnappers (12, most men, some women, all had guns. Each bat protege had their own guard behind them, the others were spaced around the garage), and his so-called adoptive sibling's states.

Red Hood was missing his helmet with only his old mask covering his eyes. He looked worse for wears, like he had actually managed to put up a fight (scoff, as if), but didn't look too injured; he was blinking furiously, trying to focus—probably the beam of light that came from a rather large LED lamp directed mostly towards him. Red Robin was doing much the same as Robin, taking in the surroundings. He had a stream of blood running down his left temple and there were signs of black bruising poking out from under his mask. To the other side of Red Robin, was Nightwing. Robin hadn't realized that Nightwing would be there too, probably because he hadn't made a noise till then and had lived a few hours away in Blüdhaven. There was also the fact that Robin had a bit more faith in Nightwing compared to the others. He looked fine, just a little ruffled and really pissed. He was glaring at the man who must be the leader, probably had already completed his assessment of their situation.

They were a tied up similarly to Robin, hands forced behind the chairs and tape forcing their backs to press against the support and their legs taped trapped. Robin looked over to the leader who was standing in front of them all with his hands folded across his chest. He had a hospital mask covering his lower face and nose and a buret sitting on top of his head. His suit looked fancy, though the purple color threw Robin off. He was standing on the other side of the LED lamp, so it was hard to get much details about him, but Robin could swear he saw tuffs of green hair.

His stomach dropped.

"Joker," Nightwing growled, gaining the came conclusion.

Red Hood startled in his chair and Red Robin's lips pressed together paper thin as the leader suddenly began to wheeze a very familiar laugh. Robin stared at the villain, for the moment, very unsure of what to do. He hadn't had much contact with the Joker in his time working with Batman. Joker doesn't stay out of Arkham long much anymore, with Batman getting more alliance and Joker getting almost predictable, but Robin had heard so many stories about Batman and Joker in their younger years, when Joker was new, insane, and a complete mystery. When he tortured Grayson, very early into Robin's career, because it was a good laugh. When he killed Todd. When he had massacred entire neighborhoods and it was all Batman could do to find a trace of him.

The Joker today wasn't calmer, per se, but he was more like an earthquake than the ticking bomb like he used to be. Earthquakes could be deadly, they could topple buildings, kill thousands in one fell swoop. They could start tsunami's and wipe out cities. They could open up the ground and crumble mountains. Yet, humans were more prepared for them than they used to be. They could look and see that they live in the area of occasional 5 point magnitude earthquakes and that they should prepare for it, that way when those quakes hit, their buildings aren't demolished, just slightly shaken.

Still didn't make the experience of meeting an earthquake any less scary though. Didn't matter how many times in your life you had felt the very ground beneath you shiver and the walls tremble, it was still terrifying.

"HAHAHA," Joker laughed. He bent down and whacked his knee with a skeletal hand. "Way to ruin the surprise, Champ! I wasn't expecting to be recognized so quickly!"

Nightwing scowled as Joker ripped off the medical mask—as if that could hide his identity—and approached his hostages. As he moved, Robin noticed a rather large object hidden under a tarp that had gone unseen with Joker in the way. He barely had time to wonder what it was before Hood was yelling obscenities and tugging hard enough against his bonds that Robin was surprised he hadn't dislocated his shoulders in the process.

"You bastard!" Hood roared, "I'll kill you!"

"Hood, chill…" Red Robin murmured under his breath as he gave the ever approaching Joker a nervous look.

Joker chuckled at Hoods anger and sent a wink over his way. "I missed you too," he sneered before dissolving into more chuckles.

"What's your game?" Nightwing demanded over the loud laughter.

Joker stopped chuckling before he straightened up with an easy going grin. His spider-like fingers reached atop his thinning green hair and adjusted the buret atop his skull. "Now, bird brain, that is the wrong question to be asking," he explained like he was talking to a child. He put a hand on his chest. "I am not the one playing the game. I am the host—hehe—here see? Ha!- it is you who are the contestants!" He waved his arms out, addressing all four bats. When he got no reaction from Nightwing, he sighed and folded his arms in front of him. "However, we are still missing one participant. I've been calling and calling-"

Joker suddenly stopped talking before his mouth widened into an evil grin made even more horrifying with the red pain over his mouth and cheeks.

"Well," he said as he began to reach into his suit pocket, "speak of the bat!"

He pulled out a familiar earpiece. It was black with little electric blue designs. Robin could see wires hanging out from the back of Nightwing's earpiece, probably cutting off the gps and other useful functions that could help them be found. Joker pressed a button on the side and stuck the piece in his ear.

"Batsy!" He exclaimed like an old friend.

Out of the corner of Robin's eye, he saw two or three Joker grunts begin to drag objects from other cars in the garage.

"Good news, Batsy," Joker continued as he began to pace around the floor in front of his hostages, "I liked your auditions so much, I decided to have you be the main contestant on my first ever game show, hehehe!"

Game show?

One of the grunts dragged a large object in front of Nightwing, and with a bit of squinting Robin noticed it was a high tech video camera. Before he knew it, there were more of the same cameras placed in front of the other three hostages, by the Joker pointing towards the mysterious covered object, and in other strategic places around the room. Multiple grunts bent down to tape down wires while another group started to heft out expensive looking computers and consoles to go with then. Robin realized with a start that a news broadcasting station had been robbed quite a few days ago… and they didn't even know that Joker had escaped.

"Get out of my face," Red Hood snarled viciously as the guard behind him stepped forward and began to dab his face with foundation powder.

"Now," the Joker said, catching Robin's attention even as his own guard stepped forward with their own arsenal of L'Oreal and Maybelline makeup products. Priorities first. "I can't just give away the rules of the show before we have an audience! Are you near a TV, Bat? All you need is a TV and a phone to play!" The Joker burst out laughing.

Robin glared at the guard that came into his field of vision. They wore a mask, they all did, but he was sure this one was a woman if the bulging in the chest beneath the leather jacket they adjourned was anything to go by. She began to wipe wet primer on his face.

He growled and shook his head from out of her hands and he caught sight of the others getting much of the same treatment. Nightwing kept still, studying Joker, as blush was brushed onto his cheeks. Red Hood growled and kicked to the best of his abilities, so much so that another guard had to come over and hold Hood still. Red Robin ignored the beauty blender being wiped across his forehead as he studied the computer systems and programs on each of the screens. .

"Live in fifteen, sir!" One of the grunts by the computer announced before Robin's vision was obscured again by the guard continuing her makeup routine.

Joker clapped. "Places everyone! Places!"

The guard turned makeup artist shifted to the side so she could get a better angle on Robin's jaw, so Robin was able to see Joker hand off the ear piece to one of the grunts. As the grunt ran off to hook the piece to one of the monitors, the Joker stood in front of them all and fixed his buret atop his head. Finally, the guards decided their faces were pampered up enough, covering bruises and cuts from previous fights, and they went back to their places behind their hostages.

Robin barely had time to take a breath before a grunt by the monitors held up a hand, counting down from five. When a closed fist was made and the camera's flashed on with an electronic purr, Robin knew they were live.

"WELCOME!" Joker announced, spreading his arms wide, "to my game show special!"

He burst into laughter, his whole frame shaking from the action, staying like that for at least a minute before he straightened up and smiled at the camera closest to him. "We have a very special—hehehe—program for you all tonight, but first," he grinned slyly and his voice lowered, "let's meet our contestants."

He moved from his spot, one of the grunts followed him with their rotating camera, and walked over to his hostages. "First," he said as he came close enough to Nighting to touch him, "we have bird breath," he continued down the line, "next we have—hmm, I don't know the name of this one…" Red Robin looked offended for a moment before the Joker continued on to the still struggling Hood. Robin wished he'd just give it a rest already. "We have a special returning guest here today, Red Hood I believe he goes by now. I bet he's hoping this show ends with a bang like the last one did!" He burst into laughter and continued on as Red Hood began to swear up the wall until a guard slammed a piece of tape over his mouth.

"This is a family show," they hissed under their breath.

"And, over here in the far corner, we have Robin," the Joker said. Robin was just able to keep back a flinch when the Joker placed his hand on top of his head and ruffled his hair. "A very original name, I know."

He let go of Robin with a slight shove of his hand as he returned to the spot in front of the covered object.

"Last, but certainly not least, is our dear friend who will be joining us over the phone. Say hello, Batsy!"

There was silence. The Joker frowned and Robin suddenly felt the cold bite of a knife being shoved against his neck.

"Joker," Batman growled.

The smile returned to the Joker's face. "Fantastic, we're all here." He turned to the camera closest to him. "Now, Bats, here is how the game will go. Actually—haha—I have two games I'd like to explain! All you have to do is choose which one you want to play. First!" He held up one finger, "I will need a volunteer from our other contestants. How about the small one?"

Behind the Joker, the tarp was tugged by two grunts, revealing the sickening sight of a fifth chair. Very obviously an electric shock therapy chair. The heavy leather restraints and the wires trailing down from dentist-like chair made a pit in Robin's stomach form.

"Get away," he snarled when multiple grunts approached. "Don't touch me!"

The Joker laughed, but he was suddenly cut off.

"I volunteer!" Nightwing announced. Robin stopped struggling in his chair and gave Nightwing an almost horrified glare. Yeah, he'd like to not be electrified, but out of everyone in the room, he was the most trained for torture. He'd be able to take it. Nightwing, credit where it's due, would be able to last longer than most, but Robin was better. "Joker! Did you hear me!?"

The Joker studied Nightwing for a moment while a grunt at a monitor played a sound effect that made a "oooooh!" noise.

Joker tapped his chin and then shrugged. "I was hoping to play with the little guy, but if bird brain wants to play, who am I to deny him?"

The guards changed targets over to Nightwing and began to cut through the tape around his chest and legs. They hefted Nightwing up and began to drag him over to the electric chair. Robin was so focused on Nightwing being strapped down into the deadly seat that when the Joker's hand closed around Robin's shoulder, he nearly jumped out of his skin.

"Joker!" Nightwing snarled from where his wrists were being belted down to the arms of the chair. "Don't touch a hair on his head!"

Robin's nerves were so frazzled that he could hardly suppress a flinch when the Joker laughed right into his ear and grabbed onto Robin's hair. "Like this?" He asked then fell into a chest rattling giggle. Nightwing practically growled like a wild dog, which intensified the Joker's amusement. He straightened up next to Robin and made a show of pulling a single hair off Robin's head. Robin felt like he could breathe when the Joker took the hair and began to walk away.

"Don't get your spandex in a twist," the Joker said easily. He walked behind Nightwing who was getting the last strap wrapped around his forehead, forcing his neck back so he rested against the head of the chair. He dropped the strand of hair onto the back of Nightwing's restrained hand and then placed his own hands around Nightwing's shoulders.

"God, you're so tense!" The Joker exclaimed. Nightwing tried to move his shoulders but he could hardly even lift a finger to move the black thread-like hair sitting on his hand. "Don't worry, I know the exact thing you need. I know, I know, haha, they say that electroshock therapy is inhumane and dangerous, but that's not true." He let go with one of his hands and placed it against his own chest, letting out a small giggle before continuing, "I should know! It's done wonders for me!"

At that grim piece of information, the Joker burst into more laughter. Robin wished he would stop, it was getting on his nerves. He could tell Nightwing was trying to relax against the restraints both designed to keep him still and to make sure he didn't hurt himself or someone else when electricity began to run through his muscles, but Robin could see how he was grinding his teeth together and twitching his fingers. He was nervous. Scared maybe.

For a second, Robin was tempted to call out "No! Take me instead!" because Nightwing wasn't prepared for torture. He didn't know what to do when you were being electrocuted… and if he did know, he never had to use it in practice. Robin had. He had been subjected to that and many other forms of torture by his own mother and grandfather. He was so close to demanding to switch places with Nightwing, but Nightwing must have predicted what Robin was thinking because Robin suddenly found himself gaining eye contact with a stone cold glare of resolve that said "Dami, I swear to gosh."

The Joker strolled over to a control panel on the other side of the electric chair and once again addressed the camera. "Now that we have our volunteer," he said, "it is now time to explain our game! Are you ready, Batman?"

The line was silent for just a moment, long enough for Robin to worry a knife would be brought to his throat once again, but before that could happen Batman replied in a deep voice: "Ready."

"This game," the Joker started with an excited grin, "I like to call Hide and Seek: Lightning Round!" He began to chuckle at his own horrid joke before he continued. "It is your job to find me, but every fifteen minutes you don't, mister Nightwing will get quite a shock! To demonstrate-"

No one had time to yell NO or anything before the Joker flipped on a switch and the electric chair hummed to life. Nightwing grasped at the arms of his chair as the Joker began to turn a dial. The LED spotlight flickered as the chair began to spark.

Nightwing groaned as all of his muscles began to spasm. His tendons vibrated and his legs jolted. "For example," the Joker said over the humming of the chair, "this is what will happen after fifteen minutes! And after fifteen more…" the dial was turned just a bit clockwise, Nightwing violently jolted in his restraints, losing all control of any muscle in his body, "and fifteen more…" Nightwing looked like he was having a seizure and Red Robin was yelling something as the LED light lost power completely before weakly flickering back on, the smell of urine filled the garage and the sound of electricity was deafening, "and fifteen… well, I think you get the idea."

Joker began to turn the dial counter clockwise, slowly turning the chair off. After twenty, long, agonizing seconds Nightwing collapsed against the chair, shivering as electricity continued to mess with his muscles despite the chair being off. Blood dripped down from the corner of his mouth, probably from biting his tongue... hopefully from biting  his tongue. Robin had to remind himself to breath as the LED regained a steady brightness, glaring into his eyes. He fought down a spike of fear when he realized that the Joker didn't stop his demonstration because Batman got the idea, but because one more click and Nightwing would die. Or worse.

"Nightwing?" Red Robin was gasping. "Are you okay?"

Joker snapped his head over towards the other hostages and Red Robin gasped when the back of his head was suddenly whacked by the guard from behind. "Keep the chatter down in the audience," he growled.

Nightwing continued to spasm as the Joker turned back to the controls and playfully teased with the on/off switch. "Did you understand the rules, Batsy?"

"Yes."

Joker grinned. "Good, cuz I would //hate to explain it all again. Now, I have another game, after I explain this one, you will have to choose which game you want to play!"

"What is the second game?"

As the Joker began to laugh again, Robin couldn't help but feel a spark of annoyance of how Batman just moved on with the conversation like Nightwing hadn't just been violently electrocuted on LIVE television. Nightwing was still uncontrollably twitching his fingers and the tendons in his neck and between his legs and around his thighs were wet from Nightwing's loss of control over his own bladder. Humiliated, in agony, and Batman just moves on and doesn't say anything about it. For a moment, Robin wondered if Batman would take the chair in Robin's place like Nightwing just had. 

To Robin's side, Hood was practically shaking with rage, his eyes narrowed dangerously behind his mask towards the Joker. Robin was sure that if the tape was off his mouth, he'd be swearing loud enough for Superman to hear. Red Robin was staring at Nightwing, looking like he desperately wanted to run over and check on him.

"Well," the Joker said, cutting Robin out from his thoughts, "the next game, in honor of the holiday coming up, is an Easter Egg Hunt-haha! Around the city my subordinate's have placed what I believe to be eleven-" he gave a fake questioning look over to the goon by the monitors and they held up two hands, one with a single finger up and the other with two. "Twelve! Excuse me, lost track. Twelve bombs around the city."

Robin felt his blood go cold. It was a classic Joker move. Give Batman the choice to save a few hostages or save the whole city.

"I don't know when the bombs are scheduled to go off, but I do know that within the next hour, all would go kaboom at some point!" He began to laugh and Robin could imagine the mass panic of all the civilians who were sitting at their TV's or walking in the streets. "

Suddenly, a large bang exploded through the air and shook the ground. Sounds of destruction reached Robin's ears and Nightwing's eyes were wide. After a few seconds of what sounded like hellish thunder, the Joker burst into a laughing fit.

"LOOKS LIKE IT IS ONLY ELEVEN BOMBS NOW! HAHAHAHA!"

After the Joker gained control of himself, Robin noticed that Batman was growling (his version of yelling), trying to obtain the attention of Joker.

"The bombs! Where are they?!"

"Now now, Batsy, I haven't explained all the rules yet!" The Joker chastised, shaking his hand back and forth towards one of the cameras. "First you have to choose what game you want to play! Keep in mind, both will still comence to the enjoyment of our viewers. If you choose to play Hide and Seek, I will give you a tiny hint of where in Gotham this studio is, and if you choose Easter Egg Hunt, I will tell you seven out of eleven locations of the-"

"Easter Egg, Joker," Batman snarled.

Nightwing seemed to relax into the chair and Robin closed his eyes. Leave it to Batman to leave the needs of the city over his own team. He didn't blame him, it was a hard decision. Didn't seem Nightwing blamed him either.

"Oh, how exciting!" The Joker exclaimed happily, "I thought you would choose that one! When you finish finding all the bombs, see if you can make it back here to finish Hide and Seek!"

"The locations! Where are the bombs!?"

"Jeez," the Joker mumbled and tugged at the collar of his suit with one hand and with the other fixed his hat, "don't get too excited." He nodded over to the monitors and the grunt sitting at the set up nodded and held up their hand with their pointer finger and thumb touching.

On one of the screens which Robin realized was what the audience would be seeing began to show several locations running up the screen like credits. Robin, of course, recognized every address rolling up. It was pure randomness, not a single pattern to any of the revealed bomb locations. They ranged from low end places like Crime Alley all the way up to Gotham University. God, he can already imagine the masses rushing to evacuate. It would be chaos. No where was safe… and there were still four more bombs where the location was unknown.

"Have fun finding the others, Batsy," the Joker said when all the information had been given. "Let the hunt—hehehe—BEGIN!"

The soundtrack of people clapping suddenly started up and the cameras began to pan side to side, showing Nightwing—who had just managed to recover and was busy glaring at the joker—and the other hostages. The guards behind each of them and the grunts around the room were clapping and bringing up fingers to their lips, whistling loudly.

A click signified that Batman had hung up.

"Now, while Batman goes around finding eggs," the Joker started when the noise died down. He walked closer to Nightwing and Robin could feel his muscles tensing, straining against his restraints. "We have another game to start!"

He reached into his purple summer suit's pocket and pulled out a small kitchen timer. He slowly turned the dial in the middle so the little red arrow pointed at the 15 minute line, he then placed it down on Nightwing's lap. Nightwing's jaw tensed in response.


The Joker grinned widely and backed off and stood in the middle of all his so called contestants and addressed the closest camera. "Will Batman be able to find all the eggs? Will he be able to find Nightwing in time? Find out after the break!"

He made a slicing gesture over his neck and the monitors flashed to a blue logo with a cartoonish Joker holding a clapperboard. Below read "BE BACK IN FIFTEEN".

The Joker sighed dramatically and practically stumbled over to a directors chair one of the grunts had placed out. He collapsed into the chair and someone handed him a wine glass. He spun the wine around as another grunt began to powder his face.

"Being a show host sure is hard work," he grumbled.

Robin tightened his lips and looked over to Nightwing who was ever so slightly testing out his restraints. Robin did the same, but there was no give for either of them. He let out a silent sigh through his nose and desperately hoped Batman would find a way to save the city and his family.

-o-o-o-o-

For Robin and the other hostages, the next fifteen minutes had been silent. Filled with locked jaws and glaring eyes but nothing more. A grunt or two would try to poke fun at their unwilling participants but a simple Bat Glare would usually drive them away pretty easily. They had all decided at the same time to not play into the game and to become the most boring contestants in the world. They would never give them the satisfaction of showing weakness.

The Joker, on the other hand, spent the whole of fifteen minutes practicing lines and doing vocal warm ups.

The time seemed to be going by too fast. Every time Robin looked over, the little timer looked dramatically closer to zero than what it was before. It made him restless. With each passing moment he felt the need to stretch his arms and throw some kicks, but he knew that would be impossible to accomplish co considering how the tight cuffs around his wrists were starting to chafe through his gloves and the tape trapping his legs had begun to cut off circulation.

Finally, one of the grunts went over to Joker, cutting him off from his Figaro's and Do-Re-Mi's. Thankfully. The sound of Joker's singing voice was almost enough to make Batman himself wince.

"What is it!?" The Joker screamed as he jumped up from his chair. The grunt looked terrified for a moment before he cleared his throat and hesitantly whispered something into Joker's ear.

The Joker frowned but that was quickly turned horribly upside down when the timer on Nightwing's lap started to shrilly ring.

"Cameras!" The Joker said joyfully as he pushed the grunt out of the way. "Lights!"

He practically jumped over towards Nightwing and snatched the timer up. Robin could see Nightwing begin to prepare himself for the awaiting torture.

The monitors flashed to life and a camera was panned right in front of the Joker and Nightwing, the timer was still ringing.

"Welcome back, listeners!" The Joker said joyfully. "As you can see, fifteen minutes have passed, yet Batsy is not here, so punishment numaro uno must begin!"

And just like that, the Joker walked over to the controls and flicked on a switch. Nightwing instantly tensed up as his muscles tightened and loosened on their own. He ground his teeth and unwillingly leaned back in the chair as far as the restraints would allow, which wasn't much. He could see his muscles ripple painfully. Nightwing looked like he was in agony, and it wasn't stopping.

Only a few seconds passed but it felt like forever. Nightwing wasn't making a sound, but it was clear by the grip Nightwing had on the arms of the chair that he was in pain.

The Joker didn't let up, he just chuckled as Nightwing jerked and the LED dimmed ever so slightly. Robin couldn't breathe, when was the Joker going to stop? Why wasn't he stopping?

"Stop it!" Red Robin yelled over the electric hum of the chair. Robin whipped his head to the side as saw Red was leaning forwards as far as he could go. Hood was frantically tugging at the cuffs around his wrists and trying to work the tape off his jaw. "Stop it!"

The Joker, too, shifted his gaze over to Red and he began to laugh. Agonizingly long seconds passed before he finally—finally—turned the chair off. He chuckled breathlessly as Red Robin and Nightwing both collapsed into their chairs. Nightwing looked stiff like he had went on a patrol without stretching fist.

"Because I'm so nice," the Joker said as he began to strut over towards Red Robin. The Joker didn't look nice though, in fact, he wasn't smiling so much anymore. Robin cursed, of course Red would get on the Joker's nerves when they were all helpless to him. "I will stop this time, but-" he reached out and grabbed Red Robin by the jaw roughly, Red—for his part—glared at the Joker even as his cheeks were pinched together abusively. Hood let out muffled curses and Nightwing weakly began to yell protests. "Next time you even squeak, I will jump up a level in the punishment? Comprende?"

The Joker thankfully took Red Robins glare as an answer and roughly let go of him. Around Red Robin's cheeks, red colored bruises were already starting to form.

"Dont- don't hurt them, Joker-" Nightwing gasped. He looked like he had just finished getting trampled by an elephant.

The Joker's smile returned. Joker was always put in a good mood by seeing any member of the bat family helpless before him, especially Nightwing. "I won't if they behave, now- oh yeah," he turned back to face another damn camera, "I have gotten confirmation that these eggs-" on the monitor, two addresses appeared, "have been found by our very own Batman! We must return to break again, but be sure to check in for more updates!"

And with that, he reset the timer and practically threw it onto Nightwing's lap.

-o-o-o-o-

"Why did you do it," Robin asked. His voice broke through the silence of the garage, Joker had left a few minutes ago for a lunch break, leaving only the hostages and a few grunts to enjoy each other's company.

Robin knew the smart thing to do would be to sit there and be quiet, but the question had been nagging at him, getting stronger every time he noticed Nightwing attempting to stretch his muscles to loosen them.

Nightwing wearily glanced at the guards who all seemed a little bored, but then he made eye contact with Robin.

"Later," he said.

To Robin's side, Red Hood made a scoffing noise. Robin scowled.

"You and I both know that I am more trained to handle-"

"Robin," Nightwing growled, "later."

Robin shut his mouth and pressed his lips together. He was almost tempted to say "yes sir" with how serious Nightwing sounded. He used his Batman voice, one of the only voices Robin really respected.

-o-o-o-o-

Nightwing collapsed into the chair like a marionette with cut strings. His muscles rippled and twitched. His stomach pressed in and out frantically and the LED light weakly flickered before it regained it's original brightness. The second time the Joker shocked him was so much worse. Robin could tell Nightwing was desperately trying to keep in a scream, but as the seconds ticked on, he did eventually let out a pain filled moan.

The Joker loved it so much that he rewarded Nighting by turning off the machine "earlier" than what he had planned. Not a single hostage tried to fight him on it or talk back, the bruises on Red Robin's cheeks were convincing enough.

As Nighting twitched and tried to control his breathing, the Joker listed off a group of bombs that had been deactivated to the camera. The grunts around them looked disappointed that nothing had gone off yet.

-o-o-o-o-

The waiting, Robin thought, was the worst part. All there was to occupy himself was the sound of manufactured lights and the quiet humming of monitors and screens. The Joker had gone quite a while ago, seemingly also bored. Every once in awhile he'd make a comment about how he should have set the time to ten or five minutes instead of fifteen.

Red Robin looked exhausted, the finger marks on his cheeks turning a purple color, making Robin wonder just how hard Joker grabbed him. Red Hood had finally gotten some of the tape off his mouth, using mouth movements and his own saliva, but he remained silent like the rest of them, with his eyebrows together like he was actually thinking of something. Nightwing kept shifting and moving his limbs as much as they could to get out the stiffness and ache, yet he looked pale.

Everyone, even the Joker, was a bit bored. There had been no explosions, no talking back, no reactions. Yet, Robin knew he'd rather continue being this bored rather than hear that timer go off again. However, the timer eventually went off anyway.

Seconds later, the Joker was standing at the chair controls and waving his arms dramatically as he told how there were only three bombs left, all of them were not listed. There was no way to tell where they were. The Joker laughed at that, and then flicked the switch. With a horrible humming and a spark of electricity, the LED lamp lost most of its power and Nightwing screamed.

-o-o-o-o-

"Where is he?" Red Robin whispered. More to himself it seemed, but Robin and his fellow heroes all heard him. Joker poked his head up but didn't seem too angry with Red speaking this time.

"He's not coming," Red Hood growled back.

Robin swallowed nervously and glanced over towards Nightwing who looked worse for wears. He looked like he was close to throwing up and his limbs kept twitching, if it was the after effects of electricity or just Nightwing being in too much pain to move more than a hair's breadth, Robin didn't know.

"He didn't come last time, he won't this time," Hood said.

"Hood," Nightwing said in gravely whisper. "Knock it off."

Hood made a growling noise from the back of his throat. "How can you just sit there patiently?" He snarled. "You know how much time is left? You can't bend your neck so I'll tell you-"

"Hood."

"Three minutes. Three fucking minutes," Hood continued with his voice dangerously low. "'Bout as much time I had before the bomb went off. If you think Batman is getting here in time, your wrong."

Nightwing glared to the best of his ability. "We'll talk about it later-"

"Later?" Red Robin spoke up, his own voice quiet and disbelieving. "You might not have a later."

"Batman is coming," Robin found himself speaking up. His heart was beating so hard in his chest at Red Robin's last sentence. They all knew that the next shock, the one nearing two and a half minutes, will kill Nightwing. "He has to."

It fell silent between the four hostages and Robin cursed himself for saying anything. Red Hood was glaring at him and Red Robin looked surprised that Robin spoke up at all, but what hurt was the sad look that took over Nightwing's face. It seemed Robin was the only one who was still hoping Batman would come.

The sound of clapping met his ears and he turned to scowl at the Joker who was sitting quite amused in his director's chair.

"Wonderful performance!" He said, grinning ear to ear. He chuckled and continued to clap his hands until the other henchmen hesitantly began to join in. "Perfect for a drama series! Someone write that down…"

He stopped talking when suddenly, the timer on Nightwing's lap began to ring once again, only this time it felt so much louder. The Joker's already wide grin spread further, practically taking up his entire face and wrinkling his skin horribly.

"Lights!" The Joker announced happily. He looked genuinely happy instead of his normal psychotic giddiness, and Robin knew exactly why.

The Joker won.

Nightwing had his eyes open and his body relaxed. He wasn't one to face death kicking and screaming, preferring to go out a hero like he always had been. He would set his jaw and puff his chest and glare into the face of danger, but not before looking at each of his younger siblings in the eye first. He remained brave, even as the Joker announced that one egg still remained. Even as the Joker's hand lowered down on the killing switch.

That didn't matter, Robin suddenly didn't mind doing the kicking and screaming for him.

"STOP!" Robin found himself snarling. He tugged against the cuffs and felt skin break, but his heart was pounding too hard for him to take much notice of it. "Leave him alone!"

He realized, that he wasn't the only one yelling. Hood and Red were too, all three of them begging to a mad man to not take the only person in the world they knew for sure really cared for each of them. Hood was screaming swear words and Red was actually calling out threats at the top of his lungs.

Nightwing looked sad.

The Joker sighed and waved his hand. "What do they not get about family show?" He sighed as Robin and the other's heads were all grabbed. Robin growled and turned his head back and forth desperately, but he was eventually held still long enough for someone to plaster a length of duct tape over his mouth. He screamed into the gag, and so did Red Hood and Red Robin, but it was all for naught when the Joker again began to reach towards the switch. But he stopped suddenly and grinned, leaning towards Nightwing with his nose practically poking into Nightwing's cheek. Nightwing flinched. For the first time, he actually looked afraid. Where was Batman?

"Any last words?" Joker asked, smiling.

For a minute, Robin didn't think Nighting would talk, but it seemed whatever words he needed to say were more important than whatever pride he was trying to keep up.

"I love you guys," Nightwing… Dick was suddenly saying. His breath caught in his throat. "I love you all so, so much."

The Joker burst into laughter and Nightwing gasped, instantly putting back on his strong facade. "Cheesy," the Joker said between his gasping chest heaves, "but I like it! Haha, glad I caught that on camera! What a natural born actor- Hahaha!"

And then, without any warning, the Joker slammed his hand down on the controls. Lightening seemed to spark the whole room, breaking the LED lamp and plunging the garage in darkness.  The only noice Robin could hear was his own screams behind the tape. God, he'd never screamed like this before. Not even when his Father died. He'd seen that as a opportunity to step up to the mantle he left behind. He'd broken bones. He'd been stabbed and tortured by his own Mother and Grandfather. He'd... He'd died, killed by a disgrace of a clone. He came back only to find out that Dick—his Batman was dead, yet all those times he'd never screamed. Strange that he was now. It was probably because he was actually watching as it happened. Watching as sparks flew and light flashed dangerously. Seeing flashes of Dick convulsing in split moments. Catching glimpses of the Joker's shadow against the far wall, laughing maniacally.

Then, as quick as the noise and the lightning came, it was gone. Moments that felt like hours ticked by and the room was plunged into jet blackness. It was silent for a moment, and then it was chaos.

Robin was in a daze, confused and probably in some sort of shock, but suddenly there was the noise of fighting followed by red emergency lights illuminating a large group of squad police and GCPD cops being lead in by none other than Spoiler.

Robin turned his head and saw Orphan in the middle of an intense battle with the Joker, who looked beyond pissed, but was quickly losing to the woman who was better at fighting than Batman and Robin themselves were.

There was a batarang sticking through the chair's power cord and multiple sticking out from the monitors.

Soon enough, Orphan was cutting Nightwing from the chair and laying him down on the ground as the Joker was dragged out in chains, laughing and gasping. Spoiler sprinted over to Red Robin and began to undue his own bindings. Paramedics were rushing into the room.

Robin was holding his breath, it all happened so fast and his brain was struggling to catch up. His Mother, Grandfather, and even his Father would be disappointed in him for that, but it all was so crazy and so unexpected. So unreal that Nightwing was laying on the ground, motionless besides his muscles naturally twitching violently from the electricity.

"Not breathing," Orphan whispered, and suddenly breathing was the hardest thing in the world.

"No," Robin whimpered, or tried to. It just came out muffled. Yet, he whimpered and it was embarrassing but he couldn't control himself. It was too late. They were too late.

Joker won.

"Nononono-" he could feel tears falling down his cheeks as paramedics rushed around Nightwing's body, forcing Orphan out of the way and blocking Nightwing from Robin's view. He didn't know what they were doing. He could hear urgent talking between them. He was so panicked he didn't even feel Spoiler undoing his restraints and taking off the gag until he was throwing his body forward, with no other thought besides he had to get to him. He had to get to his brother. "No!"

Suddenly, there was a body in front of him, holding Robin back by wrapping big and strong around his body.

"Let them work…" Red Hood said, dropping to his knees and bringing Robin with him.

"Let go of me!" Robin screamed. He brought his fists up, fists that were bloodied from the tight cuffs digging into them, and began to pound on Hoods chest in fury. "I have to get to him! LET ME GO! I'LL KILL YOU HOOD!!"

Hood didn't let go. Instead, he tightened his grip and took Robin's beating. Robin squirmed and was able to see over Hood's giant shoulder that they we're loading Nightwing onto a stretcher and rushing him outside. He couldn't tell if Nightwing was breathing or not. For a second, Robin remembered Batman's very clear no Hospital's rule. Nightwing should be taken to Leslie, where she can work with them without them worrying about their secret identities, but Robin knew in that moment, that if there was a small sliver of a chance that Nightwing could survive, it wouldn't be with Leslie. It would be with trained professionals.

Civilian identity be damned.

When the paramedics left the room, Robin practically collapsed into heart broken sobs. There were no one else in the room besides a broken family. Red Robin looked like he was in a daze and he slowly sat down next to Red Hood and Robin with his own wrists a bloodied mess. Orphan and Spoiler too joined them on the ground.

Batman was nowhere to be found.

Though, later the news will say the last bomb was found in the nick of time.

-o-o-o-o-

"Thank you," Nightwing said, smiling brightly to the nurse and the nurse blushed before hurrying out of the room.

Hood scoffed and Tim rolled his eyes. Trust Richard Grayson to be immediately catching the hearts of women after just escaping death. Robin remained silent over in one corner of the room, studying the wires and tubes that were connected to Nightwing's body. All he had was his mask, the suit, they were told, had to be cut off him so they could work. They had it in the Hospital Director's office, safe for them to pick up when Nightwing could be discharged.

Orphan was standing silently across the room with Stephanie holding her hand. It was so quiet in the rather large room. Monitors and other devices made so much noise but Robin couldn't be more grateful for them.

He rubbed the bandages around his wrists and took a deep breath. He could have lost Grayson forever that day. He could be standing in a morgue instead. Before he could think more about it, his legs were moving. Nightwing gave him a curious look but Robin ignored it and began to carefully climb into the bed next to him.

"Don't ever do that again," Robin growled.

Nightwing chuckled but stopped with an ow when Hood came and smacked him behind the head. "Okay okay, I won't do that again!"

After that, Nightwing recovered rather quickly. He had burn marks around his wrists, ankles, and forehead, but treated rightly the scars should fade. Todd punched Damian's Father the moment they all returned.

"Didn't even bother to visit," he snarled.

Yet, in the end, Rubin understood why Batman never showed up. If he had decided to save Nightwing instead of going to diffuse bombs, so many more casualties would be written down instead of the small dozen that were lost in the first bomb. At least he sent Orphan and Spoiler to search for Nighting with the background help of Oracle.

But it didn't really matter. All that mattered was Richard was breathing and currently laughing it up at his own joke at the dinner table, very much alive.

That's all Damian can hope for.

Chapter Text

image

X/Completed /// Fire/Requested /// Diamond/Next

-o-o-o-o-

Dick is screaming, writhing, begging for it to stop, begging for Bruce or Batman or someone to save him, oh God someone save him, make it stop, make it stop make it stop. Tears run down his face and his hands are constantly jerking and flexing against the velcro restraints as his fingers claw at the white blankets below him, there’s red under his fingernails from when he had tried to claw his own eyes out.

Tim can hardly stand it, it feels like his heart has been ripped out and stomped all over. It should be him. It should be Tim in that room strapped down like an insane patient while Alfred and Bruce desperately try to find a cure for Scarecrow’s newest fear toxin. That sniper was aiming towards Red Robin, not Robin, not Orphan, not Red Hood, not Nightwing. Towards him. It would have hit him if Nightwing hadn’t suddenly pushed Tim out of the way. Tim remembers falling to the ground, scraping his elbows and knees, and turning to see a beautifully feathered dart sticking out of Nightwing’s neck. It flashed in Tim’s mind that colorful things usually mean dangerous, poisonous, but that flew from the forefront of his mind when Nightwing stumbled and paled, eyes wide.

“F-fear toxin,” he had said.

He was fine for the first few minutes, only slightly shaking when Bruce sped in with the Batmobile. Halfway back towards the Batcave, Nightwing was panting and blinking way too much, tears were running down his face and his hands were white knuckled around his own arms. He accidentally referred to Bruce as “Tati” when Bruce asked him how he was doing and everyone knew that it was going to get worse from there. Nightwing considers Bruce a father, sure, but there is only one person who he calls that.

When they pulled into the cave, Hood and Orphan were both holding Nightwing down as he screamed and screamed and screamed, his fingers were bloodied and red, blood dripped down from his wide, terrified eyes.

“Stop!” Dick begs from the other room, his voice breaking at an octave higher than what it should be. Tim flinches and wishes, with a flash of guilt, that be could put a pair of headphones in right now. He needs to find where Scarecrow is and how he escaped Arkham without anyone noticing. Bruce has a strict no headphones in the Cave rule, that was set before Red Robin joined the cause when Jason missed the red alert one time because he was jamming out to Panic! At The Disco and Fall Out Boywith his cool new iPod.

So no headphones, Tim is forced to listen to Dick tear his own vocal chords out in his fear.

Tim clicks on a link, then another, and another, Dick is reduced to sobs an hour in, oddly silent after another, then back to screaming. The toxin is harsh, working randomly, gifting Dick with moments of clarity and then ripping it away by showing him Harvey Dent and a baseball bat, or Mary and John falling to their deaths, or something else that Tim can’t entirely guess. He hears a woman’s name, Dick screams about her and sobs, something about Blockbuster’s death. He struggles so hard against the restraints when he begins to wail about the Forever Evil disaster, about Luther, about a pill, about how he couldn’t breathe.

Tim wishes Bruce would just knock him out. It’s making it hard to work and it keeps pulling at the back of his head that he should be back there instead of Dick. Tim’s probably the best off from his brothers, he came and went so quickly that he hardly had time to make enemies or make a name for himself. Scarecrow was in jail most the time, Joker was uninterested in killing another Robin quite yet, Poison Ivy or Ra’s or any of the big leagues just didn’t seem to want any big moves quite yet and most of Tim’s career as Robin was spent dealing with normal people who wanted to get themselves rich in various unoriginal ideas before Damian came and he left to the Titans.

Dick’s been through it all. He’s been tortured by the hands of the Joker, he’s been beaten half to death by Two-Face, he’s been drowned and bound and kicked down and kidnapped and buried alive and so many other things that it isn’t fair. It isn’t fair that Dick is back to this and Tim is happily doing his sweet detective work without a scratch on his body. It should be Tim in there, screaming about the night his parents died or that one time Tim was almost killed or when he was held in captivity after he found out he was still alive, alone and scared and hardly able to move a foot in any direction, while all his family thought he was dead and no one is going to come for him.

His fingers hurt. He’s found out nothing but that Scarecrow hasn’t actually escaped from Arkham and that the toxin recipe was smuggled out to one of Scarecrows loyal henchmen. With that discovery, the Arkham doctors were informed and they gave him a slap on the wrist and moved him to a more secure cell in the prison.

And that’s it. There’s no actual recipe for the fear toxin, there’s no identity for the henchman, there’s nothing useful.

He hears movement behind him as he watches through the security cameras of the location Nightwing was shot for the fifth time in ten minutes. He doesn’t turn to look, he knows it’s Bruce back at the lab trying to figure out a cure for Dick’s fear. Dick is silent, probably going through a more lucid few minutes, giving Alfred and Bruce time to try and cure him, to take blood samples without the needle missing or asking him how he’s feeling and all of that.

There’s clinking, chemicals being mixed together in silence. How long has it been? Almost twelve hours. The sun is probably reaching its highest point in the sky. Kids are probably going to school, people to work, life beginning to make noise. They don’t know that one of their beloved heroes is living each and every one of his nightmares below Wayne Manor.

A hand falls onto Tim’s shoulder and he almost jumps out of his skin. He spins around to see Jason standing there, hair sweaty and sticking to his forehead from the recent removal of his helmet. He’s smirking slightly, and Tim wonders how anyone could be even slightly smiling at a time like this.

“What did the computer ever do to you?” Jason asks and Tim frowns.

“What?”

“You’re glaring at it like it peed in your root beer.”

“First of all, that’s a stupid thing to say, second of all, I’m not glaring.”

Jason let’s out a chuckles and there’s a small whimper from where the medical ward is. Tim takes a deep breath and turns back to the computer. The screaming should start up again soon. Bruce swears and grabs whatever he is working on and sprints to the med bay.

“Hey, stop that,” Jason says and Tim wants to groan.

“Stop what?”

“Copying me, I’m the one whose angry and annoyed all the time.”

“Shut up,” Tim growls and clicks on a new video link. He has to find the perp, find the recipe. Dick is breathing hard and Alfred is whispering comforts.

“Look,” Jason says and he walks around the chair and literally sits on the keyboard of the computer.

“Dude!”

“Listen,” Jason repeats and folds his arm across his chest. There’s a continual “f” being typed into the computer and Tim wishes Jason would just get out of the way. “You’re not the first one Dick took a hit for.”

“Get off the computer,” Tim hisses.

“He’s done it for me, he’s done it for Bruce, hell I bet he’s done it loads of time for the demon spawn. I don’t know about Cass though, but he probably has. That guy would jump in front of bullet for the dogs, Tim. So stop beating yourself up.”

Tim remains silent, he can’t find the words to say. He knows Jason is right, Dick has a… not a self sacrificing complex but a big brother complex. He thinks he should be the one to protect everyone, that he’s the oldest and therefore he has to do everything in his power to make sure everyone is okay and happy and alive, no matter the cost, even if the cost is his own life and sanity. Though, just because Jason is right doesn’t mean he’s going to rise Jason’s already high ego to tell him so.

Jason smirks anyway, taking Tim’s silence as a victory. He jumps off the computer and folds his arm across his chest, looking down at Tim and Tim glares right back. Jason’s smile only falters for a second when Dick suddenly let’s out a terrified scream.

He clears his throat as Bruce yells something and Alfred snaps something back. It’s clear that Jason is struggling just as much as Tim. Damian and Cass were both probably suffering as well, but Bruce had sent them back out into the city to look for leads. Tim remained back to do research and Jason because Bruce doesn’t trust him outside in Gotham without Dick’s or himself to supervise quite yet even though Jason, by all means, could leave right now if he wanted. Tim wonders why Jason is willingly staying.

Dick lets out a whimper, he’s starting to beg, saying no, I’m sorry, he can’t be dead, get off me, I’m poison, I’m scared, leave him alone, I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry, let me go, I don’t want to die, Bruce IM SORRY, and Tim doesn’t know that he’s hyper focusing on those words until Jason snaps a finger in front of his eyes. Tim focuses on Jason’s face, how it’s tight and the smile is the furthest thing from loose and genuine.

“Here’s what’s going to happen,” Jason says and Dick’s voice breaks in the middle of another scream, “Alfred and Bruce are going to find the cure, Dick is going to calm down, Bruce and Alfred are going to give him a 30 to 45 minutes lecture, then he will let us in to see him. We will go in, and you’ll jump into Dick’s arms and tell him to never do that again and he’ll smile stupidly and say no promises.”

Tim reaches up to wipe at his eyes.

“He’ll be okay,” Jason says as Dick begs Alfred to not touch him and screams as they don’t listen, “he always is.”

-o-o-o-o-

“He wants to see you,” Bruce says and Tim feels like he’s going to melt into the chair. Finally, finally Cass and Damian found the henchman and got the recipe to the toxin (after beating the man within a half inch of his life, of course) and Bruce had finally managed to make a cure. It took an hour for Dick to stop crying out or sobbing and shaking, thirty minutes for Bruce to yell his ear off, fifteen for Alfred to give Dick that “I’m very disappointed in you” talk, and another hour for Dick to be left to rest.

All in all, it’s been almost sixteen hours since Dick was shot with the dart. Sixteen hours filled with terror and tears and helplessness.

And finally, finally Tim is allowed to go into the med bay and check to see Dick is okay with his own eyes.

Tim stands from the couch. He had been moved upstairs for dinner a few hours before while Bruce remained down in the cave to make sure Dick was stable, they have been banned going down by Alfred’s stern glare, not even Damian attempted to go back down after being caught trying to the first time.

Going down into the cave feels like Tim has been sucked into a horror movie. Doubts run in his mind and he can’t even place them. It’s just a constant anxiety mining at the top of his skull. That all flies away the moment Tim enters the med bay.

Dick’s there, and he looks close to normal. His cheeks are red and his eyes are a bit puffy but his smile, his smile is what makes him Dick. It’s lopsided, showing off white teeth, crinkling the corners of his eyes. No one has a smile like Dick Grayson.

“Hey buddy,” Dick says, his arms open wide, inviting, and Tim feels a pinprick of dejavu but he pushes that aside and runs into Dick’s arms. Dick laughs and embraces Tim in a strong grasp. He’s warm. Tim’s face is wet.

“Don’t ever do that again,” Tim says, his voice shakes.

Dick laughs and ruffles Tim’s hair. “No promises.”

Chapter Text

Not many cops in Blüdhaven can say that they came from a rich background. Even fewer can say that they belonged to a traveling circus for their entire childhood. This is why Dick Grayson is such an interesting guy because he can say both, and what's so respectable about it is that he never makes a big deal out of it. He never goes out of his way to throw names like Bruce Wayne, never tried to gain sympathy for his tragic upbringing (because once you knew Dick was raised by Bruce Wayne, you knew what happened to his birth parents). 

There are people with a fraction of the wealth who would prance around their family name at the first sign of conflict, with a not even that sad of a backstory who will tell it over and over to get sympathy. 

Not Dick Grayson. Dick would rather be his own man, the only way anyone would find out of his past was if they took the time themselves to dig into it. Otherwise, Dick lives in the moment, takes things as they come, and always does what he thinks is right. 

Nightwing is another story, but Amy Rohrbach is still pretending she doesn't know about that. 

The day today is like any other: gray, bleak, smoggy, filled with grumbling criminals coming off their latest high or groaning ravers waking up with hangovers. Most officers are also recovering from those things but corruption is corruption and Blüdhaven embraces it. 

Amy is one of the rare few walking into the office without painkillers in her system to fight off the consequences of questionable activities last night. She has some Advil in her desk, but that's for when the sheer stupidity of the people she works with gets to be too much. 

Dick is already here, which Amy has a mixture of feelings about that. The guy is pristine, and when he's told to come in at 6am, he'll come thirty minutes earlier. Most other people Amy has the pleasure of working with come in a few hours late, their excuses ranging from they saw someone doing something shady on the way to work and had to check it out, traffic, or the coffee machine was broken; in reality they were probably vomiting in the toilet and trying to convince themselves to take another sip of pickle juice or whatever people used to get rid of hangovers quickly.

Dick is the kind of person who will not only come on time, but will be there early, and she respects that because she does that too. It's what any decent person should do. But, she also knows that Nightwing was up late last night, taking out some shady trafficking at the docs. She woke up to the news coverage, and she can only wonder how much sleep Dick gets. 

Considering he came from Gotham, is apparently… and allegedly (she hasn't proven it yet) a superhero that's been in the business since his tweens, he probably doesn't get much. 

So how he can look so happy and bright on any Blüdhaven morning is beyond her. God, she wishes that he'd at least have the decency to have eye bags, the shit. She'll have to ask him about his skin care routine because she's still getting acne the moment she even looks at a doughnut and she's seen Dick swallow a whole cake slice before and his skin is still silky smooth. What a bastard.

She needs coffee. And sunglasses. It's too early for Dick's bright and perfect happiness.

"Good morning, Amy!" Dick says, sitting himself down next to her with a coffee in each hand. Starbucks. Not from the office. Curse him for being so thoughtful. Of course he is. He's from Gotham. Anyone from Gotham looks kind and carefree while in Blüdhaven. "I got this for you, your favorite if I remember correctly."

He hands her one of the cups and she glares only slightly his way. Stupid Dick and his stupid coffee.

She takes a sip and immediately almost sinks into her chair. Caramel and creamy. She used to drink straight black but then Grayson came into her life and… well. Brightness, happiness, smiles, waves, puppies, rainbows, yada yada yada, all of that shit nonsense.

"I was thinking we could work on the Trisha Meyers case," Dick continues after she takes a couple more sips. She glances above her cup and lifts an eyebrow. 

"That's a cold case, been cold for months, Dick," she says. 

Dick shrugs and sets his own coffee down on the desk. She isn't sure what kind he likes, it's different every time she asks. 

"With the round up Nightwing did last night, we might have a few leads," he says, casually, as if he wasn't talking about himself. It's frustrating knowing your rookie partner is actually a vigilante, she kind of wants to slap him for putting her through this, even if he doesn't know it yet.

Woah. She's never thought about that. This guy has been working with Batman for most of his life and he doesn't know she knows. Or… maybe he did know but he's pretending not to know that she knows that- she quickly takes another sip of coffee. Bastard.

"It's still cold, there's no evidence that she was taken by traffickers."

"It doesn't hurt to ask, right? Are the perps being held here?" 

"Before you two go off on another case," a third voice interrupts and Amy sighs as Dick smiles and looks over towards the captain. "I need a word."

"Mornin', Captain Johnson," Dick greets happily. Amy simply nods her head and looks down at her desk. "What can we do ya for?"

Captain Johnson's lips thin at Dick's greeting but instead of scolding him for being way too chipper on a Blüdhaven morning like Amy is about to do, she forces a smile and looks down at the rookie like she's actually happy to be here.

She's not. No one is. Except Dick apparently. 

"Grayson," the captain greets, "you're familiar with Elliot Cancio, correct?"

Amy feels her blood run cold as she watches Dick's eyebrows come together. Of course Dick knows Elliot Cancio, everyone does, he's one of the biggest names in the Cancio family, a group of mafia that has bloomed like poisonous algae in the past year. Elliot is not the leader of the family, but he's up there, up enough that it's generally known by everyone to not mess with him unless you want your whole life destroyed and your body to be found in the flooded district of Blüdhaven a month later. 

Why is the captain throwing his name around?

"Yes ma'am," Dick replies and Amy is relieved to hear a bit of caution in his voice. Even Dick knows that the big names in the mafia are off limits, off limits until the mayor's chair is free of corruption and the police department is no longer under their thumb. 

"He turned himself in last night," the captain says, casually, her voice deadly calm, so calm that Amy can't help but tense. No mafia member would just turn themselves in… let alone a Cancio. "He wants to confess, but he insists he'll only talk to you."

Bad sign. Back out now, Dick. There's a feeling of dread pooling in her stomach and it's showing only slightly on Dick's face. His expression is open, surprised, but she can see how his eyebrows are sliding closer together, she can see his jaw twitching like he's fighting the urge to grind. 

"Really?" Dick asks, and god, Amy can practically see the gears turning in his head. There's a lot of stuff Amy has noticed about him since he showed up, since she put two and two together and realized the not-so-caped crusader was her rookie partner. Knowing who he really is, it's opened doors for her to read her partner better, when before she always thought his surface expressions were the real ones, but in reality there are so many layers, so many she's still figuring them out. But now, now she can read him clearly. He's wondering what the hell is going on. 

"Yes, so if you're already familiar with him, we'll save the paper work and have you go right in. We're going to have a couple other rookies follow you to see first hand how confessions work."

"Yeah, because that's normal here," Amy says before she can think of it, "confessions. Even more so from a known mafia member."

"Allegedly," the captain corrects coldly, until she plasters on a fake grin and turns towards Dick. "That is until you get the truth out of him."

Amy doesn't like this. She doesn't like this at all. There's something more in play here. There has to be. The Cancio family is so rooted and comfortable in Blüdhaven, they own half the strip and it's casinos, making easy gains and grabs when Blockbuster was killed (Jesus, once Amy corners Dick she will find out what happened that night). There's no reason any Cancio would feel the need to turn a leaf when the leaf they're sitting on is gold plated. 

That, and, by chance, if Elliot really wanted to confess anything, he wouldn't have made it within a mile of the precinct. His grandfather and his henchmen would have made sure of it. The body would be found floating in the harbor if it was found at all. 

There's something smelly going on here, and by the looks of it, Dick is at the center. 

Jesus Christ and Mary above why did she get stuck with the ultimate good guy from happy town Gotham? Couldn't she have just gotten some kid straight out of Blüdhaven Juvie like everyone else? 

But nooooo. She got good guy Dick from happy town Gotham and now she's stuck with him until he gets himself killed. Well, it would be just her luck if she gets brought down with him. Only she would be stuck with a rookie vigilante until death. 

However, from the sounds of it, it's not she this time getting dragged down with him… it's other rookies. 

Something's going on. Decline Dick. Get out of it. Just this once, save your own skin. 

"You can count on me, Cap," Dick says, grinning, even mock saluting. Any evidence of concern or caution one his face is gone, like he's made a decision, and Amy is the first to know that once Dick makes a decision, he's not backing out of it. 

Dear lord. Maybe this is what Batman had to deal with. (Jesus Christ, Bruce Wayne??? She never even thought…)

"It's very much appreciated, Dick," the captain says. "Luckily, detectives Hogan, Rodriguez, and Payne are already here, so we can begin right away. Just gather them up if you will, Grayson."

Dick nods and stands up, shooting a smile Amy's way and she can't help but tense even further. Dick knows something, he's willingly walking into a trap. Dick nods at the captain before heading over to one of the rookies listed who's trying to figure out the coffee machine. Amy goes to stand up, wanting to follow him and tell him to forget it just this once, just this once keep his nose out of it, but she's stopped by a hand hand to her shoulder. 

"Let Grayson handle this, Rohrbach," the captain says. Amy glares at get and shoves off the hand. The captain's expression has done a 180, her fake smile turning into a sad frown. Amy knows the captain isn't the best of people, sometimes doing corrupt things just because she could instead of being told, but deep down she cares about people. She's more about personal gain than harming others. "For once, let Grayson take all the responsibility."

"What are they going to do to him in there," Amy snarls under her breath, watching past the captain's shoulder to see Dick greet the third rookie and pat another one on the back. They all turn to head towards the interrogation room where something bad is surely waiting for them. 

"He's going to question-"

"What is really gonna happen, captain?" She shifts her focus back onto the captain, giving her sharpest glare, and according to Dick she has a pretty mean glare.

The captain seems to fight an internal battle for a moment before she sighs, her shoulders falling. She lowers her voice so it's barely above a whisper. "There's nothing I can do. Grayson has been barking up the wrong trees recently."

"They're going to kill him…"

"No," the captain says, shaking her head, "just… teach a lesson. He'll be fine."

They're going to humiliate him..  injure him… in front of the newbies so they know not to step out of place like Dick has been. Amy has told him time and time again to not pick up the cases the department has worked hard to make cold, that has been made cold because the mafia told them so. Hell, Trisha Meyers is one of those cases and Dick just tried to convince her to open it up. 

She takes a breath and pushes past the captain. 

"Rohrbach," the captain calls behind her, her voice sounding pathetically worried as if she had no choice but to send Dick to the hands of angry mafia members, "let Dick take responsibility, you don't need to get yourself involved!"

Amy clenches her jaw and rolls up her jacket sleeves. "He's my partner, ma'am," she growls, heading to the hallway where Dick has disappeared a few minutes before, "he's my responsibility."

-o-o-o-o-

Walking to the interrogation room is like walking to the gallows. The hallways are empty, the lighting is dim, each camera she passes is lifeless, no simple red or green dot there to assure her that whatever is going on, that it will be watched. 

Damn Dick for making her willingly come back to him, to willingly jump into the mess he's been busy making until mommy and daddy mafia got angry. Curse him. She should just turn around, she should just let Dick take this because he's an idiot and this all could have been avoided if he followed her simple hints and the captain's commands to not get involved. 

Curse him. To hell with him. Screw that guy. Next time she sees him she'll kill him herself. 

There's two doors at the end of the hallway, one for the interrogation room and one for the observation room, one man guarding them both. He's in uniform, but she doesn't recognize him, and as she gets closer the bridge of her nose instinctively wrinkles up because of the rancid smell of drugs wafting off him. She can't pinpoint a single drug, there's multiple scents, mixing together like a cocktail from hell.

The man—must be some sort of mafia lackie or something—lifts an eyebrow as she approaches and a shiver runs down her spine as recognition flashes in his eyes and a grin spreads across his poorly shaven face. "We were wondering if you'd show up," he says, his voice raspy and high and it pissed Amy off. 

"Well, I'm here, so let me in."

"Why in such a rush?" The man chuckles, his grin widening. If he lived in a different city, his face could compete with that Joker creep. "That annoyed with your partner you want to watch what they do to 'em??" 

"Just let me in or get out of my way," Amy says, beginning to seethe. The nerve of this asshole. 

The man only laughs and grabs at the ring of keys on his belt. "Well, have fun," he says, shoving a key into the door lock. He turns it and puts his hand on the handle, "I think they've just started."

Amy glares at him one last time before she shoves herself past him, ignoring how he's staring at her, and takes no more than two steps into the room before she stops in her tracks. 

Interesting. So Elliot Cancio is here. So is a few other mafia members, but if Elliot Cancio actually came himself, they must be pissed with Dick.

And really, she doesn't need to guess how pissed they are, it's proof of it by the way one has Dick's arms locked behind his back in a restraining hold, one hand keeping his arms immobile and the other rubbing his face on the surface below him, forcing Dick to bend over the table. 

Something red and angry fills her veins at the sight, and she almost steps forward again to show these assholes what she thinks of them with her firsts until she notices the guns and the other rookies standing nervously against the opposite wall as they're being patted down and relieved of their tools. They're staring at her with wide eyes, even Dick stills his struggling to give her a strained confused look from the angle he's stuck in, like he's baffled that she would come here. 

She's baffled too. It's not like she can do anything here. Not with Elliot Cancio standing right over there and his four lackies backing him up. If anything, her being here just make it harder for Dick. 

But she couldn't just save her own skin either. She has to be here for her partner. She would never forgive herself if she had stayed at her desk, even if Dick is a complete knucklehead mcspazatron. 

"Detective Rohrbach!" Elliot calls, his grin widening as the door shuts and locks behind her. Well. No going back now. She looks over at him and levels him with a glare, but his smile doesn't falter, if fact it just grows and he shifts from leaning against the wall lazily to walking towards her, his hand outstretched. "Nice of you to join us this fine morning. How are you?"

Amy hates this guy already. Elliot is the kind of guy who's only in charge of something because he's part of the bosses family. He's like that CEO's son who keeps messing things up but everyone is forced to endure him because if they complain about him, they'll get the boss angry. Elliot has no backbone, choosing to do things when there's an army on his side around him, or just have his army do it. Otherwise, he'd rather lay low and save his own skin. 

If Enzo Cancio, Elliot's grandfather, had come, he would have come alone. He has the balls.

Elliot is just a tool whose given some power and now he thinks he owns the world, when in reality his whole position is hanging in the balance of his grandfather tolerating him.

She gives him and unimpressed look and folds her arms across her body, denying the handshake and Elliot's smile falls slightly. Dick lets out a snicker that could be mistaken for a grunt, easily distinguished if one had experience staking out in a car for hours on end to recognize it, which she has. Multiple times. Glad at least he's enjoying himself. 

Elliot forces back on his smile and runs a hand casually through his thinning hair. "Well, why don't you let one of my friends take care of you, we were just beginning, but we can delay a few minutes for you."

Immediately, Amy feels hands fall on her shoulders from one of the gunmen and she instantly tenses. She has to chant in her head to not spin around and punch his junk so hard they end up in his mouth, over and over, as his hands slid down and take her gun and cuffs, patting her down for everything else. 

He walks in front of her and is about to pat down her front end, but she grabs his wrist and glares. "Don't even think of it," she growls. 

The lackie swallows and Elliot laughs. "Treat the lady with some respect!" 

It's too early in the morning to plan how to get away with the murder of another human being. Too early. Not enough coffee. 

The lackie puts his hand back onto her shoulder and next thing she knows she's being led over to the other three rookies. She forces herself to relax against the wall, not letting Elliot see how nervous she is, and chooses to glance up at the corner of the room instead. 

The camera is dark. Of course it is. 

Her attention is brought back to Elliot as he begins to speak. He's back to leaning against the wall, smirking like he's already won. Dick is still pressed against the table, his arms shaking from the strain. If that man pulls his arms back any more, he might just dislocate the shoulders. But for now, Elliot seems to be more interested in herself and the others than in Dick, which has to be a good sign… right?

Knowing her luck, it's the worst sign.

"Tell me," Elliot started, "what is the first priority of a cop?" He waves his hands out, bouncing his back off from the wall and stepping towards the others. "Anyone?" 

God he reminds Amy of that one evil dude on Iron Man 2. Not the Russian one, but the annoying blonde one.

Hogan clears his throat and Rodriguez gives him a sideways glance like she can't believe he's actually going to answer the question. Amy can't either. Hogan is a coward, afraid of everything that pops out at him, so much so that she's surprised he even made it to a precinct, but she supposes he's always had a "good guy" heart. "P- to pro-protect the people…" he says, "sir." He adds on the last part quickly like if he doesn't acknowledge Elliot's position of power he'd get shot on the spot.

Considering, if Elliot's ego was a physical thing you could jump from you'd break every bone in your body while landing, he probably would shoot Hogan.

"That's correct!" Elliot announced, pointing at Hogan like he's won the lottery. Hogan's shoulders dropped slightly with a relieved release of air, but all the color drained from his face when Elliot continued. "Or, it would be correct, if you were in any other city. Here? The city runs on a different set of rules." He steps forward and Amy can feel herself tensing as he ends upright next to where Dick is still being smothered into the metal table. "Here, it's no secret that the mobs are the ones who run the city, and it's your first priority to aid them, or specifically, my family, in our goal to better the city. It's your job to help us, so we can do the rest."

Yes, because helping the city involves hundreds of casinos with underground strip clubs and human trafficking. Because helping the city means to make sure everyone has their fair share of heroin and cocaine and enough needles to get that stuff in them. Helping the city is killing anyone who wants to do some good. Helping the city is clogging the sky with smog, the streets with litter, and making the homeless live in it, only gaining money to buy their next fix. The city is dying, it's ran on oppression and greed, but it will definitely, one hundred percent, fix the city. 

"And some of you don't know that," Elliot continued, bringing his hand down right next to Dick's face. Dick doesn't react, but she can see the way his muscles tense ever so slightly before he forces them to relax. He does that a lot, like he's holding back a beast trained to fight. "and for some of you, it was just because you weren't taught, you came into the precinct and you just got to work, which is good! It makes you a good person, and if that's you, then we'll just need to teach you. But some of you don't know because you purposely forgot."

His voice lowers and Amy notices Rodriguez tense dangerously, heaven please make Dick be the only impulsive one in the room, Amy doesn't think she'll be able to sit back and watch if an innocent rookie got angry and got herself killed. Hogan is green, so she doesn't have to worry about him. Payne looks bored.

"Some of you were taught, but you thought you could be a hero and," he puts his fingers up like bunny ears "cleanse the city, so you purposely forgot about what's most important about being a cop in Blüdhaven. I'm here today to make sure all of you understand this from now on, and what better way than to make an example? Everyone, we're all familiar with Dick Grayson here, am I right?" 

He puts his hand down on Dick's straining shoulder and Dick clenches his jaw and shifts his legs like that would relieve the tension building inside of him. 

"Good guy, detective Dick Grayson. Closed more cases this month than what everyone else closed in the past half year. Everyone looks up to him, he's nice," his hand slowly clenches around Dick's shoulder and Amy winces, knowing what will happen and how she's completely powerless to stop it, "kind, smart, a fantastic detective, and everyone can admit that he's probably the prettiest in this room."

Pop.

Dick grunts as his shoulder is suddenly pulled out from it's socket and let's out a yell through clenched teeth, Amy forces her arms around her chest, nails digging into her arms. He can handle this, she chants to herself, he can handle this. He's Nightwing, and he knew what he was walking into. He knows what he's doing. He didn't come here with no plan.

God, please let him have a plan, because with how smart Dick is, he can sometimes be a complete and utter shithead.

"But it's no secret that he has a good guy complex," Elliot continues on, lifting his hands and brushing them together like he's congratulating himself for dislocating a shoulder already a hair's breadth from dislocating on its own, "and because of exactly that, he's a constant thorn in our side. My grandfather wants him to be an example to you; of what will happen if any of you even think about standing in our way from here on. I wanted to kill him," he looks down at Dick with narrowed and hungry eyes, "but, my grandfather wanted me to remind you all that there are some things worse than death, some things that make you wish you were dead."

He backs up and nods his head, the grunt pinning Dick down suddenly drags Dick upwards and slams him against the wall. Amy winces in sympathy as his bad shoulder is knocked against the wall, but Dick doesn't even flinch, either because he's super good at hiding pain or it's numb already. 

"Strip."

A word she didn't expect. She expected the lackies to be upon him, kicking him and punching his brains out, she didn't expect this, and for a second she thinks it's a joke, but Elliot's face is calm, cool, collected, not a hit of joking nature. Even Dick looks somewhat shocked. 

"What?" Payne asks, the first thing he's done besides stand there looking bored. His mouth is wide open stupidly, a red blush rising to his cheeks. Amy doesn't know what his deal is, he isn't that high on her radar for her to pay attention to him, so she has no clue what's running through his head.

"Strip," Elliot says a second time, looking impatient. A gunman behind Elliot rises his weapon ever so slightly.

Dick stares at him for a moment, a very long yet short moment, his hand clutching at his injured shoulder, before he swallows and he removed his hand from his shoulder and works towards the collar of his buttoned up shirt. 

"Dick-" Amy starts, panic making her hands tremble, but she stops when Dick gives her a look, one that's indecipherable, she can't tell if it's his own panic, braveness, acceptance, determination… but it makes her snap her jaw shut. He's got this, the look says, he's freaking out a little bit, but he's got this.

Or that's what Amy hopes that look is saying. 

Dick struggles to get the buttons of his shirt undone, and Elliot finally loses his patience around the third button, Dick's almost got it loose with his one hand before Elliot jerks his head over to Dick, glaring at the lackie that had been previously pinning Dick down. The lackie doesn't waste a second before he roughly grabs grabs onto Dick's shirt and tears it apart. Amy resists the urge to flinch when a button hits her shoulder. She can hear a hiccup next to her… Hogan. 

"Hey!" Elliot suddenly yells and Rodriguez jumps. She's been looking away, downwards. "Watch. There's no point in a lesson if you don't pay attention."

Dick's shirt is roughly jerked off of him, jostling his bad shoulder. No matter how numb it is, with those kind of uncaring movements as the lackie relieves him of his shirt and then his undershirt… be must feel it, if the tightness to his brow is anything to go by at least. He's shirtless now, and Amy can feel her heart jump when the lackie instantly moves down to the button of his pants, because holy shit this is happening and she's just standing there and what are they going to do to him?!

Dick actually stumbles backwards the moment the gunman's hands get too close to the front of his pants, and for a second she can see real fear in his eyes, like he's realizing how real this is too. Hogan is full on sobbing now and Rodriguez is swearing under her breath, Payne isn't making any noise but after a quick glance sideways she can see how red his face and neck are, his eyes wide but twitching side to side, like he wants to watch but he knows that this isn't something any decent person would want to watch. 

If they survive this, Amy's going to punch his throat so hard his grandchildren will be mute.

But that doesn't matter right now, what matters is that Dick is holding up his good hand, breathing hard, eyes dilating, and Amy wonders where he thinks he is before he squeezes his eyes shut for just a second, then opens them, every ounce of his expression brimming with determination.

"I'll do it myself," Dick growls, and she can hear it, she can hear Batman in him, and it scares her because she's never heard Batman before, but this certainly isn't Nightwing. "At least give me-"

His determination seems to shatter when the first gunman and another both grab onto him and all agency is taken from him when one grabs his bare arms and pins Dick against his chest. Dick snarls and kicks out a leg at an angle Amy doesn't think is possible on any other human and hits the man in front of him right in the face, and she only has a second to mentally celebrate that the man now missing a few teeth was the one who patted her down before a third gunman runs forward, helping the other grab at Dick's hips.

Amy can feel her nails break skin on her arms the moment Dick's trousers are forced down. She desperately wants to run forward and help Dick, but she knows that will just get them both killed. The best she can do is be here for him, even as the one pinning his arms lifts him up slightly so they can get the pants off his legs. 

She looks him straight in their eyes when the unthinkable happens, when his undergarments are pulled down and off too. 

He's close to hyperventilating, and she can see that he's desperately trying to get ahold of himself, and she focuses on that, not on the rookies, the gunmen, Elliot, just Dick struggling to keep his sanity as he's stripped bare in front of his coworkers and enemies alike, as he's shoved to the ground, naked, vulnerable, with his arms being cuffed behind his back and another pair of handcuffs closing around his ankles. 

Then, his eyes meet hers, and she can see shame in them, and she wonders why. There's nothing for him to be ashamed of. And she almost forgot that other people were in the room until Dick screams out as a booted foot stomps on his bad shoulder and grinds. 

Elliot looks so damn proud of himself. Amy's going to fucking kill him. 

She looks up and gives the bastard her best glare. 

"This is just a taste of what you can look forward to when you become a thorn in our sides," Elliot says, pressing down harder and Dick writhes slightly, moaning. "You-" he says, pointing just left of Amy, at Hogan, "come here. And you better stop crying and do it quickly unless you want to end up like Dickhead here."

Dick grinds his teeth as the boot presses down even harder. God, his shoulder is going to definitely not be in the best shape after this… if there's an "after this".

Hogan stumbles forward, his cheeks red with tear tracks and he stops right in front of Elliot, his eyes flicking towards Dick on the ground with fear and pity. He jumps slightly when Elliot finally gets off Dick and grabs Hogan by the collar.

"What is your first priority right now, officer?"

Elliot hiccups, and it takes him a moment to answer. "T-to help you, sir…"

"Good. Looks like I've gotten through to you." Elliot smirks. "Now, let's put you to the test, huh? Kick him."

"Wha-"

"Kick him!"

Hogan flinches at the raised voice and looks down at Dick with panic. He looks at Elliot, then back down, squeezes his eyes, and Amy can hardly contain her flinch when Dick cries out, a foot slamming into his ribs. 

"You call that a kick?" Elliot snarls, "Nonnina can hit harder than that! Again!" 

Slam.

"Harder!"

Slam.

"HARDER!"

Slam. SNAP.

Dick screams out, panting as Hogan stumbles backwards, holding his stomach like he's going to throw up. 

"You-" Elliot says again as he points at Rodriguez, "your turn."

Rodriguez walks forward with her jaw clenched and eyes narrowed. She puts her hand on Hogan's shoulder and gently pushes him back, and Amy watches as she glances down at Dick, takes a deep breath, and kicks him onto his stomach to completely wind him. She kicked as hard as she could… the first time, giving him the most mercy she could, but it still leaves Dick spasming for air, curling up onto his good side.

Payne is next, and he at least has the decency to look a little hesitant before he slams his own booted foot onto Dick's chest. Dick doesn't have enough air from Rodriguez's attack to his stomach to make much of a noise when a second rib audibly snaps. 

Amy almost forgets that she's in the room until Elliot waves her forward, and she moves towards Dick—whose curled up, legs bending to his stomach, and gasping to try and fill his lungs with air. Elliot tells her to kick him, something dangerous in his voice now, and of course there is. She's Dick's partner, and she's just seen him stripped, humiliated, and beaten by the people who should have his back. She can already see bruises forming around his chest and stomach, the way his bare chest looks some ribs are definitely broken, his bad shoulder is thankfully not the one he's laying on, but it's jutting out at a very bad angle, there's green forming on his cheek and temple from when his face was probably slammed into the table. She's his partner. She's his partner and she should be doing everything in her power to get Dick out of this; instead she's being told to beat him down even further, the ultimate punishment: proving that the one person who should always be on his side would betray him if told to. 

For a foolish, stupidly brave moment, she wants to turn away from the man on the floor and punch Elliot right across his face, but then oh yeah they have guns. If she does that, she'll be killed, Dick will be killed, the other rookies too maybe. So instead, she looks down at her partner and thinks where would the least painful place to kick him be? A question she never thought to ask herself, especially if it concerns Dick, but now she's asking it over and over because she doesn't know. She was taught the most painful places to hit, the eyes, the groin, the neck, places that can definitely take down a person with a well placed hit. The stomach maybe? His abs are built like a castle, and the most she'd do is probably make the forming bruise already there a little bigger, wind him a whole lot. The legs? The thigh is one of the strongest bones in the body but also apparently comparable to childbirth with it's pain level when broken. Where? Where would hurt him the least?!

Elliot tells her to hurry up, and she looks at him, and all her plans fly out the window. Not only does he look impatient, but he's also looking at her with narrowed, studying eyes that he hadn't been with the others. He's wondering where she's going to kick too, and if this were a betting pool she'd place hers on the prediction that if she kicks, and she doesn't kick to hurt, she'll either be asked to kick again or deemed untrustworthy right there. 

Shit.

Dick's looking up at her, and she wants to scream at him because there's already forgiveness in his eyes, and she doesn't want it damn it, not when she hasn't done anything yet. 

Before she could give her conscious enough time to stop her, she lifts her leg up and kicks viciously right at Dick's face. 

He's thrown over onto his back, his nose shattered and blood spouting from his nostrils, and she looks away and gives Elliot a cool glare before she could really think about how she did that to him, how she betrayed him. Fuck this. Fuck everything. 

Fuck.

"Well done," Elliot says, and he has the audacity to step over Dick—whose blinking as if his brain is struggling to fully recognize that he's been kicked in the face—and lift his hand to give Amy a pat on the back. She can't resist her tense but Elliot doesn't seem to notice. "Lesson well learnt, congratulations, you all pass."

Her brain is so loud. So angry. So everywhere that she hardly notices when Elliot tells them that from now on they're only to work the cases given to him, tells them the cover story that a rouge criminal beat up Dick and that the cameras malfunctioned due to the thunderstorm rolling in. There's no thunderstorm, but the mayor's office won't bother to care. Then, Elliot and his gunmen leave the room, probably to easily leave the precinct with eyes turned away, no movements to stop them. 

It's quiet, and she hardly notices the others are still in the room until the sound of Hogan losing his breakfast in a nearby bin reaches her ears. 

She can't stop her body now, she's sick and tired of holding back, so very much so that she can't do a single thing to stop her fist rising and slamming into Payne's cheek, sending him stumbling away so his back slams into the wall. He looks at her with wide, surprised, and angry eyes, rubbing his cheek, but she doesn't let that waver her voice when she whispers deep and quiet. 

"Get the fuck out."

And they do. All three of them. Payne practically stomps out, Rodriguez gives her a sad glance before she puts her hand on Hogan's back and helps him up. With a click of the door, she's alone, nothing but the sound of her partner struggling to breathe behind her. 

Shit.

She spins around and grabs Dick's discarded shirt on the ground and throws it onto his lap and then reaches onto her belt to pull out the keys to the cuffs that the stupid lug that searched her thankfully hadn't taken. 

He's still curled up on his side again, and the way he's panting, clenching and unclenching his fists behind his back, she should have known he would react badly if she approaches from behind, but she isn't thinking, and she comes from behind anyway. She just barely has enough time to stumble backwards out of the way of his legs that are now swinging at her in panicked defense. She's seen crooks with broken bones in this very interrogation room because of Nightwing's kicks, she's always hoped she'd never be on the receiving end of them. 

Thankfully, she's lucky this time, and she hates to consider it that because "lucky" in this case is that Dick is too exhausted, hurt, and scared to even have a chance at hitting her properly. 

"It's me, Dick," she says, "I'm not going to hurt you… just get the cuffs off you, yeah?"

He doesn't respond, but he doesn't make any moves to attack her when she slowly bends down next to him, intentionally keeping her movements open and un-threatening, and within seconds, Dick is free. He bends one knee, separating his ankles further apart than what they've been in what felt like hours but was probably not even thirty minutes. He doesn't move his arms, probably because any upper body movement is destined to rustle his dislocated shoulder.

Though, he does release a rather relieved breath, which she takes as a good sign. 

Now, speaking of his injured shoulder…

"I'm going to see if I can set your shoulder… okay?"

She doesn't want to touch him any more than what he's comfortable with at the moment. She's been trained to set dislocated limbs, hell, with Dick around she's even had practice, but if he doesn't want to be touched anymore, she will give him space and call an ambulance for them to deal with it instead. 

Maybe she should call an ambulance anyway… with his ribs and the worrying farness to his eyes, she fears he might have to have some professional treatment. 

Thankfully, he doesn't go on the defensive when she grabs his arm. "This is going to hurt," she tells him, and all he does to reply is tighten his jaw and squeezed his eyes shut. 

It takes a couple seconds, and there's a sucking, wet sounding pop and Dick's arm is now officially connected back to his body. Hooray.

He grunts, and she slowly moves away as he begins to shift himself up, his muscles ripple with strain. Yup, the snapping noises his chest made when he was kicked wasn't just for show, parts of his chest look physically broken, not something one can just slap a bag of ice onto, take a few ibuprofens and call it a day. They need to be set. She looks up at his face and there's blood everywhere, the bone on his nose needs to be set too, and soon. 

She did that.

She shakes her head. Guilt later. Help first.

She moves towards him like he's a cornered animal, and all he does is blink heavily towards her. He's definitely having trouble focusing. Shit, maybe she gave him a concussion too.

Ambulance it is. 

She pulls out her phone but before she can even unlock it, a hand falls onto her own and pries it down. She looks up, and Dick is staring somewhat directly at her. His left eye seems to want to drift at the moment. Bad sign. Bad sign. Bad sign. 

Yet, he's looking at her directly enough to suggest that she should keep quiet.

"Did you…" he starts, his words slurring slightly, "you… had a choice in coming… didn't you?"

She looks down, shame weighing her shoulders down like a loaded bag. "Yes. I didn't… have to come."

Her eyes trail over to his chest, and the sight of jagged, pale, long ago since healed scars fills her vision. They're everywhere. She wonders how he got them all, but then one that looks vaguely like a "J" catches her eye, too clean to be accidental; clearly Dick has been used in a lesson before... for Batman... for Bruce Wayne... she suddenly feels sick to her stomach.

Dick's hand is still on hers, and she looks back at him when he squeezes her fingers slightly. She may as well look him in the eye as he yells at him. What's throwing her off is that he doesn't look angry, only curious… for the moment.

"Why did you come then?" 

She opens her mouth and shuts it again. Sighing, she looks down at his hand intertwined with hers. "I… I didn't want you to be alone. Dick… I'm sorry."

Dick sighs and leans his head back against the metal table behind him. 

Then he says something that surprises her.

"Thank you."

-o-o-o-o-

She's nervous. It's only been a few hours, and it isn't like Dick had just gotten out of major surgery, she's just in her car waiting for the hospital staff to bring him out. 

But she's nervous.

It's raining. Of course it is. The weather didn't call for rain but it seems mother nature liked to do whatever the hell it wanted. 

She's here to pick him up because Dick doesn't seem to have any family or close friends living in the city and the doctors would like him to be driven, insisting that he's not in the best condition to do so himself for at least a couple more days. Plus, he's apparently on a bunch of medication that could kick in and make him drowsy within the next few hours. 

A slight rumble of thunder fills the air and the drops get slightly bigger on her windshield, and finally Dick walks out, struggling to quickly fold what looks like a prescription paper into the pockets of his pants. There's a bandage on his nose, and he's walking a bit stiffly, but otherwise it almost looks like he wasn't just brutally beaten a few hours ago. She releases the breath she's been holding and turns down the radio, unlocking the car.

Dick opens the door and settles down in the passenger seat.

"It's pouring, isn't it?" He says happily. There's a slight tightness to his voice that comes with broken ribs.

Amy hums in agreement as she turns the ignition and begins to drive out of the pickup area of the hospital. It takes a few minutes to get onto the highway, and a little longer before she's maneuvering traffic in a city that doesn't bother to stay indoors even while it's storming. Dick had turned up the radio a little while ago and is now tapping on his phone, making a comment here and there about the traffic being stupid or about something funny one of his siblings did. Her responses range between humming and grunting, but Dick plows on, almost like nothing had even happened.

She's not much in a talking mood, and she doesn't have a scratch on her. By the time she pulls up in front of Dick's apartment complex, she realizes her forehead hurts from her eyebrows being drawn together for so long. Dick is thanking her, letting her know that he'll be back to work in just a few days and telling her not to get another partner while he's recovering. Her fingers tighten on the steering wheel and he moves to open the door, but before he can she talks without even thinking about it. 

"Wait."

Dick stops, and he turns to look at her with one eyebrow raised. "Yeah?"

She takes a deep breath. Might as well just get it over with. "You asked me why I went there," she says, and Dick nods with a slight stupid smile, "why did you?"

It's amazing how casual he looks as he folds his arms across his chest, but then he quickly puts his hands back down onto his knees like oh yeah that hurts. His face is open, thoughtful even. 

"I didn't know it would happen-"

"Bullshit."

Dick laughs and then cuts himself off with a choked noise because OH YEAH THAT HURTS. "Okay, okay, I didn't know that would happen, but… this will get us off the bad guy's radar for a little while, it will also make the others less of a target, it will give me more time to find a way to take them down once and for all."

"Is that Dick talking? Or Nightwing?" 

She blurts it without even thinking, and she's about to panic because oh my god does Dick need to kill her now?!?!

But that doesn't happen, Dick just bursts into laughter, a kind of chaotic laughter one does when someone else says something stupid and you want to laugh but ouch. She glares at him and he's even wiping a fake tear from his eye. "Both, I guess," he says, grinning stupidly because of course he knew. 

"From the first day I met you," Amy growls, "I promised myself I would never call you this, but you leave me no choice. You're a dick, you know that?"

Dick just grins wider at her. "You know you love me."

"I don't. I'm also a taken woman. Now get the hell out of my car."

Dick has the complete audacity to laugh again.

Stupid, sunshiney, shithead.

image

Chapter Text

-o-o-o-o-

It’s an ambush. Of course it’s an ambush. It was too easy, so simple, Dick didn’t even think the drug traffickers would purposely leave a trail for him to follow. He let his guard down, and now Robin and he are fighting alone against a small army of mercenaries with no backup or contingency plan.

Bruce would be disappointed. He’d tell Dick that he failed and he didn’t prepare for the worst and look where it got them. 

And he would be right. It’s Dick’s fault.

Dick got to used to considering Blüdhaven the worst, got too used to going to Gotham and feeling like it’s an almost vacation. He forgot that Gotham criminals are sometimes just as bad as Blüdhaven, sometimes just as corrupt and evil and smart. He forgot that they plan, that they don’t ask themselves “what if Batman comes?”. No, Batman coming is always apart of the plan. If you want to be successful in Gotham you have to be just as prepared for the worst as Batman himself is. 

Dick forgot all of that. He didn’t expect the trap, he thought the drug dealers were just lazy and ill prepared and bad at covering their tracks. Dick followed those tracks. Lead him and his partner right into an ambush. 

Dammit. 

He thought he could handle being Batman, but every day he pulls on the cowl he is reminded of why he never wanted it. 

God. He never wanted it. 

And as he dodges to the side of a sword aiming right at his gut, he bitterly thinks about how much he hates this. He hates how heavy the costume is. He hates the weight the symbol holds. He hates how Gordon looks at him like he’s pitying him, hates how bad guy’s are starting to laugh and say Batman’s lost his touch, hates hates hates that he’s supposed to run the company and raise the son Bruce left behind. 

He never wanted this. He hates this. He’s not ready to keep doing this but he doesn’t have a fucking choice. 

Gotham… the world needs a Batman more than Blüdhaven needs Nightwing. And it’s not like he can ask Jason or Tim to take over. Jason is too wild, only following the rules because Dick leaves him alone, and Dick can’t ask Jason to become the thing he loathes most. Tim is too young. Plus, he’s pretty pissed at Dick for ripping away the title of Robin and giving it to a child who thinks he’s entitled to it, and for not believing Bruce is still alive somewhere. 

And Dick can’t believe that. He doesn’t have the strength to. If he does and it turns out Tim’s hope is wrong… it will destroy Dick. 

And Damian doesn’t need that. Damian doesn’t need that disappointment. Damian needs someone to raise him and train him, someone permanent. He needs a father, and Dick has to be that now, he can’t let Damian believe this is all temporary and that his real father will return from the grave, because it might just destroy him more than it will Dick. 

He swings a fist out, connecting hard into the jaw of one of his attackers. There’s a snapping noise and Dick winces from the feeling of the breaking jaw against his knuckles, but he turns to face another attacker as they fall unconscious.

There’s eight more. Ten in total, with the one Dick just knocked down and the one Damian’s taken out earlier.

The battle is slow going. The mercenaries are skilled with the weapons they use. It’s not league training as the swords and bows would leave one to assume, they’re too forceful and blunt compared to the gracefulness and sharpness of an assassin, but it’s still skilled and dangerous to anyone on the wrong side of their sword. Which is currently Batman and Robin, but they totally have it handled…

Yup. 

He rushes forwards, fighting off the twitch in his hands to reach towards his back and maybe slightly wondering if it would confuse criminals too much if Batman were to suddenly be using escrima sticks, he engages the next closest merc. Robin is across the room, flipping across another enemy with a fluidity Dick never had and whacking a blunted version of his sword across the back of the enemies neck, making them stumble. Dick doesn’t think about that if that weapon was sharp like Damian insists it should be, that man would be without a head. 

Dick focuses his fighting on the merc in front of him and throws a punch before they can loose an arrow. He knocks the bow out of their hands and lands a solid blow in their gut, making them grunt and expel all the air they had in their lungs. Before they could recover, Dick shoves a taser into their now bruised stomach and they fall to the ground twitching. 

Suddenly, Dick is tugged backwards by the neck and he only has enough time to think about how much he agrees with Edna Mode in the fact that he fucking hates capes before he’s spinning around and delivering a vicious roundhouse kick and tugging the stupid cape out of his attackers hands. The next merc goes down. Time to move on towards-

“Batman!" 

His blood runs cold as Damian’s voice reaches his ears. He spins around and his eyes land on a startling scene. 

Damian is being restrained by three separate holds on him. One on each arm and the other holding harshly onto his neck, a sword pressing dangerously onto the child’s throat. There’s a fourth merc standing a bit off to the side, leveling Dick with a mean glare and an even meaner nocked arrow. 

Damian looks frustrated beyond belief, his face red and cheeks slightly puffed out, as he struggles in the hold. Dick realizes that even though the battle lasted quickly, the man that grabbed his cape was just a distraction as the rest of the mercs teamed up on Damian. 

Which, is in complete honesty, an impressive thing to do. Dick himself hasn’t lost a sparring match against the kid yet, but it’s always a very difficult battle to finally pin the vicious brat down. His eyes land on the rumpled cape around Damian’s shoulder and he fights off a sigh. They clearly got ahold of his cape too. Fighting with a cape has its pros and cons, and when you fight with it long enough, you learn how to avoid the cons. 

Damian has been fighting with a cape for just a few months. He doesn’t quite know how to avoid having it be used against him. Letting him have a cape was definitely a bad idea, dammit. 

Seriously. Fuck capes.

"Stand down and we won’t hurt the kid,” the one holding the sword against Damian’s neck growls. 

Damian snarls and Dick forces himself to not go narrow minded, not to focus on the grimace Damian makes when one of his arms is yanked back too roughly in response. Instead of listening to every fiber of his being telling him to run forward and risk everything to save his little brother, instead of putting his life above the mission, he does what Batman would do. 

What Bruce would do.

What Bruce did when it was Dick in the hands of the enemy throughout their career. 

He studies. Takes in as much information as he can in a half second glance. The bow man is leaning slightly on his left leg, his right one dripping with blood from what appears to be a stabbing would. Damian’s sword is laying on the ground, covered with red and Dick wonders how much force Damian had to spend to impale a blunted weapon into flesh. If Dick were to rush him, he would definitely be able to avoid any arrows being shot his way, but if the man holding the sword against Damian’s neck was willing to harm a child then Damian’s neck would be slit before any rescue could be made.

The two mercs holding Damian’s arms look well enough. If not a few bruises here and there. They would not be easy to take down, but if Dick were to run at them and get at least one to lessen their hold on Damian, then they both can continue the fight. Then again, the man making the threats will still have time to kill Damian. Before Dick could get halfway towards them. It also will leave both Dick and Damian open for a speeding arrow. 

All in all, there isn’t much he can do without risking Damian’s life. 

He forces his shoulders to relax. “Leave him alone,” he grinds out. 

“I will if you lose the belt right now,” the man replies.

Dick tries to not look too eager to give himself up but he can’t stop how quickly his hands go to his belt when the man pressed the sword ever so slightly against Damian’s neck. 

“Batman don’t-” Damian growls, and Dick cuts off whatever he’s going to say with a hardened glare. 

The utility belt drops to the ground and he lifts his hands. “Let him go. He’s just a kid.”

Damian scowls at that but doesn’t say anything, thank Jesus. The man loses his hold ever so slightly and there’s a small thin line of irritated, thankfully not cut, skin on Damian’s neck. “I don’t want to hurt any kid, Bats.”

Suddenly, the world flashes and tilts and the back of his head explodes in agony. He didn’t think that any of the men he had taken out would get up, but one definitely has and definitely just smashed the hit of their sword against his head. He stumbles and Damian’s almost panicked voice calls out for him, but everything goes white and fuzzy when his head is hit again and he blinks and finds himself on the cemented floor of the loading docs they have been fighting in. 

He forces himself to focus for just a second more, just a second more to see Damian’s arms forced behind him and a needle jammed into his neck. Something churns in his stomach, and the voice of Bruce tells him he’s just made a huge mistake. His vision lasts just long enough to watch Damian go limp. 

And then the black welcomes him.

-o-o-o-o-

Dick feels like shit. Waking up after forcibly being put unconscious is always the absolute worst. Especially if the method to knock him out was a few good whacks to the back of his head. 

His thoughts are jumbled, but he thankfully can remember what happened, he just can’t focus on the details, but the details aren’t important. The bare bones are just enough for him to remember to take advantage of his seemingly sleeping status. 

First thing he notices? His head hurts. No surprise there. Don’t need to think about that much, probably has a goose egg and maybe a good concussion that he’ll have to worry about later, but he can move on from that. Next thing is that his shoulders hurt and his hands are numb, and the back of his neck is killing him. 

He’s hanging by his hands, rough chains wrapped tightly around his wrists and connected to something above him. 

Besides his own breaths, he can both thankfully and not-so-thankfully hear another, smaller person a little while directly ahead of him. He supposes he was hoping that the mercenaries would let Robin go if he surrendered himself, but at least he knows that whatever they injected the kid with it didn’t kill him. 

For now. 

The man holding the sword against Damian’s neck didn’t sound like he wanted to kill a kid, but Gotham villains, even hired ones, don’t usually tell the truth. 

Besides the breathing, Dick can’t hear anything else. His feet aren’t touching the ground so he can’t check for vibrations of any kind, so the only thing to do for now is to open his eyes and hope Batman’s cowl (which is thankfully still on, thank you Bruce for thinking to electrify it) would cover his eye motions more than Nightwing’s mask did. 

He slowly blinks his eyes open, still keeping his neck lowered, and luckily the lighting is dim so it doesn’t hurt too much, just pounds against the back of his skull a bit. It takes him a few seconds to take in what’s in front of him. First thing he sees is most important. Damian is strung up from his wrists much the same way Dick is. He appears to still be unconscious but relatively unharmed, if not a little green around the gills. Dick wonders what they gave him and what kind of side effects Damian will feel once he wakes up. If he’s actually asleep or pretending to be like Dick is. 

They’re both in a metal shipping crate. Gotham has no shortage of them and Dick’s been inside plenty to recognize it. He can’t look up but he’s pretty sure that the dim lighting is coming from a single bulb placed in the center of the crate, between Dick and his partner, and that there are two separate hooks screwed into the ceiling to keep the two hostages hanging. 

After a tense minute of waiting with no other sights or sounds to reach him, he decides to risk it and lift his head. His neck smarts from it’s previous and rather uncomfortable resting position but he pushes the aching to the side as he stretches his toes downwards. Thankfully the tips of his toes can reach the floor, so it takes off some of the weight from his shoulders. 

“Robin,” he risks, his voice scratchy and dry. Man, what he would do for a glass of water right now. He doesn’t want to think about how thirsty Dami will be from waking up after being drugged. “C'mon, Robin.”

Damian doesn’t move and a spike of worry rises at the forefront of his mind. What did they give him?!

“Little bird, can you wake up for me?” He asks, trying to keep his voice as steady as possible. 

The kid’s eyebrows simply twitch a bit, but nothing else happens. 

Dick purses his lips and looks up at his chained hands. The gloves are off, and glancing at Damian he’s very much the same, and the chains are wrapped so tightly around his wrists that his fingers are pale and the skin that’s pinched between the chain links are an angry red. Already, dark bruises are starting to form under the harsh bits of metal. There’s a padlock keeping it all together so it’s hostage can hang from an eye hook—just as he suspected—that’s been screwed into the ceiling. 

He thinks that maybe he can lift himself up and grab the lockpick his boot, it will definitely strain his shoulders that are already in a dangerous way, but he could do it. Risk snapping a wrist by putting all the strain on them, but he’s been through worse. He’s jumped over rooftops and fought people like the Joker with worse. 

He’s just about to curl up into the most painful version of a lift when a harsh clang fills the metal container. Dick considers for a second to continue what he was doing, but he figured it would take him longer to even work his leg to his hands than it would be for the door to their prison to open. In fact, with a glance behind him, he saw it was already opening. 

He thinks that maybe he should pretend to be back asleep, but then his eyes catch on a camera wired into the corner of the container, just above the door now sliding open. He curses himself, Bruce wouldn’t have missed that. 

Four bodies file into the room and Dick’s eyes instantly narrow on the man who had just some time ago held a sword to a kid’s neck. He doesn’t exactly recognize who the other three are; just that they are three out of the other eight mercenaries they fought. The last six were nowhere to be seen. 

The door rolls shut behind the captors  and Dick tenses when he notices not only the swords against their backs, but the wooden baseball bat in the leader’s hands. It is almost ironic that it’s a bat, Dick was beat with one of those in his first year of Robin. He guesses it’s only fitting he’ll have to face one of those things within his first year of being Batman too.

Jason has his thing with crowbars. Dick has his with baseball bats. 

“Little bird, huh?” The leader asks, grinning. Dick feels his whole body go even more tense. They wouldn’t.

“Leave Robin alone,” he barks and God he almost sounds like Bruce. Roy and Wally have told him he has a glare that could rival Batman’s, so he makes sure to throw that at them too. 

It works. One of them even flinch. 

The leader only frowns a bit. “We don’t want to hurt the kid. We said we wouldn’t if you gave yourself up.”

“And Gotham’s criminals have a streak for keeping to their word,” Dick replies dryly. 

The leader sighs. “Look, we were hired to take you out and you alone. Rough you up, break some bones, and make sure you can’t follow. Your little bird is only here to make sure you cooperate.”

“Stop calling him that.”

A flash of irritation streaks across the leader’s face and another hired sword lifts a hand to her lips and hides a smirk. Good to see someone is enjoying this. 

And then, Dick is winded. 

Jason has an issue with crowbars. Dick knows this because he’s seen criminals try to hit him with one and if they actually land a hit Jason goes a bit more ham than normal on them. He’ll drop the guns and the rubber bullets, rip the crowbar from their hands, and beat them instead, deathly silent and he’ll keep silent until the next week, lips turned down in a barely contained rage. 

Dick can’t hope to compare his own issues with Jason’s, but it’s hard to not go back to that courthouse all those years ago as the wooden bat is whacked against his side, snapping a bone. It’s hard to not see that half handsome, half ugly face of Two-Face, the purple and yellow suit, the gallows, Batman watching. When the bat hits against his jaw, it’s even harder to keep himself in the present, even harder to not smell the rotten stench that follows Two-Face wherever he goes. 

He has to remind himself that he’s Batman now. Two-Face is in Arkham. It’s Damian that’s Robin and he should be just behind him, unconscious, blissfully unaware of the sharp snapping that fills the air when the bat hits his left shin just right. Dick can barely contain a scream, grinding his teeth and choking the noise with his own tongue. He can’t imagine where Jason goes when he’s hit with a crowbar. He can’t imagine. If Dick goes back to a courthouse, Jason must go back to hell.

The beating stops after a few more hits to his chest and abdomen, and Dick’s thankfully able to hold back any screams that Nightwing would probably have let out. The cape hanging on his shoulders and the cowl pulled over his face is too heavy, too important for him to show these assholes any weakness besides a clenched jaw and a glare sharper than their swords. His leg is pulsing and he definitely has a couple broken ribs that are currently screaming out in pain. It could be worse. The Kevlar on the suit’s remarkable, definitely better than what Dick wore when he was nine years old. It’s really just the pressure of his entire body weight on his wrists and his struggles to make purchases on his toes that’s inflaming the smarting of his newest injuries. 

The leader is breathing hard, his hair now out of place, but his face is calm, cool, and collected. Normally, a beating like that would involve some sort of grudge or angry yelling, but this guy is literally just doing his job. He could care less how injured Batman gets, as long as he gets paid. 

Dick spit at him, a glob of blood, phlegm, and a broken tooth hitting him in the face. One of the grunts smirked and another oohed

Not the smartest move. Definitely not the smartest move.  Batman would have remained silent, glaring, maybe demand answers, but Dick can feel his temper flaring up beneath his skin and he acted before he could think about it. All the frustration and anger that’s been bubbling under the surface is almost impossible to control in situations like this. 

“I don’t want to hurt you anymore than what I have to,” the leader says in a deadly calm voice, wiping the thick blood off his face and brushing the tooth off from his shoulder. “But keep that up, it won’t be only you getting the beating.”

“If you touch Robin I’ll tear you to shreds,” Dick snarls back, jerking forward in his restraints, almost losing his balance and pulling at his wounds. “Robin has nothing to do with this. He’s just following orders. Your issues are with me, jackass.”

The leader sighs and hands the bat to the woman merc next to him. “Clearly, you still need to be broken.”

She smiles wickedly and Dick tenses, preparing himself for another beating, and she lifts the bat above her head and is about to bring it down with brutal force upon his head, but suddenly, a flash of red, green, and yellow and the woman is calling out as a steel toed boot kicks in her face. 

The others hardly even have time to react before Robin continues his miraculous attack. Dick is left staring wide eyed at his partner and Robin kick the legs out from the leader and then punches another right in the sweet spot of their gut, knocking out all air. There’s a viciousness to Robin’s movements, something Dick has scolded him over and over about, but right now he can’t find it in himself to care that Robin’s doing a bit more damage than necessary. 

As Robin works on one of the grunts, he doesn’t notice the leader angrily scrambling to his feet and pulling out a dagger. Batman grinds his jaw, ignoring how much this is gonna hurt, and kicks his legs up, wrapping his thighs around his neck and squeezing

The leader is shocked by the attack from behind but is aware enough to plunge his dagger into Dick’s leg. Dick bites back a cry and tightens his hold, ignoring the warmth now dripping down his thigh. 

A couple seconds pass, and finally the leader slumps and Dick releases, returning to his feet and wincing at the blood trailing down his shredded wrists thanks to his entire body weight being hung on them. His chest is tight with pain and his broken leg is pulsing, his impaled thigh still housing the knife. 

“Batman-” Damian says, punching the lights out of the last merc and running over to Dick. Dick flashes a smile but Damian ignores it as he studies the chains locked around Dick’s wrists. 

Damian is looking a little green around the gills, and that worries Dick a tiny bit.

“You alright?” Dick asks and Damian clicks his tongue irritably and walks over to the leader of the mercenaries. He digs his coat pocket and pulls out a key to the deadlock to the chains and then starts dragging the leaders unconscious body closer to Dick’s feet. 

Damian steps on the leader like a step ladder and reaches up to the deadlock with his arms outstretched. Dick winces when he catches sight of Damian’s hands. 

So that’s how he got out.

“Can you land on your feet?” Damian asks before Dick can confront him. Dick swallows and chooses to not mention his two injured legs and simply nods. Damian clicks his tongue again, huffing in exasperation, before shoving the key into the lock. With a turn and a little bit of fiddling, the support of the chains are gone and Dick is suddenly falling down onto his ass rather harshly. Every single one of his wounds smart and he winces as a sharp bolt of pain travels up his spine, but he pushes that to the side as Damian bends down to help Dick to his feet. 

“No,” Dick says, and he holds out his hands, wrists bloodied and torn but it’s nothing compared to Damian’s hands. 

Damian looks nervous for a second before he slowly gives Dick his own hands. Dick sighs as he gently turns Damian’s bare hands over in his own. The thumbs are swollen and bent at the wrong angle. His skin is practically shredded around his wrists and up the back of his hands. Somehow, Damian has managed to break his thumbs and violently squeeze out the chains without anyone noticing. 

“Robin…” Dick says. 

“I’m fine.”

Dick sighs because he’s clearly not fine. His eyebrows are pulled together slightly in barely contained agony. The chains were too tight to simply dislocate the joints of the thumbs. Breaking thumbs is dangerous and could easily go very, very wrong. Damian has just fought with them, has just helped Dick escape with them. He needs them splinted and looked at by a professional quickly

If he had his damn belt, he would be able to slip on a couple splints onto Damian, but he has no clue where their belts went. 

“We need to get your hands looked at,” he says and Damian huffs. 

“You’re the one whose severely injured. I know how to break my thumbs safely. I’m not the one who we should be worrying about.”

Dick sighs, gently letting go on Damian’s hands and Damian instantly brings then both to his chest. He doesn’t want to think about the kind of training Damian has gone through to know how to “safely” shatter his thumbs. 

“We need to get out of here,” Dick says and Damian nods and scoots closer. He grabs Dick’s arm (thankfully careful with his broken joints) and helps Dick stand up. His broken leg wants to give out and his stabbed one is shaking like a leaf, but with the help of Robin clinging to his waist they both manage to open the container and stumble out into the ocean and exhaust fume tinted air of Gotham’s docks. 

The rest is an almost pain filled blur. There isn’t anyone else at the docks, probably all left towards the real location of the deal, and Dick doesn’t even let Damian suggest he goes to find them. Dick is perfectly content with chalking this up as a loss for the night and he’d rather wait a few days to get more information and to heal than try to take out the bad guy’s that night and possibly just get captured again. They find there belts and gloves stuffed inside a Jeep parked a bit away from the container used to imprison them (which now is locked with the mercenaries all inside, waiting for the cops Dick’s about to call) and Dick pings for the Batmobile to their location after they do some basic first aid on their wounds. 

By the time Dick and Damian return to the cave, Dick’s falling asleep on his feet, and he vaguely recognizes the symptoms of a concussion and of shock, but he forces himself to stay awake and doesn’t even let Leslie give him any pain meds until he sees Alfred slipping sturdy braces on Damian’s hands with the worst of the cuts cleaned and stitched up. 

Only after his Robin is safe does Dick let himself fall asleep. 

-o-o-o-o-

Damian sits next to Dick quietly, spinning his spoon around in his partly melted bowl of ice cream. He’s just been put in the clear after much therapy on his thumbs a few days prior and they both are celebrating finally taking out the drug bust the night before. Dick sets his empty bowl to the side and leans back further into the cushions of the couch, mentally patting himself on the back. 

But then Damian speaks. 

“Father wouldn’t have let us get captured.”

Dick stiffens. He almost forgot how insistent Damian is with comparing Dick’s “inepitcy” to Bruce’s perfection. 

“D…”

“He would have found a way to get the criminals,” Damian continues and each word is like a blow, a blow ringing with truth, as he too puts his ice cream bowl aside. Bruce probably would have found a way out of that. He most likely wouldn’t even had fallen for the tricks Dick did. “And we would have taken them all down, together. Returned home with minimal injury.”

Silence. A beat. Dick’s heart is in his throat with shame.

“That's… what I keep trying to tell myself,” Damian says, his voice going soft and quiet, whispered so Dick can hardly even hear what was said. 

“What… do you mean, Dami?”

“… It’s my fault. I got us captured.”

Dick leans forward and turns down the TV, resting his elbows on his knees and bending sideways to get the best look he can at his Robin. “What are you talking about?”

“If I hadn't…” Damian stops and licks his lips, nervous energy making him clasp his hands in front of him. Dick feels a pang of worry, he’s never seen Damian like this. “If I hadn’t gotten grabbed, you would have been able to take them all out. I should have been your support, not your burden. Robin protects Batman. It’s my fault.”

“Oh… Dami…" 

He almost expects Damian to resist when he brings his arms forward to embrace him, and tears almost fill his eyes the second when notices that Damian is already leaning towards his touch. He pulls Damian to his chest and holds him close, one hand slipping into Damian’s hair and cradling his head into the crook of Dick’s neck. He feels a tiny fist grab onto his shirt and he forces the sadness and worry and anger aside just to hold Damian, a kid who’s only known his father for a few weeks, as tight as he dares.

Which is very tight. 

"It’s not your fault,” Dick says, conviction in his voice. “It’s not Robin’s job to protect Batman, it’s exactly the other way around.”

Dick didn’t realize that himself until he became Batman. He always agreed with Robin’s current standpoint. Jason agreed. Tim agreed. Steph did too. The point of Robin was to make sure Batman didn’t go insane.

But once he pulled on the cowl, he finally saw how small a ten year old really is. He can only imagine how small nine year old Dick looked to Batman all those years ago. He can only imagine the pain in Bruce’s heart whenever Dick proudly said that it’s his job to protect him. 

Well, nevermind, right now he doesn’t really need to imagine the pain. He’s feeling it now. It’s agonizing.

Children shouldn’t fight wars. 

Unfortunately, they live in a world where they must.

“It’s my job to make sure you’re safe, Damian,  and I’m so… so proud of how you handled that night, broken thumbs and all. I’m proud of you. Your father would be too, if he was here.”

Damian doesn’t cry. Doesn’t hiccup a sob. But Dick can feel his fist clench just a bit tighter around his shirt. So Dick holds him a bit closer, and hopes Damian believes him.

Then… very softly that Dick isn’t even sure he heard it. 

“Father would be proud of you too, Grayson.”


image


Smiley/Done // Eyes/Next // Clock/Requested

Chapter Text

Dick wakes up to the feeling of cold water being tossed over his body. His eyes fly open and his body jolts against his will like he's been electrocuted, his wrists and shoulders protesting in pain when they get stopped above him.

Immediately, Dick knows what's going on. He slumps backwards against the cold wall and forces the shivers that want to wrack his frame to settle as he glares at a thug holding an empty bucket. He's a thug for hire, probably a man who's worked under countless mob bosses and crime overlords in the last few years; and besides Dick—or well, Batman—he's the only other one in the room.

The thug says nothing and simply turns to walk away, exiting the heavy wooden door across from him and closing it with a tell-tale click.

Dick doesn't dwell on it, just immediately begins to test his binds. He's restrained standing against the wall, and he's been like this for definitely a good amount of hours judging by the agonizing tightness of his whole upper body, the already raw feeling in his wrists from supporting his weight—batsuit and all. The best way to describe the restraints would be to say it's a long sheet of metal that has a hinge on one side to allow it to open, and a deadlock on the other side to keep it closed, in the middle of the bar are curves meant to fit tightly against their prisoner, pinning them to the wall. Sort of like in Disney's Aladdin when he was thrown into prison after Jafar got him arrested…

After no amount of twisting or tugging reveals any weakness in the metal or lock, or when he finds none of his tools hidden in his gloves, he gives up and leans against the wall to relieve pressure on his wrists and shoulders. For now, the only way he's getting out of this will be when someone comes to get him.

And considering he's most likely in the dungeon of a cultist, when someone does come for him it might not be pretty.

Jeremy Adams: a pretty normal dude to the naked eye. He's a family doctor and has been in the business for close to five years. It's only recently—after gaining the trust of his patients—he's started converting people to his strange religion and convincing them to let him take their own lives to reach a higher form. In the past month, there've been six mortalities, all showing similar causes of death and all showing records of visiting Adams’ Family Care multiple times within the past few years.

Sacrifice is written all over their bodies in evidence. The sliced throats, the period dresses and robes, the white rose petals stuffed into their mouths, the ancient coins placed over their eyes. The symbols carved from blades in their backs. Cult 101 stuff, honestly. It's freaky stuff.

Dick's been tracking him down ever since the second death popped up.

But clearly, Adams was ready for him.

He fights off a shiver as the door across him clicks again before opening. He barely has enough time to work his face into a glare before the door swings open, revealing the main culprit of this mess and what looks like two followers. Not thugs. The man who splashed gross water on him earlier was hired help, but these two are devoted cultists willing to do everything their brainwasher tells them to do.

Adams is not a man that would have "cultist'' be the first thoughts associated with him. He's not abnormally small, but not tall either. Bright blonde hair slicked back to reveal a budding widows peak, dirty blue eyes that almost look green, a beauty mark by his left cheekbone. He's not skinny nor fat, just lean with muscle under his white suit and red tie.

He looks more like a shady business man than anything else, and that's what made him so hard to track down.

"My, it is shocking to see you here," Adams says, his voice creepily light and uncaring. There's a smile to his lips that Dick doesn't like, and does nothing to settle his anxiety and the door closed behind him and his two followers, bathing the room in the dim light of the candles. "To attract the attention of Batman, my, what a pleasure!"

"What are you planning, Adams?" Dick growls, curling his fingers into fists and adjusting his legs below him, trying his best to still look threatening despite his predicament.

Adams' smile widens, bordering Joker wide. He crosses his arm in front of his chest and leans forward, just out of Dick's kicking range. "Why, the same as you! To clean the scum of this city."

"You're killing innocent people," Dick snarls, his wrists jolting forward against the restraints without his permission.

Adams tilts his head and then takes a step back, straightening his posture to regard Dick with something like curiosity. Dick gets the feeling that this guy is one of those crazy cultists who actually believe in what they're preaching. Don't get these ones a whole lot, but they're always the most dangerous.

"Edgar Rodriguez beat his husband regularly," Adams said, the smile not leaving his voice but something bitter nestling in the tone, making Dick's blood run a bit colder. Rodriguez was the first death. "Laurel Pay made child pornography with her own daughter. Hayden Jacobson murdered his brother while on a deep sea fishing trip and wrote it off as an accident. Renette Louis made a hobby of lacing treats she gave out to animals on walks with antifreeze. Gale Villegas kept his daughter in a dog cage in his basement. Yijun Shi was a stripper who regularly blackmailed his clients. They were not innocent, Batman. They told me their sins, and I offered a way to repent. They have taken that step of their own free will."

"After you brainwashed them," Dick growls and Adams sighs, almost like Dick was a child who just doesn't understand. "After you made them think that was the only way out."

"Say what you will, Batman," Adams says, "but you will see. Soon."

Dick transfers his glare to the followers as they both start forward, their dramatic robes flowing around their legs. Dick wonders who these two were before. If they were normal people who simply needed a doctor's opinion on a cough or sore throat. He wonders what's going through their heads now. Say what you will, but Dick's never been fully brainwashed into joining a cult before. Magically influenced? Sure. Once or twice. But this is human; this is something that has been going on since before Meta's and Superman. Something horribly terrifying that Dick can't even imagine being in those shoes.

He growls when they approach too closely, but he can do nothing when hands grab onto the seam of his cowl. His defenses must have been deactivated while he was unconscious, because the cowl is removed easily, and soon Dick is looking straight at Adams with as much anger as he can. Adams smiles brightly.

A cool cloth rubs against the bare skin of his neck and he flinches when something sharp enters his skin.

"Show yourself before God, Batman," Adams says as the world grows fuzzy. "And you will be saved."

-o-o-o-o-

Dick wakes slowly. Groggily. He blinks his eyes open and immediately comes face to face with something he should have expected… but is shocking to see nonetheless.

He's restrained hand and foot, hands tied behind his back and his ankles lashed together, a sturdy length of rope connecting the two so he's forced to be kneeling. In front of him is a crowd of people in a large, spacious room, all wearing robes and holding candles, surrounding an altar of some sort. Dick swallows nervously, but forces his face into something not freaked out and slightly afraid when Adams approaches him, a smile ever present on his face.

"Rejoice, Batman," Adams says and Dick glares at him, his gut tightening. They're going to sacrifice him. Shit. He twists his aching wrists in the ropes and finds no give. It's then he notices he's practically naked, nothing but the pants of his undergarments to cover him. "This is for your salvation."

"I don't need to be saved," Dick snarls and Adams' smile gets tight. He regards Dick with something like pity before he turns away towards two thugs guarding the exit to the room with disinterest.

"Bring in the Lamb."

One of the guards looks at Adams with a bored expression. Dick would wonder where Adams found these thugs—if they were native to Gotham, they would be all over this, but they look completely underwhelmed by the whole thing, even though Batman is tied and kneeling before a bunch of cultist—but he's too busy blinking in confusion as one of the thugs exits the room to, Dick supposes, grab the “lamb”.

And lambs are hardly ever actual lambs when it comes to cults.

It doesn't take long for the thug to return. The "lamb" mustn't've been too far away, brought in only for dramatic effect.

And Dick has to admit, seeing the person belonging to the title of "lamb"—as in sacrificial lamb—being dragged in with their hands tied with white ribbon in front of them and nothing but white dress pants to cover their body… it's pretty dramatic. Especially when Dick recognized the person.

Red Robin; Tim struggles in the grip of the thug and his eyes land on Dick with a mixture of emotions Dick can't pick apart. His struggles end up being all for naught as he's ultimately manhandled closer to the cult. Closer to the altar.

Dick didn't even know Tim was in town.

Ever since Bruce died… ever since Dick gave the title of Robin to Damian all those months ago, his relationship with Tim has been tense at best. Tim believed Bruce was still out there, and Dick wearing his suit was a sign that he had given up on their mentor and adoptive father—there's also the fact that looking back on it, Dick had no right to take away Robin, and Tim has every right to be angry with him about it. But Dick still stands by his decision. Damain needed Robin. Still does. Tim's honorably held the mantle for almost as long as Dick himself, and Damain needed something to tell him that not only did he belong, but he also had potential to do good.

Dick figured that he'd love Tim like a brother, but let Tim stay angry with him for a little while longer. Just until he runs into another dead end looking for Bruce, or finally faces the truth. Dick would apologise later. He clung onto that future apology every time his calls or texts went ignored. Every time Tim only came home to grab something in the cave, leaving without a word.

And now Dick's watching him cuss and snarl as he's grabbed around the middle and practically thrown onto the altar. Dick's struggling in his own bonds before he even realizes it.

"Let him go!" Dick shouts, desperately beginning to shove his fingers on every inch of his binds that he can reach. There's no reachable knots and even less give, but if he has to tear the rope off him one fiber at a time he will. He begins to work himself into a more upright position, but big hands suddenly fall on his shoulders, forcing him down so his rear is resting on his ankles. He growls, glaring at everyone and everything as Tim too gets his shoulders pinned by uncaring cultist hands. They begin to bind his ankles with similar ribbon that has his hands tied and Dick releases a snarl, shaking and twisting to try and dislodge the grasp on him.

Once Tim's legs are restrained, his hands are brought over his head and latched to some sort of hook at the top of the altar, then he's forced into his side, coming face to face with Dick, his eyes blown wide and fear all over his gaze. Clearly, any anger or hurt he has towards Dick now is replaced with terror.

Dick tries to say something to Tim, but his jaw is suddenly grabbed and next thing he knows he's forced to make eye contact with Adams. Red, scathing anger washes over Dick.

Fuck the image of Batman. Dick's going to tear this guy a new one.

"You bastard," Dick hisses, tugging at the ropes, his wrists and ankles burning. "You said you don't do anything to innocents. He's innocent."

Adams just smiles, like he has been doing the entire time Dick's been here. His face softens too, like he has been burdened with informing a child on a sensitive and complex situation.

"Red Robin is pure," Adams says, his voice agreeing, and sad, and it makes Dick see red, "more pure than your new Robin; which is precisely why he is your Lamb. I am trying to save you, Batman. Those others, this step was the only way for them to ascend—to repent. They were too deep in their sins. But you still have time! This is the first step into yourpurification. I know someday you will understand, and you will forgive. Then, you will happily serve your purpose of becoming a Lamb of Gotham."

"You sick fuck-"

"Resist, Batman," Adams continues. "Fear. Curse. Beg. Writhe. Gnash your teeth. Scream, all you want. No one but God will hear you. No one but Hecan save you." Adams let's go of Dick's jaw and stands up, brushing his robes off before he turns his smiling gaze towards Tim and Tim jolts like he's been electrocuted, his hands grasping at the hook keeping him pinned, shaking against the hands holding him on his side so his back is exposed.

Dick wonders how long Tim has been here. How long he's been trapped and afraid while Dick had no clue. He's supposed to be Batman. He's supposed to know where every single Bat is, he's supposed to protect every single one of them. He's the boss now. He's the oldest and most experienced.

Yet here he is, only knowing where a small handful of his family is. Alfred is at the manor, perhaps worrying over him and wondering where he could be. Damian is with Starfire in California for the weekend and a small group of super-powered children in a desperate attempt from Dick to get him to hang out with someone his age. But Jason? Cass? Steph? Dick has no idea. He doesn't have a single clue.

And Tim is here. He's here, and Dick… Dick has failed him.

Dick's attention is brought back to Adams when something shiney catches his eye. His heart leaps to his throat. "No-"

Adams ignores him, holding the intricate knife in his hands and twisting the handle around with his fingers as he walks away from Dick.

"Don't touch him!" Dick pulls on his ropes, even more desperate now. "Don't you dare fucking-"

Scenes from his childhood run in his brain. Times where Bruce stayed calm, times where Dick was tied up and beaten up and doing all he can to not scream in fear and pain. Times where he lost and had nothing to do and nowhere to go, nothing but wait for his captors or enemies to finally decide his life was no longer fun to play with so they'd just kill him already. He remembers all the times he almost felt so hopeless and so scared that he almost wished they'd just finish already.

But always… without fail, Bruce would always save him. He'd pull a miracle out of nowhere and take Dick home and everything would be alright.

There's no miracle that Dick can pull out of nowhere. He's useless. The binds won't budge and his fingertips sting from rubbing against the course fibers of the rope. The hands on his shoulders are firm and bruising. His knees hurt. His head is woozy from the drugs. There's not a single thing he can do, and that fact kills him as Adams walks around the altar so he's behind Tim, regarding his bare back like an artist would a blank canvas.

"Leave him alone!" Dick snarls.

His protests go unheard, but Tim's bitten off yelp as Adams brings the knife to his back seems to be the loudest thing in the world. Dick has to physically resist a flinch at the sight of Tim grinding his jaw. He can't see what Adams is going to his back, but he's seen coroner reports and photos of the other victim's Injuries—specifically their backs—and what he knows for sure is that if those people were alive during the ritual, they died in agony.

It's the most Dick can do to not break into the most childish and desperate attempt at screaming and begging when Tim's eyes meet his, pupils wide and nostrils flaring with barely contained pain. Adams makes a motion with his wrist and Tim whimpers, eyes closing and teeth pressed so tight together Dick's sure he'd close to chipping a tooth.

Dick continues his work on the ropes, his fingers going through the tightly woven fibers until he's able to feel the individual strands; thin enough that if he pulls hard enough they'll snap. The only problem is, the strands are still quite thick and strong, like floss almost, he can already feel blood from where he's cut his finger tips open from tugging too hard. The person belonging to the clammy hands on his shoulders thankfully doesn't seem to notice his slow but steady escape attempt—too invested in a cult leader torturing a teenager it seems.

When Tim finally releases a strangled, verbal scream, something inside Dick snaps.

"Adams, I swear when I get out of these ropes you're going to wish you were never born!"

Adams ignores him. Everyone ignores him. Frustration gathers in his stomach like a cesspool as his arms begin to shake from tugging at the ropes for too long.

"Leave him alone, dammit!"

A full-body tremor vibrates through Tim as the boy squeezes his eyes shut, an agonized cry escaping through his teeth as Adams makes a circular motion. Dick releases a desperate angry frustrated scared cry as he forgets about the fiery pain that his wrists and fingers are in and he begins to tug harder with every bit of desperate strength he has.

Adams steps away from Tim. Finally. After what felt like hours of Dick screaming and cursing him out, Adams steps away and Tim goes limp, chest heaving with panting breaths.

"Turn the Lamb over."

Dick sees red the moment Tim is forced to lie on his back. Tim's back arches and he weakly tries to turn away, but the hands successfully hold him down. Red creeps in at the corners of Dick's vision as crimson leaked out from under Tim into small grooves in the altar's surface, dripping slowly into small little stone cups built into the sides of the altar.

Damn cults and their blood obsessions.

Adams regards Tim with a disinterested look before he looks up and smiles at Dick. There's blood staining the cuffs of his sleeves. Dick practically vibrates with anger. "Let him go now. Let him go and I'll only put you in a body cast after this."

"As opposed to killing me?" Adams replies casually and Dick releases an almost crazed chuckle.

Adams thinks he's safe. He thinks he's safe because Batman doesn't kill. Dick hasn't been Batman since he saw Tim dragged in here. He's just been Dick. An older brother who's not very good at being an older brother. An older brother who's lived in the worst city in America. An older brother who's punched walls and people and started drunken fights because his siblings have been hurt and he wasn't there for them. An older brother who's wrapped his hands around the Joker's neck because he killed Jason and he thought he killed Tim too. An older brother who stepped away from the path of a barrel so he can allow a man to be shot dead. An older brother who had killed before, and right now feels no moral dilema considering murder again.

If Adams kills Tim now, Dick will stop at nothing to see him in hell.

Dick isn't Batman.

"I promise, you sick piece of shit," Dick says, voice sounding frozen even to himself, "if you fucking lay another finger on him, the next bloodied body found in a ditch will be yours."

Adams raises an eyebrow. Clicks his tongue, and Dick hardly doesn't notice his fingers wear and tear even more as he breaks through multiple thick fibers—he must be halfway through the rope now. It's all a matter of time. Time he and Tim might not have.

"Perhaps," Adams says slowly, and for a crazy hopeful moment Dick sees hesitation in the cultists smile, but then that hope is crumpled into a ball and thrown into a wastebasket when he continues, "perhaps you need more correction than I thought."

He turns, his robes swishing around him without care, reaching towards Tim to cut the ropes holding the boy's hands to the altar.

"Adams!" Dick tugs against his binds uselessly once again, but his angry call goes ignored as Tim immediately tries to throw a punch and his fist easily blocked. Grabbed by uncaring hands and pinned to his sides. "ADAMS, I SWEAR TO GOD-"

Ignored. He's easily ignored as Adams begins to mumble something to himself that sounds almost like gibberish—the chants get louder as more voices join him. A pit forms in Dick's chest, right where his heart should be; it's never a good thing when an entire cult begins to chant in unison. He doesn't have much time left.

"Fuck." Dick tugs on his ropes again. He won't make it. He won't make it. "Fuck."

His voice cracks against his will and Adams approaches Tim's face, smiling down at him and bringing the bloodied knife to Tim's jugular, keeping the blade just touching the skin but not breaking it.

Yet.

Tim's eyes flicker towards Dick, the fear gone and replaced with something accepting. Tim's lost hope. He's lost hope in being saved. He's lost hope in Batman. He's lost hope in Dick.

"You're going to be okay, Tim," Dick says, barely even thinking about keeping secret identities. He'd be damned if he distances himself from Tim now, choosing to let him die a hero and not a brother. "Everything will be okay."

Tim meets his eyes, and Dick offers him the best smile he can manage. Tim's lips twitch. "You're a horrible liar," he says, voice raspy. It's a miracle Dick managed to hear him at all.

The chanting grows louder. Adams pressed the knife against Tim's jaw, forcing him to turn away from Dick and look up at the ceiling. Any second now. Any second-

The movement of the knife slicing against skin is swift and violent. Dick finally manages to break the ropes binding him, and in a blind rage he runs forward, seeing nothing but the blood flowing.

He's too late.

"TIM!"

-o-o-o-o-

Star/Done // Moon/Requested // Eye/Next

Chapter Text

Dick shivers and curls up tighter against the corner of his small cell, clutching his left wrist and trying not to bend his spine too much because of the whiplash crawling around in his chest cavity. He hopes Bruce is okay… Dick doesn't remember much of the circumstances of his kidnapping, but he does remember driving home with Bruce from school when all of a sudden his guardian went taunt like a bow string before swerving off the road into a ditch just a few miles from the manor. 

Next thing Dick knew, he woke up in this small room that can't even really be called a small room. It's more like a closet. A long rectangle that if he lays one way he can lay flat on his back, but won't be able to spread his arms out as much. The door to the room is on one of the short walls, looking all ominous with small gaps between it and the doorframe, the lack of door knob, and it's marble sheen. The floor and walls are marble too, and the ceiling looks rocky like granite. A single bright light shines above him, easily illuminating the small space, leaving the only things shadowed be the top corners where four different cameras hide.

Dick can't tell if those cameras can record audio or not. They can definitely visualize, the lenses are clear enough to see, but otherwise Dick isn't as studied in camera technology like Bruce is; he can't just look at them and immediately know what they are, when they were made, the company that made them and it's CEO, and who invented that particular model. He'd have to get up close and personal with it and hold it in his hands and perhaps have a monitor to his side to use the internet to help him out. 

But right now, the thought of moving sends pangs of pain down his spine and in his neck. He's had whiplash before. You don't go on high speed chases in the Batmobile and not end up with whiplash at some point or another. Robin has been a part of his fair share of spectacular crashes… through crashes in the Batmobile are usually cushioned by millions of dollars of technology Bruce invented to make the effects of whiplash little to none. Crashing the Batmobile is tame when compared to a Mustang. Lot less support, a lot more broken metal, and a whole lot more seatbelts crushing your lungs as you catapult in every direction before you finally smack your head on the dashboard and pass out. 

So Dick stays sitting, scowling at the door and rubbing his wrist. He doesn't think it's broken, just bruised, but it hurts just enough that he definitely doesn't plan on moving it any time soon. If he wasn't close to shivering in this room, he'd have ripped off a section of his shirt by now to wrap it, but alas… he's cold. And it's not broken so it can last without a brace or anything for a little while longer. 

He just hopes his abductors reveal themselves soon and they tell him what they did with Bruce. Maybe he's just stuffed in a room somewhere different until a ransom is paid and then Gordon and the cops will storm in here and save them. Dick's been kidnapped plenty of times, and in all kinds of ways too. He knows how this goes. He'll be fine as long as he acts like a scared, thirteen year old Dick Grayson and not Robin the superhero. As long as he whimpers and cries and weakly and sloppily tries to struggle, he'll be okay. 

He'll be okay

He just hopes Bruce is too. Dick can't imagine what could happen to make the man just swerve off the road like that. 

There's a scraping noise, a heavy door opening against solid ground, and Dick's snapped out of his thoughts. Instinctively, he curls up tighter, wincing as the back of his neck protests with a stiff yet stabbing pain and a wave of light-headedness washes over him. He keeps forgetting about the egg on his temple. The concussion from his most recent face-meet-dashboard episode. He's poked and prodded at it perhaps a half hour earlier, but he isn't completely out of it and it just hurts more than anything, but right now it makes it really difficult to completely focus on the forms of people who are standing right outside the door… just standing there, staring at him.

They… don't look like a typical "Dick Grayson" kidnapper. Or well, there's a couple different kinds of Dick Grayson kidnappers. The kinds of people Dick finds himself often in the clutches of are either high end, prestigious assholes who have a grudge against Bruce for some reason or other, or down on their luck thugs who want a quick buck. These people standing before him? They look like Robin kidnappers. 

Meaning they're dressed in costumes and giving off a very… very dangerous vibe. 

Dick immediately takes stock of them. Three are dressed similar to each other, in dresses or suits or gowns, their faces all covered by an eerie mask that looks like it could be based off an owl. The fourth guy though… he's the one who's giving Dick major red flags. He's muscular and taller than the others and his costume is black and leather and terrifying to look at. There's a hood pulled over his face, shaped like an owl who got steampunk goggles somewhere and that also gave off the shivering effect of light reflecting off of nocturnal eyes. 

These look like genuine bad guys.

One of the masked ones steps forward, a woman in a low collared pink gown with lace lining the sleeves down to the middle of her forearms. Her blonde hair is all done up behind her, beads lining the braids until it all sits in a nice and perfect rose-shaped bun at the top of her head. She crosses her arms around her chest, and even with the mask Dick feels like she's studying him like he's a mouse in a glass cage. 

"This is the Gray Son of Gotham?" She asks, clearly referring to Dick which throws him off for a number of reasons. 

Normally, when he's kidnapped as Dick, people don't normally ever call him by name. First or last. It's always "brat" or "freak" or "that Wayne [insert "brat" or "freak" here]. It's something they do to lie to themselves that they hadn't just kidnapped, tied up, and locked up a kid. Calling him Wayne also makes it clear that they couldn't care less about him personally, they just want Bruce. They don't care that he's just a ward and that Bruce Wayne isn't his dad. They don't care about these things because he may not be adopted by Bruce Wayne, but he's definitely an easy-access key to his bank account. 

But these guys called him Grayson. And not even Grayson, but they said it weirdly with an oddly purposeful space and a title added at the end. He wonders if it's a reference about how Bruce is normally jokingly known among the high class citizens as the White Knight of Gotham—a play on words to Batman's take of the Dark Knight of Gotham despite how they don't even know the half of it—but he doesn't get a chance to wonder long before the scary owl guy steps forward, looking directly at Dick with his shining eyes. 

"It is, my Court," he says and Dick has to suppress a shiver, "he has finally returned to where he belongs, just like I promised."

"Hmm," the woman says, still staring at Dick as she brings a silk gloved hand to her chin in thought. "And you will take personal responsibility over his education?"

"Education?" Dick asks before he could think better of it. The cold air in the room becomes icy as every person's attention seems to zero in on him. Then, without any prompting, the fully costumed man suddenly strides forward and Dick almost doesn't have to fake a surprised yelp as his upper arm is easily grabbed, fingers wrapping around his limb hard enough to definitely leave bruises as he's forced to his feet; the grasp on him unrelenting as his arm is held higher than his head, forcing him to his tip toes. 

Dick goes to wrap his hand around the grasp in an attempt for freedom, but he's painfully reminded of his injured wrist and all he can do is hold it to his chest as he tries to yank his arm out of the grasp on its own power. It doesn't do a thing, in fact the man's grip just tightens heartlessly.

"Of course, my Court," the owl man says, voice silky and dangerous, "I will see to all his education, starting now."

Dick cries out as his bad wrist is grabbed and held just as tightly. 

The man bends to get in his face, those horrid eyes glowing dangerously and setting something nervous and scared aflame in his gut. "Lesson one: you will not speak unless addressed and given permission to speak. You will treat the Court with respect. Understand?”

Dick can only nod even though he has no clue what's going on or who these people are, but the nod seems to be enough because he's released. He gasps and scrambles backwards until his back meets the far wall, holding his pulsing wrist to his chest and blinking viscously to staunch the tears caused by the pain. 

The owl man straightens with a suffocating aura of intimidation. 

"I will turn him into the best Talon this Court has ever seen," the man says, voice prideful and boding ill-will. "We will not let you down."

"We will allow you to train him," the woman says, sounding pleased, "but know if he doesn't show his worth within the week, you both will be severely punished."

Dick feels a shiver go down his spine. If he could see the look on the owl man's face, Dick's sure a smirk would be sitting poisonous on his lips. "Trust me, my Court. He will surpass me. I will make sure of it."

-o-o-o-o-

After that, the "Court" left the cell, leaving Dick pressed against the wall with the man standing over him, saying nothing. Just staring at him with that creepy face and those creepy eyes, arms crossed against his chest like he's waiting for Dick to do something; yet Dick has no idea what he should do. Nothing about this makes sense. Who are these people? What does this man mean by turning him into a Talon? Questions bob around in his head like apples in a large bucket filled with water, but the one he verbalizes despite the threat earlier is the one most pressing on his heart instead of his head.

Dick's always been known to follow his heart more often than his head. 

"Where's Bruce?" Dick asks.

The man tilts his head, the light glinting. Dick's seen it more times than what he can count on his fingers in the past fifteen minutes, but no matter how many times he sees those glowing eyes reflecting towards him it always sends ice to his skin. Dick's almost afraid he'll be hurt again for speaking supposingly, out of turn, but the man just stares at him for a moment more. 

Then, he speaks, voice more soft and kind than what it had been before, even though what he says is like a punch to the gut. "Your former guardian is in the hospital suffering major injuries and brain damage. He's been placed under a medically induced coma."

Before Dick finds the air in his lungs to respond to that, the man bends down and sits on the balls of his feet, knees brought up so he can fold his arms across them. "He will wake up in a week, just to find his butler has been forced to put on a funeral while he was asleep for his poor ward who died in the crash."

"What?" Dick breathes, every single one of his nerves replaced with liquid nitrogen. 

"He will be explained to by the cops and butler that your body was found mangled and hardly recognizable, thrown five meters out the windshield of the car and into a tree. Close casket funeral, no one wants to see that. And he will move on while you remain here with us where you belong."

This isn't a kidnapping Dick realizes as he tries to remember how to use his lungs. This isn't a kidnapping because kidnappings always have brat and Wayne kid and tell your daddy hello and to send three million dollars to this account and you'll go home when we get what we want from Wayne, until then: shut up and stay still.

Kidnappings have ransoms. They have vague threats. Half-assed plans. Promises of no harm and home once Bruce gives them what they want. 

This isn't that. This isn't something entirely different. Something Dick had only ever encountered as Robin because people don't normally take Dick and want to keep Dick. Slade has tried before once, but that was when he was after Robin, he couldn't care less about the face under the mask. 

And for the first time since he woke up in this cold, small cell, Dick feels truly afraid. 

"He'll know," Dick says, trying to sound braver than what he feels. "Bruce will know I'm not dead. He'll find me. No matter what any of you tell him, he will find me."

A chuckle. "If that happens, Gray Son of Gotham, then we will show him to you after we're done picking the skin from his bones."

-o-o-o-o-

"Fists up," the Talon instructs, and Dick sloppily manages to bring his hands up just in time to block the hit of a spinning kick aimed towards his face. He's panting despite him forcing himself to hide most of his abilities. TheCcourt hasn't, in the week he's been stuck here, shown any signs of knowing about his masked alter-ego, so he's been fighting like an untrained ex-acrobat turned billionaire's ward and heir since he was first dragged out to this pit by the roots of his hair. 

Which means he's been fighting like he doesn't know how to. He forces himself to make common mistakes with his positions, his stances, his attacks so they don't catch on that they've abducted someone much more important than whatever they think he is. 

Gray Son of Gotham. That's all he's been called since he's gotten here, even by the Talon who's practically by his side every second of every day. God, does this guy even sleep?

"Watch your side," the Talon says, and Dick goes to block the punch that's seen through his lazy defenses, but he's too slow from stopping the heartless jab under his ribs and instantly all the air is knocked out of his lungs. He wheezes, but doesn't have a chance to recover before another fist is slamming into his temple, making him lose all sense of balance before he stumbles back and lands harshly on his rear. 

Next thing he knows, he's being forced to lift his head as the blade of a knife slides under his chin, forcing him to move unless he wants to be stabbed. He glares at the Talon and the Talon's reflecting eyes glare right back. 

"Continue like that, you will disappoint your Court," he says and Dick has to bunch the pants of his shorts in his hands to resist throwing a punch. A trained punch. 

"They're not my Court," Dick hisses back, "I don't care if I disappoint any of them."

The Talon suddenly raises his hand and Dick instinctively flinches, turning his head away and scrunching his neck; wincing and expecting the sting of a leather clad slap. He's gotten many of those since he's first come in here; Dick's quickly found that the "Court’s" first course of action regarding discipline is pain and violence and fear. If Dick were Robin right now, he would have toned down the complaints and remarks by now, but unfortunately he's not Robin. To the eyes of his abductors, he's a small, scared, and helpless little rich kid who was forced out of his rich home and away from his rich guardian. Some complaining is expected, just like the constant pulsing to his cheek and stinging on his scalp from the seemingly countless times he's been slapped and grabbed by the hair. 

But this time, the slap doesn't come, and he looks back at the Talon just in time for the man to reposition his hand so it's no longer hanging threateningly above him, but grabbing onto the back of his shirt and hefting him back to his feet. 

"Get in stance," the Talon growls and Dick does so reluctantly, something colder than normal lacing the older man's voice. 

Then, before Dick can even blink he's gasping and laying on his back, the Talon crouches above him like a predictor, pressing knives into his jugular, just enough that if Dick swallowed too hard it would cut skin. 

He didn't even see that coming. He doesn't even think he'd be able to defend himself from that one even if he weren't holding back. 

"I will reword my earlier statement," the Talon says, sending goosebumps down every inch of Dick's skin. "Continue like that, and you'll be tied to a tree and left for the crows. The Court has no use for pointless soldiers."

Dick doesn't trust himself to speak, but thankfully after a second the Talon gets off from Dick and puts his knives away. He regards Dick with a blank glare and folds his arms.

"Get up. Get in stance."

Dick swallows, and does as he's told.

-o-o-o-o-

Everything hurts. Dick is just a big bad bag of hurts. When he's not sitting in his cell, he's back in that pit with the Talon, fighting and fighting and fighting. The only good part about that is that Dick has been able to slowly up his level in fighting so it's believable that he at least knows how to throw a punch or a good roundhouse kick. He's been even incorporating flips into his fighting, sloppily messing up the first few "tries" to keep up the illusion of unskilled-rich-kid, but every time he does something correct, the Talon always makes a pleased sound and compliments him, telling him that he'll be a skilled warrior for the Court in no time. 

And Dick hates it. He hates it because he loves it. It's been three weeks since he's woken up here, with no friendly faces and no people to talk and chat with and no signs of Bruce. A little bit of positivity from the one person he has been able to interact with sends reluctant happiness to his brain—a strange batch of chemicals that shoot through his veins and almost makes him want to do better, just to get more pats on the shoulder and more well-done's. 

Dick's not stupid. He knows what Stockholm Syndrome is. He knows that the strongest, most headstrong people can fall to it if put in the right situation; and that's what truly scares Dick. 

Because he can feel it happening to himself. Slowly, but surely. He knows that the longer he's here, the more he'll crave affection and attention from the Talon and the mysterious Court. Soon he might even want to fight for them. Soon he might give up his separate identities and show them what he can really do. Soon he might give up Bruce. 

But right now, he's aware enough of himself that that kind of reality is far off. Even though the positivity he gains from pleasing the Talon is almost hypnotic, the anger he feels towards his abductors is more true than ever. He wants nothing more than to escape and go home, but he's found no ways out himself yet. 

When he's not in the pit, he's in his cell, after all.

He shivers and leans his head back against the wall, trying to remember what Alfred's cooking tastes like as he slowly shovels a small spoonful of some sort of weird stew that looks like blended beans. It tastes awful, but he needs his strength. 

Bored, he begins to hum. A new toon from the default one he's been singing when he's bored and stuck like this. His top hits normally included various top hits songs from P!nk or Lady Gaga or Maroon 5, but tonight it's a song he actually can't quiet place how he knows it.

"… Behind stone and lime…" he sings out loud, eyebrows scrunching. No stone isn't the right line. "Granite. Granite and lime… they watch you at your… your…"

He reduces back to hums, knowing more tune than lyrics, trying to think of how he knows this song in the first place. 

-o-o-o-o-

Barbara. It was Babs who taught him the song. It was in his first few months of living with Batman and he was at her house doing homework with her. She was singing the tune under her breath, a scowl between her eyes that said she was either frustrated with the math question or frustrated that the song was stuck in her head. Dick guessed the latter, because there's no way any math question could stump her. She's a genius.

"What's that song?" Dick had asked. 

Barbara went still for a moment before she looked up from her homework with eyebrows raised and something shocked and pleasantly surprised on her lips. Sort like how people react when they find out he's never seen the Lion King or read Harry Potter. Give him a break! He grew up in a circus for crying out loud. Not a whole lot of extra money and not a whole lot of extra time, geeze. 

"You've never heard of the Court of Owls?" She asked, bringing her pen—because she's so smart she does her math in pen—to her lip and tapping the end on her chin, her eyes crinkling at the corners. 

"Uh. No?"

She smiled and leaned back in her chair, her red red curls falling over her shoulders. Okay, sue him. At nine years old he was already in love with her, even though at the time she was his "babysitter", of course the most prominent parts of this memory is how beautiful and wonderful she is. 

"Of course you haven't, your dad is a well known disbeliever," she said. Dick scrunched his nose at the word "dad", but there was teasing in her eyes so he didn't ruin digging up this interesting information to once again defend his and Bruce's strictly guardian and ward relationship. "Alright, I'll tell ya. Now listen up kid, this is Gotham lore. While schools in other cities are chanting in mirrors for Bloody Mary, here in Gotham: we got this."

Dick didn't know who Bloody Mary was besides it being the name of cocktail Bruce sometimes pretended to drink at various parties and get-togethers, but he sat still and listened to Babs open her mouth to sing a chilling rhyme. 

"Beware The Court of Owls, that watches all the time, ruling Gotham from a shadowed perch, behind granite and lime. They watch you at your hearth, they watch you in your bed, speak not a whispered word of them, or they'll send the Talon for your head."

Dick continued to joke about that not being ominous at all and Babs laughed with him about the ridiculousness of it, saying the Court is nothing but Gotham's version of the Boogie-Man; something parents told their children to scare them into being good.

He asked Bruce about it later that night, and Bruce immediately shot it down, saying the Court doesn't exist and continuing to chant about it is nothing but a waste and an invitation for someone to try and make it real. Dick would have questioned him more on it, but he was still new to the home and Bruce had a scary and far off look on his face, so he stored the rhyme at the back of his head and soon forgot it. 

It's a shame he didn't think more often of it now, isn't it? Here he is, stuck in the cell of a very real Court of Owls, being forced to train by a very real Talon. 

And Bruce firmly disbelieves in the rhyme. Known to publicly voice his negative opinion on it whenever it pops up somehow in casual conversation or in a live meeting. 

If he thinks Dick is still alive, the Court of Owls won't even cross his mind. 

Dick curls tighter into his ball and glances at the locked door keeping him in here. 

No more waiting and hoping. He needs to find a way out himself.

And fast.

-o-o-o-o-

Another week passes, and it's then when something finally changes. It's like the entire time he's been here, there's been a pin balancing at the edge of a table, teetering and tilting and hanging there, just waiting to drop. Or, waiting for something to drop. 

Because the thing that's been waiting to drop hasn't been him getting hit or yelled at less often, it hadn't been the marks he's been carving into his cell to count how many days he thinks he's been here (it's all a matter of body clock and how often the Talon drags him out, which he assumes is twice a day), and it hasn't been his steadily "improving" fighting abilities. Dick will never admit that he's learning useful things here that he'd never learn with Bruce. Things like what artery to cut in the neck for the quickest and least messy death, what point in the shoulder to hit to stop motion on that side of the body to completely… just violent things that Bruce would never approve of, and would be disappointed to know that Dick almost finds it interesting. 

Just to know, you know?

But no, none of those things is the thing that drop. None of them is the thing that has the pin finally tilting a little too far to tick on the floor below, just waiting for someone to walk by and step on it. 

He has no idea what could have caused that pin to drop, but he knows as he enters the pit once again to fight and train with the Talon, that something is definitely different. Definitely not good. 

And he knows it by the faces that peer down at him from the top of the marble pit, white masks on their faces and dresses and suits and silk robes adjourning their bodies, their jewelry sparkling in the bright lights above. 

There's at least a good dozen of them. Of all ages and heights and genders. Ever since he's first got here, he hasn't seen any of the Court besides the Talon since those first three left. Dick doesn't recognize anyone here, let alone those first three. How many are there? And why do they show themselves now?

He forces himself to not stare. Keep his head down. The Talon is always ranting about the Court this and the Court that. Any little thing he does can be seen as disrespectful from the man, and he'd rather not have the roots of his hair ripped out if he accidentally blinks wrong at one of them.

The Talon doesn't regard them either, just goes to his normal position in the middle of the pit. Dick joins him and lifts his fists—different from what Bruce taught him, his raised fists have always been for defense with offense here and there, not full frontal offense and defense here and there like how it is now—and spreads his legs, awaiting for someone to step on that pin. 

Then, the Talon speaks, and Dick realizes that no one besides himself was meant to step on that landmine of a pin. 

"Fight to kill me, Gray Son of Gotham," the Talon says, voice low and somehow more serious than what Dick has ever heard it, "Fight to kill me, because I will fight to kill you."

And just like that, the fight begins.

Except with that last statement alone the stakes are infinitely higher than what they've ever been before. While training with the Talon, it was always if he failed he would disappoint. If he got hit, if he got pushed down, if he let something trivial slip past him, he'd be no worth to the Court. It was never about death. Never about or you'll die

But right now, the Talon charges with more violent intent than what he has ever before, and it's all Dick can do to dive out of the way before a pointed blade ends up in his shoulder. That's another thing too, he never uses the knives on Dick unless giving a vague threat or demonstration. 

If Dick doesn't take the Talon down, he thinks the Talon might actually kill him. 

And he wonders briefly why; if he's done something wrong, something worth gathering the Court to watch his execution. But he doesn't get to wonder long because the Talon is immediately launching another attack and Dick just manages to throw up his arms and hit the knife wielding hand away from his face. He forces his brain to go into fighting mode… or well as much fighting mode he can go in without giving away his advanced training he already has. He just needs to knock the Talon out, or incapacitate him somehow. Maybe get ahold of one of his knives. He has an infinite amount of them on his person, it shouldn't be too hard, right?

He quickly gets in his own attack, a punch right at the Talon's jaw. His mask looks padded and rough, but in reality Dick knows that it's not actually that protectant. The Talon wears it for more aesthetic than anything else, he's a big fan of just not getting hit and if he does get hit, he's an even bigger fan of fighting through it. 

He hits the Talon straight on the jaw, but all it does is knock the man back a few steps. Dick only has a second to catch his breath, but no more to do anything from blocking the next attack. 

He bites back a cry as the knife sliced through the skin of his forearm, the blood immediately beginning to bead and drop onto the hem of his tee-shirt, causing a jab of fear to pierce his heart. It's not that he cares too much about the clothes—they're gray and boring and not warm at all, something he's been forced to wear while every so often receiving a new pair. But there's just something utterly terrifying about pretending to be a normal kid while fighting a trained assassin and having blood be drawn. 

He ducks under another swipe, forcing himself to ignore the cut, and dives towards the Talon's torso, in hopes to get his hands on his own knife. He rams his shoulder into the older man's stomach, and the rewarding sound of an oof reaches his ears, signifying he's successfully knocked the air out of him. He digs his hands into the belt around his hips and grabs the first thing his hands touch, scrambling out of the way just as the Talon recovers enough to try and stab him in the back. Dick smiles in triumph at the knife in his hands. He has a weapon now. 

"Good," Talon grunts, stopping his next attack for a moment to regard Dick. Dick doesn't dwell on how his chest immediately feels a little puffy with pride against his will and forces himself to remember that the Talon is still literally trying to kill him and that his abductors are watching from above. Heartless. 

Dick adjusts his grip on the unfamiliar weapon. It feels nothing like the blades he's trained with as Robin. The batarangs are shaped to his hand and perfectly sculpted to fly fast and accurately. This blade he holds now is long and pointed in a very uninteresting way, the grip is blocky and thin, feeling too small even to his littler hands. They remind him of the knives the jugglers would use sometimes instead of balls at the circus, or performance throwing knives. They don't look like they're meant for combat, but the way Dick's been constantly held at their point during the past almost month, he knows they're dangerous, especially since the man that uses them is very much an expert at them. 

The fight continues, and it's all Dick can do to stay alive, especially with his self imposed restrictions. He keeps to adrenaline filled dodges and sloppy yet calculated jabs with his knife at places that look like they could kill to an untrained eye but would actually just do a hearty amount of damage. He has to be careful, he doesn't want to kill anyone after all. Just take the Talon down. 

Of course, it all has to go wrong eventually, especially since the Talon decides enough is enough and does one of his freaky moves that Dick just isn't good enough to block even with Robin training. Maybe Bruce would be able to fight this guy with minimal scratches, but right now Dick is pretty sure Slade needs to step down from his tier of Robin's most-difficult-to-fight villains. 

He sees the knife go into his shoulder before he feels it. But man, does he feel it quickly. He gasps, barely even noticing the hand clamping down on his other shoulder nor the leg knocking his own out from beneath him. One second he's standing up and watching a silver blade disappear into his flesh to the hilt and the next he's on his back on the ground, writhing as the knife is pushed down deeper so it exits on the other side. 

Dick can't keep back his scream. 

It's painful. More painful than almost anything. Talon has talked a lot about pressure points and nerves and things like that within his time here, and Dick recons that this has to be one of them. He's been stabbed before, but this makes his entire arm spasm and drop the knife, leaving his brain clouded with pain and lungs spasming. It's all he can do to lift his good arm to block the Talons other arm from swiping a knife across his throat. He grasps onto the older man's hand and tries to focus through the pain. 

Focus Dick. Focus

His shoulder burns, any twitch he makes sends sparks up and down his body. He's pinned too, one hand on the knife of his now useless shoulder and the other right above him as he just barely fends off a killing blow. The Talon is sitting on him, making it hard to breath as his body rests on his stomach, legs spread so his legs go off Dick's waist, knees toughing the ground. 

And Dick realized that he knows how to get out of this pin. It's a sloppy, rookie one. 

It will be painful but he knows how to do it. 

Without wasting another second, he does it; twisting his hips and kicking his legs. He knocks the Talon off from him through a haze of red coming from his shoulder. He thinks he screams in agony in the process, but it doesn't matter. He can't die here. He doesn't want to die here. Not after all he's been through. 

And somewhere, he forgets to hold back. It doesn't matter anymore. All that matters is survival. 

He jumps to his feet right as he knocks the Talon off from him in a complicated arrangement of twisting and flipping. There's gasping above him, but he ignores it to rip the knife out of his shoulder with a cry and throws a spinning kick right at the Talon's head before he can recover. 

His hit lands perfectly, sending the villain sprawling onto the ground and Dick stumbling back as warmth trails down his chest and back from his lovely new open wounds. They're not bleeding as much as he thought they would, which is good. What is bad that they're bleeding in the first place and he probably shouldn't have removed the knife, but already he's in less pain and he also needed a weapon anyway. He looks at his opponent, looking for every single weakness and opening he can find, and he's about to charge forward when all of a sudden the Talon surges off the ground and towards him, moving faster than the blink of an eye. 

Dick can only gasp before his hair is grabbed and his head is forced downward so his nose meets knee violently. Instantly, it's hard to breathe as blood flows out his nostrils following a sickening snap. His eyes tear up against his will and soon he's standing there, spitting blood and blinking tears as a heatless grasp keeps him standing by his roots, the other hand twisting Dick’s injured arm behind his back so far it threatens dislocation.

Everything is quiet except the ringing in his ears. His head spins and he tries to twist out of the restraining hold on his arm, but all he can do is gasp as his arm is yanked painfully, threatening more damage to his already screaming shoulder. 

He's lost. He doesn't think he can get out of this. The Talon is too good. He can't breathe, his whole body aches, his shoulder is screaming, and he can't see with the persistent tears. 

Is he going to die? Is Talon going to kill him now? He has nothing he can do to stop it. He's failed. Even channeling into his Robin training has done him nothing. 

He realizes that it's not as quiet as he thought it was, there's a vibration of a deep voice rumbling against his back, signifying that there's been a conversation going on and he's been too dazed to even realize it. 

"I did not teach him that," the Talon grumbles, clearly speaking to the looming crowd above them instead of Dick himself. "He's been holding back."

A mass muttering responds, before one voice speaks out clearly from above. With the masks and Dick's compromised vision, it's impossible to tell who. "It seems your suspicions were correct, Talon."

Another voice. "He's clearly been trained before…"

"But by who? Not the circus, and definitely not that bumbling fool Bruce Wayne-"

"-perhaps the butler?"

"The butler? You're serious?"

Arguments burst out and any conversation becomes impossible to follow. All Dick really becomes aware of is the man at his back, regarding the Court with his blank face and shining eyes. Dick wonders, not for the first time, what the man is thinking—and again, not for the first time, Dick feels his fear in the man rekindle violently. He knew Dick was trained. Somehow, in all his attempts to remain the scared little ward of billionaire Bruce Wayne, Talon saw through his cracks. 

Was Talon actually even going to kill him this time? Was this all a ruse to get Dick to show deeper training? Would he have gone through with killing him if he hadn't stopped holding back?

This is not good.

This is undeniably very not good. 

"Might I suggest, my Court," the Talon suddenly speaks up, causing the congregation above to fall silent in their arguing to stare down at them like looming predators, "the Bat has been missing without his Mouse for quite awhile."

Dick's blood goes cold and his knees almost give out on shock alone. How… how does he know?!

And it takes a moment for the watchers to process those words, like an owl picking apart a pile of bones until it finds its prey hiding within. 

Murmuring amongst themselves. To themselves. The Talon remaining stoney and unyielding in his grasp. Dick praying to every God there is that this isn't happening.

If owls could grin, he's sure it would be less terrifying than when the first mention of Robin reaches his ears. 

Fear is a powerful motivator. Dick knows this for a fact. It can drive someone to do more than what determination or pure will power could ever do. Jonathan Crane is a fine example of that. His whole bit is fear. 

Batman is another example. Bruce never admitted it in the time Dick lived with him, but he probably holds the record of most-consumed-by-trauma-and-fear; more than anyone Dick's ever met. 

That's probably why, when Dick felt the hilt of a knife near the fingers of his restrained arm—resting innocently in the Talon's belt as the Court continued to rant about how they accidentally kidnapped Robin—he didn't think about any codes or any morals. He pushed through the pain, grabbed the knife, and slammed it backwards into the Talon's gut. 

The man grunts, and Dick twists himself out of his hold, panic and adrenaline mixing into a violent cocktail strong enough to get Superman drunk. Nothing matters. Nothing but escape. It doesn't matter there's black blood on his hands, or there's a collapsed body at his feet, or the murmurers above him have turned into screams of shock and fright. 

He runs. Mind nowhere and everywhere, heart making war-drum noises in his ears, rattling his ribs like they're jail bars. He runs out the way he came, everything numb and quiet and agonizing and loud. He doesn't think. He doesn't stop to ponder what turn to take. His mind is a cult chanting their motto over and over and over again. Run run run run run-

And he runs. He runs until his mind returns to his body and his legs give out. He crawls until the loss of blood makes him dizzy. He tears his fingernails at the stone floor until everything becomes a swirl of nothing that matters. 

Then he's swallowed by blackness, and nothing hurts anymore. 

-o-o-o-o-

When Dick wakes up, the first thing he thinks is that he's surprised to wake up. The second thing he thinks is that his hands feel both sticky and crusty at the same time, like he's dipped his fingers in ink and allowed it to dry. When he opens his eyes to look at his hands, for a moment that's almost what he thinks actually happened.

But then he remembers.

And he immediately scrambles to his knees and heaves

No. No no no. He's- Talon... Oh god-

He doesn't lose anything from his stomach, not being fed enough to really have anything in there to throw up, but his throat stings like a wildfire as the seconds pass, and bile with the thickness of honey drips from his teeth and lips. His stomach feels like every single one of his muscles have been replaced with stone, and the slightest gasp he takes between heaving and crying—because he's crying now—feels like all of his insides are being shifted and squished and poked. 

Everything hurts. Everything. His head, his throat, his stomach, his… shoulder. His shoulder really hurts. 

And with that realization, he collapses forward as his arm gives out on him, and all he can do is stare unseeing ahead, everything painfully still, as all he can do now is exist in the agony that is his shoulder. 

It takes five minutes for the paralyzing suffering of his shoulder to turn into tremors. He takes a breath in what feels like the first time in… in years, and lays there a little longer, trying to make his eyes connect to his brain, because… because even though he… even though he murdered a man, it doesn't mean he wasn't trained to always be aware of his surroundings, even if he feels like he's been on multiple trips through King Shark's jaws. 

And somewhere. Somewhere at the back of his head. He knows. He KNOWS it's okay to kill sometimes, if it has to do with your safety. But that mindset was mentally beaten out of him before he could even really think about that. 

And the rest of his head is only chanting murderer murderer murderer and all he can feel is the hole in his shoulder and the stiffness of the dried liquid on his hands. He focuses on the shoulder. It helps him focus outward instead of the raging storm inwards. In fact, he's almost tempted to press a thumb into the wound. Make it hurt more. Just to ground him. Just to get him out of his head. 

Remember, chum, fear and pain is a great motivator. But it makes you clumsy. Makes the world dull. True strength is pushing through that even though it is scary and painful. Never let those consume you. If they do, then all I ask is that you remember to always stand back up again. You're strong. No matter what.

Dick takes a deep breath, almost sobbing at the small memory. God. He misses Bruce so much. 

He presses his good hand down onto the cold cement ground, spreading his fingers to effectively spread his weight, and he forces himself up. 

Bruce. Think of Bruce. Think about how when you get out of here, he'll be so happy to see you. Or, if he hates you when he sees the black black black blood stained on your hands at least you'll be out of here nonetheless. Call Dick whatever you want. Circus trash. Charity case. Gypsy scum. But a coward living in denial is not one he will tolerate. If—when—he gets out of here, if the first thing B does is throw him into Arkham, it will at least be better than here. 

Wherever… here is. 

He slowly rises to his feet, breathing in his nose and out his mouth, and grinding his teeth the whole way until his hand moves from the ground to the equally chilling white granite wall besides him. He blinks and scrubs his eyes with his good shoulder, only to see more wall.

He seems to be in a hallway. A very... Verrry long hallway.

He looks up, ignoring how his head spins from the action, and bites his lip when the only thing he sees is white walls disappearing into the shadows above, no ceiling to be seen. There's not much more to see from there. Nothing but walls six feet from each other, running parallel. If he looks down one end, he sees it disappearing into shadows similar to the unknown presence of a ceiling. Down the other end, he thinks he can see a small section splitting off into a fork, but it's far down. 

It's then he notices something black smudged on the wall he's closest to. He wobbles over, every step feeling like he's being stabbed all over again. He hisses through his teeth, placing his good hand over his bad shoulder, not to make him hurt more but as a natural response to pain. He pauses his quest to look at a random stain on the wall to look down at his shoulder. 

It's bandaged. Pristine white medical grade cloth wound over and over around the wound beneath his torn and bloodied tee shirt. Fear bobs in his throat—feeling more solid than the food they've been feeding him. 

Looking under his shirt carefully, he finds the bandages are not as pristine as he initially thought. There's a brown splotch where his wound is located, a bloodstain showing promise of drying, but there's not only that. Here and there are little black splotches, almost like whoever wrapped him had tar on their fingers. He lowers his shirt and looks back to the splotch on the wall, his stomach dropping, as he absent mindedly touches his nose. It's been set.

A single black handprint, pressed against the wall with fingers splayed. When Dick cautiously takes another step closer, he finds the handprint is made out of the same substance dried on his own hands. 

And somehow, he just knows. 

The Talon is still alive. The Talon somehow survived a fatal wound to the gut, found him, bandaged Dick, and then left. Dick doesn't know what to think about that. Relief that he hasn't killed anyone? Fear that he's still around to torture him?

If there's one thing he knows for sure, it's that the Court knows where he is, and this is a sign that they want him here. They're probably watching from above like vultures, wanting to see what he'll do next. 

He hasn't escaped. 

And with that depressing realization, Dick forces himself to tear his eyes away from the handprint, turns in a random direction—he doesn't remember what direction he came from anyway—and begins to try and find a way out. 

-o-o-o-o-

Dick remembers the first time he was in a corn maze. It was also the first time he got lost in a corn maze. He was enjoying the circus grounds and the hustle and bustle of the members. His mom and dad were off setting up some equipment, but since he was small and a kid they wouldn't let him do heavy lifting with them yet. The air was cold, and the smell of browning leaves wafted over the grounds, promising a cold fall. Soon, the circus will be moving on to warmer places in the world, but for now, Dick was going to enjoy the rare experience of cold weather running around outside. 

There was a cornfield just outside the grounds where people at Halloween would come to explore. It wasn't all grown yet, but when Dick curiously approached it the corn stalks reached higher than his head anyway. He knew he should have asked his parents before going inside, but he was bored and he wasn't going to go that far in. 

It was fun at first. Surreal. Nothing makes you feel smaller than plants that are taller than you. Like you're losing or something. He kicked his feet in the dirt and tugged green leaves off some of the bigger stalks to play with, turning here and there, forgetting to keep track quite quickly. It was only a matter of time before he felt a particularly chilling breeze that sprung up a fit of shivers and goosebumps, signifying the day becoming evening. His stomach growled, and it was then he decided to go home. 

He turned around, and immediately he didn't recognize a single thing around him. 

He remembers feeling panic back then. Nothing but pure panic as he ran and cried and turned every direction he could, trying as hard as he could to try and find a way out. His little heart fluttering faster than a hummingbird's wings, until strong arms and calloused hands finally wrapped around him, bringing him to the chest of his rescuer he instantly recognized as his dad. Dick had cried into his shoulder, apologizing through sobs, until his dad wiped away his tears and set him on his shoulders so he was tall enough to see over the corn stalks, where he spotted his mom pacing the grounds far off with a group of other circus members trying to perhaps calm her down. 

"Don't run off like that again, Dick," his dad said, beginning to walk out the maze, "you scared us half to death."

"Sorry…" 

A laugh. "Don't apologise to me. You're going to have to apologize to your mama. I almost feel sorry for you, little bird."

Dick swallowed nervously, already knowing how much trouble his mom was going to put him in. Instead of thinking of the coming lecture, he bent down and buried his nose in his dad's thick hair. "Thanks for finding me.." he mumbled.

Another laugh, two hands going to his legs to give a friendly squeeze. "I'll always find you."

-o-o-o-o-

Dick's been in many mazes since then. There's a bad guy named Scarecrow that he's fought on a regular basis, of course he's been in corn mazes. 

But he was never afraid then, even when he was doused heaven high with fear gas, because he knew that while his dad might not be alive anymore to find him, he still had his partner. Batman. 

And Dick could always count on Batman. 

Until now, it seems, and it takes every drop of Dick's willpower to not revert to his younger self in that first maze and desperately begin to run blindly until he finds something different than the granite walls around him. 

If you're lost in a maze, keep your hand on one wall. You'll eventually find your way out.

And Dick's been doing that. He's been doing that but it's been hours and his legs are about as strong as fall leaves now, waiting to crumble to dust below him, and his eyes are blurry too. His shoulder stings. His stomach aches. Vision… blurry. 

Everything hurts, and it's all he can do to keep his hand on the wall and take one more step forward. And another. And another.

And another and another and another…

White walls… white corners… white floor… no ceiling, look up and see nothing but endlessness. If a grapple were to be launched up there it would latch around nothing but air. The silence is so loud here that it's suffocating. 

And another and another and another and another and-

And he trips. Finally. The impact of the cold ground hitting his body as he lands face down is similar to belly flopping from a diving board. His breath is knocked out of him and he gasps, curling in himself while one hand desperately lashes out to find the wall he's lost his grip on. 

There's nothing there. He panics and forces himself to his hands and knees, blinking at the suddenly blinding light around him. 

He's no longer in the labyrinth. He's in a large, sparkling marble room with the brightest, wightest light he's ever seen, bearing down on a giant owl statue, glistening water flowing from its beak down to its feet and puddling in a fountain around it. Dick can only stare and blink for a few minutes, catching his breath and trying to comprehend what he's seeing. 

His mouth is so dry, he realizes. His body feels grimy. His hair is clumpy and sticking to his neck from sweat, probably from fever of his shoulder wound not being properly cared for. He's scrambling forward before he can think of much else. 

The water looks refreshing. It looks perfect. And it's only a matter of moments before he's plunging his hands into the water and bringing it to his mouth, gulping down the liquid like it will disappear at any second. It's just as satisfying as he thought it would be, and soon he's dumping handfuls onto his hair and rubbing dried blood from his upper lip from his nose. It's only as he's forcing his torn tee above his head and beginning to unwrap his wound that he realizes the water could be drugged. He's actually pretty sure it's drugged. There's an interesting, sweet aftertaste lingering on his tongue that's normally not in water, no matter how pure, but he finds he doesn't care as much as he should. 

If the Court wanted him dead, he thinks he already would be by now. 

He continues unwrapping the bandages, hissing as the cloth peels from the entrance and exit wounds of the blade. He looks at the wounds for a second, noticing the sub-par stitching work and the angry scabbing around each stitch. When this heals, it's definitely going to scar. Alfred would be appalled. 

He swallows, and wets his hand, carefully wiping away dried blood and ignoring the red, festering skin that's promising infection. Hopefully a good wash will combat that, but knowing how Dick's luck has been going so far, he wouldn't count on it. 

Once he's done, he rewraps the wound to the best of his ability, wishing he had new bandages or even clean cloth in general, but there's not much cloth anywhere on him to make a bandage any more clean than the used one he already has. 

He washes his arms, dumps his head in the water again, feeling more awake and alive than what he has in… in hours, and soon he's slipping back on his shirt and shakily standing up, feeling a million times better. 

Like he can actually do this. All he needs is a nap and—as his stomach growls—some food, but he knows he shouldn't count on getting either of those any time soon. Smacking his lips against that sweet after taste, he turns, and releases a sigh. 

He doesn't remember which way he came in. There's multiple doors, all leading to the same, bleak hallways.

Might as well just choose one. 

He gives the owl fountain a regretful look before he begins to walk away. He could stay by it forever, drugged or not, but he needs to find a way out. That's what's important. Going home. 

When he's back in the labyrinth, it's then he notices how dark it is, especially compared to the blinding light of the fountain room. It takes a minute for his eyes to adjust, but soon he falls back into a pattern. His hand on the wall, his steps moving forward one by one.

The only difference now is that there's a buzzing in his brain. Similar to the sound of the bats fluttering from above in the cave, but louder, heavier… like strong wings ruffling. He ignores the buzzing, pushing forward being his only thought.

-o-o-o-o-

He's starving. Absolutely famished. His stomach feels like it's eating him from the inside out, and he finds himself wondering about what he wouldn't give for that gross goop he's been fed for the past… past he can't remember. Month? The fluttering in his mind is louder now, like a persistent bug. So close and never leaving, he desperately wishes he could swat it away. But even if he covers his ears, it won't leave. It's in his head. Right where his thoughts normally are. Fluttering fluttering wings are all he knows. That; and his grumbling tummy. 

He almost regrets taking that water now. He's sure it was drugged now, and it's also let his stomach know how empty it was. 

But he was so thirsty. He's still thirsty. He doesn't know if he can resist taking another handful of water if he ever runs into the fountain again.

Though, considering how large this labyrinth seems to be, he assumes the chances of running into it again are low.

He clutches his stomach with one hand and fights to keep his other hand on the wall, his face in a permanent wince from the flapping wings that won't leave him, sounding so real that every so often he ducks, thinking there must have been a large bird swooping down above him. 

And it continues like this. Hungry. Getting thirsty again. Shoulder pulsing and head aching. 

Until he finally turns a corner and he's instantly blinded. He throws his hands up to cover his eyes, but it's already too late. It takes minutes to blink out enough of the blotches before he can see well enough. He squints at the new room he's found himself in, smaller than the fountain room, but just as mysterious. Rows and rows of wooden frames decorate the wall, showing blurry  figures inside them, and in the middle of the floor—facing Dick—is an old-timey camera with a large flash. 

After walking further into the room, avoiding the camera, and seeing the faces of each man and woman, he decides not to stay long in that room. It's freaky. The rows belong to a person each, the first showing a lost and confused individual, and every picture after that showing them slowly falling into terror and insanity. 

The last pictures sends shivers down his spine. A lot of them have white hair, but young faces. Antoinette syndrome. Dick absently runs his fingers through his own hair, wondering if he'll share the same fate by the end of this. 

He shakes his head and quickly finds the door he entered from and chooses the door next to it to exit. He places his hand once again on the wall, and rushes away from there, hoping to never go back. 

-o-o-o-o-

It's another room. And in Dick's opinion, it's the worst one yet. 

Coffins. Rows and rows of them. He resists the urge to vomit, knowing the only thing to leave his stomach would be precious water, and rushes away as quickly as possible, forcing himself to ignore the screeching owls in his head that started an hour ago.

-o-o-o-o-

"Shut up," Dick almost sobs, pressing both his hands to his temples, leaning against the wall as he stumbles instead. The birds in his mind have started to whisper. Things he can't pick apart, but sends his insides twisting regardless. "Shut up shut up shut up..."

He's so consumed by the whispering and the beating of wings that he hardly even notices him stumbling into another room until once again his retinas are assaulted by a flash of light. And once he gets his vision to clear, he realizes he's somehow back in the picture room even though he was sure he was heading in the opposite direction. 

Well. It's actually really hard to be sure of anything when there's constant whispering in his brain. 

Keeping his hands on his temples, he slowly inches his way inside the room, wearily glancing at the camera and the placement of the doors around it. He's just come in through a completely new door. He's sure of it. But the camera was aimed towards him like it knew where he'd arrived. 

"Maybe it's a different room," Dick whispers to himself, because his head is already loud enough, and perhaps because he misses the sound of actual voices. Of all things to feel in this hell with drugged up voices in his head, the last thing he expected was to feel lonely. 

His theory, though, is quickly proven wrong when he gets a closer look at the pictures. Every single photo is the same. The same faces burned into his mind. The same frames. The same order from fear to insanity. 

And below it. In its own little frame, hung below the rest in the beginning of its own row…

Is his own face. 

His heart jumps and the voices in his head begin to chatter excitedly, and he trips backwards before he can look too much into the picture and what it means… he bumps into something and soon enough he's laying on his back in a mess of limbs and camera tripod, staring at the high up ceiling with his hands curling tight around his ears, nails digging into his scalp.

"Shut up shut up…" he whimpers.

-o-o-o-o-

He doesn't know how long he lays like that, but eventually the voices settle back into a buzzing and he's able to move his hands away from his ears, wincing at the red beneath his fingernails. He forces himself to his feet, advertently avoiding the walls of pictures, and turns to go down another hallway, but he stops when he sees a shadowy form… watching him. 

Dick swallows, hope igniting on his chest. "B…?"

The form doesn't answer, just takes a step forward until they're in the light. Dick's heart and stomach sink to his toes and he forced his fists in front of him. 

It's the Talon. Alive and well. His glowing eyes revealing nothing. 

"What do you want?" Dick demands, trying to keep his voice sounding brave. There's whispering in his mind, sending shivers down his spine. Talon Talon Talon

The Talon regards him silently for a moment, head tilted quizzingly like a predator, before he speaks. "I did not wish for this to happen."

Dick can only stay silent, watching, trying not to flinch as the owls screech right near his skull. 

"I had hoped you would come to love this place, like I have," the Talon continues, "and that you would fall right into your birthright. I had no intentions of bringing you here, where… reluctant recruits go."

Anger boils in his belly. "Fuck you," Dick spits, knowing Alfred would be appalled, but Alfred isn't here, and Dick is so tired. 

The Talon carries on, like Dick hadn't said a thing. "Gray Son of Gotham-" ("Don't call me that!") "I am here to offer you a deal. Come with me, and I will show you out of this labyrinth. I will continue to train you, more diligently before, and no longer will you be bound by the Bat's rules. You will be the greatest Talon to ever have the honor of protecting the Court."

Talon Talon Talon. Dick let's one hand leave it's first to press against his right temple. His ears are ringing. Everything hurts. He wants out of here. 

But he wants to go home. 

"I'm not joining you," Dick spits. 

The Talon's shoulders fall a little, as if disappointed. "Then you will remain in this labyrinth until you're begging for me to take you back. If you wish to leave, the same deal as before stands: fight to kill me, Robin. That is the only way."

And Dick's anger is so bright, he's suddenly charging blindly forward. The Talon easily avoids his attack, whispering a dark and final "then so be it," before all the wind is knocked out of Dick's gut with a savage punch to his stomach. Dick gasps, feeling watery vomit rise to his throat, but his vision goes black and soon, he's collapsing to the ground, unable to move or breathe. 

He's blacking out, and the voices are so loud and clear now. You belong to us, little bird. You belong to us. Born and raised to join us. Born and raised to become the greatest Talon to ever live. 

He watches the Talon's shoes step in front of his vision, but his vision blackens. His feels strong fingers turn him into his back, an arm looping below his shoulder blades and knees, but he loses feeling too. The only way he knows he's rising is his stomach twisting and wings fluttering fluttering fluttering around his ears. 

He loses himself. 

-o-o-o-o-

He wakes up back in the fountain room. A new pair of clothes on his body and fresh bandages around his shoulder. There's a bowl of something perhaps edible laying near his head, and despite how his stomach growls he doesn't know if he can stomach it. 

It's probably drugged, he thinks, and then he realizes with a blink that his mind is quiet. 

Whatever they gave him probably finally wore off. Talon brought him back here for a re-dosing. 

He groans as he pushes himself up so he's sitting. One look under his shirt and he knows that yup, he'll definitely be feeling that one for a while. His stomach is already beginning to bruise, which raises the question of how long he's been out. 

He glares at the food and ignores the pouring water, disregarding the tightness of his gut and the dryness of his mouth. His brain finally feels like it's his again. He's not about to compromise that now.

He stands up and walks away before he can rethink it. 

-o-o-o-o-

He somehow runs into the picture room again, and he screams in frustration when the flashing camera ambushes him. He doesn't bother to look around, he doesn't bother to note the added picture to his row, nor how the camera is pointed at him, he just turns heel and stomps away, not caring to even place his hand on the wall anymore.

-o-o-o-o-

Coffin room again. He ventures in a few steps, then immediately runs out when he notices a black and white picture of a child resting on top of one of them. Once out of the room, he falls to his knees and dry heaves, nothing, not even bile leaving his throat. The only thing it accomplishes is putting him in more pain. 

-o-o-o-o-

Click. Picture. Another frame to add to his row. He grabs the camera and hurdles it at the wall.

-o-o-o-o-

Fountain room. Food still sitting in the bowl. Water somehow even more tantalizing than before. He takes a spoonful of the gross food, knowing he'll regret it later, and a sip of the water, and then he's rushing out before he can lose control over himself. The buzzing starts hours later, but it's quieter than before. Manageable. 

He's still hungry and thirsty though.

-o-o-o-o-

It's like a back and forth tennis game. He hits one room after another, no matter what direction he runs and no matter how fast he runs, he always ends up one of three places even though he finds he never recognizes the mazes he's running in. 

The fountain room, where the temptation to gulp water and finish the waiting bowl of food becomes harder and harder to resist. 

The camera room, where he can see his transformation from a boy to something wild and desperate. 

The coffin room, where each wooden grave holds a picture of a child, dating back to all kinds of eras in Gotham history. There's an open one, he found, after working up the courage to venture further in when he ran into this same room four more times. The picture on top is of a boy with curly black hair and strikingly bright eyes despite the orange and brown tint to the old ink. He's dressed in clothes over a hundred years dated, leaning over a table like he's being interviewed. 

"I had hoped you would come to love this place, like I have, and that you would fall right into your birthright. I had no intentions of bringing you here, where… reluctant recruits go."

The feeling of being sick to his stomach is becoming as familiar as the fluttering in his mind.

-o-o-o-o-

He drinks the water. He told himself only a sip. But he takes a gulp. He finishes off the food before he can tell himself no. 

-o-o-o-o-

It's seven pictures in when something finally changes. The camera flashes and in his turmoil he destroys it again. The voices are so loud that he can't stop that anger now that it's begun. He sprints towards his lineup—each picture looking less and less like himself and more like a crazed beast—with the intention to rip off each picture and chuck them across the room, listening to the satisfying sound of wood snapping and glass shattering. Then, he'd grab the pictures and tear them apart shred by shred until they're as fine as glitter. 

But the moment he reaches his pictures, his hands stop. It seems like someone's already punched a hole in one of his pictures.

And.

There's a new row. Right below his. 

Just one picture so far. Belonging to a man who's half encased in blackness. His lips turned down in a deep, angry frown. White lensed eyes narrowed in suspicion. 

But it's a face Dick would never forget. 

"Bruce," he gasps, the voices in his head finally going silent. He grabs the picture from the wall and looks at it closer. Studies every single detail. The stubble Bruce only gets when he's stressed and working himself to the bone. The bruising on his cheekbone from a fight. The split lip. He doesn't look too hurt though, just angry, and determined. 

Dick clutches the picture to his chest and sprints out the room, hope soaring higher than an owl ever could. Almost as high as a Grayson could. 

He sprints through the hallways. "Bruce!" He calls, because he has to be nearby. It wasn't too long ago Dick was last in the camera room. Bruce has to be close.

He turns a corner, the picture held so tightly to his chest that the glass breaks, but he doesn't stop. "BATMAN!" He screams, his voice echoing in the halls. "BRUCE, I'M HERE!"

He runs. And he runs. And he runs. He sprints through the lines of coffins, he bypasses the fountain, and he runs though more and more and more hallways until he finds himself back to where he started, the flash of the camera not even phasing him. 

He gasps for breath, looking around the room desperately, but he sees no one besides the lineup of pictures. 

They replaced the one Dick stole and added two more. Dick doesn't even care about his own lineup. He can already see this place affecting Bruce. He looks pissed. And angry. And feral. And Dick needs to find him. He turns heel, and runs. 

Batman needs Robin.

-o-o-o-o-

"Gray Son of Gotham," a voice calls, and Dick skids to a halt, chest heaving as he stops himself in the middle of the labyrinth. He's face to face with the Talon once again. "Surely you must be done running now."

"I'm not joining you," Dick snarls, holding the picture of Bruce to his chest like a safety blanket. Like the Talon will try to steal it. 

The Talon takes a step forward and Dick takes a step back. He notices a flickering of something behind the Talon's back. He's hiding something. "Let this game be over. You will not find Batman. You belong here."

And then, something Dick wasn't expecting happens. The Talon reaches up with his free hand and pulls off his hood, and next thing Dick knows he's staring at the face of his torturer. 

Male. Hair black as night. Eyes sunken and dull. Skin pale as paper. Veins sneaking up his neck and jaw like black ink. Dick recognizes him in the picture of the child on the open coffin. 

"I am William Cobb, and I am the last family you have left, not Bruce Wayne."

Dick has to fight to not flinch at the mention of Bruce's name, especially when it's hissed hatefully like that. "I don't know who you are," Dick argues back instead.

Light flashes unnaturally in his yellow eyes. "I'm your great grandfather. You have been destined to inherit my place as Talon since before your birth. Wayne manor was never your home. You were supposed to go to us, but the death of your parents complicated things. But you're home now, let me show you how great you can be."

Dick will admit, the cherry bomb called "I'm your great grandfather" caused Dick's brain to stutter. The Talon could hardly be older than thirty, but Dick also finds himself believing it. It explains a lot that has happened in the past few months. 

But he also finds himself not caring. 

Dick's been with the circus long enough to know that family is not always blood. Bruce may not be his dad, nor related to him by blood in any way, but where he is is home. 

And Dick's not going to let some whackjob immortal great grandfather get in the way of that. 

"I don't care if you're my dad back from the dead, I won't join you," Dick says, finding himself truly meaning it. 

The Talon sighs, looking sad, before he puts back on his hood and returns to intimidation instead the strange almost begging he had a moment ago. Dick tenses, awaiting a fight. The birds in his head ruffle their feathers excitingly. 

But no battle begins. The Talon just reveals what he had hidden behind his back by tossing the long, black fabric in front of him. Dick's eyes widen in shock as he watched the heavy fabric fall, recognizing the shape of it even though it's torn and tattered. 

It's Bruce's cape. There's holes and dark stains on it. Dick doesn't want to think about what those stains could be. The owls screech in his skull, and Dick sees red. It takes all his willpower to stand his ground and glare at the Talon, hating him more than ever. 

"What have you done to him." 

Dick sounds cold, even to himself. 

But the Talon seems unphased, whatever raw emotion he had a fed minutes ago now effectively buried. "Nothing drastic. The Court has not ordered his demise yet. I've been simply… playing with him."

So he hasn't killed Bruce. That realization has Dick almost slumping with relief even though he knows Bruce would never lose to this psycho. 

"I will strike up a final deal, Gray Son of Gotham. If you come with me, not only will you leave this labyrinth, but so will your former mentor without any more harm done. If you do not come with me, right now, then I will kill him. You will not find him before me. I know where he is as we speak. I will tear him apart and I will show you his decapitated skull before leaving you here until you go insane. It is your choice."

Dick's clenching his fists so hard he can feel his nails pierce his skin. He takes a deep breath. 

"Okay," he says, voice quiet and small. Defeated. "Okay, I'll come with you. Just don't kill him."

Dick can't tell with the mask, but he knows the Talon is grinning. The monster spreads his arms in an inviting way, as if he expects Dick to come running towards them. Dick walks forward, his neck lowered, shoulders slumped, eyes down-turned. He steps over Batman's cape, and finds himself just a couple feets' distance from the Talon. 

Then: he acts, dropping the picture to the ground with a shatter and lifting his leg.

The ferociousness of his kick surprises even him, and he hits the Talon hard enough in the side to send the man stumbling back. Dick knows about his healing factor and his affinity for pain, so he charges again to not give the man time to switch into battle mode. The owls are all hooting and screaming in his mind, and Dick isn't sure who they're cheering on, but he fights on anyway. He ignores the weakness to his limbs and the way they feel numb and shaky and focuses on the cape laying on the ground behind him as he runs and kicks off the wall to quicker launch himself to grab the hood around the man's face. It comes off easily, and Dick's soon backing up—dropping the mask to the ground as well—as the face of the Talon glares coldly at him before beginning his own attack. 

Dick dodges a swinging punch for his skull, ducking under it and then punching upward to jab the Talon's jaw. There's a snapping sound of a dislocating joint, but the Talon only grunts and doesn't waste a second before retaliation. 

Dick's fought the Talon many times in the span he's been here. But none of those fights are like this one. Dick's not holding back, and the adrenaline is so high that he doesn't even notice his shoulder wound beginning to sluggishly bleed because of a stitch pulled. He doesn't notice his growling stomach. He doesn't notice the tiredness of his very bones. All he knows is his next move. All he knows is the voices screaming onward in his brain. 

Fight for us, they say. You belong to us. Become the greatest protector the Court has ever seen. Fulfill your birthright. Cast away the false teaching of Batman and finally accept your destiny.

"Shut up!" Dick screams, jumping backwards to avoid a knife aiming to slice his chest. The Talon doesn't comment on his outburst, perhaps knowing exactly what the drugs in the water and food are doing to him, just continues to force Dick backwards swipe by swipe until Dick's back hits the wall.

Dick just barely manages to duck in time for the blade to miss his neck, skidding against the wall and bringing up sparks as it does so. The detective at the back of Dick's mind notes that that could be important, but the rest of his brain moves on towards the screaming and screeching and chanting. Everything becomes a blur. He doesn't care about anything else. Just taking the Talon down and finding Bruce. That's all that matters, right? Nothing else? Not the things the drugs are telling him? Not the flapping wings of an owl?

He places his hands on the ground mid duck and swings his legs out, knocking the Talon's feet out from below him. The Talon trips on his feet but doesn't go down like Dick hoped he would. He quickly finds his balance and grabs Dick by the hair before Dick can defend himself. 

Pain ignites around the roots of his skull, and he realizes with a boiling rage that he did not miss this. The next thing Dick knows, his world is spinning as he's lifted up by his hair until his toes are scrambling for purchase only to be immediately slammed into the wall. Dick sees stars behind his eyes. 

Weak. Weak! You are pathetic! Tainted by the Batman and held back from your true potential! You belong to the Court! You are better than this! 

Dick lashes out with his legs, and when that goes ignored Dick tries to grab for the Talon's face.

Only for everything to explode in white pain as a knife sinks into his arm, right between the two bones in the limb, forcing his attack back against the wall. Dick can't hold back his scream, everything goes angry and silent and red, so much so it takes him a moment to realize he's back on his feet, his arm held above him like a wing pinned to a board. The pin being a knife and the board being the granite wall. The blade is sunk in his arm all the way to the hilt, there's got to be a good few inches stuck in the wall now. 

A sob tears itself from his throat before he can even think about swallowing it. 

Everything hurts. Everything hurts so much. He tries to lift his other hand (of course, the one belonging to his now screaming shoulder. Now he has two injured arms! Huzzah!) and tries to hit the Talon away, but the man simply grabs his wrist and pins that to the wall too, thankfully just with his hands, not another knife. His other hand goes on Dick's chest, pushing him back as he leans forward close enough for Dick to smell his rancid breath. 

Dick's pinned. Literally. Blood is running down his arm and no matter how still he forces his stabbed-through-arm to be, it burns like fire anyway, the pain not lessening, just getting worse. His voice betrays him with a hiccup, but he tries his best to level the best death glare he can manage with tears streaming down his face at the expressionless man that's done this to him. 

"I hate you," Dick spits, gasping at the end and trying not to whimper. 

"That," the Talon says, acid in his gaze, "is of no importance. This is not about you. This is for the good of the Court, and you now leave me no choice."

He pushes against Dick and let's go, backing up three steps to effectively exit Dick's kicking range. Not that Dick would want to do any kicking right now anyway. Any pressure on his arm is like fire and brimstone. And by that, he means hell.

"I will return, Gray Son of Gotham," the Talon says, "and when I do, I will have the Batman with me."

The word dead goes unsaid. Dick can hear it anyways.

Dick doesn't waste his breath to yell at the Talon as he walks away, he's too busy keeping more sobs from tearing his chest apart as his arm continues to feel like the Joker spilled acid all over it. He fails at that, his chest jolts and he blinks away tears, the action moving his arm just a fraction for the pain to grow only worse. 

You belong to us. Protect us. Be our champion. 

"Shut up…" Dick cries between gasps. "Please just- just shut up-"

You're small and weak now, but with us you will be strong.

"Shut up-" 

Join your real family. We need you. We've needed you before you were even born.

"Shut... Shut up…"

It doesn't shut up.

"…B-ruce…"

-o-o-o-o-

 

In a moment of… of he doesn't know. Clarity? Insanity? He's not sure. Just in a moment where his brain was somehow thinking about something other than the voices or the pain—that something perhaps being the realization that the Talon is going to kill Bruce—Dick grabs into the knife pinning his arm and pulls.

He's pretty sure he screams. The whole world goes black and white like the stars and next thing he knows he's blinking back to reality on the floor in a crumpled heap. His arm is lying besides him, making a puddle on the ground of his own blood, but the knife is clutched in his other hand and he's finally off that wall. 

His mind continues to say things to him, but his eyes land on the black lump of kevlar still laying on the ground and he forces his body on autopilot, carefully using his less injured arm to heft him up, his shoulder still smarting but it's nothing compared to the pain of his other arm. 

Once he's on his feet, he stumbles a few times. He wonders how he was able to stand against that wall for so long, they feel like Alfred's famous pudding. 

What he would do for a bowl of that. He misses it. Probably the only butterscotch thing in the entire world that he likes. 

He shakes his head, both hoping to make himself focus and to perhaps shake the people who are calling him theirs and Gray Son of Gotham inside his head out of his ears. It doesn't work, they keep talking to him, saying nothing new, so he focuses on the black cape, the urge to find his guardian driving him to stumble to his feet like a drunk.

He bends down and puts the knife in his pant's waistband and gathers the heavy cape into his aching and bleeding arms. He puts it over his shoulders and then uses it to cover the top of his head as well like a hood.

It grows immediately warmer. And somehow the voices dissolve back into mindless chatter the moment the fabric goes over his ears. Then: he walks. 

Five minutes into his walk, he suddenly has the clarity to tear off a section of the cape with the knife and uses that strip to wrap his still leaking arm. It's gone numb by now, and he's definitely feeling the effects of blood loss, but it's all okay. He just needs to find Bruce. That's all.

Bruce knows he's here. Bruce looked past his disbelief of the Court and came to find him. Soon, Dick will meet him halfway and Bruce will make everything better. He tightens the cape around his head, the wings fluttering around him sounding more like a bumblebees buzz now.

He can do this. 

He just needs to find Bruce. 

-o-o-o-o-

He doesn't find Bruce. 

He finds the sound of an explosion instead. 

It's a powerful one, one that vibrated the ground beneath Dick's feet ever so slightly, but it's enough to make him trip on his feet and rush to find stability against the wall. He cries out when his bad arm bumps into the marble wall, reigniting the pain and making his ears ring, but hope flairs in his chest like a teacup candle. Small, but powerful. He forces his foot in front of the other, having a direction now.

Because if Bruce was anywhere in this maze, it's where the explosions are.

-o-o-o-o-

Somehow. Against all odds. He makes it. 

He almost wishes he didn't. 

Because when he sees the hallways spread out into a giant room, one where an owl fountain lays half crumbled and collapsed, water spilling out onto the white floor where a hole gapes into darkness, he doesn't see Batman. 

Just the Talon, standing there with his back towards Dick, his hands hanging with knives pointed down, red dripping from the tips. 

"Where is he?" Dick asks, voice seemingly stuck in his throat.

The Talon doesn't react for a moment, but he eventually turns to look Dick in the eyes. It's strange to see him without his mask, he hadn't bothered to pick it back up when he left Dick pinned to a wall. This way, Dick can see the almost feral glint to his eyes, the /red blood splattered across his cheek, the almost triumphant smirk on his lips. Dick hates it. He's almost tempted to turn around and find that mask because the lifeless goggles were so much more easier to look at than his lifeless gaze. 

"Where is he?!" Dick demands again when the Talon doesn't answer. 

The Talon doesn't speak, just glances back at the hole in the ground.

"No," Dick breathes, dropping all self preservation and sprinting forward, the cape falling off his shoulders to lay abandoned on the ground. "No!" Dick comes to a stop on his hands and knees at the mouth of the hole. He can't see an ending to it. It keeps going down down down into darkness, the water spilling in echoing on forever as it falls. "BRUCE! BRUCE! I'M HERE! IM-" a sob chokes him. 

A hand on his shoulder sends a jolt of electricity down his spine and he scrambles away, clutching his throat and glaring at the man he now hates more than anything in this world. 

"He was wounded," the Talon says, the red red red on his knife dripping. "And he fell. He did not survive."

"You're lying," Dick whispers. 

"He is dead, Gray S-"

"YOU'RE LYING!" 

And all the agony. All the fear. All the anger. Everything piles up where his own screaming brain overpowers everything else. 

And he's running forward. Charging. Screaming. Only aware of his fists flying forward and hitting the almost shocked looking Talon. His fists fly, his legs kick, and his vocal chords tear. 

He's done.

He's done.

The Talon falls over with a well placed punch to the temple, and it's then Dick remembers the knife in his waistband, crusty with his own blood. His hand closes around the handle and before he can hesitate (regret, cry, think, no no no) he plunges the weapons down right through the Talon's eye down to the hilt.

Black ooze squirts and the Talon shutters, jolts like he's having a seizure. Dick should be horrified, but the adrenaline is still flowing, the intoxicating feeling of victory blanketing him as the realization that he’s finally found the Talon’s weakness hits him. He tightens his grasp, pulls the knife out with a sickening shuurp, and immediately brings it back down. The body below him jolts again, violently, and Dick brings the knife back out and is about to do it one more time before he gets a good look at the ruined eye and the blood coating his hands and-

And oh god.

And he stills. 

And oh god.

And that hesitation is just enough time for it all to go downhill. There's a pinprick in his leg, and Dick drops the knife as a wave of nausea washes over him. He glances down at his leg and sees a limp hand falling from his thigh, a syringe left in its wake. 

His limbs feel heavy, and soon the Talon gains enough strength to completely knock him off. Dick can't feel anything. The world is falling falling falling-

And he hits the ground with a snap.

-o-o-o-o-

When he wakes, he knows it's the last time he'll ever wake up alive, because when he comes to he's strapped down and surrounded by emotionless white faces. He doesn't bother to test the bonds leashing him to the cold, metal table below him. He doesn't think he has much strength anymore to do much anything besides a half-hearted glare directed at a face he's come to hate with all his soul. 

The Talon stands by his side, arms folded across his massive chest and goggles glowing white in the light of the single bulb hanging above them. There's Court members too, but Dick only has eyes for one monster. 

It's then he realizes his mouth is dry and his jaw aches. He tries to shift his jaw and with a pang of fear and panic he realizes something hard is shoved between his teeth on the right side of his mouth, keeping his mouth wide open. He tries to dislodge the thing with his tongue but it's jammed too tightly in. 

"The Court has decided to move ahead with Batman out of the way," the Talon says suddenly, the unknown meaning to his words making Dick freeze. "With your current level of training, they believe you are ready to truly join us as a Talon of the Court, even if you are still young."

Dick catches the flash of something out from the comer of his eye. Instantly, struggling in his binds seems to be so much more important. 

A Court member approaches him with a long syringe in their hands. But he finds his struggles pointless as the Talon moves above him and grabs his head, keeping him still. 

"This will be painful, Gray Son of Gotham," the Talon says, leaning down so Dick can do nothing but listen and watch with wide eyes as the syringe is held in front of his face. His stomach clenches. "I had hoped you would accept your place willingly, train with me, come to enjoy serving the people you were bred to protect, but it seems Batman's training and ideology runs too deep in your veins. You've forced the Court's hand. You have no choice any longer."

Dick can only pant and pitifully gag and beg through his forced open mouth as the syringe is aimed towards the gums near his left molars.

There's a pinch. 

The voices from the drugs begin, louder than ever.

Then the world explodes in pain, agony, death… and nothing else.

-o-o-o-o-

The Gray Son of Gotham wakes a week later, ash skin and black veins. Not a scratch on his body. The boy seems confused. The trauma from the serum perhaps doing more damage to his mind and memory than anticipated. But the weeks pass by, and William Cobb finds he never needed the boy to remember a thing. His muscles will remember for him. 

And that's all that's truly needed for the Court. Even if the boy is now just another mindless soldier. 

Not what William had hoped for his seed. 

But, well, if the Court is happy, then so is he.

-o-o-o-o-

He doesn't remember the whole drop. He remembers the world exploding in white as he hits his head on something before plunging into the underwater cave system located beneath the labyrinth. He remembers swirling currents and tugging waves. He remembers scrambling through the liquid until it felt like his lungs would burst. 

He remembers his eyes stinging from salt as he's miraculously deposited into Gotham Bay. He remembers blacking out before he reaches the surface. 

Now, there's sand on his eyelashes and places inside his suit where it has no business being. He opens his eyes to stormy clouds and rain gently falling on his face, and all he can think about is how he's failed.

Failed Robin. Failed Dick. Failed his... his son

He was so close. He saw the pictures hanging on those walls. Dick was there... alive... even if it's still hard to believe the Court of Owls actually exist. And he failed him. Batman failed him. 

There's a blob obscuring his vision, and he forces his eyes away from the clouds to see a small girl with pale skin and a black bruise on her cheekbone. 

"Oh good," the child huffs, slumping away and staring at him with wide, bright eyes. Her hair is black and long, looking like it could use a good brush, and her clothes are ratty and dirty. She can't be much younger than… "I thought you were dead."

"Who…" he asks, his voice sounding scratchy. From the sand. From thirst. From anger. From failure. "Who are you?"

The girl bites her lip, tilts her head as if weighing the pros and cons, before she huffs. "Harper. Harper Row. And… and you're Bruce Wayne."

Bruce huffs and leans his head back against the sand. 

Things just keep getting worse and worse.

-o-o-o-o-

Chapter Text

Pip.

The sound of water hitting exposed flesh one drop at a time is maddening. 

Pip.

Tim knows exactly how much time has passed since the slow drops have begun. It’s been four hours. They’ve had to refill the barrel once so far. Give it another two and they’ll refill it again.

Pip.

Tim’s shoulders ache. His wrists do too. Hanging suspended from the ceiling by a length of chain can do that to a guy. The links wrap around his wrists so tightly they dig into his skin. His toes barely touch the ground.

Pip

He supposes it could be worse. He could be where Dick is, lashed to a table in the middle of the room, each limb connected to a corner of the table with improvised restraints made out of leather belts. They pinned him down earlier, before the water started drop drop dropping, and pounded nails through the strips of leather into the table, then bent the nails beneath the table when they popped through. Around his wrists, his ankles, upper arms, hips... then to make it worse there’s a neck brace on him. Keeping his head still for the mechanism above him to effectively do its job.

Pip. Pip.

Dick flinches and Tim tries to ignore the tightening in his gut. It’s hard to tell the water on Dick’s face apart from the tears he started leaking an hour ago when the water stopped dropping in the center of his forehead just for them to come down, look at Tim’s tightly shut jaw, then refill the water without another word. That was when Dick first started whimpering behind his gag too—when the first drop of round two began. That was when Tim really started having trouble resisting giving them what they wanted and what they were willing to wait hours for to have.

Pip.

Chinese Water Torture. Not the most reliable method of torture. In fact, there’s really not a whole lot of evidence behind it. Tim personally doesn’t know a whole lot about it either, just that it’s meant to drive it’s victim insane a drop at a time. It seems to be slowly wearing down Dick though. Tim doesn’t know if it’s the drops of water, the not being able to move, or a combination of the two of them. Tim has his money on the restricted movement. They must have done their research before they chose this torture for Nightwing. If there’s one thing Dick loves more than anything, it’s being able to move.

Pip.

A particularly loud whimper, and Tim closes his eyes, trying not to whimper himself. Getting caught... it was all just a freak accident that Tim is fully happy to pin the blame on Red Hood for. Batman was out of town and Nightwing offered to come over and help patrol Gotham with Tim. Bruce doesn’t trust Tim to patrol himself even though he’s fourteen and fully capable to protect himself. But whatever, that’s cool, Tim was just excited to go out with Dick because Dick always took him to do fun things on patrol and then take him out to get ice cream after. Batman and Robin was all business, but Nightwing and Robin was a night of fun and criminals ending up at the GCPD’s door steps with whiskers drawn on their cheeks. 

Pip.

Dick took him train surfing. It was their thing. They always train-surfed together whenever they could. They’ve gone enough times for Tim to have a favorite blindfold and a perfect technique to jump from the train on the Narrows green line to the blue line passing below without having to be caught anymore. Because it was a quiet night, they went on a particularly long and complicated path. Starting in upper Gotham to eventually end up hopping on a freight train leaving the city south. Lots of hopping rails. Lots of tunnels. There’s even a part where he and Dick have to time a grapple just right while blindfolded.

Pip.

Dick whimpers. Tim takes a deep breath. Bites his lip.

Pip.

They came across a section of the course that Dick is still trying to figure out ways to make more exciting. The red line that goes through the Upper East Side is just a straight stretch for about three minutes. No stops because it carries mostly packages, not people. No tunnels because the city is rather level here. No sharp turns because the Upper East Side somehow ended up with the luck of being the only neighborhood in Gotham built like a perfect grid. Tim liked to just sit down and catch his breath on this section of the course, but Dick was always looking to challenge himself to keep moving. He’s spent hours tracking trains in Gotham to find another one they could hop on, but if they did that they’ll miss the train going out of the city on Brown Bridge. 

Pip.

Dick gets a call on his comm right when they jump on this particular train. Tim tucks his cape around his shoulders and sits down, knowing Dick will be too busy to tell him to do handstands or something the moment Oh, Hi O, leaves his mouth. Babs hates it when he does that. Whether if it’s because it’s no longer funny the millionth time said or she just really hates Ohio and that it sounds like saying hello in Japanese—and that Dick was still somehow so clever with his puns it pushed the boundaries of language. Regardless, he talks with her for a minute and Tim tunes it out, swinging his legs over the edge of the train and enjoying the feeling of wind blowing through his hair. He focuses again back on the conversation when Dick’s voice goes shocked and surprised though. Red Hood wants to talk to me?

Pip.

Tim felt his whole body go stiff at Hood’s name. It’s been half a year since Todd broke into Titans tower and beat him half to death. Since he revealed he was alive. Since he killed dozens of drug dealers just to get to Black Mask and therefore Joker and therefore Batman. He went away for a few months and has just shown up again two months ago, claiming Crime Alley as his own territory out of the blue. He hasn’t killed anyone, so Bruce hasn’t done anything about it yet. He seems content to just wait it out and see what Todd does next. Tim doesn’t like it. Dick plans their train surfing away from Crime Alley now to avoid him. Not that Hood has ever shown any interest in Tim either. Or Dick for that matter. Which is why when Dick says Hood like he’s saying Slade Tim zeroes in on the conversation with all of his attention.

Pip.

That’s probably why they were so easy to ambush. Tim was so busy hyper focusing on the words access to ‘Haven? What for? when all of a sudden white erupts in front of his eyes despite the blindfold he still wears. He feels his gravity try to hurl him off the side of the train, but the back of his cape is grabbed and he’s pinned to the roof of the train by a big body with big hands wrapping around his neck. He can’t fight back because the previous hit to the back of his head is making it hard to find his limbs. Nightwing yells something, but a hand releases his throat—the other doesn’t allow him to suck in air yet though—and something metallic touches his temple. 

Pip.

Everything went black then.

Pip. Pip.

And Tim woke up here, hanging by his wrists and stripped down to his underwear; his uniform replaced with a giant black tee-shirt with the Queen logo stamped across the chest. He still wore his mask, which was worrying, because someone smart enough to get his uniform off his body without electrifying themselves should be smart enough to peel off his mask without activating any defensive features that are installed. He studied the room, taking it all in at once. 

Pip.

The table in the middle of the room. 

Pip.

The stone cold walls and cement floor; the small, circular, rusted metal grate that covered a drainage pipe right below the table. The odd stains. The square trapdoor in one of the corners of the ceiling, opened with a ladder allowing access down.

Pip.

The three figures dressed in black and masked with stereotypical ski-masks hammering away at the table. Nightwing, unconscious and stripped completely to his underwear sans mask. No replacement garments on him. For a moment, he was terrified they were nailing Dick to the table, but then one of them shifted and he saw the leather straps. It was also then he realized that from his corner of the room, he had the perfect view. 

Pip.

So yeah. Hood’s fault. And Tim is willing to bet that the jerk heard the scuffle over the comms and decided to kick back and listen to it, pop some popcorn while Tim was strangled and Dick was... captured however he was captured. He bets that after the ambush was over he hung up and told Oracle all was fine. It’s times like these that Tim wishes he, Lucius, and Bruce were done with their project to insure tiny, almost invisible sensors in the suit to track vitals. They’re close to a breakthrough. But apparently, close but no cigar. 

Pip.

Tim points his toes to lessen the strain of his arms for a few seconds. He feels horrible having a way to lessen strain while Dick is close to sobbing, his knuckles white beneath his tan skin, his jaw so tight it’s impossible to miss even with the layers of tape wrapped around his mouth. But he has to follow what Dick told him to do before they stuffed cloth in his mouth to gag him. After Tim was asked on question that would result in this prolonged torture as long as he didn’t answer. 

Pip.

Don’t tell them anything, I’ll be okammffph-“

Yeah. Okay was before Dick started crying and stopped tapping reassurances on the wood of the table to remind Tim that he’s okay and a little water isn’t going to kill him. He doesn’t even flicker his eyes behind his mask towards Tim anymore. His eyes are squeezed shut, allowing tears to slip and crawl through the weakening gum of the mask.

Pip.

A sob finally cuts through the air. A gasping heave that makes Dick’s ribcage shudder and shake. It breaks through the gag and cuts Tim’s ears like knives. 

Pip.

Another sob. Dick’s breathing harder, like a dam has finally broken.

“Wing?” Tim asks, his voice weak and his stomach feeling like it wants to rebel. “Big bird?”

He doesn’t expect Dick to respond, not really, not when he hasn’t for the past hour. But it still makes Tim almost cry himself when Dick tugs on the restraints, seemingly done with laying still and not struggling. 

“I’m here,” Tim says uselessly. “It’s okay,” he lies uselessly.

Pip.

Dick’s weeping now. Almost five hours since the beginning of this, and it’s finally broken him. And what a scary thought that is. Dick... broken. He’s crying and heaving and tugging on the straps of leather, futilely trying to move his head away from the drops of water. Bubbles gurgle, causing more than a few drops to splatter over Dick’s face.

Plap, pip. Pip.

Pip

There’s no use telling the difference between tears and water anymore, not when Dick’s yelling behind his gag and tugging and crying and sobbing.

“Nightwing!” Tim yells, his own voice breaking.

Pip.

It might have been Hood’s fault that they were captured, but it’s Tim’s fault that Dick’s reduced to hiccuping and choking sobs. The leader of their abductors, a man by the name of Ross Haylee who didn’t even bother to wear a mask when he came into the cellar to observe his two captives, told him so. To say Tim was shocked to see him would be an understatement. It makes sense that a man like him—a criminal that deals mostly in stolen and resold goods—would be involved in train theft. He’s been on Batman’s radar for months now, but every time they get down to his name something like an Arkham breakout or a world crisis occurs and he goes ignored for now. He’s not someone anyone would have expected to involve himself in taking vigilante’s hostage. 

But then he mentioned that selling a certain name could get him lots of money. It’s his partner, an unknown woman who works from Blüdhaven, who they should be worried about. A woman who apparently runs some underground trafficking scheme by the name of Viro, and judging by the way Dick full body tensed at the name of the scheme... Tim knew that he should probably worry a little about her. She would be here at noon. Five or six hours from now if Tim was predicting time right. 

The next pip is almost drowned out by Dick’s crying.

They brought in the contraption that would get Dick weeping like this five hours later, gagged Dick, then left Tim with the promise that he can stop this if he says two words.

The first and last name of one Batman. His real identity. Because Hayden doesn’t want to involve himself in selling people to the highest bidder no matter who they are. His partner will give him twenty grand straight up each for both Dick and Tim, and then he’ll walk away with the name of Batman and sell that to the highest bidder. 

For a man who doesn’t want to get involved in human trafficking, he sure seems okay with torturing them.

Pip.

“It will be okay,” Tim whispers, to himself or Dick, he isn’t sure. Though Dick wouldn’t be listening anyway, the table is creaking with his struggles. 

“We’ll be fine...”

This is his fault.

-o-o-o-o-

It’s been two more hours and Dick is just crying weakly now. Tim’s honestly impressed that he hasn’t passed out, though it’s understandable too because every time the drop of water lands on Dick’s head he flinches like someone is nailing a spike into his skull.

In fact, Dick’s persistent yet weak crying is why it takes a second for Tim to realize that nothing has dripped onto Dick for a solid ten seconds now. 

The tank is empty. Dick seems so out of it that he doesn’t notice. He just continues to whimper and cry. 

“It’s over,” Tim whispers to himself, sagging in the restraints around his wrists. His fingers are numb and he doesn’t really feel pain anymore, just the uncomfortable feeling of blood dripping down his arms to collect along the sleeve hems of the shirt. Six hours has passed now. Six hours of standing here, helpless, watching Dick as he’s rendered sobbing due to a tube dripping liquid on his face. 

If his internal body clock is right, it should be around seven or eight in the morning. He can feel exhaustion pull at his eyelids. They’ve been here for so long, and Tim has listened to Dick sob for longer than what he’s ever wanted to.

He calls out to Dick a couple times, but Dick doesn’t respond, though his breathing slows gradually just a bit as he must realize somewhere in his head that the water has stopped. 

But then—just what Tim was fearing deep down—there’s footsteps from above, the sound of a padlock jumping open, and a creaking as the trap door above opens and an equally creaky ladder lowered down. Tim hardens his glare on his face when the first pair of boots show themselves, but then surprise he doesn’t expect almost knocks off his glare when he sees Ross Haylee jump off the ladder and fix his suit jacket. His eyes land on Tim, and he smiles.

From behind Haylee, more shoes appear. The three goons are grunting from somewhere unseen to Tim, though he knows why they’re grunting without having to see anyway. They’re working together to lower more water into the cellar. 

“So,” Haylee says, the salt and pepper of his goatee stretching with the size of his grin, not reacting to Tim’s glare. “How are you feeling?”

“Screw you,” Tim hisses, even though he knows he probably shouldn’t. He’s tired. And angry. And just... so done. He wants to go home. He wants to get out of these chains and get Dick out of here and pretend none of this has never happened. 

Haylee though... he doesn’t react to the insult. There’s a snort from one of the goons. “Jesus, he really is a kid-“

“Let Robin say fuck 2k15-“

Their mumblings go ignored. Tim hardens his glare, not willing to let himself react to any of them. 

“You look thirsty, kid,” Haylee says, folding his arms, “I can get you some water. A hot meal too, if you’d like.”

“I’m not telling you anything.” Tim clenches his fists, his wrists burning from the action and his fingers stiff. He hopes it is convincing enough of Tim’s unwillingness to work with this a-class-fucker

Yeah. Robin says fuck. Sometimes. In his head.

Thankfully, Haylee’s face falls just a bit, seemingly haven gotten the message loud and clear. “We’re running out of time for this, Robin.”

“Then you know that this freak show you’re putting on is useless now?”

There’s a grunt and a shuffling of heavy feet, the tell-tale sound of water splashing in jugs of water reaching Tim’s ears. The jugs are all three gallons full.

They’re bringing down more than what the contraption above Dick’s head can hold.

“Unfortunately, I can’t walk away from this empty handed,” Haylee continues, a slight head tilt that tells Tim he knows Tim noticed the extra water. 

Tim swallows. Keeps his glare. He didn’t spend hours every day in the mirror when he first became Robin practicing this glare to let it fall now. “You’re walking away with forty grand.”

“I could walk away with millions more,” Haylee says, almost like he’s regretful.

And he’s right too, though. Batman’s identity... it would make this guy a powerhouse in the villain world. 

“I’m not talking,” Tim repeats. 

“Not yet,” Haylee replies. Then he turns to his associates, all three of them having gathered at the bottom of the latter with multiple three gallon jugs... and a watering can. “Let’s get it over with.”

Tim’s stomach clenches in anxiety, and he knows it’s been doing that for awhile now, but this anxiety isn’t anxiety to hold out or watch one of the people he most looks up to cry... this anxiety is a helplessness and a grim knowledge of what will happen the moment one of the goons pulls out a rag. They walk right towards Dick. Dick who’s just beginning to calm his breaths, Dick who’s slowly blinking like he’s just starting to realize he hasn’t been tortured for the past five minutes or so. 

He’s laying there, unaware of the rag, of the watering can that they’re beginning to fill up.

He’ll be painfully aware of it soon.

“What’s your deal with water?” Tim tugs himself forward and makes his voice cold. “For a guy that’s evaded the law for half a year, I thought you’d be more creative.”

Haylee chuckles but he doesn’t show Tim much more attention than that. He walks over to Dick and Tim can feel his entire body tense when Haylee puts his hand on Dick’s shoulder; Dick makes a gagging noise and full body flinches. After Haylee seems satisfied by how Nightwing is completely powerless and terrified beneath his hand, he looks at Tim. “There’s only one thing I want to be hearing from you, anything else could have... harsher consequences.”

Tim doesn’t know what this guy can think of that’s worse than six hours of Chinese Water Torture or plain old classic waterboarding. Well, actually, that’s a lie. There’s tons of other water related tortures out there. Forced ingestion and head dunking to name a few. And that’s just if this guy wants to stick to water. For all Tim knows, he could go the other direction and pull out a red hot brand.

Regardless, he clenches his fists and grinds his jaw. 

Haylee nods, like he’s finding satisfaction in this, before he pats Nightwing’s shoulder and steps away. Tim presses his teeth together so tightly that he can feel his roots aching as the goons step forward. He’s almost tempted to shut his eyes when they put the rag over Dick’s face, but when Dick’s breathing goes all wonky and jittery he finds he can’t look away.

Dick’s going to be waterboarded, and it’s all because Tim wont talk.

No, a voice says in his head that sounds a little like Dicks, it’s Haylee’s fault. It’s Haylee who’s torturing Dick. It’s Haylee who’s the criminal.

That voice gets drowned out pretty quickly by the tipping of a watering can above Dick’s face.

The moment the first stream hits his face he squirms, the yell behind his gag is so loud. Tim desperately wants to cover his ears the second he hears it, but he can’t for a multitude of reasons. Instead, he forces himself to focus on something other than the writhing body or the muffled choked gurgles. He stares at Dick’s wrist that’s twisting in it’s binds, causing red to drip down the appendage. He wonders how long Dick’s been bleeding like that. He wonder’s how much of that blood is his fault. 

Then, as soon as the perpetual drowning begins, it stops with a raised hand from Haylee. 

“Can’s not empty, boss,” one of the goons says stupidly. Of course it’s not empty, it’s just been a few seconds.

“This won’t work,” Haylee mutters, and before Tim can stop himself he looks up from Dick’s wrist to see Haylee looking right at him. He swallows. Haylee grins. “Take out the gag.”

Take out the gag? The other’s seem confused about the new order as well, but they do as they’re told. Tim doesn’t realize he’s holding his breath until they lift the rag, rip off the tape, and dig their hands inside Dick’s mouth to get the rag out. 

The choked off sobbing sounds Dick makes during the process make’s Tim realize what Haylee meant. They were so much quieter before. So much easier to ignore. Tim supposes the reason Haylee had Dick gagged in the first place was to make sure Dick didn’t give any hope filled speeches about doing what’s right and that he’s fine and not to spill any information... but now that Dick is quite thoroughly traumatized there’s not much left in Dick’s priority to give speeches and reassurances. The only noises Dick will be making now are panicked, broken ones. 

And they’re so loud now.

Haylee nods in that horrible satisfied way of his and immediately the torture begins again.

Loud. Dick’s gagging and screaming with every precious bit of oxygen he can bring in while being drowned. It’s loud. Tim can’t look away, and whoever that voice was a minute before just doesn’t fucking matter. Tim’s scared. Dick shouldn’t sound like that. He shouldn’t writhe like that.

And Tim knows it’s point’s towards Haylee... but he can’t just... he can’t-

“Stop!”

More splashes. Dangerous splashes. Tugging and crying and gasping and- and-

“LEAVE HIM ALONE-!”

And Tim’s crying, because Dick’s begging now. Though chopped up breathes, between the gagging, words like stop and please and and and and-

“Stop it!” Tim’s chest hurts. He doesn’t want to be here anymore.

It’s his fault. It’s all his fault. Haylee isn’t even watching the torture he commanded. He’s looking right at Tim and Tim feels the first sob wrack his own frame.

“Leave- leave him-“

Tim takes the first breath in what feels like forever when the watering can finally becomes empty.

But then they start refilling it again as Dick’s weeping and coughing is loud and clear now, filled with babbling and begging in both English and other languages that Tim both knows and doesn’t know.

They’re going to do it again.

Tim wants to bite his own tongue off because they’re going to do it again and again and again and again-

They lift the watering can, and Tim breaks. 

“BRUCE WAYNE!”

-o-o-o-o-

Tim’s pathetic. Haylee didn’t even question him. It must have been the desperation in his voice or the way he immediately broke into tears. Either way, almost immediately after Tim shouted Bruce Wayne’s name, Dick was re-gagged and so was Tim before Haylee and his goons just... left. Sure, there was shock and suspicion in the eyes of the goons, but Haylee’s silence must have been more important than their questions.

Tim’s been hanging by his chains, gagged and crying since then. He hates it. Not being able to speak. Not being able to stop the white hot pressure at the back of his eyes. Everything is blurry and he can feel his heartbeat in his ears.

He’s failed.

He’s pathetic.

He even lost track of time. He was so sure of it before. Somewhere between nine thirty or ten thirty at most, depending on how long he was out after they came.

But now, for the life of him he can’t even guess. One minute he was watching through tear-filled eyes as the trap door above closed shut, and the next he realized he’s just been... dissociating long enough for his shoulders to hurt despite the numbness he can feel infesting his entire body like a fog. He has just enough control of his brain and body to reposition his feet below him so he doesn’t accidentally dislocate his shoulders or something.

And he immediately feels guilty for worrying over his own health when the sound of Dick coughing stabs through his haze filled mind. Even with the gag it sounds painful and wet. Even the smallest bit of water in the lungs can cause pneumonia, and with the gag it’s exponentially harder to expel that water. 

Tim looks down at his bare feet, blinking tears. What’s it matter? Really? When he thinks about it? He just gave away the best kept secret in what could very well be the entire Milky Way galaxy. These people now know everything. Soon, it will reach the ears of villains, and soon it will reach the media. Bruce Wayne will be outed. People will attack the manor. The government will demand secrets. For all Tim knows, Mr Wayne might even be put on trial for child endangerment and vigilantism. Now that people know there’s no plausible deniability that the GCPD can hide behind. The Justice League will lose a member and- and...

And Tim and Dick won’t be there for the fallout. 

They’ll be neck deep in a major Blüdhaven trafficking scheme. Dick probably doesn’t even know what’s happened or where he is right now and Tim isn’t capable of getting the both of them out before whoever Viro is arrives.

It doesn’t matter now.

Of course, with that depressing thought, the sound of heavy footsteps above makes themselves known. The entire time Tim’s been down here, he’s been hearing footsteps. But these... these are different. Haylee isn’t so heavyset and he walks with a slight hesitation to his left foot. The goons are not so sure of their footing... and again not as heavyset. 

The footsteps walk over the trap door and stop, as if something had caught their attention. Tim waits and rubs his eyes with his shoulder, terrified and curious to know who’s up there. Viro? A different partner or goon of Haylee’s?

The footsteps retreat a few steps off the trapdoor, there’s a shuffling of something stiff and soft. A rug. They put a rug over the trapdoor. 

A clinking of a latch.

A creaking of the hinges as the trapdoor is lifted open.

Light floods in and Tim blinks more tears from his eyes as his eyes struggle to adjust.  No ladder is placed down. Just the ruffling of fabric as a large body jumps down the opening in the ceiling and a grunt as the person lands in a crouch.

Now Tim blinks again. And not because of the tears. It’s because he recognizes this person. 

Red Hood stands up from his crouch, the light from the room above glinting off his crimson helmet.

And Tim feels more terrified than ever.

-o-o-o-o-

Jason doesn’t know what he’s just walked into. All he knew was that he was trying to be civil for once and not just barge into Dick’s territory without permission. He had thought to ask kindly and barge in whether or not Dick agreed or not, so that at least the guy had a warning that Jason was following his lead whether or not Nightwing allowed it.

Then his conversation got interrupted with a “Robin?” And “GET OFF HIM” and the line cut out with Dick just hanging up. So Jason thought screw that guy and told Oracle to shove it when his line was redirected to her. 

He got all the way to his safe house to sit down and review his lead, and he was in the middle of mapping possible hideouts in Blüdhaven that coincide with victim sightings when all of the sudden his window was smashed through by a girl dressed in purple that threw a viscous left on his jaw. 

Turns out, Dickhead and the little replacement are missing and because Jason was the last to speak with them, Oracle and her demon purple partner thought he would be responsible for helping track them down.

Oracle narrowed down the locations to a small list thanks to her creepy computer skills. Spoiler, as she called herself, went one direction and Jason was forced to take another.

The building was a shack in the woods outside of Gotham. About an hour and a half away from the main city. Jason doesn’t even know how O managed to get this place on her list, but at the same time he really didn’t care. His goal was to scope out each place on his list as fast as he can so he can wipe his hands of this mess and return to his lead. He doesn’t care what trouble Wing-nut and his little partner got into. He cares more about the missing kids that are going unnoticed because they’re homeless. The kids who have a lead in an entirely different direction in an entirely different city. 

Of course, the list location on his list just had to be the correct one.

There were no cars in the parking lot despite it being close to noon, and no one inside, though there were signs of recent activity. Muddy footprints in the ground that lead to a pump-well a minutes walk from the shack, chips of rust littering the ground next to the door, ghosts of boxes and other items marked by lines of dust. A glass of water sitting on a table that looked way too new compared to the rest of the interior. He was ready to call it a day and leave O and that new chick to continue their search on their own. He’s done his part. Nightwing and Robin’s girlfriends can search the entire world alone for all he cares. 

Wait, are O and Dickweed dating? Is anyone sure nowadays? Do they know?

He shakes his head. It’s hot in the shack and his leather jacket is not liking it. His uniform was made for working at night after all. Maybe he should see about getting an ac installed in his helmet.

He goes to walk out of the shack when he hears it. The echo of his own footsteps suddenly sounds different when he walks over a certain section of the floor. And it’s not because of the fugly green rug with silver embroidery. He shuffles a bit. Frowns. Steps off the rug and lifts it.

There’s a latch connected to a square of floor that’s disconnected from the rest wooden boards in the shack.

Gosh-diddly-darn it. He hopes it’s just a secret treasure stash or a skeleton cave or something totally unrelated to his current forced mission. 

He opens the trapdoor and darkness meets him. He can see stone floor below him, but everything else is covered in shadow. 

Then he hears the clanking of chains, bare feet brushing cold floor. 

He sighs. Of course. 

Before his own brain can convince him to shut the trapdoor and leave while pretending he didn’t see a thing, he knew that that would honestly be low even for him. He guesses he can go down and check if the two of them are still breathing and then he’ll pop O a message and have her find a way to retrieve him. He should have been in the ‘Haven hours ago. Operation Search and Retrieve wasn’t a part of his plans.

He jumps down and his helmet instantly adjusts to the dark of the room. There’s only one lightbulb down here, but it’s dim and doesn’t do a whole lot. 

Though, with it’s pitiful light and the adjusting of his helmet he can see all that he needs to see quite quickly. 

He sees Dick-miser first. It’s hard to miss. The guy is spread on a table and pinned down with leather straps with a contraption set above him with a series of wooden stands and chains from the ceiling. He’s gagged—whoever did this must be smart from that alone—and looking seemingly out of it. He walks over to the table and tilts his head at the half-lidded look beneath his mask. He brings his hand to the edge of the tape on Nightwing’s face and tears it off, his helmet covering the wince he won't attest to when he sees the irritated skin beneath. 

Nightwing doesn’t make a move to spit out the cloth. Which is strange. He’s normally ready and rearing to blabber, especially while in the presence of Jason. He looks up at the contraption above him and pokes at it, hardly even noting the small drop of water that falls from the tip of a tube. 

If the choked gasp and full body flinch is anything to go by, Nightwing seems painfully aware of it.

He barely even has enough time to consider Chinese and Water and Torture before there’s a muffled grunt behind him. He turns and sees Robin hanging from chains, toes just barely touching the ground, his eyes full of a boiling enragement that almost has Jason second look. Robin tugs on the chains on his bleeding wrists, feet scrambling for purchase, and Jason’s sure that if he weren’t wearing a gag he might even be swearing at Jason.

Well, he guesses he has to figure out what happened somehow; especially since the golden goose over there doesn’t seem to be present at the moment. 

He stalks over to Robin, and the kid seems to lose all of his earlier ferocity. There’s tear tracks on his cheeks. Fresh. It sends Jason back to haze-filled, green-tinted memories of warehouses and crowbars and laughter that he has to take a deep breath before he rips off the tape so he doesn’t accidentally punch a wall. Not that he cares about the kid. You don’t brutally beat up someone just for existing just to care about them a few months later. Jason is well aware that he’s a bad guy in Robin’s eyes. He’s fine with that.

It’s still hard for him to not think of him as a hurt, crying kid when Robin spits out the cloth in his mouth and says with a watery thickness in his voice that’s somehow still as sharp as steel, “What the f-fuck are you doing here?”

Awe. He said a no no word. And by the way he dragged the beginning of the ‘f’ for a moment tells that he’s not normally a swearer. He said a no-no-word all for Jason. Adorable. 

“Here to save your butts,” Jason says, crossing his arms and not making any moves to help Robin out of his chains yet. 

He’s so tiny, hanging there like that. He’s tinier than what Jason remembers too... back when he was so angry and wanted nothing more than to get under Butt-man’s skin. Robin didn’t look this tiny in Titan’s tower. Did he shrink or something? (Or had Jason gained a new guilt conscious...?)

He quickly disregards that train of thought.

“What happened?” Is what he asks instead of thinking more into how small and scared Robin looks, stripped down into someone else’s clothes, trails of tears on his cheeks and trails of blood down his arms.

Robin’s glare hardens. “What does it look like,” he hisses. “How did you find us?”

“Our mutual computer whiz did the legwork,” Jason replies, “and your girlfriend packs a mean left.”

Robin freezes for a second, then a red blush falls on his cheeks that isn’t from the blotchiness of crying. “Spoiler- sh-she’s not my- it doesn’t matter. Where’s Haylee?”

“A chick?” Jason asks, amusement fluttering in his chest.

Robin’s glare comes back full force. Jason bets he’s been practicing in the mirror. “Ross Haylee.”

Jason hums. He recognizes the name. Most of his lackeys are down on their luck no-goods that have no where else to turn without committing to a life of a Gotham Rouge hench. “A thieving re-seller did this to you?”

Yes,” Robin says through his teeth. “Now, get us out-“

“V’ro-“ a voice from behind, and Jason stills. Robin quiets too, because clearly Jason wasn’t the only one who didn’t expect to hear Dick talk. Jason might not know exactly what happened to him, but Jason knows a torture victim when he sees one.

“What was that?” Jason asks, turning around to see the rag previously in Dick’s mouth sitting on his bare chest, right in one of the dips in his collar-bones. Dick is licking his lips and taking large breaths of air, clearly trying everything he can to return to the world of the living. 

Dick mouths something and Jason frowns. He walks forward, ignoring Robin’s half-hearted snarl to keep away from Dick. Once he’s in front of Nightwing, he leans forward and lifts an eyebrow even though Nightwing wouldn’t be able to see that.

“Ro...” Dick squeezes his eyes shut, face twisting in frustration when his chest jolts with a panicked breath. Jason really hopes Dick doesn’t work himself into a panic attack. He doesn’t want to deal with that. Dick tries again. “V.. ro...”

“Viro?” Jason asks, his blood going cold. Dick gasps and swallows, closing his eyes and retreating back into whatever haze he was just in. Clearly, he had used whatever awareness he could scavenge up to say something that sounded a whole lot like... 

He turns back to Robin, who was watching the entire exchange with wide eyes, knowing Dick was of no use now.

“Did he just say Viro?”

Robin stares at him like he’s sprouted a second head, before his fists squeeze into fists. “At noon... some lady who runs a- a trafficking scheme called Viro is going to come and buy us.”

“Here?” Jason asks, his heart pounding. “Theresa Burkley is coming here? Herself?”

Tim gives him an odd look. “They... they didn’t tell us her name but-“

Jason stops listening. The missing homeless kids in Gotham. The sightings in the ‘Haven at various clubs and suspected factories that use child labor. The name of a trafficking ring he had to shake out of some thug he saw trying to nab a ten year old girl before he killed himself. 

His lead.

“It doesn’t matter though,” Robin was saying, and Jason has to blink back to the present, “you’re... we’ll be gone before she comes. Right...?”

There’s hope and fear in his eyes. He tries not to think about how Dick screamed at him almost a month ago that he used to be Jason’s biggest fan. Jason almost regrets telling the kid no. 

This is too important. So important that Nightwing crawled back from unconsciousness just to let Jason know about it. 

“You said noon, yeah?” He muses more than asks, and Robin’s face falls slightly in realization. Smart kid. “It’s almost eleven thirty.”

“You want to leave us here so you can catch her in the act,” Robin says, his voice sharp. 

“You’re not going to fight me on this, right kid?” Jason asks, because honestly the thought of shoving the gag back into his mouth while he struggles makes his stomach twist oddly. 

Robin looks at Dick. Swallows. Then sags in his chains just a bit. “If Nightwing... agrees... then...”

“Smart kid,” Jason thinks again, but this time says it out loud too. Robin gives the rag Jason picks up a green look and Jason lifts an eyebrow. He has to catch Burkley—and Haylee too he supposes—by surprise. 

Robin sighs and looks right at Jason. “Jason...” he says, catching Jason by total surprise. Hasn’t this kid ever heard of names and their relationship to the field? Robin continues anyway, and what he says has a weight to them Jason instantly doesn’t like. “I told them.”

“Told them... what?”

“Bruce.”

For a moment, Jason is confused. Then, he understands.

He doubles forward laughing.

It takes a moment for him to get a hold of himself. It’s not that funny, but it really really is. Once his sides hurt and he can practically feel the glare of the tiny Robin, he stands up again and wipes under his eye. “I can’t believe it,” he says, “you’re going to go down as the first Robin B-man kills himself.”

Pure panic flashes in Robin’s eyes and Jason gives a happy sigh.

“Look, I don’t know why you think this is going to affect me. Jason Todd is dead. Really, all this is going to do is put the man himself and most likely Dickface in the spotlight. Who knows you might be spared from it all because it’s not like your civilian ID has any public connections to the Waynes’. I don’t care if this Haylee guy screams B’s name from the Empire State Building.”

“I... I just thought-“

“What? That I care about him? Or you?” Robin frowns and Jason continues with another sigh. “Or what? That I’d kill Haylee before he can spill?”

Robin flinches at that and something green creeps up in the corners of Jason’s vision. He lashes out his hand and grabs Robin by the neck, earning a terrified squeak. Good. He doesn’t squeeze. Just holds him still as he leans in. 

“I have news for you,” Jason hisses, “I’m not your scapegoat. You blurted the name, and you’ll deal with the fallout.”

“I’m sorry,” Robin whispers, “I didn’t mean-“

The sound of a distant engine. The green fades. Shit. Someone is coming. Before Robin can finish his sentence Jason shoves the rag into his mouth and uses a strip of his own duct-tape—it’s more efficient than cable-ties and easier to get than Batman’s restraints—to cover his mouth. He only feels slightly bad about turning away and doing the same to Dick; who flinches the moment Jason touches his face but he forces himself to not care.

He strides over to the trapdoor and climbs his way out without looking back.

After shutting the trap door and rolling the carpet back over, he’s out the window and peaking around the outside corner of the shack just in time to see a salt-and-peppered man jump out of a truck. There’s blood on his hands and he has no goons. Jason almost feels sorry for them.

The man Jason can only assume is Ross Haylee goes into the shack and disappears inside. Jason slides down so he’s crouching against the wall and pulls out one of his guns.

Then, he waits.

-o-o-o-o-

Haylee doesn’t go down into the cellar to taunt his two captives. He just sits there at the table and sips at a monster energy drink. Jason quickly grows bored of half-watching him and turns to watch the road leading up here. He’s glad that he hid his bike in the woods, that way Haylee and Burkley will have no idea what’s coming.

Luckily, he doesn’t have to wait long.

There’s the sound of a van, and when it comes into view Jason’s hit with the cliche-ness of it all. It’s a classic kidnapping van. A compartment in the front for the driver and passenger, and then the rest of the car is just metal walls. They at least had the forethought to deck the van out in a fake plumbing company's logos, which is surprisingly less suspicious than just a plain black van.

Jason’s sure that if Burkley has her way, Dick and Robin would be stuffed in the back of that van, trussed up like thanksgiving turkeys, off to be sold to whoever can spend the most money on them. 

When the car parks and Haylee leaves the shack to shake hands with a woman with auburn hair and brown tinted shades, Jason grins. 

She has two goons with her—one who was in the passenger seat and the other who jumped out the back—both carrying rather fun looking rifles that Jason wouldn’t mind getting his hands on just for the fun of taking apart. He bets they take 223’s or something similar. Not very lethal with one bullet, but can be very lethal if shot multiple rounds a second. You don’t need to be precise with those types of guns. All you do is aim in the general direction of your target and wave the gun around back and forth and up and down a few times. The target will be Swiss Cheese by the time the magazine is empty. 

Which is why he doesn’t make his move yet. He sits and waits until Haylee invites Burkley inside. One goon follows her in and the other waits by the door.

She’s thorough, Jason’ll give her that.

“The money will be transferred the second I see the both of them,” Burkley is saying, reaching into a black bag around her shoulders and taking out a cigarette. The smell wafts through the window and Jason’s nose wrinkles. 

He’s so glad the pit cured his smoking addition. He didn’t mean to get on it in the first place before he was Robin but... when you’re homeless and hungry... well the lack of appetite a smoke can give you becomes rather tempting. 

He hates the smell now. He can’t wait to blow out her kneecaps. 

“I assure you they’re both down in the basement. Just let me get it open for ya-“

The goon inside keeps her gun trained in a conspicuous sorta way as he lifts the rug and opens the trapdoor. He grabs a wooden ladder leaning against the wall and lowers it down. “Ladies first?”

“If you weren’t such a useful alley, I would have killed you for that,” Burkley says, her voice unimpressed. Jason almost wants to scream at them to quit the foreplay so he can get this done already. “But I’ll accept this once. That way, if Nightwing and Robin are not the ones waiting for me down there, I won't have to kill you myself.”

“You know I love it when you threaten me like that.”

Jason wants to barf.

Thankfully, she walks past Haylee and lowers herself down the ladder. Haylee smirks at the goon before following her down. Their voices start up again but Jason ignores it.

Time to move. 

He rushes forward with precision. Before the first goon can even widen his eyes Jason whips him with the back of his pistol. The goon goes down silently and Jason kicks the gun away. He then enters the shack through the window as the second goon is looking the other way. This will be harder. If this one makes even a peep the jig will be up and Jason will be forced to make sure Nightwing and Robin don’t get themselves killed. O would kill him. Jason doesn’t think he’s so unlucky he’ll be brought back a second time.

He reaches into his belt and pulls out a cloth and a jar of something a little stronger than chloroform. And by a little he means a lot. Illegally so. He dips the drug onto the cloth then stalks forward. He wraps the hand with the cloth around the goon’s mouth and she flails for just a few moments before he goes limp against his chest. He manages to catch her rifle and lower her down silently before he drags her away and stashes her under the table. He crouches behind the table as well, waiting with his pistol trained for the moment Haylee and Burkley show their sick faces.

He doesn’t wait long. Burkley calls for her goons and they don’t answer. Haylee comes up first, and then Burkley, both looking weary and confused.

Jason shoots the back of her knee and she goes down screaming. Haylee turns around, whipping his own handgun out and shooting before aiming. The bullet hardly makes a notable dent in the wall next to Jason’s head. It must be something pathetic. A .22 or something. Jason buys the good stuff. The self defense stuff. .9mil might be mainstream but man does it do the job, Burkley’s ruined knee testament to that.

“Red Hood!” Haylee yells, aiming for real this time. It’s almost a shame Jason is faster. He fires and hit’s Haylee’s hand, knocking the firearm out of his grasp and causing the man to wail like an injured alley mutt. Jason then dives forward to dodge the shot Burkley was aiming at him in her pain filled haze and whips Haylee across the forehead with his pistol. Haylee goes down and Jason turns without a second thought to swipe the heel of his boots across Burkley’s forehead. She crumples and Jason stands up tall, blowing the barrel of his pistol for dramatic effect before stuffing it back into the holster on his hip.

Armatures. They’re nothing without their army of goons.

It’s pathetic, really. Jason is quite honestly offended.

He makes quick work of dragging the goon from outside inside. He grabs his trusty roll of duct-tape and makes even quicker work of binding all of their arms being their backs as well as their ankles behind their masks. He takes great joy in the unconscious hiss of pain Burkley gives when he tapes a torn piece of fabric from her own shirt around her knee tightly. He doesn’t want her passing out before he interrogates her thoroughly on the location of each and every Gotham kid she’s ever taken. She’ll regret her career choice soon if she isn’t already.

Once he’s sure they’re all bound, he notices Haylee beginning to stir. He grins and lifts the man up by the collar of his shirt, slamming him against the wall. He wakes up fully then, his eyes blown wide in terror. Jason leans in, making sure Haylee gets a good look at his own panicked face in the reflection of his helmet. 

“A little birdie tells me you know something you shouldn’t,” Jason says, using one hand to keep Haylee pinned against the wall and the other to grab at his pistol. He presses it into Haylee’s gut. Haylee’s whimpers like an over fed rich kid told Christmas is canceled. “So here’s the deal. There’s more bats than just Batman and his little birdie. An army of them. Many of them the public doesn’t even know exist. You tell anyone, and you’ll have to deal with them.” He presses the gun deeper into Haylee’s gut. “And me.”

“B-Batman doesn’t kill.”

“No,” Jason agrees, “but I’m not Batman. And neither are the others. The only reason you’re not seeing your insides splattered on the ground right now is because I’d like to keep off Batman’s bad side for a little while longer. Capeesh?”

Haylee nods frantically.

“I wanna hear you say caposh, old man,” Jason hisses, twisting his gun.

“Caposh, caposh!”

Jason drops him to the ground and grabs his hair, slamming his head into the wall. The image of Nightwing flinching at a drop of water flashes in his mind as he does so. And oddly enough, he’s not that mad about it. Haylee is a monster, and not even Dick deserves torture like that. 

He surveys the room. Everyone bound? Check. Unconscious? Check-a-reno. He turns towards the trap door, taking care to accidentally kick Burkley as he passes her, and skips the ladder to jump down into the cellar, feeling giddy.

“So?” He asks, spreading his arms wide in a praise me sort of way. Robin gives an unimpressed glare and Dick looks dead to the world.

Tough crowd.

Regardless, he walks towards Robin and picks the locks to the chain. He lets the kid fall to his rear and clutch his bleeding wrists, not really willing to do much more. He turns and begins to cut at the leather binds on Dick’s body, noting the little bead of blood on his neck and the soft, deep breathing Dick’s giving. They must have drugged him with the intention of dragging him off without causing any major panic attacks.

That’s fine. Makes it easier for Jason really. 

He forces Dick up and rips off the neck brace before lifting the unconscious Nightwing’s arm around his shoulders. Big bird is heavy but Jason can deadlift more than five hundred pounds, so it’s really not that big of a deal.

He turns back towards Robin and lifts an eye. “Ya alive over there?”

Robin rips off the tape on his mouth and spits out the rag, glaring at Jason with shaking hands. Robin better hope Alfred takes a look at those cuts soon, could get infected, especially considering that those chains might not have been very clean.

“Did you kill anyone?”

“Oh, so now you care?” Jason asks, lifting an eyebrow. Robin bites his lip, shifting nervously on his feet like a newborn fawn.

Jason sighs. He’ll tease the brat later.

“C’mon,” he says, “let’s blow this joint.”

Robin looks like he wants to ask if Jason means that literally or not, and Jason smirks, leaving him to wonder. 

It almost takes more work than what it’s worth to drag Dick’s ungrateful and unconscious royal-behind up the ladder into the shack. He does manage though, it’s Robin that he’s worried about. The kid looks like he could do with that Monster Haylee was drinking earlier. Or a nap. Either or. Jason doesn’t care. 

He sets Dick down more carefully than he cares to think too much about onto the floor of the shack and turns towards the open door, looking at the two cars presented to him and trying to decide which one would be better. He’ll have to come back for his bike later. 

The truck would be preferable, because of the inconspicuous look to it. But the van has plenty of room to hide hostages but less room for Jason, Robin, and Dickwing in the front.

What to choose what to choose.

He weighs the pros and cons and right when he regretfully and ultimately decides on the van, he hears a shout behind him.

“Hood, look out!”

Jason turns on his heels just in time to watch as Haylee—who apparently wasn’t as unconscious as Jason thought—aims one of those rifles right at Jason, the tape around his wrists cut by a knife Jason must have missed. 

Haylee is sneering as he presses the trigger. 

Then, there’s a blur of black and the face of the one and only Freddy Mercury stares right at Jason as Robin jumps into the line of fire and takes the bullet right to his arm.

Jason is too shocked to say anything, especially as Robin doesn’t react more than a slight stumble. The kid runs forward and slams into Haylee. Haylee gives a shocked cry and trips on his feet. One foot goes over the edge of the trap door.

There’s a waving of arms. A shout. Then a crash followed by a sickening snapping noise. Robin sits on the floor, staring at the trapdoor and clutching his arm that’s beginning to ooze blood.

And Jason sees green.

He sees green because Robin was hurt on his watch. Robin was hurt protecting Jason.

And Jason beat him to a bloodied pulp just a few months prior. 

He swallows and walks towards the trapdoor. He looks down and feels nothing when he sees the odd angle Haylee’s still head is at. 

He snapped his neck on one of the ladder bars. 

He hears Robin shift behind him and he closes the trapdoor.

“Let’s get out of here,” he says, and Robin doesn’t say anything.

-o-o-o-o-

The radio is broken, which stinks because he’s forced to sit in silence and listen to Robin’s choppy breaths and Dick’s way too slow ones. They’re stuffed in the passenger seat together, the rest of the goons and Burkley in the back of the van. The only kind of reaction Jason notices from Robin the entire hour and a half drive back to Gotham is the quick ducking he does whenever a patrol car comes too close.

They’re just entering the city when Robin finally decides to speak.

“I killed him.”

Jason remembers a man falling off the balcony of a multistoried building, his hands just out of reach to catch. 

“Bruce is going to hate me,” Robin continues, his voice choking.

Jason remembers being benched. He remembers being told about a birth mother. He remembers going straight away to Ethiopia.

Jason sighs. “You didn’t kill him. The fall did.”

“But-“ 

“You can’t save everyone, Tim,” Jason says, the name sounding odd on his tongue.

Robin must understand something he shouldn’t because he doesn’t argue further.

-o-o-o-o-

When Dick wakes up, he’s pretty sure he’s high as a kite on sedatives. He blinks, the movement stiff because of gunk caught between his eyes, and comes to a shadowy world of blurs. He turns his head—which shouldn’t feel as... freeing as it does...—and finds Tim sleeping on a cot next to him. Dick smiles and reaches his hand out, feeling confused of what happened or why they’re here, but he supposes he’ll find out later. Though the sweat on his forehead makes his chest ache in strange discomfort he's too tired to understand yet.

He grabs Tim’s hand and Tim shifts in his sleep, humming sleepily.

Dick sighs, his eyelids beginning to want to droop as a small, wet cough begins to want to tear though his throat. 

He doesn’t fight sleep. He’s just happy that whatever happened—and he’s sure he’ll remember sooner or later—that Tim is safe.

And he gets the feeling that somewhere, Jason is safe too.

-o-o-o-o-

Ttt

Chapter Text

Dick… honestly doesn't know what he was thinking when he started dating Chloe. 

She's a civilian and she has the personality of someone he just… can't stand. Dick prides himself on being a people person, but sometimes… sometimes he has to take a deep breath around her and not kick her out of his apartment. She talks loudly and rudely, she gossips, she is constantly setting herself on a pedestal and looking down on others and Dick doesn't know what he was thinking when he started dating her. 

Because she's moved in, and Dick can't escape her.

And maybe it's because she's gentle and sweet when she wants to be, and she didn't show her true side until she had a drawer in his dresser and a toothbrush in his bathroom. Maybe it's because Dick isn't known for giving up on people, even when they probably don't deserve his faith in them. Maybe it's because Dick doesn't actually know how to break up with someone; most of his breakups had been because the other half of the partnership was done with him

Maybe because Dick's still reeling over his last fight with Bruce and he doesn't know how to say no to the first person who finds him useful. 

It makes patrol infinitely harder too. He would have told her he's not ready for living together but she came to him several days ago with her entire room packed into her car, telling a sob story about how she quit her job because it wasn't worth the broken nails and she can't pay her landlord and Dick couldn't say no. 

He planned to have her sleep on the couch or something until she got back on her feet, but next thing he knew three quarters of his closet is hers and half of his bed is hers and the food in his fridge is hers and the everything that is his is hers. He hates coming home now, whenever he's done with his day job and he comes home and just wants to relax before heading out for the night she's crawling on top of him and clutching his hair as she kisses him breathless and he can't say no. 

He's been having to make excuses to get out of sex, out of spending the night with her pressed against his body in the most blood-pumping ways. Just so he can go out and stop a few robberies and muggings. Not because her body against his feels like poison. Not because he feels like poison. Just to patrol.

So he makes excuses. 

Excuses like he forgot something at work or a friend needs help or he promised someone that he'd drive them across town. He can normally get away from her for a few hours, not as long as he'd like, but long enough to make the night slightly safer without her screaming at him when he came home. 

Tonight, it was shopping. They were out of milk—milk that he dumped down the sink—and a few other things so he told her that he'll go to Walmart and grab a few things and she nodded and gave him permission. He spent a good two hours tonight patrolling the worst of the 'Haven, and then before heading back he grabbed stuff from the furthest Walmart from where he lived, already planning the excuse that all the other ones were out of cream cheese. If the night workers thought anything strange about Nightwing coming into the store and buying fifty dollars worth of food in cash they didn't say anything. God bless retail workers. 

After grappling down in the alley a block from his apartment and getting redressed back into his sweats and his old BCPD tee-shirt he mostly just uses to sleep in ever since he quit the force, he walks into his front door, arms ladened with groceries—which made it super hard to grapple by the way—already talking about traffic and cream cheese the moment he sees her sitting at the kitchen table.

She then pulls out her phone and shows him a phone tracking app she has, and that it's showing Dick's contact photo right on top of his home in Google Maps. He sets down the groceries and pulls out his phone, finding the very same app hidden in his phone's storage, notifications turned off so if he wasn't told or didn't comb through every app in his system, he would never notice it. 

"What's the real reason, Dick Grayson?" She asks before he can demand how she even got it on his phone, how she knew his passcode. "Are you cheating on me?"

And Dick wants to scream no. No he'd never cheat on her, even if she's controlling and rude and narcissistic. He can't have another relationship end that way. Not when it ended that way with Kori and Babs… 

He will never cheat. Not again...

He tries to tell her so, trying to tell her whatever excuse he can think of at the top of his head. Something about needing fresh air and a long drive but the more he talks the more cold she looks. 

"Do you think I'm stupid?" She hisses, and Dick's blood freezes.

"Do you think I'm stupid?" Bruce growls when Dick tries to explain it was an accident. Bruce doesn't believe him, he's angry and worried and doesn't believe him. Cass is unconscious while Duke and Tim do their best to lower her in the cot and stay out of Alfred's way as he begins to check her over for injuries. 

"No, Bruce, that's what happened-" Dick argues back, frustration crawling in his gut like an old friend. It was all a trap, Professor Pyg, as creepy and horrible as he is, can be rather clever and smart when he wants to be. He's an honorary member of Gotham's usual Rouge Gallery for a reason. When he escapes Arkham, it's code yellow, which means anyone nearby who can help should get their butt to the cave at the earliest convenience. Dick was just thankful that Damian was with Jon and the rest of the Teen Titans for the weekend. The poor kid hates Pyg for a lot of understandable reasons. 

Dick hates Pyg too. He had something good with Shawn. But Pyg made her realize that Dick's dangerous, and a relationship with him can be deadly. The realization probably hit harder too because of the baby scare. Knowing Dick won't only get her killed, but the child they almost thought… 

And Dick was in town anyway because Tim was tracking down some gangster Dick helped arrest last time and he thought he'd help out and give as many helpful tips as he could. 

One thing led to another—Pyg escaped and Dick came running to help. He and Cass entered the warehouse together, and Dick tripped on a wire, igniting a dosage of some sort of sleeping gas right into his face and got a gun pressed to his head from one of Pyg's puppets, forcing Cass to surrender unless she wanted to see Dick's brains splattered everywhere. 

"You were careless and you almost got Cassandra/killed," Bruce was snarling, because there were acid marks left on her mask from where Pyg tried to fuse a puppet's face through her uniform. There were burns on her cheeks, ones that will heal and won't scar, but Bruce is still angry. Still needs someone to blame without going to Arkham and beating Pyg to a pulp. 

And Bruce doesn't know the whole story. He's not letting Dick tell the whole story. All he sees is Cassandra hurt and unconscious—because it seemed even Pyg was afraid of Black Bat enough to keep her knocked out—and Dick who was the one who tripped the wire and who got held hostage and who was the entire reason they were caught in the first place. 

It's been years since Bruce had punched Dick. The last time was before Spyral when Bruce beat him into letting his family continue to think he's dead even though he told him no. I trained you to live and I watched you die

Like that was Dick's fault too. And Dick couldn't say no. 

Right now, Dick wouldn't be surprised if Bruce threw a punch. Everyone knows he's protective of Cass. Maybe it's because she's the only daughter. Maybe it's because she knows how to read him perfectly. Maybe it's because she's the perfect soldier. 

Maybe maybe maybe maybe. Regardless, Bruce's fists are shaking and his eye is twitching and Dick can almost feel the punch coming.

So he lashes out first. 

"Would you listen to me for once?!" He shouts, curling his hands into fists. 

Bruce whirls on Dick, his face turns into a snarl, and Dick wants to rip the cowl off. "I will not listen to you when you yell, Richard."

And Dick… and Dick sees red. The use of his name. The blaming? Dick has so much anger built into his limbs now that he- he- "YOU NEVER LISTEN TO ME!" 

Bruce's scowl turns cold and Dick turns, wringing his hands in his hair and heaving breaths of air. He needs- he-

Tim and Duke stand there, eyes wide, and Dick remembers that they've never seen this. Jason knew how bad it could get. But Tim and Duke… Dick doesn't want to do this here. He doesn't want to do this. He-

He's still so angry. Blood boiling. Somewhere in his head he knows that screaming at Bruce is going to do a fat load of nothing, but he's always had people tip-toeing around his temper. His bipolar tendencies. 

Heaven, Mary, and Jesus just thinking of the phrase is getting him all worked up again. 

He turns on Bruce, glaring and ignoring how his wrists itch in a way that begs for something to… to hurt. "You never listen to me. Even if I fucking whisper."

Bruce regards Dick with no emotion. 

Then, two words he's always hated hearing since he was seventeen and recovering from a bullet-wound courtesy of the Joker. 

"Get. Out."

And that's just so typical of Bruce, isn't it? It almost sends him stumbling. 

But he doesn't. He just glares. "No."

"No?"

"No. We're going to talk about this like normal fucking human beings and-"

Bruce plows forward, stalking towards Dick and looking taller than what Dick could have sworn he was a second ago. This time, Dick does stumble back, his words choking in his throat as Bruce stands above him, heartless white eyes staring right into his soul. "You have no claim to make demands, Nightwing. I told you to get out." Batman leans in, teeth flashing. "So. Get. Out."

"How can you say that?" Dick whispers, his throat choking him. Bruce said Nightwing. Bruce is dissociating. Bruce is handling this like Batman. Dick needs Bruce back. Otherwise… otherwise he will lose. "You have no right to-"

"No right?" Batman demands cruelly and Dick knows he's lost right then and there. "I have every right. You have compromised the mission and endangered a team-mate and almost got her killed. You are no longer welcome to work with us until you get good enough to be useful."

"B-" Dick tries, flinching at the word useful. "B- you can't kick me out. Not again, you can't-"

"And why not?"

Don't answer Dick. "Because… because I'm your son."

He should have not said anything. He should have said okay and let Bruce cool off and let himself cool off. He should have said nothing. 

Because Bruce's face wouldn't have twisted like this if Dick had just said nothing.

With the force of a lion, Batman howls. "YOU ARE NOT MY SON."

And the world crumbles. Batman doesn't even touch him, just leans more forward and Dick's legs give out. There's a shout from the med-bay but Dick can only see Batman and Batman can only see uselessness and failure. 

"You are my former ward. You are an asset. A partner. A comrade. But you've never been my son."

And there's fire behind Dick's eyes. 

"And until you understand that," Batman continues, "Get. Out."

And Dick runs. 

He runs because there's no coming back from this one. Dick's never setting foot in the manor again. He doesn't have any parents or siblings or family- just co-workers and disappointed bosses. 

Dick's fooled himself into thinking he belonged somewhere again. 

And he runs. Grabbing everything he can without running into anybody from his- the bedroom he would spend the nights in.

And he runs. 

And he ran to Blüdhaven. 

And he ran to a bar. 

And he ran into Chloe. 

And he ran into trouble. 

And here he is, a few weeks later, feeling the burn in his legs that's begging him to run again. Run from the girl seething in front of him, who broke into his phone and tracked him and is accusing him of cheating, who won't listen to any excuses be gives, who won't believe him, who won't trust him, who won't-

Dick's useless. He'd dumb and slow and useless and no one ever sticks around him long. 

She asked if she looked stupid to him. Dick could say no and she'd be right. He could say yes and she'd be right

It doesn't matter what happened. 

Because she'll be right and he'll be wrong because he's always wrong even on the things he's most sure about. 

So he shakes his head and drops his shoulders.

"I'm sorry," he says, "I cheated on you."

And why does it sound so much like the truth? He's sure if he confessed and admitted to Nightwing it wouldn't sound as true as those four words. 

Because he's wrong wrong wrong and always uselessly wrong. Everyone besides him are right, always

She strides forward and strikes him across the cheek. He can't help but feel like he deserves it. 

"Fine," Chloe says, her voice wobbling, "I don't need you anyway. My ex texted me last night, says he wants to try again. Can't believe I almost told him no…" she sighs, "he was better in bed anyway."

And ow, that shouldn't hurt as much as it does. To think Dick is so useless to this woman now that even that isn't good enough for her. 

And it turns out, she was already packed and had already stuffed her car. With a final goodbye she strides out and Dick feels empty. 

He watches her rush to her car in her high heels from his apartment window, and he almost watches her leave too, just to torture himself some more. He doesn't know why this all hurts so much. She wasn't someone he'd want to stick around anyway…

But he doesn't watch her go, because his eyes land on a second car that's just pulled in next to where her car is parked in the residential lot.

He recognizes the car. And when the doors open, he recognizes the passengers as well.

He closes the blinds, panic swelling in his chest.

Because out the driver's door was Jason, and out from shot-gun was Duke, and from the back doors unloaded Tim and Damian and Cass-

He runs. He runs and locks the front door and turns off his lights and tries his best to make it seem like no one is home even though Dick knows better. They're all smart kids. Smarter than him. They probably noticed he was home before they even parked the car. 

It doesn't stop him from trying though. 

Except he didn't expect them to outsmart him, because after locking his front door he turns to find none other than Jason climbing through his living room window. 

Dick's five stories up. 

He stops in his tracks and watches as Jason hops into his apartment, shutting the window and grinning a classic Jason grin, all teeth and all lopsided. "We have ice cream, and we don't want it to melt before we convince you to open the door," he explains and Dick stands there, his heart in his ears. 

"Why?" Dick whispers. What are they here, why have they brought ice cream, why why why. He swallows. "You guys here to yell at me too?"

And he doesn't mean to ask that. He has to force himself to keep from flinching when Jason's grin falls. Jason shuffles on his feet and Dick does his best to prepare for another onslaught of accusations he can't deny. He clutches his wrist. They're hurting again. His fingernails might even break skin by the end of this. 

"Tim told me what happened," Jason says, his voice laced with anger. 

Dick almost flinches again at the tone alone. Jason watches him, the anger suddenly forcibly shoved out from his facial features. Dick can always tell when Jason is trying his best to not get angry. He'll always fold his arms and grip the inside of his upper-arms; his eyes looking a tad bit greener. 

"Look," Jason continues, just a bit softer, "none of us... none of us agree with him."

Dick doesn't get a chance to ask Jason to elaborate, because there's a knocking on his door and he practically jumps out of his skin. He feels like he's going to throw up. He wants them all to go. Just leave him alone. Let him just be alone like he's always destined to be. 

But Jason's grin comes back and he places a hand on Dick's shoulder as he walks past, squeezing slightly, before letting go and unlocking Dick's door. 

There's five smiling faces behind the door. He didn't see Steph getting out of the car—and with a secret nudge of amusement he wonders where they hid her in the car, it only has five seats—but here she is, holding one of three Walmart bags, each occupying two half-gallons of Tillamook ice cream of various flavors. Dick doesn't have room in his freezer for all the ice cream. They must intend to eat it all here.

"Family movie night!" Tim announces, walking inside and setting his own bag of ice-cream on the counter. Cookie-dough and mint in his. Damian walks inside too, heading straight to the sink to start washing bowls by hand because he knows there won't be any in the cupboards, Dick never does the dishes. 

And as everyone else begins to walk inside and crowd his apartment, kicking off shoes and jumping on his sofa, he can only just stand and watch and listen to the pounding in his ears. 

Then, slender arms wrap around his torso and he looks down to see Cass pressing herself against him in the best kind of way. The way that has him lifting his chin to make room for her shorter stature beneath his jaw, the way that has him wrap one arm around her shoulders and another around her head without even realizing it, pressing her tighter against himself as a wave of there's a person here he loves so much and they're real and in his arms and breathing and warm crashes against him.

"I yelled at him," Cass says and Dick almost lets out a wet laugh because he would have loved to see that. "He was wrong. You were right. You saved me."

Her hands clutch the back of his shirt and something does escape his mouth. Something caught between a laugh and a sob. He leans down and buries his head in her hair. 

Because she told Bruce that it was she herself who didn't notice the tripwire, too busy fighting off a Pyg puppet. As phenomenal as Cass is, sometimes even she misses stuff here and there. It's rare. But Dick noticed it. He pushed her away from the wire, not knowing what it would do, and got hit in the face with sleeping gas. Mild compared to other stuff that it could be. 

And Bruce always believes Cass. 

His hug is suddenly interrupted by a bowl being shoved under his nose—chocolate-peanut butter with an ungodly amount of chocolate syrup piled on top—by none other that Jason. Dick feels Cass give him one last squeeze before backing up and smiling like the sun. 

Dick takes the bowl, wiping under his eyes with his shoulder, and turning to see Duke pull out a DVD from the backpack he's gotten in the habit of always carrying around. "I brought Newsies!" 

"Newsies?!" Jason says, outraged, though he doesn't look… angry. Just… fake offended. 

"I thought you liked musicals," Steph says, scooting to make room for Cass besides her. Dick feels Damian grab his shirt and practically drag him to the sofa, sitting Dick down next to Duke and inserting himself next to Dick, shoving Tim aside. 

"Yeah but I'm no traitor to New Jersey," Jason says back while Duke rolls his eyes and Cass looks confused. Steph leans over to explain the relationship between New Jersey and New York that even Dick doesn't really understand either but it still causes him to make… the beginning of a smile at the normalness of it all. 

Tim is elbowing Damian's side because "you're touching me" and "scoot over, gremlin-" and Jason is already humming Seize the Day despite his earlier protests while Steph and Duke argue which version of Newsies is the best version—movie vs Broadway. 

And Dick… feels light for the first time all week. 

Because he's here with his family, and no matter what Bruce does or say… 

He knows now he can always count on them.