They knew they weren’t going to win the battle.
With opponents on all sides, the League, Titans and Young Justice were outnumbered nearly fifty to one, and with many of them sustaining injuries already, there was little chance everyone would get out alive, if at all.
Jason fought next to Dick with his knives, as he had run out of ammo about two hours ago, as well as losing his hood because of a well-timed crack at the back of his head. About the same time, he had realised that they were fighting a probably losing battle against an almost limitless enemy. Vandal Savage, after not being seen for many years, had resurfaced with many other villains by his side. The Justice League had rushed to the scene, but when they saw the sheer number of enemies, they had called everyone in.
It wasn’t until the first few waves of enemies that Bruce had discovered that Savage had been producing robots inside the core of their base. It was well protected with hundreds of guards, but was visible from miles away, due to its massive size and the fact that it pulsed blue every hour. They figured that was when the soldiers were being produced.
At this rate, they would be overwhelmed by dawn.
After careful deliberation, the huge group of heroes had agreed that someone needed to get inside of the core to try and destroy it. It was then decided that Nightwing would be the one to do it. Originally, one of the Speedsters were going to do it, before Oracle warned them that a magnetic field surrounding the core would knock out their powers, and they would be shot within seconds. Then Batman suggested himself, but that idea was shot down when Superman said it would be recognised if one of the Justice League’s founders was missing, so Nightwing was suggested by Hal Jordan.
Bruce and Jason had argued against it, but with everyone agreeing with Nightwing being the best choice, they couldn’t come up with a reason against it. Finally Jason had said that he would go with Nightwing, for back up.
Dick knew exactly what they were going to do.
Once everyone was in agreement, plans began to form. Dick and Jason would use the general confusion that surrounded them to slip towards the back of the dome and take out the guards surrounding it, setting the charges on the power core and getting out before it blew, where the League could take out the last of the robots and prevent them from killing any more civilians.
Nightwing and Red Hood gathered their charges in silence, fingers brushing together. Everyone cleared out of their small temporary base as Bruce approached his eldest sons. He took off his cowl and Dick and Jason followed suit and were shocked to see tears gathering in the corner of Bruce’s eyes. Without a word, he embraced his sons in a tight grip, hands shaking.
“Look after Ace for me, Dad.” Dick whispered, not letting his own tears fall.
Jason didn’t say anything, just breathed out shakily as they parted. Bruce placed a heavy hand on their shoulders.
“I am so proud of you. You were always better than me, and I’m proud to call you my sons.”
They parted, and Bruce walked out of the door. Damian and Tim approached them slowly, both trying equally hard not to break down. Dick dropped to his knees with his arms out and both launched themselves at him. Jason wrapped his arms around them from the back.
“Don’t leave me with just Drake, Grayson, Todd. Okay? I order you to return… please?” Damian’s voice wobbled slightly and he sucked in a breath and squeezed his eyes shut.
“Don’t let Dad fall into a pit of despair, alright?” Dick whispered, ignoring the soft sob from Damian. “He’ll need both of you to look after him, okay Baby Birds? Promise me. Promise me.”
“Promise.” Tim breathed after a second, letting a single tear streak down his cheek. He knew there was very little chance that his elder brothers were getting out of the core alive. He felt Jason rub away the tear and he leaned into the touch, knowing it would probably be the last touch from him he would get.
Standing up, Dick placed a kiss on both Tim and Damian’s forehead. He fixed the charges to his belt, and the four of them walked out, ignoring the eyes of everyone around them.
And so the battle started once again. They fought with renewed vigour, eager to give Dick and Jason as much time as possible by distracting and destroying as many robots as they could. Nightwing and Red Hood made their way towards the back of the dome, relieved that there weren’t too many guards around the back, as they mostly protected the front of the core, where the main entrance was.
Dick took out the last visible guard silently and the two of them slipped inside the slightly-too-small air vents that transported the excess heat out of the central core. Due to this, the vents were hot and difficult to breath in; it was lucky they had rebreathers on hand. The air vents didn’t take them straight to the central core, they would need to make their way through part of the dome undetected to reach the core.
Dick went first, and they used every ounce of their training to stay silent as possible as the padded through the dome, staying away from areas that they could be spotted. They had a near miss when the next wave of robots pulsed through the dome and the shockwave nearly knocked them out of the rafters where they had been crouched. Had they fallen… it would have been a rather unpleasant death.
It was Jason who finally spotted the central core, and they crept in to the large room. Taking out the guards when they had been unsuspecting was much easier than expected, but once they placed their first charge on the core, large metal doors shut all around them, blocking all of their exits.
It was clear that this was a failsafe, so they would have to hurry; it was likely that Savage would know what they were doing by now anyway, and he was probably on his way.
Dick was about to press the timer on the charges, when a searing pain in his stomach made him scream.
A shot rang out in the room just as he fell to the floor- he could taste blood in his mouth- and he felt hands grab his shoulders.
“Dick! Dick, can you hear me? Don’t go yet, you got a knife in your stomach from one of the robots. Wait for me okay?”
Jason quickly set the bombs to go off after the designated thirty seconds but his hand hovered over his lighter. All it would take it one flick of a flame and he had condemned the two of them to the same way he had died years ago. When he heard Dick whimper, he flicked the lighter on, watching for a few seconds as the red numbers counted back from thirty seconds.
Dick pulled himself to his knees and Jason fell next the him. His boyfriend placed kiss after kiss on his face, desperate kisses that made Jason want to cry.
“I love you Dick. Please know that.” Jason pushed down the sob threatening to leave his throat and pressed his forehead against Dick’s hard. He felt Dick push against him and fingers pulling off his mask.
He pulled Dick’s mask off as well and the two of them intertwined their fingers, failing to stop the trembling.
“I love you t-too Jason. If it was anyone next to me, I’d want it to be you… thank you for coming with me.”
Jason couldn’t stop the sob from leaving his throat. “Anything for you Dickie. Anything.”
He pressed his lips onto Dick’s and ignored the taste of blood in Dick’s mouth. He kissed his boyfriend for all he was worth.
“You don’t deserve to die Dick.”
Dick looked at him, even as their heads were pushed so close to each other. “Neither do you Jason. But here we are. Dying to protect the Earth. God, I love you…”
Jason smiled and tears flowed down his cheeks freely. He cupped Dick’s head and they closed their eyes.
The bombs blew up.
Bruce watched the explosion and fell to his knees, breath choking him. He faintly heard Superman above him, protecting him, but didn’t do anything to help. He knew Dick and Jay weren’t coming home.
The shockwave that the explosion created rocked the ground.
After only thirty minutes more fighting, the battle was over. Bruce felt himself getting up to help take out the last few robots, but a numbness began to take over him, beginning from his chest and spreading down.
He was pushed into a private room in the med-bay and his wounds-when did he get those- were treated. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Tim and Damian approaching, hugging themselves and trying to keep themselves together. In the silence, he lifted his sons like they were toddlers into his lap and hugged them close. He let them break down. He felt himself grow slightly stronger. He had his youngest sons to look after.
He would not fail them.
Not thirty minutes later, everyone across the world knew.
Everyone knew of the cost of their victory.
The lives of Nightwing and Red Hood.
Their names became celebrated as the Destroyers of the Core; able to do what not even Superman couldn’t do.
Their memorials were set up in the Watchtower, Mt. Justice and the Batcave as people mourned the two Bats. Batman wasn’t seen by anyone for months, then the news of Richard Grayson’s death came out after an explosion rocked Gotham’s penthouse. One dead, none injured; the body was never recovered. The second death in the Wayne family.
Ace, Dick’s dog, seemed to understand what had happened as soon as his costume was put up on display, and howled for hours.
Damian took up the mantle of Nightwing but stayed by Batman’s side every step of the way, as did Tim, who stayed as Red Robin.
When the memorial was set up in the Hall of Justice, Damian and Tim flanked Bruce, with Ace sat at their feet, ears drooping.
Fierce pride mixed with deep, cutting sadness burned in his chest as Bruce watched as Superman and Wonder Woman carried their statues in in silence.
He was so proud of his sons.
But he could never tell them again.