Chapter 1: A Change
And it’s not really his fault, is it? The weird angle of the arm, the difficulty breathing, the multiple lacerations? Accidents of war. Every bat had their fair share of them, and he couldn’t always predict what would lead to them, account for every little henchman and two-bit thug.
So, not his fault, but his responsibility. Because God knows there’s nobody else in this dingy 7-11 bathroom to patch him up. There hasn’t been anyone else for a long time (something in him had died along with them).
He sets the arm. Bandages the rest of it. Can’t do much about the lungs. Looks in the mirror and smiles (a sharp sharp smile). Outside, dawn is just beginning to pale the sky, and it's time for this nocturnal vigilante to find a nest to roost.
He used to split his time between two teams, two cities, two families, two versions of himself. A time that rang with laughter, dragged with exhaustion, bled with hope, fought with courage. When he could do anything or be anyone, because they were there with him. When he wore a yellow cape. When despite all the losses, there were people who had his back. But then those people died, and others turned on him, and every attempt to get them back slipped through his hands.
There was no one named Timothy Drake-Wayne anymore. Only a very convincing airplane crash and the charred remains of the assassin who caused it. Alfred had grieved for another grandson, Jason had raged at Batman for losing another Robin, Damian had tightened his jaw against fresh regrets, and Dick…. Dick allowed himself one breakdown and then donned the cowl again. Of course they had checked and triple checked the DNA, but the hair always came back positive for Tim (first real haircut in years). So eventually they sewed their wounded hearts back up. Somehow stumbled forward without either of their detectives. But they didn’t forget their Robin, Red Robin, Timmy, Replacement, Drake.
They don’t forget, but he does his best to.
Nyx wakes in a dingy squat in Chicago and doesn’t question for a second where he is. These kinds of empty places are where he belongs now. There’s a passable shower here, and an ice chest filled with canned coffee, and he could hack a wifi signal from just about anywhere, so really all the amenities of home.
The searing pain of his arm though, that's a problem. One that he addresses with his dubiously legal collection of pain meds and a cold brew to wash them down.
It's the start (middle) of a new day and there's always work to be done. In Chicago he's fighting gun violence, drugs, gangs. On the internet, he's fighting terrorists, spies, assassins, hackers. Nyx has twenty different programs running on his three laptops at any given point, tracking different people, groups, anomalies, concerns. He's here for the threats no one else can see coming, he's here to do his job the way Bruce taught him (and if there's a few things he does that the Bat wouldn't approve of, well there's no way to reach him, now is there?)
Typing one handed is his only option, with his right in a splint and all. You’d think with so many injuries he’d have a good doctor on retainer. But all he has is ace bandages and ice.
It’s been a couple hours of internet stalking when he comes across something to really concern him. A group he’s been following, some sort of new crime empire, mentions Wayne Enterprises in their emails. Their first mistake.
He's got even more scars now. A combination of being his own medic and not caring. The wicked scar from his splenectomy is still the biggest, but now there's a few dime sized bullet wounds, a jagged line from a lead pipe that wouldn't get out of his way, and countless knife and glass marks, some barely healed over.
With no secret identity, no allies linked to him, he's gotten sloppier about identifying marks.
This group of thugs….. they were smart, smarter than he expected, considering their cyber security. And they were gunning for Wayne Enterprises. According to their laughably-encrypted emails, the company had been struggling for some time under the tenuous leadership of Richard Grayson-Wayne. If they were to take advantage of that struggle, sabotage a few key players, they were sure Mr. Grayson-Wayne would be all too happy to sell.
Nyx sighs, long and loud. It looks like Gotham is pulling him back again.
Chapter 2: The Cave
Batman is in the Batcave, alone again, just like always. The morning hours creep on, undisturbed by the bats coming and going.
They’ve mourned for Bruce. They’ve mourned for Tim. But Dick just really wishes he could be sure there would be no more cause for mourning in the future. The dread crashes over him every time Jason catches a bullet, every time Damian gets punched. Stephanie is more grim now, more careful, but that doesn’t mean she avoids danger. Just means she’s the one with all the contingencies now. Cassandra slinks through the shadows, even more of her former training coming back as she cries in ways no one can see.
And Alfred….. Oh Alfred. He has lost too many people now. Any optimism he felt in the Mission is gone, and yet he continues. Because if he doesn’t, the chance of losing another grandchild only increases.
Dick shudders as he thinks of the call from a police station in the middle-of-nowhere, Pennsylvania. It was hard not to hate the entire airplane industry for taking his little brother from him (but if he was being honest, he hadn’t had Tim as a little brother since Robin). That call had only plunged the family into deeper grief. Just as they were starting to heal from losing Bruce, they had lost Tim to his quest. Dick didn’t know how much more of this they could take. And so he was faster, stronger, better than he had ever been, than Bruce had ever been. There would be no more mistakes.
Jason enters the Batcave in a blur of motorcycle, jacket, and hood.
“Hey Dickie, whatcha’ brooding about today?” Six months isn't long enough to recover from losing another family member, but Jason likes to pretend it is.
“It’s nothing, Jay.” Dick’s still at the Batcomputer, typing away his reports and logs. But Jason isn’t easily ignored.
“It’s always something.” His voice is slightly gruff, like he doesn’t want to have this conversation again, but knows they need to.
Dick shoves away from the keyboard in frustration, sitting back heavily in the chair.
“Maybe that’s the point? We don’t catch any breaks anymore. Just one thing after another.” And his voice is so, so tired. It sounds like it could crack any minute, betray his tears and exhaustion.
By now, Jason is sitting on the console and pondering right next to Dick’s brooding (cause he’s an intellectual, geddit?).
“Tell you what, it’s always been like that. Most of the time though, we’ve gotten them back by now.” Jason, Roy, Bruce, Clark, Stephanie….. Does anyone in their acquaintance stay dead? Well, all of their parents, that’s for sure.
“There’s no coming back this time, Jay. Denial won’t help.” And Dick’s voice should never be so hopeless. So swallowed by the Bat, he’s starting to lose Nightwing. But maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be now? Gotham can’t afford to lose Batman, Bludhaven was surviving without Nightwing. Was this how things were always supposed to turn out?
“Ya know, Repla- Tim, Tim thought Bruce was still out there.” Great. More guilt. Dick’s voice is starting to get more harsh as the conversation continues.
“And we all know it was crazy. He’d lost so many people, it’s not surprising he couldn’t cope.”
“Well sure, coping’s important. But when has Tim ever believed something with no evidence?” Got a point there, Jaybird.
“This isn’t helping, Jay. We all….. We need to move on. That’s what they would have wanted. For us to carry out the Mission.” Stick to the Mission. Save the people of Gotham. What else can he do?
“Ain’t no moving on from this one. You and I both know it. The kid might recover, he’s got you and Alfie. But this is one too many scars.” And Jay is shaking his head like it’s a sad reality.
“Is that why you’re so determined to not accept it? Because then the scar’s permanent?” His voice is fierce now, confrontational. He’s the Batman.
“I ain’t scared of the truth. But I’m worried that if we give in too easy, we’ll lose our chance to get Repla- Tim back.” And since when has that been a concern of Jason’s? Shouldn’t he be happy now? Wasn’t this Dick’s burden alone? He was Timmy’s real big brother, the one who was there for him….. The one who always tried to be there for him. So his tone is full of finality as he turns back to the screen.
“We already did.”
For once Jason doesn’t reply. Just shakes his head as he heads upstairs.
Chapter 3: Recon
Nyx is in a moldy room, and he hates moldy rooms. They’re bad for his immune system, and at this point, that could kill him. But so could being a vigilante (it had certainly tried). So he’ll suck it up. He really can’t afford to be somewhere nicer, somewhere he might get noticed.
Operating in Gotham is all about not being noticed, now more than ever. Pay cash, wear boring clothes, look forgettable. He had dyed his hair a lighter shade of brown when he realized he would be leaving Chicago. Maybe if he changed enough things, he’d be able to leave Tim Drake-Wayne behind for good.
It was time to get to the good stuff now. The Shitty Bad Guys (otherwise known as Markham Financiers) have made it a little difficult to find everything he needs online. Actually, that’s probably why their security is so pitiful. Most of the evidence is hardcopy. Some reconnaissance is in order, some….. Stalking. He’s good at stalking, always been good at it. Ever since his pre-Robin days, stealing along catwalks and fire escapes, hunkering on rooftops, all to get a glimpse of them. Did they ever find the pictures? When they went through his safehouses? Or did they even know about all of them?
The Gotham skyline is long dark when he slips out the window, dressed in soft shades of black, brown, and gray. There’s a fierce smile on his face, and he’s winding his way through buildings with a grace not even Red Robin had. But not flying. Birds and Bats fly, and whatever else he is, it’s not that.
And maybe he’s feeling a little nostalgic as he sweeps through the city. The Wallstone, Robinson Park, Park Row. So what? It’s not enough to make him stay. He’ll take out this new group so quietly the Bats will never get a clue. If they haven’t caught the threat by now, it’s doubtful they’ll notice his interference. And Markham Finances should be easy enough to deal with, especially for him.
What should his next destination be? Not Hong Kong, Cass will find him within thirty seconds of touching down. Somewhere in Europe maybe, Amsterdam or Prague. A place to practice his languages, gain a little culture. There’s the Demon’s voice in his head ‘Any place capable of inspiring culture in you, Drake, must be the very home of enlightenment’. Can’t believe he’s still thinking about the brat. Damian had made it clear he wasn’t welcome, so why is he still concerned about his training, his growth, his ability to express emotions?
He’s at the Markham building, and honestly, it’s not very impressive. Just a standard office building, where people kill themselves with boredom. Kinda like Wayne Enterprises, but not as wealthy, or technologically advanced, or hiding an entire department of Batman gadgets….. Uh oh.
Maybe they want to be hiding some gadgets of their own. Or are they only interested in Wayne Enterprises for the money? Is there a way to get a hint at what goes on at WE from the outside? Maybe there’s a mole in one of the departments, even the R&D department.
Nyx shakes his head. There’s no use speculating until he has more evidence. On the inside, preferably. The security is easy enough to bypass, especially for an assassin-trained vigilante. He needs to find the important files, most likely in the boss’s office. It doesn’t really matter what they want to do to WE if he destroys the lynchpin so thoroughly they can’t follow through on their plans. And that’s Edward Markham, CEO of the company.
So it’s to his office Nyx goes. Vaguely seventies inspired, not too well designed, large desk, dusty plant, and there in the corner, a safe. Which is childishly easy to crack for a Catwoman mentee. His lips curl in a satisfied smile as he reads the documents. Perfect.
It’s on the way back to his moldy room he runs into trouble. The abandoned building he’s squatting in is on the border of Red Hood’s territory, and Hood is….. Territorial. He probably should have taken a longer route, one that would keep him entirely out of the Narrows until the last second, but he’s tired and doesn’t want to go to the trouble. Which means more trouble.
The fire escape clangs loudly as Jason lands on it, blocking Nyx’s path. His heart is stuttering in his chest. It’s been almost a year since he’s seen the Red Hood in person, almost a year since Jason had explained to him just why lost birdies should find their own way. And it has been even longer since Jason tried to kill him. Doesn’t mean he isn’t worried.
“And what do you think you’re doin’ here?” His words are coated with suspicion, leaning forward like he’s about to pounce. It brings to mind another night, surrounded by the statues of fallen heroes and thinking soon his body would join them. Nyx doesn’t give him a chance, just drops over the side of the railing. He grabs different parts of the metal as he falls, swings out and onto a window sill. Behind him the cursing starts as Jason follows. But Nyx is moving fluidly again, jumping to the street below. Tucks and rolls when he hits the ground, springs to his feet and keeps going.
There’s not a chance in high hell he’s facing any of the Bat clan tonight. Especially not Jason. Especially not the Robin he idolized, the twisted man who came back from the grave and slit his damn throat. So Nyx runs, each step carrying him farther from the trauma of his old life.
Jason doesn’t understand why the strange person on the fire escape bugs him so much. Probably just a cat burglar or other petty crook. But…. They got away from him. Maybe that’s why it rankles so much. Some Joe Schmuck off the street outrunning the Red Hood, outthinking the Red Hood shouldn’t be a thing.
He settles in against the chimney on his chosen roof, the lit match revealing his face for a moment. Smoking may be a dirty habit, but it’s surely one of his least vicious.
That little bastard on the fire escape, though…… There’s a nice puzzle to think on. Somethin’ familiar about the way he moved, like a ghost. The Bats should know ‘bout anyone who moves like that in Gotham. Cause whoever they are, they got training from someone who’s damn good at their job. And the more he thinks on it, the more he thinks of the League of Assassins. Their sinuous and subtle way of moving seems to match the stranger. He wasn’t dressed in all black like an amateur would be, but in soft, dark colors that would be less showy.
Moves like Replacement.
Can’t stop the pang of grief, but he can distract himself from it. Stubbing out his cigarette, he heads inside the apartment to keep working. Which is all any of them did, when faced with the reality that their little bird was gone.