Dick Grayson sighed as he walked home from the bar. It was almost midnight and he was already exhausted. The former Boy Wonder dreaded having to still go on patrol that night, but Bludhaven was in need of a hero, and that's what he was there for.
There was also the matter of the Young Justice team. They had rescued all of those teenagers just a week before, and Nightwing still had no idea what to do with them. They all had powers, some newer, some that had developed before The Reach took them. Normally he would say that they could stay at Mount Justice while he found a way to train them, show them how to use their powers--or at least control them--and keep the public safe from any stray energy blasts, but without the cave, there was no where. He was able to keep them in a room away from the public in the Hall of Justice, but that wasn't a safe enough place. If the Reach really wanted them, it would be easy for them to find the teens.
Dick reached his apartment complex and made his way to his apartment. He unlocked the door using three different keys, entered, and relocked the door, adding in a forth inner lock. He removed his coat and simply tossed it on the floor, looking around at the messy apartment. Take-out boxes littered the counters, and several dirty pots, pans, and glasses sat out on the stove and small counters. He went over to each window and closed the shade on each one. He liked to keep any prying eyes out of his apartment at this time of night. He left one shade open in the bathroom so he could easily have a window to enter when he returned from his patrol.
He had a system to protecting his identity. Living in the center of a city, he had to make sure that people did not see Nightwing going in and out of Dick Grayson's apartment every night. The bathroom window looked out to the back of the apartment, so that made it the safest choice to enter and exit through.
Dick made his way to his bedroom and pulled out a small key that opened up the top drawer of his dresser, which was given to him by Bruce. He pulled out everything he needed for patrolling; costume, gloves, boots, weapons. He slid into the spandex and pulled the gloves on over his hands. He seated himself on the bed and pulled his boots on, then stood up and fastened his belt and eskrima sticks around his waist. He applied cosmetic glue to his mask, but paused before stuck it to his face.
He stood there staring at his reflection in the mirror. At what he had become. In five short years he had become the dark Nightwing, going from the red and yellow with the black cape, gloves, boots, and tights, to the black and gray bodysuit with the blue symbol. It was an even bigger contrast to his original red tunic, green underwear, and pixie boots. He would never return to that costume.
Dick thought back to the nights when he patrolled Gotham with Tim and Babs. Just five years ago he had told Black Canary that he did not want to be Batman, and he really believed that he would never become what Bruce had, and yet there he was, three to four days a week, wearing the bat symbol on his chest, donning the cowl and defending Gotham, striking fear into the hearts of those that would defy him, sacrificing everything for the sake of the mission. Fighting the war only to win, no matter what the cost.
It terrified him, honestly, seeing what he was becoming. Even when he wasn't wearing the cowl, he was Bruce. Before Bruce left he was already turning into the one thing he despised. Batman. How he hated the Bat. If not for Batman, he would have had a normal childhood, had normal friends, and have would have never become this… this monster. He was grateful for Bruce Wayne, and for everything that he did for the young orphaned acrobat, but Batman… Batman ruined his life almost as much as Tony Zucco had.
He began listing the reasons why Batman had been a problem for him. "If not for Batman, my body wouldn't be covered in scars." But Tony Zucco was in prison. Lives were saved because of those scars, so it wasn't a good enough reason to hate Batman.
"But if it weren't for Batman, I wouldn't be living in Bludhaven, working in a bar just to pay my bills." Although, Bruce had offered to help him pay his bills. And it had been his choice to move to Bludhaven, though Batman really couldn't be blamed for his living quarters.
"If I had never met Batman…" Dick paused to think, and almost cried at the realization. "I would have had Babs by my side all this time." He would never admit it, but he had been crushing on Barbara Gordon for about six years. He always thought about her, always wanted to be by her side, protecting her from any danger that could come her way. "And because of Batman, Babs puts her life on the line every night…" Dick added as a side note.
Richard Grayson loved to help people, but the thought of the girl he loved going up against the Joker or Two-Face when he wasn't there to protect her bothered him. It was like a blade was being stabbed through his heart. It tore him apart seeing the danger that she was in.
Because of Batman, Barbara Gordon was in danger. Because of Batman, they could never be together, as you should never be involved with a comrade. It just simply wasn't done.
And then it hit him. Batman wasn't there. Batman couldn't do anything to stop him from doing what he wanted. And besides; he wasn't a child anymore. He had been living on his own for a year now, with no help from Bruce. He removed the combination of spandex and kevlar faster than he ever had before, ignored the dozens of scars that the mirror reflected before him, and covered them with a white undershirt. He layered it with a red button-down shirt, leaving the top button, and the one below it undone.
The former Boy Wonder pulled a pair of nearly black jeans from one os his drawers and slid them on quickly, replacing his boots with a pair of Chuck Taylors. He threw Nightwing into the drawer and locked it, then nearly ran into the main room of the apartment, opening shades as he went. He picked up his coat and slid it on, then ran out the door and down the stairs of his apartment.
Dick hailed a taxi and the driver began the trek to Gotham. The acrobat paid the cabbie and got out in front of Barbara's apartment. He went up to the door and held his hand up to knock, making sure that he looked his best, but feeling silly for doing so. It was just Babs. He was sure that she felt the same way about him. His phone began to vibrate and he paused his second attempt at knocking to see who was calling. He froze at the number.
Comissioner Gordon's name flashed on the small screen as the vibration continued.
"Hello?" Dick said, answering the phone, and backing up shortly down the hall, so he could still surprise Babs.
"Dick, thank God you're awake. It's Barbara."
Dick looked anxiously at the door to the apartment, "What happened?"
He could hear Jim's voice crack on the other line. "Dick, the Joker got her. She's been shot."
…To be continued...