Continuity: Comics!verse AU (mostly), based on post-Crisis continuity (mostly).
Rating: Very M.
Characters/Pairings: Bruce Wayne, Alfred Pennyworth, Jason Todd, Jim Gordon, Dick Grayson, Barbara Gordon; hints of Dick/Barbara.
Word Count: 3318
Summary: Bruce had hoped for tonight to go differently, but in Gotham City things very rarely go according to plan.
Warnings: Not much this chapter: a few swears and a severed body part. No spoilers for anything more recent than the 1980s.
Disclaimer: Most of the characters and locations in this story are © DC Entertainment Inc. and Warner Bros. Entertainment. All content is fictional and for entertainment purposes only, not for profit.
Notes: BACK BY POPULAR DEMAND~! I bet you thought that after two years this story was thoroughly dead, didn't you? NOPE. This is comics! The dead never stay dead. Greatest apologies for the massive hiatus; big life upheavals, distractions in other fandoms, blah blah blah excuses yadda yadda. Apologies also, this is an even-numbered chapter, so dearest Timmy remains off-screen, but I do promise much more Timmy in all chapters in the future.
Scary!Timmy and friends now brought to you in beta! All of my gratitude to the talented ava_jamison for her assistance with this chapter. ♥
Posted to robin_fans, we_love_dick, mrsarcastic_tim, batfic. Also available on my AO3.
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* * *
Bruce Wayne descended into the Batcave, loosening his two-hundred-and-fifty-dollar tie. The soft slap of feet on the practice mats, faint gasps of breath, and the occasional sharp kiyap echoed up from below, amplified by the immense limestone amphitheater of the cavern. Jason was out of sight beyond the looming bulk of the mechanical Tyrannosaurus, but Alfred was visible amongst the trophies, polishing a case containing an ice gun liberated from Victor Fries. As Bruce approached the bottom of the stairs Alfred set aside his dusting cloth and came to meet him. “Good evening, sir.”
“Alfred.” Bruce delivered the tie into Alfred's waiting hands and got to work on his cufflinks.
“And how did things go at the board meeting, Master Bruce?”
Bruce hummed noncommittally.
“That well, sir?” Alfred's tone was dry as chalk as he followed Bruce to the lockers, collecting items of clothing as Bruce cast them off.
Bruce threw a smirk over his shoulder. “Nothing that breaking a few traffic laws in the Bugatti couldn't fix.”
Alfred's dry reached a new level of dry. “Indeed, sir.”
Bruce's smirk widened. “Brucie Wayne has a reputation to uphold, you know.”
“Bruce!” Jason Todd jogged up, dressed in a practice gi and barefoot.
“Jason. Working hard, I see.” Bruce shimmied out of his trousers and opened a locker, reaching for a Batsuit.
Jason swiped a hand up through his hair, pushing sweat-soaked locks off his forehead; Bruce fought down a smile as his irrepressible cowlick bangs bounced back into place. The kid's brow furrowed in confusion as he watched Bruce dress. “You're not going out already, are you?”
Bruce raised his eyebrows. “It's six o'clock, Jason. It's full dark out.”
Jason's mouth dropped open in surprise. “Holy shi–aaaahhhh I mean... really?” he asked with a nervous, sidelong glance at Alfred, face abruptly pale.
Alfred gazed impassively at him for a long moment, then let his eyes slide to Bruce. “Master Jason has been down here all day, sir.”
“Hmmmm.” He eyed Jason appraisingly as he pulled on his boots. “And?”
Jason grinned. “I am kicking–” another nervous glance at Alfred, “–so much butt on the bars today!”
Bruce's lip twitched. “Show me.”
Jason darted off in the direction of the uneven bars. Bruce took a moment to fasten his utility belt and caught Alfred's eye, giving him a meaningful look. Alfred raised his eyebrows. Bruce nodded. “Very good, sir,” he said, and Bruce followed in Jason's footsteps, leaving cape, cowl, and gauntlets in the locker.
He found Jason at the bars, slipping sweatbands onto his wrists and chalking up his hands. The boy had removed the top half of his gi; it had been folded neatly and laid on a bench. Bruce stood with his hands behind his back and watched him go through a series of stretches. He noted with satisfaction the solid planes of muscle that now adhered to his lithe frame. Jason barely resembled the wiry, too-thin kid he'd been when Bruce had found him; a few months of rigorous training and as much healthy food as he could eat had made a world of difference. He'd been smaller and slighter than most fourteen-year-olds; now Bruce reckoned the boy weighed more in solid muscle mass than any of his peers.
Bruce also took a moment to reflect on Jason's first reaction to the bars, not so very long ago– Aren't the uneven bars for girls?! Bruce's lips twitched again.
Now, Jason walked over to the bars and glanced at Bruce, flashing him a wide, devilish grin. “Watch this,” he said, cocky, and jumped up to grab the lower bar. Bruce watched him swing to build up momentum, fly from one bar to the other, flip up into turns and handstands. He has improved, he thought. He's not Dick— Bruce caught himself and scowled. He doesn't have to be. He's more than good enough.
As Bruce looked on, Jason finished his routine, releasing the bar and tucking into a somersault before sticking the landing. Jason was frozen for a few moments before straightening his knees, raising his head to flash an elated grin at Bruce. “See? I am totally awesome!” he crowed, chest heaving; the tone of his voice dared Bruce to disagree, but there was a glimmer of wary, hopeful neediness in his eye.
Bruce smiled. “You did very well,” he said, and the joy that lit up Jason's entire face broke his heart a little, or maybe made it more whole. “I can see you've been practicing your landings; your knees are coming in on your somersaults a lot quicker now.” Jason nodded, his eyes on Bruce, rapt and flushed, but before Bruce could continue his thoughts were interrupted by a soft 'ping!' Jason's eyes slid to the Batcomputer and back. Bruce didn't need to look–Commissioner Gordon had turned on the Batsignal.
Jason's eyes burned with hopefulness and yearning. Bruce took a breath. “...There are a couple of things I'd like you to work on while I'm gone,” he said, and watched the boy slump with disappointment then rush to cover it, lifting his chin and waiting dutifully for his instructions. Bruce turned; Alfred was approaching, carrying a slim box and the remaining pieces of Batman's gear. Bruce took the cape and cowl from him, fastening them around his neck. “First, work on straightening your knees and pointing your toes in the handstands. Knees and toes.” Out of the corner of his eye, Bruce saw Jason nod solemnly. “Second, I want you to get used to moving in this.” Bruce took the box from Alfred and held it out to Jason, his eyes flicking up to meet the boy's startled gaze.
Jason held his breath, brow furrowing in puzzlement as he slowly reached out and took the box. He opened it.
Inside–folds of crimson, emerald, and gold, a bold 'R' on the breast.
Jason's eyes snapped up, wide and blue, his knuckles standing out white as his fingers tightened on the box. “Are you serious?” he breathed.
Bruce smiled. “It's yours.” He pulled on his gauntlets. “I'm going to see what Jim Gordon's got for me. I make no promises, but depending on what it is....” He fixed Jason with a serious look. “Be ready.”
The boy's eyes shone. “Oh, I will be! ...I am!”
“I know,” Bruce said, eyes crinkling fondly. He pulled the cowl over his head, nodding to his valet as he headed toward the Batmobile. “Alfred.”
“Master Bruce,” Alfred returned in kind, and he and Jason stood side by side and watched as the Batmobile tore out of the Cave.
Alfred glanced down to see Jason stroking the Robin “R” reverently, fingers trembling slightly. The old man had his misgivings, but it was hard not to feel warm at the sight. “Well then,” he suggested, “why don't we see how it looks on you?”
Jason's grin threatened to split his face, and he bounced on his toes. “Alfred!” he exclaimed breathlessly. “This is—!” His mouth hung open, searching for words.
“I know, Master Jason,” Alfred said kindly, placing a hand on the boy's shoulder. “Let's go.”
Alfred helped Jason with his tunic and cape and mask, then stood back and watched, amused, as he posed and turned and preened in the mirror. “And what do we think, Master Jason?”
Jason whooped, springing into a back handspring for the joy of it. “It's f–awesome!!” he exclaimed, grinning. “Although....” He stepped closer to the mirror, running a hand through his strawberry-blond locks contemplatively. “...Robin ought to have black hair, don't you think?”
~ ~ ~
Jim Gordon stood on the roof of police headquarters, his hands in his pockets and his eyes squinting upwards at where the Batsignal's light washed up against the clouds. He held himself perfectly still, listening. It was a game he played with himself sometimes... could he hear some small flap of cloth, some tiny creak of leather as the Batman arrived?
The bright circle of the Batsignal vanished before his eyes. He turned; the Dark Knight loomed next to the modified searchlight, his hand on the switch, solid and still as if he'd always been there.
It was a game Gordon never won.
“Jim,” Batman rumbled in greeting, nodding slightly. “What is it tonight?”
“Someone left a present for you,” Gordon said. He jerked his head toward the stairway access. “Come on, let's go to my office.” He led the way to the access door and held it open, turning; Batman had vanished from the roof. Gordon sighed.
He jogged down the stairs to his floor, but was totally unsurprised when he opened the door to his office to find the curtains blowing in an open window and Batman... the only word for it was 'lurking', in the corner near his desk. “Do you actually know how to use stairs?” Gordon groused.
“I assume this is my present?” Batman growled, holding up a sterile evidence bag containing a small cardboard box that he'd lifted from Gordon's desk.
Gordon nodded. “We've been through it already– took every precaution, of course. Go on and open it.”
Batman slipped the box from the bag. There was an envelope glued to the lid of the box; Batman opened it, removing a plain white card, printed all in caps in a bold, showy font: 'PIGS DON'T FLY. THIS IS FOR THE ONE WITH WINGS.' Batman flipped it over; the reverse was printed with, 'CONSIDER A HATCHET BURIAL. HE NEEDS YOU,' in the same font. “Hmmmm,” Batman commented, and opened the box. Nestled in some tissue was a sealed glass jar containing a human ear, preserved in a clear, colorless liquid.
“Formalin,” Gordon said. “If it's been in there very long, we won't be able to extract any DNA. All of the materials used are generic, and common: you could buy any of these in a score of different places within Gotham city limits alone. And, of course, it's not like there's a shortage of missing ears in this town. No fingerprints on anything, and no hair or blood or skin that we've found so far. The forensics boys are eager to have it back; I'll let you know what they find, but it's not looking good so far.”
Batman was inspecting the ear in the jar. “Someone careful, and smart. No sort of calling card, so it's not one of the usual Arkham crowd, unless they have a reason for playing mysterious.”
“So, then... any idea who the ear belongs to? Or who sent it?”
“No one specific comes to mind.”
“That 'hatchet burial' remark... I'm thinking that refers to Nightwing?”
Gordon cleared his throat. “Seems like whoever it is is deeply concerned with the health of your, ah... partnership.”
“Hnnn. A fan.”
“So it seems. Someone who cares... and it has to be someone who interacts with you a lot, to be able to notice... staffing changes.”
Batman stared at him evenly. “...Well I'm almost certain it's not you, Jim.”
Gordon rolled his eyes. “Hardy har har. So you make jokes now.”
The door to Gordon's office burst open. “Commissioner!” A young cop– rookie by the name of... Officer Atkinson?– stumbled into the room, eyes widening at the imposing figure of the Batman.
Gordon scowled at him. “Try knocking next time, Atkinson!” he barked. “Now what's so important that you come barging in here—”
“Garfield Lynns,” Batman interjected, two fingers pressed to the side of his cowl. He frowned, listening. “He's burning buildings in the tech sector.” He was already striding toward the window. “We'll continue this conversation later, Commissioner,” he added gravely, then stepped through the window and fell from sight.
Gordon spun on his heel, nearly running for the door. “With me, Atkinson!” he ordered. “If we hurry we might even get there in time to be useful. BULLOCK! MONTOYA! Wheels up, let's go, I want every available officer, look lively people!”
~ ~ ~
The Batmobile tore through the streets of Gotham, engine roaring and tires squealing as Batman pushed it to its limits. “Tell me everything, Batgirl,” he ordered sharply. “What do we know?”
“At least five buildings are on fire so far, between 8th and 10th near Washington Avenue. Lynns was on the scene when we arrived but he disappeared quick when he saw us, hasn't shown his face since.”
“He hasn't left. Hiding, yes, but still on the scene. He'd want to watch. ...We?”
“Nightwing's here,” Batgirl admitted hesitantly.
“Good. I'll look for Lynns. The two of you concentrate on search and rescue; this time of night there could be a lot of people still in the buildings.”
“Batman out.” Batman switched off the com, then, after a moment's thought, pressed a few buttons to switch to a new preset. “Robin.”
Jason's voice answered breathlessly and immediately. “Yes, Batman!”
“Garfield Lynns made his move, he's attacked a number of buildings in the tech sector, on Washington between 8th and 10th. I admit I'd hoped for something a little more routine for your first night out, but needs must. ...You're ready.” It was not a question.
“I am,” Jason's– Robin's voice replied without hesitation, steady and determined. “What do you want me to do?”
“Assist the fire department in search and rescue. Wear the oxygen mask and be careful.”
“I will! I promise. I'll make you proud.”
Batman's voice warmed just slightly, softened a little. “I'm already proud. Good luck, Robin. Batman out.”
~ ~ ~
“Nightwing, what's your status?” Batgirl's voice was faint over the comm against the roar of flames and pumps and hoses. Nightwing adjusted his earpiece.
“All of the buildings between Washington and Lincoln are cleared of civilians. I'm out of extinguisher capsules, but the fire department's making headway; I think they can take it from here. You need a hand?”
“We've got our buildings emptied out, too. Batman's got Lynns in custody.”
“Of course he has.” Nightwing fired a grapple and fell from his rooftop, swinging to the west. He didn't have to ask Batgirl where she'd be; the roof of the Kendall Building offered the best vantage point of the Jefferson Avenue blocks affected by the fire.
“Are you seriously sounding annoyed that Garfield Lynns is no longer rampaging through Gotham?”
“Of course not. I'm thrilled to hear the news.” Nightwing touched down on a gravelly rooftop, rolled, kept running, launched himself from the snarling snout of a gargoyle. “I guess that settles it, then.”
“The Lone Ranger doesn't need a sidekick.” He could just hear her sigh over the com. Or maybe he was imagining that. “But I might. I'm thinking of doing a stakeout at Macky's Diner, could use a partner. Dangerous business.”
“Those bacon cheeseburgers are mighty suspicious,” she agreed, a warm thread of amusement in her voice.
“Milkshakes, too. It's our civic duty to investigate.” She laughed, and Nightwing grinned. He could see her now: perched at the very edge of the roof with one boot propped against the low parapet, looking down on the chaos in the street below, red hair streaming out behind her. Red as the tongues of flames licking out from broken windows. Red as the firetrucks crowding the streets. Beautiful.
Nightwing calculated the trajectory of his flight, fired off another grapple, grinned as the cable caught his weight and pulled him, carving an arc through the air. Math and poetry. ...Sure, Batman was a jerk, but his life wasn't so bad, was it?
A flash of color caught his eye; a small figure flipped from a fire escape onto the Kendall Building's roof, spotted Batgirl, and started walking towards her. She turned to look at– him, a boy in red and green and gold. Robin.
Nightwing missed his dismount. Hastily recalculating, he caught a flagpole, ricocheted off of a window ledge and landed neatly, if heavily, between Batgirl and– the kid.
The kid jumped so hard he nearly fell over.
Nightwing advanced on him. “I don't know who the hell you think you are, kid, but you're gonna want to run home before you hurt yourself,” he growled.
The kid gaped for a second, then scowled, standing as tall as he was able. Which wasn't very tall. “I got a right to be here. I earned it! And I don't take orders from you.”
Nightwing gritted his teeth. “Listen, kid, playtime is over, you need to get back to your parents before they miss you. You should leave the superheroing to the professionals. Batgirl, back me up here.” He ignored the way the kid stiffened with outrage.
Batgirl said, “......Oh.”
Nightwing froze, then turned very slowly to look at her. Her eyes were wide. Her mouth fell open, gaped uselessly, and shut itself again. Nightwing stared. “...You have got to be kidding me.”
“You're the old Robin, aren't you?” The kid sounded curious, appraising. “Why'd you leave, anyway? No one seems to want to tell me.”
“You have got to be fucking kidding me!” Nightwing shouted.
Batgirl flinched. “Nightwing—”
“You KNEW,” he accused. “You knew and you didn't tell me!”
Batgirl set her jaw. “He told me not to.” Nightwing reeled at that, and Batgirl tried again, desperately, “Nightwing—”
“Of course he did, and why would you even think to contradict him—”
“I told her not to because I was going to tell you myself,” Batman growled, stepping forward out of a shadow no one else had known was there.
Nightwing stalked forward, utterly unimpressed with the theatrics. “I can't believe you,” he snarled. “How long was I gone before you started shopping for a replacement? Where did you find this one, huh?” Whose kid is this?!”
“Mine,” Batman replied calmly. Nightwing froze. “The paperwork goes through tomorrow.”
There was a long, tense moment when nobody moved or spoke, then Nightwing breathed out a shaky laugh. “Good fucking luck, kid.”
“Eat me,” he snarled.
“Robin.” Batman put a hand on his shoulder. “...Let's go.” He turned and stalked away, and Robin reluctantly followed, giving Nightwing a vicious stink-eye.
Nightwing turned his back on both of them, squeezing his fists and his eyes shut.
Batgirl took a cautious step towards him. “Dick—”
“No names in the field, Batgirl.”
“Nightwing, I'm sorry, he wanted to tell you in person. I didn't know Robin would be here tonight or I would've warned you—”
Nightwing whirled on her. “See, that's the part you just don't seem to understand, you can't trust him to tell you anything. But I guess I'm not really one to talk, because I keep thinking I can trust you—” He broke off, ducking his head for a moment, then lifting it again, sad and weary. “I thought I could trust you.”
“You can.” Batgirl's voice shook a little. “It wasn't supposed to happen this way.” She stepped forward again, laid a hand on his arm. “Nightwing. I'm sorry.”
Nightwing fell still at her touch. After a moment he reached up and lifted her hand from his arm, gently setting it aside. “I believe you,” he said, “but I'm not ready to forgive you.” Then he turned and jumped off the roof.
* * *