Continuity: Comics!verse AU (mostly), based on post-Crisis continuity (mostly).
Rating: Very M.
Pairings: Developing Dick/Barbara, one-sided Tim/Dick
Characters: Bruce Wayne, Jason Todd, Dick Grayson, Jim Gordon, Renee Montoya, Alfred Pennyworth, Tim Drake.
Word Count: 3226
Summary: Jason struggles to adjust to his new life. Dick and Bruce, meanwhile, must learn to work through their differences when it becomes clear that a new, unsettling case involves both of them. Dick, it seems, has a fan....
Warnings: Not much this chapter. Extremely brief, vague mentions of murder and severed body parts. As always, Scary!Timmy is not your friend.
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: Yep, I'm still working on it. Still here. I will finish this, come hell or high water. I mean, how could I stop? Things are just getting interesting~! >:D
The fabulous and invaluable regonym has stepped in for beta services on this chapter.
Posted to robin_fans, we_love_dick, mrsarcastic_tim, and batfic. Also available on my AO3.
And new, for your listening pleasure: the official I'll Be Yours (A Love Story) soundtrack is out!
[Previous Chapter] [Next Chapter] [Chapter Masterlist and Notes]
* * *
“So,” Bruce said, setting down a tray well-laden with food—cheeseburger and fries and a milkshake for Jason, a grilled chicken salad and iced tea for Bruce—and sliding into the booth, “let's talk about school.”
Jason, scowling petulantly at the world through the big picture window, turned to scowl petulantly in the general direction of Bruce instead, although he sullenly kept his eyes cast down toward the table. “I don't get why I even have to go to school. I mean, it's not really applicable, is it? You can teach me everything I need to know.”
“Wrong. School will teach you a lot of the things that you will need to know. It's important to have a broad base of skills, and certain subjects are especially relevant in our line of work—math, chemistry, and physics, for instance. I'd also encourage you to take up drama as an elective next year.”
Jason prodded doubtfully at his milkshake. “I guess I can see that. But how the hell is history ever going to be useful?”
“You'd be surprised.” Bruce sipped at his iced tea.
“It's just—it takes up so much time that I could be using to do—other stuff. And I'm not—I'm not good at it. I don't know the stuff I'm supposed to and everybody makes fun of me for it. I'm not smart, Bruce.” Jason's face screwed up in frustration and something just a little more fragile.
Bruce leaned forward on his elbows. “You've had an atypical upbringing, Jason. You haven't read all of the books the other kids have. But there's nothing wrong with your brain. You're a quick learner; you'll catch up.”
Jason looked doubtful. “I dunno, Bruce, some of the stuff in the textbooks, it's like a whole other language. I don't even know where to start.”
“Alfred and I will help as much as we can, of course, but we both have other responsibilities. ...Until you find your footing, I think you ought to see a tutor.”
Jason groaned. “Aww, come on, Bruce—!”
“Let me make one thing clear,” Bruce said, pinning Jason with a serious look. “I expect you to attend school, and I expect you to do well. If you expect to participate in... extra-curricular activities, you will complete your homework every day, and you will keep your grades up. Understood?” Jason looked stormy, but nodded. “This is not a punishment, Jason. I want you to succeed. I know it doesn't seem like it now, but when you look back years from now you'll see that a proper education is the most important tool in your belt. Please trust me on this?” Jason sighed heavily, but nodded again. “And you'll find yourself a tutor?”
Slumping in defeat, Jason propped his cheek on one hand. “There's a message board outside the school library, I think I've seen notices for tutors. I'll take a look on Monday. Okay?”
“Thank you, Jason.” Bruce took a bite of his salad, eyeing Jason as he chewed. The kid's pout was truly spectacular. “Aren't you hungry? Your dinner is going cold.”
Jason looked for a moment like he might boycott food out of pure obstinacy, but then he grabbed his burger and took a monster bite, groaning and rolling his eyes dramatically. “God, why are these burgers so good?” Jason enthused with his mouth full. He swallowed. “I swear, Macky's gotta be a black magic wizard or something.”
Bruce watched with amusement as more burger vanished into Jason's bottomless pit. “If you say so.”
“I do.” Jason gazed lovingly at his food. “This burger. Is my favorite burger.”
“I think you said as much the last five times we came here.”
“And when I change my tune you'll know I've been replaced by a pod person,” Jason said around a mouthful of fries.
Bruce's lips twitched. Jason arched an eyebrow. “What?”
“Nothing.” Jason's other eyebrow went up, and Bruce chuckled. “Nothing, I was just thinking, I don't mind, but Alfred—”
Jason groaned heartily, swallowing his food and wiping his mouth with a napkin before speaking again. “Pennyworth's got a glare that can curdle milk. Where did he learn to do that, butlering school?”
“Technically he's a valet....”
“Oh well that explains it.” Jason leaned in with his elbows on the table, ducking his head and lowering his voice. “Hey, so... what's the word on Firefly?”
Bruce leaned in just slightly. “The word is 'work in progress,'” he murmured.
“That's three words.”
“Shush.” Bruce took a sip of his iced tea. “Lynns was paid to torch those buildings by the same person or persons who helped to bust him out of Arkham. He claims not to know who hired him or why, however; he dealt only with underlings, and they were wearing masks. He's got no names or faces.”
“You believe him?”
“He was telling the truth.”
“How do you know?”
“I'll teach you how to spot a lie, remind me. Anyway, I asked him for honesty. I can be very convincing.”
“Brrr.” Jason dipped a fry in his milkshake and ate it. “Still thinking it could be Poison Ivy?”
“It's impossible to say at this juncture. It's starting to seem unlikely.” Bruce chewed thoughtfully on some lettuce. “First we need to find a motive, that will lead us to the culprit. ...We'll figure it out.”
A smile was growing on Jason's face. “Yeah. We will. Definitely.”
Bruce's eyes crinkled, but a moment later the small, warm smile dropped off of his face, his eyes caught by something outside of the window. “Hmmm.” Jason craned his head to look; the Batsignal hovered like a ghost in the clouds above the city. “Guess I'd better take this salad to go.”
“Can I come?” Jason was squirming in his seat, practically vibrating with excitement. “Please?”
Bruce gave him a measured look. “We were just discussing your academics....”
“I said I'd get a tutor, didn't I? And I promise I'll do nothing but study all day tomorrow and I won't even complain, cross my heart, please Bruce?”
After a moment's consideration, Bruce held out a hand for Jason to shake. “Deal,” he said, smiling. “C'mon, sport, let's go.”
~ ~ ~
Nightwing looked down on the city from where he sat perched on a gargoyle, legs idly swinging in the void. He breathed in deeply and let it out again. Up on the rooftops the air was cold and clean, and the lights of Gotham were downright pretty, warm and twinkling.
It wasn't so bad, the solo work. Word about Nightwing had started to spread in the underworld, and when he'd interrupted the robbery of a street cart earlier, the perp had groaned with the same kind of dread that, in Nightwing's experience, had generally been reserved for the Batman, an experience that Nightwing had found strangely satisfying. Plus, the grateful cart-owner had given him as many cones of hot candied pecans and cashews as he could carry, so that had been nice.
Nightwing was taking his own cases, following his own leads, making his own decisions, and it was working well for him. He liked it. He was starting to think that leaving Robin behind was the best thing that had happened to him in years.
Batman was still a jerk, and the situation with Batgirl... well, that stung a bit, no use pretending it didn't. But living alone, being Nightwing... these were good things.
Nightwing chased a few stray sugar crystals at the bottom of his cone with a gloved finger, licking it clean. “Mmmm,” he commented to the gargoyle. “Tastes like gratitude. Gratitude and justice.”
His earpiece crackled. “Nightwing.” It was Batman.
Nightwing sat up straighter, then grimaced and rolled his eyes at himself. “Batman. What's up?” He flattened his paper cone and started folding it up to be tucked away into one of his hidden compartments.
Nice of you to actually ask, Nightwing thought. “Not just at the moment.”
“Come to police headquarters. Gordon's got something you should see.”
Batman sounded grim. ...Well. Grimmer than usual. Nightwing frowned. “I'll be right there, give me... seven minutes.”
“Understood. Batman out.”
When Nightwing landed on the roof of police headquarters, Batman and Jim Gordon were in close consultation, heads bent over something Gordon was holding. Batman looked over to Nightwing and nodded a greeting, which Nightwing knew was as good as an invitation. He took a deep breath of chill winter air, steeling himself, and found himself childishly searching for a way to stall. Luckily, one presented itself immediately.
“Robin,” Nightwing said by way of greeting, and only felt a little twinge when he said it. “Nice night.”
The silence behind him was palpable, and he turned around to find the kid frozen mid-stalk a few yards away, a hilarious expression of alarm, annoyance, and grudging admiration scrawled across his face. “You did a good job with the cat's paw,” Nightwing assured him, “but I could hear you breathing. Through the mouth, not the nose. It's quieter.”
The kid—Robin—deflated slightly, staring.
“Nice work with the Hess gang last week,” Nightwing continued conversationally.
Robin blinked hard several times. “Uh,” he said intelligently.
Nightwing smirked. “I was in the neighborhood. Thought I'd drop in if you and the boss man needed a hand, but you didn't. I liked your thing with the forklift, that was great.”
“...Thanks?” Robin looked confused.
Nightwing sighed. “I'm sorry, I came on a little strong that first time. It wasn't about you, it was about me and him.” He jerked his thumb in Batman's direction. “You just caught me by surprise, is all. Hope there's no hard feelings.”
Robin flushed slightly. “Oh, uh. S'cool.”
“Nightwing. Robin.” Nightwing glanced over, and Batman inclined his head. Nightwing jogged over, Robin at his heels.
“Batman,” Nightwing greeted cautiously. “Commissioner.”
Gordon extended a gloved hand, and Nightwing shook it. “Good to see you, son.”
“How can I help?”
“Something's come up that concerns you directly,” Batman explained. “This was mailed to the police.” He handed Nightwing a small box, neatly gift-wrapped, although it clearly had already been opened once.
Nightwing glanced at Batman, and receiving a nod, he opened it. Inside was a folded slip of paper. Nightwing unfolded it, revealing a message printed in an ornate, showy font; it reminded him of Mr. Haley's old show posters. “BATS ARE BLIND, BUT YOU CAN SEE WELL ENOUGH FOR THE BOTH OF YOU. SEPARATING WAS A GRAVE MISTAKE. YOU KNOW THIS. IT'S ONLY MADE YOU BLUE. SINCERELY, YOURS.” Nightwing stared down at the paper, finding himself suddenly unwilling to look at Batman. He cleared his throat. “We're thinking this was meant for me, I gather? The blue's pretty on-point. ...Well. How thoughtful.”
“There was a finger in the box, too,” Robin added helpfully.
Nightwing stared at him. “Someone sent me a finger?”
“This isn't the first package like this that Gordon's received,” Batman said. “A couple of weeks ago—when the Lynns business happened—his office received a package containing an ear, and a message in the same font reading, “Pigs don't fly; this is for the one with wings,” and, “He needs you. Consider a hatchet burial.” To Nightwing's practiced eye, Batman looked distinctly, if subtly, uncomfortable. “At the time, we believed the message was intended for me. This new message leads us to believe we may have assumed incorrectly.”
“This is all awfully personal. Are we busy profiling marriage counselors?”
Robin snorted. Nightwing grinned at him. Finally, an appreciative audience!
“There's more,” Gordon said. “The finger was preserved in formalin, same as the ear—”
“—No DNA evidence,” Nightwing murmured.
“Exactly, but while we were waiting for you the fingerprint results came back.” He shook the folder he was holding. “You're going to love this.”
Nightwing took the folder and flipped it open. “Veronica Mary Pacer, deceased, homicide, lethal injection of sodium thiopental—Batman.” Nightwing's head jerked up, his eyes wide. “Batman, that's—this is our serial-killer.” Batman nodded grimly.
Robin's brow was furrowed in consternation, when suddenly his eyes lit up. “Right! Two known victims, Pacer and—and Swan. ...Oh! Oh! The ear! Swan was missing a left ear!”
Gordon nodded. “Montoya's checking the ear against the autopsy photos, I expect to hear back on it any—” His radio squawked. “Any minute now,” he continued, digging the radio out of his coat pocket. “Yes, hello, Montoya?”
Detective Montoya's voice crackled over the speaker. “It looks good boss. I'm not an expert, but it could very well be a match.”
“Thank you, Detective.” Gordon pocketed the radio, heaving a sigh. “So, what do we think?”
Nightwing was flipping through the report on Pacer. “Veronica's got a rap sheet, that's why you've got her prints. Minor stuff, I'm not seeing vendetta here, and Isaac Swan doesn't have a record.” He chewed on the inside of his lip. “...Do you think he knew? About her criminal record?”
Gordon was watching him closely. “What are you thinking, son?”
“It's just... a finger is an unusual choice. The preservative destroyed the DNA evidence, but he gave us her fingerprint, which still might've been useless... but she's got a rap.”
“You think he wanted us to connect his gifts to his victims,” Batman said.
Batman nodded. “So do I. It's odd. He didn't want us to know yet when he sent us the ear, but he clearly planned this well in advance. He always intended us to know, eventually. So why now?”
Robin was scratching at the back of his head. “Yeah, we know who the victims are now, but what are we supposed to do with that?”
“Is there something in the notes, do you think?” Gordon asked. “He seems to like cryptic language.”
Nightwing looked at the note again. “'Grave mistake.' Anyone else think that's an interesting choice of words?”
Batman was silent for a moment. “...The other note mentioned 'hatchet burial.'”
“...He wants us to go look at their graves?” Robin hazarded.
“You want me to track down what cemeteries they're buried in?” asked Gordon.
“No need,” Batman said. “Swan's at St. James' Cemetery. Pacer's at Pine Garden.”
Robin gaped at him. “What, you had that memorized?”
Nightwing huffed a laugh. “Kid, someday very soon you will cease to find these things surprising.”
“I made a note of it. Sometimes killers like to visit their victims and reminisce,” Batman said.
“Right, so, I'll check out Swan, you two check Pacer?” Nightwing suggested, backing toward the edge of the roof.
Batman nodded. “Jim. We'll be in touch.”
Jim raised a hand in acknowledgment. Nightwing backflipped off the roof and fired a line, swinging off into the darkness. St. James' had been a Gotham burial ground for over a century, and the tall buildings had grown up around it; Nightwing could travel by roof right up to the wrought-iron gate.
Nightwing fired off lines automatically, turning over the night's revelations in his mind. Their thiopental killer was stepping up his—or her—game, looking for attention from the GCPD and Gotham's vigilante community. There would probably be more killings soon. And the killer had a strong fixation on Nightwing. So... great. Nightwing had a fan. A fan who sent him preserved human body parts in gift wrapping. How nice.
More unnerving was the evidence of how closely they were being watched. The thiopental killer knew Batman had had a falling out with his former partner, and knew that the former Robin and Nightwing were one and the same. That's more than your average street thug would've figured out; this was someone who knew them. But none of this felt like any of Arkham's usual revolving-door club, not that Nightwing could think of.
Nightwing spotted the cemetery, a relatively dark patch of only sparse lamplight nestled amongst highrises and streetlights. Nightwing flipped easily over the high, spike-topped fence, picked the lock on the caretaker's building to access the burial records, and dodged a handful of drunken teenagers on his way to the newest part of the graveyard. He found the spot easily, a fresh headstone (the ground would've just settled enough for the family to be able to install one) engraved with the name 'Isaac John Swan,' his epitaph, the years of his life. And something else, not professionally engraved but carved raggedly into the marble....
“Nightwing.” Batman's voice was low and urgent over comms.
Nightwing touched his ear. “Go ahead.”
“We found something. Roughly hand-carved into Pacer's headstone, the words 'I'll be yours.'”
“Yeah,” Nightwing said, and he was pretty sure his voice didn't sound entirely normal. “Yeah, I've got the same thing here.”
Nightwing stared at the jagged, block letters carved into Swan's headstone. 'I'LL BE YOURS.' Nightwing had a strong feeling, accompanied by the queasy twisting of his gut, that he was not going to enjoy this one.
~ ~ ~
The next few days were busy. A hostage situation, a bank robbery, and a couple of drug busts kept Batman, Robin, and Batgirl occupied. The Titans called Nightwing in to help with a Situation on another continent. Bruce Wayne had a board meeting and a tète-à-tète with the heads of Wayne Corp's R&D. Jason, as promised, studied diligently and went to school and only complained a little about it.
Dick called Bruce's office from Titans Tower, once things had quieted down a little. “How did it go with the Titans?” Bruce asked.
“Too many tentacles involved; turned out okay,” Dick said. “...We need to talk.”
“Agreed,” Bruce said. “Come to the manor tonight. I'd like to keep Jason out of this as much as possible; he'll be busy with his new tutor.” He paused, and then offered, “...Dinner?”
Dick's pause was briefer. “Sure. Thank you.”
“Tonight then,” Bruce said, and hung up.
Dick came for dinner and Alfred made his favorite, pasta with a rich spaghetti sauce made from scratch, the recipe for which was a secret Alfred guarded more closely than the Batcave. Dinner conversation was light and uncontroversial, though Bruce was unsure if that was due to Dick's careful steering or his own. He watched Dick tease Jason, noting that his barbs were more fond than malicious. Bruce marveled at the boy he'd watched grow into a man—at his kind nature, at his ability to forgive—and felt a bittersweet pang, wondering if Dick would be able to forgive him.
A rich dessert followed the hearty dinner, and the three lingered at the table after Alfred had taken the dishes away. Dick and Jason chatted about music and movies until Alfred came to the doorway, clearing his throat delicately. “Master Jason's tutor has arrived; I've just buzzed him through the gate.”
Bruce stood. “Jason, why don't you get your things from upstairs; you can set up in the parlor.”
Dick got up, too. “I'll help, I remember how big those textbooks were. C'mon, kid.” Faced with the prospect of imminent tutoring, Jason was pouting, but he reluctantly pushed his chair back and stood, heading for the stairs.
“I'll meet our guest at the door,” Bruce said, and headed for the entry hall, Alfred following. The doorbell rang just as they arrived, and Bruce crossed the hall quickly and opened the door. A small, dark-haired, serious-faced boy stood on the step, gloved hands clutching the strap of his messenger bag.
“Hello,” the boy said. “My name is Timothy Drake. I am Jason's tutor.”
* * *