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, Barbara Gordon, Jim Gordon.
Word Count: 3637
Summary: Nightwing, Robin, and Batgirl figure out where they stand with each other. Meanwhile, there's a new development in the serial killer case—but what does it mean?
Warnings: Some swears; description of a murder scene.
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 am still here. Only three years since my last chapter update, that's entirely reasonable. But I'm stubborn. We will heckin' get there!
Gracias as usual to the sharp eye of regonym, friend, lovely person, and beta extraordinaire. This chapter is greatly improved due to her efforts.
Also available on Dreamwidth and AO3.
[Previous Chapter] [Chapter Masterlist and Notes]
* * *
"This is completely unfair, this is the first time I've been out on patrol in forever and there's nothing happening."
Batgirl bit her lip, very carefully stifling an urge to laugh at Robin's overblown teenage dramatics. Two hours ago he'd been vibrating with excitement, thrilled not only to have been let out of the manor as a reward for good academic behavior, but also to be on patrol with just Batgirl, without any supervision from The Boss. So far, however, it had been a quiet night, no minor or major crimes to speak of, and Batgirl had watched Robin practically wilt as his excited energy had been gradually replaced with angsty sighs and distracted fidgeting.
"Call me a radical, but—and this might just be my opinion—despite the tragedy of your boredom, a lack of crime in Gotham might be a good thing?" Batgirl teased.
Robin deflated, crestfallen. "I know, I know it is, I'm not saying I want bad things to happen." He looked honestly shamefaced to have inadvertently suggested as much, to the point that Batgirl felt a little bad about pulling his leg. In the next moment he perked up a little. "I'm just saying, this is Gotham, right? Realistically, there's crime happening somewhere. Just, it would be better if the crime was happening here. So we could stop it!"
"And be less bored."
"And be less bored," Robin agreed heartily.
"Yeah, fair enough," Batgirl allowed. Robin had a point. It had been a pretty slow couple of hours. She was used to it, but Robin was, what, fourteen? One could only expect so much from him. "...Still, it's better than homework, right?"
Robin's eyes widened and he nodded vigorously. "Fuckin' right it is!" he exclaimed, then cringed a little, glancing nervously at Batgirl like he was worried she'd rat him out to Alfred. She didn't stop herself from laughing this time. He gave her an unimpressed glare.
"Come on then, Jaybird, you're bored and I'm bored... let's make our own fun." She shifted into a fighting stance and raised her hands, grinning at him.
"Spar?" Robin blinked, then grinned back. "Heck yeah." He shifted his own stance, sidling away from the edge of the roof and circling Batgirl, his gaze sharpening as he watched her closely, waiting to see what she would do.
Batgirl waited him out, making half-hearted feints but otherwise holding back, content to let him make the first move. Robin lacked patience; that was the first weapon she'd use against him.
It took less than a minute for Robin to break, rushing in to attack, but he'd learnt well, fending off her counterattacks and protecting his core successfully, if not entirely gracefully. She saw him process and understand his mistake and come back with more caution. Good, she thought with a swell of pride.
Batgirl continued to bide her time, fending off Robin's attacks and returning them with enough ferocity to keep him on his toes without leaving herself vulnerable, watching carefully for an opportunity. After a couple of minutes, one presented itself.
She wasn't sure how long Nightwing had been lurking in the shadows before she noticed him. She was quite sure Robin hadn't noticed him at all. And if she knew Nightwing... any second now....
"Hey kid, free advice—"
Robin visibly startled, his attention diverted momentarily by the unexpected voice from the shadows. In that moment Batgirl cut his legs out from under him and his back hit the roof with a loud THUD. Robin wheezed a little, looking stunned.
Nightwing sauntered over, a shit-eating grin spread wide across his face as he bent over into Robin's field of view. "Free advice—don't get distracted."
Robin coughed and glared. "You're an asshole." Nightwing just grinned wider and offered his hand; Robin grumbled but grudgingly accepted, allowing Nightwing to haul him to his feet.
"Seriously, though, I'm impressed, seemed like you were holding your own against Batgirl pretty well there."
Robin looked a little surprised and a little confused to be complimented. His irritation cooled, and he seemed to flounder about for a reaction. He cut his eyes sideways to Batgirl. "...I'm pretty sure she was going easy on me," he admitted. Batgirl smirked.
Nightwing laughed a little. "Well, of course she was! But the fact that you weren't already on your back when I got here means you were putting up a good fight. ...You'll make a halfway decent Robin yet."
Robin blinked. "Yeah?"
Nightwing's smile softened. "Yeah. ...'Cept your roots are showing."
Robin's eyes widened and his gloved hands went up to his hair, and Nightwing burst into peals of laughter. Robin scowled, pulling his hands away from his hair as if scalded and tucking them into his armpits. "Oh my God, jerkface, they are not."
Nightwing grinned and reached out to tousle Robin's hair, but Robin jerked away, grumbling. Nightwing finally turned to Batgirl, his grin fading to a smaller, somewhat hesitant smile. Batgirl held her breath and watched his face closely. For a moment neither of them moved.
"Hey," Nightwing said, his smile going a little lopsided, and Batgirl exhaled, smiling back at him.
"Hey," she said.
"Boss-man have you doing this often? Babysitting Robin for him?"
"It's not babysitting," Robin complained sourly.
"It's not babysitting," Batgirl agreed. "I'm involved in his training, frees Batman up to do research and detective work on some of the long-haul projects while we patrol."
"Like, your, ah. Admirer, for one."
"And Lynns' burning spree."
Nightwing raised his eyebrows. "Lynns, right. Hadn't, uh. Hadn't thought about him in a bit. We making any progress on who paid him and why?"
"Some. Batman's got a hunch only one of the buildings was the target, the rest was burned to obscure intentions."
Nightwing nodded. "Makes sense."
"We put together a list of all the tenants in all the buildings," Batgirl continued. "Now Batman's trying to figure out who or what on that list might've given someone a reason to target them for arson. There's a handful of likely suspects, so. He's chasing those leads."
Nightwing nodded again. "It's gotta be one hell of a reason. That's a lot of trouble to go to. All that damage."
"Too bad they wasted their time and money," Robin interjected. Nightwing and Batgirl turned to look at him. "Won't be long, now. Batman will figure out who's responsible, and then they'll be sorry, won't they?"
Nightwing gave him a small, wry smile. "Yeah, you're right. He always does, and they always are."
Robin eyed him shrewdly for a moment. "...So are you and Batman not fighting anymore?"
Nightwing hesitated. "...I guess you can say we've called a truce."
Robin watched him warily; Nightwing watched him warily back, just a hint of confusion on his face. "...You gonna want your old job back, then?" Robin asked.
Batgirl’s heart broke a little. She bit her lip, watching Nightwing carefully. He looked stricken, frozen completely still for a few moments before exhaling long and slow. "No, Jay—no. Robin is yours. You've worked hard for it, you're earning it. It's—" He swallowed. "Robin's always gonna be a part of me, but I'm Nightwing now, and that's—better. The job's yours, and I couldn't think of anyone better to carry the torch."
It was almost painful watching Robin bloom, brighten, almost glow with the praise. Batgirl looked at Nightwing instead, heart warm and full almost to bursting. Christ, she could kiss him.
In the next moment a scream floated up to them from the streets below. Robin, Nightwing, and Batgirl rushed to the edge of the roof and looked down, adrenaline pounding and senses on high alert.
A woman was sprawled on the sidewalk, looking frightened but not obviously hurt. A man was running away from her, clutching something in his arms. "My purse!" the woman wailed.
Batgirl reached for her grapnel on instinct, but a moment later she felt Nightwing’s hand on her wrist, stopping her. He gave Robin an encouraging slap on the back. "Go on, kid, I think you can handle this one."
Robin's eyes went wide, astonished and hopeful. "Really?"
Nightwing's answering smile came out a little crooked. "Yeah, Little Wing. This one's all yours."
Robin flashed him a grin brighter than the sun and wasted no time in firing his grapnel and leaping fearlessly into the void. Batgirl leaned over, resting her elbows on the roof-edge parapet and smiling as Robin swung down, putting both boots squarely in the back of the purse-snatcher and flipping into a neat landing as the perp's face met sidewalk. Nightwing settled in next to her, and she eyed him sidelong.
"'Little Wing,' huh?" she murmured.
Nightwing blinked, looking startled, then his cheeks pinked appealingly. "Sounded right," he admitted, watching Robin work with a wry twist to his lips. "I think I might actually be fond of the little brat." Down below, Robin was hogtying the thief, whose nose was bleeding onto the concrete.
"You're good with him," Batgirl told him.
Nightwing continued to look increasingly embarrassed. He scrubbed a hand through his hair, making a face. They watched in silence for a moment as Robin offered the woman a hand up from the pavement. "...He's a good kid," Nightwing admitted. "What happened between me and Batman, that's not his fault. And the more I see of him, the more I learn about his background—he's had a rough time of it, I know how that is. He needed something. He needed this." He chewed on his lip. "On paper we've not got much in common, but I can see...something in him that's very familiar. I want to help him, and I know how Batman is sometimes, so I want to make sure he's got someone else, if he wants. I like him. ...He's a good kid," he said again.
"He is," Batgirl agreed quietly. That was the one thing she had felt sure of, throughout this whole mess. That Jay was a good kid who’d been having a hard time, who’d been given a hard lot in life, and that he deserved help—Bruce’s help, Alfred’s help, her help. She’d seen him blossom under Bruce’s tutelage, steadied by the training, the discipline, the sense of purpose. Giving him Robin, that had been a good thing, she believed that, knew it. She just… wished it hadn’t gone down the way it had. Bruce and Dick at odds with each other, pain and pride making the rift between them worse, and her in the middle. She’d never meant to hurt Dick, never.
She’d been silent for a long time; she could see Nightwing watching her out of the corner of his eye. Batgirl opened her mouth, hesitated, trying to find the words. "Look, Dick... I'm sorry. I've said it before but I want to say it again—I'm so sorry, I really am. For the way things panned out. For my part in it. None of it was fair to you, and I never wanted you to think I was taking his side over yours, I never wanted you to feel—I'm sorry." Her voice wavered a little despite herself. She swallowed painfully.
Nightwing exhaled long and slow before turning towards her. She turned to face him, the beginnings of tears coming unbidden and stinging her eyes. She saw him notice, his mouth twisting unhappily. "It wasn't your fault, Babs. It hurt, I'm not going to say it didn't, but it wasn't your fault, I know that. You were just trying to do your job. I'm sorry I yelled at you."
"I deserved it," she insisted.
"No." Nightwing shook his head vehemently. "No, you didn't. ...Look, everything that happened... it was fucked up, you were stuck in the middle of it, but you didn't cause any of it. I don't want this crap to be between us, standing in the way." He reached out, his hand curling warm around her shoulder, his brow furrowed and earnest. "You're my friend, Babs. I miss you."
Batgirl sniffed loudly. "God, Dick, I've missed you too," she admitted, stepping forward, and then she was wrapping her arms around him and he was holding her tight, warm and close, her head tucked under his chin, and she closed her eyes and let everything fall away—the memory of that look in his eyes when he’d found out about Jay, the hurt and betrayal; the guilt she’d felt, the loneliness and sense of loss when he wouldn’t speak to her, when he was dodging her calls; the anger, at Bruce and herself and at Dick and the whole goddamn situation. She let it all fall away and just held Dick close, breathed him in. It felt—good, God, it felt warm and good and right, like everything was going to be okay, like she’d gotten her friend back. A knot of tension she hadn’t even known she was carrying in her shoulders unspooled, and she felt Dick relax as well. He turned his face into her hair and sighed and—her heart rate ratcheted up a few notches, suddenly every inch of her body where they were touching burned and she couldn’t breathe quite right—
"...Wow, I leave you two alone for five seconds—"
Batgirl just about jumped out of her damn skin; Nightwing twitched violently and then froze deathly still. Oh God, that’s it. She could just die now, dying would be great.
"I mean, I can come back later?” Robin continued, and she could just hear his shit-eating grin. “Should I find another purse-snatching dickhead to catch?"
Batgirl couldn’t help it, she was abruptly overcome with a fit of silent giggles. Everything was just so much and Robin was the Goddamn worst, the smarmy little punk—
Nightwing cleared his throat. "A purse-snatching what now, Master Jason?" he intoned imperiously, employing his very best Alfred impression, which had always been spectacular. He extracted himself gently from their embrace but didn’t go far, turning to face Robin and putting one hand on his hip, leaving his other arm draped around her shoulders. Batgirl wiped at her eyes and tried to get her breathing under control, still chuckling a little.
Robin snorted dismissively. "Alfred's not here."
Batgirl giggled some more. "Oh, somehow he'll know about it anyway. He has ways."
Robin narrowed his eyes. "He doesn't scare me."
"I'm fairly certain that's a lie," came Batman's growly voice from the shadows. All three of them jumped; Batgirl nearly had a damn heart attack. "And if it isn't, I'd suggest reconsidering that position."
"Batman!" Robin yelped. "Jeez, how do you do that? You're going to teach me how to do that, right?"
Batman's menacing, hulking figure emerged from the darkness, gliding noiselessly toward them over the roof. "We'll get you there." He settled a gloved hand on Robin's shoulder. "Nice work with the thief."
Robin practically inflated. "Yeah?" he asked, somewhat breathlessly.
"Good form. Very efficient. I'm particularly impressed with how you assisted the victim, that's a different skill set and not necessarily an easy one."
Robin looked flummoxed. "Oh, that's... all I did was be nice to her."
"We'll talk about it tomorrow. In the meantime, you'd better head home, it's getting late."
"Whaaaaaat? No way!" Robin deflated again. "Batman—"
"Robin," Batman interrupted sternly. "It's a school night." His tone softened slightly. "You did good work tonight, and I'm pleased with your progress. But what did we agree about school?"
"Yeah, alright, alright, I'm going," Robin grumbled, pouting.
"Robin," Batman said again, and waited until Robin looked at him. "If you beat Batgirl back to base, Alfred will make French toast for breakfast."
Robin blinked, then glanced at Batgirl. After a moment, a slow grin started to stretch across his features. "Three-two-one-go!" he shouted, turning on his heel and sprinting off across the rooftop.
Batgirl gently slipped out from under Nightwing’s arm, but stayed close. "I'm going to give him a head start," she decided. She tilted her head, considering Batman briefly. “So what’s happened, then? New development from Nightwing’s fan?” She could see from Nightwing’s lack of reaction that he’d come to the same conclusion. Batman had sought him out specifically, and furthermore was sending her and Robin away. There was only one likely explanation.
“Yes,” Batman confirmed. “There’s another body. GCPD is on the scene. Nightwing, I think you should take a look.” He turned abruptly and stalked away across the rooftop. “The Batmobile is parked two blocks from here.”
Batgirl smothered a giggle at the face Nightwing pulled at Batman’s rapidly retreating back. “You’d better go,” she told him. She gave his arm a quick squeeze, flashing him a smile. “See ya, Nightwing.”
“See ya.” Nightwing smiled back, and then she turned and ran, cartwheeling over the parapet at the edge of the roof and rocketing into glorious freefall. Her grapnel caught and she swung, grinning wide into the buffeting wind. She had a Robin to catch. Just like old times….
~ ~ ~
The Batmobile rumbled to a stop at the edge of Howard Park. Nightwing jumped out as the hood retracted, shielding his eyes from the glare of a dozen cop cars and officers with flashlights. He could see the familiar silhouette of Jim Gordon in his trench coat, backlit in flashing blue and red.
Nightwing heard the familiar low 'clunk' of the Batmobile's locks engaging, and then Batman was sweeping silently up the low hill towards the commotion. Nightwing hurried to catch up while trying to look like he wasn't hurrying, making sure he was shoulder to shoulder with Batman by the time they reached the police-taped boundary of the scene. An officer let them through with a crisp nod and a shout of, "Commissioner!"
Gordon was standing with two uniformed cops near a small brick structure—one of the park's public restrooms, which seemed to be the center of activity. At the officer's shout he turned and spotted them, gesturing them over. He had a brief word with the two cops who then quickly melted away as Batman and Nightwing approached.
"Batman, Nightwing," he greeted tersely.
"Commissioner," Batman returned gravely. "What have we got?"
"The victim's inside," Gordon said, gesturing toward the restroom. "Give it a minute, I've got a team in there taking photographs, there's not a lot of room. Young woman, twenties or thirties, African American—or, well, we assume American. No I.D. Seems to be homeless."
"Aren't these park restrooms usually locked at night?" Nightwing asked.
"Padlock's gone," Gordon replied. "Unclear at this point how long that's been the case."
"And you're sure this is our... fan. She's missing a body part?" Batman asked.
"Ahhh... technically yes, we think so—this one's a bit different, but yes, we're quite sure—here, best to take a look yourselves." Three crime scene photographers filed out, plastic booties and suits rustling. They nodded to Gordon, then to Batman and Nightwing—except for the youngest one, who just sort of stared as they sidled by. New kid, Nightwing thought.
Gordon made an 'after you' gesture towards the door. Batman tilted his head slightly, a tiny, almost invisible signal—Oh. Oh, okay. Really? Okay then. Nightwing took half a moment to brace himself and stepped inside, Batman on his heels.
There was a body on the floor, yes, covered over with sterile plastic sheeting. Nightwing tried to quickly take in as many details as possible, but there was one feature of the scene that was pretty impossible to ignore: scrawled messily in red across the wall were the words "I'LL BE YOURS AND" and a simplistic picture of a gravestone.
"Blood?" Nightwing asked.
"Yep," Gordon replied.
"Hers?" asked Batman.
"We think so," replied Gordon, pulling on gloves. "She has puncture wounds—the other victims have had one puncture wound, the injection site. She has two." He knelt down, drawing back the sheeting to expose her head and shoulders. Batman and Nightwing crouched next to him. Gordon carefully turned her head, exposing the right side of her neck. "Injection site here, carotid artery." He turned her head back and gently set it down. "There's a second, larger puncture on this side, into the jugular, looks like the location of the blood draw. We'll test the blood for a match. We'll see if we can figure out how much was taken, too, if that's all of it there on the wall or if he kept some."
"Signs of a struggle?" asked Nightwing.
"Not much of one," replied Gordon. "A few bruises, ligature marks on the wrists and hands, similar to what we've seen with the other victims. Seems like it was over fairly quickly."
"Injection site's pretty clean," Nightwing commented. "She had to have been fairly immobile when the needle went in."
"Just the blood missing, nothing else?" asked Batman.
Gordon shook his head. "Doesn't look like it. So far as we can tell, the blood is all he took from her."
"I guess blood technically is a body part," Nightwing mused, standing up. He went over to get a closer look at the wall.
"'I'll be yours and,'" Batman said.
"Yeah," Nightwing agreed. "Unfinished sentence. That's not ominous at all."
"He's continuing the 'grave' motif, and being a lot more obvious about it," said Batman.
"Well, we already solved that riddle, I guess, no point in continuing to be cryptic in the same way."
"No, he's being cryptic in a new way," Batman pointed out.
"Yeah." Nightwing frowned. "She doesn't have a grave yet. So whose grave are we supposed to check?"
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