Part 3: Darker Than Black
Peter avoided going out with Nightwing after that night. He was shaken to say the least. Maybe it was because Nightwing was younger than the other heroes he’s met or perhaps the fact that he saw himself in him but that night sent a cold shiver down his spine. He knew some heroes were cruel, he’s met Wolverine and you can’t be more brutal than that. At least that’s what he used to think. “When you look into the abyss, the abyss looks into you” Nightwing had said, but what did Nightwing see in there? What did Batman see in there? He’s determined that Nightwing’s brutal fighting style had came from his dad’s teachings. It had to because he refused to believe that a teenager, a child, was capable of doing that stuff and being completely unfazed by it without the behavior being instilled in him early on. He knew he was probably making a big deal out of nothing, Nightwing did in fact tone it down at the weapons cache and showed him how to look for evidence at a crime scene but he couldn’t shake the uneasiness.
‘Think of the scariest, most heartless being in the universe. Now imagine the thing that that thing would have nightmares of. That is Batman,’
‘You have to brake a few eggs to make an omelet,’
He remembered everything Nightwing had said. The cheerfulness he had that night, the witty bantter he’s say in battle. His eerie playfulness, his smirk. He wasn’t a hero because he looked into the abyss. He wasn’t a hero out of a sense of responsibility, though one was definitely there. He wasn’t a hero because he had the power to be one. He was a hero because he enjoyed it, enjoyed the rush. He was a thrill seeker. And what greater thrill than putting your life on the line every night. Now the question was, was this Nightwing’s job or his addiction?
Nightwing continued with the investigation of the gun smugglers. They were Russians, hired to pick up shipments of guns and distribute them to several caches around the city. When Nightwing questioned them on who the boss was they only said the guy’s name was Tombstone. A bit off putting but okay. Nightwing kept asking if he wanted to continue the investigation with him but Peter wasn’t sure he wanted to. Yes he wanted to learn how to be a better hero and yes Nightwing had done a great job of that, teaching him to stick to the shadows, about casing new environments, not running in blind, but his bad habit of dislocating shoulders and cracking ribs was off putting. He didn’t want to bring this up with his team, not wanting to ruin the golden image they painted him in, but he did express his concern with Fury and Wally.
“The Wingman’s home town is Gotham City,” Wally said, “They have a crazy clown planning mass murders and spreading his Joker Venom every week and when it’s not him it’s Scarecrow and his fear gas and if it’s not him it’s Penguin with his gang of thugs and evil birds or Two-Face, or the Riddler, or Bane, or Ivy, hell, even Calander Man when the holiday’s right. He grew to fight brutal. It’s how you survive there. That city will eat you alive if you let it, ‘kill or be killed’ and he and Bats have mastered the art of avoiding those two options. Your crooks are just softer than the ones he’s used to. I’m sure he didn’t mean to scare you off,”
“He didn’t scare me off,” Peter replied quickly, “I just… His style just caught me off guard is all,”
“Well he is Batman’s son. Batman is WAY worse than Boy Blunder. Even Superman is afraid of him and that guy is invulnerable with just about every superpower you can think of. I’m pretty sure Bats kicked his ass once or twice and maybe that’s why, don’t know. I’ll have to ask Wing,” Wally said, “If you want I can go talk to him about it but I’m pretty sure he’ll just brush me off. Worth a shot though,”
“The fact that he uses intimidation and torture and views it as normal behavior is concerning,” Fury rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
“Welcome to the world of the bat,” Wally said, “Just be happy he didn’t hang a guy over a rooftop by his feet. That is something the big guy would do. Wing’s not to big on the torture thing, not like Bats, but he isn’t afraid of breaking a few fingers and promising worse. That’s normal for him. As I said my bro’s from Gotham. The city’s a lot… meaner. Just be happy that it was Batman that trained him and not some other clown. Lot of dark and seedy stuff in that town,”
Batman and Robin were investigating a strange energy burst on the outskirts of Gotham. After Fate had informed them on Dick and Wally’s whereabouts and that they were safe and in good hands the team, and more specifically Bruce, had calmed down. Fate had assured them that he would be keeping an eye on them and that, in time, they will return. It was all just a matter of waiting. So it was back to business as usual.
As they got closer to the energy source they began running into some problems. Talons. That blasted Court of Owls was back, or at least their Talons were. It was strange though. As they fought Batman could tell they were holding back. They weren’t trying to kill him and Tim and that worried him. Suddenly a bubble of red energy appeared around them, trapping them.
“Hoo, hoo. Look’s like we caught ourselves a Batman and a Bird Brain,” one of the Talons spoke.
“You’re one to talk!” Robin snapped.
“Cobb,” Batman hissed.
“Correct,” Cobb said, “I would kill you but right now I don’t have the time,”
Klarion the Witch Boy stepped out from the shadows and stood beside the head Talon. There was a wicked smirk on his face. Separate these two were dangerous, together they were worryingly so.
“You see Batman you stole something from me, something precious, and have kept it a secret for so long. Blood, Batman, my blood, and I intend to reclaim what is rightfully mine. You can’t keep him from his destiny and he can’t run from it anymore,” Cobb declared, “With the help of Klarion I will find him and shape him into what my blood has destined him to be. A Talon,”
With that Klarion opened a portal and the two were gone. The rest of the Talons dispersed, no longer being needed and after a few minutes the shield dropped. Bruce fell to his knees. This wasn’t happening, not to them. It couldn’t be. The darkest secret Batman has ever had to keep, the one thing that Dick never wanted to come to light.
“Batman, who was that? What was he talking about? What Blood?” Tim was thoroughly confused.
“Dick’s blood, Tim. Dick’s blood,”
Peter ran into Nightwing again when he was out on patrol. Reluctant at first he eventually let the hero from Gotham tag along under the condition that they do things his way for the night. Nightwing was okay with that, he just seemed happy to be leaping from rooftop to rooftop. He could see why the guy took a bird name as his hero identity, the guy made falling look as graceful as flying, maybe even a little more so. Nightwing had a carefree smile on his face, like he was on top of the world having the time of his life. It was a feeling Peter knew well. Up here above everything, swinging from a thread, he felt invincible, like nothing was impossible.
“I love patrolling under a clear sky,” Nightwing said as he leaped a large gap between buildings, “No clouds overhead to make you feel trapped. Just us, the moon, and a limitless sky,”
“I take it you enjoy patrolling than,” Peter smiled underneath his mask. The guy’s joy was infectious.
“Live for it. Patrol is the highlight of every day for me. I can’t wait to put on the uniform and go out. It makes me feel so alive. That I’m up here doing what no one else can,”
They leaped and swung from building to building. Nightwing informed him that he had tipped off the cops to the locations of the other caches and had discovered Tombstone’s real name was Lonnie Lincoln. The man had moved his gun trafficking operations out of Daredevil’s turf and into Spidey’s because the devil was getting in the way. Now his operation was crippled and the cops knew his name.
“I left a ‘Your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man’ note. Figured since it’s your town you should take the credit,” Nightwing said.
“You didn’t have to do that you know,”
“Sure I did. Nightwing doesn't belong here. He belongs in Bludhaven and Gotham with Batman and Robin. Just think of it as a show of gratitude,”
Peter was about to say something when his Spider Sense flared up. Suddenly a knife flew by and cut his web and he began to fall. With superhuman reflexes he quickly shot another web and swung over to the building Nightwing was standing on and landed hard in a heap on the floor.
“What the hell was that?” Nightwing asked crouching down to help him up.
Peter, again, didn’t get to reply. An owl flew so close over their heads that they both instinctively ducked. The bird landed on a man’s shoulder who was standing on a roof across a small alley from them. Nightwing visibly tenced. His masked eyes widening in disbelief and fear.
The man was clad in all black armor with silver and gold trimming. A cloth hood with a golden owl mask covered the man’s face. He had several throwing knives attached to a leather strap across his chest and two daggers on his hips, a sword strapped to his back.
“No… Not here… Not now… How?” Nightwing spoke in such a hushed voice that even Peter’s advanced hearing had trouble picking it up.
Nightwing closed his eyes and began to shake in fear, “Acest lucru nu se poate întâmpla. Nu e adevărat... Nu e aici. El nu poate... (This can't be happening. He's not real... He's not here. He can't...)”
“Richard, you don’t seem so happy to see me,” the man said, “I thought you’d want a family reunion though you didn’t seem so thrilled about our last one. Could I be wrong?”
Nightwing opened his eyes to look at the man and Peter could see tears beading under his mask. Peter didn’t know this man, the fact that Nightwing did meant that he wasn't from this dimension. The fact that Nightwing seemed scared to death by him made Peter’s blood boil. No way was this guy getting to Nightwing! No way was he threatening his friend! He secretly pressed the distress beacon on his communicator before stepping between Nightwing and Owl Face.
“Look I don’t know who you are but you best leave Nightwing alone,” Peter spoke fearlessly.
“You made a new friend Richard. That’s cute. I take it he didn’t tell you who he was, what he is,” the owl guy said.
“He told me enough! He’s Nightwing! He’s Batman’s son,” Peter said.
“He’s lying,” the man hissed, “That bat’s no more his father than I am yours! Their blood ties are thinner than water,”
Peter looked down at Nightwing wide eyed and the owl guy just laughed, “Hoo, hoo, I guess he never told you he was adopted. Poor, poor Richard, orphaned and alone. Stolen from his home by the big bad bat. Fed the lies that he was born for heroism, that being a vigilante was his calling. Your blood dictates otherwise,”
“Nightwing?” Peter didn’t know how to go about asking the very obvious question.
“Come on boy. It’s in your blood to be a Talon,” Owl face said.
Suddenly Nightwing shot a Batarang at the man, aiming for his neck, “Leave me the hell alone!”
“Now that’s no way to treat family. I take it the bat failed to teach you manners,” the Talon deflected the projectile with ease.
“He taught me I had choices,” Nightwing hissed, “And I chose Nightwing!”
“Again, cute,” Talon flung a knife straight at Nightwing’s head.
It never hit its target but was instead caught by a blur of red. The Flash stood before them glaring at the assassin. Nova flew overhead and Peter heard his team come filing out of the staircase that led onto the roof. The gang was all here.
“Perhaps another time then. For now though, a tactical retreat. I’ll be seeing you soon,” The man threw down a smoke bomb.
Nova shot a nova beam into the cloud but when the smoke cleared there was no one there. Just an owl feather and a growing sense of dread.
“Okay. This is the part where you give us an explanation on what all that was,” Peter told Nightwing who just hung his head low.
“His name was William Cobb, born October 10, 1901. He’s a Talon for a secret society known as the Court of Owls. They ruled Gotham from the shadows and were responsible for the assassinations of many of Gotham’s elite over the centuries. Cobb is the best assassin they have, kept alive by electrum blood… and… he’s my great-grandfather,” Nightwing said slowly, “I was supposed to be his heir, chosen at birth. They had begun the conversion process against everyone’s knowledge, including my own when I was six. The night my parents died was the night I was supposed to be delivered to them for brainwashing and training but Batman got me before they could. The court has since been disbanded, murdered by Cobb, but their Talons are still at large,”
They were back on the helicarrier now sitting in one of the briefing rooms. Nightwing, or Richard as he had confessed his real name to be, was still in uniform but had removed his mask. Everyone had. Now was not the time to hide face. He looked so pathetic right now, and the slightest bit of movement in his peripheral would make him flinch, like he was expecting to be attacked any second now.
“Dude,” Wally said slowly, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“How was I supposed to? I only found out a few months ago. Tim, Dami, and Babs don’t even know! You’re my frate (brother) Wally, my best friend. And so soon after the Reach invasion and that whole mess with Kaldur, Black Manta, and the Light. I didn’t want people thinking I was another repeat of that, or worse, that I’d actually turn. You, of all people, know how important my heritage is to me. The only reason I’m not Richard Wayne is because I wanted to honor my folks. I’m team leader and you were still MIA when I found out. What was I supposed to say? ‘Hay bro, good to see you’re not actually dead. I know you still hate me for almost getting your girlfriend of five years killed but I just want to let you know that the only reason I exist is so I can kill the man who raised and loved me. Can I come cry on your shoulder about it?’ It’s bad enough Bruce had to learn his son was born to kill him and everyone else of political importance in Gotham. I didn’t want everyone I love to look at me and only see a list of the dead,” Nightwing was close to tears now.
Wally was over to him in a flash, hugging him tightly, “You’re my brother Dick and I don’t care if you’re a Talon’s heir, a white martian, or some genomorph grown in a pod in an underground lab. You’re my brother before all of that. You’re the guy that would put his life on the line, sacrifice everything, to save a nameless face on the street, you’re the only guy on the planet that can do a quadruple backflip onto a raging monster’s back, and you’re the kid I wanted to be before I got my powers. You’re not your family’s past, you’re not a Talon, you’re Nightwing. After everything you’ve done for the team, for Gotham, hell, the planet, do you really think anyone would care?”
“Multumesc (thank you),” Dick hugged him back, tears finally spilling over, “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you,”
“I’m sorry if I made you feel like you couldn’t. I can jump to judgment too quickly. Speedster thing,”
Peter felt a bit awkward about being in the room with the two in what was obviously a very private moment. He again felt the need to feel sorry for Nightwing. God, his life must be hell. Forget having as much experience as half the Avengers, he’s dealt with more shit than all of them. He was a survivor. He could only imagine what the guy was going through. Finding out you were predetermined at birth to become an assassin, having your parents die, then finding out the man that raised you was a guy you were supposed to have been trained to kill. It’ll make a guy question their entire life. Peter understood why he’d not want to say anything. In the world of heroes vs. villains something as simple as bloodline can determine if someone trusts you with their life or not.
“Wait,” Wally held Nightwing at an arm’s length, “You’re not a genomorph are you? Roy and Kon are enough,”
“Oh my God! Way to ruin a moment Kid Idiot!” Nightwing punched Wally in the shoulder but was nevertheless smiling.
“Just checking,” Wally smiled.
“Sooo… What are we going to do about Talon?” Nova asked.
“This is my fight, my ghost,” Nightwing said.
“The lone ranger act can get you killed,” Peter said remembering what Dick had told him a few days before.
“I’m not letting you get yourself killed before you can be the best man at my wedding,” Wally said, “And besides Barbara would kill me if I let her ‘Hunk Wonder’ die. She scares me more than Bats,”
“That’s cuz she’s not afraid to call us on our bullshit,” Nightwing smiled, “And who said it’ll be her that’ll kill you? You know how Little D is when it comes to me,”
“We do this together,” Iron Fist declared.
Nightwing looked at everyone in the room and felt a weight lift off his shoulders. They didn’t care. Wally didn’t care. He was okay. He was safe. He then looked over at Commander Fury. He was the one Dick was worried about. He was such a by the books guy, a lot like Gordon back home, only Fury dealt with superheroes and supervillains on a daily bases. If he didn’t trust Dick…
“Any idea on what Cobb’s motives are?” Fury asked.
“Motives? That’s easy, me. He want’s me, to turn me into the perfect weapon, and if he can’t have me know one will,” Dick said, “He’ll find us,”
“So we wait?” Peter asked.
“For what, the bloodshed? Have I taught you nothing? We don’t wait, we hunt,” Dick said with determination.
“That thing was Dick’s great-grandfather? And neither of you thought to tell us? Bruce this is huge. How long has he suffered alone with this?” Barbara was furious, mostly with Dick.
“Five months,” Batman says.
“Five months?! I hope he can last that long in a dog house,” she crossed her arms over her chest.
“They must have had a good reason to not tell us,” Tim tried to calm his brother’s girlfriend down but it wasn’t really working.
Truth be told he was upset too. He had known Dick had been acting funny five months ago but had brushed it off as stress from trying to track Wally’s energy signals. When Wally was found and Jason came back from the dead (that was a long night), and Damian was dropped into their lives he got better and started smiling again. Had he known the distress was because a Talon from the now disbanded Court of Owls had come and told Dick the truth of his family’s and Haley’s connection to the secret society than he would have been there for his hero. There were no secrets between them (if you don’t count the deep undercover mission), no lies. So why did Dick feel the need to keep this to himself? It wouldn’t make him think any less of him. He was his mentor, his big brother, his idol. Nothing would ever change that.
“In truth I don’t know what Dick was thinking, just that it wasn’t my place to tell. Maybe he thought that with Artemis and Kaldur’s deep undercover mission that the team already didn’t trust him, maybe he thought everyone would think he was another kid trying to run away from his past by being a hero, or maybe he just didn’t want to acknowledge it as truth. What I do know is that he’s in trouble and he needs us. We’re going after him. Dr. Fate has agreed to open a portal for us in light that Cobb is now working with our favorite lord of chaos,” Batman explained.
“Good. I’ll go gather the team,” Barbara began to walk towards the Batcave’s zeta-tubes.
“Barbara,” Bruce started.
“No. This isn’t just your son this guy’s after. Dick is Young Justice. You mess with one of us you mess with us all. Cobb just raised an army against himself,”
She was off and Tim was following close behind her. Bruce sighed and turned around to see Damian grading one of Dick’s old Robin uniforms out of a display case. It was the first Robin uniform, back when Dick went on patrol dressed in traffic light colors. He was so small back then that even though he was nine when he first donned cape and mask the outfit would fit perfectly onto a six year old Damian.
“And what are you doing?” he asked the young assassin.
“Helping. My skills go way past the Talon’s simplistic training. You could use me out there and seeing as I don’t have a costume of my own I’ll need to borrow one,” he took out the tunic and green mask.
“Wouldn’t it be confusing having two Robins?” Bruce asked.
“Drake can get over it. If he starts whining just have the clone comfort him or something. I don’t care,”
Peter didn’t go to school the next day, claiming to be sick and waited till Aunt May left for work to sneak out. After the events of last night he decided that Dick needed some distraction from his inner turmoil. They’ll hunt Talon down later tonight, for now they needed some R&R. That’s how he ended up in Central Park with the guy again only this time with Wally. To be honest he felt a bit like a third wheel with these two. They were like an old married couple only… you know… not. Dick kept poking fun at Wally for his eating habits and claiming that he’d be married before the speedster if he didn’t hurry up propose to his girlfriend. Wally just said that the team’s resident dog had zero room to talk and that his eating habits were fine thank you very much. Eventually they settled down underneath a large oak tree and began exchanging stories of their many hero adventures.
“Next thing I know I’m fighting Deathstroke and there were still two more bombs to defuse. Bats was still busy with Blockbuster and Little Bird was out for the count with a head injury. Suddenly Superman shows up out of nowhere and makes quick work of everything. Man was B-Man pissed with Clark. I think he pulled kryptonite on him at the following JLA meeting because he kept flinching every time me and Tati walked into a room he was in for like the next few weeks,” Dick recalled one of his more recent missions with the Bat Family.
Wally laughed, “You’d think the Man of Steel would know by now that Batman hates outside help, especially if said help comes from metas,”
“He got the whole ‘stay out of my city’ speech and everything. It was amusing to watch. Supey so wasn’t feeling the aster, heavy on the dis,”
“‘Aster’? ‘Heavy on the dis’? Dude, what kind of English are you speaking?” Peter chuckled.
“Prefixes offend me,” Dick stated.
“He also has a bad habit of slipping into other languages that no one can understand,” Wally added.
“Nu știu despre ce vorbești despre. N-am să fac asta. Opri spune minciuni, (I don't know what you're talking about. I never do that. Stop telling lies.)” Dick crossed his arms.
“That. That right there. That’s what I’m talking about. No one understands your strange gypsy tongue,” Wally said, pointing at his friend comically.
Dick just stuck his tongue out childishly. Peter chuckled. These two were just like how he and Harry used to be. Things were now strained between them with Harry hating Spider-Man and his father, Norman, being Peter’s archenemy. Harry, of course, was blissfully unaware of all of this and Peter really hoped it stayed that way. For Harry’s sake.
As the day dragged on they found themselves at the cafe where Peter had first ran into Dick as just Dick and befriended him. They ran into MJ and Harry there, unsurprising seeing as it was now 5:30 and school had let out a few hours ago. Peter introduced Dick and Wally as two friends of his that were visiting from Jersey. MJ introduced herself and quickly took a liking to Dick and began trying to flirt with him, much to Peter’s irritation. Dick was either oblivious, unlike for someone that took in every detail of a situation by habit, or chose to ignore her attempts in favor for striking up conversation with Harry. Wally just shook his head at the poor girl’s attempts to swoon the acrobat. Apparently this happened almost every time a girl met the billionaire’s son, unless you were Barbara Gordon.
“It took a year of practically begging for her to finally say yes to going out with him,” Wally snickered.
Dick glared at his best friend before pulling a mischievous smirk, “Hay Hermes, remind me when you’re planning on proposing to Artemis? I want to be there for when she kicks your ass for taking so long,”
“I’m not taking too long!” Wally defended.
“Dude, five years. Most marriages don’t even last that long. At the pace you’re going I’ll be married before you. I’d like to be your best man before I die,” Dick said.
“Don’t worry Pixie Boy, I already got the ring. I’m just waiting for the perfect moment. Speaking of, can I borrow the island retreat?” Wally asked.
“Promise to wash it when you’re done and I might consider running it by Bruce. And stop mooching off me,”
“Never, Richie Rich,”
“I can and will hurt you,”
“I think we just became third, fourth, and fifth wheels,” Harry whispered.
“How do you think I felt before we got here?” Peter whispered back.
Peter’s phone buzzed. It was a message from Fury telling them to get back to the helicarrier. Looking outside he saw it was now dusk. Time to catch a Talon.
“Time to go?” Wally asked.
“Well then it was nice meeting you two,” Dick said, “Maybe we’ll see each other again sometime,”
Peter waved goodby to his friends and they were off to the helicarrier. Tonight they were hunting down Cobb and hopefully figure out how he got here. Nightwing had an idea on where he might be hiding out. The Court prayed on people’s superstitions. Back in Gotham they were a legend, an old nursery rhyme spoken to scare children. They instilled fear into people. They keep people silent. They kill who they see fit. Nightwing admitted that Cobb had killed many a Wayne and he was investigating the possibility that he had organized the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne. If it turned out to be true than Nightwing would be a direct descendant of the man who truly killed his mentor’s parents. Well shit. Now Peter felt bad.
“He’d most likely be holding up in an old building or a place where the thirteenth floor is cut off from the rest. That’s where all the Court’s hideouts, Talon Nests, and meeting places were back home,” Nightwing said.
“This could take forever,” Nova stated, “This is New York. There’s, like, a gagillion buildings that fit that description,”
“Then we take forever. We find Cobb. We bring him down. Radio in whenever you find something that looks suspicious and no unnecessary risks. That’s an order. Cobb is a formidable foe and will not hesitate to kill you. You see him you turn on your tracker and you run. You do not engage him alone. Tonight’s not the night for any heroics,” Nightwing told everyone.
He had gone full leader mode. Commander Fury was watching the scene from the security monitor in his office. To be honest he at first was highly suspicious of Flash and Nightwing. They show up after an unusual energy storm, seek out Spider-Man, and claim to be from another universe. With villains like Dr. Doom, Loki, and Thanos out there he was entitled to his suspicions but Dr. Strange vouched for them so he gave them the benefit of the doubt. He kept them on the helicarrier for closer observation, had them spar with the best to assess their skills, all with the end goal of keeping them pre-occupied as he formulated a contingency plan just in case. That’s how he discovered exactly how dangerous Nightwing could be if he went rogue. He defeated Captain America, bypassed their security systems, hacked their computers, and deduced every secret ID for the Avengers, and formulated his own contingency plans against them.
“The Avengers are gods among men,” the kid had said, “Do you have any idea what would happen if just one of them went rogue?”
The kid didn’t trust them, or he was just paranoid. Flash did mention something about bat paranoia and how not even some of the Bats allies on the Justice League knew his or Nightwing’s faces. Fury could see his reasoning, he himself had run some simulations and the end result was always the same. They got betten. Badly. Nightwing then said that he and Batman did the same for every Justice League member including Batman himself. Hell, he kept the one weakness of one of his idols on him at all times. Kryptonite.
Then he expressed interest in Spider-Man. Started asking about him. Than he learned he and Spider-Man went on patrol together, that he had landed five men in the hospital, and that he had tortured one of them into giving him information. Nightwing had just brushed it off, with Peter, and with him. Said that that was how he did things and that he still had eight fingers to go on that guy before things would have gotten serious. He had reluctantly agreed to tone down the violence though he had honestly not seen what the problem with it was. Fury had let it go again, after all he wasn’t one to talk violence when he employed people like Black Widow. Then another curve ball. The Talon and Nightwing’s relation to him. Fury now saw why all that sneaking around and fancy acrobatics came so easily to him. He would make the perfect assassin and if it wasn’t for his undying loyalty to Batman he could be a very real threat.
That was another thing. The kid was crazy loyal, almost to a fault. He spoke of Batman as if he was a god, and maybe to Nightwing he was. The man groomed him to be the perfect child crime fighter, the perfect soldier, and though that didn’t say much for the man it was clear that Nightwing looked up to him, loved him. The kid was also a natural born leader. He commanded Spider-Man and the S.H.I.E.L.D team with ease and experience. Wally had mentioned that the team Nightwing runs, Young Justice they called themselves, was easily three times bigger and that they were always looking for new recruits. Nightwing was one to take charge and seeing him now, telling the team his plan and emphasizing the importance of their safety, Fury knew they were in good hands. He trusted him.
The team walked out of the briefing room and hit the streets. After an hour of searching all hell broke loose. Above the Empire State Building a red portal opened up and black figures started pouring out, gliding on the air with wing like paraglider flaps. Talons, lots and lots of Talons.
“Klarion,” Flash observed, “That’s how Cobb got here. Well this is just great,”
“Rahat. Right. Everyone pair off. Nova I want you in the sky. Blast as many as you can. They can’t fight if they’re gliding. The fall should be enough damage to force them back into their sleeper state. Talons are reanimated corpses so don’t hold back. Power Man, Flash you got crowd control. Get everyone inside and keep them there. This definitely qualifies as a state of emergency so if you can get the police on board that’ll be great. Spidey, Tiger, Iron Fist you’re with me. We got the ones on the ground. Do not split up under any circumstances,” Nightwing ordered over the comms.
“What about the witch boy?” Flash asked.
“We will burn that bridge when we get to it. For now out top priority is stopping the Talons,” Nightwing said.
“I’ll call up Dr. Strange,” Iron Fist said, “He should be able to close the portal,”
“I don’t think we can do this alone guys. I think we should call for help,” Spider-Man said.
“I’m with the web head on this one. I think we should call S.H.I.E.L.D,” White Tiger said.
“Acknowledged. Execute,” Nightwing ordered and the battle was on.
Nova rocketed into the sky and began blasting the Talon’s paragliding flaps, burning them and causing the assassins to go plummeting to the ground below. Nova decommissioned a good number of them but there were just too many coming through the portal. The ground team quickly found themselves in an all out brawl with the Talons. No one was holding back. Not even Peter and though he did feel bad that these were once normal people he was more or less killing (rekilling?) but the need to protect his home from the invaders outweighed that. Eventually the Avengers joined the fray and, to everyone’s surprise, some old foes as well. Sandman, Vulture, Electro, even Gobby, and was that Deadpool yelling at a Talon that was also wielding a katana for copying him? But it still wasn’t enough. They were still coming. Dr. Strange was duking it out with Klarion on the roof of the Empire State Building, Iron Man was helping Nova, Captain America was assisting Power Man and Flash, Hawkeye was sniping them with his trick arrows, Black Widow was tag teaming it with White Tiger, and Hulk was… hulking. Everyone was giving it everything they had but it still wasn’t enough.
Then Dick saw him. Cobb. He wasn’t wearing his mask, showing his gray skin, sickly blue veins, and inhuman yellow eyes. He was smirking and it really pissed Dick off. He charged him and the fight was on. The sound of clashing metal filled the air around them, neither letting up for one second. Nightwing was uncharacteristically quiet as he fought his great-grandfather but Cobb spoke lots. He said that Dick was a failure of a descendant, that he tarnished the family by becoming a vigilante, that by playing hero and refusing to kill he was being a coward.
“The only way to solve problems is to eliminate them that way they can never return. How many problems could you have solved if you had just finished them. How many have died because you couldn’t cross a line? How many have been killed that you could have saved? You could have saved them, all of them, even Jason,” Cobb managed to slash Dick across the chest.
Dick cried out in pain and Cobb stabbed him in the shoulder with a throwing knife. Dick collapsed onto his knees, his escrima sticks clattering to the ground. He was breathing heavily and trying to focus. The streets around them were empty, he noted. Somehow Cobb had lured him away from the rest without him realizing it. He felt so foolish and if Batman were here he’d be listing everything Dick had done wrong tonight. Just like always, Dick has screwed up.
“Now join me, complete your destiny and rule Gotham from the shadows. Surviving the Court is the only way to protect the ones you love. It’s what you were born to do,” Cobb extended a hand, “I’ll even let you spare your dear little brother Damian. He’ll make a good Talon too,”
Nightwing chuckled dryly, “Yeah. I guess you’re right. It was always coming down to this. Me and you. Set in motion since before even my father of Bruce were even born but you’ve got it all wrong. Bruce, Tim, Dami, Barbara, and I, we already rule Gotham. We watch over as the Waynes by day and the Bats by night. We will always be there watching over them from the shadows, protecting them from things like you and if I believed in destiny I’d say being Nightwing was mine,”
“How far the family’s fallen. Very well. If my family can no longer uphold our legacy then I’ll simply chop the tree down before it can be poisoned any further,” Cobb brought down his knife only for it to be stopped by an escrima stick.
“Bring it old man,”
Dick had found his second wind but it somehow felt different this time, like his senses were on high alert. He felt stronger, his eyesight sharper, his reaction time faster. He was on par with Cobb.
The talon smirked, “What a waist that advanced serum was on you. I see you’ve activated it now. How does it feel? Do you feel powerful? Like you can do anything? What’s it like to be a Talon? That’s what you are now.
Your body has activated a dormant serum that has bonded to every cell in your body. Looks like going to the doctor’s office for your flu shots has really come back to bite you. That power was supposed to stay dormant until the Court got a hold of you and inputted the trigger words into your subconscious but it seems your body’s desire to survive outweighed that. Just to bad. It’s still not enough,”
Cobb cut Dick on the shoulder and the young man hissed in pain, “Now you die,” Cobb brought his dagger down on his descendant.
This was bad. This was bad, this was bad, this was bad, bad, bad, bad, bad. There were too many of them. They were stretched so thin and getting wounded fast. Flash had a gash in his leg, the Cap had a few cuts and scratches here and there, Nova was exhausted, Thor had a sai stuck in his side, Black Widow and White Tiger were backed into a corner, and Peter’s spider sense was the only thing keeping him alive at this point. Oh, and Nightwing has up and vanished. There was that too. Didn’t he say something about not wandering off?
“We need to fall back and regroup,” the Cap said.
“Not until we find Nightwing. He must have gotten separated from us somehow,” White Tiger said.
“That idiot. He must have ran off to fight Cobb himself,” Flash growled.
“Bad news guys. I’m down to my last arrow,” Hawkeye said.
“Isn’t that always the case?” Black Widow said.
Suddenly and arrow shot out of nowhere and tagged a Talon in the knee. everyone looked over to see a female archer dressed in green, her long blond hair pulled back into a ponytail, standing on a nearby rooftop. Then there was a loud roar and a few talons rounded the corner running away from… a giant t-rex? The t-rex roar again as it chased them down followed by a green girl with red hair. Another red haired girl came swinging in from a rope followed by a blond girl with a lasso and a boy dressed in red with an ‘R’ on his chest. There was another kid as well, six by the looks of it, wearing a tunic similar to what the kid dressed in red was wearing only the sleeves were short and green and the ‘R’ was a different style. It looked like he just put the shirt on over whatever he had been wearing. He had on a green mask and was wealing a katana. The aria was suddenly swarmed with new faces, all teens or young adults. A guy with a ‘S’ shield on his shirt, a guy with gills and swords made out of water, a girl that looked similar to Wasp, a guy that looked like some alien bug, a kid dressed in a yellow and red outfit similar to Flash’s, and a guy in a brown jacket with a Kevlar shirt that had a red bat on in who was dual wielding guns. The most notable part of him was that a few tufts of hair above his forehead were white while the rest was black. The street was now packed with heroes of all shapes, sizes, and powers. Suddenly a dark shadow flew over Peter’s head and landed right behind him, punching and knocking out a talon that he was too distracted to notice.
The man turned to look at him. He was tall, dark, and intimidating. His black cloak enveloped everything around it. The only speck of color on him was a yellow utility belt. It felt like the air around him dropped a couple of degrees and an aura of doom and dread filled the area. Peter immediately regretted meeting the man’s gaze. He had a cold glare that could make even Dr. Doom shake with fear. Swallowing hard Peter worked up the courage to speak.
“T-thanks. And you are?” Peter cursed himself for stuttering.
“I’m Batman,” it was more of a declaration then an answer.
If his face wasn’t covered Batman would have seen Peter go pale and with the way he looked at him he probably did, “Y-you’re Batman? THE Batman? You’re way scarier than imagined,”
Batman ignored the comment and cut straight to the chase, “Where’s Nightwing?”
“I don’t know. We lost track of him in the fight against these Talon guys,” Peter said.
“Typical. I’ll find him. Stay here. Dr. Fate will have the portal closed soon,” with that the Dark Knight was gone.
Looking back at the scene the heroes were finally getting the upper hand. Peter went to work helping out the girl that looked like a female version of Batman and the kid with the bo staff, webbing the owl ninja’s weapons away and webbing their eyes so that they couldn’t see. The smaller kid with the katana was cutting down Talons left and right, it was really kind of frightening to see a small child wield a weapon with a blade his size with such skill and not care one bit that he’s chopping off heads. Yes, the kid was decapitating them. Peter tried not to think about that.
The rest of the Young Justice crew split into groups and started helping the wounded. Kid Flash and Blue Beetle were helping Flash, Miss Martian and Superboy paired off to fight a group of Talons, Wonder Girl and Aqualad were tag teaming a pair with swords and knives, Lagoon Boy was with the Hulk, Bumblebee with Guardian, Artemis was sharing arrows with Hawkeye, Red Hood and Deadpool were fighting back to back, and Static was with Thor combining their powers to generate powerful lightning blasts. Talons were falling left and right, soon there will be none left. Up at the top of the Empire State Building Dr. Strange and Dr. Fate had bested Klarion and him and his cat were knocked out. The portal was closed and the Talons now had no way of reopening it. They were threw.
Dick was in survival mode at this point. He dodged as best he could but the pain and blood loss was making him slow and dizzy. The advanced abilities the experimental Talon Serum gave him were not helping. He couldn't do this. He was going to die. At least then Cobb couldn’t use him against Batman and his friends. No. No, he couldn’t think like that. Not now. He was not dieing like this. Narrowly dodging another swipe from Cobb Dick made one last ditch effort to beat him. Charging up both eskrima sticks to their max output of 50,000 volts he clashed the together making an energy pulse that fried everything within a ten foot radius of it save for Dick who was protected by his insulated suit. He wasn’t sure if he hit Cobb with the energy pulse or not. He had blacked out after that, unable to stay conscious any longer. He heard footsteps coming towards him as he faded. Did he miss? Oh, well. At least he tried. As the darkness consumed him he silently apologized to Wally, the team, and his family, hoping Bruce could forgive him for being so weak. Once again he falls to Gotham’s worst.
Dick woke up to a gentle hand brushing his hair out of his eyes and removing his mask. There was a secure arm around his shoulder, holding him close. He instinctively drew himself closer to the warm body holding him, craving the protection it provided like a lost child.
“Fiu…” a familiar voice said.
Bruce. He was with Bruce. He was safe. He had saved him, just like always. He’ll be okay.
“Tati,” Dick’s voice was cracked and barely audible.
“Shh,” Bruce had dropped his Batman persona altogether, his cowl pulled back to reveal the man underneath, “Ești în siguranță acum. Te-am prins. (You’re safe now. I’ve got you.)”
Dick forced his eyes open and smiled softly. It was always comforting to hear his native tongue spoken to him. It was something Bruce did after the many nightmares he had as a child and the traumas he faced while Robin. He recalled after the failsafe Bruce didn’t speak a speck of English to him for weeks. It was some time during that that he discovered two things. One: he didn’t want to be Batman anymore and two: he couldn’t remember what his parents looked like. Yes he had the general idea. His mom was thin and had blondish red hair, his dad was muscular and had black hair but outside of that everything was blurry. When he thought of what his dad shoulda looked like Bruce’s face was the only thing that popped up. When he looked at his family’s small faces in the picture frame on his bedside table, the image to small and old to show and real detail on the faces in it, it just didn’t feel right anymore, like it was somehow fake. It was real, it was his life, but it was no longer his home or his world. After the undercover “mission” to Haley’s Circus with the team, minus Wally, it only solidified it. Yes it felt good to be on the trapeze again and to this day he’ll do it again in a heartbeat but he didn’t live for it anymore. It was one last act for the Grayson kid, one last obligation to his past as a boy he no longer recognized or could identify as. It was time to put the past in the past. Time to finally move on.
Cobb was the final nail in the coffin. Dick Grayson the circus boy was dead. Dick Grayson, Nightwing and adopted son of Bruce Wayne is who he was now. He didn’t need to hang onto old family ties anymore. He had a new family in Bruce, Al, Babs, Tim, and Damian, Jason too when he showed up and wasn’t trying to kill everyone. A bat family. The best kind there is.
He wasn’t sure when he started seeing Bruce as his father. It just sort of happened. One day he was Bruce Wayne the man that took him in and mentored him in the ways of crime fighting and the next he was Bruce Wayne the Daddy Bats. Dick supposed it was early on. He remembered having recurring nightmares the first few months after his parent’s deaths, nightmares that were so vivid he would wake up balling with the occasional wet bed. One night on a particularly bad dream he remembered he had a lapse in judgment and went running off to find comfort, his legs carrying him to Bruce. Scared so much he was physically incapable of speaking a speck of English he crawled into bed with his legal guardian and began rambling in Romani. Somewhere in that he must have muttered the word ‘tati’ because after that Bruce was a lot more fatherly to him and over time he became synonymous with the word in his mind. Somewhere along the line Bruce began seeing him in a similar light because ‘chum’ was slowly traded out for ‘son’. Their bond only grew further from there. After four years of working side by side with one another communication was hardly ever needed. They knew exactly what the other was thinking by body language alone. They could have entire conversations with eye contact alone.
He guessed that was why he was so possessive of Bruce back in the day. He didn’t want to share his dad with anyone else, especially his teammates. He had weaseled his way into the bat’s heart and he didn’t want to share because he could be so easily replaced. Batman could pick any kid off the streets and they would love to be the Dark Knight’s new partner. So when the team was formed and Aqualad became leader and began seeking guidance from Batman and with Superman being a dick to Superboy and the clone in desperate need of a father figure he began to feel threatened. He mellowed out after he matured a bit and Batgirl came along and when Jason made his way into the family, a kid that was literally picked up off the streets, Dick hardly felt threatened. He was, and always will be, Batman’s number one, his go to for when things got tough, Batman’s oldest and most trusted son.
Bruce looked down at the boy in his arms. His eyes were a sickly, animalistic yellow now, not a soft baby blue. Dick must have noticed the way he was looking at him because he sighed dejectedly.
“I look like him now, don’t I? Like a monster?” Dick couldn’t bring himself to look at Bruce, tears in his eyes.
“No,” the Dark Knight said, “You look like my son, old chum,”
Dick wrapped his arms around the bat and buried his face in his chest. Reluctantly Bruce wrapped his arms around him too. Dick smiled secretly. Ten years and Bruce still didn’t know what the hell he was doing when it came to his kids. Guy was a lost cause.
“Always there to save my sorry ass huh, dad,” Dick grinned.
“Could say the same to you, son,” Bruce gave a small smile, “Can you walk?”
“Maybe. He got me pretty good in the leg,”
Bruce hoisted Dick up and Dick put his arm around his shoulder for support. They slowly made their way over to Cobb’s body. The front of his outfit was torn and charred a bit, his eyes glazed over with death. Dick leaned down with great difficulty and closed Cobb’s eyes.
“He was a monster but he was still a person,” Dick said softly.
“A person that couldn’t let go,” Bruce added.
“Guess he and I had something in common after all,”
They remained silent for a moment befor Dick stood up again, “So… When’s the next JLA meeting again?”
Bruce was a bit taken aback by the question but hid his surprise well, “You planning on joining?”
“Part-time. The team is still my top priority and that will never change and I’ll always be there in a heartbeat when you need me… I think maybe it’s time I extend that offer to the League as well,” Dick said.
“We’ll be happy to have you,”
The last Talon fell to Blue Beetle and his plasma cannon. They had won the night. They survived the Owls. Slowly civilians came out of their hiding places as the heroes and few villains picked themselves up and licked their wounds. Peter looked around at everyone and let out a breath he didn’t know he had been holding. Everyone was okay, a little worse for the ware, but alive. They lived to fight another day.
Dr. Fate and Dr. Strange came floating down to them, “Klarion has been defeated and is now imprisoned in the Tower of Fate. He won’t be harming anyone else for some time,” Dr. Fate said.
“Father and Nightwing are still missing,” Damian said.
“Please be okay,” Robin mutter under his breath.
“Chill Replacement, Dickie Bird’s hard to kill. I should know, I’ve only tried half a dozen times,” Red Hood said crossing his arms over his chest, “By the way. Thanks for the last minute call. I hate most of you guys’s guts but… I guess I like you better with your guts on the inside,”
“Somehow that’s not really comforting,” Batgirl said with a sigh, “Thank you Jason. I like your guts better on the inside too,”
Jason blushed a little and he now regretted coming to this with only a red mask and not his hood, “Great, now I’m feeling sappy emotions,”
“Hey, look!” Beat Boy said pointing down the street as two figures began to emerge from the smoke and fog.
Slowly a cowl-less Batman and maskless Nightwing emerged from the fog, Batman supporting his injured son. Nightwing’s uniform was cut up and torn all over the place, the blue symbol on his chest stained red with his blood. Dried blood covered his forehead and he had deep gashes on his shoulder, across his chest, and down his leg. It was amazing he was still countions with so much blood loss. They stopped in front of Beat Boy who looked up at them in shock and disbelief. Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson were Batman and Nightwing?! Who would have guessed that?! And what happened to Dick’s eyes?! Dick then tossed something and it landed with a clang in front of the changeling's feet. It was one of Cobb’s daggers.
“Souvenir,” Dick said simply, a small smirk on his lips.
Bruce helped him sit down on the side of the road and in the blink of an eye he was surrounded by the other bats.
“And you say I have a death wish. Way to throw everyone for a loop Dick Duck,” Jason said, “And what’s up with the eyes?”
Batgirl hugged him as tightly as she could without hurting him and kissed his cheek, “I was so worried, Dick. You have no idea,”
“Never do anything like this again please,” Robin joined in on the hug.
“-Tt-. Facing him one on one was an idiotic move, even by your standards. I’m surprised you’re even still alive,” Damian crossed his arms.
“Is that one of my old uniforms?” Dick grinned.
Damian blushed a little and scowled, “I needed something to wear. I don’t have a uniform and this was the only thing my size,”
“I think it’s cute. You make such a cute little Robin Damian~” Dick gushed grabbing Damian and pulling him into a hug.
“Unhand me this instant!” Damian yelled.
“But you’re so cute,” Dick held him tighter.
The others watched the scene unfold in front of them. None of the younger members were used to seeing their usually all business leader act so… un-Nightwing and they were still trying to wrap their heads around the idea that Nightwing was former acrobat and billionaire’s son Richard Grayson. To be honest not many from the original team have seen Dick act like an overly affectionate older brother but they have seen how he would randomly pounce Tim and Jason with hugs and refuse to let go and they’ve all seen firsthand how overprotective he was of the younger members of the bat family.
“Aww, they’re just so cute!” M’gann cooed and Cassie nodded in agreement.
“Batman is Bruce Wayne? Did you know about this?” Jaime asked Bart.
“Duh, from the future remember. I know almost everyone’s ID,” Bart said.
A little ways away Captain America was making his way towards Sandman who was the only villain that decided to stick around. He was surrounded by little kids that were fascinated by his sand body. He had loosened his molecular structure a little so that they could build sandcastles out of him. For someone who was supposed to be the bad guy he was a complete softy when it came to kids.
“You did great work out there Marco,” the Captain said.
“Umm… Thanks,” Marco said reforming his upper body to talk, “It was no biggie really. Those owl creeps got the jump on all of us. Enemy of my enemy is my friend and all that,”
Steve nodded and watched the kids continue to make castles out of Marco, “You’d make a good hero. The kids love you… Want a job?”
Marco looked at him as if he had grown a second head, “You serious?”
“We could use someone like you as a reserve member,” Black Widow added as she walked up to the the two, “Think of it as a step towards redemption,”
Marco looked at them for a moment before smiling, “Alright, but I ain’t no B-Class baby. Sandman’s the real deal,”
The other side of the street Artemis was helping Wally sit down, “Easy Baywatch,”
“Thanks babe,” Wally winced as he moved his injured leg, “God, if this is what all of Dick’s family reunions are like I don’t want to be at his place during Christmas,”
“They seem to be doing fine right now,” the green archer pointed out.
They observed all the bats huddled around their eldest bird, just happy to be in each other’s presents. It was a rare moment where no one was fighting. Damian was curled up in Dick’s lap instead of trying to stab Tim, Jason wasn’t pulling a gun on Bruce or anyone else for that matter. They were at peace.
They watched as a small barn owl landed on Dick’s shoulder and started rubbing its head on him lovingly. Wally recognized it as the owl that Cobb had during their first encounter. It must recognize his scent or something. Dick began scratching it under the chin and it cooed happily. Bruce said that he wasn’t keeping the owl to which Dick replied that he had let Bruce keep Jason. The bat kids, all but Jason who was now scowling, laughed.
“Only thing missing is Alfred, the dog, and Catwoman,” Wally pointed out, “We’ll have to ask him about the yellow eyes thing. Cobb probably did something to him. Hope it’s not permanent,” the speedster added offhandedly.
“For all their bickering they really do love each other don’t they?”
“That or they just all love Dick. He’s kinda the glue that keeps them all together,”
They observed the bat family a little longer before Wally spoke again, “You know… I’ve been thinking… about extending the flash family just a little bit. Maybe add an archer into our mix,”
“Are you asking me to marry you?” Artemis asked.
“Depends. You saying yes?”
She just smiled and kissed him, “You know for the fastest man alive you take forever to do anything,”
Wally just chuckled and then Bart sped over to them, “Hey cuz! You okay?”
Wally and Artemis just pulled him into a hug smiling.
Peter stood next to Commander Fury, arms crossed as he observer everyone. All’s well that ends well. Another win for the good guys and another chapter closing. It felt so surreal. Two weeks ago it was just another average day in the life of your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man and now, after all of this, he would never be quite the same person ever again. His eyes had been opened to the evils the world can create and he had made it threw just a bit more mature. He’s also seen the miracles it made too. It felt like a right of passage, that he was one step closer to being the ultimate Spider-Man.
He still felt the dull buzz from the battle. His body was in a strange state of being numb and pent up full of energy all at the same time. He felt lighter on his feet yet strangely weighed down. The area around them reflected how he was feeling. They were surrounded by destruction, wounded, and the streets were covered in blood but everyone was at peace and happy. Everyone has come together. Heroes clinging to heroes with silly grins on their faces, loved ones hugging each other, civilians coming out to help dress the wounds of super humans they didn’t even know the names of. It was like one of those sence at the end of a Christmas movie where everyone is suddenly best friends with one another. All that was missing was the snow. Was this what it was like after winning a battle against all odds?
“It’s finally over,” Fury breathed.
“It’s so weird. Everything that happened tonight, it just doesn't feel real,” Peter said.
“You get used to it,”
Peter nodded and remained silent, just soaking in the calm feeling the victory brought on. The survived the Night of the Owls. They were alive. Underneath a sky that was darker than black, they were alive.