Author's Note: This story has been in the works for a very long time. Again, it wouldn't have been possible if not for the lovely and uber wonderful Fiona who worked with me on this during a very difficult time in her life. Hun, you are just too cool for words! Thanks again.
The picture used for the story was created by Mxi665. Actually, the pic is what inspire the story in the first place. It just took me a really long time to finish it. The artwork can be found here: I'm Okay Now.
Thanks, Mxi665, for letting me use the image.
Disclaimer: None of it is mine, which is a crying shame I tell ya!
August 28, 2015 21:27 EST
The engine cut off, sending the garage into silence. Eighteen-year-old Dick Grayson lifted the dark blue helmet off of his head with a wry chuckle. He readjusted the Bluetooth earpiece and continued his conversation, as he hooked the helmet over the handle bars of the sleek Ducati ST4 street bike beneath him.
"Look, Wally, just tell her that as much as you miss being a hero, you're not going to come back to the Team." Dick listened to the response with a fond smile. "I know she's being paranoid, just don't go telling her that or you'll find yourself sleeping in the campus library again."
Kicking the stand on the vehicle, Dick lifted himself off the seat and started for the door that led to the Manor. "You know what Artie's like, Wal, just be honest with her and she'll love you for it. I've got to go. Bruce is going to want a report on those properties the Wayne Foundation purchased last week. He's had me inspecting them all day and he'll want to deal with that before we head out on Patrol tonight."
Entering the security code, Dick opened the door and stepped inside. He shook his head and chuckled again. "No, I haven't told him my plan and I won't until I know if I get accepted or not. I haven't even sent in my application yet. Now, good-night, Wally. Tell Artie I said 'hi.'" He disconnected the call as he walked down the corridor from the garage entrance to the kitchen, unhooking the earpiece from his lobe and pocketing it in his jacket.
The kitchen was dark, the only light coming from the final rays of late summer sun filtering through the windows. "Alfie?" Dick called, expecting the gentleman's gentleman to have been waiting for him. Since graduation, when Dick had started working with the Foundation on several low income housing projects, he hadn't been getting back to the manor in time for dinner. Alfred had begun waiting for him with a plate he had kept warm, and they would chat while Dick ate before he joined the others on patrol.
"Alfred?" Dick's voice carried through the quiet of the Manor as he stepped out of the kitchen and into the dining room. It too was empty, and his instincts began screaming at him that something was wrong. The dinner plates were still set out on the table and the food only partially eaten; obviously their meal had been interrupted.
Walking past the table, Dick palmed one of the knives and made his way to the entrance of the reception room – once used for the cocktail hour prior to a dinner party – and then to the open ornate doors that lead into the main foyer. As he approached the opening, his heart plummeted into his stomach. In the dimming light, he could make out a pair of legs spread out on the parquet floor of the entrance hall.
Pressing his body against the wall next to the door, he peered around the frame and into the open hall. Alfred lay on the floor, directly beneath the chandelier overhead, his eyes closed and his body unmoving. Dick swallowed the urge to rush forward and instead reached into his jacket pocket. He retrieved his phone and earpiece, clipping it over his ear while he dialed.
Seconds later the call connected.
"Hey, Dick; I didn't think I'd hear from you tonight."
"Babs, is your Dad home?" He spoke quietly, his voice barely carrying beyond the reception room. By the brief pause on the other end he knew she recognized the seriousness of his call.
"Dad!" she called, her voice distant but still caught by the phone. "What's happened, Dick?"
Before he could respond, the Gotham City Police Commissioner was on the line. "Dick, is something the matter?"
"I'm sorry to bother you at home, Jim," Dick kept his eyes on Alfred's frightfully still form, watching for any movement from the elderly man, "but something's happened at the manor. I just got home and its dark, no one's answered me, and I'm looking at Alfred right now unconscious on the floor. I haven't seen Bruce or Tim. I didn't want to place a call through the 9-1-1 dispatch in case they went to the media before the authorities like last time."
"Are you with Alfred now?" Jim Gordon asked, the sounds of movement coming from his end of the call.
"I'm in the reception hall," Dick slipped the phone back into his pocket and tightened his grip on the knife. "About fifteen yards from him. He's not moving, and I don't see anyone else in the foyer; I'm going to check on him."
"Be careful, Dick," the Commissioner ordered. "Barbara's calling the station now and we'll have a couple of Squad cars there in a few minutes. I'm coming, but keep this line open."
"I'm coming too," he heard Barbara snap.
"Understood," Dick took one last look around the foyer, taking extra caution looking over the balcony's circling the foyer from the second floor, before bolting for his pseudo grandfather's side.
"Al?" He called to the unconscious man gently, relief flooding him as he saw the elderly man's chest rising and falling with each breath. "He's breathing," he told the commissioner as he pressed his middle and index finger to Alfred's pulse point, "and his heart rate's strong."
"Any sign of injury?" Jim's voice sounded over the starting of an engine.
Dick's head snapped up, not paying attention to the man on the other end of the call, his eyes locking onto the closed door to the library at the back end of the foyer. "I heard something."
"Dick, focus on Alfred," Jim told the teen patiently. "Is he hurt?"
Turning back to the man on the floor, Dick carefully ran his hands over Alfred's limbs. "I'm not feeling any broken bones." A small crimson spot on the side of Alfred's neck caught his attention. He fingered it gently and frowned. "There's a needle mark on his neck. I think he's been drugged."
"Okay – Barbara, have them send out a medic - Dick, is it safe to move him?"
"I think so," Dick shifted next to the butler, carefully cradling the man's neck and head in the crook of his right elbow while he hooked his left arm beneath Alfred's knees. Standing, he carried the unconscious man back the way he came "I'm moving him back into the reception area, it was clear."
"Good, good." Jim hesitated momentarily, enough time for Dick to get Alfred onto the room's chaise lounge with Dick's jacket bundled beneath his head. "Dick, I think you should wait for the officers. Don't go searching that house on your own."
Dick shook his head, despite knowing the commissioner couldn't see him, and lifted his cell phone from his jacket before placing it in the back pocket of his jeans. "Not a chance, Jim," he snarled, closing the heavy doors behind him as he stepped back into the foyer. "I heard something; there's someone still here. It could be Tim or Bruce – they could need help."
"Or it could be the person, or persons, who did this to Alfred," Jim growled back. "You don't know the situation, Dick. Let the professionals handle it!"
Already moving across the patterned hard wood floor, Dick adjusted his hold on the knife as he stopped next to the archway into the living room. "You know I won't do that," he whispered, looking around the empty room just to be sure before he crept toward the back of the house.
The commissioner sighed. "Please be careful. I don't want the recommendation I just finished writing for the Academy to go to waste."
He ducked against the wall opposite the library door, choosing silence instead of answering, mindful of the two closed doors on either side of it. He ignored Jim and Barbara's discussion on the other end as he pushed open the door to the closet silently – a testament to Alfred's care of the generations old home – to ensure no one was hiding inside. He heard the noise, a weak thump, again from behind the closed Library doors but suppressed the urge to burst into the room unprepared. He stepped across the alcove, opening the door to the wine cellar. He couldn't see past the first few steps, the darkness complete, and chose to forgo searching the cellar when the thump sounded again, accompanied by a barely audible murmur of a voice. Closing the door behind him, he stepped up to the library door and cracked it open slowly.
"Fiu de cățea!" he hissed through clenched teeth when he saw his foster brother.
Fourteen-year-old Tim Drake had been tied to one of the library chairs. His arms had been pulled tight behind the straight wooden back and bound with thin nylon rope at his wrists and elbows. His knees and ankles were lashed with the same cord, and a thick cleave gag was taught between his teeth and lip. But it was length of rope circling his throat and connected to the ropes at his wrists that made Dick's blood boil. Tim would have been strangled if he had moved too much or tried to free himself and, judging by the redness beneath the rope, the boy had tested that theory.
"Dick, what's happened?" Jim asked anxiously, after hearing the boy's Romany curse.
Tim's pale blue eyes were wide with relief as Dick entered the room. The older boy took in everything quickly, making sure no one lay in wait, before rushing to the bound teen's side. "I've found Tim," he told the Commissioner as he carefully pried the offending gag from Tim's mouth. "He's been tied up in the Library."
Once the fabric was removed, Tim drew in a deep shaky breath. "Is that Bruce?" he asked breathlessly, while Dick went to work on cutting through the length of rope from the boy's neck to his wrists.
Fear replaced the relief as Tim practically shouted, "Hang up! Hang up now, Dick!"
"What's going on?"
"Please!" Tim's frantic, pleading eyes locked with Dick's. "Dick, hang up!"
"Sorry, Jim." Dick reached into his back pocket and took out his cell phone. Quickly he disconnected the call, watching as Tim relaxed in his bindings. "Care to tell me why I just hung up on the City Police Commissioner?" he asked, taking off the earpiece and setting it aside with his phone, before going back to the ropes holding his brother.
"They said they'd kill him," the younger boy answered with a groan as the rope constricting his throat was cut loose. "Any contact with the police and they'd kill Bruce."
Dick froze, the knife hovering over the bonds on the boy's wrists. "What?"
"They surprised us at dinner. Alfred went to answer the door and within seconds they were shouting for Bruce to come out or they'd kill Alfred. There were five of them, all armed with MP5K sub machine guns and their faces covered with balaclavas. There was a sixth one holding Alfred in a chokehold and pulling a syringe from his throat. Alfred was already going down when they separated Bruce and me. They brought me in here, tied me up, and about an hour later they placed that box on the mantle for you. Before they left, they told me no cops or they'd kill Bruce."
Dick turned to the unlit fireplace and noticed the small box he had overlooked before. With a quick glance at his brother, who nodded for him to go ahead, Dick quickly retrieved the box that had the name RICHARD written on it and opened it. Inside held a folded piece of paper lying on top a pair of handcuffs.
"Dick?" Tim craned his neck to look at the other boy.
Swallowing his unease, Dick opened the paper and read. "If you want Bruce Wayne alive, be at the construction site on the two hundred block of Dixon Road by 10:00pm. Bring the cuffs."
Both teens looked at the clock on the wall. It was almost a quarter to.
"Go!" Tim hissed.
Dick scooped up his earpiece and cell phone, hitting the redial button while he hooked the Bluetooth over Tim's ear. "Jim and several GCPD cars are already on their way."
"I'll be fine! Now go!"
Nodding, but loathing to leave Tim like this, Dick sprinted out of the Library and back through the manor. He passed Alfred's unconscious form and ran back to the garage. Knocking the helmet aside as he straddled the bike, he started it with a roar before tearing out of the garage.
He sped around the house and onto the motor court, chips of gravel spitting out behind the cycle's tires as he opened the machine's throttle. He had barely fifteen minutes to get across Gotham. Even at the motorcycle's top speed he would be hard pressed to make it in time.
The speedometer crested the one-hundred-mile-per-hour mark as he guided the bike around a sharp curve on the drive off the Wayne property. Ahead, he saw the headlights of several vehicles turning onto the road, and swore when he recognized Gordon's car in the lead.
Gunning it, the speedometer passing one hundred and thirty, Dick leaned further down onto the bike. The cars slammed on their brakes, several swerving out of the way as Dick cut through them. He thought he heard Barbara's voice shouting his name, but he didn't dare look back or slow down.
In two minutes he made it to the city proper and started fighting his way through traffic. Even at this late hour it was thick, and he didn't doubt his reckless driving had caused several accidents. He could only hope that no one was severely injured because of him, and when this was all over he would have to see about paying for any repairs or medical expenses.
All he knew was that, at the moment, he didn't care. The only thing that mattered was getting to the construction site in time to save Bruce. God, was this how Bruce had felt all those time's Dick had been abducted? It was surreal, being on this end of the situation.
It seemed to take hours but, when he finally skid the street bike to a stop inside the fence of the construction site, he had two minutes to spare.
"I'm here!" he yelled into the dark, setting his bike on its stand before moving toward the framework of the new high-rise.
"That's far enough, Mr. Grayson," a deep voice called from behind him. It was accompanied by the sound of nearly a half-dozen safeties being released from their weapons. "I was afraid you weren't going to make it."
Dick froze on the spot, slowly raising his hands out to his side to show he was unarmed. "Where's Bruce?"
"Patience, Richard – do you mind if I call you Richard?" The voice was enjoying this way too much. "Did you bring the handcuffs as you were instructed?"
"Where's Bruce?" Dick snarled, not moving an inch. "I'm not doing anything until I see him!"
"Very well then," the voice sighed before shouting, "Gentlemen, Richard would like to see his father."
A movement overhead had Dick's breath catching in his throat.
Several stories above, on the narrow I-beams of the framework, Bruce was shoved forward to the edge. His arms seemed pinned behind him, most likely bound, and a thick layer of duct tape was wrapped around his head, sealing his mouth shut. His eyes were wide with anger as the men with him pushed him to his knees at the very edge and held him there. His glower faded into one of fear and worry when his eyes met those of his son.
"The handcuffs, Richard," the voice instructed coldly.
Nodding stiffly, Dick reached into his front left pocket and withdrew the cuffs. Holding his arm in the air again, he let the metal restraints dangle from his thumb.
"Very good, now put them on."
Gritting his teeth, and trying to ignore the muffled curses echoing down from Bruce, Dick snapped one of the rings into place around his left wrists. He positioned the open shackle on his right when he was interrupted.
"Behind your back, please."
Complying, Dick was soon standing rigidly with his hands cuffed behind his back. He risked looking up at Bruce, but only caught a glimpse of the man before a hood was placed over his head and secured around his neck.
"My employer would like a word with you." The voice sounded right behind him just before something hard and solid connected with the back of his head. He fell to his side, his head reeling from the blow, and the world faded away.
"Thank you for your cooperation, Richard."
. . . .
August 28, 2015 23:07 EST
He could feel the blood that adhered the hood to his scalp. The throbbing resonating through Dick's skull was enough to draw him back to consciousness, though he was still sightless. He was panting, the fabric hindering his breathing, and there were sparks of light still dancing across his vision despite the black.
The vehicle he was in had eased to stop and a moment later he was being dragged from the bench seat he had been lying on. His legs were unsteady beneath him and he was unable to get them to hold his weight, leaving him to be dragged between two unseen goons. His body was shoved carelessly forward and, unable to catch himself, fell to the ground with an involuntary grunt of pain.
"Get him up," a deep voice grated.
Dick was lifted to his knees and the sack was ripped from his head, pulling at the drying wound on his head and causing fresh blood to trickle down the back of his neck. He blinked several times trying to clear his vision.
He found himself kneeling on a rocky beach, the soft waves of Gotham Bay lapping at the stones beneath the boardwalk only a few yards away from the pier. He was surrounded by a half-dozen black, Mercedes GL-Class, SUVs. In front of each vehicle was a pair of soldier-like thugs, each armed with semi-automatic weapons, pistols, and at least one deadly blade visible on their belts. Behind them - the vehicles' near blinding headlights all pointing at Dick - he could barely make out the silhouette of a large cargo van.
"Thank you for joining us, Richard," the deep voice drew his attention, and he felt his heart skip a beat at the sight of the man that stepped past the dozen soldiers and into the light.
The man was… large. There was no other word to describe him. He had to be at least seven feet tall and thicker than any bodybuilder Dick had ever seen. There was no neck per say, and what was there was hidden by long blond sideburns that brushed the shoulder's of the man's pin-striped suit. He was bald on top, with long blond hair equal in length to the sideburns, and the exposed scalp was bulbous and disproportionate. All together, he cut an imposing figure as he loomed over the kneeling teen. One Dick was all too aware of through his activities as Nightwing.
Roland Desmond, also known as Blockbuster.
"Who are you?" he asked, staring up at the Blüdhaven gangster with no small amount of trepidation. "Where's Bruce?"
At a wave of his massive hand, the back doors of the van were opened and a trio of shadows moved toward them. The middle one was being pulled along by the arms and struggling fiercely against its captors. When they reached the light Dick was comforted to see his mentor in, relatively, one piece.
Blood flowed down the side of the billionaire's face from a gash on his forehead and a vivid black and purple bruise marred the opposite cheekbone. Blue eyes were wild with rage and the muffled grunts from behind the thick tape gag were undoubtedly words that would have had Alfred threatening to wash his mouth out with soap. As he was shoved to his knees on the opposite side of the automobile circle from Dick, the boy could see the layers of rope binding Bruce's wrists and elbows behind his back. Their eyes met and relief flashed through Bruce's as he saw his son again. His gaze raked over Dick quickly but didn't miss a thing, narrowing into a vicious glare at the blood that had trailed around Dick's neck and stained the collar of his shirt.
"I'm afraid he is a little worse for wear," Desmond spoke casually, as one of his men produced a chair from one of the SUVs and placed it a few feet in front of Dick. When the mob boss sat, crossing one leg over the other, he completely blocked Bruce from view. Even sitting, he towered over his captive. "It's my understanding that he grew uncooperative while my men collected you."
The sarcastic response was on his tongue and he bit it back, knowing now was neither the time nor place for his standard reaction. Gritting his teeth he allowed a small glare to focus on the man in front of him. "Who are you? What do you want!?"
"You have something I want, Richard," Blockbuster said conversationally. "Wayne Enterprises has recently acquired several properties that were once part of the old Gotham Fair Grounds. One of which I had set aside for my own use for when I expand my business out of Blüdhaven. The property manager was not supposed to sell it and yet he did."
Dick shook his head. "I don't have anything to do with that," he told the man truthfully. "I'm a volunteer with the Wayne Foundation; I don't work with the business side of W.E.!"
"I am well aware of that." The man scowled at the interruption. "It's why I arranged for the meeting with Wayne earlier this evening. Imagine my annoyance when I find the ownership of the property has already been transferred to another."
The way Blockbuster was looking at him left Dick feeling uneasy. "I don't understand."
"Are you certain, Richard?" Desmond shifted again in the chair, allowing Dick a glimpse of Bruce with the barrel of a pistol pressing painfully against his temple.
"I swear!" Dick shouted, jerking involuntarily against the cuffs on his wrists, only to be held in place by two soldiers he hadn't been aware of standing behind him. He glanced up at them before looking back at Bruce. He kept his eyes on the older man as he spoke. "I swear; I have no idea what you're talking about!"
"I believe you." Blockbuster got up from the chair and walked over to Bruce. He took the pistol from his man's hand and held it himself to Bruce's head. "My conversation with Bruce convinced me that you were unaware of what he was planning. I have to admit, I was touched by the sentiment. Still, the properties were not to have been sold."
The sight of Bruce cringing against the pressure of the gun muzzle against his skin was too much for Dick. "For god's sake, just tell me what you want!"
"The properties are now listed under your name, Richard," Blockbuster told him. "Apparently the location has some sentimental value to you, and as new city development expanded into the area, your father wanted to preserve them and restore them to what they were. He bought them well above their value, but then I can appreciate that family is more important than money."
Dick was stunned, to say the least. He had been the one to tell Lucius Fox about the dilapidated state of the old Fair Grounds and how, in the days prior to his family's deaths, it had been a glorious sight and one he looked forward to whenever Haly's came to Gotham. He had never imagined that it would get back to Bruce, or that his guardian would do something like that for him.
But it wasn't worth Bruce's life.
"If that's true," Dick said, licking nervously at his lips, "then I'll sign them over to you. Whatever you want, I'll give it to you. Just don't – don't hurt him. Please."
Roland Desmond smiled and lifted the weapon away from Bruce's head. "I know you would, Richard. However, the property's not what's I want from you."
"Money? I don't have access to a lot, but what I have – it's yours!"
"No, nothing as lowbrow as money." Blockbuster waved his hand dismissively, and the two goons behind Bruce picked up the man under his arms and started dragging him back to the van despite his struggles. "There were several crates in the basement of one of the buildings, Richard. I want them back. You're going to find them for me."
"My sources have told me they have been removed to a Wayne Foundation Storage Facility until they can be inspected at a later date." Desmond glanced back to the van as the doors were shut after Bruce had been shoved inside again. "The contents of those crates are part of a time-sensitive business venture and I don't have the time to waste in trying to locate them. You can, and will, find them for me."
He motioned again and Dick was lifted to his feet. "Two of my men will accompany you back to Wayne Enterprises where you will, by whatever means necessary, discover the location of the facility the crates were transferred to. If they report back to me any uncooperative behavior on your part, Wayne will die. If you contact or try to contact anyone, be it the police or a certain Bat, Wayne will die. If you are not back here in two hours with the information I want, Wayne will die. Are we clear, Richard? And remember: the longer you take, the more likely I am to entertain myself with your father."
Dick nodded, not bothering to hide the glower he directed at the gangster. "Crystal."
The hood was slipped over his head again and he was loaded into what he assumed was the backseat of one of the SUVs. He was pushed onto his side before the door was slammed shut and the engine started up with a quiet hum. As the vehicle drove, Dick's mind raced as he tried to come up with a plan.
He could escape the handcuffs easily enough - a tiny lock-pick hidden in the white gold band of his watch- and he could subdue his guards, but then what? If he went back to the harbor without the escorts Blockbuster would know something went wrong and Dick didn't doubt the threat to Bruce's life. It was the same if he took out the guards and went back as Nightwing. Even with backup he would be hard pressed to stop a bullet from killing his father. He realized he only had one choice: he had to give Desmond what he wanted.
Several minutes later, the SUV drew to a stop and he was pulled out of the back seat. The hood was once again removed and when his vision adjusted he recognized the underground garage of Wayne Tower. In fact, they were parked in Bruce's private spot closest to the executive elevator.
"Let's go." One of the soldiers grabbed his right upper arm and pulled him toward the elevator. He was shoved forward, stumbling to a stop in front of the security panel. "Access code."
When the doors opened he was pushed inside where he positioned himself with his back to the wall. One of his captors kept his gun trained on Dick, while the other let his hand hover over the buttons. "Floor."
"Bruce's office; the seventy-eighth floor," Dick grudgingly answered.
The elevator started its ascent and Dick frowned. "You realize that security will notice the guns and hoods, right?" He flicked his eyes up to the camera in the corner of the elevator and he knew that they had seen it too. "They'll have called the GCPD by now and then we'll all have a problem."
Goon number one, his gun still aimed at the teen, shook his head. "Communications Jammer in truck; Cell phones, cameras, land lines, everything's off line in a three block radius until we say so."
Nothing else was said and in minutes the elevator was stopping on the designated floor. Dick was shoved out of the car and into the hall.
"Wayne's office, where is it?"
Dick swallowed. "Down the hall on the right, it's the door at the very end."
Dick was pushed forward and he led his guards through the silent office. It only took a few minutes for them to enter Bruce's office and for Dick to access the man's computer, once the cuffs were removed from his wrists. He was watched carefully the entire time, the muzzle of the machine gun never more than a few inches away from his head. While the computer searched for the information they wanted, he took an empty memory stick from Bruce's desk and hooked it into the computer. When the search stopped, he transferred all information pertaining to the crates in question to the USB drive.
He stood from the chair and looked at the two men, fisting the small device in his palm. "If I give this to you now, what guarantee do I have that Bruce and I won't be killed?"
One of the guards just grabbed his arms and pulled them behind his back, snapping the cuffs back in place, but did not make a move to relieve him of the information. "You will give the information to the Boss, then you and your Father will be free to go."
Doubt crept through him as he was once again escorted out of the office and to the elevator, but he didn't question them. His fist tightened around the drive, the only leverage he had for both Bruce's life and his own.
It was as easy getting out of Wayne Tower as it had been getting in. Once he was inside the vehicle, the hood having been replaced over his head, they were soon cruising through the streets of Gotham. Several times he heard squad cars pass by with their sirens blaring, and each time his heart all but stopped with the thought they'd be discovered before he got back to Bruce. But the muscle behind the wheel just kept driving and soon the sound of gravel crunching under the wheels could be heard.
Outside the SUV and again kneeling in the rocks, the hood was taken from his head and Dick found himself back where he had been. Circled in by vehicles, though he couldn't see the cargo van from earlier, and well armed goons, while Blockbuster lounged casually in a chair. The mobster wore a large satisfied smile as he rose and approached his captive.
"I'm touched by how much you must care for your father, Richard." The man was sincere in his words and he crouched in front of the youth. "You are not his blood, a bond of only paper names you father and son, and yet you bring me what I want with no hesitation and so very promptly. Would he have done the same for you, I wonder?"
Dick leveled a hard glare at the man. "Yes."
Desmond regarded him for a moment before nodded. "Yes, I suppose he would. I saw how resistant he was when we sequestered him from the other boy, and only a threat to young Timothy's person calmed him. I also heard how hard he fought my men when you were collected. Only a father would have such disregard for his own life in the face of a threat to his children. I can respect that." Reaching around to Dick's back, Blockbusters fingers plucked the USB drive from his hands.
"You have what you want." Dick pressed the criminal when Blockbuster rose to his feet and moved to retake his seat. "Where's Bruce?"
The large man motioned in a direction and Dick looked. Their position on the rocky beach afforded them a view of the pier overhead. At the edge of it was the van that had been missing from the group with two armed men standing on either side of it.
"A precaution in case you were uncooperative," Blockbuster said unapologetically. "You have done well, so far, and I will allow you to join him."
Dick was picked up off his knees by his two guards and started to be dragged toward the nearby stairs leading up to the boardwalk. "So far? I gave you want you asked! Now let Bruce go like you said you would!"
"I don't know that you've done so, Richard." Blockbuster held the USB drive up in the air, inspecting it as he spoke. "He is the only assurance I have that what you have brought me is truly what I asked for. Unless there is something you would like to tell me about the information on this disk, Richard?"
"It's all there." He snarled. "Every document and shipping man manifest I could find regarding your crates."
"Then you have nothing to worry about." Blockbuster smiled and waved forward a good that was carrying a closed laptop. "You will spend the next few hours with your father at my convenience and once I have retrieved my property you will be released. I give you my word."
With no other choice, Dick let himself be guided toward the stairs by the heavy hands on his arms. He had barely stepped foot on the first step when he heard an all too familiar whistle. He snapped his head back to Desmond just in time to see the Batarang strike the USB stick from Blockbuster's hand. Even at this distance and in the dim light, Dick recognized that the weapon was not one of Batman's.
Eyes wide with rage, Blockbuster surged to his feet. Even with Batgirl and Robin dropping in around them, easily taking on the unsuspecting goons, the gangster singled out Dick.
"No!" The teenager shouted, ignoring the shaking his head at the betrayal he saw burning in the man's eyes. "Please, I swear I didn't-"
"Kill them both!" he roared, before stalking away from the scene.
Before he realized he was moving, Dick was fighting his way out of the hold on his arms. He lashed out with his feet, his kicks connecting with knees and backs, driving the two soldiers to the ground. He delivered to solid kicks to their heads to keep them there.
A loud splash had him looking up a second after the van hit the water. He tucked into a roll as the vehicle bobbed on the surface before it starting sinking. As his body turned, he pulled his legs tight to his chest and maneuvered his cuffed arms from behind his back. Dick reached the water's edge just as the tail end of the van sunk beneath the waves.
The water of Gotham Bay quickly saturated his jeans as he ran into the surf, grateful that the tide was just starting to come in and the water at the end of the pier wouldn't be too much deeper than the van. When he couldn't run any further, he dove under into an oncoming wave and sliced downward through the water.
Salt water stung his eyes when he opened them but he could see the lights from the van and the string of bubbles rapidly escaping the submerged vehicle. Unable to use his hands, he kept them pointed in front of him as his legs propelled him onward. He reached the van, which had landed on its wheels, less than two minutes after it had gone under.
Tapping out a code quickly on the side of the van, warning Bruce to hold his breath, and hoping that his father was conscious, Dick braced his feet against the bumper and started to pull at the back door. The pressure against the doors was more than he anticipated meaning there was more inside the van, which was a good thing for Bruce. His arms were shaking and he felt the doors begin to move. Water began running in quicker and a second later Dick was able to open one door fully.
Inside, Bruce had been knocked back by the force of the incoming water. Dick swam in quickly, his lungs starting to burn from lack of oxygen, and noticed that his father had gotten his hands free but his legs were still tightly bound and the gag remained. Hooking his own restrained arm around the man's chest, Bruce's hands gripping on to him tightly, Dick started the momentous task of getting them both back to the surface before they drowned.
The incoming tide worked in his favor, the surging water driving them closer to shore even as his weakening legs kicked the upward. He was never so relieved as when his head broke the surface. He opened his mouth to inhale, only to swallow and choke on a wave that had crested over him. It pushed the two men back beneath the water but Dick's feet brushed against the rocky bottom.
Kicking off the stones, He was above the water again and spitting the salty brine from his mouth while he struggled to bring Bruce's head into the air. Another wave hit them, knocking Dick from his feet but propelling them closer to shore. When the water receded, the teen was finally able to gasp in a breath and he could hear Bruce do the same through his nose.
A moment later, Dick was pulling them both out of the water and onto the pebbled beach. Dick was gasping and coughing the water from his lungs as he knelt on the shore, propping his father up against his chest as he helped the man work the tape free from his face.
When the older man was finally able to take a deep breath between his lips, Dick tightened his arms around Bruce's shoulders and closed his eyes, letting his head rest against Bruce's wet hair. Dick shuddered with relief when one of Bruce's hands clasped onto his wrist and the other hand reached up to grip Dick's neck reassuringly.
"You did good, Dick."
Bruce's murmured words had him smiling to himself but otherwise he didn't move. Holding tight without hurting, neither seemed in any hurry to move or let go: each was just happy the other was alive.
. . . .
GOTHAM GENERAL HOSPITAL
August 29 2015 03:45 EST
Exhaustion heavy in every part of his body Dick, for once, didn't begrudge the gurney wheeling him from the ER to the room he had been assigned. Once the adrenaline of the night had worn off he had begun to feel the lumps and bruises, and concussion, he had obtained through the ordeal. He hadn't heard anything about Bruce yet and his nurse was rather reluctant to share that information... if she had any.
So he was pleasantly surprised when the room he was placed in was not a single, but a double. And that his roommate for the evening was the man in question. Bruce was sitting up with the mechanical bed position to support him, carding his fingers through the dark hair of the head on his lap. Squeezed up onto the narrow mattress was Tim, eyes closed and face lax in sleep. It was a position Dick was familiar with, having taken it himself many times when younger - and smaller - when Bruce was hurt and bedridden.
Dick's bed was moved in to place and the wheels locked. The nurse frowned at the sight of the sleeping boy but said nothing. She did, however, remind the other two that they were meant to be resting. After receiving what were, without a doubt, insincere promises from both patients, she just shook her head and left the room with the orderly behind her.
As soon as the door was latched shut, Dick was pushing back his blankets and moving across the short expanse of space between the two. Without disturbing his sleeping foster brother, he enveloped his father in a strong hug that was just as strongly returned.
"They wouldn't tell me anything," he muttered into the man's shoulder.
"Observation only," Bruce told him quietly. "A few bruises and cuts, nothing that required sutures."
Dick was reluctant to let go just yet, so he didn't. "Have you heard anything about Alfred?"
"They hit him with a low dose of Nembutal. He was already coming out of the sedation when Jim and Barbara got to the house."
Dick was gently nudged and he grudgingly let his father push him away, even if it was only far enough to be able to look him in the face. Bruce's eyebrow was arched in silent question.
"Just a mild concussion," Dick admitted with an indifferent shrug.
"A Grade 3 concussion," Bruce corrected. He reached up to the back of Dick's head and gently felt the stitches that had been needed to close the wound. His frown told just how angry Bruce was. "I saw the hit, Dick. Hell! I heard the crack your head made when they struck you. You're lucky they didn't split your skull open. What the hell were you thinking walking into a situation like that?"
"I was thinking about saving your life!" Dick snapped indignantly. "I got back to the house late. I found Alfred, then Tim, and a note saying I had until 10pm to get across Gotham or you were going to die. I had fifteen minutes, Bruce! Fifteen! I couldn't have cared less about me, I just..."
His anger quickly fading, Dick stepped back to his bed and slumped to a seat on the edge of the mattress. He rubbed a fatigued hand over his face before looking back at Bruce and meeting his father's eyes.
"Is this how it felt?" he asked, his voice thick with residual fear and desperation. "All those times I've been kidnapped; is this how you felt?"
Bruce swallowed and shook his head. "No. It was different."
"How?" Dick scoffed.
"Because I'm your father." The dark brown eyes that bore into his were awash with emotions he rarely saw Bruce express. "Because it's my job, my duty, to protect you. Those time you were taken; God, Dick, I felt like the worst father in the world because I hadn't been able to keep them from taking you. I'm supposed to keep you guys safe, not the other way around. Tonight, I couldn't do that."
"I'm not that kid anymore, Bruce," Dick reminded him gently. "You've done a hell of a job raising me since my parents died and you've taught me what it means to be responsible for someone else's wellbeing. Sometimes, that someone is going to be you."
"That's not how it's supposed to work."
"Well, that's how it's going to work!" Dick retorted resolutely. "You want to protect me-" he motioned to Tim, "-to protect us, I get it! You don't want to lose us! But, damn it, Bruce! You're going to have to realize that we don't want to lose you either! I will do whatever I have to, to see you come home! Always!"
The man was silent and Dick could see him mulling over what he had said. He was about to say more, hoping to drive his point home, when the third inhabitant of the room beat him to it.
"He's right, Bruce." Tim said from his spot next to Bruce, his eyes not bothering to open. "We've both lost one set of parents already; do you really think we'll just sit back and do nothing while you're taken from us too? Not going to happen. Deal with it. Now both of you go to sleep. Or I'm going to tell Alfred that you kept me up all night after a very trying ordeal."
Dick snorted in amusement. "Low, Timmy. Real low."
"Bite me. Go to sleep."
Bruce gave a small laugh and smiled at his oldest son. "All right, you win."
It was said as if giving in to Tim's demand for sleep, but Dick knew it was the best acknowledgement of their changing situation.
Bruce may be his father, but Dick wasn't a child anymore. He was growing up and becoming so much more than just that little boy who needed rescuing. He was a protector in his own right now. As Nightwing and, soon, as Officer Grayson. All he had ever wanted to do, since that night his family fell, was to protect what family he had left. First Bruce and Alfred, then Tim and the Team.
And whether they liked it or not, he would give his last breath to do just that.
Settling in to his bed, Dick watched as Bruce reached up and turned off the lights above his own bed and adjusted the blankets of him and Tim. Catching the older man's eyes Dick smiled. As sleep overtook him, the last thing he saw was his father smiling softly back at him.