"Need any help Robin?" Nightwing asked his yellow and black clad partner. It was another night of insanity in Bludhaven. So far that evening, the pair had put away at least twenty seven thugs in the midst of various crimes from attempted rape to gang violence. Despite the fact that he was fighting a very strong individual with an exceptional knowledge of karate and another knife wielding maniac, Nightwing couldn't help but smile. It took a lot to get him down when Robin was by his side. Tim Drake, the young teen who had taken the identity of Robin for himself had been spending the last few nights in Bludhaven at Batman's request. Several weeks ago Tim had tried to collar several car-jackers and the only thing that had prevented him from putting the maniacs away was a lack of aerial skill. Batman knew the boy's strengths lay in more cerebral pursuits such as computer work and puzzle solving, but aerial and gymnastic training were necessary tools as well. Tools that were necessary to keep Robin alive when in the field. After Jason Todd's death, Batman would never have another apprentice ill prepared for their job.
Tim could still hear Batman's words when he found out he was being sent to Bludhaven to spend time with Dick, "There are things you need to know, things Dick can teach you better than I could. I've seen Dick survive circumstances that would have killed even me. He has all the detective skills to continue your training and you can learn by doing following Dick around. He gets into more deadly situations on moving vehicles in that city than most people have had hot dinners. Spend two or three weeks with him and you will come back a better...... and a totally exhausted crime fighter."
Tim didn't have to be told twice, it was early August and he had all the time he needed to learn at Dick's side. Tim had always felt more comfortable with Dick than Bruce. Obviously Dick could relate to Tim and his trials as Robin better than anyone else in the world. This made Dick a more patient teacher, and a more comfortable friend to be around. Tim also had a lot of hero worship for Dick, perhaps even more so than he had for Bruce. Tim had sought out Dick after he had learned their secret identities and the fate of the second Robin, Jason Todd. If not for Dick, Tim would never have been taken into The Batcave, or allowed to wear the Robin costume. Dick had also taken up the mantle of The Bat for a time to replace both Bruce and Jean Paul Valley, and Robin felt most comfortable and able to be himself with Dick than he was with Bruce, and certainly more than Valley, who almost killed him. Tim had no siblings, but he had looked to Dick as sort of an older brother ever since the day they had first met in Haly's Circus just a few short years ago.
"No I'm uh....... doing..... fine." Tim managed to say. The three thugs that were converging on him would have given him no real threat, except for the fact that he had to face them on the bed of a truck loaded with wood leaving Bludhaven for Metropolis, destined to become the next issues of The Daily Planet. The truck was moving quickly through highway traffic and his footing was unsure on the huge, wet logs. This was definitely "learning by doing" as Batman had said. They had chased these thugs across several rooftops after preventing them from attacking a group of street walkers. The chase continued over a bypass until they jumped onto the passing truck hoping for a clean getaway. Nightwing would have none of that in his city. With a stunning three somersault leap into the night air Nightwing landed as gracefully as a ballet dancer on the piles of logs, Robin used a jumpline to get there instead. Cornered, the men decided to fight their way to freedom. Fighting on an open truck bed, doing at least 55 miles an hour, tripping over huge heavy logs, Batman would call this "good training". To Tim it felt like attempted suicide. Tim thanked the fates that at least the moon was full and shining brightly tonight, allowing him to see without the infra-red lenses built into his mask. From the corner of his eye he saw Nightwing whirl around with a roundhouse kick toward his foe, not an easy feat on the back of a moving truck. Tim wondered to himself if he would ever be as good as Dick at the physical part of the job.
Dick also regarded Robin as he grappled with his foe. He always kept an eye on Tim when they were together, albeit a much more subtle eye than Batman would keep on him. Dick also had no siblings and he also regarded Robin as a brother, someone to pal around with and to look out for. He was pleased when Bruce informed him that Robin was coming to stay with him for a few days, and when the two were not on patrol they ate pizza, played nintendo, and basically acted as brothers. In many ways Tim reminded Dick of himself at that age, hard working and dedicated, and often feeling inferior to the all knowing, ever dour Batman. He was glad to give the youth the benefit of his experience with Bruce he only wished someone could have done the same for him at that age. Nightwing grappled with yet another foe after dispatching with the first. Here, with death only a bad step away, he was in his element. Fighting crime, the wind screaming by him, adrenaline pumping, with Robin at his side, an ear to ear grin blossomed on his face.
Nightwing evaded a knife thrust from one of the hoods. He knew Tim envied Dick his physical ability and he wanted to do everything in his power to make Robin a better, more effective crimefighter. With a lightening like maneuver Nightwing thrust out an open palm and knocked the thug unconscious. Nightwing then watched as Robin swung his quarterstaff and caught all three of his opponents in the mid-section, doubling them over in pain. Moving quickly, Nightwing tied them all up with one of his jumplines, the threat was over.
"How do we get these guys to the Police?" Robin asked.
"We don't." Nightwing replied as the wind whipped past them, "The Bludhaven Police Department would never take the time to put these bozos away. I'm satisfied that they're on their way out of town on this truck, that's about the best we can do tonight." Nightwing realized he was yelling to be heard over the roar of traffic and high winds. Robin smiled in amusement at that.
"Come on boy wonder, let's head home for the night." Robin was pleased to hear that their nightly patrol was over. It was a very busy and hard fought night and dawn was only two hours away. Nightwing jumped into the air and again somersaulted gracefully before throwing out a jumpline and swinging back towards Bludhaven. He was proud to see Robin perform the same maneuver flawlessly. His skills had indeed improved in the short time he had been in Bludhaven. Within minutes they were back in the city proper, headed for Dick's Bludhaven apartment.
"It's been a busy night Tim. I'm glad you were here. I'll take all the help I can get." He said as he clasped Robin on the shoulder. Tim felt a rush of pride, Batman would never have been so open with praise for him.
"Glad to be of help Dick. I'll give you this, you sure have your hands full with this town, I thought Gotham was bad but Bludhaven is a totally new kind of insanity."
Dick chuckled at that, "Maybe so but I like a challenge. Besides, I would take Bludhaven any day over Gotham after the quake."
Tim agreed, "Well at least Gotham is getting the help it needs now." They were both glad to hear that Gotham was going to be rebuilt. Even though he was a circus kid who always traveled from town to town, Dick had done much of his growing up in the Gotham. Tim also felt a connection to the city that one always feels to the stomping grounds one grows up in. It had been painful for them both to see Gotham practically leveled in the quake and then left for dead by the rest of the world. Sealed off from civilization, the people of Gotham were abandoned, only Batman, Robin, Nightwing, Huntress , Azreal, and a few others including handful of dedicated cops maintained order in post quake Gotham. Things were finally looking up. As they talked they ran over the rooftops and finally found themselves on the roof of Dick's apartment building.
"A good night's work partner... all in all I'd say..." Tim was cut off by Dick's gloved hand over his mouth. Tim tried to talk but all that came out was muffled noise. He reached up and pulled Dick's hand from his mouth.
"What was that for?" Tim asked.
"Shhhhhhhhhh." Dick said, "Listen." Tim strained his ears to listen. He heard nothing but the whistle of the wind.
"I don't hear anything." Tim said.
"Something's not right." Dick replied. Tim looked up to the sky and suddenly felt something was wrong as well, "Hey! Where'd the moon go?" He said as he pointed up towards the sky. The moon was bright and the sky cloudless earlier, now the moon was nowhere to be seen. The stars had disappeared. Suddenly they both realized that something was directly above them, blocking out the sky. Something large and black.
"Move!!" Nightwing yelled as he suddenly realized they were in great danger and pushed Tim as hard as he could to the other side of the rooftop. The dark silhouette grew larger as it descended upon them, blocking out the night sky. The wind suddenly began to pick up to fantastic speeds. Tim was lost, unable to see what was threatening them. He switched to infra-red and the situation became clearer to him. Descending upon them was a large, and very silent machine. It looked like a helicopter, but made virtually no noise. It was obviously as black as the night itself. Tim could make out Nightwing's form, his escrima fighting sticks at the ready.
From the huge silent flying machine several figures emerged, descending on ropes, towards Dick. From Dick's point of view, things were moving very fast. He shoved Robin out of the way and to safety only to find a heartbeat later that several people were descending towards him. Whoever these people were, they moved quickly. He brought up his fighting sticks in a defensive posture. However, another assailant descended behind him and hit him square in the back with a heavy thud. Nightwing rolled with the impact and came up further from the silent helicopter, giving him some distance. Robin counted at least ten figures now on the rooftop, while the helicopter simply hovered there, nearly silent and opaque.
"Who the hell are these guys?" Robin asked no one in particular.
Nightwing saw that they all had the builds of well muscled men. They wore black clothing and black ski masks over their faces. Even the eye holes in their ski masks were covered with infra-red goggles. Nightwing knew a threat when he saw one, they confirmed his suspicions when they produced some sort of automatic rifles from their backpacks and pointed them at Dick.
"Holy shit!!" Nightwing muttered to himself and rolled behind the building's smokestacks as they opened fire, oblivious to Robin's presence on the rooftop. Robin was surprised to find that even their weapons were silenced. Whoever these people represented, they were well funded and noiseless. They obviously didn't want to attract any attention to themselves. The question was, just who were these people? The dark figures suddenly stopped firing their silenced weapons. The night was suddenly still again. Had they hit their target? In response, Nightwing jumped high over their heads and landed with all his weight on two of the attackers, sending them skidding across the rooftop. Whirling, punching and kicking, Nightwing took the fight to his silent assailants. All this happened in less than a minute while Robin looked on and tried to assimilate this unprovoked attack into his brain. Finally he was galvanized into action. Grabbing one of his own "R" shaped throwing stars he ran back towards the action.
Robin noticed one of the men aiming his weapon at Nightwing. Dick had his back turned to the man and was unaware of the imminent danger he was in. Adrenaline pumping through his body, Robin knew he was the only one who could save Dick.
"No!!!" Robin yelled as he threw his weapon with all his might. The throwing star lodged itself in the wrist of the gunman. Bullets sprayed the entire rooftop as the gunman reflexively fired his weapon, despite the severe pain he was in. Robin watched in horror as Nightwing was picked up off his feet, struck in the back by the spray of wild bullets and toppled down to the rooftop, landing in a heap. Robin couldn't believe his eyes, Dick had been hit by several bullets, if he lived, he would surely be crippled for life, even with Kevlar protection. Panic seized him. He ran towards Dick and, remembering his first aid training, didn't move him.
"Dick," he whispered, "try not to move buddy, I'll get help. I swear I will." With a sudden move Dick thrashed around and was about to throw a punch, and realizing it was Robin, stopped himself. Both Robin and Nightwing suddenly realized that he should be bleeding and paralyzed.
"Dick? You're ok?"
"Weird. I should be talking to Saint Peter right now." Nightwing replied. He reached around to the small of his back and when he brought his hand back around it had three cylinder shaped objects in it. They were not bullets.
"Knock out Darts?!?" Robin was shocked again. He thought his best friend, his older brother, had been killed, shot in the back. He was stunned to find that Dick's life was never in danger at all. Even when fired at close range, the darts would not have penetrated his Kevlar mesh costume. Suddenly he felt a tremendous wave of relief wash over him, no matter what happened, at least Dick was alive.
"Don't you ever scare me like that again." Tim said with a smile.
"I promise, next time I'll make sure I stay dead." Nightwing replied with a smile.
Robin's relief soon faded and was replaced by anger at these silent attackers. Who were they? What did they want? What was the purpose of this attack? Nightwing noticed that Robin was shaking with fury at the situation. Taking the offensive, Nightwing jumped to his feet and again threw himself at his attackers. The silent assassins were caught unaware by Nightwing's newfound aggression. Nightwing was a blur as he leaped form one to the other, in constant motion, punching and kicking and throwing his escrima sticks at the assemblage. Robin felt like he was moving in slow motion compared to Dick.
"I've had enough of this!!" Nightwing yelled as he pressed his attack. Robin finally joined the fray as well, swinging his quarterstaff with uncanny precision. Nightwing back flipped behind one of the attackers and, reaching back, grabbed him by the shoulders and flipped him over. Tim heard a ripping sound as the attackers sleeves ripped off in Nightwing's hands, sending the man himself flying. After only a few more seconds they heard a muffled voice yell, "Pull back!!"
The ten men grabbed the ropes on their belts and began to climb them, disappearing back into the silent, opaque helicopter, which then rose high out of sight and disappeared, leaving behind Nightwing and Robin, and a lot of questions.
Nightwing ran over to Robin and held out his hand to help Robin up off of his knees. Robin could tell Nightwing was brimming with curiosity.
"What in the heck was that?" Robin asked.
"I don't know," Nightwing replied, the wind whipping around him, "but I may have a clue right here." he said as he held out the sleeve of the man he had thrown over his head. The sleeve was as black as the helicopter that had hovered overhead so silently. The only marking was a small insignia on the shoulder of the sleeve. It looked like a skull's head with a knife through it, behind the skull was a small silver lightening bolt.
"That looks... menacing." Robin said as he scanned the insignia.
"I think it means more than that Robin. I have my suspicions as to what this is, but I think we should consult someone before we jump to any conclusions." Robin knew what that meant. Nightwing already knew what this insignia meant, but he wanted to make sure his facts were correct before he let Robin in on his hypotheses.
"Oracle?" He asked as he wiped the dust off of his uniform.
"Not this time kiddo, we need to talk to Batman."
An hour later Dick and Tim had changed into their everyday clothing and were now wolfing down nachos and Coca-Cola, huddled around Dick's computer, which featured a visual link to The Batcave on the large screen. The majority of the screen was filled with a pixilated version of the cowled Batman, in the distance and slightly out of focus was the ever faithful Alfred, serving dinner for the master of Wayne Manor.
"I think I don't like this." Dick said through a mouthful of cheese and jalapeno peppers. Another image flashed on the screen followed by Batman's deep, resonant voice. The image was almost identical to the one Dick had ripped off one of his attackers. A skull with a knife through it, the lightening in the background of the symbol was missing however.
"The symbol you're seeing now is sort of an unofficial symbol of the U.S. Elite Special Forces division. Most of the members of this division sport that symbol as a tatoo. Although I've never come across it with a lightening slash. I've passed it on to Oracle and so far she hasn't found an exact match for it either."
"Now I'm sure I don't like this." Dick replied.
"What have you done to warrant a visit from U.S Special Forces Dick?" Bruce asked.
Dick shook his head in amazement, "Who me? I don't think I want to know."
"You do know what the possible ramifications of this are don't you?" Batman interjected. Suddenly Dick's face grew serious. At first he said nothing. Tim looked at Dick, and then at Batman, "What does it mean Dick?" he asked.
"They attacked us on the roof of the building I live in Tim. We can hope that's a coincidence. But if it isn't....." Dick's voice trailed off, leaving Tim to fill in the blanks.
"Someone may have figured out your secret identity." The entire room fell silent as they let the impact of that last statement sink in. The full meaning of the statement had huge ramifications. What if someone figured out Dick Grayson was Nightwing? How many others would be in danger? Bruce, Tim, Alfred, Barbara Gordon, and so many others. Dick frowned as he got up from the computer terminal and walked to the window, his mind racing. Unlike Batman, he had many friends, and he would rather die than see them in danger because of him. He hoped and prayed that this was all a huge coincidence, but he doubted it greatly.
General Walker sat in a darkened room, smoking a cigar. The room served as his base of operations in Bludhaven. Every possible surface was covered with papaers ranging from maps of the city to folders and communiques. He was listening to a report from his friend and comrade Colonel Phillip Young, Commanding Officer of Impact Squadron. He liked what he heard. While Walker was the brains of the operations, Impact Squadron was Young's to command in the field.
"This Nightwing character is one tough hombre General. He manhandled ten of our guys. Our weapons weren't hot though so he had a bit of an advantage. Nonetheless, I already respect the hell out of him. What makes you think he'll play ball with us sir?"
"That's my little secret for now Phillip. This was an excellent test of the waters. The next time Impact Squadron meets Nightwing, things will go smoothly and according to plan. Nightwing is about to become our greatest ally, whether he likes it or not."