Part One deserves a tissue warning. Get your Kleenex.
Scorch told him to go to sleep, but he wasn’t ready yet. The big boys were talking about Nightwing and Spud wanted to listen.
“When I saw him, he was all big and dark and he shot fire out of his fists!”
“He was seven feet tall and can walk on his hands *and* his feet!”
“He flies, too. I saw him! No kidding. He jumped off the big building over by the Zee Moors, and halfway down, he flies around the building and *disappears* into the shadows. Poof. All gone.”
“He’s Batman’s kid, and everyone knows Batman’s not human.”
“He bounces off buildings... I bet he can walk up them, too, like in the comics!”
“Aw, shaddup, Kraft. No one cares ‘bout your dumb books.”
“Yeah, he was a kid, just like us...”
“He’s friends with Superman.”
“...and he died in this street fight...”
“He beat down Blockbuster, too... that’s why no one ever sees him anymore... Nightwing hurt ‘im too bad...”
“There was this kid a bunch of years ago...”
“...and Batman brought him back to life and gave him Bat-Powers...”
“Nightwing found him breaking into some guys place...”
“He can disappear, too...”
“...and the gave the kid a *mom and dad*.”
A wistful hush fell over the crowd. Someone chomped on some beef jerky that had been swiped from the corner drugstore.
“I gotta start breaking into more places,” one of the kids mumbled.
“Yeah,” one of the others said, standing up and kicking a piece of plaster that had fallen from the ceiling of the rotted old building. “Same here.”
Scorch glanced back and saw his younger brother curled up in a blanket, just inside the shadows cast by the waning fire.
“Spud, get back to bed,” he barked. He was older, so his authority over Spud was absolute. “Whatcha doing back there? Trying to be Nightwing? Get outta here!”
Spud scurried back to his corner, his head dancing with the legends told around the fire. Maybe someday... maybe if he was good... maybe Nightwing would find him a mom and dad, too.
Graham Filbert had been a police officer in Blüdhaven for a long time. In many ways, he’d accompanied the city in its dismal decline. He was old, he was fat, and he was slow, but dadgummit, at least he was still honest!
He glanced sideways at his partner as their radios crackled to life. Dick Grayson possessed everything Filb used to have: youth, good looks, trim physique, positive outlook...
“*crackle* shots fired *pop* gang shootout on *crackle* 8th and Chestnut; advise position.”
“5423, we’re on it!” Grayson barked into the radio, whipping the aging cruiser into a 90-degree turn.
...And so much dad gummed energy!
“Thasit,” Filb mumbled. “I’m driving next time.”
After nearly 20 years as a costumed vigilante, Dick Grayson thought he’d seen it all. He’d seen people die, the Joker’s rictus grin plastered on their faces for all eternity. He’d seen jumpers... too late. He’d seen 21 men, their necks twisted 180 degrees and floated down a river. He’d eaten breakfast while watching an autopsy. He’d seen tragedy; he’d seen failure. He’d never seen the aftermath of 27 boys in their early teens shooting each other down in the name of their colors on a hot May evening. And he never, ever guessed that aftermath would include being held at gunpoint by a grimy 8-year-old.
“Get away from my brother!” the kid demanded, his voice pitched high with fear.
“All right...” Dick told him, pitching his own voice low and gentle. “I’m not going to hurt anyone here. See? My gun’s right here in my holster. I’m not going to touch it.”
Filb stood a little ways away, his hand ready on his gun, but not drawn. By all rights, he should shoot the kid and save his partner’s bacon, but Grayson wasn’t playing that way, and Filb had seen Grayson remove a gun from the hand of a much older man, whose finger was on the trigger, all without mussing his hair. ‘Sides, he was just a little tyke. Although this little tyke could punch holes in his partner, if he wasn’t careful.
The gun was shaking, Dick noticed. The kid’s finger wasn’t near the trigger. His chubby little hands could barely hold the heavy weapon. Dick could easily kick the gun out of his hand, or take it by force. He didn’t want to do that. The boy felt frightened and helpless and he didn’t want to exacerbate those feelings.
He squatted down to eye level, his hands held out in front of him.
“C’mon,” he said, softly. “Put the gun down so we can go help your brother.”
“No!” the kid cried. “You’ll take me away from him! You’ll make me go away!”
No parents. He hated to lie to the kid, but the most important thing right now was to defuse the immediate situation.
“You can point a gun at me if that happens,” Dick offered. “But right now, we need to help your brother. That’s all I want to do, right now. Honest.”
“Listen,” Dick told him, glancing up. “You can hear the ambulances coming. We’re going to need you to show us where your brother is and tell us his name.”
“And you won’t take me away?” the kid asked, warily.
“No way,” Dick answered immediately, knowing he was making a promise he couldn’t keep.
The kid carefully laid the gun on the ground and waved to Dick. “He’s over here,” he said, kneeling next to the body of a kid no more than 12 or 13. “Right here. His name’s Scorch.”
Dick looked at “Scorch.” He was a scrawny kid, with freckles and red hair—a painfully familiar shade of auburn. The setting sun washed color across his ashen face, and if it weren’t for the crater in his stomach, he might look like he was asleep. Dick suddenly felt drained. He wanted to sit down and cry and he wanted to jump up and hurt somebody and he wanted to be numb, all at the same time. Instead, he took a deep breath, which burned his lungs with the lingering remnants of sulfur and death. Closing his eyes, he laid a hand on Scorch’s neck, just to make sure. The body was already starting to cool. He opened his eyes. “I’m sorry,” he said, softly. “Scorch is dead.”
“He is *not*,” the kid informed him, jutting his lower lip out. “You said you’d help him! You said I wouldn’t have to leave him!”
“I’m sorry, he’s dead—“
“You *said* you’d help! You’re not even trying! You’re not doing anything!”
Dick looked into the boy’s eyes and saw a panic and helplessness that he felt deep down in that part of him that was still a little boy, staring horrified at his own parents’ broken bodies. It didn’t take long to make a decision.
Before he even registered moving, he was on his knees next to Scorch, hands clasped together, pushing on his chest. He lifted and tilted the breathless head expertly and pushed his own air into the mouth. Two quick breaths and he returned to the strokes to the chest. The kid, who seemed very vulnerable without a gun in front of him, perched next to him, watching hopefully.
Filb watched them both, shaking his head. Grayson was wasting his time on that kid. Should be helping anyone who could be saved. He shook his head over the dirty little red head hovering hopefully over his brother. Wasn’t his place. Besides, the ambulances were already on the scene. Someone would set those kids straight soon enough. Filb began checking the kids left lying in the street, hoping to find one he could still help.
“Why isn’t it working?” the kid asked, his voice rising in panic. “Why isn’t he waking up?”
“Uh... I don’t know,” Dick grunted, pushing on Scorch’s chest some more.
“We’ll take it,” a female EMS tech snapped appearing out of nowhere and pushing Dick aside. He rose to his feet and pulled the bewildered kid aside. The boy’s shoulders were shaking. “This one’s gone,” she said, staring at Dick as if to ask why he’d wasted time on a cooling body. She didn’t say anything, though, just moved aside to the next body.
“But... but...” the kid’s shoulders shook harder as he stared at his brother.
Dick heard a high-pitched whine and realized it came from the very small boy in front of him. He dropped to his knees and saw the boy’s face drain of color.
“But... she... she was supposed to fix...” A hiccupping sound obliterated the next word.
“We tried,” Dick told him, softly. “But it was too late.”
“But... but...” the kid jerked away from him, running to alley and falling to his knees. His small body shook as vomit bubbled forth.
Dick knelt behind him, shielding him from the eyes of the two dozen paramedics and police officers milling about. He pulled out a handkerchief, silently thanking Alfred for always insisting he carried one on his person, and held it out to the sobbing child. After a moment, Dick realized he wasn’t going to take it. Instead, the young officer sat down on the cooling asphalt, pulled the sobbing boy into his lap, and rocked him gently.
Captain Amy Rohrback stepped up behind Filb and put a hand on his shoulder.
“What’s Grayson doing?” she asked, quietly.
“He’s got a street kid over there,” Filb answered. “His brother got kakked.”
Amy shook her head and looked over at Dick again. “How do you deal with such a bleeding heart, Filb?”
“Same way you did, Amy.” Filb stuck his hands in his pockets. “I watch him and become a better person for it.”
The boy had calmed considerably, and now lay cradled in Dick’s arms, staring at nothing.
“Hey,” Dick said, nudging him. “We’re going to need your help, you know. We’re going to take a trip down to Headquarters... we’ll even run the lights and sirens, if you want.”
Of course, Dick chastised himself. Who cares about lights and sirens when your world’s just ended? He should know better.
“Scorch took care of you, huh?” Dick asked, more quietly, relieved he was at least getting a response.
“How long did you live out here?” Dick asked, desperate to break through to the little boy he was sure was still in there, in there concentrating on keeping him out.
“Grayson.” His name was a whisper as Filb nudged him and pressed something in his hand. He opened his fist to find a gold cross in his palm. Filb must have taken it off the brother.
“Ok, kiddo,” he said, making a decision. He was *not* going to lose this kid to the streets. His brother was gone but that didn’t have to be the end of it. “It’s time to get going. You need to wear this and keep it safe for Scorch,” he told the boy in his lap, fastening the cross around his neck.
The boy looked it the piece of jewelry and immediately snapped into focus. “It’s Mommy’s. She gave it to Scorch to keep safe that night.”
Dick didn’t know what night he was talking about, but he knew it probably had something to do with why the boys were living on the streets now. Something about that charm was important to the boy, vital to his existence.
“Now it’s yours,” he told the solemn little boy. “And it’s your job to keep it safe and help me out.”
“Yes, sir,” he was told with a definitive nod.
Dick was surprised at the sudden change in temperament. Suddenly the boy was all business and ready to go. Whatever he had done, Dick decided. It must have been a good thing.
“My name’s Dick,” he said, getting to his feet.
The boy said nothing, but slipped his hand in Dick’s and planted himself at the officer’s side. Dick squeezed the small hand in his and hoped for a miracle.