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Nightwing turns his head to the side and listens. There's not exactly a sound that caught his ear. Just a feeling. Intuition. Something that clues him in to the fact that he is no longer alone in this alleyway.

 

And there it is. Feet tread silently on the cement but the displacement of air is a tell-tale as someone sashays across with no particular attention to remaining hidden now.

 

He already has an idea of who it is but confirms it with a glance. "Catwoman." Her dark suit blends in with the shadows but her white teeth curve in the air like a Cheshire smile. "Blüdhaven's not usually your type of scene."

 

"Just dropping by to spend some quality time with my favorite stepson," She answers.

 

Uh huh. "You could've done that back at the house." Selina doesn't always stay at the manor but she does visit at least once a week unless she's on extended excursions. "So what's really up?"

 

She steps forward and the shadows recede enough that he can see her. "Didn't think you heard the latest gossip, Birdie."

 

"Oh?" He leans forward and lays a hand over his chest in a gesticulation of pretend bashfulness. "Does it involve me?"

 

She tilts her head to the side. "What have you been up to? Someone's put a bounty out for Nightwing."

 

A bounty. Those are always interesting; it usually means he's on the right trail, on the cusp of discovering something really juicy. It's good news but he'll have to figure out which case, which lead it is that's caused this and then follow it. But that's a thought for later tonight. "Enough that you're here to collect?"

 

She dithers as if indecisive. "I could make a good night's paycheck off of you," Selina informs him. He doesn't think she'll seriously consider cashing the bounty in but he hadn't been trained by the Batman to outright discount the unlikely as an option either.

 

He'll keep it light. Playful. "Just one night?" He counters. "They didn't spring enough for a weekend's worth, huh?" He tsks in faux disappointment. "And here I am gonna get my feelings hurt."

 

Catwoman winks at him with the sly air of an elderly person sneaking a child an extra dessert behind their parent's back. "If I wanted to make a little money off you, Little Boy Blue, then I'd just ransom you to my husband. He'd pay a lot more than what they're offering."

 

Good to know. The concept of it is admittedly a little humorous to him - if they ever renew their marriage vows in the future, he'll remind Bruce to make an amendment about not kidnapping each others' loved ones - but still good to know. "They do say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Apparently same goes for bounties and ransoms. Thanks for purr-viding me  with this gossip."

 

Her grin turns a bit more genuine. Cat puns are a long standing tradition between them while suited up and it's so nice to be able to exchange them outside of a battle situation. Catwoman shrugs. "You can figure that out. Just thought I'd tell you the meow-ment I heard it."

 

These puns aren't new and are all riffs of the same wordplay over and over because there's only so many cat jokes one can say throughout over a decade of knowing each other. Still her eyes glow with amusement and Nightwing laughs in genuine delight.

 

It's a good night. He tips his fingers off his forehead in a casual goodbye and shoots his grappling gun, lifting himself out of the alley and into the night once more while Catwoman again disappears into the shadows.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

He drops into the alley like night falling. Silent and blending in with the shadows. Lands between the victim and the perpetrator. Quickly he takes note of the knife wound in the victim's side - a small slash, clearly surface level as the victim must have managed to dodge from taking more damage than that, good for her - as she leans against the side of the alley and takes note that the stabby-man assailant stops clutching between his legs where the woman had kicked and once more lifts a weapon but this time going for a gun rather than the knife that has already failed him.

 

Before the gun comes up to take aim, it meets escrima stick which a far more a formidable opponent than flesh would be. Against the brick of the wall, the woman inhales sharply and then begins to cry in relief as the adrenaline starts to wear off and the emotions and pain begin to feel startling too real.

 

"Can you walk?" Nightwing asks her over his shoulder. The man withdraws his gun and shifts to aim it at Nightwing but again Nightwing slams the escrima stick into the side of the barrel before he can take aim; this time the motion is aimed more precisely and nails across the barrel with enough force to knock it completely free with the man's grip, who freezes with wide eyes.

 

The woman sniffles and nods. Nightwing smiles at her as her lower lip wobbles in distress. "It's okay. I'll be with you in just a second, promise. Why don't you go out of the alley to wait? Do you have a cell phone? You do? Good! That's good! Go ahead and call an ambulance while you wait. Trust me - you'll want to have that cut looked at." The woman nods and cautiously ebbs behind Nightwing, who stands between her and the man. And then once she realizes it's safe to do so, she flees without any hesitation.

 

"Now," Nightwing smiles at the man. It isn't a kind smile. "It's just you and me."

 

A voice from overhead rings out, "Not quite." And Nightwing's head snaps up, just in time to watch the descent of the new arrival as he leaps off the roof, weight held by a rope already secured on the top of the building. "Nightwing. I'm Perez, the bounty hunter. You may have heard of me?" He hasn't. "I'm afraid I have to take you in." And with that declaration, he raises a gun at Nightwing.

 

Nightwing and the would-be murderer exchange a look between them. A silent is this guy for real? and Nightwing shrugs as way of answer simply because the criminal can't see the eye roll happening underneath Nightwing's mask. Bounties are flattering. Bounty hunters? Not so much. Selina must be right about the bounty amount because this guy appears to be several leagues below her level. Not even in the same ballgame if that's the metaphor Dick's going with here.

 

"I'll be with you in just a moment," Nightwing tells the would-be murderer, who is mystified by the ongoing turn of events in this evening of first being thwarted and now, well, whatever the heck this is. But since both Nightwing and the bounty hunter are between the criminal and potential escape, there's not much the guy can do except bide his time and pray for that this distraction becomes big enough that he can make a run for it.

 

The bounty hunter's eyes flick to the would-be murderer and then back to Nightwing. "Unfortunately," The bounty hunter says and his fingers tighten on his gun. His voice does a good job of masking his confusion even as his face gives him away, "You won't be able to."

 

"That's the thing about bounties," Nightwing informs him. "You have to catch them in order to cash them."

 

And with that, he jumps into the air, front flips over the head of the bounty hunter, and comes down in a sweeping kick that takes out the bounty hunter before he's even finished turning to watch him to do it. The bounty hunter goes down hard, and his gun clatters uselessly to the side near the would-be murder's side of the alley.

 

"Yeah," Nightwing warns in a drawl. The would-be murderer pauses. "Don't even think about it." The man retracts his very indiscreet hand that had been inching towards the bounty hunter's gun.

 

Nightwing settles his hands on his hips and looks to the two men on the ground and the two displaced guns. He raises a finger to his com. "Is anyone near my location?" It's unlikely considering that the others don't tend to be in Blüdhaven but it's always worth a shot. There's no reply so he elaborates. "I have two separate perps to detain and a victim with a minor medical injury and I'd really like to get back to consoling her."

 

"On route," Jason confirms. He has a soft heart for victims who need a little extra TLC; it tracks that if he's not busy or too far then he'd respond. "I'll have a quantum doorway opened. Be there in, eh, less than fifteen seconds."

 

Nightwing considers this and watches the two downed men as he waits. Within ten seconds, the door arrives and Red Hood steps through. "Evening, fellas," Red Hood says to the two men; the one who is still conscious wisely shrinks away from his convivial tone. Jason goes for him first. He hauls the would-be murderer up with disregard for the way the man cringes backwards and slings him over one broad shoulder.

 

"That one's attempted murder." Dick informs him.

 

Red Hood slings the other man over his other shoulder. And he scarcely takes a moment to brace and then stands as if the weight of two fully grown men doesn't phase him at all. "And that one's just a bounty hunter. Thanks for this, Little Wing."

 

Red Hood inclines his shiny helmeted head. "Oh you know me. I always love hauling away trash." Jason steps through the door and pauses in the door frame. "See you Thursday, 'Wing." Huh so he is coming to dinner at the manor in two days. He closes the door behind him, causing it to disappear as if it and he were never even here.

 

Now free from the burden of detaining the men thanks to Jason, Nightwing finally can leave the alley with quick footsteps to go and comfort the shaken up victim who really, really seems like she could use a friendly ear and maybe even a shoulder to cry on as she waits for the paramedics to arrive. This is Bruce's favorite part of the job and so Dick knows a lot about how to console victims.

 

"Hey," Nightwing says well before he's close to her, giving her space if she needs it and giving her plenty of notice of his arrival. She looks up at him with relief so clear that he has no qualms to seat himself down by her place on the curb. "How you holding up?" He asks and settles in for a long consoling period that is well, well worth it if it can help ease someone's fear.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

He's getting really tired of people creeping up on him tonight.

 

He turns towards the shadow slinking on the rooftop with annoyance. His eyes widen at the sight of who it is - and he hates that, hates that he'll be giving the man the satisfaction by way of his mask moving in surprise.

 

"Robin." Slade's deep baritone contains multitudes of contradictions, all wrapped up with the bow of a placid tone. Respect yet mockery. A greeting yet a taunt. Familiarity yet danger. Warmth yet a threat. Everything Slade thinks they are well when all they are and all they ever will be are enemies. "As of late, you've become rather popular it seems."

 

"You've heard about the bounty then?" Dick asks but already knows the answer. There's no other reason for Slade to be here, not really. Or, well, hopefully not because if so then that's sure to mean nothing good. The last time Slade was in Blüdhaven, it was to give Dick the courtesy of warning him that Slade held a bounty for someone in Dick's city. It's not something Dick wants to go through again.

 

If it annoys him that he's not the first to notify Dick of the bounty - and Dick is pretty confident that it does annoy him - then he hides it well. Slade inclines his head. "With the right lure, some species will approach the trap set without further need to being hunted."

 

Very conscientiously he keeps his body language at ease but he wants to grit his teeth; he hates it when Slade talks to him like this. Like they have their own understandings of each other apart from the rest of the world, as if there is a language just the two of them are fluent in. He knows that Dick will understand him even when he starts spouting off pretentious balderdash that is supposed to sound like prose maybe in Slade's point of view but to Dick is just an unwelcome attempt on Slade's end to try and strengthen bonds with Dick. The mercenary wants to luxuriate in their shared understanding of each other, which gives the illusion that they're closer than they are if they can read each other so easily.

 

A change of pace is needed in order to interrupt that nonsense before Slade can really start to get into it. "You know, I'm surprised to see you here," Dick says. It's true and yet isn't. Slade isn't the only one with multitudes. He too can weave contradictions with ease.

 

Slade lifts his chin subtly in amusement and an indication to go on. "Oh?" The surprise to his voice is nearly drowned out by the derision. In these conditions, he thinks Dick should have well anticipated his presence and his judgement rings clear.

 

The disapproval means nothing to him, no matter how badly the mercenary wishes for its importance. Nightwing shrugs. "Seems below your pay grade."

 

The chuckle resonates in Slade's wide chest, lifts his shoulder just the minutest bit but even that alone is significant when it comes to Slade. "Normally I would concur."

 

Skeptical at this out of character change of heart, Dick tilts his head. "Normally. But now?"

 

His voice is a soft murmur that carries to Dick as easy as Sunday morning. "Not everything is about the money. Some things..." He pauses and when he speaks next, the smile in his voice is evident. "Some things in life should be done simply for the enjoyment of it. Don't you agree?"

 

Dick lifts a hand and tucks a strand of hair behind his ear. Lets his hand linger there in a position with quick range of reaching behind him to withdraw an escrima stick. "Depends on what we're talking about," He says finally. "For example - painting? Sure! Everyone loves Bob Ross, right? Murder? Mm not so much."

 

One of Dick's greatest attributes - in his opinion - is his quick wit. Slade usually does not share that same viewpoint; and in this moment yet again, it's clear that this mouthiness is something Slade would rather be without. Dick wins; the conversation shifts to bluntness rather than Slade's attempt to indulge in his fantasy of them sharing language between each other.

 

"Regardless, I'm here only as a professional curiosity." 

 

Now Dick's a bit intrigued. A bit skeptical too. There's always an ulterior motive with Slade. And usually it's something Dick finds cruel. "Professional curiosity, huh?"

 

"I confess I find myself wondering how those in my profession are attempting to capture you."

 

Yeah that actually checks out as something Slade would do. Speaking of curiosity though... "How would you capture me?"

 

Though he cannot it under the metal mask, he knows that Slade grins. "Now that would be telling." He turns then to leave. But the mercenary pauses. "By the way, Robin..." He drops each word over his shoulder like a languid hand flicking a cigarette's ashes and embers out the rolled down window of a passenger seat. "Do you know where your Robin is? It'd be a shame if you were... to lose track of him."

 

A chill down his spine - in his blood and in his heart - and then hot anger burning the same course and traveling through ventricles in a blaze that disintegrates anything once frozen. "What have you done?" He reaches up over his shoulder and smoothly withdraws one escrima stick and wields it with readiness.

 

At the accusation, Slade turns to face him once more. "Me? I've done nothing. But the problem is... you have also done nothing." And, as simple as that, Slade turns away to leave. Nightwing's upper lip curls and he throws the escrima stick like a javelin, electricity crackling as it soars through the air.

 

It won't be enough, he knows; and indeed Slade disappears off the roof before it can make impact. The escrima stick hits the brick wall of the neighboring building with enough force to remain stabbing into there. Nightwing strides over and tugs it free from the wall. Pieces of brick crumble away in the aftermath of his actions and fall down like a bad omen.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

"This is Nightwing," He says on the coms but the private com line for Robin stays silent in an eerie way that makes him pause. "Robin, do you come in?" There's no answer. He reaches up and switches to Batman's private com line. "Batman, is Robin with you?" The silence is again the same. It's unnatural. There's no slight background hiss, that weird noise that telephones and walkie talkies make even when they're of high quality. It's absent, blank, totally silent.

 

He tries again and wields no result. Can't keep wasting time on trying, not if it indicates what he thinks it does.

 

Slade definitely did something to Nightwing's communication system. Dick doesn't know how Slade did it but he definitely knows it was him.

 

But it only makes him worry.

 

There's no choice. He has to go to Gotham and ensure that Slade hasn't done anything to Robin, that anything hasn't happened to Damian.

 

He'll be too late - far too late - if anything has. 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

When he sees Robin leaps across a rooftop behind Batman, he finally pauses for the first time.

 

Damian is safe. 

 

Dick closes his eyes and, now that there's time for it, breathes.

 

Hunches over and rests his hands on his knees even though the pose is not conductive to allowing the respiratory system to gain access to airflow. Alone on a rooftop, he leans and watches as Robin and Batman travel further away into the night, capes soaring behind them.

 

God he hates Slade.

 

Dick heads back to his city, silently cursing Slade and his mind games. Silently cursing himself for falling for them. It was probably just a ruse to get rid of him and one that had worked like a charm too. Whoever his contract was for, Slade better damn well have finished it. Because if he shows his face in Dick's town after pulling a stunt like this, Dick's not holding back.

 

When he enters Blüdhaven, it is as silent as a city like this can ever be. No matter how he scours, Slade is nowhere to be found and gone, seemingly, without leaving any trace or crime committed. 

 

His fists clench. He hadn't taken Selina's warning seriously enough. If Slade had wanted to, really wanted to, then they both know that grabbing Robin is a surefire way of walking into the trap - the right lure indeed. He needs to dismantle the trap completely; he needs to go after whoever set the bounty in the first place. 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

The night brings no answers. The next day, he gets a lead. That night, gets a name. 

 

The only problem is: it's a big enough name to make Dick pause. Think. 

 

Coming at him without backup in an attempt to get him to remove the bounty seems like such a juvenile plan that he's embarrassed to have even thought it. No, what he needs is to outsmart this whole thing. 

 

Two ways to stop a bounty. Go after whoever set it or the bounty gets called off. How do bounties get called off? Either the mark dies - or the bounty is collected. 

 

And there's a thought. Now: how to go about collecting one's own bounty? 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

The problem with cashing in the bounty is that perhaps one of the reasons the reward amount is low is because the employer pays out of their pocket for the elaborate detainment protocol they demand to be used in subduing Nightwing in exchange for the drop off and they provide all of the materials necessary to implement it. Chloroform. An abandoned warehouse. Security cameras set up with visual and audio from multiple angles in the warehouse. Metal containment comprising of welded manacles to hold Nightwing - though the bounty hunter is supposed to finish the job themselves by actually welding that shut. A bomb set up nearby just in case something goes wrong and the employer wants to blow the whole operation, likely if they're watching on the security feed as the bounty hunter awaits the money drop and decides the exchange is too risky to complete and would rather Nightwing and his abductor both be dead than be able to get their hands on obtaining Nightwing.

 

It's extensive. It's over the top. It's got that very classic villain je ne sais quoi, if Dick's being honest. There's not a lot of that nowadays, not like how it used to be when he was Robin and dangling over, say, a pit of crocodiles.

 

But it's not something he can set up on his own.

 

Fortunately for him, he's not on his own. It's just a matter of knowing the right contact and who to call. Dick's got a couple options in mind. He shoots a couple texts but really he already has the perfect candidate in mind as long as Jason's not too busy with anything else going on.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

Thursday brings dinner at the manor.

 

"Hey, Cass, Tim." Dick smiles at his siblings. Cass glances back at him with a straight face and then offers a small wave. Tim doesn't look up from his cell phone but offers a quiet hello. Dick takes a seat at the table. The only other occupants so far are Cass and Tim. But just as he thinks that, in walks another. "Hey, Dami," He grins as Damian enters the dining room. "How was school?"

 

"Abysmal," He answers as he takes a seat. This is his routine answer for this question so Dick nods to Cass when she points to Damian and then fingerspells 'ok' with her eyebrows raised to indicate the question. For good measure, he brings his thumb to his chest and bounces the 'fine' sign off his sternum. Damian catches him doing so and narrows his eyes; Dick just smiles, and Damian drops the suspicious attitude. 

 

Bruce enters the dining room with Duke and his eyes track across the table. He frowns. "Jason?" He asks to the room at large.

 

Dick shrugs. "He told me that he was coming."

 

"And I am," Jason says as he enters into the room with Alfred, the both of them carrying white plates piled with spaghetti and marinara sauce. "Hold your horses, Bruce." He sets down some of the plates while Alfred sets down the others.

 

"Thanks, Alfie," Dick beams.

 

Alfred's mouth stays a straight line but the sparkle in his eyes play an optical illusion of making him smile. "You're very much welcome, Master Dick." Jason seats himself. "I'll be back to fill your glasses. Pinot Noir and milk?" He offers.

 

"Sounds perfect," Bruce says and Alfred nods.

 

"Water," Damian corrects and Alfred again inclines his head, then departs.

 

"Hey," Duke greets them belatedly. Jason nods back.

 

"Hey, Duke," Dick smiles. "It's been - what? Since last month's dinner?" Alfred's monthly dinner is something Alfie insists on offering. He can't force them to attend; but being the cause of disappointing Alfred is motivation enough to cause the family to show up unless someone's really swamped or out of range and physically can't make it back it time.

 

Alfred enters with the bottle of the Pinot Noir and fills the glasses of those who are drinking it - only Bruce and Jason. He then fills the glasses of those with milk - and, in Damian's case, water - and after that departs soundlessly with further ado as they all in earnest begin to dig in to the meal.

 

"How are things going?" Bruce asks and there's an awkward pause where each kid tries to figure out who he's addressing before they realize he's addressing all of them.

 

"Good," Tim answers first. Succinct and short. But it satisfies Bruce, who looks expectantly at the rest of them and waits.

 

Cass nods. Forms her hand into the Y-shape in ASL and motions directionally between her and Tim. The same as Tim, she's good too.

 

"Busy," Duke answers. "Um, not much else goin' on. Practicing my retrocognition but I pretty much have it nailed."

 

"That's good. Good," Bruce says and Duke smiles at the praise. Bruce turns to Dick, who pauses in his bite of noodles. "What about you, Dickie?"

 

He chews and swallows the bite. "Oh, good, everything's good," Dick answers and goes to take another sip of milk.

 

"Really? 'Cause I heard there's another bounty set on Nightwing," Jason says nonchalantly - which kind of makes Dick's answer sound like a lie, which is exactly why Jason said it. Jason's satisfied air is very annoying but, well, it wasn't like the bounty is supposed to be a secret. He just wishes Jason didn't purposely make it sound like that is all.

 

Bruce glances to Jason and then to Dick, frown deepening as he does so. Ah so he didn't know yet about the bounty. That's surprising. He must be caught up in a different case right now; Bruce's focus does tend to get singly orientated once he really gets going. It's not surprising then that the rest of the kids are likewise surprised by this. Even Tim briefly looks up from the cell phone he's been on this whole time while trying to act covert about it.

 

Dick shrugs. "Meh. Small change, not a lot of takers. Don't worry about it, B. Besides I'm handling it. Speaking of - Jason let's talk after dinner."

 

Damian's eyes narrow as he watches Jason incline his head as way of silent answer."Richard, I can help," He offers mulishly and then stabs at his spaghetti.

 

Bruce clears his throat in an indication to not talk about downstairs topics while upstairs, an indication that Dick ignores.

 

Dick smiles. "If Jason's not enough to cut it, I'll come to you, how's that?" The implication that Jason's skills might be inadequate while Damian's are not is enough to please Damian and cause Jason to roll his eyes. It's not a lie exactly - normally Dick would have no qualms about turning to Damian for help. It's just... After that stunt that Slade pulled, Dick is feeling a little over-protective. He doesn't want Damian anywhere near this bounty.

 

Duke pauses and sets his fork down. "How long do you have to be doing the hero thing anyways before you get your first bounty set on your head? No one's ever set a bounty for Signal." He nearly pouts. It's adorable.

 

"Depends really. Some of the Outsiders have never had bounties but some of us got them pretty early on - way back in the early Titans day even for me and Roy. You start to make enough noise and you'll get a couple in no time," Dick assures him and ever the eager pupil Duke nods attentively. 

 

"No one," Bruce says sternly, "Should be trying to get any bounties set for their heads."

 

"Master Bruce," Alfred scolds lightly from the doorway. Bruce's frown changes from disapproving to incredulity that he is the one being scolded for talking shop at the dinner table.

 

"Yeah, Bruce," Jason chimes in like an asshole and thus Bruce's irritation becomes directed at him. Alfred refills the empty glasses in front of Cass and Duke with milk, tops off Dick and Tim's halfway drank glasses of milk, and then fills Damian's finished glass of water.

 

Damian glares at his spaghetti, waits until Alfred has left, and then says, "The only bounties for me were either set by my grandfather or by my mother."

 

"Don't worry," Duke says quietly as his eyes dart to where Alfred has just left as if suspecting that them talking downstairs topics can somehow summon him back into the dining room to scold them. "I'm sure you'll get one soon." Bruce sighs. Cass nods her assurance. Damian looks appeased but then glances to Dick to verify. What kind of person would he be if he didn't assure him that he'd get a bounty set for him soon? Dick nods too and finally Damian resumes eating his spaghetti.

 

Bruce sighs again. At the sound, Tim looks up from the cell phone poorly hidden under the table; everyone knows he's texting Kon, which is why Alfred is allowing it despite the 'no electronics during dinner' rule because Alfred is secretly very much a romantic at heart and he thinks young love is adorable. Which it is. It's just also funny that Tim thinks he's got anyone in this family fooled. 

 

"What?" Tim asks, clearly not having retained any of the ongoing conversation happening around him.

 

Cass raises her eyebrows to indicate a question, forms her right hand into the 'k' shape in ASL and then moves her hand in the English 's' shape across her chest: this is the name sign she's given to Kon. Tim sneers without any actual heat and opts to ignore this, pretending like they don't all know the basic ASL alphabet and all of Cass' name signs, and slipping his phone into his pocket.

 

"Real subtle," Duke mutters and Jason exhales an amused breath out through his nose.

 

"So, Tim," Bruce says loudly. A clear changing of topic on Tim's behalf. "I heard that your school is having a photography exhibit." He twirls the noodles of his spaghetti around his fork as he awaits a reply. Tim nods and eagerly begins discussing the competition entry theme. And dinner goes on with the soundtrack of fixed focal length and questions about portraiture and urban landscapes.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

"Spit it out," Jason says as he eyes Dick warily after the others have left the dinner table but they've remained behind to talk.

 

"Hypothetically," Dick begins and ignores Jason's immediate groan that sounds upon hearing this introduction. Which is more than fair, really. Historically among their kind, there's never really a good hypothetical situation. "If you were to still have the Red X suit - " The bored look slips from Jason's face faster than water off a duck's back. Dick has his full attention now. " - Would you be up to wearing it again?"

 

"Hypothetically," Jason corrects with an amused crinkle of his nose and a wide smirk, "It could be anyone in that suit. You don't know that it was me."

 

The both of them know that they both know it was. Dick rolls his eyes. "Look, I don't care who is in the suit as long as - at the end of the day - the plan works. Are you in or are you out?"

 

Jason leans forward, forearms braced on the table. "Well now I'm intrigued. What do you need Red X for? I'll pass on the message, see if he wants the job. Ah." He realizes it before he's even finished speaking. Jason's always been quick like that but he's really hones this ability in these recent years, the ones spent under Talia's tutelage. "You want him to cash in on the bounty. I thought you said you were ignoring that?" 

 

"I was. Until I realized that the bounty doesn't just involve me - it involves all of us." Slade's words hadn't been a threat but what if they had been? Dick hadn't been prepared. And now that he understands that the bounty puts all of them at risk, he can no longer ignore it. That option is too risky by far. The words ring in his head and taunt him - where is his Robin, where is his Robin? Slade is right - of course he is, damn him - that with the right lure, a hunter can draw out their prey without doing any actual hunting.

 

Jason's smile is bitter with all the semblance of someone who's heard this all too many times before. "You and your martyr complex are a match made in heaven - and believe me, I've been there." Dick's automatic grimace at the reminder of his death only seems to make Jason enjoy his own joke more. The light of the room reflects the green glint in Jason's eyes as he tilts his head. "I'll, uh...  Put out some feelers. See what I can do."

 

"Thanks, Jay." Dick rises from his chair.

 

"Yeah, you owe me one," Jason counters.

 

"I think," Dick says over his shoulder, "That you'll find I owe whoever is in the Red X suit one."

 

"Oh ha ha," Jason intones dryly.

 

Dick could retort with at least three more witty comebacks but he wants to catch Alfred in time to help wash up the dishes. All he says is, "I'll call you." And later, he does.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

They stage it to occur on Saturday evening, which doesn't take long to arrive and only brings in two more failed bounty attempts on Nightwing between then and now.

 

"You'll be Red X when I wake up?" Nightwing verifies even though they've gone over the plan. It's second nature to double check these things before the execution of them.

 

Jason raises his eyebrows. "Red X will be here, yes," He corrects like they both don't know that he is Red X. Jason is stubborn through and through and he'll never give up on insisting plausible deniability.

 

Dick inhales and exhales deeply and braces himself. "Okay." Jason raises the cloth covered in chloroform to the bottom half of Nightwing's face, covers his nose and mouth and Dick tries to breathe it in extensively to help it along.

 

"Goodnight, sweet prince," Jason quotes. Nightwing exhales in amusement as the world gradually becomes hazy and blurs into a soft nothing.

 

Arms catch him as he falls.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

When he awakes, he's in the warehouse. Trapped in the metal containment fastening by his wrists and ankles that Jason did a thorough job welding down on. With his arms crossed, Jason lounges nearby on the metal platform they're both on and he's suited up as Red X. Behind him a little ways, there's a countdown blinking which is decidedly not a good sign.

 

"Good news," Red X says conversationally. "I just made some very easy money." So the drop off already happened, huh? "Bad news. This asshole showed up and spooked the client." He jerks a thumb upwards to the side and Dick follows the direction.

 

Nightwing attempts to blink the last dredges of unconsciousness out of his eyes and tries to focus on the blurry figure that's lazily sprawled overhead on the metal balcony above them. Midnighter. Okay, okay, so that isn't to plan. Yes it had been a plan in case things hadn't worked out but Dick hadn't thought he'd actually show up - or at least, not this early in the evening when Dick didn't actually need the help. He's pretty sure the text he sent explained that part too, that Midnighter was to be a backup plan and that Dick would contact him if need be. And right now there is no need be. But in his current condition, he can't exactly recall what it is that he sent. He needs a couple of minutes - and a clear head - but either way, it doesn't help him now since Midnighter's already here.

 

He elects to ignore this for now and turns his gaze back to Jason. But immediately gets distracted from what he'd been about to say. "Is that a new suit?" Nightwing asks, disbelief coloring every word even though that, even through the lingering disorientation from the chloroform, he can clearly see that it is. He just can't believe Jason would have a new Red X suit. Red X is a retired persona. So why? For what purpose did he have this ready to go? Dick kind of doesn't even want to know. 

 

Red X tilts his shoulders and turns his head to the side, posing to better show off all the angles in a pretension of coyness. "Oh this old thing? Just something I slipped on."

 

Dick knows he's quoting Star Trek and Jason knows that he knows it. "No need to dress up on my behalf," Nightwing shoots back because he doesn't remember the line that follows in the show. Is pretty sure actually that it's a fight scene. He'll have to rewatch that episode soon.

 

Red X's laugh comes across more clearly through the vocal moderator than the one in Red Hood's helmet allows. "Who said it was for you?"

 

"Can you two knock it off? We get it already - you 'don't' know each other." Midnighter huffs. 

 

"I can literally hear the air quotes," Dick points out as justification for their ruse. Nightwing and Red X both have a reputation. To not exchange bantering quips would definitely be a giant red flag that something suspicious is afoot. And all three of them are aware of the cameras whose visual and audio are watching and listening. The employer might be gone from wherever the feed is being directed - might have fled after sighting Midnighter - but they might not be, could still be watching right at this very moment.

 

"Why the hell is he here?" Red X asks and narrows the eyes of his mask at Midnighter, who grins cheekily and who wasn't at all supposed to show up unless Dick actually needed the help. So honestly Dick can't even blame Jason for asking since he too periodically wonders the same thing. 

 

"Nightwing, baby, am I the other woman?" Midnighter teases. 

 

"Neither of you are the woman - And don't," Dick quickly adds, "Make a bi joke. You both know what I mean." 

 

"All right," Jason relents. He turns to Midnighter. "You get him down from there. I'll deal with that." He jerks his head towards the countdown rigged to explode. Jason heads towards it but when Midnighter makes no move to assist Dick, he pauses. "Uh, hello? Earth to asshole?"

 

Midnighter shrugs. "I'm kind of interested in seeing what happens."

 

"Oh come on," Dick complains. He has got to be kidding him right now. Of all the times for Midnighter's chaotic energy to spike, he chooses now huh?

 

Red X scoffs. ""Wing your new friends are shit." He resumes heading towards the bomb. Dick really can't even argue with that even though he feels a little obligated to on Midnighter's behalf. It doesn't matter anyways: he'll be out soon and then they'll all go their separate ways again.

 

Nightwing and Red Hood - whoops, he thinks with a smirk, he means Red X of course - have individually stabilized countless of explosions. He doesn't know Midnighter's count but he's sure it's up there if he decides to actually help. And together? The number only becomes more staggering. He knows that Jay can disable it in time. There's just one problem. When Jason pries open the metal control panel, all of the wires inside are red.

 

"Oh this is going to be such a pain in the ass," Red X groans. But his movements are calm and focused as he reaches within his utility belt and extracts a knife.

 

"You do know how to defuse that, right?" Dick asks because he absolutely believes in Jason, but he should probably check before Jason starts hacking a blade to it.

 

"Not yet," Jason admits humbly as he studies the wires and, thankfully, only spins the knife between his fingers as he mulls over this visual puzzle before him. Really not a comforting thing to hear but Jason does have a knack for knowing what to say to discomfort people.

 

Suddenly Red X spins and draws his arm back - throwing his knife - but he jerks his muscles to an abrupt halt at an impressive speed that matches his initial reaction time. His arm's still raised, his wrist still cocked, when a voice says, "Wow, You two birdies sure know how to have some bad luck."

 

The knife lowers; Jason's temper rises. "You called in Harley?" Red X demands. Behind him, the red wires remain unsolved and ignored and the timer tick ticks down. Midnighter very helpfully does nothing but tilt his head and assess Harley's threat level for a couple seconds before losing all interest in her arrival. 

 

"You say that like it's a bad thing, honey," Harley Quinn replies with a pout but with no actual insult taken. "Pretty Bird, Baby Blue, you need a little help? Just say the word and I'm yours." She leaps off the metal banister overhead and lands sprightly on the metal flooring in front of where Dick's trapped. She doesn't wait for an answer before she reaches inside one of her many pockets and withdraws what could be eyeliner or a very slender weapon, possibly a hidden syringe. She clicks a button and the answer reveals itself: it's a small handheld laser. Perfect.

 

"Harley," Dick says, "You are an angel."

 

She grins and bats her eyes. The action is more to appear cute than any actual act of flirtation. She steps closer and aims the small laser at his metal bindings. The size of the laser and the thickness of the metal alloy makes Dick thinks that they're going to be here quite a while. A while, that is, if Jason gets a move on.

 

But right - Dick presses his tongue silently against the back of his teeth and thinks; he needs to assuage Jason's pride. Dick isn't going to feel bad about this, even though it's clear that Jason's professional ego has taken a hit - because first Midnighter and now Harley? Rough. "I needed a backup plan, J - er..." He pauses, thrown off the rhythm of his speech that he only just started. "Red X. And I trust Harley to pull this off."

 

Jason resumes twirling his knife but it looks a little too fast to be a meditative action. He's still a little annoyed. "And what - you don't trust me?"

 

Nightwing gestures with his severely cuffed wrists to the best of his ability even though Red X's back is turned to him. "Oh come on. In case you didn't notice, we're not exactly Bonnie and Clyde over here!"

 

"That's the duo you pick?" Harley criticizes and pauses in her lasering to wait for his reply.

 

"Who would you pick?" Dick asks.

 

She smiles and pinches his cheek like he's still a fresh faced Robin new to the scene. "Aw, that's what I like about you." She resumes working the laser on the metal bindings.

 

"It never hurts to have a couple different contingency plans. You know - just in case." Dick says to Jason, who scoffs.

 

Scoffs but finally goes back to attending his task at hand. "Yeah, yeah. If I had a nickel for every time I heard that one." He carefully lifts one of the many red wires in his fingers and examines it more closely.

 

"How many nickels?" Harley asks.

 

Midnighter grins and answers. "A lot." He is, of course, right.

 

"Wait, wait, wait, Pretty Bird," Harley realizes. "If I was your first backup plan, then what was your next one? This guy? Who even is he?"

 

"Well," Dick says in the type of 'oh shucks' voice he's learned to emulate from Uncle Clark. She wasn't even really his first plan - otherwise neither Midnighter or Red X would be here. "Depends on how it plays out. I did send word to Ivy that you'd be working in the area - "

 

"Ooh," Harley laughs and wrinkles her nose. Her hand stays steady. "Tryin' to get us together? What a romantic you are, Mr. Matchmaker."

 

As if he needs to match make the two of them at this point! Though he must admit to some previous, ah, involvement in trying to get the two together once he realized they were both pining for each other. No big deal really. Besides, Harley and Ivy really worked it out on their own so they hadn't even needed him! "I aim to please."

 

Her lips curls upwards into a black glittery smirk. "So what happens if the plan went down the crap shoot but if Pammy Pam didn't show up?"

 

Contingency plans are no good if they fall apart that easily. "I did have a couple ideas." Midnighter and Red X only being a couple of them.

 

A lazy drawls sounds from above their heads. "That does explain some things." Catwoman lounges elegantly draped over the metal bar of the stairway above as she peers down at them. "Robin, Harley. Whoever the hell you're supposed to be." She says to Midnighter, who doesn't take any offense to that. She glances towards where Red X is dutifully working on disabling the hot wires. "Hood."

 

"Come on," Dick protests half-heartedly while Jason grumbles under his breath about how she doesn't know for certain that it's him even though they all really do. They certainly hadn't during Red X's debut but that was years ago; of course they know now. "You know it's not Robin anymore."

 

Catwoman shrugs, unrepentant. Slides her goggles to rest on the shiny leather of her cat cap. "Honestly? I still can see you as that cute little menace that ran around in underoos." It's not a secret that Nightwing used to be Robin - and everyone knows what the original Robin uniform looked like so that's no secret either - but still Midnighter's chuckle at her teasing is very annoying.

 

Harley cackles. "Yeah, the underoos were cute. You were such a little squirt." She tilts her head without looking up as she considers her own words. "Meh. Still are."

 

A short joke. Et tu, Harley? "It was a leotard," Dick corrects for about the millionth time in his life. "Which are used in gymnastics and aerobatics. Which I excel at, I'll remind you both."

 

His words go mostly ignored. "Don't think we've forgotten that you wore them too, Hood!" Harley announces loudly, which does lessen the betrayal a little bit since they're going to drag his brother down in this too.

 

"Fuck off, I'm concentrating," Jason says. "And it's Red X."

 

"Red X, Red Hood," Selina murmurs, "Such a difference." Harley snickers and Midnighter smirks.

 

"Anyone else you invited, 'Wing?" Jason asks petulantly in the tone of voice that indicates no answer is truly need. It's supposed to be sarcasm. Problem is: is that Dick really did invite more than Midnighter, Red X, Harley, and Catwoman. They just weren't all supposed to show up. This had literally never happened to him before and he's carried out many, many contingency plans in his career. "Should I be expecting the rest of Arkham too?"

 

He certainly hopes not. Contingency plans don't usually tend to go this way. At this rate, he sincerely hopes that the rest of his plans fall through because the crowd is starting to be a bit overkill at this point. Although - "I don't suppose you always have a laser to help get me out of here?" Dick asks Selina hopefully.

 

Selina narrows her eyes. "That's not my style. Sorry, Birdie." It was worth a shot.

 

Without any warning, Red X drops down into the room. Everyone in it seems to need a moment to register the sight of the very sudden arrival of this doppelganger.

 

Oh my God, Dick realizes in dismay. He's jinxed it. All of his contingency plans are indeed panning out - just all at once. It's Cass.

 

"Hey," Dick greets, "I didn't expect you to show? "The room seems to collectively relax as he acknowledges the newcomer. And it's true; he didn't expect her to show. The plan had been that Cass would don the Red X uniform in case Jason didn't. But once Dick signaled to Cass that Jason had shown up, he had assumed that she had gone elsewhere. Apparently not.

 

The eye lenses of Jason's Red X mask narrow. His voice is nonplussed. "What the fuck are you wearing?"

 

The eye lenses on Cass' Red X mask are illuminated with optic lighting that gives them an eerie red glow as they narrow back at him. "What the fuck are you wearing," She counters.

 

"It's my suit!" Jason replies loudly but not in anger. Dick think is he's more confused than anything.

 

Her answer is swift. "Allegedly."

 

When Nightwing coughs, Jason's head turns to aim his glare at him. "What?" Dick asks like he hadn't been hiding a laugh. "You do always say that we don't know for certain who's behind the Red X mask." He presses onward because he can't resist messing with Jason. "For all we know, this could very well really be the original one!"

 

Cass moves to peer over Jason's shoulder as he works on defusing the bomb.

 

"Oh ha ha." Jason's sarcasm comes as the same time as the start of Harley's comment of, "Well the tits are new but that's puberty for ya. Or estrogen. Wait does estrogen make people grow tits or do they like - get implants?" She holds her hands in front of her chest in a pantomime of cupping breasts as a visual reinforcement of the topic at hand.

 

"Both," Midnighter answers casually. Harley makes a noise of intrigue that gets cut of by the clanging metal of Dick's first ankle finally being freed. 

 

"Huzzah," Harley celebrates wryly and works on the next ankle encased in metal. Jason really did not need to do such a thorough job on the initial welding. Honestly.

 

Cass points to a wire and obediently Jason begins to strip it. It's a little surreal to see two Red X figures side by side, even with the subtle differences in costume. 

 

"Not your best plan, Nightwing," Midnighter comments. Which is true but still seems a little unfair of him to say it.

 

It isn't his best plan but not for the reason Dick would think. It's a failure because none of them failed and all of the contingency plans are happening at once. Well. Almost all of them.

 

The ground shakes below, wobbling the steel frame of the platform he's on and the metal banister and stairwell above. Vines creep down the stairwell.

 

Okay. Poison Ivy has arrived. That makes all of them.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

It ends up being a long night. But, hey, at least Red X - the Cass one - confirms that she's already gone ahead and tracked the security stream and apprehended the client. So that takes care of this bounty.

 

But still.

 

A long night.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

The night gets longer.

 

The ransom of Dick Grayson starts like this. He's walking home to his apartment when he becomes aware that he's no longer alone on the sidewalk. Turns. Someone is there.

 

A hand grips on to his bicep.

 

The ransom of Dick Grayson goes like this. "I have your eldest," Selina says to the phone in her hand, set on speakerphone so that Dick can hear the conversation too, as she leans against the wall of her apartment living room. The phone remains silent until she adds, "I won't give him back. Not until you buy me flowers."

 

"Are you," Bruce asks, sounding half exasperated and half fond. Mostly exasperated though. "Ransoming Dick to me in exchange for a bouquet? Something that I would happily buy for you without any outside extortion involved?"

 

Her lips curve into a smile. Dick offers her a thumbs up. "That's right."

 

There's a pause - long enough to lead Dick to wonder if Bruce has hung up - when then comes a sigh which rumbles across the speakers. "What kind?"

 

She twirls a short strand of hair around her finger. "Guess."

 

"Carnations," Tim's voice chimes in. Bruce must also have turned the phone on to speaker.

 

"No," Bruce says, "Those are mourning flowers."

 

"Cheap mourning flowers at that," Damian comments in an unimpressed tone. "If you truly care for the deceased, you'll send roses."

 

"I thought daffodils were the mourning flowers," Dick adds.

 

Damian lets out a triumphant noise. "Ha! Proof of life!"

 

"Really?" Tim asks wryly, unimpressed by Damian's enthusiasm. "It's Selina."

 

"It is protocol," Dick sides with Damian even though he kind of also agrees with Tim. It's not like Selina was going to off Dick - especially not for a phony ransom; but it's probably harder for Damian to trust in that considering everything he was taught, so Dick understands. "But people leave daffodils, don't they? On graves, I mean."

 

"You're thinking of rocks," Tim suggests. Which does also sound right but that's not what he's thinking of exactly. It does stump him though because he definitely does remember Bruce putting a rock on Jason's grave.

 

"Well," Selina sighs and looks to where Dick is sprawled on her couch with three cats snuggling him and one that's attempting to sit on his neck. "I was thinking of carnations - but now I've changed my mind."

 

"Great going, Damian, really," Tim says sarcastically.

 

Damian's indignation is loud. "It was Father who first said it!"

 

"And," Selina adds before the argument can devolve, "It'll be Bruce who figures out what I want. And until he does, you can kiss your precious Grayson goodbye." She's quite good at the whole dramatic villain bit, really. It's impressive.

 

The cat succeeds in sitting on Dick's neck. It licks his chin as if to atone for this uncomfortable position.

 

"I'll surprise you," Bruce decides. The phone call then comes to an end.

 

"I hope it's a catnip plant," Dick comments idly.

 

Selina pauses. "Well. Now I won't accept anything less."

 

Dick's laugh ends up smothered by the tail of an oncoming cat as lounges on the backrest of the sofa but whose tails comes down to whack across his face. And he sputters around it and lifts a hand to nudge it away. He blinks as he hears a distinctive shutter sound. "Did you just take - ack - a photo?"

 

Selina doesn't look up from her phone. "I'm sending a ransom photo." She smiles at her phone. "Damian says he'll be visiting shortly."

 

"For my rescue?"

 

"For my cats."

 

Ah. "He can cuddle them any time! He picks now?"

 

"Of course," She says. "After all, you're here. It's a win-win for him." She pockets her phone. "Now... would you prefer The Aristocrats or A Street Cat Named Bob as your feature presentation of the evening?"

 

He smiles; trust Selina to commit to the cat theme even though he knows that she watches other feline-free movies. "I'll let Dami pick when he gets here."

 

She reaches into her pocket and retrieves her phone. Rolls her eyes at whatever is displayed on there. "Tulips. Honestly. It's like my husband doesn't even know me at all."

 

He feels a need to defend the colorful flowers. "Tulips are nice!"

 

She types a very short reply and sends it. "I don't want nice," She reminds him. "I want something that's worth you."  She glances down at her phone. "Huh."

 

Well that sounds interesting. "'Huh' what?"

 

She quickly types something in reply and sends it. "Bruce has been holding out on me. He's offered me a very lovely set of emerald earrings that are shaped into flowers."

 

"Does that even count as flowers?" Dick wonders.

 

"It does now." Pleased, she pockets her phone. "You're free to go, Birdie."

 

Dick considers how he's supposed to get up without displacing any of the cats piled on top of him. "Well..." He drawls slowly. "You did say that Damian was on his way... Maybe I'll go ahead and just stay for the movie then."

 

Selina laughs, bright like the wind chime hanging outside in her balcony. "You and Damian are more than welcome to," She confirms. "I'll prepare some popcorn."

 

"That," Dick says as the cat on his neck finally decides to lay more on his shoulder than his trachea, "Sounds purr-fect."