Too Many Long Boxes!
   
   

End of Summer
 

Nightwing: A Matter of Vengeance

by John Westcott

Chapter 1: Welcome To Bludhaven

Welcome to Bludhaven.

On any given night in this city there are countless screams for help, dozens of attempted murders, robberies, assaults, drug deals, and countless petty crimes. The first rule of fighting crime in Bludhaven is simple: "You can't save everyone." Nightwing had learned this lesson years before In Gotham City, but never had this unfortunate truth been more prevalent than in crime ridden Bludhaven. Even with a police force that actually cared about doing their jobs, Bludhaven would be almost impossible to keep under control, and if there was one thing Bludhaven didn't have, it's a police force that cared. With over eighty percent of the force on the take and the other twenty percent demoralized and lacking necessary resources, the B.C.P.D. was almost a non factor in crime prevention. One person, no matter how driven, no matter how talented, couldn't possibly save every soul in need. From Avalon Hill to the City's Ashby district to his current location in the Baily Church area, Nightwing realized that no one can be everywhere at once. A man could easily drive himself to the brink of insanity trying to accomplish such a goal. Nightwing had seen Batman come close to the edge while fighting the never ending darkness that lay in Gotham City only to manage to pull himself back every time. Nightwing swore that he would never become as obsessed as his mentor, but tonight was one of those nights that tested his resolve. Watching the gruesome scene below him made his stomach ache and his blood run cold.

Over the years Nightwing had witnessed most of the crimes a man could commit and he had even come to understand the reasoning behind why people would break certain laws. Some people had no choice but to rob and steal due to the simple fact that life had denied them the means to legally support themselves. Others had come into a life of crime by inheriting it from their fathers or mothers, particularly in mafia families. It's hard to deny the responsibilities thrust upon you by your parents, Nightwing knew that all too well. This type of violence however, was something he loathed and hoped he would never truly understand.

From his perch atop a gargoyle three stories above street level, Nightwing adjusted his binoculars as he took in the crime scene in the alley below him. At street level, the red and white lights of the police cruisers bathed the grimy alley in a revealing light, and what he saw disturbed him greatly. Nightwing watched as, climbing from a newly arrived squad car, Inspector Mac Arnot ordered the crime scene sealed off and the trademark yellow "crime scene" tape was immediately draped over the entrance to the alleyway.

"I'll only say this once, NO REPORTERS!!!" He heard Arnot yell to his men, "I want this place sealed off and if even one reporter gets in here and sees this, you can all turn in your badges and forget your pensions."

The threat had its desired effect, causing the patrolmen and plain clothed officers to pick up their pace and go about their duties with far more attention to detail. Nightwing watched as Arnot entered the alley and lit up a cigarette to cover the stench that emanated from the garbage dumpster that lay within. Snapping on a pair of rubber gloves, Arnot walked over to the dumpster and lifted a sheet from the dead body that lay there. Nightwing had seen the body before it was covered and seeing it again only made him that much angrier. The body of a woman lay there, her face almost unrecognizable due to a severe beating. Even from this distance, Nightwing could tell that she had been beaten with a blunt object, possibly a lead pipe. The body had no clothes and the medical examiner was now informing Arnot that the woman had been raped........ repeatedly. Arnot only half listened to the coroner however as he simultaneously issued orders to the patrolmen. Nightwing knew that the appearance of Arnot on the crime scene spelled out bad news for the victim of this assault. Justice would never be served while Arnot was in charge. Arnot had been given the rank of inspector after barely spending a single day in the police academy with Dick Grayson. Arnot filled the vacuum created by the disappearance of his predecessor, a certain Mr. Dudley Soames, now known as "Torque". Arnot didn't answer to the Police Department officials, he answered directly to the cities primary crime lord, Roland Desmond.

Despite the disgusting nature of this particular crime, there was another reason why Arnot had arrived on the scene so quickly, and why this crime was brought to his attention, the simple words spray painted on the front of the dumpster in a brilliant blue: "The Misfits". Two other women had been found in dumpsters in the past two weeks, beaten and raped, with those very words spray painted somewhere in the immediate vicinity. Nightwing had only been vaguely aware of the existence of this new gang. The Misfits were becoming more brutal by the week, and Arnot had been sent by the hidden powers of Bludhaven, no doubt Roland Desmond himself, to lock down the crime scene and make sure the press didn't get wind of the situation. A panicked city was an unproductive city, and Roland Desmond, otherwise known as Bludhaven's crime lord Blockbuster, wanted a stable citizenry unafraid to go out and make money, a portion of which went straight into Desmond's pockets. These Misfits had also branched out into other forms of violence, almost wiping out other gangs in Bludhaven, although no one particularly cared if gang members killed one another as long as innocents were not involved, and robberies as well. According to the crime reports, an amazing number of The Misfits would practically swarm a target such as an armoured truck and get away with the money through the advantage of sheer numbers. So Arnot's presence was twofold, he would seal the area and keep tabs on a possible threat to Bludhaven's hidden masters.

To Nightwing's knowledge, Mac Arnot had never attended one class in his entire time at the police academy, and it definitely showed as he watched Arnot with his binoculars from far above. Arnot missed plenty of details that Nightwing immediately picked up.

"There's nothing here." Arnot said to the plain clothed officer beside him. Nightwing begged to differ. Increasing the magnification Nightwing looked over Arnot's shoulder and scanned the body. The clues were practically screaming at the inspector, if only he had the brains to see it. Two smudges were plainly visible on the victim's left thigh and neck. To Nightwing it appeared to be makeup of some kind, black and white in colour. Considering the poor woman was not wearing any makeup on her face, he reasoned that it could possibly belong to one of the perpetrators. Curled around two fingers Nightwing could also see several strands of a blue fibre, it looked like human hair, but could possibly be from a wig or an article of clothing. The woman appeared to be in excellent physical condition and was reported missing by her room mate after leaving the local gym, it was possible that a swarm of Misfits overwhelmed her, she was certainly strong enough to resist a one on one attack. Amazingly, Arnot didn't pick any of it up, he either truly did not see it or he didn't care. Either way, Nightwing knew that if this problem with the Misfits was to be dealt with, it would have to be up to him, Bludhaven's finest would be of no help, as usual. Arnot and all his men would be polluting the crime scene so badly within the next few minutes that nothing further could possibly be learned no matter how talented the detective.

"All right people, I want this body bagged and taken downtown to the morgue for proper identification. After that, I want this alley hosed down and forgotten. Everyone understand?" Arnot said, the tone of his voice clearly indicating that he was not asking these people to do his bidding, he was telling them. Immediately the handful of police officers began to clean up the area to their best of their abilities while the coroner proceeded to place the victim's body in a body bag. At that same moment, a van came barrelling around the deserted street corner, Nightwing shifted his gaze to the newcomers and heard Arnot swear under his breath. The channel four news team had arrived on the scene. Inspector Arnot immediately stubbed out his cigarette and ran out to meet the news team as they erupted from the truck.

"Everyone form a barricade in front of this crime scene right now, you too Simpson." Arnot shouted, addressing his orders to Dr. David Simpson, the Bludhaven coroner who was just now zipping up the body bag. Immediately they all filed out into the street and formed a human blockade.

"Opportunity knocks." Nightwing muttered to himself as he folded up his compact binoculars and placed them in a compartment in his gauntlet. Producing a jumpline, Nightwing then anchored it around the same gargoyle he was sitting on and quietly lowered himself down into the now empty alley. If there was ever a time to gather the evidence for himself, he knew from long experience that this was it. Unzipping the body bag, he produced a tiny vial from his gauntlet and placed one of the blue fibres from around the victim's fingers inside. Sealing it shut, Nightwing then took a small sample of the makeup smudge on a sterile sponge and placed it inside another vial. Nightwing knew that with Arnot on the case, any useful information Dr. Simpson came up with would be duly intercepted and buried. This way, Nightwing would be able to carry out his own investigation into these Misfits. From the street beyond, Nightwing could plainly hear Arnot abusing the badge he didn't earn.

"Lady you get that camera out of here or I swear I'll charge you with loitering, jaywalking, littering AND assassinating Kennedy and trust me I will make it all stick."

Beyond the human wall of police officers, Nightwing could see the bright glare from the light affixed to the top of the remote camera and heard a female voice addressing Arnot, she sounded as if she was a force to be reckoned with. "The public has a right to know sir." She shot back at him, "There are plenty of rumours of brutal attacks on women in recent weeks but nothing has been released to the press. Has there been another attack? Is it safe for women to walk the streets in Bludhaven?"

Nightwing couldn't help but smirk as he tucked the evidence vials into his gauntlet and zipped the body bag back up. "Lady, it's never been safe for women to walk the streets in Bludhaven. All we have here is someone who slipped on a banana peel."

"Can I quote you on that?" The voice shot back.

Arnot's reply was typical, Nightwing heard the sounds of a small scuffle and then a loud crash. The good Inspector had obviously grabbed the camera and hurled it to the ground, destroying it. The female reporter swore at Arnot as did another male voice, no doubt the cameraman. That was certainly Arnot's style.

"Now get out of here lady or I swear you will spend the rest of the night in lockup. I may even lose the paperwork and let you spend the week there." He yelled.

"The people have a right to know." The female voice responded before the van started up again and pulled away from the curb with tires screeching.

"Damn reporters!!" Arnot yelled as he threw the broken camera at the retreating van. "The people have a right to know whatever I decide to tell them!! Don't ever try and mess with my beat again!! If I find out which one of you grunts called in this tip you'll need the money channel four pays to tipsters to support your families cause you'll be unemployed."

Nightwing knew that his time was running out. Within fifteen seconds Arnot and those under his command that formed the human barricade between himself and the street would turn their attention back to the crime scene. Leaping to his feet and throwing out a jumpline, he felt it catch on a fire escape and then scaled the side of the building quickly as he disappeared into the shadows. He had the samples he needed tucked away in a compartment in his gauntlet and Arnot's men would never know he was there.

Looking over his shoulder, Nightwing watched as the police officers now returned to the crime scene and went about the task of polluting the crime scene, he even noticed Arnot unzipping his pants and urinating in the alley. Glancing beyond the crime scene to the other end of the alley, Bludhaven's avenging angel noticed movement in the darkness. Someone was watching them. "That's strange." He thought to himself. He knew immediately that he would have to discover the identity of the observer. Activating his infra red lenses, Nightwing vaulted up to the rooftop and climbed over the gargoyles to the far corner of the building. There, hidden from view, he found he recognized the shadowy figure.

"Willy The Finger." Nightwing whispered to himself as he observed the newcomer. Willy The Finger was a well known Bludhaven criminal, in and out of jail since he was sixteen, Willy was often a lookout or getaway man in many of Bludhaven's most famous robberies. What did Willy want with this mess? Could he have taken a dislike to women? Possibly, but Nightwing suspected that if Willy was the murderer he wouldn't be anywhere within thirty miles of the crime scene. When Willy bolted into the maze of alley's that lay behind him, Nightwing knew it would be in his best interest to follow the small time thug.

Being the oldest section of Bludhaven and tucked snugly into the coastline, The Baily Church area was a maze of narrow one way streets and interconnecting alleys that a person could easily get lost in. Obviously Willy had a destination in mind as he ran purposefully, wheezing from too many cigarettes, at full speed through the garbage strewn alleys, turning left and then right. Watching from the rooftops above, Nightwing easily followed his prey. Just where was this three time loser heading?

Nightwing soon found his answer as he watched Willy dart around another corner and just as suddenly come to a halt. Three figures awaited him at the other end of the alley. The first thing that struck Nightwing was the strange clothing the newcomers wore. All three of them wore identical black leather sleeveless tops covered with long fringes hanging from the shoulders and faded blue jeans. Fright wigs of some kind adorned their heads and their faces were painted with a type of face paint that seemed to glow in the dark. Each had their face painted a different colour, one was blue, the other yellow, and finally the third was plain white, each one had a black streak painted across his eyes. He also noticed that two of the fright wigs were silver and the other blue. "How very incriminating." He thought to himself as he listened in on their conversation.

"The cops are all over that place, and the news four team showed up too. Whatever you wanted to say, I think the message is getting through loud and clear."

The one with the blue face paint seemed genuinely pleased. "Is that right? Looks like we're starting to get a little attention around this town. All we had to do was cap a few broads."

"All in a night's work." The yellow painted one laughed without a trace of jocularity as he spoke. Laughing over the violent death of a young girl? These boys were twisted to say the least, Nightwing had decided he had heard enough from them.

"If you guys like violence as much as you say you do I think you'll find avoiding gang rape in the prison showers a real treat. It's certainly no better than what you deserve." Nightwing's voice drifted down from the rooftop above, his voice low and menacing. The assembled thugs all looked skyward simultaneously, their jaws falling almost as one as their eyes fell upon Nightwing, his muscular figure silhouetted by the full moon behind him.

"What the hell?" One of them managed to stammer.

Without waiting for further reaction, Nightwing jumped from the rooftop and descended as if from the sky itself, landing hard on the closest of the three macabre figures. The impact of Nightwing's boots forced the air from The Misfit and sent him skidding into the darkness. Willy The Finger immediately turned tail and ran back into the darkness, screaming for help. Nightwing let him go, he was just a lookout man, these slime balls were the real perpetrators. The second Misfit, the one with the blue wig, leaped through the air at Nightwing, the moonlight reflecting off the razor sharp blade in his hand. Shifting his weight, Nightwing pivoted sideways and extended his leg. The knife wielder managed to impale himself on Nightwing's boot and fell to the ground as all the air escaped his lungs in a "whoosh".

Finally the third Misfit decided to join the action, charging Nightwing much as the second one did. Nightwing merely stood his ground as number three ran at his with all the speed he could muster and very little fighting skill. These punks may have been hot stuff against a single unarmed woman but they were barely causing Nightwing to break a sweat. Dick had to admit that he was enjoying giving these animals a taste of their own medicine. He counted off the seconds as the third approached. When his attacker came within two strides of him his fist shot out and connected with number three's jaw, spinning him around and then falling as if he was on strings that had suddenly been cut.

His three attackers easily subdued, Nightwing dropped to one knee and grabbed number three by the collar, bringing his masked face within an inch of the others painted visage. "So, what the hell are you boys supposed to be huh? A new age Marilyn Manson or something? You like beating on girls is that it?" The Misfit began to struggle mightily to get out of Nightwing's grasp. This particular Misfit was rather skinny but his fear was endowing him with a certain feral strength. The thug opened his mouth to speak, almost choking back tears, but no sound escaped.

"Well? Speak up man!! You have something to say? Punks who beat women to death really get on my bad side. Would you like it if I got angry?" Nightwing said as he shook the thug by the collar of his vest.

Finally, The Misfit found his voice. However, he had nothing constructive to say. Only one word escaped his lips, chanted repeatedly and growing louder with each passing moment. "Misfits, Misfits, MISFITS!! MISFITS!! MISFITS!!" Nightwing immediately noticed the chant began to get louder as more voices seemed to join in on the chant. Suddenly Nightwing realized that the shadows of the alley were moving, they were not alone. He couldn't make out how many there were but it looked like dozens. In the blink of an eye they swarmed him, rushing from the shadows in unison and attacking Nightwing. The young crime fighter disappeared under a sea of punching, kicking and clawing men dressed identically to the first three he had defeated before he had a chance to set up his defences. One on one, these Misfits were barely a threat to him, en masse they were extremely formidable. Then there was only the sound of knuckles beating flesh and grunts of exertion from the swarm that had engulfed Nightwing. All around him, painted faces that glowed in the dark sneered with hatred at the masked vigilante.

Pain lanced through Dick Grayson's body as anonymous punches and kicks rained down upon him, he glanced from side to side looking for a target to strike at, but he could find none. Brief flashes of feral faces were just as suddenly replaced by a fist, sending him reeling. After only seconds, Nightwing fell to his knees. That was when one member of the swarm struck him squarely in the back of the head. Nightwing slumped to the ground, bright lights dancing behind his eyes as the attack ended as suddenly as it began. Unable to open his eyes, Nightwing heard the chant continue as it faded into the night along with his attackers, almost as if they were never there. Compared to the attack and the chanting a moment ago, the silence now was almost deafening. Nightwing slowly pulled himself to his feet and opened his rapidly swelling eyes. The three original Misfits had disappeared with their cronies. How had they managed to surround him so quickly and so easily? These Misfits were far more dangerous than he had believed. Shaking his head in an attempt to clear it, he noticed a small object on the ground. After his eyes had cleared he saw that it was a matchbook. Nightwing cautiously bent down to pick it up, it was highly possible that one of the thugs had dropped it in the attack. Flipping it over, he noticed a small lightening bolt shaped logo with the words "Voltage Club" embossed over it.

Nightwing closed his fist around the matchbook and looked up toward the chill October sky. "Congratulations Misfits. You just made it to the top of my 'things to do' list."

At that same moment a squad car pulled into the entrance to the alley, Mac Arnot sat in the passenger side of the vehicle. Willy The Finger could be plainly seen in the back seat pointing an accusing finger toward Nightwing. The officer at the wheel activated the siren as Arnot scrambled from the car with his hefty long barrelled six shot revolver in hand.

"Hold it right there scumbag." He yelled as The Finger screamed that this was the man who attacked him and his friends.

"Well if it isn't Inspector Clouseau. Shouldn't you be tripping over your own shoes some where?" Nightwing replied nonchalantly.

"I'm taking you in for questioning masked man..... for the murder of a young girl found barely a block from here." The Inspector pulled back the hammer on his revolver as he continued. "Consider your ass under arrest."

Welcome to Bludhaven. Enjoy your stay.


Chapter 2: The Scent Of A Woman

"I'm giving you one chance Inspector, put that gun away and I won't make you eat it." Nightwing said as he folded his arms across his chest, appearing completely unafraid of the inspector's gun held unwaveringly in his hand. Arnot raised a quizzical eyebrow at the vigilante. His eyes were filled with contempt for the man on whom he automatically assumed he had the upper hand, simply because he was holding a gun. More than one person had made that mistake with Nightwing, and every one of them found out how fleeting the sense of security that came with pointing a weapon could be. Nonetheless, Arnot also felt completely at ease as he confronted Bludhaven's masked vigilante.

"Put the gun away? How stupid do you think I am, Masked Man?"

"An adjective fails me." Nightwing responded with a smirk and more than a touch of condescension in his voice.

From the back seat of the police cruiser, both Nightwing and Arnot heard Willy The Finger snicker at the masked man's witty comeback. This did nothing but serve as fuel for the flames of Arnot's anger.

"Don't screw with me, Pal. Soames ain't in charge any more, I am. I'm not letting a masked nut like you run wild in my streets. Now walk over here and put your hands on the hood of this car so I can cuff you."

Nightwing pointed a gauntleted finger at the corrupt police official as he slowly walked toward the police cruiser, his boots crunching on the gravel beneath his feet. "This is your only warning Inspector, stay out of my affairs and leave me alone. You don't want to make me angry." Arnot's reply was quick and full of contempt as he waved the vigilante over to the car with his gun in hand and a sneer on his face.

"Just get over here, smart ass."

Nightwing walked over to the car and instead of placing his hands on the hood of the cruiser, walked straight over to Arnot. Reaching out, he inserted his fingertip into the barrel of the inspector's gun. Arnot shot a look of mild shock at the masked man before him.

"You can't shoot me now." Nightwing told him as his face broke into a broad smile, showing as many teeth as he possibly could in an attempt to anger the corrupt officer. Arnot inclined his head, apparently becoming more dismayed at Nightwing's actions by the second.

"Very funny. I'm not going to warn you again." Before the last word of the sentence was out of Arnot's mouth, he found his gun was no longer in his hand. He couldn't pinpoint exactly when Nightwing had straightened his index finger and extended his remaining fingers around the barrel of the gun. In one quick gesture that took place faster than Arnot's eye could follow, the gun was ripped from his hand and sent clattering to the far side of the alley. Arnot blinked his eyes twice as he realized it was indeed his gun that was now almost fifteen feet away from him. A sheepish look fell over Arnot's face as he realized how ridiculous he had just been made to look.

"You should have listened to me inspector. Instead you forced me to make you look like an idiot in front of a local snitch and a regular patrolman. Not too bright if you ask me."

In response, the patrolman leaped from his car and removed his gun from his holster. Before he could level it to aim at Nightwing, however, seven bat shaped throwing stars whistled through the air and pinned his shirt to the wall behind him, causing him to drop his gun as well. Nightwing's air immediately changed from one of playfulness to dire seriousness, his playful smile slowly disappearing and becoming a very theatrical frown as he turned once again to address Arnot.

"Someone in this city has taken a serious dislike to the fairer sex. Instead of trying to pin it on me, open your eyes and follow the clues. You know as well as I do that these Misfits are getting more savage and aggressive by the week. Something is causing it and you don't seem to care beyond covering up the fact that a woman going outside after dark in the Haven has a life expectancy of a gazelle in a lion cage. If you and whomever you work for doesn't address this problem rather than covering it up, it WILL blow up in your face. That I guarantee you. Ignoring this problem will only make it worse. Try and diffuse this situation before more women die. That's what I'm going to do. So I'll say this one more time." He paused as he took a step closer to Arnot and gripped him by the collar of his trench coat, easily lifting the inspector off of his feet and causing him to break his wall of resolve, his eyes widened with fear and his mouth dropped open at the display of strength.

"Stay out of my way."

Arnot said nothing, his eyes filled with a combination of fear, awe, and hatred for Nightwing. With nothing more left to be said, Nightwing gently lowered Arnot to the ground, then turned and retreated back into the alley he had first come from. Arnot immediately dropped to one knee and pulled up his right pant leg, revealing a smaller snub nose revolver in an ankle holster. By the time he removed it and returned his gaze to the alley however, Nightwing was gone, disappeared as if he was never even there. Arnot sneered with disgust and returned his gaze to Officer Gonzales, who was still pinned to the wall of Logan's Butcher Shop behind him.

"Gonzales, as soon as you get free put out an A.P.B. on Nightwing. He's still wanted for questioning in relation to the murders of three women. If he resists, any officer attempting to bring him in has orders to shoot to kill."

Gonzales nodded in understanding. "Sir? How do I get free?"

Arnot paused to light another cigarette, "Gonzales, that's your problem, not mine."

*****

Six hours later Dick Grayson awoke to sunlight streaming in through his partially open curtains. He had arrived back at his apartment at five in the morning, a short time before the first rays of the morning sun peaked over the horizon. As per usual, Dick fell into his bed and forgot to close the window through which he had entered and the curtains that kept out the sun. No matter, it was eleven o'clock anyway, it was way past time he got up and faced the day. Dick climbed out of bed and did a series of stretches and yoga manoeuvres to limber up. After a series of pushups and sit ups he padded into the bathroom and proceeded to shave and shower. A short time later, he was fully awake and dressed in a pair of khaki Dockers, a denim shirt, and his new favourite pair of sneakers... a pair of thick soled ASL's.

Dick walked over to his computer, his old IBM Pentium pro 330 megahertz with 116 Megabytes of Ram and 54.4 modem having long ago been replaced by an IBM Thinkpad Series X laptop 600 megahertz with a pentium III processor, three hundred and twenty megabytes of ram, a twenty gigabyte hard drive, and a DSL internet connection. He counted on Oracle to keep him up to date on the latest trends in the world of computers because it was necessary for his work as a masked vigilante, although Dick used it mostly for playing Quake II with Roy Harper over the internet and downloading his favourite Van Halen tunes from Napster. Dick felt almost ashamed that he had such an excellent piece of equipment at his disposal and he only used it for frivolous gaming, but Dick was not a fan of computers and really only got some enjoyment from the machine when he 'fragged' Roy in the artificial environment, he also felt proud that his record against his deadeye Titans comrade was quite good, with Dick getting equally as many kills on Roy as Roy had on him. No small feat when one considered that his opponent was one of the best shots on the world.

The computer booted up quickly, "It better for the money it cost me." he thought to himself. The instant Windows 2000 finished booting up he entered his password and accessed his secure connection to Oracle. Her code name on the internet and to the world of masked vigilantes was Oracle, but Dick Grayson knew her first as Barbara Gordon and later on as Batgirl. Barbara's career as Batgirl ended abruptly when she was shot by The Joker, robbing her of the use of her legs. Dick had also been shot at a young age by the madman, only he had been luckier, but just barely. Dick had not lost the use of his legs and made a complete recovery from The Jokers bullet, a complete physical recovery. When The Joker's bullet ripped into his flesh, it resulted in the end of the original Dynamic Duo, Batman and Robin. Bruce Wayne had feared for his adopted son's life from that day forward and forced Dick Grayson to retire his Robin persona forever. Tension built between the two, erecting a wall between the two that Bruce Wayne was unable to tear down, and which Dick was unwilling to take down. The Joker didn't know it, but he had succeeded in killing Batman and Robin.... for a time.

As the years passed Dick and Bruce had found a way to recover much of their lost relationship and the mantle of Robin had been taken up by others. Both Jason Todd, God rest his soul, and Tim Drake proved themselves more than worthy of the 'R' insignia and Dick became his own man in the persona of Nightwing, Bludhaven's avenging angel. He only wished Barbara had made as complete a recovery as he had. His face immediately lit up when Barbara's smiling face filled the main window on his screen.

"Hey handsome, I can't believe it, Dick Grayson is out of bed before noon. Somebody stop the presses!!" She cupped her hands around her mouth as she spoke, amplifying her voice. Dick's face broke into a wide smile at her remark.

"That's pretty funny Babs, I obviously don't keep banker's hours so cut me some slack or I'll have to head down there and give you a spanking."

"Ohhhhh that sounds shagadelic baby." Barbara shot back in her best Austin Powers imitation.

They laughed together as Barbara tried to speak seriously. Barbara and Dick had also been finding their way back to each other but in a much different way than Dick and Bruce had. The two men that comprised the original dynamic duo had been rebuilding a father and son relationship, while Barbara and Dick had been finding their way back to one another as something more than friends.

"You haven't forgotten that you're supposed to come here today and help me install my new security system?"

Dick nodded. "Yep I remember that's why I'm calling you now. I help you set up the equipment and then we kick back and watch some Dennis Miller right?"

"Hey, stud you know I can't stand that guy. How about something else?" She suggested.

"Well......" He thought for a moment, "How about some Monty Python? The Holy Grail is always good for a laugh."

"Make it 'The Life of Brian' and you're on."

Dick saw the upcoming rendezvous as more than a chance to help Barbara do a chore that she was physically going to have trouble doing, he saw it as a chance to spend more time with her away from a crime fighting situation and perhaps explore their relationship some more. He didn't know how Barbara saw things, but he hoped she felt the same. Wasn't that always the way between men and women? Both hoping for the same outcome but neither side willing to state their intentions out loud for fear of saying the wrong thing and setting the relationship back. Even after all his assorted experiences with women from all walks of life (and even women not of this planet) Dick found himself always falling into those same primitive mating dances that any average male experienced. No matter what his special training had been, he still couldn't overcome simple male/female relationship traps that had ensnared men from the beginning of time.

"I'll see you later this afternoon Babs."

"Ok hon. Talk to you then." She replied as she winked at him and then closed the connection.

Dick powered down the computer and reached for his leather jacket that he always left draped over the back of the sofa. Throwing the jacket on, he crossed the floor of his loft apartment over to the kitchen area and opened the fridge. As he opened the appliance door he confronted the near empty refrigerator once more.

"Breakfast..... my oldest foe." He muttered to himself. Dick decided that the best course of action was getting some drive-thru on his way to Gotham. Dick wrote a small note to himself to clean the fridge and gathered up the evidence he had obtained from the night before. He planned on running some tests on both the wig sample and the makeup smudge in the Batcave while in Gotham. Activating his Securenet Alarm System, he departed for the bus stop on the corner. From there the bus would take him to his to his lair where his muscle car resided in secret. Within twenty minutes, he was behind the wheel and gunning the engines. The car was soon rocketing down the freeway toward Gotham.

*****

Whether day or night, the walls of The Voltage Club always shook with the thundering bass of powerfully amplified music. From heavy metal to rap to grunge, anything that exuded aggression was welcome on the massive sound system in the dilapidated building. From the street outside, The Voltage Club was nothing to look at. In fact, it looked like any other broken down building on the fringes of the downtown core. Most of the old businesses had deserted the downtown area in favour of the indoor, all-in-one shopping style offered by The Tanglewood Mall and it's smaller cousin, known simply as Bludhaven Square Mall. With The Gotham City earthquake causing a sudden influx of new citizens and their money, there was much talk from the press of rebuilding the downtown core and bringing the people back. Of course, this was Bludhaven, and an honest politician was as difficult to find as a virgin birth. Tax money set aside for the rebuilding of infrastructure soon found its way into the Swiss coffers of everyone from the Mayor to the entire City Council of Bludhaven. The planned rejuvenation was stalled, and the people stayed away. All of that was fine with Jonah. He always knew that the streets of Bludhaven were ruled by the dregs of society. Civilized people had no place here.

Jonah lifted his shot glass to his lips and tilted his head, the shot of Ouzo slid down his throat and warmed his stomach as he assimilated the facts as they had just been explained to him. The licorice flavoured alcohol shot failed to calm the growing storm clouds of anger that were beginning to roil within him. As always, Samson lay at his feet, his constant companion and only true friend. The large Doberman Pincer appeared to be almost asleep, but Jonah knew better. He threw the shot glass to the table, it landed with an almost musical 'tinkle' sound which could barely be heard over the din in the main room behind him. He turned to address his three errant Misfits.

"So, what you're saying is......" He paused and looked straight up at the crumbling ceiling, whether simply for theatrical effect or because he was actually trying to choose his next words, the three Misfits had no clue. Sweat poured off of each one of them, despite the fact that it was early October and everywhere in Bludhaven there was a chill in the air. The fear on the three was palpable. Finally, Jonah continued.

"What you are saying is that some masked vigilante came down from the rooftop, wiped the mat with all three of you, and forced you to call for a swarm."

The Misfit with the blue wig nodded nervously. "Y.... y..y..y..yes sir."

Jonah began pacing back and forth in front of the three, who stood as if they were members of the military at full attention. Jonah was dressed much the same as his minions. He wore a blue fright wig identical to the Misfit who stood before him. He also wore the customary leather vest with long fringes. The glow in the dark makeup however, was of a pattern unlike that worn by any other Misfit. Every Misfit covered his face in a certain colour of makeup, one of their own choosing, and all wore the black streak across the eyes. Jonah's makeup was far different, and far more frightening to those around him. Jonah's face was akin to a fright mask, a series of grotesque designs, the primary colours of which were red, black, and blue. This set Jonah out from the rest of the rank and file, anyone could tell at a glance that he was their leader. Jonah wore a simple pair of denim jeans to complete The Misfits look that he himself created. To further set himself apart, Jonah was a huge behemoth of a man. Muscles rippled across his upper torso and through his legs. His head appeared to be attached to his shoulder without the benefit of neck. After a torturous silence, Jonah continued.

"And when you had this costumed idiot swarmed, you killed him. Correct?" He stopped directly in front of the blue haired Misfit who was acting as spokesman for the three.

"N...n.n..n..n..n no sir."

Jonah shook his head as if he were disappointed with his child who had taken home bad grades. He clucked his tongue in disappointment. "So. You let him live. I would love to know why?"

The spokesman for the three began to speak, his voice hushed and barely audible. When Jonah interrupted him, his voice was louder than the Rob Zombie single that was pounding out of the speakers. "I CAN'T HEAR YOU!!"

At last The Misfit found his voice. "We didn't kill him because he was dangerous. He flattened the three of us in seconds. He moved faster than anyone I've ever seen. One of the guys hit him in the back of the head and stunned him, so we took off. I'm sure if we had stayed he would have beat us off somehow. I'm telling you this guy moved like Bruce Lee. Besides, Willy The Finger took off screaming and the cops were just around the block, it was only a matter of minutes before they showed up. We thought it would be best if we hightailed it out of there."

Jonah began to nod his head in agreement with his foot soldier, who seemed to relax when he saw that Jonah was seeing things the same way he had. They had no choice but to run, the vigilante was too dangerous to stick around. When Jonah voiced his reply however, his tone slowly deteriorated from icy calm to pure red hot rage.

"I understand. This vigilante was dangerous. He could have taken you all down if you stayed around. So instead of killing him... you let him live. What an amazing piece of deductive reasoning! You let him live so that he might bother us another day!! Why are you HERE with US, when you could be TEACHING AT HARVARD!!?!?!" Jonah stepped back for a moment and the three could see that he was struggling to calm himself. They all prayed that he won the battle of emotions and regained control of himself. Finally, Jonah looked at the spokesman and smiled.

"It was a bad call. You need to be punished." Before the spokesman could react to their leaders sentence, Jonah's massive arm shot out like a cobra striking at its target. His knife edge chop landed perfectly on the spokesman's trachea, crushing it. The spokesman fell to the floor immediately, thrashing about like a fish out of water. As if nothing had happened, Jonah turned to the next Misfit in line.

"What's your name again?" He asked.

Somewhat unnerved by the sudden display of violence, The Misfit took a second to find his voice. "Uhhhh...... Frankie."

Jonah nodded. "Frankie you are going to be my second in command. Please me and Bludhaven will soon be ours. Fail me....." He paused as he looked back at the young man on the ground, his face now purple, his trashing lessening. Frankie shook his head vigorously, understanding perfectly the meaning of everything Jonah said and did not say.

"What do I do with him?" Frankie asked as he pointed to their former spokesperson. "He needs a doctor and quick."

Jonah reached into the front pocket of his jeans and removed a small piece of paper. Frankie watched as he unfolded it and revealed it to be a small weathered photo of a middle aged woman. Jonah spoke as if he were addressing the woman in the photo. "Mother, I love you...... I hate you."

He then turned back to his faithful pet Sampson and said one word under his breath while pointing at the stricken Misfit. What word it was exactly no one in the room heard. Nonetheless they all realized it was an attack command as the powerful dog leaped to its feet and streaked across the room. When it sunk it's powerful jaws into the Misfit with the crushed throat, he wasn't even able to scream as he died.

Jonah returned his attention to Frankie, continuing the discussion even over the disgusting sounds of his pet dog ripping human flesh. "We're still on track." He began as he put a brotherly arm around Frankie. "These attacks and our other forays into crime are finally getting us the attention of the powerful people in this city. Blockbuster's people are probably already aware of us and were probably on the scene last night. That's good. Soon the police will no longer be able to keep our attacks quiet and this city will go into a panic that will make London during Jack The Ripper's heyday look like New Orleans in Mardi Gras. Roland Desmond will be looking this way and that, knowing our brutal attack will be coming but not knowing from where or when. And when we strike, we kill him and take Bludhaven for ourselves. He knows we're brutal and we don't play fair. He knows we are high in number and growing every day, but he doesn't know who we are and what we are about. The bright side to this whole plan..." he paused as he looked at the dog eared photo and then folded it up and put it away. "Is that I get to take out my frustrations on a few women while I'm at it."

Frankie nodded eagerly as Jonah spoke to him. Jonah had insisted that he be the first one to brutalize all the women. Frankie had wondered why, he decided it would be best for his health if he didn't press the issue by bringing up the picture in Jonah's pocket.

"Frankie, I want weapons. Lots and lots of big time weapons. This is Bludhaven so it shouldn't be hard, get them. Lots of them."

"You got it Jonah. No problem."

*****

"Houston we have a problem." Dick Grayson's boyish charm never failed to make Barbara laugh.

It Almost never failed to make her laugh.

At this moment she was far from laughter even with Dick's assortment of jokes. This was the third time he had attempted to set up the motion and seismic activated visual monitors outside Barbara's apartment door and in other vital areas around her living quarters. For the third time, the computer system refused to recognize the new monitors and bring them online. Barbara swore under her breath and slammed her open palm against the side of the terminal. They had tried it on three different computers and Dick had checked the manuals twice to make sure that he had set up the monitors correctly, which he had.

"I think it's time we faced the facts red, we're doing everything right, your monitor modules are faulty. The factory botched something up in the equipment they sent you."

"Someone at that company is going to get a very nasty virus in their email tomorrow." She hissed. "I should have had Harold make them for me instead."

Climbing down from a stepladder outside the doorway, Dick finally capitulated to the inanimate object. Taking the ladder inside with him, he shut the door and vaulted over the coffee table to land on Barbara's couch. Grabbing the television remote and the TV Guide from the coffee table, Barbara knew that Dick's patience with the task at hand had run out. "Break time." He said with a smile.

"Hey!! Easy on the couch. Not all of us are independently wealthy heirs to a billion dollar corporation." She said as she tossed a pillow from a nearby chair at him. Dick didn't even try to dodge the oncoming pillow and let it hit him square in the face. With his free hand he reached out and placed the pillow behind his head, looking more relaxed than ever. Barbara threw up her hands in defeat and wheeled her chair over to the couch beside him. Dick reached out with his right arm and grabbed her by the waist, pulling her out of her chair swiftly but gently and over to him by the couch. Barbara was not surprised by his actions, in fact she expected them. Barbara curled up on the couch and placed her head on Dick's broad chest as he activated the remote control and the large television screen lit up. In the entertainment unit below it, Barbara had a DVD player that held five movies in its carousel tray at once. She had already pre-loaded the movies she wanted to watch with Dick. She immediately felt, more than heard, Dick's strong heartbeat in his chest as she lay there. Never would she ever feel more secure than in his arms, even if it was just watching a movie.

Dick activated the DVD player and the television screen lit up. The opening sequence of The Monty Python movie 'The Life Of Brian' began playing. The zany British comedy troupe was a shared favourite and before too long they were laughing aloud. For some reason he couldn't quite explain, Dick let his eyes stray from the television screen and down to the mane of red hair on his chest. He had always been struck by her fire red head of hair and, without even realizing it, he nestled his face into her hair and inhaled deeply. The scent that filled his nostrils was immediately familiar to him.

"Vanilla." he muttered without truly realizing what he had said.

Barbara rolled over to face him. "What was that?"

Suddenly Dick realized he had spoken aloud and she had heard him. "I said vanilla. Your hair smells like vanilla."

Barbara smiled at his observation but followed it up with a quizzical look. "So it does Mr. Holmes. Does that mean I'm the one who killed Colonel Mustard in the parlour with the candlestick?"

"The last time I was here I mentioned that I liked the smell of vanilla. We were talking about smells that reminded us of happier times and I remembered the few times my mom got a chance to bake for me and how rare it was to smell vanilla. Now you smell like Vanilla. You didn't smell like that the last time I was here. You were wearing 'Obsession' that day. You changed perfumes or shampoos or something."

Barbara was dumbfounded. "I...... I'd forgotten about that. You remember what I smell like?"

Dick's look became somewhat sheepish. "I hope you don't mind that. I notice things like that about you."

"So every time you and I are together, you're...... smelling me?"

"Only because you smell so good all the time." Dick told her with a smile.

Barbara sat up and moved to the other side of the couch. The air about her becoming almost perceptibly colder. Dick knew immediately that he had pushed her too far once again.

"I never should have said anything. I'm sorry Babs."

Barbara shook her head, as if trying to clear it and then shuffled back across the couch toward him, taking his hand in hers. "No. You have nothing to be sorry about. I should be saying I'm sorry. You and I keep doing this..... this....." She gestured toward empty air as she searched for the proper words. "This dance we do. You keep coming in close and I keep pulling away. I keep telling you how I need time and how I need to come to terms with things. I haven't been fair to you."

Dick reached up with his other hand and took her chin gently in his hand. "Babs, you've been through so much. I'll wait as long as I have to for you."

This only made Barbara more frustrated. "What are you Grayson? A saint? You shouldn't have to wait for me. The horrible truth is......" She paused as if she were about to let him in on some horrible truth. "I don't know if I'll ever be ready. Look at you. You're healthy and mobile and full of life. I could never keep up to you...... because of that." She said as she choked back tears and stabbed her finger through the air toward her wheelchair.

"You know that's not true Barbara. That chair means nothing to me. You are not JUST your legs. You are a beautiful, funny, vivacious, sexy, intelligent, damn fine smelling woman."

Despite the tense moments between the two, Barbara laughed at his last statement as a tear fell down her face. "Like it or not Dick that chair changes things. I wish I could be the woman you need me to be."

Dick's reply was immediate as he reached out to wipe her tear away. "Barbara, you ARE the woman I need you to be. Just by being you."

The two found that there was nothing left to say. That was when Dick, thinking with his heart rather than his head, cupped Barbara's chin in both hands and kissed her. Neither one broke the kiss for almost a minute and a half. Dick couldn't tell what Barbara was thinking but he took it as a good sign that she didn't pull away from him. Finally, with the spontaneity of the moment passed, Dick broke the kiss and pulled away.

"I'm sorry." Barbara put her arms around his neck and nestled her head on his shoulder, allowing him to smell the vanilla scent in her hair once more.

"Don't be sorry. I'm not."

The two merely sat there for a few more minutes, neither one really willing to break the spell of closeness that they had achieved. Finally, Barbara broke the silence, Dick was fearful that he had pushed her too far, that was why her words surprised him so much.

"Dick, I do still feel that way about you. Maybe you showed me something here today. Maybe we can make something more of....... us."

Dick shot her a look of surprise. "Really?"

She patted him on the shoulder as she finished her thoughts. "I'll tell you what. Why don't we call it a day? You've given me a lot to think about and I need to sort myself out. Why don't you go over to The Manor and do whatever you need to do there and call me next week. Maybe we can set up........ a date. A real date."

Dicks eyes filled with amazement and disbelief as he sat up straight, trying to take in the meaning of what she had just said. "You mean it? A real date?"

She nodded and giggled at his boyish charm at the same time. "Yes, a real date. I've pushed you away for too long. We're both adults now. Let's see where things go."

Dick let out a triumphant, Homer Simpson like 'woo hoo' and kissed Barbara once more. He noticed that this time she returned the kiss as a lover would, eliciting yet another 'woo hoo' as Dick leaped to his feet and grabbed his jacket.

"I'll call you later on this week, ok Babs?"

"I'll be waiting."

And with that final comment Dick blew her a kiss and practically floated out the door, whistling to himself and leaving Barbara behind, twirling a lock of her hair absentmindedly and grinning from ear to ear at Dick's actions.

*****

"Are you quite all right Master Dick? You seem even more ebullient than ever." Alfred Pennyworth's tone was as dry as dust but the humour was evident in his eyes as he handed Dick a glass of orange juice. Dick had arrived at Wayne Manor with a huge grin on his face while whistling some unknown tune. When he entered The fabled Batcave, he greeted Alfred with a bear hug so strong that it surprised even him. Tim Drake had not yet arrived at The Batcave for the nights crime fighting activities, but Bruce Wayne was indeed in the cave, going through a series of calisthenics in a pair of jogging pants and sweat shirt. Bruce also noticed Dick's extremely good mood, as the world's greatest detective he could hardly help but notice the mile wide grin on his adopted son's face.

Dick informed them both (while leaving out the details of their kiss) of what had transpired between him and Barbara Gordon only fifteen minutes ago. Both Bruce and Alfred seemed genuinely pleased at the news.

"It's about time." Was all Bruce said as he sat with Dick at the main science lab in the cave, waiting for the results of Dick's tests on the fibre sample and makeup smudge he had gathered in Bludhaven the night before. Although he only said three words, Dick knew that this meant Bruce was pleased with the idea of them finally becoming more than friends. Bruce examined the computer screen as Dick scanned the fibres while Dick himself peered through a set of microscope lenses connected directly to the computer, allowing him a magnified view.

"I think I can get a DNA sample off of this fibre. There are one or two real hairs along with it. The poor woman obviously put up a fight. It's definitely from a wig, which fits perfectly with The Misfits. The makeup smudge is theatrical pancake makeup, made to glow in the dark just like The Misfits, it's definitely not a woman's cosmetic product. I can check around Bludhaven and see who's selling large amounts of stage makeup."

"DNA tests take some time Dick. Probably two weeks, maybe more." Bruce informed him.

"It'll be worth the wait to nail the scumbags behind this gang Bruce. They're savages."

"I'm somewhat surprised it hasn't been in the papers. The public should be informed."

"We can thank the B.C.P.D. for that."

"What are your plans while you wait for the DNA test?" Bruce asked.

Dick reached into his pocket and pulled out the matchbook he had picked up the night before. He passed it over to Bruce, who immediately noticed the 'Voltage Club' logo.

"It's looks like I'm going clubbing."

 
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