Nightwing: Out of Time

Based on characters and situations appearing in DC Comics magazines

By Christopher W. Blaine Mail: darth_yoshi@yahoo.com

Story ©2002 by Christopher W. Blaine

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Chapter 1 The afternoon walk had become something more than just a form of exercise for Jonathan Law; it was a time in which he could allow his mind to wander effortlessly. His legs, old and shaky, yet still strong enough to carry him around the streets of Bludhaven, would go on automatically; an involuntary movement that had become much like breathing for him. He was an old man, far older than he looked and, he would often times admit, he was very…mature looking. It had not always been that was for Jonathan Law; indeed, he had cut quite a figure in his younger days, back when he was a famous crime novel writer and not a retired nobody. Back in the so-called Golden Age when he also wore the costume of the Tarantula. During World War 2, it seemed as if people everywhere were putting on costumes and demonstrating strange powers. Always an adventurous spirit, Jonathan joined the crime-fighter scene and eventually President Roosevelt’s All-Star Squadron. Throughout the war years, he had been a staple of the group, though it was more out of a desire to be closer to the cute blonde leader of the group, Liberty Belle, as opposed to a real desire to uphold the good. After the war, the Squadron broke up and the Tarantula was not as important as writing and so he concentrated on his career. As the years passed by, he began to lose contact with his former teammates, though he would eventually learn their fates. Very few of his friends were still alive and so he found himself forced to seek out new ones. He had been lucky in that he had met a young writer named Richard Grayson. Richard reminded Jonathan a lot of himself in his early twenties and he had taken the boy under his wing. Of course, without an actual novel under his belt to bring in some income, the poor lad had to go out and get a real job. Though he was now a member of the Bludhaven police force, Jonathan suspected that maybe that wasn’t the whole story with Richard. Richard was the former ward of billionaire Bruce Wayne, but Richard apparently did not wish to live off Wayne’s money. Jonathan admired that, but did not quite understand it. Jonathan always liked having money. Jonathan passed by the grocers and the diners and all of the stores he passed by every day and he looked inside, observing the people, wondering about their lives. Often, he would compare their faces to people he had met or known. He liked doing that because it reminded him that life was a cycle. What had been will be and what is shall be again. Passing by an Audio Shack he happened to spot the proprietor, Mr. Crandall talking with a short, redheaded customer. Jonathan stopped, his mind racing, trying to process the information his failing eyes were taking in. Cursing silently, he decided to move into the store and observe. Worst case, he could always get in a game of dominoes with Crandall to win some extra coffee money. Crandall barely nodded as Jonathan entered, so engaged with his customer he was. The redheaded man did not turn, but the former super-hero knew that he had met this man before, or at least knew of him.

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Jonathan wandered over to the desktop PC display and began to move the mouse around. It was a damn Curtains XP operating system, so Jonathan knew if he didn’t get closer to hear the conversation he was going to be very bored. It really was unlike Jonathan to be so curious, but there was something nagging at the back of his mind and that was not normal. His mind was usually operating on one thing at a time, and that was normally food or coffee. Regardless, he started to shuffle over towards the counter, where he saw several circuit boards stacked on the glass counter. Pretending to now be looking at the collection of calculators, he secretly turned up his hearing aid. “And I’m trying to tell you, sir, that I’ll have to contact my distributor in Gotham City to have those parts shipped here. I don’t normally carry things like that,” Crandall said in a pleading tone. The customer tapped a small finger on the counter. He was obviously agitated. “There are no other electronics suppliers in the area?” “Sure, but you’d probably get the same answer. I mean, this is some pretty hi-tech stuff. There’s no generic knock-off; you’ll have to have pure Wayne Tech boards with Lexicorp chips.” The redheaded man gritted his teeth and Jonathan noticed he was holding a pair of black leather gloves. In fact, the man was dressed head-to-toe in black, with highly polished boots sticking out under the long trench coat. As if he felt Jonathan’s eyes on him, the red-haired man turned. They faced each other and Jonathan saw a visage of pure rage and hatred. He had a fat face and a haircut that even the conservative Mr. Law knew was well out of style. He sort of reminded Jonathan of a short and dumpy Guy Gardner, the former Green Lantern and all-around pain in the posterior. There was also something so familiar about the man that he almost felt compelled to speak to him. Obviously, the man had similar feelings as well. “Do I know you, old-timer?” Jonathan realized he must have been staring. He didn’t have a good excuse, so he decided to play dumb. “Is that you, son?” He opened his arms in preparation for a hug and approached the man. “Your mother said you had been killed in the war!” The man got a distressed look on his face. “I’m not your damn son, you senile old goat!” When Jonathan tried to hug him, he pushed him back. “Do not presume to touch my person!” Mighty big words but spoken through the mouth of a thug, Jonathan thought. He’d heard that sort of speech so many times it wasn’t funny. “Sonny! I’m sorry I yelled at you,” he lied. The red-haired man back up a step and looked to Crandall. “Aren’t you going to do something about this?” The shopkeeper was doing his best to keep his face straight. “Sounds like a family matter to me.” “This is not my damn father! Can’t you call the local constable?” “I know I was mad, sonny, and I said some awful things, but there’s no need to call the police!” The red-haired man growled. “I’ll be back tomorrow for the parts; will you accept gold in exchange?”

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Crandall smiled, watching the man avoid the potential hugs of Jonathan. “Kind of a strange request, but sure.” The man nodded and hurriedly made an exit, commenting that the “old fool” had better be gone the next day. Looking both ways, the man then turned to the right and stormed off. Crandall and Jonathan both broke out in heavy laughter. “Jonathan, that nearly cost me a big sale, you know that?” Crandall asked, wiping a tear from his eye. “Aw, he was being a butt-head,” Jonathan said, approaching the counter and grabbing one of the components that had been stacked there. “Who was that idiot, anyway? Talked like he should be king of the world or something like that.” “Didn’t catch his name, but I figure he’s one of those new dot-com wanna-be’s. Either that or he’s some S.T.A.R. labs egghead; who cares? Wants to wear all black and pay in gold…” “Is that legal?” “Don’t you worry about my business, you old coot! I stand to make a heckuva a profit…under the table of you know what I mean.” Jonathan nodded. Couldn’t blame the guy for wanting to make a side buck or two. “Why couldn’t you give him everything he wanted? You got half of NASA in here.” “Nosy today, aren’t you?” Crandall regarded him for a moment and then decided that it would not do any harm to tell him. “Some of the things he wanted were boards that are used to control very small voltage variances in complex power generators. It’s not a normal item we stock but we can get it.” “English, please,” Jonathan said, pulling off his cap and wiping his brow. He never was very good at technical jargon. “Suppose you have a generator that you need to put out a certain voltage and that voltage cannot vary within a certain tolerance to your components…” “Try dumbing it down a bit,” Jonathan said. He was still trying to put the man’s face to a name. Crandall got a smart tone. “Suppose I’m building a time machine…” Jonathan looked up from his musing and stared at Crandall. “Oh my God!” “Give me what you got, Babs,” Richard Grayson said to the computer monitor. He was busy doing forty-pound curls. “How may times have you said that to me?” she asked, mischief in her tone. She twirled a lock of red hair and pushed her glasses up. The small web cam on top of Richard’s monitor moved slightly, controlled by a remote control in Barbara Gordon’s loft several miles away in Gotham City. “Look at those muscles!” He grinned at her. “All the more to hug you with my dear; now give me the information I asked for.” “I swear you’re getting as bad as Bruce, you know that?” she swore, looking off-camera. Richard responded quickly. “You would be surprised to know I find that to be a compliment in this case.”

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Barbara returned to the monitor and began reading from some papers. “Per Degaton was a villain that fought both the Justice Society and All-Star Squadron during World War 2. He wanted to rule the world. He was originally from a few years in the future, where he stole a time machine being developed by a Professor Zee. He hoped to use weapons from the future to conquer the past, but he never succeeded. He supposedly died sometime before 1950.” “Supposedly?” Richard asked. “A body was identified by a former lab assistant to Professor Zee as being that of Degaton, but it was cremated so there is no way for us to absolutely verify that. Because he could travel through time, the Justice Society refused to list him as officially deceased.” Richard set the weights down and stood up to stretch. Firm, rippling muscles threw sweat to the floor as he did so. He was chasing a wild goose, he knew it, but when Jonathan Law had come banging on his door demanding a police response, he couldn’t say no. The idea was fantastic, but it was the very first time his writing mentor had ever done such a thing. Obviously, Jonathan believed that he had seen Per Degaton trying to buy electronics earlier that day. “Any notations from Batman?” The Batman was the top of the super-hero food chain in Gotham City and had been the man who had trained Richard to become the super-hero known as Robin. When he had become an adult, Richard had shed the Robin identity and Gotham City as well to become Nightwing, the apex predator of criminals in Bludhaven. “Nothing. Per Degaton was considered mainly a minor villain even by law enforcement agencies. However, because there is no statue of limitations on murder, he’s still wanted in New York State.” Richard took in a deep breath. He had no choice but to look into it. As a law enforcement officer, he had to pursue this lead on a wanted murderer. However, he had been raised to look at the spirit of the law and not the letter. There was no reason he had to investigate as officer Richard Grayson. “I’m going to take a shower and suit up. I’ll call you on the com-unit when I’m on the move.” “You could always come over here to take a shower,” she said. The invitation was more than tempting, as it had been nearly a week since he and his girlfriend had spent any quality time together. “I bought a new back scrubber.” “I’ll talk to you in an hour,” he said, shutting the monitor off. Training to become a defender of the night under the Batman was meant to prepare you for every situation under any circumstance. The problem with the Batman’s training philosophy was that a defender of the night isn’t necessarily at their best during the day. Nightwing looked back up at the sun, which was still moving across the hazy industrial skyline of Bludhaven. His uniform allowed his skin to breathe and he most certainly was used to working in the daylight…just not in Bludhaven. As Robin, he had helped to form the Teen Titans, a group of super-hero teens. Most of their missions had taken place during the day (how did he ever graduate high school he sometimes wondered!) and so he had gotten used to it.

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Certainly the Batman was able to work in the day as well, but it was just that the night was a tool of their trade and without it, he sometimes felt naked. Today, especially, he felt as if he were showing his “naughty-bits” to the city around him. Peering through his binoculars, he watched the storefront for any sign of his quarry. On display view was a small picture of Per Degaton, downloaded from the New York Times database. The picture was from 1942 and was not in color, plus it had not converted to digital format all that well. Surprisingly, it looked a little like Guy Gardner. He had been here for several hours and he was wishing he had brought some lunch, but then he had expected to discover that this was nothing more than the failing memory of a great writer and he would be at home, enjoying the day off. Or at least at Barbara’s enjoying some other things. He pulled the binoculars down and whistled. His life was going good, especially since he and Barbara had gotten together. Years before, she had debuted in Gotham City as Batgirl and the teenaged Richard Grayson, then known as Robin, had fallen in love. It took a few years, but Barbara began to realize that she had the same feelings as well. It took him having a failed marriage attempt and some serious soulsearching before he got the courage to let her know exactly how he felt. Severe tragedy in the form of being disabled and raped by the Joker is what it took for Barbara to confront her true feelings. How unfortunate it was that their lives were so full of anguish before they could be filled with joy. Sometimes, he wondered what it would be like to confront that young Batgirl, knowing what he knew now. Dismissing the thought, he looked down on the street and spied someone that looked roughly like the person Jonathan had described. The idea that a World War 2 era super-villain was shopping in 21st century Bludhaven really was laughable, but duty compelled him to sit up here and at least verify that this was not a wanted criminal. Bringing up the binoculars, he zoomed in on the man, but it was too late. The man had already entered the store before he could focus. Nightwing cursed and waited patiently. Ten minutes later, the man emerged, looking left and then right. It was when he was looking to the right that Nightwing was able to focus in on him. He had to admit that there was more than a passing resemblance, but the poor photograph allowed too much variance. There was enough similarity to cause Nightwing to stand up and stretch. He would be hopping from rooftop to rooftop following the man. He would need to get in closer and maybe even confront him to end this once and for all. Nightwing was still hungry and was now tired. The red-haired man had walked to the outskirts of the city, to an abandoned warehouse that had once been owned by, of all companies, Wayne Tech, Bruce Wayne’s company. The building had changed hands several times since and it was apparent that none of the other owners had invested any money in keeping the building up to code. There were tag marks everywhere, as gang after gang had marked their territory, though Nightwing could not understand why anyone would want to claim this real estate. Of course, he couldn’t understand why there was so much conflict in the Middle East…it was just a bunch of sand after all and it

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wasn’t like everyone couldn’t share. He wasn’t worried about running into anyone because if the so-called Per Degaton wasn’t afraid to just walk around here, why should he? Then a little voice in the back of his head told him that if this really were Per Degaton, then he would be from an era where street gangs of the 21st century would be impossible to comprehend. He could be walking around oblivious to the dangers around him! There was light coming from the upper floors, and Nightwing supposed that was where the man was staying. Despite not having a car, the man’s clothes suggested that he was not a homeless man and that meant that this was his workspace as opposed to being his living space. It was also possible that he was about to encounter a secret government program or some other nonsense that would draw unwanted attention. Shrugging, Nightwing silently crossed the space from his hiding place to the shadows cast by the building. Looking around, he saw the entrance that “Per Degaton” had taken, but decided against that just in case it was booby-trapped. He could throw a line up to the roof, as it was only a four-story building and climb up, but he wasn’t in the mood. Looking for the fire escape took only a minute and following it up, he found himself at a large opaque window, made up of small panels, some of them broken by rocks, pellet guns and off-course birds. Looking in one if them, he was shocked to see the now-familiar back uniform of Per Degaton, the large crimson “D” emblazoned on the breast, adorning the red-haired man as he worked to replace several components in a smashed in cabinet. The cabinet was attached to a large contraption that Nightwing supposed was Professor Zee’s time machine. The fact that Per Degaton was replacing circuit boards told Nightwing many things. He had reviewed the Justice Society report on Per Degaton, as well as the schematics and plans for the time machine. The drawings were vastly incomplete, but they did indicate that the machines used very basic computers, vacuum tubes and other pieces of equipment that were normal for that era. Circuit boards such as what Per Degaton had ordered and was now using had only been around for a few months. Nightwing could tell just by looking that the time machine had been heavily modified using modern technology. Records indicated that while Per Degaton had been technically gifted, he was not a master of temporal physics and so any changes made to professor Zee’s machines had to have been done by someone else. All of this indicated that the body that had been identified in the late forties as being the villain was really just another victim of a madman’s desire to rule the world. If not for the murders, Nightwing would have laughed. Per Degaton, as far as being a villain, reminded him of that coyote in the cartoons. Grand schemes with comical failures. In the end, however, he was nothing more than a common criminal. Nightwing knew that the criminal was nowhere near his physical match. The loaded holster at his hip indicated other things that might give him an advantage in a fight. Hoping to use surprise to his advantage, Nightwing took a step back and then plunged into the window. The weak glass and frame broke easily, and his Kevlar-impregnated costume protected him from damage.

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Even as debris raced towards the warehouse floor, Nightwing was firing a line into the ceiling. Per Degaton reacted by screaming as Nightwing dropped to the floor. The criminal’s reflexes surprised the hero as he saw a Ruger pistol pointed at him. “Put the weapon down and you won’t get hurt,” Nightwing said. “I cannot believe this! Who the hell are you?” Per Degaton said, a twisting snarl on his lip. “I’m the good guy and you’re the bad guy; that’s pretty self-explanatory. Put the weapon down like I said,” Nightwing replied. Per Degaton fired, and Nightwing jumped out of the way, scrambling for cover. It was stupid to think that a would-be world conqueror was going to surrender just because he flexed his chest and gave a pretty speech. He rolled into a crouch just as another bullet hit the floor next to him. “Hey, you’re not a bad shot for an old man!” Nightwing joked. “You are ruining everything, hero-boy! Give me another ten minutes and I’m out of your life forever! What do you say?” “Oh, sure; here in the 21st century we always let murderers go,” Nightwing called as he made his way to the other side of the room. He wanted to get close to the time machine so he could ensure it was disabled. “You fool! You’re only delaying the inevitable; a world under the rule of Per Degaton! For two years I’ve been planning my return to the past, gathering weapons and allies for a push upon the United States just prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor.” Per Degaton fired again and again, his agitation throwing his aim off. Nightwing was having nor problem getting where he wanted, all the while his attacker had to keep shifting position to get a good shot at him. “Aw, that won’t work…the Justice Society will just kick your butt again.” Per Degaton laughed. “That’s what you think, boy! I’ve made plans that you couldn’t even begin to imagine.” “You know, I’m sure you could explain it with one-syllable words for me, though,” Nightwing replied. He had reached the back corner of the machine. Part of it was embedded into the floor and he got the sense that it had materialized out of time rather quickly. “Where’d you learn to park?” he asked. “Bastard! Get away from there!” Nightwing smiled and grabbed a railing to jump up to the control area. As he landed, a massive electric shock ran through his body. His life was saved by his costume, which was heavily insulated, but not enough to prevent him from being knocked out. Slumping to the floor, his last thoughts were of Barbara and how he wished he could have said good-bye. Nightwing awoke to the sound of humming machinery and dimming lights. He wondered how there could be electricity to the building still, but realized that he should have asked that questions a long time ago. His eyes blinked open and he found that he was bound to a ceiling support with rope. Immediately, he began to work at the ropes as he looked around for Per Degaton.

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The villain was busy running around the time machine, checking instruments and readouts. He just happened to glance over at Nightwing. “Ah, so you’re awake! That costume of yours is very impressive. If I had the time, I’d take it with me. Can you imagine an entire army in 1940 equipped with such body armor?” “History shows that you fail over and over again, Degaton.” “Only the history you know, Nightwing. Yes, I know who you are, after I looked you up in my super-hero guidebook I picked up in 2254. You would have led an impressive life, believe me, but I’m afraid that after I take over the world in 1941, you will never exist.” “Well, at least you feel bad,” Nightwing said as he felt the bonds begin to loosen. “I wouldn’t even be here if I hadn’t run into a time storm. I was lucky that this is the era that most of the modifications to my time machine had been created. Otherwise, I don’t know what I would have done.” He turned and verified a readout. “I’d kill you, but you’ll be wiped out of existence soon enough, so just hang tight. One question, though, my good super-hero, how did you find me? I did my best to avoid contact with any person who would even be remotely aware of whom I am…of course! The old man! That damn old man who tried to hug me! Who was he?” “Bite me,” was his reply. Per Degaton shrugged and turned away, heading for the controls. He began pressing buttons and Nightwing noted that there was a change in the pitch of the sound of the equipment. He strained against his bonds and finally the inept knot Per Degaton had tied came loose and he was free. The time machine began to shimmer and fade and Nightwing ran towards it and Per Degaton. He didn’t know how he was going to do it, but he was going to bring this man to justice for the murders he committed in the forties. He felt a wave of static electricity as he passed through the temporal field. Inside it, the world was a negative of the real world, colors opposite of what they needed to be. Moving in slow motion, he approached Per Degaton, who seemed unaware of the hero’s tortoise-like approach. After what seemed like a millennium, Nightwing reached his foe and grabbed his shoulder. The two struggled in a slow dance as they raced through time. Nightwing found himself frustrated as every punch he threw landed with all of the effect of a marshmallow against a brick wall. In his thoughts, he wondered how his best friend Wally West, the Flash, was able to cope with this. Per Degaton smiled and reached down to push a large yellow button. Suddenly, Nightwing felt the time machine stop and he was flung off of it into the time stream. Quickly, he pulled out one of his custom throwing stars and tossed it at some electrical conduit on the outside of the machine. It struck the conduit and he heard the beginning of a scream from Per Degaton as his world went black. Nightwing felt a strong hand shaking him, a firm grip that indicated that it was important that he wake up. His mind told him that five more minutes of sleep would be nice, but the shaking was very insistent. “Hey! Get the hell up!”

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Nightwing recognized the voice, but could not quite place it. Reluctantly, he opened his eyes. “I’m getting really sick of getting knocked out,” he said, sitting up. The room he was in done in basic white and he got the sense it was some sort of medical facility by the looks of it. His eyes focused and he realized there was someone standing to the side of him. “Where am I?” A blond haired man in a brown and black costume kneeled over and looked him in the face. Nightwing was shocked to find he was looking at his friend Jonathan in his Tarantula costume. “John?” “How the hell do you know my name?” the Tarantula asked. “You’ve got a lot to answer for, mister.” The man was much younger than Nightwing remembered and he finally began to understand. “What year is it?” “What do you mean what year is it? It’s 1943.” “Oh crap,” Nightwing responded, putting a hand up to the bridge of his nose. He was in real trouble this time.

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Chapter 2 Nightwing stared at the hot cup of coffee trying to figure out exactly how to explain his situation to Jonathan Law, the Tarantula. As Richard Grayson, he had studied under Law to learn about writing, but that would not occur for another six decades, at the beginning of the 21st century. Right now, he was sitting in the headquarters of the All-Star Squadron in 1943. “I’m from the future.” “So you say, kid,” Tarantula answered. It was almost humorous having him say such a thing, being that he couldn’t be more than five years older than Nightwing. “I’m inclined to believe you, only because you seem to know my name.” “Honestly, I am one of your biggest fans,” Nightwing said. Tarantula smiled. “I have to admit that you have good taste.” He poured himself a second cup of coffee and offered Nightwing some more. The younger hero declined, stating he didn’t want the caffeine. “Why the hell not?” was Tarantula’s response as he pulled out a pack of Lucky Strikes. Nightwing was shocked, as he was not aware that Jonathan had been a smoker at one time. “Like I said, I’m inclined to believe you, but it doesn’t explain how you ended up out in our parking lot.” “Believe it or not, I was battling Per Degaton and he dropped me off here. I need to find a way back to the future before my presence causes a problem.” Nightwing waited for a laugh or some comment about his sanity, but all Tarantula did was light up. “Per Degaton, eh? That rat bastard is nothing but a pain in the butt. As if we didn’t have enough problems with Hitler and Tojo we’ve got that little leprechaun running around again. Let me guess, he was raiding the future for weapons?” “I don’t think I should talk about it, to be honest, just to be sure that I have as minimal effect on the future as possible. You do understand time paradoxes don’t you?” Nightwing hoped he did, but this was a time before the atomic age. Tarantula sort of shrugged, so Nightwing explained. “Anything I do in the past may have an effect on the future. The worst case would be that I do something that prevents my birth.” “Yeah, but if you do that,” Tarantula replied, “How can you travel back in time to screw things up to begin with.” “Yes,” was Nightwing’s short response. “You’re gonna have to give me more than that, mister, before I join you on this quest to find your way back to the future.” Nightwing shrugged this time. “You’ve got the hots for Liberty Belle.” “We must be pretty damned close friends in the future for you to know that. It’s true, I’ve got it pretty bad for her, but she’s only got eyes for Johnny Quick…hey! Do we get married or at least get together?” There was such a hopeful look on his face that Nightwing felt bad when he considered the truth. In reality, Liberty Belle and Johnny Quick, really Libby Lawrence and Johnny Chambers, would get married one day and would have a daughter named Jessie, who was a close friend of Nightwing’s. I might be breaking a rule here, but…what the hell. John, you and Johnny Quick do not ever get together, much less get married.”

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“You’re not even close to funny, boy.” Nightwing considered the situation he was in for a moment and then became lost in wonderment as he observed the world outside the windows of the car they were riding in. He was passing through a world that he had only experienced through movies, documentaries and magazine articles. The world of 1943 America was so vastly different than the world he had come from. There was an almost palatable optimism in the air and he found it very refreshing. It was so hard to believe how much the world was going to change over the next few years. “It’s beautiful,” he commented softly. Tarantula shifted gears and stepped on the gas. “You know, I’m using up my gas rations to help you out.” “If I had money, I’d pay you,” Nightwing offered. “I’m just pulling your leg, kid; don’t worry about it. I’m wealthy enough that I can get a little extra fuel now and again.” He turned a corner and honked at some drunken sailors who were carousing about. “So, what do you do for a living…hell, what’s your name anyway?” “They call me Bruce,” Nightwing replied, smiling. He liked the idea of taking his adoptive father’s name. He wasn’t sure how the Batman would take it, but that was unimportant right now. “I’m a police officer.” “A copper, eh? No wonder you like my novels. What city?” “Gotham City.” “Green Lantern’s territory; you ever meet him?” “I’d rather not say,” Nightwing said as he reads signs in store windows, marveling at the low prices. The original Green Lantern, Alan Scott, had been the original Gotham City super-hero and was still active even in Nightwing’s time period. Professionally, they had met before, but it would not occur for another five decades. “You understand, right?” “Oh, sure,” Tarantula replied, not sounding convinced at all. Nightwing noticed that he was very impatient about things once he was interested and he sort of understood why. After the war, Jonathan would write his greatest novel, a book about his life as the Tarantula. Nightwing had read it at least five times. “We’re heading to an apartment owned by another of the more affluent members of the team. I’ve requested that some of the senior members of the Justice Society meet us there.” Nightwing briefly searched his mind about the history of the Justice Society of America. The team had disbanded when war was declared on December 8, 1941, so that the members could enlist in the armed forces. It would not reform officially until the war was won, but all of the members were part of the AllStar Squadron. The All-Star Squadron was a team created by executive order of President Roosevelt as a way of using the costumed heroes of the United States as a way to prevent espionage on the home front. A mystical shield erected by Hitler and Japan’s Dragon King kept the heroes from ending the war early. “Do you think any of them will respond?”

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“Well, Bruce, I don’t see why not. I’m working on a book about my adventures as hero and I don’t think any of them want to be shown in a bad light in it.” There was a smirk on his face and Nightwing just shook his head. “Hey, Bruce, what do you call yourself when you’re in costume? The Blue Man?” “You can just call me Bruce.” It was unnerving to be looking at so many heroes that were either dead or very old in his own time period, but Nightwing did his best to maintain his composure. He wanted to ask them for their autographs…a habit he picked up as Batman’s young sidekick. His first one was Superman and many more followed after that. The Tarantula was busy talking to the Sandman, who was clad in his trench coat and gas mask. There was a special bond between the two of them; in fact, their original costumes had been so similar that they were often confused for one another. Green Lantern, the original, was standing next to Hawkman, while Jay Garrick, the Flash, was questioning Nightwing. “I wish we could have gotten the Spectre or Dr. Fate to come here, Bruce, but they aren’t answering our calls. That’s not uncommon for those two, though. I do have some experience in time travel, though.” “Yes, sir, Mr. Garrick,” Nightwing responded. The Flash’s jaw dropped. “How do you know my name?” he asked quietly. Nightwing’s face became flush as he realized that this was long before Garrick revealed his identity to the general public. He looked around and saw that none of the others appeared to have heard what he had said. “Sorry about that…let’s just say there is a really strong connection between your legacy and the one I represent.” That was truthful enough, Nightwing guessed. In a few decades, police scientist Barry Allen would take up the name of the Flash long after Garrick had retired and would eventually give his life to save the universe. Allen’s nephew, Wally West and Nightwing’s best friend, would become the third Flash after Allen’s death. “The name of the Flash is greatly respected where I’m from.” It was Garrick’s turn to turn red. “Gosh…I don’t know what to say.” Green Lantern interrupted them. “Bruce, your story is fantastic, but you’re quite right that you don’t need to be here. Your presence is already causing problems. By your accent, I can tell you’re an American and that means we will probably win the war. That knowledge may affect our future actions.” “Oh, don’t be so hard on him,” Hawkman said. “I never had any doubt that we were going to win, GL.” Green Lantern turned to Hawkman and gave him a dour look. “Be that as it may, I think we all agree that young Bruce here is probably missed in his own time period and he would probably like to go home.” “Yes, I would,” Nightwing said. “I’m pretty aware of all of your powers and I’d say that this side of Dr. Fate or the Spectre, Green Lantern is my best bet for getting back where I belong.” He turned back to

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the Flash. “I’m sorry, sir, but as strange as it may sound, you actually won’t learn the full extent of your abilities for decades and I’m not sure I’d like to travel through time with you.” “See,” Green Lantern said, smacking his head, “now the Flash is aware he will live for at least a couple of more decades. This has got to stop.” “Hey, try being reincarnated a few hundred times,” Hawkman added. Green Lantern shook his head. “Bruce, with your help, I think I might be able to get you home. I think it would be best if we went to Gotham City, though. That is where you’re from, correct?” “Yes, Gotham City would be fine.” “It’s settled then,” Green Lantern announced. Nightwing said nothing as they flew high in the air; Green Lantern surrounded by a shimmering field and Nightwing riding in a nice, warm green bubble. Tarantula had been the only one he had really regretted saying good-bye to; as it was very interesting to see what a smug son-of-a-buck his friend had been in his younger days. It would have been really nice to spend another day or so immersing himself in the world of 1943, but he understood Green Lantern’s fears. There was a rumor that circulated through the super-hero community that at the beginning of the war, Green Lantern had actually glimpsed the future of 1945 when the atomic bombs were used and it forever changed him. From that point on, the hero was very concerned about what knowledge a person had and when they had it. Through the whole trip, Green Lantern had been quiet and Nightwing had to admire him for it. Had their roles been reversed, he would be asking all kinds of questions concerning the future, but the blond haired hero remained stoic. Nightwing decided to break the ice. “So, how is 1943 Gotham City?” Green Lantern floated down next to the bubble, but maintained their forward momentum. “I suppose it’s the same as your Gotham City, probably smaller, though.” “I doubt it; you will be surprised by the changes you will witness over the next few years…” “You see? That’s exactly what I’m talking about! So many people think that a time paradox can be caused only by actions, but your words can do it as well. Suppose that I believe that I’m not going to die for another ten years…how is that going to affect my ability to combat crime if I have this sense of invulnerability? Worse yet,” he added, shaking a finger at Nightwing, “what happens at the end of that 10 years when I decide I don’t want to die? Have you any idea what a desperate man with this ring could do?” Nightwing was about to respond and then the image of Hal Jordan came into his mind. Jordan was the second man to take the title of Green Lantern, several decades from where he was at the moment. Fearless, he became a shining example of exactly what it meant to be a hero and several members of Nightwing’s generation of crime-fighters admired him and tried to emulate his dedication to the cause of good. Away from the planet, Jordan had not been able to stop the alien conqueror Mongul from destroying Coast City, where Jordan had grown up and lived. Jordan tried to use his power ring afterwards

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to try and resurrect the city and its inhabitants, but the Guardians of the Universe, who administrated the Green Lantern Corps at the time, stopped him. The Guardians claimed that Jordan was trying to use the ring for selfish reasons. Jordan snapped and destroyed the Corps and the Guardians and even went so far as to try and rewrite history by manipulating the time stream. In the end, Hal Jordan had ended up dead alongside several million others. “Actually, sir, you may have a point there. Maybe we just shouldn’t talk.” “Wise advice, son,” Green Lantern said, floating back up above Nightwing. “Damn it!” Green Lantern called out as they approached the skyline of Gotham City. Nightwing stood up in his energy bubble and pressed against the green skin, in utter awe of the city. It was far different from what he was used to, as there was very little pollution and he could see well past the city limits, into the county proper. Because so many of the buildings before him did not exist in his own time period, after a devastating earthquake, he had trouble figuring out which direction was what. He was looking desperately for Wayne Manor, the place where he grew up and came to respect a lonely man named Bruce Wayne. They began to descend rapidly towards the somewhat busy downtown area. “What’s going on?” Nightwing called. Green Lantern floated down and tapped his ring. “I’ve got it set to monitor the police radio whenever I get within twenty miles. It appears an old friend of mine is running loose downtown.” “Who? Is it Per Degaton?” “Worse…Solomon Grundy,” Green Lantern replied, his eyes squinting as they approached the street. “This is my problem, not yours. Go hide somewhere and stay out of trouble until I finish this.” “I can help…” “No! Absolutely not! Don’t you understand how much you’ve meddled with time already? I wasn’t planning on coming to Gotham today, which means I probably was not supposed to fight Grundy. Now I have to…” Nightwing nodded his understanding, but couldn’t help but feel disappointed. Here was his chance to fight alongside a real legend, the very first “Superman”, and he couldn’t do it because he might accidentally cause the destruction of the Earth. As he moved across the street, passed the gawking citizens who were looking only at Green Lantern, he mentally chastised himself for being such a crybaby. It was no wonder that Alan Scott, the Green Lantern, was still around in the 21st century and still battling evil. He was serious about everything he did and weighed the consequences of all his actions. Nightwing began to understand why the Justice Society had remained active for so long, even after the formation of the Justice League of America. For the most part, the heroes of the future were over-powered smart-alecs, the only exceptions being maybe Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. Maybe if he quit whining he might learn something, he told himself. From a darkened alleyway, he watched as Green Lantern pointed his ring in the general direction of what looked like a bank. Only now

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did the young hero observe a large gaping hole in the wall and inside he could see bags of money and loose bills. Nightwing knew from the Batman’s extensive database on criminals that Solomon Grundy was one of Green Lantern’s oldest foes and had been one of the first adversaries of the newly formed All-Star Squadron. Grundy was more like a rotten child than a true villain, as he was, reportedly, nothing more that magically animated vegetable matter. The fact that he was infused with wood is what made him an especially dangerous being in regards to Green Lantern. Unlike the power rings distributed by the Guardians of the Universe, such as what Hal Jordan would possess years in the future, Alan Scott’s ring was magical in nature, not technological. Jordan’s ring was useless against anything colored yellow, while Scott’s was powerless against wood. Grundy, like Green Lantern, would survive until the twenty-first century and would even redeem himself somewhat by taking on a sort-of protector role for Scott’s daughter, Jennie Lynn-Hayden. That, however, was not going to be true for a very, very long time and right now, they Emerald Gladiator was doing his best to move people out of the way of the bank with a giant green hand. Solomon Grundy, over seven feet tall and the color of virgin snow from top to bottom, save for the torn black suit he wore, burst from the front doors of the bank carrying several bags of money. Nightwing smiled despite himself when he saw that the bags actually had small dollar signs imprinted on them, as if this were some bad comic strip. “Solomon Grundy is heah and ya’ll best run if ya know what’s good for ya!” the beast cried. His southern accent seemed so out of place in the bustling metropolis of Gotham. “Hold it right there!” a police officer cried. Somehow, the young cop had gotten past Green Lantern’s safety zone and was now trying to make a name for himself. As a police officer outside of costume, Nightwing suddenly felt a rush of emotion as he realized a brother in blue was in danger. The cop, armed only with a small pistol, was simply no match for the pale behemoth. “Little man gonna get swatted!” Grundy roared as he stepped down the stairs. Several bills fluttered out of the bag’s tops. The country was in the middle of a war and cash was a rare thing, Nightwing understood, and the loss of even this relatively small amount couldn’t help the economy. Green Lantern must have had the same thought as he directed several other officers to hurry and collect the scattering funds. “Grundy! Get away from there and surrender!” The officer attempted to pull the trigger of his firearm, but he was shaking too much as Grundy approached him. Magically enhanced muscles flexed and with a quick sweeping motion, the man-monster used one of the bags to smack the cop across the face. The officer flew back several feet to land on the pavement unconscious. “No!” Green Lantern cried, now flying towards his foe. Grundy dropped the bags of money and bent over just in time to miss Green Lantern’s flying attack. Nightwing was amazed at Grundy’s speed and Green Lantern’s agility. The hero was already arcing up and coming around for another attack. So lost in watching the battle, Nightwing failed to notice a small boy that had come to stand next to him. Embarrassed that he had been so neglect in his observations, he decided that the time for hero

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worship was long over. It had always been a problem with him in that he just found so many of the older heroes larger than life. These were people who had the power to rule the Earth, but instead concentrated on trying to make it a better place for everyone. He reached down and pulled the boy back into the alleyway slightly. “Watch yourself, sonny; things could get ugly out there.” The boy, dark-haired and missing two front teeth looked up and grinned. “Are you a soooperhero?” he asked in childlike innocence. “Something like that,” Nightwing responded, reaching down and checking his utility belt. Green Lantern had just made a mistake and was now eating Grundy’s fist. “I’m trying to help out Green Lantern.” “He’s neat!” the boy offered. “My thoughts exactly…whoa!” Nightwing grabbed the boy and leapt clear of the falling wall of the building they were next to. In an effort to strike Green Lantern, Grundy had actually picked up a taxicab and flung it at him. The hero had avoided it but had not been able to turn in time to grab it with a magical green hand. As bricks, mortar and glass crashed into the alleyway, Green Lantern breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that Nightwing had the young boy in his arms. He nodded a thank you and then set his jaw. “This ends now,” he said, his ringing glowing even brighter. Nightwing stood up, still holding the boy. “Gee, thanks mister!” the boy offered. “Thomas! Thomas Wayne!” a woman cried. Waving her hands hysterically she ran to where they stood. Behind her, a tall man with a cane and monocle also was running. “Son! Are you alright!” she said, taking the boy from Nightwing. The name he had heard was that of Bruce Wayne’s father, who would later be killed before young Bruce’s eyes and give rise to the Batman. The woman had tears in her eyes. She was not a particularly beautiful woman, but she seemed to ooze “motherness”. The man, on the other hand, seemed too tall for his clothes, as if he had owned the same suit for years and refused to get a new one. “He saved me, momma. He’s a sooooper-hero!” “I can’t thank you enough, sir,” the man said offering his hand. Behind Nightwing, Solomon Grundy roared in pain and the crowd actually cheered. “Thomas is always running away, getting into things.” Another boy, slightly older than Thomas and still carrying a good portion of his baby fat came running up. The man turned to the boy. “Frank! Did we not tell you to watch your brother!” There was an unexpected flash of light behind Nightwing, but he paid it no attention, as the people in front of him seemed to indicate there was no problem. Nightwing released Mr. Wayne’s hand and reached down to mess up Thomas’s hair. “No problem, ma’am. Believe me, it means more to me than you could ever imagine.” “I’m gonna help people too when I grow up,” Thomas offered. “That’s right, dear,” his mother said, tears running down her face. “Never, ever do that again, Thomas! I swear, you are always just jumping into trouble!”

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Nightwing regarded the boy and it boggled his mind when he considered that one day, Thomas Wayne would marry and have a child. Then he would die and leave that child alone in the world and when Richard Grayson’s parents were killed, Thomas Wayne’s child would literally save his life. Without Thomas Wayne’s death, there would be no Batman. Without Batman, there would be Robin and then no Nightwing. Yet, if there had been no Nightwing to save Thomas Wayne… He said his good-byes and turned in time to see Solomon Grundy finally trapped in a cage made from hot, sticky tar from the road. When he looked back, the Wayne family was gone. “You know, dropping him in a swamp may not be the brightest thing…” “Even if he’s technically not human, I’m not killing him and there is no prison right now that can hold him. I have to take each problem one at a time; there is a war going on you know,” Green Lantern responded. They were standing on top of city hall and Nightwing was looking out at the river. “How’s the police officer that got hurt?” “He’ll live, thank God. Only been back from Europe for a few months...” Green Lantern turned to look out at the river as well. “Sometimes I get so wrapped up in being Green Lantern I forget about everything that I love about this city. Can you smell it, the smell of the river?” Nightwing inhaled deeply. It was the first time he had ever smelled Gotham River and not wanted to gag. “Smells good. So, are you ready?” Green Lantern nodded and fingered his ring. “I think I know what to do…but to be truthful, I wish I could get a hold of the Spectre or Dr. Fate.” “I trust you,” Nightwing added with a smile. “You don’t have a choice,” Green Lantern added. Stepping back, he brought his ring up and enveloped Nightwing in a green energy bubble. The task wasn’t so much to move him through time as opposed to having time move through him. By putting him in a form of suspended animation and making him intangible and invisible, Nightwing would essentially be locked in a time capsule set to open in the future. In seconds, Nightwing was gone and yet Green lantern’s ring told him he was still there, waiting for the day he would once again be ready to join the world. Alan Scott scratched the back of his head as he walked down the busy streets of Gotham City. It was dark now and his Green Lantern uniform was soaking in the tub, hopefully getting the tar smell out of it and he was hoping to catch a picture show. It was tough trying to act normal during an abnormal time; he could hear the whispers as he walked by people. He was a relatively young man in a city devoid of young men. All that could had already enlisted for the war effort, leaving women, children and old men for the most part. Certainly he was not the only man his age to not join, but the stigma still stuck to him like a second skin.

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He passed a newsboy hawking papers and purchased the evening edition of the Gotham Gazette to see a headline about his battle with Solomon Grundy. As he walked along, reading the story, his eye dropped to the bottom of the page where there was a rather unique picture. The caption read “masked man saves small boy” and there was a picture of Nightwing standing with that Wayne family from earlier. “That idiot…” Slowly, sound began to filter into Nightwing’s ears as the world slowly came alive for him. His eyes fluttered open and he saw the remnants of the green energy bubble dissipating. “That was quick,” he said, stretching. His muscles hurt, like he had been standing straight for several hours. “Where did you come from?” Batman asked. Nightwing was surprised to his mentor standing there. He was about to respond when he noticed that the Batman’s chest emblem was different than what it should be. Instead of a solid black bat that he taken to wearing of late; he had reverted to the more famous black bat in the yellow oval. “Why the costume change, Batman?” It was a matter of super-hero etiquette that real names were never used until it was absolutely safe. The Dark Knight Detective reached under his cape and Nightwing noticed that his moves were not as…mature as they should be. He was making offensive moves that Nightwing was easily picking up. “Keep your hands where I can see them,” Batman said. There was the voice of authority that he remembered so well from his younger days. It could not be faked. “Batman…it’s me, Nightwing.” “Never heard of you, pal,” a voice behind him said. Nightwing froze. “No, no, no,” he said, turning around slowly. The voice he heard was as familiar to him as anything else he could think of. “You make any false moves and you’re going to regret it,” the young man said. Nightwing shook his head as he took in the sight of the youth. He looked almost comical in the yellow cape, orange vest and green booties. “Did I really look that stupid?” he asked silently. Standing before him, Richard Grayson, clad in his Robin costume, punched a gloved fist into an open palm.

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Chapter 3 Nightwing stared at his younger self in dismay. There was no doubt that the youth in the Robin costume was him; it was like looking in a mirror of the past. However, as they stood sizing each other up, he quickly scanned his memory for the events as they played, but was at a loss when he could not find any. As far as time-paradoxes went, this little adventure through time was becoming one huge headache. “Keep your distance, little guy, I want to talk to the Batman.” Robin smirked. “What’s the matter, am I too tough for you?” Nightwing was about to reply, slightly embarrassed as he realized that the teenager was possessed of a cockiness that was all-too typical for someone his age, when the Batman interrupted. “Robin, stand down.” Nightwing saw the burning gaze of the boy and he felt almost sorry for him. “You wanted to talk?” Batman asked. “Can we go someplace not so public?” Nightwing requested. He suddenly felt too exposed. “Who’s the hunk?” came a feminine voice from behind him. Nightwing did not need to turn around because the voice was so much a part of him. He took in a deep breath and turned again to where Robin stood, keeping his hands out to seem non-threatening. When he stopped, his breath caught in his throat. Robin was looking at Batgirl with a mixture of resentment and puppy love. The young woman, no more than eighteen years old, was secretly Barbara Gordon, the woman whom Nightwing was currently involved with in the future. Here she stood, so many years before the tragedies that would take her from innocence to cynicism to maturity. Barbara was a few years older than him and it was odd to now realize he was now the more senior of the two. In fact, he really wasn’t that much older than her and he knew that his body had to be betraying his natural impulses. She turned red as he stared at her and turned away. Robin turned a fiery gaze upon him. Batman was behind him. “You said you wanted to talk privately?” Nightwing simply nodded, and slowly, very slowly the Batman noted, removed his eyes from the young heroine. Batman jerked a thumb back to the opposite corner of the rooftop. Nightwing examined the Batman that stood before him, a man not much older than him. This was not the man he knew from his own time, this was instead the Batman that was finally developing his style and purpose. He knew that when he was a teen (who was still staring at him), that Batman seemed infallible and omnipotent. Only now was he able to see him in a different light. There was some slight razor stubble on his chin and his eyes looked tired, and Nightwing knew that it was this push-yourself-to-the-limit mentality that would eventually lead to a severe breakdown on Batman’s part. “I don’t know who you are…” “I’m a friend…”

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Batman leaned in closer. “My God, Dick?” Well, that was easy, Nightwing thought. “I can explain, really.” Batman stood straight up and crossed his arms over his chest. He was not as large as he would one day become and Nightwing wondered if he would continue to grow in bulk. A small voice echoed in his head, with an Austrian accent. I will crush you girlie-man. “I guess you better. Did you know you’re wearing a costume from the 1940’s?” “Huh?” Nightwing asked, perplexed. As far as he knew, he had designed his costume. “No way.” Batman nodded. “You’re wearing the costume of the hero that saved my father’s life during World War 2. In fact, Robin dug up the photo while researching Green Lantern for a school paper.” Nightwing remembered the brief flash of light from when he had rescued the Batman’s father and now realized that he had had his pictures taken. He must have shown his frustration on his face. “That was you? You’re traveling through time, aren’t you?” Nightwing quickly gave a recap of his adventures so far, starting with Jonathan Law’s encounter with Per Degaton in the future, to his witnessing of the battle between Green Lantern and Solomon Grundy and his subsequent trip to now. Batman said nothing, betraying no emotion, but Nightwing got the sense that the Caped Crusader thought he was insane. As he continued giving details, he could not help but turn and point out different places in the cityscape. As he did so, he caught sight of Batgirl looking at him. There was no doubt about it she was attracted to him. There was also no doubt of his attraction to her, despite the age difference. “This presents a unique problem,” the Batman said. He stepped closer. “I don’t want to talk about this here. Meet me at the cave. If you really are who you say you are, then you’ll have no problem finding it.” Nightwing grinned. “And if I can’t find it?” Batman brushed past him. “Pray that I don’t find you.” There was a certain lightness to the Batcave, Nightwing noted as he slowly made his way down the stone staircase. The air was moist, as heavy as ever and the lighting itself was very artificial, disappearing into the black void of the ceiling. There was laughter, though, a sound not often heard in this place in Nightwing’s time. Stepping down into the cave proper, he saw his younger self practicing gymnastics, laughing and carrying on as if there was nothing in the world that was bad. Nightwing wondered if he really had ever been that innocent. What had changed in him so much that he found such antics…childish. He still enjoyed the thrill of swinging through the air, just as much now as a man as he had the very first time as a toddler in his father’s arm. John Grayson had been a master of the trapeze, more at home on the bar than on the ground. Nightwing had been lucky in that Bruce Wayne, his adoptive father, also had need of such skills or Nightwing would have been cut off from his final link with his parents upon their death.

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Robin seemed to sense Nightwing’s presence and after a final routine on the parallel bars, he somersaulted into the air and landed with bare feet on the black mat. He had his mask removed and sweat was running down his face. Nightwing guessed by the few stray hairs on the lip that Robin was either fourteen or fifteen. “That was pretty good,” Nightwing commented. It was no lie. Robin nodded. “Thanks.” He moved over to a chair where his mask, gloves, booties and cape were draped and grabbed a large towel. “Is it true that you’re me?” Nightwing paused for a moment, considering how to answer. Again, that feeling of dread swept over him. Things he said or did now would affect the future, or could affect the future. What if he really wasn’t in the past; what if Per Degaton’s machine had shunted him sideways into an alternate universe? There were already subtle clues that this wasn’t his universe…but was absolutely positive? Could he have seen a picture of himself rescuing Thomas Wayne and then inadvertently used that costume design when he created Nightwing? If that were true, why didn’t he remember these events occurring when he was younger? “I’d prefer not to say,” Nightwing finally answered. Robin shrugged. “Suit yourself. Just remember, Batman and I don’t keep secrets from each other.” Nightwing thought about laughing in the deluded teen’s face, but then he stopped. Had Batman and him been that close at one time? “Well, if he decides to tell you anything, that’s his business. Where is he anyway?” “Behind you,” Batman said. Nightwing jumped and turned quickly. “How did you do that?” “You’re better trained than most of the people I deal with; I modified my approach to be more silent. An excellent training tool. It appears I was successful.” “I saw you, Batman,” Robin said, snickering. “Only because I allowed it.” His voice then took on a more fatherly, yet stern tone. “You have homework to do.” Obediently, Robin moved off, disappointment apparent on his face. After the boy had gone, Batman turned to Nightwing. “I’ll need your fingerprints.” Nightwing nodded and removed his gloves as they moved over to one of the workbenches. “How’s his school work?” “You tell me,” Batman said. Again, another test to prove the validity of his story. As Batman took his hand and rolled the ink on his finger pads, Nightwing answered his question. “I’m guessing on the age and grade here, but I’d say he’s doing alright in school, but he’s having some problems relating to his classmates. He’s socially inept, finding solace only with other young members of the super-hero crowd. For him, the act of Dick Grayson is harder to put on then Bruce Wayne is for you.” Batman said nothing, but calmly rolled Nightwing’s fingers onto the fingerprint card. “He worships you, you know that?” Batman remained silent and took the card over to the large computer on the other side of the cavern. Nightwing had forgotten how large the old computer had been and he whistled softly. There was a

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brief pause as Batman scanned in the fingerprints. “I have a computer program that will compare your prints to that of Robin’s. If they match, I’ll help you. If they don’t…” he let his voice die away cryptically. The moments passed in relative silence and Nightwing took the opportunity to wander the cave some more. The security measures were necessary he knew, because more than one of Batman’s more lethal and cunning foes knew his secret identity as well as many of his innermost secrets. Just because Nightwing knew he was Bruce Wayne and knew where the Batcave was did not make him authentic. His wanderings took him over to a spot he did not immediately recognize. It was an empty area where some miscellaneous crates of electronics had been stacked. It took him a moment to figure out what this spot was and when he did, the reality of the dark future that was to come overwhelmed him. This was the spot of the trophy cases. Here, the Batman would eventually encase the costumes of those heroes that had gone on beyond or suffered for the cause. Here would be the tattered remains of Jason Todd’s Robin costume. In a few short years, Jason would replace Dick as the teen wonder and would be killed by the Joker very soon afterwards. Here would also be the costume of Batgirl, Barbara Gordon. Several years in the future, Barbara would be paralyzed from the waist down by the Joker and would have to give up her life of adventure. Batman seemed almost attracted to Nightwing’s melancholy. “I hate wasted space,” the Caped Crusader announced as he approached. “I’m hoping to put in extra costume lockers here.” He held up a computer print out. “Your story checks out. Now we have to decide what to do with you.” “Maybe the Justice League could help.” “I don’t work with the League,” Batman said, whirling back around. His fluttering cape ended the conversation. Or so he thought. “Ask them anyway,” Nightwing called. The Batman stopped and Nightwing could tell from his posture that this was not a man used to being contradicted or questioned. “I said no.” “Then I’ll contact them. Hal Jordan would be perfect to help me out,” Nightwing said moving towards the stone staircase. A whirling batarang struck the stone ground and remained, right at Nightwing’s feet. “Who the hell is Hal Jordan?” Batman asked. “How many people know who you are?” Nightwing rubbed his forehead, trying to force back the approaching headache. It was a unique situation in that he, the student, was more knowledgeable than the master, Batman. The Caped Crusader was a control freak, Nightwing knew, and this situation was slowly, yet surely, squeezing out of his grasp. That was the reason for coming to the Cave, to put Nightwing on the Batman’s home turf. The problem was this was also his. “Okay…maybe I spoke too soon,” Nightwing said, stooping down to retrieve the weapon. “Let’s just say that relations between Gotham City and the JLA are a little better in the future. Do you have any ideas?” “Magic.”

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“Uh, magic got me here to begin with.” Batman nodded. “You were dealing with a younger, more inexperienced Green Lantern. Maybe someone like Dr. Fate would be better suited.” “How about Wally…I mean Barry Allen,” Nightwing asked, cursing his near Faux pas. Wally West, his best friend, was the Flash in the future. Today, however, it was Wally’s uncle, Barry Allen, who wore the mantle of the Scarlet Speedster. “Who?” Batman asked. “I’m sorry…the Flash,” Nightwing said. “Doesn’t he have a Cosmic Treadmill or something that allows him to travel through time?” Batman went over to the computer and typed in some information. The screen soon scrolled the required information before them. “The Treadmill is designed only to work with speedsters. Unless you know how to temporarily give yourself that ability, it won’t work.” Nightwing did know how, but it required the Wally West of the future. “I’d really prefer not to work with Dr. Fate…he’s a little to wiggy for me.” Batman almost smiled. “I agree, but he is the expert on magic.” “Can’t we use someone a little more…modern? How about Zatanna?” “The girl? She’s barely an adult. I don’t know if I’d want to subject her…” “Trust me,” Nightwing said. Zatanna was not known in the future as the most powerful member of the super-hero community, but she was one the most stable. Very few people were considered as reliable. She would not even attempt such a feat of she didn’t think she could do it. “It looks like I don’t have a choice,” the Batman replied. The Dark Knight began to move towards the Batmobile. It was the model that Nightwing was most fond of; the car he had always imagined he would end up driving. “Let’s go.” “You aren’t going to tell Robin that you’re leaving?” “He’ll understand,” Batman said without emotion. Nightwing wanted to speak up and tell him how wrong he was. It was unnerving seeing the events that shaped his childhood through the eyes of a man. Here were the roots of the problems that he and Batman would have in later years. He decided to say nothing, though. His separation from Batman allowed him to not only become Nightwing, but allowed him to grow as a person as well. Without that break in their relationship, he would have simply become Batman Junior, a shadow of the man climbing into the driver’s seat. All men wanted to stand on their own two feet, to be recognized for their own accomplishments and achievements and as he hoped into the once-familiar passenger seat, he couldn’t help but pause and wonder. Was being distinguished as being so separate from the Batman worth the years of emotional torment? He knew that the answer would not be very forthcoming in the hours ahead.

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“I assume that you and I are still working together in the future,” Batman stated. It sounded like he was ordering dinner or something, so bored he appeared. Unlike Green Lantern in the 1940’s, the Batman seemed determined to wring every last ounce of information concerning the future out of Nightwing. Now, instead of making off-hand remarks, the younger hero was using guarded phrases. “We have an understanding,” Nightwing said. “Really…understanding is it. I don’t think I would quite put it that way.” They turned off of the highway and took a small ramp that would allow them to skirt the eastern side of Gotham City. “I took the liberty of contacting a friend of mine, Jefferson Pierce…” “Black Lightning,” Nightwing commented. Batman nodded, putting on the left turn signal. Nightwing noticed that the speed they were driving was significantly lower than what he remembered the Batman driving at. Obviously, he wanted time to talk. “He has some contacts here and there in the hero community. He actually suggested Zatanna as well. He’s arranging for a meeting along with Superman.” Nightwing physically brightened at the mention of the Man of Steel. “Really?” Batman did not turn, but Nightwing could feel his disapproval. “Still possessed of that hero worship, I see. Don’t you realize that men with powers like his cannot be trusted? What if he decides to rule the world?” “Please…” Nightwing commented. He so badly wanted to inform Batman that in the future, he and Superman would be leading the Justice League and Lex Luthor would be president of the United States. “I was wondering if you were always this paranoid.” Batman accelerated the Batmobile slightly in response to Nightwing’s jest. This Batman had good control over his emotions, but had not yet perfected it as his future self had. Of course, he had a lot more pain to wallow through in the years ahead before he would reach the pinnacle of his abilities. “What’s your relationship to Batgirl?” “You mean Barbara, don’t you?” “What other Batgirl would I be talking about?” Batman asked, once again probing. Nightwing refused the bait. “It’s personal.” Batman turned another corner and adjusted the police scanner. “Good. I always hoped you two would get together one day.” Keep digging, Bruce. “So, any bad guys out tonight?” “I don’t think that’s important…”Batman was interrupted by a frantic call over the scanner. “Officer down! Officer down! We have shots fired at the William’s Grocery Store at Eighth and Nixon!” Batman pushed the gas peddle to the floor and Nightwing automatically began activating the servo-suspension systems that would allow them to weave through the streets of Gotham City at high speed. Batman said nothing as Nightwing ran through a sequence that he had not done in years, but training and intelligence allowed him to do so as if he had never stopped. “Stay in the Batmobile while I check on it.”

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“Bite me, Bruce,” Nightwing said. “Insolent pup,” Batman commented with a smile. Nightwing realized that maybe Batman’s behavior had less to do with wanting to know the future, as it was to have companionship. At this stage in his career, his only real friend was James Gordon, commissioner of the Gotham City Police Department, and that was a loose friendship at best. It wasn’t as if they could go bowling together! Right now, the Batman was sitting with another version of himself, a highly trained and dedicated person…and an adult at that! Nightwing figured that hanging with Robin and Batgirl must have worn his nerves thin during those years. Yet, as soon as he had left to become Nightwing and Batgirl had retired, he had offered the mantle of Robin to Jason Todd. In later years, Batman would begin to slowly realize that loneliness was a demon he had to confront day in and day out. Being isolated from everyone would eventually cause cracks in the façade of invulnerability he felt the need to project and that would leave him open to the devastating and crippling campaign of terror initiated by Bane. Bane sought to prove himself better than the Batman and in doing so, learned all of the Batman’s secrets and used them against him. In their confrontation, he had broken the Batman’s back and left him temporarily crippled. In a haze of confusion and self-pity, the broken Avenger of the Night had turned the mantle of the Batman over to a man not ready for it; a man named Jean-Paul Valley. The surrender of the cape and cowl to an outsider opened Nightwing’s eyes to how far apart he and his former mentor had gone and it was that single event that started the building of the bridge to overcome the almost insurmountable gap between them. That, however, like everything else, was many years in the future. If he told batman about what was coming, then he would never be beaten by Bane and would most likely be killed by someone else before he would admit he needed his friends and family. “It’s not that…I just can’t stand by while police officers are in danger.” “At least we agree on one thing completely,” Batman said, throwing the Batmobile into a hard right turn. Rubber burned as 500 horses churned inside the small turbine engine. Nightwing reached forward and flipped on the Bat-Siren. “Do you have to do that?” Batman asked. Nightwing didn’t respond, only smiled as they raced along. “My, my, my…look at the fetching lady in bat,” the Joker mused as he examined a tied-up Batgirl. The young heroine struggled against her bindings, which held her fast against an almost comical giant bomb. Like something out of a cartoon, the six-foot diameter black sphere, with a giant smoking wick, sat in the center of the grocery store. The Riddler, clad in his infamous green jumpsuit with black question mark adornments, giggled and clapped his hands together. Around them lay the victims of Batgirl’s sudden assault. “You just can’t rent good thugs anymore, Joker!”

26
“Oh, do tell, do tell, Riddler old bean! Why this young stripling of a girl, barely into womanhood was able to take down your best men! I thought you said that they would be able to take on Batnut and Cock-Robin?” The Riddler walked over to the store safe, which was wide open. Inside it were several million dollars worth of bearer’s bonds. The untraceable negotiable instruments were only a small part of Oswald “Penguin” Cobblepot’s vast treasury that he kept hidden throughout Gotham City, but it was more than enough to finance the two villains schemes for the next several months. “Hey, I got a good deal on them at Rent-a-Henchman.” The Joker patted Batgirl on the head and stepped over a sign that announced that the store had recently changed ownership. Its new name was something related to birds, but the exact title was lost under the mud of Joker’s shoes. “You think fat-boy will show up?” he asked, referring to the Penguin. “Is that a riddle? What’s fat and ugly and too scared to stop us from taking his lunch money?” The Riddler and Joker both laughed, though the Joker was more occupied with looking out at the array of police cars that had cordoned off the area. “I smell pork, don’t you, Riddler?” The Joker moved over even farther, daring the police snipers to fire as he passed in front of the plate glass, to where two police officers were tied up. They too struggled to get free. Joker picked up a small police radio and cleared his throat. He waited until the Riddler had finished laughing before speaking. In a high tenor, he cried into the radio. “Officer down! Oh God, help me! This is Officer…” he looked down at the name badge on one of the cops, “…Hernandez and I need back-up now!” Then he grinned and set the radio down. Pulling out a large caliber handgun, he aimed it at the heads of the two officers. Batgirl cried out from behind her gag. “Now, let’s see,” the Joker began. “This little piggy went to market…” He pulled the hammer back on the pistol. “Hey, Joker…you said no killing,” the Riddler called. The man was too squeamish for the Joker’s taste. “Aw, shaddup!” the Joker called. Just then, a dark shape broke through the glass and descended like God’s judgment on top of the Joker. The Clown Prince of Crime cried out and then snarled as the Batman punched him square in the jaw. Two shots rang out and then the gun went flying out of the broken window and across the parking lot. “Where’s the kid?” Joker asked, wiping blood from his lip as he stumbled away from the menacing form of the Batman. “School night,” Batman replied. The Riddler knew that the plan had been a bad one from the beginning and when Batgirl had shown up, he knew it was just going to get worse. As bad as he was, the Riddler did not enjoy killing and the Joker’s last-minute additions to their “perfect” plan were not setting well with his partner. Then the Batman had jumped through the window and instead of running into the night with a few million, the Riddler knew he was about to get hit very hard if he didn’t run away. He took a look at Batgirl and actually considered untying her in order to score points with Batman, but figured she would just hit him

27
as well. It wasn’t that he was a coward; he just didn’t feel like getting hit tonight. Plus, the Penguin would be after him now as well. As he started to leave, using the sound of Batman’s glove hitting the Joker’s face as cover for his retreat, he noticed that Batgirl seemed to be smiling. That was never a good sign and just as he started running his options again, a blue fist hit him very, very hard. Stepping over the Riddler, Nightwing approached Batgirl with a cocky smile. He pulled her gag down. “Thanks, handsome,” she said. He didn’t say anything, but instead put his arms around her and began undoing the knot in the ropes that held her fast. “Don’t worry, I already pulled the fuse out,” he said. Her face was less than an inch away from his. “I’m not worried.” He tried to reply but his conscience was assailing him. Did he really have to reach around her like this in order to get to the knots? Did he have to be this close, knowing full well that at least on a physical level, they were attracted to each other? Is it cheating to hold a younger version of the woman you love? The ropes fell away and he leaned up, and she followed his movements closely. He looked at her face and in his mind, the Batgirl cowl fell away, revealing the innocent visage of Barbara Gordon. Only this was a Barbara that didn’t have the eyes of a woman who knew pain, or the lips that when not smiling, seemed to hold the bottled-up anger she felt. He wanted to kiss her and he knew she wouldn’t resist and he wanted to know why. Why now and not before? Why had he waited so many years to tell her how he felt? Why had he gone through so many dysfunctional relationships before he confessed his true emotions? Her leg was touching his and it became clear. This Barbara Gordon offered him something on a physical level he could not achieve with the one of the future. As much as he loved her, adored her, he still felt a sharp pain of regret when he looked at her in that wheelchair as he so often did in his own time. The knowledge that physically, it would be impossible for them to…join, to become one flesh, was beyond the realms of possibility and despite himself, he regretted that immensely. It wasn’t until this moment that the dark truth had truly made itself known. He now had knowledge of a side of himself that he did not relish in knowing. It was self-centered and selfish and he became angry. Then he looked into her eyes again and realized that he could never allow thoughts like anger, hate or greed to poison the way he felt about her. “Are you okay?” he asked. “Yes,” she said. She peered closer at him and realized that something had happened behind his eyes. A kiss was not coming and yet she got the feeling that one day… “Nightwing, we have to go,” Batman said. His voice was monotone, betraying nothing. If he suspected the path to the future for the two in front of him, he was not about to let he know. “Batgirl, go home.” She started to protest, but thought better of it. She thanked Nightwing again and dared to give him a small peck on the cheek. When she was gone, Batman handed him a tissue from a ruined box on the floor. “You have lipstick on your face.”

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“Emoh og gniwthgin!” Zatanna said as she cast her spell. Nightwing immediately faded from view and Batman turned to the teenaged girl. She was barely Batgirl’s age. “That’s it?” She shrugged and smiled. “It’s really not that hard once you put it all in perspective. He was out of place; I’ve returned him to his place.” Batman nodded his approval. The girl was serious about what she was doing and very confident. He liked those qualities. Perhaps she would be a useful ally in the future. He almost snorted. Maybe he could get her on the Justice League to act as his spy… “You’ll cast the spells on Batgirl and Robin, like I asked?” They started walking towards the Batmobile. “Take me to them and I’ll take care of it. I’m not happy about putting the spell on myself, though.” “Would a Porsche make you feel any better, young lady?” She smiled and hopped into the passenger seat. “Now we’re talking! Hey, you’re kind of cute…” He turned slowly to her and seemed to radiate total blackness. “Don’t confuse my generosity with affection. I needed something done. You did it. For that, you have my thanks and gratitude.” Zatanna suppressed a shiver and simply nodded, realizing that this was not the man to flirt with or try to be coy with. This was a professional and should be treated with respect. She straightened up and they began to drive away. “Just one question, Mr. Batman.” “Just call me Batman or sir.” “Do you think it’s wise that you keep your knowledge of the future?” Batman considered her words. “What do I really know except that maybe, if I play my cards right and do my best, my life will never be a total waste?” Nightwing practically crawled through the window to Barbara Gordon’s Gotham City home. He knew he should immediately contact John Law and let him know that he hadn’t imagined Per Degaton, but decided not to. As he slumped onto the floor, his hand grazed the footrest of his girlfriend’s wheelchair. “Well, look what the bat dragged in,” she said, holding a cup of coffee. “You smell bad, young man.” Nightwing pulled off his mask, letting the face of Dick Grayson breathe. “God, I’m so glad to see you.” “Prove it,” she said, smiling. Summoning his considerable strength and stamina, he stood up and moved to her. Slowly, he put his arms around her, allowing them to meet in the small of her back. Slowly he moved towards her lips. She giggled and pushed him away. “Oh my God! I just had the most weird sense of déjà vu!” “Really,” he said, moving back in closer. “I feel the same thing. It’s like, we’ve always been meant to be together…”

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She kissed him passionately and he felt himself melting away in her embrace. Tomorrow would be another day and his yesterdays seemed to be another life all together. If anything, he realized that he belonged here in this room, with this woman. This was his life. This was his time. End