It is unseasonably cold for a summer night. The biting wind makes his cape snap as it shoves at him, seemingly trying to throw him from his rooftop perch. It is like the city herself is trying to shake him off; throwing a tantrum like a spoiled child at the loss of a favoured toy.
He shifts minutely to better settle his new armour. The fit is slightly off. He’ll have to get Alfred to take a look at it later. For now, he wraps himself in his cape and settles in to look over the city. It is a quiet night. A relief after the weeks of insanity that had gripped the nation’s darkest city.
Another gust of biting chill strikes him. He feels a brief moment of gratitude for the material of his cape that allows it to be both good at deflecting bullets and misdirecting gunfire, and also keeping him warm in this unseasonable weather.
Batman would suspect Victor Fries of being up to something, but he’s safely locked away in Arkham. All the really bad ones are in Arkham at the moment; Fries, Two Face, Killer Croc, Poison Ivy.
Ripples of an emotion he doesn’t care to identify run through him.
The Joker is currently a guest in Arkham’s medical wing, Intensive Care Unit. The doctors at that…reputable establishment are pretty certain he’ll live, but not at all sure he will ever regain consciousness.
It was Nightwing who put the Joker there; the last night anyone had seen the blue and black hero.
Bludhaven’s hero had tracked the clown down where he had been making a grand spectacle of himself; gloating, and laughing about what he’d done. The vigilante had dispatched the henchmen around the clown with brutal efficiency and then attacked the mad man; had beaten him until he stopped laughing, until he was bloody and unconscious, and then kept beating him. Until black and blue gloves were red and slick with blood, and Superman arrived to pull the enraged man off the criminal before he could finish it.
He had been overtaken by rage and grief when he had gotten back from a mission with the Titans in space and heard the news. If Superman hadn’t been keeping an ear out for him, hadn’t swooped in when it seemed like he wouldn’t stop, Dick would probably have killed the Joker right there.
Dick wasn’t sure he would ever forgive the older hero for stopping him, not after what the Joker had done, and damn Bruce’s principles. If he’d killed the Joker before - or hell, just let the man die when one of his own crazy schemes had backfired - then he wouldn’t be-
Bruce was dead, and Dick is on a rooftop in Gotham, in a costume that doesn’t fit, trying to control a city that doesn’t want him.
Jason is dead, and Dick has no bright, annoying, wonderful little brother by his side, to combat the grimness and stark loneliness of Gotham.
His rage had run itself out after around the second week trying to control a city rife with rumours of the Death of the Bat, spread by the ever accommodating crazy in the pancake makeup. Truths, except for that Batman couldn’t die. Could not be allowed to die.
So here Dick is.
He had worked his rage out with fists and pain and blood. His own, and other’s. He had wanted to punish this damn city Bruce had loved so much, needed so much, for not knowing that they had needed him in turn, not knowing what they had lost. For not loving him. Them. For not knowing either of them, not like he had. But the rage could only last so long, when the one directly responsible is out of his reach.
Now he is just tired. So very, very tired.
Tired of fighting the rumours. Tired of the criminals in this damn city. Tired of fighting alone, away from his team, his friends, and in a city that is not his, not the way it had been Bruce’s.
Tired of the taunts of the scum, when they ask him where Robin is.
“Sir,” comes the voice in his ear, and Dick’s heart squeezes at the exhausted tone in that accented voice. It is a reminder, if he truly needed one, that he wasn’t the only one feeling the last several weeks.
Oh Alfred, poor loyal, steadfast Alfred. Bruce had been like a son to him, and Jason like a grandson. To lose both of them like that…
“I’m here, A. What’s up?” Dick keeps his voice soft. There is no need on this isolated rooftop to drop into his best approximate of the Batman Growl. Attempting it still makes his throat raw and his sinuses ache by the end of the night.
Or, at least that’s what he tells himself, deep in the night while he ignores the accompanying heat behind his eyelids and the damp trails on his cheek.
“The signal has been lit, Sir.” Dick blinks, and paces around the building on the protruding ledge he has been perched on, until he can see the glowing yellow light in the sky. The Commissioner hasn’t lit the signal in months. Not since the news had started spreading that the Batman and his sidekick were dead.
Dick’s eyes narrow behind the lenses of his still-unfamiliar cowl as he thinks back to the records Alfred had kept in those doubtless interminable days between Batman and Robin disappearing into Ethiopia, losing communication, and Superman showing up at his doorstep, bearing the terrible news. News of crowbars, and bombs, and two bodies laying in state in the Fortress of Solitude.
Even when the Joker returned to Gotham and started spreading his terrible truths, Gordon had still lit the signal.
He hadn’t stopped until almost a week later.
The signal hadn’t been lit since the day after the news had broke that Bruce Wayne and his adopted son Jason Todd had both been tragically killed. The news was full for days of the reports of their private plane experiencing a catastrophic malfunction and going down over the pacific ocean. Rescue efforts had been expended for days, but finally they had been called off when it became obvious nothing would be found. There was an ongoing investigation to determine if there had been any tampering, but initial reports indicated nothing of the sort. The signal had stayed lit that entire night, before going dark just before dawn.
“Acknowledged, A. Thank you.” Dick closes his eyes briefly and tries to centre himself for the upcoming meeting with the Commissioner. “Why don’t you head to bed, A?” Dick tries to keep the question gentle. He is worried about the man. Alfred is getting old, and grief stresses the heartiest of bodies. “It’s a quiet night. I’m just going to go see what the Commissioner needs, then head back to bace.”
“Then I will wait up to see you safely home, Sir.” There is a wealth of quiet dignity in that voice that Dick cannot, will not, counter.
“Alright, A. N-” His voice chokes off. He clears his throat and tries again. “B out.”
When he arrives on the roof of Central, he slips quietly onto the rooftop. He sticks to the shadows and observes the way Gordon is not looking at the signal, as if he cannot bear to look and be disappointed again.
Dick -Batman, he must be Batman for this- takes a deep breath, and toggles off the switch.
“Br-Batman?!” The incredulity and hope in Jim’s voice shoves grubby fingers in the festering wounds left by Bruce’s absence.
Dick honestly considers it for a moment. Considers trying to pretend. Trying to allow one person the luxury of a little belief…
“Commissioner.” He replies, in as close to his normal voice as he will ever use in costume, as he slips fully out of the shadows. He watches the hope die, the reaction wash across the man’s face; cresting waves of feeling Dick cannot allow himself while he tries to hold too many things together.
The Titans. Wayne Industries. Gotham. The League.
All collapsing in the gaping void in their lives left by Bruce.
He closes his eyes for a brief moment, knowing it couldn’t be seen behind the cowl. His bright, rough-edged brother. So many to mourn Bruce, to mourn Batman if only they knew, but Jason? Jason, who was still just finding his wings, just beginning to stretch past Gotham, to interact with the wider hero community. Who was there but him to morn his bright little wing?
“What have you got for me?”
For Bruce, his father in all but name, and Jason, his brother in all but blood, he will carry the mantle he never truly wanted. He will protect this city they both fought for, bled for. He can do no less to honour their memories.