Someone called for an emergency meeting with the League leadership. Tower. Emergency. Now.
The vagueness and the demanding nature of the message had everyone believing it was Batman because nobody else could possibly urge the most powerful people in the galaxy with just three words. So there was a surprise when the original members of the League arrived, greeted not by the sight of a solemn Batman but by Nightwing.
“Thank you for being here,” the young hero said firmly, making Flash feel a little uncomfortable and Superman worried. He gestured to the open seats. “Please, sit down.”
Everyone was a little hesitant to do so, but Wonder Woman was afraid of no man and was the first to sit. “What's the matter, Nightwing?” she asked, her tone a serious as his. “Where's Batman?”
“Yeah, buddy,” Flash agreed, zooming to his seat. “Where's dark and gloomy? Are you substituting for him because he finally took a vacation?”
Nightwing immediately shook his head, becoming less patient by the second. He wasn't irritated at anyone in the room in particular, but he wanted the problem to be dealt with as quick as possible. “Batman and Robin have been kidnapped,” he said plainly, frowning, "and I'm asking the League to help rescue them because I respect each and every one of you. Don't get me wrong; I'm not asking for permission. I'm giving you the option to help.”
“Wait a minute, Nightwing,” Green Arrow said, not liking the younger hero's tone. “What exactly happened to Batman and Robin? Do you know who kidnapped them and why?”
“Mongul,” was the curt answer. “He’s going to sell them off to the highest bidder as trophies because Batman and Robin are famous legends in the nearby galaxies. The incident occurred around 00:34 on Monday. It is almost Thursday. All the resources in Batman's arsenal and mine have already been deployed, and so is the rest of the network within Gotham. In half an hour, outside resources will be asked to help as well.”
“You sound like you have it under control,” Hawkgirl said. “What is the use of the League? It sounds like a personal matter.”
“That is true, yes, but I cannot guarantee that an incident will not occur. That's what I mean when I said I respect each and every one of you, but I can't say the same for everyone else. I can't justify stopping them from doing what they feel is necessary. Red Hood is currently asking Starfire to use her ship, Black Bat is coming back from Hong Kong and gearing up to go, and I'm sorry to say that Red Robin is currently abusing Teen Titans resources at this moment. Batgirl and Oracle are planning to 'borrow’ STAR labs equipment with the assistance of the Bird of Prey.”
“Jeez,” Cyborg said.
Nightwing nodded. “I really called the League here to give you a heads up and the chance to settle the matter as quietly as possible. I myself am close to losing it, so I'm hoping you'd play the role of keeping us in check.”
“You have no authority to ask for that, Nightwing,” Green Lantern said, frowning. “None of you can do this. Ask everyone to come to the Tower and we will discuss this matter as a team.”
Nightwing, the original Boy Wonder, clicked his tongue against his cheek, and that had Superman reeling because he knew Nightwing since the younger man was just ten-years-old. And this was the first time the Man of Steel had ever seen him act so- so much like Batman.
This matter was serious and personal, and it was only by the experience of being the dark Knight's closest friend and most trusted ally for decades that Superman decided to let this one slide. Not only to save Batman and Robin but also for the safety of everyone else in the room. It didn't take long to learn that Batman was willing to do anything to do the right thing, but only a close observer knew that Batman would do everything to protect those he loved. That sentiment extended to everyone else in the family, though some not as restraint as the patriarch.
“Okay,” Superman suddenly said, not liking this one bit. “Okay, we’ll help you, Nightwing, but only on the condition that you and the rest of them will conduct yourselves as the League tells you. That means you all will follow our lead, not the other way around. Do you understand?”
In an instant, Nightwing’s mood changed from being irritated to happier as he gave Superman a small smile. He pressed his index finger to his right ear. “Did you catch that?” he spoke into the comm.
There were soft replies, a growl here and a quiet nod there. “You got yourself a deal, Kal,” Nightwing said, copying his adoptive father’s speech of the Dark Knight in one of his rare moods. The younger man was more likely to use it more often, but Superman couldn't help but remember a little boy in red, green and yellow repeating his birth name over and over again, excited that he got to know the Man of Steel like a nephew would an uncle.
Superman could only hope that this childhood affection would help keep in order the rest of his friend’s children. And yet, knowing Batman, it may have been a lost cause from the very beginning.
Batman didn’t wake up. Instead, he eased out of unconsciousness, barely aware of the world around him. His limbs were heavy, his body floating in an yellow liquid, but he breathed. He couldn't move, his mind dulling and quiet. There was not a pain in his body, only a numbing sensation, but his heart beat a little louder when he noticed his son, facing towards him in the exact same state with his legs and arms curled up in a fetal position.
Damian, Batman called out silently, willing his body to pull his youngest closer to him. His fingers twitched, nothing more.
A vibration traveled through the liquid, and Batman rolled his eyes to his right and saw through the opaque orange, a large crowd with a reddish sky. A loud voice rang, vibrating strong but undeterminable. There was a cheer, and then voices coming one by one, getting more excited and louder with every raised hand.
Batman looked back at Robin, not a hint of blood on him, but through one great push of will, he enclosed his arms around his son and held onto him tightly, shielding Robin from the crowd watching from outside.
But it only seemed to excite them even more.
Chaos was an understatement, nearly twelve hours after Nightwing’s emergency meeting. There had not been such an assembled of superheros in one place in a long time, and they were all on a small planet three systems over, red and terraformed to have thousands of stadiums and platforms, a black market location where anyone could get almost anything.
And Mongul, he had his show in one of the largest, and it didn't take long to find him, a thousand specters cheering and bidding as they raised their numbers and their bids. Once this location was found, without warning, the Outlaws shot a laser beam in between the crowd and the auctioneer, creating a crater in the ground.
“Red Hood!” Hawkgirl yelled through the comms. “We said discrete!”
“That is discrete,” Red Hood replied, almost bored. “The message is to get the hell out or die. See? Everyone running out already. Kori, you mind if I shoot some of the ships down? Maybe the Green Lantern Corps can do something with them.”
“Little Wing,” Nightwing cut in, voice stern and patient. “Don't go haywire. Keep behind the League. Mongul is their enemy, not ours. Batman and Robin are our goal, not anyone else.”
There was a brief moment of silence, tension heard through the comms. “Whatever.”
A sigh of relief was shared through the many other listeners, and firstly, the boom tubes were used, small rifts in the space a white hole that the Bird of Preys, the League and the Titans jumped out from, automatically caught by Mongul’s minions.
“Red Robin and I are going ahead,” Spoiler told everyone as they head their way towards the large stadium.
Oracle chimed in, “Eyes on Batman and Robin. They seem to be in a large crystal filled with orange liquid. Neither are moving, but they do not seem injured. Mongul is on site. He's smiling.”
“He won't be smiling much longer when I knock a the teeth out of his face,” Spoiler said, running even faster.
As they neared the stadium, Wonder Woman’s invisible plane flew overhead, and from the sky, Black Bat fell, landing gracefully beside Spoiler and Red Robin. “Get them back,” the raven said, her eyes narrowing in determination.
“Red Robin, Spoiler, Black Bat,” Superman’s authoritative voice spoke in their ears, “do not approach Mongul until you are given the word. Do you understand?”
“That depends, Superman,” Red Robin said, “on the circumstances. If he lets Batman and Robin go, I'll make sure he can walk again in a year. If not, all bets are off.”
“Listen to Superman, you three,” Nightwing then said, taking his cue to hold back his family. “Do not approach Mongul until you are given the word.”
There were unintelligent replies, but it was enough to know that the three would obey.
And then there was a sudden explosion, not from any superpower but from a bomb. A shower of dirt rained down as a cloud of dust blocked any outside view.
“Bombs?” Green Lantern shouted, this the first time he heard about explosions. “We said discrete, not flashy! Do you know how many people you'll hurt and not everybody knows the locations of ground zero?! I'm barely finding out about them now!”
“We are suppose to fight like warriors,” Wonder Woman added, her voice laced with disapproval through the comms.
“Sorry, Wonder Woman,” Batwoman said, answering for the explosion. “Red Robin was right when he brought up the possibilities of contraband that would be too dangerous to leave alone. I took out a tank worth of Kryptonite. I'll give a heads up on the next one.”
“Nevermind about that!” Cyborg shouted, drawing everyone's attention to what he had to say. “Nightwing! What are you doing?! You're not suppose to go on your own!”
“Sorry,” Nightwing replied, not sounding a bit apologetic. His comms were cut off.
“. . . Nightwing's gone rogue.”
A quiet and nearly collective fuck traveled through the network, and one by one, the bats disconnected themselves, selfishly cutting everyone else off.
"Mongul,” Dick said, a few yards away from the being that sat a throne-like chair. To Mongul’s right, there was the giant crystal that currently held Bruce and Damian, neither moving or conscious. “I want you to let them go. Now.”
The tyrant laughed, his smile great and mocking. “Who are you to make demands of me, human?” he asked rhetorically. “I am the great Mongul, and you fell into my trap. I wanted as many of you to come here.”
“What for? To sell us off to the highest bidder?”
“Of course. Superheros make very popular collection choices, especially famous ones. You'd get me a good price. Nightwing was famous on Krypton if I remember correctly, and he and Firebird are known in stories still. I believe you do have a Firebird.”
“What does a great lord like you need money for?”
“Fool. Those with large wealth have large influence as well I've decided to build my own empire, and selling off my enemies is a good way to start. But enough of that. I believe you and I are inclined to fight.”
Nightwing wore an expressionless face, holding up a gloved hand. “Let's wager on something. If you win, you can sell me willingly. If I win, you'll let Batman and Robin go, along with every superhero on this planet.”
Mongul stood up, smiling even more. “Cliche, but I'll go along with it,” he said, and he charged.
There were times in Dick’s life he looked back on and regretted being alive in the first place, the last one standing. His parents’ death, losing Jason, losing Bruce, losing everyone at one point or another. He knew he did his best in those situations, he tried, from an emotional traumatized ten year old to breaking and bruised man, but what he regretted was not the fact that he didn't do more but because he couldn't.
He couldn't save his parents from falling, dead the moment they hit the ground. He couldn't stop Joker from beating Jason with a crowbar and save him from the bomb in that warehouse. He couldn't make Bruce remember when he had amnesia and forgotten everything he was. And he couldn't stop Joker again from hurting his family, tricking them into believing that he had cut out their faces.
However, his greatest comfort was knowing those who came into his life. He dealt with a lot of horrible things the past decade and some, but along the way, he loved a lot of people, Barbara, Alfred, Wally, the list went on. Knowing them gave him hope for tomorrow because they existed today. It got rough when the latter was not sometimes true, but remembering helped ease the pain that yesterday brought.
There was not a lot Dick would greedily asked for in life, keeping his friends and family safe on top of that short list, but there, they were, trapped in a bottle like specimen, his father and his baby brother who deserved to be protected because one only gave and gave while the other kept giving more than he had. Two of the most important people in Dick’s life, and there was some ass who kidnapped them, trying to sell them off like little gems.
No, they were not precious gems. They were family, and Dick loved them to death. And it hurt. Because their relationships were built off of hope quickly dashed and trust repeatedly broken, and Dick would die for them, for Alfred, for Kori, for his parents. He would cry at the drop of a hat for them, and under certain circumstances, he would kill for them. Just like he would have if he hadn't caught the weaken sound of Mongul asking for mercy.
“No more,” the gamelord said, his voice wet and his mouth bloody.
Dick had the heel of his foot pressed heavily on the back Mongul’s thick neck, a thick arm twisted painfully backwards and threatening to dislocate if the vigilante moved it a bit more forward. He wondered how he got in this position, standing over Mongul, and he noted the numbing bruises around his torso, his black and blue skin exposed by years in his costume, and droplets of blood caused by crashing into debris. Mongul was no better, but Dick didn't feel a hint of pain in his entire body, because he won.
“How do I get them out?” Dick demanded, pushing forward a little. Mongul keened in pain. “And don’t even think of telling me I can’t.”
“There is release button on the chair, on the left arm,” Mongul gave out as Dick pressed down on his heel, sinking the alien’s face deeper into the dirt in warning. “There’s no trick, human. Nobody will ever want to buy from me again if I sell damaged products.”
Dick hummed in understanding, and in one quick, fluid motion, snapped Mongul’s captured arm, moving his feet to the bigger being’s elbow and pulling it back. Mongul screamed in surprised, Dick methodical as he flipped him over by the side and doing the same thing to one of Mongul’s legs by the knee. One final decision, and Dick pulled out a small syringe from the inside of his glove and injected the solution into the thickest vein he could see on Mongul’s neck, a fifth of it remaining when he placed it back in his hiding spot. The Gothamite walked away from the wounded gamelord and towards the throne-like chair.
As Mongul said, there was a button found on the left arm, and he pressed it. The crystal began to leak its orange liquid until it was dripping off of the platform it was standing on, its glass walls pulling apart slowly and releasing its prisoners. Dick quickly rushed over and caught them, lowering them to the ground gently. Neither Bruce nor Damian were moving save for rising of their chests and the pulse on their necks. Bruce, unconscious, was firmly embracing Damian as if to hide him.
Dick let out a sigh, one of broken relief, placing Bruce’s head to lay comfortable in his lap as he brush his finger through Damian’s wet hair. They were warm and alive, and they were safe now. Dick could not help but thank God, leaning inwardly to himself as he wrapped an arm around Bruce’s shoulder.
“Dick!” a shout came from the entrance of the stadium, a few Javelin flying overhead as he spotted a few members of the Green Lantern Corps forming a shield around the planet. Cassandra was the first one to reach him, falling at her knees to take a closer look at her adoptive father and brother.
She too let out a sigh of relief, smiling as she nuzzled her nose on the side of Bruce’s face. “Safe,” she said.
“Are they okay, Cass?” Stephanie asked when the rest caught up, circling around the unconscious bats. The raven nodded, her face pressed up against her father’s.
For a moment, they just stood by, taking a moment to breathe a little easier. “Report,” Barbara prompted through the comms.
Jason pressed a finger to his, already taken off his helmet. “Big Bird recovered B and Baby Bat, O,” he told her.
“Okay. I'll relay the message to the rest of the team. Reconnect as soon as possible. The League is not happy.”
“Yeah. We’ll deal with it later. Just get someone here as soon as possible for transport and medical care.”
“Got it. Good work, guys. I'll see you when you get home."
The first responder was Batwoman, followed by Martian Manhunter. The Martian flew over to them, settling down when he got close. “Manhunter is going to check them telepathically,” the redhead explained, knowing that everyone was on the defense at the moment. “I hope you can have a good way to explain to everyone why you act impulsively, Nightwing. Superman is not happy with you.”
Nightwing shrugged, giving Manhunter room to reach out to Batman and Robin. “There’s no damage to their minds,” the Martian said out loud. “Mongul did not do anything to scar them mentally or physically, merely putting them in a comatose state since their kidnapping. They'll be fine, I believe.”
“Thanks, Manhunter,” Spoiler said, smiling.
A Javelin then flew overheard, its shape casting a large shadow over the stadium which shrank as it began to land on the red dirt. The entrance opened, and Flash ran out, a red blur circling the fallen Mongul. “Wow,” commented the speedster. “Whoever did this really did a number on him.”
“He’ll be fine, I guess,” Red Robin mindlessly muttered as he helped Red Hood, Batwoman and Black Bat gently loosen up the hold Batman had around Robin, who Nightwing and Spoiler carefully extracted.
It was Red Hood and Batwoman who carried Batman towards the Javelin—piloted by Black Canary—an arm over their shoulders as Black Bat followed closely behind. Nightwing had Robin in his arms, holding the youngest like the child he was, and looking as if he never wanted to let go ever again, pressing Robin into his shoulder with a quivering hand. Red Robin and Spoiler went up ahead, situating the Javelin for medical care, Nightwing taking slow steps as to not stir Robin up.
As he passed, Mongul started muttering non-intelligent words, curling up into a ball, and then he screamed, surprising Flash and Manhunter when he got up and attempted to run on his broken leg. Nightwing got onto the Javelin, a small ghost of a satisfied smile on his lips.
“I've read the reports of the events that occurred on PX-37,” Batman started, the first meeting he had returned to after being out of commission for five days, “and I apologize for all misconducts and disobedience of Nightwing, Oracle, Red Hood, Red Robin, Spoiler, Black Bat and Batwoman.”
That took everyone in the room by surprise, not a one expecting Batman to acknowledge the kidnapping publicly. His voice retained its neutral tone, and his stance forever composed.
“Let's just hope this kind of thing never happens again,” Green Lantern remarked. “I won't hesitate to restrain any of them to Earth if they ever ask for intergalactic assistant ever again.”
“Understandable,” Batman replied curtly and accepting.
“Can someone tell me what happened to Mongul?” Flash asked out of the blue, still curious. “He started freaking out all of the sudden.”
“Nightwing pumped him with a large concentration of fear toxin in retaliation. He has admitted it to me, and we have discussed the subject. I cannot stop him from using it completely, however.”
“Nightwing did that?” Green Arrow asked out loud. “Never expected that from the original Boy Wonder.”
Batman shrugged. “Nightwing is much more complicated than he lets on.”
“Everyone in Gotham is much more complicated than they let on,” Hawkgirl commented, a clear frown on her lips.
“I can't believe they were able to cut off the comms like that, though,” Cyborg brought up. “I'm half machine, and I was still a little fuzzy when I forced reconnection ten minutes later.”
“Oracle can fit ten hours in one hour. Fortunately, Red Robin was on ground support.”
“And how is Robin?” Wonder Woman asked, speaking on behalf of the League. They worried about the young vigilante because, well, because he was young. “Is he faring well, Batman?”
Batman nodded, almost smiling. “Yes,” he replied, much to the relief of everyone in the room. “He woke up this morning, and Nightwing volunteered to watch and keep him in bed until he's fully recovered. He just needs another day. Two, to be careful.”
“That's good news, Batman,” Manhunter said, smiling. “Please keep us updated.”
“Of course. Any other comments, questions, concerns? Superman?”
The Man of Steel looked thoughtful for a moment, and then he said, “Please don't get kidnapped off world again. Nightwing kind of puts me on edge when he gets extremely protective like that to be completely honest, especially when you're involved, and to know he went that far unsettles me a lot.”
Batman didn't respond immediately, and when he did, he nodded gravely. “I’ll do my best, but no promises. You're right when you say that. The extreme personality shift unsettles a lot of people if they've never dealt with Nightwing on a regular occurrence, and he went that far because Robin was involved as well. I'll speak to him about it later.”
“Well, I know that's the best I can get at the moment, so welcome back, B.”
Damian could literally feel that Dick was tense, an arm wrapped around his shoulders as they watched some mindless cartoon. He had just woken up this morning, and his father had returned from a League meeting. His father and Dick left him alone for a couple minutes before the younger came back in the room, looking annoyed if anything. That was twenty minutes ago.
“Grayson,” the youngest said, “what's the matter? You're not as talkative. It . . . bothers me.”
Dick raised an eyebrow, barely noticing his mindlessness. He didn’t answer immediately, but he curled closer to his littlest brother. “Just thinking, Lil’ D,” he answered.
“About Father’s and my kidnapping?”
Dick frowned. “Yeah.”
Damian hummed. “What's there to be upset about?” he asked, curious. “You saved Father and me, and no one else was hurt. It was a successful mission.”
Dick smiled a little, happy that his baby brother was being vocally appreciative. He pulled Damian in a one arm hug, something the other wasn't adverse to. “I might have gone too far,” he answered, “taking in Mongul on my own. Bruce told me the League weren't exactly happy with that, along with other things, but I guess I was really upset that you and B were taken.”
“Such dangers are expected in the life of the Bat.”
“Yeah, but it doesn't mean I have to like it. And it was Mongul, a warlord from outside Earth, outside Gotham. I was scared that I'd lose you, because the universe is so big and we're all just so small. If he managed to sell you, I might never see you again. You're my family, and I love you. Losing you scare me so much, you, Bruce, Jason, Tim, Cass, Alfred, every last one of you.”
Damian huffed. “That's very like you to worry about that, Dick,” he said, reaching his arms over his oldest brother’s shoulders. “But that's nothing to worry about. With everything I have, I, without a doubt, know that you will be able to find me. Doubt only the circumstances but never your abilities.”
Dick was almost shocked, by both Damian’s embrace and words, but most of all, he was grateful. He righted his grip on Damian as a silent thank you, cementing those words to memory and heart.