At first he feels the soft and smooth touch of the blanket. Upon opening his eyes then, Nightwing recognizes the luxurious chandelier above him: he was in his room in the manor, laying down on his bed. The lights coming from the window also indicated that it was morning already. He then instinctively tries to prop himself up on his elbows, forcing his body to sit upright on the bed. However, he soon regrets it while a wave of pain and dizziness overcomes him, forcing him to lay back again or face the increasing sensation of ache and sickness. Dick decides then to have a better look at himself before trying to stand up again: shirtless, he could see that his left upper arm was all bandaged by some blood spotted cloth strips. His chest and right shoulder were bandaged as well, but there were not so much bleeding as there was on his left arm. Puzzled, he tries to remember what happened and how he got there, but his memories were somewhat fuzzy. He remembers of keeping watch on Penguin and his thugs last night, but what came next…
"Master Richard, are you awake already?" with a concerned face, Alfred was entering the room, holding a silver tray with what Dick recognized as clean white cloth strips.
"Alfred, how..." the young man tried to stand up again, but a sharp feeling of pain stings all over his body, making him flinch. Despite that he manages to at least remain sitting upright.
"Master Richard, you shouldn't push yourself too much. You are still badly injured after the incident from yesterday's night." Alfred's concerning eyes were looking upon Dick, begging him to not be stubborn on this matter.
"We are not sure about all the details yet, Master Richard, but when commissioner Gordon arrived at your location, he found you laying unconscious, badly injured. He was about to send you to a hospital when Master Bruce and the others showed up and decided to bring you here. It seems that they have tried to contact you, but your communicator didn't answer. You were really lucky that they were close enough to your location to get there in time, sir."
"Where is he now, Alfred?"
"Master Bruce is checking the CCTV recordings in the cave in an attempt to clarify what happened to you and who was your mysterious attacker. It seems that you have faced a vicious opponent this time. Can you recall what happened last night?"
Grayson takes some seconds to think about it, in an attempt to get a clear answer, but frustration soon comes out as a sigh.
"Most of it is still hazy and muddled, Alfred… everything went so fast. I remember that I was keeping an eye on the mob and the truck, but then, out of nowhere, something huge attacked me... Since I woke up, I'm trying to remember the details. But..."
"Hm… that's what I suspected." Alfred gets closer to the young man, trying to observe his head closely. It took him only some seconds to confirm his conjecture. "A broken left arm, lacerations and several bruises, and now a concussion." Alfred sighes. He ever tries to keep his composure and not let his sense of guilt get even more evident, but it is still as difficult as it ever was when all that vigilantism career of them began. It was always painful for him to see these boys get back injured. To pile up things, even after he patched them up, he would still have to watch them doing it again and again, with him being a silent testimony of all their tribulations. Still, heartbreaking as it is, he would do it as many times as necessary, as long as they still needed him.
Alfred tries to shake off these thoughts: more important matters were now at hand and he needed to focus.
"Unfortunately you will need to remain in observation for at least 48 hours, master Richard. And now that the worse is gone and you are awake, a hard splint will be mandatory for that left arm of yours, sir."
"Hm… it was that bad, uh?"
"And I hope it not gets worse." says Bruce, who was just entering the room alongside Barbara and Damian, but differently from these last two, he was still wearing his suit. However his cowl was down, laying behind his neck. The young man notices that there was a tablet in one of Batman's hands.
"Dick, you've finally woke up!" says Barbara while getting closer to him and sitting on the bed. If she could, she would have hugged him, but she wouldn't dare to risk open his wounds "You don't know how glad I'm that you have made it. When we got there I was so terrified that the worst could have happened, I..." tears start coming as she struggles to finish the sentence. The remembrance of yesterday was still fresh in her mind. That vision of his body laying there, on all that blood… even the thought of losing him again was terribly overwhelming. Once more she wouldn't be there to save him, once more she would have to…
"Shh… it's okay, Babs. I'm sorry that I've worried you." he gently holds her hands, caressing them affably. Once more Barbara had to worry about his safety and he was hating himself for that. He thought that keeping the lie about his death to everyone while working for Spyral would have been the last time that he would make his family heartbroken, but here he was, making Babs cry once more.
Damian on other hand was still standing next to Batman, wondering when that unproductive flirt would end and they would finally get to the point. This kind of scene would ever get him somewhat annoyed. After all, courtships were unnecessary and fruitless distractions. But what he didn't want to admit is that deep down he agreed with Gordon. He was relieved that he wouldn't have to attend another funeral of his. He wasn't sure how he would manage it doing it by a second time and deal with the loneliness again. Because in times like this, of uncertainty, his life was ever a raft in a stormy sea. And the thought that he would lose even that has shaken him once more when he saw his bloodied brother's body on the ground. For his relief, Richard managed to get back safely.
"I've been checking the recordings from last night and I came to a detail in particular that I must clarify with you, Dick." cuts off Batman while approaching the group.
Nightwing was familiar with that gloomy tone of voice, and he wasn't liking it. It has always meant bad news.
"But first, I need to ask: do you remember what happened yesterday?"
"No, but I'm trying. Some flashes and feelings come to my mind… but it's quite confusing yet. I'm still trying to process everything." sighes Grayson.
Batman then crosses his arms "Dick, what I'm about to tell you may be surprising or not, depending of what you came across during all these years as Nightwing or working for the Spyral. Since your time as Robin, you have never been able to see one of those, so this may..."
"Come on Bruce, you are starting to freak me out here. Please, cut to the chase." Dick nervously chuckles.
"Very well then. Have you ever heard of werewolves, Dick?" finally asks Bruce.
"Wait, what?" Not just Dick, but Barbara and Alfred were quite surprised as well. None of them were expecting that kind of question, none besides Damian, who curiously doesn't show any response.
"From your reaction I assume that you don't."
"Only if you are talking about tales and movies."
"Unfortunately I'm not."
Dick knew that Batman never jokes and that made him even more perplexed than before. It was not new to him that monsters and stuff like that existed, but werewolves?
"Look, Bruce. Like you said, I've been through a lot since my time as Robin and I know that monsters, mutants and metahumans are not something new for us. But werewolves? I've never heard of them being real. Sorry, you will have to make that clearer for me, because that's kinda hard to swallow." Dick was skeptical. Maybe Batman has meant a mutant wolf-man instead of a real werewolf, or something like that.
"But they are real, Dick." and Batman doesn't even flinch when Dick shows his astonishment "I'm not surprised that you didn't know that. There are just a few of them around the world and even with them being so rare, I was able to see them in just two occasions. The fact that they can change shape to humans make them quite concealable and hard to be spotted. So it's not surprising that even some heroes don't know about this."
"Wait… hold on, please." that makes Batman raise one of his eyebrows "If what you are telling me is true, then what that has to do with me?" Bruce remains silent for some seconds, as if he knew what was coming for "Wait, don't tell me that…?"
"Your aggressor was a werewolf, Dick."
Grayson moans while he covers his face with his hand. Everyone else remained silent, and though Bruce and Damian were trying to keep their calm, that was not the case with Barbara and Alfred. They were bewildered, yet silent, since the shock didn't let them know what to say at that moment. And for Dick, everything that he heard until now was so unbelievable, yet, there was Bruce standing in front of him, as serious as ever.
"Now what? I'm gonna change into a werewolf? Is that what you are trying to tell me?" though he sounded desperate, he still had hope that he would hear otherwise.
"And that's what I came to clarify with you. Not everything is like the legends. Bites and scratches are not responsible per se for the transformation. For that, the subject must have had contact with the blood of the carrier, orally or by any other fluid contact with open wounds. Since we've brought you here I've been checking the recordings in an attempt to not just discover your aggressor identity but eventually find any clue that would lead me to him or at least uncover any detail that would help me reveal his motivations."
"And what you have found?" Dick was a little calmer after hearing that, but still quite anxious.
"The quality of the recordings are poor and adding the fact that it happened at night, the situation gets worse. The smoke from your pellets that you have used during the fight didn't help as well. And even after using the computer cave, it didn't get me far enough to see all the details. Yet, I've managed to see something uncommon that we need to clear up in order to know if you are indeed infected or not. Here, take a look." Bruce then draws near to Dick, getting besides him and sitting on a chair next to his bed.
Holding the tablet for him, Bruce turns it on, showing the recording that he has just talked about. At first, Dick wasn't recalling much of it, even after seeing the huge black beast assaulting him. But each moment was little by little giving him some hints here and there and even bringing back a little of his memories of that fight. That is until Batman pauses the video.
"Here. Now, this is the part that I need you to pay a closer attention, Dick. It's here that he got you and held you against the wall. What I need to know is what exactly happened here, when he tried to shove his arm against your face. Do you recall anything?"
And as Batman plays the video again, the next seconds makes the young man gasp. He has just remembered. The fight, the werewolf strangely dragging him to the wall, and… the blood. If everything that Bruce told him was true, then that meant that he was infected. He was going to become like one of these, a monster. Dick doesn't even hear what Batman tells him next: the only thing that was crossing his mind right now was Bruce's last words about the werewolf infection. Desperation was taking him over more and more until the idea of a cure finally crosses his mind. There should be a cure, he thought. No, there must be one! If he…
"Grayson!" yells Damian. That was more than enough to bring Nightwing's awareness back to them. Faces of concern were now surrounding him, trying to understand what was going on with him.
"I'm sorry, I… Bruce, I've just remembered what happened." out of distress, Nightwing grabs Batman's shoulder "The werewolf, he… he made me drink his blood! I've done everything to resist it, but he was too strong for me!" he wasn't even trying to hide his anguish anymore "Are you really sure that I'm gonna change into… into that?!" he points his finger to the tablet screen where the paused scene was showing the werewolf standing next to his body, looking at him laying on the ground.
Batman breathed in before answering him: "If what you are telling me is true, then it's probably gonna happen, Dick. I'm sorry." his eyes were filled with sadness and pity. Bruce would have done anything to prevent that if he knew what was going to happen. But again, he knows that one of his boys will have to face difficult times, and for the moment he didn't know how to prevent that.
"Is there a cure?" quickly asks Dick.
"I… I don't know. I still need to find that out. That's why I've showed that video for you." he places his hand on Dick's shoulder when painful eyes look upon him "I suspected that you got infected but I needed to be sure of what I have seen. Even so, I'll take some blood samples and confirm it, but if what you told me has indeed happened, it's most certain that you got infected. However, if that is the case, I know someone that will be able to help us and maybe answer that question. As soon as the results come out I'll get in touch with this person."
"Bruce, I…" the turmoil of the emotions in his mind didn't let him finish that sentence. Desperation, rage, pain, fear… fear of becoming the kind of monster that he has ever fought since he was a Robin.
Anxiety leads his mind to more disturbing thoughts. During all those years, the villains that he came to know became twisted as consequence of situations like that. Turning into a monster made them even more despicable than their appearances, and he feared that that would be the same for him. Worse: what if he was going to become something that could eventually hurt his family? No, this was not the time to get desperate, he had to have hope. If there was a chance of overcoming this, then he would try anything to fix it. With these thoughts in mind, he looks again at Bruce, his mentor, partner, father… but the only thing that he's managed to say now was:
"Thank you, Bruce. I mean it."
"Don't worry, Dick. I assure you that I'll not rest until I've make use of all my resources to help you. We are gonna overcome this as a family, as we always did. I promise." his look is sober and determined as he stands up "I'll bring the instruments for the blood samples. Meanwhile, I suggest that you take your rest."
Batman then leaves the room, leaving Damian, Alfred and Barbara to keep company to Dick. Damian was still leaning against the wall next to the door, looking at Grayson with a seriousness that didn't tell on his thoughts. Alfred was still with the concerned look, even though he was busy choosing the cloth strips for the bandages. And Barbara, well, she was looking at him with the same worried look of when she knew that they would have to face something terrible.
"Alfred, Damian, could you both please excuse us for a moment? I need to talk alone with Dick, if you could do this favor for me."
"Sure, Miss Gordon, as you wish." says Alfred as he stands up.
* Tt* Damian decides to respect Gordon's wish and leave them to their lovey dovey talk or what ever sentimental foolishness she was planing. At least for a while. There were still some tests to be done after all, and he too is hopeful that maybe Richard is not infected.
Barbara waited in silent until she heard the click sound of the door. She then holds one of Dick's hands, looking directly on his eyes with a concerning but compassionate look.
"So…" the young man was shyly messing his hair, feeling kind of awkward for trying to guess what was coming next. He and Babs have not been alone like this for some time. Especially now, but still...
"I know that we both have our own lives now and we did agree to respect each others choices and move on. But that doesn't mean that I won't be here to support you the best as I can. I've watched you silently, observing you when you were talking with Bruce. And I know your heart, Dick Grayson. I know that deep down something is troubling you, and I want to help you, if you let me do that."
"Babs, I… I'm sorry. Really. But what else can I tell you besides that the idea of becoming some brutal and mindless monster that attacks innocents at first sight is eating me up inside?"
"Bruce didn't do the exams yet, Dick. You still have a chance of not have been infected."
"But what if I have been?"
"Then you will have us here to help you face that, together. We are your family, Dick, don't ever forget that. We will always be here for you."
"And I'm thankful for that, Red. I really am." smirks Grayson sadly "But even so, I can't stop feeli..."
A resounding knocking comes from the room's door.
"Gordon! We will not remain standing here all day long. Richard needs medical attention and you are pretty aware that this is a matter of uttermost importance." Damian's voice comes muffled from outside the door, as well as Alfred's: "That wasn't very courteous of you, Master Damian."
"* Tt* You know that I don't like to waste time with foolishnesses, Pennyworth." though they were outside the door, Dick could hear Alfred sighing next.
"Hm. Damian really likes you to the point of feeling jealously. That's cute of him" giggles Barbara.
"Being raised by the League of Assassins took his childhood, so it's understandable that he is not that great with social skills. But if you give him a chance, you will discover that behind all that arrogance and ruthless manners there is a good kid, Babs."
"Yeah, I can see that. Well, he is right, you need to change those bandages. But let me just say one more thing."
"Yes?" slightly smirks Nightwing.
"You have a tender heart, Dick. And I'm sure that whatever the circumstances you come to deal with, you are going to face them head on without losing the sight of this kindness of yours. I know, because that is how you are, that's who you are."
His surprised look was telling everything without muttering a single word.
"Woah, Barbara. I… that was..."
And for the finishing, but unexpected, touch, Barbara gives a delicate and sweet kiss on his forehead.
"Now rest, Grayson."
With that, Barbara leaves the room, leaving a cheerful Dick Grayson behind.
Ops, have I written "Spyral" somewhere? Do you know what that means, right?
It means that it's time for a song! 3
Agent thirty seveeeen… ba bow bow…
He is the spy, the spy with the face of swiiirrrlllsss
He gets all the girrrrlllssss
But he calls them "women"
Because "girls", though it fits the rhyme scheme, is kind of misogynistic and doesn't show proper respect for the other, equal seeeex!
Thirty seeeeven... Ba bow bow...
He's got a partner, a partner who isn't just another spyral cronyyy!
He calls him... Toonnnyyy…
(Tiger) "No, you do not."
Yes, he does...
Just because... it annoys him.
Thirtyy seeeeven… ba bow bow...
He is the spy, the spy who throws his guuunnn
(Tiger) "You should not throw your gun."
Do you think it's duuuumb?
(Tiger) "I'm not playing this game."
Thirty seeeeven… ba bow bow...
He's the spy, the spy who should be ranked higher than thirty-seven!
(Tiger) "Wil this ever end?"
Maybe when he's raaaaanked eleveeeen!
(Extracted from the funny pages of Grayson #16)
Next: Enters Scarecrow!
I'd like to thank you all for the sweet reviews and trust! I'll try my best to let this fanfic become an enjoyable read and at the same time respecting one of our most favorite heroes. If you have any suggestion or idea to improve the story, I'm open to hear them, thx. Well, 'till next time ;)