Disclaimer: Don't own.
The story behind this fic goes thusly: Once upon a time yesterday, I read Deadman and the Flying Graysons and ended up latching onto the idea of Dicktor Fate. (Who totally exists, he's just hiding. He's too cool to not exist.) As it turns out, for-now-my-life-is-batman had been looking for things to draw and saw my post on Tumblr. And thus, Dicktor Fate came into existence. for-now-my-life-is-batman had also reblogged a picture of Nightwing as a TRON program, and tacked on that it would make a good fic. I decided to return the favor.
I worry about my Damian characterization, I don't really know him all that well. I like to think I got Dick down good though. And I made a bunch of stuff up about how life is on the Grid, but oh well.
All the members of the Bat family know what happened to Dick Grayson.
Well okay, no one knows what happened to Dick Grayson. But they all know that one day Bruce tried to call him, and he didn't answer. He never answered. He just dropped off the face of the Earth and was never heard from again.
Which was why Damian Wayne was in Bludhaven.
He wasn't expecting to find Dick Grayson. Not after all these years, definitely not. But if he could find some sort of clue as to his final fate, it would undoubtedly bolster his father's respect for him. Maybe he would even get rid of Drake.
But even more than he wasn't expecting to find Dick Grayson, he also wasn't expecting to find a whole different world inside an old arcade. Damian supposed it boded well for his task to find out whatever happened to Dick Grayson. Or he had just filled his unexpected quota for the rest of his life and would never find Dick Grayson, that was also possible.
At any rate, Damian was starting to regret stealing Jason Todd's old red tunic. It had been garnering him more than a few odd looks before he had pulled his cape tighter around him in an attempt to conceal it, and he got the distinct impression that this place, wherever it was, was not a place you wanted to draw attention to yourself. He got that impression right around the time he saw some civilians get taken away by what appeared to be soldiers in some giant flying completely unaerodynamic thing.
He walked down the sidewalk, careful to keep to himself. Not only was he not dressed like everyone else, there didn't appear to be any kids running around either. And to make matters worse he was starting to feel a little bit like he was hungry. It didn't feel exactly like being hungry, but the sensation was similar enough that that was what he was going to call it.
"Hey kid, you broken?"
Damian looked up to see two floozies smoking casually outside what looked like a bar. "What are you talking about?"
The first woman's friend spoke this time. "Well it's either that or you're a program for kids, but even those tend to grow up fast around here. So what's your deal?"
"I'm looking for someone."
The first woman blew smoke dismissively. "Do we look like we care about that? We just wanna know why you're a kid. There aren't exactly any kids here if you haven't noticed. So what is it? You're a brand-new program for kids? Your coding's stunted? I mean you don't really look all that kid-friendly to me, but you're really functional for someone who's missing some lines of code."
Damian had no idea what they were talking about, so he went with his only option. "Tt. I don't see why it's any of your business."
He started walking again, but the first woman reached out and grabbed his arm. "It's our business because we say it is."
At that point a man exited the bar and looked at the three of them. "Hey Yippa, what's this?"
"This program is being just an absolute brat to us, Flan," the first woman, who was apparently Yippa, answered, bringing out a simpering voice that made Damian's hackles rise.
Flan cracked his knuckles. "We'll just have to fix that, won't we?"
Damian's eyebrow rose disbelievingly. "You really think you can take me on?"
Flan's response to that was to poke his head back in the bar and yell, "Oh boys! It's fun time!"
The ensuing five-against-one brawl was still not even, but it was close enough that it was keeping Damian occupied. Damian had just delivered a solid kick to the stomach of Flan's Friend No. 2 when a new voice rose over the uproar of the fight and the spectators who had gathered.
"Hey! Break it up! You lot, break it up!"
Damian ignored the voice, only to find himself grabbed by the hood of his cape and dragged away from his combatants. He kicked at the new attacker, but his foot was caught by a hand. Meanwhile Flan, his friends, his girlfriend, and her friend looked mollified. "We're sorry," Flan apologized, and Damian started twisting trying to get a good look at whoever the hell could make thugs like them apologize.
"I've got better things to do than police everyone, but if I have to I will."
The stranger might have been about to say more, but Damian interrupted him by choosing that moment to slip out of his cape. He jumped out of arm's reach and turned around, hoping to see who the stranger was.
It was Dick Grayson.
He was wearing his Nightwing costume, but the blue stripes glowed like bits on other people's clothes, and he had one of those disc things that people carried around on his back. Damian tried not to gape; as much as Dick looked like he belonged in this weird world, it was looking for Dick which had brought him here and so he really should have been expecting to find him.
Dick meanwhile did not hold back the gape. His eyes were glued to the R symbol on Damian's chest. When he still didn't say anything after a minute or two, Damian folded his arms. "What? Are you just going to stand there with that goldfish look on your face all day Grayson?"
That seemed like it was about to spur him into action, but then a civilian came running at them. "Recognizer coming this way!"
Damian was about to ask what a Recognizer was, then one of the unaerodynamic flying things came into view and he figured that that was what the man was talking about. Dick looked up at the Recognizer, then back to Damian. "Do you deserve to wear that?"
Damian grinned. "Since the day I was born."
Dick smirked back. "Let's get to it then. Follow my lead."
The crowd had thinned dramatically as all the civilians had run as fast as they could. The Recognizer touched down in the middle of the street and the cockpit lowered to the ground, expelling soldiers.
Dick and Damian went to work.
Damian didn't pay attention to Dick at first, instead focusing on beating up whatever soldiers that were within hitting distance. But he quickly became curious as to how good Dick was. Obviously he had to be good at fighting, but was he good or was he good? Damian's eyes sought out Nightwing, and found him doing a flip over one soldier in order to kick another in the face.
And yeah, Dick was good. His movements had a gracefulness to them that Damian had rarely seen before, and the way he jumped over opponents made it look as though gravity was optional. Damian also observed that he had removed the disc from his back and was using it as a bladed weapon, a bit like an oversized batarang. Damian grabbed one from one of the downed soldiers and quickly discovered it to be very effective.
A low rumble came within hearing range, and Dick looked around to see that all the civilians had vanished. "Time to go, little bird!" It took Damian a second to realize that Dick was talking to him; Dick undoubtedly thought he was Robin because of the tunic and symbol.
"Right." Damian ran after Dick, who made a beeline for the alleyway next to the bar.
As they ran Dick reattached his disc to his back and pulled a baton of some kind out of somewhere. He looked over his shoulder to Damian. "Piggyback time. Get on."
"What." Damian's voice was completely flat.
"Just trust me and get on!"
Damian grunted and jumped up on Dick's back, hanging on awkwardly and finding the disc very uncomfortable. Dick kept running forward and held the baton out in front of him with both hands. "Hang on, little bird."
Then Dick leapt forward, and Damian was sure they'd fall flat on their faces, except then something built itself from the baton and suddenly Damian was clinging to Dick's back as he drove them through the city streets on something that only vaguely resembled a motorcycle.
This weird world was crazy.
They drove through a lot of city, taking enough twists and turns to get most people horribly lost. Dick clearly knew what he was doing though, and eventually pulled into an abandoned warehouse. Damian sat back, glad to get away from Dick's disc pressing into his chest. Dick looked over his shoulder and held out his hand. "Give me the disc you took from that sentry."
Damian reluctantly handed over the disc, the hint of a pout showing on his face. "Tt. I just did it because it was useful."
Dick held the disc flat in one hand, did something to it, and an orange projection of what looked like DNA appeared over it. He started dragging bits and pieces of the projection around. "I'm not saying you did bad. I just need to wipe the programming and add some of my own personal touches. There. Stick your hand in the light."
Reluctantly, Damian did so. His hand got a tingly feeling in it, and the whole projection went blurry. The light became the same shade of blue as the design on Dick's costume then became crisp again. "There. You can take your hand out now." Damian did so and Dick started dragging bits and pieces around again. "It's attuned to you now, I just need to add some of my home-brew security coding and we're good to go."
"Somewhere safe. First I need to reprogram the disc so it doesn't do something pesky like report our location."
Dick fiddled with the projection for half a minute more, then shut it down and handed it back to Damian. "There, all yours. You pick up fast. Now let's get out of here so we can interrogate each other properly."
Damian shifted slightly, finding a more comfortable way to hang on, and then they were off again. The second leg was much shorter though, and not nearly as twisty, coming to an end behind an apartment building. Damian got off the not-motorcycle, which then disappeared back into the baton as Dick stood up. Dick walked over to some sort of basement door and opened it. "Come on in."
Damian followed Dick into an unlit, gloomy corridor. The light coming off of the discs and Dick's uniform was just enough to see where they were going once the door was shut. There was a door on either side at different points of the corridor and one at the end. Dick led them to the one on the right, which turned out to be a storage closet. He then opened a hidden door and motioned for Damian to go down first.
Damian carefully made his way down the dark spiral staircase, listening to Dick's footsteps behind him after he closed the secret door. "You sure are trusting me fast."
"Your clothing is very distinctive. Did Bruce finally figure out what happened to me and send you in after?"
They reached the bottom of the staircase and Dick flicked a switch, lighting the room. It looked like a small, under-funded square Batcave. "Home sweet home. One of them, anyway. You hungry?"
Damian thought about the weird feeling that was not quite hunger. "Sort of?"
Dick laughed at that. "Oh man, I did that too when I first got stuck here. Here, have one of these." He opened a drawer and pulled out two clear packets, tossing one to Damian. "It's not pure, but it'll keep you going." Dick ripped a corner off his packet with his teeth, spit it out, and started drinking.
Damian eyed the liquid inside. It glowed a faint blue, but had a distinct grayish tone to it. "...What is it?"
"Energy." At the uncomprehending look on Damian's face, Dick added with a shrug, "It hasn't hurt me yet."
After a moment of hesitation, Damian gently tore a corner off with his hand. He lifted the opening to his lips and drank, making a face. It tasted foul, but it was satisfying his hunger.
Dick winced sympathetically. "You get used to it. So what brings you here?"
"Where is here?" Damian asked back.
"It's called the Grid. It's some sort of digital world, kind of like virtual reality though that description's not very apt. How did you get here?"
"Tt. I was looking for you. Went to Bludhaven, found the arcade, found the stuff in the arcade, accidentally activated it and here I am."
Dick's face fell. "So you didn't do it on purpose?"
"Because I thought maybe if you'd done it on purpose you'd have ideas on how to get out. I mean yeah, I've been fighting the good fight in here, but I really want to go home." Dick turned his blue eyes on Damian and Damian could see everything in them. Dick wore his heart on his sleeve more than Damian had previously thought possible. "Anyway, so you're the current Robin then, right? I know you know my name, but what's yours?"
Damian was shaking his head before Dick had even finished speaking. "No, Drake's the current Robin. I just took this from the Batcave," he replied as he tugged at the vest.
Dick's brow furrowed. "Drake? Who's Drake? And what happened to Jason?"
"Timothy Drake. Todd... found himself in a bad situation."
Dick's sad look came out again. "Too bad. Jason's a good kid. You still haven't told me your name."
"Tt. It's Damian Wayne."
That wiped the sad look off of Dick's face, turning it into, if anything, a leer. "Of course it is. So you're not Robin, but you've taken a Robin costume from the Batcave and come looking for me. Why?"
"I wished to prove myself to my father."
Dick looked upward. "Of course you did. Oh Bruce. Well you found me, and now we're both stuck here."
Damian looked around and, spotting a stool, perched on it. "So what's the situation here? Those soldiers, you called them sentries, I saw them taking some civilians off the streets earlier. What's that about?"
Dick sat down in the chair in front of a computer monitor, spinning it around to face Damian and running a hand through his hair. "I'm not entirely sure myself. It's a relatively new development. The sentries have always been kidnapping citizens, either to drag them to the Games or to fill their ranks when some of their own fall. But lately they've stepped up their efforts drastically, and I have no idea where they're taking them. Same number of programs at the Games as always, no influx of sentries patrolling."
"The Games? What are the Games?"
"They're sort like the gladiatorial games in ancient Rome. You know, death matches, and the participants aren't willing. This place is basically a military dictatorship. That's what I've been trying to do, change things, but I haven't really made any progress."
"Those guys at the bar seemed to be willing enough to bend to your wishes."
Dick gave Damian a sheepish look. "I will admit to having made a bit of a name for myself. A lot of the programs don't like the way things are run, I mean who would if government kidnappings are an institution? But none of them are willing to do anything about it. I wouldn't be surprised if the government's sending out subliminal coding somehow."
Damian growled under his breath. "Why do you keep saying programs when it's clear you mean people?"
Dick raised an eyebrow. "You haven't figured it out yet? They aren't people. They're computer programs. Each one of them is a different program. How else do you think the military could so easily swell its ranks? They just reprogram those that they shanghai."
Damian frowned. Now that he thought about it, it was pretty obvious. "But we're not programs, we're people."
"The correct term is user," Dick explained. "But don't go throwing that word around. Users are viewed as some combination of mythical being and illegal alien. Like if Jesus jumped the Mexican border. Yeah it could make programs more willing to rise up if they knew I was a user, but it would definitely paint a massive target on my chest, even bigger than the one currently there. Right now I'm just derezz on sight, I'd rather there not be a massive manhunt for me."
Dick waggled his fingers. "Fancy Grid term for kill. But anyway, now that we're both stuck here we need to figure out what to do with you."
"I'm going to help you," Damian said in a tone that brooked no argument.
Dick smiled widely. "Great! I was hoping you'd say that, I mean I figured you'd say that since you want to be Robin and all, but I didn't want to assume. We need to come up with some sort of costume for you."
"No finger stripes."
Dick nodded in a not really paying attention kind of way. "Okay, and you're going to need a name. Robin isn't really very Grid-like. How about Flamebird?"
My brain is attacking me now with ideas of them finding a massive fortress and trying to break in, only to be repelled by a bunch of security programs that look like bats and them going "Did we just find what I think we just found?" Oracle's little helpers, oh god...