Author's Note: In the New 52, ever wonder just what it was that the Joker said to Nightwing that put him at a continuing distance from Batman? I'm ignoring new continuity pretty much, but incorporating "Death of the Family"


One of the first things Bruce ever said to me about doing what we do is never to let the criminals we fight get into my head. He told me when I was eight, then told me again after Two Face nearly killed me. By and large, his advice was sound. Until now.

Joker beat the crap out of me and after I was semi-conscious, he dragged me through mud and other substances until I finally blacked out. I woke, bound and seated in a chair. At first, I thought he had blinded me because everything was dark. Slowly I began to realize that my hearing was muffled as well and something was covering my nose. My face was wrapped in something and I couldn't feel my lips.

I heard small noises around me, hoarse breathing, muffled groans and something like a child's sobs. I began to count and estimated that there were at least four other people seated around me, around a...table? The air temperature was coolish and felt familiar somehow. Were we in a basement? It felt underground. Then I heard it, the tiny squeaks overhead, then a whoosh and whirr, as of wings. Bats. We were in a cave. Please God, not the cave...

A familiar, hateful voice came close to my left ear. "Well, well...It looks like you've woken first. So now we can have our little chat, Bird-boy. Or, what is it now? Nightwing? You're so tall now, and in your big-boy pants..."

I tried to answer back, but I was gagged. He pulled and a dark hood came off my head. I could see again, but I still couldn't speak. I was gagged, but I could tell he liked it that way. The Joker looked and smelled repulsive, the severed skin of his face held loosely against his head. Small flies gathered at the corners of his lidless eyes, dipping into the moisture. Joker didn't even notice.

I saw that I really was sitting at a table, a long one. And seated at each place were the members of my family, or at least members of the 'Bat' family: Batgirl (Barbara Gordon), Red Hood (Jason, the Robin that Joker had murdered), Red Robin (Tim Drake, my little brother) and Robin (Damian Wayne, Bruce's blood son, my other little brother). The only person missing was Batman, mentor or father to each of us. I started to work on the ropes that bound me, praying that Batman was on his way.

I could heard a soft whimpering and traced it to Damian, who sat on my left. Of course, Little D would never admit to sobbing in his sleep, but I know that he's not as mature as he lets on. He's still just a small boy.

"Mmmmmmr!" I said, glaring at the Joker. If he had a beef with me, he could leave the others out of it! I am the oldest and the most experienced in the family, Batman's second in command. My job is to protect the others if I can.

Joker started to chuckle and leaned his mouth next to my ear. "Go ahead, Bird-boy. Make as much noise as you want. I was never able to clip your wings, although I tried really hard when you were just an annoying brat in a yellow cape. And you had such cute little green booties! Whatever was Batsy thinking, sending you out in public with such bare little chicken legs and in all weathers, too!" I felt his hand running down my shoulder and arm. "It's a pity you had to change outfits. It never did as much for the second Bird-boy as it did for you. But then, you know that..." His hand moved lower, to my thigh and stroked between my legs. I felt my eyes widen and tried to move myself abruptly away from him. He pulled his hand away and started chuckling again. " So fast they grow up. Still, I do have a few words of wisdom for you, youngster. I've been wanting to have a little talk with you, Uncle Joker to favorite nephew..."

He's moved back a little, but I still didn't trust him. I've seen the bodies that Joker leaves behind. His imagination is multivaried and vicious. "Mmmmmm!" I said, which was the closest I could get to "Fuck you!" Still, I knew that he understood everything I was saying.

"It's so good that we can finally have this little chat, Nightwing...Or should I call you 'Dick'? Dick. That's good. Such an evocative name, don't you think?" He giggled. "It describes your romantic life to a tee, now doesn't it. So many young women, and all of them so very pretty. You're so like your Bat-Daddy Bruce, aren't you? You've learned a lot from him over the years. And y'know, Brucie, or should I say Bats, is the reason I've gathered all of you millstones here." His eyes sharpened. "You're all a drag on his greatness, but you, my boy are the worst. We must do something about you."

He was gonna kill me, I could feel it. How would he do it? Beaten to death, then blown up like Jason? Crazed with joker gas? No, to ordinary. Had to work harder, faster, get out of here and save the others and maybe myself too. I struggled harder and could see that he noted my movement. His smile just grew broader.

"Now, don't worry about that right now," he said calmly. "It occurs to me that you don't really understand what a drag you are on Batman's greatness. Y'see, my boy, before you arrived and distracted Bats, he was a real creature of the night. I can't tell you how many villains he put into body casts or the hospital. You couldn't touch him; he won all the fights." The Joker smiled reminiscently. "Oh, the crimes I planned, just to watch him go berserk. Lost a lot of henchmen that way, but it was so worth it to see the King just whap them down like flies..." He sighed and looked into the distance. Slowly his lip curled. "But then came you!" His hand on my shoulder tightened. I could feel his sharp nails digging into my skin, even through the kevlar.

I shook my shoulder hard, trying to knock his hand away. He took his hand away and held my chin instead, forcing me to look him in the bloodshot eyes. "You were the beginning of his downfall. After you came, he got soft!" Joker spat. "He became ever so careful not to hurt anyone, much less kill them. No matter what I did, he stopped trying to kill me. It just wasn't fun baiting him anymore. And worse yet," Joker leaned in so close that I could smell his breath, like the air from a charnel house. "You made him vulnerable!"

"Mmmmmnt!" I tried to shout "I did not!" Joker understood.

"Oh, yes you did, Robin the Boy-Hostage," he gritted in an undertone. "Every crook in this town knew that to get to the Bat, all he had to do was kidnap you! You may be all grown up, but you're still his favorite! Sure, I killed his second Robin and that drove him a little crazy, but if I'd murdered you, he never woulda let Superman stop him from killing me! You're his damn Achilles Heel! Every one of you," He motioned around the table. "Every one of you brings him down! You make him vulnerable. If he was alone, he wouldn't have to bother with his namby-pamby no-killing policy. He'd be a real power in this town. And I? I'd be his jester! He'd chase me and it'd be fun again. It's too damned easy to bring down the Bat these days. Just make off with one of the kids and there you go...!"

He leaned in again. "Every day you live, you put him in danger. The closer you are to him, the more danger you bring him. And another thing," Joker said, pulling my head towards him. "This 'family' thing Batsy has going? Well, Batsy may be the brain but kiddo, you're the heart. Wanna make little Damian cry? Execute his favorite big brother! Wanna cripple Batgirl again? I don't need to shoot her, I just shoot you! She's had the hots for you a long, long time. Red Hood has tried to live up to your example for years and so has Red Robin. I want to rattle their cages, all I gotta do is off you. And as for Batsy..." He puckered his bloody lips in a soundless whistle. "If I kill you, Batman goes downhill really fast. He's forgotten how to go it alone, how to be the Great Big Black Bat all by himself. Ever hear those old fairy tales about a wizard who hides his heart in a box far away to keep himself safe from killers? Well, you're that heart for old Bats. Destroy you...destroy him! You're his single biggest weakness. You want to protect him and everyone else? Get the Hell outta Dodge and stay away."

The Joker gave a belly laugh and put the sack back onto my head. Later, I heard him whispering to the others around the table, but I didn't care. Like I said before, Batman warned me never to let a criminal get inside my head, especially Joker. Trouble is, sometimes the psychos make sense and this was one of those times.

Even after Batman rescued us, what Joker had said ran around in my brain. I could see the logic. I can't say how many times I've been kidnapped or tortured just so that some crook could get Batman's attention. It was always a trap, but Batman always came to rescue me. Always. Even the JLA approaches me when they need to get Batman's attention for something or for me to deal with something about Batman's behavior that troubles them.

I really am a danger to him. I'm a clear and obvious weakness in Batman's defenses. The best thing I can do for him is to get away, far, far away and to cut off all contact with him. It'll feel like cutting out my heart, but I have to do it. To save him.