End of Summer
 
Choices Chapters
1: Prologue

2: Robin & Huntress

3: The JSA

4: The JLA

5: Starfire, Robin & Batman

6: New Members of the Family

7: At The Manor

8: The Stake-Out

9: New Friendships

10: The Titans

11: Facing The Past

12: Shattered

13: Confrontations

14: Flying

15: Conversations

16: Hitting the Streets

17: On the Trail

18: Face To Face

Choices

Chapter Two: Robin and the Huntress

by Marilee Stephens

"Uuuuhhhhh…."

He didn't know how long he had been lying there. It could have been minutes or hours… He didn't even know where he was…

Where he was? As Dick slowly came to, he realized that he definitely wasn't in the warehouse, or even outside it. No, the air smelled different, even before he opened his eyes. And the sounds… While consistent with an urban surrounding, it wasn't quite what he expected from an abandoned warehouse district. No, it seemed more mid-town… more cars, people walking down sidewalks, various bits of chatter…

People… Chatter… It was a teleporter he had fallen into. Hopefully it hadn't been set on too far a locale from the warehouse. He was going to have to go back to see what had happened to the men he had been confronting.

Raising his prone body up with his arms, he immediately put it down, as stars burst behind his eyelids and pain flashed up his neck into his skull, settling into a steady pounding at both his temples…

"Deep breaths, Grayson…", he thought to himself. Turning his head to the side, he slowly opened his eyes, allowing a little light through the narrowed slits. As the throbbing subsided, he realized that he was in an alley. A darkened corner of one at that. As he allowed his body to adjust to the various aches and pains he felt, he observed the movement of the sunlight on the side of the building that he could see. Over several minutes, he saw that the lighted portion was shifting upwards, indicating that the sun was going down. It had to be late afternoon or early evening. He had been out for hours…

Testing his body again, while his senses still swam, he finally was able to get to his feet. "Now let's find out where I am…"

Creeping along one wall of the alley, using it as support, he stuck to the shadowed side until he reached the entrance. Looking around, he saw a fairly well-kept city street. The buildings seemed to have a somewhat older air to their architecture, but the people bustling along its sidewalks were wearing modern styles of dress.

Turning slightly, he could just make out the nearest street signs of the closest intersection. Vine and Hobson… "Great. The only Vine and Hobson I know is in Gotham. And this can't be Gotham," he contemplated, knowing that Vine and Hobson currently had a large fissure running right across the intersection. He had hoped that he would be in a place he recognized, but that obviously wasn't going to be the case.

Turning to look in the other direction, he spied a newspaper stand not two buildings down from the entrance to the alley. If he could get down there, he could check out just where he was…

Wishing that he had more than just his rather ripped costume on, but figuring that most everyone knew of at least one costumed hero, he ventured out of his darkened corner. Sure enough, all of the people that he passed turned and pointed. Some scurried past him, but others regarded him rather openly as he unsteadily made his way over to the newsstand. No one approached him, even to ask if he needed help, until he was over half way there.

At that point, a little girl broke away from her mother, who had been standing at a bus stop located in front of the newsstand, and trying to keep the little girl from approaching the strangely dressed man.

"No, Grace! Come back.!", Dick heard the anxious mother call after her daughter, but the girl was too quick and reached him before her mother could catch her.

"Hey… Mister…", the small blonde child looked up at him with big blue eyes, inquiring in a whisper, "Are you a hero., like Robin or The Huntress?"

Perplexed by her choice of names, he still slowly lowered himself in front of her. "Yes, sweetheart, I am… But I'm kind of lost at the moment."

"Are you hurt?", the little girl continued in her questioning.

"A bit…"

"Well, I'm sure Robin or the Huntress will help you. They try to help anyone that's hurt"

"Yes… yes, I suppose they do…" Dick agreed with the child. Still, something rang false here. His analytical mind raced with the disparate facts. The child's choice of heroes would indicate that he was in Gotham, which couldn't be, as this city had apparently suffered no damage.

And even if he somehow was in Gotham, how did the child even know of Tim, or Helena. They had done their best to keep their activities low profile. And if the girl knew of them, why didn't she use Batman as a comparison hero. Nothing was adding up.

He looked at the girl then, and then at her mother, who had come over and put her arm protectively around the small child. She was trying to move the two of them away quietly, as if she didn't want to upset the costumed man in front of her. But Grace wouldn't let her.

"It's okay, Mommy… He's a hero! And he needs help… We should call the police so that they can get a hold of Robin."

"Fine, Grace… We'll do that. Now come away. We don't want to bother the man anymore." Dick heard , a thread of real fear under the placating tone the mother was using with Grace.

"Please, Ma'am… It's really okay. My name's Nightwing. I just need to find out where I am…"

"Nightwing? I've never heard of any hero named Nightwing. And where you are? You're in Gotham City… Where do you think you are?"

Nightwing reeled back. Gotham… But that wasn't possible. Hurrying over to the newsstand as fast as he could, he scanned the papers there.

And it was true. The Gotham Gazette. The Gotham City Chronicle. But it wasn't possible. What had the transporter done?!? Shifted him in time somehow? Was he in the past, or maybe a ways into the future.

Glancing at the date on the top paper, he saw that that also wasn't true. The date and year listed was the same as what he knew it to be.

So what had happened? How was he here? How was Gotham safe? Where were the fallen buildings? The rescue and work crews? And why didn't the woman, or any of the other people that had gathered around, appear to have at least heard of him. Yes, since he'd been in Blüdhaven, he'd tried not to draw any attention to himself, but a few of his Titans adventures had been well publicized. Someone should have at least heard of him…

His face took on a stricken look, as his insides plummeted. WHERE was he?

Feeling his control start to slip just the slightest bit, he drew back. He had to keep a clear head. There had to be some rational explanation. There always was.

Grace must have picked up on his mood, as she then chimed, even as her mother held her back, "It's okay, Mister… Robin and the others will help you."

Robin… there was a person named Robin… And one named the Huntress. Yes. He could get the answers off them. Tim and Helena would have the answers…

He just needed to find them.

The crowd around him was getting a bit restless. Grace, still being held back by her mother, was looking up at him with guileless eyes, but some of the others' visages had taken on more of suspicious veneers.

"Please… If someone could just get a hold of a police officer, I'm sure that I'll be able to clear this all up," Dick stated.

"Oh, there's a cop already here, mister… Now just stand there, keeping those hands where I can see them."

For the second time that day, Nightwing turned to find a gun aimed at him. But instead of the shaky manner of the young punk from the warehouse, this one was being held steady, as a beat cop kept a bead on him.

And, for the second time, he slowly raised his hands. But this time, he wasn't planning any sort of escape maneuver.

"Sir… I promise, I'm not about to do anything. But I've heard here that you have the ability to get in touch with Robin. He'll be able to clear all of this up."

"We've already got a call into headquarters about you. I'm sure that the commissioner will be glad to put a call into Robin, or maybe Green Lantern, if he's available. But until then, I'm not taking my eyes offa you… You say you're a hero, but I haven't heard of you, and until I get some indication otherwise, I'm not going to take your word for it… For all I know, you're one of those costumed sicko's that pop up out of nowhere who wants to make a name for himself by taking on the good guys."

His mind thrown into a tizzy with more conflicting clues, Nightwing realized that he wouldn't be able to convince the officer otherwise. And he had said that he had already been in contact with the GCPD. It made sense that that would be the fastest way to get in touch with Tim. Or even better, he should ask if he could get a hold of Bruce. If Commissioner Gordon could get a hold of Robin, getting a hold of Batman would be just as easy. Yet… No one had mentioned Batman so far. Robin and the Huntress had come up, but not Batman. Something was definitely wrong here. When Tim got here, he could get to the bottom of this mystery.

So he remained quiet, lowering his head and clasping his hands behind it to indicate to the officer that he wasn't going to put up a fight, and slowly sat down on the ground. Since it appeared that the officer was going to wait for some sort of back-up before he could do anything else, he decided to just take the time to sort through the new evidence given him. Though the cop hadn't revealed much more.

The reference to Green Lantern was the big one. Why would the GCPD be getting in touch with Kyle? He was based in New York. Sure, Sentinel, who had been a Green Lantern, used to live and operate in Gotham, but that was before Batman ever put in his first appearance. Things were getting more and more confusing.

Several minutes passed. The officer cleared the area of bystanders and had Dick move until his back was resting against the closest building. He didn't cuff him, which Dick took as a sign that he had accepted that Nightwing wasn't going to try anything. Dick kept looking at the ground, concentrating on trying to piece together what he knew, but all it was doing was giving him a headache.

Finally, he noticed the legs of the officer straightening. Raising his gaze further along the man's body, he saw his shoulders throw back and a smile light on his face.

"Officer Newhouse… Nice to see you again."

"You too, Huntress…"

"Helena… Good", Dick thought to himself. "We'll be able to get this cleared up in no time… Hopefully…", he added as an afterthought. But even before his gaze shifted in the direction Officer Newhouse was looking, the feminine voice continued, and with a sinking feeling, he realized that the voice coming from off to his right side was not that of Helena Bertinelli. This woman's voice didn't have the hard edge to it that Helena's usually did…

"I hear we have a bit of a problem…"

"Not really… That is if you can identify this guy as someone that you know. He says he's a 'hero', just like you… Named 'Nightwing'."

Nightwing turned his head, and his stomach sank even further… The woman in from of him was definitely not the Huntress that he knew. While there was certain similarities, the long black hair, the general color scheme to her outfit, there were far more greater differences…

For one, this woman's face shape, or what could be seen of it behind her mask, was not Helena's. And the mask itself… Blue, with points above the eyes that moved up and over her hairline. The rest of her costume was also wrong. While it was blue and purple, much like Helena's, this one was sleeveless, and had no leggings… Instead the gloves and boots moved up to her forearms and thighs respectively. A deep triangle left her cleavage open to sight, and a long blue cape, with a scalloped edge, finished the look. She appeared to be in her early-to-mid 30's. While he contemplated her, she was regarding him with the same sort of inspective look. Finally, she replied to the officer's earlier request in a very quizzical tone of voice.

"Nightwing?. I do know of a Nightwing… But this isn't him…" she noted, cocking her head to the side, appearing to be as intent as to figuring out this mystery as Dick himself was.

"If that's the case, do you mind helping me get him down to the station… He's been quiet as a mouse, but I don't know what he would be capable of if we rile him…"

"Actually, I think I know a better means of dealing with him. It's alright… You can leave him with me. I'll make sure he stays out of trouble." The woman smiled at the officer. He gave her a somewhat dubious look in return.

"If you're sure…"

"I'm sure. While I don't know this young man, I think I might know just how he got here. Besides, I'll have some others helping me."

"Okay, if you say so, Huntress… But I'm in the area if he tries anything."

Dick noticed that the woman looked at the cop in such as way as to say, "Do you really think I can't handle this myself?", but she didn't express that sentiment. Instead, she warmly thanked the cop for his assistance. The officer, suddenly aware of the obvious slight he had just made, reddened slightly and then turned, again motioning to the crowd that had regathered with the woman's appearance to clear off.

Dick's attention had remained with the woman. He didn't know her, he knew he didn't know her. But something about her manner seemed very familiar. Not to the woman that he knew as the Huntress… No… To someone else, but he couldn't place who.

"Are you all right?", he heard her inquire of him.

"Physically, yes. But I'm really, really confused…"

"Yes… I imagine you are," she noted with an odd smile. "But I think I know a way to clear this up." Motioning upwards, she continued, "If you're anything like the Nightwing I've met, you'll be able to join me on that roof-top there."

Recognizing that she wasn't holding him with the same suspicion that the bystanders and the cop had, Dick gave silent thanks. She was going to take him at his word for who he was, and to trust that he wouldn't try anything. And he was going to have to take hers about trying to help him.

So he followed her up the side of the building to the roof. Once on top, he turned to face her again.

"You say you know a Nightwing, but he's not me…"

"Nope, he's not you… But it's because I know him that I think I can figure out just where you came from."

"Which is…"

Then, from behind him, again came another voice. This one, however, he did recognize.. Or that is, he was familiar with. But again, it was impossible. He only heard it when he put on his answering machine…

'Cause it was his own.


*

"Which is that you're from another earth…", the voice said.

Dick went still with disbelief. It couldn't be. Looking at "the Huntress", he noticed a lovely smile develop on her face. "About time you showed up, Robin," she teased. "Though I think your poor 'counterpart' here is about to have a fit."

Robin? Counterpart? Another earth? Dick was almost afraid to even voice his questions, afraid that he really was going mad. This… this whole experience was becoming more insane by the minute.

Dreading what or who was behind his back, he took a deep breath and turned. He reeled back slightly, almost unnoticeably, and he gaped when he saw what was waiting for him. The man that greeted his eyes was definitely not what he had expected. And it definitely wasn't Tim. No, this man, while still in excellent shape, had several strands of grey streaking through his dark hair, which partially fell over the green half cowl that covered part of his face. It reminded Dick of the mask to Wally's old Kid Flash uniform, except without the wings over the ears. The rest of his costume combined the red, green and yellow of his old Robin uniform, though red sleeves and yellow leggings had been added. All in all, it was how he imagined an adult Robin would dress. And this man was well into adulthood. At least in his mid-40's, if Dick wasn't mistaken.

But it was his face, or what he could make out of it, that threw Dick the most. Yes, there were a few wrinkles, and the cheeks had developed very slight jowls with age, but the shape of the mouth, the nose, the eyes, the slant of the cheekbones, the line of the jaw, was the same as what he saw in the mirror every morning.

The Huntress went to stand beside "Robin", who laid a hand on her closest shoulder.

"I realize that you're probably suffering a bit of shock at the moment. I felt the same the first time I met an alternative earth counterpart to someone that I knew", the Huntress started saying, as the two men regarded each other.

"Hel… Huntress… Why are you so sure that he's another "one" of me?", Robin questioned.

"Oh, c'mon, Robin… He looks like you… What's more, he sounds like you. He reminds me almost exactly of the "big brother" that I use to have to send back to college after holidays back when I was a kid. The fact that he goes by the codename 'Nightwing' is also a clue. You might not have ever changed from being Robin, but considering all the differences between you and your Earth-1 counterpart… it only makes sense that somewhere out there, there might be another one who also did. And he can't be the Earth-1 Nightwing. He's the wrong age, the costume's off, and you-know-who isn't with him." Huntress's eyes took on a teasing, twinkling sparkle with the last comment.

"Huntress…", the older man cautioned in a somewhat stern tone.

"Yeah… I know… Behave." The woman's warm smile reached up to the man beside her. Again, Dick was struck by her familiarity. But he still couldn't place just where this sense came from.

"Still, we don't know anything about this one. He might be from somewhere like Earth-3. What if he's just trying to confuse us?"

The previous smile faded to a frown on the woman's face. "You're right. But I have a gut feeling that he isn't. And remember what Dad always used to say. That there are times that even when you've gotten all the information that you can, sometimes gut feelings are all you have to go on." Robin seemed to appraise Dick with that in mind for a moment, and then nodded sharply once to the Huntress.

Dick still couldn't even fathom what they were going on about. Trying to hide his anxiety, he asked, "Please, would you stop talking in riddles and just lay out the facts for me?"

Realizing that the young man in front of them was becoming slightly agitated, even if he was doing a good job of disguising it, the other two turned back to him.

"Okay… But first… You are Richard Grayson, aren't you?" Robin inquired in a lowered tone.

Sharply drawing a breath in, Dick glanced between the two of them, and nodded quickly.

"Well… So am I", the older man continued.

Dick closed his eyes for a moment. His mind reeled with the implications of what the man had just stated. But he couldn't deny that looking at him, he felt he was looking at a slightly warped mirror. He was still confused. But small pieces of the puzzle were beginning to fall into place. They had mentioned "alternative earths". He had heard of such theories, but had not paid much mind to them. When he was young, they had seemed a bit outlandish. Over time, he had come across so many strange and exotic places and experiences, that such theories didn't seem quite so far-fetched. But still… somehow… the teleporter explosion had thrown him here, to this "other earth".

Opening his eyes again, he saw the others regarding him intently. Casting a wan smile in their direction, he shakily nodded his head in acquiescence…

"I'm sure you have a lot of questions., but…", glancing at the darkening sky," considering how late it's getting, I don't think this is the best place for it." Turning to the woman beside him, Robin asked, "Huntress, I have some clothes stored over at the office… Can you go and get them… I think it will be easier to move around if we're all not in our 'working clothes.'"

"All right, I'll just be a minute… But you two try to keep out of trouble while I'm gone." With that, the woman turned and ran over to the side of the building. Turning back for a quick wave and a smile, she quickly lowered herself out of sight. With her departure, an uncomfortable silence fell between the two men. Dick couldn't think of anything to ask. What did you ask when you meet "yourself"? With that thought, he brought himself up abruptly. He did have questions, and while they waited, he would get some answers.

"If I'm you… or you're me?…"

Robin quickly raised his hand with that. "No… I'm not you and you're not me. We'll probably find that we have some similarities in our backgrounds, major events and such, but also some completely different experiences. I found this with the other Dick Grayson I've met…"

Nightwing interrupted the older man's speech with that. "Yeah… You both mentioned another 'Nightwing.' He's on another earth?"

"Yes… On various occasions, both Huntress and I have travelled to another 'parallel earth'. The Dick Grayson that lives there has given up the 'Robin' name and become 'Nightwing'. I imagine you did the same. That is, if you were ever 'Robin' to begin with?" he ended inquiringly.

Dick nodded once… "Yes… But I gave up that identity a few years back."

"Sounds like you changed identities about the same age he did, though he's been Nightwing for, oh… a decade and a half now."

A decade and a half… So that was what the Huntress had meant by the "other" Nightwing being older. Still, there were other questions to clear up…

"So, if you're Robin, there's a Batman on this earth also, right?"

Nightwing noticed that Robin's eyes developed a slight gleam with the mention of Batman, but before he could ask more, a striking young woman came through the door that was the entrance to the roof from the interior of the building. She carried a large gym bag, and watching her move, he realized that the Huntress was back from wherever she had gone off to. His questions would have to wait.

With the clothes that Huntress had brought, the conversation died for the moment. Instead, while she kept a look-out, both of the Dick Graysons took a few moments to change. While the clothes weren't a perfect fit on Nightwing, the simple white shirt and jeans were comfortable. His counterpart adopted a slightly more formal look, with dress pants and a sports jacket.

"All set, guys?", Huntress called back over her shoulder to where the two men were changing in the shadow of the rooftop entranceway.

"All set. I suggest we go back to the office and make some phone calls. A few of the others have more experience with this than we do. Jay at least should have a better idea of how to proceed."

"Jay?", Nightwing asked as they started to make their way down the stairs from the roof-top…

"Jay Garrick… The Flash. He and his Earth-1 counterpart, Barry Allen, were the first to meet each other…"

"Wait… Jay Garrick is the Flash on this Earth, and Barry Allen is the Flash on this other Earth you know of. So not everyone is an exact duplicate?", Dick wanted to make sure that he had the facts straight in his head.

"Yes… Well, Barry was the Flash on Earth-1. He died several years back… For some reason, some people are more similar to their counterparts than others… Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman…"

"Batman, Catwoman….", the Huntress added softly.

Robin reached over and gently squeezed her arm, continuing as if she hadn't added that little bit, " …seem to be 'duplicates' of each other, like you and I are. Others, like the Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman… They're much more different."

"No… You don't understand… On my earth, both Jay Garrick and Barry Allen have used the Flash codename."

"They both exist on your earth?!?" They stopped their descent. Surprised looks greeted the nod of his head.

"Well… Looks like you have as much to tell us as we do you," the Huntress commented as they started down the steps again. "But we should probably talk about something else until we get to a slightly more secure area."

With that, they fell silent as they made their way out of the building and down the sidewalk. In regular clothes, and without the disorientation that he had experienced after he first regained consciousness, Dick took more time to scope out the surrounding neighborhood as they walked down several streets.

Doing so, he noticed that some things were similar to his Gotham. Certain businesses still existed, certain statues still held court in certain parks. But there was a different feel to this Gotham compared to his, even without the quake damage. There wasn't the sense of oppressive darkness that somehow seemed to cover the Gotham that he was familiar with.

He was still taking in the change in atmosphere when he realized that the other two had stopped and were entering another office building. As they made towards the elevators, he took a quick moment to check out the building's directory.

One name jumped out of his perusal of the various businesses located in the building: Cranston, Grayson and Wayne -- Attorneys at Law…

"Cranston, Grayson and Wayne… Cranston, Grayson and Wayne," he thought. "It's true! Batman does exist here!" For some reason, that small bit of knowledge raised Dick's spirits and brought a smile to his face. Even with all the problems and resentment he and Bruce had had over the years, it was nice to know that some things were a constant. Sensing the others were waiting for him by the open door of the elevator, he hurried over.

As he entered the small booth to ride up with the other two, he turned to the older man and exclaimed, "So you're a lawyer… I've toyed with the idea of going to law school."

The Huntress smiled at his enthusiasm. "Well, look's like you've got the detective skills down. Yes, he's a lawyer… when he's not off on some diplomatic mission."

"Diplomatic mission?" A questioning look crossed Dick's face, but before Robin could clarify, he continued, caught up in the other facts he had discovered, "Anyways… Bruce is a lawyer on this earth too?"

The other two exchanged slightly startled looks just as the elevator drew to a halt and they disembarked. "I think that there's been some confusion here," the older Richard stated as they walked down a short corridor to an office suite marked with the "Cranston, Grayson and Wayne" logo. Pulling out a key, he opened the door. As they entered, he gestured for Dick to take a seat. "Bruce wasn't a lawyer, though he did take over as police commissioner once Jim Gordon retired…"

"Not a lawyer… But the name of the law firm?"

"Bruce wasn't the 'Wayne' part of the law firm," Richard replied.

"If he isn't, than who…" Dick interrupted.

"I am," came from his other side.

"You? You're…"

"Sorry… Guess I never got around to giving you my name, even though I know yours. I'm Helena."

"Helena?"

"Yes… Helena Wayne."

All of a sudden, it made sense. The feeling of familiarity he had been getting from her. The Huntress on this earth wasn't Helena Bertinelli… No… This earth's Huntress was Helena Wayne

In his silent stare, she continued, "Bruce Wayne was my father."


Dick slowly leaned back in his chair and regarded the woman in front of him with new eyes. Of course she was Bruce Wayne's daughter. He was surprised that he hadn't seen it before. No wonder she had seemed so familiar. The way she tilted her head at times, the way she held her mouth. Little gestures. They were Bruce through and through.

"I think you caught him by surprise, Helena", Richard said, casting a gentle smile in his counterpart's direction.

"Yes", Dick acknowledged back. "I guess I just never expected to meet a child of Bruce's. At least, not one that was this old."

Helena cast a more sardonic look at him for that line, but didn't follow up on his comment. "Sorry I didn't say anything before. I take it that your Bruce Wayne doesn't have any children yet."

"No. At least, none that I know of. And I can't see him having any in the near future," Dick added.

"No… Why not?" Helena queried.

"He's… well, let's just say he's extremely dedicated to being Batman at the moment. I suppose I can see him having children in the far future, if he ever met the right woman… But not right now…" "Oh… But he took you in, didn't he?" Helena further inquired.

"Yes… But that, I think, was due to the similar circumstances he found me in to what had happened to him…"

"Sounds like why our Bruce took me in as well", Richard interjected.

"Still, a little counterpart to me might show up at some time, right?" Helena persisted. "I get the feeling sometimes from 'Uncle Bruce' that he wouldn't mind having a child or two…"

"'Uncle Bruce'?" questioned Dick.

"That's the name Helena's taken to calling the Bruce Wayne over on Earth-1," Richard clarified as he picked up the phone. "Listen, I've got to make some phone calls to see if we figure out a way to get you back to your earth."

Seeing that his counterpart's attention was being diverted elsewhere, Dick turned back to the raven-haired beauty. "'Earth-1'… You both used that term earlier… It's the 'other earth' you keep mentioning."

"Yes… When we get together with people from that earth, it's just an easier way of clarifying which is what Earth. They're from 'Earth-1' and we're from 'Earth-2'… Though I've always found that strange… I mean, this earth had Dad… Uncle Clark… Wonder Woman… A Flash… a Green Lantern… a Hawkman… years before that one did."

For an instant, Nightwing wondered who "Uncle Clark" was, but he didn't have time to voice his question before Helena continued, "Dick says it's because it was the Flash from that earth that discovered the different planes of existence and labelled his earth 'Earth-1' first. But I don't buy it", she ended with a smile.

"And you've taken to calling its Bruce Wayne 'Uncle Bruce…'"

The wide grin she had been sporting faded to a somewhat melancholy ghost of a smile with his remark. "Yes… He reminds me of Dad so much sometimes, though they were very different from each other in other ways… When I see him or Aunt Selina… Well, it allows me to have a bit of my parents back, if only for a little while."

"Have your parents back?", Dick asked with a small sense of foreboding.

Sadness replaced even the slight vestige of a smile that she had been wearing… "Yes.. Both Dad and Mom have been dead for over a decade now."

Dick again leaned back in his chair. A sense of loss crept over him, even though he knew that that was silly. It wasn't as if he had ever met the actual Bruce Wayne that she was referring to…

Helena sensed his change in mood. Hoping to cheer him as well as herself up, she remarked, "Hey, let me show you around a bit. We'll start in my office while Dick gets through with his phone calls." Straightening up from where she had been leaning against the older Grayson's desk, she headed back into the main reception area of the office suite, and then through another door. After seeing that his older counterpart was deep in discussion with someone at the other end of the phone line, he followed her.

Entering her office, he noticed the various diplomas and certificates that lined one wall. The opposite wall was lined with bookcases, which were full of various law texts and binders. But what really drew his attention were a number of photographs that lined some shelves situated behind her desk.

Helena noticed the focus of his attention. Turning, she silently indicated that he was allowed to peruse them if he wanted to.

Dick hesitated before going over. In some ways, he felt like he knew these people intimately, and was eager to know more. But in others, he felt like a total outsider and didn't know if he even had the right to looking into this side of their lives. It was an awkward sensation.

"It's alright… I don't mind," Helena reassured him, somehow knowing where his thoughts had been heading.

He picked up the largest and most prominent photo. It showed Helena, though much younger, sitting on a settee beside an older woman. The woman, while middle-aged, was still beautiful… Her dark hair was streaked with silver, and her pose and clothes indicated that she was a well-bred society woman. However, looking more closely, her clear green eyes belied that impression, as they had a slightly mischievous gleam to them. Still, while she also looked somewhat familiar, he couldn't place her. As such, his gaze was quickly drawn away from her to the man standing behind the settee. This person he knew. Yes, he was older, his hair was also streaked with gray, and the set of his jaw was a little wider. But it was Bruce. However, the look in this Bruce's eyes was very different than the look Dick was used to seeing in the Batman's eyes back on his earth. No., this Bruce looked almost… content.

"That was the last family picture we had together before Mom was killed," Helena added softly. Dick was about to ask more, when he noticed the more pronounced droop to her mouth. Realizing that maybe he should let it rest for a moment, he set the picture down and moved to another one.

This one also took him by surprise… It featured his older counterpart, but he was shaking hands with someone who looked like Nelson Mandela… But a Nelson Mandela that was years younger than the one that had just finished his term of president of South Africa on Nightwing's earth.

"That's Dick when he was doing his stint as ambassador to South Africa…"

"What!?!" Dick sputtered. "He was ambassador to South Africa!?!"

"Oh, don't tell me that your earth is still dealing with the apartheid issue, like Earth-1 is. That hasn't been the case in our South Africa for decades."

"Oh… okay… I guess there really is some larger differences between this earth and mine than I had realized."

Deciding that these differences weren't anything he needed to deal with right now, he moved on to another photo. This one showed the Wayne family again, except more informally and when Helena was much younger, probably about 8 or 9. Besides her, her Richard and her parents, Dick could also make out what must be this earth's Alfred. A smile grew across his face as he noted the man's stance, his facial expression and such. There might be some huge differences between his earth and this one, but obviously some things were not different at all. This Alfred, with his air of dignity and propriety, could easily be the Alfred that had brought him up. As well, a few other people figured in the photo. One was a couple who looked to be the same age as the Waynes. The man was tall, with dark hair and glasses. The woman also had dark hair and was stylishly dressed for the times.

Again noting where Nightwing's eyes were focusing, Helena added, "That's Uncle Clark and Aunt Lois."

As he turned to question her about the couple, a light started flashing on her desk telephone. "Looks like Dick must be done with his phoning. Let's go see what he's come up with."

With that, she turned to go back into the other office. Taking one last look at the picture, Dick set it down and followed her out.

As they re-entered Richard's office, they could overhear him talking. It sounded like he was coming to the end of the conversation, however.

"… be home shortly, then. Yes, I think some more familiar surroundings will put him at ease as well, all things considered. See you soon."

Hanging up, Richard turned to the two of them. Without any preamble, he launched into a summary of what he had put together so far. His brisk and forthright manner struck Dick with a sense of deja vu. Did he himself sound like this at times, or was it more a reflection of how Bruce dealt with the immediate matters at hand that seemed so familiar?

"I've talked to Jay, Alan and Clark. Unfortunately, considering the hour, they feel it's in the best interest of everyone that we meet first thing in the morning to hash this out."

Dick slowly regained the chair he had been sitting in earlier. He had hoped that this "situation" could be cleared up as soon as possible. Much as he found being here intriguing, he also didn't feel "right" here. He wanted to get back to where he at least sort of felt he belonged, even if at times he wasn't always sure he knew where that was. But he was sure that it wasn't here.

As if reading his mind, his counterpart threw him a sympathetic look. "I know that's not what you wanted to hear, but you also have to consider the fact that the people with the most experience with this aren't in their prime anymore. They'll be more equipped to help you in the morning as opposed to tonight."

"I… understand. I think.", Dick breathed out slowly.

"Good. In that case, I think you should come home with us for the night. As I was saying to Alfred-"

A large grin broke out on the younger Grayson's face. "Alfred? Alfred's still around?"

"Of course, Alfred's still around," Helena shot back with an answering grin. "He's not going anywhere until he feels that his 'duty' is fulfilled."

"Just what is that?", Dick cheekily retorted back.

His older version answered back, "Making sure that all the members of the Wayne family are taken care of."

Dick felt a squeeze on his shoulder, as Helena added, "and for tonight, at least, that includes you."

Richard indicated the door, "Come on, my car is down in the parking garage. He's holding dinner for us."

Dick followed the other two down to the lower level of the office building. He hopped into the back seat of the dark sedan that the others had climbed into. Fastening his seatbelt, he heard Richard inquire of Helena, "Anything you need to get from the apartment?"

"Nope… Let's go home", came from the passenger seat.

On the drive out, a steady flow of rather inconsequential chatter was kept up. Dick found out that there had been no Justice League of America, though there was a Justice Society, just as there had been on his earth. However, this earth's Batman had been a member of the Society, whereas the Batman on his earth hadn't been, of course. As well, he discovered that Helena had been a founding member of Infinity Inc., where the Huntress on his earth had never been a member of said group. This Huntress was very used to working with others, while Helena Bertinelli never seemed quite so "social" a hero.

As for his counterpart, he heard mention of a "Super Squad", which was composed of some of the younger members of the JSA, such as Robin, this earth's Power Woman, back when she was Power Girl, and Star- Spangled Kid. Dick found all the information a bit overwhelming, and spend a number of minutes just trying to absorb it all.

But then they rounded the lane to Wayne Manor and all thoughts left his head. He hadn't really thought… hadn't really realized… But the sight of the Manor, standing intact, hit him hard. He drew in a quick, sharp breath.

While quiet, the others picked up on it immediately. "What's wrong?" Helena demanded to know.

He didn't answer for a moment. As the car drew to a stop in front of the steps leading to the front door, he simply climbed out of the car and stared for a moment.

The other two quickly climbed out also and regarded him with worried expressions. What he hadn't realized was that a shiny gleam had come to his eyes, and a tear was forming at the corner.

"Dick… Dick…," Helena repeated again… "What's wrong?"

He shook his head slightly at that. "I'm sorry… I hadn't thought…". He shook his head harder, as if to clear an image out of it. After a few more moments, he continued.

"My Wayne Manor…the one on my earth. Well, it's…it's… There was an earthquake… A lot of Gotham was affected… The manor…" He glanced up to see horrified expressions on the other's faces… "The manor now has a huge chasm running through it. It's a disaster."

"Oh my god…", Richard breathed out. Helena looked a bit shell-shocked, looking up at her ancestral home, standing so proudly in the setting sun, and then back to Dick. She couldn't imagine Wayne Manor not being there, as safety, as shelter.

She reached out and tentatively touched the younger Grayson's arm, not even sure how to respond. He wanly smiled up at her… "It's okay, it's more just the shock of seeing it back like it always has been."

Richard was looking dumb-founded at both of them… "Here I thought it would be a good idea to bring you here, to have you in at least somewhat familiar surroundings. I'm sorry."

"You couldn't have known. Don't worry. In some ways it will be nice to go inside it, even if it's only slightly like my manor…"

The three of them were slowly heading up the stairs at this point. At the top, the front door was starting to creep open. It was apparent that someone had been keeping an eye out for their arrival.

More shocks awaited Dick when he lifted his eyes to the man waiting in the doorway. It was Alfred… But it wasn't. This man was several years older, with more wrinkles and less hair than his Alfred. The shoulders were very stooped and a cane in his left hand was being used as support.

But then the very old man spoke up, and Dick felt more at home. While the body was not the same, the voice, though softer, and a bit more uneven, was.

"Good evening, Master Richard… Miss Helena. I hope the drive out was nice. And you must be the young Master Dick that Master Richard spoke of on the phone. It's a pleasure to meet you, young man."

Alfred extended a rather shaky right hand. Dick quickly grasped it in his own. This wasn't his Alfred, but the sense of dignity and family his Alfred provided was very clear in this man's attitude.

He might not be home… But he felt closer than he had since he got here.

"Hello, Alfred", Dick responded to the old man's warm greeting. "I've been wanting to meet you."

"Thank you sir. I must say, seeing you does take me back to Master Richard's younger days. Well, except for the rather shaggy hair, that is", Alfred finished with a very slight admonishment.

Dick grinned sheepishly, while stroking back the hair off his forehead. "Uuummm… This is the style for younger men over on my earth."

"Apparently", Alfred humphed softly, before turning to lead them all deeper into the foyer… "We best be getting the meal on, before it becomes totally ruined…" Dick caught both Helena and Richard passing him small grins. Yep, this Alfred was very much the same as the one back home.

As the small group passed through the foyer towards the back of the house, Dick looked around, his curiosity aroused. The layout of the house appeared to be the same as what his manor had been, but there were a number of superficial differences. The furniture was of a slightly older style. A number of the pieces of art that were situated about the room, even though they hung or sat in the same general places, were different from the ones from his manor. It was an eerie feeling…that he had been in this room before, and yet hadn't been.

He had again lagged slightly behind the others during his inspection and now hurried to catch up. He could hear the others talking just ahead of him.

"…arranged for him to sleep in the room next to yours, Master Richard."

"That's fine, Alfred… Hopefully a full stomach and a good sleep will help settle him…"

So it appeared that his counterpart was still aware of the odd sensations that he kept running into. Guess that could be expected. If "he" didn't understand, Dick couldn't expect anyone else to.

As he entered the kitchen, he noticed that Helena was obviously finishing what had been started of laying out 4 place settings on the kitchen table.

"I hope you don't mind eating in here. It's a bit cozier." Helena asked. Dick noted that she also cast a quick glance in the direction of Alfred, and a look for understanding. Dick nodded, realizing that the other reason was she was concerned that this Alfred was getting too old to be conveying heavy trays between here and the dining room. He also knew that if this Alfred was anything like his own, he wouldn't let the others help him, as he would see it as his duty.

"That's great. You'll be joining us, of course, right, Alfred," he queried, turning to the older gentleman. "I'd like to hear more about the life of this earth's Bruce Wayne and family."

Alfred beamed at the younger Grayson… "I would be delighted, sir."

With that, the four of them rapidly laid out the rest of the meal that Alfred had prepared. Some lovely T-bone steaks had been marinated and broiled, as well as small roasted potatoes, some freshly prepared mixed vegetables, a green salad and hot, home-made rolls. As well, a chocolate cake was prepared for dessert… Dick sat, feeling a bit strange. It was hard to remember the last time he had a "family" sit-down type of meal. It seemed that most days, it was an eat-and-go type of affair, even back when he had been Robin.

A few minutes after they tucked into the meal, Alfred looked across the table at Dick and asked, "So, young man, just how did you end up on our Earth anyways?"

While Dick had supplied a quick out-line of what happened to Richard and Helena when they were walking to their law offices, he went into much more detail here… Outlining the short confrontation in the warehouse, the gunfire, the heavier-set man pushing him into the machine.

By the time he had outlined everything and answered questions that the others had thrown at him during his story, it was time for coffee and dessert. Alfred instructed that the others move to a small study, just off the main foyer, while he brought the food to them.

Entering the study, Dick's eyes were immediately drawn to two large portraits, one hanging over the mantle to the fireplace, the other just off to one side of it. The second one was very familiar to Dick, though it was the one that used to hang over the mantle in a similar room in his Wayne Manor. It featured what had to be this earth's Bruce Wayne's parents, Thomas and Martha… But again, while the poses and facial features were identical to the portrait he was more familiar with, the clothes and hairstyles were different.

The other one, that was now featured in the more prominent position, was of Bruce Wayne and the woman that was his wife, and Helena's mother… What did Helena say her name was? Selina?… Yes, that was it. And the name fit. The portrait must have been painted many years before their deaths, as the couple here looked to only be in their mid-to-late thirties… Even then, at that age, Dick noticed that, if this painting was any indication, this Bruce was a happier man than his own was.

Helena touched his arm, drawing his attention away from them painting. Indicating a seat on the sofa, she sat at one end, while he sat at the other. Richard took a seat in a chair just off to one side of Helena.

"So… Maybe we should compare a few more notes, while we have the time," Helena broke the small silence. Both Richard and Dick looked at her, wanting to know where she was heading with this line of thought. "From everything you've said so far, you don't seem familiar with the concept of parallel dimensions…"

"It's not that… It's a theory on my earth… But simply that. I've been to places that could be considered different dimensions, or sub-dimensions, or such… But not ones where duplicates of planets, histories… even individual people exist."

"You mention sub-dimensions… What do you mean by that?" Richard wanted to clarify.

"A friend of mine was from one of these. It was a… I don't know exactly how to explain it… but on a different plane than my earth's existence. She could move back and forth between our plane and that one. But it didn't have an earth, or such… though there was other planets on that plane as well. Then there's the anti-matter universe. I've never been there, but I've heard about it."

"So it's not that you haven't had any experience with this type of thing, just not to a dimension that contains 'duplicates.'"

"I guess…" Dick started to reply, but stopped as Alfred slowly wheeled in a cart carrying the coffee urn and several plates of the chocolate cake. All three of the seated trio rose to help him, but he waved them away. However, after he stopped the cart, Helena rose and immediately went over to the coffee pot, pouring out the cups of coffee, asking Dick what he wanted in his… Which turned to out be black, just like his counterpart's. Helena shook her head slightly, commenting lightly that she should have known. She handed out the cups of coffee as Alfred passed around the pieces of cake. Biting into his portion, Dick realized it tasted exactly like the cake his Alfred would make.

"So, Master Dick, what would you like to know about our version of the Wayne family?," Alfred asked as he lowered himself into the straight-backed chair located at Dick's end of the sofa.

"Well, what was this earth's Bruce like to raise and such, for one?"

"Raise?… I did not raise Master Bruce after his parents were killed. No, an old uncle did that. I was not taken into Master Bruce's employ until much later… My father had worked for his father's family, and he made it clear that when he died, I was to take up that role. So Master Bruce was already a grown man, and even already started on his career as Batman before I arrived. He had even taken Master Richard in already. Isn't that right, sir?"

"Yes… We had an awful time trying to keep Alfred from finding out about Batman and Robin. Especially considering he considered himself a bit of an amateur detective at the time", Richard rolled his eyes with the memories. "It was a relief when the secret came out." "Well, I can't imagine what it would be like to not have Alfred around", Helena firmly stated, moving behind Alfred and wrapping her arms around his neck, giving him a tight hug.

"And things definitely brightened up around here after you arrived, young miss. Though I think to begin with, your father was a bit terrified of you…"

"Dad?… I don't think so."

""Believe it, Helena.. I'd seen him go up against almost anything a crook threw at him… And not once break a sweat. But the first few times I saw him hold you, his hands were shaking…" Richard added with a smile, as if the memory both pleased and amused him…

"I do believe we've gotten a bit off the asked topic though," Alfred interceded. Turning back towards Dick, "Why did you think I was the one to raise Master Bruce?"

"Well, I guess because my Alfred did raise my Bruce. Him and Leslie Thompkins, that is…"

"Leslie who?" "Dr. Leslie Thompkins… she was the one that first reached Bruce after his parents had been shot. She gave him as much comfort as she could, and kept an eye on him until he left Gotham in his late teens to travel the world."

Dick looked at the others, this time with the bemusement on his side. He guessed that this was an example of how some of the individual histories were different, even if the basic life path was the same.

He was about to continue with his questions when he felt a yawn coming on. Noticing this, his older counterpart glanced over at the clock located on the mantle.

"11:30. Maybe it's time we called it a night. Our meeting at JSA headquarters is scheduled for fairly early in the morning."

"You're right. Besides, I'm sure Nightwing is probably exhausted. Dimension travelling isn't all that easy an experience", Helena added.

Dick was about to protest, when he felt another yawn coming on. He was tired. A good night's sleep probably would help. And maybe… maybe he'd wake up to find out that this was all a dream. Not that it hadn't been interesting so far… Still, he had to wonder what Dr. Parker would make of this dream.

"C'mon, Dick… I'll show you to your room and grab you some pajamas and such", Richard stated as he led the younger version of himself to the door.

"Wait… What about the clean-up?"

"We'll handle that, Master Dick. You just have a good night's sleep."

Shrugging his shoulders, Dick followed Richard from the room and up the stairs.

He couldn't sleep. His body was tired, and he knew he should get as much sleep as he could, but his mind wouldn't let him. No, he just kept going over the events of the day. And as his mind tossed about the various facts he had learned, his body mirrored his thoughts, tossing and turning, until the bed he had been given looked more like a disaster area than anything else.

Finally, he sat up. Clicking on the bedside lamp, he saw that it was only 1:47 in the morning. Groaning, he thought about trying to get to sleep, but knew that it wouldn't work. Sitting fully up, he grabbed the robe that Richard had loaned him and threw it over his half-clothed body.

Turning off the light, he quietly exited the room. Knowing he wasn't going to be able to sleep, he decided to explore a bit more of the house, to see what else he could find out about the lives of the people who had and were still living here.

Silently slipping down the corridor, as to not disturb the others, he crept down the stairs and across the foyer, opening a door that he knew led to the library in his Wayne Manor. Flipping the light switch, he noted that this room obviously was used for the same purpose. The walls were lined with several bookcases, and about the room were scattered a few objects-d'art. He made a quick casing of the room, noting the variety of criminology texts and various mysteries that were interspersed with books touching on nearly every subject he could think of, very much like the library at his Wayne Manor. Switching the main light off, he moved to turn on a lamp located on the desk that was towards the back of the room.

Seating himself at the desk, he noted the objects that were scattered across its surface. A pen-and-pencil desk set, several sheets of paper, a few more family photos. The desk actually looked like it was used regularly. A slight twist hit Dick's lips as he thought about how a lot of the furniture in his Wayne Manor had been somewhat for show. Bruce had considered their work to be concentrated "downstairs", and as a result, a lot of the rooms really weren't used on that regular a basis. This one felt a bit more lived in.

A book sat off to one side of the desk-top. Reaching over, he noted the title: The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne.

He gingerly fingered the cover. He wanted to open it, but didn't feel he really had the right. Of course, he had been feeling that way ever since he had woken up in that alleyway. So far, Helena, Alfred and Richard had been very open with him in regards to their lives. Maybe they wouldn't mind…

Taking a deep breath as he made his decision, he rapidly flipped open the cover. A white expanse of paper greeted his eyes. For a split second, he felt disappointment, until he noticed the faint scrawls of handwritten words coming through the sheet in front of him. Flipping the page, he found himself looking down at a familiar handwriting. Bruce's handwriting.

He started to read the first chapter… It outlined the events that lead up to the shooting of Bruce's parents. The trip to the movie… being stopped by the gunman, and his demand for money… The gunshots.

He then read about the oath, the appearance of the bat through the window. The intense training the young Bruce put himself through. Most of the details were the same as with his own Bruce's past, though there were some differences. This Bruce didn't take years to travel around the world, learning new techniques from various masters. He seemed to be mostly self-taught.

Then came the chapter with meeting Commissioner Gordon, who seemed to be already in place as Commissioner when this Bruce took up his mantle. How they were friendly as Bruce Wayne and James Gordon. How Bruce would visit crime sites, supposedly due to his "wealthy man's" hobby of being interested in crime scenes and mysteries. But it also went into detail about the growing relationship between Batman and the Commissioner, and how respect had grown between them.

Then there was the chapter he was most interested in… That of how his counterpart had entered the picture. The story was almost identical. The life with the circus, the sabotage set up by Boss Zucco. His counterpart seemed to have been somewhat younger than he was when his parents had died, more like 8 or so, than the 12 year old that he had been. How bringing a child into his life had affected Bruce's way of thinking, and his approach to how he took on the criminal element. How Richard had brought a light to Bruce's life that hadn't been there in a long time.

Just as he started the chapter dealing with how Bruce met his wife, he heard a faint noise coming from the foyer. It sounded like an engine revving. A tad perplexed, he headed out of the library. The noise was coming from below, but was gradually fading.

Heading over to the old grandfather clock that stood at the back of the foyer, he wondered if it worked on the same mechanism that the one back home did. Turning the hands of the clock to 10:27, he heard a click and the clock slowly swung open, letting the flight of stairs that was behind it come into view.

Lightly tripping down the steps, he entered the large cavern. It had a number of the features that the one he was use to did… The Joker card hanging from the ceiling. The large penny. He could see Alfred, dressed in a robe and with a long night cap on his head, seated in front of what would be a communications terminal. He silently moved up behind him, trying to get an idea of who he was talking to.

"Yes Commissioner. They just left. No, sir… But I'm sure that they will determine who the culprits are when they get to the scene. Very good, sir," Alfred finished, hanging up the phone receiver before swinging around to face Dick.

"Did you hear all that you wanted to, Master Dick", he coolly questioned.

Dick nodded sheepishly. "Sorry, Alfred… Guess my curiosity got the best of me."

"That it did, sir. It's a good thing that I've gotten used to being around people who tend to move silently. Otherwise, I might not have realized that you were there, and had a heart attack upon discovering you."

Dick's face developed a guilty scowl. Until he looked at the sharp twinkling in the old man's eyes. Alfred was putting one over him…and he had almost fallen for it.

"You're good, Alfred."

"So I've been told, sir… So I've been told. Now, is there anything I can do for you?"

"Well, outside of telling me what's up?" Dick let the question hang in the air for a few moments before adding, "Or if there's anything I can do to help."

Alfred regarded him intently for the moment. Realizing that Dick was sincere, he noted, "Master Richard said that I was to let you sleep when the call from the police came in, as you had already had a remarkably full day. However, since you are up, you might as know. We were contacted by the commissioner due to some strange goings-on at one of the research laboratories in town. Master Richard and Miss Helena just left to check it out." He then proceeded to outline the rather sparse set of facts that the police had provided.

Dick felt a surge of adrenaline sweep over his nerves and muscles. This could be just what he needed to get his mind off the situation he had found himself in. "Can you tell me where, or show me on the map, where this lab is. I could go and help."

Alfred, sensing the younger man's need to be doing something, agreed. He then outlined where the building was. Dick recognized the section of Gotham Alfred was referring to. It was a large industrial park, though the company name was unknown to him.

"But I don't know how you will get there. Master Richard and Miss Helena took the car."

Looking around, Dick noted an old style motorcycle sitting in the shadows of the cave. Smiling, he pointed it out to Alfred.

"Ah… yes… Of course. Master Richard's old cycle. While you change into your costume", he indicated the gym bag that Helena had brought the civilian clothes in earlier, and which Dick had packed his Nightwing suit into after changing, "I will make sure that the gas tank is full. I know Master Richard has kept it in good working order, though he doesn't tend to use it much anymore."

Changing quickly, Dick turned back to see Alfred finish screwing the lid back on the bike's gas-tank. Hopping abroad, he realized that he had to kick-start it. Quickly familiarizing himself with the controls, he started it, and was about to speed off through the tunnel to the outside world, when he turned and looked at Alfred.

"Alfred… Was your Bruce Wayne happy?"

Alfred seemed a bit taken aback by the question, but ever the proper butler, he quickly recovered. "Yes, I believe so. He seemed to be, especially as he got older. That is, until Mrs. Wayne was killed."

Dick rested for one more moment, before adding one more question. "And my older version. Is he satisfied with his life?"

"Yes… I'm sure that there are things that he would have preferred to have work out differently. But he seems to be as well."

"Thanks, Alf… I needed to hear that."

With that, he sped off, as Alfred regarded him with a slightly questioning air. After a few moments, he muttered the word, "Alf?" to himself, before turning back to the communication relay. He had best tell Robin and the Huntress that there was more help on the way.

Dick located the research lab that Robin and the Huntress had been headed for easily enough, with Alfred providing detailed directions over the communications relay mounted on the bike… He had mused while riding that it was nice to be using a cycle again… There was a sense of freedom with it that he just didn't get in the car, even if the car could carry more of his equipment… And Robin's cycle was in good shape. A slightly older model than what he was used to… More of a classic really, but smooth running, and the engine purred softly enough as to not draw a whole lot of attention to it.

He silently drew up in shadowed corner of the building. He couldn't hear or see any signs of a confrontation. Thinking that a roof approach might be the best option for figuring out where the action was, he quickly threw a bat-rope up and drew himself up to the top of the roof..

Noting a large hole in the roof towards the back of the building, he quickly moved over to it and peered down through into what had been the secured storage room at the back of the building.

Only faint lighting was available, but it was enough to make out that his two erstwhile colleagues were already on the job. He assessed the situation quickly. Several containers of what appeared to be various chemicals appeared to be in the process of being moved. Most were sealed tight, though one or two appeared to be leaking liquid from gunshot holes. Robin and the Huntress were taking on seven thugs of various sizes and weights. Three seemed to be armed with guns, while two more had other weapons. Specifically a knife and a garrote rope. Two others were down. He couldn't tell from this height if they had weapons or not. Two of the gun-wielders were taking indiscriminate pot-shots. But their accuracy was nothing to write home about. He watched for a brief moment, noting how the whole scene below him moved with a certain graceful choreography, how the two partners seemed to automatically know where the other was and what they were doing, such that each of their movements managed to complement and enhance the other's. He noted that while most of their basic movements were the same, there were so slight differences. While Huntress was using a lot of martial arts moves, Robin was utilizing more standard boxing techniques. Dick wondered if age was catching up with the man slightly, such that instead of the quick movements that the Huntress and he himself were so fond of, Robin had adapted his technique to account for the slight detriment in skills that growing older would probably have. But even with the slight difference in styles, they moved almost as one at times, anticipating and reacting to each other's conscious and unconscious signals.

Remembering his thoughts from earlier, from before this whole insane trip started, he realized that this was what he missed most. The knowledge that there was someone there, helping him and watching his back, as well as knowing what he wanted as he wanted it. The whole idea that he wasn't in this alone. He had built a life in Blüdhaven, trying to prove that he didn't need anyone else's help. But now… now he wondered if he had done that more out of sense of hurt and betrayal, more out of a sense of needing to prove himself to himself, while not thinking about what he was going to be losing in the process.

Shaking himself slightly, he reprimanded himself, "This is no time for self-examination, Grayson! You're here to help, remember." With that, he quickly lowered himself through the hole.

"Hey, sorry to be 'dropping' in like this. Didn't know you'd be busy…", he quipped as he landed on the goon with the garrote.

"That's okay", the Huntress tossed back to him over her shoulder, as she savant-kicked a gun out of one of the thugs hands. At the same time, she withdrew a small cross-bow out of its holster and fired a dart at the hand of the man wielding the knife, causing him to drop it with a howl of pain. "But next time, phone first!"

His older counterpart just smiled at their banter. He also, seemingly casually, ducked out of the way of the gun-fire of one of the crooks, then grabbed his arm and swung him over towards Nightwing, who handily took him down with a uppercut to the chin.

Nightwing noted that one of the previously downed goons was shakily regaining his feet. As he had just launched himself for a somersault into one of his cohorts, he quickly yelled over to the others about it. But before they could respond, the man had thrown some pellets onto the floor, as he yelled to his gang, "Hey, everyone, masks… These things from the boss will take care of the do-gooders". Gas rose out of broken pellets, while the standing crooks put gas-masks on.

Dick got one quick sniff of the gas before he got his own re-breather mask on. Even so, he felt a slow grimace pull at the corners of his mouth. "Damn", he thought to himself. Even here… He could hear faint cackling rising over the noise of the battle.

He noted that Robin and Helena also had gotten masks on. Sometimes he wondered about some of the goons that their "bosses" hired. Were they really so stupid as to think that the "do-gooders" wouldn't come prepared for whatever they could be hit with?

Shaking his head in a slightly disparaging way, he continued to plow through what was still standing of the crooks, as did Robin and the Huntress.

With the three of them working as a team, they had the gang subdued within minutes. While Huntress and Nightwing worked on securing the bonds that held their prisoners, Robin worked at increasing the ventilation of the room, to allow the gas to dissipate. He then set to work trying to ascertain what the leaking containers held, and getting everyone well away from their contents.

Five of the thugs had been conscious enough to get their breathing masks on when their partner had thrown down the pellets. One hadn't been as lucky. Nightwing and the Huntress were examining the body when Robin came over.

The man was dead… No doubt about it. But the give-away as to what had killed him was what Dick had already known. Known from the moment he had felt his own facial muscles begin to pull into that deadly visage..The cackling from earlier and the grotesque grin on the dead man's face only confirmed what he had surmised.

Sighing, he looked at Helena and Richard, "Well, I guess we all know who's 'the boss' behind this."

Helena and Richard exchanged worried glances. She piped up, "Yes… Except…"

"Except what? It's obviously the Joker. Have to admit, I should have known there'd be one of him on this earth as well. Though hitting a research facility… That's a little tame for him."

Richard cast a dour look at Dick with that. "Maybe for your Joker, it would be… Ours committed these type of robberies all the time. Given this is the 'Merth Research Laboratory', it's would have almost been expected, given the play on Merth/mirth. But that wasn't what the Huntress was referring to."

Dick was a bit taken aback with the older man's tone, but then realized that he had been a bit too quick to interrupt Helena like that. Turning back to her, he apologized, "Okay, sorry… Why is it unlikely that this is the Joker's work? The laughing gas is enough to go by…"

"It would be… Except the Joker of this Earth is dead!"

Continue to Chapter 3!
 
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