Paper Hearts, part 18

by Chicago

Disclaimers in "part 0"



Robin tucked the Redbird into a Bludhaven blind alley and shot his jumpline into the night. Watching GNN had kept him on edge while he waited for Oracle to call - Arkham breakouts, attempts on Bruce Wayne's life, hostage crisis in Bludhaven - he was almost resentful that Barbara hadn't called him earlier. It was so much easier to be doing something than to sit by and imagine what horrors his surrogate "family" was facing.

And then Oracle had called, and he realized that that was worse. Her voice had been calm and steady as she'd explained that she'd lost contact with Nightwing after he'd entered the West Exeter Apartments, and Tim had been able to match her measured coolness.

It was all a facade, of course. Even though there were dozens of reasons why Nightwing might not answer a call, the fact that he had knowingly walked into a trap and not walked out again? Because his tracer had not moved in almost half an hour, despite the fact that the BPD bomb squad was coming closer to defusing a 12th floor bomb and the hostages - save one - had long since been delivered from their captor.

Oracle had briefed him on all this as he drove, leaving him to his own thoughts for only a few minutes when Batgirl found Hatter's transmitter. Then she was back, keeping the line between them open, updating him as information came in and distracting them both from the unacknowledged worry they shared.

Was he hurt? Dead?

No, it was easier by far to track the progress of Batman's mission against Scarecrow. More palatable to share a moment's triumph when Gotham General reported the presence of nanites in the bloodstream of all three of Bruce Wayne's would be killers. Even the frustrating puzzle of motives, the frightening possibility of Scarecrow and Hatter working in concert - even these were better than contemplating the reasons why Nightwing would not answer.

It was only when Robin had crossed into Bludhaven proper that Oracle had excused herself, called away from the line to help handle details of treating the now rescued cover and to track Batman's pursuit of the Scarecrow's accomplice.

Robin let the implications of Crane taking a student occupy his thoughts as he swung the final distance toward Nightwing's unmoving signal. It was only when he finally touched down a few buildings away from the West Exeter that he schooled his mind back to the problem at hand, pulling out his binoculars and studying the site.

There was still a lot of police activity at street level. The occasional swing of a flashlight beam on 12 betrayed their presence there as well, but the penthouse remained darkly shadowed. There were still SWAT teams deployed on the surrounding rooftops, but no one yet had tried to storm Torque's position. Smart thinking on their part - as long as he remained camped with an explosive device, he could still wreak a lot of damage and potentially kill a lot of people. And from the reports of the released hostages, purloined by Oracle's tap of the police band, Torque did have a very big explosive up there, hooked to a pair of deadman switches.

Robin tapped open his comlink.

"Go ahead, Robin."

"I can't see anything from here," he reported. "I'm going to try to get closer."

"Understood," she replied. "But do not engage. Stay to the shadows."

"Right," Robin agreed, signing off again. He swung over two buildings to a higher vantage point, again reaching for his binoculars.

He did not have an opportunity to complete the gesture.

The flash met his eyes a split second before the sound reached him.

Then the deafening roar, rattling windows all around him and shattering those closer to the flaming fireball that suddenly engulfed the top level of the West Exeter Apartments.

He ducked instinctively, even though he knew the debris would not reach him, his throat constricting as he processed what he was seeing. It took him a moment to hear Barbara's voice shouting in his ear: "Robin, report! Are you all right? What's happening? Robin!"

He stared at the now blasted apartment building, his brain refusing to process. "It just exploded," he stated numbly.

"Are you hurt? Robin!"

Tim shook his head, then remembered she couldn't see him. "I'm okay. Just..." He paused, not willing to voice his thought. "Nightwing?"

The silence at the other end of the line seemed to stretch forever as he watched the cops below scrambling and heard sirens wailing in the distance. There were medical teams already moving on the ground, screams echoing up to him as glass and rubble rained down on the gawkers and emergency personnel. Nothing he could do. Absolutely nothing. For them or for...

Barbara's voice finally returned, sounding desperately strained. "His signal's gone."



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