By Chicago

Disclaimer: Characters owned by DC Comics, borrowed for fun and not for profit. Story loosely follows the Dick/Babs breakup in Nightwing.

The fight wasn't quite big enough to become a melee. Nightwing wished it were as he pivoted under a six foot something bruiser and deposited him on top of one of his buddies. With a melee, you could just get the fight hot enough then slip out to watch as everyone battered one another senseless. When there were only seven assailants, they were able to remember who they were fighting and who they weren't.

Nightwing dropped under a high punch, rising behind the man's outstretched arm and using it as leverage to bowl him toward the alley wall. He barely got rid of him in time to dodge a kidney punch that would have hurt even through the impact diffusing kevlar.

He would never admit it, but Dick Grayson actually hated fighting alone. The majority of his training growing up had been partner fights, and later team fights. It wasn't so much the adrenaline he craved as it was the camaraderie, the pure let's-get-this-job-done fire that burned away whatever petty irritations existed between comrades-in-arms.

Nightwing cut the next thug's head down to knee level spun him, forcing him to run in a stoop and then tumble from Nightwing's grasp. This one was massy enough to cut the legs out from under two of his friends as the three went down in a heap.

Hell, it wasn't even about having someone by his side, per se. Even just having an ally to audience his fights - he slammed the bruiser down again, this time with enough force that the big man flopped loosely on the ground and went still.

He missed Oracle's - Barbara's - constant presence in his ear.

He turned to anticipate the enraged blow of another of the baddies, shifting over the slightest bit so the knuckles almost grazed him. The man's momentum was so great he followed his fist right past Nightwing and into... Batgirl?

Batgirl, who put him down so fast that Nightwing wasn't sure he could break down which move she had used. He felt himself grin. "Saved some for you," he lied, because in truth, he had no reason to expect her. But since she was here-

She nodded as she threw a solid kick at an already fist-softened jaw. Another thug went down with a crack.

Then she and Nightwing were back to back, and the fight was over in seconds. As Nightwing knelt to start cuffing bad guys, Batgirl held her final assailant in a tight pin. "Need to question?" she asked.

"Nah," Nightwing replied, "this is mop-up. Took down the kingpin of this operation last night. This group of flunkies was just unusually loyal."

She nodded and deftly cuffed the man before shifting out of a pin. "This is illegal," the man shouted once Batgirl stepped back. "We'll be out -"

Nightwing cuffed the final perp and turned a smirk toward the bellowing fighter. "You planning on advertising that you got taken down by a hundred pound girl?" He glanced at Batgirl as the man continued shouting. "Let's go."

He shot off his jumpline, giving a voice command over his comlink to connect to 911. He'd installed voice filtering equipment into his communication gear, creating a synthesized voice that was a close approximation to Oracle's. After all, dispatch had grown used to hearing her reports of crime rings brought down and waiting for pick up. It was never a good idea to change that kind of established routine, even if the personnel who perpetrated it necessarily shifted.

He had completed his call within seconds, then settled on a nearby rooftop to keep vigil until the cops arrived. Batgirl settled unquestioningly beside him, and he appreciated her silence.

It took a half hour for the BPD to get there. He recognized Gannon, back on nights. It made the back of his throat ache.

He turned roughly from the scene as the bad guys were booked, shooting off another jumpline without a glance at Batgirl. She, of course, followed.

He led her halfway across the city, not patrolling, just flying. A merry chase, except he wasn't merry, and she wasn't chasing. Just following with effortless smoothness, even as he upped the ante and performed aerial maneuvers designed to lose the less agile Batman. She probably considered it training.

He finally stopped several blocks from his apartment, unwilling to have her follow him all the way home. He was glaring at her when she landed lightly in front of him. "Who sent you?" he demanded.

She cocked her head at him. "Should come home," she parried.

"I am home," he pointed out, crossing his arms over his chest.

It was amazing how much she could communicate without saying anything. A shift to her stance said, 'I know that, stupid, and you know that's not what I meant.' Actually, he wasn't sure about the stupid part, but that was the message.

They continued, unmoving, for 57 seconds. Then Nightwing sighed and let his arms relax to his sides. "Just visiting?" he tried again, his anger burning away.

She nodded and matched his relaxed stance, still alert, but looking less ready and willing to kick his ass. "Not in Gotham for -" she paused as if searching for a word, then seemed to abandon the effort. "-many days."

"I know," he replied softly. "I don't think I'm especially welcome." Which wasn't entirely true. Bruce was giving him space at the moment, but if he had decided to take his broken heart to the Manor, he knew he'd be welcomed. Not that Bruce would know what to do about it, save have him train harder and beat more bad guys, but he would be happy to have him back.

His body language must've said as much, because Batgirl only nodded again. Then she spoke again. "Barbara - too much like Bruce."

Nightwing snorted. "Yeah, that's what she said. I'm turning into Bruce." He turned his eyes over the Bludhaven skyline, over his city. Barbara had misunderstood. She thought it was Nightwing who had formed a relationship with this armpit. Truth was, Nightwing didn't care. Nightwing would fight wherever Dick Grayson wanted him to fight. But Dick Grayson - former BPD cop - again there was that burning in his throat. He couldn't have it back. He had been sloppy and careless in a way that Bruce never would have been, and it had cost him a piece of what Dick Grayson had built.

He was startled by an impatient noise from Batgirl. He glanced at her, and she managed to convey irritation at something that was clearly not him. "Not you," she stated firmly. "Barbara."

Now he turned his attention to her more fully. He was confused. "You're saying Barbara is too much like Bruce?"

She nodded once with her typical economy of motion. She raised her hand and began ticking off points with her fingers. "Dad get hurt. Batman get hurt. You get hurt. Canary get hurt. Everyone she love -" Batgirl made a fist.

Nightwing couldn't keep a hint of incredulity out of his voice. "She's scared?"

Again a nod. "Scared like Bruce. React like Bruce." Now a scowl formed under Batgirl's mask, obvious even through the material. "Push people away." She waited a beat, then repeated, "Should come home."

Nightwing shook his head. "She'll only get angry. She'll tell me again its about her chair, and how I'll never understand..." He trailed off, suddenly understanding her arguments through what Batgirl was saying. It made as much sense as Batman firing him so he wouldn't get hurt and then bringing in Jason Todd. He didn't think either of them were lying, exactly. It was about telling a story he couldn't argue with, making him angry... pushing him away.

Pushing him away so he couldn't hurt them by dying.

His hands balled into fists at his side. "I can't go to Gotham right now," he said flatly.

He felt rather than saw Batgirl shift, and he almost started when she touched his cheek. He was surprised to see that her cowl was down, that she was studying him with concern in her deep brown eyes. "I think it stupid, too," she revealed. "Need family."

He wasn't sure if she meant her words specifically or generally - but he understood the ache. He reached up to catch her fingers in his hand and give the tiniest of squeezes. "You can visit anytime you want," he encouraged, knowing it wasn't what she wanted.

Disappointment crossed her features, and she pulled back and restored her cowl, reasserting the distance of Batgirl. "Should come home," she said once more, and then she was gone, disappearing silently into the night. He watched in the direction she had gone, not seeing her so much as knowing her most likely route.

She was probably right. He should probably go back to Gotham, force the issue, refuse to allow Barbara to push him aside. But yeah, she was like Bruce enough that he knew he wouldn't. He would come running when she called, but he wasn't going to make the first move.


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