Without Masks: Nightwing

by 'rith

Archive: Ask first, please.
Fandom: Titans (Jesse Quick and Nightwing), current continuity. Set after the H.I.V.E./Tartarus arc. A companion piece to "Without Masks," from Dick's POV.
Disclaimer: All characters property of DC Comics. What I have done with them is mine.

I came up the stairs as someone was saying goodbye to my neighbor Jonathan Law. He introduced me and I found myself shaking hands with Jesse Chambers--my Titans teammate Jesse Quick.

Small world!

Or maybe not. She'd been pretty irritated when I'd sneaked into her office. Maybe she'd made a project of tracking me down in return? I hadn't expected--

Then the connection suddenly *clicked* into place. Jon Law--the Tarantula--All-Star Squadron--Johnny Quick and Liberty Belle--Jesse Quick. And Jesse was a student of superheroes.

My poor landlady Bridget Clancy would either be terribly amused or appalled to realize the extent of the menagerie she has living under her roof. One retired superhero, one active one--the former super-villain in the basement, she already knew about.

What timing, too. Just a few days ago Gar spilled my identity in front of Jesse in the middle of a battle with the H.I.V.E. He'd only said my first name, but she's not stupid. She was already eyeing me, counting up the coincidences. Hair, height, lives in Blüdhaven.

No matter if I trusted her or not, and that wasn't the issue anyway. Jesse wasn't Tara Markov, she was a proven hero and the daughter of two legends herself.

Did I really care if Jesse Quick knew Dick Grayson was Nightwing? No.

But as Tim Drake demonstrated, it's just a little research and a short step away to the Batman and Robin, and I didn't have the right to compromise their identities that casually.

I could've made an excuse, pled other plans, but some instinct made me agree to Jon Law's attempt at matchmaking. Not that *that* would go anywhere. Barbara was finally opening up, realizing the chair *didn't matter* to me. She'd have to come to that on her own. I was perfectly willing to wait.

But meanwhile I could get to know Jesse a little better. The tricky part would be dancing around the identity thing. She either strongly suspected or outright knew already, and I didn't want to baldly *lie* to her.

I'd already gained a strong respect for her. Jesse had handled cases solo, with several members of the JSA, Wally and the other speedsters, even Wonder Woman. In her second battle with the Titans, she found herself a natural field leader while I was occupied elsewhere. I meant to encourage that; it'd be a good thing to have someone else willing to take command. Donna had reluctantly led the team for a while, and Roy'd been forced into it, but neither really wanted it back. Usually super-teams find they've got too many leader-types wanting the job. For some reason, the Titans rarely had that problem. I chalked it up to the nature of the Titans as opposed to other groups, that we're as much a family as a team. Closer-knit. Point is, given some experience, I'd be happy to trust Jesse with the job.

I didn't want to play games with her--she didn't deserve that. Bruce is *very* good at this sort of thing. He's the master of misdirection. But then again, Bruce Wayne acts like a total twit. He's just a mask. I'd never had the need or desire to make Dick Grayson and Nightwing two different people.

Part of that was I'd been Robin and then Nightwing nearly full-time anyway. It really hadn't been until now that Dick Grayson had a life of his own--I had a *job* like normal people, and neighbors, and even a few friends whose idea of fun *didn't* involve dressing up and taking on super-villains. What a concept.

And I admit, learning to be just-Richard-Grayson was a pretty cool thing.

All right, so. I'd been set up on a "date" by my well-meaning neighbor, what would normal-guy Grayson say?

I had no idea. This was going to be interesting.

It started okay. I kept coming back to that word "date," though, and it bothered me. Maybe normal-guy should say something.... "Um, I don't know how to say this without sounding rude...I don't know what Mr. Law told you, but I'm sorta involved with someone...."

I knew it was a mistake as soon as I said it. That made it sound like she'd been flirting, or expected something. Fortunately, she decided--I saw her decide, almost consciously--to be amused instead. Whew.

There just wasn't that much to talk about personally that didn't lead somewhere dangerous. I felt like I was picking my way through a minefield. Jesse's life was as bound up in the hero thing as mine--maybe more, considering her parents. She'd studied heroes all her life, through college, and I don't know if she *ever* had a goal for herself aside from following in her parents' footsteps.

She's driven and committed, and I have to laugh, because she reminds me so much of myself it's not funny. I wasn't kidding when I told her joining the Titans would be a chance to have some fun for a change. It's more responsibility, but also much-needed support--both for our solo efforts, and ourselves personally. The Titans help me to slow down, even in the middle of chaos, and remember my friends. I hoped she'd come to find them the same in time.

I thought for a moment she'd make an issue of it when she remembered how I'd sneaked into her office--in retrospect, probably not the best approach. Now that the situation was reversed, I understood her resentment all too well. I'd invaded her personal space, her Jesse-Chambers-identity space, and I think Jesse is like me in wanting to keep the two separated. I'd have to find a way to apologize.

At Hogan's, Mutt provided a great excuse to change the subject. The kid's doing really well now that he has someone to look after him. I think of him as one of my greater victories. Even better, a Dick-Grayson victory as opposed to a Nightwing one. There was something pretty satisfying about that.

Jesse was still trying to figure me out. She asked if I was a native of the 'Haven, and I saw her eyes widen when I mentioned Gotham. It wasn't hard to follow her thoughts; the Batman's legend leapt to mind when *anyone* talked about Gotham, and Jesse had inside information. She covered well, but I could see her mind racing. Nightwing had been Robin to Batman, and the Batman's rep alone--

It isn't just criminals he scares. He intimidates half the members of the JLA just by walking into the room. Some of the younger heroes, especially the ones who never had much contact with him, he utterly terrifies.

He finds it useful. I find it annoying. But that's his style, and he's not going to change.

I didn't think Jesse was the tremble-in-fear-at-his-name type, so she must have been thinking about the implication of knowing his identity. Smart. There are some secrets you don't want to know.

We talked a little about the 'quake and the current state of affairs in Gotham. "No Man's Land." What a horrible joke. Plus all the repercussions spilling down here, making my adopted city even more of a pit. Man, I'd had a *bad* couple of months. Why did I let myself get talked into the Titans again, anyway?

Rhetorical question. I needed them.

Through dinner I smiled a little behind my food. I'd seen Wally-West-the-fastest-man-alive eat, always blaming the speed force for his appetite--having him around was like having a black hole park itself in front of your fridge. At least Jesse had better table manners.

I asked about her job, and of course that reminded her of her father--Johnny Quick. Wally told me about his death. I'd only met him in passing during one of those big crises that seem to happen every six months or so and involve every hero on the planet. The immediate impression was of someone friendly, outgoing, totally at home in his own skin. I'd never met Liberty Belle, though I'd read about her a bit. By all accounts, she's a strong lady. Inspiring. She'd have to be, to have led the All-Stars for years. That was a *huge* team!

I could see Jesse fighting with something, and then--

"Dick, why did you become a cop?"

Why? Jesse, you already know why even if you don't know all the reasons behind it.

For my parents. For Bruce. For every kid who's lost his or her family to crime. For the kids who still have theirs. For having lived most of my life in privilege, and wanting to give something back. For the chance to bring some justice into the daylight instead of hiding it in the dark. For the simple reason that I can. For the petty reason that Batman would never think of it. For the opportunity to get back onto the streets rather than fighting above them. For my parents. For myself.

I couldn't tell her all of that--not today. But someday. That's a promise. Meanwhile...

"Because there's a job that needs to be done here, and I can do it." Then, because things were entirely too serious, "Besides, I thought the 'Haven needed another cop I could count on to stay honest."

Her response reminded me *so* much of Babs it startled me. Trust the women in my life to keep me humble.

I watched Jesse make the decision to leave rather than push further, and I respected that. I bet it wasn't easy. She'd grown up surrounded by unmasked heroes, so I suppose it seemed natural for there to be no secrets between them. If it was just me things might be different.

Even so, I *almost* said something when the cab pulled up. The habit of a lifetime--only that, really--stopped me. I watched the taxi drive off, thinking about that. Trust issues. I'd learned a lot more about that from the Titans than Bruce ever could have taught.

I knew Jesse'd be a good choice for the Titans when Wally nominated her. Now I was doubly sure of it. The team felt *right* in a way I hadn't felt in a long time, and it wasn't just having the other four founders there. Vic and Kory were equally as essential, and Grant and Toni represented the new blood the team reformed to shepherd. Jesse was a bridge between the older heroes and the new, she had a unique perspective on the job, and the only thing we'd have to watch out for would be her running herself into the ground trying to be too many places at once.

And *that* sounded all too familiar. I headed back to the apartment to prepare for another night's work.

Nightwing had a job to do.



One comment on something Dick said above: "Usually super-teams find they've got too many leader-types wanting the job. For some reason, the Titans rarely had that problem. I chalked it up to the nature of the Titans as opposed to other groups, that we're as much a family as a team."

Actually, I need to correct him. ;) The real reason is that Dick Grayson *is* the leader of the Titans, always has been, always will be. He's the quintessential leader. It's one of the ways in which he completely surpasses his mentor. But his own sense of humility won't let him see that.

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