Disclaimers: Characters and settings belong to DC Comics. Borrowed for fun, not profit.
Rating: PG-13 (language)
He started and turned his eyes to his partner.
"Grayson, what's wrong with you? I've been talking to you for five minutes!"
He offered her a bleary smile. "Sorry. Just focused."
Amy snorted. "Focused, my ass. You feelin' okay?"
He blinked, hearing but not comprehending her question. Bruce was right, damn him. He was pushing himself too hard. And he couldn't keep his mouth from saying, "Huh?"
Amy's face grew suspicious and she reached a hand to his forehead. "You're feverish," she pronounced. "Dammit, Grayson, you're not a rookie anymore. I shouldn't have to tell you that you that you can't be out here if you're not 100%."
Where had he heard that before? "I'm fine, Amy," he protested, but he could see he had already lost.
"Bullshit." She caught him by the elbow, dragging him in a crouch from behind their squad car. "Captain," she called in a whisper designed to carry, "I -"
Gunfire exploded from the warehouse. "Shit!" Amy cried, dropping to the ground.
For a split second, Dick forgot what uniform he was wearing, his muscles tensing to leap up, across the street, and...
He was face down in the street, his arm half-wrenched from Amy's pull. "Grayson, get your head out!" she yelled over the din. "I did not sign on to the force to lose my partner!"
Her eyes were angry, and beneath the anger, he could see her fear. Fear he put there. He cursed himself for his own stubbornness. Wasn't he old enough now to have some reaction other than resistance on those rare occasions when the Bat decided to advise him? Acting like a kid, he chastised himself as he followed Amy back to the cover of their car.
"Jesus, you see that!?" someone - Caulder? - shouted, and Dick lifted his eyes.
The shadows had spit out a graceful arc of man, dropping deftly to the street and cartwheeling and pirouetting through the gunfire as he stormed the building. A man in black, a streak of blue emblazoned across his chest and down his arms.
"Damn," Amy muttered. "I figured him for an urban legend."
Dick didn't answer - couldn't. It was not possible. Nightwing couldn't be here. And yet - he could tell it wasn't Tim or Bruce in his costume. No, the motion was entirely his, the same acrobatic fluidity, the apparent effortlessness...
The masked man disappeared into the warehouse, and within minutes, the sputtering gunfire petered out to nothing.
The silence rang in his ears.
No sign of Nightwing, but no more gunfire either.
"Okay, folks, let's move in," Fullerton ordered. "Carefully."
With skilled proficiency, their team began to move forward - but Amy held him back.
"Captain," she called, getting Fullerton's attention.
Fullerton looked up sharply, taking in the way Amy was leading Dick, noting the younger officer's glassy expression. "You get hit?" he asked, moving to meet them.
Dick shook his head, but Amy spoke before he could.
"Damn lucky he didn't. Came on shift sick as a dog."
"I-" Dick began, then stopped. Fullerton was considering him with a look somewhere between admiration and irritation.
"He does look like hell. Take him home, Rohrbach. This is mop up anyway."
Fullerton turned before Dick could muster an argument, and Amy was hauling him back to the squad car in full lecture mode. "Look, Grayson, I know it's a big collar, but, geez, man, you gotta take care of yourself. I am not your babysitter; I am your partner. You get me?"
She pushed him in through the already open passenger door then walked around to her side. Dick pulled his door shut and leaned his head back against the headrest, grateful for the moment's respite. He closed his eyes, and watched a mental replay of the scene he'd just witnessed. Not Bat. Hell, the guy could be Dick if it weren't for the fact that Dick was sitting in a squad car being read the riot act by his understandably steamed partner. He had to get to the bottom of this, and the thought of getting into costume to hunt his double drew a groan.
"Grayson? You okay?"
He blinked. Had he groaned aloud? He must've, from the anxious looks Amy was darting at him. "'m jus tired," he reassured.
"Clearly," she remarked dryly, turning down Parkthorne. "I swear, Grayson..."
He tuned her out, staring blindly out the window as private houses gave way to the more familiar blocks of flats of his neighborhood. He didn't register they were in front of his building until Amy touched his shoulder. Her eyes were worried.
"I'm serious, Grayson. You sure you gonna make it upstairs okay?"
He smiled wanly and reached for the door handle. "I'll make it."
"I'm staying here until I see you in that door," she warned. "And my cell is on if you need anything. I mean it. You look like shit."
"Thanks, Amy," he replied, managing enough sarcasm to take the edge out of the concern in her expression.
"Get to bed, rookie. And I'm calling you in sick for tomorrow, so don't even think about coming in."
He nodded, too tired to argue. "Okay." He shut the door and mounted the steps to the front entrance of his building, fumbling with his keys. He finally isolated the right one on his ring and opened the door, waving back to Amy still waiting in the car. She was true to her word; he didn't hear the engine reengage until the door closed behind him.
Now to his other work - but first he had to climb three flights of stairs. How was he going to find his double if he couldn't manage to get himself up the stairs?
"One obstacle at a time, Grayson," he told himself, lifting his foot to the first tread. One down... no, don't count. Just keep moving. Keep moving.
One foot in front of the other.
He stared dumbly at his own door for a moment, aware only that he had run out of stairs. Then he shook himself and again fiddled with his key ring.
Finally, the door swung open, and his body stiffened, adrenaline washing away exhaustion. He was not alone.
Movement in the shadow. So much for looking for his double; he'd found him.
Without conscious thought, he launched himself at the figure, attacking with a blinding flurry of moves.
Each one was met with an easy defense.
It was like fighting himself, as if the other man knew his own moves before he could make them, before...
He struggled, suddenly caught by one of his own preferred holds. Black clad arms squeezed around him, restricting his movement. Rookie mistake. He'd have to...
A low baritone froze him for an instant, long enough that the arms around him began to fade to green.
"J'onn," he breathed in sudden recognition, renewing his struggle on different terms. "Tell Bruce-"
"Dick." A calm, ordering tone, seeming to come from everywhere at once. Distracting, because it wasn't telepathy. What-? Of course. No lungs. The voice wouldn't echo in the chest he was pressed against.
But the distraction managed to clear his head enough to hear J'onn's next words. "Bruce didn't send me."
Dick stopped struggling, and J'onn released his hold, leaving Dick to rub bruised arms. "Then why?" he asked.
The light from the street lamp below fell on the wry smile that crossed the Martian's face. "You forget. You argue with him and come back here. I have to deal with him."
Dick took a step back and let himself drop onto the sofa, pressing his hands to his face. Now he felt like a heel. "I'm sorry, J'onn. I just -" he stopped, not sure what to say.
J'onn settled across from him onto the edge of an easy chair and put a comforting hand on his knee. "Don't apologize. He wasn't the king of diplomacy."
"When is he ever," Dick blurted, then bit his lip, watching J'onn anxiously. There was no reproach in the red eyes, only patience. Dick sighed. "He was right."
J'onn nodded. "Of course, only you have the power to make him doubt that. He's been brooding about your argument all day, worried that he's undermined your faith in his trust."
Dick thought about that for a moment, then shook his head. "No. Just pushed my buttons." He offered J'onn a faint grin. "His unique skill."
"He has many of them," J'onn agreed.
"Is he mad?"
J'onn smiled. "No. Worried. And perhaps angry at himself for not allowing you to use your own judgment. He suspects he has driven you to push yourself harder."
Dick gave a rueful chuckle. "He knows me too well."
"Only as well as a father should."
Dick paused. "Yeah, I guess you're right," he acknowledged thoughtfully.
"Now," J'onn began, "you need sleep. I'll be by with Alfred in the morning to make you breakfast."
"And Bruce?" Dick blurted, almost embarrassed to have let the hope slip.
He was answered by a warm chuckle. "Sleeping beauty up before noon on a Saturday?"
"Yeah, you're right." Dick thought he hid his disappointment.
J'onn patted his knee. "Maybe you could take your well rested self to Amusement Mile tomorrow, say, shortly after sunset?"
Dick gave him a puzzled look.
"Those friends of yours I met tonight? Seems their big boss has his fingers in a lot of cities. You and Batman are working on two ends of the same case."
Dick felt a competitive twinge rise in him. "Does he know that?"
J'onn shook his head. "Not yet." He morphed back into his Nightwing shape. "I'll go report what I know."
Dick started and found himself looking at his own trademark grin. "Don't worry, he'll figure out it's me before I get a word out of my mouth," J'onn reassured. "He always does. Another of his unique skills."
"You sure? He won't be angry-?"
The grin broadened. "Maybe. And he'll tell me never to take your shape again. But he'll be glad to see you tomorrow. Should I tell him you'll be there?"
Dick considered for a moment. "Nah. He'll know."
"He always does," they said in unison, and Dick couldn't help but laugh.
"Don't fall asleep in that chair," J'onn cautioned, setting himself on the window sill and preparing to leap.
"I won't," Dick promised, getting to his feet to prove the point. "And J'onn?"
The Nightwing form in the window gave a shrug and a smile. "That's what family is for."