Team Players

May 23, 2018:

It turns out growing up as vigilante crime fighters instills unhealthy behaviours in people.

A rooftop in the Red Hook area, Gotham

The kind of place where you can watch bad guys as they do bad things. Assuming you don't mind hanging out on rooftops.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Batman, Cyborg, Oracle, Spoiler, Zatanna Zatara

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

There are nicer parts of Gotham, you know.

There's worse parts too, of course, but the Red Hook has a deserved reputation for not being a particularly nice place to visit, between the low-quality tenement areas and the warehouses by the waterfront… It's the kind of place where desperation and opportunity mix in the worst of ways, where people exploit other people who have nowhere to go and no real recourse. After all, even if the GCPD do show up to help you out, eventually the cops leave. But the bad guys? Well, they're your neighbours.

"Typical," mutters Red Robin, crouched on the edge of a warehouse rooftop. It's surveillance, at the moment, not the always satisfying jump-down-and-start-busting-heads activity that seems to follow almost inevitably. In his caped and cowled costume of black and red, the young man blends in with the shadows like he was taught to… But the reliance on high-tech toys, like the stealthy drone currently relaying information to the heads up display in his cowl's lenses, well, that's more his own style.

It's been months since there's been any real activity on this particular front, the Blue Belladonna drug smuggling operation having gone to ground for a while after he brought metahumans to the proverbial knife fight, but it was inevitable that they'd scuttle back out of the shadows. Which, maybe, explains why he's out here doing this on his own, instead of bringing the Titans along. Or having informed any of the rest of Gotham's usual crowd. You know, like a good team player.

Which he is not.

Gotham after dark is an entirely different animal then that seen during the day. When the sun is shining — or at least present behind the veil of iron grey clouds that seem to be the city's most predominate weather feature — it is almost possible to mistake the city for just like any other dotting the East Coast. True, there are good neighborhoods and bad neighborhoods, but for the most part it does not necessarily seem different from any other major metropolis. After dark though, then it sometimes feels like there is only bad neighborhoods and worse ones.

It feels like a permanent pall hangs over this particular neighborhood. Sure, in part it is from yet another moonless night, both it and the stars veiled away behind the cloudy sky overhead. And it certainly doesn't help that the it seems like every third street light is out — either burnt out and unchanged or deliberately smashed. Or shot. The customary urban glow is a little less here, the shadows that modern man works so hard to banish once the sunset stretching further, larger then most are comfortable with. It's no wonder that the streets are all but deserted. At least by all but the venal. And desperate.

Of course some of the city's inhabitants aren't particularly bothered by shadow and darkness. They thrive in it. Nightwing slips across the rooftops with the practiced ease of one who has been doing it for years, little more than a shadow himself. His black body suit leaves little impression, even when he leaps from one rooftop to the next, only a flicker of motion ever given to draw the eye before he is enveloped by that dark background once more. It is the others in his line of work that have brought him out tonight, moreso than any routine patrol, though most of his 'family' are not easy to track down. Fortunately he has practice at that too, starlite lenses scanning the darkness that is lit up for him like daylight — if with a green glow that takes a little getting used to.

He can already picture it, how others would react - the Red Knight had of course followed in the footsteps of some of his mentor's more dubious and obsessive behaviours, creating profiles of friends and allies as much as foes. The way Zatanna would look at him with mild reproach for going out on his own when she'd already been involved in this before. How Spoiler would confront him for leaving other people in the dark. Impulse, Wonder Girl… They'd feel left out, probably. But he wasn't expecting to apply any violence tonight. It was just quiet surveillance.

And, well, for a guy like him, Red Robin has very few quiet friends.

The danger of surveillance is of course getting too caught up in it, and forgetting that you might be discovered. He doesn't need a direct line of sight on the particular warehouse he has in mind, since he's got the drone doing the hard work, but there's something psychologically reassuring about using your own eyes. Besides, who else would be up on the rooftops on a night like this?

It was starting to get warm, muggy - Gotham only seemed to experience winter and summer without much in-between - and up on the rooftops it was probably even worse. So naturally, only the real crazies would be there, on the top level of the City of Yesterday's curious ecosystem.

"Typical," he repeats, although not for the same reason as before. At the warehouse, trucks are being loaded by a crew that looks like somebody called up central casting and hired all their 'goon' extras. The drone moves in close to one of the trucks, aiming to plant a tracking device. It's not easy to remote control one of those using just a gauntlet - his fingers moving and shifting, as though working a keyboard that exists only in his head - especially not when you notice that you're not alone.

"It's not very nice to sneak up on people, you know," he says, hypocritically, apparently to the night air.

He's not sure who it is. But he can tell there's somebody there, and they haven't shot him yet so that's a tentatively good sign.

In some ways they are all so much alike. Almost all of them have dealt with some sort of tragedy that has helped to shape them. They are all committed to making the world a better, safer place. To insure that the bad things that are so much a part of their own lives do not have the chance to ruin other's lives. They are driven in ways that most people just are not. And of course there is him. Gotham's Dark Knight. They all have him in common, in some capacity. Maybe he is a mentor. Perhaps he is an ideal that they can aspire to. A teacher and trainer who makes them better at this life they have chosen. A challenge to be faced to gain approval. And, of course, to some of them he is a father figure.

The humidity is never particularly enjoyable to deal with — especially when running around in some tight costume made of non-natural materials that most definitely do not breath. But what makes it worse is the near dead calm, not even a hint of a breeze. That's rare, especially down here as close to the docks as they are. Not even the slightest reprieve offered. And while the burning light of day might be past, it would seem that very little heat has yet to bleed away. This, this is the less glamourous side of being a vigilante. Well, one of many.

Even with as good of shape as he is in, there is a slight dampness to his dark hair, just a hint of sweat on his forehead as he finally spots the object of several hours worth of searching. Long, easy strides carry him across the roof though he stops well short and begins to creep closer. He can't make this too easy right? What they do is no game, it's true. But that doesn't mean that they can't pit themselves against one another now and then. It helps to stay in practice.

It is no real surprise to Nightwing when that familiar voice rings out without ever turning around and a faint grin crosses over the young man's features, neither rising from his crouch nor ceasing to move forward to the roof's edge. "You know, if you weren't doing your best to channel your inner *Him* I would say that you had to be joking. If we didn't sneak up on people we would never see anyone. We'd have to lock ourselves in our rooms. I'm pretty sure that sneaking up on people is habitual for all of us by now. But if you're feeling slighted, just think about how Gordon feels. He gets snuck up on and the snuck out on. Has been longer then either of us have been doing this," he points out mildly. "I'd say you've got it pretty good all things considered. Besides, how many of us can sneak up on you? Excluding *Him* of course."

Batman might be a man of few words. Nightwing? Yeah, not so much.

"It's that aftershave you wear," Red Robin replies without looking back. "Too much sandalwood. Dead giveaway."

Of course, really, he wasn't sure who it was until Nightwing spoke up, and then honestly there was only one person it could be. Most of the others liable to be found up on Gotham's rooftops tend towards the quieter end of things… But the original Boy Wonder was definitely not. In his younger days, the currently-cowled youth would've been almost as bad, but the life they led had seeped into him more than it had his predecessor. Or maybe he just showed it more clearly.

But seriousness gives way to wry amusement: Even on his worst day, he wasn't as bad as the Bat himself, and Nightwing had that way about him that put people at ease. Red Robin could certainly never claim that, but they were who they were.

"One time Spoiler snuck up on me and she hasn't let me hear the end of it since," he muses, since Nightwing did bring it up. "Impulse, a few times, but he's a speedster so that's cheating. Besides, I'm sure you could if you really wanted to. So, what's up? Just having a relaxing nighttime stroll?" Below, the drone slips underneath one of the trucks. This takes most of Red Robin's concentration, trying to get the tracker somewhere it won't be found by a cursory inspection, but where the truck's chassis won't interfere with the signal either. "The nightlife out this way is pretty boring, everybody's working late."

"Hey now. I know better than that. If I went on patrol smelling like a candle factory He would still try to ground me for a month, the fact that I'm a grown man be damned. It must just be my natural musk," Nightwing counters lightly. Of course he knows better. The all do. It is easy to start thinking that stealth is just a matter of going unseen, going unheard. It is easy for most people to forget just how important scent is to the equation too. But they're not most people and they definitely can not afford little oversights like that. The glamorous life of a vigilante. Specialized, unscented hygiene products is just one of the many perks. He might not smell like sandalwood, true. But he's less likely to get shot because someone downwind smells him coming.

"Well /of course/ I could do it from time to time. But I'm pretty awesome so you know, that just goes without saying," the dark haired vigilante answers, voice light and airy. True, he can brood with the best of the Batclan. But he generally manages to avoid that. Padding closer to the edge of the rooftop, he sinks down, peering at the scene below. "I'd wager that I could find a spot of trouble if I looked hard enough. I probably will before calling it a night. I wouldn't want anyone to think I was slacking off or anything," he notes, just a hint of a smile curving over his features. "But no, so far as I know there is no imminent danger on the streets of Red Hook that desperately requires the attention of two of Gotham's finest. I guess I'm just sort of… making the rounds as it were. It's been a little while since I had the chance to check in with you. I wanted to see how you were doing."

Hardly earth-shattering. But very much in keeping with how Nightwing tends to operate. The mission is important. But the people behind it, his friends, his family are just as important.

See, the great advantage of a full cowl over just a domino mask (besides it hiding your hair) is that it conceals a wider range of expressions. Say, for example, your adopted older brother brought up his 'natural musk', and you wanted to maintain a certain air of solemn gravity: The cowl hides most of the horrified look on your face, where the domino mask would not.

Yes, yes, it's very handy for dehumanising yourself when dealing with criminals and other villains, making you seem other and untouchable. But mainly this.

"Don't ever say that word again," Red Robin says, a grossed out tone creeping into his voice. "Just… No."

It's a terrible, terrible word.

Like 'moist'.

But of course, the reality of why Nightwing is there is something very much him, isn't it? He wasn't the all-business one. The only person who was more likely to track them down on a rooftop somewhere to make sure they were okay would be if Alfred took up ninjutsu. There's a faint spark of irritation somewhere deep in the younger man's mind, a stirring of I don't need to be looked after, but he quashes it immediately, ruthlessly. There are precious few people anymore he would let 'look after' him, after all, and well…

"I'm doing fine," he replies, which is such a gross oversimplification as to be an outright lie. "Keeping a lot of plates spinning, you know how it is. College, Titans, spying on drug runners. Trying to stay friends with an ex. Found this new donut shop in NYC that has almost put me off the Batman Diet."

It's a pretty fair request. Really, there are some things that family doesn't really need to discuss. It's the safest way to maintain a certain level of love and affection. Not to mention a degree of sanity. The only thing that might be worse is if Bruce underwent a radical personality change and decided to discuss his body odor. Or Alfred. Sanity shivers. Of course they're not a typical family.

The grin that slides over Nightwing's expression is decidedly wicked, verging on unmerciful. "Please, you know who trained and had a hand in raising us both. He always insisted that we seek out our foes weaknesses — and sometimes our friends," he adds, tone turning dry as he gives a little shake of his head, "and ruthlessly exploit them. You just handed up your weakness on a silver platter. So you can count on us having further discussion on my very distinct odor. Probably the next time you're with your friends." He'll do it too. Maybe they really aren't that different from any other set of brothers afterall.

There are times when it seems that Nightwing doesn't have the ruthless streak that some of the rest of them do. The proverbial killer instinct. At times it makes him a little less… efficient then the Dark Knight. But it probably helps make him a little better of a team player. A little more emphathetic. A little bit better at relating to others. Batman can dissect an individual's personality, their behavior with a near clinical precision. Dick doesn't have to. "Fine, huh?" he replies quietly, lips twitching slightly. Such a great word, fine. It conveys so little and so much at the same time. He's been 'fine' now and again too. "Sounds pretty hectic. It's not all work and no play I hope."

He's done that before. Tried to keep too many plates in the air. They're a phenomenally talented group. But still human. They just happen to be gifted — or cursed — with a mentor who makes it seem like keeping 14 balls in the air at one time is no big deal. It's not an easy example to live up to. And while they should probably all know better by now, sooner or later they all seem to end up trying to do the same.

The good-natured but also deadly serious older brother ribbing prompts a look from Red Robin. Well, there was definitely a time in his life not too long ago where that threat wouldn't have much weight, given his general lack of friends - he'd grown away from most of them, thanks to the Work. He was, indeed, all work and no play. Now he's more 70/30. But it's not like he can really keep Nightwing away from his costumed friends, at least. If there's anyone who knows the way to that T-shaped tower in the East River, it's one of the original Titans.

"All right, but if you start bringing up your musk around them you should be careful, a couple of the girls are underage," the younger man retorts. Because they were both trained by the same man, after all, and one of the most important lessons was to never give up until you're dead, and maybe not even then. "And Zatanna might actually curse you to smell like sandalwood all the time."

Witches, man, you never know what they might do. He's seen her turn a guy into an oyster.

"Still, hey, you should check out the Tower sometime. Cyborg's there, and a whole bunch of new faces. Bad guys blew a hole in the side of the place, but we got that patched up… Not before Superman came crashing through it unconscious, though."

"I'm always careful," the former Boy Wonder retorts. Which apparently means that it is his turn to lie. Or perhaps more politely, exaggerate. He is rarely careful, at least when he is in the costume, on his own. He's always been a little bit of a risk taker, comfortable relying on his natural agility and acrobatic training to get him out of a tight spot. It's a little different when he's leading others however. Then he does exercise a modicum of care. It makes him an effective leader. It's also one of the few things and truly stresses him out. Hey, even he can't be happy-go-lucky all the time. "Besides, I'm very likable. You'd be amazed at what you can get away with when you're willing to smile now and then. It's why *He* is so popular when he's playing at being Bruce. Well, that and the billions and billions of dollars. That can make people more ammenable too," he notes with a sage-nod. Words to live by.

No, he's not likely to forget his way to the Tower anytime soon. As much as Bruce shaped him, his time with the Titans did just as much in making him the man he is now. In many ways the best and worst times of his life revolve around that uniquely-shaped building. Just the mention of it is enough to bring a fond smile to the young man's features and he dips his head in acknowledement. "Like I said, I'm making the rounds. It's definitely on the list to drop by soon. I was thinking of heading up to New York in the next couple of days anyway. I might even try to be on my best behavior so I don't end up smelling like meditation happy hipster," he agrees with a little smirk before giving a mock gasp. "I can't believe you let someone damage my tower. A gaping hole. Harsh," he says, the lense inserts in his mask hiding the twinkle in his eye, though do nothing to keep it from his voice.

Heaven knows worse happened to Titan's Tower on his watch. It's practically a rite of passage. Any day the Tower doesn't blow up is a good day.

I'm always careful.

That's one particular bit of bullshit they both engage in. Careful doesn't really enter into it when you make a lifestyle of jumping off of rooftops and getting into fights with deadly ninja armies or murder clowns or actual demons from actual hell.

The flat look that Red Robin directs at Nightwing is, despite the cowl and the completely hidden eyes, absolutely palpable. Honestly, trying to claim to be careful!

"I smile," the younger of the two mutters, almost sulkily. "The fabulous wealth definitely helps with popularity, though." Wealth he'd always applied as easily as their mentor did, more easily than some of the rest of their strange family… He was more used to it, maybe; the Drakes had been wealthy themselves, not to the absurd levels of the Waynes or the Kanes, but enough to live in that most exclusive of Gotham neighbourhoods.

He lets out a quiet snort at the mock gasp, the feigned shock at the damage done to the Tower that had been empty and disused before Red Robin got one of his little ideas. Honestly, with some of the people in the original Titans, it's a wonder the whole place didn't burn down ages ago.

"Took my whole forensics lab with it. I mean, it's not as good as the one I built at the Nest," yes of course he has his own hideout in Gotham, and yes of course he called it the Nest. "But still. There's somebody out there, I dunno… Experimenting on people, maybe. Some kind of nanites. They generate a lot of heat. Enough that after we subdued this guy who'd gone berserk, whoever put them in his system was able to overload them and turn him into a bomb." After the jokes about the tower, the faint strains of anger in his voice are obvious, however controlled. Someone died on his watch, which was naturally unacceptable. "Should keep your ear to the ground. I gave Oracle the information about it, too."

"Uh huh. Sure you do. You're a positive Mr. Sunshine. You positively light up ever room you enter," Nightwing retorts slyly, that amused little smile only growing at the distinctly sulky tone of his reply. That was probably sarcasm. He's not above that.

Perhaps it truly is a matter of upbringing. Certainly Dick never wanted for anything growing up in the circus. But money certainly wasn't front and center in his life, not until he came to live with Bruce. Nor does he have anything against spending it. But he is usually more subtle in it's application. Need a place to live? An apartment in a brownstone is enough for him. Sure, he might also own the building, but no one else — at least not outside the family — would ever know. The trappings of wealth have never quite… fit with him. But then he has always been very determined that when not wearing the mask he would live his life on his own terms. That Dick Grayson would never become the disguise. That might work for Bruce. It never would for him.

The smile fades and Nightwing too grows serious as he details the circumstances of the attack, giving a small shake of his head. "It boggles the mind, that there are people out there that somehow justify that sort of thing to themselves," he agrees quietly. There's anger in those words almost certainly, but more a certain sadness. A resignation that probably shouldn't be there in one so young. That probably should never have to be in anyone, regardless of their age. "I'll see if I can dig up anything when I'm up that way," he promises without hesitation. "I'll get Oracle to give me the full rundown," he adds, almost immediately tilting his head to the side, lifting a finger to one ear, his expression turning rueful. "Wow. Speak of the devil. I sometimes think she has the entire city, maybe the entire world bugged," he says with a certain amount of appreciation. "Looks like there is something I have to attend to afterall."

Rising to his feet, he offers flippant two-finger salute to his 'little brother' and a brash grin. "Looks like I gotta cut this little heart to heart short. But I will look you up again soon. You know how to get in touch if you need," he says as he turns on his heel and starts off, point-back to the younger vigilante without glancing back. "And less of this lone-wolf stuff. We don't need another of *him* in the family," he adds. Yep, you had to figure he was gonna slip that in sometime in the conversation. Still treading away, starting to fall into that long-legged stride, "And I'm not a Mother Hen. I care, there's a difference. Not to mention I've never once laid an egg."

Honestly, Red Robin's not even sure why people always call him out about not smiling. He smiles. Doesn't he?

He distinctly remembers being the sort of person who smiled a lot. The kind of teenager who had lots of fun. But, well, things happened as they do. It took longer for the tragedy that seems inextricable from their lives to find him than it did the others who've worn the Robin mantle, but it caught up with him eventually. Taking his family, whittling his civilian friendships down to maybe one or two. Gotham was a hungry city, and never moreso than it was for those who stood up against it.

They are, at least, both resolved to catch the bad guys, to save lives, to uphold the Rule: Red Robin's determination is mirrored in Nightwing, neither one of them the type to let the people who'd killed that mysterious metahuman the Titans had rescued just get away with it. The explosion could've taken a lot more than just one life and a lab if Red Robin hadn't reacted quickly. If he hadn't been able to get Zatanna out of there…

But duty calls, as it always does. Red Robin just shakes his head a little when his adoptive brother has to get back to it, but of course he gets called out on the 'lone wolf stuff'… Which is fair.

"Okay, mom," is the quiet retort, just barely on the edge of the older vigilante's hearing, for all that he claims to not be the Mother Hen. And thank goodness for that, because the egg thing is a pretty harrowing visual.

Naturally, once he's alone on the roof, the young man gets back to the lone wolf stuff.

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