The story opens with Dick riding on his motorcycle
Dick: *narrating* Seems like I'm splitting my time more and more between Chicago and Gotham. I mean, sure I want to check in with Bruce, Damian, Joseph, Sam and Babs; but I got my own life to live.
He drives up the road to Wayne Manor.
Dick: *narrating* But Alfred sounded so frazzled--for him--so I decided to head out as fast as I could.
Quick flashback to Nightwing tying up some thugs in front of the "Bean" in Millennium Park in Chicago
Nightwing: *narrating* Just had to tie up some loose ends.
His comm beeps,
Nightwing: Little busy at the moment
Alfred: *on comm* Master Richard, good evening.
Nightwing: What's up, Alfred?
Alfred: *on comm* I can't really say on here...can you come to Gotham as soon as you are able? There is a situation...and I'd like your help in defusing it.
Nightwing: Call Batgirl, she's actually in Gotham.
Alfred: *on comm* She says you should come
Nightwing: ...Must be serious
Alfred: *on comm* Indeed, I'll fill you in.
Nightwing hears a bit of commotion faintly in the background
Nightwing: What's going on?
Alfred: *on comm* I will tell you when you get here.
Back in Gotham, Dick parks in front of Wayne Manor and removes his helmet. Alfred stands at the door.
Alfred: Master Richard, you made good time.
Dick: Easier to travel cross country on a bike.
Alfred: Sadly, the situation has already escalated....
Dick: What is it? Something to do with Joker? Or Deathstroke?
Alfred: Nothing so simple
Dick follows Alfred inside.
Dick: *narrating* That sixth sense, that one that tells me something is wrong, it starts going off when I enter. Last time I was here, Sam would be running downstairs to say hi. Joseph would be probably be in the upstairs living room, playing in the piano.
Damian walks by, hoodie up, listening to music
Dick: *narrating* Only thing that's "normal" is Damian...and I KNOW that's not normal.
Alfred brings him to the den and closes the door.
Dick: *narrating* Bruce and Babs are here...okay something is definitely off
Dick does so.
Dick: ...Where's Joseph?
Bruce: That's part of the problem
Dick: Is he okay?
Babs: He's gone rogue, Dick
Alfred: Perhaps I should explain.
Alfred: Master Joseph lately has been...frustrated.
Bruce: Well if he would be more patient....
Alfred: *raising a hand* You are as much to blame as he is for this mess, Master Bruce.
We flash back to a few days prior, Joseph is watching the news
Newscaster: The manhunt for Scarecrow and Riddler continues after their daring escape from Arkham Asylum. The two super-villains assisted each other in their escape, which led five dead....
Joseph is writing down notes.
Bruce: Combination of that level is lethal to say the least
Joseph looks a tad startled
Joseph: Must you do that when you're not Batman?!
Bruce: Would have thought you'd get used to it by now
Joseph: Is Jim Gordon used to it by now?
Joseph: I rest my case.
Bruce: ...What have you got there?
Joseph looks at his notepad.
Joseph: Nothing, some notes...
Bruce snatches it out of Joseph's hand.
Bruce: Impressive deductions...not bad for an amateur
Joseph: Well, I've observed the best. *sotto voce, or so he thinks* Not that he ever gives me training or lets me know how close I am to earning it.
Bruce: Patience is a virtue...and perhaps you'd see the destination with a clearer perspective
Joseph: Hard to see that without an actual path.
Joseph: I've put in good work for you for months; where's your end of the bargain?
Bruce: I have honored my word and will continue to do so but you've got to accept the realities and show some patience
Joseph: Was it like this with Dick, Jason, Tim...freaking Damian got in automatically
Bruce: They were different cases.
Joseph: Dick, I understand. But Jason was a street punk (he still is), and Tim freaking wore you down and then, to get your attention, hacked the Penguin's bank account and nearly got himself killed! And yet you made him Robin...Red Robin...whatever. What do I have to do? Blow something up?!
Bruce: I shouldn't think so
Joseph: Then tell me..because this is getting tiresome. Respect, Bruce. I respect you AND our agreement. I don't see any reciprocation!
Bruce: Has it crossed your mind that perhaps you're looking at this the wrong way?
Joseph: You're dodging the question, as usual. *checks watch* And anyways, I'm off the clock.
Bruce: "Off the clock"?
Joseph: My day off? My OWED day off? The one you said I could have after I sacrificed my last one to help you deal with the....
Bruce: Quite right actually...enjoy
Bruce leaves as Joseph looks pissed off
Joseph: *fuming* Asshole
Alfred at this point walks past the living room, and sees the tableau
Alfred: Oh dear. Something wrong, Master Joseph?
Joseph: How can he be such a...such a.....
Alfred: I think you made your point before I walked in. You must understand of course...for change to happen you have to meet it half way
Joseph: At this point, Alfred, I think I've passed half way. I do all I can do underneath his rules for me; and he always finds some flaw. And when something happens that makes me rush from behind the scenes and be more active, even against my own volition, he looks down at me.
Alfred: You want to be the hero?
Joseph: Yes! *beat* No. I just want a sign or something that I'll finally get what I was promised in signing up...Now I know what Roy Harper meant by "Buyer Beware."
Alfred: Yes, he did have a similar situation with Mr. Queen....
Joseph: How will I know I am close?
Alfred: Perhaps you shouldn't be waiting for someone else to tell you and just find out for yourself
Joseph: You know Alfred *grabs his coat* you're right.
Joseph rushes out.
Alfred: Why do I sense this isn't a good time to be right?
Joseph rushes down into the Batcave
Joseph: Bruce?! We need to talk!
Bruce, in his costume but with the cowl down, turns his chair to face Joseph
Bruce: ...Clearly, what is it?
Joseph: I've worked myself to near exhaustion, I've been nearly killed more times than I would admit working for you...and that's just behind the scenes or being in the wrong place in the wrong time. I've more than earned training, so what more than I need to do?!
Bruce: ...Grow up
Bruce: Haven't you learned by now? Even after all that, you're still so naive
Joseph: ...*shaken but defensive* No I'm not...I've learned from all this...I'm not an idiot kid
Bruce: No you're not an idiot...but you're still a kid...wanting to be a hero...do you think that's how I started out? It was a delusion I never allowed myself to suffer...and one my allies cannot afford to suffer either
Joseph takes this very personally...the thought of all his hard work...amounting to nothing because...he still thinks...like a ...
Joseph: %$*@ you Bruce! *punches him in the gut*
Joseph runs over to a bike and hot wires it. He then heads out. Bruce stands up and sees Alfred hanging up a comm.
Bruce: ...I've made a mistake haven't I?
Alfred: ...Maybe I did too sir
We return to the present
Alfred: As of now, Master Joseph has been missing for 12 hours, and we are trying to keep Master Sam from finding out....
Bruce: I admit I made a mistake-
Dick: Not you Bruce...you try to tell him he needs to grow up...but he can't take that can he? Because he knows he is smart, he knows he is good but he also knows he's too damn naive...and he hates that...so he tries to be like us, cocky, a real clever dick because he thinks that's what we are...what he doesn't get is we are like this because we worked to become it...and he's gonna get himself killed out there...I'll find him
Bruce: I know you will
Babs: Dick...go easy on him okay, he's just like we were-
Dick: Yes...and look what happened to us...but I'm not going to let it happen to him
Babs: And may I remind both you Bat Boys that like you two he didn't have the happiest childhood. Dick, you of all people know how he feels about being treated like a kid.
Dick: Babs...it's not being treated like a kid...it's knowing he is a kid...we were all kids once remember...then something popped our bubble...and we became this
Babs: ...What will you do?
Dick: ...Pop his bubble...before someone pops him
Meanwhile, Joseph is on a rooftop, looking at an abandoned factory through binoculars while eating a sandwich
Joseph: *narrating* Stupid, arrogant, pointy eared BASTARD! "You're not ready, you're just a kid. It's not like you've been working your fingers to the damn bone for what I held out for you like a carrot only to hit you with the stick!" *angrily bites into the sandwich* Well so called Great Detective, guess who figured out where the jailbirds are!
Scarecrow has changed his apperance...he's dressed in a hoode wearing a WW2 gasmask with yellow lenses topped off with a lab coat...in a sense, he looks scary even without the toxin
Scarecrow: ...Subjects have been dissapointing...I am beginning to doubt you Edward
Riddler: *sighing* Not my fault the test subjects couldn't solve a simple puzzle.
Scarecrow: ...We need someone stronger...get me someone like Batman
Riddler: Whoah, ambitious
Scarecrow: Merely desiring better quality
Riddler: How many people in this city are that smart....
Scarecrow: Several...you just don't think of them as such because you're so self absorbed
Riddler: Heh *sarcastically* why don't we work together more often
Scarecrow: Because I am a man of science whereas you are a narcissist wanting to prove you are clever
Riddler: Excuse me?! I AM more clever than most of these...troglodytes!
Scarecrow: ...Am I to assume you are volunteering for testing?
Riddler: ...I'll get you someone then
Joseph keeps viewing them
Joseph: *narrating* It's like the Odd Couple in there! So they are performing some kind of sick experiment...bastards. And the scary thing is, that even with all their fighting, they are being somewhat successful in regards to kidnappings....
As Joseph watches, Nightwing goes through the streets of Gotham
Batgirl: *on comm* Even if you find him first, Man Wonder, don't piss him off.
Nightwing: Batgirl, he is pissed off
Batgirl: I meant more than he already is. He's probably beating himself up internally and in the back of his mind. It's been hard enough finding him now, scare him off and it will be even harder.
Nightwing: I know where he's gone
Nightwing: Where does any boy who wants to play hero go?
Batgirl: ...Dick...you have to stop him
Nightwing: Well I'm not here playing tag am I?! *beat* Sorry...I'll find him
Batgirl: Remember, you're his best friend; you know him better than any of us other than Sam. Don't say anything stupid.
Nightwing: ...There is a fine line between what you consider stupid...and what he needs to hear...I ask for a little faith
Batgirl: Let's be fair, Richard; you DO have the habit of saying the wrong thing.
Nightwing: ...*seriously* Kindly remember, Babs you all called me here, you all asked me to go and talk to him, you all brought me here...are you now telling me you are stupid enough to send me out there thinking I may say the wrong thing?
Batgirl: Just a friendly reminder.....
Nightwing: No...that wasn't friendly
He goes onwards
Batgirl: Nightwing, I'm sorry, that was catty of me.
Nightwing: ...Probably right anyway
Batgirl: I am?
Nightwing: You usually are
That comment makes her feel sad
Batgirl: ...Dick I didn't mean
Nightwing: Found him...or rather found where he's going, Nightwing out
Nightwing guns his bike down the street. Joseph, in the meanwhile, has put away his lunch and is rummaging through his backpack
Joseph: *narrating* Where are you....AH! *takes out grappling hook, narrating* Gotta stop those two.
Scarecrow and Riddler head to Cape Carmine, the lighthouse...a perfect place to do some experiments. Joseph follows discreetly on his purloined bike
Joseph: *narrating* Scarecrow and Riddler...only way it could be better was if it was the Joker...heh, this will show Bruce
As the pair of villains enter the lighthouse, Joseph goes up to a nearby roof and readies the grappling hook.
A toss, and a miss.
Joseph: Come on!
It latches on
Joseph: *narrating* Glad no one saw that
Joseph quickly swings over. He enters the lighthouse from the roof entrance, heads down to the rafters and hears screaming
Joseph: *narrating* Damn it they already got someone down there....
Riddler: *voice echoes* This one is a little more promising
Scarecrow: *voice echoes* Indeed...children seem to be more intelligent when under real pressure
Joseph: *narrating* Children...no!
Joseph keeps to the shadows while moving as fast as he can. He tracks the voices to the emergency bunker...the underground part of the lighthouse. He peers into a window into a lab, and into madness.... Scarecrow is tormenting some poor soul strapped to a chair, it's girl by the sound of her voice
Riddler: Now...answer the question....
Joseph bursts in at that stage
Joseph: GET AWAY FROM HER!
Scarecrow and Ronin look at this stranger, wearing ad hoc tactical gear with SWAT team gear hiding his face
Scarecrow: Well, if it isn't our nosy neighbor...
The child is a mannequin, the two men are holograms and the cage doors shut
Riddler: He'll do I suppose
Joseph: Oh f--
Riddler: Language! Let's be civil about this
Joseph: Says the maniac
Scarecrow: Would you rather we got a real child?
Joseph: I'd rather you two be in a cell.
Scarecrow: ...Subject is unwilling, allow us to provide motivation
The room fills with gas. Joseph coughs and drops to his knees
Scarecrow: Level one of the toxin, you will experience hallucinations...now onto the first test
Joseph looked around, as odd whispers filled the air.
Voices: Stupid kid...childish...grow up
Riddler: What do you suppose he's hearing?
Joseph: I'm not a kid!
Scarecrow: ...Subject is intelligent, strong by the looks of it...but feels vulnerable, a constant desire...no need to prove he is more than what he is...perhaps to make up for past weakness, or disability
Joseph: Shut up Crane!!
Riddler: I think you may be right
Joseph: I SAID SHUT UP!
He vainly attacks the hologram
Scarecrow: If you complete the test we shall stop the voices
Joseph looks for an exit
Riddler: Use your mind, it's not yet gone. Tell us, what word is always pronounced wrong?
Joseph: That could be any word!
Scarecrow: True, but he just said it didn't he?
Voices: Stupid child!
Joseph: SHUT UP!
Riddler: I just told you the answer
Joseph breathes to steady himself
Riddler: Very good
The voices stop. Joseph breathes
Scarecrow: Proceed to the next room
Joseph does so.
Scarecrow: You will next be dosed with level two of the serum
Joseph is assailed by the fear gas
Scarecrow: Your fears will seem more real now
As Joseph coughs, the specter of Batman appears
Riddler: What do you see?
Joseph: I'm not telling you!
Joseph just glares at the figure he sees
Batman: Look at you...trying to be like us...and you can't even grow up
Joseph: Oh like you're one to to talk!
Batman: Wanting to play hero...like an adventure? Save the day, kiss the girls?
Joseph: To protect people!
Batman: That's not why you dressed up in New York...it was for the thrill
Joseph: That's not true, and you know it!
Batman: Oh really? First night...you stopped a bank robbery...sloppy, careless but you did it...and you loved it didn't you?
Joseph: Same way you loved your first patrol, a dark avenger bringing justice to a crooked city.
Batman: No...this was never about being the hero...I never was in this for the thrill...and you know that
Joseph: ...And what...I can't have fun doing this?
Batman: Are you a child or not?
Joseph looks torn
Joseph: So maybe I'm a tad childish; but there is no rule that says you can't enjoy what you do!
Batman: But you don't take it seriously
Nightwing apparition appears
Nightwing: Always Mr. Punchline
Robin apparition appears
Robin: A pathetic copycat
Joseph: Says the one who inspired me to quip and the one who is always in rush to become his big bad daddy.
At the moment he's remaining resistant...but he feels their words hurt
Joseph turns to the Batman figure
Joseph: And you, you're the worse hypocrite of the lot. You call me childish? You are the epitome of childish wish fulfillment!
The Batman figure glares down at him
Batman: So are you.
Batman: A weak...sickly little boy...wanted to be a hero
Joseph is silent.
Batman: What have you lost?
Nightwing: You still have mom and dad
Robin: And Sam...
All: What have you lost?!
Batman/Nightwing/Robin: What have you lost?
Joseph drops to his knees
Scarecrow: Would you like us to stop this?
Joseph collapses to the ground as his worse fears overwhelm him
Riddler: To get out of this one, let's try a little brain teaser
Joseph just sobs as Riddler talks
Riddler: Come on boy, up you get
Joseph obeys and shambles towards a computer. The computer lights up as he gets close
Question: When all the world is against you, where is the safest place to hide?
Joseph: *thinking* In plain sight? Right in front of them? Home? God, this gas...these hallucinations, they're driving me insane...that's it! *speaks* Insanity
Riddler: Correct, it's done wonders for us
Scarecrow: You are questionable
Riddler: Oh shut up. *into comm* The subject will proceed into the next chamber.
Joseph finds himself walking into a hall of mirrors
Joseph: What the--
He coughs again. He keeps coughing, surrounded by his reflection. His reflections start talking
'Joseph': They are right you know
Joseph: No, they're not!
'Joseph': You are childish, wanting to play superhero...be like them
Joseph: I don't consider it "playing"!
They speak in his own thoughts
'Ronin': This is the best day of my life!...Haven't had this much fun in years...time to kick some ass!
Joseph: I was just...enjoyinh it...
'Alfred': Of course sir
Joseph: After years of being caged...I was finally free.....
Alfred: But you are a still a child...and that's not a bad thing
Joseph: I'm 19...I've accomplished more in my life than most twice my age...why am I still treated like I should be at the kids table....
Alfred: Because you can't grow up without accepting where you start...so what if you're still a boy...it's the first step to becoming a man
Joseph: How is it, even as a hallucination, you're the only one who gets it?
Alfred: Oh we all get it sir...just couldn't tell you, it was something you had to figure out on your own
Joseph: Yeah, but you're nice in going about the lesson
Alfred: Hardly call this nice...you had to learn it via fear gas
Joseph: Yeah, so why are you not a frightening specter trying to melt my brain?
Alfred: Simple...I'm the light in the darkness
Joseph: Makes sense. *coughs*
Alfred: ...Now come home
Joseph: I will once I find my way out of here.
Scarecrow: Interesting...subject's subconscious is lending relief
Riddler: Can't have that...
Scarecrow: Increase the dosage
Riddler: Done already
Alfred: That way sir...
Joseph falls to his knees, coughing and retching. Memories rush into his brain...his so called childhood, feeling trapped and alone, his nearly being killed by Penguin when he was a boy, his training, his team up with Batman, his fight with Batman in the Atlantic Terminal mall, etc. Then something new...he sees himself in a graveyard.
He is walking without wanting to...gets to a gravestone...and sees engraved on it...Dick Grayson.
Then another gravestone: Bruce Wayne. And another: Alfred Pennyworth. Two more: Damian Wayne, Barbara Gordon. Finally, a big gravestone: SAM KANE
He stumbles back and falls..he's in a room...with a man tied to a chair, the real Riddler and Scarecrow here now
Scarecrow: ...Want it all to stop?
Joseph nods numbly. Riddler gives him a gun. Joseph's hand shakes as it grips the gun
Riddler: Shoot this man in the head...and you are free to go
Joseph: He's already beaten to a pulp....
Scarecrow: So put him out of his misery
Joseph: Who is he?
Riddler: It doesn't matter
Scarecrow: We don't know, and it's not important
Joseph: It's important to me.
Scarecrow: *sighs* Kill him...or we kill you
Scarecrow shows his gauntlet
Scarecrow: I have here a nasty little serum, it will ignite into your blood and forces every sense to experience terror until your mind and heart just can't take anymore...and stops
Joseph is practically shaking here
Scarecrow: Now pull the trigger...please
Joseph's hand shakes as he aims. In his vision...the man's face distorts...he's looking at...Dick Grayson
Riddler: Excuse me?
Joseph: I'm not a killer.
Scarecrow: *sighs* Subject remains resolute even in the face of terror
Scarecrow plunges his gauntlet into the mans neck and Joseph watches him scream to death...it's horrifying...and the reality of this work hits him in the face
Joseph: ...You're a...monster
Scarecrow: Grow up
Joseph's eyes go wide at that
Scarecrow goes for him, then Nightwing crashes in and throws wing dings, one of which affixes Riddler's jacket to the wall with him in it. Nightwing lands a kick on Riddler knocking him out, Scarecrow gasses him and claws him unseen by Joseph and Nightwing punches him away...Scarecrow runs and Nightwing grabs Joseph and gets him to another part of the lighthouse.
Joseph: But you...and the man in the chair....
Nightwing: It wasn't your fau-
Joseph pushes away from him...still affected by the gas
Joseph: This is just another trick, another hallucination!
Nightwing: *slaps him in the face* That feel like an hallucination?
Joseph punches Dick back
Joseph: You always have to be the clever one, don't you!
Nightwing: Maybe if you used that head of yours you wouldn't be here would you?
Joseph: Look whose talking...heh
Nightwing: What do you mean?
Joseph: With all the times you've led people, you sure have made some dumb decisions
Joseph: You think you can come off better than me? You're a womanizer! A pervert and-
Nightwing: At least I'm not jealous
Nightwing: It's true isn't it? Every time...when the chips are down, and the first sign of trouble...you drop that joke, old 'big' Dick Grayson...it's funny...but the more you say it...the more we see about you, you don't laugh at me...you want to be me...and that is stupid
Joseph: ...Listen I-
Nightwing: No you listen...do you imagine for one moment...it has been easy getting here? You think you've got it tough? Imagine losing your parents...right in front of your eyes...watching them fall to their deaths and your whole world burning down...you still have mommy and daddy...hell you even have Sam and we have always been there for you...guiding you. You think we had it easy? Barbara got shot in the spine, Damian got killed, we all have been burned in this line of work but we keep going...you think you've got it tough now...you think you're a hero now?
He makes Joseph look at his wound...Joseph's eyes widen...Nightwing has been injected with the same toxin the man was.
Nightwing: You know nothing
Joseph: We got to get you to a hospital.
Nightwing: No...you are going to call Batman...I'm going to get Scarecrow
Joseph: ...You can't...that toxin will kill you
Nightwing: ...Then I won't die...now call Batman
Joseph: Getting Scarecrow won't do you any good if you die before you can cuff him!
Nightwing: Well can you get him then?! *looks Joseph dead in the eye*
Joseph: ...*hangs his head* I...I don't want you to die
Nightwing: ...*pats his back* welcome to the company Mr. Kane....call Batman now
Nightwing passes Joseph a comm, and, with his bubble thoroughly popped, Joseph activates it.
Joseph: Operator to Batman, we have an emergency....
Nightwing has turned off his comm, no one can hear him nor speak to him...so no one heard what he said to Joseph.
Scarecrow: ...Nightwing...you should be dead by now
Nightwing: I'm persistent...and you're a bastard
Scarecrow: ...You care for that boy?
Nightwing: I care for everyone in this damn city
Joseph: Batman, come in. *beat* Why do you have to be so stubborn!
Batman: ...*via comms* I could say the same to you
Joseph: ...I'm sorry...but...Nightwing has been hurt...and he may die...Scarecrow has dosed him with some new toxin and-
Batman: I'm on my way...stay with him and don't engage Scarecrow unless you have to
Batman hangs up.
Scarecrow is waiting, thinking his knowledge and experience with Nightwing gives him the edge. Nightwing walks into the hall of mirrors.
Nightwing comes face to face with a young Joseph
"Young Joseph": Why are you so mean to me?
Batgirl: You're no better than he is
Batman: Think you're a big man do you?
Batgirl: I told you that you had to be careful in what you say.
Young Joseph: I might not have dead parents, but I was practically a prisoner and you know that
Batman: I can be harsh with him as he's trying to learn my standards; but you belittled his intentions
Young Joseph: Besides, you've always been the one with the mouth and the quips.
Batgirl: Not to mention you tend to bed anyone with an XX chromosome pair. You had sex with me and invited me to your wedding the next morning!
Batman: And Joseph hasn't made as deadly mistakes as you have.
Young Joseph: What about telling the police about Zucco....
Nightwing starts laughing
Batgirl: What's so funny?
Nightwing: ...Is this the best you got...the past, old mistakes...guilt...get a clue Crane! You're a convicted killer and psychopath, you can't guilt trip me!
All the apparitions, Scarecrow and Joseph who is watching this...are struck dumb
Young Joseph: But I can...you could have contacted me any time after Penguin nearly killed me. You knew that I figured out who you are, though you didn't want to admit it....
Nightwing: Is this all your toxin does...show me stuff I already see...whenever I close my eyes and go to bed
Scarecrow: ...Subject is volatile...used to extreme conditions, perhaps a further dosage is req-
Nightwing punches him in the gut and knocks him to the floor
Nightwing: Every night I fall asleep...I see the faces of the people I failed to save...I see those I wronged...reminding me of the mistakes I made...but you know what? I learned from it, I stopped making those mistakes, I got better....because that's what a man does!
The apparitions start to fade....
"Sam": *off panel* Why do you hate my brother?
Nightwing: ...Hate him...oh this is just sad
Sam: Why must you belittle his dreams?
Nightwing chuckles darkly
Young Joseph: Why belittle someone who believes in the same things you do?
Batgirl: Someone who looks up to you?
Batman: Someone who at least knows when he's been badly poisoned?
Young Joseph: You want to deny others the same thing you do even when they volunteer?
Batgirl: At least Joseph is mature enough to respect people's feelings.
Batman: And at least he is young enough and green enough to excuse his impetuousness.
Sam: Yeah! And you don't! What's your excuse?
All: WHY ARE YOU SO IMMATURE?!
Nightwing: Immature...*points to his open wound* I should be dead by now...how long could he last against this...tell me!
Scarecrow: ...He'd be dead...in a heartbeat...why aren't you?
Nightwing: *smirks at all the apparitions* Don't you know?
Batgirl: ...You're just like Batman...have to do it your own way
Sam: You don't care at all do you
Nightwing: No I suppose I don't...why else would I die for him?
Nightwing: It's what's going to happen isn't it?
Now it's their turn to be afraid
Batman: Why sacrifice your life for someone you look down upon?
Nightwing: Because I don't
Sam: ...But you-
Nightwing: I don't deny I've made mistakes...I don't deny I've been an idiot in the past...it's all part of growing up...you make your own mistakes...your bubble gets popped...but you learn, you move on...you get better and you keep going because you're not a boy your a man. And you owe it to yourself to guide others...that's what I did...helped him even when he needed a little sense knocked into him.
Joseph, who has been watching, is distraught...as now he realizes the reason to everything Nightwing, Batman, Batgirl, Robin and Alfred have been telling him...Nightwing turns on Scarecrow
Nightwing: Not that you'd know anything about that...you're still a scared kid hiding behind a stupid gas mask wanting to feel powerful.
Nightwing rips Scarecrow's mask off and snaps Scarecrow's gauntlet off
Nightwing: How powerful do you feel now?
Scarecrow: ...Subject is...is....*frightened* What are you?
Nightwing: ...A man...you should try it sometime *punches him out*
Nightwing turns...sees Joseph staring at him
Nightwing:...Sorry I had to pop your bubble
Joseph: ...No it's...erm listen about what I said...
Scarecrow: How could he have resisted the poison for so long?! No matter *stares at the writhing Nightwing* He won't last much longer
Joseph: ...YOU MONSTER!!
He punches Scarecrow out...and for one moment...thinks about snapping his neck
Nightwing: ...*weakly* Joseph...
Joseph: Oh right....
Joseph drops Scarecrow
Nightwing tries to get up but the chemicals he fought are taking their roll, Joseph gets a hold of him...Dick Grayson is, for all intents and purposes, dying
Joseph: *narrating* Think, Joseph, think...you gotta save him and soon!
Nightwing holds Joseph's hand
Nightwing: ...It's gonna be okay
Joseph: *whispering* Damn it Circus Boy, how do you think I'll feel being the one who got you killed.
He sees Scarecrow crawling away. He walks over, kicks Scarecrow over, and sets his foot down in Crane's crotch.
Scarecrow: ...There isn't one
Joseph: Tell me how to cure him *increases pressure* or you will be singing falsetto in the Arkham choir
Scarecrow: ...There isn't one...I didn't make one...how do you feel...knowing he's going to die...and it's all you fault?
Joseph cuffs Scarecrow and knocks him out... he returns to Nightwing, holds him again
Joseph: ...B-Batman will come...you'll be fine
Nightwing: ...Yeah...everything will be okay
Joseph: No it won't; I got you killed....
Nightwing: No...I took the shot...trust me...it's gonna be fine...have a little faith in me
Joseph: Do you know how much faith I already do have in you? I mean, you may annoy the hell out of me sometimes, but you are my best friend.
Nightwing: ...And you're my best friend too...always will be
Joseph: I just wish there was something I could do....
Nightwing: ...It's okay...you'll have your time...*starts passing out*
Joseph: Nightwing? Nightwing? *softly, panicky* Dick?
Batman enters, sees Joseph cradling Nightwing
Batman: What happened?
Joseph can't take it anymore...now he really does feel like a child...and he starts weeping
Joseph: It's my fault, it's my fault.....
Time passes in Wayne Manor...Joseph has locked himself in his room...Dick is in the cave, being treated.
Sam knocks on his brother's door.
Sam: Joey, you want something to eat?
Joseph: *inside* Not now, Sammy...
Sam: But it's French Dip!
No answer, Sam turns to Damian
Sam: He loves French Dip!
Damian: ...not as much as he's worried about Grayson I imagine
Damian: He's worried Grayson will die
Sam: But, Dick's been hurt more than....
Damian: Yeah...he'll be fine
Sam pounds on the door again
Sam: Joey, you gotta eat!
Alfred comes up with some food and knocks on Joseph's door
Sam: He's not eating, Alfred!
Alfred: Master Kane...let me in please
Joseph: What is it, Alfred?
Alfred: Prepared a little supper
Joseph: Not hungry
Sam: Told you.
Alfred: Then perhaps you'd like to talk
The door opens. Alfred goes in
Joseph: Hey, Alfred....
Alfred: I would advice against this state of depression...at least eat something
Joseph: I almost got my best friend killed....
Alfred: No sir...Master Grayson knows the risks, as do we all...and we accept them and understand the realities of this work...but we keep at it. Master Grayson wants a word....
Joseph: ...He's awake?
Alfred: He just finished debriefing Master Wayne...he wants to talk
Joseph practically bolts out the door. Joseph practically sprints past Sam and Damian, heads to the grandfather clock, opens it, and enters the cave.
Dick is lying on a hospital bed, looking a little pale and drained but turns and smiles at Joseph
Dick: Hey buddy...how are you feeling?
Joseph: *putting on a brave face* Slightly better than you.
Dick: Good to know, sorry if I gave you a scare
Joseph: A scare? Dick...you were dying!
Dick: You really think I'd just go out like that?...Got too much to do
Joseph: Well, someone is back to his blase, quippy self. In the meanwhile, I'm starving due to the fact I couldn't eat thinking you were dying and it was my fault!
Dick: Wasn't yours...it was mine
Dick: It was my fault.
Joseph: Dick, if I hadn't lost my temper....
Dick: But I chose to take the hit...
Joseph is stunned
Dick: I made a choice, I put your life over my own...it's something I tend to do but then again you are my best friend
Joseph is speechless for a few seconds
Joseph: Thanks, Dick.
Dick: ...Oh and you may not wanna mention the whole guilt thing...could poke a few holes in my debriefing
Joseph: ...What do you mean?
Dick: Well I told Bruce what happened, you found Scarecrow and Riddler...saw what they were doing and came to your senses...you therefore reached out on channels for backup and got me. I went in there, played the hero and got a little messed up, but you helped me when I needed it and kicked Scarecrow's ass. Bruce said I acted rash, could have got myself killed...but I got you home, and we stopped Crane and Nigma...he described your actions as mature, adult....and promising, says you're very nearly ready
Dick: He can't fire me...I've graduated, but hey...whatever I can do to help
Joseph: Thanks, Dick.
Dick: *smiles* Anytime bu-
Joseph suddenly hugs him, his brave face has dissolved now
Dick: ...Still in a little pain.
Joseph: Suck it up
Dick: Hey I'm not the one leaking
Joseph: ...*wipes his eyes* heh...kinda silly huh
Dick: Maybe, doesn't you any less of a man
Then a loud grumbling is heard.
Both: Was that you?
Dick: ..Heh...okay you get something to eat...and have a little chat with Bruce
Joseph: Right. *starts bounding up the stairs* Hey Alfred, I'll have that French Dip now, extra horseradish mayo!
Dick smiles from his bed
Barbara: *off panel*...I'm sorry
Barbara: I said I'm sorry
Dick: What have you got to apolo...you heard all that didn't you
Barbara: Don't worry, your secret is safe. As is your rep.
Dick: Rep wasn't an issue, not mine at least
Barbara: I know *kisses Dick's forehead* you're trying to help your friend. But I bet you don't want people to know that Nightwing has a soft gooey center
Dick: People can think what they like...though I always hold your opinion in high regard...and why were you apologizing?
Barbara: I was kind of nasty earlier
Joseph reenters the Cave with a plate of food
Joseph: Can you two just kiss already?!
Joseph heads to his usual station
Barbara: Well if tonight has taught me anything Richard it's that we can all make mistakes...
She leans down and kisses him, he promptly kisses back. Joseph watches this with a smile on his face as he resumes his duties.