"Better, but it *still* needs work."
The voice was deep and rumbling, reflective of the thunder that could be heard in the distance. Nightwing froze, cursing under his breath. He had been so careful, he thought. He knew he had been pushing it, but he had been sure that the noise of the pouring rain would provide him with enough cover to get closer. Three nights of successfully tailing the Bat had made him cocky. And he'd been called on it again.
Batman was at the end of the alley, water sheeting off of his cape and cowl, and had turned towards where Nightwing was hidden in a side doorway.
"Want to tell me *why* you've been following me?"
Foolishly, Nightwing didn't answer, hoping vainly that Batman might think he was mistaken after all, and he could slip away. The sudden looming presence took him by surprise. He hadn't heard *Batman's* approach at all.
"I asked you a question."
Nightwing's throat went dry, even while the rest of him was getting drenched from the water streaming from Batman's costume. But he swallowed hard, refusing to show his trepidation, even while his insides shook at getting caught.
"What are you doing out here?" he countered.
Batman moved closer, blocking out the wind that was whipping through the narrow passageway, leaning a bit under the overhang where Nightwing stood.
"This is my city. I watch it."
Nightwing almost let that go. It *was* Batman's city, and being its watchman was one of the many duties that Batman had taken on. But, something was different...he could feel it. And his instincts had been honed by the best, even if he still obviously needed work on his stealth tracking.
"But why are you *here*?" he persisted. For three nights, he'd been trying to answer that question as he followed Batman over rooftops and through back streets by various routes, only to end up at the same place.
"Why are *you* here?"
Nightwing had to bite his lip to keep from saying the first words that came to mind, and was grateful when something more suitable fell from his mouth. "You were acting mysterious...." The subtle tiny twitch at the corner of Batman's mouth made Nightwing laugh. He got the point...when *doesn't* Batman act mysterious. "Yeah, yeah, but I still know you. This isn't any routine thing. If it were, you wouldn't be in my face right now. You would have either sent me on my way, or put me in position, and then read me the riot act later on."
He could feel Batman suddenly tense, and for a moment he didn't dare blink, sure that if he did Batman would disappear into the wet, wild night. But instead, the other man moved himself totally into the doorway, sharing the tight space.
"The night holds many secrets," Batman said, not adding that personal experience had shown him that. "You never know what you might learn."
More bat mumbo-jumbo, Nightwing thought. With a sigh, he resigned himself to the fact that obviously he wouldn't be learning anything that night. He had long harbored the wish that as he got older, Batman would consider him as more than his surrogate son of old, more than a former sidekick. Look at him as a man, a peer, and if he couldn't have his greatest wish... that Batman see him as a lover, at least he could be seen as an equal, a friend.
There was a loud clap of thunder, a flash of sharp lightning, and Nightwing clearly saw the tight-lipped expression on Batman's face, the stiff way he stood crammed in the doorway. He started to apologize for his intrusion, retreat back to his apartment, and in fact had made a step forward when a strong hand grabbed his arm.
"Don't you know what this place is?"
Nightwing looked around him, rain splattering his face as he took in his surroundings. A debris-filled alley like a hundred others in Gotham.
"Not here...out *there*." Pointing towards the end from where he had first spoken that night.
Nightwing looked, stepped out of the doorway, started moving, but stopped before he got to where Batman had been standing. Of course, he knew. He was surprised it hadn't registered before, testament to how focused he had been on Batman.
The place where the bigtop had been erected, the place where he had last worked the trapeze, the place where he had lost his parents...and found Bruce Wayne...and Batman.
When he got back to the doorway, this time it was he who stood in the downpour, watching Batman huddled in the limited shelter afforded by the overhang.
"Why are you coming here?"
The implication seemed obvious... that Batman was coming to think about him. And inside his costume he started to sweat. He didn't know what to make of it, didn't dare hope, but he sensed a change and it made him dizzy.
"But why here?"
'Because this is where I found you, and this is where I make myself give you back. Whispering my dishonorable secret to the ghosts...to keep myself from crossing the line.' But those thoughts were pushed away and instead Batman asked his own question. "Why have you been watching the Manor?"
Nightwing was too taken aback to even get snappy over Batman's infuriating habit of answering a question with a question. And he scrambled to come up with an answer that he could actually speak aloud.
"Why have you been watching *me*?" Batman continued when the other man was silent.
Nightwing tried to speak, his mouth opening and closing with the effort. Once again, a steely grip closed around his arm and he was pulled out of the rain. His hair was dripping into his eyes, and he blinked rapidly as Batman turned him, pushing him against the door, his cape and body blocking the storm.
"There are things that I should say to you." Again the voice was pitched to rival the thunder. "Like how proud I am of you...the boy you were, the man you've become." He leaned closer, breathing near Nightwing's ear. "And there are things I should never say. That's why I come here--to let the night hold on to them."
"Secrets." Nightwing said softly. Then he looked up, eyes traveling from the square chin to the eyes, dark and inscrutable, behind the mask. "I get so sick of the secrets. I wish that you could look at me and see that, finally, you don't have to keep so much to yourself."
Batman stared at him, expression still hidden, but Nightwing felt the force of it like a rough caress on his face. And he was totally unprepared for Batman leaning down once more, whispering in his ear, words coming in a soft rush. He felt cocooned...completely surrounded by the overwhelming presence, the powerful effects of the one-sided dialogue. It was as if he had his own private BatCave, and he could have lived in that dingy doorway amidst that raging storm forever.
After what seemed like a long time, Batman finally fell silent, his last words hoarse with emotion. Nightwing was breathing as if he'd run a marathon, face wet with stray drops of old rain and new tears. There was so much he wanted to say in return, but all he could do was choke out, "I love you, too."
He didn't remember taking double fists of Batman's cape, but all of a sudden he noticed how tightly he was holding on. Lifting his face, he pulled down hard with his hands, bringing Batman closer so that he could kiss him. It was intense, rough, almost violent--keeping pace with the
force of his emotions. They separated, blood roaring loudly in their ears and storming through their veins as they tried to breathe again.
When they had calmed, they noticed that the rain had simply stopped, leaving a silence that would have been eerie under other circumstances.
"Time to go home."
The quiet thunder of Batman's voice, followed by the bright lightning of Nightwing's eyes as he smiled in answer, and then they both disappeared into the shadows.