The red and blue lights flashing all around penetrate the darkness his eyelids offer, eliciting a groan from the young teen as he lays beneath the debris. He can hear sirens, the static of radios being used for communication, the loudness of shouting voices all around. It's all so bright, so loud; it makes the throbbing against his temple amplify, and his sore, dry throat elicits a hoarse groan. Even that small movement is difficult, because something massive and heavy is crushing his chest, restricting his breathing, forcing the air out of his lungs little by little. Now that he's aware of it, the pain is unbearable, and he desperately begins to gasp for oxygen as he tries to wriggle his way free. His vision blurs even more, his head shrieks, and he closes his eyes, losing the battle to keep them open. Everything hurts, his mind laments. Make it stop hurting.
The voices draw nearer, some calling to him, others just background noise that he wishes would just quiet down and go away. He can make out footsteps now, running closer, a hurried pace.
"This way, I think I see something!" hollers an unfamiliar male.
"Officer Carter's got something! Over here! Move it, move it!" That sounds like Commissioner Gordon.
"Yeah, yeah, I've definitely got a sight on someone over here!" calls out the male again… Carter…
Lots of footsteps. A dog, probably with the police force, barks. Then he hears Officer Carter's panicked shout, only a few feet away. "Oh my god… I need backup over here! It's Red Robin! I've got Red Robin! He… he's got another with him… I need a bus, ASAP!" A pause. "Two buses!"
He must look bad if his appearance can get this man sounding so freaked and frantic. He tries to open his eyes, give some sign that he's alive; but his muscles aren't cooperating, and his brain keeps trying to lull him to sleep with foggy thoughts and the pounding in his head.
And then he heard a very familiar voice calling out to him, then dropping down right above his face as the owner of said-voice runs a tender hand through his hair, along his face, then to his neck, checking for a pulse. "Red? Red can you hear me? Answer me, c'mon, wake up…" The weight on his chest shifts, and Tim can tell that Nightwing is trying to pull whatever is restricting his breathing off of him. "What the… oh God! Robin, get over here! Now!"
Finally, finally, he manages to open his eyes just a crack. He sees Nightwing, and then Damian as the kid runs over, yanking the object off his chest. Not an object. A person. A person covered in blood and grime and completely limp, not moving, seemingly not breathing. The person, he realizes, had been lying face down on him… almost as if he'd leapt over him just as the explosion hit, as if he'd been trying to protect him.
Only when unconsciousness finally wins out, dragging him down into its murky depths, does he recognize the limp person's features.
Oh my God… Jason…
His aching head and neck protest in painful spikes of pain as he strains his muscles, but Dick doesn't care. Because these are his brothers that are lying in the debris-covered ground. He'd only recognized Red Robin at first, pale and unmoving on the ground; his heart had leapt into his mouth as he'd dropped to his knees beside him, begging any heavenly deity to please, please, let Tim be alive. But then he'd focused on the other person lying on top of Tim, hair a mess and caked with dried blood, clothing burnt but not flesh because… this person was wearing Kevlar. And as soon as he'd spotted the shattered remnants of a familiar red helmet, he'd had a minor coronary as he screamed for Damian to hurry over, to get the police and the ambulances over here, now, he needed help.
"Jason…" he breathes, voice just barely above a whisper as he lies his younger – but broader, taller, and stronger – sibling down on the ground next to Tim. He notices the foot long gash on his forehead, the pain-laced expression plastered onto his face, and chokes down a lump of fear and anxiety as he checks for a pulse. A tiny one, just barely there, but there all the same. He glances over to make sure Robin is taking care of Tim, and then lightly pats the Red Hood on the cheek, chewing frantically on his lower lip. "Jay?" he whispers, not caring to check to see if any cops are listening in – Jason was such a common name anyway that it can't truly matter now, can it? He just can't call him Hood right now, because the way Jason is lying, unconscious, bloodied, broken… it's not the indestructible Red Hood. It's Jay, the scrawny little kid Bruce had dragged out of Crime Alley one night, the boy he'd helped train, the Robin he'd swung side-by-side with until the fateful day Joker had stolen the kid's life right from underneath him and the Batman.
And he'll be damned if he allows the psychotic bastard to do it a second time.
"Jay, wake up!" He shakes the unresponsive figure a bit harder, panic now getting a firm grip on him as he tries to think of what to do. The ambulances are roaring right up to them now, three squad cars and the commissioner himself directly behind them; but can they get on those vehicles? Of course not. Hospitals mean unmasking, unmasking means… everything. No, no… they have to do something else. Batman. Call Batman. His little voice of reason is finally heard. Call Bruce, get him to send the Batmobile, tell him Alfred needs to prepare the medical ward because Tim and Jay need help…
He fumbles with his ear comm. even as doubt reasons, But Jason would never let you take him back to the Cave. He hasn't been there since…
Since before he'd died as sixteen-year-old Robin.
But that doesn't matter now, he tells himself. He's hurt, he's dying, look at him! He needs help, and he can wipe the alleys with my ass later if he wants, but…
His fingers are completely uncooperative, and finally he jerks his little radio out of his ear altogether and starts randomly hitting the tiny, tiny little buttons on it, trying to get it to work, not realizing it's already been broken back in the earlier fight with more Joker goons that had showed up after Red Robin's and the clown's disappearance. He grits his teeth and growls in frustration before he happens to look up and catch Robin's quizzical frown. Damian is staring at him warily, frowning. "Nightwing, what are you doing?" he demands, voice stiff but also layered with worry underneath the clipped tones. "I have already taken the liberty of sending for the Batmobile – it'll be here shortly."
Oh. So that was why he'd heard the littlest Wayne's voice earlier while he was mentally begging Jay and Tim not to die. "Did…" He pauses and clears his throat, slightly wincing as his neck and head erupt in a small inferno of pain. "…did you explain to Oracle what's going on?"
A snort. "Of course not. After I called in, Batgirl proceeded to rudely demand information from me; I attempted to report, yet she kept interrupting. I then told her she would be informed after our return and hung up."
He would've chastised the boy if Damian's face weren't so undignified, and if he weren't so out of his mind with worry. "Okay, okay. We'll just wait for the Batmobile…"
"Why is Todd here?"
He looks down at Jason, and represses a shudder. "It's his side of the highway; Red Robin must've chased him over here." And then Joker must've blown them up.
Damian simply gives one quick nod before going back to fiddling with his gauntlet, masked eyes flickering back and forth between the armored glove and Tim. There had always been ice between Robin and Red Robin; yet even now, Dick can easily see through the child's façade and into the worry that the biological son of the Batman is struggling to conceal. Damian is worried for Tim, and probably for Jason as well. Dick can tell. He can always tell.
Gordon approaches them, huffing from running, the lines on his face more prominent with anxiety as he takes in the scene with one quick, sweeping gaze. "I've got two buses on their way right now, only seconds behind me," he states after a moment, leaving out how he'd practically crashed his squad car to cut the emergency EMT's off as soon as he'd realized all four 'Bat Boys' were involved. Ever since the first appearance of Robin, James (Jim) Gordon had kept a close eye on whom he suspected were the Batman's sons – children brought into the deadly game of criminal justice. He'd vowed long ago to watch them, protect them if necessary; now, he eyes two unmoving forms on the ground, and swallows the lump of charcoal that had appeared in his throat. He's taken aback when he recognizes one of the bodies as the Red Hood, the pariah of the entire Bat-clan, but doesn't comment on it. Instead, he keeps his attention focused on Nightwing, the child he'd kept his eye on ever since the boy was nine and first emerged in that green and red armor. "I don't know where Batman is right now – I sent word for the light to be put on though. Meanwhile, I'm going to insist you let my men take care of this and Hood and Red Robin for now…"
Gordon's always trying to get them into hospitals and clinics; and while he knew the man simply wanted to help, wanted to help them personally (sometimes he thought Jim actually suspected he was protecting them from Batman himself) Nightwing can't allow it. He knows protocol; and no matter how much his brothers' condition frightens him at the moment, he can't break procedure. Wait for the Mobile to show up, get Tim and Jason in, get back to the Cave, and let Alfred and Bruce fix everything. "We've already got the Batmobile on its way," he says, his voice sounding much calmer than the storm inside him. "Send the buses away – we don't need them."
Gordon shoes all the other nosy cops away, knowing they would only hinder whatever persuasion he's about to try. Once they give them all some distance, he kneels down next to Nightwing and the Red Hood, frowning beneath his copper mustache, glaring with concern and empathy through his glasses. "Son, please… I don't know where Batman is right now, and your brothers look bad." He doesn't hesitate to use the term brothers; he's used it before a few times, and he has no doubt now that the bond between all these vigilantes runs deeper than comrades. Their familial. "I can vouch that nothing will be… unmasked… or pried into. We just need to get them looked at." His frown deepens when he notices the dried blood caking the younger man's neck, face, and back of his head. "You look pretty beat up yourself… the Joker really did a number on all of you…"
Gordon's proposal sounds tempting; to just hop in the those red cars and be stitched up, taken care of, without having to pull the needle through his own skin or face Batman's stoic "I told you so" expression. Because that's no doubt what they're going to receive. The man hadn't wanted them on routine patrol without him; certainly hadn't wanted them chasing Joker around Gotham while he was under 'Cave arrest'. And he was right, he think wearily, not responding to Gordon and making the commissioner's worry expand. This is all my fault. I acted impulsively, I let Tim enter this territory, I failed to check on Jay earlier, forgot to warn him…
He must've been hit harder than he'd thought; his head swims, everything blurs around him.
So he does not notice at first when the Batmobile plows through the sea of cops and emergency professionals, causing them all to leap frantically out of the way lest they get mowed down.
Doesn't notice Gordon asking once more to be allowed to help them even as Damian shoves Tim into the back of the black vigilante car, and then starts dragging Jason inside.
Only snaps back into reality when Robin grasps his upper arm, shouting for him to "Move!" because Gordon was forcing himself on them, getting his men ready to drag those children with him. Because he'd had enough of the Batman putting these boys in danger, forcing them to keep secrets too big, to live a life never meant for kids their age.
But they'd been through this before, several times. Nightwing collects himself long enough to hurl himself into the Mobile, Damian scrambling in behind him before the doors seal. Batman, no doubt at the controls in the Cave, sends the car into autopilot; and they are on the road before the police have time to respond. Gordon can only watch as they speed away.
Dick blinks weakly at Jason and Tim lying in the back, telling them silently to just hang on, they'll be home safe; and Jason, you can be furious at me as long as you want, but you're going to the Cave for help. Then, he sighs, and sinks deeper into the passenger seat, fingers numbly scraping his mask off his face. No more Nightwing – just Dick now. Even though his mind reminds him that Joker must've escaped. Ugh, how he just wants this night to end…
"Grayson?" Damian is staring at him from the driver's side, one eyebrow raised above the mask as he studies him. "What's the matter with you?"
His blue eyes just stare lazily back at him, glazed, unfocused. Damian says more to him, but he can't hear him right… he sounds so far away… Black blobs attack his vision, and he knows something isn't right, because his head doesn't hurt anymore, he isn't in anymore pain, but Damian looks really worried now is seems to be shouting at him. But he doesn't hear a thing.
Damian stares, horrified, at Dick as the older boy's eyes roll back and he collapses in the chair, going limp just like Jason and Tim, fresh blood beginning to ooze from the blossoming wound on the back of his head…