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Batman grunts as a Talon kicks him in the gut. He and his partners have been bound and tied, and were now awaiting to be executed by the Head Talon, Cobb, who stands in his embellished gold armour with his hood off, satisfied at seeing his enemies at his mercy.

The hoard of Talons had boxed the Bats in, and pushed them back into their cave. There, they surrounded them and managed to wrestle them to the ground, where they were now restrained.

"What a lovely family gathering this is." Cobb drawled, pacing and sounding smug.

The smallest one spits at his feet and is hit hard on the back of the head for his trouble. Cobb snorts and pulls his knife. "I think I'll kill you first."

Above him, Dick crouches next to the railing and cocks his head with a frown. He hugs his arms close, claws clicking against his uniform.

"Don't you dare! You want me, then finish me. Don't touch them." Batman yells, seething and writhing in his bonds as Cobb considers, pausing and tapping his foot.

"If you're so willing to die, then who am I to decline?"

Then Cobb has a knife to Batman's throat, ready to kill him infront of his horrified partners. The Butler has his head slammed into the floor when he struggles, and the young Bats curse and yell. It's loud. He puts his hands over his ears, and Mary coos softly at his distress and sits on his shoulder.

He pets her as the Talons start to yell back, hands shaking.

She pulls at him gently when his raises his hands to his eyes and he stops. She knows he hates hurting himself.

He hears rustling from deep in the caverns behind him, and twists. He lifts Mary with him in his arm, and stretches it out so that she knows to take flight. She squawks for him as she travels around, a mental image of the tunnels and cave building in his brain.

He whistles and she swoops back onto his waiting arm, and he pets her again fondly.

There are bats in these caves. Lots of them, all huddled and cluttered in the caverns nearby. They make a lot of noise, but they aren't unpleasant. He likes bats. They're like him, after all.

He tunes back into the shouting, his sensitive ears causing the sudden loud noises to startle him. Mary hoots comfortingly at him and he hums.

He flicks his arm out, and she takes off again, watching over him as he vaults over the railing to land beside Cobb who is struggling to keep order as Talons start to draw their weapons. They all stop as soon as the see him, drawing back and sounding nervous, shifting impatiently and twisting their knives with clenched hands. Cobb pats him on the shoulder.

"Thank you, Talon."

Mary lands on his shoulder again, flapping her impressive wingspan out before settling. She can sense a fight.

He taps his claws against his thighs in anticipation, the blue metal accents clicking against the sharp metal.

"Be a good boy and keep Batman steady for me while I cut his throat." Cobb demands, stalking forward and ready for another strike.

He doesn't move.

He pauses and clicks his tongue. "Why do you never follow orders?" He sounds disappointed. It's faux emotions meant to make him feel guilty about not helping Cobb kill someone. It doesn't work.

"Because they're wrong." He rasps.

The room is devoid of any voices except for his, but not silent by a long shot. He can hear the slide of metal as the Talons ready their blades, and the scratching of Batman shearing away at his bonds. The bats are still noisy.

A slight shift, and he darts. Cobb is taken off guard by how fast he reacts and stumbles, which leaves him perfectly open. Dick slashes at him with his claws, and digs them into his throat to rip it out.

Within seconds, Cobb is down. Mary leaps from his shoulder to swipe at the Talons coming for him as they recover from shock, blinding them and leaving them flailing and confused. Dick goes for their necks again and beheads them with brutal efficiency, and dodges knives thrown by the others before he doubles back and does the same.

They're pathetically easy to beat, but with their regeneration will recover quickly. He whistles, and Mary returns to his arm. Batman cuts himself free, but instead of jumping at him opts to help his partners. He tenses when he hears them surround him, footsteps quiet in practised stealth. They sound like Talons.

"Who are you, and why did you chose to help us?"

He clicks his tongue. They don't have time for this.

"The Talons. They'll heal. Need to get them cold." His throat hurts, and the words are jittery.

"Why shouldn't we freeze you with them? You're a Talon too, kid."

His head turns to the tall man who spoke, who seems to be the eldest of the Batman's partners. He has a strange headpiece on that looks vaguely like a bucket. The shape is foggy in his mind from the unfamiliarity of it. Mary screeches at him, flapping her wings menacingly and snapping at him when he gets too close. She doesn't trust any one of them, but neither does he, so he doesn't stop her. He backs off with a huff.

"Argue later. Cold." He scratches Mary's head comfortingly. He hears someone move behind him, and swiftly turns with his claws ready to strike, knees bending. The person doesn't stop, and their footsteps are too light to get an image of anything but their feet

"Orphan?"

The voice, who must be Batman, lights his brain up with the image of a woman, small but larger than him, coming steadily closer. Her name must be Orphan, then. It's hard to remember who they all are. Their names are stupid anyway.

"He's blind." She says suddenly.

He startles. He still has his hood on, how could she tell? Mary senses his confusion and swipes at her outstretched arm when she reaches for him to defend him against this strange person, but she evades her claws and gets much too close. She bats the hand away that goes to attack her for invading his space, and drags the hood off his face. He chokes and stumbles backwards. There's a strange hush in the room, coupled with a sharp collective intake of breath. The sound is too faint and far away to get an image of their expressions.

He hears Cobb stir, and by then it's much too late to stop the bite of a knife deep in his leg, and the sting of several others in his chest. Mary cries for him and rips his hand off to stop anymore damage, but he's already collapsed. He listens as Talons spring back up and begin to fight again, and twitches when Mary gets impaled through the wing by an enraged Cobb, the shouts of pain and rage bouncing off the cave walls and painting vivid scenes of violence in his mind.

There's too much noise. It's too loud. Too loud. Loud. He can't see. Can't concentrate enough. Noise.

He blacks out.

Chapter Text

Waking up is a mess of sensations, like trying to untangle knotted headphones. There's hard tile under his fingers when he swipes his hands across the floor, feeling. It's deceptively quiet. The room smells like disinfectant, the harsh chemicals burning his nostrils and making him grimace. He whistles, and the sound barely gives him an image of his immediate surroundings. There must be noise cancelling padding on the walls.

He knows he must be in some kind of cell, however. He's not impeded by anything, but he finds his armour has been picked clean of his usual weapons and tools when he reaches for his knives. He stamps, but again the noise is dulled and dies out too soon to get much of an idea of anything.

Time is distant and slow as he methodically maps the cell with nimble fingers, tracing the room incessantly until he can make his way around without walking into walls. He paces for an indiscernible amount of time in silence, muscles twitching, waiting.

Mary isn't with him, which makes him nervous. His hands itch, and his eyes burn, but he won't scratch. Not again.

His ears search for sound, but find only mournful silence. The lack of noise makes his head hurt, and not being able to echolocate builds stress behind his useless eyes until it's unbearable. His hands raise until his finger nails are on his cheeks, and he digs them in.

Thin, white skin gives way easily, and black lines start to run down his face, collecting with sickening drips to the floor. He sobs in relief when his fingers breach his eyelids, shakes with shame when his eyes are gouged for the hundredth time. Distantly, a door swings open somewhere and hands pull his own away from where they're embedded in his sockets, but he doesn't put up a fight. He lets them drag them away until they're pinned by his sides.

"What the fuck-"

He tunes back in to hear angry voices. He can't make out who's who, but all the noise lets his tired brain give him a general idea. The tall, angry man is infront of him shouting at Batman, and the strange woman is holding his wrists tightly. He doesn't say anything.

"Jason, calm down."

"Jesus- did we see the same thing, Bruce? How are you not bothered by this?"

"Is back. Be quiet."

The fight bleeds out of "Jason" and he shuts up. The woman slackens her grip on his arms, and he tries to wrench them free. They tighten relentlessly like vices.

"Owl. Needs owl."

"He needs his owl? What for?"

"Support. Crutch."

"So, what, we let that thing out of its cage and let it claw our eyes out?"

They're talking about Mary. It makes his skin crawl that they talk about her that way, and he hisses at them in disgust and struggles harder.

"Jason." Batman growled in warning. "Bring the whole cage if you need to, but just shut up and do what Cass says."

An aggravated huff, and then he storms off. Dick shouts in frustration when he can't get free. Oh God, his eyes hurt so bad. He knows it's only phantom pain from before, since Talons can't feel pain, but it feels too real. Too much. He needs Mary.

Footsteps and very loud, very angry cries come from behind him as Jason enters again, holding what seems to be the cage. He recognises the sound immediately.

"What the fuck is wrong with those freaks, keeping this thing as a pet? It's fucking huge!"

He hears her screech in her metal cage, the material groaning with the strength and weight she's putting behind her blows as she throws herself against the bars and screams. She knows he's in trouble, and desperately wants to help.

"Let out." "Cass" demands.

The latch shudders open and Mary comes soaring out. She launches herself at "Cass", going for her hands keeping Dick confined. She backs away, holding them up in surrender of the massive owl, and Mary latches herself into his shoulder instead.

Trembling, he pets her as she snuggles into his head, offering instinctual comfort. She trills and coos when he starts to cry.

He hears the Bats leave, who slip out of the room without argument, and sobs against Mary's soft feathers.

Chapter Text

It's dark. He can't even see his hands when he waves them infront of his face. It disturbs him.

He starts to walk, hands stretched out and looking like a zombie, in a random direction he hopes will lead somewhere. His fingers graze cool stone, which makes him jump. When he traces it, he can't feel any imperfections, which is strange.

With one hand on the wall and the other swinging out madly, he follows it until he reaches a corner, and then follows that wall. He does this for probably hours, though it's hard to tell with no light.

When he gets tired, he rests with his back against the stone and closes his eyes, but doesn't fall asleep for a very long time. When he does, he dreams of screams and the awful crunch of bones on sand, and startles awake in a cold sweat. 

He hisses when his eyes flash open only to be blinded by light. Already so used to the oily darkness, being able to see makes his eyes hurt and his brain swim unpleasantly. When he adjusts and musters the courage to open his eyes, he's immediately shocked to find that he's in a massive maze, of all things.

He starts to walk again, mouth gaping in awe and horror.

There's a massive owl statue he didn't even realise was there before in the middle of it all (or what he hopes is the middle) which towers over him and spews clear water into a fountain built around it. His mouth waters, and he drinks gratefully.

He doesn't remember how he got here. The last thing he's sure about is being at the Circus, on his knees, sobbing, covered in blood-

His vision swims, and be swears he can hear Pop Haly giving his centre ring speech, out of the corner of his eyes he can vaguely see red. What-

"Dickie. Oh, my poor little Robin."

He freezes.

"You did this to us, son. You could have said something."

"My little Robin."

"Are you just going to let him get away with it?"

"My murderous, vile little Robin. How dare you call yourself a Grayson?"

Voices scream at him from every angle, and figures begin dragging themselves out of the shadows, bent in unnatural ways and bleeding all over the stone floor. His parents morph out of the dark, their necks and limbs hanging limp and broken.

He can't look away. Can't close his eyes. He can see them, even when they're shut. Their bodies, mangled on the floor. The frayed wire hanging above, creaking, still wet with acid.

"Stop! Stop it! I'm not listening!"

"YOU DISGUSTING CHILD, YOU PATHETIC-"

He cries, sobbing harshly as he digs his fingers violently into his eyes, ripping at himself in a desperate attempt to not see that image. The noises only get louder, more insistant, until he can't take it anymore.

With red running freely in torrents down his face, he collapses.

 "What a waste. He's useless; take him to the pits."

---

Jason pulls Bruce aside as soon as the door closes, the little Talon still sobbing, his fingers dripping with black. Cass stands awkwardly next to them as they start to argue. 

"We need a plan for what to do with him." He begins. "He's obviously a danger to himself, and we have no idea of what he's capable of. You saw how he took down those Talons! What's stopping him from doing the same to us as soon as our backs are turned?"

"He sided with us. Defected. He's not an immediate threat."

Jason threw his hands up in exasperation. "To us, maybe not, but to himself? He just gouged his fucking eyes out!"

Bruce's jaw tightened. "He's traumatised. He needs our help, Jason."

"No shit he's traumatised! Listen, this obviously isn't a long term thing. We need to put him somewhere safer, somewhere...specialised."

"You're suggesting Arkham." Bruce narrowed his eyes and glowered at him. "I'm not putting a child into Arkham, Jason. It's barely fit for adults-"

"He sure as shit can't stay here! It's what's best for him-"

Bruce grabbed him by the shoulder and slammed him back against the wall, face hovering dangerously close to his. "He's not going anywhere. That's final." He stormed off, cape billowing dramatically behind him.

Jason turned to Cass, face pale and slightly desperate. She shook her head at him. "He is good. Does not deserve that."

"Am I supposed to just trust you? He's an assassin. He's killed people!"

"So have you." She left him standing there, fists clenched, feeling like he was the only one in that damned cave with an ounce of sense.

Chapter Text

They call it the "pits", a dark hole where they keep the owls and dispose of failed Talons. He was brought there while unconscious, and woke in dismal conditions far beneath the Court's compound. Alone, and very afraid.

The serum that changes people into Talons had not been administered at that point, and there was no point anyway. Although it possesses an extremely potent healing factor, it does not effect wounds sustained previously. All it does is bring the body back from the dead; the scars remain. The damage he'd caused on his eyes was now incurable, and of such he was useless to them.

For days he starved in the dark, unable to see and desperate for help. It would never come. The owls in the Pits with him were vicious, trained from hatchlings to kill and maim, and swooped down to pick at him like vultures, waiting for him to die. 

Mary was different. She was small then, only a hatchling, and not so eager to eat him as the others. She'd come sit with him, perching nearby, just watching. He'd talk to her, not that she could understand, and it would calm him down. He would pet her (when she allowed it), and in return she started bringing him food. He ate mice for weeks.

She was kind to him. So he named her after the kindest person he knew. His mom.

He taught her tricks, like a dog, from half remembered tips the lion trainers told him in passing. That felt like a lifetime ago.

Eventually, his other senses sharpened enough for him to pseudo see, with him telling Mary to "speak" for him in order to use the echoes as tethers. He felt across the jagged edges of the Pits and memorised the changes in texture, and used dips and outcrops as landmarks to remember where he was. He used the stench of the owls to map which areas were safe, and which he would be attacked in. His system worked.

Then, whilst out with Mary mapping a new cave, he felt it. A draught. Fresh air.

There was a way out.

He followed the breeze until his head met the open air for the first time in...he wasn't sure. He basked in it for less than a minute before he heard movement just in time for a Talon to leap at him, and was taken again.

---

Jason kicked a stone across the cave at Tim, who was hunched over a microscope, coffee mugs littered all over the desk, all empty. It hit him on the leg, but he didn't even flinch. "Goal." Jason muttered, gearing up to kick another.

"You know," he said, booting a rock directly at Tim's head "if I didn't know you any better, I'd be seriously concerned." The rock bounced off the back of his head, with him unaffected.

Sighing at the lack of a response, Jason marched straight over to him and gave him a crisp slap on the neck, startling him so much that he also knocked the equipment over.

"JASON!"

"What?" He replied, nonchalant and desperately trying to contain his laughter. "You were spacing out."

"I'm busy! Ever heard of concentration?"

"Oh, yeah..." He scanned the empty cups. "Looking pretty concentrated to me. You need a break, man."

Tim grunted in frustration, rubbing his forehead. "I'm working, Jay."

"You've been "working" for almost two days solid. Take a break."

"I'm analysing that blood sample we took." He said, changing the subject.

Too used to this to try and move it back, Jason sighed and joined in. "Of the owl kid?"

"Yeah. I got a DNA match; someone called "Richard Grayson". Went missing in Gotham about ten years ago. Ring any bells?"

"I think so. Wasn't that the circus kid?"

Tim started walking over to the computer, nodding. "Yep. His parents were murdered on the same day he went missing. Batman solved it easily enough, but the child was never found, and Bruce didn't think the two were connected."

He brought up the screen, with files about Richard all over it. He continued. "Originally, it was suspected that Richard could have overheard the threatening conversation Tony Zucco had with Mr Haly before the show where his parents were killed, and that he was kidnapped to stop any information leaking. Bruce never agreed with this, since Zucco had a kid of his own and never hurt children. The police decided to run with it,"

Newspaper headlines screaming "CHILD KIDNAPPED BY CRIME LORD" flashed across the screen.

"and the public bought it. No one bothered to search for him. The circus moved on. Eventually, the case went cold, and Richard was forgotten."

"So, the Court snagged him?"

"It would appear so. Richard should be 22 this year, but he still looks 10, which helps with facial recognition, at least. Everything matches. It's definitely him."

"But why him?"

Tim smiled ruefully. "The million dollar question. Bruce suspects Haly had something to do with it, since he moved the circus on so quickly after he went missing. He's investigating them as we speak."

Jason paused. "Wait, he's not here?"

"Nope. He should be in Chicago by now; It's where the circus' next stop is."

His face screwed up in anger. "So, he brings home a fucked up assassin, and then leaves him for us to deal with while he fucks off to Chicago? Why not just send one of us?"

Tim looked confused at his outburst. "Well, this case is personal. He wanted to investigate it himself-"

"He doesn't trust us to not fuck up, is what."

"Jay, that's not-"

He stormed off, ignoring Tim and heading straight for his bike. He wasn't spending another second in that cave.

He passed the cells on the way. He glanced at the Talon, "Richard", who was curled in the corner, shaking. He flipped him off.

Chapter Text

"I'm telling you, Steph, he was on a war path." 

Tim was sat with his head in his hands, dark circles even more prominent and stark against his pale face. The screen above him was filled with the camera feed from his apartment. Steph was lounging on his couch, picking at her nails.

She sighed heavily. "Ok, this is fine. He's done this before plenty of times. All we need to do is find him before he does something hilariously stupid, like, say, go to Chicago to beat Bruce's ass."

"Don't joke about that. He's probably already on his way there!"

She held her hands up in surrender. "Ok, ok. Well, what do you want to do about it?"

Tim glanced over at the holding cells. He bit his lip. 

Steph narrowed her eyes. "I know that look. Come on nerd, share your thoughts with the class."

He paused. "Is Cass with you?"

"Nah. She stuck her head through the window to say hi and then got on with patrol."

"Patrol?" Tim looked at her funny. "Shouldn't she be back by now?"

Steph shrugged. "Hey, someone's gotta take care of things while Bruce is gone. Can you blame her for working over time?"

"Was the brat with her?"

"Christ, Timbo, you're really out of it tonight!" She peered at the clock on her screen. "Scratch that, today." 

He has the decency to look sheepish. "I've been working..."

She waved her hands around wildly. "Yeah, yeah. You're always working, Tim." She got serious. "Take a break now, ok? You've done enough for one night, or, erm, day. Whatever. Go to sleep already."

Tim grunted. "Later. Is there no one else free other than us?"

"Us?" Steph barked a laugh. "You mean you. I'm very busy right now, sitting on my ass. Bruce benched me, remember? Until he gives me the all clear, I'm not allowed to be seen in a mask."

"Yeah...sorry. Forgot about that for a second."

She didn't look him in the eye when she said "whatever".

"What's your plan then?" She said eventually, after the tense silence got too painful.

"Hmm? Oh. Yeah, I was going to ask if you could watch the Talon for me while I tracked Jason down-"

"What? Are you absolutely insane?"

"I don't see why-"

"Ohmygod, Tim. No. Nooo. Not happening."

They glared at each other.

"Why won't you-"

"Oh come off it-"

"Ahem."

They both paused, mouths still comically open, ready to spew more insults. Alfred stood behind him, thoroughly unimpressed.

"If you're debating on whether or not to pursue master Jason, might I suggest you refrain."

Tim clamped his mouth shut when he realised it was still hanging open, and spluttered "but he's going to-"

"He's at his apartment, if you were wondering. I checked in on him just a few minutes ago."

"So," Steph put her chin on her hands "he's not crossing into the Midwest on a mad dash to kick Bruce's brains out?"

"No." Alfred replied curtly. "He's not."

Steph looked afronted, then huffed and hung up. She wasn't exactly on good terms with the rest of the family excluding Tim, so neither of them were surprised.

Tim turned to face Alfred head on, now even paler. "He really is at home?"

"You all need to trust him more. He deserves better than your constant judgement."

He scoffed. "Judgement? He's murdered people, Al. He's unstable."

"Perhaps." Alfred said, lips pursed. "But so has miss Cassandra, and that poor boy in that cell. People do not kill without reason, master Timothy, and I daresay that master Jason has had a life where killing was his only option. He does not need his shortcomings to be used as ammunition against him at every turn, he needs a family. Something we recently seem to be losing."

Tim stared at him, speechless.

"This cave has seen too much, master Timothy. And so have I. I know miss Stephanie regrets her actions, but I do not believe that master Bruce will allow her back into active duty."

This shocked words back into him. "He's really benching her? For good?"

"That is my observation. He does not forgive easily, and he sees what she did as a major act of betrayal. Something that almost cost everyone in this house their lives."

"What was that about not using shortcomings as ammunition?" He muttered.

"I'm sorry, master Timothy, but I really must insist that you rest now. I fear this day has taken too much out of you."

"I'm fine, Al. Just tired."

He smiled softly and placed a hand on his shoulder. "As are we all. If you need anything, just tell me."

He returned to smile, but it faltered when he glanced back at the console. "If you're worried about monitoring the young lad, don't worry. I'll take it from here, master Timothy. Now please, go to sleep."

Tim nodded, and slinked upstairs. Alfred could tell he probably hadn't slept in days; since the attack. His gaze immediately strayed towards the cryogenic tubes pushed back to the wall across from the cells, and despite himself, he shivered.

Chapter Text

Before anyone starts panicking, this work hasn't been abandoned! I know authors notes immediately make people think something's gone horribly wrong, but I promise this isn't cancelled.

I've realised while scrolling down my page that I've got too many half finished drafts and works that I want to work on at the moment, and it's splitting me in a bunch of different directions. Plus, I've got exams coming up soon, and the stress is really building on me recently.

So, I've made the decision to focus on one at a time, so that I can continue writing but also give myself a breather. This work is definitely one of my favourites, mostly because my muse took this brief idea about a blind Talon, gripped it by the throat, and made me go absolutely wild with it. Now that all the excitement has died down a little, and I'm realising just how much I've bitten off and couldn't possibly chew, I know I need to go down the list of works I've started and finish them.

I hate looking back at my bookmarks at all the works I've loved on this site, and seeing those few unfinished books from 2014 that haven't been updated since that I'd literally sell my soul to see completed, and now that I'm making content as well as consuming it, I recognise that a lot of you might be feeling the same when you see I haven't updated in months.

So, no, this work isn't dead or abandoned, but I'm going on a little break while I get my affairs in order. I'll still write the chapters when I'm in the mood, maybe plan ahead a little when I come back to this work, but until I've ticked some stuff off my list and exams have stopped being a thing, I won't be updating.

I'll still keep you informed by leaving author notes and responding to comments, so I'm not going completely dark! Consider this a brief hiatus.

Thank you for being patient and understanding, I won't be gone for too long, but hopefully that'll he enough time for me to get my act together!

Ps: thank you for leaving so many wonderful comments. I read each and every one of them, even if I don't reply! They're so encouraging and nice, so thank you for spending the time to give me feedback. Criticism is always appreciated, don't be shy to tell me if I mess up, otherwise what's the point? I'm not perfect!

Chapter Text

Bruce twisted his way through the crowd surrounding the massive striped tent, breath fogging in front of his face. Chicago was freezing that time of year. The air was permeated with a haze of sickly sweet candy and buttery popcorn, which gave him a headache, he but ignored the pain. He had work to do.

From the information he and Tim had managed to gather, this circus was the middle man in selling children to the higher authority; the Court. But he needed proof, something concrete that tied them to the disappearances, and all he had was a strong gut feeling that this Jack Haly was not the man he pretended to be.

He had already analysed the grounds, memorising every entrance, every exit, every hiding place on the flight from Gotham. When he spotted the ringmaster, who was still in civilian clothes as to be inconspicuous, he began his pursuit. He blended easily into the crowd in his trench coat, which he abused thoroughly to follow Haly from tent to tent, waiting for him to be alone.

The main tent was closed to the public, with the big show not scheduled for at least another hour and a half. That didn't stop Bruce, who ducked behind the stands silently as Haly glanced around the ring nervously. He'd dived in when he thought he was alone, and was obviously waiting for something.

Or someone.

Bruce caught a flash out of his peripheral, and tensed when a Talon strode into the centre ring, knives poised. This one appeared male, and cut a lean shadow across the sawdust under the dim lighting.

"Do you have it?" It rasped, standing perfectly straight in a military stance.

"Of course, r-right here..." Haly stuttered, falling to one knee by the wood circling the stage and tugged at an old, worn plank. He wrenched it free, revealing a tattered book, which he quickly handed to the Talon before replacing the plank, glancing around with a clear nervous energy.

"They're all in there, just like you asked."

The Talon leafed through the pages, head cocked. "Yes. Good"

"What're you going to do with it?" Haly jumped when the Talon turned to face him and quickly amended "If it's ok to ask?"

"It isn’t." It said.

Then it drove a knife through his chest.

Bruce leapt from hiding immediately, a batarang already thrown at the Talon, but it knocked it out of the air easily. When he lunged, it melted back into the shadows and slipped away. He considered making chase, but then Haly hacked beside him, painful sounding and wet. He knelt by Haly, putting futile pressure on the wound. The Talon had aimed for an artery. He was practically already dead.

"The-the book-" he spluttered, blood pooling around his teeth.

"It's gone." He murmured, voice low.

"Oh God-" he began coughing violently as his lungs started to fill. Bruce quickly turned him into the recovery position, but with the amount of blood he was losing, he was more likely to suffer a cardiac arrest than choke.

"But baxt tuke...me mangav tut, Dick -" *

Bruce dropped his head when Haly's eyes dulled, and his erratic pulse became still.

He dialled Alfred after a heavy sigh. "Alfred, I have a man here. Jack Haly. He's dead."

"Oh dear. A Talon, I presume?"

"Yes. He gave over a book of "names" to him before he was murdered. The Talon seemed very eager to get them. The book was hidden under a plank; it must have been centuries old, at least. It’s possible that it’s a log filled with the names of Talons." His hands were crimson, and the blood was already congealing. Not for the first time, he waxed about the sheer amount of blood the human body can store.

"Is it some kind of record, then, of who they were before, sir?"

Bruce hummed, an inconsequential sound signifying nothing. Alfred paused on the other side of the line, leaving him to his silence as he cleaned the blood and sawdust off his hands.

"The Court is ancient,” He eventually continued, after he’d effectively removed all evidence of himself from the crime scene, and sent an anonymous tip to the GCPD. “They’ve been making assassins for centuries, and an organisation on that scale has pride. Lineage. I think that book is the Court’s way of reminding themselves of their past, where they’ve come from.”

Alfred sighed. “I am guessing that this book doesn’t help the investigation, sir?”

“Even if I had it, I don’t think so. We already know where they were taken, and what for. The real question is why the Court decided to take it back after all this time...”

He paused, eyes landing on Haly again. There was the corner of slip of paper barely peeking out of his breast pocket, which looked dog-eared and worn. He stooped, gently sliding the paper out. It was a photograph, with a coffee ring stain overlapping the bottom edge, of a child. Of Richard. In happier days, no doubt. His face was wide with a cheeky smile, and his eyes were focussed on the photographer instead of the lens. On the back, in scrawled, childish writing in blue crayon read: to Pop Haly! Best Granpa ever <3

Bruce glanced down at the pale, bloated face of Jack Haly; the man who sold a child into a cult, and who kept that boy’s picture with him until the day he died, and gently rolled his eyelids closed.

 

 

“ Spoiler; report.”

The line crackled, but stayed quiet.

Spoiler.”

 

 

The cell. The cell. The. Cell. Thecellthecellthecellthecellthecellthecell.

It reminded him of The Pit. Of fear. Of Darkness. Of being watched. Every moment ticked slowly away, slowly, slowly, slowly...until there was nothing but The Pit, no matter what Mary did. She had nipped and picked at his gauntlets until he ripped them off and flung them to the opposite corner, but yet his fingers kept finding his eyes. He pulled them away, again, and bit his tongue to stifle screams. The darkness loomed towards him from that corner, willing him to slice and claw until there was none. No pain. No darkness. No fear.

Except that scared him more than anything. Becoming like Cobb, like them; unfeeling monsters forged by the Court in the Labyrinth, and The Pit to kill and torture. Distantly, he wondered if he already was.

The girl, Orphan, seemed to understand. She never came back into the cell after Mary was returned to him, but she used the microphones embedded into the ceiling to speak to him. Neither of them liked speaking, she confided that in him during their first “conversation”, but she knew. That was enough. It had to be, for the little monster scared of the dark.

 

 

“Oracle, is there any response from Spoiler?”

“None, yet. Her GPS is pinging from Old Gotham, but it hasn’t moved in a while.”

“Send me the coordinates, I’ll intercept her before she does something she regrets.”

 

 

When Tim wondered downstairs after a ten hour coma, it was to an empty reception. He went to make himself some coffee, but belatedly realised after he’d brewed a pot that all of his mugs were currently downstairs, downstairs, so he decided that, hey, no one was around to judge him if he just used the pot as a cup...except himself. With slight self loathing, but mostly relief at finally feeling alive, he tipped his head back-

“Tim, man, no, for fucks sake.”

He startled, and scalding coffee gushed down his shirt and pooled on the floor. Jason rushed at him with napkins that he pulled from thin air, apparently, and dabbed at the stains on his shirt before throwing a packet and a half on the puddle on Alfred’s newly varnished wood floor. Oh. Oh no.

“Jason, you ass.” He mumbled, red face buried in his hands in mortification.

“Hey, I’m not the one drinking from an entire coffee pot, alright? Man, I knew you had a problem, but we’re in serious addiction territory now!”

“I wasn’t going to chug it all at once, you troglodyte! I didn’t have a mug!”

“Yeah, because you used them all drinking coffee!

“Would you imbeciles be silent!” Came a shrill shout from upstairs, as tiny feet padded quickly down the staircase. The owner of those feet, Damian, stood in the archway to the kitchen with folded arms and a thunderous expression that turned almost violently sour when he saw the napkins. “You soiled Pennyworth’s floor?”

“Don’t say it like we pissed ourselves, brat! Tim was chugging coffee!”

He scoffed in disbelief and lurched at Jason. “Would you shut UP!”

Jason, the ass he was, practically giggled and side stepped his swipe. “Can’t. Don’t know how!”

“I’m going to replace all your bullets with Nerf pellets, and then we’ll see how respected the Red Hood is!”

“Their brains are microscopic, Titus.” Damian said solemnly to his great dane as the dog was summoned by all the noise, and sat calmly next to him. “I have no idea how they have managed to remain alive thus far, but I guarantee that when Pennyworth sees what they have done to his floor, one of them won’t be.” Titus barked. “Come, Titus.” Damian commanded, striding towards the grandfather clock.

 

 

“You don’t understand! How could any of you understand? He’s my dad!”

“Aren’t we your family too, Spoiler?”

She spat at his feet. “You damn well know there’s a difference.”

 

 

“How many were captured?” A woman wearing an emerald dress drawled, nails scratching at the wooden surface of her desk.

“A dozen, including Cobb.” Came the curt response.

“He is useless to us now." She barked "The Bat will not let him slip away easily...a nd what of the boy?”

“The boy,” the Talon replied, holding out an immaculate, but worn book, “may still be of use to us yet.”