Chapter 1: Beginnings
Jason Todd was and still is a simple man.
Like pastry, really, you fold and push too much and it won't be fluffy and nice, but ragged and hard. Jason thinks himself rather plain: you mock him, he'll punch you; you sneer at his nice little, curly, white streak in his hair and you won't have a head left to grow any hair; you cock a gun at his forehead, he'll snap your neck and shove your own gun down your throat. And maybe, if you're lucky, he'll blow your testicles (or ovaries) to bits afterwards.
See? Rather plain.
He's always done things the easiest way. Catherine had too, but he'd do it right.
So really, how hard is it to ask for the new Boy Wonder -his Replacement- to just show up already?
Not that hard. He'd planted the bomb on the train with one thought in mind. Revenge. He'd waited too, waited for so long. And now, now was opportune. One of those once in a lifetime opportunites, with good ol' daddy Bats off playing hooky with the League. It left Gotham unprotected. Unprotected spare Nightwing. Because with the doppelganger Robin -his Replacement- and some Nightwing (that he still wasn't entirely sure of her authenticity. He couldn't tell if she was the old one or not) Gotham was easy pickings.
Easy pickings was a free meal that Jason Todd could not say no to.
Jason had done his research, of course. He hadn't spent all his days at Nanda Parbat doing nothing but training. No, he'd read and he'd learned, memorizing and making notes. He'd noted how there was a new Robin, replacing him not two years after his death, with another woman taking up the sticks and swords of Nightwing. Possibly.
Rachel Wayne was back after all. Returned home from her overseas educational trip to nobody knows where. Jason just hadn't thought she'd be fit enough to take up the mask again. He'd seen the state she was in before she'd vanished.
Robin's identity wasn't that hard to find out, after listening in on Ra's (and god was his little crush on the so-called 'genius' disgusting) and keeping up to date with Gotham's news.
His replacement was Timothy Drake. His parents had gotten into a plane crash not long ago, leaving him down a mother and with a comatose father. The dream family, truly.
It was like the Bruce Wayne tragedy all over again only this time the kid's dad was alive but not waking up.
Pretty much the same.
Jason didn't really care though. Didn't care if the kid had it hard because he'd had it harder, he'd had to fight to live while little Timmy Drake had gotten everything he'd wanted, gotten anything he'd ever asked for. Timmy Drake had grown up with money to throw around, Jason Todd had not.
Anyway, he'd planned because planning was all anyone seemed to do in the desert. He'd planned and planned; planned to kill his Replacement with a capital R, maybe make daddy dearest see how bad it was to fucking give up your son's fucking mantle, his title. But what was he kidding, or who? He'd never been adopted, that had been made clear. His coffin had been cheap wood, a sure sign he had meant nothing.
At least, with Nightwing, he was unsure of what was going on. Whether or not it was Rachel or some other girl, he didn't know. The League of Assassins hadn't either, which partly made up for this fault, but even with his own further research nothing had came up.
Aside from the fact that Rachel had ran on home to daddy the moment he'd died. Cover stories had been all over the internet immediately, Jason had known they were fake because the Bruce they portrayed was thrilled his 'little girl' had finally 'taken the next step'. Bruce had been in bits over Rachel's disappearance, he'd searched for months, pestering everyone he knew.
Why make things up for someone unless you got something out of it? Bruce was a selfish bastard, one who would only give the media fake candles if he was getting a slice of the cake. Rachel had to have been returning to his cult.
(Batman stared down at him, eyes white and emotionless as always. It never ceased to send shivers down Robin's back, having that soul searing gaze focus on him, but he stood to attention anyway, waiting patiently beside his mentor as they geared up for a drug bust. "Robin, I need you to stay away from the crates at the sides. They have the new fear toxin in them and—")
So, yeah, maybe the probability of running into his —what even was she at this point? his sister?— his ol' sibling was getting higher by the second but hell he was here for the Replacement and damn if he would leave without his prize.
His prize, of which, just happened to be his Replacement's head.
("Yeah, yeah, Boss. I know," he chucked. "I know, we don't have the cure for the new one yet an' all that. Have some faith.")
Not too hefty. Not too little.
The train clacked over the rails, loud and shrill as it jumped over a wobbly bit of track. The bomb sitting before him shifted with the momentum and the cowering people inside the carriage jumped with it, some gasping in fear and pushing back, further away from where he sat on the rough plastic seats, bomb set in front of him lovingly. They whispered, some murmuring louder than others. The sound grated on his ears.
(Batman nodded and didn't speak again. His fist raised and knocked forward —the go signal— and Robin cackled, jumping down for the warehouse, cape whipping behind him. That had been their last bust.)
He cocked his gun, spinning his beauty's barrel, and they fell silent. A child —young, possibly no older than ten, a girl— whimpered.
A knock on the roof had him looking up, catching the tail end whisper of a red-bellied cape. His anger bubbled below the surface as he stood, offering the petrified passengers a crooked grin that no one seen past his red helmet.
"Have fun," he snickered, reaching up and pushing open the sun pannel with a snick. Jason used his arms to haul himself up, barely feeling the minor burn of use as he easily climbed onto the roof. He knew for a fact the traumatised passengers wouldn't go near the bomb, nevermind touch it, so he felt no need to leave it guarded or bring it with him.
Nah, it had taken him an hour to make it. He wasn't going to risk dropping it off the side of the train. What a rookie move.
The air was brisk and cool, even in April, which was odd because the month was usually kinda warm for Gotham. The familiar stench of smog was filtered out by his helmet as he stared down the length of the train that was running along the two islands that made Gotham; no one counted the smaller northern strip that Arkham and the Narrows sat upon, too embarrassed to recount its' tale. It was near deserted anyway, filled with nobodies. Gotham's people never had cared for those below them.
It was nearly calming. Nearly relaxing. But Jason couldn't afford to let his guard down. Nowadays he had plans, plans he'd made and brewed over far longer than the Bat himself had over his own. The faint scent of salt whispered through his filters despite everything and he made a note to upgrade the helmet.
He almost felt at home, in the death-goading, mocking silence that made him nostalgic of Catherine and her dreams before the drugs. Everything could've been alright, he could have pretended, if not for the rage of the pit bubbling and pooling under his skin, making him itch for violence and death. It made anger easy, made killing easier and pushed him closer to the ice rink that was insanity, further away from the path of good with each and every bullet he shot, every gun he reloaded, every bomb he set off.
"Some nice arms there," a boyish voice said from behind him. "I didn't expect you to pull yourself up."
Jason laughed without humor, turning to bore down at the kid. His Replacement was short —maybe 5"4— lanky and looked weak enough for an ant to snap him in half. Jason sneered behind the helmet, a vile ugly feeling welling up at being substituted for this.
"Not here for games, kid," he growled, gun a safety blanket by his side. Its weight was reassuring as he drew it, his hold tight and aim unquivering. "You the new Robin, I take it?"
The brat had the gall to seem amused. "Not really new, no, but the most recent, I guess you could say. You would be?"
"Someone with a bomb in the carriage below us and a detonator in his hand," on cue, Jason pulled out the small controller with his free hand. He raised it up, shaking it a little to really rub it in. The Replacement seemed nonplussed.
The frustration lapped at the sides of his walls like molten magma, begging to be let out.
"And?" The kid scoffed, hands on his black tunic's hips. He'd made the costume darker, with a starker red belt that was so different from the original yellow one. Deep down, that annoyed Jason on a whole new level. "You won't blow it up."
The way he said it though, like he was sure of it, as if it was fact and not an opinion, curdled Jason's blood. But then, maybe on some physic molecular level, he was right because he was here to kill the kid. But then—
It was hitting evening. The sun was setting and its soft, glowing beam's settled on the Robin, lighting up his domino lenses. Something in Jason's gut twisted, churning unhappily and his eyes burned with the telltale surge of the Pit's green.
The magma overflowed and lava gushed down the sides of the volcano, catching everything unaware.
Just to spite him, Jason hit the button and jumped. "See ya later, Birdbrain!"
He ended up jumping at a bridge, ending up in the sea that separated Gotham's country half from its city half. He resurfaced just in time to see the Replacement's grapple fire off as the carriage blew. But not before he took a little dip.
Damn, he thought. What a waste of a good bomb.
Chapter 2: Dreams Aren't For The Wicked's Taste
Tim limped off his cycle, ribs making their presence known. He kept his approach silent, eyes casting warily over the black-eared figure that sat at the Bat Computer's large blue-screened monitor; Bruce.
The man grunted something like a greeting but it was lost to the squeal of the bats settling overhead. Tim hummed back.
Sometimes he regretted the fact he'd became Robin —usually brought on by his injuries— but then he remembered watching a fight between Mr. Freeze and Batman on that small tv in his boarding school that had nearly killed Batman. Remembered the fear that had arced through him in that moment, the exact same feeling that had made his blood go cold when he'd realised both the Bat and Nightwing were becoming reckless, bold even. Sometimes nearly not walking away from fights long claimed conquerable.
Tim stumbled his way to the showers, pausing in the locker room to pull off sodden boots before ploughing onwards. He'd been forced to jump into the river to avoid the debris of the train cart and some more. It had been cold, and a shock to the systems.
His lenses were fried, after all.
The shower was dialled up to full strength and full heat before the sound of a throat being cleared reached his ears and properly registered. Wearily, he pulled his head away from the tile, away from staring at the cool marble on the ground.
He blinked at Rachel. "Hey," he started but broke off, hoarseness embarrassing him more than hurting.
Her brows creased, blue eyes shining lowly in the dark of the showers. A white towel was wrapped around her chest, her fingers threading through wet hair. Tim must've been dreaming because when she opened her mouth to speak she almost sounded concerned. "What happened?"
"Got blown up," he answered, realising his mistake too late. Rachel's pupils narrowed to a horrific black that foretold death, her skin flushed a pale cream —a large comparison to her usual happy tan— and the inhumane black of her veins scribbled up her neck, invading her cheeks. Her breath hitched.
Tim had to push down the urge to choke at the tone. It was her Nightwing Voice. "I, uh—"
"The new mob boss, Red Hood, blew up a train cart." Thank god that had been all. "I'd been confronting him and took a bit of the backlash. Managed to dive into the river before the metal went everywhere."
Rachel's fingers shook as she wrung her hair out. "Were you hurt?"
"No." His ribs stung but it was nothing he couldn't handle. Nothing he wasn't used to. "I'm okay, but the people—"
He trailed off, unable to carry on. Robin had backtracked after the explosion, after checking the Red Hood was gone. The wreckage had been the usual scene; charred, blistering and blood splattered. No-one had made it out.
Robin'd spent ten minutes staring at the limp body of a young girl, no older than ten. He'd stood until the sun had set, until Commissioner Gordon had arrived and sent him a look that clearly asked, 'why are you still here?'
(Because it wasn't often the Bats lurked after a disaster.)
Rachel joined the dots together. It showed in how her brow creased then smoothened out, like she'd never been —worried?— in the first place. That was Nightwing for you, Tim supposed, ever the diligent actor. Even at home.
Her hand was on his suited shoulder before he could blink. Her grip strong and comforting? "You did everything you could. Change out of that before you shower."
Rachel strode out of the showers. Tim listened as she opened up her locker.
"Oh, and Tim?"
"Yeah?" He asked quietly, peeling off the wet cape.
"I expect to meet your girlfriend properly. Next time she's staying overnight."
Tim blushed, ducking his head at being found out. "Okay."
Darkness swamped him, closing in, suffocating in its grasp. It hurt. Everything hurt; his ribs, ankles, wrists, chest, head. His tongue hurt from when he'd bitten it earlier, trying to keep the screams down, trying to not give the asshole that pleasure. The laugh whispered in his ears again, only so much louder than the thump of his pulse. He wanted to strike out, punch the bastard in his dirty, pale face but adrenaline filled his veins and made him jittery. Jason doubted he could stand up, nevermind land a punch. Especially not with the way his leg twisted, far away from his other one and too far from his core.
It hurt so much.
"Which one, hmm, Blunder Boy?" Joker hit him, rhyming off the alphabet but Jason couldn't tell the difference between the hits. His throat went hoarse as he screamed, unwanted and unintentional. "I'll take that as J. What a good letter too, you have the makings of greatness in you boy — a shame Batsy had to steal you first. If only I hadda known 'bout the little street rat on ninetieth!"
His lungs screamed to match the monster's laughter. He coughed up blood and god how he wished to spit it in that Clown's face but he couldn't because he could barely move, could barely tell up from down.
"This is for puttin' me in Arkham!"
And then he was gone. Jason was left staring down the timer beepbeepbeepbeep—
Jason froze on the cot. Sweat made his back boil and panic thrust his heart in disarray as his hand shot for the gun under the pillow. His fingers scraped the blade of a knife instead and he pulled it out without hesitation.
"Who's there?" He ground out, stomach sommersaulting like the chimps back in Brazil. The shadows of his safehouse stirred and he hauled himself up, glaring at anything that moved.
A brittle laugh threw him off. It came from his left, from behind, and Jason turned in time to see a figure crouched on the cot's frame. "Over here," a voice whistled and then he was flying off the cot.
The figure tackled him, slamming his head down into grime-ridden floorboards with surprising strength. Jason grunted, arm flying up to grab a slim waist while his other grabbed where he thought the intruder's neck was. He missed their neck, catching a shoulder instead and managed to flip the asshole onto the ground.
He stumbled to his feet, grabbing the knife that glinted on the cot from the moonlight that crept through ratty blinds. The figure grunted, doing a backwards jump into a crouch that showed off their flexibility. Jason hissed a breath through his teeth, feeling his head buzz even as he lunged forward. He grabbed the guy's neck this time, slamming them into the wall, frowning as the sheaths on their back seemed to halt their impact.
Then, thighs twirled around him, squeezing, squeezing squeezing. So tight Jason thought he'd die of asphyxiation.
That was probably what they were trying to do.
But the thighs loosened, their hold not as tight and Jason just knew it had been meant as a warning. Still, that didn't stop him from using the hold in strangulation to pull them both to the ground.
The intruder took the brunt of the fall, Jason making sure to dig an elbow into coarse ribs as he held his knife firm to their neck.
"The blade's against your carotid," he snarled, pushing down with both blade and elbow. A trickle of blood licked down a thin neck. "You make one wrong move and I'll throat ya."
"Funny," a snide voice hissed, menacing and dangerous. It reminded Jason of Talia —a bit— when she got angry. "Because that's what I came here to do."
And he was on his back again, this time with the guy straddling him, a long but sharp sword glinting in the moon's light as it was held unshakingly in front of him. The tip pierced into his forehead, drawing blood that shivered with green.
"You harmed my Robin," the voice growled and suddenly Jason found himself tumbling. This wasn't Batman, no —Bruce was too big compared to the guy he'd been tussling with— and Robin was too small. Add to that the fact that the guy had said 'my Robin'.
Something clicked inside his head, like a long lost puzzle piece finally falling into place. It was her.
"Nightwing," he smirked, hiding the fear whilst feeling naked without the domino that sat on his beside's table top. "What an honor, I heard you'd dropped out for a bit. Didn't know if you were dead or alive."
"Nether descriptions concern me," she snipped, blade digging into his forehead some more. Now that he was breathing deeper, focussing on her, he could see the black swarmy blood trailing down her neck, disappearing underneath the hightened neck of the suit. The light seemed to halo around her and if it was not for the saying, 'Don't you know we are willing to harm angels?' he would've hesitated to even look at her. In fact, her suit seemed to glow, the lines of armour holding a keen red to their seams.
But, Jason was a cruel child in life and a dangerous man in death.
He killed whoever strayed from his plans. And this— this would certainly be a setback.
An up-and-coming Mob Boss could not be seen bleeding, or with cuts on his face. That just would not do.
Unless there was a public display.
Jason sneered up in the woman's face, bucking as those white eyes remained unfazed and similarly unblinking. Nightwing rolled off him, unsettled by the movement, sword aimed at his chest now and hesitated—
Jason struck a match off the box he'd grabbed from the underside of the cot and grinned in the light. He stood, watching with feral glee as Nightwing reared back, crouching a few feet away at the sudden threat. Her suit was no doubt fireproof, like his had been ('cuz that had helped so much), but he knew the sudden light to dark acumilated eyes would hurt.
Luckily Jason had squinted his eyes as he'd struck it, taking his time in readjusting while Nightwing stayed where she was, struggling to see as all Talons would at sudden brightness.
And then she stood and Jason couldn't see the match anymore as she grinded it between her gauntlet's fingertips. Nightwing shoved him up against the wall, tipped her head back and— and laughed.
She laughed. Long, grinding and dripping in venom. Her teeth gashed together, a low growl ripped out of her throat and for the first time in a very long time, Jason feared for his life.
Jason still doesn't know what scared him more; Joker's laugh or Nightwing's.
"Lookit," she snarled unkindly. Such a difference from weak little sick Rachel Wayne that it made his gut twist. His heart pounded an unsteady rhythm in his chest. "The man's scared. I thought you were Red Hood, hmm? Or does that name mean nothing within these walls?"
"Don't know what yer talkin' 'bout." He pushed back, pushing her towards the window. He just had to get to the gun in his beside table, —maybe the domino too— then he could blow her brains out of that fucking small head of hers.
"I think you do," she pushed back, the flat of her blade cold against his arms as she fruitlessly attempted to resist the strength of the Lazarus Pit. The green glow of his eyes reflected in the blade and her widened lenses. The sudden change seemed to confuse her. "What—?"
"Get the hell outta my house!" He barked and with one easy twitch of his arms, pushed her out the window. The sound of a grappling hook echoed in his ears, draining out the snap of glass.
The words, "Stay away from my family," joined the zwiip. It left him alone, sneering out at the dirty air of Gotham.
Jason burned down the safehouse, only after punching a crater the size of an elephant in the wall.
Chapter 3: Life Is Always Hard
Guess who's introduced? Yep, it's Stephanieeeeeee.
Stephanie took a deep breath as Tim climbed the stairs to the front door. She'd been here a couple times, but that had been when Tim's adoptive father and sister had been out of town. Now, he wanted her to meet them.
She couldn't let him down. Couldn't make a bigger fool of the Brown family than they already were, with a fuck-up of a father and a drunk mother.
Stephanie would be different. She'd go far. Further than crime, beyond evil. Into the light. And damn if she wouldn't do it in style.
"It'll be fine, Steph." Tim murmured, letting go of her hand momentarily to right his shirt before knocking on the huge black door. His hand slipped back around hers. "They'll love you. Probably."
She let out a weak, nervous laugh. "Should I be concerned with the 'probably', Tim?"
Tim squeezed her hand, offering her a smile fit for the picture books. The only difference; it was genuine. (Or, at least, she hoped it was.)
The door opened and revealed Alfred, who smiled once he recognised them on sight. "Come on in, Master Timothy, Miss Stephanie."
Every time she stepped into the Manor she couldn't help but gaze at it in appreciation. Everything from the high domed ceiling to the luxurious balcony that swaddled the bedroom corridor and gradually branched out into the grand staircase, embroidered only in gold, and the cashmere drapes over the paintings along the far right corridor to preserve them (or something like that) was beautiful. Mind-blowing, breath-taking and all those other hyphenated words that essentially boiled down to amazing.
"Master Bruce is in the living room," the single family butler said. "Mistress Rachel... will be joining you all in a moment."
Tim and Alfred shared a look that Stephanie pretended to not notice. That was the way she went about life after all, pretend she didn't see x and get away with x. It was her job to play dumb. She guessed that was the simple rule of survival on a certain level, on a specific degree.
(Which was probably the only reason her father had kept her around and not kicked her out onto the streets yet. She could keep her mouth shut; Stephanie Brown was no snitch.)
"Thanks, Alf." Tim's smile was back, this time nervous. He started leading them both into the living room. "C'mon, Steph. Let's go."
Bruce Wayne was everything the tabloids said he was and so much more. (Yet so much less.) He sat tall, proud, strong, like he knew he could beat you in a fight but didn't really want to say that aloud. His hair was combed back, nice enough that it looked natural and nothing like the gelled-monstrosity he paraded about with for his galas, and his lips were set in a firm line. He wore a dull grey sweater that Stephanie didn't doubt was hand-sewn cashmere with matching black slacks. The slippers were a surprise, even if they were grey.
The man definitely liked his grey. Just like Tim liked his red.
He stood from his singluar Chesterfield chair (that, along with the other two Chesterfields, matched a certain Mahomet Chesterfield couch she'd seen in the window on Third Street (the rich people's shops, as it was put) with a price tag of over three thousand) as Tim dragged her into the large room.
"So you're the mysterious girlfriend," Wayne smiled but his eyes darted around, asserting and analysing. His hand reached out happily. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you..."
"Same here," she said back, mustering up a smile. "I'm Stephanie."
No way was she giving this man her surname off the bat, just like that. She had had it beaten into her more than once to be just a tad paranoid with new people she met.
If Bruce caught onto her tactic, he did nothing but smile brighter. "How lovely to meet you, Stephanie."
"Same here," she said and was ushered onto one of the couches.
They made small talk then for about five minutes. Asking stupid things like 'seen that new tv show on Channel 72?' or 'what do you think of the Harry Potter books?' Small, simple things to get her talking. It would've been unnerving had Bruce not seemed more interested, as it was he was sitting with the paper in his hands, flicking through it as he spoke with her and Tim.
A woman wearing a razor-back tank walked into the room, her hair nothing more than a silken sea of curls as she collapsed in the couch opposite her and Tim. Steph couldn't help but notice the pure muscle adorning her arms, as well as the scars.
What the hell?
"Ah, Stephanie," Bruce was smiling goadingly at the woman who couldn't have been older than twenty with something akin to hope. "This is Rachel. Rachel, this is Stephanie."
"Steph, please," she smiled, hands squeezing the life out of each other in her lap.
"'Steph please' got no last name?" Rachel asked, head knocked back. She squinted at her, eyes shinning in the light that beamed in through the large windows.
"Um, no," Steph tried for humour.
Rachel didn't really seem to appreciate it. "'Kay then."
And they sat like that for way too long. The silence encroaching upon their dead bodies, nestling in their skulls. It made Stephanie's ears ring in the sheer silence that came with only breathing.
"Brown." She said at last, after Bruce had sat up uncomfortably straight in the quiet, eyes shooting to her with orders scribbling from them in waves. Fine, if he wanted her to speak, she could speak. "Stephanie Brown."
"Stephanie Brown," Rachel said, assessing. After a moment she tried on a smile like a tiara. Spoiler Alert: it didn't fit her. "Nice to meet you, Steph."
Okaaay, she thought. Not weird at all.
"Yeah, same here," she said.
The silence probably would have went on if not for Tim. He cleared his throat, standing. "Well, we were going to go the the game room, to play that old arcade game with the two guns."
"Alien Hunters?" Bruce asked, an old smile on his face. He laughed nostalgically, "Neither of you will beat my high score but you can both definitely try."
Tim smirked and flounced away, out the door.
Stephanie awkwardly stood and followed, after shooting the two weird-as-fuck Waynes a smile.
"You're down late," Bruce said once the two kids had vanished up the stairs for sure. If Rachel couldn't feel his eyes roaming over her, searching for an answer or a tell, she would've merely dismissed it as dreaded early morning (technically afternoon, it was two pm) small talk.
"I was up late," she said in response. That was the truth too, she'd been up late trying to beat the shit out of a man who'd simultaneously tried to beat the shit out of her. She liked to think she'd came out on top. Even if she had needed to pull pieces of glass out of her back at four in the morning.
"A bit too late?" Bruce suggested.
"Oh?" She turned her head to face him head on. It was better this way, more amusing. On the plus side, it irritated him more as well. "Are you implying you're going to cut it short earlier now? Or that you'll be waking up earlier?"
Both options were near impossible, they both knew. They'd been tried. Tried and failed. (Because let's face it, no true Bat can get up before the sun rises and if they can. Well, you can damn be assured they're fake.)
Bruce said nothing on that matter, instead switching topics like he usually did when on the spot. (He only did it when he was home though, which was commendable. Otherwise, it would've gotten him caught out with many a respectable person in the wrong place and wrong time a bit too much.) "You went a bit hard on the girl?"
Alfred came in with their coffees. No milk, two sugar for her; no milk, one sugar for Bruce. "Like you didn't want to."
"True, but you could've been nicer about it." Bruce said, nodding to Al as he whisked away in silence, no footsteps to be heard. Sometimes Rachel wondered who the true Bat really was; B or Al.
"C'mon, if the one Timothy is dating can't take a bit of steel what are they gonna do when he tells them." Rachel leaned forward to pick up her mug and blew away the steam, taking a sip. It tasted as good as ever. At Bruce's raised eyebrow: "In this business you either tell your special one or they already know. It's not as easy as you think."
"You say that like it's from experience." Bruce smirked.
Memories popped up but disappeared with another long, drawn out sip of her black coffee. "Barbara took it well enough. I'm only relaying her feedback."
"Of course you are," Bruce didn't go on it again. Her and Barbara's relationship had been good (more than just good, dare she say) but the sudden revelation of who's-who had been painful and the distrust had run amongst them in streams. The break-up had almost been a relief.
The sun glittered off the tv screen, making it hard to see what it was showing as Gordon Godfrey came on. "The weather's nice," Bruce said instead.
"It is," she hummed, more than happy to go with it now. Maybe if this conversation had happened in three hours time she would've dug into the pothole that was the seeping wound from her and Babs' 'attempt' but it was now —two pm, with her only out of her nice, big fluffy bed— and she was only on her first cup of coffee. Not her fifth. "You have any plans for today?"
"Nothing but some paperwork that's already completed," the devil be damned if Bruce did not have a work ethic. It was certainly something to applaud the man about. (If it had been Rachel the papers would've sat on her desk for days before she even spared them a thought, five more before a pen even touched them.) "You?"
"Nothing. Was going to sleep as much as possible for my trafficking gig in a few days but we both know what sort of an attempt that is after you've woke up." She shrugged. The trafficking gang's takedown was going to take an estimated three days to do, with her pulling a few all-nighters. With this sort of stuff, it was always a good idea to stockpile some sleep beforehand.
Godfrey started ranting about how Superman had probably bribed some hospital to set up a fire in their dispensary so that the big lug could save them with commendation from Metropolis' Mayor. Bruce snorted at the accusations.
"As if the boy scout could do anything like that." It wasn't a fond nor cruel statement.
"You'd be surprised at what boy scouts do, B." Rachel gurgled past her beverage. "I heard they eat squirrels when camping."
Bruce raised an eyebrow. "What type of squirrels? Red or grey?"
"Both," she replied conspirationally.
"Both?" Bruce gasped, playing along for the joy of it. "How terrible, the least they could do is help one species out a little."
"You advocating favouritism, now, B?" She smirked, waking up a bit more, little by little as per usual.
"Certainly not," Bruce chided, doing a shockingly good impression of Alfred as he chuckled deeply. "I have too many children to—"
He cut off sharply and Rachel felt pain explode in her chest. Her limbs went the tingly feeling they did when she wasn't breathing enough to supply her whole body with oxygen. Her lungs weren't working though, they'd deflated with her heart.
Jason, she instantly thought, mouth going drier than the Sahara.
"I think I'll go out," she said at last, once the pain had subsided and she'd drunk the last of her coffee. "Go shopping with Babs, maybe."
And wasn't that a sore spot but she had to get away, away from this Manor, this man, the memories. Barbara was (usually) safe, (mostly) happy things surrounded her. That was exactly what Rachel needed right now.
"Right," Bruce said.
Chapter 4: No Pain, No Gain
"You think this would suit me?" Babs pulled up a black tank top and pulled it against her chest. Rachel didn't even need to really look to know she suited it.
"Babs," she said, almost slipping and saying babe. "Everything in this shop suits you."
"That 'cuz it's expensive or 'cuz you're too cute to say no?" Barbara smirked, dumping the top back on the rail as she rifled through another stack of shirts. "You're only allowed to own up to one of them, by the way."
"Are there restrictions on which one I can own up to?" She asked, trailing behind her ex as she dumped clothes upon piles of clothes in her hands. Rachel was pretty sure, if she didn't have an unlimited bank account, Barbara would've put her out of house and home by now. They weren't even dating anymore, for god's sake.
"Depends on what way you look at it," Babs said, waddling over to the bored looking teen behind the till with her own arms full of shorts alone. "You're too pretty for the word cute."
"I resent that," Rachel pouted as the till girl asked if they wanted a bag.
"Yeah, just fill them up as you go, sweetie." Barbara said to the girl before turning to her with a grin. "I'm only saying that 'cuz it makes you pout. You know that."
"Do I look cute when I pout?" She asked.
Barbara pinched her cheeks and pulled them out until Rachel dumped the rest of her clothes on the till bench and batted the offending appendages away. "Of course, but I'd have to say it's more of an 'adorable' than a 'cute'."
"That'll be 112 dollars, miss." The cashier said. Rachel swallowed, not at the price but at the number.
112 had been CADMUS. CADMUS had been—
She rubbed her wrists but handed over her card. The girl's eyes flicked up nervously as she put it into the cardreader. Rachel typed in her pin when it was offered to her. "If you don't mind me asking, are you two a couple? If so, I think that's really— uh, cool. Y'know, cool that two ladies like yous can walk about and be happy and all."
Barbara was silent, lips pursed, expression unreadable to the naked eye. Rachel opened her mouth to say something but the cardmachine beeped and signaled the transaction was complete. She got her card back and grabbed her handful of bags, letting Babs walk out in front.
"We used to go out," she said lowly to the younger girl. "Not anymore. But kid, if you swing that way, or any way, don't hesitate to go for it. You only live once."
"Oh. I— uh, I'm sorry." She blinked at Rachel's reassuring smile. "And... thanks?"
Rachel waved her off. "Sure. I've gotta get going, but have a nice day."
"You— You too!" The girl smiled, giving a small, shy wave.
Barbara gave her an unimpressed look when she exited the shop and they progressed through the mall. "Did you seriously just give that girl the talk?"
"No," Rachel snickered. "I told her we only live once."
"Hah," Barbara mocked. "Most of us, you mean."
"Of course," she nodded dismissively. To an outsider, it would've seemed like everything was okay between them but Rachel could feel the tension sizzling between them after that girl's question. It stung, deep down, under her skin, in her heart. Stung more than she expected, to have to say they weren't together.
But Barbara deserved better than her. Always had. Always would.
Barbara Gordon was leagues away, above, Rachel Wayne. Further than she would ever be.
"So," Barbara sat down on a hard plastic seat, elbows on the similarly hard plastic table that shone a putrid green. "While we're on our coffee break, what's the gossip?"
Barbara's smile was huge, as if she was waiting for something good. Rachel could never disappoint Barbara. Especially not when she wore that smile so well. The tension from earlier had eased up too, after hitting a few more shops, which made Rachel feel a bit better if more eager to please.
"Well," she said, thinking. "Tim's got a girlfriend."
"Tell me something I don't already know." Barbara goaded, sipping at her hot chocolate. Rachel cradled her second black coffee of the day in her hands like a mother would a dying child— no. Don't go there.
"Alright, alright, hacker lady," she grinned. Barbara always made her feel happy. "The girl's Stephanie Brown."
"Isn't that—?" Babs blinked.
"Yep." She confirmed, nodding. "Our good ol' friend Cluemaster. His daughter."
"Didn't know he had a kid," Babs said.
"Neither did I."
"That's... a shock."
"To say the least," Rachel agreed.
"Annnd... anything else, anything particularly juicy?" Babs prodded, leaning forward to give a very deliberate show of her cleavage. (And god was it nice.)
Rachel raised an eyebrow. "Seriously? How good a sex life do you think I have, lady?"
"A pretty active one?" Barbara guessed.
"Wrong," she buzzed her out. "I'm still a single pringle and not really in the mood for sleeping around."
"I know what you mean," her friend nodded. She hit their pile of shopping bags with her booted heel. "So, where do you wanna hit up next?"
"With you, girl?" Rachel winked coyly. "Anywhere."
"Jesus, Rachel!" Barbara shouted, slapping her shoulder as she cackled.
Barbara unlocked her car with a tap of a button before opening the boot (quite awkwardly) and dumping all her shopping bags into the rather large space.
"So," the woman prompted as Rachel did the same, marvelling at the sight of her poor numb, red arms as she shook them. "What do you say about a nice dinner over in that Italian restaurant in Cherry Hill?"
Rachel's heart stopped in her throat, not letting anything past. She had to clear her throat to get something out. "Cherry Hill? You sure that isn't above your pay grade of a techie for the library?"
"I have some cash to spare," Babs shrugged. "Plus, see it as a 'thank you', for buying me all this today."
Rachel raised an eyebrow but said nothing.
"Should I take your broody silence as a yes or no, darling?" Barbara was already climbing into the drivers seat, leaving her to get the boot door. She slammed it down and smirked as Barbara winced. "Geez, go easy on the poor car. What did it ever do to you?"
Nothing, she mentally grumbled. Barbara's car smelt nice, like cherries and something foresty. She bounced into shotgun, pulling shut the door as she buckled in.
"Okay theeen," Babs drew out the word like a pinata hoarding the sweets. "No Cherry Hill tonight. How about Chinese takeout back at my place with a bottle of red wine?"
"Okay," Rachel said, feeling awfully small. "I—"
Barbara paused in turning the key for the ignition, turning to look at her even as she pulled her head away, glaring down at the car parked beside them in the parking lot. Her —ex-girlfriend— best and only friend set her hand on her thigh, giving it a reassuring squeeze before lifting it and thumbing the engine.
"Mr Magoo—" Rachel hiccuped, her wine threatening to tip and run away from her. "Nooo! How can he not tell it's a— it's a—"
She leaned over, intent on whispering to Babs, when she went too far and sorta kinda collapsed in the other woman's lap. She giggled as Babs did, still asking, "Babsy, wha' is it?"
"Ob'sly a cup," the younger woman mumbled, running her hand through her hair. Their Chinese had been long ago eaten and discarded in favour of Barbara's posh tall glasses and fancy wine. Rachel hadn't nearly expected for her to have so many bottles. When she'd said 'a bottle', she'd expected it. Not ten.
But well, things in her line of work never did go per the description line. It always deviated, wobbling away from her or B like a toddler on heels. Dangerous, reckless and risky. That was essentially what their missions turned out to be, if not planned.
It was the story of her life.
The sad, miserable story of her life. Rolled into one large thing like a— like a fucking taco.
Rachel giggled, managing to get one more gulp of the delicious red wine down before she had to set it on Babsy's coffee table because her arm was just so tired. She used her core a little and pulled herself upright, mainly using Babs' guiding hand. Barbara sipped at her wine like a queen, Rachel realised, sitting beside her and actually watching her. Looking at her in a way she'd sworn she wouldn't, had avoided doing so all day because her heart still hurt and her head didn't like it.
She took in the beautiful high cheek bones that were ideal for kissing, her plush lips that felt so good over her body and on her lips, her lovely small nose, button-like in every way including adorable. Rachel stared at her hair, the most firey red colour ever. Prettier than fire, always. Especially with how it seemed to glow in the setting sun's misty rays that peeked in through Barbara's twentieth-floored apartment's living room.
And, before she realised what she was doing, Rachel was leaning in to kiss Barbara.
Their lips met, soft and sweet, a tangle of lust, a nostalgic reminder of old times, and Rachel jerked back, out of Babs' careful holding hug.
"Babs," she said, so soft and quiet it might as well have been a whisper. "We can't do this— we shouldn't."
Babs kissed her on the nose, lively green eyes staring down at her. "Says who?"
"Me. You." She replied brokenly. "We broke up, Babs, we can't go around like— Babs!"
Her complaints at Barbara licking her neck in the way that made her hot inside were lost as the woman pulled back to pull off the tantalising half-zip she'd been wearing all day. It came off cleanly, revealing pert nipples and luscious breasts. Rachel really couldn't help herself as she reached up and rolled them in her hands, squeezing them, playing with them as they traded heated kisses.
Time seemed to slow as she was pulled out of her own flannel shirt, flushed skin gasping into goosebumps at the apartment's cool air. Her jeans are gone, so are Barbara's, and they're on Babs' bed—
"Yes, Barbara, yes!" She can hear herself moaning as the other woman's fingers dive deeper into her, hers sinking swiftly into Barbara at the same time. The heat builds and builds and builds and, "God Barbara, I love you so much."
"I love you too, Rachel, god yes!"
Barbara wakes up feeling the sting of a late night one too many jagging into her eyes. She blinks, waving about for her glasses on her bedside table. The alarm clock reads 11:38 am and just as Barbara's about to curse up a storm a moan draws her attention.
Her head turns on automatic, eyes falling to the nape of Rachel's back, where it curves off in two dimples to her gorgeous ass. Surprisingly, she's not as angry as she'd thought she would've been, at seeing Rachel, naked and so obviously post-sex wrecked, in her bed.
Her ex's hair is splayed all over the white pillows like a messy, tangled halo. Rachel's breathing is calm and whooshes medolically with every second exhale and the best thing about this all; she's still asleep. And, of course, her ass is out on display, but Barbara knows when to keep things quiet.
Which is why, after a good five minutes of admiring Rache, she decides to wake her.
Her breath feels thick with the feel of morning as she bends over to Rachel's ear and whispers, "Hey, Rachel. Wake uuup."
Not-so-surprisingly, (she knows what the woman's nighttime job is) her ex jumps, muscles immediately tensing before her eyes opened up. Two deep breaths later, she was sinking back into the pillows again, eyes fluttering.
Barbara almost didn't have the heart to disturb her.
"Rachel," she said, a bit louder this time. "You've gotta wake up, babe."
At that, Rachel shot up like she'd been burned. Her breathing, in the span of less than three seconds, went from content to misplaced and ragged. Her eyes were dauntingly wide as she stared at her, something akin to fear haunting them.
"Barbara?" She gasped out. Barbara would've reached out to hug her —because she was shaking— were it not for the way she hunched in on herself, body language screaming 'don't touch me!'. She continued to whisper, sounding completely horrified with herself, "Barbara, Barbara, no, no, noo. God, I'm so sorry, please forgive me. Please, I don't think I'll be able to live without you but I've messed that up, we— We've slept with each other. No."
"Rachel, shh," Barbara went in for the hug. She was no damn counsellor but she would try her best. "It's okay, sweetheart. Don't worry about it, as long as we both enjoyed it."
"But that doesn't mean my morals like it," Rachel wailed, closing in on herself completely as she tugged at her stunning hair. Barbara caught her wrists before she could do any real damage, going wide-eyed as Rachel reeled back, howling in anguish.
"Stop it! Stop it!" She was screaming, eyes watering in a way that made Barbara's heart squeeze with pain. Everything about this was painful, mainly because this was Rachel and Barbara didn't know how to help her.
"It's okay, Rachel. I need you to calm down for me, can you do that?" Rachel went a tad quieter so Barbara decided to stick with this —whatever the hell 'this' was. Rachel's breathing calmed, slowly but surely. "That's it. Knew you could do it, you're doing great."
"I—" Rachel started but couldn't seem to finish, galing like a fish for a few seconds. Then, her leg was sliding off the bed, her lips tight. "Let me get changed."
Five minutes later and Rachel was standing by the end of her bed, eyes hurt, posture stiff.
Standing. She wouldn't even sit on the bed despite Barbara's words.
"Rachel—" Barbara tried, blanket pulled up around her because it was cold and her apartment was still lacking in the central heating aspect. She was cut off again, her words dying on her tongue as Rachel looked at her, initiating eye contact.
The sheer emotion in her eyes scared Barbara.
"No. We can't just do this and pretend it's alright, Barbara." Shit, she was using her full name. That either meant she was really pissed or really hurt, emotionally. "It's not— It's not okay to do things like this. I didn't —"
She was very hurt —emotionally hurt. Later, when she's in her right mind and not reeling over rejection, Barbara will regret how she responded to it.
"So?" She whispered, looking down at her fingers. When she spoke, Barbara meant every little bit of venom her tone because she was confused and being confused was frustrating. "You seemed to enjoy it, last night."
Rachel made a hurt sound, deep in the back of her throat and when Barbara looked up she was gone.
Chapter 5: The Gangster and His Guns
Jason hated having to deal with gangs. Especially since now he ran a whole lotta them, he had to organise their dirty work.
Red Hood ran a lot of gangs. It was common knowledge, he was a crime boss after all. What kind of crime boss didn't run a gang or two?
Well, Red Hood enjoyed running his gangs. Of course he did, it was freeing in a way, satisfying somehow to give out orders and have them heard and obeyed to the letter.
He was big on loyalty, because that was what every good gang had. Loyalty. To the leader, to the cause and to their rules.
So, when one of his men —one of many, but this one would be an example— went and fucked up, he had to right it. Or else loyalty would be shot, gone like a bullet from his gun and the only thing he'd feel would be the gunpowder in his eyes, causing him problems.
When he set down rules, he expected for them to be followed. He expected the gangs to get rid of their dirt, the scummy bastards that sold to kids, and thieved without cause, but apparently that was harder to do than it sounded.
So Red Hood went out to get rid of some of their pests. He called it, "Organising the dirty work."
Jason glared down at the man, cowering like the asshole he was, in the dirt. "Lemme get this right," Hood's voice growled, the man whimpering at the sheer loudness. "You went off and sold drugs to kids, even though I told everyone not to?"
"I— Please—" The man was crying, the scraggy hoodie he wore barely thick enough to hold itself together. He sunk down in the corner he'd ended up in, terrified for his life. The alleyway was deserted save for them but Hood would've pulled his guns out anyway, people or no. The dealer shook at the sight of his Glock. "I didn't know!"
"Don't lie to me," Red Hood growled, barrel pressing against the swarmy bastards pale skin. He was your stereotypical drug dealer, a nobody with greasy brown hair, sunken eyes and a god awful streak of selling to fucking children. "I know what you do. I have eyes everywhere."
Sometimes it felt like that was true, sometimes he wondered if he could get eyes put in the back of his head to watch out for all those backstabbers. But then he realised that would mean more lenses in the helmet, more of a bill to buy more and fix them, and dismissed the thought. What was the point in having extra eyes if they didn't go with the master vision? (Okay, these thoughts usually did come about only when he was drunk. Shut up.)
"P— please, Mr. Hood! Please, spare me. I don't want to die, not yet!" The scrum was begging now, hands clasped in front of his face, shaking like a leaf. He sounded so desperate Hood had to refrain from ending his misery and just shooting him between the eyes. "Please!"
Hood snorted, the sound becoming sinister somewhere from throat to synthesiser and vocaliser. "Shoulda thought 'bout that before you selled 'em kids the coke, Michael. Is that your name?"
Keep distanced. Cool. Level headed. Calm.
"My— my name's Matthew. Matthew Spencer, s-sir."
"Right, Mike. Can I call you Mike?" Hood cocked his gun, pressing it into Mike's temple. "I'll give you one more chance, okay? You sell to kids again and I'll blow off your balls and feed you your dick. Got it?"
Mike nodded, stammering. "Of course!"
Jason sat on the bench, opposite the school. Marcus— or was it Michael?— or Matthew?— was standing by the school gates. He'd cleaned himself up, a new hoodie stolen from Mrs. Wittenburg's washingline on his back and jeans from the thrift shop on his legs. His hair was still as greasy as ever but he'd at least tied it up with a hair tie.
A young man, no older than sixteen, strolled out the school gates, hands in his pockets, hood up. His grin at seeing M-something was obvious, even from across the street where Jason sat, a book in his lap, head bowed.
He read their lips as the two did one of those weird handshakes with fistbumps and everything.
'Hey, mate,' the schoolboy was saying, a gleam in his eyes. 'You got it?'
'Obviously,' Martin?—Macarov?—Monroe? said. His boney fingers disappeared into his hoodie's pocket, coming out with a bag of coke. 'The cash?'
'Yep,' a wad of cash was given over and as if selling to a minor wasn't bad enough, M-dude had just plainly stroked the kid. Jason felt the rage build, skin cracking on his hands as the dry skin ripped as he tightened them into fists. His book was forgotten about, shoved in his backpack as M and the kid split up, M heading for downtown.
Intercept him before he hits 8th, a voice whispered. There's an alleyway between Knowle Road and Bronsze. Kill him.
Jason stood, slinging the backpack on his back as M strolled down the street. It was funny how some people got on, acting as if they had done no wrong.
What was that old saying? Hate the sin, love the sinner?
Well, Jason hated both the sin and the sinner so he was loosing common ground pretty fast.
He went for the kid first.
"Yo, man," he crossed the street when there was a brief lull in traffic, jogging up easily to him. The kid turned around, scowling at the hand clasped on his shoulder. "I think ya got somethin' of mine."
"The hell?" The kid frowned, shaking off his hand. "The fuck are you? Do you know who I am?"
Jason did. It was in his purple eyes. One of those Calaviers from the Bowery, one of the more influential families, even if there wasn't a cent to their name. Odd how he was up round here, in a rich kid school. He'd either gotten a scholarship or was merely walking through the grounds to appear as if he was a student. The school didn't need a uniform but Jason didn't feel like checking the records so he let it drop.
"You know who I am?" He wasn't really in the mood for a masculinity show off with some sixteen year old. He made sure to shift ominously, the impression of his Glock clear even through his hoodie. The fact it was red hopefully gave off a few hints too.
Sure 'nough, the kid gulped. "Hood. Red Hood?"
"Hand over the drugs and I'll let you walk away without a broken leg."
The bag was dumped in his hand before the kid was off, running for his life. Jason snorted.
M hadn't made it far. He made sure M knew who he was as he clamped his hand down on his shoulder. This time, with a bit more force than the one he'd used on the Calavier kid.
M, for his part, did not scream (not that most people would care). Although he did look ready to shit himself, Jason mused to himself. "O-Oh, hey, um—"
"Alleyway between Knowle Road and Bronsze." He growled, voice low.
"R-right." M — Matthew. It was Matthew Spencer aka, Mike — swallowed nervously. The walk was slow and awkward, with them both having to pretend to be buddies as one of Spencer's fellow dealers bumped into them, coincidentally. Hood pushed him into the alleyway when they got there, careful to keep the hood in-place.
"That was the last time, I swear," Mike tried. "The guy asked for it. Said he'd run me outta town if I didn't."
"First mistake." Hood growled. Mike froze. "You had the gall to even think somebody other than me would get rid of ya. You deserve to go, just for that. Second mistake. You sold it to him anyway. Third mistake. You stroked him."
He slammed the man into the bricked wall of what he was sure was a shop and reached into his jacket. His Glock was a soothing weight in his hand, cold but firm as always. He cocked its hammer and aimed—
"Please," Matthew Spencer attempted to bargain one last time.
—his finger hit the trigger, pulling it back. The gun powder splashed up, the bullet flying. Spencer dropped.
Red Hood grinned.
Then, suddenly, he froze, muscles tensing. He looked behind him, feeling eyes on him, but found nothing but a rickety old fire exit staring down at him, swathed in shadows.
Grumbling, he holstered his baby and stormed out, leaving the opposite way of entry.
In the shadows, eyes blinked open, a cloak ruffled. The person behind the watching feeling sighed at their near-miss encounter. They weren't yet ready for that to happen. The League of Assassins were not yet ready.
The Demon's Head did not want a confrontation with the Bat just yet, and it was their job to withhold that.
For they lived to serve, and serve they would.
Chapter 6: Burn the Ivy Roots
Red Hood runs into Poison Ivy and... someone else.
Pamela had always been eccentric. Trust Jason, he knew, because Selina definitely knew and every time he paid her a visit it was all she ever went on about. 'Pam's done this' or 'you'll never guess what Ivy's done now'. It all got a bit boring after a while, so Jason had started tuning it out.
Maybe he should've listened a bit more. At least so he didn't end up on the recieving end of the plant shit she spewed out.
It had been a normal night, with Red Hood making his rounds through his bit of Gotham, when a thick, leafy vine had shot through the roof he'd been about to jump on and promptly tore half the roof off.
Hood reeled back, watching as Nightwing backflipped from a second storey window from the apartment-shop building and stuck her landing on the deserted street below them. Not five seconds later came Poison Ivy, Pammy Isley, green with anger as vines curled round her as per usual, giving her a tight dress.
"How dare you stand on my tulips!" Ivy was shouting. Hood blinked, watching from his advantage of height as vines tore up from the pavement around a livid Ivy and sprouted. The plant was huge, a big bud in the middle of its purple petals. It shivered, and Hood thought it was from Ivy's rage, but when its petals ruffled like it was a beast waking up and the thing roared he reckoned it was just a tad bit sentient.
Which, sentient three storey plants, not too bad, right?
Well, they aren't too bad until said plant perks up at the sight of a parked blue sedan and bends down and eats it. Whole. In one petal fluttering gulp.
Hood was shitting himself, already backing away, wishing Nightwing the best of luck, when another vine (very randomly) shot up from the apartment rubble and wrapped around his ankle. It yanked and he knew he was fucked.
Nightwing blinked at him as he hit the ground beside her, dazed. The older woman had her swords out, slashing away at Ivy's vines while avoiding the acidic burning pollen the sentient flower was happily spitting out at her —scratch that, them. Hood almost opened his mouth to say 'stop cutting her plants, you'll make her angrier' but then thought better of it as a vine shot past his head, at a frightening speed that would've killed him in a second.
"Impromptu team-up?" He called, Glocks already out. Already half the street was green from Ivy's sweeping vines, jumping from one building to the next. If given long enough, Gotham could be completely green although Hood doubted that Ivy would go to that much bother.
"If it makes you feel better about yourself, sure." Nightwing snipped, swords twirling in blurs as she pushed back against a particularly thick stemmy-looking vine. Hood smirked, some things, namely Rachel's humour, apparently never changed.
"Sweet, you take left, I'll take right?" He shouted but Nightwing was already doing just that. Red Hood shrugged, firing a few rounds at the plants before realising it was particularly futile and switching to fast-acting poison pellets. He probably should've felt bad at Ivy's anguished scream as one of her main vines collapsed, a sickly brown wilt to it, but right now it was his life or the plant. Hood was willing to argue he had a lot more to give the world than just becoming plant food.
Ivy was certainly one for grudges, he knew that much. The red head cemented this fact as she glared at him as he shot down a handful more vines and, with a flick of her wrist, had a dozen more vines racing at him than there already had been.
He contemplated switching things up with a smoke bomb before spotting the main stem. It was always the same with Ivy, she chose a building for her main vinestem to grow from, giving her an unlimited amount of vines to play with. He didn't know why he hadn't caught on sooner, she'd rolled like this since he was Robin.
Memory of a goldfish, he scolded himself. Risking a glance to Nightwing when the vines seemed to slow down a tad, he found the woman ducking, twirling and being her classic show-off self as she backflipped, frontflipped and sommersaulted through the gaps and away from the deadly strings of vegetation, swords whirling the entire time.
"Hey, 'Wing!" He shouted, hopefully loud enough to be heard over the din of plants rustling, the rather ferocious sudden wind and Ivy's incomprehensible shouts. The woman's head shot up as she danced backwards, slashing down a particularly insistent vine. He had her attention. "Found the core, wanna tag-team?"
He got a nod in responce. Then, they were moving. Red Hood shot forward, weaving through what felt like motion sensor beams around a crown, aiming for Ivy. If they were lucky, Ivy was having a bad day with winter coming up, and she couldn't really multitask. If one of them got through they could end this.
It just so happened, Ivy seemed to dislike Nightwing more, seeing as when she realised the heroine was making her move to get closer, she sent nearly all of the vines attacking Hood to attack her instead. He could already feel her scowl burning into the ozone layer.
"Hey, Ives, hope ya don't mind." He shot the main stem a couple more times than he shoulda, watching with a crinkled nose as sugary water gushed out of it. God, he hated photosynthesis when it bit them in the ass like this.
"Do I recognise you?" Pamela asked, eyebrow raised. Her sentient plant roared, its roots digging into the pavement and uprooting concrete and stone. Hood yelped as it pulled out small sac things from its inner bud. It was gonna spew that pollen everywhere. Shit.
"'Course you do, Pam!" He shouted, hands held up peacefully. "Me, you and Selina hang out all the time!"
Ivy paused, "Oh! Jay, I'm so sorry, I didn't know you ran about like this!"
She actually seemed appologetic. He probably would've brought it better if her alive plant hadn't sneezed so loud it made his ears ring, despite the noise dullers in his helmet. (Nice when one ran about with guns and still wanted decent hearing when in their fourties). The pollen sacs around its bud snapped, shooting the pollen in his and Nightwing's direction.
Heavy orange goo coated his leather jacket and seeped into his black kevlar. He sighed, deflating as he nearly let go of his Glocks, choosing to loosely clutch them. "Damn it."
"Oops," Ivy said, a vine wrapping around her waist and pulling her up to her plant. She petted it like the soothing monther he'd never had. "It seems Mr. Pickles is getting sick in this terrible weather. He's uh— oh."
"What?" Hood grunted, stomping forward as Ivy shrunk down her plant, leaving rubble for the ground in its wake. Ivy seemed embarrassed as Nightwing pulled herseld out of the tangle of vines that had fallen limp on her and joined him, poking at the orange goo that seemed to be disappearing into her suit.
"Well, um, it seems when Mr. Pickles sneezed he let loose some of his pollen."
"What type of pollen?" Nightwing interrupted.
Ivy blushed so hard she went purple. "That's the thing, it's um— it's sex pollen."
Hood sighed, annoyed. "Great."
It couldn't have been that rage pollen, or some smelly shit, no. It was sex pollen. Sex pollen.
"Sorry," Ivy squeaked, petting her sex pollen producing plant named Mr. Pickles. She summonded her vines back to her, lifting them away from the road to begin to pull her appartment-shop back together again, filling the cracks with greenery. "You both should have around ten minutes before it gets to be too much."
"Thanks for the warning," Nightwing nodded, turning on her heels and firing her grapple.
"Adios, Pam." Red Hood waved, turning to follow Nightwing in the act of leaving, going the other way.
"Bye, Jay." The woman said, smiling. She looked far too innocent with that smile, especially when she named plants Mr. Pickles.
Damn that fucking plant, Mr. Goddamn Pickles.
He nodded, firing his grapple to the same roof as before, intent on finishing his patrol before the pollen kicked in fully.
He got five minutes in when Nightwing appeared on the very roof he landed on, halfway through his patrol route.
"Fancy seeing you again," Hood muttered, intent on leaving as he turned away to revise his way to cover the rest of his ground.
"Wait," Nightwing called, something desperate in her voice as she reached forward and caught his big wrist in her small hands. He whirled on her, looming, but she seemed unfazed aside from the faint blush along her cheeks. "I, um—"
She broke off and Hood realised what was happening.
"Jesus," he pulled up his leather sleeve, checking his tap-pad sewn into his kevlar armours arm. "It's only been six minutes. Do you not have a fuck buddy to play with or something?"
"No," she said, voice so breathy and honest it made Hood's gut jump and twist in heat. Damn it, if this kept up he'd be fucking her. "I'm a Talon," she said in explanation. Like he didn't know that. "We have quick working metabolisms."
"That not slow it down or stop it?" Hood asked, resting a hand on his hip impatiently. "Like an excelled metabolism usually does?"
"I don't know why, but it's sped it up." She edged closer and Jason's mind got mushy at the sight of the tight, defining armored suit, red-bellied cape licking at her nice, firm legs. "I—"
"Need a fuck buddy," he finished for her. "Of course you do, goodie two shoes Nightwing doesn't play around in bed. So why would she have one?"
"Says who?" The woman snapped, tone hard. "I've merely fallen out with my current one, that's all. Seeing as you were still on patrol I took the liberty to assume you didn't have one either."
Jason blinked back the hurt at being a second choice. "Wow, fiesty." He bit out, chewing at his lip. He was about to reject her and turn away but he paused, stopping to watch as the woman gapsed and rubbed herself in what felt like slow-motion. "Fine. My place or yours?"
Because as much as he wanted to ignore it, there was a goddamn tent in his trousers.
And hey, if they had tried to kill each other a week or so prior, wasn't that normal in their gig? He certainly wasn't as angry about it as he should've been.
"Mine's is half-way across the city," Nightwing admitted. "Don't think we'd make it."
"Right then," he said. "My place it is."
Nightwing blinked at him as he jumped off the roof. "Where is your place, exactly?"
"Just follow me," he sighed, tired of how all the Bats wanted to micromanage every little thing.
Surprisingly, Nightwing did. She kept quiet too, not even blinking at the low ceilinged, run-down apartment he pushed the window open into, jumping over the intruder detection systems in the sill he'd self-made and self-installed.
"Nice place," she said instead, already tugging at her cape. "Where's the bedroom?"
"You sure you want it in the bed?" He mocked, sarcasm and cruelty coming out of him in waves as usual. It was his tick for being nervous, something Talia hadn't quite managed to best him out of. Jason didn't even know why he was nervous, maybe it was the possibility of Rachel recognising him but when he thumbed the release latch and smirked at her she didn't seem to so that put that out of the equation.
"Of course," she hissed out. Bundling the cape up in her arms instead of folding it neatly. That would've annoyed Jason greatly had the tent in his trousers not gotten even more painful as Rachel peeled back the domino revealing her gorgeous sparkling blue eyes.
Fucking hell. His helmet got dumped on his kitchen table.
"How'd you piss off Ives?" He asked in between kisses as he pulled her along the short corridor to his bedroom. She didn't seem to mind as he pulled off her armour with ease, instead picking and pulling at his too.
"Was trying to shut down a trafficking gang ring when they went missing, my CCTV caught Ivy being there last so I decided to pay her a visit. I accidentally stepped on a tulip." Rachel moaned, arching into his touch. Jason laughed as he dumped her on the bed.
"What a great way to go," he muttered as Rachel agreed and laughed with him. "Now, for the important stuff; you like to ride or not?"
Jason woke up groggy. It was nothing new, not by a long shot, but the feeling of a warm body beside him and eyes boring into him irritated him more than he knew possible.
Eyes fluttering open, he blinked down at the mess of black hair, staring into those blue gleaming eyes. "Hello," they said, predatory in both sound and looks.
Jason blinked. Rachel pulled out of his arms without remorse, shaking her head to right her hair, smoothing it down with nimble hands.
"You... good?" He asked, awkward. He wasn't used to shit like this, fucking around with someone who probably wouldn't have done it without special cirumstances. Rachel turned her head, looking back at him as he too sat up a bit away from her.
"I was unaware you were alive," was all she said, intense in every way. "Jason."
"Um," he said intelligently, it sinking in that he'd technically fucked his sister. But Bruce hadn't adopted him, claiming with a new law he didn't need to, wanting to give him time, so she wasn't really. More of an old acquaintance. "You didn't ask?"
She tilted her head at him like he was stupid, showing off her flush hickey-covered neck. Jason was willing to bet his was the same. When she opened her mouth, Jason expected more words, but she just shut it again after a second and climbed out of his bed.
She paused to pull on her billowing tank top, which had been on under her suit, before padding out of his bedroom quietly.
Jason listened as she shut the door at the end of the corridor. The front door didn't open, nor close. He shrugged, rolling out of bed and musing his sweaty hair. He took the liberty to assume she'd used the window or something to leave. She would probably come back later for her suit.
He showered, brushed his teeth, did all that shit, and once he'd pulled on an old celldweller shirt and shorts, walked into his kitchen-living room. Rachel stared up at him from where she'd curled up on his ratty couch, the blanket that usually hung over its back as a throw pulled over her.
"Um," he questioned.
"I'll take an orange juice," she offered.
Great. Rachel was the 'stay for the day' kinda one nighter. He snorted at the mirth of it, for lack of better things to do.
Chapter 7: Time Tells No One Its Story, Unless You Force It To
Haven't edited this yet so spellings might be dodgy. Going camping in a few minutes and thought I'd give yous this. Enjoy.
Stephanie sat in the cinema plush seat out the front, twiddling her thumbs as she tried to look like she hadn't been waiting for Tim to show up for the past twenty minutes.
A group a chattering teens walk by, laughing with an obnoxiously loud air about them. The sudden noise, so close to her, makes Steph paranoid, urging her to look up. It's fine, the teens are all staring at the new Mission Impossible movie poster, nattering about how it will probably be as cliché as the last one.
She waits, dilligently, for another half hour before sparing her phone's analogue clock a glance and deciding she's had enough. Steph Brown will not be made a fool of, she won't wait hours for Tim to show up just to give her a shitty excuse like 'sorry, got caught up in homework' or 'I fell asleep. I'm so sorry'. Yeah, no; those lies weren't gonna work no more.
Top everthing off with the creepy-crawling feeling of being watched and you get one pissed off, irritated Stephanie Brown who is not to be messed with. So, she stands up from the couch that practically has her ass imprinted in it by now, and leaves.
It's safe to say, three hours later, Stephanie does not expect to be woken up by someone tapping at her window. Nevermind that someone being none other than Robin, the Boy Wonder himself.
Choking on her saliva as she hurried to stand, intent on finding out if this was a joke, she froze. Robin was shivering—no, shaking against her windowframe, black hair downcast over his masked eyes, soft sobs breaking free of his lips, easily heard through the thin-as-fuck window glazing (or complete lack of it). Cautiously, Stephanie grabbed her hairbrush off her stool —for self-defense, should she need it— and flipped the click for the locked window. She pried it open, the sudden silence deafening.
Robin crawled in wordlessly without even so much as a glance towards her. Stephanie blinked, swallowing awkwardly.
"Um—?" She's real lucky she didn't scream and wake her mom when Robin tipped forward at the first hint of sound, arms closing around her neck as he sobbed.
"Stephanie. Stephanie, I was so afraid." He wept, clutching her like a lifeline as she slid down the wall to sit with him on the floor when he just wouldn't let go. "Scarecrow popped up on patrol, and Bruce and I got him, but not after— not after I seen you dead, bleeding out— Steph!"
He sounded so distressed. It made her throat close up.
"Woah, shh, it's okay, quieten down," she tried to sooth, mind racing as she took everything in. He sounded like Tim, and he'd mentioned Bruce but did that—
Timothy Drake was Robin.
Bruce Wayne was— he was Batman.
Oh my god, she thought, mind just about ready to implode.
Scarecrow, Tim had mentioned Scarecrow. That likely meant he'd been hit by the guy's gas— what was it called? Fear gas?
"It's okay, Tim," she rubbed his back through the damp cape. It had been drizzling earlier, she remembered. Had he been caught in it? "You good?"
"Yeah," her boyfriend hiccuped. "I got the fear toxin antidote but I— it still made me so scared, Steph. I worried I'd come back and you'd be gone so I came here. I'm sorry I missed the movie."
Steph ruffled his hair. "It's okay, Tim. You just— you can't keep these kinda secrets from me!"
"A-are you mad?" Tim stuttered, he was still shaking like a newborn foal so Steph shuffled them over a bit, closer to her bed so she could pull her wolly blanket over the both of them. Tim had practically collapsed in her lap, and she didn't think he'd be moving any tome soon.
"No." She said, but she kinda was. How long had he been Robin? Was she not trusrworthy enough to tell or was it just one of those 'don't tell anyone' situations? The dark pit inside her said it was the former, while the hopeful angel on her shoulder whispered the latter. "I'm just bummed I couldn't get an autograph sooner."
She was kinda glad Tim was out of it, otherwise he would've caught onto her blatant lie.
"Isn't Batman gonna worry?" She asked amidst her hunt for a topic change. On that note, she definitely did not want weirdo-Wayne bursting through her window dressed up in cape and mask, looking for his ward. Her mother needed all the sleep she could get. She was tying to get off the alcohol again.
What's that, murmured the metaphorical devil on her shoulder. The third time this year?
"Told him where I was going. He's okay with it." Well Steph sure as hell wasn't. She was not at all calm like Tim seemed to be at the fact that Batman most definitely knew where she lived. He could come and skewer her anytime he wanted now.
She'd have to find a way to make a will about twenty years too soon.
"So, you gonna stay the night?" She whispered, noting how Tim was becoming dead-weight atop her.
"I was so worried," he said which she took for a 'yes'. "I dreamed that I went out, for patrol, and I came back and you were gone. And then we went out somewhere and a villain caught us, because he knew who I was and he killed you."
Tim stopped his ramblings suddenly, leaving Steph very emotionally constipated as she thought that over. "Guess you'll have to teach me how to defend myself, huh?"
"Yeah!" Tim jolted, pulling his heas up to beam at her. "I can teach you how to do roundhouse kicks, they're fun! And we can learn how to use the Bo Staff together!"
"Yay!" Stephanie faked a cheer. She didn't really know why Tim was so happy about that but she put it down to exhaustion or sleep deprivation. Or both. Knowing Tim, it was definitely both.
"Steph?" Tim murmured, head dropping back down on her shoulder with a soft thump.
"Yes?" She questioned, weary. Her alarm clock glowed a dull green, telling her it was long past three am.
"I love you," Stephanie felt her heart go warm as she couldn't help but smile.
"I love you too, Tim." She said. Tim smiled against her neck.
Steph giggled softly, mind buzzing with evrything she'd found out tonight. She felt like she was floating on clouds. It felt nice. "Night, Boy Wonder."
"Oh, and B doesn't know I am actually talking to you and not stalking you through your window." The boy said suddenly. "So, um, yeah."
Stephanie rolled her eyes. "Goodnight, Tim."
He gave a sheepish laugh. "Yeah, night."
Chapter 8: Inquires Must Be Inquired
Barbara asks questions.
It was winter so the nights were colder, ebbing into darkness quicker. Rachel had always complained about how Bruce ended up staying out later, working. Now, she supposed that had meant patrol went on longer thanks to the prolonged dark. Barbara was just glad her dad had gotten the night off tonight.
They were going to have a nice father-daughter dinner, catching up on everything that had happened since their last one in fall.
Of course, her Dad was late.
Where are u ?
going to be late sorry babs
What have u done?
turn on news
Doing as she was told, Barbara fished the tv remote from the couch's frightening, gloomy recesses and flipped the channel. She nearly choked at what she saw.
They were downtown, a police cordon spanning an entire street as Batman, Nightwing and Robin all ran interference with Killer Croc. Barbara had tuned in just in time to have the camera man show the police cordon for a moment, showing her father there —dressed impeccably in his usual mustard collar stained trench coat— standing alongside Bullock, who seemed grumpier than normal, puffing a cigarette angrily.
The camera spanned back to the fight, showing Batman ducking under a large scaley green fist as Nightwing jumped over it. Robin was running about the street, dodging debris kicked up by Croc's tail, as he tapped at his wrist computer.
Surprisingly, this was quite a normal sight; to have a Bats' fight filmed live on the news. Gotham enjoyed watching their caped crusader family battle against the villains that made their lives so hard everyday. It was probably a pain, for the Bats, seeing as how the fight was live and one wrong move could have their true identities revealed and spreading like wildfire.
Barbara sighed, pulling up the popcorn she'd prepared for their compulsary movie. She crunched down on a particularly hard kernel at the same time as Croc reared back, arms flying up to smash the pavement below him in a particularly Hulk-esque move. It looked like the Bats were winning, with a grin slowly sliding over Robin's face. He'd probably came up with some mastermind plan to trick the beast, leading him away from the cameras, or something like that.
Then, Croc stopped. Barbara blinked, leaning in closer as the man-beast broke into sporadic shakes, lightning arching over his body. Nightwing had stopped moving, Batman's frown seemed more pronounced than usual and Robin was watching it all with a grimace unlike him.
Killer Croc hit the ground, steam pouring off him in waves and the police and news crews rejoiced. But Barbara couldn't get the way the Bats had looked so unhappy out of her head. She blinked and they were gone, the reporter coming on screen to announce a glorious win and their usual disappearing act.
Barbara frowned. Something didn't feel right.
"You've been awfully quiet, Babs," Dad said, bushy eyebrow raised. His moustache twitched. "You aren't mad at me, are you?"
"Don't be silly," she waved him off, cutting at her chicken. They'd ended up getting dinner at the diner down on fifth which she couldn't complain about. Their food was much better than her Dad's feeble attempts at 'edible'. "I'm just thinking."
"There's my girl's marvellous brain!" Dad cheered, reaching forward to knock his knuckles against her head. She laughed, batting him away.
"I'll lose brain cells if you keep that up, Dad!"
Dad smirked, "I'm sure you'd find a way to regrow them. What's bothering you?"
"I seen the fight," she said, leaning on her elbows. "The Bats didn't let off that electric shock, did they?"
Jim fumbled for words, his eyes widening. "I'm not sure, Babs. But it got Crocy down in the end, didn't it?"
"Guess so," she nodded. "So, how has your job been, lately?"
Dad smiled at the topic change, embracing it. "Phew, Barbara, it's been busy! You wouldn't believe it but I think Renee has a girlfriend, some girl Kate—"
She'd have to talk to Rachel later.
Rachel stared down Barbara, nursing a cup of hot chocolate. (Alfred had refused to make her anything else and she'd needed substanace.) "It is two in the morning, you realise?"
"Yeah," Tim chirped. "We don't tend to get visitors at this time. Sorry if I'm a bit ragged looking."
The boy did look ragged, an old Star Wars shirt thrown on over previously damp skin. His hair dripped, running long, drawn-out patterns on the faded shirt. Barbara wouldn't say anything about it though, it wasn't her place to judge. These people kept their streets clean; sometimes (okay, most of the time) better than the cops themselves.
"Barbara," Bruce nodded, stumbling past the doorway.
"Going to bed, Master Bruce?" Alfred called hopefully, his head popping up a bit to watch Bruce leave.
"Going to the study to finish off some paperwork," Bruce denied. "I'll go when I've got it finished."
"In, like, three hours," Rachel shook her head. Her eyes wandered then shot up to pierce into Barbara's skull. "Well, Babs? What's brought you here?"
"You guys didn't electrocute Killer Croc, did you?" She asked seriously.
Tim made a noise, "Oof, this is getting deep. I'm out guys. Night."
"Goodnight, Master Timothy!" Alfred called. The butler passed Rachel, setting a hand on her shoulder in leaving. "I shall be going too, Mistress Rachel. I trust you are capable of turning off the lights before you too sleep?"
"Sure, Al." She nodded, not drawing attention to how Alfred's voice had hardened at the mention of her getting sleep. "Have nice dreams."
"I'm far too old for dreams. Nevertheless, goodnight, Mistress Rachel, Miss Barbara."
"Goodnight, Alfred." Barbara called softly.
They sat in silence, Rachel taking occasional sips from her black and white bat printed mug. Barbara sat opposite her, feeling like she was thirty feet high as she sat on one of the many island bar chairs. The kitchen was as clean and large as ever, all of Alfred's equipment neatly in place, the kitchen table bare aside from a nice golden runner along its length. Even then, it wasn't used much. Bruce thought it was 'too formal', according to Barbara's mealtimes whilst at the Manor.
"It wasn't us," Rachel said finally. "Croc had an implant in the back of his neck, it shocked him as he deviated from orders, we believe."
"'Deviated from orders'?" Barbara questioned. "I thought most rogues, especially him, worked solo? Who would've planted the device in his neck?"
"Belle Reve is not a nice place," Rachel said, tapping a large black circle of marble that was part of the island's design and firing up a brilliantly advanced (and hidden) holographic projector. The image of a fat black woman fizzled between them, her file in blue highlighted beside her. "Amanda Waller, head of a special undercover unit of 'reformed' criminals. She forces them to do her dirty work by implanting these devices in her people—" Rachel fished around the images, settling on one with a smal disk no bigger than Barbara's pinky nail. It had a small red flashing center. "—they are bombs, capable of blowing someone like Croc's head clean off."
Barbara digested that information. "Isn't that illegal? Manipulating criminals to do deeds for who? Her or—"
"The government," Rachel confirmed. "They don't care, the jobs Waller sends her people —appropriately named the Suicide Squad— out to do are horrific. They don't want trained soldiers being sent out to do it."
"So they send out the poor bastards in prison."
If Rachel was fazed by the vehemence in her voice, she didn't show it, ploughing on. "Fair to say, the criminals are lied to, manipulated and coerced all in favour of a shorter jail time."
More images showed up, people like Captain Boomerang, Deadshot and Harely Quinn sliding through on a slideshow, Croc being one of them. Barbara realised how it worked and grudgingly thought that it was smart.
"They all have big lists to their names, it makes sense that Waller would target them. People with a couple hundred years on their plate left to serve. How did Croc end up here, in Gotham, when he's meant to be with them? Is the Bat Clan going to do anything about this Suicide Squad?"
Rachel raised a prim eyebrow at the name but didn't comment on it. She was frustratingly vague, "We're working on it."
"Well," Here goes nothing and everything. "I want to help."
"To help?" Rachel echoed.
"I want to help you guys, be it out there on the streets, or on the inside. I want to be a part of this. You can't deny you need people, Rachel."
"What makes you think we need people?" Rachel was starting to sound incredulous; not a good sign.
"I know how that Ivy thing turned out, Rachel. When you were down, Robin got hit by Scarecrow when he was alone and had to radio for Batman for help. Batman was in the middle of dealing with Penguin's moving pawns on the chessboard. Don't even get me started on how many times you ditched me in the middle of a date because 'there's no-one else to do it, Babs'." She ranted, frustration bubbling at her sides. Her cheeks were on fire, and probably red enough to match her hair.
Rachel would've looked shocked were it not for her superb facial feature schooling abilities. "How did—? Nevermind. You can't help, Barbara. At least, not out on the field."
Barbara blinked, shocked, as she calmed down from the sudden indignation at being told she couldn't help. Yet.
"Not now at least," Rachel confirmed. "You'll need training which will take a while, a name too. If you really want to help, comms shouldn't be too hard. And, we wouldn't complain if the resident techie wanted to hack where it helped out the mission."
Barbara grinned, pulling Rachel into a hug like they hadn't just had a complete three weeks of silence because of the whole sleeping-together-after-a-break-up falling out. "Thank you!"
"You gonna stay the night?" Rachel asked. "Tomorrow's Saturday, we could get you started then."
Her cheeks hurt from smiling. "Okay, yeah. Um, I'll take a guest room. Goodnight!"
"No problem," Rachel muttered after Barbara had bounced out of the room, struggling to keep down her giggles. She looked down into her hot chocolate and deliberated the cons of getting a coffee. She wanted to walk on the tightrope tonight, but she felt tired and fed up. The fact Barbara suddenly wanted to become a vigilante wasn't helping.
Yep, a coffee it was.
She left a note on the island, since she probably wouldn't be up too early and Alfred had to be told about Babs staying over.
The eyes watched from a safe distance, the League not far behind.
Chapter 9: Christmas isn't really the Birth, But for Us it is
There's more and more of them popping up each month. I don't know what to do with myself anymore.
Or, we get another "I want to help." This one doesn't go down just as well.
Arnold Wesker was a quiet guy. No killer.
That's why Barbara pauses typing up the report. She'd been on comm duty, directing Batman and Nightwing all over the city as the multiple identity disordered man with the dummy called Scarface set off traps left and right. It had been a nightmare, especially with her not being used to the normal routine. To be suddenly thrust into an emergency that the others had seemed so used to was... frazzling, to say the least.
Arnold Wesker displays an extreme sense of
An extreme sense of what? The man had been looney, becoming horrified when Nightwing had caught up with him and lodged a batarang in his puppet's body. He'd screamed at her, saying how it was all her fault before running away and falling down a manhole. He was currently on his way to Arkham.
misconcepted worth. He values his puppet, Scarface, much more than his own life. During patrol, when Nightwing caught up to the man after dealing with the puppet's orchestrated bombs in five prime locations over the city, and interacted with him, hitting Scarface with a batarang, the man became hysterical. After shouting and screaming, he attempted to escape, falling down a manhole. He was pulled up from the sewage water with nothing more than a concussion.
Barbara stifled her laughter. What a great way to show up to prison, soaked and smelling like Killer Croc after bath day. Changing his status and adding a note to the quick fire profile, she smirked.
Incarcerated in Arkham Asylum.
Scarface currently damaged. Activity expected to be little to none.
(Updated 24th Dec. 2005.)
Now that was a damn good report if she'd ever written one.
Later, Bruce could edit it all he wanted, adding in what she didn't see from his end of running around the city.
//I know you're listening, Hood.\\ Nightwing called, sitting atop one of Wayne Towers many ledges. Her gargoyles were vigilant as ever, keeping a stony watch over their city. Hood had been too, the cameras installed around and in them picking up his activity. (Apparently he took his juice break up on the one overlooking the Narrows.)
She supposed it ran in their blood, the love of heights. A need to watch over their city, to make sure she was alright after a long, satisfying night of patrol. Wesker was off the streets, his parole long gone null, Scarface was broken and Batman had headed in.
But she had stayed out. For whatever reason, she did not know. Nightwing had stayed out, grappled to the Tower and sat on the gargoyle looking out to sea. Then she'd radioed Hood on a private frequency. And here she was, waiting.
//You need somethin', 'Wing?\\ The man asked eventually, voice rough. She still couldn't believe he was Jason Todd, her brother (kind of, even he had seemed hesitant to call her sister after Ivy). The best bit, he was alive. She would've told Bruce, but Jason had bribed her with breakfast and unlimited talks in return for keeping quiet. She couldn't break his frayed trust. She didn't want to so she wouldn't.
Although, she was pretty sure Barbara was onto her. Barbara had taken to hacking a little too well.
//It's Christmas Eve.\\ She hummed, kicking her legs back and forth as they dangled over the grounds of Wayne Tower. The city had grown recently, the Mayor urging for skyscrapers to be built and so they had been. Not only did it make it a pain to traverse, for ones used to low roofs like her and B, but it meant they had to educate Barbara with new ways they had to test out beforehand, changing how Tim worked as well. New grapples would be needed, ones that magnetized or stuck to buildings, so they didn't smash windows with their current stone grabbing ones. At least it was only the main section of the city that was advancing, the lower parts would remain as they were.
A small condolence.
//I'm aware,\\ Red Hood said. Off in the distance she could hear his grappling zwipping through the air, slowly getting closer. //You plannin' a party or somethin'?\\
"No," she said as he landed behind her, walking along the perch of the 'goyle to stand behind her. "Just thought I should say an early Merry Christmas."
"You goin' somewhere?" The soft whoosh told her he'd pulled off the helmet. Seconds later he dropped down beside her, comortingly close, black hair glistening in the shadowed moonlight.
"Not really. I'll probably sleep through the day," she shrugged lazily. Gotham was so pretty at night, with her lights and her constant throbbing buzz of life. "Thought I should get to you early."
"Heard you got a newbie on the team?" He asked, gloved hand searching out hers. She met him halfway and squeezed, internally squealing when he squeezed back.
"Barbara. She's doing comm work right now, with a lot of hacking added in, but she's getting there. Batgirl will be out in the streets by April, by any luck."
"The Commish's daughter?" Jason asked.
"Indeed. She's got the blood of the Kean's in her so I wouldn't worry."
Jason chuckled, "I wasn't worrying."
The silence was nice, lulling in its peacefulness. A bat squeaked, flapping by them. They watched it go, sweeping down at a gap in the Tower, pulling away with a mouse. Rachel would have to alert B about the Tower's apparent mouse problem.
"So," Jason started and his hand was gone. Rachel's felt cold without it, even if she was wearing her kevlar padded gauntlets. "I got you this."
A small rectangular box was thrown into her hands. Rachel snorted, gripping it so tight her knuckles threatened to crack. "What if I had of dropped it?"
"We wouldn't be sitting here then, would we?" Jason grinned back.
"Point taken." (And then the Serum took over.) She shivered.
Jason shifted closer, thinking it was the breeze. "Go on," he goaded softly. "Open it."
She did, brushing away bad memories in the process. The box flipped open stiffly, revealing a thin chain necklace, a small silver dagger as a pendant.
"Sterling silver," Jason chimed. "Seen it on second street and thought it would suit ya."
Rachel smiled down at it, feeling warm. "It's pretty. Put it on for me?"
Jason did. He pulled back, blinking innocently at her. "What? No present for me?"
"I didn't know we were gift exchanging," she said in excuse but still pushed him back on the gargoyle, straddling him as they kissed.
And sure, maybe they hadn't known each other for very long but she really liked him. And maybe, if she was lucky, he liked her too.
Well, the pressure against her thigh kinda confirmed that.
Tim woke up and walked down the stairs like any other day. Sitting at the table was fun, considering how Bruce was there alone.
"Tim," the man grunted, face buried in the paper with a front page of puppies. Some rare breed. "Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas to you too, B." He said, only realising that it was the 25th today. Oops. He sat down with a little less grace than usual and hugged his coffee, thankful Bruce seemed engrossed in whatever article he was reading. "The paper interesting?"
"Crime rates," he said in explanation. Tim wondered where Rachel was. Probably still in bed. "Metropolis is sparkling, as always."
He'd learned early on that Bruce didn't really like Clark Kent, aka Superman, the man who looked just like the hero but with the addition of glasses. It was something about him according to Tall, Dark and Brooding. Bruce had said once 'he's too happy for this world, not grounded enough'. Yep, that was a decent enough reason for the Dark Knight of Gotham to not like a hero. Simply because he was Batman.
"And ours?" Tim asked, grabbing a bit of toast from the few resting on the toast rack.
"Not as bad as it has been."
Tim was quiet, waiting for the stats.
"7 in 10 people turn to crime, it estimates. I did the estimation as well, two days ago, and it brought up 6 in 10."
Well. 7 or 6 out of 10 was still more than usual for a city of their size. Gotham really was infected.
He was about to comment on it when his phone buzzed, text ID bringing up Steph. Tim tapped on it, unlocking his phone as he nodded along to Bruce, chomping at his toast.
can we talk ?
Silently Tim hated on her for the space between the end of the question and the question mark. He didn't know why people did that, it wasn't even proper grammar. Did they do it when writing an English essay? No. So why do it when texting?
Sure. Park in 20 minutes?
the one down on 6th ?
There she went again, with her terrible grammar. It would be a miracle if she managed to graduate high school.
"I've got to go," Tim said, finishing off his toast. "See you for patrol."
Bruce sighed, mentally grumbling about how both his kids had deserted him.
The park was nice, despite the time of year. The slide was closed off, due to ice, but everything else was open. Tim found Stephanie amidst the wood bark grounded swings, idly kicking herself back and forth. She smiled at him when she spotted him.
Her smile brightened up the bleak morning of Gotham just that bit more in Tim's eyes. "Wasup, Tim!"
"Steph," he sat down beside her, patting his pocket to make sure his phone stayed in it as he joined her, creating a pendulum-mirroring pace. "Your hair looks nice down."
Usually she had it up, bright purple scrunchie a contrast to her blonde hair. Down it flowed free, spiralling around her like a ring of golden fire, lit up by the murky sun rays beating past the clouds. The snow on the ground was alight, the glow bouncing off Stephanie's fair skin, making her look angelical. It had snowed late last night, long after patrol.
It wasn't often Gotham got snow.
Rachel detested it, so it wasn't likely she would come out of the house. That is, if she bothered to climb out of bed.
"I know about your... night adventures." Stephanie said, pulling Tim from his hopes and slamming him down into the present. His heart rate went off the charts as it thumped in his ears. His throat felt dry as worry and panic gripped him.
"What?" He choked out, hopefully sounding normal.
Stephanie wasn't looking at him, knuckles white against the chain of the swing, eyes far away as she watched a group of kids playing about on the wet monkey bars. Tim wanted to stand up, go over there and say they'd get hurt but his pulse throbbed too loudly for him to even think about getting up.
"I've known for a while," she said. "When you got hit by the Crow's fear toxin."
Tim had hoped he dreamed that, seeing as how he'd woken up in the Manor in his suit. He must've gotten up in the middle of the night and left. Dammit.
Should've followed up on it, he chided himself.
"I've been thinking since then," his girlfriend continued, oblivious to his inner turmoil. "About what you do out there, the good you make, the hope you bring and create and— I want to do it to."
Tim's pulse went scarily silent. Pained wails reached his ears, one of the kids by the monkey bars having slipped and fell off them. Stephanie made no move to show she cared or even noticed.
"What?" He asked, blood thrumming to his head. He felt lightheaded.
"I want to become a hero, Timmy." Stephanie was staring at him like she knew he'd refuse. "I want to help."
"You can't," he said, louder than anticipated. A parent had rushed over to the crying child. "You're not ready, you could get killed, Steph!"
"Not if I get the right training," Steph denied. "You can help me out here! You can go to Wayne and explain--"
"He won't train you!" He shouted. The parent looked over at them, found him standing, and ushered the kids away. Good, Tim thought. He didn't want anyone else to see this. "Neither will I."
He powered on past Stephanie's hurt look despite how much it hurt him. "It's not all fun and games, what we do. If you go out there like you do, reckless and immature, you'll get yourself killed. Someone would trace you back to me and they'd trace me back to B and Rachel! Your stupidity would out us all, and even worse, you'd be the only one to blame."
Panting, chest burning, Tim took one last glance at a tearful Stephanie Brown before walking away. He didn't look back, not even at the shouts of his name.
"If you really want help, go pester Catwoman!" He snarled. "Heard she takes in strays like you."
Stephanie fell silent. Tim walked away, let the gate clang against its lock and grabbed his bicycle.
Chapter 10: Loving You is a Losing Game (Or is it?)
The Netherlands just won EuroVision. Wow.
Steph would've contacted Catwoman and went to see her, but she didn't know how to. So that meant that option was out the door. Bruce wouldn't bother with her, the Batman didn't care for strays like her, just as Tim had implied. She'd taken a leap, hoping he would understand, hoping that if she tried, Tim would help her.
He'd broken up with her.
Stephanie couldn't bring herself to be annoyed at him. Heartbroken, yes. Annoyed, no.
It was understandable, he had trusted her with his identity and—
Y'know what? She peeved. I call bullshit.
Okay, yeah. If Tim didn't want to help her, he wouldn't because he was haughty, stubborn, arrogant ass like that. She'd have to take things into her own hands if she wanted to get somewhere.
Stephanie was strong. She could be independent — damn, she practically already was. 'Specially with her mom dipping one foot in the grave, at the rate she was going through the bottles. It stung, she admitted, but it wasn't anything she couldn't handle.
The Nightgirl could protect herself.
Stephanie cringed right after thinking that.
God, nope. Different name needed. Mission abort, abort!
She laughed at the irony of it all. And if there wasn't really any, she couldn't bring herself to care.
Laughing was better than crying, she supposed.
Rachel was jolted from nice, precious sleep by a shrill ringing noise that wouldn't stop.
Jason groaned beside her, tugging her closer as his arm shot out to thump at his alarm clock. The noise continued, growing in volume. It rung in her ears and Jason let out an annoyed breath against her neck.
She peeled her eyes open, her hairs standing on end at the sensation of warm breath passing over them. "Wha—?"
"'S yer phone," Jase grumbled, pulling her further into his chest as he cuddled her like she was a stuffed bear.
"I can't get it when you're smothering me, Jay." She giggled, worming out of his unrelenting grasp that kept grabbing as she reached for her phone. When her hand was a few centimetres away from it, Jason tackled her, arms rushing forward to pull her back, tickling her sides. "Don't!" She laughed, curling in on herself. Jason pulled her closer so the covers were up to her chin, her kicking legs disrupting the sides of the duvet. "Jason!"
The phone stopped. Jason rumbled his words nicely into the skin of her neck. "See? I'm magic."
"Magic?" She smiled, feeling the kind of floating happy fill her belly. It swam in her vision, making her feel lightheaded but overjoyed at the same time. "I don't think so. The caller hung up."
Jason mumbled something nonsensical into her skin again, grabbing and pulling the blankets over them both, fixing them with a long tug. His alarm clock read 10:40am. That was deemed to be too early, by both adults' books.
She closed her eyes, sinking into the heat that Jason emitted, praising the human furnace he was. "Should've chose the name Human Furnace," she slurred. Jason laughed, shoulders jumping.
"Yeah but I decided I wanted something practical. Red Hood sounded scary."
It was also an old alias of Joker, but she was sure he knew that. Jason was bitter but intelligent. It worked well and he pulled it off nicely. (Cough, cough, it was certainly sexy.)
Not a minute later her phone started up again, the same shrill ringtone blaring at them like a tormented child's wailing.
"You should change the song," Jase suggested, releasing her to actually get it this time. She mourned the loss of heat, the cold pricking at her, goosebumps rising on her bare skin. "Maybe something cooler, less annoying."
"Like you singing?" She joked even though she had yet to hear him sing.
"I don't sing," he dismissed.
"I'm pretty sure this song is for someone individually but no one ever calls me so I'm not sure." She blinked at the caller ID, once, twice, "Tim?"
"The Replacement?" Jason snarled with sudden anger.
Rachel was too busy picking up and getting the phone to her ear, fumbling as her hands just didn't work. (She felt tipsy, the way she normally did when she needed more of the Serum. She'd need to inject herself with her bi-monthly dose later.) "Tim?" She half-answered half-slurred.
"Rachel!" The boy wailed, "I called you but you didn't pick up so I called you again. I'm so sorry if you're busy."
She snapped awake, throat closing inwards as worry clawed at her, because what if something had happened to him? She felt tight chested and breezy at being the one he'd came to.
He charged on before she could respond, sounding rushed. "Stephanie and I broke up. She was being independent and wanted— wanted help but I didn't know how to help and I panicked and gosh, I'm so stupid but she hates me now and I don't know what to do, Rachel!"
Rachel choked, her heart twisting at how sad the teen sounded. "Woah, Tim, calm down, kid. It'll be okay, you guys'll be okay. Everybody fights every once in a while. She doesn't hate you—"
"Hard not to," Jason snorted.
She sent him a glare. He rolled his eyes and rolled over, baring his scarred back to her. "Listen, kid. Give her a few days to cool down, then go and apologise. Got it?"
"I— I can't apologise!" Tim said, volume raised. "It's so stupid, I'm so stupid, an apology won't help. I—"
She cut him off, voice tight. "Tim, apologies go further than you'd think. Go cool down, think about what's happened and use that big brain of yours. You'll be fine."
"Yes?" She asked, worried.
She laughed but it was tight and unhappy. "Yeah, Tim. Merry Christmas."
She hung up, dropping the phone on the bedside table where it hit something amongst the rubbish cluttered there and fell onto the wooden floorboards. The clatter rung out, loud in the hush.
"No need to break the thing," Jason bit out. Voice booming in the silence.
"Shut up," she hissed, punching him (very) lightly in the side. "I'll be willing to hug you again if you turn over and stop cursing out Tim under your breath. Don't forget I'm meant to be beating the shit out of you."
"I don't know what turned you," Jason huffed out a defeated breath but rolled over, dragging her under the blanket once more. He kissed her forehead as she snuggled back into him.
"Must've been the good sex," she mumured, hooking her leg around his.
Jason didn't bother with knocking the door, pushing it open as he strolled in. Selina was by her fake marble-topped units, cutting up something that smelled like peppers. Jason liked coming over to Selina's; her apartment was large, her kitchen was lit up by the wall-enveloping seamless glass window along the side and she had enough bookshelves in her living room to fund a library. He liked books.
"What ya cookin'?" He asked, announcing his presence as he walked in.
"I'm preparing a salad," the infamous Catwoman announced, dropping some green peppers into a bowl of other green things. Jason peered down at it, resisting the urge to wrinkle his nose. It looked like something Rachel would eat, all healthy and nutritious. They may not've been together long but she'd made it clear meat was off the menu.
Bad for the environment, or something like that. Rachel's words, not his.
"Ivy ain't comin' over, is she?" He chuckled.
Selina shook her head, looking at him with a knowing smile. "Heard you and your lady ruffled her leaves a bit."
Jason chuckled, leaning against the island that laid claim to a rack of wine bottles. "You could say that."
"So, hitting it up with Rachel Wayne now, are we? Didn't know you had it in you, kid." Sel laughed, floating about her kitchen as she strode over to her sleek black double door fridge. She opened it and pulled out a filter jug of water. It was placed on the island, open for grabs.
Jason decided to take advantage and walked forward, dodging the cat lady as he grabbed a glass from a cupboard. He walked over to the fridge and hit the ice dispenser, half-filling the glass.
"Like I'm not the only one," Jason reminded. "How many times has Bruce asked you out to those couples Galas? How many times for the normal ones?"
"A couple," Selina smiled, red lips brightening her eyes up. "On both accounts. You want a helping of this beauty?"
Jason grimaced at the colourful salad. There was way too many vegetables in it. "Guess so. Rachel's been nagging me to eat something other than chicken."
Selina beamed. "Wayne's are such good influences, don't you agree?"
Yet another reason why I ain't one, he mused. "Totally."
Selina changed the topic. "Heard there's a new Kean at the handle of a grapple."
"Funny," he noted, pulling out all his sarcastic charm. "So did I."
Selina's face scrunched up in happiness. Jason wondered how she could be so happy. "You need to work on your sarcasm, Jay."
"Rachel said it was pretty good," he defended.
"Ah, the famed Nightwing. How is she? Why didn't you bring her along with you?" Selina dished him out a portion of her salad, leading the way into her living room. The couches were nice, leather and everything, sticking to the theme of rich kid black. The walls were adorned in paintings, with one specific corner housing countless bookshelves. Her tv sat on a glass coffee table in the middle back of the room, the couches congregating around it.
"Haven't really got to that point in our relationship, yet, Sel."
"Is it a crime to take a girl out?" She asked, nibbling on a cut cucumber circle.
"Your place ain't no nightclub, no matter how much you try." Jason laughed, popping a baby tomato into his mouth. It was sweet, like Rachel.
"Why I thought it was, seeing how you come here so tremendously often." Selina chirped, leaning back in her recliner as she flicked through the tv channels. "You didn't answer the question, Jason."
"She's good, I think." He replied. "Got her a necklace for Christmas. She liked it."
"You sure?" The older woman questioned, "Us ladies are terribly good at hiding our disappointment."
"We fucked after, Selina; I think she liked it." Selina cooed like a child had just been told they'd gotten the hundred dollar toy they'd wanted for years. Jason ignored her. "Plus, she doesn't really like me during the day. Or know I visit you."
"Oh," Selina said hotly. "So now I'm that Aunt that no one ever talks about but is just there? Aha, nope. Jason Peter Todd, next time you see her I want you to drag her straight over here. You hear me?"
"We only meet at, like, three in the morning on the good nights." He tried to deflect.
His actual Aunt-figure was not buying it. "Of course, then tell me what time it was when you two had your fun after Ivy's whoopsie."
Jason sighed, staring at the tv. She'd put on the news, classic Catwoman. Always on the hunt for some new jewels to add to her collection. Or dresses, or paintings, really, Selina wasn't too picky as long as it came close to priceless or was.
"I'm beginning to think I really am the unwanted Aunt," Selina huffed, shaking her head. "Oh well, I'll at least be the annoying Aunt. It's the least I can do."
"Wow, thanks." Jason swallowed a piece of lettuce. "I thought you were having someone over?"
"I am. She should be here any minute."
"Catsy! I brought some cat food for Isis!" A voice none other than Harley Quinn's called as the door banged open.
Jason raised an unimpressed eyebrow. Selina shrugged uncaringly, grinning widely.
"That's great, Harls. Help yourself to the salad in the kitchen and come on into the living room!"
Two minutes later, after a particularly loud thump echoed through the apartment at Harley setting down what Jason assumed to be the catfood (really, how much had she brought?), Quinn bounced into the living room. She had the entire bowl of salad in her arms. Somehow, that didn't surprise Jason in the least.
She blinked at him, squeaking in shock. "Jason Todd? Wow, didn' know you were living. Look at those abs!"
Selina laughed as Jason made a face as Harley drooled over him, but mainly his muscle tank top. "Ah-ah-a, Harls. He's taken."
"Taken?" Quinn questioned. She paused for a moment, before her mouth formed an o. A huge, city-powering grin lit up her face. It was nothing like the psycotic grin she'd wore in his Robin days. It gave him hope there was room to hope in other psycos yet. "Oooh, Ivy mentioned something about Mr. Pickles an' you an' Nightwing! It related?"
"Yep," Sel nodded enthusiastically. "They're having fun together. Jase even bought her a Christmas present!"
"Aww," Quinn smiled happily, clapping like a child. "Tha's adorable!"
"Isn't it?" Selina's hand dived into her bowl, only to find it empty. She looked down at it before standing, Isis curling around her feet like the moody cat she was. "I'm gonna go make some more salad. Any orders?"
Jason shook his head silently as Quinn giggled. "No thanks, Selina! All good here."
"If you say so," Catwoman shrugged, leaving the room and them in silence.
"Jason Todd, the firs' Robin, righ'?" Quinn questioned quietly.
"That'd be me," Jason confirmed, gut tight and shoulders stiffer.
"I didn' know," she said softly in the lull of what felt like everthing. The tv was nothing more than white noise in the background. His fingers twitched, but for a gun or a book he didn't know. "Didn' know he was out, or wha' he was doin'. I'm sorray."
"Don't be," he grunted. "'S not yer fault."
Silence strangled them both until Selina returned, shooting them both odd looks. She dropped down into her chair, "Oh, I think I set the Lord of the Rings. It's due on in few minutes. Anyone up for a movie binge?"
"I'm good, Sel. Thanks for the salad." He needed Rachel. Hopefully the Replacement had sorted out his problems.
Chapter 11: Bruises Aren't Just Blue
There's a new assassin in town. (Formerly, our stalker)
Movement advised, action be dealt. The message said. Cassandra stared at it. It had more words but words had never been her specialty and that was all she could read. She understood though, because if she didn't she wouldn't have made it this far.
Cassandra would have been dead in a ditch if she could not look at words and assume what they meant. Her mother— no, Lady Shiva, had tried to train that out of her but Lord Cain had been more than thorough in his... methods.
She read in a different language now. The pristine language of the body; the twitches of the eyes and fingers, the contraction of muscle and the tightness of jaws. Cassandra yearned so much more information that way.
The Demon's Head wanted his people to make a move on the Batman but she was not yet ready. Cassandra looked in the skies daily, found nothing during the day of Bruce Wayne's weaknesses, and at night found nothing but his children. Batman was notoriously hard to find, with a constantly differing patrol route, his footsteps silent as he shrouded himself in his heavy cape to blend with the shadows in a way Cassandra had seen no one else do before.
Cassandra had not yet gathered enough data on him to be useful, for the man did not appear to act like Wayne whilst in the suit of kevlar and cloth. No, he acted... feral. As one would expect a bat to; dangerous and free but restricted to its limited prey.
Thus so, with her target's habitual tendencies edging towards that of a mammal with skin stretched over their finger bones to become wings, Cassandra had watched a few documentaries on her League-issued arm pad computer.
'When bats are in flight during the night, they are conscious of artificial lights and avoid them as much as they can.' One had claimed and truly, all of the bats avoided open spaces of light as much as possible, (including the Red Hood, though she was unsure if he counted aside from his current affiliations with the Nightwing). They roamed the camera-less rooftops and when spotted they assured they stayed far enough away to not have their facial features made out.
Recently, the cameras had been blurring, the footage being burnt from the system's insides. Cassandra noticed and took up the assumption a new technology-favouring human had taken up a seat behind the proclaimed Bat Computer.
She was not deaf, so she listened. Heard rumours, of a new bat in the clan, whispers of the Nightwing and the Red Hood's current alliance being a bit more. She avoided them. The Red Hood had nearly spotted her the last time she'd been watching him, and when she tried to get close to the Nightwing she always disappeared before she could follow.
It was frustrating. The Batman was near nonexistent unless a supervillain was roaming the streets, the Robin was always in movement.
Cassandra was beginning to think the Bats were not human, like the League had assumed to know previous her investigation. Until she seen the Boy Wonder, Robin, go down. And both the Bats reacted.
Gotham was prone to dark days and even darker nights. Tonight's February 8th of 2006 held nothing more than expected. It was dark, cold and a tropical storm was brewing over Gotham, preparing to unleash its hail upon the dreary city.
It seemed every week there was a break-out from either Arkham's Asylum or Blackgate's Penitentiary. Cassandra wondered on why the Bats had not updated or taken villain containment into their own hands, but it was not her place to judge. The League of Assassins had any conspirators thrown in the pit of vipers, and then if that came to no avail, the tigers got them.
She wasn't sure which was better, prison or death? But Cassandra was not in Gotham to go over morals, no. She was there to hunt down the Bat and take advantage of his weaknesses. So far, of which she had found none.
Presently, Riddler was free. A Nygma, Edward. He was, as she'd heard Nightwing snort about him, 'a meddling man with an unrequited obsession for dick jokes'.
Robin had nearly drowned in affront at his elder's words, the Batman getting tipsy in mirth. It had been an odd scene to watch, for sure. Then they'd taken off at the sighting of Riddler on a rooftop and here they were.
"Stand down, Nygma," the Batman was currently trying to talk the Riddler down. The rooftop was high and the winds strong but that didn't seem to have any affects on the man in the green suit and bowler hat, which surprisingly stayed perched on his head despite all. Arrogance fluttered around him like a shawl, ignorance and contempt lining it like fine stitches merely for decoration. "We can make this easier than it could be."
"Always trying to send me off to Arkham, Batman!" The Riddler sneered, "Well, riddle me this: what flies so high, but at a slight nudge, falls?"
Cassandra watched, lips tight, as Riddler lunged forward and in one swift move, hoisted his cane up and whacked Robin over the side of the head with a loud crack. The boy, standing close to the edge as he was, tottered on his spot and fell sideways, off the roof, to plummet down the six storey building's length.
Panic all but exploded on the rooftop. Nightwing was already running, jumping off the cornice, yelling a strangled, "I've got him!"
Cassandra, eager for the show, adjusted her position in the shadows, edging around the side just in time to see Nightwing's grapple fail against new glass, one of her swords becoming embedded in the wall as they skreetched down towards the street. Robin was clutched loosely in her arms, dangling limp. Worry was swarming her but Cassandra watched as she pushed it down in favour of determination. Settling the boy on her shoulder after discreetly checking his pulse, Nightwing hit the bat insignia on her belt and not five seconds later the famous Batmobile appeared, roaring up below them.
Cassandra lost interest for the downed bird, noting Batman's sudden anger as he threw punches the Riddler could never hope to replicate with his weak frame. The Bat had pushed the villain back, until he was bordering the edge of the far roof's edge with a casual grin. She didn't like where this was going but she was dutiful, so she watched.
"Answer this one: what goes running when the Bat's gunning?" Riddler grinned, a pitch of red bursting in Cassandra's vision as he lost his tenuous grip on sanity for a moment. Seconds before he could say the answer, Nightwing appeared on the end of the roof. Bloodlust sucked at her wounds but she merely gave Riddler a dose of head-whacking himself, butting him with one of two swords.
Riddler collapsed at Batman's feet, unconscious and groaning. The Batman's rage swelled for a moment but soothed at the sight of his child kicking the villain in the side.
"How is he?" The caped crusader grunted, worry biting at him now as fear wormed its way in. Cassandra watched, entranced, as Nightwing nodded and Batman lapsed back into his professional calm. The Riddler was grabbed by the scuff of his suit neck, not at all gently.
"He's okay, a bit dazed. I left him to gain his bearings in the Batmobile, two streets over."
Cassandra had been stupid. The Batman's weaknesses had been right in front of her the entire time.
She had nearly missed the wall. Her grappling had failed, the new tech not nearly tested enough, and Nightwing had been forced to chafe a good inch off her sword by stabbing it into the wall to stop her and Baby Bird from becoming pavement sludge.
Rachel had never had such a close encounter before, not in all her years. The fact Timothy had been unconscious, soley dependant and relying on her to come through, trusting her with his life, made it that bit worse. Her heart shriveled in her chest, thudding against her ribs. She felt too tight, too confined and restricted in her body. Something wanted out, wanted free, but she didn't know what that something was. So she did the next best thing and used the trapeze when they got home.
It had been years since she'd last looked at it, years since she'd touched it and really only thought about flying and nothing else. Rachel had forgotten its mere existence, at a couple points, too.
Flying was rejuvenating. It made her feel alive, made her bones feel like they fit in her body better than they had in decades.
Flips came like second nature to her: handstands, backflips, sommersaults, cartwheels. They made her feel happy. Made her look at the world around her in a different light, upside down. (She enjoyed it better that way.)
"Night, Rachel!" Timothy called, domino long gone, tattered sweats and wet hair combed back signifying his cool down. "Thanks again for the save."
"Of course," she said, evening out her balance as she did a handstand on the connected tightrope, hair fluttering around her face. "Goodnight."
Tim was gone, then so was Bruce, finished lifting his weights. The Batman left in silence, a parting nod drawing her eye for a split second before she grunted out a familiar mumur that held more warmth than the entirety of her stay with the Court had.
The gym was silent, the large room echoing in the silence that came with still dumbells, unmoving weights, a corner-centerpiece of a boxing ring, a wooden table of moving wooden pillars (Tim favored them greatly now he was on his Bo Staff training) and her gymnastic section. There was a spinning table near the middle, equipped with pop-up dummies that Tim also enjoyed using, practicing his Bo Staff techniques before he went out onto the field with it.
She stayed where she was, keeping her handstand up despite how her arms shook and sweat dripped from her. A shadow in the furthest corner was her only warning before a weight hit her in the side.
Her arms buckled, hands twisting and burning as she gripped onto the tightrope she'd been balancing on but the weight was unsettling to her, gripping on as it seemed to tug down. She let go, pushing away the weight mid-air to catch sight of glowing blue eyes before she hit the ground, tucking and rolling last second.
She refused to think about what had just happened as she sunk low, stance wide. If she did, she feared she'd see Robin lying there, bleeding out after she'd failed to catch him, failed to save him, failed another one—
"State your name, assassin." She growled, recognising that garb anywhere. It screamed League of Assassins, from everything from the twin daggers latched onto her assailant's hips to the bronze rimmed hood, a long, gold clipped braid holding back black hair. Rachel felt too light without any blades, felt angry at how someone had broken into the Cave.
The assassin did not speak. She did not move, nor twitch. Instead, she stood there, daggers remaining sheathed as she watched her, eyes analysing. The woman was waiting for her next move. Rachel met her stare head-first, not sparing the board in the wall a look. There was a cache in there, weapons, some batarangs that hadn't seen the light in over ten years, but they would have to do. They'd been planted there behind a removable board after Bruce had came back in from Patrol one night and punched a sizable hole in the wall. Al had said it was ungainly, for the hole to remain whilst the rest of the gym was still so clean, so B had dragged down a sheet of PVC board and covered half the length of the wall, disguising it as shelving units.
Timothy hadn't known it for the fake it was until he'd grabbed at one of the imprinted handles and nothing had happened, no drawers sliding out, nothing. That was ten months into his stint as Robin.
The main thing, it was a damn convincing cover.
Rachel got ready to make a feint before going for the cache but the woman shot forward first, teeth snarled, eyes sharp. She hissed as a dagger soared past her left ear, filling it with a shrill ringing, as the woman dived low, going for her legs. Rachel jumped, using the woman's back to push her off balance and give herself a wanted advantage. Unfortunately, it didn't work and the assassin twirled around, stance low as she curled protectively around her blades before straightening up.
They circled, Rachel assessing and breathing, as she watched the woman. She didn't seem to breathe, flowing with smooth motions that reminded her on someone. She couldn't remember who, exactly, so she filled the tense silence. "Did Ra's send you?"
No reaction. Not that Rachel had expected one. She quelled her finger's twitches for a blade, eyes narrowing as she reminded herself of the known fighting methods of the League.
Quick, precise, flawless. Most kills were completed in seconds, something Cobb and the Grandmaster had wanted for the Owls but had never truly been able to push. It was uncommon for assassins to linger after a failed attempt, for even those made impressions. The League didn't have failed attempts, and their assassins weren'y really assassins. More like ninja, sporting the name assassin for a bit of fun.
Wondering how the woman had made it into the Cave sent a new lust for blood up her spine. If the League knew access points to their base, instead of just knowing about it, they were going to have to majorly overhaul the place. Barbara trained here, Tim joked and smiled here, Bruce practically lived here. Rachel loved the Cave.
She loved the Cave like she loved the rush of wind in her hair as she freefell, just as she lived for suiting up, sweeping the streets. She adored her family, though she'd tell no one.
And Rachel would give her life for them, easily. Without a second or first thought.
She would protect them, guard the ones she held close to her heart whom slept upstairs, blissfully unaware of the assassin in their midst (was she too a ninja? Rachel was unsure as to what to call her.). She would defend her family. Look after them in a way she had been unable —unwilling— to do with Jason, so long ago.
The assassin shifted on purpose but even then the movement was calm, silent even to her pricked ears. She appeared to tread the air like gold, weaving her way through it effortlessly as if she were a fish gliding through water. Rachel frowned, resisted the growl that built up in the back of her throat.
She just needed to get to that cache.
Rachel knew she wouldn't get to it, knew with her dwindling speed it would be a miracle if she seen the next dagger coming for her throat or heart. She knew the risks. Yet, she had to try.
Indeed. Nightwing would die trying, even if it hurt.
(Pain was for melodramatic people anyway. She had no time for it.)
(Cobb had always said it was a character builder. Or had that been Monook?)
So, she ran. Sprinted towards the cache and barreled past the assassin when she appeared in front of her. The woman did not stumble, did not seem at all fazed, just tipped towards her and ran after her. She didn't know where she was going, it showed in her fast but hesitant pace. Or maybe she was mocking her, hoping to tire her out before she delivered the final blow.
Haven't been hurt yet, Red whispered, running alongside her in her mind's eye. She offered her a smile. You'll win.
You don't know that, she soothed herself, slamming into the wall full pelt, ripping off the cover and hurriedly pulling out a utility belt. It was barely on before she was slammed to the side, hitting the ground bad on her wrist.
The assassin stood over her, daggers drawn and twirling in lithe fingers. Rachel grabbed a random pellet and threw it at her, scrambling backwards.
The woman caught it, just as it exploded into ice. Rachel grinned as she gasped, shocked, and dropped the thing. The utility belt wasn't full but it would have to do. (Yet another thing to improve upon: back-ups for breaches in security.) Four batarangs, three pellets (very much counting the one she just threw), one rebreather and two rolled up sealed bandages. It was barely enough for a casual patrol, nevermind a fight. A bad feeling settled in her gut, twisting and churning.
"How did you get in here?" She asked, pulling out a batarang for each hand. They were explosive ones, sure to draw attention during city-runs but down here, in the soundproofed Cave—
She feared the assassin would bypass her and go on to kill the others.
Rachel couldn't let that happen.
Three pellets. One gas, one feint and one used ice. Shit.
Out of the two batarangs thrown, the woman caught one and dodged the other easily. The PVC wall behind her exploded, crumbling just as the other batarang was thrown back at her. It exploded mid-way between them as the timer ran out, sending them both reeling back from the blast, sliding on polished marble floors.
Her legs were shaky, but they held her weight, ever loyal. The woman shook herself off like an animal, hooded head jerking up at her. Rachel felt the punch before she registered the woman standing in front of her, arm flung out.
She rolled, tumbling out of the way once more as a dagger imbedded itself in the floor, inches away from her femoral artery. Rachel didn't bother standing, just used her hands to backflip away into another roll, getting in a foot to the other's jaw, before she went for the woman's legs, catching her knees and bringing her down to the ground.
The woman grunted, not breaking a sweat unlike her (arguably, she had been on the trapeze for hours beforehand) and pushed Rachel off, final dagger held out in front of herself as she pulled up into a crouch. Rachel mirrored her, her third of four batarangs clutched tightly. She would've feared the sharpened sides cutting her had the adrenaline not set in, making her hazy.
Nightwing was used to long nights patrolling, not necessarily fighting. Unfortunately, tonight had already gotten her blood pressure up —with Robin— and this sudden encounter was not doing her weary body any favours.
Wrap this up, she thought, eyes scanning the room. She had weights at her disposal but she didn't want to resort to flinging them unless she was left with no other options. B liked them too much, assassin or no. (Although, that didn't put them out of the runnings for self-defense. If it came down to it, she chose her life over the favouritism of some metal.) The woman ran forward and in desperation Rachel reached into her belt and—
Rachel grunted, flinging out the gas pellet as she tried to run back. The woman sprinted past it with speed inhumane, rendering it all but useless, and reached for her, sharp, looming dagger eager for her neck. Her final batarang was in her waiting hand, flinging forth to rip through the hood just as the woman caught up with her and pushed her down into the floor, slamming her head against the naturally formed marble. Nightwing's last form of some sharp defense was jarred in the floor, sticking up for needing hands, but both females promptly forgot about it as they blinked at each other.
Surprised blue eyes stared down her, a wave of black hair cascading down over her ear, held together by her plait. She looked similar to someone Rachel had seen before, a woman with elegance just like hers, skill defined and known throughout the underground.
Lady Shiva. This woman— no, she was nothing more than a girl. No older than Stephanie, possibly. This woman was the spitting image of her. Identical in all but a slight change in her nose. Rachel blearily wondered who Shiva had fucked for a child look-alike. And when? Surely the disappearance of Lady Shiva for nine months would've raised eyebrows, had swords drawn and polished, but Rachel had heard nothing of the sort. No lull in activity, nothing.
The girl didn't look older than fifteen. Fifteen years ago Shiva had been busy, knee deep in a massacre of three major Russian gangs that had foolishly banded together to invade on her territory on the border of Siberia's harshest forest, where she was rumoured to spend most of the summer. (Rachel couldn't fathom why, for the life of her someone would spend the warm summer months in Siberia.)
"No!" The girl shouted, dagger retracting for a split second at the loss of her hood. Rachel got her legs up and delivered a harsh kick to her chest, sending her back a few steps. A rush of air had her inches away from her, the girl's dagger arching towards her heart. Rachel grunted, grabbing her wrist and pushing back to avoid the tip, both of them shaking at the strain of strength.
The girl frowned, shaking her head suddenly, as if to clear away a bad dream. The dagger whooshed off to the side, past Rachel's bicep before the girl was charging at her, pushing her onto the ground. The girl watched as she reached into her belt, brandishing in her palm a pellet. Her eyes widened, her grip slackening as she prepared to lean away.
Rachel didn't hold back, pushing forward with the intention of slamming it into her chest to create some confusion. An opportunity to get back up and fight on higher ground.
Her final pellet flew through nothing but air as Rachel landed on her knees. She sat there, panting, staring at where the girl had just been. The feint pellet bounced loudly in the gym's echoes of her harsh breathing and pounding heatbeat.
The girl was gone, the dagger in the ground the only thing to even confirm her presence.
A tickle surged up from her chest and Rachel coughed into her open palm. When she pulled back, blood greeted her.
The blood was red.
Chapter 12: Burning Bricks Doesn't Burn Bridges
Barbara freaks as a job goes tits up. Jason consoles a frantic Rachel.
The warehouse exploded right in front of her and Batgirl froze, because god, no, this was never meant to happen. Things like this weren't real, they didn't happen. These sorts of disasters only happened to comic book characters; the unlucky ones. Batgirl had read her books on how to be a good follower, she'd done everything by the Bats' spoken book, following Nightwing's orders to the letter and she'd hoped everything would go well. Especially since it was her first day. Batgirl's first day out and already she'd fucked up.
She'd left Nightwing in the warehouse, to deal with Black Mask alone, as she'd taken out the goon's van with the machine gun built in. Now, the thugs were behind her on the street, tied up, unconscious and her comm was deafeningly silent.
"Nightwing?" She gasped over the comm. The warehouse had caved completely, the roof stabilizers visible from the distance she was at — a measly fifteen foot away. Even here, the heat was nearly unbearable. She wasn't sure how she hadn't been caught in the aftershock blow.
What if Rachel was dead? What if this had killed her? It would be all her fault, Batman would come home from his Justice League mission in space and would find himself down his only daughter and he'd blame her. She'd been the one to run ahead, without orders (though at the time she'd seen Nightwing look at the van and then to her and she'd taken that as her orders). She was the one who'd left Nightwing behind, in the huge warehouse that had seemed indestructable. Yet it hadn't been, because here it was: a charred, smouldering wreck.
"Hey, kid, don't panic," a hand touched her shoulder, a low voice rumbling with a vocaliser's bite that she'd definitely heard before in clips of footage. Batgirl whirled around, fists sloppily raised. She came face to face with none other than Red Hood. (More like face to chest, the man was tall. It was clear what Rachel's type was.) Oh god, Rachel— He chuckled at her cringy stance before becoming serious again, sparing the burning wreck a head turning stare. "'Wing in there?"
"Y-yes," she gasped out, eyes watering from the heat and only the heat. It was alright, Rachel's boyfriend was here, he'd make up for Barbara's inability and save her. She hoped. "Can you—?"
"Of course I can," Red Hood nodded, sounding like he was grinning. He set off at a run and Batgirl’s heart leapt in her throat. He'd die too— he'd die and she would be to blame because she'd sent him in. //Don't worry, Batgirl. I'll get her out.\\
The warehouse looked like Lucifer had gone all out protective, angry brother on it, beating it to a pulp. (Trust him, he'd seen it before.) The roof had completely collapsed, the walls were twisted and bent and burning. The smoke billowed high enough to be seen by the docks. Batgirl was wailing over the communicator thats' frequency he just happened to be tuned into.
Jason grappled to the closest building, noting the van with a pile of goons tied up outside it as he passed it. Batgirl wasn't paying any attention to this side, which was her fist rookie mistake, but Jason let it slide. She was new, that much was obvious by the fact she hadn't insisted on lenses for her mask, although she did apply some pretty decent eyeshadow. He was kinda pissed about how Rache' let her out like this, so green and new.
The girl, Barbara Gordon, the last of Barbara Kean's blood, had went on to stutter out how Rachel was somewhere in the rubble.
Ergo, here he was, digging through the wreckage. He could feel the heat even from his fire-proof suit, the heat signature lenses had gone ballistic with too many hues of reds and oranges and yellows, so Hood'd changed them to life signal detection. Thankfully, after a few seconds of baited breath, two appeared. One smaller one and one bigger one.
The smaller one was dying, the bigger not so much — the life sigs always did this. The bigger they were didn't depend on the guy's size (heh), just their current detectable health status.
Fearing the worst but not willing to say it aloud, Jason went to the smaller one. There was only a little pile of rubble keeping them down, but it was perhaps something that someone underneath would have difficulty moving. He had successfully logged back two of the beams when the other life signal jumped, faltering. Hood cursed aloud and watched almost in slow motion as a gauntlet shot up out of the pile they were buried under. Nightwing was under a different section of debris, the heavier, hotter one. She'd been the larger life signal.
He stopped, blinking down at the smaller life signal. Who—?
Black Mask. There was a hint of a once white suit peeking through.
Damn. And here he was chastising Batgirl for rookie mistakes.
Red Hood abandoned that pile in hurried embarassment, skiding over to where Nightwing had pulled herself free, chest upwards. She scowled at him, her suit no doubt letting through every bit of the heat.
She looked like a zombie rising from the grave, with her hair tangled and black blood streaking down from her hairline, curving around her mask to drip down her cheek.
"Need some help?" He got out, already pulling at the largest beam —one of the fucking roof stabilizers— that she was having trouble budging even with her damn impressive strength.
"Sure," she grunted, slowly shifting the beam as he joined in, pulling with all his might. It was a miracle Nightwing hadn't been crushed. It was a miracle she was breathing.
It was a miracle she was alive, helping him move this beam so that she could get up.
The fire roared around them, sirens in the distance putting them on edge. The wind, steadily getting stronger in beckonings for the storm, came down with a gush, spreading the fire around them into the places where it had not yet been. It gave fuel to the flames too, allowing them to reach higher, lick further.
Nightwing grunted at the sight, arms disappearing to pick at something. A minute later she was pushing up her arms, using her forearm strength to get herself out of the hole the rubble had painfully ensconed her in. Hood took pity and reached forward, grabbing her by her armpits. He hauled her up without protest. She was gasping now, air not coming in quick enough as her body span webs to heal her. The smoke was getting worse and she choked, shivering.
He pulled out the rebreather he always had in his belt, sliding it into her mouth as he cradled her bridal style. She pawed at his chest weakly, narrowed eyes clearly saying she didn't want to be seen like this.
"We'll go to one of my safehouses," he could get to the nice bungalow one. Rachel could recuperate there while talking to the flowers in the window sills and skillfully avoiding the nice neighbours. He double blinked at the eye movement feature that would activate the Bat comms, turning on his. "I've got her, Batgirl. You go on home. I'll have her back in a day or so. She's fine."
The scratched up suit was far from a nice sight but her healing was already clawing its way out. Jason would bet it was safe to say she'd only be feeling weak by the time he had them changed and at the bungalow.
//Thanks, Red.\\ Batgirl said. //Tell her she better not die or Robin'll be sad.\\
Jason didn't comment on the silent, so would I, lurking there. He relayed the message and the look on Rachel's face broke his heart more than anything else.
Changing Rachel out of her suit was certainly a chore. There was no other way to describe it.
She'd said it was 'kinda stuck, after the heat' but that did not excuse how fucking hard it was to get off.
He'd nearly resorted to grabbing his kevlar cutting scissors when the small, near invisible, zipper gave and slid down. Then he'd had to keep Rachel sitting up long enough to get the thing off her shoulders, while wrestling with her cape. The boots had probably been the easiest, simply sliding off, much to a weary Jason's graciousness.
"Y'good?" He grunted when she was out of the suit, clad in sweat soaked underwear. The abandoned building he usually changed in housed an awful lot of his clothes, most of which he'd grabbed from thrift shops a long time ago. He found an AC-DC shirt in one of the bunged up dressers. It had always been a bit small on him so he flung it at her, trying not to notice how her fingers shook as she gripped onto it. "Most people don't come out of those kinda situations alive."
"M'not most people," she said, pulling off her sodden bra before shakily pulling on the shirt. It was huge on her, billowing with the soft breeze that whispered through the building's cracks. The storm that had been looming over Gotham for days now had finally let up and decided to fucking happen, so it was raining heavily, the droplets pinging off the tin roof in a cacophony of sound. It grated on his ears and he could only image how annoying it was for Rachel.
"Good point," he acquiesced. Rummaging through the drawer brought up a pair of grey jogging bottoms and an old jacket to put on over his muscle tank. (It wasn't like he was prepared for the storm. Gotham didn't get them all that much anyway, in his defense.) He tried a different route of conversation. "How you feelin'?"
"Tired." Rachel hummed, waiting for a pair of trousers as she stretched sore muscles. "Got attacked in the Cave last night."
That made his blood run cold. The Cave was a veritable fortress, who had the resources to get into a Bat paranoia guarded figuartive-castle?
"Some League of Assassin's kid, looked an awful lot like Shiva."
"Cassandra." What the fuck was she doing in Gotham? She was usually sent out around Japan and China on missions. "Were you hurt?"
"Concussion, nothing much else." Rachel said. A weak laugh bubbled out of her throat. "Tim came down in the morning and nearly screamed. Asked why there was a LoA dagger in the floor of the gym."
She said it as if it was funny to her but as Jason turned around to help her put on the jeans he'd found, he saw the fear glistening in her eyes.
"Hey," he kissed her forehead, pushing back a lock of her unruly hair behind her ear. He slipped her legs into the jeans, shifting her so he could pull them up before doing the button. They hung loose on her waist but that was okay. "It'll be alright. She say why she was there?"
"Didn't speak," Rachel hiccuped.
Of course she hadn't, Cassandra Cain spoke in silence. With movement, or something like that.
"Figures," he tried to lighten the sudden depressing mood. "She doesn't do much of that."
"Does the rest of the League know how to get in?" Rachel asked and it hit just a tad close to home. Either she was voicing her worries or she knew something she wasn't letting on about. She couldn't have know about the past five years, he'd been 'sight-seeing' but he knew she knew he knew she was suspicious. "What if it had've been Timothy? Or Barbara? What if she had appeared and there was no one but Alfred, would she have killed him? Them? Would—"
"Best to not get hung up on that, Baby." He said, then paused and blinked at the nickname. He hadn't said it mockingly, and it felt odd but Rachel made no comment. It settled on his tongue nicely, his mouth carrying on without consent. "Why don't we go to my safehouse and we can get some take-out? I know a good Asian place, they deliver."
"It's raining," Rachel was shaking too much for this to be guilt. Jason grabbed her hands and found them cold, too cold, as they quivered. "'S not good, windy too, and— and Tim, what if—"
She gasped for breath and Jason internally swore as his mind updated him back into the world of the living, breathing people. Rachel was having a panic attack and if he didn't try and help she'd be hyperventilating in less than a minute. "What can I do, Rachel?" He asked, thumb running along her cheekbone to swipe away her sudden tears. "Do you need space?"
"Silence," Rachel was turning grey. It was disconcerting to see, a definite change from her sun-kissed tan. "H-hug me?"
His heart shivered in the pain that coated her words. He could tell from the stilt to her speech she'd never done this before, could tell it was hard. He knew what it was like: to be afraid to ask for help. Talia had helped him, been his rock for a long time before he'd pushed her away when he'd realised her corruption. Right now, Rachel needed a rock and if she accepted him, he'd gladly become one for her.
"Of course, of course," he soothed, enveloping her within his arms. Figuring the breeze biting at her through the thin shirt was doing her no good he wrapped his jacket around her, pulling her down into his lap at her urging. He settled down on the cool ground, pulling Rachel into him as much as he could while keeping her airways open and unrestricted. "Breathe through it, everything's gonna be okay. No one will hurt anyone and if they do, I'd be more than happy to kick their ass with you."
"Really?" Rachel whispered, claming down as she clutched his jacket, pulling it around her tighter. She seemed so small in it, the leather firm and unrelenting as it wrapped around her almost twice. Petite was the right word; she looked so petite and fragile, Jason decided, rocking them both back and forth.
"Really." He confirmed. "I'll always look out for you, Rache'."
The wind picked up and as Rachel's breathing calmed, her shakes lessening, Jason found things weren't so bad the way they were. Sure, Rachel had just had a panic attack over the precarious topic of Cassandra's attack, he was feeling a tad cold but he'd found out she was fucking adorable in both kevlar and leather.
Five minutes later when he stopped rocking them and peeled Rachel off his tank he'd find her asleep, lips parted ever so slightly and cheeks warm, graciously not pink thanks to her natural tan. And if she's drooling over him, he can't quite find it in him to care as he smiles down at her peaceful expression.
Time to get to the bungalow, he supposed.
She wakes up in a bed that she wasn't in before she fell asleep.
The curtains are open, and as she opened her eyes she found herself staring at the flash of lightning as it arched in the distance. The shadows of the City's new skyscrapers beam in the light's wake, glinting like cruel blades, at beck and call to spill eager blood. There's a tree outside, within the range of her sight. It's shaking like crazy, leaves fluttering everywhere as it tumbled back and forth in place like an elasticated ragdoll.
Rachel should be able to hear the wind that obviously comes with a storm of this magnitude but she can't feel it within herself to just listen. There's too much of everything going on right now.
Her chest aches, seeming to pulse with each breath and each beat of her heart. Her wrist twinges in silence, not yet having healed from the night previous. There's a bandage over her forehead, sealing up a cut that hadn't healed when she'd been patched up. She hopes Barbara is okay. Timothy, too. She hopes the girl, Cassandra, stayed away from them.
Jason shifted beside her, his boxers still on to match the jeans she's wearing. His arm lifted, fingers trailing along her back in a comforting swirling pattern to show he was just as awake as she was.
"We should make up a code," Jason suggested as his fingers slowed. "One that we can use to signal each other when the young'uns are still about. Something private and confidential, y'know?"
"If you mastered the act of talking within stares whilst you were gone, it's wholly possible." She heard herself say, the words feeling numb on her tongue. Rachel felt odd, like she was being dragged upwards but remained floating in place. She didn't know where she was floating.
"Nah, I mean I can do the stare thing, sure, but I was thinkin' 'bout an actual code. Somethin' like Alpha 210 means Robbery on Second Street, One Assailant, Threat Rate Zero."
Rachel took a second to marvel at the thought that had went into those two simple words. The numbers obviously meant place, number and threat in that order, hence why there was three of them. Alpha stood for the crime.
"Should rank crimes from worst to not so bad," she groaned, shifting so she was lying on her back, staring up at a stain-free white ceiling. "Alpha could be a supervillain, with another letter after it being the first letter of their name. The number thing is good."
"I get ya," Jason rumbled beside her. The blanket was too thin, her head was starting to feel like it had been sealed inside a hamster wheel and shaken. Repeatedly, with great force. "For Ivy it'd be Beta I and for Catwoman, Corro C."
"And for a fake emergency, Zulu X." Rachel said. Jason laughed, sounding amused.
"Already putting in the back-ups, Rache'?" His fingers began their swirling dance on her stomach, not going any further. Rachel appreciated that.
"Just incase we need to talk." She responded. "And only need to talk. If we want one for sex it can be made up later."
"Really? 'Cuz I think Blue is a good code." Jason snickered. Rachel would've rolled her eyes had she the energy.
Spiders were starting to crawl across the pristine white ceiling, their beady eyes staring down at her. Cobb was sitting in the corner, auburn hair glimmering in the occasional lightning strikes. His grin was a twisted, snarl of a thing. There was no hope for him, not with such hate embedded within those eyes.
Red was kneeling by her bedside, crouched low as she hunched on her knees. She sat there, glowing red eyes watching.
Rachel dragged in a breath. They weren't real, she reminded herself. They aren't here.
"Your head still hurting?" Jason asked, shifting onto his side to stare at her. She didn't like the feeling of so many eyes on her at once, all boring into her, their venom seeping past her skin into her blood. "You woke up briefly a couple hours ago and I got you some Advil."
Cobb sneered in the corner, mouth twisting with words she couldn't hear.
"Are you sure I took an Advil?"
"Yeah, you good?" Jason sounded... worried?
The spiders blinked at her in rhythmn. Their eyes were huge.
"M'head still hurts," Rachel moaned, squeezing her eyes shut. She jumped a tad as Jason's arms wound around her and pulled her into his chest.
"Heard heat was good for headaches, but this is all I got." It was good. He was warm. Like a woolly blanket that kept on giving. It was godlike in how Jason seemed to radiate the heat, giving it freely. It was almost enough to forget about the monsters waiting for her, when she opened her eyes.
I'm here, Red said. Cobb is not.
The sincere warmth Jason gave made her mind go fuzzy, subconsciously urging her to get more, resulting with her curling into his chest, closer.
"You're really warm." She sighed, listening to his heartbeat as it thumped calmly. It was like snuggling, she realised. Rachel enjoyed snuggling. She hadn't had enough since Babrara—
The thought made her feel like a bucket of water had been dumped over her, breaking her out of her reverie. Suddenly it felt like she had cold feet, withdrawal symptoms picking at her as her stomach flipflopped.
"So I've been told," Jason said.
It gave her an excuse to flee and she took it, insecurities eating away at her like never before. She pulled her head back, raising an eyebrow. "You do this often?"
"'Course not. 'Specially not with our lifestyle. Where'd you get that idea from?" Jason asked, smirking but seemingly truthfully curious. Her heart was pounding too quickly, echoing in her ears to rival her headache.
"You said 'so I've been told'. Does that not insinuate you've done something like this before?" She murmured, rambling. "Or is it one of those codes for me to leave. Because I can leave if you want me to, I mean, I know I'm not very social or snuggly. Or—"
"Hey," He cut her off softly, a hand cupping her cheek as he too pulled back a bit to see her properly past the blanket. "Who knew being hurt made you so self-conscious?"
It was said kindly, in jest, but it still made her chest shrivel in on itself. It must've shown in her frown because Jason bopped her on the nose and nuzzled her hair, pulling her back into that heavenly warmth. "Doesn't make you any less cute though. Don't worry, Rache'. I'll always love ya, no matter what."
And yeah, that kinda made her feel better.
Somewhere far, far away, Cobb spoke, high up on a skyscraper as he watched a city bustle. "Beware the Court of Owls." And when that didn't feel right, he added, "Beware our Parliament, Sinners."
Chapter 13: Morosely Mawkish
Deathstroke hits up Gotham.
Nightwing hummed softly upon her chosen stone cornice. Gotham was busy tonight. Cars blurred past in myriads of colours below her, people walked along the pavements in droves despite the time and the neon of the street signs was hard to miss. She was in Gotham's China Town, situated just to the west of the city, on the outskirts of the island, facing the mainland. It wasn't too big but the encroaching, all absorbing atmosphere it held made it seem bigger than the five or so blocks it actually was.
The place was walled off with only a couple of large gateway entrances. Not because of recent events, more of a case of a millionaire being a Nazi sympathiser during the second world war. A Mr. Jorvan Cordana had reckoned that when the Nazis invaded it was only fit to have facilities waiting.
China Town was built in a refurbished Jewish ghetto that had never been a ghetto, thus held no significance. It never having been used meant it hadn't been a sticky topic when the city wanted to build in it.
The streets truly were aglow. Life bustled between the cracks, and there were a few families sitting down at the open-air restaurants, all smiling and joking as they nibbled on their Chinese food. Main Street was family friendly, whereas the last few streets of China Town were more Red District, filled with shady clubs with Chinese posters of strippers and such.
Nightwing cast her eyes over the large bricked walls in the distance — nothing more than dark shadows when compared to China Town's beaming lights. A neon sign buzzed to her right, flickering. Lazily, she crossed her legs, pulling her ankles under her knees as she balanced on the corner. The cornice wasn't as tall or large as main Gotham's ones but the one she'd chosen was nice enough. The classic grimy grey colour they took on from the smog accented the vicious dragon carved into it beautifully.
Her cape licked at her back, curving in gentle lapping waves as the soft breeze made it flutter. She'd changed up her armour, swapping the heavy kevlar lined cape for her old lighter one. With an assassin roaming the streets, she preferred flexibility and agility over a taxing cape weighing her down. B had tried to argue against it over the intergalactic video call but, as Jason said, she was as stubborn as the rest of them. Once Nightwing had made up her mind, there was nothing budging her unless it was important to the task at hand.
A black cat with bright bristled eyes curled up beside her, head tilted inquisitively. Nightwing cooed at it and rubbed its ear. She smiled as the cat purred and leaned into her hand. The cat, no older than three, reminded her of Catwoman.
Catwoman had requested an audience with her, according to Jase, but Nightwing was paranoid and she dared not approach the cat lady whilst B was unsure of her intentions. He'd invited Selina Kyle out to a Gala but the woman hadn't responded, instead robbing the museum for what had accounted for its hundredth robbery. He'd been sore about that for a while, and his grumpiness had been suffocating.
B may not know about Jason but she could already feel his disappointment in her. Dating someone who he hadn't yet met. At least, that's what he would think. When B found out who Jay was; she'd essentially be dating her dead brother, the man's son. The one that went too soon.
That got Nightwing thinking about what she and Hood had. The pollen had started it, launching something that probably would never have happened otherwise. She'd stuck around because the man was damn good in bed and here she was; dating a—
What was he? An anti-hero? A Crime Lord? A Mob Boss? She didn't really care, she realised. Nightwing liked Red Hood and Rachel liked Jason, not because the man was a score, but because he was nice.
Hopefully he liked her too. He did, if there was any reason for why he'd stuck around. She wasn't that good at sex, despite Barbara's praise. Barbara had always had a notion for 'pointing out' the supposed good in people
Anyway, he wasn't really a brother to her; in a way, Jason never had been. She'd hated him once, back when she'd seen him like he now seen Tim. But now she loved him.
People always did say hate was awfully close to love.
A bag, caught in the wind, bounced up onto the rooftop she'd claimed. It rustled loudly, startling her. The kitty meowed fearfully and scampered, earning the bag a heated glare. Her heart thumped for a moment, reminding her of the fear she'd felt when Shiva's daughter had attacked her.
She didn't like it. Her nose wrinkled and she turned to stare gloomily down at the innocent people on the street. She was pouting. She shouldn't be pouting. If someone looked up and seen Nightwing pouting it would crush her rep of being cold and ruthless. The buildings were indeed high but it was certainly possible for someone to look up and see her; but then, Nightwing supposed people didn't look up much as no one had seen her in the past half hour she'd wasted upon this perch.
Being out in the open, suddenly, made her fingers feel numb for a blade. She was paranoid, she knew. But never like this, never that she discarded armour in favor of more animalistic ways.
Not that acrobatics was animalistic, de cecuri. It was anything but.
It was more the fact that she'd slid a few daggers into her belt tonight, had put a pair of black claws in there too. She was working on blueprints for claws on her gauntlets, like B's, so that she could flex her fingers and the tips would sharpen. Nightwing may not kill but she would not go down without a fight.
A paranoid, hurting Nightwing would fight until she breathed her last breath.
She had too much to lose this time round.
(There was too much. Too much blood, pain, tears. People lay in the Maze corridors like they were streets. Their throats were cut, the marble was painted red and brown and black as if it were tarmac. Cobb stood beside her, his grin terrible.)
Nightwing sucked in Gotham's smog ridden air and wished for something cleaner. Although she'd heard that Blüdhaven's air was worse. That reminded her of that morning's early news; there was some vigilante running amuck over there, some crossbow wielding lady calling herself Huntress. She seemed to be liked, as she wasnt dead yet and the Blüd Police Dept hadn't issued anything for her arrest. Despite her avoidance of other cities, Nightwing was sure Gotham would come into contact with the one called Huntress soon. She could feel it.
Just like she could feel how she was weakening. That struck a cord, a painful one at that.
She stood from the cornice, feeling foolish for sitting around for so long. The Serum had stopped working for her, she had bled scarlet for the first time in decades and she was sitting about, not doing anything to stop her death. Her previous night's injection would only last so long and with the stress she'd been under recently, dealing with a clingy, worried Barbara and a curious, homebound Timothy... She'd be needing another injection soon.
Bruce would come home from his mission and ask her why the medicine cabinet in the Cave was missing three shots. She'd have no answer for him.
Because showing dependence was a weakness. A weakness she would be unable to recover from. The over sensitization to the Serum would kill her anyway. If not that, then the lack of it ever being enough would.
But what if it won't kill us? Red murmured.
Nightwing didn't like to think about what it would do if the loss of Talon cells didn't kill her. Maybe it would paralyse her, or make her sick like it had the last time. Rachel nor Nightwing wanted that to happen. They enjoyed the skies too much, liked flying and swinging from rooftop to rooftop. Loved the nightlife excessively, too much to let it go.
Nightwing was becoming human for the first time. Rachel was going to be sick once more and Red would have to watch more strife.
This time we have Wayne, it said. Her mind thrummed within the thick, ever suffocating, turmoil.
Bruce could not do anything if the Court— no, her Remnants hadn't been able to do anything. They'd been years ahead in technology, despite how they hesitated to use it. Or, at least, the Court had been once.
Were they really? Red queried. Wayne has a lot more at hand than the Remnants ever did. Maybe more than even the Court at its peak.
It was overwhelming. Nightwing ceased her thoughts on the subject. She had time. Time before the end, like all things did. She just had to make it count. She would, because she was good at that sort of stuff; good at organising.
A crunch of gravel from behind cut off her thoughts. She whirled around, hand on her belt to come face to face with Deathstroke. Her own nose was inches away from that black and orange mask.
"Slade," she snarled, pushing him away. He obeyed and danced back with a low chuckle. His swords were on his back but it didn't escape her notice how his hand was inching towards the holsters on his thighs. "What brings you here?" She snapped.
"The usual," Slade Wilson —better known as the mercenary Deathstroke the Terminator— shrugged. He appeared relaxed but Nightwing knew better, no one but her family were relaxed around her. Everyone knew what she was capable of. "Money, jobs, more money."
"Any specific reason why you're here, merc?" He hadn't changed his look much since the last time she'd seen him, with the usual strip of bullets over his chest, the black ribbon handle swords and the long dangle of his cloth mask. If anything, he had more armour. She wondered who he was working for now.
"I couldn't tell you that," Deathstroke chuckled. Predictably, the handgun was pressed against her temple, his gloved hand curling around her throat. He didn't squeeze but it didn't matter, Nightwing couldn't feel it past the kevlar and she was sure he knew that too. "Because then I'd have to kill you." He sunk low, mask inches away from her once more. His single white lens bored into her. "And we wouldn't want that, Nightwing."
"I'm sure," she acquiesced with a sigh. "And this was such a nice night too."
She grabbed her swords as Slade stumbled from the kick she gave him. He righted himself, gun firing at her retreating figure, just as she dived down off the rooftop. He followed, the shots echoing in the now hectic night's air. People screamed, parents dragging their young away from China Town's main street as the two landed in a flurry of gunfire and shining blades.
The lights had her lenses recalibrating, HUD urging her to stay still for them. She decided to forgo that option as a bullet passed a little too close to her head for comfort. Nightwing lashed around, roundhousing the man as he hit his mask and formed a hardened shell of kevlar around it. It got her adrenaline surging, with her having the realisation that yes, you could die.
Her and Slade had played before, years ago, when they'd met in a club when she was undercover in a trafficking network down in Beijing. They'd chatted, gotten carried away and B had never been told, the cam footage destroyed.
"Come on, Nightwing!" Deathstroke growled, two guns by his sides as he strode up the street with long, confident strides. He was the embodiment of Deathstroke the Terminator right in that unflinching moment. "Let's do this."
Yes, Red goaded, still riled up and very much still awake. Let's.
She sunk low, left foot out in front of her as she rested on her right. She could drag this out, have some fun; it wasn't like she had anywhere to go that was important. Or unimportant. She didn't have any dates tonight, or whatever her and Hood had on the rooftops of the Bowery. She could play.
And play she would.
"Alright, Wilson. First to go down and stay down says why they're here. Truthfully." Nightwing proposed.
Deathstroke laughed, "Deal, Pretty Girl." And then he was off, breaking into a taunting, confident jog that had Nightwing grinning.
His gun seemed so off, aiming just a few centimetres to the right as she came up close to him. She didn't even realise she was in slow-motion until he fired and she seen the puff of gunpowder released from the chamber, seen the bullet casing get discarded. Her sword rose of its own volition to slice the gun in half but she stopped seconds before she did. In a moment of doubt, she mapped out the trajectory and that the blade was three degrees too far into the swing. Three degrees that would slice apart Deathstroke's hand, instead of the gun.
She didn't want to do that.
Nightwing hesitated and Deathstroke rewarded her with an elbow to the face. She toppled back, catching herself with a cartwheel that turned into a jump to avoid the pavement block. Deathstroke turned and fired, making her block with her sword. Her HUD glowed, informing her of the wall behind her and the gutter pipe that seemed sturdy enough. It was listed as an escape route but she didn't want to escape.
She whirled, grabbing it. Nightwing shinned up the wall with its help, pushing away from the wall and dropping back down to get a kick in at Deathstroke's face when he got close enough. The man grunted, Bo Staff coming out as he dropped his guns in a turn of twisted karma. He twirled it once before they met in a crescendo of sound. She jumped over the staff, air cool on her face as she listened to the swip swip swip. Getting in a lucky hit at his shoulder she bounced away, landing in a pirouette. Deathstroke tilted his head like he did when he was smirking and quickly brought up the staff to get a jab in at her ribs as he charged with a roar. She tipped round in a cartwheel, landing a kick on his wrist. Deathstroke grunted under her flurry of jabs and lashed out with his bō.
Nightwing didn't specialise in strength. She specialised in speed and agility, aiming for the joints rather than the limbs, like B or Hood would. Tim was coming along swimmingly, currently mixing up his strength tactics with flexibility. Apparently teaching him to backflip properly had been the right thing to do, especially with his current fighting style of 'tell no one and act flimsy'. It did wonders for his reputation when he took down entire gangs. 'Weak little Robin isn't so weak after all,' She'd heard a group of thugs gossiping one night after a spectacular takedown.
Deathstroke grunted something and reached out towards her in a turn of unusual un-precision. Nightwing faltered at the change, unprepared for the man's avoidance of dodging one her high kicks — which he loved to dodge. She plummeted into his trap and realised a little too late. The understanding hit home as his hand found her kneecap and pushed. The pain hit her slowly but Nightwing didn't need to feel it now to know it was gonna hurt later. She hit the ground and barely managed to pull herself into a roll, her leg strangely uncooperative from the knee down. Had he dislocated it?
Nightwing stumbled, knee like jelly as she tried to stand. Deathstroke took advantage of her momentary weakness and laughed darkly. His Bo Staff arced before a piercing hit turned into two. Bravely, her knee took the hit from the side and buckled. Dropping, she flipped into a backflip to avoid the bō, ignoring the way her knee twinged. Deathstroke charged again and all of a sudden the kevlar wasn't protecting her so well anymore, not like it was supposed to. Her torso ached.
She dug into her belt and let loose three gas pellets. Deathstroke reared back from the poison, bringing her with him by the leg when she tried to jump back. Her back found the road and her sword a brick wall, the gas a noxious cloud ten feet away. A neon sign flickered overhead as Deathstroke unsheathed his swords, baring them down in a crossed X, her neck in the middle
"Lucky I'm the better fighter, huh, Pretty Girl?" Deathstroke goaded, laughing in her face. Nightwing frowned up at him, analysing before she lashed out. Her leg came up to meet between his thighs in a sharp jerk and she pushed him, smirking as he toppled with a grunt.
The man's blades were easily acquried. Nightwing pulled them out of the ground around her like they were nothing but legos — designed to be picked up from the carpet.
Nightwing stood, twirling swords that weren't her own and frowning at the fact of it. She stared down at Deathstroke, a cruel new smirk biting at her lips. "That it, Oldie?"
"You're older, Beautiful." Deathstroke chucked back. Nightwing laughed, letting the man climb to his feet before rushing him. His forearm pads caught the blades before they did any real damage. Then he was twisting, doing something she'd never seen before and throwing her down by the waist. She rolled with the hit, pushing off the ground to avoid a painful death by a reclaimed sword. She still had one though and she used it well, digging into a thinner part of his leg armour as she used her legs to pull herself up as the motions of pain laced through her torso. Definitely a few bruised ribs. Her knee stung, still numb but mobile.
HUD binging, her sword is highlighted, a few steps to the left at eighty degrees, lodged in the wall. The other is five inches across from it, upright in the sidewalk. She can get to them, but only if she pushes Deathstroke back for long enough.
Deathstroke rolled backwards as if he knew what she was trying to do, but he doesn't stay there. Instead, he jumped for the sword in her hand, coming down at a sharp ninety on her wrist that had her releasing it without a second thought. Bruises are easily explained to the Bat, broken bones are not.
Plus, her wrist still twinged from the fight with Shiva's girl. She doesn't need it broken.
"Awfully silent, Night." Deathstroke taunted. "You were much louder last time."
"Wasn't in Gotham last time," she said, bending double to both dodge the twin blades and kick Deathstroke's legs out from under him. Or, she tried to. She hit him and he snorted at the feeble attempt, but his bad knee buckled.
Her reclaimed swords were light in her hands, twirling to reflect the bullets. Deathstroke charged seconds later, pushing her arm back and sending them both through a shopfront.
A man, likely the owner, hollered bloody murder and hightailed it as they tangled in the glass. It dug into her horribly. All Nightwing could think about is how much she couldn't let this man see her weak and bleeding red blood. So she wouldn't let him. Nightwing grabbed a batarang from her belt and thrust it into Deathstroke's splayed hand that had been reaching for his gun. Deathstroke coughed up a yell, twisting himself to swing one of his swords at her. Nightwing flipped out of the way, grabbing and throwing a string of fire lanterns at him as he pulled the batarang out of his hand.
The steet was deserted when she ran into it. The wind haunted it, giving birth to wide flames that licked at the shop as Deathstroke emerged from within its concrete confines. His mask reflected the light, forcing it to gleam a ghastly orange.
"You fight well, Pretty Girl." Deathstroke said, tattered ribbon handled sword lose in his gloved hands. "I can see why Ra's wants all you Bats dead."
Nightwing opened her mouth, question on the tip of her tongue but the fire roared with a large gust of wind, splashing up to conceal her view of Deathstroke. When it swished back down again, like a tidal wave, Deathstroke was gone.
Chapter 14: You Have to Break a Couple Rules (Every Now and Then)
Spoiler hits the nightlife with a glee the thugs haven't ever seen before.
Stephanie jumped down into the sidealley with a hoot of raucous laughter. Her curtains, which are moonlighting as her cape, flap out and imitate the Bats' signature trademark; the classic bat shaped shadow. The shadow twisted over the thugs' faces, warping them into scared little boys.
Stephanie jumped down as the victim of the mugging gets away, scrambling out of the grime ridden hole with her purse clutched tight. Steph smirked, standing on the dumpster.
Excited pride filled her, swamping out nearly everything else.
Until one of the thugs threw a punch.
Stumbling to catch herself on the side latch of the dumpster lid, she purposely fell forward. Landing on the thug's shoulders could've been easier and hitting him over the head with her bat —moonlighting as her batarangs until she mastered the art of both throwing them and actually got some— had been way easier in her head.
Nevertheless, the guy went down smoothly after a couple of whacks, and his two mates took their time in staring. Which Stephanie took no problem to, whacking that guy had really been heard work. Believe it or not, she was panting.
"You ain't the Bat," one of the guys said after she'd resumed the task of beating them up. He was cowering under her whacks, arms shaking as she grunted and started hitting harder. "Who ta hell are ya?"
"You can call me," she grinned, becoming chipper as she unveiled her name. Maybe this night wouldn't be so bad afterall — the insane cold had been a pain in the ass all day. "Spoiler."
"Spoiler?" The other guy coughed, holding his groin from where he was on the ground. He was squinting at her. "Like one of 'em things on a car?"
She paused in her swing, "No, like a Spoiler Alert type of Spoiler. One that irritates but does you in at the same time. It delivers a critical hit and floors you. I take advantage of that and take you down while everybody's gaping."
"Ay, I don' like 'em much," the guy with shaking arms said. He motioned to the guy on the ground to start crawling, taking the opportunity to try and run. Of course, Stephanie totally noticed it instantly, but she let it play on. He kept talking anyway, and she was more than happy to listen. Jumping on rooftops by herself was lonely. "They're too loud an' ya don' seem the type. Shoulda called yarsel' Bat-something."
"Bat something?" She repeated, unimpressed.
"Yah," the guy edged to the left, towards the open street. "Like Batgirl, or somethin'. Tho' that's taken. Wha' 'bout Batbrat?"
"Thanks for the imput," she beamed. The two men stopped, seeming relieved. They probably thought they were off the hook. "But I took too long thinking up of Spoiler to just drop it. Spread the word, yeah?"
"Huh—?" Shaky arm dude got a head hit and the one on the ground got another dick hit.
"Me balls!" He wailed.
Stephanie snickered, leaving them wailing in the sidealley as she hitched herself up a fire exit ladder. She hit the rooftops again, avoiding the particularly large drops or gaps between the buildings.
Halfway over what looked like Marble View's block —a common block of flats, notable for lots of druggies and murders— a shadow passed in front of her. Figuring it was Nightwing, about to confront her but showing off first, she stopped on the gravel paved roof.
There was a whoosh of air, maybe the wind, maybe something else, behind her. Curious, Steph turned and came face to face with a gold hemmed hood.
"Hey there," she didn't recognise the woman. She was about her height, but lighter, seeing as she'd perched herself on the AC unit and the thing hadn't even creaked. Her white eyes felt like they were tearing through her very being and Stephanie was shifting on her feet nervously before she even realised what she was doing. "Haven't seen you around here before."
Stephanie stood there, waiting for a reply. The wind howled in her ears but the City itself seemed quiet, a distinct hum of calmness coursing through the streets. She was thankful she'd picked a quiet night to have her first patrol, seeing as it allowed her to see the panic ripple through the City as the villians realised there was a new vigilante.
After a few seconds too long the woman still hadn't responded and Steph wondered if she would actually be getting one. A moment after she thought that, the other tilted her head. The movement moved her hood and a braid slipped out of it, a grandiose gold clip tieing it together. Stephanie looked a little closer, squinting her eyes and hating the feeling of the charcoal she'd coated around her eyes for some extra hiding protection.
The girl was wearing a black robe-thing, with the hood. It was all hemmed with a shiny gold thread that looked very real to Stephanie's eyes. She was wearing boots, unlike anything Steph had ever seen before, and what peeked through from under the robe was black with more gold.
Steph got the feeling that this wasn't your average vigilante. This had to be a uniform. Knowing her luck, the woman was some sort of murderer with a creative streak.
Oh gosh, was she going to die? She'd kinda hoped the last it a little longer, maybe even meet the famed Batman in person (meeting Wayne hadn't counted) before kicking the bucket. About ready to die, Stephanie made her prayers. Then, she thought of her mom, lieing back home, in her bed, as high as the rafters and drunk as a skunk. She didn't want to die.
So I won't, she thought and that was that. She stood a little straighter, balled her hands into fists and got ready to face the incoming threat for what it was; a threat.
"So," she started again as they stayed in a suffocating silence. Stephanie didn't feel like the girl was about to attack her, she acted more curious than anything, but there was a tingling feeling at her base of her spine that nagged. It told her something was wrong. "You don't speak much, huh?"
She didn't have a mask on but her eyes gleamed so bright a white that she practically didn't need one. Her mouth was covered by one of those cloth-bandana things that Steph knew was a stereotype for assassins.
This girl couldn't have been an assassin. Could she?
"No? That's alright. I'm Spoiler, just incase you didn't know. Nice night, isn't it? Especially since it was raining last night, usually we get continuous rain showers but maybe this year that'll break. You ever been down to the Greenhouse in Star Labs? It's really nice down there, they have this rain measure thing there too — real cool. Are you new in town, I don't think I've heard of—"
"With Bat?" The girl asked. Stephanie shut up so quick her jaw clicked as it slammed shut. Her fists felt like they were vibrating.
"Kinda," she shrugged, her purple curtain pulling on her. It was heavy as bricks at this point. "I'm not sure, haven't really ever seen Batman. Seen Robin once, but that was it. Cool people, don't you think?"
"With Bat, no?" the girl repeated. She sounded kinda Asian, not that Stephanie was completely sure. Possibly a tad Chinese?
"Uhm," think carefully here, Brown. Great, evn her inner-voice knew this situatiom was bad, it even sounded smug! "I guess you could say no?"
Stephanie went stiff as the woman shifted. Shit, she was gonna die now, shoulda said you were with the Bat, she berated herself.
But the woman just reached up and pulled back her hood.
Gorgeous blue eyes stared at her, unblinking. Accompanied by a lush pout, naturally dark, and healthy mocha skin, Stephanie cursed her gayness. Of course she had to run into a killer-maybe-assassin who looked really good and of course she had to be someone who Steph was attracted to within seconds.
("Never stick out anything," Dad had whispered one night, grin wide and vicious. That had been the last night where Stephanie had freely told people she was a Brown, the last night where she called Arthur Cluemaster Brown her Dad. "As is the Brown way, kiddo.")
"Okay," she dragged the syllable out on purpose. "Taking off our hoods are we? Well, I didn't think we were on such an imimate level yet but okay."
No way in hell was she taking off her hood. One, because she'd stitched her purple curtain into her hoodie's seams where her hood was attached and pulling it down might just rip off the curtains and two, because no.
Last she'd checked, there was a whole secret identity thing about wearing a cape and smearing charcoal over your eyelids to jump about rooftops. Tim had broken it way back when. He'd spelled out exactly just why you don't tell.
"Hey look at the time," she looked at her arm where there actually had been a watch once upon a time —like three years ago— and shifted towards the roof ledges. The City thrummed past the barrier of the roof they were on, waiting. "I gotta get going but it was nice talking—"
The woman reached back, her robe-cape swishing back with the motion revealing the dagger she grabbed. Stephanie cursed and broke into a sprint for the ledge. So close, she could see the lights on inthe window across the street, a tv playing past a steamed up window, a car driving along thw street down below, so close—
A dagger cut through her curtains, embedding itself in the ledge behind Steph's legs. Wincing she tugged at it, jerking her weight forward as the woman leisurely began her approach. She looked like a cat circling its prey in Steph's hindsight and the panic bubbled over.
With a full body tug, Stephanie tumbled forward the curtain left abandoned. It flapped sadly in the breeze as she hit the ground, scrambling to hike up another fire exit's balcony stairway. Another dagger sticking itself in the wall inches from her face alerted her to the woman having jumped down behind her — she hadn't even heard her. Stephanie felt her eyes go wide as she stared at the blade, her efforts to swing over the railing faltering.
This woman would kill her. Stephanie would die out here, and her mom would choke on her own vomit, not even knowing — No. I won't die. Not here. Not now.
Stephanie regained use of her limbs and gtabbed the dagger, yanking it out of the wall. With a snarl she jumped down, landing infront of the unimpressed looking woman. Staring down what seemed like a wall of no emotion was nothing new for the kid of Arthur Brown and Stephanie lunged with a shout.
The woman dodged like she was cutting through the air beforehand, it was so smooth. She walked with an agility that Steph could only dream of as she swung out with jabs that were as measured as she could manage. At her third dagger swipe towards the woman, she caught her wrist.
Heart pounding Stephanie watched the smirk blossom —smug, knowing, the other thought she'd won— and dropped the dagger as she twisted her wrist. Tugging it back to her, and bringing the woman with her, she pushed out, catching the black haired woman with an uppercut to her jaw. Her head knocked back and Steph didn't risk kicking out her feet, instead going for the casual and kneeing her in the cervix.
The woman stumbled back, shaking her head. Her smirk had changd, now an inquisitive frown. Stephanie siezed the moment of stillness and punched the woman's nose.
Blood dripped down the other's lips and she wiped it away with an eyebrow raise. Suddenly Stephanue found herself on her back, staring up at the rusted black balcony above her, her neck hurting.
I'm dead, she thought. Oh gosh, I'm dead.
But the woman popped her face into her eyeline, eyes seemingly glowing again, lips stained red.
"Need train," she said. "Me... will."
What the hell? Stephanie blew out a breath and then saw nothing.
A hand shook her.
"Five more minutes, mom," Stephanie grumbled, trying to bury her face into her pillow. Turned out, there was no pillow there and she only succeeded in slamming her face into the hard wooden floor underneath her. Spluttering, nose aching, she jolted up, hands racing to check for blood. There was none but that wasn't what worried Stephanie.
"Where am I?" She questioned, almost scared to sit up as she did that very thing. It looked like she was in some old house, with moldy walls and a rotting wooden floor. A rotting wooden floor that she'd been sleeping —unconcious?— on.
Nobody answered her. Stephanie looked over as something shifted and found the same black haired woman that had stabbed her curtain standing off to the side, in the doorway. She looked unsure, which she damn sure should be — had she kidnapped her?
"Oh, it's you," Steph found herself saying. "You going to fix my cape or am I going to have to get a new one?"
"Get real?" Stephanie assumed she meant getting a real cape, and that the woman wasn't being rude but that struck up a new question.
"Do you know English fluently?" Bad question, she scolded herself but stood for the consequences.
Instead of yelling or running or doing something unfavourable, the black haired woman —gosh, she looked around her age— just looked down.
She clutched her arms self-consciously and although her facial expression nor her eyes gave nothing away, Stephanie felt herself floundering under the oppressive, looming feeling the room's air had on her all of a sudden.
"Hey, it's okay," how does someone reassure someone you definitely thought was an assassin? Stephanie started to approach her but froze after one step when the floorboards creaked loudly. It sounded like the building was about ready to collapse, nevermind that single board. An idea hit Stephanie. "Hey, how about we make a deal, yeah?"
The girl looked up at her, eyes harder than stone.
Stephanie had to swallow her spit lest she choke on it.
"You train me to fight and I'll teach you how to American."
Never let it be said she couldn't recognise her own faults. She just didn't like saying them out loud, but this— she could gain from this, she could befriend this girl, she could learn how to fight and she could maybe get a kiss out of the deal.
"You gamble with all you got or you don't gamble at all," her father had said once. Steph had made an oath to never listen to his advice but maybe this time she could prove the Brown family's bad luck false.
Chapter 15: The Piggy Went To Market, Pt. 1
Things are heating up in Gotham.
Rachel pushed the clock aside and began the torturous descent down the Cave's metal stairway. Instantly, sound caught her ears. Tim and Barbara were down in the gym, no doubt training. Barbara's taunting teases filled the Batcave with a sort of life it hadn't had in years.
Feeling her lips tighten, Rachel strode towards the monitors. She felt off today; angsty. Slade had paid his visit three days ago, Cassandra Cain five prior. Jason wasn't talking to her, too busy trying to make up for one of his lackey's mess ups and de-escalate the gang war between him and Black Mask that was looming on the horizon.
Recently, the horizon had seemed a lot darker.
Rachel almost felt lost. She had to deal with Deathstroke before B returned planetside. She needed to track down and return their resident child assassin who was apparently Shiva's daughter. She needed to find a lead on the Demon's Head, see if he was up to something other than wanting her family's heads whilst his people were in Gotham. Barbara's training needed to be checked up on, Tim's too. She also needed a more permenant solution to her redening blood than last night's delusional five am thoughts of let's swallow food die.
Because, let's face it, that wasn't going to do anything other than stain her stomach and give her a stomach ache.
Or blood poisoning, if she injected it into her veins. She wondered what blood poisoning felt like. Not that she would be going near another needle after her Old Serum top-up two days ago but her inner sentiment was nice. Almost calming.
It was as if she wasn't dying and unsure of what to do.
Feeling impatient at standing still she reached out and fired up the computer. There was a new case — an old familiar one.
This morning, at three am, Thurid Kong's Medical Institution for the Ill of Mind had picked up something very unsettling on their security cameras. At their front door, a man had pulled up in a scruffy looking van and had dropped a dead pig on the sidewalk, a note attached.
The secretary had shown up at six to find the rotting pig. Note pinned onto it's forehead with a medical scalpel.
I'll give you a week, Batty, before I cull these 'Ill of Mind' for my dollies. Then, I'll get you after.
Nothing too weird. The Institution had nearly spontaneously combusted at the threat and the press had exploded, every self-aspiring reporter scrambling for an interview with the secretary and her boss, Thurid Kong.
Rachel had swung by Gordon earlier this morning —after an impromptu Patrol while Gotham was still dark— and grabbed the evidence. A file on the pig, the interviews with the staff and the actual note.
To start, the note was printed in comic sans. The ink was common enough to be found in every Gothamite home or shop with a printer, although it was only circulated around the East Coast. Which meant, it was likely the note had been printed off from somewhere local, just before the three am drop-off. That insinuated the thug was working within the city and not micromanaging from afar. That was good, that meant his van was possibly registered in Gotham, if he lived here. Unless it was stolen, but everything was tracable nowadays.
Interviews with the boss, Thurid Kong, a Chinese medial professional with a PhD in Psycology, brought nothing of interest. The man wasn't anything too special, blending seamlessly with Gotham's upper class millionaires. He was reserved and was rarely seen outside of his self-founded Institution. Rachel noted putting Tim on his case, to check his background thoroughly before they moved on. It would be good training for the boy and it would assure her of his skill level.
Thuird Kong's Medical Institution for the Ill of Mind was fairly bland as well. Founded by Kong three years ago with the goal of helping Gotham's 'in need'. They helped those with enough money to pay for rehabilitation from both drugs and drinking. The Insititution was doing well, with a couple notable people having visited it within its opening.
To be simple, Rachel didn't give two damns for the Institution or Kong or his tight skirted secretary.
Now the pig. Oh, the pig was interesting.
It's blood was parts congealed, parts liquid. That meant it had been frozen prior to its appearance at the Institution's sidewalk. Traces of the blood had it at a high stemcell count, odd outside of cloned creatures or certain breeds. The skin was rubbery, rigor mortis setting in fully as its muscles and stomach liquidified.
With this information, Rachel gathered that the pig had been frozen to halt the effects of death, before being thawed out a tad and finally dumped on the sidewalk. There was no markings on the pig to show an obtrustive object killed it, aside from the post-death scalpel, which raised eyebrows. Mainly, Rachel's. And Gordon's.
Aside from the blood, the pig was rare. Literally rare. A rare breed that not many people had the resources to buy. Or import over from England.
Current clues led to the perpetrator having contacts or money, or both. And skill in the art of death.
Rachel suspected it was Professor Pyg's work. The scalpel with the pig snout engraved into it was a hint.
Batman had dealt with him before, of course. Although, it had taken him three months. Rachel doubted those patients had three months. Even then, with no Batman, it would take considerably longer, with her having to read up on the files to be aware of his clues.
Perhaps what irritated her most of all; the man was still listed as incarcinerated in Arkham Assylum.
Tim shouted something at Barbara, who shouted back, laughter in her voice. Rachel drained it out as unimportant. She could check the cameras later and make sure they weren't out of their skill league.
She could put Tim on shipping logs too, to find out when the pig was brought in. Put Barbara on CCTV footage of surrounding buildings, finding the trail of that van.
Rachel decided it was time for Nightwing to pay Arkham's Warden a visit.
"Robin, Batgirl! Both of you come here."
Quincy Sharp had never signed up for the position of Warden at Arkham Assylum on his own will. In fact, he'd been quite forced into it. Once, he'd been a HUB Watcher — a fancy name for a guy who stared at the security cameras while sitting on his ass in the High Security Tower. Once, he'd been a plain, simple HUB Watcher and life had been slow but easy.
Things had kind of went downhill when the previous Warden was killed in one of their semester-alligning breakouts. He'd seen it happen, seen Zsaz shove the knife through Mr. Thompson's throat. The memory still whispered to him at night, haunting him through the cold stone walls and murmuring that it would be him next.
Then, management had promoted him and threated to strip him of his promised retirement fund if he refused the job. So, Quincy had been pushed into being Arkham Assylum's Warden on a measly salary of five hundred dollars a week, despite his dreams of becoming something bigger. Something better.
He really wasn't paid enough for this.
Nightwing stared at him with something very close to irritation but Quincy wasn't sure. Her eyes had narrowed but she looked emotionless. "I'm waiting, Sharp. I've gotten word Pyg has broken out."
Quincy fumbled under the pressure of her stare. "Yeah, well, even if he had, I can't just give out confidential information on the basis that you think Lazlo Valentin has escaped. And, I assure you, he hasn't."
Nightwing's cold stare turned into a heart wrenching glare. She shifted to place a gentle hand on her hip, shaking her head to knock her long hair out of the way. She looked him head on and Quincy thought maybe that was the worst thing of all; having to stare into those soulless white eyes. "I came here out of courtesy, instead of hacking your cameras, Sharp. Either you show me the live footage of Lazlo in his cell, now, or I'll have to ask the question of who withdrew four hundred dollars from the security deposit last month."
His blood ran cold. "Uh—" Shit. Curse the bats.
Quincy had never liked them. Neither Nightwing, Batman nor those Robin guys or that new Batgirl. He believed they were nothing more than the maniacs inside these walls, only they dressed up a little better and punched the psycho into jail, whereas the others punched out of it. Nothing more than glorified villains. How did they even get their information?
Quincy Sharp did not like any of the Bats.
Nightwing raised the top side of her mask, imitating an eyebrow raise. He would be ashamed to admit he found it a tad horrifying. No woman could be this empowered, this demanding. It was ridiculous. Females didn't deserve this kind of power, Quincy was sure. "Now, Sharp."
Quincy sighed and motioned for the vigilante to follow. He really wasn't paid enough for this. Management would have his head for this but the real threat here were the two real and very sharp swords on the psycho's back.
Nightwing's heels snapped lightly on the stone floor as he brought them through corridors the Bat likely knew by heart. His heart was in his mouth, ringing in his ears as he took longer strides than normal to keep ahead of the vigilante. No way in hell was he walking behind her.
"Here," he said as they pulled up into his office. His single computer shone from his desk, lighting up the grimey brick wall behind it. Quincy hadn't gotten around to cleaning Mr. Thompson's blood off it yet, but a part of him liked the momument. Maybe a part of him liked the memories that pestered him. "I'll show you the footage and you'll keep your mouth shut."
"Hurry up, Sharp. You're on a timer," she demanded, unfazed about the dried brown blood streaks on his walls. Quincy unhappily noticed how the woman held herself as if she was higher than him, as if she was better than walking on the same ground he walked on. Even how she stood infront of his desk made him feel like she was in charge and not the other way around.
This was what happened when women gained power. It got to their feeble little heads.
"Right in his cell," he smirked at her, eyeing her hair as it swirled down her shoulder when she leaned over his desk to look; last thing he wanted was to be choking on it. Her expression didn't change at the sight of Lazlo sitting in his cell, throwing a rubber ball up and down. Audio was off but if it was on it would be broacasting him whistling. Quincy would save his ears that horror, thanks.
Nightwing pushed a very important pile of papers off his desk and firmly planted her —rather nice— ass down on it. "Play the audio," she ordered, back to him in a show of arrogance.
Quincy scowled, wondering how things would go if he tried to pull a John Wick with a pen but tapped the button. Lazlo's off kilter tune of the Gotham Knight's theme song spun around his office. Nightwing's frown eased up.
She looked down at him. Quincy gulped at something he wasn't sure about in her expression. Her face had shuttered, emotion falling off it even more than before, if that was possible, and if Quincy was right — was she angry?
"He's whistling the Knight's theme tune," she observed, talking slowly as if he was a child. Quincy snarled back at her as he opened his mouth to say so what but the bitch talked over him. "Why would he be whistling it like that?"
"Like what?" He steeled himself. No way in hell had she figured it out so quick, he'd hidden the date and everything.
"Happily," she said like that was the answer to the universe's questions.
Quincy scoffed, trying to bury the ansty, unsure feeling that was welling up in his gut. He rethought that pen idea. "Happily? So, the guy's happy — what's the big hoo-ha?"
"Lazlo Valentin is a fan of the Gotham Knights, Sharp. If he'd be whistling that now it wouldn't be quite so happy, would it be?"
The fuck was this lady going on about?
Shit, shit, shit.
"Two months ago the Knights won a baseball match, Sharp." Nightwing smiled at him with far too many teeth to be friendly. Something inside of him screamed he should've left when he had the chance. Should've ditched the million dollar pension, got a new job. He agreed wholeheartedly with that voice. "The Knights haven't won anything since, and we both know Lazlo isn't the nostalgic type."
Who even caught on to that with five seconds worth of audio? Detective indeed. Curse him impressed. Even if it was an unworthy, arrogant woman behind it.
Nightwing blinked at the monitor, looking about as calm as one could be. Her lips thinned a second later, like she'd smelled something bad.
Before Quincy could hit the emergency lockdown button and send a brigade of guards to his office, before he could even scream, Nightwing's sharp tipped fingers wrapped around his mouth and squeezed. He shouted in pain, trying to writhe back as the talons broke skin and blood riveted down to course through his stubble. He couldn't talk, her gauntlets pressed so deep that his mouth felt like it was sealed shut.
"I don't like liars, Sharp," she growled, so low and deadly that Quincy just wanted to die right there and then. Anything better than facing off a pissed bat. He may not like them but he'd seen the body casts — the only evidence of their rage. "And do you know what you just did?"
He desperately shook his head. "Plush," please, he finally got past her hand. "I hafe fawilly."
Nightwing sighed, sounding wistful. Her head tilted tauntingly, "Don't we all, Sharp."
She pushed him back, spin seat's wheels hurdling back to smash his head off the bloodstained wall. Quincy regretted not cleaning up the blood as he slumped, the world flooding into darkness.
Curse those Bats.
Nightwing took one second to roll her eyes at Sharp's pathetic slump before shuffling over his table to poke at his greasy keyboard. The thing looked like it hadn't been cleaned since the man's promotion a year back, which matched the state of the office. Honestly, the brown, chipping blood on the walls —previous Warden, Lukas Thompson's blood— should've been incentive enough to get ones act together and break out the cleaning supplies.
She understood why Sharp's wife had left him now. The man looked like he hadn't bathed in days, skin so grimy it could rival Killer Croc after a sewer dip. His only saving grace was his baldness, assuring there was a lack of scraggy hair that hung like a wet mop.
If there was anything Nightwing hated, it was the sheer dirt the human body could produce by itself. It was abhorrent. How people could walk around without brushing their teeth or spritzing on the deodorant was beyond her.
She braced herself for the task of actually touching his keyboard — god, was that chewing gum between his space and delete buttons? Ew.
Womaning up and pushing past it, she manipulated the footage to her bidding. The footage itself was from two months ago, the day after the Gotham Knights had won their first big game in years —sue her, she liked baseball— and that alone was irritating.
Something was obviously wrong if Sharp had went so far as to try and decieve her like this.
It was a bit amusing though, as the systems froze up and spat her out onto Sharp's homepage. His screensaver was a selfie of himself jerking off to a poster of-- was that Flash?
Nightwing coughed on her saliva and took a photo with her lenses. Hell, this was better blackmail than outing the man as embezzling money from the state funded security deposit. Anyway, back to the job.
Live footage of Lazlo Valentin's cell showed it to be empty, had been for the past month. That alone wasn't good, the very fact that the psycopath had been out for a month was worrying. Not to mention, there was a suspicious lump in the middle of the abandoned cell room. It earned her interest, the thing swaddled by the blue blanket just so that the angle of the camera was too obscure to make out what was underneath.
It was a trap, she was sure. But Nightwing had dealt with Deathstroke three days ago. She could deal with one of Pyg's crude surprises any day of the week after a visit from Wilson.
Of course, that meant she had to go down into the heart of Arkham.
"Great," she sighed and made sure to scratch a couple long talon marks into the old desk as she flipped off it, offering the unconscious man the bird as she locked the door behind her.
She hoped Batgirl or Robin had come across something more solid than a blanket covered mystery item.
Chapter 16: The Piggy Went to Market, Pt.2
Leads are found.
Joker was laughing. Nightwing had never really paid the man's laugh much attention but now that she was listening she found it so high pitched that it hurt her ears. Idly, she wondered how Quinn dealt with it on a daily basis.
"Well if it isn't the first baby bat?" The clown had said before launching off into his current laughing spree. Nightwing was just grateful it was a laughing spree and nothing more.
She walked past his bulletproof, transparent cell and dully mulled over if she should kill who ever had decided the psycho didn't need a muzzle. Might just kill the one who had ruled against it.
"Nothing to say, birdie birdie birdie?" He called after her like a beluga whale, loud and never ending. His call echoed off the round walls, stirring the other villains to their cell doors. They sneered at her but made no move to shout over the Joker's laughter.
Nightwing ignored him and jumped off the deck, rolling her eyes at his vacuous peels of laughter as she landed on the lower level of the Security Tier. Really, that had to be a fault in the designs, if someone like her could just jump down and have free access to anywhere.
Thinking on it, it was a miracle Joker hadn't escaped sooner. Arkahm was just a disaster waiting to happen, one last breakout away from crumbling like the old stone building it was.
Being an old stone building also meant it had a lot of floors, which implied numerous staircases. But it wasn't even the staircases that got her; it was the layout of it all.
Arkham Assylum was set out like one huge maze; you either walked into a security outpost that Nightwing appraised as strategically placed (and easily avoided) or you walked into a dead end (not just as easily avoided). It was irritating, even when one was armed with the entire building's blueprints and floorplan.
"C'mere, senorita." Beckoned Bane as she finally got to the lower levels and — unfortunately — passed his cell quite by accident. "Let me out, sí? I'll show you a good time, chica."
"Shut it, Bane." She wasn't in the mood for this, the clock was ticking and the lockup cells on the bottom floor —the floor she was currently on— weren't known to be the sturdiest. They arced around the building's supports like a pillow, big and adorned with bulletproof glass like all the other cells. Which meant the people inside could see her just as well as she could see them.
"Nighty?" Penguin asked, next to Bane in his cell. When he spotted her, the sly bird pasted on a friendly smile and opened his arms like he was beckoning a child into his occult. "Nightwing. How nice to see you — you don't think ya could let me out? Bane here's driving me mad."
She ignored him.
"Wait, wait, Nightwing!" Cobblepot sounded frantic. "I know a little about Piggie over there. Don't ya want to know?"
Nightwing paused her long strides, turning her head to look Penguin up and down. She made sure she looked uninterested. "Is that so? What makes you think I'm here about 'Piggie'?"
"Why wouldn't ya be?" The man grinned, showing off yellow and black teeth, each one sharpened to a point. How long had he been in if he was trying to blackmail her? Too long, probably. It was a wonder why his lawyers hadn't bailed him out yet.
"Well," she sighed, checking her wrist computer for the time. "I'm on a tight schedule, Cobblepot—"
"I know where he is," the penguin sputtered out, ruffled by her lack of attention. She looked up on purpose to see the man's grin turn coy. "I'll tell ya, if ya let me out, that is."
"Oh?" She grinned sharply. Cobblepot's own grin dimmed for a moment before coming back in full force. He shifted as she pulled a ninety degree turn and stalked towards him.
"As I was saying, I didn't think he had the guts. Not little Jimmy, after all," Nightwing was beginning to regret letting the waddling penguin out of his cell. The sound that echoed through the corridor as Cobblepot shuffled was terrible and Nightwing was seconds away from ripping her cochlea out so that she didn't have to hear any more.
And his rambling. God, his rambling. At this rate she was closer to killing him rather than upholding their agreement of freedom for information.
"Jimmy was a good lad, quiet but big. Never thought much of him when he signed up for his lady, but then I found out he had no lady and well... that conversation went well."
Nightwing hummed along to provide assurance of her listening capabilities while glaring at the inmates who got a little too loud as they passed. Victor Freeze was down here but he didn't so much as look at them, instead shaking his head as he glowered into his book's pages.
Cobblepot was probably annoying him just as much. Nightwing was relating right now. Was this why the man had to endorse people to work with him? Did the entire underground find him this irritating?
She was surprised Cobblepot hadn't been murdered in an alleyway yet.
"So me an' Jimmy talked and he said he was doing it for his kid, but he had no kids. When I asked him again he said it was his last choice. But Jimmy was bright, Nighty, y'know. Bright not with brains but quick to react, fast with solutions."
Nightwing didn't know where Cobblepot was going with this.
"And then, we do a job and the boy rats me out to the coppers." Cobblepot squeezed his fists together, creating a horrible squeeking sound. Nightwing's nose scrunched involuntarily. "I'll get him back for that. Say, we 'bout near Piggie's cell?"
Nightwing peered down at the stout, four foot tall man like he was an enigma. He amused her occassionally. "This is it."
"Ah," Cobblepot looked at the darkened cell, the blue lump barely visible from their position. "Expect ya want the run-down now?"
"If you have one," she got to work on opening Lazlo's door and no one else's. Cobblepot stood behind her, his freedom hinging on his loyalty.
"Course I do," the penguin snorted. "Piggie was actin' weird the moment I got in here. Said he had a plan waitin' for him outside. Next thing we know, Sharp's lettin' him outta his cell after Jimmy shows up an' hands him a loada cash."
Nightwing severly disliked these locks. Why had Bats insisted on supervising the making of them? It was like he wanted to get under her skin. A normal lock would take less than a few seconds to open, this lock took thirty. An unpleasant experience for her fast dwindling patience.
"Piggie strolls free and Jimmy has the gall to smirk at me!" Cobblepot continued, foot tapping a fast beat on the ground. Nightwing could see his disgruntled expression in the reflection of the cell glass. "I'll kill that boy, I swear—"
"Don't swear it around me," she warned, standing as the door swung open slowly. It did so with a speed that even a snail would weep at the time it took to open fully.
Cobblepot fell silent as they both took in the wretched smell and let the door halt with a loud creak. "Well," the owner of the Iceberg Lounge grabbed his nose. "That's a bloody horrific stink."
Nightwing said nothing as she walked into the cell, careful of any surprises Pyg may have left behind. Silently agreeing with Penguin about the smell, she unsheathed a katana and used the tip of it to snag a thread of the blanket. With stern vigilance, she eased it up, off...
"Is that?" Cobblepot choked out. The tap of his shoes was the only sound in the cell as he stumbled back.
"A dead pig." It was rotten, slashed apart from the neck down. Its insides were tucked together with nothing more than a nyan blue ribbon keeping it intact. Behind her, Cobblepot vanished round the corner to spit up his dinner. The retching sounds made her frown.
She pulled at the ribbon, curious as to why Pyg had went to all this trouble. Nightwing stopped, hands stilling as she dropped the ribbon. Cobblepot returned and meekly edged into the cell only to turn back around and cough up his dessert too.
"What in the bloody hell is that thing doin' here?"
Indeed, Nightwing thought curiously. What are you doing here?
Babs was pretty confident she'd narrowed down the shipments. The pig only came in from England and there was only three shipments from there weekly. Only two of them were large enough to import pigs and, unofficially, only one brought in livestock.
As for where the pigs would be stored, Gotham only had reasonably three places. The problems came in when people renovated places and in the end, you could house a pig anywhere if you were killing it shortly after its arrival. But if she was narrowing down from that, she had no criteria and any of the one's she'd rule out could eventually be the storage facility. In the end, she listed all warehouses that were dotty with their contents and big enough to house multiple pigs. That was a lot, but if they showed up at one they'd find a few pigs.
As far as Barbara knew, only one pig had been found. The shipments brought in five at a time. The pigs were brought in alive. Only four places could reasonably procure the necessitites for housing and food without anyone getting too suspicious, either because of the location or the activity surrounding the assets. Taking aside the one that was completely demolished, that left three. All of them were old slaughterhouses.
Satisfied with her results, she turned to Tim and decided to lighten his workload. Robin was working on Thurid Kong's background, his eyes narrowing with boredom every ten seconds. Technically, Rachel had assigned Barbara to CCTV but the shipping logs had been more appealing and she'd windled it out of Tim's grasp before the younger could so much as complain. And technically, with Bruce off in Space and Rachel off-base, Barbara gained command as the oldest on site.
Taking her time and watching the information flow past on Tim's screen, she booted up the security camera footage of the early morning. The van was old, for sure, paint visibly chipping even with the grainy footage. The licence plate was barely there, nothing more than black blurs on the black and white recording.
Unfortunately, what people seen on those shows like CSI where they zoomed in on the footage and improved its quality was just not possible. Not even the Batcomputer could do that, simply showing you a highly pixellated image before it was rendered black. Picture quality was picture quality. There wasn't anything you could do about that other than delve into the pixels and try and reorder them, but that could take months to do and years to get right without a reference.
Maybe if the footage hadn't been so grainy, if the sun had been a bit higher, she would've gotten something more out of the recording. Currently, she had a hunch that the guy had dark hair, was wearing a pair of ski goggles that waxed out his main facial features such as his eyes and nose. And, possibly, the van was an old Ford, judging from the blurred body shape.
Sighing, Barbara opened up the street view —the Batcomputer provided map of all CCTV cameras that they were aware of— and found that there was only two other cameras on that street.
One at the far end, showing a T-Junction, and a second a few buildings over from the Institute, on the opposite side of the road.
Barbara hacked into them both, finding no challenge there. She pulled them back to three thirty three am, roughly five minutes before the guy showed up.
Gleefully, she delighted in the fact that the camera opppsite the Institute had colour.
At exactly three thirty eight, a chipping blue paint Ford van pulled up, looking like one from the eighties. A man, with a gleaming pair of ski goggles, dull chester hair and a pair of yellow marigold gloves on, stepped out and rounded the side of the van. He opened up the dented back doors and with the angle of the camera Barbara could just about make out the pig, sitting in a dark container.
The guy pulled the pig out of the box and dumped it on the sidewalk infront of the Institute's front door. Barbara leaned in, watching him pull something from his pocket and lean down, left arm swinging up with a glinting scalpel in hand. She assumed that was the note he'd pulled out of his pocket, as it matched the Institute's footage of him pulling it out of his pocket.
He was grinning in the Institute's, not that Barbara had noticed before. She could tell because with the opposite view camera, when the man turned around he was grinning. Just what they needed, another pyscho on the streets.
Although the second camera was at a bit of an angle that made it hard to make things out. Barbara could just about make out the registration number.
Jackpot, she smirked.
She'd just fired the man's image and the reg. number into the database when the Batcomputer's built-in comm set chimed to alert the observers of an open line. Activating her own, she typed a little quicker.
//'Wing here, Arkham's bust.\\ Rachel didn't sound happy.
"I take it Lazlo's gone." Barbara assumed.
//Long gone. He left us a present.\\ The Computer linked up with her lenses and the live feed showed a torn apart body of one of the rare pigs, a man's head shoved beside its stomach, skin meeting skin.
Barbara felt sick at the sight alone. Beside her, Tim made a disgusted sound.
"Got an ID on him?" Tim queried, shifting his eyes from the gruesome sight back to his screen. Barbara had to hand it to the kid, he could sure multitask.
//Evan Turner,\\ Rachel grunted. //This guy was supposedly killed by one of Hood's men. Hence why the tensions between him and Black Mask are rising.\\
"Great," Barbara murmured as another voice came from Rachel's side.
//Surely Hood dislikes traitors. If it were me, I would've killed the lad who screwed me over. Woulda killed Jimmy had I got my hands on him.\\
Tim's eyes flicked up for a moment. Barbara openly gaped. "Is that Oswlad Cobblepot?"
//I don't go by any other names, Batbrat.\\ Penguin scowled. Rachel hushed him.
//He gave me a lead.\\ And that was all she said. Barbara wanted to smack the older woman up thr head and ask her what she was thinking. Cobblepot was a criminal, he was manipulatuve and he'd stab her in t he back the second he achieved his goals. //What about your tasks? Either of you find anything?\\
The ID recognition software brought up a match.
"Jimmy Mook is the delivery boy, facial ID got him after he was caught on another cam. The van's an old blue Ford from the eighties, currently listed as stolen from someone close to Crime Alley. I've already alerted GCPD to report vans matching its description."
//That little—\\ Cobblepot didn't sound happy.
//Anything from you, Robin?\\ The live feed from Nightwing's lenses showed her taking a few hairs from the man, likely to make sure it was Turner. She pulled a sealing valve from her utility belt and scooped up some of the rotting pig flesh. Barbara cringed.
She didn't want to know what the smell was like.
Barbara glanced to Tim, finding his eyes narrowed in something other than boredom. He'd found something.
A second later, the boy straightened his back and reported to the awaiting Nightwing. "A few years back, Kong made a few odd investments. He plunged a couple hundred dollars into an offshore oil rig, as well as giving roughly three thousand to an old Gotham bank account."
//Track it,\\ Rachel ordered. Onscreen, she ushered Cobblepot out of the cell and slammed the door shut behind them. //Batgirl, did you find any possible storage areas that I could check out after dumping Penguu in his bar?\\
"Just three official slaughter houses, one's abandoned so you might want to go there first." Barbara offered.
//Send me the co-ords,\\ Barbara was a few seconds ahead of her. Rachel looked down, her livefeed showing her wrist computer as the dingy stone floor of Arkham's lower levels whirred by. //That's outside of my Cycle's limit, bring the Batmobile to the usual rendezvous, BG. Out.\\
Barbara's heart leapt in her throat. She'd been waiting for so long to drive the Batmobile. "Okay. Batcave out."
The comms fell silent and Tim groaned. "That is so unfair, I haven't even drove it yet!"
Barbara laughed, bouncing off her seat to get suited up. "Maybe you should try and get a drivers licence first, Timmy?"
Chapter 17: The Piggy Went to Market, Pt.3
New faces enter the fray.
Joker'd been wronged years ago, by the bitch who called herself Queen. He'd went after little Robbie-Boo then, for revenge and a little bit of fun.
So when a mysterious guy calling himself Terry Gerry Couscous showed up in front of his cell and offered him a prepositition in turn for his freedom, you can be sure he took it.
All Joker had to do was trap another little bird. The first one had been easy, so what was a second?
"Mr. Joker," the man said, arms behind his back as he made a leisurley pace towards his cell. He talked with a peace that no one in America had. "I do believe I have a proposition for you that you will very much like."
"Oh!" He cackled, standing up. These cells were so boring sometimes that Joker couldn't help but stand when people talked to him. Nighty had passed by earlier but she wasn't any fun; the woman was always so stern. "You think so?"
The guy looked him up and down, eyes narrowed au natural. Asian, or something. He had a tan going on, sharp, pointy eyebrows and a lax smirk. "Indeed, Mr. Napier. I think you'll quite enjoy my offer."
Joker felt cold, like he had years ago. Only one person had called him Napier, and that bitch had tried to kill him. Had made him angry, and he'd killed the first little birdie. What did this plain old man have on the self-proclaimed Queen of the Remnants?
"Nobody calls me that," he hissed, twitching forward to drag his fingertips down the glass. Standing a foot away, the man looked unfazed and that made him even angrier. "Who are you?"
"You may call me Terry Gene Kase," he pronounced it weird. Joker felt his frown bloom; this was no fun at all. "Although I am known better than this in higher places."
If this was another one of those Court thingies Joker wouldn't do it. He asked, "You ain't with the Court, are you?"
"The Court?" Terry laughed darkly. "Why, Jack, the Court of Gotham is long extinct. Nightwing saw to that."
Joker didn't like all this old name stuff.
"Who you with, then?" He peered closer. The man's shirt was wrinkleless, his gelled hair pure black, his eyes shone ivory. Joker got the feeling he should know who this guy was but he didn't. That was unfair.
"There are some things you are better off not knowing, Jack Napier." Terry said.
"A'ight, one thing or I don't do this." He might as well do this now.
"A condition? You have not yet heard of what it is that I wish you to do."
"Oh, but I've already accepted if it gets me out of here. I need to say hello to Batsy-Boo!" He cheered. That would be spectacular, laughing in the old boy's face about little Robbie-Boo exciting demise. He heard he'd replaced him already with another kid. Joker couldn't wait to meet him.
"Your condition?" Terry questioned, eyes burning into him. There was something unsettling about him that made this all so exciting.
"Y'all call me Joker, not nothin' else."
The man peered down at him. "Very well. I wish for you to capture the Boy Wonder and bring him to me. Alive. You have three days."
Three days, that wasn't nearly enough to have his fun but it was three days. Joker clapped, grin splitting his face. "Deal, Terry Gerry Couscous."
The man shot him a glare not nearly as exciting as Batsy's. "You call me Terry Gene Kase." He repeated, it sounded like what Joker had just said.
He waved his hand airly. "Sure, sure. Let's get this door open, hm?"
With a soft click, his door whirred open. Joker grinned, free at last.
"I look forward to the completion of our agreement, Joker." Terry seemed to snort at his name but it was his name. Joker laughed, the cackle ringing out.
"So do I, Terry-boy." Joker took a step forward and as the other villains whispered, Terry smirked and vanished into thin air.
He clapped his hands and laughed. The Joker had a job to do.
"First building: abandoned back in the early nineties, old slaughterhouse. Currently under the city's jurisdiction, no renters, squaters or campers since late two-thousand." Barbara reported. The Batmobile handled like a wet dream in her favour, twisting and turning exactly when she wanted it to. It was glorious, beautiful and Rachel had taken it off her when she'd arrived.
Now, Rachel sat in the plush leather driving seat, hands on the wheel, looking completely relaxed. She thumbed the ignition and off they went, Rachel twisting on the rocket boosters to get them outside of the city's limits. People looked at them and for a split second their faces of awe were implanted into Barbara's mind before they became nothing more than indistinct blurs.
They hit the third bridge for the Country and the holographic monitoring display in front of them hummed to life. The display, or the HMD as Tim had nicknamed it, was a holographic projection that showed the stats of the Batmobile and the surrounding area. If you were surrounded by goons inside it, it gave the number of men and gave at least five options to attack, escape or de-escalate.
Safe to say, de-escalate was never used as an option. It hardly ever worked anyway. At least, according to Rachel during her gruff once over of the vehicle.
"Quvak Slaughter House isn't anything special, Batgirl." Rachel said as they hit a dirt track. Quvak —the original owner— had bought land out here in the middle of nowhere and had decided to go against even Gotham's twisted norms and had built a business out here. "I've never been, but Bats has. Joker used it as a hideout back in '98, a few months before I came around."
"Anything unespecially special about it then?" Barbara asked, tapping out a rhythm on her seat's armrest. Rachel gave her a slow look and Barbara pulled off on her impromptu music attempt.
"No. Building's a useless carcass." There it was. Rachel; fast, blunt and unafraid to say what she thought. Even if Barbara felt uncomfortable at her wording, she appreciated it. "The clown gutted it back in his stint so there's not much left."
"Huh. You think someone would've noticed materials being brought up here. Even if it was only the pigs."
Rachel shrugged, a vastly different gesture compared to her irritated watch your tongue shoulder roll. "The underground abandoned subways run for miles under the entirety of Gotham. Anyone who knows how to do business will use them."
"So why didn't we go down that way?" Rachel wasn't as blunt with her actions as she was with her words, unfortunately. Barbara had thought the subways were long sealed after one of Joker's attacks back in 1996.
"Place stinks and it's too small for the Batmobile. We'd have to walk as the Cycles would kick up too much dust." The Batmobile twisted right, into a hollowed out area that wavered under the looming presence of a large, gunmetal grey building. "Out."
Barbara clicked off her seatbelt.
"Batgirl," Barbara looked up at her name. Rachel's soulless lenses bored into her being and Barbara fought to remain upright at the look. "Be careful of where you stand."
What? Barbara's brow wrinkled as Rachel jumped out of the Batmobile. Quickly, she followed before the redacting roof closed on her.
The place seemed old. There was a wooden sign hanging off a sturdy tree branch that twisted over the stone drive, its paint was chipped but Barbara could make out the faint outline of an old swirling 'Quvak Slaughter House' on the ancient board.
Around the cobbled stone drive the plants had grown unrestricted, some curled around each other whilst others had taken to creeping over the stones. Barbara spared the darkening sky a glance before walking forward.
Rachel seemed wary of the ground, treading lightly over the plants where she was forced to. Barbara raised an eyebrow at her, watching the older woman awkwardly twist from the grass onto the stone.
"You alright, 'Wing?" She laughed. Her mirth was quickly cut short as she stepped on a growth of dead dandelions and promptly lost her foot six inches into the ground. She squawked, shooting a glare at Rachel when the other did nothing but chuckle softly. "Get me out!"
"I warned you," Nightwing said, easing towards her. The setting sun rested on her shoulders as she smiled down at her and hooked her hands under Barbara's armpits.
A second later she was free, tumbling back on the stone drive. Her boot was slathered in wet mud. Barbara cringed.
"I did warn you," Rachel stepped back, steel enforced heel mapping out the stability of the land behind her. "You didn't listen."
"Excuse me for thinking you were threatening me or something," Barbara huffed. Thank god her entire suit was waterproof. "Is the whole place like this?"
"Covered in holes?" Rachel smirked. "Yes."
"Let's hurry this up."
The Slaughter House had an old wooden door, once painted a bright red. Its paint was chipped and the wood had begun to rot, the top corners of the door drooping like paper mache. Rachel blinked at the old iron wrought handle and stared at her.
"Nuh-uh, you open it." She protested in the quiet, crossing her arms in front of her; a sure sign of defiance.
"Why do I have to?" Rachel kept staring at her. "I helped you out of the hole."
"After laughing at me," Barbara snipped back.
Rachel sighed and unsheathed her katana to push the door open. Barbara raised an eyebrow at her.
"Real mature, 'Wing."
"Thank you," Rachel nodded along like it had been the hardest task of her life. Barbara loved this woman too much for her to handle sometimes.
Slowly, they edged into the building. It was two floors although the ground floors ceiling looked ready to collapse, black mold infesting every corner.
"Don't touch anything," Rachel whispered. Her katana was drawn in front of her for protection as she methodically sweeped the place with her eyes.
"This place looks ready to fall."
"Don't touch anything," Rachel repeated as if she was Tim and was going to bring the building down on them in her curiosity.
"Yeah, yeah. I'm aware." She looked around, batarangs drawn. Something felt off about this place. There didn't seem to be pigs here but there was nothing to say that it had been an abattoir.
"Follow," Rachel dissappeared through an open doorway to her left. Barbara hurried after her only to pause as soon as she caught sight of what was past the doorway.
Convection belt after convection belt was layered with rotting meat. There were flies everywhere. The stench was horrible. Barbara's stomach flopped uneasily as Rachel walked forward and scanned one of the bloodied chunks with her wrist computer.
"The pigs from England," she said.
A snort rung through the building. Barbara stiffened, spinning on her heel to check behind her. There was no one there. Drenched in a tense silence the slaughter house seemed tenfold eerie.
"Upstairs," Rachel murmured, voice so low Barbara strained to hear her. The other woman was looking up, at the dust that fell from creaking floorboards. "Someone's up there."
"High alert?" Barbara fiddled with a batarang.
"It could be Pyg," Rachel nodded. "If you see him before I do, or if he sees you first, do not freeze."
Barbara felt her friend's eyes on her, steeling but fierce, and nodded back.
Cassandra liked the girl.
She was full of life. She smiled. She joked. She had potential. She did not try to make Cassandra talk.
Cassandra liked Stephanie.
Cassandra appreciated her for what she was, enjoyed being able to give the girl what she needed. The girl needed training, yes Cassandra could provide. The girl needed hope, yes her Mother had taught her ways to raise moral. The girl needed backup, Cassandra was that backup. The girl needed a friend, that was where she stopped.
Cassandra wasn't sure how to be a friend. Had never had one, had never known the word until Stephanie had said it.
"Friends don't leave other friends behind," the girl had muttered unhappily, trudging into Cassandra's League rented apartment. Cassandra had blinked at her, looking up from sharpening her knives.
Stephanie had dropped down onto the bed, beside her. "People can be real dicks sometimes, y'know?"
Cassandra had nodded because she knew what it was like to have people turn out different from what you expected of them. Stephanie was easy to read, she could predict her movements before the girl even knew she would move in them. Predictable was good for Cassandra's acquaintances.
Predictable meant no unplanned deaths.
"You ever had any friends?" The girl had asked. Eyes closed and language wistful. "Like, close close?"
Cassandra had tilted her head. Somehow Stephanie had realised Cassandra didn't know what a friend was and explained it for her.
"Sort of like an acquaintance ... A friend is someone you trust to have your back, you like them and they like you. I guess, we're friends?"
Cassandra had nodded. The joy that bloomed within Stephanie had made her cold body feel warm. Since then, Cassandra had been more prepared around Stephanie.
No longer did she fear the girl would do something stupid, for they were friends and friends did not leave one another behind. Cassandra decided to bring the girl with her on her scouting, taught her how to throw a punch correctly and enabled her the skillful art of kunai and star throwing.
Stephanie seemed to like the Bat. Stephanie disliked Tim Drake but liked Robin. Stephanie seemed unsure about Rachel Wayne and Nightwing and seemed completely confused with Barbara Gordon and Batgirl.
Tonight, Cassandra had decided Stephanie was ready. Spoiler was growing stronger and with the Batman with his friends off-world, what better time was there to teach her how to become one with the dark.
"Chilly night tonight, isn't it?" Stephanie chattered as they settled upon a cathedral's spire. Cassandra liked the breeze, cool and nothing like Saudi Arabia. It kept her in the present and with Gotham being so different from headquarters Cassandra found she could enjoy it.
Always, with China, Japan and Asia in general, missions were quick and sharp. A dagger there, a slit throat here, blood on the carpet now. But with Gotham the Demon's Head took a special attention. He wanted things done properly and with Bats not home, her mission had been updated to scouting Gotham's weaknesses with no Bat to watch.
Granted, Nightwing was as active as ever. Nightwing was Deathstroke's though, Cassandra did not want to face the ex-Talon with Slade Wilson watching for his little bird. She knew enough of common courtesy to leave the man his prize.
Cassandra blinked back into existence and found Stephanie to still be talking. Cassandra liked that of the girl; she talked enough for both of them.
(Cassandra wondered what it would be like to talk.)
"So, what we doin' up here? We're not waiting for something, are we? Waiting is so tedious, don't you think? It's boring too, especially when we can't go get McDonalds." Stephanie pouted.
Regret for ever taking the girl to the fastfood chain store McDonalds flooded Cassandra. No doubt, she would be pestered with this for months.
Cassandra looked Stephanie in the eye to make sure Stephanie knew she wanted her to follow.
Cassandra made a binocular gesture around her eyes. Stephanie's eyes brightened under her League hood.
"Okay, watch then copy?"
Taking that as her go signal Cassandra ran forward and jumped. She landed a roll on the ground and when she stood up beside the gravestones and looked up towards Stephanie, she found the girl gaping down at her.
Suddenly, Stephanie clapped. She clapped a lot. Cassandra counted ninety-two. "That was great! Just a run then jump, tuck and roll?"
Cassandra nodded. Stephanie went for it.
The girl, adorned in one of Cassandra's spare LoA uniforms, ran along the roof. She hit the edge and jumped right on time, arcing through the air like those angels Cassandra had seen in one of those movies. Stephanie tucked too soon and Cassandra frowned.
Stephanie had tucked for a backflip. This was no backflip. If she landed wrong both her legs could break. Panic rose up in Cassandra, quick as the wind snapped the length of her cape. She took a step forward, prepared to catch the girl.
Stephanie flipped twice then let herself go with the wind before tucking and rolling. She jumped up and beamed at Cassandra.
"Well?" She grinned. "How was that?"
Good, very good. Cassandra thought. She shook her head and gave the teenager a half-half motion with her hand.
"Always time for a second go," Stephanie turned and went to skin up the gutter piping once more. Cassandra wondered if this really was the best thing to be doing, possibly climbing would've been a better choice.
Chapter 18: The Piggy Went to Market, Pt.4
(This is it for the Pyg arc but the story goes on.)
Information is given, Rachel starts to slip and Terry Gene Kase's plan is set into Stage 2. Barbara's unsure if she's on stable ground or not.
Barbara calmed her breathing as they climbed the rickety old stairs. Rachel was ahead, testing for creaks that could give their position away, katanas drawn. It was tense, she was tense. The dusty air caught in her lungs like chunks of rock weighing her down. She'd never dealt with Professor Pyg before, but she still feared him.
He was the maker of the dollatrons, after all. Every sane citizen in Gotham feared him, even a few of the villains. Barbara was sure the only man who didn't even slightly fear Pyg was the man himself.
The stairs were old, dusty. They groaned under them in complaint, Rachel was stiffer than a board. Barbara felt very close to freezing. Unsurity rushed through her, making her wobbly and her knees jitter.
Barbara hoped she wouldn't freeze up when she seen him.
In front of her, Rachel stopped. Heart hammering, Barbara's eyes darted to the older woman's hand — scrunched tight, unmoving in the fragmented air — and felt her breathing sequence falter.
A low, eerie whistling started up, seemingly right beside Barbara's head. She jolted, eyes stretching her mask's eyecuts wide as she shivered. There was no one behind her, no one beside her either. It was just her and Rachel out here, Pyg in the room at the top of these stairs. Pyg was whistling; low and out of pitch.
When she turned back, Rachel was staring at her blankly. Barbara stared back, wishing she could know what the other woman was thinking.
She opened her mouth to ask, but a creak sounded ahead of them and Rachel's blank gaze vanished, hair shifting in its ponytail as its owner crouched low. The stairs coughed a piff of dust but made no sound. Footsteps echoed, loud and twangy —like someone was wearing heels— and Barbara prayed they'd both make it out alive.
The footsteps faded, the dust ceased its swarming and Rachel took a large step forward. Just as she made contact with the step ahead of her, a dollatron walked through the doorway, ten steps up, and froze.
It groaned in alarm and Rachel was lunging forward before Barbara could think. Pyg was saying something, asking his dollatron was it was doing, telling it to hurry up and get him another liver. Rachel's first katanna pierced the left arm and the dollatron howled, her second katanna caught its neck and the husk fel, bleeding water.
Barbara felt like she was going to boke there and then.
Rachel looked back at her, face blanker than before, devoid of everything that made her human, before she looked away. Barbara was left in the stairwell with the dead once-human creature, literally left in the dust.
She shot the dollatron a disgusted look and jumped up the remaining steps.
"Ah, so the bat brought its birdie friend." Pyg actually snorted. "Neither of you know a rhyme for that? A shame."
"What's the point in scaring a man like Thurid Kong, Lazlo?" Rachel scowled. "Why give yourslef more rumours to deal with."
"Exactly," Pyg clapped, eyes slits past his pig mask. Blood splattered the snout, his yellow washing gloves were no longer yellow and the man's white surgeoners button-up was stained all sorts of colours. Barbara didn't want to know how he'd gotten covered in blood all the way down from his chest and she didn't ask. The man continued, "Why bother to form rumours when I don't star in them? Thurid owes me, I simply brought his attention to it while giving myself a popularity boost!"
Rachel stood silently beside her, Barbara didn't know how to react to that. What Pyg had just said was probably the closest thing to sanity that they were going to get out of him.
"Point still stands," Barbara crossed her arms, aware of the two dollatrons behind Pyg. They seemed twitchy and Barbara wasn't in the mood for a fight. "What did Kong 'owe' you?"
"Parts for my dollies," Pyg sighed and beckoned one forward to cradle its neck between meaty fingers. The dollatron gazed at them, one pupil blue, the other purple. It was emotionless. "Delilah here is a bit unstable on her knees, Kong said he'd give me a few dead ones. He hasn't paid yet."
Barbara shot Rachel a confused glance that was not reciprocated. It wasn't even met. "I thought Kong's Institute only rehabilitated people? Nobody dies there." Surely not?
Pyg raised an eyebrow, twisting his pig mask. "Boy's Insty is a lie — he uses its profits to fuel his fishing rig; Atlantean meat goes for a high price on the black market these days."
What? Barbara frowned.
"Aquaman would realise if his people were going missing," Rachel said. "Atlantis is too deep down to be fished from."
"But not its metahuman colonies," Pyg snorted a giggle and took to stroking one of Delilah's protruding neck cables. "There's so much choice, yes?"
Barbara was shocked Pyg knew all this. Sure enough, Rachel snapped, "How do you know this?"
Pyg tapped his dollies nose and cast them both a shrewd look. "How do y'all not?"
She took that to mean most of Pyg's connections knew about this, yet not heroes. From the troubled shifting of Rachel, the woman was not looking forward to the inevitable meeting.
The dollatron that had stood behind Pyg for the entire time groaned. Pyg shifted back, as if to lend him an ear, and nodded, mouth twisting into a sharp line.
"Hmm," the villain muttered. "Yes, yes. Very good. Say, Nightwing?"
Rachel's katannas glimmered in the moon's rays. Barbara glanced up, finding holes in the roof wide enough to fit Red Hood's intimidating struture. The moon was up, it was getting too late for this. They'd left the Batmobile uncovered out there and although the thought hadn't minded her before, Barbara felt striken at it now. She wasn't sure why.
"What, Valentine? I'm sure you want to get back to Arkham — Kolton, the SIC, is in control now. Did you hear Quincy resigned?"
Pyg's expression wavered at that, eyebrows rising to form an unsure arch at his brow line.
"Is that so?" Pyg whispered, then, louder— "Well, the first little piggy did enjoy the market."
Barbara's brain snapped to automatic as she worked on deciphering that and dodging the screaming dollatron at the same time. Pyg snorted as she wobbled back, batarang drawn just in time to block an arm that had a machete for a hand.
Rachel went for Pyg as Barbara dived under the offending appendage and stuck a batarang into the thing's side. It squeaked, eyes shooting to her as it yanked the 'rang out of its tenth rib.
"The quickest way to a gentleman's heart is through his fifth and fourth ribs," Rachel snickered from the other side of the room before going in for the kill. Pyg yelled and Delilah jumped in front of him, taking a katanna to the throat for its master.
Barbara huffed in an uneasy breath and managed a flip over her attacker, using an old table for leverage. This room had obviosuly been an office once, before the birds and rats had invaded. Now, the place reeked of urine and was white with pigeon crap. The dollatron sprang for her, knocking the batarang out of her hand as it opened its mouth in some grotesque re-imagining of a zombie horror film. Side-stepping, Barbara grabbed the closest thing to her and whacked it up the head.
She dropped the file on its neck at an angle, the sharp metal point protectors ripping fragile skin to let water gush out. The dollatron stumbled, head twisted 180, neck slashed half the way down.
"Really?" Rachel stepped towards her, dragging Pyg behind her. The man uttered an unconscious groan, cableties digging into his skin to make his hands bulge like conjoined sausages. "A file?"
"First thing I seen," Barbara shrugged with a calm that didn't match her brain's hurried messages to her limbs, telling them to stop shaking fingers, start moving legs, get out now.
Rachel regarded her and for a tense moment, neither of them moved. Eventually, the older woman nodded in what seemed to be acceptance. "Smart," she said and left it at that.
"Thanks," Barbara inwardly sighed.
Rachel turned back around and, ignoring Delilah's water-blood curling around her boots, hauled Pyg over her shoulder. Before Barbara could gawk and ask just how she could lift that three hundred pound lump of fat, she was stalking down the stairs, tread unbelievably light despite the weight on her collarbone.
"Guess I'll check the desks," she murmured. There were four desks, one main one in the middle where Pyg had been sitting when Barbara arrived, and three smaller ones along the sides. She began with the one she'd procured the empty file holder from, ruffling through papers yellowed with age and stained by years of rainwater. She became aware of how the entire room, now that she wasn't so focussed on the looming threat of Pyg or his dollatrons, reeked of rotten wood. The floor creaked and shivered, sometimes bending underfoot; it was a miralce no one had fallen through during their fight.
None of the smaller desks brought anything of immense interest, aside from the one closest to the door having a drawer filled to the brim with choclate bars. The main desk unveiled a long, yellow sun dress, with white frills around the edges. Barbara, in her curiosity, checked the dress over and noticed the scrawled 'Delilah' on the label. Huh. Maybe Pyg enjoyed dressing up his creations.
Barbara shoved the dress away, feeling queasy. There was nothing else but a pair of sandals —also labelled 'Delilah'— in that certain drawer, so she put the dress back in and moved on to one of the other five drawers.
She was halfway through the paperwork in the third drawer when Rachel returned, face blank. Barbara tried to not show her worry as she stacked the pages on the dried placemat. Recently, Rachel had been more distant, she wore that blank look more and more and she'd gotten snappier. It had gotten to the point where no one had brought it up with the woman herself but they were all considering on doing it soon. Barbara was surprised Alfred hadn't taken it upon himself to give his 'Mistress' a friendly reminder, but according to the man his plight was that she was rarely about the Manor after Bruce's launch into Space.
None of them really knew where Rachel hung out. Sure, Hood's place was an option but they didn't know where that was, and even if they did, they had no assurance that Rachel would be there. The woman was an ex-Talon — she knew how to cover her tracks, whether she left them in mud or not.
"Well?" Said the woman herself, earlier's compliance long gone. Barbara steeled herself against the cold harshness of her voice and spoke.
"Couple things here, namely a list of henchmen. Mainly names though, no adressess." She spoke quickly, "Two more drawers to go, but I'm fairly certain there's a secret base in this one."
"Open it then," Rachel rounded the table and stood beside her, sleek black claws digging out the rest of the papers. There was a small dent on the bottom of the drawer and Barbara deflated, feeling stupid. There was nothing there but her imagination playing tricks on her. Of course today had to be the day she wanted something cliché to happen.
Rachel peered down at it, eyes narrowed. Barbara readied her apology, braced herself for the scowl that burned through her heart like holy water being cast on a demon's skin. The other woman wound her fingers into a fist and Barbara's stomach leapt at the thought — surely Rachel wouldn't..?
She knocked on the wood. Barbara's stomach settled a bit, bugs racing around her insides to make her twitchy. Rachel knocked again and pulled on her bottom lip with her teeth.
"You hear that," Nightwing said, it wasn't a question despite how it was poised just like one.
"Um," she stalled.
"It's hollow," Rachel responded. "It's obvious with how it sounds... sad."
Right, because that made sense. Something sounding sad obviously meant it was hollow. Obviously.
Barbara had no clue where she was going with her internal monologuing.
"Means maybe you weren't far off with your guess," Rachel shot her a narrowed side-eye glance. It looked robotic, as if the woman was trying to analyse her for faults. Barbara shifted uncomfortably.
"Of course," Barbara felt stupid. First she thought Rachel would hit her; now she couldn't get her head on straight to give her an answer.
Rachel dismissed her entirely and turned her head to look down at the small indentation. Her finger traced it, sharp point of her claw dragging a thin line down it. If she'd been leaning on it any harder she would've peeled the first layer of wood, but as it was, she flexed her claws once —to make them that bit sharper— and stabbed three into the wood. Barbara jumped at the ear-ringing scritch but watched on.
The wood peeled back like the plastic wrapping of cheese and Rachel actually purred at the sight of what was in the carved out space.
It was a Court of Owls dagger and a folded piece of paper.
Rachel grabbed them before Barbara could even blink. She twirled the dagger between her fingers like it belonged there, let it settle in her hand like it weighed nothing and raised an eyebrow in appreciation at the 'C' engraved into it, filled with red mercury and sealed. She flicked open the slip of paper; her lips drew tight.
Desperate to not appear as if she was encroaching, Barbara softly slid open the other drawers and rifled through them both. Nothing but another drawer of sweeties and chocolate bars and a bag of cash. Barbara pulled a scanner out from her belt and scanned the bag, careful to cover every area of it. If there was fingerprints on it, she wanted them. She could always send them to Tim to check out later if she fell short.
Speak of the boy himself — Tim's comm. link whirred to life in her ear. Barbara sorted through the fifties, counting at least fourty bundles, and waited for him to speak. Tim wasn't one for idle chatter so if he was calling it had to be important.
A minute passed, Tim's comm. was still on but he hadn't spoken. It sounded like he was running, air rushing out of his lips to echo in his reciever. Was he on the treadmill? Barbara had been training with him for months and she hadn't once seen him on it, ever.
A glance to Rachel found her zoned out, lenses locked onto the piece of paper in her free hand. Barbara wasn't sure if she'd even moved. Deciding to speak up, Barbara could've sworn she heard a disjointed laugh through her comm. She shivered despite herself. That laugh — it sounded eerily similar to the Joker's.
//Robin,\\ she asked, keeping to codenames simply because Rachel was in the room. Barbara was sure that was one of the other's pet peeves: normal names on the job. //Update?\\
She probably could've been more eloquent with her wording but this was Tim, she didn't need to be perfect all the time around him. Tim learned by example and if all she did was show him pride like Rachel and Bruce did he'd become vain. Barbara wasn't sure she could put up with someone as borderline narcissistic as Rachel occassionally was daily.
A few seconds passed, then those few seconds turned into ten and still Tim hadn't responded. Maybe he was working out and he'd hit his comm or something, had glitched it. That didn't really explain why he didn't respond though, the comm.s were Bruce's design, improved upon by nearly everyone in their 'gang' at some point or other; the Bat's comm. links didn't just glitch.
Barbara opened her mouth to say something again, maybe he hadn't heard her? She was cut off by a scream, then a bonechilling laugh.
Rachel jerked where she stood. The dagger dug into her hand and released Rachel's blood in a few droplets. Barbara's heart was in her mouth, eyes feeling too wide in their sockets and if she hadn't of been so worried for Timothy she would've commented on how the blood that dribbled down the pristine blade was red.
Rachel's hands shook with anger for both of them as she got out a strangled, //Robin!\\
The Joker's laugh echoed in their ears.
"Batmobile, now!" Rachel was rushing down the stairs before Barbara could bark her assent. She switched off her comm. link, unwilling to hear that damned laugh anymore, letting her feet lead her to where she needed to go. Rachel wasted no time in slamming on the 'Mobile's rocket boosters.
Just this once, Barbara could forgive the fact that she burned the shrubbery behind them to a crisp in her hurry.
Because they had a situation, a big one; Joker was out of Arkham. Joker was in the Batcave. Joker had Robin.
And Batman was in Space.
Tim leaned back in his swivel seat as he took a break. Kong was pretty goos at covering up stuff, but not that good. But Tim wasn't stopping because he was tired, he was just angsty. He didn't know why he was angsty, but he just knew he was; it was hard to explain.
His hands felt like they were on fire, twitching for a keyboard. His hairs stood on end and he didn't know why. The Cave was safe, as safe as anything or anywhere he'd ever been. There was no reason to—
A rattle from behind had him jumping. It sounded like a spray can rolling, the little ball inside knocking around. It echoed in the Cave, but the laugh echoed louder.
Tim stood, pulling on the spare domino in the desk as he squared off against the dark. He had to be going crazy, Joker was in Arkham. No way was he—
A hiss and then the green smoke of laughing gas was penetrating the Cave's stale air. Tim rocketed backwards, sprinting for the medbay. If he could get a rebreather then he could fight. If he could fight he could stall until help came.
Tim's lungs burned but he couldn't risk taking a breath —not with Joker's laughing gas in the air. Never before had the medbay seemed so far away. Tim didn't know his heart could beat this fast.
Another stomach curdling, heart stopping laugh rung out and Tim flicked his comm link on. Hopefully they could get the message without him having to poison himself. He prayed they got the message.
Tim's heart hammered. He was scared. His hands were shaking. His spine shivered under the chill of horror. He'd never went up against Joker alone, it was always with Bruce. Or Rachel. Or both. How had the psychopath gotten into the Batcave in the first place? How did he know where it was?
//Robin, update?\\ Barbara's confused voice rushed into his ear. The clown had stopped laughing, why had he stopped laughing? How was he supposed to tell them he was being hunted down like a mouse if the predator pretended it wasn't there.
The medbay door was shut. The lights were off. The medbay door was never shut. The lights were never off.
Tim wasn't thinking straight as he barrelled into it, slamming it open only to slam into a hard sinewy chest. Tim wobbled back as a thin hand grabbed his arm and Joker leaned forward into the light, his grin larger than life. The man's eyes gleamed in the sparse light from the monitors, his breath smelled slightly of fish.
Tim's heart felt like it exploded in his chest as he screamed. Joker laughed, the cackle ringing out shrilly in Tim's ears. The light from the monitors shifted, glinting off the bloodstained crowbar in the Prince of Crime's hand.
//Robin!\\ Rachel sounded worried. Tim's last thought before the crowbar came down was that Rachel never sounded worried.
Chapter 19: Thurid Kong, Enemy of the Parliament
Jason's been busy.
Sorry for the short one today, guys. I'll try to get the next chapter (number 20 already? Shook.) out soon. Thanks for all the support!
Red Hood liked to pretend that he didn't know the meaning of stress.
He liked to prance around like no one bothered him; enjoyed laughing at the thugs who thought they'd irritated him; prefered to lounge on the bar stool in the bar and smile at the barkeep like he was a stunning young man in his twenties merely looking for a fun night out with a few cheeky drinks.
He didn't advertise the part of him that punched holes in the walls of his safehouses, cursing out the people who'd said one wrong thing and sent his mood tumbling; he didn't talk about how he turned off his vocaliser and spat pathetic vanities at those people, seconds after he'd laughed; he told no one of the countless empty bottles, smoked cigarettes and takeout boxes that littered his many couches.
Jason didn't like to talk about stress.
It was almost too humane for him, too much of a shock to the system. It wasn't fair — he'd came back from the peaceful, quiet lull of death to be barreled down with all of this. Jason'd been dragged back to life, been rebestowed with all of its troubles and some, and had been told to get on with it.
There was no time for stress relief. Not in this world.
Maybe, just maybe, whenever he caught a lucky break, took a bullet too close to the neck, or to the heart, maybe whenever he got a bit too reckless and slipped off a roof or fire escape — maybe he'd find the peace he wanted. But right now he was alive.
He was alive and kicking.
"Stop it, that goddamn hurts!" The guy carrying him shifted at the force of a particularly strong kick that Jason was quite proud of, and yelled. He had muscle, he was strong enough to carry Jason after all. The guy had to be at least six foot, because Jason was only kicking the lower of his back. "Hurry the fuck up!"
"Sorry, Michael, here." There was a woman. Sounded afraid. Great, just what Jason needed — a hostage situation. He had a date with Rache' on a rooftop twenty minutes from now, he was not going to let the bozo who'd gotten a lucky drop on him ruin his chances.
In warning, a needle was pressed up against the gap between his glove and its strap. The bared skin was less than a centimetre but that didn't mean it was invisible. Especially with him tied up like this it had to be obvious.
Jason stopped kicking. He was a friend to alcohol and nicotine but not anything else. He didn't do coke or ecstasy, none of that.
"Hey, man, we don't want any trouble." With the words Jason was dropped a measurable distance of at least six foot which confirmed his earlier prediction. He landed on his side and stifled the groan. Quickly he ran over his injuries: his head ached from the blow that had taken him down, his side now hurt but aside from that he was good. "We need help, 's all."
"Help?" He managed an annoyed huff. His helmet was intact, his hands weren't bound nor his feet. The only thing keeping him down with his fatigue.
Jason knew he shoulda taken that nap earlier.
"Y'all came to the wrong guy," he scoffed. "I don't help. I kill."
The silence that rang out did nothing for his nerves.
He looked up from boot clad feet to find a man in a business suit before him, a short blonde with 80s hair beside him. If Jason were honest, the guy completely fit the bodyguard stereotype of bald, shades and a stern frown. The lady, on the other hand, didn't look so much like a hostage than a housewife. She even had the pearly blues and the apron.
God, the bullshit that Jason got into was something serious. Where in fucking hell did he even attract these weirdos?
"Well," the lady sounded softer; kind and gentle, like Catherine had been before the drugs. She smiled down at him. "We need that certain criteria of skills more than most would think."
The fuck? "Who're y'all?"
"Our employer is Mr. Thurid Kong, CEO of Kong's Institution for Reciprocation." The bodyguard guy said, voice thick, tone gruff. "Mr. Kong requires some 'assistance'."
"What sorta 'assistance'?" Jason was pretty damn sure the public did not call the rehab centre for the rich the 'Institute for Reciprocation'. Either these two were high outta their tree —but there was no dilated pupils, no stumbling, no slurred words— or Kong had a little bit of the dirty work going on in the background.
The two shared a look and Jason knew he was gonna have to bail on this as soon as possible. He didn't want any more shit on his plate than he already had. Dealing with Black Mask felt like a life-long endeavour, he didn't have time to poke around a rich man's company.
"Mr. Kong has fallen into a bit of a pithole, you see." The lady said, hands wringing her fingers like she'd rip them off. She reeked of agitated nerves. "He needs a certain someone dead."
Jason didn't like this one bit; one, he hated officials, two, these people were acting like officials and three, he was missing out on sex with Rachel which was completely unnacceptable. Especially since he had to deal with these wimps.
He opened his mouth to respond but in that second his HUD hummed silently, showing a message from 'Wing.
Kong's been traffiking Atlantean meat overseas, it read. Have a feeling he'll try to get an out, keep your eyes open. Can't make tonight, tomorrow?
Jason snorted and stood, brushing grime from his slacks. Rachel had the best timing. He could take that over being ditched.
"Who's he in trouble with?" He asked.
"The Parliament of Dubai," the two said simultanously. Jason's gut plummeted.
"Who?" It sounded like something that was going to ground him in the future. God, he hated these secret organisations. Let the Justice League deal with them, he reasoned.
"They're a secret organisation over in Dubai, with assassins. Mr. Kong made a wrong move at one of their socializers and is now on their, uhm, 'wanted' list. All we need is for you to go in and leave a little message, that's all."
"I need to know a little more than that," he wormed. Even if he wasn't doing it, by god was he going to milk it. "They got a boss? Branching operations? Personnel?"
"William Cobb is their newest leader," said the guy.
"They had a group in Africa, but it was burned out by a wildfire. Russia had one as well, I believe, although they've went silent." The lady continued, nodding along with her associate. "As for personnel, we're unsure but the numbers range from a few hundred to thousands, both assassins and ground workers."
"Y'all know an awful lot," he put that out for debate. Jason was careful where he stepped. These people had caught him off guard while he was getting a smoke, after all. He was sure they had something hidden about them if they'd been able to drag him into a warehouse so quick.
"We've done our research, Mr. Hood. Well? What do you say, are you in or out?"
Jason hummed as if he was considering it.
"Think I'll pass," he pulled out his Glock and got two bullets cleanly into the woman —one mid-chest, one brain— and three into the man —one for his arm as he reached for his gun, one for his dick and a final for his brain. And because he was petty, the woman got a kick and the man got his last bullet of the clip.
He got to work, checking everything from phones to wallets. He took their earpieces and stored all devices in his belt. Jason stood a few second later and turned on his heel, insistent on taking his leave through a high-silled window.
Jason sent Rache' a message:
Got a visit from two of his recently deceased prawns, said he messed up at some Court socializer and is on their wanted list. Asked me to send a message, sound good for a team-up, babe? Thanks for the info, meet tomorrow at usual place. 3am.
Yeah, that would do it.
Chapter 20: Fading Humour
Tim's come to and we get a meeting with the couple who we're all secretly here for; Rachel and Jason. They meet up. It's a bit awkward.
Not spelling checked, or double checked so whoops.
Chapter Twenty has arrived guys. Tell me, anyone here fans of Transformers?
Timothy was slow in waking. As usual, he ran through his surroundings like Bruce had taught him. It was a fun game to play when he woke up, good for getting his brain in the swing of things, so he'd made it a habit for whenever he woke. It was essential to figure out or estimate three things about either his body or his surroundings primarily.
First, he realised that his bed was really hard — thus not his bed. Second, he realised everything smelled very fishy. Third, his head hurt and he was in the Robin suit.
Now that... that was worrisome. Secondarily in the game, he assumed analysis of his situation.
Immediately, he knew he wasn't in the Cave anymore. He wasn't sure where he was.
It was too warm and smelly for the Batcave, the ground was too hard yet too soft. It didn't smell like Bruce's secret disinfectant that he hid from Alfred to clean the floor whenever he stained it.
His head hurt, so he tried to recall his previous hours — as per the game.
What he remembered wasn't pleasant, so Tim ignored that and came to the burning realisation that he'd been kidnapped by the Joker.
Tim's breathing quickened, his throat felt like it was closing up on him. His hands shook, rattled the chains that kept his hands bound behind his back in that uncomfortable position that wrenched his shoulders backwards.
"Looky, looky," Joker crooned from nearby. His voice echoed so Tim assumed they were in some sort of warehouse — perhaps a storage room? It really did stink of fish in here. "The little birdie's woken! Rise and shine, sunshine!"
Tim peeled open his eyes to come face to face with the Clown Prince of Crime. He stopped the knee-jerk reaction of screaming —he would not be screaming like he had before— and settled on his best impression of Bruce's glare.
Most villains —friends as well— tended to rear back at Bruce's glare. They fell back, scared, and Bruce usually only brought the glare out whenever he wanted a quiet night. One look from the Bat Glare and the streets went silent, joked Rachel — the only one old enough to have truly seen it on more than one occassion, aside from Alfred.
But the glare didn't seem to work on Joker and now Tim knew why Rachel had once told him to never copy other people's techniques out on the field, especially when you didn't know the baseline of struture behind it.
It made him feel like a fool as Joker laughed and ruffled his hair.
"Good little Robbie-Boo Two!" Joker grinned down at him. "Say, are you anything like Numero Uno? 'Cuz if so—"
Joker's crowbar reappeared in his hands. It whooshed through the air with a melody of its own, unworthy for the pain that followed.
Tim could only curl up into a ball and hope someone came for him, eyes scrunched closed.
When Joker had taken little Robbie the Second under his proverbial wing and started beating the everloving shit out of him, he had not expected the kid to last quite so long. As it was, the first Brat Wonder has held the World Title for longest to outstand Shelly the Crowbar. It seemed that was no more, alas, as the second Brat was just that bit stronger in the will department despite being a good bit smaller.
Oh how fun it would be to break him, to finally break him and be able to say that he, the Joker, broke not one Robin but two.
If Harley were here, she'd be so proud. He just knew she'd be.
But no, Harls had left him for a tiddle. Went off to pester her 'friends' that cared so much less for her than he did. Whatever; Joker would just have to show her the fun he could have without her.
It was certainly lonely. He specially missed the hyenas; Louis mainly, that mutt was the best biter.
Ah, what a shame.
"I played this little game with the first one, y'know. It's the simple old question: which one hurts most, A or B?" A, of course was the backhand; B the shoulder rolling swing. On both occassions something cracked, but not once did the boy scream.
Joker would've said he was impressed was he not growing bored. Robbie-Boo One had been screaming at this point, wailing for the useless wench behind him to be set free. He could still hear the moment his scream cut short into the third double whammy from Shelly's mother, Sinthea. (Who had unfortunately bent the wrong way after whacking Killer Croc. Rest in peace.)
Those were the good ol' days.
Had he lost his touch? Maybe. Was that why the kid wasn't screaming yet? Possibly.
Well, he'd have to do something about that, wouldn't he?
"Sooo," he giggled, resting Shelly on his shoulder. She grated on his tweed suit, purring in his ear for more blood. He peered down at the boy, enjoying how the puddle of blood glittered around him. "Uncle Joker's getting bored, any ideas kid?"
There was no response. Joker gave the kid another whack up the ribs.
He got a groan.
"Hm, yes. Good idea, kiddo, totally forgot about that one!"
Joker leaned down and grabbed the brat's blood soaked hair. He whispered into his ear, "Batsy ain't comin' 'cause daddy don't care. He's too busy righ' now, but I'll take ya in. I can see it now — Little J, no, Joker Jr! Yes, yes, yes!"
He laughed, good and long. When he was done he sighed happily, wiping a tear from his eye.
"Haven't had a good laugh like that in a while now, lemme tell ya—"
He raised Shelly again.
"Seems Shelly wants in on the fun too!" She whispered for blood; blood Joker would give. Gerry Couscous could wait for a bit, he'd given him three days, after all.
Tomorrow is now today and it's two fifty-nine am of a bleak looking Saturday morning. Jason's sitting on one of the gargoyles on Wayne Tower, their usual place, waiting for Rachel to show.
Rachel was late; a rare enough occurence that Jason was beginning to worry. It wasn't often he appeared at the Platform to find it as empty as they left it the meeting before. Rachel was always there first, if by ten or five minutes.
But, not wantng to work up a fuss over nothing, he sat down on one of the pretty one's back and whistled. As he whistled, he thought.
He'd been pretty busy recently. Deflecting tensions between his boys and Black Mask's, chasing up the bastard that thought he could tote his gun around and not think of the consequences before he pulled the trigger, running the IDs he got from Kong's people through the Bat Computer without being caught by the tween Replacement. All in all, yes, he'd been busy. Sue him if he just wanted a soft night where he could hang out with Rachel and relieve some tension.
The digital clock on his arm guard computer hit three thirty-one before the snap of a cape behind him told him Rachel'd decided to show.
"Better late than never," he drawled, helmet resting on his thigh. Rachel didn't move, the only sign she was there being the wind that suddenly seemed to howl around her. Silence would normally be worrying, silence with anyone else would irritate him. But silence with this woman was normal, it was welcomed. Silence with Rachel meant she was thinking, or brooding.
Sometimes it felt as if thinking and brooding were the same thing for Rache'.
"You wanna go down round the Precinct?" He tried for conversation. "Heard Gordon's made some changes to the signal."
"Jason," Rachel sounded so tired that it stopped him in his place. He turned around, shifting to face her bodily, and found her standing there, head bowed, shoulders taut as a cord of cable.
He didn't let his surprise show. "What happened?"
This time the silence was wholly unwelcome. Then, she started, voice so low Jason had to lean forward to hear over Gotham's excited clamour. "The Cave's been breached," and while that wasn't too big a surprise. "Joker's taken Robin. He— he's taken Tim."
A sharp chill struck his bones, his stomach rose then shrivelled in on itself. He didn't know what to feel.
On one hand, he hated the boy who'd taken Robin from him — dead maybe as he was. He despised the kid who Bruce brought onto the bandwagon not a year, not even nine months, after he'd died. Jason hated the Replacement and would sooner put a clip through his head than help him.
On the other hand, the Joker had kidnapped him. Jason shivered at the thought of someone going through what he went through. He may not like the kid, but he was still that; a kid.
And Rachel had used his real name when she was in the suit. She hated people doing that, breaking that rule. She never did it herself. That spoke volumes for her mental state.
"Do you know where he is?" Jason immediately asked.
Rachel looked stricken. "No," her voice was barely a whisper as she wrapped her arms around herself. This physical image in front of him made Jason uncomfortable, just knowing that Rachel was this lost made his stomach churn. "We've been looking but we... we just can't find anything. We don't even know how he got out of Arkham."
"What?" He stood up, uncomfortable being so low down. The city rumbled beneath them, unaware of the sudden danger they'd been thrust into.
"The cameras went out, I got a hold of a few guys past Kolton's watch but all they could say was a guy wearing grey sweater let him out and vanished." Rachel turned away from him, frown set deep as she stared, unseeing, out at the city. "There was nothing in the Cave but a— a blood splatter."
Jason understood; the situation was past grim, going into parlous. They needed to find the kid now, before a line of warehouses were blowing up.
"I tried contacting the girl," Jason didn't know who Rachel was referring to, but he listened carefully regardless. "Although she seems to have dropped off the grid."
"You can't find her?" Some rando chick or not, no one hid from Rachel with great success. Rachel was a goddamn ex-Talon; she didn't get the boundary of 'I'll shoot you' because she was fucking immune — well, not really, but his description was close enough.
"No," Rachel was annoyed. Jason wanted to know every reason why, wanted to see how this was stacking up on her so he could begin to unload her workload, strip the bricks from the foundation. The thought was fruitless as Jason had never really been good at reading the normal people. Rachel wasn't anywhere near normal. "Its like she's completely disappeared. I couldn't even track her through her Mother, all the woman does is drink."
Jason still had no clue who this girl was. "Who are we talking about exactly?"
Rachel gave him a look. It was the type of look Jason would give his men whenever they asked a particularly stupid question and had made the last thirty minutes of discussion void in the general run of things.
He winced and gave what he hoped was a reassuring smile.
"Stephanie Brown," he didn't recognise the name. Rachel tried again, "Timothy's girlfriend — or, ex." Nope. "Cluemaster's daughter?"
"Clue has a kid?" He questioned.
Rachel sighed. "B said the same thing. Yes, he does, and she's running about these streets with an assassin."
"Okay then," she'd certainly been a lot quicker than him but that was alright. Jason liked competition. Occasionally. He'd bet Rachel was prettier anyway.
The wind picked up, nearly blowing away Rachel's words. She raised her voice accordingly. "She's running around with Cassandra Cain, wearing a League uniform whilst jumping off buildings."
"Ah," now that was a tad bit more worrying but Rachel was defiantly prettier. "Why didn't you lead with that? And how come you can't find her if you know what she's doing?"
"You infuriate me, Todd." Rachel growled, eyes slitted thin. "I only know about this because they're taunting us, purposefully being caught on CCTV. I need someone to confront them, and they won't run at the sight of you."
Jason could hear the unspoken "hopefully" loud and clear despite the sirens that decided to start up street-side at that very moment.
"You want me to talk to them," he smirked. "And what, try and persuade them to stop jumping off buildings without your permission?"
Rachel looked at him as if that was the obvious answer. Jason let out a startled laugh, not quite sure if he was dreaming or not. His dreams didn't usually take a turn like this but he supposed if this was the continuing pattern moving forward, he could get used to it.
"See, I can't," Rachel raised an eyebrow. "Because I'm gonna help you with the Replacement."
Rachel opened her mouth, expression sharp. Jason cut her off, "No, Rache'. If you want someone to talk to them send Batgirl or someone, not me. You've already told me about him, so I'm helping."
Rachel still looked ready to argue.
"I'm helping," he said. "Whether you like it or not."
The wind seemed to stop howling, content with their arrangement. To Jason, the city glowed that bit brighter. One bit in specific stood out.
"Hey, isn't that the old fish factory?" He pointed and Rachel looked. The old bricked warehouse —one of the few original buildings still standing since Gotham's revamp— was glowing with life, the lights inside making the sunroof windows gleam. "I thought it was shut down years ago."
Rachel's frown took on a sideward lilt. "It was," she said, hand already reaching for her comm. unit. "Barbara I need you to meet up with Stephanie and Cain, you know what we need."
//And you?\\ Jason heard echo along the line.
He and Rachel shared a meaningful look. "Hood and I are going to check out a lead."
The comm buzzed with excitement as Barbara signed off.
Jason nodded, helmet back on. His voice was deeper, maybe even a tad angry. "Let's go."
Nightwing took a step off the edge and fired her grapple. Red Hood jumped after her.
Chapter 21: A Union of Ash, Dust and Dirt
The bird gets loose of the clown.
A shadow passed over the window, unseen by both the warehouse's inhabitants.
"Nearly been two days now, Robbie-Boo Two." Joker giggled, Shelly slung over his shoulder. He strode around the limp Robin in a tight circle, sneering over him ever chance he got. "Couscous'll be comin' for ya soon, so I s'pose I'll let ya in on somethin'."
Robin —lying in a bloody puddle, arm twisted at a horrific angle, legs bound with five different binding forms from chain to rope— didn't respond. But his ears worked.
"Story time:" Joker let Shelly scrape along the old concrete floor. The shrill noise was enough to give anyone a headache although Joker laughed, unfazed. "Once upon a time, I was a good man. I had a wife, had a boring, normal life."
Shelly dug into Robin's side. "You like my rhyme?" Joker clapped. "Yes, well. One day, I decided my wife wasn't good enough. I cut her head off, left her in a puddle of acid. She'd been cheating, y'see, with the man three doors down. When finished with her, I went to see the guy. He screamed a bit, asked what I'd done."
A pause. "Do you know what I'd done?"
Robin didn't move, didn't dare breathe as the man leaned down and breathed into his ear. The hairs on the back of his neck stood bolt upright.
"I'd given myself my grin," the man sounded weird, nostalgic almost. "When I killed my wife, it slipped, so I cut it so I'd always have one! Smart, right? But Arnold —the cheater— didn't like it much. So I painted his kitchen with brain matter."
"Enough about me," Joker crooned, he tugged Shelly down the cement. "What about you?"
Joker had been sharpening his crowbar on the cement, hence the scraping. The sharpened point dug into Robin's abdominal area and he screamed. It hurt so much, but he could do nothing but whimper and curl into himself.
"Ah, yes — how interesting!" Joker leaned down again, caressed his cheek with a blood soaked hand before backing off. "Well, I wish we had more time together but the guy who got me out, Terry Gerry Couscous, wants you. Gave me three days to get you and I'm quite ashamed to say it took me an entire day to find that secret entrance to Batsy's Cave! Quite good too, hidden in a bush."
"But," the lunatic — no, monster. Joker was no man, Robin settled on, he was a monster who fed off of others pain. A sadistic bastard who should die. Robin hoped he'd die. Wished he could kill him but then that wouldn't make him Robin anymore and he'd have to leave, get a new name and he couldn't do that.
Robin couldn't loose the only family that hadn't abandoned him yet. He couldn't.
"All good things come to an end, am I right?"
The monster laughed, mouth ripping wide into a roar, stitches tearing. It shook with its laughter, form doubling in on itself.
The sunroof window caved in, glass smattering everywhere. Two hooded figures jumped in, one landing with an impressive twirl, the other a casual tuck and roll.
Robin looked up, hoping it was someone he knew. Grey eyes stared at him, emotionless, the other blue pair held pain. Robin curled into himself tighter as the monster behind him choked on its laugh and charged.
The woman with grey eyes jumped nimbly out of the monster's wild swing of Shelly the crowbar. Robin felt sorry for the crowbar as it snicked against a familiar pair of crossed katannas. A red helmet reflected the too bright lights of the warehouse, reflected them back into Robin's eyes and forced him to close them.
Nightwing was here now, she'd save him.
A quarter of his family was here. One quarter wasn't a lot but that quarter was Nightwing. She was more than capable. She'd save him.
A gunshot rung out, one then two, then three. The slash of katannas multiplied, a throwing star came awfully close to his head and Robin flinching back was the only thing that kept him his frontal lobe.
"Sorry, Rob!" Yelled a familiar voice. Robin looked up, into recognisable blue eyes.
"Steph," he choked out past the phlegm and blood. "What are you—?"
"Get down!" Red Hood interrupted them, the warehouse already going up in flames behind him.
It happened almost in slow motion for Robin. Stephanie dropped over him, spreading her cape wide to cover him, arm curled around his head. Robin kept his eyes open for as long as he could, watched the LED lights flicker out, their supportive strings snap. He seen the wall meld with the force of the built-in explosives, stared at the bubble of flame as it popped and spread over them. Red Hood was pulled under Nightwing's cape, the grey eyed woman curled her cape around herself and ducked.
Stephanie shifted, covering his face, and time reset itself. The heat washed over them like a tsunami in full swing.
Stephanie coughed. She pulled her head up and gaped at the sheer destruction. Ash was everywhere, swamping her lungs. Small fires burned over wooden planked stabilizers creating a horrible snapping sound that rung in her sensitive ears. The old bricks of the walls were scattered as far as the eye could see, either crushed to dust or having acted as meteorites to dent craters into the old cement base.
Stumbling to her feet, she checked Robin over. Cassandra hadn't went over First Responder stuff with her just yet, but Steph knew enough from school and ads that she had to make sure he was breathing. Robin'd been breathing before the explosion but that had been before the explosion.
He was in bad shape, that was for certain, his eyes were barely slits whenever he opened them when she leaned down for a pulse check. Steph tried to give him a hurried, reassuring smile as she grimaced at his arm.
Robin groaned, tried to pull his good arm under him to sit up, and she reckoned she hadn't really pulled off the reassuring part.
"Hey, hey, cool it, stay calm, Tim." She steadied him when he jolted upright. The boy may have been down an arm but he was sure mobile. "You're okay now, we're here."
Cassandra had caught word that Joker'd landed himself a 'get out of jail free' card —in Steph's words— and they'd followed the trail to the old fish warehouse. Cass had looked unsure when she'd first caught the whispers, and maybe she'd been scared of interfering with her 'company's' work but in the end Steph had been able to talk her into it. Because Gotham needed Robin as much as it needed Batman, and right now it seemed Batman was on holiday.
"Nnhh," Tim tried to speak but only got out an incoherent groan. Stephanie was becoming worried, both for his injuries and the stillness of the ruins around her. Where was Cass? "N'wing... where?"
Stephanie had gotten pretty good at the guessing game recently, especially considering she kinda lived with 'Cassandra the mute' nowadays.
"Nightwing's somewhere behind us, she should be okay." Steph risked pulling her head up, bringing her eyes up into the line of fire for the smoke, ash and dust once more. It was like a volcano had erupted right beside her and her suit was beginning to stick to her with the sweat her body was producing to cool her down. The place was a wreck, Stephanie doubted if Nightwing really was 'alright'. All around them had been barraded and it seemed it was by the luck of the draw they'd narrowly missed being flattened by a stabilizer.
Metal groaned behind them. Tim stilled in her arms, awkwardly shuffling so that he could start to pull the bindings from his legs. Panic beating through her veins, Stephanie reached over to tug at the rope with a kunai. Tim seemed to be fairing well enough unwrapping the chains so she let him be, ever aware of the shifting of the flames around them.
Sixteen feet away, a burning wooden stabilizer slowly began to rise. Stephanie began cutting at the rope quicker, moving onto the final piece. Not five seconds later the wooden plank was raised high enough that both of them could see Nightwing —suit ripped and dusty, breathing hard— under the beam, slowly rising to her feet. Relief mingled with the awe as Steph spotted Cass with Nightwing and Red Hood.
Cass seemed uninjured, sending her a nod as Nightwing lifted the plank high enough for them to get under, bricks sliding down behind them like a mudslide on a slope. Nightwing was shaking, her arms stretched out above her, taking the brunt force of the burning stabilizer like she was weightlifting. She hissed something and Cass scurried out, a limping Red Hood leaning on her. Steph would've helped, wanted to so badly, but Tim became deadweight against her side and she refocused her attention on him, scrambling to get the remaining loop of chain off his legs.
Cassandra appeared by her side, Red Hood looking grim with his smashed helmet clutched in the fingers that weren't quivering around a gun. A loud clatter that was the indistinguishable hollow smash of wood against brick sounded behind them and Nightwing made her way towards them, tan skin ashen, lips parted for whatever air remained amongst the smoke. She coughed but managed to crouch beside Tim in a way that looked more like she was collapsing than sitting.
Red Hood stood a little straighter, pulled himself up to his full height despite his pained look past the red domino. "Cain and I will do area reckon, see if the Clown's still here."
Nightwing nodded, mask ripped at the edge, peeling in the middle. Stephanie shifted uneasily and received a sharp look. Relenting to the silent command, Stephanie held Tim up while Nightwing's hands flitted over the boy, checking things and doing motions that had Steph reconsidering her meager knowledge. Red Hood and Cassandra split, Cass going to the left and Hood to the right. They were barely visible from behind the mess of dust and rubble.
"Tim—" Nightwing's voice broke. "Robin? Robin, can you hear me? Robin?"
Nightwing shifted, leaning forward to peel back Tim's mask that was surprisingly still on. She checked his pupils and Stephanie sneaked a peek; normal, but rolled up. He was unconscious, she was sure.
"Shit," Nightwing whispered instead, ripping off a clawed glove that kept its form with all the kevlar plating in it (therefore making it a gauntlet). She felt around Tim's head, brushing back the shaggy black mop of hair atop it as she went. A moment later, the woman looked at her and looked thirty years older. "He's went down from the pain, unconscious for now. We need to get him to the Cave."
"The Cave?" Stephanie scrambled to catch up, feeling like she was tugging her brain along on a leash fifteen yards behind. "Where—?"
"Right," Nightwing grabbed the loose part of her mask and pulled it off. Rachel Wayne's cold blue eyes stared at her, sparkling with shards of grey in them that Steph had never noticed before. "I'm—"
A new voice cut her off. "Rachel Wayne."
Rachel stilled, face twisting into a snarl that Stephanie got the feeling she wasn't meant to see. "Ra's al Ghul."
"Such manners. Not what I expected from the Detective's daughter but, mind you, I am aware of your circumstance." A man, wearing some long shawl-dress thing with golden flower designs on it, appeared. He looked rich, beard, eyebrows and hair all neatly trimmed back, arms folded behind his back. Ra's seemed unaffected by the smoke which swarmed around them all. "Thus, I will let it slide. Now hand over the boy."
"And you'll what? 'Leave without a fuss'?" Rachel growled low, slowly rising on her knees. Stephanie could tell from the look of her —how she wobbled even on her knees— that she'd overexerted herself. Nightwing was in no condition to fight, and this Ra's guy knew it too.
"If you wish," he agreed easily. His smirk was cruel. "All I want is Drake, and you and your boy can leave in one piece."
Nightwing growled —literally growled deep in her throat, the rumbling type that tigers gave when they were feeling threatened— and Stephanie was giving her original theory a re-evaluation.
"Robin is mine," she hissed, low and deadly. In a moments notice she was standing, clawed gauntlet back on, back straight as an alligators. Ra's chuckled darkly and made a peaceful motion with his hands. "You won't get him."
"Ah, but the Clown got him?" Ra's raised a condescending eyebrow. A frown flashed across his face before vanishing. "You are wasting the boy's potential, he has the ability to do so much more for your petty crusade yet you do not seem to notice. Is your blood truly hindering you that much, Wayne?"
Shifting, Nightwing stalked forward. Stephanie didn't know what she was doing, if she was initiating a fight she must be suicidal.
Cass, she privately screamed. Where are you?
Ra's caught Nightwing's ploy before it was even played. The man smirked, "Wanting a fight, Wayne? Surely you want to leave your energy for Napier."
Who? Stephanie thought. Rachel seemed to know who that was though, and growled again. She'd taken to crouching low, fingertips grazing ruined cement and fragmented brick. Steph wasn't sure if that was to pounce on the old guy or a position to get off her wobbling legs.
"Surprised you know how to pronounce that, Ra's." Rachel snarled. "I didn't take someone of your position to speak to the lowlies."
"What can I say, I get bored stuck in the Throne Room all day. Saudi Arabia is just so warm and dry."
"And we're not? I take it you were the one to free him." It wasn't a question but Ra's nodded along anyway. "I don't know why you bothered. Jack runs his own agenda."
"I am well aware. Originally I hired the man to merely capture the Boy Wonder but he got out of hand. Hence my arrival in this dull city. Hand the last Drake over and I'll consider letting you live a few minutes longer, Grayson."
"Don't call me—" Nightwing started, voice coated in venom.
Ra's interrupted her involuntarily as he grunted, forced to backflip away from Cassandra's twin katanna. Nightwing seized the opportunity, not letting Ra's reaction spread further than his face twisting in fury.
A gesture was shared and Nightwing lunged for Ra's back the same time Cass went for his front. Ra's pulled a sword a few inches longer than Cass' and met her head on. The two swords glinted off each other, clanging as the speed picked up. Stephanie gawked as her ears splintered at the shrill noise.
This Ra's al Ghul, whoever he was, seemed completely unperturbed about having to deal with a rabid Nightwing slashing at him and a calm, collected Cassandra charging him, both at the same time. Stephanie watched, in shock as Nightwing frontflipped over the man's arm, pulling her blade down the front of his dress.
Cassandra took a step back, more alert than Steph had ever seen her. Both her and Nightwing kept their gazes locked on the man, unrelenting in their ferocity. Ra's gave them both an unimpressed look as the front if his robe tied dress fell apart, revealing black body armour - weaved kevlar, if Stephanie's eyes weren't deceiving her. It was literally weaved, like tweed, it wrapped around him perfectly, giving him the bulk of a samurai and the agility of a cat.
Although, he'd probably been that agile before the armour.
Ra's spun, so quick Stephanie could only make out the blurred whirlwind of him as he cane into contact with Nightwing. He was muttering things, tone sharp, and Cassandra didn't seem to like what it was he was saying. The pace picked up, Cass in front, Nightwing lagging behind to catch the blades being thrust from within the tornado of motion. With a startle, Stephanie realised none of the blades were aimed in her general direction — only the girls'. Likely because of Tim.
Ra's must really like him if he wasn't trying to murder him like the two females going up against him.
Red Hood eased onto the scene, sliding down a particularly steep ledge of rubble, an odd figure attached to him hand down. When he got closer, Stephanie was able to make out the blob.
It was no blob at all. It was the Joker, unconscious and bleeding from a wound on his head.
Hood didn't seem particularly interested in joining the fight that was literally raging before them, instead he made his way over to Steph and Tim and dropped to his butt beside them. He offered a tired huff, sparing Tim a concerned look before kicking the Joker in the ribs for good luck.
Joker was tied up in several places, mainly his hands and wrists, across his chest, his thighs and ankles. Thick rope bound his knees together, knotted so tight his legs bent at an odd angle to relieve pressure on them. The maniacs head lolled on his neck as he was dropped to the ground, entire body limp as feathers.
"Not as light as he looks," Hood grunted, pulling up his legs to rest his wrists on his knees in a loose sprawl. He looks at home on their chunk of concrete, uprooted by a large chunk of the roof. Stephanie wished for nonchalance like his.
"You check him for weapons?" That had been one of the first things Cass had taught her.
"'Course," Hood snorted, gaze trained on the two females engaging the weird old coot. "He's got nothin' but the crowbar and the empty acid-shootin' flower."
Well, that certainly explained the purple petal'd flower attached to his suit jacket. It shot acid, probably when squeezed or when a button was hit. It was ingenious, a good up-close weapon that had a few shots out of it before people caught on and started running. No doubt, the acid was mutilating.
"You don't seem to be in much of a hurry," she said before her mind caught up with her mouth.
Hood shot her an odd look but laughed like it was the funniest thing he'd ever heard. "I ain't no hero to be doin' the fightin', kid. I'm here of my own accord, helpin' out my lady. Tha's all."
Ah, that explained why he was sitting here — he didn't have a reason to fight. But then, he kinda did.
"Why aren't you helping her then?"
"She's more than capable," Hood shrugged. "Same goes for Cain. Neither of then two need any help."
Something stirred in Stephanie's gut, horribly like the feeling she got when people from school stringed her along on their dramas only to drop her by the side bench whenever their drama was resolved. It was like they thought she was some rent-a-Steph, willing to fill the gap of silence for a little while before—
Cass was her friend though, right? She wouldn't abandon her. Not willingly, she hoped.
"What are you going to do about him?" She asked, looking pointedly at the lax form of the Joker.
"Might put drop him in with Arkham again, after we're done with him." Hood said, eyes narrowing as Nightwing barely dodged Ra's blade. They watched as Cassandra jumped, bending her knees, and came down on the man with a chokehold worthy of a god.
Ra's tried to shake her off. 'Tried' being the operative word in that sentence.
Instead, the man stumbled like a newborn foal, cursing like a sailor while he was at it. Cassandra gritted her teeth, the tightening of her jaw visible with the sparse light filtering over them from the fallen roof. The assassin tightened her hold and somehow forced Ra's figure straighter, opening him up for Nightwing.
The vigilante woman charged with a grunt, sword piercing the mans chest in a horrible show of blood and gore. Her katanna pierced through his body, the blood stricken side tearing through the breast plating seam in his armour.
Ra's al Ghul coughed, red blood dribbling down his chin. When he offered Nightwing a final grin, his teeth were red. "I'll get him eventually," the man gurgled. He tipped backwards, Cassandra jumping up onto her feet to let the man die alone. He glared at her. "And you, traitor, you... will pay."
Then he went limp; he was dead.
Red Hood stood, slowly clapping. Nightwing panted, shaking hands sliding her katanna back into their sheathes. She shot him a "you couldn't have helped?" look and placed her hands on her hips, stretching out her back with a groan.
Cassandra wasn't in much better shape than Wayne, her cape ripped and torn. It was a wonder how her hood was still up, but it was up and she used the shadow it cast to tilt her head down and regain her breath. Both women were panting, both sweating and Stephanie wondered if they would've won were it one on one. She wasn't sure she wanted to know the answer to that.
"Robin's bleeding out over here," she said at the same time Hood congratulated them on 'taking down the Demon's Head'.
Rachel, eyes regaining some of that azure blue, staggered over to them, eyes flitting between Robin and the Joker.
"We could bring him with," Hood suggested, already hauling Joker by the scruff of his collar. Stephanie fidgeted, then hooked an arm under Tim's and hauled him to his feet. He couldn't support himself, unconscious as he was, but Steph was more than able to take his weight. Still, Cass picked her way towards them and grabbed the other arm, helping her to lift him.
Rachel Wayne shot them an uneasy look, then she reached up to her ear. She tapped a small, translucent earpiece. "Batgirl," she announced. "We need an immediate evac. Bring Gloria."
Chapter 22: It Is Death Who Rewards The Weak
Rachel and Jason have had enough. They deal with a problem that Batman should've ridden Gotham of years ago.
Gloria, as it turned out, was the Batwing — that plane with jagged wings? Yeah, it. Gloria is, apparently, its preferred name (according to Rachel, but who really trusts her on these things?). Jason doesn't get it but then, he doesn't really care too much, so he doesn't let it bother him.
Cain hovered by Cluemaster's kid, cautiously alert in her silence. Her fingers occasionally strayed out, as if to touch her back, but every time, by chance, Jason'd looked up at the movement and Cain had dropped her arm. It would've been unnerving if Jason didn't understand it. He wanted to do the same thing with Rachel. Jason's instincts were still on the fritz from having half a building come down on top of him and all he wanted to do was reach out for Rachel and pull her into a hug.
Unfortunately, Rachel wasn't really the 'hug-friendly' type and she didn't appreciate weakness being shown in front of unknowns. Which, raincheck, was the two brats sitting opposite him. Sometimes the Bat-bred paranoia really got in the way of things, it certainly made sneaky cuddles trickier than they had the right to be.
The Batwing was big —bigger than one might think when looking at it from the outside— but it was no secret black was slimming. Batman's chosen gloomy colour scheme hid the Batwing's bulk well, allowing it to blend listlessly with Gotham's dark smog with its grey tinted underbelly.
Inside, there was the cockpit where Rachel sat with Batgirl, the two silent as mice. In the back was a loading bay with an emergency pull-out barrier cot. The cot was more metal than cushion, of course, but it was better than bleeding out on the floor. Thinking on it, Jason assumed the cot absorbed some of the shaking and turbulence that grasped them every now and then. There was also a few pull down chairs, which he and the two brats were sitting on, getting their asses frozen off.
Back to the real people: Cluemaster's kid, Stephanie Brown. Apparently she'd been the Replacement's girlfriend for at least half a year but it had gone downhill very suddenly, with the Replacement unwilling to talk about it. Turned out she'd went out onto the streets as Spoiler, after figuring out her boyfriend was Robin, and had tried to fight crime. Instead of supporting her, or disuading her, Replacement'd left her. One reason of many why Jason was the better option for his Boy Wonder cape and mask; he wouldn't have left her to die, he would've at least trained her.
But nope, Replacement had left Stephie and forced her to run about of her own devices. There, she'd met Cassandra. How she even knew the girl's name was a mystery but no one had asked. As far as Stephanie 'Spoiler' Brown knew, Cassandra Cain was mute, had hella good skills and had agreed to train her. All while housing her away from her alcoholic mother.
The teen probably seen Cain as some sort of saviour — a last chance given at the very end. Whatever way she seen her, Stephie had accepted the offer of training and had put on a League of Assassin's cloak to jump off rooftops in.
Jason knew, from one glance, there was more than a bit of saviour-worshipping going on there. No one jumped off rooftops without a damn good reason, and he figured he knew hers.
Cassandra Cain, on the other hand, was still as mysterious as the day she'd been born. Jason wasn't sure how she'd communicated her name, or how she would help Stephie but she had and here she was. At least with Ra's dead the girl wouldn't be out to cut their throats just as quick.
From the cockpit, Batgirl turned in her chair with an uneasy cough. "Manuvering for the Cave will begin very soon, I'd suggest you all put on your seatbelts."
Jason, used to the rough ride but not to Rachel's hectic piloting, decided to snap his belt on.
The landing wasn't rough, but it wasn't smooth either.
Rachel barely noticed.
With Bruce up in space, Alfred off on a rare holiday blissfully unaware, it fell to her to be in charge. Being in charge was simple, it meant you had to issue out the correct orders and hold the reigns.
Holding the reigns, she'd found, was very hard to do whilst shaking.
Tim was light, practically weighed nothing on a good day for her, so she picked him up in a cradle as Gloria landed. The old girl had sputtered a bit throughout the journey but she'd held up her end of the baragain and gotten them to the Cave in no less pieces than they'd walked into her in.
The Cave was cold and dark, the lights blinking on as the loading bay door opened. Rachel stormed past the console, leaving it to Barbara to get back to surveillance (no doubt pawns from the Shadows would come looking for their dead master), and entered the Medbay.
Medbay was dust-free, due to Alfred's promise of saying they'd need it clean and ready. Finding a cot was fast, with two of four pre-prepared. She hooked up the IV lines and heart monitor quickly, loading Tim with enough painkillers to leave him beautifully numb for just long enough for her to right his broken bones.
Jason flitted in, pulled off his gloves and applied a cast to his arm. Rachel buzzed around him easily, ripping off Tim's damned uniform and covering him with a blanket. Her eyes burned at the bruises, itched at the sight of broken ribs and before long she was working on auto-pilot, oblivious to Stephanie Brown's worried presence in the doorway.
An hour later, Tim was stable and slowly beginning the human process of healing. Rachel steped back and took what felt like her first ever breath, mind clicking back into place. Her lungs ached, and not from the smoke she'd inhaled. She turned, to see if anyone was on the Computer and only saw her glowing yellow eyes reflected back at her. Rachel jumped, pushing down the other one's instinct to tremble.
Her cortisol levels had risen, hence the yellow. Stress was never good, for it or her heart.
Jason cleared his throat and her eyes shot to glare at him. The man was slouched in the doorway, hair dripping with the fresh waterfalls shower water, the scent of mint floating her way. He looked tired, eyes red like his fists.
"I shooed them all upstairs," he said. "The two brats are in the guest bedrooms with the sensors marked 'round 'em. Joker's in the cell. He can wait 'til the 'morrow."
"Good," she nodded and felt dizzy. Her fingers rose to prod at her eyes, to stop them burning, but they froze inches away, coated in blood. "I hope you're going to replace any broken shower tiles."
"'Course, eventually." His coy smile was fleeting, disappearing in favour of a pinched look that looked wrong on her favourite mob boss. Jason propped himself up, pushed off the door and pulled her towards the showers. "C'mon, baby. Let's get you washed."
"You've done enough, Rachel." Jason said ever so softly, voice rumbling in her ear as he bent down to mouth a kiss into her hair. "Your eyes are yellow."
"I know," she said. Her heart sunk with the very acceptance. Deep down, the devil called out her weaknesses as it purred.
Jason shot her a not-quite-disappointed look and tugged her towards the showers.
Stephanie lay in the too soft, too cold, too big, lonely, queen sized bed in silence.
The Manor felt so empty, was so silent. Before when she'd been here there had always been the hum of Tim beside her, always was there Alfred shuffling around in the kitchen. Maybe there was even the chink of chains or the clang of metal from what Tim said was a gym in the basement.
Now Stephanie knew what that 'basement' really was. Knew why Tim had been so restrained about it when she'd asked if she could see it -because y'know, a billionaire's gym had to be filled with all those shiny expensive things that looked good and she'd wanted to snoop. She knew why Tim had timed her visits to the Manor when either his father and sister were out, or at least his sister.
Tim hadn't wanted her to meet Rachel.
Rachel fucking Wayne. Rachel who was cold hearted, katanna weilding Nightwing. The woman who killed people without a second thought if they came too close. Had Tim been scared of loosing her? Or had it been something deeper, something more primal that had made him scared of his sister like he was scared of loosing Stephanie?
It was this very theory she was mulling over when her door creaked open and Cassandra entered, quiet as a mouse. In the moonlight shining in through the open window Cass's eyes shone like a beacon, her lips glistening. Something tightened inside Stephanie before loosening.
The other girl offered her a nod before sitting down on the seat beside her bed. Stephanie winked at her in greeting, keeping her nose buried in the blankets. Then, she pulled an arm out of her mound of fluff, realised the cold temperature, and offered the spot beside her to Cass.
It was not the first time Joker had woken up in a very dark place and he was sure it would not be the last. Although, usually he managed to find the way out before anything happened in what was probably a territory-held backalley.
Except, this time he hadn't managed to get out, or even find out where he was. It had to be during some sort of eclipse or something because he couldn't see. And he wasn't blind, no, Joker would've known, wouldn't be able to see the barest shadow of his hands in front of his face. But that was all he could see, his hands and nothing more.
Maybe he'd become some sort of disembodied ghost with hands and a face but nothing else. Did he still have his grin? Joker wanted to see, wanted to make sure his beautiful, pretty grin was still there. Then he could rest, accept his ways, accept his chosen path, but he had to see his grin. He could feel his grin but he'd ran into the Bats and they always found ways to trick him. Feeling wasn't enough, he had to see it. Had to, needed to.
"Hellooo?" He called. The lights turned on before he got to some of his more drastic measures, a low hum reverberating through his head as his eyes strained.
He was greeted with the sight of being in a very big, black walled box. It was completely metal aside from the large glass window that hovered above his head, just out of arm's reach. Nightwing stood there, arms crossed, looking none too happy, with Red Hood beside her, face pinched into a firm frown, helmet swapped out for a red domino.
Joker spread his arms wide and welcomed them to the show. He pulled his lips apart and felt his grin as he beamed up at the two. "Hello, up there! Are you having fun? This is quite the nice box you've given me, I do like it—"
"Shut up, Clown," snapped the ex-Boy Wonder whose bones had snapped so wonderfully. "We know your ploy. You cooperate an' we might let you go."
Joker held back his cackle. Of course they'd let him go. Any spawn of the Bat followed his rules to the prime. Any threats were nothing but spoken words now that he knew the playing field was level. He couldn't harm them and they wouldn't harm him.
Joker loved playing the rules against others. Especially when those rules didn't extend to him.
Nighty-whitey jumped in with an, "Assured, you answer our questions."
"Why, little old me?" He flayed a dry hand against his chest and cooed. "I'd be honoured."
There was nothing but himself in the box, which meant there was no chair to sit on. So Joker sat on the ground, curling his legs in a W. He clapped his hands loudly and waited.
"How did you find the entrance to the Cave?" Nighty asked.
Figuring he'd get out sooner if he responded, Joker did. "Why, Nightlight, I looked for it."
Nighty didn't show whether or not if she was happy with that answer, which made Joker feel a little left out. Red Hood popped up with another question.
"Why'd you go after the kid?"
Now this answer, Joker would get a rise from. "Because I've got a tradition for beating little Robbie-Boos."
He cackled but it died out as neither of them responded. Not even a darkened look.
"Why do you think you're here, Jack?" Nightwing asked, voice low and barbed.
"For the fun of it?" He shone his best grin, name stinging like the old wound it was.
Red Hood shook his head in mirth. Nightwing smirked. Joker couldn't help but feel as if he'd missed something.
"No, you stupid bastard," Hood's voice sent chills down his back. "You're here because you've crossed us one too many times—"
Images of the Court, boasting, jeering, laughing, the checkered floor filled with gashes of blood rushed him headfirst. Joker stood, wobbling on legs that felt stiff. Nightwing hadn't peeled off her mask but he could see those red eyes boaring down on him, through him, past him.
Jack Napier let out a choked breath.
"—you're here," Nightwing continued. "Because we're going to do what Batman doesn't have the guts for."
It was then he realised the Bat didn't have so much control over his possé as he liked to believe. The box wasn't painted black, no, it was burned black. The walls were scorched from flames.
"We," they both said like united demons straight from the pits of hell. Joker was afraid, fear the same level the things he'd never seen as a child had given him; were these the monsters that had haunted him all along? Had this been what was set for him the moment he'd ran to mother about the thing under his bed? Was this fate? "Brought you here to kill you."
The last thing he saw before the flames roared was the manic grin Red Hood wore. Jack reckoned he didn't much like fate.
Chapter 23: Journey On, My Wayward Children
Yes that's an altered Supernatural reference there for the title. I couldn't help myself.
"What do we do?"
Her hands reeked of the Clown's blood. Deep inside Red purred and clawed out for a foothold but found nothing, doomed to slide down the cage's walls like always. Her wrists itched, aching in the warm bath water. An invisible doctor loomed over her, eyes cold and calculating as the glowing syringe plunged into tyre-tracked veins.
Behind her, Jason hummed a tune she knew all too well.
For the first time in years, Rachel was content to rest in someone else's lap and let them wash her. Jason did not disappoint, diligent in his work as he lathered bubbles and soap and various other things over war-torn skin. His chest large and strong at her back, his inhumane warmth a calming presence and weight for her conscious.
Cobb was alive. The Parliament of Dubai were reforming as they breathed, hunting down those in America and Africa and Russia in place of their fallen sister courts. The thought made her queasy, stomach folding into a fucked up knot of an origami piece.
Without Nightwing and Red Hood, Gotham was always going to be weak. Without the achievement of a goal being assured, Nightwing was uneasy. Without a gun in one hand, a cigarette in his other, Red Hood was angsty.
Safety was far from assured.
"You could die."
Just like that the silence is broken. Jason's calm breaths against her hair stop for a moment before resuming. He lathered conditioner into her long hair, head bending to nuzzle her neck as he took advantage of the close quarters between them. If she were to slip down a little more she could drown herself, Rachel idly mused.
"I've already died once," he said. "I wouldn't bet on keelin' over a second time."
"The Court was strong," she argued. "If Gotham's stragglers were strong enough to nearly destroy the Bat what will a prepared Parliament be capable of?"
"An' yet y'all burned the Court. We can do the same for these bastards." Jason sounded so reassuring, tone confident and hands nimble. Rachel sighed and let her head drop onto his chest. Her chin tickled the bath water, sending ripples through the tub.
She wondered if that had been what Gotham's Court had been; nothing more than a ripple in the ocean, letting the other fish know there were enemies out there. Cobb knew of her existence, just as she knew of his, but if he knew of her knowledge was another matter entirely. If they could make it to United Arab Emirates, then Dubai, on the down-low and infiltrate the Parliament then was it possible they could rupture their foundations like she had Gotham's Court.
Rachel had burned her own Court, no one else's. It had been easy because she'd been the Queen. She'd had a way in, had forged her own path with a man who'd known everything about corruption. But it had been Batman who'd led the way.
"We'll be fine, Rache'. There never is an easy way into these things but we'll get it, 'long as we stick together. I'm not hangin' round Saudi for longer than I have ta, but if you really wanna..." Jason pulled down the showerhead from the rack by his side and rinsed out her hair. She closed her eyes -ignored the dead blue eyes of Subject K that lurked in the dark - and mulled over her thoughts.
"What if there was an easy way in?"
Horace had taught her how to truly destroy allies. Rachel had taught Nikkola the same. She'd also taught the boy not to backstab those he liked and she was partly sure she was one of few on that very small list of his.
Jason set down the showerhead and let his hands sink into the warm bath water. "Then we'd use it," he said, humming as hands threaded around her waist, one stray finger gently coiling around her scarred wrists which she'd hugged close. It was comforting to know someone was on her side. When Bruce came home he'd be enraged if he ever found out about Jack; hence why he wasn't ever going to know. "What were you thinkin'?"
"When I took over Gotham's Court," she began. Jason fell quiet. "I let the Talons go before the collapse. One in particular was well-off enough that he could've gotten a way in."
Jason resumed the conversation in her lengthy pause. "That's an if, Rachel. How do we find this guy, there ain't even a definite that he's got an in."
There was no question of if Nikko was in with them. His location was more of a worry; how could one find an ex-Talon in hiding?
Rachel hummed along to the tune Jason had been murmuring earlier and ran a hand down her lover's thigh. "Don't worry, I'll find him."
Nikkola had always been predictable.
The wind howled in his ears, singing a deafening song that Jason did not appreciate. In the far distance a building became visible, light glowing through small cabin windows and acting like a beacon in the frantic, horrendous snow storm that was trying to strangle them like they were some mangy mutts. The cold bit at his bones, making his teeth chatter and his knees feel the kind of weak that was reminiscent of setting coolaid.
"Thought you said this guy was predictable, R?" He yelled over the very distant screams of wolves. The woman in front of him, clad similarly in a snow coat, snow trousers, various thermal layers and snow hiking boots, didn't even turn — not that she could've, clinging to the mountainside required one's full attention, especially in this weather (which would've killed them were it not for a few of Bruce's past overdone training sims). Jason would've yelled again were it not for the fact he knew Rachel had heard him. Because Rachel always heard, just like she always knew.
The cabin came closer, perched on a narrow ledge that Jason swore would be the second death of him, regardless of any promises. Light flickered in the small wooden shack's windows like candles flushing with the wind, the cover sporadic and gaudy. The only thing this appearance of shelter did was give them a certain point to climb to, axes digging into the sheer ice of a thousand winter storms. What felt like ten years later they'd made it to the front door, a small porch - that looked sturdy enough to hold them both from a sudden doom - offering no protection from the middle-of-nowhere Tembenchi mountain snowstorm. Of course Rachel's only way into this jazzed up Court lived in the middle of god-fucking-damn Siberia. Up a mountain too. A mountain so reclusive and completely uncharted that it didn't even have a name and was therefore named, by the locals, after the river of stupid fucking ice that ran a few miles back. Jason wasn't even sure where the closest locals were, if they were thousands of miles away in Volochanka or just around the corner, at Tura.
Rachel slammed on the brittle old door with the heel of her hand, shattering the ice that coated the ashen wood. A moment later the door swung open and a revolver was pointed in his girl's face.
The man at the end of the gun squinted at them, eyes narrowing like Rachel's did when she got annoyed. Black hair poked out from under a wooly hat, an unruly fur coat wrapped around his lanky self. His stance was low and downswept - a common pattern among ex-Talons, if Rachel's relaxed posture was anything to go by. It seemed Talons had a natural affinity for slumping off-field.
"Who is stupid enough to knock on my door in a snowstorm?" The man yelled, a gruff tone to his voice that suggested no one was getting a cup of tea from him. Not that Jason cared - he was much more a hot chocolate and coffee guy.
"Good to hear the tales of the village folk are truer than the fickle mouths they pour from," Rachel shouted in turn. The man readied to pull the trigger as she laughed sharply, maybe a tad hysterically. Jason wasn't sure, it was hard to hear with the wind gushing in his ears. "I am pleased you have found an art in terrorising people, my dear boy."
The man's eyes widened and revealed a singular, cold, brown iris and one mortifying mauve. Rachel looked startled at the heterochromia. The man's - honestly he was more of a brat - smug grin spoke volumes about his thoughts on her reaction. "State your terror, King."
"I am but a servant of justice now, Nikkola. Although I do prefer to be Queen."
It all happened in less than a second: the man lowered his shotgun, grabbed both of them by the elbow (somehow managing to reach Jason despite how he'd definitely been a good three feet away) and yanked them into his cabin before slamming shut his door. Wide frenzied eyes landed on Rachel as the wooly hat came off to showcase messy hair that stood in every direction but down.
"You must have a death wish, your grace." The man muttered, eyes twinkling in the dim lighting of a room no bigger than the Manor's laundry room. A fire puffed in the far corner, logs blackened and long put out; a ratty couch with a pockmarked wool blanket tossed over it sat before a stack of newspapers, a steaming mug atop them. If it weren't for that mug and the dull hum of a battery pack charging some age-old antenna thing, Jason would've thought this place was all but abandoned. At least it was a few degrees warmer inside than it was out, especially without the windchill.
"To be travelling across Europe with a Parliament being headed by him in the south-west." The brat shook his head, shuffling them over to the couch. Jason cautiously sat down and was rewarded with an ominous creek. Rachel sat on his knee and the brat squished in beside them, warily turned in their direction. "He would have my head if he knew you were here, my lady."
Rachel gave the man a pleased grin Jason'd never seen before. "I knew I could trust you to know, Nikkola. His Parliament is exactly why we're here."
It was then Nikkola looked at Jason. He looked at him as if he knew something Jason didn't. Jason's fists clenched.
"Your husband?" The man assumed, eyes softening. He looked glad. "You are a lovely couple."
Rachel offered Jason a smirk that was too scheming to be amused. "Not yet married, Nikko. We're only starting to yearn."
Nikkola nodded like he understood whatever the fuck Rachel had just said. "Ah, Да, it is always good to perform such trivialities together before the final act. I wish you both well, you and...?"
"Jason," he introduced himself, fingertips leaving the covered plush of Rachel's back. Knocking his head back Jason's hood tipped back and let his hair out free. Nikkola grinned at him, sizing him and his white streak up. An odd surge of protectiveness over said white streak welled up and his returning grin was more than a tad strained.
"Good to see someone strong in these parts, your Highness."
Jason raised an eyebrow that probably went right along with what he imagined was a sufficiently part ominous, part threatening lip curl.
"Anyone who courts the Queen on equal terms is a King, Jason." Nikkola grinned, apparently finding this funny. "You've picked well, I just hope you act it."
"No acting needed 'ere," Jason snipped. The brat's grin died down, diminishing into a curt nod and thin pressed lips.
"Come, I'll give you what you need for the siege." Jason shot Rachel a look. She hadn't mentioned a siege.
Rachel winked at him. Suddenly he didn't much mind the change in plans because they were Rachel's plans and Jason trusted her. "Thank you, Nikkola."
The siege was a fucking codeword for transport. Jason should've known. Still, he was a tad disappointed when he found out.
Nikko arranged for a buddy of his to pick them up from the outskirts of the nearest landmark; along the Nizhnyaya Tunguska, a river that confluenced with the small town of Tura. There was little to go on within this agreement aside from trust, which unsettled Jason. Rachel seemed more than happy on the outside to go along with it, hiking back down the mountain on their rations and snowcoats once the worst of the storm had blown over.
Due to time arrangements they had a narrow window of time where they could actively waste time and an even narrower window of which they needed things done. The journey to the UAE had been too tough to do publicly, too tricky to simply fly into the capital and go from there with Cobb's first murders popping up, noticeably a day after their discovery of his group. Jason was sure it was no coincidence and Rachel's pinched look said she thought the same.
They'd stayed in Nikko's little cabin for five hours, copping a few hours rest before another long six hour hike back down the mountain. It was a five hour walk to Tura on a good day and a good day it was not; it had taken them seven hours to get to the halfway point, by which Jason was suitably irate and Rachel suitably uncoordinated enough that it spoke tonnes for her dizziness levels.
"On your way to Tura?" A voice called from not too far ahead. Jason, who'd been busy tapping the roof of his mouth with his numb tongue, jerked at the sudden arrival of life other than theirs.
"Possibly," Rachel shouted back, voice raw.
"Great, that means I don't have to walk any further." It was a man, no taller than six three if his shadow was to be believed. A bit on the lean side - something told Jason that he wasn't wrapped up like they were. A few seconds later the man had jogged up to them, leather jacket looking all too thin in the prevailing winds. "I'm Scottie. You two wouldn't happen to be on the siege of the west tour, would you?"
"Hit the nail on the head," Rachel answered.
Jason couldn't place his accent and he'd heard a lot of accents in his time around the world. Scottie's grin was infectious. He asked, "How quick can you get us there?"
"TB One'll get you two over the Caspian Sea before you can blink," Scottie replied confidently. "I assure you. No more than two hours."
"You sure?" Jason rumbled.
"What's the point in good tech if you don't use it?" And with that he led them on the fifteen minute trek over to a decently hidden -for it being completely black, at least- jet with a wingspan of just under fifteen feet. Scottie tapped the face of a cheap looking watch and the boarding ramp opened up with a chirp. His eyes seemed to glow in the snow that whirled around them all. "Go on then, best if we leave now before our second storm rolls in."
Jason sat down in one of the many passenger seats behind the suspicious lack of a pilots chair. Rachel sat beside him, buckling up for the flight. Scottie entered, looking a tad less human onboard with adequate lighting than he had outside in the snow. His skin was a motley olive, black hair flushed through with purple undercurrents and his jeans and black polo seemed to shimmer. There wasn't a goosebump on his body, despite the amount of skin he was showing and the fact that Jason was wrapped up in just about every thermal thing he owned and was still freezing.
He noted with a keen gaze, that Scottie did not make any move to sit anywhere. Their pilot stood in the centre of the floor, where the pilot seat would've been, and flicked his wrist. Blue holograms popped up around him, the switches and readouts all 3D. Scottie flicked and interacted with them as if they were solid.
"You not gonna sit down?" Jason questioned.
"Don't need to," Scottie laughed - the sound light and sparkly. "TB One's quicker than anything you've seen, specially designed for fast flights she's even quicker with me at her consoles."
Rachel snorted, "What consoles?"
"Exactly," Scottie rolled his shoulders. A bend of his finger had the jet lifting up into the air, strong Russian winds buffeting her. He pushed his hand forward and they shot off like a dart, the force keeping Jason's head firmly plastered against the back of his chair.
Throughout it all, Scottie remained standing, eyes flickering with colour as he manipulated TB One to do his bidding. It was some sight — that was for sure.
The affair with their mysterious Scottie was short lived. So short lived, in fact, that after the brief chatter they'd exchanged — in which Rachel had offered him a lot of money if he ever wanted to go into piloting for a certain group of Gothamites, ahem — Jason knew nothing more about the man than he'd known about Nikkola. The only difference this time was that Rachel was just as in the dark as he was. She was also minorly put out that Scottie had turned down her offer until the foreseeable future.
Scottie dropped them off at the edge of the Arabian Desert, too nervous to attempt anything remotely within airspace of Dubai. Jason couldn't blame him — if he had a ride like TB One he'd sure as hell be looking out for missiles too. But still, the extra few miles they had to walk to get to the nearest hint of civilisation was a bit of an overuse of caution if you asked him. Add to their limiting factors the sudden heat and desert sands and they were moving even slower on foot than they had in the snowstorm.
Jason was also half sure he was dehydrated. He just wanted a lucozade at this point; fuck Cobb and fuck the desert. His black tank now seemed like a bad idea, his black kevlar padded trousers too. At least his mesh hoodie was red and kind of lightweight. It kept the sun off his face, in any fact.
"What the hell?" He grumbled as Rachel divebombed him into a crumbling ruin of the current ghost town they were passing through. The sunbleached bricks looked depressed and dark, even with the sun hovering over them at a stark 12 PM. Rachel looked tense, frown tight as she crouched on all fours beside his sprawled out ass. Jason immediately straightened himself, keeping down low. Panic was swept aside for alert senses and suddenly even the sand blowing up against the walls was a lion roaring in his ears.
A few feet in front of them, out on the barren road, a shadow curved on the ground. Seconds later an arrow found itself embedded into the drywall, inches away from Jason's ear. Rachel lunged with a warning on her lips.
Rachel's unsheathed katannas -which had gained an impressed whistle from Scottie and a drooling sigh from Nikkola- met metal bracelets with a clang. An orange skinned woman with glowing green eyes and a stark purple bikini smiled down at them, hovering a few feet off the ground as light swirled around her hands. She appeared non-threatening at first, smile genuinely kind. Jason made the mistake of blinking, red hood of his mission altered uniform dipping over his brow, and instantly Rachel was gone - pelted through the maggot caked wall.
She won't be happy about that, he thought even as he rolled under the meta girl's next glowing punch. An energy bolt, some mix of colour between pink, purple and orange, blasted from her cupped fist and obliterated the wall behind him. Jason didn't want to think that he could've been that smoking pile of ash so he didn't.
"Woah, lady," he called, "We don't want no trouble!"
The orange lady ignored him in favour of aiming another punch at his chest. Grabbing her wrist he twisted it, applying pressure to the joint and tugging her to the side. She looked surprised, plush lips parting in a small 'o' as her floating hover wavered. Jason felt more than seen the movement in the corner of his eye and pushed out with his accosted limb to alter the girl's position and send her back a few feet. Taking advantage of his adjustments, Rachel charged into the girl with the force of a bull, slamming her orange head of hair into weak drywall that crumbled and sent the brick behind it spluttering.
"How dare you," Rachel was mumbling, snarling hideous things, anger barely restrained as she tussled with the meta. Orange girl grabbed ahold of Rachel's own wrist in an imitation of Jason's earlier grab and would've attempted to break his lady's wrist had Rachel not growled in contempt and probably gave her a concussion to rival Zeus' anger with the shove of skull into wall (or what remained of it). Jason fingered his glocks, flipped off safety and aimed for between the orange lady's eyes once Rachel settled her tussle into continuous floor to head slams.
The sharp twang of an arrow being notched alerted him to the bastard behind him before the released breath even registered. He hit the ground, twisting a leg out to scope the area and get a better sight. An arrow sailed wide, slotting neatly into the wall above Rachel's head. There was a man behind them, fifteen yards away, red uniform gleaming in the sun's rays, bow taught with three arrows. He'd previously been hidden by the wall and the dust that had arisen from orange girl's blast but now everything had cleared a tad more Jason had no problems in seeing.
Jason recognised him immediately. It was the ginger hair that gave the old sidekick away.
He laughed, something cruel twisting up in his chest as he thought back to Rachel's recollections of CADMUS and her broken sobs in the dead of night. Roy Harper had been there with her, had struggled and suffered from afar as Rachel had been tortured. Jason wondered if there were any lost feelings between the two, wondered if Rachel would mind Harper dropping from a few well aimed bullets. The asshole was going to pay for those arrows. "How ya doin', Speedy?"
"Who the fuck—?" Speedy exclaimed, brow scrunching under the black domino. Jason, who'd ducked behind what remained of the back wall, peeked up and made sure to show off his black kevlar tank with its nice red bat; exactly the same as Nightwing's. Realisation dawned over arrogant features that Jason wanted to punch in so badly. "You're that cunt Red Hood!"
Manners, the Alfred in him chided. Jason disregarded his inner butler angel and popped off a few shots, at least one of which was lucky, if the accompanied shout was of any indication. Jason felt good, felt the grin rush him, begging to be let onto his face. Out here he could kill and no-one would know it was him. Rachel could kill. They both could. There was no Bat to hide from, nothing to abide to in the desert; no law, no courtesy.
After all, Batman didn't know everything that went on planetside when he toddled off for a space adventure.
The orange haired lady froze at Harper's shout of pain and pulled some weird twisting movement that had Rachel howling with the unspoken pain of something much worse than a locked up hip. Rachel rolled off the orange girl, katannas lost to the ground as the desert camo on her Nightwing suit - sans cape, because the desert was fucking hot - was lifted. Over his head, a shocked gasp filled the silence. It seemed Harper's eyes did work.
Jason took a pot shot at the orange lady as she whizzed by him, flying like a possessed Superman, but she ignored him. She hovered beside Harper -who was probably going into shock, if his expression could get any funnier. After a moment of unsure hovering on the lady's part, and a well aimed warning shot from Jason a few inches away from his dick, the girl picked up Harper and fled.
There was a pop as Rachel pushed her apparently dislocated hip back into place. Her musings were rough and grumbled, pitch low enough to be a drunkard's on a binge. "Who figured we'd meet Arsensal and some meta out here?" She queried although it wasn't really a question, just a hanging statement that they both left in the air.
"C'mon," she grunted, standing to grab her katannas. They were sheathed with a sigh. "Let's get going, I want to be halfway there before sundown."