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Masquerade of Madness

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Banner — Masquerade of Madness by NamelesslyNightlock

 

It’s funny how you only ever realise the little things when it’s already far too late. Samar, for example, only remembered the fact that moisturiser causes hands to become slippery when she was already hanging from a thirty-storey window by her fingertips.

It’s also in scenarios such as these that the human mind has a nasty habit of musing on the inconsequential.

Take that Aram, Samar found herself thinking as she fought to keep her tenuous grip on the ledge. I told you the baby powder would have worked better.

Of course, it would have been far better to just get new gloves entirely. You’d think a budget capable of turning out something as big as the Batmobile would stretch to affording a pair of decent gloves, but apparently the Bat could manage with gloves that pinched the skin. Or maybe he just didn’t find himself hanging from great heights all that often.

Unlikely, judging from Samar’s limited experience as a vigilante.

A deranged laugh threw Samar back into focus, and she frantically shifted her grip on the ledge, bending her fingers further in an attempt to stop her slimy hands from slipping out of the gloves entirely.

Above her, the maniac laughed again, his teeth gleaming in the electric light from the building opposite.

“Batsy, Batsy, Batsy,” he taunted, his voice positively overflowing with vicious amusement. “I never did think it would come down to this, but if this is the way it ends…”

Samar clenched her jaw, knowing she couldn’t waste precious energy when her fingers and arms were screaming.

“Well,” the psychopath continued. “It’s certainly not as… fun… as I’d hoped it would be…”

He won’t kill me, Samar thought desperately, latching on to the fact that she knew this particular villain had plenty of opportunities to kill the Bat before, but had never acted. He enjoys his games too much, he won’t kill me. I just have to wait for an opening.

She could feel a trickle of sweat running down her face inside the mask, and was forced to blink rapidly as it fell into her eye with a sting. Her fingers were slipping easily now, and she found herself almost bouncing as she scrabbled to find purchase.

The monster stepped forward with an obscene grin, green hair and red lipstick catching the light as he moved with lethal grace.

“Alright.” His voice remained as horrifyingly amused as ever. “Shall we begin?”

——x——

***Three days earlier...***

The topic of the Bat had been something Samar had disliked from the start. Ever since she had been assigned to the taskforce at the blacksite in Gotham city, it had seemed like the vigilante came up in every conversation she took part in or overheard.

In a way, she could understand the live and let live scenario the GCPD were playing with him; it was undeniable that since his appearance, the rate in crime had gone down. But the thought of the caped crusader put an ill feeling in Samar’s gut; she’d been brought up in a place where the law and justice was even more tumultuous than in Gotham, and found it difficult to reconcile her own opinions on what should constitute the proper dealing of criminals with the naivety of the rest of her team born of living in a comfortable, well-organised city.

The majority of the team were from DC, having moved from their original headquarters to Gotham in an attempt to keep their activities better under wraps. From what Samar could gather, the change had been initiated after the death of one of the original members of the team, and at Reddington’s request after he stated that he would not keep working with the FBI if they remained so exposed.

Aram, of course, had apparently taken the entire thing as a personal insult if the level of technological security on the current blacksite was any indication.

Security that took Lieutenant Gordon of the GCPD so long to be cleared through that he was red in the face and actually panting by the time he got into the war room that morning.

The reason for his urgency became apparent as Aram tuned the screens in to the local news just as Gordon raced up into Cooper’s office.

The Bat had gone missing.

One would think that news of a man who paraded around the rooftops at night dressed up as (essentially) a flying rat going missing would not send an entire city into chaos, but that is what happened.

Criminals, enticed by the news of the missing vigilante had poured into the streets in higher numbers than ever before, and all the stronger for their trials against him than they had ever been before the Bat’s appearance. The GCPD could not keep up, and they were desperate for help. The FBI was Gordon’s desperate prayer for assistance - the Bat was all that had been keeping the criminals cowering at night, and now that he was gone they had nothing to fear.

If the situation had been any less dire, Samar might have laughed. She’d known nothing good would come of relying on a masked man in glorified hockey pads to beat down on the city’s criminals.

And she certainly didn’t feel like laughing when Cooper assigned her as part of the team that would search for the bloody caped menace.

Excuse me?” The words were out of her mouth before she could stop them, so she just decided to roll with the indignation. “You want me to what?”

“We’re going to search for the Bat!” Aram exclaimed, seeming to think she hadn’t properly heard. He was practically bouncing on the balls of his feet, his face split ear to ear with a wide grin. Samar felt her lip curl in distaste. Honestly, how any self-respecting officer of the law could think that way of a vigilante…

“Director Cooper, I really don’t think that I—“

“You have experience in these matters, and you have the best chance of working out the way this person thinks—“

Liz is the profiler—“

“But you bear the most similarities to the guy.”

“How do we know it’s a guy?” Liz mumbled, causing the others to look at her in annoyance. She shrugged innocently. “What? I’m just saying… there could be anything under that suit, really. There’s no way anyone is that ripped, it’s probably mostly padding.”

Ignoring Liz and doing her best (but failing miserably) to not feel insulted at the comparison, Samar tried to plead her case one last time.

“Sir, perhaps it would be more prudent to send—“

“No. You and Agent Mojtabai are on this case. Your orders are to find the Bat – dead, alive, masked, unmasked, I don’t care – and you’re to do your best to lower the level of chaos in this city by doing so, you understand?”

“Director Cooper, please—“

“I said, do you understand?”

Sighing and ignoring Aram’s whoop, Samar grudgingly accepted her lot. “I understand.”

——x——

“This is where the traffic cams lose him, every time,” said Aram, spinning on the spot to stare out at the trees. “He always comes through here, and then he doesn’t reappear until he hits this spot again, heading back into Gotham.”

“Well then,” said Samar, pulling a heavy flashlight from the car with a slightly sadistic grin. “I suppose we don’t have much choice.”

Aram sighed loudly, his eyes betraying his inner war with himself. Samar knew that finding the Bat’s hideout was a frequent theme of Aram’s daydreams, but he had to know how dangerous it was going to be – perils of the outside world away from a computer screen aside.

And so this led to Aram and Samar stumbling about in the forest, having left the some-what trail behind after they passed a pretty waterfall and some tyre treads that appeared to lead nowhere.

“I hate nature,” Aram grumbled, tripping over a tree root he’d been unable to see due to being too focused on pulling burrs out of his hair. “There’s no way the Bat deals with this, any normal person would pick a much better spot for a hideout.”

“The guy dresses up as a winged rodent every night, there’s no way he’s anywhere near normal,” Samar replied flatly. “Besides, you’re the one who said we should look here.”

“Yes, because of where the cams lose him. But he could be anywhere along that road - there isn’t another cam for miles, we could have missed the spot—“

“Except we saw those treads back there—“

“Exactly, and there isn’t anywhere else for them to lead– not unless he drives his truly awesome tank into the cliff every night.”

Samar rolled her eyes, a fond grin etching its way across her face despite the exasperation. “Well then. On we go.”

The silence only lasted a few seconds before it was broken once more.

“I don’t get it though,” Aram burst out. “Something as big as the Bat’s vehicle would leave a trace, he can’t just disappear into the forest like this—“

“Maybe he has some kind of cloaking.”

“Cloaking on the Batmobile itself? Probably. But that wouldn’t stop it from making tracks.”

Samar paused in her search, knowing he was right. Remembering what she’d said to Aram, she knew she’d kept searching with her mind set on the fact that the Bat wasn’t normal and so therefore shouldn’t necessarily follow normal rules. Perhaps she needed to come at the mission more rationally, despite her distaste for the whole thing. Before, part of her had even been partially focused upon not really trying, thinking that Gotham was probably better off without the Bat anyway.

But this really was serious. They’d both seen the news– criminals were running about the streets in such numbers and with so much less decorum than usual. The Bat may have been against near everything she stood for, but he did represent one thing to the criminals that the Police nor really any other official institution could– fear. The Bat, acting alone, could be so much more brutal and unpredictable than the police or the feds ever could be, and even the mere idea of that was a powerful deterrent to the criminal underworld. Without that, there was nothing holding them back from doing as they wished, and now they were out in full force— worse than they ever had been before, all the stronger for having adapted in opposition to the Bat.

The Bat needed to go back on the streets, at least for now. At least until their work at the blacksite helped clean up the city and made it easier for the police. At least until the city could get its act together.

The Bat was a crutch, Samar could see that. But he was a crutch that was necessary right now.

This realisation was all she needed for her brain to kick into gear, and she turned around, heading back to the last point of certainty. It took Aram a minute or so to notice that she had done an about face, and she laughed quietly under her breath when she heard a loud crash as he scurried to catch up.

“What are you doing?” He called some yards behind. “I thought we agreed it must have gone this way.”

“We said that only because it couldn’t have gone the exact way the treads suggested,” Samar replied, ducking under a branch. “But what if we were wrong? He might have gone that way after all.”

“What do you– oh for gods sake ow!”

“There’s a branch there. And I mean… well.” They came out of the trees and back onto the trail they’d been following originally. The waterfall was flowing just as before, and Samar knelt down beside the tyre tread that seemed to suggest that the Bat drove straight into the cliff face. “Perhaps the Batmobile can’t cloak its tracks… but what if the cliff is cloaked somehow?”

“Like some kind of hologram?” Aram breathed in awe, his war with nature momentarily forgotten. “Oh, that would be marvellous.”

Slowly, as if he were approaching a skittish horse, Aram moved towards the cliff face beside the fast-flowing stream, just to the left of the waterfall. He raised his hand towards the rock and–

He hit the solid surface.

Aram let his hand fall with a disappointed sigh. “Well, it was worth a shot.”

Samar frowned, and studied the tread again. It didn’t seem to be pointing right to where Aram had been standing. Maybe if they tried the other side of the waterfall—

Her musings were cut off by a sudden yell, and she looked up from the ground just in time to see Aram slip from the bank and into the water, directly below the falls.

Samar was up and running in a second, calling out his name as she moved. She slowed as she got to the bank in order to not fall in herself - the mud that had provided them with the lovely tyre tread had made the bank very slippery. It was easy to see how Aram had fallen in- he’d probably lost his footing as he turned to come away from the wall. Samar’s eyes darted across the turbulent surface of the water, looking for any sign of human movement, not wanting to jump in blind. But the water was dark, and the surface was bubbling regardless from the falls. Worrying that he’d hit his head, Samar readied herself to jump in regardless just as a human figure surged through the wall of cascading water that was the falls itself.

Aram was grinning much too widely for someone who could have just died, Samar thought. Honestly, he was going to kill her at this rate.

“I found it!” Aram announced, almost squealing in excitement.

“What?” Still partially stunned from the happenings of the last minute and a half, she couldn’t quite grasp what Aram was trying to tell her.

“The Bat’s hideout! At least, I’m quite sure that’s what it must be, considering; I didn’t actually go and look around. But it’s an actual cave, isn’t that neat?”

He looked absolutely ridiculous, Samar decided, soaking wet with his hair pressed down against his head from the waterfall, his eyes sparkling with the glee of a kid that just learned they were about to meet their favourite character at Universal Studios and a grin that just about split his face in half. The only time she’d ever seen him like this before was in the picture taken with a TARDIS at Comic-Con.

Resigning herself to an impromptu shower, Samar carefully stepped down into the stream and followed Aram through the water, not quite believing that she wasn’t about to walk headfirst into solid rock. The water was flowing quickly and they received quite a pounding on the head going through but it only lasted a couple of seconds, and then they were on the other side.

Aram was right– looking back, Samar could see that the waterfall hid a large opening, and turning once more she saw that the cave was huge. Opera theatre huge. Probably much larger again, even. As they climbed up out of the pool of water and into the cave proper, they saw the Batmobile in all its glory, parked on a platform directly before the cave opening.

“Well,” said Aram, his eyes wide. “I don’t know about you, but that leaves very doubt in my mind.”

Samar only nodded in response, much more curious of what lay beyond the giant vehicle. As she moved closer, she could see the Bat’s costume in a glass case, displayed proudly. Even further in were more glass cases, and these held object of much more interest to her.

The Bat’s arsenal.

She knew from research and her own personal experiences that the Bat carried a wide array of weapons. His throwing stars, shaped like the embossed emblem of a bat on his chest piece were laid out neatly. Beside them were spikes that were a likeness to those on his vambrace- a closer inspection showed that they probably were inserted into the armour to be expelled when required. Other objects included tranquilisers, grapples, sonic devices that Samar had read about in reports— apparently the Bat could use them to summon real bats as a smoke screen. Speaking of, there were also some smoke bombs, and flash bombs, lock opening devices (both of the picking and the electronic kind) and almost anything else you could think of. Honestly, Samar was a little jealous.

One thing she did notice, however, was the glaringly obvious lack of guns.

She’d heard and read and even seen for herself that the Bat seemed to have a dislike for guns, but she’d expecting a few at least– even if they were only for use in emergencies. It seemed almost… Negligent? Reckless at the least, to go up against the sort of people the Bat pissed off on a regular basis and not have at least a handgun stashed away somewhere. All the gadgets in the world wouldn’t do so well against a high powered machine gun, surely.

This was why criminals like the Joker and the Penguin and Poison Ivy just kept on getting out of whatever trap the Bat would set for them.

Not that the police had done any better, but.

Remembering her earlier epiphany, Samar resolved herself to reserving judgement until she had a better view of the whole picture.

Suddenly, Samar’s gaze snapped back to the throwing stars - throwing bats - damnit, the sharp, vicious looking shuriken. The Bat may not have guns, but he was dangerous, and they had simply sauntered into his super-secret hideout without any form of protocol or caution.

Her eyes flickered across the shapes in the cave, catching on every murky shadow. The lighting was a few steps south of awful, with the main light source being the large floodlights surrounding the Batmobile and the lights in the display cases of the weapons and armour.

Unable to see anything suspicious on the ground level, Samar’s eyes moved upward - and caught on movement.

Slowly, she moved towards where Aram was excitedly tapping at some computers and softly gripped his arm just about the crease of his elbow. She ignored his protests and led him to the Batmobile - despite being lit up like a Broadway stage, the vehicle itself would provide better cover than anything else in the damnable cave.

“Samar, What—“

She gestured to the roof with her newly drawn service weapon. “The Bat could still be here.”

“I don’t think so,” Aram said slowly. “If he knew what it was like out in Gotham, and he had the chance to help, he wouldn’t just be hiding in here.”

Samar knew there was no point in arguing with him, so instead— “Of course, it’s also possible that the person responsible for the Bat’s disappearance could still be here.”

Aram let out a short squeak before quickly shaking his head. “There’s no way any self-respecting villain would leave all this sweet gear.”

“Maybe,” Samar said in appeasement, giving him a small nod. “But better safe than sorry, right?”

She cast her eyes about them, and her gaze caught on one of the floodlights illuminating the Batmobile they hid behind.

Aram seemed to understand her determined expression.

“Samar, that’s not a good— Samar, no!”

Pulling away from Aram, Samar launched herself at one of the floodlights. The clunky thing would have been both too heavy and too slow to aim at the roof properly, but the moment of brightness afforded as the light toppled over was enough for the two agents to make out the shapes on the roof.

“Bats,” Aram said with distaste, wrinkling his nose.

“Well, it is a cave,” Samar intoned dryly.

“At least it wasn’t a super villain, I suppose.” Aram sounded almost as disappointed as he did relieved. “Although, I’m not too keen on bats.”

Still, Aram did not comment when Samar cast her gaze across the rest of the cave, her weapon still in her hands. The loss of the floodlight had only worsened the lighting in the room, and the shadows all seemed to radiate uncertainty. Once she was sure she couldn’t see anything, she moved from the Batmobile to look closer, but found nothing.

The cave really was empty.

Aram waited for Samar to holster her weapon before he darted away from the Batmobile himself, heading straight back to the computers.

“You know,” he said calmly as if ignoring the previous five minutes, “The Bat has quite the setup here. If the Batmobile hadn’t already given it away, this stuff makes it clear that the guy is pretty loaded.”

“You know,” Samar mused idly, “I think Liz had a point. How do we know that it’s a guy?”

“I’d have thought you’d have some witty answer for that,” Aram said teasingly. “You know— only a man would jump off rooftops dressed up as, what was it you said? A flying rodent?”

“Don’t generalise, Aram. You’ve seen Catwoman.”

Aram paused for a moment. “Okay, I’ll give you that one. But come on, just look at this armour!” He moved away from the screens and pranced instead towards the glass case displaying the aforementioned garments, hands gesticulating wildly. “There’s no way this was made for woman, just look at the detail!”

“Not necessarily,” said Samar, feeling amused despite her thoughts on the whole situation. She leaned in, pretending to study the armour closely. “A woman could fit in there, easy. All you’d need is to have small enough hips— you could pad the shoulders easy enough.”

A glint shone in the corner of Aram’s eyes, and Samar suddenly felt like she’d walked into a trap.

“Prove it then,” he said suddenly.

Samar knew what he meant, oh, she knew, but just in case she thought it best to play dumb. So instead of an immediate condemnation of Aram’s idea, she instead replied with a well articulated— “What!?”

“Prove that a woman could be Batman,” he said, inclining his head towards the glass case and its contents. “Go on. Put it on.”

Samar raised one eyebrow before bursting into laughter, turning away from the armour and moving instead to inspect the more interesting pieces of weaponry.

“Why not?” Aram asked, following behind her. “What harm could it do?”

It wasn’t something she had thought of before, but Aram’s words inspired another excuse. “You realise he could have booby trapped his mask, or something? That’s what I would do.”

Aram frowned, glancing back to the armour. “Maybe,” he allowed. “But I reckon he’d only trap it for if people tried to take it off. There’d be no real point in stopping people from putting it on, I mean, if they’d already found this place then it’s all over really, right? Except for maybe if…” Aram’s lips slowly pulled apart in shock - or maybe delight - and a gleam brightened his eyes.

Samar pursed her lips, and decided that it was probably best to leave him to his own devices.

Aram, however, seemed to have other ideas.

“You know,” said Aram, sliding towards her and obviously trying to be subtle about something. “The Bat clearly isn’t here.”

“Your skills of deduction amaze me,” Samar deadpanned.

“And there’s nothing here to indicate just who he is,” Aram continued.

“Not necessarily,” said Samar, darting to a wall that had caught her attention.

As the cave was, well, a cave, the walls were all craggy and made of dark rock. But there was something about this wall I particular that just looked… different. It was a subtle, but there was a section of the wall that wasn’t quite exactly the same texture as the rest. The colour matched perfectly, but it was slightly shinier. She rubbed a hand over the surface, and grinned when it came away clean. The rest of the cave, while remarkably well kept, still had a layer of dirt over the rock - again, by virtue of it being a cave.

“There’s something here,” she said to Aram, gesturing him over.

For some reason, Aram seemed reluctant. Nevertheless, he came. “Some kind of door?” he asked cautiously.

Samar nodded, and gave the wall a good shove. To her surprise, it didn’t take much force at all, and merely shifted to the side easier than her own sliding doors did at home, revealing the shining metal doors of an elevator.

“Cool,” said Aram.

Samar grinned at her discovery, but pulled out her gun again. The elevator might be an interesting discovery, but it was also somewhere else for a potential adversary to hide. Aram didn’t complain, though Samar could tell he thought she was acting unnecessarily.

Aram would end up being correct, if only for the reason that they could not work out how to open the elevator.

There were no buttons on the outside, no levers, no sign of anything that could be used to operate the elevator or open the doors.

“Perhaps it only works from the top?” Samar mused, staring at the stubborn silver doors in irritation.

“Doubt it,” Aram replied. “If he comes down from up there, he’d probably want a way of getting back up, right?”

Samar shrugged in agreement, watching Aram’s brow furrow as he fell into thought.

“No,” he continued, “There must be some way of controlling it from down here. A terminal or—“ Aram’s eyes lit up. “The computers!”

Samar should have known it wouldn’t be long before he was back over by the rather impressive display of screens once again.

“You can operate it from here?”

“Probably,” said Aram, his fingers darting over the keyboard. “The firewalls on this thing are rather impressive, it must have been set up by someone insanely smart. Although, I have to admit this coding does look rather familiar, somehow.”

“Well don’t worry about that, we’ll probably be able to work out who the Bat is soon enough,” Samar said, leaning over to watch him work. “Even if we strike out and find that the entrance up there is in the middle of nowhere, we’ll have another point to look at with the satellites and cams, and since he clearly leaves his armour in here…” She let her voice trail off, not seeing the need to say anything else.

Aram’s hands stilled for a moment. “You know, I can’t help but wonder if it might not be better to just leave that particular secret alone.”

“What do you mean?” Samar frowned, worried. “The whole search for this place you were so excited to finally see where the Bat ‘hung out’—“

“But now that I’m here, I can’t help but wonder whether it would be best to just let him be, to let him just do his thing. I mean, obviously we’d have to find him first, but once he’s back… I just mean, he’s doing a good thing. And there’s the obvious reason why he wears a mask—“

“Yes, because he is a criminal. He doesn’t want to get caught.”

“Because if everyone knew who he was, then the real criminals would take their revenge on him— or maybe on his family,” Aram insisted. “If we discover who he is, and they get hurt, it’ll be on us.”

“Aram, we’re the FBI,” Samar said pointedly. “Us knowing would not result in the death of the vigilante’s probably inexistent children.”

“Yeah, because no one has ever gotten information out of the FBI.”

“Well, what are you going to do, then?” Samar asked, irritated now. “We can’t just leave this—“

“We can.” Aram’s tone was stubborn. “Even if he doesn’t have children or a wife or a girlfriend or something, there clearly is a reason for the mask – as effective as it is, it’s not all about the fear factor obviously, it couldn’t be – and we’ve already agreed that we have to let the Bat continue what he’s doing—”

“Did we?”

“—and our orders were to get him back on the streets. ‘Masked or unmasked, I don’t care,’” Aram quoted. “Cooper all but gave us permission to keep the Bat’s identity a secret.”

“I’m quite certain that isn’t what he meant by it.”

“Besides,” said Aram. “I can’t crack this firewall on the elevator anyway.”

Samar narrowed her eyes, looking at him shrewdly. He hadn’t even tapped once upon the keyboard since his hands had stalled— she was quite certain he was lying.

She’d never seen him give up so easily before, after all.

She was about to call him out on it, to tell him on no uncertain terms that he needed to focus and break into that elevator so that they could deal with the vigilante – perhaps do a deal with him, press him into working with the FBI. They could even start another branch of the blacksite - one for Reddington, and one for the Bat.

But the look on Aram’s face gave her pause. His expression was so open, so hopeful and just so pleading. It was an expression that honestly had no business being on a human face - it would look far more at home on some species of fluffy animal.

The crux of the matter, however, was that she knew he was being sincere. He honestly believed that the Bat made Gotham City a better place, and he honestly did not want to possibly interfere with that— even if it meant keeping the Bureau in the dark about something so crucial.

“I suppose it’s for the best,” she allowed, telling herself (but failing to believe) that it had been Aram’s argument that won her over. “After all, imagine if he had been some sleazy politician? Or God forbid— a lawyer.”

“Or a businessman,” said Aram with an exaggerated shudder of disgust. “I don’t think I could ever see him in the same light if he was some corporate browbeater using the undercut wages and hard work of underpaid employees to fund his vigilante crusade.”

Samar raised an eyebrow. “Thought about it, have you?”

“Maybe a bit,” said Aram, casting his eyes over the expensive computer setup. “You’re right— I’d rather not know, I think. Never meet your heroes and all that.”

Despite Aram’s alleged inability to get access to the controls for the elevator, he did manage to get into the rest of the computer system.

“It’s almost disappointing,” he confided as he accessed blueprints for the Gotham City Police Department headquarters and a Spotify account with the username BackInBat. “I mean, sure, it’s all pretty impressive - better security than you’d see on most corporate secrets - but ridiculously easy to get into with access to the desktop itself.”

Aram was easily able to get a hold of all of the Bat’s secrets - all, except his identity. The gleam that had been in his eyes earlier had returned as he read countless pages of information about the weapons, the armour, the vehicle.

“It’s definitely plausible,” he was murmuring as his fingers tapped away. “All you’d need is a two man team - one to direct from here, and one to be out in the streets in the uniform.”

“What are you jabbering about?” Samar asked from her perch on top of one of the desks. She had been examining one of the syringes they’d found in a drawer - though Samar couldn’t work out what it was exactly, from the label it seemed to be some kind of neutralising agent. Perhaps for the fear gas used by Jonathon Crane, or the similar stuff the Joker had recently become enamoured with?

Seemingly ignoring her question, Aram went back to a previous topic of conversation instead. “You know, you still haven’t convinced me of your theory.”

“What theory?”

“The one where the Bat is in fact a woman who feels the need to pretend she is a man despite the fact that the most successful vigilante in history being female would be very empow—“

“Finish that sentence and I will eviscerate you,” Samar stated, pointing at him with one of the bat shuriken.

Aram raised his hands as if in surrender. “I’m just saying.”

“And I’m not putting on that blasted armour to satisfy your male curiosity,” Samar snapped.

“Look,” Aram sighed, realising he was just going to have to go out and say it loud and clear. “You heard what Cooper said. We need the Bat back out on the streets of Gotham ASAP. Honestly, it doesn’t even matter at this point if the Bat actually does anything; he just needs to show his face to prove the rumours of his disappearance wrong so that all the criminals and villains in this city will run back into their hidey holes and know that there is still something for them to fear in this city.” Then he paused, and smirked. “Or, rather— he needs to show his mask.”

Never one to be slow on the uptake and this time unwilling to even go through with the pretence that she was, Samar immediately shook her head. “No.”

“Samar, be reasonable—“

No,” She reiterated sternly. “You are the one who is being unreasonable. Do you know the sorts of people the Bat goes up against? The sort of monsters who came after him? He doesn’t just push around petty thugs in dark alleys— he’s got Mob Bosses and Crime Kings like the Penguin and the Joker after him – people with strange abilities and madness and power like we’ve never been up against before. Despite being an FBI blacksite in this city we rarely ever actually interact with the criminal elite of this place. Reddington always sends us after people that affect him, but it would seem that even he is unwilling to mess with Gotham’s worst.”

“You think I don’t know what it’s like?” Aram said quietly. “That I don’t know what’s out there? Because I do, Samar— I’m a part of the FBI, and just because I don’t go out in the field does not mean that I don’t see anything. I see a lot; more, probably, than the rest of you. It’s my job to look at the bigger picture. So don’t you dare tell me that I don’t know.”

Samar was a little taken aback. “Aram, I didn’t mean—“

“But you did,” he cut in. “I know it. And that’s okay, really, because I know I could never do the things that you can do. But that’s why I need you right now, because don’t you see?” Aram’s voice was harsh and small and desperate, and yet strong all the same. “There is only one way we go forward at this point.”

Aram stepped away from the computers and moved to the desk Samar was still perched upon, making sure that he had her full attention before continuing.

“The Bat needs to be on the street. Whether it’s the same person wearing the mask or not doesn’t matter— we just need to get the symbol out there.”

Samar had to admit that Aram’s argument had merit, but she knew what he was leading up to and she didn’t think she would be able to cope with what he had in mind.

“I won’t do it.”

“You would hardly need to do anything,” he said. “Just put on the mask, drive about in the Batmobile a bit, show your face on the street - again, the mask, not your actual face, you know what I mean - and then the criminals that are easily spooked will vanish.”

“And the criminals that aren’t?”

“It will at least give us a little wriggle room. Buy us some time to find the real Bat.”

“We could find the Bat much faster if we could get up that elevator,” Samar observed dryly.

“This will give us enough time to find another option. And anyway - imagine you were the Bat and then you heard that someone else was dressing up in your armour, driving your car and pretending that they were you? Wouldn’t you want to confront them?”

“You think we can draw him out?”

“I know we can.” Aram had mustered some more energy now, and went back to the computer to press a few buttons. Samar heard a noise behind her and turned to see the large glass case opening. “Look.”

Together, the two of them moved toward the now accessible armour, Aram with far more enthusiasm than Samar. But still, she went, because she couldn’t deny that Aram’s logic was sound. At least, as sound as it could be when considering the impersonation of a glorified rodent in a cape.

“Like you said, you could fit in here,” Aram mused. “You’re almost tall enough— if we swapped out the boots for something with thicker soles no one would be able to tell the difference. Some good padding on the shoulders and a little make-up to make your jawline stronger and a little more square—“

“Aram—“

“Trust me, that’s a compliment. And the Bat must use a voice regulator already, there’s no way he’d go to all the trouble of wearing a mask and then use his real voice, and anyone who put that voice on without a regulator would end up with a super sore throat. We’d just have to tweak it a little to make sure you sounded the same, and then voila! Instant vigilante.”

“And what if something happens?” asked Samar, raising a brow. “What if I get hurt? Or worse— what if I get caught?”

“Well, you need to sort out your priorities,” Aram said with a quick grin. At Samar’s irate glare, he quickly backtracked. “You won’t be,” he said, a little flustered. “It won’t be any different than taking down criminals while with the Bureau, really.”

“Except I won’t have any backup,” Samar pointed out.

“You’ve done missions without backup before, though.”

Samar narrowed her eyes. “How do you—“

Anyway, the main point here is that if we don’t do something, the situation out in Gotham is only going to get worse. We’d only need to keep up the pretence a short while, probably, and not even every night— just enough to ensure the criminals that the Bat is still around, and maybe to draw out the real guy. That should give us - and hopefully the rest of the team as well, the time to find a better solution.”

Samar went over it in her head for a few moments, turning away from Aram’s pleading expression to clear her mind. She went back over everything he had said, everything Cooper had said, the words that Lieutenant Gordon of the GCPD had been able to give them. She knew Aram was right about one thing— They needed the criminals to at least think that the Bat was not gone entirely. And for that, they needed their own vigilante.

“I can’t believe I am about to say this—“

“YES!” Aram almost looked like he was going to fist pump, before he glanced sheepishly to Samar and cleared his throat. “I mean, so, you’ll do it?”

“Actually, I was just going to say that maybe you should ask Ressler instead? After all, he already has a more, well, manly jawline and the right skin tone.”

Aram gaped for a moment before answering weakly. “Ressler?”

“He would be the more obvious choice,” said Samar, nodding seriously.

Aram seemed stunned. “But… Ressler?”

He also seemed to be stuck like a broken record.

“He’d even fit into the armour better,” said Samar, tilting her head slightly.

Aram suddenly shook himself (literally) out of the loop he had stuck on and came to life.

“Ressler can’t be the Bat!” he exclaimed. “I mean, for one his fighting style is all wrong - he goes more for brute strength, while the Bat tends to have a little more finesse - more like your fighting style. He knows how to blend in with the shadows, while Ressler, well—“

Samar couldn’t help it. She snickered into her hand, causing Aram to cut off his tirade and glare.

“You’re joking.” It was a statement, not a question, and Samar could almost feel the force of his irritation - but it seemed the relief won out, for not a moment later he was smiling. “That was a good one.”

“It was, wasn’t it?” Samar said brightly. “So, how is this going to work, exactly?”

——x——

An hour later, and all they had managed was the bottom half and chest piece of the armour. The thing was quite complicated, and Aram was once again acting like a broken record; this time consistently and yet imaginatively berating the absence of an instruction manual.

“The vambraces should go on first,” Samar was saying, trying to clip said article to her right arm with her left hand. “Then the piece for the upper arm will clip on here, see?”

“But if you put the vambrace on first, then that section won’t fit,” Aram replied, his patience strained. “It needs enough room to slide under the shoulder, see?”

“It has enough room, you just have to angle it—“

It would have been hard enough trying to work it out alone, but with the slight modifications they were making so it would be comfortable for Samar made it even worse.

They’d found some spare black material to pad her shoulders and waist so that the armour wouldn’t move about on her body. The shoes had been an easy fix; her usual boots actually fit well into the Bat’s large, clunky combats, giving her the correct height as well as the proper look.

When the mask was finally put into place over her head - her thick hair pulled into a tight pony at the nape of her neck and shoved down into the back of the armour - the both of them breathed a sigh of relief — which turned into a groan of frustration when Samar tried to take her first step.

“I can walk in these,” she assured Aram as he gave her a hand up from the floor. “If I can manage six inch heels, I can manage combat boots.”

“Those aren’t just combat boots though,” Aram muttered. “And you’re wearing your own shoes inside them—“

“You know that any shoes I could find that would fit me would look too different,” Samar countered. “These must be custom. Anyway, it’s fine— Like I said I can walk in these just fine, they took me surprise is all.”

“But can you run?” Aram asked, worried.

“It’ll be fine.” Indeed, it only took her a few times before she grew used to the extra half inch or so of length on her toes. The shoes were made out of incredibly light and yet sturdy material, which meant they were easy to move in despite the bulk they added to her feet. It wasn’t long before she was running the length of cave, which only served to demonstrate that— “It’s not the shoes that are the problem. This armour has very little flexibility, especially with the padding.”

“Well, Kevlar isn’t very flexible,” Aram muttered. “For all you called these glorified hockey pads they’ve got much more protection than you’d need in an ice rink, and that protection comes at a cost.”

“I know,” Samar snapped. “But I’d be much more effective - and so would the Bat, I’d wager - if I could dodge.”

“What if you were surrounded by bad guys, and didn’t have the choice of dodging?”

“The Bat relies more on brute force than me, no matter what you said about his strategy being closer to mine than Ressler’s.”

“We can’t change the armour too much or it’ll ruin the point of the whole thing,” Aram replied, worried. “If the criminals even so much as suspect something is wrong they’ll want to know what, and then the whole premise of this operation will be—“

“Oh please.” Samar waved a hand dismissively. “This is hardly an ‘operation’.”

Aram did not reply; his gaze caught on Samar’s bare fingers. “You need the gloves as well,” he said instead.

“Gloves?”

Aram pointed to the gloves they had pulled from the display case and left on a desk. “The Bat wears gloves. And he does so much punching that your hands will need the protection.”

“Hey, I thought I only had to make an appearance?”

“If that’s the case, then why are you so worried about the flexibility of the armour?” Aram replied cheekily.

Well, he had her there.

“Put on the gloves.”

Samar did so, slipping her small hands into the rather large gloves. They were black leather, probably designed to hug the fingers of the man who normally wore the suit. The leather was supple and, unlike the rest of the armour, flexible, giving the wearer a full range of motion with his fingers - no doubt necessary for the operation of the Bat’s various gadgets. No doubt the gloves were perfect for what the vigilante needed.

Normally.

Unfortunately, as they had already established, Samar’s stature was very different from that of the real Bat– and so too were her hands. The leather that no doubt moulded perfectly to the Bat’s fingers pinched the skin between her own, and bunched at the joints to slightly restrict movement.

“They’re too big,” she said, shaking her head dismissively as she pulled the offending garments back off again. “They’ll hinder me more than help.”

“They’re fine,” said Aram. “You just need some moisturiser on your hands. That’ll soften the inside of the gloves a little more, make them more malleable.”

Samar shook her head again. “I’ll just need to get new ones—“

Aram cut her off. “You won’t be able to. Look at these– look at the padding on the knuckles. You won’t get something like this in an ordinary clothing store.”

“What about baby powder?” Samar mused. “That’ll stop it pinching, surely.”

“That’s what you use for swimming caps,” said Aram, shaking his head. “It soaks up moisture, stops them from going mouldy.” He paused, then shrugged nonchalantly. “It also stops leather shoes from squeaking, did you know?”

“Yes,” said Samar dryly. “It’s very useful. Hence why I think it might be better for—“

“There’s some moisturiser over there,” said Aram, pointing back to the computer desk. “It really will soften the gloves up a bit.”

Once again conceding defeat, she smeared the cream over her hands before pulling the gloves on. She had to admit, it did stop the pinching.

Now entirely done up in the costume, Samar glanced around for a mirror, but was unable to find one. Obligingly, Aram took of photograph of her with his phone and held it up for her to see.

They had been right about her face; her skin wasn’t the same tone as the Bat’s and her jaw was too round… but otherwise, she looked perfect. Liz had been right; the stiff nature of the body armour and the padding at her waist and shoulders made it impossible to tell that she was a woman. The mask truly did afford anonymity, and if they could use makeup to hide the difference in her jawline, even those that had close contact with the Bat would surely be unable to tell the difference.

Even now, if she were shrouded in the darkness found on Gotham’s streets at night no one would be any wiser.

“You look great,” Aram said reverently, echoing her thoughts. “This is so going to work.”

She still wasn’t sure, but she knew that their previous reasoning was sound. They needed to get the Bat back on the streets.

And now, they had a way to do so.

——x——

Samar’s first run had gone well. She’d headed out to the East End, but not into the heart of the criminal territory that she knew the Bat would often frequent. Nor had she actively engaged with any of the thugs she’d seen wandering the streets. She did as Aram had suggested, skimming along the rooftops of buildings and darting out the shadows just enough to be recognised, but not enough to attract retaliation. She was a ghost, there to scare, to intimidate, but not to harm.

Her presence on the streets that night was a threat; and one that the criminal community of Gotham did not take lightly.

When the two bedraggled and exhausted agents stumbled into the war room of the blacksite the next morning, they were greeted with cheered faces and pats on the back.

“The Bat was out again last night,” Cooper told them, a sparkle in his eye despite the serious tone. “Did you have anything to do with that?”

Samar and Aram exchanged a quick look.

“We did,” said Samar, taking control. “However, I think it’s best that we do not tell you anything else at this time, sir. The vigilante isn’t exactly up to his usual calibre; it’s probably best this doesn’t get around.”

Cooper frowned for a moment, before clearing his expression entirely and turning away. “I think you’re right, Agent Navabi,” he threw over his shoulder. “I think it’s best that I know nothing about this. Continue as you were. Keep up the good work, keep the criminals off the streets, and I don’t particularly care how you do it.”

Liz, having overheard the conversation, was watching them in confused amusement. “I heard from Organised Crime that the Falcones broke up a meeting when the Bat was spotted near Park Row,” she said, moving closer.

“Yeah,” Aram replied, flashing her a grin. “He didn’t even do anything, I heard. It’s funny isn’t it— the power he holds.”

“Again with the he,” Liz said with a laugh. “Come on Aram, you have to admit—“

“Okay, okay,” said Aram, shooting Samar a rather unsubtle smirk. “I have to concede that it’s possible.”

Liz’s face brightened, and then her eyes widened. “Wait. Did you meet him– I mean, the vigilante? Do you know something?”

“Cooper’s ordered us to keep quiet.” Samar spoke quickly before Aram could say something incriminating. Knowing what she was doing, he shot her a glare - but it wasn’t particularly impressive and it was fairly easy to ignore.

“Wonder if the Bat will be back on the prowl tonight,” Liz mused, still smirking at the two.

“Yeah,” said Aram, still looking rather shifty. “I wonder.”

——x——

“There’s something going on by the bridge.”

Aram’s fingers faltered on the keyboard as Samar’s distorted voice filtered into his headset.

It was Samar’s second night out on the town as the Bat, and it had been going remarkably well. The number of vagabonds on the street had declined dramatically from the night before— clearly, word had travelled around that the vigilante had returned and they had all scuttled back into their hidey-holes throughout the city. But there were, of course, still those who had always - whether by arrogance or force of numbers - continued to operate even when the Bat was at his full potential. One relatively peaceful run through downtown had not been enough to make them run scared.

Aram knew the sort of criminal that was still out there. He also knew the sort that were proud and uncaring enough to do their business out in the open.

“Don’t,” he advised, trying to sound stern.

He heard Samar scoff. “I’ve been fighting goons like this for years, you know. Stopping crime isn’t exactly something that’s new to me, even if the cape and the mask are.”

“Samar—“

“Aram,” Samar said, matching his distressed tone with dry irritation. “I know you’re worried, but trust me. I’ve got this.”

Her end of the line went quiet, and Aram resumed his tapping at the keyboard as he worked to get access to the cameras by the bridge. Samar was right. Aram’s many years experience at digitally tracking crooks was more than enough for him to know that disconnected cameras always meant trouble.

And everything that was pointed even remotely near the bridge had gone dark.

“Samar,” he said, trying to keep his voice steady. “I’m blind here. You’re going to have to tell me what’s going on.”

“If you’re blind you aren’t much help,” she replied, her voice quiet despite the artificial rasp.

“That’s the problem, I can’t—“

“Shh,” she hissed. “Stop distracting me, I want to get closer.”

She was by the bridge at this point, having moved through the shadows and hopped across fire escapes to reach the line of buildings closest to the river. She could see the bright lights of Metropolis across the way, a stark contrast to the dark smudge that was Gotham.

“Be careful,” Aram hissed into her ear, and she had to roll her eyes. Did he think she had not considered that for herself? The whole venture may be beyond reckless, but she knew to be cautious. Any wrong move in front of someone who had faced the real vigilante in the past and she could give away her identity – or at least, the falseness of it.

Instead of risking more chatter, Samar ignored Aram’s warning and moved closer to where she had seen the dark figures moving near several large black cars.

From her new position, she was able to get a much better view than when she had first spotted them from a roof several blocks up. She couldn’t tell who they were; not that she was well versed in the crime families of Gotham, but she knew enough to be able to tell that they didn’t belong to the freak in makeup nor any of the others that the police were too afraid to take on without the help of the caped vigilante. They seemed to be a regular gang, maybe one of the crime families.

But regardless of who they were, the boxes they were shipping made what they were doing pretty obvious.

Drug deal.

There were a lot of boxes being shifted between cars - another sign, one that told her there was more than one player involved. Some more observation as she crept closer still confirmed it; the body language of the thugs watching the transaction made it clear that they were watching each other just as much. They were ready to strike if anything went wrong.

But they didn’t seem too concerned with what was going on around them. Just as she had thought before, they were either arrogant, stupid, or perhaps secure in the Bat’s absence. Perhaps they hadn’t heard the news of her run the night before, or perhaps they simply didn’t care. After all, she really hadn’t done anything.

And despite Aram’s insistence that all she needed to do to have an effect was to show her face, to let them know that the Bat was still around, still watching - she knew that wouldn’t be enough for thugs like these. She had to truly show that she was back, to prove that she was the creature that they had all learned to fear.

And for that, she needed to act.

She’d taken the Bat’s handy belt and many of his weapons from the cave just as much for a backup plan as the fact that she simply hadn’t been able to resist, so she was well supplied for the job. After all, the Bat always worked alone. He never had backup, and he never had allies. Yet he somehow came out on top over and over again.

She would just need to do the same.

After all, Aram was right. She’d been alone many times before, and she’d survived up to this point. She was capable.

In for a penny, in for a pound.

Samar was close enough now that she could see every twitch of every heavy finger on every lethal gun. Any closer and she truly risked being seen.

It was now or never.

In one fluid movement, Samar’s wrist snapped out and a bat-shaped shuriken smashed into taillight of one of the vans, shattering it in an instant. Before the thugs had hardly even realised what happened, another was twisting through the air before hitting the headlights of the other vehicle. The third landed in the side of the first van, holding its position as a clear signature.

The thugs were already panicking, and one had raced over to where she had been hiding. But Samar had already moved, the dark cape blending perfectly with the walls of the alley. She kept to the shadows, a smirk on her face— she knew how to play this game. Intimidate, then strike. If all went well, she might not even need to get close.

The guns were out but they weren’t firing yet, probably worried of hitting something they didn’t want to damage. A few more well placed shuriken fixed that, and soon they were firing blind.

‘That’s right,” she couldn’t help but whisper, “Waste all your ammo. You aren’t going to need it.”

“What are you doing,” Aram was stressing in her ear, “Are those gunshots? You need to—“

“Shut up, Aram.”

Samar raced from the cover of one wall to the next, and a shout told her she’d been spotted. The thug’s fire suddenly concentrated on the corner she was using as cover - had been using a cover, be she had begun to scale the wall.

The gloves were a bit of a problem - the too large fingers stopped her from getting a proper grip. But the uneven bricks scattered across the old walls in the dilapidated buildings near the docks were good enough hand-holds that she could easily scurry up to the roof, from where she threw a few more shuriken and a flash bomb for good measure.

While the thugs threw themselves behind the vans while they regained their eyesight, Samar used that marvellous cloak to land softly back on ground level and whip around behind the vans.

Now she had a perfect line of sight, and her brow creased as she watched one of the cursing thugs opening one of the boxes that had been discarded on the floor.

Funny time for a high, she couldn’t help but think. What on earth is he—

A grenade launcher. A bloody grenade launcher.

Okay, so she’d been wrong about the whole drug deal thing. So what? The situation was the same.

Mostly.

Perhaps a little better, since the thug seemed to think she was still on the roof and thankfully aimed the giant thing in the opposite direction from where she was actually standing.

But she didn’t know whether the building was abandoned, and hardly a second had passed before the thug with the launcher was screeching in pain as a shuriken punctured his upper arm.

Unfortunately, as is the nature of these things, it didn’t work how Samar had hoped. The sudden pain caused the man’s hand to flinch, and the trigger was engaged. One, solitary grenade was expelled from the launcher. But the spasm of the man’s arm also caused his aim to be off, and the grenade sailed further to the right and far lower than the thug had intended. It flew in a perfect arc, right through the open rear doors of one of the vans.

It almost felt like time had come to standstill as every person on the scene suddenly realised what that meant.

“Ah, crap.”

The thug’s relatively calm utterance seemed to break the spell, and thugs and vigilante alike threw themselves away from the van, scattering in all directions. Samar, being the furthest away, knew she had the most chance, and she also knew that - despite the distraction the impending explosion delivered, if she were spotted she would most likely be shot. So as soon as she was behind the corner of a building another fifty yards or so from her previous position, she wrapped herself in the incredibly useful cloak and waited.

She didn’t have to wait long.

The explosion was hot and loud, and despite her cover and the apparently flame-resistant cloak, Samar gasped at the force of it. Her ears were ringing and the air was filled with putrid grey smoke, and she coughed as she glanced back around the corner. The alley was scattered with unconscious thugs. While they had all managed to get far enough way to avoid fatalities, it seemed that none had escaped with their consciousness in tact. They were all sporting burns, with the most severe being on the man who still had a shuriken protruding from his upper arm.

At least she had been right about something. She hadn’t needed to get close to knock them out. Sure, it hadn’t gone to plan, but results were results.

She still found herself stuck with a problem, however. Now that they were all out, she wasn’t quite sure what to do.

A short groan on her left which was just loud enough to be heard through the ringing in her ears cut her musings short, but only for so long as it took her to kick the semi-conscious man in the head. That dealt with, she quickly shuffled through her memories, considering what the Bat would do.

Stories of thugs lashed together and thrown at the steps of the GCPD came to mind, but she didn’t think she’d be able to lug them all that far by herself.

Then she remembered the Bat’s trademark finishing move.

Despite her previous disdain for the Bat’s theatrics, she couldn’t help but smile a little in anticipation.

Time for a little bit of fun.

——x——

Once again, Aram and Samar entered the war room to an atmosphere of excitement. It was a nice change - Aram had not stopped glaring at Samar since she had returned to the Bat’s hideout the night before. Well, he had been relieved to see her at first, having thought the worst after her coms had been fried in the explosion, but it hadn’t taken him long to get over it. He was upset that she hadn’t thought to let him know that she was alright - even though she had thought his lack of chatter was due to her own screaming ears, rather than broken technology.

Ressler was grinning at a computer near one of the main war room screens when she approached.

“What’s happened?” she asked warily.

He responded with a grin. “The Bat’s back, that’s what - and for real this time. Lieutenant Gordon has already had a conversation with Cooper - they apprehended the arms dealers that the Bat strung up last night. Look—“

Ressler gestured for Samar to move closer and look at his screen. He was reading a news article, which showed a photograph of the thug she had indeed spent a good half hour stringing up on a lamppost.

She was almost strangely flattered that it had made the morning news, but made sure to carefully arrange her expression into a disdainful frown.

“He should leave it to the police,” she muttered. When no response was forthcoming, she looked to Ressler in confusion, only to find a worried frown of his own adoring his brow.

“That’s odd,” he muttered.

Samar sighed. “What is it now?”

Instead of answering, Ressler clicked on the link underneath the article about her night’s escapades. A new headline replaced the cheesy (and honestly untactful) ‘how many thugs does it take…’ joke:

Billionaire Bruce Wayne Missing

“Surely billionaires going missing is not so strange,” Samar commented. “Perhaps he’s been kidnapped, held hostage.”

“It says his butler’s missing as well,” said Ressler, scrolling down. “One Alfred Pennyworth. Why would they take the butler?”

“Maybe they meant to take only the butler for ransom, but the billionaire got in the way.” Samar shrugged. “That’s not unheard of, either.”

“Maybe they took Wayne because they want him to do something and took the butler for leverage,” Aram commented from behind them. They both looked up from the monitor and turned to face him.

“That’s plausible,” Ressler allowed.

“Very much so,” Samar agreed.

“It says the police are investigating,” Aram continued, leaning over the two to get a better look. “Do we have anything to do with that? The FBI, I mean?”

“Not at the moment,” Ressler answered. “It’s just the GCPD’s jurisdiction for now– if they get any evidence that it could be bigger, the Bureau will step in, but for now—“

“Yeah I get it,” said Aram, waving a hand shortly. “I was just thinking aloud.”

“And we should get to work,” said Ressler, turning off the screen and standing. “I think Liz has something from Reddington.”

“Can we help?”

“You’re supposed to continue with what you’re doing with the Bat.”

Samar frowned in annoyance. “But you saw the article, he’s—“

“Cooper’s orders.”

Samar huffed in annoyance while Ressler moved to the other monitor, where Liz was setting up the photographs to display on the large screens to show the team.

“Guess we’re stuck here,” she said to Aram.

You are,” Aram corrected. “I still have to be tech support.”

Samar made a decidedly unladylike noise, possibly bruised her toe and definitely put a dent in the leg of Ressler’s chair.

“You can use the time productively though,” Aram thought aloud. “This whole thing with Wayne is a little fishy—“

“No.”

“Oh, come on. Sure, Ressler says it’s a job for the GCPD, but maybe it should also be a job for—“

“No.”

“Samar—“

“I agreed to be a part of this to get criminals off the streets. That does not involve rescuing entitled rich boys. I’ve already done more than we agreed - I’ve done more than simply show my face. Don’t you think that’s enough?”

Samar sat down with a sharp exhale and pulled up some reports she could work on. If she were being honest, she was slightly relieved that she wasn’t required to go out in the field— scampering across rooftops left one with bruises even without the thugs and explosions. And from her seat she could hear Liz explaining that while a serious threat, the current blacklister shouldn’t require the entire team. They would manage without her.

But despite the distractions, she still heard Aram’s quiet musings.

“Maybe it isn’t enough… maybe we should be doing everything we can. Maybe.”

Maybe he was right. But her job was to ensure that the Bat was on the streets at all times. And maybe the Bat was dead - maybe she’d be stuck in this role now until the GCPD could pull together and keep the justice in this dark city without the help of a vigilante.

But for now, criminals were rampant, and as the Bat she would focus on them. Surely the police could deal with a single missing billionaire.

Surely.

——x——

Samar’s third night was going just as well as the previous two. She had promised Aram that she would stay on coms if she decided to go up against anyone again, but she wasn’t planning on it. The night was even quieter than it had been the night before, and she knew that the news article covering her treatment of the thugs had done it’s job. She could understand the theatrics now; they really did send a message.

A flick of her cloak in the corner of druggie’s eyes was enough to send them running, and even some known members of the Falcone gang ran after seeing just one shuriken in the wall beside them.

She couldn’t judge, though. It only took one flash of colour to have her up and moving.

Despite her previous decisions to leave well enough alone, there were a few criminals in this town that she knew she couldn’t pass up.

And the Joker was at the top of that list.

The poisonous green hair and royal purple coat were as recognisable as the cowl she wore on her head, and she was following the shining silver shoes down an alley before she was fully aware of her own actions.

She reached the corner just as the purple Lamborghini parked at the end pulled away with a screech of rubber, and she quickly contacted Aram.

His response was as short as it was to the point.

“Are you actually joking?

Samar couldn’t help the snort, and Aram sighed in annoyance.

“Come on, be serious. You know what I mean.”

“I am being serious,” she replied. “He’s Gotham’s most wanted, literally. Do you know how many times he’s gotten out of Arkham?”

“They should lock him up somewhere else,” Aram growled. “I’m not usually an advocate for such things, but if there were ever a person who should be on death row—“

“They don’t have capital punishment in this state,” Samar reminded him. “But none of that even matters if he isn’t caught again—”

“And he doesn’t need to be caught by you,” Aram interjected.

“Is this the same person who told me to take more action a mere fourteen hours ago?”

“Not against the Joker.”

“Aram. You know as well as I do how much damage this guy has caused, and I’m sure you know better than I do how many times he has been caught - and how many of those times was he caught by the Bat?”

There was a pause before Aram grudgingly admitted: “All of them.”

“Exactly. The GCPD can’t handle this, and— well, maybe we could at the bureau, but we’re still focusing on Reddington’s targets there at the moment. We need something more - something like what the Bat’s resources can give us—“

“Wait!” Aram exclaimed. “That’s it! We should ask Mr. Reddington for help, I’m sure that with his resources—“

“No. Look, we need to do this now. The Joker hasn’t been seen since before the Bat disappeared, and god knows what he’s up to now. Please, Aram. Just find out where he went.”

Aram sighed.

“He’s gone to Wayne Tower.”

“Well,” said Samar, her eyebrows raising - though if she were being honest, she wasn’t really surprised. “That’s somewhat suspicious.”

“I doubt it’s a coincidence,” Aram agreed.

Samar was about to head back up to the rooftop, wishing she had thought to take the Batmobile, when she paused. No matter how good he was, there was no way Aram had found the information that quickly. He must have been searching even as he argued with her.

“Hey Aram? Thanks.”

She heard a short huff on the other side of the line. “We really need to think of code names. Anyone could have heard that.

Laughing softly, Samar pulled herself up onto the roof and began to run.

Wayne Tower was a good ten blocks away.

——x——

The building was dark when she reached it, with not a single light shining from any of the windows. For the headquarters of such a large, international company it sure was strange, and Samar knew she was going to have to be on her guard. Even without Aram having tracked the Joker to this location and without the obnoxiously coloured sports car parked illegally on the footpath, it would be obvious that there was something terribly wrong.

She didn’t want to use the main entrance, and instead poked at one of the nifty buttons on the belt that Aram had excitedly explained to her a couple of days before. Lenses slid over her eyes and suddenly she had the ability to view heat signatures. She looked up the building and found a cluster of red around the thirtieth floor.

“Hostages,” she mumbled.

Aram sighed. “Well, I suppose there’s no choice now.”

Not deeming the statement worthy of response, Samar glanced around, looking for options. The buildings surrounding Wayne Tower did not appear to be compromised, and they probably offered a much safer way in than the front door. But she was still left with one problem - uncompromised meant that the security was still in place.

“It’s so hard being on the wrong side of the law,” Samar groaned, wishing she could just flash her badge.

“It’s alright,” Aram said, and she swore she could hear the grin in his voice. “We’re a two man– erm, two person team, remember? I’m not just here for the company. There was a slight pause. “Not that I don’t enjoy your company, even when you’re being argumentative you still– I mean, not that argumentative is a bad thing—“

“Aram.”

“Right. Okay. So I can get you in from here, trip the security and cause a distraction for the… yes, there’s only one security guard at the desk on the first floor. I’ll get him out of your way, and I’ve got access to the cameras so I’ll follow you up. You aren’t going to be able to use the elevator though - there’s an isolated override at the security desk, they’ll be able to trap you in there if they realise where you are.”

Samar nodded sharply, then quickly gave Aram a verbal response when she remembered he wouldn’t be able to see her.

“Got it.”

“Alright. Go through the smaller supply entrance to the right of the main door in ten, nine…”

Some things get boring with repetition, but no matter how many years Samar has or will work in law enforcement, kicking down doors will never be one of those things.

The door splintered easily under her heavily clad foot, and in moments she was moving down the supply hallway.

“There’s a service elevator here,” Samar observed, thinking that perhaps it would be less noticeable than the main elevators in the lobby.

“They’ve got cameras, and even if I put it on a loop it there’s no reason for the empty service elevator to go all the way up there.” Aram cut off her plan swiftly, but she could almost hear his brain working as his fingers no doubt raced across the keyboard before him. “But… yes, Samar, it’s in the basement at the moment, I can keep it there. You’re going to have to get into the shaft and climb.”

“Climb?” Samar let out a short laugh. “I don’t think so.”

It was fairly easy to force the doors open, and she did so quietly before pulling the tiny grapple gun from her belt. She shot it up into the darkness, hoping that the Bat’s gear was advanced enough to attach to whatever was up there.

She heard a distant clang, and pulled the cable taut. It didn’t give in the slightest.

“Which floor?” she asked absently as she connected the cable into the intricate winch in the buckle of her belt.

“You’ll want the thirty-second,” Aram replied. “The heights of the floors don’t match up perfectly, and by the time you get that high it’s a whole floor out - and then extra floor will make it easier to get in the window on the other side.”

Nodding in understanding but not bothering with a verbal response, Samar pinched the mechanism on her belt and, with an absolutely gleeful grin, she shot into the air.

The experience was quite unlike anything she had experienced before, not even with the gear she was provided with in Mossad. If she had any doubt about the Bat’s obvious wealth before (if the Batmobile wasn’t enough of a giveaway) she sure didn’t now.

The feeling of flying through the air with her hair whipping against her face was yet another thing that would never get old, and going straight up in near darkness was nothing short of exhilarating.

She hardly had to balance herself- she just went straight up, and at a speed that made counting floors near impossible. She released a little pressure from the mechanism and slowed slightly, and began to count as best as she could. The darkness didn’t help either, but that was something she was accustomed to.

In less than two minutes she had reached what she believed to be her floor, and after releasing the mechanism to stop entirely she swung herself across to the door.

“Aram,” she hissed. “I think I’m here. Can you tell me if anyone’s out there?”

“You think?” Aram hissed back. “How am I supposed to do that if you aren’t sure which floor you’re at?”

Samar huffed. “Then can’t you just check from the thirtieth to the thirty-fourth, then, just in case?”

“Oh sure,” Aram muttered. “I can do that— I’ll just check the cameras on four separate floors— Okay, if you’re on the thirty-fourth there’s a guard doing rounds around the corner, but otherwise you’re fine.”

Bracing herself against the wall and ensuring that the mechanism was truly locked just in case she lost her grip, Samar began to lever the doors open.

“WAIT!”

Aram’s exclamation wasn’t enough to cause Samar to jump - her training overrode that reaction - but it was enough to cause her to let go of the door, and she almost growled as she saw the progress she had made crash back together with a small bang.

“What?” she snapped.

“You’re on the thirty-third floor,” he responded. “I saw the doors open on the camera.”

Samar sighed. Well, she was close.

It didn’t take much to slowly lower herself down a level, and soon she was once again prying open a door.

“Are there definitely no guards on this floor?”

“Definitely. They’re on the thirty-fifth now, and going up. You’re good for a while.”

It wasn’t hard to find the side of the building that faced Wayne Tower, and soon she was standing beside an open window. The floor had been comprised of cubicles, and the windows were all designed to swing outward to let in much-needed air on hot days. The flimsy and probably not up to code guards along the bottom of the sill were easy to break, and the window easily swung out all the way.

Careful to keep most of her body behind the pillar to the right of the open space, she looked across the way and toward the Tower. Switching to infra-red, it was easy to spot the group of hostages, and the tall figure pacing in front of them.

Flashing lights below her caught her attention, and she looked down further to see several GCPD vehicles and a SWAT van surrounding the Tower’s entrance - though they were wisely keeping clear of the bright purple sports car. It would seem the police had finally caught on to the situation, but as she had told Aram; she knew the police were not equipped to deal with someone like the Joker.

“What do you think?” Samar asked, a plan already forming in her mind but recognising the wisdom of having advice.

“Well, the Joker may be crazy, but he’s only one guy,” Aram said quickly. “If you can get him away from the hostages, then, well— the police should be able to do the rest.”

Samar made an affirmative noise; that was about what she had been thinking as well.

But Aram wasn’t finished.

“Don’t forget that he is crazy though,” he continued, “Because crazy means unpredictable—“

“And unpredictable means dangerous,” Samar finished. As she spoke, she pulled the grapple from her belt once more and aimed it across the way. “I know, Aram, I’ll be careful.”

There was no response for a moment, then— “We really need those code names.”

If his voice was a little choked, then, well, she wasn’t going to comment on it.

It was high, but it wasn’t too far; the side streets in Gotham were fairly narrow. She’d gone further on missions for Mossad - and okay, she’d never done it dressed in a cape before, but she didn’t think it would hinder her much.

Of course she would manage remind herself of that ridiculous movie just as she flung herself from the window.

So, with the voice of Edna Mode ringing through her mind she flew through the air on the zip line. And if she carefully hooked the end of her cape around her ankles so that it wouldn’t get caught in the pulleys - at least Aram wasn’t there to see it.

She held on to the cable connecting her to the line with one hand, and with the other she fired her backup grapple into the widow she was flying towards at speed. She wished that Aram had allowed her to bring her service weapon, but knew he was right about the fact that it might give her away; the real Bat never carried a gun. But it didn’t matter, in the end - the grapple, when fired in close range, had enough forced to shatter the glass, and she flew through to land on a hard desk firmly but free of lacerations.

The gunfire started before she’d even flicked the catch to retract the grapple. She’d expected it; hoped, even. It was why she’d aimed for the window three offices to the left of the room the Joker was holed up in; and also why she’d made such a noise.

Hopefully, when it became obvious that the bullets could not get through enough walls to reach her, the Joker would come looking himself.

Unfortunately, it would seem the Joker had the same idea.

After the initial volley, the gunfire trailed off until the silence rang in her ears.

“He’s stopped,” she whispered, though she was sure Aram didn’t need the update.

“He’s definitely still there,” came the response. “He’s not hiding, either - I can see him on the cameras from outside the building.”

“Why haven’t the police shot him?”

“They probably know about the hostages as well… speaking of, I’ve got the work roster for tonight.“

“How—“

“Don’t ask. Anyway, so it seems that not many people were willing to work late tonight… you should have one janitor, three overseas correspondents working different time zones, an accountant, a secretary, and five security guards.”

“Why is he just sitting up there,” Samar wondered. “If he has the accountant and the correspondents, he could surely get access to at least something. But he’s just… sitting. Like he’s waiting.”

“Maybe he’s trying to draw you out.”

“They do say the Bat his is favourite play thing,” Samar sighed in annoyance. Resigned, she made her way to the door. Unfortunately, it was the only exit - it would have been so much better if she could have fit through the vents, but the armour was a bit bulky for to make use of that escape route.

But that didn’t mean she wasn’t going to use caution.

She made use of the settings on her mask again, and checked the hallway for heat signatures.

Nada.

So out she went - carefully, carefully - managing to avoid the booby trap that spanned the width of the hall.

She couldn’t tell what it was supposed to do, but knowing the Joker, it would probably be nasty despite the short amount of time he had between him getting and here and her following. She stepped over the trip wire neatly, and spotted another further down - but she knew the Joker’s

Second on the right, she thought, coming to the door.

The door itself was innocuous - plain white with a small, square window set in the centre, no different from thousands or millions of other office doors throughout the country. Well, no different but for the eight bullet holes forming what was clearly meant to be a smiley face.

She needed to be smart about this.

Before she went in, she did quick mental inventory of all she knew, revising everything she’d compiled from reading the papers and looking over reports.

The Joker has had plenty of opportunities to kill the Bat, she reminded herself, But he never does. He likes to play with him - what has it Liz said? So he won’t go for the kill.

She paused.

At least, he won’t so long as he doesn’t realise that I’m a fake.

“OOOOOHHHHH BATSY!”

Samar grit her teeth as the grating voice cut through the muffled groans of the hostages.

“Are you coming in here, or are you just going to stand outside all day? Don’t you know that’s rude?”

Knowing she had to make this look as real as she could, Samar threw open the door and stormed in with her head held high.

“Get out,” she snarled, keeping her voice low. She knew this could make or break her efforts in one hit, but the Joker would no doubt be suspicious if she remained silent. She just had to hope that the modulator was good enough that—

“Now that’s rude.” The joker pointed a purple-gloved finger in her direction, smiling at her through wide lips painted red as blood, and yet she felt relieved.

It worked.

For now.

Shoving the relief to the back of her mind, Samar took a careful step forward. Her knees were bent, and one hand lingered by her belt - not obvious enough to make the gesture threatening, but close enough that she could grab something at a moment’s notice.

“Taking people against their will is what’s rude,” Samar snapped, glancing quickly to the hostages.

There were sixteen in all - four women, and twelve men. They seemed unharmed, and they all had their hands behind their back - tied or taped, she couldn’t tell. They were all properly terrified though, and she knew she had to get them out quickly before one of them did something stupid.

Get them out, or get the Joker out.

Either one.

The Joker was grinning madly, clearly tickled that she had responded to him. She didn’t spare a thought as to how the real Batman might have reacted though, and focused instead on what she needed to do herself.

“Oh, Batsy, I had missed you,” Joker cackled. He moved as if he were going to step forward and Samar’s finger’s twitched, but his leg changed direction at the last moment, sweeping sideways instead. He almost looked like a marionette controlled by someone who hadn’t quote yet mastered the art.

His lips twitched into an even wider smile, and Samar knew the apparent stumble had not been accidental.

“Why are you here?” Samar growled, trying to think of a way to distract him long enough to get the hostages out.

The Joker giggled and spun on the spot, holding his arms out wide. “The tower’s just so tempting,” he said as he turned back to her, too fast for her to think about taking him out while he was facing the other way. “Since the boss is missing, I thought why not head up and see if I could have some fun? It’s like when the parents leave the house— time to party!”

Samar opened her mouth to respond, but the Joker began to speak again.

“But it wasn’t the tower, not really, oh no, no, no.”

This time he really did begin to stalk towards her, a truly predatory snarl on his painted face.

“I told you, oh how I have missed you, my dark crusader, my HERO in a CAPE!” He leaned forward and gnashed his teeth together, and it took all Samar had in her not to step back, and not to attack. She held her ground, her thoughts on the hostages even as her eyes never left the Joker. “And you, you have come back.”

The Joke let out one loud laugh, and then he turned around, and Samar saw her chance.

But then—

“Or have you?”

Before Samar could register what had happened there were hands on her wrists, fists pummelling her sides, and she was being shoved down—

She swung out with a leg as she went, and managed to get two of them in the shins, knocking their legs out from under them.

From her position on the floor, she could see the faces looking down at her, grinning obscenely despite the fear in their eyes.

They were enjoying attacking her.

And she recognised them.

But why were the hostages attacking her?

Wait.

No.

What was it Aram had said?

One janitor.

Three overseas correspondents.

An accountant.

A secretary.

And five security guards.

And there were sixteen hostages.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

But there was no point in crying over spilled milk; she rolled out of the way of another punch and used her momentum to catch another off guard, pulling herself up as she pulled him down.

Eleven workers but sixteen hostages - that left five thugs, and she’d already taken down three of them.

Except the first two were getting back up—

Samar reached into her belt for a handful of bat-shaped shuriken and flicked her wrist with deadly precision. She didn’t need to badly injure, just maim just enough - a cut tendon in the wrist a stab in the foot goes a long way when you’re outnumbered.

In the corner of her mind she was aware of the Joker cackling against the wall, clapping his hands in delight. She felt a morbid pleasure as the cackle turned into an annoyed grumble when she threw one thug at the wall and cracked another over the head in quick succession.

Now she really had put two down, and the game was a little more in her favour.

But the Joker was moving, and he was insane - she needed to keep an eye on him—

One problem at a time. Two thugs came at her at once, and one was wielding a baseball bat - must have been stashed in the room - all it took was step, a duck and a shove and they were both sprawling over each other, and then one swing with the stolen bat, a sharp crack and then it was just the Joker and she in the room once more.

Wait—

“What did you do?” She snarled, storming toward him and giving one of the thugs a shark kick as she went past for good measure. “Where are they?”

“Oh, you didn’t think these were my only minions here, did you?” he said, his voice icily amused. “Oh, Batsy. There are minions further down - I just, how do you say it? Let the hostages go. The others will round them up.” He paused, a slight frown on his face. “Probably.” But the frown was gone as quickly as it appeared, and the maniacal grin flashed. “It’s better this way. We’re going to have a little chat.”

He moved like lightning, taking the bat from her gloved hands and swinging it straight into her abdomen. Despite the thick armour she gasped in pain and stumbled back - right as another swing glanced off her shoulder and hit the pane of glass behind her. As the shining shards fell down on her she stepped back once in surprise, and then the bat was coming at her again—

She was lucky she caught the edge. She looked up to see the Joker standing above her, his hands running across the bat in a sick caress. But his eyes were on her, and he looked…

Disappointed.

Again, though, the look was fleeting, and in moments he was laughing once more.

She trembled as her fingers began to slip—

Take that Aram, Samar found herself thinking as she fought to keep her tenuous grip on the ledge. I told you the baby powder would have worked better.

Not that the thought was a whole lot of comfort in the situation.

The Joker turned to place the bat on the desk behind him before looking back down once more, his teeth gleaming freakishly from the light of the building Samar had leapt from not ten minutes before.

“Batsy, Batsy, Batsy,” he taunted, his voice positively overflowing with vicious amusement. “I never did think it would come down to this, but if this is the way it ends…”

——x——

“You,” Samar grumbled as she massaged her fingers, “Give the worst advice.”

Aram muttered something under his breath, and Samar glared.

“Say that again.”

“I didn’t mean—“

“Say it.”

He sighed. “I just don’t get why you thought it would be a good idea to take advice from the ‘computer guy’ when you’ve done so many missions, is all.”

Samar took a deep breath in through her nose, hoping the calming mechanism would work. “Well,” she groused, “At least I know what not to do next time.”

Aram gave her a wobbly smile, but it didn’t reach his eyes. In fact, he didn’t seem to want to look at her at all; he kept his gaze down, either at the monitor, his hands, something on the desk - but never on her.

She knew this sort of behaviour; had known Aram plenty long enough to be able to recognise it.

He had something to say. Something that he wasn’t particularly happy with himself, and something he knew she would definitely oppose.

Carefully, Samar began to remove the remaining uncomfortable and now rather scarred armour. She had pulled several large pieces of glass from it already, and had been relived to find that the pain in her leg was more due to two of the pieces overlapping from the pressure of a shard of glass, and jabbing into her thigh. She had a few nicks, but was otherwise all right.

Standing, she collected some cold compresses from the alarmingly but not surprisingly well-stocked icebox before settling back down in a chair beside him.

“Go on then,” she said dryly, breaking the silence when it became apparent that Aram would not speak his mind. “What is it?”

Aram’s eyes flicked up for a moment before returning to his lap. “You faced the Joker today.”

“I know.”

“And I encouraged you.”

“I actually think it was the other way around.”

“No, I—“

“You can’t seriously be feeling guilty about what happened?” Samar’s eyes flashed. “I do actually have a mind of my own, you know, and I was the one who chose to—“

“You might have chosen to face him tonight, sure,” Aram interrupted, “But you didn’t want anything to do with all this in the first place. You just wanted to find the Bat’s hideout and report it to Cooper, and that’s what we should have done from the beginning—“

“You said it yourself, our orders were to—“

“Damn our orders,” Aram stood suddenly, and moved around the desk, rubbing his face with his hands twice before spinning to finally look at her. His eyes were almost crazed, but determined. “I was the one who convinced you to do this, and I thought we could keep it simple but I should have known that the moment that you got started on something like this you wouldn’t have been able to stop.”

Excuse me?”

“It’s how you are, Samar! And while I usually can’t fault you for that - how can I fault you for wanting to do the right thing? - but if something were to happen, god, goodness knows what I—“ he stopped abruptly, ran his hands over his face again before continuing. “It’s like you said yesterday at the blacksite. You’ve done enough - you’ve done plenty more than just show your face. You did it, Samar, the Bat is back - now let’s just quit while we’re ahead - while you’re still alive.”

Samar shook her head sharply. “I’m not quitting.”

Aram growled in frustration. “Damn it, Samar, don’t you get it? You could have died tonight, the Joker—“

“I could die any time I go out into the field, whether I’m wearing that mask or not.”

“That’s different—“

“How?”

“When you go out for the Bureau, or for Mossad, you have backup.”

“Not always. And Aram, I distinctly remember having this conversation before—“

“This is different, because—“

“Because what? Because it isn’t my job? What happened to all the support you had for the real Bat?”

“I didn’t—“

“Is it because I’m a woman?”

Aram blanched. “You know that’s not— I mean, you’re way more capable than I am, one hundred per cent. That’s not why.”

“Then why?”

Aram shuffled his feet for a moment. “I just don’t want to see you get hurt, and going up against guys like the Joker…”

“Aram.”

“I mean, sure the Bat does it all the time, but he has practice at this. And you know he doesn’t always come out on top. I’m sure that with experience at being by yourself and with his tech you might even do a better job, but at the moment…” He shook his head forlornly. “It’s just that you said this was a bad idea from the start, and I should have listened to you. But now, I guess we’re in too deep.”

Samar drew in a breath, and nodded. “You’re right. I didn’t want to do this, and yes, you talked me into it. But we both agreed, and it was my decision to go after the Joker tonight. And okay, I got a little banged up - but it was nothing serious. I survived. And sure, next time it could be worse, but we’ll deal with that at is comes, just like we do every other day of our lives.”

Aram stared at her for a moment, before he lowered his head in a slow nod.

“We put ourselves on this path, Aram,” Samar insisted. “It’s how we’ve chosen to help, and we’re going to stick with it. If we leave before we get the Bat back, then we’ll be back at square one. We started this, and we have to see it through.”

Aram nodded again, firmly this time.

“Okay,” he said. “Okay. But if that’s the case, we’re going to need more of a plan for next time.”

“Because if I run into the Joker again, we can’t just let him go,” Samar agreed. “But I can’t just run in again, or he’ll be all over me just like tonight.”

“He was expecting you.”

“More than that,” said Samar, frowning as she remembered the Joker’s momentary but unmistakable disappointment. “I think it was a test.”

Aram’s eyes widened. “Did he work it out?”

“He might have,” she admitted. “It was only for a moment, but…”

After seeing the Joker’s disappointment as she hung from the edge of the building, the villain’s demeanour had changed. While still darkly playful, he became less like chess master engaged in a battle of wills with an equal and more like a predator tossing around a scrap of meat. Despite all the copious information available regarding the Joker’s MO and every piece of evidence that had Samar so certain the Joker would never kill the Bat, he had been quite happy to toss her from that thirty storey window. And despite the bravado at finally being able to bring about the end of their ‘epic duel of passion’, as he referred to their constant clashes, he seemed entirely too eager to have the affair over and done with, as if he had somewhere better to be.

It was lucky, in a way; had the Joker not been rushing to crush her fingers under the heel of his boot he might have noticed her use the momentum of her already slipping fingers to swing a leg out and catch a well-placed gargoyle under her knee, and use that as leverage to swing herself through a window the floor below. There’d been a terrifying moment of vertigo for the second she hung upside down, tethered to the building only by her grip with her leg before she hit the glass. The hastily deployed spikes from her vambraces had not been sufficient to shatter the glass, but they did weaken it enough that her body broke though.

She had gasped for a second on the floor, but was already up and running before the machine gun fire rocketed through the ceiling, moving relatively quickly despite lancing pain in her leg.

A thug met her at the door to the office she had ended up in, but Samar was quite proficient in the art of using a door as a weapon, and the thug had most likely woken up with a concussion and broken nose.

She used the stairwell to put a floor in between herself and the quickly moving bullets (throwing another thug over the railing as she did so) and came out next to a break room. The sort of room didn’t matter; all she cared about was that it had a window, and it faced the front of the building.

A quick glance out was all she had needed to confirm that the SWAT team had retrieved the hostages and were beginning to arrest a few thugs - she could make her exit guilt-free.

She raced through the building, found a small room full of photocopiers that had a window facing a (rather neglectfully, on the police’s part) abandoned alley, and threw herself through a window once more, pausing only to throw a chair through first.

She winced and rubbed her aching waist in remembrance. As much as she loved the grapple, the belt really did jerk when it caught her from freefall. It could use more of a bungee.

Aram was frowning worriedly. “Alright?”

She nodded. “Totally fine.”

He didn’t seem convinced. “How’s the leg?”

She glared, but placed the compress she’d been holding over her hand onto the sore area in her thigh, and he let up.

When the silence lasted a little longer, she thought it best to break it once more.

“Whether he knows or not doesn’t make a difference. I doubt he’s likely to tell anyone else, and at least the other criminals will believe that I am the real thing. At least we know now that the Joker isn’t behind his disappearance.”

“Doesn’t get us much closer to the real reason, though,” Aram sighed. “Back to square one.”

Samar nodded in agreement.

“So what now?” asked Aram, his voice soft.

She only had one answer to give him.

“We just keep on going.”

——x——

“Uh, Samar.”

“I’m sure we’ve had this conversation Aram - if there’s something to say, say it, because otherwise you’re just wasting—“

“We’ve got a slight problem.”

Samar paused. “What sort of problem?” Her mind was racing through the possibilities, ranging from someone catching Aram in the hideout to her being in the middle of an ambush.

“Well…”

“Aram!”

“The GCPD has put up their Bat signal.”

Samar took a deep breath and counted to ten before deeming herself calm enough to respond. “They’ve what?”

“Put up the—“

“They have a what?”

“Surely you’ve seen it—“

“I do not have enough time in the day to keep up with the oddities of the GCPD, Aram—“

“You’re going to have to go and see what they want.”

“I’ll be doing no such thing—“

“The real Bat—“

“I’m sure he’s busy enough that he doesn’t answer them every time. What could they want, anyway? If they were competent enough to actually do their job—“

“Oh, now you’re just being mean.”

“It took eight of them to take out two thugs and rescue those hostages last night, Aram—“

“To be fair, you—“

“I took out five, thank you very much. And I had the Joker to deal with - who the GCPD let get away again, might I add.”

“Well, technically, you also—“

“And anyway, I thought we agreed literally just last night that we wouldn’t get involved in anything else that’s big.”

There was a pause. Then—

“Don’t you remember how stressed Lieutenant Gordon was when he came in and asked for help? They need the Bat, Samar—“

“We are helping! Look, the Bat’s on the street, most of the criminals are in hiding—“

Most. Look, what harm could there be in going to see what they want?”

And somehow, that was how Samar ended up on the roof of the Gotham City Police Headquarters.

She made sure to keep to the shadows, knowing that if the Bat did this frequently, Gordon might recognise that she wasn’t exactly the real thing.

She wasn’t sure how the Bat would usually refer to the man either, so she simply cleared her throat to get his attention.

The Lieutenant didn’t even flinch, clearly accustomed to large figures dressed as rodents appearing from the shadows. And, well, she figured she was expected.

“You are back,” Gordon said immediately, relieved. “Was it— Where have you been?”

“I’d rather not discuss that,” Samar replied firmly. “What is it that you need?”

Gordon didn’t mess around any further, and got straight to the point.

“Bruce Wayne is missing.”

Samar just caught herself before she groaned aloud. Really? So it seemed they weren’t competent enough to find a single billionaire after all.

“I am aware,” Samar replied when it seemed that there was nothing else forthcoming. And she couldn’t resist a small jab. “Have you had difficulty locating him?”

Gordon snorted. “You could say that - there hasn’t been a trace.”

“You know I don’t spend my time looking for individual billionaires,” Samar warned.

“I know.” He nodded once. “But you do help when it is in the interest of the city. And this… well.”

Samar frowned, though she knew Gordon wouldn’t be able to tell under the mask. “What do you mean?”

Gordon moved closer, and spoke in low undertones. “Look, I’m not supposed to say anything, but if you can help us… Wayne Enterprises was recently contracted to build a new state of the art prison facility in Gotham. Something that could hold the sorts of criminals we have here, something stronger and better equipped than Arkham. It could still act as a hospital, somewhere for the not sound of mind criminals to go, but it would be far more difficult, if not impossible, to break someone out of it.”

She could easily connect the dots.

“You think someone’s taken Wayne for information on the project.”

“Or to stop it from going ahead entirely, yes.”

Samar thought for a moment. How many times had she and Aram - the whole team - discussed the fact that Arkham was not equipped to deal with the likes of the Joker? Even if it were in the heart of Gotham, a dark hole to throw them into would be far more preferable to the system in place at the moment.

But if someone had got hold of Wayne, they had the means to make it all stop. While it was true that one man was not the whole company - more true of Wayne than most CEOs, really - if Wayne nixed the project, it was unlikely to take off. There just weren’t any other large companies in Gotham willing to take on such a task. Not any more.

“Alright,” Samar said grudgingly. “I’ll see what I can do. Have you got any leads?”

“No.” Gordon sounded frustrated. “There was a sign of a struggle in the gardens of Wanye Manor, but there was no evidence left behind that we could find - no fingerprints, no DNA, not even any footprints. Just some destroyed rose bushes.”

“So you have no idea at all?”

“None, I’m afraid. It’s why we need your help. As much as I hate to say it, you have access to things we don’t.”

Right. He wanted to make use of the Bat’s underground connections.

Shame that Samar had no idea what those were.

She melted back into the shadows, not wanting to deal with the Lieutenant any longer and glad that she was rather exempt from common courtesy.

“So?” asked Aram, the electronics giving his voice a tinny quality.

Samar sighed.

“I think we’re going to need some help on this one.”

——x——

“I’m sorry, you want me to what?” Liz was incredulous.

“We need you to arrange a meeting with Reddington for us,” Samar repeated, unamused.

Liz blinked a few times, and then carefully put down the pen that had remained stationary on her paper for the past several seconds.

“Why?”

“I can’t really say.”

“Samar—“

“Please, Liz?” Aram asked. “It’s - I mean, it’s important.”

Liz stared between them for a few moments before letting out a long sigh.

“I’ll see what I can do. But you know what he’s like— he’ll either send a vague message to meet somewhere shady or he’ll show up at your apartment unaware.”

“Yeah,” Aram sighed. “I know that all too well.”

——x——

As it turned out, they didn’t have to go anywhere for their meeting with Red; he came into the blacksite the very next day, a swagger in his step as he rattled off info regarding his next Blacklister, no doubt excited at whatever prospects this next arrest would bring him.

Unfortunately, getting him alone was another matter entirely - criminals could not wander freely into FBI blacksites no matter how important they believed themselves to be - even if their actual importance nearly measured up.

Even when Samar told him it was part of her current assignment, Cooper was not too keen on letting her discuss things with him alone.

He would, however, let Aram do it.

All of this is mostly insignificant, as Samar was sure she would get the information she needed in the end - however, it had left her leaning down with her ear rather pressed to the break-room door in a rather undignified manner.

But beggars can’t be choosers, and she and Aram needed the information Red (hopefully) had to offer.

“I’m sorry, Aram, I truly am,” the criminal was saying, raising his hands in the air. “I don’t know what to tell you. I haven’t heard a thing.”

“Someone might be keeping it a secret though,” Aram insisted, and Samar’s lip curled with pride. That’s right. Push him.

But Reddington just snorted. “Unlikely,” he chuckled, “If anyone had caught the Bat and managed to hold on to him for this long they would be bragging. No one capable of taking down such a prize could possibly keep it quiet.”

Samar frowned. It wasn’t that she thought he was lying - what he said made perfect sense. But there was something to the tilt of his voice…

And she was sure, positive, that Reddington was a master of modulation, and she knew that at his best he could bluff his way through something and even she would be unlikely to pick it up. But there was something there.

He knew something. She knew that… but she didn’t know what.

Aram, however, hadn’t noticed anything and was continuing.

“So you have no idea?” He did, however, sound a little disbelieving. Even without the tilt in his tone, she had to concur - it was a rare moment indeed that Reddington didn’t have some inkling from some little bird in some obscure place.

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” Reddington replied, and Samar could almost imagine him waving a hand and titling his head back in amusement. “We all have our theories.”

“But nothing concrete?”

There was a pause and creak of plastic, as if someone had shifted ever so slightly in their seat.

“He’s not been taken by the Joker, or we would have heard,” Red reiterated. “Nor has he been caught by the authorities, as the news would have shown that - and neither is he dead, as is body would near certainly be displayed as a trophy or rally point.”

There was another pause, and when Red continued, he sounded almost weary.

“Maybe he had enough. Maybe he just left.”

“He wouldn’t have just left,” Aram said firmly, most likely shaking his head. “You haven’t seen—“

“Seen what?”

“I just mean, I’ve talked to Liz, and she agrees. It’s not his MO. He wouldn’t have just up and left after all the work he put into this city.”

“But after so long, and after seeing little progress - Aram, everyone has a breaking point.”

“Maybe,” Aram allowed, “But this isn’t it. Not for him. I know it, and— and I think you know it too.”

There was silence for a couple more moments, and Samar pressed her ear harder to the door, wishing she could see through the covered windows to view their expressions. She contemplated looking for a gap - after all, if Cooper really thought it was best for this conversation to be one on one between Red and Aram he would have put them somewhere more secure than the break room - but then—

“People are getting suspicious,” Red said, his voice no quicker than usual and yet with an undercurrent of urgency. “They know the Bat was gone for a fair while, and while they understand he’s back they know he’s not exactly the same—“

“You just said you didn’t know anything,” Aram said, suspicious.

“I dont, because I know as well as you that the person crossing those roof tops is not exactly… well, at his best, shall we say.”

Well. That was one question answered - Reddington knew. Still, Samar couldn’t help but bristle at the comment.

Not at his best? Let’s put you in a cape and see how you go jumping about on rooftops.

Aram was on the ball. “People are suspecting?”

“They know he isn’t at the top of his game,” Reddington clarified. “He hasn’t been as active.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

There was shift of fabric as Reddington shrugged. “Let’s call it helping out a friend, shall we?”

Aram, thankfully, did not respond to the comment.

“But if I were in contact with the Bat right now,” the criminal continued, “I would advise that he step up his game. If he doesn’t want to be targeted - if he doesn’t want the underground to come right back out and operate under his nose just as they were before he came back.”

Aram audibly swallowed. “That’s… that’s sound advice.”

“What are you doing?”

Ressler’s sudden question wasn’t quite enough to make her jump out of her skin. Nope. Samar stood up with grace, and turned to face her fellow agent with dignity.

“Nothing.”

“Right.” Ressler raised an eyebrow, before raising his voice. “I’m just here to let Aram know that Reddington has to leave soon. If he isn’t doing what he’s supposed to be doing, then he isn’t permitted to be here.”

There was a soft curse from behind the door, and both Ressler and Samar’s lips turned up.

“I think he knows,” she said unnecessarily.

Ressler narrowed his eyes at her, but did not comment on what he must have known she was doing.

Within moments of his leaving she was back at the door.

“I didn’t only want to ask you about the Bat though,” Aram saying, both in an obvious change of subject and because it was clear he was running out of time.

“Go on.”

“The GCPD want— I mean, Agent Navabi and I have a different project at the moment. We’re trying to find Bruce Wayne.”

“Ah.” Reddington had a smile in his voice. “Now that, I believe I will be able to help you with.”

——x——

This time, it really was a drug deal. She was sure of it. She’d seen the bags and bags of plastic filled with white in the crate they’d opened from her vantage point atop a low crane, and honestly if she was wrong this time she deserved to have her badge taken from her. One misjudgement, while almost deadly, was understandable. She could not afford another.

But this time, she was sure.

A snap of the wrist was all that was required for a shuriken to smack into one of thug’s hands with a dull thud and a screech of pain, and soon there were guns firing through the night.

Using the darkness as her cover, Samar’s cloak spread behind her as she leapt from the crane to a shipping container, and the flashes from the guns blinded her opponents to her movements around them. She had them spinning in circles, firing at shadows as she carefully and deliberately placed her charges.

They all went at once, the flash bombs blinding the men to a level that the guns had not been able to, and after that it was all over. A knock to the head each and they were out like a light.

It had been easy, really.

She’d barely had them all trussed up before Aram was in her ear, telling her about the robbery at Gotham National.

They were amateurs, nowhere near the standard of robbery the bank had seen from the likes of the Joker in the past.

They had guns though, and they were using them, waving them about and terrifying their hostages.

The hostages made the situation difficult, but not impossible.

At Samar’s signal, Aram cut the power– not dangerous by virtue of it being the first move made in hostage situations in every movie ever, and robbers were neither surprised nor spooked. It did, however, provide Samar with the perfect cover to get into the building.

Banks are, by nature, secure, but the robbers had gotten in through the roof— and that was Samar’s entrance, as well. The door was busted and wide open, with only one guard watching for copters. He didn’t stand a chance, and he didn’t have time to raise the alarm.

Aram’s cutting of the power was enough for him to trip the security system, and he played the footage on a loop while Samar moved unhindered through the halls.

The lobby was another story. There were thugs everywhere - at least eight - and all with guns. Hostages numbered higher than thirty, and they were all grouped together along one of the counters. Just one slip from a thug, or one wrong move from a hostage, and they could all be mowed down in moments.

This was going to require delicacy.

She had both the teachings of Mossad and the ability to work outside protocol as a vigilante on her side, and she knew exactly what she needed to do.

After all, the Bat’s reputation was working in her favour.

The shuriken (she pointedly ignored Aram calling them the newly christened ‘batarangs’) worked fine to take out the lights that had illuminated on back up power.

The thugs, as amateurs were wont to do in such a situation, grouped together. Almost as it they were just asking for Samar to fire her absolutely brilliant grapple at them on an angle, causing it to wrap around them and pull them al together like a mechanised lasso.

The hostages panicked but thankfully stayed down - the thugs were still armed, although there wasn’t much they could do but fire at their feet with their arms pinned to their sides.

She decided to leave them be. The thin wire was incredibly strong, and she was sure the GCPD couldn’t be too far away. If she did all their work for them, they might just decide to give up entirely out of boredom.

She was just ordering the hostages out through the doors when Aram’s voice rang in her ear once more:

“Car chase up sixteenth street, aiming for pedestrians on the side walk.”

Oh yes. Samar grinned. She’d been waiting for this.

——x——

“I think I need to ask the Bat where he got this,” Samar said, a feral grin on her face as she revved the engine. “I want one.”

“I don’t think it’d be easy to park,” Aram commented. “Turn left.”

“You wouldn’t need to worry about parking, who’d be brave enough to give this thing a ticket?” Somehow, the tires didn’t screech as Samar swung around the corner and narrowly missed taking out a street-light. “Besides, you could just park on top of—“

“Right—“

“—all the other cars, never mind trying to get in between them.”

“Pretty sure that’d frowned upon by the Bureau,” Aram replied. His voice was carefully preoccupied, but Samar knew him well enough to sense the jealousy dripping from his words.

“I’ll take you out for a spin later, if you want.”

“You need to get a block north, and one east—“

“I might even let you drive it. Maybe.”

She didn’t think she’d be able to give it up easily.

The media called the vehicle a tank, but no tank had ever driven so smoothly, cut corners so precisely or moved quite so quickly. It was like a dream, with the displays in front of her providing her a panoramic view of the street in place of a windscreen, as well as information about where she should be going

She was pretty sure the car could have told her where the car chase was currently occurring, but she knew Aram was enjoying his involvement - and honestly, he gave better instructions than any navigation system could.

“You should be able to see the GCPD vehicles up ahead,” he said, as if answering her thoughts.

“Got them,” she replied, the flashes of red and blue coming into view as she rocketed around another corner with only a simple turn of the wheel.

She gunned the engine and shot forward, less like a bullet and more like a greyhound and she dodged between cars that had shifted to allow the police through.

She could see immediately why Aram thought the police needed her assistance.

It wasn’t an ordinary car chase.

The car the GCPD were chasing down was not an ordinary car. Nor was it an ordinary truck, for it only took one glance at the rig sitting on the bed to recognise it as a rudimentary gas tank. The gas billowing out of the top of it was also a bit of a give away.

“So the GCPD haven’t tried shooting at the truck, I suppose?” Samar asked.

“The Scarecrow’s fear gas hasn’t yet been proven explosive, but I don’t think they want to take the chance,” Aram agreed.

The truck careened around the corner and the GCPD scrambled to follow, but the Batmobile took it smoothly and soon she was the closest pursuer.

Whoever was driving the truck, whether it was the Scarecrow or a henchman, seemed to realise she was there, and his pace quickly increased. The truck took another corner, heading toward Sprang River, and then seemed to aim directly for the bridge.

“This isn’t good,” Aram said worriedly.

Samar grinned, shaking her head. “No. This is perfect.”

There was a pause, and Samar took the opportunity to open one of the panels in front of her that was covered in yellow warning signs.

“I worry about you sometimes, you know?” Aram said finally in resigned exasperation.

“Oh,” said Samar, slamming her hand down on the bright red button just as she pulled onto the bridge. “I know.”

There was an almighty boom as the Batmobile rocketed into the air, lifting only a few yards from the ground but thrusting itself forward at a speed exponentially faster than anything she had made the vehicle do before. The height was just enough to clear the top of the truck and sail straight over to the clear road in front.

Aram yelped and horns blared as Samar swung the wheel before she had even landed, and the moment the tires caught the asphalt she turned with such force that her shoulder slammed into the side of her seat, jarring her neck.

The truck careened past her, its own tires screaming and smoking as the driver narrowly avoided crashing into the solid armoured car. The police were far enough behind that they were able to stop properly in front of her, just in time to see the truck smash through the barrier and into the river.

Samar was out in moments, watching over the side. She didn’t want to have to go into the water with all her gear, but—

Thankfully, a head broke the surface, and Samar was able to get back into the Batmobile before the police were able to so much as shout a single word at her.

Then she had a sudden, horrible thought.

“The gas won’t get into the water system now, will it?” she asked, remembering the horrors of a few years before. She hadn’t been in Gotham at the time, but she’d heard accounts, seen the footage, and her own first hand experience with the gas in recent times was enough to make her more than worried—

“No,” Aram said confidently. His voice was a little weak from watching Samar’s stunt, but he seemed in control. “It only affects people when inhaled regardless, but the gas itself is rendered inert in water. To survive in water, the compound has to be prepared as a liquid first.”

That’s what she had thought when she’d impulsively thought of the plan, but it was nice to be sure.

“Congrats,” said Aram. You just took down your second Gotham super villain plot.”

“I don’t think this counts,” Samar laughed. “It was hardly the Scarecrow in there, just a henchman—“

“It was still his plot—“

“And I hardly took down the Joker, he thrashed me—“

“You still rescued the hostages—“

“And besides, the Scarecrow can hardly be labelled a super villain anyway—“

“Samar,” Aram broke in firmly. “You did good.”

Samar allowed herself to enjoy the speed of the Batmobile for a moment as she smiled. “I did, didn’t I?”

“Certainly.”

“I think I’m getting the hang of this whole dealing with Gotham criminals thing,” she commented. “None of them can complain that the Bat hasn’t been active after tonight.”

“Well, get ready to deal with a different brand of criminal,” Aram replied. Before Samar could voice her question, he continued. “Red sent a text. He’s got some information for us.”

——x——

It was all so incredibly cliché: the dingy yet somehow still tasteful pub, all in dark wood and thick panelling. The air was thick with smoke despite the laws introduced well over a decade before.

Reddington himself was both distinctive and yet stereotypical - his sharp suit and clean tie hung off his frame perfectly, and even though Dembe was seated in the next booth down he could not have more obviously been a bodyguard. Even the hat placed carefully on the table Reddington’s left fit the picture, all but tying the knot on the image of the perfect gangster. All he was missing was a thick Italian cigar.

Samar slid into the booth opposite him - she’d opted to come alone in an attempt to attract less attention - then she waited.

She’d learned enough to know that Reddington would start to talk on his own if one waited long enough - and indeed, she did not need to wait long at all.

“I do so love Gotham,” the criminal began, taking a deep breath and seeming to relish in the smoke-thickened air. “So many dark little corners to hide in, and yet the city gives you that sensation of never really knowing which moment could be your last.”

“I know the feeling,” Samar muttered, glancing about at the other patrons. There weren’t many, and yet her practiced eye spotted four illicit deals occurring; five, if she counted herself.

“There’s nowhere else on earth quite like it,” Red continued, either not hearing or electing to ignore her comment. “Nowhere quite as… free.”

Samar raised an eyebrow, but said nothing.

Red leaned back in his chair, as if he were studying her carefully.

“I hear the Bat was out in full force last night,” he said, his tone brightly conversational. “Several of my sources were stressing that the meets they had planned would have to be postponed.”

“I suppose that’s a good thing then,” Samar replied.

“Oh, for the law enforcement and the general public, maybe,” the criminal replied, waving a hand absentmindedly. “But I was hoping to attend this auction last night - there was a particular piece of art I wanted to get my hands on. But the rather shady characters that were running it got wind that the Bat was at a bank mere blocks away and thought it best to cancel. There were a lot of unhappy clients - myself being only one - but better safe than sorry, I suppose.”

Samar decided to take it as a compliment.

“But you’re not here to listen to me morose over the lost Van Gogh. You wanted to know about Bruce Wayne.”

“Please.”

“Have you ever been to the Iceberg Lounge?”

Samar frowned - she knew exactly who haunted that particular club.

Reddington took her response as a negative.

“You should visit; it’s actually rather tasteful. The owner is a good friend of mine.”

Well, of course he is. It made a certain kind of sense - both Red and the Penguin thought of themselves as gentlemen, despite - or even because of - the various criminal activities they got up to. And unlike the mostly-insane population of criminals that walked Gotham’s streets, both Red and the Penguin possessed a sharp intelligence that allowed them to manage their businesses with proper control, rather than simply fear.

“Ah yes, I remember a time when Oswald and I went to Paris together. It’s a marvellous place, ripe with opportunities for those such as we were— and boy did we take advantage of it. We were in this small cabaret - it was the inspiration for some of the interior of Oswald’s Lounge, actually - and this lovely lady came right up to us. Well, I could tell that Oswald was getting a bit excited - she was a pretty thing - but then she opened her mouth. She’d heard of Oswald, you know, and she had some information for us.” Red shook his head fondly. “Of course, it turned out that the information she gave us led us to a trap; her brother had actually been in my employ and had gotten himself killed. Oh well. We were both more than clever enough to get ourselves out of it, and the girl certainly regretted giving us misleading intelligence.”

Samar narrowed her eyes. The message was clear, but since Reddington was the one imparting information, she didn’t quite understand why he was relaying it.

“Anyway, enough of that,” Red said, and he leaned forward towards her. “Oswald tells me he’s heard something. Said he wouldn’t give anything too explicit lest it lead back to him and people stop gossiping in his place.”

“But?”

“Apparently, the word is that the best place to go if you’re looking for Bruce Wayne at the moment is Robinson Park.”

“And from whom did the Penguin hear this?” Samar asked shrewdly.

“Oh, I imagine a pretty lady in black leather,” Red said with a wink. “Hell of a set of claws on her. He definitely would not want to get on her bad side.”

Samar nodded. She wasn’t entirely too keen on acting upon information that had come from a chain of not even two, but three different criminals.

But at least now they had a place to start.

——x——

Trees are supposed to be insentient, peaceful things. They are not supposed to attack people.

That was basic, common knowledge, the sort of thing one learns in kindergarten. Before that, even.

Sure, the occasional branch might fall through a roof, and you’ve always got to be careful when walking through branches lest one swing back once released and poke out an eye. But those were natural movements for a tree - things that couldn’t be helped.

Branches that swung of their own accord, going against the wind – roots that pulled from the ground with the express purpose of tripping – pieces of bark that seemed to fly out of nowhere – these were not natural movements.

“I feel like this is some sort of karma.” Aram sounded slightly amused, the bastard. “I distinctly remember you laughing when I tripped in the forest trying to find the Batcave the other day.”

“This is an entirely different—“ Samar gasped as she ducked under another flying branch, flinching when it grazed the tip of one of the spikes on her mask “—and I’m sorry, but what? Batcave?

“It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?”

No! Now, please focus!”

“Right, right. Okay, so you’ve been turned around a bit—“

“Thanks, genius—“

“You need to head west—“

“Did you not just hear yourself—“

“Go left then!”

Samar ducked to left, only to hear—

“No, the other left!”

Seriously?

“You are a blinky red dot, Samar– blinky red dots do not have a left and a right, I needed for you to move—“

“I’ve been moving this whole time,” she growled, only just managing to avoid falling flat on her face as yet another root wrenched itself from the ground. “If I don’t, I’m going to be trampled by these trees!”

“There’s not much else I can do to help.” His suddenly despondent tone had Samar biting back yet another retort. “Look, if the plants are getting worse, you must be getting closer to the centre.”

Yeah. That was such a comforting thought.

Since the, erm, inhabitant of the park did not hold cameras - or any technology, really - in high regard and had long since destroyed anything with even a spark of electrical current within the park’s boundaries, Samar was mostly flying blind. Aram was able to follow her movements by tracking her com, but other than that he couldn’t do a whole lot from the ‘Batcave.’

She was on her own.

Well, so long as you didn’t count the evil plants.

There was no way the Penguin hadn’t known about this - and Red probably had as well, the bastard.

It didn’t quite fit with what she knew about the Penguin - she was under the impression that he had acted as an informant for the Bat several times in the past.

At least, that was what the GCPD believed, and one could never be entirely sure with them.

Samar was pulled from her musings as a flash of non-plant movement caught her eye, and she glanced up to see a humanoid figure dance from one branch to another and dart away.

It didn’t matter that she couldn’t see them properly. Even without the gleam of flaming red hair, Samar knew exactly who was causing all the chaos.

Because really, there was only one person who could be responsible for out of control trees.

“PAMELA ISLEY,” Samar bellowed, dodging around a particularly persistent dandelion, “I demand—“

“Oh you are so not in any position to be demanding things, buddy.”

Samar huffed, but couldn’t deny that Poison Ivy had a point. It was clear that now she was in Ivy’s line of sight, the villain had more control over the plants. While before it seemed like the plants had been blessed with sentience by the way they moved and attacked Samar with a certain element of reckless chaos, now they were surging toward her in a manner that could only be a controlled attack. The few glances Samar managed to catch of Ivy’s twisting arms added further evidence to the assumption, and she couldn’t help but feel a grudging acceptance of Aram’s earlier words - it certainly was worse now that she was in the centre.

Of course, that wasn’t exactly what Aram had said, but the concept was essentially the same.

The new attacks were ruthless and unforgiving, and it was only a few moments before Samar was entangled in a twisting web of wood. Branches that should be stiff and breakable were coiling around her as if made of rope, and every time she struggled they merely tightened against her abdomen, pinning her arms to her sides and leaving her gasping for air.

“I must admit, you do leave me curious.”

Samar looked up without moving her head to see the green figure and flashing red hair dance through the branches above, and then flinch as the branches holding her seemed to impossibly glide through the trees, bringing her into a shadowed clearing.

Ivy stood on a branch of her own to the right of the clearing, finally in full view.

“Why?” Samar asked, gritting her teeth.

“Well you see, I feel like I have bested you in more of our… conflicts than you have I. Sure, you put me in Arkham, but I have taken far more from you.”

Realising she was missing a good chunk of knowledge that Ivy would expect her to have, Samar considered her answer carefully - quickly cataloguing all she knew about Poison Ivy. Apart from the whole plant thing, the only piece of information she could be certain of was that she held a strong dislike of men.

And since Samar was currently masquerading as a man, she thought she could use that to her advantage.

“Oh, I beg to disagree,” she said, her cheerful tone distorted strangely as it echoed through the voice modulator in her cowl. “I think we’ve come out pretty even, at most, but then I doubt I would even go that far to be honest.”

Ivy huffed in annoyance - the exact reaction Samar had been hoping for.

“You’d dare—“

“But then, that’s not that surprising,” Samar continued, almost choking on her words but knowing how much they would ignite anger. “I mean, the Joker got the better of me the other night - I assume you’ve heard? He’s probably the only one I’d call it even with. But then he’s, you know, more on level with me. You get what I’m saying?”

The restraints around Samar’s waist tightened further, and Ivy jumped one branch closer in annoyance.

But then the villain paused as if she had remembered something, and then she stood up straighter with renewed confidence.

“You wouldn’t be so smug,” she stated, a feral smirk adorning her beautiful chlorophyll face, “If you had realised exactly what the situation is, here.”

She raised her slender arms to the sky, and the trees adorning the clearing began to shift. A stream of moonlight brightened the darkened far side of the shadowed grove - not much, but enough for Samar to clearly see exactly what had Ivy so sure of herself.

Her eyes widened.

Samar, despite her recent successful experiences with hostage situations, was not feeling particularly confident.

Bruce Wayne, meanwhile, was looking very, very confused, and nowhere near as terrified or worried as he should have been, considering the fact that he was gagged and bound against the thick trunk of a tree with the same restraints that fastened Samar.

Ivy must have struck him with some of her spores.

But Wayne looked fine, if a little haggard and pale. It was the butler she was worried about, for Alfred Pennyworth was suspended by a wooden vine wrapped about his ankles, hanging over the gaping maw of the largest carnivorous plant Samar had ever seen.

The poor man looked like he was panicking - he was clearly doing his best to remain calm, but even years experience as a butler could not be enough to help one remain impassive when one is about to be fed to an overgrown piece of vegetation.

“So you’re the one who took Wayne,” Samar said, not needing to fake the surprise at the fact that the Penguin’s intel had come through clean. “I must admit, I am… impressed, perhaps. Maybe a little.”

Ivy raised an eyebrow. “Only a little?”

“Well, we must account for your experience in this area.”

Ivy did not laugh, but her lip did quirk up a little. “I suppose. But you see why you cannot do anything?”

Samar titled her head. “Not… entirely.”

“What do you mean?” Ivy asked, her eyes narrowing.

“Well, as I said before. I’ve come up against the Joker, time and time again. Riddler. Scarecrow. Penguin. They all are far more of a challenge. I mean, you’re more on the level of Harley Quinn, or Catwoman…”

Ivy’s lips curled into a snarl as she realised what Samar was saying.

“But then, I guess it’s understandable. You ladies just can’t manage to ‘Evil’ the same way the men can.”

That was all it took.

In the moment that Ivy leapt from her branch to come at her in fury, Samar twisted and bit off the end of the cap Aram had carefully attached to her left shoulder before she had left the cave earlier that evening. She held her breath as she gas expelled from the canister in two directions, careful not to inhale in relief as the plants that held her began to give way to the highly concentrated herbicide.

She didn’t pause to glance at the burgeoning outrage marring Ivy’s virescent features - the moment the wood encasing her was brittle enough she pulled her arms from it’s hold, snapping the tendrils away from her body and pulling the other canister from her right shoulder.

She ran forward, hoping over an upturned root and waved the first canister, still spewing gas, by her feet and around her body, ensuring that any plant that came toward her withered or pulled back in pain.

Ivy was howling but Samar kept surging forward, her eyes on Alfred Pennyworth - Wayne was in less danger and surely more capable of looking after himself. The first canister puffed its last cloud of gas before emptying, and Samar knew she was going to have to use the final canister on the monstrous plant, knowing that the risk of the butler falling in while she was trying to free him was too high to risk saving it for their escape.

She flicked the cap off, pressed the release switch, and lobbed the canister towards the plant’s maw.

As the canister reached the peak of its arc, Samar leapt onto the tree from which Alfred was suspended and began to climb.

The canister never came back down.

With a wild screech Ivy whipped out with a branch so quickly it looked elastic, knocking the spewing canister against a rock. A tree threw its whole trunk on top, and it almost seemed to creak in pain from the herbicide. But when the tree righted itself, the canister was crushed.

“You think you can best me?” Ivy shrieked. “I’m more capable than any of those city loving goons! The power of mother nature is behind me!”

The wood under Samar’s fingers seemed to turn to putty. She was stuck in moments, and the wood continued to grow around her arms and legs at an unbelievable rate. She was morbidly reminded of the images she’d seen of bicycles that had been left against trees, only to be encased in the wood after years of abandonment. Only she was being consumed in moments.

As the wood moved along her body it forced her to twist, so that her wood encased arms were wrapped around her own torso. Her whole body was then engulfed, a tendril of wood which once might have been a branch began to wrap around her neck.

“Hey, hey,” Samar said, raising her chin to desperately stave off the inevitable strangulation. “I didn’t mean what I said, you’re a perfectly capable villain—“

Stop trying to placate me,” Ivy snarled, her red hair flying. “It won’t work! I can beat you, I’ll prove it—“

“There’s no need to prove anything!” She was near choking now. “Just tell me why— Why have you kidnapped Bruce Wayne?”

The tightening of the wood stopped, but it didn’t loosen, and Ivy’s expression grew even harsher.

“If there’s one thing I hate more than an entitled male,” she spat, “It’s someone who takes from the environment without a care for the destruction they are causing.”

Despite the pain Samar’s mind was moving a mile a second, and she jumped on the opportunity.

“You’re saying you didn’t just kidnap Wayne because you want to kill him?”

Ivy seemed so angry she could do little more than snarl, but Wayne had somehow - when, exactly??? - managed to wriggle free of his wooden gag and provided the answer.

“She’s been grilling me about on of the projects my company is undertaking.” He sounded apprehensive, but sure. “She wants me to veto the development.”

“Why?” Samar gasped, trying to shift but finding herself unable to do so.

“Because Wayne Enterprises is trying to make profit at the expense of living things,” Ivy replied, her voice coarse. “They want to build here, on this site—“

“Well,” Wayne bravely (or stupidly - Samar had never truly learned the difference) interrupted, “Under this site, to be exact—“

“It doesn’t matter!” Ivy screeched. “You think the only living part of a plant is the part that you can see? The roots of a tree extent yards under the surface, and any work would cause irreparable damage, wipe out hundreds of lives! I know you think of me as a villain, but how could any so-called decent human being not care about something like that?”

Of course the one time Samar gets to face a criminal that monologues she’s restrained too tightly to be able to make the best of the situation. Well, she supposed, in this day and age, criminals who like to monologue must either be good at restraints or already caught.

“You know, she has a point.”

If it weren’t for the wooden lasso holding her in place, Samar might have jumped out of her skin at Aram’s sudden proclamation in her ear.

She couldn’t risk replying, but Aram spoke over Wayne’s details of how deep into the ground his construction was going to go.

“I’ve read up on Poison Ivy, you know, and if you look past all the people she’s killed she’s not so bad.”

Samar wondered if Aram was even listening to himself.

But he seemed to realise that point on his own.

“Of course, it’s quite impossible - and morally questionable, I suppose - to look past all the killing, but for a criminal you have to admit, her motives are admirable. Remember Owen Ayers? I bet they would have been friends… except for the fact that he’s a guy –anyway, she’s more overt than he was, and of course she gets more attention, but on the other hand—“

“—can’t just go back on what the company already has on a contract,” Wayne was saying.

“You’re the CEO! You own the company, the money - of course you can!” Ivy argued back.

“—not that I would hope for a total reclamation by nature, I mean I get that trees are important, but cities are also useful, you know?”

Aram, of course, was biased. If the recent adventure searching for the Bat’s HQ was any indication at all, he was not particularly keen on nature. Honestly, she’d almost admired some of Poison Ivy’s escapades in the past - as Aram had said earlier, if it weren’t for the killing. If it weren’t for the constant chafing around her neck acting as a pretty irrepressible reminder as to how psycho Ivy could be, she might have been on her side.

“Do you need a reminder of what I did to the surveyor I found creeping around in my trees? He’s just over there - he makes a wonderful oak, don’t you think?”

Of course, that was all it took for Samar’s thoughts to snap back into place. Sure, Ivy’s fight for the environment was admirable, but she certainly went about it the wrong way.

Wayne growled. “Look you can let him go. He was only doing what he was told, he’s innocent in this—“

“Come on, you’re smarter than that. You know it’s when good people do nothing—“

“Let him go. I won’t be able to cut the contract entirely, but - no, listen - I’ll move the construction to another site—“

“—you have to admit though, she would have more success if she went more along the lines of Ayers. She’d attract less attention from the Bat for sure, and she’s obviously got the skillset—“

Samar hissed in what she hoped would merely convey pain to those she was actually with, while to Aram—

“Okay, okay, sorry. I’ll be quiet.”

Good.

Luckily, the others didn’t seem to notice.

“No, no, no,” Ivy was still ranting, “You can’t just move the construction, I told you before. You’ll move it to a different park and just destroy more trees - and someone else will come to build here anyway!”

Wayne groaned, and leaned his head back against the tree.

“We’re going in circles,” he huffed.

“Then perhaps you should cooperate,” Ivy replied. “After all, I am not the one with my life on the line. But then… neither are you.”

Ivy flicked a hand in the direction of the giant carnivorous plant that Samar had shoved mostly to one side of her mind for the sake of her sanity, and Alfred let out an un-butler-like yelp as the branches lowered him within inches of the plant’s snapping jaws.

No!” Samar and Wayne yelled together, and Ivy giggled impishly.

All three of the full-blooded humans sighed with relief as Alfred’s downward motion halted, though he was now much too close to the plant for comfort.

The plant, however, didn’t seem to think he was close enough, and it appeared to be straining at it’s roots as it tried to reach higher, its massive jaws snapping together again and again, almost as if it were setting a pace for Samar’s racing heartbeat.

“You’ve made your point,” she growled, trying to pull her neck from the wood wrapped firmly around it once more. “You want Wayne to buy the park, right?”

“And promise that he won’t ever build anything on it, yes,” Ivy sniffed. “I’d like him to announce it publically, so he’s less likely to go back on it. Though you should know—“ She turned to Wayne, green eyes blazing, “—that if you do, I will kill you. I would have killed you already, were you not useful to me.”

Wayne rolled his eyes. “So I’ve been told.”

Samar winced as she remembered that Wayne had been kidnapped three days before - possibly more, since he had not been reported missing until one of the members of the board of the company had visited his house after the CEO had missed three consecutive days in the office.

Wayne could have been gone as long as a week.

Again, Samar turned her gaze to Alfred. The elderly butler had been in the hands of Poison Ivy for just as long as his employer.

She needed to act soon.

But perhaps, the Bat’s usual method of destruction wouldn’t be the best way to go in this situation.

“Alright,” she said loudly, “The way I understand it, Wayne, your company has a contract to build some kind of facility under this park, correct?” She was sure that everyone in the clearing knew of the prison facility Gordon had informed her of, but she thought she’d better not say it, if only to keep Gordon out of trouble with Wayne if the businessman found out how a vigilante knew of a secret project. She didn’t wait for Wayne to respond before continuing. “Ivy, you want to save the trees.”

“As many as possible,” Ivy replied haughtily. “And I will.”

“Of course you will,” Samar agreed, causing Ivy’s eyes to widen in surprise. “The way I see it, the easiest compromise available is for Wayne to move his facility outside of Gotham.”

Ivy smirked. “I see you’re finally putting those brains to use, Bat,” she said, “But you haven’t addressed the problem of—“

“The project needs to be within the City limits,” Wayne interrupted.

“The outskirts are still technically Gotham,” Alfred interrupted, speaking for the first time. His voice was weak, but firm. “On the other side of Gotham River, there’s a rundown industrial area that could easily be repurposed. Please, Mister Bat. Continue.”

She sent a nod at him in thanks. “So that would just leave us with the issue of somebody else building on the park. Instead of having Mr. Wayne buy it, which honestly, I’m quite sure is not possible, he could petition the government for a proper charter for the park to list it as a protected area, not even allowing construction underneath which could damage the roots.”

“No,” Ivy snapped. “While I’ll admit it is a good plan, the officials in this city are too easily bribed.”

“And I will make sure they follow the rules,” Samar said, trying to sound as stern as she could despite the wood that was still coiled around her throat.

Ivy’s eyes narrowed for a moment, but she nodded.

And the wood around Samar’s throat loosened.

She fell to the ground with a soft thump, but stood straight quickly, doing her best to work through the pains in her back after being held aloft for so long.

Wayne was similarly released, though he had to lean against the tree to stay upright. It was impossible to tell whether it was lack of sleep, lack of nutrition or perhaps a mix of both… he didn’t seem look too bad.

Alfred, though, remained suspended.

“We don’t have a deal unless you let the butler go,” Wayne growled, cutting across Samar’s similar protest.

“And I won’t let the butler go until you’ve proven that you’ll hold to that deal,” Ivy replied coldly. “Go and fix the contract. I’ll be waiting here. I’m sure the old man can last another… shall we say twelve hours?”

Samar expected an explosion - she was certainly working to rein one in herself. But when she caught Wayne’s eye, he winked.

She was confused for a moment, but then she truly looked at the way he was holding himself. Sure, he was leaning against the tree - but not in a way that suggested he was using it for support. Not if you looked closely.

He was ready to spring off it and into action.

She hadn’t noticed before - it seemed out of place on the ragged but expensively dressed billionaire. But he was ready to fight.

She may have lost the canisters of herbicide, but she much preferred their odds if they both attacked at once - especially if Wayne could distract Ivy while she worked on getting Alfred down.

Wayne flicked a few fingers against his leg.

Four.

“Ivy, how am I supposed to get both the company and the government to agree before 10am tomorrow morning—“

“You’ll just have to work it out, I suppose.”

Wayne’s fingers flicked again.

Three.

“I won’t help enforce it if you don’t let him go now,” Samar added.

“I wouldn’t tell me to let him go,” Ivy replied, and the restraints around Alfred’s legs loosened enough for him to fall a couple of inches.

Two.

Release him then,” Samar replied.

Ivy bared her teeth.

One.

Wayne, taking Samar by surprise, ran straight for Alfred and the plant. But it only took a moment before she realised what he was doing - by making such a sudden move, Ivy barrelled straight for him, with branches flying in all directions and flowers rose out of the ground to grasp at his feet, catching in the hems of his trousers.

Yet Wayne ducked away from the oncoming flora and suddenly changed tack, grasping hold of a thinner branch and wrenching it up with one devastating snap. In one fluid movement the branch was hurled back at Ivy who mimicked Wayne’s duck. When she straightened, her usually pale green face tinged emerald in anger.

It was mesmerising to watch, but Samar tore her eyes away and ducked behind the tree Wayne had been fastened to before, coming around the edge of the clearing to Alfred.

She glanced at the tree she had tried to climb in her first disastrous rescue attempt. It was pockmarked with perfect handholds, left from the wood that had encased her, but she knew better than to make the same mistake.

Instead, she reached into her belt and pulled out the trusty grapple. She gave it a pat, hoped for the best, aimed, and released.

The end of the wire wrapped around the wooden cord just above Alfred’s feet. The butler’s eyes widened, but he gave her a small nod.

She braced herself against a tree just outside the clearing, and used the winch in her belt to pull Alfred away from the still snapping jaws of the plant. Because Ivy had used a tree to hold him up, it wasn’t long before Alfred could reach across and grasp the tree himself.

Once the Butler was securely away from the man-eater (though admittedly still upside down) Samar released the grapple and moved back in towards the fight quickly, knowing that both Alfred’s grip and Wayne’s dodging abilities were unlikely to hold up for long.

Wayne seemed to be holding his own - he only had the one burgeoning black eye, and Ivy herself was sporting a few scratches - but he was clearly tiring, which was understandable considering he had been kidnapped for several days.

When she got back to the tree, she sighed in annoyance. She’d been hoping she could just cut the branch, but one look at Alfred’s hold told her it wasn’t strong enough to stay if his feet were released. So, hoping that Ivy was still sufficiently distracted, Samar quickly scurried up the tree herself.

She climbed until she was level with Alfred’s midsection, impossibly glad that she had started using baby powder in her gloves. Then, once she had anchored herself on a branch with her legs, she gripped him tightly by the jacket, holding him to the trunk until he was able to arrange himself so he lying across the branch himself.

Thus, once she had cut the wooden cord wrapped around his feet, the branch was there to support him, and all that was left was for her to help him down from the tree.

He was pretty nimble for his age and the handholds she’d noticed her incarceration had created earlier made it easy for him to get down, so it was only moments before they were both on the ground.

And not a moment too soon.

“Stop!” Ivy demanded, her voice shrill. “You will stop this now, Wayne, or I’ll—“

She paused, and her eyes blazed with emerald fire as she realised her plant was now snapping only forlornly in hunger, rather than in anticipation of a meal. Her gaze snapped across the clearing, until she came to rest on Samar.

You,” she snarled, taking a step forward.

Samar smirked, and after quickly checking that Alfred was able to balance against the beautifully inorganic boulder at the edge of the treeline, she moved forward to meet Ivy in the middle.

“Me.”

Wayne moved to take a swipe at Ivy while she was distracted, but without even using any of her Botanokinetic powers, she spun on the spot and delivered a solid right hook into his jaw. Wayne went down, and Ivy was immediately facing Samar once more.

“All I wanted was for the trees in this park to be saved,” she said angrily. “That’s all. Is that too much to ask?”

“When you resort to killing people to get your way, then yes.”

There was no warning - Ivy struck with the speed of a viper, just a simple and sudden stretch of the arm, and a tendril of wood and leaves was punching its way through the air towards Samar.

Ivy was quick… but Samar was faster. She lashed out with her absolutely favourite item in the Bat’s arsenal - the good old grapple.

It hadn’t been properly wound since she’d used it to retrieve Alfred, and yet it still worked perfectly.

The cord wrapped itself around Ivy’s waist, pinning her arms to her sides. The torrent of flora that had been flying at Samar fell to the ground, inert.

“No!” Ivy snapped, gnashing her teeth. “You can’t— this can’t— not again!

Samar didn’t respond right away, opting instead to make sure that her bonds were secure.

“You should gag her as well,” Wayne groaned, coming back to consciousness. “Otherwise, she’ll just convince one of the good officers in the GCPD to kiss her - then they’ll be poisoned, and she’ll steal their keys - you know the drill, I’m sure.”

The way that Ivy was shooting daggers from her eyes at Wayne was enough to know that this had, indeed, been her plan, and Samar wondered yet again how any law enforcement in this city managed to function at all.

But she did as he said.

Once Ivy was properly trussed up, they moved over to where the butler was still waiting on the edge of the clearing.

Wayne seemed to take a vindictive pleasure in dragging Ivy along behind him.

“Alright, Alfred?” Wayne asked conversationally, as if simply chatting about the weather.

“I’ve been through worse, Master Bruce,” Alfred replied. “Just a good cup of tea and I’ll be right as rain.”

Wayne grinned. “Good.”

“I wouldn’t mind getting out of here quickly, though,” Alfred added, shooting a glance at Samar - and was she imagining it, or was there a glimmer in his eyes of that same confusion she’d seen in Wayne’s expression earlier?

“Right you are,” Wayne replied, giving Ivy’s ‘lead’ a tug. “Come along, then.”

The villain gave a glare that lived up to her name.

Samar tried to take Alfred’s arm, but the butler wouldn’t have any of it.

“Get Edwards,” he said, shaking his head. It took a moment for her to realise he was talking about the surveyor.

“He’s a tree,” she said in confusion. “There’s nothing we can—“

“I thought you had an antidote to Ivy’s serums?” There was a glint in Wayne’s eye that she didn’t particularly like, so she thought it best to backtrack.

“Right, of course,” she said. “I didn’t think the general public knew about that.”

She wasn’t quite sure what to do with the man-shaped oak tree, but upon grabbing him was surprised to find that his roots didn’t go very deep at all, and neither was he as heavy as one would expect a lump of oak that large to be. She was able to lean him on his feet and drag him across the floor, following behind Wayne, who was slowed by the ailing Alfred and struggling Ivy, at a similar pace.

Now I’ve bested a super villain,” she whispered triumphantly.

She heard Aram’s breathy laugh in her ear.

“That you have, Samar. That you have.”

——x——

Somehow, they were unsurprised to find Ressler staring at a computer screen in the war room with a smile gracing his face as they walked in to the Post Office later that night. Sharing a grin, the two looked over his shoulder to see the news broadcast their fellow agent was so engrossed in.

Wayne Found By Vigilante

“They found him then?” Samar asked casually.

“The Bat did,” Ressler replied, his smile morphing into a grin. “Do you guys know what this means?”

Samar definitely did a better job of keeping down the amusement than Aram did, but luckily Ressler turned to her, so Aram had time to hide the giggle in a not-entirely-convincing-cough.

“No,” she replied innocently, widening her eyes.

“He’s back, for certain now,” Ressler gushed. “I mean, there was a bit of talk in the office - after the Bat took down those arms dealers - then there was that rumour that he’d had a confrontation with the Joker, but there were rumours of a copy-cat, but this just proves it - I mean. He took on the whole of Robinson Park, he took on Poison Ivy when he was alone and came out not only on top, but with a rescued billionaire to boot! The FBI have been considering clearing Ivy out for months, but it was deemed too risky for even a full SWAT team—“

Ressler’s gushing was cut off by an amused snort that broke through Aram’s defences.

Ressler quickly cleared his throat, stood up tall and straightened his jacket.

“Yes, well,” he said quickly, his voice deep. “Well done, Agents Navabi and Motjabai. The Bat is back on the streets, just as you were instructed… you’ll return to ordinary duties immediately. Director Cooper would like to see you.”

Then, his steps as quick as his words, Ressler headed towards his office.

Moments later, Liz emerged from her own, a confused look on her face after passing Ressler on the way.

“What was that about?” she asked, looking between the two with a beginnings of a smirk on her face.

Working around their sniggers, they both gestured for Liz to join them, and in moments the three of them were laughing enough to fill the war room with mirth.

Even though they were leaving their stint as a vigilante team behind, they were both happy to get back to their day jobs - and that was certainly something to celebrate.

Though perhaps, they deserved one last trip.

——x——

In contrast to every other time they had entered, the cave was not empty when they came through the waterfall.

The Bat looked up, unsurprised - before, she might have wondered if he truly was one of those with strange powers that occupied so much screen time on the news these days, but after days of working in the hideout she knew that he simply had access to security cameras all around.

The creases around his mouth indicated that he wasn’t happy, but from what she’d heard, he always appeared irritated.

Aram’s jaw fell open on its hinges.

“I take it you’re the one that has been wearing my armour,” the Bat said casually, and Samar wasn’t entirely sure what to make of his tone.

But she was sure what to make of the fact that his question was directed at Aram.

“Actually,” she said frostily, “That’d be me.”

Aram turned to look at her, his expression frozen in that of utmost shock. She ignored him.

The Bat seemed taken aback.

“Sorry,” he said gruffly, “I guess I assumed—“

“Yes,” Samar replied. “You did.”

There was a pause.

Aram nudged her in the arm.

“Samar,” he hissed. “That’s the Bat.”

“Yes, Aram.”

“The real, the actual—“

“Yes, I see that.”

The Bat collected himself, then spoke again. “I apologise. I suppose I thought, that to fit into the armour, you’d have to be taller, and you’re friend, Aram, is taller than—“

“Please don’t insult either of us,” Samar said, rolling her eyes. “You said it, you know you’re wrong, time to move forward.”

It seemed to pain him to do so, but the Bat nodded.

“I can’t believe you just interrupted the Bat,” Aram hissed.

“He can hear you, you know,” said Samar.

Aram froze.

“Hey, where were you, anyway,” Samar asked. “I mean - ok, I get that this is your place, and we barged in, but you have to know what your absence would do. You have to have some idea of what the Joker, for example, would be like when he is bored—“

“Of course I do,” said the Bat harshly. “You think I left voluntarily?”

Samar raised an eyebrow. “Didn’t you?”

“No.”

“Well, alright then,” said Samar. “Please don’t do it again. I suppose I’ll see you round, at some point.”

She grabbed Aram’s arm, and turned to leave.

“Wait.”

Samar turned back.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’ll make sure your bargain with Ivy is honoured, even if she did not hold to her end of the deal.”

“She let us free,” Samar disagreed, shaking her head.

“Only because she thought it would further her own needs,” The Bat argued back.

“The motive doesn’t matter—“ Samar started, but she knew it was pointless. So instead: “Thank you, for keeping the deal.”

The Bat nodded once.

Samar moved to begin to leave once more, but he spoke again.

“Are you sure you don’t want to stay on?” the Bat asked. “It would be nice to use the extra backup.”

Samar thought Aram looked about to faint.

“No,” she said quickly, fearing that Aram might actually agree. “I mean— I won’t lie. It was…interesting‑“

“You literally just said you wouldn’t lie,” Aram cut in, seeming to finally find his voice.

“I didn’t—“

“A lie by omission is still a lie,” Aram said, smirking.

Samar rolled her eyes, and tried to ignore the fact that the Bat was smiling.

“Okay. I enjoyed it. But I couldn’t do it all the time, especially not with my job… I don’t quite get how you do it, to be honest.”

The Bat inclined his head.

“Then before you go… let me say one thing.”

Samar tilted her head in question, and the Bat actually allowed a smile to grace his lips.

(It didn’t quite look natural.)

“Thank you, for keeping this city in line when I couldn’t. Thank you.”

Aram made a noise that did not quite sound entirely healthy, and after inclining her head to the Bat in mutual respect, Samar quickly dragged him out before he could well and truly embarrass himself.

——x——

“It’s a bit of a coincidence, don’t you think?” Aram mused as they drove away from the cave for the final time. “That as soon as we rescue Bruce Wayne, the Bat shows back up.”

“Yeah,” Samar said quietly.

“And you know, I’ve been thinking about the location of the cave in relation to certain properties in the area, and I’m pretty sure that just on the other side of that rise - almost directly above the cave, actually—“

“Aram,” Samar cut in.

“I could look at a map,” Aram finished. “I could prove it.”

“You could.” There was hardly any point denying it.

They both sat in silence for a moment before Samar spoke again.

“I have to admit I had him pegged wrong,” she started in a conversational tone. “I thought he was causing more trouble, but he actually does a lot. I don’t know how he puts up with it.”

“You did,” Aram pointed out.

“For only a few days,” she added. Then— “I wonder what happened to him. The Bat, I mean.”

Aram frowned slightly, even as the corner of his mouth turned up. “You do know—“

“I mean,” she continued, “I just hope that whatever it was, it doesn’t happen again. I’ve had my fill, and I don’t particularly fancy stepping into his shoes again any time soon.”

Aram smiled at her in a way that might simply have just been fondness, if not for the triumphant glint in his eye.

“Or her shoes,” he said firmly. “For all that the media goes on about ‘Batman’, there really could be anything under that suit, you know. Especially if there’s some padding involved.”

She’d never admit it to the rest of the team, but Samar giggled all the way back to the blacksite. She knew, after all, that the Bat would keep the city safe; even if he was just a guy dressed up as a flying rodent, rocking the glorified hockey pads.

And when she caught sight of the signal lighting a shining silver beacon against the dark grey clouds, she smiled in a silent salute.