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Nightwing Junior Novel

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“NIGHTWING JUNIOR”
—A Batman/Nightwing Story—

Based off the events established in the Nightwing #49 Comic Book (2018)





Mentally, he called himself Nightwing, but, of course, he was not the genuine article.


He was smaller than the original and not as muscular, he also didn't have the grace, but his representation was favourable to the man that he called a mentor. To him, Nightwing was not just a mentor, but he was a friend, and he would always be a member of the Batfamily, even if Dick Grayson didn’t remember.


Damian Wayne took up the mantle of the man he liked the most: Nightwing. When he swung through the streets of Gotham, he got stares, people pointed, and said: Who is that little twerp dressed as Nightwing?


For weeks, Nightwing had disappeared. He was nowhere to be seen. But only the Batfamily knew the real reason. Dick Grayson had been shot in the head by a sniper and now the Nightwing that everyone knew was no more. There was talk within the Batfamily of taking Dick Grayson to Switzerland to soak into the Lazarus Pit, but to date, Dick Grayson or Ric-Gray, as he was calling himself, had disappeared. No one knew where he was, even though the collective family searched for him everywhere.


He obviously didn’t want to be found, an instinctive personality trait that he learned from Batman when he was Nightwing, and once Robin. He knew how to hide in the shadows, he knew how to avoid detection, and if cornered like a dog, he would attack on instinct alone.


Damian didn't call himself Nightwing, per se, he knew that name was sacred to one person alone. He didn't have a name right now, he may have looked like his mentor, though short in statue — he was only 13 years old — but Damian Wayne knew he had to keep the memory of Nightwing alive.


Bruce Wayne, his father, aka Batman, didn't approve of Damian's idea of going out as Nightwing. He knew that everyone should work together in an attempt to bring Richard Grayson’s memories back. And once, and if that happened, try and re-educate and help Dick get back to his over former self. That was the only way that things could get back to normal.


But Damian didn't see it that way, and for once, despite their differences, Tim Drake agreed with him. Tim agreed to come back to help Bruce, despite all the problems he was dealing on a personal level, including trying to avoid his future self from killing him.


Damian never did what his father wanted him to do, he knew he was obstinate, but he didn’t care. So, as he flew across the Gotham landscape on a tether line, despite the looks of confusion and the stares, he was effectively Gotham City's newest tiniest hero, and as he did, he overheard someone, a kid, call him Nightwing Junior.


Damian dropped to the ground in front of a jewelry store, the bells rang. It was being robbed. Typical of criminals, he thought. When one superhero was down, they all seem to come out of the woodwork to cause trouble.


He entered the store and confronted the four robbers, the clerk was tied up with duct tape, and each robber had a semi-automatic rifle. “Hey!” he announced himself. Each one turned, then stared, and looked confused.


“Well, well, well,” one of them said. “What do we have here? Little Nightwing Junior?”


“Shut up!” Although he did like the name. “I’m going to stop you from robbing this store!”


“Oh yeah? You and what army, pipsqueak? You might be wearing the Nightwing costume, but you’re no Nightwing, and you’re no Batman. You’re just some stupid kid in a Halloween costume thinking that he can be a hero. But boy, you just made a terrible mistake and a fatal one.”


The four gunman cocked their guns and Damian leapt into action. He took out that two of them in the blink of an eye, immediately disarmed the third, and despite his mentors no weapon policy, no guns, he shot at the fourth robber with one of his buddies rifles,  a single shot, and disarmed him, carefully aiming for his gun hand. Later he thought, he would have to consider getting some escrima sticks for himself, or in fact, borrow Grayson’s own.
When Damian got back to the Batcave, Bruce immediately scolded him. But, of course, Damian didn't care.


“Grayson’s out of action,” he said. “Someone has to take up his mantle until he returns. He took your place when you disappeared father. It’s only fair that I respond in kind. I was there as his partner then and I’ll be here for him now.”


“It's too dangerous, Damian,” Bruce retorted. “And the criminals of Gotham will soon learn that Nightwing has disappeared and they’ll challenge you, thinking that you’ll be a pushover.”


Tt— “I was your partner and I'm no pushover. With all the lessons I’ve learned from the League of Assassins, I could take out every single criminal in Gotham City on my own. Your one lesson: No killing would be axed. What I'm doing now is repaying the favour Grayson afforded you.”


“You should be more respectful of the dead.”


“Grayson is not dead! He’s alive! He doesn't know who he is right now, but that will change soon. I know we have friends who are willing help. And what about the Lazarus Pit that brought me back to life? Also Todd? We batboys seem to be immune to death. Why not use that to restore his body and memory back to normal?”


“You know the reason why, Damian. Ra’s is dead, supposedly, he hasn’t been seen in sometime, and the pool has disappeared. If I could find it, I would take Dick there. He has always been a son to me, he was the first, apart from you, and despite my outward feelings on the matter, we must look at this as a risk we all take as crime fighters.”


“High risk is a factor in our lives, father, but this doesn't have to be the end for Grayson. He may be acting more like Todd right now; he’s gambling; he's drinking; he's acting like an ass; like a common thug; but throughout it all, he’s still helping people on the street. He still has that core instinct to help people. It's still there ingrained. We just have to draw it out. Grayson is still alive!”


“Dick may be alive in body, Damian, but the soul that once inhabited his body has left the person we knew. The bullet took him away from us. I'm looking at all possible ways to help him, I'm even looking towards Barry Allen to use the Speed Force to alter events. But you know why that is a risk of its own, and in changing history, many facets would also change.”


“I don't care, father, I want Grayson back. In the meantime, I will fill his mantle as best I can, even if they do call me Nightwing Junior—that’s a suitable moniker for now, and it’s respectful. I want him back!”
Bruce turned his back. “Do what you want, Damian. But don't call on me for help. If you want to do this, your on your own.”


Damian sneered. “Fine, father. Just like Grayson was alone. I choose to be alone, too. I won't be a replacement for him, but I will step in temporarily. Everything is being weighed, I’ve put the word out. The Titans, The Justice League, and all our friends; they’re all seeing what can be done. I'm sure there’s a way to bring Grayson back. He was the man I called a mentor, and the man who will always be a better father than you. You’re nothing but a coward!”


“Get out, Damian!” Bruce turned back, his face filled with anger. “I refuse to have this conversation. You’re here-by banned from the Batcave until further notice until you listen to reason and logic. You're putting yourself in danger and I will not be a part of it.”


—Tt— “Very well, father, I know where Grayson stashed his weapons. They’re in Bludhaven, so I'll go there, and I'll speak to Barbara Gordon, as well. You can call on Tim to handle anything in Gotham City. I'll go and help Bludhaven and find Grayson.”


“Do you want. Now get out!”


Damien collected what he needed in a bag, all his essentials, took a motorcycle, and rode out to Bludhaven. Here, he stopped at Barbara Gordon’s apartment. He knocked on the door and explained how things were going be. He was now calling himself Nightwing Junior.


She had reservations about it and told him it was dangerous, but Damian didn't care, but she didn't stop him, and she appreciated his help when it came to Dick. She felt alone, she didn’t know how to help Dick and without Bruce; Bruce seemed distant, especially with all the problems he had been going through with the Serine Kyle affair, how she left him at the altar.


Damian knew Kyle was bitch anyhow.


Overtime, Damian established a reputation within Bludhaven as Nightwing Junior.


At one point, he even came face-to-face with Dick Grayson, now with his head shaved, his waving jet black hair gone, and he could see the bullet wounds that scarred the sides of his skull. The bullet had coursed through his skull from end-to-end. Oddly enough, it had not killed him, and three weeks later, Grayson was on his feat. It was a miracle, or was it something else?


“Hey kid, who you supposed to be?” Dick had asked him when they’d meant on the stress, he remembered.
“Just a crime fighter, sir,” Damian had responded kindly.


“It's dangerous out here, you should be in school. Take off that silly Halloween costume, it makes you look ridiculous.”


Damian new Dick was only saying that to look out for his safety, thinking that he was just a kid. If he only knew the truth, he’d know that Damian could defend himself against any enemy.
“I appreciate the sentiments, sir, I’ll take it to heart. But this city needs a hero.”


“You remind me of someone I once knew, the colours of your tights remind me of…Wait a minute! Are you trying to dress up as that vigilante crime fighter Nightwing? Who are you? Tell me who you are, so I can call your parents. Do you know Barbara Gordon?”


An unexplained anger seemed to envelope Dick Grayson and it was not like him. Dick Grayson took hold of Damian’s tights by the collar and lifted them up into the air. “Tell me who you are kid,” he demanded. “If you know Barbara is, then I want answers.”


“I have no idea who you were referring to, sir,” Damian said calmly, then flicked Dick’s hands away and landed back to the ground. Then he jumped two steps back to avoid any more grabs. “Thank you for your concern, citizen, but you should get some help for those anger issues. Perhaps a good therapist is in order? And, as they say, laughter is the best medicine. Watch some TV.”


“I don’t watch TV kid, I don’t find anything funny anymore.”


“That’s too bad,” he said dejected. “You remind of a person I once knew, a person who liked to laugh and joke around. Who made silly jokes. I never appreciated at the time, I always thought it was lame, but I wish he was still around.”


“He sounds like a lame-ass, get yourself a friend to play with, and get off the streets.”


“I’ll consider it.”


Normally something like that sort of response would make Damian mad, but he felt more sad than anything right now. He then shot a tether line from his gun and leapt into the air, and on to the top of a building.


He remembered at the time, looking down to the street, Grayson was looking up at him as he crouched. And he thought, believing, that that was not the Dick Grayson he once knew. He was completely different person and he felt story for the man. But one day, he would get his mentor back.


In the meantime, he would be Nightwing. He would be the justice Bludhaven needed. He was Robin, no more.


He was Nightwing Junior.


To be continued...

Chapter Text

With a credit card, Damian Wayne got his own condo apartment. People thought that he was younger than he claimed, but with a fake ID, he said he was seventeen, and of the right age to move out on his own. He bought it outright, so there were no questions.


Some people thought he was underaged—it was what a lot of people thought because he was short and looked like a kid; which he was; he was only thirteen; but it was politically incorrect to assume that he was younger when he showed the proper ID; he just said he was short for his age—but Damian was very convincing, especially when you had an unlimited bank roll.


Damian was smarter than most kids his age, so he was able to get away with a lot of things. People didn't think that he knew as much as he did. He had both book smarts and street smarts and that had a lot of that had to do with Dick Grayson.


Despite his outward friendly and joke-some appearance, Grayson was actually a very serious and intelligent guy. Not as intelligent as Tim Drake, but he knew his way around a computer, and he knew his way around the streets, and he had a lot of financial bank accounts tucked away with a lot of capital. Damian was using that money now since Dick had obviously forgotten he had all this money stored away. Dick had told him once if ever he was in trouble that he could use the money to his advantage in moderation.


So, this is what Damian used now, because after he used one of his father’s platinum credit cards to purchase the condo, and other essentials, which was actually more of a loft on the top of a tall condo building in downtown Bludhaven, it was quickly cancelled for its erroneous purchases. Bruce knew who had used it, but he didn’t call the police. But he did scold Damian.


Now, not only did he use Grayson's money, but he also gave back with every dollar spent, fifty cents, making him a profit, because he knew how to make money as well as fight crime. He had fixed the Wayne finances when his father was out of commission, it was the same time Grayson had to taken over as Batman in his place.


Putting together a secret room in his new condo in Bludhaven to store his weapons and gear—he built it himself; it was laborious and tedious, but over the time it took to build it, it was well worth the effort—he gazed upon it with pride. It was basically a large walk in closest, and it reminded him of the Batcave, where he would change into his Robin costume.


As Nightwing Junior—he knew the name sounded a little cliche—he’d fight crime and use his mentor’s lessons to aid in this plight. He knew when Grayson was in Bludhaven that he had cleaned up the streets. But now the streets needed cleaning up again. He knew his father and Tim could take care of Gotham City themselves. With recent events, he needed to be on his own.


As he donned his new newest costume, the blue and black and the mask, he looked at himself in a standing mirror, and smiled. “This is for you Grayson,” he said, twirling his escrima sticks. He had designed his costume from a pair of exercise tights and then made some alterations. “One day, your memory will return, and you'll remember me, and everyone else. But until that day, I will be your saving grace, I’ll keep your memory alive. And I’ll be the one in the shadows protecting the citizens of Bludhaven from the criminals that now again infest it.”


As he came out of the walk-in closest, he suddenly saw a figure and it knocked on his window at his balcony. He rolled his eyes. It was Jon Kent. Damian went over and opened the window and allowed his friend to come inside.


“What the hell are you doing here?” he said gruffly to his friend. “Kent! People could see you and learn about my new hideout!”


Jon Kent smiled big. “Just wanted to see the place,” he said. “I heard good things about it, you texted me about it couple of days ago. My dad didn't let me come, but I snuck away, anyhow.”
“Well, now you can leave. You’ve seen it.”


“Don't be such a sourpuss, Damian. Let me see the whole thing. You’re calling yourself Nightwing Junior now, eh?” Jon snickered. “Kinda corny…” Damian sneered at him. “But it works,” he said quickly a little fearful. When they fought crime together, they got into a lot of arguments and Damian was so scary when he got angry. “Can I pick a name for it? How about the WingCo?”


“WingCo?”


“As in the Nightwing Junior Condo, WingCo—Get it?”


Damian was about to say something, and say no, but then he quickly thought about it. “You know, that’s not half bad.”


Damian escorted Jon around his new place. It was very big, in fact, too big for just one person, and Jon even joked about them  moving in together, teaming up like they did with their dads. They had their own special hideout before when they were the team known as the “Super Sons”, they called themselves. But it would only be Damian and Jon. Not with their fathers.


But Damian wouldn't have anything of it. He didn't need a sidekick. But when he mentioned the word “sidekick”, Jon refused the idea that he would ever be Damian sidekick. They were equals.


Jon could fly, he has super strength, and he had x-ray vision. Damian had training with the League of Assassins, but he was human. He didn't have any special powers, but sometimes a person didn't need special powers to be a very versatile.


“I'm going on patrol now, Jon. You can be fit to leave, but as a courtesy you can come and go as you wish.”


Jon smiled, “Thanks Dami.”


Tt— “What did I tell you about calling me that! It’s Damian, not Dami. Dami sounds so demeaning and childish.”


“We’e kids, Dami, get used to it. Now let me come along, I want to see you on patrol. It should be fun—as Nightwing Junior.


Damian protested, but Jon would not relent. “Fine, you can come along. But don't get in the way. There are a lot of vicious criminals in BludHaven, and I also like to keep a close eye on Grayson.”


Jon suddenly became very somber. “I understand, Damian. I heard about what happened. It was very sad. Can anything be done?”


“We're still working on it. Until we find out who actually did the shooting, we have a suspect, but I might not be who we think it was, and all this might be some deeper plot against Grayson.”


“Other than then being a superhero, who would want to hurt Dick Grayson?”


“Nightwing has a lot of enemies and we’re not sure if anyone knows his real identity. In the meantime, I like to keep a very close eye on him. He's not himself and he needs, for sake of a better term, a guardian angel, to help him through these troubled times.”


“Well, duh. He got shot in the head. His brain is like an egg in a frying pan, all mashed, and not sunny side up.”


“Only you would come up with an analogy like that. Grayson has never taken drugs in his entire life. But now, with his head injury, according to his doctor, he’d on a lot of pills. And with his unstable behaviour as of late, I don’t want him to fall off the wagon.”


“How do you fall off a wagon?”


“If you’re in enough pain, you will. And Grayson is in a lot of pain. Let’s go!”


Shooting a tether line off the balcony and embedding it into a building near-by, Damian leapt into the air, while Jon flew off, and followed suit. Both of them ready to fight crime.


x x x


Gray was in a bar drinking. He popped a pill for his reoccurring headaches and then swilled it down with some beer. He had been told by some people from his past he didn’t remember, that he wasn’t much of a drinker when he was his “other” self. Right now he didn’t care. The alcohol helped numb the pain.


He felt a great deal of loss, but he didn’t know why. It kind of felt like the feeling someone got when they lost a limb, but the nerves still registered it attached. Was it his brain telling him he had “loss his mind”?


He laughed for no reason and the female bartender came over. “Another one, Ric? Or is it Gray? Which is it this week?”


“If you call me Dick, I’ll slap you,” he replied. He smiled boyishly or as best he could. With his crew cut hair and scars, he didn’t feel much like his expression when he saw himself in the mirror behind the bar. He looked like he was staring at a stranger.


He also looked like a thug, like one of those hired hands attached to some of the more elite criminals. In the news, they were called the Rogues. They mostly stayed in Gotham City, but on occasion they would venture over to Bludhaven.


At one point, people thought this city was done for, a lot of criminals had done a lot of damage to it, and it was left for dead. It was engaged in an all out war. But some smart entrepreneurs had managed to get funding to rebuild it, from some corporation called Wayne Enterprises. He’d heard the name before, but he couldn’t remember why.


After swigging down his next beer, he stood up and used the restroom. As he urinated, Barbara Gordon’s face suddenly came to mind, and he got a vicious headache. He grabbed his head and he missed this urinal, and pissed all over the floor like a firehose.


He banged his head with a fist and the hissed in god awful pain.


“Not a good idea, you stupid idiot! You just had brain surgery a few weeks ago.” It was an injury that shouldn’t cost him his life, but miraculously, he survived it in fair health, giving the circumstances.


After he was done, he zipped, and left. He didn’t bother to clean up or wash his hands. He paid his tab and then left the bar.


Outside, he felt a sudden feeling of vertigo and then lost his equilibrium, and crashed into some trash cans out front. He collapsed and once again felt his head. He swore.


Suddenly, through blurry vision, he saw a figure land in front of him. Once his vision cleared, he saw it was a boy with a big ’S’ on his long sleeve shirt, wearing ripped blue jeans at both knees. With him, was that kid again that everyone called Nightwing Junior.


What a stupid name, he thought.


“Are you ok, sir?” The boy with the ’S’ on his shirt asked. He knelt down and extended his arms out as if to help.


Gray whipped the boy’s arms away. “I can handle it, it’s just a little vertigo. It comes and goes, it’s from the meds I take.” He looked at both of them. “I know the junior bird, but who the hell are you?”


“Call me Superboy. I’m a friend of” —he looked to the other— “Nightwing Junior.”  (Jon had almost called Damian Robin.) “Can we do anything to help you? Call a taxi?”


Gray sat up and leaned his back against the wall of the bar.  “Nah, I can get home myself. I think? Sometimes I forget where I live.” He felt his head. “Sometimes, I think of a strange mansion, somewhere. But I’m a bum. I have no money. I’m not rich. But I do like to fight—street fight.”


Wayne Manor— Both Damian and Jon gave each other a glance as if thinking of the same place.


Getting to his feet, Gray took in the superhero duo. But then looked at Superboy more intently. “You know, I know you from somewhere, you look very familiar. You have a familiar face I can’t quite place.”
Jon smiled, as if pleased Grayson may recognize him. It was a sign his memories were trying to come back. “I’m told I look like my dad, Superman,” he said.


Gray sighed. “Superman? Sounds like a name someone would write for a character in a kids comic book. But I guess every kid thinks his dad is ‘super’ at one point. Unfortunately I can’t remember my dad at all.”
“That’s because they were murdered,” Damian spat out, as if in a fit of frustration, watching Grayson act so out of character. “A guy named Zucco. But you went after him and settled things.”


“Wish I could remember that, kid. Oh well, vigilantism is this big thing these days, so many of them out there. Hey, let me ask you something. There’s this weirdo hanging around; wears a red helmet, I see him sometimes, almost everywhere I go…” It was then Gray shut-up. “Oh yeah, look who I’m taking to. A bunch of kids who think they’re superheroes. Nevermind. Go home kids. I have a match a little later tonight against a heavyweight boxer and I need a little shuteye.”


“I can take you to your apartment. Where is it?” Jon asked with a helpful smile.


Gray seemed to produce a small smile. “Thanks, kid, but I can handle it. I think I left my car around here somewhere?”


And then Grayson walked away.

x x x


“Are we just going to let him leave?” Jon said worried. “I can kidnap him and take him back to the ‘hideout’, and look in his mind, like a Vulcan mind meld.”


“You can do that?”


“It’s more of a feeling really. My dad has been teaching me the technique. It’s new, he says. You look directly into a person’s eyes and then gaze into their consciousness. Or something like that.”


Like gazing into a person’s soul through their eyes, as the saying went. Interesting, Damian thought. He thought about it, but then against it, for now. Unlike a medical brain scan, to see into Grayson’s actual thoughts would be a step forward to help bringing him back, to see what was wrong. But that would also be a strict invasion of privacy. And he would never do that to Grayson.


“Let’s get going. We're on patrol. Grayson can handle himself for now. We’ll check on him later.”


Damian shot a tether line into the air, it caught onto the side of a building, and then he leapt into the air. Jon Kent followed.

To be continued...

Chapter Text

Gray battled his opponent in an arena of sport. It was actually, simply, in a warehouse, whereas he was surrounded by spectators. It wasn’t the smartest thing to do during his recovery after surgery, but he needed to let off some steam. His ever growing frustration with his injury was increasing and he needed something, someone to punch.


Suffice it to say, he’s severely bloodied his opponent to the point that he had to relinquish the fight, in the end, Gray collected all the winnings, and it totalled to about fifteen-hundred bucks. It was well worth his time and effort and even the risk, in his opinion. He quickly counted it making sure he wasn’t stiffed, and left.


The moment he left the warehouse, however, he had the immediate sensation of vertigo once again and he collapsed to the ground just outside the main doors. He had been experiencing it much more lately, but his doctor said he was because of his injury and it may go away in time.


As he fell, some of the spectators witnessed it and surrounded him. But instead of helping him, they begin to taunt him, and then kick and punch him. They were part and parcel of the same bunch in the warehouse that kept shouting: “Kill the SOB!”


He felt like a little baby, and he started, albeit weakly, began to defend himself, putting up his hands to his face, covering his head,  to protect his skull, but exposing the rest of his body to trauma. His vision was so blurry that he couldn't fight back properly, and they stole his money. He attempted to get the money back, but they just pushed him to the ground again as if he was a mere babe. And abandoned him to lick his wounds.


The fighting was less intense, then out here. But he had been severely incapacitated by his vertigo, that he didn’t have the strength to fight back. He was more injured now out here than he was while fighting.


He swore, and pounded the pavement with fists. When his strength slowly began to return, he popped some pills—at least they didn’t steal those—to deal with the pain.


x x x


The four spectators laughed and equalized the money. $1,500 divided by four. They each got $375. An easy haul. Especially against an injured fool. One even remarked with Gray’s injuries, he’ll die soon if he did stop fighting.


But they didn’t get far, and Nightwing Junior came to his rescue. He had overheard the four joking it up about beating up Grayson and then took it upon himself to deliver some well deserved justice. And the moment he jumped down from a near-by, two-story warehouse roof, he had the element of surprise. And he didn’t hesitate to kick each one of their asses.


He didn’t care about the money and he let his anger be his judgement using Grayson’s escrima sticks to do most of the damage. He didn’t break any bones, but he bloodied them up really good.


“What the f— Who the hell are you?” one of them said, as he lay on the ground.


“The name’s Nightwing Junior,” Damian said, while clutching the collar of the man’s shirt. He sneered, gazing deep into the thief’s eyes. “And you took something that doesn’t belong to you. That man is under my protection now. If anything else happens to him, you’ll answer to me!”


“What—you mean, Gray? Why? Does he mean to you?”


Superboy stood next to Nightwing Junior, his arms folded over his chest. He had let Damian do all the fighting and merely watched. “I’d take his words to heart, sir. That man you beat up is a friend of ours. And we’d appreciate it if you return the money.”


“The money means nothing! It’s the act that pisses me off. Tell your friends, Nightwing Junior is in town and I’m here to stay!” And with a final hard slap, he hit the man straight across the face.


The man threw his share of the stolen money at the two heroes. Damian released him and then the man ran away. The other three then followed suit.


Damian picked up the money, then handed it to Jon. Jon, using his quick speed, quickly counted the money. “It’s ten dollars short,” he said.


“I’ll give Grayson the ten dollars,” Damian said back.


They quickly raced back to the warehouse and found Grayson still on the ground. He was leaning against the wall, his head tilted to one side, and he seemed to sleeping. Damian checked Grayson’s pulse. “Grayson! Grayson! Wake up!”


Gray woke with a start. “Oh, god! Not you two again? I thought I just left you a couple of hours ago. Have you been following me?”


Jon smiled a little embarrassed. “Kinda, we were worried about you,” he said. “We came to see how you were doing.”


“What kind of stupid ass question is that? I was just robbed.” Grayson’s voice seemed a little slurred, his lip was swollen. He tried to get up, but then fell right back down like a drunkard. Was it the meds or something else?


“You stupid idiot!” Damian said angrily. “You want to kill yourself? I saw you fight. You still have the instinct, but your moves are sloppy! The man I knew didn’t throw his punches. He kept it tight.”


“Hey, I won. And that’s all that matters. Well, maybe not. I lost all the winnings.”


Jon gave him back the money. “It’s missing ten dollars, sorry.”


Gray looked grateful, then he tried to stand again. And fell back down. He sighed. He went to pop some more pills, but then Damian snatched the bottle away from him. “Get off the drugs, Grayson! Heal yourself. Use your mind. These only fill your body with toxins.”


Gray seemed to get a boost of strength and quickly grabbed the bottle back with a determination that fit the old Grayson, but then swore, and said he needed them to help control the pain. Jon clamped his ears with his hands. “Language, such bad language,” he said. “Has he always sweared like that?”


“I’m not Dick Grayson, you little shit! Now get out of my way. I’m going to my car.”


Damian stepped forward. “Sorry about this, Grayson, but you’re not going anywhere but where I tell you.” And with a hard-right, he knocked Grayson unconscious.


x x x


When Gray awoke, he found himself in a nice soft bed in a room he didn’t recognize. He looked around and thought for a moment that he had met a woman whom had taken him home with her. He looked under the sheets and saw that he wore his shorts. That told him he didn’t have sex. No respected man would leave his shorts on during or after sex. Shifting out of bed, he planted his feet on the floor. The minute he did, the door opened and some kid entered. He wore black pants and a turtleneck shirt.


“Who are you?” Gray demanded.


“Damian,” the boy said, “and you’re in my condo apartment. You were acting like an ass, so I had to bring you back here.”


Gray looked at him intently. “You look familiar, just like that other boy…Yes! Damian Wayne—that’s it!”


Damian’s eyes lit up. “So, you remember me?”


“You were in the news recently. I saw a segment about Wayne Enterprises on the news while I was at the bar. Bruce Wayne is rebuilding Bludhaven. You’re the son of that billionaire. I wish I had his money.”


Damian thought for a split second. His brain is reforming itself, he's able to retain recent memories. That’s good. “You do. All this was, in part, paid for by you, and my father. This condo belongs to you, Grayson.”


Gray blinked shocked. “Me?” How?


Damian didn’t mince words, and he told Grayson everything in quick succession, about his hidden bank accounts and about Grayson’s past, and that he was Nightwing, and that now Damian was dressing up as him out of respect.


“So, you’re the mysterious Nightwing Junior everyone is talking about?” Gray laughed. “I can see it now, minus the mask.”


“It’s dangerous for you to be out alone in your condition, Grayson. And that’s you’re real name: not Ric or Gray, but Richard John Grayson. You’ve only forgotten it because of your brain injury.”


“I don’t remember much of my past, kid, but that’s neither here nor there anymore. It’s frustrating, but the doctor said I may never get my old memories back. The bullet to my skull did a lot of damage.”


“Then, you’re stay here, where I can keep an eye on you.”


Grayson laughed. “Not likely, kid. I’m my own man. I don’t need to be babysat, especially from a kid whose balls haven’t dropped low enough yet to tell me what to do.”


“Crass, very crass, Grayson,” Damian said. “And not the kind of joke you’d usually make.”


“Yeah? Well, I’m not feeling funny right now. Where are my clothes?”


“Tossed. There’s an entire wardrobe you can choose from in the closet,” and Damian pointed to it.


Gray looked at Damian seriously. “You’re not kidding around, are you kid? You really want me to stay?”


“This is your home now, Grayson. And I’m calling you Grayson for now on.”


“I’m not a dog, you can’t just change my name on a whim. But, if my name is Richard Grayson, then just call me Ric.”


“No,” Damian said. “I’ve always called you Grayson, just like I’m always called everyone else by their surname, and that’s how things are going to be. Whatever cockroach, rat-infested apartment you were living at before, say good-bye to it. For now on, you live here. End of discussion.”


“You won’t take no for an answer?”


“No; now get dressed. The others are waiting out in the sitting room.”


Damian then left, leaving Grayson alone.


x x x


When Grayson emerged from the bedroom, the first face he saw was that of Barbara Gordon, the woman whom had tried to help trigger memories by having sex with him. Apparently, they had been a thing at one point. (See my story: “Nightwing: Memory Man”).


Then he saw the others in the open-concept kitchen area across the rather large condo apartment. It was huge, with two floors, with a spiral staircase leading up to the second floor, sitting area, and a multitude of rooms. He even saw an office area.


Barbara stood up and went to him, then hugged him. He accepted the hugged but didn’t reciprocate. He knew Barbara, but he didn’t feel anything for her.


“How do you feel?” Barbara asked, when she pulled back.


“Confused. First question: How did I get here?”


“That would be me,” Jon Kent said, coming out from the kitchen with a sandwich in hand. “By the way, you could lose a few pounds. You’re kind of heavy. You’re also getting fat.”


Grayson patted his stomach. “I’m still good, I’m…aging well, let’s just say that. I’m not as thin as I once was, but no one stays the same.”


“That never stopped you working off the pounds before, and you never drank like an idiot either,” Damian said, leaning up against a wall. Gray noticed him. “You always took care of your body.”


“Damian, enough,” Barbara said. “Don’t pressure him.”


Tt— Damian voiced in protest, and then took out his phone and began to text.


“We're all here for you, Dick,” Barbara said. “And we’ll do everything we can to help you.”


“This all seems like a dream. My head is foggy.”


“Todd just text me, he’s coming over,” Damian said out of the blue.


Within moments, there was a knock on the door.


“That was fast,” Jon said.


“He was out in the hall.”


Damian opened the door and Jason Todd stood on the other side. He stepped inside and immediately looked at Grayson. “You look like shit, man,” were his first words. “Your hair was most endearing feature. That doctor did a number on you. Hell!”


“And who the hell are you?” Grayson said with a narrowed look of distain.


“For real?” Jason looked to Barbara and she nodded to confirm it. “You really have lost your memories, eh? Funny, with everything you’ve been through, it was a bullet that finished you off.”


“Hey!” Barbara shouted in protest.


Jason put up his hands. “Sorry, my bad,” he said. “Damian, I just got word from Tim. Scarecrow’s lurking around Gotham trying out his new ‘fear germ’ on people. He makes his victims believe in a reality that isn’t there and it has lingering properties, he’s still analyzing things. He’s sorry he can’t come.”


“Who is Scarecrow? Obviously not someone from the Wizard of Oz?” Grayson queried.


Todd explained. Then said, “You were subjected to his whims at one point, but you fought off his fear drug. He made you believe you were worthless and you almost killed yourself because of it. But with the help of us, you came out of it, because we all know you’re one mean SOB mentally. You have—had—a sharp mind and wit to go with it. Which seems to beg the question, why were you targeted with that shot? It couldn’t have been the Freeze affair. Something else is going on here.”


“Did the doctor check out?” Damian asked.


“Clean as a whistle,” Todd said. “I even got copies of the MRI and CT scans of Dick’s brain. I’m no expert, but they look odd.”


“How so?”


“Unsure, I sent them to Tim to analyse. He says he knows someone you’ll take a more thorough look at them.” He then looked back at Grayson. “By the way, your instincts are still good, Dick. You marked me almost as soon as I started following you on the streets. Bruce asked me to watch over you. He was worried, man, and he was getting reports you were being stupid.”


“Like you,” Damian remarked.


Jason cleared his throat. “For once, I agree, you little…hobgoblin,” he said under bated breath.


“Grayson’s decided to move in here with me,” Damian then said.


Barbara gasped surprised. But Grayson said: “Woah, I never said that. You offered, but I never accepted.”


Jason glanced around. “I think you should take Damian up on his offer, it’s a nice place. Better than that shithole you’re living in now.  And I just happen to know, your building is being considered for resale, so all the tenants will be kicked out when the new mini-mall be built.”


Grayson blinked. “Oh,” was all he could say. “Thanks for the heads-up.”


“So, where’s the new costume, squirt? Nightwing Junior, ha!”


Damian gave Jason a nasty stare. “I like this name. So, screw you, Todd.”


“One big happy family, eh?” Jon said, then ate the last bit of his sandwich. “You’re always fighting.”


“Look everyone, I appreciate everything you're doing for me, but I need to sort things out by myself, and I’ll find another place,” Grayson said, “I’m not the kind of person that likes to be coddled. I like to make his my own way through life.”


“Damian is right,” Barbara said. “You’ve suffered a traumatic injury, the last thing you need to feel is alone. No one should have deal with something like this by themselves. And besides, I think an investigation is in order.”


“For what?”


“Dick. Think about it. You got shot in the skull. And you’re out of the hospital in three weeks? Most people would be in a coma for months, sometimes years, and would need severe therapy, even be force fed. Something doesn’t seem right, and I think Scarecrow’s ‘fear germ’ has something to do with it. He’s tried this crap before, as Jason said. He targeted you specifically. When my spine was crushed by the Joker, and I was in a wheelchair for a long time, it took me months to even go out in public. But you were there for me, always by my side. The Lazarus Pit then healed me get back on my feet.”


“Yeah, well, Ra’s al Ghul is missing and presumed dead, and I think I’m to blame for that.” He shrugged his shoulders. “And the pit waters have dried up. I have the Outsiders looking for another pool, if there is one? But it’ll take time, or there may not be another pool? Without Ra’s, and his infinite magic, it might be gone for good.”


“So, let me—us—be here for you, Dick. Let me show you something.”


Grayson smiled. “You already did,” he said winking.


Barbara’s face flushed with embarrassment. “Not that, but maybe later,” she smiled. “Let me show you our memories together.”


She took out her cell phone and showed him videos and photos of both of them that had been taken over the years, and she tried to explain to him that they had a wonderful life together in an off and on relationship—friends with benefits thing—and at one point they thought they were going to get married and that she was pregnant with his child. But it turned out in another reality, but she was told about it.


She said she would explain about the multiverse later.


But she did tell him that he did have a daughter with Starfire—a Tamaran alien being—who was a former member of the Teen Titans, for which Dick was  former and founding member of.


But Dick didn’t remember her or his daughter, or even the Teen Titans.


He wished he could remember the things that they were telling him, but he felt so indifferent to everything that the empathy he should have felt was just not there. His brain was telling him “I don’t care”.


Damian seemed frustrated. He knew he didn’t have his father’s patience, so he decided it was time to try something extreme to help Grayson. He went into an adjacent room, went into his special walk-in closest, and pulled out a box. He brought it back to the others and then gave it to Grayson.


“Here, put it on. Maybe it’ll trigger a memory or two?”


Grayson opened the box and inside were a pair of black and blue tights, and his size. “Oh, no, no way! I’m not putting on tights. I’m that kind of guy.”


“Yes, you are, Grayson. Now, put them on!”


“I’m really starting not to like you, Damian,” Grayson said annoyed. “You’re so pushy.”


“Don’t worry, he grows on you,” Jason jokingly said. “Unfortunately, he doesn’t. He hasn’t had a growth spurt for a while.”


“I can take you down a peg, Todd.”


“Try it, you little munchkin. But no biting below the belt, I have a date later and she’s willing.”


“Willing for what? To throw up?”


As the pair fought, Barbara watched Dick leave the “battlefield” and enter the guest bedroom from whence he’d originally come.  Less than a minute later, he came out, and everyone stopped and looked. Except for the waving, free-flowing black hair, Nightwing (Dick Grayson)—the original—stood in all his glory before them.


Well, all except for the small beer gut he was forming.


“These tights feel too tight,” he grabbed his crotch and tried to put the fabric loose. “They show off everything, too much. I had to take off my shorts to get into them.”


“That's the whole point of tights, Grayson. They’re more flexible than regular clothes especially when fighting.”


“So nimble, so quick, Dick jumps over the candle stick,” Jason snickered. “And speaking about candle sticks…”


Grayson put his hands low to cover his crotch. “See what I mean?”


Barbara put a hand to her mouth to hide a chuckle. “That can be dealt with,” she said, and then kissed him. When she broke the kiss, she smiled, said: “Glad to have you back, big boy. We’ll work on getting your memories back. There has to be something…”


Just then, Jason’s cell rang. It was Tim.


“Tim, what’s up?” After a few moments, Jason had the look of fright on his face. Then he ended the call. “We have a problem. Your brain scan results were faked.”

To be continued...

Chapter Text

The moment that Jason got off the phone with Tim, everyone stared at him in shock when he told them that Dick's brain scans had been faked.


“What do you mean faked?” Barbara asked shocked. “How do you fake an MRI or CT scan?”


Jason shrugged his shoulders. “Dunno, but Tim asked several experts he knew and they each confirmed—with nauseating detail—that they were fake and that Dick’s recovery time was beyond that of a miracle. A shot like that would be fatal.” Barbara was about to say something else, but then Jason continued before she could get a word out. “But, Tim did confirm that Dick did have surgery, just not the kind we think. Tim’s settling up an appointment with a real doctor, one he trusts, to do some additional scans.”


Damian looked to Kent. “Kent—do your thing! We need to see inside Grayson’s consciousness.”


Jon clamped his hands together and began to rub them.


“Wait, what?” Gray asked. “What’s he going to do?”


“It doesn’t have a name, but my father recently taught me a new trick,” Jon Kent said. “Apparently, people from Krypton have an unusual ability to gaze into a person’s consciousness. By holding onto the sides of a person’s head while using our hands like two electros, polarizing them, and staring directly into their eyes, we have the ability to look into a person’s mind. I haven’t perfected it yet, but I haven’t tested it on anyone other than my father.”


“So, you want to look into my mind and see…what, exactly? If I’m crazy? That none of this is happening? That I’m imagining all this? That I’m some sort of superhero that you all think I am?” Gray put up his hands. “Um, no. This has gone beyond bizarre. I’m taking this silly thing off and getting the hell out of this circus!”


Grayson began to peal off the Nightwing costume when Damian leapt into action. He jumped and latched onto Grayson like a monkey, holding his arms back, and with the sudden weight, he forced Grayson to tip backwards. He almost fell to the floor if it wasn’t for Barbara, who guided Dick to the couch. They both fell back, and Damian continued to hold on as Dick struggled.


“Do it, Kent! Now!”


Jon Kent quickly went to Dick Grayson and grabbed the sides of his head and looked directly into his eyes. Dick tried to close them, but something prevented him from doing so, and there was a red glow coming from Jon Kent’s eyes. He had x-ray vision, but he could also use beams of cosmic radiation to destroy anything he wished. But he altered this ability now with his new ability to hold Grayson’s eyes only. Then, he entered Grayson’s mind.


“It’s a weird feeling doing this,” Jon said. “I’m not sure how to describe it. I guess: chaos?” He then further explained that it felt like Grayson was screaming and that there were two sets of personalities in his mind, two voices. One was dominate, almost artificial, and the other, trapped, but screaming to be let free. “There’s no damage? I don’t, really know what to look for on a medical level, but I don’t see any holes—wait, there is something: something biogenetic.”


Jon broke the connection.


And Damian broke his hold.


Dick sat shocked. “Wait, what are you saying?”


“Whatever it is, it’s inhibiting your normal brain functions, and your memory glands,” Jon explained. “Something’s there, implanted into your hemispheric lopes. You did have surgery, but it’s not the kind we thought. And no bullet penetrated your skull. What’s the term?”


“A fake-out,” Jason said, then cursed, slamming a fist into a palm. “But who, and why?”


x x x


Once Bruce Wayne was made aware, his connections gave Dick Grayson priority to see a neurosurgeon in Gotham City. An MRI and CT scan were repeated and it soon became apparent the previous doctor who not only took the original scans and did Dick’s surgeon had lied. It was also confirmed that there were two small round devices the size of the head of a pin were detected, but the wounds were made out to be larger for the fake surgery to make it appear like Nightwing had been shot.


The doctor was appalled, and asked why such a thing would happen. Bruce Wayne knew the surgeon would ask, and, in not so many terms, bribed him with the new position of Head of Neurosurgery in the new Wayne General Medical Hospital being built and a personal reference with a higher salary. The doctor didn’t ask anymore questions after all.


Within half a day, the doctor had made several calls, and with a team of doctors, they were able to get Dick Grayson into surgery that evening. His team asked questions, but the doctor just told them to do their jobs, and he would explain later.


As everyone waited in the lobby, surgery was performed. It took a total of an hour and half. When the doctor entered the lobby in his garbs, everyone jumped to their feet. And with the smile the doctor presented, he told them things had gone well.


“How is he, doctor?” Barbara asked.


“He’s fine, and he says he remembers you all.” Congratulations were had all around. “He’s in recovery at the moment, but he’ll be taken to a private room, so only two people at a time. He’s awake, but a little groggy. But he’s asked to see you, Ms. Gordon, and you Damian. And he’s also asked an odd request: He wants a bowl of cereal with lots of sugar.” The doctor shrugged.


Barbara laughed. “That’s our Dick Grayson, alright,” she said. “He loves his kid's cereal.”


After fifteen minutes, when Barbara and Damian looked around the edge of the door to Dick’s private room, they saw that he was resting. His head was tilted to the right on the pillow and his head was bandaged. He looked so peaceful.


“Maybe we shouldn’t disturb him?” Barbara said quietly.


Dick opened his eyes and turned his head. “For you two, I’d refuse sleep and stay up all night,” he said with a smile. “Come in.”


The pair entered the room. Dick gave a smile of remembrance, and without a word, Barbara raced over and kissed him on the lips. He remembered everything. He beckoned Damian over, extended his arms, and Damian, even though it was out of character for him, and no one else was watching, hugged Dick Grayson, and thanked heaven he had his mentor back. Damian even began to cry.


“I missed you, Grayson,” he said. “I—I didn’t think you’d…”


“I know, kiddo. Neither did I. But if it wasn’t for your guile and fortitude, I’d still be a wandering, confused mess.” Dick turned to Barbara. “So, what did the doctor say?”


She told him that there were two sets of surgeries done, one to each hemisphere of his brain and neuro-inhibitors were found to be implanted in each to disrupt normal brain function, causing amnesia like symptoms, just like Jon Kent had said. So, if Dick had tried to remember anything of his past, or who he really was, it would cause him intense pain. “Two separate consciousnesses were fighting a battle, to put it simply,” Barbara explained. “And the drugs you were taking were reinforcing everything.”


“The question is why?” Grayson said, with an intense look on his face. “Who would want to kill me?”


The doctor entered with an iPad in hand. “Well, how’s my unusual patient?”


“Everything good, doc?” Dick then looked around the doctor. “Where’s my cereal? I’m famished!”


“It’s coming, Mr. Grayson. Cereal at half-past eleven at night is an unusual request. But, apart from that” —the doctor took a small test tube container from his white jacket pocket and showed it to Dick— “Any idea what these are?”


Dick took the tube and gazed closely at them, as did Barbara and Damian. “No idea,” he said. “They were in my head?”


The doctor nodded. “They were inhibiting your hemispheric symmetry to a point that the neuronic activity became restricted, causing severe memory loss and parietal function. This may also explain your bouts of vertigo and lack of empathy that you said you were experiencing. We also tested the drugs you were taking and it appears they were designed to work in conjunction with these devices. Millions of nano-tech bots were released into your system every time you ingested one of these pills, acting like go-betweens, reinforcing the operational design of these devices. Someone wanted you to think you weren’t yourself, eventually destroying your mind, for whatever reason. What are you, some sort of secret agent?”


“That’s classified, doctor,” Dick said, then he winked. Although, he had been a member of Spyral at one point. “But can I have these, let’s say as a souvenir?”


“I shouldn’t, I should really give them to the police,” he said. “But since Bruce Wayne has asked me to keep quiet” —Damian had his hand extended, and the doctor reluctantly gave them to him— “Your father is a very caring man, son,” he said to Damian. “He bent over backwards for your brother, crossing lines that could’ve gotten him into real trouble.”


Damian knew what his father had promised the doctor, and nodded. “When the chips are down, my father comes through,” he said. “When it counts” —he turned and smiled at Grayson. Then back. “Thanks, doctor.”


With that, the doctor left.


“Now all we have to do is find out who—“ But when Damian turned back to Grayson, he found that he and Barbara were engaged in such a passionate kiss that the rest of the world was blind to them.


It was at that point he decided to leave and join the others back in the waiting lounge. And a nurse came to them and announced that visiting hours were well past and that they would all have to return tomorrow.


An hour later, they were all in sitting area of Wayne Manor discussing things to come. They discussed the events that broached them to this point and possible suspects of who could have Dick Grayson/Nightwing in their crosshairs. A list was compiled, but Nightwing had made a lot of enemies over the years, and even when the list was toned down, and cross-referenced with enemies currently housed in institutions, maximum security facilities, and even Arkham Asylum, the list was still too long. And it was unknown whether the list was complete. They still don’t know everything about his missions regarding Spyral when he was Agent 37.


Bruce explained why he had requested Dick to infiltrate Spyral after the events that lead to the world knowing he was Nightwing, exposed by the Rogues, which subsequently thanks to a “neutralizing device” and fortunate happenstance, Nightwing’s identity once again became a secret. The Spyral organization was rendered inert and Dick Grayson returned to the Batfamily fold. Other events took place after the fact, but they had no baring on the current situation, as far Bruce could conclude.


Despite conjecture and supposition, and a list of bad guys a mile long, who could’ve targeted Nightwing was still a mystery.


The next morning, Damian and Bruce returned to the hospital. With them, Jason sent along a “get well soon gift” in the form of a stuffed black cat with a masquerade blue mask over the eyes—just like Jason, Damian thought—and he had left earlier in the morning to see to other things, unable to see Dick at the hospital, but said would call to him later.


Barbara was already at the hospital and at Dick Grayson’s bedside. He was eating cereal. He was denied his request last night, and had to settle for some granola bars Barbara bought from a vending machine, crushed into bits, and some milk from the Hospital Ward’s fridge, mixed into a bowl. It was okay at the time, but now he had something proper, and he looked happy.


“Feeling better, I see,” Bruce said.


“Mmm, mmm,” Dick mouthed, holding up the bowl. He had a mouthful. Then a dribble of milk escaped the side of his mouth and Barbara was there with a napkin. Dick smiled, and Barbara rolled her eyes and told him to be less messy. After swallowing, Dick then replied, “Yes, Mom. No, sorry, that’s Alfred’s handle.”


“If you don’t behave, Dick Grayson, I’m going to have to smash you little bum,” she said.


Dick’s eyebrows twitched up and down. “How bad do I have to be?” And he smiled.


“Should we leave before the adult entertainment begins?” Damian remarked mockingly.


Both Dick and Barbara gave him an incredulous stare.


“I spoke with the doctor and he wants you to stay in the hospital for a few days for observation due to the circumstances,” Bruce then spoke. “He’s staying quiet about the whole affair as is his team, but he did have some questions regarding the implants.”


Barbara took out the tube with the two tiny round implants from her purse, and said: “As do we.” She jiggled the contents and the two implants rattled. “Who could’ve concocted such a devious plan to make Dick forget everyone and everything he knew by staging such an elaborate assassination attempt? Fake sophisticated brain scans, perform delicate surgery, and implant these devices, that  caused such radical personality changes? It must’ve been someone who knows his secret identity.”


“Looks like an investigation is in order,” Damian said excited. Then he punched a fist into a palm. “However, any attempt on any one of us is a declaration of war! Since you’re back, Grayson, I’ll be hanging up the Nightwing Junior persona.”


“Oh no, you won’t,” Dick said. “We have to play this as close to the hip as we can. Someone out there wants me dead, and they went to elaborate methods to do so. Little did they know we batboys don’t die or submit so easily. They must still be watching me, so I’m going to have to continue to play the part of the overbearing, self-indulging, arrogant amnesiac ass—who just suffered an apparent drug overdose with my medicine. The cover will be only this hospital could treat me with the symptoms I had.”


“So, what should I do?” Damian asked.


“You’ll continue as Nightwing Junior, fighting crime in Bludhaven, while I help coordinate an investigation back here in Gotham with Barbara. We’ll join you after a reasonable amount of time in the hospital. Say, three days.” Grayson then chuckled. “I love that name,  Nightwing Junior, it’s just so endearing. And just remembering you dressed in my costume makes me, well, appreciative. Thanks for bringing me back” —he looked at both Damian and Barbara— “I owe you both my life.”


“Welcome back, Grayson,” Damian said with a thin smile. “Should we tell—“


“No,” Dick retorted. “Tell no one that I have my memories back. None of the Titans or even the Justice League. No one outside our immediate family must know. There are eyes and ears everywhere. Not until we get to the bottom of things. There’s something afoot, Watson, and elementary is at play.” Grayson tried to sound like Sherlock Holmes with a British accent.


Damian responded with arched eyebrow. “Don’t call me Watson,” he replied. “And don’t ask me wats-on the agenda, either.”


“Party pooper.”

To be continued...

Chapter Text

That afternoon, after a nurse had changed his head bandages, Dick Grayson dosed off holding Barbara’s hand. When he was asleep, she gently removed her hand and placed it aside him on the bed and then quietly left the room. After using the washroom, she met the doctor in the hallway, who just happened to be on his way to Dick’s room.


“Oh, Ms. Gordon, can I speak with you a moment?”  She agreed, and they went to a secluded place to talk. She informed the doctor that Dick was sleeping, so it was not the best time to talk with him. He understood, and then said, “I have some additional news regarding Mr. Grayson. When we were removing the neuro-inhibitors from both hemispheres, we took a sample of fluid from his brain, and we also came up with something very odd: minute traces of a neurotoxin used in relation to sedation.”


Barbara was shocked. “Did you cross-reference it with the drugs Dick was talking?”


“Yes, but none corresponded with any of them. This was additional, working alone. Normally minute doses of similar drugs wear off soon after they are administered, but this was a revolving neurotoxin with replicating properties, so complex that it acted biochemically like a virus. But its inert now, it won’t harm him. We’ve added a drug to his IV that will brake up the rest of the traces.”


“Thanks good to hear, doctor.”


“This case is just getting more and more interesting,” he said. “Wouldn’t you say?”


She agreed. The doctor left, and as soon as he was out of sight and earshot, she made a call to Tim Drake.


He immediately answered.


After she told him what the doctor had revealed, Tim seemed to have a theory already, telling her that the “fake out” Jason had claimed, may have actually been two-fold, with two snipers, and both were crack-shots. By luring Dick in, and to a certain spot, the snipers fired at the same time from building perches, judging the angles precisely, aiming for his head. Within the bullets, were blood capsules that spattered on impact, each containing a miniature dart that could’ve administered the neurotoxin that rendered him unconscious and for him to appear near dead. This way no one wold question when they performed the surgery to save his life.


“That sounds very plausible, Tim, thank you. Now, all we have to figure out is who and why.”


“I’m working on that we speak, but Bruce said we have to keep this internal, so it’s only me at the moment. Bruce is out on patrol, Damian is back in Bludhaven being” —he snickered— “Nightwing Junior…and Jason is, well, Jason is Jason.”


“I think Damian’s archetype is admirable, Tim,” she said seriously. “He really cares about Dick, and since the events that nearly destroyed Bludhaven, and Bruce’s start-up restoration of the city, criminals had begun to crawl out of the sewers again. Bludhaven needs a hero. So please, don’t mock him.”


“Sorry, I didn’t think it was—anyway” —he almost sounded irate— “if I have any news, I’ll let you know.”


“Thank you,” and she ended the call, then returned to Dick’s room.


x x x


Damian was crouched on the edge of a two-story building dressed as his newest persona Nightwing Junior when he got the call from Tim Drake about the neurotoxin detected in Grayson’s brain fluid, and his own theory of how it got there. The toxin was inert now, he was told, but who did it and the lengths they went through to do such a thing was still a mystery.


“I think your theory has huge merit, Drake, thanks,” he said, then ended the call, slipping his cell into a hip pouch attached to a belt. He wasn’t much into talking much. The information was vastly important, but so what he was doing at the moment.


He was watching a drug deal go down in a bad part of town.


His position was secluded in the shadows, so he wouldn’t be seen.


The deal was happening in an alley, atypical of where these sorts of things went down. There was a shadowy figure in a dark hoodie and a buyer, giving money to the dealer. He watched the whole thing through a pair of binoculars. He’d let the deal end, then he’d not only bust the buyer but also apprehend the dealer. There was one thing he hated and that was drugs. They served no beneficial purpose unless medicinal. Recreational drugs were just bad for the body and served no one else but the criminal underworld.


He had gotten word that a new drug was making its way on the streets and distributed by a new-and-up-and coming crime junkie. Damian didn’t know much about it, but the effects were similar to marijuana, causing hallucinations if taken in large qualities. But this  was laced with a much more powerful content than the normal THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), a drug that caused a euphoric high.


He waited for the pair to part company, then he shot a tether line and jumped down, and then shouldered the buyer against the wall, forcing the young man to drop his stash, which was a large big bag of weed.


“Shit, man! What the hell?” the young man protested. “Hey! Aren’t you that—“


“Yes, I am! And you’re under arrest for buying and the possession of pot!”


The young man put up his hands. “Woah, hey! You don’t understand! I’m not using the stuff, I just bought it for evidence!“


“Evidence?” —Tt— “Don’t pull my leg!”


“He’s telling the truth,” came a voice slightly muffled from behind a mask. From the alley came Red Hood with the dealer in hand, raised slightly off the ground, his legs dangling. The older, scruffy man—dealer—shrugged to no avail. “Hey, you little pipsqueak, you nearly ruined things. Go play superhero somewhere else!” Damian/Nightwing Junior looked at Jason Todd/Red Hood confused. Red Hood handed the dealer to the other, literally tossing him over, and said: “Take care of him. This kid and I need to have a talk.”


While the other held the dealer, and even put him in handcuffs, Red Hood and Nightwing Junior went around the corner into the alley, and almost immediately, Jason pushed Damian against the brick wall. “What the hell are you doing? I thought it was a joke, you dressing up as junior Dickiebird. But I’m shocked. You and Bruce are a duo, this is a dangerous line of work for just a kid.”


“I’m not a kid, I’m thirteen, and I have more than enough experience to be out here,” Damian retorted. “So, get out of my way!”


Jason clutched Damian by the collar as if he was a dog. “You’re supposed to be in Gotham looking after Dick, not here lurking around rooftops. Bludhaven is just getting its legs back after nearly being destroyed, but the gangs and criminals are also coming back with a vengeance, trying to assert control before the politicians and bureaucrats do. How is Dick, by the way?”


“Just fine,” Damian replied conversationally, then shrugged against Todd’s grip. Either it was because of Damian’s wiggling or out of family respect, Todd dropped him. Damian straightened his tights. He then told Todd about Tim’s theory. “This is bigger than any of us thought, Todd. Why are you here in Bludhaven?”


“Hunting down drug dealers, followed his guy from Gotham City,” he said, “and you nearly ruined everything. This guy’s going to lead me to one of the main distribution facilities hidden somewhere in this area now that I have him. I may smoke, but I’m not keen on this pot. It’s laced with a chemical that’ll kill, similar to something the Scarecrow’s peddling, yet not as psychotropic. I’m also looking into finding evidence of Scarecrow’s newest ‘fear germ’ here, and the people this guy works for may know something.”


“Need any help?”


“No, your antics have already made a name for yourself in Bludhaven, so I don’t need any heat in what I’m doing. Jack, out there, is on loan to me from the New Bludhaven PD. We have an understanding and I’ve been deputized. They need my help to clean up the streets, and in turn, they’ll expunge my criminal misdeeds in Bludhaven. Oddly enough, when the city was nearly destroyed, none  of the criminal records were. They were all stored on a special server out of the city.”


“Sucks to be you,” Damian remarked caustically.


x x x


Dick Grayson’s eyes slowly opened. His head was resting on his right side and the first thing he saw when he awoke was the face of Barbara. “I go to sleep for a little while and I wake up in Heaven,” he said with a smile.


She smiled back, looking up from a novel. “Don’t get fresh, sweet prince.” Then suddenly, she sniffed the air. “Speaking about fresh, when was the last time you had a bath or shower?”


Dick smelled himself. “I don’t remember, but I don’t smell that bad, do I?”


“If you can’t remember, then it’s about time,” she said. Bruce had requested one of the best private rooms in the hospital for Dick and he got it. With it came a private shower/bath. “Since all the nurses are busy, I’ll help you.”


Dick smiled playfully. “Do I get full service?”


She smiled back. “Yes, I’ll bath and wash you as if you my little baby boy.” She helped him to his feet and lead him to the bathroom. She put a shower cap over his head and then helped him strip. Then she looked at him in the buff. “Jon Kent wasn’t kidding. Oh my god, Richard John Grayson! How the heck did you gain so much weight?”


He looked himself over. “It’s not that much, maybe twenty pounds or so? I haven’t been myself lately.”


She slapped his stomach and he flinched. “You’ve been drinking too much beer, and you haven’t been doing your exercises, or shaved where it counts, have you?” Dick’s mouth gaped shocked that he was being scolded. It wasn’t his fault. Then she smirked, and knew that she was teasing him. “But, I still love you, Dick Grayson; every ounce and every hair,” and they kissed.


Feeling a poke, she looked down.


“Oops, sometimes it has a mind of its own,” he said.


“At least you’re thinking with the right head.”


“Can I have my bath now, Nurse?”


She turned on the shower to the perfect temperature. It was a walk-in shower and bath, but she opted for a shower. “I’m going to work on you from head to toe, Mr. Grayson, Patient in Room #2, until you’re as clean as a whistle, and then some.”


Shutting the bathroom door, they both got into the shower together.

To be continued...

Chapter Text

Rest and relaxation was what the doctor ordered, but Dick Grayson was not the kind of person to stay out of the action for long. But since he couldn’t be in the action, he could at the very least read about it with occurrence reports from the rest of the Batfamily. Alfred had brought over an iPad. Bruce thought it was best that Dick was caught up on recent events.


As rotten luck would have it, the old man, had come within minutes of Dick and Barbara taking a shower, and he caught them. Exposing them, like two young adults playing around. Suffice it to say, Barbara was more than embarrassed. Dick managed to finish up on his own and a nurse was brought it to help with the rest.


Dick’s eyes blurred for a moment as he looked at the iPad screen. It wasn’t because of his eyes, but he felt tired. He was alone in his room. Barbara and Alfred had left to take in a meal in the hospital lounge and kitchen. He didn’t care much for hospital food, so he asked them to bring him back something. Barbara said she would bring him back a salad now that he had to watch his weight.


His head bobbed, his eyes blinked. He was tired, so he put the iPad down—Who tried to kill me?—was his immediate thought as he rested back on the pillow, and then began to dream.


He was suddenly thrusted back to his days at Spyral and found himself surrounded within a complex maze of structures that had no defining markings, where he was hunting a killer. His partner was somewhere else and he found himself alone. With a gun in hand, he carefully surveyed the area until he was attacked by a series of small biogenetic creatures—munchkins—creatures similar to that in the movie the Wizard of Oz. They lunged at him and he had to keep batting them away.


Then when he wasn’t looking, Grayson was swatted across the back of the head, knocking him down. He dropped his gun and one of the munchkin’s picked it up. When he turned, he came face-to-face with a man whom he thought he had killed a long time ago: Blockbuster, the crime lord of Bludhaven. The muscular, grotesque looking man grinned innately. All of sudden, a smaller, thinner man, with blonde hair came from behind him, a man whom he’d thought Dick would never see again. He was a minute criminal, and nothing like his betters, but he had been a formidable foe in his own rite.


His name was—Dick had to take a moment to remember his name, it didn’t immediately come to him.


“Greetings hero, how pleasant it is to see you again, or rather not see you, with your face blurred out by that most wonderful technology supplied by Spyral,” the apt sounding villain said. Spyral used technology to mask the identity of their agents, it was better than a mask. But later the hypno-implants used to generate such an effect was discovered to wreak havoc with its user, causing reparable brain damage and hallucinations.


When he finally remembered the man’s name, Dick was confused to see him here. But this was not the man he and his partner had been hunting. “Arthur Brown, Cluemaster, what the devil are you doing here? And I thought you were dead?” he said to Blockbuster. “Word had it the hero vigilante named Nightwing finally put an end to your tyranny in the city of Bludhaven,” he tried to sound coy, because he was Agent 37 at the moment and not Nightwing.


“Don’t play dumb,” Brown said. “We’re not really here, you’re dreaming. We’re representations of your unconscious working out a problem that you can’t decipher. When you fell asleep in your hospital bed, the last thing you thought about was who tried to kill you. Dreams are a way for the brain to fit the pieces of the puzzle together to come to a reasonable conclusion, albeit in abstract form, and for then the subconsciousness to pick at to bring it to the surface. But you won’t remember us after you awake.”


“Thank god, I always found you annoying. At least the Riddler had style, you were nothing but a carbon copy. But I have to say Stephane, your daughter, was a pretty cool Batgirl. But let me put the immediate issue into perspective: You, Brown, represent the riddle, per se, and Blockbuster represents the wall that has been put before me because of his vast size?"


“Excellent deduction,” Brown said. “But that is your own conclusion based on the apparent clues and information honed.”


“If I’m to take that into account, then I need to follow the clues given to me and brake through the barrier of deceit.”


“Yes, but you don’t have all the pieces yet, so nothing will make sense right now. You need to continue digging.”


Grayson was handed back his gun by one of the munchkins, but then it turned into the test tube with the two implants inside that the doctor had removed from his head. Suddenly, every single munchkin began to run around him, as if chasing each other, until he was surrounded by a blurry whirlwind—the mystery of it surrounding him.


He then looked up, and saw a man in the shadows standing on one of the undefined walls, looking down at him. He was faceless, his form silhouetted by an unknown light. Was this the person behind all this? Of course the person would be faceless and dark, Dick didn’t know who it was. But he knew there was some devious master plot to kill him, everything pointed to such. It was almost cliche, but true. But who, and why? This person represented the mastermind.


Suddenly, the man raised his hand into the air and lightning erupted from it.


Dick Grayson gasped and sat up in bed. Barbara was now sitting in a chair next to his bed, reading the iPad. He breathed out hard and she stood, went to his side. “What is it, Dick? Are you okay? Did you have a nightmare?”


Dick blinked his eyes. “Sort of, but it wasn’t a night terror, it was more like—“ The dream was quickly fading and he put a hand to his head. He recited off a few words: “Clue, wall, lightning,” then it was gone. He plopped his head back in his pillow. “I feel the intensity of the dream, yet the details are fading.”


“That’s how most dreams are,” she explained. “It may come back to you.”


Dick looked around the room. “Where’s Alfred?”


“He left to do some errands since you were sleeping when we came back; I brought you a salad, see” —Dick rolled his eyes, and said cereal would be better— “And when you’re up to it, we’ll start working on those love handles and some core strength exercises. I want to see those tight abs and cute little tushee in all its glory again.”


“We were about to, if Alfred didn’t horn in on our fun.”


They both laughed.


The door had only been a quarter shut when a male nurse came into the room rolling what looked to be food trolley. “Supplementary meal, Mr. Grayson,” the strong looking man said. “Orders by the doctor. He says you need to keep up your strength.”


“I hope it’s better than this salad?”


The man rolled the trolley close to the bed with a food plate covered.


Suddenly, the nurse grabbed the cover off the plate and pulled out a large knife, then tried to stab Grayson in bed. Dick reacted quickly and rolled to the side and out, using the bed as a barrier, as the male nurse sliced through the air. Barbara was also a target.


Pushing the bed, the man used it to pin Dick to the vent just underneath the window sill, then thrusted the blade towards Dick’s face. Dick avoided it, dodged again, and tried to push back against the bed. The man was exceptionally strong, using his lower body to hold the bed in place, while using his knife to attack, also attempting to grab Dick with the other hand.


Barbara then entered the fray and delivered a high kick to the attacker’s back. The impact was hardly felt, but he did turn his attention to her. That was a mistake. The sudden distraction gave Dick purchase to push the bed forward and flip it over. Then he joined Barbara in the open.


“And what’s this all about?” Dick demanded.


“Complements from an old friend, and he says to tell you, he has not forgotten your betrayal,” the attacker said. Then, quite suddenly, the male nurse slit his own throat, dropped, and died on room floor. Blood flowed from the cut, his eyes open to death.


Barbara went to get an orderly as Dick stood there, looking at the dead man. “Betrayal? Now what the hell does that mean?”


When the police came, Dick and Barbara gave reports, but why the man attacked Dick remained unknown.


x x x


When word got to Damian about an assassination attempt on Grayson in the hospital, the first thing he wanted to do was race back  to Gotham from Bludhaven and become Grayson’s personal bodyguard, but he was told not come back. Dick was safe with Barbara. The hospital wanted to place a police officer outside Dick’s hospital room, but Dick didn’t want to draw any unwanted attention. He was speaking with Grayson on his cell.


“Bloody incompetence!”


“Don’t get too worked up, kiddo. The man was a professional assassin, for a young buck,” Grayson said, over the phone. “But another why was just added to the mount of whys that we’re still trying to figure out. He said something about betrayal, and complements from an old friend, but someone knows I’m here, and they want to kill me. But it could be for a number of reasons.”


“Which means you’re in danger! You should be moved to the Manor,” Damian said strongly. “I’m sure Pennyworth can look after you. He’s taken care of all of us when we’ve gotta sick; he’s got a good bedside manner.”


“Barbara is an excellent bodyguard, she can take care of me,” Dick said.


“I’m sure she can, both in the conventional and the biblical sense.”


“Hey, watch your mouth,” Dick scolded.


Tt


Damian settled himself down, which wasn’t easy to do, and then he told Grayson about Todd being in Bludhaven, and that he was part of some new police task force against the drug cartels that were trying to gain a foot hold in the city.


Dick figured as much. “Jason’s done his fill of drugs, so he knows what to look for, and he knows the ins-and-outs of cartels, so he sounds like the perfect man for the job.” He just hoped Arsenal didn’t get involved or there’ll may be a relapse. Roy Harper had gotten involved in drugs and it took Wally Wast, Kid Flash, to knock some sense into him. “Did they approach him for the job?”


“Yup, and apparently he’s been impressive. He’s also hunting down clues for anything related to Crane’s newest ‘fear germ’.”


“Well, good luck to him. Knowing Jason, he can teach the BPD a thing or two about the cartels. Oops! Mother Hen’s back, time to say goodbye. And he’s giving me that face he always does when he’s asserting his authority. He wants me to hang up.”


“Yeah, I know that face. Don’t mess with Pennyworth. Talk to you later.”


Damian ended the call and then breathed a little easier. He was out on patrol in Bludhaven and it was quiet, standing on the rooftop of a six story apartment complex, his hair whipping in the cool wind.
He was glad Grayson was okay. Everyone kept in contact with one another, so went to dial Todd and tell him the good news, then call it a day, when suddenly he was attacked by a hooded dark figure in a long shroud.


Damian took a direct hit and went crashing onto the roof, sliding a few meters before being stopped by a ventilation duct. Looking back, the attacker looked like the archetype grim reaper. His face was hidden in darkness and the storm clouds that were brewing above didn’t help matters, masking pretty much everything else. He could also be wearing a mask to hide is identity.


“And who the hell are you supposed to be?” Nightwing Junior got to his feet. “Halloween’s over, time to return the costume.”


The grim reaper pointed at Nightwing Junior with what looked like a boney finger. Lightning suddenly coursed the sky, thunder crashed and boomed. Damian wasn’t normally startled, but he suddenly jumped, and for a split moment, shut his eyes—the light overwhelming the sensors of his mask. The second he opened them back up, his attacker was gone. He searched the roof, over every edge, but the man dressed as death had vanished.


“Now what the hell was that all about?”


It began to rain, so he shot a tether line out, and left to return back to his home base of operations, WingCo.

To be continued...

Chapter Text

The assassination attempt at the hospital made Dick think. Something sinister was going on.


He tried to put what pieces he had together, and he knew more pieces would come later. He didn’t know if it was from the surgery or pressure from something else, but he suddenly developed a headache. So, he laid back down.


Barbara had told him about Tim’s theory, and it had merit, but it was simple conjecture right now, nothing could be proven. However,  in correlation with what the doctor said about two separate implants being attached to his right and left hemispheres seemed to point the kid being in the right direction. Someone wanted to destroy him. Once again, why?


“I normally don't get so antsy, but all this business wanting to murder me is making me excited,” Dick said to Barbara.


“Let Bruce and Tim handle it, you just rest,” she said.


Dick felt a tingle. “You know I love a good mystery, Barb.”


“You’re the only one I know, Dick Grayson, who enjoys a good mystery, even at your own expense.”


“Especially, at my own expense. And those are the best kind, because the mystery revolves around me.” That sounded vain, but oh well. “The danger, the intrigue, the suspense, and a diabolical villain—waiting to be revealed until the very last moment. It’s all so exciting. If I ever do retire from the superhero gig, I’d like to be a novelist. I have so many stories to tell.”


Barbara crossed a leg over the other, sitting in the chair next to his bed. “You wrote a novel once and it was so good that you even won an award for it. Unfortunately, you wrote it under a non-de-plume, so the committee didn’t know who to give it to because you wanted to remain anonymous.”


“I self-published. Everyone has at least one book in them.”


“Yes, but this mystery is to be resolved later. You need to rest your weary little head, sweet prince. Let the others deal with things right now. Just relax, and no more reading field reports, it gets you too excited. You just had two brain surgeries in the span of a month. For normal people, that would put them out of commission for weeks, even months.”


“Well, I’m not normal person,” Dick said with a smug smirk.


“You certainly aren’t.”


Dick snickered. “Did you see the look Alfred gave us when he discovered us in the shower?”


“I was totally embarrassed,” Barbara said. “And I have to agree with him, we were acting like over-sexed teenagers.” Dick rolled his eyes and then sighed. “Don’t huff at me, we’ll get to the good stuff later. You just rest up and save your energy.”


“Yes, dear,” he said, then lifted the covers up. He shivered. “Did it suddenly get cold in here or is it just me?”


Barbara saw her breath. She shivered as well and rubbed her shoulders.


Suddenly, the door thrust open, and Captain Cold, one of the Flash’s old enemies, stormed into the room wearing his winter regalia and holding his cold gun. He had created a “cold field” in the room, and in the surrounding area. “Salutations, Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon, what a pleasure it is to see you; both my targets in one place, how delightful,” Snark said.


Another assassination attempt? Dick thought.


But before Dick could fully react, Snark fired his cold gun at Dick’s legs, freezing him to the bed. He struggled, but it was solid.


Barbara jumped to her feet, the chair tipping over, but Cold pointed his weapon at her, said: “Ah, ah, ah, sweetie, your prince’s legs are already encased in ice. It isn’t nice to give a guest a cold reception. If you want him to survive, you’ll do what I say.”


“What do you want, Snark?”


But Snark didn’t say, and he just fired the cold gun at her, encasing her fully in ice.


Dick screamed.


He snapped his eyes opened with a start, sweating. He looked around wide-eyed. His hospital room was temperature controlled and there were no signs of ice. But Barbara wasn’t in the room. “Barb!” he shouted.


Barbara rushed into the room. “Dick! What’s wrong? I just went to vending machine to get something, you were sleeping.”


Dick breathed a little hard. “So, it was just a dream? Thank god!” He put a hand to his face, wiping sweat. “More like a nightmare.”


She went to his bed and held his hand, using a napkin she had on hand to wipe his face. “What was the dream about?”


“Snark, Captain Cold, burst into the room and turned everything to ice, even you.”


“Why would you dream something like that?”


“I don’t know. I feel like I’m losing my mind with all these dreams.” He told Barbara about the dream with Cluemaster and Blockbuster and the munchkins when he managed to recall it after he calmed down. It had come back to him. But why did he just dream of Captain Cold? It didn’t make sense.


“The doctor did say you might experience a few idiosyncrasies as your brain repairs itself. Maybe I’ll buy you a toque?”


Dick snorted out a smile. “Are you saying my dream was saying my head is cold?”


She felt it. “Well, we lose a lot of heat through our skulls, and without that lovely flock of hair you usually sport, it could very well be. Dreams are strange. They can be meaningful, or they’re just be a way for the body to tell you something you need to know.” She then kissed the top of his head. “There, does that help?”


“I can feel the heat flowing through my body already.”


Barbara’s cell phone dinged and she reached into her pocket to check it. “It’s a text from Damian. It says: Tell Grayson when able: Just encountered a creepy looking guy wearing a grim reaper halloween costume on a rooftop. Disappeared when lightning flashed. Nothing to be concerned about. FYI.


Dick asked to see it and re-read it. “Creepy looking guy wearing a grim reaper Halloween costume, huh? That is weird.” Dick’s eyes grew wide, as if suddenly remembering something. His eyes darted from side-to-side. “Now why would I be thinking of him now?”


“Who?”


“He called himself The Reaper when I was Agent 37 working for Spyral. He was an ex-agent, jailed for selling secrets to the highest bidder, and murdering dozens of people for personal gains, judging them by his own standards. But he’s dead, Spyral never leaves anything unfinished.”


“How many missions did you have while you were with Spyral?”


“It felt like dozens, but there were a lot of correlations. The whole organization was a powder cake and it eventually self-destructed. I was lucky to survive the final onslaught and restored my Nightwing persona with a neutralizer device, so the Rogues never revealed my secret identity. It probably means nothing—the reaper thing—just an associative word connection.”


The iPad beeped, a video call was coming in. Barbara picked it and answered it, and angled it so Dick could see. The communique was on a secured and encrypted network set up by Tim Drake in the Batcave.
Damian, dressed as Nightwing Junior, appeared on the screen. There was a background of furniture, he was probably in WingCo, what he was calling his hideout. The new condo he purchased outright in Bludhaven.


“Hey sport,” Dick said with a smile. “Love the new costume, I’ve seen it somewhere before, but I can’t quite place it…”


“Can it, Grayson,” he said sarcastically.


Dick smirked. “So, what’s up, kiddo? We got your text. So, you got a visit from the grim reaper? He’s hounding you? He’s been hounding all of us batboys for quiet sometime, but he can’t quite pin us down.”
“But he almost got you, Grayson. You’re just one tough SOB, as Todd would say. I’m glad he failed.” That made Dick laugh. “I’m not calling for any business, I’m about to go patrol again ,and wanted to check in, and see how you’re doing?”


“Never better. Although I am having some weird dreams.” Dick told Damian about both. “Hey, you’re pretty good at dream analyses, D, you’ve helped me decipher some of my bizarre dreams before, even night terrors. What do you think they mean?”


Damian took a moment to think, then said, “I think you need to get more rest. You just had two brain surgeries, Grayson” —Damian put up two fingers— “Two! And you’re thinking too much. Villains are popping into your head because you see villainy everywhere.”


“That’s what I told him,” Barbara said. “But he won’t listen to me or the doctor and Heaven forbid he listens to orders.”


I’m being ganged up on ‘ere, see?


Dick Grayson tried to give his best New York old time gangster accent, but it sounded awful. Barbara rolled her eyes and shook her head and Damian just cocked an eyebrow incredulously.


“You need help, Grayson, serious help; good thing you have the best,” Damian said, and he seemed to blush slightly afterwards. He cleared his throat. “Notwithstanding, I do have something to show you. I found this at one of my latest crime scenes before I encountered Todd. Look familiar?” He raised into view what looked like an enlarged pog with a 'G' on it with a clip on the back. “I wasn’t sure it was significant at first, I thought it belonged to some kid’s toy, but I took it for evidence anyhow. Then I remembered…”


Dick’s face suddenly became very serious. “It used to—or one like it—clip on my chest straps of my uniform after I left Spyral. I thought I threw it away and burned my uniform after donning the Nightwing persona again. You found this…where, exactly?”


“Haphazardly thrown on the floor of a vacant building near the harbour that I was investigating for possible criminal ties. It was laying on top of a pile of trash, but fully exposed as if wanting to be seen. I received a tip that something was happening here, but it turned out to be false.” Then he looked sideways and left the scene for a moment, returning shortly. He raised a small purple fabric bag. “I also found these at another fake crime scene. They’re marbles with a ‘boss’. Oddly enough, it didn’t occur to me at the time, either, but when I placed all the marbles out” —Damian did exactly that onto a table, kept them from rolling, his phone showing them— “I noticed something, and something very specific and telling. Grayson, tell me if anything jumps out at you?”


Dick looked at them, but he couldn’t see anything odd about them. They were just marbles, in multi-colours: blacks with blue swirls, black with red swirls, and reds with yellow swirls. But there were thirty-seven, not including the ‘boss’, also called a Shooter. The ‘boss’ was grey and green, an odd colour.


“Marbles never come in odd numbers, they always come in evens, and normally bought in packs of ten,” he said. “These also appear to be crafted for professional use and customized.” Then his eyes widened. “No, that’s not possible…”


Dick became very quiet, but his face was serious. He put a hand to his mouth, one finger rubbed his lips, looking inwards.


“What is it, Dick?” Barbara asked with concern.


“Red and yellow, blue and black, black and red, and grey and green—they’re all the colours I’ve worn over the years. Robin, two changes as Nightwing, and then as Agent 37, for which there are thirty-seven marbles. And then there is the ‘boss’. Remember that guy I just mentioned, the ex-Spyral-agent…”


Barbara nodded.


“He also had a quark of issuing people nicknames and gave me the name: Boss, an endearment term, to say the least. I used to take charge and never got stressed, succeeding in my missions like a boss, as they say. As my identity had been exposed as Nightwing, I had nothing to hide, so Spyral knew exactly who I was and what I could do, so they sent me and my partner on some of most dangerous missions. He also used to repeatedly quote one my favourite movie lines every time I returned from a mission: ‘I’m here to kick ass and crew bubblegum and I’m all out of bubblegum.’”


“Now I remember. And also, didn’t he have a crazy weapon?”


“Lightning gloves,” Dick said, then all of suddenly his first dream came back to him. The dark shadowy figure behind a mask, standing above him on the wall, lightning striking when he raised a hand. “Jake Handles was his name, very smart guy, borderline genius with explosives and incendiary devices. He also had a side hobby: Fulminology, one who studies lightning or lighting strikes, creating adaptability gloves to generate the same effect and electricity strikes from the finger tips. He use them on his missions, then on some Spyral agents when he went rogue, frying them to a crisp. But Bruce taught me well and I managed to form a counterattack against them. He died in an explosion, after we rescued the hostages he took in revenge for Spyral ousting him, accidentally blowing himself up when he tried to fire a blast from one of his gloves at me. He was completely psychotic. He and Joker would get on swimmingly.”


“It was through him you learned there was something sinister within Spyral, right?” Barbara asked.


“That’s right,” Dick confirmed.


“Is there a chance he could have survived the explosion?” Damian wondered. “In our line of work, we know villains never just lay down and die.”


“After the explosion, he had a building fall on top of him. So, no; I don’t think he survived. But, for the sake of argument, if you two are thinking that he’s the one who did this to me? He would’ve had the resources, influence, and the knowhow to do it. He had some interesting people working for him when Sypral sent me after him. But no, I don’t think he’d be behind this.”


Damian gathered the marbles back into the bag, pulling the string tight. “Maybe we’re reaching? Seeing things that are not there because we want to solve this mystery? We need to get more information. We’ve all be taught to be detectives, but sometimes things are not as they appear.


“But as Sherlock Holmes once said: Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth,” Barbara put in.


“But if Grayson says he’s dead, I believe him,” Damian said, with an undertone of jealousy, Grayson noticed.


“The clues are too specific to Dick, Damian,” Barbara said.


“Or they're not,” Damian contradicted. “And we want them to be.”


“Okay, okay, let’s not argue. We’ll just have to see.”


With the situation seemingly settled, Dick leaned back in his bed. Then a thought popped in his head. “Oh, before you go, sport, let me ask you something: How much did that condo of yours set Bruce back?” When Damian told him, it didn’t sound unreasonable, but when he told Grayson that Bruce had cut him off after the sizeable purchase and he was now using Grayson’s savings, Dick was shocked. “I told you, if you were in any trouble, you could use my money, in moderation, but don’t spending it like water.”


“Don’t worry, Grayson, I’ve already paid you back, and if you look at your accounts, for every dollar I spent, I made you a profit of fifty cents on the dollar. I did clean up the Wayne finances when my father was gone and you acted in Batman’s place, after all.”


Damian told him how much he made for Dick. “You made me that much in profit? You little genius! Thank heavens you’re on our side. As a criminal, you’d clean house with every financial institution in the world. Maybe I should diversify my portfolio and make you my new business investor? I won’t be doing the superhero gig forever, I’ll have to retire sometime.”


All of a sudden there was the sound of a clang in the background as Damien and Grayson talked, Damian had put down one of Grayson’s escrima sticks on the table when he dealt with the marbles, but it had suddenly rolled off and to the floor. He picked it up.


“Take care of those, D, they’re dangerous, and expensive.”


“It’s not like you can’t afford an upgrade.”


“That’s true, but I won’t be out of action forever. Give me some time to recover and I’ll show you a thing or two.”


“Looking forward to it,” Damian smiled. “You know what they say: Heroes never die or truly retire, they only get proteges.”


Dick looked surprised. “You want to be my protege?”


“I think the time has come that I begin to diversify my own portfolio and try new things. Besides, you did say, you’ll be out of action for a little while. Nightwing Junior is here to say.”

To be continued...

Chapter Text

That evening, Dick and Barbara went down to the cafe for dinner. Even though, Dick knew she had to go back home in Bludhaven for work, she refused to leave his side. She had called in and explained the situation—that her boyfriend had sustained a serious head injury and was transported to Gotham for treatment. They told her to take all the time she needed.


Dick was beyond appreciative.


Barbara had bought him a housecoat from the gift shop and he wore it over his hospital clothes. She had also purchased him a pair of fuzzy dog slippers, but he opted to decline wearing them out in public. Of course, it was a joke, and he knew he wouldn’t be allowed to wear them, but they were cute, and he’d safe them for later. Instead, he wore standard footwear.


They sat down at a table next to a window overlooking the back garden area.


She had ordered a tuna sub with all the fixings, and he, albeit the second one of the day, had ordered a large green salad. But at least it had bread croutons. They both ordered bottled water.


Five minutes into their meal, Dick already had enough of his salad and pushed it aside, and leaned back in his chair. He glanced around the cafe at other patients and the assisting nurses and he was glad to have Barbara with him. She had just taken a small bite of her sub and put it down, then picked up her phone to read something on her phone, when he reached over and cupped her hand in his. She looked at him and smiled, squeezing his hand as well.


“Have I thanked you yet for everything you’ve done for me?”


“About one and half times,” she said.


“One and half?”


“The first time was with Damian and the half was in the shower before Alfred caught us.”


He brought her hand up to his mouth and kissed it. “I can deliver the second half anytime,” he smiled playfully. “Think of it like the Super Bowl, the second half is always the most thrilling and the scoring ratio is also higher.”


She rolled her eyes. “You men and your sports metaphors. I suppose the next thing you’ll say is you’ll sack me if I run?”


“Only if you attempt to make a hundred yard dash.”


Distracted by Barbara, he paid little attention to a young man with bandaged hands that entered the cafe with a female nurse, but he did notice a police officer follow. He was a supposed escort for the man, if seemed, possibly under custody. The man, dressed in patient garb, looked around, as if to see what he wanted from the vendors, but then suddenly stopped, and stared at Dick’s table.


“Hey, don’t I know you?” the man said, pointing at Dick.


Both Dick and Barbara looked at the man as he approached.


“I don’t think so,” Dick said. “You may me mistaken for someone else, I think? There are quite a few people in the hospital with head bandages, we all seem to look alike to a point. Like zombies, walking around aimlessly, wondering what happened to our nice hair.”


Barbara lightly hit Dick in the shoulder. “Don’t be so facetious,” she said.


“No, I know you from somewhere—oh yeah—from Bludhaven, that’s right! Your face is very familiar. You used to hang around that bar—crap, I forget the name of it—and act all tough, challenging people to pool matches, drinking what seems like kegs of beer, and flirting with all the ladies, especially with that hottie, what’s her name, oh yeah, Pixie!”


“Pixie?” Barbara questioned.


Dick shrugged. “No clue,” he said. He didn’t remember much of his ‘other life’ when he had amnesia. It was like when he got his true memories back, his other self disappeared, along with the memories.


“Yes, I do remember you. You came across as a bit of a dick—arrogant and self-absorbing—and used to say some of the corniest pick up lines, like: They say Disneyland is the happiest place on earth, baby; well apparently, no one has been standing next to you” —Barbara rolled her eyes— “And: I seem to have lost my phone number, can I have yours?” —Barbara try to hide a smirk— “Or your best one, I think: Is your father a terrorist, because you’re da bomb!


Barbara laughed.


Dick’s eyes widened and his face blushed. He wanted to cover his face in embarrassment, but then that would be like admitting he was the person this guy was referring to, but instead, he tried to deflect. “Frankly, sir, I think you really do have the wrong—oh, so wrong—person here. I wouldn’t be caught dead saying those things.”


“Oh, they’d be just like you, Dick. So, which bar was this? And what does this 'Pixie' look like?”


He gave Barbara a weird look, as if to tell her not to encourage this guy. He had been told he had hung out in bars and did some uncharacteristic things when he had amnesia, even calling himself Ric or Gray. He thanked his lucky stars that that was over.


“Oh, she was ‘da bomb’, alright, and she was smitten with you, man,” he said to Dick. “Short skirt, big breasts, pink hair—the works. Like a Playboy model. And easy. She’d jump anyone.”


“Really?” Barbara gave Dick a curious stare.


“I don’t remember, seriously, and I have no idea who this person is, or Pixie.” He turned back to the stranger. “Now, if you excuse us, sir, my lovely girlfriend and I, are enjoying dinner. You really do have the wrong person.”


Richard—if you call me Dick, I’ll hit you—Grayson, that’s your name! Now I remember. You told everyone to call you Ric or Gray.” Dick stood on his feet, clenched fists at his side. Barbara also got to her feet. He grabbed the man’s shirt and stared into the man’s eyes. “Okay, who the hell are you? And why are you here?”


Dick saw the police officer begin to react, he had been standing near the entrance door, hovering. He began to approach.


The man momentarily reached up and gave Dick’s left hand a squeeze, but then held back with both hands up in surrender. “Hey, I just thought I recognized you, that’s all. Maybe I am mistaken? I’m here at the hospital for an overdose—weed—the cop over there is my chaperone. The hospital in Bludhaven didn’t have the facilities to treat my condition, so I was brought here.”


The police officer arrived. “Is there a problem, sir?” he asked.


“Take it easy, fella. Sorry, I bothered you,” the man said. Dick released him.


“No, officer, no problem,” Barbara said. “This man thought he knew my boyfriend, but he was mistaken.”


“Oh,” the officer said, and then escorted the patient and nurse away, removing him from the cafe.


Dick sat down, putting a hand to his face, and Barbara put a hand on his shoulder. “Every time I think of that other me, I get upset. The things I was told I did, it wasn’t me. Hell! Whoever put those implants in my head was diabolical. They wanted to destroy me.”


“But they didn’t, and now you’re here with me, safe and sound.”


“But for how long? There’s already been one attack on my life in the hospital. Whether it was known I had my memories back or not, whoever orchestrated it, whoever the assassin worked for, knew I was here. Did they want to finish me off?”


Barbara didn’t know the answer to that. “Dick, take it easy. I think you need to talk to someone about what you’re going through, someone who understands PTSD.”


“I’m not suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.”


“Those dreams say otherwise. As did the night terrors before.”


Barbara held him and Dick put his head on her shoulder and he closed his eyes, the rest of world be damned if they stared. Maybe he was finally feeling the pressure and needed reassurance. Barbara was always there when he needed her. “Maybe everything’s that happened has changed me in some way? I know things are different now. But at least I have you…”


“It’s natural to feel afraid, Dick, you're only human. Don’t shortchange yourself. You’ve been through a lot over the years.”


He looked up and his face was pale, his eyes appeared glassy but not with tears, and sweat began to drip down the side of his face. He shivered. “I feel so cold. Hold me, Barb.”


She did, but then suddenly felt his forehead. “Oh my god, Dick! You have a high fever. You’re burning up!”


x x x


The weather in Bludhaven lately hadn’t been hospitable. There had been a continued threat of thunderstorms and heavy rainfall, the temperature was chilly. Grayson had thermo-tights, so whenever he went out for patrol in the winter, he was warm. Except for his face. Damian wore a light dark jacket as he prowled the roof tops. He was not-so-warm.


His first stop was the same place he had encountered the freak in the grim reaper getup, but he was nowhere to be found. And he found himself wondering if he had actually imagined it.


He hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep as of late. With all the tension lately, Grayson’s attempted assassination and then recovery; Bruce Wayne, his father’s break up with Selina Kyle, Cat Woman—bride-to-be leaving him at the altar; and a slew of other things, even Drake’s entanglements with his psychotic future self, whom Drake thought was dead, and for which his future self wanted to eliminate his past self from every existing.


Something Wally West—Flash—did when battling one of his enemies, had changed history, and brought him back, and now Drake’s older self was after his younger self every chance he got.


The thing about Drake’s future self was, his other was bigger and stronger, and he blamed Drake for all the woes he’d experienced in the future. His future self had built his own Batcomputer and, however it went down, he fused with it—merged with it—to gain an intelligence and an understanding of the universe far greater than even the being known as Darksied, a being of such immense power. Thanks to Wally West—future events had changed for those who lived and remembered them.


Darksied had been killed by the Flash during a tremendous battle, but, like the Butterfly Effect theory, something happened to undo much of what had transpired. But the multiverse was filled with contradictions, even Grayson was confused by it all. Damian didn’t understand it all, in fact, he didn’t really care. All he cared about is that Dick Grayson made a full recovery.


Fork lightning coursed through the sky, illuminating clouds and the surrounding area, and as Damian stood on a rooftop, gazing around the ever reconstructed urban landscape of Bludhaven with its cranes practically on every building—and perfect for swinging with his tether rope—he suddenly saw a dark figure standing on the edge of a four story building across his immediate proximity.


The man had a long lightly coloured coat that blew haphazardly in the wind with dark clothing underneath. He also seemed to be wearing a mask, but Damian couldn’t see for sure. He could only see glimpses of the man after lighting flashed, but the man did look sinister in nature. But he knew this was not the same freak in the grim reaper costume.


As another lighting strike coursed, something grabbed him like a tether wire, and it wrapped itself around Damian’s waist.


Then he felt a strong, sharp yank, launching him across the distance towards the dark figure.


Damian flew through the air unwarranted, but he could still defend himself, and tried to, grabbing the escrima sticks in mid flight from their holsters on the back of his costume. But the moment he reached the figure, he was halted, when his weapons were grabbed, and yanked from his grip, with him tossed aside on the same roof as his assailant, like a rag doll.


Damian rolled, but he rolled in such a way that he could make a quick recovery, and got to his feet. Lightning struck again, followed by thunder, the winds began to pick up as a wicked storm brewed. The man stood holding the escrima sticks in gloved hands. Then with a strength unseen, he crushed the stick held in his right hand as if were a plastic toy, the power cells sparked and shortened out. Then he threw the other one over the roof top into the darkness, lost.


“You haven’t been drinking your milk, young one, and you're too short for your appropriated namesake,” the dark masked figure said with a chuckle. “Your predecessor would have seen that attack a mile away. You need a lot more training to fill his shoes.”


“Just who the hell are you?” Damian demanded. “And take off that ridiculous Phantom of the Opera mask. As I said to that fool in the grim reaper costume earlier, Halloween’s over.”


“Ah, yes, the grim reaper: a beta test of a photo-kinetic construct,” the man said. “Non-living beings; but as solid as any creature; and technology that’s still in development in mainstream science. But I have perfected it.”


Damian had a somewhat working knowledge of photo-kinetics from science journals he had read, he even did a paper on it for school. Photo-kinetic energy, in theory, could be controlled and solidified from atom-sized light particles and compressed together into solid objects, that could, also theoretically, be designed to be make anything such as a weapons or even constructs of people.


So, the grim reaper wasn’t real. But this guy was.


Damian supplicated his previous demand, and asked again: “So, who the hell are you? Or, do I need to ask a third time? But I shalt ask a fourth, I’ll just beat it out of you!”


“You lack even his grace and patience, tsk tsk. I know he survived the attack on his life, and he has his memories back. I know you gathered the clues I left. So, give him a message: I’m waiting for a rematch, and this time, I’ll take his life! You may call me Annex.”


Anger swelled up inside Damian. “How about I just call you Asshole! Did you try to kill Nightwing? Why did you target him? Answer me, you damned, bloody coward!


Annex wiggled a finger from side to side. “You haven’t earned those answers yet. But I will say one thing: things are not over. There are sinister plots at play. But I feel you’re itching for a fight, young one. Come at me then, if you dare?”


“Gladly!”


Damian reached for a retractable staff on his belt and extended it to its full length. Drake had made it compact, so it could be put away without it being cumbersome. He normally carried a sword, as Robin, but he wasn’t as Nightwing Junior. He knew Grayson was going to be pissed when he found out his escrima sticks were now destroyed or lost. He’d have to search for the one this freak had thrown over the edge of the building later.


Damian attacked Annex with his staff: swinging, twirling, and striking, with thrusts and jabs, but Annex easily avoided each attack. Damian observed the man had been trained, militarily, and knew how to maneuver. Even with a series of quick attacks, Annex weaved and dodged like a pro. The man had experience.


Damian came in close, but then Annex reached out and grabbed Damian’s staff, and kicked him back. Damian recovered, attacked again, but the man reacted the same, and every time Damian got in close, the man used a series of military defensive tactics that proved he knew how to defend himself with forthright and instinct.


“You’re pretty good, lad, but you’re nothing like him. You’re a carbon copy at best, and your moves are less elegant, less fluent, and without an element of panache. You are no Richard Grayson.”


Damian gasped. Annex knew Grayson was Nightwing?


Infuriated either by anger or by poor comparison, Damian attacked again.


But this time, the man didn’t hold back as if done with playing around. He held out a hand, and suddenly, electricity coursed from one glove—and Damian screamed when it hit.
Strings of electricity snaked around Damian’s body, numbing is muscles, and electrifying his body.


He dropped to his knees, his teeth aching from the hit. But he was still conscious. Yet, he couldn’t move.


“Damn…it!” he said breathlessly, through clenched teeth. He looked at Annex and tried to get to his feet, but his legs wouldn’t let him. He felt paralyzed and every muscle in his body felt like it was on fire.


Annex came to stand over him, his operatic mask in full view now. It only covered half his face, the exposed half was singed by fire. Normally, someone would want to cover the horrific half, but perhaps his whole face was the same, and he merely wore half a mask for dramatic effect, Damian thought.


“You’re pathetic, Nightwing Junior.” Annex laughed at the name. “You haven’t the right to the lineage or the name. When I fought Richard Grayson, he was a formidable enemy and I respected him. Your performance here would garner countless bad reviews.”


And with one jolt from a finger to his forehead from one of Annex’s gloves, Damian dropped to the rooftop unconscious.

To be continued...

Chapter Text

When Damian awoke, he felt excessively groggy, and every muscle in his body ached.


He had the sensation of being upside and when he opened his eyes, he confirmed it. He was suspended by interlocking ankle shackles attached to the ceiling over a large vat filled with long snake like amphibian creatures.

If he had to venture a guess, they were electrophorus electricus, or electric eels.


The voltage they delivered was numbing, sending a mild electrical charge of 860 watts per second of amperage shock. Not lethal on its own, but when amplified in water a person would be rendered unconscious and drown.

When he glanced around, he was in some sort of solo structure. The walls were cream in colour and completely smooth and there were no windows, only one air vent high near the ceiling, and a single CCTV camera. At the bottom was a door. There was truly no purpose of this place other than a torture vessel for interrogation, which, Damian, wagered, was why he was here.


Annex, that crazy villain in the operatic mask: Something about those gloves triggered remembrance. Didn’t Grayson say that one of his old foes had crazy gloved weapons that generated bursts of electricity from his time in Spyral?


Jake Handles, Damian remembered. But now he was going by a new name.


He reached up and tried to grab the chain that attached to his ankles, maybe he could slip out of the shackles, he thought. But his stomach wrenched with pain and he cringed and fell back down. The electric shock on the roof top had done damage.


But he pushed passed the pain and tried again.


Suddenly, he screamed, as the chain electrified, a defensive mechanism from escape, and he dropped, and bounced, his weight causing the chain to swing, the sensation also causing him to vomit, his stomach churning from the electrical circuit.


The vomit dropped into the vat and it seemed to stir the eels into swarming it, to attack it.


Damian moaned, his strength leaving him. And he fell into an unwanted unconsciousness once more.


When he regained consciousness again, he assumed he had only been unconscious for a short while, and reengaged with his predicament, and analyzed his options, and realized that the door below was his only way out. But he had to escape from the ankle shackles first to have any chance of escape.


So, he decided to go the direct route: “Hey, Opera freak!” —purposely not referring to his name— “Show yourself!


There was a low chuckle heard from an audio system and it echoed the chamber—a truly, sadistic sound, then: “How trite in its originality,” a disembodied voice rang out. “Just because I wear this mask, you compare, and nickname me, to the likes of the main protagonist of the stage play, a phantom by any other name by default.”


“Face me, coward! I don’t want to speak to a voice. I already know what you look it and who you are.”


“Indeed, I know you caught a glimpse of me before I rendered you unconscious on that roof top. I’m sure you’ve already heard tales of me from your mentor, but do you truly know who I am?"


“I’ve heard stories of a sadistic, murdering, psychopath, whose incompetence caused his own demise.”


The chain electrified with a mild shock and Damian strained, clenching his teeth. Then it relented and he breathed out. He swore.


“Know your limits, pretender.


Damian laughed. “This isn’t the first time one of you psychos has had me dangling precariously over a dangerous pratfall,” he said. In fact, he had managed to wiggle one foot from a boot, from the shackles; they weren’t very tight. All he had to do was release his other foot and slip free. But, he’d have to time it right or he’d fall into the pool of eels.


Grayson had taught him well. He was, after all, one of the best escapists Damian knew.


“Limits are for losers, you never know what you can do unless you try,” Damian came back strong. “I know who you are—Jake Handles, ex-Sypral agent. Those electro-gloves give you away. I was told about them. I was also told you were dead.”


“I would’ve been, except for a contingency plan. What I didn’t take into account, was the poorly built bomb one of my people at the time devised for me. The radio-frequency was ultra-sensitive and it reacted to close proximity of my gloves. Two-thirds of my body was burnt from the explosion and I have two artificial limbs from a building that fell on top of me. But I survived by sheer will.”


Damian laughed short. “From what I hear, that makes you the ultimate loser.”


“Be careful with your words or you’ll find yourself burnt to a crisp. You won’t survive being dropped into the vat of electric eels. Be it interrogation, call it an inquiry—why are you dressed up as Nightwing?”


“I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass…and I’m all out of bubblegum,” Damian quoted the movie line correctly from whence it originated. After Grayson had quoted the line, paraphrased it, he looked it up and it came from an old B-movie horror flick called “They Live”, starring a former professional wrestler turned Hollywood star. “But I think I like it better another way: I’ve come here to kick your ass, then I’ll find some bubblegum, I’ll chew it, and spit in your face!”


“I knew a man who liked that quote. He was just as arrogant as you are and used to make some of the most ridiculous puns.”


Damian smiled smugly. “How’d you do it? Did you hire quick-shots for the assassination attempt on Nightwing, then pay off people for the medical side of things? Why not just kill Grayson if you have grudge?”


There was no point in hiding that Grayson was Nightwing. Jake Handles obviously already knew being a former member of Spyral.


“The direct approach, how refreshing. A worthy try, but your attempts to have me reveal certain secrets is child’s play.”


“Fair enough, it was worth a try,” Damian said.


I have to warn Grayson! Jake Handles is alive!


“Then if you’re not going to tell me what I want to know, then there’s no point in me being here. In fact, this whole interrogation approach is worthless. Besides, my suit is shockproof. The eels wouldn’t even hurt me.”
Damian folded his arms to the side and then began to swing back and forth, the momentum giving purchase for a sway.


“Hey, what are you doing?” Annex’s voice boomed.


“What else? Escaping!


Damian slipped out of his boots and from the ankle shackles and flew through the air, landing with perfect acrobatic form on the floor next to the eel vat. Strains of his hair stood on end as he felt the electrified field the eels generated as a whole when seemingly threatened. Then he ran for the door. Luckily, it wasn’t locked. And he bolted out into a hallway in his stocking feet.


The last thing he heard was Annex’s voice cursing him.


x x x


Jason Todd had heard rumours of a creepy looking guy hanging out in the residential areas near a rundown part of old downtown Bludhaven and he wanted to check out personally. As a member of a new drug task force assorted with the new Bludhaven PD, he also thought it prudent to investigate other drugs holes in the city, this being one of them.


When he got to the area where the last supposed sighting of this masked person was, there was nothing to see. All seemed normal. The area was a dump, It had grown into an area for desolates and the homeless very quickly, and the perfect locale for drug deals—and had been one of many areas of old Bludhaven that remained standing after the city was nearly destroyed in an all out attack by criminals in a war that cost a lot of people their lives, sending Bludhaven into a virtual hell.


Bruce offered to rebuild the city, and it was beginning to flourish once more, with the New Bludhaven PD resurrected to keep the peace. Buildings were being erected at a steady pace and the landscape was beginning to look like a city again.


Some places still needed work.


He wandered around the area for about thirty minutes and then decided to quit. The rumours were obviously chalked up to someone’s overactive imagination. Then he saw a homeless man pushing a shopping cart out of an alleyway. The cart was filled with a sleeping bag and an array of other items. He turned away, but then something struck him, and he snapped back around. Did he just see what he thought he saw?


Going over, he went to the homeless man, with his beat up clothes and long, scruffy hair. In his shopping cart looked like something that resembled—almost identical, in fact—like one of Grayson’s escrima sticks.


He went to grab it, when the homeless man pushed him back. “Hey bud, all this stuff is mine! Get your own!”


Jason pointed to the item. “That thing, that metal stick—where’d you get it?”


“Found it, in the alley back there. It’s mine! Get your own!” The man grabbed it and then held it tight. “Great for hitting unwanted thieves who want to steal my stuff.” The man raised it above his head as if to use it to hit Jason.
Jason raised his hands. “Woah, man! Take it easy. You don’t want to do that.” By the look of it, Jason was right. It was one of Grayson’s escrima sticks. But why would it be in the alley? Damian was the last one he knew that was in possession of them, using the Nightwing’s arsenal to fight crime in Bludhaven as Dick recovered in Gotham Hospital. He watched the man’s hand, which was dangerously close to the trigger button that would generated its electrical charge. “Tell you what, how much do you want for it? Name your price, but he reasonable.”


The man looked at it. “You want this? Why? It’s just a piece of metal, I think? A metal bar—it’s very light, though.”


Suddenly, the man activated it, accidentally, and the three slots on the top of the escrima stick opened and sizzled, generating an electrical charge with a blue energy.


Jason took a step back. Dick’s escrima sticks acted like shock sticks, one touch and a person was down for the count at the correct voltage. They were designed and built to be versatile and light weight, but delivered a devastating blow.


The man held on to it despite his shock.


“What the hell is this…stick?”


Jason had no choice. “Sir, I’m Captain J. Todd of the USAAF, and I was dispatched to find a piece of classified military hardware stolen from one of our highly secret bases in Gotham,” he lied. “The culprit has been apprehended, but he ditched what he stolen after a thorough manhunt when in Bludhaven. That is what I am searching for. Be careful, prolonged exposure to it when activated, as you just did, can render you impotent.”


The man gasped, but either out of fear or something else, he didn’t let go of it, as if his hand was frozen. “What do I do?”


“See that trigger switch near the bottom, depress it to shut it down.” The man quickly looked for it and managed to find it, shutting the escrima stick down. The man than grabbed his crotch as if he thought immediate exposure had made him impotent. Jason withheld a smirk. “Now, can I have it?” He extended a hand out.


“It’s switched off, right?” Jason nodded with a yes. “If you’re a member the Armed Forces, as you claim, then you can afford to pay me for it. A thousand dollars in cash.”


“A thousand dollars? That’s--”


“Reasonable, since this is classified, right? And probably pretty damn expensive?”


Jason sighed. He knew he could just pull out a gun and take it from the man by force, but a lot of people were down on their luck since the economy crashed in Bludhaven, and it wasn’t worth the exposure or risk. Besides, he could just get the money back from Dickiebird afterwards. He took out his wallet and counted ten hundred dollar bills as the man watched with awe.


The man exchanged the stick for the money.


With an excited face, the man counted the money. “Glad doing business with you, sir. And I support the armed forces. Great bunch.”


Jason thanked him and then left. When he was out of sight, he reached for his cell phone. His first call would be to Damian and ask him why one of Dick’s escrima sticks was found discarded in an alley. Had he been in a fight and had to leave it?


But when he tried to turn on his cracked screen phone—it still worked, but his work often left him in need of new phones frequently—it wouldn’t turn on. The battery was dead.


He swore. He knew it was low, but he didn’t realize it was that low. So, the direct route was the best option, and he went to Damian’s condo. He didn’t have a key, so he used tools to break in. He had to admit, the kid had good taste.


Picking up the landline, he went to dial Damian’s cell. The kid was probably out on patrol, when suddenly he heard the toilet flush. He paused, momentarily thinking it was Damian, but just to be sure, he went for his gun in his jacket and pulled it out. He pointed it at the closed bathroom door adjacent to main bedroom, but slightly down the hall.


It wasn’t Damian, it was Jonathan Kent.


Jon held up his hands. “Hey Jason, no need for the gun,” he said. “I’m a friend.”


Jason put the gun away. “What are you doing here?”


“I should ask you the same thing. But I was looking for Dami, he’s not answering his phone. We made plans to go on patrol today. I told my dad what was happening here, and with Dick Grayson, and he kind of wants me to keep an eye on Dami, since his dad is a little despondent after Ms. Kyle left him and isn’t around much. Dami is a bit of a hothead sometimes and needs supervision.”


“I can attest to that, the hobgoblin can be trouble.” Jason picked up the landline, even in the days of cell phones, landlines still had their uses, and dialled Damian’s cell, and received his voicemail. “Hey, shortshack, it’s Jay—call me back, pronto! I found something you lost.” He hung up, and told Jon what he found and where he found it.


“That’s not like him,” Jon said, and Jason agreed.


Jason then dialled one more number, Barbara Gordon.


When she picked up, she didn't even let him get a word in edgewise when she said, “Not a good time, Jason”—he heard shouting in the background and a man’s voice issuing orders. And then Dick screaming—“I’ll call you back!”
The call was abruptly ended.


Jon’s face looked pale. With his ultra-sensitive hearing, the boy obviously heard the call. “Dick Grayson sounded like he was in pain,” he said, “in god-awful pain! What’s wrong?”


“Don’t know, kid.” He dialled Barbara again, but the called went immediately to her voicemail. She had switched her phone off. “Barb, what’s happening with Dick? I’m at Damian’s new condo. You have the number, I know Damian text it to you. My phone is dead. Call me back, asap!”


He hesitated to make a fourth call: to Bruce. Despite the events that transpired with the Penguin recently—Jason had almost murdered the Rogue villain, but the villain had managed to survive despite Todd’s best attempts—they weren’t on the best of terms. They had put aside their differences temporarily because of Dick—a trace—but he knew Bruce wouldn’t give a damn what he wanted. And besides, Bruce had his own problems at the moment with Selina Kyle leaving him at the altar.

To be continued...

Chapter Text

Dick Grayson fought against his holders as if his life depended on it, acting like a delusional mental patient.


Hold him down!” the doctor instructed.


Two big orderlies and one police officer in the hospital room tried to subdue Dick Grayson to his bed, first by force, then through other means, using velcro straps that were only used for extreme circumstances and obstinate patients. Although, not normal practice, it was used only as a last resort.


In Dick Grayson’s case, his recent unexplained fever had quickly developed into something unlike anything the doctor had ever encountered, causing Dick to experience delusions and hallucinations of such a violent nature, that Dick, normally a calm man, had tried to attack the patient he had had an encounter in the cafe only minutes before.


They had managed to take Grayson back his room after the police officer, who had been with the other patient, forcefully handcuffed him, saving the patient from a severe beating—Grayson shouting and acting like a madman. He appeared to calm down momentarily as he was escorted to his room, but once released from the handcuffs things escalated and Grayson suddenly attacked the police officer in a fit of rage. That was when the orderlies were called in to help.


The only person he didn’t attack was Barbara. However, Dick seemed to see everyone else as an enemy, and no one knew why.


With both legs secured with velcro straps to the bottom lift-bars of the bed, as Barbara looked on with tears in her eyes, begging Dick to stop, Dick seemingly tried to defend himself from the police officer and the orderlies attack him, using every tactic in the book. And with his years as a crime fighter, it gave him a huge edge. But there was strength in numbers and as the officer held Dick down, and took being battered by strong elbows and punches, the orderlies first secured one arm to the bed and then the other.


Once Dick was secured, screaming bloody murder to let him ago, the police officer stood up, backed away and felt his head and back. The officer was in rough shape.


And then the doctor prepared a sedative in the form of a needle.


“Hold him down,” the doctor ordered again, “so I can administer the needle.”


“Dick, stop!” Barbara cried out. “What’s wrong?”


Dick’s face looked to be that of an angry enraged individual on the verge of mental collapse. He was sweating profusely and spittle ejected venomously from the corners of his mouth as if he were rabid. He struggled violently against his strappings, even moving the bed. The bed’s locks were engaged, but not even they could stop it from jarring out of position.


The police officer was battered, but when ordered, he held the bed still as the two orderlies held Dick down by the shoulders for the doctor to insert the sedation needle.


Dick cursed, ranted and raved, threatening to kill them all, which was unlike him, until the sedation began to take effect, which wasn’t long. Once his speech began to slur and his struggling eased almost to the point of non-resistance, the orderlies equalized their holds on Dick, until Dick weakened, and then fell into a deep unconsciousness, his head slumming to the side, his eyes shut.


The police officer breathed out a large breath as he left the bed. He said he was going to have to file a report and what Dick did amounted to assault. The doctor acknowledged, but asked that the man Dick Grayson had encountered in the cafe be held for questioning, and will be tested for unknown pathogens—since this started after their encounter. The police officer agreed.


Barbara put her hands to her face, then asked: “Doctor, what happened?”


The doctor shook his head. “I don’t know, Ms. Gordon. I just don’t know…”


x x x


Nightwing attempted to fight off three thugs, two large, buff, muscular men, and one slightly thinner. The two bigger men were strong and used a great deal of force to pressure Nightwing to submit, while the other one, not necessarily the ring leader, was aiding them. Nightwing didn’t know where he had left his escrima sticks, but bare fists were just as good, and he had managed to deliver a hard punch to the thinner man, although not devastating enough to render him inert.


He didn’t know how he got to where he was or the issue of why he was fighting these men—it was almost a sensation of just being here—but the reason was moot at this point. They were attacking him and he would defend himself to the hilt.


The two bigger men teamed up on him and forced him back and actually pinned him to the floor, holding both his legs and shoulders down, as the thinner man pounced on top of him, but he pushed back, and managed to free one of his arms and punched and jabbed his elbow into the thin man’s back. The man cried out, but Nightwing didn’t relent.


But neither did the thugs and they poured on the pressure.


Nightwing then saw something out of his eye—his vision mostly obscured by one of the larger thugs as his free arm was once again immobilized, doubly held down—and he felt something sharp prick in his lower forearm. A needle-like instrument?


Nightwing couldn’t see who was administering it—a fourth person—hiding behind one of the large thugs, his face hidden, but bent over, doing the poking, giving him some sort of drug. Almost immediately the effects began to take affect much like a sedative, and he felt his strength leave him, his eyes drooped, as the man who gave him the drug rose—


And he could’ve sworn it was—


x x x


The sound of an old style jude box blasted his ears, along with the smell of nicotine and cigarette smoke, along with the rank of  human body odour. The kind of smell that one would detect only after someone hadn’t had had a shower in days.


He found himself in a packed bar and in his hand was a glass mug of beer as he was standing next to pool table. He didn’t much care for alcohol, it dulled the senses and contained a lot of fatty carbohydrates. He drank a beer on occasion, but he didn’t like bars. They smelled bad and they did very little to help a phobia of his enochlophobia, which was the fear of large groups of people.


Alfred said it stemmed from his years of fighting and getting attacked by his enemies in large groups. Along with being the Wayne butler, Alfred was also the family Shrink. Dick had spoken about his phobia to Barb on occasion, but mostly kept it to himself. That’s why he enjoyed the freedom of flying—swinging like a bird; a blackbird—because no one could catch him in the air.


Until he was shot.


“Your turn, Ric,” said someone within earshot. Dick’s mind was elsewhere trying to decipher how he got here, even where he was. He felt lost. “You gottem! Just make the last shot and the money’s ours!”


He just noticed that in his other hand was a pool cue. He looked confused at the man who had spoken to him. Then he blinked. It was the same man whom he encountered in—


Where?


The flash of remembrance quickly faded and he suddenly found himself immersed in the game, and in the moment, forgetting everything else. He guzzled the beer down and handed the mug to the other.
“Right,” Ric said, he then looked at the pool table and the shot before him.


Pixie, with her slender frame, buxom breasts, and pink hair came over and caressed his chin seductively. She was the bar whore, so to speak, going from guy to guy, siphoning off drinks and favours by using her charms and sexiness. And Ric was no exception. “Go gettem, Ric. I so love it when boys play with their balls. If you win, I might just let you play with my boys.” She winked, then left to coax another guy into doing her a favour.


He watched her leave to work the bar. She made his heart beat faster. Her offer was enticing and an incentive to win, but for some reason, though she was sexy and willing, he didn’t go for that type. He was more conservative. All Pixie wanted was his body, but he wanted—


The same guy who shook him out of his reverie spoke again. “Hey Ric, you’re up! You can play with Pixie after the game.”


“Sure, right,” he said, blinking the confusion away, and then turned his attention to the pool table.


He had solids, and his opponent—a rustafarian looking guy with dreadlocks and a stringy beard—had stripes. The ONE and TWO balls kissed each other next to the middle pocket, while the EIGHT ball sat on the same side, but in front of the corner pocket. If he could sink all three balls in this shot, he’d win the game and the bet. If he recalled, each ball was worth $100 bucks, and he had won two out of a five game set. But they were in a dead heat. He had also lost two games.


He leaned over the table to get positioned, his cue settled, fingers poised in the perfect place to make the shot, making a couple of practise pushes with the cue, but never touching the White ball, which had settled near the middle of the table from the last shot.


“No pressure, Ricky boy,” said his opponent, with a jeer, in a heavy African accent, giving him a toothy grin with a gold tooth two off  the centre. He looked much like Bob Marley and Ric found it humorous that this guy dwelled in mimicking the Jamaican music singing legend.


Ric looked across the table and saw one stripped ball dead centre the opposite pocket of the EIGHT ball. If he missed this shot, he’d position the White ball for the other to make the last stripe and the EIGHT in succession, losing the game. But he wasn’t going to let that happen. He gave a mocking smirk to his opponent, then said: “ONE in the side pocket, TWO to kiss the side and drop, and the EIGHT to fall to Dark in the opposite middle,” announcing his intentions.


“No way, man—no freakin’ way! Not possible at that angle, you gotta be some of trickshot artist to make that play,” the man’s name was Kilroy, Ric remembered. Kilroy had challenged him to a game and he accepted. Then after he lost, Kilroy upped the ante and said double or nothing. Then he said three out of five. So, Ric purposely lost the next two games to make it an even match.


Ric was ready to make the shot, when Kilroy suddenly brought his hand to hover over the White ball. With glowering eyes, Ric glanced up, not moving from his set position, hand and fingers on the cue. “Move your hand,” his voice was authoritative.


Kilroy’s head tilted slightly. “You playing me, Ricky boy?”


“No, now move your hand.”


“I think you are…”


All of a sudden, one of his mates grabbed the back of Ric’s shirt and yanked him to the floor. Ric's head hit against the lower edge of the bar. Then another “mate” grabbed Ric and tossed him afar, across the pool table—spoiling the game. Ric rolled and landed, rolling some distance afterwards into a table and chairs, forcing its patrons to bolt up and move away or get hit. Their drinks spilled, saturating Ric’s clothes. He felt his head as Kilroy grabbed him, lifted him, and then slammed him against the pool table surface.


“You were swindling me,” he said with distain. “I could tell. No one burns through two games like that after winning two games like a pro. Tell ya what. Not only do I get to keep all the money on the table, I get to take everything you came with for you cheating me. Or, I’ll add to your pretty little head injuries.”


Despite the suddenness of the scuffle, Ric felt invigorated by the confrontation. He felt his blood pumping excitedly and he glared at Kilroy with a sinister grin. “Bad move,” he said, and without warning, he counterattacked by slapping his palms to Kilroy’s ears.


Kilroy cried out and grabbed his head, staggering away.


Ric grabbed him and thrust him backwards over the table into the bar into the pit. Then his two “mates” attacked.


Ric picked up a cue stick, whirled it around his shoulders like a staff, and then used it as a weapon, hitting one in the side of the head, then jabbing the handle into the other’s stomach.


A third “mate” attacked who had only been an observer and challenged him with another cue stick. Ric snapped his cue in two over a knee and then twirled both in hand like batons. He disarmed the third man with ease, then a fourth, and a fifth—when they joined the fray. When it the fight was over, he had laid out six people, including Kilroy.


All the while, the song: “I Shot The Sheriff” played on the jude box, which just happened to be a Bob Marley classic.


Ric twirled the batons and then, almost instinctively, crossed them over his back and let go. They dropped to the floor and clanged. He looked down, and for the life of him he had no reason why he had even done that, it had just did it on…instinct.


He went around and picked up all the money on the floor and counted it. He asked for a two-fingers of whiskey from the bartender; the bartender poured it into a small shot glass and Ric gulped it down as a victory prize.
Then he caught himself in the mirror that was on the bar wall: shaven head, scars on either side of his skull; it wasn’t a sight he was used to, and he didn’t recognize himself. It was like he was looking at someone else.


And then he remembered


The bar’s lights suddenly went out and he snapped his attention to the door.


But what he saw was bizarre in its own rite.


Lurking over the edge of the pool table was a sight to behold—no one else was in the bar now, Dick was alone—all except him and the villain known as Scarecrow, dressed as such, gripping the EIGHT ball in hand. He was one of the most wicked, most sinister, members of the Rogues the Batfamily had ever entangled with, and with everything else going on, he was responsible for what the authorities, and he himself called the "Fear Germ", that was sending Gotham City into a panic. Normal citizens were experiencing bizarre happenings that no else could explain or see, but only those who had been subjected to the germ were affected.


“They say people are most afraid of what they don’t understand and what lies beneath the surface,” Scarecrow’s voice crackled with  laughter and an eerie vibrating echo. He seemed to have the uncanny ability to project fear into his victims by voice pitch alone. “I say, what lies on top gives one more pause to think: What germs do I carry that can make me sick?”


“You’re already sick, Crane,” Grayson said. He remembered everything now. “Now what’s going on? Where Am I?”


Scarecrow chuckled, and then rolled the EIGHT ball across the table. It stopped just before the far pocket. “You’re in a place where one’s mind can be broken or mended, depending on the strength of the individual.”
“And I thought Edward Ngyma delivered the riddles? Am I dreaming? Or is all this an illusion?”


Crane didn’t answer him.


Instead, he opened his gloved hands and a 3D image of a blue human skull manifested in his right hand and a red one emerged in his left. Dick was immediately reminded of that sci-fi movie the Matrix when the main character was offered a choice: Blue Pill or Red Pill. But then Scarecrow balled his fists and the skulls sounded like they screamed when crushed into wisps of dispelled energy.


Suddenly, Scarecrow began to juggle with several more skulls, each of them screaming—as if in agonizing pain—as they passed from hand to hand. Dick was mesmerized by the imaginary, but what was Scarecrow trying to say?


From the darkness, and in the distance, a patch of light appeared—with a trapeze net, all set up like that in a standard circus. In fact, it was almost exactly like the one Dick used to swing on as a kid when he was in Haly’s Circus with his family when a member of the Flying Grayson’s. Dick knew Scarecrow was a master manipulator, he could make people see and think whatever he wanted, by using his mind control drugs on them. But Dick wasn’t falling for it.


“This is where your story begins—from a net. Your entire life has been predicated on risk. You thrive on excitement like a daredevil, a bird forever in flight, swooping in and out, believing your wings will save you—never failing. But everything/everyone falls eventually. It is unseen and yet inevitable.”


Dick suddenly felt himself falling into an abyss, but in truth, he had only dropped to the floor, to his knees. But the sensation felt so real, that he actually thought the ground beneath his feet had come away.
Crane only provided the sudden illusion of falling.


Crane hovered above him, a look of sheer horror engrossing his mask, a sinister broken smile from ear to ear crossed his psychotic mouth. It was then, Crane raised a hand, pointed a finger and thumb like a gun at Grayson’s head, and as Dick stared at him with unrelating wide-eyed anxiety and fear, and fired…


Crane said: “Bang! You’re dead, hero. Everything you once held dear…is gone!”


Dick felt his mind slipping away, as if he was being drugged.


Then: “And this is only the beginning…”

To be continued...

Chapter Text

Jason Todd took his motorcycle to Gotham City from Bludhaven via the expressway and Jon sat behind him clutching his waist tightly, making their way to Gotham Hospital—which took them about an hour. It wasn’t Jon Kent’s normal way of travel. Flying would be quicker, but it would cause too many stares—as he carried a full-grown man all that distance, photographers hounding them, taking pictures for the nightly news. “Who is Supeboy helping now?” would be the foremost question.


So, the “normal” method was best. And Jason agreed. The last thing he needed was the image of a boy having to rescue him. Red Hood had a reputation and he aimed to keep it.


With virtually everywhere he went, Jason took his Red Hood gear with him in a shoulder bag. Jon dressed in civilian attire before he left, borrowing some of Damian’s clothes at the condo; his Superbly clothes underneath.
Jason had had enough waiting for Damian to get back to him. Besides, the kid could take care of himself. He was more concerned with Dick from the sounds that he heard when he spoke to Barbara on the phone.


Entering the main reception area, he was halted by the sight of a slender, sexy, young woman in a tight dress with pink hair.


Jason caught Jon looking. “She’s pretty, although pink hair is an unnatural colour,” Jon said, pointing out the obvious.


“You never know, maybe she’s pink all over?” Jason replied and winked.


“Huh?”


Jason walked over to the reception desk and overheard the young woman wanting to know the status of a patient named: Ric Gray. The receptionist said the name didn’t match anyone in their computer records. “I’m sorry, ma’am, but there is no one currently with that name in the hospital,” she said. “Do you have the correct name? Perhaps, he may have already been released?”


Jason listened for a moment, then said: “She means: Richard Grayson,” he corrected. “And he’s a patient in the private wards.” The young woman looked at Jason and he introduced himself. She was a looker, but he held back the charm. “Jason Todd, Dick is my brother—adopted brother. How do you know him?”


“I don’t know him by that name. But come to think of it, I do remember someone calling him that in the bar,” she said with a sweet smile. “Pixie Charms, that’s what everyone calls me.”


When they shook hands, Jason felt she had a nice handshake and her skin was silky smooth to the touch.


“Ric—I mean, Richard—spent a lot of time at the neighbour bar I hang out at in Bludhaven; he was always a gentleman to me. I flirted with him a lot because he was cute, except for those nasty scars on the side of his head. He rejected me, but he never disrespected me. He flirted with a lot of other girls at first, saying some of the corniest pick up lines, but then he stopped it all of a sudden. When I found out he was in the hospital, I wanted to see how he was since I couldn’t get any other information.”


“Well, you may find he’s different now…” And Jason gave her a made-up story of how Dick got his head injuries—the truth was not an option—and that, as a result, he was suffering from a rare form of amnesia that radically altered his personality. “But he’s better now, I think?” The last part trailed off, because he didn’t know Dick’s condition at the moment from Barbara's call.


They made their way to the elevators. As they rode up to the fourteenth floor, Jason told Pixie that Dick had a sweetheart. But she already knew about Barbara Gordon, it was obvious how he looked at her whenever she visited the bar to see him. As soon as she started coming around, that was when he stopped flirting with other girls.


They exited the elevator and when then reached the waiting area, Tim Drake was sitting in a chair typing on his phone. “Tim?” Jason addressed, and Tim looked at him but didn't smile. Jason immediately knew something was wrong. “What is it, kid?”


Tim looked somber.


He took a slight moment to eye the pretty pink lady, acknowledged Jon, then said, “Major setback in Dick’s recovery. I don’t have all the details yet, but they’ve had to sedate and strap him to his bed. They won’t let me in to see him either, but Barbara’s in there with him and the doctor. From what I’ve been told, he suffered what could only be described as a psychotic episode.”


“Has he relapsed?”


“Don’t know—“


Just then, Dick’s doctor came around the corner of a hallway, and Tim quickly went over, asking him the prognosis. Tim introduced himself first, as the doctor had never seen him before. Since Drake and Todd were family, he could give them some details. After a bunch of medical talk, Jason asked for the jargon to be repeated in plain English.


“He was poisoned,” the doctor said, “laced with a very powerful psychotropic drug unlike any we’ve seen. We aren’t sure about everything yet, until we check out another patient who had a brief interaction with Mr. Grayson in the cafe most recently. Testing his hand bandages, after we learned that he had touched Mr. Grayson, we learned he had a strange substance in his inner left palm. He’s currently being held for questioning and interrogated by police.”


“This is the second attempt on Dick’s life while in this hospital, doctor? Where the hell is security?” Jason’s anger swelled.


Tim tried to remained calm. “Was it premeditated, doctor?” he asked.


“Nothing is confirmed, we’ll have to wait for the investigation to conclude,” the doctor said, and then sighed, “In the meantime, he’s being guarded around the clock, and until we find an antidote, he’s to remain sedated for his own safety.”


“We understand, doctor.” Tim said. He and Jason gave each other a sideways glance of understanding, this was a direct attack on the Batfamily. Someone knew Dick had survived the apparent shooting and now, after all events incurred, had his memories back, he was once again being targeted. Tim returned his attention back to the doctor. “Can we see him?”


“Barbara Gordon is in his room at the moment, so only one visitor at a time, and you’ll have to be checked by security first.”


Tim and Jason took turns visiting an unconscious Dick and getting more information, but Pixie and Jon stayed in the waiting area, as they were not allowed because they were not immediate family members.
Barbara was beside herself and had been crying.


But she asked one thing from both Tim and Jason: “Find out who is trying to kill Dick, and why?”


Tim was already on the case and relayed all the information he learned through his investigation to Barbara, but the leads were scarce and the perpetuators were many. Nightwing had made a lot enemies over the years. Bruce hadn’t been much help. He was still dealing with the fallout of being left at the altar by Selina, and despite his tough facade, it had hit him hard. But he wished Dick well and said that all of Dick’s medical bills would be paid without question.


“Bruce has to get his head in the game and forget about that bitch,” Jason said of Selina, as they all later gathered outside. Pixie had left, getting picked up by a friend. But she did leave her cell phone to be informed of Dick’s condition. It was best she and Barbara didn’t see each other for obvious reasons. “Dick needs his help now and we need to implore every resource to catch these bastards who want Dick dead. Obviously, his secret hero identity is known to someone. So, who do we have as suspects, Tim?”


Tim went through a long list.


“Barb told me what Damian found at two separate fake crime scenes—an emblem clip with a ‘G’ and a bag of marbles—both supposedly relating to Dick’s time with Spyral,” Jason said. “Are there any enemies Dick had that would carry a grudge?”


It didn’t take long for Tim to come up with an answer. “Yes, an ex-agent named Jake Handles who went rogue. However, he was later killed when he went after Dick, but from what I learned, they never found a body. A building fell on top of him and it was never  thoroughly searched. From what records I could find—with my expert skills—Spyral also enjoyed hiding things, including a privately owned, secret island nicknamed: ‘Treasure Island’ off the coast of Florida, in what’s known as the Devil’s Triangle.”


“Isn’t that where so many mysterious things happen, like planes and boats go missing?” Jon asked.


Tim confirmed that. And even pointed out the entire area ranged between 500,000 to 1,510,000 square miles, it’s vertices Miami, San Juan, Puerto Rico and Bermuda. He then went through some long talk using scientific hypothesis, connecting violent weather phenomenon, gulf stream variation, and then pegging it against the every popular paranormal mainstream conspiracies, which he found unfounded, trying to formulate a one-way argument of how pockets of concentrated subterranean gas were the real culprit.


When Tim was finished, Jason had his arms folded across his chest in annoyance and Jon looked half asleep.


“Sorry, I sometimes get carried away,” Tim shrugged. “Can anyone contact Damian? I tried when I was in the waiting room, but it went straight to voicemail.” Both Jason and Jon said no. “If he was wearing his Robin costume, I could track him through GPS, but he’s wearing his customized Nightwing Junior attire and hasn’t given anyone any details about it.”


“I did find one of Grayson’s escrima sticks in downtown Bludhaven” —explaining why he had been there— “some bum found it in an alley and I had to pay $1000 to get it back,” Jason added. “That’s not like Damian to just discard it—and where’s the other one? I think half-pint’s in trouble.”


Jon agreed. “But how do we find him? Knowing Damian, he never announces to others what he’s doing or where he’s going. When we partnered-up, I literally had to drag things out from him. He eventually opened up, but he still likes to keep things to himself, then brag about it after the fact that he didn’t need any one else’s help.”


“Yup, that’s our Damian,” Jason nodded.


“Maybe we should try this mysterious island?”


“Worth a try, kid, and at least it’s a place to start looking,” Jason said. “Tim, you stay connected, and keep us up-to-date on Dick. Jon-boy and I will check out Treasure Island and see what secrets Spyral likes to keep hidden. Maybe we even strike gold?”


“Or in Damian’s case, a highly compressed lump of coal.”

x x x


The first thing Damian did when he escaped the other room, with the eels, was turn right down an adjacent corridor. The floor was cold on his stocking feet and he told himself next time he had to wear socks. Wherever he was, the place was a maze of endless corridors and hallways, that seemingly lead in circles. He felt like he was getting no where, so in case his theory was correct, he banged on a wall and made a few dents, like making a trail. If he came this way again, he knew he was running in circles.


Leaving the corridor for an adjacent one, he was suddenly halted by what, unbelievably, was a lioness—a female lion. It was beyond fathomable that such an animal be here of all places, but he remained still, as it blocked his path, and looked at him. He didn’t want to make any sudden movements or it would give chase and he’d be no match for its speed.


He backed up, and suddenly found himself surrounded. Yet another lioness had appeared behind him, seemingly, from whence he’d come. Had they been released through secret doorways in the hallways after he’d passed? He knew he was being watched, cameras were at every venue, so Annex knew exactly where he was at all times.


Damian thought quickly and recalled a few facts about the species.


He knew the lioness did the hunting while the male of the species looked after the cubs, the male killing only for sport. Females normally hunt in packs between three to eight and killed to provide food for the Pride. Females liked to hunt in a broad front to drive their quarry into an ambush to block any escape route—which Damian was currently.


And yet he questioned why Handles would even have lionesses here? Logically, it didn’t make sense to have them hunt in a labyrinth like enclosure, similar to the ancient Greek tale of the Minotaur.


At the moment, both lioness looked calm and non-aggressive. As long as he remained calm, they probably wouldn’t attack. And yet, when the first lioness began to approach, that thought went straight out the window, and he backed up slowly against the wall. Unlike the normal gesture of surrender, putting one’s hands up indicated an action to loins that was aggressive, so he kept his arms down.


But he had an idea, and allowed the lioness to get close enough for what he had planned. When it got close enough, he readied himself, and then flipped over it, narrowly missed by its claws as it swung at him. One nail did catch his pant leg and ripped it, but it was barely felt and it was only his tights, so there was no harm done. After, he ran down the corridor, the lionesses in pursuit.


He ran harder than he had ever run, and for a moment, he looked back, and then almost felt over when he halted in his tracks. The lionesses were not chasing him. He had taken mostly right turns, and one or two left ones—this was indeed a maze—and he knew the lionesses could seek him out by his smell alone. So, where were they?


He took a moment to calm down, feeling his heart racing, beginning to sweat. There was no way that he had lost them. Could they have been called back by their handler? That means, they might be released somewhere else down the line? That was rotten, he thought. Annex knew where he was, so he could release his pets anywhere he pleased, through secret doorways. So, he’s have to keep his eyes peeled for hidden doorways. But he had to press on, nonetheless, despite the danger.


Thinking logically, he thought back to a lesson Grayson had once taught him. And it was called the Right Hand Rule when it came to mazes. He had said, most mazes follow a set pattern: Place you right hand along the right wall and follow that way, it may be the longer way, but it will eventually lead you out—in most cases. Grayson said he had done the same thing when he was in a maze with Wally West—Kid Flash, at the time—and despite the other’s speed, Grayson had got to the exit first.


“Sometimes speed it a crutch, it often takes intelligence to outwit your opponent,” Grayson had said, when he told Damian about it. “Think outside the box, and no matter how crazy it may seem, within probability, the solution will arise to a logical conclusion.”


So, taking those words to heart, he placed his hand along the wall and followed the right path.

To be continued...

Chapter Text


As Dick Grayson lay chemically induced in his medical bed, Barbara Gordon clutched his hand and prayed he’d come back to her.  


He was strapped down to his bed with velcro binds and a security guard was now stationed outside his door to prevent any other attempts on his life. A criminal investigation had now begun on the matter whether Barbara wished one or not. She had no choice in the matter anymore and she had been asked questions of Dick’s history with any possible ties with the mafia, because hits of this sort were indicators of the mob. But she explained that he was neither a member of a crime organization nor an informant, to a detective who had asked her. And she was very careful not to reveal too much about Dick’s history.


Although, she did reveal a crime boss named Tony Zucco had murdered Dick’s family when he was a kid, and part of a troupe with Haly’s Circus as a member The Flying Grayson’s. Dick had gone after him in Chicago later, but in the end, it was a missed opportunity when Zucco suffered a fatal heart attack after an incident. With this, the detective seemed to put some pieces together that it may be simple retaliation for something that happened years prior. And that someone may have wanted revenge.


As long as the truth wasn’t revealed, Barbara accepted the detective’s theory. And it was left at that.


With that settled, supposedly, she would not leave Dick’s side. They had an on and off relationship over the years, and he dated a few other people—even Starfare—but like a loyal puppy dog, if the analogy could be construed, he always came back to her. And he admitted, he still loved her more than any woman in the world.


She had almost lost him when he suffered amnesia, completely forgetting their previous life together, but this new attack was beyond any scope of understanding, and she was almost at her wits end. She couldn’t bare to see him like this and tears began to stream from her eyes as she dropped her head and leaned on his hand.


He had an IV drip back in his arm to keep him sedated until the doctor could figure out what was afflicting him. Tests were being performed on the drug that was used to give Dick a severe overdose of something found on the inside palm of the man who touched him in the cafe. It was yet another attempt on Dick’s life: first, the fake male nurse orderly and now another patient.


It did have all the hallmarks of mafia hits, but she knew it wasn’t that.


Bu then who wanted the love of her life dead so badly?


As Robin and Batgirl, they had formed a bond that went beyond crime fighters, and when they were alone, they stole kisses—and even other things. They thought they were hiding their tryst, but it soon became apparent they couldn’t deny the affection they had for the other any longer and started to express it openly, more so, when Dick quit as Robin and began his own career as Nightwing.


Then, when she became paralyzed from the waist down after the Joker beat her and crushed her spine, Dick was there for every step of her recovery process. She got her mobility back when she soaked in the Lazarus Pit, her wounds completely healed, but it was a time when Dick showed just how much he really cared for her. And she never wanted it to end.


And in another time and in other place, they learned they had got married. But not here in this universe—the multi-verse was as bizarre to understand as some men—but, there was talk. Though just talk.


Though it all, Dick was with her. And now, in his greatest time of need, she would for there for him.


The doctor said Dick had been subjected to a dangerous drug that acted much like THC, and the man whom Dick had encountered in the cafe was the last person who came in contact with him before he took violently ill, so he was being questioned at the moment—the motive and who he was working for unclear. But the drug was much more intense than an average psychotropic additive. It was something that Scarecrow would concoct. And Barbara was starting to think this entire plot to kill Dick was, for the most part, a result of Dr. Jonathan Crane’s directive, because Dick said he had found a vital clue that could stop the Fear Germ in its tracks.


He had told Barbara his theory in private and was gathering more information, when he was struck down.


Scarecrow’s Fear Germ was plaguing Gotham City at the moment, evoking fear and illness to those affected. It acted much like a germ that got into the body, then infected the host, but not only did it make the person sick, it also made them do crazy and insane things, like acting against their better judgement, even attacking others—like Dick did.


Sedation helped, but Dick still fidgeted, his muscles twitched, as if he was fighting a battle from inside his own mind.


Dick muttered something under his breath, and Barbara immediately put an ear to his mouth. She couldn’t quite hear what he was saying, speaking in a dream-like state. What was he dreaming? To whom was he speaking to in his dream?


“…won’t let you…”


“Dick, come back to me, my sweet prince…” she said softly, kissing him on the lips. It was known that if you spoke to someone in their dreams, they could hear you, and possibly respond.


So, she asked him what he was dreaming…


At first, he didn’t respond. Then: “…love her…don’t hurt her…Crane…”


She snapped up. Crane? Dr. Jonathan Crane? Scarecrow? She wanted to immediately think Scarecrow was behind this plot, but since entering the hospital, Dick had also dreamt about three other super-villains, and, as the dark figure in his dream was subjected to scrutiny, a rogue agent from Spyral named Jake Handles. And, whatever they represented, the munchkins from the Wizard of Oz.


The doctor entered Dick’s room and his sudden presence startled her.


“I’m sorry,” he apologized for startling her. “Ms. Gordon, how is Richard doing? Resting peacefully, I hope?”


“As well as can be expected doctor, like this,” she sounded a little irate, sitting back down. “I find it upsetting to see Dick like this.”


“It would be upsetting to any one, Ms. Gordon, but it’s for his own good, at the moment,” he said empathically. “We have yet to identify the drug he was attacked with, so we can’t formulate an antidote. The chemical compensation is quite radical, and dare I say: revolutionary. However, we did identify class proteins used in the marking of hallucinogens—such as tetrahydrpcannabinol and dimethytheptypran. So, in discussion with my team, we’ve decided to administer some anti-hallucinogenic medications normally used to treat acute psychedelic psychosis. However, we need you to sign a waiver first.”


She tried to feign innocence about the drugs the doctor spoke of, but she knew what they were. She had some medical background  knowledge being a member the Batfamily, especially when it came to the types of things the Rogues used.


“Yes, anything,” Barbara agreed.


This proved it, she thought. Somehow Scarecrow was involved. Only he could devise such a drug. This must be the new Fear Germ everyone is talking about. Bruce wanted a sample to analyze, but how could she ask for one without be suspicious? She had to contact him as quickly as possible. But why would the Scarecrow target Dick?


What about the implants? And the fake-out assassination attempt? Was there a connection with the Fear Drug?


She was missing something, the pieces were not fitting together yet.


First Jake Handles and now Scarecrow—what did they have in common? And were they working together?


“I’ll have a nurse bring a waiver,” he said, then turned to leave.


“Oh, doctor, before you go…Any word on the identity of the man in the cafe?”


“Other than the name he signed in with, we don’t know much, as he’s now suffering with the same symptoms as Richard here. The drug acts quickly when it touches the skin, that’s as far as we know. We’ve had to induce sedation and strap him to bed as well. The strange this is, the police officer that was with him has now disappeared. Hospital Security is investigating.”


The cop was in on it?


Just as the doctor was leaving, the door opened, and Tim Drake came inside, carrying a shoulder bag. The doctor told the “young man” that this was a restricted area and he had to return to the waiting area. And how did he get past security?
But before Tim got a word out, Barbara spoke up: “He’s family, doctor.”


Then the doctor remembered him. “I’m sorry, I remember you now. I have a lot on my mind,” he apologized. Tim understood. “You may go in.” He turned to the pair. “But I would like to restrict visitations from here on out. This is not an airborne pathogen, but I would like to prevent any transference and/or incidents like before.”


“We understand,” Tim agreed.


Tim thanked the doctor, and then entered the room fully.


Barbara told him to shut the door. He did, and she immediately said, “I think Dick is infected with Scarecrow’s Fear Germ.”


“How do you know?” Tim asked, and went to Dick’s bedside.


He quickly eyed him up and down, velcro straps and everything.


She told him what the doctor had said and it seemed to fit the bill of the symptoms of Scarecrow’s latest germicide. Tim theorized that that was a possibility and had come prepared to the hospital. He reached into his shoulder bag and brought out a small medical kit—standard for all the batboys. With a syringe, and drew blood from one of Dick’s veins.


“We should get this sample back to Bruce asap,” he then said, securing the top on the syringe and putting it back in the kit.


“Do you think Bruce can develop a cure?”


“With Bruce, anything is possible—and I’ll also send a sample to a few other people I know in the medical field to analyze,” Tim said. “Oh, by the way, apart from Dick’s situation, we seem to have another problem. Try not to worry.” He took a moment to pause to word it right. “It seems Damian is missing, no one can get in touch with him through any venue.” Barbara gasped. “Jason and Jon Kent are heading to a mysterious island in the Devil’s Triangle for answers.”


“You mean: Treasure Island. Spyral’s ultra secret hideout? It’s where they kept their most secret technology, experimental devices, etc.; a virtual treasure trove, hence the name.”


Tim nodded. “And, though not confirmed, it looks like Jake Handles, an ex-agent of Spyral who went rogue, may still be alive. Those clues you told me about—the clip and marbles are indicators. The clip, from Dick’s time with Spyral, and the marbles—Handles’ must’ve known Dick had ‘lost his mind’ after the shooting incident with his radical personal changes, keeping tabs on him.


“I went through old some old records that Spyral tried to hide—but not from me—and learned that they never retrieved Handles’ body from the ruins of the building that collapsed on top of him after he tangled with Dick, Agent 37. And that Spyral’s implants were used on their own agents as mind-control. So, Dick’s amnesia was purposelessly induced and reinforced with the implants the doctor took out. I would like to take a look at those implants. The technology could help us reform some of Gotham’s criminals.


“However, to the point in hand: my theory is that it was revenge by Handles. They say, the richest thing a person has is their memories; take those away, and they’re nothing but an empty shell. But as for Scarecrow targeting Dick with his Fear Germ” —he mused for a moment— “they have tangled in the past and Crane hates Nightwing, as he does with the rest of us. But, I’m starting to get the feeling that—“


“Who kidnapped Damian? Was it Handles?” she asked outright. “I knew dressing up as Nightwing would be dangerous. I told him Dick’s enemies would seek him out. Bruce even had the same fears. Damian’s tough, but he doesn’t seem to understand everyone has their weaknesses. And with Nightwing out of action, Nightwing Junior would be assuredly a target.”


She had thought about informing Damian of the most recent issues regarding Dick, but had thought against it, because she knew it would only worry him. Damian couldn’t do anything anyway, so there were no point. But now to learn that he was missing? She knew how to handle stress, but right now, everything was a little overwhelming.


Tim shrugged. “I don’t know, but if Handles does have any connection to Damian’s disappearance, Jason and Jon will find out on Treasure Island; military satellite imaginary has indicated some activity on the island. Apart from the implants, he does have connections with other criminals. I’m still narrowing down the list, but it’s getting shorter by the day.”


“But one name does top the list, doesn’t it?”


Tim frowned. “Yes, one name does top the list—and another close behind, both sharpshooters—who have the expertise to pull off the precise skill to target Dick in the manner to made it look like he had been shot in the head through and through. However, I did find the doctor who performed Dick’s original surgery, but he won’t be about to tell us any answers. He was found with a bullet in the head, ironically, and found on the roof of Gotham East General in a storage closet.  We could be looking at an even deeper plot than we originally thought. Other than being Nightwing, what other reason for this elaborate plot against him?”


“Handles has the technology to do this and Dick was getting close to figuring out the Fear Germ and a possible cure, he said he had a theory on the make-up of the germ—before he was taken out,” she said. “As for the hired help…”

They both said the same name at the same time.


Barbara nodded. “Thanks, Tim. You’ve been a big help.”

To be continued...

Chapter Text

The moment her friend dropped her off at her apartment back in Bludhaven, Pixie—which was not her real name, but a name taken from the Disney movie Peter Pan—“Pixie Dust” used by the fairy Tinkerbell—made a phone call, and within fifteen minutes, she was picked up by another car, a dark Lexus and a male driver, and taken to a secluded spot near the river bed. She felt relatively safe and guarded by the driver until her late night rendezvous with the person she had asked to see could be achieved.


She stared up at the night sky and became lost in thought.


Even though Dick Grayson had been kind of a jerk to others at times whenever she had seen him in the bar she frequented, he had always been a gentleman to her. And when she came on to him, he would always politely take a rain check, saying he already had someone special in his life. But he never revealed who. Despite his amnesia, she knew Barbara Gordon was that love interest—whenever she came around the bar to visit him. He always stopped and starred and lost all interest in everything else but her.


She didn’t know their history, but she knew love when she saw it.


She looked back after a few minutes of solitude at the driver standing next to the car, who was dressed in a dapper black suit and tie, with perfectly combed hair, and obviously armed, and said: “I thought people of your boss’s calibre were always on time?”


The man gave her a narrowed stare. “He’s always on time, miss—when it’s important,” he replied.


“Does that mean that I am not important enough for him?” she said irate. The way the man responded irked her.


“You misunderstand my underling…”


Pixie jumped from the sudden voice behind her. The man she had come to see was masked in darkness, despite the crescent moon clearly seen in the dark night sky. However, the bridge passing over the river near by cast a shadow that hid him from sight. But his authoritative voice gave him away; she had heard it before—when they had met on other occasions. She was an information broker  and had worked for him for nearly a year. Her latest job was obtaining information on Dick Grayson, or as he called himself Ric or  Gray, after his incident with the shooting, and knew about his secret identity. She pretended to play innocent. There was no reason to tell anyone she knew or to expose it, and in a way, she actually felt sorry for Dick Grayson after everything he’d been through.


The mystery man standing before her had never revealed his identity to her, but that didn’t matter. She got paid, nonetheless. And as long as the information he requested on different issues of interest kept coming, more money would come, which would help out her sick mother, getting treatments for cancer. Everyone had a weakness and everyone had a need. As long as she didn’t have to kill anyone, she would continue to get what he wanted. And she knew how to get it: men were always suckers for a beautiful woman.


An unseen stare told the driver to leave the area to allow them to talk in private.


When they were alone, he said: “You have information for me? I’m very busy.”


“This would be easier if you had a cell phone.”


“Technology can be tracked, and a man in my line of work wishes to remain in the shadows. Now, I know you went to see him. Tell me, how is my old student?”


“Not doing well,” she said dejected. “He’s gone through so much and now he’s laying in a hospital bed, poisoned.”


For the first time, she caught a glimpse of the man’s face as a glimmer of light flashed down off the bridge from a passing car, reflected off something else. Whether it was by accident, or the fact that he had taken a step forward in a movement of interest, she finally saw her paymaster. He wore a mask, half of it was orange and the other black.


“Poisoned? By whom?” he demanded.


She gasped, then: “I don’t know, and I couldn’t get in to see him. From what I overheard, however, he was exposed to a dangerous drug, during a seemingly random encounter in the cafe with a fellow hospital patient, and suddenly, soon afterwards, Dick Grayson  developed a fever, and then began to act all crazy. He had to be sedated for his own well being.”


“Crazy? How? Speak!”


“Like he was under some sort of drug like when you overdose on marijuana or alike. He attacked two orderlies and a cop.”


The man was silent for a moment as if he was thinking. “That isn’t like my former student at all. And not part of the plan. I’ve been privy to all events: from Dick Grayson’s amnesia and to his recent surgeries that restored his memories. I knew the half-cocked plan wouldn’t work, but the fool paid me a lot of money to do the job. It failed, why try to kill him in such an irresponsible manner now?”


“You know, come to think of it, Grayson was acting like some of those people I’ve seen on the news in Gotham City—people have been going nuts, seeing things, hallucinating, and such. There’s been a rash of them as of late. They’re saying it’s—“


“Yes,” he said, interrupting her. “I know of it—the Fear Germ. But why would he be targeting Dick Grayson?” the man mused further. She was about to ask who “he” was, but the man silenced her before she could. “I’m out of the loop here. I must get to the bottom of this, something is amiss. History is history, but there is no reason for this. Unless—No, that’s highly unlikely,” he said to himself.


There was a probability theory called “Independence” where two seemingly, supposedly, random events intersected similarly, to come together with an equal end result of quintessence—like two similar actions of a likeable nature but from two different sources.


He thought: What if, not only was he was hired to do a job, but someone else was also paid to complete the same job and in similar fashion? He was hired to shoot Dick Grayson—Nightwing—in the head with a non-lethal blood capsulated bullet with a device that would render him unconscious, to make it appear he had been shot in the head, so surgery could be performed and an implant placed in his brain to control his every thought and action, while driving him mad in the meantime, causing amnesia like symptoms.


He knew the plot was far-fetched, but it had worked for a little while. Then Damian Wayne stuck his nose in and spoiled things, dressing up as Nightwing Junior and rescuing Dick Grayson from his half-life.


After Grayson got his memory back, he thought that was the end of it. He got paid, so that’s all he cared about. But now his student was subjected to yet another attack, without correlation or consultation from his employer.
Two random plots, but with a similar result.


The probability of that was astronomical, but not out of the realm of the possible.


“The deed was done…It was a risky but unique undertaking at best, and it failed…But…”


Pixie wondered what he was talking about, when suddenly, there was a large noise from behind her, seemingly coming from under the bridge afar, like a trash can behind tipped over, and the sound of animals. She whipped around, piercing through the darkness, as if to see what it was. When she saw nothing, and turned back, the man was gone.


The driver of the car came over, gave her a packet, and then asked her to enter the vehicle. He would take her home.


She took one last glance at the river bed and then got into the car with her payment.


x x x


Slade Wilson stood on the highest point of the Littleneck Harrow’s Bridge that intersected Bludhaven and the mainland and reflected on recent events. He wasn’t necessarily angry, but he was a somewhat confused and frustrated.


Someone had overstepped or miscalculated, but it wasn’t him. There was obviously two plots of a similar fashion at play against his former student. He had agreed to take the job from Jake Handles, an ex-spy from the now defunked spy agency known as Spyral, on the bases murder would not be the end result.


Jake Handles wanted to evoke a revenge upon Dick Grayson for events that transpired while Dick Grayson was known as Agent 37. Slade was not privy to everything that went on during that time, but it was learnt Jake Handles went rogue and turned against his  fellow agents, murdering several of them. Agent 37 was sent to go after him and to terminate with extreme prejudice.


But Slade knew Dick Grayson wouldn’t kill, it wasn’t in his nature.


Jake Handles was subsequently defeated, nonetheless, when a building toppled down on him after an explosive device ignited prematurely that also cost him an arm and a leg. The man would later receive artificial limbs, but eighty-five percent of his body had been burnt from the bomb’s blast. He now dressed like some weird adumbration of the main protagonist from the stage play: The Phantom of the Opera. Slade had only meant the man once when he was hired and that was enough.


There was a difference between insanity and intelligence, and although the man was brilliant, he was mentally unstable. Slade knew quite a few people like this, one of whom was the Joker. But it took more than intelligence to outwit your opponent, you also needed to be patient. Strategy was important. And even if it took a while for the planning, and one quick shot ended it, there was no failing.


Something was fowl here. And he knew he wasn’t the only one who had been hired to do the same job. Had there been a contingency plan put in place in case he had failed. Or, had he been the contingency plan in case the original plan failed? Two shooters, with the same motive and method in mind—neither of whom knew about the other.


Or, had he been left out of the loop, as he thought?


There was only one other sharpshooter he knew that could pull off the same kind of shot he had—he was only known as KB.


However, he had been hired to do a job. So, the other shooter didn’t matter to him. But what did matter was the deception and that he had been played like a second string fiddle, which he detested. If the plan was to complete the mission and for there to be no mistakes, two shooters hired would make sense.


But he worked alone.


That aside, what did Scarecrow have to do with this now? And why would he poison his student? Was it just opportunity?


He fretted what he would have to do now. But he had no choice. He had to get answers.

To be continued...

Chapter Text


Jason pulled his motorcycle up to the parking area just outside Wayne Manor. Jon jumped off, then Jason dismounted. Jason said he needed some things before he and Jon made the trip to Treasure Island, only things exclusive to the Batfamily.


Jon had called his Dad and said he was spending the night over at Damian’s place, a sleep over—a lie. His mother said it was okay. He hated lying to his mother, but this was important, and it was for a good cause. He’d make it up to her later with the truth. He’d say he was helping out Jason Todd rescue Damian—if, indeed, Damian was in trouble? No one knew for sure yet.


Jon had tried to text Damian several times, even “ping” his phone, but there was no response from either.


Jon had seen Wayne Manor a couple of times before, but he was always in awe of it when he visited. “This place is so cool,” he remarked. “Damian is so lucky to be living in a mansion.”


“It’s not that big, kid,” Jason replied. “It’s what lies beneath that’s truly amazing!”


Jason walked up to the front doors to the Manor and was about to knock, when the door spontaneously opened, and Alfred was front and centre, even before he could make a fist to announce themselves, as if he had been watching them since they had arrived.  The Manor did have CCTV, so that was a possibility. But Alfred always had this weird ESP power everyone noticed, like he could sense things about people and what they were thinking, which was eerie and creepy.


He still had his hand up when Alfred greeted him.


“Master Jason, what a pleasure it is to see you again—when you wish to make the time,” Alfred said coldly.


Jason gulped. Out of all the people, except for Bruce, Alfred was the only one that made him a little nervous, especially when he spoke like that. Alfred wasn’t known as “Mother Hen” for nothing. When he was angry, he was like a mother who got mad at their child after they did something really disappointing, then become really silent to make the child guilt-ridden.


Jon suddenly shivered, looking at Alfred Pennyworth.


“Are you cold, young sir?” the butler smiled pleasantly at Jon.


“No, I just got flash of my mother staring at me like I did something wrong,” he replied.


“No, young Master Kent, it isn’t you that did something wrong…”


Alfred glared at Jason with hard eyes. Jason shrugged completely oblivious to what the butler was referring to.


Suddenly, Alfred slapped him across the back of the head, and Jason cringed, feeling the hurt.


The man hit like he had hands of stone.


Then pinching Jason’s right ear, Alfred dragged him into the main foyay, like a kid being lead by his father for punishment.


Alfred then let go and Jason rubbed his ear when they got to the main hall.


Jon followed reluctantly.


“Ow!” Jason said, rubbing his ear. “What the hell was that for?”


“You know exactly what that was for, Master Jason,” the apt butler said, a bitterness in his voice.


Jason took a moment to think, then rolled his eyes. “Look! Is this about Oswald Copperpot? Penguin? Oh, c’mon, Alfred—the man deserved it! After everything he’s done, he needed to be taught a lesson. And I almost had him—Almost! But the sneaky bird escaped by the skin of his teeth—again!—I later found out. Then Bruce got involved, thinking I had killed Penguin, and he beat the  living crap out of me. Bruce nearly killed me for taking out a danger to society—Me!” Jason acted like he was the victim.


“What is Batman’s cardinal rule?”


“Listen, Alfred. Let’s not get into this right now. There’s no time.”


Alfred frowned, relenting. The butler cleared his throat. “Yes, Master Tim has updated me. Come.”


Alfred lead Jason and Jon first to the library, then down a stone craved spiral staircase to the Batcave through the secret passage in the grandfather clock—a second method was by way of an elevator that was located elsewhere—and as they walked said that he had anticipated Jason’s request and everything was in readiness.


Crossing the main floor of the Batcave, which astounded Jon, Alfred lead the pair to an adjacent passage way beyond the main area, and opened the door that lead to a docking bay to the underground river that passed under the Manor that Bruce had adapted for Batman’s use, where the Batboat awaited.


Alfred then said: “All the usual amenities have been stocked for your trip, Master Jason. All systems are at optimal capacity and all weapons are full-loaded. Long range weather forecasts indicate smooth sailing. However, the Devil’s Triangle is a dangerous place for any seafaring vessel or aircraft, so be careful. And if Jake Handles is behind Master Damian’s recent disappearance, then you must be careful. Treasure Island, I have been informed, it a very dangerous place with high-tech security and surveillance.”


“This is so awesome!” Jon said, racing from port to stern of the Batboat, taking in its black sleek exterior, bat fins, aquatic blast shield, other features, and more so, its modified turbo jet engine. Once inside, when the side door flipped upwards—Jon was just as awestruck. It had room for six seats comfortably, storage capacity for both equipment and weaponry, an array of high-tech computer equipment, and a make-shift bat-symbol stirring wheel, and… “Is that an Espresso machine?” he asked pointing.


Alfred smiled. “Yes, your trip will be a little lengthy, but the mini-fridge is also fully stocked with milk and juices,” he said, winking. Jon jumped excited and then explored some more.


“Why, all of sudden, do I feel like I’m taking a family boat trip to the cottage?” Jason looked at Alfred and smiled. “Thanks, Al. By the way, where’s Bruce? I meant to ask earlier, but…”


“He’s at a late night Wayne Enterprises board meeting. There’s been talk of expanding into other areas of business, including Bludhaven, and some contracts are time sensitive. He’s really been invested in his work right now after Ms. Kyle left him. Frankly, I think the distraction is good for him. And I hope he gets right back on the saddle, as the saying goes.”


“Oh, you sly dog,” He winked at Alfred. “I agree, Bruce needs a good shag to relieve all that pent-up tension, it always did me good,” he said with a smirk. “Maybe he could ask Vicky Vale?” Alfred gave Jason a less than impressed look. Jason immediately regretted his vulgar. “Thanks again for everything,” he then said, “and we’ll talk later about my attitude.”


Jason clutched a shoulder bag he brought with him that contained his Red Hood gear. Jon had his Superboy clothes underneath his other clothes. They’d change on the way just before they got to the island.
“We certainly will,” Alfred replied.


Jason took hold of the door, shut it, secured it, then he settled into the pilot’s seat. He performed a series of standard checks before starting up the engine, which gave a thunderous roar on start-up in such a cavernous place. Jon got into the passengers seat and  they both strapped on their seat-belts. Jason saw Alfred had his hands over his ears as he looked out the blast shield, then the butler mouthed:  “God…Speed…sir!” Jason gave him a thin smile and a nod, then returned to face the controls.


A hidden door, made to look like part of the cave wall, opened up in front of the Batboat, and it lead to the subterranean river complex that snaked a far ways, that eventually lead out to a secret exit to Gotham Harbour.
With one final quick check, the Batboat blasted off.


With help from the computer, Jason navigated through the winding river with ease, the tunnel lit by wall lights that came on with a proximity detector, then shut off when out of range, and only with a specific signal generated by the Batboat, so if anyone decided to become a spelunker, they’d be deterred.


It took approximately forty-five seconds to reach the end, and with a signal, the secret exit door opened, and the Batboat raced out, and jetted out into the dark harbinger of the Gotham Harbour under the cover of darkness, and then out into open waters.


x x x


Damian told himself the Right Hand Rule sucked, especially when you’re being chased.


With his heart pumping fast, hard enough that it felt like it was about to burst out of his chest, Damian ran so fast that he thought he had broken his own speed record, as a black Puma chased him down an elongated corridor that seemed to go on forever. It went on for half a mile without any dissecting hallways with its box lights every few meters.


Finally he saw a junction, and he made a sharp left turn, and then bolted down another adjacent corner—he had lost track of where he was a long time ago, so trying to remember if he had been here was useless. But he knew he had circled back a few times, ran down hallways this way and that and had come back to where he had begun, like the obvious maze that this was.


His tights were soaked with sweat and his hair was matted down drenched from moisture. But he had to keep running.


This had been the third large species of cat that had chased him in this maze since he entered. First, there were the two sandy-coloured lionesses, then, oddly enough, a spotted jaguar, and now this dark puma—three erotic members of the cat family. The two lionesses and jaguar had disappeared similarly before this puma emerged, with only a five minute interval between them.


He normally liked cats—but he was starting to hate them now. He would have to re-evaluate his relationship with Alfred Pennyworth the cat—his rescued feline—when he got at home.


Todd gave it the nickname: “Pound”—after the saying: In for a Penny In for a Pound, an old British saying—so, there wouldn’t be any confusion when it came to the real Pennyworth. Curiously, Pound had taken an unusual liking to Todd as of late. He had attempted to train the cat to attack Todd whenever he came over to the Manor, but the cat purred instead, and Damian had given up. Todd liked animals, which was the only thing either of them had in common.


He knew the Puma wasn’t far behind, but he just had to take peak to see how far back it was. Then he halted in his tracks and almost tripped over his own feet when he saw the large feline had disappeared like the other two pursuers prior.


He swore loudly. He had enough of this cat and mouse game.


Suddenly, a hidden door opened up on a wall several meters from his position, and a black panther emerged. It saw him, and with a wide-mouth growl, it barred its sharp incisors.
But it hadn’t been five minutes yet?


Then he heard the voice of Handles echo the corridor: “Run, Damian Wayne…Run as fast as you can!” And then there was the sound of sadistic laughter, as the black panther bolted towards him.


And Damian turned, and ran…


And ran for his life!

To be continued...

Chapter Text

Red Robin never thought he would be here of all places in the dead of night.


Arkham Asylum was the quintessential representation of the utmost frightening but modernized gothic medieval castle found in the worse places in the world, doubling as a medical mental institution for the insane. It was an ever expanding facility due to the unending psychotic villains being housed within its walls and a new extension was being built. He was told it would house another dozen criminals of the most sinister and vile.


He parked his motorcycle out in front, and as he began to dismount, he heard the sound of the front doors of Arkham push open. He paused for a moment, watching the doors, and then saw two security guards and the Warden exit. He called ahead to say that he was coming and the Warden said that he would be there to greet him personally after his request to see a prisoner was granted.


Drake walked the steps to the front entrance and shook hands with the Warden. “Thanks for accepting my request, sir,” he said.


“When you called I was just leaving and the Night Shift had just begun,” the Warden said, walking with Red Robin into the main vestibule, which was a sealed room with another set of doors. “You’re lucky you caught me doing some last minute paper work. Your request is quite unorthodox, but given your reason and its implications, I thought it wise to grant it.”


Drake thanked him again.


When the outer doors were locked, the Warden used a fingerprint reader and renal scanner in a computer console as authorization to enter the inner foyay, both guards went through the same procedure. Security was paramount in this prison. Red Robin wore gloves and a mask, so it wasn’t possible for him to add himself to the authorized database, so the Warden grandfathered him through, by-passing the security lockouts with a secret digital code on a panel.


Every visitor needed to be authorized to enter Arkham Asylum.


But Red Robin was more than trusted and had been at Arkham on many other occasions with deposits of sadistic and mentally ill criminals, so he was well known. Most recently, he helped Bruce and Damian add a sinister villain, or rather bring back an escapee, known as Professor Pyg: a deranged man who enjoyed wearing a pig mask and cutting up his victims as if they were ham, turning some of his victims into Dollotrons, for Pyg to use as his own personal army by way of surgery and mind-altering drugs. Pyg had the knowledge to use such drugs to cause people to experience hallucinations and delusional behaviour, but after analyzing the sample he took from Dick, Pyg couldn’t help him. The formula was much too complex.


Even though Drake hadn’t been there for the others’ first encounter with Professor Pyg—Dick and Damian were the first to encounter him during the period when Bruce was missing—just reading the reports submitted in the Batcomputer was enough to make him sick to his stomach. Lazio Valentin and his minions were truly sick people.


Entering the main foyay, Drake was already a little nervous, and the large sign that hung on one of the walls over the reception desk as they walked to an elevator at the end, that read: BE EVER VIGILANT, didn’t give him any comfort. Dozens of the worst criminals resided here and most of them wanted the Batfamily dead.


The Warden entered a private digital code into the elevator panel to activate it. Everyone had a separate code for its use, it was to prevent criminals from using the elevator to escape. But there were so many security procedures in Arkham, escape was next to impossible unless you had insight into the facilities workings, or help—which Professor Pyg did. But Pyg had been caught and the guard who helped him removed and jailed, and security procedures beefed up.


The elevator rose to the ninth floor where two more guards awaited their arrival, both armed. For a split moment, Red Robin tensed up. The two guards on the ground floor had escorted him and the Warden in the elevator, so two more guards would constitute an ambush. Considering the recent events regarding Nightwing and Scarecrow’s Fear Germ, it was no wonder he felt a little nervous. He had not even told anyone that he was coming to Arkham.


Luckily, his fears were unfounded, and the Warden explained that the added security on this floor in particular was paramount. Some of the most ruthless criminals in Gotham resided on the ninth floor. And as Drake passed the likes of them, they screaming at him through their bars, threatening to slaughter him and the rest of the Batfamily if they got out, he told himself to remain ever vigilant and didn’t allow their taunts to unnerve him.


When they circled the rotunda-like floor, they came to a half-moon iron cell door marked with the designation: PRISONER #26-F9.


It was a special cell, not because the prisoner had any special powers, but the man inside was so insidious in nature, with a genius-like personality, that he was designated very dangerous offender. So, the door was locked with several different remote devices—including electro-shock.


The Warden had a remote with him, Red Robin figured it disengaged all the door’s locks.


A guard first looked through the bar window and then banged on the wall with a baton, touching the door would get him electrocuted. “Hey Doc, you have a very special visitor. Stay away from the door. Four armed guards are outside. No funny business!”


There was irritated grumble from inside. “This interruption is vexatious and untimely,” came a well spoken voice. “I have no wish to engage in an unprolific escapade, such as battling armed security persons that could sound my demise quicker than it takes to breath.” The prisoner gruffly exhaled. “What I do have an issue is, that I am engaged in a good book. I do not wish to be disturbed.”


“Then mark your page, Doctor. You can pick up where you left off later,” the Warden added.


“Do you recognize my voice, Doctor?” spoke Red Robin. “Or would you rather be called Professor? You have both a professorship and several doctorates, so either one will be fine with me.”

Suddenly, the sound of a book snapping close was heard. There was a momentary pause, then: “Oh yes, your voice is very familiar to me—Red Robin. You may enter. The others are denied. And you can call me Doctor, for a change of pace.”


The Warden used his remote, unlocking the mechanisms and disengaged the door, then it was pulled open by one guard. Two armed guards pointed their guns at the prisoner, who stood up, as if he was properly greeting a visitor into his humble abode.


The large, hefty man was bald and had a trimmed beard minus a moustache. He smiled with white teeth and a sinister grin, behind a set of circular, tinted glasses. Dressed in standard white prison garbs, he didn’t look like much. But it wasn’t the man that was dangerous, it was his mind. He was completely psychotic.


“Ah, Red Robin, what a pleasure it is to see you again. It’s so nice to finally engage with an intelligent person instead of having to speak with these gorillas with guns. Stimulating conversion is so hard to find. Hopefully, you can fill this void?”


“Hello, Dr. Hugo Strange,” was all Red Robin said.


“You can dispense with the formalities and call me Strange.”


Drake cocked his head slightly and gave a thin smirk by the irony. Hugo was a very strange man indeed.


At short glance, he saw the book that Strange was reading sitting on his bunk: The Sociopath Next Door. Oddly enough, Drake had read it. It was a little out-dated, but being in Arkham, he figured they didn’t get a lot of new arrivals—in books, that is. Basically the book was about Borderline Personality Disorder and how as many as 4% of people in the world are sociopaths, whether they know it or not. If he had to say: Damian was in that percentile.


Drake cocked an eyebrow under his mask. “Interesting read, Strange, but I can direct you to something more recent—maybe even this decade. On second thought, you don’t need anymore influences governing your mental state.”


It was a little before his time, but Bruce had told him that Hugo Strange had such an infinity and obsession with Batman that he once tried to become Batman. Strange dressed up like Batman and even stole the Batmobile. So, it was only fitting that Strange was reading a book on BPD. However, despite his psychotic behaviour, he never showed any signs of a duel personality without full knowledge of his actions. He once attempted to use the excuse, but the judge didn’t accept it.


There were a few other similar books in his cell of the same type, Drake noticed, with a quick look.


“So, what do I owe this visit, boy wonder? Oh wait, you’re not Robin—that distinction belongs to another. Does it ever keep you up at night to know that you were thrown away like the preverbal trash when your replacement came onto the scene?”


Drake mentally cringed. Damn—straight for the jugular, he thought. The man knew exactly where to strike a soft spot.


Yes, he admitted, when Damian did come into the fray, he was hurt and jealous, and had quit at one point after Damian continuously taunted him, demanding the Robin title be handed over to its rightful heir. Jason even took him to a bar to drown his sorrows, even though he was underage. He didn’t drink, but he was tempted—very tempted.


Dr. Hugo Strange knew—past tense—Batman’s true identity, and had threatened to expose it to the world. But after a hit to the head, the doctor suffered long term amnesia in that regard and forgot it, or so he claimed. However, that didn’t stop from taunting the caped crusader every chance he got.


His most recent caper that got him sent here dealt with a plot to hypnotize wealthy businessmen and stock brokers for them to tell him all their secrets—who were patients at a fake psychiatrist practise Strange concocted. Stock brokers dealt with a lot of stress on a daily bases, so they were easy pickings. Strange’s plan was to make a lot of money to finance his experiments through stealing secrets and buying stocks. When he was exposed, it didn’t take long for Batman to shut him down and send him back to Arkham.


And here is sat, once a brilliant man in his field—an expert in psychology, among other things—but now reduced to a petty criminal.


Strange’s remark had initially bothered him, but Drake soon overcame it within moments. And he saw Strange’s face switch from a smile to a frown when it failed to initiate a desired response. Because despite the past, the Batfamily was just that—a family, and despite their differences, they came together during a crises. Blood was thicker than water, the saying went. But family was forever.


Asset…Strange,” Drake replied. “You know the old axiom: there’s strength in numbers. And two Robins are better than one. Now, time to play nice in the sand box, Doctor. I’ve come here for a specific reason and I think you can help me.” He reached into a pouch on his belt and took out a PDA. Switching it on, he assessed a file, then showed Strange what he had brought up on the screen. “Being a man of science, I believe you know what this is…” he said condescendingly. Of course, Strange knew exactly what it was.


Drake had been disappointed with his other plans. He thought Bruce could help devise an antidote much like with other dangerous drugs of this sort, but he was no help. He seemed too self-involved with being dumped by Selina Kyle to care. Well, that wasn’t fair, in truth, he did have other responsibilities—and was at a late night Wayne Enterprises meeting at the moment.


Other experts Drake had spoken to on online were also no help.


So, he thought of a last resort, and it was the reason for him being here. Whether Dr. Hugo Strange could help was another matter.


Strange grinned impressed. “Ah, how beautiful—it’s a…” But stopped short of some long-winded scientific jargon. He pointed at the screen. “If I have to wager a guess, this has something to with Dr. Jonathan Crane, Scarecrow—Am I right?”


“Correct. This is a thermodynamic chemical formula taken from someone’s blood sample who is currently infected with Crane’s new Fear Germ; I had help with its equations,” Drake explained. “Obviously, you recognize it.”
Strange smirked smug. “I’m a doctor of psychology, not a genetic chemist. Or a brick layer. If you get the reference?” He chuckled. “Get it? The building blocks of life is DNA.”


Red Robin was not amused. Drake recognized the reference to Star Trek and to its Doctor McCoy. “This is serious, Strange! Can you devise an antidote for this formula, or not?”


“It’s quite sophisticated, but rudimentarily if you have the knowledge. If I could propose something…What’s in it for me?


“I’ll put in a good word with the Parole Board that you helped. That’s the best I can do.”


Strange adjusted his eyes and looked at the PDA again, quickly scanning it over.


It was obvious to Drake the man was thinking deeply and by the expression on his face afterwards, as he casually sat back down on his bunk, and picked up his book and pretended to read, that he knew something.


“You’re fighting a losing battle, Red Robin. There is no antidote to the Fear Drug. And at the frequency the ‘germ’ replicates within the body, there’s nothing that can be done to save people infected. Think of it as an aggressive form of cancer. People will quickly go mad. And from my understanding, the authorities have refused to adhere to Crane’s demands for a cure. Several people have already died from what I hear. Crane has really outdid himself this time, this is a real beauty,” and Hugo Strange laughed.


Drake lowered his arm to his side and clutched the PDA in hand. If anyone could have devised a possible cure to the Fear Germ, apart from Bruce, it would’ve been Dr. Hugo Strange, because the germ’s hallucinogenic properties fell within psychiatric medicine, that Strange was very familiar with. Drake had considering asking Victor Freeze, he was in Arkham, as well, but after the “Freeze Affair” when Victor Freeze was put on trail, speaking to him would be one-way conversion. After those events, any ally of Batman would be an enemy of the King of Cold right now.


Besides, his request for an interview with Freeze was denied.


Drake turned to leave, when Hugo Strange spoke up, his eyes still on his book: “But don’t fret, young birdie, there is still hope.” Red Robin snapped around to glare at Strange. “Just because you didn’t like my answer, doesn't mean there isn’t a solution to be had. Every problem has a qualifier. Find The Wizard and follow the yellow brick road. Only then will you get a brain and save Gotham.”


Wizard? Yellow brick road? Get a brain? All were in references to the movie The Wizard of Oz. What does a movie have to do with this? Then he recalled Dick's dream that Barbara had told him about the munchkins, also in the same movie, who sang for Dorothy to follow the yellow brick road to The Wizard, for which she followed and met the Scarecrow who wanted a brain, and when he got one, the world was a different place, filled with clarity and happiness.

He still didn't understand it completely, however...

But before he could think further about it, Hugo Strange began to laugh again--and this time it was a sadistic, sinister laugh, much like the Joker, insanity personified.


Red Robin slammed Strange’s cell door behind him as he left, the Warden re-engaged the locks. But even with the door closed, Strange’s laughter could still be heard in the corridor, echoing, and taunting him.
Dick was running out of time. The Fear Germ had already affected him and he couldn’t remain sedated forever. A cure had to be found and fast.


Red Robin slipped the PDA back into a belt pouch.


“Find the Wizard and follow the yellow brick road? Get a brain? Strange is mad,” the Warder said, stating the obvious. “What the hell does that mean? Does he know something about Scarecrow’s Fear Germ?”


“If he didn’t, then he knows now. I just gave him the formula. He’s a genius with an eidetic memory,” Drake said, then mused for a moment with a finger to his chin. “Watch him very closely for the next few days, Warden. Every move he makes, every action he takes—even when he goes to the bathroom. If he begins to scribble, I want to know about it.”


Red Robin and the Warden began to walk back to the elevator, the two initial guards following. “Scribble? Oh, as in formulas?”


Drake nodded. “He may be lying about knowing how to devise a cure. Or, he may, for the moment, be telling the truth. But, being the man I know he is—with obsessive compulsive personality disorder—he may just challenge himself to devise one.”


When they reached the elevator, Drake nodded, pleased with himself.


The Warden noticed this and asked him why. Then, even before Drake answered, the Warden said: “You didn’t know what to expect, did you? You were either were going to get a cure or put the bug in Strange’s mind to design one?”


Drake gave him a crooked smirk. “Stranger things have happened, Warden, and sometimes knowing a mad genius has its benefits,” he said, as the doors to the elevator closed.

To be continued...

Chapter Text

Damian had had enough. Not only was he completely exhausted, but yet another animal had entered the maze, and he had found himself back where he started. He was never one to give up, never one to lay down, never one to surrender—he would rather die before relenting to his enemy—but now, down on his knees, clutching his chest, he felt like he was going to finally die.


He couldn’t move, his body—despite all his training—wouldn’t allow him to budge an inch anymore. His vision was blurry and failing,  he was breathing harder than he had ever done before after running for so long. He had lost his mask a while ago, the adhesive used to attach it to his face had worn off because he was sweating so much.


At long last, this was it. If this was an escape room, Grayson would’ve been disappointed in him that he couldn’t find the exit.


The last of the cats that had emerged was a White Tiger. Damian knew this type of tiger originated from somewhere in India or in parts of China and was rare. Handles must have had a zoo of animals at his disposal to use in his maze, all wild cats, all creatures found in erotic places around the world. He must have collected them as pets when he was with Spyral and were now full grown.


The tiger approached him and he tried to move, but all he did was collapse to the floor. He looked at the tiger as it came near him, and for a moment, either it was his imagination or just his eyes, or something else, but the image of the animal glitched.


And then it came to him, and he chuckled a little to himself, coughing also, as air entered his lungs. He had leapt over the lioness the first time and it had cut it into his tights, but didn’t draw blood; he had narrowly escaped a jaguar’s bite when it lashed out at him; escaped the puma; and a black panther. And now, this white tiger posed a similar threat.


But then it dawned on him. And he hadn’t put two and two together until now. Handles controlled photo-kinetic technology: hard light constructs. It would easy for him to scan an animal and them download each of their dimensions into a sophisticated computer and produce exact and realistic facsimiles that acted just like the real thing with the proper algorithms imputed.


In fact, it would be just as easy to create a maze. And the ability to make someone believe what they saw was real with projection units. Touching hard light was just like feeling a solid object, and the walls felt real, even the pound mark he had made looked real. But was what he was experiencing actually real or a projected fantasy?


If he put things into perspective, and everything he had experienced—even the room with the eels—conscripted by a computer and controlled by Jake Handles, then that would explain things. It would also explain why he felt he was going around in circles. The human brain can be manipulated when sight was the most utilized sensory perception.


He hadn’t been thinking straight and had allowed his emotions rule.


He laughed. Not out of humour, but out of realization.


Thinking back, he knew he should have thought of it sooner.


Grayson had given him what he called: “The Robin’s Handbook”. It was basically a notebook of worldly lessons, opinions, notations, scribbles, and ideas, written down over a period of time when he was The Boy Wonder.


Grayson had passed it down to Todd, who then made entries of his own. Then Drake got it, who also added to it, and also corrected everyone’s spelling mistakes—which was annoying.


Each Robin used a different colour pen, so there was no confusion as to who wrote what: Grayson wrote in black, Todd scribbled in red—his handwriting was like trying to decipher hieroglyphics; Drake penned in green, and Damian decided on yellow.


It was a secret from Bruce, supposedly, because it also had personal entries about Bruce Wayne: his moods, idiosyncrasies, likes and dislikes, favourite foods, humorous personal anecdotes, and other things—Todd even had a special section on Bruce’s sexual partners. If Bruce ever learned of the existence of the book, he would be furious.


When Damian was first handed the book, he was reluctant to read it, thinking: what lessons could a circus clown pass down to a  person who was once member of the League of Assassins? But it was on one night when he was severely bored, that he partook in the book. And it didn’t disappoint. It also gave him an insight into Grayson’s thoughts, passions and believes—and the idioms of the others. Though, most of Todd’s and Drake’s entries were carbon copies of Grayson’s previous hand-me-downs.


On thing that stood out was that Grayson has a religious side to him that surprised Damian, because he never took Grayson as the religious type, or that he believed in a god that was based on conjecture and not subjected to a scientific premise. He actually found small crucifixes on several pages of the handbook and each corresponded to a lesson he learned that saved his life.


But Damian only followed Grayson’s advise. And one of the most important things Grayson parted in the book was Rule #12 of a set of laws he established for himself: Stay Frosty. And think before you RE-ACT. And then something that followed it, that could only come from Grayson’s quirky sense of humour: And never ASSUME—or you make an ASS out of U and ME.


And right now, Damian felt like an ass for not realizing the obvious: He was in maze of Handles’ own design, a computer generated fantasy that had a continuous will of regeneration. Handles made him see what he wanted Damian to see. That meant, the white tiger was a computer simulation.


He stood on his feet and faced it. This time, he would stand his ground. He had his doubts, but this was it. He wasn’t going to run anymore. “Come get me, pussy cat,” he said, purposely provoking the animal to attack. If, his theory had merit, he would be safe. Handles wasn’t going to fool him any longer.


The white tiger lunged at him and he braced himself—when the tiger disappeared into thin air. He admitted, he had shut his eyes for a split moment as the animal leapt at him. He then looked around, eyes wide open, but the corridor he was in was empty.


He suddenly developed a burst of energy. “Handles!” he shouted. “The game’s over! Stop playing around! I know it’s all fake!”


Laughter erupted from all sides around Damian.


Suddenly, there was a flash of bright light and the walls around him changed from grey to a cross-squared pattern, one small square was smashed from Damian hitting it previously—obviously the damaged section he had pounded as an identifier marker.


A condensed version of Handle’s photo-kinetic technology, Damian wagered.


He found himself enclosed in a ten by ten box much like a prison cell, but there was no ceiling. So, he leapt, grabbed onto the edge and hauled himself up, forcing strength from his exhausted muscles, and landed on the top of the box, balancing on the edge of the wall’s border, crouching in its edge. After a quick glance around, he found himself looking at a massive complex of tiers and floating computer displays and a gigantic computer that occupied a great deal of the space. It had all the like of the Batcave.


And Jake Handles, Annex, as he called himself now, sitting in a chair in front of a series of floating projection screens controlled by finger sensors—with CGI 4D schematic designates of every animal he had used in the maze, including one or two others he as going to use. Handles sat with one leg crossed over the other, looking smug.


Annex wore his half operatic mask and was dressed all in white.


Damian didn’t jump down, unlike inside box with the photo-kinetic maze and imaginary, he found the twin lionesses that he had first encountered were in fact real and were presently acting like centuries moving around the box. They roared at him, jumped up, and swiped their crawls in a gamely manner. Luckily, the box was just high enough so they couldn’t touch him. That didn’t stop them from trying, however. Since it had all been a computer generated forgery, his tights hadn’t been ripped, which pleased him.


“Pathetic! It took you a little over an hour to figure out my trick after my animals ran you ragged,” Handles said, almost annoyed. He stood. “You were being tested and timed, and you failed miserably. Richard Grayson would’ve figured out my deception sooner.”


Damian smirked. “Results are results, however you come by them,” he said snidely.


“You don’t deserve to follow in his footsteps. Nightwing Junior is a sham!”


“Don’t be a poor sport. I figured out your game, give credit where credit is due.”


Suddenly, he almost lost his balance when one of the lioness’s jumped at him from below, knocking the box. Obviously his tone towards its master had angered it. He backed off, it had come awfully close to his right foot. With its sharp claws, and the fact he wasn’t wearing any boots, one swipe could have ripped flesh from bone. The other then followed suit, mimicking the other’s attack. He avoided that too, balancing, and walking along the edge of the box like a tightrope.


Child’s play, he thought.


Handles snapped his fingers and the two lionesses settled, but continued to encircle the box enclosure.


The villain then approached, and one of the lioness’s broke formation and went to him. He pet it on its head like it was the friendliest animal in the world. “Do you like my pets? I’ve had them since they were cubs, rescuing them from a couple of poachers when I was in Africa on a mission with Spyral, a year before they branded me a traitor. Say hello to Panthera and Inda.”


Damian looked, and then switched his attention to the other that remained below, watching it hover around the enclosure, pacing back and forth, never wavering its gaze. They appeared to have been both trained with complete and utter loyalty to their master. Lionesses were known to rip the flesh of their prey to shreds and Damian didn’t want to be their next meal, so he remained calm.


“Lovely pets, Handles,” he said sarcastically, refusing to use the villain’s alias. “Let me guess: Their favourite food is human flesh?”


The lioness below Damian gave a series of deep, but short roars, obviously disliking his snide attitude. Obviously, this was the more aggressive of the pair. Animals were very intuitive.


Damian roared back loudly, his teeth showing, and shouted: “Piss off!


The lioness jumped. Damian avoided its attack and managed to kick it in the snout. The animal landed with the atypical ease of a domesticated house cat, wiped its nose with a paw as if to pat down a hurt, and then roared again.


Inda…enough!” Handles ordered.


Inda gave one short, deep snort, and then went over to Handles, and received a petting on the head much like Panthera. Both lionesses then sat down on other side of Handles like two guardian statues.


“Admittedly, Handles, I’m impressed you managed to train them so well,” Damian said, and meaning it. “Lions, in general, are on the endangered species list, and they’re not known to like humans much.”
“Treat animals well and respect is reciprocated, it’s as simple as that.”


Damian could attest to that. He had rescued a few stray animals over time including: a cow, a turkey, a cat and a dog, which now roam the Wayne property. Not to mention the hundreds of bats inside the Batcave.
“Now what?” Damian said, as he crouched on the box wall of the enclosure. “Do you expect me to stay up here all day?”


“You may come down,” Handles said. “I assure you, my pets will not attack. They will obey me without question.”


Damian paused for a moment, but ultimately decided to jump down. He then stayed calm and still, as both lionesses were watching him keenly. With a single command, Handles could order them to attack, and Damian would be dead. He knew a lioness ran up to 30-36kph, but could also reach up to 81 km/h in short bursts, if their prey was close enough. But he wasn’t going to take the chance.


Knowing he had temporarily lost, Damian slowly raised his arms in surrender. “Am I your prisoner now?”


“Need you ask such an obvious observation? The short answer is: yes. The long answer is: You’ll wish you weren’t.”


x x x


It was close to eleven o’clock at night and the Batboat raced over choppy waters through complete darkness, the only light came from its headlights. It hit a wave and soared into the air, then landed with a heavy thud, which caused both passengers to leave their seats for a moment and then come crashing back down.


Jon protested the rough ride and Jason apologized, but speed was a factor he claimed. The navigational systems were leading them on a direct path to Treasure Island, according to Tim’s vectors, and so far, they hadn’t experienced any more then the typical rough waters normally seen in these parts. There was no supernatural happenings or mysterious weather phenomenon.


Despite the time, Jon Kent wasn’t tired at all. When they first started out, knowing it would take a while to reach the island, Jason thought it prudent for Jon to take a little catnap before they reached further out to sea. The kid had refused, and was now sitting shotgun, more excited than before they started out—especially with all the sugary drinks he drank found in the fridge left by Alfred.


Age meant nothing sometimes, Jason thought. Jon Kent had seen a lot in his young years, he was only twelve, even younger than Damian. Jason was just as young when he began his crime fighting career as Robin. But the one thing he hoped for was that Jon Kent didn’t experience what he had to endure like at the hands of the Joker.


To pass the time before they got to this point, Jason had switched on the TV to Gotham News. None of it was good news. Every headline talked about Scarecrow’s Fear Germ and how it was plaguing Gotham; there had been four suicides in the last week. From eye witness reports, the victims screamed in horror or cried out in despair before they either jumped to their deaths from buildings, bridges, or, in one case: suicide by gun in the mouth. It was staring to become an epidemic. So far, fifteen deaths could be attributed to the Scarecrow’s newest psychotropic attack on the people of Gotham.


Jon Kent scrolled through media feed on his smart phone. Jason saw this out of the corner of his eye and he couldn’t believe the boy was that much in tune with world events, kids this age should be playing with their friends, watching the latest anime’s—for which Jason had a guilty pleasure for; some of them were actually pretty good for cartoons—and sharing funny memes. But for Jon Kent, the son of Superman, that kind of innocence had already been lost.


The Batboat was on autopilot at the moment, their designation locked in. Jason would place it back on manual when they got closer just in case there were any surprises: The Devil’s Triangle—or Bermuda Triangle, by another name—was also host to the Kingdom of Atlantis, where Auqaman resided. It was also disputed territorial waters for some of Atlantis’s enemies, but sonar was clear.


Jason enjoyed an espresso as he watched the darkness outside the blast shield, Jon was quiet, so he enjoyed the solitude.


“Scarecrow’s an evil man,” Jon suddenly voiced, after watching a short video news segment with earbuds. “Is there anything that can be done to stop him?”


“Tim’s on the case,” Jason said. “In fact…” He reached into a bag that he had placed between the seats and checked his phone with its cracked screen. This time it was fully charged. He checked his messages, scrolled with a thumb, and there was several from Tim regarding his recent visit to Arkham Asylum. “Dangerous; foolish…” He said, as if scolding Tim directly, after reading the messages. “Tim went to Arkham alone and spoke to Dr. Hugo Strange about a possible cure for the Fear Germ,” he told Jon.


“My Dad told me about him once. He’s a psychopath. Did Tim get a cure?”


Jason said no. But Tim hoped to implement a plan to devise one knowing Strange would never shrink at an implied challenge.


It was another hour before they got within sight of the island on the radar. Jon had had just crashed asleep less than forty-five minutes prior despite his burst of energy before, and Jason let the kid sleep and wake him later, knowing he’d probably face some action when they got to their destination. He had dressed into his Red Hood gear in the meantime.


Fifteen minutes later, he shook Jon. “Wake up, kid, we’re almost there. Time for this dynamic duo to get ready.”


Jon woke with a yawn and soon became fully awoke when the island came into full view. According to Tim’s information: it was a man made island, but unsanctioned. But with Spyral’s influence, certain authorities had turned a blind eye to it, and allowed it exist. Jason figured they were bribed. It was in the Atlantic Ocean and was not disputed waters, so someone knew it was here.


Jon got ready in his Superboy gear, while Jason manually moored to a normal looking wooden dock connected to the rocky shoreline that went a long way up on the beach with sizeable boulders, that Jason knew, would make the perfect place for an enemy ambush. So many places to hide. And with its open shores, there was probably surveillance equipment everywhere. It was very dark as Jason looked out the blast shields, he decided to come in dark, so their presence was not seen. But the stillness made him nervous. This dock was obviously for aesthetics and there was probably a secret way into the inner island, which wasn’t all that large--one-quarter the size of Manhattan Island.


What sort of reception would they get once they were detected?


Just then, he got his answer, as flood lights erupted with and illuminating blinding force, and a lone figure stood on a cliff’s edge, his features silhouetted by the light casting his body in darkness. But Jason saw that he held two powerful hand guns. The figure pointed and he fired at them with a consistent barrage at the blast shield with armour piercing bullets.


“Get down!” Jason shouted, and with an instinctive protection of a parent, he leapt on top and smothered Jon with his body, as the continuous concussion of heavy gunfire hit the boat’s blast shields and shattered its glass with maximum force.


Come on out, Batman!…The verdict is in!…It’s time for you to die!” the person said, followed by a deep chuckle with more gun fire.


It was the atypical assumption by a member of Batman’s Rogue Gallery, but nine-out-of-ten, it was Batman that was charging in to the rescue, hence the name drop. Obviously, however, the figure was mistaken, unbeknownst that Batman was not in the Batboat.


But the voice Jason recognized was distinctive and was unmistakably all too familiar.


It was Harvey Two-Face.

To be continued...

Chapter Text

Dick Grayson awoke with a start. He looked straight ahead from where he lay and found himself staring at an elongated piece of wood attached beneath a bench of some sort. With more clarity, he learned the bench was actually a church pew.


He reached out and saw it was fitted with blue padding. Then he looked around, across five sets of pews, and immediately realized he was in a church or a chapel. Placing a hand on the pew he hauled himself up and saw he wasn’t wearing any clothes, no wonder he felt a chill. He covered his lower region with a hand and then sat up on the pew.


Oh Jesus! How the heck did I get here? And why, for heavens sake, Am I naked in a House of God?


Peering around, he saw it was a large church with room for over three-hundred people with an arch buttress-style roof, decorative columns, and stain glass embedded in the surrounding walls depicting biblical figures and scenes from the Holy Book.


And for that moment, he felt disappointed in himself for not visiting church more often. His parents had been church-goers and went to sermons every Sunday when they were held at Haly’s Circus in a make-shift tent. His ancestors were Gypsy/Roma, which meant when they originally settled in Scotland, they adopted the dominated religion of the time. But when they moved to America, and to Gotham, he was brought up Christian like his brother Mitch. His grandfather, he was told, was a non-practising Presbyterian.


But that was neither here nor there now.


Over the years, he had found himself waning from the faith. Not because he didn’t believe, but he didn’t have a lot of time to think about it with crime fighting. He knew the all forgiving Lord would understand. Church was a place for prayer and to hear inspiring words of the Lord, but not everyone needed to go to church to believe. The heart was where the Lord truly resided, and Dick believed this whole-heartedly.
Just a moment ago, he had been facing Scarecrow on his knees—


Now…


At the front of the church, elevated by a stage above the main wooden flooring, silhouetted by brightness that was illuminated through two large stain-glass windows separated by a large cross, stood a young-looking priest in black attire, standing behind a large altar—or to some: a communion table—the altar covered with a white cloth. He had an open bible in one hand and in the other…a cigarette, for which he took a puff. Smoke bellowed out from the clergyman’s mouth.


On the altar, was a gold plated bowl normally used to pass out the communion “bread” during later parts of a sermon, known as the Body of Christ, but right now, it was being used as an ashtray.


Dick knew of only one person who would do such a thing and defile a church by smoking in its humble abode. “Father, you do realize smoking is prohibited in the House of the Lord,” Dick said it not as a question, but as a statement.


The young priest shut his bible, the sound echoed in the empty space, and then turned around. He was not so young, but he was young enough for head of a congregation. He had black hair, except for a large tuff of white in front. He wore the black attire of a priest with its white collar, but he was no priest that would ever last for long with all his bad habits.


Jason Todd took a puff from his cigarette, blew out smoke, and then extinguished it in the gold bowl. “My son…” he then said. “Or rather, my naked son—you’re popular with the ladies, Dick, but this is something new. But we’re all naked in the eyes of the Lord, I guess.”


“Cute,” Dick replied sarcastically.


Jason tugged the altar cloth off like some magician and then tossed it across the room, leaving the bowl in place. Dick caught it. It was unorthodox and refined, but Dick used it to wrap himself with, and then stood on his feet, crossing into the isle.


“How did I get here?” Dick asked, looking towards Jason. Jason lit another cigarette. Dick ignored the sheer ignorance of what he was doing and glanced around. “I’m absolutely confused. The last thing I remember is…Scarecrow standing over me; and me, on my knees; and Crane’s hand positioned like a gun…saying: “Bang! You’re dead, hero…”


“Are you dead?” Jason asked causally.


“How the heck should I know? But I don’t think…so.”


But judging by his state and lack of clothes, maybe…


Jason walked across the platform and then took a step down, he clutched the bible in hand as if it was very precious. It didn’t have the words: Holy Bible on the cover, just a golden cross that was centred on its hardcover encasement.


Now that Dick thought about it, as he looked around again, quite a few things in this church were golden—from a lot of the leaflets and decor in the stain-glass windows, to the top of the columns, to even the cross on the altar cloth he now used to cover himself.


Gold… It triggered something in his mind—something important, something he had forgotten. But it wasn’t quite at the surface yet.


Jason had been a priest for a short time, but his conduct was unbecoming for a man of the cloth. Jason even admitted, despite a momentarily lapse in judgement, he had joined the priesthood to get away from his violent past. But it wasn’t meant to be. Now, here, Jason was dressed as a priest—why, Dick didn't know—and Jason proved, without a doubt, just how unfit he was for the role.


Smoking in church was beyond a simple infraction.


“Do you remember anything else?” Jason asked, using a finger to flick some ashes to the floor.


“Hey!” Dick protested. “You really are a piece of work, Jason.”


“Some call me something else. But let’s get back to the question at hand. We’re both here by your bequest. Believe it or not, you’re dreaming, Dick, and somehow you brought us both to this place. It may look like a church, but its more of a sanctuary for your mind. A place you created, where you often get away from it all—to be alone, to think, to reflect, and to hide from your troubles.” Jason pointed at Dick, at his nakedness. “To get to the raw, uncovered, truth of things, so to speak.”


“Why a church? I’m not much of a religious person. My parents were, but I’m bad for not visiting the church more.”


“This is just a place, God is in our hearts. You must have seen this church somewhere in your travels. You felt safe there and it just  happen to stick in your mind for a place to go when your mind was in need of solitude. And you and I both know, this isn’t the first time you’ve visited here.”


Dick nodded. And then said, “If this is my safe place, then loose the cigarette.”


Jason rolled his eyes and then dropped it to the floor and put it out with a boot. Dick did take a puff every once in a while, but it was secret. Jason smoking must have be a representation of that bad habit, nicotine was known to often relax people. Jason, also, could be someone whom he needed to talk with—someone who expressed a more open opinion of things. Despite their obvious differences and philosophies, Jason always listened and presented points of view Dick was too scared to materialize.


“Okay, I’m here…in my safe place, but how did I get here? Why did I pull myself away from where I was?”


“Because Scarecrow was working you hard,” Jason explained. “But because you can’t remember, I can’t reveal it either. It’s called repressed memory. But with Crane, he probably wanted to take you into the depths of despair like he did the last time.”


“He made me felt like crap the last time I was subjected to one of his psycho-drugs—that everything I did, everything I was, meant nothing, and I should just kill myself. That Bruce considered me a failure and that’s why he choose you as my successor for Robin. That it wasn’t my choice I left his side, but that he had kicked me out for being too weak. I never did like his brutal methods.”


“You and I both know, you’re far from weak, Dick. But once again, Crane has hit you with one of his psycho-drugs, this new Fear Germ that’s going around—and it’s quite nasty. He saw an opportunity to strike, and he took it, and to silence you.”


“Silence me? Why?”


That feeling that he had forgotten something very important came to the surface again. But whatever it was, he couldn’t quite grasp it yet. He tried to think back to before all the recent events.


Crane was plaguing Gotham City with his Fear Germ, he remembered telling Barbara something about it, a vital clue he had found, before he was struck down, hit with amnesia after surgery was performed on him, and those damn implants were placed in his brain, causing his radical personality shift.


“He’s probably trying to assess what you know, or if you do know anything at all, and then try to silence you from telling anyone else…” Jason surmised. “What you told Barbara was just a hypothesis, nothing more. But I only know what you know, or what you think you know…”


“And you’re here to help me talk things out with myself in my safe space?”


Jason shrugged. “You come to me sometimes for unorthodox answers to questions, but you always make the final decision. You and I have a history, but you still blame yourself for not being there when Joker killed me. You need to get past that. It’s like a cancer in your mind, like this germ in your body. Forget about it. Crime fighting is a dangerous and risky business, and you know the ancient saying: Heroes often fall. It’s never like those espionage novels where the spy always foils the villain’s plot. More often than naught, the bad guy wins. And then the hero learns from his mistakes and defeats the villain next time.”


“Like a revolving door,” Dick agreed. “We put the criminals away and then they just come back bigger and badder than ever.”


“The justice system has its problems, but that’s why we’re out there—to fill the void where loopholes in the law exist. We both have out methods, mine is a little more extreme.”


“Extreme? Your last “method” nearly killed Penguin. While I sometimes don’t see eye-to-eye with you, what Bruce did was wrong. He shouldn’t have attacked you afterwards—“


“And beat the crap out of me like publishing a child? You don’t like his methods, but you respect them. However, you do wish for some finality in what you do, and that you’ve been thinking about something for a while, haven’t you?”


Dick sighed and nodded. “Semi-retirement,” he said. “I’ve been thinking about it more and more lately, and most recently before this latest rogue attack against me. I love Barbara so much and I want to protect her, but I can’t do that if I’m galavanting around, fighting criminals all the time. I was thinking of re-joining the New Bludhaven Police Department. After the city was destroyed, it needs people like me to help rebuild and enforce the law.” He gave a humorous snort. “Your better is actually working for them right now in their drug enforcement division, hunting down new drug syndicates.”


“At least, I’m helping out,” Jason said. “God, I could really kill for a cigarette right now.”


Dick shared his sentiments. His mind felt like it was racing a mile a minute, still trying to remember what he had forgotten, and he needed something to help calm himself—like a cigarette. But he refused to give in, knowing his thoughts would give purchase to Jason lighting one up.


“But you’d never do that,” Jason continued. “You’re not the kind of person to leave in the middle of a fight. And right now, Damian is fighting on your behalf—as Nightwing Junior. He’s a stubborn, little piece of shit, that kid. He once told you you’d never be a proper Batman, and if you couldn’t handle the job, to just quit, and he’d take over the mantle. Didn’t he?”


“But I didn’t quit,” Dick said, nodding, “and I guess that makes me stubborn, as well. This kid comes out of nowhere and tells me I’m no good? I knew right then and there that I had to set Damian straight. So, I persevered, and overcame the problems that came with fitting into Bruce’s shoes, and we eventually became a good team—the new Dynamic Duo. Tim tried, and it didn’t work out; so did you. You and Tim both quit the role, because it got too overtaking. They couldn’t handle the pressure.”


Jason pointed at Dick. “And that makes you strong—even stronger than the rest—Dick, because you’re not a quitter. And it’s not your time to lay down and die yet. Right now, you’re laying in a hospital bed, fighting against Crane’s Fear Germ. You need to get up, and fight it. I think Franklin Roosevelt said it best: ‘The only thing we have to fear is Fear itself’.”


“But what can I do? Please, give me some advise.” He gestured to the Bible Jason held. “Read me something inspirational, to help me—I feel a little lost. If I leave here, I’ll just be thrown back to Crane—to where I was before I came here—and I won’t be able to help anyone. He’s trying to make me believe my family died as a result of me, my actions. It’s been so long, I can’t remember…”


“Memory is a funny thing, you can only recall what you know…”


Jason opened the Bible and flipped through the pages. There were missing lines of text. Dick felt a pang of guilt that he hadn’t actually read the good book, but merely listened to passages or words from priests when they were recited, or quotes he had read online, or what others spoke from within. So, his knowledge of the Holy Book was incomplete.


Jason continued, “You were a kid at the time your parents died. Tony Zucco, a gangster, killed them, but not because of you. It was because he wanted the circus’s cash take for the day. But when he was refused, he make an example out of The Flying Grayson’s. Where you were, or what you were doing at the time, made no difference on the outcome. You would’ve died, too, if you were up there with your family on the trapeze when Zucco shot the tether line. It was not—repeat—not your fault.”


Dick nodded. If he recalled, he had to use the washroom before the big performance of the night.


Jason went on: “Think of the mind like a computer: it stores information biologically-algorithmic. The brain generates pathways every time your senses experience something new and files information in the long or short term, its importance decided on the person who collects it. Sometimes, however, injuries to the brain damages neurons and information is forgotten. Thought re-education is then needed to regain the information lost. You can’t recall something when the brain is damaged in a certain area—even though experts do say the brain remembers everything. However, the human brain does give us clues of what we have forgotten, through unconscious thought, like missing pieces of a puzzle. A symbolic gesture to be used as a trigger for the unconscious mind to bring memories to the surface for the conscious mind to make sense of them again. You had the answer to Crane’s Fear Germ, once. You only forgot, or it’s been jarred loose. It’s time to bring it back.”


“Thanks, Professor Tim. So, what can I do to bring that information back?”


Suddenly, from the pews, a collective group of…little people dressed like munchkins from one of his favourite movies: The Wizard of Oz, emerged, and started to dance around Dick in a circle, and then they began to sing a familiar tune: “Follow the yellow brick road, follow the yellow brick road…follow, follow, follow, follow…follow the yellow brick road.”


He remembered his dream, when the munchkins ran around him. But they didn’t sing then, instead they created a whirlwind of sorts, spiralling him, enveloping him, as if creating a protective barrier from danger—one of whom gave him a weapon: a gun.


In the same dream with the munchkins, he also encountered both Cluemaster and Blockbuster, and then a dark mysterious villain who controlled lightning—which later, he deciphered, as being an ex-Spyral agent who went rogue, named Jake Handles, who developed lighting gloves he weaponized that used electricity much like lightning strikes.


Then he had another dream about Captain Cold, but that was just chalked up to his head being cold.


Funny how dreams work, Dick thought.


“And what of Jake Handles?” Jason then asked, as if reading his mind.


Previously, Dick had remembered hearing voices, even though he was in bed, sedated. He knew sometimes people in a coma could hear the voices of loved ones even though they were asleep and couldn’t respond. Tim and Barbara had been talking about Jake Handles and Spyral’s ultra secret cubby-hole, where they stored all their most high-tech: Treasure Island.


His mind raced—the yellow brick road, Treasure Island—and then it hit him like a gold brick.


And he had the answer: the cure of Crane’s Fear Germ.


“Memory associations are a wonderful thing to help you remember things,” Dick smiled in recollection.


One of the munchkins then stopped and handed him a golden bullet.


He smiled now, because this munchkin looked just like his young daughter Mar’i had with Starfire in an alternative universe. All these multiverses confused him, but he was aware of them nonetheless. Earth-22, he recalled.


“Thank you, sweetie,” he said, and Mar’i smiled.


His prior dream basically had generic munchkins, but for a split moment when he thought of his own little “munchkin” here—even though she resided in another realm, whom he missed terribly, and if it wasn’t for his memory being restored he would’ve forgotten her—Mar’i had suddenly materialized amongst the generic group. He wasn’t sure, but when he thought about the munchkins, Mar’i’s remembrance was trying to come through, because she was very important to him. He once called her his “little munchkin” because she was so small at the time. He would have to see if he could contact Earth-22 and see how Mar’i was doing. He was sure The Justice League could help with that.


In his other hand materialized the gun he had been given in the other dream, both dreams now seemed to coalesce. He took out the magazine from the gun and put the bullet in the chamber, then cocked the weapon.


Suddenly, the gun reshaped itself into a syringe with a golden liquid—the cure Gotham City needed to the Fear Germ.


He remembered what he had told Barbara now, and it all stemmed from a medical journal article he just happened to read the night before. It had to do with the medicinal properties of gold. Gold had been used for centuries as a cure of ailments, infections, and recovery from germs in small qualities.


Most people thought of gold as large bricks found in places like Fort Knox, Kentucky. But gold had untapped healing properties, as well. In minute doses, gold released electrons—negatively charged particles into the body that could kill cancer cells, breaking down rogue cell reproduction. In some cases, it would completely erode cancer cells to the point other drugs would finish the job, to the point of complete eradication. And with what he knew of Crane’s Fear Germ, his theory had a pretty good chance of panning out.


The munchkins disappeared once their purpose had ended, his memories fully restored. Mar’i disappeared, but she still had a smile on her face, and she mouthed something he couldn’t quite make out, but looked like: “I love you, Daddy.”


He took a moment, then returned to the now. He had one other thing to solve: Who shot me?


But one name instantly came to mind and he had the skill to do it. Others also had the skill, too.


“So, do you have the full picture now?” Jason wondered, closing the Bible.


“Almost,” Dick replied. “I can’t do anything about Jake Handles at the moment, but I can stop Crane.”


Jason winked. “I’m glad we had this talk,” he said, handing the Bible over to Dick. It was symbolic and he was saying he should fill in the missing text. “But you’ve always been one to talk things out, especially when it comes to issues of importance. You don’t like holding things in. Corny jokes aside, you’re quite a serious guy.”


“When something’s important to me, I’m always serious,” Dick said. “I make jokes to relieve tension. It also distracts my enemies.”


Jason nodded. He then lit a cigarette and puffed out a plum of smoke, and whether it was on purpose, which was highly unlikely, or it was simply Dick’s imagination, the smoke spare out in the form of a giant bat.

The Bat Symbol.


Gotham City needed his help.


x x x


It was like waking up from a dream, but he had just crossed from dream into another.


He was on his knees surrounded by a ghostly mist generated by the horrific machinations of Scarecrow, or rather, the fear the man generated, but his hallucinating drugs were the real threat, accosting the senses of Crane’s potential victims.


The villain stood over Dick.


Scarecrow’s arm was extended, his hand forming the image of a gun with index finger and thumb. “Bang! You’re dead, hero…” he said. “Everything you once held dear is…gone.“


There was a momentarily fog, then Dick’s senses suddenly buzzed with an intensity, awoken from a brief assault on his conscious mind. This was his mind, Dick asserted, and it was about time he finally took back control of it.


He reached up he grabbed Scarecrow’s wrist and squeezed hard. Crane gasped shocked.


Now dressed as Nightwing—his mind instantly manifesting his superhero persona—Dick got to his feet and faced the intimidating villain who took the image of the beloved character from one of his favourite movies. Crane grabbed his arm as Nightwing pushed the man down to his knees, and with Crane’s thin body, it didn’t take much to overcome him. Without his drug-induced influence, Dr. Jonathan Crane was nothing.


“But, wait! How?”


“Time’s up, Crane,” Nightwing said, looking directly into the eyeholes of Scarecrow’s mask. “I now have the Midas Touch.”


He had the syringe with the golden liquid in hand he’d obtained from his other dream and showed it to Crane. Crane’s eyes seemed to widen with both shock and realization.
“Wait! How did you get that?”


Then Nightwing stabbed Crane’s arm with it, depressing the plunger fully.


Crane cried out.


Suddenly, Crane’s hand was enveloped in an encasement of gold, as it, at first, began to wrap around his arm like a serpent.


Nightwing let go of the villain, and Crane followed the serpent as it slithered up his arm, hitting his own body, as if trying to swat it away like an insect. Once his arm was completely enveloped, the serpent reached his upper chest, and subsequently began to descend to envelope his torso and legs. Then it worked quicker—like it was eradicating a disease as Crane weakened. Crane continued to swat at the golden serpent until it got to his neck, his arms immobile now, and with one last gasp, he cursed Nightwing.


Once completely covered, Crane knelt frozen to the spot with a ghastly horror on his face like a statue forever still. Then Nightwing kicked Crane and shattered him into a million broken pieces, not unlike that of a tumour cell when it was ripped apart by medicine, as it’s DNA fibres were destroyed.


Nightwing looked at the empty syringe in his hand, there was a drop of the cure left. He would carry the knowledge back with him. He just hoped his dream cure turned into reality when he woke up.

To be continued...

Chapter Text

Barbara Gordon was never one to dwell in sorrow. Dick had told her many times that feeling sad was only a temporary condition of extreme stress and worry. The world was a good and happy place, filled with joy, and life, in all its essence, should be celebrated on a positive note. That is what she loved most about Richard Grayson, that despite all the evil he’d seen and fought against over his long career as a crime fighter, he always returned to a pleasant state of mind. He always saw the bright side of life.


She tried to remain positive, she really did. But when she saw him in this state: strapped down like some sort of mental patient, it was difficult to stay positive. It made him look like one of those criminals Dick kept putting away. So, despite the consequences, she decided that he would be free, like he always said he felt when he was jumping through the air, as free as a bird in flight.


Taking off the velcro strap that was wrapped around his left wrist, she then held his hand. At least one arm would be free, but it made him look like an injured bird with only one wing working. His hand was warm as she held it, placing it against her cheek.


She said, “Come back to me, Dick. I love you, I always have. Despite all our hardships and disagreements, our times apart and woes, I’ve never cared for someone more deeply than you. I need you to come back. Fight Crane. Fight his Fear Germ. I know you’re strong. You’ve always been stronger than most, stronger than me. You once told me that I was the only person who made you feel inferior. That’s not true, and you know it.” She knew Crane’s fear germ enhanced a person’s own worse fears, Dick’s worse fear was losing the people he loved. “Your one big fear is your own self-doubt. So, don’t doubt your own inner strength.”


An article in Psychology Weekly, a magazine she subscribed to, said that the voices of loved ones could sometimes get through to coma patients. Right now, Dick was one of them, sedated by drugs. She also remembered music could, as well. Certain words or sounds could trigger emotions to stir and possibly wake the patient on their own.


Dick had a list of albums he put together of some of his favourite songs, all categorized into different genres, and he sometimes brought them along to listen to as he patrolled the streets of Gotham on those lonely nights.


Without his phone, which had been lost when he dropped after being shot—luckily it was a somewhat soft landing, if you call bouncing off a car roof a safe landing—she couldn’t play any of his favourite songs. But there was one song Dick did like. It was number one on his Soft Listening Album, she recalled.


She took a moment to recall the words, she then began to hum, and then with a soft, low voice, began to sing:


“Blackbird singing in the dead of night;
Takes these broken wings and learn to fly;
All you life;
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.


——


Blackbird singing in the dead of night;
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see;
All your life;
You were only waiting for this moment to be free…”


She began to chock up, but kept singing:


“Blackbird fly…
Blackbird fly…
Into the light of the dark black night…”


Dick Grayson moaned, and then smiled. “I always loved that song,” he said weakly. He gingerly opened his eyes. She gasped, as he turned his head to her. “I awake, and the first thing with my wandering eyes is a beautiful angel standing at my side…” Dick caressed her cheek with his hand. “I truly am in Heaven.”


“Dick! Thank God, you’re awake!” She immediately kissed him and he didn’t resist. “But how?” she asked, after pulling back.


He told her what he had experienced, and dreamt, and also, if he was right, that he had a cure for Scarecrow’s Fear Germ. He also inferred to whom he thought was responsible for shooting him, one of whom was Slade Wilson—Deathstroke.


She unstrapped him from the bed. “Tim and I came to the same conclusion. Slade—that bastard!”


Dick agreed. Slade Wilson was a bastard in every sense of the word. “He’d take any job if it paid enough,” he said. “I was once his student, he taught me how to tap into my emotions to embattle my fighting ability, to reach deep down and to exploit my enemy’s weaknesses to the fullest. That’s why, these days, I have to hold back, or I’ll really hurt someone.”


“Do you think Jake Handles is the one who paid him?”


“It’s highly probable,” Dick said, sitting up. “With everything that transpired between him and I during my time at Spyral, the guy is out for revenge, and he has the connections and the knowhow to do it. Handles was a lunatic even before he turned rogue, everyone called him The Reaper for a reason, so hiring a few hitmen, and setting up an elaborate plot to destroy me would be no problem for him, and it would be a means to an end to get back at me for what I did to him.”


Dick felt his energy returning. His body was quickly fighting off the Fear Germ—with positive emotion. It was amazing just how the power of positivity could be an effective antidote to such a powerful negative afflicting drug. The Fear Germ targeted depressive emotions and reached deep into the mindset of a person, drawing on the darkest emotions imaginable. It literally paralyzed a person into thinking all was hopeless and the only escape was to end it all. Dick knew that all too well, once feeling the same way. Being positive was one thing, but he knew he would still need some additional drugs or antibiotics to battle the remainder germ.


But he had beat it.


It was just like Crane to invent something so dastardly. But not everyone was a strong as Dick, so other medicine would be needed to fend off those infected. After he told the doctor what they needed, he’d leave the medical side to the professionals for the correct dose. Crane’s reign of terror with the Fear Germ was over.


“What’s Damian been up to? The last thing I remember is he found things specific to my time with Spyral that Handles had planted.” Barbara had been holding his hand, but the moment he mentioned Damian, he felt her give it a little squeeze, as if the mere mention of Damian caused undue stress. He took her hand and held it. “Barb, what is it? Is Damian in trouble?”


“We think so,” she said. “Jason and Jon Kent are headed to Treasure Island. Tim detected activity, and since no one can contact Damian at the moment, we suspect Jake Handles may have kidnapped him, since Handles can’t get to you. A transference of revenge, as they say.”


“Damian needs my help! We both know what Handles has planned. He started it before I took him down, that was one of the reason Spyral went after him. With him in charge of Treasure Island, Operation Coral Castle may just become a reality…”


Dick began to move, to get up. But Barbara pushed him back down, quite forcefully. He huffed out a breath. “No Dick, you need to recover,” she insisted. “Jason and Jon are on the case, they can handle things. As for Handles’ operation, we’ll deal with it if it comes to pass. Right now, you need your rest. Let our friends take him on. I’ll let the know about Handles’ plans.”


A soft knock came at the door and then the doctor came in, carrying a computer pad. His brow rose when he saw Dick awake.


“Mr. Grayson…I’m surprised but pleased you’re conscious, especially after what we went through,” he said. He looked to Barbara as if to ask how. “I’m actually a little baffled, the drug was quite vicious. But I have good news. We managed to analyze the drug and we’ve learned it has a weakness to a certain Phosphorus, not commonly found in human cells.” The doctor explained further. It was like the universe had given the doctor the cure directly from Dick’s dream.


Dick nodded, he didn’t know the exact name of he medical drug the doctor mentioned when the doctor explained it, but he knew Phosphorus had something to do with it. And the doctor explained it almost exactly how the medical journal he had read had phrased it. The “gold particle” phosphorus in combination with other drugs would attack and destroy the infectious germ and disseminate the extreme depression in those affected. Although, in some cases, therapy would also be needed for some.


“That’s great news, Doctor!” Dick said.


“We’re still conducting experiments, but the man who infected you is improving. We tried it on him first. You seem to have beaten it on your own. You are quite an extraordinary man, Mr. Grayson.”
“He is indeed, Doctor,” Barbara said smiling, holding his hand.


“Further news. You’ll be pleased to know the police have also managed to arrest the man who was impersonating a police officer here at the hospital, and he has admitted to giving his associate, the man you encountered in the cafe, what he refers to as a ‘fear germ’, whom he obtained from another. But he refuses to name this individual.”


Both Dick and Barbara gave each other a glance both knowing who the unnamed individual was.


“However, there is still the issue of your head injuries, and who performed the original surgery. We’re still looking into that.”


Barbara then told the doctor that the police had found the man who had performed the original surgery and that he was in custody, that she got word from the GCPD—but stopped short of saying he was found dead, according to Tim.


“That’s good—“


“Please, I must see my grandson!” came a gruff sounding voice from out in the hall way, behind a partially closed door.


Dick, Barbara, and the doctor, all looked towards the door.


“Sorry sir, but you’re not on the authorized list of visitors,” the security officer said who was guarding Dick’s hospital room, the door was three-quarters shut. “And’s very late, visiting hours are well past over.”


Once again, both Dick and Barbara gave each other a look. Dick knew that it was definitely not his grandfather, unless he had come back from the dead and re-assumed his role as Talon in the Court of the Owls?
The voice, even without the muffled mask, was undeniable.


But the audacity that he, of all people, would come here was beyond scope.


The doctor wanted to see what all the commotion was about, but then Dick quickly said, “Doctor, let him in,” he said low enough so it was not heard from beyond the door. “But don’t tell—my grandfather—that I’ve woken. I want it to be a surprise.”


“Yes,” Barbara played along. “Dick’s grandfather lives out of state, and I was finally able to get in contact with him,” she fibbed. “He said he would be coming. I’m sorry, I forgot to inform you, doctor. He’s Dick’s…god-grandfather.” Dick nodded in agreement.


The doctor looked confused, but agreed. He then went to leave and headed to the door. Dick returned to a laying/sleeping position and Barbara loosely put the velcro straps back on to make it appear he was still secured to the bed. They heard the doctor converse with Dick’s “god-grandfather” out in the hall, and was informed that he was to be added to the list, and that he was expected. And despite the very late hour, the doctor told the security guard that the man was to be allowed to see the patient, if only briefly.


When the door opened, Slade Wilson entered Dick Grayson’s hospital room. He wore casual attire with a dark long coat. He had white hair and a gottee and his left eye was covered with an eye patch. He closed the door until it was almost shut and then separated his hands as if to indicate he had come unarmed. Barbara’s face swelled with distain.


The history between Slade and Dick was notoriously well known within the Batfamily. Slade Wilson, also known as Deathstroke, was a hired mercenary, who had tried to murder Dick on several occasions, despite also being his teacher when it was needed. Slade had agreed to teach Dick new fighting abilities to get stronger against another enemy.


And every time they met, Dick outsmarted him.


The most notable instance of their rivalry concerned Slade’s daughter Rose, when Nightwing was training her. Slade threatened to murder Nightwing, but he couldn’t do it in front of his daughter out of respect, so a deal was struck. If Nightwing stayed away from Rose, the two would part ways peacefully. As long as Slade kept his army of meta-villains out of Bludhaven, it was a deal. But that only lasted for a day and half when Slade with others attacked Bludhaven, murdering close to 100,000 people.


Slade looked like a lovable old gentleman without his mercenary attire, but to those who knew him, he was a cold-blooded killer. “My dear, Barbara, there’s no need for that look,” Slade said. “The moment I heard, I had see for myself. I come in peace, I Promise.”


“You have some nerve, Slade,” she kept her voice low, so the security guard wouldn’t hear. She didn’t want any problems. Slade wouldn’t hesitate to kill the man and others if he was cornered.


Slade ventured to Dick’s bedside ignoring her. Slade looked at him, Dick’s eyes were closed and he looked peaceful. “That girl at the bar told me Richard had been subjected to Scarecrow’s new Fear Germ, you may known her as Pixie. She’s been working for me as an information broker for the past year.” Slade leaned in closer. “Out of all the foolish things. Just because you’re in a hospital, my boy, doesn’t mean you’re safe—that first assassin should’ve been proof enough. He was one of Jake Handles men.”


Dick snapped his head around, yanked one hand from a loose strap, and then grabbed Slade by his shirt collar, pulling him down to the bed, face-to-face. “Yeah, and you should heed your own advise!” he said through clenched teeth. Slade struggled against Dick’s tight vice grip, but to no avail. Slade then relented to Dick’s machinations. “You shot me, you son-of-a-bitch! I thought I was dead.”


“It was a calculated shot, one in a million, and I’m was proud of it,” he said arrogantly. “But I wasn't the only one that day…”


“I know there were two shooters. Who was the other one? EB?”


“If you already know, why ask? But he’s already fled. You won’t find him. I’ve already tried. Jake Handles paid us both, but not as pair. We were both separate assurances if the other didn’t hit the mark. I was never told. You know I work alone. We—I—was paid to hit you in the head with a blood capsule with a device inside to render you unconscious. After that, you’d be rushed to a hospital for brain surgery. The rest was up to others. I was only paid for my part in the plan.”


“We figured as much, Tim actually thought of the same thing,” Dick said.


Slade nodded, and said he as a smart kid.


Barbara went around and unstrapped the other velcro, freeing Dick completely.


“Tell me the whole plan, Slade.” Dick gripped Slade’s shirt tighter, twisting the collar. Slade gasped for breath, but he didn’t try to resist. By the way he was reacting, Slade almost felt guilty for shooing his old student. Dick then released him, and literally pushed him away. Slade rubbed his throat. “Don’t bother, I think I have the general idea. And I was in the crosshairs.”


“It was an elaborate plan to destroy you, Richard, but I knew you were strong,” Slade said. “I taught you well. Incidentally, I was also paid to kill the doctor who performed surgery on you, so all ties would be cut to Jake Handles. They say a person’s memories are the precious thing a person has, so Handles thought if he could make you forget everything that you were, all the people you cared about, then that would be his ultimate revenge for taking everything away from him—namely Spyral and the like.”


“But he did that himself when he betrayed his comrades,” Barbara added.


“True, but we all know how maniacs think. All they need is a single trigger, just one, to set them off. Sometimes that’s all it takes for this to escalate a OCD complex. Obviously Handles—who is calling himself Annex now—needed someone to direct his anger towards, and he chose you, Richard, because of your time in Spyral together. Although, I’m not familiar with everything that transpired. Someday, you must enlighten me with tails of intrigue and adventure as Agent 37.” Slade smirked, then breathed out, his eyes narrow. “As for Jonathan Crane, his motives are less than clear when he used that man to attack you here in the hospital with the Fear Germ. Perhaps he just saw an opportunity to eliminate a long standing enemy? He knows who you are, Richard, much like Dr. Hugo Strange once did, but Strange forgot after being hit in the head. Drake went to see him an hour ago.”


Barbered hushed him. “Are you spying on us?”


“Simply, yes,” Slade admitted.


Dick sighed. “Okay, enough, Slade. The deed is done. Barbara, contact Tim and ask him why he went to see Strange?” Slade beat her to the punch, saying that he went to ask Strange about a cure for the Fear Germ because of its unique psychotropic properties. “Call Tim anyway,” Dick said, annoyed at Slade for overstepping and following Tim. “He knows not to go to Arkham alone, I’ll talk to him later about it. The kid can be overzealous and little too eager to help. That could get him killed on day.”


“You know that better than anyone,” said Slade condescendingly.


“Shut it, Slade!”


Slade knew that Dick angry and understandably so.


Slade sighed irritated under his breath, but didn’t retort. And the look Barbara Gordon was giving him chilled his blood. He was a cold-blooded killer, but some things even unnerved him. Like the look of a very angry woman.


With serious eyes, Dick said: “Slade, I want you to do a favour for me, and don’t you dare refuse. You owe me, for shooting me.”


“I don't like that tone, Richard. I’m not one to respond to idol threats. What if I refuse, you’ll have me arrested?” Dick gave him a hate filled glare. Slade cleared his throat. “But because we have history, I’ll do this one favour for you. Before you tell me, however, let me take a wild stab in the dark. You want me to find Crane and get a raw sample of the cure?”


“The man’s a freakin’ mindreader, Barb,” Dick said with a quirky grin.


“Yeah, a regular mentalist,” she said sarcastically with an equal quirky smile.


Slade eyed them both with distain and contempt, but he couldn’t blame them for that.


He went to leave, but stopped just at the door, and within earshot of the security guard outside, turned to around, and said: “I’m glad you're okay, grandson. Now, I know you and your sweetheart are madly in love, but it’s late and you’ve just been through a heralding ordeal. So, it’s time to cool it with the lovey-dovey stuff, and get some rest. You can make babies later.”


Barbara’s mouth dropped and Dick’s eyes budged with shock, because it was completely out of character for Slade. That was more like something Dick would say to get the last word.


Dick threw a pillow at Slade as he left the room. But he couldn’t help but smirk.


He then turned to Barbara, and said, “You look exhausted. When was the last time you got any rest?”


“You were my main concern. But I’m more curious how you beat Crane’s Fear Germ that was inside you without medication?”


“They say fear is all in the mind, and a bully only has power if you allow him to keep it by not fighting back. So, I fought back. And in the process remembered what I forgot what I told you. I don’t plan on forgetting what’s most precious to me again. And I’ve decided on something” —he grasped her hand and took it between both hands— “I never ever want to lose you, Barbara. I thought I had when I suffered amnesia and I’m so happy things turned out for the best. Best is best, as long as have you.”


“Oh, Dick…”


And they kissed.

To be continued...

Chapter Text

As soon as all business was complete, Bruce Wayne left his Board’s late night meeting in a rush.


He had his phone switched off, so he could focus on the task at hand, the rebuilding of Bludhaven and other projects of a similar nature. Wayne Enterprises had chosen to undertake the reconstruction project of Bludhaven after criminals had almost destroyed it in a war that mirrored that of great wars from the past. The villainy had been defeated, but not without countless lives lost and more than two-thirds of the city’s main metropolis and districts destroyed.


The mayor was beyond grateful for Wayne’s help, and also asked if he would temporarily fund for the establishment of a new police force, as they city was being overrun by lowlife criminals and drug gangs. Wayne Enterprises also agreed to this askance, as well. For which Bruce later learned Jason had offered his services to the Drug Enforcement Division.


Bruce was still ticked off about how Jason nearly killed the Penguin—and he had beat Jason to an inch of his life for it, not because he had nearly murdered a dangerous man but because to do so was against everything Bruce had taught Jason. Batman’s Number One Rule was never to kill. That was what he was angry about it the most. So, he taught his “kid” a lesson he hoped Jason would take to heart. Of course, knowing Jason, he wouldn’t, and return to his old, vigilante ways of doing things.


A series of text messages and missed phone calls had filled his screen when Bruce had switched his phone on, and the minute he saw them, he knew he had to leave quickly. He called Alfred, who filled him as he drove back to Wayne Manor.


Within fifteen minutes of returning to the Manor, Batman emerged from the changing vestibule with Alfred waiting in the main area of the Batcave. Told by Alfred, Bruce was thankful that Dick was recovering from a sudden attack by Scarecrow’s Fear Drug. With that off his mind, he could now concentrate on more pressing matters, like Damian, and the fact that Jason and Jon Kent had raced to an island in the Atlantic to supposedly rescue him from Jake Handles, taking the Batboat alone.


But that was his fault, he was unavailable, and Alfred had scolded him for it.


“Where’s Tim?” Bruce asked. “I need him to accompany me.”


“Right here!” an unfamiliar voice responded. And suddenly an unknown face emerged from one of the adjacent caves holding some sort of futuristic device to Tim’s neck, holding him hostage. Tim was unmasked. The stranger was young, a strong looking man in his early twenties with dark hair, wearing all dark clothing. “Hello, Bruce. What a pleasure it is to see you again.”


Batman eyed the stranger. “I don’t know you,” he said.


“As you shouldn’t. I’ve learned a few new tricks since we’ve last met, and indeed, since I met my other self.”


“Bruce, it’s me,” Tim said. “It’s my future self. I don’t know how he’s done it, but he has this new changeling ability now. He’s able to alter his appearance at will like Beast Boy. When I returned back from Arkham Asylum after speaking with Hugo Strange hoping for a cure for Scarecrow’s Fear Germ thinking Strange could devise one, I thought it was Alfred in the Batcave. Then he jumped me.”


“I merged with the AI technology of the Batcomputer I designed in the future, now it and I are one!” He pressed the futuristic device further into Tim’s neck, and Tim cringed. It looked like some sort of medical hypo. “Now I can be who and what I want on a whim. It’s amazing how one small instance in the past can alter the future, and it allowed me to live again. They call it the Butterfly Effect, but you already know that. But I no longer go by Timothy Drake, you can now call me Arkells.”


“Quite an unusual name,” Alfred remarked. “Any reference to the rock band of the similar name? I here they’re all the rage with young people these days. Master Drake has even been known to listen to them from time to time.”
Arkells pressed the device harder into Tim’s neck and Tim hissed in pain.


“Please don’t antagonize maniac, Alfred, he’s already angry enough,” Tim said through clenched teeth.


Bruce wasn’t positive but since merging with the AI, Future Drake suffered a shift in personality. But wasn’t Split Personality Disorder like Harvey Two-Face, yet was something else. “What is that thing?” Batman pointed to the device.


“In my future—which it not that far off as you know—it’s called a Neuro-Diffuser. I took it off a clever medical student who designed it to be used on patients with rare neurological disorders to help stimulate biochemical reactions to aid in the benefit of spinal cord and brain injuries. I was very impressed by it that I decided to test it on him, to see for myself how it worked. Little did I know, he suffered from a rare neurological disorder that caused immediate death when I did. It’s of such light-weight and intricate design that you barely know you’re holding it, and its very effective at its task. I weaponized it, and when used in short bursts, it sends an electrical pulse to the nervous system creating complete paralysis for a short time. With longer bursts, it shocks the system to completely shut down, basically killing the patient—ergo, its designer.”


“What is it that you want?” Batman demanded. “You’ve already tried to kill Tim several times and failed, even going so far as to murder him as an infant, for which you were stopped and sent packing.”


“For which you’ve removed my ability to jump through time, using chrono-adaptability technology, yes.”


“Killing your past self is not the answer to your problems. You need help. We all know the risks of the job, and how much stress it puts on us, but we all decided to keep going. If you kill yourself here, your future self will cease to exist.”


“That’s the whole idea, Bruce! I want to die! And you’re going to help me do it!”


Bruce knew this was something he didn’t need at the moment, yet another problem to add to the mix of everything else that was going on: being dumped at the altar by Selina, Scarecrow’s Fear Drug, to Dick’s attempted assassination. But he knew cooler heads would prevail. There was no need for secret identities, everyone knew everyone else here, so he took off his cowl to face Arkells face-to-face.


“I want you to kill me, Bruce,” Arkells reiterated his desire. “And I need you to find a way for me to die!”


Bruce looked at his strange. Tim’s future self had been resurrected after being killed by some strange happenstance when The Flash had reversed some moment in time to save thousands of people from a fate worse than death using the Speed Force. The cause of Future Drake’s rebirth was unknown, but since he’s death was nullified, he had been wanting to kill Tim ever since, and even fused with the AI of his futuristic self-built Batcomputer to do it. Unfortunately, that created a super-criminal that caused even more problems in the long-run.


He was obviously mentally ill. Batman hated to use that term. Criminals were not mentally ill, they knew exactly what they were doing. But in Future Drake’s—Arkells—case, the term was justified. He wanted to help him, but Drake wouldn’t accept his help, and even blamed Batman along with Tim for his problems. Bruce knew people had to accept their shortcomings and not deflect their problems onto others, blaming them for their issues—everyone had issues—but Arkells wouldn’t listen.


He looked at Arkells, his hand shaking as he pressed the Neuro-Diffuser to Tim’s neck. One wrong move and Tim’s nervous system would become jolted, causing a complete breakdown of neuron-somatosensation, virtually paralyzing him from the neck down.


Bruce had to defuse the situation quickly. “Take it easy, Dra—Arkells, let’s talk about this,” he spoke like a parental figure.


“Don’t get all Dad-like now, Bruce. You were never ever good at that. Dick Grayson was more of Dad to the rest of us that you!”


Bruce gave a mental nod. That was true, he wasn’t much of a father to his boys, and when he had been away for a time, and Dick stepped into his shoes and took over as Batman, he and Damian had become very close. Even Jason respected Dick more. And though he would never admit it, he did feel a little regret for attacking Jason after the Penguin affair. As for Tim, he never needed any parental supervision. He enjoyed his solitude, often toiling away in front of the Batcomputer alone, which, now that he thought about, was a bad thing, because unknown feelings of a negative nature could have been made to fester to cause Future Drake’s mental condition. He would have to talk to Tim later if any issues would bothering him as of late, like a good fatherly figure.


“You’re right, I’m not much of a father,” he admitted bluntly. “But what do you mean I need to find a way to kill you?”


Arkells explained that when he fused with the AI computer in an effort to become stronger and smarter, he had continuously fought to remain in control. The AI kept attempting to take over his consciousness and bury his own. The machine was trying to override the man. He began to go insane and he couldn’t sleep, since the AI didn’t need to rest, and kept him awake. Eventually it became too much and Arkells tried to end it and shot himself. But the AI quickly repaired the cellular membranes in quick order.


“I’ve tried several times to kill myself, but the damn AI won’t let me die!” Arkells went on. “The name Arkells isn’t even mine, the AI created it for some reason of its own design. I’m even beginning to forget things. The AI keeps erasing my memories to optimize space, as if they’re unnecessary data. I don’t remember my parents, Bruce. The AI is taking everything away from me! That’s why I need you to help me find a way to kill myself before it’s too late and I become a slave to my own creation. I may have gained a greater understanding of things and secrets to the universe, but I’m losing my humanity!”


Bruce knew Drake was always a sensitive kid and he always prided himself on his morals. But suicide went beyond his self-worth. If Arkells was asking to be killed, the conflict he was struggling with against the AI must be really bad.


“Let me help you,” Bruce said with empathy. “Give me time to find a way to remove the AI from your human body. Suicide is not the answer to your problems, not after everything you’ve been through in your life. I’ll contact Cyborg, he may know a way. He would be the best person to tackle something like this. Just don’t hurt yourself or Tim. Please.”


Arkells shook his head. “No, it’s too late to remove it. It has completely integrated into my human cells. Even if you strip all the flesh off my bones, the AI will just regenerate as a fully autonomous entity. I want to die, Bruce! Use whatever you have in your arsenal, but kill me and liquify this body, or the AI will regenerative it and completely take over. I want to die human!”


“Like a Terminator?” Tim voiced, taken aback. “That’s kind of cool and scary at the same time. If you murder me here, then my future self will not exist to have this happen. I get it.”


“Master Tim, do not encourage him,” Alfred said straightly.


“I’m not, I’m just trying to understand. If I built this master computer and fused with it: Wouldn’t an electro-magnetic pulse disable it?”


“I tried that, but it just renders it inert for a short time,” Arkells explained. “Then it wakes, and so do I.”


Bruce shook his head. “No, Arkells, you know my cardinal rule. I don’t kill. So, you’re asking me to do the impossible.”


“I bet Jason would do it without hesitation.” Arkells sneered. “Fine! Then you give me no other option.”


However, it was Tim who reacted first. And he cocked his head sideways and the Neuro-Diffuser pushed hard into his neck, taking the full brunt of the device’s depression. There was no electric shock-dance like that if someone accidentally touched a live wire, but Tim’s eyes did go wide with a shock of their own. Arkells was also shocked, but in a different way.  


And as Tim’s body dropped to the ground, Bruce quickly reached into a pouch of his utility belt and threw a Batarang at Arkells’s head, knocking him out cold. He fell to the ground next to Tim.


Bruce immediately went to Tim, holding his head up. “Tim! Tim!” Tim’s eyes bulged from the voltage that had just been coursed through his nervous system, normally such a thing would make a person twitch like crazy, but not here. Tim’s mouth went agape, unable to produce sound. His body obviously took a great deal. “Tim, you’re going to be okay. I promise.”


 Although that promise could not be assured until Bruce learned just how much voltage the Neuro-Diffuser produced.


With a last flutter from his eyes, Tim’s head dropped to the side, and his body went completely limp, as he lost consciousness.


“Alfred, call a doctor immediately!”


“Yes, sir,” Alfred replied, and immediately used his cell phone to dial emergency services.

To be continued...

Chapter Text

Caged like some bad behaved animal with his wrists secured behind his back in binds, Damian kicked the bars of his open concept photo kinetic cell as Handles’ two pets watched him closely. He wanted out badly. Damian saw the floating screens projected from Handles’ computer and it had shown the sudden attack on the Batboat by Harvey Two-Face.


How Handles managed to get Harvey Two-Face to join his diabolical plot, Damian didn’t know.


When Harvey Two-Face had emerged on the rocky shore, Damian immediately thought he was one of Handles’ designs. But it looked exactly like the real Harvey, so he had his doubts. He hated to second guess himself, but with everything he had been experiencing with Handles’ technology, even the cage he was in, he wasn’t sure what he was seeing was real or not.


A hidden surveillance camera showed the area and with zoom lens inside the interior of the Batboat with its occupants.


Damian was shocked to see Batman was not present. Instead Jason Todd and Jon Kent had come to rescue him. However, there was also the off-chance they had just come to the island because of some other matter, some other suspicious activity. He had not told anyone what he was doing when he was kidnapped by Handles. In the future, he’d have to change that.


He mentally cursed. Where the hell is Father? Where is Batman?


Handles had been monitoring the Batboat for quite sometime, ever since it reached a hidden buoy marker that had been set up along a row, around a certain distance leading to the island. Apparently, Spyral was very particular about their privacy.


Treasure island, Damian had learned it was called, was deserted now except for Handles. But it still held a lot of secrets and was off world maps. Unless someone knew it was here, no one would find it, hidden within the Devil’s Triangle, and masked by reflective technology that mirrored the waters around it. This had all the hallmarks’s of Drake’s great detective work in finding it.


Oceanographic information said that this area had a coral reef with a huge ecological system in the area, therefore it was off limits to boats because it was categorized as a protected area for sea life. It was basically a hidden island, but not to the Batfamily.


“Damn you, Handles! Let me out of this cage! I’m not some damn dog!”


Handles chucked as he worked at his computer, sitting, and typing code and/or designed graphical data—probably more code for his photo kinetic imaginary. Damian couldn’t see what the villain was doing, but he had been at it for nearly an hour.


“We’re all leashed in someway, Damian Wayne,” Handles said, but his eyes remained focused on a computer screen, typing away. “We’re subjected to the whims of others, thinking we make self-evident choices. That’s where people are wrong. Freedom is an illusion, but that’s a theological argument for later. Watch your friends, watch them squirm, and then watch them die! Treasure Island is the most protected place on the planet. And I control all its secrets now.”


Damian growled angrily, but then watched one screen intently. There was nothing else he could do.


“How the hell did you manage to persuade Harvey Two-Face to join your scheme?”


“Simple: He was available, and when I told him I would be expecting Batman, he jumped at the chance for revenge. Besides, every great man needs a bodyguard. However” —Handles turned around and looked at the same projection screen Damian viewed, the one showing the interior of the Batboat— “it would appear your father decided not to join the party. Pity. But, no matter; this is even better. The battle that will ensue between your rescuers will make history. And we both know why.”


Damian grumbled under his breath. He knew Todd and Harvey Two-Face had tremendous history, so the presence of Harvey Two-Face would have a deep psychological impact on Todd. Handles, the intelligent man that he was, probably knew this familiar with Grayson, and hence, the rest of the Batfamily. The lengths some people go for revenge was incredible and quite frightening.


Harvey Dent’s accident that turned him into a sadistic, schizophrenic killer with dissociative identity disorder, later caused him to go after all those that scarred him including a henchmen that worked for the infamous mafia crime lord Carmine Falcone, who threw acid in his face during a trail, for which Dent was the Prosecuting District Attorney. One henchman was Willis Todd, Jason’s father. Dent shot him, murdering him without mercy, and this later forged the person Jason would become as the Second Robin.


Damian’s father, Bruce Wayne kept meticulous records on all the Robins over the years in the Batcomputer and Damian often spent hours reading old reports and dossiers to get up-to-date on their histories and on old cases involving the Rogues. The Batcomputer had the largest Wikipedia of information on every criminal in Gotham City, cross-referenced and categorized with every scheme. And he had to give kudos to Tim Drake for organizing it and keeping it user-friendly.


“I’ve watched a few reality shows, but the best involve bleeding out,” Handles said. “And in short time, there will be blood—lots!


As Damian watched helplessly, he knew Handles was right. He just hoped it wasn’t Todd’s and/or Kent’s.


x x x


Harvey Two-Face was a sadistic bastard. So, when he continued to fire at the Batboat with extreme prejudice, Jason worried for Jon Kent’s safety. Jason had jumped back to smother Jon when the shooting had begun and after the Batboat’s blast boat shield shattered. The seats were made of kevlar, which was what cops’s vests were made of to stop bullets, so they gave some protection. Except when your enemy used armour piercing bullets. So, all bets were off.


“Stay down, kid! Harvey Two-Face is relentless.” Jason continued to protect Jon Kent. But something was odd, Jon wasn’t afraid. He then pushed Jason off him. “Hey! What are you doing?” Then it struck him. It had been instinct to protect Jon, then Jason suddenly realized—this was Superboy. “Oh, yeah, right… Go get him, kid!”


Jon Kent got to his feet and removed his civilian clothes, and emerged as Superboy, in costume, even his ripped jeans and cape.


He stepped out into the open despite the erupting gunfire. Being the son of Superman, the Man of Steel, had its advantages. He was bulletproof and Harvey Two-Face’s armour piercing bullets had no affect on Jon Kent. With glass and debris crushed underfoot, Jon then floated up through what used to be the front blast shield and landed on the front of the Batboat, a small breeze whipped his cape and hair, as he stood firm against his enemy with a look of sheer determination.


Harvey Two-Face ceased fire, but his high-powered hand guns remained locked on sight. The villain stood on a large rock on the shore that was the beginning of a series of boulders jettisoning from the island interior, illuminated with flood lights.


“Well, this is unexpected. Was Batman too busy that he had to send children?” Harvey Two-Face chuckled.


Harvey Two-Face smiled regardless of the surprise. The left half of his face that had been scorched by acid had a permanent like grotesque grin that exposed his teeth which has been permanently bleached white. Also on the left side: his hair, forever tussled, was an exhibition of just how unhinged the villain really was, contrasting the right side of his posh appearance. And being the man he was, he always wore a suit and tie. On this occasion, the right side was white and the left was a deep orange.


Jon Kent put his hands on his hips. Despite the man’s appearance, Jon wasn’t afraid of Harvey Two-Face, bullets couldn’t hurt him, even armoured piercing. Cocking his head, he asked: “How do you clean that thing?”
The smile dropped from Harvey’s face. “What thing?”


“That thing…your face,” Jon said pointing. “I know what happened to you, it was a tragic situation. Acid can be nasty. Looking after a wound like that must be taxing. You much spend a lot of money on antiseptic and moisturizing creams.”


Harvey gave him a strange look, almost of disbelief. “Are you for real? I’m pointing two guns at you and you ask me about my face?”


“Face it, Harvey…” a somewhat muffled voice said, “the kid’s a humanitarian. He actually cares about people and their lives. Even scumbags like you.” Red Hood emerged from the inside of the Batboat and came to stand behind but slightly to the left of Superboy with guns in hand. He thanked Jon for giving him the time he needed to get his proper gear on, including helmet and bulletproof vest: a vest that stopped armour piercing bullets.


Harvey Two-Face aimed his guns two-fold. Although Superboy was immune to weapons fire, it still offered a little intimidate factor. “You never cease to amazing me, Red Hood. Here I was expecting Batman, but all I got was your ass instead.”


“Sorry to disappoint.”


“Batman really did reach the bottom of the barrel this time, although I am willing to overlook his cowardice with our history. Nothing better than finishing a job, just like ending a really difficult court case. I killed your pop, he was foot soldier for the man who did this to my face. I think it’s time to send sonny boy to join dear old dad.”


“One problem with that, Harvey,” said Red Hood. “Don’t you need to decide with a flip of your special coin, your old man’s coin? Oh c’mon, we both know you do. You suffer from OCD. You can’t make a move without it. And with you holding guns in both hands, you’ll stuck.” Jason laughed.


“You know, you’re absolutely right…”


For a moment, Harvey Two-Face appeared to freeze on the spot. It almost looked like when a computer screen crashed, remaining such about three-seconds, for say, the flip of a coin. Then Harvey blinked. “Quite right, Red Hood. I really don’t have a choice in the matter,” the villain said smug. “Sad as it may be, it is my Achilles Heel, and all your batboys know of it. But it’s not an issue here.”


If Jon could see Jason Todd’s face, he would probably share his sentiments of confusion.


Harvey Two-Face eyed Jon Kent, then focused back on Red Hood. “You always did like to hide,” he said, directly speaking to Red Hood. “Either it was behind Batman as that prick-annoying little sidekick or even behind that menacing looking helmet you wear now. You batboys hide while we, like myself, show our faces. Now you need this kid to protect you. How pathetic!”


“First: We ‘batboys’ wear masks, so you villains don’t hunt down our loved ones and use them as pawns for leverage. It’s called a secret identity for a reason. And second: I don’t hide behind anyone!”


Red Hood took a step forward and out and out from behind of Jon Kent. Jon quickly pivoted in front of Red Hood, actually protecting him more now than before like a shield, extending a hand out to stop Todd. “Stop, Red Hood,” he said seriously. “He’s baiting you on. I know his type, his psychology, I’ve done a lot of study on the subject for my school classes. From what I know of Harvey Two-Face, this is his very nature as a former District Attorney. He twists human emotions to get what he wants.”


Harvey eyed Jon for a moment. “Smart kid; exactly,” he said. “To your credit, you’re smarter than this Neanderthal.


“Neanderthals were actually quite intelligent in their day,” Jon retorted. “In Red Hood’s case, he’d smarter than the average bear.” He gave Red Hood a crooked smile.


“And I thought Nightwing was the one who made the corny jokes,” Jason said back. “Anyway, this bear has teeth, Harvey. And it looks like we have our own Mexican Standoff. So, how do you wish to precede? Go down in a blaze of glory, or—“


Harvey Two-Face chuckled, which gave Jason pause. “You were never very smart, Red Hood. You always think like a brute, with your guns, never seeing the whole picture, beyond your narrow scope. I’m surprised you’re not dead already.”


Red Hood’s story was known to the Rogues and that the Joker had murdered the Second Robin, but when Jason Todd, Red Hood, came back from the dead, he was not the same person, and often fought Batman on many issues. There were rumours that Jason Todd was not the Red Hood and that the vigilante was indeed someone else entirely. But Jason never shied from his past and did what Batman would not: eliminate the scum off the streets. Most recently, he almost ended the Penguin.


But it was true Jason Todd was not the person he used to be when he was the Second Robin. He was stronger now.


“You, above anyone, known people deserve a second chance, and I got mine,” Red Hood said back.


“Not when they’re guilty,” Harvey spat back. “Your past is mysterious, filled with conjecture and hearsay. But that’s not how I work. I prefer evidence to make a sound decision.”


Red Hood laughed. “And yet you flip a coin to make even the simplest move,” he said. “You’re such a hypocrite, Harvey. And don’t you dare blame your issues on mental illness. Most people know the difference between right and wrong.”


Harvey growled angrily. “I won’t get into a theological debate with you, it’s all scam-mantics. But it’s a great excuse for less prison time.” He laughed.


“Doesn’t he mean semantics?” Jon voiced to Jason.


“No kid, he knows what he’s saying,” Jason replied. “A lot people are not mentally ill when they commit hideous crimes, they know exactly what they’re doing, but claim they were possessed by the spirit of ‘mental illness’ at the time.”


“As a former DA for the Gotham City courts, I could run circles around your argument, but as I said before: time’s up, the verdict is in. And it’s time for you to die! A Mexican Standoff? Ha! I prefer a third option…”


Jason observed Harvey remove his fingers from the triggers from his guns, then the villain cocked his arms sideways, and in an unorthodox move, he tossed his firearms into the air, well above his head. Jason followed their trajectory, and suddenly Harvey Two-Face vanished into thin air. But the guns remained.


“Where’d Harvey Two-Face go?” Jon gasped. “Oh, no…


It was then that Jason realized what had just happened. Harvey Two-Face had been, what Jon had explained to him earlier while they were in the Batboat, new tech: a photo-kinetic hard-light projection, a copy of the original. A projection unit must be near-by.


But that wasn’t what concerned him at the moment. “Jon! Get down!” he shouted.


It all happened in slow motion for Jason, has he instinctively reached out and tried to shield Jon from what happened next.


The moment the pair of guns hit the ground, both went off with enough C4 to level a twelve story building. The concussion blast struck both of them equally, but with different devastating effects.


Jason was throw into the water, while Jon was launched into the interior of the Batboat.


x x x


The moment Damian witnessed the massive denotations on the projection screens and the devastating results, he batted the cage like some sort of child having a temper tantrum. He swore profusely and though, he tried to hide it, teared up. It was such a massive explosion that he didn’t know if Jason or Jon had survived it. The shock was so heart-wrenching and merciless.


His temper scared the lionesses and they scampered away, hiding behind their master like terrified animals despite their notorious disposition and size. Handles was intrigued that Panthera and Inda were indeed scared of the boy, but Damian Wayne was a scary kid. Handles told them to relax, but he could feel their nervousness as he pet them. It was like the Devil has told them to go away.


“You son-of-a-bitch! I’m going to kill you when I get out of here! I swear it!”


Damian had his doubts the image of Harvey Two-Face was real as it interacted with Jason and Jon, because he didn’t see the villain anywhere—all he saw was the man live on the floating projection screens that filled Handles’ lair. But when Harvey emerged from a hidden projection booth like Damian had earlier—the bastard was hiding—with a wireless headband to relay his personality to his photo-kinetic image, taking three-seconds to flip his infamous coin, he knew his friends were in deep trouble.


Photo-kinetic projection can copy an image, but human personality was near impossible to duplicate, and the synaptic neuron pathways of the human brain would need a massive storage unit. Obviously, that wasn’t needed with the real thing calling the shots.


Once again, he was frustrated with himself. He hated to second guess himself.


Harvey Two-Face laughed, taking off the headband. He leaned over the cage, and said, “Such a fowl mouth. Someone should wash it out with soap.”


“Wash this out, asshole!” And Damian spat at Two-Face.


The villain was quick and avoided it. And then laughed again. Harvey took out a gun and fired it between Damian’s legs, inches from his crotch. Damian looked down at the bullet, embedded in the floor. If he hadn’t moved away a mere second before, he’d need major reconstructive surgery and would never have children. Despite it, he looked at Two-Face with a sneer.


“Now, be a good boy, and shut-up! Or, I’ll put a bullet through your skull much like what happened with Nightwing. I heard about what happened to him. Couldn’t have happened to a better guy.”


Obviously, he didn’t know that Grayson had survived it and it was all a ploy, or Handles didn’t tell him. And Damian was starting think Handles was solely behind it, because he hated Grayson so much. The implants in Grayson’s brain were Spyral technology, the clues he found in Bludhaven lead to Handles, and it wouldn’t take much to hire sharpshooters to fake an assassination.


—Tt— He remained silent. Suddenly, Two-Face sniffed the air. “What is that smell? It’s you, kid. You wreak to high heaven!”


His sense of smell had been diminished after the accident that burned his body, but Handles agreed he also smelled something fowl. He sat at a computer console. “Must’ve been all that running around he did earlier when he was trapped in my projection booth maze, the stench of body odour,” he said. “With all the excitement over, I think we should give our captor a little reward.”


Damian growled. “Standard torture practises: punishment, then reward. But your methods won’t work on me, Handles!”


“Conventional methods, perhaps,” Handles said, standing on his feet. He then crossed the distance to the cage. On his left, floated a miniature projection screen which followed him as he made his way. He didn’t even have to look at the screen for his fingers to work, it was almost as if he and his computer worked with a symbiotic relationship. “But I prefer unconventional methods, and in your case, once a member of the League of Assassins, I know you won’t break under simple torture. You need something else.” He mused, then smirked. “I have a wonderful idea” —and he looked at Harvey to confer— “and it will kill two birds with one stone.”


He showed Harvey Two-Face his idea on the screen and the villain chuckled with raised eyebrows. “Oh, that’s brilliant, Annex,” he said. “The kid won’t know what hit him. Time to give him a taste of what it truly means to be a part of the adult world.”


Damian’s brow furrowed bewildered. “What do you mean by that?”


Handle pressed something on his screen, and suddenly Damian’s binds electrified, sending heavy voltage coursing through his entire body. He cringed, and his teeth clenched, but he was unable to fight its effects. The last thing he remembered before falling into a deep unconsciousness was Harvey Two-Face saying: “Time to go and collect the dead mackerel.”

To be continued...

Chapter Text

When Jon Kent slammed into the back of the interior of Batboat, he hit with such an impact after the explosion that it rendered him temporarily unconscious, but only a for few moments. He was the son of Superman, but his human side still left him susceptible to injury. He was also the son of Lois Lane, a human female. She was a strong woman, but not infallible.


He shook off the shock and looked around, the Batboat was in ruins from the impact, and water was starting to seep in from the broken haul. But that was not what concerned him at the moment. His main thought was: Where is Jason?


The concussion blast had sent Jon into the Batboat, and therefore, it should’ve done the same with Jason. But Jason had jumped towards him at the last second in a futile attempt to shield him from the explosion, so if he wasn’t here, then he must be in the water.


Pounding a hole through the haul, he then dived in and began to swim through the water. When he saw Jason floating limp and immobile, he submerged further, grabbed his arm, and then pulled him to the surface and to shore. He swam into a hidden alcove and away from sight.


Removing Jason’s helmet, Jon patted Jason’s face to awaken him thinking the shock must’ve knocked him out. When that didn’t work, he then checked for breathing. His helmet may have protected him from the blast, but not from sucking in water. With a careful series of up and down thrusts to Jason’s chest, similar to CPR, Jason then spit out water, and coughed.


“Jason, it’s okay,” Jon said. “We’re safe for the moment.”


Jason coughed. “What the hell happened?” Jon told him about the explosive blast from Harvey Two-Face’s guns. Jason nodded, remembering. “It must’ve been some of Jake Handles’ photo-kinetic hard-light crap you told me about.”


“But the explosives in the guns were real,” Jon added. “I think we can be assured Harvey Two-Face is in league with Handles. You can duplicate a person’s appearance with PKT, photo-kinetic tech, but you can’t copy their brain patterns and personality.”


“I’m not up-to-date on the latest technology of that sort, so I’m going to have to take your word for it,” Jason replied.


“What now?”


“We stick to the original plan.”


“But we don’t even know Damian is here?”


“Whether he’s here or not, Handles needs to he taken out. Whatever his game plan is, psychopaths always have an endgame.”


“Like what?”


Jason explained that he once overheard Dick telling Barbara a story about his days in Spyral, even though it had nothing to do with the mission he was on at the time—Dick told Barbara everything, as if she was his therapist—and he had come across something called Operational Coral Castle. Later, Dick and Jake Handles, as agents of Spyral, had to go after some crazy scientist with a sinister weapon, that had the ability to control the weather, or some weird thing like that. Treasure Island was where Spyral stored all the devices and weapons the organization seized from their missions in secret.


“Operation Coral Castle?” Jon mused. “Wait a minute, that rings a bell. I read an article in an archaeology magazine about it when I was very, very bored, in a doctor’s office, waiting for a flu shot. Some of those magazines in the waiting areas are so old, they’re ancient. Anyway, Coral Castle, which is now a museum in Miami-Dade, Florida, is an incredible feat of structural engineering. The builder supposedly said he had tapped into the stone’s harmonic-frequencies at the core to alter their density, therefore making them as light as feather to move them into position. The concept is so outdated now with the dawn of the meta-human. But in the early nineteenth-century, before the dawn of superheroes, it was super-human in its infancy.”


“So, okay, what do you think he’d going to do? Move this entire island?”


Jon shook his head slowly. “But what if he has that technology here? This is Treasure Island, after all, with all of Spyral’s secrets. What if, Operation Coral Castle, was someone else’s idea, and Spyral stopped them, but now that technology is stored here? Jake Handles may now be in possession of it. It’s the stuff of spies these days, but super-harmonic technology, or sub-harmonics, is invisible and deadly, and it can’t be stopped by any conventional weapon. It can shatter buildings to their core through heavy vibration like an earthquake, and it can even cause human bone to explode at the correct resonance.”


“But we’ve seen no instance of this technology being used,” Jason said.


“Haven’t we? Just because we don’t recognize the signs doesn’t mean it hasn’t been tested: sudden collapse of buildings, people falling ill with rare diseases that have been extinct for a hundred years, sudden cancers, massive sink holes, hurricanes, tornadoes with lightning strikes, tsunamis hundreds of feet tall, wind storms that come out of no where, and other strange phenomenon. Sub-harmonics can affect it all and we wouldn’t even know it. They call it Climate Change these days, but is it really? Pollution is a problem in the world, our oceans and landmasses, even our air, is all being affected. But what if something else is contributing to the planet’s problems as well? The earth has its own magnetic poles and sometimes they shift causing strange things to happen, too. But every time Jake Handles uses his weapon—if he is—the earth becomes more and more unstable.”


“What do you mean?”


“Think of my example like a volcano. The pressure builds, which then it eventually erupts, spewing massive amounts of lava and rock into the atmosphere, causing death and destruction. Using subharmonics affects the stability of the earth as a whole, causing the tectonic plates to shift, causing earthquakes, tidal waves, and climate affected weather phenomenon. In weaponizing it, he could kill whom he wants, when he wants, simply by pointing it like a gun at his desired target.”


Jason mused in realization. “Perhaps that’s why he wanted to take out Dick first, because he knew Dick would be the only one to figure out what he was doing if given the right circumstances in once being a member of Spyral. Pieces are starting to fit into place now. Why Dick was mysteriously targeted is starting to make sense. With Dick out of the picture, with amnesia, Handles could easily bring his plan to fruition and hold the world hostage, and there wouldn’t be a damn thing anyone could do about it. Even the greatest superheroes would be no match for his weapon, even Superman.”


Jon nodded. “As they say, it’s diabolical!”


Jason swashed through the water and looked around the corner of the hidden alcove at the Batboat. It was almost completely submerged now, and when he felt around for his phone in his pockets, he knew he had lost it somewhere. Deep underwater when he was launched by the explosive blast, he figured. He was going to send Dick a text about what they discovered, but not now.


“We’re the only two who can stop Handles now,” Jason said. “Got any ideas?”


Jon thought for a moment. “Jake Handles will be looking for us on the surface, or in the water, the island is not that big actually. He probably has cameras everywhere, so, why not head where he can’t see us?” Jon pointed to the rocky alcove. “We can go through and under. I’m Superman’s son, I think it is time I used some of this super strength to good use.”


“No arguments from me,” Jason said. “Have at it, Superboy!”


Jon clenched both fists, and then with a solid punch, he smashed into the side of the rock face with one, and then with the other, grabbing chucks of rock and throwing it back behind him as he went, like a dog digging a hole, beginning to carve out a tunnel.


“Damn! I wish I had my phone with me,” Jason said in awe. “A video of this on Instagram would go viral.”


x x x


Damian was dropped on his stomach and the impact slowly brought him back to consciousness after Jake Handles had zapped him with his restraining binds. He was no longer bound, he felt, but as he listened, his eyes closed, he thought he heard the sound of a rushing waterfall in the distance.


He opened his eyes and confirmed it.


He was in what appeared to be a tropical paradise with a rushing waterfall jetting out of a rock face into a small pool. Surrounding it, was lush flora and fauna, spread about like some subterranean lost world. But there was little humidity. He could swear he heard the sounds of birds and then he saw two fly by his head and go into small holes in the walls.


They looked like small sparrows, but Damian knew they were not because sparrows didn’t live in rock faces. If he had to guess, but without seeing them up close he couldn’t be sure, he’d thought the might be Mountain Bluebirds, with their blue wings, white bellies and spread of tan around the head. They normally nest in mountain cavities and outcrops. These birds normally lived in areas across North America and in Alaska, they don’t normally fly across the ocean to nest on secluded islands. Unless they were brought to an island and released into the wild?


There were other birds, too. But he was not an Ornithologist, so he couldn’t identify them all. It wasn’t uncommon for an island to have life living underneath its surface.


Looking around, Damian noticed the one thing this place did not have was an escape door; it seemed to have been built and enclosed within itself. But then how did he get here? Unless this was one of Handles’ photo-kinetic illusions again?


Just then, the sound of a rock door pulling back was heard, and Damian jumped to his feet. From either side of the waterfall, behind it, emerged two sets of very young looking, thin, light skinned women—quadruplets—wearing next to nothing except for loincloths tried up at the side with string and similar coverings for their rather buxom breasts.


Damian felt his face immediately flush and gulped with a certain nervousness. “Tell me where I am!” he demanded.


“You are in the care of our Master,” one woman said, as if it was a pre-programmed response. She was apparently the one to set apart from the rest, Damian thought, the leader of these quartet of lovely, half-naked maidens, even though they all looked alike. He had to admit, Handle had good taste, although he did prefer women with a more Middle Eastern flair like his Mother. Or, perhaps, because he had Middle Eastern blood flowing through his veins that that was more of a personal preference?


“And we have been requested to clean you,” she added. “And our instructions are to cleanse you from top to bottom.”


Damian froze. “Excuse me? I may smell a bit from sweat, but I don’t need to be bathed by you! I can do it myself.”


“The Master has ordered us to wash your uniform, as well,” a second twin spoke. “So, it needs to come off. Please remove your tights.” She had come out from the other side of the waterfall, similar to the first twin who spoke.


Damian watched the women as they approached and he took an involuntarily step back. Then another, until he hit the rock face behind him. He found himself surrounded by the quadruplets. They were a good foot and half taller than him, and their chests levelled inches from his face as they boxed him in. They wore nothing until their chest coverings and their breasts bounced.


His face felt hot. He had faced many adversaries in his time, but nothing like this. And no matter which way he turned, he was faced with the same view.


“I’m not removing my clothes. This is perverse! Your Master needs his head examined.”


“We have our orders,” said one twin. He lost track of which twin had spoken first and second. They all looked the same now.


When he tried to run, they were strong and grabbed him, and held him down, then started to strip him.


“No! Get off me!” he protested.


“We are here to give you a bath,” said a twin.


Was this what Harvey Two-Face meant by to be “part of the adult world”? Was this a form of psychological warfare from Handles? This was way out of Damian’s normal element.


Did they intend for him to get naked with these four women, have them bath him, and then ultimately—


“Hey, no! Let me go! Don’t do that! Get your hands away from there!”


Damian struggled against their team up, but four against one was more than he could handle. They pulled off his upper tights. They yanked at his clothes like a bunch of ravenous women who hadn’t seen a member the opposite sex in years. He tried to hide his dignity with one hand once they went after his leg tights. His uniform was tight, so he didn’t wear any shorts under underneath.


But the women didn’t listen and they stripped him bare. However, they didn’t seem to care about other matters, only what they were told to do, as if only following programming. So, was he being subjected to Handle’s photo-kinetic trickery again? Or was this for real? Everything appeared real when he was in the maze, too. Every sight and sound. He was getting so confused.


Two twins picked him up, grabbed him by the arms, and tossed him like a rag doll into the pool, buck-naked. He flailed about as he flew and then landed with a heavy splash, submerging, then surfacing just as quickly. The water was warm.


Then the two twins that had tossed him in walked down a set of stone steps into the pool, as a third retrieved a bottle of shampoo, a bar of soap, and other oils, from the back, returned, and then also entered the water.
The fourth left with his clothes. He protested to have them left, but he was ignored.


The three surrounded him, and Damian backed away, and found himself literally between a rock and hard place. The water clung to their clothes, saturating them down, showing what had not been visible before, and he blushed.
“Stay back! Don’t come any closer! I know how to defend myself. And I’m not afraid to hit a woman!”


It was then they all pounced on him.


x x x


Jon Kent pounded furiously into the hard bedrock until his hands became raw and bloodied, but he refused to give up even though the pain was excruciating. He was determined to save Damian, to stop Jake Handles, and he knew he was the only one who had the power to do it. He and Jason Todd were partners right now, but Jon knew, when push came to shove, it would come to blows, and with his super strength, he could stop Handle’s plans faster than a speeding bullet.


He knew it was taking longer to break through the rock than it would take his father, but he was still learning and developing his strength. He was only thirteen. Other thirteen year olds were goofing off with friends, or as young as they were, talking about girls, discovering them at least.


Jon liked the “Pixie” girl whom he saw at the hospital when he went to visit Dick Grayson, but never got to see. In their travels as the Super Sons, as some called them, Damian had started to take notice of the opposite sex, but Jon wasn’t ready yet.


Jason followed along behind him, helping where he could, removing rocks and debris as they both went along. He was strong for a human. And yet, from what Damian had told Jon about Jason, and his history, Jason Todd was considered more of a meta-human. Jason could forge swords from his soul. They were called the All Swords and could nullify all magic, but they could only be used for short bursts, because they were such a tremendous drain on his soul energy.


Jon was exhausted, but he pressed on, and soon, with one final punch, he managed to break through…to an open cavern underneath the island with its own tropic paradise. He tripped, and landed on his hands and knees, as he stared at the beautiful scenery before him. It was like the island had its own private Idaho, as the saying went.


Jason looked past him and was also in awe. “Am I dreaming?”


“If you are, then we’re having the same dream,” Jon said back. He sniffed the air. “I smell water.”


“You can’t smell water, Jon.”


“Okay, then I smell the freshness of water.”


Jon stood on his feet and then looked at his knuckles, they were bruised and bloodied. He flexed his hands, but there was no restriction in movement.

Jason looked down at them. “You okay, kid? They look pretty bad.”


“They don’t hurt much, just sting a little. They’ll heal soon. I am my father’s son, after all.”


Jason looked back at the tunnel Jon had made. “You are, indeed.”


Jason suddenly heard a woman’s giggling, and then more than just one, followed by a boy’s laughter.


The pair gave each other a baffled look and then made their way through the flora and fauna to the smell of fresh water and then to the sound of a rushing water fall.
Peaking through a thicket, they both stared with shock and awe.


Damian was splashing playfully with three lovely maidens—triplets—in a water pool. His hair was wet and sprinkling clean, brushed back. He was also smiling gleefully and playing like an innocent kid in water, say nothing for the half-naked women with him. He didn’t seem to mind either that he was naked. There was a used bottle of shampoo and a bar of soap was on a rock ledge, surrounding a pool for which the waterfall dropped down into. Other bathing oils of an exotic nature were also sitting near-by.


Jon put a hand over his face in embarrassment, while Jason didn’t bat and eye in taking in the view.


This was a new side to Damian, more carefree. Damian was always so restrained, careful to act tough in front of people. Perhaps alone, he didn’t need to erect that wall, and could be himself?


Jason looked at the three near-naked lovely ladies that seemed to having a great deal of fun with the young Wayne. He approved. They looked young, about in their twenties, and he immediately wondered if this was one of Handles’ illusions. A place like this was too good to be true this deep within the island. It was known that even the strongest man could be reduced to his most primal instincts with the right settings. Damian was growing up.
Why Damian was here, would be a very interesting question to ask, and Jason bet, the answer would equally intriguing.


With no respect for Damian’s privacy, Jason walked out into the open, taking off his helmet. He stood with his hands on his hips, took one quick glance around, and then cleared his throat. “Well, we come to rescue you, but it looks like you need anything but.”


Damian snapped his head, his eyes wide, and gasped. Then he dived under the water.


The three women turned their attention to Jason, and suddenly, attacked him like she-devils. Jon’s abashment quickly vanished, and he flew at each with record speed, and with each impact, their photo-kinetic image shattered like glass crystal.


The women were fake—was the environment, too?


Jason knelt down and cupped up some water and drank. Surprisingly enough, the water was real. Jon touched one of the plants and determined it was real as well. So, this subterranean paradise was in fact genuine. Probably a sanctuary for the master of the island when he needed to relax, and to engage in his own private fantasies…


Jason picked up a stone and then threw it into the water right where Damian was, hitting Damian. Damian gasped for breath as he emerged, and felt his head. “Ow! Damn it, Todd! What the hell?”


Jason folded his arms across his chest, and Jon came to stand next to him. “This should be an interesting story,” he said. “Oh—What would your father say if he knew you were skinny dipping with three lovely older woman and enjoying it?”


“I was not enjoying it!” Damian scowled. He knew he is response didn’t sound convincing, more defensive. “Oh, shut up, Todd! Nothing happened. Nothing of the sort you’d think of with your sick mind. They gave me a bath, nothing more.”


“But you sounded like you were having a good time, Damian,” Jon said. “And laughing, there’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve rarely seen you laugh like that, so happy and care free.”


“Hey, it’s natural, we all experience our first at different times,” Jason said, shrugging his shoulders. “Tell you the truth, I lost mine at a young age. She was this hot number in an alley. Our little Man Wonder is finally growing up. I can’t wait to tell Dick about this.”


“Don’t you dare! And I didn’t lose anything!”


Just then, a fourth woman emerged from behind the waterfall with Damian’s costume. But before she could attack, Jason gave Jon a nod, and Jon destroyed her. Damian’s tights, mask and boots, dropped to the ground.


Jason went over and picked up the tights. “So, nothing happened? Hey, it’s even been dry-cleaned. This is fantastic service, in more ways than one,” he said sarcastically. “This reminds me, after this is all done, I must get a full-body massage. I’m feeling a little stiff myself.”


Damian rolled his eyes. “I’m never going to hear the end of this—Am I?


Jason quickly became serious. “Get dressed, Damian. Enough kidding around, we have a situation here.”


Damian emerged from the water. After he towelled off, he put on his Nightwing Junior costume. And was told how Jason and Jon survived the massive detonation and explosive concussion blast from Harvey Two-Face’s gun bombs.


It was then Jason and Jon filled him in what they suspected Jake Handles was planning and that he may be testing some powerful weapon Spyral had acquiesce from a third party, used in what had been once called Operation Coral Castle—which originally suited the name implied, but not the current danger of its sub-harmonic technology and world wide implication use.


“I saw no weapon like that when I was caged in Handles main command lair,” Damian said. “He mostly fiddled around with his photo-kinetic tech. But, it may’ve already been completed and hidden from sight?”


“We suspect he may still be in the trail runs of the weapon,” Jon explained. “Once he plans to used it for real, the world will know. We have to stop him from using this weapon again.”


With a fist slammed into a palm, much like he did when he was Robin, Damian said, “So, what’s the plan?”


“Handles still thinks you’re under adult supervision, so we use the element of surprise,” Jason said.


“Do we go back the way we came?” Jon wondered.


Jason walked around the pool and behind the waterfall. A door was left open that seemingly was made to be part of the rock wall, the others followed.  Beyond it was a corridor and an elevator, but the three stopped there.
“Handles won’t use his weapon right now, he obviously needs more time to test it,” Jason voiced. “He knows how destructive it is, so perfecting it is paramount. Handles is a genius, and like all psychopaths of his nature, they’re also perfectionists, so he wants everything set to par before announcing his attentions to the world. We all know the mindset of megalomaniacs.”


“So?” Damian voiced and shrugged. “Let’s go get him!”


“No, we get some rest before we charge in,” Jason said. “And no buts! When you’re tried, you get sloppy, Damian. I’ve seen this from you. We rest. I’ll take watch. You two get some Z’s. If someone comes down looking for you, D, I’ll immediately wake you.”


Damian’s tongue clicked against the inside of his teeth and it made a sound like Pfff, but it came out like Tt. He pouted, but he had to admit, he was suddenly feeling tired. And whether he liked it or not, he knew Jason had a point.
They would rest, for now.

To be continued...

Chapter Text



In was early the next morning when the cutest nurse Dick had every seen—she must have been in her mid-twenties—came into his hospital room and informed him that she was there to change his head bandages, as per doctor’s orders.


She also had instructions, if he chose to have one, to help him to take a bath.


Despite the nice offer, he knew he could use one, he decided to only take her up on the head bandages, and that he would save the bath for another time. Besides, it would avoid any unpleasantness later. If Barbara walked in and found him naked with another woman, it would be disastrous, even if it was a nurse.


She offered to get a male nurse, but he declined even quicker.


Barbara wasn’t in the hospital room when the nurse had arrived. She had awoken earlier and decided to have a wash, and when the hospital boutique was open, chose to pick out some new clothes, because she had only brought three days worth, and she wasn’t prepared to drive all the way back to Bludhaven to grab a change of clothes from her apartment, then drive all the way back.


Dick told her it was her treat and she was to pick out anything she wanted. Besides, with all the money Damian had made him, he could more than afford it. It was a thank-you gift for all the support she had given him during these last couple of rough weeks—or had it been months?—He wasn’t sure. He mentally laughed, because he couldn’t remember. And he figured that was the best kind of forgetfulness.


He couldn’t think of what his life would have been like if he didn’t have his family and friends, and he didn’t wish to. The attack on him had failed and he knew he would soon be back in action.


When the cute nurse was finished, she smiled, and asked, “Are you sure you wouldn’t care for a sponge bath, Mr. Grayson?”


Tempted, oh so tempted, he thought.


She was flirting with him, it was obvious. “I’m sorry, but I have to decline,” he said with an innocent smile. “But thank-you for your kindness, I really appreciate everything you’ve done for me over the last couple of days.”


“I could say it was all part of my job, but…”


Grayson’s stomach suddenly growled ruining the moment, or saving him. Either one, Dick took it.


He had this reputation of being a lady killer, and in this hospital, he still had it. The nurses had fond over him here—even fought over him to be his nurse. He even overheard that one nurse said he was the most handsome man she had ever seen. But some nurses never returned after one hard look from his significant other. It was the kind of stare that said: “If you touch my man, I’m kill you!”


Barbara Gordon wasn’t necessarily a jealous woman, but when it came to him, there was a certain: He’s mine! Hand’s off! attitude she expressed that seemed to filter off her and that all other women intuitively read.


He knew it may just be a male’s fantasy, but if Barbara was ever in a mud wrestling match with all the nurses that had cared for him over the last couple of days, she would win hands down—no contest!


A lot of the adversary women he fought against over the years had mentioned he had a nice butt, but his face was just as endearing and mysterious behind the mask, some said. He had a certain: je ne sais quoi, as the French say: an: “I don’t know what” factor when he was in his Nightwing costume that charmed all the ladies. Or, maybe, it was that they adored him for his chiselled body pressed into his tights? He had to admit, and it sounded a bit narcissistic, but he liked the attention.


But Barbara Gordon was the woman he truly loved more than anyone in the world. And no one else even compared to her.


He smiled a little embarrassed, putting a hand to his stomach. “I’m sorry, I haven’t had anything to eat this morning.”


She smiled regardless of the disturbing noise. “Let me guess, you want some cereal?” For some reason, the way she said it make him feel childish, but he nodded anyway. She told him the list of cereals the hospital offered and he choose one. “Let me see if I can add it to your breakfast menu. The menus are all chosen in advance, but I’m sure a change can be made.” And she winked at him.


He was about to wink back, when Barbara walked through the doorway, and he suddenly produced a straight-face. Flirting was not on the breakfast menu and he wondered just how much she heard. It was mostly one-sided, but that never mattered to woman.


He cleared his throat. “Hey Barb, welcome back,” he said openly. “The nurse here was just wrapping my head with new bandages.”


The nurse fluffed Dick’s pillow. “Yes, I was,” she said with honesty. Barbara crossed the room to the other side of the bed with a plastic bag with the hospital’s boutique’s logo on it. “Your recovery is coming along quite nicely, Mr. Grayson,” the nurse then spoke conversationally, “and I wouldn’t be surprised if you were discharged soon. The surgeon did an excellent job on your injuries. You won’t even notice the scars when your hair grows back. Some say if you shave your head regularly, it grows back even thicker than before.”


“He’s already thick-headed enough as it is,” Barbara said curtly.


The nurse didn’t have a response for that. Instead she made sure Dick’s sheets were tucked around him, as per her job.


Dick pouted. “That wasn’t nice,” he said, but he knew she knew what was happening. It was a woman’s intuition. And he knew enough to see the explosive energy between these two hissy cats. Unfortunately, for the nurse, she wouldn’t have a chance against Barb. “I’m glad to hear it. I’ve been told I have nice black hair.”


“Black is my favourite colour,” the nurse replied.


“Black isn’t a colour,” Barbara said back. “Neither is white.”


“Regardless, I like it. And my favourite superhero has nice black, wavy hair. He also has a dreamy body when he fits into those nice tights that show off his cute butt.” She paused for a moment. “Sorry, I kind of have a thing for dark, mysterious men—like Nightwing.”


Dick curled his lips and hid a smirk, then rolled his eyes to look away to avoid from Barbara’s somewhat bewildered look. If only the nurse knew that she was tucking the covers of her dark and mysterious fantasy man, she’d probably die with from a fangirl crush.


“But Nightwing hasn’t been seen in a while,” the nurse continued. “Rumour has it he was recently hurt badly and he’d recovering somewhere. People say he had been shot, at least that’s what social media is saying.”


Barbara’s mood softened. “Even heroes have their off days, I’m sure he’s fine.”


“I hope so. A lot of people really appreciate what he does and how much he sacrifices. He’s a real hero. There’s even a Nightwing Appreciation Page, with stories from people he’s helped and deeds he’s done for Gotham and some from Bludhaven.” She recited the web address. “He also helped me and my mother when our building was on fire. He rescued us when the flames became too much for the firefighters. I suppose that’s when I really became a fan of his,” she said retrospectively. “Although, who wouldn’t love that cute rear end.” She put a hand to her mouth embarrassed. “Oops, I’m sorry. I’m saying too much.”


“That’s okay,” Barbara said with a smile. “I’m sure if he were here he’d appreciate your thanks. Sometimes crimefighting is a thankless job. They don’t do it because they have to, but they do it because they can. The strong help those in need.”


Dick remembered he had told Jason in his dream that he was thinking about semi-retirement, and that he wanted to spend more time with Barbara, but after listening to the nurse, for now, he considered against it.


She returned to nurse-mode. “Like I said, you may be discharged soon. I would recommend you don’t strain yourself for a couple of days, however, but follow the doctor’s instructions,” she said. “Your surgery was a success, but you’re still at risk of aneurysm if your blood pressure gets too high. At the risk of sounding too Mother Hen like, take it easy, and don’t do any strenuous exercises.”


“Does that mean everything?” Dick crooked his lips, looked at Barbara. Barbara nudged him softly on the arm, as if to say behave.


The nurse didn’t know what to say to that. Instead, she said, “You’ll have to ask the doctor what you can do.” Then she left.


When they were alone, Barbara showed Dick what she had bought. He said it looked stunning. And after a few minutes, she emerged from the bathroom in her new change of clothes: a pair of skinny dark slacks and a matching pullover silk shirt that accentuated her sexy figure and firm breasts. He smirked, and cocked his head, looking her up and down.


Then said: “Barb, have I ever told you that you are the most beautiful woman I have ever known?”


“Have I ever told you that you’re the sexiest man I have ever met?”


“Several times, but whose counting?” He winked. “You drive me wild, Barb. You always have.”


“Down boy.”


Dick looked down, grabbed his pillow, then placed it at his midsection. His face flushed red. “Sorry,” he said. “It’s been awhile.”


“Maybe we should change the subject?”


She went over to the door and shut it, until it was almost closed, then returned to his bedside. By this time, he had settled down, and he had placed the pillow back behind his head.


“Has there been any word from Jason? He and Jon went to Treasure Island, I recall?” She said no. Dick mused. “Jason has a short fuze. I have to admit, I’m worried about them now that we know Jake Handles still alive. No word from Damian either?”


She shook her head about Damian. “You mentioned Operation Coral Castle by name, once or twice. What was it, exactly? The reason why I ask, is because I’ve been thinking it lately as it relates to our current situation with Handles.”


When she sat down in her chair, he spoke without restraint. “It was a highly classified project Spyral was sent to destroy. It had to do with sub-harmonic frequencies that could, quite literally, destroy a building, or shake an entire city to its core. Even kill a person.


“You know that high-pitch sound that can shatter a wine glass at the correct frequency, well OCC, created by some crazy scientist, could do just that. Spyral found out about it when strange phenomenon began to occur; unusual weather, earthquakes, and the such—things that just seem to happen out of the blue without due cause—and it caught the attention of Spyral’s higher-ups. It was like they were tests. Jake and I were sent to check it out. This was before either I or Spyral knew about his secret on-goings.


“Suffice it to say, we allowed ourselves to be captured in this scientist’s secret lair, and in typical narcissistic villain fashion, he told us everything we wanted to know about the weapon, and what he called Operation Coral Castle—that he named after some brilliant engineer who lived in Florida in the early 1900s, and who created a spread of rocks, which is now a museum. The engineer called it Coral Castle, and supposedly he used sub-harmonics to move the heavy stones into place, making them feather-light.


“Once we were free, and stopped the scientist’s plan to basically hold the world hostage, we took the weapon to Treasure Island for storage, like we did every other high tech weapon Spyral confiscated. However, I knew the weapon was dangerous, so I secretly sabotaged it, so it could never used again. I never told anyone I did that. I have a history of things coming back to bite me in ass. It comes with the territory of being a crime fighter. So, this time I took precautions.”


“So, Jake could never use it, even if he wanted to?” Barbara asked.


Dick shook his head, but his eyes suddenly darted from side to side as if he was thinking inward. “But Handles is a genius. If he could somehow fix it, Operation Coral Castle would be resurrected. Much like himself. I wouldn’t be surprised that he’s not entirely human anymore. When that building fell on top of him, I was sure he was crushed to death. We have to warn Jason and Jon.”


Just then, the doctor walked in. The doctor immediately observed their somber faces, and asked, “Is anything wrong?” to both.


His voice broke Dick and Barbara out of their reverie.


Dick shook his head. “Nothing’s wrong, doctor,” he said, faking a smile. “How is everything?”


The doctor smiled. “I have good news. All your tests and blood work came back normal. You can be discharged later this afternoon. Other than you head injury, which is healing quite well, you’re in perfect health.”


“That’s great news!” Dick said gleefully. “I have a lot of catching up to do. People, places, things, so much, since my accident.”


“I wouldn’t call it an accident, Mr. Grayson. You were shot and subjected to a sinister experiment that luckily failed. You’re quite a remarkable man, and I would almost go to say, super-human, or as they say, meta-human, these days.”


“I wish,” Dick replied jokingly with a smile. “I’m just a fast healer. Comes with years of practise after being a trapeze artist and then a police officer. Injuries are all part and parcel of the job.”


“And what exactly do you do now, Mr. Grayson?” The doctor cocked an eye-brow suspiciously. “I know I was asked to remain hush with the details of all this, and Mr. Wayne even promised me a position of Head of Neurosurgery at the new hospital his company is funding to build, but I’m curious how this came about…” He shut the door to Dick’s hospital door completely, then said: “Level with me, Mr. Grayson. Are you some sort of secret agent? Obviously Mr. Wayne knows the details of all this and is refusing to speak out. Is that why you were targeted by a sinister few? I want the truth, or I won’t release you.”


Jack Nicholson’s line in the movie A Few Good Men about the truth rang in Dick’s ears. There was no way the doctor could handle it. So, he just winked. The doctor’s eyes widened, and yet that, apparently, was all it took to alleviate his concerns. The secrecy, Bruce Wayne’s bribe, the assassination attempts on Dick’s life—it all made sense now, the doctor affirmed.


The doctor tapped the side of his nose. It was the universal sign of “I’ll keep your secret”. There was a silent understanding all around and that’s all that was needed to be said, or not-said. “I’ll smooth things over with the police before you’re released,” the doctor spoke. “Do you have someone to take you home? You live in Bludhaven, correct?”


“We’ll be going to Wayne Manor,” Barbara said. “I’ve already made arrangements with Alfred. He’s prepared the VIP guest suite.”


“And it used to be my old room when I lived there, by the way,” Dick added. “I just hope he hasn’t changed the bed? I loved that bed. So big, so soft; the moment I lay down in it, I’m always sent to Slumberland.”


“You’ve also had more than a few nightmares in that bed, too.”


Dick frowned. She meant night-terrors which was a result of his PTSD in crime fighting that was never officially diagnosed by a registered psychiatrist. Although Dr. Hugo Strange once did tell him he needed help in dealing with those issues during one of their encounters when it was revealed. Dick forgot which encounter, however.

Strange did offer a solution to his night-terrors, though, and it had to do with the medieval medical place of drilling into his skull to release the “evil spirits”. He, humbly declined, and then beat the crap out of Strange, and sent him back to Arkham Asylum.


“Way to ruin the mood, Barb,” he said.


“Sorry…”


Just then, Barbara’s phone dinged. She picked it up, entered her passcode to unlock the phone, pressed on the message icon, and then—gasped. It was a text message from Alfred, with the bad news about Tim.

To be continued...

Chapter Text

As soon as they heard the bad news, the doctor had allowed Dick to be released even earlier than originally scheduled, and Dick and Barbara immediately drove to Wayne Manor in her car. Alfred was there when they arrived and immediately filled them in to the full extent of the situation, and for Tim, the prognoses wasn’t good. He was bed ridden and paralyzed from the neck down.


Future Drake—or Arkells, as he preferred to be called now—had been rendered unconscious by a Batarang when Bruce had struck him after the Neuro-Diffuser was injected fully into the side of Tim’s neck. Bruce was currently making sure that Arkells was properly secured into a cryostasis chamber in the Batcave, so he could no longer be a threat to others or to himself.


When Dick and Barbara entered Tim’s bedroom, they were shocked beyond belief. He was attached to wires that monitored his heart and vital signs, with a tube in his nose, and an IV plugged into lower arm. Over the years, being butler to Bruce Wayne, Alfred had become very proficient in such matters, and had to double as nurse in times of crises. Now was another one of those times.


The strange thing was Tim had not been rushed to a hospital after the incident. However, Bruce insisted that Tim be housed in Wayne Minor for the time being. The scan with the MRI machine in the Medibay of the Batcave showed the shock to Tim’s nervous system may not have been as devastating as originally thought. And Bruce also thought there would be too many questions asked if Tim was taken to a hospital, the same sort of inquisition Dick was subjected to before he had his brain surgery.


Bruce only had so much bribing power to silence doctors before someone from the media got whim of strange injuries happening within the Wayne Family. To an extent, that was prudent, but eventually, Tim would have to see an actual doctor. And may need therapy, and not just of the kind provided by Batman. Tim had damaged his spine before and walked on crutches for a time, but this injury was much more severe, and Dick questioned Bruce’s decision to at least call a doctor to the Manor—like Dick’s doctor at the hospital who performed his surgery, who just happened to be an expert in neuropathy, and who already knew how to keep a secret.


Dick tried to remain calm, but he was disappointed. He didn’t wish to scold the teen, but said: “What on earth possessed you to such a stupid thing knowing the consequences, Tim?”


Tim looked guilty. “I, uh, thought I could take it…” He cast his eyes aside, as if looking away from his father, which, in some respects, Dick was, being the oldest of Bruce’s adopted-sons, and had been a fatherly-figure to everyone at one time or another.


“We all may have been trained by Bruce, but we’re not superhuman, Tim!”


Alfred said, “Master Dick, please, don’t shout at the boy. While his decision was ill advised, which resulted in an unfavourable outcome, Master Tim did defuse a rather dangerous situation that may have caused—“
“His own death! This may be even worse, Alfred!” Dick frowned. “Tim had so much promise. Now he may spend the rest of his life as a quadriplegic. It was completely irresponsible and reckless. If Bruce taught us anything, it was never under any circumstances to jeopardize our own safety even at the cost of a hopeless situation. There is always another option!”


Barbara put a hand on Dick’s shoulder. “Dick, take it easy. Your blood pressure, remember?”


“Master Dick: We won’t know the full extent of the damage until the results are in,” Alfred explained firmly. “We conducted all the usual necessary medical exams and scans in the Batcave, everything they would do in a normal hospital, and as you know, we have all the proper equipment here. Master Bruce insisted we collect our data first before taking the next step.”


“It’s not so bad,” Tim said with a hint a smile. “From what I heard, Bruce had his spine broken by Bane once, and look at him now. But, being like this isn’t the hardest part. The most difficult part was watching Alfred insert the catheter.”


Dick cringed. “Yes, I can understand that. I’ve had that once and twice myself. Unlike you, I felt it. It wasn’t pleasant. But this, what happened, was so stupid!” He raised his voice again.


“Dick, enough,” Barbara said, actually grabbing his arm. “Tim knows what he did was wrong, let’s just wait for the full results?”


Dick sighed deeply. “After everything is said and done, we all need to sit down and have a very long talk about personal safety. There’s so much going on right now: Damian being kidnapped, Jason and Jon Kent have rushed to his rescue without back-up—and to all places Treasure Island, which is extremely dangerous—and now this, with Tim! Then we have issues with Jake Handles being alive, when I thought he was dead. At the very least, we have a working antidote for Scarecrow’s Fear Germ. Slade is out hunting him down as we speak, he owes me a favour. He was one of two snipers that shot me,” he explained to Alfred. “He told me.”


Dick explained that Slade was one of two sharpshooters who was hired by Jake Handles for a secret plot against him.


Alfred looked surprised. “But what would be the reason for targeting you, Master Dick? As Miss Gordon explained to me earlier, I can understand Dr. Jonathan Crane’s reasons for targeting you, because you had a possible albeit working theory cure, for his new germ. But Jake Handles’ reason eludes me. Unless, it has something to do with Operation Coral Castle that you told me about?”


“That’s what we were all thinking,” Barbara said. “Which makes Jason and Jon’s trip to Treasure Island…”


“A suicide mission,” Dick finished. “Where’s Bruce? It’s about time he gets off the sidelines and back in the action. I’t’s also time to give him a piece of my mind. He’s been acting like a child lately. I know Selina Kyle hurt him when she dumped him at the altar, but to shruke his responsibilities to Gotham and to the rest of us, is beyond irreprehensible. Tim’s condition is a prime example.”


“And hence the son becomes the father, and I thought I had the non de grande as Mother Hen? Master Bruce is currently down in the Batcave, sir, taking care of Arkells, making sure he’s no longer a threat to anyone, including himself,” Alfred reminded him.


Dick acknowledged.


Tim was covered with a bed sheet. As Dick started to leave the room, he saw Alfred lift up a bottom portion of the bed sheet and use a finger to swipe along the bottom of Tim’s right foot to test for sensitivity. The teen didn’t react.


Infuriated by the situation, Dick stormed out the Tim’s bedroom, and then made his way to the secret elevator. He travelled down to the Batcave. The moment the elevator doors opened, he called out, his elevated voice echoing the large main area: “Bruce! What the hell have you been doing in my absence?” He saw Bruce sitting at he Batcomputer at the Tier One level. “Damian’s been kidnapped by an old enemy of mine, Jason and Jon Kent have gone off to rescue him alone, Tim is bedridden with acute paralysis, and you’re down here in the Batcave…doing what exactly? Licking your own wounds?”


Bruce was unmasked, but he was in his Batman costume. At first, he ignored Dick. Then said, continuing to access the computer, typing furiously: “I don’t like that tone of voice, Dick. Maybe you were released from the hospital too early?”


Dick blinked several times quickly. It was an instinctive reaction to sudden frustration and a way to calm himself. He didn’t normally get this angry, but people needed Bruce, and he was in the one place he shouldn’t be at the moment. If Dick was still Batman, he’d be in the Batwing and on his way to Treasure Island after everything he’d learned.


“Do I have to babysit everyone? Everything was fine until I was targeted, then all hell broke loose without me!”


“Then perhaps you shouldn’t be the target of anyone’s aggressiveness anymore,” Bruce replied coldly.


The sheer shock of what Bruce said angered Dick further. When he reached Bruce, he slammed a hand on Bruce’s shoulder and then turned him in the chair. “And what the hell does that mean?”


Bruce grabbed Dick’s arm and then twisted it ever so slightly to not only remove it, but to also cause Dick pain. He had Dick’s arm in a vice like grip, standing on his feet. “This isn’t like you, Dick. You don’t normally get this flustered. I think you need to take some time, get away from crime fighting, and recover. You’ve been through a lot.”


He released Dick’s arm, literally pushing it away, and Dick clutched it, cringing. Bruce had actually hurt him. In the last couple of weeks, he knew he had been lax in exercising because of his amnesia and his muscles weren’t as strong as they should be, so Bruce’s grip hurt him a great deal. He took a couple of steps back. “Damn it, Bruce! That really hurt!”


“You need to toughen up again, Dick! I can see you’ve also got a little heftier in the stomach, too. Too many beers and burgers are bad for a crimefighter’s overall health and stamina.”


“That’s not fair!” Dick said. “You know my situation. I had amnesia. I didn’t know who I was. And I hung out at that bar in Bludhaven all the time. Thanks to Damian, I’ve regained what Jake Handles tried to take away from me. The doctor removed the implants from my brain Handles put there to reinforce my memory loss. I was told, when I tried to recall my other life—this life—the implants would cause me pain. When I relented to my amnesiac life, I would feel better, a lot better in fact, almost euphoric in nature. The doctor figured my fight to come back was what was causing the sudden bouts of vertigo, as well. It was an acute reaction to the pain.”


“And you’re okay with heights now? If I recall, you had acrophobia with your vertigo.”


Obviously Bruce had been keeping an eye on him or he wouldn’t have known that. “I’m fine now. And I can’t wait until I can get back to action after some more recovery.” Dick put down his arm, the pain had lessened. “But I still have to watch my blood pressure” —he pointed to his bandaged head— “or it could cause an aneurism.”


“That’s typical of people who've had brain surgery. You must let the muscle around the veins heal before doing anything strenuous, much like after a hernia operation,” Bruce explained. Dick agreed. Dick then asked Bruce what he was doing on the Batcomputer. Bruce returned to his seat and continued to type away, gathering information. “I’ve been gathering information on your friend Handles sub-harmonic technology. The device you appropriated from your time with Spyral is active, creating ‘sonic attacks’ all around the world. Just recently such attacks have targeted certain North American diplomats. You said you deactivated it, damaged it beyond use, but Jake Handles has managed to fix it, and it’s been in operation for quite some time.”


Dick gave Bruce a suspicious glance. “Wait, have you been listening to my and Barbara’s conversions in the hospital room? I only told her that bit of information and just recently. No one else knew I sabotaged the device after taking it on Treasure Island.”


Bruce’s fingers suddenly stopped over the console. He swore, which was unlike him. “Sometimes, knowing too much is detrimental to keeping up one’s appearances,” he said. He suddenly jumped from the chair and grabbed Dick by the throat, squeezing. Bruce’s face morphed to someone else Dick suddenly recognized. It was Future Drake. “For me, all this has already happened. So, I know the outcome. I wasn’t sure about the details, as I was busy with other things at the time, like recovering from complete paralysis. Your buddy Jake Handles has a tremendous weapon, I’m curious about.” Future Drake/Arkells then produced a thin smirk. “Too bad for Damian, however…”


Dick tried to free himself, Future Drake was too strong and powerful. It was remarkable how little time it took for muscles to atrophy when they were not properly conditioned regularly. He tried to pull Future Drake’s hand away from his throat, but without success.

“What…about…Damian?” he managed to hark out.


“He’s going to die. A very horrible and gruesome death! I saw it happen!”


Dick felt his blood pressure rise. Thinking quickly, he thought about using the skills he had honed for years, often an enemy’s own advantage could be used against him if properly executed, but instead he opted for the quick and cheap shot option and kicked Future Drake in the groin hard enough to penetrate even the protection of the pelvis region of the Batman suit Future Drake wore. Future Drake gasped, his grip suddenly weakened. This gave purchase to a tilt in his balance and Dick used the opportunity to pull Future Drake forward, then clutched Drake’s arm, and flipped Future Drake over his shoulder, throwing him to the ground. Future Drake landed with a heavy thud.


Dick rubbed his throat and coughed, then: “I may not be at my peak right now, but stronger doesn’t always mean smarter, Drake. You can easily outwit your opponent with experience. I’ve always taught you that. Or, should I call you Arkells now?”


Arkells got to his feet. Suddenly, his entire attire changed to a black armour body suit, chameleon-like. “I’ve learned a few new tricks since last we entangled, Dick. When I fused with the Batcomputer I built in the future, I acquired new abilities. I’m now stronger and faster. I’ve thought a few things out, and the AI and I have come to a mutual understanding. Why waste this power with suicide? Why not use it to its full potential and do something useful?”


“Like helping Humankind?”


Arkells laughed.


Dick got into a defensive stance. “Alfred told me what happened. You paralyzed your past self, but before that, you wanted to kill Tim. You were in a moral conflict with the AI, but now you’ve befriended it? It’s completely taken over, Drake. You’re not thinking straight. What did you do with Bruce?”


“You’re wrong, Dick. I’ve never thought more clearly than I do now. As for Bruce, he’d in cryostasis—where he tried to put me. But I woke up before he could put me into the chamber. So, I locked him in there instead. Only, I didn’t switch the machine on.”


“He’ll die without air!”


“Yes, and then I’ll step into Bruce’s shoes as Batman like I should’ve done before you took it away from me. You never wanted it. You’ve always hated Bruce, you two never stop fighting over your own moral-conflicts. And then there was a little shit Damian! Taking my place at Bruce’s side as Robin. It wasn’t fair! I spent years as Bruce’s partner and then he waltz’s right in and takes over, telling me to get out of the way. Then I’m left to fend for myself as second string.”


“I never knew you felt this way, Tim. Why didn’t you tell anyone how you really felt? Letting negative emotions fester doesn’t help.”


Arkells swiped a hand across the air in anger. “It doesn’t matter anymore. This is who I am now. And you’re the only one who knows…so you’re going to have to die! Time to finish what Jake Handles started!”

To be continued...

Chapter Text

Jason Todd was never one to apologize, but he had to make an exception in this case. He had had told the others to rest while he took point, but soon after the rugrats had dozed off—despite Damian’s protest—Jason then fell asleep himself. He never thought he was tried, but after everything recent, he couldn’t blame his body for succumbing to human nature.


As he awakened, he yawned heavily but silently.


His helmet was off, but his face mask was on. He had put it on soon after he’d dealt with the four lovely half-nude maidens. Jon actually took out the photo-kinetic beauties, but as their light pixels dissipated, he felt his own energy drain from him, four fold.


Oh, what he wouldn’t have done to have a romp in the hey with any one of them for just an hour. It would have relieved so much tension. But he told himself he would just have to think good thoughts and deal with those high-strung issues later.


With eyes wide shut, or so he thought, he stretched his arms to loose the knots in his muscles. Instead, he found his movement restricted. Not by binds, but by dimension of space. His eyes were open and he found himself in complete darkness.


Feeling around, he was trapped. And by the dimensions of the container he was encased in, it had all the feel of a coffin.


He banged on the inside top, and though he didn’t want to admit it, panic began to set in a little, as he was thrust back to that moment when he found himself trapped inside that coffin buried alive years ago. He didn’t know how he got there until later. He remembered he had to dig himself out, his nails cut and ripped, his hands bruised and bloody, and once out, he then travelled miles along a dirt road in a daze, until he eventually collapsed due to overwhelming exhaustion. Later taken to a hospital where he was saved from death.


After that, he was kidnapped and taken to Switzerland and thrown into the Lazarus Pit by Talia al Ghual, Ra’s daughter. The Lazarus Pit regenerated his body, repaired his cells, and restored his memories, whereas after he got out, he went a little crazy after everything he had been through flooded back in painful detail.


Later, he lived on the streets of Gotham where he fended for himself, trying to make sense of it all. He was still confused. When he learned Bruce Wayne had not lifted a finger to see to Joker’s punishment properly—as if Jason was just a casualty of war—he supposed he went a little more insane, trained, and became a street criminal, something he had fought against when he was Robin.


Long story short, present day, though history derailed his sense of justice like Batman, he became the Red Hood, a name he stole from the Joker, once upon a time, when Joker was first starting out as a criminal to hide his identity. Or, so he thought. But the timeline had a funny way of rearranging one’s memories. Some things he remembered one way before he died, but then other things, he took as pure imagination—like how he died: blown up with one of Joker’s bombs after beating him senseless with a crowbar. But if that were true, how did he suddenly find himself alive in that coffin?


He knew Barry Allen, the Flash, had something to do with that. Some sort of flashpoint time divergence. People, including Jason, remembered certain events differently. It was funny how the brain remembered things, like deja vu, or something like that.


Suffice it to say, through the years, he and Bruce had their conflicts, and most recently, after he nearly murdered the Oswald Copperpot. Arsenal managed to help him back to the Safe House where he spent days recovering after Bruce’s beatdown.
But that was neither here nor there.


Right now, he felt he had gone back through time and had been thrown back to that moment he found himself in the coffin.


And he didn’t like it!


He breathed heavy and felt claustrophobic. He wanted out. He supposed, secretly, that was why he didn’t like enclosed spaces. But he had never told anyone that. Funny, he wore a helmet that enclosed his head, but he was fine with that. This was different.


He banged on the coffin, but something else didn’t it feel right. As if the situation wasn’t bizarre enough. He couldn’t see his hands, but when he felt the knuckles of his left hand, they felt…different. But as his right hand was proportionate to his left, he just shook off the confusion and just kept banging on the inside of the coffin with both hands.


He hoped it wasn’t deja-vu and he wouldn’t have to also dig through six feet of soil to get to the surface like the last time.


When he finally broke through the top of the coffin, he thanked his maker that this time it would be different when he saw light. Breaking through further, ripping pieces of the coffin off in chucks, he vowed that whoever had put him in this thing was going to pay. Be it psychological—and he knew Harvey Two-Face probably had a huge hand in this knowing his past history. But it could have  also been Jake Handles, the man was very smart and knew the Batfamily histories, because he knew all about Dick Grayson, Agent 37. Either one of them, or both—the architect of this trap was going to feel the full hammer of his fury.


Bashing the lid, the nails began to yawn from their places where it was hammered shut, he then used his used his knees and then feet to kick it completely off. Suddenly, blinded by a bright light, he shielded his eyes. Sitting up, with eyes still working to focus in the new light, he looked around. He was on a sandy beach, and a calm tide washed ashore next to the coffin. It was like someone had put him in the coffin and just dumped him here, hoping the tide would wash him out to sea. Was this the other side of the island?


He jumped out of the coffin, but then suddenly gasped when he saw his hands, then quickly looked the rest of his body over. No wonder his hands felt different, because they were—they were miniaturized.


He rushed to the water and gazed at the surface. It wasn’t just his hands that had been miniaturized, it was all of him. He looked like did when he was twelve years ago, when he roamed the streets of Gotham in his troubled youth, and just before be became Robin. Even his clothes and armour had shrunk to his new kid size. What the hell is going on? Am I dreaming?


“Jason Todd!” came a firm, yet gruff sounding voice from behind and in the distance.


Jason whipped his gaze around to see Harvey Two-Face with a gun in one hand and his coin in the other. “Okay, Harvey, what the hell did you do to me? Is this some sort of trick by Handles and his photo-kinetic crap?”


Harvey shook his head. “Nothing like that.” He smirked. “But I did play a small part in suggesting it, when I learned yet another wonderful weapon Spyral had acquainted from one their enemies had been stored here on the island. I’m told it’s some sort miniaturizing  ray, but the real name eludes me at the moment—some sophisticated name I can’t remember like a Japanese kanji. Truthfully, from what I was told, it was invented by a Japanese scientist who originally designed it to shrink cancerous tumours, but then it was stolen and weaponized by others. Spyral was sent in to get it before the terrorists did any real damage with it.”


Tt— Jason snorted, sounding much like Damian at the moment. “Figures. Another benefit to humankind perverted into a WMD. Sometimes this world is going to a hell in a hand basket! So, you used it on me and turned me into Dr. Evil’s little troll?”


“For lack of a better phrase: yes. Now your body fits your small mindedness.”


Jason’s eyes widened, then he made the universal sign for Time Out. “Just wait a moment, gotta check something out,” he said. He turned around, reached down and unzipped his fly. Then he fiddled around down there--and screamed!


“Nooo! Sweet Jesus to all that is holy in this god-forsaken world! The boys! Jagger! Oh, the humanity!” He turned his head back to Harvey Two-Face and sneered, zipping up, clenching his fists in anger. “You can take my guns away, you relieve me of my gadgets, you can even abuse and mock me, but no one—AND I MEAN NO ONE!—messes with the Rolling Stones and Jagger! They’ve been Mini-Me’d!”


Harvey Two-Fave was awestruck for a moment with a sense of bewilderment. Then: “Only someone like you would name his—“ He shook his head. “This is beyond ludicrous!”


“Not to me! Who in their right mind would use such a device on a grown adult to do this? I mean, c’mon! This is perverse in so many ways, just like taking Damian down to that tropical underground paradise and subjected to the whims of those four sexy maidens. He’s just thirteen, what did you think would happen? He’s on the cusp of manhood. He was too happy when I found him.”


“Talk to Handles, it was his idea.” Harvey shrugged. Then: “When you were found asleep in the elevator corridor after not being where you should’ve been near your boat after the gun explosives went off, I was told to chloroform you so you wouldn’t awaken, and then instructed to put in that box, after using the miniature ray on you. I knew the irony of it when he suggested it.”


Jason looked at the coffin. “Yeah, a real riot. You know my history with Death. I don’t like Him and He doesn’t like me. The Grim Reaper and I have an understanding, I keep sending him victims and he doesn’t mess with me again. Tell me, where are the kids?”


“Superboy is hold up and safely secured in Handles’ main lair suffering from an acute bout of weakness due to a synthetic Kyptonian stone taken from one of Lex Luther’s hideouts when he tangled with Spyral. Yet another interesting find found on Treasure Island when we took it over. The cashcow on this island is inspiring! There are numerous weapons here to rule the world, including that device Handles has been working on that uses sub-harmonic technology. And he’s almost perfected it.”


So, Jon Kent was right. The resurrection of Operation Coral Castle was in full swing. Handles had to be stopped, Jason thought. But he needed to get to the kids first. He knew where Jon Kent was, but there was no news on Damian. “Where’s Nightwing Junior? Oh, to hell with it! You know who I am, so you know who he is. Where’s Damian Wayne?”


“I’m glad you asked…”


Harvey smirked, then gestured a little farther down the beach. Jason followed where Two Face indicated. There was a humid haze delivering heatwaves masking something that was approaching from afar. When the figure was fully materialized, Damian Wayne emerged in full Nightwing Junior regina, wearing two new escrima sticks crisscrossed on his back. And there was some sort of metallic neck collar around his throat that appeared to be a control device, like a dog’s leash.


Damian came to stand next to Harvey like partners in crime.


Jason was defenceless. His leg holsters were empty and when he felt around, despite his armour intact, and his brown jacket on, all his hidden pockets that housed secret items were empty. He had been completely cleaned out.


His eyes narrowed with incredulity at the situation. “How?”


“How is Wayne’s son now under our control? Simple: mind control. It was easy after that little escapade in the tropical paradise. The young man was monitored fully down there with secret hidden cameras. I’ll leave all the technical details to Handles, but I’m told it has to do with stimulating the part of the brain through neuropathy that releases pleasure endorphins, but in reverse. A trick of the brain like pleasure and pain. The more he resists, the more he becomes our willing servant. Handles is a genius!”


“That’s perverse!” Jason protested.


“Perversity has its methodology. It all comes down to mental state. If you stimulate the brain with positive reinforcement, the person is rewarded, much like a small animal in a cage that hits the correct lever to get a pellet of food. If the animal presses the wrong lever it gives it a shock. So, eventually the animal remembers, and only presses the correct lever. The analogy is crude, I know. But every time Damian Wayne tries to resist, he’s rewarded, and it makes him feel good. So, the mind control reinforces those good feelings about a thousand fold, and he continues with it.”


“He’s only thirteen, his brain is still developing. You’ll screw up his mind. Well, more than it already is…”


“I think that ship has already sailed the moment he joined the ranks of crimefighters. Just think about it. A man who raises…how many is it now…six separate children to fight crime along aside him, only to continuously put them in harms way, eventually getting one of his kids murdered by a psychopath.” —Harvey gestured to Jason— “Case in point, eh? Bruce Wayne/Batman is one of the worse father-figures imaginable. He should be put in jail for six counts of child abuse.”


“Granted, he isn’t much of a father, but he does care…” Jason rolled his eyes. “Okay, not even I believe that crap! Okay, he’s a bad dad. But the child-support isn’t bad. I did ask for him for $250,000 once for some information and he gave it to me. It helped me buy a few weapons to add to my every growing assortment.” Jason sighed. “Yup, that was a bad example.”


“He’s guilty of multiple offences including advocating to commit egregious bodily harm against others, using accomplishes to commit said acts, even encouraging minors to do so, and acting as judge and jury without giving the accused a fair trial, and that’s just for starters. If I had my legal book of terms with me, I could also accuse him with nearly a hundred other offences. Vigilantism is illegal, and yet law enforcement agencies allow Batman a wide berth. Batman should be the one locked up for life!”


Jason put a hand to his mouth when he began to chuckle, but then he burst out laughing. “And I thought Joker made bad jokes.” He quickly became serious. “Anyway, let’s get this party started. Hey Damian! Do you really want to fight me? I say, bring it on, kid! I’ve had to take a lot of crap from you over time, I think this is the perfect moment to get my payback. If I have to beat the crap out of you, then hey” —he slammed a fist into a hand— “Happy Birthday to me!”

To be continued...

Chapter Text

Damian stepped forward on Harvey Two-Face’s order, reaching behind his back for his new escrima sticks. He activated their shock-options and they electrified with an intensity, generated to full-power.


Jason heeded back a few steps with his arms up the air, not in surrender, but in pause. “Hey! Don’t I get a weapon? This isn’t fair!”


Harvey halted Damian. “You know, you’re right. A decision must be made. We both know my Achilles Heel is this coin, so why fight it? Let the coin decide. Heads you get a weapon, and tails you don’t. It’s a simple as that.” Harvey flipped his coin and it landed with a plop into an open palm. From the look on his face, he didn’t look happy.


He tossed his gun to Jason. Jason caught the 10mm automatic handgun “man-stopper” with both hands. With a body of a pre-teen, the gun felt heavy to handle. Jason somewhat recognized the gun though it appeared customized. It was a Colt Delta Elite with a Semi-Automatic option much like a Glock 20 Generation 4. He checked the ammo content and it was fully loaded.


He compensated for the weight by repositioning his body.


Jason was impressed. “Sweet weapon, Harvey,” he said honestly. “You always did know where to get high quality merchandise. You really must get me in touch with your dealer. But…you just made a mistake.” He pointed the gun at Two-Face.


Harvey Two-Face gave him an incredulously look. “Really? Have you not clued in by now?”


“That you’re a photo-kinetic construct? That you’re not really here? Oh c’mon, I’m not stupid. I know you’re in Handles secret lair. But I can still shatter your light beam with this gun, much like Jon Kent did with those four maidens in the tropical paradise.” Jason lowered it. “But I won’t. I’ll give you the opportunity to watch when I take out Damian.”


Harvey grumbled under his breath with annoyance. “Thanks for the invite, you little piece of…”


“Damian…” Jason muttered under his breath, not hearing the last bit of what Harvey Two-Face said, literally blanking it out. Is this the real you or merely a photo-kinetic construct like Harvey Two-Face? Harvey looks so real, but this ‘him’ is a fake.


If he killed Damian, and with Ra’s missing and with the Lazarus Pit all but dried up, there would be no way to revive him. He had already been murdered once and brought back, like Jason. He couldn’t count on Talia al Ghul, Ra’s daughter either, who saved him. She was missing and presumed dead, as well.


He would have to play this to the chest, and believe, for the moment, that this was the real Damian. He’d use the non-lethal option until he knew for sure. The gun would be just for defence.


No one would willingly put themselves in harm’s way if it could be helped. Would they? Even someone under mind-control?


He wouldn’t bet on it.


Harvey put up a hand, said: “Before you get started, and I’m looking forward to watching two tiny titans battle it out, answer me this: The last time we met, and this is simple curiosity, you had a tuft of white hair amongst the black, but now you don’t—why? There’s no way that the miniaturization ray would remove it—shrink it, yes—but not eliminate it.”


“That’s a bit of an invasive question, don’t you think?” Jason retorted.


“You openly call your privates Jagger and the Rolling Stones, modesty is not your forte.”


“Okay, you got me on that one. If you know me, then you should know my crew: The Outsiders, and a guy named Arsenal, who used to sidekick for the Green Arrow. Ironically, Damian and Arsenal have tangled in the past. One day, Arsenal looked at me and told me that my tuft of white hair made me look older than I am, and asked me why don’t I think about dying my hair completely black? So, I did.” Jason gave a gesture to himself. “But I don’t have to worry about looking old anymore, do I? I’m twelve years old again. And you know what really pisses me off, it’s the fact now that I’m shorter than Damian. I’m the shortstack!”


“We’re enemies, I killed your father—“


“Yeah, thanks for reminding me, you murderous bastard!”


“Let me finish.” Harvey put a hand to the acid burnt half of his face, covering it for a moment. It made him look normal. “Let me give you a sound piece of advise. Never change who you are, or allow the world to alter everything about you.” He removed his hand, the half-monster returned. “Pain makes us who were are, it drives us, gives us purpose. I have to look at this face every day. I was just doing my job when acid was thrown in my face. Surgery can’t help it. But hiding your hair, masking your pain, won’t make it go away. We must live with pain, it’s a part of us. But we should never allow it to control us. This is why I have this coin. Sometimes, the monster wins, sometimes I win. But my father’s coin is a reminder than I am still human. Pain is pain, use it, and let it show. Show it to the world!”


“I have enough pain to go around. I don’t need to show it! Some pain is private. But that coffin is a huge reminder of just how much pain I’ve gone through!” Jason clenched a fist at his side. “Handles thought he was so smart trying to use it against me, but I’m already screwed in the head, so not much fazes me anymore.”


Although he knew that wasn’t entirely true. The sight of the coffin did unnerve him, reminding him of when he was buried alive. But he tried to keep his emotions in check and dug his nails into his skin as he squeezed his palm.
“To hell with all this talk! If we’re going to fight, then let’s get it on!”


Jason judged the situation. Height to height, Damian had a slight, if but minute advantage. Strength-wise, Jason was—and he hated the term Joker had coined—“heftier” than Damian. But he was still carried good muscle tone and was fast. Yet his speed was based on his previous body. Now he had to compensate for his smaller stature and he knew he wouldn’t be as quick.


When Damian lunged, Jason crouched down avoiding the escrima sticks. He then picked up a handful of sand and threw it dead centre into Damian’s face. Damian was wearing a mask over his eyes with the white eye lens, but there was nothing to protect his mouth. And that’s where Jason had aimed. It was such an easy spot to attack, down and dirty, just like his training as the Red Hood implored.


When Damian stepped back to spit out the sand, wiping his mouth, Jason took advantage of the distraction and high kicked one of the escrima sticks out of Damian’s hands. Then delivered a roundhouse kick to Damian’s face, delivering a couple of hard punches to Damian’s midsection. He then ripped the other escrima stick from his hand and throwing it aloft.


Now weaponless, Jason jumped up and wrapped his legs around Damian’s head, arms clinging around his neck and head in a half-triangle hold. He forced Damian forward and to the ground from the sudden move. Once down, Jason then rolled to the side still holding onto Damian, and turned the hold into what was known in the wrestling world as the Cobra Clutch, with both arms putting immense pressure on Damian’s neck, while trapping one arm—the other arm was free but was useless to do anything—and for added control, he wrapped his legs around Damian’s waist, so the boy couldn’t break free.


Jason kept the pressure on, he needed to cut off the blood flow to Damian’s brain. “You’re good, D, but there’s no substitute for experience, and I’ve been fighting a lot longer than you! The League of the Assassins may've taught you a lot, but I play by street rules. Which means, I play with no rules! And those are my rules!” With enough pressure, it would only take about thirty-seconds to render Damian unconscious. “And I was the Second Robin, after all, and trained by one of the best fighters in the world!”


Jason kept the hold, but despite the hopelessness of the situation, Damian kept fighting, grabbing at Jason’s arms with his loose arm. Then, however he managed to do it, Damian managed to thrust his body over and force Jason to roll onto his back. He kept going and continued with some sort of barrel role with the momentum.


Shocked Damian was able to overpower him like this, Jason kept hanging on tightly. What he didn’t see until the very last moment was, the kid was rolling him across the sand to one of the tossed escrima sticks, and before Jason could move away from it, it delivered a huge shock to his upper back, and forced him to let go after it jolt him, feeling the hurt.


Damian somersaulted away and felt his throat, he was breathing a little heavy, and sucking in oxygen. The control collar remained in place.


Jason felt his back, and then saw Damian bolt towards the other discarded escrima stick. Had what just happened been luck? Jason thought. Or did Damian know what he was doing? I underestimated the kid.


For a moment, he gave the boy mental praise, but then he grabbed the gun from his holster and pointed it at Damian. Damian readied for another round of fighting, clutching the escrima stick. Jason didn’t want to shoot, but there was too much at stake if he lost this battle. The world was a jeopardy. Jake Handles had to be stopped. And right now, Damian Wayne was in his way.


If I fired, this gun would open up a hole in Damian’s chest the size of a bowling bowl. It would be a horrible and gruesome death for you, kid. God! I wish I knew if you were the real McCoy or a fake…


x x x


“Alfred, I need to do something,” Tim said, almost in a whinny childish tone of voice. “I’m so bored!”


Alfred had made himself busy with tidying Tim’s clothes, assorted dresser, even inside his walk-in closest, though still watchful of the teen because he was in need of twenty-four hour care at the moment. Alfred always found something to do when he had time on his hands. He found that despite the boy was vastly intelligent, he was unorganized when it came to putting his clothes away properly.


He was rolling Tim’s socks up into two’s when he turned, and said, “Master Tim, you need to rest. You’ve just been through an incredibly lot. Bed rest is needed until answers from Master Bruce is passed down. But, may I say, you clothes arrangement is much to be desired. Proper clothes edict is: one drawer for under attire and another for socks and undershirts, and then other drawers for secondary items. You have everything, everywhere.”


“I know where everything is, Alfred. Don’t move things about.”


Alfred then observed Barbara Gordon all quiet and looking at the Neuro-Diffuser that Alfred had brought up from the BatCave. She looked at it from top to bottom, examining it throughly with a keen-eye. “Anything of extraordinary note, Ms. Gordon?” he asked.


She looked up, sitting in a chair next to Tim’s bed. She seemed confused. “I’ve looked it over thoroughly, Alfred. There’s nothing truly extraordinary about this device…” she replied. “It appears to be similar to a normal miniature stun gun like a woman would carry in her purse to scare away would-be assailants. At its lowest setting, you would feel the shock similar to touching an electric fence. At its highest setting, no doubt it would affect a person’s nervous system if applied in such a way. The jolt would be tremendous but not permanent, and I can’t be sure, yet…” She looked at Tim. “Give it time, and you should make a fully recovery.”


“That’s fantastic, Mum! I mean, Ms. Gordon,” Alfred said, and for a moment, he allowed his English heritage to shine through when he called her the standard term for a woman in England. Tim smiled broadly and elated with the happy news. “But, bed rest is highly recommended,” the butler reiterated. “Your body has suffered a tremendous trauma and needs recuperation.”


“Okay, Alfred,” Tim said. “Thank you. I know I’m being a burden here.”


“Not at all, Master Tim,” Alfred said back with a smile. “Sometimes, it’s nice to have a change from the normal. The Manor is a big place, but sometimes there’s only so much dusting and furniture polishing one person can do.”


Tim chuckled, but then he saw Barbara looking at his bedroom door. “Dick is taking a long time, isn’t he? He did sound kind of angry when he left. I bet he and Bruce are having a father-and-son talk at the moment.”


She looked back. “I wouldn't call the relationship Bruce and Dick have a normal father and son dynamic,” Barbara said. She rose from the chair. “I better go check on him. I get worried about Dick a lot lately. And this recent whole affair of him being shot, the surgical implants, the amnesia…it’s enough to make me think about us more.”


Alfred came to stand back her side. “Ms. Gordon, we all know how much you care about, Master Dick. It hasn’t slipped our glances. When he wasn’t himself, we were all worried about him. That’s why Master Bruce kept tabs on him. Master Dick was never out of his sights. And he knew about the young woman named Pixie, but he kept it secret. Sometimes the best thing to do is sit back and observe. He would never have let any harm come to Master Dick.”
Barbara produced a smile. “Thank you, Alfred. You always know what to say to cheer me up.”


“Anything, Ms. Gordon,” he said.


Tim gasped. “Wait! There’s no need for you go down to him, Barbara,” he said, “it may be invasive, but you can spy on them from here.” She asked how. “In my closest, in a wall drawer, there’s a device I’m been working on in secret. I keep it here because I don’t want Bruce to know that I can spy on him in the BatCave from anywhere on the grounds without him knowing. Yes, I know, I’m bad.”


“Where is it?” Barbara went to Tim’s walk-in closest. There were clothes hung up on railings that Alfred had just organized properly. Inside, there were a couple of drawers embedded in the wall for special attire: ties, special jewelry, and other items of a nature used to wear on very auspicious occasions like banquets, balls, fund raisers—that kind of thing.


He directed her to it and in a bottom third drawer she found a headset. It didn’t look anything unique, but with Tim, the teen was a wiz-kid with technology. He could make something look standard yet give it the works.


Suddenly, her elbow hit something that felt like a hidden switch, and a hidden door opened to another area. As soon as the door opened, interior illuminance lit up with a glow that seemed to gleam, projecting spotlights on a rather interesting collection of items. The added room seemed to be custom built and there were rows of glass shelves with figurines on each, twelve rows: totalling sixty figurines. Each figurine was remarkably detailed, with an action pose, and in stunning, brilliant colours.


With a closer look, they were actually statuettes of comic book characters. Some of whom she recognized. Dick was a kid at heart, and long with his like of cereal, he also, had a healthy comic book collection: some where graded, some were loose. She recognized a figure with white hair and skin black tights immediately. She dressed like a black cat, hence her name. And when she looked around, most of the statuettes were of sexy, clad, dressed women. Ah, the fantasies of the youth, she thought.


When she emerged from the closest, she smiled, and said: “Nice collection, Tim. Those must have set you back a lot of money.”


Even though his lower body was paralyzed, he had enough movement of his face for his brow to raise with surprise. “How…? Oh, crap! You wouldn’t supposed to see those. They were supposed to be a secret.” Alfred entered the closest once more and took in the collection, he mused intrigued. “Bruce would say they’d be a waste of money. But I like them. Call it a guilty pleasure of mine.”


“We all need hobbies, Tim. Dick likes to collect comics, and though Damian doesn’t like to advertise it, I know he likes to sketch. I’ve snuck a peak at some of his drawings and he’s a very good artist. Don’t worry, your secret is safe with me. But I can’t say the same for Alfred.”


“My word, more bobbles to dust, I think I’m going to need a softer feather duster,” Alfred said.


Tim and Barbara laughed.


Tim then explained what Barbara hand in her hand. It was a beta tester for a new interface that used bio-chemical signals to interact with artificial intelligence on a neurological-level. It was more technical than that, but he simplified his explanation. It was part of a new system he was working on and it would help with interacting with the Batcomputer more quickly. Humans were slow, but the human brain was instant, and if that ability could be rendered outwardly, that would make reaction time much faster during a crises.


Now that he thought about it, it may have been the start of his future self’s downfall later in life; whereas he infused with the A.I. built into this device, transferred into his own super Batcomputer that his future self said he built, and that now, if Bruce had anything to say about it, would never occur. And he was right.


Tim didn’t want anything to do with turning into Future Drake or his timeline as of this moment on. But for right now, he’d use it.


There were actually two pieces to the device. She placed the headset on and attached two suction cables to his temples. Then a neck collar around his throat that plugged into the headset. It took a moment, but within seconds Tim activated it using the power of his mind. Two projection monitors emerged on either side of his face. He used his thoughts to operate multiple windows at once and showcased how he was able to access the internet and even check his Facebook profile page.


Alfred had come back and now he and Barbara were looking at the projection screens on either side of Tim.


“Truly remarkable technology,” Alfred said in awe. “You are such a brilliant young man, Master Tim. This could help those with permanent paralysis. I’m sure if you patent this, you could revolutionize the medical field in bio-technology.”


“Mmm,” Tim mused. “That’s something to think about. I’ll forward an application to Wayne Industries later on. In the meantime…” Tim accessed the encrypted Wayne server with its multi-layers of firewalls to access the Batcomputer, then and the CCTV within the Batcave. He looked for active cameras and found a few currently recording, probably with Bruce and Dick talking. When he clicked on one, he suddenly gasped. There was an active camera, capturing a fight between Dick and… “Is that who I think it is?”


“I have to get down there,” Barbara said, and started for the door.


Alfred stood up straight. “No, Ms. Gordon, remain here. I shall go down there.”


“But, Alfred?”


“Two of my sons are fighting,” Alfred said with an intensity that Barbara rarely saw and only when he was out on a personal mission. He adjusted a loose white hand glove of his butler attire. “It’s time I set them straight!”

To be continued...

Chapter Text

Alfred went to his room first to gather a few items before heading to the secret elevator that lead to the Batcave. He made sure his attire was proper before pressing the elevator button to descend. As the elevator lift dropped, he suddenly had a feeling of dread. He didn’t know whether it was intuition or something equivalent of ESP, but over the years he had learned to trust those feelings and deal with them head on. And the current situation in the Batcave needed a straight-forward approach—a hard-nose conclusion.


When the elevator doors opened, the first thing he heard was the sound of something metallic crashing, the smash of electronics.


Richard Grayson was fighting Future Drake in the main area of the Batcave. With closer observation, they were not actually fighting, but throwing things at each other like a bunch of overgrown schoolboys, no physical contact was seen, hence the crashing sounds.


Alfred saw, Richard had thrown a portable television projection monitor across the room at Future Drake and it was now embedded in one of the Tier One computer consoles, sparks were shooting out and wires sizzled. Future Drake had thrown a chair used to at  one of the console stations at Richard and it had smashed against one of Bruce’s workstations, scattering its contents to the floor.


Alfred had not seen Future Drake when he had threatened Timothy Drake, only told the story of what had happened, opting to take care of the bed-ridden master by proxy story-telling. He had been informed that the Bruce was securing the younger man in cryostasis. Obviously, that had not occurred, and now he was running amok, and having some sort of temper tantrum, fighting with Richard, who was supposed to be recovering from his recent injuries. His head bandages were all but unraveled and hanging from his head and neck like a snake-charmers serpent. Future Drake also had some clothing in disarray, namely one arm sleeve was slashed by something and also one pant leg, exhibiting redness beneath.


Anything that wasn’t nailed down was being used as a projectile, and tribute capsule chambers that once displayed uniforms were smashed, their contents being used as weapons. Things that were once held in sacred regard were now thrown asunder without a care. The entire places looked like it had been subjected to a bomb, even the upper tiers and galleries, as things were strune everywhere. Even the canopy of the Batmobile had been penetrated with what looked like a sharp object still embedded within.

When Master Bruce sees this, he’s going to…On that note, where is Master Bruce?


The pair had not noticed him yet, and Alfred was able to observe the fighting unabated. Richard picked up a long thin pipe from the floor that had belonged somewhere near the workstation hit by Future Drake’s chair, and then began to twirl is like a bo staff. Future Drake quickly looked around, found a sword that had been haphazardly dropped on the floor and banished it as a weapon.


Alfred knew this insanity had to stop. Enough was enough.


He reached into a jacket pocket, took out a small pistol, and then fired it into the air. Both combatants suddenly halted. “Cease this childish behaviour. You are—or were once—sons of gentlemen! Look at this mess. It’s going to take weeks to clean this up!”

Dick’s eyes bulged in surprise, he then immediately shifted his position to protect the butler. “Alfred, Arkells is extremely dangerous!”


“Master Dick, you’re going to cause yourself more injury,” Alfred said, sidestepping Grayson. HIs gun remained in the “starters pistol” position with his elbow eased to avoid any untoward aggressiveness, but kept ever watchful of Arkells. “Please calm yourself. I wish for the both of you to disarm yourselves. Enough of this foolishness!”


Arkells pointed at Grayson. “He started it!”


Dick clenched his teeth. “No, I didn’t! You threatened me first!”


Alfred fired again, this time startling Dick, forcing him to jerk away. “Boys will be boys, as the saying goes,” the butler stated, albeit sounding slightly pedantic. “I said put the your weapons down. There are only so many issues one person can deal with at one time. Multi-tasking aside, and I am a butler, but I do have my limits.”


Dick stood at his defence, but he knew when to obey the apt man. There were only certain times Alfred got this way, and that was when he was ticked off. When he got angry, it was time to back off. “I’d do what he says, Arkells, believe me,” Dick voiced.
Arkells laughed short. “You’re no match for me, old man. Not with my new found powers!”


“In a one-on-one match, I would tend to agree, but…” Alfred reached into his other jacket pocket and pulled out a small device, and Arkells suddenly became very still, his eyes wide. It looked like a metal cigarette lighter, but it was actually something else.

“Good, you recognize this. It’s something you—or rather your other self—designed to help quickly disarm would-be assailants in the field. When I was young, guns and other assorted weapons were forged with iron and steel, now they’re all ‘smart’ with computer chips.”


“Is that what I think it is?” Arkells wondered with a look of dejection on his face.


“Yes, it’s an EMP miniature explosive. It has a small yield, and it’s to be used at short range, but I believe it’s more than adequate to short-circuit you at this distance and that blasted AI intelligence you’ve fused with. I know the equipment in the Batcave is safe from an EMP pulse, I trust you’re not. Or am I wrong in that assertion?”


Dick’s mouth went agape, smiling with intrigue. “Good going, Alfred!”


“Thank you, sir. One must think ahead, it is the most efficient way to disarm a tense situation before it escalates.”


Arkells growled, then dropped the sword. He put up his hands in surrender. “Fine, you got me. Just don’t drop it. I don’t want to die.”


“A far cry from what I was told earlier about you,” Alfred remarked. Alfred returned the gun to his pocket as it was no longer needed, yet kept the EMP explosive handy. “One should not want to throw away their life so easily. All life is precious. Young Master Tim has suffered from depression from time to time, and he though he didn’t want anyone to know, he often come to me to talk about it. As you may have done, although I can’t speak for myself from your timeline?” he said to Arkells. “PTSD is a nasty business in this line of work, as Master Dick can attest to. Many a night I’ve stay up with him after one of his night terrors, but boy and man.”


Arkells’s shoulders seemed to slump as if all the fight just oozed out of him. And he nodded. “Whenever I was down, you already gave great advise, Alfred,” he said. “I never could talk to anyone else, even you, Dick. Teen issues, you know?”


“It’s been a while since I was that young, Arkells. These days, teens have so many different issues than what I had to deal with. I try to stay young at heart as best I can, and though I crack a corny joke on the job sometimes—” Alfred gave Dick an incredulous look, as if to say: ‘sometimes?’. Dick shrugged with compilation. “—okay, quite often then. It helps me defuse a tension situation within myself. But, that’s just me; we all have our quirks. Laughter is the best medicine, they say.”


“Yes,” Alfred agreed. “At appropriate times. Now, where is Master Bruce?” Alfred directed the question to Dick.


“Arkells said he put Bruce in a cryostats chamber,” and then he remembered, “without oxygen!”


“Go, Master Dick! Release Master Bruce!” Alfred instructed. “I’ll stay here and watch Mr. Arkells.”


Dick gave one last glance to Arkells, who pouted at being called Mister instead of Master, as Alfred always called male members of the household, respectfully, and left, assured Alfred had the situation well in hand, exiting the main area, and entering the Medibay.


Here Dick quickly located the cryostats chamber, or hyperbolic chamber as it was sometimes referred to, laying flat and horizontal, near the back of the Medibay, and found Bruce, in Batman regalia and unconscious within, seemingly asleep, as seen from the transparent canopy. Dick checked the readings. Arkells had lied. He did turn on the oxygen to normal levels. Dick breathed out a sigh of relief. He knew Arkells—Future Drake—wasn’t all that bad. The kid had anger issues—much like someone else he knew—but at least he still had some morality left in him fused with that artificial intelligence he designed.


Unlocking the chamber, it depressurized and hissed, and Dick pulled open the canopy. At first, he just looked at Bruce. He was kind of sweet asleep like that, so innocent and kind. And Dick wondered if he looked like that when he was sleeping in the hospital with Barbara watching over him? He leaned over and patted Bruce on the side of the face.


“Wake up, Sleeping Beauty,” he said, smiling.


Bruce gasped awake, startled, and instantly reached out with his hands, as if reacting to a previous situation, suddenly halted.


Dick jumped back, and put up his hands in surrender. “Whoa, Bruce! It’s me, Dick! It’s okay.”


Bruce grabbed the side of the chamber, looking around. “How…did I get here? The last thing I remembered was tangling with Arkells. I thought he was unconscious, but then he must’ve blindsided me and put me in here.”


“That’s what I figured,” Dick replied, and helped Bruce out of the chamber to his feet. “Alfred has him secured at the moment with an EMP bomb in hand. Arkells wants to live now, so he’s not resisting. If he tries anything dumb, Alfred has threatened to fry the AI inside of him.”


“Good plan,” Bruce stated. Bruce noticed and then touched a portion of Dick’s head bandage that was nearly unraveled. “How’s your head, Dick?” he asked. “You should be recovering, but I’m glad you’re finally back in action.”


Dick smiled, then explained he and Barbara had rushed to the Manor when they heard about Tim. Bruce understood their worry.


Bruce said, “After all of this done, I want to sit down and talk with Tim. If I can change future events, talk to the teen—if he’s festering  the same feeling like Arkells inside—I don’t want him to…”


Dick put a hand on Bruce’s shoulder. “Talk to Alfred first,” he said. “Trust me.”


Bruce wasn’t sure what Dick meant by that, but he’d ask later.


Bruce got back to business. “I reviewed Tim’s medical scans before the situation with Arkells,” he began to say, “and, initially, it didn’t look good. But after thinking about it, I think his condition can be reversed. All I need it to do is examine that Neuro-Diffuser more closely and, simply, change the polarities, and jump-start Tim’s nervous system again.”


“Sounds good!”


Dick fixed his head bandage as they left the Medibay together.


When they returned to the main area of the Batcave, Arkells arms were still up, and Alfred was still where he was when Dick left him. Bruce gave Arkells a hard stare of disdain and Arkells looked away abashed. He actually looked regretful.


Dick then approached Arkells but wary. “You can put your hands down now, I trust you’re not going to do anything stupid?” Arkells nodded. “Early, you said Damian was going to die in a most distasteful way.”


“I actually said in a horrible and gruesome way, but go on.”


“How? We need to stop it.”


Arkells grumbled under his breath, he then folded his arms across his chest. “Typical, there’s a problem staring you straight in the face—me!—and all you care about is that damn, annoying brat?” He snorted angrily.


“He’s my son! So, answer the question,” Bruce demanded. Alfred put a hand on Bruce’s shoulder as a calming effect. Bruce sighed silently and calmed down. “If you had a problem, Drake, why didn’t you come and talk to me?”


“Because you always have a wall up, Bruce. You never let anyone in, even before Selina Kyle left you.” Bruce clenched his teeth and Dick held him back. Dick gave him a serious look. “Oh yes, that only happened recently. It’s been years for me. But it’s no wonder I rebelled against this family. Ousted as an outcast.”


“Where is all this coming from? You’ve always been a member of this family. Hell, I even adopted you as my son, Tim!” Bruce tried to remain calm. “We’ve had our problems, but I thought we made amends? I told you to leave for a time because you were acting too much like Jason, rebellious and narcissistic. Then we came together as family again.”


“I was a teenager, Bruce. That’s what we do! What we are! We always think we’re invisible and smarter than everyone else. But you never understood what I was going through, did you? Always, the high and mighty one, thinking you knew everything there was about everything!”


Bruce put his hands on his hips. “Okay, out with it, Tim. What’s all this really about?”


“Obviously there’s a difference in my timeline than in this one,” Arkells voiced, thinking out loud. “What happened to me, didn’t happen to this timeline’s Tim Drake…”


And he explained what that difference was.


“So, basically, you guys never made up like Bruce and Tim did in this timeline,” Dick said. “One difference of opinion about some stupid—“ Dick sighed heavily.


“It wasn’t stupid at the time, it was serious! But there were other things, too. Things that just pissed me off about him!” Arkells pointed at Bruce.


“The Butterfly Effect,” Alfred interposed. “Every action can have an equal or opposite reaction. And by this lack of an apology, the start of it all, Master Drake’s frustrations began to fester into a self-made monster, and then they were somehow deflected towards his past-self. Simplified, if his past-self never existed, the issues he and his family faced would never have occurred, and thus, by this negative reasoning and the possible dark depression Master Tim suffered from on occasion, caused him to fuse with his self-made Batcomputer as a conduit to aid himself, so he could get the knowledge, create a time machine, and go back into the past, to fulfil his plan of murdering himself, his younger self? Or, at least, this version of future himself?”


Arkells nodded. “Basically, that’s pretty much it,” he said. “Now that I think about it, it was kind of superfluous. With my new abilities, I think I can become something else—something beyond, Batman.”


“Sorry, Terry McGillus has that covered,” Bruce said.


“Huh?”


Dick masked a smirk. He knew exactly what and to whom Bruce was referring to. Terry McGillus was Batman from the not-so-distant future, who had come back to the past to save his own timeline once. Tim had even tried out his armour.
Bruce waved it off. “Forget it,” he said. “What else do you remember? What other things triggered such a deep hatred of me?”


Alfred stepped forward. “If I may interject further, sir,” Alfred began. “The split from the Batfamily could have occurred at any number of junctions, not just one; emotions run high in this chosen profession, that pinpointing the exact moment is irrelevant. It happened, and while I do not wish to fully incline with Arkells, the introduction of young Master Damian may have a large part in it.”


“I got to know Damian better when I temporarily took the Batman mantle,” Dick said, “and I have to admit, he was…and still is…difficult, to say the least. He’s not afraid to speak his mind. He also likes to, let’s just say, cock-block my relationship with Barbara.”
“Master Dick?” Alfred sounded mortified with the term.


Bruce nodded, sharing Dick’s sentiments. There were times Damian had done the same to him.


“It’s true! He never let’s us be alone anymore, swinging in at the last moment when we’re about to…” He cleared his throat, as everyone began to stare at him. He then shook his hands in front of him to wave off the conversion. “Anyway, let’s get serious. Arkells, let’s get back to what you were saying before we began to fight: How do you know Damian will die?”


“Because I was on Treasure Island when it happened.”


And he then told them the horrid and gruesome details.

To be continued...

Chapter Text

Jason clutched the “man stopper” gun in his hand, pointing it at Damian’s chest. His hands were stable, but his mind was shaking with endless doubt. He still didn’t know whether this was the real Damian or a fake. Was this Damian one of Handles’ photo-kinetic constructs, or was the control collar around his neck really driving him to fight? He knew Damian was much stronger than this, but it was painfully apparently that Handles’ tech was much more advanced than he realized. Even Tim would be in awe.


Jon Kent had said that the image of a person can be duplicated with ease, right down to the colour of their hair and the pupils of their eyes, and it could be programmed to handle complex tasks. But Personality was next to impossible to copy, a human mind had to many complexities. Damian’s own personality had not shown itself yet. Although Jason had seen degrees of his fighting skill, the kid had not spoken. Until he heard the teen’s voice, he would remain steadfast and careful.


“Oh, hell…”


He finally decided and trusted his instincts. He holstered the gun, then went over and picked up the other escrima stick.


Damian was an excellent swordsman, learning the trade when he was a member of the League of Assassins, but how well was he with a baton, or fighting with an escrima stick? When Jason was Robin, he and Dick didn’t have a lot of time to spar, but when they did, Dick showed him quite a lot in what little time they had together before he had to leave on some sort of mission for The Titans.


Dick’s escrima sticks had changed over the years. They were originally just large batons, but then he had to advance them to keep up to the newest weapons of today’s criminals, and eventually he redesigned them into the electrified force they are today. Handles must have seen them on a prior occasion to duplicate them so well.


Jason pressed the button to switch on the escrima stick. It had enough voltage to fry a turkey. And at that moment, he thought of Damian’s rescued pet turkey Jersey. On more than one occasion, that damn bird would attack him out of nowhere, hiding in the shadows, stalking him, and trained to kill, like a skilled assassin. Damian was just that devious, he would train the bird to do that. If Jason had that bird here right now, he’d fry it, and then eat it. It could go for a turkey sandwich right now.


His stomach grumbled just thinking about it.


The turkey liked Dick Grayson, however. It was almost like Damian had trained it to only attack certain people like an attack dog. Once it did attack Dick, but that was because the bird didn’t recognize him in his Nightwing costume at the time.


Right here and now, Jason was about to fight a mock-up of Nightwing—Nightwing Junior—in front of him.


He was the same size now when he sparred with Dick way back then before his tragic demise by the Joker, and before all those memories flooded back.


But he was about to fight Damian, who like him, had a tendency of fighting dirty.


Dick Grayson was a clean fighter and he had the skills to back up his keen battle-sense, so he didn’t have to resort to rotten trickery. Though, that didn’t mean Dick didn’t fight nasty on occasion. He mostly out wit his opponents tasking them during battle and talking to them. Dick said it helped him with tense situations and it also annoyed his enemy. A distraction tactic, he said.


So, Jason knew, if Dick taught him anything to fall back on, it was to always trust his instincts and to use everything at his disposal, and to exhaust all options before having to make the ultimate decision to end a life.


That was Dick cardinal rule.


Batman didn’t kill, either.


Red Hood, however, had killed hundreds of people. And he knew they all deserved it.


Both he and Damian held escrima sticks in hand. For a moment, they just stood like statues and waited for the other to move. Patience was a virtue, but he knew Damian wasn’t a patient person. They were evenly matched at the moment: stick vs stick. But experience and skill would determine the outcome to this battle. And Jason had far more skill than Damian. Damian may have had  experience training with masterful warriors, but Jason was a street fighter. And he knew how to win by any means necessary.


Come and get me, you sob! He mentally taunted.


As if on cue, Damian attacked first. They clashed and crossed escrima sticks like epic warriors on the battlefield and the electricity from each stick sparked and sizzled with every hit. They pulled back and then clashed again, crossed sticks once more, and pressed against the other, neither giving an inch of ground. The sticks hovered inches from each other’s face almost lighting up their teeth with dancing current. Jason could feel the heat from Damian’s stick across his bare face.


He didn’t know where his face mask had gone, probably fallen off, but that didn’t matter to him.


Jason looked the other straight in the eye, then said: “Sorry about this Damian, but I have to know before we continue…”


Trickery, down a dirty like the person that he was, Jason hocked a lugee and spat just shy of the top of his escrima stick that edged close to Damian’s face. He knew what he was doing, and as the glob of spit shot through the air, electrical current snaked through its moisture, electrifying it, and as it spattered Damian in the face, the boy yelped and pulled back from the sudden shock.


That was it. The indication Jason was waiting for. This was the real Damian. A PK construct wouldn’t yelp.


And it was the distraction he needed.


He set his escrima stick to its third highest level and shocked Damian in the ribs. Damian screamed. But Jason didn’t let up and pressed again, not letting Damian recover, even increasing the voltage higher, zapping Damian’s strength. No one can resist being electrocuted continuously without it weakening them severely. This was the main reason Dick used the escrima sticks, because they were a non-lethal weapon. He refused to kill. He refused to be like Batman.


And yet, there was a major flaw in Dick’s "No Kill" ideology. The same criminals kept coming back, escaping from Arkham Asylum. When Red Hood killed criminals, they stayed dead.


When Damian dropped to his knees, his body fell like a sack of wet cement. He first folded over, cradling is stomach with his arms, but with one last zap to the back of his neck, the boy fell unconscious. Jason then plunked the escrima stick from the boy’s hand—for which the kid had used to grip as a way to fight pain and wanted to hang onto even as he fell—and threw it away. He then ripped the collar from Damian’s throat, and tossed it asunder near the shore’s edge but just shy of the tide, sinking slightly into the wetness.


Jason dropped his own escrima stick and immediately checked Damian’s pulse and breathed a sigh of relief. He was thankful he hadn’t killed the kid, and one of the best allies he knew against the never ending battle against the criminal element. Bruce would have kicked his ass, otherwise. And harder than what he did after the incident with The Penguin.


Jason snapped his head towards Harvey and there was just enough time to see the villain’s image vanish into thin air, a bitter disdainful glare on Two-Face’s face. He had lost. Or had he merely wanted to be an observer and made a bet with himself? Knowing the man, he probably did, and was furious that one half of him had lost.


Returning his attention back to Damian, he breathed a little heavy. His armour was making him sweat and his muscles ached. He may have had the body of a twelve year old, but all this added weight took a toil. He had saved the brat from Handles’ control collar, but at what cost? And, in truth, he was now by himself.


And what's happened to Jon Kent? Jason wondered.


Jason sat down cross-legged and sighed. “Okay, now what do I do with you?” He looked at Damian sprawled out unconscious in the sand. “With this body, I’m too small to carry you to safety, or anywhere else, in fact.”


He hoped there was a way to turn him back. He didn’t want to relive his teen years all over again. Although, if he had too, he knew he would change a few things and make better decisions. And avoid history repeating itself.


But I’d still tell Bruce off! Playing with Bruce is one of my utmost joys in life.


But for once, he wished Bruce Wayne was here. He felt vulnerable. Was it the kid in him that felt this way, or was it a sense he was alone right now, whereas he normally had people around him to help him. People like Arsenal, Roy Harper. Roy had helped him get back on his feet after Bruce’s beatdown. He remembered Roy had said that he’d like to put an arrow straight through Batman’s heart for what he did. And also, “That son of a bitch is off my Christmas card list starting today,” he quipped.


It was mid-morning and the humidity was beginning to raise, the sun baking the beach. With a mere touch, Jason could feel how warm the sand was getting. Sand sifted through his fingers. The island seemed to have its own temperate zone. If he had to guess, it was close to 80 degree F, (26 degrees C), and he was sweating a lot. His clothes and armour felt like they were baking his body like his own personal sauna, but he didn’t dare take them off for fear of another sudden onslaught from Handles PK minions.


He also knew he couldn’t leave Damian out in this heat wearing his Nightwing Junior suit or he’d cook. The back of Damian’s neck was already showing tanning with the collar now removed. He had a white ring around his neck where it had been secured.


Quickly looking around, he saw a small outcrop jettisoning out from the rocky terrain that was the leg-edge of the mountain that sprang from the middle of the island. Whoever built this island was very skilled and designed it in such a way that its appearance would be normal to any aircraft passing by, if they happened to enter its airspace. However, current information on the island had the restricted airspace within several miles of it. Along with its ecological boundaries, sea craft were also barred from entry according to standing restrictions.


Buoys were placed far out to sea to warn any craft to stay away, claiming its protected environmental status, with an auto message. He now recalled seeing a few buoys. The pre-recorded message said craft identification would be recorded if they entered the area and would be passed on to the appropriate authorities for punishment, such as fines and/or lost of privileges, as per stated laws.


This is what Jason had heard when the Batboat had entered the island’s protected region and he didn’t have any doubt that it was all Spyral’s doing and not Maritime Authorities. Jake Handles probably had the Batboat in his eyes the whole way. Hence Harvey Two-Face was ready for them when they docked.


Turning Damian over onto his back, he took hold of his arms, then dragged him across the sand to the shady outcropping, and settled him down in the shade, but then went back and collected the control collar he had thrown away. He thought at some moment it may come in handy, or maybe Tim could use it. So he slipped it into his other empty gun holster.


He sat down next to a sleeping Damian, and sighed.


Now what?


x x x


Harvey Two-Face was beyond livid. He ripped the headband off his forehead that he used to control his photo-kinetic double and tossed it, smashing it against the wall. The velocity of the throw and hit was enough for it to shatter like glass. He then squeezed his father’s coin in hand to give him the strength to further prevent an eruption of unbridled rage against one of his bitter enemy’s.


It was like he had bet on a winner—and he had mentally, betting on Damian Wayne to crush Jason Todd—but ended up losing on both ends. He flipped his coin, but against all odds, it landed in his palm on its edge. That had never happened before, and there must have been an indent in his palm that folded just at the last second it landed that caught the coin to land the way it did. In the game of Craps, if you roll the dice and got one-and-one, that was called Snake Eyes, and you lost.


This was a lost no matter how he saw it.


Harvey growled, cupping the coin in his hand.  “That damn little shit,” he said. He felt like shooting something or someone.


“Relax, Harvey,” Handles said with a cool head, sitting at his computer. “I figured this would be the end result. Despite his pint-size, Jason Todd is still a formidable foe with Batman’s training under his belt.” On the screen before him was the schematic of what looked like a tall radio tower with four large teeth-like prongs, similarly seen in cityscapes to allow for wireless communications technology to flourish in large metropolises. But while it may have looked like such, its operation was much different. “He was not going to lie down easily. Those two have a difficult history, and put aside the fighting skills, Todd would never lose to Damian Wayne. His psychological profile wouldn’t allow it.”


“Turning Jason Todd into a kid didn’t help matters,” Harvey snarled. “He’s just as annoying as ever!”


Harvey looked at one of the floating projection screens that now showed Jason Todd sitting next to Damian Wayne in a hollowed out outcropping of the island’s mountain side. The island had cameras everywhere, so there was no place for anyone to hide. The pair almost seemed displaced from reality and this gave Harvey a sudden thrill which made him chuckle.


“I want another chance to kill him,” Harvey almost begged. “Jason Todd needs to die. I’ve made it a vow to kill him just like I murdered his father years ago. I still don’t know how he survived that beating the Joker gave him.”
“Neither do I, but I don’t much care,” Handles said. “If he wants to putter around on the island for a while, let him. He can’t stop us.”


In another part of Handles lair, but seen from where Handles sat, Jon Kent lay bound to an X-table with a small chuck of green synthesized Kryptonite next to him which made him as infertile as a week old puppy. He moaned semi-conscious, but he was still awake enough to see everything going on around him.


“The control collar I used on Damian Wayne was a success, but I should’ve known that when you restrict instinct, you dumb down reflex. Damian Wayne is a fighter, but AI can restrict individuality and hence brain creativity, which is key to a fighter.”


“You won’t win…you’re lose,” Jon said weakly. His eyes drooped, giving away to just how much the Kryptonite was affecting him. It wasn’t pure Kryptonite, but something Lex Luther, Superman’s arch-enemy, had created to synthesize its effects. “My friends will come and rescue me, you’ll see. Damian will never give up. Once he sets his sights on something, he always finishes it.”


Handles stood up from his chair after swivelling it around and approached Jon Kent, also grabbing something from a side table.


One of his hands was artificial and he didn’t bother to hide it. He shared Harvey Two-Face’s philosophy: never hide your pain. It was part of a person. Handles was an ex-agent of Spyral who had supposedly died after one of his adaptability gloves triggered a faulty explosive device causing a building to collapse on top of him. His body was also 80% burnt by the explosion and he wore a mask, but openly showed the horrible, burnt side, instead of covering it.


He survived due to sheer will power and was he built artificial limbs, an arm and a leg, by his computer with a sophisticated, free-thinking Artificial Intelligence, that he shared an intimate bond with. It spoke to him using the very implants Handles designed to control others, two of which he had surgically put into Dick Grayson’s left and right hemispheres, paying the surgeon a fortune to do so. Then Handles had him killed, instructing Deathstroke--Slade Wilson-- to do so, disposing of the body.


Deathstroke and a second, highly qualified, sharpshooter, were paid for a very delicate job, but separately; each other being the safeguard for the other. Handles only needed one to make the shot to incapacitate Dick Grayson/Nightwing to make it look like an assassination attempt. Once his plan was set in motion, he would force Grayson to live out the rest of his life with amnesia, a destroyed man. It was to be a most sinister revenge for his actions that day that nearly cost Jake Handles his life.


And if it wasn’t for that dame Damian Wayne interfering, it would have worked.


When he came to stand next to Jon Kent, he cupped the boy’s face and cocked it from side to side with his artificial hand, looking the kid over, thinking of whether he could duplicate what he did with Damian Wayne. In his other hand was a control collar similar to what he had placed around Damian’s throat. Jon had watched Damian struggled when it was put on, Harvey Two-Face held Damian down while Handles secured it. Damian had tried to fight against its mind control, but to no avail. Now, the same collar was placed around Jon’s throat, and with the Kryptonite, he was far too weak to fight back.


The control was almost instantaneous.


Harvey grinned, then patted the boy’s face. “He won’t be trouble to us anymore,” he said, smiling satisfied.


Handles agreed. “Yes, the son of the last survivor of Krypton is now under our control.” He turned his artificial hand on its side and out popped a miniature projector unit that was connected to his main computer. The screen gave him access to the collar and he made sure everything was optimal. “There was a massive amount of technology on this island when I took possession of it over a year ago, even I was unaware Spyral had collected so much. So many wonderful things, powerful weapons Sypral took from tyrants, deposits and other terrorists, each worth their weight in previous gold. Including what I’m calling the Sub-Harmonic Shock Disruptor, or SHSD, for short.” Handles finished with what he needed to do with Jon Kent, leaving him semi-comatose, and turned back to his computer. Harvey followed.


The schematics of the SHSD was rotating on the large monitor of his computer, it was one of the most powerful computers on the planet, ever learning, ever evolving, and controlled by him. Handles then used his hand and plucked the SHSD from the screen as removing something from a box, and had it float aimlessly over his open-palm faced artificial hand, using it to generate the image.


He smiled excessively pleased with it. “I’ve been testing it on an unsuspecting world populace, using ‘sonic attacks’ to cause earthquakes, tidal waves, and the such, and it hasn’t disappoint. Every test was perfection. I have even used it on people, using a narrow beam to specifically target those I choose. It’s almost ready for its final test. I must admit, I have a little OCD. Things must be perfect for me to render the tests complete, all angles. But I need a large enough target, a worthwhile target, to satisfy my need.”


“If I can suggest a target for you?” Harvey grinned when he thought of it. “When you first told me, I couldn’t believe it. Bruce Wayne was Batman. But then it started to make sense and he has billions to afford all those damn gadgets! Target the Batcave, under Wayne Manor. Once Batman is out of the way, they’ll be no one to stop us from taking the world hostage!”


Handles leaned over and typed in Wayne Manor’s location into his computer to get latitude and longitude coordinates. “Excellent idea, Harvey! A truly wondrous target for the final test. Dick Grayson has recovered his memories, and no doubt, he’ll remember the SHSD and tell everyone, and where it’s located. He attempted to sabotage it when it was brought here, but the stupid fool was naive. He should have known I knew how to fix it. As they said in the Wild West, let’s cut the Batfamily off at the pass.”


Suddenly, an alarm sounded inside Handles lair. He brought up a visual on a floating projection screen. Harvey growled and Handles eyes narrowed, as a visual of an airplane came into view. “If I recall, they call it the Batplane,” he said. “It would appear, we won’t need to target them on their home turf. They seem to have brought the fight to us.” Handles smiled. “Very well, let them come. This island will be the sight of my glorious triumphant and the final resting place of Batman. I hope Grayson is with him. It’s time I show the world the awesome power of this island…and the Batfamily will be the SHSD’s final beta-test!”

To be continued...

Chapter Text

When the Batplane secretly blasted off from its underground hanger on the Wayne Manor grounds, four occupants were seated in the craft as it soared its way across the Atlantic Ocean towards Treasure Island. They would be soon upon the once restricted Spyral storage stronghold, the final hurtle in this game that had begun when Nightwing was targeted, and everyone was anxious.

After a thorough discussion, they came to the conclusion that Jakes Handles had indeed resurrected the sonic device that Dick had supposedly sabotaged when he was Agent 37 before taking it to the island and amplified it. In concluding quick searches of strange phenomenon that reflected 'sonic attacks', including two International diplomats, every single attack originated from the Atlantic, specially Treasure Island—using technology Tim had developed to track harmonic frequencies.

Finally, it would all come to a head and Dick would confront his old ally in Spyral. His philosophy was to never kill, but he felt this urge to break that rule just this once after everything Jake Handles had done to him. Dick had just been doing his job as Agent 37 when he confronted Handles way back then before his supposedly untimely demise. Once again, one of his own enemies had come back to evoke their revenge upon him, and for a time, it appeared it was going to end badly for Dick—that he would lose everything.

Once we find Damian, I'm going to have to give him a great big hug to thank him for bringing me back, he jokingly thought.

From the corner of his eye, he saw Barbara sitting in the chair next to him. He had had wanted Barbara to stay behind, but he knew that was never going to happen. And she would never allow it to happen. He didn't believe his concern for her well being was honed in male misogyny or sexism, he just knew what they were going up against. It was a good thing he kept his mouth shut, though. Because, in truth, he realized, he really wanted her along because he was still not up to par. And if he ever wanted anyone to cover his back, he wanted Barbara, or as she dressed, Batgirl, to be with him.

As she sat beside him in the Batplane, with Bruce piloting upfront, she was all woman in his eyes. Her costume was skin tight and she was forever the light in his darkest of nights. She was beautiful. Ever since they first met, he felt an attraction towards her, and it was not just physical. She had a kind soul. And there was always something about Barbara that reminded him of a beacon of hope. Whenever he was feeling down and in need of help, she was always there. Even after all those times he had gone out and struck up relationships with other women, she was always there for him when he needed to talk.

I've been such a fool, I never realized I had complete happiness right before me the whole time, he thought.

Since her Batgirl attire was still in Bludhaven, she opted to borrow one of the tribute costumes that was under-glass in the capsule chambers, one of which that had not been damaged during his fight with Arkells in the Batcave. And she looked stunning in it. He didn't know if it was his hormones, but he felt the black and gold gave her an angelic and sheer brilliant, goddess look.

He wanted to hold her hand, but felt now was not the time to engage in distraction. They were about to go into battle and a level head was needed, not one filled with lust. So, he used a technique that he had learned over time, mentally forming a corridor that housed a multiple array of half-moon metal doors in his min, and temporarily shut the door on that current thinking. He had learned over time to shut things out, but he only wished he could do the same thing with some of the other things that affected his PTSD.

Over his tenure with amnesia had had put on a few pounds, but his Nightwing costume still fit well, along with a black toque to cover his head. His hair was growing in fast and his scars were minimal, but he wanted something to cover his head for this mission. Call it narcissistic, but he did pride himself on his looks and his short hair as it was wasn't the best looking at the moment.

As he sat in the chair next to Barbara, he secretly did stomach crunches. He had to flatten his mid-section down. He knew he had to take it easy, as per doctor's orders, but he had to be in the best shape possible to be a helpful in this fight. Despite the added weight, he knew he could still hold his own. Twenty, now fifteen pounds, was not a lot of weight, but to his fluidity of motion, it would be a hinderance he didn't need. Not to mention his blood pressure. But he knew he could keep that under control with medicine that thinned his blood. His doctor mentioned he may need to take it for the rest of his life due to his injury, but only time would tell. He also had a new set of escrima sticks, so battling through whatever Jake Handles threw against him would be easier. And he'd find a way to win. He always did. Damian had his other set, using them in his persona as Nightwing Junior. He still got a chuckle when he thought about it. And he wondered, after all this, would Damian continue with it or hang up the costume? He had told the kid that he had to keep being Nightwing Junior because those who had targeted him had to believe Nightwing was out for the count. But now that the cat was out of the bag and all those who participated in the plot to destroy him knew Dick was back with all his memories in tact, was there still a need for a pint-sized Nightwing?

He'd let Damian decide. But there was still a need for Robin. And with Tim's condition, he couldn't be any help right now in that department. Barbara had told him that Tim's paralysis may only be temporarily, and he hoped that was the case, but he'd still need therapy after his movement back. Dick knew when the muscles atrophied, they needed a lot of re-conditioning.

Across from him, in another seat, sat Arkells, who had literally begged Bruce to come along. He wanted to make amends for all the trouble he had put everyone through. His sudden personality change was suspicious but seemed genuine for the most part, he didn't want to die anymore. Had the AI convinced him of that? Was the AI in survival mode? Nothing was certain.

The EMP bomb Alfred threatened him with that would fry his AI matrix also came along with them, just in case. Arkells gave his word that he wouldn't try anything stupid. All he wanted to do was help. But precautions were always the best thing when it came to an entity that once tried to kill everyone around them in a fit of revenge.

Dick suspected Future Drake had a secret agenda coming along with them, so he opted to keep a close eye on him.

Barbara suddenly snickered and Dick looked at her. "What?"

She looked down at his mid-section, he was still doing stomach crunches. His stomach folding in and out. Tights showed quite a lot, and there was very little to the imagination especially in Dick Grayson's case. "Dick Grayson, stop trying to impress me with your macho-manliness," she said smiling and she slapped his abs. He flinched. "I love you just the way you are, belly and all. And even when we're old and grey, I'll still love every inch of you." She winked.

He smiled, and then relaxed.

He then felt his face flush slightly as they both leaked in for a kiss. He was a modest guy, and with others around, he felt a little embarrassed engaging in intimacy, but he didn't care at the moment. He would use her kiss to fuel the fires inside him for the battle ahead. And he promised himself that would make every effort to talk to her about their future together after all of this was over. He had been thinking about the two of them a lot lately, and even before he was targeted. He also confided in Alfred about what he should do, asking his advice on possible 'future plans'. Even after all this time, she was the only women whom he felt nervous around—but in a good way.

He had once revealed that Barbara was the only woman who ever made him feel inadequate. But she then proved him wrong after the fact when they engaged in intimacy, even though she was still suffering from Joker's attack on her spine at the time. She told him afterwards, he was all man. And he made her feel like the luckiest woman in the world to have him.

They broke the kiss.

Suddenly, he found Arkells grinning at them. Dick saw his stare and looked over. "You do know voyeurism is a crime, right?" he said with sarcastic wit.
Arkells rolled his eyes. "It's hard not to see when I'm sitting straight across from you. Incidentally, your children will be beautiful."

Dick didn't know if Arkells was being sarcastic or serious since he was from the future. From his appearance, Future Drake was at least ten years older than the present Tim Drake, so Dick knew anything could happen within that time from now and then when it came to his relationship with Barbara—marriage, children, or something else. The good thing was, at least all the anger Arkells felt when he first saw him had seem to have melted away. He and the AI must be integrating better than Future Drake had originally thought, begging for Bruce to kill him at first because he thought the AI was going to completely take over him personality. Of course he was scared. Everything new was frightening to some, but after a time, things become secondary to their benefits. Dick just hoped both existed collectively well. But he would still keep on any sudden changes.

Dick was about to ask Arkells what he meant when Batman called out from the pilot seat: "ETA, three minutes!"

Barbara smiled and gave Dick a quick peck on the cheek before he moved to the co-pilot seat. Dick checked over and verified the instrument panel and confirmed that Treasure Island was dead centre on the radar. The last known GPS signal from the Batboat gave them the exact coordinates to the island.

Suddenly, a pre-recorded message sounded after a sudden audio bleep on the comm:

"WARNING! YOU ARE ENTERING A RESTRICTED AREA! ADJUST YOUR COURSE AND OBEY THE BUOY SIGNAL MARKERS PROVIDED; FAILURE TO DO SO WILL SUBJECT YOUR CRAFT TO SEVERE PROSECUTION AND IMMEDIATE APPROPRIATE ACTION. YOUR ID NUMBER IS BEING RECORDED AND TRACKED. LANDING IS PROHIBITED."

It repeated again before Batman switched off the speaker.

"Sort of a relaxed threat, no meat to it," Dick remarked. "It's changed since the last time I heard it."

"Do you think Handles will attack us in the air?" Barbara asked, coming to stand in between their seats. She gazed out the front canopy. In her sights was a beautiful looking island one would find in a fairy tale that had been hidden away from the civilized world. It was shaped like an S, with two enclosed bays, plenty of foliage and fauna, three-quarters of it was surrounded with sandy beaches, and in the centre was a mountain that jettisoned into the sky. It was hard to believe it was all a facade and built by Spyral to store their confiscated toys taken from criminals when they policed the world.

"I don't think so, he wants us alive," Dick replied. "He wants me alive, so he can finish the job he started, to get me out of the way of his plans. He's always been a person who hates leaving things undone. Handles mental profile has him suffering from OCD. So, let's give him incentive to give us a safe landing. I'll let him know I'm on board."

Dick was about to switch on the communications to an open frequency, but then Bruce put a hand over the toggle. "Let him wonder," Bruce said. "He's already tried to eliminate you once. He won't hesitate to quickly do it again by any means at this stage of the game. You're still a threat to his plans. Killing you now would only benefit him. Those sonic attacks detected all around the world have been originating from here. The Batplane is protected from such an attack, but it's still a threat to us."

Dick nodded. "You're right. Everyone put in your…earpieces," he said, Barbara smirked. He looked at her and knew exactly why she was withholding a laugh. "They will help inhabitant the effects of the sub-harmonics of Handles device. They'll also keep us in constant contact in case we get separated while protecting us from any sonic attack Jake Handles may throw at it. Sonic attacks are literally invisible attacks. No conventional weapon can stop them. And an attack of such can scramble your brains and blow them out from the inside. So, we're going to have to destroy his device or the whole world will be at jeopardy."

Arkells turned his seat to face the front. He held what looked like a standard, but soft looking hearing aid in between two fingers. He squeezed it and knew it would conform to an unintrusive shape when inserted. "I know what this looks like, but what exactly is it?"

"They are Sub-Harmonic Interference Technology, created by your younger self," Batman explained.

Arkells gave both Dick and Barbara an incredulous, but humour look. They shared it. "Really? And who thought of the name?"

"Why? What's wrong with the name?" Batman questioned, giving a momentary glance back. "It suits its function."

Dick withheld a smile. "And you wonder why I didn't use its abbreviation," he expressed.

"Just insert it!" Batman ordered. "Sonic attacks can deadly."

"Fine, putting S-H-I-T in my ears," Arkells replied, pressing the earpieces into his ear canals.

Dick chuckled and Barbara snickered.

It didn't take them long to get to Treasure Island, and before they landed on a make-shift landing strip without incident, they saw what remained of the Batboat, submerged half underwater near to a rickety old dock in one of the bays. Bruce did a quick scan of the interior and found there was no one inside the boat, but a good portion of the cliffside near the dock had seen better days. It appeared it had been subjected to a massive explosion. But investigating that would have to serve for a later time if allotted.

Once the engines had shut down, Dick turned to Bruce and said, "That was too easy. Handles must know we've landed."

Bruce concurred, then donned his cowl. "Be ready for anything," he emphasized before he leaving the pilot seat and headed to the bay door. Dick followed, and placed his face mask on with its adhesive to keep it attached. Barbara donned her cowl. Arkells used his chameleon ability to add a black face mask much like Dick's. Apart from the wings, he looked just like Tim Drake but dressed all in black like had been in the Batcave.

They all gathered at the bay door, Batman with his had on the handle. Everyone was ready, nothing needed to be said.

Once the door was pulled back, the stairs had already deported when the plane had landed, they rushed down to ground, weapons at the ready. Batman with his Batarangs, Nightwing with his escrima sticks, and Batgirl with her bo staff. Arkells had nothing. Batman wouldn't give him a weapon for fear he'd turn against them. If that happened, Dick would use the EMP bomb. Who had it was hidden from Arkells. So, if he did attack one of them, whoever had it, Arkells had a one-in-three chance of success.

But he didn't. Instead, they all stood back-to-back in a circle, their eyes glued in their respected direction.

Arkells looked around. "No welcoming party, huh?" he voiced. "I feel kind of insulted."

Nightwing looked around. He knew the island for the most part, bringing the sonic device here for storage, and subsequently sabotaging it. He should have known Jake Handles would repair it. He should have followed his gut instinct at the time and completely destroyed it. But at the time he was under Spyral jurisdiction as Agent 37 and he would have to answer for it. Too many times this sort of thing came to bite him back in the butt. Sometimes he wondered if Jason had the best philosophy.

The only way to truly eliminate a threat was to either kill it or blow it up completely, so it can't be resurrected, Dick recalled Jason once said. And he was starting to wonder if he was right?

Now because of his ineptness at the time, he may have been responsible for the sonic attacks around the world. No, he couldn't think that way. As Batman once said, "A gun is an inanimate object, it can't kill. Only when a human picks it up and uses it does it become a threat to society." By way of that thinking, Jake Handles was the direct threat. He had to be taken out.

"The mountain is hollow," Nightwing began. "There's a main operation centre housed within, that Handles is no doubt using as his lair, with storage depots scattered into sections, there's eight floors in total, including a subterranean cavernous system. The island has always been here but uninhabited. It was purchased by Spyral some time ago through an ecumenical exchange that was before my time. It was artificially built like Manhattan Island, I was told, but then it was built upon to make it look natural. As it stands, it houses some of the most deadliest weapons built by humankind."

He paused, clenching a fist.

He further said: "If it was up to me, I'd destroy this entire place! Be careful, I know Jake Handles, and he knows we're here. There are booby-traps everywhere for unsuspecting trespassers who ignore the warnings. He can probably see us on camera right now." Suddenly, he felt he was forgetting something and something important. But he couldn't quite grasp it. Hopefully, his concern of this forgotten thing wasn't something that would come back to bite him later.

"So, maybe we should finally announce yourselves," Batman said.

"Good idea!" Nightwing concurred, his sudden lapse pushed aside. He focused on the current situation. He cupped his hands around his mouth, then shouted: "Handles! Here I am, you son-of-a bitch! Come and finish what you started!"

To be continued...

 

Chapter Text

Tim Drake was feeling better, and he was beginning to feel sensation in his legs, arms and body again. Barbara was right, the shock to his system from Arkells Neuro-Diffuser was only temporary, albeit its effects were prolonged. He had taken it on full power. So, recovery was going to take a while. But he was thankful it was not permanent. However, the indignity was beyond embarrassing.

Alfred was a huge help, however. It's said that a full body massage helps to stimulate and relax inflamed, tense muscles. And along with chiropractic methods, pitched nerves that can effectively halt fluent movement can be reversed.

Tim had no idea that Alfred knew about this stuff, but what he did helped tremendously. Whatever he did, unlocked something. Alfred theorized when Tim had taken the full brunt of the Neuro-Diffuser, his muscles seized up, and summarily cut feeling off from the neck down, subsequently causing paralyses. Alfred explained that if a bone is even slightly out of alignment after a sudden jolt, it can effect the entire nervous system of the body, and said something about the upper spine and cervical vertebrae. When he put the bone back in place, it was a sudden shock to Tim's system and he felt it. But the nerve numbness would still remain for a time.

He now rested comfortably in bed, but the embarrassment of the situation was nerve-racking to stay the least. Not only was he attached to a catheter but he also had to wear diapers for the other bodily function because he had no control like a baby. And since the incident, Alfred had already changed him three times. He felt like crying more than once, but Alfred assured him it was okay and not to fret. And he said it was kind of like taking care of Master Bruce when was a child. But that gave Tim little comfort.

Alfred also told him that once he got more feeling that physical therapy would be needed and he would be there to help as well. Tim couldn't thank him enough. And as he lay in his bed, alone in his room, he felt a calmness and ease that everything was going to be fine. But his mind also raced with what could be happening on Treasure Island.

The device that he had Barbara get from his secret closest shorted out soon after the fight between Dick and Arkells, so he couldn't even surf the net. He told himself, when he was able, he'd have to redesign it with a much more powerful processor.

He wished he could have gone with the others to Spyral's secret island, but Arkells, his future self went in his place. He wasn't upset, but he was a little miffed that the person who did this to him had taken his place on the mission, and it reminded him of the time Damian had come onto the scene and took his place as Robin at Batman's side. That got him heated every time he thought about it. It was like when a person has put so much effort into a proposal for a presentation and then someone else swoops in and steals it, getting the credit. And when Damian did become Robin, Bruce just accepted it.

Why? Because biology usurped adoption? Blood was better than bonds? He had wanted to quit and Damian had told him repeatedly to get out of the way. Instead, he took some time away and chilled out, even spent some time with Jason, and did some other things. But he eventually came back with a new outlook and a level head, and a new costume that was Alfred designed—good old Alfred—and was reborn as Red Robin, taken from the bird of the same name: the Red Breasted Robin.

He inhaled and exhaled with his eyes closed, and he felt like he was about to fall asleep. He shut down all negative thinking. He had suffered from depression in the past, but with Alfred and the others helping him get through this difficult moment, he strangely felt at peace, and all he wanted to do was to rest.
Until he heard the floor creaking. It was so quiet in his room right now that he could hear a pin drop, and with the baby monitor on the nightstand next to Tim's bed, Alfred would probably hear it too as he was preparing lunch in the kitchen. But maybe Alfred had finished lunch preparation and had come back up to his room?

Slowly, he opened his eyes, and prepared a smile for the supportive butler. But the moment he saw who was in his room—and it was not Alfred—he opened his mouth to scream, before Deathstroke slapped a hand over Tim's mouth, effectively silencing him.

Deathstroke put a finger to the area where his mouth would be behind his black and orange mask, and then switched off the baby monitor. He looked Tim over and for a second and seemed to pause, wondering why Tim had not fought back and jumped out of bed, covered by a comforter. He retrieved a hunting knife from a leg sheath and placed across Tim's throat.

"Now, when I lift my hand, if you scream, I'll slice your throat from ear-to-ear. Understand?" Deathstroke's voice was menacing and reverberated from behind his sinister mask. Tim gave a little nod. He removed his hand, then said, "It's a little early in the day to take a nap. Shouldn't you be with the others? I saw the Batplane blast off away earlier. There's no one in the manor but you and the butler, Alfred Pennyworth."

"What did you do to Titus?" was the first thing Tim thought of to ask.

"The dog? The German Shepard/Great Dane cross-bred? I drugged it, put it to sleep. No, I wouldn't kill such a beautiful animal. Although, it did sense me before I shot it with a tranq-dart. It won't wake up for hours."

"Good," Tim eyed the villain darkly. "Because Damian would hunt you down to the ends of the earth if you harmed Titus. He might still."

"Get up!" Deathstroke ordered, raising upright.

"I can't. I'm paralyzed from the neck down," he revealed. He sighed, he knew saying such would be like nailing his own coffin, but he had no choice. However, Slade Wilson did visit Dick in the hospital on more friendly terms, Alfred had told him. Briefly, he explained the reason for his condition. "It's only temporary. I'm already beginning to generate feeling in my extremities, but it'll take time."

Deathstroke grumbled under his breath. After what he heard, he said, as if speaking disappointed: "That was a stupid thing you did."

"Save it! I already got a lecture from Dick about it. But enough about me, what the hell are you doing here, Slade?"

"Incidentally, I came to see Richard. I owed him a favour. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, it can't be fulfilled. Richard asked me to find Dr. Jonathan Crane as restitution for shooting him, but with news of a cure to Crane's Fear Germ revealed to the media most recently, thanks to Richard, Crane's gone underground and out of my reach."

"Ha! Out of your reach, Slade? A rat like you should be able to find vermin like him."

"Watch your mouth, Tim Drake." Slade still had the knife in hand. "I could decide to open you up from pelvis to chest and watch you bleed out and enjoy every minute of it in retaliation of all the times you and the Batfamily have interfered in my plans."

"I'm afraid, sir, that you'd never get that far," came Alfred's voice from behind Slade. Even Tim was surprised.

Slade snapped his attention around to see Alfred wielding two very large and extremely sharp kitchen knives in an inverted fighting stance that would offer him the most maneuverability to strike and defend. Tim knew over the years Alfred had honed his own special method of defence using every day cleaning items. The family jokingly called it Butler-Fu. Anything can be turned into a weapon, Alfred once said. But it's up to the wielder to use the tools properly to be most effective.

"How the hell did you…"

Without allowing Slade to mount a counter-response, Alfred attacked, slicing through the air with his knives. "I will defend Master Tim to the hilt, Mr. Wilson." Slade put up his own blade to defend himself and blades clashed, the sound reverberated like swords clinging. "Any assault on one of my family is an assault on me!"

"I haven't assaulted anyone, yet," was Slade's verbal response.

Slade used his knife like a shield, blade to blade, to block another one of Alfred's attacks. But Alfred kept the pressure on, forcing Slade to back off. Slade put up an arm to use his forearm armour to block against another quick strike, but Alfred's kitchen knife was so sharp that it carved a deep slit through the armour plating like a knife through butter.

Seeing this was a shock and Slade Wilson backed off further.

Suddenly, Slade was assaulted from another direction—from below. And Alfred Pennyworth, the Cat, jumped out from under the bed and pounced on him. The "attack" was nothing to Slade, but the distraction was all Alfred, the butler, needed for him to perform a leg sweep to the assassin and knock him on his back to the floor. For a man of Alfred's age, he was extremely nimble and flexible.

Slade rolled over and got to his feet and threw down his blade, then reached for his sword in its sheath on his back. Alfred stood in an offence posture, but even he knew two kitchen knives were no match for a sword. The cat growled and hissed at Slade as it stood just in front of Alfred, too, and Slade took a moment to observe how ridiculous the situation had become—and how he had been momentarily bested by a butler and the manor's feline. The time for jokes was over.

"Nice move, Pennyworth," Slade snorted behind his mask, "but your knives are no match for a sword."

"To quote Master Jason, while crude: It's not the size that's important, it's where you stick it." And he said it with such a straight face.

There was a moment of silence, and then Slade began to laugh. "So dryly said, but the delivery was beyond reproach," he said, then sheathed his sword behind his back, and removed his mask. The Batfamily knew who he was, so revealing his identity meant nothing. Behind the menacing mask and gear was a fit, white haired, older man, with an eye patch over his right eye, from an injury he sustained long ago. "You can put the knives down, Pennyworth, and call over off your guard cat." Alfred and Alfred remained steadfast for the moment. "Obviously, your animals have just as much bravado has their owners."

Alfred seemed to take a moment to analyze the situation and then lowered his arms, but if Slade tried anything, Alfred would be ready to counterattack. "Quite, and they are to be commended." Alfred, the Cat, sat down proper next to Alfred, the butler, but continued to eye Slade with an unblinking stare. "I was bringing up Master Tim's lunch when I found Titus laying unconscious near the main foyer. Communication was not an option at that point as the baby monitor was switched off. So, I summed up the situation, and knew we had an intruder, and took appropriate precautions."

"You snuck up on me," Slade said impressed. "No one has ever done that before."

"Then I'm pleased to be the first. Now, to what do we owe the pleasure of your visit to the Manor, Mr. Wilson? As you may already be aware, the others are not at home at present. They have flown to an island in the Atlantic to battle Jake Handles and to rescue Master Damian." Alfred knew Slade was aware of Handles and his connection to Dick Grayson when they were in Spyral together. During a brief moment, Dick Grayson and told Alfred of Slade's visit to the hospital.

"As I explained to Tim Drake, my original intention was to speak with Richard."

"Then why not knock on the front door?"

Slade gave Alfred a curious look. "Really? People like me don't knock on doors."

"True, you rather crawl around the sewers like rats, or hide in the shadows like a coward."

Slade's face tightened, his eyes narrowed, and his jaw clenched. He breathed out. "Okay, I deserved that after what I've done, and more. But I'm trying to do the right thing after shooting Richard. It was all about the money. I never thought Jake Handles would go this far in an attempt to destroy him. Incidentally, Scarecrow has scampered underground. I can't find him."

"I quick telephone call would have sufficed regarding that information. I was advised of Master Richard's request of you to locate Dr. Jonathan Crane and to hand him over to the authorities to stop the spread of his Fear Germ. Media reports say a cure has been found for the germ. I have no doubt this is the reason for Crane's sudden disappearance, hence, your business here has concluded to a reasonable satisfaction. You've had your say, you can depart the Manor any time."

Slade was a little taken aback by the straight-forwardness. He put up a halting hand. "Wait. I may not have been able to fulfill Richard's request, but there has to be something I can do? I owe him. And despite my past transgressions, I am a man of my word."

Tim started to laugh. "That's rich coming from the man who nearly destroyed Bludhaven with his league of meta-super-soldiers! Dick trusted you then, you two carved out a deal, but then you betrayed him. Thousands of people died. Billions of damage incurred. And it's only by the grace of God that Wayne Enterprises is helping to rebuild the city. No thanks to you!"

"I am inclined to agree with Master Tim," Alfred said. "So, please, don't take it offence that I say that your word is garbage."

Slade looked at them both with equal reserve. He even eyed the cat, who seemed calm, waggling its tail but still on guard. "Have you ever thought of the glass half-full?"

"Yes, but only when the beverage can be trusted to partake," Alfred replied. "Now, I request that you take your leave, Mr. Wilson. Master Tim needs his bed rest and his recovery will be faster without disruption."

"Um, if I can interject for a moment," Tim chimed in. "There may be a way to make my recovery go faster, but I will need someone's help for it to happen." Tim sighed dejected, as if trying to bring himself to say something forbidden. "He has in depth knowledge in Abnormal Psychology, but he also has a great deal of expertise in Neuropathy. It may be essential for my full recovery despite it coming from him. And I shutter with the thought of it coming from him." And Tim explained to them his thoughts.

Alfred thought about it, he agreed. "In theory, it's may work, but it doesn't come without its risks." He then turned to Slade. "Mr. Wilson, since your favour with Master Dick was unfulfilled, and you insist on helping, this task will fall into your hands."

Slade gestured incredulously with shock. "Me? You want me to…Are you crazy? That's suicide for a person like me!"

"You know…" Tim began. "Come to think of it, one call to our friends around the world—the Justice League, the Titans, even the Outsides—and you Slade, will become Enemy Number Uno for targeting Dick."

"You heroes are not in the assassin business," Slade said in disbelief. "Your threat is meaningless."

"Dick is respected all around. You'll be hunted to the ends of the earth, Slade. They'll be no place you can hide. I'm serious, with all the meta-humans who are our allies, you won't even be able to steal a stick of gum without someone knowing about it. No one will hire you knowing the fallout that will come to your benefactors and/or clients either. Your name will become blacklisted, and trust me, it can be done, and in quick succession, too. And I have no qualms in doing it."

Slade shared a hard stare with Tim, then: "You know, you'd make a great villain, Drake. If ever you decide to hang up the superhero gig, give me a call, and I'll train you like I did with Richard to be a master in your trade."

"Trust me, I already am. I can 'assassinate' a person more easily from the comfort of my computer," Tim said without all seriousness. "The information highway can kill a person much faster than a bullet these days."

"I believe you." Slade shrugged and relented. "Fine. I'll do it. But the remainder of the arrangements must be yours."

Alfred agreed.

x x x

Several minutes later, Slade got into the passenger seat to a dark, nondescript Sedan that was parked on a dirt road a mile down from Wayne Manor. In the driver's seat sat Pixie, but her hair was now dyed black. After they met again, Pixie had more information for him about another matter, sparks flew and they became lovers, and were now partners.

She noticed he looked dejected. "Problem?" she asked.

"We have a job to do," Slade said. Then sighed.

He told her. She was shocked, but she ended up agreeing to it.

The car sped off.

To be continued...

 

Chapter Text

Two guards met Dr. Hans Reinhardt and his lovely young assistant at the front gates at Arkham Asylum, they were at the maximum security prison for the criminally insane for an annual inmate evaluation assessment. They called ahead for a background clearance check and were accepted. After another security check at the gates, the pair were escorted in and met with the Warden in his office.

The Warden shook hands with the Doctor and greeted his assistant cordially with a nod. "Dr. Reinhardt, it's a pleasure to meet you," he said happily to the slightly grey but mostly white haired professional. Reinhardt was of stalk shape and appeared to visit the gym on a regular bases. "I've heard good things about you. Is this your first time at Arkham Asylum?"

"Ja," Dr. Reinhardt said in German. He spoke straight-forward, adjusting his small oblong spectacles with the middle finger of his left hand. He had a bit of a heavy German accent, but his English was understandable. "But I am a little nervous with the clientele that reside at this beachside resort hotel." He gave a small chuckle. The Warden shared the chuckle allowing the little joke.

"That's understandable, the inmates can be intimidating at first. There are some of the worse human beings in the world that reside under this roof. A roof, in fact, that is adding an expansion at the moment because we are near capacity."

"Batman has been busy, Ja?" The Warden nodded and said Yes. "I have read the dossier of this facility. Unfortunately, there has been some fowl up—as it is said, and I am only here to see one inmate." He recited the Prisoner's identification indent. "I was told to begin with one inmate, submit a report, wait until it is evaluated, and then wait until the Council approves of my analysis. If they agree with my assessment, then I will be assigned more inmates to further evaluate."

"Ah, so this is a test for you. I understand, and I believe that's for the best. A lot of the inmates at Arkham will even scare the bravest solider into crawling under his bed. We have fiends, killers, psychopaths, monsters, and plenty of sociopaths—one of whom will be the man you will be evaluating. He's quite a character, to say the least." The Warden checked his desk computer, pressing a button to bring something up on screen. "I did a little background check on you before granting your access here. You have impressive credentials, Doctor Reinhardt. And you majored in Abnormal Psychology. The irony is uncanny. Don't you think?"

"I see the irony, Ja," Dr. Reinhardt replied flatly.

The Warden then eyed Reinhardt's assistant and looked her over from head to toe. She was young, trim, with a sizeable chest, and wore glasses, but had a more standard pair; Reinhardt's glasses were more customized to his face. However, her attire had a hint of pink to it, and he was a little worried that her attire may arouse some of the inmates and even a few guards.

"So, you're here to see Dr. Hugo Strange," the Warden said, and then suddenly laughed. "Funny how one doctor is here to evaluate another doctor on the very same psychosis of mental health issues he himself has studied and majored."

"Ja," was all Dr. Reinhardt said. "Now, as they said in my line of work: let's get cracking." The Warden cocked his head curiously. "Inside joke," Reinhardt explained. "Abnormal Psychology is like cracking eggs, you never know what type of yoke you'll get."

The Warden nodded. "In this place most if not all of them are scrambled eggs. I'll have the two guards who escorted you to my office take you to Dr. Strange's cell on the sixth level. And don't be alarmed, they will be armed. Before you leave, place all your valuables—cell phones and anything electronic here in my office. That includes your mini purse, Miss" —the Warden looked at the profile page on his computer— "Wendy Dust."

She rummaged through her purse which was more of a carry case, then handed it over. There was basically nothing inside other than a small note pad and a pen. She had left all valuables other than ID cards safely at home knowing where she would be coming. She took both items and then followed Dr. Reinhardt, escorted by the two guards to the elevator, and then to the sixth floor—the Warden remaining behind. They followed the guards through the half-moon corridor to Dr. Hugo Strange's cell.

"Please stand back," one of the guard's advised. "The cell door is electrified for reasons of safety." He held in his hand a wooden baton that he used to bang on the metal door. "Hey Doctor, you have visitors."

Hugo Strange groaned. "I'm not at liberty to guests. And it better not be that Bat brat again!"

"Bat brat?" Dr. Reinhardt repeated.

"Red Robin paid Strange a visit the other day or so. The Warden said to watch him if he started doodling or something. Well, he did. Some medical stuff. But when the Warden told him that a cure to Scarecrow's Fear Germ had been found, Strange ripped them all up. Naturally, the Warden took the pieces to tape together to see if anything could be useful, but it turned out that a doctor at Gotham General Hospital had found the same cure Strange had devised. And Strange has been in a fowl mood ever since."

"I wanted to be the one to find a cure!" Strange said through the door. He had obviously overhead. "I even gave Red Robin small clues to follow, but left crucial elements to myself. I just needed a proper formula before I announced my findings. And when I found it, the Mayor would have given me the key to the city, and a ticket out of here. Damn to Hades to whoever found it first!" Reinhardt asked what the cure to the germ was. "It was gold, Herr Doctor." Strange had picked up Reinhardt's German accent. "One of the most precious minerals humans have ever found in the ground. It can be electrified in small qualifies, that can eradicate certain cancers and diseases using a person's own neurotic energy to cure itself. What made the body, can cure the body."

"Well, anyway," the guard pressed. "It is time for your monthly psychiatric evaluation, Doctor."

"Oh, good god!" he protested. "I'm locked up in this hellhole; case closed!"

But before the same guard could respond, Dr. Reinhardt put up a hand to halt him. "Dr. Hugo Strange, this must be done. It is my job to evaluate you, and I am not leaving here until my assessment is complete." He was forceful.

The second guard had been quiet and was mainly there for support.

He looked at Reinhardt's assistant, Wendy Dust, with a keen eye. He held a rifle in hand, it was the standard protection when dealing with the inmates, and stared at her with curious interest.

Wendy noticed this, and asked, "May I help you, officer?"

"Don't I know you? You're from Bludhaven, right?"

"I took my undergraduate studies in Bludhaven before the incident that nearly befell the city some time ago with the meta-humans, yes." Dr. Reinhardt momentarily eyed her when she said that.

The guard's eyes narrowed as he looked at her. "No, it's something else. You have a one of those unforgettable faces. I'm good with faces. I have a buddy who lives in Bludhaven, who likes to visit the neighbouring watering holes; bars. I recently visited him and he took me to this popular bar in the downtown core, and we saw this easy chick called Pixie with the craziest pink hair…"

"My hair is not pink, officer, as you can plainly see," she retorted.

"Yeah, I can see that. It's nice. But…" He shook his head as if to knock cobwebs out. "Anyway, want to go out on a date?"

The first guard gave him a scolding glance and he backed off.

Then Strange's cell door was unlocked with a device the first guard held that deactivated the electrified door and disengaged all the locks. He announced that both guards were armed and for Strange to back away from the door.

When the door was pulled open, the hefty looking, bald-headed, man known as Dr. Hugo Strange with his no moustache, middle-eastern cropped beard, was sitting on his bunk reading a book. Dr. Reinhardt caught a glimpse of the title: The Catcher In the Rye. Reinhardt glanced around. It was like a library in Strange's cell, lots of books were stacked on the floor in piles.

Wendy Dust remained outside in the corridor with the second guard, while the first guard stood at the threshold of the cell door, armed. Strange eyed Dr. Reinhardt, when he entered. "And to whom do I owe this visit from? What is your name and expertise?"

Dr. Reinhardt took a moment as if analyzing the man. Then he spelled it all out for him, giving Strange his name and profession. He said his words with such elegance that it sounded like he was reading from a memorized script, which was not entirely untrue. He knew Hugo Strange would ask such a thing and with Strange's personality, confidence was key to trust.

Strange looked impressed. "I'm also an expert in Abnormal Psychology," and he laughed sadistically. "I also minored in Neuropathy, but I don't get much practise in that regard. The Human Mind is more my field of expertise, but obviously both go hand-in-hand. Sometimes when the mind is unable to tell you what you need to know, the body can speak volumes."

Strange then went on with a long-winded, prideful boast, about how some neurological disorders can cause psychosomatic mental issues, that if not dealt with, could develop into a from of post traumatic stress disorder, sometimes caused by prolonged forms of pain that drugs cannot fix, creating mental instability and acute personality changes. Present company included. But Strange's mental "pain" was caused by how he saw the world, and how it was occupied by idiots and fools, and sadistic vigilantes.

"I see you enjoy reading," Dr. Reinhardt made an observation.

"It keeps my mind sharp."

"How are you, Hugo?" Reinhardt asked.

"Don't be pedantic. You've obviously read my file. Your prognosis, Herr Doctor?"

Dr. Reinhardt adjusted his glasses with a middle finger once more, straight-faced, he said, "I don't make assumptions from another person's written notes and diagnoses, I would rather get a personal perception of a patient; I'm just that sort of person. I would prefer to make my own analysis based on one-on-one observation and consultation."

Hugo waved it off. "But that's not how it works, Herr Doctor. People always make assumptions, or rather, presumptions even before they see a patient. No one likes to go in blind. That is both dangerous for the physician and the patient. Give me my profile. I've been visited by a few psychiatrists other than yourself and each of them have stated the same thing. I would like your honest opinion, based on the information already in my personal records."

It was a test, Dr. Reinhardt thought. Then: "Nein, that's not how it works, Hugo. Private collected information is not to be shared with the patient. But trust me when I say, I know a lot about you, Dr. Hugo Strange, and more than you know, Ja?"

Seconds later, Wendy Dust covered her mouth, pointed the pen that she was holding, depressed a button, and gassed both guards, quickly yanking them inside, throwing them to the floor. They coughed, but ultimately succumb to its knock-out effects. It all took place so fast that no one else saw it happen. Then she shut the door behind her, but didn't lock it. She retrieved the control device from the first guard just in case and examined how it worked.

Hugo Strange swore and jumped off his bunk, his back hitting the wall. He looked at the camera in his cell and wondered if those monitoring the security surveillance were watching this, or even the cameras out in the corridor. Would they come and stop it?

Dr. Hans Reinhardt ripped off the plastic of his face and Slade Wilson, Deathstroke, stood before Hugo Strange. The disguise was so good that it even gave believability to Slade's fake right eye, which he removed and placed back his eye patch. Before Strange had a moment to ask how, Slade explained. With the last phrase he had spoken, a device was activated that was just recently wired into the surveillance video and audio systems of Arkham and it now played back the last two minutes of playback when everything was normal, before Wendy Dust gassed the guards and before this moment. It would play back for fifteen minutes.

Hugo Strange was aghast. "What madness is this? You went to these lengths to see me? Yet now this? Why?"

Slade smirked. "To brake you out, of course." He said it with such sly and cunning that Hugo Strange was stunned with disbelief.
As he said it, Wendy Dust—Pixie—busied herself removing two small devices that she had stuffed between her breasts before entering Arkham Asylum. For a brief moment, Hugo Strange got a peepshow when she had to open the top of her dress, exposing herself, to remove the devices that were firmly wedged between her buxom pair, covered with a wrapping that could not be scanned and were invisible to metal detectors. Strange even complemented her on them which she returned with a nasty look.

She did most of the work while Slade watched Hugo Strange and hauled one guard onto Strange's bunk, then the other, placing them on top of each other in a rather uncompromising position face-to-face, but it was necessary for what was intended. Then she attached one of the devices to the clothes of one guard and switched it on. She gave the other device, which looked like a mini chain key beeper, to Slade, which he took with a smile.

"And what is that thing?" Hugo Strange asked.

Slade kept it close. "This is the key to our salvation, Strange, and it's also how we're going to get out undetected. We're just going to walk out of here, none the wiser. This device emits an unusual frequency that'll mask our true identities until at such time the device attached to the security surveillance system serves its purpose, and will self-destruct when programmed. I can thank a little birdie for this technology, but he said it will only last a short while. So, time is short. And the device attached to those two guards will act as a mask to make it appear you are laying in the bunk. An interesting simulation technology, but I don't know much about it, yet."

"For what end? What do you want of me?"

"Things will be explained later. Now, shut-up and do what I tell you."

x x x

Hugo Strange was shocked when things went off without a hitch.

Slade Wilson and his friend Pixie had thought out everything before they ventured deep into Arkham using technology beyond his understanding. When they were out and through the front gates, they casually entered a parked car and drove off. Hugo Strange's only presence masked by an invisibility that he could not explain.

How did the guards not see him walk straight past them and out the front doors? Not that he was complaining. He was thankful he didn't have to spend another minute in that depressing place. What lay ahead for him, he didn't know. But he followed Slade's instructions to the letter and remained silent as he walked beside him the whole way—invisible to the naked eye and the cameras.

The device Slade had also made the Warden believe, by some weird form of its workings, that Deathstroke—one of the most notorious assassins in Gotham City—was in fact a respected and noted Psychologist, giving purchase to his previous identity as Dr. Hans Reinhardt, escorted to his office by the same guards, while they still remained in Strange's cell.

Eventually, the truth would be revealed, but by that time, it would be too late. He would have to ask about the technology later.

The car drove on for a few miles then pulled onto a dirt road where it stopped. Pixie and Hugo were in the backseat. Slade reached over and pressed a few buttons on the dash computer screen and suddenly noises were heard on the outside of the vehicle. Slade explained that the vehicle's colour and plates were being altered, so it couldn't be tracked when their rouse was discovered at Arkham, which would be any time now. He then told Pixie to follow through in the second stage of their plan.

To be continued...

 

Chapter Text

Damian awoke with a start and his eyes bulged with the shock of where he suddenly found himself: on a serene looking beach, surrounded by sand, breathing fresh air, with the sound of the tide washing upon the shore. He sat up under a rock outcropping, and his immediate thought was: Am I dreaming? Or Am I in another one of Jake Handles photo-kinetic illusions?

Next to him sat a brown jacket and a slip-on bulletproof vest, but they were kid-size. Were these his? No, he was still wearing his Nightwing Junior costume, but his mask had been peeled off and was sitting next to the other gear that belonged to someone else. He was thankful that whoever unmasked him had not placed in the sand or the adhesive would be rendered useless. And yet, that would also mean they knew what he looked liked under his mask and could acquire his real identity.

Also, sitting next to him, was a powerful looking handgun. He picked it up and found that it was heavy. He was fluent in many times of handguns, mainly thanks to his involvement with Todd, and he knew that this was what was known as a "man stopper", because it would kill a man with a single shot, blowing his chest clean through. He checked its ammo and it was fully loaded.

He took everything in and knew all this stuff looked like it belonged to Todd. But the escrima sticks were new. Were they his? He knew he had lost one of Grayson's sticks in Bludhaven when it was tossed off a building in an alley when he fought against Jake Handles and the other Handles had crushed in his artificial hand as if it was nothing. He touched them, they felt real enough.

Suddenly, he heard what appeared to be the splashing of water. The sun was gleaming so bright and the sand was blinding his vision to his immediate location, especially when he stepped out from the outcropping. He had to squint to the light, but soon his eyes adjusted. And then, at the water's edge to this sandy beach paradise, he saw the form of an individual. Focusing more, he saw it was a boy dressed only in a pair of undershorts, washing himself down, and splashing water over his face and hair. His clothes were spread out, laying in the sand near-by, as if drying in the sun.

When Damian moved his muscles, they felt like that weighed a ton. Had he been fighting?

With the gun in hand, he snuck up on the other, and as the other drenched himself with water, Damian cocked the handgun and pointed it at the boy. "Who the hell are you?"

The boy was unafraid, offering no immediate reaction to being threatened. "Is that anyway to thank your saviour, munchkin-brain?" Jason Todd turned to him, water dropping down his face from his matted down dark hair. "Welcome back to the land of the living."

Damian's eyes widened. He was much younger, even younger than Damian at the moment, but only someone like Todd would call him something like that. Yet, it could be a trick. "Todd? Is that…you?"

"In the undaunted flesh, or at the very least, half of me. The rest of me went bye-bye." He wiped an arm across his forehead. "Damn, it's hot out here. I just washed myself and yet I feel like I just spend an hour in a sauna. I kicked up such a sweat in my gear, I smelled like some of Tim's old sweat socks."
Damian was still awestruck, but he lowered the gun. "Never mind that. What the hell happened to you?

Jason Todd looked himself over. "Well, long story short: they Mini-Me'd me with some sort of miniaturization ray found on the island. Those sadistic Spyral bastards like to keep some interesting toys. I'm just hoping it's not permanent. Not sure I want to relive my life from this point on, knowing what occurred in the past—if you know what I mean?"

Damian nodded. Knowing soon after this period in Todd's life, he was murdered by the Joker, but then resurrected by the Lazarus Pit, much like Damian had been. Batman once remarked: Dying was nothing to the Batfamily anymore because of the Lazarus Pit. But he was still unconvinced that this was the Jason Todd he knew. A grown man being shrunk kid-size was too fantastic to believe. And yet, Damian had seen stranger things since becoming Robin.
"How do I know it's really you? I mean, this could be a trick. I've experienced Handles' illusions before."

"His PK constructs? Yeah, I know." Jason slicked back his hair. "Suffice it to say, he tried to turn you into a living weapon and pitted you against me. But," and Jason smiled big, "I beat your ass. Even pint-sized, you're still no match for me." He then explained, very proudly the details of Damian's defeat, and about the control collar, and how he dragged Damian's sorry butt to the outcrop to sleep off being electrocuted by his own escrima sticks Handles had provided. "So, you see, I'm the real McCoy."

Damian snorted out frustration. He didn't remember any of it, but the facf that he had been beaten by Jason, even in this pint-size version, was enough to unnerve him. But he put that aside for the moment. "Do you know where Kent is?"

"Handles has him, but I'm sure he's fine," Jason said. "The kid's tough like his Dad."

Damian agreed. For as long as he had known Jon Kent, he never gave up. He did whine sometimes to the point that he deserved a slap or two, but when the chips were down, he fought on. And he had this underline determination about him despite his innocent facade that Damian admired. It wasn't that he was the son of Superman that made him confident, it was the fact that he knew that his strength was a gift to help others. Their days when they teamed up were still fresh in his mind.

"We must rescue him," Damian said flatly, then looked introspective. "I can recall fighting Harvey Two-Face and Handles just before they put that collar on me, then nothing, as if my body and mind were no longer my own. Things happened around me in a haze, I couldn't react. I fought its control, but it was no use. I fear the same is in store for Kent. It's incredible and powerful technology."

"That's why I kept it after I ripped it off you. Maybe Tim can make use of it when we get back. I have it with the rest of my stuff." Jason then cocked his head, he sniffed the air. "Pew! But first things first—you reck." He waved a hand across his face as if smelling something awful. "And your stench is fowling up all the fresh air around here. You need to take a bath."

Damian smelled himself. "I don't smell that bad. And besides, I already had a bath."

Jason's eyebrows arched twice and he smiled. "Yes, you did. And you fulfilled one of my all time greatest fantasies, you lucky dog." He folded his arms across his chest. "And yes, I know, I have the body of a twelve year old right now, and that may have sounded perverted, but I don't care. My adult mind is still in tact. I only wish I could've experienced what you did."

"Nothing happened, Todd. Absolutely nothing!" Damian said defensively. "You have a warped mind, you know that?"

"Oh, c'mon, Damian, I've never seen you happier. Spill it. I promise I won't tell your Dad. Did you birdie them?"

Damian fumed. "Enough! Get your clothes back on. We need to get going and rescue Kent. How do we get to Handles from here?"

Jason remained where he was, arms crossed. "Now listen, Damian. I'm still the oldest here, and you don't give me orders. There's nothing we can do right now anyway, we're like castaways at the moment. Handles can see us, he has cameras everywhere on the island" —Jason pointed to a thicket of bushes a little ways off, a small glint from the sun indicated a camera's location; he also pointed to other cameras— "so, there's no place we can go, he can't see. So, we might as well stay put for the time. He's obviously not concerned with us at the moment, or he'd send one of his PK constructs against us. He's probably busy with something else."

"And that's why we have to take the fight to him! He needs to pay!"

"Pay? For what? You can sideline your vendetta, Damian. Dick is fine. Last time I saw Dick, he was in a hospital room surrounded by doctors and nurses—and Barbara. And he's one strong S.O.B, so getting all hot and bothered about Handles targeting him isn't worth it. I came to this island with Jon to rescue you, now we have to rescue him. But, as far I'm concerned, Jon Kent doesn't need rescuing. I'm sure he's just binding his time for the right time to break free of his captors."

"You don't know that."

"No, I don't. So, going off half-cocked isn't the answer. If Dick taught us anything, it's to strategize before running into danger. A stupid hero gets himself killed without thinking of everything that could go wrong. It only takes one mistake for things to go a-rye. Put your hatred aside and start to think clearly. Think like Dick. Yes, I know that sounds very corny. But he's the smartest guy I know and the best partner to have in a fight. When he was Batman, he was better than your father and smarter."

Damian opened his mouth to rebuke, but then suddenly nodded. "Yes, Grayson was," he said. "Not to take away from father."

"Bruce has his own attributes, Dick has his strengths, too. But they also have weakness like the rest of us. And you know me, I would never admit to something like if it wasn't true." Damian agreed. He knew he could lose his temper on the fly sometimes. Both his father and Grayson had told him he had to learn to control that. "And right now, being like this, is a major weakness for me."

Damian was surprised that Todd would even admit that. At that moment, despite his own weakness of pride sometimes getting in the way of his own ability to see through his own blinders when he was fighting, Todd earned his respect. He hated to be lectured to, but maybe he was right and it was best to let cooler heads prevail. Besides, what could they do against Handles at the moment?

Suddenly, Todd let out the biggest belch Damian had every heard. It echoed everywhere and seemed to reverberate. Todd laughed short, then felt his stomach and sighed. "Oh, I needed that," he said. "I think I swallowed some of this water."

Damian produced the smallest smirk. Was it the kid in him that wanted to laugh at the burp? It was pretty loud. "Does it taste fresh or salty?" he asked. He didn't know where the island was, but what he could tell was it was a tropical island environment. He judged direction and took in a few other factors and determined they were in the Atlantic Ocean. "It's not widely known, but different types of water can result in an uptake of gas from the esophagus if the body isn't used to it. Not all water is the same. And if you're not careful, you can get also get Hepatitis that can affect your liver."

"Thanks Professor," Jason replied sarcastically. "It's fresh, which is odd. But then the island must have its own filtration system and exit vents which could clean up the water from salty to fresh, I don't know. I'm just glad it didn't come out the other end. I only have one pair of shorts." He walked up onto the sand and gathered his clothes and began to dress. As he did, he told Damian that Harvey Two-Face had destroyed the Batboat. "Unless someone rescues us, we're pretty much stuck here."

"We should explore the island then," Damian voiced. "Get an understanding of its topography."

"I vote we stay here, build a fire, wait until it gets dark, and tell ghost stories," Jason said facetiously.

"Get serious, Todd. We need to—"

"Go where?" Todd said seriously, picking up his jacket. "I told you, Handles is watching us. The best thing we can do at the moment is remain here. Did you just forget what we discussed not to go off half-cocked? Besides, I'm sure the Batboat blackbox is transmitting our position to the Batcave, and the others are on their way. If not, and Handles is blocking it, our last known position would've been sent back. I made sure to send our position back every two minutes when Jon and I were coming to rescue your sorry ass." Damian sneered. And Todd immediately noticed it. "Oh yeah?" He threw his jacket down. "C'mon, pipsqueak! I'll take you on again!"

Damian smirked, then waved a hand over his head. "Judging by appearances, I'm taller than you at the moment, pipsqueak. I've seen pictures of you at this age, and since I'm also older—I'm thirteen—that makes me I charge of the mission now."

Jason snorted. "Age doesn't constitute competence," he said back. "I've encountered a few kids in my travels that could run circles around you on the street. You always think you're so smart. Narcissism is the way of the idiot. There's always someone better."

"True, but—"

"But nothing! And don't you dare quote me some famous philosopher or expert to contradict me. You're starting to piss me off!"

Damian's arrogance showed as he cupped his hips, said: "The feeling's mutual, Todd."

"There you go again." Jason growled angrily. "You're always so condescending, and you do nothing but belittle others. I can't believe Jon Kent hangs around you at all. The kid's smart, so he should know better than to get involved with a jerk like you!"

"Don't you dare! When I was growing up, all I did was train with the League of Assassins. I didn't have any friends."

"I bet there's an obvious reason for that. If you asked me to be your friend, I'd punch you in the face instead."

"Having a friend like you is like having a sociopath who likes to burn bugs and butcher cats."

Jason's eyes widened with shock. With teeth clenched, he then ran and barrelled into the boy, knocking him to the ground. Jason used his body to pin Damian down. He then let his frustrations loose and delivered punch after punch to Damian's face. Damian tried to fend him off, but Jason's strength was unbelievable as if he was possessed by some higher power. Damian knew when emotions ran high, people could have super strength. Especially kids.

Damian blocked one punch, but another got through. "Get off me, you sadistic maniac!"

"Take it back! Take it back!"

Damian managed to push him off, then somersault away, and settled onto one knee. He felt the left side of his jaw. "You're crazy!" He saw that Todd was really mad. What did he say to set him off that badly? It was nothing he hadn't referred to him before. Todd was unstable, he even knew that himself, but perhaps, now that he was a kid, he couldn't control that instability like he had before. "Look, this isn't right. We shouldn't be fighting each other like this."

"Take it back! Take it back!" Todd repeated.

"Take what back?"

"That I like to butcher cats! You weren't present at the time it happened, but there was a time a stray cat attacked Dick in an alley. It was such a brilliant moment. He was very independent and didn't like to be touched by anyone—sort of like me. Eventually, I met him again when I fighting some thugs and fed him. Long story short, Mr. Darcy lives with me now. So, take it back!"

"You have a pet cat?" Damian blinked surprised, standing. This was out of character for whom he thought Todd was, cold and uncaring. Damian knew Todd was acting like a kid right now, but as a fellow animal lover he understood where he was coming from. Animal owners were very defensive treating them like kids and they'd defended them to the hilt. "What kind of name is Darcy?"

"Mister Darcy, thank-you! And Darcy is Celtic for Dark. He's a black cat, as black as the night."

Damian burst out laughing, a full-blown belly laugh. "I never expected someone like you to have a pet cat! It's so odd. Well, more odd than usual; especially with you."

Todd cupped his hips, his anger gone. "And the animals you've rescued aren't? Bat-Cow; Jersey, the Turkey; Alfred Pennyworth, the cat; even Titus, your German Shepard/Great Dane mutt. Who, incidentally, doesn't much like me."

"There's a reason for that. I train all my animals to despise you."

"Whose the sadistic one now?"

Damian waved his hands in front of him. "Okay, enough of this useless banter. We have to get going. C'mon, get your gear. Maybe we can find something useful in what remains of the Batboat."

Suddenly, Damian tripped on something hidden under the beach and he fell face first into the sand. Jason burst out laughing as Damian rose and spit out sand. It was a common stone he fell over, but it was comedic relief at its best.

"Karma is a bitch sometimes, eh? What a cat-tastrope that was." Jason laughed still. Damian wanted to retort, but the kid kept spitting out sand, and brushing it from his mouth. "Suffice it to say, the Batboat's toast. But, come to think of it, we should get going. Once the others get here, and I have a feeling they're on their way—if indeed that noise I heard earlier was a plane flying over the island earlier—we better greet to them in best form. I have a feeling the worse is yet to come."

To be continued...

 

Chapter Text


This was a critical moment. Jake Handles knew that they were on the island and the challenge had been laid.


Dick looked around, the island appeared serene and tropical, and it was warm but not necessarily all-too humid, and midday, but he knew this was one of the most dangerous places on the face of the planet. The items that were stored here, he knew, could blow a hole in the world, and kill all of Humankind in the wrong hands—and Jake Handles was the kind of person to use them. All of them.


Sypral had brought a multitude of weapons to the island. Dick once peeked at an inventory list when he wasn’t supposed to. And the sub-harmonics device was not the worse of them.


It was then he remembered the important thing that he had forgotten. “Hey guys, if I recall—“


Arkells interrupted, and pointed towards the mountain that jettisoned from the island like something fabled from Greek mythology—Mount Olympus: the place where the God Zeus resided—as something horrible began to swirl out from a crevasse. It swirled around like a dark cloud, the cloud consisting of a multitude of dots. “Um, stupid question: But bats are nocturnal, right?”


Batman turned. “Yes, but they have been known to leave their caves during the day if they’re interrupted…” His voice trailed off when he looked up and saw the swarm of bats erupt from the mountain side in the form of a giant vortex, thousands of them. And once they spread out, their numbers were so great that they began to darken the sky, screeching, their collective sound deafening.


Dick looked up. “Holy…”


Barbara finished his thought: “Shit!”


Suddenly, the abnormal swarm turned on a dime and began to fly straight towards them. Dogs were known to obey their masters after hearing a silent whistle; Bats were also sensitive to certain high pitch frequencies with their sonar hearing. Venturing out during the day was highly unusual for bats. They were creatures of the night, unless they were controlled by a higher power. And with Handles in control of the island and its stored technology, the possibilities were endless of what he possessed.


The minute they came in close, the party began to defend themselves from the bats’ onslaught. Fighting them off like insects.


Arkells cried out when one bat sunk its razor sharp teeth into his hand and drew blood. He whacked it away and it seemed to disappear as if into thin air, but he couldn’t be sure because there were so many of them.
“You all right, Arkells?” Nightwing asked, fighting off his own collective swarm, shouting over the screeching of the bats.


“Yeah, I just hope I don’t turn into a Vampire. But someone didn’t give me a weapon to fight them off with.” That was a direct jab at Batman. Arkells whacked more bats away with his hands and could have sworn he saw them pop before his eyes.


“Something’s odd here,” Barbara voiced. “Are you all seeing this?”


“That they’re disappearing the moment we hit them like balloons?” Nightwing said back. “Yeah…”


“What are these things if not bats?” Arkells asked.


“They are photo-kinetic constructs; hard light, computer-generated facsimiles,” Batman explained, “a Spyral technology. They were working on perfecting it. It’s an off-shoot of their invisibility technology that reflects light to make their agents appear like ghosts.”


“How come I didn’t know about this technology?” Dick wondered. “Where was I?”


“Doing your job, infiltrating Spyral for me,” Bruce said, “while I gathered information on them, and this new technology. It seems Jake Handles has perfected it, and he can create real-life constructs. If he’s able to create people, he could topple governments.”


“Diabolical! Handles has been very busy,” Dick said, whacking away more bats with his escrima sticks.


“So, these bats aren’t real and we don’t have to hold back?” Arkells asked. All of sudden, Arkells right arm morphed into a giant fly swatter using the AI to alter his body, and he batted a swarm of bats away, popping them like balloons. But they kept coming back as if self-replicating. Or rather their vast number only made it seem as much.


Nightwing looked at him surprised. “I didn’t know you could do that? You remind me of Garth: Beast Boy, from the Titans. That AI technology must come in handy. You were holding back during our fight, weren’t you?”


“Enough chatter!” Batman shouted. In his hand was a super-sonic grenade. “Cover your ears now!” From the moment Batman threw it into the air, to the seconds it took for everyone to slap their hands over their ears was too close to call. And suddenly, with the explosion, the bats began to pop like plastic bubble packaging—the sonic blast, disrupting their collective matrix.


They all let out a death cry before they were sent to nothingness. Then, there was silence, and everyone let out a sigh of relief.


For a moment, the AI in Arkells brain seemed to process recent data and he felt a momentary lapse in consciousness. It had gathered information on the attack and the PK technology and stored it for later. He blinked, as if he had a feeling of deja-vu. His thinking returned to the present. “Hey, a little more warning next time!” Arkells protested. “You nearly disrupted the AI in me! It put up a protective barrier at the last second to block the blast. A sonic blast is similar to an EMP pulse in some ways, you know.”


“Sorry,” Batman said, but without feeling.


“That’s some genius tech—these PK constructs,” Arkells then said. “Like kamikaze fighters without the loss of manpower.”


“Yes, and that’s worrisome,” Batman replied. “What is Handles planning? This island is a powder-cake of technology.”


“And the PK constructs are only the tip of the iceberg, if I recall,” Dick mused. “Handles has a lot more at his disposal.”


Spyral had acquired so much technology from terrorists and despots that there was bound to be some not on the list he had seen and some more classified that others only the upper elites were privy to.


Now recalling what he had forgotten, Dick said: “Spyral also snatched another bit of technology that was originally devised to help medical patients with neurological issues. And it was weaponized: mind-control devices. They have the appearance of choker chain-wraps, apparently based on some new fad young kids have these days. They are light in weight and act like a mini-brains from the neck down, basically adding stimulation for the nerves to fire. When misused, it forces complete submission of its user.”


“I can attest to that,” came a familiar voice.


Everyone turned around. From down the way came two wayward wanderers. Damian, in his Nightwing Junior attire, walked along another boy dressed head to toe in fighting gear that looked very familiar. Barbara was the first to acknowledge them. Then she ran over and hugged Damian tightly, her body pressed against him, and his face planted where a teenage boy only dreamed.


“You lucky dog,” came from the other, as he saw this, smiling jealously. “Don’t I get a hug, too?”


“Ow! Can’t breath!” Damian’s voice came out breathlessly.


Barbara broke the hug and apologized, saying she was just excited to see him safe. She then turned to acknowledge the other. She cocked her head slightly with a sense of familiarity. “Whose your friend, Damian, and why is he wearing battle gear?”


The others collected around them. Damian turned to the other, and said, “Do you want to tell them, or shall I?”


“The fun is in the guessing, don't you think? But we don’t have time for games right now.” Mimicking the gesture of a comedic villain in a movie, he put a pinky finger to his lips, and said, “I am Mini-Red Hood. I’m a bit smaller, but I still make one hellva rescuer.”


Barbara was shocked and Bruce was summarily surprised by the revelation. The others were puzzled as well. But then, when realization finally set in, both Dick and Arkells burst out laughing.


Jason cupped his hips and frowned. And then made a sound much like Tt. “Hey! I may be small, but I can still kick both your asses!” But this just doubled the laughter from both Dick and Arkells. Jason then eyed Arkells. “And who the hell is this?”


But before Arkells could make introductions, Bruce interrupted, with an almost concerned look on his face. Even behind his cowl he looked like a father with a worried expression when he saw his son hurt. “What happened to you, Jason?”


Jason explained about the miniaturization ray that he was told Jake Handles had used on him. Harvey Two-Face had told him. It was some sort of super secret toy that Sypral had taken from a despot, once designed to shrink cancerous tumours for medical purposes, but then weaponized. He also told Batman about the fight he had with Damian on the beach.


Damian held the control collar Handles had used on him, the same Dick had just told everyone about. “This little plaything was used on me to control my every thought and action. Todd shocked me with one of the escrima sticks Handles provided me to fight with, as  one of his super-soldiers, to knock me out of Handles control.” Damian gave an acknowledgment to Jason, then turned to Grayson. “I’m sorry, I lost your escrima sticks. Todd told me he found one of them, but Handles crushed the other one.”


“Not a problem, Damian,” Dick smiled. “As long as you’re okay. Objects can be replaced, people can’t.”


“Thanks.” Damian turned to Arkells. “And now I’m going to ask the same question as Todd. Who the hell are you?” Arkells told him. “I thought you were dead? Damn these timeline paradoxes. Grayson, when we get back, kick Barry Allan’s ass for me. Now I’m going to have to deal with two annoying Drake's.”


Arkells clenched fists at his side, but then laughed. “Well, you know the old saying: When you haven’t finished kicking ass, not even death can keep you from finishing the job. It’s too bad I don’t have any bubblegum.”
Dick gave Arkells a curious sideways glance when he said that. It reminded him of a line from one of his favourite movies.


“I agree!” Jason then said. He held his gun in hand brining it up to full view. “So, what now? Do we storm the Bastille?”


“First, we have to rescue Kent,” Damian said insistently. “I dread what Handles is doing to him at the moment.” He gave a small smile. “He’s my friend, and friends help friends in times of need.” Jason gave him a small nod. Obviously Jason’s words from before had gotten through the hard shell Damian had encased around himself. Sometimes people had a way of getting through like that.


Jason spread his arms out. “Hey! What about my situation? I know when people get older they go through a midlife crises and wish for a second childhood, but this is ridiculous! I have no intention of reliving those childhood years…” He looked to Batman, as if a mere look could convey a thought. The thought of how Joker had brutally murdered him.


“We’ll get to you. Don’t blow your stack, shorty,” Damian said with a crooked smirk.


Jason looked at him with bitter scorn, and said, “I hate you.”


“The feeling is more than mutual.”


Jason and Damian gritted their teeth and growled at each other, their camaraderie revering back to their dislike for one another.


Just then, the ground began to shake violently and a large crevasse opened up in front of them in the ground. They all backed off to  a safe distance as if the world appeared to be opening up before them. Sand tried to fill the hole as quickly as it could.


Suddenly, Jon Kent rose up from opening, floating in god-flight, dressed in his usual Superboy attire: S shirt, blue jeans torn at the knees, and cape. And his eyes appeared blood red as if he was possessed by a demon. Damian saw that his friend wore a control collar. If a son of Krypton could be controlled by Handles technology, he feared for humanity.


“Oh crap!” Jason voiced. “I’ve fought Bizarro. If this kid is anything like that powerhouse, we’re in serious trouble!”


Damian gulped. “That’s the understatement of the year,” he said.

To be continued...

Chapter Text

The minute Damian saw his friend Jon Kent rise from the open crevasse his body electrified with an energy that seemed almost demonic in nature, lighting bolts dancing around his body in a mad rage, illuminating his white teeth with the power of a god, he knew that everyone present was in serious trouble. And he knew the power that Kent possessed. He had felt it head on.

Ever since their short partnership stint, affectionately called Super Sons, he knew when Jon got angry he could be a force to be reckoned with—and yet more like a wrecking ball. He was clumsy and he still hadn't fallen into his full powers yet despite powering-up his abilities at one point. Damian knew his friend still did not know the full extent of his Kryptonian abilities. And that was scary. With the control collar around his neck Damian was afraid without self-control Jon Kent had an ability to blow a hole in the world.

However, luckily, he knew this situation was about to be nipped in the bud. He won't need to fight his friend this day. His father—Batman—was always prepared for situations like this with a little surprise he always carried with him whenever he and Superman, Clark Kent, interacted. It was a safety catch just in case he needed it, hidden away, but ready to use at a moment's notice if something unforetold happened with Superman and he needed to be suddenly neutralized.

But as the moment's dwelled on, his father didn't act the way Damian had hoped. He looked back at his father. Batman seemed still, frozen in place, but not out of fear, but he was somewhat hesitating. It didn't matter if Kent was a friend, Batman needed to act on impulse and use their secret weapon. It was the only surefire thing that would halt a Kryptonian in their tracks.

"Well, father? What are you waiting for?"

Batman looked at Damian. "Well, what?" he responded with an annoyed retort.

Sudden realization crept in, Damian swore. "Of all the times to forget Kryptonite!" he growled. "Now we're going to have to fight him!" Damian didn't want to fight his friend. And besides, in this state, he knew for certain that he would lose. It wasn't about giving up, it was abut relenting to reality. And Jason's words rang in his ears about knowing his limitations. He was only human, after all.

"We all know Bruce thinks he carries the weight of the world on his shoulders," Dick said with a hint of sarcasm, "but his Utility Belt can't hold everything. It's not a magician's bottomless hat." He gave Batman a smirk.

"Then do you have anything useless to help us in this situation like, say, Kryptonite?"

"Well, no."

"Then your comment is worthless."

Dick Grayson frowned. "God damn brat!" he muttered under his breath.

He told himself on the way here, after they rescued Damian from Jake Handles, that he would spread his arms open wide and give the kid a great big hug for bringing him back from a life of isolation and amnesia that Handles had caused. Now all Dick could think about after that remark was slapping Damian across the back of the head for insolence. But this was typical Damian.

"Stand back," Jason said, stepping forward, raising his gun. "Time for some real fire power to brighten our day."

"Are you an idiot?" Damian chided.

"If this is the real Jon Kent, then this won't harm him, but if this one of Handles' PK constructs, this I'll blast it to obliteration."

"And if it's the real Jon Kent, then you'll piss him off and then you'll become the main focus of his retaliation," Damian rebuked.

"Hey! I don't see you coming up with a plan—"

Damian's warning fell on deaf ears as Jason pointed his gun at Jon Kent. Just then, Superboy snapped his attention to Jason, and two beams of red light jettisoned from his eyes and cocked the end of the "man-stopper" into liquid metal, forcing Jason to drop it. But when it fell, the magazine exploded form the intense heat and Jason was thrown back.

"You okay?" Damian asked

After a moment of shock, Jason said, "Yeah. Oh man, that was a sweet gun! I was hoping to add it to my collection back home. Harvey Two-Face had modified it and everything. It was a one-of-a-kind."

"So are you, and there's only one of you. I don't want to see you dead," came an unusual response from Damian. "Now stop being an idiot, or we'll never get back."

"Don't be such a downer. There's always a Plan B." Jason got to his feet.

Jon Kent did not attack further. He hovered in the air as if waiting for instructions—Handles's instructions.

No one dared to move against him. His eyes could fry everyone within seconds. It seemed the situation was at a stand still, and everyone remained as if frozen to the spot, not wanting to move or risk Jon Kent to target them. As long as no one made a foolish move, things would remain calm.

But then Damian made a move and got out in front of the others. Jon Kent followed his movements, but did not attack.

"Damian, what the hell are you doing?" Batman said, with an urgency to withdraw. "Stand down!"

Damian ignored his father. He spread his arms out wide, Escrima sticks in hand. And then, all of sudden, dropped them both into the sand, disarming himself. It wasn't like they'd be any use to him against Kent anyway, but he had decided to try a more diplomatic approach to the situation. Jon Kent was his friend, and no matter what, there was always another alternative to fighting. Jason's words struck true with him when he spoke them on the beach and Grayson's teachings throughout the years edged his mind.

There was a collective gasp from the everyone.

"Hey jackass! That's suicide!" shouted Jason.

"Kent!" Damian elevated his voice. "It's Dami!" He used the nickname Jon always called him. The nickname he always chastised Jon for calling him because it sounded too familiar. "Don't fight it! Give into the anger! Let it burn inside you!"

Nightwing saw a volatile situation beginning to erupt and moved in. But then Jason stopped him, putting his hands up to halt any advancement or attack. He shook his head. "I see what he's doing. Don't. Let him be. Damian knows what he's doing. If I recall what Harvey Two-Face told me about how the collars work, this is the only way to defuse the situation."

"I don't understand," Nightwing said, hoping for a better explanation.

"Trust me, and watch. This time Damian's using his head."

"Kent!" Damian repeated. "You're annoying, you're irritating, and you're a nuance, and when it comes down to it, I can kick your ass from here to kingdom come!"

Jon Kent hovered for a moment, looking at him, and then floated towards Damian, landing within a meter. Then he walked across the sand and faced Damian nose-to-nose. Their faces inches apart. They had fought each other, argued on issues of importance, and when they got ticked off with one other, even got into fist fights. Jon Kent was powerful in his own rite, but he always showed restraint because Damian was human, after all.

"That's so funny, I forgot to laugh," Jon Kent rebuked straightly, his eyes still aglow with angry red. "You were always an arrogant brat, Damian. Even when we teamed up, you always thought you were better than me. But now I have the upper hand. Perhaps it's time I show you just how powerful I can be and kill you all right here."

"You could, Jon," Damian said back, using his first name instead of his surname, showing restraint. He felt nervous this close to his friend. One blast from Jon's eyes and not even the Lazarus Pit could restore him back to life without a head. "Now, I'm going to do something, and want it to reflect the immediate moment, and nothing else. Let me say something first: A wise person recently made me realize the value of a friend. And even though we've had our differences, I consider you a good friend."

Suddenly, Damian wrapped his arms around Jon Kent and embraced him in a tight hug.

Jon Kent stood motionless, but if Damian could see his friend's eyes he would have seen that they were open wide with shock. But it was a mere distraction—a lesson he learned from Grayson; how he used conversion while he fought to distract his enemies—and used the moment to unhook the clip of the control collar from Jon Kent's throat. He had examined the collar beforehand, the one Jason had saved, and remembered that was how it stayed on. The collar dropped to the ground.

For a moment Damian kept still, kept the hug. In truth, he really did consider Jon Kent a friend.

Suddenly Jon Kent wrapped his arms around Damian and both kids were now hugging the other. This time it was Damian who was shocked when he felt Jon embracing him. "Thanks Dami," he heard Jon mutter into ear. "Thanks for saving me. We've had our issues in the past, but you're a good friend, too."

"Aww, that's so cute," Barbara remarked. "I wish I had a picture of this."

With a finger tap on the side of his cowl, Batman used the mini-cam embedded in his optic eye lens to snap a silent picture. Nightwing was close by, seeing the action. Giving a glance over, he said quietly, "I want a copy of that."

"So you can use it as blackmail whenever he gets out of line?"

"It's scary how well you know me so well, Bruce."

Batman smirked. "I'll send it to you via email."

Dick then looked back to the boys.

"He used compassion to defuse a tense situation, that was smart," Dick heard Jason comment. "He pulled a Grayson!" Nightwing opened his mouth to say something, but then sighed with a smirk. Everyone knew he was a hugger. But that's just who he was, because he was a sensitive guy who was thankful of everyone who made life worth living, even a stinker like Damian.

Damian and Jon then separated. They looked away from each other for a moment, their faces flushed with slight embarrassment. Both of them cleared their throats and then clasped hands and shook, thanking the other in a more manly way. Suddenly, the handshake turned into a squeezing competition—that Jon Kent easily won.

Damian pulled away and grabbed his hand. "Bloody fool! You could've crushed the bones in my hand."

"You started it!"

"Did not!"

This time Nightwing did get between them. "Okay, enough guys. Let's not ruin this beautiful reunion."

x x x

Jake Handles grumbled angrily under his breath as he watched the events unfold on a floating projection screen in his lair.
Twice the control collars had failed to do the job. Unlike Damian Wayne, Jon Kent had less of a tainted, angry heart, and therefor the collar hadn't work on him as effectively, allowing his friendship with Damian Wayne to interfere with the control. It was a terrible oversight. The algorithmic principles obviously worked differently with emotional types. He thought he had worked that issue out. And yet, unless AI, he knew humans were unpredictable creatures and never hampered to pure logic.

Harvey Two-Face chuckled. "No longer grandstanding, eh, Handles?" he said gloating. "Temper, Handles."

"It's Annex—Jake Handles doesn't exist anymore. My name is Annex!" He squeezed his artificial hand into fist in an attempt to control his anger. "I chose the name because I annexed my own humanity and became something more."

With a swipe of a hand, Annex pushed the floating projection screen away, then turned back to the main computer. He typed furiously at a console for a moment and a series of code came up for which Handles computed into an algorithm. Harvey Two-Face expressed confusion with it. But when the coding was complete, Annex then pressed a button, and another projection screen came to life next to him that he enlarged. On it were four pillars unlike Egyptian Obelisks and then accompanied the SHSD.

"This island is my playground, it and I are one—joined as one being," Annex explained. "And whatever I can imagine, it can become reality here. I'll destroy Batman and his party, and as Dick Grayson wishes, I'll finish what I started with him. But this all began with Damian Wayne—as his persona as Nightwing Junior. If it wasn't for him interfering in my plans, the world would be mine. It's time to show that brat that this is truly an adult world. And kids have no place getting involved in adult affairs."

Harvey looked at the projection screen. "They destroyed your bats easily, Annex. What can you construct now? They know how to destroy your hard-light illusions. Your secret is out. And even though we used that miniaturization ray on Jason Todd, he's just as big a threat as he ever was. Why can't we just kill them the old fashion way? Bullets never fail."

"You're correct, bullets don't. But people do. You failed to kill Jason Todd and Jon Kent when they first docked on the island with your gun bombs. But what I have planed it surefire. And Batman and his party will not leave this island alive!"

Suddenly, something popped onto a screen. It was a biological analysis of one of Batman's company, the one he did not know—the one they called Arkells. The bat that bit him sent back readings just before it was destroyed.

The man had a bio-metric AI with nano-technology fused inside his body structure. This reminded Annex of himself. When he was near death, the super computer of this island saved him and rebuilt his damaged parts. The genius that he was made provisions for such a disaster and he was glad he had—or he would be dead.

But the readings of this particular AI matrix was unlike anything he had ever seen. He would even say it was pure genius. Who was this person, or meta-human?

Annex looked at his artificial hand and then at his burnt face in a reflective surface of a computer console monitor, and an idea struck. Forget Nightwing Junior, he told himself.

He wanted Arkells.

To be continued...

 

Chapter Text

Slade pushed Dr. Hugo Strange forward, then his arm was grabbed. The psychotic villain was not only blindfolded but handcuffed with his arms out in front. They walked down a long corridor in a secret location that echoed in Strange’s ears as their footwear hit the floor. Pixie followed. They had broken Strange out of Arkham Asylum to bring him here at someone’s behest, he was told.


“Am I a prisoner?” Strange demanded, being lead with an arm by Slade. He may have been blind, but he felt the strong grip of the man around his arm, and every once in a while, it would tighten like a vice.
Slade didn’t answer him at first, but when they reached the end of the long corridor and there was the sound of a door opening at its end, he then said, “No, but your response going forward will determine your continued status.”


“What is this place? Tell me where I am!” Hugo was pushed forward. He stumbled slightly through a doorway, his arm brushing the threshold. He could smell recirculated air and his voice reverberated from the emptiness of the place. He may have been blind, but he could smell people in this place and more than just Slade and Pixie. There were others. “When your charade at Arkham Asylum is finally discovered, they’ll check the surveillance systems and a manhunt will ensure for me.”


He felt a slap across the back of his bald head. Hugo flinched. “Shut up!” Pixie told him.


He was held to stand still, as if waiting for something. Then a voice spoke: “Good evening, Doctor.” It was artificial, as if sent through an electronic scrambler. “Thank you for coming.”


“I didn’t have much of a choice. Who are you?”


The blindfold was literally ripped off him and Strange blinked a few times to focus on the dim lighting in the boxed room. He felt something on the right side of his temple, like a small electronic device, but he didn’t try to remove it.


When his vision cleared, for the most part, he saw that a thin gentleman wearing dark clothing stood next to a younger man wearing a dark suit and red tie. He was sitting in a wheelchair, and from the looks of it, the younger man was strapped in with a waist belt to prevent him from slipping out and his hands were inserted into loose loops on the wheelchair arms. But, the strangest thing was, their faces were distorted, as if purposely pixelated to hide their identities—like it was part of a video no one wanted seen.


It was bizarre to say the least. The device that was stuck to his temple must be interacting with a part of his right hemisphere that dealt with facial recognition. He knew the left hemisphere dealt with general object recognition, so that’s why he was able to see everything else without restriction. However, only these two individual’s faces were distorted—not Slade or Pixie’s.


“Interesting technology, but there is a hint of youth in your voice, sir,” Hugo said to the person in the wheelchair. He noticed the young man was wearing a watch, a very expensive watch, and his clothes and shoes were also of high society.


“Very good, your ears are acute,” the young man replied pedantically.


“Thank you. My last lover did mention that I have cute ears.” Hugo chuckled. No one else laughed. “So, boy, why am I here?”


The young man appeared to look at the taller man, who stood erect and proper, as if a servant. Hugo immediately pegged him as some sort of butler-type. This gave purchase to his idea that he was in the presence of someone with elitist wealth.


The young man looked back to Hugo. “To fix me, for lack of a better term,” he replied. “And I know you have the knowledge to do so.” Hugo waited. The young man continued, “I’ve been afflicted with an unusual neuropathy. Basically, complete paralysis below the neck caused by my own foolishness. It’s not permanent, from what I am told, but recovery is slower than I wish. It is my understanding that you know a great deal about the human nervous system along with human psycho-analyses, Doctor.”


“You went through to all this trouble in breaking me out of Arkham instead of seeing a neurosurgeon—in hiring a mercenary” —he indicated Slade/Deathstroke— “for this? Why all the cloak and dagger? Why can’t I see your faces? Why disguise your voice?”


“Isn’t it obvious? I don’t want you knowing who I am.”


“You need a specialist, not me,” Hugo said. “I specialize in Abnormal Psychology, although I did minor in Neuropathy.”


“And that is precisely why you are here. You are the best man for the job to my understanding. I could ask others, but there would be too many questions. And a person in my position doesn’t need my condition advertised to the public.”


“If I help you, what’s in it for me? I’m a wanted man and thanks to Bonnie and Clyde here, money in the form of compensation won’t do me any good if I have to keep looking over my shoulder.”


“The price for your help will be your freedom and a complete absolve of your crimes.”


Hugo laughed. “Completely absolved? You mean my criminal record would be expunged? That’s impossible! Batman would never accept that even if the highest court in the land authorized it. Batman will appeal and I don’t mean lawfully. There is no way you have that much power—you would need to control society has a whole to do that.”


“It can be done, I assure you. That is my offer. Leave all the details to me and my associates. What is your answer?”


Hugo eyed the unknown young man contentiously. “I don’t know if you’re telling me the truth or a bold face lie, I can’t see your face.” Hugo Strange knew if a person lied, their pupils dilated and some people had uncontrollable ticks to indicate deception. He looked at the young man’s body, there were no signs. Of course, if he was really paralyzed then there would no body movement to notice. There was no indication from his servant either, who, at the moment, stood proper with his arms folded behind his back, elbows out.


“I can see your mind working, Doctor,” the young man said, “enough guessing on my possible identity. If I wanted you to know who I was, I wouldn’t go through this trouble in hiding myself. What is your answer? Will you help me or not?”


“Need I reminder you again that I specialize in Abnormal Psychology, Neuropathy in the Sciences is my minor. If, and only if, I could help you, I would need to see medical scans of the area to make even the basic of guesses for a course of action.”


The dapper servant reached behind the wheelchair and pulled out a brown envelope and gave it to Hugo Strange. Strange looked at it oddly and then opened it, pulling out a couple of MRI plastic sheets. He was handcuffed, but could still move his hands. They showed the areas of interest in great detail when he looked at them in the light. He nodded, as if he knew what he was looking at.


“Ah, yes—the Occipital Nerve is pinched in such a way that without direct intervention it can’t heal itself,” Hugo explained.


He then went on in great detail what the occipital nerve entailed and how its function was vitally important to the overall health of the nervous system—sending bio-chemical signals throughout the body, a conduit in which to speak to the body and brain, and tell it what to do and how to do it. This went only for several minutes until Slade slapped Hugo on the shoulder to shut up.


Hugo liked to toot his own horn, like a prideful peacock when the opportunity arose. He knew this better than anyone. It had been a long time, but obviously he knew a lot more about the human nervous system than he thought. The dapper servant explained what had been done to try to rectify the issue. It had worked for a time, and some feeling had returned, but it was only temporary.


Hugo said, “Massage and chiropractic therapy is all well and good, mainstream medicine doesn’t support it as a reputable and cost effective way for nerve damage—I beg to differ, it helps—but those measures will only alleviate pain and pressure for a short time, and anything, even the slightly jerk, will throw things back out of alignment unless the core issue is addressed.”


The dapper servant then reached into his pocket, brought something out, and held in an open hand. In it was a device that looked like something a woman would put in her purse to use as a deterrent against an attacker—a shock device or taser. It wasn’t very big. “This device is called a Neuro-Diffuser,” the man said. “It was used on my mas—the young man, which caused his injuries.”


Hugo adjusted his glasses with a finger to get a better look at it when it was brought closer. Slade poked Hugo in the ribs with a gun and told him not to get any funny ideas. Hugo asked what was its function and how had it been applied to the young man?


“To the base of my neck, near the stated nerve,” the young man answered. “It was taken apart, and we learned it has a reverse shock setting to help stimulate and restore nerve function. However, as the nerve in a very delicate spot, an expert was needed for application, as it can also cause death if used inappropriately. If this device was taken to anyone else, they would refuse to use it. This is where you come into the picture, Dr. Strange. My offer remains firm, take it or leave it.”


“Do you know how to administer proper treatment, Doctor?” the dapper servant asked, slightly concerned. The young man seemed to looked up at the other, the turn of his head despite distorted revealed reservations by an overprotected servant.


It didn’t slip Hugo’s notice that the dapper servant had stopped short of calling the young man “master”. Those in servitude like that of a butler would use that term out of respect and proper standing in society. He took a few factors into consideration and the pieces were beginning to fall into place. He may have been blindfolded, but the distance between Arkham during the car ride here seemed right according to his calculations. But he would put what he thought in that regard aside for the time being.


Hugo nodded. “I can help, but you’ll need to take the handcuffs off. I promise and I give you my word I won’t do anything stupid. I’m actually quite curious if I can perform a miracle and actually heal the sick and the lame.” And he laughed.


Slade gave the dapper servant a glance, received something like an acknowledgment. It was obviously Slade could see the identity of these two, and unlocked the cuffs with a key. Hugo rubbed his wrists, gave back the MRI sheets, and asked for the device. Slade followed him the entire path he took to behind the wheelchair.


Hugo observed the back of the young man’s head. He had dark, somewhat longer hair—as if he had not had a hair cut in months. His face may have been distorted by a strange technology, but not the back of him. He had very think hair, which caused a little jealousy. When Hugo was in his youth, he had very nice looking hair until an aggressive form of alopecia set in, and not just on his head, but all over his body—he was naked as a jailbird under his clothes without an ounce of hair anywhere.


“Forgive me for me touching you, young man, but I need to know how much of your muscle tone has atrophied. It will determine the length of time that will be needed for the Neuro-Diffuser to work efficiently.” Hugo applied pressure to the back and sides of the young man’s neck area, pressing hard through the dark dress shirt he had on to determine a status. “Incredible! Your muscle tone is quite remarkable. Very muscular and taunt. I was expecting a scrawny teenager. May I ask about your exercise regimen?”


“No, now get on with it,” the young man spoke staunchly.


“No need to be so testy. I know someone else with the same testiness, very impatient. You wouldn’t believe some people these days; never stopping to smell the roses.“ Hugo saw the mean look on Slade’s face and shut up. He continued to feel around in silence, until suddenly the young man flinched and gasped. “Felt that?” The young man said Yes. “I pushed in one of the upper vertebrae in the dorsal spine, or Thoracic spinal column, and released the pinched nerve. But it won’t stay released for long.”


“Can you fix the damage?”


“Yes, but I’m shocked, absolutely shocked, that a device like this can do this much damage.” He tried to sound humorous, but no one laughed. He asked who built it. He was told it was weaponized, but it had originally been designed by a medical professional to help patients with neurological disorders, they were told. “Inventive, non-lethal, and effective,” Hugo said admirably. “At the risk of sounding creepy, if someone could, remove the young man’s shirt. I must have an unobstructed view of the area to administer proper treatment.”


Hugo stepped back as the dapper servant helped the younger man unbutton his shirt and remove his tie, then his shirt was pushed back and his naked neck was exposed. With the Neuro-Diffuser in hand, Hugo asked to proceed. He explained what he was going to do, and at what level of intensity, then positioned the device over the exact spot.


Once ready, he depressed the button on the device.


The young man flinched and his body jerked, as if suddenly subjected to a violent shock—which it was. His fists clenched the arms of the chair for a moment and then relaxed. His head slumped down.


Slade pushed Hugo away.


The dapper servant went to the young man’s side and asked if he was okay. The young man took a moment and then said Yes. He began to clench his hands into fists and said that he could wiggle his toes again. And that he couldn’t wait until the catheter was removed so he could use the bathroom by himself once again.


“The things people take for granted, eh?” he expressed with a happy note.


“Because of his physique, his muscles did not go into severe atrophy, but it may take a few hours until his nerves begin to restore  to their normal function,” Hugo explained. “Once you begin to feel it, due to the damage, you’ll feel a burning sensation; that’s normal.”


“I’m already beginning to feel it,” the young man expressed. “It feels like my entire body is on fire at the moment.”


“There’s no way you should feel it this soon. What are you—a meta-human?”


The young man laughed. “No, just a quick healer,” he said. “And if I was, I wouldn’t need your help, Doctor. Thank you.”


Slade snatched the Neuro-Diffuser from Strange and then grabbed him by his shirt, violently gripping it and holding him close. Slade pointed the gun he had at Hugo and Strange put his arms in the air. “Wait—what about our deal?” Suddenly Hugo grinned innately and head butt Slade in the face. Slade staggered back. Hugo went to the young man and suddenly grabbed the back of his neck, pinching the occipital nerve tightly, and literally shocking the young man into a frozen statuesque state.


“Wait, Doctor,” the dapper servant pleaded. “What are you doing?”


“Oh please, you didn’t really think I believed you could expunge my criminal record, did you? I’m not stupid!”


Slade growled, exhibiting teeth, blood dripping down his mouth from his bloody nose. He spit out blood. He aimed the gun at Hugo’s face. “If you hurt him, Strange, I won’t hesitate to kill you!”


Hugo eyed him with incredulity. “I’m a little surprised. What are you his protector now? You’re a hired killer, Slade Wilson. Or have you forgotten that? But never mind that. Don’t make a move or you’ll cause this young man to experience complete tetraplegia for the rest of his natural life, and you’ll be the cause. Could you live with that? I swear, I’ll do it! You know I can.”

To be continued...

Chapter Text

"Don't harm him, please. We'll give you whatever you want," the dapper servant said. "I admit, we were deceiving you in saying we could expunge your criminal record. But in helping my master, your assistance will go a long way with the parole board."

Hugo Strange kept his fingers pinched on the Occipital neuralgia. "I want that—the Neuro-Diffuser," he demanded.

Tim felt as if he was about to fall into unconsciousness. It wasn't pain that was driving the feeling, it was the complete numbness of every nerve and muscle of his body that was draining the strength out of him. Like Chinese Acupuncturists, if someone knew what they were doing, then they could render a person completely immobile for as long as they wanted, or out-cold.

"Alfred, give it to him!" Tim hissed. "It doesn't do us anymore good anyhow."

Whether it was a slip of the tongue, Alfred gasped at the sound of his real name spoken. They were using Spyral technology Dick Grayson has brought back from his time there to disguise their identities, and if they were to speak a name, they had agreed on fake ones. Though they hadn't needed to speak them yet, now with his real name said, they were no longer needed.

"Very well, sir," Alfred said, dreading the consequences. He handed Strange the Neuro-Diffuser and Hugo took it with his free hand. "Please refrain from harming the young master any further."

Slade's gun was pointed directly at Strange. "I don't know why you're giving in to him, he's not going anywhere," he said.

Strange grinned big. "Oh, on the contrary, Slade, I'm truly going places after this, because I now have something more precious than gold. I have information. And that can be a commodity that can wield untold wealth, notoriety, and, indeed, in my case, freedom to do what I wish. I have an eidetic memory, and after 'the young master' spoke your name, dear butler, all the pieces were finally put into place. Everyone knows Alfred is the name of Bruce Wayne's notorious butler, so it doesn't take a rocket scientist to deduce you are Alfred Pennyworth, and this young man is in fact Timothy Drake. And since we're in this clandestine place, I can further deduce, playing on my detective skills, that we are somewhere under Wayne Manor. Further to that, since Slade Wilson, aka Deathstroke, has been frequent to engage with the Batman and his little Robin minions in battle, therefore, it's elementary, that the secret I now possess can bring down a once proud dynasty and cause the very fabric of an empire to come crumbling down."

Once Hugo Strange finished out cackling with laughter, Slade Wilson eyed him. Hugo then said, "Are you feeling it, young master— Timothy Drake? I can't see your face because of this interesting distorting technology masking it, but I know this must be painful. I did fix you, as you wanted, but I can unfix you, too. Your clothes also give you away, so high and elitist. How pathetic!"

Suddenly, the Spyral technology disengaged, something Alfred did. As their identities were already exposed, there was no longer any need for the charade. The hurt on Timothy Drake's face was apparent and his face was turning a shade of ashen from the pain.

"That's enough, Doctor!" Alfred said. "You've made your point!"

Hugo Strange let go, and Tim Drake let out a heavy gasp and a sigh of relief. Slade went into immediate action and pinned Hugo against a wall, the gun pressed into his left cheek. But Hugo kept smiling. He knew he had won.

"You are correct, Dr. Hugo Strange," Timothy Drake said, he was folded over, as if trying to catch his breath. But, in fact, the pain had momentarily immobilized him, and he was trying to get back the feeling of his extremities and nerves. His muscles felt very sore and like lead weights. He needed time for them to heal. "Our chicanery has been exposed, but what are you going to do now? Now that you know who we really are? Escape from us will be next to impossible."
"Escape? You're gladly let me go. Or I'll expose your secrets to the entire world. The Caped Crusader will be done."

Tim sighed. "Slade, let him go."

"Are you crazy? Look, I'm no fan of Batman, but to let this lunatic loose will be suicide. Not to mention the Wayne reputation. And Wayne Enterprises has been instrumental in rebuilding an embattled Bludhaven. An event that I now regret being a part of. The Batfamily and I have had our squabbles in the past, but—"
"I said let him go!" Tim repeated harshly.

Both Slade and Alfred gave the other a confused look, but then Slade stepped back from Hugo Strange after a nod from Alfred. Tim lifted himself up straight, Hugo fixed his ruffled shirt and then circled around to face Drake face to face.

Still smiling, almost with an eternal grin like the Joker, Hugo said, "A pleasure doing business with you, Timothy Drake. You thought you could trick me into fixing you without exposure, but now you've done so much more damage, it's almost comical."

"Thank you for stating the obvious, Doctor. I've already had lectures for my stupidity from others, I don't need one from you!" Tim suddenly smiled sly. "But I want to thank you, Doctor, for restoring my circulation and muscle control. I thought I would have to spend a great deal more time recuperating in therapy to get strong again. But it would seem you've brought it all back with a vengeance and more. Allow me to repay you in full for everything you've done."

Tim clutched the arms of the wheelchair and suddenly the arms of his shirt ripped as his biceps budged with strength and power. He looked at Hugo Strange with such an insane smile that it almost appeared to Slade that Tim had flipped. Tim then rose from the wheelchair in free form and without any restraint or disability.

Hugo's grin suddenly faded as Timothy Drake came to stand strong and taller than the villain. He was a healthy young man with a strong, body-builder like physique—as one of the member of the Batfamily, Red Robin. No doubt honed with years of weight-training and acrobatic prowess.

"I told Slade to let you go, but I never said you could leave this place," Tim Drake said with a devious grin. "I'm going to make you a permanent member of this place, saturate you in keratin, a naturalistic substance that will never decompose, and intern you in one of our trophy cases, to be looked upon for years to come—like the Russians did with Vladimir Lenin in Red Square. Every villain will gasp as to why and when the methods of the Batfamily changed from a Non-Kill Policy to one of complete and utter annihilation."

"Okay, he's snapped," Slade said.

"Master Tim, settle down. It's not as dire as it seems."

"No, Alfred—it's worse! Through my actions I have exposed our family's deepest secret to a man who could destroy everything Bruce built. My predecessor: Arkells—despite being my future self, he did come before me—said he developed mental issues after dealing with problems arisen from maddening things of this nature. Perhaps Jason is correct in his philosophy: kill the bad guys, so they can't do any more harm. The only way for our secret to be remain one is for those who know of it to be forever silenced."

Hugo Strange took a few involuntarily, frightened steps back, his face ashen, as if he was about to be brutally murdered by a sadistic madman—a demon in human form. The lighting in this boxed room was dim, most likely on purpose to help with the charade of mysteriousness and deception. But now the lighting gave new purchase to Timothy Drake's demonic-like aura.

Batman had a strict rule: No killing. But perhaps Hugo had gone too far this time threatening Timothy Drake. He had mental data on Bruce Wayne, but he had very little on Timothy Drake aka Red Robin. Obviously the stress of things had finally taken its toil.

Hugo gave a glance around. He saw a door and went to it, then twisted the handle, pulled on it, but it was locked.

"You won't escape that way, Strange," Tim continued. "In fact, you won't be going anywhere, ever again."

Tim Drake's shirt burst open from a flex of his chest and arms as he spread them wide, two buttons popped and flew across the room. Tim's actions reminded Slade of a comic book hero, only Tim Drake wasn't turning green, he was turning red, his blood-pressing rising. Hugo flinched as they acted like miniature projectiles similar to bullets. He was much stronger and much more muscular than Strange had originally surmised when he had touched Drake's neck to administer treatment for his neuralgia.

Red Robin was truly a person sorely dedicated to his trade of crime fighting. Would that really mean killing to keep it a secret?

Just then, Pixie stepped forward, and slapped Timothy Drake hard across the face. The sudden strike knocked Drake off balance and his adrenaline rush crashed. He collapsed backwards, having to force to take a step back from the impact, and fell to the floor next to his wheelchair on his butt, tripping over his own feet.

Shocked, he felt his face. Alfred immediately rushed to his side. "Ow!" Drake expressed.

"Are you okay, Master Tim?"

But before he could answer, Pixie said, "How dare you! What you just said to Hugo Strange went against everything Batman stands for. Dick Grayson was pushed to the brink, he even lost his memory for a while. But even when he wasn't himself, he never yield. His morals firm. Now he's out fighting again. Batman doesn't kill. Everyone knows that! You're a disgrace to the Batman legacy, Timothy Drake!"

"Ow," Drake said again, feeling his face. "You hit me quite hard."

"And you deserved it!"

"Keep him away from me!" Strange said. "I promise I won't tell anyone the secret of this place. Or Batman's secret!"

"Oh, shut up, you whiny turd! You're not going to tell anyone anything!" she said. And she deserved a high kick to Hugo Strange's face, hard enough the impact banged Strange's head against the door, knocking him out cold when he collapsed to the floor. She snorted out frustration and then turned back to Tim Drake. "Now, do you want some of that?"

"Um, certainly not," Tim said. "Relax, Pixie. I was merely roleplaying. I'm a firm believer in Batman's cardinal rule not to kill." Alfred helped him to his feet. "But I sure got the fool going, didn't I? Had you fooled, too. But—ow! You didn't have to hit be that hard, it smarts." Alfred told him that the slap would probably leave a small bruise from the impact on the bone, but it will heal. "And hey, I'm back to my old self again. So, at the very least, I owe Dr. Hugo Strange thanks for his help."

Pixie blinked confused. But Alfred assured her that Tim was being genuine.

"I'm glad, you looked like you had snapped," she said. "He knows your secret. What do we do about that?"

"We have ways to erase his short term memory," Drake said. "Thank you both for you help in this matter." He tilted his head, then he noticed his semi-naked, and in front of a lovely, young woman. He subconsciously folded his arms across his chest, blushed. He could understand why Slade found Pixie so attractive. "Come, I'll show you a once-in-a-life-time opportunity. I'll give you both a tour of the Batcave, after I put on a new shirt. Alfred, will you see to the preparations for Hugo Strange's mind erasure?"

"Yes, sir," Alfred said, then left.

x x x

When Hugo Strange awoke, he found himself in an infirmary hospital bed. He couldn't remember how he got here, but when his mind awoke to the reality of things, he saw two people standing over him: Red Robin and the Warden of Arkham Asylum. Standing next to the door was an armed guard.

"H—how did I get here?" he asked confused.

The Warden looked at Red Robin, then said, "You had a mental breakdown, Hugo. You were so obsessed with finding a cure to Scarecrow's Fear Germ—and by the way, one was found—you collapsed from stress and exhaustion. Red Robin came back to inform us that a cure had been found and to tell you personally when we found you unconscious in your prison cell an hour ago."

"Call it a courtesy call, Doctor," Red Robin smiled. "I'm glad you're okay. Now you can relax. No need to stress yourself further."

Hugo sighed. "I feel so tired, and, also" —he pondered— "I think I've forgotten something?"

"You bumped your head when you collapsed, Hugo," Warden said. "Short term memory loss is a side effect of a nasty hit to the noggin, and if you hit your head that hard to suffer short term memory loss, then it must've been a very hard hit. But we'll let you rest here. The infirmary doctor will look after you. Then, you'll be escorted back to you cell."

Hugo nodded, then Red Robin and the Warden left.

x x x

The pair walked a little further down the outside corridor, when the Warden said, "It's a good thing you managed to pick him up, Red Robin." Drake had told the Warden a lie where he had found Hugo before bringing him back to Arkham Asylum. "We still have no idea who broke him out. We have Security looking it. We suspect the culprits dressed up as medical psychiatrists and then walked out without detection. We found the two guards that escorted Dr. Hans Reinhardt and his assist Ms. Dust unconscious in Hugo Strange's cell fifteen minutes after they left the prison with debris from a strange device that self-destructed soon after we discovered it. When we informed their superiors, they sent us pictures of two completely different people. Someone had hacked into our systems and falsified information. That takes someone with an expert working knowledge of our systems and computers. We have experts working on that. However, it looks like the person covered their tracks very well, and we may never find out who did it."

Red Robin smiled to himself. He couldn't have done it without Alfred's help.

"I'm glad you went with my rouse that Hugo Strange had short term memory loss, Warden," Red Robin said. "I did question him, and asked him who had broken him out, but he said he didn't see their faces—that they wore cleverly crafted latex masks. As I told you, he tried to attack me when I found him and I had to rough him up a little, hence the injury to his face. I kicked him."

"And you, as well, I see." The Warden gestured to the bruise on Red Robin's left cheek. "Now he doesn't remember even leaving Arkham. We can't even question him."

Red Robin shrugged. "I'm sorry about that, Warden. There was little choice. Hugo Strange is a big man. I saw an opportunity and took it. We both know if he ever got back into the public again he'd create havoc. He's a psychopath, after all."

"Yes, I know. And thank you once again for your efforts. I'm sure Batman is very proud of you." Red Robin smiled. "By the way, I haven't see Batman around much. Is everything okay?"

"He's dealing with some personal issues at the moment, but he's just fine. I'll tell him you asked."

x x x

Once things were settled at Arkham Asylum, Red Robin left the prison and mounted his motorcycle parked just outside the main gates. On a secure audio channel, he contacted Alfred. "Red Robin to Mother Hen…"

"I really wish you wouldn't call me that in open dialogue," Alfred said. Red Robin laughed. "All went as planned, sir?"

"Like a dream. And according to Hugo Strange, that's all it will be. Thank Slade and Pixie for me again, if they haven't already left?"

"Will do, sir. Will you be coming back home now?"

"Yup. Any luck in contracting Batman and the others on Treasure Island?"

"Negative, but according to the homing beacon in the Batplane, they did land without incident."

"I want to see if I can join them."

"Is that wise, sir? You still need to recover. You're not at one-hundred percent."

"I feel great, never better. I do feel a pang of regret, however, in using Hugo like we did. And we won't even be able to reward him, because his memory was erased of events."

"We'll send him some flowers and a thank-you card," Alfred said facetiously.

Red Robin laughed. "Or maybe a colouring book with some crayons," he said humorously.

"Didn't you give something similar to Master Dick on his birthday last year, sir? He didn't take kindly to that."

"Well, he deserved it. He was acting like an overly protective parent, like he does sometimes."

"He was only protecting you and your future."

"By filling my wallet with condoms? I was dating a great girl, and yes, we were thinking about it, but when half a dozen condoms dropped out of my wallet surprisingly, she was shocked as was I. Just because Dick—well, you know, he's a womanizer, or was, before he and Barbara got back together—had a scare with another woman thinking she was pregnant when she said she was late, doesn't mean he has to be Mother Hen 2.0." Alfred was silent. "Sorry, we need a better callsign for you. Suffice it to say, I got a call to jump into action and we couldn't get together. I later found out she was seeing another guy on the side anyway."

"So, it all worked out, as it often does, sir. See you back home soon. Out."

The communication ended. Red Robin switched on the cycle, revved it up, and then sped off down the road. He decided to take a backroad, knowing there would be little traffic. This way he could push the cycle to its max and get some speed and go for a joyride before heading back home. He had taken it several times, so it was familiar to him.

Suddenly, there was a blow out, and the front wheel of his cycle exploded. It was such a powerful explosion that it affected the safety systems that would quickly adjust, instantly inflating the tire. Red Robin found himself flying over the front of the cycle as the tire rim carved into the payment, causing it to flip over. He hit the ground hard and then rolled, coming to lay on his back.

He groaned, and it felt like every muscle in his body was just hit by a sledgehammer. He lay there still, but at least he could still feel, unlike feeling the effects of the Neuro-Diffuser, which was nothing. He wondered what the hell happened as he craned his neck up.

Suddenly a leg stomped on his chest, and he cried out in pain. He looked up and saw a man in black armour with a mask holding a long-range sniper rifle.
He gasped when he realized who it was—the second sniper in Jake Handles plot to destroy Nightwing: KGBeast—Anatoil Knyazev.

He was a former Russian agent in the KGB, an assassin from the East, hence, supposedly, his namesake. He was also known in other circles as EB, (as in EveryBody's deadliest assassin; the go-to mercenary more often than most; their primary choice because of his reputation to get things done, according to Batman's information).

The KGB no longer existed in its previous form. It was fractured after the fall of old Russia into what is known today as the FSB (the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation) and the Foreign Intelligence Service.

EB's self-proclaimed number one status angered others, but he always got his target, which was why he was so highly sought out. Even more than Deathstroke.

"Well, another Robin out for a joyride," came his masked, cybernetic voice. "So, tell me, boy—where is the original Boy Wonder? I have some unfinished business with him. Nightwing has officially, at this point, become the bane of my existence."

To be continued...

 

Chapter Text

Red Robin's face cringed as the heel of EB's boot dug down into his chest, but he refused to cry out. He wouldn't give the man the satisfaction. But every time Red Robin tried to push him off, EB would just dig in deeper, and it felt like his ribs were about to break.

Finally, the other shooter who attacked Nightwing, had come out of hiding. One of two: Deathstroke had been the other, and had admitted it, even apologized. Unfortunately now, Red Robin had become the target of this other assassin's focus.

But as for the why? He hadn't even had the chance to ask yet.

"I'll ask again, boy—Where is Nightwing?" EB's voice reverberated mechanically. "I want him!"

Through clenched teeth, Red Robin swore. He wasn't the kind to use profanities—in fact, he even chastised Jason and Damian for swearing, he just didn't like the words—but this time it was warranted. And he couldn't help it. The words just shot out from his mouth with a mixture of angry, hatred, and pain.

Red Robin heard what could only be considered a short laugh from EB. Right afterwards, the sadistic villain removed his foot, and Red Robin gasped for breath.
But the relief was only temporarily, as EB unexpectedly came down hard on Red Robin's right hand.

This time Red Robin screamed, he couldn't help it, and he thought he heard the crack of one or more of his fingers, as the pain surged sharply up to his brain. It was so intense that he thought he would pass out. But he fought it and refused to black out. He grit his teeth and was able to keep conscious. When EB's foot released, Red Robin folded over on his side and was allowed to cradle his broken fingers. Uncontrolled tears screamed down his face underneath his mask.

"I was paid a lot of money to shoot Nightwing," EB said. "But then something more enticing came along and plans changed."

"Jake Handles…" Red Robin breathed out.

EB made a noise that sounded like impressed acknowledgement. "Correct. But now I have to make restitution to my previous hire. He's breathing down my neck because I took his money, but didn't fitful the contract. To a man in my line of work, that is unacceptable. I thought I would get the ultimate payday in doing both jobs simultaneously, but that fool Jakes Handles—he also calls himself some stupid name like Annex—failed to do what he said he would, namely destroy Nightwing. His reasons; his own."

"Not, my, problem," Red Robin voiced brokenly, the pain subsiding only slightly. "But I know how you did it." And he explained in short about the fake bullet and the device inside to render Nightwing seemingly dead and then the implants in Nightwing's brain to make him forget everything, giving he amnesia for a short time. It was Jake Handles ultimate revenge of his own rendering, but Drake still didn't have the full story. "You were not the only one Jake Handles hired. Deathstroke was hired for the same job as a safe fail, just in case the plan went awry. If either one of you failed, the other would complete the mission, unbeknown to the other."

"Smart, but it didn't work, did it?" It was not a question, but a statement. "I don't care who else was involved. But when I was told Nightwing made a full recovery, it became a problem for me. I can't have my targets surviving. It's bad for my reputation."

Red Robin went to sit up. "Again, not my problem," he said. "Go cry in someone else's milk."

EB snorted angrily and then stomped on Red Robin's left ankle. Red Robin cried out. First his chest, then his right hand, now his left ankle, and he was still feeling the effects from the fall off his motorcycle. His entire body cried out in pain, and he failed to bring any pain meds with him. He never thought he'd need them. For a split moment, he wished Hugo Strange hadn't fixed him.

EB stood over him, his cybernetic enhancements giving him a god facade. Trained as a KGB agent before the fall of the USSR, he knew where to hurt people the most. "My previous employer has threatened to expose me, to tell everyone that I can't get the job done," he said. "That cannot happen. I am aware that Nightwing, Batman, Batgirl, and another, left on the Batplane some time ago. They must not be allowed to return. And I want to know where they went."

"Drop dead," Red Robin said, nursing his injuries. "I'm not telling you anything!"

He pulled himself back from EB, dragging his butt along the ground. He needed to get some distance from this cybernetic psycho. The GPS in his cycle was still working, and he knew Alfred would be manning the Batcomputer. Once he saw that it hadn't moved in some time, he'd send back-up. Then Drake realized: everyone was away, and had headed to Treasure Island to rescue Damian. There was no one to call for backup from the Batfamily. He was on his own.

He suddenly stopped short when EB's left forearm transformed into a personalized laser canon and it was pointed directly at him.

Red Robin gulped nervously. He was in its direct line of fire. From where EB stood, the villain could easily disintegrate him with one blast without a trace of his body left. There would be nothing but a blast mark on the ground where he sat.

Once again, EB's cybernetic enhancements proved deity-like.

He had been given a gun in lieu of a left forearm from Russian augmentation. Over the years, as technology advanced by leaps and bounds, EB was able to adapt, and gave himself the ability to transform his left arm into any weapon of his choosing, including a normal hand, using liquid metal technology, hardening it, with internal power cells to create energy blasts.

"Since Nightwing is MIA at the moment, you'll have to be restitution to my employer, and I'm sure he can make use of you," EB said. "Hopefully, all will be forgiven. I've heard that you have also been a thorn in my employer's side over the years."

Red Robin looked up the barrel of EB's laser canon, but he remained calm. Once the initial shock had left, and the pain from his injuries replaced with determination, even anger, he said: "Who is your employer? And why did he want to murder Nightwing?"

EB laughed mechanically. "You're angry, good. I like it when my prey has spirit. I wish I could play with you longer, but I'm a little pressed for time. Who is my employer, you ask? I already mentioned his name, but in another context. Whatever Bane's reason is for hiring me to kill Nightwing is none of my concern. I'm a mercenary, that's what I do. Now, you're coming with me."

"The hell I am!"

Red Robin lunged at EB despite the laser canon pointing at him. But he only got so far, and fell over due to his injured ankle. He, however, caught himself with his left hand before hitting the ground, dropping to both knees.

He felt, at that moment, he was indeed at the mercy of this maniac. But he also knew that it was either attack or be abducted and taken back to Bane, who, at one point in time, had broken Batman's back. If Bane could do that, what horrors awaited Drake?

The large muscular Spaniard villain had an affinity and a sadistic desire to inflict pain upon others out of pleasure. He was a butcherer and liked to torture his victims as they begged for mercy. Bane's history wasn't fully known, but Batman learned what he could over the years about him, piecing things together. The man was physically enhanced with the Venom drug—but hadn't used it much due to its toxic effects. He was built like a six-hundred pound wrestler with muscles to match, which made him a forcible enemy in his own rite, physically. His hatred towards Batman stemmed from pure evil.

If Bane originally hired EB to kill Nightwing, then that brought yet another element to this saga.

As for Drake's dilemma, both Bruce and Dick had taught him multiple ways to both defend and attack collectively, even when injured. So, falling back on that training, Drake lifted himself up on his good hand, balanced himself with a one-handed hand-stand, his muscles infused with strength, and delivered a well positioned and powerful upper-kick to EB's face with his good leg, kicking the villain hard in the face, and forcing him back. Drake even heard a cling as his steel tip boot clashed against EB's metal mask.

Drake landed safely and without further injury. But with every move, he began to notice he was breathing more heavy, and he was losing blood. The injuries he sustained from falling off his bike: scratches, and a deep gash on his left cheek, was beginning to take their toil, along with what EB inflicted. Ironically, he didn't have to worry about the bruise Pixie gave him anymore.

EB staggered back, both shocked and bewildered. He acted more human than machine and felt his cybernetic enhanced face, rubbing his chin. He snorted a laugh. "Nice kick, bird boy. If I'm not mistaken, you've made a dent in my face."

"I can do more than that," Red Robin retorted. "I know all your weaknesses."

"Do you now? Then I better stop playing around."

Suddenly, EB delivered a quick and devastating roundhouse kick of his own, to Red Robin's head, and sent Drake flying through the air, landing hard, and sliding backwards, rolling a few meters, with blood ejecting from his mouth.

EB transformed his canon back to into a hand and tossed his rifle to his left hand. He then transversed the distance he sent Red Robin, reaching down, and grabbing him by one of his crossing belt straps, hauled him up face-to-face, dangling his feet just above the ground—EB had a good two feet on Drake—and then pulled back and tossed Drake like a rag doll down the road.

Drake flew through the air like he was piece of garbage, landed hard, and then rolled several times, landing on his stomach.

He moaned when he finally stopped. Every part of his body felt like it had sustained injury. And not only did his broken fingers feel numb, but he couldn't feel his arm either. It was possibly dislocated and he was in shock.

He couldn't believe the sudden and abrupt change of events. He had become paralyzed from the waist down by the Neuro-Diffuser, by his future self, only for Hugo Strange to render a solution and to rectify the problem medically. But now, he had the same feeling of powerlessness and immobility in dealing with EB—and he couldn't move.

He could taste the metallic iron of blood in his mouth and he knew his face was cut in more than a couple of places now, namely his cheeks and chin. Blood streamed down the front of his mask from an injury above his right brow. And from the toss, and from the way he had landed, he felt that a rib or two had been broken, along with his left ankle twisted in such an odd abnormal angle.

As EB came to stand next to him, he could do nothing to stop him from doing what he wanted. Luck was not on Drake's side this time. Red Robin moved his fingers of his right hand, the only body part that he felt still had some feeling and tried, with the last of his strength, to stop EB. But EB pressed down on his hand with a foot and Red Robin cried out once more.

"You are weak, Red Robin," the villain said. "What a pity you didn't turn out to be more game for me. Injured or not, I still intend to take you to Bane. Only then, will you learn your fate. And you don't have a choice in the matter."

"No…"

The last thing Red Robin saw was EB's foot as it kicked him in the face, and the world went dark.

x x x

KGBeast stood over his beaten prey. The battered and bloodied Red Robin was no match for his strength and ability. He had caught the hero unawares—attacking from the shadows, which was not how he liked to do things; he liked a more hands on approach—but it was fine with him. It was cheaply done, but it was a necessary one. He needed an olive branch to smooth things over with Bane, or the Spaniard threatened to rip his limbs off for his betrayal. So, delivering one of the Robins to him would assuredly do that.

Bane wanted to murder Nightwing, his reasons were his own, but to cross Bane was, in itself, a death sentence.

KGBeast retrieved his own motorcycle that he had hidden in the near-by forest in wait to ambush Red Robin, and brought it onto the road, parking it near the fallen hero. Thinking back, he had followed Red Robin, and tracked him, when he first saw the hero as he headed to Arkham Asylum, along this route with the man known as Hugo Strange strapped to his cycle. And in deciding then, he lay in wait, knowing Red Robin would be back this way, because it was the most recluse route.

No motorcycle enthusiast missed a chance to let loose over an open road. It was just the mindset of anyone who rode one—including himself. He had only recently taken to riding his own customized, styled motorcycle, that had all the appearance of a racing bike: red, with chrome trim, and a host of features. Recently, however, he had been having some internal issues with it, and someone of his acquittance and an expert in such things was supposed to keep it in perfect working order for him.

He mounted the bike, turned it on, held the clutch above the left grip, and then pushed down on the kick-starter with his right foot. Nothing happened. He tried it again, checking the fuel injection, but again, it failed to start.

He cursed loudly in Russian.

Just then, he heard a noise that sounded a lot like a miniature jet engine. He looked up, and the moment he did, a man, who looked much like a winged insect, wearing a completely black but aerodynamic flight suit, with a jet pack strapped to his back, came flying over the trees, and touched down on the road near him. KGBeast didn't know him all that well, but he was, in fact, the acquittance who maintained his motorcycle, his mechanic, and who had supped it up with all its bells and whistles he requested.

"Having trouble with the bike," Firefly inquired, almost with a humorous tone.

KGBeast growled mechanically. "You were supposed to fix the issue with the starter, you wretched insect," he said. "I am pressed for time, and I wish to deliver Red Robin to Bane. These continuous mechanical issues with the bike are a nuisance. Fix it, now!"

Firefly said, as he bent down to take a look at the bike, "Hold your horses. These babies are delicate. You can't rough them up like your little plaything over there," and he indicated Red Robin, who was laying unconscious on the road.

Firefly had an affinity in machinery and working with his hands, once being an expert in pyrotechnics and special-effects, before adapting and using his talents to begin a moderate criminal career. Mechanically inclined, he knew how to custom-build things, and that included his suit and jet-pack, which had him become a thorn in Batman's side for many years.

He had actually convinced KGBeast that he needed a vehicle to get him from A to B, building the bike for him, because walking everywhere was time consuming, and "every great man needed a custom ride".

It didn't take long for Firefly to find the issue and fix it, the motorcycle then revved up without issue. "There, easy as squashing a bug," he said, standing up. He looked at Red Robin. "Speaking of annoyances…"

"Why are you here, Firefly?" KGBeast asked, securing his rifle into the custom slot on the side of the bike Firefly had designed for it.

"I was bored, so I followed you from a safe distance to see what you were up to, because I know how you like to work: solo. It was a good thing I did, too. And I'm not referring to the bike problem, although both issues do, kind of, coincide with each other."

"What do you mean?"

"I'll give you a minute to think about it," Firefly said, and then began to hum the Jeopardy theme song. KGBeast was not a patient man and he growled angrily at Firefly. Firefly put up his hands in capitulation. "Okay. Well, your bike is a custom one-seater. You want to take Red Robin back to Bane. See the problem there? You're a very smart guy, EB, but some things are unattainable."

"What did you call me?"

Firefly paused. "Um, EB—as in 'EveryBody's Assassin'—why? It's a cute little nickname people in my neck of the woods call you."

KGBeast reached out and clutched Firefly by the neck collar of his flight suit, literally causing Firefly to start choking. "I know of the name, it's an insult! Never call it to my face again! It's KGBeast. If you call me that again, I'll shove that jet pack up your ass!"

"Fine, never again," Firefly relented. "And I'll pass that on to everyone else that you hate it. Got it!" KGBeast released him. And Firefly had to catch his balance as he stumbled back. KGBeast was a tall man and Firefly was average in height. "Anyway, let me take Red Robin to Bane. I can fly him to El Patio de los Demons, aka The Devil's Playground, Bane's Hispanic hideaway in Gotham, in no time flat. And don't worry, I'll make sure Bane knows he's coming from you. He did hire us both, he likes reliable people, and I know the whole Nightwing deal. He's pissed off with you. Yet I'm sure delivering this kid to him will better things between you."

"I am hoping that, as well," KGBeast said.

Firefly went over to Red Robin, reached down, picked him up, then he saw all the blood. He dropped the kid and looked at his gloved hands. "Oh man, come on! Did you really have to bloody him up this bad? I'm going to need to have my flight suit industrially dry cleaned after this—I'll send you the bill." He looked back at KGBeast, and wherever the light glint came from that flashed over the villain's optical eye, it made him looked like evil personified. "Okay, forget the dry cleaning. I'll eat the cost."

Firefly reached down, grabbed Red Robin's limp form under both armpits, activated his jetpack with a hand trigger, and then blasted into the sky, and away.
KGBeast watched the man-insect-villain soar through the air like his insectile namesake, and for a moment wondered what it would be like to fly. But then the sudden thought passed. He would rather stay on the ground.

An anger suddenly swelled up inside him. He wanted to be the one to personally deliver Red Robin over to Bane. It would go a long way in reconciliation. He didn't wish to make an enemy of Bane.

He had the perfect opportunity here and had ambushed Red Robin. But he overlooked one oversight—his own bike.

He growled under his breath, his mask reverberating his anger. Subconsciously transforming his left arm back into the laser canon, he aimed it at Red Robin's cycle and blasted it into pieces, sending scores of debris into the air and in every direction, leaving a massive scorch mark on the ground where the blast made impact.

He did one last thing, then sped off down the road on his motorcycle, leaving the area.

To be continued...

 

Chapter Text

 

 In a dark, rat infested hovel, Dr. Jonathan Crane dabbled in his new small, makeshift laboratory that he set up in a one bedroom apartment he recently rented. He cursed himself for not making his Fear Germ more formidable. How on earth had a cure been found for it was beyond his understanding. No one should have been able to devise one.

But he could think of only one man who had even the slightest inkling to the cure: Nightwing.

The crime fighter said he had read a medical article in passing and it said that gold particles in minute doses could help cure cancerous-like ailments if used properly with other elements. It also helped with mental illness related diseases, which was what the Fear Germ really was—designed to play on the deepest, darkest fears of people, using bacteria warfare.

Nightwing thought he had been alone when he passed on his theory to someone on his cellphone. But Crane had listened in, with his own methods, and then was when he knew he had to eliminate Nightwing. He had the perfect opportunity—infecting him with the Fear Germ in Gotham General Hospital, when one of his contacts informed him the hero was recovering from a serious injury.

He bribed a police officer, and then paid a poor sap from Bludhaven, who needed money, to pretend to take him to GGH under the pretext of drug recovery, then poison the man who Crane had been told was the crime fighter. In the end, the idiot not on poisoned himself, and nearly died, but it was later revealed, Crane had been given misinformation. It was a case of mistaken identity.

Richard Grayson was not Nightwing, and was merely recovering from a nasty fall, whereas he hit his head and had to have surgery. He was poisoned, nonetheless, but recovered without explanation. It was like he had the mental capacity and the will to drive off his Fear Germ, something equivalent to a psychotic bubonic plaque, and cast it away, like it was the common flu.

Nevertheless, a cure to his Fear Germ was found soon after that. The media said a doctor at GGH had discovered it through tireless work and elimination process.

"I'll just have to devise a better fear drug, one where there is seemingly no cure," Crane said. "But they'll still pay me for one!"
He was never one to laugh, laughter was the best medicine to depression and fear, as the saying went—it created chemical endorphins that drove away negative feelings—but he chuckled to himself anyway knowing next time he would be successful.

He sat at a table and poured two chemicals into a beaker mentally calculating each percentage to include to make a new mixture, then lit a bunson burner that sat on underneath. The flame tickled the bottom of the glass as it began to warm the liquids, bubbling it. With his knowledge of bio-chemicals in phobia and psychopathy, he knew he could make pretty much anything he desired. And an even more deadlier fear germ was needed, one that would bring Gotham City to its knees.

Once a renown doctor of psychology, he knew what it meant to run from one's fears. His father tried to toughen him up, but he was so scared when he was a child, he almost took his own life. But as he grew, he entered the medical field, and vowed to study the characteristics of phobia, and to one day find a cure to his own. He thought he had found one and injected himself with it.

Instead, he found a new method to study fear—with first hand accountability. He decided, it was more effective, and better, to get a more thorough understanding of the true concept of fear with live experimentation, generating it on the human psyche, administering it live, and then sitting back and observing his subjects to see how they handled themselves and how they came up with a solution. Cause, Effect and Education, and it was the best way to learn, adapt, and grow. In truth, he was doing humanity a favour.

When he first began his experiments, he stayed in the shadows. Then he created the Scarecrow persona to branch out and subject people to his newest drugs in public, watching them wallow in the effects. But he got bored with one subject at a time, and he wondered what it would be like to see mass hysteria after one of his drugs was administered to an unsuspected populace? Of course, this not only caught the eye of the Gotham City police, but also Batman—Gotham's "White Knight" of vigilante justice.

Over the years, he had had several entanglements with the Caped Crusader and his ever growing list of annoying sidekicks, each time, they foiled his plans to blanket Gotham City in an ever-lasting cumulus of fear.

And this time, it was no different. And he cursed himself for his own lack of insightfulness.

But how did he know that a simple medical article in a backwater journal on the medicinal properties of gold would ruin everything? And that Nightwing—whom he assumed was only some stupid aerobatic jock—would read it, and understand it?

He underestimated Nightwing, but he won't make the same mistake in the future.

Around him sat items of assorted liquids and powders like an old medicinal alchemist lab and he used several of them to experiment with for his latest drug—this one would be the next big deadly drug. He knew what everything could do, either stand alone, or how it could be most efficient as a combined compound. With his brilliant mind, he knew where everything was. Everything had its place and there was a place for everything here, his mind remembering where he had placed things to get easy access to them.

Gotham City would have no other choice but to pay him a king's random for the antidote for this new drug. And yet, that's what he asked for as payment for a cure to his Fear Germ. Now, he would get nothing.

But he would not let the fear of failure stop him. He was better than that.

Just then, as he was poring another liquid chemical into the beaker sitting on the bunsen burner, the door to his apartment, his personal sanctuary, burst open, hitting the back wall, and standing at the threshold holding a rifle was the person everyone knew by reputation, generating his own brand of fear: The man known as Deathstroke, the Terminator. He was recognized instantaneously by anyone familiar with the criminal underworld by his black and orange mask, which was his own signature moniker.

The rifle Deathstroke branded was a semi-automatic and it could easily cut down a person, shredding them to ribbons in seconds.

The apartment complex Crane decided to hide himself in after his reign of terror in Gotham had ended was in a bad part of town and he thought no one was stupid enough to bother him here. The average person would steer well clear of this place due to the people that reside within: drug dealers, recently released prison inmates, and other degenerates. When he came here, the landlord assured him completely anonymity and amnesty to do what he wanted. Money was no object as long as he was left alone. So much for that.

Crane bounced off his stool, stood on his feet, and said, "What the hell are you doing here, Deathstroke?"

"I knew I would find a gutter-rat like you hiding in a dirt hole like this," the mercenary said. "It's true what they say: money talks."

Crane backed up as Deathstroke entered further into the apartment. "What do you want with me?"

The mercenary looked around and waved a hand to his masked face as if he could smell the mixture of chemicals scattered around, an assault to his senses. Throughout the years in dealing with chemicals of every sort, Crane had lost much of his smell.

"Didn't anyone warn you about the effects of inhaling your own drugs, Crane?" Deathstroke rotated his rifle to his other hand, as if attempting some sort of intimidation factor. "You're such a hard man to find as of late," he then said.

"There's a reason for that. I'm a wanted man."

"I know. But a cure for your Fear Germ isn't anymore."

If he could see it, Crane knew he would probably see a smile on Deathstroke's face. For whatever reason. The mercenary seemed happy that one of his own—one of Batman's Rogue's—had failed. But he never truly thought of Deathstroke as an ally against Batman. Deathstroke had his own issues with the Caped Crusader and he was a loner in his plight to destroy the Dark Knight. And yet, on occasion, he would assist Batman for his own reasons.

Crane sneered. "Yes, I know. And whoever found it is going to pay. I'll make them pay for ruining my plans to turn Gotham City into the first pathogenic infected megalopolis with me as its saviour. I would've be both its disease and its cure."

"Ironic that what you asked for, a king's ransom, is the very thing that saved Gotham—gold," Deathstroke said, snorting a chuckle.

Crane slammed a hand on the table next to him, then remembered about his experiment, and was thankful the reverberation didn't knock it over. In his moment of anger, he nearly spoiled his new drug, and the explosion, if the beaker fell off the burner, would probably destroy half the room.

"You're coming with me, Crane," Deathstroke then said. "I have an unsettled debt and you're it. He wanted me to collect you and bring you back for some well deserved justice. You can either walk out of here under your own power or I can drag you out screaming. And trust me, the landlord to this place won't report a thing. As I said, money talks."

Crane frowned. "Why? You're a mercenary for hire, not someone's lapdog. Have you turned turncoat for good?"

"Think of it as payback for your crimes."

"From whom?"

Deathstroke reached into a pouch attached to his belt and putted out something black. Then he pressed a button on it and wings ejected from its sides like that of a bat. But it was not a Batarang. It was one of Nightwing's knock-off's, that he christian a Wingding.

Crane gasped. "Is that…"

"Yes, it is. And if you ever try to assault my former student again, I'll kill you."

Despite Deathstroke's previous offer of an option of letting Crane walk out on his own or being dragged out, he then decided on his own, and whipped the Wingding at Crane, striking him squarely between the eyes, knocking him down.

Crane groaned, half-unconscious. The sound of Deathstroke's boots came closer as he lay on the floor.

Then he felt his body being lifted into the air, and his vision bounced, his eyes crossed after being hit, his body limp, arms dangling down below his head, as he looked at Deathstroke's feet. Deathstroke switched off Crane's bunson burner before heading to the door with Crane over his shoulder.

"No, my experiments," Crane mumbled.

He tilted his head slightly and saw Deathstroke looking down at him.

The last thing Crane heard and saw before it was light's out was the mercenary mocking him, and saying, "Your days of magic potions are done, Merlin," before he was punched in the head. Everything went black.

x x x

When Slade walked out the back entrance of the rundown apartment complex carrying Dr. Jonathan Crane over his shoulder, he headed to a waiting dark Sedan parked in the back alley, and dropped the man into the back seat, quickly handcuffing, gagging and blindfolding him, then spraying him with a little of Red Robin's "special" memory gas, the same that he used on Dr. Hugo Strange, to erase his short-term memory, before getting into the passenger side, and taking off his helmet.

In the driver's seat sat Pixie and he smiled at her. She leaned over and gave him a peak on the cheek. "Easy job?" she asked.

"It was the easiest kidnapping I've ever done," Slade replied. "When we drop him off to the authorities, we'll let them know where Crane's hideout is, and tell them they need a HASMAT team to clean up all the chemicals."

"You know, you didn't have to do this," she said. "We broke Hugo Strange out of Arkham Asylum to help Tim Drake with his medical

condition, that was supposed to be your debt repaid for not being able to fitful Dick Grayson's original request to get Crane."

Slade nodded, and looked back at his catch. With the way Crane looked, he had all the appearance of a mob informant turned rat. "True," he said, smiling. He looked back at her. "But after what I did to Bludhaven, I thought I sort of owed Richard a little extra. Besides, who would I be if I didn't keep my word? Unreliable. And for a man in my line of work, that is a job killer."

Pixie smiled, and then kissed him long and passionately. Slade felt so young with her. They say, you're only as young as you feel. With Pixie, he felt his best again. He never in his wildest dreams that she would ever love an aging man like him. She had only been an informant a few weeks ago. Now she was his confidant, a partner, and a lover.

When she broke the kiss, he licked his lips of cherry lip gross. He breathed out a little hot air. It was a good thing she wasn't chewing any gum, or he would have probably swallowed it. Smiling, he said, "We better tell Chicken Little the job is done."

Pixie rolled her eyes in humorous disbelief. "That's Mother Hen," she corrected.

"Oh, but they're both part of the same fowl family anyway." He smiled at the inside joke. "Birds of a feather flock together." Then he shook his head. "Here we are, talking about hens and chickens, and we have a Crane laying in the backseat."

Pixie shook her head and chuckled.

She picked up her cell phone and dialled the secret number that Alfred Pennyworth, the Wayne butler, gave them. It rang twice, the standard, respected length, before Alfred picked up. "Mother Hen, Mission Accom—"

"Terrible news!" Alfred interrupted. "Forgive me, but Red Robin is missing. The GPS on his motorcycle has also ceased working."

Pixie told Slade that Tim was missing and then switched to speaker phone, sharing the phone between them.

"How long ago?" Slade asked.

"Three hours," Alfred said worried. "He was heading back home after depositing Dr. Hugo Strange at Arkham Asylum. He called in just before leaving, then nothing. I request that you please find him."

Alfred told them Tim Drake's last known location according to GPS, then asked if they you knew where that was. Slade said yes.

Pixie sped out of the alley, with Slade navigating. But when they arrived at the location, a back road near Arkham Asylum, in a forest area, all they found were charred and ripped pieces of Red Robin's cycle, or what was left if it, as if it had been blown apart by some massive explosion, or a high powered weapon, with a black starburst blast mark at its centre—and quite a lot of blood.

Slade and Pixie split up, and looked around the surrounding area on foot, but found anything, not even a scrap of clothing that may have indicated that Red Robin had been in a fight. Other than the blood, there was no sign of Tim Drake.

Slade took a closer examination at Red Robin's cycle, while Pixie again searched the immediate area in case any clues were missed. After a little while, she said, "Slade, come over here and take a look at this."

He looked up, then went to her as she stood on the edge of the road. Etched into the trunk of a tree were two letters. At first, she thought it was some lover's etching to prove their love, but there was only one set of initials. The standard etching normally had two sets of initials, and either a heart or some other symbol to follow. But only the letters were present—EB.

Slade's eye's widened and his face went ashen. Pixie noticed his trepidation, and asked, "Slade, what's wrong?"

"These are the initials for EB, as in Everybody's Assassin; a nickname in my network of contacts. AKA: KGBeast (pronounced: KGB East). He comes from Russia—old Russia, before the fall of the USSR and the rise of the Soviet Union. He's ruthless, even by my standards, and a cold, blooded, psychopathic killer. He's very intelligent, cunning, and crafty. I should have realized this before…" He turned around and looked at Red Robin's cycle and the surrounding carnage. "This is indicative of his work, his M.O. I also happen to know he doesn't like the term EB—thinks it's an insult—but if he used it here, he's obviously sending a message to whoever finds it. As in, he is everybody's assassin. And if he's come out of hiding, things have just escalated."

Pixie gave him a curious look. "Why do you look so nervous?"

Slade took a moment. "When I first heard his name and learned he was involved in Richard's situation, and that Jake Handles had hired us both, but kept us separate from each other as fail safes in case the other failed, I kept my composure, because I thought after Richard's recovery, that was the end of it. Handles plan to destroy Richard had failed, EB was paid for his part in the scheme, job done. He doesn't like sticking out. I tried to gather intel on his possible whereabouts, but he was no where to be found. After that, I put him out my mind and focused on other things. But now, after finding these initials here, I have no doubt now Bane is involved."

"Bane? Do you mean that large, Spanish, wrestler guy?"

Slade gave her a glance. "That large, Spanish, wrestler guy, as you call him, is extremely dangerous, and psychotic beyond words. There was talk that EB and Bane were in league with each other and it looks like those rumours are true now. More so, other rumours are floating around that it was originally Bane who issued the hit on Nightwing because he wanted to make Batman suffer. If he could kill one of Batman's closest allies—and the very first Robin—then that would settle a few out-standing scores between the two. Pure and sadistic revenge. And that's what Bane is. He's a walking time bomb, both mentally and physically—especially with the Venom drug he uses—in moderation—to pump up his muscles to give him extraordinary abilities and strength. The Venom drug works internally as a super adrenaline simulate, in laments terms, but it is a million times more powerful than any protein-booster on the market. Bane's metabolism has been genetically modified to handle it. It's otherwise poison to anyone else. It's even poison to him, if he doesn't take a counter-agent for its toxic effects."

"So, how do we find him? I think we owe it to Red Robin—Drake—to at least help him. We're in it this far."

"You don't find Bane, he finds you. With the right bait. I'll put out a few fielders and see what I can find out. In the meantime, we have to tell Mother Hen. He needs to know that one of his 'chicks' is in terrible danger."

To be continued...

 

Chapter Text

Jason Todd scratched himself where no modest male should in mixed company and reached deep into his pants, into his shorts.

As the others conversed amongst themselves about what to do next step against Jake Handles, Jason tried to relieve the major pain in his groin—a burning, almost stinging inch. He felt he had little choice in the matter because it hurt like hell.

He wanted to take a look at it, undress, hoping he hadn't been stung by a small jellyfish or an aquatic insect when he was bathing in the ocean earlier. But he knew he couldn't with everyone around. But if he had been stung he would've felt it immediately, especially if he had been a jellyfish.

An episode of a one of his favourite comedic series came to mind. It was about when someone had been stung by a jellyfish on the beach. The whole episode was about how one of his friends had helped him with the pain and how the rest of his friends reacted. Urine is proactive in dealing with jellyfish stings. Not only did it counteract the pain, but also the numbness it brought. So, if he had been stung by a jellyfish, however unhygienic it was—though if absolutely necessary, he would do it—he could urine in his pants.

But this was something else—an insect bite? He knew it could be next to anything. Sand was home to all sorts of indigenous insects, many of which wouldn't hesitate to attack humans if they encroached upon their domain. Fire ants, to name one. He just hoped when he laid his clothes out to dry on the sand after he washed them, he hadn't inadvertently placed it over an ant colony, or some other bug colony, and they attached themselves to his clothes—then bit him.

He thought no one was looking and continued to scratch himself with his back turned towards the others as they talked in a circle: Bruce, Dick, Barbara, and Arkells. Even after a rough start, Arkells was beginning to fit in well with the Batfamily.

At first, Arkells had suicidal tendencies and wanted Bruce to kill him, fearing the AI of his self-built Batcomputer he had fused with was going to override his own humanity. It was an honest fear, humans often feared what they didn't understand. But now, he felt at ease. His fears alleviated and denounced. The AI was a part of him and it had no intentions of harming him. And in truth—Arkells telling everyone in a moment's calm—the AI was actually helping him deal with his mental illness. So, things were good.

He only wished Tim didn't act as stupid as he did and cause is own paralysis when the Neuro-Diffuser was injected into his nervous system. Dick had told everyone that Alfred was looking after Tim until the paralysis wore off which Barbara had discovered was only temporary. But his recovery, supposedly, would take a while. Unless something dramatic happened to change things?
Just then, Damian looking over his shoulder, said, "Todd, what the hell are you doing?"

Jason started, even voiced an Eep! But continued to scratch as if his life depended on it. At the moment, he didn't care who saw him. The inch was so bad that leaving it alone would be a tantamount to a living torture. He hissed from the sting, then said: "I think, earlier, when I was in the water, I didn't know, I think I got contaminated sand in my shorts or—ouch!"

"Sand flees," Damian said. "When I awoke after you rescued me from Handles' mind control, and I saw you washing yourself in the ocean, I saw you had left your clothes on the sand. I bet one or two small sand flees crawled in. They are common on beaches."
"Crap! What the hell do I do about it then if it is sand flees?"

"Kill them and then treat the bites with cream," Damian advised.

"Um, whatcha doing?" came Jon Kent's voice, suddenly joining the pair. "Why do you have you hand down your pants, Jason?"

So much for privacy, Jason thought.

Suddenly, Jason felt something crawl on his inner right thigh. He reached over and crushed it. It was small, but it may have been the sand flee that bit him. One was enough to cause damage. He hoped it was only just the one.

He scratched further.

"Don't scratch it, you idiot," Damian's voice elevated. "You'll only make it worse. Sand flee bites are like mosquito bites, they sting the more you scratch."

"I can't help it!"

Out of the corner of his eye, Jason saw someone looking at him. Then the rest of the party joined.

Nightwing was front and centre with his hands on his hips. "We're formulating a strategy here against Jake Handles, guys, and you should be listening. Instead, I find you goofing off. This is serious. Is there a problem?"

"Ow!" Jason voiced, as he scratched.

Damian signed. "There's no other way to say this: Todd may have been bitten by sand flees." Damian then explained the how and why, as Jason scratched away not caring who saw, voicing his hurt: "Ow! Ow! Ow! Damn it!"

Arkells burst out laughing. "Good thing we have the comic relief on this mission or it would get boring," he said facetiously.

"Hey, it's not funny!" Jason retorted. "It really hurts!"

Nightwing shook his head and smirked. Barbara had a hand over her mouth to stop herself from laughing out loud.

Batman stood serious. He then reached into a pouch of his Utility Belt and took out a small tube of hydrocortisone cream, tossing it to Jason. Jason caught it with his free hand. The cream was good for scraps and cuts to prevent infection, it also treated burns and gave temporary protection to skin rashes. It was also known to work well on insect bites.

Jason took out his hand from is pants, squirted a large glob into it, and then inserted his hand back down, spreading it throughout the hurt area. Almost immediately, he felt it, and expressed a sigh of relief as the cooling agent took effect.

Barbara couldn't help it any longer and started to laugh. Nightwing had some restraint. But anyone who saw his face could see he was fighting the want to laugh.

Jason removed his hand, it was all greasy and oiling now, but at least the inching stopped. "Ah, that feels a hellva lot better," he said. He then wiped his hand on his pants. Trying to wash off the cream with water wouldn't work. Water and oil didn't mix. "Thanks, Bruce. That Utility belt really comes in handy sometimes. Now, if you only had a gun to give me. That would be superb."

Batman looked at Jason with a common stare, catching the sarcasm. Jason knew Batman never used guns, but he never missed a chance to call him on it, especially with all the new villains coming out of the woodwork using high-tech weapons these days. And Jason—Red Hood—was never one to shy away from using high-tech gadgets himself, learning from every new threat, adapting his own tactics, and adding to his own vast arsenal to match gun-for-gun. Gun collecting was a hobby for him.

Bruce failed to protect him against the Joker, so he armed himself to the teeth. Protecting himself, and doing what Bruce could not—a vigilante by another name.

Just then, rustling was heard in the adjacent forestry near them that lead towards the centre of the island, and—

She burst through the thicket of bushes, running for her life, her cries for help heard.

She whipped straight passed Jason, and since Nightwing was the closest adult, she literally threw herself into his arms.

"Oof!" he said, as his arms literally and involuntarily wrapped around her. She thumped against his chest, her breasts pressing deep and hard. And she hugged him tightly, scared.

Jason frowned. If only he was an adult, she would be in his arms right now.

"Help me! Oh, help me!" she cried. "They're after me!"

Jason cursed internally. If he wasn't a kid at the moment, he knew she would've chosen him to come to instead of Nightwing.

He noticed her stunning body. She was next to naked, with tattered clothes that hung off her in rags. The only thing that saved her from being completely nude was a white string bikini bottom and an upper part of a ripped shirt that looked like it had been clawed at by animals.

He observed Barbara's face. She gave Dick a bewildered look and Dick returned a dumbfounded look in return. She then gave Dick a look of who is that woman? And Dick shook his head unknowingly, despite the intimate appearance of their embrace.

"Who is after you?" Nightwing then asked her.

Suddenly, the who turned into a what—and two fully grown adult lionesses jumped out of the thicket moments later. They roared and growled, and Nightwing turned, brushing the unknown woman behind him to protect her, backing away.

Jason backed off as well. He was unarmed, and against two big cats like that, he'd be no match. They maul him easily.

Batman readied a Batarang and prepared to throw it, when Damian interceded, and said, "Wait! Don't hurt them! They're real. Not PK constructs. They're Handles' pets: Panthera and Inda."

Jason snapped a look as Damian as he got out in front and as Nightwing and the others backed away.

Damian reached for his escrima sticks that were in their holders on the back of his costume and pressed the voltage buttons. The tips sizzled and came to life with electricity. "Shall we play? Round two?" he said directly to the two lionesses as if they could understand him. "This time, I have the advantage."

The dominate-acting lioness Inda whipped an open-clawed paw at Damian and it roared viciously. But then it backed off when it caught sight of his electrified weapons. Any lover of animals knew they were very acute to danger, and if they had the opportunity, they would rather back off instead of embattle in a hopeless situation if their survival depended on it. Animals were much smarter than humans gave them credit for and they didn't throw their lives away so haplessly if it could be avoided. Unless then were defending their cubs or pitted against a rival animal of the same species to protect the herd.

"Go back to your master and tell him we're coming for him," Damian said. "But I bet he can hear me with all the cameras around the island."

Jason could almost imagine Jake Handles saying—if he was watching on his cameras at the moment: "Yes, I can hear you, loud and clear. And I'll be ready for you when you get here."

Both lionesses fled back into the thicket with one last protest from Inda.

Damian lowered his escrima sticks and shut off the voltage, then breathed out a sigh of relief.

Jason went over and cupped the boy on the shoulder. "Good work, D," he said.

Damian nodded. "Thanks. For a moment there, I thought I was going to have to zap them, and a voltage shock to an animal could be fatal. I would never be able to forgive myself if he killed one of them." He holstered the sticks back in their holsters behind his back.
"Glad you didn't. You showed restraint. I'm proud of you."

Damian smiled thin, obviously pleased by the complement.

Both of them then turned back around to face the others and to see about this mysterious woman, when Damian's mouth went agape, and Jason stood stunned.

"What the—" Jason began to express, but he was so shocked, he couldn't get the rest out.

Instead of thanking Damian, the unknown woman was thanking Dick, locking lips with him, hard pressed, her hands around her his head, so he couldn't break it off. It was a long, thoughtful kiss, like two lovers who had been separated for a extended period of time. But only one of them was glad to see the other. The other one was more shocked to move.

When she finally broke it, a stream of spittle bridged their mouths as if she had French kissed him, her tongue in his mouth.

"Even after all that's happened, the girls still flock to you amass," Jason remarked, rolling his eyes.

She said, "Oh, thank you, so much for saving me from those beasts."

"Ah…" was all Nightwing could muster.

Jason looked at Barbara. She gave him the look of a scornful, jealous woman. Jason saw it and gulped. A look of jealousy from any woman was trouble with a capital T.

He also saw Damian giving Nightwing the stink-eye, arms crossed with distain.

Jason knew it was like the ultimate sign of betrayal for someone else to take credit for another's efforts. Nightwing kissing this woman he had just met that criteria.

Nightwing cleared his throat. He took a step back, putting distance between them. "I, ah, you're welcome? Who are you?" he asked. Just then, as Nightwing looked at her face, he appeared to express a sense of familiarity. "Don't I know you from some place?"

Woah! Red flag, Dickie, Jason thought.

The fact he thought he recognized her was a bad thing to say. Did she remind him of an old fling when he and Barbara had been separated for a time? She was a stunning blonde bombshell with a buxom chest and a slender waist. If Jason was an adult, he'd hit on her in a New York minute. She looked like a super model from a man's fantasy and a personal fantasy from Jason's own dreams.

Some people accused Nightwing of "collecting" beautiful women, because he was seen as a playboy, and his tights left nothing to the imagination. They were so tight, it showed everything, even his tight butt.

But he already had a stunning bombshell, and a fiery redhead to boot, and Jason knew Barbara was his everything to Dick.

"Oh, I'm sorry," the mystery woman said blushing. The recognition comment ignored. "I was so thankful, I couldn't control myself." She looked back at Damian and thanked him, calling him Junior. Mentioning it was cute that he and Nightwing had matching outfits. "Is he your son?" Nightwing said no. "Oh…" She paused. "My name is Rose Chiclete. Forgive my attire, but I just escaped some crazy lunatic who brought me here to this island for his own pleasure. You wouldn't believe what he wanted me to do—he's a freak. When I refused, he let me loose, told me to run, and then sent his lions after me."

"Lionesses," Damian corrected. "They are the 'crazy lunatics' pets he raised from cubs, or so he told me when first I encountered them." Damian told them the story of the PK box Handles trapped him in where he was forced to undergo hours of mind-numbing rounds in a personal maze of Handles own design. "Handles can create anything his mind can concoct, but those lionesses are real in every way—including some of the birds in the tropical underground paradise that he must have brought overseas to nest."

"Tropical underground paradise?" Batman questioned.

Damian gave a gasp, it was a slip of the tongue. Jason smirked.

Jason knew Damian didn't want his father to know about it, especially with what had happened—splashing around with near naked vixens, he being naked. Damian was only thirteen years ago and still seen as a kid in such regards.

He broached a brotherly shoulder around Damian. "Yup, the tropical underground paradise, where I was taken and subjected to unspeakable horrors, and confronted by four of the wickedest PK female constructs ever designed by a sinister mind," Jason said. "They wanted my mind, body, and soul. They wanted to cleanse the filth off me and were programmed to do things of an unsavoury nature. But I didn't give up the goose. Damian rescued me from a terrible fate. Jon was there, too. Isn't that right?" He gave a wink.

Jon got the hint. "Sure, yup," he lied. "And then I got kidnapped."

Jason gave a wink at Damian. His secret was safe.

Barbara came over, took off her cape, and gave it to Rose to cover herself. She took it graciously. "Where did you come from?" Barbara asked. "Is there a secret entrance where we can enter into the mountain? We need to stop Jake Handles' plans."

"I'm not sure, I didn't look back when I was released. I just ran as fast as I could."

Arkells suddenly entered the fray and looked her up and down. He seemed to stare at her like some sort of alien life form curious about humans. It fact, it appeared his AI was doing the eying. "Why are you lying to us?" Jason snapped look at him, shocked by the sudden accusation. As did the others. "Those bats we fought earlier were PK constructs and the AI inside me was able to get a good analysis of them. I detect the same bio-signature in you. If you did run far, you're not sweating, and your skin seems too picturesque—like some woman out of a sexy movie."

Rose Chiclete looked at everyone in turn, seemingly stunned. She then whipped off Batgirl's cape, her deception caught.

She used it like a whip, similar to a towel someone would use for fun when they got out of a shower. Where it struck, it strung, and she seemed to know exactly what to do. She hit Nightwing in the face, who was the closest. He grabbed his face.

Then she backed off herself to a safe distance.

Nightwing held his face for a moment, then revealed that the cape had slashed his cheek on the right side. He bled. Barbara went to his side, not out of worry but in protection, extending a retractable bo-staff. Nightwing said he was okay.

Batman brought up, and went to throw the Batarang he still had in hand from earlier, but the PK construct threw Batgirl's cape in his field of view, and then ran back into the thicket, escaping them, and disappeared.

"Should we go after her?" Jason voiced.

"No," Batman said. "If she is a PK construct like Arkells says, she'll no doubt disappear as soon as she gets out of eye sight."

It was then that Nightwing revealed who the PK construct reminded him of—a woman named Julie Andrews. But not a woman he ever dated, she was associated with Jake Handles.

"It was a ludicrous cliche, the old damsel in distress ploy. And it worked for a time. Handles pegged us for suckers for a pretty face." Damian groaned under his breath. "I should have clued in earlier: Rose Chiclete—Pink gum. And French for chewing gum. I believe its a swipe at that old line from one of Nightwing's favourite B movies."

"Impressive, I'm glad you're keeping up with your French lessons, Robin," Batman said, with a hint of a proud fatherly smile.
"Next thing we know, when he's finally all grown up, he'll be impressing the ladies with his French tongue—using his 'sensationnel syntax'," Jason said, winking. "And yes, the innuendo is implied. Ooo La La!"

Damian snorted. "I'm seriously going to hit you, Jason."

Jason smiled playfully.

"There's insulting me, and then there's mocking an awesome classic movie like 'They Live'," Nightwing then said half-seriously.

"Yeah, I've seen that movie," Jason said. "It's not a bad movie."

Nightwing looked up, then shouted: "Hey Jake! Get your butt out here, you son-of-a-bitch! Stop hiding from me! If you want to finish things between us, then let's do this!"

Arkells looked up at the mountain in the centre of the island. "You tried that already, remember? And Handles released the bats. But I don't think Handles will be so enticed to attack us this time. He has bigger fish to fry."

"What do you mean?" Batman asked.

Arkells paused, and took a moment as if sensing something.

Jason suddenly got a weird feeling, he didn't like Arkells expression.

"What's wrong?" Batman asked.

"Not sure," Arkells said, shaking his head. "I feel something ominous, like the air just thickened. He's getting ready to activate the sub-harmonic device. The AI in me can feel its energy, that's the best way I can describe it. But I don't know the target. Maybe we're the target this time? Or it could just be another test? But I think he'd done with the tests."

Nightwing breathed out. He took a moment, then said: "I think it's time to press pause on his plans and give him something else to focus on." But before anyone could ask him what Nightwing meant, he stepped forward, looked up at the top of mountain, as if staring directly at his old Spyral colleague, put his hands to his mouth, and shouted, "Hey, Romeo—I know where Juliet is! If you want to know where she ended up…you're going to have to face me mono-eh-mono!"

To be continued...

 

Chapter Text

It's said that the past has a way of catching up you, and if you aren't careful, it can bite you in the ass.

Dick Grayson once said this to Jake during a joint mission when they were both with Spyral and while they were still on good terms. Grayson had spoken highly of his time as Nightwing and how a single mistake in the past had a way of catching up to you later.

Dick's nature had him in retrospect of what if decisions, especially when it came to what he referred to as Batman's Rogue Gallery, and how, he admitted, some criminals were better off dead and buried than captured to be later released to re-offend.

One night, when they were up talking, the one thing Grayson admitted he hated about crime fighting—but he loved doing it—was the Catch and Release system of the Criminal Justice System, and how the ghosts of the past had lasting consequences. It gave Grayson nightmares. Those he couldn't save, the faces of victims murdered by criminals, haunted Grayson's dreams.

Jake had his own ghosts. His own haunting memories. But he never thought after his accident that he would be forever be haunted by a particular ghost—a nightmare in its own rite.

When a man falls in love with a woman, and it goes bad, the scars often go deeper than one wants to admit. They tug at the heart like a phantom that comes out of nowhere. The memories haunt the conscious mind and the pain never going away.

Jake Handles could never forget—or would never allow himself to forget—Juliet (Julie) Andrews Handles, his ex-wife. And when he made the "Juliet" PK construct with her in mind, and sent her out, he had a feeling Dick Grayson would recognize her. The name he chose for her was a play on one of Dick Grayson's favourite movie lines—Rose Chiclete: Pink Gum.

Once again, that little brat—Damian Wayne, Nightwing Junior—spoiled the surprise in revealing the origin of the name. He was really starting to hate that kid.

As he stood in his lair, Jake's memory took him back to a joyous time when he was the happiest he had ever felt, and side-by-side with Julie. They began as partners in the field working for Spyral, but then became partners in life, and married secretly, in a small, intimate ceremony in Paris, France.

For two years, they kept their secret. One night, Grayson caught them acting like horny school teens during a joint mission in an Amsterdam hotel, the same where Grayson relayed a life lesson to Jake. They were making so much noise, that Grayson actually thought someone was attacking them and came crashing through Jake's door, gun in hand.

Jake told Grayson everything, and Dick promised not to tell a soul, because he felt the same way about Barbara Gordon.

That was until the upper echelon elite got wind of it and separated them, reassigning Julie to the Information Bureau, which, incidentally, was how Jake first learned about Treasure Island, through her revealing of classified information during a secret tryst, when they both just happen to be in the same city on different missions.

Treasure Island was Spyral's dumping ground for all the toys the agents brought back after their entanglements with terrorists and despots, delivered first to HQ to await transport. Field Agents were forbidden to visit the island. It was only after a VIP asked to visit the island for an inspection that Jake and Dick were finally able to see it in person as escorts, and view all its many facets, secrets, and stored weaponry; things neither of them had ever seen or heard of, including the Sub-Harmonic Shock Disruptor (SHSD).

Spyral always paired their agents up for safety, but Jake hated his new partner and longed for Julie. But it was during one of his missions with his new partner when he began to develop a taste for the finer things in life: money and power, and it was also when he began to think about revenge. Revenge against the people who took the love of his life away from him, never allowing him to see her. Even when he had time off, they made it that she worked, and vice versa. He felt it was purposefully being done.

The old rule of fraternization with other agents was long dead, but he felt Spyral was ruining his life with Julie. And it was during a surprise inspection from a Spyral Field Commander that nearly cost him everything, even Julie.

It was during this special inspection of himself and his partner when he had had enough. Jake snapped and took the SFC hostage and then shot and killed his scheming partner, when it was learned he was spreading lies regarding a relatively minor infraction, in Jake's opinion, getting severely drunk one night during a mission. He just missed Julie and wanted to numb the pain. But his partner said it wasn't the first time and that Jake was always drinking and was often drunk on missions.

It was obvious the young punk just wanted to get ahead and to get reassigned to a better partner and location.

That ended Jake's Spyral career. But it began a new one—a career in crime. With all the connections and contracts Jake had made over the years, he was able to set up a crime syndicate that rivalled some of the best in the world, and even took out a few—building his own super-crime-syndicate. Spyral even tried to interfere in his plans, but all attempts failed.

Except for one time, and that cost him a lot of capital and man-power. And forced him to flee.

In revenge, he targeted Spyral field agents in well known locations, bombing safe-houses and bureaus—because he knew all of Spyral's secrets—even creating collateral damage in his wake. Each killing was purposeful and designed to send a message, and he soon became known as The Reaper, because he didn't care who he murdered to suit his agenda.

It was then Spyral decided to send out one of their best agents, but a rookie in Jake's eyes, and yet a man he once trusted and called a friend. Dick Grayson, Agent 37, was sent after him in the hopes to quiet things down, and if need be, eliminate the problem with extreme prejudice. From what Jake recalled, when Grayson caught up to him in Germany, he cornered Jake in a building, after a foot chase through the streets, and after Jake had shot Grayson's partner—later he would learn not fatally.

Little did Grayson know that Jake had lured him to the building and had wired it with explosives. He knew, if he could kill Grayson, Spyral would have no other option other but to acquiesce to his demands to see Julie, whom they continued to keep from him.

He later learned after his near-death experience with Grayson—when he began to recover from the explosive device that caused him severe degree burns over eight-percent of his body, his right arm and left leg crushed and replaced, robotically, with artificial limbs, aided by his secretly built super-computer with a sophisticated AI—that she had died in a freak accident. He quickly learned that it was a lie, granted access into the Witness Protection Program on her behest to hide from him.

He remembered how angry he was that Spyral had taken Julie away from him and it seemed now that she was afraid of him for what he had become—for what Spyral had turned him into. And he blamed Grayson for it as if he was Spyral itself. That's why he targeted Grayson later, hiring both Deathstroke and KGBeast to shoot Nightwing in the head, to make it appear he was the target of an assassination by an unknown foe—to destroy him, and to erase everything he was and loved. It was the ultimate revenge.

So, when Grayson shouted Julie's name, in context to the Shakespearean play, knowing how much Jake still loved her, it was like Grayson had stabbed him in the heart. Did Grayson really know where Julie ended up in the WPP?

As Nightwing, he would have connections that not even Jake would have within law enforcement agencies, that even his super-computer could not learn. Not every secret could be hacked.

Handles had planted items for Nightwing Junior to find in Bludhaven related to Grayson's current condition, after his assassination attempt. They were a ploy, and clues that only Grayson would pick up on, if ever he ever recovered that would lead him to Jake—the marbles and the emblem button with the G, that came after his time with Spyral. Jake kept tabs on Grayson.

He wanted Dick Grayson out of the way, so when he launched his attack on the world with the SHSD, no one could stop him. They wouldn't know what was happening until after the fact. Only Grayson would know.

But that didn't matter at the moment. All time stopped for Julie.

He looked at the projection screen that hovered before him and widened the angle to focus squarely on Nightwing's face. It would be easy to take Nightwing out with a single shot with a laser canon, but that would be too easy. He didn't want to just kill his rival, he wanted to crush him—to make Dick Grayson suffer for what he did as Agent 37.

Harvey Two-Face stood a little ways away, leaning on the side of Handle's massive super-computer, flipping his coin and catching it repeatedly as if it were a nervous reaction to something. Handles could see him out of the corner of his eye.

"So, care to fill me in, Annex?" Harvey said. "Who is Juliet? And no, I don't think he referred to Shakespeare."

"Quite right, my scarred friend," Handles replied, with a hint of mockery. "Dick Grayson is delivering me a message that he knows will grab my attention." Even though he had no obligation to do so, he found himself giving Harvey Two-Face a bit of personal history about his ex-wife, Juliet Andrews. "But I'm not the fool to go charging into battle when so enticed. Straight for the heart, Dick Grayson, very clever," he said, as if he speaking directly to his rival. "I tried to take everything away from you for what you cost me, now you tease me with delicious information like this?" Where is Julie? I must know, I must speak with her to explain things.

"I was in love once before my accident," Harvey said. "But women often change their minds. They no longer want substance over quantity. They're a dime a dozen these days, and love is a commodity that can be bought, exchanged, and negotiated."

"Then you haven't found the right woman, Harvey," Handles said. "And ignorance can only be learned through trial."

With one final flip of his coin, Harvey caught it in midair, and snapped his hand shut, as if he had a made a decision, and one based on an emotional response. He seemed to have caught the insult.

He stood up straight. "Enough of the games, Annex," he said. "You had your fun with Grayson. You sent out your PK Construct of your ex-wife to see how they would react before it could used to replace others in high ranking positions in governments. She fooled them for a time, but not for long. The name you christened her with gave it away to Arkells. Now it is time to get down the brass tax. Just kill them and be done with it. There's enough fire power on this island to start a small war. And when you finally do plan to launch the SHSD, you'll get one. The governments of the world will launch an all-out offensive on this island when you announce your intentions. But they'll fail. And when your army of PK constructs are sent out, just like Japanese Kamikaze pilots, no one will dare stand against us. Best to kill Batman and company before they ruin things."

The SHSD was ready, there was no more need for testing. All the parameters were perfected. He had satisfied his OCD on that front, powering it up to launch an attack—he just needed it reach full power status.

But Grayson was another story. He needed to finish things with his old friend before he could proceed, or Dick Grayson would forever be a thorn in his side. Kill the past, or watch his decision come to back to bite him in the ass, like Grayson once said to him.

And he knew Dick Grayson would make it his life's work to take him down. So, he had to be eliminated first.

Expanding the projection screen, he observed the Batfamily, as they were called, speaking to one another, the audio on mute. He could only imagine what they were concocting. When he saw Arkells again, Jake cocked his head, and a brilliant idea erupted. He originally thought he wanted this unique individual to implement and develop as a super-soldier, he had an unusual AI infused within him—how, he wished he knew, and who designed it, was equally curious—but now he wanted him for something else entirely.

Arkells mouthed something and then walked away, excusing himself from the group for a moment, entering a thicket of trees near by, disappearing. By all accounts, he seemed to be relieving himself. He was still human, after all.

Annex walked back to his super-computer and typed something on its console. Then he connected himself to the AI with a cord and downloaded something into his own AI matrix. The super-computer and he were in constant communication and it helped him with everything, like a symbiotic-species, including re-developing the SHSD into a forcible weapon. They were as one.

But now he wanted something—and something that he had been recently thinking about ever since he had first seen Arkells swat away those bats on the beach with his morphing technology, something his super-computer could not provide.

Harvey watched him carefully, looking over his shoulder. "What are you doing, Annex?" It was almost a demand than a question.
Annex disconnected himself, and then turned, said, "Dick Grayson must die before my plans come to fruition. The SHSD can wait, there's no hurry to attack with it. First and foremost, Grayson must pay for what he's done."

Harvey slapped a hand on Annex's shoulder and turned him forward, the villain looked angry. He kept his hand on Annex's shoulder, even tightening his grip. "Forget him! He means nothing! Don't be stupid, Annex!"

Handles flicked off Harvey's arm as if it was nothing. "You work for me, Harvey. You do what I tell you as my enforcer. You're not paid to think. If you wish, you can go back to Gotham City—to your rat infested, gutter hole, with your antiquated, sub-part and crumbling city-structure. And just so you know, the days of Al Capone are over. You're out-dated. Technology is the wave of the future, not gangster-politics. When my plan comes to pass, Eldorado will look like peanuts to the power I'll wield. Make your choice."

Handles turned to leave, turning his back on Harvey, and headed towards an elevator that would take him to the surface where he would confront Grayson/Nightwing head-on, when suddenly, he heard the cocking of a gun behind him.

"Don't be foolish, Handles," he heard Harvey Two-Face say. Jake knew Harvey was pointing a gun at him. "You have everything at your finger tips. The world can be yours—ours—starting with Gotham. You promised I would rule Gotham when your plan was in full swing. You hired me for my services. And just so you know, I cost a lot more than some two-bit criminal. And now, payment is due. Your idiotic vendetta is yours. I don't give a crap about it. You can kill Dick Grayson and the rest of them from here. Send your PK Constructs amass at him like you did the bats. A thousand femme-fatale's like your ex-wife would easily destroy them."

Annex smiled to himself. "Femme-fatale? Funny that you would say that. It's true that a single woman can destroy a man with their charm, but it's equally important to know that a foolish man can destroy himself with his own rashness and stupidity."

With a loud whistle from his lips, a door suddenly opened up in a wall behind Harvey Two-Face—that Annex's symphonic connection with his super-computer, activated—and Panthera and Inda, Handles' pet lionesses, came bolting out.

Harvey abruptly turned, gun in hand. He instinctively focused upon the immediate threat—the two large lionesses that were charging towards him, summoned by Handles. He aimed and fired several shots in a frenzy from his man-stopper and halted the two beasts in their tracks, killing Panthera instantly, and mortally wounding Inda.

But the moment he turned back to Handles, fused with anger, Annex didn't give Harvey any quarter, and generating a lightning strike from his artificial hand, his Adaptability Glove incorporated within, he launched an attack on Harvey Two-Face, electrocuting him, to the point his body sizzled, his body jerking from the impact.

The surge only lasted a few moments, but it was enough to stop the treacherous villain in his tracks.

Harvey dropped to his knees, dropping his gun, and collapsed face first to the floor. The coin in his hand, released, and rolled along the ground, eventually coming to lay flat a little ways away face-up on its non-scratched side.

Handles went over to Harvey and looked down at the traitorous villain. His name truly gave purchase to his identity, he was indeed two-faced.

Then, crouching down next to Inda, the lioness licked Jake's human hand when he extended it, petting the poor animal on its head. "I'm sorry, my pet," he said, while also giving a glance to Panthera, who was already dead. "You were loyal to the end. Thank you." Then Inda died.

Handles stood up, and looked at his human hand, squeezing it into a fist. Compared to the rest of him, and what remained of his own face, the part covered by his mask, it was the last ounce of humanity he truly had—fused partially with the AI of his super-computer when it reconstructed and resurrected him from a sure death.

And it was all because of Dick Grayson, Agent 37. If it wasn't for him, he would still look human instead of—what Damian Wayne once called him—a reject from the Phantom of the Opera. If he was normal, he would still have a chance with Julie.

But not now…

Not the ugliness of a man he had become. He had been handsome once, when he worked with Spyral, rivalling Grayson in looks. Some of the agents even had a contest about who would be more dashing on a date. Some of the women at the agency also, curiously, had a poll about who had the best looking butt. He was told he lost that by a mile. Grayson won it with the most votes.

Jake Handles, Annex, gritted his teeth, and an anger swelled. "I hate you, Dick Grayson. I hate you with every fibre of my being. And this time when we battle, nothing is going to stop me from killing you—not even your precious Batfamily!"

He walked to the elevator and pressed the button to the surface.

As long as he controlled the island, and was in commensalistic contact with his super-computer, who had saved his life and rebuilt him—each one benefiting from the other. His power and strength was unlimited.

No one could stop him.

Not even Dick Grayson!

To be continued...

 

Chapter Text

"What was all that about?" Batman asked, after Nightwing lowered his arms.

Nightwing turned, and said, "Back when I was Agent 37, I found out that Jake was secretly married to Julie Andrews, later Handles, who was also an agent. They tried to keep it a secret, and they would have, if they hadn't been so loud one night when we were staying in a hotel in Paris on another joint mission. I went to check on the noise, gun in hand, thinking there was a struggle happening, honestly believing Jake was being attacked, and burst through Jake's door. And there, I found them, well, you know…"

"Checking each other's credentials, frisking for evidence, polishing their hardware…"

"One metaphor would've been sufficient, Jason," Batgirl remarked.

Nightwing smiled. "Anyway, he asked if I would keep their secret, and I said sure. After that, I found them engaged together in a number of acts; acts of love—like the story of Romeo and Juliet—and sneaking kisses out of the way of others, trying to keep their trysts secret, etc." He smiled at Barbara and winked. "I never told anyone. But Spyral found out about it anyhow. Long story short, after a period of separation, and a long distance relationship, Julie was the one that ended the marriage with divorce papers—it was the only way to save her job at the time, and then I learned she was reassigned to London, England. Jake still loved her, despite the papers. But I think the divorce papers threw Jake over the edge. Soon, he began his murderous rampage on Spyral agents all around the world. Spyral thought his acts were out of revenge for their broken marriage, but that was before we learned of Jake's criminal enterprises—and that he had developed feelings for a new love: one for money and power."

"So, you used his heartbreak to your advantage just now to coax him out of hiding? That's cruel, Dick; even for you," Barbara said. "What if it were use in that situation, and you had to make a choice—us or the your job? Would you make the same decision?"

"I'd make it work. But no job is more important that you. And one day, I know it will work out." Dick gave his most boyish smile.

She gasped. "Richard John Grayson…Are you proposing?"

Dick didn't seem taken back at all about the revelation. "Well, since the cat's out of the bag. I know this not the place for it, but I'm crazy about you Barbara, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you—to grow old together." He held her hand. "Jake reminded me what was most important in my life. I think I had to go through these trials to re-ignite that spark we once had. I love you, Barb."
"Dibs on being the ring bearer," Jason called out excitedly. "It doesn't look like I'm going to change back to my handsome self any time soon, so if I'm going to have to live a second childhood, then I want to look cute in doing it. Damian can be a flower girl."

Dick looked at Jason strange.

"Way to ruin a wonderful moment, idiot," Damian voiced. "And there's no way I'm wearing a dress or carrying flowers."

"Then when he's up-and-about again, Tim can wear the dress, and throw flowers into the aisle. He has kinder eyes that you."

"You are so beyond weird right now, Todd. I think being changed into a kid has affected your brain."

"I love weddings," Jon joined in. "What can I do? Can I invite my Mom and Dad?"

Barbara ignored them all and suddenly gave Dick a big kiss on the mouth.

It was a kiss that put all their other kisses to shame—all the times that they had embraced, rendezvoused on roof tops, snuck moments together, even in costume, when they thought they were alone, getting a little frisky and touchy.

But nothing compares to this moment, Dick immediately thought. The multi-verse be damned and to hell to all his alternative selves. This is the universe that matters most right now.

When she pulled back, Dick was momentarily dazed. And he felt his knees wobble. "Is that a yes?"

Barbara gave him a sweet smile, and said, "What do you think?"

Batman put a hand on Nightwing's shoulder.

Then it seemed Dick awoke from a dream, turned, and said: "Oh, crap! Sorry Bruce, I got caught up in the moment. We're in the middle of a battle between life and death here. And I totally forgot about the issues between you and Selina."

Batman nodded, and then gave his oldest ward a thin smile. He looked happy. "Yes, we are," he said. "Obviously Selina and I were not to be, too many differences. But I'm happy for you, Dick. I seem to recall in another universe—there are too many count—you two did get married. But that doesn't matter. You two, here, now, is what counts."

"Thanks, Bruce," Dick replied. Arkells was smiling, and Dick noticed. "What?"

Arkells cocked his head and looking at them both.

He said: "It's slightly different from how I remember things, but it's still good—you two do get hitched in my timeline. I didn't want to say anything or spoil things. I know how the Butterfly Effect works. At least you didn't get so nervous and vomit on your boots this time. You were both at Wayne Manor when you proposed, too."

"That's more than a slight difference then, Arkells," Damian said. "This is completely different."

Arkells shrugged. "But Damian is right. Because we're here on this island instead of at Wayne Manor, I have no idea what happens now. And you proposing is happening a lot later than I remember it. Perhaps because of what happened to you, Dick—with your attempted assassination. It was pushed things forward?"

"I've said it before, I'm tired of trying to figure out all these alternate universes," Dick said. "It gives me a headache."

"So, just out of curiosity," Damian said, "where do I end up? Side-by-side, next to my father as Batman and Robin, correct?"

"Um, perhaps in this timeline things will change?" Arkells shrugged his shoulders. "I'm not sure now. But I will say this for your protection: If ever you encounter a girl named Mia—Run! Run away, fast! Trust me, you won't regret it."

Damian looked at him confused. "Whose Mia?"

"Trust me, you don't want to know…"

Just then, an invisible, energy-evoked door emerged out of nowhere and in front of the open crevasse. Nightwing thought it looked like a thought-elevator from ancient lore Damian had once told him about told to him by Ra's al Ghul. Ancient history had many unexplained things and Ra's al Ghul had experienced a great deal of them over his long life. Ra's had told Damian many of theses tales when Damian was a member of the League of Assassins, and Damian, in turn, told Dick the same stories when they teamed up as Batman and Robin. But the fact modern technology could duplicate such things was awesome. Jake was truly a genius.

Jake Handles emerged. But it wasn't the man Damian had last told Dick about. This handsome version of Jake Handles was a strong looking man. He was bare-chested and muscular with dark brown hair. There was not an ounce of scorching on his body.

Jake Handles approached them.

"Is that who I think it is?" Damian questioned.

"Yes," Dick said to Damian. "That's what Jake used to look like before his accident."

"Accident, nothing!" Jake Handles said. "It was pure spitefulness." He stopped a safe distance from them, digging black boots in the sand. He wore black tights, as if he was ready to fight. "Hello, Dick. Long time no see. Curious why I look this way? I'm using a variance of my Photo-Kinetic technology on myself to mask my real appearance. I thought it better to come to you as I used to be, instead of my current grotesque form. I can thank you for that."

"It was your own fault, Jake. You deserved everything you got. And you tried to take everything away from me in revenge."

"Yes, but that little horse's ass—Nightwing Junior, as he calls himself now," he said mockingly to Damian, "ruined my plans!"

Damian stepped forward. "When we first met, you took me by surprise," he said. "I underestimated you, but not now. I know all your tricks, and we know what you plan to do with that sub-hormonic device you have hidden away in the mountain. There's a counter-offence to everything. And your PK constructs are easy to identity and destroy now. Arkells can detect them with his AI infused brain." He unholstered his escrima sticks from his back. "Now, I'll show you what this little horse's ass can do!"

Nightwing stepped forward, put a hand on Damian's shoulder. "No, Damian," he said. "Thanks for everything you've done—for bringing me back from the brink of nothing, restoring my memories, and my life. I owe you huge, kiddo. But now, this is my fight." He unholstered his own escrima sticks. "It is time Jake and I finish what we started, one-on-one."

"Mono-eh-mono, as you so elegantly put it," Jake said, but then he shook his head, "but not quite yet. There's something I want first, something I need—that was so violently taken away from me." He looked towards Arkells. "You, young man. Your AI is extraordinary. Tell me, who designed it? And how did you become one?"

"You don't have to tell him anything, Arkells," Nightwing said. "My bet is he wants you to study."

"A good guess, Dick, but you're wrong," Jake said. "I need his morphing ability for my own." With a godly flick of his hand, Handles encased Arkells in a forcefield like trapping an animal in a cage. It encapsulated him in hard light equivalent to his PK construct technology, but unlike the bats, this construct would not shatter. Arkells pounded on it repeatedly with his fists. "Ah, now I see," Handles mused, as if the capsule could read Arkells' data. "You're from the future. I can scan your body in this field, and I must say, your AI is impressive. But not as sophisticated as mine. Suffice it to say, I can still use you. And like all data, download you."

Suddenly Arkells began to scream, as if he was being electrocuted inside the capsule. Waves of energy danced around inside, striking Arkells like lighting. Batman rushed to the capsule and struck it repeatedly with a Batarang to break it, but to no avail. But he didn't stop trying. "Arkells! Drake! Stay strong!"

"Jake, stop it!" Dick shouted.

Just then, inside the capsule, opposite to defragmenting data, Arkells genetic cells began to rip apart. His human form digitizing, his bio-data reformatted, and his eukaryotic cells separating from their membrane nucleus. Handles was using some form of advanced demolecularization technology to digitize Arkells, the ability concentrated within the capsule, and generated by his super-computer.

Batman slammed on the capsule with his fists. "Arkells, no! I don't want to lose you!"

Arkells met Batman's hand on the capsule as he began to disappear. "Bruce, it's too late. I was wrong. I'm sorry for the trouble I put you through and for what I did to my younger self. Please, apologize to him for me, and I hope me makes a full recovery. I just hope I made a difference in the short time we had together this time. Thank you, for everything."

And with that, Arkells disappeared, and was reconstituted into a small blue cube.

The capsule disappeared, and then the cube shot towards Handles' out-stretched hand, as if he was using some form of telekinesis, not giving Batman a chance to grab it. Handles cupped it. It then sank down and was absorbed into his palm. For a moment, Handles face glowed with a blue hue, processing Arkells digital data into is own self-consciousness.

"You son of a bitch!" Batman cursed.

"Ah, yes," Jake said piously, his arms now stretched out wide. "I was right. And now the morphing ability is mine! I can stay like this forever! No longer the grotesque monster, but the man Julie once loved and adored. And I will get her back!" Jake's seemed to glow. "But now, Dick Grayson, you will tell me where my beloved Julie is, or I'll crush you and your Batfamily to dust!"

Over his hands formed what could only be seen as—and what Grayson remembered—was Handles' Adaptability gloves, now incorporated into his being. They originally operated by static-electricity generated by an internal power source. But now, merely by thought, pure electricity coursed throughout and danced around his finger tips, looking like psychotic madness in physical form.

Arkells had given him the ability to create anything he wished.

In response, Nightwing ignited his escrima sticks to match electricity with electricity.

He had only seen Arkells morph twice: once from being Batman in the Batcave when he first encountered Future Drake, and the second, when Arkells changed his arm into a fly swatter to destroy Handles' PK bats.

He had no knowledge of other abilities Arkells may have had that now Handles possessed.

The possibilities were limitless.

x x x

Harvey Two-Face groaned.

As he lay face first on the floor, the only thing he truly felt was excessive grogginess after Handles' attack on him.

Luckily, he had turned at the last moment and his suit absorbed most of the blast from the Adaptability Glove. His suit was insinuated with a special light linear rubber polymer fibre that protected him from most energy blasts, a lesson he took away after many encounters with the Caped Crusader. The Bat had so many tricks up his sleeve that a villain had to be ready for anything.

He had to admit, the blast from Handles was one major kick in the teeth. Handles didn't hold back, the blast was meant to kill. Batman may have been many things, but unlike Handles, he wasn't a lair.

And Harvey hated lairs and betrayers. There was a special place in Hell for them.

It was the one thing he detested most when he was a Gotham District Attorney. Even if people told the complete truth on the witness stand and were guilty, there was always a reason for their actions, and an honest verdict could come about. But if a person lied, it was much harder to get the truth.

This was an open and shut case: Jake Handles—Annex—was guilty on multiple offences and he was going to pay. Annex owed him for services rendered and Harvey was always one to collect on his debts.

He sat up, and took a moment to look at the dead lionesses on the floor near-by that he had killed. He had used the last of his bullets to kill them and he had no regrets. Handles had trained them well, and they were loyal to him, but flesh and bone was nothing compared to compressed iron and steel fired at 1,800 mph.

He grabbed the edge of Handles super-computer to lift himself to his feet. The betrayal he felt from Handles filled him with such a burning hate that he wanted to punch something. For a moment, since he was alive—Big mistake, Handles, in not finishing me off, he thought—he wanted to take out his frustration on Handles computer. Then he thought against it: Not worth the effort.

He saw a floating projection screen that was still active of a scene taking place somewhere on the surrounding beach line of the island. Annex was facing Nightwing and being confrontational about it, the audio off. He hadn't seen the events that lead up to it, but Annex looked different now, and he wasn't in costume. Had he been faking his injuries?

Then he realized, Annex must be using some form of his Photo-Kinetic technology on himself to mask his true appearance.

The most arrogant ones are the most conceded bastards, Harvey thought.

He banged his head with his right fist as if to knock the cobwebs out. "Ah, that feels better. Now I'm fully awake." He looked at Nightwing and the others on the projection screen. He knew who Nightwing and the others were. All were members of the Wayne family. "Who cares who you are," he said. "The only person I have a beef with right now is Annex. The rest of you can go to hell."

Turning back to Annex's massive super-computer that controlled practically everything on the island, including the Sub-Harmonic Shock Disruptor, he had an idea. In truth, it was decision.

Reaching into his pocket, he went for his lucky coin. It was true, his OCD regarding major decisions was based on the flip of a coin these days. He was called Harvey Two-Face mainly because of his appearance, but there was more to the moniker. One that had been chosen for him. And it had to do with his two-sided coin. One side was normal, but the other was scratched to hell—they represented good and evil: much like in the criminal justice system. And in life, people made decisions everyday that changed the course of their lives in profound ways. Some later regretted their decisions.

But with his coin, it was either Yes or No. No regrets.

He searched his clothes, the coin was no where to be found. He padded himself down and momentarily panicked. It had been his father's coin; a special coin given to him when he was child, and was said to be very lucky. Harvey had taken it everywhere, on every case. Unfortunately, the one day he had forgotten it, was the day Vincent Falcone threw acid in his face changing his life forever.

He looked frantically for it and then breathed a sign of relief when he found it laying next to one of the dead lionesses. He recalled, he had been holding it when he had defended himself from Handles pets and also when Handles attacked him. When he collapsed, it must have rolled out of his hand.

Picking it up, he smiled, and flipped it, and caught it in hand. But he didn't look at it. No decision made.

He turned back to the active projection screen, and said gruffly, "Time to test your luck, Annex." He displayed the coin within his forefinger and thumb, as if showing Annex directly. "Heads I win, tails you lose."

He flipped it, then caught it, slapping it on the back of his other hand. He looked at it and then grinned sinisterly. The decision had been made, and he was pleased the universe had made the right choice. The choice he wanted to make.

"No one double-crosses, Harvey Two-Face," he said.

Over the course of Annex's operation, partnered with the crazy psychopath, Harvey had become privy to many things. If Annex succeeded in his plans to hold the world hostage with the SHSD, he world have the world's armies at his door step, working as one to save their own nations. And yet, with the SHSD, he could easily defend himself—using its power to annihilate his enemies. Eventually, they'd find a solution and a counter-attack, but by that time, the world would be much different place.

And whose to stop Annex from just blinding killing people at random to suit his agenda—like me? He knew too much.

Harvey liked the world just the way it was.

He faced the super-computer's main screen. Little did Annex know that his administrative password was not a secret. When Annex wasn't paying attention, Harvey had secretly watched him enter it when he accessed some of his most sensitive data on the SHSD. Now Harvey entered the password: METAMORPHOSIS, all in cap letters.

Harvey reflected on the meaning behind the password.

It was a change from something else, a metamorphosis—just like Jake Handles had changed from his previous life as an agent of Spyral, from a person who hunted down criminals to becoming one. The irony wasn't lost. Hence is pseudonym: Annex. To annex something: to free or change it.

Accessing the sensitive files to the SHSD, he typed in a command. He then hovered his fingers over the keyboard. The computer asked on the screen: PLEASE CONFIRM: DO YOU WISH TO DELETE ALL FILES?

Harvey hesitated for a moment, thinking. He wondered whether or not he should save a copy onto an external drive and take it with him. Then he thought against it. The SHSD was too dangerous. If Handles was willing to use it, whose to say if someone like Joker or Riddler got their hands on it—what they would do with it?

Armageddon, he thought.

He pressed YES. And the super-computer began to delete all files pertaining to the Super-Harmonic Shock Disruptor.

Once it was done, Harvey then did something else, grinning innately.

He knew computers retained data unless the information was overridden and he knew Handles could probably restore the deleted data easily—the man was a genius with computers. So, Harvey flipped his coin again, and again the decision proved positive in his favour. He accessed the Administrative Files and typed in another request.

The computer asked on the screen: PLEASE ENTER THE OLD PASSWORD:

"METAMORPHOSIS", Harvey spoke it while he typed it in.

Then the computer asked: PLEASE ENTER A NEW ADMINISTRATIVE PASSWORD.

He thought for a moment. He needed something that Annex's wouldn't easily guess.

It was then Harvey thought back to his childhood, to a moment when he and his mother were watching a movie together.

It was an old movie, and a musical, but it was so memorable that he often found himself humming the main tune. It was one of the fondest memories of his mother he could remember. Sometimes, a child's memories were the strongest of all, and it formed the basics of that person's psyche later on in life. Harvey still had fond memories of his both his parents.

Now he would use that memory to destroy a traitor.

He smiled, and then took another a moment to spell it correctly in all caps: SUPERCALIFRAGILISTICEXPIALODOCIOUS. He then replaced all the I's with 1's, and the S's with lower case z's. So, it read: zUPERCAL1FRAG1L1zTICEXP1ALODOC1OUS.

In case Annex did guess it, which was highly unlikely, he would have to spell it exactly like this to restore administrative access to his computer—it was near impossible. He hoped.

The computer asked for him to confirm his password, and in retyping it, he pressed ENTER.

"Good luck with that password, you traitorous bastard," Harvey said, and laughed.

He then smashed the computer console with a fist and left by way of a hidden access to the hanger bay, where he knew an escape plane was waiting. He would let Annex fight the Batfamily on his own and without the help of his super-computer.

To be continued...

 

Chapter Text

Bane rammed a fist into Garfield Lyons' face.

The criminal known as Firefly was unmasked and had just delivered a status report on KGBeast's ongoings, after bringing back Red Robin to El Patio de los Demons, aka The Devil's Playground, in Hispanic Gotham, as restitution—KGBeast said—for failing to kill Nightwing as contracted. But Bane was not satisfied and he took out his frustration on Lyons.

"I paid that Russian a lot of dinero to kill the bluebird and I don't like to be swindled," Bane said, taking another swing at Lyons. Blood spattered on the floor from Lyons mouth. "Killing Nightwing was going to be my ultimate revenge against the Caped Crusader. Now, everything is ruined. They'll be on alert for another attack. Where is KGBeast?"

Lyons knelt on the floor in front of the Bane. He looked like a midget compared to Bane's massive size. He spit out blood, his face was all puffed up with bruises and one eye had already swollen shut. "I don't know," he managed to breath out through hurt lips. "I left him on the roadside. I was to bring Red Robin to you for him as an apology."

"Red Robin in exchange is no comparison to having Nightwing dead!" Bane bat Lyons again, this time with the back of his hand. He never held back. Every hit was full-force.

Lyons fell to his hands and knees, blood dripping from his face. The man reached out and begged for mercy, but Bane would have none of it. He then kicked Lyons in the stomach, virtually sending him flying across the room they occupied.

Lyons landed hard, and eventually gave up, collapsing. The place where Lyons felt was like where he would lie in his death bed. He was unconscious, on his side, one arm stretched out but limp. The man may have looked it, but Bane knew Lyons wasn't dead. He may had severely beat Lyons, but not enough to kill him. And that was by design.

Bane looked at Lyons laying defeated on the floor at the far end of the room, and snorted displeasure. He had been hitting him for a good fifteen minutes non-stop, and at no time, did the jet-powered villain offer any viable resistance. The man may have been smart, but in Bane's world, brute strength won the day.

Bane snapped his fingers, and two strong men, who looked like they could be powerhouse Luchadores—Mexican wrestlers—came into his private chambers, and took Lyons away, each grabbing an arm and dragging his feet behind. Droplets of blood fell with every inch Garfield Lyons was hauled as he was taken out and Bane ordered that someone come clean up the mess.

Lyons looked like deadweight. Bane's men knew where to deposit the man. He wasn't to be killed, he was to be placed elsewhere to be later spoken to again under lock and key. Bane still wanted to know where KGBeast was.

He had designed his hideout like a maze, something he learned in passing from Edward Nygma—the Riddler. Always keep your enemies guessing. There were a total of a dozen separate areas in his personally constructed complex and different areas served different functions. And his private chambers was built for functionality, not comfort. So, only the basic things were present.

He had bought a small rundown part of the city, a few city blocks, re-designed it, and then re-christened it: El Patio de los Demons, for his fellow hombres, because Gotham City had bit of a racial attitude to any one but their own standard city-dwellers. Immigrates were not exactly welcome, especially Spaniards. And he guessed that was partly his fault because of his criminal actions. They say one bad apple spoils the whole bunch, but that was the way of the world. It was guilt by association.

But it was others' prejudice, not his. He didn't give a damn about race. He enjoyed engaging with his fellow Spaniards because they spoke the same language and spoke of things back home in the main country. It was hard to live a life in another country, he didn't care about politics—humans were humans. So, having a little piece of home was like heaven.

The word "Race" was a just a buzz word. Cultural differences divided people, so if you disagreed with someone, they called you a racist. He laughed at that because humans were all one race. The many cultures were sub-groups within the world, so calling another human a racist was dumb. People were just uneducated in facts.

He created El Patio de los Demons as his own little pocket of Spain, and if people didn't like it, they didn't have to stay.

Gotham City had a small Hispanic community, but he knew people of the same race liked to congregate together because they felt safer with their own kind. Some people would dispute that as racist, but it was a fact. People of the same natural-born ethnicity felt safer as a group. So, he built this place. The name was just a means to an end to keep those people he didn't want here out.

He often thought about that, but not many of his people had the same opinion. So, he kept his political views to himself.

Bane sat down in his specially made chair due to his large size, and fumed.

On the far wall was a widescreen TV that was on mute, switched to Gotham City News, and it was profiling the recent capture of Dr. Jonathan Crane by some unknown vigilante. The bi-line said he was dropped off at a precinct. Crane was literally tossed out of a dark Sedan, then it sped away without a word. No one was taking credit for the capture.

"So, the scare of his Fear Germ is over," Bane mused. "Good, I never cared for his criminal methods anyway."

But he wondered who had gotten to Crane. Batman would never deliver a criminal to the police in such a manner.

Batman was a bit of a narcissist, he wanted people to know what he had done. It was a part of who the Dark Knight was. The more people knew he was protecting Gotham City, the more rumour got around, and the less crime happened.

Well, with Batman, he seemed to attract more colourful characters than he fended off. Gotham City was full of those types of people.
So, if Batman wanted to rid the city of the criminal element, his methods appeared to have the opposite effect—literally enticing criminals like Bane to challenge him.

Bane wondered, if Batman was too busy tracking down who attempted to murder Nightwing, then he didn't have time to deal with Jonathan Crane. He would then, supposedly, leave it to someone else. Maybe to the Red Hood? Once a criminal himself, but now aligned with Batman. Throwing someone out of car fit the gunslinger's methods. Crane was handcuffed, gagged and blindfolded.
When questioned, Crane said he couldn't remember what happened, or who had brought him in. And it wasn't an act. It was like his memory had been wiped. That would be consistent with a form of memory-erasure gas Batman used.

Bane also remembered seeing a short news clip about a man in Gotham General subjected to Crane's Fear Germ. The hospital had not been locked down, and was saved from such, in part, by a doctor who had discovered the cure to Crane's reign of terror. He announced it on all the news broadcasters and said the cure had something to do with the use of minute gold particles.

Regardless, both the man, and another patient in the hospital, who was suffered from the same symptoms, from a previous exposure, recovered. The other man exposed was not named, but there was talk from people whom he knew that it may have been Nightwing himself. Not only exposed to the Fear Germ, but also recovering from the assassination attempt on his life. He didn't have all the details, but it didn't matter anymore. Nightwing was alive and well.

The assassination he originally paid a lot of money for to happen failed.

"Good help is so hard to find," he said, referring to KGBeast.

In the past, he surrounded himself with his fellow Spaniard's believing nationality brought loyalty. Instead, everyone he put his trust in eventually betrayed him, and that included KGBeast. So, he got rid of them all, and brought in new people.

Due to his size, he needed a medical doctor, so he searched for one and found someone who was willing to work for him, and to take care of his medical needs. He also needed someone that could help him revamp the Venom Drug, to use it against Batman without the harm of its toxins. And he found a person with the skills he needed within the same individual.

He had used the Venom Drug in moderation a couple of times, but because his metabolism was already used to the counter-agents that protected him from its toxins, he couldn't use it for long. Prolonged use ran the risk of severe consequences of death.

The doctor he hired said that Bane was becoming immune to the counter-agents, so tests were run on subjects to develop a new counter-agent. To date, all the test-subjects had died. But he didn't blame the doctor. The subjects were in top physical form, but they did not have the proper physiology to stand the effects of the drugs or the trails.

Through chemical-and-DNA-analysis, the doctor determined that a subject needed to be an exact match, or very close, to Bane's metabolism to even have a chance for the new counter-agents to be effective against the Venom Drug.

But that was for the doctor to figure out.

The minute Lyons was removed, four Spanish female helpers—Quinceañera's—began beginning in bowls of food for Bane to eat.

They placed a variety of high-protein based meats on a table in the room, with red wine, the perfect compliment for such food. The meal was fit for a family of eight, but with Bane, and how much he needed to eat to keep his size and muscular form, he needed to partake in this much to give him the energy he needed for his high metabolism and to lift weights to keep his dynamic physique.

He dined alone, rising the lower part of his mask to eat. The Quinceañera's left quickly after they brought the food, although he did notice one of them was a lovely young dark-haired woman, whom he fancied. He fed his face without any regard for manners.

He wasn't big on history, and he would rather forget about his own childhood altogether—filled with torture and hurt—but he knew Spaniard's these days were derived into many sub-groups—both from Europe and America—but he didn't care. He knew history was to be forgotten. It was the present that drove him. And his hate of Batman was forefront in his plight for dominance.

Bane let out a large belch that echoed the room.

Harley Quinn, wearing her red and black pantomime jester costume, entered the room with her hands over her ears.

"Oh, gross, that could wake the dead," she said, and then wiggled her nose when the smell of his burp met her nose. She dropped her hands and then held her nose. "Phew! Let's hope it doesn't come out the other end or I'm walkin'."

Bane took another bite of a juicy piece of meat. "You can walk whenever you want," he said, with a mouth fill, juices dripping down from his lips. "If I wish to pass gas, then I will do so, whether alone or in your company. Why are you disturbing my meal?"

She glanced around at all the meat. "Ever heard of veggies? I don't eat animals." Bane gave her a hard look as if to say you were never invited to dine anyhow. "I was bored, so I decided to see you. There's very little to do here. Since Mr. J is still in the slammer, I need something to do. And since I'm expelled from most of the colleges in Gotham, I joined up with you for some entertainment."

"I am not here for your entertainment, Harley Quinn," Bane said. "And I agreed for you to join us because I know you will bring me some entertainment. And no, I didn't mean it like that."

"Better not, I'm not a hamlet!"

"That's harlot, the term is harlot."

"That, too!"

Harley turned to the TV and watched in silence for a little while as Bane ate. The remote was lost, and she didn't want to walk over and play with the sound, so she just read the headlights. "I wonder where Batman is these days? Haven't see him around much."

"That's because he's not in Gotham," came a rich sounding and educated voice. "He's not even on this continent." Both Bane and Harley turned to the voice. It came from a young looking man with brown hair, wearing octagonal glasses, a white medical lab coat, and the clothes of a properly dressed gentleman in the medical profession who prided himself on his appearance. "Rumour has it, he and others, flew off to Bermuda Triangle. Apparently Nightwing went with him and is fully recovered from his assassination coup."

Bane growled under his breath. The very mention of Nightwing made him angry. He had nothing truly personal against the young crimefighter, although he had interfered in his plans from time to time. But it was the fact that KGBeast had failed to do what he was paid to, and that was what made his blood boil with fury.

Harley breathed out a sign of relief. "Oh, thank god," she said, putting a hand to her chest. "I would've missed looking at that tight, little toshee on the news. He's a real hottee!" She acted infatuated. "He's mental image has warmed me on many a cold night." Bane gave her a harsh stare. "What? It's actually a good thing, Bane. There is no connection between you wanting to kill him. They think KGBeast did it, right? Or even someone else. If Batman knew who originally ordered the hit, he would be at your doorstep right now, no holds barred. Instead, he and his birdies are off crusading someone else's hideaway."

Bane looked at the man in the lab coat. He was the doctor he had hired to help him with both his problem regarding the Venom Drug and other medical issues as a result due to his large size. Big men had medical issues that average size people did not, issues that affected blood pressure and heart related problems, especially brought on with use of the Venom Drug. But that's what the doctor was working on: counter-agents that not only counteracted the toxins but also leveled off any medical complications as a result.

"She's right," the doctor agreed, adjusting his glasses. "Let Batman believe it was someone else. Nightwing lives. Let sleeping dogs lie. If he ever figures out the truth, we'll be prepared. Besides, now is not the best time for an encounter with your enemy."

Bane nodded. "Have you come here to give me good news, Doctor?" The man had a name, but Bane preferred to simply call him by his titled profession. The Doctor didn't seem to mine. In fact, he once said, the less use of his real name the better for reasons only known to a select few. "Have you solved the issue to our little problem?"

The Doctor ventured into Bane's personal domain. This was Bane's private chambers and where he spent most of his time.

He looked around at all the food and the bones on the floor. Puddles of red wine were also seen. "Unfortunately, no," he said, with a look of almost disgust by the sight of the room. Bane was a clean person, just not during meal time. "But I can give you some advise on healthy eating and cleanliness. All this meat is bad for your arteries and it pays to use cutlery." There was a smell the Doctor did not like and he waved his hand across his face. "The latest test subject died," he then informed. "The strain was too much for him."

Bane grumbled. He stopped eating and leaned back in his chair. "That makes twelve failures, Doctor. I don't like it."

"So do I," the Doctor replied, as if Bane's displeasure was akin to his own. "But I don't see it as twelve failures, I see them as twelve methods of approach to a positive outcome. We need to find someone who has a similar metabolism as yourself. Your metabolism was genetically modified for the Venom Drug and adapted to use the counter-agents that were provided to prevent its toxins from affecting you. Then you began to become immune to the counter-agents. With every test, I tweak the formula. This is also the reason why I insist on you taking a medicinal herbal drink I devised to eradicate the toxins that have already built up in your liver."

Bane nodded. "I appreciate your effects, Doctor. But I need a working Venom Drug to use against Batman with the counter-agents to combat its toxins. It's only a matter of time before Batman comes knocking on my door. I must be ready for him."

"And you'll have it. But I need a suitable test subject with the proper DNA markers for a working anti-toxic formula."

Bane eyed the physician, but he couldn't disagree.

Bane then grabbed a bottle of red wine, one of three brought for him to drink with his meat, and guzzled it down like it was water, drinking the whole bottle in one shot. Then he wiped his mouth with a bare arm and let out a huge belch that made Harley chuckle. He breathed out, seemingly refreshed. He was never one to get drunk, so he could drink all he wanted.

"How is our guest doing?" Bane then asked.

Harley cocked her head. She was looking at a juicy cooked piece of meat and wondered how it would taste. She was a self-imposed vegetarian, that's how she kept her lovely figure. In the past, she enjoyed a burger or two. But then turned off meat all together when she began to put on a few pounds.

Then what Bane said suddenly dawned on her. He looked up. "Guest? What guest? Where was I?"

"Resting comfortably and sedated," the Doctor said, ignoring Harley. "His wounds are patched up and his broken ankle and fingers have been reset. KGBeast was very harsh with him."

"Yes," Bane said gruffly. "No wonder KGBeast is avoiding me at the moment. He was smart to send Firefly in his place, and to receive the beating reserved for him for failing me. He brought me a broken toy. I can't torture Red Robin in his condition, I would prefer it if he was healthy and fully mobile. I enjoy an agile prey."

The Doctor smirked. "I have administered genetic modifiers to speed up the healing process," he said. "It won't happen as quickly like the snap of finger, but you won't have to wait long. Red Robin will make a full recovery, I guarantee it. Then you can play with him for as long as you want, and over and over again to your heart's content."

To be continued...

 

Chapter Text

"You son-of-a-bitch!" Damian reiterated his father's curse.

Handles had absorbed Arkells into his body, digitizing his essence with some sort of unknown technological process. Damian didn't understand it, but he knew Drake would. Drake was a pain sometimes, but he was exceptionally smart and techno-savvy.

He felt confused as to why he felt so angry. Arkells hadn't been with the Batfamily for long, a future version of Drake, but in the short time he had, he had become one of them. He figured that was why. From the future or not, Arkells was a member of his family.
His anger swelled and it knew all he wanted was revenge.

Then it hit him. And in response, he quickly looked around, found his father, ran to him, and rummaged behind his cape. Batman demanded to know what he was doing, but Damian said there was no time.

He plucked the EMP bomb from his father's Utility Belt and yanked the pin.

Nightwing screamed: "No, Damian! Don't!…Stop!"

But Damian refused to adhere and threw it at Handles, giving it a toss much like a pitcher to a catcher at the plate. The bomb soared through the air at a remarkable 90kph—Damian's strength was strong—and because Handles had artificial limbs, when it hit its target, its magnetic properties latched on and detonated. Jake Handles was too slow to stop it.

Jake Handles suffered the full effect of the EMP detonation. It didn't act like an explosive device. Instead, it produced an invisible electronic-magnetic pulse that shorted out all short wave associative communication. It was designed, by Drake, to only effect that within a set immediate range, programmed to generate a thorough signal characteristic to what it was attached, and to destroy it from the interior, overloading and overriding its matrix until it shutdown and fried. So, nothing the Batfamily carried was affected.

Handles froze, after a moment of violent jerking, as if he had just been electrocuted. Then he collapsed and fell backwards, landing with a heavy thud in the sand on his back.

For a split moment, as Damian saw Handles, it felt like Handles' death was a bit over-dramatic—staged. But then he gave a satisfied toothy smile. "Take that, you bastard! That's for killing Arkells!" He clenched both fists in triumphant. "Yes! Diplomacy be damned! Sometimes, it's best to take out a threat before things escalate. We all know talking wasn't going to get us anywhere."

"I didn't know you brought one of those," Jason said, impressed. "It's scary how much you've learned from me. Forget talking, just eliminate the threat." He smiled, and then he gave Damian a high-five. "Excellent tactic, quick and efficient!"

Nightwing looked unhappy. So did Batman.

Damian saw their faces. "What? He's dead. Okay, what did I do wrong now?" He expressed frustration. —Tt—

"Do you know what you just did?" Batman sounded angry.

Damian looked at both Grayson and his father in turn. "I don't understand. We all know he wasn't going to come quietly. And he absorbed Arkells!"

"In using the EMP bomb, you may have efficiently killed Arkells," Batman said flatly. "I kept it in reserve as a last resort knowing the devastating effect it would have on his infused AI. He was absorbed by Jake Handles, but he could have been retrieved. Data can be retrieved and reconstituted on the molecular level under the right conditions, you know this. We've done it before. But now, you may have just wiped out everything with a bio-signature, and that includes Arkells."

Nightwing looked dejected. "He's right," he said.

Batman eyed Damian. "How many times have I told you to think before you act?" he scolded. "You keep letting your emotions rule you, and in your haste for revenge, and just cost Arkells his life!"

Damian felt angry after listening to his father's words, but suddenly they struck home and he slumped his shoulders. His father was right. He swore under his breath, not out of defiance but out of his self-condemnation. "I'm sorry, I screwed up," he said.

"You should really listen to your betters, young Wayne," came a creepy voice as if it came from the grave. Everyone looked at Handles lying in the sand, spread-eagle, at his fried corpse. Heat still sizzled from his body. But then he rose in god-like fashion, levitating off the ground, coming to stand upright. "They are right, you must always think before you act."

Damian's eyes widened shocked. But then he recalled Handles death-thrall. He knew it looked a little too cliche, as if he was acting. The man had been playing them all for suckers from the very beginning.

The heat waves dissipated and Handles seemed fully functional with no adverse effects.

"How?" Nightwing expressed shocked. "The EMP bomb was designed to short-circuit all your electronic impulses."

Handles was back to his Operatic appearance with a half-mask. Before, he came out for a fight masqueraded with a PK illusion to restore his previous human-esque appearance to battle Nightwing. Now, he seemed not to care, and had returned to his current embattled self. Or, and Damian realized, the EMP bomb did have an effect, but it was not the result he hoped.

"You should know me better, Dick," Handles said. "Have you ever known me not to have a back-up plan? That is what Spyral taught us. They trained us to think ahead—to always have a Plan B. As I stand here, my resurrection after bring blown up and crushed under that building in Germany, where you left me, should've been proof enough. Any technologist worth his processor chips, should always have an independent and isolated system. The EMP bomb worked, but my main primary systems were protected."

Nightwing gripped his escrima sticks tightly. "Jake! Enough of this! Let's finally settle things! Fight me!"

Jake Handles/Annex laughed. "While true, it may be fun to fight you, and I did have the intention, and I still want to know where Julie is, but I'm afraid things will have to be settled some other time," he said. He appeared to look inward, and smiled. "It would appear I failed to eliminate a potential threat when I had the chance. To adhere to advise you once gave me back when we were allies—eliminate a threat before it bites you in the ass. Wise words, Dick Grayson. And young Damian did have the right idea in attempting to take me out before I posed a danger." He grunted annoyed. "I seem to have lost communication with my super-computer?"

"And here is the reason why," came a familiar voice.

All looked towards the voice, as Harvey Two-Face was literally pushed out from a thicket of brush, stumbling slightly, as Arkells followed him with Harvey's man-stopper in hand, walking out completely whole, not dead. They stepped out into the open.

"What the—" Jason began to express.

"Arkells!" Damian shouted happily. He was the most enthusiastic and thrilled of them all, but also extremely befuddled. The rest of the party also looked confused. "I thought I killed you? How?"

"Yes! How?" Handles demanded, bewildered. "It can't be! I absorbed you! I felt your essence fuse with mine!" Handles fists tightened with anger. "Your energy is still in me!"

Arkells smirked. "I do enjoy the look of shock on an enemy's face when they realize they've been deceived. It gives me a perverse satisfaction. You see, I tricked you into absorbing your PK construct of Rose Chiclete, whom I remade into a carbon copy of myself—well, almost. You obviously saw me use my morphing ability on a previous occasion, so I waged you thought you could absorb it, and to adapt it to your own abilities. Thinking it was me, you used that unique ability to digitize my other self with the help of your super-computer. But I was in complete control of things, remotely, and allowed it to happen. If you truly tried it on me, it would never happen." He looked at everyone. "I apologize that I had to deceive the rest of you, but I had to make things look real."

He gave a thin smile to Batman, as if for the speech he had made earlier through the PK construct, and got a nod in return.

Arkells tapped his temple with a finger, turning back to Annex. "My AI quickly devised the plan as a surrogate measure just in case something went awry, re-writing the PK's matrix wirelessly—and yes, I can do that. I am from the future, after all. You may have created a brilliant hard light humanoid construct, but you failed to prevent it from outside influences, namely hackers—like me. I bet you never thought they could be hacked and then reprogrammed? But I digress. While you were distracted by my carbon copy, I snuck away, accessed your lair—quite easily—and just happened to run into Harvey Two-Face trying to escape in a one-man jet."

Annex shook his head. "How? That's not possible? I was watching you…" Then he gasped, as if he recalled an important fact. "That moment you left, when you excused yourself to urinate in the bushes. You disappeared."

"Bingo!" Arkells responded. "Where your PK construct was waiting for me to receive my instructions hidden away from the others. I then easily overcame its ridiculous weak firewall, reprogrammed it, altered its form, synthesized my morphing abilities with a false bio-signature, and then returned it to the others, none-the-wiser that it wasn't actually me—same mannerisms, personality, and likeness—remotely controlled by my and the AI's collective consciousness." He smiled. "At first, I was afraid of the AI, I didn't understand it, but now I'm glad I fused with it. I understand a great deal more than before I never did, including my own humanity."

Annex gritted his teeth.

Damian could see the anger swelling on the villain's face, he looked like he was about to burst a blood vessel.

"But here's the kicker," Arkells continued. "I had planned to access your lair and destroy the sub-harmonic device, but I learned someone had already taken the liberty." He cupped Harvey Two-Face's shoulder, who looked defeated. "He told me the administrator password that he changed on your super-computer that he happened to learn in spying on you, and that was when I learned he had erased all data regarding your device—the SHSD (Sub-Harmonic Shock Disruptor). Suffice it to say, it will never be used to cause havoc in the world again—and no more invisible sonic attacks on unsuspecting worldly citizenry. You must've had a change of heart, didn't you, Harvey? I have always believed everyone can be rehabilitated."

Harvey Two-Face grumbled. "Stop thanking me, please," he said, almost embarrassed. "I didn't do it for you."

"The reason's fortuitous," Arkells said. "But I also suspect it may have been a moral decision." He held up Harvey's coin to the non-scratched "good side". Arkells then gave Annex a sly smirk. "Regardless to say, and despite someone trying to damage the main control console" —Harvey Two-Face grunted— "soon, even your super-computer will be rendered inert. I set the self-destruction mechanism. We all have one hour to get off the island before it destroys itself."

"As a great man once said: 'I love it when a plan comes together'," Jason said. The others agreed.

"Fantastic!" Damian said, giving Arkells a thumps up. "You're a lot smarter than I gave you credit for. This you, I mean. Your younger self is still an idiot, for how he handled the issue with you previously. Good job, Arkells! Now, let's finish this up."

Jake Handles suddenly shouted with an outcry of bloodlust, of a man who had just gone completely insane. But he didn't attack. Instead, he began to do something completely unexpected, and Nightwing saw what he was doing.

"Jake, no! Don't do it!" Dick Grayson shouted.

Jake Handles smiled, and then walked back, and stepped off the edge of the open crevasse behind him that Jon Kent had originally emerged from, and disappeared, plummeting into its dark abyss.

Nightwing ran over and looked down, shouting with his hands around his mouth: "Jake! Jake!" But there was no sign of his old Spyral colleague. The crevasse was so deep and bottomless that nothing could be seen. Jake Handles was gone.

"What the hell did he do that for?" Jason said, and came over to stand next to Nightwing on the edge, he looked down. "The guy just committed suicide? Why?" He looked back at the others.

Even Harvey Two-Face expressed shock, standing next to Arkells. Batman was straight-faced.

"Maybe he thought he had nothing left? He just lost everything," Damian said, his hands cupped on his hips. He stood a little off the open crevasse. "Good ridden to bad rubbish!"

Grayson gave him a nasty look as if Damian had just disrespected the dead.

"Come on," Batman said. "Like Arkells said, we need to get off Treasure Island before it detonates."

With the shock of Jake Handles suicide put behind them, the party quickly boarded the Batplane with Harvey Two-Face now handcuffed. Damian wanted to leave him behind after he revealed he had murdered Handles' two pet lionesses in cold blood, but he was out-voted. Harvey Two-Face was rendered unconscious and laid in the back of the plane after he was subjected to specially designed short-term memory-erasure gas. He was administered an extra heavy doze, so the past couple of weeks was erased from his consciousness, and also the secret identities of the Batfamily for which Handles had told him.

They all settled into their seats as Bruce readied the plane, Jon Kent jumping into the co-pilot seat.

Damian sat with Dick, Barbara, Jason, and Arkells, in the back.

But the moment Dick sat down, he looked thoughtful, almost reflective.

Damian wondered if he felt a little sad that his old friend had just killed himself without any regard. It was a shock, but not totally unexpected. Without his super-computer, and Handles cornered, the villain had nothing left. Perhaps he thought it was best to go out on his own terms rather than fight a hopeless battle with the clock ticking on the island that was about to self destruct?

Arkells said as they made their way back the plane that even if Jake survived, he had made the new computer password so difficult that it would be near-to-impossible for Handles to figure it out in time to save himself or his computer.

"What's wrong, Grayson?" Damian asked, as he plopped himself down in a seat. "We won. Sorry, you lost a friend. But he needed to be taken out. He just did us the favour."

Dick Grayson gave him a stare.

"Way to be tactful, D," Jason said. "It was his friend."

Dick shook his head. "No, that's not it," he said. "I agree, Jake needed to be taken out, but…" He put a curled finger to his lips. "Something about the way he smiled before he dropped bothers me. I can't shake the feeling we haven't seen the last of him. I could be wrong. But, I know by experience, people have a way of coming back when you lest expect them."

Damian crossed his arms. "Really? C'mon Grayson, Handles is dead. No one can survive a drop like that."

Jason laughed short. "We both came back from the dead, remember? But, Handles doesn't have the Lazarus Pit."

"Maybe you're right," Dick said, then he looked at Barbara, and smiled. He took her hand and kissed it. "I'm just glad things worked out and that the future looks very bright."

Barbara smiled back, and then she cupped his face with her hands, leaned in and gave Dick the biggest kiss on the lips, holding his head firmly.

When she broken the kiss, which was long and passionate, releasing him, Dick looked like he had just been subjected to a love bomb. He breathed out with hot breath and Barbara licked her lips. She even inserted a finger in her mouth, licking it, after she wiped the side of her mouth of moisture and a some spittle Dick's mouth had released during the kiss.

She then asked, "So, who's better? Me or Rose Chiclete?"

"Don't answer, Dick," Jason said, "it's a trick question."

Barbara looked down and saw his answer. Dick crossed his legs and placed his hands over his mid section, to hide his excitement. Tights revealed everything.

As Dick revelled and recovered from the kiss, Arkells asked, "So, Jason, what about you?"

Jason mused. "Um, whose the better kisser between Barbara and Rose Chiclete? I wish I could've found out myself."

Arkells shook his head. "No, I mean, there's still the little matter about you. There was never a chance to change you back. And I completely forgot when I was in Annex's lair to look for the Miniaturization Ray."

Jason shrugged. "Comme ci comme ça—whatever will be, will be, as they say," he said casually. "I'm going to mark this as a new beginning. Maybe form my own little band of outlaws, fight crime on the streets—like I did before—but help kids instead. I'll let you guys handle the Rogues. Less stress on me." He smiled a toothy grin.

"That's admirable," Barbara said. "And maybe we won't have to clean up too many of your messes afterwards."

Jason made a sour face and then stuck out his tongue.

"And you're going back to school," Bruce stated, from the front seat, finishing the start-up checks. "If you're going to relive your childhood, then you're going to do it right and experience what you missed."

Everyone knew Jason had been murdered by the Joker when he was very young and then came back as the Red Hood. Jason said when he was resurrected, he spent most of his child hood on the streets, unbeknownst to everyone.

"What? Nooo!"

Everyone in the back laughed except for Jason.

"Maybe he can attend our school, Dami?" Jon said, looking back from the co-pilot seat. "We can all hang out together."

"You need to have a brain to attend our school, it's one of prerequisites," Damian jeered.

Jason gave Damian a look of scorn. "I hate you," he said. "I've changed my mind. I want my old life back. Sitting for hours at a time in the same class as you will be like getting a root canal. God? If you're listening: Please change me back to my handsome self!"

Just then, as if his plea was heard from a higher power, he suddenly found his hands begin to enlarge, then the rest of him followed, including the very clothes and armour he was wearing—until he had reverted back to his former adult self, the likes to when he first landed on the island. He felt his face and patted down his body.

"Quick, somebody give me a mirror," he said, with an insistent tone. Barbara just happened to have a compact in her Utility Belt and passed it to along. Jason looked at his face and smiled. He was back to his old, handsome self. Included, was the tuff of white hair he had dyed out. He flicked it with a finger. "This time, I'll leave the white. I don't care if people think I look older."

"But how the hell?" Damian expressed.

Arkells mused. "Interesting, it is possible…" he said, his voice trailing off. "I read a paper on this once. It was called: The Theory of Molecular Evolution and the Phylogenetic Convergence of DNA Cells Through Time Release Reversion, written by a very prominent doctor in the field of Bio-Genetics. It plays on a time-variance associative context with a hexogamine biosynthetic—"

Jason suddenly gave Arkells a slap to the back of the head.

"Ow! What the hell was that for?" Arkells said irate. He felt the back of his head.

Jason grunted. "You're super smart, Arkells, like your younger self," he said, "but stop using terms none of us can understand. However it happened, I'm just glad I reverted back to my old, glorious self, with my clothes intact, too. Handles did shrink me with these clothes, so it only goes to reason they'd enlarge with the rest of me."

"I understood everything he said," Jon Kent said, smiling.

"Would you like a slap, too? Because I've got two hands?"

Jon's smile quickly faded and he turned around to face the front of the plane.

Jason suddenly gasped, as if just remembered something. "Wait! I have to check something out." He turned his back to everyone and then unzipped his pants. Damian wondered what he was doing. "Yes! Jagger and the Rolling Stones are back in business!"

Jason zipped up and then turned back.

"Seriously?" Dick said, with an incredulous look. "You named them?"

"No need for you to name yours, eh, Dickiebird? You're already one giant—"

"Jason!" Barbara scolded.

Suddenly, Bruce laughed. A great big belly laugh.

He then launched the Batplane into the air using its jet boosters underneath to lift the craft, rotated its axis, and then blasted off into the sky. Soon afterwards, a series of large explosions began to be heard in the background, and a television screen in the plane showcased the destruction of the island—the mountain at its centre erupting with the power of the volcanic explosion.

The Maritime Authorities would not doubt what to know what happened, but that would have to wait for later.

A ways into their trip back, it began to get dark. Suddenly, the radio crackled to life. They had been out of range until now.

Alfred's broken voice began to break through once they got closer to the mainland as the Batplane soared under normal military radar, but in its own stealth mode over the Atlantic Ocean, and on their way back to the Western Coast of the United States.

"Mother Hen to Batman, Mother Hen to Batman—please respond." The message repeated, but it was not automated.

Bruce responded to the call. "Mother Hen, this is Batman. Sorry, but we've been out of range until now. We're on our way home. Mission accomplished. How are things there?"

"I'm pleased that your mission was a success, sir," Alfred replied, but his voice sounded worrisome. There was a pause. "However, not everything is rosey on the home front. I have the unfortunate news of telling you that Red Robin, despite fully recovered from his previous injury, is missing."

Alfred explained to them in short over the radio what had happened since their departure to Treasure Island.

When the Batplane finally landed back on Wayne Property, about an hour later, secluded in its hanger bay in the Batcave under the dead of night, everything was laid out in further detail. The full story, time references, and undertakings.

And that other parties in their absence had been dispatched on a rescue mission.

To be continued...

 

Chapter Text

Tim Drake awoke severely groggy. His senses were only beginning to emerge like he had been drugged. His mind wasn't fully aware of things yet. But, suddenly, like a spark, his mind recalled the events that transpired with KGBeast.

His eyes snapped open and he found himself in a strange place and in a room completely foreign to him with walls painted a drab, faded yellow. There was also a Spanish flag hanging on one wall.

He was in a bed with a white sheet covering him from the chest down. The bed was soft, like something found in a hotel room. But this was no hotel room unless chains came complementary. He whipped off the sheet and found that he was chained to the bed with both his ankles and wrists in shackles and there was a chain across his stomach that came from underneath the bed.

He pulled at the stomach chain, but there was little give. His arm chains gave him just enough movement for basic things, while his ankle chains gave him less maneuverability. It was obvious he was not meant to leave the room.

He also noticed something else. He wasn't wearing his costume. And he had been stripped down to his underwear.

Tim Drake leaned back and sighed into the pillow provided. He breathed out. Oh, great! They know my secret identity.

He recalled his fight with KGBeast, or rather his humiliation, just after he deposited Hugo Strange back to Arkham Asylum.

He didn't have a chance against the mercenary after he was thrown from his motorcycle, KGBeast shooting out its front tire. Then the vicious onslaught began and KGBeast beating him to bloody pulp. The last thing he remembered when he succumb to his injuries was suffering from bruised ribs, a broken left ankle, and two busted fingers on his right hand. With injuries to his face.

Alfred must be really worried about me, he thought. I told him I was on my way home before I was attacked.

Even though the rest of the Batfamily were off the continent batting Jake Handles, Drake did have other allies. Unfortunately, from last he learned, most, if not all, were out of contact, and were engaged in their own projects.

Suddenly, Stephane Brown's face flashed in his mind and it brought a moment's comfort to his battled ego.

She had been badly injured when they both fought a villain named Johnny Warlock whom Drake was forced to kill. He blamed Steph for a time for that, things happened during that fight that he could never forget. But the anger eventually faded after he reasoned that there was no other choice. The only thing that angered him was that he had to kill someone. But he had made a choice when he became a crime fighter, and he knew, eventually, there would come a time when he would have to make a decision. Either save his friends and kill the bad guy, or let the bad guy win and cater to Bruce's cardinal rule of no killing.

On this occasion, he ignored that rule. He had to. It played with his morality, but he was working his way through it. They say, the first kill is the hardest and it got easier. But he didn't want it to get easier. He didn't want to kill anyone. And that's why with Bruce's help he and the others learned ways to win their fights without having to take the final step.

The last he knew, Steph had survived her injuries and was off doing other things. She had been a missionary in Africa during her recovery process, but later left to engage in other pursuits.

He thought she had no inclination to return to the crime fighting world, and he didn't blame her.

But later she did came back and with another pseudonym: Spoiler.

After a short period together, however, and still dealing with issues regarding the battle with Warlock—him not wanting to get close, literally pushing her away emotionally, because he didn't want to see her hurt again—he officially broke off their relationship. And she left again. Telling him to basically screw himself.

He hadn't seen her since.

Drake lay in the bed and he found his eyes tearing up. Throughout their hardships, he cared her. He missed her more than she would ever know. And he wished he had expressed his emotions better when they were fighting side-by-side. They had kissed, but he wanted their relationship to be more involved. But he had followed Bruce's example, never get too close. And now he regretted it.

He pulled back the sheet to cover himself. He felt a little chilly, but that was to be expected only wearing a pair of black speedos. The room wasn't exceptionally cold, but it gave off a cold feeling that gave him a temporary shiver.

Why wouldn't they just kill me? And why don't I feel any pain?

They must have sedated him after he was brought here and gave him something for pain. They also bandaged him up. His left ankle was wrapped, they did the same to his broken fore and middle fingers on his right hand. He saw a little bruising on his chest, but that would quickly heal. He felt his face and the plasters on it.

Just then, the door to his prison room opened, and the last person he ever hoped to see stood at its threshold—Harley Quinn, wearing her black and red jester, palindrome costume. Where ever she was Joker was sure to be near by.

So, now I have to deal with yet another super-villain? He sighed dejected mentally. Oh, god, whose next?

"Hola, Drakey-poo! As the Spanish would say," she said with friendly hand greeting. "Finally awake, I see? Welcome to El…demon—something or other. My Spanish was never that good. Translated: The Devil's Playground, Bane's little hideaway in Gotham's Hispanic neighbourhood."

"I know of it," Drake said back. "A recently developed Hispanic division in the not so favourable part of the city. Financial records didn't make it clear who revamped the area, now I know Bane fit the bill. He would definitely have the collateral to do so."

Drake covered himself more. Harley's costume was tight in all the right places that his imagination didn't need to work hard and he felt subconscious with his lack of attire.

"Aw, no need to hide from me, snocums," she said, venturing over, checking first that he was still chained up. "Besides, I've already took a peak at the goods when I was told you were here and unconscious."

She winked at him at him seductively and he felt his face flush.

Drake frowned. "Nice to know modestly isn't your statute," he said. "Your costume is obviously an example of that."

She cocked her head slightly. "Well, when you got it—flaunt it." She followed the curves of her body with her hands, as if to taunt him. "But hey, that wasn't nice to say just now. I complimented you, but then you insult me? I came here all friendly like, hoping to be BFF's, but now you've got my goat!"

"Best Friends Forever? We'll never be that or anything else. And the term is: You've got my goad, not goat."

Harley pondered for a moment with a finger to her lips. "Yeah, that does sound a bit weird. Why would I give you my goat?"

Drake shook his head and rolled his eyes in disbelief. Harley was his age, but her education was greatly to be desired. "Where's Joker? Wherever you are, he's close by. You're never anywhere without him."

"He's still in the slammer, I got out on good behaviour. I promised to be a good girl." She smiled. "Anyway, how do you feel?"

"Apart from being chained up like some animal and stripped to the basic necessaries, oddly enough, okay, I guess." He looked around, but didn't seen anything like an IV drip for morphine. "Why don't I feel any pain with all my injuries?"

"The doc gave you a suppository," she said with a serious face. "He said, the pain-meds will absorb faster that way, up the butt."

Drake's eyes widened shockingly.

Harley then laughed. "Nah, just kidding! But the look on your face was priceless. He gave you something like a mikey and slipped it under your tongue. Better than a drip line. And he gave you the really good stuff."

"Hydromorphone?"

"Something like that. That does sound familiar."

Harley sat down on the edge of the bed, crossed her legs, and then extended her hand outward, moving a finger from Drake's chest to his pelvis, rather seductively. He grabbed her wrist to stop her from going any further.

"Don't," he said.

She didn't take offence to him grabbing her. She almost treated it like playful fun and being chained up was like a fetish. "You have some really good muscle, Tim Drake. All that training with the Caped Crusader has obviously done you well. Pity we can't explore certain aspirations together. Get to know the other better. I'd be fun."

He let go of her hand. "Not interested, Harley. I have strict rules about getting romantically involved with criminals. And frankly, it wouldn't do my reputation any favours if I was seen hanging around with the likes of you."

This time, she did look like she took offence. "The likes of me? Why, you son-of-a—"

She lifted a hand, and went to strike Drake across the face, when a voice came from the doorway. It was a firm tone. "Harley, that's enough! And stop harassing my patient," said a young looking doctor-figure with brown hair wearing a white lab coat and glasses. Drake looked at the door to the room as the young doctor adjusted his glasses. "He needs to save his strength."

Harley pouted and then stood up from the bed. "I wasn't going to do anything to him, honest. Just play a little before…"

"You can play with him later."

Harley jumped up with joy, clapped her hands, and said, "Oh, goody! Thank you, Dr. Helfern."

Drake looked at the doctor. He was very young looking to be a doctor—but a doctor of what? Or, perhaps, he was someone who flunked medical school? It was typical these days for some criminals to have fake practises. Hugo Strange was a prime example, forever barred. This must have been the 'doc' Harley had mentioned. Then he had a revelation. "Helfern? I know that name…" But he stopped short of revealing anything of a sensitive nature related to a case.

Dr. Helfern came to stand at the base of Drake's bed. "Perhaps you are referring to my late father, Dr. Karl Helfern. I am his son, Marx. I also had a brother who died tragically in the Middle East, but I am unaware of the exact circumstances of his death. I believe he was a soldier. Regardless, I'm the son my father never knew he had. I was told he had a sexual liaison one night with a prostitute that he picked up at a bar, before he began his tests with bone density and strengthening. Nine months later, I was given up for adoption. It was much later that I learned who my father was, and about his erroneous demise, and his encounters with the Caped Crusader. My father's expertise was in Osteoporosis and Bone Density, while I major in Bio-Chemisty and Genetic Engineering."

Oh, wonderful! Another mad doctor, Drake thought. Batman seems to collect them like I collect figurines.

"Your father tried to fiddle with human nature, to create a way to strength bones so they wouldn't break," Drake said. "While noble, in the end, according to medical records, his skull eventually crushed his brain after he turned into some grotesque, walking monster."

"Quite," Dr. Helfern said, not offended with Drake's description at all. "While I am slightly perturbed by my father's actions, I am not ashamed of his attempts to help people. He miscalculated, and paid the ultimate price, going mad. I won't make the same mistake."
"That's what they all say. But eventually, history repeats itself."

Harley had moved to stand next to the doctor as Drake spoke with him. "Doctor, would you like to tell him about the surprise?"

"What surprise?" Drake said. "That I'm not dead? That was a surprise when I woke up. And why heal me? Bane wants my whole family dead."

Dr. Helfern nodded. "And his reasons are his own," he replied. "He has a deep hatred of you all, and from what I hear, there are quite a lot of you running around. The strategic players of the Batfamily, as I believe you call yourselves, are active, while some have left the crime fighting scene with good reason. Others await on standby living their own lives." The doctor raised a finger. "Bane wanted to play with you, but you were too severely injured to play in the manner he wished."

Like beat the crap out of me, Drake thought. Sorry, but KGBeast got to me first.

"You're healing quite nicely with the genetic modifiers I've given you to speed up the process, but some injuries will take a little more time," he added. Dr. Helfern cleared his throat. "You've presented us with a bit of a conundrum which may have saved your life. A possible solution to a problematic issue I've been struggling with for weeks. A person's genetic heritage is a funny thing and we never do know it fully. Suffice to say, we're all mutts. I took a sample of your DNA from your stomach because that is where a purest sample can be obtained, and then compared your genetic markers with Bane's on a whim. Surprisingly, your DNA is comparable to that of Bane's, unaltered by the healing modifiers. I was quite pleasantly pleased when I learned this."

"And what does that mean?"

"It means," Harley began, "that you're going to be the next contestant on the Wheel of Misfortune." She ended with a big smile.

Drake looked at her strangely.

Dr. Helfern sighed, annoyed. "What she means is, that your bio-chemistry is positive for the parameters I have been looking for as a test subject for a new drug. You're going to be my guinea pig. And hopefully with you, my formula will finally begin to bare fruit."

"What formula?"

Two large men built like over-muscled Spaniard wrestlers came into the room. Dr. Helfern handed one of them a key to unlock Drake's shackles, while the other stood at the ready to secure him after he was released.

Drake struggled despite his injuries, but to no avail, and he was caught in a bear hug by the closest Spaniard, secured tightly within the man's massive tree-truck arms. His feet dangled loose. Every time he kicked in protest, the Spaniard whipped him around, disorienting Drake. He was then carried out into the corridor and was escorted to an unknown destination.

Harley was close behind. "I don't know why, but seeing two men together embrace gets my womanly juices pumping," she said.

"Young people these days," Dr. Helfern sighed, and followed.

To be continued...

 

Chapter Text

Drake was hauled down a corridor to a what looked like a medical testing chamber with a large observation window. Then he was carried into the room, and dropped by the large Spaniard, quite harshly, who then left quickly, shutting the door behind him. There was no chance of an escape.

"Ow," Drake said, feeling his ankle, as he lay on the floor. The hydromorphone must be wearing off, he thought.

Minute doses of the drug relieved mild cases of pain. With more severe cases, a higher dose was required. He must have been given a higher doses a while ago, so it was just beginning to wear down now. However, a person had to be careful not to overuse or overdose as it could also subject the user to addiction and even cardiac arrest, eventually death, on a continuously abusive case.

He lifted himself up gently, and hobbled slightly, making his way to a wall to lean on.

He attempted to put pressure on his bandaged left ankle, and it seemed okay for the most part, but it was the psychological effects of the break that weighed on his mind. That, and his two broken fingers. KGBeast did a lot of damage to him. He felt his ribs, they were bruised, but he didn't feel any were broken.

The air smelled recirculated and it was filled with cleanser. The chamber he was in looked very clean as if it had just been done so. There were three padded white walls and a one-way glass observation mirror. He couldn't see out, but others could see in. Apart from a straight-jacket, he felt he had just been put into a room for mental patients.

"What's the meaning of this?" It was a demand, not a question.

Seconds past, then a voice came over a speaker in the chambers. It was Dr. Helfern. "I would think it obvious, Timothy Drake. I told you, I needed a suitable test subject, and you were chosen because your DNA markers closely compared to that of Bane's. You are the perfect candidate to undertake this experiment, and with luck, be the first to survive its trials."

Dread filled Drake's mind. "Are you going to turn me into some awful monster like your father, Doctor Death?"

"I do so dislike that name, it implies a negative conniption that he wanted to kill people," Dr. Helfern said. "As I see it, he wished to help people who suffered from bone related diseases. Instead, he turned himself into a hideous individual that eventually ended him. My father was a brilliant man. I discovered some of his notes and I found his miscalculation. For save of a single misstep in one equation, he would now be the leading scientist in bone research."

"So, why…No, I think a better question is: For what purpose does this experiment serve?"

The observation glass now blinked transparent, Drake could now see his captors. For a moment, he could sympathize with how the residents at Arkham Asylum felt, imprisoned in their cells. No one liked their freedom restricted. But they were criminals, he was not. There was a distinct difference between the two.

"You're here for my reasons," a new voice emerged, and suddenly Bane stepped out from behind a wall, his large form came into view. "I appreciate you volunteering for this experiment and your sacrifice will not be in vain. From what I've been told, you hold the best chance, and the highest percentage, for it to be a success."

Drake grit his teeth angrily and pounded a fist against the wall. "I never agreed to be your test rat! Let me go, right now!"

Bane laughed largely. "Oh, no, little one—and I call you that because despite your physical prowess, you are no match for my girth—you will help me solve my problem. You have no say in the matter. I need to overcome an issue with the Venom Drug. The drug helps extort my muscles to extraordinary proportions to fight against my enemies, mainly Batman. But the counter-agents to combat the toxins have begun to become ineffective to me. So, you are to test Dr. Helfern's newest formula, and become my saviour."
Bane laughed again. Apparently the mere thought was amusing to him.

He continued, "I have used the Venom Drug in moderation over the years, even though I knew it was becoming poison to me. But I had to take the risk. The toxins were building up in my system, so I had to stop using it. When I found Dr. Helfern, he was willing to help with a solution, and his expertise were just what I needed. Twelve people have died in these experiments, but none of them had what you have, so I'm told. Your DNA is perfect for the tests. So, the Venom Drug will be injected into you."

Drake gasped shocked. "But…you'll kill me!"

"That will depend on you," this from Dr. Helfern. "Along with genetic modifiers to increase your recovery process, after I learned you were a suitable fit for my experiments, I also added to the mix the counter-agents. They needed time to circulate through your system before the Venom Drug could be used. The counter-agents by themselves are harmless to the body. Think of them as anti-bodies. If I wasn't disbarred for unsavoury practises, I would market them for the cure to the common cold." He looked at a watch on his right wrist. "I've given them enough time to work their way through your system, so now it's about time see the result."

Harley walked around Bane and then the door to the chambers opened. She walked in holding what looked to be a dart-gun. The door closed behind her. "Take'm off, hot stuff," she said, indicting Drake's speedos. "Trust me, with this stuff, you don't want to wear anything restrictive when the drug fully takes effect. I've seen some of Dr. Helfern's experiments. And, whoa—it ain't pretty!"

Drake couldn't go far, he had already near backed himself into a corner. He eyed the dart-gun. He shook his head. "No, I don't want to strip in front of you. It's not right. I already feel apprehensive as it is, underdressed as I am here."

"You aint got nuthin' I haven't seen, sugar. I'm now in official-mode. Maybe we can play later, if you survive. Now, take'm off!"

Drake swallowed nervously, but he did what he was told. Yet, he covered himself with his broken-fingered hand as he handed over his speedos to Harley. She then took them and slipped them into a pocket in her jester costume. It reminded Drake of part of a romantic movie plot where someone took away a souvenir after a lover's night encounter.

"Maybe I'll give these back to you? Maybe not? I have a nice collect of men's underwear, kind of a hobby of mine. Don't judge me!" She then seemed to giggle giddily. "When I saw you in those shackles and chains, I got excited. I've seen a few movies like that and I wouldn't mind seeing Nightwing in similar binds. I can just see it, him shackled to a bed, and me hovered over him, and us about to get freaky…" She then stopped herself. "Never mind, or I'll get myself excited. Let's just get things started."

Harley took a few steps back and then fired the dart-gun.

The dart struck Drake in the left thigh, the sudden weakness forced him to lose his balance and drop to one knee. Harley then bolted out of the chamber and slammed the door behind her. She joined Bane and Dr. Helfern behind the glass.

Drake saw them all standing there as if in anticipation of seeing something spectacular. He didn't know what to expect himself.

Then he felt it—like a boom!

Every muscle in his body began to tighten like they were being squeezed in cellophane tape, flexing without restraint. His eyes bulged when it felt like he was experiencing a mild heart attack. He slapped a hand to his chest and could feel his heart rate increase, his heart pounding, his blood pressure going into influx. Sweat began to drip off him in buckets.

He clenched his teeth as he felt the surge, and he screamed silently, the pain intense.

Then it felt like that wrapping burst.

His muscle fibres began to rip and tear away from their tendons, stretched by invisible forces. His veins bulged under his skin like snakes wanting to escape their entrapment. Protein derivatives began to multiply at a tremendous rate, suddenly clustering, and reforming en masse into larger areas, building harder and bulkier sections of tissue. His entire body felt like it was on fire and his muscles about to explode, enlarged to that of a body builder within moments without the timely effort it took to build naturally.

Then it happened more rapidly, and every ounce of muscle on him began grow exponentially to extraordinary proportions—as the Venom Drug began to take full effect.

It felt totally unnatural and insane.

He snarled, and stood on his feet, and shouted like a vicious, rabid animal, wanting it to stop.

x x x

On the other side of the observation glass, the trio looked upon the experiment with both intrigue and shock.

Dr. Helfern mentioned Tim Drake was lasting longer than any of the other test subjects and his new muscle mass seemed to be holding steady, although after the drug wore off, his muscles would shrink and revert back to normal.

Without a steady stream of the drug, it wouldn't last.

"Oh, my, god," Harley said. She pressed her hands against the glass and her eyes widened with absolute admiration. "Oh…that'll be fun to play with. It looks like your drug is making everything grow, Dr. Helfern. And I do mean everything!"

Bane looked at Dr. Helfern, who seemed a little embarrassed. He fixed his glasses as if it was an intracity or nervousness.

"Congratulations on the success of the new formula, Doctor," he said. "It seems to be holding better than the rest of your other test subjects. But what am I looking at? Why is this happening?"

Dr. Helfern cleared his throat, as he saw Tim Drake's muscles continue to bulge. The thick observation glass masked much of the interior sound, but the teen was seen roaring out screams of discomfort and pain. Anyone but Bane could handle the continuous usage of the Venom Drug, but someone who was just exposed to it would feel sheer pain by its effects.

"Yes, well, I had to use drug to get the desired effects, to cancel out much of the toxins," he said. "I needed a suitable stimulate to generate muscle growth after the elimination of an element in the original formula that created heavy toxicity. So, I used something that was already readily available on the market and that has proven to be most effective—Viagra."

Harley laughed. "Oh, that's so rich!"

As the drug began to wear off, Drake dropped to his knees, and everything began to revert back to normal, including the part that Harley had taken great interest in. Tim Drake then collapsed face first to the floor, obviously completely exhausted.

There as a small computer screen on the wall just outside the chambers and it displaced Tim Drake's readings. Dr. Helfern agreed with them and determined things looked promising. And seeing Tim Drake was still alive, it was a success.

"Apart from that one issue, things look excellent." The large man who brought to the chamber Drake re-emerged. He had left the moment Drake was deposited inside. "Take the hero back to his room and make sure he remains there," Dr. Helfern ordered. "More tests will need to be conducted, but I believe the formula for the new Venom Drug has high potential." He turned to Bane. "You won't experience the same embarrassment, I assure you," he then said.

"I would hope not," Bane said determinately, then walked away.

The large man entered the chambers and then took Tim Drake away.

Harley watched the man pick up and hold Drake by the same bear hug method he had carried him here with, with Drake's dignity hanging down in full view. It had, unfortunately in her eyes, reverted back to normal size. But it was still a sight to behold. The vision of its engrossment was still vivid in her mind and it would be there for quite a long time.

"Mind the kickstand, my good man," she said. "It'll be a shame if anything happened to that beautiful specimen."

x x x

She was one of four Quinceañera's that Senior Bane had hired to help with the chores within his complex in the heart of El Patio de los Demons. In English, it meant: The Devil's Playground. But it was basically a place where everyone served Bane's needs.

Just recently, she had taken plates of food to feed the master, and before that, she had helped clean a strange padded room that was covered in blood, with vomit and diarrhetic fecal matter. Her orders were that the room had to be completely sanitized. She only heard in passing about the doctor, who was also Bane's personal physician, conducting human experiments inside the chamber, but the horror was too much to think about, and she put it out of her mind. So far, twelve people had died. It was terrible.

She left to conduct her assigned cleaning duties, and ventured out from the room that she shared with the three others, after a moment's break, when she was halted in her tracks, and was pushed back against the wall by a young lady in red and black clown attire, escorting a larger man, coming down the hall. The large burly man was carrying a younger naked man, with severely damp, black hair.

She was shocked by the sight at first, but when they passed, and she got a more thorough glance, she was then more shocked when she saw who they were carrying, and gasped quietly to herself.

She didn't speak his name, but she knew who he was.

Oh, Senior Timothy…

To be continued...

 

Chapter Text

After more sessions in the experimental test chambers, Drake lay battered, bruised, and to the point of feeling ultimately defeated, due to the soreness of his muscles, looking like he had just gone a few rounds with Bane himself.

The Venom Drug experiments had stretched his muscles to their maximum, and at times, he felt like he was going to blow a blood vessel, which he may have done so, underneath the bruising of his skin.

With each session, the time frame increased to see how long he could withstand the effects of the drug, and how long the counter-agents lasted before the toxins began to affect him.

Ultimately, each test brought Dr. Helfern closer to his goal, and to Bane, having a working Venom Drug to use against Batman.

But there was one lingering side effect after each session that affected Drake in a profound way, and as he lay on his bed in his prison cell, turned on his right side, his body hurting from the tests, he pleaded that someone would rescue him, and stop the pain.

He silently cried. Tears streamed down his cheeks as he begged for the pain to forever end.

He had suffered from mental health issues in the past and a continuous barrage of torture of this nature just added to his grief. He felt violated and embarrassed and only a bed sheet covered his naked body.

They left me behind. Everyone abandoned me when I needed them most.

And he wasn't just thinking of this moment, but also when he was paralyzed by Arkells' Neuro-Diffuser. Only Alfred was there to help him. He also had to put his faith in two criminals to help him get back on his feet, while putting together a quick plan to break out a third from a notorious prison to put things right.
None of his other allies came to his aid, not even one.

He now understood how Arkells, his future self, felt when he was in the Batcave, and when he wished for Bruce to kill him.

I'm nothing but chum bait, something someone would just throw away…

But then: No! Stop it! Stop thinking so negatively. You've been in worse situations than this. Someone will come!

He tried folding his knees into his chest, into the fetus position, but everything hurt, and there was another problem.

Drake had been told by Dr. Helfern that it was a side effect from the Venom Drug, for which he was still trying to rectify but non toxic in nature, but it still created a difficult problem to equate and eliminate.

The issue that plagued Drake right now, for males, normally lasted for up to the time one was able to relieve oneself of one's innate desire, sometimes a little bit longer, but if a male was unable to salve off its effects within four hours or less, then they should see a doctor. But Drake was way past that time frame and it was a doctor who had done this to him.

The doctor had given him a box of tissues so he could take care of things, but Drake refused and opted to suffer. With reoccurring doses of the Venom Drug and its muscle co-stimulate Viagra, he knew it wouldn't make a difference. Relief probably wouldn't come and it would only add to the problem. And he felt doing it would only admit that he had lost to them.

The door to his cell—they always locked the door—slowly opened.

He hid underneath the bed sheet. He didn't want to be taken again and he began to shake. No, no, no…not again!

After a few moments, he didn't hear the door close. Were they waiting for him to peak out from under the sheet, see them, and then grab him, in some sort of surprise takeaway? "Please, no more!" he said.

He had his eyes shut, but he found himself wanting to look beyond the veil of his self-secluded safety blanket. He was chained up, but only with one ankle shackle was needed now. Even if they were here to take him to another test session, there was nothing he could do to stop them. He felt tried, and he felt like he was running out of strength, even will power.

Drake peaked out from the sheet, and was surprised that it was not any of the Spaniard enforcers, Harley, or Dr. Helfern.

Instead, it was a timid, young woman with dark hair. He had never seen her before. Other Quinceañera's, as they called themselves, either singular or plural, their real names barred from use by Bane, had come in, and either bathed him down of sweat or tendered to his wounds after a test session, but he had not seen this woman before. Her face was hidden behind long hair and she wore dark clothing, clothes that Bane wanted his workers to wear. No doubt, she was yet another one of Bane's worker slaves—a new one?

She carried with her a bowl of water and some towels, with bandages, cradled in her arms.

Drake pulled the cover over his head again. "Please, go away," he said politely despite his situation. It wasn't the woman's fault he was in this mess, so yelling at her to leave wouldn't serve a purpose. She was under orders. "I don't feel well."

He heard the door slowly creak closed, but not a word spoken. Had she left?

He wondered this, and looked beyond his sheets again, but she was still in the room. Then she knelt next to the bed, put aside the items she had brought, and came close to his face. And once close enough, she brushed back her hair, and Drake's eyes widened with both shock, surprise, and elation.

Drake gasped. But then she put a finger to his lips.

Stephane Brown then kissed him on the lips. "Tim, I'm so glad I found you. And you're all right."

"Steph! But how?" he asked quietly. "How did you find me?"

"Alfred," she simply said. Then, with a smile: "I missed you, Tim. Despite everything we've been through, all the hardships, I wanted to see you again, and to tell you something. I've been thinking about us a lot lately. So, I came home to Gotham and went straight to Wayne Manor to see you. I travelled the world, thinking about things—thinking about us. And you were always on my mind.

"After Alfred told me what happened, I leapt into action. I'm one of the best trackers to ever grace the Batfamily, you know that. But it wasn't until I researched which Rogues were active and had been released from Arkham Asylum, did I come here—to El Patio de los Demons—Bane's hideout.

"This is where I found an old friend of ours who works here: Mariana Garcia. Remember her? We saved her life from a killer who was stalking women on the streets of Gotham when we teamed-up a while back. She said she recognized you, and tried to tell someone, but she wasn't allowed to leave, and if she asked, she knew she would be questioned. And maybe even killed. She said she owed you/us a vow of thanks for saving her life, but there was little she could do. It broke her heart to see you treated so badly."

Drake casted his eyes away regretfully. "I'm sorry for everything harsh I ever said to you, Steph, and everything I did. Every day I wished I could make amends, and that one day I could tell you how much I really care for you. I missed you, too. I got so caught up in Bruce's philosophy to never get involved, or risk hurting the one you love, that didn't think I was hurting the very person I cared about the most. After we fought Johnny Warlock, and I found out you hadn't died, I foolishly pushed you away, after you came back. I didn't want you to get hurt again because of me."

He began to cry.

She cradled his head in her arms. "It's okay now, Tim. Everything is all right."

He sniffed and cried. "I'm so sorry, Steph. I'm so very sorry. Please forgive for me being such an idiot."

"And I'm sorry for making you worry," she replied. "After we broke up, I thought we'd never see each other again. I was angry. But I realized what you just told me and I allowed a cooling off period. I always planned to come back. Now, I'm here to break you out."

She then told him that Alfred had explained everything that had happened with Dick Grayson, Arkells, Batman, and the rest, and that they had set flight to Treasure Island to battle an old Spyral rival of Dick's named Jake Handles.

"But I can't take all the credit in tracking you down completely," she then said, "I did have some help. My skills are a little rusty. I've been out of the crimefighting game for a bit."

She told him that Slade and Pixie were waiting someplace secluded for a text signal. Once received, they would storm the Bastille.

She also said she knew about everything done to help him get back on his feet when he was paralyzed and the interesting ploy he played on Professor Hugo Strange.

This brought a smile to Drake's face, he wiped back tears. "Yeah, that was pretty fun. The whole cloak and dagger thing was Alfred's idea. It was a bit of a gamble, and Strange did find out who I was—that I was Red Robin. But after Pixie laid him out, I used the memory-erasure gas on him, and returned him to Arkham Asylum. He was none-the-wiser." He then sighed, a little sad. "However, when I was returning home that's when I encountered KGBeast on a backroad. He shot out the front tire of my cycle and I crashed. Then he beat me to an inch of my life. The next thing I knew, I was here, and being subjected to Bane's twisted sick experiments."

He felt better, calmer, talking out things. Talking to Steph always made him feel better. He had missed her, so much!

"They put me in a test chamber and kept injecting me with Bane's newest Venom Drug, with counter-agents for the toxins, seeing how I would react, and using me as guinea pig," he said. "Apparently, I have the same, or similar, DNA markers as Bane. If I survived the trials, then the drug was safe for Bane to use. But, there's one problem…"

He cringed from the hurt. He then looked down and she followed his gaze.

"Can I have a look?" she asked, and he nodded.

He hissed, ever the slightest movement caused him discomfort, and he unfolded himself, for her to have a look at his bruised and battered body. She pulled back the sheet and her eyes widened, one for how many bruises he had, and two, for…

Steph's brow rose, and she snorted out a small smirk. "Are you really this happy to see me, Tim?"

Tim's face flushed. "It's a side effect from the Venom Drug, the muscle co-stimulate is Viagra."

She put a hand to her mouth to stop from laughing.

"It's not funny," he said. "It really hurts."

She cleared her throat and suddenly got serious. "Sorry," he said. "How long have you been like this?"

"Too long…"

He asked Steph how she got into Bane's hideout undetected, and she replied, "With Mariana's help, we met up in a secluded area; she was taking out the garbage in the back. When she saw me snooping around, she came to me; said she saw you. We devised a plan. I disguised myself as one of Bane's Quinceañera's and took her place to attend to your wounds. I was given twenty minutes. It's been five minutes since I arrived, that leaves fifteen minutes. I hope that'll be enough time for what needs to be done."

Drake looked at her confused. "What do you mean: needs to be done? Enough time for what?"

She cupped Drake's face and gave him a sweet smile. "Oh, you're so cute when you act all innocent, Tim. That's why I came back. And that's why I love you." She gave him another kiss on the lips.

She then reached over, and…

Drake jerked startled.

But then allowed things to happen. Allowed it to happen. And his eyes fluttered and his mouth went agape.

It took less than half the time Steph allotted for Drake to get the desperate relief he needed, and he was so very, very happy, that she was the one to provide it. She told him not to hold back and he didn't. Even if he wanted to, he couldn't. He even felt the need to exhale loudly, but he clamped his mouth shut with a hand, so he wouldn't cause a bluster.

When it was over, Drake shivered and broached a large smile. And they kissed again.

"You have the look of someone who just his virginity," she jokingly said.

"You have no idea how much I needed that," he said, tears falling from the sides of his eyes out of joy and utter relief. What she did felt tremendous, and when he looked down, he was finally at rest.

"Now comes the weird part," she said. Reaching under her dress, she removed a pair of white panties. She handed them to him. "Put them on. Since you don't have any clothes to wear, we can't have Mr. Big flopping around as we make our escape."

Drake took her panties in hand and stretched them a bit, looking at them with both awe and amazement that he actually held a pair of her undergarments, as she went to work on lock-picking his ankle shackle. They're so small. "Wait? What? You really want me to put these on?" He was hesitant and he felt his face flush with a hotness. "Umm…"

She looked at him from the foot of the bed with a lock pick in hand. She didn't bring her Spoiler costume, wanting to come incognito, but she did bring her tools. "Tell you what, when we get back home—to Wayne Manor—I'll put on a pair of your briefs to make us even."

"Stop it, or you'll get me excited again."

After Steph picked the lock, Drake sat up on the bed, and slipped on her panties. He felt weird doing so, and if anyone ever saw him wearing them—especially Jason—he would never live it down. But Steph was right, and oddly enough they felt soft against his skin, and warm. He thanked her. They were a snug and he had to tuck, but things finally positioned themselves into place.

He stood on his feet. His ankle was fully healed, thanks to the doctor's drugs. Even his fingers were back to normal. He had noticed both before, but now he was fully conscious of it, not concerned about the other problem.

"Seriously though, how do we get out of here?" he asked. "I bet Bane has this place locked up tight."

Steph relayed a message on a cellphone she had hidden underneath her dress, tucked between her breasts. Once again, she surprised him. He had no inkling that she was hiding anything there.

"There, I just relayed our SOS to Slade and Pixie," she said. "It should only be a matter of minutes until we're rescued. They're waiting in a back alley behind this complex in a dark Sedan. When I found this place, I informed Alfred. Alfred then sent back-up and we three formulated a plan. I volunteered to come in alone and infiltrate the place to search for you, dressed like this."

Just then, the door swung open. In fact, the door was literally kicked open. And at the threshold stood Harley Quinn with her large black-head mallet in hand. "Nobody's goin' anywhere, sweet-cakes," she said. "Sorry, but your rescue has been cancelled. We've been watching and listening to everything in this room for the past ten minutes." She pointed to a darkened corner in the upper ceiling. “Pin-sized cameras, virtually unnoticeable to the naked eye. You two put on a great show! People would pay good money to see something like that, and that" —indicting what Drake was wearing.

"Shove it, Harley!" Steph stood up.

Her cover blown, Steph took off the wig she was wearing and tossed it to the floor. Her hair was a golden blonde, and for a moment, Drake felt his temperature rise slightly. Dick liked red-heads, but Drake liked blondes. And whether it was the Viagra, or her, he felt a sudden tightness below, and grunted. He covered the area with the bed sheet.

"You wanna go?" Harley said. Then she produced a dart-gun.

Drake gasped. "Steph—stop!" he said quickly. "That's the Venom Drug she's holding."

"That's right, Mr. Big," she said mockingly. "From what I saw, the name suits you. This drug can produce some amazing results in a male that every woman would die for, and in what I saw when watching the docs experiments on Drakey-poo, those images have been burned in my memory forever." She winked at Drake.

Drake's face flushed. It wasn't his fault. It had been the result of the Venom drug and the Viagra.

"Now, come along," Harley said, waving the dart-gun. "The Big Man is waiting to see you both."

Drake got up, wrapped the bed sheet around himself, and then both he and Steph left the room. A large man awaited outside in the corridor, the same that always came to get Drake for the test sessions, and they were escorted down the hall—to Bane.

To be continued...

 

Chapter Text

Slade was never one for tight spaces, but when he found himself in a squeezed predicament with Pixie in his dark Sedan, he had suddenly become a little claustrophobic. In any other circumstances, he wouldn't mind the position they were in—just not now.

 Harley Quinn had done this to them. How she found them, and how the encounter with the crazed woman ended up, was something to tell, and they were lucky to be alive.

She had found them waiting in Slade's car in an alley behind Bane's hideout. And the minute she came into view, Slade had no chance to react when Harley began swinging her giant mallet, just catching the large bullet's eye painted on its face.

Harley wielded the mallet with precision and strength. For such a thin looking girl, she was surprisingly strong. But if a person worked the right areas, then a human could do pretty much anything factoring in adapted abilities.

And yet, Harley was a lunatic in her own rite.

With every swing, she had grinned innately, going to town on the car. She had clubbed all the doors first trapping them inside, then she whacked the hood, depressed the roof, and finally slammed the truck shut. Whether she knew it or not, and he doubt she did, that was where Slade had all his gear and weapons stored for when he would need to storm Bane's hideout after Stephane Brown gave him the signal after Tim Drake was rescued.

But Harley didn't hesitate and she showed no mercy. The car didn't have a chance.

In the end, Pixie sat on Slade's lap in the driver's seat. It was the only place left uncrushed and untouched.

Harley had left them with a parting message before departing. "Nice seeing ya! Wouldn't wanna be ya!" However, she left two of Bane's bulky henchmen in her wake, both holding rifles. They were told not to shoot, but to watch them with an eagle's eye.

Pixie sat on Slade's lap, and despite the situation, she didn't seem perturbed in anyway. In fact, she actually appeared excited about the danger, and said, in humour: "Now, don't get any funny ideas down there."

Slade smirked. "Perish the thought, my dear," he said. "I'm a gentleman in every sense of the term." But he grunted under his breath. "However, if you would please, shift yourself to the right. I'm getting a little stiff. You're sitting on my…"

Pixie moved slightly and he breathed a sigh of relief. Despite his askance, he kept the real reason to himself—a gentleman never tells. He may have been older than her, but not that old. Now he could adjust himself in his seat a little.

"So, what should we do now? Just wait for someone to rescue us?"

"I'm not sure what else we can do? We're trapped in this car. And…" Slade looked around the inside of the Sedan. "Harley smashed nearly everything with a gun hub. Besides, if I made a move now, those two hombres would cut us down to ribbons. They're watching us very carefully."

Both of Bane's men that Harley had left behind starred at them with guns at the ready, one leaning against a wall of a near-by building on the left side of the car and the other sitting on an oil drum on the right.

"Then let's give them a show." Pixie kissed him. "I don't know what it is, Slade, but when I'm with you, I seem to lose all control."

"We're here to help Stephane Brown rescue Tim Drake," Slade said straightly. "But I don't think we're going to be any help to her right now. Even if she tries to call or text me, Harley broke my phone when she was trying to play whack-a-mole with my car." He looked at her and then kissed her. "But you drive this old man wild. I haven't felt this alive in years."

"You're not old, Slade, you're seasoned," she replied. "And from what I've seen, everything is in perfect working order."

They locked lips, not caring if Bane's men saw. Eyes closed.

Suddenly, there was a shout, and the man on the left side of the car came flying across the hood landing on the other side. Both looked to their right and then saw the other taken out by Batgirl, laid out on the ground, both men now unconscious. Batman, Red Hood, and Damian Wayne, still dressed in his Nightwing Junior costume, were with her.

Just then, Nightwing, wearing a black toque, leaned up against the driver's side of the car, and looked in through the broken, shattered window, startling Slade for a moment.

"Oh, hello Richard," he said causally. "Last I heard you were out of town on another escapade?"

Nightwing smiled at Pixie. "I don't think escapade would be the word I'd use, Slade," he said. "But here would be a perfect example. Hello, nice to finally meet you in person. I've heard so much about you." Nightwing extended a hand to Pixie and they shook. "Allow me to re-introduce myself, Nightwing/Dick Grayson. But I hear you already knew that."

Pixie cocked her head. "Well, Slade did hire me to spy on you when you lost your memories. He was concerned about you."
"That's nice," Nightwing said with a thin smile.

"I know how this looks, Richard, but I can explain."

Nightwing nodded, looking around the inside of the car. Pixie sat on Slade's lap. Slade's hand was also on Pixie's rear, whether he recalled it in the moment or not. "So, you weren't just kissing each other in the midst of two gun-toting Spanish thugs watching?"
Slade eyed him. He couldn't deny it. He had been caught red-handed. "Don't you dare, Richard. I can see the wheels in your mind working for a joke here. I know you."

Nightwing tapped his temple with a finger. "I may have had brain surgery, but it doesn't need to work very hard to formulate a joke here. For your sake, Slade, I'll keep it to myself." Suddenly, there was a click. Damian had taken a picture of the two of them with his cell phone through the smashed passenger side window. Slade protested, and Nightwing smiled. "Nice, I would like a copy of that."
"Done," Damian said.

"Richard…"

"Yes, Slade?"

"Would you mind getting us out of here? My butt is starting to fall asleep."

"Oh, sorry," Nightwing said, and stepped back.

Jason then came over with a crowbar, helmet off. Before he started to pry the door off, he reached in, and extended a hand. "Nice to meet you again, Pixie. We met in the hospital waiting room to see Dick. By the way, you look better in pink. Suits you better."
"I think so, too. Nice tuff of white in your hair, makes you look grown up."

"Um, thanks."

It didn't take much effort to pop the hinge off the door frame and soon Slade and Pixie were able to get out. Despite the look of the car, neither of them were injured. The only thing that seemed to be the worse for ware was Slade's ego. He signed in sympathy for his car which was now ready for the junk heap, it was too far gone.

"Worth more in scrap now," Damian remarked.

Slade eyed him. "Listen, you little punk! This car has been with me through thick and thin. She's one of a kind. Richard even helped tweak some of the features when I was training him. Now…" He snorted frustrated. "I want that picture of Pixie and I deleted."

"Done," Damian said without argument. Slade stood shocked. He knew normally Damian Wayne was more defiant. "Call it payback for helping Drake. We heard what you both did. Walking straight into Arkham Asylum to brake Professor Hugo Strange out the way you did, wow, you had balls. Drake can be a pain sometimes, but he's okay. Only now, here, we have to save his sorry ass again."

"Thanks, and you're welcome," was all Slade could say. Then: "What's with the outfit? What happened to Robin, the Boy Wonder?"

"Long story short," Nightwing stepped over, putting a hand on Damian's head. "I tried to clone myself, but only half of me came out." He smiled amusingly.

Damian swatted Grayson's hand away. "Is that a crack about my height, Grayson? One day, I'll be as tall as you. Bigger than! I'm only thirteen, lots of time for me to grow. You, on the other hand, are fully grown, and shorter than Todd—'the second prodigal son'. He made the universal signage of quote/unquote with his fingers when he said it. "Even Drake is a few millimetres taller than you."

"He's perfect in my book," Batgirl sounded over. "Besides, genetics plays a role. Except for you, Damian, everyone is adopted."

"If it was up to me, I'd keep him this size forever, easier to handle, so I can keep a parental leash on him," Batman said. "Sometimes having kids is a full time job and a pain." The way Bruce said that, no one knew if he was being serious or not. "Dick and Jason were a handful when they were Robin; Tim, not so much. But none have been as open lipped as you, Damian."

"Different people, different personalities, Bruce." Nightwing defended him. "But the little guy is fun to have around to play catch with."
"I'm not a dog!" Damian rebuked growly.

"Okay, enough of the banter," Batman said.

"Yes, time to get serious," Nightwing said. "Let's find a way in, rescue Tim and find Steph. I still can't believe she's back, good for her getting back on the horse. Time to finally end this episode in our lives. It started with my shooting, then we went through a series of challenges to get to Jake, and now we've come to the end of the road to battle the architect to all this. Bane wanted me dead to get back at Batman, so he hired KGBeast to assassinate me. But KGBeast got greedy and tried to have two paydays for the price of one making a side deal with Jake, pretending to kill me. Then Jake set up the whole amnesia thing in an attempt to destroy my life. Lucky for me, or I would be dead. KGBeast told us the entire story when we caught up to him just before getting here. He's sleeping off a sore neck at the moment after Bruce beat him to within an inch of his mechanical life, stomping on it. At another time, I would stop him. But not here, KGBeast deserved it. It's true what they say, some people can be a pain in the neck."

Slade rolled his eyes. "I was just waiting for a corny joke like that from you, Richard," he said.

Nightwing smiled, and then shrugged is shoulders with his arms out. "It's me, I'm back. Bad jokes and all."

“And a little heftier in the mid-section, I see? Too many burgers and beers?”

“Not my fault, I don’t normally eat like that. I wasn’t my usual conscientious self. Barbara’s put me on a strict diet of salad, salad, and more salad. After I’ve lost another fifteen pounds, I can plant myself in the ground and grow roots.”

Batgirl gave Nightwing a playful fist-punch to the arm.

“Nothing wrong with burgers and beer,” Jason chimed in.

“You just abuse the privilege,” Damian said.

“What was that?” Jason growled.

Dick smirked. “But, in all seriousness, I’m glad to be back to old myself again. And if I have to eat a garden of salad, then it’s worth it to be with the people I most care about in the whole world.” Nightwing smiled, and took Batgirl’s hand. He gazed into her eyes. “And to experience a bright new future with the woman I love more than anyone else.”

Slade looked at them both.

Then Jason elbowed Slade in the arm. "He proposed to her on the island when we were fighting Jake Handles," he said. "I'm going to be the ring bearer. I'm so happy that my little Dickiebird is finally tying the knot. Although, come to think of it, I know this girl who can tie a knot with a cheery stem with her tongue. It's so hot!"

Slade looked at him unamused. "Has anyone ever told you that saying inappropriate things may be considered a neurological illness? You may want to see a psychiatrist for that." He then walked away and congratulated Dick on his engagement.

Moments later, Arkells, who had opted to remain in the Batcave to monitor things for the mission, echoed on an open speaker on Batman's wrist comm. He told them that his satellite feed detected twenty additional heat-signatures inside the structure they were near, but it was undermined which of them were Bane, Tim, and Stephane Brown.

Slade was little disappointed that he could not meet the now renown Arkells he had heard things about, quickly given the run down about him, but he was thankful that Tim Drake's Future Self was at the helm when it was explained to him after hearing his voice.
"Understood," Batman said in response. He then turned to Damian. "You remain here and guard Slade and Pixie."

Damian looked stunned. "Why me? Is this for that snide retort I made earlier?"

"We're not defenceless, Bruce," Slade rebuked. "We can help."

"Do you have any weapons?" Batman asked in short.

Slade balled his fists. "I have these. Unfortunately, after what Harley did this to my car, I can't get access to any of my weapons and equipment. It'll take the jaws of life to pry open places. But I want retribution on the man who wished to murder my best student."

"Bragging of me being your best student isn't a compliment, Slade," Nightwing said. "In fact, after what you did in Bludhaven with the meta-humans, I'd say it's an insult. I fired you." He put a hand up before Slade could speak. "Look, I know you're sorry, and you're trying to repent for that. But it still doesn't absolve you of the crime. Apart from Gotham, Bludhaven is where I hang my tights."

"You're a cold man, Richard. And I thought Bruce was the one with ice in his veins. I'll try to do better. I'm a changed man now." He cradled Pixie's arm within his. "A good woman can change a man…" He smiled. "But I still consider you the best. Fine, we'll stay here with the munchkin. Maybe I'll wake one of these hombres up and have a little fun. I haven't gotten my hands dirty for a little while."

Slade cracked his knuckles. "I guy gets rusty if he doesn't keep up his skills."

Damian pouted. "I'm not a dog, nor am I a munchkin," he was heard to mutter under his breath.

"But, if you ever want addition training, Richard, my door's always open," Slade said.

"Frankly, I think they particular door will forever remain closed," Nightwing replied.

Jason put on his helmet, and then with Batman and Batgirl, accessed a back door into Bane's domain. Nightwing followed, leaving Damian behind to watch Slade and Pixie.

x x x

Dr. Marx Helfern pushed Stephane Brown into the experimental test chamber.

Tim Drake decried and protested and begged him to stop what he proposed.

One of Bane's strongest henchmen clutched Drake tightly in a bear hug to prevent him from interfering. Additionally, Harley Quinn was nearby with a gun and she said had orders to shoot him if he tried to stop things.

Drake didn't care and struggled profusely against the henchman. They had stripped Steph of all her clothes and gave her nothing but a towel to cover herself. She was to be another test subject for the latest version of the Venom Drug. Only, she did not share the same DNA markers as either Drake nor Bane, so there would be only one enviable outcome.

"No! Please!" Drake shouted, tears streaming down his cheeks. He struggled, but his arms were firmly trapped in the henchman's grip. "Don't use the Venom Drug on her! I beg you! I'll kill her! Take me instead!"

"All my test subjects have been men, this will be the first time I'm able to experiment on a woman," Dr. Helfern said, and then smiled a bit sinister and even perverse. "And besides, if the formula adds girth to you, just think what it could do for her. I offered it to Harley, but she flat out refused to participate in my trials."

Harley cupped each breast separately with a hand, then let them drop. They both bounced despite the tightness of her costume. "I'm already big enough, doc. I don't need them to be any bigger than they are. Besides, I still have some growin' to do, and I'm pretty sure these puppies will grow even more."

"Then take me—take me—please!" Drake said. He was willing to lay down his life for her. "I'll gladly offer my body for your tests. I'll do whatever you want. Just don't use the Venom Drug on Steph, I implore you!" He stopped struggling, a sign of good faith that he was serious. "You have my full cooperation."

"Very noble of you, Timothy Drake, but—"

Just then, Bane entered the fray. He came quickly from down a corridor. "I just received word from one of my men that Batman and company have just been spotted in the building." He turned to Harley. "You did take care of those other two, correct?"

"Yup, they should still be trapped in their car out back," Harley said. "Unless the Caped Crusader freed them?"

Dr. Helfern spoke up. "Okay, young man. I've decided not to use your girlfriend in my test experiments," he said. Drake breathed out a large sigh, and then looked at Steph through the observation glass with a smile. She looked back at him with a shared smile, as if she knew things would be okay. "But, in favour, you have to do something for us."

Dr. Helfern looked to Bane as if to share a thought.

"Yes, anything!" Drake said. "As long as Steph is safe and I have your assurances she won't be tested on?"

"You may regret that decision, boy," Bane said. "We knew eventually Batman would find us, so we prepared for it." He looked at the doctor, who nodded. Dr. Helfern then explained the formula still had a slight glitch, but he had a temporarily solution to it. "Good," Bane said pleased. "Bring him!"

Bane turned to leave. Bane's henchman turned to follow him with Drake.

As they were leaving, Drake looked back, and saw Steph exit the chamber with Harley escorting her out with a gun. He was relieved. But now he didn't know what to expect as he was carried down a corridor, and into a darkened room.

He was dropped harshly to the floor to his knees. Bane's henchman left, shutting the door behind him, leaving only him and Bane inside.

Bane switched on the lights and Drake turned and saw a life-sized mannequin dressed in black, stretchable, sleeveless tights. Drake darted his eyes from it to Bane and back again. It was the same, but only slimmer. And if Drake didn't know any better, his size. Boots and fingerless gloves also joined the ensemble. The only thing left was…

Bane tossed a duplicate version of his mask to Drake. Drake caught it.

"Put it on, all of it," Bane ordered. "You're going to fight your family. And they are going to believe you are me." Drake laughed, as if the idea sounded ludicrous. "What's so funny?"

"You're serious? But I look nothing like you. And our muscular sizes differs greatly."

Then the sudden realization hit him.

Over the last couple of sessions, he had begun to get used to the way the Venom Drug worked on his muscles and despite them budging to exponentially enormous size, the process no longer hurt. There was one still outstanding issue, however.

"No! I won't do it! I refuse!"

"If you don't, then I'll instruct Dr. Helfern to use Stephane Brown in his next experiment just to see what happens," Bane said. "But we both know she won't survive. And it will be a horrible, painful death."

Drake could almost see the hint of a smile from behind Bane's mask and he knew that he had no choice. Before Drake had been taken to the chamber with Steph, he had been given proper attire and Steph's panties were returned to her. Now, he was forced to strip again to slip on the tights. He had to take off everything because they were skin tight.

Once everything was on, Bane said, "Thanks to Dr. Helfern this suit has been upgraded. A tube is no longer needed to inject the Venom Drug and the counter-agents from an arm controller to the back of the head. It's done so with a series of embedded nano-probes and impulse detectors that are activated by depressing a chest button. You'll feel a series of momentary sharp pricks from small needles when the suit's first activated."

Drake looked at the button over his heart. But Bane did not have the same suit, he still had the old style. Drake supposed Bane was testing this suit out before he began to wear it. Once again, Drake was another beta-tester for Bane.

Bane continued, "This suit, in particular, also had another interesting feature. Once activated, if you attempt to remove it by force, there's an explosive device in your arm bracelet. It's a fake, but part of the ensemble so it's needed to make everyone believe you are me, made to appear like my arm controller. It has enough power to blow you in half."

Drake nodded. "Sounds straight forward," he said with a sigh. "Once again, even with the Venom Drug, our sizes still differ."

"Then you're going to have to use more of the Venom Drug to increase your muscle mass to equal mine. The counter-agents will match the additional distribution. The suit will stretch in line with a heftier girth, too. Additionally…" —Bane handed Drake something that looked like an aspirin— "This will allow the unresolved issue of the drug to subside temporarily."

Drake took it. The issue Bane was referring didn't need to be explained and Drake was thankful that there was, at least, something to counteract its undesired effects. The Venom Drug brought together a mixture of muscle building proteins that stimulated growth in an exponential way. The additive of Viagra, even though it was mainly used to increase blood flow for sexual incitement, simultaneously increased muscle growth to work with the Venom Drug's other chemical factors.

Drake understood its basics, but not everything of the drug. He swallowed the pill.

"And don't attempt to fight me or even consider to turn against me," Bane said. "The arm controller I have also controls the bomb. If you even try to turn against me, I'll detonate it. If I find you are not fighting your family with full ferocity—I have hidden surveillance cameras everywhere—and if you to attempt alert anyone that you are not me, then I'll kill you without warning and take out anyone who is with you."

Drake nodded again.

"One more thing…"

"There's more?"

"Yes," Bane said seriously. "Don't hesitate, show no mercy. Destroy the Caped Crusader or Stephane Brown is dead!"

At that moment, Drake felt he had just made a deal with the devil.

To be continued...

 

Chapter Text

Batman and company moved through Bane's complex stealthily and with caution.

Jason, now with his helmet on, said he would prefer to go in with his guns blazing, but then there was Tim and Steph to think about which contributed to unknown factors. They could see heat-signatures of people in the complex in their masks, but nothing stood out to identity clearly who was who with their equipment. Arkells monitored the situation with satellite surveillance, but one mis-step could cost a life.

Nightwing mentioned the place made it feel like it had been designed by Edward Nygma—The Riddler. Luckily, with a PDA link-up, they were able to navigate through the place with relative ease, taking out some of Bane's men as they went along.

They all had GPS in their costumes and by this method they were able to track Tim Drake here to El Patio de los Demons, aka The Devil's Playground. They found his costume tossed in the corner of some empty room. Taking Drake's costume with them, they carried on, leaving nothing to chance, ever watchful for enemies.

It reminded Jason of a first-person RPG game. But unlike the video games he played, he considered this boring.

Two of Bane's henchmen burst out of a room up ahead hiding until the perfect moment. But the moment they emerged, Nightwing tossed one of his escrima sticks at one's face, knocking him out, while Batgirl charged in and swept the other off his feet with her bo-staff. She then whacked him across the head, laying him out cold.

Nightwing commented on her fluent of motion, and then she replied, "Wait until we get back home." And she winked.

Jason had taken the rear and protected everyone from unsuspecting attacks. He now turned, said, "At this point, there'll be nothing left for me. These are new guns, man-stoppers, fashioned after Harvey Two-Face's. I'm inching to give them a try."

"No killing, Jason," Batman warned.

"Yeah, yeah, I know," Jason said light-heartedly. "I'm kidding. I have the added shock-features switched on." Despite their tiff about Jason almost killing the Penguin some time back, all had been forgiven between him and Bruce. Penguin had been severely beaten, but after all the things he had done over the years, it was felt the stoutish villain deserved a little scare.

After peaking around a sharp corner using a mirror to check first, Batman and Nightwing went, followed by Batgirl, and Jason once again brought up the rear.

Jason twirled around on his boot heels, looking in every direction. He was antsy. He said it was too quiet. Then: "Where are all the cucarachas-Bane's men? As they say in the old country? And Bane? This is boring. My fingers are falling asleep."

Batman turned to scold him when he suddenly stopped. The sound of footprints were heard from the corridor up ahead. The lighting was bad in this part of the complex, the corridor spooky like haunted by fantasma, but the moment the owner of those footprints came into view, through the casting darkness, they all knew things were about to get a lot more dangerous.

Harley Quinn walked out into the open, holding her oversized mallet over her right shoulder. Despite its size, she could wield it like it weighed nothing. But even though it looked heavy, it was constructed with materials that made it light weight but as hard as steel. And when she plopped it down to the ground, head first, the ground clanged with a metallic sound.

"Good evening, gents, and lady," Harley said. "Welcome to Bane's El…Demon—something or other. Let's just call it his hideaway."

"Oh, look—a boss," Red Hood remarked, keeping his guns on stand-by, elbows bent upwards. "This is the point in the game where the hero normally powers up to get ready for a long, tiresome battle. But this is a Mini-Boss, not the…Wait! How do you say: Big Boss in Spanish? Oh yeah: Gran Jefe. But this is a niña pequeña grande marachas."

"Uh—did…did you just say what I think you just said?" Batgirl questioned, turning to look back at Red Hood. "Did you just call her a small girl with big boobs in Spanish?"

Nightwing chuckled and Batman produced a thin smirk.

"I am fluent in five different languages including the ever popular one: Sarcasm. That's my all time favourite."

"Kids these days," Nightwing said, "always thinking with their…" —he took a moment— "…polla."

Red Hood snapped a look at Nightwing. "Huh? Did you just make a dick joke?"

"Ah, hellooooo!" Harley said, waving her hands in the air. "Baddy here! Pay attention over here. I have no idea what you're talking about. So, speak the language of America. Speak English."

"Um, America is a land of different languages, Harley," Red Hood responded, "and Spanish is the second most popular language spoken, followed by Chinese and French. Gotham doesn't have a large Spanish population, but there's enough for their own television network. English is the number one spoken language around the world, but I dare you to try to find a kid these days who can actually properly speak it without using slang or have every second word not skewed with profanity."

The others agreed.

"Kids back in my day had respect for others," Nightwing said. "Now…"

He stopped, this was not the time for that discussion. He had his opinion on the matter, but he'd reserve it for another time. Tim was the exception to the rule. Damian broke it at every turn. And Jason made his own rules and then broken them.

"Where's Spoiler?" Batman asked, getting straight down to business, setting aside mentioning Tim for the moment. Where one was, the other was sure to be, and held together.

Alfred had told them that Stephane Brown had come to the manor looking for Tim, after a long hiatus, only to be told that he was missing. She then tracked Tim here. Slade and Pixie waited in the back alley in their now crushed Sedan, for Stephane rescued Tim. Unfortunately, things had gone wrong.

"Who? I don't know that name," Harley said. "But, if you're referring to that blonde slutty whore, I believe you'll find her with Timothy Drake. Why, or why, would hunky Drakey-poo choose that bimboo over sexy me is beyond me."

With the derogatory name calling ignored, Barbara said: "They have a lot of history."

Harley shrugged, holding the handle of her mallet. "History is the past, the future is now. All I know is that the two of them engaged in some serious hankey-pankey while they were here that could make them some serious deniro on the internet if properly managed. Too bad it wasn't recorded. People pay a lot of money for things like that. Young Timothy truly got his rocks off."

"You have a big mouth, Harley," Red Hood said.

"If you saw what I saw, so does Stephane Brown."

"That's enough, Harley!" Batman said coarsely.

"Tim's an adult, so is Stephane, but I'll have a talk with him later about it," Nightwing said. Batman nodded. Dick knew Bruce wasn't good at talking to "the kids" about the birds and the robins, so he left that for Dick.

"Later?" Harley grabbed her mallet with both hands, bringing it up to bare. "That's if you get past me! And no way am I going to let you get pass me—no get out of Jail Free Card, no passing Go, no collecting $200."

Red Hood laughed short. "That's chump change to us," he said.

Batman gave Red Hood a harsh look.

"Hey, I just had a brilliant idea," Harley said. "Instead of battling it out, how about I just blackmail you all? Because I know who you all are now. How about we hash out a deal? You pay me a large sum of money, I tell you where Timothy and Stephane can be found, and I keep my mouth shut. I'll never bother you again. Sound good?"

"Until the next time you want to more money," Batgirl remarked.

"Would you take a post dated cheque?" Red Hood said facetiously. "Although, I'm usually hurting at the end of the month; I do have expenses. But my cheque will be good. You just won't be able to cash until 2050. A person like me can only make so much capital selling his services to those willing to pay for the goods."
"You and I are going to have a little talk later," Batman said sternly.

It was obvious what Jason meant by 'selling his services to those willing to pay for the goods'. It wasn't the first time Batman learned that Jason was selling blackmarket goods and weapons on the street financing his personal vendetta against Black Mask.

Harley gripped the handle to her mallet tightly, the leather of her gloves even made squeaking noises as her hands clenched. "Okay, Batfamily, time to play with the Queen of Hearts. Since Mr. J isn't here, I'm going to have be extra nasty."

Suddenly, a shot rang out, echoing the corridor, startling everyone. Everyone halted in their tracks and turned to Jason.

Red Hood had fired at the ceiling. He said, "Trust me, missy, you're no where in her league," Red Hood said, as if speaking with admiration. "I know the real Queen of Hearts, and she's a classic lady, despite being a little eccentric. Compared to her, your jester costume suits you well. You're nothing but a clown."

Harley grit her teeth in anger and went to attack, but Red Hood pointed the gun he just fired at her stopping her in her tracks. "My ammo is live now, it's off shock-mode. I think the time has come to stop playing around and get down to business." He walked to her, gun pointed. "You're going to let us pass, or I am going to shoot you. I've had an interesting couple of days, but very little sleep. After this is all over, I'll put in a good word for you, and get you a nice, soft padded cell, where you can think happy, happy thoughts."

Harley smirked. "Oh, I have plenty of happy thoughts, and can't wait for the unhappy ending I'm about to give you."

She suddenly tossed her mallet into the air. Jason cocked his head to follow it, raising his guns. If she meant it to come down on him from above, he'd pulverized it before it had a chance.

Then things seemed to happen very quickly.

She ran at him unexpectedly and slid between his legs, reached up with a balled fist, and punched him in the soft spot, underneath his codpiece. Then she got up, pinched his butt, performed a cartwheel, flipped backwards with aerodynamic mastery, caught her mallet, and returned to her previous readied stance, all in a matter of moments—everything taking less than mere seconds.

Nightwing caught it all. It paid to stay in shape and to be as flexible as possible.

"Oh my god…" Batgirl breathed out shocked.

"That's what you get for making those sexist and insulting remarks, sweetie," Harley said with a smirk. "I'm a member of a coalition of women online that think Red Hood is a complete and utter ass. There's also an entire website where women just rip into you. One woman on the website says you need to get blasted. Another woman says you need to be stripped naked, chained up, and…"

"Harley, that's enough," Nightwing said. "You've made your point. No need to beat him further while he's down."

Red Hood stood frozen like a statue, his arms locked in position where they were before she did her sneaky maneuver. A soft moan came from behind his mask. Then a squeaky sound of "Ow…" came, his voice a few octaves below normal.

Nightwing went to him. "Red Hood, you okay?"

Jason didn't move, but shook his head from side to side slowly. For once, he was speechless.

Nightwing looked at Harley, impressed by her skill. It took mastery to do that. "Where did you learn to do something like that?"

"From the school of hard knocks and dirty tricks," she replied.

Batman then tossed two Batarang's at Harley, which she batted away with her mallet, but the assault quickly forced her to flee for the time being. She ran down the corridor into the darkness. "Toodools!" she said in leaving.

Barbara went to Jason. "Jason—please speak to us. Does it hurt?"

Nightwing gave her a look. "Jason kicked me once there, I didn't stop hurting for three hours," he said. "So, yeah, I'd say it hurts."

He relinquished Jason of his guns. Jason's arms remained stationary, his hands still partially folded in as if still holding them. Jason was literally frozen to the spot. Nightwing put them back in his thigh holsters as Barbara unclipped the latches of his Jason's hood. When his mask was removed, Jason's face was ashen, his mouth agape, his eyes wide.

He squeaked again. Then Jason managed to say, breathlessly, "I think she broke Keith and Taylor."

Barbara looked bewildered. "Who? What?"

"Keith Richards and Mick Taylor, two of the founding members of the Rolling Stones rock group," Nightwing explained. "I can't believe it. You gave each testicle a specific name?" Jason nodded. "Let me guess, Keith is on the right and Taylor is on the left?" Jason nodded again. Nightwing then said, "Keith Richards was Mick Jagger's right-hand man and his best guitarist. Mick Taylor was third string guitarist. He left the group in 1974 to pursue other avenues in the genre, but he still joins them from time-to-time. Now it makes perfect sense, well to Jason. He named his genitals Jagger and the Rolling Stones. Only he would do something like that."

"I'm surprised you know all that," Barbara said.

"During those boring nights on patrol, I listen to a lot of music on my phone. However now, whenever I listen to the Rolling Stones, I'll get the image of Jason's manhood in my mind. Thanks Jay, you ruined it for me."

"Walk it off," Batman said. "Barbara stay with him, Dick come with me. We're going after Harley. Maybe she'll lead us to Bane?"

Barbara agreed, and Nightwing followed Batman down the corridor.

x x x

Damian thought fondly of his initial time as Nightwing Junior and he wondered after all this was over would he keep going with it? With Grayson back in the fold, there was no need for two Nightwing's. He donned the costume now because his Robin attire was still being repaired. Alfred hadn't sown the rips and tears after his latest tangle with a crazed lunatic.

Well, to be fair Jon Kent wasn't crazy. But he was very passionate when it came to defending his loved ones and sometimes his super strength got the better of him. He was still learning to control it. They had a fight just before the incident with Grayson being shot and Kent had been a little too rough, ripping Damian's Robin costume to the point it was a hazard to wear.

Damian had apologized after calling Jon Kent's father—Superman—sometimes too weak on crime in Metropolis.

When Grayson got shot, Damian decided to take up the moniker of his mentor, so Alfred designed a new costume for him, one based on Nightwing's. His father didn't like it and told him to keep to his Robin duties, but he refused, and became Nightwing Junior—a coined term come of his fans and the media began to call him. The condo he bought in Bludhaven with his father's credit card was still a good base of operations, but he didn't need it anymore.

"Maybe I'll give it to Grayson as a wedding gift," he said quietly to himself. "He's always like Bludhaven best."

Right now, however, he was stuck playing babysitter for Slade and his girlfriend, Pixie, who, in Damian's opinion, was not a bad looker. He thought back to that time in the underground paradise pool with those four women PK Constructs of Jake Handles, and even though he would never admit it openly, he had considered them quite endearing.

He leaned up against the side of Slade's car, arms crossed, and bored out of his mind. Bane's men were out for the count on the ground. Harley did a number on Slade's car and it was ready for the junkyard. Slade was a fighter, smart, and an expert in several different martial arts, but without a weapon, he was no match for guns and bullets without at least kevlar for protection.

Damian's mind suddenly jumped to the scene with Jake Handles and just before he stepped off the edge of the open crevasse on Treasure Island and plummeted to his death. Why would he commit suicide? Thinking back at what he said—how he thought the man probably had nothing left to live for—no person would do that unless they were mentally ill. And Jake Handles was not that sort of person according to the mental profile Damian had developed on the man. He now shared Grayson's feelings that it felt wrong.

He stared at a patch of dirt, lost in thought, and replayed the last scene of Handles life in his mind—and yes, Grayson did mention Handles was smiling just before he dropped. Something didn't fit right. Was Jakes Handles really dead?

Suddenly, he was knocked out of his reverie by the sound of something jammed forcefully into metal and he jerked his attention to it.
Slade had managed to find a crowbar somewhere and was using it to try to pry the back truck on his car open. But after several attempts, he just got angry, and just started banging it like a bat.

"Stupid piece of shit!"

Pixie tried to calm him down.

Damian couldn't help but smirk. Here was a renown mercenary pegged down to a simple man acting like he had lock his keys in his car. He didn't know why it felt so funny, but it made him chuckle.

"So, you think this is funny?" Slade said. Damian's smile faded. "Get over here and help me open this truck so I get my stuff out, or I'll make your face the same colour as your costume—black and blue."

"Now, now," Pixie said, trying to calm him down. "He's not to blame for this, Harley is."

Damian turned. "Yeah? I dare you to try it." But he went over.

He remembered what his father had said to him on the island when everyone thought Arkells had died due to his rash decision to toss the EMP bomb at Handles after Arkells was thought to be absorbed into his bio-matrix, and quickly chilled out.

He had brought his Robin utility belt and took out a small settling torch. He used it on a spot where it would be most effective before its limited oxyacetylene was used up. When he made a suitable hole, Slade inserted the crowbar and pried at the inner lock. After a couple of tries, the trunk popped open and he was able to retrieve his fighting gear, weapons, and helmet.

"You had that thing all this time and you didn't offer to help us?" Pixie said, in a disappointing manner.

Damian was a little taken aback by the tone of her voice. For the moment, she sounded just like his own mother—Talia al Ghul. And he felt a pang of regret for not helping earlier.

He was about to apologize, when suddenly, something burst through the back wall of Bane's building complex, and brick and mortar exploded in every direction.

Damian ducked when a brick came jettisoning straight towards him like a projectile at Mach speed.

And Bane came storming into view.

To be continued...

 

Chapter Text

The moment Bane crashed through the wall, and after he ducked from the brick that came flying towards him at high velocity, Damian quickly unsheathed his sword from its holster strapped to his back in defence.

He had brought his escrima sticks, hooked to the sides of his utility belt, but he preferred his sword. And against Bane, a sword was a more formable weapon to combat his massive size. With the escrima sticks, even if he was able to get close enough to hit Bane, Bane would just knock them away as if they were twigs of a tree, their shock, non-effective to his the size and girth.

Bane snapped his attention to Damian, as if he knew exactly who to target first, and then charged at him like a mad bull, rushing him like he saw a red cape taunted from a Spanish Matador shouting "Taro Taro!"

Damian bolted out of the way just as Bane brought his massive bulk down upon the spot where he once stood, his arms raised up high, his massive hands clasped into a giant-like hammer. The ground shook as his hands met the ground. Then he quickly turned and charged again, as Damian pressed his back against the side of Slade's car. Bane barrelled towards him, arms raised, and then brought them down hard onto the roof of Slade's car, just as Damian scooted out from his path of destruction.


If Slade and Pixie had still been in the car, they would have been instantly crushed.

Damian couldn't get in a swipe in with his sword and he was a little hesitate to do so.

His father's cardinal rule rang in his ears: No Killing.

But what was more important? Bane's life or his own? Death was not what it was cracked up to be, experiencing it once already. The blackness, the nothingness, the non-existence—it wasn't fun, and Damian had no desire to see it a second time anytime soon.

Bane's right hand and arm came swinging through the air at Damian's head, and Damian ducked. Despite Bane being a large man, he was surprisingly fast for his girth. But he wasn't fat and that gave Bane an advantage over his opponents, in addition to the strength of his Venom Drug. There was a time when Bane wouldn't touch the drug, it was poisoning him. But obviously, something had changed. And he was seen using it a couple of times over the past year in fighting Batman.

Damian swung his sword out of instinct and nearly sliced off Bane's hand coming within centimetres of his blade. Batman's rule was firm and there were exceptions. Damian didn't want to hear his father scold him if he managed to lop off one of Bane's extremities either. So, when his sword came close to any one of Bane's limbs, he turned it slightly so the blade wouldn't touch.

That didn't mean he couldn't hit Bane with the flat edge of the sword. The problem with that was Bane was so massive and muscular that hitting him could snap the sword on impact despite it being made of the finest steel. He had broken his original sword when he first came to live with his father in Gotham. Grayson had snapped it when they fought. But he had forged a better, stronger sword, afterwards, using the Batcave's equipment, and his new sword was even stronger.

He kept it sharp, but that didn't mean a mistake wouldn't break it.

If was up to him, he would attack Bane with everything he had, no restrictions, and kill Bane like Odysseus killed the Hydra in Greek lore, stabbing his body through. In Greek lore, chopping off a snake head would only give purchase to the growth of two more in its place. Bane was nothing like a Hydra, but he was a super-villain with powers not found anywhere else, and his Venom Drug gave him super-human prowess that could crush the very life out of anyone subject to them.

Damian bobbed and weaved against Bane's thralls, every in a once slapping Bane against his body with the flat edge of his sword, on bare skin, in taunt, which made Bane cry out. But the pain didn't last long and Bane attacked him again.

At one point, Bane reached through the air, and if Damian had been wearing his Robin cape, he would most assuredly have been caught. He was thankful that he was wearing the Nightwing Junior costume.

He was not into metaphysics, but sometimes the universe had a person's back. And took sides. Or, so that's what he believed. His grandfather, Ra's al Ghul, certainly believed in other-worldly forces.

Bane swung an arm again as if he was attempting to clothesline Damian, but Damian saw it coming and easily avoided it. But he noticed Bane's arm was moving a little slower than normal. And, unfortunately, it had been a ploy. Bane grabbed Damian with his other hand, clutching his sword arm, and pulled him up and off the ground, his legs dangling.

"Shit!" he swore.

Bane laughed, then: "You've always been an annoying little guttersnipe! Always pissing me off with your arrogant attitude. Now is my chance to get a little payback for the those times you've really gotten under my skin!"

Damian eyed Bane suspiciously. Something sounded off. He didn't hear Bane's voice very often, but when he did, it was always consistent with that familiar Spaniard flare. He was Mexican, after all. However, now, the accent sounded forced.

Suddenly, Slade entered the fray, and jumped onto Bane's back. He locked his arms around Bane's neck. But it didn't seem to faze him and Bane reached behind him, grabbed Slade by his shirt collar and flung him off like some annoying little insect. Slade was thrown to the ground and landed with a thud.

Pixie ran to Slade, asked him if he was okay. Slade nodded. "You son-of-a-bitch," she cursed Bane.

"Relax, old man," Bane said, ignoring Pixie. "Don't get involved, or you could get seriously hurt! This isn't your problem!" Then he addressed her, pointing: "Keep him back or else!"

Once again, Damian gave pause to Bane's voice. Out of all the times he had heard it, Bane always had a proud Spanish tone. His voice was unmistakable, it was gruff and heavy-bodied. But now, it almost sounded like he was trying too hard to get it right.

Damian dropped his sword and the tip landed just inches from Bane's right foot, which was mere coincidence. He had no intention of harming him, but he did want some answers to nagging questions he suddenly had.

Bane gripped Damian's right arm tight by the forearm, so he paid the beast in kind, and clutched Bane's arm, and wrapped himself completely around it like a monkey. Thanks to both his father and Grayson's training, he knew exactly what to do in a situation like this, and used Bane's own weight against him, forcing Bane forward and downwards.

Falling, Bane let Damian go, and he collapsed to his hands and knees to catch himself. Damian dropped and somersaulted to a safe distance, but the brute quickly got to his feet. The maneuver was mere distraction to get out of a hold and Damian ran and picked up his sword. Once again, they were in a standoff. Or, what some would say: a Mexican Standoff.

Bane stopped his feet in frustration and anger. Big wasn't always better, but his muscles were huge which added to an intimidation factor, spidering with veins, bursting out of his black, sleeveless tights.

He certainly looked like Bane, but Damian wondered about that. And yet, who else would it be? Only Bane had this kind of bulk and girth and used the Venom Drug to pump himself up. He was genetically modified to use the Venom Drug, according to Batman's records. Bane's history was incomplete. No one truly knew everything about him. But that only made him more dangerous.

"I've waited a long time for this, little one," Bane said, snorting bullishly in his mask. "It's time to pay for your misdeeds!"

"And what misdeeds would they be?" Damian said in defiance. "And what's with your voice? You have a cold? You sound like you're talking out of your ass." He then spoke some Spanish and called him something that every Spaniard would take offence to.

Bane tilted his head slightly as if the insult went right past him. Or, he didn't understand it? Damian recalled what he said, and he was positive he had said it correctly. If this was Bane, then he would be charging him right now in utter fury.

"You arrogant little prick! You know my Spanish isn't the best!" Bane's fake Spanish accent faltered. "Damn it!" he then said, as if he had said something wrong. Bane cleared his throat, the gruff tone returned. "Pequeña mierda!"

"Did you just call me a 'little shit'?" Damian laughed. "Oh, give it up! Who the hell are you?"

"Cállate!" Bane said. Spanish for shut up!

Bane then rushed Damian with his arms out-stretched and his hands in the form of claws. Damian shifted his weight as the massive villain came barreling towards him. When Bane's momentum forced him to over-shoot the mark, Damian kicked him in the lower back, causing Bane to topple over like a bumbling fool.

Bane got up and rushed him again in the same manner. Once again, Damian repeated the previous action, kicking Bane in the lower back when he missed the mark, shifting his weight to the side like a Matador avoiding a crazed bull. Damian knew, by experience, when someone was angry, they lost focus. So, that's what he needed to do with Bane. Make him lose focus.

"Taro! Taro! This is one time I wish I had my Robin cape. ¡Eres un imbécil!" Damian said in Spanish.

Bane growled and gnashed his teeth. "I am not an idiot! You're always calling me that!"

Damian stood proud. He now knew that something was really off. "You're sloppy, Bane. I've seen you fight much better than this. This is not like you. You've lost your touch. Once again, who the hell are you?"

Slade suddenly rushed in with his sword. As Damian was battling Bane, Slade had managed to gear up, helmet on.

Damian shouted for him to stop, but it was too late. Bane saw him at the last second and tried to turn to avoid Slade's blade, but the onslaught was much too quick, and Slade managed to penetrate Bane's tights at chest level and delivered a clean slice to the upper half, causing Bane to bleed. It also caused the chest button to drop down and practically detach itself from the suit.

Bane felt his chest and saw the blood. The cut wasn't too deep, but it was enough to do damage. Not necessarily to his skin but mostly to his tights and to the button that controlled distribution of the Venom Drug—which sent an immediate error signal to his arm bracelet. It began to flash red.

He quickly pulled off the bracelet and tossed it asunder. He threw it fast and through the window of an adjacent workmen shed where gardening tools were stored.


"Everyone, get down! BOMB!" Bane shouted.

There was a large explosion as everyone ducked for cover. Debris flew everywhere, showering down bits of wood, and other items. A spade even became a projectile and embedded itself fin the ground next to Damian's head. But it had cut Bane's left bicep first before it came to rest. Bane bled down.

Damian looked up astounded when he saw Bane had shielded him from the blast, tenting his body with his own. He stared up at the villain as Bane gazed down at him. He then looked down his own body. He had no injuries.

"Are you okay, Damian?" Bane asked, his voice gruff, but no longer attempting a Spanish accent.

With that seemingly familiar tone despite a little rough-sounding, and his real name spoken, Damian knew that this was definitely not the real Bane. He knew who it was now and he couldn't believe. The reediness and innocent frequency of the voice was a dead giveaway.

"Drake? Is that you?" He was shocked.

Bane tore off his mask and smiled. His face was larger and more muscular, Drake's body was huge, but there was a kindness about him that told Damian the truth. This could only occur if he was using the Venom Drug. But why? And why did Drake attack him?

"Thank goodness you're all right," Drake said, moving his body aside to give Damian some breathing space. Drake looked at the others, they also looked stunned by his bulkiness. "Bane forced me to fight you. He said if I didn't he would detonate the bomb in my arm bracelet and kill everyone."

Damian was still bewildered. "What the hell did Bane do to you? Is this permanent?"

"No…" Drake said, his voice trailing off.

Drake began to shake and he folded over, and his body, suddenly, began to deflate back to a normal size. Damian was taken aback by the sight of it.

Once the process ended, Drake exhaled heavily. He felt his chest. "Damn it! It always feels like I'm having a heart attack when that happens; when the Venom Drug initiates, too. I hate how it feels! I don't know how Bane handles it?"

Drake flopped onto his back and spread eagle. He looked completely exhausted.

"Um, Drake? Care to tell us what the hell is going on?" Damian pressed him. He stood over Drake laying in the dirt.

Drake looked up at him and smiled. He then explained everything in short. Then: "Bane has Steph, and has threatened to insert her in Dr. Helfern's experimental test chamber. If I didn't do this, he would've injected her with the Venom Drug." He turned over on his side and then got to his feet. With his upper tights ripped to shreds thanks to Slade, he took it off completely, leaving only the lower half. He felt his chest, saw his arm. The bleeding from Slade's sword had stopped, but the slice would be there until healed. And the nick from the spade was nothing to worry about.

"Stephane Brown has been captured?" Slade asked.

Drake confirmed it. "The last time I saw her, Steph was being taken away by Harley Quinn," he said.

"Oh, for christ's sake! Harley Quinn is involved in this, too? So, does that mean…"

"No, Joker's not here," Drake said.

"Good, I hate tangling with that clown," Slade said with relief. "He and I have had a few spats over the years and I never came out on top. He always has a trick up his sleeve even when I thought I won."

Damian smiled. "Drake, glad you're up and walking again," he said. "That last time I saw you, you were paralyzed from the waist down by your future self. Arkells is on our side now and he's been a huge help in your absence. But, you're the real McCoy."

Drake looked at him with a bit of confusion. "Um, did you just give me a complement?"

"Don't let it go to your head," Damian said defensively. He then turned his head, and saw Pixie skirting her eyes aside. He curiously asked: "Pixie, what's wrong? Why are you looking away from us?"

"It's not because of you, Damian," she said in response. "I'm really glad you're safe, Timothy," she then said. "I'm also very flattered, but…this is not the time nor the place for that."

Damian and Drake shared a weird glance.

Damian looked down and saw it. His eyes widened, and he gasped. Then said to Drake with a hint of spurn: "Oh, come on. Show some modesty!" He pointed to Drake's lower region.

Tim Drake looked down and saw it for himself. With all the excitement and relief that things were over, he never knew it had even occurred. Bane did say the tights stretched with expanding girth. He put his hands down to cover it, then quickly dropped down onto his butt and folded his legs in, clamping his arms around his legs.

"Oh, heavenly god! It wore off! I'm so embarrassed. It's a bizarre side effect of the Venom Drug. It automatically happens, I have absolutely no control over it," he explained.

When he finished explaining—sharing similar DNA markers with Bane and telling them the side effect of the Venom drug, for which Dr. Helfern used the drug Viagra as a substitute to replace a toxic derivative that would work with other muscle building proteins to create muscle bulk—Pixie put a hand over her mouth, laughing. Slade also laughed, his now helmet off.

But Damian didn't laugh. He didn't see the humour in it at all.

"Drake, I swear. Bane is going to pay for doing this to you," he vowed. "How long will it last?"

"It all depends on the potency of the drug, sometimes it takes hours to wear off," Drake said. He looked down, then breathed out a sigh of relief. He had relaxed. He smiled a large grin, then got to his feet. "Thank god! A pill Bane gave me to counter-acted the effects must still be in my system and glitched out for a moment." Drake explained what he meant about the pill.

"Good," Damian said straightly. He then explained that Batman, Nightwing, Batgirl, and Red Hood, all went into Bane's hideout to rescue him and to find Steph, since no one had heard from her or him. The damage to Slade's car was Harley's doing, he explained as an afterthought. "But they don't know the fully story," Damian then said. "And they don't know that you're out here."

"We have to find Steph and fast," Drake said. "And warn the others about Harley Quinn."

Damian tried using his communicator, but some time during the battle with Drake it had gotten damaged. So, they would have to enter Bane's hideout and find the others themselves. He just hoped the real Bane or Harley didn't get to them first.

To be continued...

 

Chapter Text

Batman and Nightwing hugged the wall on either side of a closed door. They heard rustling noises inside. When one of Bane's men burst out, Batman bashed him in the face with the back of a hand and he immediately went down, falling back inside the dark room.

"If my math's correct, the count's twenty," Nightwing said. "The only one's left are Bane and Harley Quinn."

Just then, Harley peaked out from a door a little ways up and the duo ran to it, entering the room. Nightwing went point, escrima sticks at the ready. He knew he couldn't get close to her with her large mallet, but at the very least he could whack it away when she swung it. Harley Quinn stood near the back of the fairly lit but empty room with her mallet in hand. They had effectively cornered her. And yet, she didn't seem fazed by it.

"Give it up, Harley," Batman said. "There's nowhere you can run."

"Tell us where Stephane Brown is and I'll put in a good word for you when its time to pick a cell in jail," Nightwing said.

Harley waved a finger in defiance, said: "Oh no, Bat Do-do's. I believe it's the other way around. There's nowhere you can run!"

Just then, something grabbed Batman's cape and yanked him back into the hall. It was Bane. He then grabbed Batman and squeezed him in a bear hug. Nightwing turned, went to help. Suddenly, Harley's mallet came swinging towards him from behind, caught the door and it slammed in his way, effectively shutting him off from Batman.

Nightwing grabbed the handle, pulled, twisted and turned, but the door was locked, the mechanism fused.

He snapped his attention around. Harley was ready, gripping the handle of her mallet. He still couldn't believe how easily she used it. Harley wasn't built like most women he had interacted with that had strong muscles, but she did have tight features, two of which stood out paramount. She was young, but she was built like an adult movie actress. Most people would call that very healthy.

There were the sounds of thunderous bangs on the other side of the door. Batman needed his help. Bane was a massive threat, both figuratively and physically. Batman was strong, but against Bane's Venom's Drug that enhanced his prowess, there was definitely strength in numbers.

"Open the door, Harley! I mean it!"

"Oh, I wouldn't worry about Batman, sweet-cheeks," Harley said with a Joker-esque smile. "You should be more concerned with me. Bane's going to have a little fun with Batman, while I'm going to enjoy myself with you."

Nightwing grit his teeth in frustration. "I'm getting tired of all this," he said. "It's just one thing after another, one villain after the other. Like I'm going through stages to get to the main boss. And right now, I wish I had a cheat to get to the end."

Harley cocked her head. "Oh, you can cheat with me anytime, handsome. What are you, like in your mid/late twenties? I like older men—you're experienced and very playful. I'm not innocent, if you know what I mean? And I have this fantasy where you're tied to a bed, stripped, and then I lick you all over, and over, and over, and over again. Do you like melted chocolate?" She winked at him.

Nightwing blushed and swallowed nervously. "You need some serious help, Harley," he said. "Some really serious help."

Harley chuckled short. "Look, with all due honestly, I'm so glad you're not dead. I would feel lost if I never got to see those sweet peaches of yours bound in those tights. You have the greatest butt I've ever seen on a guy."

"I've heard that before. I really don't know why people keep going on about my butt. I work out, I get it. Move on."

He heard slamming and the sounds of struggling and grunting from the other side of the door and he knew Batman needed help. He turned briefly. But that was a mistake.

Suddenly, Harley came running towards him. He raised his escrima sticks, but she kicked them both out of his hands, and then she coiled herself around his body like a snake. She shifted around to his backside and locked her legs around his midsection and her arms around his neck, then kissed him twice: once on the forehead and the second on the right cheek, leaving red lipstick marks. Not only was she clutching him tightly, but her pelvis was also thrusting against his backseat, humping him.

"Stop that!" he demanded.

He grabbed her arms, but they were locked so tightly it was like trying to pry steel out of place. Then he reached for her head, but every time he did, she would wiggle and move around like a slippery eel, using her quickness to escape his grasp.

Eventually, she returned to his back, and then suddenly began to rub his lower region with the back of her heel. "Rub, rub, rub…Oh, there's a submarine in the tub! Do most superheroes always go commando? Every heard of underwear? But I guess they're called skin tights for a reason, right? Ah, c'mon! Don't play hard to get. Give in. Trust me, no jokes. I could really rock your Wingding."

His eyes widened, he gasped. "Not appropriate, Harley," he said, and grabbed her, and managed to fling her off him.

Harley seemed to let go on purpose, letting him throw her. She twirled through the air like some graceful ballerina, landing on her feet. She then raised her arms in the air as if it was part of some aerobatic feat.

Nightwing picked up his escrima sticks that hadn't fallen too far away and gave her a look of disappointment. He twirled them, and then readied himself in a defensive stance. "If you were my daughter, I'd ground you."

She smirked. Then picked up her mallet that she had left leaned up against the back wall before she rushed him again.

To Nightwing, it had all the look of one of those "strongman" mallets found at carnival games. It operates by utilizing the lever where one end holds a puck attached to the tower and the other end is struck by the person or contestant using a hammer or mallet. He wondered if that's what it was fashioned from and redesigned to be so light in weight, but as strong as steel.

When he was a kid as a trapeze artist for the "Flying Grayson's" in Haley's Circus, he used to love this game, but he could never get it to the top because he was never strong enough. Once, he even complained that it was impossible. When he saw his brother Mitch do it for the first time, he knew all he had to do is get stronger and to build his upper body strength. Mitch said there was no trick to it, and there was no need for strategic thinking. All it took was a person's determination and strength of will.

He later found out that that was a fib and if the hammer didn't hit the target dead centre to make the "puck" launch upwards, and it was off even the tiniest bit off for it to hit the bell, then a person would fail every time. His brother liked to act strong in front of him.

Only now, Dick Grayson had to be the strong one, to fight crime, and to try to prevent what happened to his family, so it didn't repeat for anyone else.

Haley brought back some good memories from Dick's past, but it nearly cost him, as he narrowly missed being slammed in the face when her mallet came swinging through the air for his head. He ducked at last moment and he felt the rush of air across his face.

He rolled to a safe distance, but then he grunted. He felt heavy and he began to huff a little.

"You've gotten a bit slow, bird boy," she said. "Put on a few pounds? That's why I've sworn off meats and dairy. They add on the pounds. They also cause IBS, which produce a lot of gas. Some of the gas Bane has been producing lately would wish you to cut off your own nose." She waved a hand across her face. "Pew! Give me leafy greens any day!"

He could confirm that, especially when it came to Titus, Damian's dog, whenever Jason gave him pure beef.

Yet, Jason wasn't innocent in that department either. When push came to shove, it was debatable whether he or Titus were the worse gas producers. Jason enjoyed eating burgers and drinking beer, but bad eating habits eventually catches up to a person, and the body doesn't minst words. Once, when they were all watching wrestling, and eating nachos and other assorts snacks, in the entertainment room at Wayne Manor, during one of their more civil times when the family was on better terms, Jason ripped a loud one that sounded like a chainsaw. Luckily it was during a commercial break, but he cleared the room for a few minutes.

"Not my fault," he responded to the remark about his weight, "but I can concur with you on the gastronomic aspect of things." When he first got his life back, he learned he had put on twenty pounds and mostly around his waist, and he had more gas. Now it was down to thirteen pounds. But even a little bit of weight made all the difference. "Forces beyond my control," he then said. "But things are getting better. And the news of my so-called death in the media was greatly and most equivocally exaggerated."

"And I'm so pleased about that, because despite our differences, I think you're the sexist man in my hemisphere," she said.

Nightwing frowned. Normally, a complement like that would make him blush, but the moment she said the word 'hemisphere', everything Jake Handles did to him was brought back in a flash. Jake Handles hired a doctor to perform surgery on him and inserted two devices attached to each hemisphere of his brain to cause him to suffer painful amnesia in an attempt to destroy him and his happiness. Only when they were removed was he able to remember who he was without feeling excoriating agony.

He felt angry, but Harley didn't deserve it. So, he pushed it down to deal with the issue at hand. He'd deal with it later.

"As of right now, Harley, you've been placed on my naughty list," he said. "You need a good parental to help you change your ways."

She turned her butt to him and then patted herself on the left cheek. "Then please, spank me," she said with a large grin. "I've been a very, very bad girl. I know who you all are, thanks to Drakey-poo, so if I don't get what I want…"

Nightwing rolled his eyes. Or you'll do what? Reveal our secret identities? Not going to happen.

He briefly thought back to everyone the Batfamily had encountered with in this latest episode of villainy and knew too many people were learning their secret identities. Bane and Harley Quinn were the most recent.

Before he worked for Spyral, his secret identity was revealed by the Rogues to the world and he had to fake his own death.

Afterwards, he was forced to work for the Court of the Owls as Talon, blackmailed.

In the end, when things simmered down, and everything returned to normal—the world cast with a spell of amnesia thanks to a piece of technology that nullified every one of his real identity—he was back to doing what he loved, and back to being Nightwing.

That was when Tim Drake started to develop a very powerful short-term memory erasure spray. Bruce used something similar in the past, but Drake's spray eliminated the possibility of those memories returning.

"I have a strict policy of not dating younger women," Nightwing said, wiping the lipstick marks off from his cheek and forehead with the back of his right glove. "Especially those who should still be in school."

Harley frowned and stood up straight, mallet in hand. She gripped it tight, as if angry. "I'm not a kid, you jerk! I know a lot of things and could do so things to you that'll make your head spin." And then described a few in short.

Nightwing blushed, then cleared his throat. "That's some imagination, Harley," he said, a little disturbed by those descriptions. "When you're in jail for your crimes, I'm going to send you a case of soap, so you can wash out that dirty mind."

Harley smirked short. "Had a feeling you wouldn't like'em, you're so simple minded, and you prefer the humble-type—like that red-haired, stacked hussy, don't'cha? Just like men these days, all you care about are your own feelings and wants."

"Not true, Harley," he said. "People like different things, it doesn't make men disrespectful. You need to find yourself a younger man to engage with. Find a pen pal, go on a chat forum, enrol in a service for speed-dating. You never know what you'll find. As for us, Harley; not going to happen. In another multiverse, perhaps? Just not here."

"Well, if that's the case," she said, "I guess there's only one thing left to do then." She growled. "No woman likes to be rejected!"

She charged with her mallet raised, swinging hard and fast, and she aimed straight for his head—the sign of an angry woman when their feelings have been hurt. Nightwing arched his back and the mallet came floating over his chest. To him, it felt like it had a slow-motion effect, like that sci-fi movie when the protagonist was moving at such super speed that he could actually see the jet stream of bullets after they had been fired at him, avoiding them with ease.

And yet, Nightwing was just very flexible. He didn't need any super-speed to avoid the mallet.

The look on Harley's face looked like she had overextended her swing, using more strength than she intended, and it slammed into the wall, unintentionally, embedding itself deep.

She yanked on it, but she couldn't get it out. "Damn it! Just wait there, sexy-hero, I'll get it out, and then we'll continue playing," she said, and pressed a foot against the wall, gripping the handle and pulling back with all her might. But the thing was really stuck.

From Nightwing's perspective, it looked like she had gone through to another room and it was now trapped, locked in.

"Okay, Harley. You've had your fun," he said, electrifying his escrima sticks for intimidation factor. "No more tricks. Come quietly."

Just then, he heard another loud thump from out in the hall way. He had heard consistent sounds of bangs, thumps, and strugglings, all throughout his own battle with Harley, but now the fight between Batman and Bane seemed to have intensified.

Finally, there was a heavy thud. And suddenly, the door to the room burst open, and Batman stood at the threshold triumphant with Bane laying on the floor. Everything had happened out in the hallway and it had been brawn versus brawn. But unlike Bane, who used nothing but massive strength to fight with, Batman used intelligence and strategy. There are points on the human body that if they are targeted effectively, can weaken an opponent faster and cause a person to lose quicker than merely just going fist-ta-cuffs.

Nightwing smiled. But then Batman pointed and shouted for Nightwing to lookout.

Things seemed to happen in slow motion again as Harley pulled the trigger to what looked like a dart gun she had secretly hidden on her person. A dart ejected from the chamber and it came soaring through the air towards Nightwing's head. He dropped back, like he was performing a limbo move, and the dart flew over his head towards the doorway, and pass Batman.

Unfortunately, it was in the direct path of someone else, as he suddenly managed to recover, and stand. The dart penetrated Bane's tights and embedded itself in his stomach.

Bane grunted after the impact.

"Oh, oh," Harley remarked. "This aint gonna be good. That dart had the pure stuff, before the doc tweaked the formula for Drakey-poo."

But before either Batman or Nightwing had a chance to ask what she meant, Bane said, "Harley, you fool!"

And then it started to happen and fast. Bane clamped his hands over his lower mid-section and suddenly groaned as the front of his tights began to grow exponentially. Bane dropped to his knees. Then his muscles began to bulge and enlarge more, even inflate to grotesque, monster-esque and deformed size. "Help me! Help me!" he said in English, not Spanish.

"He looks like he's about to explode!" Nightwing said.

Batman acted quickly, opened a door to a room on other side of the hall, and pushed Bane through. The big man looked to fluster backwards and off-balance, his face and head completely unrecognizable, enlarged to enormous size, eyes bulging. Then Batman shut the door.

Within seconds there was a loud explosion, but it sounded more like a large balloon popping with a heavy echoing BOOM! Then the sounds of wetness, sputtering and spattering, with large items smacking the ground and walls like pieces of juicy meat.

Harley dropped the dart-gun in shock and put a hand to her mouth.

Nightwing then asked: "Batman?"

Batman took a moment and then opened the door slightly, looking inside. His boot stepping on something wet. He shut it quickly. He said, "Not a pretty sight. Best not to look."

Nightwing saw the blood on the tip of Batman's boot. No words needed to be said, it was obvious.

"Oh my god!" Harley said.

At that moment, a voice called to Batman from down the hall. Tim Drake came running with Damian, Slade and Pixie, behind. They stopped when they reached Batman.

"Tim!" Nightwing said, stepping out of the room when he heard the teen's voice. "Glad that you're okay."

Tim saw Harley just inside the room where Nightwing had exited. She looked shocked.

Tim then proceeded to tell everyone that Bane had Steph, and that Dr. Marx Helfern, the unconfirmed son of Dr. Karl Helfern, a.k.a. Doctor Death, was threatening to kill Steph by injecting her with the Venom Drug. Nightwing then relayed what had just happened here and that Bane was dead, although unconfirmed without looking. But after what was heard, it was next to confirmed.

"Dr. Helfern was working on eliminating and attempting to reduce the toxicity of the Venom Drug, substituting muscle enhancing proteins with stimulant properties found in Viagra, if you can believe that." Tim revealed, with a smirk, a little humorous after the fact. "I guess, with a double-dose of the stuff, Bane's body probably couldn't deal, with it and he popped by a balloon."

"What a way to go," Pixie remarked. "I wouldn't want to be the HASMAT team called in for that mess."

Suddenly, there was another larger explosion that came from inside the room where Bane had died. The walls shook and quaked, fractured and splintered—everyone went to protect themselves—and a piece of the door frame ejected itself from the impact, and went flying straight past Nightwing, and smacked Harley Quinn squarely in the face. She went down like a sack of cement.

Nightwing ran over and felt her neck for a pulse. "She's alive, but unconscious. But what the heck was that?"

x x x

Stephane Brown was a strong woman. So much, in fact, that when she heard the loud explosion inside Bane's complex, she went towards it instead of away. With her was Mariana Garcia, who rescued her from Bane's clutches. When Bane and company were distracted with other things, Mariana braved the risks, found her, and freed Stephane from a locked room, aware of the things happening. Bane's other women he brought in had now fled with all the recent activity, but not Mariana.

Mariana had told her that rescue forces were here for Tim Drake, Batman and others. When Mariana was saved from a killer stalking women on the streets in Gotham, for a moment, Stephane and Tim had to reveal their secret identities to her to get her trust them, so they would go with them. As she was timid, just new in America, legally, she was not trusting of others, afraid of being exploited. But she knew how to keep a secret, especially of those who rescued her life.

She told Stephane that this was her thank you, for rescuing her that time, since she was unable to help Tim previously.

They both hoped the explosion had nothing to do with Tim or anyone else of the Batfamily.

When Stephane turned a corner, her eyes immediately lit up when she saw Tim, half naked, but safe. And she called out to him. Mariana stayed back, but watched.


Tim whipped around and his eyes widened with extreme happiness. They both ran towards each other and hugged, wrapping the other in each other's arms. Stephane kissed him smack-dab on the lips. She didn't care who was watching. She was just glad that Tim was safe after everything Bane had put him through.

They both relayed their most recent experiences, Tim thanked Mariana, and turned to the others.

"Aren't you cold, Tim? It's mild for winter right now, but still…" she said.

"A little," he said, "but I'm much warmer with you now."

Nightwing stepped out from the adjacent room when he first heard Steph's voice calling for Tim. He relayed that Harley would be unconscious for a while, but she'll be okay. She would probably need some of Tim's special short-term memory erasure gas later on to forget recent events and secret identities, however.

Seeing the pair together, he said, "So, Tim, anything we should know?"

Steph and Tim gazed into each other's eyes and held the other's hands.

"We're back together," Tim said, smiling at her. She smiled back.

They held each other's hands up to their chests and to their hearts. "And this time, no more keeping secrets," she said. "If we need to get something off our minds, any problems, we're going to discuss things like normal people, and no more brooding."

"Agreed," Tim said with a smile.

That was a direct jab towards Bruce who always kept his feelings to himself.

Just then, Batgirl and Red Hood came walking down the hallway towards them. Jason was moving a little slow due to Harley playing punchbag with his genitals after a quick maneuver to counteract his gun-toting threats to her. Nightwing said something to the equivalent of "Here comes the wounded warrior", and Jason responded, "Would you like to get shot again?"

With everyone gathered together, information was conveyed all around. The events of the most recent happenings were discussed until all those in attendance were brought up-to-date. Dick and Barbara then revealed the big news that they were engaged. Dick had proposed to Barbara on Treasure Island amidst all the chaos that was taking place.

Stephane and Tim congratulated them. Mariana did likewise.

"Just so you know," Damian said to Tim, "Jason offered your services as flower girl."

Both Stephane and Tim turned to Jason.

"You are so weird, Jason," Stephane said.

Jason shrugged his shoulders. "So I've been told," he said with a crooked smirk.

Arkells sounded on the communication frequency.

Batman answered, putting a hand to his ear.

Arkells asked if everything was okay, that he heard a series of sudden explosions.

Batman replied, "Everyone accounted for, and alive. Mission accomplished. But one fatality, possibly Bane? Yet we won't know until Gotham forensics confirm. Suggest sending a copy of Bane's genetic profile from the Batcomputer to Gotham PD. We'll head home after a quick sweep of the grounds for any stranglers." Arkells acknowledged. And Batman finished, "Batman out."

x x x

Garfield Lynns was awake, but he was locked inside a dark room. This was where some of Bane's goons had put him, all because he had stupidly decided to join up with his motley crew and team with KGBeast. Both of which had betrayed him. Bane beat the crap out of him for doing his job and he found himself in this room like a prisoner ever since he'd awoken from that onslaught.

But he wasn't going to take it anymore. He went to the door and twisted the handle. Oddly enough, it wasn't tough to break. He opened the door and peaked out into he corridor. It was empty. He knew he couldn't leave without his gear, so he quickly searched. Luckily no one was about, as if they were pre-occupied with something else, and he found his stuff stored in room near by.

His body hurt after Bane's beating, but he fought back the pain and suited up. Once he was fully ready, and he donned his costume of his secret ego Firefly, he checked the fuel to his jetpack and then made his escape out into a back alley.

Just as he was about to blast off, he heard a noise, and Bane came bursting out another door close by.

An anger swelled inside Lynns. The man had beat him to a bloody pulp and every part of his body hurt. He'd survive, but this was his chance to get a little revenge.


Bane didn't know Lynns saw him fleeing. So, Lynns flew into the air and buzzed above Bane. Bane looked up, and gasped, just before Lynns delivered the ultimate payback.

Lynns mainly dealt with military-grade incendiary devices, including grenades, napalm, and smoke bombs, and usually carried with him either a flamethrower or a sword-like blade of superheated plasma to user at close-ranged, hand-to-hand combat, but with these close proximity to other buildings, neither one was an option.

So, he did the next best thing: He "bugged" the hell out of Bane, and used everything he could find to beat the man to a bloody pulp, not letting the muscle-bound villain even get a chance in activating his new and improved Venom Drug.

He was the fly in Bane's ointment.

To be continued...

 

Chapter Text

It was a week later when all the loose ends were tied up and reports were written. Dick Grayson, however, wasn't looking forward to typing his, because even after seven days, he still wasn't finished. There was just so much to put down.

Bruce wanted him to write down everything. All the his experiences that he had had, or could remember, when he had amnesia, and what happened during the time no one but Dick could describe. Especially those times when he hung out in bars, was playing pool, gambling, anyone he encountered, and the such. Anything that went against the grain of who Dick Grayson was.

Bruce said it was for Dick's psychoanalysis profile, just in case any mental issues arose at a later date that needed addressing. This way, there could be a reference as to why. It made sense, but writing it all down was a pain.

He had reservations about writing some things down, because at one point Dick felt he didn't want to return to crime fighting. He wanted a life without stress, and he remembered he had thanked whomever had shot him for doing so, because the act had taken the weight of Nightwing off his shoulders, even though he didn't remember much in being the crime fighter, only told. Barbara had told him about his past experiences and that was before Damian dragged him back into the fold. He, at one point, didn't even know his name, saying that he only knew what to call himself because people had told him later going by Ric Grayson, instead of Dick.

When they returned back from the mission battling Bane and everyone was in the Batcave, Dick hugged Damian, and thanked him for doing what he had done, bringing him back to where he belonged. Damian wasn't one who liked to be hugged, but he allowed it to happen. And in sequence, in Dick-like fashion, Dick hugged everyone in turn, thankful that he was with his family again. He also thanked Arkells, who was now a full-fledged member of the Batfamily.

Dick remembered Barbara had asked him what he thought he would be doing right now if he still had his amnesia, and he said, he would probably be wandering around aimlessly in the wintery cold. And he thought, through a distance memory, that he had had done that very thing, with someone…a friend he had made. But he couldn't remember who.

On another note, they later learned through Gotham forensics testing, that the man whom everyone thought was Bane, and who had exploded, was in fact Dr. Marx Helfern, that Tim told them about. Apparently, in reports written by Helfern, he had tested his own DNA markers and found out that he, too, was a good match as a beta-tester for Bane's Venom Drug. But never told Bane.

Why Dr. Helfern used the drug on himself and attacked Batman was a bit of a mystery. But after they had found Bane unconscious in the back alley, beaten to an inch of his life by someone who had fled the scene, it was hypothesized that Helfern had merely been a distraction to allow Bane to escape. He was possibly threatened with an explosive device much like Tim had described when he was forced to pretend to be Bane. It eventually detonated, adding insult to injury to Helfern's already blown-up body, caused by an excess overdose of the Venom Drug that Harley Quinn had accidentally injected him with by way of a dart gun meant for Nightwing.

Bane tried to escape in the chaos, but failed.

Stephane Brown's explanation as to why she and Mariana Garcia, a friend of her and Tim's from an old case file, had escaped his clutches was simple. Bane no longer had any use for her and left her locked up to later be found by Batman and company. She had been given her clothes back, she said, and Dr. Helfern said he would be back for her, but never did.

It was also learned that when Harley Quinn was hit by the flying piece of wood after the explosion that blew the remainder of Dr. Helfern's body to bits, dislodging itself from the door frame of the room Batman had thrown Helfern in, she had lost her memories of all events related to Bane. For a time, she couldn't even remember her name.

The same went for Bane. Before taking him to Arkham Asylum, he was given a heavy dose of Tim's short-term memory gas that erased his memory of everyone's secret identities.

There was one small glitch, KGBeast had escaped. He was not where Batman had left him, laying immobile with a broken neck after a fierce battle—being one of two snipers who originally shot Dick in the head in Jake Handles' assassination plot. The mercenary was half-android, so it was theorized, he may have been able to repair himself. Batman had not fatally injured him, as he thought.

With everything wrapped up, it was time celebrate, and a party was held in Dick's honour, or so he thought. Some people RSVP'ed unavailable, others sent cards of congratulations on his engagement and also welcome home.

Dick had been missing in action for weeks and there was a lot of talk since he was a member of one of the prominent family's in Gotham where he had been, so an explanation had to be put together about his hospitalization and disappearance, for those who didn't know, and for those, like the media, that wanted to know the facts. He lied, and said that it had been involved in a random drive-by shooting, and hence his head injury. But for those who knew the truth, they were glad he was back with all his memories.

One person invited to the party thought he saw Dick in Bludhaven acting really weird. Dick admitted he had not been himself after he was shot. He was in shock with what had happened and tried to get away from things to recover. But he did ask the person what he saw Dick doing, so Dick could fill in some gaps—to add it to his report for Bruce later.

The person said Dick had been seen once or twice with a beautiful black lady with dreadlocks, and they seemed close. Dick said he kind of remembered her from a distant memory and he would have to get in contract with her later. He'd tell her that he was okay, recovered his memories, and to thank her for whatever part she had in his recovery. If he had to guess her name, it began with a B.

After mingling with a few people, a small orchestra playing music in the background to serenade the guests, and plenty of alcohol served, although he wasn't a drinker, he finally got to catch up with his best friend in the world—Wally West, who lucky was able to attend. He did a "Dick Grayson" and hugged him in full view of everyone and he didn't care who saw.

He hugged tight, then said, "Missed ya buddy. Wouldn't miss this for the world. Unfortunately, everyone else couldn't come, so I came in their stead. Family only or not, I insisted I be here for your first Welcome Back Party."

"Thanks, Wally," Dick said.

He noticed his friend looked uncomfortable in a suit and tie as he stuck a finger in his collar and pulled it loose. He was known as The Flash, and he wore tights, so it was strange that a suit would bother him. Maybe it felt like a choker, Dick wasn't sure, but he felt the same way. He preferred his own black and blue tights and the freedom they brought.

And on the first night he got back to Gotham, he was swinging from building to building with his gun line. He felt so free. No more vertigo, as he once felt.

Dick wanted to tell Wally about the dream he had of Captain Cold when he was recovering in the hospital after his second surgery, but thinking back, he thought Barbara was right about how it may have been interpreted, and it was probably a factor of his mental state at the time. How his brain was telling him that his head was cold without his hair, shaven bald.

"I'm glad you're here," he continued. "Frankly, most of the people who attended this party, other than the immediate family, are elites. I don't know them. It's not much of a Welcome Back Party. More like a fundraiser. The Mayor is here, Commissioner Gordon is here, and a few politicians, and others, but none of our friends."

Wally nodded. "Okay, you got me. Tell ya a secret. Bruce told me about this fundraiser ahead of time and called off the crew, he forgot the fundraiser was booked on the same night as was your Welcome Home Party. There was no way to get out of it. That's the reason why none of the others are here. He says he's going to throw you a proper bash later when things have simmered down a bit more. This fundraiser is for the elites to help get money for the Rebuild Bludhaven Project Wayne Enterprises is undertaking."

"Why didn't he tell me? Why keep me in the dark? That isn't far."

"He said you'd probably wouldn't have come and he'd probably be right, so I offered to come to support you. He said he wanted the whole family at this fundraiser, said it presented a better appeal factor. I also heard that people are donating to the Wayne Foundation for Brain Research and Studies because of what happened to you, thanks to the doctor who fixed you up."

This was supposed to be a very special day, but now after hearing all this, Dick Grayson felt a little used.

"Also, it's all over town now that you and Barbara are engaged. Way to go. I knew you two would finally hitch the wagon. Next thing you know, they'll be a bunch of little Grayson's running around." Wally mused for a moment. "A whole army of…Nightwing Junior's," he laughed, saying the last part quietly and only within their earshot. "Hopefully, none of them will act like you-know-who."

Dick laughed. "Yeah," he said. "But kids are a ways off at the moment."

Wally briefly mentioned that he had spoken to Arkells, Drake's future self, and they discussed a few things about metaphysics and alternative timelines, and that Arkells could have been resurrected from the dead after Wally use the Speed Force to travel back in time to prevent an accident, the death of a little girl, from happening by Mirror Master. As time was not linear, ripples of change could have happened not only for future events but also in the past. Wally wasn't entirely sure.

So, he could have changed something, albeit it small, like stepping on a plant.

Time variances had a way of changing things. Hence, in this timeline, while things turned out for the best for Dick, in another timeline however, he perhaps, had been shot in the head, through and through, instead of Jake Handles faking it the way he did.

Dick agreed, and he was thankful for that.

They both also wondered if Jason had an alternative timeline, where he and Bruce had never made up? And what would he be doing right now instead of getting drunk at the party? Maybe being an outlaw someplace else and in some new funky costume. Jason had said once that he wanted to change things up a bit. He even sketched a few new ideas. But the moment Damian remarked that one of his ideas made him look like a Mortal Kombat reject, he opted to stick to what he had been wearing. He had several different helmets, so the one Bruce smashed to bits was just tossed.

Just then Wally elbowed him. "Speaking of your sweetheart…" Wally pointed to Barbara Gordon who was standing out on the open terrace seen through a set of open French Doors in the most beautiful long flowing gold dress. Despite it being winter, it was a warm night. "Go to her, lover boy. Your Princess awaits."

Dick thanked him, and walked through a crowd of people, saying brief hello's to those who spoke to him, congratulating him on his recovery and his engagement, and then walked straight out onto the stone terrace with its balcony overlooking the rear grounds.

Barbara saw him coming and smiled. She held a slender wine glass, half full.

A waiter came over with a silver tray and asked if Dick would like a glass of champagne or wine. He took a glass of champagne, one of four on the tray, if only to be courteous. The waiter left. He sipped it and the bubbles tickled his nose.

She chuckled at his reaction.

"I'm not used to it, I prefer beer," he said jokingly. She smiled and then sipped her wine. "You look stunning, Babs." He used the familiar nickname he always called her. "Wally explained to me what this party is really about. It's not for us. Bruce never told me."

"I sort of figured that since none of our friends are here, other than Wally," she said. "But I suppose we have to hobnob anyway."

"Yeah, if only to be nice. Besides, now that I'm back, and now that the media has had their full of me, I need to get back to into grove of things." He sipped the champagne despite the bitter taste. "But Alfred's told me I should take it easy for a while."

"You should. You're still recovering." She approached him and sifted her fingers through his hair. "Feels like silk. It seems to be growing in thicker than before, if that's possible. But you've always had thick hair. The doctor did a nice job in minimizing the scars, not like the first doctor who made things appear worse than they really were. Your hair is hiding them nicely."

He took her hand in his and then kissed it. "I know, but hair doesn't matter to me. You do. And even if I was bald, it wouldn't change how I feel about you. I love you, Barbara, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I wanted to say that properly."

He took the sides of her face in his hands and brought himself forward. Then he kissed her on the lips. She did not resist.

After what seemed like a long moment, he broke the kiss. Then he reached into his right pants pocket and pulled out a purple velvet box. He opened it and inside was a diamond ring. Barbara inhaled surprised as he slipped it on the third finger of her left hand.

"I know I kind of asked you on Treasure Island, but I want to say it again, properly, and I believe there's no better time like the present. Barbara Gordon…Will you—"
"Holy fugnuckers!" Jason's voice was suddenly heard, holding a champagne glass. "Look at that rock!"

Dick stopped and turned, he was about to go down on one knee when he heard Jason. He saw Jason wobbling slightly, obviously drunk. Jason liked to drink, and when there was free booze, he was never one to turn it down, especially when Bruce was fitting the bill. Wally had told Dick that Bruce said this party was actually a fundraiser. It seemed Jason was never told either. Unless he had been told and he opted to come anyway, just for the alcohol.

Jason was a heavy drinker and after he had a few too many he became really obnoxious, and more so than usual, according to Damian. Jason was watched closely when he attended social functions. If this was supposed to be an important fundraiser, why ask him? This question was on Dick's mind. But since he was a member of the immediate family, he had to come.

"Sorry, was I interrupting something?" His speech was a little slurred and his cheeks were red.

YES! Dick screamed in his head.

He opened his mouth to say it, but not as loud like he heard it in his head, when Roy Harper suddenly burst onto the scene, and grabbed Jason. "I'm so sorry, I lost him for a moment. Bruce asked me to watch him, looks like I failed. Jason, why do you have to drink so much?" Roy Harper then saw what was taking place, and said very apologetically, "Oh god! I'm so sorry! Come on, buddy," he then said to Jason, "let's go pester someone else. There's some cute ladies over there."

Jason said sure, and then Roy Harper said, in leaving, "Congratulations, Dick; Barbara. When I heard about the change in plans about the party, I was sworn to secrecy. Jason was told to come. He swore, he wouldn't drink so much. Damn lying fool."

Jason was turned on his heels and they both walked away.

Dick turned back to Barbara. She raised her brow and followed it with a sigh. They both felt drained.

Suddenly, they received another visitor. Damian walked onto the terrace. Unlike Jason, neither Dick nor Barbara were bothered by him, not engaged in their previous conversion. He was dressed prime and proper and it made him look very handsome, and even a little older. He held a crystal champagne glass in hand and took a sip.

"Hello, Damian. Aren't you a little young to drink alcohol?" Dick queried.

Damian smirked. "Father is being a little lax with the rules tonight due to the fundraiser. Relax, it just ginger ale." He paused with a sudden realization. "Forgive me, I'm disturbing you; I'll leave. You obviously wish to be alone."

Dick and Barbara smiled.

"No, please don't go. Join us," Barbara said. Dick agreed.

She showed Damian her engagement ring. He leaned in and nodded with approval. "Looks expensive, Grayson. Glad you didn't scrimp out, only the best for…" He cleared his throat. "Sorry, that was rude. It's very nice."

"Thank you, I love it," Barbara said.

Dick then put a hand on Damian's shoulder. "How many times can I thank you for everything you did for me, D? Saving me from a life of misery, isolation and amnesia, with your relentless pursuit to see me back home."

"Once more time shall suffice," Damian said, smirking boyishly. Dick then thanked him again and once more after that. Barbara also thanked him and gave him a small peck on the cheek. Damian's cheeks flushed. Damian restored his calm, and said, "If you'll excuse me. Father wants me to mingle with the guests and to try to drum up some more support for his charities. I wanted to say congratulations on your engagement. And, um, I know that idiot Todd called dibs on it, but…can I be the ring bearer?"

Damian gave Dick puppy-eyes.

Dick looked at Barbara, he then cocked his head slightly, and looked back. "Jason many be a little miffed about it, but we'd be honoured, Damian," he said. "And tell Jason, that he can be the flower girl instead of Tim."

"With pleasure," Damian said with a thin smile. "Although, I doubt Todd'll look good in a dress, and frankly, just the image gives me the chills," he further said humorously. He gulped down his ginger ale with a single swig of his glass, and then left.

"Speaking of Tim, I haven't seen him nor Stephane around in a while," Barbara remarked.

"I think they're spending some alone time together," Dick said. "I had that talk with him, and after he explained to me what happened, and what Harley had referred to, I understood completely." He briefly whispered what Tim had told him in Barbara's ear. After she had heard it, she snickered. She said, "Oh my!" And Dick agreed with her. "And I gave him something just in case something arose." He winked. "In fact, I once filled his wallet with condoms because he was dating this nice girl at the time. He was angry, but he got over it. I also asked him if he needed any Viagra from Bruce's hidden stash and he said no way!"

They both had a laugh.

Dick then had a wonderful idea. "Speaking of spending some time alone together, and since this party isn't for us, let's just leave it, and let Bruce hobnob with all these bigwigs on his own," he said. "I'm not a fan of these gatherings anyway."

"Dick Grayson, you've read my mind," she said.

They crossed through the crowd with their white and black penguin-like attire, as the fundraiser was known as a "white tie" event, which was another way of saying tuxedos, and made their way to the main staircase. Alfred was serving guests, and saw them leaving the party. Dick was holding Barbara's hand and put his finger to his lips as a quiet single to Alfred for Don't Tell Anyone. Alfred winked and nodded.

They made their way up the stairs and down the long hallway to a private area, where they burst through the door of a Guest Room—since neither had a private room of their own, both residing in Bludhaven—and took each other in their arms. They began to kiss.

They began to undress quickly and Dick locked the door. He didn't care if the Manor was filled with guests, all that was on his mind was Barbara, and the here and now.
With everything that had gone on over the past little while, and with the media hounding him over his recovery and return, questioning him about his "accident"—although the drive-by shooter was still at large—they hadn't had proper time together.

Now, he'd make all the time in the world for her.

Barbara crossed the room to the bathroom as he began to unbutton his shirt, then tossed it aside. He was now bare-chested. He momentarily looked at all the scars he had on his body and recalled how he had gotten a few of them.

Barbara was quicker undressing than he was, and said, "Let's finish what we started at the hospital, lover of mine."

He had to think about it for a moment, but then recalled that they had not finished their shower at the hospital, because Alfred had suddenly arrived, and caught them acting like horny teenagers. Just like now. Only now, there will be no disturbances.

"Lead the way, sexy dearest…"

She wiggled a seductive finger as she entered the bathroom with very little on.

He got his pants off, almost tripping over them, and quickly followed her into the bathroom with its en-suite shower, and shut the door.

To be continued...

 

Chapter Text

After Roy Harper spoke with Bruce Wayne, it was decided that Jason needed to leave the party.

Jason was beginning to act up, became obnoxious, raising his voice, and was disturbing others with his loud drunken mutterings. He even pinched one woman's butt and called her sweet-cheeks and asked her if she would be willing to have a little fun together. She had slapped him across the face, of course, but said no charges for would be laid out of respect for the occasion.

He apologized to Bruce profusely for allowing Jason to get so exceedingly drunk and lead him away to one of the guest suites upstairs, as per Alfred's direction.
When Jason was drunk, he got heavy. And it wasn't the first time Roy had to help him home from a bar or to his bed.

Why Jason drank so much, Harper didn't know. He wasn't an alcoholic, but he did drink a lot when he felt more stressed out. The question then Harper asked himself now was why did Jason feel stressed out?

Bruce had asked Jason to come to the party because he wanted the entire family in attendance. When he spoke with Roy, after Jason's behaviour, he thought it was best Jason become invisible for the rest of the function. Roy completely agreed.

Jason was known as the black sheep of the family. But after all the rotten things he did as a vigilante under the guise as Red Hood, he was, above all, still family, and Bruce still cared deeply for him even with all his failings.

After the incident with Penguin—Jason shooting the villain in the face and almost killing him and Batman and Red Hood's fierce fight afterwards—things had settled down. The fight had been more about disciplining a rotten child than the act of attempted murder. Batman's cardinal rule of no killing was to be followed and Jason had nearly crossed that line.

Jason always did what he wanted. His self-righteous attitude seemed to stem from feeling abandoned by Bruce years back, after Joker had killed him, Bruce never taking revenge, allowing the murder by a psychopath of a child to resonate unresolved. This then fuelled Jason into becoming a vigilante and doing what Bruce would not: dealing with criminals with a more permanent end result.

Jason was revived due to some chaotic cosmic event with subsequent dips in the Lazarus Pit for healing purposes. Harper also wondered if the healing properties of the Lazarus Pit restored Jason's memories back, basically reviving him metaphysically?

There appeared to be two ideas of thought on the subject. It was as if two separate things had happened to bring Jason back from the dead, similar to two alternative timelines intersecting to bring one event together as one. Alternative timelines confused Harper, but it was a fact that other universes existed, where timelines split somewhere, at one point, causing certain events to be altered.

He hated to think that somewhere he may be dead.

But after what he overheard in a conversion between Wally West and the newest member of the Batfamily, Arkells—he happened to be standing near by, and that was when he had lost Jason for a moment, apologizing to Dick Grayson afterwards—he wondered whether on some other Earth: Had Dick Grayson really been shot through the head? And he was either dead or had permanent amnesia? It was difficult to think about. And yet, he was glad it hadn't happened to this Dick Grayson.

There were times when Jason got seriously injured, almost fatality, but there was something special about him that gave off an almost god-like aura that made it seem that nothing could kill him. As if he was divinely protected.

Jason swam in the Lazarus Pit a couple of times, as had many of the other Batfamily members, and maybe during those times, they helped him re-develop a sense of self, to make the most of his second life? Most people would want to enjoy life to its fullest after being resurrected from the dead, but Jason had an overwhelming sense of justice that saving people gave him his zest for life.

Harper knew Joker referred to Jason as the "Husky Robin" because he was heftier than the others. Jason hated that name. But considering how larger in size he was compared to the likes of Dick Grayson or Tim Drake, Jason couldn't help genetics. He had to live with it. His muscles were stronger than the average person, so all that added strength would no doubt add to his heftiness.

"Okay buddy, you're completely drunk," Harper said, holding Jason up under his right arm. "Why'd you drink so much?"

Jason tipped, and Harper had to use all his strength to keep him upright as they walked through the hall on the upper level of the Manor. Luckily it was empty at the moment and no one witnessed this pathetic scene. The next time, Harper wasn't so lucky, and they crashed into a wall when Jason fell over. Harper took an elbow to the stomach in the fall and he swore.

"Oh man, I am so drunk," Jason said. "Hey Roy, when do you think was the last time I had sex?"

Roy's eyes widened. "Is that a question? We're getting into dark territory here."

Jason sputtered his lips. "Oh please, don't flatter yourself, and you're not my type."

Jason tried to stand, but then fell over and slipped down the wall on his butt. Harper was glad for the weight off him.

"Barbara's my type," he said. "But now she's marrying Mr. Goodie-goodie." Jason hiccuped, looked up. Roy saw a sadness in his eyes. "I've always had feelings for her, Roy, ever since day one when I became Robin. Oh, I've engaged in relationships with other women, but Barbara's always been numeral uno. Call it a boy's crush, which then turned into a man's crush. I'm still in love with Barbara Gordon. But don't tell anyone. I'm glad that Dickiebird has finally found happiness with her, they've been through a lot, and after recent events, he's lucky to have her, and to be alive…" He slapped himself in the face with a drunk hand. "But, she'll always be in my heart. I know, I have to get over her, she's gone, forever out of my reach, but…" Jason tried to get to his feet, his eyes widened from the sudden uptake. "But for right now, I think I need to lie down. Maybe this is all a dream?"

"Oh boy, you really have it bad, Jay. If the Lazarus Pit is said to cure all ailments, and love is a sickness, then my friend, you'll never be cured of this disease."
Roy put his head under Jason's left shoulder and helped him to the guest room Alfred told him about, then walked him inside. There was already a ready-made bed.

Suddenly, Jason tripped, and they fell onto the bed together, and Harper became trapped underneath Jason's bulk.

"Hey Jay, get off me, man—you're too heavy!" But it was no use and Jason began to suddenly snore.

Harper tried to push him off, but failed.

Just then, he saw a woman walk past the open doorway in the hall, and froze. There was a moment's pause, then she stepped back. She was a beautiful looking woman with slender hips and chestnut brown hair that dropped just below her shoulders, wearing a dark pantsuit. Harper preferred women in traditional dresses, but that was just his preference. But right now, and from the way things looked, probably in her eyes, and what she saw, the perception of them on the bed, painted a weird picture.

The unknown woman put her hands on her hips. "Way to go, boys," she said. "But you may want to shut the door."

The woman took hold of the handle and started to close the door, but Harper said, "No, wait! This isn't how it looks. Honest!" He smiled nervous. "My friend's just drunk, we're not…well, you know…we're not doing anything of the sort."

"Look, it's not a big deal, and there's no longer a negative stigma against it. In fact, I've seen a few videos where the action gets a bit raunchy, it's actually quite hot." She winked. "But you may want to pick a better venue for it instead of a fundraiser party."

Harper sighed. "Okay, this is getting awkward." He had no idea who this woman was, but she seemed to be enjoying his discomfort. "Can you please help me? My friend's unconscious and he's very heavy. It's getting hard to breath."

The women went over and helped roll Jason over onto his back next to Harper. Harper breathed out a sigh of relief and was thankful the pressure of Jason was finally off him. The woman extended a hand to Harper and helped him to his feet.

"Thanks," he said. "The name's Roy Harper, and this is my friend Jason. And you are?"

"My name is Dee-Dee. I'm an assistant to one of the guest politicians here tonight for the fundraiser." She looked at Jason. "Wow, your friend really had a lot to drink. He's lucky to have a friend like you to watch out for him."

"Yeah, I'm like his best friend. I'm also his designated driver, most often." Harper had had his own issues with excessive use of an addictive substance, namely drugs. But he stopped short of revealing any of that. She didn't need to know.

He pushed Jason over fully onto the bed and onto his side just in case he vomited. At least he wouldn't swallow it.

It suddenly occurred to him, and he asked, "Um, by the way, why are you up here? This is a restricted area to party guests. I was told to bring Jay up here because I know the family."

"I'm sorry, but I got lost," she said. "I was looking for a bathroom. Wayne Manor is big place. But to tell you the truth this is a perfect opportunity for something else." She then produced a small pistol from her pants pocket.

She shut the door and Harper backed off, hands in the air.

"What's the meaning of this? Who are you?" he asked.

"Like you, I'm also an old friend of the family, so to speak," she said.

She pressed something on her watch with her gun hand and suddenly her appearance changed, her previous look blitzed out, and she donned a completely different and shocking facade: One of short pink hair and more ghostly whitish skin from the normal pale.

She wore dark skintight clothes that showed off much of her slender figure, revealing much of her pelvic region, cupped with a buckle at her midsection, with her upper shirt pressed up and firmly against her breasts, held up with shoulder straps, exposing much of her cleavage through a transparent opening. She also wore small green gloves and black boots. To finish the ensemble, similar to that of someone else Harper knew, she had black eye shadow and pink lipstick to match her hair.

Across her chest was the strap to be satchel. This was most likely where she got her pistol from hidden within her pant's disguise.

Harper looked into the eyes of Duela Dent.

For a moment, she looked quite attractive for a criminal, then he said, "Oh my god, I thought you were dead?"

Duela Dent mused for a moment, said: "Me too. Or maybe I wasn't myself for a while and went off the radar? I don't know, but something brought me back. And my face is also back to normal after it was burned. I'm thankful for that, too." Harper didn't know what she was talking about, but it didn't matter. "I was told it may have had something to do with the Speed Force. One small thing changes something in the past and it has a huge rippling effect across the cosmos, or so people say. The Flash really needs to watch his footing when he time travels, stepping on a plant is all it takes. As you know, I'm not from this Earth. I'm from an alternative timeline, But I like this place, so I think I'll stay." She shrugged her shoulders. "Not like I can get back anyhow? I don't much like those idiots in the Suicide Squad, though. I perhaps to do my own thing. So, I left them. I went rogue."

Harper knew Duela Dent was psychotic. She also liked to call herself Joker's Daughter, amongst other names. She didn't necessary have a split personality, but she wasn't completely sane.

"Why are you here?" Harper demanded. "Do you plan on getting revenge on Jay for spoiling your plans to team-up with Joker? He told me all around it. But who knows what's changed in the timeline The Flash altered that think you remember?"

"In truth, I don't give a damn about that. I'm here on another matter. And I was given a job to complete before the real party begins." Harper asked her what she meant, and also, how she masked herself. But she only answered the second question, and showed him her watch. "I'm not sure where the technology comes from. Its similar to that Mexican superhero who can make human constructs—I bet it was developed from his ability and adapted? But who cares, tech is tech. By using the technology in this watch, I can go anywhere now without being noticed. It's a handy little thing."

Harper wanted to ask her again about her "party" reference, but before he could, Duela Dent reached into her satchel and produced four sets of handcuffs, then tossed them at him. They bounced off Harper's chest and dropped to the floor.

"Handcuff Jason Todd to the bedposts, then do yourself," she said, pointing the pistol at him.

Harper didn't make any sudden moves. He didn't want to sound an alarm and have her start shooting. When he saw an opportunity, he'd strike. He asked why she was carrying so many handcuffs, and she answered: "I'm eccentric, I love toys," as if that explained it in a nutshell. The word eccentric didn't come to Harper's mind to describe Duela Dent, but disturbed did.

He picked up a two sets of cuffs and went to cuff Jason to the bedposts. The posts were attached to either end the bed and were thin enough to have one cuff wrap around and lock securely.

Just then, she said, "Wait! I have a better idea. I'm thinking back to when I first saw you two. Oh, how delicious! Take off his clothes."

Harper's eyes widened. He looked at her as if she was crazy, the gun pointed at him with intent.

"I said take off his clothes, but only to his underwear!" she ordered. "Then handcuff him to the bedposts."

Harper hesitated, but ultimately did what she told him, minus Jason's jockey's, then handcuffed his friend to the bed posts.

"There, now what?" Harper said.

"Your next, take off your clothes!"

Harper's mouth went agape. He shook his head, and said, "No way!"

Duela Dent pointed the pistol at Jason. At that moment, Harper knew that she was in control. "Do it, Roy Harper, or I'll shoot Jason Todd, and have him bleed to death. Of course, he won't even know he's dying, drunk as he is. And if you think someone will come running after I take the shot, think again. This pistol is fitted with a silencer. It may not look it, pocket-sized, but I've learned a few things from by father. Harvey Two-Face in this time. Stealth is paramount to never giving yourself away. I can also shoot you, and no one would find your bodies until after this little shindig of a boring party. So, make your choice."

Harper put a hand to his upper lip to wipe off sweat. He felt the most uncomfortable and nervous he had ever felt. When he agreed to come to this fundraiser on Bruce's behest to watch Jason, he had no idea it would end up like this.

He removed his jacket, undid his tie, and began to unbutton his shirt. Duela Dent was a real psycho, just like her father.

Once he took his undershirt off and he was bare-chested, Duela said, after looking at each of his arms, "Nice tats."

On his right arm: he had a scorpion and a skull with series of other tattoos. On his left arm: he had a skull with angelic wings and what looked like serpents with other tattoos. He had been collecting them over the years.

Once being Oliver Queen's sidekick, aka, The Green Arrow, and calling himself Speedy, a friend once wondered if getting all those tattoos was his way of acting out? He had suffered with bouts of depression and had a problem with drugs—thanks to Wally, he was clean now—but he never put any stock in his friend's idea. People grew up, and developed different tastes, and this was his own personal style. And he called himself Arsenal now. He didn't regret getting any of the tattoos.

He said: "Thanks," if only out of courtesy.

He was then told to keep undressing.

Once he was down to his boxers, his clothes tossed aside, she said: "Now, cuff yourself to the bedposts on top of your friend." He protested, but was threatened with the pistol again. "You were so dead set against the idea before when I found you, now maybe this will give you a slightly different perspective. The Age of Misogyny is dead. Men and women are equal now, and the traditional thought of couples is a thing of the past. You may not like it, but that's how it is. Time to yank you out of your comfort zone."

"Not my thing, lady," Harper said, a little upset. "Trust me when I say, I'm as straight as an arrow, and my arsenal is for the ladies only!" With sheer reluctance, he crawled up on top of Jason despite his feelings on the matter, and cradled Jason's right bare thigh between his legs. He then handcuffed his left wrist to the bedpost. Duela then secured the other one.

Harper looked down at Jason, their bodies close together. Jason was snoring away. "Whatever you do buddy, just don't wake up any time soon, or you'll get a rude awakening," he said.

"Oh, how delightful," Duela said. "I saw what Jason Todd did, everyone saw. He pinched that woman's butt downstairs. He's such a pig. This is exactly what he deserves. And since you protected him, that makes you culpable to his actions and therefore a known accomplice. A little revenge never hurt anyone, or that's what my father always says." She laughed. "I wish I have a cell phone to preserve this wonderful moment. Two so-called, straight, secure men, in a position of complete and utter vulnerability."

"I'm thankful you don't," Harper replied.

Duela mused, her eyes narrowed as Harper watched her. She looked unsatisfied. "Mmm, there's something missing." She put her pistol back into her satchel, no longer needed, and placed her fingers into a square, as if sizing up a picture.

"Please don't look at me like that, you're making me feel uncomfortable," he said. He looked down. Jason had stopped snoring and was now muttering under his breath, possibly dreaming of something or someone.

She suddenly snapped her fingers as if having an epiphany.

Then she did something that was beyond reprehensible to any able-bodied person, especially against their will.

She first yanked off Jason's jockey's as he lay completely unconscious, unwilling to resist, then she pulled off, and quite forcefully, Harper's own boxers, until both he and Jason were completely naked.

Harper growled angrily, and Duela laughed. But he was more angry about the method than the indignity.

"This is tantamount to rape!" Harper said.

"No, you removed your own clothes. I haven't touched the goods. So, you can't claim inappropriate touching or sexual harassment. And frankly, you have nothing I'm interested in or that you can boast about. My tastes lie elsewhere." But then she looked closer. "Comparatively speaking, however, Jason Todd is much more pleasing to the eyes than you. He has more muscle tone. And I think you need to consider using one of those pumps they advertise that help with size. Average just won't do it these days."

Harper swung his leg in the air and tried to kick her, but she arched backwards and was able to avoid it easily, calling her a bitch.

Duela laughed. Then she crouched down next to the bed and leaned in close to Jason's ear.

She began to whisper something soft to him that only she could hear. Harper tried to listen, but he couldn't hear what she was saying. It was if she was speaking in dog whistle tones. When she was done, she looked up at him with a sinister smile. Whatever it was, it caused Jason to moan pleasurably, then lick his lips with moistness.

Something began to happen and Harper looked down between his legs. "No, no, no…" He looked at Jason. "Whatever thoughts she put in your head, buddy, get rid of them. This is not the place for that and I am not a woman!"

"Oh, Yes, I'm yours…" Jason muttered.

"I'll leave you to enjoy the situation, Roy Harper."

She kicked both sets of their clothes underneath the bed.

Duela Dent went to leave the room, switching on her device, reverting back to her conservative look, so she could return to the party downstairs, unrestricted.
"Hey, no! You can't leave us like this!"

Duela stopped, turned back. "You know, you're right." She went to a linen closest and took out a thin white sheet, then draped it over the pair from the shoulders down. "At least it will preserve what dignity you have left if anyone walks in on you." She winked. "I hope Jason Todd has really nice dreams. You never know, you may just enjoy it. He seems to need to relieve a lot of pent-up stress for whatever reason from what I saw. Good thing he has a friend like you to help him out."

She laughed, then waved, and left. Harper shouted through the door for her to come back, but she was gone.

Roy looked down at Jason and prayed to god that whatever seductive dream he was experiencing was over soon.

But when Jason leaned up and kissed him, albeit in a dream-like state, thinking that he may be his dream-esque, fantasy woman—being drunk that he was—Harper knew things were not going to end well.

"Oh, god, no!"

To be continued...

 

Chapter Text

Making love to Barbara was like a heavenly dream. When they entered the shower, not a moment was wasted, and they knew things were going to get hot and heavy even before things began.

Too much time had passed since the last time they had been together and ecstasy exuded from their loins like fireworks, bursting forth in an explosive outpouring of lust and rapture. The sound of the rushing water masked their loud cries of intensity and joy.

If music had been playing, and if they could hear it over the sound of the water, Dick figured the song: "Nothing Else Mattered" by Metallica, would be it. The song was perfect for the moment.

After their love making, they took each other in their arms and embraced, allowing the water to flow and caress down their naked bodies, saturating their hair, and covering them in warmth. Neither one of them wanted to leave. This was a perfect moment, a forever moment. After the act, they had a shower, and washed each other down, lathering themselves down with soap and oils—they were in their own world—washing the other's hair and bodies.

Then, their desires exploded once again in an exuberance of passion.

After everything they'd been through over the years, and just recently, this was the point when everything came together. To Dick, nothing else mattered, just like the song, except for this very moment. But when they left the shower, they weren't finished, and continued their love making on the bed, their bodies pressed together for a third time.

When finished, Dick laid next to Barbara. He knew above all else she was the love of his life. She had always been there for him, and now, he would always be there for her. Though thick and thin, through the calm and the tough. Apart from the engagement, that pretty much summed up how they acted while crime-fighting, too, and he smirked at the irony.

"So, what are you smiling about?" she asked, looking at his face.

He gave her a soft look. "Oh, nothing," he said. "Just wondering if I could borrow some of Bruce's secret stash for another round."

Barbara grabbed a pillow from behind her head and hit him in the face playfully. He smiled, and they rolled around on the bed, and then kissed. He was young, and at the moment, he didn't need any help to get him excited again.

"Woah cowboy, don't wear yourself out," she said. "Remember your blood pressure."

"If it had any effect on me after what we've just done, I would've felt it already," he said. "But yeah, maybe you're right." He leaned back and laid next to her. Since they were alone, they didn't need to worry about exposure and allowed themselves to be free.

Barbara leaned over and placed her head on his naked chest. "Your heart is racing, Dick."

"It's racing because you're with me," he said, and kissed the top of her head.

He cradled her in his arms and they lay there still for a few silence moments. But only for a few moments, like five-seconds, before Dick's stomach suddenly grumbled, breaking their interlude.

She playfully slapped him on the stomach. "What a way to ruin the moment," she said.

Dick laughed short. "Not my fault, I'm hungry. I just burned a lot of energy." He paused in retrospect. "I know its not for us, but I think we should get back to the party and be seen. It'll look bad if we're perceived as abandoning Bruce like that. It is a fundraiser for a good cause, after all. Two causes, actually."

Barbara sighed. "Yes, I agree. But can we just stay here for a little while longer? You feel so warm." Dick agreed to her request, and held her. He never wanted to let her go.

Fifteen minutes later, they were dressed again, and Barbara was able to fix her hair to almost the way it had been, and with a hair dryer. Dick had wondered if he had time for another shower, but then ultimately declined the idea.

This was one of two guest suites in the Manor. Neither one of them lived here—both had places in Bludhaven—but this was their room for the time being, and they had brought all the comforts of home when they arrived in the early afternoon for the party. Alfred had set up the room for them. Dick's old room had been converted into a sitting room.

If Dick knew prior that the party wasn't for him, he probably would have declined and stayed home, like Wally said. He and Barbara would be at either one of their places in Bludhaven, right now, and in the same situation, albeit sooner, and wouldn't have to leave the bed for anything. Regardless, he was glad he was with family and friends.

Over the last couple of days, he had had some weird and disturbing dreams—but not night terrors.

He had confided in Barbara that he feared his night terrors would return with his memories resurfacing, that he would recall all those people he had tried but was unable to save throughout the years. So they went back to the hospital during the week to speak with the doctor who had performed his brain surgery and was prescribed medicine for night terrors just in case it was needed.

The dream he had the night before last had to deal with yet another unknown, shadowy foe, much like the dream he originally had about Jake Handles, but this time the foe was not after Dick, it was after Damian—demanding revenge. But for what?

Dick knew it wasn't Jake Handles. The fall had killed his old Spyral colleague when he stepped back and plummeted into the open crevasse back on Treasure Island, despite not seeing a body. The crevasse was so deep that Jake had fallen into the darkness. The Maritime Authorities were now looking into the island's destruction.

He originally thought Jake Handles had some sort of trick up his sleeve and survived the fall, but he was kidding himself.

He was shaken out of his reverie when Barbara put a hand on his shoulder. "Dick, you okay? You blanked out there."

Dick smiled at her. "Sorry, just thinking back to our adventure on Treasure Island. I always liked that story, but now it'll have a completely different meaning for me." He turned to her. "In the end, a treasure was found. And my treasure was you."

"Oh, you're being so sappy." She reached up and began to straighten his tie, Dick could never get it right. "You're all thumbs when it comes things like this. You never could tie a bow tie right."

"I have an excuse, my fingers are numb." He winked. "But sooner or later, I'll be able to tie one knot properly, and give you my last name. But for now, my first name will suffice." He smiled boyishly, and Barbara smiled with humour at the innuendo, giving him a playful slap to the chest, as she finished trying his tie. "We're going to have to pick a date, maybe sometime in the summer."

"That's a little ways off, it's still winter," she said. "We have plenty of time. But we'll have to find another place to live when we move in together, preferably someplace in Bludhaven. I've grown more attached to that city than I have Gotham lately."

"I don't think we have to worry about that," he replied. "I have it on good authority that Damian is going to give us the condo he purchased with Bruce's money that he was using as an HQ for his 'Nightwing Junior' persona."

"Do you think he'll continue to wear the Nightwing Junior costume or go back to being Robin?"

"The persona did its job, so it'll be up to him. But frankly, I wear it better. And Damian is just not Damian unless he's Robin."

"Do I detect a little bit of jealousy in your voice, Dick? If things ended tragically, and your life was different—say you didn't even remember me, stuck with your amnesia—do you think he'd keep up the persona, and take up your mantle?"

"He probably would, with his own fighting style and ethics. But I think someone else would've also dressed up as me and used the Nightwing persona to enact some sort of personal vendetta, like a new Nightwing. I'm glad that didn't happen. I'm sure there are plenty of weirdos out there who'd think about it, though. I can understand cosplay, but vigilantism is where I stand the line."

Barbara gave him the strangest look.

"What? Do I have something in my teeth?"

"Um, Dick—who do you think Nightwing is? What we all do?"

Dick thought about it and then rolled his eyes. "Can I take that back? Let's just say I'm tired and leave it at that. Besides, I haven't been getting the best night sleep lately. I keep having these strange dreams. One about Damian, and then another, but not a night terror, about Wally and Roy Harper, and they both died at the hands of some crazy lunatic."

Barbara blinked shocked. She asked him to describe more. And he did, what he could remember. He could only recall some images, and the emotions he felt in regard to the dream imaginary.

"Lucky it was only a dream," she said. "Sometimes you scare me with your dreams. In a dream analysis course I took online, just because I wanted to—I had a few dreams I wanted fully explained and the internet wasn't helping—it revealed that dreams can have a deep meaning in the real world. It's a way for the subconscious to convey a message to the conscious mind that the brain doesn't understand yet using abstract imaginary. Some say dreams can become true under the right circumstances."

"Or the right villain," Dick added.

Over the years, they'd battled some powerful villains with abilities that would shock and surprise some. Like Scarecrow, who used hallucinogenic drugs to manipulate the mind and make a person's deepest, darkest fears, and nightmares real.

But Dick didn't think his dreams were anything sinister or prophetic. His dream about Captain Cold was proof of that. He didn't come out of his brain surgery completely unscathed, however, any brain incident or accident was profound, and there was some lingering effects. They were mild, but they were there, and he was dealing with them with medication. His blood pressure for one.

He was asked to get a check up every three months with an MRI every six months to see how he was healing. He felt violated with Jake Handles doctor, but at least he had the support of his friends to help him get through it. That was important.

Just then, his cell phone began to chime. And at the same time, there was a knock on the door to the room.

Barbara said she would answer the phone, while he answered the door.

Dick wondered if it was Alfred checking up on them. It had been over an hour since they disappeared from he party.

But when he reached for the handle and began to open the door, Barbara gasped, and shouted: "Dick! It's Wally, he says…"

Suddenly, a man barged into the room. With him, he carried a large rifle, and he quickly struck Dick across the face with the butt.

The last thing Dick heard before dropping to the floor was Barbara screaming his name.

x x x

He opened his eyes slowly, peaking through slits, noise of worried mutterings from people around him seemingly brought his mind to bare from its dormancy, and the moment he did, Barbara immediately kept him quiet.

He found himself in the main living room, the den, along with a dozen other people, all gathered together and sitting on the floor, surrounded by masked men, and all wielding, collectively, guns and/or rifles, hovering over them like guardsmen. Handcuffed behind his back and on the floor near a wall, Barbara assured him that things were calm for the moment.

She whispered some information to him and was told that the guests at the party were separated into different rooms to better guard them, most being housed in the Ballroom, overhearing it from someone else.

The Manor had been invaded by people who appeared to come out of nowhere and using some sort of cloaking technology on their watches. They had infiltrated the party pretending to be guests, totalling approximately twenty marauders, and they all wore black, their eyes masks hiding their identities—not unlike Nightwing's own mask.

The call received from Wally just before the man burst into the guest room door was a warning to them of the sudden takeover.

Unfortunately, Wally had been subjected to a burst of knock out gas that rendered him unconscious, similarly that was used on other guests, to keep resistance back. He was handcuffed and bounded tightly on the floor in the same room.

Unbeknownst to the marauders, supposedly, even The Flash could be rendered inert.

He asked Barbara if she knew where "the others" were, but she didn't know. Either they were hiding, had been caught, or were separated with other guests. And if the others had been apprehended, or even gassed, they wouldn't be able to fight back as they normally could under their secrets guises for fear giving themselves away, or were like Wally, and unconscious.

Suddenly, the architect to this house invasion walked out from an adjacent room, and the shock it brought was beyond belief. Of all the people to orchestrate something this brazen, no one expected it to be Edward Nygma aka The Riddler.

He was dressed in a dark green question-mark designed suit with darker gloves, wearing a bowler hat, and carrying his Q-Staff, his mask matching that of his marauders. Was Riddler here to steal valuables like a common thief? His crimes were normally intelligent criminality capers. His Q-Staff was of particular interest, because it was much more than it appeared. It was a powerful rifle, custom made. With a single shot, it could take out a man at ten paces and blow a hole straight through. It was new.

"Ah, Mr. Grayson," Riddler said, noticing the wakeful hero. He crossed the floor of the large den and came to stand over him like a god. "You've finally returned to us, good. I was afraid my man had hit you too hard and caused irreparable damage, or even worse, brain haemorrhaging, knowing, of course, that you are still recovering from brain surgery after been recently shot by some thug."

It was no secret about his accident, the media had done several stories on the shooting, so Riddler knowing of it was no surprise.

"Thanks for your concern, Nygma," he said straightly. "I'm recovering well. What's the meaning of all this?"

Riddler put up a finger. "First, you must tell me your secret. How did you manage to incapacitate my man in the hallway, whereas, another one of my marauders had to subdue you further? The blow delivered to your face should have rendered you unconscious immediately, the bruise starting on your left cheek is evident of that. I wonder if you can fill me in on this curious feat? I don't see the beautiful Barbara Gordon acting untold like some vigilante? Unless you are some meta-human in disguise?"

"No, and I don't remember…"

"Of course, seeing you may have amnesia of the event. But a blow to the head will do that."

Riddler was a smooth talker. He had the ability to sell ice to an Eskimo and make him pay full price for it. And he was one of the deadliest members of the Rogues Gallery.

If he was ever to reform, he would make a great ally and a good detective. He'd probably even set up shop somewhere with his own detective agency. And, as alternative timelines went, he may have been reformed somewhere. But not here and not right now.

"A vigilante in my mind has always been a fool," Nygma said, "and he or she, believes death is something that happens to someone else, never for them to experience. But, how naive, the fool is. Heroes often fall in battle, even the simplest of ones." He tapped the side of his head, as if to indicate Dick Grayson's injury, and the shooting incident. "You are a hero in your own rite, Mr. Grayson, once an officer for the Bludhaven Police Department. And Bruce Wayne tries to be a hero to the masses, this fundraiser is proof of that. A fundraiser to help rebuild Bludhaven. While I applaud the effort, the end result will be futile, and the criminal element will eventually return and erode the city once more. There's always someone waiting in the wings to build a proud criminal empire."

"Why are you here, Riddler?" Barbara then asked. "Please get to the point."

Nygma stood up straight like a proud peacock. "Yes, of course, Ms. Gordon—or can I be so bold as to refer to you as Mrs. Grayson from this point on, as you two are engaged—be it slightly premature? Let me offer my congratulations on your upcoming nuptials."

Nygma waited, but neither one responded to Riddler's felicitations. He cleared his throat, and shrugged.

"Very well, suit yourself. Be rude. As for my presence, I'm here under the hospice of another and he has paid me handsomely for this venture," he continued.

"He even provided all the tools for it to be a success. For reasons of his own, he says he knows you. But he has not brought me into the loop. The mystery astounds me and I do enjoy a good riddle."

Nygma paused a moment. "Here's an easy riddle: What makes a person both an acquittance and a friend simultaneously?"

It was constructed to be simple and not one of Riddler's best. But maybe it wasn't meant to be? And meant to be solved quickly?

Barbara said: "History."

"Correct," Nygma said, slightly mockingly. "But any fifth grader could have guessed the answer."

Riddler shifted his weight and extended a hand towards the entrance way of the room. The focus was to one of his men standing near by holding a silver hand gun. The man fingered the watch on his right wrist with his gun hand that every one of Riddler’s men wore, and image of the gun-toting marauder blitzed, masqueraded by clocking technology that had been used by all to invade the party, disguising themselves—this man masking his real identity by way of a third disguise. And his real identity was soon revealed.

Barbara gasped when she recognized the man. He looked just like he had on the beach of Treasure Island when he came out to confront Dick under the guise of his former self, untouched by the explosion that had burned eighty percent of his body.

He wore all black clothes, and had a black waist belt with two gun holsters on either hip, one gun holstered, the one in his hand. He inserted the gun into its empty holster on his left hip. He also had shoulder straps which appeared to harness his own set of escrima sticks, crisscrossed behind his back.

"Oh, my, god," she said. "Jake Handles…"

"But you're dead? We all saw you die!" came Dick's shocking toned voice.

"Hello, Dick," Jake Handles said with a friendly smile. "Surprised to see me?"

Dick's face was aghast with disbelief.

"We were partners in Spyral, a once secret organization of espionage and intrigue, now defunct, disbanded, and criminalized," he explained to Riddler, when inquired. Riddler nodded, apparently satisfied to learn the riddle of their known relationship. "I was also presumed dead, but it was from my own predestined design. Now I've risen back to providence just like the holy prodigal son! Hallelujah!" Handled cleared his throat, chagrined. "Forgive me for that rather crude humour."

Riddle nodded.

Handles directed his attention back to Dick and Barbara. "Illusion is a magician's best trick and death itself can be itself an illusion. A magician, or rather, someone with my intellect, can make people believe what they want to see as truth. Much like your friend, Arkells, who had me believe it was his body and abilities I absorbed. I, too, had a trick up my sleeve. When I dropped down the crevasse, I was able to escape through an underground passage to one-man submarine. So, when the island exploded, I wasn't on it." Handles smirked. "Kind of cliche, I know—like a super villain unknowingly escaping a secret agent whom he believes he has killed, then returns with a grande plot of revenge. But when you don't confirm a kill, these things come back to bit you in the ass. Isn't that one of the things you told to me when you had your adventures? I knew things were going south, so I choice to fake my death much like you did to become a member of Spyral, after other events forced you do to so."

He gave a sideways glance to Riddler, it was obvious he hadn't told him everything, keeping some secrets to himself.

Handles continued, "I have now adapted my Photo-Kinetic technology to permanently restore my previous appearance with a more youthful look, a glorious new me." He smiled gloatingly. "You seem to be doing quite well, Dick, no more toque." He brushed a hand through his own dark hair, as if to mock Dick's that was growing back after his brain surgeries. "I also came back with something else that I had been working on while on the island, something very special. But I'll keep that to myself for the time being."

"Harvey Two-Face didn't erase all the data of your sonic device?" Dick pressed.

"Unfortunately, Harvey Two-Face was successful in that endeavour. But I will rebuild it." Handles tapped his temple. "Everything is in here. I'll reconstruct the device—even better, and stronger, than it ever was. Then the world will be my oyster."

Handles gave a look to Riddler and Nygma took two steps back. Handles stepped forward and then grabbed Dick by his shirt collar, yanking him up face-to-face. Nygma swung his Q-Staff upside down and stopped it short in front of Barbara to cease any retaliation.

"However, there is still the matter of my revenge," Handles said firmly. "You're stubborn, Dick, even at dying. You may have survived my plot to destroy you, but now, I'll do things right. I hate leaving things unfinished, that's what OCD does to you."

Suddenly, Jake Handles began to pummel Dick repeatedly with his artificial hand, delivering punches, with devastating brutality and crushing blows. With Dick's arms handcuffed behind his back, he was unable to defend himself.

Barbara screamed for Handles to stop, but Handles was relentless.

Riddler grabbed her arms and held her back when she tried to intervene, clutching her tightly. Nygma was surprisingly strong, not like other times he had battled with members of the Batfamily. Nymga was strong mindfully, but when it came to his body, he used others to physically fight. But his hands felt like vice grips, as if he had been doing strength-training, and she couldn't break free.

"I've been awaiting a long time for this, Dick Grayson," Handles said, beating him bloody. "And this time, I'll get what I want! And what I want is for you to die!"

To be continued...

 

Chapter Text

Barbara Gordon screamed for Jake Handles to stop!

She struggled against Riddler's grip, but neither he nor Handles would relent.

Dick was defenceless with his arms handcuffed behind his back, his face smeared with crimson red, his clothes saturated in his own blood. He was on his knees and his shoulders were pressed down by one of Riddler's men. It had only been a minute since Handles had started pummelling Dick when it was requested someone to hold him down for Handles to continue with both fists.

It was a cold, abhorrent revenge. Nygma mentally warranted that Handles at least let the man defend himself.

"Stop it! Stop it! You'll kill him!" Barbara shouted. Her eyes were streaming with tears and Nygma had to hold her tight. He held onto both her forearms. Nygma was much stronger than he looked. "He only recently had brain surgery! He's still in recovery!"

"He's obviously a very fast healer," Handles remarked, swinging, and delivering a right cross to Dick's face. Dick recoiled, spitting out blood. "A normal man would spend months recuperating from such an injury." Handles punched Dick with a hard left fist. "But, of course, he is from strong stock. I do admire him for that much, at least. Circus folk normally are enigmatic."

Dick Grayson couldn't defend himself, and every time he tried, even attempt to move his legs and to bring up in defence, they were kicked out from underneath him. He tried again, but Jake Handles jabbed Dick in the ribs and winded him. He continued with an onslaught of punching Dick's face with punch after calamitous punch.

"Stop it, please!" Barbara begged.

Nygma was merely an observer to the brutality, but even he was disgusted by its display. He was a scholar, not a brute. When schoolmates in his younger years chatted about their heroes, boxing and wrestling were popular at the time. Sports were not his forte. His heroes were the characters he read in books; stories that made the reader think.

He had a nickname in school: "Bookworm", because he always had his nose in a book. He loved to read and he derived his strength through knowledge which he later forged into a formable criminal career. He thought about pseudonyms when he began his career. Bookworm was taken. But since he was more fascinated by riddles and puzzles, so opted for his current non-de-plume instead.

The deeper answer of why Jake Handles hated Dick Grayson still eluded him. What history was shared between them deserved evaluation, but he wasn't going to allow this barbarism to continue. And murder was beyond his current repertoire.

"Mr. Handles," Nygma said, emphasizing his partner's name, "that is quite enough! Whatever point you are trying to make, I believe it has been achieved, albeit through this presbyterian, old school punishment. You have bloodied young Richard Grayson's face to the point of being unrecognizable, and he may need reconstructive surgery. This, on top of his accident, may hence cause him to have a relapse in his most recent bout of amnesia. Cease and desist immediately!"

Nygma wondered how that sounded to Handles. Had that sounded weak? Was he going soft?

Jake Handles straightened and flexed his bloodied knuckles. He flicked his left hand to ease the hurt. His right hand was artificial, so no pain came from striking bone. Riddler's man released Dick Grayson and he dropped to the floor unconscious. Nygma figured the poor lad had probably already succumbed the darkness far before this moment.

Barbara Gordon pulled against Nygma's grip and he released her without restraint. She ran to Dick Grayson and cradled him in her arms, repeatedly calling his name to wake him. He was obviously lost and unconscious.

Reaching into his jacket, Nygma pulled out a light green pocket handkerchief and handed it to Handles to wipe his hands. Handles took it and did so. But the moment Nygma saw the blood stained fabric, he told the man to keep it, disgusted by the sight. Besides, he knew blood was one of the worse substances to get out of silk.

Handles did not say thank you. Instead, he looked down at Dick Grayson, and said, "Payment rendered, I'm satisfied." He then told Riddler's man to take Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon away and put them someplace secure. "Take them to the Ballroom," he then said. "It will give an example to whomever wishes to be a hero. And while you're there, as well, check on young Damian Wayne. Make sure he's very comfortable in his handcuffs. I don't trust that kid as far as came throw him."

Riddler's man gave Nygma a small glance as if to receive permission to follow Handles' orders. Riddler nodded, giving the man the silent order, along with an additional quiet directive with a twitch of the mouth. Riddler had secret singles for his men just in case speaking wasn't an option. The man understood. Along with him, another man followed, carrying a rifle, just in case there was any trouble.

Barbara Gordon protested, demanding Dick get immediate medical help. But it was denied. The Wayne family had a history if defiance, so Nygma wanted to be sure the pair got to their destination without incident and two men will suffice.

"He'll get the medicine care he needs at his final destination, Mr. Gordon," Nygma then said, pulling out a personal cell phone. "I'll message ahead. I always have a medical person on hand just in case of unforeseen circumstances. He is in he Ballroom."

Barbara somewhat thanked him.

Then they left, and the villainous pair stood aside the other in the den. The mutterings of those who witnessed the horrid display were heard in the background of Nygma's hearing, but he ignored their fearful noises.

Nygma looked at the blood that covered the floor at his feet. He took a step back as it began to spread outward. He then turned and gave Jake Handles an unpleasant stare. "Was that really necessary? You still haven't told me why you hate Richard Grayson so much? You were comrades-in-arms in an organization named Spyral, yes. But what did he do to you to evoke that?"

Handles crumpled Riddler's handkerchief in his artificial right hand and squeezed it tight. He didn't cover his metal hand with a glove and showed it off as it was a war wound proudly. He returned Nygma's unpleasant stare. "I heard your riddle to Grayson, the answer is the same," he said cryptically. "What happened between myself and Dick Grayson has fuelled me all these years. My arm is living proof of this and it is the only part of my disguise that remains exposed from my palpable appearance, I designed it that way. I've wanted revenge for such a long time, and now, I have it. He will not recover from this. The end game is finally mine!"

Handles felt the left side of his face, seemingly ruminating about something introspectively. He had a small spatter of blood on his cheek, he no doubt had gotten it when he kept hitting Dick Grayson.

To Riddler, it gave the appearance of an Indian Warrior's badge one received after a large kill. But after what Nygma had seen, it was disgraceful and dishonourable. Nygma considered a real warrior destroys his enemy with wit and cunning, not with brutality.

"Why not just put a bullet in his head? If he is that much of a threat to you, then just kill him." But Riddler knew the idea would only to antagonize Jake Handles after what he had attempted prior with the assassination plot. He smirked. He found it amusing. "But you favour him for his abilities, don't you? Spyral comrades of a feather, but he was your better. Envy is a harsh mistress. Despite your history, you can't kill him outright. He's too good for that. You tried to take away his most prize possession: his self-identity. Kill him from the inside. I understand now why you chose the path you took. However, fate was unkind to your endeavours."

Jake Handles eyed him harshly. It was as if Nygma had said something highly offensive. "Lightning never strikes twice, my astute friend," he said short, then dropped Riddler's handkerchief to the floor at his feet.

Nygma looked down. He watched as the handkerchief fell into the pool of blood and began to soak up more of the red crimson, adding to its already present amount blood from Handles hands, until the light green of the fabric became a dark purple.

Handles then walked away.

Riddler stared at the handkerchief for a moment more and then with two fingers, he pinched at an unbloodied spot and picked it up carefully as not to get any on his glove. Ideally, he would not allow such an expensive piece of material to be so haphazardly discarded like trash. He handed the handkerchief to one of his men, after following Handles out into the hall, and told the man to put it in a plastic bag to keep, to clean later, if able. His man nodded and immediately left towards the kitchen to fulfill his instructions.

Jake Handles appeared reflective, stopped, and then turned around to face Nygma. "Edward, I wish to apology for that rather barbaric display back there. My hatred for Dick Grayson is rooted deep..."

Handles then gave Riddler a brief history of his time in Spyral and what Grayson had done to him, telling him about how an explosive device had prematurely gone off, forcing him to recollect himself, and to fuse with an artificial intelligence of his own design in order to survive. Eighty percent of his body had been burned in the explosion and his left leg and right arm had to be amputated and replaced with mechanical replacements. He then called himself Annex, inspired by his new life.

Additionally, he also told Riddler what happened on Treasure Island with Batman and his family.

Once the tale was over, which took less than five minutes with the brief account, some Riddler knew, most he did not, Nygma stood in awe, finally with an understanding of why Handles hated Dick Grayson so much.

Dick Grayson had been a secret agent that called himself Agent 37, and they were both members for this organization that once policed that world. And Dick Grayson was assigned to kill Jake Handles for treason and the murder of countless innocent people, including several Spyral agents and the alike. That aside, the story of Spyral and that on Treasure Island seemed to disconnect from each other by the way Jake Handles told Nygma. And it was obvious he had left something out like an important piece of the puzzle.

Nygma mused. "And the technology you provided us and used here to infiltrate the party came from Spyral?" Handles nodded. Riddler looked at the watch around his right wrist. He was able to disguise himself as a guest and walk amongst the sea of elitists without anyone batting an eye. "Remarkable," he said impressed. "The world still holds many baffling secrets. But why was Dick Grayson recruited? He comes form a family of trapeze-artists, nothing special there. His time as a Bludhaven peace officer still would not warrant such an invite into such a highly illustrious organization unless he was persuaded by uncontrollable forces?"

Handles smiled. "You are partially correct, Edward. Allow me to show you something extraordinary, something so unique and dazzling that it will bewilder you for years to come," he said. "That will fill in the gaps of the story I told you."

"I'm intrigued. Show me."

Just then, Duela Dent walked down the main staircase. Riddler noticed she dressed quite ostentatiously in greens and pinks, like a street-person. He recalled her history briefly. She was once associated with the Joker, calling herself Joker's Daughter. She also claimed other parentage that ultimately proved to be false. Duela Dent even claimed to be his daughter. That was both insulting and laughable. Parentage played a roll in a child's upbringing and he already had a rather unique child of his own genetic aptitude.

She had joined Jake Handles in this venture by chance.

She was psychotic, and returned onto the scene in a blaze of glory after an interlude from the public eye. Media clips showed her shooting up traffic on a busy city street, wearing what looked to be like human skin or a face mask, stretched across her face.
When Jake Handles saw her, he recruited her for a special entrepreneurship to curb what she called her boredom. She hadn't been herself for a time, she explained, but something triggered a need to get back out there, or so Nygma was told.

"Ah, Duela, wonderful to see you. I trust you dealt with wrangling up any and all stragglers?"

Duela Dent smirked. "Oh, I did, indeed." She told Handles what she had done to two men who were getting intimate in a guest room—she didn't provide any names, as if irreverent—and that they would not be bothering them. An exaggeration of sorts, Nygma wagered.

She also said she wished she had a camera to capture the wonderful moment.

Nygma knew the girl was crazy, but putting those guests in such a compromising position was outlandish and unnecessary. But as long as they are out of the way, it was purposeful, he supposed.

"I even snooped around a little while you two were down here and found this gorgeous diamond ring just sitting on a dresser in another guest room," Duela said. "It must be worth a lot!"

She looked at it admiringly, bare-handed, putting it up to the light. It was around the third finger of her left hand. Nygma suggested it may belong to Barbara Gordon. Dick Grayson and she were engaged. The pair were found and apprehended in an upper guest room, perhaps the same one. She must have taken it off for some reason?

"So, what are we doing here? Rob the guests?" Duela smiled big, slipping her glove back on to secure the ring. It appeared it now belonged to her. "Frankly, I'm already so excited about this gig. With Joker in the slammer, I need to taper off some of his pent-up energy and do something. Joker always had the most interesting fun, but this is fun, too!"

"Relieving the guests of trinkets was not my intention for coming here," Handles explained. "I have a loftier goal in mind. This is why I needed the both of you and the man powerful to get to the ultimate prize. A treasure so valuable it's worth its weight in gold."

Nygma was intrigued, but he was also a little bothered.

Recalling the guest list that he had memorized, there were a few people missing from his count—Bruce Wayne being the prominent one, and also Timothy Drake being another, along with his girlfriend Stephane Brown. He was told that the youngest one—Damian Wayne had been hit by the initial gas attack when they stormed the Manor during the takeover. He had been taken to the Ballroom with other guests. But where were the others? They could cause trouble if they were not sought out.

It was fortunate that the family dog had already been secured elsewhere during the event or it may have caused some difficulties.
Handles escorted both Nygma and Duela to the Wayne Study. The minute Nygma stepped inside, he was struck with awe and amazement at just how grandiose and wondrous it was, exhibiting a richness and a love of literature from floor to ceiling, set within an atmosphere of comfort, enlightened perfectly, and arranged to an expert's keen eye for opulence.

He saw Handles and Duela venture over to an old grandfather clock, but his interests laid elsewhere. He sifted through a set of shelves with dozens of rare books, beautifully bound. Suddenly, he found a very subtle title that he had being searching for to add to his own collection for a long time, but he had not been able to find it, especially in such pristine condition.

It was aptly named The Riddler's Daughter, but it had nothing to do with kinship.

It was a story about a wondrous timepiece that history had forgotten, that made its way through the annals of time, and a man's quest to unravel its rare and intriguing secrets. The man called the feminine looking piece his "daughter" because he treated it with such care, that it was like a member of his own wayward family. The story was so masterfully written that Nygma remembered he had actually cried when it ended so sorrowful and tragic. There were only a limited number of copies left in existence.

The author never wrote another book. And it never got the attention it deserved, in Nygma's opinion.

Nygma had read it only once through an acquittance who allowed him to borrow it. But it was such an explosive story, he wanted it for his own and offered to buy it. The man refused, and then, mysteriously, one day, he was assaulted on the street, and robbed of the book—not my Nygma. It was an eighteenth century masterpiece, a rare book indeed, like the very first edition of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, or the original manuscripts of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Nygma knew knowledge was power, and if a person had the information needed to defeat one's enemy, then brute strength, much like what Jake Handles demonstrated with the much impotent Dick Grayson, victory was easily won without barbarism. However, in Nygma's mind, knowledge came from strife and struggle. A lesson must also be learned for victory to be worthwhile.

So, when Jake Handles told him about his battle with Dick Grayson, he felt little sympathy for the man's cause. Jake Handles had made his own bed and he was forced to lie in it, as the axiom went.

Nygma went through more titles, plucking them out, and piling them on a desk near-by. He would take them when he departed.
"Are you finished rummaging for rarities, Nygma?" came Handles voice. It broke through Nygma's kid-like excitement.

Nygma turned with five books cradled in his arms accompanying his Q-staff. He was trying to balance them all at once. He saw both Handles and Duela standing at the far end of the room near the grandfather clock. He had momentarily lost himself with the books. He put them down with others he wanted on the desk, then cleared his throat to quell his ado.

"Forgive my excitement, I enjoy great literature," he said. "I'm swept back to my childhood whenever I see a book from my youth."
Duela put her hands on her hips and her body swayed slightly to the left in a curious, provocative manner. "You must've been picked on a lot when you were a kid; a regular bookworm, a nerd. How many times were you beaten up?" She smirked.

Nygma took offence to her tone. "More times than I can count, my dear," he said. "How many times have you feared motherhood?"
Duela's eyes widened, and Handles had to hold her back when she tried to rush him. Handles grabbed her tightly.

Nygma smirked amused.

Duela growled under her breath. "Why you! Are you saying I sleep around?" She swore and called him and f'ing pig!

"If the slipper fits, don it," Nygma replied sarcastically with a throat chuckle, denoting the contrariety with the story of Cinderella. Then said: "There is a movement happening around the world where women demand the same respect as men. There is a problem with this movement. Women already have the same rights as men, constitutionally. But there are radicals that claim indifferent, and its women like you who set back Women's Rights, wearing such impetus clothing that entice men. Women have a right to wear what they wish, but a more conservative approach is warranted. I have no doubt that you were able to seduce those two men with your womanly charms, but I'm sure right now that they regret even looking upon you. You may have scarred them for life."

"Yeah, well, they deserved it!"

Handles held onto Duela tightly as she pulled against his grip, she desperately wanted at Nygma for his flippant remarks.

Suddenly, a long dark curtain that draped one of the two large buttress windows in the Study wavered, and all three of them turned to look, forgetting their immediate conflict.

Duela's struggle against Handles momentarily halted, her fight with Nygma put aside. She brushed off Handles' hold and put a finger to her mouth for overall silence. As Nygma noted before, a few guests were missing from the captured list, and someone, unwittingly, may have just given themselves away, hiding behind the curtain.

Duela reached behind her back and pulled out a gun that was tucked into her pants and then tip toed to the window. She originally brought a satchel, but somewhere along the line it had been discarded, no longer needed.

She gave a collective glance to both Handles and Nygma, slowly gripped the curtain. Then she yanked it back with force, gun in hand, pointing it at the someone who was behind it.

Suddenly, a cat jumped out at her and Duela had to restrain herself from spontaneously pulling the trigger, startling her.

The black cat jumped on the desk, spilling and scattering Nygma's collection of books onto the floor. The animal paused, but then dropped down, and ran past Nygma, towards the door. It stopped at the threshold and took a moment to look back. Then it hissed something equivalent to a cat's displeasure, before departing, bolting out into the hallway.

Duela returned the gun back to her pants behind her back.

Nygma then remarked, "It would appear someone was missed in the sweep, Mr. Handles. A black cat crossing your path is a sign of bad luck according to superstitious lore."

"It's just some damn cat!" Duela said. "Don't buy into those stupid things."

"Buying into those stupid things is not the issue, my benighted consort," Nygma said, turning to her. "There is precedence to every superstition throughout history, much like there is a kernel of truth to every exaggerated, inflammatory lie."

Handles sighed. "Pay the animal no mind, Nygma," he said, agreeing with Duela. "The cat won't be a bother to us. My research noted, before this operation commenced, that Damian Wayne had a number of pets, one being a dog and a cat. Oddly enough, he also has a cow and a turkey. All rescued animals."

"Noble," Nygma remarked.

Handles then looked at Duela seriously. He instructed her to find Timothy Drake and Stephane Brown. "They are the only two left that are unaccounted for," he said. "They don't appear in any of the usually places…"

She nodded, and then left the Study.

Nygma asked about Bruce Wayne.

Handles then said that Bruce Wayne was not an issue, despite Nygma counting him on his own list of missing, unaccounted people. He told Nygma that the head of the Wayne family was part of the surprise he was about to show him.

Nygma nodded. "Very well," he said. "You again peak my interest. Show me your grande sorpresa."

To be continued...

 

Chapter Text

Walking through the hall of the lengthy Galley on the Main Level of Wayne Manor, the Ballroom was their final destination. It was where a large culmination of the party guests were being held by Riddler's men, as it was more easily securable.

Two men escorted Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon.

As Dick Grayson couldn't walk under his own power, one of the men with Barbara Gordon, carried him, both talking an arm over their shoulders, dragging Dick between them. The other, the gunman, stayed alert, and a few steps back, following them.

"This guy's a lot heavier than I thought he'd be," the man, carrying Dick, said. He was a little thinner than the man holding the rifle, about fifty pounds lighter. The man with the rifle was more muscular, and when it came to hauling Dick through the gallery, it was he that dictated instructions, seemingly because he held the weapon.

"What's he made of…lead?"

"Pipe down, you dolt," the other said. "We only have a little ways to go."

Suddenly, Barbara tripped, and both she and the other man carrying Dick, fell to the floor in a heap. Dick dropped like a stone onto the other man, and the man let off a small Oof! when he became winded.

The man with the gun cocked the weapon, then grabbed Barbara, and said, "If that was some sort of stall tactic, it didn't work, sweetheart. There's no one around to save you or your battered boyfriend. He's out for the count and will be for a long time."

The other man pushed Dick off him and got to one knee. "That guy, Jake Handles, the one with Riddler…he really beat this guy to within an inch of his life, didn't he? He's going to need some serious medical help after all this."

"The Wayne family butler has in-depth medical training," Barbara said. "His name is Alfred. He's an older, English gentleman…"

The gunman spoke up. "I know him. Sorry, but he's out for the count. He was one of the first we hit with the knock out gas when we took over this place. All the hired help are all locked up in the Servant's Scullery, minus the knives, of course. Anything that could be used as a weapon was removed. They can bake a cake, they just can't slice off a piece. Pick him up and get moving! Any medical attention can be rendered in the Ballroom. Those guests in the den, where you were, will be moved there soon enough."

Suddenly, a soft thumping was heard from a staircase leading to the upper level near the beginning of the Gallery hall. No other noises masked the sound, so it could be heard clearly. They all turned and looked. Moments later, a black cat came bounding down, and came to stand on the hardwood when it reached the bottom. Then it turned and looked at them.

"Alfred!" Barbara cried.

"Alfred?" the gunman said. "But I thought that that was the butler's name?"

Alfred's eyes turned wild, as if he was seeing a terrible injustice befalling one of his family, and suddenly ran towards them, like cats do, not in a line, but in a catatonic zigzag, using his claws to dig deep into the wooden flooring for traction, and then leapt at the man who was on one knee, latching onto his face, and sinking his fangs deep, biting his nose.

The man cried out in pain, and shouted, "Get it off! Get it off!" grabbing at Alfred, trying to pry the cat off. Alfred clawed at the sides of his face as well, ripping skin, and generating streams of blood.

Barbara then took the opportunity, and used the distraction in her favour. She got to her feet and delivered a high kick to the gunman and knocked the rifle of his hands. She then performed a roundhouse kick to his head and knocked him out cold.

Alfred Pennyworth, the cat, for whom Damian paid homage to by naming a stray cat he found after the Wayne butler, continued to fight like a true Wayne. Barbara stood over the pair for a moment enjoying the humorous cat versus man battle taking place. The man begged for Alfred to stop. Alfred kept scratching, clawing, and biting, as if his life depended on it. When it came to protecting their masters and its family members—especially those they liked—pets could be very protective and vicious.

After a few more moments, Barbara decided it was enough, and gave the man a quick karate chop to the back of the neck, and laid him out. Alfred dropped with the man as he felt backwards. After the man was down, Alfred backed off his face, and then sat on the unconscious man's chest. He had an unusual personality and Alfred fit in perfectly within the Wayne household.

The cat cocked his head up and looked at Barbara, his tail waving behind in a happy way.

"Good boy, Alfred," Barbara said. "I'll be sure to tell Damian to give you an extra helping of fishcake and catnap when this is all over." The cat meowed pleased. She then looked down at Dick. "And I think someone deserves an Oscar for Best Performance."

Chuckling came from Dick Grayson laying on his stomach, face first on the floor. He then turned over, and suddenly his appearance changed, and Arkells emerged, without a mark to his face, completely unscathed of injury, and no lingering blood. The entire affair of his beating had been a trick. "I think I deserve more than an Oscar. Wait. What's more prestigious than an Oscar?"

"Believability in one's performing arts," came a mysterious voice. Like a phantom of the night, Nightwing materialized into existence, using an adaptation of Spyral's cloaking technology.

When Bruce had Dick infiltrate Spyral after his secret identity has been revealed to the Rogues, suspecting nefarious dealings, such as murders and assassins of prominent politicians and the like, and other questionable things, by the organization, Dick brought back some high-tech with him after Spyral fell. One of which was Refractive Cloaking Technology, which used a method of mirror magic to cloak a person from sight using the surrounding environment to hide. Spyral used something similar to hide their faces from people. This, instead, did the same job, but for the entire body. Nightwing had been watching everything, but was invisible.

Jake Handles, obviously, used something similar, unlike his photo-kinetic technology, to infiltrate, and takeover the Manor.

Alfred jumped when he saw Nightwing appear like a ghost and bolted down the hallway frightened. He scurried around a corner.

Nightwing opened his mouth, wanting to alleviate the cat's fears, but it was too late. He knew he'd get it for that. Cats were notorious for hiding for days when they didn't want to be seen and to dish out payback when a person least expected it.

Alfred Pennyworth, the cat, knew Dick Grayson was Nightwing, but his sudden appearance just frightened the poor thing.

Arkells got to his feet, and Barbara went over and hugged her husband-to-be. "Better watch yourself, Dick," she said. "When he comes to his senses, and realize that it was you who scared him, Alfred will on the warpath."

"I know. He can be friendly, but he can also be one vicious pussy. Where's Jason and Roy?"

"Roy took Jason to one of the Guest Suits on the upper floor to sleep off the booze," Barbara explained. She said that Alfred had told her. "But that was over an hour ago. No one has seen either of them since."

"Fine," Dick said. "Arkells, disguise yourself as one of Riddler's marauders and go check up on Roy and Jason." Dick picked up the gunman's weapon. "I don't like using guns, even when I was with Spyral, but take it for dramatic effect." He passed it to Arkells.

Nightwing looked behind him. The Ballroom doors were closed, then back. "Where's Riddler? And Jake? I still can't believe Jake's alive, but I knew something was up when he smiled just before dropping into that crevasse on Treasure Island. Escaping in a one-man submarine is just like him. I heard everything when he told you in the Den when he was beating on you, Arkells. I wanted to stop him, the effect of the blood coming out of you was so real, I really thought Jake was hurting you, but I held myself back."

"I know, I could be an actor," Arkells boasted.

Nightwing smiled. "You looked exactly like me; scary," he said. "When we concocted this little scheme of you being me after I was first struck—the old bait and switch—I didn't know it would work. You came running down the hall a split second after Riddler's man hit me and then clocked Riddler's man out." Dick felt his left cheek, a bruise was beginning to emerge. It smart when touched. "Lucky, that second guy came, so we could implement the plan. Just don't pretend to me without my permission, okay?"

Arkells smirked. "Don't worry, it's not like I'm going to take over your identity, be a new Nightwing, or anything like that. But just imagine if a woman chose to take up your mantle, say, like Barbara here? How would you feel about that?"

"That would never happen," Barbara said. "No one would believe I was Nightwing. For one thing, I have breasts."

"Good," Dick said, with a pursed smirk. "And that idea is ludicrous. The last thing we need is another me running around confusing people. I already had that issue with Jason, dressing like Nightwing. He even went so far as to build his physique like mine at the time. He went a little crazy, beating people up, soiling my reputation. We straight things out. But he almost killed me in the process."

"Does Jason take any medication for his mental issues?" Arkells asked.

"We all hope so," suddenly came another voice. "If not, I'd like to shove a few Valium down his throat."

They all whipped around, and saw Damian coming down the hall from the open Ballroom double doors. He yawned, and stretched his arms. In the background, he saw the guests stirring with Riddler's men out cold on the floor.

When Damian approached, he said, "That stuff they sprayed everyone with was wicked, but I managed to fake being unconscious until I knew what was truly going on. But, I guess some of that stuff got on my clothes." He yawned again. "I managed to take them all out. The Ballroom is clear. The Mayor and Commissioner Gordon are fine. So, where do we start? Who's ass do we kick?" He punched a fist into a palm. "I was watching things out here through a slit in the doors. I didn't want to get involved or that guy with the gun would start shooting. Was that Alfred running away? You scared him, didn't you, Grayson? You're going to get it later."

"Yup, I know. He's just like you when it comes to payback: vicious and unrelenting," Nightwing said with a thin smirk.

"Better buy him a whole load of cat treats, or a cat tree to climb, or something really special to get back in his good graces, or you'll be sorry." Damian said it not as a suggestion, but more like instructions to follow.

"Oh, I will," Dick said, "or they'll be a nice little present waiting for me on my pillow, or someplace in my clothes, or shoes, in retribution. He's a lot like you, only you don't hunt mice when you're on patrol. Or, maybe you do? You are a bird of prey."

Dick smirked, but Damian gave him an incredulous look.

Dick continued: "When you first brought him home, I kept finding dead mice every where I went, every time I visited the Manor, even one in my bed when I stay here. You didn't give him a name at first, so I didn't know what to call him. Until you did, I kept calling him Foncé Chevalier, or Noir. Not sure if he liked that? He kept swiping his paws at me, or leaping at my stomach, and bouncing off."

Barbara chuckled, Arkells smirked.

"Cute," Arkells said. "Foncé Chevalier—Dark Knight, and Noir—Blacky. Both French."

"Clever, eh?" Dick said. "I once called Bruce 'Blacky'', but he didn't speak to me for three days after."

"Alfred probably didn't understand what you were saying, Grayson. So, of course he'd do weird stuff like that," Damian explained. "I thought about calling him Blacky, but it didn't suit him, despite being a black cat. Besides, giving you things are tribute. Cats do that to offer gratitude to those they like or to gander attention from others. It's a sign of respect, and it's also a sign of Look at what I've done for you, praise me! He probably thought you didn't like him because you kept calling him weird names in a language he didn't understand, so he kept giving you things, wishing for a better one. But, if you ever piss off a temperamental cat, you'll see a whole different sign of them, and you'll find something nasty in your bed, worse than a dead rodent. I ticked Alfred off once and I regretted it. I crawled into bed one night and found something warm and moist under my sheets. Let's just say, it wasn't jello."

Barbara made a disgusting face.

Arkells said, “I wasn't sure why at the time and I kept thinking about it in later years. I never got around to asking you if I thought it was true, I didn’t interact with the cat much. But now I get  it, and why you named the cat after Alfred. Alfred—our Alfred—could get nasty at times when you piss him off. He head-butt Superman once, didn’t he? When he was powerless and acting dejected?“

“I think I was told that?” NIghtwing said.

“Although, I don’t remember ever finding what you found in my bed, Damian. But Alfred would give me some extra chores to do around the house if I ticked him off. So, in truth, he and the cat are very much alike, in certain respects.”

"Yup, that's our Alfred for you," Dick agreed. He noticed something, looked at Barbara's left hand. "Um, Barb…Where's your ring?"

Barbara looked at her hand. She sighed, absent-mindedly. "On the dresser in our room," she said. "I took it off just before we—um… Then you were suddenly assaulted by Riddler's man. I wasn't able to retrieve it with all the chaos. Sorry…"

He smiled kindly. "Okay, I'll go get it. But back to the task at hand. Arkells, how many men do you think Riddler brought?"

"Minus these two bozos, I'd say twenty, eighteen more, maybe. Then we have Handles and Riddler."

"That's my count, as well," Dick said. "Although, I have this feeling in the pit of my stomach that something's not quite right. Anyone seen Bruce around?" Barbara and Arkells had been together in the Den and Damian had been in the Ballroom with the rest of the guests, but Bruce wasn't with either of the groups. "I haven't checked the Batcave yet. I'll do that. But I don't see Bruce abandoning his guests…" Dick and Barbara shared a glance. They had split the party to be alone. "The fundraisers were important to him."

Damian saw some of the guests peaking their heads out of the Ballroom. "Ah—thank-you for saving us, Nightwing!" Damian said, loud enough for the guests to hear. This gave everyone the chance to grow aware that they were being watched. "That nasty Riddler and his men have the rest of the fundraiser guests stored elsewhere in the Manor." He chose each word wisely.

Barbara knew none of the guests had seen how they were rescued, they only knew now Nightwing was here. And assuming he was here, then Batman was somewhere, too.

"Yes," Nightwing said back audibly. "The Bat Signal was seen in the clouds, cast by Gotham's finest, and the police informed us via a tip from someone here that trouble was brewing. That is why we—Batman and I—are here. We happened to be in the area, too. Thank you for your assistance. You are a credit to the fair citizens of Gotham, young Damian Wayne."

Nightwing ruffled Damian's hair as if to thank a little kid.

Damian gave him the stink-eye. His back was turned to the Ballroom. And he muttered, "Watch it, Grayson, or you'll find something nasty in your bed from me next time."

Barbara hid a small smirk behind a strategically placed hand as if to suddenly cough.

Then Dick relayed some brief instructions to everyone quietly. Damian and Barbara were to stay here and look after the guests, while Arkells searched for Jason and Roy. Erstwhile, Nightwing would search for Bruce.

Before Nightwing left, he tied up Riddler's men with what he could find, wire from lamps in the galley hall, placing them in a storage room, and securing the door. He wondered if he should give the man who was attacked by Alfred medical attention for his face, but then thought he would be fine and left him as is. The blood was already dry.

As Damian and Barbara filed into the Ballroom, distracting everyone, Arkells then made his departure, and altered his form, by morphing into one of Riddler's incapacitated men, the muscular one, and struck out in search for the two missing Outlaws.

To be continued...