Cheshire perched like a gargoyle on the rooftop, grinning wide enough to match her mask. She was willing to stay like this for hours, ignorant of the ice crystals forming in her mane of black hair, sealing the pointed tips of her claws to the cement. If she had a tail it would have been swishing back and forth in anticipation. As it was an invisible quiver ran up her spine every few moments. She was looking forward to her assignment even more than she was to the substantial payoff.
There. She saw her target on the roof below, in the exact same place she had been when he had ambushed her. Fool. He probably thought the weak sunlight shining fitfully through the blizzard would deter an attack. She tightened her grip on the cement, using the back of two fingers to catch the grit that her hand dislodged. She waited, anticipation making her veins tremble, unable to suppress a certain admiration for his stubbornness; few people went back into battle so soon after receiving the kind of wounds she had inflicted.
Two more steps. Come along, just another two steps. Stop hesitating and keep looking in all the wrong places. One more step. You've picked your foot up, now put it down. Good boy.
Cheshire leapt silently from her perch, sais raised for the kill. When she was just a few feet above him her quarry twisted and dropped to the ground, firing three arrows into her chest. Cheshire dropped her sais and crumpled as all three impact arrows slammed into her. She hit the rooftop hard and curled up for a moment. It was a moment too long. Pain flared along her body and blue sparks flashed through the eyeholes of her mask. She forced herself to look up, attempting to push herself up with one shaky knee. A hard kick to the mask sent her sprawling on her back. A foot slammed into her stomach immediately before a regular pointed arrow was aimed at her throat.
"Not this time, kitty," Speedy said, pulling the string tighter. "This time, you lose." Cheshire glared at him. She tightened her fist, and the curved steel responded. She slashed, slicing the bow into three pieces. One leg flew up into his groin before retreating to slam her heel into his chest, pushing him on his back hard. She pounced in an instant, claws at his throat. She failed to notice Speedy's smug expression until after the exploding arrow tip slammed into her gut. She grunted as she was thrown clear, hitting the asphalt and gravel hard.
Once the stars cleared Cheshire forced herself to stand despite the horrible aching in her gut and the multiple spinning rooftops that swam before her eyes. She both cursed and praised this boy in equal measure. No one before him provided such stimulation. Some targets just fell, no effort, no fun. Others fought but gave in to the inevitable conclusion when they saw their fate in those heartbeats before the final blow struck home. One or two just succumbed fighting, surprise written on their face as they either passed out or died. A select few managed to beat her off, and in those rare instances Cheshire had been forced to either admit defeat or call in help. She still couldn't decide which was more humiliating.
This one was close to her level, very close; but he certainly wasn't better than her. That much was apparent by this point, and she knew that he knew that as well. Yet he kept fighting, growing fiercer each time and each time coming a little closer to beating her. He thrilled her in ways no other target had. She would be content to stay in this frozen crap land and fight him every night until she finally sank her sword into his gut or her claws into his throat.
Speedy groaned from where he lay in a shallow depression. He rolled onto his stomach and began to crawl, fingers grasping at the rough surface as he tried to put distance between himself and Cheshire, hoarse groans emanating from his chest. A stab of disappointment emphasized the stabbing pains in her abdomen. So much for the perfect target. She sighed, suddenly wishing her orders were to kill him. Cheshire stumbled across the rooftop, her previous excitement rusted into bitter disappointment.
She stepped hard on Speedy's back, heel of her boot crunching directly on the base of the spine. Speedy gasped and stretched a little farther, finger tips grasping at gravel. Cheshire sighed again, unable to banish a slight feeling of betrayal. She twirled one sword, and raised it, point down, aiming for a nonspecific spot on his back. Speedy jerked forward with a grunt. Just before Cheshire plunged the blade into his flesh, Speedy heaved up, twisting to smash a length of narrow wood into her gut: a section of his ruined bow.
Thrown off-balance, Cheshire collapsed backward, equal parts furious and relieved. Speedy hauled himself to his feet and staggered over to her, dragging the tip of the bow fragment in the frozen gravel. He loomed above her and shakily raised the wood for another blow. Cheshire lashed out with one leg, catching him behind the knee. She lurched onto his chest, clawed left hand spread across his chest. She lowered her face down to his
"You've caused me a lot of trouble. But you've treated me to the best date yet, and I've teased you enough." Cheshire raised the sword so that only the tip was in his line of sight. She leaned down, pushing her mask up at the last moment and pressing her lips to his. Unprotected from the ravaging cold, his lips were blue and nearly frozen as she ran her tongue along the chapped appendage. But there was a certain fire to the kiss, a kind of danger that made her hand tense, driving the sharp points to leave indents in his skin through the shirt.
She pulled back after about three seconds, slipping the mask smoothly into place before he could see the features of Jade Nguyen.
"Mmmm, I wish I'd done that earlier. Unfortunately, I came here on business." She stabbed him in the side, effectively making a path between his intestines, slicing thin gashes in multiple intestines without completely severing any. Speedy screamed in agony. "Fortunately, I was told not to kill you just yet."
Cheshire stood, stumbling slightly on the frost-covered roof. She strode to the edge of the rooftop and planted one boot on the raised edge, prepared to jump off. She glanced over her shoulder at the handsome young man trying in vain to staunch the bleeding with his hand.
"I'll see you again, hopefully soon, boyfriend."
Raven floated out of the T-ship and studied their surroundings. They had landed in a clearing in a wooded area just outside Gotham. Robin leapt out and strode ten feet away, staring at the moon where it hung just behind a giant house perched on a cliff. Batgirl walked to stand one pace behind and to the right of him. The two old friends were emitting a strange emotion, one that Raven had difficulty placing. Raven wondered whether or not she should join them, but before she could make a decision the rest of the Titans clambered out of the T-ship, and Robin turned to join his team.
"Remind me again why we're here?" Cyborg asked.
"Things are worse than I first thought," Robin said. "When the League tries to put us under their authority, and they will sooner or later, we have to stand up to them. And if Superman decides we've become too dangerous, then we have to be ready to fight." Robin punched his right palm to emphasize the point, but the others stared, varying levels of shock and fear rising within them. Now that Raven knew his plan, she felt the same emotions trying to make themselves known as well.
"Fight Superman? Dude, we can't fight Superman!" Beast Boy said, pointy ears drooping like a frightened dog's.
"Even on my planet his power and goodness is well known," Starfire said. "Must we fight him?"
"Are you crazy?" Beast Boy exclaimed. "I don't know why we're even having this discussion? We can't fight Superman or the Justice League."
"Yes, we can." Robin assured him.
"Um, I'm with Beast Boy on this one," Jinx said. "We can't fight Superman and hope to win."
"We've beaten every other criminal. Why should Superman be any different?" Robin asked.
"Because Superman isn't a villain." Cyborg said. "He's a hero, like us, just more powerful. He's more experienced than us, he's stronger than us, he's faster than us, and he can't be hurt. Superman has worldwide support, and f he's gonna take us on, he might bring in the rest of the Justice League too. Trying to fight Superman would be like-"
"Trying to fight an all powerful, all knowing interdimensional demon?" Robin supplied.
"Yeah, but man-" Cyborg looked down and sighed, frustrated.
"Superman is invulnerable, not invincible." Robin said when the group was silent for a moment.
"Um, are you so sure about that?" Jinx asked.
"Batman beat him two times," Batgirl commented.
"Why should we believe you?" Jinx sniped. "Your big mouth made everything worse. If you had just shut up about Batman's love life, of all things-"
"Batgirl made a mistake," Robin interrupted. "A stupid mistake, but everyone screws up every once in a while. Just ask Beast Boy." Robin's weak stab at humor was rendered moot by the tense atmosphere and his growling tone.
"Batman really beat Superman?" Kid Flash asked. "In a real fight, not training or anything, right? I mean, Flash and the rest of the League used to argue about who would win when they were gone, but I didn't know that they'd ever gone at it before." Robin and Batgirl exchanged a glance, almost unconsciously.
"None of the fights were really finished. More like they ended it before things went too far. They were really good friends for a long time. But Batman was winning two of the fights when Superman called it off." Batgirl said, a little less bold than she had been before.
Raven sensed her timidity and her guilt. Batgirl knew what she had done was stupid and was beating herself up for it the way Robin did. Raven knew it had been a simple slip of the tongue. Beast Boy did it all the time. Idiotic but not blameworthy. Still, Raven couldn't help but feel that she didn't really want to put her life in Batgirl's hands.
"Look, that's nice and all, but we're not Batman." Cyborg said, still less than enthusiastic.
"No, we're not, which is why we're going to follow Batman's advice and be prepared." Robin said.
"What's the plan?" Raven asked, trying to focus the attention of the group toward something productive. Robin turned toward her, and Raven met the masked gaze squarely.
"The Batcave is filled with weapons, supplies, and information," Robin said, voice commanding the attention of the group. "We're going to grab everything of value that we can take with us from the Cave and bring it back to Titans' Tower. Then we're going to contact all the honorary Titans and let them know to keep their heads down until this blows over." Raven sensed the collected heroes beginning to calm now that they were confronted with a plan of action. One Titan seemed to forget about his previous distress altogether.
"We get to see the Batcave!" Beast Boy exclaimed, positively bursting with excitement.
"No." Robin said. "Batgirl and I will go to the Batcave to get the supplies we need. Whether Batman is in jail or not, I don't have the right to reveal his secret identity. I have a different job for the rest of you. Without Batman Gotham's criminals will be running rampant all over the city. I need the rest of you to sweep the city."
"Come on man, you can't be serious," Cyborg complained. "We come all the way to Gotham, and you want us to play cop while you and Miss Loose Lips shop for deadly weapons?"
"You don't know what Gotham is like," Robin said, voice dropping in pitch. "It's not like Jump where everyone faces you in broad daylight and no one seems to own a gun. Gotham is a city where hundreds venture out each night to steal, rape, and murder. Everyone owns a gun, and nine out of ten are ready to kill if they have half a reason to think the guy next to them is armed. Huge mob bosses run giant gang wars while meta-humans vie for control with business tycoons for control of the city."
Robin waited a moment for the speech to sink in. His hidden eyes were further shadowed by the sparse cloud cover that flitted before the moon. He had the undivided attention of the Titans now.
"Batman is the only thing that prevents criminals from completely owning this city. Without him the city will be overrun with criminals. I'm asking you to take on Batman's job. Your mission is to let this city know who the Teen Titans are and make it afraid of us." A long moment of quiet followed this statement, punctuated only by the drone of a solitary cicada.
"We'll do our best." Cyborg promised
"You always do," Robin retorted. He never turned toward Raven, and she stayed quiet, carefully taking stock of the situation.
"I'll call when we're done. We can meet up here. Try to keep the collateral damage to a minimum." Robin's eyes floated across the group, lingering no more than a nanosecond longer on Raven. Raven could feel his determination, steely and hot, smothering his rage for the good of the team. She felt a mild longing to reach out and touch him, hold him as he had done to her. But they had a mission. The Titans might be going to war. And they were heroes, warriors. Duty had to come first.
Robin and Batgirl turned and ran into the night, vanishing within seconds. Raven could feel Robin's thoughts after he left, but she pushed it to the back of her mind. She had to stay focused.
"As you can see, the League was quite thorough."
Robin smashed the side of his fist into the wall of the cave, blind to the flare of pain in his bruised bones. He stared around the Batcave, each sign of the Justice League's raid deepening his rage.
"Superman and the Green Lantern were ordered to take anything that might be considered a weapon made to be used against the League and any information that Master Bruce had hidden from them." Alfred continued, his tone and eyes displaying his distaste for the state of the Batcave. Alfred would prefer for Bruce to give up his identity as Batman altogether, but he did enjoy cleaning up the cave.
"I should have expected this," Robin growled, allowing his anger to flow freely. "What did they get?"
"Well let's see. Those ruffians managed to pilfer Mr. Freeze's freeze ray, several pieces of Kryptonite, Master Bruce's contingency plans, AMAZO's head, all of Scarecrow's fear-gas variants, the samples of Bane's venom, some of that dreadful demetrite of Poison Ivy's, the exo-suit, and sundry other items." Alfred listed.
"Is there anything they didn't get?" Batgirl inquired, her voice carrying a distinctly sardonic edge.
"You act as if you don't know Bruce at all."
Robin and Batgirl turned to face Catwoman as she stalked down the stairs, dressed in her full outfight, Isis lounging across her shoulders.
"Really, sometimes I think Bruce hides things just so that he can come up with new hiding places," she drawled. Isis mrrowed and leapt from her shoulder, dashing the rest of the way down the stairs. The cat crouched down and pawed at the base of an unspecific stretch of blank cave wall. Smart cat.
Robin approached the wall and stood still about ten feet from the stone. Two scanners rose from the floor after a few seconds and scanned him from head to toe. Another pedestal arose directly in front of the wall, and Robin removed his right glove to press the calloused palm against the scanner. With a hiss two half arch sections of the wall slid aside, washing Robin's face with a green glow. Catwoman grabbed Isis, keeping her inquisitive pet from venturing inside.
"Master Bruce does have a certain flair for this sort of thing, doesn't he?" Alfred commented as though nothing more interesting than a refrigerator door had opened.
"Figures Bruce would leave some where it could actually be found." Robin muttered. "Well, if Superman missed it the first time, maybe I'll get a chance to give it to him."
"I thought you already got some of this the last time we were here?" Batgirl asked, momentary confusion flitting across her features.
"With Batman occupied, I can afford to go a little overboard," Robin said, flashing a devilish grin over his shoulder which Batgirl returned in kind. "Besides, there's something very special in here I want to get as an absolute last resort." Robin walked to the back of the room, reminding himself to keep his stay in the side chamber as brief as possible. At the back of the room, on its own pedestal, lay a small silver nugget in a rough, needle-like shape. Robin carefully took out a pair of tweezers and placed it in a small black bag before depositing the bag into one of his utility belt's compartments. Robin exited a little faster than he had entered and closed the door, making sure to reset all security measures.
"I'm going to take one of those pills to reverse any radiation; you start searching the computer for recently accessed files. I want to know exactly what they found." Robin said as he made his way to a bench where a collection of chemicals and test tubes lay, as if an experiment had been prepared but never started.
"Please, don't be so over cautious, Boy Wonder," Catwoman said, dropping Isis now that the door was sealed. "My cat could use that little bauble as a toy and never feel a thing."
"Perhaps, but I want to bring a few of the pills with us just in case. And you'd feed her one yourself if she did play with it." Robin retorted. Selina shrugged her consent as Robin popped a slightly oblong greenish pill dry and placed eight or nine more in a small clear baggie that he slipped into a compartment in his belt.
"I will fetch you both a bag to place whatever supplies you may find desirable, Master Richard and Miss Gordan." Alfred called before walking into the distant shadows on the other side of the cave. Glancing after him, Robin noticed that the giant penny lay on its side and the tyrannosaurus had several massive dents in it. Anger filled him once more, and Robin swept toward Batgirl with renewed vigor in his step.
"Found anything yet?" Robin asked.
"Dick, you should change your name to ass," Barbara complained. "It's been thirty seconds."
"So plenty of time for you to find out what Superman and Green Lantern picked up while they were here." Robin surmised. Batgirl smirked at him.
"They copied the general stats on every League member and the first set of Justice League contingency plans, along with a few secret files from LexCorp, Stag Industries, Dagat Industries, Star Labs, and Wayne Enterprises on new experimental weapon blueprints that haven't made it on the market yet. And I think they found the tracking tags on Superman, Captain Atom, and T.O. Morrow." Batgirl leaned back and touched her fingertips together. "Probably took them six and a half hours bare minimum, even if Lantern's ring helped them crack the codes."
"They didn't even get to the good contingency plans," Robin commented, resting on hand on the back of the chair as he leaned over her to examine her findings more closely. After a moment he turned and examined the caches of Batarangs, bolas, and other standard weapons the Bat-clan used. Batgirl resumed typing at her usual furious pace.
"What I want to know is what you're riding home in." Catwoman said. Robin followed her line of vision to the Batcave's extensive hangar. "I just finished taking the last of the boots off this evening." Catwoman continued. "I guess they thought Alfred wouldn't be able to remove them himself."
"I daresay I wouldn't," Alfred mused, moving to place a pair of large black backpacks next to Robin.
"Tempting, but too obvious. And I don't want any meddling League member who happens to make a surprise inspection to notice someone's been here. Shame, I'd really like to take my old bike with me. It's more maneuverable and better armed than the one I have now. Heck of a lot faster too."
"No way in hell I'll let you get a faster bike," Batgirl called over from the computer.
"You can't even try to stop me until you download all the files we might need," Robin yelled back. Bruce never let them yell in the cave, so the two of them always shouted when Bruce was gone to make the loudest echoes they could.
"Beat you to it. I got everything Clark found plus the other contingency plans, detailed stats on every hero and villain in the database, molecular diagrams of all the chemicals they took, and the Watch Tower blue prints." She called back.
"Oh, Master Richard, before I forget, Miss Kyle and I took the liberty of preparing a supply kit of the various antidotes our little family has needed over the years, except for those that have been recently filched." Alfred piped up, displaying a large, somewhat bulky white cloth box to Robin.
"Thanks, Alfred." Robin said. He turned and strode toward the back of the cave.
"Where do you think you're going?" Batgirl called.
"I need to check something," Robin answered over his shoulder. Robin stopped in the middle of the Bruce's souvenirs. A large sword lay in a glass display case. Robin stared at the blade. Deathsroke's sword. Slade's. Batman beat him single handedly. Cyborg's words rang in his ears once more. Look, that's nice and all, but we're not Batman. All that training, night after night listening to Batman's instructions, the countless battle since he had left— Robin had to know if it had paid off in full yet, if he had accomplished the one goal he wanted above all others.
Robin kept walking, past the souvenirs, through a dark tunnel, into another cave. The vaulted ceiling was lost from sight in the gloom. Only a vague distortion of shapes revealed the stalactites stretching from the ceiling, threatening to impale any below. The narrow path he had walked in the tunnel widened into an oblong peninsula of rock jutting over a fathomless abyss. Robin walked through the maze of jagged stalagmites, each pointed stone glistening in the faint light, covered with beads of moisture like a sheer layer of clothing.
Robin stood at the very edge of the natural platform, staring into the shadows of the ceiling. Robin knew his bats. He knew that most of the bats in the Batcave were ordinary brown bats. But some of the other bats in the Batcave were unknown to science, a species that existed only in Gotham's subterranean labyrinth. Perhaps a thousand of these lived with the millions of brown bats in the cave Robin had once called home.
"I know you're there." Robin said, unable to suppress his hackles from rising as a deeper cold filled the cavern. Robin sensed the presence, ancient in ways more than mortal.
Of all the bats, there was one different from the rest. Always one, never more, never less.
"Come and face me." Robin growled quietly. "You're not finished with Bruce yet, so you can't be done with me." Robin balled his hands into fists. "I was a bat for years. I must be your problem."
It hissed, sucking in the air of the pit, its presence absorbing all heat from his body. Now Robin could feel its eyes trained on him, though he could not yet see it.
The bat Bruce had seen when he was only six, when the first seed of the Batman had been planted, even before the death of his parents.
"I'm yours now." Robin whispered fiercely. "Claim me." The darkness thickened. He could see its silhouette
A pair of wings partially opened, paused, and closed. The faint curls of an icy draft drifted down from it, slicing into his flesh. The wings opened to their full extent, paused, and closed again. With a snap of leather and bone it flung itself from the rocks with primordial grace.
And he stared into the gleaming eyes of the one bat that never retreated.
He stared into the strength of Batman.
Seething eyes, untouched by love or joy or sorrow or hatred. All that controlled lesser creatures were meaningless, weak. They had no power over it. It opened its fanged maw and hissed again, breath hot with the taste of fallen foes, the stench of dead things, things damned to its wrath.
Surely the fiercest survivor— the purest warrior.
An involuntary spasm coursed through the left side of Robin's face. The bat hissed and flew straight up, inches from his face. The tips of its wings threw flurries of air around him.
The bat had not claimed him. Robin did not have the strength to be Batman.
"Dick." A voice whispered. Robin turned to face Batgirl on his left. The bat wheeled about, diving toward her. Barbara twitched, the tiniest jerk of the head. The bat whipped away from her and rose to roost among its citadel of pointed stones.
"Neither of us is at his level." Robin said, struggling to push down his disappointment. Batgirl narrowed her eyes, a steely glint of determination chilling the blue rings of her irises.
"Nor is Clark," she snarled, tone soft in the chamber. Robin grinned. The bat hissed.
The childhood friends reentered the main cave. They would speak to no one about what had transpired for the moment. After another hour of collecting materials and formulating plans, Robin decided they were almost done. The bags were close to overflowing, and his head swam with the different schemes and tactics they had developed. He was about to suggest they sweep the cave one last time and leave when his communicator rang. Robin flipped open the screen, careful to keep the cave behind him off screen.
"Cyborg, what's wrong?" Robin asked. The worried half-robot's face was washed with a wave of light.
"We need back up out here. Beast Boy, Starfire, and I are getting our butts kicked by the First Bank of Gotham on Second Street. Raven, Jinx, and Kid Flash are losing ground on the other side of town." A burst of fire and smoke solicited a yell from Cyborg, and the screen went to static.
She watched the orange ship alight outside the filthy down, careful to keep her own vessel unseen. What were they doing here? Why weren't they in Jump City? She set her jaw. She would have to go to Jump and find him herself. She had her self-given mission, her duty to the enemy turned friend. She turned the Javelin around and flew toward Jump City, unnoticed by the teens below.
As ever, reviews are welcome. And I'm sorry for the delay; I'm alternating which story I write for, this one and my Justice League story.