Chapter Thirteen: Fourteen, Thirty-Five (I)
It was one of those quiet nights in late July, the kind where the sky was somewhat clear, stars shining coyly through layers of pollution and remote city lights. Of course, those very nights were ones that were quiet less in peace and more in anticipation, distant leaves shaking in the breeze as if uttering incantations, something demonic and awful that condensed the air itself into a force thick with expectation.
Naturally, there was a reason for that. Tim knew it. But he was too busy to think of much else past the unnatural calm that came with the heft of a blade in his palm and the pressure of a task yet to be done. The here and now—That was all that remained. Everything else was irrelevant, unimportant.
That "here" was composed of a dull sense of vertigo, hand in hand with the break-neck speeds whistling through the sky of metalwork above. Pavement rushed by just inches below, it all flying by so fast that the cement resembled water, a slippery stream that would catch Tim if he let go, welcoming and feather-soft. Of course, a high-velocity collision with concrete would probably be deadly, but…
There was something oddly tempting about it, though.
Tim shook the thought from his head, wrenching his eyes away from the small sliver of the world that he could see through the whirring wheels and pavement and metal. He had a job to do, so he returned his attention to the last remaining brake fluid hose.
It was an unusual assignment, but Tim had brushed elbows with the unusual plenty of times before. Still, finding himself on the underside of a prison transport? That was an uncommon three a.m. location, even for a Talon.
Waiting until his target got to Blackgate prison wasn't the best idea, however. (It'd only complicate the matter.) So, Tim didn't complain and sliced the tube to his right, admiring the fluid that oozed out and dripped onto the road. The drops vanished as soon as they hit the pavement, long-forgotten as they were instantly replaced with new cement.
Admittedly, cutting off the brakes was a crude method, but Tim wasn't going to take his chances with a squadron of police cars—not if he could help it; by the time the drivers realized to kick in the emergency brake, Tim would already be long gone, assignment completed.
And frankly, he was a bit curious to meet this "Lonnie Machin." A sentence in Arkham, an in-process transfer to Blackgate, and an obvious dislike of the upper-class weren't usually enough to make The Court members so antsy, but then again, this person did pose more of a threat than the everyday ruffian: Machin was a Robin Hood of sorts, having stolen considerable sums of money from large corporations and transferred them to third world countries. Even more impressive was that he'd done it all from a juvenile correctional facility, nearly causing a rebellion from behind bars until Batman managed to shut him down. In the end, despite Machin's young age, it was posed that Arkham's stricter security would be able to hold him.* That is, until a few weeks ago…
The sudden change to Blackgate was suspicious, but maybe Machin had already figured out a way through Arkham's near-impregnable walls. It wouldn't have been that much of a problem, not for a child-genius.
That impressive intellect was probably why Tim had been the one assigned to finish him off, this "Anarky," "Moneyspider,"—or whatever name Machin decided to go by these days. It wasn't anything personal, but orders were orders, and right then was the best time to strike, Bruce Wayne gone and the relatively vulnerable underbelly of the prison transport creating the perfect opening to sneak in.
Tim was tiny enough to fit underneath the vehicle, although when the transport swerved into a different lane, loose stones flicking up and dinging the metal, a wave of primal tremor crawled up his spine, the kind that boiled down solely to biology and not a state of mind. Years of assassinations had already started taking their toll, a nonchalance about death emerging that made it seem more intriguing than anything else. Ultimately, all it took was a cautious exhale before his nerves were back under control.
Tim carefully reached into his belt and withdrew his tools, mentally preparing himself before forcing two knives upward into the metal. The blades would show through the floor now; he was on the clock.
An eight-inch radius would be enough for him to slip in, he decided, and Tim made quick work of his make-shift entrance, working the circular cut-out into the inside of the vehicle. As expected, a din of noise poured out to meet him, the officer inside barking at his radio while zings of bullets ricocheted on the floor just outside the opening. Backup was likely close behind; he had five minutes.
Not wasting time, Tim swung himself into the transport, one half of his staff quick to knock the firearm out of the officer's hand. The other half ricocheted about the interior until it made contact with the officer himself, sending his head back into the wall with enough force to render the man incapacitated.
With that handled, both parts of the weapon found their way into Tim's hands once more, and he slipped the pieces into the straps on his back, glancing about in search of his target. There was only one prisoner on the transport, so Tim's attention instantly settled on the shock of red hair and blue eyes of someone not much older than himself.
Machin looked surprisingly calm, however, leaned back in an orange jumpsuit with his wrists handcuffed to a spot on the bench he was seated on. Actually, "calm" wasn't the right word for the prisoner's expression: Machin seemed downright fascinated by the masked assassin in front of him, head tilted as if Tim had made an interesting move in a game of chess instead of standing there with a knife already in his hand.
"Ahh," the boy breathed, eyes raking over the Talon uniform, "so you're the one he wants."
Tim faltered for a second. Wh—what's he talking about?
And of course, that was when everything went wrong.
"He's already here," Bruce muttered as he came to a stop three-stories up. He'd been shadowing the transport for a while, and the small trail of brake fluid left on the road below told him his time hadn't been a waste. There was a new heat signature picking up on his scopes too, a small blur of red and orange on the underside of the vehicle.
Bruce snapped a spare grapnel into place, readying himself for what would hopefully be a productive evening. "Have paramedics on standby, Alfred. The guards will probably be suffering from whiplash along with other injuries."
"Very well," came the agreement, "let us hope only the guards will be in need of that assistance."
Bruce fought back a grimace at the reminder. Even though the wound was already two weeks old, his rib cage still stung, bruises burgeoning along his left side from a particularly nasty mission with the JLA. But he'd already put the pieces in motion for this plan, so Bruce would bite the bullet and see it through himself. That didn't mean Alfred wasn't concerned, though.
"Do take care, sir."
Bruce grunted out a noise that could be taken as an affirmative before ending the connection, lining up a shot with the back end of the transport barreling down a stretch of road. He'd wait until the assassin was on the inside before shooting, just to make sure he had him caught. Until then, he could wait…
A pregnant wind came from behind him right then, caught in the folds of his cape for just that one breath like a well-wish before vanishing. He hoped it was a good sign, because that night—It was about so much more than The Court of Owls. Everything that "Batman" meant, everything "Robin" had once meant. The both of them had a stake in that night that he wanted to see through, to see if there had even been a point in letting the Joker live.
To see if Jason had been right all along.
Bruce shoved the thought aside, concentrating on the feeling of the grapnel in his hand and the events taking place down below. It didn't take long for one of the heat signatures on the inside of the transport to shift, standing with an arm outstretched (It was likely a guard shooting at an opening in the floor.), and it would be just another second before the third figure would make its move. Just one more and—There!
The grapnel gave out a satisfying hiss, a second of expectant delay stretching before the hook collided. Bruce had to work fast, instantly firing a second line in the opposite direction against a sturdy building. It would hold up to the tension. It had to, because Bruce was already gone, following the vehicle from above as it jolted from the sudden pull of the line holding it back.
All according to plan.
The thunder of crunching metal drew Tim's attention to the back end of the transport, something speared through the door like—like a grappling hook. That was what it was, something strong enough to slow down a three-ton vehicle when its brakes were cut, and suddenly, Machin's calmness made a horrifying sort of sense.
An acute claustrophobia set in within the one heartbeat it took for everything to click: Tim was walled in on four sides, the vehicle instantly too small, too secure, with someone who shouldn't have been in Blackgate—probably shouldn't have even been in Arkham. But Machin was there and aloofly entertained by the turn of events, as if it was something to be expected. In reality, it truly was to be expected, because this whole thing…
It's a set up.
That was all that Tim could think before the transport lurched forward, wheels screaming under the strain, and the whole world was turned upside down. Gravity was swiftly flipped to be a horizontal force as Tim found himself thrown back against the wall, hard enough that he was certain he heard his own skull crack at the connection.
For a few moments, there wasn't much past the blurry haze of pain and shrieking metal, the back doors having been ripped open somewhere along the line to reveal the rest of the road, a few trees streaming by while streetlamps cast urgent orange along the pavement, the lights racing by until the vehicle creaked to some kind of stop.
Details were flooding in in a chaotic mess. The floor was beneath him, a hard surface that unhelpfully brought attention to the fact that Tim had sustained more damage from the crash than he'd like to admit; a vague pain supported that theory, ghosting over his tailbone and shoulder blades until it settled in his head. He was still seeing stars, his vision fuzzed and doubled, because there was no way there were two roads, and the suddenly-multiplied number of trees hinted more at a forest than anything else.
Sounds were coming back too, the subtle ones that were important in those minor ways. Crickets were chirping somewhere in the summer night, the radio chatter on the floored officer's speaker was fizzling, and exhaust was wheezing through the tailpipe, the whole transport a chamber of dying metal that was choking out its last breaths.
The rest of it all rushed Tim when the engine fumes reached, prompting a series of coughs that forced him onto his side. Although the sharpened pain was an unpleasant experience, it was easier to work from that angle, a hand finding its way to the floor followed by another as Tim maneuvered himself into a sitting position.
The glint of a knife by his foot caught his attention.
There was an assignment that still needed to be done. If memory served, Machin would still be there. He'd been chained to the bench, so... Tim shuffled to a stand, eyes flitting to the side where all they found was a pair of handcuffs dangling there as if to mock him.
Machin'd had a lockpick.
An idea flashed through Tim's mind right then. Maybe it wasn't a trap for him. Maybe someone was innocently trying to spring a convict, smuggling him tools, and that explained this whole turn of events. But…
"So you're the one he wants."
No. No, it was a trap for him, Tim was sure of it. But why just him? And who'd been the one to organize it? The pronoun of choice hinted at a man, and it'd have to have been someone who knew Machin, likely in his Anarky identity. But…they'd have to be distant, too. (Machin didn't seem aware of the entire plan.) Bruce Wayne was out of state, so Batman was off the table. But who was it then?
Tim returned his knife to the scabbard at his side, quickly deciding that he didn't want to stick around and find out. He'd look into it later—find both Machin and his answer, but right then, slipping away would be the best route to take. So long as this mystery person wasn't Batman, he could manage that, keep a cool head and disappear.
Tim took a small step toward the open door of the transport, moving a careful foot over the leg of the still-collapsed officer, when the space suddenly darkened. For that one instant, all the light in the world was stolen, lost to that shadow as it spread across the floor. Tim stared at the new patch of darkness, processing everything about what and who it meant, before pulling his gaze upward, slowly and painfully. Because Tim had done everything to avoid this very encounter, avoid the pair of white eyes that were currently looking back at him with enough intensity to make Tim's blood run cold.
Because despite his best efforts and logic and chance, there they were once again: a Talon and a Dark Knight.
AN: *All of Lonnie's backstory in this is correct up until the part where it's mentioned that Bruce was the one who caught his operation. Actually, it was an in-training Tim Drake who brought that to light (probably a few months before this chapter if you were to line up canon with this story here), and during Tim's stint as Red Robin, Lonnie served as his personal Oracle. They've got some history, those two. Also, pre-N52 Lonnie—as far as I'm aware—never served time in Arkham. That change in backstory is explained later considering there was no Court of Owls in the pre-N52 universe. If there was, I feel like this teenage anarchist would've been the first to be offed...