Edited 7/8/2013: This chapter was heavily changed. Re-reading highly encouraged. Set during Justice League Season 2, after Maid of Honor but before Starcrossed.

Chapter 4

The ground beneath them rocked and the slits of Nightwing's mask widened as he understood what had happened. "Batman, report." The com channel answered in only static. "Report!" he repeated, as though saying it louder would help.

"That was just a small taste of my stockpile. I'd say there's a 50% chance they're dead. Maybe more like 60." Two Face grunted as Nightwing grabbed him by the lapels of his suit and then smashed him back into the ground, elbow pressed against his windpipe. "I wouldn't if I were you," he chocked out, but brought his trigger hand back into view. "I release this," his thumb clicked down on the red button once more keeping it depressed, "and the rest of the explosives in there detonate. So here are your choices: try to restrain me further, I'll release the button, and they'll certainly be dead. Or let me go and I'll give you a five minute head start to get what's left of them out of there before I blow it to hell."

Dick clenched his jaw, but didn't release his arm. "Your men are in there. You'd be killing them too."

"Acceptable collateral damage. I know the choice he'd make—the choice he always makes. But do you have it in you to accept the collateral damage as well? By the way, your time has already started."

Dick shook with rage, but then released his choke hold on Two Face and was on his feet running back into the warehouse.

"Didn't think so," he heard Two Face cough out in his wake.

"Batman," Dick repeated into the comm as he ran back down the same stairs he'd come up just moments ago. "Do you copy?" Training kicked in and he compartmentalized his emotions at the lack of response. The door frame was now just a few wooden fragments barely hanging together. He kicked through them easily, choking on the smoke as he re-entered the room. It was ablaze, and the ceiling, while on the verge of collapse, was managing to stay put above his head.

He scanned the room which was littered with bodies-dead or alive, he didn't know. He found one that he recognized lying face down, her hair splayed across the floor. He ran to her, finding the pulse in her neck before slowly turning her. "Diana?" he scanned her body and she seemed miraculously uninjured, aside from a few scrapes and burns.

She groaned and her eyes fluttered open slowly, "Batman?"

"No," he looked up to see if he could in fact find Batman. He couldn't. "Where is he?"

She began sitting up, and he braced her back to steady her. "I—I don't know." She held her head, "He pushed me clear—then I'm not sure."

"Are you hurt? Can you stand?"

"I'll be fine," she said, standing to answer his second question.

"We've got about two minutes to get out of here before the rest of the explosives detonate. Can you get as many of Two Face's men who are still alive out of here?" He pointed to the stairwell that would be their point of exit.

"What about Batman?"

"I'll find him."

He stares down at the black and white tiles of the board in front of him. He can win the game in five more moves.

"Well, don't keep me in suspense," the Joker says, irritated. He flicks the brim of the large purple top hat he wears. "It's your move."

"Maybe he's still trying to decide which piece to play," a five-year-old Killer Croc says as he jumps up and down to catch a glimpse of the game going on above his head.

"Don't be absurd. He already knows. He's always 10 steps ahead."

Batman reaches for his pawn and moves it forward. As expected, Joker picks up his Rook, swings his arm with flourish and sends the pawn flying off the table and into the little Crocodile's eye. The child cries in protest, and Joker pats him gently on the head to calm him. "Your move again, Batman."

Batman picks off the Joker's Rook with his Knight.

"Thought you might," Joker says rubbing his chin then taking down an enemy pawn, though his pieces remain crippled.

"He always knows how to beat us." Two Face offers helpfully from the corner where he's watering the plants.

Batman wants to quirk an eyebrow, but doesn't. Instead he captures the Joker's Queen.

"Harsh," Croc says.

"There's been a lot of that going around lately," Joker pouts."Hasn't there, Batsy?"

"If I'm harsh towards you it's because you require me to be."

The Joker begins to cackle, moving his Bishop to protect his King. "Us? I'm not talking about us."

Now he does raise an eyebrow.

Croc begins to count off on his cubby little fingers, "The former boy blunder, the current, bat babe—"

"It's ingenious, really, playing family with the pieces in your game." Joker moves his bishop and dispatches the sacrificial knight sitting unprotected at E6. Batman moves his queen again, now free to Checkmate the Joker's king. "Your naive little soldiers. So efficient. So loyal."

"To a fault," Harvey hums in disapproval.

Crock nods emphatically. "Yeah. Even when he's trying to make them hate him, they won't."

"Oh, oh, but that's the best part!" Joker gurgles. "You're trying to make them leave before you get them killed, and they're killing themselves faster, just to get your approval. Though maybe that's part of the plan too…The Mission above all else, right? Don't look at me like that—you know it's true. It's why you—we… play this game so well. We don't get tied down by tired notions like friends, family, love. Face it, Batsy: not so deep down, you're just like us. What's that saying again? Takes one to know one? Peas in a pod?"

"Birds of a feather. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." Croc sings.

Two Face sets his flowers ablaze and Batman feels the heat on his skin. "Fight fire with fire."

Batman opened his eyes. Everything was burning around him.

"Good, you're alive."

He pulled his sluggish brain back from the edges of the chess game he'd just been playing. Nightwing was half dragging him across the fiery room. "What happened?"

"Short Version? I've got a minute left to get you out of here before this place comes down on our heads."

Patches of his skin felt hot and he knew serious burns were forming despite the protection of his armor. "Two Face?"

"Scold me later about him. Let's get out of here in one piece first."

Batman acquiesced, moving more on his own power. "Diana?"

"Safe," Nightwing assured him.

They made it through the shattered doorframe and up the stairwell that led outside when they were blown forward by the force of the explosion that finally came from behind them. The flames just barely licked the Kevlar of Batman's cape.

Landing ungracefully on the ground, the duo turned to watch remnants of flaming debris rain down on them. They'd made it by a hair's breadth.

"You okay?" Nightwing asked rolling fully to his side and then grimacing sharply.

It takes four, almost five seconds. "Are you?" Batman responded, ignoring the pain that stabbed his brain when he sat up. The raw skin on his arms seared with pain.

Nightwing repositioned his weight, but his breath remained slightly ragged as he said he was fine. "It's Two Face we should be worried about now. He's headed south east on foot and has about a 5 minute lead on us now."

"How did he get away?"

Nightwing looked momentarily guilty, then defiant. "I let him go. It was that or let you-all of you die. I couldn't get a sit-rep from inside, so I made a judgment call. And I stand by my decision."

Batman stared at him silently. Your naive little soldiers. The Mission. "What's done is done."

Nightwing sighed and began walking away from the building. "I think we can still track him if we-" his words died in a fit of coughs. He continued forward, but hunched over slightly, his sentence coming out in wheezes. "—multi—gasp-plex a few satellite –gasp—relays."

So efficient. So Loyal. Batman gripped his arm forcing him to stop walking. "You're in no condition to do anything."

"I'll be fine," Nightwing insisted, regaining some control of his breath. "I just need a minute."

They're killing themselves faster. "This is not up for debate."

"Look, I get it. It's not the call you would have made. Fine. But I'm going to bring Two Face down, no matter what it takes. We can either do this separately and get in each others way, or we can do this together and make sure he's put away. Then as promised I'll get out of your hair. For good. "

His body jerks with the force of the impact, but it takes four, almost five seconds for him to fall. They're killing themselves faster, just to get your approval. The mission, above all else.

He didn't look at Nightwing when he said "Let's go."

To Be Continued