Chapter Twenty-Two: The Assassins

LexCorp One flew away as Batman dripped down toward the Batboat. Talia wrapped her arms around his neck. Batman was contemplating how he met Ra's Al Ghul the first time. Ra's had kidnapped Dick Grayson, holding him hostage and requesting that The Detective" "help" him find Dick and his daughter Talia. It was all a test orchestrated by Ra's Al Ghul to see if Batman was a worthy suitor for Talia. And he had to wonder if Ra's Al Ghul was the one playing games with him.

"Why are you doing this?" she asked.

Batman looked at her. "Ask your Father."

"My Father and I no longer speak. But you knew this," she observed. They were nearing the coordinates. He pushed a button.

"Estranged or not, he will not allow for you to be hurt," Batman said simply. He knew that for a fact.

"You will never hurt me, my love," Talia said, moving her face close to him as if to kiss him.

"I am not your "love"," Batman said emphatically. Their relationship, if any was not up for discussion. They landed on the Batboat and climbed in. Batman steered it away over the water and toward Gotham City. He knew that his actions that night would have repercussions. Oracle had expressed her worry earlier. He was counting on that.

Vice President Pete Ross ran through the halls of the Oval Office carrying a stack of papers under his arm, he saw President Lex Luthor standing, staring out the window with hands folded behind his back.

"Sir…there's been a hijacking and kidnapping—aboard LexCorp One."

"Mr. Vice President," Lex Luthor said. "Pete. You know how careful I have to be regarding my former…holdings. Corporate espionage is the price of doing business. I'm surprised that Ms. Head—"

"It was Batman, sir." Vice President Pete said, "We have confirmation through Satcom." He slapped the papers down on the desk. "It was some sort of Bat-shaped aircraft. With a cloaking device making it essentially an invisible plane. Do you want to take action?"

Lex Luthor turned around to face him. "Not…yet," was all he said. He would have his revenge soon enough.

It was 3:00 A.M. before Batman finally returned to the Batcave. He had hidden Talia elsewhere in Gotham City, somewhere where no one would find her, not even her Father Ra's Al Ghul. Batman made his way up the platform toward the computers when he notice something embedded in one of the consoles. A sword. Apparently, his message had been received. If Ra's or any of his assassins were here, Batman realized with horror, they might have kidnapped Alfred. Alfred was the closed thing Bruce had to a Father after his parents' murder. It was a way to strike at Batman through him.

"ALFRED!" Batman called as he began sprinting up the steps toward the secret entrance. "ALFRED!" he called opening the door, to his relief he saw Alfred Pennyworth carrying a tray of tea.

"Sir…?" Alfred asked, curious. What was going on with Master Bruce? He seemed concerned.

"You're…here. Safe," Batman said.

"Speaking to the World's Greatest Detective, it would be neglectful of me not to point out—you are correct, Sir," Alfred said, looking at him.

"Only Ra's Al Ghul would have the capability to get into the Cave undetected. But…if I'm reading his message correctly…why come all this way—only to retreat back to his homeland?" he said aloud.

"I'm certain that your musings were more rhetorical in nature, Sir, but for what it's worth…perhaps he wishes to draw you back there with him…and in doing so leave something or someone unprotected."

Ra's was trying to get him away from Talia, so he could send one of his assassins to retrieve her. It was a hard decision, but what choice did he have? End the chaos that had revealed itself in games of deceit and manipulation, or let it go on and on until they had destroyed him? That answer was hard to find, Ra's was up to something, but what was it? He had to ask the man himself. He had to head back to North Africa.

It was nearly midnight in Gotham City. Jim Gordon, Gotham's former Police Commissioner was sound asleep in his home. All that could be heard was the Tick-Tock-Tick-Tock-Tock-Ti— Jim Gordon sat up in his bed, while removing a 9 mm handgun from its hiding place clutched in his hand beneath his pillow.

"HANDS IN THE AIR," he said, pointing the gun at the shadowy figure standing at the front of his bed. He could make out a figure wearing tan gloves and a tan trench coat. "You think you can break into my home—"

"Put the gun down, Jimbo," the voice said. "I just want to talk." Jim recognized that face! It was someone he hoped to never see up close.

"TWO-FACE…!" Jim exclaimed. What was he doing here?

No. It's me," Two-Face said. "Harvey Dent."

" The man I knew as Harvey Dent is dead. He was lost to a deranged lunatic named Two-Face," Jim said, keeping his gun leveled at "Harvey".

"Is that how it is, Jimbo?" Harvey asked. "No second chances?"

"In your case, you've gotten second, third, and fourth chances and you burned them all." Jim couldn't readily believe that just because Harvey had his face fixed that "Harvey" was truly cured of being Two-Face.

"Okay, I deserved that," Harvey conceded. "But I don't come here tonight for me." He continued, "It's Bats. He needs our help now, more than ever."

"It's going to take a little more than some plastic surgery to make me believe you've changed sides," Jim said. "I heard about that stunt you pulled out at Arkham. Getting the Joker released. Posing as his attorney."

"I've had my license reinstated by the State," Harvey informed him. Jim looked at him, stunned

"That's not possible," Jim's heart skipped a beat. "Is it?"

Harvey kept his gaze on Gordon, hands in the air. "The Joker was innocent, you know that. You were there in the alley. You stopped Batman from killing him. The phone call that told you to go there. Tell me you didn't recognize my voice."

Jim paused for a moment. "…WHAT THE HECK DO YOU WANT?" He demanded.

"The gun that killed Tommy Elliot," Harvey replied. "When it's found, it will be traced back to you. It's your service pistol. The one you turned in when you retired."

"How could you know a thing like that?" Jim demanded suspiciously. This was all "helpful" information but how did he know that Harvey, if he was actually of sound mind, wasn't lying to him?

"It's all part of a game," Harvey said in a serious tone. "Like it or not, we're two of the pieces. The question is…how much longer do you want to play?"

Jim Gordon became very thoughtful. What was he supposed to do about all this?

Batman had recognized the camel's bridle on the hilt of the sword immediately. He flew back to North Africa where he knew Ra's Al Ghul was waiting for him. Batman walked through the desert until he saw a lone torch burning in the night. The sky was clear and there was a full moon out as he saw a lone man sitting cross-legged in the sand. That man was Ra's Al Ghul.

Ra's Al Ghul already knew who was standing behind him as he heard the footsteps in the sand. He only inclined his head a little to regard the Batman.

"Where is my daughter…Detective?" he asked.

"Safe," came the Dark Knight's stoic reply.

"You think I am responsible for your recent…." Ra's chose his words carefully, "…misfortunes. The death of your friend Thomas Elliot for example. You are mistaken."

"You have the means," Batman told him, "opportunity. And knowledge only a few possess… about my personal life." Ra's was fully capable of orchestrating this, so why did he say that Batman was mistaken?

"I will make you a proposition," Ra's Al Ghul said, slowly reaching for a sword that was buried in the sand, he did so carefully, trying to move fast enough so Batman wouldn't notice.

"If you defeat me here this evening, I will help solve your…dilemma," Ra's said slowly. "Should I triumph, however, my daughter is to be released—and you will pay for this insubordination with your—" Ra's grabbed his sword as quick as a cobra only to have Batman strike first.

"—LIFE!" Ra's said, astonished that Batman had taken the aggressive in this fight.

Bruce wouldn't let him win this fight. There was too much at stake for him to lose. He needed answers and Ra's Al Ghul was apparently the one who held them. He wanted to know if the eco-terrorist was behind everything that happened to him. And nothing would stop him from getting to the truth.

"So," Ra's observed. "Apparently a leopard can change its spots. What happened to your American way of waiting for your opponent to be ready?"

Blades clashed again as Ra's tried to gain the upper hand. Batman, however, pressed him harder and Ra's had to wonder what had Bruce so addled that he would come after him. Obviously, The Detective thought this had something to do with him. That was interesting enough to pique his curiosity. He thought he might know who the real culprit was, but it wasn't him; he was part of someone else's game, all the more reason to play along.

"Perhaps my metaphor was inappropriate. Not a leopard, but a snake that has shed his skin, revealing his true self," Ra's goaded. "Then, come, Detective, show me what you have become."

Slashing at his foe, Ra's watched the Dark Knight as he leapt back, avoiding the blow.

"You've certainly found the passion for the game," Ra's commented, "Whoever has manipulated you into this frame of mind, they are to be commended."

Batman fought back furiously as he spat out every word of his response to Ra's Al Ghul. "This. Is. Not. A. GAME!" Batman managed to bring his sword up and slash a small gash on Ra's' forehead.

Ra's managed to avoid another blow, but couldn't bring his sword up fast enough to block Batman's as the Dark Knight drove his sword through his midsection, right above the stomach but away from his lungs. Batman drove his sword all the way through Ra's' back as the man let out a painful cry of "Gah!" he dropped his sword and fell to the ground.

There was a soft TCHUK as the sword went through Ra's Al Ghu's body and protruded out his back. The eco-terrorist hit the sand and lay there, motionless. Batman knew that he was still conscious, however, and asked him one question:

"It is over, Ra's. Now--tell me." He wanted answers to all the riddles. What was going on around him and who was behind it?

He heard the shoom, shoom, shoom, shoom, of platforms and clicking of triggers as four assassins sprang up from hidden platforms in the sand and aimed their sniper rifles at him.

Batman decided it was time to give Ra's an ultimatum; there was no way the man could get out of divulging the answers he wanted to know.

"The time it will take for your assassins to stop me--you could spend getting to medical help…or to a Lazarus Pit."

"Well played, Detective," Ra's congratulated. "I have entertained you this evening because we seek the same person whose identity I do not know," Ra's aid, grunting in pain. "So, you see…your problem has become my problem…and it suits me to have you solve it for us both." Ra's managed to sit up.

"Several months ago, one of the few remaining Lazarus Pits was defiled. As you know, once the life-restoring energies have been tapped, the Pit itself is rendered useless." Ask yourself, Detective…who in your life would you wish to come back from the dead?"

That indeed, was a disturbing question, but what was the significance of it, he wondered. He had to return to Gotham City and find Selina, he had left her with someone very important, Talia Al Ghul, she had promised to help him keep her hidden from her father. He turned and left Ra's Al Ghul in the sand. This "game" was becoming tiresome, and he hoped to find answers and end it soon.

In a warehouse in a seedy part of Gotham City, Talia Al Ghul was sitting, tied up with her hand behind her back in an office chair while Catwoman, also known as Selina Kyle, watched over her.

"I know you're awake," she said to Batman's former lover. "Cats can sense that sort of thing."

"I can smell him on you," Talia shot back.

Okay, that's kinda creepy, Selina thought as she looked at her would-be rival.

"Lovers can sense that sort of thing. You can never have him you know," Talia stated. Bruce was never one to be attached to anyone. He always feared that his double life as Batman would endanger the people he cared about, so he keep everyone at arm's length and never let anyone get close to him, for fear of losing them to the many villains he fought.

"I've made it this far in my life without having to "have" someone. So whatever you think you're trading on—"

"Then you haven't made love with him yet," Talia interrupted her.

Wow, talk about an awkward subject,Selina thought.

"I offered to babysit you," Selina said, changing the subject, "hide you where Daddy can't find you."

"Then you both have foolishly underestimated my father," Talia said calmly.

"There weren't any specific instructions that said I couldn't gag you," Selina retorted. She was contemplating it though.

Suddenly a cat hissed with a loud, "MURROW!"

Glass shattered above her and Catwoman looked up in horror.

"RELEASE HER!" A voice commanded.

"Oh Hell…" she whispered to herself. This wasn't good.

"—and I will spare your life!" The woman finished, landing nearby.

"Lady Shiva," Selina said, "What and unpleasant surprise." This wasn't good. Lady Shiva was a master assassin and she wasn't going to be easy to defeat.

"Talia stays. You go." Selina laughed herself at the assassin, only to receive a vicious kick in the stomach.

"Remember. I gave you a choice," Lady Shiva retorted. She grabbed Catwoman's leg.

Selina tried to attack Shiva but the deadly assassin blocked her every move. Shiva threw Catwoman to the floor.

"You cannot defeat her," Talia said. "She is a deadly assassin. Perhaps the deadliest of my father's—="

"Shut up, you—" Selina snapped. She got to her feet.

Selina tried, unsuccessfully to attack Lady Shiva, "HGNNN," she grunted.

Lady Shiva easily sending her head over heels and onto the floor. "Ask yourself Catwoman…is he paying you to keep Talia nearly what I am being paid to steal her from you?"

Catwoman never got to answer that question as Lady Shiva kicked her in the face. "No…? I didn't think so."

Lady Shiva put her foot on an unconscious Selina Kyle's chest. "I only allowed this fight to continue to test your mettle. Why Batman trusts you remains a mystery to me. But your death will keep me from wondering about it for too—"

Talia had decided it was time for this to end and she picked up her chair and moved behind Shiva.

"Tell my Father," she said as she brought the chair down on Shiva's head with a SHMACK. "To stay out of my life."

She prepared her escape route and held a remote control in one hand and a rope in the other.

"Games…" she muttered, disgusted. She used the remote to pull the rope and hoist herself out of the building.

Batman arrived at the warehouse and went inside, only to find Selina badly beaten and unconscious.

"Who did this?" he asked.

"In certain ways…you did," Talia answered. Batman looked up at her.

"Why didn't you escape and just leave her?" Batman asked, curious.

"I did. She would have died. I have returned. Now she won't," Talia said simply. "The herbs I used will restore her health. Her face within hours."

"Then…why did you come back?" Batman asked.

Talia pulled him close and kissed him.

"I told you recently that there was something different about you," she said. "Now, I know why."

Talia began to leave, but turned back to him, "You care for her, maybe even love her. Your mysterious opponent will use this against you. Is she worth it?"

Batman paused for a second. "…Yes…" was his answer. It was time to get Selina back to the Cave.

The Batcave

Catwoman was perched on top of a console. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

"As soon as Alfred's done, there'll be work to do," Batman replied. He had decided to bring her here to the Cave to prove that he trusted her completely.

"Yes, because time for this to heal would be out of the question,"
Alfred said.

"I bet you have to do this pretty often…?" she queried.

"No," Batman said flatly.

"Constantly," Alfred countered.

Selina moved forward to get a closer look. "Oh God…" she whispered.

"Something wrong?" Bastman asked.

"I just didn't expect…the scars…" As Catwoman, Selina had gotten in plenty of fights with him and she knew he was constantly battling his rogues' gallery, but she hadn't expect to see so many scars.

"Each one carries a memory," Batman said. And that was very true, he could remember how he had gotten each one. From bullet holes inflicted by Two-Face to a nasty scar he'd gotten from Joker via a large hook.

"Most people would opt for a photo album," Catwoman quipped.

I am not, nor will I ever be, most people, he thought to himself.

She put a hand on his chest, near three distinct scars. "…And that…?" she asked.

"…You don't remember…?" Batman asked. She'd given him that during a fight on the roof.

"Well, now that you mention it…" Selina began. "You can't imagine how hard it was to get out of that old costume…or maybe you can."

Bruce put on his uniform.

"Sir, if I may, those stitches will hardly…" Alfred protested.

"We're done," Bruce said flatly.

"I'm not done," Selina interjected.

"Miss, I'd appreciate it if you'd—" Alfred began. He stopped when Selina pulled Bruce close and kissed him.

"Why…?" Batman asked.

"To make it all better," she replied. "Now we're done."