It was so weird. I had always thought the first time I went out with Bruce as a real sidekick superhero would be awesome. It would be the two of us, fighting against crime and evil.

I never pictured that Catwoman would be with us. But I also didn't think I would get to ride the bike so soon either, so I guess that about breaks even.

As for the costume, yeah, it was way cool. It was kind of stiff, since I had never worn it before, but it fit me good in all the right places while still maximizing my range of motion. As I walked towards the bike, I did a front flip in the air. The suit moved just as easily as the workout clothes I usually wore.

"I can flip better than that," Selina walked towards the Batmobile in her tight black costume. She put her mask back on, becoming Catwoman once more.

I didn't bother to make a reply; I swung onto the bike and kicked it off the stand. I picked up the helmet and slipped it on.

"Wait just a second," Batman's voice sounded in my ear.

I turned, but didn't see him.

"I turned the mic in your mask on," his voice explained. "Talk in a normal voice and I can hear you."

"Cool," I responded.

He stepped out of the shadows, and the odd familiar rush of excitement ran over me at seeing Batman in full costume. He looked stronger than ever, tall and ruthless. I wanted to cheer each time I saw the Dark Knight of Gotham, but instead I settled for looking confident and calm, casually running my gloved fingers over the bike's controls.

"Catwoman," Batman held his hand out to her.

"Ooo," she purred, "one last kiss for the road?"

"No, I want you to put a mic in your ear so we can communicate."

She took the device from him and looked at it reluctantly. "We should call Alfred in."

"Nothing's going to happen to me," he didn't even pause.

Her masked eyes flickered in my direction for a second, but she put the mic in her right ear. "Testing."

"I can hear you," I said.

Batman nodded. He turned and went to the Batcopter.

Catwoman sashayed right past me. "I get to drive the Batmobile again. How many times have you driven it?"

I just rolled my eyes; no way was I getting into a fight with her now.

The blades of the Batcopter whirled into action, and the wind whipped through the Cave, sending a scurry of bats flying higher into the rafters. The headlights of the Batmobile flared on, and the engine started with a low rumble.

I was so excited I could barely breathe. I stomped on the clutch and my own machine came to life. My hands were trembling with adrenaline, and my eyes actually misted with the enormity of what we were about to do. I was a real superhero now.

"Robin, Catwoman," Batman's voice came over the mic, "I'm going to lead the way by twenty feet. Catwoman, maintain the distance. Robin, follow behind her ten feet, and five to the right. Both your vehicles have depth perception that you can set."

"You may be an ass sometimes," Catwoman commented, "but you can build some damn-fine machines."

"Don't talk back to the leader," I said before Batman could reply. "We're on a mission now."

"Fine, fine," Catwoman gunned the Batmobile loudly. "Let's go and get this over with."

"Pay attention," Batman told us, and I swear I could hear a smile in his voice. Why did he find Selina swearing so funny when he kept threatening to wash my mouth out with soap? Dumb adults!

But those thoughts disappeared as I followed the Batmobile down the long ramp towards the exit. The black car kept gaining speed and I accelerated to keep up.

We were going fast, faster than I had ever practiced before. The wind whipped against my helmet visor. But we went faster and faster on the dark road, racing like bats out of hell, only here we were bats going into hell, going to fight the monster of Gotham city who –

"Robin," Batman's voice was calm and low, "you have to breathe calmly. Your heart-rate is going too fast and your oxygen levels are going low."

"You can monitor that from the air?" Catwoman said.

"I installed monitors in his suit," he replied.

"In another life, you would have been the biggest voyeur ever," she griped.

"But you're the one always spying on me," he returned.

"Whatever. You better not be a hero tonight. Tomorrow is the Black and White Ball, and we're going!"

If I could sustain minor injuries enough to skip the ball, then this would be the greatest night ever.

The map on the screen showed up approaching the edge of the city. And then I saw it.

The smoke was rising from one of the bridges. Cars were on fire, their windows smashed. Thugs with clubs were breaking more glass on the other side of the bridge. Several people were screaming and running away from the pandemonium.

And at the center of the havoc was a beast of a man.

The Batcopter headed over the bridge, and the Batmobile started onto the bridge, crushing over the glass and weaving around the car.

My bike sputtered down before I could reach the bridge.

"No, I want to help!" I protested as the bike slowed to a stop.

"Stay there until we need help."

I might have stomped on the ground in frustration, but I didn't say anything.

The bridge was about a hundred feet long, and the Batmobile was more than halfway across when the whole thing blew.

The explosion was so loud that I fell off the bike. I rolled to my feet and I ran to the edge of the bridge. The smell of gunpowder and TNT was overwhelming, and I couldn't see anything through the smoke and the burning. Black ash floated down from the sky.

I could make out some of the remaining bridge that had withstood the blast, the beams of support leading into the smoke, but I couldn't even see the city.

"Batman? Catwoman?" I called.

Silence.

I paced in a tight circle, clenching and unclenching my gloved fists. Why were Gotham villains so fond of blowing things up? Couldn't they ever commit crimes quietly and in secret?

I tried the bike again, but it wouldn't start. The screen wouldn't even come on.

I knew there were several other bridges over the river, but it would take a few minutes to run there and cross on foot, minutes I didn't have.

Screw waiting. I was fine with being a sidekick (for now at least), but sidekicks were supposed to help when things got rough. That's what I was there for!

I searched the bike and found two short combat sticks and a handful of Batarangs. I felt around the back of my suit until I found the two loops I had noticed before. I slipped the sticks in the loop – they fit perfectly. I put the Batarangs in the utility belt at my waist.

Then I crawled out on the main right beam of the bridge.

Bridges had slightly scared me ever since I had watched the beginning of one of the Final Destination movies where the bridge had broken and killed all the characters. I had stood in the middle of the living room, watching the horror until Bruce had snatched the remote and turned it off, telling me not to watch such nonsense.

I ignored the freaky thoughts about crashing bridges and crawled on. Some of the smoke had disappeared, but the sound of smaller explosions and crashing kept coming so Bane's men had to still be blowing stuff up.

Sirens were screaming in the distance, but I knew they would all give Bane wide berth, hoping Batman would take care of the danger.

My gymnastic skills overrode my fear, and I used all my limbs to move over the crumbling skeleton of the bridge. Most of the asphalt had fallen to the river below, and the few remaining cars had been twisted into the metal framework. I crawled over them, avoiding the few that were still burning. The trick was to spread my weight out evenly, remaining on all fours as much as possible.

When I got close enough to hear the shouting of Bane's men, I crawled under the bridge. It was harder upside down with the roaring river beneath me, but I kept creeping along until I reached ground. Batman had once rigged a rope net up in the Batcave, and I had practiced all afternoon, climbing on both sides to increase speed and balance. (Maybe I had pretended like it was harder than it really was, but as long as I had a serious look of concentration on my face, Batman let me play – um – train for as long as I wanted.)

The bank was held back with blocks of cement, and I edged along the cement until I met clean, smoke free air. I pulled up into a deserted street, and I stood there, panting for a second. To my left, around the corner of a building was all the chaos. To my right was a barricade of cars, metal, and rubble. I approached the barricade and saw people behind it – news-anchors, police, and guards from Arkham.

"Who are you?" a policeman demanded.

I stepped closer to the barricade, and several people shouted out for me to stop.

"No, it's electrocuted," the policeman bellowed. "Two people are already unconscious. Bane's men put up an electronic perimeter around this section of the river and west bridge. Hide somewhere and stay until this is over, kid."

"I'm not a kid," I announced, wishing my voice were stronger.

They waited, leaning as close to the barricade as they could get.

"I'm Batman's new partner. I'm Robin!"

No one said anything.

I felt miffed. I didn't think they would cheer, but come on.

A camera flashed, and I was blinded by the light.

Well, a picture would have to do.

I smiled at them and saluted (which felt dumb the moment I did it), but then I turned and ran towards the havoc. A few voices yelled at me to stop, but I kept going.

Out of the smoke stepped Batman, his mouth like a chiseled rock under his cowl.

I slowed and panted in relief. "Oh, thank goodness. I was freaking out. What happened to Catwoman?"

He came towards me, and I had a jolt of unease as I stared at him. Something was wrong with his face, but I couldn't decide what.

He pulled his arm back and punched me so hard in the stomach that I crumpled to the ground. Pain exploded over me and I screamed as my fingers fumbled for a hold on the asphalt.

He grabbed me by the hair and dragged me up. I couldn't breathe and I could barely see through my tears, but he grabbed my jaw and turned my head to face him.

"This was just for the press," he said in a voice that wasn't his. "Once they see Batman killing his protégé, the Dark Knight's legacy will die."

With his free hand, he slapped me across the face.

It was so brutal, so violent, that I almost blacked out for a second. I regretted my decision to do this, regretted the choices I had made to join = Batman in his crusade against crime.

I was so very sorry.

"Scream, like a bird," he slapped me again.

"Clayface," I spat at him. Blood flicked on the mask, but I ignored whatever was bleeding. "It's Clayface!" I screamed at the top of my lungs. "It's not Batman."

He reached to hit me again, but I leaned to the side and then ducked the other way, missing his arm. I crouched, snarling at him, and yanked out my combat sticks.

"What's wrong, Clayface? Scared to show your true face? You know that everyone thinks you are hideous in your real body, you bunch of dirty crap."

He began to shift, bulging out of Batman's shape and growing into the oozing blob of clay that was his natural body. I knew he got stronger in his clay shape, but at least the people would see his true face.

A clay arm lunged for me, but I leapt up and swung a stick at him. It hit just the way Batman had taught, and on a normal man, it would have caused severe pain, but the stick just sunk into his clay arm. With a monstrous grin, Clayface jerked his arm back and I lost the stick.

"Poor stupid child," he said, a hole of a mouth opening to let out his voice.

"Ugly mud blob," I returned.

He came after me again, but I turned and ran towards the river. The remaining stick was in my left hand, but I felt him catch it as I fled. I had to let it go, but I reached the broken bridge beams. I launched myself out into the air, and my hands caught on a metal pipe. I started to pull up, but Clayface was on my back and legs.

My hands slipped, and we were falling in the air.

The water was so cold that when we hit it, I stopped breathing. I sank down into the churning depths, and I knew I was dying.

I kept my mouth shut, but my lungs were screaming and my body was going numb.

But then I saw Clayface struggling in the water beside me. He was trying to keep shape, but the water was pushing against him, carrying his bulk away.

I kicked hard and my head broke the water.

I gasped for air, my body aching with cold, but I kept moving, just like Batman had taught me.

Clayface's melting head rose up, but he was disintegrating. I knew he would collect himself after he had fully dispersed, but I wasn't waiting for that. I swam in jerky movements to the cement bank, searching for anything to pull myself up.

Hands reached over mine, and I was pulled into the air. They let go, and I tumbled down to the cement, gasping and chattering with cold. The suit kept some of the water out, but in the October air, I was raw and numb.

When I looked up, I wished they had left me in the water.

Several dozen of Bane's thugs were staring at me. To the right, tied separately to posts were Catwoman and Batman. Catwoman's suit was torn at the neck, and the skin just above her breasts was red and bruised. Batman's face was bruised, and he had a gaping hole in his suit around his stomach that was leaking blood.

And there was Bane.

The last time I had seen the villain he was in Arkham. While Bruce had been busy talking to a guard about Joker, I had edged close to Bane's cell. He had worn the venom apparatus then, but they had set it on such a low setting that it would keep him from being in pain but not give him strength.

I had peaked in the cell, and he had given me half a look, sneering. He had sulked to a corner of the cell, and then Bruce had called me so I hurried away. He had almost seemed sad in the cell, and I had felt a tad sorry for him then.

In the smoky air of the night, Bane was enormous. The venom throbbed through his suit and he was twice as big as he had been in his cell. The black mask covered his mouth, and rubber pipes ran over his torso to connect to the machine on his back that kept the venom circulating.

His eyes were evil over the top of his mask, and I felt utter terror. He had beaten Batman and Catwoman. He had beaten them, two heroes that never were beaten.

He would kill me.

Batman jerked in his ropes. "Robin, run! Don't –"

A thug slammed a baseball bat into his stomach.

Batman retched and spit a mouthful of blood onto the road. He gasped for breath, drooling blood on his Suit.

Catwoman said nothing, her body tense and her eyes open.

Bane motioned me forward with two huge fingers.

I stood shakily.

"Welcome, little one," Bane said, his voice low and slow under his mask. "Come watch the destruction."

I took a step closer.

"We're about to unmask the Batman," Bane went on. "And then we will skin the cat for betraying us. After we have our fun with her."

The smile in his voice made me want to retch as well, and I couldn't stop shaking.

"I broke your mentor's back once," Bane went on. "This time I will break his neck. But first I need the codes to bypass Wayne Enterprises' security systems. We are taking every last penny before we kill your mentor."

"I don't know the codes," I burst out.

"But you know where Batman keeps them. You're going to tell us."

I froze. I had never heard of the codes before, but I guessed they were in the Cave. Where else would Batman keep them?

"I will have those codes," Bane stepped closer to me. "You have a choice of who I torture to get them – your mentor or you."

"N-no," I stammered, wishing my lips would stop shaking. He towered above me, a monster of a man with violence radiating from him.

"It will be slow. I'll paralyze you first and then cut off parts of you slowly. You can't move, but you can still feel. In the end, you will tell me anything I want to know."

The thug raised his bat to hit Batman again, and I broke.

The tears came and I started crying, sobbing there in front of the monster of Gotham.

The thugs started laughing and jeering, but I wailed, "I'll tell you!"

"Silly little baby," Bane chuckled. "Tell me now."

I shook my head, sending more tears down my cheeks. "Not everyone. Just you."

He nodded and came close. He was enormous and I kept crying. I hugged my arms to my torso protectively, knowing I looked like a pathetic child in front of the villains. They could see my helplessness, my weakness.

"I-I-I," I hiccupped, "want – want to whisper it."

He reached forward and picked me up like a child, one huge arm underneath my bottom and the other clamping on the back of my neck as he held me close. "Tell me now."

"Okay, okay," I leaned against him for warmth. His chest was like a hot rock against my frigid arms. "It's – it's in the bank. The Bank of Gotham."

He leaned back to look at me in surprise.

With a savage jerk, I yanked my right hand up clutching a Batarang from my belt, and I sliced through the venom tube.

He roared in pain and I got a mouthful of the venom. It surged over me, and I kicked out of his arms.

He flailed behind me, and I rolled over. My body was no longer cold, and I jumped up, pushing off his arm to land on his back. With a Batarang in each hand, I hacked through all the tubes I could see.

Bane screamed like a demon beneath me, and his thugs ran towards us.

The venom kept pulsing through me like a manic drug, and I was covered in it as it sprayed out of Bane's tubes. Some of his blood was on my hands; I must have hacked too hard with the Batarangs.

I jumped up into the air and flung a Batarang towards the posts. It landed at Catwoman's feet.

I fell to the ground and a thug ran up behind me.

I saw Batman, his jaw open in disbelief as he watched Bane writhing in pain.

Something hit the back my head. The world disappeared.

B&R B&R B&R B&R B&R B&R

I woke to soft beeping. My body hurt, tender and sore.

I finally opened my eyes and saw the IV bag and heart-rate monitor. I stared blankly at the screen until another movement caught my eye.

Selina was standing by the window, looking out onto a cold gray dawn.

I looked around the room – white walls with accents of gray and black, a large bed in which I was tucked under several blankets, a vanity table with a mirror over it, and tons of jewelry everywhere. We were in her bedroom.

I shifted in the bed, and she glanced at me. Her eyes were red-rimmed and bloodshot. Her usually pale skin was bruised by her lips, a nasty red and black.

"What happened?" I croaked.

"One of Bane's men knocked you out. I got the Batarang you threw and broke free. I cut Batman free, too, but then the police were on us. The Arkham guards fought the thugs. Bane was a mess with all the venom gone. They overpowered him easily."

"What happened to Batman?"

She raked her dark hair off her forehead. "They got him. They took him."

I sat up in bed and the monitor beeped loudly at the sudden spike. "Bane's men got Batman.?"

"No," she shook her head as she gazed out on the dawning light over the lingering smoke, "the guards got Batman. He told me to rescue you and I got you away, but it was too late to save him. They took him to Arkham. Batman's in Arkham." She gripped the edge of the window. "Bruce is in Arkham Asylum."