Foreword: Look, the official Batverse has turned into a soap opera. Talia's been tortured and killed a bunch of times and knocked up (seriously, what is with the Batverse ladies and babies recently? Catwoman, Talia...Harley Quinn's going to wind up having green-haired little twins, I bet. I wonder if Kittlemeier does maternity wear). My point here is that, like most of my portrayals of the rogues, this Talia is 'classic Talia', just like she used to be in the good old days. If you're not on board with that, just pretend that Superboy Prime punched the Batverse back to a few years before we were crisised and crossovered to death.

It had been a long day. Rather, it had been a long night that had transitioned seamlessly into a long day without the chance for Bruce to grab a nap. Part of him hated these nights. The other part of him reveled in the chance to look at the sunrise and think of just how much he sacrificed to keep this city safe. (Generally, by that time, the bit of his mind that self-censored such thoughts was out partying in Sleep Deprivation Central at that point. )

He'd spent this particular long night following a trail of clues across the city. Apparently the Riddler had been bored recently, given the sheer number of riddles that blanketed the city. Each riddle led to another in a seemingly endless treasure hunt. By dawn, he still hadn't gotten to the end of the trail. He'd grudgingly picked up the last one - neatly encased in a doughnut box laying insolently under the Batsignal - and taken it home with him for further study.

Of course, further study would have to wait until he took care of Bruce Wayne's business. And since Mr. Wayne had to attend several important meetings that day, the Riddler's box of clues ended up abandoned in the Batcave until he could get to it.

The overwhelming line-up of meetings filled an entire page in his dayplanner. He scowled down at it in the privacy of his office. Nothing sucked the soul out of a man faster than having to listen to his subordinates bicker about minutia while he knew that there were better things he could be doing. Catching the Riddler was at the top of that list, naturally. But really, he thought as he watched yet another accountant yattering on about nothing in particular, he could have spent his day tongue-washing 2nd street and accomplished more than he had in all the meetings today combined.

The business day had finally ground to a halt at around five. This particular meeting, which had all the indications that it could go on for hours yet, did not need him. Being a figurehead was fine, but being an ignored figurehead was a colossal waste of time.

He had a plan, though. (He always had a plan. If Martha Stewart popped up in town and threatened to blow up the world, rest assured that he already Had A Plan to deal with it and could take care of everything without breaking a sweat.) He pressed the secret little button on his phone. A chirpy little ringtone blared into the room of peeved executives. He grinned sheepishly at them, answered the "incoming call", and strolled out of the room whispering sweet nothings into an empty line.

He was already thinking about the riddle trail as he trotted down the stairs to the cave. There hadn't been a single cohesive thread to them...yet. Maybe the doughnut-box clue would yield up some kind of common theme to them all so that he could sort this out and get the Riddler back into Arkham where he belonged.

He strode into the main area of the cave, half-wondering why the lights were dimmed. A shadow moved in the darkness, holding the Riddler's doughnut box. "Alfred, I want you to..."

Bruce's request died, unspoken, as the shadow stepped forward into the light. Oh no. Not her. Not today. "Get out," Bruce snarled at the intruder.

Glimmering green eyes blinked at him, ignoring his anger. "Hello, beloved."

"Get out," Bruce repeated, folding his arms for added emphasis.

Talia al Ghul toyed with the box, slipping a finger under a cardboard flap. "Are you really that eager to race after that green-suited lunatic?"

He snatched the box from her hands and set it down on a table. "Out."

"Beloved, I need your help."

Bruce sighed and rubbed his forehead with one exasperated palm. It was always the same with her. 'Oh, Beloved, Father's doing something dreadful and I need you to stop him...that is, until he tells me to stop you, at which point I'll stab you in the back.' He thought he'd made it perfectly clear that she should stop doing this. "Talia, just go."

"But Beloved-"

"Stop calling me that!" he growled, suddenly getting a whole new kind of empathy with the Joker, listening to Harley's constant 'Puddin', Puddin', Puddin''...He twitched that thought firmly away. He definitely needed a nap if he was thinking things like that. "What is it now, Talia?" he asked wearily. "What's his big scheme this time?"

Talia twisted her hands together. "It's that...that sharmouta," she spat.

A woman? Ra's didn't do women. Wait a minute...he ran that sentence through his sleep-deprived brain once more and turned it into 'Ra's didn't work with women.' Ra's didn't think women were capable of doing much more than producing sons.

"She's ruining everything!" Talia sulked. "Father said that she was to be trusted in all things, but I cannot believe that he meant this!"

Bruce watched her carefully as she indulged herself in a little verbal tantrum. He had loved her once. He had truly believed that she loved him too, maybe enough to outweigh her loyalty to her father. But eventually, after more betrayals than he cared to think about, she had inadvertantly made it very clear that Ra's came first and would always come first in her affections.

And after a lot of nights perched on rooftops, thinking about it, he'd come to the conclusion that their arrogance - the very same arrogance that was currently making Talia foam ever so slightly at the mouth - made them idiotic. They knew he had a brain under that cowl - didn't Ra's always refer to him as 'Detective'? - so why didn't they think he'd pick up on the pattern of betrayal? Lab rats don't push levers after taking an electric shock or two.

Everyone needs to believe something. Talia obviously needed to believe that he still loved and trusted her. But she hadn't been so bold as to invade his home in over a year! What could possibly have pushed her buttons to this extent?

"...and she's simply unnatural," Talia finished. "Really, how Father could associate himself with a...a monstrosity like that is unthinkable."

"Who is this woman, Talia?" he asked.

She sighed dramatically. "You would know her best, Beloved, as Poison Ivy."

Bruce's brain shut down for a moment in shock. "What?"

"Pamela Isley," she clarified.

That didn't make any sense. Poison Ivy got along with people just about as well as her namesake did, and Ra's wouldn't even be able to consider the idea that a woman might have something worthwhile to contribute to his cause as anything but a minion. Either Talia was out of good ideas to lure him to her father's stronghold (which was likely, since by now she had to be scraping the bottom of the barrel) or the world had gone utterly mad.

He took a seat in the big chair and regarded her coldly. "Tell me what happened."

(to be continued)

Author's Note: That line about the lab rats was taken from Worm Quartet's 'Great Idea for a Song', which incidentally sums up Batman's feeling about Talia pretty well, come to think of it.