I don't own. Please don't sue. The only thing that I have that's mine is my tv, and if you take that, how can I watch Batman Beyond?

Maraverse #8 (this is getting epic, isn't it folks?)

Two Bullets
*****


I crawled through Grampy's window tired and broken. I came in close to the bathroom instead of using the sliding glass door that came into the dining room… but I really wanted to just get out of these things and hide somewhere.

Breathing deeply, I sat on the sill for a moment after closing the window.

"Robin?"

"It's past your bed time."

My grandfather had come into the hall. "I'm retired. I'm not convalescing. And I'm afraid old habits die rather hard."

I sighed, pealing off my gloves. "Sorry. Long night."

"Not a good one, I take it?" In other words, 'I thought I read Him the riot act well enough.'

"It wasn't Batman. Heck, he even stuck up for me." I leaned heavily against the wall. Why couldn't I get these images out of my head?

"Nightwing?"

"No. My dad came storming into the cave." Same difference, you might ask? No. I had this serious issue with him handling dad stuff in Nightwing's costume. Work was work, home was home. Why couldn't he seem to tell the difference between the two? "And… some other stuff happened. We lost someone."

"Well, get yourself changed. Tomorrow's another day."

"Yeah." I sighed. Tomorrow was another chance for someone to kick my ass. Tomorrow was another chance to scramble after all the pieces of my life and attempt pulling them back together.

When I was bathed and changed, I came into his bedroom. The door was opened, so I took that as an invitation. He was laying on top of the covers, reading. "You know, I started this book about ten years ago."

"That's a new book," I observed.

"I lost the damned thing. I had to buy a new one." He put the book down next to him then moved over and made space for me. Dejectedly, I sat next to him. "Do you want to talk about it?"

I bit my cheek, thinking about it. We had never talked openly about Robin stuff before, so I didn't know if he meant the situation with dad or… the other thing. "The Bat unfired me. Then we got called to Adams, where it meets with Chinatown. We lost a lady. She was pregnant. I decked the guy. Then the Bat sent me back to the cave, dad came over, he yelled at me, I yelled at him, he yelled at grandpa, then he punched him, and then he left." I put my head on his shoulder. "That's the short version." I sniffed.

"Sounds bad," he said sympathetically. Fortunately, he didn't try to console me. I didn't think I could bear it if he did, and I think he knew that it wouldn't do any good. "I tried to send your dad home when he came here. I was hoping he'd actually go."

"Yeah. Mom said a week. Then try talking. So much for that." I reached over to his night stand and pulled a tissue out of the box. My nose had suddenly started running uncontrollably. "Usually he listens to mom." More proof that my dad had finally gone off the deep end. "I wonder if Green Lantern would mind adopting a displaced Robin."

Without warning, he pulled my head closer to him and kissed my forehead. "It'll blow over."

"Ri-ight. This feud's been going on… well.. a long time."

"A couple of years, I'd think. But things usually have to get worse before they get better."

"How much worse?"

"Mmm… you may be at the turning point."

"Let's hope."

Slowly, I swung my legs over the bed. "Thanks for listening. I… guess I better get to bed."

"Good night."

When I got to the door, I turned back. "Tomorrow, you owe me stories."

"I don't owe anything to girls who eves drop. Now get outta here, kid. Before I tell your mother what you're up to."

He smiled, and that elicited a grin from me. He didn't have an electric personality, but there was something good-natured about him that made him as steadfast as a rock.

* * *

It all rushed back upon me, the sights, the sounds… the smell of blood thick in the air. My blood, and others. The humidity of summer made it hold in the air. We weren't in the woods, it was a clearing in the park. It was as desolate as if we were in a forest, and as ill-lit. It wreaked of wet rotting leaves beneath my feet.

My head ached from the blow I had taken to the back of the head. I'd been so busy paying attention to the two on either side of me, I'd missed the third and fourth of Two Face's men. I could feel my hair, sticky and matted with blood. The bonds on my wrists which tied me to the tree were tight. They cut into my gloves, and thereby my wrists. I couldn't tell at first if they were rope or metal; my head was foggy and my self-awareness low.

As things became more clear, I was aware of the body laying face down at my feet. It was petit and unassuming, clothed in a pink suit turned red with blood. My first thought was in trying to focus my eyes enough to determine if it was an entrance or exit wound. My second was that the woman, Councilperson Firth had been alive the last time I was conscious. The two behind you, idiot! His calling card was twos… and multiples of two. The first set had lured you out, the second had gone for the kill. Like animals that hunt in packs.

The kill. Why was I still alive? Why was my mask in place? Two Face had a plan. He always has a plan, you little idiot! And congratulations, you're now part of it.

Sounds behind me. My ears pounded to hear them, as if someone were still bashing my head. "And this, my maniacal friend is what you get for your money."

Great. Two Face was selling me to the highest bidder. I attempted to turn my head, but for some reason couldn't. I must have been hit harder than I thought.

"Aww, the little birdy's awake!" His fist connected with my jaw.

"Don't damage the goods, Harvey!" The Joker.

They'd told me to stay in tonight. They'd told me what would happen if I were caught out in the city…

"Until you pay up, she's mine. That means we get to do whatever we want."

Well, they're never going to get a chance to punish me. That much was abundantly clear. My only regret was that in getting what I deserved… I'd be punishing them as well. Grandpa didn't deserve this. Dad… oh he'd be so disappointed that I'd disobeyed him. I wanted nothing more from him than his hand on my shoulder saying I'd done well.

The Joker was circling around me, checking the goods. "Well, it appears everything's in working order. What's the catch?" He stopped and stared at Two Face.

"Just the money. And…"

"See, there's always a catch."

"I get to watch you kill her."

Two Face must have needed the money bad. Knowing Two Face, he wanted to get out of town, that would certainly cost. He also traditionally needed start-up capital to hatch his plot. Either that, or I just didn't rate much as a Robin. Slowly, I began trying to determine what I was bound with. I needed to get out of here. Once the deal was sealed—goodbye Robin.

"This is too easy. She has to put up a chase or something, or what's the fun?"

"Do you want to kill her, or do you want her to escape."

"Of course I want to kill her, moron! But let me tell you about the last time I killed a Robin. It was so… artistic." His eyes clouded over as he thought of those 'fond' memories.

I clenched my eyes shut. I didn't want to hear. It had been before my birth, but it was something that haunted my entire family.

Two Face moved to hand Joker a gun. "Do it NOW. Before the Bat finds his baby-bird."

Two Face had the right idea. Shoot now, ask questions later. Wait, what was I saying? I was the one he wanted to shoot. Ok. Do something here. Think of something. Anything at this point, because you're dead either way. "He's right, you know. If you don't hurry up and do it, Batman'll be on you like white on rice. Or your face, as the case may be."

"Give me the gun, Harvey!"

"Money first, Smiley." Oh that was sweet. Get him all worked up, offer the gun, THEN ask for the money.

Crimney. No wonder my wrists hurt so damned bad. They'd tied me up with piano wire.

"I want to shoot the grin right off her face! That'll teach--"

A dog barked loudly.

"Sparky!" a man's voice called, echoing. "Sparky!" He was coming closer. Running I'd say.

"Who names their dog Sparky, these days?" the Joker pondered in a tone that was nearly sane. "Sparky," he called out. "Here, boy!"

"Don't--" a thick hand clamped over my mouth before I could warn them. One of Two Face's men.

"What a cute dog," the Joker said as the terrier ran towards him. A red leash trailed behind him like a cape. Without premeditation, he ripped the gun out of Two Face's slackened hand and shot the dog. It leapt forward a few more steps, then dropped to the ground with a high-pitched moan. The owner, a man in dark blue sweats was just visible as he entered the clearing. "Sparky?"

I knew what was coming. I pulled heavily against my restraints, kicking out, wishing I could do something—anything to stop what was about to take place.

Before the owner could reach the animal, the Joker fired again. The man dropped in his tracks. "Well, that was fun!"

I tried once again to connect with the man covering my mouth, but it wasn't happening. He was behind me and his arms were too long.

"Don't worry," the Joker told me. "You're next!"

"Money first, Joker."

"You'll get paid!" Yeah, right. The Joker wasn't noted for being the most honest individual.

The Joker raised the gun to my head and he pulled the trigger.

* * *

I sat up in bed, taking a deep breath. Fortunately, unlike some other members of my family, I was at least quiet about my nightmares. I tried to readjust the covers and go back to sleep, but I couldn't. I just kept replaying these things in my mind, over and over. I kept thinking of what I could have done—should have done. What my father would have done. I hated him. He was so damned perfect.

Looking at the clock, I determined I had enough time to go out once more before dawn. I needed to, desperately. I had something that couldn't wait another day, another hour… not even another minute. Dressing more quickly than I ever had before, I departed.

The dream still covered me, like a thick wet slime. I'd hoped the wind would wipe it away, but it did not. Perhaps if I eliminated the last vestiges of my sin, I could be clean. I knew I couldn't rest while those disks were in someone else's hands. I couldn't rest when others were so close to knowing how I'd failed… how I'd made myself an accomplice to murder.

Tim was at home, working on his computer, surprise surprise. He'd always been more for book work than anything else. "Hi," I said, popping through the window.

"I take it you're back in the suit?"

I came up behind him and looked over his shoulder. "I want the CD's back. It's my case."

"I was told I'd have my head handed to me if I even thought of doing that."

My reply was a little too loud and forceful. "Damnit, Tim. I thought you liked me."

"Will you shut up? Stephanie's asleep."

"Tim, I want the disks back. I don't care what you tell the Bat. Tell him I stole them. I don't care."

He turned in the chair. "What's your deal?"

"I've had too much stuff taken away from me lately. I want my case back."

"Look, I'll trade. I got a couple that you'd be perfect for…"

I grabbed hold of the back of his chair. "WHY can't I have it back? I did ALL the leg-work. I did all the EVERYTHING. I even got myself in trouble with my parents for this case. I. Want. It. Back."

"Mara, you're not making any friends here. Calm down. Now what's up with you and Batman? Why DOESN'T he want you to have so badly, and why do you want it back, equally badly?"

I clenched my hands, resisting the urge to grab his shirt. "I don't know why he doesn't want me to have it. Why I want it is… personal."

"That's probably why he doesn't want you to have it. You've made it too personal."

"And neither of you have ever done that? Look, this isn't the Penguin and knocking out my front teeth. This is serious shit, and I'm going to nail those little buggers with or without you."

He rose and folded his arms over his chest. "I guess another question I should ask is what you were doing outside Harvey Dent's cell at three in the morning on Friday night?"

That startled me. "What the hell are you--"

"Mara, we have the security footage. Oracle has been feeding it for a while. In fact… you make a lot of trips there. What's going on?" He leaned against the computer table.

"Why should I tell you?"

"NO tell, NO disks."

"Damnit, Tim!" I realized I was raising my voice. A three-way argument with Stephanie was NOT what I needed. I dropped my voice to a whisper. "And you have never, EVER had a case you didn't want to involve the Bat in?"

"We're afraid you're in a little over your head."

"We? We, meaning you've joined the great conspiracy of grown-ups, and you're against me now? I thought we were friends."

"Mara, tell me why you're hell-bent on finishing this case."

"You wouldn't understand," I muttered, turning away from him. "You wouldn't fucking understand." There wasn't a chance in the world. And if you knew, I told myself. You'd never talk to me ever again.

His hands gently grasped my arms beneath the cape. "That isn't true—you don't know that."

I pulled away from him. "Tim, I HAVE to do this. I have to do this for me." To stop the bad dreams, and maybe redeem myself. I probably never would be able to with my family, but maybe in my own eyes—in God's eyes perhaps. "I'll never get another night's sleep, if I don't," I confessed.

"What's going on? What does it have to do with Two Face?"

It was all I could do not to physically lash out at him. It had all built up inside me, the frustration, the anger… "Quit asking me," I said with at trembling voice. "I can't tell you."

"Then leave, Mara. I have my own work to do."

Suddenly the shudders erupted in my chest and my eyes grew wet. "Damnit, Tim! Just give them to me! Can't you see I need--" I let out a sob. "Don't look at me!" I demanded, trying to get myself back under control. I bet he'd never cried as Robin.

"It's ok, Mara. Look, just tell me what's wrong." He grabbed hold of my arms from behind, and this time wouldn't let me pull free—not that I didn't try.

"I CAN'T!" I moaned.

"It won't leave this room."

"It won't have to. You knowing… is too much."

"I won't say anything, I swear."

"You'll look at me differently. That's too much."

"Can't you trust us? We're you're family."

I clenched my eyes closed. The anger was something to focus on. The anger would clear my head. "My family are the LAST people I trust," I said coldly. "Get the hell off of me, Tim."

"Mara, I really don't think--"

"What's going on out there?"

When he heard Stephanie's voice, he loosened his grip. I pulled away and turned around, shoving him back. He bumped into the CD tower in the corner, but grabbed it before it hit the floor.

"Just let me solve this on my own," I begged him as I went for the window. "Just let me solve all of this. Please." My voice had broken with the last. Before he could reach for me, I dove out. I'd been so close there, I'd frightened myself. I couldn't let that happen again. I had to just keep myself together, and get through this case. And I had best get through it before Tim does.

* * *

After I'd somewhat calmed down, I came back to Grampy's. Without changing, I took my better laptop and went into the coat closet. It wasn't the Cave. It wasn't my Hidey Hole, but it'd do. I spent several fruitless hours trying to reconstruct my data, but once I was out of the Arkham system, it was impossible to get back in. I was sure my mother could do it, but I knew she'd uphold the Bat's decision. She was like that… well, he's your partner and what he says goes… it was a double edged sword, I realized. I wanted him to back me up, and I wanted dad to respect his decisions, but it would be a hell of a lot easier if mom and Tim just forget that he said some stuff.

Tim's system found me trying to cut in and kicked me out. "Shit," I muttered. I tried to open another connection to the server. WHY had my family not made sure I was a better hacker? These were life-skills in this business, damnit!

The closet door opened. "There you are. I was beginning to think you didn't come home last night, after you went out again. I hope you don't plan on sitting in there all day."

I scowled. "I'll sit in here till I have this thing figured out."

"Well, I'll call you when breakfast is ready." Grampy shut the door again. That was his way of saying that I had until then to make up my mind to come out.

I ignored his calls for breakfast. I'd finally gotten into the surface level of Tim's system around lunch time. Ten bucks said he knew I was there, too. Now wasn't a time to be shy.

"Frigging bloody hell!" I cried out when the connection terminated. If I didn't know better, I'd say there was someone live on the other end, closing me down.

"Robin, get out of the closet, right now," my grandfather told me.

"I am NOT coming out till I'm in this system! I'm not coming out until I have this fixed!" I began opening a new portal. There was one thing I hadn't tried yet.

"I just want you to eat some lunch."

"I'm not eating ANYTHING."

"Everyone has to eat."

"I don't have to eat," I said coolly. Couldn't he understand? I just needed left alone.

"Fine," he said gently. "IF you're not out of there by dark, and you haven't eaten, you're not going out on patrol."

"Fine," I said. Actually, being grounded would work out quite beneficially, at this point. I couldn't spare the time. Not when Tim was slated to upgrade security in the council building and the mayor's offices tomorrow.

What I desperately needed was something to connect the goings-on at Arkham with the mayor's office. Otherwise the board at Arkham would be replaced, and we'd be left to start again. Could I be so lucky? Or was the Bat right? Was the remainder of this case for Tim? I prayed not. I prayed with all my might.

Late at night I heard my grandfather talking to someone. I wondered if someone else from the MCU had stopped to see if he'd caught anything. It was laughable.

"Robin, get out of the closet." It was the Bat.

"I'm not coming out," I informed him.

"You're late for patrol. I've wasted enough time looking for you."

"Ground me, kick me out of the suit, do whatever the hell you have to do, I'm not coming out of this damned closet."

"Leave us a minute," he said to Grampy.

I closed the lid on the lap top as the closet door opened.

"Is this about last night?" he asked.

"It is." I informed him.

"We can't save everyone," he said in a voice that was almost human. "We try—and we mean to…"

I scowled.

"The best thing you can do is get back on your feet and get out there."

"I'm staying right here."

"Your father isn't going to bother you tonight."

I didn't move, and I didn't look at him. I didn't care what he thought my problem was, just as long as he left me alone.

"You couldn't save her last night—you can save others tonight. You have to think about the ones that are still here."

I stared at the closet wall a moment. Damnit. I hated when he was right. I hated it so much. I couldn't do anything for Firth or the man with the dog… What I was doing now was for me, not for them. Based on my stunning lack of success… a few hours of patrol wasn't going to matter. Besides, I suddenly had a better idea. It was something I'd said to Tim this morning. And based on how all his systems were locked up tighter than Fort Knox, it was really the only option that might pan out.

* * *

The Bat was quiet on patrol. He wanted to just forget that we'd had that little heart-to-heart. Fine, I could too. I really didn't want to discuss anything with anyone, much less him.

It was a warm, humid spring night. Smells hung in the air… like that night. I hated myself for thinking 'it' over and over. I hated myself for being by His side, when I didn't deserve to be here.

I did my job. I did what I was trained to do, even if I was merely going through the motions. I wanted to be anywhere except in my own head.

The Bat didn't speak to me the entire night. When it was all over, all he said was, "don't be late tomorrow. I don't want to have to retrieve you."

I swallowed, my throat too dry to talk, then nodded.

"Good. Let's get back on the right track."

I hadn't heard him say anything so corny since I was a little Robin. Of course, having an emotional break down on the job wasn't usually my MO. That was reserved for Tim.

* * *

After leaving my boss, I found a comfortable place to begin my stake out. I sat, waiting for the dawn, and watching. For the first time, my legs did not ache, nor was I tempted to move. If I moved… he'd see me.

I was interrupted from my near-trance like state by a certain green individual. "Hey, Robin… your mom patched me through." Lantern.

"Oracle." I said, watching my target.

"Yeah, your mom."

"Oracle."

"What crawled up your butt? You're not still working are you?"

"Working."

"She's worried about you, man. You wanna talk?"

"I'm working."

"Look, ok, you can do that to other folks, but you can't put me off like that. You're my homey."

"Lantern."

"Mara, come on. This isn't cool. Tell me what happened."

"I'll talk to you when I get home."

"You're really starting to worry me."

"Don't worry."

"Come on. The Bat has a bigger vocabulary than you do right now."

"Less is more," I informed him.

"I'm going to come there and kick your butt. What's going on?"

"You wouldn't understand."

"Is it your dad? Maybe my dad can talk--"

"Don't involve anyone else," I ordered sternly.

"Look, you aren't my leader any more. I think it's time someone worried after YOU."

"My target's moving," I replied with Bat like coldness. "Robin out."

I terminated the connection.

Tim was out the door and headed for his car in the parking lot. Stephanie had left fifteen minutes before. I was so close, I could taste it. Either that or it was desperation that wet my lips.

I leapt to his building and bypassed the security. Fortunately, the security was to keep folks OTHER than Bat-people out, unlike my mother, whose goal was to fry everyone.

My first stop was his CD rack. I opened all of the cases, and then tossed them on the floor when I discovered they were not what I needed. "Come on…" I muttered to myself, as I began shuffling around in the things on the desk.

"I knew you'd come back here," Tim said smugly behind me. "It isn't like you to be this erratic, or this sloppy. I'm guessing you're scared."

I bit my lips closed. If I said anything now… well, it would just get me in more trouble. I turned to face him.

"Geeze, Mara, look at you. You're shaking. When's the last time you ate or slept?"

"You have me." I whispered. "So go ahead, rat me out."

He grabbed both of my arms again. What the hell was his problem? "I'm not going to do anything until I find out what's going on. All I know is you're scaring a lot of people right now."

"There isn't anything going on. Just let me do this… on my own."

"NONE of us do ANY of this alone. Look, Bruce was hoping you'd get things straightened out once you were back in the suit, if you had something to focus on. That OBVIOUSLY isn't happening. So something has to give."

I grabbed on to the desk with both hands to stop my hands from shaking. "Then tell me what to do," I muttered, absolutely desperate. Did I really think I'd find the disks? NONE of us were that sloppy. I wasn't thinking with my head. In fact, I hadn't been thinking of anything the last day or so.

"First you have to tell us what is wrong," he said calmly, letting go of my arms. He pulled the chair out from the computer and gently pushed me into it.

"I can't do that."

"We can't help if we don't know."

"You can't help. It's… over. The Thing."

"What is the thing?"

I stared up at him, like a deer caught in headlights. He really expected me to be able to tell him.

"Mara… come on. We've always been buds, right? Robins R Us."

When I'd first started… yeah, we'd been especially close. Now? Now I barely saw him. It was always under work-related circumstances.

"It's over. I just… need to play clean up."

"What have you done?"

The accusation—though truthful—hurt. I clenched my eyes shut and turned away from him.

"Mara, we're hardly going to kick you out of the family."

"You don't know that," I said painfully.

"I won't know until you tell me. But I doubt it. Look at your dad," he said with a smile. "We keep him around."

I drew in a deep breath. He didn't mean anything by it, but the last statement had been like a knife going into me. I hated my father. I hated him for always knowing what to do. He'd have done the right thing.

The elevator to their loft apartment engaged, and we looked at each other.

"It HAS to be Steph, she's always forgetting something." he said, reaching over me and grabbing the computer's mouse. "I won't discuss this with you but--we're not done with this yet, Mara." Tim clicked on the window that monitored the security feeds. "Alfred?"

I turned towards the screen. His arms were full with grocery bags. He was the last person I wanted to see. He was the second to last, actually, with my father being last. Why I didn't want to see Alfred? I didn't know.

The elevator door opened a moment later, and Alfred scrutinized Tim. "Don't we have somewhere to be, young man?" Then Alfred took a few more steps in, followed Tim's gaze, and his eyes fixed upon me. I flinched. "I see." He continued into the opened space that was the living room, dining room and computer area, before continuing on into the alcove that was the kitchen. I hated Tim's loft apartment.

"I was just going," I said, and tried to rise. Tim's hand clamped on my shoulder and pushed me back down. I glared at him with reproach.

"Um…" Tim started, not sure whether to deal with me, or Alfred's groceries. Alfred took them to the counter himself, though, because Tim KNEW if he let go of me, I'd flee. "I went grocery shopping last Thursday," he began.

"And obviously did a poor job of it, Master Timothy."

Tim looked defensive, but he kept that hand clamped on my shoulder.

"I was informed that you prepared macaroni and cheese for dinner last night."

"There's nothing WRONG with macaroni and cheese!"

Unless you're Alfred, master of all things home and garden.

"On behalf of your wife and unborn child, I beg to differ." He began unpacking the bags of fresh foods, then stopped. "Get yourself off to work, then." He turned his attention to me. Behind my mask, I clenched my eyes shut. "Miss Robin is going to help me put these things away, and then we'll be on our way."

I dared peek when the room became silent. Alfred and Tim were staring at each other, having some kind of conversation I was not privy to. Finally Tim tilted his head ever so slightly. Alfred's eyebrow arched and Tim released his hold on me.

He leaned in towards me a bit. "Just talk to Alfred."

I set my jaw in response. I wouldn't do any such thing.

"If you need me… call." As he went to the waiting elevator, he kept looking at me, keeping me pinned in that chair with his eyes. I'd gone from being his captive to Alfred's.

"Well," he said when the elevator rolled downward with creaking uncertainty. "Off with the costume."

I shook my head. Right, and put on WHAT, exactly?

He reached into the bottom of one of the bags. "I think this will be sufficient." He held out to me a green top and jeans. Maybe he wasn't so surprised to see Tim and me here as he'd appeared to be when he first came in.

Slowly, I rose and took the clothes from him.

"Don't be so shocked. If Master Timothy expected you back here, then you were certain to arrive. And I've had the opportunity to give him a piece of my mind as well."

Wearily, I took myself to the bathroom to change. My hands were still shaking when I unclipped the cape and let it fall to the floor. So what if I've only had three hours of sleep since Monday morning? That really shouldn't mean anything. The Bat could do it. Keep yourself together. You can defeat Alfred. You don't have to talk to him…

"Hurry along, Miss." He knocked twice on the bathroom door.

I pealed the mask off and looked at myself in the mirror. My eyes were already red with unshed tears. The redness made my gray eyes almost appear blue. I hadn't even properly inherited my dad's eyes. What the hell kind of mutt was I?

Once I had finished changing, I balled my things up, and carried them out the bathroom door. My stomach instantly growled as the smell of food assaulted my nose now that I was out in the main living area. I wouldn't eat his food, either, I swore to myself.

I came back around the kitchen wall and inspected what he was doing. All the paper bags were neatly folded on the counter. "Why did you say I'd help you put the food away if you were going to put it away while I was in the bathroom?" I asked peevishly.

"You were too slow," Alfred informed me.

I went back over to Tim's computer. I could still find those CD's…

"You won't find them there."

Tim had them in the Cave. You dumb ass.

"Now, Miss Martha. If you were eating properly, you'd be thinking properly." He continued on his merry way, cooking at the stove. I didn't even know what the hell he was making in that pot. I wondered how Stephanie would feel to know we'd overtaken her apartment. She'd probably be relieved that Alfred was now cooking for her instead of Tim.

I couldn't stay and watch him any more. I went into the living room and threw myself on the soft sofa. What could I do now? Running away again seemed like a good solution. If only I could do it right, and get away, and never have to look at any of them again. Then they wouldn't know.

The morning light was peeking in through the edges of the shades, and it spilt over onto where my head was resting. I closed my eyes against the golden rays that threatened to blind me, piercing into my eyes like…


The Joker raised the gun to my head and he pulled the trigger.

There was the clicking as the hammer came down into an empty chamber and the barrel rotated. He pulled the trigger three more times with the same effect. "It's an eight-shooter!" the Joker cried. "What gives, Scabby?"

"If it takes more than two bullets," Two Face began, "You need better aim."

"I have excellent aim! I got that guy at fifty yards!"

"Two hundred grand wins you two more bullets."

"Well, I left my wallet in my other straight jacket."

My hands twisted and twisted in vain. I needed to work smarter, not harder. I began feeling frantically for the ends of the piano wire. This stuff's difficult to get a good knot on. I could feel it pull and dig into me as I felt around my wrists with my half-numb fingers.

"Then get out of our sight! You're pathetic! We'll Do It."

"With what, Tweedle Dumb and Dumber?" The Joker waved the empty gun. Amazing he didn't have bullets. Of course, he'd only been out of Arkham for three hours, hardly enough time to build an arsenal.

"Bare hands."

"Oh for heavens sakes, use a rock or something. Now just give me some bullets, and you, and me and the little birdy can be about our business. I promise to pay in full, once the body's cold and we see the look on Batty's face." I believed that promise of payment probably less than Two Face.

"Boys…" Two Face's men grabbed on to the Joker. The Joker was psychotic, but he wasn't big on the brawn. They took him and contained him easily. Why couldn't I find the ends of this wire?

Two Face grabbed the gun out of the Joker's hand.

"Alright, Shifty, you have me," the Joker said with a chuckle as Two Face carefully loaded the gun with two more bullets. "Now give Uncle Joker the gun back…"

Two Face looked at him like he was crazy. Well, he was. "You really don't have a good hand dealt to you right now. You should just cut your losses…" He was raising the gun towards my face.

The Joker, on some insane impulse stepped between me and Harvey. "I want to kill Robin."

"Move it, Joker. Or the second bullet's for you."

"Let me put it this way—You don't let me kill Robin, I'll let me kill your little policewoman friend."

I found the ends of the piano wire and began pushing them back through the loops they came through.

Two Face's eyes grew wide.

"Yes, Harvey. Give me the gun, or Montoya gets it."

"NO," he replied in a voice that didn't at all belong to Two Face.

Things moved slower for just a second. My hands were untied but still wrapped tightly in the wire. I could see the muscles in Harvey's hand move. If I kicked out, I could knock the Joker…

In a burst of yellow fire followed by a spray of red, it was over.

* * *

I sat up, gasping for breath. I rubbed my wrists, and then wiped a hand over my face, as I'd done then. Scraping off the Joker's brains….

Before I could contain myself, I threw up. Fortunately, I'd not eaten since the day before yesterday, so the only thing that stained Tim's precious sofa was my bile. I picked my head off the arm when I was done heaving.

"Are you ready to talk about it now, Miss?" Alfred's presence beside me had been entirely missed.

I couldn't stop myself. My will power and self-control had melted away. I buried my face against his chest. "I… I could have stopped it… but I didn't move." Years of tears spilled out onto his white shirt. Could I tell him? Did I have a choice?

"They say confession is good for the soul. I've aided too many of you for too many years to not know when confession is necessary." He gave me his handkerchief. "It is necessary."

"When they heard the Joker was out… Batman ordered me home. He called in Nightwing. I did go home. I… I stayed there until mom lost contact with both of them. Then there was the report that Two Face was out as well… Tim was gone, Batgirl was gone… I… I went back in."

The tale only spiraled downward from there. I'd found Two Face in the park. I'd meant to follow. I was hoping he'd lead me to Batman and Nightwing. But instead I'd been lead to Councilperson Firth. I still waited. I knew I wasn't allowed up against the big names… so I waited, in the hopes that they'd get out. They were the best. Batman and my dad. Firth was unharmed for now, if I had to act, I would. If I didn't…it could wait until—

I was flanked suddenly. I needed to draw them away from the woman—

And then I woke up, tied to the tree, my head pounding and the woman dead. Then the sale, the man, his dog… the Joker in front of me…

"I didn't do anything. I was almost free… I was scared. Scared of what would happen… if I did. It wasn't even a second… and I didn't just kick him. The angle… I'd have probably taken the bullet in the suit. Harvey's tall. I could have… without… But I didn't just kick him. I didn't move fast enough. The next moment… with his hot… brains on my face… I was relieved. I was ashamed… and relieved. And I wanted to crawl into a hole when I was really truly free and the piano wire fell behind me. The bullet changed direction… it was in the tree next to my head. I… I didn't go after Harvey. I scraped his… off my face… went to my hidey hole and changed… and went to the library." I hiccupped. That's what I'd done. I'd let Harvey go. He'd been captured not an hour later. No evidence of the murder on his person. He'd practically turned himself in.

Later Batman reported that they wouldn't have gotten free of the Joker at all, except the Joker had been mysteriously called away. I asked no questions, and I told no lies.

I was still tearful when I asked, "what're you going to do?"

"What do you propose I do?" I hated when he made you come up with your own solutions—even worse when he made you come up with your own punishments.

"I don't know," I replied in all honesty. I didn't know what to do about this.

"May I ask why you did not come to me before with this?"

I looked at the carpet. "I…" Why, I ask myself painfully? "I was… ashamed."

"Because you did not save someone who did not deserve to be saved?"

I practically fell on the floor when I heard him say that. I thought he felt as we did—you had to save everyone. "I don't know… no… because I was… afraid. Afraid of what would happen if I did."

"And what would have happened if you had done something?"

I hated thinking about it. I'd buried it so far back in my mind… tried to hide from it… "He'd still be alive. Doing what he does."

"And what else?"

I felt like a slow child. "And I don't know what else."

"That bullet would have hit you."

"It would have hit the suit! The angle…"

"It could have just as easily hit you. And if it came between you or someone who has cost us all so much? I would much rather have you, Miss Martha. I think everyone else would too."

I looked away, ashamed. "And what happens when my father finds out? You make these judgments as to who gets to live and who gets to die so freely! Are we all better off with him dead? Hell yeah. Am I sorry he's dead? NO."

"Then what are you sorry for?"

"Making the wrong damned choice!" I wrapped my arm around the sofa and cried into it for a moment. "Where the hell was my father? He'd have—done the right thing. He'd have made the right choice."

"It wasn't his test—it was yours. And he's failed his own--"

"No. No he hasn't," I said with disbelief. "We're supposed to save everybody! Even the people who don't deserve to be saved."

"If it makes you feel any better… in your position… I'd have done the same thing."

I turned around and looked him in the eyes. Did I know Alfred? Shakily, I rose to my feet. I needed distance between us. I didn't know why… but I needed room to be safe.

"Only… yours was more of an instinctual hesitation. Mine would have been a deliberate, premeditated choice." His calm, clear voice echoed in my skull. Premeditated…

I just turned and stared at him blankly, trembling.

"I have seen too much in this life to let you continue to carry this burden unnecessarily."

"Unne…" I couldn't even say it. My mouth had gone dry. I could feel my heart racing, pounding against my ribs. What was wrong with me?

"Unnecessarily," he repeated.

My stomach churned and twisted until I thought I'd be sick again. I grabbed the end table for support, and just as I did, I saw movement in the shadows near the bedroom door.

He'd heard…

I swallowed and my knees buckled. I felt the sting as they hit the hardwood floor with all of my weight. My mind twisted, falling under the weight of my world crashing down around me.

"Oh shit," I muttered, as the world grew dark.

The End… for now