I don't own. Surprise.

Changing of the Guard

"Remind me again why we thought this was a good idea?" my brother asked as he leapt over my head. For a moment, his body was silhouetted against the mid-day sun, and he did almost look frightening. That was my brother-more frightening in the daylight than in the dark.

"Lets go back to it being the ONLY idea, Mr. Don't You Have a Plan Yet Because I'm Too Dumb To Think of One." I nailed two guys. Didn't this Ra's guy employ chicks? Oh yeah, that's right. He's a sexist pig.

I landed on the asphalt and tried to recount. Jimmy had four down. I'd gotten six. That left us… a whopping thirty-six followers of Ra's.

"See, that's the problem. Your insults are always too long. Get in, get out. Like when you used to threaten Kon?" he trailed off as he kicked a hooded man's legs out from under him. "The threats lasted too long. Timing is everything."

Why did I have to be related to someone who had insult throwing down to a science? "Too bad you don't throw punches as effectively as you throw punch-lines," I grumbled. "New plan. We're not going to be able to take out all these guys." Even I had my limitations.

"Gee, ya think?" he threw some pellets that exploded and hissed, blinding a group of guys. "By the way, you were better that time. The throwing punches and throwing punch lines."

"Do you talk this much with dad?" I complained.

"Aww, shut up. A little help here?" he was being converged upon by multiple goonies in hoods.

"Dude, like I don't have my own problems," I replied as I leveled one of my guys. No one touches the cape and goes away unscathed. At least we could see the entrance to the cave now. If only we could like… get there?

"Robin, I mean it. Oracle said you have to watch for me."

"Oh brother." I rolled my eyes as I tackled the two guys holding Nighthawk to the ground. At least the urge to kill him had passed now that we had someone else to fight. Every fifth word wasn't a swear word from my mouth either. It was a good thing.

I got the other two guys off of my brother and pulled him to his feet. "Happy now?" I asked.

He huffed. Off of his visor, I saw the reflection of another attacker. Without turning around, I elbowed the guy in the face.

"Doesn't it physically HURT to be that perfect?"

Everyone had to be a smartass, you know? "Look, if we can get into the hanger there, then we'll be more ok than we are out here, ok?"

"It's a hundred yards away from our destination!"

"FINE!" Ok. Make up your mind, brother of mine. You want to get out of fight-central, or do you want into Ra's secret clubhouse?

This was getting old. I grabbed a handful of throwing razors and tossed them in front of the next wave. They hit the asphalt and exploded in a clean white burst that pushed them back.

"Up the middle!" I cried out, trying to make a path for us. I could probably get the exploding razors to work one more time, if I did it right. Unfortunately, they reformed ranks, and Nighthawk and I were pushed back to back. "Got any more tricks in those gauntlets?" I asked, but was met with silence. Gas wasn't the greatest thing to use in dry open air; it lost its concentration and effectiveness. "Ok. Fine. We do this the ugly way, and pray we don't need the gas pellets later. Let them surround us. When I say to, get your rebreather on and drop ALL of them. Including the exploding ones."

"Have I mentioned in the last thirty seconds that you're freaking nuts?"

"Just don't blow your own ass off," I grumbled. "That's ALL we're in danger of." And possibly setting ourselves on fire or triggering an explosion from their gunfire. Most of them had knives, so maybe we'd be ok.

"Ok…" he muttered, his hand full of capsules.

"Waiting for stragglers…"

I could almost feel the breath of some of them….

"NOW!" I screamed, slamming a handful of pellets on the ground. White smoke rose from them, and it filled with flashed that looked like lightening. "Up and over," I ordered before jamming the rebreather into my mouth. We'd have to do the crowed surfing thing, I didn't think either one of us could get the height needed to clear the last of the goons.

Our friends were coughing and dropping as we vaulted over. I almost slipped off of someone's shoulders as I hit them, it seemed he was going down as I was trying to go up. Jimmy encountered the same problem.

I grabbed his arm and pulled him with me. "Ah, geeze! He got me!"

Bloody hell. I couldn't believe we made it that far without casualties to get nailed because we used TOO MUCH gas.

When we were clear, we ran like hell to the cave entrance. AS we went, I could tell I was dragging him more and more through the sand; he was slowing down. The quick glance I'd gotten lead me to believe it was a flesh wound, if even that—knife along his left side.

I eliminated the two men at the opening of the man-made cave, and then pulled him inside. "How in the world could you let that happen?" I knew how, but I was still mad. Probably more at myself and my lack of judgment than his own in competency.

"We have to stop," he said weakly.

"We have to get away from the mouth of the cave," I informed him peevishly.

The most worn path lead straight ahead, so I did the logical thing and pulled him through a small crevice in the rocks to a side chamber I knew they didn't intend to be there. I needed some place safe to look at this damned thing.

I pulled out two glow lanterns. I ignited one and tossed it on the floor, the second I lit and held in my mouth. His costume was torn clean open and the opening was filled with blood. I pulled a cloth out of one of my pouches to try and staunch the bleeding. "I can't believe you!" I was quite skilled at talking around things in my mouth. I didn't mean that in a dirty way, despite what my brother will have told you.

"Mom told you to watch me!"

"You're SEVENTEEN!" I pulled the cloth away. "It's a FLESH WOUND." It was… it wasn't deep at all. So why couldn't I get it to stop bleeding?

Frustrated, I dug for gauze to wind around him.

"I have to sit down," he said softly, then collapsed on the ground.

"What the hell? It's a SCRATCH! What the hell's going on here?" I began getting another cloth to press on top of my blood-filled one.

She finally found out. Stupid mistake. I have to build a tazer into the gauntlet next time. What next time? What a stupid thought. I broke the rule. I'm cut. Damn damn... No vitamins today... no treatments. "Mara, I... " I was so tired all of the sudden. Just had to close my eyes and get my strength back. Lay back and...

I tore off his helmet. His eyes were closed. My hand immediately went to his throat to check his pulse. It was awful damned slow considering we'd just run here.

"Jimmy… damnit, what's going on," I said calmly. "JIMMY," I said a little louder. "Come on, you freaking sissy!"

He slumped further against the sandstone. Ok. He wasn't going to like this, but this stupid thing wouldn't stop bleeding… and for whatever reason, the blood loss was being especially hard on him.

I tore at his costume until I had a clear look at the wound. It was four inches across, and ran horizontal. "Ok. I'd like to say I'm sorry for what I'm about to do… but I'd be lying."

I pulled two vials out of a pouch and mixed the contents. "This is going to hurt like hell."

The second the liquid touched his skin, he screamed. I wiped it up immediately with a clean cloth, and then poured a neutralizing solution to stop the burning. Ok, so I spent too much time playing with chemicals. HE spent too much time playing with electronics.

He coughed and collapsed against me. "What the hell was that?"

"You don't want to know. It cauterized the wound though. Tell me what's going on?" Why did I have the feeling the next thing out of his mouth was going to make me feel really REALLY stupid?

"Have to rememmm... what was I saying?" The short-term memory loss was getting to me; I was thirsty and so tired.

"Damn it what's going on?"

"Anemic, low platelets. Shock too, probably. One good flesh wound and, I'm dead. You, you cauterized it, but it's still broken, big sis." The spot was getting purple and yellow, Bruising. "Crystal?"


He wasn't even thinking straight. I pulled out an ice pack, bust it opened and put it on the wound.

Oh fuck. Could I have possibly messed up any worse? I don't even NOTICE he has this problem. What the hell kind of detective was I?

I could answer that. One that didn't even talk to her brother since she moved out of Bludhaven. One that hadn't taken even the slightest interest in him in years—except to hate him.

"You're so damned stupid for not telling me," I told him with a shaking voice. I sat down beside him. This hole was so small I couldn't lay him out or make him more comfortable, or even let him lean on me for a pillow. "Mom and dad, too." I clenched my eyes shut. This is what he'd meant by having to be so careful… one mistake and it was all over…

"Am I that psychotic of a bitch?" That I didn't notice what the hell was going on around me?

"Nn…No, You're that damn good. I only wanted to be out there with you and dad and Grandfather, Uncle Tim and Uncle Roy. I wanted to be a part of it so bad." He drifted off again, shook his head and his eyes focused on me. "I didn't want to stay on the sidelines and never know about flying, the express. I love it Rob'n, I... Crystal, do it again. Colder. Thirsty. Mom got to taste it before... before... him."

He was starting to babble. "Thank you for killing him. I wanted to so bad for her. Momma, I messed up. You told me not to go."

Tears caught in my throat. Ok, Robin, you idiot… do something.

"Nighthawk, you asshole, listen to me. You're just fine." I held his face roughly in my hands. "Come on, you stupid jerk. Listen to me. You're the biggest asshole I know." Why the hell didn't I have something in my first-aid kit for this? You know, a big freaking cure-all for the fact I was an idiot and I was getting my brother killed.

"So just focus on my voice. Listen. I'm going to let you rest," I told him firmly. "I want you to keep focused though. NO fizzling out. No dreams about things that aren't happening. If you rest, you do it on my terms, damnit. Think of a straight line. You're traveling down the straight line…"

Good. He wasn't quite so… out there now. He was relaxing, but he wasn't turning into a puddle of goo. "And if you rest, and if you dream… you're going to keep traveling down that straight road. No detours, do you hear me? Crystal isn't here. No one's here but you and me. And we're going down the straight road. Watch the telephone poles pass." There was a reason I'd had these focusing techniques crammed down my throat.

"Right, line, line, line, line dizzy... Ok ok, tree tree tree tree." At least he could still joke. "Mara, I love crystal. I'm gonna marry her when I graduate. If I live, if, I... Mara why're you wearing that? Timmy's Robin." He looked pale. "Water?"

"Listen, you twip," I told him. "I am Robin. If you want water, you're going to have to work for it," I told him in my best Bat-voice. "You need to focus on me, and the road, and no bull shit. They're not trees, they're telephone poles. You're exactly where I tell you that you are. And if you want to marry that little tart, we need to get our asses through this situation." I didn't care if he had eight babies with that little back-stabber, as long as we made it out of here in one piece—preferably with our partners.

"First of all, our dad's going to kick my ass if you get any sicker. And second of all, our grandfather's going to kick my ass if we don't get them out of here in a timely manner. Kapeesh?"

"Mission. Yeah. Gimmy a drink you idiot, I need the fluids."

"Look, you're resting. You want water, you're going to have to wait five minutes while I go kick someone's ass for it."

"Um... We gotta shut off the thing, blocking mom's thing, y'know... Ghoul's gotta have a tower or something to a sat, a sat. orbit things. I'm not going to get a nap in this, we gotta move. She didn't do it for spite. She wanted to pertect me. When you put my suit in the case, wash it first, please."

"It isn't going in the case. Now, how can I get you what you need so we can get on with our lives, if you're not going to cooperate? I gotta move. You don't have to do anything but what I tell you to. You wanna be a sidekick? Fine. I say rest. Five minutes wont kill you." Poor choice of words. "Just do what the hell I tell you, when I tell you, and you'll be fine." I had every intention of getting him what he needed; I just needed to know he was stable before I left him. What I wouldn't give for a speedster's talents right now. If only I didn't have to leave him that long.

"You're not so perfect. Alfred has a thermos in Grandfather's belt. Go get the water."

He was getting sarcastic. That meant I had him back and focused again. "If I can find grandpa enough to go digging through his belt, I might as well just rescue both of them. So. Do you want me to rescue them, or do you want water? Cause if I find them, I'm getting them out-out."

He moaned in frustration. "I thought so. See? My way is the only way." I gave him a pat on the leg. "Give me… like two minutes."

"Two minutes...two...two...hurry Mara. Big glass."

Before I managed to stand in the confined space, he was asleep.

"Hey... boyo. Rise and shine." It had taken me half an hour to get back. I was sure he needed more sleep than that, but I had a really really bad feeling about our mission suddenly. "You want water? I gotcha water." I had five canteens full. "Come on. I need you awake and rehydrated. We're PROBABLY in serious trouble." wait till I tell him about this.

"Huh? Wha? You didn't happen to find any iron pellets? Serious? What happened? Dad?"

"You're cute. Look... I think they're ok. But we've got some other problems. I didn't get the impression while I was snooping around that this was one of Ra's usual take over the world schemes. And his lovely daughter is nowhere in sight."

I tore off the cap and held it to his lips. I was amazed; he didn't let a single drop go to waste. "So that means WE have to be on form." Should I tell him about the 'other thing'?

"Jimmy... I need to know for real... how up to this are you?"

He sighed, softly. "You ever played that shooting game, you know Goldenfang? I'm about the level of the scientist guy. I'll watch your back, but if I get alone, I'm toast. You hold 'em off, I'll make their lives a living hell for generations." God I could use a nap.

I shook my head. "Jimmy, I need more than that from you." Yes, I really had to tell it like it was. "YOU need to knock down the generator that's screwing with the satellites. You know how to do that stuff. I can watch YOUR back, and keep 'em off, but it has to be you. And... there're other complications." I looked around us for something to focus on besides his eyes. "There is something seriously wrong going on here. This isn't Ra's usual take over the world gig. Talia isn't here. Our people are still alive, and he hasn't made a move. They've been waiting for us."

"Great. So you didn't get me in this to kill me, Ra's did. Ok. Help me up. Geeze this hurts."

"I shoulda realized it sooner." I brushed his hair out of his face before I helped him to his feet. He went and grew up on me. He wasn't my LITTLE little brother any more. "Look, we just gotta get through this, right? Take a big ol' lesson from Kon. Run in half-cocked, then go home and lick your wounds."

I handed him his helmet. "You're taking battle plans from Kon? We are in SERIOUS trouble."

"Look, Jimmy... we're going to be ok. I just gotta be level with you. Batman's always been level with me. Besides... he wants us alive for now." For now probably being the operative portion of that sentence. "So. You're really going to marry Crystal?" God... when the hell had he grown up?

"You're just trying to distract me."

"Am not. Look, I wanna know."

"Well, yeah, being close to death, thanks by the way, makes you pretty clear about a few things. I've kinda known for about two years now. She's smart, she's exotic, I guess we both go for strange flav... sorry, I mean skin colors."

"Can you lay off Jordy already? He's just... a REALLY nice guy." He was NOT exotic, skin coloring aside. He was the single most normal person I knew.

Helmet on, he stood tall, then winced, totally losing the look. " I'll tell you a story about a easily bruising brutally hansom boy and an equally stunning young lady whose power is making things cold. But can we do it on the way there?"

"You used her as a giant ice-pack? Man. And people say the Bat's devious." I helped him out of our spot in the wall. "And she let you get away with that?" She must have been getting SOMETHING out of it.

"She's the one that told me about going with the flow and having fun. That first real YJ mission, I was bruised and hurt and ready to hang it up, but thinking back I probably should have. Crys let me talk to her. Wasn't all, 'Quiet Twip' on me. You'd already given plenty of examples as to why I'm such a twip. So when she let me talk, and did the soothing happiness on my body, well... we became friends."

"Ah, Jimbo. But you ARE a twip." I cut the lights so we weren't quite SO obvious. "Not telling me? Geeze. You are a twip." But he was right. I wouldn't tell me either.

I leaned on her a little more than I should have, but it was fire all over the spot where I'd been hit. The butt kicking was her department, but luckily I had lots of tricks in the suit. The helmet power pack didn't have enough power for the idea I had, but the tazer made me want one, real bad. Getting in too close was starting to look like a good idea if prepared.

We went down a level, and I started seeing some metalworkings among the cut sandstone tunnels. We were getting closer to the technical center of the place if nothing else.

"You're ok, you know that?"

"What're YOU smoking?"

"Jimmy... I mean it. You're ok. I... don't know if I'd have kept going out if I'd have been you. What I'm trying to say... if I weren't so socially inadequate was that you're brave and stuff."

It did mean something to me that I was… now justified in her eyes. But still… in my own… "You're going to make me sicker, you know that. I'm not brave, I'm an idiot for thinking I could do this." Sometimes she's so dense. I didn't tell her the wound was starting to leak again.

"Besides I have a couple confessions to make, I think I got you kicked out of YJ." I decided to come clean. "Ok so Crystal and I start to be good friends while I'm using her for her healing properties. We got to talking and I sort of told her a few things about how you'd been plotting against me. I was twelve, Mara. What did I know?" I felt kind of bad, but if I didn't make it out of this I wanted them to be friends.

"She's protective. It's a good quality for a person who ah, well you get the idea. She wanted to teach you a lesson. She kept telling me to stand up to you, but well... I can't. You'll kick my ass any day of the week, naked in the snow. So I bitched about it."

I hung my head and looked at her through the visor. "I'm sorry?"

She started laughing. Now THAT wasn't the reaction I was expecting. "You know... I was so pissed off at the time. But... it ended up being a good thing. I get to work with dad now. Kon got to do what he wanted--which was to lead YJ. You're still a twip, though."

"I deserve that. No hard feelings against my woman?"

"YOUR woman? Eww. That was just creepy." We pulled back a little to avoid being seen. "Look, you can do this. And right now... I need you to do this, or both of our partners are toast. Truce?" she asked.

"Truce? I thought we were bonding," I coughed. "So, what's the real bad news then, Robin?"

"You don't consider the fact that this is a trap the real bad news? Ok. How's about this. It's up to YOU to reestablish Oracle's communications... and our friend Ra's probably knows about your problem and is taking it into consideration when it comes to ways to neutralize us." What she meant was ways to KILL us.

"I meant bad news like you found em with seconds left on the clock and they're about to be dipped in a vat of cod liver oil." She looked at me funny. "It's odd and never happened before."

"Hold on."

She left our hiding space and took out two guards then tied them up. I watched her pull BOTH of them back to where we were hiding. "Ok, Tiger. Strip 'em."


"Look. Their robes are a lot less obvious than OUR costumes. And besides, brown is the new black."

"Don't you DARE grow a sense of humor on me."

"What the hell do you know?" she asked me as she pulled the robe over her costume. "I'm a freaking comedian next to the Bat."

"Just my luck," I grunted, " I'm on a mission with Shecky Green." Robes and my helmet meant I'd look like Mr. Bighead, but I didn't exactly stand out like a guy wearing a funny costume among all these.

"Don't get cocky just because I said you were needed."

"I got one I got one, 'great kid, don't get cocky,'" I quoted. "Show me to your generator, let's kick this pig." I pulled a Night-a-rang from a pouch.

"This is all just some ploy to annoy me into committing suicide," I muttered. "Two lefts and a right. Incase you haven't noticed, we're still going down... I think we need to be down one more level."

"That doesn't make sense. They really should be above ground--"

"Look, I didn't design the place. I'm just telling you where the controls are."

"No Damn it, the antenna has to be above ground, the generator needs to be close or Grandfather would take an axe to a conduit and be done with it. We know it's a trap, so why are we doing this again?"

"Look, I said control room. I didn't say-- ok. Never mind. I see your point." I tapped my foot, thinking. "Ok, smarty-pants. What's down there, then?"

"Duh, Dungeons and horrifying death. As usual. Probably dad on a rack. Mom would want a picture first."

"Then I should go down there, and you should go up."

"This is the part where the virgin doesn't get killed by the monster because we split up." There, I got her to smile again. "Sad thing is that that means you're toast."

"I'm toast? You're the one who needs me to save your sorry ass."

"My ass is fine, my side got hurt."

"Alright already," she said with a grin. "Now, are you going, or what?"

"Ok Ok, lets go then. I think now would be a good time to take the next fork in the road. Lord knows that if Ra's even knows who I am, doing this will throw him off."

"Look, he knows who you are. DO NOT underestimate him. He's underestimated all of us for a long time--and it's been our advantage. I don't know if we have that advantage any more. Grandpa would bring me along on these expeditions because Ra's thought I was just a stupid kid. Use that to your advantage if possible--but don't go holding your breath waiting for it."

"But Mara," I said as I made my way down the next turn away from her, "You are just a stupid kid. See ya on the flip side." I stuck to the walls, kept the robe up. Sure I looked like some reject from This Island Earth, but I wasn't going to lose the lowlight and comm. gear in the helmet. That and with my wound seeping again, a hit to the head and I may topple.

Sure enough the tunnel I'd picked went up. I quietly clung to the walls as I made my way to the generator and antenna room. If I couldn't kill it I'd at least be able to surge it so Mom could see.

The feeling was eerie, like everybody was at the assembly but you're sneaking back to the computer lab to check on a project. I felt like I hadn't seen anybody in a while when I heard two voices.

I told you, it goes the other way. They were speaking Arabic, thank goodness. This chip goes this way, like the diagram.

No, you idiot. That chip goes here and it's later. We must have this equipment up sooner. The master says the smarter one will be trying to contact their Oracle. We must block further attempts.

Thank you Mr. Exposition, I quipped and threw my Wingarang. Well, either they're talking about Dad or me, cause Mara is the Bird and Grandfather is the Detective.

The two were down and the comm gear was impressive. I pocketed a couple of the chips for later, in a pinch the wrong end of a chip is pointy and I can hit a target from 400 paces, Roy's helping me work on making it an even 500. The first guy was right. The thing was upside down. I snapped the motherboard of the piece with a quick kick and moved on to the next piece. With luck I could take out the gear and then get Mom while getting the generator.

It only took a couple of more moments to find the generator. I sat at the terminal and punched up the power down sequences. It would be a lot more impressive to shut it down than to blow it up with my family inside. I set a couple charges next to the reactor as a back up plan.

I had just sat down after taking out three more guys, quietly. I typed in Unix codes and linked up to my onboard to help crack passwords, but the damn thing was already on, so it was just weird. I entered the final sequence and was about to press enter when the bad luck just had to kick in.

"James Grayson. You look unwell. Did you know the sight of your father's face was priceless when we told him you had been punctured? The Detective didn't even know your secret. But I did." I turned around slowly. Oh no. Ubu and Ra's. They were thinking like Mara, they'd planned like Mara thought. I should have gone to help dad instead. "I have always wondered if your father's abilities and your mother's intellect could be merged. Now, would you like to come with me and watch us capture your sister, the bird, or shall I have Ubu fetch you?"

"As much as I'd love to watch my sister kick your ass around your ears, chief. I think I'll pass on the guest thing. I have a job to do."


It was only ten guys between me and the inner chambers. That's how I knew it was totally a trap. Jimmy was right. Totally totally a trap.

It took me a few minutes to rewire their door to let me in. Bet that brat brother of mine could have done it in ten seconds, but I was rewarded with the door sliding opened. Why would they have power conduits running into these rooms, if they didn't serve some control mechanisms in the compound?

God, I hoped my brother was OK. I was worried like no one's business. We were up against people who play for keeps. He was already injured; we had no communicative capabilities with each other or with Oracle. And the two operatives that you should be able to rely on NOT to get captured were captured. And we didn't know what the deal was.

Once I was down on their last level, I came to a hall way covered entirely in metal. I was sure it meant something. When I tapped the walls, I realized they were just facing. It sounded surprisingly hollow behind them… or something. I couldn't be sure. I filed away. I was sure it would all make sense soon—probably when I was in over my head.

The metal blast door at the end of the corridor had no electronic security.

Ra's was an interesting guy. He was all 'lets live in the past' guy… but he had no problem utilizing technology that'd make the folks at STAR squirm when it suited his ends.

So. If there was no apparent electronic device to open said two-ton doors, how did I get inside? Maybe I shouldn't even try. Maybe I should turn around and go find Jimmy and make sure he was still ok.

No, I was the one who made us split up.

In a moment of weakness, I turned around. I got to see the security door at the end of the hall slam closed with a deafening clang. "Ok," I whispered. "Bad plan."

I grabbed hold of my cape with one hand and threw an exploding 'rang at the portion of the wall I'd knocked on before. As it hit, I pulled the cape over my face for cover. That would be all I needed—to kill myself with my own shrapnel produced by an exploding metal wall. Jimmy'd never let me forget that one.

Okie dokie. One hole in wall… small but still present. Twisted stainless steel curved inwards in an ugly fashion around the wound in the wall. About half a foot behind the wall was stone. The small explosion had made it black and dirty, but hadn't made much of a dent in it, either. Oh great. So much for my theory that they hadn't thought of everything. I couldn't try another exploding anything, either, otherwise I'd find myself running out of air real fast. If I were grandpa, what would I do?

But the good news was that the hole in the wall gave me footing to try the ceiling. Jimmy better be OK, or I was going to kill him. And if he felt like coming to MY rescue, I'd be embarrassed, but I wouldn't be opposed.

I slammed a razor into it and cut at the metal… there appeared to be no such impediment as stone. Which was a damned good thing, because I could hear people on the other side of the door that had slammed shut.

I couldn't get the tile lose, but I did get a decent enough hold on the ceiling that between where the razor was lodged, and the wall, I was able to lodge myself.

The door opened and ten men with big guns piled in, all in a tight formation. I pushed off the ceiling and slammed into them, nailing them all. Robin: human bowling ball. I was sure some mentor of mine somewhere would be proud; I just had to find out who that'd be. I landed on the outside of the door.

With half a second's thought I reached into the control panel and ripped at wires. The door clapped closed again before they could recover to pursue. Ok. NOW I was in trouble. Did I go for my brother, or go after our people?

Hearing footsteps, I decided to retreat and regroup.
** **
I have to admit, when Mara's right, she's right. Punch like you tell jokes she quipped. Well, I got in three great ones and my hand is going to be purple. Ubu had a broken nose; at least I could smile about that. I had exhausted my stash of wingarangs. I threw a microchip at his eye and danced away again.

"Excellent, James. It can truly be said you are a disciple of the detective. Sadly it will not help you. Ubu, finish this. I grow weary of the younger generation."

Oh Shit.

The last chip had to be thrown exactly perfect. If I did it just right I could hit the enter button.

** **

The lights went out.

Attention, ladies and gentlemen, my brother hath done something right. At least that meant he wasn't captured or anything. That was one less thing for me to worry about. Now would be a GREAT time to get our people out. Of course, lack of power to move the doors could be a problem, but I'd cross that bridge when I came to it.

I got out of my hiding place and turned on the appropriate lenses for the occasion. God I liked having these toys.

As I flew through the tunnels, I heard two spurts and a flutter as something kicked in. The lights fluttered, and were back to full capacity. That was NOT the back up generator. I seriously needed to get to cover again. Jimmy was in serious, serious trouble. That's what I was getting from all of this.

"It would be wise of you to surrender." Ra's voice boomed over a speaker… somewhere.

Yeah, right. I'm going to surrender, I thought to myself. If I did that, then we were in serious trouble.

"It would be wise, little Bird."

I found what I thought was the right tunnel. If I were keeping our guys somewhere, it'd be right about here. See? I was good, it was good. We'd all be out of here before anything else happened. Our guys would get Nighthawk out of whatever he'd gotten himself into, and we'd all eat steak and mashed potatoes for dinner. Now how did one get into this room?

"Your brother is bleeding quite nicely."

My hand had been searching the wall for an access panel. I t dropped to my side.

"You two have been getting along so well, lately. It would be a shame to ruin it."

The last was not coming over the sound system. He was behind me.

"Ok, Ra's." I said, not turning. "You have me."

"I concur."

Slowly I turned. Ubu, that ugly crow of a man, had my brother over his shoulder. I noticed the man's nose was broken. At least Nighthawk didn't go down without giving that stooge a hard time. "Is he still alive?" I asked.

"For now."

Yup. I knew he intended to kill us. "What's the deal? Why the sudden interest in us kiddies?"

A smile pealed back across his lips. I felt very dirty suddenly. "I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you."

"I could tell you…" I mimicked. "Indulge me."

"If I have not told the Detective at this late date, I certainly will not tell you."

"Oh come on. The nutcase ALWAYS has to tell the plan. It's in the handbook. Union rules." Actually, they didn't always, but sometimes they blabbed, and sometimes you could get them to spill just enough. Tormenting them was usually a good way to get them to spill something juicy.

"Be so kind as to turn around, so that I can facilitate this family reunion."

"But if I do that, then you'll kill us," I said in a whining tone. I thought of trying to take him, but I couldn't be sure that louse Ubu wouldn't kill Jimmy before I could get to him.

Ra's took two steps closer to me. His cape billowed out around him. It'd be kind of cool, if he weren't so nasty (or trying to kill us).

"So. Where's your daughter? I haven't seen that bitch around here yet."

His hand rose up to strike me, then it dropped beneath his green cloak. "SHE is why you are here."

I put one hand to my hand and tapped it. The other was discreetly going for my belt. Grandpa had taught me the art of misdirection. "Lets see…" I tapped a few more times. "Trying to think if I've run up against her lately… NOPE," I concluded. "I can't think of a damned good reason why I'm here. Ok, the grudge with Bats is one thing. But you never gave a shit about the rest of us before. And this has something to do with your bitch daughter? And yer ready to kill our asses… something is seriously up."

"I would put the razor down, Bird."

I sniffed indignantly, sliding the razor back into my belt. It was the last of my big ones anyways. I was out of exploders. I was cornered against a big metal door. "Tell me why I'm here." And please don't let my brother be bleeding to death there behind you.

"All will be revealed in time, little Bird," he said gently. His voice was much different than the hard, raw tones I was used to from him.

He came closer to me, and I made the mistake of pressing against the door. His hand touched my cheek. It was cold, and I wanted to pull away… or hit him… or …"It's almost a shame. ALMOST."

"Don't make me hurt you," I whispered. I was up to eighty-six ways to lay waste to a person… boy did I want to exercise some of them on him right now.

"As I said. ALMOST a shame."

The door behind me slid opened with a rush, and I fell through. As I went down, I put my hands behind me to push myself back up and surprise him. It wasn't for any thing, though. My brother's body came crashing upon me before I could react. My feet were kicked to the inside of the doorway, and the blast door rushed closed.

Before, I could take stock of my surroundings or push my brother's unconscious and bleeding body off of me, hands grabbed my arms, pulled me from under HIM, and then something hard came down on my head. Before I'd even fallen limp on the ground, they'd begun pulling off my uniform. "If I'm going to die…" I whispered. "Leave the mask. I die in the mask."

Great, I thought as I lost consciousness. Now I'd been hit on the front AND the back. What had Jimmy said about having my brains all over the place?

* * *

I woke slowly… in fact, my body didn't wish to wake at all. The heat and humidity wanted to pull me under. What began dragging me out of sleep was the fact that every place my body touched the floor, burned. As awareness raced back, I realized that pretty much all of me was touching the floor. Ra's had done his little 'strip the hostage' trick again.

Rolling over on to my back, I did an assessment. By the grace of God, I still had my mask. That was about all… my bra had been taken. I guess they remembered last time... My Superman t-shirt would be of little to no use, the exercise shorts I constantly wore under my pants didn't have the thin wire pick in them any more—they'd caught on to that trick as well. I still had the mask, though. And if I could come up with a decent plan, then I'd have one more advantage on my side.

God, if only it wasn't so damned hot. Then I could think clearly. Of course, getting my ass off the burning floor could help.

Sitting up, I saw Jimmy on his back, across the room. If you could call it a room. It was six-sided and mirrors ran from top to bottom. In the center was a tree, and from this tree hung a noose. If I remembered this novel correctly, it was made out of metal.

"I read this book!" I cried out. "It wasn't that great the FIRST time around!" The raised voice made my concussed head pound even more, which only made me even angrier.

I rushed to my brother's side. He was unconscious, and fortunately, the bleeding had slowed a little. I had no idea how. His platelet counts should have been worth shit by now. Of course, it was all gooy and disgusting, both from what I'd done to him and subsequent attempts to clot. We were in deep shit.

"Jimmy, wake up. We gotta get the hell outta here."

I couldn't believe they'd just left us to die… unsupervised.

Yeah, the heat must really be infecting your brain, isn't it, toots? Those mirrors? Gotta be two-way.

"Where're our people?" I called out, trying to gently shake my brother as I did so. "Ok, Ra's… this isn't funny any more!" It hadn't been funny to begin with. "Alright, you sick schmuck who probably can't even get it up, tell me why I'm dying, here!"

"I suppose it IS time to tell our little birds here, isn't it, Detective?" More speakers. He wasn't taking a chance that I'd get my hands on him, was he? But at least I knew now that our guys were close at hand.

"Yeah, that's right, butt-munch," my brother muttered from my at my knees.

"Jimmy… stay with me," I whispered. I looked up at the mirrors, trying to account for the sound bouncing off the glass walls, trying to figure out where the speakers were. "Don't keep us in suspence down here," I demanded finally.

"You will notice the lack of my daughter's presence in these festivities."

Duh, hello, it had been my major point earlier in the corridor.

"It seems she saw fit to abandon my cause."

"Ok. So that means we all die. Makes perfect freaking sense."

"For an accountant," he finished.

Jimmy and I started laughing. His laugh was more of a choke than anything else, but neither of us could keep it in.

Finally I managed to sober myself. "If we're going to die, at least there's a punch line," I ground out. "You channeling the Joker or something, buddy?"

"No, my little children. No. I merely felt it was time to end the game."

Merely? "And it requires killing Nightwing, Nighthawk and me… BECAUSE?"

"The insubordination of youth. Your father has taught you no respect for your elders. If your grandfather would have simply been so kind as to do as I requested long ago, and provide me an heir, we would not be at this juncture."

"An Accountant ain't good enough for ya?" Jimmy must be starting to rally a little. He's getting mouthy again. "It's an honorable profession."

"And so, since I did not get what I wish—an heir—the Detective will see his OWN heirs perish, before following you into the great beyond."

Just great.

"Your brother will probably go before you," he continued on. "His own health problems coupled with the heat? I dare say it will not be a pretty sight. Perhaps you will hasten his demise, so as to lessen his suffering."

"Maybe you'll screw off. Oh wait, we go back to the impotency thing again," I hollered. I sat Jimmy up to get him off the burning floor as much as possible. He probably needed to lean against the wall, but if I read the book right, those have hot water pipes running behind them… or some other heating mechanism.

I began looking again for a way out. "I'd give her a big 'you go girl' on the whole finding happiness thing, but I'm not cool about the part in which I die because she came her own woman, instead of your little pet." An accountant? I'd STILL be laughing if it weren't for the fact I was frying in here.

I went over to the tree, and felt around the noose. In the novel, there'd be a release mechanism at the noose, a bent nail that would open a way out. Ok. So Ra's read that book too and decided that it was a bad idea to have a release mechanism.

"I see you still have your wits about you, Bird. I will enjoy watching your attempts at escape. Your father, I fear, is not as enthusiastic. Such words coming out of his mouth!"

Yeah, dad hung out with Uncle Roy. The original potty-mouth. "You tell 'em, dad. Give 'em hell."

"As for the Detective… he's gone strangely silent all of a sudden." Wow. Wasn't like grandpa to be talkative at all. His mouth musta been running pretty good. I'd seriously have to beat out of my dad what the Bat had been going on about, when and if we got outta this.

I went around to all the mirrors and kicked them all, until I found the one that felt different. It actually gave LESS than the others, if that is possible.

"Well, ok. You win," I said. "I'll hurry up, roll over and die." On a cold day in hell. "You're the master, I bow beneath your superior… bla bla bla, you're pretty good." I marched myself directly to the opposite mirror and threw all my weight into it. "For me to poop on."

There was a… stretching sound, almost, then the glass gave. Geeze, Ra's, use thicker glass next time. That stuff was only half an inch thick. Use PLEXIGLASS. Ever heard of it?

Jimmy wouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth, I told myself as I landed on the floor, my arms scratched and bleeding.

"Hi dad! Hi Bats!" I said cheerfully, crawling to my feet.

They were tied in heavy ancient chairs. Both were also in their skivvies, and looked pretty misused. One of grandpa's eyes was swollen shut, his lips were cut and bleeding. One whole side of dad's face was a big bruise. I was sure Nighthawk could relate.

"Get your brother out of here," Bats ordered harshly.

Looking around, I didn't see our host. "Where is he?" I asked in seriousness. The room was ill-lit, but come on!

"Oh my dear. You found the exit, as it were, much quicker than I anticipated."

I held my eyes closed for a moment. He was behind me, and he was very very close. I could feel his breath on my neck.

"But I always. ALWAYS have a back-up plan."

"Leave my sister alone, jerkwad." WACK. Thud.

I spun around as Jimmy staggered backwards and Ra's fell against the opening I'd made in the glass. He wasn't down for the count, but he was seriously stunned. Jimmy looked like he'd been dragged through ten of the nine levels of hell.

"HURRY!" I called, going for my partner. If they were free, we'd get out of here no problem, I was sure of it. We had about two seconds before Ubu and Ra's henchmen were upon us, so we had to make this extra snappy.

"Glad to see you two getting along," my partner muttered as I tore my mask off. Inside were two mini-razors and a wire. I dislodged the wire and began picking the lock with it. This thing was a real prick, it had seven different points that had to be pushed in the right directions simultaneously.

"Jimmy!" I called out loudly. "He's got something!" Ra's was up, and had reached into his robes. I had no idea what it was—some box that looked like a garage door remote control.

Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a tiny red light pop on. "ABOVE YOU!" I called, jamming the wire into the lock and twisting with all the power in my wrists.

The red light blinked twice, and then fired a red beam so bright it hurt my eyes.

"NO!" I screamed as Jimmy went down. Everything seemed to slow down after my brother hit the floor. His body hit the ground like dead weight. A shiver ran through me, and the locks on grandpa's wrists fell away.

The light blinked again, like the flash on a camera.

My partner's weight shifted forward and I pulled the small razor from my mask and throwing in the same motion. "You know what to do!" he called back to me.

The Bat was over Nighthawk before the razor connected with the cannon. It fired again, hitting him square in the chest. As he fell, I saw the cannon blink again. The razor sliced into it, knocking it aside, and it fired. It didn't hit the Bat, who'd fallen on top of Jimmy… so I really didn't give a crap WHERE it misfired to.

I slapped the wire into my dad's hand and rushed to my partner and my brother.

Turning grandpa over, I saw the singes on his chest, the third degree burns… my hand went to his neck…

And no fucking pulse.

Dad took grandpa from me, finished pulling him off of Jimmy… who was still breathing. "Shit, damnit," I whispered. "Stay with me you stupid twip."

The burns were along his arm . That's why he was ok. It hadn't hit his heart. Jimmy wasn't ok though. He just wasn't dead on contact.

"Fuck, Bruce…" dad muttered. "Fuck." My sentiments exactly.

This couldn't be happening. Could it? I hadn't seen my partner in two days… only to lose him. I hadn't known my brother in seventeen years… only to lose him…

No. I wasn't going to. No. This couldn't happen, it wouldn't happen… I wouldn't let it.

I pulled Jimmy over my shoulders.

"ROBIN?" My dad reached a hand up from where he was applying pressure to grandpa's lifeless chest. "Don't… we'll help him… don't…"

I ignored my father. There wasn't much that could help my brother now.

As I rose with my laden shoulders, for the first time I saw it. Him. It.

The headless corpse that used to be Ra's al Ghoul, leaning up against the glass. I couldn't say I wasn't pleased.

I didn't hesitate. I kicked opened the door at the far end of the room, away from the glass and took my brother with me. Glancing back and forth, I got my bearings, and rushed off.

See, I knew what I was doing… I knew where I was going… I'd found this room before. When I was getting Jimmy water. "Come on, jerk face… stay with me. I can't lose you too. Gimme… two minutes," I promised. I meant it this time. I knew he didn't have longer.

Especially not when I could hear Ra's men in hot pursuit of me. It wasn't supposed to go like this. It wasn't supposed to be so quick—no goodbyes, no… nothing. We'd gotten through so much, so many impossible things… I was glad Ra's was dead. No more emotional squabbling like I'd done over the Joker. I was glad that headless corpse belonged to Ra's.

Gently, I placed Jimmy down at the edge of the pit. His pulse was so low. It was about to trip off into non-existent… "Jimmy… Stay right here. Straight line… down the road…"

As I talked, I pulled the right chemicals, preparing the vat. I spent too much time with them. I'd had Ra's recipe for immortality memorized for years. At some other point in time, I'd question the ethics of what I was about to do. Right now I was running on instinct.

When the pit smelled putrid—like embalming fluid, I dragged him in.

"MARA!" my father had managed to drag the Bat with him. God… if only I could do this again. Why did the pits have to be a one shot deal? That was why he had them everywhere. Why couldn't there be another one here? Why…

Jimmy's scream erupted from the pit. I reached over to slap some sense into him, but he grabbed my wrist and pushed me back.

"Jimmy!" I said loudly. "Jimmy, pay attention to me!"

He shoved me to the ground.

"James!" my dad called out, hovering over grandpa's body… as if to protect it somehow. As if there was any protecting we could possibly do now.

"Jimmy! Long straight road… telephone poles…"

A frightening laugh erupted from him. "Do you think I need you? Or your 'focusing techniques'? Do you?" He was pressing me to the ground—hard. He'd emerged entirely restored in body, at the destruction of his mind-and his inhibitions.

I knew they came out of the pit insane. It… didn't bother me, somehow.

"You made the wrong choice. He's the hero! He's invincible. I'm the shield, not him. You picked wrong. Now I get to show you how wrong."

I tried to kick him, to at least knock the wind out of him and pull away, but it wasn't happening. He grabbed my leg and threw me into the wall. I heard a snap but I couldn't even begin to assess which body part that was. He kept laughing. He kept coming.

His head butted into mine with technique that only I could appreciate. That was THREE blows to the head.

"Ok, This isn't cool any more." I pulled upward with my knee, but he didn't feel anything.

"How could YOU make the wrong choice?" he screamed at me in The Voice before wrapping his hand around my throat. The air stopped flowing as his hand crushed down on me.

My head felt ready to explode. I needed air… "You're my brother!" I managed to quack out. "I had to…" Fortunately in his interest in cutting off the air with his right arm, he'd left himself opened. My left arm came back and hit him as hard as I could.

I'd blacked out many times in my life. This was the first time I ever saw red before darkness came.

*** *** ***
The drip of blood down my chin woke me from the insanity just as she blacked out. I let go and stood up quickly. Oh God Mara, what had you done?

"What did she do?"

"James?" Dad was rocking back and forth with Bruce. It wasn't 'his lordship,' it wasn't Grandfather, the one man who had scared the living crap out of me my entire life. It was Bruce, sitting there in his boxers with a cauterized hole in his chest where the fool had jumped in front of me.

"Dad? He's gonna be ok, right?" The tears were running down my face as I sat next to him. "Dad?" He didn't speak, just held his adopted father and rocked quietly back and forth.

Ra's al Ghul had killed Batman. I had killed Batman. I had done it. If I were a healthy professional like those three I wouldn't have gotten myself hurt. Wouldn't have had to waste the pit on me and not him. He deserved to live. I… I was just playing a game.

I shielded my sister's unconscious form when the troops finally arrived. I had murder in my eyes, grief hatred and the most awful feeling in my gut. I waded into them with no notice of pain. She'd have cheered seeing me take the hits, the knife strikes to the arms. I disarmed, broke arms, snapped wrists, and I would have kept going all the way to the plane. My throat was hoarse; I had been screaming obscenities at them as I broke them. I was trying to hurt them, not just subdue.

A hand touched my shoulder and I wheeled around with a vicious roundhouse. My father blocked it and the four lightning fast kicks I'd followed it with in my rage.

"It's over, son. Stop. We need to go." He was composed now. Not really composed—in shock. I must have been a mess, but I couldn't feel anything. I saw the glint of fear in his eyes. I guess he thought I was still pit mad. I hugged my father and stood there. We could hear more footsteps coming. He picked up Bruce, the body, and I grabbed Mara and threw her over my shoulder like a sack of flour.

She was very light, or I was unable to feel. I carried her from chamber to chamber until we found the other entrance to the hot room. Outside it was my suit, her costume, Dad's outfit, and the cowl. I grabbed a bag and filled it with our clothes. We could change in the air.

My hand wrapped around my belt and I saw an LED blink. The charges. I'd forgotten them, another mistake. I was nothing but a mistake. I pulled the trigger device from the belt and carried both the bag and Mara to the plane.

Thugs have some sort of homing signal. When they finally realize that the main baddies were gone, so are most of them, all but the serious nut jobs. Ubu's one of those nut jobs. He stood there, a monster that had to be passed. He pointed at me and my father shook his head and pulled an escrima stick from the bag.

Dad put Bruce down. I kept going. I had the plane warmed up and was still in my briefs when he came back. He was covered in blood. I never asked and I never saw Ubu again. I don't know if my father was capable, so I simply never chose to think it. Once we were all out, I simply took the trigger and activated it.

The primary explosions were quiet, but the secondary blasts when the reactor finally went would have been spectacular, if I had bothered to care. By then, dad kicked me out of the cockpit, though I don't know why. He should have been with his father, or something, I don't know. All he told me was that he had to talk to mom. I nodded and went into the back.

It was cramped. There were two bench seats running parallel to each other. His body was on, Mara was on the other. It didn't leave much room for me. I sat on the floor next to her, trying not to think about my surroundings.

The body was covered with his own cape… HIS body. The man who wasn't supposed to die. The most dangerous man in the world… Grandfather. I couldn't even fathom it. All I knew was that there was a pain in my center, and a numbness throughout. I didn't know which was which, by the time we were in the air.

Mara lay completely unconscious, but I was pretty sure she'd wake. At least… I hoped she would. She had huge bruises on her throat. I had done that. I almost killed my sister. I curled my knees to my chest and grabbed her hand, and began to cry.

I heard dad talking in the cockpit to mom, but I couldn't hear the words. I didn't know if it was because I would not or could not listen. I just held Mara's hand. It was over. I was finished.

The flight home was long and silent. I never left my sister's side, or dared look to the bench across from us. I just kept holding her hand, promising silently to never let it go.