B A T M A N

BACKLASH

Chapter 1:

The sky was a dark, forbidding crimson as it glared down upon Gotham City. The scarlet was fading into blackness as it silhouetted the unique shape of Gotham skyscrapers and gargoyle sculptures. The gentle fall breeze whistled through the crisp air, the chill of a forbidding night present in the air. The dark shadows fell upon the citizens as they bustled on with their everyday lives. The only warmth radiated from the street, the shops, lights, and people busy as always.

The narrow stone ledge was formed in the shape of a beast, and sitting on top of it was a man sometimes described as something similar. The grooves and formation of the rock brought out a revolting, twisted creature, roaring in anguish as it peered from its perch over the city. It's stone cold eyes glared permanently in a painfully defiant stare. On top squatted a powerful man, encased it a cape and cowl, the Dark Knight of Gotham, surveying his domain. His eyes glistened with the same defiant stare, as he looked stories and stories down onto the metropolis. The black figure was motionless and appeared to be in a state of thought, the tip of his cape flapping in the wind.

In one quick motion he stood, firing out of his humble stance, and leaping from the ledge. His black-blue cape ripped upwards as he plummeted toward the pavement. He whipped out his grappling-launcher, and let off a shot. He fell for a mere second longer, for when the grappling hook sank into its target, the figure known simply as Batman fired upwards to his destination, sleek and fast, and soon there was no evidence he had ever been there.

* * * * *

The red fluorescent lights from the sign blared endlessly, shining down on the street. The van approached slowly, at a suspiciously slow pace. Batman didn't need to look twice to know who was inside. It came to a halt and sat in place for about a minute before the doors opened, and five men in expensive suits and trench coats stepped out. They glanced around suspiciously before they took two brown leather briefcases out of the van. In long strides they walked toward the large warehouses, the brisk wind blowing their coats.

The fat one fumbled with a large key ring, and eventually opened the large wooden door. Casually the five entered the warehouse, and silently another did as well. Their soft Cole-Hanns padded along the concrete floor of the warehouse, as the men walked straight toward their destination, wordless. They arrived at a small, rusty elevator, and stepped inside as the large metallic doors parted. The bell chimed, and a fierce cranking roar was heard as the elevator jostled upward. It vibrated intensely, planting the idea that the floor was about to fall out from the bottom of the elevator in the minds of those inside. Moments later the doors parted once again, and the five men stepped casually of the elevator, now onto a posh, finished wood floor. They marched across and stepped up to two large double doors with a large purple "J" inscribed on it. A small green intercom was on its immediate right. The fat one reached over and pressed the button to activate the intercom.

"Helloooo?" came the sly, cackling of the Joker.

"Jingle Bells, Batman Smells" the fat one recited the password, in an unenthusiastic monotone.

"Access granted."

The doors swung open automatically, and the five entered, the metallic doors slamming shut behind them.

"Why if it isn't good old Ron Barton! Ron, old chap, it's been ages!" Joker exclaimed as he approached the fat one. Joker looked as disgustingly menacing as ever. His chalk white skin exemplified the dark emerald hair on the Joker's head, and his wide ruby grin full of rotting yellow teeth. Barton reached to shake hands with the Joker, and as he clasped the white-gloved hand he felt a small electric current rip through his body, followed by the Joker's wicked cackle.

"What is that, the thousandth time you fallen for that, Ron, my boy? Well it's good to see you. Sit down, sit down." Joker instructed, as he sat at his seat. Ron sat in the chair opposite the Joker, and his men sat at designated seats.

"Here yee, here yee, the meeting between Mistah Jay and his associate is now underway!"

Barton couldn't stand her. Just hearing her voice made him want to whip out his nine-millimeter and make sure he never had to hear it again, but he was able to resist. Harley Quinn stood at The Joker's side, dressed in full clownish attire, a broad smile across her face. She was in full make-up and donning her jingling clown cap. Why did she even have to be here? There was no reason. Either way, Barton wanted to get the hell out of there as fast as possible.

"Yeah, Mr. Joker, I'm a fan of the pleasantry's too, but would you mind if we got to the point?"

Joker's eyes narrowed "Why Ron, of course," his crazy voice sounder much more threatening. There was a nervous and tense silence throughout the room. Harley giggled nervously as she looked at the Joker.

"Somethin' wrong, puddin'?" she asked anxiously.

"We made the delivery. Here's the money." Barton jumped in. He lifted the briefcases and placed them on the table. He gave them a tough shove and they slid across the long table to The Joker. Joker didn't move a muscle. He sat there in his gaudy purple suit staring straight into Barton's eyes. Without dropping his eyes he reached one hand over and felt the first briefcase.

"Wanna clue me in on the combo, Ronnie?"

"6-7-0-2. The second is 5-2-3-8. Five hundred thousand in cold hard cash. A lot of money." Joker didn't seem to hear what he was saying as he opened the two briefcases.

"Why lookee here. It's my good friend Benjamin Franklin!" Joker grinned as he thumbed through a small bundle of one hundred dollar bills. Barton's patience was wearing thin.

"Yeah. Good friend. Look, if you just get me my cut, I'll be out of here." Barton informed, as he crossed his legs uneasily. Joker looked at him seriously, but then broke into his usual grin.

"Why of course, buddy." Joker said as he stood up. He picked up the briefcases, and stood up. "If you'll excuse me for a minute. Just getting you your share, you know." Joker slipped toward the dark corner in the back of the room, and entered into a small room. Harley gave a sexy smile and trotted after him, her bells jingling as she went. The door slammed behind her. After a short pause, one of Barton's men spoke up.

"I don't like that guy. He gives me the major creeps." One of them said.

"You don't say. I just want to hang out with that fruitcake all the time. What are you stupid? I just want to get out of here." Barton trailed off. He looked around the room. It was creepy how there was no windows or anything. Actually, other than the doors, there was nothing on the walls. Except for that one vent in the corner. And what...? There appeared to be some greenish gas coming out of the vent! But that wasn't possible. But was it...? Barton got up and quickly strode over to the vent and looked up at it.

"Oh shit..."

"What is it boss?"

* * * * *

"Ah, cupcake, its too bad what happened to Ron Barton, eh? Good guy. Well, sometimes bad things happen to good people." Joker thought aloud.

"Puddin', what exactly happened to Ron Barton?" Harley Quinn asked.

"Well Harl, it's a long story, but I think our good pal Ron is catching his breath right now." Joker informed with a wicked cackle, as a large henchmen placed the second of the briefcases into the trunk of Joker's black Lincoln.

"Oh Mistah Jay, you're so crafty. He never saw it coming." Harley added, as she gave The Joker a quick hug. "You're so brainy. No wonder you're the ruler of the underworld, no one will ever catch you."

"I beg to differ." Came a cold voice. It sent chills up Harley's spine at the sound, as all of the hairs on her back stood straight up. Her eyes went wide as she spun on her heels. Her mouth dropped slightly.

"Mistah.... Jay?" she whispered. Joker glanced backward.

Amidst the shadows of the factory parking lot was a shape they knew all to well. Batman sprung out with a whip of his cape. He landed on his feet, in a crouched position, and slowly continued to rise. He reached his full height, cowering over the enemy, his dark, imposing figure perfectly still, his long black cape draped around his body. The cape let up to his cowl, all the way up to his pointy "ears" jolting up at the top, under which his eyes glistened with ferocity. He could hear the sudden gasp of the Joker's men as he arrived.

"In the car!" Joker yelled. "Get him!" he added, directed some of his henchmen. Joker and Harley hoped in the backseat of the car, which began to speed off, as two of Joker's men, both large, broad-shouldered muscular men stepped into Batman's way. The first one swung at him, but he sidestepped, and hit a twirling roundhouse kick into the thug's jaw, sending him flying to the concrete with a crack. The second one rushed directly at him, but a spinning elbow to the face sent him thudding to the ground. Batman quickly withdrew a remote communicator from his utility belt.

"Alfred?"

"Yes, master Bruce?"

"Send the Batmobile around to the front. I've got a little pursuit to do."

* * * * *

It was getting pretty late. It was cold in Gotham City, and what was left of the people on the streets were in a hurried bustle, rushing to get home. To get to their safe, warm homes. Despite the difference between now and the old days, before Batman were considerable, but Gotham was far from a safe place to be late in the night. But Selina Kyle could care less.

She had her shawl pulled tightly around her shoulders as she stalked along the concrete. The city was truly sinister looking at this hour, she thought to herself as she amusingly glanced over the architecture of some of the skyscrapers in the distance. She concentrated on the rooftops. They were high and dangerous- just looking at them made her think of Batman and... Catwoman. She had more than a desire to fly from building to building- bullwhip in hand- doing her own brand of justice, while picking up a more than decent living on the way.

But of course that would be a parole violation.

But of course parole violations only apply if you are caught, she thought naughtily. That was a life style she had moved on from, she tried to remind herself. A police cruiser rolled around the block, driving slowly, inspecting the streets. Selina gave the car no notice, and just continued on her way. She watched her own feet pad along the ground, near silently, gathering her thoughts.

A soft meow that stood out through the sounds of the city distracted her. She glanced to her left- where the sound had come from- only to see a long narrow, wet looking alleyway. It was dark and sinister looking, but such things didn't stop Selina Kyle. She slowly made her way into the alley, listening for the soft fur of a cat in need of a home- but what she heard was the whimpering of a woman. As Selina rounded a large dumpster, she saw two figures. The first was a large man dressed poorly. He had a young woman, no older than twenty pinned up against the brick wall. His left hand, encased in a tattered fingerless glove, groped at her breasts as she whimpered quietly- he kept his right hand clamped over her mouth.

He never saw it coming. The young woman's scream was muffled by his hand, which fell away quickly afterwards, as her attacker fell to the floor in heap, out cold. He had a shocked, dazed look on his face, contorted in a strange fearful look. The woman looked up, as if to thank her captor, but no one was there- all she saw was the shadow of what looked like a cat...

* * * * *

The eruption from the engine ripped through the air in a blaze of fire as the Batmobile lurched forward to the sound of screeching tires. All four wheels rotated forward on their axis at a lightning pace, spiraling quickly; the vehicle blaring off into the night. The road was empty as the Batmobile tore down the pavement. Batman pushed the thrust forward into full throttle, putting his powerful engine closer to its limit as he ripped down the road. He was gaining on the black Lincoln, a car from as fast as the Batmobile. Suddenly from both backseat windows popped out henchmen- each with a large machine-gun in hand. With a vicious chatter of sound, flashing whiteness filled the air as bullets fired in the direction of the Batmobile. As the gunfire ricocheted of the surface of the sleek black car, Batman's eyes narrowed with fierceness. He calmly reached down and pressed a button on his control panel, which let out a loud "beep".

Within seconds large grappling hooks fired out from either side of the vehicle. The spiked steel on the end of each sank into the back of the Joker's car. Batman quickly slammed the brakes on, with plans to stop the Joker's car, but instead the entire back of the car tore off, the bumper and frame ripping away from the rest of the car with a smashing screech. The thugs out of both windows went sprawling to the cement with thuds and screams. The car rumbled forward just enough to go crashing into a street lamp, with a large electrical explosion. Batman slowly pulled the Batmobile alongside the fiery mess, opening the roof to his car and hopping out quickly. He glanced around surveying the damage. He reached down and pulled away some of the large pieces of shrapnel.

"You're not taking us alive Bats!" came a determined squeal. Harley Quinn leapt out and kicked Batman, squarely in the jaw, sending him stumbling backwards. She went to leg sweep his feet beneath him, but he jumped, avoiding her sweep, and came down hard with a kick to her stomach. She gasped for breath as she fell to the ground in a heap.

His hideous laughter emanated from the fiery mess, so Batman knew the Joker wasn't far behind. Slowly the "Clown Prince of Crime" emerged with his grin as hideous as always. Slowly he reached into his jacket and withdrew a pistol.

"Why if it isn't my good friend Batman. So, tell me Batman, do you have something against me personally, or do you like crashing people's parties?" Joker grinned inquisitively. Batman didn't move. "Well it doesn't matter either way, because it ends now!" Joker pulled the gun up and fired. Batman didn't move. And it appeared he had no reason too. A small pole with a "Bang" flag emerged from the gun barrel.

"Cute." Batman's cold voice noted.

"Glad you think so Batty, because it doesn't end there." Joker pulled the trigger a second time; this time the pole itself fired out and sunk deep into Batman's chest. He let out a gasp and fell backward, his vehicle saving him from hitting the cement. Batman felt immediately dizzy and sick.

"That serum should take to time working Bats. It's guaranteed to make you smile!" A second black car pulled up near the wreckage, and Joker hopped it, followed by a limping Harley Quinn. "Wait for me Mistah Jay!" she called after him, as the sped off. Batman felt the serum working, as he glared helplessly after the car with a fierce anger, all he could do was smile. He reached for his utility belt, and whipped out the antidote. Next time he told himself, not even sure.

* * * * *

"So I'll call you?" he asked. Barbara Gordon was tempted to inform him that he had better never call her, if he did she would hang up on him, and that she would rather stick rusty nails into her eyes than go out with him again, but she refrained. Instead, she tossed her red hair over her shoulder and gave him the fakest smile that she could muster.

"Yeah, maybe we could do this again sometime." She cringed. He leaned forward and puckered his lips, as though to suggest he was expecting a kiss.

"Well, bye." She said hurriedly, and slammed the door in his face. She let out a disgruntled sigh. Another night, and another blind date she wished she had never gone on. She walked casually over into her room, to her nightstand and put her purse down. She withdrew her wallet, and opened it up to a picture of her ex-boyfriend. Dick.

She wasn't sure what to think really. She new she didn't want to get back together with him. She'd been there and done that. He was too controlling, immature, self-centered, and narrow-minded. But at the same time he was cute, charming, funny, and perfect for her. She thought he might have been the guy... She liked him that much. But he was really two different people; when he felt like it, that is. But he was all she could think about. Barbara lay down back onto her bed. And with college to worry about and of course... Barbara looked over to her secret closet where she kept her costume. Well it was certainly a pressure reliever, she thought to herself. A good escape. But not tonight. She had a paper to write. She looked at her watch. It was already pretty late, and she was tired. She got up and went over to her desk, and sat down at her computer and started it up.

She looked at the calendar on the wall to make sure she knew what day it was. Yes it was still Tuesday. Tuesday the twentieth of October. The twentieth? Could tomorrow really be the twenty-first? Could Dick really be coming back tomorrow? Did she care? It had been months since she had seen him. She had just gone to say goodbye at the airport. But he hadn't been happy to see her. He was off to see the world, and didn't need old girlfriends clinging to him as he tried to leave. If there was anything she wasn't there to do, it was cling. She was there to prove how over him she was. By being happy for him. But he was too egocentric to see that.

"Selfish? I'm selfish? You've got to be kidding me. All I do is give and give and give to this relationship. I've been trying to make this work for so long. But all you care about is your needs. What about my needs?" he sneered on the night of their break-up. Barbara was appalled.

"What do you mean you don't think about your needs? That's all you think about. You skip a date with me at a moments notice, leaving me sitting at a restaurant like an idiot. You're so inconsiderate. You don't even think about me." She snarled. Dick seethed with anger.

"I have other things going on in my life! It's not that I don't want to be there... I can't always. I have other commitments." he retorted.

"It dictates your life Dick. It controls you. He controls you."

"NO ONE controls me but me!" Dick bellowed. He gritted his teeth as he slammed his fist against the wall. "Since when is dedication a bad thing! Just because I care about other things..." Dick was tempted to tell her everything.

"Don't tell me I don't care," she snapped, "You know as well as I do that's B.S. Don't blame me for not understanding you. You know I'm right." He wanted to tell her she wasn't- that she couldn't understand. How could she?

"Hey, I'll admit it the times when I'm wrong, but this isn't one of them. I have things to do, and I do them. I have other priorities in my life, and that's why I can't always be there." he shouted.

"Then maybe you should get your priorities straight, Dick. I don't have time for you to dance around our relationship and fear commitment. Grow up for god's sake!" she screamed.

"Whatever. I can't deal with this right now," Dick muttered as he walked towards the door, "I'll call you,"

"No. Don't."

"What?"

"Don't call me. I don't want to hear from you."

"Fine. Have a nice life Barb!" he said, slamming the door behind him.

Barbara opened the word processor on her computer as a small tear trickled down her cheek.

* * * * *

The inside of the warehouse was as musty as any warehouse interior could be expected to be: but it was dirtier. Two large men stood at the front, near the entrance, both armed with large automatic weapons, motionless. Further in, there were stacks of crates, pilled everywhere, with more armed thugs guarding the pass at each one. Up top, more guards walked along the long catwalk, glowering down, guns ready. At the center of the building was a large table- seated at the head of it was none other than the Joker.

"I want him dead. It's as simple as that!" Joker snarled angrily, slamming his fist on the table. "I've put up with his antics long enough. I'm through with him. The Bat will die." The rest of those seated at the table seemed less enthused. Joker's beady eyes sharply eyed his thugs, with a mix of anger and curiosity. "Do any of you have any ideas?" There was a silence.

"Well, please, please, don't bombard me with all these suggestions at once." Joker snarled sarcastically. One of the thugs near the end laughed quietly.

"Do you think that's funny?" Joker asked. There was silence. Clearly the thug wasn't sure what to say.

"What's your name, son? Come up here!" Joker called. The thug slowly got up from his seat and walked forward to the front of the table where Joker was seated. Joker arose as well.

"Joe. Joe Gibbs." He said.

"Well Joe, clad to meet you. I'm the Joker. So I hear you liked my joke? It was good wasn't it? Not my best stuff, but I thought it was funny," Joker made conversation. A sweat developed on Joe's forehead. There was dead silence.

"Yeah, it was pretty funny."

"Glad you think so. Now guess who else thinks it was funny?"

"I'm... Not sure,"

"Why Bud and Lou of course!"

"Who are they?"

"You don't know Bud and Lou! How can you not know Bud and Lou? You have to meet Bud and Lou! Why, they're right over behind that door!" Joker pointed to a door over near the wall. Joe uneasily walked forward, toward the door, looking back for a nod of reassurance he didn't get. He continued to the door and touched the cold steel knob and slowly turned it. The door opened and he walked in, peering around. Suddenly the door slammed, and a blood curdling scream came from inside.

"Well, the rest of you guys know Bud and Lou, my laughing Hyenas, right? Joker grinned widely. Everyone at the table nodded. "Well good. While Joe pets the dogs, I'll clue you in on my plan," Joker continued, as another scream echoed in the background, followed by the fierce laughter of the Hyenas. "Ten million. Ten million goes to the guy who brings me Batman's head." Quiet gasps and whispers crackled around the table. Suddenly Joker let out a scary cackle of his own as he listened to Joe Gibbs scream. "Now that's funny!"

* * * * *

Chapter 2:

Selina Kyle turned the key until it clicked, and walked into her apartment. It was pitch black after she closed the door, but she stood there and took a deep breath before flipping the light switch. She lived well, but not as nicely as she could have. She walked in and put down her purse, and flipped on the TV casually. The late news was on, and the announcer was going on and on, flapping his gums about some incident at a factory downtown, involving Batman. Selina smiled. Batman. Who else but Batman? They'd encountered so many times in the past... He had a mysterious quality she loved. He was tall, dark, and probably handsome. And he was certainly noble, that was for sure. The kind of man Selina wanted in her life. But so many times they were on the opposite sides of justice. It wasn't really right.

Selina's cat Isis came over and rubbed against her leg affectionately. Selina smiled down at her precious cat.

"Hello baby..." she whispered. She was met with a loud meow, suggesting hunger. Selina got up and walked over to her refrigerator. She took out a carton of milk, and poured some into Isis' dish. She closed it and put it away, and headed into her bedroom.

Her room was dimly light, shadows darkening the area. She removed her blouse, and then her skirt, and glanced into her full-length mirror, and admired herself. She really did have a nice body. She ran her hands over her stomach and around her hips to her butt. She was wearing her expensive bra and panties. Too bad there was no one to see her in them. She then stalked over to her closet, and opened it. She ran her hands all over her clothes, feeling their soft textures. She gazed over her various articles of clothing, looking for her silk nightie... But instead she found her black and gray cat suit. She looked it over and smiled devilishly. Who would know?

Moments later, the lights flicked off in Selina Kyle's apartment. If one had looked in through the window, they might have seen something they didn't expect. They might have seen the shadow of a cat, whip in hand, cartwheeling across the floor. But who would have known?

* * * * *

Bruce Wayne was sitting in his robe, with his eyes closed. It was late and he was tired. Alfred came into the room with a glass of water and a steamed towel. Bruce quickly grabbed the towel and opened it up, before massaging his face with it. He let it lay on his face for about a minute before removing it and taking a sip of water. Alfred stood by patiently.

"Are you alright Master Bruce?" he inquired. Bruce frowned.

"No. I'll be fine, but I'm worried. I'm getting slower. I'm losing my edge." Bruce explained carefully. "I just don't feel like I usually do out their Alfred. Joker got away. I had him in my grasp and he outwitted me. I need to get it together. And it's not just tonight. Last week these thugs were robbing a bank. They got away too."

"You know Master Bruce, your profession isn't exclusive to vacations. In fact, you might deserve one more than anyone else in Gotham. Just a thought."

Bruce looked up at his butler. "My profession is exclusive to vacations. Or I'm going to make it that way. They need me." He said as he gazed out the window toward the night skyline of Gotham. Alfred thought for a second.

"Master Dick is coming back tomorrow. Perhaps he can take over your duties for a while. Give you a chance to get a good nights rest for once." He suggested. He looked at Bruce hopefully. Bruce shook his head.

"I made a vow, and it certainly didn't include taking nights off to get some rest!" she said as he stood up. He walked toward the stairs. "Goodnight Alfred,"

Alfred sighed. "Goodnight Master Bruce."

* * * * *

It was chilly as the last of the partygoers made their drunken exit from the Iceberg Lounge. Inside the posh new nightclub, Oswald "Penguin" Cobblepot waddled his way down the icy blue steps of his marvelous club, admiring his own reflection on their glossy surface. He tapped his signature umbrella on each step as he made his way down, a wide grin on his face. As he reached the bottom, he adjusted his white gloves and his monocle, before turning to the front desk. Jay, Raven, and Lark all stood, with broad smiles on their faces.

His three hostesses were carefully selected. Jay was the shortest, a petit brunette with short hair. Raven was a stunning redhead, with long hair and a perfect body. Lark was the tallest, and very leggy, her long blonde hair streaming out from under her bowler. They were all wearing spiffy black bowlers, bowties, black satin corsets and nylon tights.

"So how did my nest make out tonight?" Penguin asked with a smile.

"Very well Mr. Cobblepot," Jay informed.

"Over twenty-thousand, Mr. Cobblepot," Raven added.

"And even more in tips!" Lark added, grinning. Penguin looked impressed.

"Very good. Very good. You birds have done well for me!" he said, visibly pleased. "Well I'm going home. You girls have done a great job hosting, and I'll see you tomorrow. You can close up on your own." The Penguin waddled over to the main door and exited- his bodyguard and limo waiting. Jay let out a sigh as he left, her smile fading.

"God that guy is so ugly..." she thought aloud. "What is he, deformed, or like a mutant or something?" she asked, as she removed her bowler.

"I don't mind him. He's just some short repulsive socialite," Raven added as she too removed her bowler, running her hands through her long red hair. "What bothers me are these costumes. We look like strippers." She whined, as she removed her bowtie. Lark removed her bowler as well, and shook out her long blonde hair.

"What scares me about him isn't his looks," Lark added. "Did you guys know he was a criminal? Like he fought with like Batman and stuff?" Jay and Raven's jaws dropped.

"Get out!" Raven gasped.

"I'm serious. He was a criminal. Went to jail and everything. The news people called him a `reformed master criminal'. Crazy, I know!" Lark explained as she put her hands on her hips. Jay crossed her arms.

"You wouldn't think a pudgy little bird man like that could fight Batman," she murmured.

"Well he didn't fight. He was just the brain behind the brawn." Lark explained. Raven and Jay both nodded in agreement, dumbfound to discover their boss, owner of the hottest nightclub in Gotham, had been a criminal.

* * * * *

The morning was cold. There was precipitation on the streets as few cars drove along. It was barely light out and the few birds of the city were awake. And so was Bruce Wayne. He strolled along the gray sidewalks casually, his gloved hand holding a Styrofoam cup filled with black coffee. He smelled the crisp air and continued on his way, taking an occasional sip of the coffee as he went. Every few blocks or so he would nod or acknowledge someone he knew, sometimes even venturing a verbal greeting. But he wasn't walking to socialize with people. And he wasn't walking to get to a given destination. He was walking to think. His mind raced a mile a minute, contemplating his situation. Was he faltering? Was it age? He truly wasn't that old. He was in peak physical condition. He truly was. He sighed aloud.

"Don't be too proud Bruce. No one's perfect," he said to himself. But that was the problem. He had to be perfect. Imperfection was unacceptable. I made a vow, he told himself. Did that vow ever indicate perfection? Of course not. But often the completion of the vow requires perfection. This is the sanctity of a city we're talking about. Evil and injustice are everywhere, around every corner. If I don't... Don't kid yourself Bruce. You are one man you know. Trying to do the impossible results in nothing being accomplished. Bruce continued to contradict himself as he walked down the street.

We're all just individuals Bruce. We don't expect you to be more. This wasn't Bruce's voice. It was his father's voice. He stopped dead in his tracks and stared at the sidewalks.

"Of course not," he said aloud. He pursed his lips. Perhaps rest might do him well. Dick was well trained. He was calm, cool, and collective. Most of the time, that is. And he made good decisions. There was no denying he was extremely lethal, either. He was certainly doing this for the right reasons as well. Four days. No three. Just to show he could do it. He didn't need the time off. But it wouldn't hurt. And it could only boost Dick's confidence. He took another long sip of the scorching coffee. Yes, perhaps his taking a little break would do everyone a little good. And when he made his return, he could only be more effective.

"Bruce? Bruce Wayne?" came a feminine voice. Bruce looked around in an unobvious, yet eager manner. His eyes rested on a beautiful blonde bombshell.

"Hello Selina," he offered with a quick smile. She returned it.

"Long time no see, huh?" she asked.

"Yeah, I guess it has been awhile. What are you doing now?" he asked, already aware, but making conversation.

"I work as an assistant uptown. Not what I'm looking for, but I'm still searching." She offered. You're also still lying Bruce thought to himself.

"Well that's fine," he said, not sure of anything else to say. She nodded in agreement.

"So what is the boy billionaire up to?" she asked.

"Oh you know. Same old same old. Nothing of interest to you."

"Try me,"

"Well we're working on a buyout of Greggerson Financials. The third quarter earnings are..."

"You're right. I couldn't care less. How about this- we meet for lunch today at a little place I know near my office. My secretary will voicemail you the arrangements. Your treat." She more-than-suggested.

"You're an assistant. You have your own secretary?" he asked, a bit perplexed.

"We're a big company," she grinned. "I'll see you at lunch!" she added, as she walked off, leaving Bruce more than puzzled.

* * * * *

"Mistah Jay?"

"Yes sweetums?" Joker asked, with a broad smile, tossing aside his newspaper.

"Well, puddin', I was listening to what you were saying to the boys before, about ideas to knock off Batman," Harley Quinn giggled as she walked over to his desk. "And I think I had an idea of my own!" she said excitedly. She swung her hips around so that her ass was in his face, and then planted it down right on his lap. She grinned and tilted her head to one side, the bells on her hat jingling.

"And what were you thinking?" he asked, relatively less than amused. I'm the criminal mastermind, and you're my sex toy he thought to himself. He casually picked a piece of lint off his eggplant colored suit, and admired Harley's body. She was the definition of fitness; her perfectly proportioned figure was stunning to say the least- and her cute face made her close to perfect. No matter how perfect her body was- her mind was as well. Joker was certainly the criminal mastermind, but Harley was brilliant in her own right. But there were so few plots she could possibly come up with he hadn't already tried.

"Well, how many times have we tried to kill Batman?" she asked. What kind of a question is that?

"Why more times than I am gorgeous," Joker answered without hesitation, as he took a grinning glance into a small mirror he kept in his desk.

"And how many times have we killed him?"

"Why, well, let me see... Never, what's your point?" the Joker sneered.

"Well maybe the traditional methods aren't working," she continued. Joker grinned at this.

"You don't say? Well Harl, I think you've just cracked the case, good job girl, you deserve a raise!" he snapped, with a sardonic edge.

"Just hear me out puddin', hear me out. If you knew who Batman was, would you be able to rub him out?"

"Presumably." Joker asked, now slightly intrigued, a tone of unusual seriousness entering his voice.

"So we've established we need to find out his identity. Well what does Batman value above everything else. I mean what would make him go- `I can't not give up my identity'?" she asked, excited she was getting to her point. She paused and waited for Joker to give her a response.

"Not sure, hun, help me out here," he finally answered, a tone of bored desperation in his voice.

"I say we hold Gotham's top faces for ransom. The top police, politicians, media members. I mean some seriously famous people here, people who the news will go nuts over. We find a location where they'll never be found. I mean the middle of nowhere. A place where we're untraceable, he'll never find us. If Batboy doesn't turn over his alter-ego...BLAM!" Harley excitedly made her own sound effects, "We blow their heads off one by one. How many die before the Bat gives in? I say not more than two. He's too noble. Trust me Mistah Jay, it's a surefire hit!"

"I don't know Harl... Kidnapping politicians, policemen, and celebrities... It just isn't me. Oh wait! Yes it is!"

An incredibly large grin overcame Joker's face.

"Why Harley, baby," he bellowed as he ran his hand from her leg to her butt, "You've just hit the jackpot!"

Insane laughter followed from behind the Joker's closed doors; his men could only wonder what was going on inside the head of the madman.

* * * * *

"Hello?"

"Barbara?" came Police Commissioner James Gordon's voice.

"Oh, hi dad." Barbara sighed, less than thrilled.

"Well I'm glad you're so excited to hear from me," he said sarcastically.

"No, I didn't mean it... It is good to hear from you." Barbara thought into the phone. She looked over into the mirror at her reflection. Her relationship with her father was steady... But changing.

"So how are you doing?" he asked. He was waiting patiently on the other end as Barbara took a deep breath.

"I'm doing alright."

"How's college? Doing well? Meet any guys?" he asked in the way that parents do. Barbara couldn't help to chuckle as she pictured her father standing on the phone, nervously awaiting her response. He was truly all a girl could ask for... He loved her like no one else could. She wrapped her finger in the telephone cord, wondering what to say.

"College is fine. I'm doing real well, I'm getting all A's this quarter. Negative on the guys though. Well I've meet some guys, but no one who I'd like to be with for a minute longer than the date lasts. I'm doing well. Why?"

"No real reason... I'm just worried about you pumpkin, that's all. I hardly ever see you anymore. You never call... You're really relatively close though; some guys' daughters are all over the place. One detective, Sampson, his daughter is at Stamford. I don't know if I could take that..." he went on.

"Dad, you're rambling." Barbara informed with a smile. It was like him to be nervous. Nervous in a good way of course.

"You're right. I'm sorry. I just wanted to check up on you, that's all. I've been worried. I know you took the break-up with the Grayson boy really hard, and I just wanted to make sure you had someone to talk too," he put forward. Barbara winced at the mention of Dick. She calculated her response, controlling her emotions.

"I'm really fine. I've moved on. Sorry I haven't called you more. I've been really busy with schoolwork and all though. You know. `Your studies always come first'," she cited one of her father's old policies.

"Of course. Well Barb, I really have to get back to work, I just wanted to hear your voice," he concluded with a deep sigh.

"Of course. Bye dad,"

"Bye sweetie," he said, as she placed the receiver down. Barbara walked over and turned on the television. She turned on some sitcom, just for background noise as she lay down on her couch, and placed a book over her face, closing her eyes and sinking into a deeper train of thought. Images of her mother, long flowing crimson hair flying in the wind as her gentile form graced the beach flashed through her head with astonishing speed. If only she were still here... Images of her father, worrying about her and how she was doing- concerned for her flashed by as well. Dick flashed by- first in his usual loving smile- next in his heartless, selfish sneer. Then she saw an image of the night. It was a cool, starless night, and suddenly the triumphant blare of the white and black bat emblem stained the sky. The bat-signal continued to roar across the night sky, and soon all Barbara could see was herself- Batgirl- whistling through the air with purpose.

Chapter 3:

The taxi pulled up to the front of the mansion, easily coming to a stop. With a click followed by a swing, the back door swung open, and out stepped a man of about twenty-four. Dick Grayson ran his eyes up and down Wayne Manor- it still seemed just as big as it did when he came here so many years ago... He walked around to the back of the car and the driver was already there, removing his two meager suitcases from the trunk. Dick paid the man quickly, giving a more-than-generous tip, as he lifted his bags and headed up the stone steps. They weren't steep, but there were a lot of them, Dick building up a sweat as he made his way to the top. Dick didn't really know anything about architecture, but the building was pretty amazing to look at. Not just in size, but in style. It was truly a work of art. Dark, mysterious, and interesting, much like its owner, Dick thought to himself with a chuckle. He reached the top and put down his bags. He stood there a moment, just staring at
the door. It wasn't to late. The cab hadn't left. Did he even want to see Bruce? They hadn't left on the best of terms. Did Bruce even want to see him? That question was a good one in its own right. He was so sick of Bruce, and they had just spent months apart. Months. And now he was back. It hadn't really seemed like that long of a time, just a different period in his life. Seeing the world. It was surely an experience he would never forget, to say the least. It was actually all very vivid at the moment.

The truth was, he had been trying so hard to get something out of the trip in all aspects of himself, he had missed out on having the fun he should have. And of course after coming in and having a meal, he would have to tell Bruce of his travels. That was the last thing he wanted to do. He just wanted to crash for a while before looking in to other things that's all. Not to have to deal with Bruce. Only stay in his house... Well that wouldn't work. I small quantity of guilt was developing in the back of Dick's mind. This man raised you Dick. He took you in when no one wanted you. Your family had been murdered, and you had nothing. You were just a circus boy back then... But what did he owe Bruce? Was it a debt that could be repaid? Or was he just supposed to be forever grateful to Bruce? The more he thought about in, the angrier it made him. Bruce was so self-centered sometimes. He was who he was though. He was the same guy Dick had always known, and would never change. He
was that kind of a guy. He never changed. Never. Home sweet home, he though to himself as the door swung open.

"Ah, Master Dick, a pleasure to see you," Alfred greeted him with a broad smile.

"Hey Alfred. How have you been?" Dick extended a hand, and they shook happily. Alfred reached for the bags, but Dick picked them up. "Alfred, please. I got the bags," he said, as he walked in through the large doorway.

"Very well, Master Dick," he said, sidestepping as Dick made his way into the front hall. He passed the two shiny, majestic suits of armor on either side as he entered, recognizing them as a sign of home. He continued on through the large polished floor, stopping in the dead center, dropped his bags and stared up at the vast dome capping over the hall much like he did as a child. He quickly looked up to the top of the stairs, where Bruce stood, emotionless. He was dressed in a suit, and stared down at Dick, who was returning his stare. After a moment, Bruce began to make his way down the large flight of stairs draped in red velvet. Eventually Bruce made it to the bottom.

"Dick, it's great to see you," he said. Dick paused before replying.

"Yeah. Bruce, you too, it's great to see you too," he managed to stammer out. It was strange. As strong as his mixed emotions were for Bruce, he had absolutely nothing to say to his mentor. He just nodded unconfidently, and stared at the ground uncomfortably. He felt the same way he did when he had first arrived at the enormous mansion, still sad about his folks, but scared as well. Bruce didn't scare him anymore.

"How was the trip?"

"Great. Had a great time. Saw almost everything a man can ask to see of the world in three months,"

"Good. Yeah, I had a great time when I saw the world at your age. We do live in magnificent world, so many people and places to understand." Bruce said, with a light attitude he rarely possessed. "Well it's been great talking with you, but I was actually on my way out. I've got a meeting I've got to be at," Dick smiled at this. Off to a meeting.

"A meeting huh?" he liked Bruce's terminology, assuming it was a joke.

"No, I really have a business meeting." Bruce insisted, as he headed toward the door. "We'll catch up on old times later tonight though. Alfred has prepared a great meal for you, no doubt." Bruce paused uneasily when he reached the door. "We'll talk tonight. Maybe we'll... Go out and talk. You know what I mean?" Bruce grimaced as if Dick didn't know what he meant.

Dick smiled to himself. "Yeah, I know what you mean," he grinned. Bruce exited quickly, closing the door.

"I'll head up to my room, Alfred," Dick informed, as he picked up his bags.

"Very well, sir. Your meal will be waiting when you come down," Alfred offered, as he turned and headed off in a different direction. Dick proceeded to walk up the steps, bags in hand. I feel like I'm in the sixth grade. Bruce going off to a business meeting? Legitimate or not, it's all too familiar. He trudged on, up the steps, lugging his bags. Off to a meeting. There were times when all Dick could have asked for was a normal childhood with normal parents. His parents. Hell, even the circus was a far cry from normality. He reached the level his room was on and headed down the hall. The carpet was thick between his feet. It was the same thick carpet he remembered. He came to his room, and opened the door. It had been untouched. Looking around the room, it was obvious that no one had set foot in it for four years at least- not since before he left for college. He entered wearily. It was almost as though entering the recent past. I put down his bags, and sniffed the musty
scent of the air. He slowly made his way around the room. His books, posters, desk. Nothing had been touched. It was all the way he had left it. Dick fell backwards onto his bed, sinking into the cushioned mattress. He closed his eyes and let out a long sigh. Home sweet home.

* * * * *

High up on the top level of the Grand Marquis Hotel, a single light was lit in the room farthest to the back. Sitting in a large high-backed leather chair sat The Penguin, a look of disgruntled apprehension on his face. He thumbed through the files he had perched on his lap, quickly studying them curiously. His mind raced furiously. Debt. He was in too deep. And Rupert Thorne was certainly not the forgiving type. No he wasn't. Not the guy you wanted to owe either. This nightclub- a success to someone on the outside, but he needed more money, and faster. That was the key. He needed the money now. He glanced around the hotel nervously before continuing to flip through the file, his stubby, distortedly deformed fingers working at their maximum speed.

Reilly, Patrick, J. A pretty shady character. One in debt himself. But not to Rupert Thorne.

"Well, Mr. Reilly, it's time for you to give me what you owe me," he thought aloud. He paused and sat back in his seat, taking in a deep breath. After a pause, he continued to light his pipe, and smoke heavily, in anticipation of the arrival. Thorne. That guy was truly a piece of work. We was truly a demanding bastard, too unaware of the world around him. He had no vision or people skills. A lower class thug who got lucky. Inherited a criminal empire. That was something Penguin longed for. Not that he needed it. Not being the self made socialite and master criminal he was. Few men were truly so intelligent and sophisticated that they could juggle alternate lives at the same time. Very few men. But Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot was one of them. Twenty minutes later, a thunderous pounding came at the door.

"It's open," he called out coldly. The door swung open. Two men barged in, viciously shoving a smaller man in front of them. He stumbled and tripped over his own feet, going crashing into the ground with a deafening thud.

"Get up," one of the large men said with a snap. He grabbed the small man by the back of his shirt and dragged him too his feet before flinging him clean across the room, where he landed headfirst in a heap. He looked above him in pure dread, shaking violently at the feet of the Penguin, who greeted him with a wide grin, a cruel, sadistic grin.

"Why Mr. Reilly. How good to see you. Please, warm yourself by my fire," Penguin exclaimed, gesturing toward the roaring blaze in the fireplace. It flickered ferociously. Reilly looked at it, but shot back to the Penguin, untrustingly. He was soaked with sweat, his brow damp. He was able to rise to his feet with much effort, extending to his full height slowly and carefully.

"Mr. Cobblepot... It's, uh, it's good to see you. How have you been?" he stammered, looking around timidly.

"Please, please, call me Penguin. As to your inquiry, I'm not going to blow smoke in your direction- I've been better." There was a long pause. "Aren't you going to ask me why things haven't been going so well?" Penguin asked, an irritated tone attached to his voice. This Reilly guy wasn't the brightest bulb...

"Oh, of course Mr. Penguin. Why haven't things been going so well?" Reilly managed to stutter out. He gulped loudly.

"Well you see Pat, it goes something like this. I'm a businessman. As you may or may not know- it doesn't really matter whether or not you do- I've opened up a little nightclub downtown. The Iceberg Lounge. Great name isn't it? I really think it suits me, and the location is nothing short of amazing. It's truly spectacular, the new hot spot for the important people of Gotham. I suppose you haven't heard of it in that case, but no matter. Well back on subject, I spared no expense in making it the best it could be. I wasn't exactly loaded with cash at the time, just having my release from Arkham and all, so I took out a little loan myself. Guess what? I need to repay that loan. Now a little birdie told me you still haven't paid me back for a little loan I gave you last year Mr. Reilly! Certainly this is not correct, is it?" The Penguin asked with a sardonic edge.

Reilly looked pale. "I've just... I've got two kids in college now, and I can't really afford... I'm sorry. Give me some time. I'll get you the money, I promise!" he cried desperately. Penguin tapped his pipe on his ashtray. That was the signal. As swiftly as he moved quickly, one of his men came swooping in with a baseball bat firmly in his clutches. He swung hard and fast. The bat made contact with the back of Reilly's leg, which cracked forward awkwardly like a thin twig. He buckled and crumbled to the ground, a look of terror strewn across his face. It happened so quickly he didn't scream until he hit the floor.

"Mr. Reilly, I'm less than sorry to inform you that around here, I make the deadlines. I expect the full payment within forty-eight hours, or you'll never see your family again." Penguin turned to his men. "Get this bag of slime out of my sight." He snapped. Reilly was grabbed at each underarm, and lifted clear off the floor, escorted out the door. Penguin pursed his lips angrily. Both his men returned after throwing Reilly out. They waited for the Penguin to say something.

"Well my brawn to match my brain," he said, directed at his "hired help", "It looks as though many of those who owe me some funds have come up on the empty side. No matter. At this point of rebuilding my name I can't risk a confrontation with a crime boss. Tomorrow night we pay a visit to the first national bank, to take out another loan ourselves."

* * * * *

Atop the building the whistling wind washed the thick sheets of rain over their bodies. The heavy downpour washed over them as the stood, observing the street bellow, with watchful eyes. They peered down carefully, looking for anything. The wind blew harder, more rain rushing over them, but the Dark Knight and the Boy Wonder stood steadfast. Robin's cape ripped outward, it's black and yellow alternate sides virtually one in the furious storm. He lowered his binoculars and turned to Batman.

"So why did you really want to talk? It's always something serious when you make a time to talk," Robin said, in a sarcastic, but blunt manner. It was true. For him to make it a point to talk with you, it's got to be pretty important.

"Glad to talk with you too," Batman snarled.

"I'm serious. There is a real reason, right?"

"I'm not clear on your idea of a real definition, but I have some things I want to discuss with you," Batman said, coldly.

"And...?" Robin wasn't in a mood to wait. He glanced over at Batman who didn't return the look, just staring through his binoculars, motionless. Emotionless.

"I'm taking some time off," Batman said softly. In the entire world, that was the last thing Robin was expecting to hear. It gave him a bit of a shock, and he was more than taken aback. Batman taking time off? In all the years he'd known Bruce he had never taken a night off. He was always out there, even on Christmas Eve, patrolling the streets in search of those who broke the law. Where did this come from? What had he missed? It must have been something big.

"What do you mean time off? You're taking time off? You can't take time off!" Robin snapped, unaware he was losing himself. Batman didn't move, but Robin could almost sense him shudder inside.

"I hate the idea. But I need it. I've made the decision," Batman glowered, in monotone. Robin calmed himself. What was he doing! This was Batman- if anyone knew what the right thing to do it was Batman- and he was the last person who would admit he needed rest. Something had to be serious. There was a long pause. Neither man made a sound, the rain washing over their bodies.

"I'm sorry Batman, I don't know what came over me," Robin murmured. "If anyone needs a break it's you," he added, trying to seem compassionate.

"I don't want to take time off. But Alfred's right. I've been slipping lately- letting guys get away. I just need a breather." Batman explained, still expressionless. "Plus, I figured it would give you a chance to see if you have any solo skills," Batman added, looking in Robin's direction. Robin had to crack a smile at this.

"Wow. Yeah, that's cool. I won't let you down. I've never been out alone before. I do have to hone my solo skills,"

"That's assuming you have any," Batman joked coldly. Robin smiled at his mentor.

"Yeah, I guess. Have any big plans for your vacation?"

"It's not a vacation,"

"Okay, fine, have any plans for this... strange little hiatus you've got going on here?" Robin questioned.

"Not much. I'm meeting Selina Kyle again."

"Again? Selina Kyle? Why?"

"We ran into each other in the street. We did lunch. She's an acquaintance," Batman glowered, taking up his usual somber mood. "There!" he exclaimed, gesturing down the street. He whipped out of his crouch into a standing position, sending his cape flying in the wind, firing his grappling hook. It hooked onto something with a loud clank, and Batman leapt off into the rainy night, his protégé right behind him.

Deep down in a dark alley, the thief bolted down, away from the scene of the crime. He glanced behind him, to make sure he wasn't being followed...

SMACK. He hit a wall, and fell to the ground with a sickening thud. "How dumb do you have to be to run into a wall...?" he thought to himself as he got up... A dark pointy-eared figure cowered over him. He shrieked in fear. He stumbled to his feet and took off... SMACK. He fell to the ground, looking up to see a second caped figure cowering over him.

"It's not nice to take things that don't belong to you," the Batman growled.

* * * * *

The police car slowed to a stop, the ruby and sapphire lights piercing the darkness. The dimmed to non-existence, and the door to the driver's seat flung open. Two black booted feet plunked down on the wet cement, as their owner stood his long gray trench coat fell down. Detective Harvey Bullock slammed the door behind him as he sauntered toward the door, chewing his toothpick with a frown. He lifted his radio close to his mouth.

"This is Bullock. I'm reporting to a possible code 187, I'm located at 1550 Larkin Place, requesting backup," he said slowly. The last thing he wanted to do was to call for backup. But he needed it. He wasn't stupid, and wasn't willing to let this clown get away. He placed his radio in his coat pocket, and switched it off, cutting off the radio static that followed. This was all him. No vigilante Batman interfering. Batman. What a joke. He reached into his coat and withdrew a .44 caliber pistol. He didn't need some loose cannon prancing around in a Halloween costume bringing in these psychopaths. He came close to the door, and let out a sigh before opening it.

He lurched forward flashing his pistol around rather carelessly. The room was pitch dark. Carefully surveying what he could, Bullock used his free hand to feel around for a light switch. He didn't find one. He entered slowly; peering as well as he could, staying close to the wall. Where are you clown... Bullock slithered as silently as possible. You're going down this time. He moved forward as his eyes adjusted; in the center of the room was a large purple box. What in god's name is that for? He thought carefully. He kept his gun ready and his eyes open as he approached the box. The last thing I need is stupid games. He inched closer and closer...

BLAM. With a powerful rip the box blew into fragments with an earth-shattering sound, firing away in all directions. Bullock was taken from his feet, and flew backwards, slamming into the wall at full speed, collapsing into a heap on the floor. He felt more than dazed, his world was shaking at an incredible rate, he could barely sit up straight. It was all more than blurry. Bullock tried to move out of the way, but he couldn't make his muscles work.

Standing where the box had been was a well-toned feminine figure, with a jester cap on. Harley Quinn cartwheeled forward.

"Why lookee here, who might this be?" she asked with excitement. "It looks like it's detective Harvey Bullock! I know Mistah Jay would be glad if I brought you home to him!" she said playfully, as she pinched Bullock's cheek.... Bullock groaned with exasperation, painful scrapes burning all over his body.

"Time to pay the boss a visit!"

* * * * *

With an explosion of both the engine, and excitement, the Batmobile leapt forward, for the first time Robin at the helm. It tore forward with amazing speed, and yet astounding control. Robin had never driven something with such an incredible mix of both. He pushed the thrust into full gear, and the Batmobile accelerated further. Instantly Batman came onto a small video screen Robin barely would have noticed.

"Even though we have no speed limit..." he gritted, obviously upset, "I'd appreciate it if you took it down a few notches." Dick smiled at Batman's frustration.

"Yeah, okay Bruce, no problem." He slowed the car down, easing his foot of the petal ever so slightly. Batman's eyes narrowed a bit suspiciously but his picture disappeared momentarily from the monitor. Dick sighed a sigh of relief, slouching back in his seat. It truly was an incredible car, mixing power and agility. Robin wasn't going to mess this up; hopefully there would be more trips involving his piloting of the Batmobile. He continued to rush forward, ripping out of the long tunnel onto the pavement, bulleting toward the city. He scratched himself.

Batman never would have let him drive the Batmobile before he left. Never. Maybe... Maybe he had changed. Maybe he recognized how much Dick had matured. Both mentally and in combat and skills. Maybe he was seriously slowing down... But it was unlike Batman to admit something like that. He would never... Especially to Dick. He was always that strong father figure. And he was so independent, there were times he would forbid Robin to even accompany him. He never would drop you a line if something was bothering him. This was so strange.

But Robin was complaining, as he tore down the road. He reached over and pumped up some music.

"Whoo!" he exclaimed. He liked the solo gig so far. It honestly wasn't too far away... Batman was ageless, but Bruce wasn't. Dick knew that. Of course, however, Batman wouldn't quit; he'd be like one of those old Quarterbacks who refused to retire... The old Batman would refuse to retire. Robin was unsure what to make of this new Batman. Perhaps he had been away for too long. But Batman was still Batman. He'll be around forever, Robin thought to himself. He continued to head into the city, beginning to reach a more urban area. He peered curiously around the city block, looking for someone who was up to something... He cruised to a stop.

"It's the Bat!" several of the punks yelled. Many of them scattered, snatching up their money, abandoning their comrades. The roof slid open, and Robin leapt out of the cockpit, cape fluttering. He came to a crouching position before emerging to his full height.

"Hey... He's not the Bat. It's his little sidekick guy..." one of them grunted. The others turned back, their fearful expressions fading to angry ones.

"Well if it isn't the little bird boy," another snickered as they made their way back.

A female voice added, "Aren't you out past you bedtime, sweetie,"

Robin took a deep breath, "This is it Dick," he said to himself. The first thug to identify him as not being Batman was the first to move. He lurched at Robin with a punch, but Robin sidestepped him, and spun around with a punch of his own, connecting with the thugs jaw, sending him reeling back. Robin sensed another approaching from behind, so he leapt with a flying kick, smashing full speed into the nose of his attacker. Another came in, quicker than the others, but Robin was ready, and ducked, as the thug cam near he sprang up, flipping the thug over him, the thug landed with a snap of bone. The others scattered nervously, abandoning the area, as Robin smiled with contempt.

"Yeah, baby," he said to himself, as he pounded his fists together. With the click of cold steel he handcuffed the thugs he took down to a post, and headed over to the Batmobile to call in the police. Thus, he concluded a self-proclaimed job well done, before speeding off into the night.

* * * * *

Bruce Wayne was uncomfortable. As much as he tried not to, all he could think about was how Dick was doing. But he couldn't be calling as often as he'd like; he didn't want it to seem like he didn't trust Dick, like he was checking in on him. But that's what he wanted to do. What if something happened to Dick? What if the Batmobile was commandeered? What if his identity was discovered...? The possibilities raced through Bruce's mind a million a minute. He sipped his soup nervously. It was hot.

"Master Bruce, is there anything I can get for you?" Alfred asked curiously. He seemed more than worried about Bruce.

"No. Nothing for now. How... Do you think Dick is okay? I think I should be out there..." he snapped as he swiveled his legs off the bed, and placed the bowl of soup on his night table.

"Master Bruce, if I may say so, Master Dick is more than capable of taking care of himself. You intervening now will shatter his confidence, and create unnecessary friction between the two of you," Alfred stated matter-of-factly. Bruce already knew that, but it was the reassurance he needed to keep himself from going out. What is wrong with me? Why the hell am I doing this? I don't need a break. The city needs me. I need to be out there. There's nothing good that came come of this. Dick can do it... But I have to do it. I am Batman. There's no break from that, he told himself.

"Yeah, I know," Bruce murmured. He got up from his bed and began to storm out of the room.

"Master Bruce, where may I ask, are you going now?"

"To the gym,"

"Wasn't the plan for your break to rest, Master Bruce?"

"I'm, changing the plan," Bruce exclaimed, "and the break is officially over,"

Chapter 4:

Rene Montoya stepped out of the squad car, her partner, a rookie named Sampson, followed suit. It was cold and wet out, the wind whistling through the air. She gritted her teeth. This was strange. She walked over toward Bullock's squad car. It was empty. Great, she thought, as she stepped in front of it. Sampson curiously jolted his way behind her, visibly nervous.

"I don't like this," she murmured.

"What? What? You don't like what?" Sampson asked quietly and excitedly. His beady eyes peered around the area, clearly nervous. He fingered his pistol.

"Just that I don't know where Bullock is. It's suspicious," She thought aloud. "Follow me," she added. She made her way toward the door to the warehouse, and opened it quickly. Sampson followed her example as she whipped out her pistol and carefully peered into the darkness. With one hand she reached to her belt and snagged a flashlight, flicking it on and flashing it across the room. It was a dark bare room, and appeared very ordinary. She continued to make her way in, Sampson tiptoeing behind her. Montoya cocked the trigger. She felt a soft crunch under her foot, and with a startled shock tearing through her body, she glanced down. Just a wallet. But she didn't need to look inside to know who's it was.

"Bullock? Bullock?" she screamed, quite unprofessionally. That was not matter of course. She turned to Sampson.

"Wait here. Backup will be along in a minute or two, proceed on their orders," she informed, in a no-nonsense manner. The kid looked scared, but he was able to muster a lame nod of acknowledgment. Montoya turned back, and headed toward the open door on the other side of the room, careful to notice the burn marks on the floor of the room she was exiting. What the hell happened in this room? She hurriedly looked around the new room. It was large, and she wasn't sure if she could see everything... There was another door, on the other side of this room, and she quickly trotted over to there...

"You know, if there's anything I hate, it's a party-crasher!" came a familiar female voice. Montoya quickly darted her aim around the room, he pistol ready to fire. She couldn't see her but she knew exactly who it was.

"Harley Quinn, you have the right to remain..." suddenly a shot was fired, and something struck Montoya in the back. She expected the sharp pain of a bullet wound, but instead, thick cords whipped their way around her torso, until she was helplessly bound with the thick green and purple ropes. Her pistol fell with a heavy clank to the ground.

"Sampson-Mmmpph!" she let out a muffled grunt as a black-gloved hand clapped over her lips.

"Now, now, now, we can't have you just letting the whole wide world now I'm here!" Harley exclaimed. Montoya tried to scream but the was silenced. "Well, you weren't on my list originally, but you can never have enough hostages to blackmail Batman with!" she grinned, as she dragged Montoya off into the darkness.

* * * * *

He sat on his knees, powerless. He was a pretty big guy, about six feet and over two hundred pounds, but he was bound and gagged, at the mercy of a woman. A Catwoman. She stood over him, her lusciously fit body taunting him. She was in a skin-tight gray cat suit, with knee high black leather boots and elbow length black leather gloves, one of which clutched a long bullwhip, which wrapped wound her body. She had the other on her hip, on top of her loose hip-hugging gold chain belt. She had a wide smile stretched across her face as her emerald eyes pierced his.

"There's nothing like a dominant woman teaching an overeager man about who the dominant sex really is," she sneered, as she turned his back on him. She twitched her butt as if she had a tail. She also twitched her butt as if she was hot and she knew it. And she was. The security guard yelled after her but the wide strip of duct tape over his lips silenced him.

Catwoman slinked her way across the jewelry store, and came up on a large glass case, inside of which was a shiny crystal cat statue, with eyes made of emeralds. She smiled happily as she reached her gloved hand forward. Her claws sprang out from her gloves with a snap, and she pressed her razor-sharp claws against the glass. With a quick twist of her wrist she sliced through the glass in a neat circle, and withdrew the fragment with a smile of satisfaction. She reached in and pulled out the statue, and walked away from the case.

"Like taking candy from a baby," she murmured to herself.

"No, it's like taking what doesn't belong to you," came a sarcastic voice. Catwoman stared up with a startled glance. Robin stood, his cape drawn over his shoulders, a dark appearance about him. A grin came to her face.

"Why if it isn't the boy wonder," She snarled, "Or are you a man wonder yet?" Robin narrowed his eyes.

"I never liked that title much," Robin snapped. "Give yourself up, I'm not in the mood for a fight." Catwoman drew her whip.

"Yeah right. Let's go bird boy, show me what you've got,"

She sprang into action, and charged Robin with her whip swirling in the air, eager to crack on its next unfortunate victim. Robin lowered himself into a ready position. Catwoman sent her whip cracking at his ankles, ready to pull his feet out from under him, but he was quick and ready. He leapt with ease onto one of the jewelry cases and flipped her way over her, before sinking to a spinning sweep, taking Catwoman's feet out from under her. She began to stumble but caught herself with her hands and hit a handspring, flipping over to a crouching position, her whip still ready.

"Not bad birdie, but I'm just warming up." She again fired off at him, this time her sharp claws slashing at Robin. He ducked, and fired off with his shoulder sinking into Catwoman's belly, and flipped her over him. She landed with a thud, and let out an "ooh", but reacted quickly, grabbing Robin by the cape and yanking him backward, sending him smashing head first onto the tile floor. He tumbled backward and came to a crouching position; Catwoman still unrelenting came right after him. She sent the whip slicing through the air, but Robin ducked, and it curled around a large beam in the middle of the store. She abandoned the whip, and came at him, arms flying, but he caught her wrist and twisted her arm behind her back. She tried to hit him with a back elbow, but Robin anticipated it, and caught her second arm. He forced this arm behind her back, pinning them both in this position before quickly slapping handcuffs on her.

"Not bad for a kitty," he murmured, as he picked her up over his shoulder. Her legs flailed about wildly as she struggled, so her used his second hand to pin her legs to his chest. "Stop fidgeting lady, you're driving me crazy,"

"Listen, Robin... Maybe we could... I could... We could work something out," she sounded frantic, acknowledging she had been caught. He carried her out to the Batmobile, which was waiting. He opened the roof remotely, and plunked her down in the soft leather passenger seat.

"I've got to make a call, you know, like, to the police, but make yourself at home," Robin teased, as the roof of the car bolted shut with a hiss.

* * * * *

The thugs stepped forward with large automatic weapons in hand, a menacing gleam in their eyes. The bank teller crumpled, behind the desk, and made a meager attempt to press the silent alarm under the desk.

"Don't even think about it!" the thug scowled. The guy backed off, and put his hands in the air in pathetic defeat.

"On the ground, hands on your head!" they screamed. The people of the bank let out gasps of shock and fear. The men sporting the guns flashed them around angrily. One of them let out a shot, the bullets tearing through the air, loud blasting bullets ringing through the air. The people fell to the ground in terror, clutching their belongings.

"Not you!" one of them said, gesturing to one of the tellers. "Open the vault!" he bellowed. The teller he selected looked behind him before jumping at the conclusion he was being spoken to.

"Me?" the teller whispered, almost to himself.

"No, the guy behind you!" the thug snapped with more than a hint of sarcasm. The teller checked behind him one last time, again finding only the wall, before stepping forward. He went to the desk of the senior bank executive and removed the master key, as well as the current days access code. He hurriedly made his way into the back after being roughly prodded with the barrel of the automatic.

A second thug subtly spoke into the rasp of the radio in his coat.

"What's going on in there?" came the sharp defined voice of an older aristocrat. The Penguin didn't like to be kept waiting. The thug grunted.

"Nothing Mr. Cobblepot. They've moved into the vault."

"Keep me updated." Penguin snapped. The thug nodded as he grunted in acknowledgment. He continued to peer around the room, looking for any sudden movements of anyone trying to be a hero. Everyone was either stiff or quivering. He scratched himself quickly, still ready to take out any sudden movers. He scratched again. These nylons were not comfortable to wear on the head...

* * * * *

"On second thought, change of plans," came the voice of Robin, as the roof of the Batmobile slid open.

Catwoman glared at him as he hopped into the drivers seat and started the engine, which purred like one of her cats.

"Oh really?" she asked. This kid did not amuse her. And that was what he was. A kid. A kid who had overpowered her. She gritted her teeth with rage. What a punk. His green-gloved hands darted around, pressing all kinds of buttons on the control panel. They "bleeped" and "blipped" wildly, with red and blue blinking lights. He probably has no clue what the hell half of those buttons do, she thought to herself. The roof slammed shut with the traditional hiss.

"Yeah. Turns out someone called the police from a cell phone at the Second Bank of Gotham. It's being held up. I don't have time to turn you in yet; I've got some work to do. I hope you don't have plans," he sniggered. He chuckled at himself. You're a loser, she desperately wanted to scream. This was perfect though. Just the time she needed to redeem herself and beat this kid to a pulp. She wasted no time, and began to pick at the cuffs encasing her wrists with her claws. Of course, there was no harm in having a little fun with this kid...

"So you and Batman work together? What's he like, you know, when he's not bashing the skulls of thieves and murderers?" she waited for a reaction as she picked furious at the "Batcuffs". Robin appeared to be humoring her, with a smile on his face.

"He's always bashing skulls," he murmured.

"Then where is he now?" she retorted, unimpressed. The boy seemed to pause. He didn't answer. She worked madly at the cuffs.

"So you're on your own now? That's nice," she added, making pleasant conversation.

"You know, I've always found a man in a mask, irresistible," she said, in the sexiest voice she could muster. Robin's eyes bulged, and the car slowed, but he contained himself, as the car gained the speed back and he appeared to regain his composure.

"That's nice," he murmured. Catwoman leaned over and rubbed her head against Robin's chest. Startled, he choked loudly on his own spit, and gasped, wide-eyed, and lost control of the car for a second. Just for a second.

"What the hell are you doing?" he stammered, clearly shaken.

"I told you, men in masks are irresistible. So tempting I can't resist. I can't resist. I need to have you," she muttered in her sexy voice, rubbing her body against his. He gained his composure, and appeared angry.

"Get off me," he snarled, and violently shook her off. She fell back into her seat. She cracked a smile, and lurched forward, planting herself onto his lap.

"Oh c'mon. I've been a bad girl. I need to be punished. Will a spanking do?" she teased. She arched her back so that her derrière was high into the air. She ran her hand down his leg, toward his crotch, slowly. Robin freaked. Keeping one hand on the wheel, he grabbed her around the neck, and tried to pull her off him... But her claws whipped through the air.

Her handcuffs clanked to the floor as Catwoman sprang to life. She leapt onto Robin fully, completely blocking his view, before lifting her knee squarely to his chin. His head slammed backwards, and she pressed the lever that opened the roof without looking. Robin slammed the breaks and Catwoman flew backward, smashing into the windshield. Robin lurched at her, but she slashed him in the face, and he fell across to the passenger seat, as she jumped out of the car. Robin grabbed his face, and tasted the blood before he saw the red- his face burned in throbbing pain. He got up just in time to see Catwoman flying off into the night, swinging on the end of her whip. Damn!

"God damn it!" he screamed in rage. He didn't know what to say. How did this happen? How could this happen? What had gone wrong? How'd she get away? He slammed his fist down onto the hood of the Batmobile. This wouldn't have happened to Batman. And Bruce knew that it wouldn't have happed to him. And he's let Dick in on that secret. And then it hit him.

He sat in the driver's seat and bulleted down the street as he closed the roof with a hissing slam. He pavement seemed to tear as he made his way down the road. He gritted his teeth. He needed to hit someone. He made a sharp turn- but knew already he was too late. Police and ex-hostages stood around outside the bank, and he knew he had missed it. Damn!

* * * * *

Commissioner James Gordon darted over to his desk and snatched the phone with a frantic eagerness.

"Hello?"

"Dad?" came a familiar young female voice.

"Oh. It's you," he murmured, far from excited.

"Now who's not excited to talk to who?" his daughter teased playfully. But she sensed the concern his voice. "What's wrong dad?" she asked. Gordon sighed deeply. Should her tell her? Why not, he reasoned. She was a smart kid; there was no reason to keep things from her.

"I'm having a tough time. Harvey Bullock, you know Detective Bullock right?" he paused in sentence. He acknowledged she did so he went on "Well he's missing. While replying to a possible situation in the red light district he just vanished. Another one of the officers I'm close to, Rene Montoya, also vanished while searching the area... I'm not sure. Some of the detectives seem to think all signs point to the Joker. We haven't really..."

"I understand Dad. I'm really sorry." Barbara murmured, clearly not sure what to say.

"Just so you don't feel to bad, I just thought you might be someone calling in about there disappearances." He explained.

"Don't worry, I totally understand. Again, I'm really sorry," she added.

"It's alright. There's nothing you can do about it," he comforted.

That's what you think, Barbara thought to herself.

"Well I just wanted to drop you a line. You know, let you know I'm still breathing." She joked. This made him smile.

"Okay. Well buh-bye sweetie,"

"Bye Dad." She ended the conversation and hung up the phone. Her eyes darted over to her closet and she zipped over there, and in a flash she had her costume laid out across her bed. Well Barbara, this is it, she told herself.

* * * * *

"So let me get this straight- they both got away? I mean, Catwoman, and this bank robber who you think was Penguin? What are you kidding me?" Bruce was far from pleased with his young ward.

"What do you want me to say?"

"I want you to say that you are kidding and that they're both safely on their way to Arkham!" Bruce snapped. Robin gritted his teeth. Damn! Again. Now what? Explain what happened? Or make something up? Does it matter?

"No I'm serious. She got away. The robbers got away. It was an accident, and it won't happen again. There," Robin said slowly and clearly. He needed to test the waters, and gauge Bruce's response.

"You're right about one thing, it won't happen again. You're never going out alone again. I can't believe I let you in the first place. I can see it now; you combine your mix of inexperience with over-eager pig-headedness, and manage to let two criminals escape in one night. Unbelievable." Bruce snapped. He put his head in his hands, and sighed loudly.

"You know what Bruce, I don't need this. First of all you don't tell me whether or not I go out. I'm not a kid Bruce, you got that! I will go out if I want, when I want, and there isn't a thing you can do about it! Second of all, explain to me about how you've never let anyone go. I mean really. You're just so perfect that you never let anyone get away? I was talking with Alfred- how's the Joker?" Dick retorted, letting his emotions get the better of him. He seethed with a boiling rage, daring Bruce to challenge him.

Bruce stood up and marched over to Robin, and cowered over him and glared down.

"Get out of my cave,"

* * * * *

The dark night was freezing, some of the stars managing to stand out with a bright gleam amongst the smoggy Gotham air. The cars blinked around miles below the height of the skyscrapers, bustling around on their way. In the distance, a large fluorescent billboard glistened some product, but more interesting was the figure in front of it. It was a fit feminine shape, with a short cape flying in the wind, and two pointy "ears" poking out from a cowl. She pranced across the rooftop, and surveyed the area, before whipping out a device, which fired a grappling hook into the night, which clanked into a ledge. With that, Batgirl flew off into the darkness, in search of Harvey Bullock and Rene Montoya.

Chapter 5:

The place reeked of alcohol. It also reeked of danger, lowlifes, and had a hint of body odor. All in all, it was certainly not Edward Nygma's kind of place, but The Riddler made his way into the Stacked Deck just the same. He peered across the area. It was jam packed with loads of suited men and thugs, all of which were crowded around small wooden tables, staring intensely at card games. It truly is ridiculous that a man of my intellect is stuck dealing with a place like this, he thought to himself. He looked around for who he was meeting- he didn't have to look far. The whole place was packed to its limits- there was standing room only- but in the direct center of the club was a lone man seated at a lone table, and no one said a word about it. The Riddler stylishly made his way to the table, and drew out a chair. The man didn't even look up.

"Harvey `Two-Face' Dent I presume? Edward Nygma, alias: The Riddler. A pleasure to meet you," Nygma declared, offering his hand outward. Two-Face looked up, before looking down again. The Riddler casually seated himself. He stared over at Two-Face, peculiarly observing the left side of his face. It truly was what could be described as grotesque- it was a deep shade of blue, and was mangled badly. His left eye bulged irregularly and was a strange yellow, bloodshot as well. His mouth was twisted in an awkward manner, revealing twisted yellow teeth- all only on the left side of his face. The right side was the definition of a well-groomed, intelligent politician. What happened to this man? The Riddler thought to himself.

"What are you staring at?" Two-Face growled. "Got a problem?"

"Certainly not. Just waiting to get your attention. Do I have it?" Nygma inquired, Two-Face glared at him uneasily.

"Why the hell'd you want to meet me for?" he snapped after a pause.

"Ah, the direct approach." Nygma observed with a smile. Another menacing frown from Dent, and he figured he might as well get to the point. "Its creator sells it, its buyer doesn't use it, and its user doesn't even know he's using it. What is it?" The Riddler asked. Two-Faces face transformed to one of confusion, before melting back to one of rage.

"I'm not here to play stupid mind games Nygma!" he bellowed. The Riddler grimaced.

"I can see you're only interested in the facts. It's a riddle, and the answer is a coffin. Why a coffin? Because that's where I want to put Batman, quite simply. You get my drift?" Nygma snapped. Two-Face smiled.

"You want to snuff the Bat huh? Yeah, I'm always ready on the look out to take him out. It's not like I haven't tried though. You have any special plans?" Two-Face inquired. He was interested. That's good, The Riddler thought.

"Nothing too complicated. I will attract him to a location where he'll be expecting to apprehend me. You and your `thugs' or `goons' or whatever you call them will be prepared to make an ambush on him. He won't expect it, and he won't be able to escape. You read me?" Nygma asked. Two-Face nodded slowly, before sliding his chair back and standing up.

"Yeah, I read you."

* * * * *

Batman whisked off the ledge, and allowed his trust to the bat-grapple he clutched as he flew through the night. He landed cleanly on the roof of another building, as he drew his cape around him. It felt good. Any amount of time away from the Gotham rooftops is too long, he thought to himself. He stalked across the ledge, and withdrew a pair of high-power nightvision binoculars from his utility belt, and peered deep into them, observing the side of her apartment building. He scanned over to her window- he had memorized which one it was. It was dark. She wasn't home.

"Well lookee here, Isis, a Peeping Tom," came a voice from behind him. Batman's eyes narrowed.

"Whatever happened to turning over a new leaf, Selina?" he asked without moving. Catwoman casually made her way over to him, and leaned over the ledge next to him.

"What do you mean, `whatever happened' to it? It's been tough, but I've been a good girl Batman," she teased, and she rolled onto her back. She cracked her knuckles loudly. He turned to face her.

"So that wasn't you that Robin picked up robbing the jewelry store last night?" he asked coldly. Her lips curled into a distorted frown as she realized she was caught. She stood up, and came closer to Batman. He admired her luscious ruby lips as she pouted them... He almost felt himself overcome with the desire to kiss her. But he didn't. She put her hands on her hips.

"I was hoping he would keep that between us," she growled. She leaned in closer to Batman. "I knew you'd be jealous." He could smell the seductive scent of her perfume.

"Either way, you're coming with me, Selina." He snapped. She shoved him backwards, and flipped away from him, landing and crouching low as she took out her bullwhip. Batman bent his knees and violently shrugged his cape from his shoulders as his eyes narrowed. She slowly began to circle, and he followed suit, each patiently waiting for the other one to make the first move.

With a loud whistling, her whip came at Batman. He returned fire, sending a batarang slicing through the air- and her whip. He started at her, and her retractable claws came out with a loud click. She gritted her teeth and made a hissing sound, ready to defend herself. She bolted forward, charging him, slashing wildly. He sidestepped and flipped her onto the rooftop; she landed on her butt with a loud thud. She flipped to her feet and faced him.

"Not bad. Not bad at all." She murmured. She slowly began to back away. "I can see this is a battle I will not win, so..." she back-flipped off the building. Batman let out a quiet gasp and rushed to the side of the building to see Selina lowering herself down in a motorized window washing mechanism. "... I won't waste my time!" she called up. Batman narrowed his eyes as she made her way to the bottom of the building.

* * * * *

Batgirl trotted along the rooftop, and looked in through the skylight. This was the place, it had to be. All the evidence pointed here... But there wasn't much evidence to be going by in the first place. Just that bomb that went off at the warehouse... But the computer identification analysis was positive that the chemicals used in the explosives came from a factory that has access to PCP Carbonic Acid; and this was the only one in Gotham. Batgirl was confident enough. She opened the large window and looked in. It was dark, but she could see most of the makeshift shadows of factory equipment... But something was moving down there.

Batgirl darted down onto the catwalk, and quietly made her way across the factory looking down, observing the area for any abnormal movements. There must be something... The familiar female shape of a red and black harlequin clown walking across the floor caught her eye. Without hesitation she leapt from the catwalk, and came down directly in front of Harley Quinn.

"Going somewhere?" Batgirl asked with a smile. Harley stopped in her tracks.

"Oh no! Gasp! Can it be? Is it Batgirl? Not Batgirl? I'm terrified! I'm shaking in my shoes! Please, don't hurt me, I'll turn myself in, just don't hurt me!" Harley gasped, dripping with sarcasm. Batgirl glared at her as Harley continued to amuse herself with fake melodramatics. Batgirl sneered at her sullenly.

"You done yet?" she asked. Harley broke out into a wide grin.

"Nope." She declared. With that, she snapped her fingers, and out of the shadows behind her came four large thugs, each sporting baseball bats. "Have fun with my boys," she grinned, as Batgirl prepared for battle. Ah crap. Way to be careless Barbara, she told herself. She had never even considered the possibility of multiple enemies. Well now she had a problem... They began to close in on her.

"YAH!" she exclaimed, as she propelled herself through the air. She was light, but she packed power, as her first victim was about to find out. She shot her leg out and caught him right in his face, and with a earsplitting snap, he was sent flying backward. Another came at her, but she met him with a leg sweep, which sent him tumbling to a heap on the floor. She sidestepped the next, using little effort to fling him flying into a steel support beam, his ribs shattering with a thunderous crack. The last one grabbed her from behind, but she was able to slip beneath his grasp. She spun and performed a split, before firing her fist into his crotch. He fell to the ground like a sack of potatoes.

BAM! A shock blasted through Batgirl's head and everything went red as she fell to the ground herself.

"Good, Hun," Harley Quinn declared, as she stood over Batgirl. She was holding a gun at the barrel of which extended a boxing glove connected by a spring. A smile formed on Harley's face as she snorted "...But not good enough!"

* * * * *

Catwoman too. That's three in so many weeks. Get in together, Batman told himself. He casually had his hands strewn over the wheel of the Batmobile as he cruised down the street. There must be something... He wasn't really that old. It's hard to tell when you're just over the hell from leaping form building to building. He was in fantastic physical shape though- he truly was an Olympic caliber performer. Then what was it?

"Attention! All units, this is Sergeant George McFarland, we have a situation at City Hall. The escaped mental patient Edward Nygma is there, and is threatening the Mayor. All units respond." Batman's eyes flashed to his hand radio. The Riddler? What in god's name was he doing at City Hall? This certainly wasn't his style... Very peculiar. Batman slammed on the breaks and spun the car in place, before bulleting off toward City Hall. The Riddler?

* * * * *

The Penguin thumbed through the money. All good. Seven hundred thousand in all. Not bad for one night's work, he thought to himself. He cracked his knuckles, chewed on his cigarette, and adjusted his monocle. One night's work. He placed the last of the funds into the black leather briefcase, and clicked the gold clasp shut. He smiled broadly and shoved it across the table.

"Make sure Mr. Thorne gets that. And give him a smile while doing it," grunted the Penguin. His henchmen picked it up and looked down at the briefcase.

"Sure thing boss. Just the briefcase?"

"And the smile, my good man,"

"No problem," the thug murmured as he headed toward the door.

"And turn up the A.C. I like it chilly," the Penguin snapped. The henchman nodded as he exited, adjusting the thermostat. Ah, life is good. He was able to payback the loans with incredible ease, and now he could concentrate on creating the perfect front for criminal activity with The Iceberg Lounge. Perfect. But perhaps it was just a little too easy. The robbery specifically. No winged man in tights showed up... Something peculiar for him. A very punctual guy, that Batman.

The glass shattered with a thunderous blast, and a caped figure came down into the middle of the room. Penguin nearly jumped out of his chair, shock blowing through his body. It was Bat... No, it was just his snot-nosed cohort. Robin charged forward and snatched Penguin around the collar and lifted him clear off the ground.

"You think you're good? You think you pulled it off? You think you got away with this one? Well think again!" he angrily thrust Penguin back into his seat, which toppled backwards with a loud bang. Penguin rolled backwards, flopping around, trying to right himself. Robin gritted his teeth. He came forward once again and snatched Penguin off his feet, and again lifted him off the ground, now smashing him violently into the wall.

"Pieces of garbage like you make me sick!" Robin spat. He smashed Penguin against the wall twice more, pictures falling from the walls. "You don't deserve to walk on this earth. You're a waste of oxygen!" he snapped, and threw Penguin clean across the room. Cobblepot landed with a smash, blood forming at the corners of his mouth.

"Rogers! Jackson!" he yelled for his henchmen. Robin moved swiftly, darting across the room, swinging his leg upward, cracking into Penguin's nose. Penguin fell backward, and tried to get up. Robin grabbed him by the collar and pulled him up.

"Where's the money!"

"You have no right to be here! You have no evidence connecting me..."

THWACK! Robin's fist collided with Penguin's face with a earsplitting crack. "One of the bank tellers heard you talking to the robbers! Where's the money!" Robin bellowed, bringing his fist back, prepared to beat Penguin to a pulp.

"What are you doing?! Batman would never go about things like this..." Penguin gasped in fear.

"I'm NOT Batman!"

* * * * *

Batman observed carefully through the skylight. It was Nygma all right. Complete in green blazer, green bowler, and question mark tie. He had his cane positioned like a gun, pointing it at anyone who tried to approach him. He was seated in front of Mayor Hill's office. Why? He asked one more time, just for kicks, right before he made his move.

The skylight shattered as Batman plunged downward. He landed nimbly before arising to his full height, his dark presence sending the room of hostages into "oohs" and "aahs". The Riddler smiled coldly.

"I've been expecting you Batman. Right on time as usual." Nygma sneered.

"What's your game, Nygma?" Batman growled. He didn't like this. Not one bit. Something very strange was going down. There was, however, no need to stand around and wait for it to happen. Batman leapt forward and approached The Riddler. Nygma whipped his can up, and produced a trigger, preparing to fire at the hostage on his left.

"No, no, Batman, you have to answer my riddle to come up here," he grinned. Batman glowered. He might as well play Nygma's game.

"Give me your best shot," Batman murmured coldly.

"What is in seasons, seconds, centuries and minutes but not in decades, years or days?"

Batman's mind raced. He searched the possible meanings. In... In... What other ways could that be? What else is in those things? Time clearly doesn't work... Letters, letters are in all of them. What letters are in the first four? S? No. E? Yes. But it's also in the others... N. Yes!

"The letter N." Batman explained coolly. The Riddler was annoyed and clearly trying to hide it.

"Not bad Batman. Fine, this hostage lives to see another day. But you won't," he exclaimed. He clicked his fingers, and out form the Shadows several thugs emerged, all armed with automatic weapons. From Mayor Hill's office behind Nygma emerged another figure. It was hard to distinguish at first, but the black/white suit gave it away- but only after Batman heard the whistling of the flipping coin.

"Two-Face?" Batman gasped, slightly alarmed. Nygma was far from the kind to work with others. Neither was Harvey... Two-Face's contorted left side of his face as well as his right joined in a vicious smile. He whipped out his pistol, and trained it on Batman.

"Don't move or you'll be slaughtered." Two-Face grunted. Batman's eyes darted around. At least seven thugs were closing in, all with their guns ready. Batman's eyes narrowed as he put his hands up. The first thug to Batman snatched his utility belt away from him, the others pulling his hands behind his back.

"String him up!" Two-Face growled. "A great day this is, the death of Batman!" The Riddler smiled widely before putting his finger tips together in thought.

"Two true my friend, too true!" The Riddler sniggered.

"Good pun," growled Two-Face sarcastically, as Batman was marched toward him, hands bound behind his back. "The death of Batman. God that sounds great..." Two-Face lifted the gun between Batman's eyes...

"Your coin?" Batman growled. The smile vanished from Dent's face. He grabbed the small, round, silver disc from the interior of his jacket and twirled in spinning through the air. It landed in his hand, and only he could see it...

A shot rang out, echoing through city hall...

Chapter 6:

The trunk swung open and nearly snapped off its hinges. Harley leaned forward carefully inspecting her cargo. Batgirl lay, still unconscious from the blow. A long lethargic steel chain was locked around her ankle, leading to a thick coil of metal, and eventually a cement cinder block. Harley grinned. She snapped her fingers and three henchmen stepped forward and awaited her orders.

"Wake her up. Sleeping beauty has had enough rest," Harley ordered with a hiss. Two of them complied, grabbing her by the arms and hoisting her out of the car trunk, and holding her in a standing position. They shook her violently, until she was startled back to consciousness. Her eyes blinked and a brief expression of terror dissolved into a fierce fury. She struggled for freedom, but was held tautly by the thugs.

"Oh, she's trying to get free boys. Isn't she cute?" Harley mocked. Batgirl gritted her teeth and wrestled around, unable to free herself from her captor's grasp. After a moment she suddenly realized where she was. The breeze was strong, and the Gotham skyline could only be seen in the background, a watery presence surrounding them. Gotham Bridge. She looked down at the chain, and trailed it to the cement block. Not good. Definitely not good.

"That's right!" Harley bubbled with excitement. "We're sending you on a trip to the deep blue nowhere! Hope you have a good time," Harley continued to grin like an idiot. Her perkiness made Batgirl want to puke.

"I'm sure it'll be peachy," she snarled.

"Sorry broad, but it's only on Mistah Jay's orders. I wanted to keep you as part of the master plan... But he figured you'd get free and spoil everything. Better this way: things end quickly for you!" Harley explained. "Throw her over!" she added. The third of the villains grabbed the cinderblock and using effort tossed it over the edge of the bridge. The chain unraveled from it steely coil rapidly, firing over the edge after the weight. Almost gone...

They released her just on time, and Batgirl went flying over the ledge, the heavy cinderblock lifting her clean off her feet. She plummeted toward Gotham's icy waters, the world around her whistling by as she fell to what seemed to be a certain doom. The lights of the bridge were the last things she saw before the cinderblock cracked onto the surface with a booming splash. She was ten feet below the surface before the cold shock blew through her. The frigid waters soaked through her skin directly to the bone within seconds, and the sheer torture of the deep made Batgirl gasp with desperation, water filling her throat. This was it... This was the end...

* * * * *

"That's correct officer. Robin, of Batman and Robin, member of the dynamic duo. I have witnesses. Yes. Yes. Evidence? Yes, come one over. I'd appreciate that. Bye for now," Penguin said as he placed the receiver down. He smiled brilliantly. Caught in the Act: Batman's Apprentice Savagely Assaults Wealthy Socialite. Beautiful. Something that aught to ruffle the Dark Knight's feathers to say the least.

"So what are we saying boss?" questioned one of the hoodlums Penguin was currently employing. Cobblepot spun on his heels to face the man, a look of utter disgust stretched across his features as he was interrupted from his fantasies of ruining Batman's reputation.

"Say what happened. That little creep came in here and started pummeling on me, and he ran off right when you arrived. Clear?"

"Crystal boss. Don't you think this is kind of strange? You know, I mean us calling the police on them and stuff?" the thug responded. Penguin sighed at his sheer stupidity. This is why I'm the brains of this operation, he told himself. He tapped his umbrella as he strode across the room, choosing to ignore the thug. He looked into a mirror. His black eye swelled and his nose was broken awkwardly. You will pay little Robin, one way or another. Maybe at the hands of the police, maybe by my own brand of justice, one way or another, I'll make you pay! No one does this to Oswald Cobblepot, no one!

* * * * *

Batgirl continued to sink into new depths of the water. She frantically searched her utility belt for something that could cut this chain... The water seemed to be making its way into her mouth and nose as she gurgled, choking on the water. It was pitch black, as she sunk, losing view of the surface. She managed to pull a small knife from her belt, and began feeling down her leg, until she grasped the lock chaining the block to her ankle. She felt for the lock, and tried to use the knife to pick at it. Surrounded by darkness, she worked furiously, clicking at the lock, desperately trying to pick it...

* * * * *

The shot rang throughout city hall. Batman and Two-Face both started in the direction of the shot. The Riddler stood poised, yet a disdainful look coming from his face directed at his weapon.

"I hate guns," he murmured. Two-Face growled angrily.

"What the hell are you doing Nygma?!" he snapped, clearly upset. The Riddler made his way over and stood next to Two-Face.

"Why, my trigger happy friend, do you think that you get to kill him?" Nygma asked. Without hesitation Dent swung the pistol and placed it against Nygma's forehead. He cocked the trigger.

"That's why," Two-Face snarled. The Riddler just smiled.

"I've been planning this forever. How about this- I ask him a riddle, and if he gets it wrong, you kill him in the way I describe. He gets it correct, and you can deal with him as you wish? Agreed?" Nygma offered. Two-Face appeared to ponder this carefully. That's right you over-compulsive fool, give in, you know you want to, Riddler thought to himself.

Two-Face flipped his coin, which whistled through the air. He caught it and studied it carefully.

"Good heads. Play your mind games. But I kill him. Got it?"

"Certainly. I was never cut out for the role of executioner," Nygma explained. He turned to Batman with a wide grin. Batman. I have you. I will defeat you. He stepped forward and tried to intimidate Batman who had been forced down onto his knees by Two-Face's thugs. The dark stare emanating from Batman's eyes drilled right through Nygma.

"Batman, when I finish speaking you must answer or he'll take pleasure in killing you right now," Nygma said, gesturing to Two-Face. "If you lie to me he will shoot you. If you tell me the truth he will hang you. Tell me anything you could to save yourself. You have fifteen seconds to answer."

Batman's mind raced. What is neither truth nor lie? Neither truth nor lie...

* * * * *

Batgirl fought against the chain. The darkness was succumbing. She slowly seeped into a silent death... She clicked the knife against the lock, picking at it carefully. She used all of her lasting energy to get it open...

* * * * *

"Ten seconds Batman,"

Neither truth nor lie. What was the question exactly?

* * * * *

CLICK. The chain slipped away as Batgirl cracked the lock. Barbara's lungs were on the verge of exploding as she began to shoot toward the surface. She could barely breathe... It was dark, and she had no control over her own movements as she rocketed upward, or what she thought was upward. Darkness. Only the seeping freeze of the dark water.

There! Light. The surface was within reach... She could hold her breath no longer. Her insides were on fire, and she lost control of herself. Her mouth opened again, and this time she couldn't help but to attempt to take a breath of air- getting only water. She couldn't breathe... So close...

She broke the surface with a loud scream of choking desperation as she gasped her way back to full-consciousness.

* * * * *

"Five seconds,"

"You will if... Neither truth nor lie..."

"Three... Two..."

"You will kill me!" Batman exclaimed.

There was an absolute dead silence. No one spoke a word, and you could hear a pin drop. Nygma's face was expressionless at first, but the Riddler went crimson in rage. He gritted his teeth and began to shake in a peculiar manner. He vibrated violently and lost control of himself. His head fell in his hands in limp desperation. He collapsed to his knees, and began to sob into his hands.

"Why?! Dear god, why!? Why won't you just die! Why can't I beat you! How did you know! How did you know! It's impossible!" he grabbed two fistfuls of his own hair and literally began yanking it from his scalp. Two-Face wasted no time. His coin twisted through the air, and he cocked his gun. Batman wasted no time either. His foot shot out and made contact with Dent's chin, and with a sickening snap Two-Face stumbled back, and his coin struck the ground with a "clang". Before any of Dent's thugs could make their moves Batman swirled to the floor and completed a full sweep, taking all of their legs out from under them. He reached down; hands still tied behind his back, and fell to the ground, landing with his hands on Dent's fallen coin. He quickly used the coin to shred the twine that restricted him, and was free.

One of the thugs had revived himself and made a move for his gun. A shiny batarang sliced through the air, and cracked the gun away from the thug's hands. Batman flew forward and landed with his foot in the middle of the thug's chest, sending him reeling backwards. Another came at Batman from behind, but a swift uppercut to the jaw knocked his lights out, wisps of his blood and a tooth floated in the air for a second after he fell. The rest of Two-Face's men scattered, running in fear, leaving Harvey "Two-Face" Dent lying in a heap on the floor.

* * * * *

Mayor Hamilton Hill paced across the room of his office, which had been barricaded shut. A few of his secretaries and security officers sat or stood, dazed, confused, and in fear. The Riddler? What could this madman possibly want with me? Hill desperately asked himself. Desperation. Pure desperation. What should he do? Could the police handle this? Where was Batman? How long before he tried... Don't think about that Hamilton, he told himself, as he looked in the mirror. He looked like a nervous wreck; his expensive suit was soaked through with sweat. I had to stay at the office late tonight... He murmured to himself.

"What should we do?" he asked in a scared, forced gasp after about a minute. His chief bodyguard looked stressed, and managed to explain to his boss for the millionth time:

"The same thing I told you we were going to do five minutes ago, we're going to wait this out. The police or maybe even Batman are probably on the scene. They know what we're doing, and as long as these maniacs are on the other side of that door, we'll be safe,"

"Think again, bonehead!" came a female voice. They all spun to see a woman dressed like a clown, silhouetted in the moonlight with a devilish smile on her face. She was sporting a pistol aimed directly at the mayor. Everyone gasped. "Safe from them maybe, but your coming with me bucko! You're going to make the perfect addition to my collection!"

* * * * *

"Give me my coin Batman,"

"Sure," Batman growled. A swift kick sent Two-Face's pistol flying across the hall. He reached down and roughly forced Dent onto his stomach and batcuffed his hands behind his back, before placing the coin into his cuffed hands. "There you go,"

He darted over to the mayor's door, and with a shoulder charge he was able to dislodge it enough to open in. All of the mayor's aides were still in shock, and Batman knew he was gone immediately. The window was open displaying the full moon, the curtains flying in the breeze. Written on a note on Hill's desk were the words:

Soon Bats, soon. -

Chapter 7:

Raven, Jay, and Lark all smiled at the Penguin as he handed them their paychecks.

Just give me my money so I can go home, Jay thought to herself. It had been more than a long night, it had been a torturously, excruciatingly, elongated night, and dealing with all of these customers was all she could bare. She was dead tired, and needed some uninterrupted slumber, pronto. The Penguin handed Lark her paycheck, and began to chat with her. The fake smile Lark was wearing highly suggested she too, was ready to get out of here. He moved on to Raven, who sported a fake smile too, and shook her head passionately, her red hair bobbing up and down, until she got her paycheck, and managed to sneak away. Finally Cobblepot made his way over to Jay.

"Ah, why Jay, where would I be without you! Such an exquisite job you've done here, you really deserve this," he smiled as he handed her the envelope. She smiled back. Hers was fake.

"Well thank you Mr. Cobblepot, you're very generous," she smiled. She began to walk away, but stopped in her tracks as she felt a hand grasp her backside tightly.

"Perhaps we could arrange time for a little something extra to add to that paycheck?" came his suave voice. Jay turned back to him, and she didn't even fake a grin this time. He was disgusting. She would touch him if her life depended on it. And she didn't like him touching her, either. She reached down and gently shoved his hand away from her body.

"I appreciate the offer Mr. Cobblepot, but I really don't think that's a very good idea..." she fought off.

"Oh, but I insist," he growled, as he ran a hand up her stomach to her breasts.

"She said no, Oswald." Came a young cocky voice. Penguin spun on his heels, to see Robin standing in the shadows, only his white eyes visible in the darkness. Penguin turned back to the girl:

"Leave now." He grunted. She gratefully complied with a sigh of relief. Penguin returned his attention to Robin. His umbrella sprouted a shiny steel blade from the tip. The two glared at each other. Robin looked at the blade.

"Looking to start something?" he snarled.

"With young hoodlums like you, it's hard to know whether or not you're here to finish what you started," Penguin cordially explained. Robin sneered at the sarcasm, and stepped out of the shadows.

"Yeah, okay. That was cool, you know, filing a police report on me. And by cool, I mean not," Robin shot back.

"I thought you'd like that. Perhaps it is enough to get a directionless, violent criminal rouge like yourself off the streets," Penguin snarled. Robin headed toward the door.

"What crime did I commit?" Robin demanded, frustrated. If I could, I would beat your head in!

"Well apparently, you're not aware that assault is a crime. You see, young fool, you can't go around attacking anyone you feel like it," Penguin explained, trying to belittle the caped crusader. Robin wasn't fazed.

"Well maybe we could have avoided that little incident if you hadn't robbed a bank."

"I have robbed no bank,"

"Oh shut up you ignorant moron. Do you think for a second that I don't know you did it? I'm not that dumb." Robin snapped.

"I have committed no crime, and my rights were violated. That's your problem to deal with. I'm disappointed in you, young Robin. I thought that Batman would have taught you better," Penguin thought aloud. Robin boiled with rage, but didn't reply. I guess that makes two, he thought to himself. Disappointed. Disappointed. He wanted to tear this little turd limb from limb.

"Yeah, whatever. See you around Oswald," Robin grumbled. A loud explosion echoed through the lobby of the Iceberg Lounge as his grappling hook fired upwards, sinking into the ceramic. He followed soon after, flying off, his cape ruffling. He moved like a shadow, disappearing through the skylight. Disappointed. He glanced down at Penguin moving toward the door. "I'll catch you, you piece of..."

"Freeze! Robin, you have the right to remain silent! Anything you say or do..." came a booming voice. A blazing light was shed across the rooftop, blanketing Robin in pure white. He squinted into the intense illumination blaring at him, unsure what to do, a deer caught in the headlights. The loud hum of vibrating helicopter blades blared through the night, and Robin was suddenly able to regain his senses.

He fired off to his right, bolting at his full speed, a former high-school track star. He darted form this building to the next at an all-out sprint, not hesitating once. He didn't look back. Penguin you son of a- Calling the cops. Must have. Or they tailed me here. No, it was Penguin, that was his style. Robin sprinted full speed. A break of sweat formed at his forehead. The helicopter hacked through the air, flying at Robin. Just as the light appeared to catch up to him...

Robin plummeted down through the pitch-black alley in between the two buildings. His batgrapple fired off and clanked around the fire escape to one of the buildings, and he swooped to the ground, he backed up against the brick wall of one of the buildings, and panted slowly, waiting to hear the helicopter pass. It didn't. He could hear the swirling chopping right above him, but he didn't dare to look up. The powerful spotlight blew through the air, exposing every square inch of the circle that it uncovered. The ferocious barking of dogs was heard in the distance. What are you kidding me? All of this to catch a proven hero, because of a former criminal getting slapped around? This is unbelievable. Robin darted from the shadows, and leapt on top of a garbage dumpster.

"There he is! If you do not drop the ground and place your hands on your head, we will open fire!" came the booming voice. Robin leapt from the dumpster to the fire escape ladder and used his keen acrobatic skills and flipped himself onto the top of the escape. He ran and opened a window, and leapt inside as the loud ricochet of bullets rattled the escape, the glass of the window shattering into a million fragments with a blast. He darted across the room, and blew out through the door. He ran down, across the hall to the stairwell. You're going down Penguin. You're going down. He ran up the stairs, three at a time, full speed. Ten more... Five more... He was barley able to stand by the time he reached the top, but he burst out through the door onto the roof. Bullets erupted, tearing the roof to bits all around him seconds after he reemerged. He ran towards the ledge, but the bullets overcame him. He felt a sharp pain in his leg, and crumpled to the floor as the shearing pain
tore through him. He glanced down at saw the blood dripping all over the roof. His leg was cracked and awkward, and blood soaked. He wanted to break down, but resisted as he dragged himself toward the ledge. Footsteps thudded as SWAT troops approached. Robin felt dizzy, and just gave up.

* * * * *

Batman pulled up in the Batmobile, and stopped. He rubbed his forehead. The Mayor. Montoya and Bullock were missing. A connection? Probably. The Joker spared no expense on elaborate criminal attacks. The hatch hissed with gasses as it slid open. Batman nimbly hopped out and walked slowly over to the Batcomputer. Two-Face and Riddler. That was close. Another close one. Too close. They really almost had him. If Nygma's foolish pride and desire to kill me hadn't set in, I'd be a dead man, Batman thought. Now just the Joker to concentrate on. What was he doing? These disappearances. Who next?

"Alfred?" Batman asked into his radio communicator. He waited for a response.

"I'm sorry, but Alfred is currently unavailable. But I might like a word with you Detective."

* * * * *

Harley Quinn trotted across the rooftop and glared across to the opposite building. The building was Gotham Channel 6. Inside was the Gotham Insider studio. Inside there, was its host Summer Gleeson, the best-known reporter in Gotham. The perfect hostage. Perfect. Harley lifted her grappling hook and tossed it across the way to the building. It caught lightly on some antennas, and Harley swung across, landing softly on the roof.

Batgirl watched patiently. Summer Gleeson. Of course. It makes perfect sense, she thought to herself. She would make a great hostage. Yeah well, not if I have any say in it! Batgirl thought to herself.

* * * * *

Summer Gleeson looked perfect as usual. She needed no one to tell her that.

"You look wonderful Ms. Gleeson," murmured Bobby, one of the sound boys, visibly shaken with her overwhelming presence. She was tempted to let him know she was well aware, but instead she responded with a simple:

"Thanks,"

She made her way across the studio. It had been a good show. Live TV was a high-pressure job, but Summer pulled it off better than most could ever dream. She was the sexual fantasy of many of the teenage boys across the country, and the women of the country wanted to be her. The little girls of the country admired her, and the men of the country "admired her reporting". Yeah, right, they were as bad as the teenage boys. The entire studio lived to kiss her ass, and that was the way she liked it.

"Nice show, Summer," Jack Ryder commented as he walked by.

"You too, Jack," Summer added to her co-host. Okay, so he didn't live to kiss her ass, he was probably in the same boat she was, but that was beside the point. She headed to her dressing room, and quietly closed the door behind her, before flipping on the light. What she saw shocked her. A woman dressed like a clown sat in her chair. She knew from investigative reports who it was... It was Harley Quinn.

"Heya, Summer!" came her disturbingly perky voice. Summer spun and immediately spun and tried to open the door, but with a small explosion green and purple cords "thwacked" there way around her torso, pinning her arms to her sides. She gasped, and tried to scream, but a hand clamped down over her mouth. She screamed into the hand, but she was silenced to mere grunts.

"Zip it sweetie. I can't have you letting everyone know..."

"That you're here? That's okay because I do, and I'm not letting you leave." Came a female voice. Harley spun around.

"Batgirl? I though I..."

"You thought wrong," SMACK! Batgirl's foot made contact with Harley's face, and Harley went flying across the room, smashing into one of Summer's various mirrors, which shattered. Batgirl bent down to untie the bound and shivering Summer, but a sharp blow to the head sent her flying back. Harley charged at her with an oversized mallet in hand, ready to do damage, but Batgirl came at her with a kick to the belly. Harley went flying backwards with an "ooh" and landed on her backside, trying to catch her breath. Batgirl came forward with several summersaults and vaulted herself at Harley, who darted out of the way just in time. Batgirl spun, but the mallet smashed into her face. Once. Twice. Three times. Batgirl was out cold.

Harley smiled. "I guess it's just a rookie mistake, red." Harley grinned as she looked back over at the whimpering Summer.

* * * * *

"Can I help you!?" Batman bellowed. Ra's Al Ghul was not the least bit intimidated. Neither was Ube who stood faithfully at his side. `The Demon's Head' stood as devilish as ever, his eyes burning a hole through the Dark Knight. He didn't move at first, but he eventually straightened his robe and say down in the master chair.

"Detective, sit, please," he snarled.

Batman's eyes narrowed. "No thanks. And make yourself at home." He growled. He assessed the situation. Just Ra's and Ube, not Talia, at least he didn't see her. Just one vehicle out front. The real question was simply what the hell were they doing here? It made no sense. Something was going to go down in Wayne Manor. His cape was drawn around his shoulders. He got a batarang ready.

"I'll get right to the point seeing as you are the type that likes it that way," Ra's explained slowly. Batman didn't move. "Tell me honestly, Detective, have you felt slower lately? Like you're losing your edge? Feeling over the hill?" he questioned. Batman was silently overcome with shock and anger but he didn't show it. You... Batman wanted to hurl the Batarang at Ra's head right now but refrained. He made himself stand completely still.

"Of course you'd never admit it, but I'll take your silence to mean yes? Well I suppose that'll have to do. I can explain this. There is no façade that I've been experiencing the same things and we must work together to solve it, very simply I want a favor from you. The simple art of blackmail is at play here. A few months ago Detective, I came up with a plot of my continued quest of world cleansing, but it included the essential takeover of Gotham City. Naturally I realized you would pose a problem. Unbeknownst to Talia, I made it up in my mind to kill you. I poisoned the reservoir where Wayne Manor receives its water, and it will kill you eventually. The cleverest plot? Certainly not, but I want you to help me. Talia has been legitimately kidnapped, and I know who has her. This mysterious Joker character has abducted her. I have used many of my exploits to search for her, but in this god forsaken town, he seems to be better known than I am. Insane, it truly is." He paused,
clearly uncomfortable with what he was doing.

"I have an antidote for the poison. If you were able to retrieve Talia from this mysterious Joker person, it would be my pleasure to offer it to you as a form of payment... Do we have a deal?"

Batman frowned. Talia. Why did it have to be...?

"It's agreed Ra's," he murmured, unsure what to make of this whole situation.

* * * * *

The lights faded in. He was more than groggy. Robin managed to stammer to his feet. His leg was bandaged, but he could barley support himself, nearly collapsing into a heap onto the floor. The room was completely black, only a small frustum of light was available, which emanated from a singular lamp hanging from the lamp. Robin groaned.

"Ah, I see we've come to out senses young Robin," came the Penguin's voice. The Penguin? What the...? Where was he? What happened? Where were the police? Robin's mind raced as he observed his surrounds. There was little to see. Things were still shaky... WHAM! Something hit him, and he went soaring. He landed with a sharp thud, and felt like he'd broken every bone in his side. He was in the darkness now; the thug that had hit him with a shoulder charge was standing in the light. Another thug grabbed him by the cape and lifted him, flinging him back toward the light to be struck with a punch to the gut. He gasped loudly as he hit the floor.

"Wondering why you aren't in the cushy authority of the Gotham Police Department?" Penguin's voice sneered over what seemed to be a P.A. system. "You'd be amazed with what you can buy in this town with a little bit of the proceeds from a bank robbery. They really should pay their police officers more in this town, they're jumping at the chance to make a little something extra by hunting down some punk." CRACK. A baseball bat made contact with Robin's arm and he howled in pain.

"Ah, I just love the sound of a brat like you in pain. Yes, by the way, you just heard me admit to robbing the bank. That of course, means nothing, because you will never leave this facility alive. I really must be going, it's almost morning. Try not to make a mess when you die." CRUNCH. Robin's nose spewed blood as he fell backward clutching it, Penguin's men closed in...

* * * * *

Batman watched them pull out of the driveway, and his eyes narrowed.

Ra's... There was definitely more to this than meets the eye. Ra's was not the kind to make bargains with his enemies. Certainly not... He was also the kind that liked to deceive his enemy... It all makes too much sense for it to be for real. Batman turned back to Alfred.

"Are you sure you're all right?" he asked darkly.

"I assure you Master Bruce, I've never been better. Just a strike to the head, nothing I've never experienced before. I urge you to go about your business as usual." The butler insisted with his usual manner. Alfred, what would I do without you, Batman thought. He looked at his palm-top computer.

"It's almost sunrise. I'm going to go look on the Batcomputer and see if I can figure out what Ra's is up to, and if I can find any leads to the Joker's whereabouts. Do you need anything?"

"I'm quite alright." Alfred insisted. "Although..." he turned, but Batman was already gone.

* * * * *

Poison Ivy sat in her cell staring up at the ceiling. She was humming softly to herself, thinking about what to do upon her escape. Batman. He would pay for his sins against Mother Nature. All he seemed to want to do was stop her in her quest... It wasn't fair. He needed to be punished. But first... Batgirl. She would go first. She is the reason I'm in this godforsaken place, Ivy thought to herself. I was so close, so close...

Ivy stood up and pranced over to her window. She could sense the perverted guards gawking at her through the window on the cell door. Okay, they would be the first to go, but Batgirl second. She rested her chin on the ledge of the window and sighed loudly. If only she had some greenery in here to liven things up. This dark, dank, depressing cell made her want to cry. She ran her hands down the cell wall. It was thick stone, reinforced with steel. Even her beautiful vines would have trouble with this...

BAM! Ivy spun around, her scarlet hair flying over her shoulders with surprise as she stared at the door. It was busted wide open, with sparks and flames of an explosion. A light blared in from the outside, with two guards lying unconscious in the chaos. Standing there was a lone female clown silhouette with a smile on her face.

"Let's go, red, I'm busting you out! And boy do I have a surprise for you!"

Chapter 8:

Batman scowled at the computer screen. The lab results were in on the water- positive for the poison. Great. Well at least that explains why I've been feeling slower lately, he thought to himself. Poison. Odd he hadn't detected it, although it certainly seemed to be tasteless and odorless. If this wasn't something to motivate someone to pick up a bottle of Poland Spring, what was?

The Joker. What in god's name was he up to? First it was the two policemen, Bullock and Montoya. Then the Mayor. Then Talia, and Summer Gleeson soon there after. The Joker was certainly a model of insanity but he was not a stupid man. He had something going on here. It must be more than just kidnapping the important people of Gotham, Joker was sadistic, but he had a method to his lunacy. Perhaps a hostage situation? Perhaps. It seemed strange that all of the witnesses saw Quinn... She would do anything for him, but it doesn't seem like him to send her to do his dirty work... If only he could get in his head for just a few minutes...

One of Joker's old hideouts: the old Treperfield Glue factory. It was the only one of his places that wasn't currently being used... There had to be something there. Other than that, he had nothing to go on. He reached for his communicator.

"Robin? Come in Robin," Batman said into the device. He waited for a response. "Robin? Come in Robin," still no response. Batman glared at the controller. Great. Another distraction. Batman darted over to the Batmobile, his cape trailing behind him. The top hissed open, and Batman leapt into the drivers seat. The Treperfield Glue Factory. Something had to be there...

* * * * *

Ra's Al Ghul glared out of the tinted windows, his dark eyes burning with passion. He saw the Batmobile bullet out of its concealed exit, and tear down the pavement. He fiercely stared after the car, which sported a blaze of fire from its tail. Soon Detective, soon.

"Follow him," he ordered his faithful bodyguard Ube. Ube pressed his foot to the gas and slowly began to tail the Batmobile.

"What's the plan?"

"We follow the detective to the Joker. We then kill this clown man, and retrieve Talia. We give the detective one last chance to succeed me..." An overanxious Ube cut off Ra's.

"And if he refuses?"

"We snap his neck," Ra's snarled.

* * * * *

TWACK. Robin hit the floor again, and this time he wasn't sure if he could get up. It didn't matter, because moments later he was forced to his feet by one of the thugs. His arms were held behind his back, and... BAM. BAM. BAM. Fist after fist after fist made contact with Robin's jaw, smacking him around violently as he choked up blood. Another fist made contact with his gut, and he nearly vomited as he was dropped to the floor.

"Aw, has the little Robin hurt himself?" mocked one of the thugs. His steel tipped boot sunk into Robin's rib cage, and Robin couldn't breathe for a second as he rolled over in a gasping agony. Robin continued to roll over, until he hit the wall. One of the thugs walked over and began to stomp away at him. They smashed his body over and over, and he was completely venerable, having no way to protect himself.

"Get up," he growled as he yanked Robin to his feet once again. "Get the bat!" he yelled. One of the thugs walked forward armed with a steel baseball bat, and wound up, ready to smash Robin's face in. The bat came forward at an amazing speed...

Robin ducked, and the crack that ensued was earsplitting. The bat made contact with the second thugs face, and that was all she wrote as he was sent spiraling back. The thug with the baseball bat came forward still, and continued swinging violently, in a full rage, the whistling of the bat flying back and forth ringing in Robin's ears. The thug missed, and before he was able to bring the bat back, Robin came forward with a wicked uppercut to the chin of the thug. Robin grasped the bat from the cold hands of the unconscious thug, and as the third thug came at him, he smashed it into the belly of the thug, and finished him off with a swift blow to the skull. Robin breathed heavily, and stammered his way to the door. His leg flamed with pain as he stumbled. He could barely walk... Penguin.

He opened the door, and the bright light street lamp overcame him. Robin fell over himself as he grabbed a garbage bin, using his upper-body strength to hold himself from falling. He lifted his batgrapple to the sky and fired it off. Penguin.

* * * * *

The Batmobile pulled to a stop, and Batman leapt out. He strode quickly and darted in through the shadows of the early morning. Almost light. Better make this a quick trip, he told himself. With ease he picked the lock on the back door of the factory and slid in careful not to draw attention to himself. It seemed empty. It was dark, dusty and moldy, and smelled pretty bad. Batman made his way through the factory and glanced around. Large, empty glue vats were everywhere, bits of brown, flaky tried glue crusted to the edges on the top. There was what appeared to be an office near the middle of the factory, and Batman darted in that direction. He opened the door, and looked around. Nothing. Nothing but a rotting corpse.

The bones were still rather meaty. Definitely a fresh kill. Blood coated the floor, and although mostly dry, there were some puddles of fresh burgundy. Batman inspected the area with disgust. Very strange. Joker wasn't one to refrain from killing a second's notice, but this was above and beyond... He didn't do this. A shrieking, fierce, growling laughter of sorts erupted from behind Batman. The Dark Knight spun, ready to defend himself...

But he wasn't expecting what came his way. Two snarling hyenas came tearing through the air, at Batman, ready to kill, the saliva flinging off of their jaws. Batman ducked as quickly as he could, and the laughing dogs smashed into the doorframe. Their jaws snapped at his heels as Batman darted across the room, and leapt up onto the desk. They eagerly growled, their bright yellow teeth cracking together, propelling frothing saliva at him. The two of them bulled their way forward and toppled the desk as Batman hit a back flip of the desk. He whipped out a batarang, and sent in slicing through the air, and it made contact with the skull of the first hyena, which tumbled to the ground with a crying whimper. The second bolted forward and slammed into Batman, sending him sliding along the ground, wrestling with the beast. The hyena's claws sunk into his flesh, and he gasped with pain, but continued to concentrate his energy on holding the slashing jaws of the beast away from his
neck. He thrust upward and punched the hyena under its jaw with one hand, while he whipped out a knife from his utility belt with the other. The beast came back at him, and Batman sunk the knife deep into its leg. The beast yowled and fell to the ground as a battered Batman made his way toward the door. Batman made his way to the threshold of the office and...

Something caught his eye. A vanilla folder lay on a table near the door. Out of curiosity... Batman grabbed it on his way out, as he slammed the door behind him, one of the hyenas smashing into the door as he slammed it. Batman continued to limp his way toward the exit of the factory... Inside the folder were several sheets of loose-leaf. Many scribbles, and sketches. It was the Joker's handiwork. `Bats' and `The Bat Must Die' was written in different forms of handwriting all over. Several sketches were drawn of a man in a bat-suit hung, shot, or stabbed, in pain with a laughing and maniacal clown standing over him. Behind him was a clown woman, with hearts of love drawn around her. No, certainly not Joker's work. Definitely Quinn's. There were names too...

Bullock. Mayor Hill. Summer Gleeson. One of Batman's girly friends. Commissioner Gordon. Gordon! Batman flew out of the door toward the Batmobile at full speed... But something was blocking his path.

"Not so fast, detective. Going somewhere?"

"Get out of the way Ra's!" Batman bellowed. He had no time or patience for this. Gordon was next, and he had no time to sit around and play games with Ra's Al Ghul. Ghul's dark eyes glared at Batman, and his devilish grin made Batman feel hollow. But he didn't show it. He just narrowed his eyes.

"Come now detective. Let's have a peak at that folder you have there. You understand my interest here. This is the fate of my daughter, detective. Hand it over, be a reasonable man," Ra's growled. Batman hid the folder in his belt and clenched his fists.

"I'll get her Ra's. Now get out of the way. I have to get somewhere, now." Batman explained. Ube stepped out of the shadows, and angrily his eyes pierced Batman's. Ra's stepped forward.

"Detective, please..." Batman's fist made contact with Ra's face, and Ra's fell backwards nearly blacked out. He regained himself and glowered at Batman. "Fine, if that's the way you want it," he snapped his fingers, and Ube blindsided Batman. Too slow. Too slow. It was Ra's poison setting in. Too slow. BAM. Ube sunk his fist into Batman's stomach. It was a strong hit, and Batman nearly crumpled. He swung into a leg sweep, and sent Ube tumbling down.

"Even if Ube allowed you to live, it's only a matter of time before the toxins run their complete course. You will die today, detective, I'm sorry to say. I certainly gave you fair opportunity to join me in my quest," Ra's taunted Batman as Ube hit him again. And again. And again. Batman could barley defend himself. It was just like before, only stronger. Ube grasped Batman by the head, one `ear' in each hand and sharply head-butted the Dark Knight. The contact of the skulls made a loud snap and Batman stumbled backward. Too slow. Too slow. A foot to the chest sent Batman flying into the side of the warehouse.

"It's truly a pity detective. I really imagined your death to be something of a spectacle. Instead we see a man getting physically beaten to a pulp, as if he were a helpless child. Truly pathetic,"

BAM. Batman fell to the pavement, a trickle of blood running from his lip. He was dazed. Too slow. Too slow. Ube's boot came crashing down... Batman moved his head just in time to avoid a certain doom. He came up and hit an uppercut on Ube, sending him tumbling back. BAM. BAM. BAM. Batman made contact with Ube's face three times before Ube even felt it. Two swift kicks to the gut sent Ube flying into a puddle of mud, totally unconscious. Batman stormed toward the Batmobile, shaken, but able to regain his stability.

Ra's stood steadfast in front of the car, not moving, his devilish appearance striking in the crimson sunrise. The two men stared deep into each other's eyes, neither daring to make the first move. Ra's slowly reached into his jade cloak and withdrew a small blue test tube. He handed it forward and Batman took it slowly. They continued to stare.

"Bring her back in one piece, detective?"

"I was going to anyway," Batman snarled as he hopped into the Batmobile.

* * * * *

Commissioner James Gordon glanced out of the shades at the city he fought to protect. Another day. It was strange around here with Bullock and Montoya. Very strange. He sipped his morning coffee, which burned his mouth, but he ignored it. He placed the coffee down on his desk and sat down. How much longer can I do this? He asked himself. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. Nothing but worrying.

The worst part was that no matter how this turned out, it wouldn't be too long before the criminals were on the street again. Arkham was becoming more and more like a revolving door. It was now a simple matter of how long they could be contained there. He sipped his coffee again. Still burning. Damn. He wiped the coffee from his moustache, and looked over his desk. What's the point? The point is that someone has to do this Jim, and you do this better than anyone else, he told himself. Sometimes he needed to tell himself things. Suddenly he noticed a note on the corner of his desk. It was neat, yet scribbled. He snatched it and looked it over.

"Commissioner- Meet me on the roof as soon as you get this. I have important news. -Batman" Gordon grabbed his overcoat and rushed up the flight of stairs, not bothering to mention to anyone who asked where he was going. He blew through the door and onto the roof, looking around eagerly. He calmed himself for a second, and waited for Batman to come out of the shadows as he closed the door behind him. It was still cool out, the remnants of the night were fading, the sun beginning to rise in the east, cascading a ginger vale over the sky. Gordon waited.

Without warning he felt cold, slimy, green tentacles slap against his body and rap around him rapidly. He fought against them as soon as he could but it happened so fast he was held fast. He writhed around, fighting the tentacles, before turning to see his captor in awe. A large green figure was staring back at him, its face cold and unforgiving. The plant monster drew Gordon close enough to smell his breath.

"My lady wants to meet you," it growled.

* * * * *

Harley was beaming as Ivy walked into the room. It was the evening, and Ivy was dressed in her traditional getup, her favorite green outfit and shoes. She pranced across the room and wrapped her arms around Harley. Harley hugged Ivy back, her best friend in the world.

"Thanks for getting me out of there, Harl," Ivy whispered.

"Aw, don't worry red. Like you haven't helped me out in the clutch!" Harley grinned. The two of them sat down on the couch.

"So, Harl, what have you been up to?" Ivy asked, making an attempt to catch up on the world outside her. She began to fix her hair. It felt great to be free, away from that dungeon... She was truly grateful to her friend. But her energy was on Batgirl, and revenge.

"Well right now I'm running a caper for Mistah Jay..." Harley began. Ivy scowled. With Harley, came that retarded freak. As close as Ivy had gotten to Harley, that's still one thing she could never understand about her friend. If there were even one redeeming quality about that horrible, evil, stupid, freakish, oddball, she might be able to let it pass... But there truly wasn't. She didn't even want to talk about it.

"Ugh. Don't even talk to me about him!" Ivy snapped. She didn't want to hear anything about how Harley was submitting to his will, doing his bidding. It was disgusting how she desperately desired to please him... He deserved to be shot.

"Well, I was doing him a favor, and I came across someone that made me think of you. Which comes to your surprise!" Harley exclaimed with excitement. Ivy had to crack a smile at this. Surprise, huh? Well, she better take the bait.

"What's the surprise, Harl?"

"Follow me!" Harley grinned. She jumped up from the couch and ran over to the door to her bedroom, and opened it. Inside was something that made Harley almost go hysterical.

"Harley, Harley, Harley. She's perfect!" Ivy exclaimed with a smile.

Batgirl lay on the bed, her arms stretched out, tied to each bedpost in a spread-eagle. Her mouth was gagged with a thick white cloth tied over it, and her eyes went wide with terror at the sight of Ivy. Ivy slithered up alongside Batgirl's helpless form and came close to her, face-to-face, and stared into her eyes.

"That's right baby, the goddess of the green is back, and I'm here for revenge," she whispered.

Chapter 9:

He hummed to himself softly as he danced around his room. He looked at his watch. Ten minutes to show time. Perfect. Everything is perfect. The Joker admired himself in the mirror, adjusting his tie and straightening his eggplant jacket.

"Got to look sharp for the cameras, you know," giggled. Mo, Lar, and Curl all acknowledged the joke, but didn't laugh. He turned to his henchmen. They looked back at him, a concerned look on his chalk-white complexion. He held up Harley's bag of make-up. "Do I need a little color?" he asked. His men actually laughed at this, and Joker broke out into a fit of hysteria.

"Oh, oh sometimes I just kill myself!" Joker cackled. He turned his attention to the hostages.

"And what about the stars of our show?" he asked with a laugh. All in a row... Bullock, Montoya, Mayor Hill, Summer Gleeson, Commissioner Gordon, and... of course, the perfect selection, the one he'd insisted on himself, Talia. They all sat in a row, chained and unconscious. Except for Talia. She was wide-awake, burning holes through the Joker with hatred. Joker walked over to her.

"What's the matter kid? Never seen a diabolical wack-job try and kill Batman? I'd figured in your family..." Joker trailed off as he turned around.

"My father will rescue me," she replied with more than a touch of resentment. "Or Batman, whoever gets here first!" Joker turned back to her and smiled.

"It will be Batman darling, I assure you. Old Batsy is always the first to the scene! Then we'll kill him... Or we'll find out his identity first, that old incognito rodent man. I hear you have quite a thing for Bats, eh? Well hopefully he feels the same way about you so I'm not wasting my time!" Joker snapped as he headed back over to where Mo, Lar, and Curl were. He gestured to the camera, and Mo picked it up.

"Five, four, three, two, one... You're on boss!"

"Greetings Gotham! Welcome to another special event from your favorite `regular TV schedule crashing' celebrity, yours truly, the Joker! I'd like to remind you I'm on every channel, so don't waste your time trying to find something else that's on!" Joker continued as the relaxed, cheesy elevator muzak blared in the background.

"That's right ladies and gents, I, the Joker am all you'll be seeing on the tube tonight. Why? Why, you ask? Because I have a very special announcement for Gotham's favorite `I'm a grown man in tights who dresses like a bat and fights crime' guy. That's right, I'm talking about Batman! See all of these wonderful guests of the show behind me?" she camera panned to reveal the drugged hostages.

"Well if my demands aren't met, they'll all die a heinous death! Oh no, you say? Well it doesn't have to happen! All Batman has to do is tell me his true identity, and the hostages walk. But if Batsy refuses..." Joker brought his finger to his neck, and slid it across. "It's lights out for some of Gotham's most prominent! Don't keep us waiting Bats, the phones are ready to receive calls!"

* * * * *

So this is what he was after all along? Trying to figure out my identity with a hostage situation? Not the most original plot, but surely one to examine every angle of. Surely an extremely dangerous one. The question was where the broadcast was coming from. The batcomputer's trace kept changing directions constantly... It would not be easy. Batman looked at the monitor, eying Commissioner Gordon chained and unconscious among the hostages. Damn! If only I were a few minutes sooner... Well at least I have the opportunity to make up for it.

But the location of the broadcast wasn't going to be easy to find and the Joker certainly wasn't the patient type... He also knew what he wanted. It would take a computer genius to locate the broadcast signal...

* * * * *

Catwoman made her way across the rooftop, her silhouette appearing only in the moon. One more job tonight, and then she would find some place to lay low... She certainly couldn't go back to her apartment after the incident with Batman. Certainly not. Maybe a sleazy motel, there were more than enough of those in Gotham as it was...

Her bullwhip flashed across the street and wrapped around a pole, and soon after went Catwoman landing on the rooftop. Ah, Batman. It's a shame when something so meant to be just doesn't seem to work, she thought to herself. It was strange. She almost felt like... She'd disappointed him or something. Ah well... As they say, you can take the woman out of the cat, but you can't take the cat out of the woman... Okay, so no one ever said that, but it made her feel good.

She strode up to the ledge and lay down on her belly, cupping her chin in her hands as she rested her elbows on the edge of the building, deep in thought. And what she saw through the bedroom window directly across the street intrigued her to say the least.

* * * * *

Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot made his way into the bank, shaking the rain off his umbrella. He waddled forward, his leather dress shoes `clicking' on the freshly scrubbed tile floors. He glanced around, people dashing to get out of his way. That's right little people; make way for the V.I.P. he told himself. They nervously glanced at him, only for a moment, afraid he might look back. It was late, and the bank was fairly crowded for this hour... But the line disintegrated as Penguin made his way to the front. That's one good thing about being suspected of robbery... People treat you like you did it but they can't pin it on you, he thought to himself. At least they can't pin it on me. It's perfect really; keep your money in the bank they robbed it from. In many accounts under different names, of course. I truly am brilliant, he thought to himself.

"I'd like to make a withdrawal please," Penguin snarled at the timid teller.

"From what account?" Penguin shoved the number and proper cards necessary. He waited for them to go through.

"I'm sorry sir, but that account has a balance of $0," she mumbled, afraid to look Penguin in the eye.

"What!?" he bellowed.

"There's no money in it." She explained.

"I know what it means," he snarled. He handed her another card and number. She ran it through.

"I'm sorry sir, but that account also has..." There was a loud click behind Penguin, followed by a loud static-like sound of recorded silence. "Ah, I just love the sound of a brat like you in pain. Yes, by the way, you just heard me admit to robbing the bank. That of course, means nothing, because you will never leave this facility alive." Penguin heard his own voice.

He spun in absolute rage to find...

Robin. Surrounded by fifteen police officers with pistols ready. Robin tossed the tape-recorder to Penguin.

"Next time, think about taking away my utility belt, Oswald. I guess that club of yours will have to wait a little while," the kid sniggered.

* * * * *

Poison Ivy straddled over Batgirl, and put her hands on her hips and smiled gingerly at her captive.

"It's funny, I've spent so much time thinking about how I'd kill you, and now that the time's here, I'm at a loss for words," she thought aloud. "Well I suppose we could have one of my babies strangle you... Harl, don't you think it would be fun to see Batgirl gasping for breath, her face turning blue as she dies slowly?" Ivy asked with a maniacal tone in her voice.

"Sure would, red!" Harley squealed.

"Or maybe I could douse her in lighter fluid, and set her ablaze like many people do to logs that were once wonderful trees in this country. What do you think Harl, wouldn't she look good all black and chalky?"

"Sure would, red!"

That's it, just keep talking... Just give me the time I need, Batgirl thought to herself. She worked the knife against the ropes, but not to fast, trying not to draw attention to herself. Just to humor Ivy she struggled lightly and groaned into the gag. Ivy laughed.

"Or maybe I could cut you in half, just like the lumberjacks of the world seem to enjoy cutting down my luscious trees... What do you think Harl, how would Batgirl look cut into two pieces?"

"It doesn't matter because that's not what's happening," came a different female voice. Harley, Ivy, and Batgirl all looked toward the door in absolute shock to see Catwoman, whip ready.

"Aw, you girls are having a slumber party and you didn't invite me? You hurt my feelings," she growled.

"Get her, Harley!" Ivy screamed. Harley ran toward Catwoman ready to fight, but Catwoman's whip caught her ankles and a yank took her feet out from under her, sending her to the ground with a crash. Ivy stood up. "No matter," she growled, and snapped her fingers. Out of the closet came two monstrous beasts, green plant creations of Ivy's mind, shaped like humans but obviously far from them. Ivy pointed to Catwoman, "Kill her!"

The plant creatures closed in on Catwoman while Ivy turned her attention back to Batgirl. She lifted a blade out of her outfit and drew it high, preparing to stab it through Batgirl's neck. "Not the death I wanted for you, but..." TWANG. The last of the fibers holding Batgirl's left hand snapped, and Batgirl's closed fist flew up, sinking deep into Ivy's nose. Ivy tumbled back, and Batgirl used the opportunity to untie her other hand.

SLAP. Ivy's green-gloved hand was brought across Batgirl's face as she used her knees to pin Batgirl's arms down. SLAP. SLAP. Two more times, each hand slapping and backhanding Batgirl's face. SLAP. SLAP. Batgirl went bright red in pain. SLAP. SLAP. If she could just get her feet free she'd have leverage... SLAP. SLAP. Tears began to well at the corners of Batgirl's eyes.

"Aw! What's the matter? Am I hurting little Batgirl?" Ivy said in a goo-goo-ga-ga voice. Batgirl fought back, but was helpless. Ivy grabbed a pillow and brought it down, crashing on Batgirl's face. It was pressed down hard, and Batgirl struggled but was held fast. She couldn't breathe. It was all white. Nothing to see but whiteness. She screamed loudly but almost no sound came out. She struggled, but she had no oxygen...

With great effort Batgirl yanked one hand free and began wailing it into Ivy's side like there was no tomorrow- because there might not have been. Ivy removed one hand from the pillow to try and force Batgirl's hand back down, but as she did so Batgirl wrenched her other hand free. A sharp blow to what was probably Ivy's face sent her flying back, and Batgirl lurched forward. She threw the pillow off her face and untied her legs, all before Ivy got back up again.

Ivy regained her footing, only to see Batgirl's foot smash into her face at an unbelievable speed. She fell backwards with a desperate sob, tumbling to the ground. Batgirl stood over her, victorious.

"Ivy: You're going back to Arkham!"

"Oh, and by the way, I'm fine," Catwoman snarled from across the room. She stood panting over the sizzling bodies of the plant creatures, a thick emerald goo dripping from their decapitated bodies. Harley sat bound with rope right next to them.

"I knew you could handle it," Batgirl explained with a smile. "I know what you're capable of. We're former partners, remember?" Catwoman smiled back.

"I guess we are." Catwoman added as Batgirl slapped Batcuffs on a frustrated Ivy. But this wasn't over. Batgirl walked over and grabbed Harley by the frill around her collar.

"Where are the hostages?" she barked.

"I'll never tell!" Harley screamed. Batgirl brought her fist back ready to punch. Harley cringed.

"They're at the Funny Time Chewing Gum factory. Mistah Jay is there, and he's broadcasting over the city with some kind of untraceable satellite thingie-majiggy. If you go, he'll kill the hostages, so you better let Batman know where they are," Batgirl nodded, satisfied with the information.

"Catwoman, thanks again, I..."

"Don't worry about it. Just tell Batman about it if you see him. Remind him what a good girl I've been this year," Catwoman purred as she disappeared through the window.

* * * * *

It was hopeless. He was running out of time. Batman pulled the Batmobile around the corner of the red-light district and looked around for someone who might know something... Nothing. The streets were clear. Perhaps everyone was watching his or her TV in eager anticipation of Batman's identity, he thought to himself. Great, just great. Suddenly his hand radio bleeped. Robin was trying to reach him. He snagged it eagerly.

"Robin? Come in, Robin," Batman called into the handset.

"Hey Batman. Took care of Penguin. There's... Someone here who wants to talk to you." Robin claimed, sounding a little unsure and confused. Batman awaited the person, wondering who it could possibly be.

"Batman?"

"Yes?"

"Oh, hi Batman, this is Batgirl. I just thought you might like to know that the Joker's hiding out at the Funny Time Chewing Gum Factory. Useful?"

"Very. How'd you find that out?"

"That's a long story. You can repay me by taking me out to dinner some time..." there was a struggle on the other end, followed by Dick's voice declaring,

"It's my radio! Robin out,"

The Funny Time Chewing Factory it is, Batman though to himself as the Batmobile bulleted in that direction, it's usual fiery flames trailing it.

Chapter 10:

Joker was losing patience. He looked over at the hostages, and back at the camera.

"Well Gotham, it looks like it's been one hour! Time to execute the first hostage!" he exclaimed gleefully. He danced his way over to the hostages, and withdrew a pistol from his jacket. He slid around each of the hostages, and looked down at their unconscious forms. You will all die, he thought to himself, just like your savior, the pointy-eared protector of Gotham. It made him sick. He turned to the Mayor, and leveled the pistol with his forehead.

"Who first Gotham, Mayor Hill? C'mon, you know some of you from the G.O.P. wouldn't mind seeing him out of the way, eh?" he joked at the camera, before cracking up hysterically. He moved on and leveled the pistol with Summer Gleeson's face.

"Or how about the lovable Summer Gleeson? C'mon, I know some of you jealous gals would like to see her pretty face blown to bits!" he chuckled, as he danced on to the next hostage.

"Or perhaps our famous Commissioner Gordon? A model citizen you say? All the more reason he deserves the axe!" Joker bellowed, before cracking up hysterically. But he had already made his mind who he would kill first. He made his way over to Talia and grabbed her by the hair, she shrieked but was silenced by the cold barrel of a gun pressed against her temple.

"Or how about the lovely Talia, one of the few woman old Batsy has had a thing for? Yes, I think she's the prefect choice!" Joker exclaimed as he dragged her out onto center stage. He brought the pistol level with her head, and as a quiet tear trickled down her face as he cackled viciously.

* * * * *

Batgirl stood on the edge of the building, looking down on the citizens of Gotham. Robin walked up beside her.

"You okay?" he asked. She looked depressed, staring dankly at the city bellow. They certainly weren't the best of friends, but in this dark hour he felt her pain. She didn't answer right away.

"Yeah, I'm fine," she murmured softly, thinking about her father. And there was nothing she could do about it. Nothing.

"I'm sure they'll all be fine, you know? I want to be there myself, but if there's anyone who I'd trust my life with, it's Batman," he tried to comfort. But she seemed distant.

"Yeah, you're right. I just feel so helpless... I hate it."

"I know the feeling," Robin commented. He inhaled his mucus with a loud disgusting snort, and spat it out, until it dripped about two feet, at which point he sucked it back up.

"That's disgusting," Batgirl remarked.

"You're just saying that because you can't do it," Robin commented thoughtfully after a pause. Batgirl had to smile at this.

"It's funny, my ex-boyfriend did that all the time," she murmured. Dick was immature at times, but she still tolerated him. He could be a great guy.

"Well he sounds pretty cool. I'm surprised you could get that great of a guy," Robin grinned. Batgirl shot him a look. "Oh, c'mon, any guy would be lucky to go out with you. You're pretty, stylish, and you could protect him in a fight," Batgirl smiled.

"Thanks for the encouragement."

* * * * *

Batman walked in, and Joker knew he was there before he spoke.

"Let her go, Joker," he growled. "This is between you and me," The room was cold. Talia was overcome with joy at the sight of the man she loved... Here to rescue her. But she stifled herself. No sudden movements. The Joker was insane, and certainly wouldn't think twice about slaughtering her. Batman didn't move as Joker spun with a frown on his face.

"That's not fair Batman! You're not playing by the rules." Joker exclaimed. His rage faded to a wide grin instantaneously. "But that's okay, because I never play by the rules either!" Joker cried. He cocked the trigger and Batman watched as Talia's eyes went wide with terror. "Let her go Joker," Batman repeated coldly. Joker looked as though he was pondering this, sarcastically.

"Tell me Batman, Gotham is waiting; who are you really?" Joker asked, without his usual cackle. Batman wasn't buying it. He stood completely still, he just narrowed his eyes. Plan B. "How about this, Batsy, I let the hostages go, if you agree to face me in the `ultimate duel to the death'-all on live television!" Joker cackled. Ultimate duel to the death... Strange. But this was clearly part of his plan- in the cards the whole time. Batman appeared to ponder this- as if he had an option.

"You've got yourself a deal, Joker," Batman snarled as he looked around. Fight to the death. There was no way Joker could take him one on one. Almost certainly a trap. Where were the Joker's men? Two of them appeared and came around in front of the hostages and began removing the chains. Batman readied a batarang.

"But of course, a proper handicap is necessary," the Joker howled, moments before a splitting crack echoed throughout Batman's head. The thick steel pulley on a thick rope swayed back and forth after striking Batman down. He was dizzy... Dazed. He wanted to throw up. Red circles were everywhere as he brought himself to his feet. BAM. Joker's two fists came crashing down on the back of his neck, sending him to the cement with a thud.

"Oh c'mon, Bats, admit it. If you were to die, you know that this is the way you'd want it. Me and you, one on one. Mano e Bato, just like old times, eh Bats? The way it was meant to be!" BAM. Joker's foot made contact with the side of Batman's head, and Batman fell down to his side, completely helpless as he panted slowly. The antidote was slow working, and he was reeling from that blow to the skull. Joker smashed his foot into Batman's face, sending him into the ground as he tried to get up again. Not this way. Get up Batman, get up. BAM. Batman could see his own blood tattered across his mask, as he lay on his back, barley conscious. Joker's laughter started out slow, a deep chuckle. It continued and grew into a strong cackle, escalading into complete hysteria. Joker's ruby lips contrasted his colorless face, which was stretched into a crazy, maniacal, twisted grin, revealing rows of rotting yellow teeth. Slowly one of Joker's purple encased arms lifted, a silver pistol
at the end.

"This is it Batman. Once and for all. I have won. You will DIE!"

"Not today!" Batman bellowed. His readied batarang flew out of his gloved hand, knocking the pistol away. Joker went for in, but before he could take a step a sharp uppercut to his chin sent him back. Batman walked forward, his cape drawn over his shoulders as he looked down at the Joker. One of his teeth was on the floor next to him. He growled in anger and came forward. BAM. BAM. Batman took two more shots at the Joker's face until he went down, but this time he wasn't getting up. Police began to crowd the factory and the camera was turned to recently freed captive Summer Gleeson, who was there with first-hand experience, ready to break the story.

"That's right Gothamites, I myself, Summer Gleeson, was a hostage of this maniacal madman, the Joker. Apprehended by the police, he was taken down, as was viewed on live television by the one and only..." She turned, looking to interview the hero, but he was gone. There was just an open widow near the top, the wind coming in with a whistle.

* * * * *

"Not bad," came a sultry female voice.

Batman turned back to see a female shape slink amongst the shadows.

"Selina," he acknowledged.

"Did you hear? I'm a hero too," she whispered as she walked next to him. He looked at her.

"Glad to hear it," he answered coldly. She stared at him as he looked of at the police cruisers and vans, all surrounding the factory. He seemed emotionless. But she knew as well as anyone that there was more than she could even comprehend going on under that pointy cowl... He just wasn't the talkative type. She looked behind her briefly as she heard a rattle, but it was just Isis.

"You know..." she turned around. To no one.

* * * * *

"You sure you don't want to watch?" Robin asked for the fifth time. Batgirl didn't answer. I can't, she thought to herself. Not with Dad... The suspense was killing her. But she just couldn't make herself watch. She just couldn't. She looked over at Robin, who was watching it on his palm top computer. Being the stand up gentleman he was, he kept it muted.

"My ex is graduating from GSU next week," she murmured, trying to get her mind on something else.

"Get out! I'm graduating from State next week! Crazy..." Robin exclaimed. "We're like the same guy," he thought aloud. Batgirl didn't answer this. She seemed just smiled.

"The hostages have been freed you know," he said after a brief pause. She turned to him and smiled warmly, before throwing her arms around him in the moment.

"How long ago?" she questioned happily.

"Ten minutes. I was trying to think of a witty or clever way of cluing you in, but it didn't work out," he grinned. Without hesitation she moved her lips to his, and they embraced. His lips massaged hers in a moment of passion... But he pulled away.

"As much as I want to finish that kiss..." Robin began to trail off. "I really feel like you should give this guy another chance. He sound like a great guy, and someone you really care about," he explained. He expected her to step back in disgust. Instead she grinned.

"Yeah. Actually I was almost imagining you were him when..." she trailed off. And looked in the other direction. "I think I'll give him a call,"

"There's someone in my life I think I owe a phone call to myself..." Robin added. They two young crimefighters smiled at each other, completely unaware of the other's identity.

Kids, Batman chuckled as he watched from the ledge. If only they knew. They would laugh about this one-day, they really would.

* * * * *

It was cold. The wind didn't make it any better. The icy breeze whistled through the crisp air, sending Batman's leathery cape flying behind him as he stood on the dark ledge, eying his domain carefully. The people of Gotham went about their busy ways, without a care in the world. They felt safe, secure. In an insecure world. He had made a difference. As the batsignal blared into the darkness once again, Batman arose. There he was, the Dark Knight of Gotham, once again ready, to protect the city with his own brand of justice at a moment's notice.

THE END