Batman & Benson 6

Chapter Seventeen

'So long a wait, with so much preparation, and it all comes down to this moment,' Mystique thought, as she waited for Wolverine to show up at his ditzy girlfriend's apartment.

Mystique stared at herself in the full length mirror, and it was Samantha Spade who stared back. She had taken the woman's form and voice, and while they were both perfect, Mystique now spent a fair amount of time figuring out what she should be wearing when Wolverine arrived. Of course, being a shape-shifter, and a rather good one at that, Mystique didn't really need to physically change clothes. Her skin simply changed into whatever garment, in whatever color and style, that she thought of.

She tried a flimsy, scant negligee in every variation that she could imagine, until she realized it might be best to just approach Wolverine in just jeans and a sensible top. Rather than be a seductress, Mystique would prey on his sympathies by pretending to not feel well. That would get him close to her, as he offered his comfort, and tender loving care, and then Mystique would rip Wolverine's still-beating heart from his chest.

That was the main point that Erik had emphasized to her; that to mortally kill Wolverine would require a devastating blow, a brutal shock to the system that would leave him helpless long enough for her to eviscerate his body to the point where his healing powers would not matter. She had trained her assault on corpses, old enemies who had been eliminated by the Brotherhood Of Mutants, learning how to slice up through the stomach, so as to avoid his armored skeleton.

And now, she was ready for him, Mystique would finally pay back the X-Men for all of their self-righteous interference by assassinating one of their top people. Erik had promised that the shock alone from Wolverine's death may well be enough to badly cripple the X-Men, leaving them vulnerable for a full-on attack of their compound by the Brotherhood Of Mutants.

She heard the front door open, and then Wolverine's voice called, "Sam? You home?"

'Here we go,' Mystique excitedly thought. 'The opening volley in the new war will be fired right here!'

"Hi, hon," Mystique said, as she appeared in the doorway. She deliberately clogged her nasal passages, to make herself sound congested. "I'm really not feeling too hot…I think I caught a summer cold."

"Aw, that's too bad," Wolverine said, with a look of disappointment. "I'm sorry to hear about that, babe."

"Yeah, I think maybe we'll just stay in tonight, huh?"

Wolverine nodded. "Great idea. Hey, I'll tell you what: how about I go and get us some Chinese food, huh? I'll get that seafood platter that you love so much. Does that sound good?"

"Hmm, that sounds great!" Mystique said, giving him her best smile. Then she held out her arms. "But you think you could give me a hug, first?"

"Sure thing, babe," Wolverine replied.

Still smiling, he walked over to Mystique-

-and grabbed her by the throat and shoved her up against the wall. Before Mystique even knew what was happening, she found herself staring at Wolverine's famed claws, which he stuck right in her face.

Wolverine glared at her with such hateful fury that it was frightening. "My Sam hates seafood, you stupid bitch! Where is she? Where's Sam? You'd better tell me, or else I'm gonna claw the information right out of your gut!"

Just then, the front door burst open, and two detectives, a man and a woman, entered the room with their guns drawn. The woman stared at the situation with a look of horror and said, "Oh, damn, which one of them is really Mystique?"

Mystique, who was still posing as Sam, screamed, "HE'S MYSTIQUE! HE BROKE IN HERE AND ATTACKED ME! SHOOT HIM, NOW!"

"You shoot me and this psycho bitch here will kill the both of you!" Wolverine warned. "I may be able to heal from a barrage of bullets, but not in time to help you guys!"

That was when the male detective very calmly said, "Perhaps we should just shoot them both." When his female partner stared at him as if he were crazy, he added, "Think about it, Katie. If that's really Wolverine, then he has tremendous healing powers. He'll easily survive any gunshot wound, anyway."

Wolverine actually burst into a broad grin at this. "That's a great idea, John! Fire away!" He glanced back at Mystique and said, "Nice knowing you, Mystique…."

Both detectives raised their guns to fire.

"WAIT!" Mystique screamed in a panic. She quickly reverted back to her blue-skinned form. "I-I surrender! You got me! Don't shoot!"

Yet Wolverine still would not release her. "Where the hell is my Sam? So help me, if you've hurt her, I'll make you wish these two did shoot you…."

"She's in the bedroom, tied up," Mystique told him. "She's fine! Go see for yourself!"

Wolverine finally released her. As he ran to the bedroom, he told the detectives: "Watch her very carefully! Even cuffed, she's a dangerous bitch!"

"We got her," the male detective, whom Wolverine called John, assured him. Turning to Mystique, he said, "Turn around, with your face to the wall. My partner here will handcuff you. No funny moves."

Mystique, seeing a possible opening developing where she could fight her way out of this situation, braced herself for battle. She smiled sweetly as she held out her hands. "As you can see, I don't have any pockets, detectives. So there's no need for a pat-down…unless you two are really into that sort of thing…."

John raised his gun and pointed it right at her face. "I know who and what you truly are," he said, his voice deathly serious. "I know what you are capable of, and if you try anything, if I so much as see a twitch from you, I will put a bullet right in your brainpan. Do you understand me?"

The cold calmness with which he delivered those words sent a chill up Mystique's spine. "Yes," she said, utterly convinced that if she tried anything now, she would die. Far better to surrender now, and live to fight another day. "I understand."

Katie cuffed her hands behind her back, under the watchful eye of her partner, who kept his gun aimed at Mystique's head. When she was done cuffing Mystique, Katie carefully backed away, all while John remained frozen, with his gun still aimed at Mystique.

"Kneel down, on the floor, with your legs crossed," John commanded.

When Mystique did this, John told Katie to bind her ankles together with plastic ties. "I know you can easily slip out of your bonds, Mystique. So that's why I shall stand here, with my gun aimed at you, at all times. If I see the slightest movement from you, I will shoot. Understand?"

It was at this point that Mystique realized that this John character was serious when he'd said he knew who and what she was. In fact, he knew her abilities so well John almost sounded like he was a shape-shifter himself. She glanced over her bare shoulder at him and asked, "Who are you?"

"You are under arrest, Mystique," John formally said, ignoring her question. "You have the right to remain silent. If you do not remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law."

As John continued reading Mystique her Miranda rights, she closed her eyes and dismally thought: 'Oh, Erik, I am so sorry I failed you….'

B&B

Olivia was busy with booking Amanda Waller, so when she finally arrived at Sam's apartment building, it appeared to be over. She was just in time to see them transferring Mystique. And it was quite a show. Maggie's SWAT team were there in full force, and they had Mystique strapped down to a stretcher, where she was further trussed up with more straps on her legs and a straight-jacket that bound her arms completely. She even wore a muzzle for good measure, and as she was wheeled past Olivia, Mystique's golden eyes briefly gazed at her with mild interest.

"Ok, now, she's a shape-shifter, so watch her carefully, people!" Maggie warned her team. "Any sudden movement whatsoever, just taser her. If she should get past the taser people, the second squad takes her down for good with live rounds, got it?"

They either nodded or verbally spoke their acknowledgement of her orders as they carefully brought Mystique's stretcher into the elevator. At least two of them warily watched Mystique while aiming their tasers at her at all times.
"Helluva day, huh, Maggie?" Olivia asked with a smile.

"At least it's been a productive one," she responded with a grin. She keyed her radio and said, "B-Team, we're coming down."

"Rodger, Top, we await you in the lobby," came the response.

Olivia walked into Sam's apartment and saw most of her SVU detectives were there, along with Gordon. John and Katie came up and gave her the run down of what happened. When they were finished, Olivia clasped them both on the shoulder and said, "You guys did a dynamite job!"

"We were almost too late," John said, looking annoyed.

"Yeah," Katie added, looking crestfallen. "Wolverine already had her."

"Believe me, you guys got here just in time," Logan said from the bedroom door. "Mystique was still impersonating Sam, and it was John's idea to shoot us both, which caused her to surrender. I really appreciate the help from you two. You're the real heroes, here."

John just nodded his thanks at him while Katie's cheeks blushed a bright red.

"How is she?" Olivia whispered to Logan.

"Rattled, which is completely understandable," he replied. "I'm getting her a glass of water right now."

"Can I see her?"

"Yeah, she's expecting you, Liv."

Olivia entered the bedroom to see Sam was seated on the bed, speaking with Renee and Harvey. Sam was clad in sweats, and had the look of having been crying. She wore bandages on her wrists and ankles. When she saw Olivia, she just got up and ran over to her.

"How are you?" Olivia asked, as they hugged tightly. "Are you ok?"

"Uh…no," Sam said in a little voice.

Olivia glanced at Harvey and Renee and said, "Um, would you guys be so kind and give us a moment?"

"Why?" Harvey asked, genuinely puzzled.

"Girl talk," Renee told him, as she pulled on his arm. "Let's go, bro."

Harvey glanced at Olivia and asked, "Hey, does it really count as girl talk if Benson is involved?"

An embarrassed Renee just shook her head wearily as she muttered something under her breath in Spanish.

"What?" Harvey said defensively, as he followed her out of the room. "What'd I say? Hey, Renee, stop shaking your head and tell me what I said that was so bad this time!"

Olivia just slowly shook her head and smiled. God help her, but after living for several years now in Gotham City, and dealing with Bullock on a regular basis, it felt like she was actually getting used to Harvey's moronic remarks.

If nothing else, it made Sam laugh, and a good laugh appeared to be something she really needed right now. "Sorry, Liv, I didn't mean…."

"Oh, don't apologize, he's just being Harvey. You want to sit down again?"

"Actually, I'd like to get the hell out of here," Sam replied, with an anxious look around her bedroom. "This place doesn't feel safe for me anymore."

"Come to Wayne Manor," Olivia said. "Spend the night. Hell, spend a couple of nights."

Sam smiled at her. "Thanks, Liv. But Logan's invited me to stay with him at the X Mansion for a while. I've already accepted."

"Really? That's great!"

"It was the least I could do," Logan said, as he entered the room with a glass of water. He handed it to Sam. "Since I was the one who brought this mess down on her."

"I told you, this wasn't your fault!" Sam told him, after she took a sip.

"Mystique used you to try and kill me, honey," Logan said. "It's my mess."

"It's our mess," Sam said. "I've told you before, we deal with everything together, now, ok?"

He smiled. "Ok."

Olivia did a double take when she saw, through the open doorway, John and Katie kissing each other passionately. "Um, excuse me," she muttered, as she left the bedroom to deal with this flare up of romance between her detectives.

Olivia had no problem with her detectives falling in love with each other, but the fact remained that fraternizing between officers was still against the rules within the GCPD. And Olivia wanted to stop them before they were seen by Gordon.

Olivia frantically tried waving at John and Katie, but they were so embroiled in their kiss they never saw her. When Gordon noticed she was waving like a flight crew member on an aircraft carrier, Olivia just stood there and just grinned at him sheepishly.

"Olivia," Gordon said, puzzled, "why were you trying to stop me from seeing those two kiss?"

"Um, because of the regulation the GCPD has in place against fraternizing between cops?" Olivia reminded him.

"Oh, that stupid thing," Gordon said with a wave of his hand. "That's an old rule left over from Commissioner Loeb's days. I've been meaning to get rid of it, but never got around to it. I'll make it official tomorrow, but, starting right now, consider it over and done. You two," he gestured at John and Katie, "kiss away! After the superb job you've done, you earned it."

"Thank you, sir," John and Katie both said. Katie looked positively glowing.

Olivia was shocked to see Mike and Andrea suddenly embrace each other warmly. "Hey," she called, "are you guys an item, too?"

Mike shared a smile with Andrea before he said, "Not only that, boss. But we're also married."

"Just over a year, now," Andrea added, as she and Mike took out their wedding rings and put them on. "And now we can finally wear these on the job!"

"You learn something new everyday," a stunned Olivia told a smiling Gordon.

B&B

Katie was still floating on air when they arrived back at J'onn's apartment later that night. J'onn himself was extremely pleased at the outcome of their investigation. They'd stopped off and got a pizza, with all of the trimmings, for themselves, along with some DVD rentals, before arriving at the apartment.

J'onn was feeling so good that he seriously thought about putting off his announcement to Katie. He hated to ruin their night of celebration.

Katie knelt against the back of the sofa as she pumped her fist in the air. "Thank you, Commissioner Gordon!" she said with a laugh. "No more hiding our relationship in public! God, I was beginning to feel like a fugitive."

'Now you know how I felt at times,' J'onn ruefully thought. 'Especially during the Cadmus Dark Age….'

Katie's eyes lit up with an idea. "Hey, maybe we can finally move in together now, just like we've been talking about."

And that was when he'd decided that it was finally time to tell her. "I'd love that, Katie. But…." J'onn didn't know how to even say the words.

"But…what?" Katie stared at him with concern. "What's wrong?"

"There's something that you need to know about me," J'onn said. "Something very important. Earlier tonight, you and the others were all surprised at how well I handled Mystique."

"Yes, it looked like you dealt with shape-shifters before," Katie said. "Do you know Mystique? Is that what you wanted to tell me? That you dealt with her when you were in Boston?"

"No, this was the first time we've ever met." J'onn sighed. Might as well get it out. "But I know how to handle a shape-shifter so well, because I am one. I am a shape-shifter, Katie."

Katie just stared at him, her eyes growing wide, until she just burst into laughter. "Good one, John! You really had me going for a…moment…there…oh God, you're not joking, are you?"

He shook his head. "No, I am not."

"Are you saying that you're a meta?"

"A meta is a human with extraordinary powers," he replied. "I am what you would consider a Martian by birth. I was born on the planet Mars and am the last of my kind. I was brought to earth by a private space expedition that was financed by Lex Luthor. I was held captive in his lab, until the Starro incident. That was when I was freed."

Katie shook her head as she slowly got up from the sofa. "Ok, you're scaring the hell out of me, here…."

"Katie, I love you with all my heart," he told her. "And the last thing I ever want to do would be to scare you. But if our relation is to continue to the next level, it must do so with complete trust between us, wouldn't you agree?"

"Yes, of course, but what you're saying…."

"Perhaps it would be better if I showed you."

Katie's eyes grew wide. "You're gonna change into a Martian?"

"I'm going to revert into my normal form," he said. "Are you ready?"

When he transformed into his natural Martian state, Katie let out a startled yelp as she backed up against the wall.

"Do not fear me," J'onn pleaded. "Please. Just hear me out. This is who I truly am, Katie. This is who I was all along. I am still your John, and I still love you dearly. And to prove my love for you, I wanted you to know my deepest secret."

Katie shook her head. "This is…um, this is a little bit much to take in all at once…."

"I understand," John said, downcast. "If you need to take some time…to think about us…I will understand. No matter what happens, no matter what you choose, I just want you to be happy."

He turned to the window and stared dejectedly out at the street. He expected to hear her walk out of the apartment behind him. Yet, instead of that, J'onn felt her hand on his arm.

He turned and saw Katie stood right beside him. She stared long and hard at his true face and said, "How did you wind up here? As a cop in Gotham City?"

"Inspector Benson was kind enough to give me a job," he replied with a smile.

Katie's eyes flared with shock. "You mean Benson really knows about you? About who you are?"

He nodded. "We first met in Luthor's lab during the Starro incident. I was a captive of Luthor, and she had been abducted by Mercy Graves. You could say we helped each other out. We were good friends before she even hired me on the SVU."

Katie stared at him thoughtfully. "Wait. I know you. You're the Martian Manhunter. Right?"

"Yes. I am." Within seconds, he had turned back into his human form of John Jones. "But I chose this identity so that I could live among humans in peace."

Katie glanced down at his body. "Your clothes didn't change."

"I can change my skin to create clothes, just like Mystique, but I find it's sometimes easier to just wear clothes and change only my body and face."

"You sure Mystique isn't from Mars, too?"

"No, she's a true meta, in that she's a human with extraordinary powers," he replied with a chuckle. "But unlike her, shape-shifting isn't my only power."

Katie folded her arms as she shook her head with amazement. "I always knew you were a very special person, John Jones. But I had no idea just how special you were."

John felt like crying tears of joy. Katie's acceptance of him gave John an immense relief, as if a heavy burden had been lifted from his shoulders. He never loved Katie more than he did right now.

Katie stared up at him with renewed love. "I have so many more questions…."

"And I'd be extremely happy to answer them, all of them," J'onn said softly. "If you'd like me to."

After a moment's pause, Katie shrugged and said, "Well, we did buy pizza and other goodies. Would be a shame to let it all go to waste…."

J'onn just smiled at her. "Yes, it would."

B&B

It was the next morning when Amanda Waller slumped down in the chair aboard the private jet and let out a heavy sigh. She didn't know what was worse: spending the night in a Gotham City lock up, or facing Senator Varlis right now. As expected, a federal judge had overthrown the trumped up warrant that Rachel Dawes had tried to keep Waller locked up on and Waller soon found herself aboard Varlis' private jet as it left Gotham City airspace.

James Varlis was an elderly man with a full head of white hair. He still wore an elegant three piece suit, even though it was no longer the style. He sat and stared pensively out the window while Waller waited for him to say something, feeling much like a misbehaving little girl who had been called to answer to the principal.

"We shall learn from these mistakes," Varlis abruptly said. "Much like we have learned from the mistakes of our comrades in arms in Cadmus. This evil we're battling is very devious and tenacious. And, in order to defeat it, we must not only be the same way, but tenfold."

Waller was surprised to hear him say this. Thanks to the fiasco that she had dragged her agency into in Gotham City, the OHMR was already being bashed in the media as being just another bunch of fascist thugs who were spying on innocent citizens. Quite frankly, Waller was at a loss regarding how to proceed from here. She had seriously considered tendering her resignation.

Sensing her confusion, Varlis smiled. "Fear not. A cover story has already been created, Amanda. You and your team were searching for the Hulk when you accidentally got tangled up in this psychotic battle between the Batman and the Joker."

"The Mayor, the police commissioner and the district attorney of Gotham City will all dispute that in public," she countered.

Varlis shook his head. "And not everyone will believe them. As long as we continue to control the debate, as long as our media allies continue to paint the Gotham City government as being corrupt, we will prevail in the court of public opinion."

"What about the agents who were caught spying on Olivia Benson?"

"They were sloppy, and shouldn't have allowed themselves to be captured," Varlis said with regret. "That cover story is already set up: they both had a history of perverted behavior, and were secretly tailing this Benson woman, without your knowledge or sanction, for their own nefarious purposes."

Waller was irritated to discover that two of her best men were now being hung out to dry as perverts. "You sure that's a good idea? I mean, both of those men are extremely loyal to me, as well as to the cause, and they won't talk, no matter what."

"Pornographic material has already been placed on their computers," Varlis told her. "And, if they are smart, these men will remain silent. Their families will be well-taken care of right now, and they will receive special compensation down the road. Those boys are former Cadmus agents, Amanda, they know the score. They realize what we're fighting for here, and will gladly pay whatever price to ensure victory."

"This victory is coming at a pretty high cost," Amanda wearily said.

"These mutants are an abomination in the eyes of God," Varlis reminded her softly. "Remember, Amanda, God chose humans over the angels; we are His chosen ones, not the mutants. And where Cadmus failed, the OHMR will succeed. I know this for a fact, Amanda. Because, by removing the mutants as a threat, we are not only preserving the human race, we are also doing God's work. And all God asks of us is that we prevail in our efforts, and not waver in our belief."

Although Waller was herself a religious woman, she wasn't as deeply religious as her mentor was; Varlis often spoke of God's will as if he had been personally told about it by God himself. She respected and admired Varlis a great deal, for he was a man who knew how to get things done, and had the power and the means to do so. He was single-handedly responsible for the formation of the OHMR in the first place. Yet, despite this, his religious fervor often made her uneasy. Still, his message was clear: this was not the time to waver from their course.

"Speaking of the Hulk," Varlis said. "Any news to report on that hunt?"

"No," Waller said, shaking her head. "Bruce Banner just disappeared off the face of the earth once he reached Gotham City. I suspect the meta underground is back in play, and I strongly suspect that Alex Cabot is running it again."

"Do you have any hard evidence?"

"No, but-"

"Then leave it be."

Waller was stunned to hear this. "But Cabot was arrested by Cadmus! Hell, she even turned herself in because of this fact!"

"You know as well as I do that all arrests made by Cadmus are null and void, Amanda. I believe you. I don't doubt for a moment that Cabot is back doing her unholy deeds. But unless you have new evidence showing Cabot is guilty of hiding fugitives, there's little we can do about her, for now."

"So what's our next move?"

"Oversee the bat serum program in the Gotham City STAR labs. Continue putting their feet to the fire. While they work on making us a meta army, you busy yourself with capturing other metas across the country. Look for potential recruits among the captives. It's imperative that we have some of these metas working for us against the other side."

"What can I promise them in exchange for their help?"

"Promise them the moon, if you have to," Varlis said. "It doesn't matter. We won't honor it, anyway. Once the metas' usefulness to us is at an end, they shall be cast aside, just like the rest of their misbegotten race."

She later returned to the OHMR headquarters, located on the outskirts of Metropolis, and after taking a much needed shower in her private quarters, sat down to enjoy a hearty breakfast prepared for her by the chef. But even this moment of repose was interrupted by Gina, her secretary, who raced into her office and said, "You won't believe who's outside right now!"

Although she saw them on the security camera, it wasn't until Waller strode to the front gate and saw them with her own eyes that she believed it. Superman, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman all stood waiting to be let inside, just like any other visitor to OHMR headquarters.

"Good morning, Ms. Waller," Superman said. "We heard you were conducting tours of this facility. We'd like one, if you don't mind."

Waller plastered a fake smile on her face as she led the three superheroes on a complete tour of the entire OHMR facility, including the jail cells, which housed their one and only prisoner, Matthew Hagen. Hagen asked Waller when he would be able to speak to his attorney again, and she assured him that it would be soon.

It was during this visit that Waller noted Hagen had shape-shifted into his regular human form. And that sparked an idea within her mind, one she would have to look into later.

Superman made a point of scanning the entire facility with his X-Ray vision. When he was done, he simply smiled and said, "Just making sure you don't have a nuke in the basement, here."

Waller merely groaned inwardly at this. In some ways, Nathaniel Hardcastle did more damage to their cause than any of their enemies ever did. Still, she kept up her cheery role as their host until the superheroes were back outside, with all three satisfied that Waller didn't have any nukes, nor any children chained up in a hidden dungeon anywhere.

Once the tour was over, Superman and Green Lantern flew off, but Wonder Woman, who was silent the entire time during the tour, walked back over to Waller. She was a tall, intimidating person, easily standing well over six feet and looming over Waller with her piercing blue eyes.

"Superman may be too polite to say this," Wonder Woman said. "But I'm not. Heed my words well. We'll be watching you, and your group, very closely, Ms. Waller."

With that, the Amazonian Princess stormed off.

'We'll see who'll be watching who,' Waller thought, as she went back down to the jail level. She ordered the guards to leave her alone with Matthew Hagen. She would be talking to him through an electrified partition, anyway, so there was no chance of him harming her.

"Hey, when can I talk with my lawyer again?" Hagen asked her once more, as he sat on his bunk.

Waller saw that he was once more a misshapened mass of clay. "Can you do me a favor?" she asked. "Can you change back to your human form?"

Hagen did so within a split second. "There. You happy?"

"Is that the only shape you can imitate?" Waller asked.

"It's what I really look like, lady."

"But can you impersonate other people? Can you shape yourself to look like anybody else?"

"Not yet," he said with a coy smile. "But I'm working on it. Why you wanna know? Got a party you want me to entertain at?"

Waller thought about what Senator Varlis had told her. "I was just thinking that the OHMR might have need for a shape-shifter. You interested in a job?"

Now Hagen smiled broadly at her. "I might be."

B&B

It was after three straight nights of patrol, when absolutely nothing was happening in Gotham City, that Bruce Wayne had decided to take a rare day off as the Batman. The Batman's holiday coincided with Labor Day, and since Dick and Barbara would soon be taking their leave of Wayne Manor, to go back to their respective schools, Alfred suggested a 'last bash' kind of party to mark the occasion.

Once Olivia got involved in the process, the gathering became a grand pool party, which seemed apt to everyone, given this was the traditional end of the summer season. But before they knew it, word spread of Bruce's plans, and the quiet little pool party had turned into a major social gathering that featured friends from far and wide.

Alfred didn't mind; Wayne Manor was a vast place that was the scene of solemn silence on most days. The sounds of laughter, especially from children, were always welcome to him. That was why, when he opened the door to receive Samantha and Logan, Alfred was extremely pleased to see they had brought Anna Marie, Bobby Drake and Kitty Pryde.

"Hiya, Alfred!" Kitty said, with an enthusiastic wave. "Remember me?"

"How could I ever forget you, Kitty!" Alfred replied with a broad smile. "Come in!"

"Hope you don't mind that we brought over a few friends," Samantha said.

"Not at all," Alfred said, as he ushered them inside. "Lanna and Chloe have also arrived, and they've brought Kara with them."

"Sounds like it's turned into a real swinging party," Logan commented.

"It's become sort of a last bash of the summer," Alfred told them.

"Is it true what we've been hearing, that the level of crime has dropped over the last few nights to the point where Batman was coming home early?" Samantha asked.

Alfred nodded. "Yes! In fact, Olivia even reports that things have also been very quiet with the SVU, and the Major Case Squad, as well. And I think it has a lot to do with the video of the Batman capturing the Joker."

"Yeah, we saw that," Anna said, with a spooked look. "It was pretty intense!"

"It's getting about a million hits on Youtube," Bobby added. "Probably more, by now."

Alfred pointed at them with a smile. "Precisely my point. You see, I think that many of the people who saw that video online got their first good look at the Batman in action. And I believe that a good number of those who saw the video were criminals, or potential criminals, who were scared off of any future illegal deeds by seeing what they might be facing, namely, the Batman."

Logan laughed at this. "Nothing like some good publicity to help further the cause of law and order in this town."

"Whatever works," Alfred agreed.

"Has any leads on Poison Ivy's whereabouts turned up?" Samantha asked.

"No," Alfred replied. "Master Bruce has searched all over the city, but there's no sign of her. He suspects that she has left Gotham City altogether."

Sam had a thoughtful look as she nodded. "So that leaves only nine hundred and ninety eight Arkham Asylum escapees left, then, right?"

Now Alfred chuckled. "That sounds about right," he jokingly said. They had reached the massive swimming pool, and while Logan and the others were being greeted by Rachel and Olivia, Alfred took Sam aside and asked, "How are you, love?"

"Better, Alfred, thanks," she replied with a smile. "It's a very warm and inviting atmosphere at the X-Mansion. Professor Xavier, Jean and the others have all made me feel very welcome." Her smile faded slightly. "I've heard the OHMR wants to jail Mystique?"

"Yes, they say that only they have the proper facilities to contain someone as dangerous as her," Alfred said. "Mayor Garcia wants them to take her off the GCPD's hands. But Rachel fully intends to try Mystique here, and the OHMR has agreed that the case will still fall within Gotham City's jurisdiction. They will simply jail her for the time being."

That made Sam uneasy. "So I guess I'll still be facing her in court…."

Alfred gently grabbed her hand and squeezed it. "But not for a very long time. And, for now, we're all here to have a good time. So why don't you enjoy yourself?"

That made Sam smile again. "I will, Alfred. Thanks. It's great to be back home again."

"Good to have you back, Samantha."

"Hi there, Weasel-rine!" Kara jokingly greeted Logan.

"Well, well, if it ain't the little punk from Krypton," Logan replied, as he gave her a hug in greeting. "You been keeping out of trouble, kid?"

"No more than you, I hear!"

After checking with everyone at the party, and making sure they had what they needed, Alfred went back into the kitchen to finish preparing the shrimp salad and cold cut platter. Once he was finished, Olivia came in and offered to take the food out for him. Despite his protestations (he was the butler, after all), she still took the food out. Alfred glanced around the kitchen, making a mental checklist of what else the party might need, when a perplexed Rachel walked up to him.

Barefoot, she was clad only in a violet bikini and had her long dark hair pulled back into a sensible pony tail. "Alfred, have you see Bruce?"

"I last saw him downstairs," he replied. 'Downstairs' was their code word for the Batcave. Despite the fact that they had friends over, it was a new habit they still used all the time. A glance at the clock told him that it had been almost two hours since he'd left Master Bruce in the Batcave. "Oh, my, if you haven't seen him, then he must be-"

"-still down there," Rachel said with a sigh. "I'll get him."

Alfred, feeling oddly like this was his fault, accompanied her on the trip to the Batcave, where they found Bruce, still clad in his swim trunks, seated at the Batcomputer. On the main screen was a photo of a distinguished-looking older man who wore a black outfit and matching cape. He held a strange-looking helmet on his arm.

Logan Cade with with Bruce, and they were chatting quietly about the gentleman on the screen, whom the onscreen information identified as Erik Lehnsherr, A.K.A. Magneto. He was labeled a dangerous terrorist by the Department Of Homeland Security.

"Ok, enough!" Rachel called, as she stormed up to them. "You promised you were taking a day off, Bruce, and you will. Right now!"

"Hey, is it true you actually pimped Alex out to a judge?" Logan asked with a smile.

Rachel gave him a horrified look. "I never did any such thing! Alex just came along with me when I got the warrant from the judge. That's all."

"That's not how Alex tells it," Bruce said, grinning.

"Oh, well, she's wrong," Rachel replied, as she stormed back towards the elevator.

The men all chuckled. "You're bad," Bruce told Logan.

"Me? You're just as bad," Logan replied.

"If I may say, Miss Rachel actually does have a point, sir," Alfred told Bruce. "Unless this Magneto gentleman poses an imminent threat, might I suggest you rejoin your own party, Master Bruce?"

"Good point, as always, Alfred," Bruce said, as he switched off the computer. "We were discussing whether or not Magneto might try and break Mystique out of jail, but Logan was just telling me that he and the Brotherhood of Mutants have been extremely busy with other affairs, lately. So we seem to be safe, for now."

'Yet another potential problem looming on the horizon,' Alfred thought, as he rode back upstairs with the men. 'But that, as they say, is for another time. Today, everyone is here, safe and sound, and enjoying a good pool party.'

Well, almost everyone. When he returned to the kitchen, Alfred saw Dick and Barbara both engaged in a very solemn conversation. The moment they saw him enter, Barbara gave Dick a gentle caress on his face and then padded quickly outside to the pool party. Dick stared after her with a thoughtful look before he got himself a bottled water from the refridgerator.

"All is well, sir?" Alfred asked.

"It is now, Alfred." He took a sip. "I don't know if you know this, but I thought I was in love with Barbara for a while there."

Actually, it was hard not to notice how Dick swooned over Babara these past few weeks. "Really? I hadn't noticed. I do hope she let you down easy, sir."

"Actually, we both came to the same agreement that we'd be better off just being good friends," Dick said.

"May I ask how you came to reach that descision?"

Dick looked around first, to make sure they were alone, then he said, "I got her somewhere private and kissed her, passionately. She was all for it, too. Until…well, this is going to sound strange, but there was nothing to the kiss. I mean, there was no spark, no nothing. I might have been kissing my own sister, Alfred. And that's when I realized that perhaps we should just keep the relationship a platonic one. I do love her, but as a friend. Babs agreed."

They both gazed out the glass doors, at Barbara as she was engaged in an animated conversation with Kitty, Kara, Lana and Anna by the pool.

"One would say you dodged a very big bullet in your future, sir. After all, she is the daughter of Gotham City's police comissioner," Alfred said. "Quite frankly, I feel sorry for any man whom Miss Barbara brings home to meet her father."

Dick, who was sipping his drink when Alfred said that, almost spit it out due to the laughter he'd burst into. "Good point as always, Alfred," he said, as he gave Alfred a fist bump. "You the man."

With all of the food and snacks having been served, Alfred decided to go out and check on everyone, to make certain they had everything. As he did this, Alfred walked past a heated conversation between Rachel and Alex.

"I was just kidding!" Alex kept insisting to an irritated Rachel. "Believe me, Rache, I was only joking when I said you pimped me out…even though that was what you actually did."

Rachel gasped at her in a mixture of shock and anger. Yet before she could respond, Olivia, who looked resplendent in an all-black bikini, came up from behind Rachel and tapped her on the shoulder. "What's this crap I'm hearing about you pimping out my girlfriend?"

Rachel went from indignation to a look of sheer horror as she now faced an angry Olivia. "Um, no, wait…ok, that's not how it really went down…."

"This judge had a thing for my girl, and so you brought her over there to help sweeten the deal?" Olivia asked, with her hands on her hips.

"Yeah," Alex said, nodding her head. "Pretty much."

Rachel glanced back and forth between them in a panic, completely at a loss for words, until she realized that Olivia had started laughing.

"Oh, God, you were just joking," Rachel said with relief.

"Of course I am, sweetie," Olivia told her, as she gave Rachel a hug. "Besides, I wanted to make sure you knew I was only joking before I did this."

Rachel stared at her warily. "Did what?"

"This." Olivia then shoved Rachel into the pool.

The high, shrill scream that Rachel let out, just as she plunged into the water, echoed throughout the pool area. Rachel broke the surface of the water and brushed her slick brown hair out of her face as she gave Olivia the stink eye. "I'm gonna get…." She paused to spit out a mouthful of water. "I'm gonna get you back for that!"

Bruce stepped over to Olivia just then. "That was really uncalled for, Sis," he said with mock-seriousness.

Olivia, knowing what was coming, just smiled broadly at him as she placed her hands on her hips. "And what're you gonna do about it?"

"This." He shoved Olivia into the water.

"Hey! Hey!" Alex called, as she ran over to Bruce.

Bruce just stood there, grinning, as he held his arms out. It looked as if he was just waiting for her to push him. But when Alex did shove him into the water, she let out a surprised scream as Bruce abruptly brought his arms down and ensnared her, and they both fell into the water together.

That became the invitation for everybody to jump into the pool, save for Logan, who sat on the edge with his feet in the water. Sam swum up to him, and asked, "Aren't you coming in?"

Logan just gestured at his body and said, "The adamantium in here doesn't make me a very floatable guy, if ya know what I mean."

Alfred noted that the only other person who wasn't swimming was Chloe Sullivan. She stood off to the side, barefoot and clad in just an oversized 'I fought Cadmus' shirt, as she stared off with concern at something in the distance.

When Alfred joined her, he asked what was wrong. Chloe pointed out several dark clouds in the northwest. "Hope they're not going to ruin the party," she said.

'No matter what we do, there's always the hint of the approaching darkness,' Alfred wearily thought, as he glared at the distant storm clouds. 'Always the grim reminder, it seems, of further troubles on the horizon….'

"Pay them no heed," he told her. "Just continue to enjoy the day."

"And if they should head in this direction?" Chloe asked warily.

"Then we shall deal with them if they do," Alfred said mildly.

She smiled at him. "I like your attitude, Alfred!"

"It does help to be rather resilient in a job like mine, Ms. Chloe."

"One could say the same thing about living in Gotham City in general," Chloe said.

Alfred could not help but chuckle at that. "Indeed it does, Ms. Chloe. Indeed it does."

B&B

"Afternoon, Dr. Langstrom," the security guard at the front desk of STAR labs said to her. "Working on the holiday weekend, eh?"

Francine just nodded at him as she raced into the elevator. He pushed the button for their private lab and waited for the thing to bring her to it. But it wasn't fast enough…damn it, she should have taken the stairs.

"C'mon, c'mon," she impatiently muttered, as the elevator slowly continued its upwards climb.

Kirk didn't come home at all last night. Normally, that fact wouldn't bother Francine, because their private lab in the STAR labs building had its own bunk beds, should they ever decide to work late. But Francine knew that Kirk was working on that damned serum for that Waller bitch. Her husband had been obsessed with it to the point where it just wasn't healthy.

When she called Kirk earlier, there was no answer. Francine wondered if Kirk, knowing that the STAR labs building would be virtually empty today, on the Labor Day weekend, had decided to get ambitious and push the experiments a little further along than he should.

'Please, God, let me be wrong,' she thought, as the elevator doors opened. She emerged into the labs, and saw nobody was there. But that didn't mean anything; for Kirk could be working in one of the test rooms, which were sealed off from the rest of the building.

When she peered through the glass of test lab one, Francine was horrified to see an empty bottle on the floor, and a figure, a man, huddled in the corner, as if in pain.

"Oh, dear God," she cried. "Kirk! You knew full well that the serum wasn't ready for human trials! Kirk! Where are you?"

'Where the hell did Kirk find this guy, and how did he convince him to volunteer for this?' Francine wondered, as she switched on the intercom. 'Unless it was one of Waller's super soldiers.'

"Hello?" she called through the intercom. "Are you all right, sir? Can you tell me what happened?"

The man stirred suddenly, and when he did, something clattered to the floor directly in front of him. Francine recognized it as being Kirk's ID badge. Then it all made sense; Kirk never had a volunteer test the serum for him.

He drank it himself.

"Oh, God, no," Francine cried, as she opened the door, using her own ID badge. "Oh, God, no, please…."

She entered the lab and stared in horror at the pitiful creature who was huddled in the corner. And she let out an agonized scream of dismay.

"Oh, Kirk, how could you do this?" Francine cried, as the awfulness of the situation robbed her of her strength, and she collapsed to the floor on her hands and knees. "Why couldn't you just leave enough alone, Kirk? Why did you have to do it?" WHY?"

In the corner, the creature that was once Dr. Robert Kirkland "Kirk" Langstrom just tilted its bat-like head in curiosity at her, and then it let out a high-pitched, inhuman screech.

The End...for now.

A/N: What you've just read is a work of fiction. Whatever simularities there might be to real persons, or situations, is not intended.

I would like to thank all of you who have favored this story. A big thanks also go out to those of you who favored me. And last, and certainly not least, I'd like to thank all of you kind folk who wrote reviews. It's this sort of feedback that helps keep me going, and I always appreciate it.

Once again, my thanks go out to Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard for their remarkable soundtracks to Batman Begins, and The Dark Knight. Sometimes just listening to the opening bars of "Harvey Two-Face" on TDK was enough to pull me right back into the dark, gritty world of Gotham City. A world I plan to revisit once again very soon. I hope you'll be joining me on my visit.

Thanks.