Law & Order: SVU is created by Dick Wolf and is owned by NBC/Universal. Batman and the Bat-universe was created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, and is owned by DC Comics. I'm not making any money from this story, nor do I claim any possession over these characters.

This story is a work of fiction, any relation to the characters and situations within to real world people or events is completely unintentional. The main 'ships are as follows: Bruce Wayne/Rachel Dawes, Olivia Benson/Alex Cabot, Dick Grayson/Chloe Sullivan. Now come take my hand, dear reader, and please stay close to me while I try and guide you through the shadows.

Batman & Benson 8

Chapter One

The jungle was a bustling, living thing that surrounded him on all sides. Yet as he moved through the thick foliage, as he deftly made his way through the inky blackness of night, he could sense the other living things retreating from him. They kept their distance from him in a wide radius, much the same way how all timid prey steered clear of a true predator. But the particular animals that dwelled around him within the jungle need not have feared, for he wasn't after them.

He always hunted humans. He specialized in tracking them down and killing them.

It was something he had come to enjoy.

The night vision equipped within the goggles on his mask flared brilliantly when a white shaft of light stabbed through the canopy of leaves above him. Switching his goggles to regular vision, he saw that he had arrived at his latest prey's hidey hole. The vast compound had been carved out of the jungle just recently; intelligence gathered from his employer said that his prey, Alonzo Diaz, had built the place as a refuge, a sanctuary away from the troubles of the world. When he double-crossed the wrong people, Diaz had fled here, thinking it would be utterly safe.

But Diaz couldn't be more wrong.

He scaled the outer wall with ease. Once on top, he crouched down and surveyed the landscape. There was a large open space between him and the house. Standing in the grassy area were several armed bodyguards who milled about, looking bored.

But the quiet was shattered when the dogs all instantly took notice of him and began barking fiercely. This perked up the guards, who began to shout excitedly. It would appear that any plans of sneaking into the place had just been thrown out the window. It would now have to be a full-on, frontal assault.

He smiled under his mask. He would have it no other way.

He checked the watch that was strapped to his left wrist. But instead of telling the time, it was a countdown that showed he had ninety minutes left. It would be far more time than he'd needed.

He jumped from the wall and hit the soft grassy ground with a roll. He sprang up to his feet just as two of the dogs charged at him. He effortlessly punched both of the dogs out of his way as he began his charge towards the house. When a third dog attacked, he grabbed it by the back of the head and snapped its neck with one flick of his massive hand.

Bullets whizzed by his head as he continued his charge across the open ground towards the house. One of the bullets struck the bulletproof vest that he wore, another cut open a bloody trench on his bare shoulder. But he just kept coming…until he reached the patio and smashed his booted foot right into the face of a kneeling bodyguard, instantly killing him.

He picked up the dead man and flung him at two other bodyguards, knocking them down to the concrete floor. Before they even had time to recover, he reached down and ripped out the throat of one man while he caved in the forehead of the other with the heel of his boot.

He paused long enough to gaze into the house. There was only blackness in the interior that lay beyond the patio doors; yet he knew better than to just walk right in. He picked up one of the dead bodyguards and flung him right through the plate glass windows. Once the body was inside, it began a crazy dance as it was hit from all sides by bullets.

While the second team of bodyguards were busy shooting a dead man, he plowed his way straight through the wood-paneled wall. Taking out the load-bearing wall, he knocked a good chunk of the house down on most of the bodyguards, instantly killing them. A wooden support beam that held up the ceiling had crashed down right on top of one man, almost splitting his body in half. The few dazed bodyguards who managed to survive the cave in were easily killed by him.

Going upstairs, he found Diaz hiding in his bedroom like a sniveling little bitch. He was actually crying on his knees, pleading, "¡Párese! ¡Por favor no máteme! ¡Por favor, señor! ¡No máteme!"

How many of his prey had spent their last few seconds of life pleading for mercy? Asking for mercy from him was as futile as trying to squeeze water from a stone. He held Diaz down on the floor by the throat with one hand, and plunged his other hand right through the man's chest. Diaz was still alive, briefly, when he ripped out his still-beating heart. The look of wide-eyed shock was forever frozen on his dead face.

He wrapped the now-still heart in a pillow case that he took from the bed and placed it within his backpack. This was the evidence that his employer demanded that showed he had killed Diaz. And this is what he would get.

However, once he stood outside of the eerily silent compound, he paused. There was a smell in the air, one that was strangely familiar to him. He was originally going to ignore it…but this sweet, smoky smell stirred something within him. It was…Jasmine. He abruptly caught a flicker of some faint memory from his childhood.

His childhood? What childhood? He had no childhood. He was born a monster in the worst prison in Santa Prisca, Peña Dura. They told him that he had been a science experiment that had been fused together from the body parts of executed prisoners, much like the Frankenstein monster. But he had always secretly doubted that story. Several thorough self-examinations of his naked body in the privacy of his cage did not turn up any telltale surgical scars on his skin. And if he really was a combination of several different men, then where the hell were these memories coming from?

He checked the countdown on his watch. It told him he now had just over an hour left before he would need his next injection of Venom. It had taken him at least an hour to get here on foot. His employer was always careful to dispatch him right near when the Venom would give out, with just barely enough time for him to complete his mission and get back home.

'Just like being kept on a leash,' he thought bitterly. Still, the Venom was what maintained his super strength and intelligence, and without that, he would be of little use to his employer, who would have him killed. He owed a lot to Dr. Hilliard for devising the Venom, and for so much more.

It was the thought of her, of how badly Dr. Hilliard would be treated if he tried to escape, that finally made him turn and head back. He returned just as much for her sake as for his own.

Because, if nothing else, Bane was a man of honor who always stood by his allies.


Deanna Hilliard sat reading one of these cheapie romantic novels on her eBook reader when the alert caught her attention. Her auburn hair was pulled back into a braid, and she was clad in a typical white doctor's lab coat. But the clothing she wore underneath the coat was atypical of what a doctor would normally wear. The oppressive jungle heat, which could still be felt even in the air conditioned control room she was in, forced her to wear just a tank top and khaki shorts.

Her medical career had once been the stuff of legend, until that accident. 'Who knew how much would change by a simple misjudgment in dosage?' she bitterly wondered. 'How just a few milligrams more of a life-saving medicine could destroy a promising career, and send me in hiding in this damn jungle?'

But all thoughts of her crushed dreams were vanquished when Deanna stared up in horror at the massive computer monitor on the wall. It showed a map of the jungle just outside of this compound, with the target area, Alonzo Diaz's home, highlighted in red. The cold blue dot that was moving away from Diaz's compound was Bane. This image was being recreated from the GPS chip that had been implanted within him.

What horrified Deanna was the fact that Bane was now moving away from Diaz's compound, heading west, in the opposite direction of home. It was this new development that had set off the alarm.

"What the hell is happening?" Ricardo Deles said, as he entered the control room. Clad in a robe and slippers, the man gestured at the screen with scorn. "Why is he going off mission?"

"He performed the mission," Deanna quickly spoke up. "He was at Diaz's home for a period of more than twenty minutes."

Deles stabbed a finger at the wayward blue dot on the screen. "Then why is he not immediately returning to base? Why is he just standing there?"
Deanna, at a loss for words, could only shake her head. "I don't know…."

"You don't know?" Deles roared at her. "Thanks to you, all the money I poured into this project will be lost because he decides to take a little walk in the jungle?"

Despite her normal self-restraint, Deanna was overwhelmed by a flash of anger. "If it were not for me, he would have died back in that prison in Santa Prisca, Mr. Deles. My Venom serum saved him."

"And were it not for my money, your precious Venom serum would never have existed in the first place," he pointedly reminded her. He threw his hand in a dismissive gesture at the screen. "What little good it's done me so far! Instead of an obedient super warrior, who obeys my every command, I've got nothing more than a petulant little brat who bucks my authority every chance he gets. This is not what I paid for!"

Deanna was about to remind him that, if Deles had wanted an obedient super soldier, then he should have recruited an obedient soldier for the experiment. Instead, she had to work with an unknown convict that was chosen by the psycho sadist wardens at Peña Dura; a convict whom she knew next to nothing about prior to saving his life with the Venom.

But before she could even speak, Deanna hesitated when she glanced back at the screen. "Wait, he's turning around! Look, see? He's coming back home, now!"

But Deles still was not pleased. "He returns only because he chooses to?"

"He has to come back, Mr. Deles. The Venom…."

"The Venom should control him to the point where he is bent to my will, and my will alone!" Deles barked at her. "These little acts of rebellion are unacceptable! I knew we should have lobotomized him."

"Then he would have been comatose," Deanna said with disgust. "You can hardly bend a vegetable to your will, now, can you?"

She never actually felt the blow, but before she knew it, Deanna was sent reeling from it. Her body bounced off of the table and she landed face-down on the floor. Deles reached down and grabbed her hair and hauled her up just enough so that they were face to face. "You should really watch the tone you take with me, Doctor. For I am the one who pays all of the bills, yes?"

"Y-Yes," Deanna nervously stammered. She tasted blood on her lips.

"And seeing that I pay all of the bills, then I am the one in charge, yes?" Deles asked. He didn't wait for an answer. "I've decided that I have had enough of Bane. He is to be terminated. Do not give him the Venom when he returns. Just let him wither and die."

Deles released her hair and started walking away. "I want to start the entire project over, with another test subject. And this time, you had better hope things go well." He glared back at her over his shoulder. "Because, if they don't, then I shall have you terminated!"

He left her then. Deanna got up and quickly cleaned her bloody bruises as best she could with shaking hands. She took a deep breath in an effort to try and calm her nerves. She didn't want Bane to see her in a state like this; he always could read her emotions very easily.

Before she entered the main lab, where Bane's prison cell was located, Deanna stopped dead in the hallway. The realization had just struck her, full bore, that Deles had ordered Bane's termination.

"Oh, God," Deanna whimpered. The attachment she felt for Bane went far beyond that of what a scientist had for a favorite specimen. Despite his gruesome facial deformity, he was in all respects the most perfect man she had ever laid eyes on. And although she had tried very hard to maintain a professional detachment, Deanna had developed quite the crush on him.

And so the thought of having Bane put down like a rabid animal was doubly horrific for Deanna. In spite of his great strength, killing him would be easy enough to do, for Bane's greatest asset was also his great weakness: the Venom. Perhaps it would be better, more humane, to just kill him outright, instead of letting him waste away slowly by denying him the Venom. Deanna was tempted to just tell Bane to run away, but without a steady supply of Venom, he would still die a horrible death in the jungle.

Not knowing what to do, Deanna just shook her head in despair.

"This doesn't have to be the end, Doctor," a voice called out from the shadows.

Deanna, thinking was it Deles, let out a screech of terror.

Yet the man who strolled out of the shadows was not Deles. Deanna was shocked to see that it was Deles' American houseguest. James Varlis, the disgraced former Senator.

"What are you doing here?" Deanna asked, trying to quickly reconstitute herself. "This is a restricted area."

"Not for long. Not once you've terminated Bane." He nodded when she gave him a shocked look. "Yes, I confess that I've been spying on you. And I overheard everything. Bane has been marked for termination by Deles because of what he perceives as being an attitude problem. Hell, in America, an attitude problem is not only tolerated, it's required just to survive on the streets."

"What do you want?" Deanna angrily asked. "Why are you here?"

"I'm here because I am a man who does not take no for an answer," Varlis said. "For instance, when your boss, Deles, originally turned down my request to hire Bane, that wasn't good enough for me. I needed to hear the answer from Bane himself. But first, I needed to find Bane." He smiled. "Imagine my surprise when I found out that Bane was right under this very same roof."

Deanna just stared at him, wide-eyed. "How?"

"You might have heard that Maria and I have become quite an item these past two weeks," Varlis said. "Maria told me all about how Bane was based here. She even told me where your little lair was located within the mansion. I can be a very persuasive man."

All Deanna knew on that count was that the cheery young servant woman had abruptly gone missing. When Deanna had asked after Maria, she was tersely told that Maria was off working for a special client. She wondered what kind of work would require Maria to be locked away within Varlis' private suite. But, having heard of the S&M scandal that caused Varlis to be kicked out of the Senate, Deanna really shouldn't be too surprised that he managed to make Maria talk. The mere thought of the things he did to the helpless Maria made Deanna shudder inwardly.

"You still didn't answer my question, Mr. Varlis," Deanna said. "What do you want?"

"It's really quite simple, doctor," he said. "I want to hire Bane personally. I want Bane to come work for me in America. There's a very special job that I need handled. And Bane would be perfect for it. Would you think he would be interested?"


Bane returned to the mansion with just minutes to spare. As he entered through the special hidden doorway at the base of the structure, he could already feel himself growing weak. His body cried out for the Venom.

The doorway that he had entered through had sealed itself behind him, and it led directly to his prison cell within the main lab. The steel bars were electrified, and Enrique and Juan, who were officially assistants to Dr. Hilliard, stood waiting for him on the other side. They were really nothing more than hired muscle who had been placed within the lab by Deles to insure that his every order was followed to the letter.

They were both armed with large caliber automatic machine guns. Once Bane strode up to the bars, the men instantly aimed their guns at him.

'Something is wrong,' Bane realized, as he felt his hackles begin to rise. 'Something here has changed, for the worse….'

"Where is Dr. Hilliard?" Bane asked.

"She hasn't shown up, yet," Enrique replied. "Probably just as well…."

Bane could smell the nervousness from them; they were both so fearful they stank of it. Yet in his weakened state, and locked within this damnable cage, there was little he could do about anything right now.

Yet Bane quickly realized that he could use the cage itself as cover. If he backed far enough away from them, the bars would block some of their bullets, thus forcing them to come inside the cage to kill him. And then Bane would have them. For even in his weakened state, he might still be able to….

His tactical musings were sidelined when Deanna entered the room. Enrique and Juan both frowned at her in puzzlement as she busied herself in getting a needle ready.

"Doctor, he is not to receive any Venom," Juan sternly told her.

Deanna was about to walk over to the cage to give Bane the dosage of Venom when she stopped to stare at them dramatically. "What are you talking about?"

"Mr. Deles called us himself," Enrique said. He stared suspiciously at her. "Bane is to be terminated. Mr. Deles told us that you already knew this. Please step away from the cage, doctor."

"Yes, of course," Deanna said, as she backed away from the cage, the needle still in her hand.

As she crossed behind Juan, he let out a shout of pain when Deanna abruptly stabbed him with the needle.

Bane watched in horror as Enrique raised his weapon to shoot at Deanna, only to be shot down himself by a white haired man who stepped through the door with a gun in his hand.

Deanna ran over to Enrique's fallen body, then turned, enraged, to the man who'd just saved her life. "Did you have to kill him?"

"No time for formalities, Doctor," the man said. He gazed at Bane with a mixture of awe and fear. "Hello, Bane. My name is James Varlis."

"I have heard of you," Bane said. "You are the guest who has been staying here these past few weeks."

"Yes, I've been enjoying Mr. Deles' hospitality, just like you."

"I am not a guest of Deles," Bane told him. "I am his slave."

Varlis shook his head in the negative. "No longer."

Deanna switched off the electricity to the cell bars, when she opened the door, Bane saw that she held a needle that contained Venom in her hand. She quickly injected him with it, and Bane could already feel the wave of relief flow through his body. "I only gave Juan an injection of tranquilizer," she explained to him. "I didn't give him any Venom. It would have killed him."

"What is happening?" he asked her. "Is what they say is true?"

"Yes, Deles wants to kill you and start over," she tearfully said. She shook her head. "I just couldn't do it! I don't want to lose you!"

He gently caressed the side of her face. How long had he waited to do this simple gesture of affection? How long had he just wanted to be this close to her, without the damned bars between them? She grabbed his massive hand and kissed it tenderly.

Bane gently turned Deanna's face to the side, to get a better look at the bruises on her cheek. "Who did that to you?"

"Deles," she replied, as she uneasily covered the bruises with her hand.

He removed her hand from her face and held it in his own. "He will never touch you again. This I swear."

"I see you two are more than just good friends," Varlis said sardonically.

"Why are you helping us, senor?" Bane asked him. "What do you want?"

"He wants to hire you," Deanna replied. "To kill someone for him."

Bane nodded. So Varlis wasn't helping them out of the kindness of his heart. From what Bane had heard of the man, it made sense. "And if I kill this person for you, then what?"

"We part company," Varlis said. "You and Dr. Hilliard can move on and get married, or just shack up, whatever…I could really care less what you do afterwards. As long as you do the job that I'm paying you for, first. You will be well-paid for the job, with all expenses paid for, all completely separate from your salary."

"How much?" Bane asked.

"One million dollars, upon completion of the job," Varlis replied. "Free and clear."

Bane nodded in satisfaction. A chance to finally live his life on his own terms, as his own man? How could he turn this down? "And what would that job be, senor?"

"Go to Gotham City and kill the Batman."

Bane just smiled broadly underneath his mask. He had to admit that he really liked this sudden turn of events.

"You interested?" Varlis asked.

Bane nodded at Deanna. "She comes with me. And we control the Venom. We come and go as we please while I hunt down the Batman on my own terms; no cages, no more being on a leash, no more slavery."

"Mr. Bane, from all of my research into assassins, you are the only one who I've found who is truly capable of killing the Batman," Varlis said. "I would very much like to hire your services to rid me, and my God-fearing country, of a bothersome freak in a fright mask. I'm not interested in owning you, or any such nonsense. Once the job is done, once Batman is dead, then you get paid and we go our separate ways."

Bane gazed down at Deanna. "Would you join me? When my task in Gotham City is done, you and I can go anywhere in the world we want."

"Darling, I'd live in hell with you, if need be," she said, as she kissed the side of his mask.

"We have been in hell," Bane told her. "But now it's time for us to reach up for heaven."

"What's it going to be, Bane?" Varlis said, somewhat impatiently. "You ready to take on the Bat?"

"I look forward to the challenge," Bane said. "But there is something I must do here, first."


"Red Bull to Tweety-bird, come in, over."

Katie let out an annoyed sigh as she clicked the miniature mike hidden within the halter top that she wore. 'How the hell did we come up with Tweety-Bird for my code name?' she wondered, and not for the first time tonight.

"Tweety-Bird here, Red Bull," Katie said, as inconspicuously as she could. A glance around the deserted corner she stood on told Katie that it was safe for her to speak to J'onn, for there wasn't anybody within sight of her. But Katie, knowing full well that the Gotham Slasher carefully stalked his victims before he attacked, didn't want to make a stupid mistake that might scare him off. So she spoke in a whisper, out of the corner of her mouth: "What is it?"

"Are you all right? You look very cold."

'Awww, he's worried about me,' Katie thought, as she felt her heart melt into a pile of goo. "I'm fine, Red Bull. I am cold, but I'm fine."

"You should put on a sweater, Tweety-Bird," he chided her. "It may be warm for November, but it is still November."

"What kind of a hooker would I be if I suddenly put on a sweater?" Katie bluntly asked.

That was answered by a riotous chorus of laughter within her earpiece, no doubt from the SVU detectives and uniformed GCPD cops who were all watching her from their hidden positions. Katie smiled slightly, pleased to have been able to liven up the monotony of the stake out.

"All right, everybody knock it off," a familiar female voice barked over the radio. "Let's stayed focused on the job and keep the airwaves clear, huh?"

"Sorry, Inspector Benson!"

"Sorry, boss!"

"So, so, sorry!"

The barrage of apologies over the radio was in and of itself so funny that it was all Katie could do to keep from bursting out into laughter. Yet her slight smile faded once she glanced up and saw the man standing across the street from her. He was tall, and wore a suit with an overcoat. Katie couldn't see his face in the illumination cast by the streetlight, because he also wore a fedora.

'A fedora?' Katie thought, as the man's suspicious nature immediately put her on guard. 'Other than The Question, who the hell wears a hat like that in this day and age?'

The way he stared at her so unnerved Katie that she then calmly brought her hand up to her head and ran it through her blond hair. "Hey, how you doing?" she called to the man. "Looking for a good time, tonight?"


"Sweet Jesus, what is this, frigging kindergarten?" Olivia muttered at Alex. "I asked everybody to be quiet, and now they're all flapping their lips, apologizing to me!"

Alex, who leaned against the counter behind Olivia in the police command trailer, just smiled. She was clad in a charcoal gray turtleneck that highlighted her golden hair. "It's been a long, boring stake out. People are getting tired." She abruptly stifled a yawn. "I know I am!"

"We've got somebody!" Andrea announced over the radio. "Katie just gave the signal! Heads, up everybody!"

Everyone in the police command trailer suddenly sat up and stared at the bank of monitors, which showed different views of Katie, working undercover as a hooker, standing on the corner. A man stood just across the street on the opposite corner, staring at her.

She saw Katie give the signal, which was to slowly run her hand through her hair. "Everybody watch this prick!" Olivia commanded into the microphone. "Snipers, you got a clear shot?"

"Negative, Inspector," came the reply. "He's directly behind the utility pole."

"Damn it! Somebody tell me you got a clear shot at him!" Olivia demanded.

Alex leaned over and grabbed her shoulder. "Hey, easy! This might not be him, you know! Last thing you need is to blow away an innocent man."

Olivia nodded as she let out a heavy sigh. Since he started his sick murder spree the week before Halloween, the Slasher had become the number one priority for the Gotham City SVU. All detectives, all resources within the SVU were turned towards hunting down this psychopath, who had carved up three poor women in almost as many weeks. All of the victims had been prostitutes, which led to this very dangerous stakeout, where they presently used Katie as bait.

Olivia stared at the image of the man, who had not moved from the corner. Alex could well be right; this could just be a regular john looking for action. But still, there was something about this guy that unnerved her. For one thing, he always managed to keep his face hidden. "All right, let's take it slow and easy," Olivia commanded her troops. "Let's just watch this guy carefully and see what he does."

No sooner did she say that than the man suddenly disappeared from view within a blur of motion. "What just happened?" Olivia asked, dumbfounded. "Where the hell did he….?"

Alex suddenly pointed at one of the monitors. "OLIVIA!"

Olivia saw the man had already knocked Katie to the ground and now loomed over her with a gleaming blade held up in his hand. He had moved with such unnatural speed that it was hard for Olivia to believe her eyes.

"MOVE IN! EVERYBODY MOVE IN, NOW!" Olivia shouted.

Olivia leapt out of the van and pulled her Glock from its holster. As she ran across the street, Olivia smiled when she saw J'onn was already running over to Katie before anyone else.

'This case is a good as closed,' she thought, grinning.

Then her grin was replaced by a look of horror at what happened next.


'Jesus, this son of a bitch is fast!' Katie thought, as she landed roughly on the pavement from the blow the man had just given her. She pulled out her service gun, which she had strapped to her thigh under her skirt.

But Katie was stunned to see the man had grabbed the gun and yanked it from her hand with inhuman speed. Then the man held up his right hand in an overly dramatic gesture, making sure Katie saw the gleaming blade just before he had stuck her with it.

And then J'onn showed up.

He slammed into the Gotham Slasher with full Martian Manhunter force, knocking him off of Katie and right up against the wall. Katie was stunned to see the bricks in the wall had been smashed inward from their impact.

"Drop the knife," J'onn roughly commanded, "or else I'll…."

But he never finished that threat, for the Gotham Slasher abruptly grabbed J'onn by the throat and flung him through the main display window of a dress shop.

Katie picked up her gun from the ground and aimed it straight at the Gotham Slasher. "FREEZE! GCPD!"

"You stinking little bitch cop," the man growled hatefully at her. His mouth, which was all Katie could see under the brim of his hat, was pulled back in a snarl.

Then he took off in a blur.

J'onn came climbing out of the shattered display window. Katie got up and went to him, just as all of her backup converged on them. The corner was suddenly crowded with an army of cops, both plainclothes and uniformed.

"Where is he?" J'onn asked, looking dazed. "Where did he go?"

Katie just shrugged. "He just disappeared in a blur! He's as quick as lightning!"

"He's also very strong, as well," J'onn muttered, as he rubbed his throat. "Almost supernaturally strong…."

Inspector Benson came running up to them with D.A. Cabot at her side. "Are you two all right?" Benson asked in shock.

"I'm fine, Inspector," Katie replied.

"As am I." J'onn nodded. "It would appear that the Gotham Slasher is a meta, Inspector."

After exchanging a stunned look with Alex, Olivia wearily said, "Shit…."


They were originally supposed to have been flying an aerial patrol in support of Olivia and her team's stake out of the Gotham Slasher, but something had caught the Dark Knight's attention.

Something very odd.

Batman glanced down at the warehouse, above which he slowly circled around in the Prowler. Looking at it with the naked eye, it was just like any other large storage facility on the Gotham docks. It sat dark and silent, or so it appeared that way, at least.

Yet when he viewed it through the Prowler's thermal sensors, Batman saw a large heat signature emitting from within the structure…a structure which should be cold and empty at this time of night. This heat signature was what caught his attention when he flew over earlier.

"Looks like your hunch was correct," Robin said. "Judging from the thermal, there's a lot of major activity in a storage facility in the middle of the night. Any way to tell what it could be?"

"There's one way," Batman answered. He brought the Prowler in low over the roof of the structure and parked it in hover mode above the skylight. "You ready to go exploring?"

Robin just grinned. "Always. Just hope we don't wind up disturbing somebody completely innocent who's just doing some late night work."

They dropped down from the Prowler from their grapple lines and landed silently on the roof of the massive warehouse. Creeping over to the skylight, Batman saw that it was darkened. But when he switched to night vision within his cowl, he saw that the skylight had been covered up from inside with wooden boards that had been painted black.

"Looks like the chances of us dropping in on an innocent person has now become pretty remote," Batman muttered.

"That's Gotham City for you," Robin said with a sigh, "the place where evil never sleeps."

"Neither do we," Batman replied. He gestured at a stairwell door. "Through there."

Batman opened the door by using muffled explosive pellets on the lock, then he took point as they went down the steps. The interior was completely dark, so he and Robin switched to the night vision option in their masks. They saw that they were in a storage area that contained a multitude of boxes, and little else. The place was devoid of any life.

But Batman heard something. It was a man's voice, sounding as if he was a vast distance away. Batman glanced in the direction where it came, and saw a light shining up through a metal railing about twenty feet away from them.

Batman and Robin snuck over to the railing and, switching off their night vision, peered downstairs.

The sight he saw instantly made Batman sick to his stomach.

There was a long table below them, with children seated in high-backed chairs. All of the boys and girls, who wore funny looking party hats, sat with impassive looks on their faces, as if they were in a trance…with one exception.

It was a young blonde girl who sat at the head of the table. Clad in a simple light blue dress, she sat tied with ropes. She struggled and furiously screamed through her gag.

However, the host of the party ignored her frantic efforts to free herself, instead he just leaned over and poured her a cup of tea. He was a short man in a suit, with a large, oversized hat. "Now, now, Alice, is that any way to behave?" he chided her. "After all, this tea party is being held in your honor! The least you could do is enjoy it."

'Jervis Tetch, AKA The Mad Hatter,' Batman thought, enraged. He wondered where this twisted son of a bitch had skulked off to after escaping from Arkham Asylum during the Joker's big break out. 'Well, now we can scratch one more scumbag off the Most Wanted list….'

Tetch had been infamous for creating mind control devices which he used on people to force them to recreate scenes from Alice in Wonderland, for which he had a strange obsession. Here, he apparently had caught a group of young runaways in his vicious web. But the girl who was seated at the head of the table was obviously not under his control.

The girl, who looked no older than twelve, let out a terrified muffled squeal from under her gag when Tetch abruptly made a motion to strike her. "If you refuse to play along, Alice, my dear, then I'm afraid I'll have no choice but to put you to sleep…permanently!"

"I've seen enough," Batman snarled, as he shot a grappling hook into the ceiling above them.

"Agreed," Robin said, as he did the same. "Let's crash this party."

Batman swung over the railing and dropped down into the bizarre tea party with Robin at his side. The bound girl's eyes grew wide above her gag as she regarded Batman and Robin with renewed hope.

"Egad!" the Mad Hatter shouted, once he saw them. "Cursed interlopers!"

"Your sick little game is over, Tetch!" Batman roared.

The Mad Hatter grandly hugged the bound Alice from behind. "A game though this may be, I'm just as much a guest at this here tea party as thee!"

Robin was about to charge him just then, but Batman held him back, for he saw the knife that Tetch now held at the girl's throat. Batman started talking as a diversion as he slowly reached for a bat dart from his utility belt. "You mean you're not hosting this little soirée, Tetch? What a surprise, I thought you liked tea parties."

"As much as I do enjoy a good party with tea," the wild-eyed Tetch said, still holding the knife at the girl's throat, "this one has nothing to do with me."

"Excuse me, but what's with the rhyming?" Robin asked, annoyed. "I mean, seriously, as if this little dude wasn't creepy enough…now he rhymes?"

"He rhymes like that whenever he's nervous," Batman replied. He got a grip on the bat dart. He palmed it. "And believe me, he's got good reason to be right now."

"My dear Batman, we all have something to fear," the Mad Hatter said, with a leering grin. "I'm afraid whenever the Red Queen is near."

The sudden rush of air from behind Batman warned him of trouble. "ROBIN, DUCK!"

They both dived down just in time to avoid being hit by what looked like a lethal looking baseball bat. Batman and Robin whirled around at the sight of two humongous men, twins who looked exactly alike, who stood holding baseball bats that had been converted into deadly battleaxes with blades, spikes and other sharp implements sticking out of the smooth wood.

Batman noted that the two men, who wore baseball caps, also had the same dazed looks as the children seated at the table.

"Have you met my boys, Tweedleedum and Tweedleedee?" the Mad Hatter said, his voice echoing through the cavernous chamber. "They've been sent by the Red Queen to watch over me."

Batman risked a glance over his shoulder. He saw the diminutive Mad Hatter was backing away from them, holding the bound girl in front of him with the knife still at her throat. The bastard was using the girl to escape. If Batman charged Tetch now, he could harm the girl; not to mention the threat he still faced from these sleepy-eyed goons. As much as he hated to ignore the girl, Batman had to deal with these punks first in order to save her.

He turned towards the hulking goon who faced him and growled, "You want me? Then bring it, kid! We haven't got all night."

As if in response, the zombie-eyed goons charged, holding their bats up high.

And Batman charged straight at them, his hands clenched into fists and primed and ready for whatever was to come.

For once again, he was in the thick of battle.

To Be continued...