Author's Note: Yet another chapter that benefited from an extra week. Character ownership goes to DC Comics.


"It was not payback." I grind my teeth behind closed lips. 'Why am I sitting here defending myself about this?'

"Ohh, come on, Bruce. You and I both know he assaulted you in the Watchtower. You even lived through it an extra two—well, you experienced it a second time in your first dream. You can not sit there and tell me you weren't thinking about it when you pulled the kryptonite on him!"

I groan loudly in frustration. I don't want to admit that she's right, let alone admit I went so far as to tell Clark that I was pushing him into an elevator to make a point, but the noise escaping my throat near enough does my voice's job for me. "Why couldn't you just talk to him normally? Say what you went there to say and then leave?—By Hera, Bruce, you're the one who made sure we all have communicators! You didn't really even have to go to Metropolis. We could have had the rest of the evening to ourselves. All you had to do was patch into the League's channels or just call him on the phone!"

"You know I would have had no idea what to say to you if I hadn't run into Clark first, right?" Diana stops, looks back at me with interest enough to keep me from stopping. "I knew I had to follow after you, find some way to appeal your resignation in person. Yes, I knew I couldn't let myself walk away anymore, but what to actually say—how to express myself—hadn't even crossed my mind until Kent had me against a wall and demanded to know how much more damage I intended to cause you."

"And so, to get him thinking about what to say to Lois, you just had to try to kill him?"

"The kryptonite was real, but the threat was hypothetical!" I turn away from Diana for a moment, glance towards the nearby window. "Can't argue with the results…"

"Results?" she asks, incredulous. She laughs. If not for this argument, I'd have a hard time finding it anything but attractive. "Yeah, four dates in half as many weeks and Kal still hasn't told Lois that he's Clark Kent. That's results…"

"Well, at least they're dating…"

"And that's not going to last if they don't solve the underlying problem."

"Which is our business…why again?"

"Because Kal is my friend and, last I heard, he's yours, too." Diana averts her gaze and her expression sours. "Besides, you already are involved in this."

Another groan escapes me. "Are you ever going to let me live that call down?" Diana replies with an almost scornful humph. "She was years before there was ever a Justice League, years before I ever met you, and I'd long since put whatever I may have felt for her behind me by the time we met," I can't help but protest.

"Oh, that's not what I'm after, Bruce. You could have just told me about that promise or told me what you were going to do in Metropolis. Instead, you kept it to yourself—hid it from me." She pauses, lets herself calm. "Bruce, I just wish you would make a better effort to keep me in the loop when it comes to your past love lives. I'd rather know than not." Realization dawns that we're actually having two arguments at once.

"Is that why you told me about meeting Steve Trevor in the past and again after you got back? Because I really enjoyed that." I shoot back sarcastically before I can stop myself.

As if to match mine, her anger comes back in a flash. "Yes! I wanted you to understand exactly how I felt being blindsided by hearing about your…fling with Lois, what I felt for even the brief moment I thought you and Zatanna were ever more than friends!"

That's not something I want to answer, not even to correct. "And so you would have just…let me go if I'd told you what I was planning to do and why?" Diana starts to answer, but hesitates. "See? I knew you would have objected the moment I told you."

"Oh!" she laughs. "So you admit you've known this whole time that it was wrong?" Diana folds her arms and sits back in her chair. "How else would you like to explain dodging my questions for the past eleven days?"

"And where would they be if not for my reminder? I specifically asked him what he would regret leaving undone if I left him alone with the kryptonite to die. It's a little harder to think about that when you're not in the right mindset," I argue back. I nearly let myself stop. "And didn't we learn that it's better to try than to just keep passing each other by? Is the impetus really all that important?"

Diana backs down and sighs in exasperation. "Fine. Just…try to remember this the next time you decide that giving one of our friends advice entails threatening bodily harm..." She calms further, relaxes. "I'm sure two minds can come up with better ideas than one. Ok, Bruce?"

I begin to nod, thankful for the apparent end to the conversation, but stop myself and smirk. An idea comes to mind and I really hope that Diana takes to the shift in topic that I intend. "You know, I think yesterday evening is going to be pretty easy to remember…"

Surprise crosses her features for a moment, but it vanishes quickly as I see her remember what I mean. She leans closer to me with a sultry smile, her eyes narrowing just slightly as the smile touches her cheeks. I can see the memories reflected in the depths of her eyes, the two of us laying atop one another on the sofa in the library, making out like a pair of adolescent teenagers.

My mind visits the same memories. We'd spent some time at each other's lips, lavishing one another with passion. Eventually, I'd taken to exploring where I could. I can vividly remember the taste of her skin as I'd kissed my way across the edge of her jaw, down her neck, and onto her bare shoulder. I remember the alluring aroma from her hair, the scent that filled my mind when I went for the base of her neck and buried my nose in her sheets of sable. I remember the emboldening hitch in her breath when I'd used my teeth to give her skin the tiniest of nips in between two particular kisses.

I'm leaning closer to Diana with each resurfacing memory. Despite the angles and gap between our chairs, our lips are only inches from each other, almost perfectly aligned, as if seeking each other without needing our intervention. "And can you think of any reason this evening might become memorable?" Diana asks, nearly breathes as I stare at her lips and imagine their soft warmth against me.

"We're both resourceful adults and I'm counting the time before I have to leave in hours instead of minutes. So, I'm sure something will come up…"

A knowing laugh escapes Diana's throat, but it doesn't quite get past her smile. A moment later, her hands are on my shoulders, pushing me back into my chair. Having been on the edge of my seat for our heated debate, I nearly sink into the expensive piece of furniture.

In barely more than a breath, Diana is afloat above me and lowering herself slowly closer. Before her eyes slowly close, I spot a predatory, nearly possessive glint shining within them. It's the next step in our dance of intimacy, the subtle game mixing equality and dominance that our first kiss started without either of us realizing.

It transcends each singular encounter we share. It encompasses the whole of our relationship thus far and, I'm sure and I hope, for years to come. Its rules and caveats grow clearer as our moments of togetherness skirt gradually closer to the realms of a truly intimate relationship.

Tonight will be for Diana's wants. Happy to give her a fair turn after yesterday's events, I put up no argument, embracing her decision as her lips press hungrily against mine.

Her knees come down on either side of me and I feel added pressure from her hands on my shoulders as she comes fully out of the air. After a moment, she pulls her lips away just far enough and just long enough to whisper, "Bruce..."

As she gives me her lips once more, I eagerly respond to her implicit demand, placing my hands atop the middle of her thighs, against the fabric of her dress pants. I spend a moment idly rubbing my hands in small circles across the silken fabric and the warmth of Diana's leg just beyond it. She responds with an appreciative moan against me, the hum spreading pleasantly over my lips and straight to my head.

We're both dressed fairly formally, having recently returned from a restaurant in downtown Gotham. Initially, I was a little surprised to see Diana come out of her room wearing what amounted to a very professional dark women's suit, but I could never argue with the effect.

She had caught me staring more than once during our dinner date and had been as much flattered as embarrassed by my extra attention. Only the silver bands peeking out from beneath her cuffs and her well-known, unmistakable visage ever gave away that she was anything but an ordinary businesswoman. That's not to mention my presence and our widely-known relationship.

Diana's hands begin to move away from my shoulders. Her left travels up, her fingers weaving into my hair. She strokes the side and back of my head for a short time before her hand falls still. She wraps her fingers around behind my head, nearly cradling it as our kiss continues. Meanwhile, her right hand moves to the center of my chest. After a moment, it glides slowly down. The shape of her hand against my chest seems to change, growing smaller, and when I feel my jacket loosening, I realize that she's unfastening its buttons.

I feel the tip of Diana's tongue between my lips as we both close our lips against each other. Her breathing pauses for a moment when I tighten my lips around her and rub the underside of her tongue with my own. She sucks in a quick, sharp breath and practically purrs against me, something that might have been anywhere between a hum and moan of pleasure if not for my mouth muffling her.

I moan back when Diana reaches further, hooking her tongue under my upper lip and gripping me between it and her own lip. With a slight suck, she pulls it gently before withdrawing her tongue. Her lower lip takes its place and she caresses my lip between hers, her tongue returning to glide back and forth across my lip while I try to return the favor and capture her lower lip with mine.

As I try, I feel her fingers slip under my dress shirt in between two of the buttons. I answer her with my own hands, letting my fingers fall to the outsides of her thighs and sliding my hands up towards her hips, my thumbs hooking around over the tops of her legs.

I let my hands linger for a moment at the tops of her legs, then slide them back down a few inches. I run my hands in small circles for a moment, then reach back, my palms almost entirely on the backsides of her thighs, my fingers reaching around to her inner thighs.

Her answer is quick and muffled against my mouth. I might not be quite sure if she approves or disapproves of my boldness if not for her body moving in response as well. As she again pulls at my lip, she drops herself down against me, her stomach onto mine, her breasts pressing against my chest, her hand pressed tighter against my skin below them, and her legs closing as she bends lower, my hands soon trapped snugly between thigh and calf.

I do the only thing I can with my hands, rubbing my fingers up and down and in circles against her legs, eliciting a long, drawn out moan of appreciation and sending a few tiny shivers through Diana. She lifts her lips from mine. We open our eyes, both of us pausing to take a moment and regard each other.

The stillness, the silence hangs heavy over us. Finally, Diana breaks it, her voice an easy whisper, "What now?"

I don't know how to answer. Despite the desire welling within me, I'm nervous. I know how to stand tall staring evil in the face, how to put my life on the line for the greater good, how to remain confident when the odds are against me, but here? Even the flippancy of the playboy cannot help me now. There is nothing about my relationship with Diana that I want to take lightly.

For weeks, we've silently asked each other this same question. We've teased each other with our bodies. We've let our behavior suggest the idea. We've let the silences hang over us, as it does now, our hesitation nearly as telling as our willingness to allow interruptions. Tonight is the first time either of us has given the question voice. A part of me is glad Diana was the one to break down and ask aloud, but at the same time, the onus of response now lies with me.

My thoughts are interrupted at the sound of a doorknob. I can't help but feel relieved by the distraction. Diana and I both turn our heads as the door opens. It comes as no surprise to see Alfred coming in.

"Oh! Terribly sorry to interrupt—"

"No, Alfred." Diana begins to sit upright. I turn to her as she speaks and my imagination immediately goes wild with the image of her, straddling my waist, leaning a little forward, her hands low on my chest. "It's ok."

Alfred hesitates, but nods in response. He turns to me. "Master Bruce, Gotham calls." It's exactly what I expected to hear since the moment I knew he was entering the room. It pulls me back to reality, but again, I'm hesitant.

"Sorry," I finally tell Diana.

She returns her focus to me. She gives me a shy, almost embarrassed smile. "I guess I'm not so sure that I'm ready yet either." Her hand goes to the arm of my chair and she lifts herself, freeing my hands before lowering her feet to the floor in front of my chair.

I lift myself to my feet after. We stand in silence for a few breaths, barely more than a foot from each other. Diana extends her forearms towards me. I do the same and we glide our hands up to each other's elbows.

"I know, Bruce. It's ok," she seems to say out of the blue. My expression must be more apologetic than I realized.

"Sorry, Diana," I repeat. "It isn't that I don't—"

"But there's a proper time and place for everything. It's not here or now, right, Bruce? I understand that."

I can't trust my voice with a response, afraid I'll repeat myself yet again. Instead I lean towards Diana and close my eyes to convey my intent. I see her begin to lean closer as my vision narrows down to nothing. It's only a moment more before our lips meet.

It's a slow kiss that we share. Our lips move gently against each other as we kiss at each other's lips. It's…satisfying. The delicate brush of Diana's lips feels like a clearer, firmer affirmation of our love and affections than the most desperate and energetic of kisses, making such a kiss seem like a simple, base act of lust in comparison. I kiss Diana back the same way, hoping to convey the same reassurances.

When we separate, it's as slow as our lips. Our eyes open nearly together. We gaze lovingly at one another. I can feel the desire begin to build again. It doesn't take long to realize that the longer I stay, the greater the risk that I'll never want to leave again.

Diana saves me with a smile. She releases my arms, slides her hands down to take mine. "Gotham calls, right? You'd better go."

I give her hands a gentle squeeze and rub my thumbs against the backs of her palms. "Yeah." I don't want to ask where she'll asleep. 'I don't want to know she won't be here when I get back.' I smile back as we release our hands. "I'll see you tomorrow?"

"Yeah. Tomorrow."

We remain still and silent for a moment. Before it can shift from pleasant to uncomfortable and awkward, I speak up again. "I love you, Diana."

Her smile brightens and I can't help but feel my heart swell at the sight of its brilliance. "I love you, too, Bruce. Good night."

"Good night, Diana. Sleep well," I bid as I turn. I know she'll stay for a short while before leaving. 'Can't say I'd mind walking her out to the door to see her off.'

I turn to find an empty doorway. Stepping out into the hallway, I find Alfred waiting for me patiently. I give him a nod, indicating at the same time my readiness and that I've left Diana to herself in the sitting room.

He turns with me as we begin walking towards the study. "I expect Master Tim will need your help, sir. He reported stumbling across Miss Quinn and that he's on her trail after dispatching her lackeys."

"What? Where are they?"

"Master Tim first encountered the group along the Gotham River, but he has since been chasing Harley towards the Bayside district."

"Bayside?" 'Did Joker set himself up in a warehouse?' It fits that Harley would flee to wherever Joker is hiding. '...like she did it in Vegas.' She wouldn't have had lackeys following her around if she were working with Ivy. I look back to Alfred. "Is the Batwing ready to deploy?"

"Of course, Master Bruce."

I pick up my pace, making good time across the manor to reach the study. I've left Alfred far behind by the time I get the grandfather clock open. He doesn't catch back up until I finish putting my Batsuit on.

I'm nearly across the Batcave when Alfred calls to me from the Batcomputer. "Sir, Master Tim is reporting in. I'm relaying him to your cowl."

A moment later, I hear Tim in my ear, mid-word as he continues his report. "Robin," I quickly interrupt.

"Batman!" Surprise, certainly some relief as well.

"Situation." I climb up into the Batwing and quickly close the canopy.

I begin my preflight checks. "I've been following Harley for a while now. I let her lead me back to a warehouse in Bayside. Roof access is clear. I can see Joker and Harley talking below me. There are about…two dozen goons. At least six are armed, lookouts. The rest are moving barrels and cargo crates around inside." Tim falls silent.

"Whoa!" I hear Tim exclaim. A moment later, the channel is flooded with the sounds of rapid gunfire.

"Robin!" I finish my checks and look up to the Batwing's access tunnel while pushing forward on the throttle. "Robin, report!"

I hear a groan across the line and then what sounds like glass. "Sorry." Tim's voice is nearly a whisper. "Joker gave Harley a good slap, knocked her right off her feet, then pulled out a semi-automatic and fired up at the skylights. Looked like a machine pistol. The windows are all gone."

There's a momentary pause as I meanwhile clear the exterior cliff entrance and it begins to close behind me. "He and the armed guards are keeping an eye on the roof now. It'll be a lot harder getting in from above. Now Joker's heading into the warehouse office. Harley's picking herself up. Wow, she's going after him. …I'll never understand how she can be so devoted to him."

"Robin, focus." I turn towards the Bayside district and make my way around towards it, coming at it in a wide arc to keep the GCPD blimps from figuring out my point of origin. "I'm in the air. Look for another way in, but hold position outside. Keep this channel open, I'll follow your signal in."

"Got it, Batman."

The minutes agonize me as they slowly pass. Joker's plotting something. I need to know what it is. I need to stop him before he can accomplish whatever twisted goal he has in mind.

Eventually, I'm close enough to slow down. I pull up a little and activate the Batwing's vertical thrusters, leveling off as I slow to a midair stop. I reach forward and open the direct link back to the cave. The communication screen lights up, filling with Alfred's image. "Jumping now. Recall the Batwing and standby."

"Of course, sir."

I close the channel, and then hit the canopy controls. It opens above me and I climb up and onto the fuselage of my jet. Looking below, I can see the shattered glass skylights, but Robin isn't anywhere in sight. I grit my teeth and jump towards the warehouse roof.

"Robin, report," I order before reaching for my cape. It opens without issue, slowing my descent and letting me guide myself to a safe landing on the corner of the warehouse roof.

Robin's answer begins while I'm still airborne. "Batman, there's a service entrance on the east side of the building that's unguarded. They aren't paying attention here, it won't be a problem getting inside."

'Here? He went in against my orders...' I stay low and quickly make my way to the opposite end of the warehouse roof. "Where are you?"

"Alleyway beside the door. You'll see me. It's clear." I can't hold back a relieved sigh. I'm more than glad he proved my assumption wrong. The only person on my team I trust going against Joker alone is myself. I can't run the risk of anyone else confronting him without reliable backup. 'And even then…'

I glance down over the edge of the roof and quickly spot Robin. My feet leave the roof after only a moment's time spent processing the information. Seconds later, my cape billows out around me as I land on the ground opposite the door from Robin and sink into a crouch. We trade confirming nods and he then points to a small window at about eye level in the door.

I rise slowly to my feet and edge towards the window. There's a small entryway on the other side and it seems to be empty, just as Robin reported. I glance to my partner and turn my head down towards him with the slightest of nods as I reach for the door's handle, knowing he will follow.

The door opens almost silently, just one squeak that I hasten the door through as I open it enough for myself and for Robin to follow me inside. The entryway is just as I expected. There's an air duct at floor level that I couldn't see from the window. There's a door opposite the one we entered through, leading into the rest of the warehouse. The only window is the one in the exterior door.

I turn to Robin, find him looking back, awaiting instructions. I lift my left hand to my face, tapping my cowl beside the lenses, then motion down to the duct. Robin nods and pulls out a compact automatic screwdriver, which he uses to unfasten the vent cover. He climbs in quickly and disappears within.

Once he's out of sight, I turn towards the door and lift my left hand to my cowl, quickly finding the exterior controls for the computerized lenses. The display comes to life, interface overlaying raw image. With a combination of button presses and eye movements, a small black screen appears in the upper left quadrant of my left eye's lens.

The wait is short enough. The black image gives way to a lighted scene, the inside of the warehouse. I see some of the armed thugs Robin reported and a number of the unarmed workers. The image begins to pan to the right and I eventually see a small, unlit section of the room, the outline of a door barely visible.

It's a sure bet that I'm looking at the other side of the door in front of me, a bet made surer when Robin gives the camera a quick shake up and down, giving me a quick glimpse of the slats of the vent cover he's found himself behind now. The shadows stretch nearly around the entire outside of the warehouse's interior. Stacks of crates look to provide more cover, but at the same time, obscure my view of the whole room.

Robin pans the camera back to the left. Before long, I'm looking at the warehouse's office. Once I slip past the door, it will be the whole back right corner of the ground floor. I can see human-shaped shadows moving in the windows, but the panes themselves are covered in something, preventing me from clearly seeing the figures beyond.

I slide my fingers back across my cowl to the ear. "Robin, switch to thermal imaging," I say quietly. I slide my fingers back to activate the thermal camera in my cowl's right lens. Its image soon replaces my vision. Robin's camera feed shifts similarly. My fingers return to the ear of my cowl. "Four pellet spread."

I reach for the door and take a deep breath. "Now." The camera shifts twice as Robin throws the smoke pellets two at a time.

It isn't long before the thugs begin to panic. I can see the flurry of activity in Robin's feed. I can hear the shouting through the door. 'Now, while the smoke is still thick enough!'

I release my bated breath and quickly open the door, slipping out of the entryway and into the shadows of the warehouse floor. I immediately close in one of the armed thugs and grab him from behind. My arms close around his neck, my left hand covering his mouth to keep him silent.

I can feel him slackening as my grip tightens and he passes out, but his gun drops from his hands, landing on the floor with a clang. Immediately, the others begin to focus on me. I can hear it in the startled responses and see it on both thermal images. Too late to be angry for my mistake, I reach down, quickly grabbing the gun before slipping deeper into the smoke. As I begin moving, I drop a smoke pellet of my own by my feet and throw a second towards the door.

I dismantle the weapon before depositing it atop a stack of crates. The useless weapon out of my way, I make my way around the stack to assault another thug, planting my knee in his gut. I leave him gasping for breath and doubling over towards the floor as a second armed crony draws closer.

In a single motion like the crack of a whip, I fetch a grapnel from my belt with my right hand, raise it, level my arm off, and fire. The two forward-facing points of the bat-shaped grapnel embed themselves in the man's chest and he responds with a shout. I silence him with a quick press of the button on the side of the grapnel, sending a pulse of electricity down the line and into his chest.

As he drops, I retract the line and return the gadget to my belt to give it time to recharge. At the same time, I deliver a knockout blow to the man recovering at my feet. I begin to stand back up, reaching for a tethered batarang after reattaching the grapnel. I spin back and whip the batarang back and to my left even before I stop moving.

The line hits the arm of another unarmed thug, pulling at the batarang and sending it into a sort of decaying orbit around him and the man beside him, forcing them against one another and tying them together. As they fall to the floor, gunfire fills the room. I drop to a crouch by the stack of crates beside me.

Robin's feed pans quickly towards the origin of the hail of bullets fanning across the warehouse floor. I get good views on three of the remaining four armed goons. There's a brief reprieve as the gunmen begin taunting me, trying to lure me out of hiding.

'Since they're asking so nicely…' I spin up and out from my cover, letting three batarangs fly in rapid succession. They sail out and I hear the satisfying panic as one of the gunmen tosses his batarang-plugged gun aside and throws his hands up in surrender. I rush forward, keeping an eye out for the final gunman as I run. I'm across the room in a flash and quickly neutralize the still-armed men before deploying a coil of line to restrain the formerly-armed man.

Robin's feed switches back from the thermal image and I see that the smoke is nearly gone. I block a punch from one of the unarmed workers, then grab him by the shoulders and hurl him into two more as they approach. I deftly switch off the thermal image in my cowl before any of the small fry quickly surrounding me can make their own ill-advised attempt at attacking.

I launch my fist forward at the nearest would-be attacker, the punch landing squarely on the man's jaw. As he reels back in pain, I grab his shoulder and punch him in the gut, then pull him towards me and to my left, throwing him to the ground beside me and causing his fallen form to trip one of his friends as he goes to set his foot down where the man falls.

I spin, catching a fist just before it hits, then direct it over my shoulder as I continue to turn, flipping the man over my back and delivering a solid punch to knock him out as I lay him out beside me. I drop my hand to the floor a moment later and lift my foot, kicking one of the men behind me in the kidney and sending him to his knees.

I lift myself quickly back up, noticing Robin's feed has gone dark. I turn to the nearest man and deliver a flurry of punches to his gut, then slam my open-palmed right hand home against his chest, knocking the man back and sending him to the floor in a heap. Two more come at me at once, both with their fists at the ready.

I raise my arms, deflecting both strikes before reaching past the outstretched arms and grabbing both men by the head. In an instant of clarity, one of the two closes his eyes and grits his teeth against the inevitable. A moment later, I slam their heads together, just hard enough to knock both out.

A high kick to the side of the next thug's head is enough to render him unconscious the moment he hits the floor. Another tries to kick at my feet, but I bend down, catching the foot in my right hand. Lifting myself and his leg with my hand, I flip the goon up into the air. With his back exposed in mid-air, I spin around, delivering a hard kick to the center of his back, sending him flying back to land on his stomach a few feet away.

I drop to the floor as I bring my foot back down, leaving it extended and sweeping the floor with my extended leg, managing to knock two men to their hands and knees. I reverse direction quickly, extending my elbow and managing to knock one man out before lifting myself back to my feet to assault another before he can attack.

I spot Robin in my peripheral vision, taking on two men, four more unconscious at his feet, the sixth gun near one of the downed men. My newest target meanwhile crumples and I swiftly move to assist Robin. I reach down with my left arm, grabbing one of the men focused on my young partner by the left knee. I grab his shoulder as I pull him off his feet. I step away, putting a little distance between myself and Robin, then spin once before releasing the man, sending him sailing into a stack of cargo crates, a few breaking during the impact before they all collapse atop him.

I let Robin take down the last thug before scanning the room once more. Save the unconscious and those neutralized by pain or by one of my lines, the warehouse is empty. I still see a human shadow in the office windows and make my way over without a word. Should any of the conscious try anything in my absence, I'm confident Robin will be able to handle them.

Hoping myself prepared for anything and everything the Joker might throw at me, I yank the door open and find only Joker half-standing over an office chair. Harley is nowhere in sight. The back of the chair is facing me. His left foot is on the floor, his right knee in the chair's seat. His left wrist is resting on the back of his hip, its hand hidden from view. His right arm is resting across the top of the chair's back. He's staring at me with a toothy grin, something so familiar, so unnerving in its confidence. My face twists into a scowl.

"Evening, Bats! Have to say you're a bit early, but no matter, I'll be glad to give you the scuttlebutt on this little prologue if you think you can ask nicely enough."

I step away from the door, letting it close behind me as I step towards the middle of the room. "What are you playing at, Joker?"

"A grand spectacle! The show of a lifetime! You could even say…a production to die for…"

I take a step closer as he begins to laugh quietly. "I'll stop you. I'll put you back in Arkham where you can't hurt anyone."

He begins cackling, that awful sound that's haunted me for years. I take another confident step forward and notice Joker look at my feet before looking back up to my face. "You're too late to stop me tonight, Batman. Everything here that I needed is long gone. You can only stall me now."

"Not if I take you down here." I take another step forward and Joker straightens, whipping his left hand out from behind his back.

I see a remote of some kind in his hand and step back automatically. "No!" Joker shouts as I move. He throws the chair aside and rushes right at me, the remote still in hand. I bend my knees, preparing myself to catch whatever blow he attempts to deliver and plant his face in the floor.

Before he can get to me, the floor where I was standing opens up when his foot lands atop it. I watch as Joker begins falling through. My surprise quickly transforms into anger when I get a quick glimpse of the crooked grin plastered across his face. A moment later, his head disappears beneath the floor. The trap door closes back up and I'm left alone with only Joker's laughter bleeding up through the floor.

I immediately pivot towards the latching side of the trapdoor and stomp down on it. 'He wanted me…' A second stomp. 'to think…' A third stomp. 'the trapdoor…' A fourth stomp. 'was for me!' A fifth attempt and the door still doesn't budge. I can hear Joker's laugh beginning to fade.

I crouch down beside it and reach into my belt for my frequency emitter. I try to be thorough as I scan through the frequency range, trying to hit the same frequency as Joker's remote, but he proves himself smarter than I'd prefer giving him credit for. He's somehow disabled the remote system from below.

I feel the air against my teeth and realize that they are bared with my anger. I stow my frequency emitter and remove the heels from my boots. From the left heel I remove a block of plastique and split it in half. I remove a pair of detonators from my right heel and then empty the gel from it onto the hinge and latch of the trap door.

Hurriedly, I press the two blocks of plastique into the gel and slap the detonators over the top, then dash to the other side of the room while opening the front plate of my utility belt. I crouch and press the detonator switch on the inside of my belt. The twin explosions rip through the room nearly as one.

I turn the moment I'm sure it's safe and see the opened floor. The door is gone, maybe thrown out of sight by the blast, maybe vanished down the chute I see as I approach. Fearing that I might be too late, I jump into the chute, sliding down it at breakneck speed. The chute goes almost straight down nearly two yards before bending, nearly leveling off before depositing me in the old sewer after about ten yards more.

The splash as I land in the filthy water is loud and, to my chagrin, it's loud enough for Joker to hear. His laugh fills the sewer as I get back to my feet. I can't tell what direction the laughter is coming from.

I take a chance, turning left and following the sewer until it hits a four-way intersection. The laughter has stopped. I have no idea what direction he could have fled.

I stand in the middle of the sewer's four-way intersection, silent and nearly still. My fists quiver at my sides as my fury threatens to boil over. 'All I did was prove him right. I let him distract me—trick me! I could have stopped him. I should have known! I should have gone forward—charged ahead instead of backing up like a coward! ...I let him escape…'


Author's Note: Reviews are welcome and appreciated, but certainly not required. Thank you for reading.

This chapter originally had a much different end point, but then it got...sidetracked (you can probably guess where). Anyhow, Joker's debut brings with it the first real fight for Batman. I'm happy with how that turned out and I hope you enjoyed it, too.