Disclaimer: I do not own Pretty Little Liars in either of its forms. Neither do I own Batman/Batwoman, Catwoman or any of the DC Universe characters. I just think they're shiny.
Author's Note: Obviously A/U. The rating is a high 'T' for now, we may slip into 'M' later, I'll let you know when we get there.
For those unfamiliar with some more detailed DC lore (and unwilling to tumble down the rabbit hole that is Wikipedia) a couple quick bits of information:
'The Narrows': An island in the Gotham City chain where the poorest of the population reside. Crime ridden, it is also home to the facility that houses the worst of the criminally insane, Arkham Asylum.
'No Man's Land': A period of time where Gotham, overrun with crime, was deemed too far gone to save. The city, comprised of a chain of islands, was isolated from even the most rudimentary aid. Those unable to flee were left to fend for themselves in a city turned war zone.
I don't have/use a beta, all mistakes are my own.
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Chapter 1: Bats In The Belfrey
A predatory jungle. Concrete and humanity vying for dominance against a bleak horizon as smog strangles all but the strongest of stars. The streets below beat out a staccato rhythm of shouts, clangs and car horns, Gothamites moving to the untamed pulse. The intricate dance is at once familiar and unknown, each player a random variable in the equation of the night. Years of experience -of knowledge learned through error- have taught her to spot the catalysts. Those who turn mischief to malice, vice to violence.
Tonight, the dance is bigger than the simple streets below, bigger than the storm that brews overhead . Tonight, she saves the city. Tonight, she captures the Joker.
"What are you thinking?"
She turns at his question, latex covered Kevlar creaking at the motion as she takes in the carnage of the apartment. Blood paints the walls, oozing down in thick, sticky rivulets, the barest hint of red discernible in the shadows. The victim at her feet isn't someone she recognizes, least not with the grotesque grin mutilated into his face. A frozen laugh whose horror is only exacerbated by the terror so clear in glazed eyes.
"It's him." There's no need to identify 'him'. Ten years into their twisted ballet, his victims aren't hard to identify. He's the Picasso of violence, an artist of torture who has nurtured his craft as one would a child. She kneels, mindful of the pool of blood that leaks from the body at her feet. A tug, hardened leather glove laid across her knee, and she presses her bare hand to his face. It's not quite a smile that crosses her lips but it's more than the usual frown that accompanies the cowl. "Body's still warm."
"We just missed him." Disappointment colours his words, patience is a virtue he has yet to perfect. A two week track on the worst of Gotham's villains would be one of the shortest runs yet. The Joker's last foray into civilization had been two months of mayhem, bodies strewn from one coast to the other in a murderous game of tag.
The crime scene is nestled in the penthouse level of a Narrows slum building. A mass density complex thrown up in haste after No Man's Land. A temporary stop gap to ensure everyone had a roof over their head. The construction standard falls so far below safe it's a miracle the complex hasn't collapsed under the weight of its occupancy. Tonight, it serves to their advantage. Thin concrete ceilings do little to mute heavy boots steps overhead. The roof.
She holds a finger to her lips, a request for silence she's annoyed needs to be requested. He knows better. He's chastened, lean body shrinking beneath the gold and black cape.
Senses, long tuned to reading the environment, search the sounds for explanations. Six men, four of them heavy enough to send pieces of molded drywall crumbling from the ceiling.
She leaves the body -the massacre- thick boots echoing off cracked halls in her sprint for the stairwell. It's a mass of graffiti, a history of gang ownership that she ignores, the story long since memorized.
The door to the roof barely sits on its hinges, rusted metal begging to give way at the slightest provocation. She obliges, dropping her shoulder low, hardened plastic shoulder pads taking the brunt of the effort. She's on the ground and rolling behind cover before the first of them has turned, sharp blasts of gunfire ringing against a defunct generator.
Darkness is her ally, her lover, shadows folding her into their bosom to conceal her. The first man that falls doesn't know sense her until his trachea is crushed in the crook of her elbow. His unconscious body, a leaden weight of over developed muscle, is lowered softly to the ground. A consideration of stealth, not mercy.
Two men, hyper focused on her entry point, keep their guns trained on the doorway. A flashbang grenade, tossed carelessly over her shoulder, solves the immediate problem. She turns her attention to better things, the last three.
A stocky thug, a steroid junkie and The Joker stand together. The pawns scan the area, Steroid catching glimpse of her just as the batarang is let loose, knocking his weapon off course. The bullets' unexpected ricochet catches him in the leg, arterial blood painting exposed skin. Surprised disbelief etches across a pockmarked face before pain registers and forces him to the ground.
Stocky turns to where she was, his distraction a perfect opportunity to drive her boot into the back of his knee. Leather encased fingers grip a greasy ponytail to send his head into controlled impact with an intake pipe. Down for the count.
She turns, mouth tightening at the sight of her target, marred face a mockery of what was. She knew him, once. Before darkness stepped across his path, embraced him, sucked the marrow of humanity from his bones and spit out the mad man before her.
"Give it up, you got nowhere to go."
"I always find it interesting. Our little dance. What makes you the 'good guy'? You keep trying to save me and I just go on killing people. You know what they call a person who does the same thing over again and expects different results? Crazy. You see, we're not so different after all. Been telling you that for years." His smug cackle is the sound of nightmares, hysteria mixed in chaos. It sets her teeth on edge, muscular fingers tightening into a fist. Training wars against the instinct to reach forward and bludgeon him to death with her hands.
"Come quietly, no one has to get hurt tonight."
"And they say I have bats in my belfry." The joke is an old one, but it amuses him none the less, another cackle sears across her brain. The whir of a helicopter overshadows his mania, concrete and glass towers obscuring the direction of the sound. His grin splits his face, literally, scar tissue pulling tight against his cheeks as he backs toward the ledge.
The chopper rises as if from the depths of a dark ocean, blades barely missing a purple suit.
She crouches, legs coiled tight to stabilize herself against the sudden wind, hand reaching for a batarang. It's too late, she's missed her mark. A man sits behind a mounted fifty calibre machine gun, fat finger poised and ready on the trigger. Long legs do her bidding, the heat of molten metal searing through the leather on her calf as she dives for cover. She takes a moment to look for her partner, a pair of elfen boots visible behind a generator. Safe.
"Ta ta, Bats. Better luck next time."
Boot blacked eyes narrow beneath the cowl, watching as he steps onto a hanging ladder. He's a monarch on parade, waving to her as green hair flows under the helicopter's wind. No way a batarang makes it through the chop to disable the gunner. Bringing the entire chopper down is a physical possibility but not a moral one, not in a densely packed neighbourhood. One super criminal for countless innocents, an impossible choice to make.
"Robin, get the car." She leaves him to it, grapple gun pulled as she sprints for the edge. She doesn't think, doesn't hesitate, body arced as it sails over the edge. A trigger pull mid air and a bat shaped grapple propels across the skies pulling high tensile wire behind it.
Gunpowder invades her nose for a brief moment before the rushing wind sucks it from her nostrils. The stench of a summer night in The Narrows pervades once more. The line catches, hook wrapping around the last rung of ladder, magnetic field engaged to lock grapple to wire. No longer at gravity's mercy, the ground rushes beneath her, heavy cape tugging at her shoulders. The sudden drag is no doubt noticeable by the pilot.
The thought barely skips across her synapses before the chopper veers sharply between buildings. The swing of the rope exacerbates the turn, frail flesh careening toward unforgiving walls. She's prepared for the impact, leading with an armoured shoulder to bleed off the worst of it. It helps, barely, the angle of impact sending her into an uncontrolled twist. A lean body bounces off concrete, once, twice, a third time that shatters a lower rib before she's mid air once more, pained grunts lost in the churning wind. The grapple retractor is slow to do its work, the drag, the wind, the weight of her gear testing it to its limits.
She makes the call, releasing the magnetic snaps for her cape, the makeshift glider her only protection in free fall. It flutters behind her, a lifeless bat that sashays in the wind to land on a rooftop below. The retractor response is immediate, pulling her upward and onward. She reaches the ladder just as the pilot tries to eject her once more, a dangerous dive that leaves her momentarily weightless, mass suddenly negligible as the ladder goes slack in her hands. The moment of floating is a falsehood, a trick of gravity and she wraps an arm tightly around the ladder, ankle tangling in a wrung to prepare for the lies' end.
The violent swing that accompanies their sharp climb out of the death dive jars her arm loose, body thrown back in the wind, ankle's precarious grip her only saving grace.
Upside down, drug across half of Gotham, arch nemesis cackling madly into the wind. She's been in worse places but none have the decency to come to mind.
A second grapple shot wraps around the chopper kickboard forcibly hauling her body upright. She halts the retractor, slackening the line to rope it around the fifty cal barrel, taking control of the gun. Leaving the safety of the ladder, she jumps, a sharp tug that sends the butt of the gun careening into the face of its wielder, shattering his nose, shrill scream lost to the dark night. His body is quickly pitched out the open chopper door, narrowly missing her on the back swing as he plummets for a rooftop.
She knows what happens next, gravity's consequence on flesh and bone, she doesn't look down to see it. She concentrates on the mission, grasping the ladder, hand over hand to reach the chopper. A second body comes for her, a projectile of dead weight that hits her in the chest, nearly unseating her as it continues past. This time she does look as he falls, eyes narrowed at the helmet and headset that plummets past. The pilot.
It's an uncontrolled rollercoaster ride, the chopper bucking and twirling mid air, a mad bull with no rhyme or reason to guide its path. The new pilot flaunts his lack of regard for the laws of physics, sending them into an uncontrolled dive that threatens to stall the engine before peeling sharply up, tips of the blades near enough to shear ivy from the side of crumbling brick buildings.
Her organs threaten to rebel, thrown against her sternum and backbone with equal violence, brain not faring much better as her head bounces off the doorway.
She grits her teeth, sacrificing her death grip on the sideboard to grab the mount of the fifty calibre. Sheer force of will hauls a hundred and eighty pounds of flesh, leather and Kevlar onto the chopper deck.
He turns at the sound, grin wide as he dives once more, the sudden drop divorcing feet from floor to slam her body against the roof of the chopper. She takes the impact, pushing the idea of blacking out from her mind with a righteous violence that has taken years to perfect.
The next rise brings her body back in sync with nature and she grabs the pilot chair to anchor herself, rearing back to drive her fist into his face. His head snaps to the side, body and hands following, the turning chopper on a collision path with a building. She reaches for the control, driving her elbow back into his nose as he fights to keep them on course. He slackens in the seat, a boneless heap of blood and makeup as she pulls on the controls. It's enough to miss most of the building though the turn fishtails the chopper's ass into a corner of glass and steel.
The spin is immediate, slinging her into the lap of a very dead co-pilot. The centrifugal force pins her to her seat, forcing her arms into disobedience as she tries -fails- to reach for the controls. The engine sputters, coughs. They're going down, there's no hope for that. The best she can do is control the damage. The river is within sight, deserted docks leading to murky, polluted water that laps at a cement shore.
It takes every bit of everything she has to throw her body against the controls, shoulder hitting the stick, weight holding it in place to act against their inertia. It slows the spin, the overtaxed engine finally coughing its last, a metal bird suddenly dead in the sky.
They'll make the water. Maybe.
She's not afraid. She made peace with death long ago, a comfortable companion that walks beside her. Still, years of fighting have made her a warrior, incapable of surrender, death will have to sing for its supper. She loops an arm through the copilots harness, bracing her boots against the seat. The impact is like any other crash, water as merciless as every car, lamppost, or wall she's ever met.
The chopper stops dead for one drawn out moment, liquid turned to concrete. It's slow motion, inertia pulling her from her feet, head leading the charge toward the spidering windshield. Fingers tighten their grip on the shoulder harness, a last ditch attempt to keep her skull from meeting glass. Her free arm seems to float into place, holding steady in front of her eyes to take the first impact. She has time to count the stitches in her glove, the droplets of water, one by one, as they sneak through the fractures of the windshield.
The sound of rushing water breaks the moment, time acting out its natural pace once more. A guttural grunt rips from her throat, shoulder dislocating with the force of the impact. The open doors of the chopper offer no protection, water flooding the compartment with murderous intent. It tastes of salt, mud, and the filth that permeates every pore of the city, filling her lungs before good sense kicks in. She breathes out, forcibly, untangling herself from the harness that saved her life.
They're sinking, Gotham's harbours are deep enough to swallow a helicopter without so much as a burp. She grabs a jacket, once purple, now black in the depths, wrapping her fingers in velvet to pull the body free.
His weightlessness is the water's small favour as she swims, kicking furiously for the surface. They break through, the sickly sweet smell of a passing garbage scow assuring she has in fact made it out alive. The roar of an engine drowns out the honks of the scow, Robin out of the drivers seat and vaulting over the hood with a grace that betrays his early circus years. Together they drag their capture back to the road, met with the baker's dozen of patrol cars they've collected over the chase. The police give way before them, a seasoned officer opening the door to his patrol car to take their cargo.
She follows the cavalcade of cars through the human wasteland that is The Narrows, the smallest of the Gotham islands. A neighbourhood never truly recovered from the effects of No Mans Land. She knows the problems, has worked for solutions in both of her identities, still coming up short eight years later. She pushes the thought down. She's done well by her city tonight, minimal casualties, none of them truly innocent, not even the murdered gang bangers in the apartment.
They turn away from the thickest of The Narrows, crossing yet another bridge that leads them into sparse land, more desolate and barren than the concrete monstrosity that is Gotham proper. Wrought iron gates stand lonely against the dark horizon, Arkham Asylum visible against the backdrop of a bright moon.
"You ever wonder if the people who come here just end up more crazy? This place doesn't exactly make me think of happy, healthy inmates."
It's not the first time he's made the observation. She doesn't disagree. Ten years in and she has yet to see a successful rehabilitation. Considering the majority of society's most notorious criminals aren't even eligible for admission, she blames the lack of success less on the facilities and more on the clientele.
It's ten minutes beyond the gate that the Arkham facility looms over them, a stoney monolith that promises no forgiveness for those who enter, staff and psycho alike. Getting out isn't as fluid as it should be, damaged shoulder bleating out its protest. She slams it against a stone wall to silence it, grimacing as the joint slides back into place. The only one to notice is her partner who frowns but remains silent as they fetch their charge from the patrol car. He's conscious, enough that his feet move of their own accord as they walk up moss carpeted stairs.
The entryway is reminiscent of a derelict historic hotel, opulence long faded into decrepitude. High stone ceilings echo the screams of the inmates, sheep turned to wolves as the full moon works its magic on fractured minds. French style furniture is threadbare, violent carvings chiseled across their surfaces. She ignores the decor details, tightening her grip as her charge begins to stir in earnest.
As always, he's genuinely pleased to return home, no doubt eager to inflict torture on a captive audience.
She's glad to be free of his weight, handing him over to the Arkham guards with a nod. Commissioner Hastings watches the hand over, flinty eyes taking in the proceedings, on watch for the slightest infraction.
A tiny woman, with bright eyes that apparently haven't taken in her own outfit, walks from the controllers office. The cowl hides the raised eyebrow at the interesting fashion. Checkerboard pants are an odd choice, even in Arkham.
Hastings speaks with the woman briefly before grudgingly approaching them. Robin shifts beside her, never fully comfortable the Commissioner won't arrest them for vigilantism. She understands his skittishness but doesn't share it. They've lived long enough in uneasy partnership that she trusts Hastings, even if they don't like each other. The Commissioner stands beside them, silent, watching as the tiny woman in too loud pants speaks to her patient. His smile widens, pleased as punch to have a new toy to play with.
"Mr. Fitzgerald, welcome back to Arkham."
"My, my, aren't you a fresh young thing. Please, call me Ezra."
"Who's that?" She asks, turning to Hastings, ignoring the twinge the movement causes.
"Aria Montgomery, Arkham's newest shrink. She's fresh out of GCU."
"You think it's wise to put someone inexperienced with the likes of him? How many of his psychiatrists has Joker driven insane?"
"Three." Hastings watches with equal interest as the small woman takes the lead, guiding the guards and their newest charge to the medical deck. "Five, if you count the ones that killed themselves."
"I know Aria, she can handle him."
"You'd better hope so."