A/N: This takes place exactly two days after the events of Dropzone.
Also, the site now offers two tags for Dick Grayson's character. One for his tenure as Robin and one for his time as Nightwing. Please spread the word to old and new readers and writers alike. Thank you. :)
"Friendship is unnecessary, like Philosophy, like Art...it has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that gives value to survival." C.S. Lewis.
Robin landed on the roof of Gotham PD just after Batman.
Commissioner Gordon was sitting by the bat-signal. He turned it off before getting to his feet to greet them, and Robin raised an eyebrow to see that he was smoking again; the officer had quit last year.
"Problem, Commissioner?" Batman's gravelly voice sounded.
"Another body," Gordon replied, handing Batman a file and smiling at Robin.
The boy smiled back, although he was quick to notice how strained Gordon's smile was, and how tired the officer looked. Returning his attention to Batman, Robin could see his jaw clench while he studied the file; a definite indication that he didn't like what he was reading.
"The boy was only sixteen," Gordon informed Batman. "He was reported missing last night along with his brother, Mark. Brandon's body turned up this morning, beaten to death like the others." The officer removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. "This gives us an excuse to start investigating the fight clubs, but I really wish it hadn't taken the death of a kid to get us the jurisdiction we needed."
Robin grimaced as he realized what was going on. This was about the underground fight clubs that had been springing up all over Gotham for the past few weeks. Their presence coincided with a spike in the number of dead bodies turning up all over Gotham – bodies of men who'd been beaten to death. But fight club organisers denied that the dead men had ever been to the clubs, and so far all the evidence supported their claims, leaving the Gotham Police Department unable to do anything about the clubs.
Robin knew how frustrating this was for Commissioner Gordon. Knowing men were beating each other senseless in his city but being unable to do anything about it was really getting under his skin. The problem was that fight clubs weren't considered illegal; they consisted of consenting adults fighting in a private place with no money changing hands. So long as no one was seriously hurt, the police were powerless to do anything about the clubs.
However, Robin knew the Law took an entirely different view of fight clubs when they involved minors, and if this teenager Gordon was talking about had been beaten in a fight…
"Where is his brother now?" asked Batman suddenly.
"At Gotham General." The officer sighed. "But he's in no fit state to answer any questions."
"The brother wasn't beaten." It was a statement, not a question.
"No. But it looks like he might have done the beating." The Commissioner removed another cigarette from a battered packet and lit up, taking a long drag and exhaling.
"What makes you think the brother did the beating?"
"Because he was discovered only a few blocks away from the body and covered in Brandon's blood. When my officers approached him, he became violent. It took eight men to subdue him."
"Eight?!" Robin interjected incredulously. "What is he, the incredible hulk?"
"Five nine and weighs about a hundred and forty pounds." Gordon shook his head. "He collapsed in his cell shortly after the officers arrested him and is still unconscious at Gotham General."
"Drugs?" asked Batman.
"Doctors are waiting on toxicology."
Batman handed the file back to the officer. "Where did the fight club take place last night?"
"The old meat packing plant down at the docks. But the only person there who admits to having seen either boy is the bouncer. He said he turned away a group of teenagers who were underage."
"Is he telling the truth?"
Gordon nodded. "We have CCTV footage of him turning them away. They didn't return."
Batman turned to Robin. "Let's go." Turning, the Dark Knight jumped off the roof and swung into the night.
Robin gave the Commissioner a wave as he followed suit. "Care to fill me in?" he asked, swooping after Batman.
"Brandon and Mark Saunders were reported missing by their friends yesterday evening. Brandon turned up dead this morning."
"Yeah, kind of already worked that out. I meant where are we going?"
"After being turned away from the fight club, they all went for pizza. Brandon went to the bathroom and Mark stepped out to take a call. Neither of them came back. We need to find out where they went."
"That doesn't answer my question."
Batman didn't reply. Instead he swooped lower as they neared Kane Street.
Robin rolled his eyes. So it was going to be one of those nights.
Batman frowned at the back door to Luigi's Pizza; it opened into a darkened alley and the bathrooms were located just inside the back door. It would be very easy to snatch a lone teenager here; there were no cameras and no windows in the alley to witness it.
His frown deepened. This could explain Brandon's disappearance from the pizzeria, but not Mark's. The older boy had exited via the front door onto a busy street to take a call; if there had been a struggle, someone would have noticed. So how did they both disappear from here? And how did it culminate in one beating the other to death? The report had suggested the boys were not only close, but from a good home. There was nothing in their past to indicate the level of violence that had been perpetrated by one upon the other.
Just like the other men who had been violently beaten to death over the last few weeks. Something bigger was at work here, but what?
He turned at the sound of Robin's voice. "I told you to canvas the main street."
"I did. I've already got something; there's a security camera at the far end of the street. I hacked in and found a shot of Mark getting into a black van." Using the holographic computer in his glove, Robin brought up the clip. "The van came from this end of the street, and Mark ended a call on his cell just before he got into the van."
Batman raised an eyebrow. How did Robin know what Mark looked like? He hadn't seen Gordon's file.
"I hacked into the DMV to get their pictures," Robin admitted to the unasked question. "Figured there was no point looking at the footage without knowing who I was looking for."
He hid a smile. Robin's skills had grown exponentially in the last year. "Can you track where the van went?"
Robin nodded and typed quickly. "I discovered something else. I hacked Mark's phone records; he was on a call to his brother just before he got into the van."
Batman frowned. Something bigger was definitely at play here. It sounded like one brother had been snatched, and then used to lure the other away. These boys had been targeted. The question was, why?
"Batman," Robin's voice interrupted his thoughts, "the van drops off the grid on thirty-ninth."
"Extend a ten block radius around the last sighting of the van."
Robin complied and then held up the holographic image. Batman studied it. Brandon and Mark had both been found within the grid. Using their locations, he narrowed the grid to a five block radius. Batman's eyes narrowed. There was an old slaughterhouse three blocks from where Brandon's body had been found. It fit all the usual criteria that criminals always seemed to employ when using a location; large, slightly isolated and abandoned.
"Let's go," he told Robin, removing his grapple gun and firing overhead.
Batman didn't answer, but he heard Robin's sigh of frustration as he swept off the ground. The Dark Knight frowned. He had noticed that Robin seemed to question him more than usual lately. They would need to have a talk about that later. But at least the boy was following him; he could hear the swish of his cape behind him.
It didn't take long to arrive at the slaughterhouse. Landing just outside the building, Batman noticed the lights were on inside, but the building was supposed to be empty; something was definitely going down here.
Indicating that Robin should follow him, Batman entered the building. Blending into the shadows, they traversed the dark hallway, their destination the slaughter floor. Batman knew that not only was it the largest part of the slaughterhouse, it was the most central point of the structure, with access to virtually every other area as well as several exits. It also possessed several animal pens where the beasts waiting to be slaughtered were herded into. Pens that could be used to trap two humans and force them to fight to the death.
As they drew near the slaughter floor, a distinctly British voice could be heard yelling angrily. "Be careful, you idiots! Break anything in those crates and you'll be reduced to vicious animals in a matter of minutes!"
Batman scowled. He did not like what that implied.
They entered the slaughter room by the chiller and crouched behind it, remaining in the shadows while Batman assessed the situation. Six men were carrying crates out to the back yard, while a seventh man supervised from beside the scrapping table. Batman's eyes narrowed. While the men doing all the heavy lifting were big, muscular gun-for-hire types, this man was tall and thin, and impeccably dressed in a tweed jacket. He looked distinctly out of place, yet he seemed to be the one calling the shots.
There were just three crates left in the room, which meant the men were almost finished with their task. Batman didn't know what their plan was, but given what the British voice had yelled moments before, he couldn't allow them to leave with those crates.
He looked at Robin and pointed to the left. The boy nodded and disappeared into the shadows, while Batman moved silently to the right. In less than a minute, he had quietly incapacitated one of the men who had been leaning casually against the scald tub. Across the room, he could see a pair of feet disappearing behind the dressing cradle as though being dragged, and a smile graced his lips; Robin had taken out another man.
Batman would have taken out a third and evened their odds considerably, but a loud yell from the man by the scrapping table told him the incapacitated men had been missed. Quick as a flash, he threw a smoke bomb into the centre of the room, disorienting their targets and masking their own movements. Jumping into the smoke, Batman drove a sharp punch at the nearest man's jaw. The man tried to fight back but, blinded by the fog, he was no match for Batman and was lying unconscious on the floor in a matter of seconds.
Gunfire sounded from the other side of the room and Batman felt himself go cold. He knew Robin could handle himself, but the metallic sound of gunshots never failed to rouse in him a grim panic if Robin was patrolling with him. And always the ferocious thought, what if tonight was the night he would lose the boy?
"Stop firing, you fools!" the British voice screamed. "Don't hit those crates!"
The gunfire ceased immediately. Batman moved in the direction of that voice, but was accosted by a large figure jumping out from the smoke. Whirling, he engaged the man in combat and found him to be a far superior fighter to his comrade. It took Batman almost a full three minutes to render him unconscious. By the time he lowered the man to the floor, the smoke had started to clear.
Looking around, his eyes landed on Robin just a few feet away, engaged in combat with the sixth man. The fifth lay unconscious by the door. But his more immediate concern was the man in the tweed jacket. In his hand he held some sort of pistol and it was aimed directly at Robin.
The man had a calm expression on his face as he addressed Batman. "You won't destroy what I've worked for years to build, Batman." He gave a slow smile as he returned his attention to Robin and prepared to fire. "You're going to be too busy."
"ROBIN!" Batman yelled, diving forwards.
The boy turned as Batman flew towards him. The Dark Knight only had the briefest of seconds to register that the man Robin had been fighting was backing away quickly, his eyes wide with a sort of terror, before slamming into Robin and knocking him to the floor.
Something sharp bit him in the back of the neck as he landed on top of Robin, and Batman had a rush of realization. Not a pistol, a tranquilizer gun! Behind him, the man in tweed broke into cold laughter.
"Oh, Batman, that really was a foolish move. You would have been able to contain the boy, but what hope does he have against you?"
Something was wrong. He couldn't move; his limbs went rigid as his muscles seized up. Something hot began to crawl beneath his skin and he could feel his heart rate increase.
"Batman, what's wrong?"
Robin's voice. Batman looked down at where the boy was pinned beneath him, staring up at him with wide, concerned eyes. He tried to respond, but all that came out was some sort of strangled sound. His mouth felt arid, dry.
"Rage, Batman," the British voice explained gleefully, "you've been infected with rage. In another three or four minutes you will lose all sense of conscious reason and become nothing more than a violent, brutal animal, intent on destroying your target."
"Target?" Batman managed to grind out. The edges of his consciousness were blackening out.
"My rage virus was created using pheromones," the man answered, his voice getting further away as he headed for the door. "And it's driven by pheromones…specifically those of the person closest to you when the virus kicks in. Your brain won't rest until you've ripped that person apart."
Batman stared down at Robin in horror. "I won't...do it…"
The man laughed again. "Oh, but you will. Just like Mark beat his brother to a bloody pulp last night, even with young Brandon begging him to stop!"
"No," Batman growled, squeezing his eyes shut as a shrill whine went off in his head. The small shape shifted beneath him and, involuntarily, his hands tightened their hold on the skinny arms. Arms he had grabbed as he shoved Robin out of harm's way, arms he held pinned against the ground right now and wouldn't let go of, no matter how much his mind yelled at him to do so.
"Batman?" Robin whispered, and he could hear the undercurrent of fear there. No, he wasn't going to do this, he wasn't…
"Professor!" a rough voice shouted suddenly. "C'mon, we gotta get outta here!"
"This is where being a hero gets you, Batman," the British voice sneered, cold pleasure coating its tones. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'd rather be somewhere that's away when the rage takes over."
Then he was gone, leaving Batman and Robin alone, staring at one another.
"Batman, you have to let me up," Robin said urgently, trying to pull himself out from underneath the man. "Batman!"
He had to let the boy up. He knew he had to, so why couldn't he make his body obey? Perspiration was trickling down the side of his face and his brain felt like it was on fire. He could literally feel rational thought draining away.
Robin was really struggling beneath him now, trying desperately to free himself. Batman could feel his own hands tighten painfully on the pinned arms. His sense of smell was increasing and blood was rushing in his ears. Something hard hammered up inside his skull making him see stars and he snarled, feeling anger roll over him.
His hands squeezed hard and someone cried out in pain. "Batman! Batman, stop! Batman, you're hurting me!"
His lips pulled across his teeth, baring them in a snarl. Whatever was crawling beneath his skin exploded, and a thousand tiny needles assaulted him. Batman howled, rage snapping in every cell of his body.
"Bruce, please," a desperate voice pleaded, and he blinked, the last vestiges of reason latching onto the familiar voice. Robin. His partner.
With considerable effort, Batman forced away the red rage tunnelling his vision and tried to focus on the scared face beneath him.
"Robin," he croaked. "Run."
"I'm trying! But you have to let me up!"
"I…can't…" The words were costing him the last of his conscious thought. "Hurt…me…"
Robin blanched. "What! I can't–"
"DO IT!" Batman roared before the red rage swallowed him whole.
Robin could barely breathe. Batman's weight was crushing him and the man's hands had a death grip on his arms. He struggled desperately. Batman's face was twisting into something unrecognisable, and Robin didn't doubt for one second what the man in the tweed jacket had said; Batman would rip him apart when the rage took over.
"Batman, you have to let me up," he told his mentor, trying to pull out from under him. He couldn't move. "Batman!"
Batman didn't budge. Robin could see sweat trickling down the side of his face from underneath the cowl, while his nostrils twitched. The man's hands tightened on his arms, hurting him. Robin jerked. He needed to get out now!
To his horror, Batman suddenly snarled, actually snarled, and his hands squeezed so hard that Robin felt like his bones were cracking. He couldn't stop himself from crying out in pain.
"Batman! Batman, stop! Batman, you're hurting me!"
Batman's lips pulled across his teeth, baring them at Robin. The boy swallowed, feeling his heart start to race. He had never really been afraid of Batman before, but watching the man's face twist into something less than human before his eyes was frightening him.
Suddenly, Batman jerked and made a howling noise that sounded more like a broken animal. Robin felt his breath catch in his throat. He needed to get through to his mentor before every shred of humanity disappeared.
"Bruce, please," he begged, appealing to his father rather than his partner.
It seemed to work. The snarl on Batman's face became less pronounced and his masked eyes blinked as he focused on Robin's face. Robin could feel every inch of Batman's body staining and trembling from where it had him pinned against the concrete.
"Robin," he croaked. "Run."
"I'm trying! But you have to let me up!"
"I…can't…" His head was starting to jerk and Robin could see he was losing control. "Hurt…me…"
His blood turned to ice. "What! I can't–"
"DO IT!" Batman roared, before a choked growl escaped his rapidly clenching jaw and his facial expression twisted horrifically before Robin's eyes. A massive fist slammed into Robin's jaw, making him see stars.
Instantly the boy reacted. One hand now free, he punched upwards into Batman's nose. A deep rumble echoed up from the bowels of his mentor's throat and he leveraged another savage blow into Robin's face. The boy's head snapped to the side and through the haze of pain, he remembered Gordon telling them that it had taken eight men to subdue Mark. This rage virus obviously blunted all human senses, making it harder for the victim to feel anything. Which meant that Robin had a Batman who felt nothing but rage on his hands. Great.
Another fist was driven into his jaw, followed immediately by a vicious punch to the ribs. Batman had released both of his arms and was now violently pummelling him. The boy threw up his arms to protect his head and several painful hits cracked into them. He would have to hurt Batman, really hurt him, to get himself out of this.
Batman's body was no longer rigidly pinning Robin to the floor, giving the boy room to move. During a split-second break from the barrage of fists, Robin slammed both arms upwards as hard as he could into Batman's face, and heard something crack.
The man lurched and dropped sideways, allowing Robin to roll out from under him. Instantly, the boy snapped to his feet and raced for the door. He had nearly reached it when his head jerked as something pulled hard on his throat. Batman had seized his cape and was dragging him backwards. Before he could react, Robin found himself flying through the air where he landed hard against the scrapping table and felt something in his side snap. In a flash, Batman was on him, one hand around his throat while the other slammed viciously into his face and ribs. Blood dribbled from his nose and he could taste the coppery fluid in his mouth.
"Batman…" Robin gasped, both hands grabbing the swinging fist and holding on tight. "Stop!"
His mentor roared and the grip on his throat tightened. Robin tried not to panic as his oxygen supply was cut off. Not to panic was the first move, the first lesson. Don't panic. He could do this. He was Robin, the Boy Wonder – he'd been trained by Batman for crying out loud!
Which would help if he wasn't currently fighting the man himself.
Think, Robin, think! he ordered, while his arms strained and trembled as he pushed upwards against the fist trying to smash his face in.
The hand on his throat tightened brutally, and Robin made a choking noise when Batman started to batter his head against the table. Lights exploded behind his eyes and he could feel darkness bleeding in at the corners of his vision. His grip on Batman's fist began to weaken and his consciousness started to slip away.
Squeezing his eyes shut, Robin tried to gather his thoughts. If he didn't think of something fast, Batman would kill him!