After the Bat – Chapter 7
Summary: John Blake was given a legacy, and a city, to protect.
Tim understood immediately what had happened, and why.
The League of Shadows knew who Batman really was, really had been. He might have beat all of them that came at him, but it meant Cain knew Bruce Wayne was the Batman.
An intruder in the cave could really only mean one thing.
He stopped walking, grabbing Jason by the hair roughly. "Jason, run," he said, pushing Jason back, away from him.
Jason struggled against the grip, grabbing Tim's wrist. "NO."
"Jason, can you trust me? Please? Can you just trust me right now, and run? Please?"
The dark shape moved towards them, out of the darkness. Tim could make out the rough shape of her now, the skinny little girl with the serious eyes, always silent, and he had seen those hands do violent things.
There was no gun. There wouldn't be a gun. Too much noise, too close to the orphanage. That would spill too many secrets.
And Tim knew too much.
"Jason, RUN!" he yelled, and threw himself at her.
His first attack was a flawless spinning kick. Twist and flow, heel flying like a hammer out of hell. She turned the blow aside with an elbow, no more effort than she had to use to knock him out of his graceful kick.
He spun and twisted and attacked again and again, trying to keep his body in perfect motion. The sweeping blows acted as shields, turning aside any possibility of attack.
Not a single blow landed.
Her style was short and choppy, elbows, knees. Close-quarter urban combat moves. Some kind of brutal mashed-up style that didn't have a name, something they had grown in their little apocalypse cult. Something more concerned with effectiveness than with pretty movements.
If she was surprised to see him again, or if she even recognized him, it didn't show on her face. He tried to remember if he had ever even heard her name, back when he was running with the mob and doing jobs for Cain, but it wasn't coming to him.
She caught the tip of his chin with a perfectly placed elbow, snapping his head back while she twisted underneath a flailing punch that should have taken her head clean off.
He fell backwards and had to twist and roll and fight to get back on his feet. How was she so fast, how could she dodge and block like that?
She advanced, but not too fast. She knew she hadn't hit him hard enough to concuss him, to addle his senses. She knew he still had fight left in him.
So she stalked forward cautiously, and drew a knife from her pocket, opening it with a quick flip of her wrist.
She had moved out of the shadows. He could see her face now. Asian features, empty, dead eyes. Cassandra, that was her name, that was what her trainer and master and probably father had called her.
She snapped a kick at him, testing his defenses. Trying to see if he would pay too much attention to the knife, or too little. Seeing if he left any openings.
He palmed the kick, grabbing her boot. A sturdy black combat boot; he pushed it away, managing to get her off balance.
She darted back and then forward, like a shot, and he felt something tug across his forearm, like the fabric of his shirt had been trapped and twisted for a second.
He danced back, snapped off a quick kick that found nothing but air.
A sharp knife, then. Very sharp. He could feel a warm, wet tingling down the length of his wrist now, but still no pain.
The forearm was a good spot to take a cut. Fewer blood vessels, most of them hidden by the bone. Not a disaster. He could still bring this around.
She threw the knife, and he couldn't move fast enough to block it. It buried itself in his neck, and all he felt was something like being slapped. He fell backwards, against the wall, surprised.
She advanced again, hands up. He tried to get his hands underneath him, to push himself up to fight, but now there was a sharp pain in his throat, now he could feel the metal, and it burned. He wanted to pull it out, but he knew that he shouldn't, it was probably the only thing keeping him from bleeding out, but it was pushing into him, pressing into him, invading his throat, and he needed it gone…
She was reaching for him, reaching for the knife. He batted her hand away, lucid enough to know that this was very bad, that he was going to die.
But if he was honest, he'd known he was going to die from the moment he saw her in the cave, from the instant he realized David Cain had tracked them down. If he'd been alone he would have run, but he hadn't been alone.
Jason might live, if he was smart.
So he smiled at her as she planted a foot on his chest, locking him into position to finish him off. She froze up a little, confused.
There was a crackling noise, and she flew off him, backwards, driven back.
He could taste blood in his mouth.
They had to take Tim to a surgeon. They drove in Helena's tiny VW, Tim lying in the back seat, the knife sticking out of his throat.
They put the girl in the front passenger seat, since leaving her would be murder, and Blake wasn't going to do it.
She looked worse off than he was. Tim was bleeding, and turning pale, but he was still breathing. The blood didn't appear to be running into his lungs so far. He was in pain, but he was being stoic and upright, as usual.
Helena drove, putting Blake in the back with Tim, watching him.
The girl was crumpled up in the passenger's seat, trying to hold base of the grappling hook lodged in her stomach steady. It had sliced her open along four different lines, and she was holding her guts in with both hands.
The grappling hook gun had safeties to prevent it from being used this way, to keep it from every killing a person. It didn't surprise Blake at all that Jason had been able to override it.
Helena kept her own knife in hand, just in case the girl tried to escape again. She'd been trying when they got to the cave, brought in by Jason's urgent call. Crawling, trying to get away.
Jason had tried to kill her then. But he knew better than to try to fight Helena over it.
The more fool him. She would have let him do it. She wasn't stupid about this like Blake.
Blake was on the phone with his contact in town. "A surgeon. Two if you can get them. I have kids carved up… the girl is some kind of assassin, she tried to kill him, he has a knife in the throat. She was… she's… the grappling gun. She was shot in the stomach with the grappling gun you gave me. Yes, I know you modified it to be non-lethal—the damn idiot found a way to turn the power up instead. No, it wasn't me. No. Look, I'm bringing somebody with me… No, never mind that. She was… yes. Yes."
Helena just drove as fast as her little car would go, trying to take it easy on the rough patches of road. The car stank of blood.
The girl beside her twitched, and Helena nearly stabbed her in the throat. "Do NOT move!" she hissed.
She wanted to stab the girl. Just once or twice in the ribs. The knife would go in easy enough, and they could stop worrying about the psycho killer in the car.
But Blake didn't kill.
Upright and ignorant, that was him.
There was a black van waiting for them on the edge of town. The back doors popped open as she parked behind it, revealing an old black man and a blond woman in her forties. The woman was wearing a white coat.
Just one surgeon, then. That was fine. Helena didn't really want to save the assassin anyway.
The doctor hopped out of the van, rushing up to the car. Blake was getting out, half-carrying Tim behind him. "It's through the throat, but I don't think it's nicked any arteries or veins. There's a lot of blood."
They managed to get Tim into the back of the van, and laid him down. The doors closed again.
The black man was standing outside the van, looking down into the car at the girl, who was still bleeding. There was a lurch in Helena's stomach as she remembered seeing that face before, on newspapers. That was the CEO of the biggest company in the city. Wayne's company. That made too much sense—she'd known it was Bruce Wayne who had been the Batman. Why wouldn't those closest to him be part of his conspiracies?
There was anger on his face.
Good. They ought to be mad.
He came around the car to the passenger's side, standing looking down at the girl. She was looking down, ignoring him steadfastly.
He tapped on the glass.
Helena hit the button, rolling the window down. Fox crouched down beside the teenaged assassin, looking at the mess of her stomach. "So, this is the assassin trained to be the very best in the world," he said quietly.
Helena shrugged. "You seem to know more about this than I do."
"Oh, no, I think not, Miss Bertinelli. I think not."
The girl turned her head, looking up at him. She didn't say a word, just staring at him for a couple of seconds.
He tilted his head. "Wondering about torture and revenge and all the things that you'd be doing to one of us in this circumstance? We're the good guys, Miss Cain."
"You know her name?" asked Helena, more than a little put out by this. Why hadn't anybody bothered telling her this?
He shrugged. "You know everything I know already, I think. David Cain, trying to rebuild the League of Shadows. All the deaths, the decapitations—you came very close to taking that boy's head, didn't you?"
The girl gave a little smile. "He fights pretty good," she said, in a very soft, faintly accented voice. "But he's not dangerous at all, not to me. He wouldn't, couldn't, hurt me. Not enough to stop me. Who is he?"
Helena shrugged. "Who're you? He's a kid who thought he could change the world, that's all."
Fox spoke again, his voice strained. "I felt bad enough sending Blake out to do this work. Blake is just a kid, but at least he's a grown man. Are we sending kids out to do our dirty work now?"
"No!" snapped Helena. "Tim came to us, and he's been on the bench. These bastards found the bench—she ambushed us in the cave. The cave isn't safe any more. It could be, if she was dead, and her dad was dead, but even then I wouldn't bet on it. Too many people he could have told."
Fox took a hypodermic needle out of his pocket, carefully uncapping it. "This is a mild sedative and a painkiller. It shouldn't knock you out, but it will take the edge off." He paused, waiting. "I won't—you don't have to take it, if you don't want it, but I suspect you're going to want something when the good doctor starts trying to stitch your guts back together."
The girl shook her head. "I've had worse," she said quietly. "If you stitch me up I'm just going to get free and kill all of you, and you know that."
Helena stared at the knife in her right hand. Just a quick swipe across the girl's throat—she was pale, she'd lost a lot of blood. She couldn't possibly dodge at these close quarters. No matter how good she was, Jason had nearly killed her. It wouldn't take much to finish the job.
Fox sighed. "Miss... Helena, isn't it? Please don't."
"Oh, you wouldn't?" asked Helena sharply.
"I might. But I think you know we're on a crusade of sorts here, and we're not supposed to… we have precious few rules. We break laws, we act as vigilantes, we uphold a system which could very easily turn into… into this." He stabbed a finger at the girl. "If we let ourselves become as twisted as she is, then what good will this do, what good?"
The back door of the van opened. Helena could see Tim lying there, pale, his face streaked his blood. His neck was bandaged now, and there were IV tubes into his arm. His chest rose and fell slowly.
The doctor hopped down, coming around the car to look at the girl. "Well, that's a mess," she said, peering in the window. "Can you walk, dear?"
The assassin shook her head. "I would have got away if I could still walk," she said, and there was a little bit of anger in her voice. As if she was disappointed in herself, as if she expected to be able to get herself out of any mess, no matter how bad.
It was insane to give her any medical treatment. She'd beat Tim—Helena knew better than anybody here exactly what that meant. Tim had nearly perfect form, and a wide range of styles.
Heal this girl, and she'd kill them all.
Helena's hand tightened on the knife.
Blake was staying in the back of the van with Tim. He was leaning over Tim, talking to him. The stupid sonofabitch wasn't even looking back to see what Helena would do.
And he wasn't in charge. This wasn't just his crusade.
Helena looked at the doctor, trying to take her measure. Trying to decide whether the old man would try to stop her. Maybe turn her in to Chloe Sullivan? Did these people even know Sullivan and her invincible spaceman?
And maybe it was worth it at this point. This kid was too powerful, too toxic. She'd killed a lot of people already, and she was going to kill more. There was no way to stop her, really. She had allies, she had a network, and she was trying to kill them all.
Maybe this was the right choice. Kill the girl now, let Sullivan and her morally-upright dogooders sweep in and do as they'd threatened. Go to jail, stay in jail. Was that price too high to pay? They'd almost lost Tim. Maybe it was time for Helena to do the right thing no matter the cost.
The girl made a little whimpering sound as the doctor opened the door, jostling her.
Jesus. She was just a kid, just fourteen or fifteen, tops. Taught to kill, told to kill.
Helena felt sick to her stomach.
The knife in her hand felt like it weighed fifty pounds suddenly. She was aware of the way it set against her palm, the molding, the feel of it. Hyper-aware.
One hit. Straight to the neck. Yank the knife free sideways, cutting the artery. It would be easy, like putting a knife in butter, and it would be fast.
The doctor and Fox managed to lift the assassin up out of the seat and half-carry half-guide her to the back of the van, where Blake helped lift her up. They closed the doors behind themselves again, leaving Helena alone in the dark.
Thinking about how she should have killed that little girl.
Jason went up to his room and packed his bags quietly.
Then it was back down through the caves. On his way he grabbed part of a set of armor and the gun he'd modified. It used compressed gas pellets for power, so he loaded his pockets with those. He was guessing it would be difficult to find ammunition for it when he ran out.
It didn't matter.
He headed out on his bicycle, heading back for Gotham. When he saw headlights he ducked off the road into the bushes, holding the bike behind him, keeping his face down.
It took him longer than usual to reach the city, but he didn't get nabbed by Blake. Win.
He headed for the place Stephanie was stuck in. It was still pre-dawn when he arrived. He didn't have the skills to climb to her window, so he settled for tossing rocks at it until she came to the window, looking extremely irritated with him.
She opened the window and leaned out. "What the hell?"
He shrugged. "Tim's hurt bad," he said, trying to keep his voice level.
The sleep vanished from her eyes, and she spun herself out the window, descending from hand-hold to hand-hold. Not quite as smooth as Tim, but agile and quick.
"What happened? Was this you?" she asked, spinning to face him. "Did you drag him into something?"
Jason jammed his hands into his pockets. "What the hell do you think, Steph? He got all noble and stuff, didn't he? Same as with you."
Her eyes narrowed. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Hell if I know. He told me stuff? About the circus? Said he sent everybody to jail? That's right, innit?"
She nodded carefully. "He shouldn't have told you that stuff. You should forget it. Is he okay? I mean, what hospital is he in?"
He shrugged again. He'd never really liked Steph. Too dangerous, too angry. Maybe too much like himself. "He was still breathing when they took him to try to patch him up. If he's okay, he'll let you know. I just… he woulda wanted you to know, so I'm here to tell you."
She stabbed a finger at him. "You better not have done anything—"
Jason snorted. "What? You gonna kill me if I got him in trouble? I did my best to keep him out of it, and I failed. Now, if you'll excuse me." He stepped back, getting on his bike. "I got some stuff I wanna do."
She frowned. "Stuff?"
"Some dude gave an order to kill Tim. Some short dude in a tux. And he's gonna do it again and again until Tim is dead."
Steph was pale now. "Short dude in a tux?"
"Keep your head down, don't even say his name. Don't try to find Tim, don't try to talk to him. Wait."
"Nah. Don't. Gonna do the thing right."
He grinned. "If Tim shows up, right as rain with just a scar to show for it, let him know he can find me in that place we met. He'll know where it is. And he'll probably be wanting to come see me."
Helena paused the security footage, turning to face Blake. "So."
His hands were shaking, and he looked furious. Maybe a little sick. "How long did it take him?"
"Not long. You'd done all the ground work for him, tracking Cobblepot's moves. Showing him where and when he was vulnerable. I don't know where he picked up the piece, probably on the street."
"Play it again."
Helena backed it up to the beginning. Cobblepot leaving his club, smiling. Bodyguards all around him.
The small figure dropping from above, landing hard and spinning. He'd taken the modified full-face mask, covering his identity completely, but he was wearing his leather jacket over the bat armor, and it was terribly obvious who he was. He had a gun in his right hand and he shot Cobblepot first, spinning and firing three times. He hit only one of the bodyguards, and the other two managed to get their guns out, shooting.
He was knocked back, but unharmed, and he kept firing, dropping one, then the other. Then he spun, raising his left hand, and flew upward, seconds before the whip that had immobilized Blake the first time cracked through the air where he'd been standing.
"And that's it," said Helena softly. "David Cain probably thinks his daughter is dead, and you have her locked in a cage underneath Wayne Tower. Tim's in critical condition, but if he makes it through, the system will eat him alive—going missing, marked down a runaway at the least. Jason's AWOL, and he's decided to kill mobsters. And I'm almost certainly going to get blamed for that, and Superman is going to throw my ass in supervillain prison. Hope you're happy."
Blake shook his head. "Don't pin this all on me."
"Then who do I pin this on? If you'd had the cojones to do what Jason did when you had the chance, we wouldn't have had to try to fight Cain!"
"You know that's not true. Cain has a grudge against Batman—one that extended to all of us. Even without Cobblepot he's still gunning for us."
Helena rewound the footage again, starting from the beginning, and Blake shifted gears. "It's not just the equipment, you know."
"Jason. It's not just the equipment that let him do this. He would have done it anyway. Tim was his friend, and they tried to kill him. And Jason's… primitive, I think, that's the word I'd use. You hurt his friends, he hurts you back."
"The underworld is going to be in utter chaos. Somebody is going to take advantage of this, rise to the top. Maybe Cain." Maybe Wesker. Her stomach twisted. "No, scratch that. Cain's an assassin. He'll be gunning for you next—I assume he doesn't know I'm involved. There's been no tries on my life, and I'm out in the open in my regular life. You're totally out at this point, so we have to assume that he's gonna find you, he's gonna try to kill you… and he's going to be taking it personally, because he thinks you've killed his daughter. His daughter, Blake!"
Blake shrugged. There was something in his eyes, some hint of fire within, but he kept it all so tightly bottled that she was sure he was close to an explosion.
So she grabbed his shoulder, turning him around to face her. She hated people who kept it all inside like that, who hid the pain. "No, look, I can see what you want. You want to go find Jason and shut him down. No. Not yet. Not now. First, we find Cain. We have to find him and shut him down, because he is going to kill a lot of people looking for you—and maybe he'll go after Jason first, if he can find him. It's more urgent than ever. You and I are going to go arm up and we are going to find him and we are going to take him down. Then we can worry about little loose Jason. Do you hear me?"
Blake glared at her. Sometimes she could see the same rage in his eyes that she'd felt inside for so long, but right now he looked more like he might cry.
She didn't have time to try to prop up his bruised ego and keep him functioning, so she gave him a little shake. "We can worry about that later. For now, there's an assassin in this town who has a grudge and will kill everybody in this city to get to you. Bigger problems, Blake."
He nodded. "You want to try on the new armor Fox made for you?"
She squared her shoulders carefully. "Now you're talking."
Renee dropped the folder on Gordon's desk. "Pull me off this case, or I quit, sir," she said, and her voice was very quiet.
He stared at it for a long time without looking up at her, thinking about it. "Is this to do with the killing at the nightclub?"
She shrugged. "More or less."
"More… or less." He still wouldn't look up at her, hiding behind his eyebrows, behind his glasses. He'd never been much good in a confrontation like this. Give him a tight situation with guns and badguys any day.
She leaned on his desk, fists pressed into the paperwork permanently scattered there. "If you want to ask me what I found out, I'll tell you, but I don't think you want to ask, and I didn't put it in that file. If you want to ask me what I'm going to do next, I'll tell you, but you really don't want to ask, and I didn't put a hint of it in that file. If you assign this case to anybody else, you are going to warn me first, okay? Because shit is going down, and I don't think you want any of this on your hands."
His hands were shaking. "Did I… is this my fault? Should I have shut him down before they pushed him over this line?"
She leaned back, spreading her hands wide. "Gordon, you trusted him, and maybe that is going to be a problem today, maybe not, but this isn't your fault. This isn't his fault. This is something else."
He pressed his hands together. "What do you mean?"
She paused, waiting. He forced his gaze up, meeting hers. She held his gaze for a moment, long enough to start making him nervous all over again. "It wasn't him."
"W-what? I saw the video. Same as the other one."
"No. Different mask, different moves, he's shorter… there's more than one of these new Batmen, Gordon, and this one's a killer."
Gordon put a hand on the file. "So why not-?"
She glared at him. "You really want an answer to that question? You can't un-know once you know."
He couldn't think of anything that would cause this reaction. He couldn't think of anything she'd want to do that would require this level of ass-covering. "Montoya…"
"You trusted me to dig. I need you to trust me a little more right now. The thing… can you trust me that much, sir?"
He wasn't sure if he could. There was too much going on now. Dead gangsters, multiple people taking on the cowl… he ought to shut it all down. He had some ideas of how he could do that, had some ideas what it would take.
He looked up at Montoya carefully. "Renee… are you sure?"
She nodded. "One hundred percent, sir. I've figured out some things—had some of them handed to me on a silver platter by a psycho fishing for answers—and I think I know what needs to happen next. But I absolutely need you trust me on this one, sir."
He took a deep breath, pulling the file towards him. "I'll put this in with the cold case files. Montoya… be careful out there."
She nodded. "Always."
Jason sat on the edge of the curb, watching the cars go by. Watching the ebb and flow of the city.
It was part of the Narrows, part of the city that everybody else always called lost. They looked down their noses at it, as if it was just filled with predators and monsters.
It wasn't. There were always predators rising to the top, ready to take advantage of the vulnerable people here, but by and large it was just about survival. Laws are nothing but violence to a starving person. Why not react with violence when somebody does violence to you?
Jason watched Wesker conduct his business, and he watched the guards. Nobody looked at him. He was just a kid with red hair sitting on the corner, just another drug addict or another lookout or another slacker. Just somebody who was from this side of town.
After a while he headed back into the apartment building behind him. There were people there too, just trying to get by, just trying to survive.
This softness in him was because of Tim, because of too much time spent with that little shit and his bleeding heart. This softness was going to undo him.
But today he was sick of people making the world worse, people doing terrible things. Today they'd hurt somebody he knew and loved, and he was angry about that.
Wesker hadn't hurt anybody he loved, but he'd killed Helena's family, and she was kind of cool and had been pretty nice to Tim, given his the respect everybody ought to have given him, and so Jason had already made up his mind.
Wesker was next.