Nightwing tucked tighter against the Batpod. The wind around him clawed at his armor. The aftermath of the plan had always been vague. They were supposed to be hooking the core to the rest of the reactor right now and after securing Bane and City Hall, Batman and his masked team should have faded away so the police could mop up the rest of the mercenaries and escapees. They would still be operating like they were in charge of Gotham.
But with the explosion over the ocean echoing over through the city, they had to know something went wrong. Nightwing heaved in air against the squeeze on his lungs. No time for that now; people's lives were still at stake. No more death on his watch.
He blasted the front doors of the Stock Exchange open and drove inside. Two armed men lay on the floor under the debris. Two more mercenaries ran toward the Batpod. He leaped off the bike and tackled them both.
The one on the left cracked his skull on the marble floor. The one on the right lost his gun, but pushed Nightwing aside. He landed on his hands and knee, and spun the outstretched leg into the mercenary's side. The mercenary bent over the armored knee slammed against his ribs and Nightwing punched him.
He pulled his leg free from under the unconscious man and confiscated all four guns. They all hung off his shoulder, and if he found any more, he'd need to appoint a deputy to hold them. The stairwell on the left showed scuffs and gouges of many feet. A pile of desks and office chairs blocked the doors to the rest of this floor. Upstairs then. The stairs were too steep for the Batpod, so he left it parked in the lobby.
The path of damage ended at the second floor. He remembered to clear this door that barely hung by its hinges, and he stopped before he crossed the threshold. Six armed men adjusted their sweaty grips on their automatic rifles and jerked their heads to the windows and doors. Their steps to change their viewpoints twitched. Tony was one of them, but his jumpy observations included watching the other armed men in the tribunal room.
Nightwing pressed against the stairwell wall where they couldn't see him. Eventually, they'd work up enough nerve to check on all the noise downstairs. The tribunal rooms didn't have shadows to attack out of. He didn't want to test the bullet-proofing of the armor by charging in. What else did he have?
He grinned for the first time in days. He eased the automatic rifles on the landing floor and dropped two of the mini-mines off his belt. He threw both activated spheres down the long room. They hit the wooden mountain of desks at the other end.
All six heads turned to the end of the room. The desk shattered. Tony flattened himself on the floor while the other five men ducked from the blast. Nightwing ran inside, slid across the marble floor on his knees, and collided with two of the guards. One fell flat on his back. Nightwing's fist rose first and hit the second guard's chin. He lifted off his feet before falling back.
One of the standing guards pinned Nightwing's arms from behind. The second one jumped in front and pounded his fists into Nightwing's stomach. The one Nightwing had knocked down climbed to his feet, lurched to them, and swung his fist into the black and blue ribs. The armor only let some easily-ignored pressure through.
"That tickles," Nightwing said. He drew up his legs and fell back against the guard holding him. He slammed his feet into the first puncher. "How do you like it?"
That guard dropped to the floor. Nightwing curled over as fast as he could and slung the one behind him over his head. The mercenary groaned as he hit the floor. Nightwing pivoted into a roundhouse kick. The second puncher caught the kick and hit the floor.
Feet started running across the floor. Nightwing swiveled to see the last guard standing running away. He shook his head at the cowardice, but Tony scrambled up leaving his gun behind and screamed. "Take cover! Take cover!"
Nightwing bolted after them. The mercenary ran to the larger staircase of marble with a ruined red carpet runner instead of the stairwell door leading outside. Tony ran faster and Nightwing pumped his legs harder but he was further into the tribunal room than either of them. The mercenary raised his automatic rifle and fired down the stairs.
Screams echoed up.
"No! Don't kill them!" Tony ran faster. Nightwing pounded after them.
The mercenary stopped firing and ran down the stairs. Tony leaped off the top step. The larger mercenary caught the teenager and threw him onto the stairs. Nightwing tore down after him, but Tony launched himself off the stairs. This tackle worked and both of them landed on the marble floor before rows of barbed wire and chain-linked fencing.
The rifle skidded across the floor away from them. A slim African-American woman thrust open the gate in the fencing, grabbed it, and aimed it at Tony and the mercenary. "Don't move, bastards!"
Tony shifted his head to look at her and the gun. "Yes, ma'am."
Nightwing reached the bottom of the stairs. She looked at him, but the gun never wavered. "Who the hell are you?" she asked.
"Nightwing." He knelt next to Tony and the mercenary and felt for the mercenary's pulse. "You can stand down; he's the last one."
"Jessica Hooks." She pointed the rifle away.
He helped Tony off the mercenary. "Did anyone get hit?"
"Alicia, check for wounded. Are you with Batman?"
"I was." Nightwing waved at the mercenary. "He's out cold and probably has internal injuries. Leave him for the medics to deal with."
Tony rubbed the back of his neck under the collar of his too-large coat. "You were with Batman?"
He shut his eyes behind his mask. He didn't want to see their expressions. "The bomb was going to explode, so Batman flew it out to the ocean. We're alive because he...." His throat closed.
"Jesus," Jessica breathed out. "What are we going to do now?"
"Gotham City P.D.!" was shouted at the top of the stairs. The three of them looked up at Lieutenant Stephens and the other armed resistance members behind him. Stephens huffed as he holstered his side arm. "Should've known anyone with that bike wouldn't leave us anything to do."
Nightwing shrugged as he headed up the stairs. "The mercenary on the floor managed to fire into the crowd here." He realized people were crying. How had he tuned it out before now?
Stephens waved his men forward. "Anything else?"
"Tony was a resistance informant and he tackled the shooter down the stairs before he could shoot at a closer range."
"We'll keep him separate from the other bastards. Go find another fire."
Nightwing shook his head. "I have to catch up with Catwoman and I hope she hasn't found any."
Selina adjusted her glove over her left arm. The gauze taped over the needle puncture made the leather sit funny. She wandered toward the front of the clinic. Blake had asked her to wait here, and she was apprehensive at best over why. She didn't do crying therapy and she didn't want him all excited about the hope or tragedy waiting in her womb. God, what an old-fashioned word. She shook her head as pushed the swinging door into the lobby.
The older woman Fox had identified as Dr. Leslie Thompkins waved to the family of the toddler as they left the building. "Oh hello, dear, got Mr. Fox patched up?"
"Dr. Thorne and I finally convinced him to take a nap before seeing if his apartment had been looted."
She nodded as Selina felt jabbed by her sharp blue eyes. "You look like you could use some tea. Shall I fix you a cup?"
"I probably should drink something." She doubted it would warm or fill the hollow expanding inside her.
Dr. Thompkins smiled and headed toward the swinging door. A body landed against the glass outer door and stumbled inside on thigh-high boots. Selina reached the woman first, gripped the shiny vinyl, and realized the leather corset had a wet hole in the stomach area. "She's been shot!"
"Matthew! Gurney and the bullet kit!" Dr. Thompkins pressed a gauze pad over the hole and ran her hand over the corset's back. "No exit wound. Holly, can you hear me? Who did this?"
Holly's blue lips parted as her eyelids fluttered. "Doc Leslie, need Batman. He took the baby."
Dr. Thorne pushed the gurney into the lobby. He seized the pleather boots and Selina heaved Holly's upper body onto the gurney. Dr. Thompkins pressed more gauze onto the bleeding wound. "Who shot you, Holly?"
"Cly, Roger Cly. Not his type." Holly lifted the long bullwhip she clutched in her right hand. "Batman has to stop him."
That name from the past slapped Selina away from the gurney. She shook it off and leaned into Holly's face. "Roger Cly from Willowwood?"
Her toffee-colored eyes focused on Selina's face. "You know him, pussycat? Not his type."
"My sister was. Where is he?"
"Carlik." Holly pushed the whip handle into Selina's hand. "Give him hell, pussycat," she whispered.
Selina's fist tightened around the leather-covered wooden handle as Holly's chest stopped rising. Dr. Thompkins closed the toffee-colored eyes. "Poor girl, she lost too much blood getting here."
Dr. Thorne pulled the gurney toward the swinging door. Selina pushed open the glass doors. She heard Dr. Thompkins yelling as she followed her out but she climbed into the Tumbler.
She didn't remember the drive to Carlik Street. People crept out of the buildings and stared at the bright blue sky and the Tumbler in disbelief. She climbed out of the vehicle and watched jaws fall open. "I'm looking for Roger Cly."
"We don't narc around here," a young teenage boy crossed his arms. Selina cracked the whip. He gulped.
An older Hispanic woman jerked the boy behind her. "You want the white man who drools over my grandbabies?" Selina nodded, the bastard hadn't changed. The grandmother pointed to the battered six-story building in the center of the block. "He's in 403. Tried to take my granddaughter inside."
"Thanks." No one on the sidewalk tried to stop her or follow her inside. She silenced her footsteps up the stairs that nobody in this building cared about sweeping clean. 403 was in the center of the hall and locked. She pulled out her electronic lockpick, set the proper needle into it, and bumped the cheap deadbolt. She hated using it--the finesse is in actually picking the lock--but she didn't have time to show off. Still it seemed like a decision from the universe to make her feel worse as the day dragged on. The door swung into the apartment. Time to ruin someone else's day.
She shut the door and listened. Someone shuffled the contents and slammed a cabinet door. The hallway ended in the living room and she saw the filthy white blinds over from the window facing the street. A gas fireplace was on the left wall between her and the window. Two doors led from the living room on the right wall and the kitchen was tucked into an alcove next to the hallway. Its brighter light cast a man's tall shadow into the living room.
A semi-automatic handgun rested on the mantle. How thoughtful to give her evidence before introductions; she tucked it into her belt behind her back. Then she faced the devil from her childhood.
Sixteen years in prison had shrunk him and grayed his hair, but otherwise, Roger Cly hadn't changed from her nightmares. She pushed the memories aside as she watched the tattooed man wearing only faded green sweat pants rummage in the last cabinet. "I thought scum like you got shanked in prison, Cly."
He whirled around with a yelp. He recovered his bluster. "How'd you get in here, bitch?"
"Wrong question." She seized his sinewy arm and spun him into the living room.
He bounced off the puce sofa and jostled more its stuffing free. "Is this crazy dyke day?" He swung at her.
She kicked him into the wall next to the mantle. "Is that what you call every woman you disgust?"
Cly lunged to the mantle, but slapped his hand down on the empty space where his gun had rested. He swung his arm back as he pushed off the wall. "You're dead, bitch!"
Selina dodged aside as he stumbled past her. Her whip lashed across his back. He screamed and ran for the kitchen. "You think that hurt!" she screamed. The whip wrapped around his leg. He fell on the stained carpet before the vinyl tile. "How many girls have you raped?" The whip hit his back again. "How many girls didn't have me to stop you?"
He rolled to grab her feet. She kicked him and cut his chest with her stiletto heel. He scurried back on his knees. She raised the whip again. It hit his outstretched hand and bones shattered. He curled up around that hand. She lashed the whip again.
She lost herself to the rhythm of her strikes and Cly's wails. The hand around her raised wrist woke her up. "Catwoman, enough!" She dropped her left fist before she punched Nightwing in the face. "Don't kill scum like him. Not today, not ever." He let her go and bent over bloody Cly with a pair of handcuffs. "Where's the girl?"
That question deflated her retort that he was not the boss of her. She rolled the whip around her waist with her belt and went to the door closest to the window. It opened into a bedroom. She ducked and a shoe sailed over her head. "It's okay. I'm here to help you."
A head of blonde hair that needed shampooing rose from the right side of the bed. Her blue eyes narrowed and she held up another shoe. "You're not the police."
"No, I'm Catwoman." She kept her hands open. The little girl's eyes were just like Jen's.
"That's not a name."
Nightwing moved to the door. "Catwoman, a woman brought these kid's clothes, said you'd probably need them." He stopped behind her as the girl ducked again. "I'm not going to hurt you."
She peeked up again. "Who are you?"
"I'm Nightwing." The little girl lowered the shoe onto the bed as she stared. Nightwing set the pile of clothes on top of the dusty dresser next to the door. "We have to trade vehicles again. Where did you get a gun?"
"It's Cly's, probably the one he shot Holly with. You better take it."
She felt it move from her back before Nightwing spoke again. "I can't take Cly to the police on the Batpod."
"Batpod?" The little girl inched closer to the foot of the bed. "Like Batman?"
Selina's throat closed up. "We're Batman's friends," Nightwing said. "The vehicles are parked on the street." He pointed to the window. Selina nodded.
She pressed her naked body against the bed before she darted to the window. She limped as she moved.
Nightwing turned to face the living room. "How did he get his hands on her?" he asked under his breath.
"One thing at a time."
The little girl turned from the window. "That's Batman's bike!"
"That's right," Selina said. "Do you believe us now?" The little girl nodded. Selina turned and set the Tumbler's key fob in Nightwing's hand and took the Batpod key fob. "Get Cly out of here."
"Right," he pulled the door shut, leaving Selina and the little girl in the bedroom.
"They said I had to stay with him." The little girl's fingers went into her mouth.
"Your mommy and daddy?"
She shook her head. "The Evermonds. Don't know where Mommy went."
"You don't have to stay with anyone who hurt you." Selina moved the clothes to the bed and backed away. "What's your name?"
"Stephanie." She pulled on the panties. "Who will get me?" She picked up the long-sleeved purple shirt.
"The Evermonds hurt you?" Selina knelt next to Stephanie and helped her put on the jeans. The clothes were a little baggy, but warm against the winter temperatures.
Stephanie sat on the floor and held up her bare foot. "They always yelled and pushed me and didn't feed me every time I was hungry."
"Here's an idea." Selina pulled the socks and shoes onto Stephanie's feet and then tied the shoelaces. "You stay with me until we find your mommy." The little girl frowned. Selina unlatched her mask. "My name is Selina Kyle."
"It's a secret?" She touched the mask.
"For everyone else. You can keep a secret?"
"Sure," the little girl said. Selina put her mask back on. Stephanie wrapped her arms around Selina's neck. "I'll stay with you."
Selina picked Stephanie up, hugged the child, and wrapped a blanket around them both. She tied the ends. "Okay, sweetie, we're going to take a ride on a motorcycle. You have to hang on tight." Under the blanket, Stephanie's arms and legs tightened around Selina's neck and waist. Selina carried her downstairs, slid onto the Batpod without crushing the child, and headed for the bunker.
The Sheal Docklands were deserted. That suited Selina as she drove into the shipping yard. It was harder to hide in daylight, so better that no one was looking around. She scanned the yard as she went down the lane. Something black and vaguely boat shaped looked like it had washed up from the river. She'd check on it after she took care of Stephanie.
The cargo container doors opened automatically for the vehicle. "We're almost there." She swung off the Batpod as the lift lowered and untied the blanket. Stephanie kicked free of it and Selina set her on the concrete platform. "You hung on great."
The light spilled up from the edges of the lift. Stephanie stepped between Selina and the Batpod. "Where are we?"
"We call it the bunker."
Selina blinked rapidly. "Sure, why not." She didn't want to tell the girl what happened to Batman. Hell, she didn't even want to think about it. The hollow expanded against her ribs.
The lift settled into the floor and Stephanie peeked around Selina's legs. "Messy."
Lived in, certainly; four people had been in here yesterday. But messy described the trail of equipment from the lift. The black cape made a puddle four steps from the lift. A black gauntlet rested on the floor in front of the garage room, the second one between the table and the Batsuit's empty cabinet. Selina trotted after the items. The bronze belt had slid off the computer desk into a crumpled heap on the floor. The cowl rested on its side on the red gym mat.
And black armored legs extended from the air mattress.
"Bruce!" Selina skidded to a stop and dropped to her knees beside the air mattress. She felt for his pulse on his neck, stripped her glove off, and felt again with her bare fingers. It was still there, but weak and slow. Gauze lay on the mattress between his hand and his stab wound. She touched the hole and bright red blood stained her bare fingers.
"Batman's sick?" Stephanie walked up to his feet and hugged the cowl she carried.