Disclaimer: I do not own the Dark Knight Rises or the rest of the Nolanverse Batman and I make no money off this work.
The characters John Blake, Jim Gordon, Jonathan Crane, Lucius Fox, Jen, and Bruce Wayne as used in this story come from the Dark Knight Rises movie. Gerard Stephens is from the Dark Knight and Barbara "Babs" Gordon was barely introduced in the film. Molly C. Quinn has been cast in the story to portray her. The character Oswald Cobblepott the Third originates with DC Comics. Also I dropped about a decade from Joseph Gordon Levitt's real age for the sake of my timeline.
This story is set after the Dark Knight Rises and Signs and Portents: Partners and runs concurrent with Signs and Portents: Entwined Fates.
Jim Gordon, likely Commissioner of Gotham City Police Department until he died, closed the rooftop stairwell door. And he had thought getting back to his office at Police Headquarters would calm things. He managed not to chuckle bitterly. The city could be in worse shape. Power was stable, rebuilding projects moved forward, city government was in charge, all the feds had withdrawn except for the disaster liaison, and about half the escapees from Blackgate had been rearrested.
Learning the two Blackgate Boys brought in tonight had been trussed up and were waiting for the police sent Gordon to the roof. He approached the flood light.
I didn't have any mob bosses handy. His hand not holding paperwork touched the metal bat over the intact glass. When had Batman found time to repair it? Or had it been left in the hands who tied up the perps tonight? He flipped the switch on and leaned against the parapet.
"I wondered if you were ever going to turn it on, Commissioner."
Gordon whirled. A young man perched on the parapet a few feet away, dressed in Batman's black armor only without a cape. The blue stripe across his chest and shoulders resembled a bird with wings outstretched rather than a bat. No cowl covered his straight brown hair, but a domino mask wrapped around his brown eyes. "And what name will you use?"
"Call me Nightwing." The armored man jumped down. "Gotham City will probably have another Batman someday, but right now, it's still too raw."
Gordon nodded. Raw was the best description of the difference between those who lived through the Occupation and those who had only watched it on television. "Got a couple of items of interest. Dr. Jonathan Crane is still at large."
"The Scarecrow. No sightings?"
"Not yet. And I doubt it's due to him having a sanity crack up and giving up crime." Gordon held out one of his folders. "The second one doesn't look to be as theatrical as Crane or the Joker. Calls himself the Penguin and acts like he wants to be the new Godfather of Gotham."
Nightwing opened the file. "Oswald Cobblepott the Third; the Penguin is almost an improvement."
"Major Crimes can't find a link between Cobblepott and the Penguin's activities. Maybe you can."
Nightwing returned the folder as the rooftop door opened. "I don't know why you bothered rebuilding an office, Dad, if you spend all your time up here." The young woman with bright red hair stopped as the door swung shut. "Oops, I didn't know you were in conference."
"It's alright." Gordon took the file and gestured at the vigilante. "This is Nightwing, my daughter Barbara Gordon. And I think that's all for tonight."
"Miss Gordon." Nightwing nodded. "I'll be in touch, Commissioner." He fired a line at a taller building and swooped into the night.
Gordon switched off the Batsignal. "And who let you up here?"
"I let myself up here." She shook a paper bag from his favorite deli. "Figured you forgot to eat supper again. So that's the new caped crusader? I thought he'd be taller."
He sighed as he opened the door. "Babs, I don't want you out this late. Police Headquarters is no guarantee of safety."
She followed him into his office on the top floor next to the stairs and set the paper bag on his desk. Then she crossed her arms. "Is it the late night or meeting vigilantes on rooftops?"
"They aren't safe to know."
"You always said Batman was your friend."
"A friendship forged in hell and he died. Just don't. Make friends who aren't afraid to show their faces." He adjusted his glasses.
"You worry too much. I know black armor means duck so the bad guys don't use you as a hostage."
And he knew who was responsible for her knowing that. He remembered his wife screaming, his pleading with Harvey, his son's quiet sobbing, and his friend arriving in time to save them all. Jimmy still hadn't forgiven his public betrayal of Batman, going on nine years now.
Moist lips against his cheek pulled him out of that ruined warehouse. He looked down at his daughter, nearly as tall as his shoulder now. "I had another reason to visit. Hudson University is doing a see how well we're taking care of your freshmen weekend for parents. Can you come to the stuff on Friday?"
Gordon flipped his desktop calendar. "Friday? This Friday in two days? You're lucky I still have the day open."
"Your personal assistant insisted on a copy of my university calendar. Saturday and Sunday is stuff to entertain out-of-towners, and the free meal is on Friday. So yes, you'll remember and come?" Babs seized his arm and made puppy-eyes at him.
Gordon cleared his throat. "A free meal is the least they can do with all the tuition I'm paying them. I'll see you on Friday."
Babs grinned and pulled a folded piece of paper out of her jeans pocket. "Here are the details. Don't lose them. I'm heading back to campus now."
"I'll get someone to drive you."
Gordon skidded to a stop when she spun around. "I have pepper spray, my cell phone, and a black belt. You keep your cops working." She skipped to the elevator and waved at him once she boarded. He smiled until the doors closed, and then tucked the letter in the inner pocket of his jacket.
Nightwing left Police Headquarters and headed to the Fort Clinton area of Midtown. The Iceberg Lounge was located on East 14th Street looking toward the East River. It was a restaurant that you needed reservations so you could show off your date after enjoying the theater district or the Gotham City Opera House. He shook his head as the binoculars in his goggles followed a suit escorting an evening gown inside the white stone building with tinted blue windows.
"I'll need a date so an undercover infiltration will stay undercover. Too bad he didn't leave any phone numbers with the rest of the Bat stuff."
The docks wouldn't patrol themselves. After traveling over the rooftops, he descended to the alley where he had parked the Tumbler. So Gordon decided to work with him. That relieved his fear of another chase letting the perps get away. He climbed into the cockpit.
Gordon deserved to have his family again, but the boys chasing after Barbara will probably put him back in the hospital. Maybe Nightwing should keep an eye on her. She hadn't lived in Gotham for eight years and she was a target. He selected manual operation from the list of choices and steered the Tumbler across the island.
Babs left the elevated train at the station closest to her dorm. Gotham City had its faults, but she had no complaints about the public transportation system. There was a direct line from Police Headquarters to South Channel Island where Hudson University was housed.
She scanned the platform just like her father and karate senseis taught her. No one threatening present. A blonde girl her age--wearing a Hudson University hoodie--climbed the railing at the other end of the platform. "Hey," Babs jogged toward her. "What are you doing?"
The girl screamed as she slipped off the top railing. Babs lunged and grabbed her hoodie before she plunged to the street. "SNAKES! They're everywhere! Get them off me!" Her hand smacked Babs' arm.
"I don't know what you're on, but I'm not a snake, okay?" Babs looped her left arm over the bottom rung of the railing. "Grab onto me, please!"
The girl screamed and thrashed harder. Babs felt the material giving way.
"What's going on?" A male voice accompanied the footsteps on the platform boards.
"A jumper, help me!"
The campus police officer slammed his body next to Babs and grabbed the screaming girl's belt. They pulled the girl onto the platform. Her voice gave out and her mouth continued to scream. She curled into a fetal ball. Babs and the campus cop scrambled up from the sharp tang of piss. "Are you okay?" he asked.
"I've hurt myself worse on the uneven bars." Babs stretched her arms while he unclipped his radio and called for backup. Not bad reflexes, she thought as she appraised him. Wonder why he isn't a real cop?
His coworkers were less than impressive. "Another PTSD case." The Sergeant who had taken Babs' statement brushed the crumbs out of his chin stubble. "If their parents can afford to send them here, you'd think they give 'em psykeyatrick care too." He shook his head as the gurney with the silently screaming girl headed down to the waiting ambulance.
Babs crossed her arms. "She was screaming about snakes. That doesn't sound like PTSD to me."
"You a pysch major?"
"But nothing. She's just the latest since life is back to normal after Bane. They should've told you students about the warning signs too. Now don't worry about her," he consulted her statement, "Ms. Gordon. She'll be fine after they get some Prozac in her. Riley! Give Ms. Gordon a ride back to her dorm."
Babs accepted the ride in silence, not wanting to get into how well she knew PTSD. That girl had been terrified out of her mind. Huge difference. She unlocked her dorm room door; her roommate still hadn't moved in. She locked the door and headed straight to her laptop on the built-in desk.
Searching on fear attacks brought up links referencing a decade-old news story: the Narrows Riots. They were all dead ends and even the Internet Way Back Machine had been scrubbed. She dived into GCPD's database, and then leaned back. The file was there, but all the information was deleted. Homeland Security redaction was the attached explanation.
All records were not destroyed, namely the one between her father's ears. But everything concerning Batman was a gaping wound, what right did she have to ask about their first case? What if her suspicions destroyed the rebuilding between them and her father exiled her from Gotham and him again? She wiped her search history and went to bed.
Blake cursed at the blinking cursor for the--damn, he lost count of how many times he cursed the computer. He leaned back and stared at the rocky ceiling lost in the darkness above the suspended lights. He wasn't computer illiterate, and he had learned GCPD's programs fast enough. But that was before confronting the software Wayne had programmed his machines with. Apparently off the shelf wasn't good enough for Batman.
Wayne had left a manual, unfortunately written in a language that only looked like English until you tried to read it. The brains he had hidden from the world were scary. How could Blake ever live up to whatever Wayne saw in him?
He sat up and faced the screen behind the waterproof glass again. Blake's brains led him to Batman's real identity, recognized Selina Kyle before she left town, and stumbled onto Bane's plan with just enough time to save the Commissioner. If the police department couldn't do something, they outsourced the job to a specialist. He needed to see what the police had dug up on Cobblepott and what Cobblepott was showing the city and possibly what he had on a computer not revealing to anyone. According to the news, there were kids who could do that without taking their eyes off a video game. He'd hire one, somehow.
The computer science building at Hudson University knocked Blake's resolution back to the cave where it sounded so reasonable. He looked at the bulletin board pinned with advertisements, school notices, and nothing saying "computer help call me." The students milled around him. A classroom door opened, added more disheveled bodies to the hallway, along with a face he recognized: heart-shaped under fiery red hair, and bright blue eyes that matched the blue he had painted on his armor. She headed down the hallway away from him. Blake hurried after her. "Barbara Gordon!"
She whirled with her hand ready with a keychain pepper spray canister. Blake raised his hands in surrender. "Do I know you?"
She didn't; it was Nightwing she had met last night. "Sorry, I used to work for your father. I recognized you from a picture. John Blake." He held out his hand and let the other one drop.
She put the keychain in her pocket and shook his hand. "Occupation Blake? You're the one who got him out of the hospital before they killed him. Thanks. You enrolled since you left the force?"
"No, I opened up a private investigations firm. Only I need computer help."
"The Geek Squad will install just about anywhere." She shifted the backpack on her shoulder.
"I'm looking for sneakier computer help." He stuffed his hand into his pocket.
Her pink lips parted in a grin. "You came here to find a hacker? You really do need help if you think this is where to go to ask for people with a legally-dubious skill set. Do you have an email addy?"
"That I could set up." He dug out one of his business cards. "It's a legitimate case; I'm not trying to get anyone in trouble."
"Good to know. I'll send someone your way." She tucked the business card in her back jean pocket.
Blake swallowed so what he said next wouldn't sound weird. "Thanks, I appreciate it, Miss Gordon."
"I owe you for keeping my dad alive. Oh and Blake, it's Babs. Barbara is my mother."
He grinned. "It's John."
"Maybe it will be." She turned with a wave and headed back down the hall.
Blake let out a nervous exhale. Be more careful, you idiot! He rubbed his face. He needed more sleep in a real bed, not the cave's hospital bunk. He couldn't remember the last time he saw his apartment.
Jen followed her boss into the Mayor's office and stood behind the Penguin's chair. Boy, if Selina could see her now; she wouldn't even recognize Jen with the grey chic business suit and shorter haircut.
Mayor Hill ignored her to focus on Oswald Cobblepott III. "What can I do for you, Mr. Cobblepott?"
The portly man settled into a chair in front of the Mayor's desk but kept his feet on the floor. "Firstly, I came to congratulate you on the progress Gotham City's restoration has made under your leadership. And I hope this contribution to your campaign fund will help you decide to run for reelection after completing your late predecessor's term. Dove?"
Jen opened the leather portfolio, set the check on the Mayor's desk, and stepped behind Cobblepott. The only bad thing about this job was the Penguin's obsession.
Mayor Hill's eyes bugged out when he counted the check's zeroes. "Thank you, Mr. Cobblepott, but I can't take all the credit. I would be nowhere without fine upstanding citizens like yourself."
Cobblepott bowed his head. "Which is why it befuddles me so that the police are operating under some misapprehension about my business."
Hill slipped the folded check inside his jacket. "Commissioner Gordon is a remarkable politician for having no political ambitions. Everybody in the city trusts him, hell, probably the whole country. I can't replace him, not unless he leaves of his own free will and he's years away from mandatory retirement." He adjusted his horn-rimmed glasses. "I'm afraid we're both stuck with him for the time being."
Cobblepott nodded. "I shall do my utmost to alleviate his fears then. Thank you for your time, Mr. Mayor. Come, Dove."
Jen followed Cobblepott down to the waiting limousine. Once they were seated inside, he removed his monocle and polished it. "So your thoughts about Acting Mayor Hill?"
"Greedy, but for power not just money."
He jammed the monocle on again. "Garcia was supposed to run for Governor or Congress two terms ago. Hill nearly ran out of patience waiting for his turn."
"He's not going to risk it to get rid of the Commissioner." Okay, here was another part of the job she didn't like. Gordon turned out to be a fair man for the top cop in Gotham. Without his quiet heroics, there wouldn't have been a bomb for Batman to die with. And he hid Selina's police record because she helped save the city too. Sure, he put a condition on it to never steal in Gotham again, but he's the top cop, so of course he'd make a condition like that. Now they all wanted to get rid of him.
"True, but he will not step in the way." He tapped a finger on his beak of a nose. "Set up a meeting with Dr. Crane. This operation may require a delicate touch."
"As long as I'm not called Crow."
"That wouldn't do at all. There's nothing feminine at all about Crow, Raven."
Jen rolled her eyes while she agreed with him.
A shrill noise penetrated Blake's sleep. He realized he was in his bed at his apartment and the sound was not his alarm clock. That alarm still had an hour to go. He rubbed his face and searched for the source of the noise.
His laptop speakers made the racket. He sat on the couch in front of it. Why was it on, even if he had left it open? A webcam chat window took up most of the screen and showed a green head. The noise stopped before he touched the keyboard. "Your personal security is lax at best, Mr. Blake. Do you want some upgrades along with your hacks?" The lips on the green head moved with the synthesized voice.
"Who the hell are you?"
"I'm sorry; I was under the impression you needed a hacker."
"I was under the impression you'd send me an email." Blake stifled a yawn. The built-in webcam must be activated and he was glad he put on pajama pants before crawling into bed. "So what's your handle, the Wizard of Oz?"
"Call me Oracle. Now what do you want done? It influences my rates."
"Ain't nothing in this life for free, Mr. Blake. But if you need a cup of coffee to jumpstart your brain, I can wait."
"Just a sec." He pulled a soda out of the fridge and made a face at the rest of the contents. Add grocery shopping to the list of chores he needed to do. He returned to the laptop. "Ideally, I'd like all the records connected to one business and the person who owns it as well as what's on his personal computers."
Oracle's green head blinked. "That's a two grand job."
"Two thousand dollars!" He fell back against the couch. "You have an inflated sense of how much a private investigator earns."
"I have bills too. And that price includes follow-up searches."
"Still can't afford you. Sorry."
The green head tilted on the screen. "Who is your target?"
Did it matter if this anonymous hacker knew? After all, the police were watching him too. "Oswald Cobblepott the Third."
The gridlines forming Oracle's eyebrows rose. "Well, I'm not asking why. Client confidentiality privileges. You want proof he's dirty."
"It would be nice." He guzzled the last of the soda. "Pipe dream, but a nice one."
"Okay, I'll email you when I have the information."
He sat up. "What? But I can't pay you."
"Don't worry about it, Mr. Blake. I'm just a concerned citizen improving Gotham City."
He crossed his arms over his bare chest. "I can't stop you if you take your fee from Cobblepott, but don't be stupid enough to make yourself a target."
"He'll never know I was there. Oracle out." The chat window closed itself.
He shook his head and headed to his shower. He had help; hopefully, it wouldn't bite him in the ass.
Babs covered her mouth as the yawn forced its way out. She knew better than to stay up so late, especially when the father-daughter time was her bright idea. Students filled the Quad and she needed to cross it to meet the group of parents. She shook her head as she spied the familiar rumpled dark trench coat. She hoped he didn't wear it in the middle of summer.
She weaved her way through the other students and reached the halfway point across when the screams jerked her attention to the north side of the yard. A crowd of young people ran across the street, oblivious to the traffic, and onto the grass. She froze as her brain screamed at her to run from the human stampede led by the softball teams.
A hand closed around her arm. She looked into the face of her savior as he shoved them both behind an elm tree. Blue eyes behind clear-framed glasses, disheveled mop of brown hair, and a suit and tie like a professor would wear, but the cold smile made her jerk her arm away. His grip tightened and his body pressed hers into the tree trunk.
Something stung her neck. Her free hand collided with a plastic syringe. "Let's make your daddy's worse nightmare come true." He pulled the syringe out of her neck.
Babs' arm refused to slug him. No muscles in her body listened to her as her eyes slid closed and the screaming runners faded away.
Blake frowned as he headed down the quiet dorm hallway. He was good at digging up information, but it shouldn't be this easy to find where the police commissioner's daughter lived. Not to mention letting men wander anywhere they wanted even if it was a coed dorm.
He owed her for sending Oracle his way and he hoped a dinner out qualified as a friendly gesture that wouldn't upset her, her father, any hypothetical boyfriends that a girl that pretty always had. And he hoped that she was her father's daughter so dinner undercover at the Iceberg Lounge would be intriguing.
The door swung open when he knocked. "Hello?" The figure in the dim room didn't move. He reached in and turned on the light. The scarecrow with a letter pinned to its chest wore a tattered black coat. A picture of the Commissioner followed by "I have your daughter" cut from headlines and glued to the white sheet of paper.
"Blake, what are you doing here?" Gordon strode down the hall.
"Checking on a friend and I found this." He waved his hand at the open door.
The blood drained from Gordon's face. "Crane wore that when he was playing judge during the Occupation." He pulled out his cellphone. "Stephens, get over to Hudson University, Kane Hall. Barbara's been kidnapped." He focused on Blake again. "Did you see anything?"
"Sorry, sir. The hall was empty. Do you want me to see if there are any witnesses?"
Gordon shook his head. "Can't give Crane a way to get off on a technicality. But I appreciate it. Maybe you can do something with the mob scene in the Quad."
Blake nodded and left the Commissioner glaring at the painted expression on the burlap face. Gordon couldn't open up to a man young enough to be his son--no matter what they had lived through. Stephens could force it out of him though. But mob scene sounded like a distraction.
The Quad was a wide yard that functioned as a hub between the buildings and streets in the center of the campus. He slipped past the barricade; took in the ambulances, police cars, officers, and EMTs subduing people in a screaming panic; and scores of injured people staying out of the way. He lifted a first-aid kit out of an ambulance and went to the first guy who looked able to talk. A blond kid cradled his bloody arm against his chest. "What happened?"
"A softball player ran over me." Metal cleats had cut his arm and under the blood Blake saw the bruises of the shoe imprint. The kid inhaled as Blake poured the disinfectant over his arm, and then elaborated. "A whole bunch of other people ran screaming across the Quad. I was going to class. You think they got a bad batch of steroids or something?"
"Or something." Blake agreed as he wrapped gauze around the arm. The screams dragged up memories he thought long buried. Damn Scarecrow; what was he getting out of this?
Babs blinked her eyes and groaned. Clothes were still on. Her head pounded. She pushed out of the chair she was in, but her feet were tied together and she couldn't stand up. Her wrists were also tied together behind the chair back.
A surge of panic lifted her head. She was in a cinder block shed. Enough rakes, shears, and scythes for an army of gardeners hung on the wall. On the same wall was a metal roll up door sized for the lawn tractor parked to her right. To her left were a regular metal door, a scarred worktable, bench, and a water cooler. The red switch for the sprinkler system was between the water cooler and the garage door, no where close to any light switches.
She shifted and felt rope wrapped around her waist and the chair. Anger replaced the panic. Kidnapping motherfucker knew enough to immobilize her, not that it would save his ass when she got free. Could she scoot the chair to the wall of blades?
Before she tried that, the door to her left opened. A lanky man in a suit stepped inside as the burlap sack over his head moved to look her over. "No screams for help, Ms. Gordon?" The distorted voice had an undertone of amusement. "What mental fortitude you must have."
"No gag. When kidnappers don't bother with one, there's no point to screaming. I could use some water. Whatever you gave me dried up my mouth."
"Mental fortitude indeed," Scarecrow lifted his wrist.
Babs recoiled as far as the ropes allowed. "I'm cooperating! You don't need the drugs. I'll tell you about all my nightmares."
The blue eyes stared through the holes in the burlap. "You want to talk to me?"
She swallowed against the dryness in her throat. "I can add you to my collection of psychiatrists, Dr. Crane. Former head of Arkham Asylum, that puts you ahead of the book writing quack my mother found in Cleveland. My issues are all because mommy and daddy divorced." She snorted.
He pulled off the burlap mask, and set it on the work table. He drew a paper cup full of water from the cooler and held it while she drank it. He pivoted her chair so she faced the bench before he sat and put on his glasses. The unassuming professor was back. "You Gordons are always surprising. It must be a family trait." His blue eyes finally blinked. "So the quack in Cleveland was your last psychiatrist."
"My high school thought I had anger management issues. Really it was no tolerance for bullies or boys who think cornering me endears me to them." That was as much warning as she would give.
Crane tilted his head. "You inherited your father's crusade for justice. But they never met him, so all they saw in you was anger. But we both know he always had anger to spare."
She blinked. Angry was not an adjective paired with James Gordon Sr. Sure he got angry, but it never took root in him. "I figured I didn't like bullies. Powerful lording over the weaker."
"That's the easy response, which I'm sure that quack honed in you to parrot back. That's why nightmares are so much more useful in therapy, Barbara. May I call you Barbara?"
"Sure, Dr. Crane, I don't mind." She'd agree with most anything to keep the hallucinogenic drugs away. "Nightmares are useful because they cut through the crap our brains try to distract us with?"
He smiled at that. "Did you read my paper on the subject?"
"Sorry but no. Maybe my fourth grade teacher did. She's the only one who ever asked about my nightmares." Along with Jimmy before he shut everyone out.
"Tell me your nightmare, Barbara," Crane said softly. "Tell me what wakes you up in the night drenched in sweat."
She was only stalling, but why lie? Nobody would believe the Scarecrow if Bane didn't convince them. "Two-Face holds me over a dark abyss with one hand. The silver coin falls into his other hand, scarred side face up. Then he lets go and I'm falling into the blackness."
"And daddy's not there to catch you."
"Nobody's there to catch me. Everything just goes black."
"When's the last time you had this dream?" He rested his chin in his hand and his elbow on his knee.
"The night after the news broke that Batman died."
"And the first time was the night Harvey Dent almost killed your family. Don't look so surprised, Barbara. I didn't have any encounters with Harvey Dent, or as you have named the monster version of him, Two-Face. But I know both your fathers. When I heard Bane's speech on the Blackgate steps, I knew it was the truth from Papa Gordon's pen. Papa Bat killed all those police officers and mobsters after stopping Gotham finest S.W.A.T. team from killing the Joker's disguised hostages without letting anyone die?" He rolled his eyes. "I have a theory that this city breeds a special kind of stupid."
She shook her head. "Both my fathers?"
Crane sat up and nodded. "Feeling conflicted is perfectly natural, Barbara. Especially after what was undoubtedly a traumatic breakup of your once happy home. But a session's loyalty is to the unbiased truth. And that truth is the Batman was a better father to you than James Gordon Senior."
Babs' chest shuddered as she inhaled. "Dad was in an impossible situation--"
"No, Barbara." His voice was gentle. "You and your brother and your mother were in the impossible situation, put there by Jim Gordon. The Batman did what any true father would; he swooped in. How did he save you, Barbara?"
"He came out of the shadows and told Two-Face to point the gun at those responsible." A tear slipped out. "Two-Face pointed the gun at Batman and flipped his coin and then the gun fired. Batman fell down. But he got up, tackled Two-Face over the edge, and handed Jimmy to Dad."
"And then the lies began."
Another tear fell. She never cried. Not even when she heard Batman was dead and Dad wasn't. "It was Batman's idea."
"Of course it was. He was deranged for all the right reasons and those reasons blew him into little batty bits all over the bay." He looked over the rims of his glasses. "He would be glad that you mended the relationship with the father you have left."
Babs dropped her chin so her red hair curtained her face. She wrenched her twisting gut out in a sob. Psychiatrists always considered it a breakthrough when tears flooded their office. A smile curled Crane's lips before he made a soothing noise. When her cheeks were slick with tears, she pulled her head up and gulped air. "Batman shouldn't have died."
"It wouldn't have ended any other way, Barbara. He died the way he wanted, saving Gotham City." She choked out more tears to Crane's contained delight. "How do you feel?"
"Exposed." She barked out a laugh. "That's the whole point though."
"Yes, it is."
She sniffled and looked at him. "I need to go to the bathroom."
Crane pushed his glasses up and lost his pleased look for an I-didn't-plan-on-that one. He opened the drawers of the work table and found a multi-colored bandanna. "You'll need a blindfold, but there's no point to screaming as you guessed." He folded the bandanna into a triangle before tying it over her eyes. It covered her whole face, dangled past her chin, and smelled of old oil. He retied the rope around her ankles into a looser hobble so she could walk. Then he untied the rope around her waist and helped her up. "Watch your step."
She found the end of the hobble before trusting her weight to that foot. Crane's hand stayed around her bicep. They both froze when an engine whine moved to the garage door.
His hand twitched violently. "No, it blew up!"
Babs fell against him. He didn't stop her slide to the floor as a small explosion hit metal to the right. Then Crane was gone from her side. She scooted backwards and rubbed the bandanna on her shoulders. She heard colliding bodies hit the bench. The bandanna crept down enough to free her eyes.
Crane wrenched himself free of the armored figure. "And who are you supposed to be?"
She continued scooting backwards around the tractor. Its bulk provided protection. She was on the side with the flap to eject the clippings. She lay on her side and stuck her arms under the flap.
"I'm Nightwing, Scarecrow."
"Another wannabe Batman. I thought the Joker scared you all from trying that again." It sounded like someone scooped up the chair.
Her arm scraped against the lawn mower blade and she bit her lip against the sharp pain. She shifted her body and the blade slid across the rope.
The chair slammed down and broke. The rope parted and she rolled onto her stomach. Through the gears of the lawn mower she saw Nightwing pick himself up. She crawled to the wall of tools and grabbed the closest set of hedge clippers.
"It takes more than that to scare me." Nightwing snarled.
She cut the rope between her ankles and pulled the bandanna off.
"It usually does," the distorted voice of the Scarecrow answered. "Try this instead."
Babs turned around the front of the lawn mower and saw Nightwing's face take a direct hit of white powder from Scarecrow's wrist cannon. The vigilante reeled backwards.
She held her breath, leaped, and landed against the wall next to the water cooler. She pulled the fire alarm and the sprinklers kicked on along with a bell. She whirled and lifted the clippers to stab.
Scarecrow ran out the other door.
She inhaled the washed clean air. Nightwing thrashed on the floor. "How could you! They're just kids! Let them out of the city!"
She pressed his shoulders onto the floor and looked into his upside down face. "Nightwing, it's Barbara Gordon, the Commissioner's daughter. It's not real. Whatever you see isn't real."
"Bane is blowing up the city today! We have to get the kids out!"
Time to work with the delusion. "The kids are this way, come on!" She pulled him to his feet. They staggered out through the demolished garage door. Parked beside the building was the black tank Dad and Jimmy described. But she remembered the Joker destroying it.
The top slid back revealing two seats. She helped Nightwing crawl into the passenger seat before she vaulted into the driver's. The roof and windshields slid down around them.
"Hurry! We have to get people off the islands before the reactor detonates."
"Looking for the keys." A screen in the center of the dash flashed "loiter." She found its menu of options. She found city bunker under a list of destinations for the autopilot. The engine shifted into gear and the Batmobile took off. She looked out the window. Crane had held her prisoner at the softball park on campus. "How are you doing?"
"State troopers guard the Gotham Bridge. I can reason with them. Cop to cop. They have to let us out." His brown eyes looked glassy.
She pushed her wet bangs out of her wide eyes. "Okay, I'll leave the talking to you then." Many cops had left the force after the War for Gotham. But only one name had hit the news for leading a convoy of citizens to the Gotham Bridge only to have it destroyed before it could cross.
A shudder tore through him. "Batman's fighting Bane. These people have to leave. Don't blow up the bridge!"
Good thing she had gotten Blake away before he blurted this stuff out to anyone who would use his secret identity against him. They drove through the Sheal Docklands. A metal gate opened before the vehicle reached the fence. She saw a large crane extending up into the dark before the Batmobile turned in the shipping yard. The doors of a C-can opened and they roared inside it. The doors swung shut behind them and the tank remained still as the surrounding walls grew taller.
Lights so bright she had to shield her eyes turned on as the hydraulic lift lowered them into an underground chamber. The Batmobile drove forward and parked on the concrete floor of a long, empty room.
The dashboard screen changed. "Activate satellite cave's computer system?" She chose yes and an L-shaped section of the floor ahead and next to three furnace doors rose. One slab became a desk that eight monitors rose higher behind. The second slab stopped closer to the ceiling. A desk-high bank of server bays was underneath the task lighting in the slab.
Jimmy and she had argued about where Batman went when he wasn't on the streets. Their guesses were both wrong. She glanced at Nightwing. His brown eyes were glazed over and the former cop's body shook. She climbed out of the Batmobile.
The computer system waited for input. She typed in Scarecrow. Each monitor opened up a different file. She ignored Crane's police file, his published papers, reports on how he ran Arkham Asylum, and concentrated on the chemical properties of his fear toxin. There was no author's name, but it had directions to synthesize the antidote. "But with what?" she asked out loud.
She dived into the computer files and found one that asked if she wanted to open everything. She said yes and turned to watch more hydraulic slabs lift.
A table lifted in the center of the space. Between the computer desk and the Batmobile, a wire mesh cabinet with storage trays that looked like they pivoted rose out of the floor. Behind the Batmobile, a shelving unit nearly as high as the ceiling slid out of the furnace wall. On the long wall opposite the furnace doors, five concrete slabs slid up and tucked against the ceiling. The first room closest to the hydraulic lift to outside contained a red motorcycle and tires that matched the Batmobile's. The next one was a complete bathroom with a shower. The chemistry lab was next to the bathroom. The fourth door had a hospital bed and cabinets. The last door just beyond the computer desk opened to a storage closet the size of her dorm room.
Babs turned back to the keyboard, downloaded the antidote recipe to a WayneTech tablet tucked with the monitors, and jogged to the chemistry lab. "You made straight A's in chemistry, you can do it." Batman had labeled everything better than her chemistry teacher had.
The only drawback was the note that the cure had a sedation effect. "One police officer in the Narrows Riots, Sgt. Gordon, took the antidote seconds after exposure and remained conscious and unaffected. Police officers treated twelve hours later--once supplies were available--were sedated for the same period of time."
Babs prepped the syringe and left it on a medical tray. "Nightwing?" His cheek was clammy under her hand. "We're off the bridge."
His eyes snapped open. "You blew up the bridge!" He surged out of the passenger seat and grabbed her shirt.
She seized his arm and tossed him over her shoulder. His back landed on the concrete and he groaned. "I didn't blow up the bridge! I'm helping you get the kids out."
"Sister Johanna?" He blinked. "Frank flushed my report down the toilet, honest."
"Bedtime, young man." He accepted her assistance off the floor and she steered their stagger into the medical bay. He flopped onto the mattress, and she injected the antidote into his neck before he decided she wasn't a nun. He closed his eyes with a sigh. "You'll feel better when you wake up, Nightwing." She pulled all his limbs onto the bed, and then dimmed the medical bay lights.
Hero saved, so next on the agenda, contact Dad. Crane had left her cell phone in her pocket, even though he had turned it off. "I don't think he's done much kidnapping." She hoped the signal reached this underground base. Going out to make a phone call didn't feel safe.
"Barbara Gail, are you all right?"
"I'm fine, Dad. Nightwing saved me, but Crane got away. He had me at a maintenance shed at the campus' softball field. I pulled its fire alarm. He might have left a clue where he's staying though."
Her father sighed, but she couldn't tell if it was out of relief or aggravation that she was lobbing clues at him. "Where are you?"
"A Batcave." The list of destinations had given another location that title.
"With Nightwing." Now that voice she remembered from many aggrieved news conferences watched online.
"He's been a perfect gentleman. The sooner you lock Crane up, the sooner it'll be safe for me to return to class."
Another sigh. "Stay with him, Babs, but leave your phone on. I won't track it."
"I will. Oh and if Crane tells you something crazy--"
"I doubt anything will top death by exile logic."
"Well, if he comes out with I love Batman more than you, I was playing head games with him. Stalling for time. I love you, Dad."
"I love you too, Babs. Stay safe." She hung up and bit her lip. Bathroom, dry clothes, food, and then Batman or now Nightwing's computer. Right after she shut off the Batmobile.
He blinked at a concrete ceiling with dim pot lights. It was brighter than the cave. His armor and mask were still on. Nightwing sat up in a hospital bed and looked out the missing wall. A computer work station was set up under a white grid ceiling near the other side of the brighter room.
A slight figure turned into the room from the left. "You woke up faster than the notes said you would. How do you feel?" She turned up the lights and the shadow turned into Babs Gordon.
"I've had worse mornings. What happened?"
She handed him a white mug filled with chicken broth. "You need to restock your supplies here or get support staff to do it for you. Everything in here is nine years old. That was all I could find food-wise that wasn't expired." She waved at the mug.
He sipped the warm broth. "I've never seen this place. Where are we?"
The petite girl pulled up the too-long and baggy jogging pants and frowned at him. "Are you another wannabe Batman like the guy the Joker killed?"
"No." Nightwing swung his legs off the bed. "Batman left me the coordinates to his main headquarters, but I'm having problems accessing all the equipment. He probably left me a note about this place on the computer." His legs supported his weight. "Scarecrow kidnapped you and unleashed his fear toxin on the softball teams, so I searched the buildings surrounding the Hudson University's softball field. I found him with a lawn mower?" That didn't make sense, but he remembered punching Crane and the skinny former doctor landing next to a huge one. He stopped in the middle of the bigger room.
Next door to the medical bay was a chemistry lab followed by a bathroom. There was a hole in the ceiling of lights, the Tumbler, a costume locker, and a computer that looked just as intimidating as the one back with the bats.
Babs headed to the L-shaped computer desk which had two wheeled office chairs parked in front of it. "It was a maintenance shed and there was a lawn mower parked inside and you got a nose full of fear toxin. Crane ran for it after I pulled the fire alarm. I got you into the Batmobile, autopilot brought us here, and I got the antidote out of the computer and gave it to you. So you're lucky I'm so awesome."
"I expect nothing less from Jim Gordon's daughter." He stared at the multiple monitors, each one showing a different computer program. "Did you talk to him?"
She nodded. "Last night while you slept. He hasn't called back, so I don't think he's caught Crane yet."
"Great." He sat in the second chair. "How did you get all this to work?"
"This? It's just a modified LINUX system with the simplest password to crack. I didn't even have to do that since the Batmobile's onboard computer granted proper permissions and turned everything on." She pushed aside a bat cowl and pointed to the third monitor on the bottom row. "I found the main computer, but I haven't linked them together since this one has been out-of-sync for nine years and it still has details about the Narrows Riots that the Feds erased off the police database."
He blinked at the list of folders and lines diagramming where each one fit, and then turned to her blue eyes. "Isn't Linux Charlie Brown's friend with the blanket?"
"You weren't kidding about needing computer help." She turned to the monitors. "Look, if it's some macho thing, Batman had help. He wiped their names out of his records, but if you read his logs, you can spot the references."
"When did he do that? You said this thing has been off for nine years?"
"Before Harvey Dent Day." Her voice dropped. "Batman was going to give into that murdering clown's demands because he thought Dad was dead and he blamed himself. He was going to turn himself in and not take anyone else down with him."
Nightwing remembered that news conference, when he was fourteen and dealing with being dumped in St. Swithin's. Harvey Dent claimed he was Batman and let them arrest him, setting off a chain of events that led to the Joker's first capture.
Her head dropped into her hands. "He saved us, and the city turned on him, and I just wanted to thank him. Just once." A sob shook her body. "And now he's gone." The second sob was harder.
"Oh Babs, it's okay." He turned her chair and pulled her into a hug. "Mourn him, Babs, he deserves it." Her arms tightened around his shoulders and she buried her face against his neck. He stroked her hair and hoped the glove wouldn't snag on the red strands. "I never got to really thank him either, not for everything. He didn't like thank you's."
"How can you possibly understand?" She pushed away. "He picked you to give all this to." She waved her hands. "You had your chance!"
"Less of a chance than you think." He pulled his lucky charm out of a belt pouch and set it into her palm. "I had two conversations with him before the Occupation: one to tell him your father had been shot and one after the Stock Exchange mess. Then he was captured by Bane's men and got free to save us all." He swallowed against the lump in his throat. "The last thing he told me was to wear a mask."
"What's so special about this?" She held the Batarang up between them. The thin leather strap from when he wore it around his neck was still wrapped around the ears and tail. "There's a whole box of them over there."
"After my parents died, a cousin took me in. Don't know what the system was thinking, he lived in the Narrows, barely worked, fought with his girlfriend, and drank. I started crawling out onto the fire escape when the fighting got too loud. One night, Batman was there, spying into another apartment. I was thirteen and it was the first cool thing to happen to me in years, and no one would believe me. Blurted that out to him and he tossed me this telescope night vision gadget, which the adults confiscated and pawned for more beer. Three days later, the Narrows Riots broke out."
Her red-rimmed eyes widened. "You were there?"
"In the thick of it. My cousin's girlfriend ditched me, I found cops that were actually the terrorists in disguise, Scarecrow on a fire-breathing horse, and demons every where. Somehow, I ended up with this lawyer, Rachel Dawes, who wasn't affected by the toxin. She fought off Scarecrow but the demons closed in. All I could do was chant 'Batman will save us.' Like a prayer. And he answered it. Pulled us up to a rooftop where we stayed until your dad found us the next morning. As soon as I woke up and slipped away from the adults, I went to the old Wayne Tower--the one the train wrecked. I found that Batarang in the street. It's been my good luck charm ever since." He took it back. "I never got to tell him."
She wiped her eyes as she sniffled. "It's an awfully big cape to fill alone, Blake."
He froze as he stared at her. With a sigh, he took off the useless mask. "How did you know?"
Her pink lips smirked. "I didn't tell Nightwing to call me Babs. And when you were under the fear toxin, do you remember any of that?"
"I dreamed about the bridge and that asshat trooper… it was out loud, wasn't it?"
"Luckily, Crane had run off and I got you out before anyone arrived to hear you ranting away."
He pinched the bridge of his nose. "The fire-breathing horse was better. So what now?"
"You want me to sign a contract? I'll never disclose your identity or hold you responsible for injuries resulting from vigilante crime fighting statement?"
He looked at her again. The red flush from crying had faded and her blue eyes gleamed. "What?"
"I'm offering to help, you silly bird. And frankly, you're in no position to turn me down." She picked up the bat cowl sitting on the desk and slipped it over her head, holding it up so her blue eyes peered out of the eye holes. "Give me a suit."
Babs didn't have her father's looks, but she huffed up like Jim Gordon. "He saved my life too. And you can't even turn on the computers!"
Blake held up his hands. "Time out. That wasn't what I meant. The only spare suits I have are male. And even if that's fine, you're not tall enough to fit."
She pulled the cowl off and set it between the keyboard and monitors. Her shoulders scrunched up, but she wiped away her crestfallen expression. "I'm sure Crane's behind the people getting freaked out on campus lately. I took a sample from you and compared it to the one detailed in the file." She opened up a couple of spinning diagrams on the monitor closest to him.
"Just a concerned citizen improving Gotham?"
"I don't like anyone talking smack about the GCPD, but Batman caught Crane both times. I think it's up to us if I ever want to return to class again."
"Fair enough." He nodded at the screen. "So you're a chemist too?"
She blushed. "Only high school, but I made straight A's."
"But we should have a chemist check your results. I may have a contact back at my apartment for one. And he might be able to help you with a suit."
"Great, we also need to go to my dorm room so I can get more clothes. Everything here is men's and too big." She tugged the V-neck collar of the black T-shirt back to her neck.
"We can't drive the Tumbler around Gotham in daylight."
She typed a command on the keyboard. A section of the wall past the bathroom slid up and revealed a small garage for a red MV Agusta F4 motorcycle.
"Okay, you're hired. And your first assignment is to find out if Batman left me an inventory list." Blake headed to the bathroom.
Lucius Fox looked up from the financial statement when his secretary ushered in John Blake and a young, red-haired woman. He stood with a smile. "I expected you to contact me before now, Mr. Blake."
Blake shook Fox's outstretched hand with a tucked-in smile. "I didn't know if the arrangement you had passed down to me."
Fox grinned as his secretary shut the door. "It never was official, just projects so I don't get bored sitting behind this desk all day. And this is?"
"Barbara Gordon," Blake answered.
Miss Gordon shook Fox's hand. "Pleased to meet you, Mr. Fox."
"Likewise, Miss Gordon." He gestured to the visitors chairs. "Now what can I help you with?"
"We need a chemist," Blake said as he adjusted his jacket as he sat.
"Dr. Crane has been tinkering with his hallucinogens again?" He took the flash drive Miss Gordon held out.
"I don't know if I contaminated the sample since I took it after administrating the antidote." She tucked her hands back into her skirt-covered lap.
Fox opened the files. "Looks like he has run out of his special ingredient and is substituting a new compound. I'll tweak the antidote to match. Is there anything else?"
"I want a Batsuit," Miss Gordon said in a breathless rush.
Fox took off his wire-frame glasses and blinked at her. Her chin rose.
He turned to Blake.
"I need her help and she needs the protection," the young man said.
Fox's gaze shifted back to Miss Gordon. Bruce had hidden that determined you-won't-stop-my-plan gleam better. "How much protection do you need? The first version of the suit got complaints that it was too bulky to move in."
"I need to move. I have a black belt and took gymnastics, and I expect to use both."
"It will take about a day to fabricate, unless you want to change all the details." He reached into the desk drawer for the portable laser measuring device he had been tweaking.
"I'd like my hair outside the suit." Her nose wrinkled. "It itches under a motorcycle helmet, so off my neck please. And can you change the color of the bat to gold?"
"That'll be a target on your chest," Blake said.
"So make that area bulletproof. But it's a symbol of how much better Gotham can be and we need that reminder."
"I can do both, Miss Gordon." Fox passed her the measuring device. "This will take your body measurements. You can use my rest room." He stood, opened the door for her, and waited until the door shut before looking at Blake. "In my day, we just took a girl to the movies."
Blake's cheeks reddened. "It's not like that, Mr. Fox. She saved me last night and if I don't let her help--" He shook his head. "I remember that fake Batman in hockey pads."
"How much does she know?"
"She figures Wayne bankrolled Batman. I didn't tell her different. Besides, she cares less about who he was under the mask than she never told that mask thank you."
Fox shook his head. "I'm not sure he would approve. He never wanted to share the burden."
Blake's mouth twisted. "And it cost him everything."
Fox wrestled with telling the young man about his suspicions. Bruce would have patched the software on the Bat he flew if he fixed it on the one in Applied Sciences. But if Bruce wanted his protégé to know he was alive, surely he would have contacted Blake.
Before he could make up his mind, Miss Gordon opened the door. "I hope this thing just records the numbers. I'd hate to find a 3D model of myself on the Internet."
"Just numbers, Miss Gordon." He smiled. "I'll call you when your packages are ready."
"Thanks, Mr. Fox." Blake shook his hand after Miss Gordon did.
"Just remember, I'm here to help." He opened his office door for them. "And I do get a kick out of unusual requests."
Jen knocked on Cobblepott's office door. "Enter, Magpie."
She closed the door behind her. "No, sir, you don't get an update if I have to answer to that, Mr. Cobblepott."
He blinked behind his desk, tilting his head. "The magpie is considered one of the most intelligent bird species."
"Show it to me in a baby name book humans use, and I'll reconsider."
"Very well, Lark, how is Dr. Crane progressing?"
"He started off well, but it's gone to shit now."
Cobblepott clucked. "Language, Lark, language. The common riff-raff depends on vulgarity to make their rhetorical point, but we are above that."
"Sorry, Mr. Cobblepott, I'll remember."
"Now, how did Dr. Crane's plan derail?" He leaned back in his leather office chair.
"He kidnapped Commissioner Gordon's daughter, but Nightwing rescued her. He swears he'll get the Commissioner, but GCPD is hunting him bad."
Cobblepott's nose twitched. "Seems I underestimated how personally Crane feels about the Commissioner. No matter, his distraction will prove quite lucrative. Contact Raptor and tell him to ease his business onto South Channel Island."
"Yes, sir. Are you in for business tonight?"
He sighed. "I need to concentrate on the front of the house. There were complaints about the newest waitress."
Jen nodded and left. The waitress in question was already flirting with a bartender. Iceberg Lounge problems were not her problems. She had no clue what to do at a restaurant other than eat.
Babs squeezed her fingers into her palms. Otherwise, she'd bounce in the Tumbler's passenger seat and kill her mature image. Trees flashed by the headlights. She glanced at Nightwing who steered the vehicle down this forest track. "Are you going to show me where this place is on a map?"
"If I do that, what will you do tonight when you get bored?"
"You're kidding, right?" The headlights reflected off a waterfall ahead and before she could inhale, the Tumbler launched into the air. They splashed through the water and landed in a huge cavern.
He drove forward a little further and then stopped. His hand stopped her from unlatching her seat belt. "Wait until the vehicle comes to a full and complete stop."
The Tumbler moved up, revealing more of the cavern. Ahead of them, four levels of brick archways met the bedrock. Lights came on, fluorescents grouped to make a square overhead and inside the bottom row of brick arches, but only bright enough to put the cave in a twilight state.
Nightwing opened the hatch and Babs scrambled out with her laptop backpack slung over her shoulder. They were parked on a massive black cube. A catwalk connected it to another one, empty except for a clear computer case resembling the Monolith from 2001 and a computer chair. Another catwalk extended to the shore with the brick arches. Black water at the bottom of the cavern surrounded the cubes.
"Wow." She turned back to Nightwing and the Tumbler. "I mean, wow." She craned her neck up, but the ceiling was lost in the darkness above the lights. "I should say something else, right?"
He chuckled. "You're doing better than me. I'm sure the bats were real impressed by my shocked silence."
"Bats?" She looked up again. "Isn't that taking the theme a little far?"
"They're out right now and I'll come back before they do." He walked toward the catwalk. "I don't want to tell you what to do, but I need you to tell me if the power will stay on if I leave."
"Where's the manual you told me about?" She followed him, glad she hadn't fought when he suggested wearing her hiking boots. At least, the computer cube had a safety rail made of clear Plexiglas.
He continued to the rocky shore. The first level arches had been converted into a hallway and rooms. She followed him into a copy of the bunker's medical bay. He handed her a binder off the hospital bed, and then kicked the clothes on the floor into a pile.
Jimmy couldn't keep a room clean either, and her father's way of dealing with housekeeping was to never go home. She rolled her eyes and turned on the light above the counter.
A quick scan of the first page revealed why Blake was having a hard time with it. It was written like a program developer making comments in his code. In comparison, Batman's case logs read like novels. After the third page, she realized it was his comments for building this base of operations. All he had time to do was to print it and leave it for Blake. She had learned the same technique in high school, and her professor had just praised her in class for adhering to diligence. She wondered where Batman had learned it as she flipped faster looking for a reference to powering up the cave.
"As long as someone is sitting at the computer, it won't submerge when the vehicles leave. To be absolutely sure, I need to make myself an authorized user. You must be already set up as one." She ignored how now the sheets had been pulled up on the hospital bed. "Let's go see the computer."
She sat at the clear monolith and the keyboard tray slid out. "Oh baby, what did he put under your hood?"
Nightwing's head jerked at her sultry tone. "My… my first name is the password."
"I've been curious." She typed in Robin. "My parents had no imagination when it came to naming their children. Do you have any idea why?"
"Why Robin?" He sighed as the computer booted. "On good days, I like to think they really liked Robin Hood and couldn't decide between him and Little John. On bad days, I figure they thought bullying built character."
"But you really don't know."
She dropped the topic in favor of finding the specs of the computer in front of her. "Seven linked Crays!" Her breathless voice sounded strange.
He jerked again. "Do you two need a chaperone?"
"Don't you have criminals to beat up?"
"Don't defile the computer while I'm gone."
"Shoo, 'Wing, I'll stay off the porn sites." He finally drove the Tumbler back out through the waterfall. The Robin account had full administrative privileges, and she dived deep before finding the Batcave's safety features. Somehow Blake triggered an automatic power switch. The other two authorized users depended on thumbprint and retina scans to prove they should be here. That explained the thumbprint scanner connected to the keyboard. She created a new authorized user account for herself and discovered the webcam set between the monitors doubled as the retina scanner.
Once she was sure that the computer cube wouldn't sink and leave her alone in darkness, she got up to explore. She looked back once she stepped on the smooth rock floor. To her right, another computer terminal pushed out of the rocky wall next to the brick arches. A rumbling filled the cave. She whirled again. The terminal on the cube sank into it, and then the whole black platform sank into the water. She let out the breath she hadn't wanted to hold. Okay, that was something else to fix.
Across from the catwalk was a tunnel deeper into the earth. The hallway to the rooms under the arches branched off to the right, but she continued ahead until the way was blocked by a metal door. The thumbprint scanner had no power, locking the door. Batman still had secrets.
She went to the rooms: bathroom, medical bay that Blake was going to thoroughly disinfect, a chemistry lab, and finally a gym. One of the brick columns against the rocky wall had a good chunk of brick missing at the perfect height for a roundhouse kick from someone taller than Blake.
The storage room was off the left side tunnel. She returned to the computer and searched for Blake's automatic light switch. It was tagged to his tracking device. Tracking device? That search lead to a seven-character-long password protected file. She pulled her laptop out of her bag. "Sorry, Batman, this secret you can't keep."
She connected the laptop and the Batcomputer, and fired up her password breaker. It didn't take long since it was a word without any numbers or symbols to add difficulty. She typed in justice and it opened a log file.
I failed Rachel. I know the mobs' men strapped her to those explosives per the Joker's orders, and I know he held onto the information to distract us from the rest of his plans. Joker's lie over who was at which address was calculated to kill her, the woman who Batman and Harvey Dent both loved. I wanted to save her, but I failed.
I failed Harvey by not keeping them safe. I should have told ██████ not to let Rachel out of his sight, to pick up Harvey too, bring them both to safety.
It's done. I must live with it. I must learn from it.
Gordon is all that stands between what Gotham was and what it could be. No one will kidnap him like Rachel and Harvey were. I will not lose Gordon; I will not see his family put through that turmoil again.
Tracking devices all have the same flaw: they can be removed from the person wearing them. Implanting the device eliminates the removal as long as the power source or the signal does not give its presence away.
If the frequency can be narrowed enough to be undetectable, that may be the solution.
Babs' eyes returned to the sentence halfway through the log. I will not lose Gordon; I will not see his family put through that turmoil again. She inhaled as she blinked rapidly. The power was triggered by Blake's tracker, so Batman must have figured out a way around the limitations.
She left the log and searched for the tracking program. Part of the screen sectioned off into a globe that focused down to Gotham City. Under the map was a list of numbers. 1. James Gordon, Sr. and 2. Robin John Blake were written in yellow. The rest of the unnamed numbers were in grey. The numeral one was inside the block of Midtown labeled Police Headquarters on the map. The numeral two was on the same island, but moving down East 20th Street toward Gotham General.
How freaking useful was that! She followed another link, which explained that the microchips were implanted in the back of the target's neck with a jet injector. The whole kit was in the storage room.
She found the labeled case on a shelf. The foam-filled case had voids for a pair of jet injectors, but only one injector gun was inside. Five vials of the microchips, but one vial was missing. She frowned at the missing equipment before loading the jet injector and pressing it against the back of her neck. Her eyes screwed shut as she pulled the trigger. It stung like an insect bite. After repacking the equipment, she headed back to the computer.
Now the number three was highlighted in yellow with a cursor waiting for the name. She typed in Barbara Gail Gordon. The map shifted from the city to the Palisades and showed the numeral three in the middle of a no-roads area. That explained the condition of the forest trail. The closest building was the new Wayne Orphanage.
So Bruce Wayne had kept an eye on what he paid for; that made sense. Now where would the Scarecrow hide?
Nightwing opened the window of Carl Von Essen's hospital room. The Hudson University student had been admitted last week and kept for paranoid schizophrenia. The young man was strapped down to the bed. He inserted Fox's antidote into the IV and waited.
Von Essen's green eyes blinked and focused on Nightwing. "What?" He winced as his voice rasped.
Nightwing offered Von Essen an ice chip. "Suck on that. Scarecrow drugged you last week. Do you remember what happened?" Von Essen struggled when the restraint kept his arm immobile. "Calm down, they'll let you out once you prove you're okay."
Von Essen sucked air past the ice chip. "I was drugged?"
"The antidote will put you asleep in a minute. What's the last thing you remember?"
"My friends took me to a club. I didn't even buy a drink."
"Scarecrow doesn't use drinks," Nightwing said. "Which club did you go to?"
Von Essen's eyes darted around the room. "It was a rave and it moves around so the cops don't find it. My friends knew where it was and I didn't ask them how." His eyelids drooped. "Wanted to impress Shelly."
"Thanks." Nightwing left via the window. Maybe the dealers would know more about this traveling rave.
Gordon slammed the update reports onto his desk. Over twenty-four hours since Babs had been kidnapped and not one lead on Crane. At least, Wayne Enterprises had already delivered the fear toxin antidote for the entire department. He left the papers and headed to the roof. The stairwell door slammed shut behind him.
A figure stood next to the unlit Batsignal and stepped into the light. The burlap head on the blue suit tilted. "This isn't how I wanted it to play out between us, Commissioner."
Gordon pulled his pistol, but a meaty hand twisted his arm. He dropped the gun when his left arm was seized. The pair of thugs held him as Scarecrow strolled closer. "You think you'll sneak me past a building full of police officers, Crane?"
"I got up here without alerting the whole building. But like I said, this wasn't what I wanted. I was looking forward to you hearing your daughter's screams and realizing there is no Batman to save her this time."
Gordon pulled but the thugs didn't let him reach Crane. "Gotham has a hero and we will stop you."
Scarecrow shook his covered head. "I'll have to console myself with how your daughter will be left with knowing how the understudy couldn't save daddy." He lifted his left arm.
Gordon took the white gas blast to the face. Crane didn't know he had taken the antidote already. But now there were two Scarecrows and his limbs dragged. "What did--" His voice slurred as the edge of his vision darkened.
"I'm not ruining the surprise." Scarecrow's distorted voice filled the blackness.
Nightwing climbed out of the Tumbler around two in the morning. Babs sat at a new computer terminal next to the brick arches. "You gotta show me how you keep finding this stuff. Otherwise, how did you and the computer make out?"
"I prefer to kiss lips, not that it should concern you."
"Ouch." He joined her. "Are you saying I'm not kissable?"
"We're not having this conversation." Her blue eyes gazed at him. "I made myself an authorized user, implanted my tracking device, reconnected this main computer with the one in the bunker, made my laptop a remote access point, created a graphical interface so you can use the programs, and got into Cobblepott's bank records. What did you accomplish tonight?"
"Stopped three muggers and a drug dealer after talking to one of Scarecrow's victims. The last thing he remembered was going to a rave." Nightwing pulled his mask off and rubbed his eyes. "Couldn't find anyone to tell me about the raves. Don't suppose you know?"
"Do you really think the Commissioner's daughter is invited?" She turned to the keyboard. "I'll start a search of GCPD drug arrests around Hudson's campus while you go change."
The files and folders moved across the screens. "You don't want to sleep here?"
She hammed a shudder. "Unless there's a bedroom hiding underwater, I am not sleeping with the bats."
"I've had worse roommates." Blake laughed at her glare and headed to the bathroom. While he loaded the suit into the Lucite locker that shared the black computer cube, he considered her list. "Tracking device?"
Babs nodded as she slid her laptop into her backpack. "Batman implanted one in you and in Dad. So I put one in me."
He thought back to the night when they freed the police of Gotham. So that's how he was able to find me.
She yawned. "We need to come back here earlier, so I can see what the Tumbler computer can access."
"Hey." He turned her to face him. "Pace yourself. You don't have anything to prove to me."
"Who said I was proving anything?" Her eyes didn't meet his.
"You've done more in one night than I've done in a month. Granted you know what you're doing, but it's a marathon, not a sprint."
She nodded with a small smile. Blake let her go and led the way down the left hallway. It ended at a ladder embedded in the rock wall. He climbed up first and opened the hatch in the hidden shed. She locked the hatch as he unlocked the white Hyundai Santa Fe parked inside.
"I wondered if you had a way to go home." She closed the passenger side door.
"It's real easy to get buried down there." He drove down the gravel service road that led back to the paved highway. "Neither of us can afford that."
"You are philosophical after patrol. Who would have guessed?"
"And this is what I get for being nice and taking the couch."
Fox had been working seven-days-a-week since the War for Gotham ended. He insisted the staff keep their weekends, but most still came in. The unalarmed guard led Blake and Miss Gordon to his office on Sunday, right at two in the afternoon. "Ready for your shots?" Fox asked once they were alone.
Blake stripped off his jacket. "Shouldn't the one I just got still be good?"
"Let's not take any chances." Fox injected Blake's bared arm before picking up the next vial for Miss Gordon. "The antidote loses potency after about a week. So if you don't stop him by then, you'll need a booster."
Miss Gordon rubbed her injection. "It better not take that long; I have classes to go to."
"Hopefully, this will help even the odds." Fox pushed the hardback suitcase in her direction.
Her blue eyes brightened as she grabbed the case, but Bake stopped her from opening it. "There's more stuff we have to do."
Fox answered Blake's nod with one of his own. "I already sent the police and the hospitals the current formula for the antidote, so they're prepared for the worse case scenarios."
"The hospitals took it just like that?" Miss Gordon's eyebrows knitted together.
"They all have something named for Wayne, after all." Blake smirked at her frown and picked up the case. "Thanks for the help, Mr. Fox."
"Good luck, kids." He called out as the elevator closed behind them.
Babs retreated to her corner of the mat. Blake rubbed his chin. "Does your father know you can hit like that?"
"He does, but I'm still his baby girl."
"He should let you at the rookies. None of them know how to take a punch." He smirked as he grabbed a hand towel off the gym's bench. "And you could throw them around too."
She hadn't thrown him in this sparring session, hence the punching. But her cellphone rang before she aired her grievance. Blake left as she answered it. "Hello, Barbara Gordon."
"Babs? It's Lieutenant Stephens. Where are you?"
"An undisclosed location and if you're tracing my cell signal, there will be repercussions."
"Nothing like that," he said. "Is your father with you?"
"We can't find him."
Her stomach dropped out of her body as Stephens moved into soothing alarmed family members mode. She let him ramble on with her lips pressed tightly together and searched for her inner calm. "Lieutenant, I will call you if I see my father, but even he didn't want to know where I am. Go find him, please!"
Stephens finally hung up. She screamed as she ran to the main cavern. "John!" He met her right outside the main tunnel as the bats screeched and fluttered behind him. "Dad's missing! MCU can't find him; he never went home, nobody saw him leave Headquarters but he isn't there."
"Breathe!" He shook her shoulders. "Scarecrow. He kidnapped you to get to the Commissioner. Now he can't find you, so he went straight to the Commissioner."
Her brain settled. "The tracking device." He spun out of her way. She opened up the program and focused the map on Device #1. "He's at the end of Onyx Street on South Channel Island, Midtown side."
Blake reached over her shoulder and enlarged the list of potential rave locations. "An old Falcone warehouse is there, been in legal limbo since Carmine was arrested."
"Scarecrow worked for Falcone, right? One of the things he got in trouble for?" She got up and stepped toward the catwalk to the Tumbler.
He stopped her. "We have to get dressed first."
She nodded rather than trust her mouth, and headed back to the gym. Her hands shook as she opened the case. Get a grip, Barbara Gail. It's up to you to save Dad now.
The armor on the body suit covered her from the knees up to neck, leaving her calves and forearms free from Kevlar plates. The body suit fastened closed at the waist behind her back. The black boots slid over the titanium-dipped tri-weave fibers protecting her skin. The black gauntlets with the projectile blades covered her hands and forearms.
Before putting on anything else, she did a kip on the pull-up bar. From the support position, she went through a front hip circle, a squat on, and a sole circle dismount. The suit didn't impede her movements.
She pulled off the elastic band that held her hair back before reaching into the case. Her gloved hands didn't shake now. She had always told herself to deal with her anger over the lie better than Jimmy. Her plan had been to come back to Gotham, find Batman, and make him accept her thanks.
Staring into the empty sockets of her helmet-like cowl, she realized she had lied to herself for seven years. This is what she wanted from Batman. This is why becoming a cop like Dad would never bring her peace.
And Crane saw it in her before she did. He really was a brilliant psychiatrist.
Who wasn't going to put himself back in prison.
She shoved the graphite cowl on and connected the electrode safety feature. Last, she pulled out the memory cloth cape and latched it onto her shoulders.
The armor straightened her posture. Babs took a deep breath and headed to the main cavern. To warn Nightwing she was approaching, she called out. "Mr. Fox may become my personal tailor. What do you think he can do with silk?"
"Probably make a weapon out of it." He wore his black and blue armor, but didn't have his mask over his eyes yet. Not that it would have offered him much protection from her watching his eyes widen and his jaw drop. She kept walking forward, and hoped the cowl hid the heat on her cheeks forged by his unblinking stare. Before she got close enough to hit him, he spoke. "Your father's gonna kill me."
"Right after he kills me. Let's go."
Being the Commissioner of Gotham City Police Department brought on many headaches. None compared to the one Gordon had now, fueled by a hangover from whatever sedative Crane had used and the pounding music shaking the room he was tied up inside.
Scarecrow stood in front of the floor-to-ceiling glass window and watched the gyrations and strobe lights on the warehouse floor below. Children--the same age as Babs--having a good time without any idea of the evil overhead; didn't their parents tell them not to go to parties like this?
"How soon they wipe the fear from their minds." Scarecrow turned to Gordon. "Hard to believe that a few short months ago Bane had them all cowering under their beds. Now look at them." He gestured at the window.
A thug behind Gordon pushed the wheeled chair next to the glass.
"Do you still believe they're worth saving?" Scarecrow asked. "These privileged young who poison their bodies when they should be improving their minds, the future of Gotham!"
Gordon glared at Scarecrow. "Cut the crap." He enjoyed how the burlap sack mask jerked back. "The only thing you have against these children is that they didn't invite you to the party. You were never invited to the party, were you, Crane?"
Scarecrow gestured at the thug and Gordon's chair jerked back to the center of the small office. "Gag him."
Gordon didn't fight the cleave gag forced between his teeth. Duct tape on his mustache would be worse.
Scarecrow turned back to the window. "They will know fear again."
Nightwing took one last glance through the office's small outer window before detaching the listening device. Babs hung on the other side of the window. He pointed up. She nodded and activated the winch on her belt. He climbed onto the warehouse's flat roof after her. "Scarecrow said they will know fear again."
"Why couldn't he be obsessed with a happy emotion?" She shook her head. "How?" Her eyes rolled at his frown. "His wrist cannons won't work on a crowd this size."
"And he doesn't have a microwave emitter and a polluted water supply to vaporize." Nightwing walked to the closest skylight. The glass hadn't been cleaned since the warehouse was built, but a large square blocked the lights from the rave. He eased it open.
A square vat filled with a milky liquid perched on the rafters. "But the fear toxin doesn't work if you don't inhale it?" Babs said as she looked.
He pointed to the pipes running from the vat to sprinkler heads on the rafters. "Fine enough mist and they will inhale it." He stuck his head further inside and counted two more tanks: one over the main entrance and the second one center in the building but closer to the opposite side. "You have to disable them."
"Me?" Her blue eyes widened under the cowl. "There are three tanks!"
"And you're a gymnast. I won't make it across the rafters as fast as you can. But I can keep Scarecrow busy."
She nodded before throwing her leg over the ledge of the skylight. "Wait and see if I can disable it." He watched her walk across the beam, arms outstretched for balance. She curled down onto the rafter and jammed something from her belt into the valve, rolled her back down and her legs over until she stood on the rafter again, and then she walked back to the skylight. "There's a radio control on the valve. I snapped the antenna and jammed a Batarang to keep it from opening."
"Okay. Head to the next and I'll go kick the stuffing out of Scarecrow."
She grimaced and fired her grapple gun at the rafter over the door. The wire pulled her through the air. He waited until her black form reached it before sprinting back to the roof's edge.
He lowered himself down to the window. One thug guarded the door, one loomed over Gordon cuffed in an office chair, and Scarecrow stood at the window wall overlooking the rave. He liked the odds, and opened the window a crack. The smoke pellets hit the floor.
The occupants coughed as Nightwing slid inside. He kicked the closest thug away from Gordon. The thug from the door tackled Nightwing to the floor. He thrust a boot into the thug's stomach and tossed the larger man over his head.
"Freddie!" Scarecrow screamed in his electronic distorted voice.
The office door slammed into the wall. A new thug punched Nightwing in the jaw.
"You've got a long way to go, Junior Bat." Scarecrow pulled Gordon's office chair away from the fray. "Now Batman knew how to make an entrance."
Nightwing didn't have a chance to respond as the other two thugs jumped on him.
Two tanks closed. Babs looked at the suspended office under the rafters. The door was open, but she couldn't see inside it. Batman picked him for a reason.
She inhaled and fired the grapple gun at the last tank. Her cape fluttered behind her as she aimed to land her feet on the rafter. It hit her left hand and stiffened into batwings. Her momentum slowed.
She exhaled an explicative at herself and turned off the charge to the memory cloth. The cape relaxed, but her foot missed the rafter. She growled and jammed her thumb against the belt's winch control. There was no time for screw-ups.
The wire spooled out faster than she expected and she dropped.
She flung her arms out. They collided with the steel beam and she curled around it to hang on. The pullover was harder since the rafter was much wider than uneven bars, but she managed to get upright and straddled the rafter. She panted, lay down, and snapped the radio antennae off the valve.
Gordon's watery eyes focused on the armored figure under the three larger men. A thin hand grabbed the shoulder of his jacket and pulled him out of the chair. Crane's other arm snaked in front of Gordon's chest. That hand held a remote control. "Batman taught him persistence; I'll give him that."
Good thing he was gagged, because the urge to correct Crane was strong. Nightwing had always been persistent. But since Crane's hands were full, Gordon heaved himself backwards.
Crane couldn't support Gordon's dead weight, but he stopped Gordon's head from hitting the floor. The remote skidded across the room.
Gordon rolled off Crane and headed after it best he could on his knees. Crane wheezed as he scrambled ahead. He snatched the remote off the floor and faced Gordon. His free hand reached under his jacket. "Straight to the fisticuffs." His hand slid back out with a hand scythe. "Now let's behave like civilized men, Commissioner."
Gordon glared but didn't move as the curved blade pressed against his tie. Crane guided him to his feet and turned them to face the fight.
Nightwing tossed off one of the hired muscle and scowled as he saw Crane and Gordon.
"I know this drill, Junior Bat. Do you?"
The vigilante seethed, but let the thugs grab his armored arms.
Crane turned Gordon toward the window over the warehouse. "Pay attention. You don't want to miss anything." He shoved Gordon to the third thug, and then pressed one of the buttons on the remote.
Gordon turned away from the explosion ripping the wall apart. He hoped the pieces were small enough to not kill anyone below. Scarecrow stepped to the edge and spotlights shone into the office. "It is time for fear!" His distorted voice boomed through the now silent speakers. Scarecrow lifted his arms like a television evangelist. Gordon stepped forward but the thug pulled him back. Scarecrow pressed another button on his remote.
Nothing changed. Scarecrow looked at the roof. Nightwing chuckled. "Acme Incorporated sold you a dud, Scarecrow?"
The villain whirled to face the vigilante. "What did you do?"
"Just this." Nightwing kicked the knees of the thug on his right. That thug hit the floor and he punched the one on his left.
Gordon heard a fluttering cape, but it wasn't possible when the owner of that cape was dead. He turned toward the open wall. A familiar black shape flew through the spotlight beams and kicked Crane's chin as the wings and body tucked into a somersault before landing on the office floor and standing.
It wasn't his friend back from the dead, but she dressed more like him than Nightwing. The raised bat symbol in gold gleamed between her throat and breasts and red hair tumbled onto her black shoulders. The thug released Gordon and ran to her. She met his charge with a roundhouse kick that Gordon had heard praised before but had never seen. The thug didn't get up. She pivoted to the one Nightwing had put on the floor. He stopped moving with a groan when she punched him.
Gordon couldn't breathe and it had nothing to do with the gag. She was supposed to be safe, not fighting to save a city that killed her family, even if the members of it were still breathing.
She snapped cuffs on the thugs. Nightwing unlocked the cuffs on Gordon's wrists. "We appear to be short a set of these." Gordon watched the vigilante cuff Crane. "I like him best like this." Nightwing tugged off the burlap mask. "Unconscious."
Gordon ripped his gag off and whirled to the other vigilante. "Batgirl now?!"
Her blue eyes flashed, just like they had when she had been sent to her bedroom for punishment, but her voice stayed even. "I'm glad you're okay, Commissioner."
Sirens wailed outside the warehouse. Nightwing moved to the narrow window facing outside. "We have to go."
Batgirl nodded and joined him. Gordon grabbed her arm. "This conversation is not over, young lady."
Her pink lips grinned. "Of course not. And I am glad you're okay."
They climbed out the window. Gordon faced the door to greet his officers.
Jen found Mr. Cobblepott glued to the noon news recap on GCN. He shushed her before she even shut the office door, so she turned her attention to the broadcast.
The blond newscaster frowned. "Along with Dr. Jonathan Crane's arrest last night, witnesses have come forward with a story of a new vigilante."
The screen jumped to a taped interview. "It was a girl dressed up just like Batman," came from a young black man. The next was an Asian-looking girl with dyed blue hair. "She swooped down from the rafters and kicked Scarecrow back into the room."
A grainy, barely in focus image filled the screen. Bright lights lit the three-sided upper room that the Scarecrow stood in. A black figure with wings outstretched flew from the rafters and into the box, and knocked Scarecrow out of view. "GCN just received this camera phone footage. Commissioner Gordon hasn't issued a statement concerning this Batgirl."
Mr. Cobblepott turned the television off and dropped the remote on his desk. "And he will never issue a statement, you dithering idiot. Not after this Batgirl and the other one saved his life." He looked at Jen. "What has gotten into this city? Everyone putting on masks, adopting personas, ending up on the news?"
"Giving people bird names," Jen muttered.
Mr. Cobblepott ignored her mutter. "Wren, I need the figures for the urban renewal projects. No sense letting the unimaginative mob back into Gotham now that we are functioning splendidly without them."
Babs smoothed her strapless, metallic bronze dress and checked her make-up in the bathroom mirror. Dad continued his tirade outside the closed door. "Are you sleeping with him? I can understand it if you're sleeping with him."
"What?" She jerked open the door and glared at her father. "You did not just ask that."
He gestured for her to move first and he followed her to his apartment's living room. "Just tell me why. Stop acting like I shouldn't be concerned when you disappear for a weekend with a vigilante and show back up in a mask."
"He needs help. I'm good at what he can't do. Isn't that how you pair cops off at Headquarters?" She shrugged on a black bolero jacket to cover her shoulders. "And for Batman."
Gordon sank into his recliner. "I don't know what Blake owes Batman, that's on him. But you don't owe Batman anything."
"I don't?" She knew his argument would come to this. She grabbed her clutch off the small table next to the coat rack. "He saved Gotham, us, God, YOU more times than you can count." She opened the new cell phone app she had written before angling the screen so her father could see the maps as they focused down to this room with numerals one and three glowing inside.
"What is this?"
"One final gift from Batman. And how we found you last night."
He blinked at the screen again. "A tracking device?"
"Implanted. After what the Joker did to Harvey Dent and his girlfriend, Batman couldn't risk anything like that happening to you." Her father's eyes stared at her. She avoided the gaze by putting her phone into her clutch. "Blake and I both have one too."
He let out a sigh that heaved his shoulders. "You're going out there no matter if I approve or not."
"I'm safer as Batgirl than in a police uniform and you know it."
His second sigh heaved his shoulders again.
"It'll be easier if you approve. Blake won't be terrified the Batsignal is a trap."
Dad stood and wrapped his arms around her. "Fine, go be Batgirl. But if another damn nuclear bomb shows up, I'm flying it out to the ocean, not either one of you two."
She squeezed him and kissed his cheek. "I love you, Dad."
Blake stared at the framed iceberg photograph in the Iceberg Lounge's reception area. The Commissioner should let her have a phone call before locking her up forever. He checked his phone again and caught the hostess' grin with his peripheral vision.
A taxi pulled up in front of the main door and Blake put the phone away as the pale slim legs slid out. The doorman opened the glass door for her. The bronze and gold dress ended on her thighs. Added curls in her red hair landed on her shoulders covered by a short black jacket.
Holy babe that can kick my ass. He was glad he had worn the tie even if it was strangling him now.
"Sorry, it took longer with Dad than I thought." Babs' pink lips smiled. "Didn't miss our reservation, did I?"
Blake found his voice. "No, you didn't. Did he let you out of the house because he's going to kill me? Or did you break out?"
"He's not going to kill you." Babs leaned on his arm and her floral perfume enveloped him. "But only because he doesn't want me on the night shift alone."
"I'll take the reprieve, don't care why." He swallowed when she didn't step back. "You look gorgeous."
"Aw, thank you." Her eyes danced. "What's the plan for tonight?"
"To celebrate that your father didn't kill either of us."
The hostess took pity on them. "Your table is ready, Mr. Grayson."
Babs frowned. "You got another secret identity?"
"Have to keep up with the all-seeing Oracle." He answered softly as to hostess didn't hear.
"Dinner conversation won't be boring." She linked their elbows as they followed the hostess into the dining room. "Are those real penguins?"
One Month Later
Blake finished a pull-up when the intercom Babs had installed between the rooms in the Batcave cackled. "Did you tag people and not tell me?"
"Hold on, I'm coming out." He wiped off his face with his gym towel. Babs sat at the cube's computer and scowled as he crossed the catwalk. "Something went wrong with the tracking devices?" he asked.
"Slots for numbers four and five went active, but the names weren't filled in." She pointed to the list on the screen.
"It wasn't me. I offered one to Fox and he said we didn't want to know where he goes at night. Are you sure it's not interference?"
"I ruled that out first thing."
He pulled on the towel hanging around his neck. "Okay, so where are four and five?"
She opened the map. "Greece. I swear it's not interference."
"I don't believe it." Blake chuckled. She looked at him with a furrowed forehead. "The missing stuff from the inventory list--we never found the second jet injector. Now new tags activate halfway across the world. The son of a bitch is still alive. Batman is still alive!" His laughter echoed in the cave, waking the bats above.
Babs' wide O of a mouth turned into a grin. "You know what else this means? Papa Bat will check up on how we're taking care of his city."
"We better hit the streets then."