Thirty Minutes Ago...

"Oh, my god!", Tim and Rose both cried out in unison.

"I told you, so.", Jason coolly replied, turning back to the cashier, "Thanks, man."

"S'nothing, my friend. You guys have a good night, ya'hear?"

"Yeah, man, you too.", he replied, half-heartedly waving to the other man while he held the door for his two companions as they left the best spot for late-night chilidogs in Crime Alley.

He didn't know if he was more pissed off that it'd been shut down until recently, or that Bruce had never gotten the rook a proper "Jason" meal when it was open.

"So the Big Bad Bat is just too above the commoners to get his ward some grub in between cases, huh?", he said, only half joking.

Tim looked up at him, miffed he was getting distracted from the best food he'd had in as long as he could remember.

"First of all...don't say that out loud. Second of all, no, I just don't normally like Gotham junk food. With a couple of exceptions, every place you can go for something like this in town just drowns everything in grease."

"You know, I've never shot a kid before."

Rose chuckled and interjected, "Leave him alone, honey, not all of us can be so...American."

Jason grinned as he shot back, "First of all, you've loved every place I've taken you since we got here, and second of all, I've seen you drink a fucking barrel of J├Ąger in one sitting, so-!"

"And that same night, you drank three."

"Not the point."

Rose rolled her eyes as they all walked, the three finishing their food while continuing their childish back and forth. Before he could even look around for a trash can, Jason took the aluminum foil in Tim's hand, as well as both Rose's and his own, throwing the ball of metallic trash in a nearby dumpster.

Tim almost reflexively said, "That's illegal", but stopped when he realized who he was talking to.

He then realized that, as they'd aimlessly walked, they'd wandered into an alleyway.

Just the three of them.

In Crime Alley.

Tim's training as Robin instantly kicked in, Jason and Rose could plainly see it. The smile he'd worn while listening to and every so often interjecting in their banter was wiped from his face, and his eyes darted around their surroundings, taking in and absorbing all the data he could attain with his just eyes and ears.

He was halfway done mentally cataloguing the thousand-and-one different ways they were currently vulnerable when he felt a hand on his shoulder. He started to wheel around as a reflex, but The Hood simply grabbed his other shoulder and kept him in place.

"Look, kid.", he said, pointing at a nearby rooftop, adorned with gargoyles. Perched upon one stood the dark silhouette of a figure whose presence Tim hadn't yet noticed. A figure bathed in shadow, it's only visible feature being two white eyes, both of which were staring right back at him.

"See? We're not alone out here.", he said, taking a step closer, "And these streets ain't dangerous no more. Come on."

With that, he and Rose, who only spared Tim a passing glance, walked onwards, back out the alley that had put Tim on edge. Tim followed, but stopped a couple times, noticing makeshift beddings strewn about, as if homeless people had been sleeping in this alley the night before.

Worried that something had happened to them, he made a mental note to question The Hood on what he and his men's view of the homeless was, and jogged to catch up with the pair.

They stood at the alleys exit, their backs to him as they appeared to take in some kind of awe-inspiring sight, The Hood with his hands at his hips and Rose hanging on his right arm. As he got close, they shared a look, one that Tim couldn't quite decipher, not having Cass's skill with reading the simple subtleties of body language, but he could tell see that their mood had gone from playful, to somewhere between shared pride and shared hope.

Turning back to face him, they parted as he got close, making way so that he could see. Hesitant at first, Tim walked out to see Meriwether Street, the "main street" of Crime Alley, the roughest street in the roughest borough in all Gotham, arguably in all of America... peaceful.

At least, for Gotham.

Shops and bars and clubs that had been abandoned for a decade or more, all bristled with life. Neon lights cast a vibrant glow, almost overtaking the streetlights with their multicolored intensity. People's windows lay open, music from them and nearby clubs forming a cacophonous symphony that Tim hadn't heard as they'd approached, his brain assuming the distant noises had been a mixture of cars, sirens and gunshots until his eyes had seen the neighborhood-wide party going on, his brain not even considering that the noise could've something so...positive.

A few fights were breaking out here and there, and one only had to look up at the armed sentries patrolling the rooftops to see that this relative peace was very much forced...but, still. Tim couldn't help but let his mouth go agape at the sight. He felt an arm lay across his shoulders, and heard a phrase that, much like the sight he was now taking in, he'd never forget.

"You slept through the shift, so allow me to welcome you. This is the better tomorrow that you've fought so hard for."

Tim's shock subsiding, he looked up at the older man, wordlessly asking if he could go exploring. Jason, picked up on this, and nodded his head.

Tim, after taking a couple hesitant steps, ran off to try and find something, anything that could cast a negative glint on this, The Red Hood's so impressive and so positive change to The Alley that it nearly made him sick to his stomach.

Jason, meanwhile, just laughed to himself, knowing the kid'd find nothing.

"I thought you said you weren't going to try and flip him?", Rose said, again clinging to his arm.

He took her hand in his as he replied.

"And I'm not. But if he sees what we've done, in this short time we've been here, and starts to doubt...I'm not gonna tell him he's wrong to do so."

Rose rolled her eyes. Jason could say it was for a scheme all he wanted, but she knew better.

She'd been there when he was still pissed, when he was still mad at The Bats, The League, the whole damned world for what had happened to him being forgotten with such ease. But she'd also been there for his change, his reflection on and refutation of that more bitter, angrier side of himself. Hell, to hear Alexi "The Romantic" Petrov tell the story, she was the cause of it.

And she was there as that anger and jealousy that had become acceptance, morphed once more into curiosity, with a small hint of admiration.

Jason wanted to know his little brother, plain and simple, and was grasping at any opportunity to, if not change his stance in the conflict between him and his family, then to at least engage him, gain an understanding of the soon-to-be man who'd taken up the mantle that had once meant everything to him with such gusto that it'd pushed him forever into the shadows.

And so, as they stood there, watching him wander around, interacting with people he would've been beating to pulps any other day, getting his first real taste of what Park Row was, beneath all the murder and violence that had enveloped it and it's people in recent years, Rose replied to his unknowing lie the same way she probably would've if she'd bought it.

Might as well play along, he does better with these things when he figures them out for himself.

"Well, I hope it all works out right."

"You know what?", Jason said, smiling at Tim accidently stumbling into an old bar named The Dirty Fenian while trying to avoid a small fight that'd broken out in the way of his little stroll through paradise, "I think it will."

He tried to take her hand and lead her across the street, but Rose, noticing a couple far-off sirens, knew that one of them needed to suit up and check in with Antonio.

"Go ahead without me. I'll catch up."

Jason knowingly looked to a different direction, from which a new, different, just as troubling siren now emanated. Turning back to her, he nodded glumly.

"Alright. Don't take too long."

"I'll try. Go save your brother before one of our boys from Dublin starts an hour-long tales about "back home"."

His smile returning, her fearsome, mass-murderer of a boyfriend leaned forward and gave her a kiss on the forehead. He then went off into the mass of partying thugs and triggermen, basking in the first bit of hope they'd had in years, not even paying the man who'd made it happen a second thought.

She turned around, trying to find a place where she could grapple up unseen, only to jump out of her own skin at the sight before her.

Alexi, of all people, in a suit and tie, of all things, standing with a shit-eating grin on his face, Poison Ivy in a green dress to his right and the massive, hulking forms of Killer Croc and Solomon Grundy, both in creepily dapper attire standing behind them.

While clutching her chest as the small group chuckled, she heard a faint noise behind her: her boyfriend, absolutely laughing his ass off.

"Oh...I'm so gonna get you back for that one, you son of a bitch!"

Jason, smile still on his face, jogged across the street and to the front door of the bar, just barely avoiding a few drunks all trying to scream-sing "The Wearing of The Green" over the music blasting from the speakers of nearby cars and clubs. At that moment, Tim came blasting back out the door, his back turned, his full attention not on where he was going, but on the fight that had broken out inside.

He jumped when Jason put a hand on his shoulder, immediately turning back around, but breathing a sigh of relief at seeing it was him, and not a stranger.

"Not a stranger." He doesn't even know your name yet.

He hadn't even thought about calling for someone to break up the still ongoing fight, when a knight, in one of the new uniforms he'd commissioned for them, came by the two without a word.

He caught a few glances from passersby, including Tim, but, in accordance with passage...43(?) of His Unwritten Word, he said nothing.

Sentries. Mediators. Operatives. No matter the role you play at the time, organizations like ours are the same in the eyes of the people: at times necessary, but never welcome. So, do not waste time asking for forgiveness, permission, or anything of the sort of civilians while in the field. Instead, act. Let your actions alone be what they judge us by. Just remember, Your King watches, and I will judge you more harshly than anyone else ever could.

In reality he hadn't said it like that.

That was how Alexi had written it down years after they'd finished their business in Russia, years after that "speech" had been given, in his unofficial code of conduct for Knights in their little order. Still, though, despite Jason's objections to having such a thing written at all, it had the intended effect: even the most recent recruits operated by the same sentiment he'd instilled in the core group of Knights with what was at the time a much less inspired statement.

As the armored individual went in to break up the bar brawl, Jason turned Tim away from the bar, leading him further down the street.

"C'mon, let's find another spot, this one won't do."

"For what?"

Jason chuckled as he took his hand from Tim's shoulder to pull out a pack of cigarettes from his pocket, quickly lighting one of the "coffin-nails" and taking a puff. He then put his arm back on Tim's shoulder, this time in a much more friendly way.

Finally, he replied, "Your first drink, kiddo."


Now...

Azrael stood alone atop the hotel where Benes Street and Kane Street met, a cheap copy of New York's Flatiron Building. From his perch at the top, he could see the whole, twisted, neon beauty of Gotham City's Tricorner District. As he was taking in the sight, however, he was interrupted by both a hail on his comms coming from the Batcomputer, and a large siren coming from the nearby GCPD evidence warehouse.

He felt a pang in his heart when he remembered that it wouldn't be Bruce or Barbara on the other end, but answered, nonetheless.

"Faris 1, do you copy?"

"I copy, Overwatch."

"We're receiving a distress signal from the GDCP's-"

"Evidence lockup. Yeah, I'm on it."

"Godspeed Azrae-Sorry, Faris 1."

As much as he'd hated The Order of Saint Dumas by the end of it all, after The Clench...and everything else they'd done to Gotham, and to the world, Jean-Paul couldn't help but smirk at that habitual phrase from his "eye in the sky". It was a reminder of his own success as a peacemaker, that a majority of the field agents in Talia's Leviathan were once members of The Order. It had been rightly obliterated, and Jean-Paul had seen it so, gladly...but still.

It was nice to be reminded of old successes considering all he'd done for the past few days was chase his own tail.

Realizing he was too deep in thought, he tried getting his head in the game as he quickly making his way across the rooftops of slum houses and cheap hotels, making his way towards the sounds of sirens.

Soon enough, he stood atop a tall hotel, looking out over the compound as he took a knee on its southeastern gargoyle.

Cop cars swarmed the parking lot and officers had already set up a perimeter. Search lights seemed to dance through the sky, as if looking for something in the air above the facility. After accessing the GCPD's radio network, he learned why.

"-It was Langstrom, I'm sure of it!", some panicked rookie cop yelled in his ear, causing him to flinch at the unexpected cacophonous noise.

"Calm it down, Jenkins. We all get it.", Harvey Bullock replied, smugness apparent.

"Harvey. What did he make it out with?", the commissioner asked, obviously not liking the fact that he now had even more on his plate.

The rookie stammered as he answered, "H-he made off with some metal crate from his section in the main lockup. R-ripped out it's tracker like it was nothin'."

Jean-Paul cut off the broadcast as he scanned the skyline using his mask's heat vision, looking for anything vaguely bat-shaped. A second later, he saw it: a giant bat-like beast clutching a metal crate in its claws as its wings carried it away from the site of its theft.

"Overwatch, I have eyes on target, moving to pursuit!", he yelled as he chased the doctor-turned-beast-of-the-night.

"Roger, Faris 1. Do you require any assista-?"

Jean-Paul chuckled at that as he flew through the air, "Nope, I've got this one."

"This guy not being worth my time three years ago's the only reason he's still breathing.", was the snider, more "Az-Bat" comment that flew through his head which he chose not to pollute the airwaves with before cutting his comms off.

Jokes aside, Kirk not knowing he was being followed was the only reason he was keeping up undetected.

He's gotten more comfortable with his bat-like form. Spent more time in the air. Trained, not just with it's mind like before, but it's physical capabilities as well. No wonder Jason's men haven't caught him the half-dozen times they've tried.


Kurt had come up with a plan to feign heading in a different direction to throw observers off his tail, but he'd never caught any unwanted attention, thankfully enough, so he focused on getting back to his family as quickly as possible. Landing on the rooftop of their hotel, he quickly transformed back into his human form, changing out of his "armor" into a simple get-up he'd stashed in a duffle bag by the roof access door.

Now that just passing someone in the hallway wasn't going to ruffle any feathers or sound any alarms, he quickly descended a couple floors and hurriedly knocked on their door's room.

Francine, after looking through the door's peephole, of course, swung it open and he rushed in, his armor and the stolen CTF components in the duffle that was now slung over his shoulder.

"Thank God.", his wife said while beckoning him in.

"What? Didn't think I'd make it?", he replied with a smirk.

Becky, without saying a word, nearly tipped him over with an abrupt hug. In an instant, Kurt went from being smug about his flawless success to feeling awful that she'd been worried at all. He handed the bag to Francine and took a knee so that he could be on even footing with his daughter before hugging her back, and for a moment, fleeting though it may have been, he made his little girl feel as safe as a father should for the first time in a long time.

As the two shared that moment, Francine was already checking the case of components for trackers on the kitchen island, as Kurt had obviously been in too much of a rush to do.

When he felt Becky start to loosen her grip around his ribs, Kurt turned back to her.

"Are we good?"

"One second and I'll be able to-"

The soft, hollow rat-tat-tat of another knock on their sparsely lit hotel room's only door made her freeze, her eyes instantly drawn to the flimsy inch of wood separating their room from the hotel's hallway.

Kurt's head shot back as well.

What the...?

Becky, knowing the routine at this point for when there was such a sign of possibly imminent danger, ran to the back room where Aaron was to wake him up, as the two might have to flee.

With or without their parents.

Kurt almost stopped her, but, well...he didn't know who it was either. And judging by Francine's reaction, she hadn't ordered a pizza.

He slowly stood, but Francine rushed ahead of him, always more eager than he to risk it all for their family, even against unconfirmed threats. As he'd gotten used to this since they'd left Gotham originally, he didn't stop her, merely falling in line. He switched of the lights as they approached the door, and as Francine grabbed the nob, Kurt slid from behind her to her left, positioning himself behind where she would position the door.

She glanced back at him, and when he gave her a nod of affirmation, she opened the door just a hair. Seeing nothing there, she opened it just enough to fit both a hand on the frame and her head through the opening, looking around the presumably empty hallway.

To Kurts horror, two gloved hands reached out from the hallway, grabbed his wife by the neck, and in a second, ripped her entire body through the door, splintering parts of the frame as she cried out. The second the hands had appeared, Kurt had begun to once again transform, putting a clawed hand through the door and ripping it in half with the blow.

Even while half in shock from seeing his wife get pulled from sight with such haste, his brain works goes into autopilot when processing what he saw.

Francine on ground, in the process of transforming herself, choking and writhing with a knife through her chest, a figure in an odd black and brown uniform standing over her.

He lunged at the figure with an unbridled rage, but he was too slow. He felt several small impacts throughout his ribcage as the smaller being side-stepped him. He flew head-first into the hallway and fell on his side rolling onto his back. He tried to get back up, to again attack the wraith-like man standing over him, goggled eyes boring themselves into his soul, but found he could barely move, let alone stand.

Taking a look at his chest, he saw he'd been stabbed. Brain putting two and two together, Kurt realized the impacts from before had been from his assailant throwing six daggers into his torso. Ever the surgeon, he instantly recognized where each he'd been aimed: heart, liver, each lung, and each kidney.

As soon as they'd made impact, he was dead.

Kurt looked back to the figure, but, just as quickly and nonchalantly as it'd killed him, it'd already moved on to finishing off his wife.

He could only lift a clawed hand and attempt to beg through the blood gushing from his punctured lungs as the shadow of a man took two knives to Francine's now fully transformed body, following up his stab to her heart by plunging his larger, hand-held blades into her lungs, silencing her before she could scream.

Standing above her now, he put his boot on the small of her back before digging the knives into each of her shoulders, wrenching the joints apart with the blades and ignoring her attempts to shake him off, then severing her Achilles tendons one after the other, immobilizing her in a matter of seconds.

And, like that, taking only a second admire his own cruel, devilish work, the assassin left the two without a word, each of the dying victims at his back trying, to no avail, to yell for their children to run.


Two miles away, a hunter stood atop a gargoyle hanging from the northern side of the now-empty belltower as those he commanded ransacked the building for any trace of his intended prey.

The women had, of course, either been taken or fled the city, but that made little difference as he stood, gazing out at the blazing fires started on his orders, listened to the sounds of a city beginning to understand that The Red Hood had not brought them peace, but chaos.

It was a glorious sound. One that would make his masters most pleased.

To his east, servants of the court under the command of Talon Loong overwhelmed Paris Island's defensive structures in a suicidal charge, bomb vests exploded in the distance like flashbulbs, every one closer and closer to Blackgate's walls. In tandem with this, Talon Andrews made it clear to Sionis that The Court was the only power in Old Gotham now, forcing him and his men from the streets of The Hill back into their "safehouses".

To the west, The Wayne Foundation's main building, Solomon-Wayne Courthouse, and even Gotham City Hall had all been set alight, under the command of Felix Harmon. This drew most police officers there so that they might defend the city's officials, whereupon they ran into the meat-grinder that was The Butcher of Gotham City and his legion of servants, like moths to a flame.

The sight that most elated Cobb, however, was the sight directly to his north: Wayne Tower, a symbol that had stood for generations of The House of Wayne's claim to ultimate power in Gotham City, burning, firefighters unable to do anything but prevent the fire's spread due to the work of Talon Ballard.

As he stood there, positively elated at the sight of the pretenders' most inspiring addition to Gotham's skyline slowly blackening like a log in a fireplace, his mind shifted to the secondary goal he'd sent Staunton and Carver to accomplish and wondered how they were coming along.

William held up the wrist-mounted device he'd been outfitted with and saw that both Staunton and Carver were already on location, ahead of schedule.

Excellent. Perhaps this will actually work.

Just as that thought had brought a smile to his masked face a small noise behind him immediately grabbed his full attention, but before he could so much as turn his head, a force had shoved him from his perch, sending him flying ass over teakettle.

Already in a spin, he couldn't stabilize himself quick enough. Seconds after he'd been shoved, he hit an SUV with enough force to almost flatten it, dead on impact.

Bane chuckled, holding a finger up to his communicator.

"Clocktower clear.", the hulking man announced as he turned, heading back into the clocktower.

"Understood. You're needed at City Hall. Floyd's men and The GCPD are getting slaughtered.", Rose replied.

"Got it, we're headed there now.", he said as he passed over the bodies of a dozen uniformed killers that he Sandra, had eradicated. Sandra simply smirked, seeing he'd dealt with the commander unscathed. They wordlessly took the elevator ride to the ground floor, with Sandra examining her sword for any imperfections and Antonio examining her for wounds.

Neither found anything too serious, of course.


After his request for backup had been denied twice, Jean-Paul decided to go in alone. To his horror, when he finally made it down the final flight of stairs, he found the bloodied, broken forms of two people. Rushing forward, he found that the two were still alive, and flipped the male over, recognizing him as Kurt.

The hell?

Flipping the man over, he tried to smack him awake, tried to keep him alive for as long as he could. When he saw that his eyes had not yet fully closed, and that there was still some life left in the dying man, he quickly asked in a hushed tone: "Kurt, who did this to you?", before he realized that the wounds Langstrom had sustained made speaking as impossible as survival.

Gathering the last of his strength, the older man just barely lifted a trembling finger to the half-open door behind his head. Jean-Paul was about to go inside the room, fury surging through his veins on behalf of the half-dead couple, but Langstrom grabbed Jean by the wrist, then, in his own blood, he wrote a word on Azrael's golden gauntlet.

Kids

Jean couldn't help but accept the final request, using a simple nod for fear that any words he spoke wouldn't be heard over the ringing in the older man's ears.

Turning away and heading inside the apartment, Azael's eyes locked onto the assailant, a figure in shadow standing on the opposite side of the small apartment, who was already walking into another room, obviously searching for something. Whatever it was, Jean-Paul didn't care. His mind was a hurricane of all the ways he'd make this butcher suffer before ending him.

Still, he'd made a promise, and that came before his rage.

Moving as a ghost would, he quickly made his way to the door of the dark room the shape of a man had disappeared into. Hearing the killer still stomping around inside, Jean stood to one side of the door, ready to ignite his gauntlets once the presence got close enough.

Just as he felt ready for his ambush, Jean then realized the room had gone eerily silent.

Succumbing to his reflexes, Jean-Paul bounded away from the wall just in time to avoid a lunge through it by the assassin. Bashing through the weak structure with seemingly no effort, the man came through, two chakram-like daggers in hand.

Again avoiding death nearly by accident, Jean ignited his gauntlet blades, bathing the room in orange and red hues, and swung instinctively at the two bladed weapons heading straight for his face. In the second he had left before his opponent would be in his face, Azrael got into a combat stance, years of training and experience kicking in and forcing the instincts telling him to flee into the backseat. The room seemed to flicker like a candle as the men engaged one another, Jean's blades burning through his smaller opponent's weapons, only for said opponent to pull a new pair out with each lost armament, always maintaining his offense on the larger man.

For a moment, Jean-Paul worried that this wolverine of a man might have enough that he could keep up this brutal onslaught of attacks until eventually finding a gap in his guard.

For a moment.

But just as fast as it had come, that moment had concluded, and as the owl-like figure tried to retreat, hitting Jean in the face with a flash-bomb. Jean-Paul ignored it, his helmet, training and unique physiology making it a minor nuisance rather than an effective tool, and lunged for his foe. In a flurry of wild slashes and slicing, he hit furniture, walls and even the floor a time or two as they move around the room with strike after strike, wild and unkempt but never sloppy.

Their fight was unlike the usual Supervillain/Superhero dance this foe had probably assumed he'd get. He'd probably been counting on his opponent being someone like Dick or Bane, who favored flair and theatricality over practical fighting.

Seeming to confirm this thought, the man practically ran around in circles to try and escape his strikes while quickly hitting a few buttons on his own gauntlet, the action triggering the emiction of a high-pitched ringing noise that might've hurt Jean's ears, possibly even distracted him enough for his opponent to escape.

If not for his helmet's built-in hearing protection, of course.

Assuming it was a failed last-ditch attempt at fighting back against him, Jean-Paul smiled and let the beast within take over. Jean letting out a cold chuckle as his opponent stayed ever silent, their fight went on for what felt like years to The Owl but had, in actuality, only been a few more seconds. Staunton trying everything he could to stay alive, and Azrael doing everything he could to eviscerate him, the small room getting bathed in flames in the process.

It was that, and the scream of a child emanating from another room, that shocked Jean enough that he remembered his promise. Remembered why he was even there in the first place.

And in that moment of remembrance, Jean's opponent took the opportunity to jump out a nearby window.

Jean quickly used the dry powder reserves in his gauntlet to extinguish the tiny inferno he'd started in his fervor, and dashed to the room from which he'd heard the scream emanate.

With one hand he swatted the door open, splintering it apart. Rushing past, he saw no one in the room and an open window, and his mind immediately connected the dots. Leaped through the window, seeing a figure in motion on an opposing rooftop, two other forms slung over what appeared to be each of its shoulders. Grapple already in hand, he followed after the mysterious figure.

Owls. Damnit, why didn't that connect before!?

While continuing to chase the figure as quickly as he could, Jean lifted a finger to his ear, reconnecting himself to the comms system.

"Overwatch, this is Faris One! I've got a crime scene behind me and am in pursuit of a Class Three target, said target has two civilians as cargo."

"Roger, Faris One. Can you identify the target's allegiance?"

"I believe they're a member of The Court of Owls. Can anyone assist?"

"...Can you classify the-"

"They're children, Goddamnit! Can you send anyone!?"

"...Negatory Faris One. All agents are currently dealing with more important matters. Mistress Talia says that if this does not pertain to your current-"

Jean screamed with rage as he again disabled his comms, still trying desperately just to keep up with his target.


Far from where they'd begun their search for peace and quiet, two brothers now sat in a small bar/diner next to Robinson Park, on the edge of the East End.

Red benches and bar stools, black and white tilework, wooden walls, but modern equipment behind the counter. Customers and employees of various different races and cultures. People yelling at one another, black-out drunk, alongside families enjoying a late-night meal. A perfectly preserved slice of the past, with just enough modernity seeping in that it didn't feel fake.

The place was Gotham, in every way that the word could be used as a compliment.

Jason had picked them out a bench at the far corner of the rectangular building, sitting with his back to the wall so he could keep both eyes on the door. Tim sat on the other side of the bench, putting his back to the wall, or, rather, window, so that he could do the same.

Smart.

Trying to start back up their rapport, Jason leaned in with a smile and quietly said, "So, you've really never had a drink?"

"Nope", Tim replied, turning right back to the door.

"Really? Never in your life?"

"Never. Didn't want to make it a habit."

"Hm. That's smart. Lame, but smart."

Tim smirked at the second part of the comment and hung his head. Looking at the other man with curious eyes, Tim asked a question he'd been kicking around in his head all night.

"Why do you care so much about my opinion?"

"...What makes you think-"

"Oh, come on. You have a thousand irons in the fire, and you drop every one for a night just to show me how much good you bring with all the bad you do. You wouldn't do that if you didn't care, and you've already admitted that you don't think you can make me betray...him...so, why?"

"...Because I respect you. You and all the rest...Gotham, hell, humanity owes you a debt that can never be repaid. It didn't feel right to just throw you in a cell, remake the city in my image, and then try and make you see the positives afterward."

"But why try and convince us of anything? Instead of outright executing us you could've just-"

"Unless I wanted the whole city to revolt, no, I couldn't have just locked you all away and lost the key. No matter what I've done or will do for them, the people around here would've never forgiven me for that. So, I needed to contain you, long enough to fix this city and make sure I've got a good enough position in it that I can't just be thrown right back out again, by you or anyone else, and then release you."

"What? You're just going to-"

"Let you go. As soon as I can without jeopardizing my progress. This is just me trying to lessen the shock a bit."

"Make it easier for us to tolerate you."

"Uh-huh. I'm not going anywhere, and if I get rid of you, things'll get worse than they've ever been before. So, we're stuck with each other. I was hoping this would make it a bit easier to live with one another."

"Like taking medicine for a cold."

"Exactly. It doesn't get rid of the problem, just eases the symptoms."

Tim seemed to wrestle with that answer for a second before moving on to what he really wanted to know.

"So...so why? I mean...you obviously grew up in Gotham, so it makes sense you'd come here as your first move in the public eye but...why do you do what you do? I mean...I get it. You get rid of guys like Sionis, you bring back hope and money to places that need it, that's all well and good, but do you really think what you do in and of itself is right? That the ends justify your means?"

"Why bother to ask? Ain't I made that clear?"

"Yes, but...I don't know, it just seems like there's more to you."

"Why do you say that?"

"...The way you seem to genuinely care about individual people more than the city as a whole."

"I don't know about more."

"But you do still care. And people like that usually don't. They care about the quote-on-quote "Big Picture" and don't give a damn about the people who get caught up in their schemes. You seem different."

"...Truth be told, I'm not as different from them as you assume. Really, kid, the only difference between me and-and someone like Ra's Al Ghul? I know that I'm fucked up, and I surround myself with people who know it, too, and who aren't afraid to check me when I need it. Those people don't."

"So, the whole "people's champion" thing's just an act?"

"Not entirely. I mean, isn't Batman both the "real" Bruce, yet also completely fabricated?"

"That's not fair. Beyond the symbol on your chests, you two are nothing alike."

"I-"

Jason was interrupted by the approach of their waiter, a young man around Tim's age.

"Sorry to interrupt, are you two ready to order?"

"Just bring us a bottle of Vodka and a couple glasses if you would.", Jason replied, staying kurt.

"Sure, sure. Preference?"

"Absolut if you got it."

"We do. You want ice in those glasses?"

"If the bottle's cold, no."

"O-kay. I'll be right back with that, sirs.", the blonde replied with a smile, taking the menus they hadn't even opened.

As the server walked away, Jason leaned back over the table, as did Tim, and they continued their little philosophical debate, with Jason resuming from where he'd been cut off.

"I disagree. Beyond the surface level, we're practically identical. We've both made symbols for own our special brand of justice out of our imperfect selves. To make sure that nobody else had to suffer as we have. And we've both brought others like us under our wing, molded them into instruments of that justice. The difference is this: my way brings peace. His brings chaos."

"No, the difference is you kill people."

"Change "kill" to "murder", and, yes, on the surface level, it is. Because while we both understand that keepin' people safe from the criminals of the world requires the only two thing criminals understand: fear and violence, he still thinks crime can be stopped. That if he keeps fighting long enough, some activist or politician's gonna come along with a bill or a plan, some fool-proof solution to all this city's woes, and that all he needs to do in the meantime is be a symbol to the people of this city that all is not lost.

"And you?"

"I can see that for what it is. Bullshit. You can't just "stop" criminals from existing. You damn sure can't stop outlaws from being born. Crime is always going to exist, has always existed. People have been breakin' the law for as long as there have been laws to break, and nothin's ever gonna change that. Crime isn't politics. It's a natural fact of life in a society. You can't treat it like-like taxes or legislative policy, can't cling to some personal view of the problem and put how to solve it to a vote and expect change to come from that; you have to look at it from a practical point of view, the same way you look at thing like...natural disasters, for instance. And, from a practical point of view, if crime can't be stopped, you go with the next best thing."

As Jason finished his diatribe, their waiter returned with their order.

He quickly sat the bottle and glasses down on the table, then handed Jason his check.

"My boss said I could only bring shot glasses and that you need-"

"Got it, thanks.", Jason cut off the younger man, taking out his wallet. Without even looking at the check, he handed it and hundred dollar bill from his wallet, adding, "We won't be needing anything else."

The waiter got the hint, and left them to their business.

Aren't they supposed to check our ID's? Oh, yeah...Crime Alley.

Shaking the though from his mind, Tim leaned back over the table.

"You control it. Which requires murder."

"Bingo.", Jason replied, pouring the liquor in each glass, "In order to control those who you can scare into submission, you have to kill all those who aren't afraid. Because the longer they live, the less afraid anyone else is of you, and the more...problems you have to solve just to regain control. Here, drink", he finished as he slid the small glass across the table.

"That's an awful way to look at taking people's lives."

"I know. But the way I handle problems is why people only talk about me in hushed whispers, and not doing it that way's why no one in this city seems scared of you people until your face-to-face with 'em nowadays. Everyone knows that they need to be more afraid of your enemies than they are of you. Drink."

This time, both young men tilted their heads back, one able to appreciate the drink for what it was, the other instantly regretting his compliance.

Tim heard the man opposite him stifle a laugh or two, but he didn't care as he coughed into his shoulder. But, just as quick as it had come, the minor coughing fit gave way to a..decent taste, if Tim was being honest with himself. Jason refilled his own glass and held up the bottle, motioning for Tim to put his own back on the table with a smirk.

As he did so, Tim kept up the conversation, "...I think you have it wrong here. Batman doesn't kill because he doesn't trust himself, it isn't a matter of idealism. That, and the fact that he'd freak out, is why the rest of us don't."

Jason's smile had almost completely faded, so he held up his glass, wanting to lift his own spirits back up again at least.

Again coughing in recoil, however, Tim still carried on.

"He doesn't because he's scared that after-"

Snapping a bit, Jason shot back, "That after he does it once, he won't able to stop himself from doing it the second, third, forth or fifth time. Yeah, I know. And I get that fear. First time I killed someone, I felt myself spiraling too, thought I'd start doing that to every asshole who pushed my buttons hard enough. But that isn't an excuse."

"I didn-"

"It doesn't excuse the school full of kids The Joker blew up just cuz' he was a bit feelin' insulted by one of their fathers. It doesn't excuse the women and children butchered by animals like Zsasz and Julien Day. It doesn't excuse the mountain of corpses and missing persons that have racked up since Black Mask used your little girlfriend to run roughshod over the other players in town."

"But-"

"If he's that too afraid to put those fuckers down, and that's the only reason he doesn't, then good for him for being self-aware. But he has a responsibility to this city, that he put on himself, by the way, and whatever his mental problems are, or how serious they may be, they don't change that his way of doing things doesn't work."

"It's worked well enough for decades."

"Oh really?", he chuckled out as he refilled both their glasses, "Is that why The Joker was able to get his hands on a fuckin' nuke?"

"What? I knew about all the other stuff but when did-"

"No idea. Was one of many "Broken Arrow" incidents. Maybe he stole the thing years ago, maybe he just bought it, but whatever the case, an informant tipping my men off to where he kept it is why we're in here at all."

"...We had no idea."

"Yeah, I figured that."

They drank again before he continued, Tim recoiling but not nearly as harshly as the first couple times, "Knowing that, that he could have that much firepower just lying around in case he decided to use it, all without you knowing anything about it...that made continuing to wait for a better time or plan to invade to present itself impossible."

"Hm. So, then, this whole operation-"

"Was half-cocked from the start. That's why this is our third night here, and we still don't control anywhere but Crime Alley. If we'd had more time, hadn't been so rushed? Gotham would be ours, Sionis and that fucking clown would be dead, and I'd be having this conversation at The Manor with all of your little "family" rather than just you."

"...Where was it?"

"Underneath downtown Metropolis, in an old Cadmus hidey-hole they'd left to rot."

"Oh...God...Do you have any proof of thi-"

"If I showed you any, would it matter? We both know photos, videos, reports, all that shit can be falsified.

"..."

Realizing the boy had more questions and wanting to go ahead and get them out of the way, Jason put the lid back on the bottle, sat it and their glasses aside, and huffed before asking, "Any more questions?"

"...Are you the man behind Futurum?"

"...I'm the men, more like. My on-paper board of directors are all fake identities I've had over the years, now played by the actors you've met as Timothy Drake, apprentice to Bruce Wayne."

"Hm. Lex Luthor's henchman, Tarantula."

"Yep."

"Why the brutality?"

"Both of those were more...personal than killing usually is for me. Got carried away."

"Why?"

"When I offered him a deal, Elias Orr replied by killing three of my men. Tarantula...broke the rules. Let's leave it at that."

"Uh-huh...Warworld?"

"More of my handiwork."

"Is Mongol dead?"

"Nope. Bastard slipped into an escape pod that was gone before I could do a damn thing about it."

"...The Sino-Russian Mob?"

"Correct term is The Empire of Shadows. And yes."

"The vanishing of The IRA and The Irish Mob?"

"The IRA? No. The Irish Mob? Yes. It's just that there's so much overlap these days, it almost seems like they're one and the same. But the IRA's still out there. For the most part...Might've also gotten rid of the more..."car-bomb-crazy" members of it, though."

"The Falcone family taking over The New Italian Mafia?"

"Yup."

"The Cartel of Death?"

"Los Hijos de Santa Muerte. And yes."

"The Pan-African Mob?"

"Started as The Pan-African Anti-Poaching Association. But, yes, that is what it's grown into."

"How the hell does that work?"

"One day we were killin' on behalf of The Earth, the next we were killin' for our, well, their families. Not that hard of a transition to make, really."

"..."

"Anything else?"

"What's your connection with The Al Ghul family?"

"...Talia saved me, few years back. From there things blossomed into...well...I don't know, a partnership of sorts. They scratch my back on occasion, I do the same for them, and we all go pretending that our differences aren't gonna come to a head someday."

"Hm..."

"One sec.", Jason interrupted, holding up a finger as he took his vibrating phone out of his pocket.

"Jason?", Rose asked from the other end of the call, seeming out of breath.

"Yeah, what's up?"

"Got some trouble out here."

"How bad?"

"Antonio's already given the order to start locking down The East End."

"Damnit. You need me?"

"No, no, we can handle this. I just wanted to let you know, in case you noticed the smoke."

"I did. Assumed it was under control. You sure you guys got it?"

"I'm sure. You're better spent keeping that kid safe."

"Understood. I love you."

"Love you, too.", she replied, ending the call a second later.

Jason looked at his phone for a second before slipping it into his pocket.

"Was it about that?", Tim asked, point out the window to the plumes of smoke rising up into the Gotham skyline.

"Yep."

"..."

"You got any more questions?"

"...Not that I can think of right now. Not that you'd answer."

"Cool..."

Grabbing the bottle, Jason froze.

Lucius...Lucius got away. So did The Browns...So did Grant, and Kate...and...they'd all be looking for Tim and the others...

Finally feeling the eyes that had been watching him for hours, Jason played off the realization, thankful that Tim had turned to watch the news for a few seconds as it'd finally hit him. As Tim looked back, eyes arched, Jason realized he hadn't finished.

"...Because we still have a bottle to finish.", he added with a smirk, pouring the two a couple more shots.


I hate dialogue.