I took a seat at my desk and tried to ignore the itch that taunted me underneath my cast. Three weeks was going to be pure hell. It's barely been an hour, and already it's driving me up the wall. But, I fought off the urge to tear off the cast to satisfy the itch - mostly because I really didn't want to get caught looking like an idiot when the time came.
My office was soundproof, so I shouldn't have to worry about Superman listening in on my conversations. I just had to wait until either Batman or the Court arrived to rip into me about what I did. Because I imagine, I just tossed a very big wrench in their plans. This would be when where I stood with them both was established. Either Batman was going to look away, or he was going to try to take me down. The Court would either accept what I did, or they would try to take me out.
The pieces were on the board and the ball was in their court. That being said, it wasn't like I couldn't shift things in my favor a bit.
Cass, if you think you're in any danger at all, I want you to press this button, okay? I said, passing a clicker to Cass' floating head. She wore her invisibility suit, and it was like everything below her neck wasn't even there. I had pulled out all the stops with it - around a hundred thousand invisible ink markers, the same brand of cards that I used to make Ivy's vines undetectable, combined with a bullet, knife, and fireproof morphsuit.
Cass nodded, taking the clicker before it disappeared inside one of her pockets. I couldn't see her hands, so it was impossible for us to properly communicate.
But, I knew she understood.
Plant the listening devices and trackers, but be on guard. The Vanaver family will have tricks up their sleeves. I continued before taking in a slow breath. I wanted to have this set up before it came to this. Batman really screwed me there. Right now, I wasn't prepared to take on the Court of Owls and I had already pissed them off. I wanted to have them by the balls before I revealed Lowtown to the world.
But, needs must. That being said, if Cass got in over her head and clicked that button? Then I'd flip the table and go running to Batman. I'd spend the rest of my life rotting in a jail cell, but that was vastly preferable to Cass dying on a mission I sent her on.
Cass offered a small smile, telling me she knew exactly what I was thinking before she suited up and vanished entirely. The only sign that she had left was the door to my office opening and closing.
I let out a breath and dragged a hand down my face. I almost wished that one of the two would just show up already. The anticipation was killing me. I needed a distraction… turning to my desktop, I brought up the internet… and after a moment, I typed in my name. I had googled myself before I landed myself here, but there hadn't been any hits. Now? Now there were thousands. Tens of thousands.
Just like Tifa said, the public opinion was mostly positive. People enjoyed the scathing sarcasm, the brutal honesty, and the flippant remarks. Of course, there were plenty of naysayers, but in a preliminary scour of the internet, they seemed to be in the minority. People began to do their own research and make posts - the amount of misinformation out there was a little annoying to see. People really dug into the fact that I had killed Two-Face, blatantly ignoring posts of the police reports that cleared me. They just assumed that I was bribing the cops.
I guess I did that to myself.
Apparently, I also grew up in the Cauldron, the worst part of Gotham now that Crime Alley got bumped down a few places thanks to Bruce Wayne throwing money at the problem. I also apparently ran with some small-time gangs too. Oh, and I was a child prostitute. Or a child assassin. The internet couldn't seem to decide, but it seemed a compromise that I was both was being agreed upon.
For the most part, the narrative that I crafted all this time was taking root. With a handful of facts, the picture I wanted people to paint was more or less painted. They realized that Sainthood Enterprises existed to support Lowtown. That my aggressive monetization schemes came from the need to support over ten thousand people, and that number was just going to keep on growing. That was only helped by the fact that members of Lowtown made me out to be the best thing since sliced bread on the internet.
They told their stories - homelessness because of a drug habit, but thanks to me, they had a home and were inspired to kick their habit. Or a woman that had an abusive husband who had turned to Lowtown with her kid in tow, and now she feels safe for the first time in years. People that lost it all, but found something in Lowtown. I'm pretty sure most of them were lies, but I wasn't going to decry the good press it was generating.
Still, it was a little early to say that I had become a popular figure. The dust had yet to settle, and it could be flipped on its head if the wrong fact took root in the story.
There was already a debate on if I should be in jail for the crimes I didn't confess to. It seemed that most people thought no, but that could just be a vocal minority and I doubt that the cops would be willing to not arrest me just because I was a popular public figure.
The story needed time to settle. By tomorrow, I would know if I should expect the cops.
It was a good distraction, until my contacts flagged a figure approaching through the tunnel system, which had temporarily been reopened to take the influx of people. The backlog was insane, though, and I was starting to worry that people might get hit by a train because I wasn't going to lax the security restrictions. Which was a good thing because I found a false bottom in a bag that was filled with equipment. Batman-esk equipment.
The only reason that the bag wasn't flagged instantly was because who the bag belonged to.
Bruce Wayne was here and he had disguised himself so well that my facial scanners couldn't identify him. That was a weakness I hadn't known about. He acted like he was awed by the sight of Lowtown as he took a pamphlet and a number that represented his turn to receive a home when another building went up. Families came first in that regard, so there was a substantial waiting list.
Looks like Batman would be paying a visit first. My gaze darted to 2B, who stood in the corner, at the ready. That was good.
But I was recoiling from a revelation. I leaned back into my chair, watching the security feed as Bruce Wayne headed to a tent and ducked inside. I couldn't see within, but I could guess what was happening. This… there was no way that he was casually revealing his secret identity to me. I mean, he was taking measures to throw me off, but…
Did… had I…
Had I Batproofed Lowtown?
The thought felt absolutely insane. There was no way that I had managed to get one over Batman like this in such a major way with something as simple as a hidden scanner. As insane as the thought was, it was the only thing that made any sense. Batman wouldn't have revealed himself like that. Unless this was some ploy? Did he suspect that I already knew his secret identity and he had been playing me when I thought I had been playing him?
My lips pressed together into a thin line, my fingers drumming on my desk, uncertain of what I should believe. Batman was… Batman. It didn't feel believable that I had caught him in a mistake. Every instinct screamed at me that this was just a 4D chess move that I wasn't smart enough to comprehend, but… I struggled to believe that as well. What did he have to gain? I couldn't see it.
Batman got out of the tent, wearing a thick coat, a wool hat, a scarf, pants, boots, and a pair of sunglasses. Nearly every inch of him was covered, hiding the fact that he was now dressed as Batman. He made his way to my office building taking a very similar route to the one the Talon had, that allowed him to easily bypass the guards and slip inside of the building.
My lips tugged into a frown as I realized I really did get one over on him when he peeled off the clothing and stuffed them into the bag, before he began planting listening devices as he made his way up the building. He avoided every obvious camera. He avoided my less obvious ones too. He even avoided some of my hidden cameras simply because he suspected that they might be a camera. He just couldn't avoid them all.
I needed to ramp up my defenses, I decided. My security too. It might sound like an odd conclusion given that I was watching Batman make his way to me, but that was the point. Batman couldn't sneak into my office, but he had snuck into Lowtown. And what about the Justice League, or the Team? Mind readers, speedsters, magic users…
Lowtown wasn't safe enough yet.
I took in a bracing breath and looked to the door. Batman picked it effortlessly on my camera feed, and swung it open before striding into the room. If he was surprised to see that I was waiting for him, then he didn't show it. It was my second time seeing Batman rather than Bruce Wayne, and he was every bit as imposing as I thought he'd be. He was tall, with broad shoulders, thick arms, and legs that were packed with so much muscle that they seemed to strain at the skin and body armor he wore.
The cowl was more unnerving than I thought it would be. The white of his eyepieces stood out that much more with the black of the cowl that covered half of his face. My heart started pounding in my chest, but I kept myself in check.
"Batman," I greeted my tone even but friendly. "I hope you aren't here to break my other wrist," I said, making 2B take in a sharp breath. Batman didn't react to her, but that told me he knew that she was here. And that I was here. How had he known that? Jason? I knew he had planted some listening devices, which I left so he wouldn't know I knew about them.
But he had come straight here. Did he have something here I didn't know about?
Batman didn't answer. He towered over me, looking down with a completely blank expression. With every second, my smile felt more strained but I kept it up all the same. He couldn't see me afraid, even knew I was afraid of him.
"Who?" Batman questioned me, his tone gruff. More of a low growl as the single word left his lips. I knew exactly what he meant.
"I have no clue," I answered honestly, making his eyes narrow into slits. "I took credit for doing it, but I wasn't the one to blackmail or extort anyone. I just knew it was done, and I knew that the blame for it was going to be pinned on me. So, I got ahead of it." All technically the truth. I didn't know who had been bribed, who had been blackmailed, or who had been extorted. And I knew that the Court was going to leverage all of that against me. I had specifically avoided finding out for this exact moment, though I had thought that circumstances would be very different.
Batman glared at me for a moment longer, searching for any sign of deceit. "You were the one that had Lowtown expanded." It wasn't a question.
I nodded, "I did. It was premature, but it was always the plan. I did it all at once so the reveal would be the finished project and the additions couldn't be leveraged over me." I continued to be honest, watching him carefully. I half expected him to reach out and start throttling me, but he didn't.
Though, my heart skipped a beat when a Talon was spotted nearby, heading our way. A different one than the one that had been tracked back to the water treatment plant.
"You're in danger." Also not a question, but it sounded like I wasn't in danger of him.
To that, I shrugged, "I'm used to it." In this game, it wasn't enough to just win. You had to keep winning all the time and the moment you lost, you died.
There was a beat of silence as Batman stared down at me. It was uncomfortable enough that I could almost stop stressing over the fact that the Talon had reached the building. I nearly breathed a sigh of relief when the Talon went up instead of down to Lowtown. The Talon, who I think was a she, effortlessly opened the window despite the lock and entered Tifa's and my bedroom. Thankfully, Tifa was handling the influx of people so she wasn't there.
"It's probably too late to ask, but I don't suppose clemency is on the table?" I asked him, leaning forward as I set my hands on my desk. Calling attention to the broken wrist and the fact that I had nothing in my hands.
Batman was silent. The tension grew by the second until the air itself became practically unbreathable. The Talon dropped off a phone on my bed before climbing up and perching herself in the corner of the room.
"Have you killed anyone?" Batman asked bluntly, and there it was. The golden rule. The rule that I shattered again and again and again. His eyes narrowed to slits, my expression giving me away.
There was no hiding it. "I have," I told him, and the devastating attack never came. My lips thinned, "During the Henching job that I met Tifa at. When the box dropped and she fell out of it… the noise attracted one of the guards. He killed the guy I was with, and I went for the gun. Smashed him in the head with a box, which is how I got my cards. The others heard and I had to shoot my way out. I killed one in my escape with Tifa."
That was perhaps my only clean kill. The only one that could be ruled as self-defense. The others had just been murder.
I stared up at Batman, meeting his gaze unflinchingly. "I did what I had to. Tifa and I would have died otherwise."
If he knew anything, then this wouldn't work. He would know I was lying to him. He still might find out if he asked me the wrong question. But if I offered something, I just had to hope that he wouldn't dig any deeper than that. But, seeing as this was Batman, it meant giving him a jumping-off point to launch his investigation. Meaning that clock would start ticking down again.
"That explains why you handed yourself over to the Penguin," he noted, his tone decidedly unbiased. I had no clue what he was thinking. It was impossible to read him. But, I wasn't swallowing teeth. Yet. Batman seemed to think on it for a moment longer before he came to a decision.
"I will turn over what I've gathered to the police," that was the exact opposite of what I wanted. "But, on the condition that you continue to provide evidence against the Penguin, I won't look into the event any further. If you're arrested, then the police caught you, not me."
That was… a pretty shit deal, to be honest. But, it also seemed to be the extent that Batman was willing to bend. To not investigate. But, I'm guessing if he caught me trying to cover it up, he would bust me for that. It was a frustrating response because I had no clue what he had on me. Which I guess was his point.
"I can live with that," I told him. Depending on how my conversation with the Court went, I knew what my second favor would be. "What do you need me to do?"
Batman had an answer ready, "The location of the Penguin's backup servers would be ideal. For now, continue as you have. Don't put yourself at unnecessary risk." He took a step forward, and my camera caught him sneaking a listening device on the back of the chair across from me that blended in seamlessly. "This," he continued, "is not a free pass. If you step over the line, good intentions or not, I will bring you down."
I should let him get the final word. I really should. But, I didn't.
"I expected nothing less," I told him as he turned around and marched out of the door without another word. He didn't so much as glance at 2B, but I knew better. Batman had probably already figured out that she was an Android. She closed the door behind him, and I watched as Batman left the building with the same ease that he entered.
"Did that go according to your plan?" 2B asked as I leaned back. My heart was pounding as the tension started to leave my body, leaving me feeling oddly sore.
"I'm not spitting out teeth, so there's that. If Batman wants me to help him take down the Penguin… well, it was something I was going to do anyway. I'm done doing what he tells me to. The sooner he's dealt with, the sooner I can pull out of the game," I answered for Batman's bug's benefit. There. Now he knew I intended to comply and lead him to believe I didn't know about the listening device.
That hadn't been my ideal scenario, but it wasn't the worst case. I would take it because I could work with it. That was one fire dealt with.
The Talon was still in my room, waiting for me. Given what I knew about Talons, she could wait there for days if she needed to. That was the next fire I had to deal with. The sooner the better.
But, first, I needed to get some things in motion. Looking back to my desktop, now that I knew that Batman wasn't going to kick the shit out of me, I accessed the information that Cass stole from Cobblepot. There was a lot of it.
Twenty-something years of criminal activity on an international level. The number of shell companies alone was making my head spin. However, what was a real gut punch was Cobblepot's bank accounts.
The guy was a billionaire. Not one or two billion. More like one or two hundred billion. It was an insane amount of wealth. And that wasn't even touching his stock investments or hard assets.
Cobblepot was panicking when I last spoke to him. He hid it well, but I could tell he was shitting himself. He acted too wild for anything else. He was acting under the assumption that Batman deleted the data to force him to go to his backup server. He thought I was panicking because Batman had the video file of me murdering a man in cold blood and that the reveal of Lowtown was me trying to get ahead of the backlash. If I admit to one crime, but not another? Well, then the video was clearly a fake then, wasn't it?
However, Cobblepot was dragging his feet. He didn't want to lead Batman to his backup servers, so he was going to get a backup for the backup ready, before he killed the original backup to cover his tracks. That wouldn't do. I needed to put pressure on him. I needed him to think that he didn't have the time. The faster he accessed his backup, the faster I would have access to it, then I would have Penguin by the balls.
So, I changed the passwords to his bank accounts. To his stock portfolios. To his company logins. To his email addresses. A password randomizer for each one that I then randomized three more times. I had a smile on my face as I did so - it was a damn good feeling, I decided, screwing Cobblepot over. He had helped me a lot, but after making a backup of that video… all bets were off.
Then I began to move his money around - that was the problem with swiss bank accounts. Perfect for hiding money, but when you lose that money in the void?
A handful of clicks later, I had hundreds of billions of dollars, stock investments, a network of shell companies... I was rich beyond my wildest dreams. It was insane to think about. Absolutely insane. It hardly felt real until I began authorizing some purchases - with the publicity of my speech, it would only be natural if Sainthood Enterprises saw a sharp increase in profits.
Now, all Cobblepot had left was Cobblepot Industries and his hard assets. I imagine he was panicking now. I'm sure I could listen in on him if I wanted, and as sweet as that would be, I did have other priorities. The Talon in my bedroom came to mind. For now, I was content to wait for Cobblepot to react.
He would go to his backup servers to preserve his blackmail and to regain control over his money. The twenty-five million I gave him would be used, and some of it would end up in his vault. When I found it, then Cobblepot would have nothing.
No money. No assets. No blackmail. No connections.
"I'm beat," I decided, pushing myself away from the desk. I looked to 2B, tossing her a wink. I'm not sure if she understood the gesture, but she offered a small nod in response. Standing up, I loosened my tie before I started walking out of my office with 2B right behind me.
Cassandra hadn't pressed the button yet, but I wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not. I did see that her listening devices were all online, so I think it was going well. The bugs didn't get much, but the cameras did. I nearly tripped when I cycled through the feeds and stumbled across a row of metal caskets. Frost covered most of the glass, but through it, I saw the familiar mask of a Talon.
Cass really outdid herself. That was absolutely perfect. The Vanaver family was confirmed to be a member of the Court, and I might just be able to confirm if they were the leaders or not.
I found Samantha Vanaver sitting at a desk, glaring at a cellphone resting on it. I'm pretty sure she was the one I would be speaking to shortly, but that didn't mean she was the leader. If she called anyone after, then I would know if the chain of command went a link higher or not.
Stepping out, I saw Lowtown was busier than ever. And there were enough new faces that they didn't even give me a second look as I walked by them. I made it all the way to Stairway before someone recognized me enough to point a camera in my direction, but I ignored them. Heading upstairs, I stepped into the elevator and sighed.
"There's going to be someone in the room that thinks they have the drop on us. Ignore them unless they try something," I told 2B. One of the things I was really liking about her was that she just nodded, accepting the order without comment.
Cracking my neck, I rolled my shoulders as we reached my floor. Heading out, I braced myself for another confrontation. Just like with Batman, this talk could go one of two ways. And I really, really, really needed it to go my way.
I didn't hesitate to open the door and step inside, even though I was keenly aware of the Talon just behind me. I tossed my jacket and coat on the couch, acting like I thought nothing was amiss. I started to enter the bedroom, pretending to not notice the phone for a moment before my gaze landed on it.
There was a number predialed. I pressed call and through my contacts, I saw Samantha answer her phone.
"This is not what we had in mind when we granted you this favor," Samantha informed. Her voice through the phone was scrambled to the point I could barely understand her. She wore a deep frown on her face, but she seemed more frustrated than angry.
From what I knew of her, she did want the best for Gotham. She just didn't hesitate to use assassins for her definition of the best.
"I figured, but I'm afraid I didn't have much choice in the matter," I told her, catching Samantha by surprise. I saw her eyes narrow, her expression completely open to being read since she thought she was alone. "Certain parties pushed my hand. I take it you're aware of who broke my arm?"
Samantha looked annoyed, "Batman." The word came out as a growl in both the video feed and the phone call.
"Exactly. He attacked the Penguin and stole a great deal of data from him. Incriminating evidence for him and myself," I told her. "If I had a way to contact you beforehand, I would have, but I was short on time to get ahead of this."
Samantha tilted her head back and forth, seeming to consider that for a moment. "the Court understands your reasons, but this is not a desired outcome."
"Which is why I wish to make amends," I told her quickly, catching her attention. I had to go big. High risk, high reward. "The Court has access to Lowtown through me. There's room for an entire city down there." I would let her make the offer that I would agree to.
"You would throw away your ideals for Lowtown so easily?" Samantha asked, her tone judging. So, she didn't like that.
I shook my head for the Talon's sake, "No. I just understand that compromise is necessary in this city. I can't make Lowtown what I want to make it without compromising on my beliefs. Or without the Court. And because I understand that neither Lowtown nor I will exist without your permission."
Appeasement worked. Samantha smiled lightly, "An astute observation," she noted. "Yet, the Court already has Lowtown through you." What a bitch. But, given what she knew, it wasn't hard to see why she would think that. She had no clue how much I knew. Every inch of her house was bugged, all the way down to the secret tunnels and the Talon nest in her basement. I doubt that was all of them, but it was a start. Bugging her place would help me find the others.
In time, I could have the Court under my thumb. It wasn't an empty boast. Maybe I was just ridding high off of becoming a billionaire and not getting my ass kicked by Batman, but I was almost looking forward to it.
"True," I lied through my teeth. "But I can give you something no one else can," I said, watching Samantha's face carefully. I could see that I had her interest. "Tabs on Batman."
I could see the hungry look on her face. I had her. The Court didn't know who Batman was, it would seem. That made keeping tabs on him vastly more valuable than they otherwise might be. I knew for sure I had her when I saw the Talon lower themselves from their position by the door, receiving a command from Samantha. That I saw her give. A controller. I took note of it.
"Batman approached me on flipping on the Penguin in exchange for a non-aggression pact of sorts. He won't look into my past crimes if I give him evidence on the Penguin. Whenever I meet him, or we're in contact, you'll know beforehand." I made the offer and I knew Samantha's answer before she said it.
"The Court of Owls accepts your offering, Vergil St. Jude," Samantha decided, ending the call just as the Talon slipped out of the room. I let out a breath as I watched Samantha lean back in her chair and smile. She tossed the burner phone away before reaching out to the old-timey dial phone. I saw her dial in a number as she pressed the phone to her ear. She cleared her voice before speaking when the person on the other end answered.
"We will take no further action against Vergil St. Jude. Await his next request," she ordered before she hung up.
I smiled. A smile that stretched ear to ear and was filled with teeth.
I had found the Grandmaster of the Court of Owls.
"Today was a great day."
There's a part of the chapter where it's pretty obvious that there was meant to be a PHO interlude but it's not there. To be very blunt, what I got with the interactive interlude was pretty much entirely unusable. There were a few posts that were on topic, but they were in a minority. The rest devolved into how hot Tifa is, tinfoil hats crackpot theories that Vergil and Robin are the same person, debates about the effectiveness of Batman, and apparently Brockton Bay took a skip across the multiverse.
I don't know how much mods get paid, but it's not enough. It devolved and went off-topic pretty much instantly.
So, it was a total shit show and it was just a lot easier to not use any of it. Sorry for those that participated, but… yeah. I haven't given up on the idea entirely, but the next time the rules are going to be a lot stricter. When I make a thread for you to role-play as someone reacting about an event, I would prefer it if you reacted to that event rather than trying to make Batman out to be a pedophile.
The next chapter is currently available on my Pat re on and Subscribe Star, so if you want to read it a week early, all it takes is a single dollar in the tip jar. Or, for five dollars, you can read the chapter after that two weeks before its public release! I hope you enjoyed!