Summary: Keep breathing...just...keep breathing... Or, what happened in between, as all the pieces move into position.
Notes: I know. Its been a while (cough five years cough). And I left the last chapter hanging off a bit of a cliff. But there's places we needed to go and people we needed to see before we can go back to where we were. And I'm introducing some more OCs here. Because there's always more to Gotham than the comics show.
(Also, writers blocks are horrible horrible horrible things that should be taken to dark rooms and shot. Along with the last five years. I'm horribly behind on lots of things, but I will get there.)
Also, I've finally got this series (and other works) cross-posted over on AO3. So there's that, if you want to follow me over there.
As always, betabeta credit to Esther (who sadly is leaving after this chapter due to life and other shenanigans). :(
And pay attention to the bold bits if you get lost.
CALL OF DUTY
When the door to the room she hid in slammed open, Leslie wasn't too proud to admit that she jumped and her heart pounded. Had they found her? Did they know she was here?
She pressed herself to the carpet, deeper into the meager shadow she'd found, holding her breath. Because she was almost certain they'd be able to hear the pounding of her heart, the beating of her pulse in her temples, such was her fear. Because she knew that these two were not ones for mercy from before, when they'd taken Dick and Tim from this very room.
Why were they here? Why did they come back? The only thing here in this room...was her. (And a few couches, but they totally didn't count.)
She turned her head just enough to see, forcing herself to watch. If they were going to come for her, well, she was damn well going to see it coming.
She felt herself jerk when one of the gunmen – Smokes? at least she thought it was him, that aroma was distinctive – came in and dumped a body on the floor. She bit her lip at the limpness of body, finding herself automatically cataloging injuries. Caucasian, teen to twenty. Unconscious. No obvious sign, so...internal injuries, possible blood loss, probable concussion.
She flicked her gaze to the people behind them and narrowed her eyes. One of them was...unmistakably injured. Caucasian, twenty to thirty, upright with a lean. Could mean head injury, possible concussion, mild to moderate severity. Walks with a limp, so leg injury, possibly knee, moderate severity, unknown treatment. She breathed out slowly as her eyes sharpened to take in facial details. Oh, Dick. What have they done to you?
She bit her lip and clenched her hands into fists, digging her nails in, forcibily reminding herself to keep silent and still. To watch. To be passive as Dick remained at the door with the gunmen and not rush out to treat those obvious injuries, and ruin everything.
It felt like it took an eternity for them to leave, for the door to shut behind them. It was such a relief to let the breath go that she'd been holding, to let go of the tension. But still she forced herself to remain in her miserable little shadow a moment longer, to wait for the footsteps (and to stop listening for that distinctive half-step limp) to disappear down the corridor.
Better safe than sorry.
Only when she was sure that they were gone did she finally leave her hiding spot – such as it was. Only then did she finally let herself crawl over with half an eye on the door, adrenaline pounding in her veins.
It took a moment for her eyes to focus on the body on the floor, for recognition to filter in.
Oh God. Tim.
Unconscious, as she'd thought. No obvious injuries...apart from his neck. Damn. The bandage – bandanna thing? – around his neck was saturated. (At least it wasn't spurting.) An arterial bleed was the last thing she needed. This damn room didn't even have a first aid kid.
All she had was her skills and what was on hand.
"Tim," she hissed, wishing she dared to use her 'outdoor' voice, "Can you hear me?" Nothing. No response to verbal. She pinched the meaty part of his shoulder. Twice. Nothing. No response to pain and touch. Keep going. Just keep going.
Unconscious it was. Airway first. Her trained hands deftly adjusted his head to open his airway and she waited out the ten-second breathing check. Breathing. Check. A twisted up knot of fear inside of her relaxed at that. Thank god. Means his heart's good. One less thing to worry about. Carefully she rolled him into the recovery position, making sure she had access to the obvious bleed, and checked his airway again.
Keep breathing, kiddo. Just...keep breathing for me.
Now. She had two minutes to do what she could before she had to check his airway again. Right. She could do this. She did this for a living.
So why did she feel so...rattled?
Time was...meaningless. Or had ceased to have meaning.
He'd been lying here on the roof opposite the hospital so long that by this point, both options were the same thing.
His was the endless patience of the sniper, the hurry up and wait for that perfect moment.
The speaker in his ear sparked, and his scope twitched for the first time in hours. It tracked slowly downwards, to the the entrance of the hospital.
What the hell...
Yeah. No. Not going there. He was leaving that well enough alone.
The speaker in his ear sparked again.
He shifted his scope up and to the left, muscles twitching slightly as he adjusted the scope's magnification in and out. Fourth floor...fourth floor...third room from the right...
Huh. That's new.
He watched the curtains flutter, his finger caressing the trigger as he waited. And watched.
She's been sitting there...staring...for...he's not sure how long.
At least, he's fairly certain there's a female under that all-encompassing black cloak and leather. There's been enough glimpses of curves that its a conclusion he's confident of.
The rest...well, the rest he's not so sure about.
Time has stretched and wavered and shortened under that merciless yellow-white gaze. He's not sure of anything anymore.
But he doesn't quite dare to look away from those glowing eyes. (Are they glowing? They look like they're glowing.) To look away would be to give up, to give out, to give in, and one thing Diablo Summers never does is surrender. Never. He'll die first.
Is that an option here? He doesn't know. Trying to find out is...impossible. Worse than getting fluids from stone (which he's done, and failed at, repeatedly, so he knows what he's talking about here). Because she doesn't talk.
Not even the vilest insults dent her silence, penetrate past that enshrouding cloak. Only...silence.
So he replied like with like...silence with silence.
He'd only blinked and...she's gone, the curtains fluttering in the breeze of her cape.
Did he...win? Whatever this game was that they were playing?
Did he win?
Or did she leave because he lost?
But why did she come to play it with him?
What had she been doing here?
A few rooftops over from the sniper, a dark shadow crouched. It wasn't often the Bat came out during the day, while the sun was out and the light was greater than the shadows.
But desperate times, desperate measures, and all that.
He narrowed his eyes as he watched the sniper change targets to the foyer and then higher...higher...and end up at the exact wrong spot. (Well, wrong for the sniper.) He moved his hand only enough to press on his comm, sending a quick series of coded clicks through the line. He let out his breathe gently, slowly, when he received another series of clicks back. Coast clear.
Time to act.
He crouched down.
Moved his foot slightly for better purchase.
Shooter 0 Batman 1
Observer 0 Batman 1
Sniper team 0 Batman 2
Evacuating a hospital, in SWAT Chief Alex Regano's opinion, was an absolute bitch of a job. Especially a hospital like Gotham General, which was built long before the age of urban terrorism and bomb threats. It didn't have underground shelters, let alone the widest of hallways. Hell, the only reason it had an express elevator was because they'd pushed the renovation through last year.
At least they'd been able to get most of the wards locked down.
Not that it did them much good, since this latest lunatic was threatening to blow the place up.
He hadn't told his superiors, but he didn't hold much hope of preventing it. Not since he'd read the (too thin) file on the previous op's of this particular team - and the playbooks used by the teams that had gone up against them. SWAT had been very...by the book, and their opponents...hadn't.
Maybe that was the problem.
Hell, he was used to feeling powerless. In this city, it was something you got used to (and worked out ways to roll with and overcome). Maybe it was about time he threw the book out and did something new for a change.
He turned to his assistant. "The cops still trying the phone thing?"
Sgt Evan W. Lee made a face to match Alex's frustration. "Yeah. No answer. Probably would help if they knew where to ring, tho'."
Dammit. "Any word from our team on the roof?"
Double damn. Alex closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead in resignation. The Bat must be out early.
The Foyer I
Arsenal stared at the doctor in frustration (and, let's face it, a healthy dose of admiration.) "I can't leave you to clean up all...this," he said, waving vaguely at their surroundings. Not after being responsible for most of the mess. Well, Troia caused part of it (ok, maybe even a large part of it), but...
"You saved our lives," she retorted, equally as stubborn (and perhaps just as frustrated. Because cleaning up afterwards was what she did for a living.) "The after-care part is what we do."
He sighed and nodded. Some battles just weren't worth fighting (not when he'd already seen how hard-hitting they could throw a specimen tray) when he was really trying to focus on the war. Big picture, Roy. Big picture. "Fair enough," he said. "We'll secure the perimeter, then. Troia?"
"You go on, I'll go this way," he said, gesturing behind him. "Let's secure the place for these good folks."
Unfortunately, he barely even got a quarter of the way around his allotted space before he found his next...surprise that stopped him in his tracks. It was totally sucky surprise, but honestly on par for the way today had gone.
Oh this is not good.
Thank goodness. Never had she been so glad to hear a muttered name. (If nothing else, she could rule out damage to the larynx.)
"Hush. Don't move," she murmured, all too aware of the precariousness of their situation. Never would she have guessed this morning that she would end up doing basic first aid in a hospital under siege.
Tim blinked up at her. "Les..." he whispered hoarsely.
She nodded and smiled. "Yes. Its me." She touched a finger to his lips. "Don't talk too much if you can help it. I've done a basic bandage, but you need stitches and I have nothing here for you. So I don't want you to stress your throat, and I don't know how close the gunmen are."
He grimaced, shook his head, and aborted the motion with a wince. Right, not the best idea with his throat cut. "Dick..." he whispered, reaching up to grip her arm.
Somehow, she thought, she shouldn't have been so surprised at the strength in that grip. "I don't know, hon," she replied, swallowing hard to hold back her emotions. "You're the first family member I've seen." There was no point, she figured, in mentioning what she thought she'd seen when Tim had been, well, dumped in the room. The lighting had been (was still) bad and she wasn't certain. She wasn't certain.
She wasn't certain.
Tim tightened his grip on her arm. "He... gave in... for me. ...Have to... find him."
Right. Somehow that shouldn't surprise her. She knew from hard experience how close the young boys (like brothers or better) were. If that bond were threatened...she wasn't surprised Dick would make the sacrifice.
He'd done it before, after all.
She tightened her lips. This was so not a good idea, but what choice did she have? If she didn't agree, Tim would do it anyway (make his own sacrifice), and at least this way she could come along and help. Or maybe I'll just be there to catch them when they fall, she thought to herself miserably. "Alright," she sighed. "But we'll do this my way."
Chief Alex Regano tapped his fingers against his desk thoughtfully (and silently, a lifetime of discipline wasn't forgotten that easily). Right. Think, Alex. Think. What players do I have on deck?
There was Diablo and the gunmen chasing him. Known, dangerous, preferably shoot on sight but he'd take them alive if he could. Especially since they'd reportedly planted a bomb in a hospital. Idiots.
There was that officer inside the hospital. Unknown quantity, but a doer judging by the media reports (not that he trusted the media, but it was all he had at the moment). His personal bet: most likely causing mischief, if he wasn't tied down to a bed. He had people like that in his squad. The trick was chanelling the mischief in the right direction.
Civilians. Yeah. Civilians and doctors and patients... what a headache this one's going to be. And all because someone had forgotten to include an evacuation alarm when they were doing the hospital's security package. Let alone practicing the drills. What a riot. Especially now that the media was involved. Vultures.
And now, capping it all off, the Bats and their people. Right. Talk about headache. (No, this was definitely Migraine Day.) Definitely unknown quantities.
And on his side of the deck, he'd lost his snipers, his ground teams were hamstrung from entering the hospital by the foyer situation, the media pack was circling, and the politicians were no better.
Talk about hell in a hand-basket.
Or maybe it was hell in a hospital.
The Foyer II
Roy stared at it and swallowed. Can I swear in front of the civilians? Just this once? "Troia...could you come here please."
Alerted by the strange note in his voice (and that he said 'please' – Roy never said that in the field, as he was field commander of the Titans because Reasons Like Forgetting To Stop Giving Orders), Troia left what she was doing and came over. Almost flew over, really, but that would be giving away secrets about abilities and she tried not to do that. (Like ever.) (Okay, except in extreme situations.) (Did this count?)
Except in situations like this.
Her eyes widened. Oh. Well...that's different.
"When I say to run," she said, making a fair attempt to keep her voice level (don't scare the civilians Donna, don't scare the civilians) yet loud enough that all heard her, "run out the front doors as fast as you can."
"But—"The GCPD—" "What about—"
The sparking of the radio interrupted Alex's thoughts.
"Possible canries in flight! Repeat, canaries in flight!" Canaries. Civilians. Finally.
Alex grabbed his radio. "Cease fire!" he shouted. He flicked channels over to his officers (SWAT not GCPD) at the siege by the entrance and issued terse orders to direct the incoming civilians to the waiting paramedics before darting out of the tent himself.
Even with the delay, he was the first through the GCPD's blockade. (Stakeout, they were calling it a stakeout, not a blockade. What idiots.) (More and more, he was certain that someone really needed to re-write their rule-book. And that someone wasn't going to be him.)
He was just in time to greet the first wave of civilians streaming out from the building.
He plucked the sleeve of a random civilian – woman, mid-to-late 50's, silver hair, wearing scrubs, so possibly medical – to catch her attention and pull her out of the stream of people. "What happened?" he asked, doing his best to keep the urgency out.
The woman blinked at him in a way that reminded him of an owl, her eyes were so wide, as her mouth moved soundlessly.
Shock, he reminded himself, they're in shock. "What happened?" he repeated, slower this time. "Is this everyone?" He'd settle for that, at least. He wasn't so fool to expect there'd be no injuries.
"No... I..." She breathed deep and visibly gathered herself. "Yes. I don't know."
Well. That's helpful. He breathed deep and tried again. Be specific, Alex, and be gentle. Civilian, not operator. "Is this all the hostages from the foyer?"
Finally her expression cleared in comprehension and she nodded. "Yes, this is everyone I saw."
He nodded, took note of the odd wording, and continued. "And any injuries?"
"No. They stopped— No. No one's hurt."
For a fleeting moment he wondered what she'd been about to say then put it aside. Time for that in the debrief (and in watching the CCV tapes, whenever they got access to those). He nodded, thanked the lady and let her go through to the paramedics, then made a few discreet signals to his 2IC. They'd have to check the people for things that could be hidden, that the standard paramedic wouldn't check for, as well as standard psych checks and if the targets were hiding amongst those they'd freed.
Not to mention trying to uncover whatever it was that the lady hadn't been willing (able?) to tell them.
It was time to get busy.
The shot, when it came, echoed throughout the building.
Or maybe it just seemed that way, especially since the lift doors had been...well, forced open on quite a few levels and the acoustics of the lift shaft working to amplify the sound.
Roy's head shot up at the shot. Above. It came from above. He swallowed. Dick.
"Go." Troia stared up at him, her eyes flinty gray. "Go. I'll be fine."
Batgirl stopped in her tracks, her right boot a few inches from the next riser as the gunshots echoed down the staircase well.
She breathed into the moment, into the echoes, ears straining, eyes fluttering behind her mask. Where...where are you?
She whirled around and bolted back up the stairs. Wait for me! I come!
A short burst of static burst through the commlink. "Batman," Oracle demanded, "are you there?"
"Yes." He was free to talk, especially since he'd just cleared the rooftops surrounding the hospital of snipers, be they cartel or SWAT. (He really wasn't in the mood to be picky or stop to ask before he hit.)
"Shots fired, generator level. You'd better go."
He clicked his radio to show receipt of the message and leaped into the air.
"...not far," Leslie finished, voice hushed in the deafening silence that followed (or maybe it just seemed that way since her ears were ringing). Really not far. Maybe a few rooms. Were they really that close?
She shifted her grip on Tim and considered. Certain danger or uncertain safety? Potential new patient or did she take care of the one she had? Did she take Tim with her, or would he be safe to leave? Or she stay and watch that damned cut?
Tim grimaced and shifted the bandanna around his throat, hoping to find a fresh (cleaner) spot to press against his throat. (A useless endeavor, the cloth being well-soaked by now, but hey, he could hope, right?) Every step just made the cut bleed more, but damned if he'd stop now. Not with Dick potentially so close. Not arterial, its not arterial. Its not.
Deciding at the same time, Tim stepped forward as she stepped back.
Stalemate. Or it would be, if Bat stubbornness didn't trump the needs of the body.
"What are you doing?" she hissed. "I'm not going in there!" Not when she had the fighting skills of a the average city worker. She knew when she was out-classed.
"Stay here then," Tim replied, forcing his voice stronger, healthier. "I'll call you if I need you." Which he wouldn't. Not for the fight, at least. After...was a definite possibly. He had, he estimated, about thirty seconds of fighting speed in him. Maybe forty if he took it slow. (A manly collapse right after was always possible, of course.)
Leslie nodded slowly and stepped back. You're a medic, Leslie, not a fighter. Don't try to be what you're not. "I'll wait here then."
Tim squared his shoulders and made his way towards the door.
Right. He could do this.
The cavalry was coming.
Everyone was coming.
The question was, though, what would they find when they arrived?