Dick: At this point it seems like forever ago that the so-called ‘Bat Family’ was having a get together at Wayne Manor. Complete with costumes of a different sort. During which Damien had dressed up as an Assassin, from the League of Shadows. Now only a handful of weeks removed from that? I’m walking among a litany of dead bodies wearing that same attire. The Iceberg Lounge was once the peak of society in Gotham, I suspect it will be that again. It’s owner is connected, wealthy and one of the original families of Gotham. For some reason that tends to provide those few people with Teflon. Nothing ever sticks to them for long and that includes owning the site of one of the largest mass murders in Gotham’s History.

That is what I’m looking at. Mass Murder.

Bodies lay in random order in just about every place the eyes can travel. One murder is nearly indistinguishable from the other. Gotham City’s Police Department has called in all the over-time hours that anyone can handle. Crime Scene units have been brought in from all across the Country to collect evidence and work the case. A case that every single person here already knows the answer too. This wasn’t the act of just another of Gotham’s Rogue Gallery. This was a War, between several of them.

“Penguin’s Men were thrown to the wolves. Buying him time to escape. His body is absent, he’ll be back.”
It didn’t take your Bat-Computer to figure that out. What we’re having trouble with is who the hell killed these guys?
“Slade Wilson.”
Deathstroke? Why the hell is Deathstroke involved? He working for Penguin?
“No, he was clearly taking out any and everyone that got too close.”
So he was a free agent? What the hell is going on in my City, Batman?

The Commission’s question is troubling because I don’t have the answer. Bruce always seemed to. He always knew what was going on before anyone else did. It was like his very own super power. Despite studying with him for nearly three decades, I’m stuck with the thought that I failed to pick up the one skill I needed most. Because very little of this makes sense.

“The Joker has Talia al Ghul,” this isn’t a secret, it’s been all over the news, but I’m building to something. “He’s called out the League. The League was here because of whatever was in that room.”

The Commissioner and I have been standing at a doorway. It leads in to a room that at one time resembled some sort of private members only sauna. Complete with Hot-Tub. Apparently the best damned hot tub in all of the Free World, because the body count rises the closer you get to the room. Except that the causes of death change dramatically here. Out there in the Lounge, it’s mostly Mobster on Ninja violence, but starting just before the hallway to Penguin’s office the signs of Deathstroke entering the fray become clear. Crystal clear. Culminating here, at this doorway and ending just beyond it.

“My cowl has determined that there are trace amounts of the same substance Ra’s al Ghul uses to maintain his immortality, all over the room.” Turning away from the commissioner and toward the Penguin’s office. “When the Lab Results come back and confirm that, we’ll have one of the answers to this mystery. We’ll know why this place was more important to the ‘Demon’ than his own Daughter.”

That still leaves us with a shitbag full of other questions. Like where the hell the Penguin is now? Where’s Joker taken Talia? And why the fuck did Deathstroke get involved?

“I know where Penguin is, he’s not important.”
Says you.
“I’ll know where Talia is soon.”
Wonders never cease. Pray tell when are you going to let us average Joe’s in on the secret?
“As for Deathstroke. That is a mystery to me.”
God damnit, you spent too much time with him. You’re doing that thing..
. . .
Uh. Batman. When I start to rant you’re supposed to disappear. It’s almost reassuring. Why haven’t you… oh…

The Black Canary is why. Leading one to question how she’d gotten through a crime scene without arousing any notice. Especially dressed like she is. She’s certainly got the Commissioner’s notice. He no longer seems to be blaming me for not disappearing. I like Jim Gordon. Liked him long before I began dating his daughter. He could easily be one of us between background as a Marine and his skill as a Detective. The look he gives Dinah is somewhere between properly appreciative and a look I normally see reserved for Barbara. Does he know Dinah? That’s a curious wrinkle, I wonder if Bruce ever picked up on that? He wouldn’t have any way to recognize that look in Jim’s eyes.

“Can you give us a few moments, Jim?”
Sure, but make it quick. The S.I.’s are on loan…

The man is still muttering about budgets being blown as he wanders down the hall. Meanwhile I’ve allowed my eyes to trail up the long legs of the Canary, across to the doorway to the Penguin’s office. To the giant hole in the roof there, where a rocket is even now lodged and inactive. Back to the Canary and those long legs.

“Why is Slade Wilson here.” It’s not a question, just phrased that way, because I actually did know that answer. At least in part. “You’re the only connecting dot.”

Dinah: I’d be hard pressed to make a call on whether or not tonight was a success or a total, epic failure. It’s got the notes and highlights of both. On one hand, I got the answers that I came for. Not the way I’d intended to get them, but that’s the job. You adapt, you scrap, and you salvage. No amount of ego and a positive outlook is going to make what went down at the Iceberg tonight look good though. A lot of people died tonight. Some innocent people. A lot more not at all innocent people, between the League’s assassins, and Penguin’s goons. While I’m not one of those every lives is sacred kind of people, and the deaths of the ‘soldiers’ in this fight isn’t going to keep me up at night? It’s going to make me a hell of a lot more pissed at the generals.

Neither of which gave me answers. Not on purpose anyway. But the fallout was telling. So was what we found behind that door. There were also so many more questions. It’s not the ‘more questions’ that makes this feel like a fail, either. Tim getting hurt, though it could have been much, much worse, doesn’t feel great. It is, again, the job but it doesn’t mean I have to like it. Once I’d gotten him settled, I’d left. With some hope that the kid will stay put and just recuperate. Maybe I should have followed through with the thought of drugging him. After taking away the utility belt so that he couldn’t just detox when he felt the weirdness that is ‘getting sleepy.’

I’m not hurt though. I’m not really even scratched, which wouldn’t be the case if it weren’t for my partner, and the fact that I’m a meta. Otherwise blown up, shot, and stabbed might have been on my list of nightly accomplishments. It was always a possibility I could still add them now that I’m going back. Unlikely though. The fighting’s done. Everyone’s either dead, run away, or Slade Wilson. No, I don’t need a monitor in place to know that’s what happened after I bolted with Timothy Wayne and his gaggle of other dates. This time? I’m in an entirely different revealing little number. A whole lot less classy, and a whole lot more leg when it comes to fish nets, combat boots and the rest of my ensemble.

How do I get through a crime scene without arousing notice? One part knowing where not to be, another part walking like I own the joint, mixed with the moon eyed, unfocused expressions on a lot of the poor ‘out of towners’ that aren’t used to Gotham’s level for potential lethality and mayhem. This is the kind of crap they tell you about in course work, or the blown up horror stories you assume are exaggeration. Except Jim Gordon. He knows. Does he know Dinah? Yes, actually. So does a lot of the GCPD. Any of them that have been around for a while, at least. My Dad was ‘one of them.’ And his Dad. And his Dad before him. I was going to be. Until I learned some things about the real world, and found I didn’t have a taste for it anymore.

Does he know that Dinah Lance is the Black Canary who’s now strutting up the hall she’s already been in tonight once? I don’t go in for masks. I wear enough makeup, applied in the right way, that between that and where most men, and many women, look no one is going to really pick me out for who I really am. He’s also an observant man, who already has seen behind the curtain of people far more secretive and with more to lose than me. I’d wager twenty bucks that if he didn’t know before? He drew the connection between Canary and my turning back up. Old enough to be my Father, if he were still alive, doesn’t mean Gordon doesn’t get an outrageous wink as he wanders past though.

“Because he’s working for someone…?”

That’s not a question either. That’s a trailed off set of words strung together to imply a ‘well, duh.’ Which is mostly just sass, piss and vinegar. All of which I’m overflowing with tonight. I’m not in a great mood, and that makes my tongue just a hair sharper than even it would be normally.

“He was here for answers that Penguin had, too. Normally I wouldn’t assume the same answers that I wanted, but he seemed perfectly happy to sit back and watch me convince Cobblepot to talk for both of us. Which means he must have thought I would get him to say the right things.”

And not knowing Slade’s questions, there’s no way to assume Penguin would give those answers, too.

“As for me being the connection… that I don’t know. He was being much more friendly than I expected. He also heavily implied that he knows about Ollie. But as far as the carnage out there goes? He was actually staying fairly neutral. Offered to help me put down some assassins. Offered to not interfere while I worked over Penguin. Seemed a little butthurt that I wasn’t interested, honestly. I think it would have turned into a game of watching us struggle to get out of here, until I asked him, but then one of the League was stupid enough to hit him with a throwing star.”

And then… that mess out there happened.

Dick: Gordon likely knows a lot of things that he either shouldn’t or even couldn’t ordinarily know. The Commissioner is no ordinary person though, is he? If he was Bruce would never have brought him in. The way in which he’s looking at Dinah doesn’t speak for someone that is falling in to her trap though. His glasses almost fall off his head from the weight of his eyes rolling over her theatrics. Nor does it take excellent hearing to pick up the man’s muttering about ‘bird brained schemes’ and half-dressed girls that are young enough to be his daughter.

“Deathstroke isn’t an intelligence grabbing tool,” barely turning towards Dinah as we speak of Slade. “He’s a surgical knife at best, a bazooka at worst. He is not the one you send, if you’re actually wanting answers from someone like the Penguin. That means he was here for something other than asking questions. Without more information all we can do is speculate, but…”

…there’s a lot of information she’s providing that I couldn’t glean from forensics. I’m not some all-knowing, all-seeing diety. In fact, I’m not even as good as Bruce was at faking it. Nor as gifted as Tim as intuiting it. There are other tools at my disposal though. One of them happens to be that I know how to pool the resources that I do have. Dinah is certainly one of them. As long as I’m not Bruce, hiding everything from the people I work with, she has no reason to keep things from me either. This is how it works now. How it has to work in order for all of us to keep this, the City of Gotham, safe from things just like this.

There is also one other thing that Bruce would have done that I won’t. Assign blame. No, I don’t think Dinah needs absolution for all of this. I just know that she’s all too aware that Bruce would have held her accountable for everything we’re seeing. Even if it wasn’t exactly true, she was the seasoned member of the team here. She should have found a way to not let people, innocent people especially, die in the crossfire. I can tell she’s armed for that particular fight too. It makes me wonder if she is waiting for it and wanting to see if I’m going to follow in those footsteps.

“This wasn’t your fault,” I’m not even defining the ‘what’ as to which I’m saying isn’t her fault, just blanketing everything. “The League was coming here regardless. Slade was already here. The people who made it out of here? They got out because you were here.”

Pushing open that final door. The one that Alfred kept working on long after Dinah told him it was time to evacuate. The interior might have one time looked like a very upscale Roman bath-house. With a pool that extends most of the room and wall of tensured glass to allow the Penguin to keep watch over those inside, without himself being seen. The Penguin surely thought it some sort of hoot that he’d be keeping members of the High Class Society in their very own cage. Like penguins at the Zoo. That was before whatever happened here.

“The men in the hall were guarding either this room or Penguin’s escape. We can approximate their time of death due to the coagulation of the blood. In contingent with the wall-clock that stopped working. We believe that Deathstroke did his business out there. Apparently after being struck with a throwing star. Then when he was finished he came here. Putting charges in strategic places.”

Crouching to put a fingertip upon the edge of what was once the pool, so that she can see the residue that comes away on those gloves. “Penny-One was right. At one time this pool contained the particulates from a Lazarus Pit. Someone, presumably Wilson, added something to the water to neutralize it’s effects. Then blew it up. This was very precise. He countered the Pit-water, so that after blowing the charges it wouldn’t seep in to the water supply and contaminate everything around here. This is the work of someone that didn’t want collateral damage from the Lazarus Effect being wide spread across the city. He then destroyed it, so that no one else would be able to take control of it.”

“I agree with you, he’s working for someone, but whoever it is? It is not Ra’s al Ghul or the Penguin,” turning over one shoulder to look back at her. “Throwing in Ollie’s name and the fact that he’s hanging out at your Bar? You’re even more the common thread, Canary.”

Dinah: “No, he’s not. Which means he was there, getting it for himself for a job, or he was there for pleasure. Sit down meetings weren’t his style for one of those, I didn’t think, and the other? That’s actually a little more concerning to me. They seemed to be mostly getting along until I showed up.”

But playing ‘nice’ isn’t the first route I would ever see him choosing. Unless it gets him something else that he wanted. So there’s a whole new round of questions. I’m not sure that Deathstroke is a problem that we have the resources and time to deal with right now. Story of the week, huh? A problem, after a new problem, combined into a whole different problem on top of that. With answers that we’re only really piecing together with educated guesses and intuition, and some knowledge of how these individual groups usually ‘work’ and/or do things. Then you add in chaos. With people doing things you don’t expect, and couldn’t have planned for. Deathstroke here on a job? That’s definable. There’s a guided sort of mayhem to that. If he’s here just because he wants to be? Fuck. What do we even do with that?

The way I purse my lips, lift an eyebrow and cock my head at Dick makes it pretty plain I’m about to say something snarky in response to his absolution. Namely that I don’t need it. In this case? It really wasn’t. The response/action times were too grouped. If anything, we had the misfortune of being there at the wrong time just like everyone else who wasn’t on one payroll or another. I keep that snappy commentary to myself, though, because while I know I don’t need it? I also recognize that Dick is giving it. So I take the attitude down a half notch and shrug my shoulder.

“It was definitely a situation that called for the tool of last resort.” I.E. the only thing I try to not do in Gotham. Scream. “It was sideways before the League even showed up, and then it was sideways and rolling down a hill. You might give that little talk to my partner though, next time you see him. He seems to be under the impression that he failed because he was in the position of having to protect a name and everyone else at the same time. But. Thank you. I do appreciate that you’re saying it just the same.”

Following Batman to that door, in a much more unlocked and bloodied state than last time I was here, I’m also not nearly as heated this time about what Dick should, or shouldn’t talk about with his brother. Much more well meaning suggestion this time, than an order, but this time I’m not feeling quite so much like Tim’s life is at risk either. Not anymore than the rest of us at least. But. I also think that Red Robin’s starting to get a better idea of what wasn’t working. And why.

“I’d assume his escape. They went from assault/defense mode to getting the hell out of Dodge within a time frame that I would assume allowed for Cobblepot to bolt. He was still in the office when I left. With the flamethrowing Actual Penguin. Wilson went out the window about the time I hit the next floor. This being here seems like it may have been above their general paygrade, anyway.”

I don’t come in closer than the doorway, I don’t really need to and there’s no sense in crowding. He’s better equipped for the close up examination, and we already knew what was in here before. There’s just assessing the aftermath and deducing what happened. Which Dick is already doing.

“So maybe this was the job. It sounds like Wilson was willing to deal with all of Penguin’s problems. The Joker. The Hood. Maybe the League, as well, and their attacking him first just gave him a plausible excuse, while making it look like he wasn’t actually targeting them specifically.”

Or. Maybe it wasn’t a job at all. Pleasure. Clearly? He knew the Mini-Pit was here, otherwise why would he be prepared to neutralize it? Or even know to do such a thing. So who was he dealing with it for? Or… acquiring it for? Or perhaps both. The only really startling thing that Dick has to say relates to Slade and… me again. It makes me blink, pulling my head up like I’m backing away from an unpleasant smell.

“He’s what?”

That should probably fall into the things I know about category. But I only go into the bar if I need booze or coffee, or maybe something to eat and I hadn’t been down there tonight. I have my own entrance in the back, and a set of stairs that go up to my apartment. There’s a moment of strange panic about leaving Tim there hurt and by himself, even though I know he can defend himself… but if Slade were coming in guns blazing he probably already would have done so.

“What are the chances that this is all just one bloody package? All of it? Not Joker, but the rest.”

Dick: “Ordinarily, I would say that none of this works together. Ra’s isn’t a puppet. Penguin might do it for enough money, but the amount needed for him to put everything he’s worked so hard for at risk is astronomical. Factoring in Lazarus Pit, Talia and now Slade? The odds become so remote that I’m not even sure Tim could compute them without a computer.”

“But,” said as more of a sigh than anything else. “A lot of things are defying the odds lately. Too many things to be random.”

Despite this conversation, I’ve barely turned away from the ruined husk of a pool. She went right to what I’d been thinking too. It’s why I’m here, instead of keeping an eye on Damien still. Though, actually, for now he’s the safest person in Gotham. Penny-One confirmed that his Grandfather’s men took him just as we knew he would. Damien wanted to have a communion. He’s getting it. Bruce would never have allowed it, but I’ve decided not to do everything the Bruce Wayne way.

Rising finally, but not turning, just speaking too over the cloaked shoulder. “He’s been in your Bar since roughly eleven minutes after you and Robin took off your commlinks. After he finished his work here, he took up residence across the street from your bar. He was watching you. Saw the boy with the S-Shield come, have a talk with you and go. At some point, he apparently got thirsty. He’s been there ever since.”

“He’s not following you, currently. Unless he’s suddenly able to go invisible. Penny-One says he’s making friends. Telling stories to your people about old times. With you and Ollie. And before Ollie. For someone that wears their whole life so openly, you certainly have a lot of History that none of us knew about. If you get back quickly, maybe you can stop Slade from telling the entire East Coast about it.”

Dinah: “I would have said the same thing about there being a group in Gotham, with the power to scare the Demon, that your Father didn’t know about, too.”

The Wild Card. The Big Random that’s making me think that everything that makes no sense, or seems to be out of pattern and order, is all related back to it. Gotham might be a chaotic, violent place but there’s still a rhyme to it most of the time. Before Bruce died, you could even count on the crazies like Joker to have a certain… theme as well. But now he’s gone, and so the Clown Prince has apparently started branching out and looking in other corners for his answers. You take a place like this, and then you factor in grief. Anger. It’s a seething mass of bad. Or a nuclear bomb that’s just waiting for the wrong little bump to set it all into meltdown.

“Seems like we have a lot of History that I didn’t know about either, then.”

Fucking Slade Wilson. I have to assume that none of it is so bad as to have warranted a more immediate response or I could have been reached before now in order to be warned. So either they wanted to hear what Wilson had to say, or they assumed it to be a bunch of make-believe and didn’t bother to stop him. Slade, for his part? I guess assumes I actually monitor the bar and is escalating his tales in order to make me respond. Which makes me not want to, but I need to find out what the man wants. Maybe get my answers about the ‘why’ of him being here in the first place

“If I get back quickly, then Deathstroke thinks he can bring me running any time he wants, too. So I’ll head back. Slowly. You don’t need me here.”

See. He can absolve me of guilt. I can attempt to not boss, or hover, or interject myself. Dick can do this. He was already doing it when I got here. I still can’t decide if that’s comforting, or making me think that my place really is going to be in the Nest, doing the training. Either way. I push off the door frame, and start making my way back the way that I came. Avoiding the spatter turns it into a bit of a dance of not further contaminating the crime scene but… I was already here once tonight. Now, I get to retrace my steps once again, back to Pretty Bird’s, to see what one of the only deadlier people on the planet wants.

Dick: “Canary,” I know she can hear me, even as she’s making her way back down that solitary hall. “Ordinarily, this might not need to be said, but so many things are out of the ordinary right now. I’m not sure the conversation should be between Red Robin and I, this time. He’s your partner right now. You haven’t had many of those, but I’m something of an expert. Trust me when I tell you this. He needs to know you trust him and his judgment. My opinion on what happened here? Is a far second to your’s.”

“We’ve talked about roles and responsibilities, but with a focus on the things I wasn’t doing. You need to consider the same things for yourself. The younger generation is going to look to you. Take their lead from you. Whether you want to be a Leader or not, they see you as one. What you do is going to be an example to them. How you handle this. All of this. Will play out in how they handle things in the future.”

“Also,” looking up from the display of the gauntlet that’s been displaying crime scene information. “Your new partner does not sleep. Nor does he take being sidelined well. In the time since you left him to recouperate? He’s tried to save Wonder Woman’s life. Picked a fight with Superman. And is now ‘under cover’ with the Cluemaster’s Daughter. Penny-One is monitoring him. As well as Damien, who’s meeting with his Grandfather. Keep your comm-link on, so that you can be updated if anything changes.”

“And. So that we can monitor you too.”

Dinah: “I’ve already told him as much. I can always tell him again for good measure, though. That’s kind of my M.O..”

Sometimes I just get the impression that maybe Tim Drake thinks I’m just being nice to him, or going easy. Which isn’t usually my way. I’m pretty much clinically incapable of not telling someone to their face if I think it’s a very bad idea, whatever it is that they’re doing. I suppose I didn’t tell him that playing at being Batman was a bad idea, but since I was in the roll of moral support at the time it didn’t seem wise. Maybe, in hindsight, I was being soft. I hadn’t felt like I was at the time, though.

“So what you’re saying is I shouldn’t go home and get drunk with Deathstroke. Check. I’ll do my best.”

It’s not what he meant, and I know it. Ideally the wink back over my shoulder would convey that kind of thing. This is a new gig for me. Role model. Ugh. Fighting? That I’ve been doing almost my whole life. Fighting real opponents with life and death stakes for coming up on half of it. Or it feels like it sometimes. It’s not just about kicking their asses either. That much I do know. Because I know why Ted Grant kicked mine as hard as he did. Because of those stakes.

“…okay, seriously what the actual fuck is going on with this city this week?”

Since he didn’t say anything about Tim going to Metropolis, and Conner was clearly here when I saw him last, I assume it’s all gone down in our fair city’s limits. Pinching the bridge of my nose between my fingers, I take a deep breath. Maybe I didn’t drink enough to deal with tonight, and not the other way around. I already knew, or at least suspected that Tim doesn’t sleep. I’m rethinking not drugging him. I also know that Tim, tonight at least? Was pretty damn aware of his own limitations and so I’m going to have to trust that he thinks he can handle what he’s doing. Or maybe that he has a death wish if he’s trying to fight the Super, and throw himself in with that grade of problems. And Stephanie? Well. She’s the one out of all of those names least capable of handling herself, though she’s a whole lot improved since Red Robin drug his little foundling into the cave. Hopefully improved enough, depending upon what they’re doing but…

No. Dinah. Focus.

“Sure thing, Big Brother.”

Monitoring isn’t ever exactly what I want, but I also know the benefits of it. Especially right now. It’s why a comm is about the only piece of tech I’ll wear out in the field without a whole lot of bitching about it. There’s a sloppy little salute/wave, before I turn my ass around, no longer progressing backwards, for the stairs.