Dinah: If you can believe it, city girl like me, I have actually been camping before. In an actual forest, with a tent and a campfire, and everything. All in all, it was a pretty wet and miserable experience, which I had been unable to complain about even once, because Oliver had intimated that he should probably go solo, since I wouldn’t be able to handle it. Ass. The whole thing had been unnecessary, since we could likely have hiked out to the place we’d needed to be, handled business, and gotten back in a single day. He probably didn’t have the stamina for that, though. Which I may have intimated heavily myself once we were there.

I can handle uncomfortable and non-ideal sleeping conditions, though. I’ve been an accomplished daytime sleeper since high school, and the thuds and voices from my bar don’t keep me up at the apartment in Gotham. I trained under sensei that delighted in tormenting students and putting them off their game. All in all, the Nightwingmobile is not the worst place I’ve ever tried to rest, and after the little train compartment I’m finding nearly anything at all feels damn roomy.

Leaving Rapid City hadn’t been much of a problem, on account of them having to deal with Deathstroke at their highly secured, secret base. Finding a place to stop after what wasn’t nearly as exciting of a day for me as it had been for Dick was convenience more than availability. Just because NOWHERE’s off our asses for the moment doesn’t mean they’re not still watching out, and friend or not even I don’t want to require a Supersave twice in one week. The drive probably would have been faster if we weren’t on side, back, and nothing roads, but the view’s not half bad here if you like flat, flat nothing and the occasional weed that’s taller than the other ones.

There’s an over exaggerated stretch, as I’m reaching arms up and over my head. Outwards as I curve my back and let my head hang for a moment.

“Ahhh. So this is what non-toxic air is like. Do you have any more hobo clothes in there? Fishnets at any kind of stop seems to have gotten me the looks that say I probably could’ve rustled up some cash for a hotel after all…”

The lack of physical money wasn’t actually what was keeping us out of lodging with a real roof and walls, because I’m positive he’s got some stashed somewhere on him. On the road, off the road, is less likely to have some random, well meaning, law abiding citizen decide to be ‘helpful’ for the authorities.

Dick: Even if it’s DINAH LANCE and her nameless sidekick NIGHTWING that made every headline across the country? I’m not going to just abandon her. Not only would that probably play ill on any future scoring chances, but… she still hasn’t answered my &^%$ questions. I’d love to know why we went to all this trouble only to have her pull me out of there before I could get access to whatever that was. I know what I saw, but what I saw didn’t make a lot of sense. It’s left me driving. Driving some more. Driving even more than that.

While Dinah slept. Snoozed. Cat-napped. What do you call it when the girl next to you seems to all appearances unconcious but can recite every lyric from the last song that just played. Even if it was Achy Breaky Heart remixes and Southern Baptist Church Music. Because Bible Belt and even a multiple thousand dollar radio can’t find another channel. Picking up enough signal for a good playlist off any sort of internet is a chance equal to that of hitting the lotto.

I’ve had to remind myself more than a dozen times so far; Someone would recognize Dinah if we went mainstream. It happens to be a problem that I’ve been pondering as we move towards home, but there are a lot of factors involved that I’m not entirely sure I follow or understand. Why do they want Dinah so much being chief among them. That’s a question that I obviously get, because I do too. I’m just not sure I understand why they want her when they have a superman, alien shape-shifters, wizards and matter re-arrangers. They seem to create their own Deathstroke, Huntress or Superman even, every other weekend.

“The Hobo clothes were actually authentic. I gave a guy a diamond tipped dart for them. He’s probably having his first good meal right now.” Like we could be having, if we didn’t apparently do all of this for nothing Side-eyes are a way of things right now, but at least the view is better from my seat. “That last stop left me wondering if maybe we couldn’t have both earned some hotel money.”

“There’s actually cash in my utility belt. When we stopped to load up I grabbed a handful of the freeze dried bat-bucks. Just add water… instant go-bag-cash.”

Dinah: Complain more, at least he’s got a secret identity to default to. Which I don’t even begrudge him, truthfully. I made the ballsy choice long ago to depend on not much more than makeup to protect myself, mostly because I didn’t care to protect myself. If Dick Grayson is all over the headlines engaged in vigilante behavior then lets face it, that shines a spotlight on every other Wayne, adopted or otherwise. Suddenly Tim’s backing of the tower they’re building in California gets even more scrutiny. The various strange behaviors of Damien would become not just acceptable filthy rich eccentricities.

I think I might honestly just begin to assume that all of these Billionaire Playboys are actually vigilantes. Every single one. The Waynes. Queen. Luthor.

His comment, coupled with the weight of the sideways look that I don’t even have to be facing him to see has me lolling my head over onto my shoulder to look at Dick, mouth twisted in wry amusement, as I reach over and pat his cheek.

“Yeah, yeah. Like we could be having, too. But then we wouldn’t be having this excellent team bonding road trip. Maybe we should have loaded a few more people into the ‘Wingmobile and really made a go of it.”

Someone would probably murder Damien before the night was through. Or he would have killed someone for looking at him like that one fella had been checking out Dick. And Stephanie. Because she wouldn’t shut up, she might be the first to go, and I say that as someone who’s only ever interacted with her in a form where it’s perfectly acceptable to hit her when she’s obnoxious. It was, after all, how Grant trained me. The fact that he didn’t manage to throttle the banter out of me should probably be telling of my efforts on Spoiler. If she’s got one thing going for her its stubborn inability to quit when she should really, really stay down. Reminder that I may owe her an apology… which isn’t really my thing to do. Speaking of…

“I’d settle for knock-off imitation. Or nothing but that might actually get more attention. I knew we should have just gone back to the truck stop in Rapid City. Fleeced them for all their money… oh, shit, really?”

The laughter that’s creeped into my tone is probably a dead giveaway for the ridiculousness I’m about to propse.

“…any water? Do you have more of them? Can I pop one in your mouth and take out bills like you’re an ATM?”

I may be running on leftover adrenaline, disappointment, tension and not much real sleep right now. Combined with the entire situation we’re in, I may be reaching a bit for anything to keep the levity to a certain level. Namely because I owe Dick an explanation, and I’ve been trying, while pretending/attempting to sleep to put my thoughts together in the best way. I’ve felt second guessed a lot, and I know that isn’t his fault. He knew I was compromised when I didn’t, even if I feel now I would have made many of the same choices.

“Look. I’m sorry for the no explanation, seemingly pointless trip it… while it wasn’t a dead end, it wasn’t at all what I expected, and I got answers but… they weren’t what I thought they’d be and it kind of knocked the wind out of my crusader sails.”

Dick: “Dinah.” Uh, oh. Bat-voice. Danger, danger Will Robinson, danger! “Let me say this clearly; Hard. Pass.

“About calling it the Wing-Mobile. I’ll put the pellet in my mouth,” comes the offsetting wryly delivered punchline. “So long as I get to choose how you then earn whatever comes out of it.”

She is not the only one with a sense of humor. I’ve been doing this even longer than her. Banter, I mean. I still remember the teen that barely said two words before breaking knuckles on a heavy bag. Humor is my thing. Not always good humor, but humor none the less. I’m not the only one who worries that the Cowl is going to rob that aspect of my life from me, but for now I’ve been able to maintain thanks to so many openings that Dinah and Damien, not to mention our lives, provide me.

There’s a long look afforded to her once she says something serious though. “Was that you admitting that I was right and this wasn’t all about someone tinkering with your head? Because that sounded like you veiled one unicorn, inside of another unicorn. In which case I just got a two unicorn apology, for the price of one unicorn.”

“What did you think the answers would be? And why do you now think the answers you did get, don’t measure up to those expectations?” Two days ago I wouldn’t have reached across the console to lay my hand on her knee, but today I’m actually thinking that might be the ounce of reassurance I can offer that she just might appreciate. “Before you left Gotham, the only thing you knew for sure was that someone stole something from you and used you when you were just a kid. Now you’re free of the Hatter, you said you got answers and we know now that Nowhere has some sort of designs on you specifically. None of that happened, if you didn’t leave Gotham.”

“Actually, I think that I was wrong about this from the start. I think it was the exact time for you to make this play.”

Dinah: There’s a moment where I think that somehow I’ve managed to break some rule of sanctity about pellets and putting them in his mouth, or maybe I’ve found the limit by triggering some long not spoken of trauma, so when it’s the nickname for the SUV I let out a snort, before leaning my head back against my seat, and kicking my feet up on the dash, eyes forward once again. I even let him leave his hand on my knee. Pushing it off would seem a little hostile and until something else springs that trap, we’ve been being nice. And, truthfully, the contact is nice. A different kind of nice.

“Well, what else are we going to call it? I made a judgment call that Dad Van was probably not sexy. And I wouldn’t go that far about the unicorns or the apologies.”

That wasn’t all what it was about, was it? It had certainly been made personal, and maybe the mode by which the news was delivered set it all up to be a whole lot more sinister. It has to be pretty awful if Deathstroke brings it to the plate, yeah? Bruce running the whole thing down ahead of me, apparently, and still opting to make it go away hadn’t helped the initial impressions either. Would it have been better if he’d just told me? You know, it’s easy to say yes. To blame someone not here, in a conversation that I can’t have.

“I thought I’d done something terrible, and I want to say I could deal with that, but not knowing the circumstances, or how much choice I had in it… maybe after Hatter that made the wound a little more raw.”

Folding my arms, and then bracing the tops of my angled thighs might almost be a vulnerable position if it weren’t for the set of my jaw, though the expression goes wry once more as I keep going.

“I thought maybe I could at least get some good mileage out of it, if I could stick it to NOWHERE where it would really, really hurt with the answers. But turns out I was just a big damn hero, who sticks her nose wherever she wants to stick it, who made a choice that I probably would make all over again tomorrow, brain chip or not.”

Which actually is a relief. That’s one of the things I’ve had to mull over since we bailed on Rapid City, in the middle of explosion.

“So, I guess it wasn’t a pointless trip. It just wasn’t the point I’d planned. Besides. I gave a living legend half a lap dance, and you almost accidentally unleashed Armageddon on the world because I asked you to, frankly it’s another day in the life, huh?”

Dick: “I don’t know what we’re calling it, but I know what we’re not calling it. This isn’t even my normal car. It’s from a safe house in Montana.”

With an exasperated roll of the eyes that almost makes my neck pop from the weight of it, I’ve let Dinah have her fun at my expense. As we’ve gone along, I’ve started to recognize my role in this dynamic. It’s ever changing, but essentially I’m the release valve on the pressure that Dinah’s built up for herself. She can handle the pressure that others exert with no help from anyone. That voice in her head that ultimately leads her to either throttling Russians on the streets or drinking herself comatose at home? They’re different. One of them I can help with, by not being overbearing. The other I can help with by getting out of her way.

“Dad Van. Just remember. These old jokes are going to haunt you when we start calling you the Silver Canary.”

From the conversation I’d listened in to, partially, added to what she filled me in on, during the trip up to Rapid City, I know topically what Dinah thought. Killing a brother would be traumatic to anyone, but to have it be the first time you’d found out about the existence of one also being the moment you found out that you killed him? I honestly can’t even imagine that well enough to empathize. I had to just harness the power of seeing my family die, to just lend my understanding of loss to her. Not that Dinah needed or wanted, but I’d wanted to let her know it was there.

Which amounted to a very quiet trip to Rapid City. The opposite of this return trip. Thankfully, because if I see another beet farm or corn field I’m going to give serious thought to pushing the big red button under my steering column. Hopefully none of that reaches my voice, “I’m not angling at a fight, but I want you to remember that the fight we did have was about why you needed to go ‘Now’ instead of ‘Later.’ That reason was a personal one. You had a hole in your life that you needed to fill. Dinah, you got those answers and came out of it without a scratch.”

“Finding out that you are, were, exactly who you and I, and everyone else, already knew you were? I put that in the win column,” so says the needless reassuring squeeze offered to her thigh, before I borrow one of her words to make a point. “Besides. While you were giving a lapdance to a World War One Veteran, I was looking at the strangest thing I’ve seen in a long time.”

“In the basement’s basement’s basement, which hasn’t had it’s air vents scrubbed since you were wearing a training bra. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I didn’t think I’d find some swanky blacksite prison. That only had one cell and that cell had all of the amenities of the Wayne Mansion.”

“Hermetically sealed, Wayne Mansion. Real Charles Mansony stuff. Made Arkham look like it did during No Man’s Land. I don’t know what kind of Armageddon was living there, but he was living high on the hog.”

Dinah: “What, they don’t all have names? And you say we, but it’ll probably just be you.”

Frankly, if I live long enough to be doing this while going silver, it might be a big enough tick in the win box for me to just roll with it. If my grandmother was any indicator, it’ll be White Canary, also no one dared call her anything but her original name. That I heard anyway, but I had no idea she was so… active. As long as she was. In hindsight I should have, because you don’t retire from this kind of life. Not for long, or not well. Ordinarily, that would be a flippant comment I’d make out loud. About dying relatively early. In the wake of everything that’s happened this year, and everything we’ve jointly learned as a group, I just… don’t.

“I feel like in the interest of the whole continued goodwill and getting along thing we were doing, that I should point out that anytime you start a sentence with ‘not trying to fight or anything buuuut…’, it basically says you know it’s fighting words about to come out of your mouth. Kind of like if I were to start what I’m about to say next with ‘not to say I told you so, Dick, buuuuuut…'”

The entire thing has amounted to a very strange month of my life. Knowing who I am has never, and I mean not once in the history of ever, been an issue for me. I had strong role models in every single aspect of my life, and beyond that a cocksure personality that would probably have existed even if I didn’t have the skills, and looks, to back it up. But I did. Which apparently made me the ball of fun I was as a teenager. Finding out you’ve been shifted, though, finding out there was a part of you, an important and traumatic part, that you didn’t even know was there? I suppose it’d probably rock most people at least a little bit.

Half a lap dance. Pretty sure I could have funded the trip if I ponied up the rest of it. I was almost better looking than the real Black Canary they had working in there.”

His fingers pressing into the muscle of my thigh is weirdly reassuring and… no. I don’t suppose it is weird, that’s probably a normal gesture between people who are close enough for the touch to not be something else automatically. So when my arms unfold quickly and I grab the hand that’s touching me, it probably seems like it’s about to be forcibly removed but I hold it there.


There’s a pause, the hand not on his coming up as I pinch the bridge of my nose for a second, letting out a breath that sounds more like a hiss. Much like Slade using me to hunt down much more easily the thing he was after, and it had all clicked into place while I was ‘interrogating’ Steve Trevor, things that had been said in that conversation tumble into place with what my companion’s telling me about his adventure.

“Fuck, I’m really not on my game. A prison. An actual prison.”

And my brother doesn’t blame me. Not didn’t. Christ. He’s still alive.

“What you were looking at, was where NOWHERE thinks an entity called Vertigo is being contained. Bruce have anything on that?”

Dick: “No. They don’t.” Side-eye again. Wait for it. Damnit. “Okay. Tim and Bruce named more or less everything. Not me. Them. I never bothered learning their name. Bat-Boat. Bat-Mobile. Bat-Plane. Robin-Cycle. It wasn’t really a complicated naming convention. Then you started adding in things like two, three, four…”

If one didn’t know better they might think that this was the sort of thing that would drive a young Dick Grayson to drink. They’d be right. It did. A bar in Bludhaven even started numbering my martinis. That’s one of those things we don’t talk about. Not even with the shrink. The Bartender with Blue Hair once started making vroom vroom noises as she slid them to me. I had nightmares that night…

Que disappointment at being rebuked on the simple reassuring touch that hadn’t even been romantic… in five, four… blink. Blink. Maybe not. This is starting to feel like one of those eureka moments that I’d have with Batman. Okay. Maybe not exactly like those. There was a lot less hands on his thigh. Much less hand-holding. But… the same sort of ‘Oh, oh ohhhh damn everything just clicked.’ The problem is, I’m not sure what’s clicking in to place.

Then she asks the question and I’m moving on muscle memory. Tapping the edge of my sunglasses, to activate the car’s onboard computers. While in stealth mode it looks like a real car, but Dinah’s right in that it’s far from that. The fold out super-cycle in the trunk confirmed that. A couple seconds later there’s mechanized sound of the dashboard’s fold out screen that would ordinarily only be a backup camera for other vehicle. Us? We have the Nest’s backup systems putting us in to the Brother-Eye back-up system.

“Brother-Eye has some encrypted files on Vertigo, but they’re on the actual mainframe for the Bat-Computer. Unless Barb made headway in getting back in to the system, we don’t have any way to see the files.” Tilting my head back to her, I’m having my own little moment of recognition. Daamn. “During the League of Assassins being in Gotham. They attacked the Mansion in their search for Talia. While they were doing that, someone else used it as cover to attack the Cave. That’s what caused Alfred to lose control of the Plane that crashed and nearly killed you, me and Damien. In the long list of ‘shit gets weird.’ The attack on the Cave was either not very successful, if the intention was to steal something. Because all it succeeded in doing is putting the Brother-Eye Mainframe in to lockdown. We don’t have access to any of Bruce’s myriad of ‘Secret Files’ he had on Nowhere or various meta-humans that he kept. We still have all the computing power and software. None of the historical data.”

“Alternatively, it was very successful. Because Alfie thinks the whole thing was meant to lock us or someone else out.”

Dinah: Sure they don’t, and three… two… I know the way he’s looking at me, when denial won’t do the trick because he knows. And there it is. You’d think at least SuperGeniusTim would have better names for all the assorted accessories and doohickies, but maybe he was going direct and simple for the plebs. Whether this particular vehicle has a name, beyond Montana Safehouse SUV #2, gets a whole lot less important in very short order. Dick’s got a look on his face that I imagine is at least somewhat similar to the one on mine, when something clicks things that you hadn’t thought about, or at least hadn’t thought about from a very specific vantage, into place.

Not only are those ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ moments, but they’re even more frustrating because you did. Just maybe not back when you should have, or when you were in a place to pursue the trigger a little more directly. He’s moving, enough to get The SUV to reveal some of its hidden goodies, and I’m leaning in again to look at it. Unnecessary, because it’s more than clear even fully upright in my seat, but there’s this intensity to feeling like you’re right on the edge of something. Wave. Rollercoaster. Discovery.

“And here I just thought he was sick of Damien’s shit and we were acceptable collateral damage…”

I am actually listening to Dick, though, the commentary is more of a soft aside to myself than any remark meant to seriously derail what he’s telling me. Like the fact that Barbara’s back in Gotham, something I didn’t think would happen anytime soon, let alone in the Batcave. Explains why she was in my ear relaying messages. I would be wanting to talk about that if this moment were a little different but maybe I’m a little caught up in ‘me’ and ‘us’ for the moment.

“So are we still working under the assumption that it was Bruce? Why hoard all that information on literally everything and suddenly decide people who might have access shouldn’t? Trevor said that he had the basically the exact same conversation that I had with him, with Batman. Now, that could have been just the NOWHERE portions, but it seems like it would have been hard to compartmentalize what I did in Rapid City, without bringing up Vertigo. It’s not him he’s keeping it from, I’m sure he’s got it up in that steel trap head, and if nothing else in the Cave Crew has changed to suddenly warrant lockdown, then that takes us back to the someone else. Deathstroke knew I’d be able to get stuff from people he couldn’t, I assume that’s the real reason for him telling me what he did. Which I did, because I couldn’t help myself, and… I’m hoping he didn’t have nearly as much fun as we did in Rapid City. ”

But it’s probably not Slade he was hiding anything from either. So that goes bigger picture to what we’ve been toying at the edges of.

“So that brings us to the enemy we don’t know, that’s well connected enough to get its hooks in a project like Team 7. Steve said that Vertigo is an entity that inhabits people. As in more than one at a time. It was responsible for world war one. And two. It was contained until the Parallax event, and then Team 7 was sent in. Who we already know were facilitated by this group at one point. The good sheriff moved Vertigo, which he said NOWHERE doesn’t know….”

So either they’re not friends anymore completely, or its someone else, or…

“At this point I’m just going to keep outloud thinking like …ugh… Spoiler, because clearly I’m not putting all these thoughts together in the right order just in my head.”

Dick: Somewhere between ‘So are we still working’ and ‘outloud thinking like Spoiler’, I’ve all but pulled the vehicle off to the side of the road. Because I’ve afixed Dinah with a look that screams ‘What the hell?’ This is actually a first for me. I’ve never had her go on such a tangent of outward thought in the entire time of knowing her. Hell, half of my problem with Dinah is getting her to talk in the first place.

“First. I’m going to remember that you compared yourself to Spoiler. For literally ever. You had me turn on the computer. So it’s also recorded and backed up to like nine hundred systems.” Playful banter? Not going away. Not when she’s managed to start my wheels turning. “I’ve been so focused on you and everything else that I’ve put everything in Gotham on the back burner… holy fish sticks, Dinah.”

Without a hint of reservation I lean over and just outright kiss her. She’s fast. I’m faster. I’ll live with whatever consequences come of it. “Twenty-ish years ago Bruce puts on the Cowl and goes out as Batman. Gotham had been off-limits, because it’s Heroes like your Gran and Alan Scott retired there after the last World War. They brokered a deal, that kept powered metas out of the City, in exchange for making it a haven. Since Bruce wasn’t a Meta, but was clearly doing meta-like things… it put Nowhere at a bit of an impasse.”

“Once Bruce’s crusade began, anything that stood in it’s way had to be dealt with. He starts building contacts in D.E.O. and Nowhere… leading to your Gran. A few years later, you show up on his doorstep. He had a few new sons, but no daughter… plus a debt to your Gran. Like with me. Like with Tim. Even with Damien. You had a mystery around you and Bruce couldn’t not pull at the threads. He went looking, as he always did… and I’ll bet you a new shiny diamond tipped dart… he found out about Team7, had that conversation with the Sheriff and helped him move your Pandora’s Box.”

“I’ll bet you another dart, that he connected Pandora’s Box to you and one day you’d personally need to know. Hence having the info prepped, but set aside for you. He didn’t drop it… he intentionally left it for you to do what you do. Knowing it’s lead you there. Just like he knew I’d never let his death settle. Knew that Tim would never believe he actually died the way he did. I’d even bet, he factored in that Damien would lose his utter shit after losing his Father, if he also might lose his Mother. But he needed a Lazarus pit, to bring himself back. Because to fool the real bad guys, he needed to actually die.”

“All of which ties right back in you, Dinah. If this Vertigo is what you’re saying, he wouldn’t want that Court of Owls that he’d been researching to have it.” The next kiss is for the joined hands, it serves as a chance to swallow and wet my lips before I bring up one more thing. “The only problem I’m having here. Is that if all of this is even in the ball park of correct. The attack on the Cave doesn’t make a lot of sense. He’d have wanted us to have access to those files. I mean.. if I’m sharing Bruce’s head-space here… then there’s only two reasons I can think of as to why I’d sabotage the cave.”

“One, he knew you’d follow this to it’s ultimate end game. Which would trigger backlash once Nowhere realized that Pandora’s Box was gone. Meaning the info in the files probably contains the location of your Pandora’s Box, so he needed to render it inaccessible to keep the ‘Bad Guys’ from getting it. Or the second option… is that Bruce simply doesn’t want us to know the location. Which in itself means either one of us can’t be trusted.”

“Oh. Oh, wait. Shit, shit, double shit. There’s a third option. Damnit, I hate it when I think like Bruce. If this were me, Dinah. And I wanted to re-unite my daughter with her brother. Wanted to send her on this whole chase to rediscover lost memories. I wouldn’t drop it suddenly. I’d make sure there was a happy ending, so I’d damn sure keep Pandora’s Box somewhere I knew was the safest place on earth. Like.. the so super-secret vault that even Superman can’t see in to it and none of my partners, including Alfred, can even get in to.”

“…and I just asked Barbara to come home and hack it open, because Tim’s left the reservation.”

Dinah: “If you ever tell her that Act Like Spoiler was a momentarily legitimate plan, and that I did it, I will find the most creative way to castrate you that I can imagine, whether that’s figurative or literal. And I’ll do it twice.”

When did he pull over? I realize I’d begun staring at nothing, while ostensibly looking at the display on the console, and talking out loud. Or rather spitting out a stream of conscious thought so that if I missed something else, Christ Almighty, maybe he would pick up on it. We’d said before how many fucking times, joked about it, been half serious about it, but what if it was all the same thing? One neat little package, wrapped up with the same bow.

I don’t even get to rib him about the fish sticks comment, because first he’s kissing me. Which, as I’d already learned in the cramped train compartment is a pretty enjoyable experience. Then, before I get to respond to that in any manner at all he’s A. Stopped. And B. Moved on with his own ramble of verbal detective diarrhea. Blue eyes just get bigger. And bigger. Parts of this I think we’d guessed at, because it would only make sense. Bruce’s death. Talia al’Ghul just happening to be available and prepared with the Lazarus Pit. Then her Father being even more displeased with her than one would have thought.

“…you’re really free and loose with those darts…”

Still really can’t help the stray commentary. Even when he’s in the middle of all of this and…

“Jesus Fucking Christ. It’s all a neat, convenient package because somehow Bruce managed to make it that way.”

I don’t even understand how, and by all accounts, most especially my own, I’m pretty smart and clever. But it just makes sense, convoluted and ridiculous as it all is step by step it works. If I was rubbing the bridge of my nose before Dick kissed me, and connected all the dots, now I’ve got my fingers pressed to my temples like it’s all that’s keeping my head from exploding.

“I didn’t ask where Trevor moved it, because I didn’t want to know. Didn’t want that to be a secret I had to keep, but then I realized after you talked about the prison cell that it’s not a what, but a who…”

And that who is my brother. Was my brother. Who I didn’t really kill, just helped contain with Vertigo, and maybe NOWHERE thinks that’s not the case. Either because Steve Trevor got to ‘write’ that particular history, or maybe because the part of NOWHERE that’s actually trying to do good for this world doesn’t want just anyone to know the truth.

“…so maybe you better call her and tell her to stop…? Christ. I’d ask why on Earth he’d want us back together, but apparently once again I was right when I told Tim that despite his emotional constipation, Bruce clearly knew we were all better that way.”

Dick: “It’s also. Fucking twisted. Jesus, fucking, Christ, on a stick. Twisted.”

“This is exactly the kind of crap that man does. It’s why I left in the first place. Half the time it’s a test, to see if he can trust you. The other half of the time you’re left in the dark, twisting in the wind, because he doesn’t trust you.” This rambling little bit of rant is brought to you by hard feelings. They’re apparently sponsoring this episode of Dick Grayson wants to punch his adoptive Father in the mouth. And ends only when I realize that I’m ranting about three cubic inches from Dinah’s lips.

Oh. Um. “… kinda free and loose with castration threats too, good to see you’ve got my best features on your mind …”

Right. So I’m back to my own seat, not even realizing that I’ve just cleared my throat for like the third time in as many seconds. “Because we’re better together, D. All of us. Tim was right about that too. Look at it topically. None of us are the total package that Bruce is, but as a team. Working together. We’re more than the sum of our parts.”

“Hold on,” my free hand is touching buttons, gliding across the console in order to call Barbara’s commlink which ends in a warble. She’ll see me selectively going commlink to commlink then. Alfred is next, then Tim. Even though I know Damien’s out of the City, I go with him. Before finally settling on Stephanie. “The wishful thinker in me is hoping we’re so far out in the sticks that we can’t get cell service. Because otherwise that’s not ominous at all. Right?”

In what is the first time I’ve released her hand since she initiated that contact, I pull my hand away so that I can set the Wing-Mobile in to the not-stealth mode S.U.V. settings. Outwardly plating starts to coat the exterior. The engine sinks inward and the vehicle drops lower to the road. On the interior Dinah gets a whole lot more technology in her vision as it converts in to what she’s seen a hundred times inside the batmobile proper. Unfortunately we’re not driving the sports car version of this vehicle. We’re in the all-terrain one. Dinah’s already seen the backup bike in the trunk and now she’s seeing the wheels swiveling up in to jet turbines.

“I did tell you it can’t be the Wing-Mobile. Because it literally doesn’t have wings, Dinah. Don’t. I see your dimples. You’re about to try to say it’s an ‘Ironic Name,’ I swear… Bad-Dad will lose his shit.” As the engine is literally warming up, I stop in mid-teasing rant to turn just enough that this time around it’s a little more than side-eyeing her. “Hey, D. I just… I know it’s not the right time to say this but… we should actually take a night off and …

Holy. Shit. That night. When I was spying on you and Slade. He said he didn’t know who contacted him about coming to Gotham to clean the whole Lazarus pit up.” No, that isn’t at all what I’d been about to say, but as more chips fall in to place I’m almost reeling over the complexity of it all. “Bruce could have hired anyone to take out that Pit once Joker got involved, but he brought in the one person who had history with you. The one person who would have reason to think you could help him take this journey, connect all these dots…”

“I think if Bruce isn’t really dead. I’m going to kill him..”

Dinah: He’s definitely right about that and, I think, everything else as well that’s come upon us in this thunderstruck moment. I might call it awe instead, but I can’t help wonder if Dick’s at least feeling a little bit of the dismay that’s threatening to creep in like it is for me. He was, after all, the first child. The test subject. I’m sure not judging him as he goes on his tirade because Lord knows he’s entitled. For all the things Bruce was for me, therapy inducing wasn’t one of them, but I also never lived with him and had a foundation outside of being a Bat before he came into my particular picture, along with the rest of them. As he goes, there’s this tension because I want to return the favor from the train and kiss him. Calling it a favor might be a little too saintly, because it would most definitely be as much for me, I don’t actually want to interrupt because maybe he needs to get that out, as much as anything else. It’s like magnets, pulling to connect, and squirming to get there.

Then Dick’s sitting back against the driver’s seat again, and I don’t have to fight that temptation quite so hard anymore. It’s also easy to let my eyes obviously drop to his lap, and let out a single snort of laughter.

“Mmn. Don’t know if I’d say best, but definitely memorable.”

But then, we didn’t exactly do much more than start, did we? Definitely a first for me, and maybe that’s the cause of some of that tension and frustration, but I think it has a lot more to do with the general situation. All of it. Being on the run, or maybe it’s the fact that we’ve been holding hands for probably longer than I’ve ever held anyone’s, and it’s a shockingly intimate gesture for what little sexual energy should be there. That’s broken as well, as he goes on with fiddling with the vehicle’s functionality, trying all the com links.

“The pragmatist in me is too strong to suggest that maybe Alfred’s busy with something else, and everyone else all at the same time. Realist would say we are in Middle America Nothingville, but given that you guys probably have a handful of satellites to prevent just this kind of thing…Maybe Barb accidentally crashed the system. Sounds like something I would do…”

Any one of them could be busy, but all of them, all at the same time? Even Spoiler? The fidgety, itching for a fight tension I’ve been feeling is zinging between different energies, and now it’s swung squarely back from interpersonal, to a need to get moving towards action. All of it is adding to something wrong. The comms. The vault. The Court and the timing. Maybe because the cynic in me could easily spin all of it two ways, this big picture. Bringing us together, or neatly having us out of the picture.

“Neither do you, Bird Boy.”

Fine, doesn’t want the ironic comment that I was definitely thinking, but now I’m leaned away from him, to watch the transformation of the car through the passenger window as much as I can. Good Lord, it’s like they can’t help themselves. This is exactly why I don’t let Tim touch my bike. I end up looking back over my shoulder at him, an almost wistful twist of my mouth.

“Yeah, we could probably use one at this point…”

No rest for the wicked, or the weary. I think I know what he’s trying to get at, not the general damn, we work way too hard and are putting up with way too much bullshit and deserve a night off, but we should set aside time where we’re not distracted by… everything. Thoughts of any of that, and almost my immediate need to try and play it off, get obliterated by what he’s just twitched into place. And one blue eye squints down to almost closed as I grimace. Jesus Fucking Christ on a Stick indeed.

“The one person who had an assortment of brain chips, that were incredibly solid breadcrumbs that would have had to have been overlooked in the very, very thorough surgical procedure that was erasing that chunk of my past, by someone who went to a lot of trouble to remove all other evidence…”

My Father never mentioned a brother, nor did my Grandfather. There were no pictures. No stray memorabilia. Nothing. Despite my general state of emotionally walled off and unavailable, I’m actually pretty sentimental. I love old romance movies, and the pictures and keepsakes were the only thing I kept from my childhood home before I sold it. He probably knows even more surely than me that Bruce didn’t overlook things. It was a pretty big shock that there was any sort of shadowed enemy in Gotham, mostly because he always seemed to know everything.

“…fuck, I don’t know if I’m impressed, horrified, or with you on the form a line, I’m gonna kill him. When I met Superman the first time, he was shocked he didn’t know who I was, even posing as someone with much less power than I’ve actually got. NOWHERE databases the shit out of everything like someone else I know. I thought it was my Grandmother’s doing at first, but not anymore, so it had to be Bruce. I don’t think they’d just let her erase that from their intell. Waller was apparently under the impression that I could crack the world with a little help, and Trevor said that my brother was, more or less, that…help…”

Ah, fuck. The Earthquake. I steer my thoughts sharply away, though a bit of a cringe still manages to escape my control.

“Fucking Machiavellian bullshit. Dick, I don’t think twisted is enough for it.”

Because Bruce went to an awful lot of trouble to protect me, or keep this from me, to ultimately still have it available and brought out for answers. But with the ‘answer’ being apparent Armageddon in his basement, the timing of it makes this feel a whole lot less of a favor for me, and more like a tool that was in that giant Battoolbox to be used when and if he needed it. I hate being used. Probably even more so when I don’t see the point. Why lead us here? Why choose this?

Dick: The two of us shift gears almost faster than the vehicle we’re traveling in. A once sleek black S.U.V. fit for any high roller’s cross country trip, it now rockets across the farmland sky on four rockets that were once the tires. More hover-craft than rocket, the lack of wings also means a lack of altitude, but that’s a good thing when you want to stay off the radar of a government that’s hunting for you. At the same time it means we’re no longer concerned about roads, allowing us to take the shortest route possible. Nearly a straight line.

As we travel I’ve made an effort to contact anyone who has an active commlink to our systems. None of them have answered. There have been no red alerts sent out though, which leaves the possibility that nothing is actually wrong. That the two of us are worried about something terrible that isn’t actually happening. There’s enough to lead us down that path, but I’m still holding on to the hope that everything in our world didn’t just go terrible wrong. I mean, frankly, it doesn’t have to be the opening of this Pandora’s Box. The Cave and our allies have seen their fair share of attacks recently. Not to mention Tim and Stephanie were off the grid before any of this. And there’s also a very real possibility that our antics have sped up the timeline with Nowhere. We could be facing a completely different threat than the one we’re racing home to confront.

I just don’t have that sickly feeling about this possibly being a Nowhere move against us. As much as I know about them and their resources, I have a hard time believing they could completely cut us off from someone like Tim or Barb. Add in to that, that I fully believe if they were moving against us that I wouldn’t have an open line available to the Tower in Coast City or Wonder Woman where ever she is. Nor would Dinah be able to just pick up a phone to contact Roy or Superboy. This all just feels targeted and close.

It’s only the people who know about the Cave or are connected to people who know about the Cave. That alone has me pressing down upon the accelerator to such a point that we’ve been getting warned about exceeding structural limitations for about the last half hour or so.


Entering through the underground grotto is the fastest way in to the cave. The problem at hand is that we don’t exactly know what we’re rushing in too. Nothing is visually amiss as we clear the shadows of the long cave entrance. At the mouth of the grotto there is a disguised entry, that functioned just like it’s supposed too. Parting open, then securing behind us as we passed through. Once the S.U.V. opens to allow us exit, next to the far more iconic and actual Batmobile, everything is a bit of a mess but it’s been that way since the attack a couple weeks prior. Alfred has clearly been working on putting things back in order, but there’s only so much a guy can do with a giant penny, massive dinosaur and over-sized Joker-card. These things will require a bit of assistance of the heavy machinery sort to put in place and he’s been left largely alone without anyone to badger in to helping.

It doesn’t take long to discover that things aren’t exactly as they seem though. Just up the cat-walk my eyes go to the figure slumped over the keyboard at the massive computer. Clearly unconscious, the form of Alfred Pennyworth is poised to push the ’emergency’ call button that would have sent out an alert to anyone that had the same commlinks I made an effort to call on our trip in. I’m about three steps in to rushing to the ageless caretaker when my eyes fixate on the computer itself in front of Alfred.

A grizzly sight if I’ve ever seen one and it leaves every drop of blood in my face draining out. I’ve never seen the room in the image, but I’d know the red head anywhere. She stands in front of a man that I recognize only from the files I’d gone through with Dinah. Barbara and Kurt Lance are having some sort of stand-off. I’m not sure it really classifies as a stand-off right now though, as it’s pretty clear that Barbara’s under some sort of great strain. Her whole body is trembling with effort.

Though I want to check on Alfred, I know immediately that I’ve got to check on the readings for that monitor. “Shit. Barb broke through the lockdown. The entire vault system is off line. Everything about this is above my pay grade in programming, she turned off the security systems… before she went in. Maybe she thought it was boobytrapped…”

“Either way. She’s all that stands between your brother or whatever he is and freedom.” Jerking my hands away from the keyboard, one goes to Alfred for a pulse and the other points Dinah to previously hidden stairwell beneath the lined rack of Batman and Robin costumes. “I don’t know what the hell she’s doing, but it’s bought us a little time.”

Dinah: We’re not alone, there’s other people to reach out to. I suppose that’s what Tim had been angling at with his recruitment drive. If I really wanted to rib him, I’d blame him for all of this since it started with me running interference for him in Metropolis. That wouldn’t be exactly fair, though, because that was actually, it looks like, coincidence. All of the rest of this had already been set into motion. Plus, I’d like to know he’s okay. When it comes to my non-super contacts outside the cave though, I wouldn’t call in Roy for this. Not with his daughter, and my advice to him to try and lay low after Oliver had outed him to the authorities along with the rest of us.

For someone that’s a bit of an adrenaline junkie, who drives her own motorcycle, and any car, like she has absolutely zero regard for her own safety or mortality, it becomes pretty clear that I don’t enjoy this particular ride. I’ll try to pass it off as nerves about what’s waiting, or whether we’re going to get there in time or not, but I’ve never liked being out of control. I didn’t like it when Conner flew me, I could really do without going this fast, hurtling across farms and white knuckling it when there’s a barn within a hundred feet.

And the warnings really didn’t help. Because after all of this? Fireball of a crashed, unidentified flying object doesn’t sound like the way I want to go.

At first, when we arrive, I notice the shambles but it doesn’t look recent enough to be ongoing. Who knows how long it’s been a wreck down here, I haven’t actually been back to the Batcave proper in years, I’d been spending my time in Tim’s hidey hole. I think Dick and I both have the same idea, which frankly says a lot about Alfred’s place in all of this, and I make it a few steps further than him before I skid to a halt because he has, and I must be missing something. Then I get my first look at my brother. Or what used to be my brother. Maybe I should have inquired a little more heavily and directly about this Vertigo, but once it was made clear to me what it was, I was out. It seemed like the kind of thing I didn’t want to/need to know about, and that knowledge could be a liability.

“Bruce made the thing, it’s a pretty sound bit of logic.”

If she went in, though, what exactly happened to Alfred? Kurt’s down there, I suppose he got out when the system went down. She had no way of knowing there was a cell with an actual living, breathing person in it I’d also assume. All I need is that pointing finger though to send me into motion again, questions or not. They can be answered later. What exactly is Barbara going to do against this thing? She’s a badass in most circumstances, but otherwise what exactly is she going to do? Bolting for the stairs, I don’t so much take them as use them as landing pads for leaping down the stairwell, I’ve got no concept of how big this vault is, but hopefully it won’t be too difficult to find my way. Running on my toes, fast as I dare without sounding like an incoming herd of horses.

Soon as I find them, soon as I’ve got eyes on Kurt, I’ll be screaming. No time to warn Barb to cover her ears, so she’s just going to have to forgive me. This Vertigo took almost all of Team7 back then, all at once, and I can’t allow time for it to make another go at rounding up a gang.

Dick: The Cave itself is cavernous, so it’s pretty natural to assume the Vault itself will be too. Dinah’s moving quickly, but nothing really keeps her from seeing that the staircase opens in to what off-sets all the darkness of the Cave, with white-walls that belong more in a hospital. The Vault is a single floor, that opens from the stairs in to a singular hallway with only one door. What Dinah doesn’t see or can’t possibly know is that the hallway she’s dashing through is crafted with kryptonian technology in mind. The walls aren’t white, they’re krystaline and reflect back the light that hits them. In this case the light is white, because that’s the simple human lights themselves. If she had time to stop and think, she might ask herself ‘What’s the purpose?’

Making the ‘Vault’ even more odd, is that if the door hadn’t been open at the end of the Hallway, she wouldn’t have even known the opening was there either. The door itself is the same krystaline structure and just as smooth as the walls themselves. Meaning that if you didn’t know what you were looking for or some way to peer past that krystal construct, you’d have no way to find the door itself.

Perhaps all of that is for another time? Because Dinah is fleet of foot and rushes headlong in to danger, doesn’t she? Other than the Video and some decade old files, she hasn’t seen the man she rushes toward in person for a very long time. He’s taller than she by a handful of inches and he’s got a rich almond color to his hair. Perhaps a sign of his entrapment, but it’s nearly as long as Dinah’s right now. Above and beyond that is the color of his skin a faint purple hue runs along exactly half of his flesh, with one eye nearly matching the color of Batgirl’s cape if she were wearing it. There’s no ominous greeting, no villainous monologue. In fact there’s simply no acknowledgement of Dinah at all.

Kurt Lance seems entirely focused upon Barbara Gordon. The two are locked in some sort of stair down when Dinah rushes in. Giving Dinah about a heartbeat to take in the room itself; four white walls. A singular bed in the middle of the room. Off to one side is the singular piece of equipment in the whole room, that looks like an archaic projector you’d use to play old home movies with. Nothing else. No medical equipment to keep him sedated. Nothing that would suggest he’d been locked up or subdued. A nearly empty room.

That’s about when the screaming starts. Because unbeknownst to Dinah and I, that’s the moment that Barbara’s Martian mind was cracked like an egg and started to spill out her nose, ears and tear ducts.

Dinah: I expected state of the art, maybe not unlike what Dick had talked about from South Dakota. Everything is too shiny, too polished, and it doesn’t look at first glance like any kind of building material I’ve ever seen. I’m not exactly spending a whole lot of time examining it, though, what with being in a little bit of a hurry. Maybe I thought there’d be more to it than this, with the scale of the Cave itself, and the equipment that’s above…not ground since the whole thing is a cave, but not in this sub, sub basement. I didn’t know it was here at all, Dick clearly did since he’d set Barbara to hacking into the thing again. Which she succeeded in doing, clearly.

I spend about as much time in taking in the sight of Kurt Lance as I had the walls and structure that make up the place. I wasn’t waiting for a greeting, and I’m certainly not rushing in headlong for a hug, or some tearful reunion. There’s enough important facts that I know. What this entity had done before. The lengths gone to in order to hide him and keep him contained, and the fact that the door is open. Maybe the fact that he doesn’t look entirely human, and is fixated on Barbara, makes this even easier for me. I’d already sucked in a breath before the screaming started. It might have jarred me a little if I wasn’t already set in my plan of attack.


Oh what the actual fuck! I’ll thank someone or something above for the years, and years, of fighting reflexes that keeps me moving even as …what is that?.. starts to come out of every orifice and hole on Barbara’s head. I have to get her out of here, which means moving, and trying to get close enough to grab her and drag her to the doorway while I focus my concussive sonics on Kurt.

Dick: What is that? That is Martian brain oozing out of apparently human orifices. Good thing she worries about that later, because Barbara’s screaming isn’t nearly as impressive as Canary’s. One of them is more like shrieking in pain, while the other is directing genuine concussive force upon a target.

There’s some impressive things happening right then. The first is how utterly unaffected anything in the white room is by the sheer power coming out of her lungs and across meta-human vocal chords. Canary has upturned cars and brought the Superman to his knees before, but the bed in the middle of the room doesn’t even flinch. One might wonder how comfortable a bed it could be taking such force without seemingly a care in the world, but that might explain why Kurt’s so grumpy. His back has to be killing him with that kind of comfort in sleeping.

Kurt on the other hand is the one thing in the room that -is- impacted by Dinah’s assault. Being hit exactly as Dinah might have wanted it to do with just about everyone else she’s ever attacked. It picks her ‘Brother’ up and hurls him across the white room, in to the opposite krystaline wall. Minus the satisfaction of a crunch. Actually. Minus any sound that would suggest the kinetic force being met with an unmovable wall.

Ah, but remember what Steve Trevor told her about her Brother? Tuning Fork. The power of her voice does as it should in that the concussive force tosses him like a rag-doll, but his whole body seems to soak it in. He should be down for a long time, with a hit like that, but he’s already pushing back to his feet. What’s worse is that as he does Barbara’s brain matter isn’t the only thing about her that starts melting.

That’s just about the exact moment that our ‘Hero’ Nightwing skids to a halt just behind Dinah, moving to take the bulk of Barbara’s weight off the Canary’s burder. “Sorry to interrupt the ‘Family Re-Union’ but when Barb took down the Vault’s main lock-down, she apparently took out the entire Brother-Eye mainframe to do it. Com-links and Tim’s drones are out too.”

Oh, hell. He’s pulling her apart at the seams.”

No. I’m pushing the reset button on this one.” Not that Dinah would recognize the voice, but it certainly isn’t her Brother’s. “She may prove useful.

He’s only just getting himself upright when he began speaking. Kurt Lance is a bit taller than Dinah, but he’s not an imposing figure by any means. Especially not when draped in little more than a white hospital gown. The stark contrast of white cloth to purple skin really the only ominous thing about her brother right now.

Dinah Lance. We meet again. My how you’ve grown.” As ‘Kurt’ speaks Barbara begins to go in to what can only be described as convulsions. Her skin on the left side of her body is beginning to take a hue similar to Kurt’s. Though the other side of her body is shifting to a sickly pale green. “This husk is feeling… moved… by how good you look. I can’t decide if it’s pride or want.

Did you bring me another?” A pair of mismatched eyes shifts to Dick Grayson and narrow. “He seems. Much. Less special than the other.

“Whoah. I’m perfectly special enough… yeah, okay… your brother’s a mean girl too? It runs in the family?” The truth is Dick’s actually letting go of Barbara though and touching Dinah’s arm to tell her to do the same. The files say Vertigo possessed people and Barbara’s skin says she might be a victim. “D, did your lapdance include an instruction manual…?”

Dinah: It’s not any human blood that I’ve ever seen, and that’s the much more strange part of what I’ve just observed. The room itself being blissfully unaffected by my screaming? That actually makes sense in a prison that’s been playing host to a superpowered individual for an indeterminate amount of time. It must absorb it. I wasn’t intending to stick around in here if I could help it, but the only semi-satisfying result of the brunt of my meta-power goads me that little bit faster. When the rest of Barbara starts to melt, that’s about the time that I stop trying to forcibly remove her from the area.

That isn’t Barbara, and while I may typically be a hero, I’m about to pull a move not unlike pulling Dick from the base when Deathstroke started to attack it. This one’s a lot more rooted in self and world preservation though, and maybe a side of wanting to get away from this thing that was, once upon a time, my older brother. While ordinarily I am all about engaging in some witty repartee with a bad guy, especially one that’s giving me such strong creep vibes, the fact that we’re in serious trouble kind of curbs my fun a little bit.

“I’m going to let you go ahead and think on that for a second…”

I’m backing myself into Dick, and trying to back us both out of the room. I’d heard what he’d said about the system being down, Christ I hope there’s still a way to shut this door… I know next to nothing about things like this, technology isn’t my forte but Bruce Wayne liked to make contingencies with backups and backdoors and second backups. What was your plan for this, you overbearing asshole? It’d be thought with more love on any other day.

“No. Not it did not. Other than you get this shut again… and maybe get a blowtorch, and call Superman. Not Wonder Girl… and I’ll…”

Try to hold him here. He may not even be able to use that particular phone that’s apparently for the super secret club, but I don’t know. That’s something Dick gets to figure out while I do my level best to pin the man that was Kurt Lance in place, and hopefully disrupt him enough to not add me to the growing collection. That first scream hadn’t been terrible effective and I’m cursing, long and creatively, my lack of curiosity for exactly how we’d put him down and contained him the last time. I just have what Steve Trevor had said about when he woke up, and when he passed out, to gauge by. Knowing that that is not Barbara in there, actually frees me up to push a little harder this time. The walls absorbing the sound means I don’t worry about the waves bouncing and hurting Dick. Of course, it’s still loud.

DIck: “…I-uh I.. don’t think a blowtorch is going to work on these walls…”

That right there? Is your once and future Batman. Dick Grayson is not a stupid individual. Far, far from it in fact. However as near as he can deduce the creature in that room is melting Barbara Gordon. Whom Dinah is seemingly suggesting that they leave behind, while backing away from the door and the creature. The trouble is two-fold for Dick. On the one hand he knows the Canary, knows that she wouldn’t leave someone behind if she could help it. Add that to the fact that Barbara is literally slipping through his fingertips with no real ability to take hold on her to drag her along anyway.

You have to understand. Smart or Not. Dinah’s physically suggesting that Dick leave behind the woman he’d been engaged to only a year prior. The question is not whether or not to do what she’s intimating, but a measure of how long it takes him to actually get past the shock of it to acknowledge properly. A second longer, even, to actually act on it.

Much less special.” Her brother’s eyes once more go to the growing puddle of Barbara Gordon on the ground between he and Dinah. Her shrieks have ended, but only because she no longer has a mouth. “Very curious indeed. What have you brought me, little Sister? It does not want to be erased but it also isn’t what it seemed to be.

Dinah’s plan is sound and though Dick hesitated for a few heart beats, he’s moved out of the doorway. Albeit a little grudgingly. Once Dinah’s backed up enough she’ll see that he’s taken to curiously thumping and tapping the walls outside the cell. “Once, back when I was Robin, we took a trip to the Arctic. We met the O.G. Superman there. He took us to this.. snow fort thing.. the walls looked the same as this. It was some sort of sophisticated circuitry that was made of the same stuff as Superman’s home world. Everything activated with a touch.”

Oh yeah. Dick’s somewhat babbling but he does seem to be actually following directions. Assuming he’s right about how to control the door in the first place. It isn’t hard to see though, that he is splitting his focus to see what the hell is going on. He just did the math too and knows that he isn’t going to do a whole lot of good against that thing in there. No better than Barbara did, at least.

Kurt Lance on the other hand, has finally begin to move once more. If he fears Dinah’s attacks it sure doesn’t show on his face. His gate does hobble, if only a little, but that only gives him a movie monster like shamble as he rounds the cot-like bed in the middle of the room. A hand outstretched toward ‘Barbara’ seems to coerce her in to movement as well. Little pale green tendrils start to ooze out of Barbara’s remains in the direction of Dinah’s legs.

Definitely want, though I don’t understand why. Your people are so frail. You would never live survive the…

Dinah: “Not for the walls, that’s not Barbara.”

That is, or formerly was, NOWHERE’s shapeshifter. Maybe I don’t have a lot of concrete evidence to go on, but gut acknowledgement, coupled with thankfully my brain seeming to function at decent efficiency with the adrenaline going, tells me I’m probably right. Conner’d mentioned her before in an aside. And he’d also said that they don’t like eye lasers. Lacking those, I figure fire is the closest thing we’re going to get. Maybe a Batflare. It could serve the same purpose.

“Flare gun? Move.”

What you’ve got right now, is two of the most experienced and highly trained, you might even say overly so, vigilantes in the country and we’re left with desperately pawing at the walls, trying to close a door in the face of a shambling monster that is now making overtly sexual comments while wearing my brother’s face. It would probably be so much worse if I possessed the memories to connect him to. I’m backing my ass up as well, I don’t want shapeshifter anything getting on me.

There has to be a way to close it, or you’d think he would have gotten out before Not Barbara could have gotten down here, and gotten in. She also had to be able to find it, unless she knew something we didn’t, but that’s another level of subterfuge that I just can’t add into the mix right now.

“Mmmn, maybe you should have a seat, a nice little think and ask him.”

Clear of the door, I can to a degree join in, copying Dick’s search for any kind of point that will do what we need right now. Leaving the shapeshifter in there with him isn’t ideal, but neither is contending with both of them and so I launch another attack from my vantage just outside the doorway. Harder this time, more forceful, this isn’t a shout to knock someone down and away, but a longer held note.

Dick: As the search for the door controls continues, with little success, Dinah’s multitasking. It’s a very good thing that she’s very good at what she does. Because while she isn’t going having any luck with the door she’s blasting the snot out of the puddle of goop that’s in front of her. It does a very good job of pushing that back.

In fact Dinah is succeeding in pushing everything back. Her brother is forced to grasp the side of that cot to hold himself from once more being pushed all the way back to the other wall once more. Though once again, Dinah’s too good at what she does not to notice that it’s having a decidely lesser impact than before. Perhaps that could be explained by the simple act of widening her attack. Thereby lessening the impact over all? In either case that purple hue to Kurt’s skin is starting to darken considerably and overtake all of his flesh, not just the partial coverage it had been when she first saw him.

An apt suggestion. Let’s ask him.

That is when it happens. Those mismatched eyes focus upon Dinah herself. Not to attack in any way she’s ever been trained to fight. It’s not control he seeks. Nor violence that might come from an assault upon the mind. As she attacks him, he responds by opening a link to the pawn that he’s infesting. Dinah won’t be getting her own memories back. She’ll be getting a glimpse in to Kurt Lance’s. The only way she’s going to stop it, is for her to focus on denying that link… or making him have to focus elsewhere. Otherwise she’s going to have to witness it all. Every moment of Kurt Lance’s life that she doesn’t remember on her own. The Vertigo pushes that link, to find why the Brother seeks to touch the Sister quite so much.

To make matters even worse? Does anyone notice the puddle of goop is starting to not be quite so pushed away with the concussive element of her scream?

“…bloody ‘ell, can’t even take a nap…” Apparently it isn’t just Kurt Lance that shambles, because Alfred Pennyworth is limping down that long hallway at the pair of Dinah and Dick, with what looks to be a bottle of the Wayne Manor’s best whisky. No E. “…fookin kids…and their loud parties…”

English though he may be. The thing in his hand is decidedly Russian in origin. Molatov, specifically. Which he’s lighting as he approaches and only misses Dinah’s golden head by a hair’s width. “… fire in the bloody hole …”

Dinah: We’re not even going to discuss the fact that I’m basically batting at the air and walls surrounding the doorway like some catnip drunk kitten, while I split my focus. Screaming? Takes almost zero effort, but it does require me to point my mouth in the proper direction. Ordinarily, I can count on walls and surfaces to ricochet the force waves to a degree, but these clearly absorb everything that hits them. Then there’s racking my brain for every little nuance and remark that Steve Trevor had made about Kurt and Vertigo. Fucking idiot. Me. Not him. I should have asked more questions, but that seemed like a clear hands off, Dinah! sort of situation. How the fuck was I supposed to know that Bruce Wayne actually had a world ending Pandora’s Box in his goddamn basement?

He said he was like a tuning fork. What does that even mean? I do know what a tuning fork is, and what it does, I had a lot of music lessons growing up, to go with the literal horde of other instruction and teachers. Doesn’t matter how hard, or soft, or where you hit one, as long as you’re holding it by the right end it’s going to make that same, singular pure sound. The force aside, and the effects it has on the world as a whole, he’s really not personally doing anything but… absorbing it. It’s suddenly very much quieter as I stop, hands unconsciously going to my head at the intrusion as I back away another half step, and then another. I don’t want to know, and I certainly don’t want to see.

The immediate response is denial, trying to force my thoughts onto something else, to anywhere else that I can replay in vivid clarity. The train ride, and the intense moments in the compartment with Dick. The sensation of a fight. The taste of shitty rest stop coffee. The very welcome sound of Alfred Pennyworth’s voice distracts me, the relief that I feel, and it’s a very good thing that he’s actually a very good aim, because I don’t do much to get out of the way. Other than to throw myself out of the immediate path of the door when I actually understand what he’s said, and what he’s thrown. I land with a thud, arms over head and face to try and protect at least that from any backdraft of a fireball.

Maybe there won’t be one because of the room but I’m not going to bank on anything right now. I’m scrambling up to my feet again as quickly as I’d gone down, though.

“It’s absorbing anything I throw at him. Maybe absorb anything we throw… are BatExplosiveSedatives a thing?”

Dick: The explosion in the chamber is muted by the cell itself and it’s construction, but it wasn’t meant to absorb liquid. While the bottle pops when it explodes and the floor, walls, absorb that concussion, the liquid inside sprays everywhere. Oh and thanks to the wick at the end, it also burns. Liquid fire sprays everywhere. Which in turn has a couple effects.

It frees Dinah of the influence that was pounding upon her mind. The stream of memories stops almost immediately. One would wonder, how does he seemingly ignore the damage, if not the push, of her concussive blasts but simple fire harms him? It takes only to look in to the room to understand the answer, because it’s all about that fire hitting the goopy blob that was once Barbara Gordon. It would seem that by harming Barbara, while she is mentally linked to Kurt, it translates in to him feeling her pain too.

Alfred is as quick as he is sturdy, which is to say that he really isn’t either of those things right now. He’d no sooner tossed the cocktail through the door, than he too hit the deck. As it so happens, Dick Grayson turns from the wall, to brace himself between the two of them and that wave of firey explosion that Alfred unleashed. Stupid and Selfless to a Tee, but this time with good measure.

“Bat-Wankers, the lot of ’em. Next time I’m getting a good suit, Lucius is making mine out the same bloody materials.”

Ignoring his grumbling, Dick has already moved from protecting the two of them to assisting them on getting up. “We can’t just leave her in there. Barbara… whoever,… whatever that is? She’ll just become a pawn. We don’t even know if the cage will hold two of them.”

As soon as he’s got the two of them on their feet and moving towards that exit again, he turns back to the door itself. Big Damn Hero? No. He’s about a step in to going in after ‘Barbara’ when he sees another of the tendrils reaching. It just doesn’t seem to be going for him or them, like before. It’s going upwards, along the seal of the door. Right where Dinah had been reaching, tapping wildly, looking for some button to trigger the door. Maybe it’s intuition, maybe it’s some inner voice telling him to take his change. But either way Dick does two things then. With one hand he grabs the tendril to pull as hard as he can. The other hand slaps, palm down upon the spot it seemed to be reaching for.

It’s a shockingly resounding success. Maybe the first one Dick’s had all day. Weak as she is from the fire, ‘Barbara’ weighs next to nothing and is pulled clear of the door like silly puddy. Dick read the moment mostly correct and his hand caresses the door trigger, just like ‘Barbara’ had been reaching for. It seals shut almost in time with the moment the goopy Barbara is pulled free.

Dude. Kryptonian tech? When did we install a Kryptonian Sub-Basement?…. Spoiler… don’t touch the Dinosaur!

Dinah: I’d been on my way to up and moving, but I don’t refuse the assist. We still have to get the damn door closed. We still have to keep this Apocalypse that was my brother, and apparently deep down wants me, from getting out. Once I’m up, and the assault has cut off, I’ve turned my back towards the door, hands braced on my knees as I lean my ass against whatever the hell these walls are made out of, and take a moment to just pant.

“You Batboys and your fireproof suits. Hff. Hff. It’s almost like this happens to you all the time.”

I’d bet the suit Tim made for me probably is, too, but I’m not wearing it right now. Good thing I don’t depend on gear for heroics, or I’d have gotten crisped. Even as I think the thought, though, I don’t doubt Dick would have still done the same thing even if he was wearing street clothes. Or nothing. This isn’t exertion, I can keep going, I’d be pretty worthless in a fight if thirty seconds of action took me out. Mental assaults are not something I’m used to feeling, or fighting, and to say that it was overwhelming might be understatement of the day. And it’s been a day. One that’s not even close to over.

“We don’t know that she’s not already!”

I know this Vertigo can possess multiple people. I didn’t know how, though I’d ruled out proximity or you’d think it would have already done so. My charity also doesn’t go nearly so far as Nightwing’s, I’m feeling a whole lot more better safe than sorry. He’s already going, though, and as I turn around to try to grab hold of Dick, I see what Dick’s seeing. He’s already there, and already moving and before I can make anymore bids for just leaving the other intruder she’s been pulled free, and the door’s shut. If that wasn’t enough of a feeling of relief, to go with the general lightheadedness I’m feeling, then there’s the all too familiar voices of ‘the kids.’ I sit my ass back down on the floor and let my head tip back against the wall again.

But why is there a Dinosaur! You can’t have something like that and not expect people to TOUCH it…wait… what’s…is this a giant penny? What does it even GO in?

Make that 2/2 of Robins that didn’t know this was here. Which leaves the man that always knows more than he lets on…

“Did you know this was here, Alfred?”

I might be sounding a hair accusatory. Or maybe that’s just me out of breath, or maybe it’s a tone of annoyance because I’m warily eyeballing the not entirely formed, quivering pile of Barbara.

That is NOWHERE’S telepath. And shapeshifter. And cheerleader, apparently. Ring any bells, Red?”

Dick: Dick has gone from one thing to another with the customary grace you’d expect of a trapeze artist. Pulling ‘Barbara’ to freedom. Closing the door panel, if only because the goop was clearly trying to show us how. Putting himself between the fire and everyone else was just pure and simple instinct, the rest was calculated design. It’s as simple as that and he says so as soon as the door is sealed, “We can’t leave someone behind, Dinah. Not like that. If she’s still hostile we deal with it, but…”

“…but the fire did a number on her and she’s not going to be causing any trouble for the time being…”
It doesn’t go in anything. Not since Batman and Robin dismantled the Joker’s amusement park in the Narrows. … seriously… don’t touch that. The Bat-Pogo stick is a little finik… don’t look at me. You got yourself on to that giant playing card, you find a way down.

The elder statesmen of the Cave realizes, even as he’s speaking, that literally all eyes have turned to him. Nightwing’s. Canary’s. Even Timothy at the top of the stairs is leaning in to hear the answer to Dinah’s question. No one is joking, nor is anyone offering him an easy out that ordinarily might have been tossed out. Instead there is a very uncomfortable silence, as everyone simply waits. Pennyworth looks from Dinah, to Dick, then down the hall to where the voice of Timothy had come, before mopping a hand through his tussled hair.

“The lot o’ you givin an old man the third degree.” His shoulders go up, then down and with a sigh he finally answers. “Not like Master Wayne woulda found the time t’ build it ‘imself. That woulda took ‘im away from his mission. Drew up the bloody blue prints and left ’em on my inn table s’whot ‘e did. Ya think we hired a construction crew? It’s the bloody bat-cave ya ninnies.”

“Fairly sure Dinah was asking if you knew about the Vertigo creature,” jerking a thumb back over his shoulder at the now closed door. “How much of it did you know and why didn’t you tell us?”

“Mm. Master Wayne has had his fair share of house guests. Some that I knew, some that I didn’t.”

Not that I’m trying to let Alfred off the hook, but just so you guys know that gelatinous creature down there is going to be able to reform herself soon. You should put her in to one of the the other cells down there.

“There’s more than one cell?”

Mhm. There’s six of them.” The look between Dick and Alfred has just turned in to something very very tense. “Seriously. Lock the Martian up now. Family Feud later. Spoiler can referee.

Dinah: “And if she was playing host to Vertigo, which she could have been…”

There’s more to say, but I cut myself off, not because I’m trying to leave it dangling there for suspense, but because there’s really no point in arguing. How’s that for an indicator of where my mind’s at? Passing up a pointless argument with Dick, because it was pretty clear that GoopBarbara was trying to help shut the door and not attack us, in favor of redirecting myself. I don’t even roll my eyes or make an aggravated noise at the childish uselessness that sounds like Spoiler’s displaying upstairs. Oh, see. Maybe I wasn’t just annoyed by her because of the mind control.

“So, the answer is yes, you knew. All of it.”

Because a simple ‘no’ would have sufficed, if he hadn’t, and wasn’t trying to avoid lying to us. A ‘fair share of house guests,’ means they’ve come and gone. Plus, Alfred always knows everything. I didn’t need Dick to try and lay that out for me before, I already knew it. Batman might have been ‘Master Bruce’ but Alfred’s Master of the House and everything in it.

“And even when you knew we were picking and pulling at something that would lead us here, you still didn’t say anything.”

I know that the person I’m actually mad at right now is Bruce. Fucking Bruce. I’ve said Alfred’s loyal to a fault, because it’s the saying, but I think this might be the first time I’ve ever thought of it that way, and I find myself feeling actually quite… hurt. Usually there’d be a whole lot of piss and vinegar in that accusation but my tone is even, and a little a cold as I push myself up the wall, reach down to grab the best handful of our new guest that I can, and start dragging her towards… the flat wall. I already feel ridiculous, played, lied to, and I don’t really want to add anymore stupid fumbling on top of that.

“Then open one. Or point. And then do whatever computery magic it is that you do to get this shit back on lockdown.”

There’s a rather loud thud from up above us, a few moments before the purple clad Spoiler becomes the third person to do their own shambling.

…what so I overestimated my boots’ shock absorbers a little… ummmmm…I’m good, I’d like to keep my head where it’s at thank you verrrrry muuu…ulp.

Maybe I don’t have my murderous look reigned in quite so tightly as I’d thought. Regardless, the Martian’s getting put nicely into whatever particular box they open for me, because I don’t need Dick accusing me of being hostile towards the prisoners, even if they deserve it. And then I’m heading for the stairs up and out.

Dick: “How do we know she isn’t?

Because Dick Grayson saw her reaching for the controls. He’d seen it the first time too, but like Dinah there had just been an assumption that they were going for an attack. Like Dinah, Dick chooses to just leave this alone for the moment. She’s technically right, of course. It just hadn’t seemed that way in the moment. He’d felt something, that detective’s intuition maybe, that just told him that Barbara was fighting it. Okay, maybe it isn’t Barbara, but the look on the screen when they’d first arrived told him that she was fighting the entity.

It doesn’t answer what she was doing in there, in the first place. Dick isn’t quite to that point in his working through the anger though. That’s still reserved for Alfred. Who is even now puffing up quite simply, Master Bruce felt that you, Dinah, had been hurt quite enough. He chased your demons round the world. When he finally found them… he realized they should be left where they were. Figuratively speaking. Literally speaking, they couldn’t very well be left with those insufferable prats. They mass produce everything they get their hands on. Imagine them with the ability to just make everyone love the President and ask no questions at all.”

As Alfred starts to rebuke the anger all around him, another door opens that was previously invisible to the naked eye. This one is just a few paces down the hall. Dinah’s getting a little help by that point from Dick who’s scooping his ex-goopfriend up in handfuls to assist in sliding her in to that empty white chamber. It won’t take much of a detective to see the anger radiating out of the former Boy Wonder.

“Master Bruce’s long-term goal was to find a means of extricating your Brother from his prison, in order to reunite the two of you… miss Stephanie would you kindly put those back where you found them. The Riddler’s puzzle box is not a rubix cube.”

It looks like Kelsey, Barbara, whatever we’re calling her, did a great job with ‘fixing’ this Krypto-Vault. If I’m following her digital foot-prints right, I think that once she realized it was kryptonian she was able to work right through the logic programming to trick it in to thinking she was supposed to be allowed in there.

Once Barbara is tucked away and secured, not only is Dinah heading up and out but so too is Dick. “Alright, Alfie. What I’m still not getting, is if you knew about this Vault and knew about the contents of it. Why didn’t you bring it up from the start?”

“Oh. Two reasons. One of which isn’t going to buy me any forgiveness. Master Bruce was quite convinced that once he was gone, the lot of you would need take this journey. Which, I might add, as maddening as it may seem, would appear to be correct.” The wisened old butler makes a last moment attempt of regaining his dignity before adding. “A fact that I became quite agreeable with. Once it became clear to me that none of you would take your heads out of your arses and just look at the mess we’re making of everything. Master Grayson, you tried to tell Miss Lance about her being programmed. Miss Lance, you tried to tell Master Drake that he needed to be himself and stop trying to be Bruce. While you Master Drake, took to pouting like Master Damien after a scolding.. and injected yourself with the Queen only knows whot. And might I add… that I did attempt to say that, that was not Miss Gordon? Because there is absolutely no way Miss Gordon steps in to this house, if you’re wearing that cowl. She feels the same way about it and you, as I did about Master Bruce and that damnable thing. She just had the temerity to put her foot down.”

“Something had to bring the lot of you t’gether and open your eyes. You’re all too bloody old to have your ears pinched and sat in a time out.”

Dinah: How on Earth Stephanie Brown manages to look supremely guilty when you can’t actually see 75% of her face is beyond me, but it’s a thing at the moment. She may also be the only one who’s both not mad at Penny-One, and listening to him without any sass, because the box is promptly put back. And then adjusted when it’s not close enough to the exact spot where she got it from. And then rotated a few degrees, all while keeping eyes on the Butler with a weird sort of awe. Me? Well. I’m less sass and more sharp and tart.

“Oh, yeah, very noble of him. Until he had a purpose to use that hurt for.”

I’m going to fucking kill him. Again. I’m not going to debate the logic, because I’m sure there was elements of all of what Alfred’s said. After all, he did know him the best of all of us. It isn’t those surface motives that I’m furious over, because I wouldn’t want NOWHERE, or anyone else, to get their hands on Vertigo. Either they don’t all know about him, or it hadn’t occured to them to use it as Alfred suggests or they would have known before now that it wasn’t in the box they left it. They probably do now. Plans, within plans, within backups to be trotted out when needed, would Kurt have just rotted away down there unknown forever if Bruce hadn’t run afoul of this Court of Owls?

“Lets make sure no one else can do that again, huh? It’s an understatement to say that thing can never get out.”

That thing, it’s easier to call it a ‘thing’ than my brother. I’m once again left with more questions that I both don’t want the answer to, and can’t help wondering regardless. The glimpses of a life that are still ringing between my ears. It’s already cost me enough, and the ramifications beyond that… I don’t care how supposedly secure Bruce thought his superprison was, someone’s already broken in, and the reason I hadn’t wanted to know where Vertigo was, was this is beyond me, it feels like too big of a problem to be buried in Gotham City. I don’t question whether or not Tim can. For one, I always assume he can do anything I can imagine with tech because one, I’m not that imaginative with it, and two. He’s good. I still don’t want to damage his ego so… again, maybe that wasn’t all the programming. Plus I’m not fucking mad at him.

I might be taking the stairs a little hard, but I’m still pretty jacked and ready to fight so… the conversation isn’t precisely settling me any. But to be honest I’m not in the mood to be settled. There’s elements of what Alfred’s saying that I can’t truly argue, especially after the rather eye-opening week I’ve had across the country. In true Dinah Lance fashion, however, I bypass all of those points that can be argued and go for the jugular of what I see is the problem.

“Road to Hell, Alfred. The manipulation’s gotta stop, maybe we do have our heads up our asses, but we can’t be a team if we’re all questioning each other’s motives all the damn time.”

Maybe I’m projecting. I think I’ve gotten the object lesson from The Nest and that sparring session a little too many times upside the head at this point, that anyone could be the problem. And we’re not even to dealing with the fact that we have a telepathic alien that belongs to NOWHERE in the basement, who knows what’s in the basement. We need to have a ‘family’ meeting, but Christ I am not in the head space to do that in a productive manner right this second.

“And before anyone accuses me of running off, and gets punched in the face, I have to go see if I can deliver the other half of a lap dance over the telephone with someone who will actually give me straight, pointed answers.”

Dick: “Weaponized emotions? The one class you showed up to on time, Miss Lance?”

It’s Dick’s turn to plant himself against the side of the white wall and just melt down in to a huddle. “That’s enough, Alfie. You made your point.”

“Have I? Because I think what you’re all missing here is the bloody point. Bruce needed… needs help and this was his way of asking for it. By providing each of you some aspect of finding yourselves and being better than him. Because y’ got t’ be t’ do what he couldn’t. His last gift was t’ make y’ all whole.”

Right-o, on it chief. I’ll just sit here and play with the Kryptonian technology until I figure it all out.

Dinah’s wrong about one thing. Spoiler isn’t the only one that isn’t angry. There’s a certain silver clad Drake that’s crackling his knuckles when she storms past that is just about the happiest boy in the world. She even got a very sincere salute. That’s one order he’s happy to obey unquestioningly. This is next level technology that has been here all this time? And Tim never even had a hunch about it? That speaks to so many things, the least of which is how good the tech is if it hid itself here of all places. Without Tim ever being the wiser.

Do you need to borrow my Holographic imaging phone? Virtual Lap-Dances might just be the…