The Red Right Hand

Sick Sense of Humor

“And when I die, I expect to find Him laughing.” --Depeche Mode

The masked heroes ran through the fleeting shadows of grey and black darkness. The clouds the color of charcoal over-head, the sharp rain falling relentlessly down upon them. The glare of the street lights reflected harshly off the damp pavement, yet there was little light to guide them. Dick looked back at Raven to make sure she was still behind him, the sound of her footsteps eaten by the heavy collision of rain on stone. She was there, only a few feet behind, her stride not nearly the length of his. He reached out his hand, calling back for her to take it. She could hardly hear him over the flooding downpour, but reached for him anyway.

Their hands locked, their grip tight despite the raw chill of the relentless rain. They weren’t far from the steel yard, it was only a minute away, they just had to keep running. They had to make it. He looked back again, this time looking for a shadow in the rain.

‘Please don’t come, Bruce…’

A faint laugh could be heard in the distance, its wicked texture howling, even over the percussion of rain fall.

‘I can’t let him find us, we’re dead if he does!’

One Hour Prior…

Dick entered the room with Harley trailing behind, bound and taped. He found Raven standing over the Joker, a look of resentment steeping in her vibrant eyes.

’Good thing I got here when I did,′ he thought, knowing he’d seen that look before and what came along with it.

“Y’better not’a touched my Puddin, y’bimbo!”

Raven took her eyes off the Clown Prince of Crime and set her sight on the woman who fawned over him. “By touch do you mean, this?” She struck the man across the face as though she were hitting her own father, the sound sharp and echoed off the brick walls.

Harley howled in discontent, threatening to beat Raven senseless, which of course, Raven couldn’t have cared less about.

“Your daddy would be proud, my dear,” Joker mumbled, his jaw sore, but his ego delighted.

“My Daddy’s currently burning in Hell. When you get there, tell him I said hello,” Raven said, walking over to Dick, who seemed a little disturbed by her tone, Harley still carrying on about how she’d exact her revenge.

“That’s the spirit!” Joker exclaimed, “So how’d you kids do? Were there sparks? Cause your little friend and I really hit it off!”

Dick looked over at Raven again as she slowly pulled herself back together from her momentary slip.

“I’m fine,” she mouthed, slowly finding her center.

His eyes fell on Harley, who gazed up at him, almost ashamed she’d shared so much.

“Yeah,” Dick finally replied, “and I learned something too.”

“And what might that be?” Joker’s eyes filled with sinister wonder, their green color full of wickedness.

“That if I’m gonna get what I came for, then I’m gonna have to do this.”

Suddenly, the Joker found himself on the receiving end of Dick’s fist, hitting him with a painful shock. Before Joker could even react, Dick hit him again even harder, blood spraying from the fiend’s mouth. Harley cried out for Dick to stop as Raven shrugged numbly, not really feeling charitable.

“Puddin!” she cried.

Dick looked over at her and slugged the mad clown again, “You want me to stop?”

She nodded, “Yes! Get your hands off him, you son of a bitch!”

“Well Harley,” Dick reasoned, “the only way I’m gonna stop is if you tell me what I wanna know!”

“Go t’Hell!”

“Okay fine, but I’m sending your “Puddin” there first!”

He struck the man even harder, so hard, even Raven flinched.

“Stop!” Harley cried.

“Only when you start talking!” Dick growled and continued to pummel the Joker with his own two fists.

“Don’t… don’t tell him anything… Harley,” the Joker managed to mumble, spiting blood at his captor.

Blood sprayed directly on Dick’s face, fueling his anger more than he wanted to give into. He wiped the blood from his exposed cheek and looked at the dark liquid numbly, the blood shining on his glove as he delivered another punch. This one nearly rendering Joker unconscious.

Dick looked to the left and something caught his eye—it was a crowbar. With a relentless anger, he ferociously picked up the metal bar, and held it in a moment of anguish. With the crowbar tight in his grasp, he approached Harley, who was now struggling to free herself from her bounds. Black tears ran down her face as she pleaded and screamed tedious threats at the top of her lungs.

Dick reached out and rolled her chair forward to fill the space beneath them, looking down at her dismay. “If you don’t tell me where Joker keeps his trophies, I’m going to bury this crowbar in his skull. Now do you want that?”

“No!”

“Then tell me!”

“No—I can’t!”

Dick exhaled roughly through his nose, the scent of frustration thick on his breath. He promptly withdrew from Harley as she cried, “No! Don’t—you’ll kill him!” and, “Please! I’ll do anything—I just can’t tell you that!”

Dick didn’t bother to look back, he just kept on, the sluggish Joker hunched over in his sights. The clown was in a daze as he’d taken several sever blows to the head. Dick grabbed the man by the jaw, he may have been barely conscious, but that glint of madness was still there, glowing viscous in his eyes.

“What about you?” Dick asked. “Harley isn’t gonna save your life, what are you gonna do about that?”

The Joker didn’t reply, he just let out a small hiss of laughter, as much as he could possibly muster.

“What’s so funny, Clown?”

The Joker managed to glare in the ex-Titan’s direction, his signature grin stretching wide across his sinister face. “You,” he replied. “It turns out, you had the scrap after all—hahaha—you’re no better than me!”

Dick released the man’s face, the Joker still laughing with a surprising amount of resilience—mocking him. For a moment Dick was horrified, and wanted to stop, wanted to go no further than he had, but then he’d be no closer to Slade.

‘Slade…’

A remorseless anger filled his eyes, and his grip on the crowbar grew tight, his knuckles white beneath his gloves. He raised it up above his head, ready to bring the fire of Hell down upon the clown, just as he deserved.

“Ready to be the punchline?” Dick whispered.

“Aren’t we all?”

Dick began to set his swing in motion as Harley and Raven looked on in horror. Raven could feel the fire burning beneath Dick’s skin, and how personal this moment had become for him, but she couldn’t bear to let him go through with it—let him go that far. The bar began to come down, the force of the blow growing with every inch it fell. She had to stop him. She reached out her hand, her power forming at the edge of her fingertips, but before she could intervene, someone else did.

“The furnace room!” Harley cried.

Dick immediately stopped, just coming short of striking the Joker’s thick skull. He looked over to Harley, but stopped as he clocked eyes with Raven, her hand outstretched in a way that he’d seen many times before.

Oh God,′ he thought, a hint of shame trickling down his face.

He could tell she didn’t want him to see her like that—with that look. The one she only wore when she saw that side of him, when he’d let his inner darkness bleed out and into his better judgment. The look itself was not of fear, as much, as it was of realization. The solidification that Richard Grayson could actually be that cruel, that he himself had the capacity to lose himself and become a horrible thing. However, what always bothered him about this look was that she could see him that way. That she could just stand there and not be sickened by it, that she wasn’t bothered enough to look away.

Dick could never figure out if it was because she was confident that he’d come to his senses and recoil from that part of him. Or that she herself understood the burden of getting lost amongst the anger and turmoil. Either way, it pained him that she’d witnessed it; she was really the only Titan who had. The others knew he had a temper and that he was not above acting upon it in the proper moment, but she was only one who knew how far he was capable of going if he let himself. How deep his temper really ran. How much anger was actually locked within him.

He could see in her eyes that she was sorry, but even more so that she forgave him for it. He let his arms fall, the crowbar tumbling to the floor with a loud metallic crash. The darkness had once again receded into the pit of his heart, its fire unlit, and the will to burn momentarily extinguished. He could practically feel the relief wash over her, like a gambler who’d just bet on the longshot pony and won. Her victory confirming her longstanding opinion of him, but for a moment, she thought she’d bet wrong.

He finally found the strength to take his eyes off of her and settled them on Harley, who seemed too caught up in the fact she’d almost lost her “Puddin.” He realized at that moment, Joker had almost won, and if it weren’t for the lovesick clown, and Raven, he’d be covered in the feral man’s brain matter. Dick would be no better than the man who stood over Jason and beat him within an inch of his life, and then, unmercifully took it without a second thought. Dick was nearly the punchline.

“This is a game,” Dick finally muttered.

The Joker looked up, not even fazed by the near loss of his life, “And it’s not over yet,” the Joker said cruelly, “You may have won this round, but I’ll have the last laugh, I assure you.”

“Not if I refuse to play.”

“That’s not your choice,” Joker insisted.

“It is,” said grasping to what was left of his autonomy.

“Not when you play the game against someone who’s perfected the art of corruption.” A wicked smile out stretched, revealing the Joker’s crooked and yellowing teeth as they gleamed with cunning and primacy. “Some men are in the business of power, others, the business of fortune, but me—I’m in the business of corruption. And I intend to watch the world burn one man at a time.”

“You’re a sick man, Joker… but I’m not playing,” Dick replied grimly, his face stone. “It’s not worth what I have to lose.”

“It’s far too late for that! As long as you continue to breathe, you’ll play. And as long as you play, I will be waiting for that very moment, that very irony that will be the undoing of your pretty, little, plastic, world. And I will pull that string until every thread is unraveled.”

“That’s fine Joker, play your game. But just know you have no idea who you’re playing against,” the ex-Titan warned. “To everyone else, you might be the hand that ends their game, but to me, the Joker, is just one card in my deck.”

Dick stepped to the back of the man and opened his hand, placing his thumb and index finger just below Joker’s ears, behind the jawline, and squeezed. He held the grip only a few seconds, the Joker tense for a brief moment, until falling uncurious. His head fell limp, and the young hero freed the clown from the knock-out grip. It was a skill Bruce had taught him years ago, but he’d only used it a few times. One, because it was a hard maneuver to pull off on a moving target, and two, because it was extremely dangerous if done improperly. However, in his cynicism, Dick felt the technique charitable.

With the Joker out cold, Dick walked away from the horrid clown and turned to Harley again. “The furnace room?”

She refused to respond and turned her head away from him like a child in time out, a full pout, hand in hand with a low scowl on her face.

“I’ll take that as a yes.”

He took off down the hall and Raven followed behind him, not wanting to stay with the volatile couple. Not to mention, the tension in the room was nearly enough to suffocate her as it wrapped around her throat like the crazed hands of Othello. She caught up to Dick in the hall, he too, trying to distance himself from that red grip.

“Hey wait up,” Raven called to him.

He glanced back at her, but refused to keep her in his sight, he just couldn’t.

“They really shouldn’t be left alone,” Dick said, opening a heavy door that led to the dark basement that housed the furnace.

“I know, but I think its best we just get the—whatever the hell—trophy, Joker took from Jason, and get the fuck out of here ASP.”

Dick was inclined to agree, they needed to leave, and never look back, plus Joker was out for the time being. Dick nodded, but still didn’t look in her direction, keeping his eyes forward and down the dark stairway. He took out a small flashlight and turned on the switch. A thin beam of light arose from the thick shadows and down the old rotting steps.

“Come on,” he said blankly and descended the stairs, each board crying beneath his steps.

Once at the bottom, Raven found and old dusty light switch and flicked it on. Very little light came from it, the old fluorescents flickering in hesitation to live more than a few moments at a time. It had been at least two decades since the lights had seen any maintenance, and even, the fact they functioned was something of a miracle. Still, their dim shine was better than nothing, as listless as it was. The two looked around a moment, their eyes beginning to discover what felt like a hoarding nightmare. Piles of old newspapers and clippings rose from the ground like skyscrapers, mountains of junk tight at their sides, pouring out among the mayhem. Boxes piled on top of each other stood tall, threatening to lay siege to anyone who dared even touch them.

“What the fuck?” Dick sighed in frustration, looking at the sheer chaos of it all.

“Uh, it’s like an episode of Hoarders: Buried Alive,” Raven grumbled, “All that’s missing are the 47 cats... Eh—What’s that smell?”

“It’s Joker, I’m sure there’s something dead down here.”

Raven looked over in Dick’s direction, “Well let’s try not to find it, okay?”

“It’s more likely to find us,” Dick replied and somehow found the effort to smile cynically.

“Wipe that smile off your face, Boy Blunder,” Raven threatened sarcastically, “or you’ll be the dead thing lost down here. Now where do we start?”

Dick looked at the piles and assortments of things, trying to think what mad logic would achieve such a thing. He noticed a large work shelf, left over from the 1900′s, when the factory was functional. The shelf seemed house many random objects, in no particular order, except for one thing—everything on it had to do with Batman.

“There,” Dick said, pointing to it with his flashlight.

The two birds immediately began to rummage through the old things, some familiar, some not. There was an old dental style syringe that still had an injectable fluid in it, a lock of red hair, Dick assumed must have belonged to Barbara, and a piece of yellow and black material he regretfully recognized.

“It’s gotta be here?” Dick said, looking at the old remnants of past battles, both won and lost.

He continued to look through the keepsakes, sickened by the idea that someone kept dusty piece of his and his family’s lives’. Among the broken and forgotten relics, Dick found an old cowl of Bruce’s, torn and scarred by time. He took it in his hands and gazed upon its tarnished face.

“This is creepy,” Raven said, taking something in her hands. She looked at Dick, slightly troubled at the sight of him holding the cowl, mournfully.

He peered up at her, her eyes soft as they seemed captivated by the curious sight. He noticed the object in her hands and a very different expression filled his once somber face.

“Put that down.”

Raven looked down at the crowbar, covered with time, rust, and old stains that appeared to be blood, long dried. It was then she realized what it was, or least what Dick thought it was. Without even a second thought, Raven dropped the bar with haste and disgust, her hands feeling filthy from the contact.

The metal bar fell upon the shelf with a loud, metallic wail, dust rising into air from its long, dreamless sleep.

“Is that what we came for?” she asked shaken, trying to tame every urge to abandon this charge.

“I don’t know,” Dick replied, looking over every last forgotten detail, and repressed memory. Yes, all these things pointed to a milestone in the endless battle waged between the Joker and the Batman, yet not one of those things represented a death. “All of this is from an event, there’s nothing from a life taken.”

“But the crowb—”

“He didn’t kill him with it,” Dick said regretfully, “if Joker was gonna keep something, it would more personal. He would have taken something from him.”

“Something he took away?”

Dick nodded and looked around again. There had to be something more definitive. Just then, he spotted a small, antique hope chest, off in the corner of the old shelf. He noticed the wooden box was of fine quality, and that it was, by far, not as dusty as everything else, and even looked like it may have been cared for. Dick took a hesitant breath and opened the latch, surprised it was not bound by a lock and key. He lifted the lid and allowed the glare of his flashlight to reveal the untold secrets within. The light reflected off an old police chief badge, beside it, an old batman logo from a cheap costume.

Dick hesitantly began to ruffle through the grim objects, part of him hoping he wouldn’t find anything, when he did. His heart stopped at the sight of the object, its haunting presence directly looking back at him. He reached out for it, his hand aching as it trembled with grief, the sight pulling old ghost from the depths his past. He lifted it out of the box, Raven flitching at the very sight of it.

“Is that…” Raven began, but found her tongue bound by a weakened thought.

“Yes,” Dick said, looking at the sad reminder of what could have become of him, “It’s a Robin mask… It’s Jason’s Robin Mask.”

Raven’s brows knit, her heart feeling the guilt and the anguish that beat within his. “Let’s get the hell out of here,” she said, grabbing Dick’s wrist.

“Not yet,” he replied refusing to budge.

She turned back to him with question as Dick looked down at the sickly treasured part of his life, like an old friend screaming to be set free.

“We have to take care of this.”

Raven scanned the room a moment, trying to find a solution when something hit her, “This is the furnace from right?”

“Yeah,” Dick replied.

“Perfect.”

Dick looked back at her and cocked his head to the side in inquiry, “Raven, what are you thinking?”

Raven began picking up old newspapers and pieces of cardboard as she replied, “I’m gonna start a fire in this old furnace and then we’re gonna burn as much of everything as we can.”

Dick raised a brow at the idea, realizing that if they only burned the things related to Batman that it would obviously narrow down the suspect pool. Not to mention, conceal the Robin mask being gone.

“Raven, you’re a genius.”

“Yeah, I’m amazing, Boy Blunder, now go find me something to light this thing up.”

Before long, Raven had the furnace ablaze after Dick stumbled upon an old lighter buried beneath the dust. To his relief, the old thing still worked, and before he knew it, the two began burning anything they could fit into the furnace. However, the birds had to move quickly and Dick scrambling to pick up as much as he could. Raven on the other hand, tried to burn whatever she could at random, doing her best to create a level of chaos that could not be decoded. Dick was nearly finished throwing the things he felt mattered into the fire, as Raven threw one last, small box into the flames. She peered over to see Dick, holding both the dusty remnants of the cowl, and the torn fabric of his old cape. His eyes’ gaze was distant, lost somewhere in the past, his hands holding everything that was, and was no more.

“It’s okay to let go, Richard.”

He looked up at her from the cold floor where he knelt, and sighed a moment, “I know.”

His eyes then fell to the objects in his hands, the heat of the fire dancing across his face. He sometimes thought about who he’d be if he never left Gotham, or what his life would be like if he’d never been a Titan. He wondered if he’d ever become Nightwing, or if Jason would have ever become Robin—would Dick have actually been the one who died?

With that perverse thought, he looked to the flames and threw his past, present, and future into the igneous inferno. He watched a moment while the cowl became engulfed, and was quickly devoured by the greedy flames. The piece if his cape nearly vanished on impact, burning up into nothing before even one, single, breath.

Dick bowed his head a moment and closed the steel door to the furnace. He turned and got up, taking a moment to finally notice how disheveled his surroundings had become.

“Damn Rae, Joker’s gonna be pissed when he sees this,” Dick said a little child-like.

Raven cracked a precocious smile as she shrugged, “He’s the one who’s always spouting off about being an Agent of Chaos. I thought it was only appropriate.”

Dick smiled at the irony and began to make his way to the stairs, “Let’s get the hell out of here before the Agent of Chaos breaks loose.”

Dick turned the corner of the stairway and looked up to the top, he stopped, his eyes growing wide with shock.

“Good idea! But you’re a little late to the party, kiddo,” said the Joker, his voice falling to a sinisterly low register.

“Oh God.”

“I’m flattered, but God’s not listening,” Joker growled and pulled out an old 50 caliber Colt.

Dick’s eyes locked on the Joker’s as he stared down the barrel, Joker’s ghoulish finger pulled the trigger. Dick wasted no time, he flew to the right towards Raven and dodged the shot, but another followed soon behind it. Raven grabbed Dick by the arm and guide him behind an old piece of equipment for cover, a stray bullet, hitting one of the fluorescent lights overhead.

“We have to get out of here,” Dick said over the sound of shattering glass, Joker’s footsteps pounding down the aged stairs.

“We need a Nightwing grade plan, Boy Blunder” Raven replied, “you know, the kind that involves cunning, and skill, with just a hint of dumb luck.”

“I do not rely on dumb lucked,” Dick whispered defensively as a bullet rushed passed his head barely missing him. “Okay, maybe dumb luck has a little to do with it.”

Raven shot him a smug look and crossed her arms, “What’s the plan, Boy Blunder?”

“Can you get behind Joker without him seeing you?”

“Does a Beast Boy shit in the woods?”

“Can you be less sarcastic?”

“No.”

“Just do it before we die,” Dick said with resenting smile.

“I assume you want me to go on the offense when I get there?”

“Only if it’s safe.”

“Oh, I’ll make it safe, keep him distracted,” Raven added, moving her hand, causing the lights to fall dark.

Just then Raven vanished into a dark shadow, leaving Dick by his lonesome. He could hear the Joker’s footsteps growing closer, and thought quick about what he’d do if he found himself face to face with the feral clown.

“So we’re playing hide and seek are we?” The Joker called, ceasing fire, “Ollie Ollie oxen free!”

Dick knew the Joker wasn’t far and would stumble upon him in just a matter of moments.

“Come on kid, I’m not so bad, I’ll make it quick!.. If you’re lucky that is.” He followed his statement with a low giggle as Dick prepared to defend himself in hand to hand, hoping he wouldn’t be shot dead first.

‘Come on, Rae, where are you?’

The Joker was only a few steps away, his shadow growing beside Dick only inches from him.

‘If I die at the hands of the Joker, Bruce is gonna be so piss—’

“Game’s over, Joker.”

‘Raven?’

Before Dick knew it, he saw the Joker be thrown all the away into the brick wall ahead, A loud scream as he went.

’So much for keep it low key,′ Dick thought with a (very relieved) eye roll.

“Come on,” Raven urged grabbing Dick by the wrist and pulling him from the darkness.

The birds bound up the stair and into the hallway, its dark red glare, feeling even less welcoming than before, hosting various uncovered threats.

“Which way is out,” Raven said, still running for her life.

“There’s an emergency exit at the end of the hall, we just have to get th—”

Before Dick could finish speaking, Joker’s strongest, yet dumbest goon, plowed right through the stone wall.

“Shit,” Dick scoffed, tuning the other way with Raven right by his side, the two unfortunately being greeted by the knife wielding Stitches.

“Which one you want?” Raven asked, throwing herself into fight mod.

“Well both options leave something to be desired—”

“Pick one!”

“Stiches! I’ll take Stitches,” Dick spat as the blade of a knife came hurling towards him and he blocked it.

“Just don’t die on me, got it?” Raven replied, charging toward the enormous, Tiny.

“I’ll do my best,” Dick growled, dodging a blade and catching the creepy clown’s arm.

Meanwhile, Raven was using her ability of flight to throw, the living mountain known as Tiny, off. She could tell that man was genuinely confused as she evaded his attacks, moving far too quickly for him to grasp what she was actually doing. Dick was able to relieve Stitches of one of his sharp weapons, but found the man didn’t really travel light. He pulled out a dagger and tried to bury it in the hero’s side, but to no avail, being caught and receiving a foot to the jaw. Dick then turned and finished his adversary with a roundhouse kick to the head and retreated to aid Raven.

“I think we need a detour,” Dick huffed, pulling her just out of harm’s way.

The two birds flew down the hall, leaping over an unconscious Stitches. They could hear the heavy footsteps of Tiny behind them, but with great size comes little speed.

“In here,” Dick said and opened a door, leading them back to the room here they’d left Joker and Harley.

“Where’s Harley?” Raven asked noticing the young woman no longer tied to her chair.

“I’m right here,” they heard from behind them and turned.

Harley sat with her knees to her chest, sporting a new black eye and a busted lip, momentarily unable to smile her way through a heartfelt lie.

Raven quickly readied herself to fight, but Dick signaled her to stand-down, “He’s your horrible thing, right?”

She just looked away in anguish, her broken heart burning in her eyes, its mark clear on her beaten face.

“We can help you, Harley,” Dick said, though he knew the offer would never be taken.

“Thanks doll, but I can’t do that,” she looked up at the two masked hero’s dressed all in black. “Take that hallway. It’ll lead ya’t an old exit, I’ll buy y’five minutes.”

Dick and Raven both looked at each other puzzled by the blonde’s odd moment of kindness.

“Thanks..?” Dick said skeptically, unsure if the charity was really genuine.

“Yeah yeah, don’t say I never did nothin’ for ya,” Harley shrugged, numbly taking her revenge out on the Joker for using her for batting practice.

Raven and Dick ran towards the doorway, Harley recommend, Dick looking back to see her get up. She picked up a gun and fired it in their direction both ducking as each round sounded off. They readied themselves to react, until they realized Harley was putting on the performance of her life.

“You son of Bitch! Ahh!” she scream throwing herself over a table, “You just wait till my Puddin get his hands on ya!.. Pst—get the hell outta here,” she whispered then continued to slap herself across the face, making a huge fuss over literally nothing. “I’m gonna kill that bitch for touchin’ my Puddin!”

Dick quickly opened the door, looking back once more to see Harley throw herself to the ground like a beaten animal. It was a cured sight, something he couldn’t bring himself to understand, and maybe that was the problem?

Just as Dick and Raven took off out the door, the Joker entered, rage pouring down his face as he threw a fit over Tiny and Stitches’ lack of “professionalism.”

“Imbeciles! I’m surrounded by imbeciles!” he roared as he stormed into the room where he found Harley laid out like an overused throw rug. “Harley! What the hell happened?”

“I’m sorry Mista J, I tried, but they ambushed me—I swear! That bitch tried to kill me!” she cried, breaking into tears, milking every minute of her ruse. “Oh I was so scared, Puddin!”

She wrapped herself around the Joker’s boney leg, like a manipulative cat. The Joker looking down at her in utter confusion.

“Oh shut up, Harley!” the clown scowled, kicking her off, “Which way did they go?”

“Wow Mista J, I nearly died tryin’ to avenge ya, thanks for the concern.” She crossed her arms angrily and pouted, her theatrics not buying her the sympathy she strived for.

“Harley!” Joker growled, gritting his teeth at her with a look that could have killed if such a thing were possible.

“Eek! That way, Puddin,” she squealed, pointing him in the direction and watched him bound out the door, his two goons falling behind until everyone was gone. “Hum,” she smirked, “Margot Robbie, eat y’heart out.”

Raven and Dick ran out of the exit door, into the rain, taking off down the dark alley.

“Which way?” Raven called over the shearing sound as the alley split in two opposite directions.

Dick took her by the arm and pulled her down the proper path. Normally, Dick would have taken to the rooftops, but without a proper grappling hook and with the heaviness of the rainfall, he knew they’d never make it that far. He thought about asking Raven to, literally, work her magic, but feared it would get them spotted for sure, not to mention the threat of cameras. However, despite everything, the steel yard wasn’t far, and in all honesty, it really was faster by foot, especially in the rain.

The two picked up their pace, hearing the loud slam of a heavy door echo down the alley behind them.

‘Shit…’

A loud cackling ensued, screeching high over the rain like a battle cry, “Nothing like a friendly chase to liven things up!”

“Come on, Rae, we’re almost there…” Dick huffed, but then heard gunfire up ahead.

The two stopped dead in their tracks as they realized salvation was further than they’d thought.

‘The roof it is…’

“Raven teleport to the roof.”

“But what about you?” Raven ask as the cold rain ran down her face and clung to her loose pieces of hair.

“I’ll be fine just go,” Dick assured.

“Dick, I’m not leavin—”

“I’ll be fine, Rae. Now go!” he ordered, his eyes glowing with the same determination that made him a leader.

Raven reluctantly nodded, and slipped into the shadows where she quickly vanished, leaving her ex-leader alone in the alley. Dick had to act fast as he knew the Joker would find him at any moment. He looked up, and noticed a steel ladder that hung a few feet over his head, and his mind and body quickly organized a strategy. He took a few steps back to gain a running start, then leapt up to the first bar with ease. He climbed up the latter where an old fire escape waited, unused for years. It was more than an arm’s reach away, but with a swift jump, Dick caught the base of it with one hand after the other. He hung there for a second, taking a deep breath then began to swing until he gained enough momentum to hurl himself up backwards to his feet. His landing was a little rough, but he made it.

“That’s what I get for skipping my workouts,” he mumbled to himself and let his eye travel to the alley below.

Dick stopped dead as he saw the Joker finally make it around the corner and froze in the shadows. In Joker’s hands, he held a new, larger revolver. His eyes were fixed on the end of the alleyway, his feet, bound in pointed leather, ran hurriedly for the light at the end of the tunnel. Dick watched him closely, not even daring to move. Once Joker reached the end of the alley, he looked to his right and pointed the gun a moment, ready to shoot, but stopped in recoil.

“Hugo!” Joker spat. “What the hell is this?” he continued, displeased.

Dick couldn’t see the odd man, but could just make out his voice over the plummeting rain, “I got um, boss!” the dim man replied with a colorful glee.

The Joker face-palmed painfully, and dragged his hand down his wet face in a clear illustration of contemp. “Hugo, you idiot! This isn’t them! These are just two street rats!”

“I’m sorry, boss,” the slow man drawled in apology, his pride now just as bruised as Harley’s face.

“No, don’t be sorry that you killed them, be sorry that you didn’t killed the right people!” The clown prince threw his hands up and flailed them in a show of theatrics.

“Um… I don’t think I understand the difference, boss?”

“There is no difference!” Joker shouted at the confused man. “Just keep looking! I want those two as dead as Liza Minnelli’s career!”

“Oh, but I really like Liza, boss.”

“Shut up, Hugo!”

The two men went off in opposite directions, leaving Dick with the opportunity to climb up to the roof, using the rusty fire escape. Once he reached the ledge, he pulled himself up from the slick stone with Raven’s help, and the two tried to devise a plan.

“Okay Boy Wonder, how do we getting out of this?”

Dick looked over at her with a derogatory look, “Don’t call me that, Rae. Not right now.”

“Sorry,” Raven said not really wanting to argue, “but we need to get the hell out of here before Joker catches up to us.”

“I know,” Dick replied, looking around for the answer to the quarrel in front of him. “Come on, this way.”

Dick ran to the other side of the roof and asked Raven to create a cover for them to hold off the rain while he called Red X.

“Where the hell are you two?” his voice answered, clearly worried.

“We kinda caught a bit of a snag,” Dick replied and continued, “Joker got loose and is currently hunting us down.”

“Fucking seriously?” the thief exclaimed, “That’s not a snag, that’s a fucking catastrophe, Chuckles— Jesus Christ!”

“So much for trying not to panic,” Dick grumbled, “But yeah seriously, we gotta get out of here, Joker’s on a tear.”

“I can only imagine, where the fuck are you?”

“On the roof, I can see the steel yard from here,” Dick replied over the rain.

“Okay, I’m gonna create a diversion, you guys stay out of sight and get here as fast as you can.”

“Okay we wil—oh shit,” Dick scoffed, looking back at the grizzly eyes of the knife happy, Stitches.

“They’re up here!” Stiches called, then shot toward the two birds who both readied themselves in fighting stance. He swung a blade in Raven’s direction, but she blocked it, using the shield she’d created. The man looked back at her perplexed, then put two and two together. However, before he could say anything, Dick struck the man across the face, Stitches flailing his knife in his direction.

It was at that moment that Raven threw all caution to the wind and gripped the man with her dark energy, then threw him onto an old brick chimney. The force of the impact seemed to rendered him unconscious and the two quickly made their escape without looking back.

They climbed down the opposite wall, the rain still coming down hard from the black sky as they made their way down the steel ladder. The air was so cold, their hands had grown numb as they gripped each chilled bar on the way down. Once they were in the opposing alley, relief was short lived. Stiches may have been out of the way, but the large shadow of a man with a frail hooked nose, appeared at the other end.

They took off again, this time making it out of the alley, but they knew the Joker wasn’t far behind, and neither were his cohorts. They ran passed Hugo, who, luckily, was out of ammo, and trapped behind a chain-link fence, he didn’t have the strength to climb. Still, this didn’t stop Hugo from sounding off about the sighting.

“They’re over here, boss!”

Which brings us to the present moment. Dick picked up his pace beneath the blackened sky and reached for Raven, who was now struggling to keep up. They were nearly there, they just needed to get a little further, Dick could just see the SUV.

‘Almost home free—what?’

A shadowy figure shot out in front of them then took shelter in the street light. Dick and Raven stopped dead, as though the man were a blockade, his knives glimmering in the lamp light.

“Stitches…” Dick whispered, nearly out of breath.

His snickering smile grew wide, the laughter of the Joker wailing high in the distance behind them. Stitches stared back at them, his focus nowhere else. But something caught both Dick and Raven’s eye in the view behind the blade wielding clown.

“I can’t wait to skin your bitch a…” Stitches trailed off, a strange sound erupting behind him and engulfed his victims in blinding light, “…live?”

He turned to find himself eye to eye with a pair of high beams and the growl of an engine with no intention of stopping. His eyes grew wide with shock, shining in the headlights, and within moments, the vehicle plowed over him to the shock of both Raven and Dick. The screams of anger and terror could be heard from both Hugo and even the Joker (though it was clear Joker saw this incident as more of an inconvenience). The vehicle pulled up beside the two birds as the window rolled down to reveal a familiar, grim mask.

“Get in,” Red X ordered, the two heroes pretty shaken by what had occurred before them.

There was a moment of hesitation as morality seemed caught between two very different ends. Gunfire erupted from behind them, causing them to jump, but the shot missed any intended target.

“Now!” The thief exclaimed, urging the two forward.

They both jumped into the back, Red X peeling away before the car door could even closed, and pushed the pedal to the floor, setting his sights on the Joker. Joker fired off one more round, hitting the passenger side of the windshield, the bullet lodging itself in the back seat, barely grazing Raven’s shoulder as ducked down. The Joker pulled the trigger once more, but to his dismay the gun jammed. He tried squeezing it a few times, with just a hint of desperation, but gave up and stared into the full glare of the headlights, like he were playing some sick game of chicken. The fuming clown locked eyes on the deadly driver, like he could not see his face beyond the blinding light. But still, his eyes held that gleam, the reluctance to fear even death.

X was moments away from hitting him and using his blood to stain the pavement, but he didn’t seem to care. He just kept driving. Dick looked up to see the looked in Joker’s eyes—void, yet fulfilled, like he’d won, but how? It would be any moment now, when metal collided with bone, and bone pierced flesh, and flesh bled life.

‘Any moment now…’ Dick thought, lost in the anticipation of the end of the joke—the punchline. But then he saw her.

Harley darted into the glare, fear and desperation fueling her harrowing speed. The Joker may not have cared if he died, but Harley did, and she’d see to it he didn’t. At the very last second, she pushed the Clown Prince out of the way, sending them both, tumbling to the ground as X sped passed them in a white spray of rain. Dick peered up through the back window, peaking over the seat, witnessing the Joker erupt with anger for the gesture—she’d ruined it—she’d ruined the joke.

Harley had barely lifted herself from the deep puddle the two had landed in, when Joker whipped her across the face with his brittle hand. Dick shuddered at the scene, filthy water splashing up as her head flew to the side like a bad kitty.

He noticed X glance back to catch the sight, and for a moment, he too felt for the woman, but there was nothing either one of them could do for her.

“You hit that guy?” Raven finally said, catching her ragged breath.

X looked down at her through the rear view, his mind drifting from Harley and the distancing ordeal, “Yeah, and I’d do it again if I had to.”

Raven’s brow furrowed, though if it were not for the desperate act, there was a good chance she and Dick would be dead, laying in a pool of their own blood.

“You have anything to say about it, Chuckles?”

Dick looked to the mirror as Red X peered back at him from the driver’s seat, “No.”

He heard the young thief sigh as he pulled onto the main road and pulled off his mask, signaling they were finally safe. He held a tired look on his face as though it were actually filled with worry and now began to carrying a minimal relief.

“Did you guys find anything?”

“Yes,” Dick replied heavily, “we found exactly what we were looking for and then some.”

Deep creases appeared on X’s face as he grimaced through the mirror, “What was it?”

“Red Hood’s mask… from when he was Robin.”

Red X didn’t really say anything for a moment, trapped in disbelief, “I’ll let the Hood know.”

“I can tell him myself, tonight,” the ex-Titan said with an adamant tone.

“Tonight’s not good,” the thief replied sternly, “I’ll talk to him tomorrow and we’ll set up the meet.”

“I’m tired of this middle man bullshit, X!” Dick spat unpleased, “I’ve done everything he’s asked, and I haven’t spoken to him—directly—once! I held up my end of the bargain, I’m meeting with him, tonight!”

The look on X’s face fell weary, possessing a more mature appearance. “It’s not my call—”

"Make it your call,” Dick threatened and held up the gun X had offered him earlier.

Red X turned his head in disbelief as the ex-Titan stood firm on his demand, Raven completely holding her breath in shock.

“You won’t use that thing,” the thief countered, trying to call the hero’s bluff.

“Really?” Dick questioned with a raised brow, “cause I’ve done a lot of things, I thought I’d never do tonight.”

Raven leaned back and crossed her arms, still shell-shocked after everything she’d endured. She looked up at Red X, who glanced back at her, hoping she could talk her friend down, but to his surprise, she didn’t intervene, she only glanced away.

“Take me to Red Hood, X. He owes me this, especially after tonight.”

The thief sighed and shook his head wearily, “Put the gun down before you do something stupid, Chuckles. I’ll take you to him. But just know, I have no say in what happens to you.”

“What’d you mean, happens to him?” Raven asked, finally waking up.

“The Hood’s leader of The Outlaws, if Jason feels threatened, he may act, and if he does, there’s nothing I can do to protect you.”

“You’re an Outlaw?” Dick asked perplexed.

“Yeah,” X replied and turned down an old street, “Top tear and everything, have been for a few years now.”

“But you live in Jump?” Raven asked. “The Outlaws are a Gotham based criminal syndicate.”

“I split my time, I go where the work takes me. The Outlaws do a lot of out of town business with protection runs, I make sure they get done right and pick up some side work as it comes,” X reasoned as he gripped the stirring wheel. “But even with my rank, Chuckles, if something goes down… I can’t protect you. If the Hood wants you taken out, someone—maybe even him—will put you down. But it’s your choice, Chuckles. Just say the word, and I’ll start planning your funeral”

Dick looked at Raven and then back to Red X. “I know it’s my choice, and I choose to talk to Jason, now stop trying to scare me.”

Red smiled tiredly and shook his head. “Jesus Christ kid, you’re a fucking idiot,” X chuckled and continued, “Truth is, you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into, and if Red Hood doesn’t kill you, someone else from our world will. It’s just a matter of time—for all of us.”

Dick could feel the weight of his voice plummeting, like any hope it’d been tethered to was seamlessly cut. He could also feel Raven grow rigid with worry, her concerns rising off her like a muddled fog. Her reason for even being there was simple—protect her friend—but what if she couldn’t do that?

For a moment, Dick thought about turning back, but to what? He didn’t have a team anymore, he didn’t have a life to go back to. And how could he, after everything he’d given up, after he’d practically spit in the face of everything he was ever taught? How could he go back to all of that after tonight?

“Just take me where I need to go, I accept whatever comes along with it.”

He could feel two sets of eyes resting upon him wearily, asking many question, but dared not speak them. Dick could see X’s blue gaze through the mirror, staring back at him with a little resentment. Like he wanted to know why Dick was so willing to lose everything, but in the same train of thought, understood his reasons perfectly. He just didn’t know how long it would take before the hero realized the cold truth…

“No one comes back from this life, Chuckles” X said, hoping his final warning would reach the ex-Titan. “Our world takes a part of you, you can never get back, and by the time you realize it, it’s already too late, it’s gone.”

“I can live with that,” Dick said in a firm tone, though the sound reflected brittle thoughts, like he wasn’t quite grasping the warning for what it was.

He could feel Raven fighting the urge to speak up, and bit her tongue in protest. Part of him wanted her to speak up, but part of him didn’t. Still, he wondered why she refused to, and part of him thought that maybe it was because she, too, understood everything that he’d lost.

“It’s your funeral, Chuckles,” X replied disembodied, “I hope your death isn’t as slow as mine."

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