Batman: The Salem Protocol

Chapter 6: Knotted Up and Spun Around

"Out of the question," Batman snapped. "You are in no condition to take on the Black Glove. Especially not at Arkham."

Dick lifted an eyebrow. "Neither are you."

"You ask me," Roy drawled, "I'd say you're both ready to be committed."

The two continued to argue as though they hadn't heard.

"Less than twenty-four hours ago," Bruce snapped, "you were—"

"—doped to the gills, Bruce. Yes. I was. What kind of shape were you in less than twel…" He broke off. "I'm sorry. That was out of line." He raised his hands in a placating gesture. "You taught me better," he said after a moment.

Bruce started to nod, but Dick wasn't finished talking.

"You taught me that we have to think with our heads, not with our fists. You're about to go charging into a place where forty per cent of the inhabitants want to kill you on sight, thirty per cent want to torture you first, fifteen per cent want to sell tickets to the show, and the rest want to give you the room I had when I was staying over. And I'm only referring to the patients!" His voice grew softer. "Bruce, you're dealing with people who like to play head games. Want to tell me why you're going without backup?"

Batman hesitated. "You're not fit for active duty. That stuff in your system is going to keep on giving you highs and lows for the next few days."

"Then I'll work with the highs," Dick all but snarled.

Bruce plowed on. "With Oracle otherwise occupied, I need Robin to continue researching the other members of the Black Glove and," his pause for breath was only a second longer than it needed to be, "Jezebel. Meanwhile, the main reason that the JLA has chosen to involve themselves in what should be a personal matter—"

"Now just hold on!" Dinah bristled. "You—"

"—Is because," Bruce continued speaking, drowning her words, "of legitimate concerns regarding compromised data."


"I locked down the files," Tim said slowly. "And they didn't copy or export anything—we checked."

"Have you forgotten that it was Talia who turned my protocols over to her father the first time?"

Tim froze.

"She's in the cave now. Along with various other artifacts, among them a small piece of Kryptonite. Oh, it's well-hidden," he added. "But I don't think we can run the risk of her finding it."

"So you want me to head back to the manor," Dick stated. It made sense.

Bruce was shaking his head. "Talia has brought up Damien to think of himself as my heir," he said softly. "My sole heir. He's been trained by the League of Assassins. We can't rule out the possibility that she's learned a few tricks from them as well. While they won't have access to the cave's defense systems, there are weapons in the trophy room." He placed a hand on Dick's shoulder. "There are also pharmaceuticals in the medical bay that can be blended into lethal combinations. I'm sorry," he added, sounding sincere. "But I'd have my concerns even if you were at the top of your game. Right now, you aren't. And neither am I. I can't look out for you." He turned abruptly to where Roy and Dinah stood. "You'll have to handle it. Maintain radio contact with this site. Robin and Nightwing will be able to guide you

Dick frowned. "If you're not at the top of your form either, then..."

"I know," Bruce admitted. "But, you said it yourself: they want to get me into Arkham. They might have planned to use you as bait, but since that didn't work," he took a deep breath, "that's where we'll find Jezebel. And whether she's a captive—and they mean to do to her what they were trying to do to you—or a confederate, it changes nothing. I still need to stop the Black Glove.

"I'm not disputing any of that," Dick pointed out. "But you're not going—" his eyes widened. Even as he dodged to avoid Bruce's punch, his immediate thought was that Hugo Strange must have programmed more than one trigger phrase after all…

Roy started forward. "What the hell are you—Hey!" He glanced down to find that Tim and Dinah had each taken a firm grip on his arms. "Let go!"

"Uh-uh," Tim said grimly. "Remember what you told me when he and Dinah were duking it out?"

"That's different! Dick's not—"

Dinah's voice was low enough that only Roy and Tim heard it. "He's holding back. Can't you see it?" As Roy turned an incredulous face toward her, she nodded. "He's not attacking Dick—he's testing him! Don't interfere."

As the archer watched, he realized that Dinah was right. Bruce was telegraphing more than half of his moves, and he wasn't putting anywhere near as much force behind his blows as he could have. Looking on, Roy realized that the older man was gradually increasing the intensity of the spar, striking a little harder, blocking a little faster, carefully assessing his opponent for any hint of weakness.

Dick, for his part, kept his technique primarily defensive, relying for the most part on blocks and evasions. When he counterattacked, he stuck mainly to Aikido techniques, which were designed to turn an opponent's strength back on himself. He could feel perspiration beading on his forehead as he allowed a smile to spread across his face.

Roy pulled his arm out of Tim's hold and looked at his watch. Bruce and Dick had been at it for… ninety-five seconds? He could have sworn it had been more like fifteen minutes.

"How long," Bruce demanded as he aimed for Dick's midsection, "can you keep this up?"

"I don't know, I haven't stopped yet." He leaped, caught hold of a low-hanging pipe, and swung both feet toward Bruce's face.

Bruce ducked and Dick's momentum carried him forward. One end of the pipe broke off and liquid blasted forth. As Bruce turned to face the younger man once more, he got a face full of foul-smelling water. He doubled over, choking.

"Oops," Dick whispered, stifling a laugh. He angled the pipe away quickly. "Hey Roy!" He called. "Don't suppose you have a bung arrow to put a cork in this?"

"Are you kidding?" Roy guffawed. "You want to stop it?"

"Roy! If it hits the computers, it'll short 'em. C'mon!"

Roy laughed harder as Bruce continued to cough.

"Roy!" Dinah kicked him, and not gently.

"Ouch! Okay, okay." He reached into his quiver, fitted his selection to his bowstring and let fly.

Dick looked over his shoulder at him. "You really did have a cork arrow?" He asked disbelievingly.

Roy looked down. "Um… well, Ollie did. Expanding cork, if you want to get technical. When I joined the League, he gave me a few of his trick arrows. He said they might come in handy. I thought he was just trying to unload the ones he'd never found a use for." His voice dropped to a mumble. "I was actually trying to figure a way to get rid of them without him finding out."

Dick snickered. Then, slowly, he crossed to a supply locker, opened it, pulled out a hand towel and tossed it to Bruce. "You okay?" He forced the grin off of his face. "I didn't know that pipe was going to give," he said quietly.

Bruce wiped his face. "Rest," he ordered.

"Oh, come on!" Dick protested. "I held you off for almost two minutes. I think I proved—"

"You did," Bruce said shortly.

Dick's mouth snapped shut.

"If attacked, you'll defend yourself. You've convinced me that you won't initiate combat in your current condition—which means that your judgement is probably within acceptable parameters. Your reflexes are impaired, but no worse than they've been in the past, when you've gone thirty hours without sleep." For the first time, Bruce's expression softened. "The problem is that you won't have much warning before your energy level drops.

Right on cue, Dick felt his limbs grow heavy. "You still need backup," he insisted.

Bruce nodded slowly. "Point taken. But we need to plan this carefully. First we have to make your energetic periods work in our favor. If we're going to head to Arkham, the optimal time would be after your next crash. By the time we get there, you should be on an upward swing."

He waited for Dick to acknowledge the point. "Furthermore," he continued, "if the Black Glove has infiltrated Arkham, we can't assume that the majority of the patients will be confined. And if Strange and Hush are working together," he closed his eyes. "They both know how to play me… but Hush has a talent for… manipulation. If he's managed to get the inmates working together…"

"Maybe we should call in the League," Dinah pointed out.

"No. I know Arkham. I've memorized the blueprints. I know the MO's for all two hundred eleven current inmates. There's no time to brief anyone else." He exhaled. "The Black Glove is trying to lure me there. They took Dick. Jezebel is there now—and yes, she may be part of their organization—but whether she is or isn't is beside the point. If I don't go to the Asylum, they'll do one of two things. Either they'll continue to target people who are… close to me," he took a deep breath, "or, if that doesn't work…" He closed his eyes and exhaled once more. "The most likely alternative course of action—and one which the inmates will likely take for themselves sooner or later—is to open the main gates and let those within loose on Gotham." His eyes bore down on Dinah's. "If that happens, I will need the League's help," he admitted. "But if we move quickly enough, we may be able to contain the situation.

His jaw set. "Nightwing. Rest. While you are, I'm going to determine the best approach for getting in and out of Arkham. Robin. Continue to work with the computers. Keep Oracle in the loop. And if she contacts you with any new information, report immediately."

His gaze flickered left. "Red Arrow, Black Canary. Go to the manor and secure the cave." He sighed. "In all likelihood, Talia and Damien will vacate the premises before you can capture them. If they don't," he looked away, "remember that normal juvenile detention facilities are unlikely to be equipped to handle Damien. And… he may have killed in the past. We know he's made several attempts." He took a deep breath and turned back to face them. "Once you've reclaimed the cave, if I haven't advised you that the Arkham situation is under control, do not attempt to contact me. Instead, both of you proceed to the asylum as quickly as possible."

They nodded. "Bruce," Dinah hesitated. "If Damien is your—"

Bruce held up a warning hand. "He and Talia need to be stopped. That imperative overrides any other concerns right now." His voice dropped to a near whisper. "I'm sending you to the manor because I trust you to not allow his… background to distract you." He met their eyes squarely. "I also trust you to use sufficient, but not excessive, force."

They nodded. "And Talia?" Roy asked.

"…Is not to be trusted. She's protective of Damien, but if she believes him to be facing a less-skilled opponent, she is perfectly capable of using him as a diversion while she—" He glanced at the monitor. "While she continues to attempt to gain access to my systems. Or explore her surroundings."

"Bruce," Dick ventured as he headed for one of the sleeping alcoves, "you're not planning to wait until I'm asleep and then head off on your own, are you?" He didn't wait for an answer. "Because if you are, as soon as I find out, I'm going to follow you there—and I'll probably upset whatever plan you do cook up, because I won't know what it is."

Bruce shook his head. Suddenly his eyes widened. "I wonder," he said softly. Then he frowned. "I need to look into something while you're resting. If my theory is right," he broke off, then shook his head again. "No. Either way, I'll wake you," he said. "But if you aren't up to accompanying me, you won't be. And don't try to pretend you're feeling better when you aren't. I'll know."

Dick nodded. "I'll tell you if it's a problem. Just… don't go alone."

Bruce grimaced. "The only place I'm going alone right now is the shower." As Dick started to laugh, Bruce shot him a murderous look. "Get what rest you can. As soon as I know that I have a workable plan, I'm leaving. With you or without you."

"Well," Tim ventured, "the good news is that the computer was able to match the DNA samples to you, me, Alfred, and four members of the Black Glove. There are a couple of unmatched, so one could be Jezebel's…"

"Her information is on file in my system."

"Excuse me?" Dinah gasped. "Do you fingerprint all your dates before going out with them?"

Bruce looked like he was about to snarl back a response, but he checked himself. "We've grown… close over the last several weeks. One night, after I'd returned from driving her back to her hotel room, I discovered a stray hair on my suit jacket."

"Oh," Dinah said. "So it's after you go out with them. You know, if she isn't involved in all this, I think maybe I'll need to have a few words with her about some of your… more interesting character traits."

"If she isn't involved, I'll tell her myself," Bruce snapped. He looked at Tim. "Did you only take samples from the computer area?"

Tim nodded. "That was where Roy and I fought them. I figured any samples taken from other parts of the cave were probably coming from us."

"Reasonable." He frowned. "When I… collapsed, I was standing at the main console. If none of the traces were hers," his frown deepened, "either you missed collecting her DNA, or she left no trace of her presence—which would heavily imply that she offered no resistance, or…" his eyes grew wide. "Or… I was meant to find that hair—and it isn't hers."

Dinah blinked. "You really think they'd go that far? Or is this more of that same paranoia that had you developing those JLA takedown plans in the first place?"

Bruce didn't rise to the bait. "They've been biding their time for over a decade," he said flatly. "They've had years to plot a strategy and iron out the details. I've been trying to play catch up over the last few days." His eyes seemed to drill into Dinah's. "Under the circumstances, I think it might be overly hasty to take anything for granted."

Tim cleared his throat. "Um… there's some bad news too," he admitted. "Or worse news, I guess. Those Black Glove people we turned over to GCPD? They escaped from holding about an hour ago."

"How are you holding up?" Batman's voice betrayed nothing as he kept his eyes on the road ahead.

Nightwing leaned back against the upholstery and tried not to fidget. "I'm managing," he said. The motion of the car was making him drowsy—at least he hoped that was what it was. He glanced out the window. "We're taking the New Trigate Bridge?" He asked. "But that goes over the Asylum to the mainland. Why…?"

Batman's lips pulled up in an uncharacteristic smile. "It's the only way to access the satellite cave on Arkham's lower level without going through the Asylum first." He paused a beat. "Once we get there, I have some things which may prove helpful.

His companion's head snapped sharply toward him. "You have a satellite cave," Nightwing kept his voice even, "on Arkham's lower level."

"You do know that before the Cataclysm, the main cave was part of a vast network of catacombs which extended beneath the city. The cave under Arkham is part of that same system. Before the quake collapsed many of the connecting passageways, it was a useful way to get to the asylum quickly and enter undetected." He made a sharp turn onto a dirt path as the car crossed over onto the mainland. "With the only clear access tunnel now on the mainland, though," he continued, "its usefulness as a base of operations has been compromised. I haven't used it since the No Man's Land ended."

Nightwing was grinning. "You have a bat cave on Arkham's lower level."

"It's not as well-equipped as some of the others, but it should be adequate for our needs." At the car's approach, a large boulder shifted to reveal a tunnel beyond. They drove in.

Batman emerged from the car to find his partner leaning against the side. "You're still managing?"

The younger man shot him an apologetic look. "I think we misjudged how long this downtime was going to last. I should be ready in a few minutes." He glanced around. It looked more like a storage room than a cave with its dark, dusty wooden furniture and overhead cobwebs.

"There's always been the risk of an inmate stumbling upon this place in a bid for freedom," Batman said. He slid a hand behind a heavy armchair with faded upholstery, feeling along the wall for a switch. "There. That's better."

Oaken armoires creaked open, revealing computer arrays, laboratory equipment and medical supplies. Flat surfaces slid back to disclose sinks and storage bins. Dick heard the low hum of an electric generator as the lights slowly came online. He whistled. "Nice."

"We're not going upstairs yet," Batman said. "We need to work everything out beforehand. With the odds we're going to be facing, we can't afford to make any mistakes." His star-lite lenses narrowed to white slits. "If you aren't feeling up to this, tell me. You can still sit this out."

Nightwing shook his head. "Not this time. And you know why."

A look of confusion came over Batman's face. "I… do?"

The grin was back. "Yeah. It's the same reason you are. I started performing under the big top when I was five. And my first night in front of the crowd, I was so excited I ran up that ladder to the trapeze… and I didn't chalk my hands first." He sighed. "I couldn't get a good grip on the swing and I fell into the net—and it wasn't a very graceful fall from what I remember." The smile dimmed. "I think I made it out of the ring before I started crying. I told my dad I was never going up there again." He chuckled. "Dad told me, in no uncertain terms, that I was going to be up on that trapeze again tomorrow, and I was going to get it right. Mom thought maybe I should wait a few days." His expression turned wistful. "I'll never forget what Dad said next. He told Mom that if he let me take a few days, that trapeze was going to look higher. And instead of concentrating on making the next leap, doing the next stunt, I'd be thinking about how far away the net was. And that what I had to do, before the fear set in, was take on the trapeze again and get it right. And I did," he finished. "Okay, maybe I hated my dad with every step I took up that ladder. Hated when he shoved me off the platform. Hated his making me do it over and over even after I nailed the stunt. But he wasn't wrong."

Nightwing took a step forward. "Batman, when I woke up in Cave Five and remembered what happened in Arkham, I panicked. And I'm not so sure, right now, that it's only the Thorazine after-effects that are making me feel this antsy. But if there's one thing I'm sure of, it's that I need to get back on that trapeze." He cocked his head to one side. "Tell me that's not what you're doing?"

Batman sighed. Then he walked over to one of the flat-screen consoles and pulled up a schematic. "This is a floor plan of the asylum. As you can see, the most logical places for them to plan an ambush would be…"

Nightwing sat on a leather couch and fought to keep his eyes open. This is ridiculous, he told himself. After fighting this hard to come along, you have to do this. Come on, you've worked cold, hungry, exhausted, injured… so what's 'a little doped up'? It was no use. When the low passed, he'd be able to take on an army of crazed inmates, but right now…

The couch creaked as Batman sat down. "Roll up your sleeve," he directed. He was holding a small syringe. "You are never to use this compound on your own," he said as Nightwing struggled to comply. "Drug interactions are risky. I've been waiting for Dr. Mid-Nite to corroborate my findings and confirm a safe dosage for you."

The younger man nodded. He didn't flinch at the slight stinging sensation when the needle entered. "What is it?" He asked.

"A more benign application for Professor Crane's research," Batman replied. "There are certain aspects both to his fear toxin and to our antidote for it, which provoke symptoms similar to those which you've been experiencing. Once I realized that, I contacted Doctor Mid-Nite with some theories. He and I have managed to build on Crane's initial findings, and isolate those specific combinations that will neutralize the symptoms you're experiencing. This injection should stabilize your energy swings." A brief smile cracked his composure, as he added, "you ought to start feeling the effects momentarily."


Batman's expression sobered. "Mid-Nite estimates that you'll have about an hour before the effects of the injection peak. It will wear off entirely within another sixty to ninety minutes. And he cautioned me that a second dose taken too soon after the first could be dangerous." He placed a hand on the younger man's shoulder. "The Thorazine needs to work its way out of your system in its own time. We can stave off the after effects for a limited period, but eventually, they will catch up with you."

Nightwing nodded. He was already feeling more alert. "So then the trick is to make sure we're well out of here before the two-hour mark." He flushed guiltily. "I think I zoned out before when you were going over the plan with me. Can I get a review?"

Batman helped him to his feet. "In all likelihood," he began, "we should be heading for one of the larger rooms, such as the gymnasium or the cafeteria. I think that we can expect to encounter resistance as we make our way toward them, but keep in mind that this is likely to be a gauntlet, rather than a line of defense…"

"So, how old is this Damien kid?" Roy asked.

There was a long pause. "Actually," Tim said over the comm-link, "that's kind of hard to say." He paused. "Chronologically, he should be about eight or nine. The first time we met, he looked it. But in the last couple of months, he's… put on about three years."

Roy grunted acknowledgement. "And Bruce wasn't exaggerating his abilities?"

Tim coughed. "He almost killed me in the cave. Don't tell Cassie or Rose."

"Got it," Dinah said. "Any word from Team One?"

"Just that they've made it onto the asylum grounds and they're getting ready. And Dick's okay," he added.

Roy brightened at that.

"Dinah," Tim said when the car was a quarter mile from the manor, "would you drive up to the west gate instead? Near the stables?"

"No problem. Reason?"

This time Tim sounded irritated. "They are so sure of themselves," he said. "I'm watching everything they're doing in the cave, and they're only paying attention to two of the security cameras on the array: the one for the front gate, and the one for the Batmobile parking bay." He snickered. "Let's give them a sur—oh no! No, get your grubby fingers off that trophy case, you little…"

Roy heard him take a deep breath.

"Sorry," Tim continued. As you can guess, there's not much love lost between Demon-spawn and me. Park next to the stables. I'll tell you how to get into the cave from there."

"Okay," Dinah said. "And Robin, like it or not, if he's Bruce's kid, I'm not sure you ought to be calling him 'De—"

"Dinah," Roy interrupted, "It still fits, you know it does."

Black Canary shook her head, but she couldn't help smiling. "Okay, we're parked behind the stables. Where to next?"

"I would have report of your progress, daughter."

Talia forced the scowl from her face before she looked up at the video display. "The systems are locked, father. And the servant has not yet returned." She hadn't been able to mask the irritation from her tone, however. "Our presence here serves little purpose. We should leave."

"Not until you have found the testament and verified the locations of any existing duplicates," Ra's snapped. "If the document purporting to name the detective's true son as his sole inheritor is to go uncontested, we must ensure that we do not hold the only existing copy of that will. The detective would not be so foolish as to have left a holographic, unwitnessed document behind. Those who know him best would never believe such a travesty."

"I realize that, father," Talia replied. "It would have been far simpler had the Black Glove been here upon our arrival, with the detective's body servant in the proper frame of mind to sign as witness to our version of the testament. Such would have bolstered our claim. But the Black Glove is not here. The servant has vanished. The security systems are, in fact, in stronger force than they have been in the past. In short, Father, your new allies have failed us. There is nothing for Damien and me to do here that cannot be better done elsewhere."

"Such as alert the father of your son, Talia?" The Demon's voice grew chilly. "Have a care, my daughter. Your loyalties are still in question. It would be better for you to accede to my instructions and give me no reason to doubt you."

Her lip trembled. "You would impugn my motives so, father? Have I not proven myself to you these past months? Did I not work tirelessly to restore you to the living? I am your devoted daughter, blood of your blood. Your goals are mine."

"See that you remember that," Ra's rasped. "Lest I decide that you are a poor influence on my grandson and take a more… direct role in his upbringing."

"Like sand through the hourglass…"

Talia whirled as she heard the voice from several yards behind her. A red-haired man stepped into view, followed closely by a blonde woman perhaps a decade older.

"Oh, no," He smiled affably. "Don't stop on our account. I'm sorry you're bored here, because I've got to say that this has to be one of the more interesting conversations I've heard in awhile."

"You got that right!" Another voice called from one floor up.

If anything, Talia's face grew paler. "Jason?"

Jason vaulted over the catwalk railing, and slid down his de-cel jumpline with a sneer on his face. "What is this?" He demanded. "A personas non-gratas convention?"

Roy started forward, angrily. "From what Mia's told me, you'd fit right in. What are you doing here?"

"Are you seriously asking me that? Last I looked, Bruce was still my legal daddy, if you want to get technical." He shrugged. "I'll admit I haven't been much of a son these last few years, but the relationship stands. At this moment, I've probably got more right to be here than any of you." He looked at each one in turn. "Hello, again, Talia." His voice was cold.

Talia put her hand to her mouth. "How can you speak in such a tone to me?" She asked faintly.

Jason took a step forward. "Oh, it's pretty easy," he said. "Considering what you had planned for me." He gave Damien a hard stare. "I didn't mind helping you train the little pipsqueak until I found out that his final exam was supposed to be snapping my neck."

"Untrue!" Damien shouted. "The method of your death was never specified."

"You're not helping your case, kid," Jason snarled.

"It wasn't!" The boy insisted. "I was actually planning to use a fast-acting poison, out of gratitude for your lessons. There would have been no pain—"

"Damien!" Talia exclaimed.

"One moment there, Ma'am," Roy drawled. "How's about we let the bad seed talk a little longer? I'm kinda interested in seeing where he goes with this."

"Damien, be silent," Talia ordered, sounding, for one moment, not unlike her father.

She held up her hands to Jason in what was meant to be a placating gesture. "True, those were my father's intentions," she admitted. "I could not defy him openly. But he—"

"Is still onscreen behind you," Dinah said neutrally.

The other woman gave a little cry and switched off the video display.

Jason smirked. "Nice try." He took a short spike out from one pocket of his bandoleer belt and hurled it at the console. It made an audible clank as it pushed a lever back. "You forgot about the audio channel, though. Now, where were we? Oh, right. You were about to remind me how you secretly helped me to escape Ra's' base of operations in the Sudan and get back to Gotham? After you'd done everything in your power to turn me against Bruce? You knew I couldn't take him, then, but I bet you figured I didn't." He grinned at Talia's furious expression. "What was the plan? After he and I met up again and he saw how much I'd changed, you were going to commiserate with him, and… what? Introduce him to Damien as the 'son he should have had'?"

"NO!" Two bright spots of color appeared on her cheeks. "I was…"

Jason waited expectantly.

"Once I knew my father's plans for you, I realized that you were not safe within the compound—so I arranged your flight to Gotham…"

"All the while encouraging me to confront Bruce and giving me the funds and weapons to make me think I'd have a real shot." He smirked. "Sorry, lady. The brain damage got fixed in the Lazarus pit."

He looked at Roy and Dinah. "I don't care whether you believe me or not, to be honest, but I really did stop by to talk to Bruce. Some…" For the first time, his cockiness faltered. "Look. A lot of things happened in the last year that got me thinking. I've been trying to find a reason to pop in and I was finally in the neighborhood, today." He frowned. "I hopped the fence out where the kitchen gardens are—thought maybe Alfred would be picking a salad, or something. After I'd been on the grounds ten minutes without getting challenged, I figured something was up, so I came down here." He spun to face Talia and Damien again. "And guess what I overheard?"

Talia actually stamped her foot. "You… dolt!" She shrilled. "Of course I had to tell my father I was working for him—he'd never have allowed me—or Damien out of his sight, otherwise. Do you really think that I would allow those… those… base knaves to destroy my beloved?"

She turned appealing brown eyes on Roy. "Don't you see? I'm on your side!"

Roy raised an eyebrow. "Why? Have we started winning?" He grinned. "Good to know."

"You'll have to excuse my team-mate," Dinah said smoothly. "He's worked for Checkmate, you see, and it's given him a sixth sense about when somebody's planning to stab him in the back." She gave the other woman her sweetest smile. "I don't trust you either." She sighed. "Unfortunately, we can't call the cops on you for breaking in here, for the obvious reason. And we've no proof that you've done anything else illegal—at least nothing that's likely to stand up in court. So, since we can't exactly kill you—"

"Speak for yourself, Blondie."

"Shut up, Todd." She turned back to Talia. "We're going to see you off the manor grounds. If you're smart, you'll be on the next plane, boat, train, or boom tube out of Gotham."

"Please, be smart," Roy said. "I see we're going to have our hands full keeping Resurrection-Boy away from you, and, frankly, we've got enough to deal with."

"I can help you!"

Dinah sniffed. "Sure you can. Right up to the point when it becomes convenient to sell us out for your father." Her tone hardened. "Here's your choice: the road… or a cell on the JLA Watchtower."

Talia looked from one set of implacable eyes to another. She drew herself up haughtily. "Come, Damien," she commanded. "We are leaving." They stalked toward the elevator.

"Good riddance," Jason muttered. Roy grinned at him. The three turned to the security array, watching as the al-Ghuls made their exit. It wasn't until the main gate closed behind Talia's blue Maserati that Jason cleared his throat.

"How's Alfred?" He asked.

"Safe," Dinah said. "He'll be fine."

Jason sighed, visibly relieved. "Good. Where's…"

"Facing insurmountable odds. Wanna help him triumph over them?"

Jason's eyes widened at Roy's friendly tone. "You're asking me to come with you?"

"Well," Roy shrugged, "if you don't mind a little madness and mayhem." His tone grew serious. "Batman and Nightwing went to confront the Black Glove in Arkham. They could be in trouble. I'm not sure how much I can trust you, but I don't think there's much love lost between you and the inmates—and if it's down to a choice between someone who might cut and run on me or someone who'll put a knife in the back of an ally as quick as look at them, I think we're better off with you."

This time, the smile was genuine. Jason reached into his pocket, pulled out a red domino mask and put it on. "Let's go."

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