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The Longest Night

By Christopher Scott

Action / Thriller

Chapter 1


October 20, 18:00 EDT

The sun slowly set over the old city, casting long shadows from the tall buildings all around. Hidden among these shadows on the far side of a Wayne Tech Laboratories building a lone figure sat, masked in shadows. The skies grew darker and darker, subtle blues fading to purple as clouds of gold swam through a sea of lavender, till the sun eclipsed itself over the horizon suspending the city in a temporary darkness. One by one, lights blink on and slowly bring the city to life, shrugging off the daylight and welcoming the night with soft, distant fluorescence. The figure in the shadows was illuminated suddenly under the bright lights of the Wayne tech labs building. He was a man clad in black armor and a thin black mask covering sapphire blue eyes. The bright blue bird on his chest was the only indicator as to who the man was, Nightwing. He lunged from the building, a shadow falling through the night sky.

Richard loved it, the feeling of falling. Wind whipping past him, he was soaring through the air as if the ground didn't matter. Twisting against the wind, he pulled a grappling hook from the arch of his back and aimed the device at the roof of the building across from him. Like a bullet, the length of cable shot out and embedded itself into the hard cement. The tensioner on the device kicked in, gradually slowing the man's fall 'till he swung and lowered completely to the ground with a soft tap on the roof of the building below. Richard immediately burst forward rejoicing in the pleasure of using his body, erasing his thoughts and relying on instinct. He neared the edge and without hesitation lunged; he landed on the other side rolling as he hit, never losing pace. This was freedom.

Richard loved his city. He and Jason had worked hard to cleanse it of organized crime and it had paid off. The biggest problems he faced now a days where petty criminals, street thugs, and the occasional villain making a visit from some of the other major cities. Truth is, it seemed more and more like this city didn't need him any longer. He landed hard on the next building's rooftop, allowing himself to take in the splendor of the city skyline at night. A full moon hung low casting luminous rays out towards the structures, suspending the night in an eerie twilight glow.

That's when he heard the scream. A small child hunched over as he cried under the dull yellow of a streetlamp, both parents lying in a pool of their own blood. Richard froze lost in the memories of his own parent's death.

The loving couple broken, spread on the ground like rag dolls, tossed aside with no care and him in the middle, shocked, frozen, unable to move, The gravity of everything crushing his small child's body, his brain attempting to reconcile the steady sense of realization about the fall, fifty feet, so many feet, no way to survive. He kneeled there in the in blood, so much blood, too much blood; the realization final hits him: nothing was ever going to be the same. A dark figure approached him but he was lost to the world. Ears like a bat and wings like shadows. He scooped him up into two powerful arms and pulled him close, tearing him from the horrific sight.

He jumps off of his rooftop perch and lands on the ground with a hard thud, startling the boy from his grieving. The child's wide, watery eyes gaze up at the figure before him and he whimpers between soft sobs, "please don't hurt me." Richard's eyebrows relax, his face softens. "I'm not the bad guy kid. I'm here to help," he says as he moves towards the boy's parents. The father was closest. He begins by assessing his injury: head shot, between the eyes, fatal. He quickly moves to the mother, fingers to wrist, checking for life. Richard feels a soft thud-thud, a weak movement but a movement nonetheless.

He works quickly, looking over the wound. The bullet is lodged in her collar bone, close to her heart. Pulling a small canister from the pouch on his hip he sticks the device in to the wound, pulling the trigger and allowing the foam-like adhesive to expand and close the wound. The woman winces slightly. 'Good she's reactive' Richard thought. He pulled an epi pen from his pouch and jabbed it into the woman's heart. Her pulse quickly increasing till her eyes burst open and a she took in a large breath.

It was twenty minutes before an ambulance showed up, the boy holding on to him, refusing to let him go back on patrol. "Looks like you did good work. The mothers going to be ok, it's a shame about the father though." Nightwing couldn't bring himself to look at the Medics zipping up a black bag over the thing that used to be a human being, the thing that used to be some ones father.

He had to get out of there, and he did disappearing into the shadows unseen and rising to the rooftops. He needed something anything to get what had happened off his mind. So he made his way across the rooftops again striving to find something anything worth his time. That's when his communicator rang.

He pulled the display up on his arm looking at the face that greeted him, Aqualad, a friend that went by the name of Kaldur. "Dick its Barbra… she's been hurt. We need you back at the Tower."


October 20, 20:34EDT

Richard faded in from the machine, nothing but a bunch of particles instantly replicated from a faraway distance and brought forth here. "Recognized Nightwing B01," The machine spoke as he stepped forward. "Nightwing," Richard looked over to see Aqualad walking towards him. "It's good to see you old friend, I only wish it was under better circumstances," Aqualad said his soulful gray eyes searching for some kind of emotion from his friend. "Where is she?"

"Intensive care, we have some of the best doctors and healers working on her," Kaldur said leading Richard towards the infirmary. "What happened?" Kaldur let out a sigh, "We recently had a small team hack into a Lex Corp company that was a front for the distribution of the meta-gene tracking agent formerly known as the sports drink Reach. From the information, we were able to tell that a transport of some kind was going to be taking place at the Gotham pier. Batgirl having the most experience with the area was the most logical choice to lead the mission. We believe the shipment was a set up. Barbra went missing but we finally found her floating in the Gotham River. We believe she used the water ways to escape her attacker."

They had finally arrived at the medical wing just in front of the emergency operations room. The first thing Richard saw was Tim, the current Robin. He was holding a distraught and sobbing Wonder Girl against his chest. "They're operating on her now. I… I don't know how she's doing. They won't tell me," Tim said, his tears and anguish hidden by the thin mask covering his eyes.

Richard moved towards the door's that refused to open by his approach. Quickly opening the visual display on his glove he effortlessly hacked the door and was greeted with the sight that had haunted his adolescence. Barbra, a girl he had known since he was nine, lay in the center of a wide room surround by a group of doctors who worked like the cogs in a clock. Zatanna stood behind them chanting softly, rivulets of sweat flowing down her brow, enchanted words escaping her concentrated lips.

Zatanna collapsed exhausted letting out a loud breath of air. She moved towards the man she loved resting her face against his collar bone as she held him in a tight embrace as she spoke, the thick doors closing behind her, "Dick, the doctor's don't know if she's going to make it."

Richard felt the world closing in around him. His mind went blank, drowning out everything. The mechanical yelps and orders of the doctors impersonally working, the soft sobs of the girl on Tim's arm, even the woman speaking to him now, they all might as well have been thousands of miles away. "Who did this," Richard said not allowing himself to look away from the thick doors separating from the horrific sight he had just seen moments ago. Zatanna couldn't bring herself to look at Richard as she spoke, "Dick, it won't change any…" "WHO DID THIS TO HER," He yelled his anger finally boiling over, causing Zatanna to flinch. "It was the Joker." Richard could feel gravity shift below his feet, throwing the world into a chaotic state that mirrored his own mind.

He remembered Jason. Remembered what had happened to him. He had seen the aftermath a corpse so mangled that they were forced to have a closed casket.

"Where is Bruce?"

"Off world." Richard turned moving back towards the Zeta tubes, each step growing progressively quicker with fierce determination.

His route was cut off by Aqualad. "Don't do this," his friend said. Dick's eyes narrowed. "You have fifteen seconds to get out of my way before I shut down the entire Watchtower and send this damn thing plunging through the Earth's atmosphere."

Kaldur knew what this man was capable of. "Dick I can't let you do this. Even when Tula died I didn't…" "I'm going down there whether you like it or not even if I have to go through you to do it," Richard shouted letting his once bright eyes dim menacingly like a deep ocean in the middle of a storm.

Kaldur moved allowing Richard to pass before he spoke. "I hope you know what you're doing." Richard stepped forward as the machine asked, "Where would you like to go?"

"Gotham." He felt the electric tingle in his body as he faded into nothing and was sent accelerating towards his destination.

Gotham City

October 20, 21:52 EDT

The bass echoes through the alleyway as Richard draws steadily closer to the club. A huge line wraps around the building and each person in it stares wide-eyed at the costumed figure that slowly and effortlessly makes his way to the entrance. "Sir, you're not on the list," the clubs bouncer says as he places a firm hand the size of his head on his shoulder, "I suggest you leave". His black shades hide his eyes but not the deep scowl his brows make as they pull together. The man stands well over a foot taller than Richard and looms over him with fierce intimidation. He wastes no time. Quickly shifting on the balls of his feet his muscles set off like a wave tightening throughout his body and he throws everything into a powerful uppercut that sends the giant's head bouncing around like a bobble head before he crashes to the floor.

Normally he would have followed with a clever quip about letting himself in but now was not the time for childish antics. 'No more games' Richard thought to himself as he opened the doors, letting the music wash over him in loud thumps and pulses that caused his hairs to stand on end. He turns at the end of the long hallway and gazes at the huge dance floor.

People move like shadows in the contrast of the bright lights as they dance to the steady beat of the music. This was the Iceberg Lounge. Richard forcefully makes his way through the crowd, pushing patrons out of his way as he steadily draws nearer to the clubs VIP section. Two huge-muscled guards stand at the entrance barring his path. Both rest a steady hand on the grips of the guns tucked in their holsters in reaction to the costumed man before them. Richard sizes them up, quickly running combat scenarios in his head for the imminent fight. One of the guards looks away thumbing the Bluetooth in his ear. "Yes sir," the man says. He reaches over to his friend, gives a nod to the man next to him, and returns his gaze to the dark haired man before him. "He will see you now," he says as they both step aside and allow him entrance upstairs.

Richard walks up the long steps to the second floor and sees the big man himself, sitting in a chair on a balcony overlooking the entire club. Without turning around he gestures for the young man to sit before him. Richard takes his seat with his back towards the crowd bellow. Richard eyes the man before him. His face is obscured by shadows. Only the broken bottle-end embedded in his eye he calls a monocle glints in the darkness. "Coblepot," Richard said. The man smiles his toothy grin, each enameled square shining in the dark like the Cheshire cat. As he leans forward he places both his elbows on the table in front of him. Richard observes the man sitting before him. Everything about this man screams control; his graying black hair combed back not a single hair out of place, the absence of wrinkles on the entirety of his clothing, the steady breathing. "Honestly, I am surprised to find you here," he spoke steadily with his thick Cockney accent, "If anything, I was expecting an older friend of mine." Richard's gaze never falters, "I need information." Coblepot lets out a deep, throaty laugh, "I know why you're here, boy. The question is what do you have to offer me in return for the Joker's location?" Coblepot's grin grows as he perks one of his eyebrows and takes a long drag from the cigar curled between his lips. “Word is Joker got the drop on the girl.” He slowly exhales out a long thick cloud of smoke that washes over Richards face. “That man has killed thousands of people… thousands, one thousands of those on a single day and now what you’re going to kill The Joker.”  Richard smiles back- but not his normal boyish smile, one with a deep predatory gleam to it.

 "Well rumor has it, with the bat out of town that an incredibly large shipment of illegal arms is going to be coming into Gotham tonight." Coblepot lets loose a hoarse chuckle, "Please, I'm just a modest club owner." Richard slams a firm fist on the table, "Okay let's not pretend that I don't know exactly how you make your money. You can continue to waste my time and I can spend this night and every night that follows making your life a living hell, or you can tell me what I need to know and not only will this night go as you've planned but," Richard leans back in his chair, "the fact that the guy that gave you that wonderful accessory you carry in your eye socket will be out of the picture, forever." Coblepot's eyes widen. Gently he raises his finger to his eye, tracing the edge of the glass' base, lost in a daze as if the bottle was a key to some long lost memory. The pain was still there, a constant reminder to never underestimate the crazies that this city turned out. It had been twelve years since it started.

Gotham City, Eleven years prior

Back then Coblepot had been a young 25 year old man starting out in Gotham. He had invested almost the entirety of his family's fortune into the purchasing of the building now called The Iceberg Lounge. His studies in finances had made him the ideal candidate for a steady career in money laundering. His exclusive club caught the attention of the Maroni crime syndicate. Soon his reputation spread and he had gained clients such as the Dimitrov, the Beretti, the Bertinelli, and the Falconi's. Coblepot's Club soon became a neutral ground for mutual business amongst these men. As Coblepot's wealth grew he began pushing for more soon expanding into the arms trade. The Iceberg Lounge's frequent criminal guests led his club to become the biggest pool of information in the entirety of Gotham. Soon expanding his empire Coblepot became the most reliable information broker in the city but this was long before it was considered normal to see men in costumes fighting in the streets, long before the Bat and the Joker. Eleven years had passed but he remembered the event like it was yesterday. It was the second year anniversary of The Iceberg Lounge's grand opening and Oswald Coblepot had plenty to celebrate. His exclusive nightclub had become the hottest spot in all of Gotham not to mention his recent financial successes in his other more illicit business practices. The biggest players in Gotham where invited even the more flash of the bunch but the biggest news was that the Joker himself would be attending. The club was alive almost taking on a life all its own. The Joker sauntered in and pulled the gaze of every party-goer with his painted face and wild eyes. His insanity intoxicated. His laugh bubbled through the club, colliding with the bass and amplified until the walls were drenched with it, his scattered yelps echoing off every beat.

Coblepot had been excited like a child playing with fire, too entranced to look past the beauty of it and see the imminent danger.

The joker strutted up the steps wearing his trade mark purple slacks and vest over a moss green shirt and impossibly wide smile. "Hello Cobie. Lovely party you got here." The Joker took the chair at the table in front, spun it around and placed both his legs on either side as he leaned forward and rested his elbows on the top of the seat, "Me and Croc haven't had this much fun since that time we poisoned the Gotham reservoir." A monster of a man, if you could call him that, strode in behind the joker. His name was Waylon Jones, the killer Croc. He stood seven feet tall with an impossibly muscular frame. He wore a dark shirt straining against the bulging rock-like muscles underneath with dark faded jeans.

Coblepot was well aware of this individual's colorful past. Jones was born with the rare disease Harlequin Ichthosi. The disease created thick hardened diamond shaped skin that covered the entire body. Normal living no longer an option due to his frightful appearance, Jones found his place as a sideshow freak in the local circus. That was until one day the entire Circus was found dead and Waylon disappeared without a trace. It had not been until recently that he had resurfaced in Gotham as the Joker's muscle.

"Hell I can't even remember how many people died that day." The Joker giggled at the memory. Jones spoke in deep husky voice, "It was six hundred and twenty five." The joker playfully slapped Crocs massive arm, "you know Croc that's why I love having you around. I have such a horrible memory. Honestly how many times have I lost the detonator? Hell I'd lose my smile if it wasn't permanently attached to my face." The two men erupted into laughter; the Joker's high pitched crackles an eerie contrast to his friend's deep barks, their laughter contagious till it infected Coblepot with coarse grunts. "Also you're better at numbers than I am. I mean remember the time you filed my taxes. Ho, the IRS would have been all over my ass, kind of like a certain pointy eared bat on a bad day."

As the three men sat there laughing as slender woman wearing a black slacks and white button up approached them. Her auburn hair pulled away from her face in an elegant bun revealing piercing green eyes the color of the deepest forest. Her flawless porcelain skin a stark contrast to her plump rosy lips that pursed into an elegant smile. She spoke softly, "what can I get for you boys?" She gave Coblepot a subtle wink. The Joker Grinned swinging a leg over the back till he was sitting sideways on the chair facing the young woman, "Well I will have a glass of chocolate milk and a large apple pie. What about you Croc, old boy?" His eyes never left the table. "I'll just take a beer and some meat, freshest you have," He said, brandishing a menacing grin full of sharp, pointed teeth rivaling any predator. The woman felt that if the man felt like it, that grin could be the last thing she ever saw. She grimaced, "I'll see what I can do. What about you, mister Coblepot?" Coblepot raised two blue eyes to meet her green. "I'll just take a bottle a brandy and some glasses, Alice." She smiled softly and gave him a nod. "I'll make sure to get your order out as soon as possible." Coblepot smiled, "Thank you Alice."

Minutes later Alice had returned flowing through the sea of patrons like a boat lost in a storm, her platter balanced and held firmly against her shoulder. She made her way past the guards slowly taking each step carefully and gracefully. As she made it to the top she could still hear the three men laughing their heads off. She gave a soft playful smile shaking her head. It was the first time Alice had seen her boss actually having a good time. He had always been so serious, so driven, never taking time to enjoy his success till now. It was lost in these thoughts that she made her first mistake, accidently dropping the small glass of chocolate milk. The liquid ran over the table spilling onto the Joker's lap. He stared at it one eyebrow raised slightly.

Alice panicked, pulling a rag from her waste pocket and frantically trying to get at the mess that she had made all over him. "Oh my god Mr. Joker, I am so sorry," she said as she made small soft jabs on the Joker's no longer smiling face. "I'll get this cleaned up right away and I can pay for the suit to be dry- cleaned, I…" The Joker put a soft finger to her lips cutting her off. His smile was there now, soft and sensual "It's ok, don't worry about. I wouldn't want to see you crying over spilled milk now. You need to relax more," The joker said putting soft hand on her chin pulling her gaze to his eyes. His eyes were green but unnatural compared to Alice's. They glowed like a neon light for a dirty cheap motel, one she could only imagine going to in the depths of self-loathing. His eyes held her there for a second, hypnotizing and mysterious. "Stop for a minute…," he said as he pulled a small orchid out of his vest, "and smell the roses." The joker passed the flower to Alice and she held it breathlessly in her hands. It was beautiful. The Orchid was blood red at the tips and melted into a brilliant copper orange as it drew in towards the center. Small green leaves of the darkest shade jutted out on each side. Alice was entranced by the flower's vibrant colors and seemingly magical appearance. She held it close to her nose and breathed in deeply. The smell was subtly beautiful almost like a perfume. She breathed out letting the fragrance slowly leave her nose, savoring it; just then the flower moved, vibrating slightly spraying a warm liquid in her face. Alice was stunned, she looked at the Joker incredulously to find his painted face smiling softly, giggling lightly; she nervously started laughing along with him. "I guess we're even then, huh?" Alice said still letting a small smile form to her face. That's when the Jokers grin grew bigger and his eyes took on a sinister gleam before saying, "Well, not quite." At first it was barely noticeable. She slowly began to feel the loss of muscle movement on her face. Each nerve grew numb like they were being deadened one by one. Her lips hanging loosely apart as a steady stream of drool leaked from her face. Raising a slow steady hand she rubbed the sides of her cheek. She felt nothing but a soft wetness on the palm of her hand. She gazed at it, the object in her hand. A small chunk of pale white flesh coated in crimson rested in her palm. Her eyes grew wide in shock as the saggy piece of flesh dripped from her hand and landed on the floor making a soft wet smack. "You like the flower? It's from a friend of mine. Pamela does come up with the best party gags" Coblepot rushed to the screaming woman's side trying to calm her and assess the situation as chunk after chunk of flesh fell from her flawless face, splattering against the floor as she continually wailed. "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?" Coblepot yelled as two large men emerged from the shadows. "Awe, come now Cobie I told the girl to smell the flowers not push the daises. I can't see how you could possibly blame this on me," the joker said producing an artificial and comically exaggerated frown. Alice started convulsing on the floor, jerking frantically as drool and flesh oozed across bone and teeth, exposing her partially decayed face. She ceased movement as Coblepot drew her closer into his arms, uttering a soft, "no…" before raising a hardened gaze towards the clown prince of crime. The joker raised a small finger to his bottom lip twisting it about as he pulled his knees together and hunching over, feigning innocence like a child from a sixties television comedy. "I'm sorry. I didn't realize I was such a 'lady killer'," The Joker said as he erupted in to hysterical laughter. Coblepot's rage boiled over as he still clutched the dead woman against his chest. "WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? KILL THEM!" Waylon Jones had already crossed the room before the men had started reaching for their guns. Grabbing both by their necks he picked them up off the ground, snapping one man's neck effortlessly as he plunged his teeth in to the others. He ripped tendon and flesh, the man let out a blood curdling scream as he drowned, choking in his own blood. Coblepot looked at the massacre before him, two of his best men where dead in only a matter of seconds. Laying Alice down gently, he rose from his knees and rolled up his sleeves. Getting in a boxing stance he squared up with the Joker, throwing a strong right hook that sent him rolling to the floor. "Awe jeez Cobie, is that any way to treat your guest,” The Joker said with a wicked smile as he smeared a small streak of blood from his lower lip. A thick vain was throbbing on Coblepot's head as he shot Joker a death glare, "SHUT UP YOU DAMN FREAK! I brought you in here and treated you like a damned equal. AND THIS IS HOW YOU REPAY ME!" Two strong arms seized Coblepot and pulled him down to his knees. The Joker grabbed a beer bottle from the table and popped the top off between his teeth, "the problem here is, is that you think you and I are anywhere in the same league." The Joker took a long swig from the bottle emptying almost half of its contents before he spoke, "You're just a relic, a fossil if you will. You and Black mask may try to follow in my footsteps but you can't." The Joker leaned in close to Coblepot's ear letting beer breath wash over him. Coblepot was paralyzed with fear unable to move. "You people, only care about money. That's your downfall." The Joker eased back finishing the small bottle and letting out a loud burp. "You know what don't take my word for it. You really want to see what it's like to be in the big leagues? Let me give you the ability to see into our world," the joker said smashing the tip of the bottle against the table, letting out a shower of glass. Seizing Coblepot by the scruff of his shirt he pulled him in close leveling the broken bottle close to his eye. "Now hold still this won't hurt a bit," The Joker said as slowly pushed the bottle through his eye socket, twisting it steadily and savoring the sweet cries of pain that Coblepot let out. "Well we're done here." The Joker said walking away from Coblepot's unmoving form. The joker picked up two of the guns from the guards, holding the gun upside down in such a way that his pinky was on the trigger. "Come on Croc; let's show these people a real good time." Coblepot could only watch as the Joker and Jones made their way through the crowd shooting patrons and staff alike. The Joker's hysterical laughter rose above it all, drowning the crowd as it had upon his arrival. It drenched Coblepot's memory like a bad smell.

Fifty two peoples died that day including Alice.

"ARGHHH!" Coblepot bellows as he slams both fists on the table leveling a death glare at the cocky boy before him. Two men step forward out of the shadows in the corners of the balcony, hands on their guns ready to pull. Coblepot raises his hand dismissing them away; they slowly immerse themselves back into darkness. "What's wrong struck a nerve?" Richard said, a sly grin pulling at the corners of his mouth. "Alright… Boy. What do you intend to do, huh? Tell me! Your mentor has had the last ten years to end this plague that's hit the streets of Gotham and he has allowed that Nightmare to nearly push his kill total to the quadruple digits, Hell even when he killed the little bird boy neither of you heroes did anything."

Dick felt it in his core, the memory of Jason's death fueling his rage. He stood up grabbing Coblepot by the scruff of his shirt. "Enough Games Coblepot," Richard yelled, "you're going to tell exactly what I want to know." Coblepot leveled a death glare at Richard. "You just made the biggest mistake of your life," Coblepot said snapping his fingers.

Richard barely had time to react. He heard the loud thud behind him and turned quickly. The man was death; it was the only way to describe him. He stood eleven feet tall, His skin an ashy gray and his body covered in stitches as each flap of flesh was sown tightly shut, his charcoal hair sleeked back and shown with a greasy shine. The Creature smiled revealing row after row of yellow decayed teeth and that's what it was not a man but a monster. Normal people would have been terrified by such a sight but Richard was not an ordinary man. He'd seen the darkness this world wrought and Gotham bred some of the worst horrors imaginable. Back then he was nine, now he was twenty.

He rushed the creature throwing a savage barrage of attacks that would have crippled a normal man but the creature never showed a sign of even registering the pain. It picked him up, throwing him from the balcony and down to the dance floor below. Landing roughly on his back he watched as people spread out creating a giant circle. "You think you can mess with me in my own club," Coblepot yelled looking down at the man bellow, "One million dollars to whichever one of you out there brings me his head. Oh and DJ I want the music nice and loud!" Coblepot grabbed the nearest chair flipping it around so he could sit down and see everything, lighting a thick cigar and puffing out a huge cloud of smoke. The patrons stood there at first and Richard could see the uncertainty in their eyes. If there was one thing that Richard knew about Gotham City it was that there were two things that the patrons held above everything else, fear and money- right now he had to compete with one million dollars. He smiled to himself, 'too easy'. The first cocky fool moved on him throwing a wild swing that he reached out and grabbed moving to the outside and breaking the arm effortlessly in three places, sending the man into a sprawled heap on the dance floor.

He looked back at the crowd pulling his eskrima sticks from his thigh pouch and getting in a fighting stance, "so who's next," he shouted flipping the button on the side so an arc of electricity formed between the two sticks. A majority of the people left leaving only a small group of twenty-four. Richard let a small grin pull at his face. He was going to enjoy this. They rushed him, a move he was prepared for and expecting. He flipped over the first using the man's shoulders to propel him up and into the middle cutting straight to the rear of the group sending a fury of quick precision hits that wounded or incapacitated whoever it hit. He had already taken down half of them in those short twenty seconds it took to make it to the other side of the room.

"God, you people are useless," he said as he brought his gaze over to the creature and shouted, "GRUNDY KILL HIM!" The creature jumped down off the balcony impacting the dance floor leaving small cracks beneath his feet. The few people who were left ran fleeing the scene as fast as they could.

Richard knew ordinary tactics wouldn't work on this man. He readied himself for the inevitable attack, the two standing perfectly motionless. "KILLLLL," the creature grumbled then charged raising both hands high in the air. They came down with intent to crush Richard but hit nothing but the hard dance floor leaving a large dent. Richard rolled out of the way moving behind the creature and firing out a grappling hook at the creatures exposed back. The device lifted him off his feet and sent shooting towards the creature. Slapping two explosive disks to either side of its face he flipped off his back landing in front of it before the two explosives went off.

Richard turned back his eyes growing wide with horror. The creature still stood there, parts of its face hanging on in thick rubber clumps, dull eyes bulging out and teeth made for bone crunching. The exposed bone shone through like polished marble. "Hohohoho, you can't kill Grundy boy. He's already dead," Coblepot shouted from the balcony above.

The creature threw his large hand forward, effortlessly picking up the costumed vigilante and throwing him across the dance floor, sending him crashing into the bar.

'What is this thing? how is it possible,' these thoughts plagued Richard. He had to kill it. He saw the unopened whiskey bottle on the floor reaching for it. He could hear the creature's footsteps drawing closer. Vaulting over the counter he threw the whiskey bottle just above the creatures head smashing it open with a Night disk. Shards of broken glass and the warm liquid rained down on the creature as a second disk imbedded itself in the creature's forehead. The resulting explosion set the creature ablaze till he was a hulking mass of flames from the shoulder up.

Richard charged the creature throwing his entire weight into a powerful kick that shattered the creature's knee caps and broke its right leg. It fell to the floor struggling to get back up. Richard reacted quickly leaping into the air and landing on the creature's chest. Spinning his eskrima sticks downwards he plunged them into the creatures eyes straight through till it pierced its brain. The creature's hands immediately dropped to the floor with a heavy thud.

Coblepot couldn't believe what had just happened. Millions he'd spent on the perfect weapon to deal with the crazies in the city and the boy blue had destroyed it in under a minute. Well Coblepot always had a backup plan. He flipped over the table and reaching for the M230 he had strapped underneath. He held the large gun in his hands, walking to the edge of the balcony. "You think you can fuck with me here? This is my town," he shouted aiming down the sight and squeezing the trigger, propelling round after round at the masked vigilante.

Richard barely had time to react. Looking up he saw Coblepot, shouting and the holding an M230 rifle. Richard's blood ran cold. Quickly pulling his grappling hook he shot the device out and squeezed the trigger allowing it to shoot him across the floor and into the shadows. Here he was in his domain.

"Where the hell are you," Coblepot yelled scanning the shadows. The Music was too loud he couldn't hear anything. He aimed the rifle at the DJ's booth and firing the grenade launcher attachment towards.

The round flew forward hitting in the booth and letting out a loud explosion. Silence grew the only sound the smoldering pieces of wood and the burning pieces of flesh from his abomination. He didn't even hear the figure closing in on him from inside the shadows behind him.

Richard use the strobes and the flashing lights to time his movements, making his way from shadow to shadow, in between sporadic flashes. Silently he made his way to the edge of the balcony propelling himself upwards and flipping over the edge. Richard moved like lighting charging at Coblepot with full speed.

Coblepot barely had time to turn around as he was assaulted by a torrent of unrelenting punches that sent his weapon flying in to the distance and him over the edge. He landed on his back impacting the hard dance floor below letting out a loud grunt.

Richard watched as Coblepot unsuccessfully tried to reach for his gun but cut him off with a forceful lunge from the high balcony, landing on his chest, breaking a few ribs. "Tell me where he is Coblepot. He's the only one I want."

"Go to hell wonder boy."

Richard could feel his frustration growing again as he reached and placed steady fingers around the man's beer bottle 'monocle'. "Oh really," He said giving it a light thump relishing in the pain it caused Coblepot. Richard grabbed each side and began twisting the bottle.

"AHHHHH. The Carnival, the Gotham Carnival!"

"Now that wasn't so bad," Richard said burying his fist in the man's face and knocking him out.

Gotham City

October 21, 02:52 EDT

He stood before the carnival. 'Why here,' Richard thought to himself. His journey tonight would end where it all started for him, The Gotham carnival. Nightwing blended with the shadows and moved closer and closer to the entrance. "Hello, Joker here," the voice echoing from the loud speaker all around, "Today we are celebrating a very special occasion. As you all know or hell maybe you don't, a female bat had a very nasty accident. A certain pointy eared guest should be attending and I would like you all to be polite and courteous to my 'special guest'. Also remember to give him a couple of good souvenirs like a few broken bones, a black eye, hell maybe even some internal bleeding. Besides we can't have the Bat thinking that Black Mask or Coblepot throw better parties than us now can we?" Richard's blood boiled, but now wasn't the time for that anger to be unleashed yet, he would store it away in the back of his heart and let it grow until he was ready to use it. Now was the time for deadly precision. First things first infiltrate the joker's HQ. No disturbances. The joker couldn't know he was coming.

He moved through the shadows, his movements silent and precise. Sliding from stand to stand taking out every thug he ran into as he drew closer and closer, making his way from the entrance towards the old circus tent. He could feel a pull towards there, his gut telling him he was drawing nearer to the Joker's hide out.

"Oh you can come out now bats," the Joker said not turning around. "You know it's funny I wasn't able to tell when you were around back in the golden days, but you want to know what I realized?" The joker slowly spun around on his feet staring straight into the shadows where Richard was hiding, "It's always quieter when your sulking in those lovely shadows you find soooo appealing." Just then joker heard a quick pulsing beeping behind him. Turning around his eyes focused on a small bladed disk imbedded in the wall in front of him. His eyes growing wide with realization then shrinking again leaving him only enough time to mutter, "oh pooh" before the explosion sent him flying from his feet and landing on the rotting hard wood floor with a, "oomph."

Nightwing gunned out of the shadows, muscles exploding and grabbed the joker by his pasty pale throat, and pulled him closer to his face so he could see clearly the rage that boiled in his eyes. The Joker's eyes cleared as he snapped out of his daze and began chuckling as he realized who his attacker was, "HAHAHAHAHA you? Seriously you know it's funny, really. Here I was expecting the big bad Bat. Hoping against everything that this would finally push him over the edge and bring him to my side of the game, but you, you're the one whose here to finish it. Oh this is great. No, I mean it seriously this has got to be the greatest punch line yet. Here I go through all this trouble to get the big man to this point and I get you, the lighthearted cheerful one." The joker starts crackling between his sentences, "I mean seriously… you! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA." Richard clamps his hand tighter around the joker's throat cutting off his air ways, his laughter now only a crackled cough until, nothing. His eyes growing wider, his grin growing impossibly bigger until it seems to consume his face, that was when he heard it- ticking growing louder and louder, until finally Richard heard a low growl beneath his feet. Huge hands exploded from the rotting floorboard clasping around his ankles and pulling him down through the desecrated floor boards, into the darkness and slamming him to the ground. His vision adjusted to the new found darkness as he slowly shuffled back onto his hands and knees, turning his head towards his attacker. His eyes stared straight into the eyes of Waylon Jones aka 'The Killer Croc'. His two fierce eyes glaring at him like a predator, as he curled his lips revealing row after row of razor sharp teeth. He stood seen feet tall, a giant amongst normal men. His white muscle tee stained with the dried blood of previous victims, his brown slacks soaked to the knee, and his huge bulging muscles straining against tight skin like they were ready to rip from their host at any moment. "Hello, Boy" he said lifting both powerful arms in the air. Dick quickly rolled out of the way as the arms smashed down where he had been only a few moments ago. Acting quickly he threw three small pellets that attached to his arm, freezing them together. Croc leveled a death glare at Nightwing. His scowl grew deeper, as he charged like a bull letting out a massive roar. Dick quickly back flipped out of the way as croc slammed into a support beam, shattering the ice and freeing his hands. He quickly spun around backhanding Nightwing straight into the wall knocking the wind out of him. Nightwing fell to the ground struggling to recover as two strong hands grabbed him by both arms, lifting him up as Croc shoved his powerful jaws around his shoulder. "ARGHHH," Richard screamed in pain as he tried desperately to punch Croc in the face but the pain didn't seem to register as he bit down harder piercing through the hard Kevlar armor of his shoulder pads drawing blood. 'Enough' Nightwing thought digging his thumb in to Croc's eye, wiggling it around deep in his socket popping it like a balloon full of jelly. Croc howled in pain, releasing Nightwing from his grasp by throwing him into the nearest support beam. He pulled one hand to his eye fastening around the left side of his face as he leveled an unrelenting gaze at his attacker with his uninjured eye. Charging ferociously forward like a bull, mouth agape hoping to take the Boy's head, only for his teeth to be caught in Nightwing's escrima sticks as he slammed the two of them in to a wall. His teeth crunched right through then causing ten thousand volts to cut through his entire body till he stood there smoking as his body crumpled to the ground. Nightwing slid his back against the wall till he was finally sitting on the ground. His broken eskrima sticks fell from loose fingers making a hollowed 'thunk' as they dropped to the floor. His vision faded as he fought desperately against unconsciousness. He pulled a small canister from his utility belt sticking the nozzle between the cracks in his armor and pulled on the trigger releasing a disinfectant and a sealant that painfully protected his wound from any bacteria. He gritted his teeth and let out a low growl as he tossed the canister aside digging for his grappling hook and lifting it with his uninjured arm towards the roof. Gripping it tightly he allowed the device to rapidly ascend him out of the dark depths and back to the top floor.

Richard landed roughly on one knee surveying the area like a cat hunting a mouse. He quickly caught the movement out of the corner of his eye, seeing the joker standing at the exit holding the door open. "Over all ready, it's so hard to find good help these days," the Joker said with an evil glint in his eye as he turned and ran out the door. Nightwing followed suit, 'he won't get away, not this time'. Nightwing powered through the pain, willing himself to move at a speed beyond his ability. Not even pausing at the entrance as he slammed through the door, bits of wood chips exploding out into the night. Rain fell from the heavens, clouding his vision and soaking to the bone. Through squinted eyes he searched through thick rain and fierce wind finally eyeing the joker as the clown almost danced away.

Letting out a loud roar that pierced through the cold hard night, Nightwing exploded towards the joker covering the distance between the two at a near inhuman speed. Rain cascaded the ground around them mudding the landscape making it hard for Richard to control his stance. Quickly, The Joker whipped around brandishing a 9mm pistol, letting out a loud whole hearted chuckle as he squeezed the trigger, sending three well aimed rounds straight towards Nightwing. Richard almost had no chance to act as the mud shifted slightly under foot dulling his reaction time as two bullets found their home, one above his knee and the other imbedding itself in his chest plate knocking the wind out of him. The third whizzed by grazing his ribs with a crack, ricocheting off the hard Kevlar as his carried momentum drove him forward into a booth obscuring him in the shadows and disappearing completely.

The Joker was wild firing shots at the nearest sound, sending bullets out at anything that moved. "Awe, come now bird boy I know you can do better than this," the Joker said, "seriously the bat would never have been this sloppy. Hell he was a professional and you're just a second rate amateur." The Joker saw his goal illuminated by the pale light of the moon, a giant clown mouth agape as if in mid laugh eyed him sinisterly, the funhouse. "If this isn’t a sign of where I should go I don't know what could be," he said plunging through the funhouses doors and disappearing into the shadows inside.

Dick had momentarily hid for a minute assessing his wounds as the Joker calling for him from deep inside the funhouse. Blocking it out as he stared at his leg he assessed his injuries. 'bleeding leg first priority' he thought to himself as he removed another canister of "health spray" he had dubbed at a younger age, sticking the nozzle in the wound and pulling the trigger as he held back a howl of pain as it formed itself to his wound. 'Ribs, second. Broken, nothing to do now but relieve pain till I can properly bind them later.' Richard removed a small needle from his belt and jabbing the needle into his thigh letting the anesthetic numb the pain. He was ready; following Joker's path to the fun house, he emerged from the shadows of a nearby concessions stand and moved to the giant double doors that had the picture of a giant clowns face plastered all of them. 'This ends tonight' Dick thought to himself as he pushed the doors open, an eerie creak of rusted hinges cut through the soft pitter patter of rain. He walked through the hallway as the walls seemed to spin all around him, his knees buckled as he struggled for balance. His hand caught the railing with enough time to steady himself. 'This isn't good' dick thought as he moved quickly past this room, 'must have lost too much blood.'

Richard rounded the corner and stood before a great room of mirrors. His reflections cast back at him, his exhausted and bloody face catching him off guard and taunting him with all his great failures, he faced them all. The Joker was laughing, his chuckle bouncing off the walls making it impossible to pin point his exact location. "You know they were tough, the both of them, not letting any sign of weakness through". The joker appeared before him, grinning like a wild predator before its prey. Nightwing saw his target gathering all his strength he charged forward, throwing a powerful punch that shattered the Joker, causing him to distort and cascade to the floor. 'Damn mirrors.' A loud explosion sounded as a bullet imbedded itself into Nightwing's back. "Oh that looks bad you should really get that looked at." Dick wasted no time, ignoring the pain, he spun around tossing three blade disks towards the source of the voice; one knocking the gun out of his hand and the others imbedding themselves into his forearms. The disks started beeping, growing quickly in pace. The Joker's eyes widened. Moving quickly he forced the blades out of his arm, throwing them off to the side. The explosion knocked him off his feet, sending him flying towards another group of mirrors, shattering them in the process. Regaining his balance the Joker shot dick a stunned look. "ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND?" Nightwing had wasted no time having already crossed the room towards the Joker jutting his elbow out but met nothing but the mirror before him as a shower of broken glass rained down on him. The Joker reacting quickly jumped out of the way rolling awkwardly to his feet and brandishing a small butterfly knife. He twirled the device between his fingers till the knife opened up completely and let loose a wicked grin. He deepened his voice and said, "You want to dance, pretty boy." Nightwing growled casting a death glare at joker, lunging at him while throwing quick jabs. Joker spun and danced, side stepping each one in a skilled and thrilling parody.

Dick tensed up throwing all his strength and slid forward while spinning on his feet extended a powerful back fist that touched nothing but air.

The Joker dove down to the floor landing cross-legged feeling the powerful wind that blew past him from his attackers over emotionally driven punch, leaving the man completely open. The Joker grinned burying his blade to the hilt in the ex- boy wonders chest. He grinned savoring the shocked look in the boy's eyes. Rising to his feet and twisting the blade he finally let go, delivering a swift kick to the boy's stomach, knocking him off his feet he yelled, "This is Joker land!"

Dick landed hard on his back feeling the strength slowly drain out of him almost like the pool of blood that was steadily forming beneath him. 'It's over, I failed' the thought weighed heavy on Dick's mind. The joker had taken them all away Jason, Barbra, and now him. He was going to die here like this. All his failures weighed heavy on his mind like a brick, his head sinking further and further into the muddy ground. The time he lead his friends to their deaths on the train-for-failure exercise, not being able to save Jason, lying to his friends about Aqualad's betrayal and Artemis' death, pulling Wally back into the super hero life, Barbra's barely hanging on for life, and now this. The lights began to slowly fade. 'You have a family who needs you.' A voice spoke from a far off memory.

Dick sat on the edge of a cliff overlooking Happy Harbor. He was in his Nightwing armor and his mask was off. He held the mask loosely in his hands. It had been two days since Jason's death and not a day went by that he didn't blame himself for what happened. He watched the setting sun slowly eclipsing itself in the ocean, letting out a colorful array of yellow, orange, red, and pink. Just then the wind picked up and a firm hand rested on his shoulder, calming the sea of emotions inside him. "Jeez Dick, I've been all over this island looking for." A 19 year old boy stood before him with short wild red hair and green eyes, "course it didn't take me that long cause, you know. I'm me." Richard couldn't help but let a small smile spread on his face. "Hey KF, what are you doing here?" Wally's smiling face vanished. "Me and Artemis, we heard what happened to Jason." Richard finally allowed his eyes to drift away from the sunset to look at his friend before he spoke. "I failed Wally. How could I have been so dumb?"

 "Come on Rob, you did what you could it's not your fault."

"Then who's is it Wally? Jason was my responsibility and he's dead now. Tell me how I am supposed to lead a squad when majority of them are our friends. I can't keep this up."

 "Maybe it's not about what you want. Who would lead this team if not you? You're going to put that responsibility on Barbra's shoulders what about Megan or Conner! Would you want to put any of them through what you're going through right now? Huh? Kaldur just lost the woman he loved and on top of that found out Black Manta is his father. Dick you're the only one. I know it's heartless but shape up!" "You have a family that needs you. Now get up and go in there and be the person they need you to be." "Do what you have to make sure this never happens again!" Richard looked up with renewed determination.

"Do what you have to make sure this never happens again!"

This thought alone gave him strength willing his weakened body to move. His fingers wrapped around the knife and slowly started to pull it from his flesh. The Joker stared wide eyed at this defiance. Something pulled at him giving him a pleasure he had only felt by one thing, pushing the Batman to his limits. That same twisted joy made his smile wider. He let out a deep throaty chuckle letting it resonate with the room around him. "You are every bit as stubborn as him, you know that. Why get up what? What are you going to do? We both know you can't kill me." The Joker's eyes gained a sinister glint; he kicked the hand away from the knife, earning a shout of pain from the bleeding man. He jumped on the boys lap, swatting both hands away at their feeble attempt to defend their owner. Using his good hand he slowly tightened his grip, watching the light dim from his eyes. "Come on now, you can't be done. I thought you young people were supposed to be full of energy." That's when joker felt a small tug on his jacket. Looking over at his shoulder he saw a round disk.

Unknown to the Joker, that device was a small propulsion unit. Instead of a normal explosion the device concentrated the destructive power in one direction which could be used to move very heavy objects. The Joker found out first hand as the device went off erupting a small flame that send him flying off the boy wonder and into a solid concrete wall a couple feet away. The impact stunned the joker knocking the wind out of him and in a crumpled heap failed to notice the tall figure standing before him.

Nightwing rose from the ground and towered over the Joker. This was his chance. Using a firm grip he pulled him to his feet and spun slamming his face into the wall. In quick succession he delivered powerful blows to the Jokers stomach and ribs, cracking and breaking a few, till he grabbed him by the collar and lifted him off the ground and throwing him across the room.

The Joker landed on the hard cement floor, letting out thick grunt. Nightwing lunged onto the Joker both knees landing on the man's arms both letting out a sharp snap in return. Nightwing unleashed a barrage of powerful punches to the joker's face each hit growing in power and ferocity till he felt the man's face begin to give. Bone slowly caving in, he continued his onslaught, pounding bloodied flesh into the ground. Richard felt his fury subside. Richard stood up gazing his work. The Joker lay mangled on the floor, the light slowly fading from the man's eyes. Richard moved quickly pulling an EPI pen from his utility belt and jabbing it into the Joker's chest.

They say dying is painless, that it's like letting go. Well the truth is that I'd like to give who ever said that five minutes alone with me and pizza cutter. Everything is kind of foggy, like I'm trying to see my way through a murky swamp and right now I can't really remember how I got here. Jeez when can I get to the part where they flash back on everything? I would definitely like that. It would be Mr. J's greatest hits. I see the time that I visited Blϋdhaven. They told me the boy got something he shouldn't have. The truth was I could care less. It had been so long since I saw my favorite little bird and I was excited to see him again. I worked him over; relishing the defiant gaze he gave me, not uttering anything. The silence pissed me off and I may have been a little overzealous in my attempts to break him. Now I'm seeing the girl. That's when I feel it a warmth spreading from my heart through my body till it hits my brain with mind dulling thumps and let me tell you it really hurts. The fog over my eyes slowly begins to clear and the shadow that's looming over me begins to come into focus. Oh that's right Bird boy tried to kill me. It was the world's greatest practical joke and wouldn't you know it, it was on me. It would have been perfect, well more perfect if it was the bat but not like it mattered anymore. The boy got cold feet. What a waste of a good joke. I begin to chuckle, well trying. I kind of can't breathe really well so maybe wheezing is a better word. It gets his attention.

The Joker slowly came back to life letting out scattered laughs between wheezing breaths. "Awe, come on now. I was just getting to the part where I got to relive killing your friends. Got to love flash backs." Richard's hand involuntarily balled into a fist. "Please spare me the melodramatics will you, we both know you're not going to kill me. If you were, you would have just let me die." Richard slowly grabbed the joker by the scruff of his shirt, pulling him close. His voice was stern and quiet, each syllable spoken intentionally and firmly, "the only reason you're not dead yet, is because you haven't nearly suffered enough. You and me, we are nowhere near finished." Richard let go of the Joker, his body falling back against the hard floor as he walked away. He turned his head so he could see the Joker just out of the corner of his eyes. "Are you watching closely," he said as firm fingers wrapped around the knife hilt protruding from his chest, "I really don't want you to miss this." Richard quickly pulled the knifed from his chest letting a low growl of pain escape from his lips. The Joker eyes shined with a renewed life, "ooh maybe this will be interesting after all."

Gotham City

October 21, 05:52 EDT

Richard stepped through the doors of the fun house, letting the cool morning air wash over him. He breathed deeply, watching as he exhaled; the thick cloud that emerged from his lips rose like smoke. It was finally over. Dick walked along the pier, listening to the sounds of the waves slamming up against the coast, taking in the salty smell of the ocean 'till he reached the end. He sat down and let his legs dangle over the edge. The first rays of sunlight peaked over the edge of the coast, warming not just his body but inside of him too, a deep warmth. Richard lay back, letting his sapphire blue eyes gaze at the slowly changing sky. The effects of the night were slowly catching up to him but he wasn't done just yet and he had no time to rest.

Batman approached on the batwing gunning it back to Gotham. How could he have let this happen? This thought plagued Batman more than anything in his life. Never before had Batman's ties with the justice league affected his responsibilities to his own city. It had been a long time coming and now it had finally come back to bite him in the ass. First it was Gordon then Jason and now Barbra. All because he couldn't let himself cross that line and kill the Joker. What was the point in following that rule if the people you loved most died? The truth was, if he had killed the Joker back when he first poisoned the Gotham Reservoir nobody would have died. How many people had died because he had been too slow? How many people had died because he wouldn't, or couldn't, do what was necessary? It had been easier before back when Gotham was a city of corruption, back before the colorful characters apart of Gotham's Rogues gallery showed up. It worked with organized crime in Gotham, but what about the super criminals, not the ones who belonged in Bell Reve Prison but the ones who were in Arkham Asylum, the ones like the Joker.

Batman had seen what he had done to Barbra. She was no longer in critical condition, especially since the Justice League had some of the best scientists and doctors working with and for them. She would even be able to walk again but only after a long time of healing. Now to top it off Richard was out there alone against him. He had to hurry. He couldn't lose him too. The Batwing slowed over the Gotham carnival, Nightwing's tracking beacon leading him past the assembly of lighted tents towards the pier. "Look Bruce, not that I don't appreciate you worrying about me but if I'm ever in over my head I'll just call. I don't need a tracking device in my suit."

The last known signal came from the Gotham Carnival. His jet already over the Ferris wheel he jettisoned himself from the machine flaring his cape to catch the rushing air and slow his descent. He impacted with a hard thud and stood up. The signal's last location was the inside of the Fun House. The giant clown face staring down at him promising horrors he prayed wouldn't come true.

Batman opened the door. A loud noise echoed down the hallway, while he followed the trail of blood across the floor boards. "Manners cost nothing Batman, didn't your parents teach you to knock before entering." The joker lay in a pile of blood at the center of the room. "Well what should I expect I mean he shows up here and crashes my party. I'd give you a parent of the year award and pat on the back but I can't seem to move my arms."

"It's more than you deserve," The Batman said.

The joker looked different his lively eyes now clouded and dim.  "Some things are worse than death, Bats."

The Watchtower

October 21, 06:22 EDT

"You let him go alone, what's wrong with you people!" Conner was fuming, clenching his fists together in anger. He stood there surrounded by his teammates, people he had called family for the past six years, Zatanna, Rocket, Artemis, Megan, and Aqualad. Rocket walked over placing a soft hand on Super boy's shoulder, "Conner relax this is Dick we're talking about. It's not like he's going to do something crazy."

"You don't know that."

The group turned around and stared back at Artemis who had her back resting against the wall, not even looking at the team as she spoke. "Do you know what it's like to lose someone? How crazy it makes you? Dick, he's been through that once already and we saw how much that changed him. Do you really think he could go through that again with Barbra of all people?"

 "Dick is stronger than you could imagine," Aqualad said. "He would have to be. He's been doing this longer than anyone." Zatanna stood there shaking her head while holding herself, "that doesn't mean anything." Her eyes where cold and devoid of emotion, "When Jason died it changed him, he was no longer that kid who used to have fun and enjoy what we do. Then Wally's death." Artemis stiffened noticeably at the mention of her deceased boyfriend. She fought against the tears welling up behind her eyes so not a single one would drop. "He cut off everyone but Barbra, even me," she said casting her gaze downwards away from the group. "If it was anyone else I think he would have been fine but this time I'm worried what he might have done…"

"Recognized Nightwing B01," Zatanna froze mid-sentence and turned to gaze at the zeta tube behind her. A shadow materialized behind the bright light walking forward. Blood covered his face, legs, chest, and hands. The bright blue bird that he wore on his chest was streaked with crimson. Left arm grasped his ribs while the other hung limp to the side. He slowly trudged forward against the pain willing his stiff limbs to move.

Zatanna moved first quickly moving to his side trying to help him, "OH MY God Dick. Stop we need to get him to an infirmary." He rested a soft hand on her shoulder, "I'm fine. This isn't my blood." The team froze, eyes opening wide in realization, all but Artemis who stared deep in to Nightwing's with a deep understanding. Artemis voice was cold and emotionless, "The Joker?" Richards's eyes never left hers. "He won't be hurting anyone, anymore."

She let half a smirk reach her face that was almost sinister in nature. "Good."

Zatanna leveled a fierce gaze at Artemis that said they would be talking later. Artemis just quickly turned away walking off. "Come on wonder boy, we need to get you some rest and some medical attention."

"No, I need to see Barbs. I need to see if she's ok." Zatanna's sadness showed on her face for only a few seconds as she let him go. His resolve strengthened as he walked towards the medical wing of the watchtower.

Random groups of heroes stared in shock at the sight of a bloodied Nightwing walking past them, till he came to her door.

 "Don't go in there, Dick."

Richard turned to see the crest of superman over a black shirt. Conner rested a firm hand on his shoulder. "She can't see you like this. Let's get you cleaned up, and then you can see her or I can just carry you to the med bay myself and trust me that is probably going to hurt."

Richard smirked, "Not any worse than anything else I've been through tonight." He let out a soft chuckle, "but since I'm too tired to fight you on this one I'll let you win, just this once." Richard slung an arm over Conner's shoulder allowing his friend to support most of his weight as they walked. Conner laughed softly as the trudged down the hall, "Please like you honestly had a choice."

The two sat in silence as Richard patched himself up, wrapping gauze around the wounds on his thighs arm and chest. "Why'd you do it?" Conner looked at Richard who was just finishing the wrap on his thigh. "I had to for Jason and Babbs" Superboy shook his head. "No, I get wanting to kill him. If anything happened to M'gann I think I'd go crazy. What I want to know is how come you didn't tell me. Take me with you. You didn't have to do this on your own," he said placing both palms on the counter top. "I thought we were family. You know. That we look out for each other, protect each other. I… we should have been with you." He turned towards Conner.

"Your right, family protects one another. I couldn't let you guys get involved in this. The repercussions for what I've done tonight. They're going to be big. I did it to keep you guys on the right side of the line. Me, I'm fine being in the grey, even if I'm here by myself." His gaze drifted. "How is she? Barbs, I mean Batgirl." Conner couldn't look his friend in the eye." She's stable but… she may be partially paralyzed," Dick's eyes widened in horror. "She isn't going to be able to walk anymore Dick."

"Here, it's time to go see her," Conner said handing Richard a folded pair of clothes. It was a pair of dark blue combat pants and a black long sleeve shirt. He held the black shirt up shaking his head slightly as he eyed the giant red symbol staring back at him. "Hey, it either that or you can go in there in what you're wearing right now," Conner said with a slight smirk as Richard eyed himself looking at his black boxer briefs. "Fine, but this doesn't leave the tower," Richard said as he started pulling the uniform on. Conner could tell Dick was just running through the motions, his super hearing picking up on his heart beat and the slight in fluctuations that his voice made that normal people couldn't have picked up. It was scary really, the most human member of their team and he could fake being normal better than the rest of them.

As Richard finished dressing the two left the room, heading straight for Barbra's room.

Richard opened the door and took everything in. Barbra lay on a hospital bed, a multitude of wires and tubes ran to her body. The soft chirp of the heart rate machine steadily beat a slow rhythm that echoed through the small room. To the south of the bed Tim "Robin" sat on a small couch with his arms around Cassie "Wonder Girl" and his black cape draped over both of them. Cassie's eyes where puffy and red from crying whereas Tim was hidden by the thin black mask covering his face. Richard could see the stress in his body. Dick moved back over towards Barbra sliding a chair next to her bed. He picked up her hand and let his fingers intertwine in hers. Within seconds he fell in to a deep slumber, His night was finally over.

Richard sprinted through the dark alley way cutting through the shadows created by the large buildings as he chased the sound of the woman screaming. Richard stopped, her pleas for help echoing all around the deep maze of buildings. 'Dam it where is she' Richards mind screamed as he quickly cut right resuming his full on sprint. His limbs burned and his lungs felt like they were about to explode as he powered through the pain, driving himself beyond his limits.

Richard froze at the horrific sight before him. The woman lay hunched over against a wall in the alley. A single ray of light from the moon illuminated the area around her, revealing the colorful streaks of crimson that painted the ground. He was too late. He slowly moved closer towards the victim till she moved. Her red hair parting from her face letting cold lifeless green eyes stare back at him. "What's wrong, Dick? Can't handle being a failure?" She crumpled forward, her broken body moving like a marionette with no strings. Richard was frozen unable to turn away from the horrific sight of Barbra dragging her own pale lifeless corpse across the gravelly floor, leaving a steady streak of blood in its wake as if painted there. Her hands seized his leg as she pulled herself on to him. "This is all, your fault." Richard fell to the ground finally snapping out of his daze. "I tried Barbra, I couldn't do it anymore but I stopped him he won't hurt anyone anymore. I…" Richard froze at the sound of shuffling behind him. He arched his head slightly allowing him a view behind him. "OH so I wasn't enough of a reason. You say you cared but you didn't." His eyes grew with realization as he looked at the mangled person in front of him. Blood protruded from the wounds covering his body as it leaked across the torn red and black fabric. His dark hair was thick matted clumps sticking to the sides of his face. "Jase…," he said letting the name roll of in a whisper. He collapsed behind Richard seizing him by his neck and pulling himself up close till the warmth of his breath burned his ear. "I thought when I died that I would be the only one. That you would make sure that monster never hurt anyone again," he said shaking his head. "I thought we we're family. Who was I kidding? Months later and you already have a new Robin." Fear racked through Richard's body as two of his closest loved ones clung to him, filling him with guilt and self-doubt. "I tried Jase to protect you, to protect all of you."

"Sure you did Rob."

 Dick's blood turned to ice. Two spheres shined at him in the dark growing bigger as he moved closer. The yellow of the outfit and the lightning bolt on his chest glowed eerily in the moon light. Wally stood there pale as a ghost gazing through him with cold piercing eyes behind the thick goggles on his face. "Protect us, please. You threw me and Artemis back into this life when you knew we were trying to live a normal life. YOU DID THIS TO US!" He was drowning in it, the guilt rising up over him swallowing him whole. "I'm sorry. It's all, my fault. End it please I deserve it."

 "HAHAHA," scattered yelps echoed down the alley way pulling his vision past Kid Flash and to the dark wide eyed smile peering at him through the darkness like the Cheshire Cat. "Please you haven't suffered nearly enough." a spark exploded in the night blowing chunks off the top of Wally's head as he crumpled to the floor, cold eyes never leaving Richards. The figure in the shadows pulled forward basking him under the red glow of a bloody moon. The pasty bleached skin set with fading scars, a mop of wild green hair unkempt and frayed about just as wild as the look in his eyes. The white restraint jacket he wore was torn open allowing his hands to move freely. His porcelain white fingers wrapped loosely around the handle of a pistol as he steadily brought the gun up and pointed it at Richard. Dick gaze never left the Joker as he pulled the trigger. A fresh splatter of crimson rained across Richards face as he stared straight ahead. He could feel it, his mind snapping. Rigidly he turned his head and gazed at the body crumpled upon a fresh pool of blood. The figure gazed back at him with its one eye. "Hmm could have sworn I killed him all ready. Go figure," the joker said moving closer to the two remaining people still alive.

"This can't be happening. I stopped you. You can't hurt them," Richard yelled on the verge of tears. The Joker burst out into a hysterical fit as he reached down and grabbed the woman by her long red locks, pulling her limp body across the pavement. "HAHAHA. Trust me boy, this is nowhere near over," he said as he put the gun to Barbra's temple and pulled the trigger. The horrific scene played before him in slow motion as he reaches out desperately to stop him, his finger grabbing nothing but air.

His eyes adjusted to the new found darkness around him his hand still hanging out before him. He let the appendage drop lifelessly to the sweat soaked sheets as he falls back upon the bed. It had been three months since he had fought the Joker, since he was kicked off the team and not a single night went by that he wasn't plagued with nightmares. Richard groaned at the alarm clock. It was only 2:00pm. He wouldn't be able to start patrol for another four hours. He winced at the blaring red numbers that continual flashed at his face.

He reached for the tipped over bottle of whiskey tipping it over his lips in an effort to drown out the demons that haunted his dreams. It was getting worse. The only time he was free from the guilt the burden was when he was out there in his city.

He took another swig finally feeling the stress lift from his body as he became numb, to the pain, to everything. He stumbled out of bed feeling displacement in his center of balance like the world was slowly shifting trying to throw him off course. He had slept for four hours, arriving back from the previous night’s patrol at six in the morning but his body refused its need for sleep. How long had he been drinking before he was finally able to rest. He had no clue. The insomnia was getting progressively worse along with the vividness of his nightmares.

Arkham Island.

February 11, 18:21 EDT

I lay here, in the confines of the medical wing and I briefly wonder how it all went wrong. I took a job. Normally I don't get involved with others I tend to find they can't keep up with my own brand of style but when they mentioned the Bat I couldn't seem to resist. It's his fault I'm here really. I couldn't resist the fun of pushing him over the edge. He's my drug, my heroine, I need him as much as he needs me in some hysterically psychotic way because without him who am I really. I'm just a clown with no audience, no audience worth mentioning anyways. Truth is I would love nothing more than to kill this entire city leaving only the two of us to fight it out till the end of days. The idea makes me smile and it's oh so hard to smile these days. The truth is I haven't been the same. Not since that day the ex-boy wonder took from me something more important to me than anything else, my purpose. I think of all the things left undone, the jokes never to be spoken, and the blood to be shed until little is left of either of us. It makes me want to cry. I bring my gaze down to my hands. They lay lifeless to my side resisting my will to make them move. The most I can manage is a slight twitch of my little finger. That's another thing that pisses me off. They didn't even bother to restrain me. How pathetic have I become that people feel so calm that they can leave me, the world's cruelest comedian here to rot without any form of restraint. And that's when it hits me, the joke of it all. I'm the punch line. And I can't help but erupt into a fit of hysterical giggles. That's when I hear the door open behind me. And I see a young blonde haired doctor with the most piercing blue eyes I'd ever seen, like two pieces of ice. "Hello Doc, here to check my temperature, I'd help but I can't seem to drop my pants." She smirks to herself, "funny, but no. You have a visitor." That's when I see him in the shadows. His royal blue suit, and hideously huge facial hair, kind of reminds me of a Neanderthal, "How you doing Savage. It's been so long since I've had company can I get you anything." He stands there motionless his arms behind his back, "You requested an audience with the light."

"So straight forward. Fine. I've helped you people for years now. The whole injustice league thing, the time you had me kill Robin because he saw something he shouldn't have, and now there's this recent event with the Batgirl. I keep scratching your back and the truth is I'm waiting for you guys to return the favor." He gives me a stern look, "What is it you require?" I smile impossibly wide the first time since I woke up in this bed, but this one has something sinister in it, "Right now I want that nurse as my company, I like her humor and some time to think this out but when the time comes I'm going to need some reach" He nods slightly. "Fine," he says vanishing and leaving me alone to my thoughts. Nightwing Batman and whoever is left of the Bat Family are going to go be in a living hell soon, a personal hell by my own design. They think this is over because I'm here in this bed? They'd never been more wrong in their lives and I would make them regret ever leaving me in such a pathetic state. The streets of Gotham will run with their blood and I'll Sit there rolling and laughing my ass off. And just because I'm feeling generous I'll save the Bird Boy for last just so he can gaze on the horrors he's created right before I gouge out his eyes and slit open his throat. My howl crackles through the night cutting through everything just so all the patients at Arkham could know, The Joker was back.

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