Paper Hearts, part 21

by Chicago

Disclaimers in "part 0"



There were sewers, and there were sewers. In other parts of Gotham, where storm waters diluted the effluence, the squelchiness of the tunnels were more an issue than the odor. But the sewers leading into the D'Angelo treatment plant? Batgirl suspected even Alfred's best laundering tricks wouldn't completely kill the lingering smell.

It was a relief to be back above ground, working her way back toward the train tracks. She clicked open a channel to Oracle. "ETA to train 2 minutes. Bludhaven?"

Barbara's voice came back almost instantly. "Negative. We need you in Gotham."

Batgirl frowned, slowing her pace slightly. There was a choked note in Barbara's tone, and they needed Batgirl in Gotham? "Problem?"

"Shorthanded," Barbara answered. "Batman is en route to Bludhaven, the cover is at Leslie's, Nightwing is MIA."

"They got Scarecrow?" The important question for the moment. The more burning question could wait; she was not in any position to do anything about it, and she was not going to make Barbara recount what had happened in Bludhaven unless it was necessary.

"Yes."

"But?"

"His accomplice is still at large. Batman was tracking him-"

And had left that mission to go to Bludhaven. Not good. An unbidden image of Nightwing's body cutting a graceful arc through the air, challenge unmistakable in his body language, flashed through her mind. She forced it from her thoughts. "Last known location?"

"Batman had -" A sudden scream of alert sirens sounded in the background. "What the - hold on."

Batgirl froze in her tracks. No sense moving anywhere until she knew where that alert was going to send her.

"Batgirl." Barbara's tone was grimly business-like. "We've got someone attempting to bypass security at the Crime Alley-Bowery intersection."

The cave network. Her mind flashed through options. The train would take her across the Sprang River, which would give her buildings for the jumpline express. But she'd have to get back across the river once she got east - too much back tracking. No, there was only one option - down. She began sprinting for the nearest road. "Any idea who?"

"My money's on Crane's junior partner." A clatter of computer keys, then, "Damn! He's good. My auto-deterrants are already disabled."

Batgirl slunk onto the deserted access road, scanning for the expected manhole cover.

There.

She moved swiftly, disappearing down it in a flash. "How close to entry?"

More key-clatter. "The crash door deployed, at least. That'll keep him busy for a few minutes. There's a bike at the Arkham cave."

"Be there in two," Batgirl reported, ignoring the churning of her stomach as she ran. The access ports to Batman's cave network were virtually undetectable if a person didn't know what to look for - if they hadn't been seen in operation. If Scarecrow's accomplice had found one? He must have seen Batman trip it earlier. Which meant Batman had been too distracted - again, an unwanted flash of memory, this time of the unmistakable pride in Batman's stance as Nightwing managed - almost - to sneak up on him. Bad bad bad. No time to think of it, just run.

Run and engage every sense in watching that she didn't repeat Batman's mistake. She kicked her lenses to infrared and amplified the sound detectors in her costume, scanning the sewer around her.

Nothing.

Good.

She snaked off a glove and pressed her palm to the stone wall of the sewer.

A piece of the wall shifted, sliding open into a much cleaner tunnel. She dashed through, closing the access port behind her and turning unerringly toward the Arkham cave - not under the Asylum, as the name implied, but almost a mile southwest.

"Almost there," she announced. "Status?"

"He's still working on it. Got through the outer panel, but the crash door is holding for the moment."

Batgirl palmed open another access panel, this time beside a vault entrance. She hauled the small motorcycle out its hiding place and straddled it, engaging the engine. The sweat trickling inside her suit cooled instantly as she revved the bike and sped down the tunnel, the motion producing a windchill in the February cold. At least it gave physicality to the chill she already felt. "Four minutes," she noted to Oracle.

"He's completely overridden me. He might be in before you get there. Dammit all! We are going to have to do a serious overhaul of our system."

"Think he's Hatter's man, too?"

"God, I don't even want to think about that. If he's this slick - he might just have recognized what was going on with the Arkham electronics without having set it up. Hatter claims it was his genius on that patch box, but-"

"He confessed?"

"GCPD's got him dead to rights with the nanites and the overloaded patch box. They are not happy that he hit them again."

"Two minutes. He say why after Bruce?"

"Nothing on that y- Shit! Batgirl, he's in. Be damned careful. We don't know anything about -"

"He's not expecting me," Batgirl replied, crouching lower on the bike. "On your cameras yet?"

"Not - yes, there he is - and from the look on his face, he can hear the bike coming. Hell, he even looks a little like Crane. Little more built, but tall and lanky."

Batgirl nodded to herself and abruptly kicked the bike into neutral and cut the engine. Coast it out...

The bike began to wobble, and she shot out a jump line, pulling herself into the pipes that ran just below the top of the tunnel. There was enough clearance here, she knew, to make decent time.

"Where is he?" she whispered.

"He's stopped - you've got him confused. Thirty seconds at current speed."

Batgirl sped up, her feet and hands unerringly finding the spots which would not ring or clank as she shimmied along. Infrared back on - and his outline blazed to life, 20 feet ahead and below her and moving cautiously.

Ten seconds.

Five.

Two.

He didn't even turn before she dropped down on him, catching him squarely between the shoulder blades and bearing him to the ground. Just a startled grunt and a heavy thud. She leaned down, checking his pulse compulsively. Unconscious, but heart still beating strongly.

"Got him," she announced over the comlink.

"Thank god. Can you get him out of there?"

She snorted. "Stronger than I look."

Barbara actually managed a brittle laugh.

Batgirl cuffed the man, adding the extra measure of tying his hands to his belt so they wouldn't drag when she carried him. Then she bent down to haul him onto her shoulder with a grunt.

"Call GCPD. I take him back to the sewers and around the next block. Watch tunnel."

"Done and done." There was a pause. "We're going to have a bitch of a time making charges stick."

"Making charges at all," Batgirl noted, slogging back into the sewer. "But GCPD take him to hospital at least, maybe print him, find out who he is. Time to seal off this part of network."

"I'm already running his image. Might be worth pulling his prints yourself, so long as you've got him."

"Will do." Batgirl turned the corner. One more block. And then... "I take him topside," she decided. She heard the sound of sirens approaching above.

"I told them the corner of Kedzie and McGovern. They'll be thinking building."

"Good," Batgirl decided, reaching for a steel ladder rung and resettling her burden. She began to climb. "Any word from -?"

It took a second for a response. "J'onn says he alive. Batman and Robin are searching."

"They'll find him," Batgirl said firmly, balancing carefully, releasing her captive's legs in order to hook an arm over a rung and use the other to push up the manhole cover. The flash of blue and red lights flooded over her, and she blinked against it as she pulled herself up.

"FREEZE!" someone yelled.

Batgirl nonchalantly deposited the man she carried onto the asphalt, not bothering to complete her ascent. Ignoring the freeze order, she made a quick gesture to strip her relinquished captive of a glove and press his fingertips to a shatterproof slide from her belt. Not a complete set of prints, but it would do.

"What the hell? Don't fire!" another voice ordered.

Batgirl looked in the direction of the order as she bagged the slide and returned it to her belt. "Scarecrow accomplice," she pronounced simply before disappearing back into the sewer. An instant before she brought the manhole cover back down, she heard one of the cops asked, "Did you know she talked?"

Despite the way the night was going, she couldn't help the smallest of grins as she headed back toward the ruined tunnel access.



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