Paper Hearts, part 6

By Chicago

Disclaimers in "part 0"



Bruce narrowed his eyes at the unmarked car that slid into traffic behind the limo as it eased from the alley. He was torn between approval and annoyance. The GCPD was thinking at least, acknowledging that while they had the shooter in custody, there were enough questions to keep a tail on Gotham's favorite son, make sure no one else was waiting to take a crack at him. He decided not to ask Alfred to evade them.

There were uniforms at the front entrance to the penthouse, but they were more useful, holding back the press that had camped there. Had someone leaked his itinerary, or were they just being thorough, he wondered. Clearly Montoya was worried that it might be the former, for she insisted on providing him with an escort to his penthouse, and he was kept waiting in the foyer off the elevator while Sasha and a team of four carefully inspected the premises. He chafed a bit at the fuss, keeping the bewildered mask of Bruce Wayne carefully in place. He was tired, he complained, and didn't they already have the gunman? Finally, the police left, their apologies ranging from genuine to thinly veiled contempt. Bruce waited only until Alfred had secured the elevator and double locked the door to the private bedroom suite before he crossed to the wall of the study adjoining the bedroom and accessed a hidden trigger. A few punch codes later and the wall opened into a serviceable lair.

Sasha let out a low whistle. "A cave in every corner?"

"Suit up," he replied brusquely.

She started to say something that might have been a protest before Alfred pointed her to the row of uniforms - her uniforms - that were kept there.

"Fine," she grumbled, grabbing one of the suits and stalking to the bathroom.

"Master Bruce?" Alfred asked as soon as the bathroom lock snicked into place, accepting the garments Bruce shed as he changed.

"Arkham logs still show Tetch in his cell," he reported, sharing what Oracle had told him. "I've sent Batgirl to verify. The -" he grimaced - "the cover and I will see what we can get on the shooter, how he might have been influenced - which J'onn says is true." He reached for his belt, setting it across a chair before he pulled on his gauntlets. "I've asked Dick to find a way to get J'onn back here unobserved. I may need Nightwing later, but I want J'onn to stay here."

Alfred nodded as Bruce settled the cowl over his head, completing his transformation to the Dark Knight. "And may I ask how he is doing, sir?"

Batman paused, the fall of Alana's body replaying in his mind. He forced the image roughly from his mind. He needed to focus. "He says he's fine."

"Then he is," Alfred said firmly. "And I shall have Chocos ready for his arrival."

Batman didn't allow himself to show the gratitude he felt, instead keeping his face stoic as the bathroom lock clicked again and Sasha - the cover - emerged. They should have found a code name for her, he thought, but he had not intended to actively use her in the field. He hoped he still wouldn't have to, but he acknowledged to himself that he would use her resources if he needed them. He would just have to remember to call her "cover."

"All right, boss, what now?" the cover asked.

He didn't bother to glare at her, instead turning toward the bolt hole entrance. He made a quick check of the rooftop and surrounding sky and - damn. Batsignal.

But no choppers or other spying eyes likely to notice their sudden appearance on the roof. He zipped up the ladder, emerging into the night.

"Looks like we're right on time," Sasha - the cover, he reminded himself - remarked, rising behind him and gesturing toward the Batsignal.

He shot off a jumpline and began the leap to the next building.

He could hear the cover following, quiet but not silent in the night. He let her catch up when he finally arrived across from GCPD headquarters. "You could at least give some orders," she grumbled.

"Stay in the shadows. Do not let Akins see you," he obliged. He turned and shot off a final jumpline, ignoring both her muttered response and the ping of his comlink. He would get Oracle's information as soon as he finished with Akins.

He dropped silently into the shadows behind Akins, taking a moment to observe the other man. The commissioner's posture radiated his sense of unease. It was no secret that he tolerated Batman, forced by circumstances to respect the Dark Knight's usefulness in a city like Gotham. The feeling was mutual.

The cover swung in beside him, landing quietly enough - he noted with approval - that Akins did not turn. It was almost funny, the hypnotic effect the Batsignal had, keeping those who turned it on scanning the skies in the direction that the light slanted. Even experience with Batman's entrances did not alter this human reaction.

Nor did it tonight, and Akins gave a suitable start when Batman finally stepped from the shadows. "That's not the way to make friends," the commissioner complained.

"Hatter," Batman said flatly, cutting to the chase.

Akins frowned. "No, actually. Scarecrow - active in Crime Alley. I've got my people confirming his escape from Arkham, but it's his M.O."

"Confirming?"

"They didn't report his breakout. Why did you think Hatter? Something to do with the attempt on Wayne?"

Scarecrow's escape was not reported? Batman narrowed his eyes. "The Crime Alley situation?"

Akins glared at him. "Fine. Don't answer me. But we've taken the suspect to Gotham General to see if we can verify his claim that he was not acting of his own volition. Here's the preliminary report on Crime Alley." Akins thrust a manila folder at him.

Batman plucked the folder from his hands, opened it, and quickly scanned it's contents. A shoot out involving six men - three killed instantly, a fourth dying en route, and two more admitted to Gotham Free Clinic raving with fear. He noted the intersection and handed the folder back. "I'll look into it."

"You do that," Akins sneered, turning to switch off the Batsignal. Batman used his distraction to disappear back into the shadows. He watched as Akins opened his mouth to speak again, then closed his mouth in surprise to find himself alone. He scowled at the place Batman had stood and retreated from the rooftop to the offices below.

The cover spoke as soon as he was gone. "Scarecrow? But-"

He shot off a jumpline, opening a channel to Oracle. "Report," he ordered without preamble.

"We got new problems," she said grimly.

"I know." He landed on a new rooftop. "Scarecrow."

"Arkham confirmed his escape three minutes ago. Nightwing is en route to your location."

The cover again caught up with him. "Batman-" she began.

He held up a silencing hand. "Tell him to meet us at Gotham Cathedral. Batman out."

"Don't you dare fly off again!" the cover snapped. "What the hell is going on?"

"The Scarecrow has escaped Arkham. His activity in Crime Alley suggests he is baiting me. We will meet with Nightwing at Gotham Cathedral. You will come along as backup only."

"Why does Crime Alley mean he's -"

Batman didn't wait to hear the end of her sentence, once again shooting off a jumpline. This was not good. First Hatter going after Wayne and then Scarecrow calling him out by acting in the neighborhood where his parents had been shot? The events were not necessarily connected, but for all their madness, Jonathan Crane and Jervis Tetch were very intelligent men. His mouth pressed into a grim line as he pressed on into the night.



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