"You have 10 minutes," the guard grunted as he left the room.
The skinny blonde made her way to the chair on her side of the plate glass. She was by no means ugly; in fact she was quite the sight. The only things that took away from her looks were the orange jumpsuit and the frown that concealed her smile.
Lydia Smith sat down and looked at her visitor. "What happens now?" she asked.
The man's eyes on the other side showed no expression. They never did. Just white orbs from where he had been blinded. He was well dressed with his hair pulled back in a ponytail. His muscular frame could barely be contained in his clothing. The things that took away from him was his criminal mind and the wheelchair he was confined to due to a run-in with a former student.*
"You'll be able to walk free," King Snake replied. "They have no proof it was you committing the crimes in the Spoiler costume, they only picked you up that way. But onto more important things: how did the new Robin perform?"
"I'm not the greatest fighter in the world," Lydia began. "But we seemed well-matched. I had her on the ropes for the most part. But then there was that resolve..." her voice trailed off. I've never seen anybody fight back the way she did. When it came down to it, she wasn't going to be beat. "She definitely deserves the title."
Sir Edmund "looked" into Lydia's eyes. "Tell me," he growled in a low voice. "The person that did this to me," he motioned at his twin broken ankles. "Can she defeat him? You've seen the video of my defeat."
Lydia looked Edmund straight in the eye. The things I'll do for a story, even if it means working with this piece of work. "No. She doesn't stand a chance." She finished.
"Then it is decided. The female ninja that dispatched you is back and even though they no longer work together, her former employer can't be far behind. And he's out for revenge. Word on the street is that the last Robin and Nightwing put him down. The wait shouldn't be much longer before he strikes out again."
Lydia began to get nervous. "What about Batman, can't he defeat him?"
"Yes," King Snake began. "But the Bat is not what he wants. He wants the boy dead. There's no telling what he may do to the girl until he gets what he wants."
The two sat in silence for a long while, allowing all of this to soak in. Then Sir Edmund spoke again.
"Lydia my dear, you served your purpose well, and I do believe you have enough information to form your story for the Gotham Gazette. But do believe me when I say, if this implicates me in any way, I will kill you. Besides that, you should be released within the hour." He then had his assistant wheel him out of the room, leaving Lydia alone.
She gulped hard. "One day it was firefighters and cops, the next college guys, and now," she smiled to herself. "Birds."
"Come on Steph!" Tim pleaded. "How many times do I have to say I'm sorry?" Stephanie still ignored him. He had tracked her back to Batcave after she refused to talk to him on the phone or in person. Now, she continued to give him the cold shoulder. "It's not even my fault anyway." Tim grumbled.
"Not your fault?!" Steph whirled around. "I catch you out with your ex-girlfriend and you're about to go into a lingerie store with her, and it's not your fault?! Get out of my face!" She screamed and continued to storm off.
"For the hundredth time, I wasn't going in! I was just talking to her!" Tim responded. Why won't you trust me?"
"Did she want you to go in?" Steph stopped and asked with a glare in her eye.
"Yes." He said honestly.
"Did you want to go in?" She her eyes became glassy.
"No." he lied.
"Don't give me that! No man in his right mind doesn't want to walk into a lingerie store with a beautiful woman! That's why I'm mad Tim!" Stephanie screamed as she began to cry. "I need to get out of here." She pulled her mask back on.
"And where do you think you're going?" Tim asked. "You're gonna use that mask as an excuse to run from your problems? You could hurt someone!"
"You did it!" she replied back. "Every time I wanted to talk about the identity thing with you, you were out as Robin. And when I found you, you shrugged me off and left again! Don't act like you're any better than me Tim Drake!" She was more angry then upset now. Just let me go Tim.
"I don't..." he began. "I just don't want you to make the same mistakes I did. Now I know how you felt when I ran from you. But don't run, let's talk!"
Robin stopped and put her hand on her hip and looked at Tim. Finally, she lifted her mask. "Talk."
"She meant nothing to me. Ex-girlfriend or not. I wasn't about to mess up what we had over 20 minutes in a store." He moved closer. "You're the one I care about."
Their faces were inches apart now. "Then tell me this," Steph said through dry lips. "If you care about me so much, how come Batman had to tell me who you were, and not you?"
Tim searched for an answer, but none could be found. "I-I-I..."
"No answer," she sighed as she pulled her mask on again. "No surprise. You don't care as much as you'd like to think apparently Tim."
Tim had had enough. "Then maybe we're both making mistakes right now."
Robin was shocked but too angry. "Maybe we are."
"Then I think we should just end it, here and now. You've changed."
"Then get out and let me do my job." She stated coldly and headed for the exit. "Make sure Bruce doesn't see you here."
"Too late." Tim and Stephanie both looked up to see Bruce standing in the doorway. "What are you doing here?"
"I had to talk to Steph about some things, I'm leaving." With that Tim walked by the Bat and took his leave.
"And what about you?" Batman asked in Robin's direction.
"One time around the city than I got to call it a night." She replied as she tried to keep her voice steady.
"I understand Stephanie," Bruce replied. He turned and left as well.
Shocked by Bruce's kindness, Stephanie set out to the night to find anything to get her mind off of...
That boy, Bruce thought as he started up the stairs to return to the manor. It was rare night when his body wasn't going to let him do the job he wanted, so here he was, in for the night. I haven't had one of these for a long time. He joked as he reached his study where he had been researching Luthor some more. You just can't stay away can you Tim? He sat down and let his eyes fall upon the pictures next to his seat. Pictures of his parents, Alfred, Shondra, Dick, Jason, and Tim. Neither could I. I've tried thousands of times to let it all go, just be Bruce Wayne, but I couldn't. Dick's been there and now you are. You probably ask yourself at least once a day, why did I do it? Because I had to know Tim, I wanted to test your commitment. You always said you could walk away and not come back. But you can't. That's why you were about to come to Stephanie's aid at the mall, not just because you care about her, it's because you're too attached to "the job". I'm sorry it's had to turn out like this, but something like this just doesn't go away. It can consume you; eat away at you, until it's more than an urge or a want. It becomes a need. I was hoping Stephanie would turn out better than she has. She knows what to do and she can do the job, but she lets her confidence get the best of her and her type of confidence only goes so far. It's one thing for Dick or even Tim to a degree, but I'm afraid you'll get hurt or worse as Robin. I can only hope you see that. And Dick...he's always gonna be Robin to me, no matter what identity he's under. Maybe that's why I drive him so hard so that he'll take after his...father? Am I really...
"Master Bruce, it's the Flash," Alfred entered and reported. "I believe you are needed at the Watchtower."
"So much for a night off," Bruce said as he followed Alfred out. He turned off the lights but not before he looked back at Tim's picture. "Let's go."
Stupid, stupid, stupid! Robin screamed at herself as she swung trough the rainy night. How could I just lose control like that? It wasn't supposed to go like that! She landed atop a building, rolled to her right and leaped off the roof. She easily launched her next jumpline as she plummeted towards the streets. I can't even think straight, I don't know what I'd do if I had to fight someone. I can't track down what my father was babbling about, and the police have that fake Spoiler.* There's no reason for me to be out... "Ahhh!"
*See Robin #8-#10-That KC guy.
She pulled, but her jumpline hadn't connected and she was fast approaching the weather-affected traffic. "So distracted...can't think...no chance..." She was running out of options. "Wait! There is one thing..." She twisted her way towards the building, hoping to turn her fall into a roll. She was a mere story above the sidewalk when she reached out, catching the flagpole she had been aiming for. She spun around it twice and released, landing perfectly on the street below.
"I need to get home," she decided. Stephanie then walked into the alley to change out of her costume. "But I better walk."
A few feet away from Steph's hiding place, another watched her change.
"Just as I suspected," Riddler commented. "The girl is the new Robin, and she used to be that Spoiler the boy kept around." His eyes narrowed as she left the alley and reentered the storm. "To get the boy, I have need of you. Whether that means you live or die, I don't know."
Nigma then stood from his perch and started to follow his quarry to her home. "Operative one," he spoke into his communicator. "Stay with the girl, I'm on my way."
Women! Tim kept repeating it over in his mind. I didn't do anything! Or did I? Dammit, I'm so confused. He hopped out of his car and rushed for the door to get out of the rain. He entered and barely acknowledged his parents' hellos.
"Dana, should I..." Jack began as Tim rushed up the stairs.
"Let him go Jack." Dana said.
"But...he's...we need to..." Dana put a finger to his lips.
"No, he's obviously busy. Let him be." She insisted.
Jack sat back and folded his arms. "Fine. But this needs to be talked about."
"No way Steph," Tim sneered as he dug through his closet. "I'm not letting you go out tonight after this. Bad things happen in these situations." His mind remembered the beating Riddler had given to Nightwing after his run-in with Spoiler earlier that night. "I'm gonna find you, and make sure you get home, regardless of what just happened." Tim continued to dig until he found his heavy black raincoat and a ski mask. He quickly slipped the clothing on and looked in the mirror.
"Not bad, not bad," he commented as he tucked his staff into his belt. "I had to give the costume back, but Bruce wasn't getting everything." He tuned into Oracle's frequency.
"Barbara," he started. "Have you heard from Steph?"
"Not a peep," Oracle responded. "What are you doing on this frequency? The boss man won't like this at all..."
"Never mind that, I've got to find Stephanie before she gets hurt."
"We had a fight," he answered as he checked himself over once more. "And I don't need a repeat performance of what happened to Dick against Nigma. Especially to her. So I got to find her, her mind's in no shape to fight with anyone!"
"You don't think Bruce noticed this, former Boy Wonder?" she asked.
"No, if he did, he's not reading enough into it. And don't call me former; it makes me feel like you're talking to Dick." He responded. Not to mention it feels weird. "Well, I'm going then Babs, I'll be in touch." He disconnected and was out his window.
"Why do I get the bad feeling you will Tim?"
Does this walk never end? I've been here too many times to get lost! She was right, but Stephanie was definitely lost. She had turned and waited through lights for at least a good 20 minutes. I should be home by now. Maybe Tim got to me so bad, I can't find my own damn house! She sat down under a store awning, not recognizing anything. "Some hero I am, I don't even know my own city."
"Oh you're a hero alright," a voice resounded behind her. "And just like a hero, you're a fool."
Stephanie leaped up prepared for a fight, but immediately she became dizzy and staggered. "I can't even see straight now." She could make out a man's form. "What the hell did you do to me?" she asked as her voice disappeared.
The man sprang out and hit the young woman in the forehead, completing her turn to darkness. He caught her in her arms as she slumped and then he tossed her over his shoulder.
"Good work Juice," Nigma applauded as he approached. "My gas had the perfect effect. Now I'll be taking the girl and you can be on your way."
"On my way?" Juice asked. "What about my money? I ain't take this bitch down for nothing." He pulled a gun and trained it on the villain. "I'm too gangsta to get pushed around."
"Really?" Riddler sounded truly interested. "Gangsta? Not too gangsta too see this then right?" He lashed out and smacked the gun around in the teenager's hand and continued until his hand smashed the nose bone into Juice's brain. In a delayed reaction, a dying Juice fired and sent a bullet through his own head.
Nigma took Stephanie off of the boy's shoulder before he pushed him out into the streets and the rain.
"Gangsta, riiiiight," Riddler cackled. He looked at the vulnerable girl on his shoulder. "It should be only a matter of time before the boy comes after you, he loves you too much to let you fend for yourself." He started for his car. "And he knows you don't stand a chance against me...just like him." Nigma hopped into his car and drove away.
Tim swung through the night as thunder and lightning danced above his head. Am I really out here because I don't want Steph hurt? It's not like she can't take care of herself, maybe there's something else driving me. He secured his next jumpline and continued scouring the city streets and skyline. Is it cause I want to apologize and make things right between us? We were talking out of anger back there. He stopped atop the City Library and looked out, his makeshift costume soaked. But why don't I feel that way? I feel better now that we've had that discussion. He sat down, more confused than ever. Or is it...that I miss being Robin so bad, that I jumped at the chance to do something, and I'm merely using Stephanie as an excuse? Tim felt cold, the type of cold you feel when you know you've reached an unchanging truth. I miss this.
She had been waiting all day, hoping and praying that he would fall into her midst again. "You may not be in the same costume as before, but I recognize Robin when I see him." a female voice came from behind him.
Tim leapt up and had his staff at the ready. "Lotus?! How did you know?"
"A good ninja doesn't rely on faces to remember someone by always young one," she responded as she moved closer. "I remember your movements."
Tim didn't know whether to beat her or hug her. "What are you doing here? I thought you were gone."
"I was, but I had to return to warn you. Nigma is back and he's out for your blood."
"Me?!" Tim said baffled. "I'm not Robin anymore, I'm sure the new one can handle it."
"You don't mean that," Lotus stated as their eyes met. "You know damn well she doesn't stand a chance against him. And if I were you, I would warn her, because he'll go through her to get to you."
"How long before he's back in Gotham?" Tim asked, still on guard.
"He's here now, I witnessed this with my own eyes. He even had someone following me because I saw them after I took out that woman in that dishonorable purple outfit."
"That was you, but..." She raised a finger to her lips.
"We all have our reasons warrior," she smiled. "But I think you have the most urgent business of finding your friend before Nigma does."
Tim nodded. "But I can't take him down neither! I need to call Nightwing or Batman."
Lotus shook her head as she leaped off the building and became one with the night. "You don't give yourself enough credit..." And she was gone again.
Tim looked over the edge after her. Women. His mind then turned back to Steph. "Now I got to find her before that nut job does!" He launched himself back into the winds and rains with a more defined purpose.
"Hello? Earth to Stephanie Brown! This is death speaking and this is your last day of life!"
The voice jolted Steph awake as she raised her head. "Since when were you the Joker?" she grunted. "What the hell did you do to me?"
"Just a little of my best equilibrium gas," Nigma responded from above her. She was strapped into a chair with metal restraints, yet dressed fully in her Robin costume. "Did you like it? It's a slow mover, causing the victim to first lose their sense of direction and finally their balance."
"Oh I just adored it," Robin grimaced. She strained against her bonds, but they weren't budging. And Riddler had taken her communicator. "What's with me being in costume, are you really that sick?"
"Are you really so stupid to let me find out your secret so easily?" Riddler fired back as he smacked her across the face. "Save it. Where's the boy?"
He's still after Tim! "I don't know." Robin stated flatly.
Riddler yanked her mask off and slammed his fist into her gut, bowling her over in her seat. He pulled her back up by the hair. "Where is he?!"
"I DON'T KNOW!" Steph screamed back. She then spit in Nigma's face.
"Oh you stay cocky honey," Nigma sneered as he wiped off the saliva. "Cause it's gonna be the only thing you have to hold onto when I'm through with you. Oh wait, you can't be cocky when you're dead!" He smacked Robin in the mouth again, this time drawing blood.
"I won't go down easily," Robin tried to sound un-intimidated. Riddler laughed.
"Well that all depends on how long it takes your little boyfriend to show up, now doesn't it?" He turned and left the small room, leaving Steph alone.
"What have I gotten myself into?" she whispered, the tears flowing. "Tim I need you!"
"Tim, are you there?" Oracle's voice sounded in his ear. And it sounded distressed.
"I'm here, what's up?" Tim asked as he ducked under an overhang for shelter.
"He's got her. Riddler's got Stephanie."
Tim's heart jumped into his throat. "How do you know?"
"He left this riddle through her intercom, but that's been dead for the past hour," she began. "It began..."
"Wait," Tim stopped her. "Not over the link, I'm coming there. Give me 5 or 10."
"Hurry Robin." Babs replied as she closed the link.
"He what?!" Dick Grayson yelled in surprise. "Nigma has Stephanie?"
"Yes, and Tim's on his way here to get the riddle. Any chance you'll be lending your assistance?" Oracle asked.
"Not this time Babs," Dick replied. "I have to stay on my toes here, with Blockbuster out of the picture."
"Are you serious? I couldn't get ahold of Bruce, and now you're saying no? Those kids will be killed!" Barbara roared back.
Dick sighed. He hoped she wouldn't take it like this. "Look, I got to go, but I'm sure Tim can handle himself. But tell him to come to my apartment once he's through there."
"Fine," Oracle responded and cut the contact. Tim had just arrived behind her. "It's over there Tim," she pointed as she took off her headset. "Dick wants to see you tonight in Bludhaven after you're through here."
"Why?" Tim asked as he took the riddle.
"Casually I've Taken Your
Darling love, your mi amour
But if you look in the right corridors
You'll find her and much much more!"
"Old habits die hard," Tim decided as he reached the end. Barbara, I'll be in touch, I'm going to meet Dick." He turned to leave when Oracle reached out and grabbed him.
"Be careful Robin."
Tim nodded and launched himself in Bludhaven's direction from the window. That's the second time she's called me Robin tonight.
The gas still had quite the grip on Robin's mind as she blacked out yet again. She was too far gone to notice Riddler in the room.
"It took me weeks to get over my battle with the boy and Nightwing, even longer months was spent planning. Did you think I would leave you out?" He poked Steph in the head. "Listen to me!"
Steph raised her head but let it drop again. Nigma laughed.
"The boy cares immensely for you this he showed in our last encounter, so he'll show. Alone. He has too much pride to bring help this time. And this time, I will kill him before your eyes, and then you too can die. The same goes for Nightwing and the Bat." He stopped and took a sip of his red wine. "But the boy dies tonight, regardless of identity."
Suddenly Robin snapped awake, her eyes wide.
"Did you have a nice nap?" Riddler taunted.
Stephanie could not answer. She began to have a seizure.
"Nightwing," Tim spoke into his communicator. "I'm on my way."
"Good, you need to be properly suited up for this fight." Nightwing replied
What's that supposed to mean? Tim pondered. Does he have a suit for me? "Don't forget I need help on this riddle." Tim used one hand to steer while he brought the riddle to his face. Several seconds passed.
"Tim?" Dick asked.
"Dammit, I can't figure this out!" Tim roared in frustration.
"It's the stress Tim, you need to calm down if you want to have any chance at helping Steph. I'm going into radio silence not. Nightwing out." He finished as the link died.
"Calm down Tim," he whispered. "You can do this. Take down the super strong baddie and save the girl. No worries." Tim managed a smile and continued up the road. Until the thoughts of Nigma pounding King Snake, Dick and himself started replaying in his head. "Dammit!!!" It was going to be long ride to Bludhaven, and Tim was pushing 65.
NEXT ISSUE: This is it: Robin #12! It's Tim vs. Riddler with Stephanie's life hanging in the balance! And what does Nightwing have in mind for our hero? Will Tim reclaim the mantle or stay away like he promised himself?