Present Day… Gotham City…
That solitary word was the only warning Ra’s had. The old man barely had time to move as Neal pulled the trigger of the gun hard and sent a bullet flying towards his head without any hesitation. If he hasn’t moved, the bullet would’ve gone straight between his eyes. Because he did move, the bullet only narrowly grazed his temple but clipped off the top of his left ear. Ra’s stumbled to the floor, head ringing and blood pouring down the side of his head from beneath the hand that clutched his wounds.
“Master!” Fowler yelled, shoving Kate aside when he realized that threatening her would have no effect on Neal. He pulled out his own gun and trained it on the his master’s attacker, who was preoccupied with lining up his next shot.
Before either of them could pull their respective triggers, a large section of the thick glass window shattered inward, destroyed by a explosive charge set from the outside, and two dark figures swooped into the room.
Immediately, the taller and more menacing of the two men zeroed in on Fowler, eyes narrowing as he spied the gun aimed at his son’s back. Fowler tried in vain to redirect his aim at Batman, but he fired the gun too soon and the shot went wide. It also only served to make the Dark Knight angrier, which the doomed former FBI agent felt first hand when the elder vigilante’s armored fist went crashing into the side of his face.
While his father subdued the more immediate threat, Nightwing went to put himself between Ra’s and his brother. He stepped in front of Neal protectively and kept him at his back while he stared down the old man that had been the cause of his family’s greatest misery over the last seven years. However, raw anger turned into confusion as he noticed Ra’s injuries, the way his blood ran down the side of his head, and the way he was moving, attempting to make his way to the darkest shadows at the rear corner of the room while he himself kept the vigilante between him and his brother.
“D*mn it! Out of my way!”
It was only by the barest of margins that the masked man turned back to see Neal dashing around him, gun arm outstretched, finger in the process of tightening around the trigger.
“NO!” Moving faster than even Dick thought himself possible, Nightwing intercepted Neal almost purely by instinct. He struck his brother’s forearm sharply with one of his escrima sticks, wincing at the yelp of pain from the younger man. The gun still went off, but its deadly slug embedded itself in the ceiling instead.
Stumbling backwards by the force of the blow, Neal managed somehow to stay on his feet all the same. Pain was etched on his face, mingling with obvious frustration and growing desperation at the second failed attempt to kill the demon in front of him. Despite the fact that his gun arm had been fractured by Nightwing’s strike, he still refused to release the weapon. Neal grit his teeth tightly against the pain as he quickly, but unsteadily attempted to aim at Ra’s retreating figure again. Even though the pistol trembled badly in his wounded grasp, a sensation of panic rose in his chest as the woman’s voice echoed in his mind.
“If he lives, you will die!”
“If he lives, you will die!”
“If he lives, you will die!”
“Tim! Stop it!” Dick yelled, panic starting to tinge his own voice. “You can’t kill him!” The warning didn’t even register as Neal desperately tried to get around the taller, stronger man once more, trying to end the demon’s life before the monster vanished back into the shadows he came from. “I’m sorry, Tim,” Dick whispered with a grimace. The masked man had no choice but to strike him again, this time much harder, simultaneously disarming him and sending his brother crashing into the wall. Neal cried out as he clutched his now broken arm, and the gun went clattering harmlessly across the floor. However, the pain was momentarily forgotten as he saw a door hidden within the shadows open up. Ra’s al Ghul gave him a parting glare full of deadly promises before vanishing into the darkness.
“No,” Neal murmured as the demon escaped before his eyes. “No!” He struggled to his feet, shouldered his way past Nightwing, and ran for the now locked door, beating on it several times with his good hand before stepping back slowly. Dick watched him with deepening concern. The costumed man expected Neal to whirl on him in anger for preventing him from killing Ra’s. He braced himself to become the target of his brother’s fury. It was almost expected because that was what had happened when Bruce had prevented Jason from killing the Joker nearly a decade ago.
What Dick hadn’t expected, though, was the expression of bone-chilling dread that bloomed on his injured brother’s paling face. Unlike past, near-deadly events involving Jason, Neal hadn’t been trying to kill Ra’s out of rage or revenge, it seemed. An unhappy realization dawned slowly on Dick.
His brother had been trying to kill Ra’s out of fear.
A sickening feeling settled itself in the pit of Dick’s stomach as he realized that Neal… Tim… remembered Ra’s al Ghul and what that monster had done to him.
“No,” Neal whispered, the terror starting to creep up into his voice as he shook his head. “No, no, no, no, no…” He clutched his injured arm close to his body and backed further away from the door.
“Tim,” Dick said hesitantly as he started to take a step towards the increasingly distressed man. Before he could get too close to him a smaller, slender, feminine figure dashed past him.
“Neal!” Kate ran past Nightwing and closed the distance quickly between herself and the man she loved. Mindful of his broken arm, the dark haired woman with eyes that seemed almost too blue to be natural gently caught Neal’s face with her hands and turned his gaze to her face. “Neal?” Then she whirled on Nightwing, a furious expression on her face. “Why did you stop him? Why did you let that monster get away?” she yelled at him.
As Dick struggled for an answer, watching helplessly as Kate turned away from him with a disgusted glare so she could return to tending Neal, he felt a strong hand settle on his shoulder.
“I’m going to go after Ra’s,” Batman said quietly, his own gaze focused on Neal and Kate as well. “You need to get these two to safety.”
“We won’t be able to use the jet,” Nightwing murmured. “With his arm broken, he won’t be able to make the climb to the roof the way we came in.”
Batman thought for a moment. “There’s the bunker at Yost and 2nd. One way in and out from the street level, and you can take the tunnels back to the cave from there. ” He patched through to the Batcave. “Oracle. Can you remote control a car to the DiDio Building?”
“Sure thing, guys. I’ll have one there in five.”
Nightwing nodded as he watched Neal and Kate. His brother had finally snapped himself out of the shell-shocked, fear-induced stupor he’d been in earlier and was tenderly caressing Kate’s face with his good hand as they sat together on the floor, speaking with one another in low, hushed tones he couldn’t make out. Despite the pain he was still in, there was a large measure of relief there too. There was so much love in his eyes for the woman in front of him. He seemed almost blind to everything else going on around him.
“I’ll see you back at the cave,” his father said as he made his way to the exit. As Batman left, Nightwing walked over to the reunited couple. Dick felt a guilty pang as his brother flinched away from his approach, watching him warily while Kate glared daggers at him.
“It’s ok,” Dick said gently. “I really am here to help you two.” Slowly he knelt down to their level. “We need to get out of here. It’s not safe.” He avoided Kate’s dark look by turning his attention squarely on Neal. “Sorry about your arm. Let me stabilize it for you. I promise we’ll get a legit doctor to look at it later.” He offered Neal an open hand, palm upward. The injured man stared at the gloved hand as if it were a snake that might strike him if he got too close. His blue eyes, reflecting so much pain, confusion, suspicion, and fear, lifted up to meet Nightwing’s red pupilless gaze. The obvious lack of trust wounded Dick and made his heart ache as he remembered the days when his younger brother used to trust him with his very life, no questions asked, no hesitation.
“Please, Neal,” he pleaded sincerely. “Let me help you.”
A silent look was shared between Neal and Kate. Wordlessly, he took a deep breath and released it slowly. Then, just as slowly, he gingerly offered Nightwing his broken arm.
Midway through the maze of the pitch dark building, Bruce was silently cursing his atrociously bad luck. He’d lost Ra’s al Ghul midway through the building about a dozen floors below where he’d left his sons. The black-clad vigilante went to the nearest window to look around outside while he checked in with the others.
“Robin… Batgirl… If you’re able, I need you two to scout the street level perimeter.”
There was a moment of pause before his youngest son’s voice came through in his cowl. “No can do. Batgirl and I are pinned down here on the rooftop next to you.”
“The League’s assassins?”
“No.” There was the sound of gunfire and bullets ricocheting off of concrete. “Council of Spiders.”
“Soon as we took out the last League assassin, we were ambushed again, this time by Wolf, Goliath, and Widower. Batgirl’s taken out Widower, but I’ve lost track of Goliath and Wolf is shooting at us from a distance.” Bruce could almost hear the frown in Damian’s voice. “It’s strange though. They aren’t trying very hard to take us down. They seem more determined to just keep us from leaving.”
Batman’s own lips curved into a frown as he listened to his son. “Do what you can to get out of the situation. Meet us here.” He switched to a different frequency on his com link. “Red Hood. Report.”
The response from Jason was almost immediate. “A little busy right now!” There were the clear sounds of a fight going on in the background before the line to the Red Hood was abruptly cut.
As Batman stood there in silence, an uncomfortably tense feeling of dread was coiling in the pit of his stomach. Something didn’t feel right.
If it weren’t for his training, Bruce would’ve jumped when his com link pinged at him. “Oracle?”
“No, Master Bruce. It’s me.”
He indulged in a small sigh. It was only Alfred. “Status report?”
“We’ve just arrived. I’ve secured Miss Hunter in one of the rooms in the east wing of the manor, with instruction that she is not to go wandering for the time being. How is the situation with Timothy?”
“We’ve gotten custody of him,” he confirmed with the old man who was more father to him than servant these days. “But our situation is complicated here. There was a confrontation with Ra’s al Ghul that has affected Tim badly. He and Kate are with Nightwing right now while I’m tracking down Ra’s. There are members of the Council of Spiders here as well. Robin and Batgirl are dealing with them at the moment. Possibly Red Hood as well.”
“I’m sorry, sir, but who did you say is with Timothy and Richard?”
“Kate. Kate Moreau. Tim’s… Neal’s girlfriend. She was being held hostage by the League of Assassins, possibly as leverage against Tim.”
The wary disbelief in Alfred’s voice threw up another set of warning flags in Bruce’s mind. “That’s quite impossible, sir. Kate Moreau is dead.”
“I know the story,” Bruce tried to reassure Alfred. “That she appeared to have died in a plane explosion some months ago. But she is alive-“
“No sir. Kate… The real Kate has been dead for nearly two years.”
Bruce’s blood ran cold. “What?”
“I finished getting the last of Miss Hunter’s story during the trip from New York to Gotham. The real Kate Moreau had been murdered and replaced with a look-a-like by the League of Assassins shortly before Timothy escaped from prison.”
Even before Alfred finished speaking, Bruce was already backtracking, trying to make his way back to his sons. “Are you certain about that? Is she?”
“If what Miss Hunter told me is true, Ra’s has known about Timothy’s identity as Neal Caffrey for several years now. While he was in prison, the League quietly murdered Kate and replaced her with an imposter.”
Bruce ground his teeth together. “This has all been a game to him!” he growled. “He’s been toying with Tim! Playing with him until we finally found him!”
“The imposter should have been dead too, though,” Alfred said solemnly, catching the urgency he heard clearly in Bruce’s voice. “Miss Hunter confessed to having set the bomb which destroyed the plane and her in it. She did it to protect Timothy.”
“Well she failed!” Bruce snapped before connecting to his eldest. “Nightwing! Status report!”
“I’m somewhere near tenth floor,” Dick said softly. “Tim and Kate are waiting on the eleventh while I scout the stairwell.”
“Get back to them now!”
“Kate is an imposter!”
“She’s working for Ra’s! Tim’s in danger! GO!”
As soon as he heard his father’s words, Dick practically flew up the stairs and burst through the door to the eleventh floor, where he’d last seen his brother and the woman he now knew to be working for the enemy. A part of him wanted to scream when he saw nothing but an empty hallway waiting for him.
“They’re gone!” he said over the com link. “Tim and Kate aren’t here!” Immediately, Nightwing dashed to the opposite end of the hallway, where another stairwell entrance was. He knew that the only way the two of them could’ve gone was down. He only hoped that he could reach them before they got too far.
Dick had just reached the third floor in the stairwell when the sound of two ominous gunshots from outside the building practically stopped his heart. His shoulder crashed hard into the nearest wall, as he was immediately too distracted to make the sharp turn for the next downward flight of stairs.
“No…” he murmured in shock as the sound of the gunshots echoed in his heart, wracking his entire soul. A third gunshot, a couple of seconds delayed after the first two, jolted him back into action. “NO!” Dick descended down the stairs even faster than before, the rest of the journey a blur in his vision until he burst through the doors that led him to the outside ground level. The sight that greeted him wasn’t what he expected in the least, but still brought him no comfort when all was said and done.
Bathed in grim moonlight, three bodies lay bleeding on the ground. Tim… Kate… and Ra’s al Ghul? Two were dead, still and unmoving from gunshot wounds that were clearly fatal, even in the deep shadows. However, one still lived, though he bled profusely from a wound in his abdomen. That man was being tended to frantically by an all too familiar FBI agent, whose service pistol was sitting nearly forgotten on the ground next to him.
As I write this, I cringe at the thoughts of the DC reboot that is currently going on. For those of you who are just now starting to read this story, “Confidence Lost” takes place in the DCU, not DCnU as the rebooted universe is being referred to in several forums and has little bearing on this story.
This story is finally coming together, and the end is coming into sight.
However, it’s not over yet.
Also, the story behind “Kate” will be revealed in the next chapter.