Chapter 4

As Batman and I left the rooftops to reach his car, he got me caught up on the situation with Killer Croc. Dick and Damian had found Croc hiding out in Grant Park. In the process of trying to escape my brothers, Croc smashed up the first taxi cab that had been driving through the heavily wooded park, killed the driver, and grabbed its lone passenger as a hostage.

Tam had called a cab to take her home after the piano bar had closed, just like she always did. Her apartment was in a building that overlooked the park. She'd gotten the place because she loved the view from her balcony, especially at daybreak.

It killed me to know that despite everything I put her through (put us through) to try and make her life safer, in the end it didn't matter one bit. All it took was her going about her normal routine to set her on a collision course with Killer Croc.

No.

It wasn't her normal routine.

On the normal routine, if I hadn't done what I did, I would've secretly followed her home from rooftops and shadows, just to make sure she got there safe.

Of course, when I started blaming myself, Bruce made sure to cut me off before the guilt could take root. He reminded me that with Killer Croc on the loose I would've gone to help my brothers with the hunt. I would've still been away from her. She would've still taken the cab home, alone.

Leave it to one of the criminally insane psychopaths who menace in Gotham City to inadvertently teach me how critically flawed I was in my reasons for breaking up with Tam. It doesn't matter who you are, who you love, what you do for a living, or how much you try to do the right thing. If the darker side of Gotham really wants to hurt you, if it really wants to take something precious away, its demons will almost always find their marks.

Sometimes, I really hated this city.

"Robin, calm down," Batman's voice commanded sternly. "If there was ever a time to detach yourself from a situation, now is the—"

"This isn't just a situation!" I yelled at him inside the Batmobile as we tore through the streets of Gotham at breakneck speeds. "This is Tam being held hostage by a monster who routinely EATS his victims! I CAN'T detach!" Behind my cowl, I squeezed my eyes shut and buried my face in trembling hands. "I can't," I repeated in a small, muffled voice. This was literally one of my worst nightmares coming true, and it was taking every ounce of self control I still possessed to try and hold back the debilitating panic attack that threatened to overwhelm me. My heart rate was going way too fast, my stomach was twisted up in knots, and I knew I was on the verge of hyperventilating.

"Tam will be alright, Tim." Barbara's comforting voice came out of the com link on the dashboard. "Dick and Damian are in pursuit of Croc, and as long as he knows they're hot on his heels, he won't hurt her."

"You mean he won't kill her," I muttered as I recalled some of the more horrific aspects of my nightmares involving Tam and Killer Croc. "Killing and hurting are two entirely different things."

"Tim," Bruce's voice reached out to me. "I know you're worried, but Tamara needs you to be at your best right now. You're no good to her like this."

"I know, Bruce… I know…" I murmured weakly before lifting my head and taking a few measured breaths. Then, my eyes still closed, I began going through some of the meditative techniques I'd been taught over the years to try and force myself into some sort of calmer state.

Any sort of calmer state.

When we finally reached our destination the shakes had stopped and I was breathing easier, though the anxiety was still there lingering under the surface. At the very least, I could give off the general impression of being calm and collected, so long as no one looked too closely.

Running through the park was a man-made creek that doubled as a drainage area for when heavy rainfalls threatened to flood the city. The creek began and ended at tunnels which would lead to the old underground drainage system beneath Gotham. The system of tunnels once used to keep the city from flooding during heavy rainfalls was as old as Gotham itself. They were more like archaic catacombs than the more modern sewage and drainage system that eventually replaced it after the days of No Man's Land. This was the labyrinth that Killer Croc was trying to lose my brothers in.

They weren't going to lose him. In the scuffle they had before he'd taken Tam hostage, Damian had managed to get a tracer embedded in the monster's thick, scaly hide. Babs had been tracking him ever since. Now the plan was for the four of us to pin Croc down. The monster knew that the local bat and bird vigilantes were chasing his tail. He wouldn't expect that another set of winged crime fighters would be setting up an ambush ahead of him. And it didn't take long at all for Bruce and me to get into position in the near pitch dark tunnel that Croc was about to enter.

I could feel my muscles tensing as I heard Croc's heavy footsteps and deep, gutteral breaths hurrying towards my location, tucked away within one of the alcoves that lined the sides of the tunnel. Bruce was hidden behind a large pile of rubble from a collapsed portion of the same immediately across from me. Any of the anxiety and fear I felt before when Bruce first told me about Tam's capture had been replaced by a silent smoldering anger as the massive escaped convict entered my field of vision. With the night vision lenses in my cowl, I could see the murderous brute clear as day. He kept tossing nervous glances behind him as he slowly moved closer and closer. My heart leapt to my throat when I saw the limp, unmoving figure of a woman draped across one shoulder like a sack of potatoes.

"Tam," I mouthed silently despite myself as my grip tightened on my collapsed staff. Killer Croc turned around fully, unknowingly exposing his back to us while trying to keep a look out for his known pursuers. My heart and stomach flip-flopped inside me once more as I finally got my first clear look at Tam.

She was alive!

Though it was obvious she was trying to give off the impression that she was passed out with how limply she kept her body, Tam was biting her bottom lip and her desperate eyes were open and focused on—something? I followed the line from her eyes to her hands, which were straining to reach for something on Croc's back. I narrowed my gaze and turned on the telescopic feature of my lenses. Zooming in, it still took me a moment to figure out what she was reaching for.

A batarang?

It was one of Damian's batarangs!

Despite having tempered down his lethal assassin's nature over the years as Robin, the young teen still sharpened his bladed weapons to an precision surgical edge. For the first time, I was immeasurably thankful for that. Whereas the normally throwing weapons the rest of us carried would've just bounced or glanced off of Croc's tough, scaly hide, Damian's could actually pierce it.

And now, Tam was trying to reach for one of them! There were severally embedded in Croc's back, but the closest one was just barely within reach. I watched as Tam brushed the tips of her fingers repeatedly against the batwing shape, but she just couldn't get any purchase on it. I could see the anxious frustration written all over her face. I had no idea what she wanted to do with the batarang if she could get a hold of it, but if being armed helped her escape Croc's grasp, I was all for it.

I noticed Bruce move out of the corner of my eye. As silent as a ghost, he moved within the shadows of the large tunnel and the rubble that cluttered it to circle around Croc. My breath caught in my throat when I saw Tam freeze, her hand flinched back away from the weapon she'd been reaching for. I thought it was because of something Croc did, some twitch or shift in his grasp that I couldn't perceive, but then I noticed the movement of her eyes. She was tracking my father!

Somehow, in the near pitch darkness, she'd spotted him. Her expression was confused and wary. Most likely she couldn't tell who or even what she was looking at. All she knew was that someone else was moving around in this tunnel besides them. Then, as she turned her head slowly to scan the rest of the area, her gaze caught mine. Tam's eyes narrowed as she peered in into the darkness. Then they widened in surprise. My chest tightened as I saw her silently mouth a single word.

"Tim?"

"Croc!" Bruce's menacing voice cut through the thick silence, echoing off the walls. "Put the girl down, NOW!"

Killer Croc whipped his head around sharply, growling as he tried unsuccessfully to pinpoint the source of the voice. "Keep your distance, Bat! You know what'll happen if you or your bird boy gets too close!" He shifted his grip on Tam, moving her more solidly on his shoulder. However, this ended up putting her right where she needed. He'd put the batarang right in her hand. As soon as that happened, all hell broke loose.

Tam's focus shifted immediately once she felt the metal weapon press into her palm. Ignoring the sharp edge cutting into her skin, she grabbed it as tight as she was able to and pulled it out of Croc's flesh with all her might. Croc snarled in pain as he pulled her off his shoulder.

"You little b-tch!" he roared, grabbing her by her left arm with one hand and holding her inches away from his maw of jagged teeth.

Tam flinched when Croc brought her face to face with him, eyes closed tight and frozen with fear.

"CROC! PUT HER DOWN!" Bruce yelled.

"OR WHAT, BAT?" Croc turned his gaze away from Tam. As soon as his attention was turned away from her, Tam acted as fast as she could. She brought up her right hand, the batarang held tight within her clenched fist and dripping with her own blood.

Her captor noticed the movement, but recognized the danger too late. Croc turned to glare at his hostage just in time to see the sharp point of the weapon come straight down into his left eye!

As Croc roared in pain, he threw Tam away so that his hands were free to claw at projectile now embedded deeply in his eye socket. Her terrified scream was cut off abruptly when her body collided with the tunnel wall and she crumpled to the floor beneath it. Heedless of Croc, I rushed to her side while two bats and a robin exploded from the shadows to take the murderous thrashing creature down.

"Tam," I said as I knelt by her side. "Oh god, Tam. Please be alright." The relief I felt surge through my body was immense as she raised her hand to her head with a groan of pain.

"Ti—" she whispered hoarsely before catching herself. "Robin? Is that you?" Tam reached out to me weakly. With my right hand, I gently grasped hers while with the left I smoothed her hair from her face, trying to see if she'd received any serious injuries.

"I'm here, Tam. I'm right here. Everything will be alright. Just stay with m-"

Suddenly, I heard a cry of pain and I looked back just in time to see Damian's small frame come flying right at us. Reflexively, I shielded Tam with my body as my youngest brother collided with the same wall she had. Damian immediately tried to get back on his feet, a litany of curses tumbling from his bloodied lips in his native tongue. Unfortunately, with another waspish curse, he stumbled backwards and only by leaning against the wall was he able to stay upright.

My eyes narrowed as I turned my attention to Killer Croc as he fought against my father and eldest brother. "Stay with Tam," I ordered Damian as I extended my staff. If the thirteen year old spat anything out at me in response, I didn't hear it. The entire night had been a near total nightmare, and I, for one, wanted it to be over with a seething, bloodthirsty intensity.

So focused was Croc on the two Batmen he was fighting, that he didn't even realize a third party was entering the fray. I flanked him on his brand new blind side and rebounded off a nearby wall to give the kick I drove into the injured side of his skull some added momentum. The blow caught him way off guard, and it provided a great opening for Bruce and Dick to capitalize on. But as close as the two of them were to subduing the monster, I was nowhere near done.

The more I looked at Croc, the more I was reminded of what could have happened. The reality of Tam's kidnapping mingled with the memories of my nightmares and how narrowly those horrible visions could have come true.

He hurt Tam!

I almost lost her!

She could have been killed!

Those thoughts fed my blinding rage as I drove my shoulder right into Croc's midsection with unrestrained force and a primal snarl. I couldn't help savoring his guttural scream of agony as I forced him hard against the crumbling brick wall, knowing full well I'd driven some of Damian's embedded batarangs deeper into his back. Still seeing red, I had no intention of stopping, even as he slumped to the ground, completely unconscious. There was no way I was going to let that monster threaten Tam or anyone else ever again! I took my staff, extended the hidden blade, and aimed the narrow point squarely at Croc's skull, fully intending to drive it straight through the bone.

The End

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