To bring you up to speed, this is the second installment of the "Theik2's Batgirl and Batwoman" series. It is only loosely related to the original story that they were based on, but to get you up to speed on the project as a whole, all is explained right here.
Revenge of the Riddler is a completely original continuation that moves forward from the first story.
“Wait a second. You landed yourself back in Arkham? On purpose? Yeesh, Nigma, they call me crazy.”
Edward allowed himself a small, superior smirk as he sat perched at the edge of his bunk, twirling a piece of thin pipe the way he might have with his signature question-mark cane. Two-Face’s growled concerns might have held some merit for a smaller mind, but he was not dealing with a smaller mind. He was clumsily attempting to relate to something he had no way of understanding. Trying to grasp the plan of a true genius. “In a mad world, only the mad are sane,” he quoted quietly, his expression darkening, eyes glimmering with a sort of lucid malice seen in very few of Arkham Asylum’s inmates.
Another growl of disdain from the scorched, scarred vocal chords of Harvey Dent, and the villain rolled over onto his side on the top bunk. “Don’t you dare start talking like Joker. I made some serious bribes to not get bunked with him this time.”
Riddler let out an annoyed sigh through his nostrils. “You have more in common with the clown than I do, Dent,” he spat the last word disdainfully. He continued to twirl the piece of pipe, back, then forth, then back, then forth, the lilting rhythm of it helping him focus. Helping his magnificent brain process every piece of his plan. “There’s a reason I came back to Arkham. There’s a reason I got the attention of the girls when I had the chance. There’s a reason I was thrown back in here without anyone properly tracing my steps first. There’s a reason for everything I do. Unlike you.”
“I got my own reasons.” Two-Face snarled, then paused. “Well, reason.”
A thousand insults and bitebacks simmered across the surface of Edward’s mind, possible retorts, like demons screaming briefly to the surface of a pool of oil, sticky and wailing -- only to sink back into the darkness. They’d all make him feel better, make him feel superior, but they probably wouldn’t be worth the cell-beating he’d receive as a reward. He decided to simply let it slide, ignoring the half-faced ex-lawyer for now. He had better things to think about.
“Hey, Charlie,” Riddler said as the guard walked past the bars of his cell, his grin widening. “Do you have the time?”
The guard scowled, rattling his baton slowly across the bars with a harsh, echoing click-click-click. “You got a hot date, Nigma? News flash, we ain’t lettin’ you outta here. Not ever. You’re in for good this time.”
“And you’d deny me the simple privilege of knowing the time?” Edward feigned sorrow. “I’m a sick man, you know. Do me this one small comfort.”
The guard -- Charlie, apparently -- sighed, turning his gaze to the clock at the far end of the hall, just out of Riddler’s view. “Almost eight. Happy?”
Riddler laid back against the thin, creaking mattress of his bunk, grinning from ear to ear now. “Ecstatic.”
“Faster!” Bruce roared firmly, his voice loud but not angry. Still in control, always in control. He thrust one open palm outward, striking the flat of his hand against Stephanie’s stomach and knocking the wind out of her, causing the newly-minted Batgirl to stumble backward. Nearly falling but regaining her footing at the last moment, Stephanie gasped for breath as she tried to pull herself back into a battle stance. “No amount of kevlar will protect you from the force of a blunt strike. Once you’re off balance you’re no good to me.” Bruce Wayne’s voice lowered to a dark rumble, those cold blue eyes of his growing even more dour. “You’ll be even less good to me dead.”
Stephanie wheezed quietly as she tried to get her bearings, reaching for a batarang and tossing it at the Dark Knight, her mentor now only dressed in loose trousers and wrist-bandages. Stephanie herself, on the other hand, was forced to wear her entire Batgirl outfit even for sparring sessions. To “learn to wear it as a second skin,” or... whatever.
Casually deflecting the batarang with a pivot of his palm, Bruce advanced once more, feinting with a dangerous-looking outward thrust and making Stephanie flinch, then catching her with a sweep of his back leg, sending the teen heroine toppling -- this time completely. “I thought I said faster.”
“What do you expect, man!” Stephanie complained, huffing as she sat up. “I’m doing my best. You think I’m supposed to be as good as you?”
“No. But I can still narrow the margin between us,” Bruce scowled, momentarily considering helping the girl up before deciding against it. “Take two minutes. Make sure to hydrate.”
“Two minutes?! I’ll be more tired than I am now--!” Stephanie protested, only to be politely interrupted by a soft, yet firm cough from the other side of the Batcave’s sparring room. Alfred.
“What is it,” Bruce said without turning, taking a drink of water. His voice became even more serious now, if that were possible -- the silent relationship he had with his butler was acute enough that he could sense the gravity of Alfred’s cough on an astoundingly precise scale.
“Channel Six may be of interest to you, Master Bruce,” Alfred reported. He glanced briefly down to Stephanie’s still-prone form, offering a polite nod to her but nothing more..
A small nod from the scarred, muscular figure of Bruce Wayne. “Computer, display Channel Six.”
The gigantic display of the bat-computer flickered to life, switching to the requested channel even before the screen lit. It showed a dark room, more shadows than wood and steel, containing only a nondescript wooden chair, the back of it facing the camera, straddled by a lean, familiar figure.
“And it should be around this time that our dear Dark Knight is signing in to the show,” a smug voice sneered from the screen. “Hello, Batman. It’s time we had a little chat, and I laid your options out onto the table.”
“Riddler,” Bruce growled, his bandaged hands tightening into fists.
“Yep, Riddler! Ten points to the detective. Don’t worry, Batman -- I can’t hear you. This was recorded far in advance, so I wouldn’t advise trying to scramble this transmission that’s so seamlessly replacing the evening news right now. I’m about to impart some vital information to you, and this will be the only chance you have to hear it.”
Bruce growled, then fell silent. Stephanie finally brought herself to her feet, standing just behind the Dark Knight and looking up at the screen herself, a flicker of fear filling her. Riddler had sounded so certain of something when they’d met, but her and Kate hadn’t bothered to see if there was a greater plan. They’d been too proud over their small victory.
“All sitting down?” the shadowy figure on the screen said, playfully twirling his unique cane from side to side. “Perfect. Here’s the situation, detective -- in exactly two hours, a transmitter similar to this one will take over the airwaves. It’s hidden somewhere in the city, and won’t be easy for even you to find. Now, I hear you asking the million-dollar question... what is this transmitter going to tell the world?” Riddler’s voice grew lower, darker, a mad certainty taking him over as he reveled in the details of his own plan. “I thought you’d never ask. The transmission is a very simple exchange of information from me to the population of Gotham City: Information detailing the identities of Nightwing, Robin, Older-Robin, all three Batgirls, and the exact location of the Batcave.”
“Holy crap,” Stephanie breathed.
“I don’t suggest you call my bluff, detective. You know I’m more than capable of acquiring all that information, especially considering that I know the greatest secret of all -- a piece of information so valuable that I won’t be sharing it, not even to spite you.”
“He knows,” Bruce growled. “He’s known for a long time, but considers it too valuable a secret to share. Being one of the few people that knows it empowers him.”
The Channel Six hijack wasn’t over yet, though, and Edward Nigma’s sneering voice continued. “Of course, there are so many of you in your little family, now -- if you all spread out, I’m sure you’d find my poor little hidden transmitter, which is why I’ve decided to make things more interesting. There are five bombs hidden around Gotham City for your little friends to take care of while you do the heavy lifting... because we all know, Dark Knight, that you’d never trust them with something so important, so vital.”
“There has to be a catch,” Bruce mumbled under his breath. “Something he wants, or he would have just broadcast the information without warning me.”
“This is the part where you wonder what it is I want,” Riddler continued. Just enough light shone down onto his silhouetted figure to see his lips widen into a mad smirk. “You have an alternative, Dark Knight. At any time, you can simply choose to admit the truth that you’ve been trying to deny for so long -- just confess to one simple fact: that the Riddler... is smarter than you. You know where to find me, Batman. Tick tock.”
The broadcast went blank, leaving Bruce, Steph, and Alfred in a silence for a long moment. It was nearly a minute before Stephanie wheeled on the senior crimefighter, letting out a squeaked rush of words. “Just tell him what he wants to hear! You don’t have to mean it! You can end all of this!”
“I can’t do that,” Bruce said grimly, “If that ever happens, if Riddler ever feels like he’s truly won, then the games all end. No more advanced warnings, no more puzzles to solve. I have no idea what he might do if he gets a chance to switch his obsession to something less resistant.”
“Wait,” Stephanie furrowed her brow. “Are you saying that...?”
“That just because I can’t say it, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.”
“What about the Justice League! Call Superman in, he can use his X-ray whatever and take care of this whole thing in a couple seconds!”
“And give the Riddler the satisfaction of winning? No. I have to do this myself. I’ll contact the others and get them searching for those bombs.” Bruce turned away from the blank screen, making his way to the part of the Batcave where he kept his suit and gear. “Oh, and Stephanie,” he said, pausing only briefly. “I need you to contact someone. Someone Nigma won’t be expecting.”
“Someone you should be very pleased to see again.”
“That... still doesn’t really tell me who.”
Kate Kane’s eyes widened slightly when she heard the “whoosh” of cloaked movement behind her. Part of her was proud to even hear it at all -- a bigger part realized that she never would have known that Batman was coming if he didn’t want her to.
“Bruce,” she said softly, tilting her head up to acknowledge the cloaked presence behind her. She didn’t know how he’d found her here, perched on one of Gotham’s many rooftop grotesques on a routine patrol. Not that she doubted it. He was Batman, after all.
“You’d be wise not to use that name when the masks are on,” rumbled his low voice from behind her. “I need your help with something.”
Kate’s eyes widened even more this time, though she kept faced away from the Dark Knight in hopes that he wouldn’t be able to notice. Even last time he’d asked for her help, it had been less direct than this -- half suggestion, half command, half threat, adding up to 150% “yes sir.” She paused, finally turning when she heard the less artful landing of a smaller figure. There he was, all tall and dark and terrifying, and just behind him was... her. The teen heroine that Batwoman had grown uncomfortably attached to during their last patrol.
“Stepha-- Batgirl,” Kate breathed, turning around completely and stepping onto the rooftop itself, her posture straightening. Her feelings on the younger hero were viciously conflicted, mostly as a result of Stephanie Brown’s age. Sure, she was old enough to risk her life every night battling the neverending waves of crime and corruption that Gotham inexhaustibly supplied. But was she old enough for a -- she hesitated to even think the word “relationship” -- that would end gruesomely the second one of them were shot by Two-Face, devoured by Killer Croc, or ended up in some horrific deathtrap by the Joker?
She tried to shake it from her mind. She had a responsibility. Probably. “What is it you need, Batman?”
“The Riddler has some... valuable information. It will be broadcast to the public in two hours if I don’t find the source of the transmitter.” Simple, matter of fact, no more information than he needed to give. He trusted Kate Kane even less than he did his actual teammates, if that were possible. It showed.
“And you need me to... help you look for it?”
“I need you and Batgirl to head to Arkham Asylum and find out what Riddler’s up to,” Batman growled. “This whole thing was planned too many steps in advance -- starting with getting the two of you to lock him up when he wanted to be -- for there not to be something greater at stake. There’s an element to this that he hasn’t told us.”
“Wait -- what -- you mean you’re actually gonna go look for the transmitter?” Stephanie squawked, wheeling on Batman with a look of incredulity. “You’ll fall right into whatever his trap is! Aren’t you gonna say something like... like... like the only way to beat him at his game is not to play, or something like that?”
“Riddler isn’t Joker. He will broadcast that information if I don’t prevent it. With Oracle and the Robins busy with the bombs, I need the two of you to cut off whatever the rest of Riddler’s plan is before he carries it out.” He paused briefly, turning that chilling glare on Kate before turning away from both girls. “Don’t let me down.”
“But wait, I--” Kate attempted, but it was too late. Batman had vanished completely, leaving her alone with the blonde teenager. Folding her arms across her chest, she inhaled deeply and glanced to Batgirl, pausing for a moment before finally acknowledging the other heroine. “So... hey.”
Strangely, Stephanie’s greeting lacked any hint of the conflict Kate was experiencing -- for as much as she sometimes seemed like an open book, in this she was completely unreadable. “Hey, Batwoman,” she said, a small smile on her face as she prepared her grapple-gun. “Ready to go kick some butt?”
“Provided Arkham has some butt to kick,” Kate replied hesitantly. Eh, who was she kidding -- this was going to be a total catastrophe as soon as the two of them arrived, if it wasn’t already.
When you were a part of the Bat-Family, now matter how peripherally, getting into Arkham Asylum without anyone knowing was sometimes something that had to be done. It took very little effort on Stephanie’s part to find an air duct leading into the maximum-security asylum, and dive into it -- leaving Batwoman to crawl behind her, immediately wishing that Batgirl’s short purple cape was longer. When one was already conflicted with romantic feelings towards another, a solid five minutes of involuntarily staring at that person’s latex-clad backside was not, in any way, helpful. Even if it wasn’t necessarily unappreciated, either.
“You think this was really our fault, like Batman said?” Steph murmured as she approached the end of the duct, using the mini-hydraulics in her gloves to press the grate off. “That easily duping us was part of Riddler’s plan?”
“As much as I’d love to say no,” Kate sighed. “That’s probably exactly what happened. You remember how smug he was. We were so proud to have handled him on our own that we didn’t stop to call his bluff.” Batwoman chewed her lower lip quietly as Steph slipped from the grate and onto the ground level, following behind before continuing. “But we’re here to fix it, now, at least. I just hope Batman finds the transmitter.”
“And all the bombs.”
“Right, and those,” Kate admitted. “We’d better be careful from here. If Riddler is planning something from inside of Arkham, then this is the most dangerous place in Gotham right now.” She furrowed her brow in thought for a moment, the expression undetectable behind her hard cowl. “Um... where exactly are we, again? I’ve never been inside Arkham before.”
“This is the medical wing,” Steph answered proudly. “I’ve been in Arkham a couple times now. Plus Batman makes us study the layout every time it gets renovated. Which is... yeah, pretty frequent.” The teen dusted herself off, glancing towards the other end of the building which should have led to where the inmates were kept. But.... “It seem a bit, y’know, spooky in here? Or is that just me?”
“It’s quiet. There should be people working -- even just a few burning the midnight oil,” Batwoman agreed. “Something’s wrong.”
“That depends completely on perspective, Vampy,” came a characteristically quirky accent echoing from within the medical wing. “Y’see, where I’m standin’, I’ve got the key to city hall and a couple’a bat-brats to squash -- I’d say everything’s goin’ just right!”
Batwoman didn’t have time to think of any sort of stoic comeback before the source of the voice made itself seen, a series of acrobatic flips and twists bringing the limber form of Harley Quinn out of the shadows of Arkham’s seemingly-abandoned medical wing... a series of flips and twists that each served to add yet more momentum to the colossally heavy hammer that the clowngirl was swinging.
A volley of batarangs spun outwards, each one nimbly avoided by that flurry of flips and leaps. It was difficult to tell if the miraculous avoidance was purposeful or simply fool’s luck, but it did serve to be problematic anyway when the mallet slammed into the center of Kate’s body, sending her flying backwards. Her armor may have been bulletproof, but bulletproof didn’t always mean hammer-proof -- nor did it make Kate wall-proof as she was smashed into the opposite wall of the medical with a hard “oof!”
“Y’know, I ain’t seen this one before,” Harley mused, a big grin spreading across her face as she stood over Kate’s crumpled figure, twirling her hammer in circles like it was weightless. “More bats every day, I guess. Makes a girl wonder what exactly it is that keeps temptin’ people to emulate Big Batsy. As a professional, of course.” The clown’s grin widened as she lifted the hammer up above her head, aiming at Batwoman’s head this time -- a blow that would break Kate’s neck whether she was bulletproof or not. “Say g’night, Vampy.”
“Leave her alone!” Batgirl roared, throwing her light weight towards the lycra-clad jester with a ferocious, if undisciplined, tackle -- a show of force that earned little more than a startled “eek!” and a backhand from Harley Quinn, sending Steph flying backwards.
“When’re you baby-bats ever gonna learn?” the clown sighed, giggling wildly as she delivered a swift kick to Steph’s ribs. “I ain’t just some little girl no more. I got powers. It’s gonna take more than teenagers to bring this clown down. Heh. Clown down. That rhym--”
Harley yelped as she tumbled forward, two of Batwoman’s stylized red batarangs wrapping a line of cord around her ankles and sending her stumbling, falling only to catch herself in a handstand and cartwheel forward over Steph’s fallen body, giggling as she did. “Bondage on the first date, Vampy? And here I thought Ivy was kinky.”
Another few quick flips and the clown had freed herself of the makeshift bolas, now back on the ground floor of the medical wing and looking up at the two bats, grinning madly. “Lucky for you two, I ain’t got time for spin the bottle -- got heads to smash and I don’t really feel like spendin’ any more time in this dump than I have to. So here’s a parting message from Auntie Harley, bat-chicas....”
The Joker’s former accomplice withdrew a massive cupcake from seemingly nowhere, barely stifling her manic giggles as she lit a fuse on the thing’s tip. “...Life’s too short not to eat dessert first! Especially your lives!” Busting into a peal of laughter, Harley tossed the cupcake towards the two stumbling, dazed heroines, the thing sticking to the opposite wall... and the fuse rapidly growing shorter.
“Get down!” Kate roared, summoning up the little bit of stamina she had left after that wind-blasting hit and diving for Steph’s fallen, groaning form. One arm wrapped tightly around the blonde teen and the other pulled her cape up and over the two of them, a wave of shrapnel and flame cascading over the both of them -- sealing them in a warm, dark cocoon, their faces close, lips closer, Steph’s soft blue eyes flickering open to gaze up and into Kate’s striking green ones.
As the blast finally subsided, severely scorching Batwoman’s cape but not damaging either of them, Stephanie closed the distance between them, pressing her lips tenderly to the older woman’s and drawing a quiet moan from Kate. Her arms tightened a little around the smaller girl, and for just a moment, everything seemed to fade away -- all the Riddler’s threats, Batman’s judgment, and the seeming inevitability of a breakout from Arkham. In that moment, both of them covered by the scalded cape and pressed against one another, all that existed was that soft, long kiss.
It was a long moment before their sudden embrace broke, and Kate blinked, her breath warm on Stephanie’s cheek. Wordlessly, she struggled to her feet, not sure how to address her breach of control or even if she should try. She glanced down to the communicator on her wrist, one she’d received from Batman some time ago to get in contact with him should it ever be necessary. Taking a deep breath, she switched the signal on in leaned in. “Batman, this is Batwoman. We have a problem -- I think Riddler’s using the transmitter as a distraction to host an Arkham breakout.”
She waited for a moment, keeping her eye on Batgirl as the teen rose shakily to her feet, hissing as she touched her fingers to her bruised ribs. No answer came from the communicator. Not even the spark of silent acknowledgement of the communicator being switched on. They were alone.
“This isn’t good,” Steph whispered, wincing as she took a few steps forward, glancing towards the doors that would lead to the inmates’ cells. She could hear the sounds of shouting and fighting from beyond them, see flashes of light from explosions through the lofty, gothic windows of Arkham. “This isn’t good at all.”
A burbling, spitting sound suddenly crackled from the large monitor hanging from the hospital’s ceiling, and the screen lit to show the same dark room they’d seen earlier, on Channel Six. Another pre-recording.
“People of Gotham,” Riddler purred, his face still obscured by shadows. “The time has finally come to admit that the dark hero you cling to... is not the person you so desperately need for him to be.”
“Oh no,” Kate whispered. “What’s he doing.”
“Five bombs, or at least that’s what your Dark Knight thought he was dealing with. Five bombs, scattered across the city -- that he sent his underlings to go and find, while he looked out for himself,” the recording of Riddler spat the last word, then calmed himself, allowing a smile back onto his face. “Lucky for all of you that there were no bombs at all. I, Edward Nigma, was never the villain here.”
“No bombs...?” Stephanie breathed. She glanced sidelong at Batwoman, leaning lightly against the woman’s side as she looked up at the screen.
“No bombs, just information, and two -- that’s right, Gotham, two -- transmitters.”
“Batman? I’m not finding any bombs anywhere. How do you think he hid them?” Dick’s voice over the communicator. Nightwing was beginning to sound desperate, and Bruce couldn’t entirely say he blamed him. He’d gotten similar reports from Tim, Damien, Cass, and Barbara as well. Something was wrong. Either Riddler had found some revolutionary way to hide the transmission signal of a bomb, or--
He froze as his wave-tracer finally came upon the signal he was looking for, the specific kind of emission that would come from a beacon capable of transmitting a sequel, rather than simply receiving one. It was exactly what he needed, and he had a little time to spare, too. Easy, in the wake of the gravity of Nigma’s original message. Maybe too easy.
Glaring at nobody in particular, Bruce dove downward into the abandoned fish-market where the signal was coming from, shattering glass and crunching wood as he made his brutal descent -- and there it was. Beeping softly, about the size of a lunchbox. As he approached it, the beeping stopped, and the sound of the television screen in Gotham’s central clock tower could be heard scratching, its current readout warping into something darker, more distorted. He heard the voice of the Riddler, and then he saw the note on the transmitter itself.
I WIN, BATMAN.
“--Igma, was never the villain here.” The screen on the tower was loud enough that Bruce could hear it from the docks, Nigma’s voice. “Five bombs that were never there in the first place, a simple bluff to see which thing Batman would choose to protect -- the people of Gotham, or his own secrets. And as a punishment for that pride, that hubris, that willingness to be praised as a hero despite him knowing quite well where his priorities lie....”
Kate and Steph looked up at the monitor, each holding their breath as they waited to see what would happen next. Stephanie found her gloved hand slowly reaching outward to take Kate’s, their fingers intertwining and then clasping firmly to one another as Batwoman returned the urgent grip.
“...Is to have his secret, his true secret, exposed to the city that put him on that broken pedestal. The identity of the Batman. The identity... of Bruce Wayne.”
The feed shut off, and Steph slowly turned towards the taller woman, her grip on Kate’s hand staying tight as she gazed up at the pale redhead. “But... he said... he said he wasn’t going to...?”
“He did what Bruce least expected,” Kate breathed, still staring at the monitor for a long moment, as if expecting to glean something, anything, more from it. “He gave up the information he so valued just to... to win.”
“The question is...” Batgirl whispered. The sounds of rioting from outside the medical wing were growing louder now. There was an Arkham breakout in full swing. The first in a series of problems that Batman would not be present for, for who knew how long.
“...What happens now?” Kate finished, looking back down to Batgirl, their eyes meeting.
There was a moment of silence then as Steph thought, tried to figure out what she knew of Bruce, what he’d do, what he’d done in situations like this. “He’ll do his best to deflect it. He’ll call in favors, do whatever he has to. But he won’t be Batman, he won’t be able to be. Someone else will take up the mantle. Nightwing maybe. And Gotham...” she let out a worried sigh, looking down at the pristine tile floor, and her hand tightened even harder around Kate’s red-gauntleted hand. “Gotham will get a lot worse.”
The two drew closer, Kate bringing her free hand to Steph’s chin to lift the teen’s face a little, then leaning down to press a very soft, very slow kiss on the girl’s tender pink lips. Forcing a weak smile to her ruby lips, Batwoman put on the bravest face she had. “Then we’ll have a lot of work to do, won’t we?”