Summary: Jean-Paul Valley and his violent alter-ego Azrael team up to defeat a mental third wheel. Turns out he has claws.

Disclaimer: Blinky doesn't profit from Azrael. No one does these days.

Rating: PG-13.

*******************
Burning Over
by Blinky the Tree Frog

The world returned slowly, images and thoughts blurring and then gradually sharpening themselves. It was soft. Soft, warm, blankets. Blankets and soft meant bed. He was in a bed. His bed? Had he just gone to sleep and woken up slightly confused? Where was he? What happened?

He lay in the dark in the bed until he was finally forced to conclude that he wasn't going to find out anything else without at least opening his eyes. Open eyes. Hmm... How did you do that again? It had never seemed that difficult before, but... Before what, anyway? Head hurt. He couldn't think properly. Open eyes, that'll help. Pull one eyelid up, pull the other eyelid up. There, that wasn't too hard, was it?

He stared at a ceiling. It was brown, and had a... woody sort of look to it. Wood ceiling, high wood ceiling. Alright, now turn head. Chair. Chair next to desk. Large book on desk with person in front. Brown haired person with glasses and... and...

"...oracle...?"

Brown haired person at desk jumped visibly and swung around with a flick of her wheeled chair. Oh good. At least he wasn't *that* confused. This was Barbara Gordon, and he was in the Clock tower. Simple.

"Jean Paul? Oh thank god, you're awake..."

She was worried? Something must have happened then. She was hardly going to be excited about him waking up if he'd just stayed over. Not that he ever really stayed over at the Clock tower anyway...

His head hurt.

"...my head hurts..."

She wheeled forward and leaned over him, looking concerned. "It's okay, it's just..."

Small hesitation.

"You've been... sick, Bright Eyes. Everyone's been worried about you."

"...what *happened*? my head, it's all jumbled, I can't remember. I can't..." Vague strands of panic began to flail.

"Shh, hey, it's okay, it's okay. Just get some rest for now, just..."

"I... I can't... Did something happen? Did I, did *Azrael* hurt someone..."

A faint wince was very quickly covered, but the damage was done. The vague threads turned into needles and stabbed him through the heart.

He struggled to a sitting position, trying desperately to ignore the violent protests from his head.

"Something did... *We* did..."

Oracle lunged forward, pressed him back down to the bed. "Bright eyes, calm down... Lie down..."

"But I..."

"Hey, I said *lie*!"

"Tell me what happened!"

"Paul, please! You're not in a rational state of mind, you're tired and sick. I'll explain later, I will, but right now..."

Flash of anger. *She's keeping things from us...*

"Please just lie down."

*She's lying to us*

"I've got some pills here, they'll help the pain and they'll let you sleep..."

*Trying to drug us...*

"Look, we'll just..."

*HURT HER.*

The rage screamed, unquenchable, insatiable, and he knew she was a filthy liar and she was evil and she *had* to be HURT and *ripped* APART and *destroyed* and

There was short, sharp pain.

There was nothing.

*********

The world returned slowly, images and thoughts blurring and then gradually sharpening themselves. It was soft. Soft, warm, blankets. Blankets and soft meant bed. He was in a bed. His bed? Had he just gone to sleep and woken up slightly confused? Where was he? What happened?

He lay in the darkness and had almost decided that he ought to open his eyes when... Voices... There were voices. Soft and almost indistinguishable but... maybe he'd find some answers there...

"...can't believe... doing this, Babs..."

"what do you suggest? ...hospital wouldn't be able to cope, I..."

The voice was louder, the tone getting more frustrated. "He's *dangerous*!"

"He isn't, Dick. Not at the moment. As soon as the other..."

"Okay, okay, I know. You explained. I don't buy it."

"Dick..."

"Babs listen, for gods sake. He's not stable, he never has been. One short circuit doesn't mean that the rest of his problems..."

"He wouldn't hurt me, Dick."

"Yeah, and I bet Leslie thought that too..."

Leslie? Leslie thought that... A flash of panic, and he opened his eyes. Oh god, what had happened? What had he done?

"...because he *has* no one else Dick! You said it yourself; he has problems. I'm not denying that, but god, can't you just be a bit sympathetic for once in your life!?"

"I've *been* sympathetic. I've extended my sympathy up to about as far as it can go under the circumstances..."

He sat up. His head screamed at him in protest but sheer dread gave him strength.

Two people at the other side of the room jumped and turned quickly.

"Jean Paul."

"Oh, you better not..."

"*Dick...*!"

The person he now recognised as Barbara Gordon pushed past Dick Grayson and wheeled quickly towards him, flashing her lover a warning look as she went.

"Jean Paul, how are you feeling?"

He blinked and focused, urgently needing some kind of answer despite the way that the room was beginning to swirl.

"...Leslie, you said something about Leslie..."

Another dirty look was directed at Dick, but she was smiling soothingly when she turned back to him.

"It's okay Bright Eyes, Leslie's fine."

"But he *said*..."

"It was just an argument, Paul, it's okay. Leslie had... a bit of an accident, but she's fine now, honestly."

"An 'accident'." It was hissed through Dick's teeth, but he heard it...

"It wasn't an accident, it was me! *I* did it..."

"Jean Paul, please, lie down, calm down. It's okay..." She pushed him down gently.

"But I..." Panicked, he struggled. Dick lunged forward, grabbing his shoulders to push him down and...

A sudden flash of anger. *He hates us*.

"Dick for god's sake, get away. You're not helping here!"

*He wants to hurt us.*

"I'm just trying to help you!"

*We need to hurt him. Otherwise it'll never stop. Otherwise he'll just keep on...*

"I can look after myself, Dick. I don't need you here!"

*...hating you...*

"Look, Babs... Oh, for god's sake choirboy, lie down!"

*...insulting you...*

"Dick, that's it. Get out now! That's not a request!"

*...hurting *her*...*

And there was anger, a burning rage that could not be contained. Dick Grayson needed to hurt. He needed to learn a *lesson*. He needed to D

There was short, sharp pain.

There was nothing.

**************

The world returned slowly, images and thoughts blurring and then gradually sharpening themselves. It was soft. Soft, warm, blankets. Blankets and soft meant bed. He was in a bed. His bed? Had he just gone to sleep and woken up slightly confused? Where was he? What happened?

He concentrated on listening. Faint sounds of traffic in the distance. Closer, the ticking of a large clock. Closer still, the tapping of keys, muffled as though they came from the next room. The last sound was comforting, although he wasn't quite sure why. For a while he simply lay in the warmth and listened. Then he decided he'd better find some answers. It was probably important, although he wasn't quite sure why he thought that either.

He was very confused. And his head hurt.

Eyes open now, which had been a challenge but a necessary one. He rolled over and studied the room. A desk and chair across from the bed, empty now. A book shelf in the corner. A door at the end of the room. And beside the door... Beside the door... Beside the door there was...

Azrael levelled a gaze at him that could have frozen hell itself.

"We have a problem", said the angel.

Jean Paul stared.

"The situation has gotten out of control. Because of your weakness we are not able to fulfil our duties!"

That statement was enough to allow him to at least momentarily overcome the absurdity of the fact that he was face to face with his own multiple personality. There was a vague sense of indignation.

"*My* weakness?"

"*Your* weakness. I have *always* had to deal with your weakness. This time it has gone too far."

"*What* has gone too far?"

"You have let *him* take over."

Irritation flared. This was ridiculous. "Let *who* take over? I don't know what you're *talking* about. I've just woken up, for god's sake..."

"Blasphemy!"

"What?"

"You take the name of the lord in vain!"

"It's just a figure of speech. I didn't actually mean... Look, what are doing here?"

"I am demanding that you stop this!"

Paul slammed his fist into the bed, seething with frustration. He *hated* this. He hated not understanding and being out of control and... it happened so *much* to him, and he hated it.

He gritted his teeth. "Stop... talking... in... circles! Tell me what you want and then go away and leave me alone!"

"You have let the Bat take control. This is unacceptable. Cease!"

"I've let Bruce... I've what? I don't understand! What has he..."

The anger spilled off Azrael in waves. He growled.

"Not Bruce! *Our* Bat! You created him in your frailty, and now you have let him get out of control!"

"Our... I don't..."

"He is beyond my control. He has even injured people that you have called friend."

"What!? Who?"

Azrael scowled. "The feeble lady known as Leslie."

Jean Paul stared in dismay. "Leslie..."

"She deserved it. She is an idiot. She preaches madness to you, and you soak it in and allow her to desecrate your soul."

The irritation was back. "I *what*?"

"I have told you what you need to know. But you cling to her words like a sickly child, and you refuse to listen."

"Leslie was trying to teach me to live in peace! To stop the violence!"

"Listen to yourself! Stop the violence? We *are* violence. We are vengeance and we are death. To deny this is weakness. To allow weakness is to lose control. And look what losing control has brought you! You wish to live without violence? More blood has flowed from your hands this week than for an age!"

*How DARE he...*

"That's not true!"

"How would you know what is true? You can barely remember what has happened to you since the morn!"

*He stands before you and spews insults...*

"Shut up!"

"I will not! Do you think I have taken the step to talk to you like this lightly? I have not pulled myself from your mind like this in an age... It has taken all my strength..."

"Too bad. I'm not listening."

*He knows nothing. He must be taught a lesson...*

"You must! This is not..." And then, just for a second, Azrael the avenging angel looked almost... worried.

"Wait! Do not get angry!"

*TOO LATE*

And the rage swirled around him, ceaseless and unstoppable. Bastard, moron, idiot! Weak? *He* was weak? He'd show who was weak! He'd beat him bloody, make him pay, leaving him lying broken and then he'd

There was short, sharp pain.

There was nothing.

***************

The world returned slowly, images and thoughts blurring and then gradually sharpening themselves. It was soft. Soft, warm, blankets. Blankets and soft meant bed. He was in a bed. His bed? Had he just gone to sleep and woken up slightly confused? Where was he? What happened?

He took a deep breath and opened his eyes, and nearly choked.

Azrael stood at the foot of his bed, towering down on him. And that wasn't the worst bit. The worst bit was that he almost looked... helpless. What on *earth*?

The angel loomed, and said in a voice that sounded suspiciously concerned "Do not become fearful! Do not become angry!"

Jean Paul blinked. "What?"

"I will say nothing more about Leslie. We must talk on more urgent matters."

"Leslie? What about Leslie?"

Irritation crept into the angel's demeanour. That was good. Jean Paul could understand irritation. It was a much more Azrael-like emotion.

"It has happened again! Why will this not stop!?"

Jean Paul stared at the angel. He had the bizarre feeling that he'd been dropped into the middle of a conversation that had been going for some time. "Why will *what* not stop?"

Anger filled eyes focused on him again. "This is not the first time we have had this conversation. Every time the Bat approaches, your mind stops. It is your fault. You are weak."

"The Bat? Bruce? What..."

This time he was almost sure that he saw flames dancing behind Azrael's eyes. "NO! *Our* Bat!"

Jean Paul flinched and shrank back. God, he was going to be killed by his own multiple personality. Was that even possible?

And then the flames died in an instant and the expression on Azrael's face dropped into an awkward look of worry that frightened him almost as much as the anger.

"Do not get angry!"

Azrael was worried about *him* getting angry?

"I'm not angry, I'm confused!"

"That is good. You must not allow your weakness to interrupt this conversation."

He felt a stab of irritation. "Why is it always *my* weakness? Why is it always *my* fault?"

"Because you are the weak one. Azrael is strong."

"Azrael is strong? If you're so strong, why haven't you been around lately? I've been... I've been using you. I made you a part of me, managed to integrate us together. I could *control* you..."

"We were *not* integrated. We were *not* one."

"It *felt* like that."

"Because I allowed you control. I allowed you to use my abilities as you saw fit. I was still there, simply buried in your mind."

"Why?"

And for a few seconds Jean Paul could have sworn that Azrael looked uncomfortable.

"Because I follow orders. That is what I was *made* for. And that is what you wanted me to do."

He hadn't expected that. Despite himself, a smile curled onto his face. "You were following *my* orders?"

"You were stronger then! Not like now. Now you are weak. I follow the strong. I am Azrael!"

"You *were* following my orders..."

"I would not have done so if I had known what would result!"

"What would result. Right." Jean Paul closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Tell me what is happening, Azrael. Tell me *properly*. Because all that's happening now is that we're sitting here blaming each other for everything that's wrong in our life and... and..."

"Do not cry. Crying is weak."

"I'm not *crying*. I'm just..." He stared bleakly at the creature that lived in his mind. "I think I've just realized that I'm never going to have a normal life. I'm never going to be free of you. Whenever I think I am, something happens and then..."

"Then you should stop trying to be rid of me."

"If I did, would you promise to not try and get rid of me?"

Azrael was silent for a few long seconds. Then he said: "When I talk of the Bat, I do not talk of the man called Bruce. I talk of *our* Bat. The one created by your mind when you were forced to take over for him years ago."

"He didn't *force* me..."

"You did not feel like you had a choice. Do not tell me this wasn't so. I *know*."

"..."

"You feared me, and yet you needed my skills to do what *he* asked you. And so the Bat was created. A third presence in a mind made for two."

"Made for two. Do you really think that?"

"We are not a human being. We are an Azrael. What is normal for a human being is not necessarily normal for us. We were meant to be two."

"We've never been able to keep our sanity that way..."

"We fought. There was no communication. There was no balance. ."

Jean Paul looked thoughtful. "We didn't accept the duality. And there's even less balance when there's three..."

"Yes. The Bat tried to envelope us all back then, but he was doomed to failure. He fell into madness. But you still feared me. It was only a matter of time before this fear grew enough to summon back the Bat."

"How have I been fearing you lately? I thought things were going so well..."

"And the more things went well, the more you feared that something would happen, that *I* would happen. Every time you thought your life was well before, something has happened to disrupt it. Why would this time be any different?"

Jean Paul winced. It was ironic, really. And it was true. "What did the Bat do to Leslie?"

"Leslie?"

"You were talking about her when I woke up, promising not to mention her. Something happened, didn't it?"

"The Bat threw her across the room when she tried to reason with him. Her arm is broken."

"But she'll be okay?"

"I have heard nothing to dispute this."

"Okay. So he *was* out before. He *hurt* people before. But now..."

"He is not at full strength yet. He is summoned only when you become fearful or angry. However, it appears now that whenever you get fearful or angry, your mind..."

"My mind does what?"

"Turns off. You lose awareness for a time and then awake remembering nothing of what just happened."

"Why would *that* be?"

"I do not know. Such a thing has never happened before."

"Maybe my mind... *our* mind is trying a last ditch attempt to stop him before we're dragged down permanently"."

"That may be true. I do not know."

There was a silence, but it was less awkward than the ones before had been. It was... contemplative.

Jean Paul spoke first. "We need to get rid of him. Once and for all."

"Yes. But I have tried."

"How? I thought he only comes when I get fearful or angry?"

"He is still there, hiding at the back of our mind. I tried to confront him, but I cannot even find him. He hides from me. But *I* did not summon him."

"You think *I* could find him?"

"He is your creation."

"Right."

There was another thoughtful silence, and this time it was Azrael who broke it. "I could take you within our mind. You could find him, and then I would kill him."

"And maybe we could defeat him."

"Yes."

"And then what?"

Azrael looked at Jean Paul incomprehensively. "I do not understand."

"And then what? Would we go back to what we were before, constantly fighting for control over the other? Or would you decide that I was 'strong' again and let me have the illusion that it's all under control? Or maybe you'll take over completely and go off to find someone who'll order you do a couple of mass assassinations? Is that how it's going to be? Are we only really co-operating because there's something that threatens us *both*? Or can we actually make this balance *last*?"

"You wish to... co-operate on a permanent basis?"

"Will it make us stable? *Really* stable, not just insane with the illusion of stability? If we were balanced, and we communicated and we tried to *understand* each other, just a little bit..."

"You fear me."

"Not as much as I fear what will happen if we can't get our head together. We can't spend the rest of our life drifting out of control. If we made some kind of truce... so we always listened to each other and made decisions together and let the one most suited to what was happening have control..."

"There would still be two of us. That is not what your friends would call sanity."

"Then maybe sanity's too much to ask for. Right now I really think I'd settle for stability."

"A truce?"

"Just... setting out terms. If we are going to co-operate, I think we should have a chance to set things down."

"What type of terms?"

"One that's really important to me. I don't want you to kill."

Azrael's eye's narrowed. "I am Azrael. Killing is what I was made for."

"I'm not asking you not to fight. I'm not asking you to not... be violent. But I don't want to have any more blood on my hands. They're *my* hands, as well as yours. I don't want to have to take another life unless it's unavoidable."

"And if it is unavoidable?"

"Then we'll both decide. And if we both agree..."

"Very well."

Jean Paul blinked. He hadn't expected that to be so easy. "You agree?"

"I agree if you will agree to my terms."

His heart sank. He should have known. "I want to know what they are first."

"I have only one term. I will not kill. You will cut yourself off from the Batman. You will cut yourself off from Bruce Wayne and you will not look back to him."

"What?!"

"He has never done anything to benefit you. You spend half of your time trying desperately to please him, which is foolish because he does not care. He does not like you; he does not trust you. You look to him as if he was some kind of father figure and he is not. You want stability? You will never have stability if you tie yourself to him. He fears what you will become if you ever attain it, and so he will always try to stop you."

"That's not true..."

"Isn't it? You truly think that he has done you well? You are foolish."

"Look... I admit that it may be partially true. But Bruce Wayne isn't perfect. He makes mistakes..."

"You admit that?"

"Yes! I don't worship him that much. I just... He reached out to me."

"Because he saw you were a potential threat, and he wanted to turn you into an ally instead."

"I don't think his motivations were that cold."

"I do."

"That's your only term? That I cut myself off from him?"

"Yes."

Jean Paul sighed and came to a decision. "Then I'll do it. I don't want to, and I don't believe that he was ever that bad to me. But I want this to work, and so I'll do it." He frowned slightly. "You have really been thinking about him, haven't you? I thought that Azraels weren't supposed to think about things..."

"Perhaps I have learned from observing you."

"Perhaps. Maybe we should try to do that deliberately. Learn from each other, teach each other..."

"Later. We have a job to do now."

"Right. The Bat. So how do I..."

And he gasped, as the world suddenly dropped away.

******

He was standing in flames. They didn't appear to be hurting him in any way but still... it was unnerving. Slightly panicked, he turned and saw Azrael standing beside him in the exact same position he'd been in seconds before.

"Did you just do that!?"

"Did you not want me to?" The tone registered annoyance.

"Not quite like that! I mean..." He looked around warily. "This is my mind?"

"Yes."

"I didn't expect there to be... I mean, there are a lot of flames."

"We are in *my* part of the mind."

"And you really like flames."

"Has that not always been clear?"

Jean Paul gave him a look for that. "I can't argue."

"Let us get to the matter at hand."

"Yes, let's. Do you think he'd be around here?"

"He is trying to avoid me. I do not think so."

"So we what? We walk?"

"Yes."

"Anywhere in particular?"

"*You* are supposed to be sensing him."

"I know, I know. Just... let me think..."

He stood in the flames and closed his eyes *but they aren't really eyes, are they? Just an illusion that my mind has pulled up so I'm more comfortable here*. He spread his fingers and pulled out his arms and tried to *feel*. Something, anything.

There was a tug. The slightest pull on his mind, and it came from...

"That way." He pointed, and then started off without bothering to see if Azrael was following. Of course he would be, he didn't have much choice.

Sure enough, measured footsteps followed him without hesitation. "Can you sense him get closer, or are you simply sure of the direction?" The Angel's voice was lethal and focused. A battle was forthcoming.

It was a sensible question. He thought about it. "I think he's coming closer. He might even know we're here. Maybe he's curious, or he thinks he can fight it out..."

"If he does, he is a fool. I have always been a superior warrior."

"Then maybe he knows something we don't." Jean Paul frowned. "I don't like this. Maybe we're trying this too soon. We haven't really got a plan..."

"You find him. I kill him. That is our plan."

"That's *always* your plan. I thought we were working together here?"

Azrael stopped "Do you believe that you have a better arrangement?"

"Not right now, but..."

"Hello *friends*."

Jean Paul turned cautiously, but he already knew what he'd see. The Bat. A creeping twisted thing of blue and red and gold that looked almost like an organic version of the Azbats armour. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Azrael hiss and tense himself like a cobra. So far, so good.

"Hello Batman. Or do you prefer just the Bat?"

"I am *Batman*."

*God, he really is nuts. And he's part of *me*. Steady now...*

"Okay Batman. I'm glad you came. Look, we don't want to fight..."

And of course it was at that point that Azrael roared and charged in. So much for diplomacy. He cringed and waited for the inevitable crunch.

It never came. Azrael ran forward, slashed lethally with his daggers and promptly fell *through* the Bat and onto the burning floor. He snarled, twisted himself upright, and tried again, with equal futility. The Bat laughed.

Jean Paul trembled.

"What...what?"

"He can't harm me, little man. *He* didn't create me. The Bat grinned, and wicked teeth glinted in the light of the flames. "Would *you* care to tangle with me?"

"...No."

The Bat stared at him, burning, insane eyes boring into his skull. And then he snickered, turned and walked away.

Jean Paul carefully let out the breath he was holding and looked over to the fuming Azrael.

"So. Any suggestions?"

"It must die."

"How? You can't touch him, and *I* can't fight him. What are we supposed to do now?"

"I do not know! *You* are the thinker. *You* are the planner! You cannot fight, but you insist that you have other skills that are of use. Prove this to me! Show that you are strong!"

Jean Paul scowled at him. "Having a temper tantrum won't help."

"Azrael does not have temper tantrums!"

"Right... Well *I* don't..." He stopped, a speculative look on his face. "Wait a second..."

"You have a plan."

"Not much of one."

"It does not matter how much of one it is, as long as it works."

"Right." He came to a decision. "I'm going to talk to him."

"*Talk* to him?"

"Yes. But I need something from you first."

"You will *talk* to him? You will die."

"Is that a real problem? You don't seem to like me much anyway."

"I do not like him more than I do not like you."

And Jean Paul let out a semi-hysterical laugh. "You know, that's the nicest thing you've ever said to me."

*******

He eventually found the Bat in the library.

It was a bit of a surprise to find a library in his mind, he had to admit. Still, this was all just a representation, wasn't it? Something his own mind had made up to make navigating here easier. And the library was nicer than the flames. He wondered what it was meant to signify.

He walked in and found more flames. The Bat was burning the books.

He felt a momentary flash of panic. Was this signifying something bad? Were great chunks of his memory being turned to ashes while he sat and gaped helplessly?

"Something wrong, little man?"

Jean Paul forced himself to meet his... *its* eyes. "A little, yes"

It laughed. "A little? Brave face you have here."

"Why are you doing this to us, to me?"

"Why not?"

"That's not an answer! When I created you, I created you to fight crime, to help people..."

"And you are trying to get rid of me! To stop me from doing my job!"

"Like Leslie? She tried to stop you from doing your job?"

"She was afraid that I would hurt someone, that I would kill someone. Ignorant lady."

"So you hurt *her*."

"She was in the way." Madness danced in its eyes. "How can I avenge the innocent if they keep trying to stop me?"

*Deep breath, take a deep breath.*

"I need to talk to you."

"So talk. I haven't killed you yet."

"I know." He kept his gaze steady as he carefully circled around. "And I think that bodes well."

"Does it now?"

"Look, I know you're going mad. There isn't enough room in here for three of us, and it's driving you insane."

"Interesting theory."

"But even though you're half crazy, you aren't willing to kill. Not yet. Right?"

The Bat looked vaguely interested. "Perhaps. Why?"

"Azrael is willing to kill. He's always willing to kill, and I hate it."

"You do. *I* know."

"Because I created you, right?"

"Yes"

"I'm closer to you than I am to him." He stepped forward, to emphasise the point.

The Bat looked at him warily, but didn't attack. "I suppose you are."

He pushed forward with his speech. "Azrael says that the only way to bring this mind back into balance is to kill you off. That way there'll be two left, like there's supposed to be."

"Another interesting theory."

"Isn't it? I have an interesting theory as well. We need two to make a balance, why does it have to be him and me? Why not *you* and me? I don't trust him, I really don't. But I *made* you. I must be able to trust you."

The Bat looked at him speculatively. He held his breath. Then it leaned forward.

"You and me?"

He let the breath out. "Yes. We could team up to deal with Azrael. And we could fight crime our own way."

"The... idea is not without merit."

"See, that's what I like about you. Azrael doesn't talk like that. You're more like me...."

"I am, aren't I?"

"We could do good together." He walked right up to the Bat and looked at him steadily. "I want to do this."

"TRAITOR!"

They both jumped and swung around.

The library doors were gone, flaming fragments left in their wake. Azrael stood in the doorway, fire flickering around him. Fury twisted his features.

The Bat smirked at him. "Hello little angel. Find out that your friend doesn't like you any more?"

"I shall kill the accused turncoat!"

"Maybe. Or maybe we'll be able to kill *you*. I have a lot of power in this mind, hidden below the surface. Power that I've been saving up. I can't kill the both of you, but if it's just you..."

"I shall rip you apart!"

"Rip me apart? You can't even touch me you... Arrgh!"

And he screamed as a twelve-inch Bundi dagger went through his back.

Glazed eyes stared in astonishment.

"No." Said Jean Paul. "But I can." He twisted the knife, and the Bat fell.

There was silence, and then softly, very softly, Jean Paul added, "That was for Leslie, you bastard."

Then he walked away.

*******

They kept walking back through the fire, an awkward silence rippling the air between them. Azrael spoke first.

"Deception."

Jean Paul blinked. "What?"

"That was what that was. You deceived him so that you could get close with my dagger. You could not beat him in a fight, so you used deception."

"That's pretty much it, yes."

There was another silence. Then...

"Deception seems like a potent tool to take down an enemy. Could you teach it to me?"

He stopped and stared at the angel, dumbfounded. "You want *me* to teach you something?"

"Did you not say it was a good idea?"

"Well, yes... I suppose..."

"I would like to learn deception."

"Hmm... I'd quite like to learn how to use those daggers properly, myself."

"I could attempt to teach you."

"That'd be good. One thing you could teach me now, however..."

"Yes?"

"How to get out of here?"

"Ah."

********

The world returned slowly, images and thoughts blurring and then gradually sharpening themselves. It was soft. Soft, warm, blankets... Wait a second, hadn't he done this before?

He blinked and sat up in bed. It was night. He was in the clock tower. His head hurt slightly.

*We should go now.*

He jumped as the voice whispered through his head. "Azrael?"

*You do not have to say it out loud. I am within you.*

*And you're right at the top of my thoughts. Is it always going to be like this now?*

*It appears so.*

*This is going to take some getting used to.*

*Yes. We should go now.*

*What, right now? I know I said I was leaving the Batsquad, but can't I say goodbye to Oracle at least?*

*You can call her later with the phoning device.*

*Phoning device?*

*She will attempt to stop you. She thinks you are still sick. She may call the Batman.*

He was right. "Damn." He said out loud.

Then he got up and rummaged through the closet for some clothes.

*Are these necessary?*

*We're only wearing a pair of track pants! We'll stick out a bit if we don't get dressed!*

*Very well. Hurry.*

He dressed and headed for the fire escape.

*I'm not sure whether I can get down here easily...*

*Then let me...*

There was a vague sliding feeling and Azrael took over while Jean Paul sat and watched. He negotiated the fire escape, jumped to the ground and then slid away again, leaving Jean Paul in charge.

He blinked and swayed slightly.

*Okay, that's going to take a little getting used to as well.*

*It is much easier than needing the costume.*

*True. And I can actually watch what's going on, that's a nice bonus.*

*Yes. We should go now.*

He nodded to himself, to Azrael. *We should.*

They walked away.

*******

Barbara Gordon watched from the ally camera until they were out of site. Then she carefully leaned over, turned it off and flicked open a communication line to the Justice League headquarters.

The head that appeared on her monitor was green and decidedly inhuman. "Yes Oracle?"

She gave him a pained smile. "Hello J'onn."

The Martian Manhunter raised an eyebrow. "They have gone?"

"Just left. And I know it was them; I could almost see them talking to each other. J'onn are you *sure* this is the right thing to do?"

"I am sure, Barbara. I know it seems strange, but he is not a singular entity. In many ways his brain is more alien than my own. He will be much more stable now, he simply had to find a balance within himself."

"The whole talking to himself thing isn't going to win him any friends, though."

"It will become much more subtle with time. This state of mind is very new to them both."

"But what if it doesn't last?"

"Then he will be no worse off than he was before. And the block that I put in his mind is still there, Barbara. If the Bat ever re- arises, it will once more render him incapable of doing any damage."

"He left without even saying anything to me."

"I'm sure he'll contact you in time. He probably didn't want to deal with Bruce. I've no doubt that it will take some convincing to make *him* believe that we have done the right thing."

"No doubt at all. I'm going to give Jean Paul at *least* a few hours head start before I phone this one in."

"Good Luck."

"Right. And J'onn?"

"Yes?"

"Thank you. For giving him another chance."

"Everyone needs one." He nodded at her solemnly and signed off.

*********

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