As it got darker and darker, and no current Bat-sightings were being made, Jay (aka Harvey Dent) looked at his watch. He pushed a little button to activate a little light in one corner, but that never did much of any good. He wished, as he had many times before, someone would invent a watch light that actually lit up the watch's whole face. But since wishful thinking wasn't going to do him any good just at the moment, he hurried ahead to the next street lamp.

"Ten fifty!" he said. "Guys..." he turned to look behind him as the others casually caught up. "Guys, how long do you usually stay out on these excursions? I told my parents I didn't know how late I'd be out, but I do have a... um... Well, you know... they just worry about me."

Joker (aka Jimmy) allowed a new grin to spread across his face. He'd been falling out of character after all this walking and talking and laughing, but now he had been given some new material. "Could it possibly be that the high and mighty District Attorney, who's caused us all so much trouble lo these many years... has a curfew??? Well, I truly am sorry, old fellow. I just don't know what to say to that! So I think I'll just have a good chuckle, instead!"

The Joker's chuckle seemed a little long and maniacal to Harvey. He decided he had to work on his own character. He went back to flipping his coin. Having practiced for a few years, he was already pretty good at it. Now he felt he should work on making his voice more gravelly. "Look, clown, I don't know who you think you're dealing with here, but trust me: you don't want to make an enemy of me. If I get a good night's sleep, that just makes me stronger and smarter and healthier. All the better to-"

"Ha ha ha! To what? Throw the book at me? If you recall, you've done that before, Harv old bean, and it never seems to stick!"

At this, Harvey got up close in Joker's face and snarled, "You think you know me? You don't know me! You have no idea what I'm capable of! There's another side to me that very few people have ever seen. Harvey Dent? He's a pathetic little wimp! You're talking to Big Bad Harv, now, clown. I prefer to throw harder things than books, so don't tempt me!"

Joker backed away slowly, holding his palms up and out in front of him, his laughter now muted giggles. "Ahem. Well, excuuuuse me. Sorryy. Just having some fun with ya, Harv old pal! ...By the way, Jay, you're getting good at this game pretty quickly."

"All of a sudden," added the Riddler, who backed away with a placating grin on his face when Harv turned to glare at him.

"Yes, well," said Ivy, "at any rate, I think Harv's right. We should be heading for home. As it stands, it'll be after midnight before any of us gets home, and later still for some of us."

They all agreed, and turned to head back the way they'd come. They passed under a few more lamp posts over the next few minutes, and gradually got back into character, working out new routines for the original players to interact with their new friend, slipping back into their true identities at random intervals for various reasons. The main thing they talked about was trying to figure out how and when Harvey would have his little acid incident, but they weren't coming up with any definite plans.

All of a sudden, they heard a shrill shriek from high overhead, and they all looked up. It was too dark to see anything, but they heard some more shrieking. "What's that?" asked Jay nervously.

"Sounds like Man-Bat," said Simon.


Becoming Penguin once more, Simon continued, "Oh, my, yes. A terrible shame it is I've never had the pleasure to make his acquaintance personally. While he's not a true criminal like ourselves, he is nonetheless a creature of the sky. Not one of my fine feathered friends, tis true, not a bird... but a creature of the sky, just the same."

"So's the Bat, Ozzy," said the Joker. "What's your point? You want to invite Batsy to join our cozy little clique, do you?"

"Of course not, I just meant... Well, I was only saying...."

"Yes? Hmmm? Spit it out, Pengy old pal!"


"Oh!" said Jay. "I get it. Clique. Ha!"

Jimmy rolled his eyes and ran his hand over his face. "Now he gets it. Talk about a delayed reaction!"

"Uh... what're you guys talking about?" asked Tom, aka the Riddler.

"Nothing," said Jay. "Just something he said at school today."

"Ah. Well, anyway... shouldn't we be getting home?"

It was only then they all realized they'd stopped walking when they'd started hearing Man-bat's shrieks overhead. Now they started moving again, and picked up their pace. They didn't bother getting back into character anymore that night; they were simply themselves. "So," asked Jay, "have you guys seen Man-bat often?"

"Not really," said Jimmy. "In fact, 'seen' might not be quite the right word. Maybe once, but more often we just hear him. And even that is rare. Something has to trigger Langstrom's relapse usually, and usually that doesn't happen at all. He's one of the rarer villains... Not really a villain at all, as Simon said."

"Doesn't it scare you to be so close to someone who doesn't have control of his senses, who could attack you for no reason?"

"What," said Alice, "you mean as opposed to the human lunatics who always have completely rational reasons for their actions?"

"Oh... yeah, you have a point. ...You know, the more I think about it, the more amazed I am that your parents let you all come out like this, knowing you're actually hoping to run into this sort of stuff."

"Trust me," said Tom, "around these parts, it doesn't really matter if you're looking for it or not, if you're out of the house or not. Trouble can find you anywhere, anytime. Safety is only an illusion."

"Surely staying home, even if not completely safe, well, it must at least be a bit safer, relatively speaking."

"Only if you're being attacked by an idiot," said Jimmy. "Everyone knows how dangerous Gotham can be, especially in the poorer areas. Therefore, no one takes much of value out with them, especially at night. The criminals know this too, most of them, so they're actually more likely to invade homes than mug anyone on the street. Especially kids. They know we haven't got anything. They also know there are at least a few cops around, and more than one superhero they could run into. We're almost safer out here than at home."

"Oh, that makes me feel real good. Thanks."

"Don't worry," said Alice, "from what you've said of your parents, I wouldn't be surprised if you soon move to a better neighborhood, with more patrols and everything."

"Hey, yeah," said Jimmy a bit dejectedly. "I hadn't thought of that. And that would mean you'd probably go to a different school, then."

Jay didn't say anything for a bit. He had a kind of funny, awkward look on his face for a few moments, but he soon hid it and thought of something to say. "Well, it probably won't happen right away. My dad has to find work first. And like your dad said before, it doesn't seem like there's much work in construction around here. Except occasionally repairing the aftermath of battles with supervillains. I dunno when he'll find work..."

"Well, WayneTech, in fact all the divisions of Wayne Enterprises seem to pay their employees pretty well," said Jimmy. "Still... I do hope you'll be around for awhile."

"Hey, even if I do move, I'll still visit all of you guys. Nothin's gonna stop me from doin' that!"

Just then they heard another shriek overhead. They supposed the noises had been there all the time, but they'd been tuning them out while they talked. Then there was another sound, and it was getting closer quickly. Too quickly to realize what it was or react. They only had time to look up. In just a moment, they knew what the sound had been. A batarang plummeted out of the sky and grazed Jay's face.

It wasn't serious, but it hurt like hell. He put his hand to the wound, and it stung. As they got to the next lamp post, he took his hand away and looked at it. It was smeared with blood. Jimmy pulled a purple handkerchief from his breast pocket and gave it to Jay to press against the wound, which Alice insisted on inspecting. "It doesn't look too bad," she said, "but we really have to get you home." Jay nodded and winced, pressing the handkerchief back in place and holding it there.

"I'll be okay," he said, but looked a bit dazed. The others stood close around him as they continued on, not touching him, but close enough that they could catch him in case he should faint.

Jimmy hung back for a few seconds and stooped to pick up the batarang from the ground.Then he hurried back and showed it to Jay. "Hey, a souvenir. I'll hold onto it for now, if you like. You can get it whenever."

"I dunno if I want it."

"C'mon, you sure earned it. Besides, we've all got a few already. Usually have to pry them out of walls, but you can find the things all over the place, if you look in the right places."

"I'll bet," said Jay, with a small laugh. "Well, maybe you can give it to me tomorrow."

"Okay," said Jimmy, and stuck it in a pocket. "Hey, I don't hear Man-Bat anymore. Batman must have caught up to him and be taking him home."

"I'm so happy for them both," muttered Jay.

They all continued home, and eventually went their separate ways. By the time Jay got home, his cut had long-since stopped bleeding. Luckily, his parents were already in bed. They never did ask about his scar the next day.

part 6