Paper Hearts, part 15

by Chicago

Disclaimers in "part 0"

"At least there's no helicopters," Nightwing grumped as he touched down two buildings away from the West Exeter Apartments.

"There were," Oracle reported, coming unexpectedly online. "Torque detonated an explosive on the 14th floor and promised more of the same if they didn't move off. Four cops injured."

"Great." Nightwing walked to the edge of the roof and gazed toward the West Exeter. Sharp shooters were stationed on every rooftop around the 16 story apartment building. Below, police barricades held back citizens - some in bathrobes and slippers in the cold February air - likely residents of the building. Yellow tape cordoned off a stretch of sidewalk, even at this distance obviously stained red. Torque was dropping them off the roof. "How's my time?"

"You've got twenty-three minutes, and I've gotta get back to Batgirl." A beeping in the background emphasized the point.

"Wait - before you go - tap me into the negotiator's line."

"Just wave my fingers?"

"If anyone can-"

"You're on in ten seconds. Bye."

Her voice cut out to be replaced by the faintly desperate tone of the BPD negotiator. "...produce an urban legend. Even if he is real, we-"

"Soames." Nightwing pitched his voice in his best Bat imitation.

"Jesus!" the negotiator gasped. "What the hell? Who's on this-?"

"There you are, lad," came Soames familiar brogue. "What kept you?"

"Let them go, Soames." Nightwing studied the police positions as he spoke, looking for a route of approach.

"Listen, I don't know who you are, but this is an official-"

Soames laughter interrupted the negotiator. "Eh, getting a little ahead of yerself there, lad. This is a trade deal, even if my former colleagues down there are too stupid to recognize their ace."

In the background, Dick could hear the bark of orders, to trace the line, find the owner of the voice. Over those sounds, the negotiator's voice returned to the line, calmer than before. "If we are able to deliver Nightwing, how can we be certain you will not just kill him and the hostages?"

Good question, Dick reflected.

Soames had an answer. "You can't. But if he doesn't have his hiney here in... 19 minutes, Trixie here-" there was a gasp and a whimper in the background - "will be joining her husband at ground level."

"No, please," the woman's voice pleaded as Nightwing noted the long balcony along the face of the building closest to him. "Please help me. Don't-"

There was a sickening thud, and Soames voice came back. "I hate it when they go all squealy."

Nightwing launched himself toward the balcony as the negotiator spoke. "Dammit, Torque! That girl better -"

"Oh, she's alive," Soames answered easily. "Hardly in my interest to diminish my supply of hostages."

Nightwing came up from the roll that ended his leap, his eyes taking in the false stone facade of the wall in front of him. "Given I'm here," he stated levelly, "perhaps you should refigure the supply and demand."

"What do you propose, lad?"

A trellis was anchored outside one apartment, supporting the tangled trunks of some perennial creeper. Nightwing gave it an experimental tug. Solid. "One hostage will serve as well as a dozen. Consider the benefit of a good faith gesture in assuring my appearance." He began to climb.

A snort came across the line. "With our trigger happy friends down there? I know in what esteem they hold you. One person caught in the cross-fire that gets us both won't give them the qualm it would give you, hero."

"Hold on, Torque," the negotiator cautioned. "The Bludhaven Police will not risk a civilian-"

"Please," Soames replied sarcastically. "I used to be you. Redhorn hasn't changed policy that much."

The trellis ended four feet from the lip of the roof. Nightwing contemplated. A jump line to the stone drain spout 10 feet over? Could be done silently, he determined, acting as quick as thought. "How many do you really need, then?" he asked, swinging on the line and beginning to pull himself up hand over hand.

Soames chuckled. "Right question. You should be taking notes, Gouavich."

The negotiator's name, Nightwing realized, reaching an arm over the drainspout. "How many?" he prompted.

"Listen, whoever you are-" Gouavich began.

"I'd say four," Soames offered.

"Not good enough," Nightwing shot back, muscling his body over the roof lip and dropping into a crouch in the shadows. Two sharpshooters were positioned at the other end of the roof, their attention tightly focused on the building across the way. The air intake for the heating system lay between him and them, the whirring fan loud enough, he decided, to cover his voice.

"You're down to fourteen minutes, hero," Soames said threateningly.

"Don't do it, Torque," Gouavich warned. "You drop the girl and-"

"I'm less than two minutes from your position," Nightwing pointed out. "I hear the BPD has all but two of the hostages, you get me sooner. And I'll catch the girl."

"You catch her, and I blow up the apartment below that little blaze my last explosion started."

"Shit!" Gouavich's voice, muffled but clear enough to make out. There was shouting in the background, orders to the fire chief to get his men out.

"Picked up some new tricks in Lockhaven?" Nightwing probed, slipping along the shadowed side of the rooftop air conditioning unit.

"Twelve minutes."

"Let's say you do drop her. Let's say I catch her and you do some property damage," Nightwing outlined, climbing stealthily up the work ladder on the unit. "Then we're back where we started, aren't we? How does that get you what you want?"

"Jesus, man, don't provoke-"

"I can drop them faster than you can catch them."

"And then you'll be out of hostages, and you still won't have me, and the police won't have an excuse not to storm your position."

"I could detonate the explosive I have here."

Nightwing set his feet carefully on the metal of the AC unit, easing toward the vantage point closest to the West Exeter. "You expect me to believe you're suicidal?"

"Dammit, he's already -"

A laugh cut off Gouavich's protest. "I suppose that makes as much sense as you allowing me to kill someone else," Soames admitted.

"I think we understand each other." Nightwing couldn't see into the penthouse Soames occupied - nor, he suspected, could the sharp shooters. They were biding their time, waiting for him to appear for a clear shot, their eyes unwaveringly locked on the building. Would they fire at him when he swung across? He'd have to gamble they wouldn't.

"All right, hero. I'm keeping three."


"You want two, I'm dropping Trixie for fun. And then the hostages should be in range of the explosion."

There were more barked orders in the background, and Nightwing could see a group of police surge into the building.

"Gouavich!" Soames barked. "You tell your men they meet the hostages on the tenth. No closer."

"I will, I will," Gouavich promised earnestly, his shouted call muffled as he covered the receiver.

"Gouavich," Nightwing added. "I'll wait for your signal. When you have all but three in your custody, I'm going over."

"Listen to him, Gouavich," Soames added. "You've got nine minutes before I drop the former councilman's wife, regardless - so I'd hustle on the signal."

"Nine minutes?" Gouavich objected. "Give them time to get down the stairs..."

"Nine minutes," Soames reiterated.

"Look, Nightwing, if that's who you are. Talk to him. He's got to give us-"

"They're on the way down already," Nightwing interrupted, noting shadows fluttering across the emergency lights visible in the hallway of the adjacent building. "I'll wait for your signal."

A flurry of movement caught his eye below, and he saw one of the sharp shooters suddenly jerk his head up and look around. Damn. He'd given away his position. He'd have to move before they could pinpoint...

A shout below and he had no choice but to shoot out a jumpline. He heard a few bullets whistle by as he swung across the gap to the West Exeter building - but only a few. Someone on the ground must have given a cease fire order.

He aimed his body for a shattered window of the penthouse - undoubtedly the one through which Torque had shoved his first victim - and tumbled through to roll upright, all senses alert.

He was greeted with laughter. "Oh, that's our boys in blue. Shoot first and ask no questions. Seems they might like you less than me."

Nightwing turned toward the voice, pulling out a batarang. Soames was deep in the shadow, a woman - presumably Trixie - caught up against him with a gun muzzle biting into her flesh. Soames free hand held a cell phone, and even across the room, Nightwing could hear the squawk of Gouavich's voice. He reached his free hand toward his ear. Had he inadvertently closed his connection? "Tut, freeze that hand. And even if you toss that," Soames pointed out, nodding toward the batarang, "it doesn't take much to squeeze a trigger."

Trixie stared at Nightwing with desperate eyes, tears and snot running down her face and smearing her makeup macabrely.

"Let her go, Soames."

"Oh, I'd like to, lad. In fact, I can think of no one I'd rather never see again. But she's my insurance, y'see. At least until you take over for one of my other happy friends."

Soames nodded toward a door leading out of the room. The other hostages. Nightwing began working his way to the door, keeping Soames in view, watching for his opening.

"You'll like this one, hero. Kind of thing that just gets the old juices flowin'."

The door was ajar. Nightwing cautiously pushed it open, keeping his eyes on Soames.

"Go ahead. Look."

Not much choice. He'd have to trust his kevlar to hold if Soames decided to turn the gun on him. He glanced over.

Two men - one obviously a waiter, the other in a tux - were each tightly clutching something. Wires led away from their hands to...

A very large bomb.

Soames saw the recognition on Nightwing's face and began to laugh. "Just your speed, eh, lad? I trust you know a deadman's switch when you see one."

Nightwing looked back to the villain. "What do you want, Soames?" he growled.

"Go on in," Soames urged, following as Nightwing obeyed. "I want to see you think your way through this."

Nightwing gritted his teeth. Cat and mouse. Torque had already dropped the cell phone. The BPD were now irrelevant. This was what he wanted.

"You don't need Trixie anymore," Nightwing noted. Take this one hostage at a time.

"Well, so long as you're moving around freely, I beg to differ. But there's a way around that." He nodded toward the bomb. "I'm sure the district attorney would be happy to give you his responsibility."

Nightwing looked at the tuxedoed man. It was the district attorney, sweat dripping down his face as he maintained a white knuckled grip on the switch.

"Don't think too long, hero. It's a simple offer. You take his place, I let him and Trixie go. Then we're down to that one hostage you requested."

Nightwing looked at the waiter. The man's head was bowed, likely in prayer. He was visibly shaking as he held his switch.

Options? He considered. Not many, and none that could promise better odds than Soames' offer. He stowed his batarang and stepped forward to touch the district attorney's hand.

It required two hands - two buttons set into the switch, but too far apart to span one handed. They enacted the transfer slowly, letting Nightwing's thumbs slide into the places formerly occupied by the district attorney's grip. As soon as Dick had it, he met the other man's grateful eyes. "Go," he ordered.

"One moment," Soames interrupted. He thrust Trixie away from him roughly, causing her to stumble into the district attorney's arms. "Get that sniveling bitch out of here."

Trixie clung to the district attorney, who took a moment to steady her. It was almost a moment too long.

"I said, get the fuck out of here!" Soames bellowed.

Trixie let out a squeak, but the district attorney caught her wrist and almost dragged her away, hurrying out of the room and toward the entrance to the stairway.

Nightwing kept his gaze firmly on Torque. "Now what?"

Soames rubbed the barrel of his pistol against his neck brace thoughtfully. "Now what? I'm surprised at you, Nightwing. The answer is simple enough."

Out of the corner of his eye, Nightwing saw the waiter look up and start to step forward. Dick turned, opening his mouth to speak, then froze.

Tad. It was Tad. And he was smiling.

"Surprise," he said gleefully, raising his hands over his head.

A sharp crack.

Then darkness.

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