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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...


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.

" 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..."


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."


"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..."


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..."



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

"It's just a figure of speech. I didn't actually mean... Look, what are you 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!"


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."


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?"


"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."

p>"You think *I* could find him?"

"He is your creation."


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."


"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."


"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?"


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.


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