Of course there's no disclaimer. Read number one first, silly!
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?"
"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?"
"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..."
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.
"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?"
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?"
"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."
"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?"
"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."
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.
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..."
"How to get out of here?"
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.*
*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 sight. 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."
"Right. And J'onn?"
"Thank you. For giving him another chance."
"Everyone needs one." He nodded at her solemnly and signed off.
Thousands of kilometers away, a study in duality walked through the world...