"I hear you like to fight cops."
The big guy says it lightly, with a big friendly smile that makes him look like a Golden Retriever. Eager and stupid. He stands just outside the door of her tiny room at the Wayne Care Centre, hands folded in front of him, and beams those puppy eyes at her.
Richenda 'Dixie' Grayson looks him straight in the eye (Well, not really straight. The guy is tall) and says "Fuck the police."
"You're twelve," he shoots back in that cheerful dimwit voice, and Dixie rolls her eyes waiting for the language, young lady lecture. "You're not allowed to fuck anyone for at least another four years."
"Huh?" Did he just say that? What the hell, old guy?! She crosses her arm and glares at him. "Who are you?"
"I might be your guardian, if you're interested. May I come in?"
Guardian? No one asked her about that. Aren't they supposed to talk to her first? But he seems chill, and maybe his house will be easier to break out of than the Wayne Care Centre.
"Sure." The room isn't big, and he's in and across it in two steps. With him standing right next to Dixie she can see that he's more than just big. He's obviously built, even under that sweater and blazer combo.
"I do extreme sports. I get banged up sometimes." And this close his voice is a lot deeper than it sounds. Does that make sense? Somehow he has a deep rumble like an announcer, but he manages to come across as soft. "Can I have a look at that black eye?"
The blazer looks expensive. The hands gently brushing her face are heavily calloused, and remind Dixie of her parents. The callouses aren't exactly the same though. His knuckles look like he's been punching rocks.
"Closed fist." Dixie flinches. All softness is gone from his voice. He doesn't even sound like the same man. "Gotham cops."
The big man takes his hand away from her face. "I have an ointment for bruises. I brought some with me if you want it."
This new voice is hard but not mean. It seems more like him somehow than the dimwit voice did. Dixie watches as he leans on the wall across from her. "Thanks."
"Tony Zucco isn't in Gotham."
Dixie flinches and looks away, through the room's narrow window. Not much to look at, given that the window is translucent, but she looks anyway.
"He's not in Gotham anymore. He turned a routine shakedown into a high-profile murder investigation. His bosses in the Falcone syndicate aren't happy. If the cops don't get him, they will."
"I'll find him," Dixie mutters. She looks at him and says it loud. "I'll find him."
"I know you'll try."
Who is this old guy anyway? "The social worker said they have to talk to me before they can place me anywhere. How'd you even get in here? Who are you?"
"You can call me Bruce. This centre is named after my parents."
"Oh." She's seen a documentary and a really bad made-for-streaming movie about the Wayne murder. Dixie sits on her bed and runs her hands across the blanket, smoothing out a wrinkle.
HIs place is probably easier to break out of than the Wayne Care Centre. And he didn't try to make her talk about feelings, when she doesn't even know if she really feels anything yet.
"Gimme ten," she mutters. "I'll get packed."
This is bad. It's going to get worse.
Four men have her cornered behind a parking garage. There were six, but she actually managed to get the drop on two of them. Four is going to be less bad than six, right?
She thought she was better at sneaky than she actually is, and her attempt to play spy in the back room of a bar has ended in this alley. There are no convenient window ledges or closed dumpsters for her to jump up on. It's just bare concrete and old cinder block walls.
Breaking out of Wayne Manor took more work than the care centre. She shouldn't have done it.
She's twelve. She wonders if telling them that will help her.
The man closest to her pulls a knife. "Okay kid. Lets - "
Something big and dark falls on him. He makes a noise between a grunt and a yelp and collapses under the black wings. The dark thing stays low, kicking at the gang, sweeping their legs out from under them. Men hit the concrete hard, none of them with any idea how to break their falls. Dixie hears at least a couple of bones break.
The fight is over in seconds.
The Batman stands like a shadow pulling itself off the ground. It points to the end of the alley. Dixie flattens herself against a brick wall and edges her way towards the open street, avoiding the men on the ground. The Batman follows.
What looks like a four-door sedan with tinted windows is parked across the entrance to the alley. The doors unlock as Dixie and the Batman approach.
The Batman adjusts a control in his gauntlet. When he speaks again his voice isn't scary or distorted. It's just kind of -
Tired. Like her mom or dad catching her doing something she should have known better than to do but they really should have seen coming.
Voice tired, Bruce Wayne tells her "Get in the car, Dixie. We're going home."
"It looks like a chop shop."
She realizes that makes him sound like a criminal and looks over at him. If Bruce is offfended he doesn't show it.
"It is," he replies. That hard voice, dark and serious, is definitely the real him. "But the cars are mine."
Bruce Wayne likes fancy cars. Everyone knows that. Looking down into the cave, Dixie Grayson sees what he uses those cars for.
Four cars sit on a big metal platform. Three are stripped down to the frames, the fourth has its hood open. A walkway runs from the car platform to another that sits above an underground river. The parts on that platform look like dismantled jet skis. And maybe some sort of glider?
Above the platforms is a big... Dixie's not sure what to call it. It's a building inside the cave, like an L-shaped house with big windows. This side of the L is a big computer room and workshop. The other is a miniature hospital. From inside the workshop Dixie leans against the window, looking into the cave below.
"How did you build all this?"
"I didn't. My great-grandfather built the wine cellars. My father commissioned this level above them as a reading room and spa for my mother."
"And all that grating and stuff down there?" There are tool racks, and armour racks, and car parts, and crates of supplies, and...
"Industrial scaffolding. Alfred and I assembled it."
Bruce Wayne loves fast cars and high tech toys. Bruce Wayne loves MMA and dangerous sports. Bruce Wayne shows up badly hungover for public speeches. Bruce Wayne is Gotham's crazy drunk uncle.
Bruce Wayne is the goddamn Batman.
Dixie presses her hand against the glass. "This is the best thing in the world."
"This is the weirdest homework in the world."
"This is about learning to see past the stories people tell you, to what's behind them," Alfred reminds her. "And while it's not an ordinary course of study, you can't be said to be preparing for an ordinary career."
Dixie shakes her head. "No, see, I've got it all planned out. I'll do my internship with Bruce, get a degree in crime-punching, and then marry some rich guy and volunteer on charity boards. Completely ordinary career path."
Bruce is only a few feet away, working at another computer console. Dixie actually thinks she hears him stifle a laugh.
Alfred snorts. "Yes. You'll fit in so well with all those wealthy women at conferences. Keep at your studies. Lunch will be ready in forty-five minutes."
Her homework now is to study the difference between actual events and what people make of those events. As her case study Bruce and Alfred have assigned Lex Luthor's extremely well documented high school career. Dixie has read copies of various police reports, news reports, and eyewitness statements. Her copy of Chloe Sullivan's "You're All Just Jealous Of My Death Ray" is heavily annotated. And now she's watching that awful series made a couple of years ago.
Lex Luthor's high school best friend Cantrell Kent is barely visible in the police reports. She shows up as 'CJ' in Sullivan's book, a STEM-inclined tomboy devoted to a girlfriend who clearly belongs in the high-security (Hah!) wing of Arkham. In the series she's played by a twenty-something swimsuit model who spends a lot of time pointing her breasts at Lex and taking deep breaths.
Over at another console Bruce is watching a news report. Coverage of Kala Jor-El, the so-called 'Superwoman' or 'Supernova', and her recent testimony to congress. Every once in a while Bruce makes a rude comment.
On Dixie's screen 'CJ' is failing to help Lex, played by an ex pop star with hair dyed an unconvincing shade of cheeto, at his latest robotics project. She whines loudly about how heavy the battery pack is.
"Bullshit," Bruce mutters.
Dixie rolls her eyes and sighs. Come on, Bruce. Let her do her homework in peace.
The video AMA for her fans was a great idea. After all her mixed feelings about it, Dixie is surprised to see how many people really cared about her parents. Happily surprised. She almost cried at a few points.
Alfred screened the questions. That's probably why there are no unhappy surprises in them.
Alfred also talked Bruce into taking a few questions. Dixie wants to know what Alfred has on Bruce. The last time she saw Bruce this grumpy Cobblepot was trying to stab him in the dick with an umbrella. Not even a fancy dagger-hidden-in-an-umbrella thing. Just a plain black umbrella.
"So next question," Dixie tells him. "You've met the Supernova. What's she really like?"
"She prefers Superwoman. Or Kala Jor-El."
"Did Kryptonians really run around calling each other by their full names all the time?"
"From what she says, yes."
"Huh. Anyways, what is she really like?"
"What?! Seriously? Bruce, you met her at a charity event! How is that terrifying?"
"A charity event that was attacked by terrorists."
"And she captured them! What was scary about that?"
"The part where she drank the nerve toxin they were threatening us with, and then told them that next time they should bring tabun because she prefers the fruity bouquet."
"Yeah no, that's cool. You're just being weird. Okay, follow up question - " Dixie turns a bit pink. She's actually surprised Alfred let this one through. "Um. Everyone knows your reputation with women. Did you have sex with Superwoman?"
"... That's it? Just no?"
"Okay, but she's sort of your type. One of your types." She looks into the camera. "Bruce has a lot of types. He's a complete slut."
"Dixie. Don't be judgemental."
"But why didn't you? I mean, if she was into it?"
"You're twelve. Why are you asking me these questions?"
"I'm twelve. So did you even try?"
"You can't just leave it at that! The internet has a right to know! Why not?"
"Are you seriously asking me why I didn't try to have intimate contact with a woman who had just consumed enough nerve toxin to kill a blue whale?"
"I won't let you steal the batmobile," Robin tells Ivy. "I just washed it."
Poison Ivy glares at her. "The 'batmobile'? Are you serious?"
"Red!" Harley Quinn puts her hands on her hips and pouts at Ivy. "Don't be mean to tweety bird! Batmobile is a great name!"
"Fffffffine. Fine. We'll steal a cop car."
Robin slaps a gloved hand over her mouth. Now would be a really good time to develop invisibility powers, or maybe just die. Did she just actually say that?
Catwoman smirks at her. Standing on the ledge of the roof, Batman is doing his best 'I am surprised by nothing' blank face that really means he's kind of shocked.
"Batman," Catwoman manages to make it sound like a purr. Robin has always kind of wondered how she does that. "Give me and the pretty bird a minute."
"I'll be by the car." Batman steps off the ledge and vanishes in a flutter of synthetic wings.
Oh God. Is it possible to spontaneously combust from embarrassment?
Catwoman doesn't walk across the roof to Dixie. Catwoman never walks anywhere. Catwoman struts. It's really amazing how she makes even a dirty rooftop into her catwalk. She stops far too close to Robin.
"I'm sorry." Even through safety lenses Robin can't meet Catwoman's eyes. She settles for staring at the older woman's chin.
"Selina," Catwoman says, and it turns out she can talk without the purr.
"Oh. Hi. Um. Batman never told me your name. Does he know it?"
"Oh yes. Bruce and I have a history." There's the purr again.
"I knew, but thank you. So, do you call him dad?
Spontaneous combustion spontaneous combustion come on spontaneous combustion please put this girl out of her misery. "I'm sorry."
"I'm not mad. I'm just curious."
Dixie crosses her arms and shuffles back a bit from Cat - From Selina. "I haven't. I might. I don't know."
Selina crosses her own arms, mirroring Dixie. Somehow she makes the pose look graceful. Every time Robin and Catwoman have crossed paths Dixie has come away feeling clumsy and unfeminine. Dixie can actually do the parkour and building swinging stuff better than her, but Catwoman makes it look good. Catwoman makes woven synthetic body armour look good.
"I'm only twenty," Selina says. "I'm not actually old enough to be your mother."
Spontaneous combustion will not save her. "I'm sorry I called you that," Dixie says out loud. You're old enough to marry Bruce, she thinks.
Behind the lenses Dixie sees Selina's eyebrows shoot straight up.
"That - I didn't that say. Say that."
"Yes pretty bird," Catwoman can barely hold back the laugh. "You said that out loud."
Dixie's face is so hot it's probably burning brighter than Gordon's batsignal. "I'm sorry!"
Catwoman touches Dixie's face, briefly. "Bruce and I aren't really the marrying types. But he has my number, and you can call me if you want. As for calling me that... Let me think about it, okay?"
"I'm, I'm - "
"Don't apologize. It was kind of sweet." She sighs. "Thirteen and he's got you running around the city in body armour. That man is a maniac."
"I know it's weird but I wanted to do this. I actually like doing this."
Catwoman hmms. "I've always wondered, does he?"
Licking her lips, Dixie thinks about it. "I don't think so. Do you like it?"
Catwoman struts over to the ledge. "You know what?" She says, just before leaping off. "Go ahead. Call me mom."
TW for a rape threat. It's one sentence but it's there.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
She's not sure that Catwoman is the best role model. There's the whole professional thief thing, and the running around the city scarring people with a whip stuff, and that bit she does where she strolls over to the edge of a building and glances back at you before leaping into the air.
And then there's the 'goad your boyfriend into making a violent raid on a warehouse while you sneak in through the fire exit' trick.
Richenda 'Dixie' Grayson is in full Robin mode, armour and cape and mask, piloting Batman's ultralight remotely. The view in the displays shakes as Batman jumps from what Robin calls the 'batwing' through a set of windows.
There's a trick to jumping through plate glass, even in body armour, and that's to break the glass with a projectile or explosive before you hit it and then use the cape to keep the shards away from your head. Batman has demonstrated the trick and walked her through the manoeuvre but not allowed her to try it yet.
All Robin gets to do is drone-pilot incredibly expensive machines from inside an underground lair. She is the most deprived thirteen year old in the world.
A streak of dark purple crosses her side-view and the batwing shakes again. Robin steadies the ultralight craft. "I can't see where she went."
Alfred sits a few feet back from her, monitoring Robin's activities. "Top camera, port."
"Thanks." Robin brings it up in a lower screen, keeping the main view on Batman's entrance and probable exit.
Catwoman leans against the batwing's cockpit canopy, looking incredibly relaxed. She holds the maple kamuy, a stolen sacred artifact, and turns it around in her hand as she she studies it. Smiling calmly she tucks it into her belt-pouch and then pats the batwing.
"Thanks for the lift, pretty bird."
"You're welcome, mom."
Catwoman is not a good role model. But when you're amazing you don't need to be good.
"Why are we here?" Dixie asks Bruce. She's sitting on his bed, kicking her heels as she watches him hang his jacket.
"I told you. Because my friends - "
"No," Dixie cuts him off. She sweeps her hand through the air, gesturing to the cramped hotel room. Not exactly Fawcett City's best. "Here."
"Getting used to being rich?"
Dixie Grayson has been Bruce Wayne's foster child for about nine months. The billionaire thing took some getting used to. The central wing is literally a converted hotel and stables, and the additional wings are huge. And Dixie's the only thirteen year old she's ever heard of with a $1300 a week spending limit.
"No... Sorta. I mean, why stay in a dinky hotel when we could stay somewhere nice?"
Bruce finishes hanging his small suitcase from the bar in the closet. Dixie already knows that travellers trick to avoid bedbugs. Her bag is hanging in her room.
"Because this is cheaper. And 'Jean Kirk' and her father aren't billionaires."
Travelling as father and daughter is easy. They're both White, or at least mostly, with dark hair and light eyes, and kind of tall, and if they don't really look alike people just fill in the gaps on their own.
'Momma Kirk' will be arriving later. Selina likes to travel at her own pace.
"Okay, whatever. Are your friends staying here too?"
"No. They're staying at a nice hotel."
"Call me Mort." One thing about this fake ID; Even travelling as 'family' Bruce hasn't told her to call him dad. He's been really careful about that.
"How come they get to stay somewhere nice?"
"They're on vacation."
"So are we!"
"Yes. But we're travelling incognito. They're not."
"So they're not rich?"
"When do I get to meet them?"
"You already know them. Gio and his daughter."
Dixie springs up from the bed and lands on her tiptoes. "Zatanna's here?! Why didn't you tell me?!"
"I just did."
Dixie scowls at him. Sometimes Bruce does kind of remind her of dad.
The hotel rooms really are small. And connected by a not very thick sliding door.
A distinctly Selina moan drifts through the wall. Dixie buries her head under her pillow and kicks the volume on her earbuds up a couple of notches.
"A little helper. A sidekick. Two freaks in masks."
The Joker isn't crazy. He's just vicious and likes to put on a show. A carnival barker with a mean streak.
"Of course there's two of you now. Dark and light, young and old, man and girl. He's doing this to mock me."
Two-Face is psychotic. Always has been so far as Dixie can tell. The scarring just made him give up on keeping it under control.
Robin is tied to a chair in an office overlooking a warehouse. The security guard is dead on the office floor. Bad luck has turned her observation and exploration mission into a complete blowdown.
Batman is looking for her. Someone will come looking for the guard. She just has to survive. Twenty minutes, tops.
Two-Face makes the same decision he always makes. "Let the coin decide."
Two-Face never hires professional goons. The two low-rent legbreakers guarding her are distracted by the coin toss. The one on her left wore running shoes to a warehouse break-in, so when Robin lifts herself as high as she can in the chair and then brings the back leg down on his foot she can actually feel the small bones breaking under the weight. He howls and grabs at the back of the chair, dragging them both off-balance and down, and Robin lands on top of him. Now it's at least his leg that breaks under the fall, maybe a rib or two.
Two-Face kicks her in the gut. The good news is he's no smarter than his legbreakers and his expensive leather shoes aren't hard enough to break bone or bruise organs through her armour. Still hard enough to knock the air out of her lungs.
She almost throws up as Two-Face and his goon pull her chair upright. They ignore their partner, swearing and gasping on the floor.
"Pin her legs down," Two-Face tells his unhurt goon. "Don't let her pull that stunt again."
"You want me to hold her legs, or you want me to hold them open?"
Joker would just do whatever he thought was mean and funny. Two-Face flips his coin and then shoots his goon in the face.
Then he flips again and it comes up scars. He spends the next ten minutes working Robin, breaking her nose, punching her in the ribs over and over, beating her to where she can't see out of her left eye, pounding his own hands bloody against her, until Selina shows up and tears open both his faces.
"Why do you keep trying to steal the batmobile?" Robin stands ready with her shock-batons. She doesn't actually want to fight Ivy and Quinn. They're both dangerous but in a weird way she likes them, or at least sort of understands them. But they can't have the batmobile.
Ivy won't look Robin in the eye. "It doesn't have to be the batmobile. We can steal other cars."
"I wanna fuck in the back seat!" Quinn announces.
"It doesn't have a back seat. You know this."
"Red and me are super flexible! We can do it in the front. Just give us twenty minutes, 'kay tweety bird?"
Behind her mask, Robin narrows her eyes. "Get away from my car."
It's an ordinary five-story building in a lower middle class neighbourhood on the south side of New Troy. Bruce glares at it as though it's the secret lair of all his villains.
"The buzzer is broken." Without bothering to dial Bruce holds his phone to his ear. "We're here."
On the third floor a woman sticks her head out her window. "Bruce! Come on up!"
They take the stairs up three stories. The building is clean but obviously old, and there are scuffs and scraps all through the hallways. The flooring is older than Dixie. Maybe even almost as old as Bruce. There are two sets of numbers on the door they stop at. One set is made of peeling stickers saying 304 but the 0 has fallen off. The other is old brass.
"Why does it say 3D?"
"Older buildings in Metropolis used to use letters instead of numbers for each apartment."
The door opens without either of them knocking. A young woman with long dark hair and heavy glasses smiles at Dixie. "Hi Dixie, great to see you! Come on in!"
She lets them into a narrow hallway, tiny bathroom on the right, and takes their coats as she chats with Bruce about traffic. The hallway opens to a living space smaller than the Wayne family wine cellar, and instead of a bed there's a rolled up futon against the wall. The kitchen is smaller than Dixie's closet back home
(When did Wayne Manor become home?)
and is separated from the living area by a counter. There are cookies and pies on the counter, and a bowl of chips.
"Dixie, make yourself at home. There are snacks and pop on the counter, help yourself. Wayne, I see you've escalated to child endangerment."
"Ms Kent. What is this about?"
"Uh." Dixie's not sure how, but this conversation went bad fast.
Bruce steps forward. "Dixie, this is Cantrell Kent. A colleague."
"Hi," Ms Kent reaches out to shake Dixie's hand. "I'm Superwoman."
Bruce nods. "She is. She's also a social worker for Metropolis Childrens Services."
Ms Kent smiles at Bruce, one of those tight unfriendly smiles grown-ups have. "I am. And you're the man who tried to torture me to death with a radioactive rock."
"I didn't know it would hit you that hard."
"Well bless your heart. Dixie, would you like some apple pie? I used my grandma's cinnamon spice blend."
When they get back from Metropolis, Selina is in the sunroom just off the kitchen.
"It was great!" Dixie balances multiple cookie tins and plastic containers as she jogs over to the table. "I met Superwoman! She was really nice!"
"Really?" Selina looks over at Bruce. Bruce grunts. He's been wearing the same grumpy face all day. "I thought this was a business trip?"
"One kind of business."
"These are for you!" Dixie pushes two containers at Selina. "Sugar cookies, snickerdoodles, and cupcakes! Superwoman's a great baker!"
"Why are you so hyper?"
"Superwoman gave her an entire sugar cream pie."
"I ate it in the car! Oh, this folder is for you too!"
Selina flips through it. "What is all this?"
"A list of rich people in Metropolis who buy stolen art and stuff! And floorplans! With diagrams of their security systems! These gingersnaps are for Alfred!"
"We need to get you some real food." Selina looks closely at one of the diagrams. "Bruce, I'll be using your downstairs computer later."
"What did she give you?"
Silently, Bruce holds up the package in his hand. Selina looks at the box.
"Extra rich Ritz crackers?"
This is her first encounter with the real Joker, not one of the wannabe knock-offs or clown-themed gangbangers. It's gone exactly as weird as Batman always told her it would.
The batmobile's top camera gives her a really close view of the Joker's naked butt. Robin would have been happy to go her whole life without so much as a glimpse of Joker-junk, but now his bleach-scarred sack is right there on the dash screen.
"Ew!" Robin checks her safety harness and glances over to make sure her passenger is still restrained.
She stomps the brakes hard at seventy miles an hour. Joker flies through the air, limbs and other stuff flapping, pale skin gleaming in the moonlight, and arcs into Gotham Harbour.
Strapped in the passenger seat, Harley Quinn laughs wildly and stomps her feet. "That was better than sex!"
"What did you see in that guy?"
"Hooo boy, tweety bird, you learn from Aunt Harley's example and never mistake great sex for love."
Crane is back in police custody, the hostages are in medical observation, and Batman and Robin sit in the batcave's medical bay with IV lines in their hands.
Crane's latest nerve agent smells like tiger piss. That smell is a memory Robin could have happily left behind her.
"Fuck I'm tired," Batman mutters.
"Hi tired, I'm da - no wait, we're doing it wrong. Start over. Fuck I'm tired."
"Mind your language."
"Love you too, dad."
Blowdown: US circus slang originally describing a storm that damages tents, resulting in lost business, injuries, or death. More generally, any disaster or bad situation.
Got my own timeline wrong and forgot that Cantrell Kent/Superwoman is still in college when Dixie starts as Robin. Oh well. At least Dixie got some cookies out of the mistake.
Just because she's not staying at home right now doesn't she's going to ignore work.
Oswald Cobblepot is the last scion of a once-wealthy Gotham family, and the last old school mobster left standing after Batman's war. Short and fat, Cobblepot is the butt of a lot of jokes around Gotham. People who laugh in his face only laugh once. He squats over five hundred pounds and in his street days he threw down with Batman.
And he's one of the best sources of information in the city, a man interested in keeping Gotham stable and willing to work with the Bat and his allies when necessary.
"Would it kill you Batfreaks to call first? Or at least text?"
Batman does that thing where you can't see his eyes behind the cowl but you can still tell he's narrowing his eyes. "Go put on a housecoat."
"You don't give me orders in my own home. I will wear whatever I want."
What Cobblepot wants to wear right now is boxers with a tropical bird print.
Robin tries a different approach. "Please."
"Yes, all right. I admit this is a little awkward. Give me a minute." Cobblepot reverses course and goes back to his bathroom.
The bedroom is bird-themed, with framed prints on the walls and small statues of exotic birds across every available surface. The apparently random swirls in the teal wallpaper are actually subtle blue and green hummingbird designs. Crystal bird figurines hang from the ceiling. The bookshelf is packed with collections of bird photography and bird-watching books. The Penguin's interest in ornithology isn't superficial.
Aside from Killer Croc, Cobblepot is the only male Bat-villain who hasn't made jokes about the Penguin adding Robin to his collection. He's a weirdly respectful brute.
"I hear you're thinking about moving upstate."
"It's just to be closer to the Titans. I already spend half my time with Kid Flash and Speedy."
"Is there a reason you didn't discuss this with me directly?"
"Didn't feel like turning it into an argument."
Fastening a black and white housecoat around himself, Cobblepot comes back into the room. "As fascinated as I am by Batfreak family dynamics, it is late and I would appreciate it if you didn't have this conversation in my bedroom. Let's get down to business."
It's not just a shy peck or a brief exploration. The golden boy presses his body against her and teases her lips with his teeth. She's seventeen and her first real kiss is from an alien who doesn't understand English or consent.
The copper-dreadlocked alien wraps himself around Robin, forcing her down in a tangle of limbs. The kiss tingles, not in any way that Robin expected a kiss would but an actual electrical sensation. His slender body is warm, much warmer than human, and the electric tingle spreads across Robin's skin.
She should probably punch him or something.
Is that tongue? That is tongue. Son of a bitch.
Kid Flash is calling to Robin but she's not actually helping pull this guy off her. Beast Girl is snapping pictures. No one else on her so-called team seems to notice. Garth is too busy complaining about a sore back. Victoria is humble-bragging about all the weapons her father built into her cybernetics.
Hi team! Being sexually assaulted here! A little help?!
The boy pulls away. "Hi Robin. You know, you're really quite cute."
Kid Flash grunts in surprise. "He speaks English now? But how?"
Still straddling Robin and smiling down at her, the boy shrugs. All he's wearing is a purple and chrome speedo and thighhighs, and somehow the shrug goes all the way down his chiselled abs. "Physical contact. I simply absorbed your language."
"Y-you had to kiss me to do that?"
"Not really. But it's certainly more enjoyable this way."
"I know French!" Calls out Beast G - No, she's calling herself Changeling now. "How about German? Chinese?"
This angle gives Robin a really good view of those abs.
She misses Bruce. She can't quite make herself call home, but she comes close a couple of times.
She's busy with this Titans thing right now. If Bruce wants to talk he can pick up his own phone.
Wayne Manor is big, but it's basically just an old building with a series of slightly newer buildings tacked on over decades. The mansion commissioned by tech bro Steve Dayton after making his second billion is huge and gaudy, with marble pillars highlighted in gold foil and enough fountains and reflective pools to qualify as a water park.
Reagan Logan bounces down the stairs towards the swimming pool, talking a mile a minute. "It's not too bad, though I did almost starve to death once going from the bedroom to the kitchen."
Dixie's life is now at the point where chatting with an emerald green kangaroo is just a thing she does. Reagan changes to human in mid-bound and lands on the bottom step. "The third day day out was the worst."
Reagan's swimsuit is obviously padded, same as her heroing outfit, but Dixie's not about to say anything. It's not like she's in a position to tease anyone about their cup size. Ignoring Reagan's chatter (Which is fine, because Reagan doesn't pay attention to the words that fall out of her mouth either) Dixie follows her to the pool.
Garth and Koriand'r are already there. Garth is leaning up against an ornamental wall, glaring at Reagan. "These aren't bathing suits," he complains at their host. "They're strings with glandular conditions."
Dixie barely notices the green wolf next to her, its tongue hanging out and tail wagging eagerly. All she sees is a lot of extremely smooth golden skin.
"You look - " Word, word, she needs a word that doesn't start with f- and end with -uckable. "Lovely."
Shit. Wrong word.
Ignoring the weird looks from Garth and Reagan, Kori blatantly checks her out. "So do you. I think I will like it here on Earth."
It's 2am and Dixie and Willow West are in the kitchen of Titans Tower. The hot chocolate in their mugs is just an excuse to sit around and complain about their fathers. Raven isn't invited because it's hard to one-up someone whose dad is a literal eldritch abomination.
"The ultrasound lab screwed up, so my parents thought I was going to be a boy. Dad decided to name me after himself, Wallace Rudolph West. 'Willow' was the closest they could get with a girl's name. Dad hates his name but he was going to make me a junior."
Reagan Logan walks into the kitchen and stops just inside the door. "My parents raised me in a research facility located in a military and biological hot zone and injected me with mutagenic compounds to cure a disease I could have avoided if they'd just been willing to commute from Kinshasa like normal people. And they named me Reagan."
Willow and Dixie trade looks.
Driving around your dad's hometown thinking that maybe you'll run into him is a level of passive-aggressiveness Nightwing didn't know she had. At least she's got company now.
"What's with the mullet? Are you a lesbian now?" Harley is wearing just enough cloth to be technically not naked.
"It's not a mullet! I'm growing it out, and it's at an awkward - You know what, I don't have to explain this to you. Get out of my car."
"Aww. But I missed you, tweety bird! Let's get something to eat. We'll talk!"
Technically Harley Quinn was in the middle of robbing a pawn shop when Nightwing spotted her. The two of them probably shouldn't be seen together in a Big Belly Burger.
Although actually this does mean that Nightwing stopped Quinn's robbery without violence, so score this as a win for Team Justice.
Although actually actually she's not taking Harley in for breaking parole, so score this as a win for Team Pointless Chaos.
"There's a Bibbo's drive through up ahead. You want fried chicken?"
"Bibbo's! Their spicy chicken sandwich is the best! Say, I'm a little broke right now..."
"I figured that out when I saw you robbing a pawn shop," Nightwing says as she pulls up to the menu. "I got it."
Catmom, Batman, and Harley Quinn as her weird big sister who yes did try to kill her a couple of times but that's okay. Could someone please explain Nightwing's life to her?
They park in an alley and Nightwing pulls a pair of latex gloves over her gauntlets before she pulls out her food. Crime fighting is unhygienic. Harley settles for wiping her hands with the damp napkins Bibbo's gives out.
Bibbo's cornbread biscuit is the best thing on their menu, so Nightwing decides to leave it for last. Harley ordered three of the things and stuffs one whole into her mouth. She looks like a happy gerbil.
"You're a psychiatrist," Nightwing speaks around a small mouthful of sandwich.
"Yuh'. Buh' Uh lush' muh lushunsh. Uhf yuh wuhn' muhds - " Harley swallows. "If you want meds Red can hook you up. She grows the best stuff."
"I don't need meds." She needs to talk to someone about her fucked up relationship with dad. Bruce. Someone a little more objective than Selina.
"Uh-huh. Saaay, that's really cute custom body armour. I love how practical yet stylish and totally not crazy you look in it."
"I refuse to take criticism from someone one glue-failure away from being arrested for indecent exposure."
"Do ya like it? It's Ryuko Matoi from Kill La Kill!"
"You wore anime cosplay to commit a robbery."
"Yup!" Harley shoves her last biscuit in her mouth.
Despite her professional qualifications, Dr Quinzel may not be the right person for a consultation.
A review of Thanagarian and Rannian medical data followed by a year and a half of focused research at STAR Labs ends with Richenda Wayne Grayand'r on the phone, bracing herself for Bruce's reaction. It's even worse than she expected.
"Hi pregnant, I'm Batman."
That car can't be what it looks like. But it can't be what it obviously is.
Riding low on worn out suspension, covered with duct tape over busted fibreglass body panels, licence plate held on by rust and wire, cracked driver's side window. It looks like a piece of trash not worth breaking into.
But it's riding low on all four wheels, like it's heavy. The front and back windshields are tinted. And from the alley she can see that the busted panels are just that, busted panels over some sort of under panelling. Cops don't have bait cars like that.
Jaycee Todd takes her phone out and approaches the car slowly, working her away around it. If she's going to sell shit off this thing she needs video. You can't just tell people you stole the Batman's rims. They'll need proof.
Up close she can see that there's some sort of film over the side windows. The view into the car looks weird, flat almost. After a few seconds of turning her head side to side and holding her phone at weird angles she realizes that the film is actually some sort of picture. The side windows are probably tinted too. Peel off the film so you can see and then drive away. She decides to steal the window films too.
How the fuck is she going to get the rims off? All she has in her hoodie is a couple of multitools and a wrench. This close Jay can see that the rims look heavy, and they're bolted on tight. The rust is just some sort of spray-on shit.
First of all, check the street. This side of Uptown you'll be lucky if the worst that happens to you is Batman catching you trying to strip his car. But it's dead out here tonight. Nothing but old apartment buildings on either side of the street with all their windows closed and curtains pulled tight. Half the businesses at ground level are closed even in the day. Closer to the docks or Aparo Park she'd probably have more to worry about. That's getting into the heart of Red Hood turf.
No sign of the Batman either. The alley she came out of is empty, and there's no pointy-eared head peeking over the tops of the buildings. Jay starts peeling the film off the windows.
The first one comes away and she shoves it under her hoodie, tucking it in her pants to keep it in place. The rest of the fake window panels follow, and yeah all the windows underneath are actually tinted. The panels are just vinyl and Jay doubts she'll get much for them even if they are off Batman's car. She checks the area again to make sure she's clear and moves around to the back of the car. That licence plate will be worth something.
Jay kneels by the back of the car and is reaching for the plate when a hand clamps down on her wrist. She jerks but doesn't scream. It's a close call on the scream though.
"Touch that and you'll get a taser shock strong enough to make you piss yourself."
The hand is big. Even without the weird gauntlet with its sharp things sticking out the hand would be big enough to reach around her wrist. And the thing is Jay isn't short and she isn't scrawny.
The hand is big. Jay can't take her eyes off it. She doesn't speak until she's sure she can open her mouth without shrieking. "Okay."
The hand lets go. Her wrist doesn't hurt. It was a solid grip but not hard. Jay fights the urge to rub her wrist anyway. She looks up at the Batman.
Jesus. He's huge. Some of that has to be the outfit, but he's just fucking huge. Big and broad and solid like a truck. He touches something on the inside of his gauntlet's wrist, and when he speaks again his voice is almost normal. "What are you doing out this late in this area?"
"Makin' money." If she talks tough, maybe she'll be able to convince herself. Then maybe she'll be able to stand without her knees trembling. "You got a problem with that?"
"Yes. Go home before you get yourself killed." He pauses and looks around the area. "I'll drive you."
"I'll drive you. It's safer."
Fuck. Shit. Shit shit shit. "I'm good."
"All right." He reaches behind his back, under that crazy cape, and Jay tenses her legs. She can outrun a guy in a cape and boots, right? But all he brings out is a roll of cash. "Get something to eat."
Jaycee Todd isn't stupid. Desperate maybe. Never stupid. She doesn't reach for the cash. "You can hire girls online. For that much, you can hire a couple of girls."
"I'm not hiring you for anything. Get off your knees and take it before someone sees us."
"Fuck." Standing quickly she grabs the cash and stuffs it in her pocket. It's a big roll, and she likes the weight of it. "I'm staying at the Park Row kids shelter."
"Their doors locked three hours ago."
Okay, no obvious lies with this guy. "I got a place. Right between Park Row and Old Gotham."
"Off the Kane Expressway?"
"Close." It's a long way away, even by bus. And if she can save bus fare that's just as good as getting paid. "I could use a lift."
"I'll give you two options. It's up to you which one you take. I can drive you to wherever you're staying, or I can drive you to a new shelter. Not one of the mob-backed recruiting centres. A real shelter, run by the Wayne Foundation."
"I just want to go home." God yes please. Please just let her go home.
Let her go home. And let mom be okay, not dead with her vein blown out like she was the last time Jaycee went home.
"What's your name?"
"Jaycee Perez Todd," she fires back.
"It's not an interrogation." He sounds like he thinks that was funny. "I just wanted to know what to call you."
She's actually in the Batman's car. The seats are huge and she's lost in hers. He takes up all of the driver's seat and his shoulders seem to spill out into all the space around him. He's that big.
The Batman is either White or light-skinned Latino. Probably not Latino. Something about the shape of his lips, Jay thinks. But that's not much to go by.
"South of the expressway is okay, so the cops are a little more careful. That's mostly where I live. North of the expressway people get start to get brown and poor, the cops aren't as careful. Take the next left."
Batman drives at the same speed as everyone else on the road and merges into the turn lane carefully. There's nothing about his junk car to interest anyone. Unless you pay attention to the sound of the engine.
"What are you planning to do with those panels?"
"Sell them online."
"How do you sell things online when you're homeless?"
Jay shrugs. "I got a phone. It's not hard to set up online payments."
Under the harness she struggles with her hoodie. Finally she manages to pull the vinyl panels out without scratching herself much. Lifting her feet she puts the panels on the floor. She leaves the hoodie and her shirt pulled halfway up. "I guess I don't need those."
She's trying to think of something else to say when a light glows red on the control panel. Batman touches a button and the car fills with voices. Cops calling for back up and ambulances. Three people shot, shooter at large. Old Gotham area.
"That's Jokerz territory, but they've been having trouble with the old mob." Jay thinks over the past few days. "And I think I saw some guys in scarecrow colours a few days ago. You know, those ugly hoodies with the grass camo pattern."
Batman stops on the street, then reverses fast into a narrow alley. "Too soon to tell who."
Parked in an alley with the Batman. This sounds like the start of one of those porn ebooks her mom used to read, before she sold her phone for the cost of a few stamp bags of brown tar heroin. "Need me to get out so you can go to work?"
"I am working," he answers. "Two more blocks and I can drop you off where you want, but there's a shooter on the loose. Or I can drop you at the Wayne shelter."
"It's no big deal. Gang shooters usually run pretty fast." She looks over at him. Under all that armour it's hard to tell if he's even breathing. "If I go in and grab my stuff, will you still be there when I get back? And then you can take me to the shelter."
"Or I can get it for you. Probably safer for the man in kevlar."
"Okay. I promise not to steal your car."
The shelter is in southwest Uptown, one block away from the Trigate Bridge. The buildings around here are old but all the storefronts have shops and the streetlights work. One of the shelter's night staff stands in the door, waiting for Jay. Standing on the ramp to the shelter Jay looks back at Batman's car and waves.
"Fuck," she watches the car pull away. "He's hot."
Batman is fighting six cops but Jaycee Todd doesn't have time to watch. One of the cop cars is open and a girl's gotta get paid.
A cop left his phone on the car seat. She shoves that into her pocket. Then she jams her multitool's blade into the shotgun rack and twists. It's not the right tool for the job but she cracks the lock and pulls the shotgun free. Sliding out of the car Jay takes a quick look at the fight. Two cops left and Batman is using one as a human shield. Awesome.
The only part of gun safety Jay knows is keep your finger off the trigger, so she does. Jay runs for the nearest alley and disappears into its shadows. How much is a shotgun worth? Where is she going to hide this thing until she can sell it? She's out past the shelter's curfew and she has work tomorrow. No time to get fancy, she'll just hide it in the maintenance panel under the bridge and hope some homeless guy doesn't find it. Same with the phone.
She's almost at the end of the alley. This will take her out near the marina, and from there -
At the end of the alley Batman steps out in front of her. Jay skids to a halt, almost tripping, and he braces her with one hand on her shoulder. Jesus his hands are strong. With the other he grabs the shotgun and yanks it out of her hands. Ignoring her protests he half-shoves half-drags her along towards a grey luxury car with tinted windows. The car sits low on its shocks.
Batman opens the passenger door and yeah, it's his ride. Dashboard straight out of a rocket ship and huge seats with safety harnesses. "In."
"Yeah yeah." Jay climbs in and starts trying to strap herself in with the harness. Batman opens his door and climbs in, tossing the shotgun to her feet. In the time it took to get around the car he opened the chamber or ammo box or whatever the hell you call it on a shotgun and jammed one of his bat-shaped throwing knives in it.
He doesn't screech away dramatically from the curb. He pulls away like he's in no hurry, turns right onto the main road, and merges into traffic heading for the Kane Bridge. "What else did you grab?"
"Phone." Why lie? She's out here to make money and he knows it.
"We'll toss it and the shotgun in Bristol. Then I'll get you back to the shelter."
"Thanks. I got work tomorrow."
"I know." Does he? Has he been keeping an eye on her?
"When I say the words law-abiding citizen - "
Stumbling, Jay barely manages to keep her feet under her. One of the cops grabs her shirt and hauls her upright. She can't see out of her left eye and her side hurts but it doesn't feel like anything's broken.
Q: How many Gotham cops does it take to arrest a fifteen year old girl? A: Three. Two to beat her up and one to order her to stop resisting.
They shove her into an interrogation room that looks exactly like the ones on TV but smells like old piss and febreeze and drag her over to the chair. An older cop looks into the room.
"Hey," he says. He jerks his head to show the two cops should come with him. They leave Jay alone in the room.
After a while a woman cop shows up. She stands by the door, arms crossed, and glares at Jay. Neither of them say anything. Jay tastes blood but it's not fresh and her bruises are settling down to a dull ache. She's barely going to be able to move tomorrow, but it's not like complaining will do her any good.
The door opens again and an Asian woman steps into the room. Her suit looks like it costs more money than Jay has seen in her life. "Ms Todd, I'm Emma Ng. Your lawyer. It's time to go."
"Excuse me?" The guard says. The expensive woman hands her a business card and smiles nicely. It's the most polite 'shut the fuck up' smile Jay has ever seen.
The cop looks at the card and shuts the fuck up.
This car is made of pure money. The back seat is leather, and bigger than her cot back at the shelter. Big enough to lie down in. That makes Jay nervous, because there's a big man back here with her and another not so big guy driving.
The big guy is wearing an expensive suit and he smiles a lot, and his face and the way he sits look soft and friendly. His hands have got the calloused knuckles of a professional legbreaker.
The lawyer introduced the big guy as Bruce Wayne, which is bullshit. Billionaires don't pick up street kids at police stations.
"I hear you beat the shit out of a heroin dealer."
Jay ignores him. She doesn't care what he heard from the cops. "Where are we going?"
"My place. I made arrangements with the shelter."
"Fuck you. Let me out."
"All right. Alfred, pull over at the first available stop."
"There's a gas station ahead."
"We can let you out here, or we can drop you off anywhere in the city."
The guy has money. A rich guy with an eye for teenaged girls. How bad could this be?
Pretty bad, actually. Don't be stupid, Jay. You don't gotta get paid that bad. "The shelter."
The driver continues past the station. "We'll take the Horvick Bridge, Miss Todd. And then the Bayside Expressway."
Fuck this car is nice. The seat is nicer than anything she's ever seen before.
"Who knows you picked me up?"
"Gotham Childrens Services. I already have a foster daughter, so I called her old case worker."
"... Where do you live?"
Breakfast isn't going so good. Grayson is back for the weekend.
"I didn't touch your stuff," Grayson snaps at her. "And I didn't go in your room. I just asked you to bring me a box from the closet."
"It's my room."
"Yeah, and it's my stuff. I left it there a couple of years ago."
"Keep your stuff in your room. You're supposed to be in New York anyways."
"This is my house too."
Across the breakfast table Bruce is reading what looks like a kid's book. Jay squints at the title.
Fuck, Now There Are Two Of You.
There are five suites in the residential east wing. Bruce's master suite with a balcony, two guest suites that no one uses, Dixie's suite, and Jay is across the hall from Dixie. Her suite includes a bedroom, walk-in closet, and an en suite bathroom. The bedroom is as big as the entire rat hole her and mom lived in.
Downstairs has a library, sun room, and something called a sitting room. Right now Jay and Alfred are in the sitting room. It looks like a movie, with a big fireplace, lots of nice furniture, and at the back a set of glass doors leading to a little patio. The wifi is terrible, just like it is everywhere else in the manor.
"What's a sitting room even for?"
"One sits," replies Alfred.
"Thanks. That clears up everything."
Six months of working out, training, book study, and case study review and finally Robin 2.0 is allowed out of the Batcave on a ride-along. Observation only.
So how come she's hanging upside down in a warehouse with vines wrapped around her legs?
A woman with rainbow hair and mottled white skin leans too close to Robin's face. Her irises are mismatched shades of green rimmed with red.
"Another one of ya? Sheesh, didn't Batdaddy ever hear of safe sex?"
Did this shit happen to the other Robin?
"Jay." Bruce sounds serious. Jay puts her book down.
Bruce sits down in the big green chair, across from where Jay is sprawled out upside down in the loveseat. Jay's in pajamas and she doesn't bother pulling them down where the shirt has fallen low.
"You have a trust fund."
Fuck. Here comes the bill for all this. Jay rolls around until she's more or less upright. "I know. Thank you."
"I can't revoke that trust fund. The financial team's instructions are clear."
"Yeah." Jay's sure Bruce has ways around the instructions. He's the one who wrote them.
"You also receive an allowance."
"Yeah. Thanks." $1500 a week. $100 a week for every year of her age. She doesn't know if that's normal or not. She's not really on bad terms with the rich kids at her new school, but she's not really on hey-how-much-money-you-got terms with them either. There's a rumour at school that she stabbed a guy, which yeah is actually true but that was a couple of years ago and it was just in the leg. There's no way anyone in school knows about this. It's just bitches making up rumours about the ghetto kid.
"The point is, you don't need to horde gold jewellery."
"It's in case of an emergency. What happens if you get arrested?"
"If I'm arrested in the street by Gotham cops, they'll send the entire force out to the manor and no one will have time to run. And then my legal teams will have us out on bail in less than twenty-four hours, and we'll run to any one of my islands. If the feds ever decide to take me down, they'll send a team of lawyers to meet with my lawyers to arrange a convenient time to serve me with a warrant. And then we'll all retire to an island."
"Man, if anyone ever tries to serve you half of Gotham would line up to kick them in the balls. The video of your last fight with the cops has fifteen million likes."
"And thousands of comments. Half of which are about that skinny kid in the background looting a cop car."
"I had a growth spurt. I'm filling out."
"Yes. Selina says the two of you need to go shopping. We're getting off topic."
"Yes. I appreciate preparedness, but this is a waste of resources."
"Nah man. I'm just being cautious."
"Jaycee. You're part of this family." Bruce leans forward. "You're not going anywhere. You're stuck with us."
Jay leaves the room so fast she trips over her own feet.
"Chingada madre, you - You t-boned us!"
Robin checks out the damage to the batcar's front end. Neither vehicle had been travelling fast when the green van ran the light, but the driver's side of the batcar is still pretty banged up. The van is actually in worse shape. It's bigger, but the batcar is a solid beast.
"You t-boned the fucking batcar."
"Yes," the other driver says. Dragging his hand over his face, he looks at the front of his van. So far he has refused to look at Batman, who is standing by the driver's side door drumming a finger on the roof of the car.
Robin kind of feels like facepalming too. "Y'know. We wouldn't even have known you were out there if you hadn't run that red."
"I'm aware," says the Riddler. He takes off his hat and rubs his head. "Can we just skip over the whole, you know, the punching, and go right to the part where you cuff me and leave me for the police?"
Batman has his voice distortion dialed down. "What were you doing?"
"Just driving. I wanted some air."
"Go home. Hide your outfit. You're on parole."
"I know, I know. This was a stupid idea."
"And Eddie. Stay out of trouble."
"Yes. After all, you never know who you might - "
So now Miss Todd is in the principal's office, where she and the principal and Mr Wayne are having a chat regarding Miss Todd's methods of communication.
Bruce keeps nodding at the principal, with a 'yes yes go on I'm listening' smile on his face. "So the issue is, Jay referred to a teacher as a motherfucker."
The principal winces. "Yes. Mr Wayne - "
"Does he have children?"
"The teacher. Does he have children?"
"Well yes." The principal's voice is rapidly fading from concerned professional to someone who sees a trainwreck coming but has no idea how to get out of the way.
In his bright and cheerful voice Bruce says "I don't see the problem. By all available evidence the man is a motherfucker."
The principal sighs. "God. It's the Grayson affair all over again."
"That reminds me. Dixie says you're a cocksucker. Is that true?"
A distant explosion. The air in the cavern shakes. Over at the monitor post a light goes red.
Bruce flinches. He's in armour but not wearing the cowl, and to Jay his expression looks like a man about to have a tooth pulled.
Another explosion, closer. Another intruder alert goes red.
"Batman?" Jay looks to him for some sort of explanation or reassurance.
"You could just fucking knock," he says, staring straight ahead.
"Bat - " Jay is cut off by a gust of wind that suddenly becomes a figure.
The dark haired woman smiles at her. "Hi! You must be the new Robin."
She's wearing a green plaid microskirt and strategically torn stockings, and a tank top with the words Eat The Rich scrawled across it with what looks like actual black lipstick. Various leather and metal bits, mostly studded, accessorize the outfit. Still smiling she hands Jay two plastic containers and a file folder.
"The cookies are for you. I hope you like old fashioned gingersnaps, but if you don't I know Alfred does, and there are s'mores cookies and shortbread too. The folder is for Catwoman. I had some business in Star City and so I took a few minutes and scanned the homes of the ultra-wealthy who are rumoured to be involved in illegal activities. Incidentally Bruce, I love what you've done with the decor upstairs."
"I'd love to stay and talk, Robin, but I've got plans with friends. But I'll drop in some other time." Another burst of air and she's gone, leaving Jay confused and holding a couple of containers that smell delicious.
"What," Jay says.
Glaring at nothing Bruce takes the top container. He pulls it open and grabs a s'more cookie. Still glaring he takes a bite.
"Kent," he mutters.
There are a couple of brief moments of parental transphobia in this chapter. I didn't want to add it as a tag for the general work because it only shows up here and in the next chapter.
Jay has done her homework. In architectural terms the residential east wing of Wayne Manor is a mews, a stable converted to living space for people. The core of the manor is an old hotel built by the first American Waynes, who used the caves under the property as storage. Later generations turned the hotel's stone stables into a two story house and then built a hall that turned it into a wing of the main residence. And over generations the caves changed to a wine cellar, duelling salon, hide-hole for people escaping slavery, bomb shelter, grow-op, and private spa.
So when Bruce Wayne decided he needed a lair for his own illegal activities, all he really needed to do was brick up a couple of doors, hide them behind paint or wallpaper, and build a false wall over the entrance in the library.
Now Bruce meets Jaycee Perez Wayne Todd in the library. He nods towards the open door and in his real voice says "You take care of our guest downstairs." He clears his throat and both his face and voice lighten. "I'll head back to the ballroom and make sure our other guests are having fun."
"Sure." Jay taps her earphone. "Call if you need me."
An intruder in the batcave? The secret door in the library is a million and a half dollars worth of state-of-the-art security. One thing though, if this intruder was real trouble Bruce wouldn't be leaving it to Jay.
Jay's damaged leg isn't up to taking the narrow stairs yet. Making sure to lock the secret door behind her, for all the good that will do now, she takes the tiny elevator down. The intruder might not seem dangerous to Bruce but Jay still prepares her breathing and centres herself. When the elevator door opens she's ready for -
Well, not for a skinny girl in a black dress, sitting on the stairs, who jumps a bit when the elevator opens. She looks scared and lost.
"Hey," Jay greets her. The girl's hair is short, as dark as Jay's, and her make-up is expensive but kind of clumsily applied. "So how do you like the game room?"
She stares at Jay, then her eyes dart around the wings of the L-building over the cave. To the left is a compact field hospital, to the right a machinist shop and computer set-up that looks like the lair of a James Bond villain. Looking down through the windows is the cave with enough stockpiled hardware to fight WWIII. So maybe this girl isn't going to buy the games story.
"I was - I'm sorry. I - " She holds up her phone. "I found the good wifi."
Yep. Of course. "I fucking told him we needed a better router upstairs."
"I'm sorry!" She scrunches up her face like she's about to cry.
Not good. Jay tries desperately to figure out what to say. Something reassuring. "No no, it's - good. Fine. We can, uh. We can figure something out. We're good."
Fuck. Even Batman is better at reassuring than she is.
"Bruce must have asked, but how did you get through the security system upstairs?"
"I'm sorry! I thought it wasn't important! Like a courtesy lock?"
"It's just biometric. That stuff really isn't very good. Batman and Robin should have better security!"
Jay sighs. "Yes."
The girl's gaze darts between Jay's face and the brace on her leg. Jay notices that her eyes are green. "Did - " Her voice falls to a whisper. "Did the Joker do that?"
"Yeah. I don't want to talk about it. It's a bad memory."
"Okay." Still a whisper.
"I'm Jaycee Todd. What's your name?"
Looking away into the workshop the girl whispers something inaudible. Then she clears her throat and says "Timothy Drake."
Tim Drake? Shit, this kid lives in Bristol. She's a couple of years younger than Jay and hangs out at the same shopping centre, the one near the expensive private school. She wears the boys uniform and no makeup. No wonder she looks so fucking emo at the mall.
Bruce's voice, still in that weird happy idiot tone, comes over Jay's earpiece. "Our guest's parents are asking where their. Daughter. Is." Under the practiced fake cheer Bruce sounds angry. He's clearly biting off a different word.
Jay speaks into the pickup hidden in her necklace. "Call them pendejos and tell them we're in the game room."
"Sounds good. I'll have Alfred run interference with them. I'll join you soon. Out."
Jay turns her attention back to the girl. "Okay, Bruce will be back soon - "
"I'm sorry! I won't tell anyone! You two are heroes! And, um, no one will believe me anyway. Bruce Wayne is, you know. Bruce Wayne."
"Gotham's crazy sugardaddy?"
"Yeah! Um. Not in a bad way though." The girl turns her phone over in her hands. She swallows. "It was a mystery. I like mysteries. I could see there was a better router around here somewhere, but it was like in the basement or something, and the door upstairs wasn't really locked - "
"That lock is state of the art."
She shrugs. "There's a reason banks don't use biometrics."
"Shit," Jay mutters. "Alfred was right. Again. So Bruce told me I shouldn't assume things, but I saw the dress and makeup and I just thought, you know, girl?"
"I am." She swallows hard. "My parents don't usually let me dress properly. They told me not to embarrass them tonight. Am I in trouble?"
For a big man Bruce moves quietly. So when he says "No" because of course he is now on the stairs right behind Drake without either her or Jay noticing both girls jump.
"Jesus, Bruce! Don't do that! Do I look like Commissioner Gordon?!"
"Sorry." He doesn't sound remotely sorry, the smug fucker. "You're not in trouble. I'm just going to ask you not to tell anyone about this."
The girl nods. "Okay! What happens if I do? To me?"
"Nothing. My family moves to a tropical island and I move on to Plan H for Gotham."
"Being Batman wasn't even Plan B. Do people think I like being shot at?"
Drake almost giggles, a sound somewhere between a nervous chuckle and Bruce's stressed wheezy laugh. "Okay. I'm not going to tell anyone. I was just worried. Sorry."
"It's all right. But you should get back to the party. Tell your parents you were playing video games with Jay. We'll be up a few minutes later."
"Okay." She stands and for the first time Jay can see that she's not tall but she's got nice legs. She starts up the stairs.
"Miss Drake. If you need a place to stay, Wayne Manor has room. And we could obviously use help with our security."
Hands flapping, she starts to stammer.
"Hey, Ti - Tia?"
"... Tia's pretty."
"Well it fits. So are you."
The girl goes bright pink and giggles again, a much nicer sound that her earlier panicky laugh. "Th-tha - Um. Thanks."
"What Bruce says. It'd be good to have someone else my age around here."
Tia flaps her hands some more. She doesn't look upset exactly, she just can't seem to speak. She turns and runs up the stairs.
Yep. Jay sucks at reassuring.
Bruce stands next to Jay. He puts a hand on her shoulder. "Did you just call her 'aunty'?"
"What? No. Shit, I didn't even think of that. It's short for Timothea. It's nice."
For the first time in years the Batcave is silent.
(And now they've got him calling it the fucking Batcave. There are no bats in this part of the cave. It's an unhealthy environment for bats.)
Tia and Jay are at school. Dixie is in New York. Alfred is coordinating another Wayne event, something in support of books or libraries. Selina is touring Casterbridge in search of illicit art collections. For the first time in years it really is just him, in the quiet solitude he had built this place for.
Nothing but him and a timelapse map of shifting crime patterns across Gotham. All the time and peace he needs to commit to a detailed study, and no one to interrupt him. Data crawls across the monitor and there are no distractions from the work of being Batman.
"Fuck this shit."
He opens one of Tia's playlists and cranks up Cosmic Girls.
K-pop makes his teeth itch.