Was this really their house? It didn't look—wait, his new father raised a remote, and the garage doors slid up. But if this was the garage, where was the house itself?
"What are all the packages by the front door?" Slade asked as he pulled the rental into the garage.
"Dishes and things I bought in Cherishing Girls Village," Yukie replied. "Remember, it was the home of several traditional artisans. It was simpler to have them shipped directly here rather than deal with them as luggage."
"So that's the surprise? Souvenirs we'll use regularly."
"No. That is the surprise." She pointed to a truck which was driving up. There was another truck right behind it.
"Living Concepts," his father read aloud. "You ordered furniture?"
"Ordered and paid for," she said. "I was prepared to buy a house on my own and furnish it. Since you already own the house, this is my contribution to the household. Don't worry, I chose pieces that will live up to, but not detract from, the thirty million dollar view."
"Here I was thinking there would be weeks of 'Which swatch do you like?' and 'I like the arms on this one but not the legs.' ahead of us," he commented, parking the car and getting out.
"I hope I would never be so boring. At the end of the day, it's how comfortable the chair is, not how it looks," she replied, getting out on her side. "And I doubt we will lose sleep over buying the sofa with the rounded arms rather than the square."
Rose was already out of the rental, and he wriggled out of his seatbelt to catch up.
The furniture trucks were parking in the driveway, and out of the first emerged a young woman with aggressively red hair and a great many freckles. She was carrying a large orchid plant with white and yellow flowers. "Ms. Kuwano? I'm Jenny Gallagher. It's so exciting to meet you in person! This is our assembly and installation team. That's Hugh, next to him is Mike, and there's Barb."
"It is very nice to meet you all," his new mother smiled at them. "This is my husband Slade, our daughter Rose and our son David."
"Let me get the house opened up for you," his father said. As he passed her, he asked under his voice, "You didn't bankrupt yourself for this, did you? I never expected you to cover the expenses on your own. Or at all."
"Of course not," she replied. "Remember how I told you about brokering Dr. Fries' deal with Itachi? I took my share in shares of stock."
"Ah," he said. To the furniture movers, he said, "Mind the boxes, we just got back from two months' vacation."
"If the boxes are coming inside, we can handle them too," Jenny said. "This is for you, as a housewarming gift. It's a dendrobium."
"Thank you so much! All right. David? I have a task for you. On the first floor, which is four levels down, there are two bedrooms. Please go and choose which one you want. Rose, can you put this on the kitchen counter for now? Thank you." She handed the flower off to his new sister and turned to the job of helping move boxes.
David went into the entryway and stopped. There weren't walls, only windows. There was an elevator, but it was glass. The stairs were glass too, frosted glass. They could have been made of ice. It wasn't that he was afraid to walk on them, or to go in the elevator. Not afraid, exactly, just…
"David?" Rose interrupted his thoughts. "Can I tell you something? I know these stairs must be perfectly safe and very strong, but I've never walked on them before, and I'm a little nervous. Could you hold my hand when we go down them? It'll make me feel better, and after this first time, I know I'll be okay."
He knew she was only saying so because she saw him not going down them, but he was brave. "We'll be brave together," he said, and held out his hand. Step by step they went down the stairs, around and around, because the staircase was sort of oval shaped.
"This must be my room here," Rose said, pausing on the first landing, "but there's nothing in it yet. I think the next floor down has the living room, dining room and kitchen. And the gym and spa."
They went further down. "Is this really a proper house? It's so…." Words failed him. He had been prepared to sneer at it for being so small compared to the places he was used to, but the way it was all glass made it like they were living in the whole world. The lake spread out as far as he could see. "The, um, corners are all wrong. Nothing's square." It was also empty and echo-y, which didn't help.
"It is an amazing house," Rose told him, "but you're right. It's not the usual sort of house. My birthmother would have hated all these different angles. She liked the sort of houses she grew up in, very Palladian. Okay, this is the right level!" The solid floor was nice to walk on. You could believe it wouldn't do anything underfoot, but she was wrong in one way. The living room, dining room and kitchen weren't three different rooms, they were all one big room.
He said as much to Rose. She answered, "Well, this way, if we want to, we can move the furniture out of the way for martial arts training. The gym's not big enough for anything but exercise equipment. I bet that's what Dad has in mind."
She crossed the room and put the plant on the counter. "Let's go see what the bedrooms are like downstairs."
The next floor down was their parents', but under that were the two bedrooms with a room between them. The floor here was at ground level, which was very reassuring. The wall facing the lake was still all windows, though. He looked first at one room and then at the other. One of them had strange angles but the other one had properly square corners. "This one," he decided.
"Great! You know, I think they'll be busy with things for a while. Why don't we go outside and down to the lake?"
The room in between the bedrooms had a door going outside, and their shoes crunched on the snow. A rocky path wound down to the lake, and they carefully picked their way down the stairs. The waterfront was rocky too, only smooth, water-rounded pebbles. It was a very big lake, and because it was a clear winter day, everything was blue and white.
"That boat dock is ours," Rose pointed, "and the storage shed there." They went out on the dock, because what else was there to do? When they got to the end of it, Rose stopped and said, "When grownups tried to tell me the kind of thing I'm going to say to you, I'd always look at them like, what do you know? Whatever you went through has nothing to do with what I'm going through. It's not the same. And you know, it really isn't. But you're in a family now where we all had lives that sucked growing up, for various reasons. You can hate all of us for a while if you need to, we can take it. Aaaah, scratch it, forget I said anything. You don't want to hear it any more than I did. Huh?"
The 'Huh?' didn't seem to have anything to do with what she had been talking about. David looked where she was looking, and saw a young girl climbing up the stairs from the water. She was soaking wet and not dressed for the cold, but she didn't seem bothered by either. She was Asian, probably Japanese.
"You're Kiyomi-san, aren't you?" Rose asked. "I saw you with the rest of Mom's retinue, but we didn't have a chance to meet. I'm Rose."
The girl nodded as she climbed. "You are Yukime-sama's chosen daughter. I am very glad to meet you."
She bowed when she reached the dock, and Rose returned it. "You bow too, David," she said, tugging at his sleeve. "This is my new brother, David. Mom and Dad just adopted him." He bowed, but he did it with reluctance.
"David-san," the girl said, bowing to him as well.
"You really weren't kidding when you said you could find Mom anywhere on Earth, were you? Are the others here as well?" Rose was asking, but he was noticing the girl's hands, which were greenish and webbed.
"Yes—but the boy. Does he not know?" Kiyomi asked.
"I don't think anyone's filled him in yet," Rose said, before crouching down to look him in the face. "Okay, David. There's something you need to know about Mom. She's a yokai. That's a supernatural being from Japan. There are a lot of different kinds. Kiyomi is a cross between two of them, nure-onago and kappa. Mom is a yuki-onna. It means 'Snow Woman'. In fact, she's not just a yuki-onna, she's the only one, and that means she's the Snow Elemental."
Kiyomi nodded, "She is the spirit of snow and the Queen of Winter. We call her the kami-yuki. She is very important and ranks very high among yokai. At least of the third rank, after Nurahiyon and the greater tengu."
"She told me a story on the plane," David said. "No, you're fooling with me. She isn't."
"She sure is. Why do you doubt it?" Rose asked.
"Because if she were, she'd make sure everybody knew, and she'd have all kinds of people waiting on her," he said with certainty.
"People waiting on her, yes," Kiyomi nodded. "I am one of them. Uchiteru and I guard your castle from the waterfront. Ay and Un will guard it inside and out on the ground, and Genki will drive away…small things, vermin and such. Sadness and melancholy as well, I think. Then the akaname cleans bathrooms while the tofu-kozo help in the kitchen and do other such chores. Although seeing this castle, I think a pair of guards who can fly would also be useful. A couple of tengu, maybe, or ittan momen."
"I'll tell her that. I'd say come on up to the house now, but there are humans all over it, and they don't need to know about you." Rose screwed up her face.
"Are those real words or are you making this all up?" David blurted out.
"Of course they are real. Uchiteru!" The girl raised her voice and called out over the lake. There was a ripple which crested far away, then swelled. A huge, scaly head and neck broke the surface of the water. It was a sea monster!
"Wow, he's a lot bigger than he was the other day!" Rose wondered.
"His size depends on the body of water he's in," Kiyomi informed them. "He was out of the water then, and this is a very big lake."
The long scaly creature was swimming toward them. He was tall enough to tower over the boat dock, and he had a long snout, horns like an antelope, and tendrils or whiskers sprouting from his face. "Kiyomi-san—ah, and Yukime-sama's daughter," he said, his voice sounding like wind blowing over the lake. "I greet you." Uchiteru bowed his head in respect. Then he leaned over to sniff at David, who stifled a squeak and stood his ground. "And who is this?"
Rose explained. "My newly adopted little brother, David Koji. He's skeptical about the whole kami-yuki business."
The sea monster—although he was really a lake monster, not a sea monster—made a noise David decided was a laugh. "I think he grows less skeptical by the moment. Please tell the Lady that we are very glad to have entered her service, and that the lake here is glad we have come. Its own guardians have been gone for many years, and it was lonely. Farewell." Kiyomi also waved goodbye as she leapt to Uchiteru's back, and they disappeared under the water.
"Can we go back to the house now?" David asked his new sister. "Before…" Before more monsters showed up? "Before our feet get cold," he finished.
"Sure. We didn't tell them which room you wanted, anyway. Oh, there's Ay and Un. And Genki!"
At the shore end of the dock sat two big dogs, strange looking dogs, and a few feet apart from them sat a kitten who was busy washing his face. "Now I know they look like dogs and a cat, but they're supernatural creatures too, and just as intelligent as we are. I greet you, Ay-san, Un-san, and Genki-san." Rose bowed, and he bowed too. "We are honored that you chose to join our mother's retinue." She went on to explain who he was, and all three…animals? Yokai? listened as though they could follow every word.
"Genki, would you show David what you can do? I think he doubts how special you are."
The kitten yawned, stretched—and changed into a much larger, spark-spitting monster cat. "Wow, I think you've gotten better at that than last time. Way to go, Genki!" Rose praised him. "David, do I have to ask if the cat got your tongue?" she teased him.
"Uh—," he sought for something to say. "Do you still like to chase sticks like regular dogs do?"
The wagging tails and bright eyes said, 'Yes, we do!' So they did, with happy barks and lolling tongues, as David and Rose found sticks and pinecones, with Genki darting in and out to tag their ankles now and then. David laughed and laughed as he never had before.
Then his mother appeared on the scene. "I thought I heard the sounds of fun out here! I'm so glad. But the furniture movers are ready to put your room together—if they knew which one you wanted. Also, I've made hot chocolate. Time to come in, all of you."
"Okay, Mommy," David said, breathless from running and laughing. He hardly even knew what he had called her.
Five Years Later:
Batman sat in his 'Batmobile' and waited on the shoulder of the backroad. His intel said the boy rode his bike along the path which paralled this road every day after school, and it was nearly time. Lake Tahoe was so far removed from Gotham City that it was practically on another world. Peaceful, scenically beautiful, somewhere a boy could still ride a bike through the woods. A very good place to raise a child, were it not for the man who was raising him. If it had been practically anyone other than Deathstroke, he would have left his son to grow up in ignorance and safety.
He switched to 'detective vision', the computer augmented mods built into his mask and cowl. Around him the late spring landscape morphed into a shadow half-world of grey, save for the figure made of blue light which accelerated toward him with all the speed a pair of strong young legs could manage.
Batman touched a control on the Batmobile's dashboard and spoke into the microphone, "David Koji Wilson."
The blue figure backpedaled to slow and stop himself. Hm, there was a second life form with him, in his backpack, something small. A pet, perhaps?
He watched the boy lean the bike against a tree and climb up to the road. "Whoa," he heard his son say. "Batman?"
He lowered the car window. "Yes. I need to talk to you."
"If you're recruiting for a new Robin, I have to warn you, you'll have to go through my dad first. I mean you'd have to fight him, and after you're done with him, Mom. He's tougher than she is, but she has the 'Tiger Mother' thing going and she's…creative. If you know who I am then you know who they are. Besides, I don't want to move to Gotham. I like it here." The boy set his jaw. He could see, when he looked, traces of Talia, traces of Thomas and Martha Wayne in his face. "All my friends are here, and my school is okay, as far as schools go, and in about six months, I'm going to have a baby sister. Plus there's no good skiing anywhere near there, and the water's polluted. My whole life is here."
"Get in the car," he ordered.
David backed off a few steps. "No, thank you. A lot of people could make or buy a Batman suit and a Batmobile, and I have no proof you're for real. I'll stay over here."
Batman sighed, and opened the car door, stepping out onto the last crusts of ice and crunching them under his boots. "Very well."
The boy looked him up and down. "In broad daylight out here, you don't look scary. Okay. What did you want to talk to me about?"
The Dark Knight paused. "When was the last time you saw or spoke to your real mother?"
"This morning at breakfast," he replied. "After she got over the morning sickness."
"I meant—." Yukime Wilson was pregnant? She was fifty years old, or close to it.
"I know who you meant. Grandfather's daughter, my genetic mother. A couple of years ago, when Grandfather died, she came here and tried to reclaim me, but it didn't happen. My mom and dad quashed that idea." A little cat face poked up from over his shoulder.
"What is that in your backpack?" Batman asked, momentarily diverted.
"This is Genki," David replied, reaching up to scratch the cat under the chin. "He's my therapy cat, licensed and everything. He goes where I do."
"Why do you need a therapy animal?" he asked.
"I'm prone to hyperactivity and impulse control. It was either medication or a therapy animal, and my mom doesn't like medicating children when there's any other option," the boy replied frankly. "Anyhow, I don't know where Talia al Ghul is or what she's doing. I don't even remember her that well. She was gone a lot of the time doing other things, so I can't say I miss her. Not like I would my real mom."
"What of your…genetic father?" he chose the words more carefully this time.
David shrugged. "No idea who or where he is, or if I even have one, technically speaking. I wasn't conceived like regular people. I was spliced together. My father is Slade Wilson. He's the one who's raising me."
"And is he a good father?" Batman asked.
"He's okay. He's gone a lot on business, but when he is there, we do stuff."
"And he trains you in martial arts," he stated.
David looked at him, still scratching under the kitten's chin. "You already know that, since I won the State Championship for my age division. Mom's no slouch in the training department, either. Why are you here talking to me, anyway?"
"There is concern in the community that you may wind up like Slade's other sons," Batman lied.
"Oh, them," he said dismissively. "Look, I never met them or Rose's birthmother, and we don't talk about any of them much at home, but Rose turned out great. She's going to graduate from Tokyo University next year with honors. Why not use her as an example instead of Grant and Joey? Maybe Dad wasn't the only one responsible for what happened to them."
"What about what he does for a living? Do you plan to go into the 'family business' when you grow up?"
"No, I don't think so. I'd rather go into video game design. At school, we're working on an RPG based on Japanese folklore and mythology. Yokai and stuff. You play a yokai who has to find work you like in the human world." His mouth quirked as if he was thinking of something funny. "It helps that Mom is—Japanese."
Why the pause when he spoke of his mother? "I see. What school do you go to?" Batman asked.
"Mountainside Montessori." Montessori schools were known for emphasizing the value of independence, allowing students a greater degree of freedom in how they learned. They were also private schools, and not inexpensive. His son, who was in many ways not his son, was being well cared for, it seemed. "Yet you still train in martial arts."
"Uh-huh. I'm really good, not just for my age, either. What, do I have to become some pudgy, basement-dwelling slob because I like game design? I can program what I know into games later on. Anyway, I'm only nine. I might change my mind later."
"I see. Then…I wish you well, in whatever you choose to do in life. Goodbye, David Wilson." Abruptly, he turned, got back in the Batmobile and drove away. Leaving was not an easy thing to do.
A few minutes later, Alfred interrupted his thoughts. "And did you find him, sir?"
"Yes. He looks—he might have been Damian standing there. Of course he looked like him. We don't even know which one of them was the original, or how many clones Talia made. She used some of them as organ banks, Alfred, and cannibalized them for parts when Damian was injured. They were just as much her sons—and mine—as Damian or David.
"In terms of personality, David is nothing like Damian, nothing at all. Pleasant and well-spoken, but cautious. He's thriving there, Alfred, with Slade and Yukie Wilson as his parents. I know I could demand paternity tests, challenge the adoption in court, since I never waived my parental rights but…I can't. It would be wrong."
"I believe you made the right decision, Master Bruce. Whatever people say of Mr. Wilson, sir, I have never heard that the second Mrs. Wilson was unreliable or vicious. Indeed, rather the opposite."
"True. And this way, at least—at least he's safe. And alive."
A/N: I hate the finality of completion even though I am so happy to write those two words. I started this story over a year ago, and it's become part of my life. Thank you so much to Swordstitcher, Tev, Batmanismyhero, my various 'Guests,' and everyone who's been following along and reading.
In one week's time, I will be moving this over to the 'Deathstroke' category of Comics. Why? Because otherwise, I fear it will get lost here. This is a popular category, and new stories are being added all the time. 'Deathstroke', on the other hand, has fewer than twenty fics, which is why I didn't post it there to begin with. People will be able to find it there on the first page for years and years!