AN: I wrote this years ago, and it's been languishing on livejournal ever since. Finally decided to post it here. Dedicated to Charaxes, because I owe a gift-fic or three.
The best day of Drury Walker's life… was the day of his greatest mistake. He'd been out of prison barely a week, and was holed up in a burnt out tenement in the hellhole that was Gotham's east end. It was just after 4 a.m. and he was finally making his way back to his hideout, poorer than he'd liked to have been. Street muggings were hardly glamorous, but they were low-profile enough to afford some anonymity. A few more lucky nights of slumming it down here and he would have enough saved to jump-start his criminal career.
Drury wound his way down the narrow streets of the east end, where the scent of garbage and human filth hung stale in the sweaty summer air. Lights burned in cheap motel windows and mingled with the guttering amber of defective street lights, casting breathing shadows. Those shadows tumbled into back alleyways, where thankfully at this late hour the predators were already sated. Even the drug dealers had abandoned their corners for the evening. The only ones left to the streets now were the homeless camped out on comfortable stoops… and the children.
They were filthy, emaciated things, the kids of the east end, and they were the only ones to walk these streets with absolutely no fear. You could see it in their lifeless eyes as they bent themselves seductively around lampposts or leaned casually against building sides. They felt nothing as they stood there, calling out seductions to wary passersby, in revealing rags they would freeze in, come winter.
Drury walked passed them at a stiff pace, muttering to himself like a drunken transient in the long coat and dark hat of his mugger's outfit, hoping to lessen the catcalls sent his way. Once, before his last arrest, he'd made the mistake of turning when a light yet throaty voice offered to suck him into paradise. The first thing he saw was the stained wife-beater, draping off a torso so thin it could have squeezed between prison bars, and erotic hand gestures that betrayed the track marks in graying, poisoned arms; but neither of those horrors held a candle next to the twin slips of faded glass, cornflower blue, that hung frozen in a face that still held traces of baby fat. Such lifeless, vacant eyes. They belonged on one of those old-fashioned china dolls, not a boy so young his voice had yet to crack. He'd hastily turned right back around, and kept right on walking.
Later, after he'd emptied his stomach behind a dumpster, Drury reminded himself how boys like that were the unlucky ones. He knew how it began, how the girls and boys wound up here, like that. Most of them were runaways, products of broken and abusive homes. They'd meet a man who'd offer them a hot meal free, if only they'd do a few favors. Worse were the vultures who said they were pretty, who said they could make them a star, but first they should pose for some photos…
In this neighborhood, they all had the same name for their first pimp. They called him 'daddy.'
Drury counted himself fortunate. When he'd finally hit the streets he'd been too old for his gender and good enough at crime for it not to matter anyway. He shoved the incident out of his mind, determined to carry on with his mission.
He'd been arrested two days later.
This time around, he promised himself he wouldn't stop for them, no matter what he heard.
Breaking that promise, well it was his worst mistake. And his best moment in life.
It was the sound of a scuffle that drew his attention, followed by a muffled scream. He felt for the loaded gun in his pocket and glanced down the alley, hoping to maybe take advantage of a mugging, but what he saw stopped him in his tracks. A girl, blond, tragically young, bent over a trashcan, taking it from behind from some over-muscled thug in a skull cap. He was grunting, the trashcan was jouncing noisily, and the girl was biting her own hand to keep from crying out. Her eyes were scrunched shut from pain as the ox shuddered in release behind her, but when he saw her tears, he knew. She was new enough at this life to still have the passion to hate it.
He didn't register the shots as they'd happened. The man had jerked thrice and then keeled over backwards, pulling with him a trail of bloody slime. The girl stood up fast and was gawking at him, panties still around one ankle.
That's when he saw the smoking gun in his outstretched hand.
"Check his pockets," he ordered gruffly as he shoved the gun down through the cracks in a storm drain, and miraculously enough the girl complied. Soon the corpse was stripped of valuables.
"You got a name, kid?"
"Kitten," she replied, purring, winking at him, caressing his arm in a fashion that nearly got too much of his attention.
He shook it off and grabbed that hand. "Let's go, we're taking off!" He led her running down the alley.
"Whatever you say, daddy."
Drury shivered as he ran.
What was he doing? he asked himself repeatedly as he led the girl to his hideout. He'd asked himself again as he gave her his last snickers bar and put her to bed on his charred, stained mattress. The question tormented him as he sat through the night, just watching her sleep from across the room, curled in a ball like the kitten she claimed to be, her expression guarded even in slumber. Guys like him shouldn't be allowed near girls like her, he knew that well enough.
Then again, she wasn't really a girl. Girls shouldn't know the things she knew, and as he stared at her in the coming dawn, this girl who tried to pull him to the mattress with her, he knew that he wasn't really a man. How could he be, after he had refused her?
So where did that leave them?
Just the Killer Moth and the broken, discarded China doll he'd rescued from the trash heap of the east end.