"Who Rules the Night?"
Chapter 1: "On Leather Wings"
Disclaimer: Birds of Prey, the TV series, belongs to Laeta Kalogridis and The CW (formerly WB), as well as DC Comics by way of source material. Said source material, the Batman comic franchise in its entirety, belongs to DC Comics and DC Entertainment. I make no money whatsoever from the use of any of the characters depicted, as very few of them are actually mine.
Author's note: This is my and JOUNOUCHI-sama's take on what a second season of Birds of Prey would have been like had it not been canceled. If you're up on your Batman history, the title of this story – at least in terms of inspiration – should give you some inkling as to what it's about. In case you can't deduce that, though, I'll put it in simple terms.
BATMAN IS BACK, BITCHES.
Or is he?
"Oh, thank God . . . thank God . . . we lost him."
"Who the hell was that guy?"
"I don't know! I don't freaking know!"
"You think it's . . . you think it's . . ."
"No, no, no! Don't say it! Don't even think it, you lousy son of a bitch!"
"Come on, man! You saw what happened to the others!"
"It could be that Huntress chick! She's pretty brutal!"
"No, she's having fun. This guy . . . this son of a bitch was serious. Like he wanted to kill us!"
"Now you're just talking bull. No way he'd kill us. Even if it was him, that ain't how he rolls."
"For both our sakes, you'd better be sure that ain't how he rolls."
The two crooks were in a dark alley, having paused their frightful flight from their assailant to catch their breaths. Whoever the monster was, he'd taken down a drug buy's guard detail with enough weapons and armor to possibly outgun a small nation's army. Worse, he'd done it all with nothing more than his fists and feet, and occasionally knees and elbows. Even worse, he'd struck from the shadows, with such alacrity that most of the guards never knew what hit them, and every single bullet had missed him, no matter how hard and how frantically they'd been pulling the triggers.
The crooks were shaken out of their recollections by an ominous shadow descending upon them. "No!" one of them, a youngish man with dirty blond hair half-covered by a ski cap, shouted, pulling out his gun and shooting wildly. "You're not taking me alive!"
The bullets seemed to pass through the shadow, and all that could be seen to indicate it was anything more than a shadow were a pair of blazing white eyes. The other crook, a leather-jacketed man with a hood pulled up over his head, wisely attempted to flee – key word being attempted. The sudden, horrible sensation of a sharp object hitting him in the back of his calf sent him collapsing to the ground in pain. His partner was downed by a knee to the stomach, an elbow to the back of his head as he tried to recover, and a stomp to his hand to keep him from further attempts at shooting his attacker.
"Who the hell are you?" the hoodie-wearing man screamed, terrified that this would be how he would meet his end.
The shadow turned to him and light briefly shined on its features, revealing nothing but black and dark gray . . . and a dreadfully familiar symbol in the center of it all.
"No, no, no . . . no, no . . . NO!" the man screamed. "You can't . . . you can't be . . ."
"Can't be? I am," the shadow answered grimly. "I want you to tell your friends . . . everyone you know . . . that the Dark Knight returns."
With that declaration, the shadow suddenly lifted off into the sky, as though ascending back to the heavens like a god of vengeance having just pronounced and carried out his sentence. The man in the hoodie looked up at the night sky with terror, fearing what else might come out of the shadows. After what seemed like forever, he gained enough courage to crawl on his arms to his disoriented partner.
"Was that . . . was that really . . . ?"
Said partner was too disoriented to say much beyond a simple curse.
"Damn . . ."
". . . Batman's back," an imposing Hispanic man in the first stages of male baldness, the newly appointed Chief Angel Rojas, growled. He'd been trying to sort out the information he'd gotten about the Dark Knight's return for hours. "Of all the . . . the last thing I needed . . ."
Just then, a handsome, youthful African-American man dressed in a clean shirt and tie with a dress jacket over it entered. "You called me, Chief?" he asked.
"Detective Jesse Reese," Rojas growled. "This seems to be up your alley."
"What?" Reese asked.
"Don't play dumb," Rojas snarled. "Batman! Batman has once again shown his pointy ears in this city! We worked hard, you know . . . all those years he's been gone . . . cleaning up the streets our way."
"With all due respect, Chief . . ."
Rojas silenced his protest with a particularly dark glare, an easy feat considering his dark brown eyes that could give off an unfathomable coldness when he was angry enough. This was one of those times, apparently, and Jesse Reese was on the receiving end of his new chief's stare.
"And now he's gonna screw it all up," Rojas continued his rant. "The freaks are gonna come back out, and then it'll be open season on the good people of New Gotham. I won't allow it. Reese! You and your new partner are going to be working together to bring Batman in. And it'd be nice if you could also bring down those other vigilantes running around town messing things up."
Reese bristled, although he tightly held it in. He wasn't sure if this was the same Batman, but he had his heart in the right place . . . and so did the women that had taken up his mantle in his absence. Hell, he was seeing one of them, in her civilian alias of Helena Kyle – though why she didn't cover her face when she went out at night was lost on him.
"Who's my new partner?" Reese asked.
Just then, the door opened and a youthful-looking man in a dark jacket over a light blue shirt entered. Briefly assessing him, Reese noticed that many women would find the other man highly attractive, and the small smattering of gray in his hair added a certain hint of maturity that women tended to like. The man's eyes were blue, and aglitter with mischief, but with steel underneath the lightness . . . a lot like what he saw in Helena's eyes, now that Reese thought about it.
"Hello, Detective," Rojas greeted the new arrival. "Reese, this is Dick Grayson. We just transferred him in from Blüdhaven. He'll be your partner."
"Hi," Reese greeted Grayson amiably, holding out a hand for him to shake. "I'm Detective Jesse Reese."
Grayson took Reese's hand, shaking it politely but firmly before letting go, leaving Reese to massage the aching joints of that hand. "Nice to meet you." He turned to Rojas. "You have us on the Batman case?"
"Yeah," Rojas replied. "I want you to find this joker and I want you to put him in handcuffs. If he resists, feel free to put a few bullets in his ass."
"Batman and the Joker are two different people," Grayson protested.
"A freak's a freak," Rojas scoffed. "Now what are you two waiting for? Get out and get started."
As Reese and Grayson left the office of Chief Rojas, they looked at each other, a moment of shared epiphany passing between them. Chief Rojas is an asshole.
Reese spoke first, once they were somewhere they could have relative security in their words. "What do you think of Batman?"
"It doesn't matter," Grayson replied. "We have a job. But I'm certainly not going to shoot him, at least not more than I have to."
"This city's starting to rot again," Reese mused aloud. "And as much as I hate to admit it, we can't clean it up all by ourselves. We're too compromised."
"Not that much different from what I put up with back in Blüdhaven, but I hear the new generation is a bit sloppier than the old guard," Grayson remarked. "Are you sure it's a good idea to rely on them?"
"At least they're doing it for the right reasons," Reese answered. "Too many people here are just in it for a paycheck or a pension or in the Mob's pockets. Now, you can tell me, just between the two of us . . . what do you really think?"
Grayson paused, as though deeply considering what she was about to say. "I think . . ."
". . . he's a fraud," Helena Kyle bitterly stated. "Even if it was Bruce Wayne in that cape and cowl, he's still a fraud. What hero just runs out on his city?"
"This isn't Batman," Barbara Gordon, also known as Oracle, insisted as she briefly removed her glasses to wipe them clean. "He might have the motif and the style, but the way he moves when he fights is nothing like Bruce Wayne. It's too forceful and too free-flowing to be Bruce."
"What about your ex-boyfriend?" Helena suggested. "Nightwing over in Bludhaven? It could be him."
"Dick preferred to fight with finesse," Barbara replied. "This Batman is far too aggressive in his fighting style."
"Could it be Jason Todd?" Dinah Lance, the would-be Black Canary, offered while performing some athletic stretches.
"Jason's dead, Dinah," Barbara stated, and the edge in her tone made it clear that there was still bad blood from that.
"Sorry," Dinah murmured sheepishly. "Didn't mean to . . ."
"Tim Drake?" Helena wondered.
"Not his style, either," Barbara denied.
"What do you think is going on with this guy?" Helena asked. "Me, personally, I think it's just some punk playing dress-up who thinks he's badass because he got some training."
"Merely 'some training'?" Alfred Pennyworth asked curiously. "From what footage we've found, he's quite a bit more capable than you think he is."
"He got lucky," Helena grumbled.
"Maybe, but I want to meet him," Barbara said. "If he knows what he's doing, we give him help. If he doesn't know what he's doing, we bring him in and train him until he knows what's he doing like the back of his hand."
"We train him?" Helena asked in a disbelieving tone.
"It would be a wise thing to do, to gather more allies to your side," Alfred remarked. "After all, there are only two of you who can actually go out in the field, and Detective Reese can only do so much from inside New Gotham PD. Having someone who can take some of that load off your shoulders would work out well."
"Or he could be another Darkstrike," Helena countered. "Somebody as screwed up as the guys he's fighting against."
"Maybe," Barbara admitted, "but we're not going to know until we meet with him and see for ourselves."
"Why don't we just kick his ass and make him tell us who he is?" Helena suggested.
"Why are you so against this guy?" Dinah asked. "He could be a big help."
"He's not help," Helena replied. "He's trouble. Whoever he is, that guy's cosplaying Batman, and that means he has a huge target on his chest."
"That is what the symbol is for, Miss Helena," Alfred commented wryly.
"Whatever," Helena groused. "Him going around pretending to be Batman means that there'll be a bunch of crooks desperate to make their bones on his corpse. We're better off getting him to hang up the costume and go back to being whatever he was before he got that bright idea into his head."
Alfred smiled. "You remind me a lot of your father right now. After Master Jason, he was very reluctant to accept further partners, not that there weren't those that tried. Miss Barbara had a hard time getting into his good graces for quite a while. Looking back now, I think he was just being territorial. He didn't exactly trust very many people."
Helena glared into Alfred's smile. "At least I didn't run out on my city when she needed me."
"'My city'?" Barbara repeated, bemused. "You even talk like him."
Helena muttered under her breath before walking toward the door. "I got work right now. I'll see what I can do about the newbie after I'm done. Later." With that, she had left the Clock Tower and left Barbara and Alfred rather amused and Dinah just stunned.
"Wow, she's got a lot of daddy issues," the blonde girl remarked. "Not that I can blame her."
"Don't you have some homework to do?" Barbara asked sardonically. As Dinah left to do her homework, mumbling something about "cosplay" and Helena being an "otaku," Barbara looked at Alfred with a worried expression. "I'm hoping for the best, but . . ."
"You expect the worst," Alfred finished. "It's a wise strategy to keep one alive and mostly unscathed. I am curious, though, as to what sort of man is currently wearing the mantle of the Bat . . . and whether or not he will do justice to Master Bruce's legacy."
Later that afternoon, Reese and Grayson were having a conversation in a café Reese frequented whenever he needed some energy to pull an all-nighter. "You were Bruce Wayne's son by adoption, right?"
"That what you wanna start this convo with?" Grayson asked, smiling lightly to let Reese know he meant no offense. "Yeah, I am. What of it?"
"Just wondering what makes a son of privilege become a cop and willfully work his way up from the bottom of the pecking order," Reese remarked amiably.
"Wasn't always," Grayson admitted. "Used to be a circus brat. Then Zucco happened, and Bruce Wayne gave me a home. They caught Zucco, but I wanted to make sure nothing like that would happen to some other kid. So I became a cop."
"Why be a cop in Bludhaven?" Reese asked.
"People needed me there," Grayson replied simply. "Now, I've been hearing on the grapevine that you're dating someone I might be somewhat familiar with."
"Helena?" Reese echoed. "You know her?"
"Know her? We're practically brother and sister," Grayson quipped. "Your turn now. What brings you to New Gotham PD?"
"Trying to atone for the past," Reese replied. "My family . . . they weren't necessarily the best people."
"Lotta families aren't," Grayson mused. "You love them, anyway."
"Mine went too far," Reese confessed. "Mine did things that would turn any right-minded person's stomach. When I found out, I couldn't stomach it and cut all ties with them."
"In other words, you're trying to be the white sheep of the family," Grayson remarked.
"Do you always make such lame puns?" Reese asked.
"Yes," Grayson replied with a grin. "It makes life worthwhile if you can laugh once in a while."
At that moment, the waitress arrived to ask the two detectives what they'd like. Reese didn't miss how the waitress's eyes lingered over Grayson's form, and he couldn't help but wonder what the older man's secret was. Grayson, for his part, seemed utterly oblivious, amiably joking with the waitress as he made his order.
"And you, sir?" the waitress asked Reese.
"Just some cappuccino," Reese answered.
"I'll be right back," the waitress said, and turned on her heel to head back to get their coffees. Like with her roaming eyes, Reese didn't miss the waitress's almost casually sashaying hips as she walked. Likely, she was hoping Grayson was looking in her direction, but as before, Grayson was oblivious.
"You could get her number," Reese remarked. "Hell, I'll bet she'll slip it to you when we're about to go."
Grayson looked at Reese, lifting an eyebrow as though to ask what the other man was getting at. Reese looked into that curious face and just smiled knowingly.
"You mean you didn't notice the way she was looking at you?" Reese wondered, utterly incredulous.
"Oh . . ." Grayson uttered, realization sinking in. "Well, I might get to know her; she seems nice, but . . ."
"But you already have someone," Reese concluded. "Bet she'll be disappointed."
"It's not a matter of 'having' her," Grayson admitted. "Not yet, anyway. We kinda left it on a bad note, and now that I'm back in town, I want to try again." He smiled the smile that Reese thought could charm the pants off of virtually any woman, even the ones that didn't like men. "But never mind me. What's been going on with Helena lately?"
Speaking of Helena Kyle, she was beating the crap out of some would-be carjackers. As customary for such events, she was clad in a black leather coat, black bodice, black leather pants, and black boots. A silver collar with a birdlike object dangling from it and a pair of bat-shaped earrings accented the ensemble.
"Just who the hell does he think he is, anyway?" the Huntress asked angrily as her fist collided with a carjacker's face. She whirled into a roundhouse kick to another carjacker trying to sneak up behind her. "Freaking poser!" She slammed the heel of her palm into a third carjacker's nose, relishing the sound of breaking bone. A fourth carjacker ran at her with a crowbar, only for Huntress to smack it out of his hand and choke-slam him into the car he and his cohorts were going to steal.
The woman in that car would have fled, but she was mesmerized by the fight between Huntress and the men that would have stolen her car. That ended when she heard the sound of cracking glass, so hard had Huntress slammed one of the carjackers into the car. She saw Huntress glaring at her with unnaturally catlike eyes. "Get out of here, lady!"
The woman took Huntress's direction, started the car, and drove away from the scene as best as she could without breaking the speed limit or other traffic laws. As for Huntress, she looked around and saw that the carjackers were all lying on the ground in painful heaps. "Beat that, Batboy."
Just then, she heard the sound of slow clapping. "Nice," a deep, raspy voice greeted her. "You've done quite well for yourself."
"Where are you?" Huntress yelled. "Show yourself, you son of a bitch!"
Descending from the sky was a familiar yet unfamiliar shadow with outstretched wings akin to a bat's. When the shadow landed, the wings folded up around it, revealing to Huntress's advanced sight that they were more like a cape than actual wings. The shadow stayed in the darkness, but Huntress could make out shades of very dark gray amidst the blackness and a familiar-looking dull gold belt.
"You must be the Huntress," the shadow observed. "Quite reckless of you, going out like that."
"Don't talk to me like you're my father!" Huntress snapped.
"You're right, I'm not your father," the shadow growled. "But going out without a mask? Stupid. Foolish. Careless."
"I don't like masks," Huntress commented offhandedly. "Not good for the hair."
"Never heard of a domino mask, rookie?" the shadow questioned snidely.
"You're just some punk who thinks he can be Batman because he got some cut-rate karate lessons," Huntress sneered.
"You wouldn't know the half of it," the shadow rasped. "I'll be seeing you . . . Helena."
With that, the shadow was gone, leaving an astonished Huntress behind. "What the hell?" she muttered to herself. She then spoke into the communicator dangling from her choker. "You get that, Oracle?"
"Yeah," Oracle replied. "I was doing a real-time voice analysis on him, and he's right. He's not Bruce . . . and he's not anyone else I'd be expecting, either."
"Well, he's got an attitude, whoever he is," Huntress grumbled.
"Sounds a lot like someone I know," Oracle remarked amusedly.
"What about Dinah?" Huntress asked.
The next morning, Dinah and Barbara were in school as student and teacher. It was homeroom, and Dinah had heard from the grapevine that there was a new student transferring in today. All around her, there were girls gossiping, wondering if the new student was a cute boy. The chatter, though, was interrupted by Barbara, who was about to make an announcement.
"Class, I'd like you to meet your new classmate." Barbara turned in her chair to nod to someone behind the classroom door, who turned the knob and opened said door before stepping in. "This is John Malone." As she spoke the last name, she blinked contemplatively, wondering where she'd heard it before.
John Malone was a tall teenage boy dressed in a black leather jacket over a dark green shirt and dark gray pants with black leather boots. He had black hair that looked almost deliberately mussed, with random strands hanging in his face. Green eyes stared out of that face, glittering with amusement, and his lips were quirked as though he found something funny.
"Hi," he greeted the class, surprising them with a relaxed tone that almost didn't jive with his deep voice. His lips had twisted into a full smile instead of the slight curl that suggested he was quietly laughing at something only he understood.
"John, there's an empty seat right by . . . Dinah Lance, over there," Barbara pointed out.
"Thanks, Ms. Gordon," John said, and strode over to that seat, which was to the left of a blushing Dinah. When he got there, he winked at her. "Hi."
"H-hi . . ." Dinah stammered. John just smiled at her, and Dinah felt herself go weak in the knees. Fortunately, she was sitting down and not standing; otherwise, she would have collapsed immediately.
After school was over, the Birds of Prey met in the Clock Tower. "You met a boy, didn't you?" Helena commented to Dinah while smirking at her.
"How did you know?" Dinah asked.
"Trust me, I know what a girl looks like when she's got a crush," Helena replied, still smirking.
"He's in her homeroom," Barbara added "helpfully." "And he's in a few other classes with her, too."
"What's his name and when do I meet him?" Helena asked.
"His name's John Malone," Dinah replied, blushing slightly.
"Interesting name," Alfred commented. "I presume he's an interesting young man as well, am I right?"
"Yeah . . ." Dinah admitted.
"So what's he like?" Helena asked.
"He's cute," Dinah replied. "And he's pretty smart."
"Smart and cute?" Helena commented, teasing Dinah. "Tell me more."
"You have a boyfriend already!" Dinah pouted.
"Yeah, but I wanna know more about this guy so I can be sure he's not just playing around with you," Helena answered. "Big sister's duty to look out for little sis, remember?"
"Before we get carried away with discussion of Miss Dinah's potential love interest, I must ask about the encounter you had with this new Batman, Miss Helena," Alfred interjected.
"He had the nerve to diss me like he'd been at this thing longer than me," Helena grumbled, getting angry again at the thought of that encounter. "Smug little brat, I'd like to wring his neck."
"Well, he did have a point about you not wearing a mask," Barbara admitted.
"Sure, take his side," Helena muttered.
"Nonetheless, whoever he is . . . he isn't Bruce, that's for certain," Barbara went on.
"So who is he, then?" Dinah asked.
"I don't know," Barbara confessed. "The voice analyzer didn't give him away as Dick or Tim . . . or even Jean-Paul."
"Who's that guy?" Helena asked.
"Someone we don't talk about very often," Barbara replied. "Mainly because he was someone else that tried to be Batman . . . and wasn't exactly the best person for the job."
"You're worried that this young man could be another Azrael, Miss Barbara?" Alfred surmised, his remark more statement than question.
"It's possible," Barbara admitted. "With someone like Batman, there's bound to be imitators and emulators, but they're not always doing it for the right reasons or with the right tools."
"Thus, it's our duty to teach the ones we can teach and protect the city from the ones we can't teach," Alfred mused sagely.
"Good old Alfred," a voice familiar to Barbara and Alfred remarked. It had become somewhat lower with age, but there was no mistaking it.
"Dick . . . what are you doing here?" Barbara asked.
Dick Grayson, along with Jesse Reese, had entered the Clock Tower. "Hi, Babs," Dick greeted her, smiling pleasantly. "Jesse and I were assigned to find and arrest the new Batman. Mind if we coordinate that with you?"
End Notes: There you have it, my first foray into Birds of Prey fanfiction. It's a shame the show was canceled before its time, especially since the last four episodes were a serious jump in quality from the first episodes. Not to mention it had pretty strong ratings when it was airing, so I personally suspect there was some kind of internal politics behind the show getting canceled.
In any case, the players in this drama have been cast. A new Batman is in New Gotham, the new Gotham police chief (sourced from The Batman) has assigned Detective Reese to catch him, a new student has caught Dinah's eye, and Dick Grayson is back. At least two or three of these things are connected, but which ones and how? What is the true nature of the new Batman, and what will it mean for the Birds of Prey and New Gotham? For the answers to those questions and others, hang on tight for the next chapter and be sure to review.