Disclaimer: I own neither Batman and any DC related characters, nor do I own the Ninja Turtles, now owned by Nickelodeon.
Synopsis: Batman's in New York again, and finds out how hard it is to chase down one turtle.
Other Info: Caltrops are spikes dropped on the ground by ninja to mutilate the feet of anyone following them.
Further Info:Oracle is Barbara Gordon, the original Batgirl. After she was shot by the Joker, she became an elite computer expert and hacker, serving as the communications hub behind the Justice League. She is in constant communication with Batman and the Bat-family.
The elites didn't look like elites, dressing like gangbangers, but they telegraphed what they were through their moves. Latin Kings, even MS-13 or the Purple Dragons didn't fight like ninja. The blue jeans, heavy jackets and caps couldn't hide what they were when they attacked.
The ambush gave him no time to draw his swords-Leonardo grabbed the shaft of the spear as it jabbed past where his face had been, using the elite's stubborn grip as leverage to swing and pull himself closer, putting all his weight and force into a driving kick to the elite's stomach. As expected, the grip on the spear slacked and Leonardo wrested it away as he rolled, avoiding the crumbling elite and whipping the spear in a circle to buy himself space from the remaining two.
Space meant throwing stars. He knocked two out of the air by sound and moved his head a few inches to the right to let a third go by, but the movement set him off his center. Taking advantage of his loss of balance, the two elites charged him, sword and sickle chain in hand, attacking at once.
A black blur passed inches in front of Leonardo's face, striking the sickle chain to the ground and sticking fast into the pavement. They all backed away a step from the bat shaped throwingstar and mentally calculated the angle of the new player. Sparing less than a second for a glance up, they glimpsed a shadow with a swirling cape and a masked face.
Leonardo recognized him and started moving in the same moment. It was that same shadowy figure with the batlike costume that had startled him in an alley months ago. He didn't want to fight him then and he didn't want anything to do with him now, and he left the fight, abandoning the elites to the newcomer.
A loud grunt came from one of the elites. Leonardo didn't turn until he reached the end of the alley, and then it was to glimpse the strange bat man standing over one elite, using another of his bat shuriken to disarm the second elite. Leonardo blinked. That took skill-and experience. This bat man did this kind of thing often.
The elite blocked the first kick, although it sent him stumbling to one side, and the next kick came in rapid succession, slamming him into the wall. The following punch put him on the ground, twitching in unconscious spasms.
And then the bat man looked up at him. Leonardo froze, unsure of what to do. They sized each other up, and more and more Leonardo felt that he didn't want this fight. Splinter had trained them to take stock of an enemy in an instant, and everything about this vigilante-his stance like a taut bow, ready to spring, the terrible focus in his eyes, the way he stood half in shadow-
No. Not alone, not without his brothers, and not without the element of surprise and good distance between them.
As the moment stretched unbearably long, Leonardo's breath quickened and he felt the heady rush of adrenalin, the lightness that came in the instant between fight or flight. Whoever moved first would be at a disadvantage, telegraphing their intent to the other. He'd only felt this once before, in the duel with Saki-the swell of their chi, the clash of wills.
He waited, not sure who would flinch first.
New York-it was nothing like Gotham. The lines were cleaner, without the gargoyles or art deco ledges, the twisting architecture that twisted Gotham within an inch of collapse. New York reached into the clouds and it was easy for Bruce Wayne to forget that the city spread out beneath the modern Olympians. In his hotel suite, sleeping off the excesses of celebrating a new deal-Waynetech buying a patent off Saki Technologies for a steel alloy with nigh otherwordly properties-billionaire playboy Brucie lay in an alcohol soaked haze on silk sheets.
For the next twelve hours as his alter ego slept, a dark knight stalked a new city.
Something didn't sit right with him about this deal. Oroku Saki had been a courteous businessman and the negotiations had been done in comfortable Japanese, to the point that Bruce realized Saki was dumbing down his vocabularly so as not to embarass the other businessmen. His daughter was clearly in full command of her father's dealings, capably carrying out Saki's orders. Their men had been alert and attentive at all times.
Too alert. Too capable. He could have accepted that Saki ran a tight ship, but he recognized the look in all their eyes. Predatory, searching out weakness-even moreso than usual at a business meeting. Their eyes were those of wolves.
In a cursory check of his hotel room, he'd found three listening devices tucked into the suite phone, his bed and his bathroom mirror. When he'd slipped out of the window, he'd had to disable a sophisticated security grid. He'd left the bugs and the alarms set-Bruce Wayne was too stupid to even think of those, let alone find and disarm them. Let Saki listen to the looped recording of drunken snores.
For now he was trailing a handful of men from Saki's corporate headquarters. Normally he wouldn't follow a random group blind like this, but they were dressed in the local gang's purple and, more importantly, they had come out of the private elevator, which required a key. Suspicious that Saki was complicit in the New York gang wars, he kept up with them as they walked several blocks.
Following them took more effort than usual. He knew Gotham's skyline intimately, moving along her rooftops like second instinct. New York was unfamiliar, and he had to spare seconds to make sure the ledge he anchored his line to was secure or that it would lead to the right landing.
Those seconds added up to nearly a quarter of a minute as he played catch up, following them as they turned down an alley. By the time he had landed and was looking carefully over the edge, the fight had broken out.
That the gangsters could fight was no surprise. That they fought like ninja was unusual. And their opponent was most astonishing of all.
Batman had seen this ninjitsu turtle once before-leading three other creatures that looked like him as they battered a street tough he'd been searching for. Batman narrowed his eyes in appreciation. He fought as well as his swords suggested he would, and yet he didn't go for the obvious kills. He dropped one deftly without even drawing his weapon, then ducked to the ground as the two threw shuriken.
The turtle was off balance. Batman didn't want to see anyone dead, including meta, and launched his own shuriken, using the batarang's distraction to land on one of the thugs. The second went down almost as fast, and then he and the turtle were left sizing each other up.
This time the turtle was alone, he couldn't disappear into the alley, and he couldn't draw his swords without wasting that split second before Batman would be on him.
Tilting his head, he considered his options. He wanted information from this creature, and yet the turtle was clearly dangerous and eyed him with distrust. He needed a way to defuse the situation and a quick knockout gas would safely give him the upper hand. His fingers twitched toward his belt-
The turtle turned and darted from the alley.
Damn. Batman shot after him, berating himself. Really should've expected that.
Raphael would have yelled at him for running. Michelangelo would have laughed. Both of them would have made sarcastic comments about being a fearless leader charging backwards. And both of them would have been running beside him.
Leonardo didn't stay on the sidewalk long. He slipped into the thin crevasse between two closely built storefronts and climbed up easily as if the bricks were ladders. He cleared the ledge and rolled forward, gaining seconds as he raced along the roof corner and leaped out, landing on the street light and vaulting into open space toward the apartment block.
He landed in an open window three stories down, taking the hard impact on his shell and coming up in a sprint. The only light in the apartment came from the bathroom, leaving him in comfortable darkness as he moved silently to the door and the air conditioning vent overhead. He was too short to reach it, but with a quick hop against the wall he could hold himself in the ceiling corner by sheer tension.
Popping the vent straight forward, he pulled the loose screws free and slid inside, twisting painfully to jerk the vent back into place. Then he crept through the duct, moving up when he found a route to the next floor. He had to move carefully inside the thin metal so that he didn't sound like thunder moving through the apartments.
He didn't go up to the roof. Outside was too open. The narrow vents by their nature were easier to hide in. Easier for him, anyway. Raphael couldn't fit at all and Michelangelo and Donatello would have had to wriggle and drag themselves through. A full foot shorter than Raphael, he was also thinner than Donatello, who spent too much time behind a computer monitor, and Michelangelo, who savored snacks between munchies between dinner. And he doubted that the masked human could follow him here.
He paused at each vent, listening for the slightest sound. The people inside seemed to be asleep and a television hummed somewhere out of sight. When he found a vent where he felt the wind through an open window and heard the faint sounds of traffic, he gingerly pushed out the grate and slipped down to the floor.
His instincts felt like live wires, little jolts of electricity sparking at the slightest sound. He didn't feel the man's presence in the darkness, but he didn't let himself believe that he'd lost him so quickly.
The window held a good vantage point on the street, and he scanned as far as he could see before opening it up and sneaking out. Then a sprint around the corner into the next alley as he hugged the shadows, sweeping up a filthy blanket off a trashcan.
It was the easiest disguise. There were always old clothes or rugs and fabric tossed away, and with his shell and a little faked limping, he could pass as one of the nameless vagrants that lay on curbs and beside dumpsters. He spotted an empty bottle and picked that up as a prop.
Satisfied that he was alone, he sat against the wall, beside a stack of collapsed, soggy cardboard and caught his breath. He would wait a few minutes here, then head for the nearest manhole into the larger tunnels, two blocks away. He had to wait until he was sure he'd lost the man, however. He couldn't afford to let him know that they lived underground. He wished he could've stayed hiding inside the vents, but it was too risky. If the masked man found him, he would have been too vulnerable to attack.
Footsteps. Tensing ever so slightly, he forced himself to relax and hoped that whoever walked by didn't hear his heartbeat. Pretending sleep, he let his hand lay limp on the empty bottle and breathed deep.
The footsteps came closer, paused for just a second, then passed by. Leonardo watched from the darkness under the draped blanket. The masked man hadn't given up, searching for him quietly and methodically.
The first drops of rain came down, big cold drops that splashed when they hit the ground. Leonardo narrowed his eyes and didn't move, watching and hoping the man would turn the corner.
As the turtle had fled the alley, Batman had been only a step behind. Even knowing how fast these creatures moved, he was startled to see how it climb up the narrow space between the two stores. One hand on each wall, bracing himself with his legs, he practically ran up the bricks and vanished over the edge.
Batman didn't risk sliding in between those walls. Taking the other way up, he used his batline to scale the wall nearly as fast, and he alighted on the roof just in time to see the turtle leap onto the far street light and use it to vault straight into the apartment complex across the street.
For a moment he was impressed. Not many people could make that leap and the turtle had made it look easy. Batman swung down toward the window, lingering at the sill to take stock of the room first. The last thing he wanted was to swing right into the turtle's drawn swords.
Over the sound of a shower and television static, he heard a small metallic clang and looked up. There was no movement in the room, but he did notice that the air conditioning vent was canted by an inch. That meant it was off its fastenings, and he wondered if the ducts were really large enough to permit the turtle through.
His target wouldn't emerge easily. Neither of them wanted a fight in the cramped and fragile ductwork. The metal was only a few quarters of an inch thick, and if it tore, the turtle would be at an advantage.
He grew concerned as he kept an eye on the roof. It was the logical point for the turtle to reappear, away from the streets and away from masked vigillanties, but the access door was locked. Even if it wasn't, the turtle had to assume he'd be up here.
So not the roof. Batman made sure the outside vents were too small to climb through. There was no way out here, and the windows were locked up for the night and he doubted the turtle would risk smashing one or raising a creaky windowpane. Only a few lay open, all on the second or third floors.
Long minutes passed. Would the turtle try to wait him out? Perhaps, although that would mean leaving himself stuck if Batman had brought allies. He didn't think he had missed the creature coming out, but he circled the building to be sure.
It started to rain. He looked up at the clouds, water running down his mask. What a change from Gotham. If the rain was cold, at least it wasn't whipped in punishing lashes by the wind. It came down harder in a steady downpour, making his footing treacherous as he dropped back down the sidewalk.
The streets and alleys were almost empty. A homeless man lay on the pavement, passed out drunk and fast asleep. He didn't even twitch as Batman walked by, although the stench of alcohol was old. He'd probably emptied the bottle hours ago.
At the edge of the alley, he paused. Was it possible he had missed something? Maybe there was another way out or a basement hideaway. If only he'd had a chance to interrrogate the thugs he'd already beaten, but he felt this creature was the larger threat. Especially if he could disappear like this. Not knowing where he'd escaped to put Batman on edge.
Bruce frowned. No, he wasn't edgy. He never felt anything before a hunt but the same calm, collected sense of duty. So where was this faint sense of anxiety coming from? The air was tense with it.
He turned around and stared at the homeless man. No, it couldn't be. Everything about the pronefigure told him it was a passed out drunk. All that was missing was any snoring, and that wasn't unusual in itself.
A vagrant completely covered up with even his head in shadow. Assuming it was human was just like the Gotham gangsters all assuming Matches Malone was a fellow thug based on local thieves' cant and his love of street gambling. So many people would simply pass the vagrant by, not even seeing him, that the disguise should have worked.
Batman cursed how appearances could be so treacherous and took a step forward, and although he started, he wasn't surprised when the vagrant leaped up and sprinted away. He gave chase, steeling himself so as not to fall for an illusion again.
The first pangs of worry began to bite at Leonardo. The detour through the apartments had only bought him a few more yards ahead of the masked man, and he lost several seconds as he leaped up and grabbed the bottom of a fire escape, swinging himself onto the staircase. A second later he threw himself towards the far wall.
Feinting towards the fire escape saved him from being grabbed. The masked man slammed against the steel ladder even as Leonardo flew through the air and landed against the rough bricks. Jumping back and forth between the walls, he climbed to the roof and ran.
He heard a soft thump, as if a gun had been fired into a pillow, and as he vaulted the gap between rooftops, he turned to see behind himself, flinging a handful of shurken as he went.
The human had a grappling hook, one that pulled him up once he'd anchored the line. Reflexively he raised his gauntlet, deflecting the shuriken, not slowing down.
Leonardo landed running, running faster than he'd ever dared during training. Weak concrete crumbled under his feet and small ledges, air vents or access panels passed by in a dangerous blur, barely dodged as he went from roof to roof. He dropped caltrops and heard a muttered curse, but the footsteps only faltered and continued on steadily again.
The city blocks became rougher to navigate as the buildings grew a little higher and farther apart. Leonardo had to use street lights more often to make his leaps, while the human was able to use that line over and over again.
The man was gaining. He was just too tall for Leonardo to keep ahead in a foot race. Leonardo gambled that his smaller size and lighter weight would make a fall from this height easier on him than the human. He spotted a large truck on the road half a block ahead, so he sprinted to top speed until the timing was right and jumped from the roof, this time using his own grappling hook.
The curved end was tiny, having to stay concealed in his shell, but it snagged the nearest stoplight as he fell. He furiously pulled himself along the rope, just barely keeping from hitting the pavement, and swung between two idling cars. The momentum nearly tore his arms from his shoulders, but he hung on until he was swinging upward.
Abandoning the line, he let go and flew through the air, alighting on the truck's back with only a stumble. He dropped down to stay out of sight, swaying as the truck hit a pothole, and tried to get a glimpse of his pursuer. He spotted a flash of gleaming black on the rooftop, but fast as he was, he couldn't keep pace with the truck.
Leonardo didn't relax. He'd only bought himself breathing room.
His shellcell beeped, startling him. Grumbling at himself, he flipped it on-
-a blur struck it out of his hand and spiked the communicator onto the truck.
Cursing as he saw the metal's bat shape, Leonardo turned and saw the man attempting the same swing he'd used. He'd jumped from a lower height to ease the strain on his arms, and he landed on a taxi cab only a few car lengths back.
Leonardo heard Donatello yelling into the shellcell, but the sound quickly dwindled into static. He didn't dare risk trying to send a message. The masked human leaped one car, then another, then leaped onto the back of the truck and climbed up. The move took less than a moment.
Separated by only a few feet, Leonardo could better see the bat shape of the cape and cowl. It should have looked ridiculous, but the man's eyes were fanatically focused.
"No information at all?" the man grumbled, although he didn't seem to be talking to Leonardo. His attention split for half a second as he touched what was obviously an earpiece, then snapped back onto Leonardo.
The truck was picking up speed. Water slid off the truck in sheets, and as the bat man charged at him, Leonardo used the slick surface to slide under his kick, striking the back of the man's leg.
He winced as he struck kevlar, but the impact at least sent the man down on one knee. As he went down, however, the man twisted at the waist and reached out, narrowly missing grabbing his ankle. His hand brushed his skin as Leonardo pivoted around, and as they came to an overpass, Leonardo used the man's shoulder as a stepping stone, jumping off of him onto the sign.
The truck drove on as he climbed up, scrambling to get to the top quickly, and he ran for the cover of a dark laundromat. Crouching by the back door to stay out of sight, he picked the lock in a few seconds and slipped in, locking the door again.
No shellcell, no grappling line, no more caltrops... He took quick stock of what he had left-a few throwing stars, his swords, and his wits.
"Think," he whispered.
As he stood still, he noticed that he was shivering. The rain wasn't as bad as snow, but it would soon start to slow him down. He didn't seem to be injured, though his ankle throbbed from where he's kicked the man. He knelt down to rub out the soreness and make sure it wasn't cracked, and to his surprise he found a tiny metal object stuck to his skin.
If it had been pinned to his kneepad or belt, he knew he never would have noticed it. As it was, it stung from where it had punctured the skin. He pulled it free and held it up.
Bat shaped. Of course.
He assumed it was a tracking device, but while it meant that the bat man might surprise him at any moment, it also gave him a new weapon. He left the laundromat, glancing in all directions to make sure he was still alone, and headed along the backstreets of what soon turned into townhouses. Cars went up and down the road infrequently, but when he came to the corner, there were several coming off the highway and pausing at the stop sign.
Staying in the shadows, he moved close to the end of the line and planted the tracker in the bumper of the last car. Darting away, he crouched behind an overflowing garbage can and watched the car move up and then drive on, turning the corner and vanishing.
There. Let him follow that for awhile.
"What the...? Leo? Leo?"
Donatello stared at the shellcell in shock. Leonardo had answered-he was sure of it. But something had smashed the communicator out of his hand.
"Something up?" Raphael asked from the couch, no longer interested in the television.
"Something's wrong," Donatello said, taking the communicator to his laptop on the kitchen table. "Leonardo was about to answer, and then something happened."
He plugged a free USB cable into the shellcell's port and opened up the root program on his monitor. Static filled the visual display, but over the static, he heard the sounds of New York traffic.
Raphael got up from the couch and stood behind him, leaning over his shoulder.
"It's still raining?" he asked. "Thought Leo said he'd be home before it really opened up."
"Rain?" Donatello echoed before he realized that Raphael meant the drone from the communicator. It wasn't static, but the ambient noise of the street.
He listened closer, trying to make out his brother's voice. As he boosted the signal for a cleaner sound, however, he caught the faint hiss of interference. Adjusting the frequency minutely took out the hiss but also made the shellcell's signal weaker. Tuning it the other way strengthened the sound and hiss, then made it fade again.
"It's using the same frequency," Donatello mused.
"What is?" Raphael asked.
"Another signal," Donatello said, struggling to isolate the hiss. "It's not surprising. The radio spectrum is crowded. It's hard to find a signal that's free and safe, and whoever it is must have chosen the same one that I-"
"Who's there?" The hiss became the thin notes of a woman's voice. "Who's on this frequency?"
"Gah!" Donatello recoiled from the laptop, then smacked off the microphone. "Dammit, I forgot that was on."
"Who the hell was that?" Raphael asked, one hand around his sai reflexively.
"I don't know," Donatello said. "She must've been who I heard on the-"
He stopped as a light on his laptop flashed, showing him that his microphone had been switched on again. He blinked in surprise.
"You shouldn't hang up like that," the woman's voice came, sounding wryly amused. "It's impolite...Donatello? Funny name for a crook."
About to sever the laptop's internet connection, Donatello froze in indignation.
"I'm not the one breaking into people's computers," he snapped, typing furiously as he launched two programs via the function keys.
"What're you doing?" Raphael asked.
"Sending her a nice fat virus," he answered. "She's probably behind a ton of proxies, but-"
The two programs suddenly vanished, and an computer generated model of an androgynous human face appeared on his screen.
"But I'm a lot faster than you are," she said. "And your laptop, while impressively modded, is still stock. Now then, let's get back to who you are and why you were on that frequency."
"We were on it first," he said, sounding childish to himself but shrugging off the feeling. "And who the hell are you?"
"Ah ah ah," she said, "I'm the one asking the questions. And right now I want to know who you are and why you happen to have schematics for starships, transdimensional portal devices and genetic mutation matter in this computer."
Donatello frowned. "You're pretty presumptive for a thief."
"Hey," she snapped, sounding as wounded as he had a moment ago. "I'm not the one with a computer loaded with alien weaponry and genetic horrors-"
Her voice cut off for a moment. A cautious smile surfaced on Donatello's face as the silence stretched.
Raphael glanced between him and the screen. "What are you smilin' 'bout?"
"Sh," Donatello whispered. "I don't want to jinx it."
Opening one of his folders, he located another file and sent it along the same route as the previous programs. Then he waited. It didn't take long. A new window appeared on his screen and he immediately opened the most promising icons.
"You sneaky little..." she muttered. "Those programs were just decoys."
"Turnabout is fair play," he said, finding a handful of subroutines and copying them over quickly. "I'm no good in a computer fight. But someone good enough to get past my firewalls'll spot those juicy folders and they just can't help stealing them."
"You sure are self-righteous," she snapped, "when you've got loads of stolen schematics on here."
"You've got backdoor programs and password generators lined up like a toolbox, and you called me the thief?"
"Get out of my computer," she growled, sending her own virus at him, but April had written the code for his viruses and they instantly altered the settings for his firewall. The woman's virus struck his laptop and was instantly quarantined. Her computer-generated face flickered unsteadily as she attempted something he couldn't see.
"Not until I know why you were on the same frequency as my shellcell," he said. "And what you have to do with me losing my connection with my brother."
Silence again. While he continued to search her programs, he kept his hand near the wifi signal boost, ready to disconnect from the internet in a split second. Judging from the files he could see, this woman was dangerous and giving her this time was a delicate balance of downloading something interesting or downloading something that could break through his firewalls.
"'Brother'," she mused. "Then may I assume that you are not human?"
Donatello shared a look with Raphael. Should they answer truthfully? He never loaded up any pictures or information that could have led her to that. His gaze flicked at the webcam embedded in the laptop just to make sure the piece of masking tape still covered the eye.
"You want me to trust you when I don't even know who you are," he said at last, hearing Raphael huff his disapproval at her.
She was silent again. Then the screen flickered and her digital face was clear and solid again.
"The name is Oracle," she answered. "And congratulations. Not too many people survive an attack from me, let alone slip a code into my own machine."
"I really don't care," he said. "My brother?"
"Leading my boss on a merry chase across the city," she said. "He was fighting a handful of street toughs watch some high level ninjitsu. And he didn't stick around to talk afterward."
"Who's your boss?" Donatello demanded. "What do you mean a chase?"
"I mean a chase across the entire city," she said. "My boss stopped the fight, but your brother didn't stick around to answer questions. Which, to be honest, isn't all that surprising. What is surprising is that he's kept ahead so far."
"Lady, if your boss wants to talk," Raphael snarled, slamming his hand on the table as he leaned in close. "Then he should learn to ask. Where the hell are they?"
"Judging from previous records, I'm going to guess you're Raphael," she said. "That's a good question. I don't suppose you could get your brother to stay put? I could tell my boss the happy news not to expect a fight."
"Your 'boss' broke our only communication line with him," Donatello said. "If you really want to help, call him off and we can arrange a meeting."
"Mm, you don't know my boss," she said. "He probably wouldn't trust a promise anyway."
"What the hell is he after?" Raphael asked. "If you know we ain't human, then wouldn't you guess we ain't lining up to do interviews?"
"How do we know you aren't the type to try to dissect us?" Donatello added.
"'Dissect'?" she breathed. "Oh... Oh, no wonder he ran. But no-we wouldn't. Not ever. We're not Cadmus or the DEO or-"
"Then who are you?" Donatello snarled, finally losing his patience. He grabbed both sides of the monitor and leaned close as if he see her, and behind him, Raphael took a step back. "Look, lady, my brother's out there alone and you're acting like this is a picnic. What the hell are you after? A straight answer, this time."
Again, silence. Then she sighed.
"Why does Oroku Saki have trained ninja, and why were they attacking your brother?"
Raphael groaned and put his hand over his face, wiping away the frustration. "Shit, why does it always come back to him?"
"Then you're familiar with him?" she said, grasping at his answer. "Please, if you have any information on Saki, I'll yell at my boss to stop chasing your brother. I...I can't promise it'll work. He's singleminded, and I don't know anything about you to reassure him you aren't threats."
"So it's lifestory time again?" Raphael sighed. "Fuck. Do I have to tell it this time? I think it's my turn."
"Yeah, you'd better," Donatello said, sighing in his chair. "I'm too sick of it to tell it."
As Raphael opened his mouth, about to explain who Saki was and their connection to him, the bathroom door opened. Michelangelo stepped out, towelling himself off, and came towards them curiously.
"Hey guys," he smiled. "I heard yelling. What'd I miss?"
Ditching the tracker didn't mean Leonardo could rest. There were all too many ways to find him, if one knew how to look, and he wasn't overly confident in his own skills at staying hidden. Even if he left no trail and made no sound, bad luck could strike at any time. He crept along the dark edges of bare stoops, wary of motion sensors and dogs.
He hated theis side of town. The only tunnels in this neighborhood were short culverts and small plumbing. What he needed was a large storm drain, the kind that were fenced so teenagers didn't explore, and the kind that would take him toward the ocean.
How much time had passed? The rain was just a wet drizzle moving out to sea. It made surfaces dangerously slick, but he liked the noisy cover it provided. The only benefit now was that if anyone was coming, he could hear them easily.
In fact, without the rain, he didn't feel comfortable trying to make it back along the same route. Not too far away, the lights of the Manhattan Bridge glimmered in the city's steam. If he cut through China town, he could reach the water and follow the docks home, using the dark stretches for good cover.
With the bridge as his northern star, he climbed up the townhouse windows, using the nicely carved windowsills for handholds, and reached the rooftops. Along this route, the tops were minefields of satellite dishes, rusting tv antennas, loose cables and spinning air conditioning vents. Leaping was treacherous along the edges, and his progress was slowed by the way he had to keep low with the cold air leeching the warmth from his skin.
He came to a rest overlooking the street below. A handful of stores had closed, but there were still enough people moving beneath the lights that he decided to head parallel to the street towards the bridge, where he would either find a dark section to cross or a busy corner where no one would spot him.
The walk gave him time to think. Dangerous, Splinter's voice whispered to him, and he tried to squash any stray thoughts. It was bad enough that his mind wanted to play tricks on him. The city was never silent. Vents spinning, engines humming, the lights flickering with an electric crackle-
Bootsteps. A rustle of cloth.
He didn't react obviously, but he knew he'd heard that whisper of a cape and a boot crushing a spare bit of concrete underfoot. Not so surprising that the bat man had found him. A little backtracking and some luck would serve, especially knowing that Leonardo preferred roof running. Perhaps the bat man had decided to trail him home.
Leonardo looked at the path ahead. He could try to hitch a ride on a passing car, but the traffic didn't flow as quickly here. He could try to disappear again, but the dark shops could prove to be dead ends without an easy exit. He could try to make a run to the bridge.
The block was about to end. He had to make his choice in the next moment. Behind him, he heard the soft thud of someone landing close behind him. Torture not to turn around in those last five steps, not knowing if the bat was running up behind him, hands reaching-
He reached the edge. Taking a deep breath, he stepped off the ledge, turning and catching a glimpse of the bat man just barely missing his face. As he fell, he grabbed the iron bars on the windows, let go and grabbed the jutting windowsill, let go and landed on an overhang.
Parkour. He would cross the remaining distance to the Manhattan bridge through simple acrobatics and street moves, turning the city into a playground. The overhang cracked beneath him, threatening to break under his weight, and he jumped off, ran along the wall and grabbed a string of lanterns extended across the street.
Pulling his sword and slicing the string free of the wall in one move, he swung to the other side of the street. In the darkness, the red lights blurred in a wide arc, reflecting red off of the windows and the black street.
Now he travelled via the jutting fire escapes, landing, jumping again, using a streetlight to get him to the other side of the road. He slipped once and landed hard on a food cart, startling people below as they saw his inhuman shadow flying by. The slip-up was unintended good luck with the commotion keeping the bat man from following that trail and costing him seconds in going around.
This way of moving was exhausting and he was already lagging. The icy breeze off the ocean only warmed slightly through the steam and heat of the city, cutting across him and numbing his fingers as he moved along the wall.
He couldn't keep it up. He landed close to a set of lighted signs and used them to scramble back up, using the nearest fire escape to reach the roof. He'd bought himself a little more space, and he used it in a dead sprint.
It wasn't fair. Mammals had such an advantage in the cold. By the time he reached the end of the block, he felt like he was made of lead. But the bridge loomed up before him, giant and as bright as day.
He dropped down the side of the wall, slipping halfway and landing in a pile of garbage filling the sidewalk. He had to leverage himself onto the concrete, and by the time he was back on his feet and moving for the bridge, he heard the bat man drop down, nimbly avoiding the trash.
Leonardo came at the bridge at an angle, hopping a fence easily and pleasantly surprised that the bat man had to slow down a few steps to cross it. At least being a turtle had some advantages.
Not the upper levels of the bridge, but the subway tracks on the lower level-the space beneath the bridge was surprisingly dark. He followed the maintenance route along the tracks, careful not to stray too close to the rails or too close to the edge.
The sense of the bridge was overwhelming. The sounds of cars and trains speeding by made hearing all but impossible, and the bridge vibrated with their passing. He didn't often come here, preferring the dark quiet of the world under New York.
Huge rolls of of electric cable and other building supplies lay stacked in front of him, blocking the way. He faced it for a moment, frozen in surprise, then turned and drew his swords. The bat man slowly approached, hands ready, wary of coming closer.
"Put them down," the bat man said in a growling voice. "I don't want to hurt you."
Leonardo didn't respond except to back up against the stacks. He adjusted his grip on the hilts, then adjusted again. He was about to do something stupid and he wasn't sure if it would work.
"I just want to talk," the bat man said. "Put them down."
"Lies," Leonardo said. He tensed, gathering his wits. Almost ready...
Something crackled, and a moment passed before Leonardo realized that someone was talking in a communicator in the bat man's cowl. No, he realized. Not talking. For Leonardo to hear, the person had to be shouting.
"Oracle, maintain radio silence," the bat man growled. "I said-'fifteen'?"
Whatever the person had said, Leonardo used the chance it gave him to turn and jump over the side of the bridge.
"He's fifteen!" Oracle shouted in frustration. "They're just a bunch of kids! His name's Leonardo, he's their leader-he's trying to get away because they're scared of humans!"
Batman blinked. "'Fifteen'?"
He looked up at the turtle as if seeing him for the first time. Hands too tense on his swords, eyes too wide, breath too quick. This was a kid-a dangerous kid, but a kid younger than Tim.
He had chased a fifteen year old kid and nearly lost him three times. No wonder he could barely keep up. Fear lent wings to the feet.
Before he could back away and give the kid some space, the turtle suddenly turned and lunged off the bridge, plummeting out of sight.
Batman leaped after him, already holding his batline in one hand as he reached with the other. Within a second, three things happened.
He saw Leonardo hanging onto a steel insulated powerline on the side of the bridge and realized the turtle never meant to land in the water.
Close enough to reach him, he hooked an arm around Leonardo's waist.
Their combined weight and inertia pulled Leonardo off easily, and as they fell, Batman launched his line at the underside of the bridge.
The line anchor missed the closest level of steel and concrete and kept flying up to the top level. Although it grabbed the bridge securely, the extra fall time meant that when the line went taut, it jerked them to a halt that wrenched it out of Batman's hand.
Batman tried to wrap himself around the turtle, suddenly aware of how small he actually was in comparison. Leonardo squirmed terribly, but he wasn't as strong without any leverage, and Batman felt him go limp just before they hit the water.
Even cushioned from the initial blow, Leonardo felt all his breath knocked out of him. The cold water hit him like an ice wall, and the world was suddenly silent and dark, like being trapped in a freezing black bubble.
He couldn't do anything but let the bat man kick them up. They broke the surface, and Leonardo gasped in the cold. If the water was ice, the air was needles pushed deep into him.
The flashback swallowed him-dozens of ninja around him, snow falling, Shredder with his hand around Leonardo's throat. Break free, he had to break free. The silence expanded, slowly pressing outward so that he heard cars at the edge of his awareness, heard furious splashing as blurry noise.
Then there was rough gravel beneath him as he was pulled up on land. He coughed out a mouthful of water and curled up, trying to get his feet under him and stumbling back onto the ground.
"Don't move," the bat man said, his growling voice less threatening now. "The cold water clearly saps your strength. More reptile than human, closer to cold blooded, although the cranial cortex is similar in size..."
The man sounded like a scientist now. Leonardo painfully slid his hand down his side to his belt, searching for his short blade and crying out in disappointment when he realized the impact had taken it.
"Leonardo," the bat man said tentatively, not sure it was his name. "I really do want to talk, but you're in no condition now. Where's your home?"
"Go...t'hell," Leonardo said between breaths. A second later, he breathed out and lay still, eyes closed.
He woke up warm. Where was he? He took a deep breath and mentally checked himself for injuries. He was too sore to want to move, but there was no sharp pain and no sense of injury. He opened his eyes and found himself staring at the ceiling of the lair.
He recognized Michelangelo's voice immediately, but several seconds passed before he understood what he'd been asked.
"Don't pester him too much," Donatello said from somewhere to his right. "He's not going to be very responsive until he warms up."
Blinking heavily, Leonardo turned his head a few inches. He was on the couch under a blanket, and something firm but pliable lay beneath him. It was warm, whatever it was, almost hot to the touch, and a moment went by until he guessed his little brother was behind him, driving away the cold with his body.
"You're not hurting, are you?" Michelangelo whispered.
Leonardo gave a tiny shake of his head. Too exhausted to move and too sore to try, he struggled to remember what had happened before. How did he get home? He didn't remember walking here.
Thinking back, he followed his steps through the city mentally. First a training run, a hard balancing routine through the junkyard, then carefully making his way home above the city, hoping to enjoy the rain a little and avoid the usual flooding underground.
Then the attack in the alley. He wondered if he had to change his route home. He had four routes he alternated, but he should pick out a couple more. Definitely drop this one. So he defeated the ninja and-
He tensed up, remembering everything in a rush. Michelangelo wrapped himself around him, whispering that it was all right and that he was safe, but that didn't help. Racing through the streets, the freefall into the ocean...and how had he come home?
He hadn't had his communicator. No one had known where he was. Either his siblings had found him and brought him home before he froze to death, or else...
Embarrassment welled up within him. Brought home by the enemy. Last time that had happened-
No. He cut off that thought.
"You brought home an interesting friend," Michelangelo said softly. "He doesn't like Shredder either."
Now that was different. Feeling a little more alive, he glanced to his right and found Donatello and Splinter seated at the kitchen table, opposite the bat man that had chased him down. Raphael leaned against the couch, and he felt a little better seeing his family between him and the bat man. He slowly sat up, finding his center. He didn't think he could go on another chase, not any time soon, but he wasn't about to lie on his shell any longer than he had to.
"What's his name?" he whispered.
"Batman," Michelangelo answered.
Leonardo blinked. Go fig.
Ninjas. Aliens that look like tentacled brains. Intergalactic mutational ooze. Ancient Japanese clan warfare. Turtles with Renaissance names.
Batman was more surprised by their names and how their sensei chose them than anything else. The lair reminded him of the batcave, Splinter sounded like Alfred at times and Donatello hadpromised to exchange schematics with him. It was all very familiar so that little of it struck him as odd. He didn't think his time in the JLA had prepared him as much as simply living in Gotham City. Strange things happened in a city's dark corners, and nowhere was as dark as his home town.
"Saki is looking to expand his holdings in several companies along the coast," he said. "Real estate in the form of offices in exchange for an alloy lightyears beyond current technology."
"For him," Donatello said, "that's like having a yard sale. I bet if you checked out the weaponry from those ninja you and Leo left, you'd probably get the same metal."
"He'd use it for something so common?" Batman asked.
"It isn't special to him," Donatello pointed out.
Batman processed everything they had told him so far. Bruce Wayne's simple business trip had brought him between rival clans and the additional information only made him concerned that Saki was trying to gain a foothold further along the coast.
"You've been fighting this organization for a long time," Batman said. "Have you made any headway?"
"Yes," Splinter said with a nod. "My sons killed Saki once."
"'Once'?" Batman echoed. "He's come back?"
"Magic," Raphael grumbled. "The cheating bastards brought him back."
"Then how can you stop you him?" Batman asked.
"We'll kill him again."
Batman glanced at the turtle still recovering on the couch. Not an hour had passed since they dropped into the water, but with the weariness in Leonardo's eyes was determination and a hardness that no one that age should have.
The look was in all their eyes. In Saki's headquarters, he'd thought the business man and his daughter had seemed like wolves stalking dumb sheep. He corrected himself now. These ninja were the true pack hiding in the shadows, watching their prey for the first opportunity to strike and biding their time.
Having seen both clans up close, he had no doubt who would win. When he left New York, it was with a firm belief that he had left the city in good hands.