Title: L.A. Knights/Emerald Flame: Stolen Youth (1/2)

Author: Cyclone

Feedback: Please be gentle.

Distribution: Gimme credit and a link.

Rating: Just a little bad language.

Spoilers: Anything and everything.

Disclaimer: The characters depicted herein belong to other people. I'm just borrowing them for a while.

Summary: Mayor Richard Wilkins III is not an idiot and adapts accordingly.

Author's Note: This story occurs after Emerald Transitions.

"Well, gosh," Mayor Wilkins frowned at the latest report. There was simply no way he could trust the contractor he had initially planned to use. An operation in Sunnydale was simply too risky at this critical juncture. "Allen? Call Mister Manners. It appears I'll have to outsource."

It wasn't much of a Batcave. Los Angeles simply didn't have the kind of underground tunnel network one found in Gotham City - or Sunnydale, for that matter - and the sewers, he had found, were crawling with all sorts of deadly unpleasantness.

So, Jarod Bruce made do with a fallout shelter that had been built into the foundations of his new home during the Cold War.

At the moment, he was going through some surveillance footage. Ever since his revelation about vampires, demons, and the supernatural - something which, admittedly, explained a lot once he accepted it - he had been gathering as much information as he could. Not just from the mythology found in books and other accounts, either. It struck Jarod as odd that the Batman of the comics was so steadfast in his refusal to acknowledge the mystical side of the world he lived in. Jarod himself found himself engrossed in the subject, yearning to dissect it and understand it. Even the pretender couldn't understand Bruce Wayne's recalcitrance on the matter. He had planted concealed cameras in a number of locations where he hoped to observe any rising vampires.

In short, he had cameras hidden in cemetaries, funeral homes, and morgues, as well as more logical locations for a crimefighter. He was currently viewing footage from St. Elizabeth's Medical Center, where a recent viral outbreak had killed 21. He was looking for anything out of the ordinary. He soon found it.

As he watched, he saw four very much alive infants brought into autopsy. The hospital personnel seemed to go into a trance as the infants were passed off to someone who had been conspicuously absent when the quarantine was lifted.

He brought up other surveillance footage from the area, tapping into traffic cameras and other security footage. The "Batcomputer" was a serious piece of hardware, one Jarod had assembled by hand, utilizing cutting edge technology, and it was only a matter of time before he found Mystery Man's exit from the hospital, getting into a 1968 Chevrolet Corvette C3 driven by a man Jarod recognized all too well. None of the people manning the quarantine line even blinked as he walked right by, which further cemented in Jarod's mind that something supernatural was amiss. For that matter, so did the fact that the driver in question didn't bat an eye at his cargo.

He had never met him before, but he was familiar with the professional transporter. Harming or trafficking children was a line that man would never cross.

For now, though, he had a car to trace.

The large man entered the darkened Sunnydale hotel room.


The big man didn't give the intruder the satisfaction of seeing him startled. Instead, he slowly turned and glared. "A little early for Halloween costumes."

"I'm here to discuss your most recent job," Batman declared.

Bandit grunted.

"I just thought you'd like to know you were duped into kidnapping babies." Batman laid a videotape on the bed and dropped out the window.

"Hey, Giles."

The Watcher jerked in surprise, then scowled at the young man who had intruded into his apartment. "Xander?"

"We need to talk."

"Couldn't this have waited until morning?"

"Suspended, remember?" Xander said. "I'm here to talk about Buffy's birthday in a few weeks."

"What about it?" Giles frowned, concealing his agitation.

"I'm referring to the Cruciamentum," Xander said, his gaze pinning the Watcher in place. "Don't. If it happens, those behind it will not like the consequences. And that applies to you too, Giles."

"Xander, I..."

"Go ahead and warn them if you must, Giles," he said. "They won't listen. But you'd better."

Xander turned and left the apartment. He hated having to do that to Giles, especially so soon after basically hijacking Ms. Calendar for Egeria, but it had to be done. Minutes later, he hovered over Sunnydale's warehouse district. The vampire population was well under control, thanks to the coordinated efforts of Willow's Birds of Prey and the Green Lanterns' regular patrols, but a new nest would still pop up from time to time and need to be cleared out.

He cocked an eyebrow. Well, that's something you don't see every night, he thought as he watched Batman battle two vampires.

Batman swayed to the side, avoiding the vampire's strike even as he caught its arm and flipped it over his shoulder. He could have dusted the vampires as readily as he had the other three, but he needed information.

He suddenly ran up to the other vampire, pinning it against the wall just long enough to strike it kidneys. The vampire curled up, and he bent down. "You know what I want," he hissed in its ear.

His internal sense of the battle warned him that the other vampire had likely recovered from the throw, and he looked up, only to see it intercepted by a giant glowing green hand wrapping around it. He looked up.

"Your form is perfect, Batman," Green Lantern declared. Batman noted it was a young man rather than the young lady he had met previously. "But you need to learn to fight dirty." The green hand construct squeezed. The result was not for the squeamish, but quickly crumbled to dust.

He turned to his remaining information source, only to see it decapitated by another green construct. Whirled at Green Lantern, Batman grabbed him by the front of his shirt. "They had information I needed!"

His gaze was met by a pair of cold, brown eyes. "They were vampires, Batman," Green Lantern declared. "You can't make deals with vampires." With that, he shrugged free of the caped crusader's grip and flew off.

"Mrs. Summers?" Xander blinked in surprise as he poked his head into Rebecca Baxter's room. "What are you doing here?"

Joyce turned and gestured to the bedridden witch. "I wanted to check in on Rebecca, see how she's been doing, considering what happened."

Xander nodded in understanding.

"How was your patrol?" Rebecca asked.

"I ran into someone I wasn't expecting," he said with a shrug.

The two women looked at him blankly.

"In fact," he added, "he should be dropping by pretty soon, so I'd better head down to greet him when he does."

"So, pretty quiet tonight," Buffy declared. She and Cordelia - Black Canary and Huntress - were patrolling Shady Hill Cemetery. So far, they had dusted one riser, and she hadn't even gotten a decent workout from it.

"Well, duh," Cordy snorted. "We've been cleaning house, and the Green Lanterns don't leave much for us."

Buffy crossed her arms and pouted, "I still say I could have handled that nest."

"W-why bother?" a third voice came from behind them. They turned to see the third Green Lantern - Tara - behind them. "I mean," she shrugged, "this is about getting the job done, isn't it? Not... not glorifying ourselves. Why take the chance?"

Buffy took a moment to consider that question. Aside from some vague idea that it was her duty as the Slayer, she couldn't find a concrete answer. Finally, she said, "Because if we don't know our limits, how can we push them?"

Cordy snorted again. "Oh, come on, Canary, be honest," she said, her voice dripping with derision. "You're disappointed because you think it's fun."

Buffy stopped in her tracks.

No way! she thought. That... can't be why. Can it? She scowled as Cordy waved a hand in front of her face.

"What?" she snapped.

"What's with you two?" she asked.

"Nothing," Buffy grumped. She paused. Wait. "Two"? She looked at Tara, who looked pale. "Tara, you okay?"

"The wards," she said. "Someone tripped the wards, someone who isn't keyed into them. Something followed Xander home."

Faith snored. She didn't usually snore before, but then again, until recently, she didn't usually sleep in such a comfortable bed. Cortana was an okay chick in her book, and Xander... well, Xander was certainly worth a roll if he would stop being so stubborn about it.

But just because she was comfortable enough to snore as she slept didn't mean she let her guard down, so when she heard glass breaking followed by the sounds of violence, she was moving before she was fully awake. Her power ring glowed, and energy swirled around her nude body, forming into her uniform as she literally flew down the stairs.

The tableau that greeted her was a recipe for confusion. She saw Xander and Mrs. Summers staring incredulously at Buffy, Cordelia, and Tara, who were in full costume and apparently ready to deliver a righteous beatdown on...


"What the f*ck is going on here?"

Her words were almost all the distraction Batman needed. Almost.

The dark knight moved. There was no other way to describe it. He had already disarmed Huntress and tripped Black Canary before Xander's power ring flared, lifting him up into the air.

"Not so fast, Batman," Xander said, annoyed. "What the hell are you doing in my town?"

Through the commlinks Buffy and Cordy were wearing, Willow was listening to all this and, quite frankly, freaking out.

Why the hell was Xander pulling a Batman on Batman?

For that matter, she thought, since when was there a real Batman?

Jarod cursed himself for not thinking this through when he had placed that homing beacon on Green Lantern. He was up against Green Lanterns, two - he caught sight of the girl who had descended the stairs and provided his distraction - make that three of them, and their rings obeyed their user's will. As such, he was going nowhere... for now.

"I'm on a case," he growled, "one which you so handily disrupted earlier."

"Making deals with vampires is a good way to get yourself and a lot of bystanders killed," the male Lantern said evenly. "What's the case?"

Jarod considered the question. This confrontation, from what he had read, appeared to be nonsensically traditional at the beginning of so-called "team up" events, and attempts to "go it alone" in another hero's territory generally proved futile, at least without permission.

"Kidnapping," he relented. "Four infants. Concealed under a glamour as victims of a viral outbreak. I tracked the man duped into transporting them here."

Xander frowned as he processed that. There was something about the timing of this that seemed disturbingly famil-...

The Mayor.

"I see," he said, releasing Batman from his construct.

"Buffy Anne Summers, what do you think you're doing?"

Xander winced. Joyce had finally gotten over the shock of the situation and was reacting... unfortunately predictably.

Buffy quickly hurried over, taking her mother's hands in her own and guiding her to the couch. "It's okay, Mom," she said as they both sat down. "I know what I'm doing." Xander surreptitiously shooed the others outside.

"You-" Joyce stared at her daughter for a long moment. "You know what you're doing? Buffy, you're prancing around dressed like a comic book superhero. I thought you outgrew this years ago."

"Okay, honestly, the costume is new, but come on, Mom. What do you think has been going on for the past three years? The fights, the weird occurrences. How many times have you washed blood out of my clothing, Mom? Good God, I told you about vampires, and Xander showed you and took you to Mars, and you still haven't figured it out?"

"I... I think I need to sit down."

"You are sitting down, Mrs. Summers," Xander offered helpfully.

"Oh... good..." Joyce took a moment to digest what her daughter had said, then glared at Xander and demanded, "Just what the hell do you think you're doing, dragging my daughter into all this?"

"MOM!" Buffy snapped. "Xander didn't drag me into anything!" Her voice softened as she added, "I dragged him in. Mom, I'm the Slayer. It's what I do. It's who I am. The-the gym at Hemery? It was a master vampire named Lothos. Well, his minions, anyway."

"And I'm supposed to believe that outfit you're wearing wasn't his idea?"

Buffy blushed and looked down, mumbling, "Actually, it was Willow's."

Joyce actually stopped and blinked at that. "Willow?"

Buffy nodded.

She shook her head and said, "I do wonder about that girl sometimes."

"I don't," Xander muttered tolerantly.


The male Lantern stepped out into the back yard where the others were gathered. "Black Canary won't be joining us tonight," he declared. "Family emergency." He tossed an earbud to Batman and said, "Put that on. It'll put you in contact with Oracle."

Jarod's eyebrow quirked up as he fitted the earbud into place. Oracle? Huntress? Black Canary?

Perhaps the brunette was right. Comic books were becoming more relevant, far more so than he would have imagined.

"Now," the male Lantern said, "time for introductions. You can call me Hal." He nodded at the brunette. "Jade." He waved at the blonde Lantern. "Arisia."

Jarod was familiar enough with the comics to recognize "Hal" for the pseudonym it was. Jade and Arisia, though, he hadn't read of yet - his focus had been on his own persona - but he was certain they were aliases as well.

"Fair enough," he said. "You can call me Bruce."

"Hal" snorted and rolled his eyes, coughing under his breath, "Yeah, sure, Mistah J."

Batman frowned.

Hal turned to the three women and said, "Huntress, you and Batman go lean on Willy. Jade, I want you there to back them up in case it gets out of hand; don't go looking for trouble. Or causing it. Arisia, I need you to finish cleaning out that vamp nest in the warehouse district."

"And where are you going?"

"I'm going to tap some other resources," he answered. "Play a hunch or two."

"I'm coming with you," Batman growled.

Hal turned and growled right back at him, "No, you're not. You'd only slow me down." With shark-like grin, he added quietly, "Just pretend you trust me." He turned and flew off.

That sent a chill down Batman's spine. Whoever this Green Lantern was, he knew.

Author's Postscript:

It takes a lot to keep Jarod off balance.