It was 3 in the morning when a message was sent, requesting everyone had to meet at the Mountain, much to the chagrin of the Team. The members that didn't take up residence in the Mountain arrived, groggy but awake, in full costume. And bedhead. Bedhead galore.
No doubt there would be an endless stream of teasing if anyone had the energy. Being part of a superhero team, you would've guessed that they were used to waking up at unholy hours to battle crime. However, they were still teenagers, and not as used to sudden calls for duty in as often as you might think.
The Bat family, being the Bat family, were awake and alert in record time - hair immaculate, suited up, and ready for action. They stood in a line beside the Batman of the Team's own dimension, without Robin for once, (Bruce was working alone with the other Batman and didn't see fit to call his Robin up yet, knowing how much his identity shocked Dick), and blended in effortlessly in shades of red, green, and eggplant purple.
The Red Hood was there too, groggy, handcuffed and in between his Batman and Tim. He didn't seem too eager to be woken up from the first peaceful sleep he had in a while, but he wasn't one to complain about his now 'legal' freedom of movement. He was technically still a criminal, and he knew he would be under very tight surveillance.
Yawning, Wally was the first to arrive, hair tossed in ten-thousand different directions. He rubbed his eyes and walked towards to Bat family, back slouched and looking very much dead, leaning against the couch facing the zeta-beams.
"How do you guys do that?" he asked, stretching like a cat, wanting very much to just drop on the floor and sleep, "Wake up at 3 a.m and still look so prim and proper?"
Tim shrugged, the white eyes of his mask unblinking. Everyone else gave him practically the same response, and Wally found himself looking towards Steph, his kindred sprit, an ally in a sea of black.
"It's a Bat thing," Steph answered, yawning, when she caught his eye, "Though I can't say I've completely adapted though."
"If you don't mind me asking, have you been doing...this...long?" Zatanna asked, curious. She was leaning on the couch next to Wally, Superboy and M'gann standing together next to her, as they took up residence in the Mountain.
The question had been bugging her for a long time - Batgirl didn't seem like the type the other Bats were. Granted, their Robin didn't seem like the type of partner that would match Batman's aura, but he did pick up some of Batman's habits, and he wasn't immune to sudden bouts of seriousness that eerily resembled his mentor and creeped out the whole team.
But Batgirl just seemed out of place. She was loud, for one. She liked talking, and socialising, and generally being a very chipper person. The same couldn't be said for the rest of them. The others seemed to enjoy being antisocial, preferring to train or hack or brood the day away. Unconsciously, Zatanna trailed her eyes to the rest of the Batfamily, looking for a basis of comparison to link Batgirl with the rest of them.
She found herself looking at the first splash of colour, someone whose suit was decidedly more cheerful in hues than their Earth-16 counterpart, but less so in personality. The other Robin was aggressive, and haughty, and markedly brutal in combat. He had precision, Dinah noted once, but he also had some deep hidden rage that he let out during fighting. He seemed to think everyone else beneath him, and interacted with 'hn's and 'hrmmp's.
The rest of them took up mantles she had never heard of - Oracle, Red Robin, Black Bat...and the Red Hood? How was he affiliated to them in any way? They had Red Hood, a crime boss in Gotham who was active many years ago, but was more than gone now. Was it just a coincidence, that Red Hood showed up alongside them? Or was he part of something...more?
Clearing her head of these thoughts, Zatanna forced herself to concentrate on staying awake instead, standing up straighter and schooling her face to look more professional and less like a sleep-deprived, newbie vigilante.
She partly succeeded, an impressive feat considering the fact that she was very aware of her hair looking like a rat's nest, but one look at the Batfam and she was done. How did they get their hair so...flawless? Looking into Batgirl's chipper blue eyes and brushed, silky hair, she suddenly felt inadequate.
Exasperated, she sighed. Teach me your ways, o'mighty batfamily. Teach me your ways.
"Hm? Oh yeah, I am kinda new. To the Batfam, that is. I've been in business way longer than my days as a Bat family member," she answered, flicking her head in the general direction of the Bats, as Zatanna's eyes trailed the smooth flick of her hair with envy. Her hair is so perfect...how?! she almost screamed, but outwardly she was very much calm and composed and not at all twitching to brush her hands through those gold, silky locks. Not. At. All.
"So you were a hero before you joined Batman? How does that work, even?" Megan asked, curiosity piqued, "I mean, I don't really know much about how things work over there but...was there some sort of...invitation sent, asking you to join the Batfamily?"
Amused by Megan's theory, Steph let out a bark of laughter, having pictured an invitation printed on smooth, creamy paper, the bat symbol on the cover, self-destructing into nothing after you read the message within.
'Congratulations, you are cordially invited to join the Batfamily...' it wrote in fancy, looping script, 'xoxo, Batman.'
Over in the back, Tim snorted, and Cassandra gave a small, wry smile. As Dick was used to killing off emotions when he was under the cowl, he showed no response to what Megan said, but he was very much amused on the inside, because she couldn't have been farther off the mark if she tried. Confused by the response, Megan blushed and tried to explain, but was cut off by Steph as she patted the flustered Martian on the shoulder, reassuring the fact that she didn't say anything wrong.
"Relax, kid. You didn't say anything wrong. It's just...well, it's a long story, so yeah," Shrugging, Steph brushed off Megan's fears of possibly being disrespectful to some of the most dangerous people on the planet. "All you need to know was that I wasn't exactly...the most law-abiding of citizens in Gotham City."
Steph winked, YJ-Batman frowned, and Tim shook his head. Cass was very amused.
"What even - were you a fugitive or something?!" Wally exclaimed, hands waving everywhere.
"I mean like, no judging, none at all, I'm just curious about the kind of people Batman let into his life," saying so, he passed a nervous glance at YJ Batman, who had been out of this conversation so far (what else was new...) and swallowed a lump when he found Batman's eyes already nailed on his person.
"West. Watch yourself," Bruce growled, feeling the eyes of seven intelligent young adults (and one ten year-old) honed on him as Wally slumped and folded into himself. It was a bit disarming, given the limited number of people that would stare him down without pissing their pants. Creepy, even, though slightly. Huh, he gave an amused huff, which really was just a normal exhale from breathing. His future legacy managed to creep the original out. Not bad. Maybe other Batman was right.
Bruce was still conflicted about how much information he should let the other Batfamily members in on. Despite other Batman's numerous consolations, (calling him Dick was a little too weird, even for Bruce. He did not want to imagine his Dick ever being subjected to the horror that drove the other one to take up the cowl. There was something about those blue eyes that sent a chill up Bruce's spine. Despite the familiar warmth and good humour, they were always, always a little too cold for comfort. A little too distant, a little too pained. Like it took everything he had to look at Bruce.)
It stung, more than he thought it would, because there was something about staring at the face of someone you love and realise that he was going to grow into the stranger that he would be, or rather, is, right now. And Bruce hated it.
Dick wasn't supposed to look like that. That wasn't Dick. That was Dick from another dimension, in another world, far, far away from their own.
Or so he prayed.
Back in DC Gotham, with the birds of prey...
Huntress stormed into the headquarters of the Birds of Prey, running a hand through her tousled hair in frustration, crossbow still in hand.
"Goddamnit," she growled, heels clacking angrily against the floor as she made her way to report to the rest of the members.
Dinah, who had just finished a video call with the members of the Justice League to update them on the situation, was staring at the gigantic screen, bent over and hands firmly planted in front of the controls. A grim look had overtaken her usual easy smirk, her brows clenched tightly together, her poise tense. With a look at Huntress she could already tell that their lead was another one gone stale.
Every single time they find a spot where a portal used to be, it would be deserted and filled with space dust, a sure sign that they were too late. Huntress, who had scoped out on another spot with unusual activity, had come back empty-handed, and was clearly irritated by her lack of information.
"Same old, Dinah," Helena growled, dumping her crossbow on the coffee table, "Nothing. Nothing but empty rooms littered with space dust."
Zinda looked up from her coffee, leaning against the wall adjacent to Dinah, blue eyes bloodshot. Ever since the death of Batman, the Birds of Prey had disbanded, but still kept in touch occasionally. However, now with the disappearance of Barbara and the rest of the remaining Batfamily, they knew something was severely, severely, wrong.
"Did you get in touch with Barda yet?" Zinda asked, nodding her head at Huntress.
Huffing, Helena crossed her arms, crossbow still in hand.
"Yeah, I got Barda. Misfit check in yet?"
Turning around, Dinah nodded. "Misfit's been teleporting around, getting the rest of the Birds to reunite, even though I told her she didn't need to. Oracle keeps us...on a tight rein," she replied, glancing meaningfully at Barbara's computer, "Much tighter than you think."
Though she had used Barbara's computer to contact the league, she did not have full access of its contents - no one did, not even Batman - but she did know enough to bypass the basic security and contact the League through Barbara's emergency hotline. But that too, in itself wasn't much. It was like getting a phone and pressing emergency call on the lock screen. Though she did see some interesting tidbits of information on her fellow Bird members, which meant that Barbara still kept them under surveillance.
Damn, that woman needed some extremely long talks about privacy.
"Let the girl be, Dinah. She needs to let off some steam. Get her emotions in check. This might be a good chance for her to cope with what's happening," Zinda shrugged, "Lord knows how long Charlie's been idolising Barbara. Now she's gone, and all her Bats with her, so she's bound to act rashly."
"Whatever. That kid has issues. In fact, we all do," Helena said, leaning against the wall next to Zinda.
"Yeah, well, that's one thing I can't disagree with," Zinda replied, placing her mug of coffee on the nearest table.
Dinah pushed herself off the computer desk, and made her way to the wall, where she leaned next to Helena, a small sigh escaping her lips. Three-fourths of the unofficial core members of the Birds of Prey were there, and yet a gigantic gaping hole was felt from the absence of one familiar, wheelchair-bound red-head.
"Let's get back to business," Helena said, after some silence. It wasn't the time to be moping and getting all emotional. They had a job to do, and that job was to find the Batfamily, and restore peace on the streets.
Resolve hardening, Helena picked up her discarded crossbow.
"Gotham needs help and we're the only one that can give it to them."
It was hard to tell, but Ra's was growing restless.
His other counterpart was getting on his nerves. He had never, in his entire life, been referred to as inferior to anyone - but now, in his own home, his own kingdom, he felt himself getting stomped down.
No longer referred to as the Ra's Al Ghul, the one and only, he was now called Ra's-16, as an allusion to the Earth he had come from. Meanwhile, the other one was referred to as what was once his name, his identity - Ra's Al Ghul, the leader, the top dog. Runner of this operation.
And he didn't like it. He didn't like it one bit. Not only did he steal his throne, claiming it as his the first day he arrived to his lair, the other one made it very clear that YJ-Ra's own army was also loyal to him, and that they should be every bit as willing to fight, and die for his cause. Their cause, the other one had said, a cause for the greater good of the world, but Ra's knew exactly what he meant.
Obey me. You have no other choice.
Yet, the one thing Ra's does not do it bow.
Sneering as he walked down the hall for a conference with his 'team', he vowed, with image of the other one's smug grin as he leered down from his (mineminemine) throne in his head:
You will have this one, imposter, but I will have the last laugh.
In this mad, cruel, world, everything is hilarious.
Fingers tap-tapping on the conference desk, the Joker smiled at Ra's-16's hasty entrance, his cloak billowing in his wake. He grinned when he saw Warp fidgeting in his seat, and almost laughed out loud Ra's-16 proceeded to give the actual Ra's the stink-eye from behind his back. Ignoring Harley's inquisitive look, he leaned back in his seat and took a stack of cards out from his coat pocket.
He could almost howl from Warp's panicked expression, as if he had decided to release a bomb. Idiot, he thought, My explosives cost more than your entire life.
Warp was just a pawn, a chess piece. The real kings are the two leaders of the League, the Ra's al Ghul's. The day they decided to unite, the Joker could practically see Gotham's ashes, floating in the wind. Well, in a good world, that is.
Realistically speaking, the two could never get along well enough to carry out a plan to ensure their world domination. They were the same person, and they were both too proud. Neither would be willing to bow down to the other, to listen to advice that contradicted their views.
Expected, from people who have lived centuries beyond their natural born life. So unwilling to admit their mistakes that they left their flaws wide open.
The Joker saw, though. And he knew. He saw the cracks in their 'perfect' plan, and he knew exactly where it was headed to.
Catching the eye of his counterpart, he saw unease in his eyes. Newbie, he hasn't seen enough of the world to even reach his level yet. Hesitant, unsure. Soon, though. Soon. Soon you'll grow, and you'll see. You'll see why the world is as mad as it is. You'll see enough that one day you'll find yourself on the stairway to Hell, burning from all the sins you've done.
And you'll laugh as you descend, watching everything you know burn.
A bit of a vague ending for this chapter, but I hope you enjoyed it nonetheless.
tbh, for this part, the characters wrote on their own, and this chapter kinda got carried away. I still have some parts to add, which may either appear here in an edit or in the next chapter, I'm not sure, but I didn't want you guys to wait so long, so I decided to publish is now before I got carried away and forgot about it haha ^_^;;
As this was written across a span of months, I apologise if some parts appear choppy, or hastily written. Reviews are appreciated - give me your thoughts!