After the Bat – Chapter 1

Summary: John Blake was given a legacy, and a city, to protect.

Author's Note:

This is written roughly as a sequel to my previous crossover fic, Shadow of the Bat, although the crossover elements are less important here. Just take it as a given that this is taking place in an amalgam universe where Smallville happened; Superman is around and active now, as is Green Arrow. Chloe knows the secret. This picks up from the end of The Dark Knight Returns.

….I don't need a spoiler warning for DKR, do I? Consider this your only warning.

1.

For starters, John Blake had no idea how to be a ninja.

That was how the Bat operated, right? Appear from the darkness, swoop in, use some kind of kung fu, drop men to the ground before they even knew he was there?

Yeah, Blake couldn't do that.

So here he was, in the middle of the night, hanging out on the roof of a car park, using a fancy surveillance device to listen to people's conversations.

There was a rhythm to it. People came through silently, alone. People came in pairs, talking. Illicit trysts. Drug deals.

He ignored that all.

The girl, Chloe Sullivan, had been utterly right in her assessment. He wasn't the Bat. He wasn't anywhere near where he needed to be to replace the Bat. For starters, he was too normal. Not driven enough.

Secondly, he had no idea how he was supposed to bring down a guy like Oswald Cobblepot.

And what the hell kind of name was Cobblepot?

He heard a new set of footsteps, and he sat up straighter on the roof. This was Cobblepot and his men.

Cobblepot stood a hair over four feet tall, and had a little pot belly. He wasn't even slightly physically imposing. Soft-spoken, always wearing formal wear—he was like something out of a movie. Too nice and polite to be a gangster, a mafioso.

He was also ruthless and deadly.

Blake hunkered down, turning up the collar of the new suit. It was just a modified combat suit, one of the ones built more for armor than for speed. Blake wasn't very fast anyway, just a guy in a complicated bulletproof suit.

The new mask tried to look smaller than it was. It was good. He liked it. It didn't have the ears, just the cowl, but that helped. He wasn't the Bat.

Cobblepot began speaking. The voice was tinny in Blake's ear. "So, doctor, what have you got for me?"

The doctor was the tragically nervous and definitely insane Dr. Boyle, Blake was pretty sure. "I'm definitely on to something. It's big, it's fast, it's deadly, and so far I've been able to control it... er, in a laboratory setting. Are you sure it has to be ready to fight?"

"Do you watch the news, Dr. Boyle? Every year we have more and more of this outrageousness—aliens invading, ancient greek gods invading, interdimensional portals to eldritch horrors. And have you seen this big blue boy scout? That one worries me. So much naïve goodness, so much power. I need power capable of stopping him dead."

"He hardly ever comes out of Metropolis unless the world is at stake. Are you sure you aren't worried about... well. There are rumors it's still alive."

Cobblepot let out a sigh. "My dear doctor, there is nothing. No bat, nothing. If there were then he would have already stopped us from doing what we are doing."

This was the most perfect straight line in the history of straight lines. Blake adjusted the harness, blew the window open with a single blast of explosives, and flung himself through the opening.

No cape. He had never been able to get the hang of the cape. It was always getting in his way, slowing him down, nearly getting him killed. And the new armor was stripped-down, utilitarian.

The harness that enabled him to swing around and drop so quickly, coming to a near perfect stop in the middle of the group of gangsters, that was bright blue, a contrast to the muted black of the rest of the costume. That was a shame. It stood out. He was going to need to paint it, and he wished he'd done it sooner.

They tried going for their guns, but he had the stun-gun up already, and blasted the one reaching for a gun. It was a sonic stunner, something less potentially lethal than a taser. Just as capable of disabling a grown man for hours.

The muted impact of the sonic blast set his teeth on edge, but he managed to pick off all the gangsters, leaving him standing there with the doctor and Cobblepot.

He had tried so hard to mimic the Batman's voice, but it was impossible. It hurt like hell, and didn't sound anywhere near as good. So he had a menacing whisper he'd been working on. "Don't you dare try to run this kind of operation in my town," he hissed out.

Cobblepot gave him a cynical once-over. "So you're the reason my men are jumping at every noise; a low-rent copy of the Bat."

Blake sneered. "You keep this operation going the way it has been, and I will shut you down."

Cobblepot crossed his arms. "You will, eh?"

A rope snapped across Blake's chest, whipping him off his feet and slamming him to the floor. He tried to roll with it, but the armor weighed him down, and another henchman came out of nowhere, pinning his arms.

And Blake had no kung fu.

"Take his mask off," ordered Cobblepot, approaching. The henchman tore it off, not even caring that he ripped it as he did so, destroying the mask. Cobblepot stared down at Blake for a minute, frowning. "I have no idea who the hell you are, but I guess knowing you can't walk into any rooms with me just because you don't have the mask on is reward enough."

Blake's heart was hammering away. Was this it? Was he going to get a double-tap in the head?

Cobblepot crouched down to get closer. "Kid, I'm going to do you a solid and let you go."

Blake stared at him, trying not to show how surprised he was. "Uh, okay."

Cobblepot chuckled. "'Okay.' Kid, you are way over your head. Did you think I didn't know you were out there, didn't take the precaution of hiring somebody who can handle you? Did you think...? No, not for a second. No thought. Listen, I'm letting you live because that suit looks like one of his and I wouldn't be alive today if he hadn't saved the city, and I like to think I pay my debts. So you get one freebie, because he saved my life, but I'll be damned if you get two. You start playing with my boys' heads again, I will find you. I will use this picture..." He lifted his phone, snapping a picture of Blake's face. "I will hunt you down, and I will kill you. That's a second chance, that's more than most people get. Do not test me on this. Okay, Joe, let the psycho go."

Blake tensed himself, ready to try to regain the advantage. But another goon was standing there with a gun pointed at him.

"No, go ahead," said Cobblepot. "Do be impressive, swoop away. Show off your technology. Fly."

Blake ran and jumped over the railing, plummeting down to the bottom floor, and sprinted to the shadows.

Humiliating.

2.

The dojo was empty when he went in. She was sitting on a bench, wrapping up her left fore-arm in tape, and he approached her head-on, tossing down a bag full of cash. "I need a black belt," he told her.

She peered into the bag, then looked up at him with her mouth twisted into a smile. There was a scar on her upper lip where it had been split, and another one under one eye. "This a joke?" she asked. Her voice was terse. Almost no traces of the Italian accent she should have had, being born there and immigrating.

"You were an MMA champ until your injury, and the word is that you train women who need a little self-defense. Well, I got beat up recently, and I want a black belt."

"Black belts are years of discipline and training. What you want is some pepper spray, a three hour course on situational awareness."

He took a deep breath. "I used to be a cop."

Her eyes narrowed. "And you got beat up?"

"Listen, I made some enemies, I need to be..."

"Just buy another gun, right?" Dismissive. She didn't think much of cops.

"I really need this."

She got up slowly, kicking the bag of cash. "It's your money to burn, but it's going to be a total waste of time." Standing she was a little taller than him, her shoulders a little wider than his.

She lashed out, punching him in the face suddenly. He found himself tumbling to the ground, landing badly. "What the hell?" he snarled, trying to get up.

"Lesson one; you're standing too close to me, too flat-footed. And you're a little fit, but you want to be a fighter, you got to train a lot more. We'll get you a regimen. Now, come on, get up. Fair warning, I'm going to hit you again."

3.

Jason found Tim in the old part of the Home, the part that hadn't been renovated yet. He was sitting underneath a piano, staring at the wall. Messy hair going every which way.

The older orphan slid in beside him, tousling the messy black hair. "So, Tim, my boy," he said, his voice already rough and low. "How is it?"

Tim shook his head. He was sixteen, and had a sense of justice. "I need to get out and talk to her. Just one conversation."

Jason ran a hand through his own hair. Red hair, bad temper, that was the stereotype, wasn't it? But he didn't feel bad-tempered. He was able to keep his cool under all circumstances, think these things through.

Sometimes the conclusions he reached seemed a little hasty, a little mean, but he was reasoning through them, not just blindly lashing out. It was an important distinction, one he wished they'd all remember.

"I do have a way to sneak out, but it's a long way into town, a long way back. We'd have to be like the wind, and it would have to be a fast conversation. And, listen, if the chatter around here is right, then she is going down. And you can't save her, you understand that?"

Tim Drake grimaced. "This would all be okay if my dad would just wake up from his damn coma."

"Would it?"

"It would! He would just fix this. He was a lawyer, you know. Before."

"Before."

"Yeah. Okay, tonight?"

"Nuh-uh. Nurse Ratchet saw you get the bad news—she'll be on the lookout tonight. Tonight you're a good little boy, tossing and turning in his bed. Handling it. Tomorrow you'll be calm, you'll be cool as a cucumber, and she will never see this coming."

Tim growled, frustrated. "Easy for you to put it off a day."

Jason cocked an eyebrow at the younger boy. "No chick is worth getting busted for, Timmy. Especially not this one."

Tim glared at him. "But you'll help me?"

"Of course. Tomorrow night."

Jason didn't have that sense of justice that Tim had—it didn't bother him at all that a great injustice was being perpetrated, that she was being wronged.

But he'd go to the wall for any of his pals. He'd said it before, and he'd say it again.

4.

"What do we know for sure?" asked Gordon, although he was already pretty sure.

"I got some amateur video, shot on a cell phone. It's his gear, all right, but the guy using it definitely isn't him. Look at this." She tapped on the screen of her phone, and the video began playing. Gordon watched the kid get taken down hard, and his stomach twisted.

"They kill him?" he asked, suddenly feeling very, very old.

Montoya leaned back in her chair, grimacing. "They let him go with a warning."

"What?"

"The little guy, he's... I don't want to say he's not vicious, because he is, but he operates on some kind of code. Keeps his nose pretty clean. Pays his debts. I can't hear what he says, but it's pretty clearly a warning."

"Is that the new guy? Oswald?"

"Yeah."

Gordon scowled at the image of the well-dressed man. "So now we have the mafia sticking their head up in Gotham, for the first time since..."

"It was only a matter of time. Now that they know he's gone..."

"Right. And this kid tried to put some of that fear back in them, and he nearly got himself killed. For what?"

"I don't know, sir."

"Think you could track him down?"

Montoya sucked in a deep breath. "I think I could. Do you want me to?"

Gordon frowned. "What is that supposed to mean?"

She leaned over his desk. "I was here in Gotham, when Bane took the city. I was trapped in those tunnels with the other guys."

"Oh?" Gordon wracked his memory. "I don't seem to recall..."

"Before I made detective. Started at the bottom, sir. You wouldn't do this to him, sir, go after him."

"This isn't him, and this damn fool kid is going to get himself killed if he doesn't watch it. We aren't taking him down, Montoya, we're saving him from himself." He took a deep breath, remembering all the people who'd died. "There was only one like him."

5.

Helena pulled Blake up, off the floor, and he staggered over and dropped into a chair. She looked amused.

He hurt all over. How on earth was he supposed to get any better at this by being knocked down a hundred times, anyway?

He didn't ask. He grabbed the water bottle and gulped down as much as he could.

"Who recommended my dojo to you, anyway?" she asked.

"Huh?"

"Who told you? I operate strictly by word of mouth, and most the people I work with come to me a little more... ready."

He shrugged. "A friend."

"Which one?" she persisted.

He decided to change the subject. "Word is you were busted out of the league for throwing fights."

She scowled at him. "Is that so?"

"Yeah, and that you nearly killed a guy."

She shrugged, looking away. "Look, we've been making some pretty solid progress, and you haven't bounced a single check so far, but we're coming to the end of the my normal three hour self defense course. If you want to keep on with me, then you're going to have to tell me who referred you."

He didn't want to. Knowledge was power, and this particular person had all his secrets. He didn't want Helena comparing notes with her. "Then I guess this is it for us."

She gave him a sour glare. "That's what I thought. Next time you see him, let him know I'm not afraid of him, and he can come over and take a shot any time he thinks he can handle it."

Blake frowned. "I'm not—I don't understand."

She grabbed his arm, yanking him to his feet. "Look, buddy, let's just put all our cards on the table. I know who you are, you know who I am, and we both know why you're here."

"I think you have me confused for somebody else," he said.

"I think you need to go to some other dojo where you're welcome. Now get out." She gave him a not-so-gentle shove towards the door.

He headed for it, grimacing as he went.

6.

It was a long way back to town from the Home. Jason and Tim had their bikes, and they went as fast as they dared down the side of the road. When they got into town Tim led the way, through some of the worst parts of town.

Into the Narrows.

When they got to Steph's apartment building, Jason took up a post out front, leaning against the wall, holding the two bikes. He looked up the side of the building. "Sure you can get up there, kiddo?"

Tim shrugged, hopping a few times in place to loosen up. "Piece of cake."

Jason rolled his eyes. "Just go, please."

Tim got a running start at the building, jumping up and grabbing hold of the bars on the first floor window, kicking off the little lip just enough to get up, on top of the window. From there he jumped sideways, catching the little ledge just over the first floor.

Jason always got a kick out of watching Tim's little parkour stunts. "Circus freak," he said, just a tad affectionately.

Tim made his way up to the third-floor window, which didn't have bars on it, and tapped three times.

There was a long pause, and then the window opened, and Tim slipped inside.

Stephanie was inside, leaning against the wall. Her hair was mussed, her eyes were red-rimmed, and she looked more beautiful to Tim than ever.

"Hey," she said. "What's up?"

"How'd it go in court today?" he asked, closing the window.

She shrugged. "They've decided that dad's going to jail for ten years or so—less than he deserves, really. And they decided I'll be tried as a minor, and probably go to juvie, so there's that. And the judge said he'd give some thought to getting me out of juvie and set up somewhere before the baby comes." She put a hand on her stomach, which was just starting to show. "So, all things considered, not too shabby."

Tim sighed, leaning against the wall on the other side of the window. "Listen, if you want to run away now, we can do it."

She snorted. "Oh, Tim, you're such a little kid sometimes."

"No, I'm serious. I got Jason Todd."

"Shouldn't he be in juvie? I swear he should be in juvie."

"They couldn't prove nothing, so they're just watching him."

"Right."

"No, listen, you have options. Jason and me, we could break you out of here, we could hit the road."

"And do what? My only marketable skill is what my dad taught me, and he's going to prison for that right now. Jason Todd is going to grow up someday, but right now he's an angry kid who beats people up. And Tim, I love you, but this isn't the circus. And what happens when your dad wakes up out of his coma and finds out his kid ran off? I'll do my time, and when I get out I'll try to figure out how I can take care of this baby... hell, they were on me again to give it away, but I don't want to. It's my kid."

Tim groaned, rubbing a hand over his eyes. "Steph..."

"No. You've been probably the best boyfriend I ever had, and you have a clean record. Shit like this could finish you, could get you the kind of record that destroys you. I'm not going to be the one who does that to a kid like you. And stop hanging out so much with Jason. He's not as nice as you think he is."

Tim shrugged. "Yeah, probably. Okay. Be well. I'll try to stay in touch."

7.

Jason didn't ask a lot of questions as they cycled home. Just the one that Tim didn't want to hear. "So, do you have a plan?"

Tim didn't answer for a little while, just concentrating on the road dimly illuminated in front of them. Trying to ignore the dark trees towering over them, how very far they were from the city. Suburbia freaked him out, sometimes.

Jason spat, then moved closer. "See, this is the problem with lies. Eventually, they catch up to you, and all the little different lives you've lived get you. Dumb-ass. What'cha gonna do about her?"

Tim shrugged, leaning forward. Pedal faster, harder, make it home before seven, when they would count the orphans. Faster. Ignore Jason.

Jason kept up with him effortlessly. "She's special, right? She's the one you want to save, want to keep safe? But you're just a kid still, and when you say 'I love her,' people don't listen, cuz who listens to kids? Dude, slow up, pace yourself."

"I can do this all night," said Tim stubbornly.

Jason laughed. "I bet you tell all the good-looking guys that."

Tim flushed, but he knew better than try to respond. Jason could out-mouth anybody, anywhere.

Jason shook his head, sighing. "Once social services is involved—you know they don't give up, right?"

Tim was feeling short on breath. His throat was tight. "If I wanted to just take her and go..."

"Live on the street? Kid. I been out there. If you wanna go that way, I won't help you, period."

Tim wasn't sure how he could do this without Jason's help. "She wants the baby."

"Yeah, well, it's her kid. It ain't your kid. Try to have a little perspective."

"Jason... I told her if she wanted to go we'd just go."

"Uh-huh? See what I mean about lying?"

"She said no. She said all she's got is what her dad taught me, and you aren't... she doesn't..."

"I'm just one good fight away from being tossed back in juvie, one really good fight from being tried as an adult?"

"And she was talking about going to juvie and getting out and getting set up someplace—what kind of place can they set her up in?"

Jason's bike wobbled a little. "They'll help out a little. If she gets out and you're out trying to hold down a boring real job, trying to keep it together, then maybe it'll be easier. Maybe then you two can give it a real shot, and nobody will stop you."

Tim exhaled harshly, still angry. "They shouldn't try to stop us now."

"Be cool, play the long game, kid. Best bet."

8.

Blake caught them at the waterfall, breaking into the cave. He panicked for a second, thinking that somehow Cobblepot had managed to find him, before realizing that they were kids.

In the dark they didn't see the whole cave—they were taking the tunnel back up to the mansion, going around the important parts.

He followed them quietly. The possibility of one of the orphans upstairs finding the door to the cave had never occurred to him. This was ridiculous. He'd have to block the passageway somehow.

He wasn't a ninja.

The shorter of the two spun around, shining his little penlight right at Blake. "Shit!" exploded the kid.

"Is it the nurse?" asked the taller one, breaking away and stepping into the shadows.

The short one was staring. Blake wasn't wearing the gear, just his civilian clothes. "You kids shouldn't be down here," he said, trying to put a little cop-voice into it.

"You shouldn't be here," replied the kid. He was peering at Blake's face, which was not good. "What is that you're wearing?"

Blake glanced down at his clothes. Just the civvies, right? Oh, and the grappling harness, bright blue and obvious. He used it to get in and out of the cave now—easier than the rappelling gear. "What?"

"I saw that. On the videos. Jason! Jason! That's the bat-guy!"

"Hey, now," said Blake.

The taller one, Jason, broke out of the shadows. Somehow he'd managed to get up close quietly. He swung a fist right at Blake's nose.

Helena's training might have been only the basics, but for a three-hour course it was good. He blocked the blow, spinning out away from the boy, and swept his legs out from under him.

As the one kid tumbled down the shorter boy came running. Blake turned, raising his hands in a defensive mode.

The kid grabbed him by the wrists, hands like vises, and somehow yanked hard. Blake was off balance for only a second, but the kid was tumbling, in a free fall, his feet swinging up over his head, somehow wrapping both legs around Blake's neck.

Blake stumbled backwards, losing his balance and falling, trying to pry the kid off him. But those hands were holding his wrists, and his legs couldn't seem to get an effective kick, and he couldn't breathe, and everything was turning black-

He tried to fight, tried to keep his eyes open.

It had been just a kid, for Christ's sake!

He passed out.