Welcome to Part Two! If you're new, that's okay, since I've tried to make sure the story's more or less straightforward. (If not, let me know, and I'll try to clear a few things up in the next few chapters…) This will pretty much pick up where 'Family History' left off, so basically, in this AU, Barbara Gordon was never Barbara Gordon. If…that makes sense…
Police sirens cried in the distance, making a few of the newbies wince. But this was Gotham City, and sirens were practically background noise. There was no way that the cops were on their way down to the docks. Not for them, not for anything. No one knew about this job but Karlo Vicenti and his men, and their employer.
And, of course, the hired hands from Central City.
Maybe, if the newbies did well on this job, he would keep them around long enough to get used to the noises. No sense trying to earn a more-or-less-honest living in Gotham if you couldn't handle the heat.
But of course, there was the hitch.
"I say we get rid of the #$%&%." Harmon snapped. He toyed with the gun in his holster, flicking the safety on and off. "Before they get here."
Jasper snarled his agreement. He pulled his firearm out to point at the huddled group of kids waiting in the open shipping container. They cried out, flinching back from the weapon, eyes wide and tear-filled. Jasper let out a laugh, and turned his gun on the girl a few feet away from them.
She hung by her wrists from one of the smaller cranes, toes just barely scraping the concrete. Underneath her cowl, her eyes were rolled up to the sky. Her lips pursed into a smirk as she bobbed her head listlessly.
"What's she doing?" one of the newbies muttered.
"Freakin' me out is what," Vicenti said. He stalked over to her, and whipped out one of his knives, sticking it underneath her chin.
Her head bobbed a little more carefully, but she didn't seem to even notice him. And, was she…humming?
"Hey," he snapped, jabbing the knife in a little deeper.
The girl stopped, and looked at him. "Huh?"
"What are you doing, #$%&%?"
She cocked her head. "What?"
"I said, what the #%&$ are you doing?" He was shouting now, losing his patience.
"Sorry, pal. Can't hear a word of what you're saying." She shrugged, smiling smugly. "Gimme a sec?"
Vicenti clenched his jaw as the girl pressed the side of her cowl to her shoulder, biting her lip as she concentrated. There was a small click, and her head shot upright as she grinned.
"Ah, there we go! Just listening to my jams, my dude. You all like Lizzy Dizzy, right?" She nodded to his men. "You, over there, with the scary-lookin' 'stache? I'm sure you know exactly what I'm talking about, yeah? You seem like a techno pop kinda guy. Now…" She raised an eyebrow as she smirked at Vicenti. "What was that, hon?"
Vicenti cracked his knuckles against her cheek. "How about you shuddup. Or we'll put a bullet in your head."
The girl flexed her jaw, then smiled, sweetly as ever. "But you've already got a knife to my neck, Mr. Stereotypical Italian Mob Guy."
One of his men made a muffled sound that was suspiciously laugh-like. Vicenti would have to gut him later.
"Besides," the girl continued, rolling her eyes. "My posse's already ticked, what with the human trafficking and all. Not cool, BT-dubs. You guys should've stayed in school or something."
"Yes?" Vicenti jabbed the knife in deeper. The armor around her throat had to give in eventually. "But we stand to make thousands here tonight, sweetheart. And we're not afraid of your little…posse. Are we, boys?"
The men jeered, waving their pistols in the air. There were a few whimpers from the shipping crate, but those went mostly unnoticed. Vicenti waved his free hand in the air with a smug grin. "Batman's gone, now, isn't he? And the East Side Vipers aren't afraid of no copycats!"
His men bared their teeth, shouting into the night. Vicenti wasn't worried about the noise, though. There was no one here to hear them. He smirked at their pumping fists and stomping feet. The Vipers were one of the strongest gangs this side of Gotham. It would take more than a few little birds to beat them back.
The girl nodded thoughtfully, lips in a pout. "Yeah. I see your point. I mean, you're wrong, but, like, whatever. As I was saying, though, you've ticked off the scariest people in the world, buddy. All of you have. You can probably put a bullet in me. If you really want to, I mean. Or the knife. Whatever you've got on hand, amiright?" She smirked. "But you do that, and you just make a bad little situation worse. My family's not in the most…forgiving mood lately. So listen up little mobsters! I'm just gonna give you all a chance to let those little kids go, cut me down from here—preferably alive, might I add—and the Bats will go easy on you guys. Sound like a deal?"
Vicenti growled, digging the knife in deeper. Now, she was beginning to wince, which meant he was almost through the Kevlar.
"I'll take that as a 'no'," she squeaked. "Suit yourselves. Don't say I didn't warn you, and all of that. Yadda, yadda yadda, blah, blah blah…" Her eyes rolled skyward, and she called out. "Hey! Have I distracted these bozos long enough, or are you guys just gonna leave me hanging here?"
Everyone froze as a sharp whistle sliced through the air. The cable holding the girl upright snapped in half, and Vicenti gaped at the gleaming batarang lodged in the crane's metal arm.
Batgirl hit the concrete, feet first. She rubbed her wrists, and smirked at them all as their weapons whipped around to point straight at her head. "Ah, there we go," she said. With a mock-surprised smile, she waved her hands apart, tossing the piece of cable off to the side. "Well, would you look at that? It seems I got out of the ropes, and you're all due for a crap-ton of hurt!"
"Not to mention, you've royally ticked off her…'posse'."
The men all whirled around to gape at the newcomers standing on top of the shipping crate. Robin, Red Hood, and Red Robin glowered down at the mobsters, brandishing their weapons.
"Nice pun, there, BG," Hood said, nudging Red Robin's shoulder so hard that he almost fell off the crate. "Sorry to 'leave you hanging'. Eh? Eh?"
Robin rolled his eyes. "Tt. For once, Hood, at least act like you know how to be professional."
"Seriously," Red Robin mumbled.
"Eesh. I know a few guys who need to lighten up…" Hood whipped out two pistols and pointed them down at the mobsters. "Now everybody drop your guns before things get ugly!"
But the Vipers didn't answer to anyone, especially not a few teenaged wannabes in costumes. They opened fire.
The Bats hopped off the shipping crate into the fray. Vicenti watched in dismay as the two older boys took down five of his men with a few well-placed kicks and hits. The smaller one, Robin, was leaping from shoulder to shoulder, knocking them down for his partners to knock out. Vicenti felt a slight tap on his shoulder, and turned around.
Batgirl waved at him, smiling sweetly. Then, her fist connected sharply with his jaw.
He tasted the concrete, and watched the girl bound into the fight, swinging her legs and her fists as she whooped and laughed. Vicenti coughed, then pressed a shaking finger to his earpiece.
"H-hello? Yes. Vicenti." He groaned, and rubbed his jaw. It crackled like static. "You…were right. They're here. Will you send us backup?"
The voice came through, arrogant and self-assured. "But of course, my dear man. They're already at your location."
Red Robin flipped over Hood's shoulder, landing on Harmon's face. Hood let out a gleeful shout, and fired off a few rounds into the rest of his standing men, leaving the fallen to the mercy of Batgirl and Robin. Already, they were tying them up.
Vicenti coughed, and got to his knees. One punch from a little girl shouldn't have hurt that bad…
"Well, well, Karlo Vicenti," Hood said.
Vicenti looked up, and saw all for of the Bats standing above him. They were gloating, wide smirks on their faces, arms crossed over their armored chests. Their masks seemed to glow in the dim dock lights, and he shuddered.
"This was…surprisingly easy," Batgirl mused, raising a cocky eyebrow at her teammates.
"Mm." Red Robin glowered. Then whirled around, catching a small projectile in his hand. A second later, and it would have lodged into the back of his head. The others stepped back, watching as he inspected it closely. "Wait—"
The small dart exploded, leaking out billows of dark colored smoke. Gas, Vicenti realized. He hurried to cover his mouth with the collar of his shirt, and rolled away quickly. The Bats coughed, sinking to their knees.
Vicenti started, and leapt to his feet just as a horde of thugs burst out of the shadows. They ran out from behind shipping crates and cranes, all converging on the incapacitated Bats.
Leading the way was a large man, easily the tallest and strongest-looking Vicenti had ever seen. Inhuman muscles rippling, his footsteps shook the dock as he marched forward, and the men seemed to flinch back a little as he passed. He came to a halt right above the teenagers, and reached down to pick up the Red Hood. His fist curled around the smaller man's neck as he lifted him to eye-level.
"You must be the ringleader," the giant said. His Latin accent was heavy. "Shall I crush your skull and make your compadres watch?"
Hood gurgled, and reached up to point one choice finger in the giant's face. "Hard pass, Bane old buddy."
The three Bats on the ground started to get up. The reinforcements closed their circle, and pointed their guns at their heads. Hesitantly, they put their gloved hands on their heads.
"I would love to break your bones. But sadly, you are needed aboard my employers' ship."
"A ship, huh? How professional." Batgirl scowled.
With a nod from the giant, a few of the thugs stepped forward, and yanked the Bats to their feet, wrenching their arms behind their backs. Robin started to put up a fight, but stopped when Bane squeezed Hood's throat, eliciting a small squeak.
"Now. Come quietly, ninos, and perhaps I'll spare your big brother's life."
As if on cue, a yacht lit up at the end of the pier, lights glowing in the night and reflecting off the choppy waves. The Bats grunted as they were shuffled forward, and towards the menacing boat. The giant thundered down the wooden pier, then paused to glance back at Vicenti.
"You are coming, yes?" he demanded. Vicenti nodded, and climbed hurriedly to his feet.
"Harmon, Jasper," he barked, "Watch the crate. I'll meet you back here at a quarter after three."
"No," Bane said, continuing his march. "You will return when he says you can return. Now follow me, little foot soldier. This is going to be very fun."
Vicenti scowled, and followed after the precession.
They didn't pay him nearly enough for this crap.
"Gotta hand it to you, Bane," Stephanie snarked. "You sure know how to pick out a nice boat. But, drawback. You're probably too big to fit inside, not to mention, you're probably gonna sink this whole thing any minute. Probably should have sprung for the freighter. Or maybe shoulda laid off the chimichangas, if you catch my drift."
One of the thugs clapped her upside the head, but she barely felt it thanks to her reinforced cowl. Still, the gesture was annoying, and she stuck her tongue out at the stone-faced man. Bane sighed heavily and lifted Jason up to eye-level. He still hadn't let go of the poor guy, and Steph was starting to worry a little bit that her boyfriend was going to suffocate from the villain's tight grip. "Does this one ever stop talking?" he asked.
"Not so much," Tim said, shrugging. "We keep her around for the comedic value."
"Ah. Rude." Steph received another smack.
"I doubt he's serious, Fatgirl. You are not humorous in the slightest." Damian stood sullenly next to Stephanie, barely restrained by two unfortunate thugs. He could have easily taken them down, and probably would have by now, if not for the circumstances. Namely, the fact that Jason was dangling like a ragdoll from Bane's left fist, and was probably turning purple underneath that red helmet of his.
And, of course, there was the mission to consider.
"I oughta smack you, kid," Steph muttered. "Hey, Baney, how long we gotta stand here? On a boat deck, not going anywhere? Is there, like, a purpose to all this? I'm hungry, tired, cold, and frankly, I kinda want to see the inside of your sweet ride. Think you could swing that for us? Huh? And, hey, does this tub have a glass bottom? That would be so cool."
Bane squeezed Hood's neck again until Jason made a sound that reminded Steph of a rubber chicken. "If you do not stop babbling, Batgirl, I will toss this one over the side, no matter what my employer says. Am I clear?"
Steph clicked her tongue. She would've shot him the 'ok' sign, but since her arms were being stretched behind her back, she settled for a saucy wink. "You're as clear as the glass bottom of this boat, hon. Assuming there is one, at least."
"Ay, Dios mio," Bane muttered. "Listen. We are going to wait in silence. They will be up on deck soon."
The Batkids nodded, staring straight ahead. Whoever was coming to meet them had probably arranged the shipment of children waiting on the dock. Stephanie didn't have a ton of patience for human trafficking, and was looking forward to seeing who she'd get to punch in the face tonight. This wasn't the first case they'd seen, even this week. Women and children had been disappearing all over Gotham, ending up on ships and trucks bound for elsewhere. Besides that, gang activity was up all over the city, and the crime rate had never been higher. It was as if the whole underworld knew, deep down, that the real Batman was…Steph couldn't think about that right now. Better to focus on the mission. It was about time that they started to get some idea of who was behind all of this.
She turned to Damian, incredulous. "Did you just call me Fatgirl?"
"Be silent," Bane snapped. "They are here."
The sliding doors ahead of them slid open slowly, and everyone on deck perked up like obedient pit bulls. And as the boss sauntered out of the yacht's cabin, Stephanie couldn't help but raise an eyebrow.
The woman was drop-dead gorgeous. Sleek red dress that clung to her curves, and was just long and short enough in all the right places to leave all the right things on display. Her golden hair was curled elaborately, and fell over half of her face, giving off a mysteriously shy appearance. She definitely didn't match the thing she was holding in her arms.
Mr. Scarface. The creepy little ventriloquist doll that could apparently talk all on his own.
"Well, well," Stephanie said, cocking her head. "Arnold Wesker? You're looking well, for a guy who just got out of Arkham. And very…feminine. New hairstyle?"
"Hey!" Scarface snapped, literally. His little wooden mouth made a smacking sound as he shouted. "Nobody talks to my Sugar like that! Twins, toss her over the side!"
Two women emerged out of the cabin, both dressed in identical costumes. Dark red bodysuits and pale face masks. The Kabuki Twins. They lunged forward, razor-bladed fingers gleaming, and Stephanie took a sharp step back, almost knocking over the two thugs holding her arms behind her back.
"Wait!" Tim shouted. "Wait, Mr. Scarface. There's a reason you want us all on board your ship, right? That's why you didn't have Bane just kill us outright. You want all of us."
The creepy dummy paused, then turned his little head to look up at the woman in red. "Whaddya think, Sugar? Should I toss the snarky little blonde over the side? Or do we still need her?"
The lady looked up, and caught Stephanie's glance. Her lips parted hesitantly, then she said, sweetly, "Oh, no, Mr. Scarface. Please don't throw her overboard. We need them all for the auction."
"Auction?" Damian squared his shoulders. "What auction?"
Mr. Scarface shook his head. His little painted eyes never blinked. "Heh. 'What auction', he says. Listen here, brats. You know how many guys like me wanted to nail the Batman themselves? Lotta people are pretty upset that he's pushin' up daisies, and they ain't the reason why. So? That gives us a bit of a business opportunity, see. And that's—take me closer, Sugar, will ya?"
The woman shuffled forward, so that Mr. Scarface was just a foot or two away from Tim.
"And that's where you little dummies come in." The doll's face never moved, just his mouth. It was beyond creepy. Steph shuddered slightly. "Just think how much someone'd pay to get their hands on one of the Batman's little brats, to take out all their little frustrations on! Killing ya, maiming ya. Folks are gonna pay top dollar to whack you kids."
"Huh," Stephanie said weakly. "Fun."
"Course, it'd be much better if we'd gotten that wannabe Batman, too. Everybody knows he ain't the real deal, but still. Think how much someone'd fork over to put a bullet in that guy's head, eh Sugar?"
Sugar nodded. "Yes, Mr. Scarface. Quite a lot."
"Still," he mused, mostly to himself. "We've got plenty of revenue comin' in from those kids we're selling overseas, not to mention all the loot Croc and Firefly've been sharing. And, of course, there's that salary from Cobblebutt. Still though. This's gonna be big, Sugar. We'll be real big players in this city, if we manage to pull this gig off first."
"Yes, Mr. Scarface. Really big."
Stephanie shared a glance with Tim, and both nodded slightly.
"Salary?" Tim queried. "So, you're working for Penguin?"
"Scarface doesn't work for anybody!" The puppet roared. "That old bird just pays me my dues, you hear? Just what I earn off the top. I ain't nobody's stooge!"
Sugar hushed him, running well-manicured fingers over the dummy's little felt fedora. He seemed to calm down a bit. "Just what I earn. But once I sell you brats off to the highest bidder, I'll be the one runnin' the show."
"I'm sure," Stephanie said drily. "Of course, I'm with you. It really is too bad that you couldn't get the new Batman. He probably would've gone for, like, a few thousand, right? Still, I'll bet you could get more if…well, I don't know…"
"That's what I've been sayin'!" The puppet snapped. "But wait. What? More? What're you getting at, dummy?"
Out of the corner of her eye, she watched Jason's finger slide to his belt buckle. She returned her gaze to the front, staring down the unblinking little puppet. "It's just…I dunno. I just think you could get at least a few million if you had the matching set."
"Matching set? What the #&%% are you getting at?"
"You know," Tim pressed. "The matching set. One Batman…well. That's impressive. But if you had both of the Big Bats, just think how much money you could make."
"I don't know what they're talking about," Scarface said, "Bane, what're they talking about?"
"I have not the slightest idea."
Jason nodded to Steph, who nodded to Tim, who nodded to Damian. The Kabuki Twins cocked their heads in confusion, and even the other people on board the yacht seemed a little put-off by the Batkid's sudden silence.
"What? What is it?" Scarface demanded.
There were two slight thuds on the roof of the yacht. They were subtle; only a trained ear would have been able to detect such soft landing noises.
But the Batkids had been listening to each other move for years. They resisted the urge to glance up, and instead focused on the people in front of and behind them.
"The matching set," Damian reaffirmed.
Steph shrugged her shoulders with a flippant smile. "That's right. May as well just give up now."
Mr. Scarface's mouth clicked angrily. "Listen up, dummies. No one's givin' up, and no one's goin' anywhere. Hear? Bane! Take 'em below, and find some way to shut 'em up."
"Of course," Bane rumbled.
He and the Vipers started forward, Bats in tow. But Tim finally glanced up, and caught the eyes of the two figures crouched on top of the roof. A smirk tugged at the corner of his mouth as he dragged his heels. "Oh, I don't think that's a good idea."
"Huh?" Scarface whirled on Red Robin. "Why's that?"
Stephanie was almost bouncing on her heels, grinning, and Tim cocked his head.
"Well, we wouldn't want to miss the show."
A pair of capes snapped open as the newcomers flew from the roof, making perfect silhouettes against the night sky. Their bodies curved with momentum, mouths curled into twin snarls. Everyone staggered backward, and a dozen guns fired off at the two Bats.
The Batman rolled as he hit the deck. His fist swung out, catching Vipers and thugs in the face, the abdomen, the jaw. Bullets bounced harmlessly off his cape as he kicked out. The other figure sailed over his head, her two hands gripping Bane's shoulder straps.
Batwoman flipped herself over Bane's head, and drew out a gleaming batarang. With a sharp snik, it sliced cleanly through his venom tubes. They flailed, leaking and spraying sickly orange fluid onto the deck, and Bane cried out, dropping Jason like a hot potato. The Red Hood steadied himself on his knees with both hands, heaving for breath. Steph was at his side in an instant.
"Hey, you good?"
He rubbed his neck. "Peachy. Can I punch that guy in the face now?"
Steph smirked, and turned to watch the melee. "I think the Boss-lady's already beat you to it."
Batwoman's arms were wrapped around the giant's thick neck, and she was pulling backwards with all of her weight. The thugs on the ground were out of commission, and Batman lunged forward to help. He collided with Bane's abdomen, hitting low while his partner hit high. The giant villain bellowed and fell backward, unmoving.
Batman and Batwoman sprang up, working quickly to tie Bane's wrists and ankles together with thick grappling cable. Batwoman looked up at them, and said, "Enjoying the show?"
Batman tugged hard on part of the cable. "Get Scarface, you guys. Help us out a little."
They were interrupted by the Kabuki twins' slicing razor-fingers. Batwoman yelped a little as one of the blades raked her side. "Hey! New suit, guys."
While they tangled with the twins, Tim and Damian bounded after Sugar. She was trying desperately to climb out onto the pier, but was a bit hindered by her long dress and the thrashing puppet in her arms. Scarface was shouting something about 'never running from a fight', and 'I ain't no coward!'. Sugar seemed determined to ignore her boss and make their escape.
She was foiled, of course, by a quick jab to the neck courtesy of Red Robin. While he tied Sugar's wrists behind her, Damian reached down to pick up the small ventriloquist dummy. He scowled at the thing, and held it at arm's length. "Horrid."
Steph and Jason sprinted past them up onto the pier. They raced all the way back to the shipping crate and made short work of the two Viper thugs guarding the kids. The poor men hit the ground before they could even turn around.
Stephanie peered into the big metal box. A dozen pairs of wide eyes blinked back at her. "Hey, everybody! Look's like we get to go home now, alright?"
She stepped inside, Jason close behind her, and knelt down next to one of the little girls. The kid flinched away, crying out, and Steph pulled a small flashlight from her belt. The sudden light made everyone blink hard. Steph saw that everyone had been bound with zip ties or handcuffs. That made her blood boil.
"Wow, you're all pretty brave, right Hood?" She nudged Jason's shoulder. He shook his head a little, and stopped gaping at the scene. Then, straightening, he nodded.
"You know, I doubt I could have stayed this quiet for so long. You guys are like ninjas!"
A few blinks. A few hesitant smiles.
Steph glanced up at Jason. "Uh…well, you're all okay now. We're going to get you guys back home to your families."
"And," Jason added, "To those of you from the Narrows, we've got a friend who'll give you a place to stay for a while. Her name is Leslie Thompkins, and she's awesome."
"Yeah!" Steph pulled out a batarang, one of the sharp ones, and got to work slicing zip ties. Her partner crouched down and started picking the locks on the handcuffs. "And, tell you what, kiddos. Since you guys were all so brave tonight, we're getting everybody ice cream!"
That perked the kids right up.
"I want some!"
They all chattered and squirmed, making it a little more difficult to undo their restraints. But they finished quickly, and led the kids outside. A few GCPD patrol cars were already zooming up, lighting up the scene like a Christmas tree, and filling the air with loud sirens.
The others were already waiting, and Batman stepped forward to talk to Commissioner Gordon as soon as he stepped out of one of the cars. Batwoman turned, and smiled at the small horde of children headed her way.
"Good work, guys," she said, smiling. Steph noticed that she kept shifting her feet, practically dancing in place. "Batman and I got your signal just as we were taking care of Freeze. Did you get the intel we needed?"
Tim nodded. "We did. But I think that's a discussion we should save for the cave."
"Sounds good," Batwoman said. Then, to the kids, "You've all had a rough night, haven't you? But don't worry, you're safe now. We got the bad guys all tied up, and we're ready to take you home."
Jason coughed into his fist. Which was a bit ridiculous, seeing as he still had the helmet on. "Yeah. About that…"
Batman made his way over to the group, and nudged Batwoman's arm. "No sign of the Kabukis, but Gordon's men are already taking the rest into custody. I offered to help escort them to Arkham and Blackgate, but they've got it covered. Oh, and Gordon says that he and his officers can make sure that these guys all get home safely." He nodded to the assembled group.
One little girl, probably no more than six, stepped forward and tugged on Batman's cape. He gaped down at her as she said, shyly, "But…ice cream?"
He raised an eyebrow underneath the cowl. "Uh…what?"
"Yeah," Stephanie said. "First things first…"
"And, if Alfred asks, that is how we ended up in an ice cream parlor with thirty-seven small children," Dick said, raising a finger. "Understand?"
Barbara laughed as the others licked at their cones. Then gasped. "Eyes on the road, Grayson!"
She lunged for the wheel, but Dick managed to swerve out of the way just in time. The semi-truck honked loud and long as it streaked past. There was a sharp cry from the backseat, and Barbara craned her neck to make sure everyone was alright.
Everyone was, except for Tim. Stephanie's huckleberry ice cream covered half of his face, dripping down his nose and chin. His eyes were squinted shut, and he heaved a resigned sigh. Stephanie was pouting at her now-empty waffle cone while Jason and Damian snickered behind their hands.
"It's okay, Steph," Barbara said, "I'm sure Jason would be more than happy to share his."
Barbara rolled her eyes with a smile. "Tim, you okay?"
"Good." She turned to face forwards again, and shot Dick a small smile. "Just try to keep it from dripping on the seat, yeah?"
Dick shook his head, and steered them into the cave system. The headlights bounced on the rocky walls as they shot through the dark tunnels. "See, this is why we shouldn't have food in the car."
"Says the guy steering with one hand and eating Rocky Road with the other."
He licked his cone ironically and stuck out his sticky tongue. "Touché."
"Alright, guys," Barbara said, "Let's compare notes. Dick and I caught Freeze during a bank robbery, but he had thugs from the Burnside Bengals helping him load the trucks. In addition to the Grievers from over by Cherry Hill helping to bag the cash."
Damian scowled at his Mint Chocolate Chip. "The Bengals and Grievers share a rivalry, don't they?"
"That's right. Which is why this little alliance is…off-putting." Dick swerved into another tunnel, and Tim ducked away from everyone's waving hands. Jason seemed determined to 'accidentally' smash his Raspberry Ripple into his brother's face, but Tim was putting up a good struggle.
Steph grabbed Jason's wrist, and sneaked a quick lick from his cone before adding, "Not to mention that Bane and his guys were working with the Vipers tonight. They can't stand each other, either."
"And," Tim said, "Most importantly, Scarface mentioned something about earning a 'salary' from the Penguin. I think this confirms what we've already suspected."
Barbara nodded, staring at the end of the tunnel, getting closer and closer as they neared the underground entrance to the Cave. "That the underworld smells blood in the water, and they're making the alliances needed to take us down. They're all forming into collective factions."
The Cave opened up, and Dick parked the Batmobile squarely in the center. He pressed the button, and the hatch slid open to let everyone hop out.
"Ee-yup," Jason said, stretching. "The creepy little puppet man also said something about selling us each off to the highest bidder. Apparently, lots of freaks in this town want to shell out some big bucks to knock our blocks off. 'Specially you, Dick."
His arm stretched out, and caught an unsuspecting Tim by surprise. The red and white ice cream dropped into his spiked hair, and he cried out. "Jason!"
"Wha—oh, sorry, Timbo. Must've slipped."
"I wasn't done with that yet, Jay!" Steph complained.
"Hey, sweetheart, it's not all gone. We can lick it out of Timmy's hair…"
It was a bit scary sometimes, those twin evil grins that those two often got. Barbara snorted a little as she watched Tim flee the scene, Jason and Stephanie hot on his heels, tongues waving. Damian huffed as he walked by. "Idiots."
As soon as they were all out of earshot, Barbara turned to Dick. "Does it ever weird you out, that the most mature out of those kids still has his baby-teeth?"
Her partner didn't answer. He leaned back against the Batmobile, gazing at the cave with lidded eyes.
"Hmm? Oh. Yeah. Weird."
She stepped over, and removed her mask. Then, leaning up against the car next to him, she laid a head on his shoulder. She could feel his tight muscles relax a little. "I know," she said. "But you're doing great."
"How great? Everyone knows it's not really…him. In the suit. Just me."
"Hey. That's not true. You saw Freeze, didn't you? He didn't even question it." Her brow furrowed. What was the point? They'd been down this particular path of conversation before, and it always came right back down to the same thing. "I miss him too. But I know he'd be proud of you, Dick."
"Well, we might never know," he said hollowly. Then, he paused, and straightened. A grin spread up his face. "But, hey. Enough whining. We should be celebrating! How does it feel?"
She beamed, and stood up straight. At attention. "Honestly?" It feels—"
"Wait." He squinted at a spot behind her head. "What's…?"
She turned to look over her shoulder, and gasped as something dark and rough came down over her head. Everything went black in an instant. She could feel Dick scoop her up in his arms, laughing as he bounded forward. Barbara squealed and threw her arms around his neck.
"What's going on?" she demanded. "Get this thing off me!"
"Not…not quite yet," Dick gasped. He was laughing so hard, it was difficult to tell what he was saying at first.
"Grayson, I swear—!"
They went into the elevator; Barbara could hear the doors opening and closing, once and then again. She bounced up and down as Dick jogged through the manor, and she listened to the sound of the back door opening and shutting. A cool breeze leaked in through the black cloth bag her boyfriend had thrown over her head.
Gently, he set her down, and pulled off the hood.
"Surprise!" Everyone shouted.
They'd set up strings of lights all over the yard, and strung up a hand-made sign from two of the trees. The painted-on letters spelled out WELCOME BACK BABS! in bright red. Underneath that, Alfred was standing beside a table with a few boxes of pizza and bottles of soda. The old butler smiled at her, while her siblings eyed the food like hawks.
Barbara laughed, and crossed her arms over her stomach. "What's this, guys?"
"Uh," Jason said, pointing emphatically up at the sign. "Whaddya think?"
Dick looped his arm through hers, and marched her towards the table, grinning from ear to ear. "Well, this is celebrating the end of a very long journey. Two years in a wheelchair, nine hours of intensive surgery, months of physical therapy—"
"And threatening to kill your physical therapist," Steph added, crunching her way through the last of Jason's cone. "Poor guy."
"Not to mention months of listening to her complain about the therapy," Jason said, smirking.
Barbara rolled her eyes. "Wow, thanks guys."
Dick cleared his throat. "All of which culminated tonight, your very first night back out on patrol. The grand debut of the Batwoman. And I think we can all say that we're glad to have you back, Babs."
He slid his hand to the back of her neck, and leaned down to kiss her. The others clapped.
After a few moments, she pulled away, smiling. Alfred clapped his hands, and said, "Right then. I suppose we'd better dig into the food before Master Damian takes matters into his own hands."
Damian was scratching Titus behind the ears with one gloved hand, and staring down the pizza through narrowed eyes.
The Batkids fell on the food like it was their last meal, not even bothering with the paper plates Alfred had carefully set out. They'd just gotten back from a busy night of patrol, after all, and patrols usually left them famished. So when there were five different kinds of pizza to consider, there was no time to waste. And no one cared that it was close to four in the morning; they were used to it.
Barbara polished off her last slice of barbeque chicken, then raised an eyebrow at Alfred. "Um, should we be outside like this? Full uniforms, no masks?"
Tim had just finished wiping the ice cream off his face and hair with a wad of napkins. He nodded. "I swept the area. No hidden cameras or lost tourists for miles. I also hacked the satellites in orbit above the manor."
"Cause Google Earth's always taking pics," Jason cut in. He dove in for a fifth slice of meat lovers'.
"Huh. Good job, Timmy," Barbara said.
He gave a little self-satisfied hum, before returning to his food.
Stephanie and Damian were sitting cross-legged on the grass nearby, two pizza boxes laid out between them. They never broke eye contact as they shoved piece after piece into their mouths.
"Gip uff yeh, 'amian?" Steph said around a mouth full of pepperoni and sausage. Damian just grunted in response. He tried to say something that sounded a bit like 'honor', but Barbara couldn't be sure.
Jason snagged one of the two-liter bottles of root beer and shoved it into Tim's arms. "Dare you to chug the whole thing, Timbo."
"Uh, no." Tim tried to shove it back while Alfred smiled and shook his head.
Dick's arms wrapped around her stomach from behind, and Barbara could feel his warm breath against her ear. He'd pulled down his cowl, and now his dark hair tickled her forehead. "You okay?"
She sighed, and tilted her head back. "Fine. Just watching. I think Steph and Dami are gonna choke."
"Aw, they'll be fine." He planted a soft kiss against her neck, and she smiled. "Wanna use those legs?"
She scoffed, and reached back to elbow him in the side. "Grayson…!"
He laughed. "I mean, do you want to dance?"
"You're kidding, right?" She spun around, beaming. "Heck, Dick. I thought you'd never ask."
Dick smiled, and brought out his cellphone. He tapped the screen a few times, then laid it carefully on the corner of the table. He took her hand, helped her kick off her boots while he did the same, and led her a few feet away as a slow song started to play. Guitar, plucked in a bright, easy-going tune. A man's voice sang in the background as Dick laid one hand on the small of her back, and she placed her hand on his shoulder.
They swayed back and forth. Barbara loved the feeling of the cold, wet grass on her bare skin. She loved being able to stand, to step, to feel her legs respond to her unconscious demands. For the first time in years, she danced.
She couldn't help but grin as she watched Dick smirk, mouthing the words to the song.
"When you looked over your shoulder, for a minute I forget that I'm older…I wanna dance with you right now." He threw his head back. "OoOh and, you look, as beautiful as ever, and I swear that every day you get better…you make me feel this way somehow…"
Barbara tossed her hair and laughed.
The others looked over, and smiled as their two older siblings giggled and danced underneath the string lights. They put aside their pizza and drinks, and sat in a semi-circle, just watching. It was the first time they'd seen Dick and Babs smile and laugh quite like this since…well, it had been a while. Steph caught hold of Alfred's sleeve, and coaxed the man to sit down on the wet grass next to her. Jason settled down on her other side, and slipped his fingers into hers.
Barbara and Dick both pressed their foreheads together, smiling as they both mouthed the words, "I wanna live with you…even when we're ghosts…'cause you were always there for me when I needed you most…I'm gonna love you till, my lungs give out…I promise till death we part like in our vows…so I wrote this song for you, now everybody knows, 'cause now it's just you and me till we're gray and old…"
Jason sighed, and leaned into Stephanie. "Ah, nerd love."
"I think it's sweet," she whispered back.
Tim tapped a finger to his lips. "You guys are ruining the moment."
Damian sniffed. "Tt. What moment?"
Alfred was too busy smiling at his two young charges to comment. Not so young anymore. But, like Master Bruce had told him, they were ready for whatever the world had in store. They, and the children gathered in the grass around him, were a family. And Alfred knew that tonight, Miss Barbara's first night back on her feet, marked the beginning of a new chapter.
Master Bruce would be so proud.
"Just say you won't let go…Oh, just say you won't let go."
This is gonna be a fun one! Credit to Ed Sheeran for the sweet lyrics, and Google Earth for the constant surveillance. Maybe the song lyrics were a bit much, but what can I say?
Let me know what you guys think!