AN: Thank you to the guest reviewer! I hope you like this chapter as well.

I'm trying to base this Talon loosely on the one in the Batman vs. Robin movie.

Chapter Two: Nine

The first weeks had been tough, Tim recalled. Not because of anything Talon had done to him but because of what he hadn't done. The man had hardly spoken, barely interacted with him at all. He provided the bare minimum and nothing more—as if waiting to see if Tim would crack like any normal rich kid would.

But Tim was used to bare minimum, to sunlight and water and days of sitting alone on a windowsill. And if nothing else, he was smart: He wouldn't have put it past Talon to do what he should have done the first night they'd met. So, Tim had sucked it up and made do.

Someone will probably come looking for me soon, he remembered thinking one day. This isn't going to be forever.

But as days had stretched into weeks, Tim had begun to realize his stay was more permanent than he'd anticipated.

After taking time to acknowledge the betrayal of being lost and un-looked for, the optimist in him said life could've been worse. The creativity and low-expectations Tim had nurtured growing up had made it relatively easy to whittle the hours away. Besides, there were lots of interesting things in the loft Talon had led him to, myriads of sturdy-looking armor with matching halberds and throwing stars adorning the walls.

He had been terrified to mess with them at first, but once he'd memorized the nightly schedule his overseer had, it had become more and more tempting to break a few rules. Tim had always returned them exactly to where they'd been before, of course, and he'd gotten away with it for quite a while. At least, until one morning when Talon had come home earlier than expected.

For the longest minute of his short life, Tim had waited on bated breath, hovering over one of the shuriken he had placed on the wooden floor. After pausing half-way through the window where his lenses had locked on the unusual sight, Talon entered and soon was standing over both the boy and his own weaponry.

It had been arranged into a make-shift checker board.

Tim would have been amused had he not been so terrified, praying that whatever end was coming would be quick and painless.

But the man had simply slid one of the pieces forward with his foot and vanished to the rafters without a word. Seconds later found Tim still unable to believe what he'd seen.

The gesture was small, but it turned out to be a turning point in their short story.

Even a year later, Tim still wasn't sure what had possessed him the day he'd left the estate with Talon.

Maybe it was fate. Talon talked about it enough, explained that it excused why some people had to die and some people had to live. "You weren't fated to die that day, child," he would say, sharpening his knives with an omnipresent disinterest. "But there are people who have made this city ugly. The Court will not let that stand, and I will not either."

Tim had accepted the explanation without remark.

Either way, the Drake Estate was so far removed from Tim in the loft that it felt his life sweeping its floors was simply a short-lived dream. He could hardly even recall the smiling faces on the postcards his parents used to send, the words he suspected they must have written on the back but could no longer remember.

He distantly felt guilty that he hadn't even left a note when he'd disappeared. But they didn't look for me, anyway…

Tim bit back the feeling and re-immersed himself in a book, curling up further in the corner. He was reaching the end, the pages he'd already read piling up against the cover and making it a constant balancing act to continue. He wrestled another page down and reburied himself in it until there was nothing left to bury himself in.

He snapped the cover closed with a sense of finality, ignoring the cloud of dust he'd disturbed (It was a part of life in the loft that he'd learned to overlook.) just as Talon slipped through the open skylight. He was unharmed as usual, not a single piece of his uniform out of place as he straightened to his full height. Without greeting, he set about returning his knives to their spot on the wall.

Tim's eyes followed him patiently. On mornings when Talon was tired, only a few words passed between them, but at the very least, he always came back. Always unscathed. Always by dawn. Tim never said so, but he appreciated the predictability of it. And the company, even if most of it was just parallel play.

Tim surmised Talon had grown to enjoy it as well; it was never voiced openly, but Tim could gather in rare, fleeting moments that the companionship of a child meant something to the man.

After all, it was only a few months ago that Talon had first revealed his face to him, simply taking off his disguise one night like the action was nothing monumental. Tim had decided never to comment on it. Neither did Talon. But Tim had noticed how he continued to remove the mask every morning since.

That morning was no exception, Talon disregarding the cloth on the bust of a mannequin he kept for his armor. It always surprised Tim how easily it came off for something that seemed so integral to who he was.

"Finished?" the man finally offered once he'd removed his shoulder plates. Talon gestured to the book in Tim's hands with his simple, green eyes.

"Yes, sir," Tim replied, placing the tome on a pile of other completed books. Talon made a point to find more for him whenever he'd finished, bringing them back in the dead of night from God knew where—Tim certainly never asked—and dumping them on the floor wordlessly before retiring for the day.

At first, the man had appeared with the books as if he had the intention to read them himself, but books' spines were the kind of bones Talon never broke, and soon Tim got the impression that they'd been intended for him all along. Like Talon had become aware that being cooped up in a cage all day would grow old for a nine-year-old. Like he understood Tim could merely sneak out while he was gone and that would be the end of their time together—one way or another.

But Tim reasoned there wasn't much for him to go home to anyway, so he hadn't left, instead making a habit of staying up all night to wait for the man's return. It was as if both were daring the other to abandon them, and so far, neither had given in. That stubbornness—maybe even devotion—was the weak ballast holding their relationship upright.

And thus, Talon would arrive occasionally with new books, and Tim stayed.

"Did you practice today?" the man spoke again as he situated himself on the floor in front of a low-sitting table. He busied himself with running a knife along a brick of whetstone, doing it more out of habit than necessity, the blade hardly dull at all.

Tim crossed the room to join him at the table. "I did, sir."

Talon hummed in a way Tim interpreted as encouraging, attention still pinned to the dagger in his grasp. "Do you think you're improving?"

Tim spared a glance to one of the training dummies as if to make his point. Although he wasn't the most physically adept, he couldn't help swelling a bit in pride at the mangled shape of it, one of the arms dangling out of its socket while a number of well-aimed knives remained embedded in its chest. "I think so."

Talon hummed again, this time more cryptic. "I see."

Silence resettled over the pair, punctuated by the careful ringing of the blade against the stone. Normally, Tim would have gone back to his pile and picked up another book, but that night, with the dagger glistening feet in front of him, he couldn't keep himself from voicing a question that had long been on his mind.

"…why don't you ever take me with you?"

Talon didn't hesitate in his task, permitting the sentence to hang in the air before responding. "I am an assassin, child."

Tim surveyed the man's face carefully, the caramel bangs that hid his eyes from view and the blank expression that never faltered. It was the mask he always wore underneath his physical one. Tim was beginning to wonder if he'd ever take it off.

"I know you're an assassin," Tim surrendered in a dismal tone. "I've known that ever since we first met."

"Have you, now?" the man rejoined rhetorically, his voice relaying an indifference that didn't quite fit the conversation. "But do you know what that means?"


Talon pulled his knife back to observe it under the sparse sunbeams that filtered through the skylight. The metal absorbed the happy dawn and reflected it back, shining darkly. His eyes flickered over the blade's tip thoughtfully. "When a man kills another, who do you think suffers more?"

The question took Tim by surprise. "…the one who's killed," he eventually answered, more because he knew that was what Talon wanted him to say.

The man gave an approving nod. "One would think that to be the case."

Talon returned the blade to the whetstone, the thoughtful twinkle preserved in his otherwise dull eyes. "When a man is killed, his body dies. It may be fleeting; it may be excruciating. The nature of his death does not truly matter. In any case, the man who kills suffers infinitely more because of what he loses."

Forty. A part of Tim registered that it was more words than the man had ever uttered at once.

"Do you know why that is, young one?"

Tim answered with silence.

"Murder is not natural to mankind," Talon continued, not looking away from his work. "So, when man commits it, he loses more than his life. In fact, it would be better for him if that were the case."

The echo of the knife resounded through the air like a pendulum, even and foreboding.

"Because when a man kills another, he kills his humanity. Do you understand me, child?"

Tim dipped his head once.

"…and do you understand what that makes me?"

Talon must have gathered that he didn't. "With the amount of blood on my hands, I can no longer be called human. And if you did, neither could you. That is why I cannot permit you to come with me."

Tim chewed at the side of his cheek as he digested the notion. He wanted to push the topic more, to dig a bit and find some key to the humanoid puzzle that sat in front of him. "I don't…have to kill anyone," he pressed, knowing full-well he was working against his best interests. "I could just tag along."

"Nonetheless, the temptation would still be there. Let alone if they managed to kill you."

Tim had to hide his smile at that. "I thought you said it would be better to die than to kill," he remarked slyly—like he'd caught the man in his own lie.

Talon eyed him with an expression that flirted with discomfort before getting to his feet. "We are done discussing this, child," he concluded shortly as he replaced the knife on the wall. "You're never to accompany me."

Tim wanted to ask what the point of the martial arts training was then, why he even kept him around if Tim couldn't be of use. The idea that maybe Talon didn't want anything in return was foolish. That didn't mean it wasn't a tempting one to entertain, though: that Talon wanted nothing more than for Tim to be there when dawn came.

But even if Tim had built up the courage to ask, it was too late. Talon had drifted to a separate room.

The moment had passed.

Hours later found the two still skirting around each other. Talon had retreated to his uncanny brevity, Tim to his collection of books. The younger of the two was still dwelling on their conversation, though, turning over every word as his eyes gleaned the pages half-heartedly. He peeked out from over the hard-cover to see what the man was up to.

As expected for a night owl at noon, Talon had dozed off, sitting against the wall with his arm propped up on a knee. A sliver of sunlight sprinkled down on him, distinguishing every speck of dust that fell onto his sleeping figure.

There was something noble about it, the statuesque form coated with dust in its solitude. But even more than that, there was something strongly, horribly sad.

The scene reminded Tim of those star-crossed love stories girls at school had raved about, a member of royalty falling into an eternal slumber with only love to revive them. Only this person was nothing like that. He'd simply given up hope, resigning himself to endless sleep without thinking that there could be anything more.

The comparison was silly, he acknowledged, but the intensity of the image compelled Tim to move closer, so close that he found himself sitting directly in front of the man before he could stop himself.

Talon looked just as impassive in sleep as he did when he was awake, and although Tim was still young, he could recognize a dignified handsomeness about him, like he was the kind of person the gossips who frequented his parents' banquets would gawk at but never get to know.

Tim could relate to that feeling. The thought pushed a cheerless sigh from his lips.

"Is something wrong, child?"

Tim almost jumped out of his skin, fumbling to pull together a reason why he'd been staring at the man for a solid two minutes. It took him longer than he liked to admit.

"Can't sleep," he lied dumbly, gaze glued to the floor.

Talon kept his eyes closed. "Is that so?"

Tim grunted out an affirmative, not trusting himself to open his mouth again.

"Lie down," Talon finally suggested after letting the boy struggle for a while longer. "I hear that helps."

Tim nodded despite knowing the man couldn't see the gesture and moved to the wall next to him before curling in on himself on the floor. He kept a careful distance, aware that the only times Talon could be touched was when they were sparring, but it was still closer than the man had ever permitted him before.

And that was fine with Tim.

After all, he was a bit of a loner too.