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Gotham Dragon

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'For a high class house, this place is ridiculously easy to break into.' Catwoman slid through the window and gazed around the room for cameras or alarms. Nothing. 'Idiots.' She slunk through the house, silent and watchful but there was no sign of life. The master bedroom was easy to find and it was full of jewels. Pendants, earrings, bracelets. The arrogance of the upper class always amazed her. Catwoman started on her search to make sure she did a thorough job because a house full of suckers deserved to be robbed.

There was something off about the place. Not that it was creepy or foreboding but something was wrong. She could sense the presence of someone but there was no one there. 'Shake it off. You're just paranoid.' She started checking closets, watching shadows, waiting to see someone appear. A whimper made her jump. Catwoman hunkered in the hallway, trying to place where the sound had come from. Ahead of her was a grand stairway leading to the bottom floor and an entryway. At the bottom of the stairs was a body. It was completely still but quiet whimpers and whispers escaped its stillness. The thief crept down the stairs and rolled the small body toward her. The face was narrow and flushed, scrunched in pain. She slipped off her glove and touched his forehead. It was warm with fever. The little boy was holding his arm tight to his chest. Gently, Catwoman coxed him into loosening his grip so she could see it. His forearm was swollen and purple and there was a hint of white just below the skin. Compound break, probably hurt like hell. Blue eyes opened and watched her as she examined it. They were disconcertingly clear, studying her face and features.

"I'm going to pick you up." Her voice was soft, trying not to scare him but he simply nodded and held still as she lifted him. He was so tiny. "We're going to go to the hospital, okay?" Once again he nodded at her words, submissive and silent. She carried him through the front door and to the edge of the property, where her bike was and maneuvered them onto it. "This is going to hurt." The motor roared to life and they sped off toward the hospital. The motorcycle couldn't drive without causing some bumps and she could see the wince of pain everytime but he didn't say a word, just bit into his bottom lip until it bled.

She roared to the emergency entrance and hefted him once again. As they entered the hospital, she could see the panic on the orderlies' faces. They first froze in shock at the criminal in their facility, then saw the child and fear covered their faces as they wondered what she had done to him and if she'd hurt them as well. Catwoman ignored them and laid the kid on the receptionists' table.

"I found him like this at the bottom of a staircase." The secretaries trembled like mice in front of her. "No one else was at the place." She touched the kid's face in farewell then left. Behind her, a doctor had sprung into action and started checking over the child, before lifting him onto a hospital bed.

"Honey, can you tell me your name?"

A small, soft voice escaped the feverish child. "Timothy Drake."

------- (3 years later)

The kid was out again. She had spotted him a couple times before but not very often. A ratty black hoodie helped him blend in with both the people and the shadows. Catwoman watched as he slowly raised the camera and snapped photo after photo of the chaos before them.

"Spying on the Bat?" He flinched at her words, but didn't jump or even stop his photography.

"I'm not spying." This was the first time they'd ever spoke to each other and she was a little surprised by the calmness of his voice. Not too surprised though, this was the kid who looked jewel thieves in the eyes.

"What's the camera for then?" She leapt onto the roof and landed gracefully beside him. They observed the fight together. "Fire-fly is in a mood tonight."

"Yeah, I've been following them for 15 blocks." He ignored Catwoman's sharp glance. "I think he was ranting about purging the city. Usual stuff. However, he's very generous with the flames tonight. Firemen are following 2 blocks behind cleaning up but it's a mess."

"Is the little bird out tonight?"

"Helping the firefighters evacuate. He's actually only 1 block away. I think he's worried about Batman." He suddenly raised the camera again and took a few more shots.

"Has the Bat found about about their little stalker yet?" She grinned at the glare he sent her.

"I'm not stalking either. And no. I think he might suspect but he's never seen me, at least not that I've noticed."

"You'd notice." She lounged beside him and stole the camera, flipping through pictures. They were very good. The contrast of the black Batsuit against the inferno around the fight was very striking. "He tends to object to children wandering the streets alone."

He snatched the camera back and straightened in indignation. "I'm being careful."

"I'm sure you are, little stray." The Cat leaned toward him menacing but he set his jaw and glared at her. "But if you died out here, I bet your parents wouldn't even know where to find your body, would they?"

His head dropped and long, silky black hair hung over his eyes. "Not like they'd find out for a few weeks anyway."

Her eyes narrowed. "Off to travel the world again, right? How is it that they managed to avoid charges of child neglect? I would think that after you were delivered to the hospital that that would have cinched the case."

"This is Gotham. Grease the right palms and you never get in trouble." He stood and paced toward the edge of the building. "I better go back. Fire is getting a bit warm."

"Going back to an empty house. How welcoming." Catwoman stood and approached him, even as she berated herself. 'Don't do it, this isn't some cat you can take home.' The boy watched her but didn't show any fear as she came closer, just waited. 'You don't even know what you'd do with a child.' Her hand touched his face and his blue eyes became more calculating than any eleven year olds should ever be. "I am not going to offer to adopt you. Nor to be some kind of family. But I have an apartment. It's never empty, I always have cats running in and out. If one little stray came and joined them, I wouldn't mind."

They studied each other so she saw the moment when acceptance settled over his eyes. "Can I bring my camera?"

"Keep it away from my face." They exchanged nods and as she started to make her way home, a little stray followed her home.

Chapter Text

Stray was always awake. She'd never seen him sleep, but he was never bouncy or annoying so she let it go. He spent hours sitting at the laptop she had stolen from him. She hadn't stolen all the other gadgets though, so either he was spending some of his own cash from the Drake fortune or he was out stealing. Either way, she didn't care. He was smart enough not to get caught or to use a credit card. She hadn't even had to make a suggestion about leaving the Drakes behind. He had dropped the high-profile past behind him and seemed perfectly content.

A forger had made him a new identity and now he was a new creature, remade, reborn. Stray still wandered the streets and stalked the Bat but he was different. Timothy Drake had been smart, always ahead in his classes but Stray.... Stray studied non stop. Nothing was too advanced. He read Physics, Philosophy, Pyschology, and Advanced Biology. He devoured knowledge and used it to shape his new self, a new creature that he was not yet finished with. Constantly, he watched. He watched Batman, Robin, policemen, waitresses, villains, even Selina herself. And from these observations, Timothy was being reshaped.

Selina, as she had told him to call her, sashayed to the kitchen and poured out some food for the cats. "Here kitties." He looked up with the rest of the strays and stood, coming to join her in the kitchen. He pulled his own food out of the fridge and sat on the table, watching her. Some days, Selina was amazed he didn't get on the floor and eat with the cats as he sometimes seemed more animal than human. His skin, which had always been pale, was almost ghostly as he only went out at night anymore. He had picked up on her style of moving and sashayed around with a catlike grace. His eyes were coldly calculating and both of them knew that their trust was fragile and constantly tried.

"The museum is hosting a new display."

"I saw." Selina licked her fork languidly, pointedly making eye contact, portraying indifference in both action and word.

"Egyptian display, focusing on jewelry made for the goddess Bast. Some pieces are valued at 3.2 million dollars."

"And all are fakes."

Timothy nodded. "Set up to catch you. It is catered exactly to your interests and it's too perfect."

"How stupid do they think I am?" She leaned back in her chair and studied Stray. There was a minute of mutual approval before Selina decided it was her turn to test him. "You saw the news?"

" 'Drake heir reported missing. Parents devasted'." His voice was mechanical and his voice, stone.

"Hm." Selina studied him until he gave in.

"I've been gone three months. And NOW they find out? Where were they? Did they just not notice?" He caught a breathe than continued, sedately. "How does a person forget that they had a child? Not like it matters. This will be the last of it. Within a few months, Timothy Jackson Drake will be declared dead and then, that'll be it."

He sat shivering in his chair. His face was emotionless. Sometimes, Selina forgot that he was just a child. She pushed him and while he met her challenges, he should not have too.

"So, who do you think set the trap in the museum?" His eyes met hers and a slight smile mirrored on both their faces at the out she had offered.

"Not Batman, too obvious."

"Sure that's not just your hero worship talking?"

"I don't- NO! I'm being completely unbiased here. This is the kind of thing the GCPD tries. And they didn't ask Gordan for his input. He's smarter than this." Selina laughed at the affront on his face.

Chapter Text

There was a new Robin. It was painfully obvious. Stray winced as the new vigilante was hit by a punch the old Robin would have easily dodged. Their body shapes were entirely different. This one had a more stocky body then Dick Grayson ever had. Grayson was flexible and lithe, this one looked like he would rather stop a punch by catching it than by dodging it. Pity they didn't change the uniform, that scaled speedo had to be uncomfortable, especially for a boy, who judging by his white legs, preferred long pants.

Stray crept closer to the roof edge to snap more pictures. The fight was awkward and stilted. Batman was overly cautious, trying to keep an eye on the newbie and it was slowing him down. One of the would-be-muggers pulled a gun and Stray started, unnecessarily, as Robin beat Stray to Batman's side. He leapt on the man and beat him viciously, taking him down quickly and effectively, if not efficiently.

Their stalker laughed to himself as he watched Batman scold Robin even as they tied the crooks up. Stray silently admired the way Robin moved. Even after his mentor's scoldings he had a confident walk and a swagger. Any movements he made that were awkward were because of inexperience, which was disappearing as the night went on. Every hour came with new improvements. He was a natural. Bruce had chosen wisely. Stray smiled to himself as he thought of his own aspirations to be Robin. But those dreams were long gone. Batman wouldn't need a Robin, not with one like this around. Stray picked up a damp gossip page that had been pressed into the pavement.

"Bruce Wayne Fosters Street Kid- Jason Todd"

"Jason Todd." Stray whispered the name to himself, rolling it over his tongue, getting the feel of the strength of the name, the immovability. He was going to be a great Robin, Stray just knew he would. The Dynamic Duo left to fight crime elsewhere and Stray followed half-heartedly. The city called to him tonight. Maybe tomorrow he would follow.

He strolled through the dark city. There was life even at night. Crowds moving in and out of bars and stores. Men and women standing on street corners. Stray loved it. The freedom he possessed was something he had never had before. The city was his to own and Selina encouraged him. If he came back with a stolen phone or necklace, she would smile and tease but never disapprove. She never ignored him, never insulted him. Selina saw him as he was. It was empowering.

He laughed and scrambled up the side of a building and raced across rooftops, leaping lightly and having fun. Gotham was his.

Stray leapt an alley way before stopping abruptly, tumbling and scrapping his hands and knees. He scrambled to the roof edge. Catwoman was fighting, eight to one. Joker's men.

He dropped to the fire escape but even as he fell, a bullet flew, catching her in her arm. Selina snarled in pain and dropped her whip, grabbing her shoulder. The men advanced but were felled by a boy who landed on them. Stray used the nerve strikes he had learned from watching the Bat. Scrabbling to Selina's side, he picked up her whip and cracked it, moving the men away from her. It whipped back and sliced his arm, leaving it gaping and oozing blood. A hiss slipped through his lips but Stray stood guard in front of Selina. He growled and cracked the whip at anyone who approached.

Joker's henchmen laughed at the stick-like boy standing over Catwoman. Messy black hair fell into his face and blue eyes blazed in a way that would have been intimidating if he wasn't a beanstalk. The Bat that landed behind him stopped their laughter. The Batman and Robin leapt over Stray and attacked the men. As the criminal's screams surrounded him, Selina grabbed Stray and dragged him out of the alley.

"You idiot! Are you trying to get caught?" She shook him, then grabbed her arm at the pain it caused. "I was fine! I didn't need a hero."

"I wasn't trying to be a hero. I was just trying to help." He cut off as the alley quieted behind him.

"Come on." They raced through the alleys and made their way onto the roof tops. Stray fell behind as he tried to stretch his legs to keep up with Catwoman. "Stay with me!" She turned around to check on him but slowed as she saw him struggling. The Bat was approaching steadily. "Damn my soft heart." Selina picked up her Stray and swung him onto her back. "Hold on tight."

They leapt, racing toward home, Catwoman and a little black haired child clinging to her back. Batman watched as they disappeared. Robin looked at the impassive face of his mentor.

"Who was that?"

"Looks like I'm not the only one picking up apprentices." His rumbling voice stretched into the night, whispering into the ears of many.

Chapter Text

"Joker's men just run rampant when he's in jail. Likely, he'll never even know about this little scuffle." Selina pulled the needle through Stray's arm and he watched intrigued as the skin pinched together. It tingled and ached but it was all numb from the alcohol Selina had made him drink. It was bitter and sharp, making him want to spit it out but she had said to drink, so drink he did. "Batman usually gives me my space, the idiot either must have been concerned or he was curious about you. Probably the latter. He doesn't know how to keep his nose out of other people's business." She tied off the string and wrapped it quickly in a white bandage. "Let's hope he forgets or doesn't connect the dots."

"He's the world's greatest detective, I don't think there's much of a chance of him not figuring it out." Stray idly observed, bending his wrist to feel the pull of his stitches. Selina cuffed his head to stop him and sat to deal with her arm. Bullet had gone straight through but the exit wound was messy. "Do you need stitches?"

"Probably."

"Can I do them?" She looked up, his eyes were bright with curiosity. "I'll be careful." She weighed the risk of having a tipsy preteen stitch her up versus her own work. Hers would be neater but...

"I guess you can never be too young to learn how to do stitches." She handed the needle to Stray. " Gloves first. Now, sterilize the needle and get a fresh string."

-------

Stray was locked inside for almost two months. The Batman had been talking to Selina and asking her questions about her Stray. The newspapers had printed a picture of them, Stray clinging to her back, as they leapt across rooftops. There was too much going on and he needed to lay low for a bit. The last thing he wanted was for his parents to connect the dots and come searching for him.

He had never realized how claustrophobic he was. Stray didn't like to be confined, to be told he couldn't go out. It grated on his nerves until they were shredded. He would startle when Selina came into the apartment, he'd flutter around her and touch everything, trying to get his mind off the fact that he was stuck. That was how he found out about the goggles.

Selina was changing out of her disguise and leaving it scattered across the floor as she avoided Stray's pacing and fidgeting. He picked up her goggles and glanced through them absently. Selina felt the sudden stillness as he froze.

"Night vision. And.. is this infrared?" Stray played with a switch on the side of the goggles, toggling through the options. "Did you create these yourself?"

She smiled to herself at the sight he made. The goggles were adorably large on him and they magnified the size of his eyes. "I bought them off the Black Market. I need to get some new ones, these are a bit outdated now."

"Could I have them?" He turned toward her and she had to bite the inside of her mouth to keep laughing at his eyes, which looked like they came straight out of a Disney movie.

"As soon as I get new ones, they are all yours."

It was a week before she came back with new goggles and in the moment she did, Stray had her old ones dissected by his computer. Selina wasn't quite sure what he was doing and she wast sure he did either. She had came into the apartment many times and had been surprised by the lack of lights or abundance of bags of popped popcorn. The only explanation she ever got was that he was "testing" them.

It was almost a month later before he finally gave it up.

He was laying across the couch, goggles held loosely in his hands. They had been torn apart and pieced together into a clunky mess. He looked up at Selina under his mess of hair. "Did you know, there are dozens of different mods for these things?"

"I can tell."

"The problem," He rolled over and held his creation above him and inspected it with a fierce eye. "Is not overloading it. How could you shrink them or combine them to make it smaller? Would you like to try them?" He held the goggles out to Selina and when she took them, his face lit up. "There's a new optometrist procedure that scans your eyes and creates prescriptions to match. I programmed that in so they will always adjust to provide the most accurate eyesight possible. My camera had a zoom ability and so I added that in and also connected it to the internet so I could get maps of where I'm at. Gotham's street map is already downloaded. There are six different firewalls to keep them from getting hacked and they respond to my voice and my pulse. I-" He cut off and bit his lip. "Do you like them?"

Selina walked to the switch and hit it. The room, in theory, went dark but with the goggles there was no difference. She toggled and the heat signatures of the cats appeared in her eyesight. She toggled through more options and experimented with all the different upgrades. Where had he found all this? Though, seeing that he was locked inside for months, he must have picked up some new hobbies. Still, this wasn't exactly something you watched Youtube tutorials to figure out.

Stray waited for her to speak and when she pulled off the goggles and handed them back, his face fell.

"When you figure out the answer to your questions, could you update mine?" Her voice was a soft purr but Stray didn't miss a single word

If he smiled any wider, his face probably would've split.

Chapter Text

It had been a month and with the goggles (non-modified goggles for the moment as Stray's attempt was too clunky to be practical) as added protection, Selina figured Stray would be pretty safe. As soon as she broke the news, Stray had the goggles on and was out the window. It felt amazing to be out in the night again. Stray couldn't exactly wax poetic about the moon and stars because of Gotham's pollution but it didn't matter. There was nothing more beautiful to Stray than a Gotham night. It was when the city truly came alive. Sure, Gotham was known for her businesses and high society but Gotham's true nature was dark and mysterious. It was vigilantes and gangsters. It was survival and hubris. Gothamites were survivors. Its heroes and villains were usually just flawed people. They weren't the perfect Superman or the noble Wonder Woman. They were the crazies. The driven. The survivors. And night was when they all came together. It was when Stray most felt at home.

Stray wasn't like Catwoman in many ways. She stole and caused chaos among the Gotham blue bloods. Stray had no such ambitions- even if he did steal occasionally. He just wanted to watch Gotham and learn. And watch the Bat. He couldn't explain his fascination with Bruce Wayne. Perhaps it was just the idea of him. Bruce had taught himself to be great. He taken a lonely child and made him into a hero. Perhaps Selina was right. Maybe it was just hero worship. Maybe Timothy Drake had wanted someone to come and rescue him. To change him from the lonely, awkward nerd that he was, into a hero like Dick Grayson. But Timothy had been rescued and though he wasn't a hero, he was someone incredible and new.

So, why was he still so curious?

Every day that Stray went out, he watched the Dynamic Duo. He would follow them silently, using his goggles to take pictures. Stray had even scouted out Wayne Manor. The defenses on it were impressive but a few days of research and he was in. The house was exactly what one would expect from millionaire, Bruce Wayne. It was classy with subtle tributes to his mother and father but nothing that would imply an unhealthy obsession. There were pictures on the wall of him playing polo or surrounded by paramours. It was the house of a self-centered aristocrat.

When exploring, Stray almost walked into the traps. The more personal side of the house had cameras and alarms. It was a challenge but one that was good for Stray's self-esteem. Once in, he had wandered. This was where the truth was closer to the surface but even here it was hidden. The pictures of Bruce and Dick and Jason were when they were in their civilian clothes. There were no pictures of them as their secret identities, at least not on the surface. Timothy Drake had been a master had hiding photographs. He used to keep boxes full of his snapshots of Batman and Robin. Dick was no where near his level of secrecy.

The pictures were in a false bottom in the wardrobe. They were a bit dusty and Stray got the impression that Dick had forgotten about them. Every time Stray came into the house, he would look through them. They were similar to his but they showed the relationship between Batman and Robin better than his ever could. When Batman was on the streets, he was fierce and driven. These pictures showed Batman asleep in a recliner. Robin playing on the uneven bars while his mentor laughed. Pictures of the two of them, lounging on the couch while looking through case files.

Stray hadn't found any pictures in Jason's room. Perhaps he was sneakier then Dick, having grown up on the streets. His room, however, revealed a lot about him. He had a worn leather jacket that had too be far to big for him. A picture of a woman, likely his mother, was taped to his mirror. He had black hair dye in his cabinet and an abundance of first aid supplies. Classic literature filled his shelves and all was well-worn and dog-eared. The Complete Works of Shakespeare had been highlighted liberally and was full of bookmarks.

Of all the rooms, Bruce's was both the most revealing and the least. It was impersonal and cold but in the bathroom was three different shades of foundation and makeup pallets designed to cover bruises and eye shadows. His wardrobe had business suits and shined shoes but it also had tasteless ties that had to be chosen by Dick. In his drawers, there were shirts and pants that had to be too small for Bruce, meaning they belonged to one of his sons. Stray could see it in his mind- Bruce and his Robin (whoever it may be at the time) passed out on the bed, crashed from a long night of crime fighting. There were so many little hints that meant nothing and everything.

Stray knew his way through the house, had explored enough to decipher the entrance to the Batcave, though he never dared enter, and was able to name every picture in Dick's stash. He had always been careful, wearing gloves and shoe covers and tucking his hair into a beanie. Stray felt as comfortable in the Manor as he had in the Drake home- which simply meant that he knew his way around and wasn't afraid of touching things. What surprised Stray was that he had forgotten about the butler. Or rather, what surprised Stray was the butler who was standing between him and his escape.

Chapter Text

Alfred Pennyworth had seen many things in his time and this was not the most shocking of them. Master Bruce had mentioned a security break but neither of them expected it to belong to a child, especially not this one. But who the perpetrator was made little difference. Fact was fact and the fact was that Master Wayne's neighbor, who had been missing for five months had broken into the Manor and was looking through Master Richard's photos. Photos of when he was Robin.

The little intruder and the butler made eye contact. The eyewear was disconcerting but young Mr. Drake's determination was clearly evident. His small pointed jaw was set and his eyes narrowed behind the red lenses.

"Might I ask what you are doing here, Mr. Drake?" Alfred used the same tone that he had used on Master Wayne when he had been a stubborn child, or when he was a stubborn adult. "I don't believe I remember opening the door and letting you in."

"I don't believe I remember knocking so it is no fault of yours if you didn't open the door for me." There was an equal measure of sass and respect, as though the boy wanted to be disrespectful but manners were too ingrained. It was the opposite of what he was dealing with when talking to young Master Todd.

He ignored the sass, as he had grown quite used to doing. "Nonetheless, I expected you to arrive today." Timothy Drake made an aborted flinch at that, as if he wanted to run but knew it was too late. Intelligent boy. "Master Wayne and I expected you to come at a later time tonight. If you had waited, I would have had the biscuits finished. As it is, I am just about to put them in the oven."

"They are just heading out now, there is no need for them to come upstairs and definitely not into Di- Mr. Grayson's room. It seemed to be the best time to come." Some hair slipped out of his beanie and the child pushed his lengthy hair out of his face in a move that seemed as if he had borrowed it from elsewhere. "If you wish, I can leave and return later." He moved toward his escape and stopped only when Alfred gave him The Look.

"You are quite precocious, aren't you. What if Master Richard had been home? I think you should wait here for Master Wayne to return. In the meanwhile, I shall get you sandwiches. You seem to be in desperate need of them."

The boy narrowed his eyes even further at the implication that he was too thin. "Obviously he wouldn't be. There are gang wars in Bludhaven and they need all the cops there. And what if I don't want to stay? What if I just leave as you are in the kitchen?" The boy was so, not angry exactly, but independent, like a house pet that had been running in the streets and gone feral. "What if I just disappear?"

"I believe we need not try and follow you. Master Wayne would probably simply go wait at your hostess' home until you arrive."

"Leave her out of this." He stood taller (as much as possible for his small frame) and glared at Alfred. "Besides, I would never go back to her if I was followed. Not that it matters. She says I'm just a Stray that followed her home. And it's her home. Not mine. I can always go elsewhere."

Any confrontation left his mind. More than discipline, this boy needed stability. "Would you care for a game? Chess?"

"Are you trying to delay me?" His eyes squinted (oh dear, if the boy keeps this up, he will be quite wrinkled by the age of twenty) in suspicion.

"Master Wayne will not be back for nigh 4 hours, nor young Master Todd, as I'm sure you know. We would have to play a very extensive game to last for that long. Come play a round, it will be over before they return." Alfred stepped out of the doorway and moved quickly to the sunroom. It was one of the more welcoming rooms. Timothy followed hesitantly behind but he was following, so that was something. Alfred set the game on the table. "If you will set up, I will gather us some refreshments." Alfred left, hoping the fascination the boy seemed to have for the hand-carved ebony and ivory chess set would keep him in the Manor.

-------

'How stupid am I?' Stray set up the chess set, wanting to slam the pieces in frustration but not able to. They were so fine. Just like his father's set. The one he was forbidden to touch. 'I got caught. I wasn't observant and I let myself be caught off guard. Batman would never do that.' He picked up the ebony king and touched the blue lapis lazuli crown. His father had never said where he had came up with the idea for the chess set. Jack Drake had simply ordered the set and then put it on display on the entry table. This was the answer to that mystery, then. Jack and Timothy had something in common- both obsessively imitated Bruce Wayne. Perhaps that's what it was. An envy that ran in his blood. Like some people inherit sickle cells or insanity, the Drake family must pass on obsession. Stray wasn't one of them, though, and he must overcome it. To become a new person, he had to forget his past and any goals that might have driven Timothy Drake.

"Are you prepared for our game, Mr. Drake?" The butler, Stray realized he didn't know his name, was carrying a tray of sandwiches, cookie, and a steaming tea caddy. Even if Stray didn't want to admit it, he almost drooled at the sight of food. Selina was kind to let him stay but she never cooked and she was more of a coffee person than a tea one. Stray was picking up on her addiction and often he could go through an entire pot during the day. Tea would be a nice change.

"Black or white?"

"I do believe the ebony pieces will suit you better. Black hair and blue eyes, you and your army will match." Stray spun the board to accommodate Alfred but ignored his comment otherwise. "Why don't you start, Mr. Drake. And help yourself to the sandwiches. I'll pour you a spot of tea."

"Stray." He picked up a sandwich and looked up at Alfred. "I'm not 'Mr. Drake.' I'm just a Stray."

"'Stray' it shall be then. And you may call me 'Alfred.'"

The game was different than the ones he had played with Master Wayne's charges. 'Stray' (despicable name for a child) played more like Master Wayne, always plotting and always watching. He seemed quite educated even if he was a bit by the book. He seemed able to predict moves at least seven moves ahead. It was a quiet game, filled only by the sipping of tea and the munching of Stray. The poor child needed all the food he could get, practically skin and bones he was. Alfred observed the child in between moves. His hair was abominably long, falling into his face and curling wildly on his nape. A few more months and he'd have a mane. His wrists and arms were thin and graceful but more so than any child's should be. The boy was probably under 5 stones, barely above 4 and his eyes seemed to dominate his narrow face. He had pulled a spare pair of goggles, much clunkier, from his jumper pocket and was fiddling with them, seemingly nervous.

"Check." The ebony rook stared down at the gold and ivory king. Alfred moved it one step to the left, avoiding the rather obvious trap the child had set with his bishop on the right. A pawn moved to attack him and Alfred again moved his king to safety. The ebony queen leapt across the board, defeating the ivory bishop. It was a rather risky move but apparently Stray hadn't seen the danger. The white king defeated her, moving into the back row. Everyone always seemed to forget that the king could attack--- or that the pawn could be upgraded into a queen as Stray did with his pawn. "Checkmate." He lightly knocked over the ivory king and walked away from the table. "Thank you for the meal. I hope you enjoy your night." He put the goggles in his hands on the ground near a circuit, carefully feeding a stray wire into the socket. The goggles had been gutted and wires sprang out of it. Alfred moved quickly toward the boy but it was too late- Stray pressed the toggle. Sparks flew and the house went dark. It was merely seconds before the generator kicked in but the child was gone and the goggles were a mass of blacked material.

Chapter Text

"What did you do to your hands?" Selina had not expected to see Stray tonight and she certainly hadn't expected him to search her out while she was out thieving. But here he was and, Oh Gotham, the shape he was in. His hands were burned. It was mostly his right hand but his left also had burns across his palm and forearm. She dragged him closer so she could better inspect him. "What in Hell's Kitchen did you do to yourself?!"

"The goggles had a bit more power than I expected. The battery was pretty powerful to begin with though and the modifications that I did to it amped it up some. I guess I should have expected it."

"The goggles!" Selina ripped both his and hers off and threw them across the room. "They exploded?"

"No, I melted them." He grinned at Selina's glare as she stalked back to grab her goggles. "Technically, I used them to overload the house's fuse. Honestly, I didn't expect it to work but," He shrugged casually. "It was a nice surprise."

"You overloaded my apartment's circuits?!"

"No. Batman's."

She stared at him for a second and then started swearing. "What part of 'laying low' did you not understand?"

"He wasn't supposed to be home- and I was right! He wasn't. But his butler was. I needed a distraction so I rewired them to use the Electro-Magnetic Pulse I had started to put in them. I never really finished it because you told me I could leave the apartment while I was working on it and it didn't seem like a big deal but I must of screwed up because when I turned it on- sparks kinda went everywhere." He looked at his hands ruefully. "I must of tried to protect my eyes with my left hand. I don't remember doing it but that'd explain the burns. It worked though. I'm kinda impressed. Honestly, I thought he'd have some kind of protection against Electromagnetic Warfare." He paused to think for a moment. "I think I could modify the goggles into a bomb if necessary. I had thought about it before but I didn't really want explosives on my face. It might be useful though. I'll need to order more goggles, of course, probably a surplus."

"I can take care of that." Selina finally cut off his rambling. She might let him fiddle with her goggles a bit more but he better not put bombs in hers. "Let's get you all cleaned up."

"I can't. I need to go, and fast. Batman's probably coming by now."

"Shi-You're right." Selina raked a hand down her face, being careful not to scratch herself. She needed to get his hands fixed up but if Batman was coming-

"I can go into hiding for a while. Probably a month? I can hide on my own, find a safe place or something."

"Not with those hands you're not." Her voice was almost a growl. "You need to be somewhere where they can get patched up and looked after."

"It's probably only a second degree burn."

"Like I care." Selina paced for a moment. "Do you know where the Iceberg Lounge is?"

"Of course. Why?"

"I have some favors I could call in."

----

Batman landed in the museum behind Catwoman. Slinkily, she turned toward him.

"Oh no. Batman has caught me. Whatever will I do?" Her sultry voice was deadpan and entirely too comfortable.

"Where's Drake?"

"Haven't the foggiest who you mean."

"I mean your little 'Stray.' Now where is he, Selina." The Bat's voice rumbled dangerously but she just grinned.

"My little Stray likes to wander. Found himself in a spot of trouble and startled. You know cats, he probably won't show up again until his fur soothes- if he shows up at all. My guess, kid probably ran off to Metropolis. After all, he's been observing you long enough, why not try out some other heroes, like Superman. Perhaps I'll follow his example." She laughed and smirked at Batman. "A meta-human would be a new experience."

The dark knight ignored her and left. He was going to get nothing out of her. Where had the kid gone though?

Chapter Text

"Boss." Oswald Cobblepot looked up from his drink. "There's a boy outside, says he's here to see you. He's got a message."

"Search him for weapons and let him in." Cobblepot stood, excusing himself from the ladies surrounding him. He waddled his way to the private room in the back that he used for business. The bouncers were already there, standing threateningly at the sides of the boy. He was rather non-threatening being underweight and all too easy to read. The interest in his eyes was obvious as he watched Cobblepot's gait. "Are you staring, boy?" The kid's head lifted to meet his angry gaze. "Do you know why I limp?" A small shake of the ebony head. "I was beaten with a baseball bat, shattering both my knee caps. Don't worry though. The witch is taken care of. But I took notes. If you're that interested in my walk, I'll make it so you can imitate it." He sneered at the kid and loomed over him. Kid just blinked.

"It looked more like it was a hip problem. Are you sure the blows didn't torque your hip out of place?" The kid didn't even have the decency to look scared. Damn kid was honestly curious.

"Not like it makes a difference now. I checked with the doctors. Permanent."

"Hm." The kid hummed noncommittally but held out a note with a bright red and blistering hand. "She said this was for you." The paper was papyrus, obviously ancient. Cobblepot snatched the note and opened it curiously.

~~~Oswald Cobblepot
This kid is my little Stray. Unfortunately, Batman's curious about him.
Hide him for me? For old times sake? If the Bat finds him, I can't
promise what the kid will do. I hope it won't be something stupid.
If he orders anything, send it through Metropolis. After a month
or two, he'll probably disappear. If that happens, he'll be my
concern. If you aren't willing to watch him, send my kitten to
the Calculator.
Catwoman

Cobblepot folded the note, which knowing Selina, had probably been ripped straight out of a museum artifact. "What did you do to get the Bat after you?"

"I set off an EMP in his hideout."

Cobblepot laughed at the boy's daring. "In his hideout? Aren't you a cheeky little thing?" In a blink, his umbrella was at Stray's throat. "Pull something like that with me and you'll never walk again."

The kid glanced down at the umbrella. A knife shot out of the end. An approving look appeared in his eyes. "I think you and I will get along just fine."

-----

The kitten was a mad scientist. He loved to experiment with Cobblepot's umbrellas and he had even suggested modifications a couple of them. Of course, he had no idea how to implement that so Cobblepot gave him a couple lessons. Just to get him out of his hair, naturally. Not because the kid lit up when he created what he meant to. Not because teaching him how to weld and solder pieces made a smile appeared and the blue eyes glow. Obviously not. It was convenient to teach him how to modify things and adapt technology because then Stray could be the one coming up with new weapons to place in his umbrellas and Cobblepot could have time for other, more important things.

Once his goggles showed up though, the kid was gone. Disappearing into the room that had been given him. There had been near a hundred goggles and Cobblepot didn't know where he was going to put them all. The kid had asked if he could store spares in the Iceberg Lounge and for some reason (it was probably the big eyes), he had agreed. Where did anyone put a hundred pairs of- what would soon be highly explosive- eyewear? He had asked the kid a few times what he was doing and it seemed as if the over-glorified sunglasses would soon double as smoke-bombs, a GPS, a small explosive, and hearing aids. Apparently, the EMP hadn't only toasted the kid's arms but it had put a healthy dose of wariness in the kid. The ear protection would mute sound over a certain decibel, translate foreign languages (not that that stopped the kid from learning Mandarin Chinese, Cobblepot noted), and enhance his hearing. They could also be keyed to certain noises and could decipher Morse Code. In theory, at least. The kid would need a bit more practice before he could accomplish all that.

Stray's arms were mostly healed. It hadn't been too bad of burns and there were few scars, only a few spots of scars up his arms from the bigger sparks. They looked a bit like shimmery scales. The kid's hands were taking the longest to heal. He refused to stop working and let them seal up. But they were functional, even if the burns had stretched into ugly lines and scars that wouldn't fade.

The kid stayed out of the Lounge for the most part, realizing it'd be bad for business for a kid to be hanging out in a bar, but the bouncers had spotted him a few times. He would just hide in the shadows and listen to conversations. Occasionally, they let him stay. Half of surviving in Gotham was understanding the hierarchy of the underworld and there was no better place to learn it than at the Lounge.

However, the Iceberg Lounge was known for its information by more than just villains.

"Get the kid out of here!" Cobblepot grabbed the kid's arm and threw him into the arms of one of his bouncers. "Batman's outside asking about him and I'm not going to get caught with him!"

"What do I do with him?" The bouncer held the squirming child at arms' length. His face was panicked and Cobblepot almost hit him for his incompetence.

"I don't care! Just make sure the Batman won't find him. I don't want any sign of him left!" Oswald Cobblepot limped out to deal with Batman and the bouncer was left with the kid.

"Gotham's Underworld! What do I do with a kid?!!?!?" The kid tried to fight again. Quickly, the bouncer slammed the kid's head against the desk. The kid was still conscious but he was groggy and his eyes couldn't focus. "No trace of the kid. No trace. No-" He froze in horror at the train of his own thoughts. "Oh." That was what Cobblepot had meant. He carried the limp body out to the limo, snagging the kid's current pair of goggles on the way out. "No sign of the kid, don't leave anything behind." He drove away from the Lounge, dodging and hoping desperately that he wasn't followed. He entered a dark alley and parked the car. The child was lifted out of the car and carried to a manhole in the middle of the road. The bouncer lifted the lid and looked down at the darkness leading down. A gulp and then the kid was over his shoulder and he started climbing down. The kid was stirring more as they climbed down and the bouncer thought about knocking him out again. Surely that'd be more merciful. But he wanted to get out of there. The kid was dropped on the ledge next to the sewage that flowed quickly by. A knife slashed into the kid's arm. "No trace." The knife was dropped in the water and the bouncer climbed out as fast as he could and drove away.

Stray tried to open his eyes. Everything was blurry and spinning. He groped around and found his goggles at his side. He grabbed them tightly and tried to use it to steady himself. Where was he? The scent of blood surrounded him. Was he bleeding? Something rose out of the water and he turned his head to see a monster.

-----

"You did what?" Cobblepot's voice was quiet and fierce.

"You said 'No sign of him' and I thought- well, what better way to hide the evidence than have it be eaten? I cut his arm so the blood would attract it and-" The bouncer looked proud for a moment before he realized his boss' expression was once of anger. He got three seconds of that realization before Oswald Cobblepot raised an umbrella and shot him.

"Damn it. Why do I hire stupid people?" He grabbed the phone and typed in a number. "Selina. I don't know quite what to tell you. But... One of my former employees just fed your Stray to Killer Croc.

Chapter Text

Killer Croc had seen a lot of injured people in his time, Hell, he'd caused a lot of injuries! But one thing was for certain in his mind- your supper is not supposed to cuddle you, no matter how bad of a concussion it has. He pulled his arm out of the little monkey's grasp but that only prompted it to wrap itself around his torso. Literally wrap. Its arms and legs weren't even touching the ground. Croc snarled and tried to pull it off by its hair but it squeaked in pain. Squeaked. Making the softest, most betrayed sound he had ever heard, it burrowed itself deeper into his chest. Croc let go and glared at it. Leeches didn't make noises when you pulled them off. Cats only yowled and dug their claws in. Terriers bit harder and growled. Why was he stuck with the only parasite that could make cute noises? Better question, what did one do with a parasite? He poked at his supper but it ignored him.

Damn it.

...Some people had pet mice. Or rats. Same concept, right?

He twisted the little parasite onto his back and submerged himself into the water again, leaving his back above the water so the creature could breathe. The terror of the Gotham waters made his way back to his hideout, being careful not to knock off his pet.

-----

Stray's head was spinning and he felt disgustingly nauseous. He probably would be puking if there was anything in his stomach to dislodge. As it was, he had forgotten to eat, busy as he was with his goggles, so he just dry-heaved against Killer Croc's back. It was cool and soothing, like when he used to press his face against the marble pillars of the Drake Manor when he was sick. No. Tim used to do that. Stray never did. Stray just cuddled sewage covered, cannibalistic, psychopaths. Sounded about right. A sudden elevation change made him almost blackout as his ride stood and entered a small tunnel. It was too small for Stray to ride on his back so he was slung beneath him, like a koala baby clinging to its mother. Hairless, scaly mother. What was wrong with his brain?

They arrived in a damp cave. Stray was dropped on a pile of clothes that smelled like dirty laundry. A damp pair of pants landed on top of him and Stray looked up to see Killer Croc pulling on a dry pair. Apparently, this was the dirty laundry. His addled mind told Stray to feel offended that he was categorized as laundry but the more sane part told it to shut up. The cave was pleasantly dark and now that he was sitting still, his head ached less. Stray held up a finger in front of his face and moved it, trying to follow it with his eyes. It was incredibly difficult and for some reason, the finger kept jumping around. Blinking in frustration, he tried again.

"Pet." Croc growled at the creature again. It wasn't listening, too busy playing some sort of game with its fing- Oh. Checking for a concussion. And if the struggle the creature was having was any indication, the concussion was pretty severe. "Pet." After a beat, the fragile creature looked up at him. Its eyes were trying to focus on his face and after a moment it managed to zoom in on him. "Come." His growl filled the cave and the little one stood and walked toward him. Or rather in his general direction. If Croc hadn't caught his arm, it would have walked past him and into the wall. It blinked in confusion at the wall and turned to face Killer Croc. "Pet-"

"Stray." Its voice was slurred and it swayed, almost falling. "I'm Stray." It suited him well enough so Croc would call him that. "Waylon. Jones." It -Stray- swayed again, bumping into him. "Killer Croc. Former crocodilly wrestler in Florida?" It squinted in confusion then continued in its slurred monologue. "Epidermolytic hyperkeratosis." It looked at him and smiled sideways and then cuddled itself against his chest. "Marble pillars and cold eyes. Ice eyes. Ice cubes." It blinked in confusion at its own words and then growled to itself, trying to climb into Killer Croc's arms. "I lost my kitty. Where'd she go? Kitties and penguins and Bats and Robins and Crocodiles." Stray closed its eyes and promptly fell asleep, sliding down the Croc's scaly chest.

He caught it before it fell too far and carried him back to the laundry pile. He had seen concussions in the carnival and there wasn't much you could do about them, besides put the victim in a dark room and supply pain pills. Which he had none of. Time to go shopping.

------

Batman and Robin pulled up to the scene of the crime but it was too late. A hole in the wall and a couple of victims but no Croc.

"Hey, B?" Robin climbed back into the car. The victims were stabilized and the cops would be here soon. "Mind telling me what exactly Killer Croc did? I mean, we've been searching the sewer system, you've had no less than 3 private conversations with Catwoman, and now we are going after any possible sign of him. All within the last hour. Exactly what did the bas-" Batman gave him a look. "I mean- criminal, do?"

Batman stared broodingly at the road before answering. "He may or may not have eaten Catwoman's sidekick."

Robin sputtered an gaped for a moment. "Sidekick? You mean that little kid who jumped in a few months back?" Batman grunted noncommittally. "And what do you mean, 'may or may not?' It's Killer Croc! Of course he ate the poor bast-" Batman glared at him. "I mean- kid."

"To put it bluntly, Killer Croc is a messy eater. There was no sign of blood in the tunnels."

Robin grimaced at the visual. "So he wanted a night in. Took the kid home to eat. Maybe he had a date with a lady crocodile mutant."

"Catwoman checked. All of his usual hideouts are empty. He must have moved. However, there are only around 3,761 other places around the city that will fit the bill of his usual hideout."

"And we're going to check all of them."

There's scuba gear in the back."

"Joy."

------

The kid didn't like to be woken. Killer Croc nursed his sore nose, bitterly, watching Stray curl back up. You are supposed to wake up people with concussions to make sure they can still wake up. Perhaps he should have just eaten the little bugger. It wasn't too late though... Damn it. It was purring. You can't kill a creature that's purring. Except Catwoman, but she was the only exception.

Chapter Text

The Stray liked to wander. He would get up and look around, always moving. Croc about throttled him but after the first couple of days the creature calmed down. Stray would now watch him, just sit there and watch. The only reprieve he got was when Stray would fiddle with the goggles he carried. They had been clenched in his hands when Croc had found him and now he fiddled with them. Killer Croc accepted the little pet's quirks as long as it meant he got a moment of peace. Pets were more work than he thought. Perhaps his mother had had a point when she said his brother and him weren't responsible enough to have one.

It was hard enough to get the thing to eat, let alone keep it from getting out. The first time he brought a kill back for it, Stray had startled and hidden in the shadows until Croc was done eating. It didn't seem to like meat. At first, it accepted hamburgers and hot dogs that Croc had stolen from stores and restaurants but after he tried to eat at the same time as his pet, the little bugger got sick and didn't eat for the next few days. Croc had to go to store and, instead of stealing, had to ask the cashier lady what a queasy child would eat. He had returned with cans of soup, vegetables, microwavable french fires, and a hurt pride. There was no microwave in the cave but the kid didn't seem to care, gobbling down the vegetables and waiting for the fries to thaw so he could eat them. Odd creature.

------

Stay had been trapped in the cave for weeks now. His goggles were still keyed into the internet so he could get the time and a map of where he was but it was useless because the door was blocked. Everytime Killer Croc left, he would roll a huge stone in front of the door to keep Stray in. Being trapped was driving him stir crazy. There was no technology in the cave and no way to rewire his goggles into a bomb that could cause a big enough explosion to move the boulder.

Croc never hurt him but- Stray shuddered whenever he remembered Croc's meals. He couldn't eat meat without being vividly reminded of his capturer's own meals. Stray had always made fun of vegetarians but now, he was on the same level. No meat.

It was interesting to observe Killer Croc. He moved like an animal and was huge, more than should be physically possible. Stray avoided talking when possible as the Croc didn't talk much himself. Best not to get on the bad side of the creature he was locked in with. But if he was locked in much longer, there was no promises of what he'd do.

------

Croc entered the cave and froze at the sight of his pet punching at midair. Perhaps it had gone mad. It spun and kicked viciously. He froze when he made eye contact with Killer Croc. They studied each other for a bit before Stray's eyes turned calculating. He sized Croc up and stood slowly.

"Teach me?" His voice was a whisper, soft yet firm.

In direct contrast, Croc's voice was a snarl, dangerous and fierce. "Teach you what?"

"How to fight." Stray studied him again. "You wrestled crocodiles and can fight well. No one has ever taught me and I want to learn."

Killer Croc looked derisively at the sliver of a boy in front of him. It would take 1 hit to shatter every bone in his body. The kid was so small, he'd make an appetizer rather than a meal. Yet, that was why he needed to know how to fight. So he wasn't hurt. So people wouldn't be able to destroy his weak frame. "Fine. But we do it my way."

------

In theory, Stray could fight. Tim had taken martial arts classes when he was young and watching Gotham vigilantes had taught him some moves. However, he had never been trained like this. Stray pulled himself up again, struggling to even get his chin over the bar. Killer Croc refused to teach him anything until Stray reached a certain level of strength and fitness. Croc had him lifting weights and exercising near constantly. His body was always in pain, sore muscle upon sore muscle. Croc forced him to use stress balls and hand exercises obsessively until Stray's grip could break a normal man's wrist. Oddly enough, Croc didn't interfere with Stray's own stretching routine (the one he had developed after seeing Dick Grayson in action as Robin) in fact, he added to it. Stray could contort his body and bend into impossible positions. Once the fighting actually started, Stray was ridiculously grateful for all the prior training.

There was no way Stray could beat Croc, physically, he couldn't even throw him. But Killer Croc taught him grips and attacks to use on other opponents. Croc and Stray would grapple, tumbling all over the cave floor, as Croc kept capturing Stray and Stray kept escaping. Stray learned tricks and ways to slip out of holds. He learned the counterattacks. Stray learned to fight dirty, punching and biting at any chance. After every match, he had to immediately bandage cuts and bruises because Croc never went easy on anyone. A couple of times he had to stitch up his own cuts to keep them from ripping further.

The upside of all this was he could exit the cave. The first time was when Croc took him out and loaded him into a darkened vehicle. They drove for hours before arriving at a swamp. It was dark and Stray fell in the mud more times than he could count. Killer Croc led him to the water's edge and they waded in. When Stray reached waist deep, Croc started splashing and snarling. There was an answering splash from the darkness and Croc smiled at Stray as he went toward the shore.

"Have fun, I don't know what they put in the water but it makes them mean." Stray watched him for a moment before turning back to the darkness surrounding him. Stray pulled on his goggles and looked around, jolting suddenly when he switched the monitor to detect heat. There was a huge alligator, only feet away. It approached fast, barely giving Stray time to think. Within seconds, its mouth was open and snapping where Stray had been standing. Stray had dove to the side and now clambered to shallower waters where he had a better advantage. The alligator chased him and would've bitten Stray if he had not swung himself onto its back. He was forced to let go and push back when it snapped at him. The creature spun and almost smacked him with its tail. It charged him and knocked him down, holding him beneath the water and snapping as it tried to eat him. Panicking, Stray grabbed its mouth, struggling to hold it shut. His goggles' vision started getting spotty and then went black. All the circuits in the lenses meant that the entire lenses went dark and he couldn't see anything. Stray struggled to keep calm as he was slowly drowned.

Cats hate water. That was what Selina always said when he asked her why she didn't go out on rainy night. It would be a disgrace if he died in a dirty swamp. With that in mind, Stray wrapped the gator into a head lock and slammed his knees into its gut. It pulled back momentarily and that allowed him to get out from under it. He fought for the shore but was dragged down again, pulling the blinding goggles off. They struggled, whipping up white foam. Stray aimed for any soft spots he could, constantly having to readjust the head lock he was holding the gator in. A couple of times, it caught him with its teeth and claws but Stray brushed it off. The creature was trying to drag him into deeper water but Stray rolled them and maneuvered until they were on dry land. Unfortunately, the gator was still just as fast but now Stray didn't have to worry about drowning. Stray leapt at it and landed on the creature's back, locking himself around it until it was immobilized.

"Not bad." Croc approached from the side. "I always ended a fight but ripping off the crocs' jaw but this works." Stray rolled away and scrambled back before it could get him. The gator watched for a minute before slinking back to the water. He stood shaking, waiting for it to turn and attack again but when it disappeared, he collapsed to the ground. Laying exhaustedly, Stray felt every ache and pain that he had ignored before. "So. Ready for round 2?" Killer Croc's voice rumbled.

The second time out of the cave was to fetch some new goggles from the Iceberg Lounge. Stray had donned his, admittedly, ragged clothes and entered the building through a back entrance. The guard at the door turned white when he saw him and immediately dragged him to Cobblepot's office.

"Word was you were dead."

"'The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated'- Mark Twain." Stray smirked at the Penguin, ignoring the glare he received. "I just came to collect a few pairs of my goggles."

"And not to tell Catwoman, who has been frantically looking for you, that you are alive?"

Stray frowned. "She thought I was dead?"

"You have been reportedly eaten by Killer Croc."

"Beat up by him but that's all voluntary. I haven't been eaten yet. Though, the alligators have been making quite the effort. I'm not dead, if you'd mind passing that information to her."

"Not at all."

"Mind if I use your workshop. These goggles need a few tweaks." He held up a pair of water-logged goggles.

"Just replace them. You have enough." Stray smiled to himself and slipped out the door to the Penguin's lab./p>

He turned to one of his men. "You and I both know this office is bugged. How long before Batman shows up?"

"I'd give it five minutes."

"Double that."

------

By the time Batman fought past the mob, Stray had disappeared. Seven minutes from when he had heard Timothy Drake's voice, the kid was gone.

------

Stray took two days off from training to waterproof his goggles, adding a mouthpiece that would allow him a small air supply in case of emergency. The mouthpiece fit from the bridge of his nose to his chin, giving him a face shape similar to Killer Croc's. Appropriate.

"What do you think?" He held them out to Croc and the giant hand took them. He inspected them briefly and then held them out to Tim. Before their creator's hands touched them, the claws snapped together. Killer Croc turned his hand toward the floor and opened it, allowed bits and shards of what had once been goggles fall to the floor.

"They need some work." Tim glared at him and reinforced the next pair, until not even Croc could break them.

Stray's style changed as he stayed with Croc. With Selina, Stray had leaned toward baggy hoodies and dark jeans, trying to avoid attention. His clothes, the ones had had since he had been Tim Drake, were ragged and falling apart, so mimicking Croc, he made himself a pair of pants out of Cuben Fiber- which wasn't the most comfortable but they held up well- and wrapped strips of fabric around his forearms and fists to protect them. The outfit would have, in the past, showed just how skinny and tiny Stray was but now it showed off the scars on his body and the lean muscles that had appeared.

Stray and Croc traveled around more and more. Stray practiced swimming in Gotham Bay, teaching himself to hold his breath for minutes on end. They went to illegal fighting rings where Stray honed his talents. Within a month, Croc always put his money on Stray.

After three months, the door was no longer blocked and Stray went back to his wandering ways. He took to sleeping anywhere he found appropriate, though, the first time Selina saw him again, she yelled so loud that someone called the cops. After a few days, they picked up their usual camaraderie and Stray could be found typing and drinking coffee in Selina's apartment. He wandered the streets, sometimes watching Robin and Batman, but more often, just watching the city itself.

Selina didn't mind when he tagged along on her thieving expeditions. He never helped but he was always curious. His studious mind had shifted from book knowledge, to hands on application. It took two days before he asked her to teach him to pick a lock, five before he asked her to show him how to dance, and six before she took him out and taught him to use a whip.

It wasn't his weapon, that much was obvious. But for him, it was perfect for swinging across buildings and making some space so he could fight. Stray was good with it. He could slice a dummy open from navel to collarbone with one crack and get it to coil around a leg but it wasn't quite apart of him like Selina's was. She could move and twist and the whip would act as inhere partner in a dance that only they heard the music to. Stray never had that awareness. The fighting though, it came to him easily. When he started picking up Selina's style of fighting, it suited him more than Croc's ever had, though he used both the viciousness and the grace when he fought. The sinuous movements and acrobatics intrigued him and he practiced whenever he had a chance.

Chapter Text

The people fled and screamed as he walked down the grocery store aisle. There was a disconcerting variety of soups. What did the kid even like? He stormed to the front of the store where cashiers were ushering people out. He grabbed a likely looking female and dragged her to the soup aisle. Why was she screaming?

"What do you know about kids?" He lowered his face and growled lowly in her face, so she'd be sure to understand.

"K-K-K-kids? I have a n-nephew." He voice was trembling and she smelled of fear.

"Nephew? Good enough. What do they eat?" He turned again to look at the shelves and felt the moment when she processed his words. Her body froze and her tone was full of wonder.

"You have a kid?" Croc nodded. "He's yours?" A pet was a possession, so, yes, Croc nodded again. "Um... Hot dogs, chili-"

"He won't eat meat."

A hysterical giggle slipped out of her mouth. "He's a vegetarian? Um-We could try french fries and pasta and soups."

"Show me."

They spent the next fifteen minutes shopping. The woman had grabbed a arm cart and put it on Killer Croc's arm. In it, she dropped a variety of food items and vegetables that looked toxic in color. Occasionally, the woman would look at Croc and start giggling. He couldn't imagine why but regardless, when he left, she was still alive.

-----
"GOTHAM GAZETTE"
"Carnivore Killer Croc has a Vegetarian Son!"

Chapter Text

The kid was sleeping on the couch. Sleeping. On. The. Couch. As if he hadn't been gone for months. As if he hadn't gone to the Iceberg Lounge and casually told Penguin to tell her he was alive! AS IF- She grabbed Stray and shook him away.

"You! Little! BEAST! You disappear for MONTHS and not a word to me?!?!? I could KILL you myself!"

He smiled sleepily up at her. "I missed you," He paused for a yawn. "Too, Selina." That was it!

She threw him off the couch and charged after him. He must have seen the murder in his eyes because he ran for it. She was too close for him to escape through a door or window so they careened around, smashing things off the wall and terrifying the cats. Selina couldn't even say what she was yelling but it must have been terrible because someone started pounding on the door.

"POLICE! OPEN UP!"

"Police?!?" Selina let go of Stray and stormed to the door. She jerked it open and shoved herself right up in the officers' faces. "This is Gotham, for hell's sake! Who calls the police in Gotham?"

"Just a concerned citizen. Is there someone else in the apartment with you?"

"Obviously." Selina stepped back and the cops saw the kid who was sleeping on the couch. He had crashed again after Selina went to the door. "Jerk isn't even nice enough to act scared."

"Sorry to bother you ma'am." They stepped out, tipping their brims. The minute the door shut, she turned back to Stray who was wide-awake and watching her.

"You have three seconds to run."

Chapter Text

Jason about threw a Bat-arang at Batman.

"You mean, the kid we've been looking for for the past two months, the one we went swimming through sewage systems to find, has been chilling around Gotham the whole time? Taking leisurely swims in the Bay?"

Bruce barely looked up from his paperwork. "That's what I've heard. Seems plausible. Selina has calmed quite a bit as well, so that may be a sign."

Jason snorted. "Calmed. She's gone from Mama Bear on a rampage to Big Sister who wants to kill her little brother. She chased him across Gotham yesterday. I could hear her yelling all night. I wouldn't call it calming, just a changed direction of rage." Bruce grunted non-commitedly. "How'd the kid escape Killer Croc? The guy is huge and pipsqueak doesn't look like he could take him on." He picked up a picture out of Bruce's files and froze. "Is Killer Croc playing....fetch?"

"Why don't you go ask him, Jason?" Jason sent a glare at Bruce but he just smiled until Jason cracked.

"Damn kid is befriending the entire Gotham Underworld."

"Guess that means you're next." Bruce stood and stretched as he left his chair. Jason laughed and dropped into the vacated chair.

"I sure hope not."

-----

Stray slipped out of the booth at the Iceberg Lounge. His computer was tucking into a single strap backpack. The bouncers nodded as he stalked past them. His black hoodie was rubbing and itching but Selina insisted he wear a shirt whenever he went outside. The warmth was nice but after a few months of going shirtless, it was a weird adjustment to make. The streets were dark, couple of streetlights had been knocked out. Oswald always kept his part of the city neat but no one could clean up the slums. He pulled his goggles off his forehead, over his eyes, switching on the night vision. Last thing he needed was to get mugged. Selina would kill him. Batman's shadow flew over his head, followed by Robin's. His hood came up but Stray didn't pause in his stride. He was crashing at Selina's today and if he got captured by the Bat, she wasn't going to rescue him.

A cock of a gun made him pause. He turned his head toward an alley and flipped on the heat vision. Four figures in the alley, one against the wall. Languidly, he moved into the alley. The figures were acting a bit too aggressive for this just to be a drug deal and the person against the wall was female. Not good.

"Look, gentlemen." A flirty laugh floated through the air. "One at a time, if you pl-uh!" The woman grabbed at the hand around her throat and tried to breathe.

"And if we do what we want?" He growled into her face, leaning over threateningly. "What are you going to do?"

Stray stepped up beside the man closest to him. This was more Selina's realm but she wasn't here right now. Stray cradled the man's neck in his hand, lightly, and when the man started in shock, smashed his face into the alley wall. The rest of the men turned suddenly and stared at the kid standing over their friend's body.

"She probably won't do anything but run. Me on the other hand... If you don't back away, I'll take great pleasure in causing you the most pain I possibly can." He stepped over the body and prowled toward them, slowing unwrapping the strip of cloth from his wrist. One of the men laughed and that was when Stray struck.

His body was on top the other man's and the wrist strip was around his neck, cutting off his breath. The man who'd been holding the woman let go and swung a knife down at Stray's back. He rolled the choking man on top of him as a shield and when he grunted from the knife in his gut, Stray threw him off and attacked the knifer. A few quick punches and the man was down gasping. The third ran. He didn't make hit far however as Robin landed on top of him.

Stray didn't even bother to look up as Batman approached. "You two are slacking off, making me cover for you." He unwrapped the cloth around the man's neck and took the handcuffs Batman held out. The men were restrained and Batman put in a call. Robin glanced sideways at the kid but Stray caught his eye and smirked. "Do try to keep up."

He pulled up his hood and sauntered away. "The little ba-" Robin cut off when Batman grunted. "I mean- look at him! He is smug and cocky and- he's not even supposed to be on the streets, right?" He glared at Batman's shrug and followed him as they returned to the rooftops. "I swear, you know everything but you just like to watch me struggle."

Chapter Text

Stray ran the minute he left Batman's sight. 'You idiot!' He had no idea what had come over him. There was just this urge to be sassy and snarky and- he knew better. You don't just dance around and MOCK Gotham's vigilante's. Not if you were trying to stay off their radar. Stray slowed to a jog and entered Selina's apartment building. Maybe he can play it cool, maybe they'll forget... Selina looked up as he came in.

"Heard you were stupid." She grinned as Stray's face fell.

-----
Bludhaven cops circled the warehouse that was projecting muffled cries easily audible to their ears. Five officers at each door and each armed and ready. A signal and they kicked through the doors. Instant chaos. The betters inside tried to grab their cash and run but their was no where to go. The fighters attacked and got tazed almost immediately. Officer Grayson loaded in a new cartridge for his taser and leapt into the fray. He had brought dozens of restraints but already they were running low. A cry caught his attention. Three cops were trying to subdue- Killer Croc! What was he doing in Bludhaven? Pulling out his baton, he charged. Him and Batman had fought the Croc together but never had he had civilians in the way. Croc swiped and Officer Grayson barely dodged. He had gotten a few good hits on the villain but it took a lot to take out someone of Killer Croc's size and he didn't exactly have horse tranquilizers on hand. He maneuvered behind him and flew into the air, winding up for a knockout strike. Sudden pain flooded his vision and he hit the ground. He couldn't breathe, oxygen wasn't coming.

"Dick!" His partner was coming. He felt his hand on his shoulder. "Richard? Can you breathe? Are your ribs broken?" Dick managed to shake his head in the negative and his partner rolled him over. "You idiot. Which was that a negative to?"

"Both." Dick managed to get air in his lungs. "What happened?" The fight was still going on around them. Killer Croc was still fighting, though he seemed to be slowing.

"Some kid hit you in the stomach with a pole." His partner patted his shoulder in consolation when Dick turned in shock. "Little pipsqueak too." He laughed at his partner and Dick glared then got to his feet.

"Where's the kid? I swear if its Jason, I'll-" He spotted him. Kid was doing a number on the cops. He had forced them away from Killer Croc who was bleeding from multiple bullet wounds. Kid was spinning and punching and- he was good. Dick grinned at his partner.

"I got this." He raced off toward the fight leaving his partner shaking his head at his antics. The kid had a similar style to Catwoman and she was always the most fun to spar with. Dick had missed the playful tussling and her constant flirting with Bruce. Perhaps this kid was similar.

If Richard Grayson had been using his brain, he would have remembered that the kid had just attacked him and possibly, Grayson could have realized that this kid wouldn't play fair. However, Dick had never been known for using his brain.

He landed behind the kid and caught his punch in one hand. "Gotham resident?"

The kid's jaw dropped and he flushed? Why was he blushing? Dick had a second to wonder before the fight began. Kid was fast and strong. He was in all black. Goggles rested on his forehead. A hoodie and a pair of snug jeans? They weren't jeans. What were they- A fist caught him in the jaw. Ouch. Dick focused on the kid. Huh. He hadn't noticed before. Kid had a bit more oomph to his hits than Selina, in fact, there was something distinctly non-Catwoman-like to the way he fought. She dodged and gave openhanded hits. This kid was powerful and attacked directly. When he was paying attention. Dick was a little insulted. The kid kept getting distracted and turning to protect Killer Croc. As if the hunk of muscle couldn't protect himself.

"Get out of here!" Croc snarled at the kid as he shoved a cop away. "Leave!"

"I'm not leaving you!"

"This isn't some comic book! I'm not going to die!" Croc's fist almost hit Dick and he focused on fighting, not just listening to the drama. It was very interesting drama.

"No, you're just going to be put in Arkham Asylum!" Kid picked up a long metal pole- probably the same one he used on Dick earlier- and swung, making himself some room.

"I've been there before! Besides, if they catch you, the Cat is going to kill me."

"Shall I tell her that?" The kid spared a moment to grin at Killer Croc before using the pole to leap across the crowd of cops. He landed on the other side and the cops found themselves stuck between two dangers. Croc didn't seem to notice that part of the plan and pushed his way through the crowd until he was at the kid's side again.

"If you do, I'll kill you." Kid laughed at the threat. "Leave."

"Make me." Dick could have warned the kid. Croc didn't always get the finer points of conversation. He took thing entirely too literally. But he just watched as Croc turned to the kid and backhanded him, knocking him across the warehouse. "LEAVE!" There was a moment of hesitation before the kid pulled down his googles and heaved up a manhole covering. The goggles covered his eyes and a muzzle covered from his nose to his chin, kinda like Bane's mask though this one looked like it was meant for underwater respiration. Cops came toward him but the kid rolled a ball across the floor and dropped into the hole.

Smoke billowed out of the ball and it stung like pepper spray. Dick coughed and shook it off, using the distraction to knock Killer Croc out. Then, he collapsed and tears flooded his eyes at the sting.
------

After three showers and liberal use of eye drops, Dick called Bruce.

The phone rang a couple times but Alfred answered.

"Hey Alfie!"

"Master Richard, what a surprise. What is the occasion?"

"Just want to talk to Bruce about some kid who showed up at a fight ring bust."

"Child? Was he black haired and slim?"

Dick laughed. "Don't worry, Alfie. It wasn't Jason. Kid had a totally different fighting style."

"I wasn't worried about it being Jason. I think it might have been... Stray." The last word was said slowly, as if Alfred found it distasteful.

"Stray? That sounds catlike. Is he Selina's?"

"She doesn't claim him, but she trained him."

Dick grinned as he imagined Bruce's face the first time he met the kid. "How's Bruce been taking that?"

"He and Selina are finally back on speaking terms. Honestly, Master Richard, if you kept up with the family you would have known about all this."

"Yeah...I'm just not..." Dick's smile faded and he fiddled with the eye drop bottle. The thought of Bruce taking away Robin still stung. "I'm still not ready to talk to Bruce outside of business."

"Of course, Master Richard. Take all the time you need."

--------

Stray climbed out of the sewers and shook out his hair. It flopped messily in his face. For the moment, he let it stay, let it hide the hurt he was feeling. Croc hated Arkham. He had told him that. And yet, he was willing to knock Stray across the room to get him to leave. To leave him. To let him get captured. He stood abruptly and pulled his hair out of his face, the goggles going up to push it back. He let Croc get put in Arkham Asylum. So he better figure out how to break him out.

Chapter Text

Batgirl didn't realize she had a tail until she was almost home. Once she realized she had a tail, it was a simple matter to catch them. If she was fishing, she would have thrown it back. The kid was tiny and...alright, he was precious. He was wearing a homemade Batgirl shirt and his hair was so long, it flopped into his big blue eyes that were framed by huge circular glasses. He smiled at her even as she held him up by the back of his shirt, hero-worship shining in his eyes. How could anyone say no?

-------

Stray pushed the glasses up his nose. Batgirl seemed to find it charming. Honestly, the prescription on them was making him go blind but running into things was apparently also charming. Timothy Drake was out in full force, practically swooning over his "hero." And it was working.

He had chosen Batgirl as his target because she was obviously the most skilled computer hacker he could find, besides Batman. If he was to get into Arkham's system and let Killer Croc out, he'd need a refresher course on hacking and she was the one to give it.

Stray scooted closer and "ooh"ed and "aah"ed appropriately as she taught him. She had tried to start with the basics but he was able to break into her laptop and then she started getting serious. Stray listened attentively and watched as her fingers moved. This woman was a genius- like an actual certified genius. Why was she just Batgirl? This woman should start her own superhero team, get her own name. She deserved more than to just piggy back off of Batman's fame.

His admiration wasn't going to get in the way. Timothy touched his throat and swallowed painfully.

"Are you alright?"

"Yeah." He pushed his glasses up. "I just have asthma and all the excitement of meeting you is getting to me."

"Where's your inhaler?"

He looked down shamefaced. "I lost it." Stray could feel the pity radiating off her. "It's okay though, if I drink water it helps."

"Let me go get you a glass." She stood and left. Stray pushed back his Drake persona and sat in the chair. Two minutes of frantic typing and he had a spy planted. Stray slipped back into his seat and his Timothy smile reappeared as Batgirl entered with a cup of water.

"Thank you." He drank deeply, or he appeared to. Stray was a bit hesitant about unknown liquids.

Two hours longer of lessons and then she sent him home, saying it must be past his bedtime.

"Can I come and learn more? I promise only to come on nights I don't have school!" Batgirl studied his trembling lips and finally agreed. Mission accomplished.

-------

Stray sat in top office at the Wayne Enterprises. His feet were propped on the desk and he was reclined in Bruce Wayne's chair. His hair was tucked in a beanie and gloves covered his hands. A blue glow lit his face as he scrolled down his laptop. The spy on Barbara Gordan's computer was quite useful. Apparently, the Batfamily had a emergency button that allowed her to take control over all of Arkham's technology. Very nice. Made his life ten times easier. Stray copied it onto his computer and started bouncing the signal. Wow. She was fast. Even as he bounced it, she traced it. Barely one step behind. The copy dinged in completion and he shut the laptop down just as her search reached Wayne Tower. Have fun figuring that one out. He slipped out of the chair and went to the window. A hook clamped to the ledge and Stray rappelled his way down the hundred plus storied building. A button pressed and the hook unlocked and fell, landing at Stray's feet. His hood went up and as he left, Batgirl swung to the top of Wayne Tower, breaking through the window.

Chapter Text

Catwoman refused to drive the getaway car. Stray hadn't even told her what they'd need a car for anyway or what the crime was but she wasn't going to help. Stray looked far too sneaky.

"Can you at least teach me to drive?"

"No! You couldn't even reach the peddles!" Selina swung onto an adjacent building but Stray followed.

"Yes I can!"

"Eleven year olds shouldn't drive."

"I'm twelve!"

Selina spun to look at him. "When did that happen?"

"Like, two months ago."

"And you didn't tell me?"

"Why would I? It was just a birthday." He was honestly confused.

it was YOUR birthday. We could have had cake, gone to pick out a gift at the store-"

"You mean steal something from the museum."

"I was thinking more along the lines of a Wayne Tech store but if you've finally grown an appreciation for art..."

"Do people do those things for their birthdays?"

"Some boring variant of them, yes." He looked thoughtful. "Did- you've done that before, right?"

"Best present I ever got was when I first met you."

"F-first met me? You mean the time on the fire escape?"

"The time when you took me to the hospital."

Selina sat heavily on the ground and felt a sudden urge to go and kill the Drakes.

"Where were they?" Her voice was soft, deadly.

"China, it was their anniversary."

"It was your birthday!!" She was standing, yelling. Not caring if the Bat heard them or if cops were called. "They are parents! That means they put their wants aside and place you first!"

"They had to suffer through nine months of agony and a wailing child. Shouldn't they have enjoyed themselves once I was old enough to take care of myself?"

"Yes! But eight is not old enough! Old enough would be sixteen or fourteen if it was just a night at dinner. Never China! What right did they have to leave you? They shouldn't even be parents!"

"My parents are businesspeople. They needed an heir."

"That's it?" Selina clenched her fists."They wanted an heir?" When Stray nodded with that unconcerned attitude, she grabbed his wrist and started making her way to street level.

"Where are we going?"

"Driving lessons, consider it a late birthday present."

Chapter Text

Trouble with this plan was that Barbara Gordan was smart. She had to have some kind of tracker on the trigger he'd stolen off her computer. The minute he accessed Arkham Asylum's security she'd be onto him. And he was kind of stuck in place. Stray stretched in the driver seat of the Range Rover. Selina had taught him to drive so he was the getaway driver now which meant he had to hack in, open a path for Killer Croc while not releasing the other inmates, and hope she didn't trace it to his location before Croc made it to the car.

He'd probably have to drop the laptop. Swearing (using words he'd picked up from Croc and Selina), Stray moved valuable files onto a backup and erased all potential evidence. He wiped the computer down and slipped on gloves. This would have to be fast.

-----

"Croc, move now. We have a time limit here." The prisoner's head jerked up as his restraints released and the door of his cell clicked open. Stray's voice radiated from the speakers. He rolled his shoulders and paced towards the door. "No. Fast. Like really fast. She's already tracing me." Killer Croc kicked into a run and ran past the cells of other inmates. They stared at him in shock and longing. No guards or doctors came after him. Where were they? Turning a corner he saw angry faces pressed up against a door and muffled yells. He chuckled to himself. Kid had them locked in the break room. Doors kept opening and closing as he ran, leading him outside. "There would be a bike nearby. Get on it and come to the woods. I'll meet you there. Damn it. She's almost onto me." The bike was tiny compared to his hulking frame but Killer Croc climbed on at roared away at full speed. The gates opened before him.

-----

"Stall. Stall." Stay pounded keys trying to keep Barbara off his back for just a bit longer. A flicker came up in the Arkham app and his eyes flashed to it but as they did Barbara keyed into his location. "Gotta move!" Stray dropped the computer out a window. The car roared to life and crunched over the computer before skidding out of the trees onto the road. Killer Croc was coming his way and he skidded into a stopped. "Hop in!" The bike was ditched and the villain crunched his body into the vehicle.

"You couldn't have found something larger?" Snarling, he tried to get comfortable. Stray's driving was knocking him around the vehicle. "Where did you learn to drive?"

"Selina taught me."

"She did a terrible job." Croc grabbed the back off his seat and ripped it off, tossing it into the back. He stretched as much as the little car would allow. "You drive worse than my mother."

"That's a bad thing?" Stray reached the city limits and promptly knocked off his side mirror on a stop sign.

"Yes. She got her license revoked. Public menace."

"Selina said I got much better."

"This is better?"

Stray took his eyes of the road to grin at Croc. "Car didn't survive the first test."

"Stop sign."

Stray glanced back at where they had just came from. A scaled hand grabbed the wheel and kept them from crashing into another car. "It had a white border. Means it was optional."

"Where did you learn that?"

"Tumblr." The car fishtailed as they went around a corner and Croc watched his life flash before his eyes. He had just escaped prison and didn't want to die now. Stray was thrown into the back seat and Croc took the wheel. "Hey!"

"I'm saving our lives."

Stray tumbled to the back of the car as Croc accelerated. "You're speeding! You're going to get us caught. I was trying to be sneaky."

"Speeding is more stealthy than your maniac driving." Croc considered slowing as he passed a cop car but the red and blue lights started flashing and he decided it was probably too late.

"I didn't have the cop cars chasing us." Stray tried to climb back to the front but Croc shoved him back.

"Probably calling backup." Stray looked out the window and started laughing. "What?"

"You are SO dead." Croc glanced out and spotted a figure in black leaping from rooftop to rooftop. Unless Batman had lost some weight, it was Catwoman.

"Probably came because she saw your driving."

"Still chasing us though and you're driving." The car swung under an underpass and a thud on the roof indicated company. There were claws sticking through the roof and an insistent pounding on the skylight.

"Leave her out there. She's going to jump onto car tops, she can stay out there." Stray ignored him and opened the skylight. She dropped in, landing in a crouch.

"Why is the Crocodile driving?" She pulled Stray's goggles off his forehead over his eyes and swung herself into the passenger seat.

"Have you seen his driving?" Killer Croc gestured back to the gremlin in the back who had pulled the light covering off and was playing with the wires.

"I survived it. Stop being a baby." The Rover bumped a vehicle out of the way and Catwoman hissed. "That's it. I'm driving. Move."

"Make me." Before his sentence finished, her fist was in his face and Croc reeled back from the pain. She shoved him out of the seat and climbed in. The seat was pulled close to accommodate her short legs and the engine roared and threw both the people in the backseat to the baggage space. Stray struggled his way out from under Killer Croc and looked out the back window, a huge grin on his face. Croc crawled toward the front, determined to throw the Cat out the window.

"Look! More cops!" Stray stuck his nose to the window and turned grinning to the front. "And your ex joined too!" Catwoman glanced in the rearview and saw the Batmobile approaching fast.

"He's not my ex. We were never official and we never broke up." She dodged under Croc's swing and slashed at him with her claws.

"Can you break up if you weren't official?" Stray made his way back to the wires he had freed from the roof.

"This is why I don't date. Too complicated." Croc managed to get a hand around Catwoman's neck but she jerked the wheel to the side and him and Stray fly to the right side of the vehicle. He pushed himself up and growled at Catwoman. "Besides, women are difficult."

"Stop being sexist. Men are just as difficult." Catwoman stamped on the gas but the car rattled and hissed at her. "Couldn't you have gotten a faster car?"

"Too small, too slow- What is with you two? It's a car. I did the best I could. I've never purchased a getaway car before." Stray pulled an attachment off his goggles and used it to weld the wires. "Oops." Sparks flew and that was all the warning the driver had before the engine died.

"What did you DO?" Catwoman cranked at the wheel. "You killed power steering too!"

"I have no idea!" Stray pulled up car diagnostics on his goggles. "I just learned how to drive! Why would I know how a car works?" He touched a wire and something exploded. Croc covered his eyes and glared at Stray once the flash died and he could see again. The light counsel was a blackened mess and Stray's nose was going red from burns. "I think I killed it."

"You don't say!" The car was slowing drastically and Catwoman tried to avoid police blockades as the car slowed, moving on momentum alone. Her chair suddenly jerked back and she slid down in the seat so she could still reach the pedals (not that they were doing much). "What- Stray! I can't see!" He ignored her and climbed down by her legs and started tearing into the wires under the dashboard.

"Turn left!" Killer Croc reached for the wheel but jerked his hand back as the Cat slashed at him. "I thought you couldn't see."

"Doesn't mean I need your help, reptile." The engine suddenly roared to life and Stray slid up into the driver seat, taking control of the wheel. Catwoman was shoved down into the space beneath the dash. "Hey!"

"I got this!" Stray jerked the wheel and swung them onto a busy street. "Faster, Selina!"

"Cops!" Croc reached for the wheel and this time Stray swatted at his hand.

"No sideline coaching!"

Croc tried again. "We are headed for a bridge!" Selina tried to scramble out from underneath to see.

"Of course!" Stray grinned. "Don't worry though. We won't stay on it." The two villains not driving had about two seconds to consider this before the trunk was unlocked and the driver had left the front of the vehicle, opting to climb toward the hatchback. Croc grabbed the wheel and Catwoman pulled herself as much as she could.

"What?"

Stray looked at his accomplices as if they were stupid. "We are driving into the river and jumping out. Crash it, Croc." Killer Croc grinned and grabbed Catwoman by the scruff, throwing her to the back of the vehicle with Stray and stamping on the gas crashing them through the railing.

"I hate water!"

"We are with a crocodile man. What could happen?" Stray and Catwoman jumped out of the back of the car before it hit the water and Killer Croc soon followed, grabbing them both, ignoring Catwoman's struggles and led them to a underwater pipe that would take them to safety.

--------

Robin stood at the edge of the bridge looking over the water. The cops were milling about listening to reports- "No casualties-", "Reports from Arkham-", "23 cars damaged-" The chatter washed over the chaos of the bridge. He glanced at the Bat, who was brooding (as usual). "Just curious...that was some of the worst driving I have ever seen. Who do you think was driving?"

Batman chuckled and smiled as he looked at the still river. "I doubt even they know."

Chapter Text

The brat was mocking him. Never verbally but- Jason could feel the kid watching them as he and Batman apprehended criminals. "Stray", as Alfred reluctantly called him, had been following them around for almost a week and already Jason was ready to crack.

"B, let's just jump the kid, handcuff him, turn him in." They leapt into the air and shot their grapples, swinging out over the city. He could feel the kid following at a distance. "I mean, he's got to be a criminal, hanging out in the Iceberg Lounge and with Killer Croc. Let's just nab him and put him away for a bit."

Batman landed silently and stalked to the edge of the roof to look around. "Kid's not a criminal, at least not that we can prove. Can't prove that he broke into Arkham, was driving, or even if he's assisted Selina in her line of work. So stop being fussy about being followed." He sent Jason an unimpressed look.

"That's not why- okay. It is why but still!" He tried to get in Batman's face but the caped crusader leapt off into the night, off to rescue another Gothamite. Jason glared after him and kicked a brick toward him. He could catch up if he wanted but really, he didn't want to. He wanted to think for a bit.

Batman knew who the kid was. He didn't approve of him being on the streets but he hadn't actively tried to capture him. Why not? Was the kid actually Selina's kid? The string-bean couldn't be Killer Croc's. Not scaly enough. Maybe the Penguin's? Both had black hair. Both were annoying jerks.

A tap spun Jason around. The kid was there, hands behind his back as if he hadn't just touched Jason. Little punk. He tilted his head toward Jason and smiled, almost slyly.

"Robin, the Boy Wonder, I presume?" The eye wear only did so much to hide his face and Jason saw how pleased the pipsqueak was.

"And you must be Stray, Gotham's newest supervillain." Jason kept his voice flat and unimpressed.

"Supervillain?" Stray's eyes widened in mock horror. "Me?" He slunk closer to Jason. "Surely, you wouldn't think me capable of a crime. How could a little thing like me be a 'supervillain'?" He was in Jason's personal space for barely a second before retreating and lounging on the edge of the building. Glaring quickly, Jason turned to leave but a laugh stopped him. "You don't like me. Why?" He turned and the kid was sitting cross-legged, waiting for Jason to answer, as if all the universe's questions could be answered by Jason.

"You are arrogant-"

"So are you. We are teenagers. It happens."

"You are annoying. Always following us."

"I wouldn't take it personally. I followed Grayson as well when he was Robin."

"You are s- Grayson? What are you talking about." Jason stared the kid down but he smiled, standing gracefully from his pretzel.

"Don't mock me. Richard Grayson was first. Now, it's Jason Todd. Bruce always stays the same." Their eyes met for a moment. Then Jason exploded.

He wasn't sure what the kid had expected but obviously, Jason's attack had not been in his plan. He sprawled when Jason hit him and fumbled, trying to get away. Jason grabbed his arms and pinned them in one hand above his head. "Does B know you know our identities?" The boy underneath him ignored Jason, trying to work himself free. With his free hand he grabbed Stray's face and pulled it toward him. "Answer me!"

"Yes. I mean, Alfred's caught me in the Manor." He tried to move his legs but Jason's weight was too much for him to shift easily. He growled at Jason, trying to remove the hand on his face.

"Then it's only fair that I know yours." Jason grabbed the goggles and pulled them off the kid's face. Stray struggled and bit but they were off within seconds. He closed his eyes and tilted his head to the side, as if hiding. His hair flopped over his face but it did little to hide him. Stray had high cheekbones and arched brows, still strong enough to be masculine but almost aristocratic. Jason pulled an eye open with his thumb and forefinger and saw a glimpse of bright blue. Sighing, he pushed himself off and let the kid go. Stray scrambled away and pulled back on his goggles. "As entertaining as that was, I have no idea who you are."

The boy stared for a second and then laughed. "Yeah. Not as high profile as Grayson, I guess."

"Join the club." Jason leaned against the wall and snorted. "I could probably go around without a mask. Not like I have any family anymore that villains could hurt."

"But then Bruce took you in and that could cause people to wonder so you had to wear the mask."

"Yep." Laughing (the Stray had a musical laugh), he came and leaned next to Jason. "Really though, You know my name. Do I get one from you?" The eyes that Jason now knew were blue smiled behind the goggles.

"You have it. Stray is my name."

"Has it always been?"

"As long as Stray has existed, that has been his name." Jason swung at the snarky answer but the kid ducked, grinning happily.

"I don't get a back story?"

"Not much to give. Selina took me in. Killer Croc took me in. Basically, my life thus far."

Damn kid was evasive. "Before you became the Stray?"

"Doesn't exist. It's gone. I don't have to protect my secret identity because I am Stray."

"And yet, you didn't want me to see your face."

He shrugged and smiled sideways. "Still a work in process." Suddenly his head shot up and he ran off. Kid was fast, before Jason made it two steps he was already off the building. The presence of his mentor materialized behind him.

"Have fun?"

"You're doing it again. Setting me up, trying to get me to detective my way out of it. Joke's on you though." Jason smirked at the black figure. "Stray and I are friends now. Brat is rather charming."

Chapter Text

Little Big Eyes was going to get it. It had taken far too long for her to put the pieces together but once Barbara heard Dick and Bruce talking about Stray, everything clicked. The kid had played her. Came up all innocent and sweet and had tricked her! She'd been chasing him for weeks trying to figure out who had gotten into her computer and how. Only for it to be the little kid who had came for two more lessons after the first one!

Barbara had found the spy he planted in her computer. It was subtle and small and it was homemade. The kid's technological fingerprint was all over it. It was child's play to insert that fingerprint into her algorithms. There was a few other styles similar to it but only one here in Gotham- an device that connected itself to the internet and hid itself. Not from her, though. Barbara had found him.

When Bruce had found out who she was going after, he sent Dick with her. Only explanation he got was that, "I made the mistake of leaving Jason alone with him. I won't make the same mistake twice." Whatever that meant. Jason looked just fine to her.

"So, Batgirl," Dick followed her across the city as she tracked the signal. "What exactly are we planning to do with the kid when we find him?"

"Fillet him and put his lying heart on a stick."

"Ummm..... Does B know because he might object-"

"Shut up, Nightwing." She turned and headed into the slums of the city, ignoring Dick's mumbles about "abusive girlfriends." The signal had finally stopped moving and was located in a warehouse. Even from the head of the block, she could hear the shouts.

"That doesn't sound good." They ran to the building and slipped in a side entrance. "Holy Gotham, is that-?" Dick didn't finish his sentence, just cut off as they watched the kid as he fought. There were five other men in the ring with him and yet the kid was winning. Killer Croc prowled around the edges of the ring, occasionally calling out comments. The fighters' bare chests were slick with sweat and the building was full of gasps and shouts. Dick winced in sympathy as the kid punched one of his opponents in the eye. "Kid has got a mean swing- Batgirl?"

Killer Croc didn't even have time to shout. Barbara landed on his back and injected him with a tranquilizer developed specifically for him. He dropped like a bag of rocks. The fighters in the center didn't seem to notice. "Not good." Dick ducked down and considered closing his eyes. Barbara grabbed a fighter and threw them out of the fight, taking their place and slamming her fist into Stray's nose. Once again, Dick winced. Stray hit hard but getting hit by Barbara hurt! Especially when she was mad. Stray rolled with the hit and quickly got in a defensive position. Barbara was moving fast, though, constantly attacking and forcing him to move and block. The other fighters scattered and left. Dick had originally thought she was peeved. Nope. She was enraged. Kid didn't stand a chance.

Dick made his way to the fight but Stray was already in handcuffs by then.

"Anything we can arrest him for?" Barbara glared down at him.

"Attacking a police officer, maybe. That could put him away for six months, at the least, but Batgirl, maybe you-" She switched the glare to Dick and he shut up. She was scary. The kid looked at him with pleading eyes. His hair was shaggy and hanging in his big blues eyes. Blood was drying under his nose from Barbara's attack and he looked pretty innocent. Barbara knelt down in front of the boy, out of the range of his arms.

"Do you know why I'm here?"

Stray studied her for a moment then leaned back and smiled wryly. At some point, his lips had been cut and the wound stretched painfully as he smiled. "I could play dumb or I could assume this is about the lessons."

"This is about you lying to me."

"Yes, I lied. I stole too. What exactly was my other option?" He looked unnaturally comfortable for someone in handcuffs. Barbara looked ready to kill.

"Do you know how much damage was caused by your little escapades?"

"None. The spy is harmless, unless you tore your computer files apart looking for it. And the breakout went perfectly. I had it under control."

"You messed with me, with my system, with my stupid, soft heart. Did you think I was going to laugh and let you go?"

"That was the hope." He shifted his arms, stretching out the soreness. "I didn't try to mock you. I wanted to learn and you are the best teacher I could find."

"And you couldn't just tell me that!?"

"I did."

"You said it but you didn't 'just.' You also lied to me."

"I didn't want to get caught. I am living with a criminal. Wariness of authority figures comes with the rent." He smiled and it seemed too angelic to fit with his words. "I apologize for stealing from you, however; it was necessary." He looked up at Barbara and there were some intense moments of eye contact before Dick pulled her away.

"That's it, right? He apologized. We're good now?"

Barbara scowled at him but sighed. "Little liar, I still want to throttle him but- he was good. Call it professional envy. The kid is smart, clever. In a few years, it's going to be hard for me to keep up." Dick smiled in relief and turned back to- empty handcuffs? They glanced around and noticed that Croc was gone as well. Where'd they go?

---------

Croc handed an ice pack to Stray and he laid it gingerly on his nose.

"Well....lessons went well." Croc snorted at the false upbeatness in Stray's voice. They'd enlisted a couple of ring fighters to practice with Stray. Bats had not been part of the plan.

"What did you do to make her angry?"

Stray pulled the ice off his nose to feel at the tenderness with his fingers. "I tricked her into thinking I was small and adorable."

"Haven't you done that to half of Gotham?"

"Guess she's just delicate." Croc laughed and reached over. His finger poked Stray's nose and he yelped, tears filling his eyes.

"Yeah, she's delicate alright."

Chapter Text

Stray was lounging watching the chaos. He didn't know who the wacko with the ninjas was but he was pretty intense. Batman was getting beat. How was that possible? The goggles zoomed in on the ninja man and he could barely follow the man's actions. He was fast as a snake and every strike was calculated. Batman was always a blow or two behind and he was paying for it. Blood dripped out of cuts and he stumbled occasionally. Batgirl and Nightwing weren't helping. They seemed to be occupied with the ninjas around them. Robin was holding his own but he was get drawn away from the group. Sighing, Stray stood. There was a trap being drawn around Robin and he didn't even seem to notice. With lesser villains, Stray would have stayed out of it but these ninjas were deadly and Robin's mistake was going to get him killed.

---------
Jason laughed as he pummeled a ninja. It backed away and he swung to face others. It was constant attacks from all areas and the adrenaline was flowing. He sensed someone coming behind him and Robin threw a ninja over his shoulder into the attackers. In his peripheral vision, a shadow landed. A batarang was instantly out and flying but the shadow ducked gracefully and instantly moved to attacking the ninjas. Oh, friendly. Cool. The shadow was fast and flexible and shirtless? He turned to catch a glimpse of pale skin. Then he saw the red googles. Stray. A chuckle escaped his lips. Stray was a weirdo but he seemed nice enough. The fight continued smoothly and Jason almost forgot about Stray's presence. The only reminder was that he didn't have people attacking his back. He glanced over at Bruce and froze. He was on the ground with a katana at his throat. No! Jason moved through the crowd as quickly as he could, fighting and dodging but the ninjas were determined to block him. There was nothing he could shot his grapple gun at. There was no way he could get through! There was-

A small object flew through the air. Ra's turned and sliced it in two as it came near. And then it exploded. Electricity burst out of it and flowing into any metal nearby. Namely, Ra's katana. The charge blazed down the blade and into Ra's hands. A scream rent the air as did the smell of burnt flesh. Then, Jason realized the scream wasn't from Ra's. The villain was grunting and whimpering but no screams. He spun and- Oh. Gotham. Stray was standing, arched on his toes, as if it allowed him some escape. A sword was protruding from his back, glistening red. The scream was from him. It shredded the night, tearing straight into Jason's gut. He felt he was going to be sick. The blade slide out and Stray doubled over, almost falling. The scream died off and there was a moment of silence. Jason glanced at Bruce but he was up and fighting again. He tried to push his way back to Stray but the ninjas had used his distraction to trap him. He couldn't get to him. Between bodies, he could see the kid straighten up and grab his whip off his belt. He struggled to lift it. Somebody blocked his view. Snarling, Jason worked to get out but he was trapped. There were people attacking from all sides. A blade sliced through his uniform and an inch of skin. He couldn't see Barbara or Dick. Jason felt panic flooding him. Gotham, he was going to die, wasn't he. He wasn't ready to die.

A swirling disc flew through the air. Jason jerked back as blood spurted. It had decapitated everyone in its way. The mob of fighters froze and turned. A hulking beast pulled itself out of the gutters. Its scales dripped and shimmered in the lights and there was something terrifying about the beast. Not that it was just huge or intimidating but it felt-it was as if an avenging angel had flow from the heavens and was here to pour out judgement. Except this angel had come from the sewers. A black devil landed on his shoulder. It was dressed in shimmering leather and had yellow devil eyes.

-------
Bruce didn't look up as Killer Croc and Catwoman appeared. Distraction would get him killed in this fight. Even when his men started screaming, Ra's al Ghul kept his eyes on Bruce. Even when a splash of hot blood landed on his cheek, the Demon Head kept his eyes on the Batman. Before, Batman had been faking. It was easy to appeal to Ra's pride and convince him that he was better than Bruce. The shock grenade had disturbed his plans and now both were back to fighting for their lives, no holding back. Batman didn't know who had screamed earlier, just that it wasn't one of his own. He had ignored it until half the Gotham Underworld appeared and then he got a sudden image of who it might have been.

Bruce swung his katana up to Ra's throat. There was a moment of respect passed between the two. Then Ra's was hit in the head with an umbrella and he crumpled. Bruce looked down at the crime lord holding an umbrella.

"I didn't kill him because its your fight. However, he touches Stray again..." The man tipped his top hat and waddled back into the crowd. Bruce put restraints on Ra's and injected him with a tranquilizer. Hopefully, that would keep him down for longer. Bruce looked around. During his fight with Ra's, it had gone from being ninjas and bats to including a Crocodile, a Cat, a Penguin, a Riddler, a Iceman, and many more. It seemed as if the little Stray had many friends. Bruce pushed his way through the crowds, barely needing to fight. He spotted Stray lounging against a building. He had unwound the strips on cloth that he used to brace his forearms and was now stuffing them into a cut in his stomach. Catwoman was in front of him protecting him from any attacks.

"Agent A could patch that." The Stray looked up. His goggles were missing and it was painfully obvious to anyone who saw that he was Timothy Jackson Drake. That wasn't the priority right now. Batman approached and knelt. The kid leaned back to allow him a better look. The wound was all the way through and Stray was bleeding profusely. His already pale skin was almost transparent. Batman picked Stray up and felt the thin arms wrap gently around his neck. There was a deceptive amount of muscle on the kid. Batman could feel the rock solid muscles in his thighs and the ripples on muscle on his back. He made a mental note not to underestimate him. As he pushed his way through the crowd and to the Batmobile, he felt his partners flock to him. By the time he was loading Stray in, all were there. Robin held out his arms and Batman placed the light load in his care. The car sped away and was followed for a while by Catwoman but finally she landed behind it and watched it disappear.

Chapter Text

Jason climbed out of the car, holding the kid in his arms. Some point during the ride, he had passed out. Alfred immediately rushed over, taking the child and laying him on the medical examination table. Jason felt the tackiness of drying blood on his suit. He looked down and realized the front of his suit was almost covered. So much...blood. He stumbled over to a trash can and puked. He wasn't queasy around blood or wounds but the thought that this was Stray's, that he might be dying.... It made him sick. A hand settled on his back.

"Let's get you out of this suit." Barbara's voice was soft and sweet.

"No." Jason forced himself away from the trash can. "I want to stay with Stray." He stumbled to the table. Alfred was flitting around. Already they had an IV attached and had a blood transfusion started. Alfred worked the cloth out of the wound. Blood started flowing again. He cleaned the wound quickly.

"Computer, run a diagnosis." A scan of blue light then the computer posted result on its screen.

Barbara read them off. "Puncture wound. Clean through. Damaged both the small intestine and the large. Barely missed his spinal cord. Blood Pressure- 90 over 60. That's borderline Hypotension. Heartbeat is weak but steady. Lungs aren't damaged and oxygen levels are okay." As she talked, Alfred prepared a needle, numbed the area, and then started his stitching.

Barbara tried to cox Jason away but he refused to move, staying just out of the way of Alfred, just close enough that he could see. Stray's face was passive, ass if he didn't feel the needle passing through his organs. He probably didn't with all the pain killer he was on. Alfred finished off and checked Stray's vitals. "Everything is fine, young master Todd. All he needs is a little rest."

"I'll stay with him."

"Not until you have changed and put some food in your stomach. And not until I have checked you over. Not all that blood belongs to...Stray." Alfred said the name as if it was distasteful. Jason's head jerked up.

"What? You don't like him?" His face started to harden in defense of his friend.

"It's not the child I dislike. It's the name." He smiled gently as Jason's feathers were soothed. "Let us go get some food. I'm sure Master Grayson will gladly watch the boy while you get cleaned up." Dick froze from where he was walking back to his bike. He had already changed and eaten.

"Me?"

"Of course, unless you would rath-"

"No! No." He chuckled awkwardly. He always made a point to choose the first of Alfred's options. "I'll watch the kid." He meandered over to the table and sat on a stool. "Bring me down another sandwich though, will you Jason?"

Jason ignored him and walked off to the showers.

"Moody teen." He looked back toward the kid on the table. "So...we just going to chill here?" The boy didn't move. Sighing, Dick went over to the computer and dropped into the cushy chair. Stray's medical files were up except- Holy Gotham Hospital. This was Timothy Drake! He'd been missing for over a year! He looked back at the kid. Honestly, he was a stick. Looked as if he'd been starved. Killer Croc probably kidnapped him. The way they had acted together though, Tim must have Stockholm Syndrome. He flipped through the file, just scrolling to allow him mind to work. Bruce had to know this was Timothy. Why hadn't he rescued him? Probably because Bruce was an idiot.

Dick shoved out of the chair and paced, trying to sooth his anger but it just piled up. Bruce was such a hypocrite. One bullet was all it took and Bruce had thrown him away- telling him that he couldn't be Robin. Now there's some kid on the street and Bruce lets him do whatever he wants? Didn't make sense. Maybe Bruce was keeping him as a spare. In case anything happened to Jason. All he'd have to do is rescue the kid and BOOM! He'd have a Robin. Because apparently Dick was that replaceable. After all, he'd gotten replaced by a street kid who was trying to steal the Batmobile's tires.

Dick saw Jason emerged from the shower. "You watch him." He strode to his bike and rode away. Jason blinked at where he had been.

"Moody adult." He sat next to Stray and studied him. Stray intrigued him. He dressed like a mini version of Killer Croc, fought like Catwoman, and was banned from playing poker in the Iceberg Lounge. He and Bruce had gone into the Lounge before, to pick up some information and Stray was in there, playing riddle games with the Riddler and practicing Mandarine Chinese with Bane. All the criminals in Gotham knew him. He was sassy and classy (he had seen him waltzing alone on a rooftop once), and utterly incomprehensible. He was slim and short but the little body mass he did have was lean muscle that was traced with scars. Scaly looking scars climbing his forearms. Bite marks on his legs. A light silver streak across his cheek bone. The closer he looked, the more he saw. He leaned in closer. And, of course, that was when Stray woke up.

He looked at the black haired boy that leaned over him. "Hello."

"Um." Jason jerked back and sat on the chair. "Hi." He grinned awkwardly. "I was just- I don't even know." He slumped and covered his face.

"I could care less." Stray smiled lazily. "I creep on you too."

"What?"

"Mr. Pennyworth caught me when I was exploring the Manor. Didn't you hear about that?"

"No." Jason frowned. "Were you in my room?"

"Yeah. I like your book collection. Though, I always liked Edger Alan Poe better than Henry Wadsworth Longfellow."

"Of course you would, you little stalker."

Stray laughed. "You have no idea."

Alfred came down the stairs, carrying a tray of food. "I thought you were going to come up, Master Todd."

"I was and then the Dick just walked out. I didn't want to leave Stray alone so I decided to chill down here for a bit."

Alfred frowned in concern but handed Jason some food. "I'm afraid I don't want you eating solids for a bit, Mr. Stray. I can bring down some soup or yogurt if you feel up to it."

"That sounds delicious but not at this moment, Mr. Pennysworth. I think I will sleep for a bit."

"Of course." Alfred disappeared up the stairs again, likely to check on the favorite child, Jason thought bitterly.

"He's a nice man." Stray's voice was tired and his face was drooping with sleep.

"Yeah. Alfred's the coolest."

Chapter Text

Stray watched the blue light as it scanned his body. "What kind of program is this?"

"Don't answer him, Alfred. The kid will probably steal it." Barbara check his vitals. "All good. No infection, you're healing well. Do you need more pain killers?"

"How large is the program?" Stray sat up and made to stand but Bruce put a firm hand on his shoulder, holding him down. "If I could transfer that program onto my goggles, it would be really useful."

Jason raised an eyebrow disbelievingly. "How many upgrades have you packed into those things?"

"Nearly 50. I have to upgrade them though. I could combine a couple and nix some of the more useless ones."

"How do they even fit?"

Stray picked up the goggles from a side table and sighed. "They don't really. I had to make a new frame and I don't even use the lenses they came with. I should really just make my own. Penguin helped a lot but the amount of work it takes to make these things work is ridiculous. But I have over 70 pairs left and I have to do something with them. Sometimes I just weaponize them and throw them off buildings so I have less to deal with." Bruce plucked the goggles from his hands. "I wasn't going to do it in here." Bruce grunted.

Barbara snatched the goggles away and slipped them over her red hair. "What kind of programs do you use?" She toggled through options occasionally pausing to "Oooh!" in delight.

"A variety. Not everything fits my programing so I often have to write my own. LEXCORP programs fit well but I still fiddle with them a bit."

"LEXCORP?" Bruce snagged the eyewear. "Did you remove any trackers or-"

"Taken care of. There was one obvious one and then at least three more hidden. Their products are worth the hassle though. Their work in microcomputers in unparalleled."

"How do you know? Did you access their files?"

"Of course. I have been trained by the top five hackers in Gotham. It was child's play. Lex Luthor only keeps his own programs under his security and no one I know can break into those in under a month. Took me two weeks to make it pass the outer layer. The rest took two months. There wasn't really all that much interesting stuff. Most of it revolved around Superman." Stray pushed himself up and ducked under Alfred's hands. He glanced around the cave. "What is with the penny and the Tyrannosaurus Rex?" "Dino Island and Penny Plunderer." Batman watched Stray as he wandered the cave. The boy's hands traced over one of Robin's bikes. He looked up at the ceiling and just stood for a moment, listening to the bats and to the water. Finally he moved, stretching tentatively, trying not to aggravate his stitches. Stray strode to the stairway out of the Batcave before pausing on the first step and glancing back. "Was it the grandfather clock or the display case by the piano?" All the Bats went still except Jason who keeled over laughing. "Is it both?"

"No, it's the clock but," He interrupted his sentence with more hysteria. "Barbara and Bruce were convinced it was impossible to find the entrance."

Stray snorted and trotted up the stairs. "Bruce Wayne hides his wallet in his sock drawer. Why did anyone trust him to hide the secret entrance?"

--------

It took days to convince Alfred to let him go out and even then, he had to go with Jason. Stray gave directions to Jason through the comms in the motorcycle helmet and they ended up outside a darkened museum. Everything was just closing. Stray swung off the bike and knocked on the museum door. Jason watched him pound on the door for a few minutes. "Who are we looking for exactly? The museum head? If it's Catwoman, I don't think she'll answer in the middle of a heist-" The door opened and Stray gave a wave to Jason and disappeared in. He sat on the bike for a minute before driving off with a laugh.

--------

"I'm okay, Selina. All patched up. See?"

"You worried me. Even Oswald was worried about you."

"I'm okay. You all are okay. I didn't mean to worry anyone."

"You didn't mean- You idiot! You got involved in hero affairs! What did you expect to happen? Heroes have a higher death rate than villains! You can't just throw yourself into the fray, trying to be heroic! That's how people die! Don't hug me! You little-"

"I feel the same way about you."

"Fine. As long as we're on the same page."

Chapter Text

Dick had been trailing Stray, no- Timothy, for days now. Every time he got off work, Nightwing would suit up and follow Stray. For a kidnapped kid, he got a lot of freedom. The Stockholm Syndrome must have really messed with the kid's head. Timothy and Catwoman interacted with each other as if they were family, not as if she was a kidnapper and he was her victim. Maybe she was innocent but even Killer Croc was, well... nice never described the Croc but...comfortable with him? Timothy teased him and wasn't afraid to make him mad. People who had been kidnapped often fell prey to Stockholm Syndrome to appease their tormentor, trying to find a way to make them treat them kindly. Timothy had no such compunctions. He would pounce on Croc, startling him. Often, he'd drag him out to force Croc to do things with him. Like get ice cream or go see a movie. Timothy wasn't acting like a victim of kidnapping...

There had to be a reason why Timothy stayed on the streets. Maybe his home life was messed up enough that it seemed normal but, that was impossible! The Drakes were Bruce's neighbors. He or Alfred would have noticed that something was up. Maybe...Timothy was crazy? He could be mentally disturbed...

Dick sighed and stared at the computer he had typed his theories onto. None seemed plausible. Well! He pushed out of the chair and pulled on a shirt. His jacket was thrown over it and a helmet tucked under his arm. Psychiatrists always asked about the childhood of a person. Maybe he better go see where Timothy was raised, meet his family.

It was a bit of a drive from Bludhaven but the area of the Drake Manor was very familiar. The building was in the same neighborhood as the Wayne Manor. How had he not realized Stray was the neighbor kid? Probably cause the kid was so shy when he was younger. Dick almost never saw him. The kid never went outside and he and his family always left on vacations. There was no gate in front, just an open driveway right up to the front. Much more welcoming than Bruce's house, though he'd never say that to Alfred. The door had a dragon knocker and Dick laughed to himself. Drake, dragon. Clever. He knocked three times. The sound echoed through his hands and sent a shiver down his spine. What was that about? Dick knocked again. Nothing. Huh. He could leave or.....

Being a Bat meant they had little respect for privacy. It was always important to know everything about everyone. Dick turned the knob and the door opened. Weird. He entered the house and shivered, this time from the cold. There was no heat in the house and chill seemed to have built up in the marble of the Manor. He paused as he passed a chess set in the hall. It was disturbingly familiar. Why was Bruce's chess set here? He looked around, forcing his eyes away from the game. The walls were covered with art pieces and fragments or archeological finds. That's right. The Drakes were big on archaeology. The further he went in the house, the more Dick realized what was missing. Next to the fragments of pottery or ancient tapestries, there were pictures of Jack and Janet Drake when they had found the piece. They were pictures from all over the world. But there was no Timothy in them. Not a single one. The only picture of Timothy that he found was a baby picture. One of his parents holding him. It would have been precious except- ice eyes. Janet Drake smiled beautifully but her eyes were cold as ice. Jack wasn't even looking at the camera. Timothy's baby face looked up at Janet in adoration but she didn't seem to see him.

Dick tried to brushed off the feeling but gave in and searched the entire house. No where. There was no other picture of Timothy and his parents together. On the wall of Timothy's room was a picture of him with his fourth grade class. They were all smiling and crowded together. Except Timothy. He was in a suit on the fringe of the crowd. He was wearing his mother's smile. All of Timothy's room was equally disturbing. The shelves were full of children's books. His desk drawer had hand drawn blueprints and a collection of poems, full of annotations. There was nothing in his closet but dress clothes. Dick tried to convince himself that Stray had taken his belongings with him but his gut told him it wasn't true. Who was Timothy Drake? If Dick was trying to determine that by the room, he'd say he was a five year old. But the desk drawers and the stashes of papers showed that Drake was a teenager and quite an intelligent one. Maybe even a genius. Why was his room so childish?

This place gave him the creeps. Dick made his way through the exit but stopped in the kitchen. There was a two year calendar on the wall. The entire month was marked off for a trip in Belize. Dick flipped back for months until he found the day Timothy had been reported missing. His parents had been home for about two weeks. Before that they had been gone on and off for months. Months. Maybe Timothy was with them but... Dick doubted it. Had he been alone?

The door shut behind him and Dick slid onto his bike. As a cop, he should report Timothy. But he couldn't. Tim would end up in this cold house again. With the ice-eyed dragon lady. Damn his bleeding heart. The motorcycle kicked into gear and roared away.

Chapter Text

Stray was confined to the couch.

"If you move your injured butt one inch, I will know. So you better stay there and get healed up." Selina slipped out of the apartment and left Stray. He hated this. The confinement, the boredom. His computer was opened and Stray flipped through his files. His bug in the Batcave had new files. Fun. Stray clicked through them at double speeds nothing interesting- oh. Dick was there. He better not be planning to follow Stray around again. Stray had about turned around and mauled the vigilante as he trailed Stray through Gotham. Dude couldn't be stealthy if he tried. Stray just hoped he would keep away from him. He didn't like to be followed.

"B, I'm going to be gone for a month or two-"

"Yeah! Dickie Bird is gone! Whoop Whoop!" Jason did a cartwheel across the floor, going in between Bruce and Dick. Both ignored him.

"Where to and why?"

"Space. I've got a mission with some other heroes. Is that okay, mom?" The sarcasm at the end burned Stray's ears. Dick and Bruce must still be on bad terms.

There were more words passed between them but nothing too important. Space mission? Nightwing had joined the Teen Titans and various other hero organizations but space was kind of a big deal. Dick was moving up in the world. Stray pulled a box of takeout Chinese closer and clicked through the rest of the files. Nothing important. Dick's departure had been a few days ago and it seemed Gotham was quiet.

A new video popped up. Someone had entered the Batcave and this was live film so he'd have to watch it at normal speeds but it wasn't as if Stray had anything else to do.

"Alfred, why won't he let me go out and help him? You said yourself, I'm a natural!"

"Young Master Jason, Bruce trusts you, however his visit to Arkham Asylum opened some new concerns for him and he'd feel better if you were in the Manor and not out today."

"What does that even mean?"

A message appeared on the computer and Jason ran over to answer it. It opened to a video of Batman.

-"Alfred, keep Jason in, don't let him out. Joker is on the loose and-" He paused and sucked in a breathe. "Commissioner Gordan has been captured and Barbara has been sh-shot." He composed himself. "The bullet hit her spine. She's paralyzed. Waist down. I'm going after the Joker. Please, Alfred. Keep him safe."-

The video ended and there was a silence. Alfred put a hand on Jason's shoulder. "I'm sure Master Bruce will be safe and the doctors will take care of Ms. Gordan-"

"Alfred, we have to go see her! Maybe the doctors messed up. I'm sure we could fix her back! She'll be okay, right? She'll be able to walk and fight and be Batgirl?"

Alfred shook his head slowly. "I'm afraid we shouldn't leave the Manor at this time. Ms. Gordan probably won't be awake right now anyway. And... I'm not sure. Ms. Gordan is a very strong-willed woman but even heroes must obey the demands of their bodies."

Stray cut the connection. Barbara? Why had the Joker targeted her and how did he get out of Arkham? Stray hacked into the Asylum's network and went through every video feed for months. Nothing. No sign of tampering either so- No. Oh, Gotham. He felt sick. No, No, NO! He had to be wrong! He rocked himself and thought back to every moment of Croc's Arkham breakout. There was nothing, right? Except for the warning. A screen had popped up but Stray had ignored it, seeing it as a flicker in his peripheral. Barbara had almost traced the computer to him and he had panicked. it must have been Joker. Hell, the Joker got out because Arkham and the Bats were focusing on him. Stray grabbed the waste can and threw up. No...

------

Selina entered through the window. Joker was out. It was safer to be away from the psycho. You could never guess where he'd turn up next. Stray was off the couch. Damn kitten. Where was he? She turned and caught sight of Stray rocking himself in the corner.

"Stray? Are you alright? Let me see your stomach." She knelt and reached for his hoodie but Stray shook his head frantically. "What's wrong."

"Barbara was shot."

"Barbara? Who's Barbara?"

"The Joker shot her."

"The Joker shoots a lot of people, kitten. There's no need to be scared."

"I'm not scared. I'm... disgusted. With myself. If I hadn't been so arrogant, she'd be okay."

"Stray, what are you talking about." Selina shook him, trying to get Stray to look at her. He jerked his head around and she saw his eyes were wide with madness.

"I drew the attention. Everyone was looking at us and no one realized Joker was free. I practically opened the doors for him. I practically gave him the gun!" Stray stood and started pacing.

"You're not making sense! Stray-"

"Listen to me!" Stray yelled. He took deep breathes to center himself, then carried on. "When I broke Killer Croc out of jail, the Joker escaped too. He switched places with a double so no one would notice. The Bats wouldn't have noticed anyway because they were so focused on Croc's escape and the car chase after. I am the reason the Joker escaped."

"There is no way he could have known when you were breaking Croc out. Even you didn't know!"

"But if it hadn't been that day, he would have gotten caught. Am I wrong?" Stray shoved hands into his hair. "If I hadn't been screwing around with the system, Barbara wouldn't be paralyzed!" He breathed shakily and then sat on the couch. His body trembled. "I've really screwed it up, Selina."

Selina didn't say anything. She couldn't even disagree.

---------

Barbara wiggled her fingers. What a useful skill. What good was a Batgirl who was confined to a wheelchair? She let out a huff of air and dropped her arm to the bed. No good. She was a crippled Bat. She couldn't fly, couldn't fight. She was useless. The only comfort was that her dad was alive. That was, literally, her only comfort. Her boyfriend, Dick was off in space and they couldn't contact him. Bruce wouldn't tell her what happened between him and the Joker. Jason was a hysterical mess. Alfred was steadfast as always but she didn't want steadfast. Barbara wanted to be angry.

Chapter Text

When Bruce returned to the Batcave, everything was different. Jason was sullen and avoided eye contact with Bruce. Alfred, though seemingly the same, was just a bit more attentive to him, checking him over worriedly. This was the first time anyone had been injured severely. This was the reason Bruce took Robin away from Dick. He collapsed in the chair by the computer and ran his hands roughly through his hair. He couldn't do this. Bruce couldn't lose anyone else. His family had been killed. He had watched them die. Bruce had become a hero to protect people. And now he was killing his own team. He walked over to where the suits hung. Compared to his own, Jason's was tiny. He was just a child, if he died- and Barbara. She was paralyzed. She wasn't even legal to drink and now she'd never walk again. He leaned his head against the wall. He couldn't do this. Batman would have to stop. Robin and Batgirl and Nightwing would have to be disbanded. The Teen Titans too. Maybe even the Justice League as Bruce had gotten too close. If anyone of them died-

Alfred entered the cave and walked to his side. Even in the midst of his despair, Bruce smiled. Alfred always knew when he was needed. A old, wrinkled hand rested on his shoulder and Bruce basked in the warmth of it. The solidarity in the ancient bones. "I have to stop, Alfred. I can't let anyone else die because of what we are doing."

"Master Bruce. I think you are not thinking clearly. No," He cut off Bruce's protests with The Look and continued. "The Joker did not attack Barbara as a attack against Batman. Not even his torment of Commissioner Gordan was aimed at you. That was him trying to prove himself to the city. He didn't even consider you in his plans. Even if he did, your partners have made their choices. If I remember correctly, you have tried you best to discourage all of them from joining you but they have made their choices and now you must respect them."

"They are all so young."

"Yes, they are, Master Bruce. But they are fine youngsters, perhaps the best in the city. You could not ask for more wise or dedicated group. They understand your mission and want to protect Gotham. This is their home as well. Let them protect it." Alfred briefly touched Bruce's shoulder again and then turned and returned up the stairs. Bruce sighed but his smile appeared again. One does not argue with Alfred.

-------

Barbara woke as someone slipped through her window. She saw the shadow creep to her bed, tentative and almost trembling. It crept to her side and laid a laptop by her side.

"I customized it to your style. It is top of the line LEXCORP. Not even on the market yet." A pale hand pushed it closer. "Please take it."

"Why?" Barbara laughed softly. "It doesn't make a difference now, does it. What can I do with a computer? " She shoved it off the bed. The shadow jumped back. It shivered and the room was silent. Barbara pushed her red hair out of her face. Her eyes sparkled for a moment. "I want to fight. I want to fly again." Her head turned and her body shook. "I'm useless. Dick's going to come home, wanting to go swing across roof tops with me. Just like we used to. Our favorite date spot is on one of the gargoyles of City Hall. You think I can get up there now? What is he going to think when he comes home to a cripple?"

"You're not useless." The shadow stepped into the moonlight and it lit the determination streaked across Stray's face. "You aren't. You're the best hacker I know! Just think of what you could do! You could rule the world. Barbara, you can't imagine the power you ha-"

"I DON'T WANT IT!" She shoved herself up as much as possible. Her voice cracked. "I want my legs. I want to walk."

"I'm sorry."

"I don't want your pity."

"No. I'm sorry." His face was covered with regret.

"What are you trying to say Stray? It's not like you gave him my address. You didn't open the cell for him."

"But I distracted you."

"By what? Getting injured?"

"No. He must have been planning for months. He escaped at the same time as I broke out Killer Croc. I'm sorry! I wasn't paying attention! I got caught up in the escape and I didn't notice-"

"Croc's escape." Her voice was quiet but it shut him up. "He got out while we were all chasing you." Her laugh wasn't happy. It was terrifying. "I'm crippled because Batman decided to go street racing after criminals he knew were harmless. Get out."

"I'm sorry."

"Get out, Stray. I don't want to ever see you again."

He slipped back into the shadows and out her window. The room was empty but for a girl who used to fly.

----------

Jason sat on his bed scrolling through his emails. He had been to the hospital but he didn't know what to say to Barbara. The shooting had made him remember just how alone he was. Barbara could be dead. Jason had so few people that he loved that he couldn't afford to lose another. His dad was dead, his mother....and now Barbara had almost left him too. It made the grief he felt all the sharper. What if someone else died? Jason didn't think he would survive it.

Chapter Text

Stray stayed out of the Bat Family's way. Anytime he caught sight of them, Stray would run and hide. Occasionally Jason made chase but eventually, they left him alone. That was what he deserved. Stray didn't deserve to have them pay attention to him. Bad children were locked in their room and forgotten about.

For a week or two, Stray had hidden from Selina as well but she didn't like that so Stray tried to find some other way to make up for it. He'd join her when Catwoman went to raid museums or mansions. If she got into fights, Stray was at her side. He trained hard and learned as much as he could about fighting and stealing. Catwoman taught him to infiltrate parties and pick pockets. Anything she suggested, Stray learned. He didn't want to give her another reason to abandon him.

-------

Bruce watched Jason warily. He had been acting unpredictable all month. He had been vicious in the streets and borderline clingy at the Manor- except for the times when he yelled at everyone and locked himself in his room. Unless Bruce was sure something was wrong, he wouldn't butt in.

The Manor was quiet. Alfred was puttering in the kitchen and Jason was on his computer. They were the only noise in the house. Dick wasn't back yet. He couldn't get a hold of him. Bruce had considered sending Clark out to find him but there was no telling how long that would take or what chaos would rise in his absence. Dick would be back soon. He kept telling himself that and trying to tell Barbara that.

Barbara was not doing well. She was depressed and angry. Mood swings always kept her off balance. Jason had taken to avoiding visits with her as she'd take her anger out on him, yelling and throwing things. At least she was back at home. Her paranoia about her father and his safety kept her from too much contemplation on her circumstance. Didn't stop Bruce from worrying though. She was not well and she wouldn't accept help. Barbara was headed down a dark path unless she turned herself around and Bruce sincerely hoped she would. Barbara was too good a person and a vigilante to be destroyed by an injury.

-------

Stray was banned from the Iceberg Lounge again. Oswald's bouncers had thrown him out a half hour ago and now he waited on the curb for the talk he knew was coming. The streetlights seemed so useless in the Gotham night. Smog made them into indistinct glows that lit nothing. The curb was rocky and dirty beneath him but it was grounding, keeping Stray from drifting away on his own sporadic thoughts. There were sirens wailing and muffled shouts. A tapping came from behind him.

Stray turned and watched Oswald approach, leaning heavily on his umbrella. His joints were hurting today. Oswald's normally stoic face was twisted in pain but he came and sat next to Stray. They stared into the night in silence. A gunshot echoed in the night and they heard a scream. Then, silence. They let it float between them before Oswald finally broke.

"You know why you are kicked out?"

"No. I didn't annoy anyone or trick any big mob boss out of too much money. It was only a few thousand." He looked guiltily at his hands but Oswald only laughed.

"Really? Who'd you get it from."

"Some Falcone. I really don't pay attention anymore."

"I could care less, as long as you don't bring them down on the Lounge." He leaned against a lamppost so he got a better view of Stray's face.

"I make sure they are angry only at me and that they realize my affiliations are my own."

"Hm... And that is where the problem comes in. You keep them angry at you. Stray," Oswald rubbed at his eyes tiredly. "You had six separate death threats tonight. All are from people who will carry them out, willingly. Are you trying to get killed?"

"No. I just don't mind getting into trouble."

"You are getting into trouble that you will not be able to dig yourself out of. This isn't like playing with the Bats. Bats don't kill. These men want your blood."

Stray looked away. "And...if I was willing to give it up?"

"I would send you to Metropolis to a mental asylum. Please tell me that was hypothetical."

"It was."

"Good. Tell me if that changes."

"So you can send me to an asylum?"

"So I can make sure you go to a nice asylum. We're talking white walls, not those nasty stone things they have in Arkham. Padded cells. Decent meals. If they put ratings on asylums, I'll make sure yours is five stars. Maybe four. Depends how generous I'm feeling." He chuckled quietly and Stray joined him.

"I'm make sure to return the favor."

"Good. Now stay out of my Lounge until your head is screwed on straight."

"Yes, sir."

Stray watched as Oswald Cobblepot heaved himself up and hobbled back into the neon lit club. He stayed out in the black night.

Chapter Text

Batman was right below him. Stray's arms shook as he held himself braced against the walls. He didn't want to be in their way and he didn't want to talk to them. Well, maybe he did but Barbara didn't want him talking to them and he was going to respect that. Batman knocked the thugs around and captured them. He raced toward the stairs that Jason had disappeared up. A scream came from outside the building and both Batman and Stray turned their heads to look out the window. A man was falling, face toward the sky and arms flailing. He passed out of their sight and his cry was cut off suddenly. Batman stood frozen then sprinted up the stairs.

Stray dropped lightly to the ground. He needed to get out of there but...

"What just happened, Jason?" Batman's voice rumbled through the ceiling.

"He fell." Robin was relaxed and unconcerned.

"I realize that. How?"

"He must have slipped. Not like it matters. He was a rapist, B. And a murderer. Isn't it better if he dies?"

"Not at our hands. Batman doesn't kill."

"Good thing I'm just Robin then." There was a bite to the sentence.

"You are associated with me. We can't kill, Robin. Any punishment for criminals has to come from the authorities. We only bring them to justice."

"So, what? We're some kind of police dogs? Golden Retrievers? I don't think so." A cynical laugh sent shivers down Stray's spine. "The Gotham authorities are corrupt. We need to deal with them on our own."

"When we transcend the law, we become criminals. I am doing all I can to correct the corruption. There are good people in their. Gordon for example."

"He's practically the only one."

"That's not the point here. Why didn't you save him?"

"Why should I?"

"Robin. Listen to me. We don't kill. We don't use guns. After that fiasco last week-"

"You said 'Hold them off!' I did!"

"You fired at them with a gun!"

"Well, they stayed back didn't they? I swear, you're just making up all these rules to punish yourself! Someone shot your parents. Get over it!"

There was a pounding of footsteps and then silence upstairs. He approached the window and watched as Robin ran across the rooftops, Batman following behind. Stray watched them until they vanished. Jason had been off lately. He had always been more aggressive but now, it was dangerous to those on his bad side.

Red and blue lights reached the windows and Stray pulled away from it. He hadn't planned to stay this long. Stray went to the office and dug in the desk. A key was in the pencil box. Stray opened the file cabinet and loaded them into his bag. The fellow who just died had been just a petty criminal but he had connections. Stray wanted to know what they were. Stray cleaned up any prints left behind and climbed the stairs. He slipped out of the same window as Bruce and Jason had and slipped away.

-----------

Bruce roars into the cave in the Batmobile. It had been a long day, he had clues pointing him to Lebanon but who knew what he'd find. Alfred jogged to meet the car before he even removed the key.

"Master Bruce, I'm so glad you've returned."

"What's the trouble, Alfred?"

"I just found this in young Jason's room a short while ago." He held up a small piece of paper.

"What?"

"It's a farewell note. Jason has run away."

Chapter Text

Stray sat in the choir balcony. His back was pressed against the wall facing out into the crowd. Or lack of. Bruce, Alfred, and Barbara were here. So was Commissioner Gordon, but only as moral support for Barbara. He didn't know Jason's identity so he had no idea what had happened. Only that Barbara had been mentoring Bruce Wayne's adopted son and now he was dead. Those four were the only people in the church besides the priest. No one else came to Jason's funeral.

The papers had no explanation for Jason's death. No one knew what had happened. One minute, Bruce Wayne had a son, the next, he was dead. Stray had found it though. A picture posted on Ethiopian social media. The picture was blurry and almost indistinguishable, if not for the brilliant colors of Jason's shredded suit. A shadow was carrying the boy out, a raging inferno as the back drop.

He should have seen it coming. Batman had chased Jason to Liberia around the same time the Joker disappeared. He should have tried to follow. Or temper Jason so that he didn't go racing off alone. Stray would have gone with him if he had asked. He would have stayed with Jason went Batman went off to chase crooks. Even if he burned too, he would have followed Jason. But he hadn't. He hadn't noticed until they were already gone.

The funeral ended beneath him. Gordon left and Barbara quickly followed. Bruce and Alfred stayed, standing by the casket. The building was almost silent, disturbed only by the Bruce's ragged breathing. He stood for fifteen minutes at the casket then turned and stormed out of the church. Stray waited for Alfred's quiet footsteps to recede before he jumped from the balcony, landing behind the casket. It was solid oak, plain and solemn. Stray walked to the front and carefully lifted the lid. He forced himself not to look at Jason. His body was so battered and burned. He didn't even look like himself.

Stray laid a picture on Jason's chest. It was the one he had taken the night Jason met Bruce. He was standing beside the Batmobile, hubcaps laying by it and Jason was looking defiant. Batman was glaring at him but there was a hint of amusement. Stray carefully closed the lid and exited the church just as the men came to take the casket to the graveyard.
-------

Bruce snarled at Clark. He refused to move. Even around Clark's ridiculously large chest, Bruce could see the Joker escaping.

"Get out of my way."

"No. Think about what you are doing."

"I'm ridding the world of a monster."

"You are killing. You said you'd never do it, Batman. You said that you didn't kill."

"Maybe I changed my mind."

"Than what makes you any different from any other villain? Give me one good reason why I shouldn't take you in right now."

"I'd break out of any prison you put me in within a month." Clark gave a sideways smile but didn't move. "I am saving the city."

"Lots of villains think that. Give me your word of honor you won't kill him and the Joker is all yours."

"I don't answer to you, Boy Scout."

"You have to answer to someone."

Bruce shoved past the Kryptonion and glared at the empty streets around them. Joker was gone. Clark was waiting patiently. Hell's Kitchen, he drove Bruce mad. Bruce stormed away and Clark let him.

--------

Joker was in custody but Bruce's blood still burned. Dick had came back from his adventure and had the chutzpah to blame Bruce for Jason's death. He had been so mad that he hit Dick. He shouldn't have but Dick deserved it.*

The Dark Knight glided over the city streets, watching as Gotham residents fled from his shadow. Good. Fear kept the criminals in line. Bruce patrolled the city. It had been a month since Jason's death and the city's crime rates were the lowest they'd ever been, no thanks to the Gotham Police Department. All they did was try to arrest him. He sneered at the thought and landed in an alley. He stormed into a club and broke up the drug deals going on inside. He also broke the dealers' kneecaps. The night continued in the same way but instead of being soothed by the bloodshed, Bruce felt himself get more and more agitated. The reasonable part of his brain told him to get a grip on himself but he couldn't. He needed to protect the city, even at the risk of his own life. He needed to make sure no young person was ever killed again because of his negligence.

Bruce ventured into the business side of Gotham. All was quiet, he- No. Mugger. He dropped into the alley behind the mugger. The person had knocked the victim out and was digging through his pockets. Bruce was silent and the mugger never saw the hit coming. The criminal stumbled from the blow to his head. He turned and raised his arms to defend himself. Bruce threw him into the wall. The perpetrator was slim and easy to throw around. Bruce lunged.

--------

Selina woke and exited her room, stretching. She hadn't even realized how little sleep she got until these past few weeks. After all, locked in the apartment, there wasn't much to do but catch up on sleep and apparently she had a lot of catching up to do. She stumbled toward the couch Stray slept on. Slept being a very loose description. Her kitten didn't like to sleep. He didn't like to be caged up either but with the mood Batman was in, she wasn't going to risk either of them going out into the streets.

"You up, Stray?" She grabbed a cup of coffee from the counter. Stray must have made her a cup. Sashaying to the couch, she prodded at Stray. "Get up, lazy butt." He didn't move. She rolled her eyes and pulled the blanket back. A mound of pillows greeted her. "Oh no."

Selina ran to her room and pulled a pair of slippers on along with a bathrobe. She dashed for the door.

-------

He hurt. Everything hurt. His ribs were on fire. There was something wrong with them. Broken? Shattered? Did it even matter at this point? Stray raised his hands, trying to block the punch but his wrist was casually broken by a black gloved hand and the fist slammed into his face again. He struggled to breath with all the blood in his mouth. Stray let out a whimper but couldn't bring himself to fight anymore. It hurt. God Almighty, it hurt.

Something slammed into the figure above him and he felt the monster move, turning its attention to its new attacker. Stray wanted to crawl away but he hurt so bad. He just lay there, gasping for breath that wouldn't come and hoping he'd survive.

What had even happened? Stray remembered leaving the apartment, he had been going stir-crazy and he needed to get out. He remembered going to Gotham's business district for a meeting. Someone had offered him a job in their computers division. Of course, Stray hadn't put his age on the application but he was sure he could win the man over. Had he made it to the interview? He couldn't remember. He remembered getting jumped by a Falcone thug. Perhaps the mob family had taken Stray's tricks a little too personally. He remembered cheating someone out of a bit of money but it hadn't been a big deal. Not enough that they would have sent a thug after him. No matter, it hadn't been a very good thug. Stray had taken him out and was digging through his pockets when... He turned his head to look at the fight going on next to him. Selina was wearing a bunny slippers and a bathrobe. Knowing her, there was probably just a t-shirt and lacy underwear under it. Her opponent didn't seem to care. Was it Batman? Stray couldn't tell, his vision was getting blurry. Stray tried to sit up but immediately felt nauseous and laid back down. Selina slapped Batman, hard. It should have made a sound but Stray couldn't hear anything. He watched as she jerked Batman's face toward Stray. They stared at him for a second and Stray watched as they did cartwheels in his vision, as they floated in the sky and the buildings tilted. Suddenly, Batman jerked out of Selina's hands and stumbled to a wall. He started puking. Stray blinked in confusion. Selina came to Stray's side and tried to cox him up but the sudden stab of agony made him cry out. Batman pushed himself away from the wall, still looking nauseous. He came toward Stray, arms extended like he wanted to help but Selina shoved him away, yelling words that Stray couldn't hear. He stood back and watched as Selina lifted Stray to his feet, tears streaming down his face from the pain. Selina carried Stray in her wiry arms, out of the alley, into the blackest of nights. Batman tried to talk to Selina again but this time, she leaned Stray against the wall and turned. She punched Batman as hard as she could. The Dark Knight's face snapped to the side and he stayed that way as she carried her Stray away, unable to look at what he had done.

Chapter Text

Bruce stumbled out of the Batmobile. He forced himself to keep standing, though he wanted to collapse and get sick as he thought of what he had done. No, it hadn't been his fault, he had- Lie. It was his fault. Bruce had no excuse. No amount of grief would ever excuse what he had done. Timothy's face- it had looked just like Jason's. Battered and broken. Slumping against a wall, Bruce laughed. Hadn't even needed a crowbar. He rubbed his eyes trying to get the images out of his head but every time he saw Jason's face, Timothy's would appear by his side. It wasn't just the blue eyes or the black hair. It was the pulverized noses, the ugly black and blue bruises smeared across their faces, the cuts swollen and bleeding. The gaps in their mouths where teeth had fallen out- no. Had been knocked out. He leaned over and dry-heaved. There was nothing left in his stomach.

"Master Wayne?" Bruce felt a hand touch his shoulder. Thank Gotham Alfred was still here. Everything in Bruce's world had fallen apart but Alfred was still by his side. Bruce didn't deserve someone like Alfred.

"Where did I go wrong? When did I stop being a hero and become a villain?"

Alfred raised an eyebrow at the despair in Bruce's voice. "I don't know what you are talking about, Master Wayne. You may have gotten a bit rougher but your intentions have always been the same. You are trying to protect people."

"Than how did I end up with a child's blood on my hands?"

"Jason's death was not your fault-"

"Timothy Drake. Tonight he got in my way. I didn't even recognize him. He might have committed a crime, I don't know. I just saw a chance and I took it. I took out my anger and depression on a child. I don't even know if he's alive. I'm a villain, Alfred." The hand was still on his shoulder. It didn't leave him, not even knowing Bruce's crimes.

"And what are you going to do about that, Master Wayne?" That was the question, wasn't it? He could go and fight harder, trying to make up for his sin. He could become a pacifist. He could turn himself over to the cops. Or he could go fix himself.

"Alfred.... Do you remember the year I left Gotham? When I wandered around and met Ra's?" He stood and started removing his uniform, stripping of the identity he was now unworthy to bear. He headed up the stairs to the mansion and Alfred followed.

"Master Wayne," Alfred picked up the mess Bruce made and shadowed Bruce until they reached his room. He pulled a suitcase out of the closet and began to pack. "If this was any other occasion, I'd be begging you not to disappear again. Those years were very hard on both your business and yourself. However, I believe that is what you need at the moment. May I ask where you are going this time or if I will be able to contact you?"

"I found out many things about myself the first time I was gone. I can only hope this time will be just as enlightening. I don't know where I'm going but I doubt there'll be cell service." He turned and pulled the packed luggage from Alfred's wrinkled hands. "Thank you. You've raised me and you've mentored me. I couldn't ask for a better friend." The stepped together and shared a hug. It lingered as they held onto each other, Bruce to his lifeline and sanity, Alfred to his son in all but blood.

"Do take care, Master Wayne."

"I will try." Bruce stepped back. He slipped into a car (not his favorite as he planned to ditch it anyway) and started the engine.

----------

"What do you want me to say, Catwoman?" Oswald glared at the woman in his club but kept his voice low. He didn't want to disturb the patient anymore than he had to. "That he'll be okay? That's obviously a lie. That you should take him to a doctor? We both know that and we both know why we can't. If we want to hide him from the Bat than the last place we take him is to a hospital. He needs help, Kitty. I can't give it to him." He tried to catch the eye of the woman pacing in front of him but she refused to look at him, rubbing at her arms which were crusted with Stray's blood. "Either you take him out of the city, and I don't know if he has time for that, or you find someone in the city who can heal him and at this point? If you won't take him to a doctor, you'll need a miracle worker."

She stopped again in front of Stray. They had stopped the bleeding but both her and Oswald knew there was internal damage. She couldn't fix that on her own. Oswald was right, she needed a miracle worker.... Or maybe... She was looking at this all wrong. She was trying to think of people who would know how to heal humans. Catwoman didn't have many connections who were doctors but she did know people who were modified. People who had taken their own fragile human selves and recreated themselves. What if they could do that to Stray? Maybe not give him powers or abilities but modify him enough to help him heal.

The Cat picked the delicate flower of a child and carried him out the door. She could feel Oswald's eyes following her but he didn't stop her.

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"You and I aren't even friends. What do you want from me?" The red-haired beauty lounged on a leafy throne.

"I want you to heal him." Catwoman lifted Stray slightly higher. "I know your plants don't just poison, some can heal."

"Look, Cat. That boy doesn't need to be healed. He needs to be put down."

"You were a biologist, right?"

Poisn Ivy scoffed and arched back into her chair. "Yes. When I was weak and mortal."

"Did you take any chemistry?"

"Of course."

"Then you could modify him."

"It won't save his life. My plants can only do so much."

"What about if you combined a healing formula with Bane's Venom and Lazarus water?" The thief held up the glowing Lazarus water and the Venom and Ivy stood in shock.

"Where did you get those?"

"The Venom is from Bane who is very fond of Stray. The water is from Talia al Ghul. She must have been carrying it for her father. I picked it off of her. Rather petty of me as I was mostly doing it because she got to sleep with the delicious billionaire, Bruce Wayne. I had been eyeing him all evening. I've had it for a few years now."

Ivy licked her lips greedily as she looked at the Lazarus water. A Lazarus Pit granted people eternal life. If she could figure out how to reproduce it-

"Yes or no?"

Ivy looked at the limp creature in Catwoman's arms.

"Fine." She snapped her fingers and the body was lifted by her vines and carried away into the jungle she had created. "I'll fix him up, good as new, probably better even. In return, you find me more of this water."

"Done." Selina stayed and watched, praying to any gods that existed that Ivy would keep her word. That Stray would come back to her.

Chapter Text

Ivy studied the child on her floor. He was an odd one. He probably should have died earlier but yet he still held on. His chest barely moved and his skin was deathly pale but... he was alive and healing fast. She watched as his skin bloomed with color and air flooded his lungs. Cuts closed themselves and bruises faded. His eyes fluttered open and Ivy met the brilliant blue eyes. He sat up slowly and cocked his head as he considered her.

Ivy paused as she sensed the pheromones in the room. What the-? She had barely given him any of her own formula. He shouldn't be able to... the boy was releasing pheromones. They were light and wouldn't be able to be sensed by anyone but her but he was releasing them nonetheless. There were feelings of fear, of new birth, and joy. They almost made Ivy feel drunk. Plants couldn't give off such... "human" emotions and she hadn't remembered how humanity felt. Ivy had been more plant than human for far too long and these emotions, though faint, were something that she had forgotten. Humans were far more complicated than plants and they mixed too many emotions but with this child, it didn't feel like a bad thing. He stood gracefully and looked down at himself, running his hand over bruises that were fading before her eyes.

"Was I dead?" He brushed a hand over a poison oak plant but no poisons were spread onto his skin. Ivy watched in amazement as her plants curled themselves around his wrists and caressed his face, "Am I dead? This looks like heaven."

"No. Neither. You were injured and I healed you."

"You are Poison Ivy, Dr. Pamela Isley." He detangled himself from the plants. "Why do I feel so weird?

She followed him as he wandered through her garden. "Weird how?"

"Like..." He bit his lips trying to find the words but then walked to an old car that her plants had overgrown. He grabbed onto a door that was free of plants and ripped it off the car. He turned and held the door out to her with one hand. "This isn't right, is it? Am I hallucinating?"

"No. That's likely a side affect of the Venom that was injected into you. It won't last. Bane has to replenish it every 12 hours."

He nodded in understanding and than sat on the ground, stretching himself onto the moss. "Why do I feel so at home?"

"The plant pheromones. You are a little like me now, at least for the next 24 hours, it will likely wear off soon."

He smiled and rolled toward her. "I feel alive."

"Catwoman will be pleased."

A shrill shout disturbed the peace of the garden. "Ivy!!! Guess what!" Stray turned to watch but Ivy sighed and ignored the incoming blonde dressed in a harlequin suit. "Hey! Red!" She skidded to a stop beside Stray. "Guess what!"

"What do you want now, Harley." The red-head sighed and rubbed at her temples.

The red and black attired blonde laughed "I have a plan! And it's brilliant! We are going to break Mista J out of Arkham! It's fool-proof!" She looked at the boy at her feet. "Who's this?"

"Stray. He's Catwoman's sidekick."

"Stray? Eww! What was she thinking? You're not a cat! Look at you!" She grabbed Stray's hand and pulled him to his feet. "Say, I've seen pictures of you! You crashed a car into the river! Everyone knows cats don't like water. So if you're not a cat, what are you?" She circled Stray like a vulture around a dying wildebeest. "More importantly, who chose your outfit?" She sneered at the blood-stained hoodie.

"I stayed with Killer Croc for a while and this is what he wore." Stray watched her warily.

"And you copied him? Darling...." She grabbed his arm and dragged him back the way she came. Ivy watched them go and sighed in relief as they disappeared. She went to the cell phone that Harley Quinn had forced her to keep.

--------

"Harley took him near an hour ago and I haven't seen him since."

"You let Harley Quinn take Stray?!" Catwoman turned on Ivy but she ignored her and kept walking.

"Harley! Catwoman is here for Stray!"

"He's not a Stray! He's a Little Mermaid! He's like the love child of Prince Eric and Ariel. Look at him!" She dashed around the corner and pulled... Holy Gotham. "Look! Isn't he precious?"

Harley Quinn had given Stray a makeover. His long black hair was now blue. He had a red and white baseball t-shirt on that said "Daddy's Lil' Monster" and somehow, Harley had forced him into a pair of leather pants.

Ivy eyed the pants suspiciously. "Are those my clubbing pant?"

"You never wear them anyways. Look at his eyes!" She had applied makeup to the poor boy including-

"That's my lipstick!"

"Doesn't it look great?"

"It's toxic!"

"Not to him it's not. Look at him! Still alive."

Stray looked at Catwoman with a hint of panic and she forced herself not to laugh, in part in relief that Stray was alive but also at his outfit. She was lucky if she could force him to put a shirt on but here he was with his hair down in a half-pony and dressed up and all done up with makeup. The green lipstick was oddly flattering. He had kept his arm wraps but Harley forced him to use a different fabric- green silk...

"I will kill you, Harley, if that is my suit wrapped around his arms."

"It's just parts of it..."

Ivy dashed after Harley and Catwoman went to Stray.

"I'm glad you're alright." They hugged tightly. Stray was trembling in her arms. "Are you alright?"

"I don't want to go out again. It's safe here. I don't want to ever see Batman again-"

"You won't. He disappeared two days ago."

"What?"

"He's gone. No one's seen him."

--------

Stray wandered the empty Wayne Manor. No one was here. Where was Bruce? Where was Alfred? His footsteps echoed in the house. He tried to walk silently but Harley Quinn had stuffed his feet into a pair of heeled boots and he hadn't bothered to change yet. The pants hugged his legs in a way that was more comforting than uncomfortable and knowing that Harley had chosen this outfit for him made him feel... not loved but maybe... noticed? It was a stupid feeling. But it also made him feel different. As if a new pair of clothes and a new hairstyle could take away his memories of the Dark Knight. When he went by the name of Stray, he pushed away the past of Timothy Drake. When he wore the clothes of a Little Mermaid, Stray's memories were pushed away, at least for now. Once he was back to the apartment, he'd change. Stray stopped in front of a mirror and stared at his reflection. He looked so different. But... different wasn't a bad thing. Batman wouldn't be able to recognize him like this. Maybe... just until he was safe. Than he'd be back to black hair.

Chapter Text

 

RoyQing's Art for me. Wow!!! I love the fun hair and all the background sketches. Their facial expressions are so perfect!

 

https://i.pinimg.com/originals/6f/a5/f9/6fa5f9164a4e3b8fa79f77b938501f6a.jpg

 

Chapter Text

The first sign that his apartment had been invaded was that everything was clean. Like terrifyingly clean. Dick distinctly remembered leaving around thirty articles of clothing on the ground and now they were all gone. There had been a stain on his carpet that he had tried to scrub out for two hours. His carpet was now all one color. Only one person in this universe was capable of such magic and it wasn't Zatanna.

"Alfred?" Dick turned the corner into the kitchen and sure enough, the old Englishman was cooking in his kitchen. "Not that I'm not pleased to see you, Alfie, but isn't Bruce's life going to fall apart without you to keep an eye on him?"

"Master Wayne can occasionally survive on his own." Alfred set the mixing bowl on the counter and went to fetch more ingredients from the fridge. Dick peered in over his shoulder. His fridge had never been that full. "Besides, where he was going, I couldn't follow."

"'Where he was going?' Alfie, where's Bruce?"

"I'm not quite sure. He went to discover himself. I'm not sure when he'll be back. In the meanwhile, I decided to come keep you company in Bludhaven. It seems you need someone to keep an eye on you." Alfred threw a baleful eye around the apartment then turned back to his cooking.

"Who'd he leave to watch over Gotham?"

"Perhaps he assumed you would. After all, all his other proteges are dead or crippled."

Dick winced at Alfred's bluntness though he had deserved it for asking a stupid question. He really was the only one left wasn't he? He rubbed his forehead tiredly and slumped into a kitchen chair. Dick was going to have to take care of both Gotham and Bludhaven. He didn't have Barbara to help him. He didn't even have Jason. It wasn't like Dick just sat around and had no life. He had a job, a city of his own, and a team of superheroes that relied on him.

"If Bruce didn't leave a message for me about watching his city, I'm not going to. I have more important things to deal with, Alfred, than babysitting his city. He should have got a babysitter before he disappeared."

"Richard!"

"I'm always the whipping boy in this family and I'm not going to take it anymore. I am my own man and if Bruce wanted me to watch his city, he should have respected me enough to ask himself." Dick stood from the chair. "You can stay as long as you want, Alfred. Don't try to change my mind though. It's been made up."

Alfred gave Dick a disapproving glare but he couldn't be bothered to care. Dick had made up his mind and that meant Gotham was on her own.

-------------

It was odd. Everyone was oddly well behaved for the first few weeks. No one dared commit any crimes, the politicians didn't lie, the drug rings seemed to all but vanish. Everyone was waiting for Batman to come back. Except he never did. Eventually the novelty of not having a nightmarish fighter of crime always watching wore off. That's when things got bad.

"Don't get me wrong, Stray. I like to watch a good fight but this is ridiculous." Selina pushed Stray tighter against the wall as bullets flew by. "Seventh gunfight this week. Gotham is turning into Dodge City." She leaned around the corner to take a look but pulled back when a bullet about took off her nose. "It's not even 3 in the afternoon yet." Her and Stray were in civilian clothes and neither had expected a fight today.

"Wow, you get locked in Arkham for a while and things change, huh?" Harley's high voice grated on Selina's nerves. The villain had been following them and breaking into the apartment all week and Selina was getting sick of her. She had followed them today and insisted Selina and Stray go shopping with her. Ha. Fat chance.

"We'll take the rooftops home, they're becoming safer than the streets." She moved to a fire escape and one by they climbed their way to the roof.

"With as much traveling on rooftops that Gotham people do, you'd think they'd have put some stores up here or somethin'." Harley leapt across rooftops lightly, often adding somersaults and flips. She grinned when she caught Stray watching her. "You interested in learning, Little Mermaid?"

"I know practical gymnastics. I picked them up watching Batman and training with Catwoman but I've never seen it done just for fun, besides the circus." Harley laughed at him and immediately started showing off. Stray tried to imitate her.

"Your weight distribution is all wrong. Let's see."

Catwoman gave up on trying to go anywhere, sitting down where she was as Harley started her impromptu lessons. It was rather fun to watch Harley roll around on the dirty rooftops. Stray tumbled after her, blue hair mussed and eyes sparkling. Since the night with Batman, it had been rare to see him so carefree. He had been jumpy, hesitant to trust, and nearly terrified of going outside. Seeing him like this erased the images of Stray waking from nightmares, screaming and crying. Selina laughed as she watched him. She had almost forgotten how curious he was, always wanting to know more. He had an insatiable mind and it had been hiding recently.

Harley clapped as Stray landed a backwards roll perfectly. His face lit up with a grin of pride. Then the gunshot came. The three dove for cover. Catwoman peeked around the corner and saw the gang fight had moved onto the rooftops. At the moment there were only five people on the roofs but more would probably follow. She pointed them out to her companions. There was motion behind her but she ignored it. At least she did until Harley raced past her wielding a child's baseball bat. "Oh Gotham." The woman stormed into the fight. Immediately she was turned upon. Harley swung the bat viciously, taking out anyone in her way. Someone flew off the roof from the force of her blow.

"Stupid people! Interrupting my day!" She took out the last of the gang and Catwoman and Stray could hear the crack of bone from where they crouched. Harley looked at the carnage around her then sashayed back to their side. "I just had a brilliant idea! Batsy is AWOL so we can watch Gotham for him while he's gone. Not stuff like stealing or anything like that but maybe we can keep the rabble down. Think about it! You, me, Ivy, we'll be the 'Gotham Sirens' and then we'll have our sidekick, The Little Mermaid!" She laughed in delight. "I've always wanted to be a hero!"

Catwoman stood and walked away, Stray trailing behind. "Good luck convincing Ivy."

-------------

"Why in Hell's Kitchen did you agree to this, Ivy? We are villains." Catwoman ducked as a car roared past their hiding place.

"Why'd you take in a little boy? If the heroes aren't going to do their jobs, we will. I hate humans. But...little kids, innocents, they shouldn't be subjected to this terror. We aren't going to help the big businesses. We're just going to look out for the innocents." Ivy glanced around the corner. "Let's go."

"I still can't believe the first thing you decided to do was clear out the gangs."

"They're the ones doing the most damage. Major villains have left to find a city where there's money."

"I get that but gang fighting is dangerous. Couldn't have chosen something easy for our first mission- like saving kittens?"

Harley laughed at Catwoman then stormed into the square that the gang frequented. Her bat was swung over her shoulders and she had switched her usual harlequin outfit for a corset like top and long pants (still with the black and red patterns though). "Hey fellas!"

"Can't you control her, Ivy?"

"She does what she wants."

--------------

Stray monitored their activities from his computer. Harley had wanted him out there with them but he wasn't ready. The thought of going on the streets again and fighting again terrified him. He knew he was able, he knew he was strong but the thought of Gotham's streets just reminded him of a black gauntleted hand slamming into his face, again and again. Stray tried to push the fears back, hide them in the corner of his mind but it wasn't enough. Batman was gone from Gotham but his imprint remained. Sad, how his greatest hero had become his nightmare.

Chapter Text

Stray leaned against her long, gymnast legs and basked in the feeling of Harley's long fingers weaving through his hair. She braided it and twisted it into a bun, before letting it drop.

"So we've been heroes for... what? Three weeks? How are we doing thus far?"

Catwoman coxed a cat to her and fed it chicken from her plate. "Any territory we claim has 45% less crime. The reason it's not a big change is because the crime is just in certain categories. There are still petty thefts and grand theft auto and the like but domestic crimes and gang wars have almost been completely destroyed in our areas."

"I always thought the hero business wasn't as hard as it looked." Harley leaned back, thus removing her hands from Stray's head, and smiled peppily.

Catwoman shoved Harley's feet off the coffee table and glared. "We only have control of 17% of the city. The rest is still chaos."

"Maybe we need more help." Ivy rubbed at her forehead as she looked at the map of other spread on the table.

The blonde pouted. "Batman did it with only three. So can we."

"He had backup." Stray said quietly, fiddling with the goggles he almost never used anymore. Sitting at a computer didn't require nightvision. "He could call in Nightwing if things got rough. He had Agent A at his hideout to patch him up and help in emergencies. Mot to mention the connections with the Justice League and Teen Titans that he had. It's just you guys in the field and me hiding at home."

"You could come out with us! I would be a blast!" Harley Quinn partially pounced on Stray and dragged him close to her face. "Then we'd all fight crime together!"

Ivy gently extracted Stray from the leech's arms. "I was thinking older help. Like The Penguin or Dr. Freeze. We could gain control over parts of the city and then put a 'crime lord' in control of them. The crime lord would monitor crimes and keep relative peace so we could patrol more and not have to keep an eye on old neighborhoods."

"That could work." Catwoman got up and paced. "Penguin, Freeze, Killer Croc, Riddler -not Two-face or Joker- maybe Bane?"

"Why not my Pudding?"

Catwoman wouldn't dignify that with an answer but Ivy glared at Harley and hissed out, "Your 'pudding' is fond of mass murders. That's what we are trying to prevent."

"He doesn't mean it in a mean way. He's just expressing his personality!"

"Than he better find a more peaceful way of expressing himself or we'll chase him out of Gotham." Catwoman's knuckles popped delicately- yet definitely threateningly.

"If you aren't going to let me be with Puddin' I'll....I'll...I'll-I'll leave!" Harley stood and stormed for the door. No one followed her, though Stray's blue eyes watched her go.

"Aren't you going to stop her?"

"She'll come back eventually." Catwoman yawned, unconcerned.

"After she gets knocked around a bit."

"Maybe the Joker will throw her out another window."

"He hurts her? And you just let her go back?"

"Stray, kitten. Listen, you can only rescue people who want to be rescued. We've pulled her out of his grip a lot, but every time, she keeps running back. Harley has to realize that she needs to leave or we can never help her."

"Can we still kick the Joker out?"

"I hope so. I don't want that psycho in my city."

-----------------

"Where's Batman?" Superman paced the Justice League Headquarters. "It's our annual meeting, he should be here."

"Maybe the Batman has forgotten?" Martian Manhunter sat calmly watching the alien's back and forth.

"He doesn't forget. He never forgets. I would know. The number of grudges he's been holding over the years is mind-boggling."

Wonder Woman was the only member of the League besides Superman to look concerned. "Is there trouble in Gotham?"

"I don't know. Batman hates it when I look. He's threatened to come patrol Metropolis if he ever catches me keeping on eye on Gotham. He would probably cause heart failure among Metropolis citizens."

The Flash lounged in his chair and solved Rubik's Cubes at lightning speed. "He causes heart failure among Gotham citizens too. It's just his thing."

"Perhaps we should so to Gotham, Superman." Wonder Woman stood from her chair. "He may be in danger."

----------------

"Cops coming your way, Cat. I suggest you move toward the roof. Ivy, there are men coming in behind you. Be careful." Stray typed furiously on the computer. He and Selina had spent hours hiding cameras across the city so he could keep an eye on people. He had found a few of Batman's and hacked into the Batcomputer so he could monitor with them as well. A phone rang and Stray tapped his earpiece. "Hello? Hey Cobblepot. Yeah, District 7 and 9. You interested? Good. A list of prohibited crimes has been sent to your personal computer. The Sirens will patrol your segments once a month. Ivy asks that you take care of her garden in each section. Yeah, be careful- it eats people. I have to put you on hold, I've got an alarm- Oh...Arkham help us." Stray turned his frequency back to Ivy and Catwoman. "We've got metas in the city. Hide. Yeah, they're pretty powerful... Superman and Wonder Woman. Uh huh. Stay safe. Oh no..." Stray dropped his headset and bolted out of Selina's apartment, leaving Catwoman yelling, asking him what had happened.

---------------

"Gotham is full of psychos." Superman tried to gently restrain the crazy blonde but she kept squirming and biting. "It explains a lot about Batman, don't you think?" Wonder Woman laughed and leaned against the wall, watching Superman struggle.

"Would you like some help?"

"I got this. Ma'am, I'm not here to hurt you, if you would just-" The woman attempted to stab him but the knife shattered against his abs. One of the shards came back and embedded itself in her stomach. She screamed in pain (maybe rage) and fought harder. "Can't you just listen to reason?" His captive suddenly slumped and Superman looked over her head at Wonder Woman who stepped back to the wall, lowering her fist. He sighed and lowered the woman to the ground. "Was that necessary?"

"We were getting distracted. We need to see Batman, remember?"

"I'm not sensing him anywhere in the city, not surprising though, with all the lead and stone building around here." He barely finished his sentence when a child caught his eye. The youngster was leaned over the lady who'd been attacking him. "Excuse me, is she your mot-" A bat hit him it the face and shattered. But.. It had hurt....He turned to look at the child. What the... then he saw the chips of green, glowing paint scattered across the ground. "Is that?"

"Kryptonite." The child nearly hissed at him. "Your weakness, Kal-El. That was just a paint made from pulverized Kryptonite but if you touch Harley again, I'll make you pay."

"At ease, child-warrior. We didn't come to fight. Perhaps you can help, you seem smart." She gave a sweet smile but the boy was unmoved. "Do you know where Batman is?"

The child tensed and gripped tighter onto the woman-Harley. "Gone. No one knows where but not here."

"Why?"

"Because he's a monster. And he finally realized it himself."

Superman gave a disapproving look toward the child. "He is a hero."

"A hero doesn't attack children." The boy turned his back on them.

"Children? Batman wouldn't do that. Do you think someone framed him?"

"Let's find out, Diana."

------------------

Stray watched the aliens leave. Thank Gotham. He didn't want them here in his city. Stray carefully propped Harley against the wall. His hand slid over the knot at the back of her head. It was mild. He was more concerned about the blood flowing from her stomach.

"Look what we've got here, boys! A little street rat trying to steal my harlequin." Stray jerked around and stared in horror at the pale-faced madman. "What's the matter, little one? Why aren't you smiling?" The man stepped closer and slid a gloved hand down Stray's hair. "A rat of many colors. Not a rat at all I would say."

"He's a mermaid." Harley Quinn sat up slowly, holding her stomach. She dug in the wound and yanked out the metal shard. "Isn't he a darling?"

"I wouldn't say 'darling' but he does have a certain charm to him. Maybe it's the fear or maybe it's the raw 'possibility' oozing from his pores. Shall we take him home?" The grin he gave Stray made him feel nauseous.

"Can't, the girls would kill me. We'll see him around though, won't we, Little Mermaid?" Stray nodded silently, keeping a wary eye on the Joker. Harley laughed and ran a hand though his hair before walking off. The Joker laughed and did the same, running his hand though Stray's blue locks. Stray shrunk from his hand. When they left his line of sight, Stray climbed into a dumpster and puked. The feeling of that man's hand on him... that was the hand that had killed Jason. That man was a monster, even more so than Batman.

Chapter Text

Stray walked through the apartment door and threw the shattered bat to the side. Then he was hit by a freight train. A very angry, mama cat of a train. Ivy tried to pull her off but when a Cat gets her claws in, it's already too late.

"Where were you? You said there were metahumans in town and then you leave? I thought I was going to find you bleeding out in an alley!"

Stray stepped closer into her death grip, turning it into a hug. "The Joker's in Gotham."

Ivy's eyes went wide. "Did he hurt you?"

"Harley convinced him to leave me alone."

"At least the stupid blonde is good for something." Selina pulled him into her chest, grumbling. "If he touched you, I'd rip him to pieces."

"I know." Stray smiled slightly and stepped back, long lashes framing his tired eyes. "I trust you."

There was a pause then Selina stepped away, ruffling his hair. "Only person in all of Gotham stupid enough to trust someone."

"What happened with the metas? What did they want?" Ivy smirked at Selina who ignored it.

"They were looking for Batman. I told them he wasn't around."

"You talked to them? Stray!"

"Little Mermaid." Ivy singsonged from where she had sunk into the sofa.

"I wasn't going to gain their notice but... I hit Superman in the face with a baseball bat...."

Ivy giggled. "I'm not going to be the one to tell Harley you broke her bat."

"She has plenty of bats to go around." Selina turned to stare down Stray. "I hope it taught you though. Shattered the bat, is your hand okay? Probably didn't even hurt him."

"I'm good. I think the paint job helped."

"You painted one of Harley's bats? You are really dead."

"Kryptonite paint. I didn't have enough of it to make a weapon so I just chipped it down and made it into a paint."

"Kryptonite? What in Gotham is Kryptonite?" Ivy queried.

"Alien rock. There was a meteorite that hit earth that had some in it. For some reason, Superman doesn't like it. Him and Batman must not have gotten along, I found signs of it in the Batcave. Unfortunately, he's gotten a bit better at hiding things. I could only find a little."

"Batcave? " Selina nearly hissed. "I thought you were terrified of him! What were you doing in his house?"

"He's gone. Agent A isn't always there but when he is, we play chess. And he teaches me some of Batman's tricks... and... he's a really good cook, Selina."

She bristled and Ivy muffled a snort. "What is that supposed to mean?"

"You burnt chicken noodle soup. And toast. And I don't know what you did to the quesadillas but they weren't edible. Mine turned into ashes when I picked it up."

"You always eat my food!"

"A human can live for almost a month without food. But it makes them weak. And I usually do eat it. I only feed it to Scrounger when it's become toxic." Said cat jumped onto the couch next to Poison Ivy and curled against her side. She shoved Scrounger away. She had tried to kill it but the thing was immune to poisons, probably because it was used to Selina's cooking. "He'd probably like it if you came over. Agent A always says he likes guests."

"I am not going to fraternize with Batman's little henchman."

"Alright. Do you mind if I still go over?"

"Please do." Ivy piped up. "And bring me back some leftovers. I may be able to survive on sunlight but I would enjoy some edible food."

-----------------

"No one knows where Batman is. Could you tell us, Nightwing." The League watched the young man who was lounging in Batman's chair.

He shook his head at Wonder Woman. "I don't know either. He left without a word. Didn't even ask me to watch Gotham."

"Who's watching it then?" The Flash leaned forward, worry clearly showing on his face. "Gotham will self-destruct. Or spread its crime to cities nearby."

"Haven't the faintest clue. The Titans and I could swing by monthly and make sure it hasn't gone crazy. I'd do it on my own but I have my hands full with Bludhaven."

"Please do. And if you find any clue of where Batman is, please tell us." Superman stood, dismissing the meeting.

Chapter Text

Commissioner Gordon flipped through the police reports. There were more of them now than there had ever been in his career. Without Batman, robberies increased by 57%, mugging in the business district were up by 37%, and the criminals in Gotham were having a payday. Penguin, Bane, Mr. Freeze, Killer Croc, and the Riddler seemed to have split the city up into sections for each to rule. Odd though... where was Poison Ivy? She was fond of the idea of world domination. Where was Catwoman?

Gordon took the files to the couch and sat heavily, rubbing his forehead. Did it matter? The less villains running around, the better. A faint noise to his left alerted him to Barbara. He turned and smiled at his wheelchair bound daughter but she only looked back at him impassively.

"Are you stressed, Dad? You shouldn't bring work home."

"It's fine, Babs. I'm just... crime has gone up a lot since Batman disappeared."

"All those little words and numbers must hurt your eyes. I can easily convert them to a chart or spreadsheet."

"My eyes will survive but... yes, that may be easier. Thank you Barbara." He once again smiled but she only took the papers and wheeled away. Gordon watched her go sadly. It was as if she had lost all of her fighting spirit. She used to be fiery and passionate and- no use reminiscing on the past. All he could do was hope. Hope that she would find some sort of joy.

-----------

Ivy sat with Stray and checked over his homework. "Your equations are sloppy. They should be crisp and elegant. If they aren't, no one is interested in hiring you."

Selina popped her head around the corner and rolled her eyes. "It's not like he's looking for a job, Ivy."

"Well I'm teaching him life skills right now so shut your face."

She stormed around the corner. "I taught him life skills!"

"Like what?" Ivy straightened her spine and cocked an eyebrow. "To hide in the apartment? To use a whip- real handy if he ever wants to go into lion taming or perhaps a more promiscuous lifestyle."

Selina threw Stray's anatomy book at her. Stray ducked and crawled away to a safe distance as his Honors Real and Complex Analysis Mathematics book went flying over his head from Ivy's direction. Thankfully, Ivy couldn't use any plant pollen or poison attacks on them, since she granted poison immunity to Selina and Stray, just like she had done with Harley. That would have made the scuffle much more interesting. He watched the fight go on for a bit but once they ran out of books, Ivy started grabbing cats to throw and Selina did not take it well. He sighed and left the apartment. No homework was going to get done anytime soon. It was still light outside so he slipped into the gutter system and started to make his way across Gotham. It didn't take him all the way to the Wayne Manor but it got him fairly close and he didn't have to worry about meeting anyone.

Alfred raised an eyebrow at Stray when he answered the door but led him to a shower. "Might I suggest you find an alternative form of transportation, Young Mas-"

"It's just Stray, Mr. Pennyworth."

"And I am just Alfred. Perhaps someday you and I will both get it right. On the other matter, however, I do believe Mr. Grayson has left behind a few motorbikes."

"I'm only twelve."

"Then you will be sure to wear a helmet."

-----------

Barbara scrolled through the report chart again. It didn't make sense. This much crime in Gotham should lead to more gangs, more domestic violence, more destruction, more villains and yet... Someone had to be monitoring it and it definitely wasn't the Gotham Police. She pulled up a few of her old camera channels she used to used to monitor Gotham but someone had taken them over. Fortunately, they left behind a technological footprint. One that was very familiar. She hacked through the walls and watched footage of the last 3 months.

Catwoman and Selina, sometimes Harley. Who would've thought that villains would turn out to be heroes? Barbara watched video after video. She sat there in front of the computer, long into the night. If villains could become heroes, why couldn't cripples? She traced Stray but her computer was too weak to get a lead. She needed something stronger.

Barbara wheeled out of the apartment building and into a taxi. "Wayne Manor please."

Chapter Text

Barbara wheeled through the front door of the Manor. Alfred hadn't answered the door which was odd enough but once she got to the Batcave, things got stranger. It was silent. Dead. Not even Dick was around nor was there any sign of him. No suits, no dirty socks on the gymnasium mat, no loud voice ringing through the cave. It was like a graveyard. Barbara straightened her spine and wheeled to the Batcomputer. It was possibly the most powerful computer in the world and it would be child's play to trace Stray with it. She had grown accustomed to his technological footprint and the kid was always connected to the internet. If she could beat his firewalls (which she could, easily) then his GPS would lead her to him. Her nail-bitten fingers flew across the keyboard and she waited for the computer to admit her.

DENIED

What? She typed in the password again.

DENIED

Barbara tried a quick hacking program but the computer quickly locked her out. Who had taken over the computer? The screen stayed black no matter what she did. Shaking hands pushed her hair out of her face and Barbara sat back in disbelief. Had a villain gotten into the Batca- A purr of motorcycles coming down the tunnel startled Barbara and she quickly wheeled away to hide. The motorcycles roared closer. She peeked around the wall she was behind and watched as two bikes entered the cave- Nightwing's bike and the black Ducati Panigale R, Bruce's pleasure bike, that only Bruce or Alfred where allowed to touch. The Ducati slid to a stop and its rider slid off, straightening their suit jacket. The other rider followed and immediately removed their helmet. Short blue hair framed their angular face and green lips twisted into a smirk. They laughed and tossed their hair and caught the helmet the first rider threw to them and hung both helmets on the appropriate bikes. Barbara tried to catch a look at the first rider but they had moved out of her line of sight and she dared not reveal herself. Barbara retreated and started to silently roll herself to an exit. If she could get out, she could warn Dick. Barbara's arms moved faster but even as she went, exhaustion slipped into her body. She hadn't exercised or moved much since she had been released from the hospital and it was showing. She forced herself to go faster but a sweaty palm slipped on the wheel and she careened into the wall, making a slight but definitely noticeable noise. Barbara moved fast, trying to reach the elevator but a shadow materialized next to her.

The scabbard on her thigh was suddenly empty and its inhabitant was swinging toward the shadow but a firm hand grabbed her wrist. She caught a glimpse of green fingernail polish before the world spun as she was thrown from her chair and into the light. Barbara rolled with her shoulders and balanced herself into a sitting position and swung her satchel at the shade lunging toward her- Stray caught it before it hit him and grinned down at her.

"Barbara! Sorry, I didn't realize it was you. What are you doing here?" She stared in speechlessness at him- at the hair, the makeup, the clothes. He seemed older than when she last saw him- though it had only been a few months. His eyes were still bright but darkness hid in their center and the bright lips tried to distract her from a smile that was no longer carefree.

"What are you doing here, Stray? Does Bruce know you're here?"

"He's not around right now but Alfred is okay with me here." He gestured vaguely back toward the motorbikes. "Can I help you?"

"Yeah." Barbara tried to reconcile the image of Alfred with the rider she had seen dismount Bruce's motorbike. "I was actually looking for you. I want to know what Catwoman and Poison Ivy are up to. When did they become heroes?"

Stray's face fell. "You broke into my system again. I thought I had made it strong enough to keep you out this time."

Clenching her jaw, Barbara cut him off. "What are Catwoman and Ivy doing?"

"Batman's job." He brought over Barbara's wheelchair. "Harley decided that if no one was going to do it, heroing could be a fun hobby."

"Harley Quinn?" She lifted herself up and swatted away Stray's hands. It still hurt her pride that he had taken her out so easily. "Last I saw she was running with the Joker."

"Ivy says it's an 'on-again, off-again thing?' Whatever that means." He went back to the Batcomputer. "Computer" The screen lit up. "Show me the crime rates over the past few months. Percents and types of crimes." A chart appeared on the screen.

"You keyed the computer into your voice patterns?"

"Alfred said it would be useful if I was going to keep asking to use it." He gestured toward the screen "There. Catwoman and Ivy say they don't have anything against thieves or streetwalkers or anything like that but they don't like gangs or domestic violence so they've been keeping an eye on that. Armed robberies, bomb threat, anything they think may hurt innocents. Harley has a soft spot for little kids."

"Is the superhero community doing anything?"

"Batman never liked them to interfere. Besides, if Nightwing hasn't came in, they must suppose everything is alright. I've blocked any outside surveillance to the best of my abilities and when the Justice League showed up, I sent them on a Wild-Bruce chase."

Barbara wheeled in front of the computer. "Where's Dick?"

"Teen Titans have been busy."

"Busy enough to abandon Gotham?"

Stray shrugged and walked away. He went to the mat and started attacking a dummy. Barbara wheeled after him, wanting to speak but his body language was closed off and moody. And they had never talked about when he had came to her hospital room, not that it was a conversation she was dying to revisit. She sat and watched for a few seconds. Her and Dick used to spar all the time. It was always a well balanced match. Occasionally, it would dissolve into cuddling. Barbara scoffed at her nostalgia. It wouldn't do her any good.

"Ms. Gordon." She turned to see Alfred standing beside her. "You know, I had the privilege of working with a man once. His legs had been blown off by a bomb and was confined to a wheelchair. But, whenever we went to the gym he would always follow. That man would work out the same as the people with their legs would and sometimes, he would even spar with us. Not even the best fighters could compare to him. He had heart. I asked him once how he did it and he told me, 'A man can give up once he's lost everything or he can push himself back up and fight to gain it back.' I greatly admired him." He smiled softly, dropped Dick's escrima sticks in her lap and walked away. She looked at them then wrapped a hand around one, basking in the familiarity of it.

"Stray?" He turned from his practice. "Does your vigilante team need a hacker? Or at least a competent one." A boxing glove flew at her but she deflected it with the sticks. A smile crept onto Barbara's face.

Chapter Text

"Merry Christmas!" The door to the apartment swung back and hit the wall and a pigtailed blonde stood in the doorway. "Did you get presents for me?" She skipped and placed herself in Poison Ivy's lap, wrapping arms around her neck like an octopus.

Catwoman hissed in annoyance at the blonde. "It's not Christmas."

"It's not?" Harley's eyes were wide with confusion. "Oh. Well! It is now! Merry Christmas! I'm your present!" She jumped up from Ivy's lap and moved to Catwoman's and smiled up from her lap. "Did you miss me?"

"No." She pushed Harley off her and went to warn Stray. Too late. He came around the corner and Harley jumped him, cuddling him to her chest.

"Lil' Mermaid! I missed you! Look at you-" A frown slid into place. "Please tell me you have been varying the outfits. If you've been wearing the same shirt since I left, we are going to have a long talk on hygiene."

"I wore my hoodie whenever it was being washed."

"GAH!" She grabbed his arm and a baseball bat. "Lil' Mermaid and I are going shopping. Someone make sure my room is clean for when I get back."

-------------

Barbara tried to keep a straight face as Harley inspected her but it was hard when Stray was standing in the background wearing... that. A green lace off the shoulder crop top with high waisted black shorts covered with enough rivets and spikes to set off a metal detector. His fingers were worrying at the three new studs in his left ear. Makeup was reapplied to his face and looked much better than Stray's previous attempts. Seven more bags sat at his feet and Catwoman sorted through them, occasionally throwing clothes to the side in disgust- though Barbara saw her tuck a shirt away on her person.

"So." Barbara drew her attention back to the woman in front of her. "You want to be one of us? Do you have any skills?"

"I'm a hacker."

"Lil' Mermaid can do that."

"No offense but Stray is a beginner. He is a few years behind my skill level. And if I joined then he could come out with you and fight."

Harley immediately lit up. "Mermaid! You could come be my partner!" He paled and stepped back.

"I, I'm not so sure. Maybe I should stick around Barbara and get better on the computer."

"Nope. My partner." She wrapped an arm around his shoulders. "We could get matching outfits!"

"I draw the line at corsets. I need to breathe."

She trilled a laugh but Stray didn't look comforted.

-------------

Barbara watched their actions on the Batcomputer screen. Alfred had given her and Stray permission to use the Batcave as they liked and both were determined to take full advantage of that. Barbara's eyes were constantly moving as she watched the Gotham City Sirens move across the city. She monitored other crimes at the same time and watched for outside hero activity. Stray didn't want to be surprised by a Justice League visit again. Batman had snuck a bug in to the Space Station a few years back and it was turning out to be priceless.

"Mermaid!" She jerked her eyes to Stray's and Harley's screen. Hell's Kitchen. They had gotten swarmed by Two-Face's lackeys and Stray was freezing up. Barbara quickly sent a message out to the King of the city section- Bane. An affirmative came back in seconds and she watched as his men came and assisted. Smooth. Stray pushed himself up and Harley dusted him off. She wasn't talking into the mic but it still picked her up.

"Every time you get scared, he wins." She lifted Stray's chin. "Don't let them know how you feel. The bravest thing you can do is to refuse to show them when they get to you. It's like you have boxes in your brain. One is your feelings, the other is what you show the world. Make sure the world never knows your weaknesses. Don't be afraid of them, make them fear you." He nodded then straightened his shoulders (thankfully he was back in the t-shirt and leather pants- no matching outfits with Harley- though Barbara had seen some pretty interesting outfits that Harley had put him in). Harley swung her bat over her shoulders and swaggered away, looking for another fight. Stray followed, putting the same swing to his step.

-----------

"Selina?" Stray rolled over from his lazy sprawl across the Gotham Museum rooftop. "Why did Harley come back? I thought she'd left us for good."

"I wish." A rolled stretch popped his spine and Selina sat back on her haunches. "That woman has more mood swings than a teenage girl. Can't ever trust her."

"Why'd she come to us?"

Selina scoffed a bit at his curiosity- perhaps the Little Mermaid thing had merit- but gave in. "You've met the Joker. He's a creep, right?" Nod. "Harley finds that attractive. I couldn't tell you why but she thinks his madness is charming or some hogwash like that. Perhaps she thinks he is 'misunderstood' or something. Not the point. The point is, you can love a crazy person but they can't love you back. She pours all her passion into him and he punishes her for it." Selina sighed and shook her head in amazement. "Woman isn't even from Brooklyn. She just talks like she is because he likes the way it sounds. She had a PhD and yet she acts like an imbecile. I can't decide if the fact she changes herself for him makes her insane or desperate."

"He doesn't love her?"

"Joker can't love anyone. But since she is such a lost puppy, he can kick her around and she'll always come back. Harley is crazy for loving a psycho."

She waited for Stray's response but he sat staring over the city- at the bright lights dimmed by smog. Finally he answered, softly. "Yeah. Loving someone who doesn't love you back doesn't make much sense, I guess. It's kinda like loving parents who always leave you."

Chapter Text

Gotham settled into a schedule. The Sirens ran the city, the police and politicians let them be. There was peace (or as much peace as Gotham ever got). The arrival of outside heroes changed that.

Ivy jerked back as Barbara (or rather Oracle) spoke over the comms. "The Titans are here." She and the girls drew back from the fight, slipping away into the shadows. Their opponents, a couple of thugs, stood in confusion before running for cover. If the Sirens ran, they figured they should too. A red streak caught them before they went far and Kid Flash smiled at them. Starfire landed behind him and put the criminals in handcuffs and flew them to the police station. Harley watched them from the shadows.

"They're in our turf."

"Cool it, Harley." Catwoman didn't look any happier. Her hands flexed as she watched them take people to the station. "There's nothing we can do."

"We had a system." Plants broke from the concrete and curled around Ivy's ankles as if they were her subconscious, trying to hold her back. "The police aren't going to know what to do with our criminals."

Stray, or Lil' Mermaid as the media called him, paced silently. His shoulders were tensed under his silky green top. Long painted nails raked through hair that brushed at his collarbone. Eventually, the heroes left their sight. Oracle kept them updated on arrests and fights. They stayed hidden until the heroes left. Harley hissed in annoyance as they left their hiding spot.

"I'm not going to hide next time. I'll kill them if they try to butt in again."

"Harley." Ivy turned to her. "I don't like this anymore than you but we can't fight them. Most of those guys are sidekicks. We mess with them and the Justice League comes after us. All we can do is sit around and clean up the mess after they leave."

"I still don't like it."

"You don't have to. You just have to live with it."

---------------

"I want them out."

Lil' Mermaid sighed as the Gotham Kings fought. All basically said the same thing but none could agree on tactics. Bane was planning a trap, wanting to trick the heroes into going into an arena where they'd have to fight for their lives. Penguin was sketching out plans for a bomb that would destroy their headquarters. Killer Croc was searching for the best ambushing spots. Mr. Freeze had his freeze gun out and was polishing it.

Little Mermaid tried to speak over the crowd. "I don't think violence is the answer. Half of them aren't even human. I can get stats and ability sheets made for each of them but I'd need a few months."

"I don't want them back in our city. Every time they come makes us look weaker." Killer Croc slammed his fist. "I am not weak."

"Croc, they are sidekicks. We don't want to bring in the big guys."

"So we kill them too."

Bane laughed from his chair. "Says the guy who couldn't even scratch Batman."

Croc lunged across the table. There was a flurry on action and a splash of blood hit the table but no one was really concerned. Croc couldn't beat Bane and Bane couldn't beat Croc in these circumstances.

Mr. Freeze sighed. "Is contacting them and telling them to back off out of the question?"

"That's rich." Penguin snorted. "Think of who is in the Titans. You think Nightwing is going to agree to letting villains rule the city he spent his entire childhood trying to protect?"

"He hasn't come to do it himself."

"Not doing it yourself and letting your worst enemy do it for you is very different."

Bane threw Croc back to his side of the table. He wiped blood off a cut on his neck. "I hate to admit it but Joker is the only one who ever did any damage to the Bat. I broke his back but he recovered. The Joker seriously messed him up. We could sic him on them."

"We don't deal with the Joker." The youngest member was suddenly out of his seat and glaring around the table. "I don't want him on our payroll. I don't want him near me."

"Look," Penguin sighed. "He's a monster, we get it. But sometimes we need to work with monsters."

"Not the Joker. Never the Joker. He hurt Harley. He killed Jason."

Silence.

"Who the hell is Jason?" Croc rumbled.

Lil' Mermaid blinked. He had meant to say Robin. "Jason was my friend."

"The Joker killed a lot of people." Mr. Freeze snorted.

"I don't want the Joker."

"Fine. Not the Joker. We'll think of something else." Penguin put his bomb blueprints on the screen. "How about we blow them up?"

--------------

Barbara and the Sirens held their own meeting but no ideas from them either. They decided they would just bear with the visits and hope the heroes would eventually give it up. Until then, if the Titans showed up, they'd back off. Harley didn't like it. She stormed off and disappeared for two months. Came back with a black eye and a smile, dragging Lil' Mermaid out for another shopping trip.

Selina watched in annoyance. "I hate it when she steals him."

"Not much we can do but watch. Besides, he's good for her."

"Is she good for him?"

---------------

Harley had told Stray to put his mind into boxes and it worked. He put Stray away, in a box far in the corner of his mind, with Timothy Drake to keep him company. And he put on Lil' Mermaid. They weren't all that different. Lil' Mermaid still trusted Selina and Ivy and Harley. He still liked technology. The only difference was he didn't remember that night. Occasionally, Mermaid would slip and Stray would remind him again about the pain, the fear, the helplessness. But if Mermaid was in control, there was not fear, not of mortals or superheroes.

Chapter Text

They never got a chance to see if the Titans would have eventually given up.
---------------

Catwoman growled in frustration. This was the fourth time the Titans had showed up. She was getting tired of having to hide. "Oracle, what are they up to now?"

"The usual, arresting people left and right. Of course, since they only show up once a month they're missing all the nuances of mafia relations. And, once again," She let out a hiss of annoyance. "They didn't bother to study up before hand so all the corrupt politicians are getting away. Harley had planned a strike on them but since you are all in hiding, she missed her window."

"It makes me uncomfortable not to be together right now. Where's the Mermaid?"

"Three blocks from Ivy and one from Harley. Rather far from you but those two will take care of him."

Catwoman grunted quietly but leaned back to wait.
---------------

Harley watched the crooks finish their meeting. She had planned this strike for weeks and now those punks ruined it. Maybe... -she crept out of the shadows slightly- if she was quiet, Harley could get them all, scare them into submission and good behavior. The Titans wouldn't even know.

---------------

"Harley! Damn it, Harley!" Lil' Mermaid jerked back as his comm burst to life and Barbara started yelling in his ear. Ivy and Catwoman jumped in, demanding to know what was going on. "She's going through with her plan. Harley! Stop! No, Titans are headed her way! Ivy, distract them. If they catch her-" Lil' Mermaid shut off his comm and ran toward Harley. There was no way she'd listen to a voice in her head (she already had so many) but if he could stop her, maybe they wouldn't get caught. He bolted through the building and ran the stairs. The door was shut and locked but he broke through quickly. Two men were on the ground and someone was screaming. Harley had a woman up against the wall. Scare tactics, typical Gotham fare but not appropriate when heroes were wandering outside, searching for a sign of trouble. Out of the corner of his eye, someone moved. He lunged toward them but the man pulled down the fire alarm and it started wailing. Lil' Mermaid shoved him out of the way and yanked the cover off the alarm. Fingers quickly yanked out certain wires and it fell silent. Everyone stared at him.

"Harley, we've got to go."

For a second she stood, contemplating. Finally, she dropped the woman and walked to Lil' Mermaid. Except she never made it. A red streak flew by Lil' Mermaid and grabbed Harley by the arms, quickly handcuffing her. Her baseball bat fell to the floor. Kid Flash slowed for a second. Long enough for Lil' Mermaid to get a look at him. Long enough for him to decide to attack.

The Mermaid lunged at the speedster. Of course, he'd never be fast enough but he could be smart enough. Sure, his opponent could move at impossible speeds but he was a teenager. That meant he was more likely to attack fast and less likely to think. Hopefully.

Kid Flash easily grabbed his attacker, a little blue-haired kid. The kid stumbled and lost his balance when his hands were restrained so he propped him against the wall. "Stay." Kid Flash tapped his comm. "Hey Wing! All good here. I got two thugs trying to attack city officials. Need any help? Cool. I'll drop them off at the station and-" His entire body shook at the power of the charge that shot through him.

Lil' Mermaid and Harley watched as he crumpled. A pair of goggles hung off the back of his suit, sparking and buzzing like a continuous taser. Harley tsked and maneuvered her arms to the front for Mermaid to unlock. "How did he not feel those?"

"I was carrying light weight ones today. I ran out of reinforced ones so I had to switch for a bit."

"When you pretended to trip?"

"He seemed like a nice fellow. I thought I'd take advantage of that." Lil' Mermaid turned on his comm. Barbara was screaming.

"They are right outside the building! Get out! Get out!"

Windows crashed and the Titans flew in. Nightwing landed in a crouch. Harley was standing over Wally's limp form. Nightwing saw red and leapt toward her and knocked the villain to the floor with a punch. The Joker and his cronies had already wrecked his life enough, he wasn't letting them him anymore. Nightwing turned to Harley's accomplice and was met with a bat.

When Nightwing had went for Harley, Lil' Mermaid went for her bat. He was ready when Nightwing turned on him. The first strike was followed by three more in quick succession. Dick never had a chance. Something cracked on the fifth blow and Lil' Mermaid smiled in satisfaction. He sensed something behind him and ducked, twisting and swinging upward with his bat. The man behind him stepped out of range of the swing. Lil' Mermaid assessed Cyborg, dropped his bat, and then attacked. Cyborg caught Mermaid's jaw with a punch and followed it with a gut shot. The villain shook it off and darted out of Cyborg's reach. There were no loose wires and the metal seemed strong but there were weak spots on every machine and Lil' Mermaid was an inventor so it didn't take long to find them. He lunged back toward Cyborg and within seconds, Cyborg was curled on the ground, wires sparking and peeking out of his chest.

A green gorilla attacked and Lil' Mermaid allowed it to drag him into its chest in a death grip. He felt ribs crack but a tilt of his head and Lil' Mermaid's green lips were pressed against the gorilla's. The gorilla pulled back in shock but fell to the ground as the poison of Ivy's lipstick took him down. Mermaid rolled and grabbed his bat and swung at the approaching attacker. Orange hands caught the blow and glowing green eyes stared down at him. Tamaranian. He could never compete with her strength. But he tried anyway. The Mermaid pulled the bat from her grip and swung at her again. She blocked it with a forearm and one of her hands lit up and a glowing ball rushed toward his face. Ducking away, Lil' Mermaid tried to make space between them. Once again though, someone got in his way.

Raven didn't give the boy a chance to fight, knocking him out with a blast of energy. She quickly checked the team and sent in a call for help.
---------------------

Ivy held Selina back. They listened as Barbara relayed the fight to them dully. When Lil' Mermaid was finally taken down, both sank to the ground.

"He's just a kid. They won't hurt him, Selina."

"He just took out four of the Titans! Like Hell they won't!" She pulled away from Ivy and turned to face the wall. An arm came up and she buried her face in the crook of it. "Why did he jump in? How could he be so stupid?"

"He's close to Harley. You know he is. She's like family to him."

"Well he needs to stop trusting his family!" She spun in anger. "They keep getting him hurt."
---------------------

The Justice League stood in the infirmary and watched as the Titans were patched up.

"What was wrong with that pyscho?" Cyborg hissed as his wires were reattached.

"He was defending the woman." Starfire studied his chest cavity. "Blue wire to blue port?"

"Green port."

"Right."

"What about his eyes?" Beast Boy's voice was a whisper and he coughed dryly. Everyone winced. The poison in the boy's kiss had almost killed him. "They were green."

"Are you color blind?" Wally West looked at Beast Boy oddly. "They were blue. I remember, they matched his hair."

"They were green. This weird, almost sick feeling green."

"You're one to talk." Raven murmured from against the wall. Everyone laughed. "I'm with Beast Boy, though. They were green when I got there."

Nightwing sighed and pushed himself up. "If that's who I think it was, they were blue."

"And who do you think it was?" Wonder Woman raised and eyebrow. "I've met him before but I've never got a name."

"You met him?" Nightwing jerked his head up in shock.

"When we went to Gotham. He hit Kal-El in the face with a baseball bat."

"Sounds like Stray. I got into a fight with him once before and Batman had him getting patched up in the cave."

"Wait." Wally rolled over to look at Nightwing, wincing as he moved. "Batman had him in the Batcave? Even I'm not allowed in there! Is he a family friend?"

"Not exactly. His name is Timothy Drake. Catwoman took him in and he adopted the name 'Stray.' Nice enough the first time we met. Don't know what he was doing with Harley. What did you do with her anyway?"

"Gave her to the Gotham police." Superman entered the room. He had been checking on the prisoner. "'Stray' we brought and put in the detention center so we could get a look at him. You said Catwoman 'took him in.' Are his parents dead?"

"No but-"

"Then after we are done with our tests, we can determine if he is a threat and possibly return him to his parents. Maybe he just needs to be with his family and away from bad influences."

"I don't think that's a good idea. His parents are-"

"Are they abusive?"

"No. Well, not exactly-"

"Settled then. We inform them we have their son and then decide what to do with him." Superman nodded in satisfaction and walked out. Nightwing sighed in frustration and scraped his hands down his face. He looked around at his team. All except Raven and Starfire had been injured. Perhaps he had underestimated Stray. The kid seemed to have been hanging out with the wrong crowd and he seemed to have picked up some bad habits.
------------------

"Supes." The Flash put a hand on Superman's arm and led him and the team to the conference room. "I didn't want to say this in front of the kids but... 'Stray?' There's something odd about him. There's something in his blood."

Chapter Text

Kal-El steepled his fingers and studied the Flash. "So you're saying he is enhanced?"

"I'm telling you that I don't know. This stuff in his blood, I can make assumptions of what it's for but I don't know exactly what it is."

"So it's not in the database?" Aquaman tossed his trident lazily from hand to hand.

"Not exactly." Flash stood up and pulled up files on a big screen. "These are the two foreign traces in his blood. One, I've identified as related to plants though I don't fully understand its effects. The last is a mystery. But." He turned to the League. "They are all in the database." He tapped on each file. They opened to a black screen saying :

CLASSIFIED- ORDER OF BATMAN

"Both of them. Bats locked them off so we can't get in there." Flash shut off the screen and sat with a sigh. "I don't know if he was trying to hide something or if he was just being his mysterious self but we won't know until we find him."

"Is this why you didn't want to talk in front of the Titans?" inquired Green Lantern.

"Mostly. Nightwing has had a rough time lately. What was I supposed to tell him? 'Hey, we suspect your mentor and father-in-all-but-name has been hiding something from us and it could mean he was responsible for whatever this kid is?' That'd go over smoothly."

"Wait. You think he's responsible?" Aquaman set his trident on the table and leaned forward. "You think the Bat was genetically modifying a child?"

"I'm just trying to follow the clues. You heard what Nightwing said. The kid was over in the cave. That's not a casual thing. Batman was 'patching him up.' How was he injured? Did he take advantage of that to modify the kid? Did the kid have a choice?" The Flash put his head in his hands. "I like Batman. He's a good hero and I don't want to think he'd do something like this. However, we can all agree that his moral compass points in a different direction than ours."

Martian Manhunter folded his hands under his chin. "The Batman doesn't like metahumans in Gotham. Why would he create one of his own?"

"I don't know. That's why I didn't want to talk in front of the Titans until we got a better idea of what was going on."

"Shall I go find out?" The alien rose to his feet and left the room.
-------------------

Lil' Mermaid was strapped into a hospital chair. He tested the straps and wiggled. Nothing. These straps could probably hold down Bane. There were no locks for him to pick and no wires for him to work with. All he could do was wait. Breathing out, Lil' Mermaid allowed himself to melt into the cushioned chair, enjoying the comfort. Mentally, he thought through the fight, of things he could have done better. He catalogued his injuries- cracked ribs, strained tendons in his wrist, and a massive migraine.

The door to his cell opened and Lil' Mermaid forced himself to be still. A red-eyed, green alien entered the room- Martian Manhunter, telepath. Lil' Mermaid stiffened and brought his memories as Lil' Mermaid to the forefront. There was nothing in there to incriminate him. Except as a criminal. But nothing that would show who he was or what he knew. His past life was hidden deep. That wouldn't be enough though. As the Martian stepped closer, Lil' Mermaid frantically fortified his mind using meditation techniques he had found online but he had studied the Martian.

He could shape shift, move things with his mind, and read people's minds. Even their subconscious. The only thing that ever stopped him was insanity.

"Hush, child. I shall not hurt you. They have sent me to see what created you." A green hand came to rest on his face but before it touched, the blue-haired child pulled up his memories of the night he became Catwoman's- not his meeting or his acceptance of her offer but of the fire that raged around them. Of the building burning and sirens and screams. The hand jerked back and J'onn J'onzz jerked back and stumbled. The fire seared the inside of his brain and he hissed at the image. "Child. I simply wish to see what it is that made you this way. Let me in." Again he sent probes into the child's mind. He pushed past the images of fire and was met by-

Lil' Mermaid panicked. If he saw his mind, Batman's identity would be revealed. His own identity would be revealed and he'd be sent back to his family. Selina was right. It was crazy to love people who would never love you back but it was miserable to live, knowing you weren't loved. The probes touched his brain and he made his choice.

- Images of darkness, of a creature attacking. Pain. Pain. Pain. Darkness, a light and then awakening to an angel with hair of fire. The images faded and were replaced by a figure standing in front of a mirror. At first, Martian saw a black-haired child, bones fragile and eyes empty. It faded and blended, stretching and changing before a man appeared. Long black hair flew around his face and the blue tips accented the cold blue eyes. Tattoos traced down the man's arms and scars speared through them. Martian saw himself in the mirror, looking over the man's shoulder. A vicious smile appeared on the man's face and suddenly Martian Manhunter was pushed out. He stumbled back as he was suddenly in the cell again. The child lay quietly in front of him, eyes closed, breathing slow and calm.

What had just happened?
----------------------

"I was unable to gather any information and I do not believe we will be able to use the child as a source of information."

"J'onn, what happened?" Wonder Woman stood to go to his side, helping him into a chair.

"He didn't want me in his brain. So he recreated himself. The boy remade himself, erasing his past, keeping only what he found valuable. There is a madness in his mind that he uses as a barricade to both protect himself from the world and from me." J'onn rubbed at his skull tiredly. "I cannot believe that a child had such strength. Nor can I forgive myself to pushing him to such lengths."

Aquaman blinked. "What does that even mean?"

"It means that who ever that boy was before, he no longer is. Nightwing called him, 'Stray.' He has renamed himself as 'Dragon.'"
----------------------

The Dragon lay silently, waiting for the next move. For the next attack. His mind fluttered, testing it's new limits and prodding at the gaping wounds his recreation had left. Somethings had to be removed and though it had hurt, it had been necessary. He was stronger now. No insecurity, no fear of things going bump in the night, no want to be accepted. A Dragon did not have weaknesses. They had a horde, that they held close to their heart. They had a armor of scales and blew hell's fire toward all who dared come near.

Chapter Text

The cops looked nervously at the kid standing between Superman and Wonder Woman. Compared to them he was a toothpick.

"This kid?"

"Yes." Superman kept the annoyance out of his voice but Wonder Woman sensed it and laughed to herself. "This child attacked the Teen Titans. He is dangerous."

"What do you want us to do with him?"

"What do you usually do with troubled teens?"

They led him to a juvenile detainment center. Not even a full blown prison. Dragon followed passively. He waited as they informed the prison of his crimes, his capabilities, and his "real name." Timothy Drake wasn't his name. Dragon had had three names in his life. The one that had described him, the one he'd been given, and the one he chose. The first name he ever had was "Stray" and no one had ever named him that. It was just a description of what he was. Harley had given him his second name and he had embraced it but the third name was one he had chosen. Dragons were strong and vicious and being a dragon would help him survive and escape, so that's what he was and now, who he was.

Superman pushed Dragon lightly over to the guards. "Good behavior will make this much easier for you, Timothy."

He ignored him, focusing more on the weaknesses of his new realm. And there were many- this seemed too easy. Was it a test? He'd give the place a trial for a few days, just to be sure. "Couldn't place me back in Gotham?"

"We thought that to be unwise, considering that it is under villains' rule." Wonder Woman signed a few papers. "Metropolis' prison system is much more friendly than Gotham anyway. It'll be better for a young person. We couldn't contact your parents. They must have been out of the country but they will come for you when they return."

The guards took him by his arms and led him away down a brightly lit hallway. Armored doors shut behind him. Electronic locks. He reached a large, open room with bean bags and a large TV protected by bulletproof glass. Dozens of teens looked up from their lounging.

"Hey fresh blood!"

"We got a pretty one boys!"

"Look at his face. Think the kid is scared?"

"He should be!" Raucous laughter followed this last comment. Standing silently as his cuffs were removed, Dragon sized up the competition. Fresh blood indeed. In Gotham, the fight rings wouldn't let him participate anymore. It would be nice to be able to practice again. Dragon breathed slowly, rolling his shoulders. It had been a while but something made him want to fight, he had bloodlust in his veins. He slunk forward.

A large boy, probably 17 judging from the patchy facial hair, watched Dragon approach and laughed. "Lil' princess walks like a girl." Dragon smiled back and went to the bean chair he was in, crouching so he was eye level with him.

"Mind if I sit?"

"You blind or something? Find your own spot. Like on the floor- that's where fresh meat sits."

"Thanks for the advise." Dragon's hand clutched the boys collar and with a twist and a roll, removed him from the chair. The boy hit the back wall and collapsed. Sliding into the chair, Dragon purred with pleasure and watched as the lounge quickly emptied.
----------------

The guards quickly figured out that Dragon didn't play well with others. Or perhaps others didn't play well with him. His roommates had been aggressive and so Dragon had put them in their place. Unfortunately for the medical staff, that also meant they had patients. The guards did their best to avoid fights, except for the ones who seemed to find joy in watching the teens get knocked around. When he wanted to go to the lounge, depending on who was on, they would either clear it or bet on who he would 'pummel' today. It quickly got boring. Dragon could handle fighting for fun or crime-fighting but fighting teens( who either never learned or cowered away) just to please the guards was not in Dragon's plans. The fifth day there, he broke out and made it thirty miles before Superman appeared and dragged him back. The juvenile detention didn't want him back, so he got upgraded. Real thing this time.

The building was looming and cast a shadow that was Gotham worthy. Superman looked distastefully at the place, probably because of all the Lex Corp tech in the place. He quickly handed Dragon over and left him to their tender care. He was quickly dragged down a hallway toward his new residence. Dragon smiled as he studied the cells they passed. At least they would be a challenge. His brain had been lazy for far to long and the idea of a challenge excited him.

His cell was just like the others. A four person cell, beds, exposed toilet, and heavily secured door. His new roommates looked up as he entered.

"You imprisoning kids in here now?" The man rolled off the top bunk and the bed rattled as he landed. "I thought pipsqueaks went to the little leagues." The guards ignored him, removing Dragon's cuffs.

"Behave. We stuck you with some nice guys but if you screw up and mess around, we'll make your stay less enjoyable."

The inmates watched the guards leave. "Charming." A man unfolded himself from the bunk farthest from the toilet. "Alright, kid. What'd you do to end up here?"

"I tried to kill superheroes."

Silence.

"Come again?" The third man was also tall but his shoulders were broader and beefier than the second man's.

"They attacked my partner. And my city. I wasn't about to let it go unpunished."

"And your first thought was to 'kill them?'"

"Oh, shut up Bryce. Who are we to judge? Hey, kid. Name's Xeno." The second man, tall and skinny, winked at Dragon. "I'm in for grand theft auto. It was a Lamborghini. They caught me three days later but oh, was it worth it! Bryce is the chatterbox and Kingston's the beefy one."

"It's less of me being beefy and more of these guys being sticks." Kingston's smile pushed his cheeks up until they almost swallowed his eyes. "I got put in here for attempted manslaughter."

Bryce grinned crookedly. "These guys are criminals and it sounds like you are too. Pity, I was hoping for some company."

Kingston boomed a laugh. "Bryce claims he's innocent. Everyone here knows he's guilty as sin. He's a smuggler. Trades in weapons, drugs, anything you can think of."

"So if you ever need anything, ask him. He claims to be innocent but he can get you all the best goodies." Xeno slugged Bryce's shoulder. Bryce shoved him off and immediately they started wrestling.

"What's the name, kid?" Kingston lumbered back up to the top bunk.

"Dragon."

Xeno laughed and shoved Bryce away. "No need to try and be cool. What's the real name?"

"Dragon."

"Alright. Dragon it is."

------------------------

Supper was a glum affair. They were released into a cafeteria and went to plates already laying on the table. Dragon stared at the meat on his plate. His stomach rebeled at the thought of eating it but there was no reason not to. To not eat it was a sign of weakness. He nibbled at it, staring impassively around the table, each bite of meat making him want to throw up. He had flashes of mutilated bodies spiraling through his mind. Forcing his mind off his food, he glanced down the table. Kingston sat next to him poking sadly at a plate of.... What the? Dragon lowered his face and sniffed at it. A hand pulled him back.

"It's Nutraloaf. Don't smell it, it's not worth it. I got in a bit of trouble earlier so I get Nutraloaf for supper."

"What is it?"

"Blended up what ever we had recently. They say it encourages us to behave and I hate to agree but they're right. I'd rather be a goody-two shoes than eat this."

Stray lifted his plate and dumped the rest of his meat on Kingston's tray. "Eat this."

"This is the best part of the meal!"

"I don't like meat."

Kingston perked up. "How 'bout we make a deal then. You sit next to me and give your meat to me. I'll trade over my salad. Damned rabbit food."

------------------------

Showers didn't appeal to Dragon in the least. He liked water but he didn't like the company. Dragon pointedly kept his head up. He had seen plenty of naked women but it had been a long time since he'd seen a naked man. They were hairy and muscly and....Dragon shuddered and kept his eyes up. Why were they so hairy? Was that the effect of puberty? Disgusting. Though, it seemed as if he's start looking like them soon. No one would give him a razor. Dragon sighed but carried on, it may be in a dragon's nature to be vain but he was not picking up that trait. The women he lived with covered that base plenty.

Chapter Text

The occupants of the shower watched Dragon. He was slim, all lean muscles and graceful angles. If his blue hair didn't make him stand out enough, his age did. A lanky man lathered his shoulders. "What's a kid doing in here?"

A behemoth of a human leaned into his space. "Heard he tried to kill the Justice League."

"Idiot. What's he doing trying to take them on?"

"I don't know. Look at him though. Not a scratch on him. I used to work for some small type villains, if we fought with the League- looked like we'd all been put into a prize fighting ring. Metas don't know their own strength."

A mullet-headed man leaned and whispered with his friend. "That kid ain't from Metropolitan. Don't know if it's the swagger or the cold-blooded look to him but that kid definitely ain't from around here."

"Heard him talking in the cafeteria. Jersey accent. Maybe even Gotham."

"That'd explain the killer vibe around him. No one good comes out of Gotham."
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Dragon leaned against the door to the cell. It was constructed from bulletproof glass so the guards could see in. Dragon liked it because he could see out. The guards were ridiculously easily to predict. If he could get to a control board, he'd be out of here in minutes. A hand pounded on the window and he stepped back so the guard could open the door.

"Follow the crowd. Yard time for 2 hours. No fights. No suspicious activity."

Dragon tucked himself behind Bryce and followed in his wake. As they marched through the hallways, people would slip in line next to Bryce and whisper to him. He could only catch snatches on the conversations but mostly it was requests for cigarettes, technology, or drugs. It would be entertaining to monitor Bryce and see how he acquired his supplies. Perhaps even put in an order himself.

They exited the grey building and light was almost blinding. Dragon slipped from the line and moved to the far side of the field to inspect the fences. Too high to jump. He could probably climb them if there was an issue with the gate. A quick turn. If he could get a long enough pole, he could vault off the roof. The drop would be high but he'd taken worse.

"Dragon! Hey kid!" He turned and spotted Xeno. Bryce was next to him as well but he wasn't jumping up and down, waving his arms like a madman (eg. Xeno). Dragon weaved his way across the prison yard until he ended up at Xeno's other side. The angular face lit up and he ruffled a hand through the teen's hair. "Are you going to get a trim anytime soon? Your hair's getting pretty long."

"I like it long. Easier to style."

"Cool. Whatever floats your boat, I suppose. To the topic though, I didn't call you over to talk about your hair." Reno gave Dragon a quick up-down. "Though, that color looks smashing on you. Did you do it yourself?"

"Xeno," Bryce sighed tersely. "Just get to the point."

Xeno flipped Bryce the bird but kept his eyes on Dragon. "Have you always walked like that?" A black brow raised questioningly. "Like, you know. I don't even know- Like this." Xeno pretended to push his buzz-cut auburn hair back and sashayed away with over exaggerated hip movements.

Bryce snorted in disgust. "Thankfully you're not as bad as Xeno but, yeah, like a girl."

"Like a girl?" Dragon experimentally walked. He felt the twitch in his hips. "Ah. No. I picked it up a year or two ago."

"Any reason why? Not that I'm judging, just curious." Xeno's hands fluttered around and he started to pet Dragon's hair again.

"Formative years spent around females."

"That explains SO much!" Xeno laughed loudly. Bryce cuffed him. "I didn't mean that weirdly, it's just- he had holes in his ears from earrings."

"So did I."

"Bryce, you are a man's man. Maybe you like pain or something."

"They made my cheekbones stand out more."

Xeno threw his hands up in surrender. "So you are a fashion-mad man. The point is, you don't walk like a woman. Dragon does. No fifteen-year old should be walking like a woman."

"Thirteen."

"What?"

"I'm thirteen, not fifteen. I don't remember my birthday though, so I might be fourteen now."

Xeno's jaw dropped. "How does someone not remember their birthday?"

"It wasn't important." Dragon's shoulders lifted in a light shrug. "There are ties and memories behind every birthday. I only remember one." He dodged away from Xeno's fluttering hands and strode away, hips swaying in defiance. If that was a how a woman walked than that would be how he walked. The strongest people he'd ever met were women.

----------------------------

His first fight happened in the cafeteria. Dragon felt a hand touch his hip and slide around his back. He broke the hand and flipped the man onto the nearest table. Short, slim, young. The broken nose Dragon gifted him did no favors to his face, nor would the bruises that would surely follow. A large hand lifted him off the man and Dragon almost attacked before he recognized Kingston. The large man set Dragon down, picked up the man whimpering on the table and threw him across the cafeteria. The guards put the man in restraints and dragged him away without a word. No one came to reprimand Dragon or Kingston.

"We're not in trouble?"

"If there's one thing we hate, guards and criminals alike, it's people who hurt children."

"I'm not a child."

"To us you are. Shut up and hand over the hamburger. All that fighting made me hungry."

--------------------------

It was driving him mad. The repetitive schedule. The bars and locked doors. Dragon paced in the cell, feeling it grow smaller each lap he made. Bryce ignored him, apathetically playing cards with Kingston. Xeno watched him walk. His long arms dangled off the bunk.

"So is this a exercise thing? Or a religious thing?"

Dragon ignored him and climbed to the top bunk. He hooked his knees over the foot of the bed and hung down. He started on crunches.

"So an exercise thing. That's cool. You know, obesity epidemic and all, nice to see kids exercising and not just messing around on their phones."

"Xeno." Bryce looked up from his game. "Leave the kid alone. He is stressing out."

"Oh! That makes so much sense. That's cool. As long as you don't start crying. Crying kids are the worst."

"Z." Kingston laid an ace and took the pot. "Shut up."

Dragon focused on blocking his cellmates' voices. He wasn't stressing. Stress would do nothing. He was plotting.

---------------------------

They were escorted to the yard. Dragon bumped his shoulder into Bryce as he finished a transaction for some batteries. "What's your price?"

"Depends on what you're buying. Need a few smokes?"

"Batteries. And capacitors. Microfarad preferably."

"Micro-what?" They entered the lawn. "Look kid, I can get the basics but I'm not a tech store. I could get you batteries but capacitors? I don't have a clue what those look like." Someone across the yard waved him over. "Sorry." He walked away and Dragon ignored him. There went the plan for a radio. Not that he was sure it was going to work. He knew, in theory, the process but some of the facts were a bit foggy. New plan then...

----------------------------

He was already over the fence and running before the guards caught him. And they didn't give him a chance to fight, tasing him before he could strike. Blurry memories of being carried back in and dumped in a lonely room. When his eyes started functioning again, Dragon figured that he had been put in isolation. It wasn't an issue. Now he would have time and quiet to come up with an actual plan instead of that half-brained stunt he just pulled.

Chapter Text

Dragon lay on the seat and twitched silently as the car drove away, leaving the prison behind. He didn't even have a chance to struggle. The men had opened the confinement cell door, tazed him and threw his body into a white limo. He forced himself to look at his kidnappers. There were two men and a woman, tall and composed. She glanced back and met Dragon's eyes. "Otis, he's awake. Fix that for me."

"Yes, Ms. Graves." Something slammed into the back of his head and Dragon's eyes fell shut.

Dazed eyes open and study the room. It is ostentatious, with a floor to ceiling window and a seat that must dwarf the person in it- however, it does very well for dramatic reveals. The man turns in the chair. "You must be 'Dragon.' Your files are suspiciously empty but," The man presses a button and Dragon watched as the window behind him turns into a screen. "Your actions remedied that." A recording of his fight against the Titans played.

"Did you steal the information from the politician's security feed?"

"Of course. You intrigue me." The man leaned forward in his chair and light glinted off his bald head. "Superman himself delivered you to your first prison. Why not allow someone else too? He usually doesn't bother with cleanup. You must be very unique. I'd even go so far as to say that you probably have extra abilities."

"Why did you bring me here? Why not interrogate me in prison or in a dungeon."

"Typical Gothamite. You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar."

Dragon allowed a smile to appear on his face. "In that case, what can I do for you?"

"I'm interested in hiring you. I've already spoke to your warden- they'd rather not have a child in prison and having you be an intern to a reputable man, well. I had no opponents."

"And what would I call you? Mr. Luthor? Lex? Sir?"

Lex Luthor laughed. "You are clever, aren't you? Mr. Luthor will be fine."

"And what would my position be?"

"Officially?" Luther spun his chair lazily. "You would be my intern, an errand boy. However, I delight in the thought of Superman's face when he sees you here."

"So that's what this is about? Annoying Superman?"

"And perhaps developing you into someone who could cause him problems later in life. You know," He pushed out of his chair and strode toward Dragon. "Most people think that he is a superhero, the Man of Steel, and therefore untouchable. But. For people as resourceful as you and I, no one is untouchable."

-------------------

Mercy Graves escorted Dragon to the secretaries desk. "Eve Teschmacher will get you all you need." She pushed him toward the woman lounging at the desk.

"Well, aren't you precious?" The woman smiled and stepped from behind the desk to look closer at Dragon. "You will be staying in an office here in the building that has been renovated to fit your needs. Ugh, darling, let's go get you some clothes." She waved to Dragon to follow. "Lex wanted me to tell you not to run, he's implanted a chip in your spine that will send shocks into your system- the more you struggle, the worse they get. So behave, I'd rather you not become a vegetable."

------------------

The child was obedient and silent, both admirable qualities. He tended to straddle the chair rather than sit on it but that was a small flaw. The important thing was that he was now Luthor's pawn. He smiled as he watched the boy type rapidly, eyes glowing from the screen. He learned fast and was extremely capable with technology. Perhaps he should hire more teenagers.... but Dragon was no ordinary teenager. He was the child of Gotham entrepreneurs and had at some point acquired some enhancements. And became a psychopath. Literally. The boy had thrown away all sense of right and wrong except for those of his own making. Which were fairly good, but still.... He had gathered no footage of Dragon's life in Gotham. Somebody was fighting him and refusing him entrance to the feeds. There were pictures of him with Killer Croc, with the Penguin, even one of him walking with Harley Quinn but they were all still photographs. He wanted footage.

------------------

"Are you ready, Little Dragon?" Ms. Graves looked down at the child. Luthor had assigned her to teach the boy to fight. With each practice, she got less sure that it was necessary. Of course, the boy flopped and wiggled like a noodle in her arms but he also had a precision in his movements. One he was working hard to disguise. And his looks, her lip curled in disgust as he stood to follow her to the gym. What had Eve been thinking? Eve had taken Dragon shopping. On Luthor's credit card. The boy got fishnets, pants that were more rags than coverings, multiple leather jackets, and at least two pounds of makeup. There were five silver studs in each ear (all real silver) and packages had been mailed in everyday. One package had been mailed with more makeup- green lipstick this time- from Gotham. There was no attempt at professionalism.The boy didn't care what others thought. Strangely enough though, he might just have the skills to back it up.

------------------

He let himself be choked out again. The pressure, the darkness, the light and headache as he woke. Dragon forced himself to stumble as he made his way to his feet. His arms came up in a sloppy parody a defensive position.

Mercy snorted. "Now I know you are lying. You had the hand positions down two days ago."

"My headache is just so bad..." Dragon looked up at the woman from under his lashes and pouted. "I can't even focus."

"I can see your mind working. You aren't in pain. You are plotting. It's the same look I see in Lex every day." She ignored his attempt at innocence. "You are hiding your skills. I know you can fight." Dragon only smiled and let her take him down again.

----------------------------

It became a game. Everyone in the building knew Dragon was capable of more but no one knew exactly what 'more' meant. Luthor seemed convinced Dragon would develop superpowers any day now. Mercy watched for him to attack. Eve was certain he was seeing a secret lover. Not for any reason, just because it would be romantic. Dragon waited for one of them to crack. But he cracked first.

----------------------------

Dragon smirked mentally as he felt Luthor's eyes on him. Dragon had born with his demands for a while but he would not wear a leash. He typed faster. Almost done. Luthor's security was a pain to crack but Luthor was generous enough to give him a nice computer. And... done. The system hadn't changed too much from his last break-in. Dragon accessed the controls to the Lex Corp building and took care of a few small things then hit the lights. Thank you, Alexa.

The entire building went dark. Luthor looked around and frowned. "Lights." Nothing. He turned toward Dragon but he was gone. "Dragon?" He stood and stepped toward the desk. "Dragon?" A hand grabbed his neck tightly. Luthor glanced down and saw black nails on the end of his vision. "Threatening me? How foolish." Luthor pressed the button in his pocket, the one that would shock Dragon.

The hand tightened on his throat. "It's not going to work. That was the first thing I disabled."

"You- How?"

"This isn't the first time I've been your system."

Luthor tensed. "You're a hacker." He sighed to himself. He should have guessed it, with the computer skills. He could feel the smile the felon was giving. "One good enough to break into my system.....Perhaps you and I could make an arrangement. I'll remove the spinal implant and in return you help me with a project."

"I want my own lab too. Your microtechnology is intriguing and I'd like to update a few things."

"Done."

-----------------------------

Luthor led Dragon into the underground labs. "This is where the science happens. We're in the middle of a project right now." They walked to the edge of the balcony and looked down. Scientists scurried around a foggy cylinder. "My scientists have been having some trouble recently. The project is extremely delicate and we have to monitor it at all times. We've almost lost all our progress a few times because of bad programing. Are you capable of creating a program or perhaps just monitoring it?"

Dragon trotted down the stairs and strode to the cylinder. Scientists tried to stop them but he pushed through. It was cold, foggy. Pushing himself onto his toes, Dragon breathed gently onto the cylinder. The frost fled for a millisecond and in that moment, Dragon saw a face looking back at him.

Chapter Text

"What is this?" Fire burned in his eyes as he stared at the scientists around him. "Who is in this tank?"

"That is my greatest creation." Luthor walked slowly down the stairs of the balcony. "It shall be my masterpiece, my legacy."

"Most of the time, if people want a legacy, they get married and have a kid- not make one in a lab."

The man laughed. "No woman could give me a child like this. No. This is my clone but also, Superman's. It will be his destruction." Dragon touched the cylinder again. The figure floated silently. His limbs were formed but not fully developed. The boy's eyes had been shut but he could imagine what they would be. A mix of Luthor's and Superman's. They would be brilliantly blue. So piercing they would almost cut but genuine and honest.

"And you want me to help you create him?"

"This is a multi-million dollar project. It is disgustingly difficult to get Superman's DNA. He doesn't bleed, I can't just ask him for a swab of his mouth, the man doesn't even have dandruff!" Dragon didn't look at Luthor but he could sense him raging behind him.

"I want you to teach me everything you know. I'll help you create him but I am not an errand boy anymore."

"No. Now you're a babysitter."
---------------------------

Dragon sat on a laptop next to Clone Boy's cylinder. The scientists stepped around him and hissed in annoyance but they had long since given up on telling him to move. The clone's vitals were on his screen but next to them were diagrams of new inventions and homework from Luthor. They were studies and evaluations of all known heroes and ways to defeat each one. Dragon grinned as he read through each file, added some ideas, and made copies for his own files. His city was invested by heroes and he wasn't going to stand for it. But now there were ways to beat them, weapons the common people could use. Thinking of Gotham, Dragon once again got an itch to return. But, no. Not yet. He still had work to do. Dragon winced as he felt a headache coming on again. It came whenever he tried to mix the boxes of Dragon and Mermaid. The Mermaid was screaming to go home, he wanted Selina, Harley, Ivy, even Barbara. Alfred too. Dragon shoved the desire down. Mermaid wanted to go back- though Dragon didn't know why. Perhaps it was the loyalty he felt towards them. They had never betrayed him and there was no benefit to betraying them. Once there had been a bigger reason to draw him back to them but it had to be torn out.

When he remade his mind, much had to be removed. In order to remove abandonment, friendship and other binding ties had to be removed. If he didn't want to feel rejection, then he could not feel love. If he wanted to remove certain fears, than he must take away what caused them. He had considered removing all fears but that would require taking away caution. Perhaps his innocence was gone as well. He had stripped himself of a childhood so perhaps he took his childish innocence as well. Dragon wasn't certain however. He didn't feel the need to go out and have sex with people so perhaps he still had his innocence, or maybe that was just caution.

Clone Boy's temperature rose slightly, Dragon lowered it. The boy wasn't developed enough to handle controlling his equilibrium as well as growing, at least that is what Luthor said. Dragon figured if babies could do it than Clone Boy should get with the program.
---------------------------

Barbara monitored Selina and Ivy. They had been working double time with both Harley and Lil' Mermaid gone. Barbara sighed to herself thinking of the blue-haired boy. She was struggling to find information on him. Lex Luthor had taken him but there was no explanation on what for. Why hadn't Mermaid contacted them? She knew he could, she had trained him well enough. Was something wrong with him? Barbara wished she could do something more than block Luthor's probes but the Siren's didn't have the strength or skills to attack Luthor and come out unscathed. She checked the Gotham monitors again but things had been quiet as of late. The Titans still came in and made a mess once a month but the criminals and cops were starting to figure life out. Harley wasn't here to cause trouble, thankfully. She had broken out of prison and came back but quickly went back to the Joker, again. That woman made no sense. How could she keep going back to a man who delighted in hurting her. Barbara was about ready to go and take out the Joker and dump his body in the river.

But, of course, she couldn't do that. She didn't kill. She had been a Bat once and Bats didn't kill.

But if Mermaid didn't make contact soon she might have to.

Chapter Text

"Morning, Clone Boy." Dragon knocked lightly on the glass and settled into his spot next to the tube. The scent of coffee wafted through the lab and the scientists twitched desperately as they smelled it. Coffee machine had broke two days ago. Someone had smashed it. Sorrow. His quirked lips sipped from the warm mug. Eyes followed the movement and a lab tech mopped at the drool trickling down his chin. Dragon booted his computer and smiled as he watched Clone Boy's brain waves spiking. "Is that the scent of caffeine or are you just happy that I arrived to save you from these idiots?" The heartbeat fluctuated slightly but then settled into a slow, steady beat. Clone Boy had a big heart- if he leaned against the vat, he could almost feel it pulsing through him. It was soothing. The only irritant was the twang of country music. Dragon forced his mind away from his annoyance and onto his computer. The diagnostics of Dragon's new headgear appeared on the screen and his fingers flew across the board as he edited and adjusted.

He had almost decided not to invent something new. After all, he had over 30 goggles to dispose of yet, but the new design would be lightweight and classy. Besides, upgrading the goggles had gotten to be a hassle and he no longer had any need to hide his identity. When Dragon had been arrested and imprisoned, the papers had printed that the "Lost Heir- Timothy Drake" had been found. It was only a matter of time before they came for him- the Drakes. There was no escape, except to embrace it. Embrace the fact that their son was dead and there would never be a child in his place again. There would never be someone they could pretend to love for the cameras and push away when they decided he was too much work. No more ice eyes and cold hearts. At least not on their part. It was his turn now.

The clone's heart beat became erratic and Dragon tapped, checking for a trigger. Nothing, everything was regular. What was- Dragon paused and typed at his computer. In middle school, Timothy Drake had had a science fair. The booth next to his had a kid who had played music to plants, saying it made them happier. If it worked for plants, why not a vegetable? He hacked the music system quickly and contemplated what to put on. If Clone Boy was anything like him, he probably hated country. What would Superman's clone like? If he didn't like country, maybe it was spiritual, inspiring crap. Who cared. Aerosmith came blaring through the speakers. Dragon ignored the chaos and whispers of dissent. Clone Boy's heartbeat had skyrocketed, and then settled into the same beat as the one in the song. Ironic. Lex Luthor and Superman had given birth to a rock fan. Dragon spent the rest of the day testing Clone Boy's tastes. No country, no classical- rock or 70s music. M.C. Hammer and Prince, Aerosmith, The Black Crows, and ACDC were favorites. Dragon laughed as he watched the scientists pull headphones over their ears and cower in misery.

---------------------

Mercy's fist flew through the air and hit nothing. Dragon was already moving and ramming his shoulder into her stomach. They fell to the ground in a messy pile but Mercy quickly worked it to her advantage and caught him in a choke hold with her thighs. Dragon struggled viciously but eventually gave in and tapped out. The beefy arms let go of his neck. "What style was that?"

"Jujitsu." She allowed Dragon to try the move on her, correcting his grip and position. Once she had learned he could actually fight, things got fun. He could fight but it was sloppy and street-fighting. She was trained for this and any knowledge she could impart to him, Dragon accepted eagerly. He learned to use Croc and Harley's techniques to create a style of his own. His body and mind was becoming sharpened, honed into a weapon.

---------------------

He wasn't supposed to be out of the tube yet. Dragon swung himself over the railings and dropped two flights of stairs to land in a crouch on the lab floor. He had gotten the call from Lex on his day off. Someone had broken into the lab and released him from the vat. Idiots. Flipping over the balcony, Dragon came down beside the head scientist. The man stepped back as he caught the murder in Dragon's eyes.

"What happened?"

"I don't know. They came in, started yelling. Someone released his body from stasis and he became conscious. It all happened so fast." His rate of speech increased as Dragon's hand came to rest on his throat.

"Where'd he go?"

"I d-don't know." The long fingers released his throat and he quickly stumbled back. Dragon left the lab, tapping on his new, silver, dragon shaped earpiece. A holographic eyepiece appeared in front of his left eye.

"Give me news on recent Superman look-a-like sightings." Images rolled in his vision even as Dragon skidded into the garage and mounted the motorbike Alfred had shipped to Metropolis. He exited the underground parking garage and roared onto the streets. "ATM? Looks promising." The cameras in the city all answered to Dragon. Lex hadn't even attempted to stop him from hacking into the police network and gaining access to the traffic cams. He had put up more of a fight when his own cameras had been hacked but Dragon had triumphed (with a bit of help from Barbara...). So now, Dragon could see all that happened in the city, including the black haired metahuman who had just fought off a thief by an ATM. Seemed like a Superman-esq thing to do. What would his Lex Luthor DNA look like? Dragon turned onto the street with the ATM and... Clone Boy.

He made himself comfortable, waiting for Clone Boy to finish up. The boy threw the villain around a bit more and turned violently toward Dragon. "Are you quite finished?" The boy blinked at him.

"Who are you?"

"Does it matter? What really matters here is who you are." Dragon slipped off the bike and prowled toward the clone. "Let me make what's going to happen next very clear. You are the creation of Lex Luthor, he made you to be a tool. Now, you can either fulfill his goal for you or you can make your own."

The clone brushed his hair from his face. "Which of those options are you pushing for?"

"Which ever one you wish. Taking you to Lex would bring me a lot of money but... I have an aversion to cages and it seems as if you have been created in one and are now about to be put back into one."

The clone looked at the boy in front of him. He was slender, he could probably easily defeat him if the worst happened.

"Where do you say I should go if I decide to 'make my own path?'"

"It depends on what you want from life."

"I want... I don't know."

"Typical. You were just born after all. Hop on." Dragon winked and smirked. "I'll get you some real food."

Hesitantly, he moved onto the back of the bike. "Real food?"

"At least a milkshake. Anything more and your body may not be able to handle it."

"Are milkshakes good?"

"To die for."
----------------------

Clone Boy poked at the hobnailed boots propped next to his milkshake. "Is this kind of footwear common among humans?"

"No more common than any other kind of shoe. You probably don't need any shoes. Invulnerable skin and all that." Dragon yawned and let his head rest on the booth's back.

"They are stylish. I like it."

Dragon lolled his head to the side to eye the clone. "You have been awake for an hour. Where did you learn the word 'stylish?'"

"That's what the lady across the street described her dress as."

"Charming. You have super snooping ears. Not that I can judge, I created my own snooping ears."

"Is that what the buzzing is?"

"Hm?"

"Your head buzzes."

"Ear piece." Dragon unsnapped the dragon from where it curled around his ear, magnetically attached to his earrings. "I was bored, babysitting you. So I updated my tech. Same idea as before, voice commands, enhanced hearing, varieties of vision options. Just more...stylish." He handed the Dragon to the clone. "The holograph won't give me any protection but hopefully, by now, I'll have learned to duck."

"It hums. Like it's happy." Clone Boy stroked a hand down the dragon. "I like it."

"Thanks." Dragon took it back and attached it onto his ear. "Glad for your approval, Mr. DayOld."

"What are you?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, you said Lex Luthor would pay you. Do you work for him?"

"No. Him and I have a deal. It got me out of prison and he got a babysitter for you. Before I met him, I was a criminal. But I was one with a goal in mind."

"What was your goal?"

"To protect the innocent."

Clone Boy bit his lip and sipped at the milkshake. "I...I think that's what I want to do. I want to protect people."

"Where? Metropolis currently has three different fellows claiming to be Superman." Dragon fluffed his hair to the side. "You could go to Star City, not sure how the Flash would take that but he'd get over it. Overseas? China could use a superhero."

"Where are you from?"

"Gotham." He laughed to himself. "Hell-pit of the world. It's mine though. My home."

"I'll come too."

The heavy boots slowly left the table. "Excuse me?"

"If it's a hell-pit, then you'll need help."

"I didn't ask for help."

"But I'm offering. Besides... I would like to see what a home looks like."

"Choosing the wrong home to look at but, whatever." Dragon stood. "You done with that?" He trashed the milkshake cup. "To the bike. I've been away long enough."

Chapter Text

Clone Boy held on tight. Perhaps he didn't trust Dragon- a logical thing considering that the Gothamite had pushed the clone off the bike twice- while they were moving. Conclusion- the clone can't fly. Also, he has super strength and can crush ribs if he holds too tight. Dragon shoved an elbow back and rammed it into the rock solid abs behind him.

"You're squeezing me too tight. I'm going to pop out of my skin like a banana from its peel if you keep this up."

"Banana?" They both wore helmets but with the super ears and Dragon's headset neither needed the mikes in them.

"A yellow fruit. Pretty good. Kinda sweet. I'll get you some."

"How many foods are there in the world?"

"A lot. Maybe I should leave you with Mr. Pennyworth. He is the best cook I know and he could probably satisfy some of this curiosity." Clone Boy made a happy noise and squeezed a bit tighter. Something cracked and Dragon gasped breathlessly and swerved violently. "Gah! Clone! Let go! Gotham's Gutters!" He pulled to the side of the road and got off the bike and felt gingerly at his side. "Broken. Ouch." He dug in his bag and popped a few pain pills. "You drive."

"What?"

"Gas here, brake here. Turn with the handle. You'll do great. Get us killed and you're dead."

"I'm a day old!"

"You'll do great." Dragon pushed him into the front and slid behind him. "Think about it this way- you are likely invulnerable. If we crash, I'll be the one to die."

The clone's hands shook but he grabbed the wheel and got started. The first few minutes were wobbly and tense but he easily got the hang of it.

"Figures. Superman's clone who gets broken out by rebels and given a leather jacket, who thinks combat boots are stylish, and who listens to rock is a natural on a motorcycle."

Chapter Text

The first buildings were nice enough but the city got darker and grimier the farther they went in. Clone Boy flinched as the noises of the city- cars, voices, footsteps, the pitter of drizzling rain- assaulted his sensitive ears.

"Why is Gotham so loud?"

Dragon laughed. "Wait until nighttime. That's when the real party starts." A long arm reached around the clone's muscled shoulder. "That alley. Turn and go down it until you reach the burnt warehouse. Then turn left." The motorcycle glided deeper into the labyrinth of Gotham. "Stop." The clone looked at the neon blue glow of the sign. Dragon swung off the bike, wincing as his ribs protested. "This is the Iceberg Lounge. Penguin will get me updated on what's been going on." He leapt up the stairs and nodded to the bouncer who quickly moved out of the way. The clone sat on the bike, fidgeting, as the beefy bouncer turned to look at him. Dragon looked back and frowned. "Clone Boy, you coming or what?" The metahuman quickly leapt off the bike- entangling himself and falling onto his face. The bike landed on top of him. Dragon looked unimpressed even as the bouncer trotted down the stairs to help. He needn't have. The clone shoved the bike off of him and brushed himself off before lifting the 500 pound bike off the ground and gingerly standing it back up.

"Sorry." He shoved a hand through the sides of his hair and grimaced awkwardly. For a second, he stood and avoided the bouncer's incredulous gaze before jerking and bolting to Dragon's side and following him into the Lounge. The clone stared around him in shock. The stroking lights, the stench of alcohol, the smell of gun oil. The clone slipped closer to Dragon.

"You are a weird one, Mr. Clone. I think Harley will like you."

"Who's Harley?"

"Can't tell you," The mascaraed eyelashes dipped into a lazy wink. "That would ruin the surprise." Dragon twisted to greet Cobblepot as he hobbled toward him. "Hello, Penguin. It's been a while."

"No goggles? Does that mean I can burn the rest?" His voice was brisk but a hand brushed Dragon's arm in greeting.

"Only if you want to blow the place. Those things are rigged as explosives."

"Of course they are. Who's your friend? Is the Stray bringing in stray's now?" The pale eyes latched onto the metahuman and he shivered as he felt them pierce through him.

"Less of a stray and more of a stolen purebred. Imagine taking one of the Queen's corgis."

"Never one to respect authority."

"Only if they respect me." The Penguin stared Dragon down. Neither blinked. Finally a wry grin crept onto the mob boss's face.

"Come to your booth, I'll get you both drinks and catch you up on the going ons of Gotham."

-----------------

They left the Lounge, Dragon sated with information and the clone staring back in horror.

"How many murders a night?"

"Seven on average. Which is rather impressive. Numbers are going down." He swung onto the bike, grabbing the handles and forcing the clone to climb on behind him.

"What is wrong with this city?"

"The people. We all have figured out that the compassionate don't last long. So now we all watch out for number one- for some that's extended to killing, if necessary."

"You were right. This is the hellpit."

"Great. The second big city you've ever seen and you've decided this is the worst."

"I can hear it. No other city has this much chaos. It feels dark."

"Perhaps that's why I like it."

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The motorcycle jerked to a stop outside of one of Ivy's gardens. It was her favorite, the one she usually frequented. And if she wasn't there, the plants would tell her that Dragon was. He knelt in front of a daisy that had somehow broken through concrete and stretched for sunlight in the smoggy light. Tendrils and roots crept toward him and gently brushed his bare fingers.

"Are they- are- the plants, why are they like that?"

"Hm?"

"The plants on the side of the road, they were alive but they were still."

"These are Ivy's. They live in a different sort of way. They are rather fond of me."

Clone Boy flinched at the voice behind him. "Yes. They missed you, little one." He turned and stared with wide eyes at the red-haired beauty. "Who is your friend, Little Dragon? He smells like weedkiller."

"He just climbed out of a chemical womb. I haven't had a chance to bathe him yet."

"Be sure you do before you bring him home. You know how Selina hates dirty pets." She ran a hand through Dragon's blue hair. "You could use a wash yourself. Are you coming back with me to the apartment?"

"I'm home for good now."

Chapter Text

Gotham wasn't terrible... once you got past the smell. And the weather. And the darkness and scary people. Honestly, it was almost welcoming- at least that's what the clone told himself as he followed Dragon through the city on a patrol. The patrols weren't so bad, it was braving the toxic air that was killing him. How could a city stink so much? Dragon promised to make him some kind of filter for his face. A gas mask?Dragon darted across the rooftop and leapt, flying out and toward the black night below. A glittering silver wire shot out of his gun and the slender figure flew across to the neighboring tower.

Wow. It had taken him awhile to discover just how incredible Dragon was but it was becoming more clear with every person he met. Dragon was different from them all- almost liquid in his motions, vicious, calculating, and utterly loyal to those he claimed. It seemed that he was one of those elect few now. The boy always took him on patrols and tried to introduce him to Gothamites- not that that always went well. Gothamites weren't exactly... friendly.

When he walked through Catwoman's door- and yes, she was Catwoman, he'd never call her Selina no matter what Dragon said- she had threw him across the apartment and landed on his chest with a switchblade to his throat. It had taken Dragon an hour to convince her to let him live- and then she went after Dragon, scolding him for not contacting her. That short rant by Catwoman taught him over half the swear words in the English language. And that was better than meeting the Crocodile.

The sight of Dragon holding a manhole cover up and encouraging him to go into the black abyss beneath wasn't a good start and it only got worse. In his defense, the Croc had attacked Dragon first- Dragon hadn't told him that they often fought, in a friendly way, and he hadn't expected the scaly fist flying toward his new friend's face. Was it really a surprise that he broke the monster's hand? And a few ribs. And jawbone. It had not been a good first meeting.

Dragon didn't make it better laughing over the fact that they had discovered that the clone had heat vision and that it made the crocodile a little crispy.

Overall, a rough first week. The patrols made it better. He was helping people- it was what he had wanted to do and it felt right- even if he did almost drown in Gotham's thick smog. The clone took a running jump and landed lightly on the building beside Dragon. He followed quietly as his guide led him deeper and deeper into the darkness of Gotham. Everywhere he looked, there was crime but it was okay. He could help these people. Dragon walked, a goal in mind, and the clone followed, occasionally using his superhuman speed to dash over and stop a mugging or rescue a cat- anything to get on Catwoman's good side. The people never smiled at him, only nodded their thanks or ran off to safety. The children who looked at him with eyes full of wonder and amazement made the clone want to stay and help Gotham. This city needed more than safety on the streets- it needed hope.

"Clone?" The voice was a few blocks away but the clone zipped to Dragon's side. He was perched on a warehouse rafter, glaring down at the men below. "Wannabe villains. Ugh. Better to stop them while they are just starting out." He nodded and rose to jump down but suddenly a purple cloaked figure beat them to it. She was impressive- fast, efficient. The clone grinned as he watched her plow her way through them. Dragon glared.

"Spoiled!" She stood in the crowd of crumpled bodies and thrust a triumphant fist in the air.

"The only thing worse than wannabe villains is wannabe heroes." A hiss slipped from Dragon's mouth and he dropped from the rafters. The girl spun in shock as he stalked toward her. "What do you think you are do-"

In retrospect, they should have expected it. The warehouse was a brick warehouse and was full of stacks of the crisp red blocks. He just hadn't expected the purple girl to grab one at throw it at Dragon's face... or for it to hit. She shrieked and dashed away. The clone caught Dragon before he even hit the ground.

"Are you okay?"

Hands pushed the clone away and shakily brushed himself off. "I'm fine. Where's the girl?"

"Hm?"

"You didn't grab her?"

"No, you got hit in the face with a brick."

"I am fine! Where'd my attacker go?"

"Um... three streets down, one to the left but you won't catch her, she's very fast."

"Than you catch her and bring her back so I can tell her just how much I appreciated her superheroing."

"You appreciated-"

"Sarcasm!"

"Oh." The clone picked Dragon up and set him on a brick pile, brushing him off again before speeding after the girl. He wasn't lying- she was fast, just not superhuman. He dashed ahead of her and blocked her way. The girl jumped and swung onto a fire escape. She clambered up and probably would have beat him to the roof, if he hadn't been Superman's clone. As it was, he sat on the roof and waited patiently for her to reach him.

The purple body twisted itself onto the roof and dashed toward the edge, until she saw the clone waiting. "What? How did you beat me? Are you a metahuman?"

"In a way."

"Oh! Your voice is all rumbly. I love basses, I always want to hug them and feel the rumble."

"Excuse me?"

"You know, the rumble... Here." She strode over and wrapped her arms around the clone and pressed an ear to his chest. "Talk."

"What are you doing?"

"See!" She pushed off and leapt up. "It just rumbles. Deep voices are awesome."

"If you say so." The clone brushed off her weirdness and went to grab her.

"Did the Mermaid send you after me?"

"'The Mermaid?' You mean Dragon?"

"Blue hair? Yep! He is SO cool, even if he did beat up Nightwing who is kinda my crush."

"Crush?"

"Yeah! I mean, have you seen his butt? Some people are made for spandex and he is one of them."

By this point the clone was confused but he tried to ignore the insanity of the girl. "I need to take you with me. Dragon wants us back at the-"

"You have to tell me your name."

"What?"

"When you capture someone, you need to get all intimidating and say, 'I've got you now. Don't try anything stupid, you wouldn't want the' insert whatever your name is 'to have to catch you again, I won't be so kind the second time.'"

"That's a rule?"

"Duh."

"Oh.. I don't really have a name- secret identity or otherwise. Does Clone Boy count?"

"Excuse me? You don't have a name!? How?"

"I'm only a little over a week old."

"How?!?!"

"I'm Superman and Lex Luthor's clone-"

"How?!?!?!?!?"

"Some scientists-"

"Ah, who am I kidding? I failed Physical Science. I won't understand if you explain. How about I name you?"

"Uh, I-"

"Carter." The purple mask scrunched into a shape that must have been disapproval. "Peter. No... Timothy- too soft. Jason? Dwight. Matthew! No.... Jack." She paced thoughtfully, thumbing at what was probably her lip. "Tyrone? You kinda have a bit of edginess going on with the combat boots but you still are a bit of a blank slate. We could name you after your parents. Luther- Ugh. Luthman. Superlex. Lexman. Do you know Superman's real name by any chance?"

"Dragon says that it's Kal-El."

"Kal-Ex. Lex-El. Leslie." She laughed to herself. "Just kidding. I'm not that cruel. You say Dragon calls you 'Clone Boy'? How about... Neloc? Elonc. Enolc. Cal-on. Con-al.... Conner." She turned and studied his face. "Smile."The clone obliged her. "Definitely a Connor. Voila! You have been named!" She gave a sweeping bow. "Now for your hero name...."

It was at this point that Dragon found them.

"What are you doing?"

"Oh!" The clone- Connor- bolted to his feet and brushed at his pants. "I was just-"

"I'm SOOOOO sorry about your face!" The purple girl dashed to Dragon. "I wasn't thinking! A little bit of an adrenaline rush, I guess. I had finally done it and it just felt so good."

"'It?' I would assume that's your dream of being a 'superhero?'" Dragon's green lips curled.

"I would make a terrible hero. No, 'it' being stopping the Cluemaster." She pulled off her hood and rich blonde locks tumbled free. "He's my father, you know. Jerk face. I wanted him to suffer for the way he treats my mom and me and if that's by stopping his plots, well..." She shrugged casually but Connor could sense the tension beneath- she was proud of what she had done but also terrified of Dragon. "My name is Spoiler, because I spoiled his plans."

"Spoiler?" Dragon faced Connor. "You let someone called Spoiler name you?"

"Not like 'Dragon' is any better. It sounds like you're trying too hard."

Connor carefully maneuvered himself between the two. Dragon hissed in annoyance and stormed off. Connor followed and so did Spoiler, much to Dragon's annoyance.

Chapter Text

Getting rid of the purple beast had not gone as smoothly as Dragon had planned. She followed them around for the next two nights and before he could execute his plan to remove her- Barbara met her. What were the chances that Barbara would be exiting a taxi on 5th St. on the one day that Dragon was there and the one day that the "Spoiler" beat him to the crime. Of course, Barbara had seen her in action and instantly fell in love.

"What's your name?" Barbara wheeled toward the purple annoyance. Dragon growled as Spoiler preened at the attention.

"Spoiler. Stephanie Brown to friends."

"Do you know who I am?"

"Ah..." Stephanie looked desperately at Dragon who glared and Connor who mouthed a hint. "Batgirl! Wait... you're Batgirl?" Her jaw dropped. "You're, like, my BIGGEST hero! When you disappeared.... I never thought I'd see you again!"

"Yeah," A smile crept onto Barbara's face and Dragon felt a bit of forgiveness toward Stephanie for making Barbara smile, but that was the Mermaid speaking and he stuffed the feeling away. "I'm Batgirl. Or... I was. Not so much anymore."

"Well why not?" Stephanie's voice was both questioning and indignant.

"If you haven't noticed," The wheelchair rolled back and forth. "I'm not exactly in prime shape for crime fighting."

"And you're letting that hold you back? You're Batgirl! You don't let anything stop you!" Stephanie jerked off her hood and and let her mane of rich blonde hair less and revealed a determined snub nose framed by flaring blue eyes. "You are still Batgirl and you are still a hero. One day, you're going to get back on the streets and show these stupid teenage boys how to do it!"

There was a silence, punctuated only by wails of sirens. "Yeah." Dragon stared in shock at Barbara. Her head was tilted toward the black sky but her eyes were closed tightly. "Yeah. I am Batgirl, aren't I? I am stronger than any deranged lunatic and I'm tired of letting him hold me down." A laugh slipped through her lips. "I will return and criminals will fear me. But that may take awhile. Stephanie, would you have any interest in being Batgirl under I can come back?"

"Holy Gotham! Are you serious! Me? Batgirl? Yes!!" Dragon watched as Stephanie leapt and kicked in joy like a drunk ninja. "Yes! Yes, a thousand, no a MILLion times, YES!"

"You will be my legs until mine regain their strength."

-----------------------

It shouldn't have annoyed him as much as it did but the Batcave had become HIS sanctuary and having Stephanie and Barbara- ok, Barbara was fine, it was just Stephanie- in his cave made him frustrated. She worked out on his equipment, used his showers and towels, and kept playing her music- it wasn't as awful as country but he was tired of listening about heartbroken girls. Anytime now, her phone would "accidentally" destroyed. Dragon watched as Barbara coached her on the uneven bars. Stephanie wasn't a gymnast like Barbara but she was determined, which seemed to work well for her. Barbara was on the bench press, arms straining under the heavy weights. She had always been strong but now she was pushing herself harder, faster- nothing would hold her back now. Dragon felt his traitorous lips try to smile at the thought. He shoved the feeling away again and rubbed at the headache that was nearly constant.

Back on topic- he was trying to be mad at Barbara. She was the techie of their group and now she was not only training herself but also a newbie. The technical aspect now fell to Dragon and he tried to be bitter but he had missed computer work too much. He hacked into Lex's system just for old times sake and planted a nasty virus. Perhaps that was a bit vindictive but Lex Luthor had been trying to hack into Dragon's network ever since he disappeared with Connor.

It wasn't like Lex didn't know where he was. Everyone knew where Dragon was and who he was. The Titans had made attempts to recapture him but this was Dragon's turf and Nightwing had been gone for too long. Gothamites don't trust easily and now, they didn't trust him- their one time hero. Superman came a few times but backed off eventually. Perhaps he didn't determine Dragon as a major threat or perhaps... he was tired of getting threatened with Kryptonite. Dragon had finally found Batman's stash and there was enough Kryptonite to make Superman think twice about challenging Dragon.

Restraining Stephanie was the biggest pain of having superheroes wandering around. Connor was smart enough to hide but Stephanie had to be held down as she had the idiot urge to attack people who had "invaded" her city. Stupid but admirable. Perhaps the only thing Dragon found tolerable about her.

"Dragon?" Connor bounced down the steps. He also came to the Cave with Dragon but he stayed upstairs- where Alfred was. Dragon had been right, Connor loved Alfred's cooking and Alfred loved cooking for him. He'd serve him plate after plate, commenting about how he was so pleased that Connor ate as a teenager should and how he wished others would follow his example. Dragon always ignored the disapproving stare that followed. "Dragon?" Connor came to stand beside the computer. "Gotham Gazette is printing more trash. Your parents have been making comments again." His parents had found out about his identity after he was imprisoned. Of course, they told the press and now milked the story for as much as they could.

"Not parents. Parents don't act like that."

"What do parents act like?"

"I don't know. Ask Alfred. He knows everything."

Chapter Text

He should have expected it, Drakes didn't just give up. However, he hadn't expected them to go to this extent. The private investigators had been expected. The attempted phone taps weren't surprising. Even the professional hackers trying to break into his system weren't a shock- though they were annoying. No. The shocker was that the Drakes would hire the best hitman in the world to capture Dragon just so they could talk to him.

Dragon wriggled his hands in their rope bonds but Deathstroke knew how to tie a knot and since none of his knives were in reach, he was stuck. He glared up at the mercenary through his messy hair. The man didn't even have the decency to acknowledge his anger.

"They'll be here soon, Little Dragon." Here being the Drake Manor, a place Dragon had stripped from his memory, only to have it imprinted there again.

"Let me go, Slade." That caught the man's attention.

"Been spying on me?"

"Don't flatter yourself. You merely coincided with my research. Tell me, are you still obsessed with Robin or have you gotten over that?"

"Gotten over it. My only interest was in his abilities as a protege. Too old and too set in his ways to change now." Slade settled into a lazy lounge. "Tell me, what caused your reluctance to speak with your parents? Most don't have to hire me to have a conversation."

Dragon hissed. "None of your business."

"Was it the abandonment? Their flight records reveal quite a bit you know. They loved to take trips but they only ever got two tickets. What happened to you? Boarding school? Camps? Nannies? All terrible trials, I'm sure."

"I don't remember."

"Oh?" He leaned forward. "You don't remember? Now that is odd. What happened to your mind?"

Perhaps Dragon might have told him the answer. Unlikely but possible. It didn't matter though. The Drakes entered the foyer.

"Timothy!" Jack Drake laughed and strode forward, opening his arms as if he wished to embrace the bound teen. Janet approached more sedately, each step measured even as her gaze measured Dragon. "What's been with you? Running away, becoming a villain, refusing to speak to us?" Jack laughed again. "Is this the rebellious phase my parents warned would come? I must admit, I didn't expect it to be so extreme."

"Let me make this very clear." Dragon's voice silenced Jack and he froze in shock. "I am not your child. Your child is dead. I am Dragon and you will release me instantly or I will burn this house down around your ears first chance I get."

"Not a very effective threat." The icy voice escaped perfectly pink lips. "All we would need to do to prevent it is not give you a chance to carry it out. Honestly, Timothy, I thought I taught you better." Janet Drake smiled a cold smile that didn't crack the ice in her eyes. "Try again."

"I'm not playing your games."

"This isn't a game, Timothy dear. This is a test."

"What do you wish to know?" The world around Dragon and Janet dimmed, as if they were the only important people left in the world. "What could you possibly want from me?"

"I am a practical person, but of course you know that. So it shouldn't surprise you that I spoke to Lex Luthor concerning you. Drake Industries and his company are quite close. Do you know what he said?"

"No, enlighten me."

"He said you were more like a machine than a man. More like a computer than a child. More like.... me.... than he could imagine. Him and I had always.... 'joked' shall we call it, about the lengths it would take to create a perfect heir. He longed for power, I- for intelligence. Imagine my disappointment when my child turned out to be a flighty, idiotic child who couldn't even handle a few days alone without injuring himself or destroying something. More interested in photography than business. Lex perhaps was smarter, he created a heir- which I understand you stole. He didn't rely on nature or chance. He spotted what he wanted and created it." Janet circled Dragon, smoothing a hand over his shoulders. "You have saved me the bother. I thought I was going to have to search for someone capable enough to carry on after me- turns out, I didn't need to." She smiled and knelt before Dragon. "You have created yourself into the perfect heir. Icy. Practical. Vicious." She practically purred at the thought. "Intelligent and undeniably powerful. Gotham fears you in a way they could never fear any businessman."

"Am I to be your heir then? What of Timothy Drake, would he have been your heir?"

"Timothy was too soft. I would have drowned him at birth if Jack hadn't been watching me so closely. But as you said, Timothy is dead. I will name you as my heir- though happily enough, the will already has you there, so no more work for me." She stood and walked up the marble staircase. Jack stared as she disappeared.

"Janet? Aren't we going to talk to Timothy? Convince him to come back to us?"

A laugh was her answer. Jack stared in confusion before slowly walking after her, glancing constantly back at Dragon. Deathstroke snorted in amusement and cut the ropes from Dragon.

"Family reunions are always so-" A gasp caught in his throat as two blades found their marks- one to the shoulder, the other the stomach.

"Don't ever try and capture me again." Dragon yanked out the knives and Deathstroke stared at the glowing green eyes. "And stay out of my city."
----------------------

He brooded for a week. Patrolling constantly and avoiding prolonged contact with everyone. What broke him out of his his darkness was the reappearance of a certain bouncy blonde.

The door of Selina's apartment slammed open and everyone looked up at Harley, standing in the doorway and dressed as a nurse. "Hello! Everyone miss me?"

"No." Selina sunk deeper into her chair and petted the cat in her lap aggressively.

"Too bad!" She skipped in and almost ran into Dragon who entered from the bedroom. "Mermaid!" Her voice reached a high C and likely would have shattered a mirror. "I missed you!" She wrapped her arms around him and pulled the boy tight into her arms. "How was prison?"

Ivy watched as Dragon melted into her embrace. "How does she do it?"

"Maybe their insanity calls to each other." Stephanie popped a pink bubble and chomped on her gum in thought as she inspected the invader.

Connor cocked his head and studied Harley Quinn. "Who is she?"

A pigtailed head snapped toward the new voices. "Who are these?"

"Stephanie, Babs' apprentice, and Connor- my friend."

A judging eye looked Connor up and down. "He looks worse than you did when I met you. That man has thighs to kill for and he's hiding them in those awful jeans." Connor sensed something terrible coming and inched behind Barbara but it was too late. Harley made up her mind. "Come on, Mermaid. Let's take him shopping."
----------------------

Connor didn't come back as changed as Dragon had his first time out with Harley but he certainly looked different. The mop of black curls had been buzzed on the sides and any pants he wore were always skin tight. Harley had bought him three different jackets- all of which only made his -already impossibly broad- shoulders looked even broader. But his favorite item was the pack of Walmart tees. They were black and had a red superman logo on them. Harley thought they were hilarious considering his genes but to him, it felt right. Those mass produced shirts felt more like a second skin than a fashion statement. Besides, they made Dragon smile and that was what was most important.

-------------------

Dragon followed Harley as she dragged them through the stores. A smile was across his face and he couldn't push it away, no matter the pain in his head. Dragon tried to justify the feeling of joy. 'My horde is complete. I have Selina, Ivy, Harley, Alfred, and Conner. That's why I'm happy.' But that was a lie. None of them were something he could hold and possess but Dragon couldn't justify anything else. Love could hurt him. These feelings had been locked away for his own protection. 'You're safe now, let it go.' Dragon shook his head as a knife of pain stabbed through his skull. He pushed away the feelings and followed Harley and Connor.

Chapter Text

He knew. When Harley walked through the door, he knew. She never came back unless she was chased away. Perhaps that made her crazy, loving so loyally that she wouldn't leave, even when it was killing her. But perhaps it made her sane, more sane than the rest of the world. More true and good than Dragon himself. But it didn't matter, sanity. All that mattered was she came back, smiling and laughing as if the side of her face wasn't swollen from a bruise she had tried to hide under concealer. As if her eye wasn't red in the corner from a burst blood vessel. As if Dragon couldn't see the bruises on her arm. Harley came back and he loved her for it. But she had ran from the Joker and that monster was going to pay for it.

It hurt to see her bruised. As if the blow from him had hurt Dragon instead. Dragon was too attached to Harley. Too attached to just let it go. No. He would kill the Joker for hurting her. He would make him pay in the slowest most torturous death. The psycho would pay for hitting Harley, for tearing into her with his words, for hurting her tender heart.

But... not until Harley said so. If he killed him now, Harley would never forgive him. So not yet. When she stopped loving him and stopped returning, then Dragon would kill him. Even if he had to wait a hundred years, the Joker would die at his hands.

Chapter Text

The Teen Titans entered Gotham warily. Already, everyone was on edge. They could sense the people watching them, could feel the suspicious eyes on their backs.

"Think they'll ever warm up to us?" Kid Flash inched closer to Nightwing. "They seem awfully cold for people who are about to get rescued."

"Gothamites are a bit weird. They take forever to warm up to you. No one really ever liked Batman- the cops always tried to arrest him."

"That's crazy, I mean, in Star City the Flash goes to parties."

Nightwing scoffed. "Yeah, no. Not here. If Batman shows up under the light of day, everyone is trying to arrest him. Little kids run in fear when he comes around. At least some do. My little brother wasn't smart enough for that. Tried to steal the hubcaps off the Batmobile."

"That's suicidal!"

"I know. Yet, B seemed to like him. They had a funny relationship. Sometimes I wond-" A flying purple blob hit him. Nightwing and the attacker went flying through a storefront window. Kid Flash dashed in and pulled the purple villain away. She cursed and squirmed. Yelling for them to get out of her city. The rest of the Titans prepared for another attack. The only thing they got was a muffled swear and a hulking teen exiting the shadows hands raised in surrender.

"Sorry about that. She's slippery." She squirmed angrily in Kid Flash's hands as if proving the point.

Speedy gaped at the boy. "Superman? Did you get de-aged for something?"

The boy flushed and sputtered for a bit. "Not exactly. Um.." He pulled at his hair nervously, that was when Nightwing noticed his nails. A ruby red, perfectly done, with diamonds of black. The boy gasped in shock as Nightwing leapt from the store and shoved him into a wall.

"What kind of game is the Joker playing?"

"I don't know what you're talking about!" His hands plucked at the arms pinning him but he never grabbed, as if afraid to.

"Don't play stupid." Nightwing grabbed one of the fluttering hands and slammed it into the wall. "You think I wouldn't notice your nails?"

"Please, don't remind me. It's just, when they team up on you- what could I do? Dragon doesn't smile often anyways and-"

Aqualad raised an inquisitive eyebrow. "Nightwing. Chill, I honestly don't think the kid knows what you're on about."

"Look at him! It's like he's Superman's Clone! The Joker has to be-" He was interrupted by the purple attacker's hysterical laughter. Feminine, not that he hadn't picked up on that from the form-fitting suit but nonetheless, it was feminine and happy. She snorted a bit as she tried to control herself.

"You guys have no idea."

"So you are with Joker?"

"Are you kidding me? That psycho? Nah, I'm Batgirl's apprentice."

Everything froze. "B-Batgirl's? You mean- is she- I thought Batgirl wasn't a hero anymore."

The girl stiffened. "How. Dare. You! Batgirl is the biggest hero this city has ever seen and I suggest you shut your idiot face before I do it for you!" She struggled again, striving to get to Nightwing and impact her fist into his cranium.

The Superman lookalike sighed and easily broke out of Nightwing's hold. "Steph." He plucked her out of Kid Flash's arms and swung her over his shoulders like a sack of potatoes. Very blood-thirsty potatoes. "I'm sure he didn't mean it like that." Turning to the Titans, he nodded politely. "Sorry for the fuss. We'll be going now." Nightwing quickly blocked his way.

"Not until you tell us who you are and what you are doing here."

The boy readjusted his grip on 'Steph' as she tried to slip loose. "I need to go. Dragon is calling."

"Answer the question."

"Dick. Back off." The voice echoed through the city. Wonder Girl stared in shock at the speaker outside the store, and the speaker in every store. All echoed this distorted voice. "Let them go."

"Who are you?"

"Does it matter? This is no longer your city. Leave. You aren't welcome."

"Who are you?" Nightwing screamed at the sky but there was no answer. And there was no Superman look alike. Just the Titans staring around in shock.

"Nightwing, they knew your name. Did you know them?" Wonder Girl tentatively touched the vigilante's arm.

"No... but the Cave might give us some hints."
--------------------

The Titans stared at the huge manor before them. "Home sweet home."

"When you said Bruce was rich, I didn't quite imagine...." Wally trailed off as he entered the Wayne Manor. A golden chandelier draped with crystals glittered and shone with light. "Wow. Talk about posh."

Nightwing laughed. "Should have seen my face first time I arrived. Little circus brat seeing all this? Pretty sure I was drooling." He laughed and typed the code into the grandfather clock. The Titans patiently waited for something to happen. "What the?" Nightwing tried again. Nothing. "Maybe Alfie changed the entrance code. We can try upstairs." They followed as he flew up the stairs and sat at a piano, plucking ugly, discordant notes. "I don't understand. Alfred? Alfred!" He ran through the house. The Titans followed tentatively after.

Except for Speedy. Roy was hungry. He walked to the kitchen, following his nose. Sure enough, cookies were in the oven. He grabbed a hot pad and put the tray on the table. They weren't completely cooked yet but that was alright. He used a spatula and munched on the gooey goodness and flipped lazily through a file on the table. It seemed like a patrol report but all the names in it were villains. Odd. Hey look- Dragon. Just like mini-Supes was talking about.

It wasn't a noise that warned him, more of a feeling but Speedy trusted those feelings. He rolled out of the chair, still clutching the file, though, he had dropped the cookie. A old man stood there, holding a katana. "Look mister. I was just-"

"Drop the files, please."

"This?" Speedy lifted the manilla folder. "I don't think so. I want to know about this Dragon character." The sword swung at him with a terrifying speed and he barely got out of the way. "Whoa! Guess Ollie wasn't kidding when he said to watch out for the old guys." Another swipe. Speedy backed around the island. He bumped into a mixing bowl on the counter. Hey look! More cookie dough. A glittering blade imbeded itself into the counter between Speedy's reaching hand and the bowl of delicious cookie dough. A wrinkled hand snatched the bowl out of his grasp. "Oh, come on!" He glared at the man who only looked imperiously back, somehow dignified even as he cradled a bowl into his chest.

"Give me the file, sir."

"Give me the cookie dough."

"These cookies are for young Master Connor and as you have already devoured my previous batch, I see no need to surrender these. That file however, is my property."

Speedy frowned in annoyance and slowly prowled toward the man. "Hand over the-" A foot lashed toward him and Speedy jerked out of the way. He glared and then struck back. The old man was annoyingly quick and powerful. Every strike he landed on Speedy hurt but Speedy couldn't even manage to touch him. Or the bowl which had yet to loose a crumb.

Unknown to Speedy, Aqualad had followed and was now watching in amusement as Speedy got his butt whooped by an old man.

Speedy grabbed a ladle and swung it at the man but he used the bowl as a shield and deflected the blow. They danced around each other, swinging and striking. Speedy managed to rap the old man's knuckles. A glare was the only warning he got before the spatula in the bowl came into play.

Aqualad snorted in amusement and sat at the table to much at the tray of half-baked cookies.

---------------------

They even tried the outer entrance. It didn't make sense. Why couldn't he get into the Batcave? Nightwing sat in misery on the Manor step. Kid Flash patted his shoulder encouragingly. Maybe the voice was right. Maybe this wasn't his city anymore. He stared out at the silent surroundings. Everything was so peaceful and green. Then the kitchen window exploded. Him and Kid Flash watched as Aqualad landed heavily in the grass. He bolted to his feet and leapt back inside. Nightwing and Kid Flash went to investigate, entering the Manor and going to the kitchen.

He wasn't quite sure what was occurring but it seemed odd. Alfred was fending off Aqualad and Speedy with a spatula as they tried to steal a tray of cookies, a bowl of dough, two jars that were doubtless full of treats, and a manilla folder.

"Hey Alfie." The old man stopped and turned.

"Mr. Grayson, are these hooligans your friends?"

"Yeah, sorry. Did they make a mess?"

"Wait!" Speedy stormed over. "You know this man?"

"Yeah, Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce's butler."

"He attacked me with a sword!"

"You were snooping." Alfred turned on his heel, returning everything to its proper location.

"He didn't mean any harm. Surely you recognized him, Alfie. I've shown you pictures of the Titans before."

"I haven't seen a picture of them in at least three years, you haven't been around to show any pictures as of late. So pardon my forgetfulness."

Nightwing winced at the disapproval in Alfred's tone. "Yeah, I've been busy. Say," He changed the topic. "Why can't I get the Batcave to open? Did you change the locks?"

"Yes, we did."

"Well could you open it up for me? I need to use the Supercomputer."

"I don't think that would be wise."

"What?"

"The Cave is currently occupied."

"Bruce is back!" His jaw dropped. "Why did no one tell me?"

"Not Bruce. Ms. Gordan is down there at the moment."

"Oh." Nightwing flushed as he imagined going down and speaking to her. He should have visited sooner. "Well, I'll go down anyway. I need the Compter and," He attempted a smile. "It'll be good to catch up."

"I'm afraid Ms. Gordan has refused to see you. Perhaps another day." Alfred swept out of the kitchen ushering the Titans out as well. "I must be about my business. If you'll excuse me."

Nightwing watched him go. "What was that?" The Titans murmured in agreement. "We'll check out the about the voice when we get back to the Tower. We need to get to work." Nightwing quickly left the Manor, trying to brush off how... unbalanced he felt. Gotham didn't feel right anymore. It didn't feel like the city he had flown across with Bruce. Gotham had changed somehow and Nightwing didn't know when.

--------------------

Catwoman grounded Steph for revealing herself but secretly, Barbara cheered as she replayed the video of Nightwing flying through the window, an expression of shock on his perfect face.

Chapter Text

Everyone was out on patrol- even Barbara but she was supervising Steph. Dragon was in the Batcave, digitalizing files he had made on the Titans and using them to supplement Batman's information. He had thought the last humiliation would keep them out of Gotham but they kept returning. Every time they came, Gotham got just a bit darker, a bit more suspicious. No one wanted them here and soon that anger would be unleashed. Dragon just wanted to be ready. If all went according to plan, he could disable them all and send them running. He could execute them but then that would send the entire superhero community after him and Dragon had other priorities. Even imprisonment would be a pain. Hopefully, they would get the hint and he wouldn't have to resort to more extreme methods. Dragon would try to make it clear as possible that Gotham didn't want them but the Titans seemed very thick headed.

Occasional checkins and reports buzzed in his ears and flashes of reports popped into the corners of the computer. Dragon drowned them all out and focused on his work- at least until he saw it.

GOTHAM MILLIONAIRES HOSTAGES IN THE CARIBBEAN.

Dragon didn't know what the Drakes were doing in there but it seemed poetic justice. They had left a child in a house of cold stone as they adventured the world and now.... a man in a cold cave would leave them as they paid for the price of their adventures. Poetic. Dragon smiled and went back to his files. He didn't bother to read the rest of the article. It didn't matter to him. Perhaps Batman would have gone to save them but Dragon could care less.

---------------

Catwoman matched Dragon's stride as they ran.

"I think we've got company." Her voice was unconcerned, mild. "He's been following us for the last half mile, trembling and flinching from shadows."

A chuckle preluded his leap into the shadows. Catwoman continued onward, drawing their tail deeper. He followed her to a dark, alley- a dead end. A middle-aged plump man peered into the darkness, pushing up his glasses as he tried to find where she had disappeared to.

"H- Hello?" The trembling voice hit the air and died, as if the darkness of a Gotham night was too thick for his call to be heard. "Mr. Drake?"

"Dragon, if you please." The man turned and jerked back as he felt the lean body lurking behind.

"Mr. Drak- Dragon. I am here to discuss- to talk about the account of the late Jack and Janet Drake."

Catwoman slipped to the lawyer's other side. "The 'late?' When did they pass?"

"A week ago. I would have contacted you sooner but there was no address or phone listed. First thing," The man opened his briefcase awkwardly, trying to keep his files from falling out. "Um.. funeral arrangements. We found what we believe are your parents' remains and had them retrieved from Haiti but there was a bit of confusion. You see- your parents were sacrificed and then burned. We are not sure whose ashes we actually got. There were three other families arguing over ashes and thankfully, we got the majority of them." He smiled cheekily but it faded as he studied Dragon's stony face. "Um. You did want them, correct?"

"No. For all I care, you could have just left them in Haiti for all I cared. Just throw them into the Bay."

"What about a funeral?"

"They had no close friends, no family. The only people who will come are people looking for money."

"Right. The will then." He fumbled for more papers. "Your mother insisted you be left everything, much against your father's wishes. He wanted it put in a trust fund until you turned eighteen."

"The manor, the business, the bank accounts? All mine?"

"Yes. Quite a rush for a young man, I'm sure, getting all this money."

"Selina, do you want the manor?"

"What would I do with a manor?"

Dragon shrugged and turned back to the lawyer. "Take everything from the manor and sell it. Put the money into the Spending account. Selina," Dragon turned to her. "The Spending account will be yours, the Saving will go to Ivy. Put the business under the name of Connor Luthor. It will be his pet project."

Catwoman snorted, a light and mocking sound. "Are you sure that's wise? Connor is not much in the way of common sense."

"He had to get some kind of business sense from his father. We've seen no other traits of Luthor's. Besides, I'll get Lucius Fox's daughter to help him. "

"It will be entertaining if nothing else."

"Their car collection shall be mine. Sell the classics. Keep the Tesla and the motorbike hidden in the back. Place the proceeds of the sale into Timothy Drake's account. I want all this done within the week. Don't disappoint." Dragon nodded briskly and walked off. The lawyer flapped his lips and trotted after him but Dragon hadn't meant to be followed and the man quickly lost sight of him and looked wildly around for the teen. Catwoman laughed at him and leapt into the night. There was still work to be done.

Chapter Text

Barbara swung her body on the bars, forcing her limp legs to follow where she directed. Her ankles were banded together to keep them from flopping and every twist caused twinges of pain but she felt strong. For the first time in years, Barbara Gordan was strong again. She was flying again. Barbara let herself fly and flipped until she caught the trapeze. It swung with her momentum and she remembered how it had felt to fly with Dick. He would hold her and if she fell, he would always catch her. It was almost funny to think about now. She had trusted him so much and let that betrayal tear her apart. It had taken Stephanie's optimism and quirkiness to remind her about the joy of life. The feeling of helping others, of saving lives. Of being Batgirl. Of being proud of herself, of her team.

Barbara slowed her swing and dropped to the floor catching herself with strong arms. Her legs may have been useless but her body was strong. Her aim was true, batarangs always hit their target. Stephanie was working out fighting techniques she could do in her wheelchair, which Dragon had upgraded for her. It was stronger, faster, had a computer, and would come when she called. A bit of overkill but she liked it. She liked it a lot.

Connor had found something. A clinic in South Africa. No one dared say it was a cure but- there was a chance that she could walk again. But she hesitated. Perhaps it was stupid. A chance to walk again but all Barbara could think about was that Steph had said Barbara was her hero. Steph had seen her fly in the Gotham night and wanted to do the same. What if she could bring the same hope to paralyzed people? What would they think if they saw someone like them not letting anything hold them back? Maybe one day, she would go and see if she could walk again but for now? She was strong. She was able. Walking wouldn't change that. She couldn't be any stronger than she was right now.

Soon. Soon she would be Batgirl again. Steph had already offered her the suit back but not yet. Soon.

Chapter Text

Gothamites saw them coming and hid. They watched the superhuman enter their city and search for their heroes. No. Not okay. Messages started spreading. Whispers. Rumors. The Penguin received an anonymous text telling him to run. Harley Quinn was stopped by a policeman while she was on patrol and suggested to retreat. A little girl came to Killer Croc and tugged on his arm, insisting he run away from the "scary peoples." Bane and Poison Ivy got escorted to a local gang's hideout. The city rose up to protect their own.

But Dragon exited the Wayne Manor. He strode through empty streets until he came to the only park in Gotham that Ivy hadn't claimed. It was dried out and sickly but the Teen Titans stood there as boldly as if it were their own turf. The Justice League backed them up. Dragon almost felt complimented. Who would have thought a fifteen year old could bring out the big shots.

"Timothy. Stray. Whatever you call yourself. This is it. You're done." Nightwing shook his head. "You've had your fun. Now give up and give over Gotham. I don't want to make this messy."

Dragon stood firm.

"Look. Kid," Green Arrow stepped out from behind the young team. "You don't want to fight us all. Trust me, Gotham isn't worth it."

A cool smile slid across Dragon's lips. "What do you know of Gotham? Have you met its people? Have you listened to her song? She lives. Her people are her voice. Listen. She may teach you something, Oliver Queen."

"What? How do you know-"

"How do I not? I know everything. You have no secrets of your own. They are mine now and I hoard them, holding them as my treasure to do with as I please."

"Enough with the creepiness." Nightwing's eyes slitted and his voice rumbled dangerously. "You are nothing more than a millionaire brat. Stop acting like you are anything more than a wannabe hero."

"What makes a hero? It is a desire to help, isn't it? I admit. I am not a good person but I want to help. But I am not what you say I am. Timothy Drake died. He was replaced, again and again until his form has been refined to what it is now. I am Dragon. And this is my city. You are not welcome."

His last breath following these words was knocked out of him as Wally West slammed into his gut. His arms were jerked into cuffs and his form carried into Cyborg's arms.

"Look. You talk big but you are just human. These are metas. You can't fight them." Nightwing patted Dragon's head in sympathy. "Don't worry. We're the good guys. A nice jail cell, therapy, you'll be straightened out in no ti-"
Nightwing flew across the park, out of sight. Every hero turned to stare at the flying boy. Black hair whipped across his brow and glowing red eyes stared at them all. A gas mask disguised his face. He hadn't touched Dick, just sent him flying somehow.

Martian Manhunter sent a tendril into the attacker's mind, curious but suddenly- fire. Real fire, rushing toward him across the dry grass of the park. All heroes that could fly took to the sky and carried those that couldn't. Marian Manhunter flew just a bit faster and higher and accidentally opened himself to a ray of heat that burned him as surely as fire would have and he fell from the sky, into Wonder Woman's arms. The boy's glowing eyes faded and he turned his eyes to the rest of the heroes. "Leave. Leave Dragon and leave this city."

"Who are you?"

"None of your business." His eyes shot to Dragon's wrists to melt his handcuffs but they were off already.

"So... one of you down, an unexpected enemy, and a fire that will likely choke us out in minutes if we don't move. What's your plan?" Dragon smiled lazily at Cyborg and the Titans.

Superman blew the fire out. There was some grass left, but most was burned.

"If a grassfire was your only plan, I'd have to say that I'm disappointed. Oh, and not to forget what looks like Superman's love child. Does your girlfriend know, Supes?" Green Lantern landed again and set down his passengers. Since he was the first one to touch the grass, he was the first one attacked but the vicious plants also shot toward the sky and grabbed any low fliers, dragging them to the earth. Pumpkin sized blossoms burst into bloom and sent out clouds of pollen that caught on the skin and made the more human-like heroes drowsy. Superman opened his mouth to blow the blue cloud away but was distracted when his "lovechild" attacked. Wonder Woman left Martian Manhunter and flew to his aid and grabbed the meta boy. He was strong, fast but untrained. She caught him with her Lasso of Truth and pulled him close.

"Who are you- Ah!" A flicker of pain stung her back and she turned to see a black suited woman lazily swirling a whip. She dropped the boy and entered into combat anew with the female. She was a challenge. Fierce enough to be an Amazon but possessing a feminine feline grace that many Amazons lacked. Her whip slashed and bite and the Lasso of Truth could not catch her in its grasp.

The Titans fought Dragon but this time he had friends. Poison Ivy, Killer Croc, Batgirl, Harley Quinn. The barrage was constant and vicious. Green Lantern tried to assist but was attacked by Harley. She beat him back and dodged every attack, rolling and flipping, moving like a gymnast. Oliver Queen was taken out by the Penguin easily because of the pollen messing with his mind. Aquaman fought Bane. The Flash strove to overcome the effects of the pollen but it followed him where ever he went and dragged him to the ground. Raven fought against Poison Ivy but there were so many emotions flooding her and her senses that using bolts of energy was a difficult.

Dragon left the Titans, the Gotham fighters had them under control, and wandered toward Superman, watching the fight in amusement with glittering green eyes. At least he was amused for now, if they destroyed his city, he would be less than pleased. "My plan was much smoother than this chaos. I had planned for you to actually listen to me. Guess I was hoping just a bit too much." Superman tried to charge at Dragon but Connor grabbed him and threw him into an old fountain. Superman tried to jump out but stumbled. He looked down at the stones of the dry fountain. The mortar was wet. He shoved himself up and climbed out of the fountain, away from the hidden Kryptonite but Dragon had already charged. And he was fast. The bat caught him in the shoulder, knocking him down. It struck again across his back, a boot kicked him onto his side. The bat came down again.

"Could it kill you?" Dragon grabbed Superman's jaw and looked in his eyes. "A beating with a Kryptonite bat? But, I don't want to kill you. Lois loves you and it would hurt her." Superman turned and stared at Dragon in horror. "Yes, I know. About your parents too. It's sad, how.... frail.... older people can get. They are just so vulnerable." Superman's breath came in gasps but he turned his head to Dragon and stared into his eyes.

"Wh-what do you wa-want?" His breath came in gasps and Dragon cocked his head, curious of the effects of Kryptonite.

"I want you to leave me alone. Gotham is mine and you keep invading. Terribly unpolite. Could you and I make a deal? I don't sell the secret identities of all the heroes here and in return, you leave me alone. I'm sure it won't be a problem. None of you like Gotham anyway."

"Bat-Batman will come back."

"Maybe. Someday. But he won't come back the same. If he still wishes to work in Gotham, I will let him but I doubt he will. He has been scarred. He has become what he fought against and I don't think he could ever fight again. Besides, I'm handling it rather well, I think."

"No... I can not allow..." He froze and looked into the distance. "They are armed... against us. I can hear Gotham whispering about us. They are terrified of us."

"Now you are seeing it. Good. Now get out of my city."

Superman struggled to his feet and called for a stop to the fight. Dragon watched him with unnatural glowing eyes, ready for an attack. Everyone stopped, even Gotham's villains. The pollen settled and everyone studied the worn looking Superman. "We have made a deal." His friends swarmed him, protesting. "The city doesn't want us. I can hear it. Even now, there are groups getting ready to fight us. Gotham is Dragon's. I only have one question," He turned to the Gotham meta boy. "Who are you?"

Connor smiled at Superman's demand. "Don't you recognize me? Everyone always says I look just like my father."

"Such a drama queen, Connor". Batgirl approached from the edge of the park. "Honestly, Superman isn't even your real dad. He's just the DNA donor."

"Excuse me?" Superman looked at her in shock.

"You know, like how some ladies just get a sperm donation instead of doing the dirty with a man. Connor's got your DNA but you haven't been a parent to him. Honestly, I think Dragon's more of a parental figure. Mothering, sweet, etc." She smirked as Dragon hissed at her.

"You are lucky you are useful."

"Who else would set fires for you?"

Nightwing stepped toward her. "You said you were Batgirl's apprentice, not Batgirl. Where's Barbara?"

"Haven't you ever heard of codenames, idiot? 'Barbara' is likely watching from a distance waiting for the perfect chance to make you pay for being a screwy boyfriend. Speaking of which..." She dug around in the depths of the oversized purple backpack she was carrying. "Ah! Here it is!" A brick propelled itself from her hands into Dick's perfect nose which snapped under impact. "I actually think she's gotten over you but that was from me. Don't ever mess with her again. Or Gotham. We've got it handled."

Superman stared at his 'son.' "Who created you?"

"Lex Luthor."

"I need to go have a talk with him." Superman disappeared in a flash and the rest of the heroes soon followed, dispersing from the city warily. They saw what Superman was talking about. There was a group of blue collar workers armed with crowbars and long-armed wrenches watching them go. A couple of gangs eyed them from the shadows. Mothers hide their children and cowered away, until they realized they were retreating. Then Gothamites watched them go and left their homes, going out to see their heroes. Harley smiled and waved. Ivy sat on the ground, coxing trees to grow from the burnt soil. Catwoman left and disappeared back into the alleys and rooftops of Gotham as did many of the others. Gotham cheered for their heroes. For that's what they were. In a Gothamites' mind, anyone that can kick Superman's butt is a hero to them. Take that Metropolis.

Gotham has a Dragon now and the Dragon has an army. So the rest of the world had better watch out.

Chapter Text

Gotham was just like he remembered. Rainy, dark, and full of aggravating surprises. He burst through the window into the building. The boy with the bat looked toward him but too late. He grinned viciously behind his helmet and knocked the kid away from his prey. Jason's prey- not the kid's, though the little guy had already done a number on him. Not that the Joker's face had ever been a beauty queen but having his face beat in with a baseball bat hadn't done him any favors. A weak, maniacal laugh slipped through Joker's bloody lips.

"Has a hero come for me?"

Two voices in harmony- "Shut up." Jason glared at the kid. Probably 17. He definitely wasn't a hero- no uniform, just combat boots and sinfully tight leather pants. His forearms were wrapped in green fabric, probably silk- a stupid move. If he was looking for protection that wouldn't give him any. The only form of solid protection he had was a heavy brown leather jacket that dwarfed his frame and made him seem slimmer but Jason wasn't stupid enough to underestimate him- there was muscle hidden under the jacket and if Joker was any indication- this kid was vicious. "Back off, kid. This is my kill."

"This is my city."

"Excuse me?" Jason laughed loudly and the helmet distorted it, making it mechanical and haunting. The kid didn't flinch. "What? The Bat retire?"

"Yes." Jason froze and stared at the kid.

"Come again?"

"Batman's gone. This city is mine."

No way. There was no way Bruce would just leave the city. Ra's had told him Bruce hadn't avenged Jason's death but he hadn't told him that Bruce was gone. "Where'd he go?"

"No idea. My guess- a monastery in Nepal. No one's ever found him. Now, if you excuse me," The boy swung his bat loosely which shimmered green in the low lights. "My city. My kill."

"No." A gun appeared in his hands, pointing at the kid's head. "Joker is mine. Besides, Gotham is mine- it is my inheritance."

The boy's eyes went sharp- like knives stabbing through Jason's kevlar. He prowled around Joker, who still lay on the ground, laughing quietly. Jason followed his movements. Silent steps, each circling like buzzards over a animal that was as good as dead. Tinny alarms broke the silence.

Jason smirked, not that the kid could see it. "Trying to poison me? This helmet has filters, idiot. You're going to have to get close to hurt me."

"Not poison. Just something to make you relax. Pity it didn't work. You're too uptight. Guess we'll just have to talk it out." He prowled closer.

"Back off. Make one more step and I'll kill you."

"You'd kill an innocent man?"

"I'm going to make a guess and say you aren't innocent." That earned him a grin- sly and vicious as if he wanted nothing more than to rip Jason apart with his teeth. "What's the name?"

"Dragon."

"Red Hood."

"The Joker's old moniker. Curious choice. Why name yourself after the man and then try to kill him?"

"He killed me. I am only returning the favor."

"And that's your reason for killing him? For claiming him as your prey? Stupid reason. He seemed to have screwed up- after all, you're still alive."

"He killed me. But I've come back from the dead to make him pay."

"Explains the smell." Dragon sighed lazily as if the tete-a-tete had gotten dull. He slunk to a nearby bench. "You reek of the Lazarus Pool."

"You know-"

"Warning, you will be a bit insane for the next months? Years? I'd suggest medication. It gets ugly."

"How?"

"The Lazarus Pool is not such a big secret as you may think. Besides, I had a bit of a taste of it."

"Who killed you?"

The smile appeared again. "Batman."

"Batman?"

"After Robin died, he went a bit mad. I got in his way."

"He killed you?" Jason tried to understand how that could be possibly. Batman always said it was wrong to kill someone and yet... Bruce would kill a teen? Maybe he had been under a spell or drug or-

"Is the helmet blocking your ears? Yes. Batman killed me. Then he ran. City became mine."

Joker started to push himself up. Jason shot out his knee. He needed to get his mind back on hand. "And that gives you the right to kill the Joker? No. He is mine."

"Hundreds of people in this city could claim revenge for those the Joker has killed. You are one of many. I have first dibs. Everyone knows this. He is mine."

"What gives you the right?"

"One, my sister. He tortured her for years. Ripped her apart so I had to pull the pieces together. And he screwed her up enough that she ran back to him again and again. I've had to wait three years for her to give me permission to kill him. He killed you- so what, you had two? Three hours of torment? Imagine years of that. Imagine being so screwed up, you believed he loved you. Two, he killed my best friend. I never got a chance to say goodbye. The Joker is mine. I have dreamt of this moment for years." Dragon pulled his long, silky hair into a high up-do. Strands fell out and framed his face. "So get out of my way."

Jason considered it. He really did but this was what he had thought of while he struggled through Talia al Ghul's training. He had visualized the Joker begging for mercy. This was his one goal in life. So he shot. One bullet. It would have hit Dragon high thigh, only incapacitating him. Jason felt like such a pushover going for a debilitating shot rather than a killing one. Maybe he was getting soft in his old age.

Of course- he hadn't been trained to predict Superman appearing and standing in front of the kid. The bullet ricocheted and Jason swore in annoyance. He really didn't want to get into a fight with Big Blue at the minute. He turned and ran for the window but, unsurprisingly, was grabbed before he made it.

"Look, Supes- you have aged well." Jason gave Superman a quick-up down. "Age Reversal spell? And since when have you been a fan of Nirvana?"

"I'm not Superman. My name is Connor."

"And I told you to let me handle this on my own." Dragon stormed over, Jason could practically see the hackles raised. "And you promised you would."

"He shot at you-"

"I would have dodged."

"And you are injured."

"I'm already healed."

"Catwoman said you almost pulled your stitches yesterday. And you just got over the infection you got from playing in the gutters."

"I wasn't playing."

"You and the scary crocodile were wrestling."

"See. I was training."

"In the sewers while sporting an open wound."

"It was healed!"

"Can you put me down now?" Jason squirmed. "I have business to attend to."

"'Lord, what fools these mortals be.'" Dragon gestured for Connor to release Jason. "Look. You get out of my city and we'll be good."

"No, can do. The Joker is mine. And really? Midsummer's Night Dream? How cliche can you get? Titus Andronicus is much more quotable."

"Titus Andronicus?" Dragon shot a sharp glance a Jason. "You are a big fan of Shakespeare then?"

"He has a way with words. And a morbid sense of humor."

"And you say the Joker killed you."

"Now you are the one with your ears blocked."

"I see you haven't grown a sense of humor yet. Take off the helmet."

"Bite me."

"Jason. Please." The world froze and Jason stared at the boy in front of him. Big almost desperate eyes looked up at him. "Jason."

"Stray?"

"Dragon? What's going on?" Connor fluttered nervously at Dragon's side. "The Joker is getting away."

"I'll get him later. He can't run far. Helmet. Take it off." Gloved hands reached for the helmet and unlatched it. Jason pulled it over his head and let his bared eyes rest on Stray. His Stray. The scrawny, scrappy little kid. He drank in the long lean lines of Dragon's frame. He wanted to pull off the jacket so he could get a better look at him....wait....

"You little thief! That's my jacket!" Jason dropped his firearm and lunged at Stray. But he laughed- a real, rich laugh- and danced out of the way.

"You weren't using it, you zombie."

Gotham was full of aggravating surprises.

Chapter Text

Damian followed his father into the damp city. It disgusted him. He carefully avoided mud puddles. "Father, must we walk? The car would be much more enjoyable. And less noxious." He scrunched his nose as they passed a McDonald's. His father ignored him and walked silently onward. Damian sighed but followed. He had expected more when he ran away to find his father. He hadn't expected to find a scruffy man serving soup in a Seattle homeless shelter. He hadn't expected the man to smile at him or wrap his arms around him in a sign of love and acceptance. His father didn't even question that he was his son, he just loved him and took him in. Not that it was much of place to be taken into. A ratty apartment with ugly furniture but... it had charm. The couch was so soft, he felt he would disappear in it and his father insisted on cuddling with him on it. The cuddling was weird but it felt right. Perhaps even more right than fighting. It was a connection, intimate, whereas killing was cutting that connection.

He still worked to hone his fighting. His father would train with him in the mornings but even though it was intense, it was never cruel. Evenings, they did tai-chi. And at night, his father would lead him through the city to a women's home. They stayed for hours, teaching women self-defense. It was different, meeting women who couldn't kill you within seconds. Damian had always seen his mother as the strongest woman in the world but now he wondered. He say women who had starved to feed their children, worked themselves to the bone for family. Girls barely older than him, trying to raise their siblings, or even their own children. And in the midst of the dismal city, Damian saw strength and love.

None of it made any sense. His father had been a fighter and detective, that was what his mother said. Now he was a man. Just a man. But... he was a good one, if there was such a thing. He had taken Damian in, even though Damian was cruel, and cynical. Even though, he had no idea what love was. His father took him in and loved him. It was odd but it was good.

His father had so many regrets. He had asked about them and some questions had been answered but not all. His father was a broken man but he was one who had found forgiveness and peace, somehow.

When Damian was younger, he had wanted to be a fighter like his father but now he saw what Batman was. Below all the armor and darkness, his father was and always had been a good man. And that was what Damian wanted to be as well. Maybe someday, he would be a hero. Maybe someday he would meet Alfred and Dick Grayson. He would leap across Gotham rooftops but.... for now, first, he would become a good man like his father. Because good people were heroes. Good people were fighters. Good people knew what love was.

Damian stepped over a puddle and saw a boy in the shadows. He was sad, tears running down his face, and was shivering in the cold. Damian glanced toward his father but he had kept walking. Damian stopped and approached the boy. He tried to smile and reached out a hand.

"Come with me."

Chapter Text

He collapsed into his chair, kicking off his shoes. It had been a bad day. Somedays it seemed as if everything he did went wrong. As if nothing he did mattered. Dick could work double time as a police officer and as a vigilante but people would still get robbed. He could take out a villain but another would step in to take his place. He could convince a man not to kill the hostages, but then he would kill himself. There was nothing Dick could do to solve it. He was useless.

Hands scrubbed at his face and pushed his hair back. It was getting too long. He couldn't remember the last time it had been cut. Alfred would have a fit. Dick smiled to himself and went to the fridge. Alfred still wasn't happy with him but he would still send food. This week was Cajun Chicken. Last week had been lamb roast. And the week before that....

Why in the world did Alfred still love him? How could he care about Dick when Dick couldn't do anything right? He couldn't be Robin. He couldn't protect Gotham. Now he couldn't even protect Bludhaven! He was useless. Useless. And it hurt. All his life, all Dick had ever wanted to do was make his parents proud. After they died, he thought he would do that by being a hero like Bruce. But he couldn't. He wasn't good enough.

Dick sat on the kitchen floor, head buried in his arms. All he wanted was to make the people he loved proud. Bruce, Barbara, the Titans. And all he had done was fail. Look at Gotham now. He had let Bruce's city be overrun by criminals.

Ironically, they were doing a better job than he was. Gotham was starting to compete with Metropolis business-wise because so many corrupt businessmen had gone into hiding. That was creating jobs, which meant less people on the streets, better apartments, the docks were constantly busy so no more warehouses full of crime. Gotham was thriving and it was due to criminals.

Maybe he should take up bank robbery.... or world domination. Seemed plenty profitable.

No, what Dick most wanted was to be forgiven. He wanted to eat supper at the Manor with Bruce, Alfred, even with Jason- the little brat. But Bruce was gone. Jason was dead. And only Alfred was even around to forgive him. Maybe that was where he would start. Dick picked up his cell phone off the couch.

Alfred first. Then the Commissioner (for not protecting Gotham when Batman left). Then Superman, to apologize for lying. Then Barbara because he hadn't been there for her. And possibly... she would tell him how to contact Timothy- Dragon. To apologize for invading and offer his support. Being a hero wasn't easy. Even the best needed help sometimes. And Dick was finally ready to ask for it. Because somehow, Dragon had figured out this heroing thing before he had. Maybe the kid would give him a few pointers.

Chapter Text

Selina, Ivy, Harley, and Barbara sat by the gargoyles. The kids were off on patrols, and the ladies were on a much deserved break.

"So 'Dragon.'" Ivy looked to Barbara who sighed and raked a hand through her hair.

"I checked out the Justice Leagues' reports. Martian Manhunter went into interview him. He said Mermaid just... cracked. Recreated himself."

"Took out all the love, all the joy." Selina laid her face in her hands. "It was a time of trauma, shouldn't he be better by now?"

"Multi-personality syndrome or something like it. Disassociation maybe?" Harley munched casually on a street taco. "He has always responded like this. Stray, Mermaid, Dragon. There's no difference."

"Mermaid.... I should have seen." Selina groans into her hands.

"It's not like it's irreversible. Psychiatrists treat stuff like this all the time." Harley wiped the sour cream off her cheek and licked at her fingers. She looked up at the girls to see them all staring at her. "No! Oh No! My degree is definitely expired!"

Barbara smirked at Harley's panic. "You're a psychiatrist."

"A crazy one!"

"I don't think this is a good idea." Selina tried to dissuade the other two but the two redheads bulldogged Harley into agreeing to treat Dragon.

-------------------------

Harley cursed the women's names everyday as she consulted with Dragon, but she definitely agreed that he needed help. It's just.... he deserved better than her. But she would do her best. Harley and Dragon worked through his mental blocks, letting each barrier down until he accepted his past for what it was. The past. She had forced Barbara and Dragon to finally talk and ask for forgiveness. It was a disgustingly teary session, like Harley's mascara was every where and Barbara wouldn't hug her. The jerk. She was unpleasantly surprised by the Pit Madness but Ivy hadn't told her they used Lazarus Water to resurrect Dragon. What did they think was going to happen? He was going to drink it and be okay? No! The stuff drove people mad. They were lucky Dragon hadn't tried to go on a murderous massacre. The amount was so little, the madness only truly kicked in when he was angry. Harley hated having to work through that as well but she also felt satisfaction as he healed, smiled, let Connor get closer, and let them all back in. He even became friends with Stephanie. It was almost like a miracle, but Harley had helped. Did that make her an angel?

She had forgotten how good it felt to heal instead of hurt. She forgot how it felt to be valuable. Puddin' always pushed her away and insulted her, but... Harleen was smart. She made it through college at the top of her class and, no, she didn't sleep with the teacher. She was independent, strong. She had friends. Perhaps therapy was a two way thing. In helping Dragon accept himself, she had done the same. She had found her own strength.

Chapter Text

1- No Gary Stu!!!!!

2- Expand Dragon characteristics. Show personality. Show responses of others to the change. Give him some sort of likability without making him the same.

3- Fix the Lex Luthor problem. He wouldn't just say, "Uh Oh. They escaped. Whoopdeedoo." Either go into his brain or have a motivator to stay away that is clearly defined.

4- Explain the green eyes.

5- Maybe do something with the Joker. Whole lot of set up for nothing.

6- Prison transition. Still awkward.

 

Done:

Closure with most characters

Most Gary Stu fixed

......apparently a lot of work still needed.