Batman was not a vampire.
No really, he wasn't. Under that cape and cowl, behind that soul-wrenching glare, was nothing more than a mortal man. He was human, and proud of it. He had proven that he, a normal (well, maybe not normal, being rich and well-trained and all) man could stand toe-to-toe with the strongest beings in the universe and come out on top. He was terrifying by right of being strong and relentless when it came to pursuing evil, not because he was some blood-sucking creature of the night.
Too bad nobody seemed to get the memo.
Really, the whole debacle could be traced back to the earliest days of the famed Dynamic Duo. The first Robin, Dick Grayson, had been witness to the funniest rumor he'd ever heard one day at school. Someone actually thought Batman might be a vampire! He didn't remember most of what he heard, something about how only Dracula would wear a black cape and fly around the city at night, but the simple act of hearing that rumor, of imagining Bruce with corpse-pale skin and sharp teeth was enough to send him into a fit of giggles. Bruce, a vampire? Please!
But the idea soon took root in Dick's mind. Batman did fit a few vampire stereotypes: he was never seen during the day, he wore a long cape, he was creepy . . . Honestly, if he didn't know the man himself, wasn't his partner in fighting-crime, he might've thought there was some merit to the theory.
Well, why couldn't people believe it? In fact, why couldn't he help them believe it?
It made total sense. Make people believe Batman was a vampire, and then no one would start looking for his secret identity. After all, why would a vampire need a secret identity when they could just hypnotize people into leaving them alone? And who would suspect Bruce Wayne of being a vampire, hm? No one, that's who.
Honestly, it was laughably easy to get people to believe that the Dark Knight was an immortal creature bent on the destruction of evil through beat downs and blood guzzling. All it took was a few well-timed comments, all of which had been painstakingly drafted so as not to come off too straightforward, but also not too vague as to leave people wondering what he was talking about.
Some of Dick's favorite lines included comments on how Batman managed to evade media capture - "Guess it's a good thing you don't get caught on film, huh?" - wrong angles for spotting his reflection - "I can't even see you in that mirror!" - and jokes about him being a solely night-oriented vigilante - "Have you ever even seen the sun? Would it actually kill you?"
Word spread like wildfire, as rumors are wont to do. Batman, the bloodsucking terror of the night. Run away, or you may end up his next meal. Dick was so proud of himself when he heard people talking about it at school more often than any other rumor. And the best part? Bruce had no idea! He just thought Dick was being a normal nine-year-old kid, jabbering away and making jokes that didn't make much sense. He had no idea Dick was running the rumor mill and protecting their identities!
Nothing could be funnier than the tales people were spreading around school. At least, that's what Dick thought right up until some random mugger threw a clove of garlic at Batman one evening and screamed "Begone, foul beast!"
It had taken Dick hours to stop laughing, even as Bruce just looked confused.
Jason felt as though he had every right to be wary when he moved in with Batman. Sorry, Bruce Wayne. Whatever. Like a change in name and clothing stopped him from being a freaky monster who probably drank the blood of children for dessert. Jason had grown up on the streets, okay, he knew those rumors flying around the city. Batman was the unholy terror of Gotham nights, a thing to be feared by criminals and civilians alike. He was certain his blood was going to be on the menu, and soon.
And then Dick pulled his head out of his ass, stopped being mad at Jason for something that wasn't Jason's fault, and sat him down to talk about the vampire in the room.
Or rather, the lack of a vampire in the room.
"Bruce isn't actually a vampire," Dick explained slowly, making sure to enunciate his point as clearly as possible. "He isn't going to eat you."
Jason scoffed. "Yeah right, you're probably just trying to lure me into a false sense of security so he can snack on me when my guard is down. I'll pass."
"I'm serious! Bruce doesn't even know about the vampire rumors. I made them all up. It was like a game; how close to outright saying 'Batman is a vampire' could I get without actually saying anything? He isn't a vampire!"
Dick sighed, dragging a hand down his face. "You know what? Fine! Look for him doing anything suspicious and vampire-y. If you find anything, anything, and have proof? I'll help you stake him myself. Deal?"
Jason looked up at his 'brother.' It might be nice to have some help taking down the big bad bat if it came down to it . . .
And so began Jason's search. He spent every moment he was around Bruce, and a few he wasn't, looking for any signs that he was an undead terror.
He found nothing.
Nothing! Bruce didn't sleep in a coffin (not that he really ever slept, though, but when he did it was in that way too expensive bed in the master bedroom). Bruce ate regular people food, with garlic even! Bruce didn't drink any sort of red liquid that Jason could find. Bruce had a reflection. Bruce went outside when it was sunny. Bruce did all sorts of normal things (when he wasn't being Batman, of course).
Eventually, Jason had to accept the fact that Dick had been telling the truth. Batman - and Bruce by extension - wasn't a vampire. But making people believe Batman was a vampire seemed like a Robin job, and Jason would be damned if he gave anyone cause to call him a bad Robin. He started with the small comments Dick mentioned making when he was still in the pixie boots, but it became increasingly obvious that 'subtle' wasn't Jason's style. So he did a bit of research on vampire lore, trying to find other ways he could spread the rumors.
During his research, Jason came across the concept of a vampire thrall, a mind-controlled servant. Jason could work with that. And work with it he did.
While around Batman, Robin occasionally pitched in a few of the almost-subtle comments like he always had. But on his weekly solo patrol, he started really hamming it up. He ripped off perps' silver jewelry, claiming it would 'offend his master' and must be disposed of before he returned. When he received calls over the comms telling him to meet up with Batman, he finished helping whoever it was he was helping - or hurting - and made a parting comment like "I must go help the lord of darkness take down a villain."
But by far, his favorite line had been one delivered after he gave a mugger a bloody nose. He looked at the man, as if considering what to do with him. After a moment, in which the man was too afraid to even move, Robin spoke.
"My master is always craving fresh blood."
He had barely been able to keep from laughing as the man screamed and started running away. This vampire-rumor thing was fun!
Commissioner Gordon sighed as he hung up the phone. That was the third call this week demanding he 'save Robin' from the clutches of Batman. Why had the second one decided to go all out with the vampire thing? It was bad enough when people were calling to find out if Batman really was a vampire, but now they were calling with demands that the police stake him.
Stupid vampire rumors. Stupid gullible people believing Robin was under some sort of evil mind control. Stupid Batman not squashing the rumors when they first started.
Gordon did not get paid enough to deal with this.
When Tim became Robin, he didn't know what to do. Well, that wasn't exactly true. He just didn't know what to do about the vampire rumors.
He knew Batman wasn't a vampire. The hundreds of pictures he had taken proved that fact. But he also knew most of Gotham believed Batman was a vampire. And he knew it was because of Robin.
Asking Dick what he should do didn't help much.
"Do whatever you want," he'd said. "Jason and I used totally different approaches to spreading the rumors. So just do whatever you feel works."
Tim had sat down and really thought about it. What could he do? It wasn't just the Batman-vampire rumor he was tasked with keeping alive. It was the Robin-thrall rumor as well. He couldn't let all of Jason's hard work die with him. So Tim did some research. And he learned a very interesting factoid about vampire thralls. Sometimes, if the vampire they worked for liked them enough, they turned them into a vampire.
Well, Tim was a lot paler than Jason had been. And there had been a gap of a few months in between Jason's last appearance as Robin and Tim's first. Maybe he could work with this? Yeah, definitely! He knew exactly what he was going to do.
Tim took the rumors to new heights. He allowed himself to be spotted drinking red energy drinks out of clear bottles (it totally looked like blood in the dim light). He installed a blood typer in his gauntlets and actively commented on bad guys' blood types when they bled during fights (one guy actually passed out he was so scared). Around Halloween, he even bought a pair of cheap plastic fangs and wore them on patrol when Batman was off-world (he didn't want Bruce to find out what he was doing, after all).
Tim absolutely loved pretending to be a vampire. It was the only bit of fun he allowed himself on the job. Being a fun, silly Robin wasn't exactly his forte, but this? Protecting Batman and continuing a Robin tradition that was simultaneously helpful and ridiculous? It was probably the most fun he'd had outside of a Riddler case. (What could he say, Nigma's riddles were fun brainteasers.)
During Stephanie's brief tenure as Robin, she was much laxer about the rumors. After all, everyone could tell she wasn't the same Robin they were familiar with. Stupid Gothamites still believed there was only one Robin. So instead of donning the fake fangs and the blood obsession, she just messed around. Steph spouted off a few lines every now and then, just to keep the rumors spreading.
Her favorite saying?
"Talk shit, get bit."
Damian had a hard time understanding the rumors. His father was obviously not a vampire; any simpleton could see that. And neither was Dick, when he took the cowl. But every patrol, without fail, someone accused Batman and Robin of being bloodthirsty creatures of the night. It was ridiculous.
Dick, annoyingly enough, actually enjoyed the rumors. He even perpetuated them on occasion! Damian decided enough was enough and confronted Dick, demanding to know why he was pretending to be a vampire.
"It's tradition," Dick said with a weary sort of smile that seemed to be his norm since Damian's father had died. "When I was Robin, I heard some rumors about Batman and decided to add to them. It was just a way to protect our identities and have a little fun. Then when Jason was Robin, he added to it, bringing Robin into the rumors as a thrall or whatever he called it. Tim pretended to be an actual vampire. I just . . . I didn't want it to die with Bruce, you know? And I know 'playing pretend' isn't really your thing, so I thought I'd give it a shot from behind the cowl."
Damian considered what he heard. It was absurd. How could pretending to be a vampire protect their identities? But Dick seemed certain that it helped. And if all of the lesser Robins had managed to accomplish that much, then certainly Damian could do it better.
"I refuse to pretend to be a vampire like Drake," he declared. As Dick's shoulders started to slump, he continued. "However, I would not be opposed to finding a different method to perpetuate these childish rumors."
A beat later, Damian was being squashed against Dick's chest in a hug, despite his many threats to eviscerate the man if he didn't let him go immediately.
Commissioner Gordon noticed a change in the rumors and concerns brought to him about Batman and his 'hoard of the undead.' Seriously. That's what people were calling them.
First, there were the continuous demands that came in, mostly from people who were less law-abiding than they should be, that the police stake Batman because he was a menace to society. Then there was Red Hood, the living-dead terror of Gotham's criminal underworld. Red Robin, the vampiric specter who people swear used to be Robin and managed to escape Batman's vile clutches. And of course there was the new Robin. People seemed torn about this one, unable to decide if he was another vampire or a mind-controlled servant or something completely new.
Oddly enough, no one had any Nightwing rumors. Maybe it was because Nightwing was based in Blüdhaven. Maybe it was because Nightwing seemed to have vanished a few months ago.
Gordon sighed as the phone rang again. Please don't be someone calling about the Bats. He didn't think he could take it anymore.
When Bruce returned from being lost in time - apparently Tim had been right after all, which was both annoying and pleasant - Damian was unsure of how to proceed with the rumor spreading. His father didn't do anything to perpetuate the rumors, nor did he react much when Damian tried to. But Damian would not admit defeat. Obviously this was a test, a test to determine how dedicated to protecting their identities Damian was. It was a test he would not fail.
And then the others intervened.
"Damian, you kind of need to tone down the whole vampire thing around Bruce," Dick said one afternoon when most of their so-called 'family' was in the manor.
Damian crossed his arms. "And why is that? So you can prevent me from staking my claim as the superior Robin?"
His words were met with a sigh he had become very familiar with during Dick's time under the cowl. It was a sigh that usually meant Damian had said or done something that undermined Dick's hope of them all being a warm, happy family.
"For the hundredth time, there is no 'superior Robin.' No, I just don't want you to ruin the game."
"The rumor thing. It started as a game. Bruce has no idea we've all been making Gotham think he's a vampire."
Damian frowned. "So all this time, you've been making me act the fool for your own amusement?"
"What? No!" Dick actually looked appalled at the suggestion. "No, Dami, I've been trying to get you to have a bit of fun and keep a tradition of fooling Bruce going. I mean, it was a bit different when he was gone, but now that he's back, it'll be loads of fun."
"Keeping crime at bay and protecting our identities is not supposed to be fun."
This was met with a slightly different sigh. This one was used every time Damian did something that Dick found contradictory to 'normal child' behavior. Damian was certain he heard this particular sigh at least once a day, if not more.
"Okay, how about looking at it like a training exercise?" Dick suggested. "If you can hide something from Bruce, you can hide something from everyone. Except Alfred. Alfred always knows."
"That's true," Tim's voice chimed in from near the Batcomputer. "Trust me, you can't hide anything from Alfred. But lying to Bruce? That's actually pretty easy."
"Not really, Timmers," Dick said. "You're just insanely good at hiding things. You're like a mini-Bruce sometimes."
Damian bristled a bit at that. Tim, being compared to Bruce? And in a positive manner? Drake was nothing like Damian's father! It was an insult to the Wayne name!
And yet . . . Keeping a secret from the world's greatest detective was no small feat, and to keep it a secret for as long as they had was, admittedly, maybe a smidge impressive.
"You've actually managed to keep this a secret from Father? All of you?"
"Not quite," a voice said from the shadows.
Tim choked on his coffee. Dick actually jumped and let out a tiny squeal. Damian may have tensed up - just in case it was an intruder, of course - but when the owner of the voice stepped out of the darkness, he realized there had been nothing to fear. It was only his father.
"Bruce!" Dick said much too loudly. "What are you doing here?"
His words were met with an unimpressed stare. "It is my cave, Dick."
"Right! Right. Forgot. But, uh, how much of that did you hear?"
"All of it."
Dick winced. "All of it?"
Bruce nodded. "Yes, all of it. And I've known about the vampire rumors for years."
"After Gordon confronted me and wanted to know if the rumors were true, I realized what you were doing." There was an odd twinkle in Bruce's eye as he continued, "I will admit, sometimes you boys spreading the rumors came in handy. Alfred always did complain about the garlic smell in my uniform when people tried to trap me based on the rumors, though."
"Seriously? You knew the whole time?" If Damian didn't know any better, he would have sworn Dick was pouting.
"Of course. But you boys were having fun and no one was getting hurt, so I figured I'd let it slide. And the rumors have actually protected our identities on more than one occasion."
"Father," Damian said, interrupting whatever it was Dick had been about to say in return "should I continue spreading the rumors while on patrol?"
Bruce looked at him for a moment, as if in thought. Finally he said "Just tone it down a bit. You've definitely inherited this one's-" he reached over and ruffled Tim's hair, ignoring his protests "-flair for the dramatic."
Both Damian's and Tim's outraged objections were met with laughter.
A few weeks later, Batman was on patrol by himself when he felt someone creeping up on him. Only a few people could get so close before he noticed them, and nearly all of them were his children. Since Robin was at home working on a school project, Red Robin was across the country with the Titans, Nightwing was back in Blüdhaven, and the girls were off working their own case, it could only be one other person.
"Red Hood," Batman said without turning around.
"Bats," he greeted, moving into view. "Heard the vampire jig is up. Too bad."
Red Hood plopped down on the rooftop near Batman and stared out over the city. "You know," he began after a minute "I've been tracking a group that has started smuggling drugs inside coffins. If you want to strengthen the rumors a bit, I could use a bit of help."
Batman didn't even hesitate. "When and where?"
"When you asked for my help, this wasn't exactly what I thought you had in mind."
Laughter echoed over the commlink. "Well, at least you don't have to dig your way out like I did."
Batman didn't reply. How could he? Here he was, lying in a coffin inside an abandoned building, hoping to scare the smugglers into giving up, and Red Hood was making death jokes again. He hated thinking about that awful time before he was brought back into the family. Even now their truce was tentative, hence why Batman was willing to make a fool of himself to help.
Silence fell over the comms as the door of the building was thrown open. Batman heard heavy footsteps and people talking. Showtime.
"Come on, the boss said there was one left in here. We just gotta grab it and go."
"I dunno; seems kinda sketchy to me. It wasn't here last night."
"The boss must'a gotten someone else to drop it off! Come on, help me pick it up."
The footsteps got closer and closer. When they were almost on top of him, Batman started his performance.
The lid of the coffin slowly creaked open, spilling fog down onto the cement floor and creating a carpet of grey. Batman sat up, arms crossed over his chest and his eyes closed. He opened his eyes to look at the two who had been sent to collect the coffin. They stared back at him, eyes wide and faces pale.
A smile slowly spread across his face.
The screams of the goons rattled the room as they sprinted back out the door and into the awaiting arms of the police.
"That was amazing!" Red Hood cackled over the comms. "I'm so glad I set up cameras. I'm sending this to everyone."
Batman couldn't help but chuckle as well. Maybe he could enjoy the rumors as much as his children seemed to. It was sort of fun.