It was so late it could probably be called early, and Kazuya was soaked to the bone and nearly frozen solid. It was unseasonably cold for November, and the weather hadn’t even been decent enough to snow instead of rain.
As a general principle, he didn’t go into the sewers, but the night had been one long chase and Kazuya hadn’t wanted it to end in failure.
He never thought he’d be grateful for freezing rain, but at least it had washed away all the sewer grime. Or maybe his nose was just too numb to smell it anymore.
At least the rain had stopped, and Kazuya was back at Titan Tower, which meant a hot bath and a warm bed were only moments away.
“User not authorized.”
Kazuya blinked exhaustion out of his eyes - it had to be almost three in the morning. He shook the water droplets off his hand and tried again.
“User not authorized.”
Kazuya felt his stomach sinking. If it was past midnight, that meant it was November 17th, and he was now twenty.
He used partially frozen fingers to dial into the secure line for the Teen Titans.
“Hello?” Ryou’s voice didn’t even sound like he’d just woken up from sleep. He’d probably still been awake, doing whatever it was that Ryou did.
“Did you wipe my credentials?” Kazuya demanded, much ruder than he’d normally be with Ryou, because he had a functioning sense of self-preservation when he couldn’t feel his junk shriveling in the bitter cold.
“I warned you this was coming,” Ryou said calmly. “We’re the Teen Titans. You’re no longer a teen.”
“It’s below freezing out here!” Kazuya snapped. He fought down the rising hysteria. He was cold and soaked and he just wanted to go to bed. “My costume doesn’t have sleeves!”
“You were on patrol?” Ryou asked, voice ticking up in legitimate surprise.
“You sent me on patrol!”
“There was a chase!”
Maybe Kazuya could call his dad. It was a toss up on whether he’d actually answer this late - early? - but at least it would be a roof over his head, assuming a car could be sent to pick him up. The hour long train ride wasn’t an option when the trains weren’t running.
“I’ll come get you,” Ryou said.
Five minutes later, Ryou pushed open the door, tugging a disgruntled Kuramochi behind him, both of them wearing hastily applied masks. Tetsu followed, barely looking ruffled, and Sawamura tumbled out last, eyes still closed, quilt wrapped around his shoulders.
Kazuya grabbed for the quilt, and Sawamura made some distressed noises at him that probably meant no, it’s cold, that’s mine.
“Come on, I’m freezing,” Kazuya complained, tugging harder. Sawamura opened his eyes just long enough to take in the entire scene, nodded once like he’d solved everyone’s problems, and draped himself over Kazuya’s shoulders, wrapping the quilt around both of them. Kazuya considered complaining at the added weight, but at least this way he got both the quilt and Sawamura’s body heat.
“Where’s Beast Boy?” Ryou asked Tetsu.
“He said to give you this,” Tetsu said, holding out a piece of paper.
“ I agree to whatever plan gets Arsenal back in the Tower and you out of my room between the hours of midnight and ten am,” Ryou read off. He flipped the paper over. “ Also, learn to knock.”
“Can we get this show on the road?” Kuramochi asked, rubbing his hands up and down his arms.
“Right. Team meeting,” Ryou said. “First of all, I’d just like to say that I may have miscalculated some variables.”
“All my shit is still in the Tower, you ass!” Kazuya snapped.
“That variable was miscalculated, yes,” Ryou agreed. “I planned on doing this in the morning, but I’d like to propose we rebrand ourselves as the Titans so Arsenal can stay on.”
“Can we all go back to bed if I say yes?” Kuramochi asked.
“I have no objections,” Tetsu said.
“Issfine,” Sawamura mumbled into Kazuya’s neck. Some of the shivers going down Kazuya’s spine weren’t from the cold anymore.
“Then we’re decided. I’ll get your credentials back in the morning,” Ryou said. “I’ll let you in for now.”
Kazuya sagged. He couldn’t remember the last time he was this tired.
“Wonder Boy.” Sawamura didn’t budge. Uh oh. “Wonder Boy.” If anything, even more of Sawamura’s weight dropped onto Kazuya’s shoulders. “Come on, Wonder Brat, you’re like two hundred pounds of muscle. I can’t carry you.”
Sawamura was, apparently, too dead to the world to respond. Fine. Dragging it was, then.
Kazuya hooked his arms behind Sawamura’s back, fingers grabbing two handfuls of sweatpants. This was probably going to give Sawamura the mother of all wedgies, but Kazuya figured that was what he deserved for falling asleep standing up on Kazuya’s shoulder.
Kazuya tried to take a step forward and groaned. He wasn’t in any shape to even be dragging Sawamura around. Damn demigods and their unfair amounts of muscle.
Somehow, through what could only be described as a Herculean effort, Kazuya managed to drag Sawamura into the Tower, Sawamura whining into his back the entire time. It was very apparent that this was as far as they went, because Kazuya’s knees buckled under him. He collapsed on one of the lobby couches, Sawamura a dead weight on his back.
“You could’ve just dropped him outside,” Ryou pointed out, closing the door behind him.
“It’s below freezing,” Kazuya said, more concerned with getting his head in a comfortable position between Sawamura’s and the back of the couch.
“He would’ve gotten up.”
“I don’t leave my teammates out in the cold.”
“I deserve that. Happy birthday, by the way.”
“Don’t push it. Your free pass ends at sunrise.”
Ryou disappeared into the elevator. For a moment, Kazuya considered making a try for that, but honestly, this wasn’t too bad. He couldn’t take a deep breath under Sawamura’s weight, but at least now he was warm.
He kicked his shoes off and wiggled until all his gear fell off the side of the couch. Sawamura shifted with him, moving a little off Kazuya’s back and reaching up to grab a fistful of shirt in his sleep. Kazuya pointedly didn’t turn over, knowing exactly what he’d see if he did: Sawamura’s relaxed face, mouth slightly open, defined Cupid’s bow way too close for comfort.
Kazuya scooted as close as he could get to the back of the couch, burying his face in the uncomfortable throw pillow and letting Sawamura spoon him.
Miyuki gets something like an apology
This has gotten a better response than I expected so far (I honestly didn't expect there to be that many Daiya and DC fans out there), so have another chapter!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Kazuya winced as the morning sunlight fell across his eyes. When he forced them open, they were gritty and heavy, which meant he hadn’t gotten nearly enough sleep.
His main focus, though, was Sawamura’s sleeping face just in front of his own. It wasn’t often that Kazuya was awake before Sawamura - morning person that he was - but the weak morning sunlight combined with the uncomfortable sleeping surface meant Kazuya was the first one rising.
He almost never got to observe Sawamura like this, and he was doing it now almost despite himself. For a casual observer, it wasn’t easy to notice that Sawamura was only half Japanese, but if Kazuya paid attention, he could see the Greek roots in Sawamura’s features. Something about the shape of his nose, something about his jawline, something about the deep Cupid’s bow of his lips…
Kazuya wiggled off the couch, trying not to wake Sawamura.
He’s sixteen, he told himself firmly, ignoring the way he could feel his heart hammering. Off limits, Kazuya.
As tired as he felt, Kazuya knew there was little chance of being able to go back to sleep, so instead he went to the kitchen in search of coffee. If he was lucky, someone else was already up and had already started a pot.
When Kazuya finally stumbled into the kitchen, he found that there wasn’t just the smell of fresh coffee waiting for him. Ryou was typing away at his laptop, looking for all intents and purposes like he didn’t know Kazuya was there. Kazuya had known Ryou for long enough to know better, though. The beep of the pot signalling fresh coffee was more evidence that he’d known Kazuya was coming.
A fresh pot of coffee was probably the closest Kazuya was going to get to an apology from Ryou, and he figured that all things considered, it wasn’t bad. Leaning against the counter and letting the warmth of the cup chase the last of the lingering chill of last night from his bones, he faced Ryou.
“Did you really forget I was out on patrol?” Kazuya asked, sipping at his coffee.
“More like I assumed you’d be back earlier,” Ryou said without looking up. “There wasn’t much activity in the city, as far as I could tell.”
It should have been a routine night, but Kazuya had run into some jewel thieves that had been faster than they had any right to be, and he’d underestimated them right up until they’d shaken him. It had taken him the rest of the night to finish tracking them down and drop them at the nearest police station.
“Still, it’s not like you to not notice something like that,” Kazuya said. The quick look Ryou shot him over the top of his laptop was a warning, but not a strong enough one that Kazuya backed off. He stood his ground, staring Ryou down as calmly as one could stare down Kominato Ryousuke, and waited for Ryou to decide he was serious.
“Batman was supposed to update me on her progress on that mission in Europe,” Ryou relented, much faster than Kazuya had expected. Usually this kind of honesty was saved for Kuramochi, but then, Kazuya had been friends with them for almost as long as they’d been friends with each other, and that meant something. “She’s about twelve hours late. It’s not alarming, but it is unexpected.”
If Kazuya hadn’t known Ryou for so long, he would’ve believed the dismissal. Now, though, he wondered just how dangerous the mission was.
“I’m sure she’s just busy,” Kazuya said. “Besides, she has Robin with her, doesn’t she? One of them would’ve contacted the Justice League if there was a problem, and we would’ve heard about it by now.”
“Of course,” Ryou said, as if Kazuya’s words were obvious. They were, of course, but that didn’t mean Ryou didn’t need to hear them. Kazuya had met Ryou when he sixteen and Ryou was fourteen and not quite so practiced at keeping his walls up, which meant he had a special pass for seeing beyond the walls now. “The al Ghuls are nasty, but nothing my mother can’t handle. Even if Robin was adopted, he’s perfectly competent. He won’t slow her down.”
“Of course,” Kazuya copied Ryou’s tone. “How is Young Justice doing, by the way? They’re not benched again just because their leader’s gone?”
“I think the official wording they’re using for it is ‘focusing on training’,” Ryou said. “I doubt they’re getting any active missions, but Black Canary should be there training them. They could use it.”
“They’re not that bad,” Kazuya defended.
“They’re not us,” Ryou dismissed, and that was the end of that. The new generation of Young Justice was good, but there had been something special about the first generation, the team that had chafed under the restraints the Justice League put on them until they finally split to become the Teen Titans, and Kazuya and Ryou both knew it.
Still, there was talent in this new generation, and to pretend otherwise was stupid, no matter how many missions the Titans scalped from YJ.
“Are you going to be out for the day?” Ryou asked, returning almost entirely to his laptop. His voice had gone absent, which meant Kazuya had about twenty percent of his attention at best.
“I’ll probably go see my dad,” Kazuya said. “I can be back by tonight if you want me out on patrol.”
“Not necessary,” Ryou said. “We can handle it just fine, and you deserve a night off.”
A rare second apology. It must be Kazuya’s birthday.
“Wipe that smirk off your face, I can tell you’re thinking something stupid,” Ryou sighed. “Honestly, no wonder you and Kuramochi get along.”
“He’s your best friend,” Kazuya said, although that wasn’t quite what Ryou and Kuramochi were anymore.
“And yours. And it shows,” Ryou said. “I’m going to my room. I have some work I want to get done. Feel free to not bother me for the rest of the day.”
Kazuya waved him out, pouring himself a second cup of coffee. Ryou was worried, whether he wanted to admit it or not. It was unusual, but then again, Batman usually kept to Japan. She was used to the danger here, as were the rest of them.
Kazuya shook himself. This worry was nothing. Kominato Aya was someone to be feared, not someone to worry after. She and Sanada were probably just too busy to update someone who wasn’t even involved with their mission.
Everything was fine.
Next time: everything goes to shit
Batman and Robin's mission in Europe doesn't go to plan.
See that MCD tag? Yeah I wasn't kidding.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Every bone in Shunpei’s body was broken.
Maybe that was dramatic. He could still move his legs, so clearly his spine was intact. But he could be forgiven for being dramatic, because enough of his bones were broken that the distinction didn’t really matter anymore.
The crowbar swung under his chin again.
“Wow.” A dark shadow fell over Shunpei, the same one that had been hanging over him for...actually, he’d lost track of how long. “That looked like it really hurt.”
Shunpei looked up at the white face of makeup, the purple suit, the Japanese that was grammatically perfect but still carried an American accent with it. The Joker’s ever-grinning mouth leered down at him.
The Joker swung the crowbar down again, this time burying it in Shunpei’s stomach, his ribs - were any of those left unbroken? - his shoulder. Shunpei started to lose track of time again. How long had it been? Was his mother...was Batman coming for him?
Shunpei landed on his back, staring up at the ceiling and desperately trying to catch his breath. He was pretty sure at least one of his ribs was poking into his lung. It felt sharp, and he couldn’t force his chest to expand enough to stop crushing his lungs.
“Hang on. That looked like it hurt a lot more.” Shunpei didn’t speak up to agree. But for the record, it had. “Let’s try to clear this up, hmm, little bird? What hurts more? A?” A crowbar in the already broken ribs. “Or B?” Shunpei’s collarbone finally caved in instead of bruising again. “Forehead? Or backhead?”
Shunpei wiggled his feet desperately, trying to do anything that would distract from the pain. It hurt, it hurt, and he wasn’t sure how much longer he could do this.
Where was Batman?
“Gonna kick your pasty white ass,” Shunpei muttered into the floor, rolling a little on his side to see if he could breathe better that way. He couldn’t.
The Joker shoved his face right into Shunpei’s, imitating Shunpei’s wheezing breaths.
“A little louder,” the Joker said. He picked Shunpei up by his hair. The sting didn’t even register in the face of everything else. “I think you may have a collapsed lung, that always impedes the oratory.”
Shunpei spit blood in his face.
The Joker shoved him back into the ground.
“Now that was rude!” he snapped. “At least the first Boy Blunder had some manners.”
Shunpei ignored his pain, rolling just enough so he could grin at the Joker with his bloody teeth. The Joker wasn’t the first person to remind Shunpei that he was nothing like the first Robin.
That honor went to Ryou himself.
Maybe he’d had a point. It was hard to imagine Ryou getting stuck in this situation. He probably would’ve knocked Joker out with that crowbar by now. Shunpei hadn’t even been able to slip his cuffs yet.
“I suppose I’m going to have to teach you a lesson so you can better follow in his footsteps,” the Joker said, wiping the last of the blood from his chin. He considered Shunpei carefully, mock serious, until that jagged grin split his face again. “Nah. I’m just gonna keep beating you with this crowbar.”
Shunpei closed his eyes as the crowbar descended again. He silently begged for Batman to hurry up and come, hurry up and save him. And then, as the blows continued and time slipped away, yet again, he started to beg for it to just end.
Whatever would make the pain stop.
Even if it meant dying alone and bloody in some forgotten corner of Sarajevo.
And then, mercifully, it did.
“Alright, kiddo, I’ve gotta go,” the Joker said, pulling on a thick coat as he walked to the door. Shunpei could see white snow, untouched by footprints outside.
“It’s been fun, though, right?” Shunpei let his head drop back to the floor. Maybe if he could get his hands in front of him, he could breathe a little better. “Well, maybe a smidge more fun for me than you, I’m just guessing since you’re being awful quiet. Anyway. Be a good boy, finish your homework, and be in bed by nine. And hey! Please tell your mentor I said…” a pause, a shuffle of clothes, “ hello.”
The last English word rang throughout the warehouse, and the door swung shut in its wake, cutting off the Joker’s signature insane laughter.
Shunpei opened his eyes again. He’d seen freedom through that door. He just had to get to it.
Slipping his cuffs wasn’t nearly as easy as it normally was, not with both of his shoulders and all of his ribs shattered. He didn’t have the range of motion he was used to, that he’d trained for. But he was still Robin, and still a son of Kominato Aya, adoption notwithstanding, and the cuffs weren’t a match for him.
Shunpei pushed himself to his feet. If he could just walk...no. His ankle was sprained or broken, but it didn’t matter which, because his head was spinning too hard to walk. Shunpei wanted to throw up. All those blows to the head...he wasn’t making it out of this without brain injury, was he? And Ryou already teased him for being the slowest brother, like it was his fault he’d been adopted three years later than Ryou had started training.
Fine. Crawling it was, then.
Shunpei fixed his eyes on the door. If he could just get there...if he could just get to freedom...everything would be alright. He could find Batman, and they could get out of here, and it would be alright.
Crawling across the floor was an agony of broken bones and screaming muscles. Shunpei couldn’t hear anything over the pounding in his head, ticking in time with his heartbeats. But on he went.
Shunpei reached up for the door, barely able to lift himself up onto his knees to jiggle the handle. Which was locked. Because of course it couldn’t be that easy.
He sagged to the ground, turning so he could rest his back against the door. He needed a plan, he needed a way out. If only his head would stop pounding so hard, beeping like a heartbeat.
Shunpei opened his eyes to see a timer counting down from nine, and sticks of explosive wired to it. Oh. Of course. The only thing crueler than beating him most of the way to death and taunting him the whole way through was giving him hope.
And he’d had it. He really thought he’d make it. He’d practically tasted his own freedom. The freezing metal door against his back promised the safety of the snow outside, just barely out of Shunpei’s reach.
Shunpei closed his eyes. There was nothing he could do now.
Aya revved her motorcycle furiously through the streets of Sarajevo. Sanada’s tracker was blinking dead ahead of her, and she couldn’t get there fast enough. Who knew what the Joker was doing to him? Sanada was good, trained to be the best, but he was still fifteen, and the Joker had spent too long playing cat and mouse with her to make stupid mistakes.
Not that kidnapping one of her sons didn’t count as a stupid mistake. Aya would make him pay for that when she was done making sure Sanada was safe.
The tracker led her to a warehouse on the outskirts of town, and Aya didn’t bother braking, just leapt off her bike to keep running. She had to get there, if she could just get there…
The warehouse exploded.
Aya held up her cape as a shield from the shrapnel. No, no... no .
She darted into the wreckage, looking left and right for the signature Robin red.
And saw it, trapped under a beam.
She sprinted, squatted down, lifted with her legs, threw the beam away, scraped away the debris…
“No.” The blast had blown his cuffs off, and his eyes were closed, but there was nothing peaceful about Sanada’s face in death. Aya gathered him to her chest. She was strong enough to carry them both out, but right now, she couldn’t even find it in herself to stand. “Shunpei.”
She hugged what was left of her son, a tear slipping out from under her cowl. The Joker had always been crazy, had always been depraved, had crossed line after line...and still, even after all Aya had seen, she’d never really believed she’d lose one of her sons. Look how Ryou had grown up, and Sanada had always been strong, stronger than even his older brother, and clever; his only real flaw was that he was too ruthless.
The Joker had crossed the line before, but this...this was unforgivable.
Next time: the teams find out
The teams find out
If you're familiar with DC, this is the point I'm diverging hard from my source material. If you're not familiar, buckle up because it's time to start the plot.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“ Nightwing, respond. ”
“Nice to hear from you,” Ryou said, pressing his fingers to the comm. in his ear to respond to his mother. “I have some updates on the situation in Gotham, and there’s a few things for the company that you should really take a look at, and…”
“ Ryou. ”
That shut Ryou up fast. His mother never called them by their real names over comm. link, not even the hyper-secure link just for the family.
“ I’ve called a meeting at Mount Justice, ” his mother continued. “ Bring your whole team. This will involve you too. ”
“What happened?” Ryou asked. He was already running through scenarios in his head. A new villain plot? Something with terrorism, probably, something that would affect the whole country. It had to be something big enough to justify calling in both YJ and the Titans. They might decide on their own to work together, but they were rarely called together. The Titans weren’t League sanctioned, and using them too often could send the wrong message.
“ I’m not repeating myself, ” his mother told him. “ Be there in an hour. ”
That was ominous. But at the same time, Ryou felt like grinning. It had been a while since they’d had something big. Much as he didn’t miss being his mother’s sidekick for... many reasons, he’d been a little jealous when she’d taken off for Europe with Sanada. The al Ghuls were more fun than Gotham’s standard villain fare. At least they had style.
“Team, gather in the kitchen,” Ryou said into the comm. He heard various sound offs that he mostly ignored.
Tetsu and Sawamura were already there when Ryou walked in. Kuramochi zoomed by to sit on the counter.
“Late again,” Ryou teased, because he knew it would make Kuramochi pout at him. He was in such a good mood from the promise of a big mission that he gave Kuramochi a gentle, affectionate karate chop to the forehead.
“What’s the emergency?” Miyuki asked, hip checking Sawamura out of the way so he could steal one of the seats.
“Hang on, where’s...oh, Jun’s here.” Jun leaned back against the counter next to Tetsu and nodded at him. “Good. Everyone get in gear. We’re going to Mount Justice. Batman called a joint meeting.”
“We’re working with Young Justice? Officially?” Kuramochi asked.
“Is there something big coming?” Sawamura asked. “Oh, I bet it’s aliens this time! No offense, Tetsu-san!”
“Aliens would be a nice break from our normal villains,” Tetsu agreed.
“I just hope these ones fight on the ground,” Jun said, though he looked just as pleased as Sawamura and Tetsu. “I haven’t had a good elephant fight in forever.”
Only Kuramochi and Miyuki looked a little more reserved. They both gave Ryou searching looks that saw too much.
“Is this about Batman not checking in with you?” Kuramochi asked quietly. Ryou hadn’t deliberately kept that from his whole team. It was just that Kuramochi and Miyuki were the only ones who’d known him long enough to notice he was worried. If he didn’t trust them implicitly, he’d already be planning their deaths for getting too close.
“She didn’t say,” Ryou said. “She doesn’t want to repeat herself.”
Kuramochi and Miyuki both looked concerned, but Miyuki hid it better.
“Let’s go!” Sawamura demanded. “I want to hang out with Young Justice before Batman gets there. I have to challenge Wolf Boy again!”
“For the last time, his name is Raven,” Jun said. “He can’t even turn into a wolf.”
“But he’s like a wolf,” Sawamura insisted, stupidly stubborn.
“If we’re going, let’s go,” Ryou said. “If you insist on challenging Raven again, make it fast. I don’t want to waste everyone’s time.”
“I’ll beat him quickly, Onii-san!” Sawamura promised. Ryou calmly ignored the nickname. It tended to confuse their enemies, and besides, it wasn’t like he could get Sawamura to stop.
At least he never called anyone by their real name in the field.
One quick zeta tube trip later, and Ryou could watch with amusement as Sawamura got in Okumura’s face. They were both heavy hitters, but in almost completely opposite ways, so it was always a toss up for how matches between them went.
“Well, well, well, look what the cat dragged in.” Ryou turned away from his youngest teammate and focused on the speaker.
“Hello, Batgirl.” Wakana grinned at him. “Still openly defying your father to be here?”
“He’s accepted it,” Wakana said. “Well, he’s accepted that there’s nothing he can do about it. Oh shit!”
She ducked behind Ryou, which was a little hilarious because she was taller than him.
“Why are you hiding?” Ryou asked innocently. “It couldn’t possibly be because you see someone you’d rather not talk to?”
“Shut up, shut up, he’s gonna look,” Wakana hissed.
“You’re going to have to get over this thing with Kid Flash someday,” Ryou said, following her eyes to where Kuramochi was yelling at Sawamura to quiet down. “Just because you feel guilty for breaking his heart…”
“Shut up, I was a bitch, I’m allowed to not want to see him now,” Wakana said. “I just feel like apologizing until he goes away.”
“That couldn’t possibly be because you only dated him because I said my best friend was off limits to other Bats because it would be awkward.” Ryou was enjoying himself now, and he was mature enough to admit it wasn’t for mature reasons.
“Yes, I was an idiot and a bitch, let it go.” Wakana dodged into the shadows, just as skilled as anyone else in the Bat family, reappearing next to Haruno, startling the Martian.
Ryou turned to watch Tetsu and Jun strike up a conversation with Takako, Miyuki and Katsuko cackling as Sawamura sent Okumura flying, Seto taking over from Kuramochi to yell at the two to settle down while Kuramochi chatted with his cousin Bart. It seemed almost strange, how well the Titans mixed with YJ.
Under Sanada’s leadership, though, the two teams had worked more closely together than anyone had expected. Since the Justice League had almost completely removed oversight in response to the first generation of sidekicks getting sick of the restrictions and leaving, there was a lot more freedom for both teams to work together when they weren’t scalping missions from each other.
“If I could have your attention.” Despite how quietly she’d spoken, Batman immediately commanded the room. Within minutes, everyone was circled around her, waiting quietly for her to speak.
Ryou looked behind her for Sanada. If they’d found something in Europe, surely he’d be standing behind their mother, ready to jump in with extra details she’d leave out because they weren’t relevant to the mission, shit-eating grin on his face.
Ryou couldn’t see him.
“I have bad news,” his mother continued. Ryou was probably the only one in the room who could tell there was strain in her voice. Was it really that bad? “Robin has died on a mission.”
The way she said it, so quietly, so devoid of emotion, froze the room. For a moment that balanced on a knife’s edge, no one moved.
And then chaos broke loose.
The Titans all stood as a rock in the storm of movement that was YJ at the news. Seto sat down hard, Okumura moved with him, Bart zipped around in frantic panic, and Jaime tried to grab him. Wakana started shouting, Takako raised her hands to her mouth, Haruno started crying. Katsuko sank to her knees.
Aqualad, Raven, Impulse, Blue Beetle. Batgirl, Zatanna, Miss Martian. Artemis.
“What happened?” Ryou asked. It felt like his voice was breaking something that couldn’t be fixed.
“Joker,” his mother said. It was all she had to say.
Ryou set his jaw. Joker had been a thorn in his family’s side for too long, but even Ryou had never actually believed he’d kill one of them. If nothing else, Joker seemed to have some obsession with playing with their family.
“Young Justice is on standby for now,” Batman said. “If you’re not staying in Mount Justice, you’re going with your mentors. Do I make myself clear?”
Ryou didn’t bother to listen to anyone’s response. He just followed his mother out of Mount Justice. She ignored him until they got away from everyone else. They’d easily escaped everyone’s notice.
“What really happened?” he asked.
“We can discuss this-”
“We can discuss it now.” Ryou almost expected to be scolded for his tone. Instead, his mother just sighed. Somehow, that was worse.
“He fell for a red herring,” she said. “And so did I. We got separated, I didn’t find him until it was too late.”
“Too late how?” Ryou was familiar with Joker’s sense of style.
“We’ll have an autopsy report soon,” his mother said. “I wanted to know if he was dead before or after the explosion.”
“Explosion?” Ryou shook his head. “Have Alfred send me a copy when it’s ready.”
His mother grabbed his arm as he turned to leave.
“Don’t read that report,” she said.
“Is that an order or a request?” For once, Ryou couldn’t even guess what her expression was under her cowl.
“A request,” she said finally. “I can’t really give you orders anymore, at least not that you’ll listen to. But it won’t make you happy. And you won’t be able to change anything.”
“That’s not the point,” Ryou said. “You know that’s not the point.”
“I know,” she agreed. “At least let us have a funeral before you do anything about it.”
“Is that permission?”
“It’s me acknowledging that while I could stop you, I don’t particularly want to. I just need you to know something.” To Ryou’s shock, after a quick look over his shoulder, she pushed her cowl up. Her eyes were worse than anything he could’ve imagined. “Revenge isn’t a substitute for grief.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Exactly what I said. You can’t take revenge and skip out on grieving. Mourn your brother with me before you go off avenging him.”
She pulled her cowl back down and disappeared. Ryou could have followed her, but she’d told him everything he needed to know.
Now all he needed was that autopsy report, to see how dead Joker was about to be.
Next time: the funeral
I pulled a bunch of overtime at work this week so please be gentle with me.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Kazuya hadn’t been to a funeral since his mother’s when he was seven. That had been horrible on its own, but at least he couldn’t remember it very well.
He didn’t think he’d ever be able to forget this one.
It was almost strange how few people were crying. Kazuya knew he was emotionally damaged, had known for a while, but apparently that was a common condition among superheros.
Ryou sat stone faced at the front of the room, staring at the closed casket. Kazuya remembered his mother’s casket being open, so everyone could leave flowers and other small gifts for her to carry into her cremation. He knew better than to ask why Sanada’s was closed.
Haruichi sat beside his brother, and Kazuya could see his small shoulders shaking from the back of the room. He wasn’t crying, though it looked like that was mostly through effort on his part. His bangs hung in his eyes, and he looked even smaller than normal.
Kazuya fidgeted with the hem of a suit jacket he’d only worn a handful of times. His spine hurt from sitting up so straight, but if he slouched over, he could feel his stomach roiling too much.
Maybe he should’ve sat with YJ after all, instead of hiding in the back with his dad. They sat just behind the Kominatos, one solid unit. Haruno and Katsuko both cried openly, neither of them Japanese enough to bother hiding their tears. Jaime kept wiping at his eyes, his jaw tight. Everyone else had their shoulders slumped in grief.
And that was why Kazuya couldn’t join any of them. He had long since realized he was too similar to his father to be built for comforting. He didn’t know what to do with their pain.
He didn’t know what to do with their fear.
That team had had to fight to be here. Kominato Aya had wanted to keep this as a strictly family affair, but she’d been overruled. Kazuya and Kuramochi had insisted on being there for Ryou, and all of YJ had insisted on coming to say goodbye to their leader. Since Ryou and his father were the ones in charge of planning the funeral, they’d allowed it over her protests.
Kuramochi was sitting with the Kominatos at the front, braver than Kazuya was. Ryou was one thing. He and Kazuya had come to an understanding that involved neither of them talking about their feelings. Haruichi was another. If Kazuya didn’t know what to do with the pain of a team that had lost their leader, he definitely didn’t know what to do with the heartache of a boy who had lost his big brother.
Kazuya barely heard any of the prayers the priest offered. Instead, he watched Kuramochi scuffing the ground over and over with his shoe. Speedsters didn’t sit still well. Neither did Kazuya, picking at a seam until he’d pulled out a thread.
Finally, when the priest was finished, everyone was invited up to leave gifts for Sanada in a basket that would go to the crematorium with his casket. The rest was just for the Kominatos, and not even Kuramochi had been invited.
Kazuya left one of the flowers from a vase by the casket, but he noticed YJ leaving more personal gifts. Takako left what looked like a good luck charm. Wakana, Seto, and Bart all left a piece of candy. Katsuko left a woven friendship bracelet.
Then came the condolences, the only part of Kazuya’s mother’s funeral he remembered well. He’d hated it. He’d had to stand there as his relatives filed out, offering him words that couldn’t bring his mother back, and pretend to be grateful for them.
When it was his turn, all he offered Ryou was a nod. Ryou wouldn’t accept pity, and he hated to be coddled. Kazuya had been friends with him long enough to know that. All he’d want would be to know he still had the support of his team. He’d work through this in his own way.
Haruichi, though...Haruichi wasn’t Ryou, and he looked so young, so close to his breaking point. Kazuya offered him a gentle fist bump to his shoulder.
Twelve was too young to lose a big brother.
Once everyone had cleared out and the casket had been loaded into a hearse, the Kominatos vanished. YJ had reformed into one group of mourning, which just left Kazuya with Kuramochi.
“I don’t know if he’s getting over this,” Kuramochi said.
“His brother is dead,” Kazuya said. “There’s no getting over it. Sanada isn’t coming back.”
“No, I mean…” Kuramochi trailed off in frustration. “It’s normal to grieve. It’s normal to miss someone. He’s not doing that.”
“Ryou has never done things the normal way,” Kazuya said, but he couldn’t make it sound snarky enough. Kuramochi was the closest person to Ryou. If he thought there was a reason to worry… “You don’t think something’s really wrong, do you?”
“Not yet,” Kuramochi shook his head. “Maybe he just needs time. I need time.”
Kazuya could relate to that.
“What do you think’s gonna happen to Young Justice?” Kazuya asked. “Is Batman gonna disband them?”
“I hope not,” Kuramochi said. “She might not have to, though. I’m pretty sure Okumura isn’t staying, but he was only there for a few months. And I know Takako’s father wants to pull her off the team. Bart told me Barry wants him to stay in America until this all blows over. There might not be a team left after this.”
“It probably depends on how soon a new leader can take over,” Kazuya said.
“Katsuko, right?” Kuramochi said. “She was the first one to join after Sanada.”
“Maybe,” Kazuya said. He had his doubts. “Wakana would be a good choice, too.”
“I guess I can’t blame Barry for wanting to pull Bart,” Kuramochi sighed. “What we do is dangerous, but it’s been a while since we lost anyone. We’ve never lost someone from the younger teams. Sanada was only fifteen.”
And that was just it, wasn’t it?
Kazuya looked over at YJ. Takako had pulled Haruno and Katsuko into a hug, and Wakana was patting Haruno’s shoulder. Bart looked like it would only take one small push, and he’d be in the middle of the group hug too. They weren’t the Titans, but they had grown into their own team, and Kazuya knew that sometimes a team was better than a family.
On the edge of the group, Okumura looked like he’d rather be anywhere else. It was probably only Seto’s influence that had even kept him here this long. Kuramochi was right, he probably wouldn’t stay even if YJ managed to get back on its feet.
Kazuya could understand that. In a weird way, sometimes it was easier to grieve if there was no one else there to do it with you. Easier, but in his experience, not better.
Only time would tell if YJ would survive. Kazuya thought it was about fifty-fifty for right now. It would all depend on whether a leader could step in and bring them back together. Right now, they were leaderless, and all their mentors were pulling them back in, terrified of the loss. They were lost, and grieving, and scared. Maybe they could bounce back, maybe not.
All they could do was wait and see.
Next time: Ryou reads the autopsy report
Ryou reads the autopsy report.
Time to kick my main plot into gear!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Alfred was never hard to find, especially when he didn’t want to be found. He was predictable, and Ryou had learned his patterns by the time he’d hit his teens.
“Okaa-san said you’d be finished with the autopsy report by now,” Ryou said. Alfred didn’t even jump at his appearance. He’d had years to get used to people appearing out of nowhere. “I’d expected it done before the funeral, but I understand these things take time to type up.”
“You’ve grown insolent in your adulthood, master Ryou,” Alfred told him. Ryou just looked at him expectantly until he sighed. “Here.”
He handed over a folder. It was thicker than Ryou had expected. Was there more to know than just the injuries that had killed Sanada?
“Thank you,” Ryou said, because Alfred had taught him manners more than his own mother had. Alfred reached out to catch his arm.
“Revenge won’t make you happy,” Alfred said. “It didn’t make your mother happy, and it won’t make you happy either.”
“Who said I was doing this to be happy?” Ryou asked.
“It doesn’t make sense to do something to be miserable,” Alfred said.
“I need to know,” Ryou said. He could’ve shaken Alfred’s arm off, but he waited until Alfred let him go.
Despite his curiosity, Ryou didn’t open the folder until he was all the way back in his room in Titan Tower. The computers in the Batcave were the best ones for research, but Ryou had his own set up just the way he wanted them, and his security meant that his mother at least had to fight through before she could see what he was doing.
Not that he thought she would stop him.
Ryou finally opened the folder to see how the Joker had killed his brother. The first few sheets weren’t an autopsy report. They were a mission report.
Sanada had been separated from his mother fairly soon after they got to eastern Europe, both of them chasing after a false lead. It was masterfully crafted, but of course, that was the only way to lead the world’s best detective on a wild goose chase. Ryou could see Talia al Ghul’s style in it.
What he hadn’t expected was the Joker’s involvement. Joker hadn’t just taken advantage of the opportunity. He’d been involved from the beginning. Which meant Talia al Ghul had involved him. And that wasn’t usually her style.
The al Ghuls were almost aggressively self-sufficient. Talia had proven before that she could go toe to toe with Batman on her own. Had Sanada presented enough of a threat to change that?
Ryou’s mother had always told him he underestimated Sanada. Maybe she was right.
His mother’s notes left him with a grim picture. She and Sanada had meant to attack the problem from two fronts, but Sanada had gotten caught by the Joker, and by the time his mother got away from Talia, it was already too late.
The resources it would’ve taken to keep them separated and distracted must have been astronomical.
Finally, Ryou flipped to the autopsy report. It had more than the few pages he was used to. It didn’t take long to figure out that was because of the sheer number of injuries.
Sanada had been beaten bloody and broken, and then he’d been beaten some more. It was shocking that his injuries hadn’t killed him before the bomb went off, but the report was clear: he’d been alive until the blast. The fatal injury had been the shockwave.
But before that...almost every bone in his body had been broken. His head injuries alone made it doubtful he could’ve recovered, even if he hadn’t died.
Joker had destroyed him.
Ryou shoved the report away, trying to calm his breathing. He wasn’t numb anymore, and he hadn’t been for a while. He stabbed at his keyboard so hard it nearly shattered.
Joker was notoriously hard to find. If he wasn’t, Batman would have locked him up somewhere he could never escape and thrown the key away a long time ago. Then again, clearly locking him up just wasn’t sticking.
In the back of his mind, even before he’d been ready to admit it to himself, Ryou had been carefully planning what he wanted to do with Joker. Before he’d read the autopsy report, he’d just planned on making Joker disappear. If he could find Joker, he could make sure no one ever saw him again.
But now? The quick, efficient death Ryou had been planning didn’t seem like enough. Sanada had suffered for hours before he finally died. Joker deserved the same.
Ryou opened programs, spread the windows out across his monitors so he could see everything at once. He was going to track down Joker. It wouldn’t be easy, but he could do it. He knew he could.
And once he did, he was going to make Joker regret he’d ever looked at the Kominato family. He was going to make Joker regret ever being born.
Maybe Alfred was right. Revenge wouldn’t make him happy. But it was the least Ryou could do for Sanada.
Besides, it was better than grieving. Grief didn’t do anything for anyone. It was useless. At least this way, Ryou was accomplishing something.
As he started his preliminary searches, Ryou considered and discarded the idea of bringing in the whole team for this. Much as he’d come to trust them, this felt like something he had to do on his own. Even Kuramochi...they’d been together for so long. They’d done almost everything together.
But Ryou wouldn’t make Kuramochi a killer, and there was no mistaking what he was going to do.
He’d get revenge, for himself and Sanada, the last thing he could give his little brother. He’d worry about his own happiness after.
Next time: Kuramochi has had enough of being shut out
Kuramochi kicks down Ryou's door
Today on "Ryou has never met a healthy coping mechanism in his life: the fic"
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Youichi had had enough of waiting.
Ryou had always tried to deal with problems on his own, even when it was better to ask someone else for help. It wasn’t surprising that his approach to grief was to disappear.
And Youichi had been willing to respect that. Ryou would take whatever time he needed to himself, and then he would come back, and it would be hard and awkward at first, but they’d eventually get back into their groove. And Youichi would support Ryou through all of it.
Except that wasn’t happening. Youichi had known Ryou since he was eleven, and in all that time, he’d never gone more than a week without hearing from him.
It had been almost three weeks with no word from Ryou.
Youichi was worried, and he could tell Miyuki was too, even if he tried to hide it. Miyuki’s style for dealing with anything was to wait it out, and that worked pretty well for Ryou. But Youichi couldn’t just let things slide, especially since this was nothing they’d dealt with before. Ryou’s relationship with Sanada was complicated, but they were still brothers.
He’d given Ryou enough time, Youichi decided. Which meant it was time to kick his door down and make him talk.
They’d been avoiding Ryou’s room in the Tower for three weeks, everyone understanding that Ryou needed space. Even Sawamura had managed to make himself scarce, although Youichi suspected Miyuki’s involvement in that.
Youichi knocked on the door, and when he got no response, he pushed it open. Ryou turned to face him, energy gel packet swinging from his teeth.
“Seriously?” Youichi asked. “You know better than that.”
“I’m working,” Ryou said shortly. He looked pale. Youichi couldn’t tell if it was only from holing up in his room.
“Working on what?” Youichi asked, looking over at Ryou’s screens.
“None of your business,” Ryou said, standing to push Youichi out. “Leave me alone.”
But Youichi’s superspeed had the added benefit of letting him process information quickly, and he’d read everything by the time Ryou touched him.
“You’re going after the Joker,” he said. Ryou didn’t bother denying it. “Why are you doing this alone? You know we’d help you.”
“I can do this alone,” Ryou said. “This isn’t a standard mission.”
“You’re gonna kill the Joker, aren’t you?” If Ryou was the kind to blink in surprise, he probably would have. Youichi had had almost a decade to learn to read Ryou, though, and he knew surprise when he saw it.
“Brutally,” Ryou said. “You didn’t see the autopsy report, you didn’t see what he did to Robin.”
“Sanada,” Youichi said. “Use his name with me, you don’t have to pretend with me.”
“Joker beat him for hours before he finally blew him up.”
“You’re not the only one who cared about him,” Youichi said. “You’re my best friend, but you’re not the only Kominato I care about.”
“You’re down with helping me kill the Joker?” Ryou asked, mouth quirked skeptically.
“You can do that part yourself,” Youichi said. “I don’t think you want my help for that. But I’ll help you track him down.”
“And then what? Just watch me kill him?”
“Yes.” Youichi sighed. “We’re a team. We’re always going to be a team. So let me help.”
Ryou considered him carefully. Youichi silently willed Ryou to let him in. If no one else, then at least him. It would be better to let all the Titans in on this, better still to offer a chance to YJ too if any of them wanted to avenge their leader, but if it was just Youichi, then at least Ryou wouldn’t have to do it all on his own.
Youichi had been trying for years to get Ryou to accept he never had to do things on his own.
“Fine,” Ryou finally sighed. “Fine. But keep this between us.”
“If that’s what you want,” Youichi agreed. “Wait here.”
He ran to the kitchen and back, so quickly that Ryou hadn’t even moved when he zoomed back into the room. Ryou just raised one eyebrow at him.
“You really do need to eat something that’s not energy gel,” Youichi said. “I thought you knew better than trying to live off this stuff.”
“I’ve been busy,” Ryou said, but he accepted the bowl of rice easily enough. It wasn’t much, but an egg cracked over hot rice was better than nothing. Youichi watched Ryou until he sat down and started to eat, just to make sure he would.
“What are you doing in here, anyway?” Youichi asked. “Tracking Joker?”
Ryou snorted into his rice.
“Like it’ll be that simple,” he scoffed. “If you could just track Joker, my mother would have taken him off the streets years ago, even if he’d just break out again.”
“So what’s all this?” Youichi asked, looking over the screens again. He could tell Ryou had a few programs searching the internet for...something, but that was about the best he could do. Ryou was the brains of their team for a reason.
“I’m...I guess you could say I’m trying to figure out how to track down the Joker,” Ryou sighed, taking another bite of rice. He’d already gone through the entire bowl. It wasn’t like Ryou to not realize he was hungry. He’d either been ignoring it, or focusing harder on his task than Youichi had noticed. “Usually I have some idea of where to start looking, but I don’t this time.”
“So you’re trying to find a pattern somewhere,” Youichi said. He knew that much, at least.
“Everyone has a pattern,” Ryou said. “Even if he’s unusually good at hiding his, he’s got to have one. And I’m going to find it. We’ll go from there.”
“What happens when you find it?”
“Depends on what I find.” Ryou picked up the half empty energy gel again. Youichi grimaced. He was going to have to start bringing Ryou food to make sure he didn’t hurt himself. At this point, it was probably Ryou getting too absorbed in his task to worry about eating. “I might need to send you out to gather more information. I can’t access everything from here.”
“I can do that,” Youichi said. “Faster than sight, remember?”
“That’s what I’m banking on,” Ryou said. “You’ve never really had to learn stealth skills, but I need you to have them for this. But for now, there’s not much you can help me with. I have to let the programs do their work until I find a path forward.”
It was a clear dismissal, but Youichi didn’t listen to it. Instead, he zipped to the kitchen and back for more food. The fried rice Miyuki had made earlier was cold now, but better than nothing.
Ryou shot him a sideways look when he got back, but Youichi knew when he could ignore looks like that, and he wasn’t overstepping too much yet. So he ignored Ryou, making himself comfortable in a free chair. If all he could do was sit here and support Ryou while he worked, that was what Youichi would do.
Everyone else thought Ryou wanted to grieve alone, but Youichi wasn’t convinced that was what Ryou was doing here. Even if he was more focused than usual, bordering on obsession, he wasn’t all that different from their normal missions. It almost felt like he was pretending everything wasn’t happening, or at least ignoring the part where his brother was dead.
It wasn’t healthy. It wouldn’t fix anything. But Youichi also knew that he wouldn’t get anywhere if he tried to make Ryou realize that.
Youichi’s instinct was to reach out to Ryou, to offer a hug or a hand or a shoulder to lean on. But Ryou didn’t take comfort from touch, not the way Youichi or Miyuki or even Sawamura did. In his own way, Ryou was much more difficult than Miyuki. Despite how long they’d known each other, Youichi still wasn’t sure what he would take comfort from, besides maybe action.
But action wasn’t an option, and isolating didn’t seem healthy. So if all Youichi could do was keep Ryou from isolating himself, he would do that.
Even if it meant helping him track down the Joker and murder him brutally.
Next time: Ryou finds a path forward, and people to do it with
Ryou makes bad decisions and Kuramochi worries
Surprise middle of the week update! If I continue like this, I'm hoping to bump up to two updates per week.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Youichi thought going after the Joker, just the two of them, would feel a little like when they’d just met and only worked with their mentors and each other. Instead, it was almost boring. Ryou was struggling to find a way to track the Joker, and until he did, there was very little Youichi could do to help him.
When Ryou called Youichi to his room, Youichi didn’t hesitate. He’d take any lead, no matter how small, if it would let them move forward.
“What did you find?” he asked as soon as he slid into the room, still so fast that his words blurred together.
“Nothing, yet,” Ryou said. “But I did promise to keep you updated, and I have an update.”
“You do?” Not a lead, but an update?
“We could use some long range support,” Ryou said. Youichi let out a breath of relief. Finally. If Ryou was willing to bring in Miyuki, he was probably ready to bring in the rest of the team, too. It was a step in the right direction.
“Miyuki will probably be back soon,” Youichi said. “If you plan around-”
“I didn’t mean Miyuki.”
Youichi squinted. Miyuki was the only long range support they had.
“What do you-?”
“ Recognize: B07, Artemis. ”
Youichi’s jaw dropped. It wasn’t until the Tower’s systems announced “ Recognize: B08, Zatanna ” that he could even find the words.
“You asked his little sister? ” Youichi demanded.
“By adoption,” Ryou said, and Youichi almost protested the dismissal, but Takako and Katsuko were already there. “I thought Wakana was helping you two.”
“She is.” Youichi turned to see Wakana’s face on Ryou’s screen. She gave Ryou a shit-eating grin that only looked a little forced. They hadn’t dated long, in the grand scheme of things, but Youichi knew how to read her face. She was a good actor, but grief was a powerful thing.
“If you can hack through my system, you better have something good for me,” Ryou said, but it was without malice.
“Please, it’s like you left me a back door in,” Wakana scoffed. “And I might have a few things, but only because Katsuko and Takako found me a good starting point.”
Ryou and Youichi turned to the other two girls.
“I got some intel out of a former henchman,” Katsuko said.
“You mean beat some intel out of a former henchman,” Ryou said.
“Semantics.” Katsuko shrugged. Youichi really didn’t like the smiles she and Ryou were giving each other. “The intimidation game is easier when you have a magician on your side.”
“Naturally,” Ryou said. “Well, Wakana, what did you find?”
“A few shell companies,” Wakana said. “I’m still hacking my way through, but I think I’m on the right track. If I’m lucky, I’ll find a real trail for you to follow soon.”
“That’s what I like to hear,” Ryou said. “Keep me posted. The sooner we find the Joker, the better.”
“Then we avenge Robin.” Youichi had never thought of Takako as particularly violent. She was best suited to being support, using her magic from the sidelines. Bloodlust wasn’t something that would help her. But her eyes were on fire.
“Hold on,” Youichi brought all the attention back to himself. “This is the team we’re going after the Joker with?”
“Unless you think someone else from Young Justice would be useful,” Ryou looked to Wakana. She shook her head.
“Even if we wanted more, they’re all gone,” she said. “Okumura left the day of the funeral, Bart and Jaime went back to America a week later, and Seto had to go to Atlantis a few days ago. Apparently they’re on the brink of civil war. And Haruno could see the way things were going, so she went back to her uncle. We’re the last ones left.”
YJ had once been a young hero team to rival the Titans. They’d been balanced and effective, and there was no reason to believe they wouldn’t continue. But just the loss of their leader had sent them all spiralling.
And now Youichi was looking at their remnants, and as much as he could understand their thirst for vengeance, he couldn’t help wishing they weren’t here. Not when so many others should have been here first.
“Anything else you want from us?” Katsuko asked.
“As long as Wakana sent over everything she found, I should have plenty to go through,” Ryou said. “In the meantime, I won’t say no if you manage to track down more henchmen. Joker should already expect us to come after him, so you don’t have to be on high alert, but be reasonably discreet. We don’t want to show all our cards at once.”
Translation: the girls could be as brutal as they wanted, as long as they didn’t draw too much attention to themselves.
Youichi stared at the side of Ryou’s head. That wasn’t his style at all. Ryou had always prized stealth above everything else, and only brought out their heavy hitters when necessary. It had too much risk for collateral damage.
“We’ll be in touch soon,” Takako said. Her soft voice didn’t mask her anger. “We want to find Joker, too.”
Wakana flashed a peace sign, her video feed cutting out, and Takako left. Katsuko turned to follow her, but Youichi zipped in front of her.
“You’re really okay with this?” he asked. “Lying to your brother?”
If Ryou hadn’t looked at all ashamed of himself, at least Katsuko looked ashamed enough for both of them.
“Of course I don’t want to lie to Kazuya,” she said. “I hate lying to him. But I can’t track down the Joker on my own, and Ryou said this was the price of coming with. So I’ll do it.”
She ran after Takako. Youichi took a deep breath, and then another, and then he turned on Ryou.
“What the hell?”
“They have every right to want to avenge Sanada,” Ryou said calmly. “He was their leader and their friend.”
“That’s not what I meant and you know it,” Youichi snapped. He almost never snapped at Ryou, because he knew better, but this really was next level. “It’s one thing to turn outside the team for help, but Miyuki’s been our friend for years. If you wanted an archer, why wouldn’t you go to him?”
“I need Sportsmaster’s daughter, not Green Arrow’s son.” Ryou still hadn’t looked Youichi in the eye. Somehow, his guilt made this all worse. Because it didn’t change anything.
“Artemis is Green Arrow’s daughter as much as Arsenal is his son,” Youichi insisted. If this was about their merits as heroes, it still made more sense to go for Miyuki. He was a better shot, and he’d never shied away from a mission before.
“Not when her best friend was brutally murdered.” Ryou opened the files that Wakana had sent him, scrolling through so fast that Youichi wouldn’t have been able to keep up if he didn’t have superspeed.
“He’s our friend,” Youichi said. “He’s our teammate. That’s supposed to count for something.”
“Of course it counts for something.” Ryou’s eyes had gone hazy. He wasn’t really looking at his screen anymore. “In any other case, it would count for everything.”
“It should count for everything now!”
“Miyuki isn’t a killer.”
“Neither is Katsuko!”
“But she could be.” Youichi opened his mouth to protest, but Ryou cut him off. “She was raised by a villain. Crusher Crock is one of the most ruthless ones, at that. Like it or not, she has the capacity to be vicious, and if it comes down to it, she has the capacity to kill. Miyuki doesn’t, and believe me, I consider that one of his redeeming qualities. But this mission is going to end in death. I need Sportsmaster’s daughter, not Green Arrow’s son.”
Repeating it didn’t make it sound any better to Youichi. And asking Katsuko to help just because she could be a killer didn’t sit right with him either. It was like using her just because her father had broken her until she would kill if Ryou asked. This felt increasingly less like grieving and more like simple revenge.
And revenge wouldn’t fix anything.
“I don’t like this,” Youichi said.
“You don’t have to do it,” Ryou said. “I won’t think any less of you if you want to drop out now.”
Youichi almost snorted. All the reasons he might want to stop weren’t what Ryou thought. He wasn’t too squeamish. He wasn’t balking at the idea of murder. Much.
He was worried about what this would do to Ryou. Better or worse, they’d always been a team. If Ryou would go outside the team for this, what would he do next time they had a crisis? Next time, if the worst happened, they lost someone?
And Miyuki...he could be a dick, and he joked around, but at his core, there was steel. He’d been on the team from the beginning because he could hold them together. Ryou was the leader, but Miyuki was the one that gave them the freedom to work at their best because from a distance, he could watch their backs.
To throw him aside now left a bad taste in Youichi’s mouth.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Youichi said, sitting down firmly. Whether it was to help Ryou, or to save Ryou from himself, only time would tell.
Next time: Ryou enters the fray, and he's got the worst reasons for doing so.
Ryou, Kuramochi, and Katsuko try to track the Joker down.
Ryou is so tricky to write please send help
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Ryou looked through his binoculars at the empty warehouse. For all intents and purposes, it looked abandoned. As far as the books were concerned, it was abandoned, owned by some company that barely existed.
But that company was a shell, and it was hiding in another shell. Repeat a few times, and it could be traced back to the Joker.
It also wasn’t nearly as abandoned as it was supposed to appear.
“Creepy.” Ryou looked to his side at Kuramochi. “You really think we can find a path to the Joker here?”
“Batgirl and Artemis have been staking it out for a week,” Ryou said. “There’s definitely movement. Add that to the link I found to the Joker, and it could be our big break.”
“Why would the Joker even bother owning an abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of Gotham?” Kuramochi asked. “It doesn’t feel like his style.”
“He’s breaking his style,” Ryou said. “He went after Robin. He knows Batman is pouring all her resources into fighting him, and he probably knows we’re coming too. If you want to escape, you have to have safe houses, and you have to have decoys.”
“Which is this?”
“Get me inside so I can see,” Ryou said. “I’ll need a distraction.”
“You’ll want to go in the south entrance.” Katsuko had dropped onto the roof so quietly that Ryou had barely noticed her. Kuramochi jumped when she spoke.
“I thought the south entrance would be the most visible,” Ryou said calmly.
“It is, but it’s also the least guarded,” Katsuko said. “Unless you want to hack your way through a ton of firewalls to get around the alarms, you want to take that one.”
“Fair point,” Ryou said. “Can you two give me enough cover to get in?”
“Probably.” Ryou finally turned to look at her. With approval, he noted that she wasn’t wearing her Artemis costume. Instead, she was wearing plain black with a simple domino mask. Combine that with the knives at her belt, and no one would mistake her for Artemis, the protege of Green Arrow.
“I still don’t get why you don’t want anyone to realize who we are,” Kuramochi said. “You said the Joker knows we’re going after him.”
“He just knows Batman and maybe the rest of the family wants him dead,” Ryou said. “I doubt he’s figured on the Titans and Young Justice coming too.”
Kuramochi grumbled something about them not being the Titans or YJ, but he kept it to himself.
“Can you cover me without letting anyone know a speedster is doing it?” Ryou asked.
“I already told you I could,” Kuramochi said. His eyes tracked quicker than Ryou’s could, noting all the places he could drop things to draw away guards.
And there would be guards. Wakana had tried to get in on her own and found that out the hard way. Ryou had made sure she was checking another location with Takako, just in case she was recognized.
“I’ll give you five minutes to distract everyone,” Ryou said. “Then I’m going in.”
“Sounds good,” Katsuko said. She couldn’t fade into the shadows like a Bat could, but she ran a pretty close second.
“Don’t walk under anything that looks like it could drop,” Kuramochi warned before he sped off. A second later, a pallet of crates hanging from a crane dropped to the ground on the other side of the building. Ryou smiled to himself. He really did like Kuramochi’s style.
He gave them five minutes down to the second, and then he made for the entrance. As he’d been worried about, there was almost no cover. If it hadn’t been night, he would’ve been a sitting duck. As it was, he had no guarantee that no one could see him.
He just had to trust Kuramochi and Katsuko to be distracting enough.
Reaching the door was almost a relief, but Ryou didn’t let himself relax. He wouldn’t until they were out of there. Hacking through the keypad lock was child’s play. As long as he wasn’t caught, Ryou had to admit that Katsuko’s high risk, high reward plan of sending him through here was a good one. It saved time, and right now, time was the most important element in confusing how many people they had.
It was a plan that was just like the style she’d developed with Sanada. He had taken some risks with YJ if the reward was worth it. It had always made their mother furious, but each success had made him more confident.
He’d probably thought he was invincible.
Ryou choked back the swell of emotion as he crept through the warehouse. Now wasn’t the time. Maybe it would never be the time. He hoped it would never be the time.
As soon as he got closer to the center of the warehouse, the illusion that it was abandoned dropped. Where the floor had once been dusty and the windows cracked, there was now an almost sterile cleanliness. Ryou tried doors until he found one with a computer. With any luck, it would be connected to a network he could hack into.
“Did you find anything?” Kuramochi’s voice almost made him jump, so loud in the silence he’d been hiding in.
“You’re distracting me, Kid Flash,” Ryou murmured into his comm. He typed carefully, working his way around the password lock. Unlike the keypad, this was giving him a challenge, but it was one he could already see he would win.
“You should hurry it up,” Kuramochi continued, as if Ryou hadn’t spoken. “I don’t know how much longer I can distract this guy without letting him know who I am.”
“Wanna switch off with me?” Katsuko offered. “I don’t look like I normally do.”
“Sounds good,” Ryou said in a low tone. He was almost there… “Kid Flash, Artemis, switch off.”
“Roger.” Kuramochi’s voice disappeared as suddenly as it had come. Realistically, though, if he was contacting Ryou, there was only so much longer Ryou could expect them to work before they gave too much away.
He had to hurry it up. If he could just get through this lock…
Done. He’d gotten into the computer, and he didn’t think he’d have enough time to carefully check everything. He’d just download it all and look at it later.
He’d just finished downloading everything he could find when he heard a soft sound behind him. Ryou didn’t wait around to see who it was. He took off running.
At the sound of pursuit behind him, Ryou gritted his teeth. He didn’t think he could make it to the entrance without whoever was behind him getting a good enough look to know Nightwing had broken in. He didn’t even dare ask for backup over the comm.
Instead, he picked up the heaviest thing he could grab and hurled it at the nearest window. It shattered, leaving him a big enough gap to jump through without snagging. His feet had barely touched the ground when he was knocked sideways.
Or at least, that’s what it felt like. Running with Kuramochi always felt a little like falling, even when it felt a little like freedom, too. Ryou preferred flying like Batman, but this wasn’t bad.
“Someone was on my ass,” Kuramochi said, and it was only the comm. that let Ryou hear him. “We’ve gotta go.”
That was fine. Ryou had everything he’d wanted. He twisted in Kuramochi’s hold until he was resting against Kuramochi’s back, holding on so he wouldn’t go flying. He closed his eyes so he wouldn’t feel sick when they stopped, counting Kuramochi’s rapid fire breaths and heartbeat.
As soon as they stopped, Ryou slid to the ground and opened his eyes. They’d come to a stop in front of Titan Tower.
“Did Artemis get out too?” Ryou asked. He was sure she wouldn’t have gotten caught, but recent events had taught him to check even when he was sure.
“She let me know someone was following us and took off for a zeta tube,” Kuramochi said. “She might have beaten us here.”
Sure enough, Katsuko was in the hall by Ryou’s room when they got up the Tower. She was just as unhurt as Kuramochi.
Tentatively, this was a success.
“Did you find anything?” she demanded.
“Let me see,” Ryou said, moving to upload all the data to his computer. Kuramochi and Katsuko hovered over his shoulder. There was more than he’d expected to get, but…
“What?” Kuramochi could read his face too well. He’d seen the disappointment before Ryou had even thought to express it.
“It’s a dead end,” Ryou said. “We’ll have to keep looking.”
“Maybe Wakana and Takako found something,” Katsuko suggested, but she didn’t sound hopeful. “They should be back soon. I’ll go check.”
She disappeared. Ryou stared at the data he’d managed to steal.
“That was all for nothing?” Kuramochi asked.
“Maybe not,” Ryou said. “Maybe there’s something I can use in all this. There could be something…”
He trailed off. The guilt that had threatened to overwhelm him in the warehouse came back to choke him.
“Are you okay?” Kuramochi asked, reaching out. Ryou evaded his hands. He wasn’t in the habit of letting people coddle him, and if he let Kuramochi do it now, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to keep fighting.
And if he couldn’t keep fighting, what did he have left?
Next time: Ryou tries to find something in what they have, and the rest of the team finds out.
The rest of the team finds out what's going on
Tomorrow is Haruichi's birthday so naturally I have not included him in this update at all. He'll get his very own fic later in this series.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“This is pointless.”
“It’s not pointless.” Ryou didn’t even spare a glare over his shoulder at Wakana, too focused on all the windows he had open across three monitors. “There’s a pattern here. We just have to find it.”
Privately, Youichi agreed with Wakana, but he knew better than to admit that. It wouldn’t actually fix anything, and it would only wind Ryou up more. The only thing to do was to let him work it out of his system. They had to play the waiting game.
The three bags of chips Youichi had stress eaten in the last minute weren’t doing a great job of projecting calm, though. They were family sized.
“Much as I hate to think we did all that work for nothing, I think Wakana-chan has a point,” Takako broke in gently. She patted Wakana’s cheek where it rested against her thigh. Katsuko hung off her shoulders, looking almost asleep except for where her eyes focused on Ryou’s screens. She was looking for a pattern as desperately as Ryou.
“Everyone has a pattern,” Ryou insisted. “We just have to find it.”
“Not to keep beating a dead horse, but there are a few more resources we’re not using,” Wakana pointed out.
“I’m not bringing in anyone else,” Ryou snapped. Or, snapped for him. From anyone else, it would be a gentle scolding. But Youichi had never heard anyone else hold such a dangerous undercurrent of anger in what should have been a light reproach. Ryou was scary specifically because he never had to try to be. He let his abilities speak for themselves, and it was impossible not to believe them.
A lot of people thought Youichi wasn’t afraid of Ryou, not after all these years. They weren’t entirely right. Youichi had just learned where Ryou’s boundaries were, and knew exactly how much he could push them. The truth was, Ryou’s anger was almost never turned on him, hadn’t been since they were kids. And even when it was, it was only ever playful. Ryou communicated in subtle digs and karate chops, and over the years Youichi had learned to read the emotion in them.
Ryou wasn’t playing now.
“I don’t see much point in sitting around watching you bark orders at Kuramochi,” Wakana snapped back. Youichi felt the room go cold. He tore open another bag of chips and started furiously stress eating them.
“Add another string to the board,” Ryou said, deliberately enunciating in Wakana’s direction. “Henchman D to Superman.”
Youichi sped to complete the order, sitting back down by the time Takako’s hair had settled from the wind.
“Superman? Seriously?” It was the first time Katsuko had spoken up in an hour.
“We’re pursuing all options,” Ryou said.
“We’ve met Clark,” Katsuko protested. “He’s not working with the Joker.”
“Maybe not intentionally.”
“That’s enough,” Wakana said. “We’re not going down this road of suspecting everyone. It’ll just drive us crazy, and it won’t take us anywhere. We need more intel, and if we can’t get it ourselves, we should ask for help.”
“If you’re just gonna complain, you can leave,” Ryou said. His shoulders were tensed like they did before a fight. “I can do this on my own.”
Youichi watched the girls exchange glances. All three clearly shared Youichi’s opinion that this was going nowhere, but none of them moved. They couldn’t, he realized. They couldn’t give up the ghost of a chance that Ryou was right, and there was a pattern in all this mishmash of data they’d stolen.
They couldn’t give up their chance at the Joker.
Wakana made a scoffing noise, shifting on Ryou’s bed until she was facing the right way and her head was on a pillow. Takako slid down until she was laying next to Wakana, and Katsuko followed, pillowing her head in her arms on Takako’s back as she kept her eyes fixed on the screens.
None of them actually looked more relaxed, and certainly they weren’t closer to sleep. They’d just settled in for the long haul.
Youichi was the only one still willing to step in and stop this, and he’d already decided it would be better to wait it out. It looked like they were all in for a long night.
“Nice to see all of you alive.” Youichi felt his stomach drop. They’d all been so focused on Ryou’s call for help sifting through all the data that they’d forgotten to close the door.
Youichi turned slowly, which really meant that he turned at normal speed, hoping against hope that it was only Jun. It was probably cosmic punishment that the entire team was there, looking in the door.
“Batgirl?” Tetsu asked, focusing on the girls on the bed. “And Zatanna and Artemis?”
“Aren’t you usually patrolling with Otou-san by now?” Miyuki asked. Katsuko sat frozen, drawing herself smaller and smaller behind Takako.
For one wild moment, Youichi thought maybe they’d think this was some kind of fucked up grief circle, and not the near-betrayal it actually was.
But it was hard to miss the picture of the Joker at the center of the crime board.
Jun, Tetsu, Sawamura, and Miyuki all turned identical looks on the back of Ryou’s head. Ryou didn’t respond to them, but Youichi felt the guilt shredding his stomach.
“You’re going after the Joker,” Tetsu said, voice hard as flint.
“Obviously,” Ryou said. His tone wasn’t that different from neutral, but Youichi could hear the strain. Much as he tried, he couldn’t pretend this was just business as usual anymore.
“Why didn’t you tell us?” Sawamura demanded. “We want to help!”
“There’s nothing for you to help with,” Ryou said. Youichi winced as Sawamura’s face fell. Ryou had meant nothing more than that they didn’t have a path forward yet, and there wasn’t much Sawamura could do to fix that, but Ryou couldn’t have worded it worse.
“So why is Kuramochi here, then?” Jun asked. “He the only one that’s good enough for you?”
“He kicked down my door and demanded to help,” Ryou said. “I don’t know if any of you have tried to shake him before, but-”
“We shouldn’t have to demand to help you,” Tetsu cut him off. “We are your team.”
“Katsuko?” Youichi didn’t want to look Miyuki in the eye, but he forced himself to. He’d known Miyuki would be the angriest, because Miyuki had the most reason to be angry. He’d expected the white-faced fury to be directed at Ryou, and probably at himself by proxy.
But what really hurt was that Youichi could see around the anger. He could see the betrayal, and the rejection, and most of all, a deep seated pain that Youichi hadn’t even known was there and didn’t even know how to begin to go about fixing. Miyuki had always been clingy with the few people he let in close, but Youichi had never put that together with a raw sense of abandonment that showed so clearly on Miyuki’s face.
“Hey, Nii-san,” Katsuko said quietly, still sinking farther behind Takako.
“You asked her?” Miyuki demanded, dark fury obvious in his voice as he turned on Ryou. “I’m your archer!”
“She’s better suited for this mission,” Ryou said. He faced Miyuki with a carefully blank expression.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“We’re not throwing the Joker back in Arkham,” Ryou said. “This isn’t some tea party.”
Miyuki reeled back at the obvious implication that he wasn’t good enough somehow. Youichi wanted to step in, smooth it over, but there was no fixing this.
“Obviously we can help,” Sawamura cut in. His lip jutted out as he faced Ryou down. “You want to kill the Joker. You should’ve asked us to help.”
Youichi would worry about how Sawamura was instantly down with murder later, when he wasn’t shrinking under the force of Miyuki’s pain.
“I hope you know you’re settling for second best,” he said, eyes focused on Katsuko. She winced at the insult. “Sorry, third best. I forgot you’re a worse shot than Otou-san, too.”
He turned on his heel and left, and Youichi heard the sounds of the zeta tube firing up. The silence was so thick he could choke on it.
“Katusko…” Ryou started.
“Don’t,” she interrupted. “I knew what the consequences of my actions were when I agreed to this.”
“That was still harsh,” Takako said. Katsuko’s expression clearly said she thought she deserved it anyway.
“We’re helping track down the Joker,” Jun said firmly. “You want us gone? You’ll have to kick us off the Titans.”
It wasn’t an empty threat. Jun really was ready to leave if Ryou tried to push him away now, and Youichi knew Tetsu at least would follow him.
“Then you can sit with everyone else and help me try to find a way to track down the Joker,” Ryou said, turning back to his screens. Jun took it as the permission it was, sitting down beside the girls. Tetsu followed, leaning against a wall. Sawamura took one last forlorn look down the hallway that Miyuki had long since vacated before he finally walked in.
Youichi surveyed the new team crammed into Ryou’s room. There was a grim set to everyone’s expressions, for now united in their goal. But Youichi didn’t even want to think about the mess it would be to fix everything when this was all over. He wondered if Ryou had even considered that, or if he’d only looked at Joker.
Maybe Ryou would crumble if he put his eyes anywhere else.
Next time: Miyuki chases down his own leads
Miyuki takes matters into his own hands
“You know, I actually did have plans tonight.”
“Come on, Nori,” Kazuya whined, stealing Nori’s textbook. “Wouldn’t you rather hang out with me instead of studying...Advanced Macroeconomic Theory? What the fuck?”
“Some of us,” Nori said, snatching his textbook back, “have finals next week. I don’t have time to listen to you complain about how Kominato Ryousuke doesn’t have a soul.”
“I listen to you complain about your relationship problems all the time!”
“That implies I ever had a relationship.” Nori rolled his eyes. “I only complain to you because you’re the only person I know that’s as much of a virgin as me.”
“And because I’m your best friend.”
“Yeah, that too.” Nori opened his textbook again, but he obviously wasn’t concentrating. He groaned, turning back to where Kazuya sprawled across his bed. “Okay, yeah, it’s some shit that Ryou and Kuramochi pulled.”
“Right?” Kazuya said. “They’re supposed to be my best friends. We’re supposed to be a team.”
“I know.” Nori dropped his chin into his hand. “I’m really sorry, for what it’s worth. This sucks.”
“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do,” Kazuya said. “I mean, they already didn’t want my help. What am I supposed to do, say ‘I won’t help you now’?”
“Exactly.” Nori sighed. “What can you do? It’s not like you can track down the Joker yourself to rub it in their faces.”
Kazuya sat up. Nori really was brilliant, and it was one of the reasons they’d been best friends since middle school.
“Kazuya, no, I was kidding.”
“I have to go.” Kazuya swung off Nori’s bed. He even had the perfect idea of where to start.
“You can’t go after the Joker by yourself,” Nori protested. “Isn’t the whole reason you paired up with Sawamura because you aren’t good at close fights?”
“So I make sure it doesn’t get close,” Kazuya waved Nori’s concerns aside. “I’ll see you later. Good luck on finals.”
Kazuya paused. Nori didn’t often raise his voice, so when he did, it mattered.
Nori gave his textbook one more longing glance before he stood, shoving his wallet and keys in his pocket.
“If you’re gonna be stupid, you’re gonna do it with supervision,” he said. Kazuya grinned. That was the real reason he and Nori had been friends for so long, and why Nori knew so much about the secret lives of superheroes without being one.
Nori had the resolve to stay when almost no one else did.
“So what exactly is the plan?” Nori asked as they walked to the train station. “If the Joker can’t be tracked with all the Kominato technology, what can you do?”
“I might know someone who can get info the Kominatos can’t.”
Nori gave him a sideways look, but let it slide until they got to Kazuya’s dad’s house. At this hour, Miyuki Toku would be out on the streets as Green Arrow, so the house was deathly quiet.
Kazuya didn’t have the technology or the skills to track the Joker, at least not any better than Ryou could. But he did have something that Ryou didn’t.
A few weeks ago, he’d run into Cheshire, and he’d managed to shoot a tracker onto her costume. If it was still there, if he could find her again, she could be bought.
“Who are you tracking?” Nori asked.
“Ryou probably thinks having a villain’s daughter on his side will help,” Kazuya said. “I bet he forgot that Sportsmaster has two daughters.”
“Are you talking about Katsuko and Jade?” Nori asked.
“Isn’t Jade...you know, kind of nuts?”
“Yep.” Shockingly, Cheshire’s tracker was still working, which meant she either hadn’t found it or was waiting to see what he’d do with it. “But she has connections, and she might be able to find something we can’t.”
“And you’re just going to go after someone you know is dangerous alone?”
“In case you haven’t noticed, I’m not really talking to anyone I’m willing to bring with me.”
Nori set his jaw.
“You’re talking to me,” he said, sitting down in front of Kazuya’s computer. “I can at least give you a heads up if you’re about to get a beatdown.”
Oh. Kazuya would never bring Nori into a dangerous situation, but this...this was fine. Better than fine.
“My comm. links up with this computer,” he said. “You can talk to me that way.”
“Gotcha.” Nori slipped a headset over his ears. “And Kazuya? Be careful.”
Cheshire was, surprisingly enough, in Star City. Her business could take her just about anywhere in the world, but Kazuya was suspicious of her so close. It was all just a little too inconvenient.
The tracker led him to a rundown apartment building.
“ Fire escape on the east side will get you right to the signal, ” Nori said over the comm. Kazuya smiled. Nori was a natural at this. It was nice to have someone running mission control for him.
Kazuya hauled himself up the fire escape silently. If he had nothing else, he was good at getting to higher ground quickly and silently. It was a necessary skill for an archer.
He couldn’t see anyone when he got to the roof, and he was just about to he down into the building when he heard a throat clearing behind him. Kazuya whipped around to see Cheshire, face hidden behind her grinning cat mask, holding up two sai.
“I was wondering when you’d finally track me down,” she said, a smile obvious in her voice. “I was starting to think you’d stand me up.”
“Can we...maybe do this in Japanese?” Kazuya asked. His English wasn’t good enough for this conversation.
Cheshire stood, both knives dropping to her sides.
“Fine,” she said. “What do you want?”
“Information,” he replied. “I guess you know what happened to Robin.”
“I heard,” she said. “A shame. I liked this one. He was interesting.”
“We’re trying to find the Joker.”
“Revenge?” Kazuya could imagine the way her face lit up with a smile as she said it. “I thought that was just for us big, bad villains.”
“Would you let it slide if it happened to Artemis?”
“I thought you were all so much better than me.” She took off her mask, shaking out her hair. “This is stupid. I know my sister already told you everything about my family. You have me at a disadvantage, Arsenal. You know everything about me, and I don’t even know your name.”
“Can you find the Joker?” Kazuya asked, trying not to get derailed.
“Of course I can, ” she scoffed. “The question is will I. Something this dangerous won’t come cheap.”
“So what do you want?” Kazuya asked. He had enough money to pay her off. Probably. Being the son of a billionaire had its perks.
“Well, money, obviously, but I want something more valuable too.” She stalked closer. “I want information from you too.”
“I’m not giving up anyone’s secret identities.”
“Oh, I figured you wouldn’t,” she waved her hand dismissively. “I just want yours.”
“ That is such a bad idea. ” Nori’s voice almost made Kazuya jump. He’d forgotten Nori was still there.
“My sister is so protective of her new little friends,” Cheshire continued. “I want to show her it’s all for nothing.”
“This is to piss off Artemis?”
“Partly.” Cheshire shrugged. “It’s mostly for the money. I’m an assassin for hire, after all. I just see an opportunity to get another thing I want.”
“ Don’t you dare! ”
“My name is Kazuya,” Kazuya repeated, pulling off his sports glasses.
“Kazuya.” His name almost purred out of her mouth, caught on the American accent. She took another step forward, and Kazuya suddenly realized she’d backed him up to the edge of the roof. “I’ll see what I can find. Give me a week, and I’ll find the Joker.”
“Just a week?” Kazuya asked. She leaned in farther, until their faces were only centimeters apart.
“You’ll know how to find me, but wait for me to call you,” she said, lifting her hair to show where she’d hung the tracker on an earring. “In the meantime, sit tight, pretty boy.”
All of a sudden, she was gone, disappearing into the night as effortlessly as any of the Kominatos could.
“ You have got to be kidding me, ” Nori said in his ear.
Next time: Ryou and Mochi chase another lead.
Ryou and Kuramochi track another lead
Only one update this week because it was hectic as hell.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Youichi rounded the corner, heading for Ryou’s room to enforce the now regularly scheduled break time. He’d almost gotten to the door when Ryou flung it open, leaving Youichi stumbling with nothing to stop himself. He landed hard on his ass, staring up at Ryou.
“Do you ever watch where you’re running?” Ryou asked, calmly conversational and gently teasing. It was the most normal he’d sounded in almost two months, and it gave Youichi more hope than he should have.
“I thought you wouldn’t open the door,” Youichi said. “You took away my quick brake.”
The corner of Ryou’s mouth quirked up.
“We’re going out,” Ryou said. “I might have another lead.”
“Did you find something in all that data?” Youichi asked, flashing to his feet. Ryou shook his head.
“I found someone connected to one of Joker’s older cases,” Ryou said. “With any luck, he still works for Joker, and he might know something.”
“So we’re in for an interrogation?” Youichi asked. “Isn’t that more Takako and Katsuko’s thing?”
“We can handle it,” Ryou said. “We’ll fill the team in when we get back.”
That was enough for Youichi to drop any of his complaints.
“So where are we going?” he asked.
“Most of the way to Star City,” Ryou said. “That should be familiar to you?”
“Star City?” Youichi asked. “Why are we staying so close to Gotham? Isn’t the Joker from America?”
“He is,” Ryou confirmed. “It’s just that he never stays away from Gotham for long. We’re more likely to find a lead here than America.”
“What’s his deal with Gotham, anyway?” Youichi asked. Ryou didn’t answer immediately, which meant Youichi was probably going to get a real answer instead of some kind of banter.
“You know, a lot of people say my mother attracts crime to Gotham,” Ryou said. Youichi did a double take. He wasn’t expecting that at all. “I don’t know if that’s fair, though. The crime existed before she became Batman. Maybe she attracts people, but she’s here because of the crime.”
“That’s kind of sad,” Youichi said. “You almost make it sound like now she’s stuck here.”
Ryou just shrugged.
“If she’s stuck, so am I,” he said. “Gotham needs a Batman now. Or at least, Gotham needs my family.”
“That doesn’t mean you need to stay if you don’t want to,” Youichi said. “You...you don’t want to leave, do you?”
Ryou shrugged again.
“I’ve never really thought about leaving,” he said. “This is my home. I want to defend it. Don’t you feel the same? About Star City?”
“Star City isn’t really home base for me anymore,” Youichi said. That was probably all the introspection he’d get from Ryou. “If anything, Central City is what I want to protect.”
“Just like your uncle,” Ryou smirked.
“Hey, Nightwing?” Youichi said, switching now that they were out in public. They could never be too careful with their secret identities, and Ryou was more secretive than most. “You know you could go somewhere else if you wanted to. You deserve to be happy.”
“Do I?” Ryou asked, looking over his shoulder. Before Youichi could figure out what to say to that, Ryou turned back. “We’re here.”
It was a rundown apartment building, entirely indistinguishable from every other apartment building in the area. If someone wanted to hide, this was the kind of place they’d go.
Ryou didn’t bother with the front door. He scaled the side of the building with a combination of gadgets and skill that shouldn’t be possible without powers. Youichi ran up the side to join him. They crept down the hallway silently. Ryou knocked on a door at the far end, waiting just long enough for the door to swing open before forcing his way in.
“Hey, what the hell?” the guy demanded, but Ryou had already forced him into a chair with a knife to his throat. Youichi stood back, trying to look intimidating.
“We have a few questions for you,” Ryou said sweetly. His voice dripped poison.
“I don’t know nothin’,” the guy protested, wincing away from Ryou’s knife.
“You don’t even know what I want to ask,” Ryou said. “Where’s Joker?”
“How would I know?” the guy asked. “Shouldn’t you know more than me, Nightwing? Or is the big, bad Batman keeping secrets?”
“Don’t lie to me,” Ryou threatened. “I know you were connected to the Joker before. I just want a location. Cough it up and we’ll be on our way, no more questions asked.”
“I don’t know where he is!”
“Kid Flash, do you think he needs both eyes to see?” Ryou asked, holding up his other knife. Youichi kept his poker face in place. Ryou wouldn’t actually gouge this guy’s eye out. Probably.
“Okay, okay, fuck. ” The guy leaned farther back in the chair. “There’s a warehouse down by the docks. It’s the last place I saw him. Close to that casino, burned out windows, you can’t miss it.”
“For your sake, you better not be lying.” Ryou straightened. “Come on, Kid Flash.”
Youichi followed Ryou out, trying to decide if he wanted to speak up or not. The fact that he couldn’t say with certainty Ryou wouldn’t have gouged that guy’s eye out bothered him.
“Let’s run,” Ryou said, laying a hand on Youichi’s shoulder. Youichi wasn’t going to argue with that, letting Ryou jump up on his back. He was a warm weight against Youichi’s shoulders, soothing as he ran. They didn’t run like this a lot anymore, but they had when they were kids, and sometimes Youichi missed it. Chasing each other through the city was fun, but the closeness was comforting.
“You think he meant that place?” Youichi asked. They were close to a casino, and there was only one warehouse he could see with burned out windows.
“Probably,” Ryou said, sliding off Youichi’s back. Youichi suppressed a shiver. Now wasn’t the time.
They crept up carefully, but there was no sign of being watched. The Joker probably wasn’t still here, but if they were lucky, they could find a new clue.
Youichi tried not to be discouraged by the dust on the floor. Maybe it was just here, maybe there was only one part in use, like that other place they’d looked. They just had to search more.
They split up, and Youichi kept his eyes open, trying to find any sign that someone had been here recently. He couldn’t see anything, but maybe Ryou was more lucky than him.
“ Kid Flash. ” Ryou’s voice sounded tinny and empty over the comm. “ Meet back in front. ”
“I should go over the second floor again,” Youichi said. “I might have missed something.”
“ Now. ” Uh oh.
Ryou’s face was impassive when Youichi got back to him, but there was obvious strain in his jaw.
“This is a wild goose chase,” he said. “That guy lied.”
“There could still be something,” Youichi tried to suggest, but Ryou interrupted.
“Look around!” he snapped. “No one’s been here in months, there’s nothing here. ”
Ryou picked up some piece of debris and threw it through a window.
“We came down here for nothing. ”
Youichi took a careful step forward. Ryou rarely lost his temper, and Youichi didn’t have a standard operating procedure for when it happened.
“We’ll find something,” Youichi said. “Even if it’s not here, we’ll find Joker.”
“We should go back and find that guy,” Ryou said. “He should know better than to lie to me. I should make an example.”
“Nightwing, no. ” Any progress Youichi had thought Ryou was making was so quickly reversed. How was Ryou ever supposed to be okay again if he could never get past anger? “That’s not the kind of hero you are.”
“If you haven’t noticed, we’re not doing something heroic here,” Ryou growled. “We’re here for revenge.”
“Then save your anger for the revenge,” Youichi said. “Don’t go beat someone half to death because you’re angry. Save it for the one who really deserves it.”
Ryou held himself upright and furious for just another moment before he let the tension bleed from his shoulders.
“You’re right,” he sighed. “Besides, he’s probably already skipped town. Tracking him down is a waste of time.”
“Let’s go back to the Tower,” Youichi said. “Maybe we missed something.”
But Youichi couldn’t miss the defeated slump of Ryou’s shoulders as he climbed back on Youichi’s back. It wasn’t something he’d seen on Ryou before.
But it was something he’d seen on Ryou’s mother.
Not often, and not easily. But Youichi was perceptive when he wanted to be, and sometimes, if he watched carefully and caught her in a down moment, he could see the same set of her shoulders, the same look of frustrated revenge on her face.
He’d never expected to understand Kominato Aya better, and now he wondered if he really wanted to. It seemed like whatever was there, he didn’t really want to know.
And Ryou had questioned whether he even deserved to be happy. Youichi didn’t know what to do with that. He didn’t know if he could fix it, especially if Ryou wouldn’t tell him. Youichi was good at reading Ryou, but not that good.
He didn’t know how to make this okay again.
Next time: Miyuki, and Eijun, and bonding
Miyuki and Sawamura bond.
I studied classical civilizations kind of extensively in college, and sometimes I like to whip that out every now and then.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“If you don’t sit still I’m gonna glue you to a chair.” Sawamura stopped his relentless pacing, pouting in Kazuya’s direction. Kazuya went back to resolutely ignoring him, tapping at his comm. in the vain hope that maybe it was off, and maybe Nori would have a message for him.
“How can you just sit still and wait?” Sawamura demanded.
“Easy,” Kazuya said, reaching up as Sawamura made another pass to grab the back of his shirt. He pulled until Sawamura collapsed in a heap on the couch next to him. “Park your ass, shut up, and wait. ”
“I can’t just sit!” Sawamura protested, although he made no move to stand. “I have to do something.”
“If you don’t stop doing things, I’ll do something that’ll make you wish you were never born,” Kazuya threatened. He wasn’t usually so impatient with Sawamura. In fact, he prided himself on his extensive skills in idiot wrangling. Patience was an important part of that.
But Kazuya had been restless and frustrated all day, and Sawamura’s pacing was going to drive him up a wall.
He hadn’t heard anything from Jade in over a week, and he was starting to lose hope. Nori was keeping an eye out while studying, just in case, and he’d promised to let Kazuya know the second he heard anything, but no matter how many times Kazuya messed with his comm. a new message just wouldn’t appear.
He was just mature to recognize that he was taking it out on Sawamura, and that wasn’t entirely fair of him. After all, Sawamura had been most vocally on his side when he’d finally returned to the Tower. Kazuya had to take allies where he could get them, apparently.
“It shouldn’t have been like this,” Sawamura said, flopping back against the couch, his thigh pressing into Kazuya’s.
“What, Ryou shutting us out?” Kazuya asked. “Waiting around for orders while he gets his shit together?”
“The way Robin died!” Sawamura said. He stared at the ceiling, giving Kazuya plenty of time to study his face in profile.
It was like this that it was the most obvious he was half Greek. Looking at him directly, the Greek features were either hidden or close enough to Japanese features to not be noticeable. From the side, though, his nose sloped perfectly straight, just a bit too long to be Japanese. His eyes were huge, and would look out of place on any other face, but on Sawamura just looked beautiful, large and full and surrounded by thick lashes. Even his cheekbones cut in a way that was distinctly exotic from the side.
“No one’s happy about losing Robin,” Kazuya said, trying to clear how dry his mouth suddenly felt. Focusing on how objectively attractive Sawamura could be wasn’t helping him feel less restless.
“That’s not what I meant,” Sawamura said. He tilted his head until he was looking at Kazuya dead on, and his eyes looked haunting. Haunted. “This isn’t how heroes are supposed to die.”
“Not everyone can go out in a blaze of glory on the battlefield,” Kazuya said. He wasn’t familiar with any Greek myths in particular, but he knew the general gist. As Wonder Woman’s son and the only male Amazon ever born, Sawamura would have grown up on those stories.
“It’s not even that,” Sawamura said. “It’s...okay, so we have this concept called kleos, right?”
“Kleos?” Kazuya asked, trying out the unfamiliar word. It didn’t twist in his mouth the same way it did in Sawamura’s.
“Close enough,” Sawamura said. “It means glory earned in battle. It’s really important for getting to the best afterlife, the one everyone aspires to.”
“I’m with you so far,” Kazuya said. “What’s your point?”
“There’s nothing honorable about the way Robin died,” Sawamura said. “There was no glory in battle. This wasn’t what he signed up for. To die like that...in all our myths, there’s almost no worse fate.”
Kazuya was reminded almost uncomfortably of his mother’s death. There had been no glory there either. Just a young mother killed because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“None of us sign up to die,” Kazuya said. “What we do is dangerous. It happens.”
“Not like this,” Sawamura said. “He deserved so much better than this, even if what we do is dangerous.”
“Is there a word for pride?” Kazuya asked. Sawamura gave him a tiny smile.
“There is no way I can pronounce that.”
“If Robin died like this, all we can do now is avenge his pride,” Sawamura said. “At least, that’s what I believe. That it’s better to avenge him than not. Maybe the afterlife is real, maybe it isn’t, but either way, he’ll have that as a gift from us. And the Joker won’t be able to hurt anyone again. That’s what I believe. And that’s why I’ll stand with Onii-san, even though he lied to us.”
Sawamura’s eyes blazed, and Kazuya almost couldn’t bear to look at them, but he could bear even less to look away. He was too entranced by the fire in Sawamura’s eyes.
“Isn’t pride a bad thing in Greek myths?” Kazuya asked. He could vaguely remember a word like hubris, and that it was the cause of misfortune.
“Depends,” Sawamura shrugged. “There are a few words that can mean pride. One of them is all about thinking you’re better than you really are. That’s the bad kind of pride.”
“So, for example, self-satisfying revenge…?”
“I don’t think that’s what’s going on here,” Sawamura said.
“Doesn’t Onii-san seem different?” Sawamura shook his head, giving Kazuya a brief reprieve from his gaze. “You’ve known him for longer than me, but I don’t think this is just about him.”
As much as Kazuya was still angry at Ryou, furious, he had to agree with Sawamura. This was more than just revenge. Ryou was hiding something, and that something was why he was breaking all his own rules. It didn’t help a whole lot to know this, though. Kazuya couldn’t help anything if he didn’t know what was specifically wrong, and as far as he could tell, not even Kuramochi knew everything.
So he was left here, with Sawamura, waiting for orders that probably weren’t coming.
Sawamura rocked like he was about to start pacing again, and Kazuya moved before he could stop himself.
“Nope,” he said, hooking a hand in the back of Sawamura’s shirt again, pulling until Sawamura fell against his chest. “I told you to stay put. You’re making me nervous.”
He wrapped an arm around Sawamura’s shoulders, fully aware that if Sawamura really wanted to get away, there was nothing Kazuya could do. Sawamura had the blood of Wonder Woman flowing through his veins, and Kazuya was only human.
Pathetically human, he thought at himself derisively at his reaction to the warmth of Sawamura’s back against his chest. He resolutely ignored his own response.
He’d lost count of how long he’d been ignoring it.
Next time: Miyuki makes bad decisions, the subplot
Miyuki makes bad decisions
I'm finally launching myself into the endgame of this fic! It's very exciting
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Kazuya was ready to write Cheshire off as a lost cause. It had been a week and a half, and he’d heard nothing. Not that he’d given her a way to contact him, but if she could find the Joker, she probably didn’t need help finding his email address, doubly now that she knew his real name. He’d considered tracking her down and demanding anything she’d managed to find, but dismissed the idea immediately. There was every chance she’d ditched the tracker, and anyway, he wouldn’t be tracking her down for the right reasons.
So he almost deleted the email from an unknown sender when it popped into his inbox. Only the lack of anything resembling a scam made him look twice.
Same place as last time. Come alone.
Yeah, because that wasn’t ominous.
Kazuya could barely force himself to wait until Nori got out of class before calling. Actually, it sounded like Nori was still in class when he picked up, judging by the muffled voices in the background. Nori must have stayed late to talk to his professor or something.
“Kazuya, I know you’re having a time, but-”
“Jade emailed me,” Kazuya cut him off, almost breathless in his agitation.
“I thought she was gone?”
“I thought she was too, but she wants to meet again. How soon can you get here?”
Nori sighed, and Kazuya could practically hear the gears turning in his head. He knew Nori didn’t approve of this, strictly speaking, and he also knew Nori would kill him personally if he tried to do this alone. It was the only reason he hadn’t run off the second he’d gotten the email.
“Give me twenty,” Nori said finally. “I think you caught me at a bad time for the trains.”
“I’ll come get you,” Kazuya said. “Zeta tubes are faster.”
The twenty minutes Nori had estimated got cut down to five with zeta tubes, and it only took that long because Nori had insisted Kazuya prove they were safe to travel in, because apparently teleportation was weird and terrifying to anyone who wasn’t used to it.
“Hey Kazuya?” Kazuya looked over his shoulder to where Nori was setting up on his computer. “Be careful.”
“Aren’t I always?” Kazuya teased.
“I mean it,” Nori said. “I can’t replace you this late in the game.”
Kazuya was deeply touched by the affection that Nori hid behind teasing, a habit he’d probably picked up from Kazuya himself. Rather than say anything too revealing, Kazuya just smiled over his shoulder and took off.
He didn’t see Cheshire immediately when he got to the roof, but that wasn’t an immediate cause for panic. If he’d learned anything about Cheshire so far, it was that she liked to make an entrance.
“Hey, pretty boy.” There she was. Kazuya turned to see her sitting on some big metal thing, waving her fingers at him. “You kept me waiting.”
“So did you,” Kazuya shot back.
“ Don’t flirt with the supervillains, ” Nori sighed in his ear. Kazuya carefully didn’t roll his eyes. He wasn’t flirting with Cheshire. Much.
“You ask for the world, I might need a second to get it,” Cheshire said. Maybe Nori was right. Cheshire was definitely flirting with him. “This should be everything you need to track him down.”
She tossed a flash drive at him that he just managed to catch.
“I’ll send the money to wherever you want it,” Kazuya told her. She probably wanted it in some bank account where she could transfer around and hide her tracks.
“I’ll be in touch.” It didn’t sound like a dismissal. Somehow, without moving a muscle, she looked like she was beckoning him closer. Almost without realizing it, Kazuya took a few steps towards her.
“Is there something else?” he asked.
“Maybe I’d just like something a little more personal from you,” she said. “I did burn some bridges to get that. A lot of bridges.”
“Enough to get you in trouble?” Kazuya asked, close enough now that she parted her legs for him to stand between.
“Aww, you’re sweet when you worry,” she cooed, pulling him closer. Kazuya felt a thrill shoot through him. This was dangerous, this was a terrible idea, but a part of him wanted to make terrible decisions.
When she kissed him, he only pushed closer. Either she didn’t notice his inexperience, or she took it in stride. She wrapped her legs around his waist, trapping him, but he didn’t feel trapped.
Kazuya put his hands on her waist, grabbing and pulling, and she made a pleased humming sound against his lips. He pulled back, just a touch, just enough to see her face. Her eyes were dark, focused, and Kazuya didn’t understand the disappointment that coursed through him until he was already pulling back, wiping his mouth.
Because he hadn’t realized until that moment that he’d expected to see golden eyes. Eyes bright with the fire of vengeance, or crinkled with laughter, or lidded in pleasure. Bright golden eyes that haunted him and called to him in equal measures.
“Damn,” Cheshire sighed, swiping a hand across her face. “I really thought I could get in your pants before you realized you were in love with that Wonder Boy of yours.”
Love, love, love…
It echoed in Kazuya’s mind, the one thing he never wanted to call his feelings for Sawamura. It was easy to dismiss it as a crush, as basic sexual attraction, as…
Anything but the ability to destroy him. The fact that Sawamura never would only made it worse.
“Well,” Cheshire swung off her perch, when it became obvious Kazuya was beyond answering her. She took off the tracker she’d worn as an earring, crushing it under her heel. “Guess I didn’t get to ruin this team’s dynamic. You guys are less annoying when you’re not working together.”
Kazuya just nodded. Of course that was all she’d been after. She’d told him that from the beginning.
Kazuya took the long way back to his dad’s house. Nori would be better at looking through the flash drive, and Kazuya wasn’t quite ready to hear I told you so yet. He couldn’t put it off forever, though, and eventually he did make his way back.
He didn’t even look to the sides. His dad wouldn’t be home at this time, probably, so Nori would be alone in the house unless…
“Have fun with my sister?” Katsuko leaned against the door leading into the kitchen, her face carefully blank.
And Kazuya was still mad at her, a little, but it was also obvious how guilty she felt, and they’d been friends before, and he was feeling a little fragile at the moment.
“She’s dangerous, you know that, right?” Katsuko said, pushing off to stand in front of him. “She doesn’t care about you, she just wants to use you, and if she can’t, there’s not telling what she’ll do.”
“You’re worried about me?”
“Of course I am,” she snapped, and then she backed down a little. “Look. I know you’re mad at me. You have every right to be, I won’t try to make you change that. But if you’re trying to get back at me or something, don’t do it this way.”
“That’s not…” Kazuya sighed. “I’m not going to see her again.”
“I…” Katsuko trailed off. “Oh. That’s...that’s good.”
“Yeah.” They let the awkward silence last for another second before they tried to speak over each other.
“I really am sorry-”
“I understand why you-”
It would be funny if the moment didn’t feel like it was about to break, one way or another. Then Katsuko smiled, and so did Kazuya, and they were laughing with relief.
“No more lies from me,” Katsuko said. “Promise.”
“Then you’re forgiven,” Kazuya told her. “Mostly.”
They walked to Kazuya’s room where Nori was waiting.
“You told her everything, didn’t you,” Kazuya asked him. Nori had the decency to look sheepish.
“So was it worth it?” Katsuko asked. “Do you know where the Joker is?”
Kazuya held the flash drive out to Nori, and he plugged it in. There were a lot of files on it, and Kazuya couldn’t figure out what half of them meant, but Nori and Katsuko both sounded excited.
“So is it legit?” Kazuya finally asked. “Can we use this to find the Joker?”
“It should be enough,” Nori said. “There’s past known associates, last known locations…”
“This one is recent,” Katsuko said, pointing. “In the last few days. If we hurry, we might be able to pin him down here.”
Somehow, Kazuya had never considered the possibility that this might end so soon. That he could stop focusing on this revenge trip, and start worrying about everything they had to fix. And to work on, now that he couldn’t ignore how he felt about Sawamura anymore.
“We can end this,” Katsuko said. “We can end it now.”
“The Joker better pick a god and start praying,” Kazuya agreed.
Next time: they tell Ryou, and plan for the kill
The team finally gets their big break
Everyone's finally kind of okay with each other again!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Ryou tilted his head back. He could practically feel his eyelids scraping across his dry eyes every time he blinked. He’d had five solid hours of chasing himself in circles around the internet and had hacked at least three major corporations, one of which had realized he was hacking in and then he’d had to spend an hour covering his tracks.
When he closed his eyes, bright spots floated in the darkness. If he sat too still, he could feel himself drifting off.
“Hey.” Ryou left his eyes closed, tracking Kuramochi’s movements by ear. “You should take a break.”
“Is it regularly scheduled?” Ryou asked, smirk not quite translating into his tone like he’d intended. He really had to be tired.
“More like penciled in,” Kuramochi said. “I’m worried about you.”
Ryou opened his eyes just enough so he could see Kuramochi leaning on his desk, looking down at him with his eyebrows pushed together.
“Neither of us is the paragon of health right now,” Ryou pointed out, because it was true. Kuramochi had dark circles to match the ones Ryou had developed under his eyes.
“That’s not what I meant,” Kuramochi said. “Something you said is bothering me.”
“And that is?”
“Do you not think you deserve to be happy?” Kuramochi asked. Ryou studied him instead of answering. “What will you do when this is all over?”
“I haven’t thought a lot about it,” Ryou said, because he couldn’t see Kuramochi’s angle and he was too tired to try and avoid the subject. “I’m putting too much into this to worry about that right now.”
Kuramochi pressed his knee into Ryou’s. Ryou allowed it because he knew it would comfort Kuramochi more than it would himself. Kuramochi had never been clingy the way Miyuki could be, but he was still tactile, and it cost Ryou nothing to indulge him. And maybe it was the exhaustion, but the warmth pressed into the side of his leg really did feel good.
“Weren’t you gonna go to college this year?” Kuramochi asked. “You didn’t bother showing up to school unless it would make you fail. College classes are supposed to start soon. Are you gonna go at all?”
“I can defer,” Ryou said. He wasn’t actually sure it was allowed, but it was probably nothing that couldn’t be fixed with the kind of money a Kominato could throw around if he still wanted to go. “This is more important.”
“Ryou-san.” Kuramochi pressed his knee harder into Ryou’s leg. “What happens after?”
“Why does it matter?” Ryou was trying really hard not to snap at Kuramochi. He couldn’t see the point, and he was tired, and much as he enjoyed Kuramochi’s company, he really wanted to get to the point already.
“Why does this matter if there’s no after?” Kuramochi asked, gesturing vaguely with his arms. “What’s the point of all this if you’re not gonna be happy after?”
“I’m not doing this to be happy.”
“Then why? To punish yourself?”
Ryou kept quiet. Kuramochi had gotten uncomfortably close to the truth.
“You don’t deserve that,” Kuramochi said softly. The forgiveness in his tone hurt so much worse. “I can’t believe any of this is worth it if after doesn’t happen.”
Not for the first time, and probably not for the last, Ryou cursed his complete inability to tell Kuramochi Youichi to go fuck himself. Kuramochi had carved out a place in Ryou’s chest without permission, and Ryou was beyond the point of evicting him.
“Good, you’re both here.” Kuramochi jumped away from where they’d pressed together. Ryou looked over his shoulder languidly. Miyuki leaned against the doorframe, Katsuko and Kawakami looking past him.
Ryou felt an uncomfortable twist of guilt again when he looked at Miyuki. But then, guilt wasn’t an unusual feeling for him these days, much as he tried to force it down.
“What are you all doing here?” Kuramochi asked. “And why did you bring Nori?”
“He helped me find this,” Miyuki said, holding out his hand. He held a flash drive.
“What’s that?” Ryou asked, sitting up, interest piqued.
“It’s...okay, you’re not allowed to ask how I got it,” Miyuki said, eyes shifting to the side. That was interesting. “We found the Joker.”
Ryou froze. He felt Kuramochi freeze next to him.
“I’m not,” Miyuki said. “It’s all here.”
Ryou would’ve liked to say he didn’t snatch the flash drive from Miyuki, but that’s exactly what he did, grabbing it and shoving it into his computer. He felt like he’d been staring into the abyss for months, and Miyuki had just handed him a candle.
He scrolled through documents, photos, coordinates…
“This is from two days ago,” Ryou said quietly. Reverently.
“He could still be there, right?” Miyuki asked. “This could be it.”
Even if it wasn’t, this was everything Ryou had been looking for since Sanada died. Even if the last known location wasn’t any good, this was plenty to establish a pattern. Whether Miyuki had brought the Joker’s head on a silver platter or not, he’d certainly brought a way to get it.
Ryou opened his comm. link, calling Jun and Tetsu. Of all times for them to go visit Jun’s parents…
“I think Jun-san said it would be hard to get ahold of him,” Kuramochi said. “They’re pretty far off the grid.”
Ryou looked back over his shoulder. While his back had been turned, Sawamura had wandered in, rubbing at his eyes. He was the only heavy hitter in the room. Usually, a fight like this meant they had to rely on Sawamura, Tetsu, and Jun together. In any other case, Ryou would hesitate to go in with only one.
But beyond that...he’d already been burned by cutting out his team. Doing it again would cause more damage than he could reasonably fix.
“I’m setting this to call them again every hour,” Ryou said. “If they get it, they should be able to get to the nearest zeta tube and here in a few hours. I’ll give them twenty four.”
“And then?” Kuramochi asked.
“We’re going in without them,” Ryou said. “If we wait any longer than that, there’s no chance we’ll make it in time. I want to finish this.”
Everyone nodded grimly. No one liked the idea of going in without Jun and Tetsu, but if they couldn’t get in touch, there was nothing else for it.
“We should get some sleep,” Kuramochi said, with a pointed look at Ryou. “We need the rest so we can kick ass.”
“Everyone meet back here in twelve hours,” Ryou said. “We have to plan around Tetsu and Jun in case we have to go in without them. Katsuko, call Takako and Wakana.”
“On it,” she said, disappearing. Everyone else started to filter away, and Ryou gave Kuramochi a significant look before reaching for Miyuki’s arm.
“Wait. I have something to say to you.” He could address this layer of guilt, at least. “I shouldn’t have tried to keep you out. Even if you hadn’t found this, you’re still a member of this team, and I shouldn’t have forgotten that. I should have told you all from the start.”
Miyuki blinked a few times in obvious surprise.
“I uh…” he coughed. Ryou could understand not wanting to do mushy stuff. That had never been a defining feature of their friendship. “Thanks. And it’s okay. We’re okay.”
“Good.” Ryou let Miyuki’s arm go. “Get some sleep.”
If Ryou was any less tired than he currently was, he would’ve stayed up obsessing over a plan, running over and over what they were about to do, eager to finally be free of this mission. But as it was, the second he lay down, he couldn’t stay awake.
Kuramochi was right about this, at least. They needed their sleep. Ryou was starting to fear that Kuramochi was right about everything.
Next time: they go after the Joker
The team finally finds the Joker
It's finally time! I also realized that it's almost April and, consequently, almost time for Camp Nanowrimo, so I'm going to try and finish this up quickly so I can be ready to start the sequel for that.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“So we’re clear on the plan?” Ryou asked his assembled team. “No one takes unnecessary risks. We don’t have backup coming. It’s just us.”
“We’ve got it,” Wakana said. She and Takako had arrived an hour ago, and neither looked like they’d slept too much. Then again, no one in the room looked like they’d gotten enough sleep recently.
They would have to be enough.
Ryou was flying them all to the forgotten little coastal town the Joker was hopefully still hiding in. There wasn’t a zeta tube close enough to matter. The air was silent and stifled in the jet. There was no doubt about what was going to happen, and in any other situation, Ryou would be proud that his team balked at the idea of murder.
They touched down just far enough away that they should’ve been out of range of security systems. Miyuki and Sawamura left the jet first. They were taking point, keeping any guards busy while everyone else went in.
Ryou carefully counted to fifteen after he heard the first sounds of a commotion before leading everyone else in towards the warehouse. Someone popped up in front of him, raising a gun, but an arrow embedded in his shoulder, and he went down. Ryou looked over his shoulder. He couldn’t see Miyuki, but he waved over his shoulder anyway.
Kuramochi zipped ahead, finding a way in and beckoning, avoiding a bullet that someone inside shot at him. He ran in as Ryou reached the door, sending a gunman flying. Ryou already had a batarang in his hand, throwing it at the person in front of Kuramochi.
“Mrasid!” Takako shouted at his shoulder, magic glowing at her fingertips at the backwards words that doubled as her spells. Every gun in the building dropped to the floor. “Ekoms dna srorrim!”
A fog surrounded them, giving them cover. It was a common tactic from Takako, and Ryou was ready for it. They would be down to close combat to avoid attacking each other, which made him, Wakana, and Katsuko the most useful until Kuramochi adjusted to not being able to see.
“Raelc tuo!” Takako shouted, lifting the fog. They’d managed to knock down most of the guards, and Ryou caught a shock of white in the corner of his eye. “Etativel mih!”
Ryou was already moving towards the Joker, catching up just as Takako’s spell took effect, grabbing him by the throat and throwing him into a wall. He could feel the rest of the team behind him, strong and menacing. Katsuko and Wakana were taking care of the last of the henchmen, which left Ryou free to focus on the Joker.
He raised a fist and punched Joker in the side of the head as hard as he could. The Joker cackled, shaking his head like he was clearing water from his eyes.
“We’ll, you’ve got me now, little bird,” the Joker said, grin still in place even with the blood running down from his temple. “What are you gonna do now? Carve me up with those pretty knives of yours?”
Ryou finally let his face twist into a smirk he knew was horrible as he held up the crowbar he’d brought for just this occasion.
Ryou had read Sanada’s autopsy report enough times that he had a map of every injury his brother had suffered before the final explosion. He traced along that map with his crowbar, barely flinching when some of his strikes sent blood flying into his face.
“I won’t beg like your Robin,” the Joker said when Ryou paused to catch his breath. Ryou stomped down on his shoulder and ground his boot down until the Joker’s eternal grin turned into more of a grimace.
“That’s a lie,” Ryou said in a tone that was meant to be mild, but definitely wasn’t. “He was a Bat. We don’t beg.”
Ryou kept beating the Joker until he stopped the quips. And then he kept going. And going. And going.
Ryou swung his crowbar down one more time to be contrary. It didn’t do anything but make the body at his feet twitch.
“Stop. He’s done.”
Ryou finally looked over his shoulder. Kuramochi had stepped closer, his hands raised like he was approaching a wild animal. Takako and Wakana stood behind him, stock still, their faces frozen in identical looks of shock.
“He’s dead,” Kuramochi said. “He’s dead, so stop.”
“He did so much worse to Robin,” Ryou said, voice cracking and grating on the way out.
“You’re not the Joker. You’re not a villain,” Kuramochi said, taking another step closer. If he really wanted to, Ryou was painfully aware that Kuramochi could take away the crowbar and whisk him away before he could even react. It wasn’t lost on him that Kuramochi wasn’t doing that. “You’re a hero. And he’s already dead.”
Kuramochi reached out, grabbing the crowbar. There was no place that wasn’t coated in the Joker’s blood, but Kuramochi didn’t seem to care. For that reason, Ryou let his hand go slack, let the crowbar go.
“We should get rid of the body,” Ryou said. “If he’s not dead, he will be soon.”
“I’ll call the others-” Kuramochi started, but he was cut off by an explosion. Everyone whipped around in time to see Katsuko lowering her bow. The explosive arrow she’d sent into the Joker had been localized. Even though his body was burning, no one else had even been knocked off their feet.
“Poetic justice,” she said in response to their silence. Ryou could respect that. He might’ve been tempted to do the same.
“Arsenal. Wonder Boy,” Kuramochi said into his comm. “We’re done. We’re leaving.”
Miyuki and Sawamura didn’t just wait for them, though. They came into the warehouse. Ryou noticed Miyuki’s face going pale almost from a distance. He felt like he was watching himself move from the outside. All of the sounds he knew had to be around him were muffled, like he was trapped in a fishbowl.
“Is there anything else?” Sawamura asked. Ryou shook his head. They had what they’d come for.
Ryou didn’t protest when Wakana took the controls. He was content, for once, to let someone else fly them home. Kuramochi carefully picked up his hand.
“This is sprained,” he said. Ryou noticed with a vague interest that his wrist was swollen to double its usual size. He’d be lucky if it was only a sprain and not a fracture.
He didn’t really care.
He just let Kuramochi carefully cradle his wrist, holding it still while the team flew back to the Tower, to face whatever waited for them now that the Joker was dead.
Ryou wasn’t expecting to find his mother waiting for them when they got back to the Tower, but he really should have been. Much as he hated to admit it, there wasn’t much he did that she didn’t know about.
“I assume your mission was successful?” she asked. Everyone looked down at the floor as they mumbled. No one wanted to tell Batman they’d successfully murdered a man, even if she already knew. “Batgirl, your father called me in a panic, asking where you were.”
“I’ll just go home now,” Wakana squeaked out. “Sorry for the trouble.”
“Tell him where you’re going next time.” Ryou’s mother turned her attention to Miyuki and Katsuko. “I know your father gives you both a long leash, but I’m sure he’s worried that you both disappeared for hours.”
“We’ll go home too,” Miyuki said, looking anywhere but her. Katsuko shrunk behind him before they both took off.
“Already calling my mom,” Kuramochi said, shooting Ryou an apologetic look before gently letting go of his wrist.
“And Wonder Boy.”
“My mom isn’t expecting to hear from me,” Sawamura said. Batman’s expression didn’t change, but somehow, the room felt like it was freezing. Sawamura disappeared into the Tower. It was just Ryou and his mother left.
Ryou wasn’t sure what he expected, but it wasn’t his mother stepping closer and wiping dried blood off his face. It was significantly more affectionate than she’d ever been with him while they were Nightwing and Batman.
“You’re not gonna yell at me?” he asked dully.
“I think you’ve already punished yourself more than I ever could,” she said. “Make sure you clean yourself up, and put a brace on that wrist.”
Somehow, Ryou still didn’t want her forgiveness, but he also knew that wasn’t a good attitude to have. He stayed silent instead of saying anything, but he got the feeling she understood him more than he could ever know.
“Get some sleep,” she said. “And see if you can stop bottling everything up in the morning.”
That sounded impossible.
Next time: the fallout
The team deals with the aftermath.
Oh boy I do love writing some emotional trauma
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Aya pushed away her laptop. She’d just finished typing up a report on the Joker’s death, based on what the Titans had told her and what she already knew. She almost hadn’t wanted to, but the rest of the Justice League deserved to know that one of the most dangerous criminals out there was dead, and they deserved proof.
She heard someone quietly enter her study, and based on the footfalls, she knew it was Haruichi.
“Okaasan?” Haruichi was already at her side before Aya could finish turning to greet him. He was bigger than she remembered, at that age where he’d grow quickly until he reached his adult height just like Ryou had, but still too small for all the pain in his world. “How do you do it?”
“You and Aniki, you’re both so strong.” Haruichi twisted his hands together. “How can I be strong like you?”
Aya’s heart broke for him.
“I’m not strong, Haru-chan, and neither is your brother,” she told him. “Not crying isn’t a sign of strength.”
“But Aniki avenged Shun-chan, and I-”
“What your brother is doing isn’t a sign of strength either,” Aya said. “He just thinks it’s a better option than letting himself grieve.”
Aya sighed. She’d really hoped she would have longer before she had to tell her youngest son her story.
“I know you don’t have Ryou-chan’s experience, but I’ve taught you to be a detective too,” she said gently. “Haven’t you ever wondered why we’ve only met your father’s parents?”
She couldn’t see Haruichi’s eyes, couldn’t see the way they must have gone wide when he figured it out.
“They died?” he asked. “When?”
“When I was a little younger than you,” Aya said. It might have felt like a lot younger to Haruichi if he knew her actual age at the time, but it was so hard for her to stop seeing how small her son was. “And for a long time, I didn’t cry over it. I thought I was being strong, but in the end, I was just so scared that if I let myself break I’d never be able to put myself back together again.”
“So you just never cried?” Haruichi asked.
“I didn’t say that,” Aya said. “Grief’s a funny thing. You can’t ever really get away from it. You just have to let it take its course.”
“So what did you do?”
“For a long time, I thought I was okay,” Aya said. “And I even thought I was getting better. But really, I was just getting better at acting. It wasn’t until Alfred started dragging me to therapy that anything changed.”
“Then what happened?”
“Almost exactly what I was afraid of. I broke. I broke into so many pieces I didn’t think there was a chance of putting them all back together again. I didn’t even know where to start.”
“But you’re okay now.”
“Yes, I am.” Aya sighed. “Your father pointed out to me that I didn’t have to pick up all the pieces on my own. I could let everyone I loved help, and they could put me together when I couldn’t do it for myself.”
Haruichi didn’t look convinced, but Aya also knew he was at his limit for pretending he was okay.
“Alfred was the one who really for me through it, though,” Aya admitted. “I’ve realized now that he was the father I desperately needed when I lost my parents.”
“What did he do?” Haruichi asked. His hands were shaking.
“Reminded me that even if it felt like everything was collapsing around me, the world wasn’t ending. And he was right. My parents’ death wasn’t the end of the world,” Aya said, feeling her face fall into a sad smile. “But for a long time, it was the end of mine.”
“Too long.” Aya took his trembling hands in her own. They were already bigger than hers. “Let yourself mourn Shunpei. It’s not a sign of weakness. And until you’re ready to hold your own pieces together, let me hold them for you.”
It started off as a trickle; a sniff, a wet eye. And then the floodgates burst.
Haruichi flung himself into her arms, tears streaming down his face, tiny body shaking. His sobs almost became screams in his grief and pain and rage.
Maybe the rage should have surprised Aya, but as much as Haruichi was mellower than her and Ryou put together, as much as he took after his father in temperament, he was still her son.
Aya let her own tears fall into Haruichi’s hair, finally letting herself mourn as well for the son she’d lost.
Eventually, Haruichi calmed down to sniffles and hiccups, but he didn’t leave Aya’s arms.
“Do you still want to be my Robin?” she asked quietly. He turned to look up at her. “Now you know the dangers of this life. Do you still want it?”
A change came over Haruichi’s face. Even with half of it hidden, Aya could see the way his jaw set, stubborn and defiant. It reminded her of Ryou at that age.
It reminded her of herself at that age.
“Then we’ll start training,” Aya promised. “We’ll start with self-defense.”
“So,” Jun said, leaning into Tetsu’s side Tetsu lifted an arm to accommodate him. “Do you wanna start, or should I?”
“You think we’re not gonna talk about completely missing the ‘kill Joker’ mission?” Jun asked. “The only thing anyone in our team has worked on for four months? That thing we totally missed because we were off the grid for five days?”
“That’s not our fault,” Tetsu said. “It was nothing for months. We had no reason to believe it wouldn’t be nothing for months.”
“You always visit your parents around this time,” Tetsu continued. He squeezed Jun’s shoulders. It almost felt like Jun was blaming himself for...what exactly? No one was dead, no one was even hurt. Except for the Joker, but that had been the point.
“So you’re completely fine that we missed it?”
Of course he wasn’t. Tetsu had been just as angry, just as hurt when he’d learned what Ryou and Kuramochi were keeping from them. He’d thrown himself into helping track down the Joker, determined to prove to Ryou how wrong he’d been. He’d been looking forward to paying back the loss of one of their own. He hadn’t known the new Robin that well, but he had been a good kid. Maybe a little violent, but Tetsu considered that one of his virtues.
“What is there to talk about?” Tetsu asked instead. “We missed it. There’s nothing we can do about it.”
“It sucks!” Jun complained, knocking a fist backwards that more or less bounced off Tetsu’s chest. “Ryou still doesn’t look okay, Kuramochi looks like he’s trying to pick up the pieces, Miyuki looks like he’s trying not to puke his guts up, and Sawamura’s just trying to hold everyone together through sheer force of will or something. And that’s just our team.”
“Young Justice isn’t getting back together, is it?” Tetsu asked, to cover up the fact that he thought Ryou was doing okay. He probably wasn’t an objective observer, though. He’d been told he ‘used violence and danger to compensate for lack of emotional stability’, which was completely fair after his entire planet was wiped out, in his opinion.
“Doesn’t look like it,” Jun said. “That sucks too. I know they were our rivals, but they were our friends too.”
Tetsu nodded. The teams had made it almost a game to steal missions from each other. None of the Titans had expected to like the new kids, and they’d all been surprised. To have everyone leave…
Well, Jun had already said it. Twice. It sucked.
“I say we give it a week before we start trying to put everyone back together,” Jun said. “That should give Ryou enough time to get it out of his system.”
“Get what out of his system?”
“Someday, we’re gonna have to get you back in touch with your emotions,” Jun said, but he accompanied it with a friendly shove, so Tetsu figured he was safe for now. “Getting his ‘pretending this is what he wanted’ shit out of his system.”
Kazuya dropped his bow as he pulled his equipment off after a patrol with his dad. That was odd. He hadn’t done that in years. The one thing he’d always had going for him was steady hands.
Then as he leaned over to pick it up, his glasses started sliding down his nose, and somehow he fumbled that catch entirely, and only succeeded in dumping his entire quiver. Kazuya whined in frustration, because did the entire world have to be against him now? Couldn’t he do something right?
“Miyuki Kazuya.” Sawamura knelt into his line of vision, picking up stray arrows. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Kazuya said. He could see just fine with his contacts in, but he felt weirdly naked without anything in front of his eyes.
“Your hands are shaking.”
Kazuya looked down. So they were. That was probably how he’d managed to fumble everything he was holding.
Sawamura had finished gathering up all the equipment, but he didn’t move to hand it back to Kazuya. Instead, he reached out, cupping Kazuya’s hands between his own. It only made the shaking more obvious, even as it stabilized them.
And Kazuya couldn’t take it anymore. He pulled his hands free and threw his arms around Sawamura, desperate for any measure of comfort. Sawamura startled back, but before Kazuya could start regretting his impulse, warm arms circled around his back.
Kazuya leaned his cheek against Sawamura’s neck, feeling more than hearing the beat pulsing there.
All through his patrol, he hadn’t been able to shake the image of shooting down the Joker’s henchmen. Hadn’t been able to forget clearing a path for Ryou to run. Couldn’t forget what he’d been allowing Ryou to do.
He’d barely been able to keep his eyes open when he and Sawamura had walked in and seen what Ryou had done. What kind of hero was he? He’d seen a dead body before. This wasn’t supposed to be anything new.
“It’s okay,” Sawamura said, holding him closer. Kazuya just buried his face in Sawamura’s shoulder, because it wasn’t. “It’ll be okay.”
Kazuya wanted to ask how he could be so sure. But he wasn’t sure he would believe the answer, and he needed to believe it. He needed to believe everything would be okay.
Even if it didn’t feel like it could be.
Takako wasn’t good at following people unseen. In fact, if she didn’t have Wakana helping, she didn’t think she’d have been able to follow Katsuko at all. Not when Katsuko so clearly didn’t want to be followed.
But Katsuko hadn’t answered her phone in days, and they were all that was left of Young Justice, and Takako had to know why. She knew Wakana wanted to know, as well. If they were supposed to be all each other had left, why was Katsuko avoiding them?
Why was she going out alone at night, in a plain black costume that no one would ever connect to Artemis?
Maybe it shouldn’t have surprised Takako when Katsuko dropped onto a roof and Nightwing stepped out of the shadows, but it did.
“Is there a particular reason we’re meeting in costume?” Katsuko asked.
“I’m confirming a suspicion,” Ryou said. “Do you even still have your Artemis gear?”
Takako almost scoffed at the question. Of course Katsuko still had it, what else would she patrol in?
“Toku-san is holding onto it for me,” Katsuko said. “He said I might want it back someday, but I don’t think I will.”
“Artemis was Robin’s partner. Artemis was Young Justice’s archer.” Katsuko sighed, her shoulders slumping. “I’m not either of those things anymore.”
“Young Justice needs a leader,” Ryou said. “You were Robin’s partner. You should be next in line.”
“I can’t,” Katsuko said. “You know I can’t.”
“So you’re just leaving?” Ryou asked.
“I’m going back to America,” Katsuko said. “I can’t... be here , anymore.”
“And you’re not saying goodbye, are you.”
“They won’t understand,” Katsuko sighed. “Batgirl has your family, and Zatanna wasn’t on the team that long. She’ll be fine. They’ll both be fine. They don’t need me.”
“Sounds like an excuse.”
“Takes one to know one.”
Katsuko and Ryou stared each other down.
“Are you ever coming back?” Ryou asked.
“Maybe,” Katsuko said. “I took exams at school early, so I can go back if I want. But I need to get away.”
Takako was done listening. She could already barely contain her sobs. And then Wakana was there, and Takako muffled herself against Wakana’s shoulder.
That was it. Their team was gone. Takako had nothing to return to but an empty house and a father that wasn’t coming home, stuck as the host to the world’s greatest magician.
Though silent, Takako could feel Wakana’s shoulders shaking. It really had to be over, then.
Ryou tried to go back to business as usual, he really did. There was double the work to take care of now that Young Justice was permanently dissolved, and Ryou should’ve already planned out how to take care of it.
But instead, he was holed up in his room, choking on his own emotions.
Joker was dead. Joker was dead, he wasn’t supposed to feel this way anymore, but instead, Ryou only felt the pieces of his chest flying apart faster.
Ryou was turning before he could think, desperate to just feel anything that wasn’t pain and guilt . He grabbed fists full of shirt, hauling Kuramochi in and slamming him against the wall. Kuramochi made a sound of surprise against his lips as Ryou shoved his tongue in.
This could’ve been anyone and Ryou wouldn’t have cared, but a distant part of his mind was glad it was Kuramochi.
Kuramochi kissed him back, moaning into his mouth, gripping his hair with splayed fingers. Ryou’s jaw almost ached with how wide it had dropped to get his tongue as far down Kuramochi’s throat as possible.
Ryou shoved his knee between Kuramochi’s legs, grinding up, felt the strong runner’s thighs clamp down on him, just for a second, before Kuramochi’s lips went still. He pushed against Ryou’s chest and mumbled against the lips Ryou still had smashed against his mouth.
“No,” Kuramochi repeated, trying to escape back into the wall and push Ryou away at the same time.
“Why…?” Ryou asked, unable to ask anything else. He couldn’t be wrong. He knew he wasn’t wrong. Kuramochi had feelings for him, that was a known fact, and Kuramochi had kissed him back.
“Not while you’re grieving,” Kuramochi said. “I can’t be just a one night stand, or a fling, I...this can’t be just because you want to feel something that doesn’t hurt.”
“I thought we didn’t lie to each other.” And Ryou fell silent, because they didn’t. “You haven’t exactly been the poster child for healthy grieving, you know. And I bet you thought if you could just kill Joker, this would all go away. And it hasn’t. And you want it to.”
“Wouldn’t you?” Ryou asked. “Don’t you?”
Kuramochi had cared about Sanada. How could he not be hurting just as bad?
“Not like this,” Kuramochi repeated. All the awful feeling in Ryou’s chest coalesced back into rage, and he drew his fist back before he knew what he was doing.
The hit never landed, though. Kuramochi was too fast.
“Ryou-san,” he said again, holding Ryou’s wrist against his heart, fluttering oh so fast.
“No!” Ryou snapped, screeched, choked out. “No, fuck you, fuck you!”
Kuramochi just pulled him in closer, ignoring how hard he struggled to get away. Didn’t comment when he finally stopped.
Ryou’s sobs were cut off, shoved down, as quiet as they could be against the storm inside him. He was supposed to be okay, he was supposed to be okay, why wasn’t he okay?
Kuramochi’s chest trembled against Ryou’s cheek with his own sobs, his own pain, cut into his heart as deep as Ryou’s. They slid down the wall, Ryou protected between Kuramochi’s knees, face buried to hide his grief and guilt and shame.
Kuramochi just held him close, grip tight on his wrist, although there was no risk of Ryou throwing another punch now. And slowly, Ryou didn’t have any sobs left to give.
He sat up then, pulling his wrist away from Kuramochi and wiping his face.
“Sorry,” he said hoarsely.
“‘S fine,” Kuramochi told him gruffly. “Just...you know what you’re feeling is normal, right?”
“He thought I hated him,” Ryou said, instead of a real answer. “I never told him I didn’t. He died thinking I hated him, and I can’t take it back.”
Kuramochi didn’t say anything to that. There was no answer to a problem it was too late to solve.
“You know you can always talk to me, right? I’m always here.”
“I know,” Ryou said, despite the fact that he had no intention of talking about this anymore. He’d deal with it.
He had to.
“And when you’re done figuring this out...then we’ll talk,” Kuramochi said. “I want to talk about us. And I want to do it when you’re not still angry and sad.”
“When will that be?” Ryou asked. “When will you decide I’m ready to have this conversation?”
“You’ll know, and if you want to, you’ll come to me,” Kuramochi said. “I...hope you’ll come to me.”
Then he stood up, as if he could sense that Ryou needed to be left alone now, and edged out of the room, closing the door behind him.
And Ryou was left with the broken pieces of his soul.
Next time: a time skip, and if you're familiar with DC, we're getting back in line with the events of Under the Red Hood.
After a time skip, a new player appears
Time skip! If you're familiar with DC, I'm picking up where I left off with the Under the Red Hood storyline. If you're not, say hello to a new character
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
One year later…
“You’re telling me you didn’t call this meeting?” a man demanded, walking up to the table in the middle of an empty room. “Then whose party is this?”
“I thought it was you East Side losers,” another man replied. “You already rolled over for the Black Mask, figured you were gonna ask us in.”
“Rolled over?” a third man on his right asked. “I lost six of my best people to the Mask last month. Six!”
“So you called the meeting?”
Bickering broke out between the eight people assembled, clearly ready to turn violent at any time, but another voice broke in.
Everyone turned as one to look up at a figure standing on a catwalk, looking down at them from the shadows.
“Batman?” someone asked. “We didn’t do nothin’!”
“We all know that’s a lie.” Whoever the shadow was, he sounded amused.
“Who the hell are you?” Everyone pulled out their guns, aiming at the shadow. In response, a round of bullets embedded themselves down the table.
“I said sit down!” The shadow wasn’t amused anymore.
“You wanna kill yourself? There’s easier ways to die.”
“Yeah, like yelling at the guy holding the AK-47.” The shadow leaned against the railing, revealing a red mask covering his whole head. “Listen up, you drug peddling scumbags. I’m in charge of the drug trade from now on. You eight are the ones moving the most goods, so I’ll make you a deal. Go about your business as usual, but kick forty percent up to me. Better deal than Black Mask is giving you, right? In return, you’ll have protection from both Black Mask and Batman. Just one rule, though. Don’t mess with kids. If you do, you’re dead.”
“Very generous, crazy man,” someone said. “Just one question. Why should we listen to you?”
A duffle bag dropped to the table with a heavy thud. Everyone crowded around, before reeling back in shock, one man dropping to his knees to retch into the floor.
“Those are the heads of all your lieutenants,” the shadow said. “That took me two hours. Imagine what I could do with a whole evening. So let me make something clear. You seem to think this is a request. It’s not. These are orders.”
The video cut out as shots rained down again, probably because whoever had been holding the phone had dropped it.
“Interesting,” Ryou said. “Is there a particular reason you’re showing me this video?”
“We’ve found a number of drug smugglers claiming to work for the Red Hood,” Batman replied. She rolled her shoulders. “Near as I can tell, this video is his first appearance.”
“There’s activity coming into the city today. Oracle is busy, and Batgirl, Black Bat, and I could all use some backup.”
Ryou frowned. Just because Wakana wouldn’t be there didn’t mean there was a reason to call him in. Yui and Sachiko were scary on their own, and with a Robin at her side…
“You’re not bringing Haruichi, are you?” Ryou asked. His mother shook her head. “He’s your Robin. You can’t keep leaving him out.”
“He doesn’t have enough training.”
“It’s been a year.”
“The Red Hood took off the heads of eight of the roughest drug dealers in this city. In two hours, if he wasn’t exaggerating.”
“You’re going to give him a complex.” But Ryou couldn’t pretend that he didn’t want to keep Haruichi as far from something like this as possible. “Fine. But just for tonight. I’m not going back to being your sidekick. That’s what the girls are supposed to be here for.”
“They’re new too, and sometimes I worry about Batgirl.” Batman sighed. “Thank you, Ryou-chan.”
“Hey, now. None of that.”
Ryou and his mother moved easily through the city. Yui was almost hard to keep track of, silent as a shadow. Sachiko kept up a stream of quips over their comm. link, but she kept up well enough. Ryou had come to like both of his new sisters, once he’d gotten used to them. He’d learned his lesson about faking dislike for too long.
They all settled on buildings around a helicopter pad. That the Black Mask kept a constant stream of drugs funnelling into the city was known, but Batman hadn’t successfully taken him down yet, and no one had the resources to bust every shipment, even if they knew one was coming in.
But apparently the Red Hood had the time, or the patience, or both.
“Wasn’t the Red Hood one of the Joker’s old aliases?” Sachiko asked. Ryou kept silent, even though he knew the answer.
“Yes, but this isn’t the Joker,” Batman said. “We know that for certain.”
They didn’t have to wait much longer. A helicopter landed, and after only a few seconds, the pilots went flying out of the cockpit.
Sachiko fired a grappling hook from her position close to the helipad, keeping the helicopter from flying too far away. Ryou, his mother, and Yui landed behind her. There was a flash of red in the cockpit.
Then the helicopter plunged sideways, deliberately falling towards the street.
“Will this hold?” Sachiko asked, pointing to the line that ran to the falling helicopter. Yui shook her head.
“You two, take care of it,” Batman said. “Nightwing, with me.”
They both went over the side of the building, scanning for where the Red Hood might have jumped out. Ryou shot a grappling hook as soon as he saw movement, trusting his mother to follow.
Ryou knew he wasn’t supposed to enjoy chasing down criminals like this. But the Red Hood was leading them on a chase that could only be described as thrilling, and Royu revelled in it. Flying across empty spaces between buildings, jumping down with perfect rolling landings, climbing back up only to jump out again...Ryou hadn’t had a chase like this in a long time.
The detour through a construction site was particularly fun. All the exposed beams really gave Ryou room to jump and fly along.
Finally, though, it had to come to an end. They were close, and Batman threw a batarang with a line attached, ready to bring the Red Hood to his knees and keep him there. It flew perfectly straight, line wrapping around the Red Hood’s ankle.
Before it could even go taut, the Red Hood twisted in midair, slicing through the line in one graceful motion. It didn’t even tug him back, letting him fall through the glass roof of a train station.
Ryou prepared to go after him, but the explosion made him think twice. Try as he might, he couldn’t pick up a trail again.
“Did you see that?” his mother asked. “The way he cut the line?”
Ryou nodded. It had been professional in the extreme, and required an awareness of Batman’s fighting style and weapons that no ordinary criminal could ever have. But even then, to be able to pull it off like it was as easy as breathing…
“He moves like he was trained by us,” Ryou said as the realization dawned on him. Maybe he’d have to stick around his mother a little longer. Apparently, things were getting interesting for the Kominato family again.
Next time: Aya discovers the Red Hood's true identity.
The Red Hood's identity is revealed
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Aya stared at her media feed. If the Red Hood so much as sneezed, she’d know about it, and she’d be on him. She just let the feeds continuously update, giving her search for his identity a rest for now.
He was a ghost in a way almost no one could be. No matter how isolated people thought they were, they left traces. Even if they actively tried to hide, there were ways to find anyone.
Except the Red Hood, apparently. As far as Aya could tell, he’d sprung fully formed into being when that video had surfaced. Since then, his influence had started spreading across the city. Heavy drug smuggling was up, but to Aya’s confusion and vexation, all other crime was down. It seemed like the more the Red Hood took over the drug trade, the more he controlled all facets of crime in the city, and he was using that control to contain it.
If Aya gave credit for antiheroes, she would have called him one.
Of course, between the obvious training and the goals he seemed to be pursuing, there was someone who could fit the description of the Red Hood perfectly. But he was already dead. Aya had learned years ago not to hope for the impossible.
Her alerts going off barely registered as she flung herself from her seat. The Red Hood had surfaced again, and Aya was going to catch him this time. He was too busy fighting off four enemies to run away.
By the time Aya got to his location, the Red Hood was already on the ground, the four enemies advancing. She swooped in to land gracefully beside him.
“What took you so long?” he asked. Aya carefully pushed all her emotions aside.
“Shut up and fight.”
And he did. He stood behind her, though he didn’t stay there for long. He wove around her attacks, moving into the spaces she left, almost like he’d been trained to fight at her side. But he also had moves she’d never taught any of her children, and they were ruthless.
Not even Sanada had been like this, although he’d certainly been brutal. She’d yelled at him more than once for excessive force.
He yelped in pain, and out of the corner of her eye, Aya watched him cup his arm where one of their foes had slashed him with a sword. It didn’t seem to slow him down at all, though, so she let it slide.
Aya sent one of their attackers flying off with a well-placed explosive, and knocked another to the ground. She turned to see the Red Hood standing over the woman with swords.
“Gotta say, I’ve really missed this,” he said. Before Aya could reply, one of their attackers came back. Naturally, it was the one that could shoot lasers out of his mask, and he aimed right for her head. “Look out!”
The Red Hood shoved her aside, taking the hit in the chest. Aya ran forward, determined to end this, but the attacker was faster now, and he kicked her to the ground hard enough to daze her. Instead of finishing her off, he went for the Red Hood.
“Buy me a drink first,” the Red Hood snarked as the attacker pinned him down.
“The Red Hood just wants a body,” the attacker hissed. “He doesn’t care what condition it’s in.”
“Let him go.” Aya got to her feet, pulling a taser from her belt. The attacker pulled the Red Hood to his feet, using him as a shield.
“Nail me, and you get both of us,” he said. “Or maybe that’s your goal?”
Before anyone could reply, the Red Hood stabbed a taser of his own into the attacker’s eyes, sending him reeling back. It was a lot more powerful than Aya’s. Powerful enough that when the mask exploded, so did the attacker’s head.
“That was overkill,” Aya said after a beat of silence.
“Just be glad I only killed one,” the Red Hood said. “They’re all assassins. This city is better off with this one gone.”
“So what does that make you?”
“I’m cleaning up Gotham!” The Red Hood turned, clearly agitated.
“You’re stealing territory from Black Mask, and you’re becoming a crime lord.”
“All part of the plan.” Now this was the good stuff. Aya hadn’t been sure he actually had a plan. “You can’t stop crime. The best you can do is control it. What do you think I’m doing?”
“Killing, from what I can tell.”
“Some of them can’t be controlled,” the Red Hood said, nudging the body at his feet. “A few lives are worth it to protect everyone else.”
“What happened to you?” Aya asked softly. She couldn’t help the beat of hope in her chest. It didn’t make sense, but it was also the only explanation that did.
“More than you can understand,” he finally replied. “And I’m just getting started.”
He dropped a smoke bomb. Aya probably could’ve tracked him, but...she let him go. She wanted to be sure of something first.
The Red Hood was good, but he’d forgotten something. The swords that had nicked his arm still had his blood on them.
The first thing she did when she made it back to the Batcave was to set the sample to run against one that was already in the system. It was a test that would take hours to run to a complete profile, but she had to be sure. She tried to focus on anything else while it ran, but it was impossible.
Finally, the test finished, flashing the results on her screen. Aya caught her breath. Breaking glass sounded behind her.
Alfred hadn’t dropped a tea tray in all the time she’d known him, but there was a set of broken glasses at his feet as he stared at her screen in equal parts shock and hope. Ryou was by his side, eyes open wide for once in surprise.
“Master Shunpei?” Alfred asked.
“Why do you have his DNA labelled as the Red Hood?” Ryou asked. Aya could already see his mind coming to the same conclusion as she had, but he was refusing to let himself believe.
Rather than answer either of them, Aya reached for her phone. There was only one person who could possibly be responsible for this.
“Hey there,” a sultry voice picked up after only one ring. “Bit of a late call, isn’t it? What are you wearing right now? The costume? Lingerie? Both? ”
“Cut the shit, Talia,” Aya snarled. Sleeping with Talia al Ghul was one of the biggest mistakes she’d ever made. She’d known Talia was dangerous, but she’d been young, stupid, and addicted to danger. “What did you do to my son?”
“Oh, he finally made his way back to you?”
“Alright, alright. If I’m honest with you? I didn’t mean to kill him. Joker was just supposed to be a distraction so I could play with you alone. I didn’t think he’d actually kill your little Robin like that.”
“So this is amends?” Aya asked. She had a migraine. She could feel it coming on.
“It’s me cleaning up my mess,” Talia said. “You know the healing properties of the Lazarus pits? Turns out they work on more than just old age. They brought him back.”
“Whose ashes do I have in the family grave?”
“No clue,” Talia said. “Could be anyone’s. I just know I paid the funeral home off to give me the body before they cremated him. And now he’s back. And even better! I gave him some training.”
“You trained my son?” Aya asked, voice dangerously low.
“League of Shadows training is worth a lot,” Talia protested. “Anyway. Mess cleaned up. Your son is back. Anything you want to say to me?”
“Yes, actually.” Aya dropped her voice into a dangerous growl. “Go anywhere near my family again, and I’ll make you beg for death a thousand times over. Your fixation on me is bad enough, but never touch my children again.”
Aya hung up the phone. She turned back to Ryou and Alfred.
“Shunpei isn’t dead,” she said. “He’s the Red Hood.”
Next time: Sanada's side of the story, and a family reunion
Sanada finally shows himself
I'm getting very close to my ending, and a reunion that's been a long time coming! For now, though, it's time for Batman to get her son back
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Shunpei stood in the shadows at the top of an arch on the main bridge into Gotham. His plan to draw out the Black Mask by going after his share of the drug trade had worked perhaps a little too perfectly. But then, Shunpei had always wanted to make this into a scene.
And if his audience included the entire Gotham police force, he guessed it was just as good an introduction to the city at large as anything else.
Still, the police getting so close could complicate things. Shunpei was willing to cause some collateral damage, but he also didn’t want the police on his tail right off the bat. Plus, he was trying to hunt down the worst of the worst, not people just trying to do their jobs.
If they got too close to where the Black Mask was pouring gasoline into a totalled truck, ready to set his former employees on fire in retaliation for working for Shunpei, there wasn’t much he could do about it.
“Get a light on him!”
Uh oh. Shunpei had been spotted, which meant everyone on the bridge was looking at him, illuminated from above with a high beam. It was showtime.
“Red Hood!” Black Mask yelled, holding up a lighter. He probably thought he looked like a big man, but Shunpei just thought he looked pathetic. “All of your high ranking employees are in this truck! I’ll show this whole city that your protection doesn’t mean shit!”
“Will you?” Shunpei asked. After working so hard to get here, he was relishing in the moment. “Have you realized yet that you’re just playing into my hands?”
“You wanted to watch me burn all your employees to the ground?” Black Mask asked. “I don’t even have to work to prove your protection ain’t shit!”
“I wanted to draw you out,” Shunpei said. “I could’ve killed you anytime since I got back into the city, but what’s the fun in that? Now all of Gotham can watch you die and know who did it.”
And if he played his cards right, that would be enough to give him total control over Gotham’s drug trade. He hoped. Honestly, this wasn’t easy on his own, especially with limited resources. But he still thought this was a good bet.
“You got some kinda grudge against me?” Black Mask demanded. “Doesn’t matter. Your employees are going up in smoke, and then your business is too.”
He dropped the lighter into the gasoline. Shunpei winced. He hadn’t been particularly attached to any of the gang leaders, but they’d been reasonably competent employees, and they’d kicked money up to him while keeping drugs away from children and other good people, so...he’d at least regret having to build up a new workforce.
But then a foamy flame retardant fell from the sky onto the truck. Shunpei looked up and groaned. A Batplane was flying over the bridge. He’d been so close to finishing this before Batman got involved.
Shunpei realized too late that his mother wasn’t just putting out the fire, though. There was a line hanging below the plane, and it hooked effortlessly around the Black Mask, lifting him away from Shunpei’s range.
No. He’d worked too hard to get here to lose this opportunity now.
Shunpei launched himself off the top of the bridge, catching the line and cutting it so both he and the Black Mask fell into the river. They were close enough to shore that it was easy for Shunpei to pull them both out of the water. The bad news was that they were surrounded by police now, and Shunpei couldn’t see the Batplane anymore, which meant his mother was already coming.
In the end, he didn’t see her until she was already hitting him. She was fast, and she was silent, and he was already halfway through a roll before he realized what had happened.
“Stop, I’m almost there,” he pleaded. He was certain she knew who he was by now. She was the Batman, after all.
“Almost there for what?” she demanded. “Committing murder? Let the police handle this. You’ve done enough.”
“I haven’t done anything yet!” he protested. “Just because you’ve got an outdated moral compass-”
He had to cut himself off when she swung at him again. The police had already handcuffed the Black Mask, and they were eyeing him in a way he didn’t like. Much as he hated the thought of all his months of work going to waste, it was time to cut his losses and run.
Of course his mother followed him. He hadn’t really expected her not to. That was fine. They could do this now.
“This ends tonight,” his mother said. “Why Black Mask? Why go after him?”
“He was there,” Shunpei said, because it was the truth. “If I wanted to carve out a place for myself in Gotham, I needed to make a statement. He fit the bill.”
He barely avoided the batarang she threw at him, and okay, that was a little uncalled for. On instinct, he went for the throwing knives in his sleeves, but of course she avoided them easily, but he’d never intended for them to hit. Instead, he was up and moving, trying to get the upper hand by heading for higher ground. A line circled around his ankles and pulled tight before he had a chance to cut it.
“You and your gadgets,” he sighed, almost laughing. He really had missed his mother. “But you’re not the only one with toys.”
He cut the line, putting a taser to it so she took a step back. He tried to get in close enough to make this a fist fight, close enough that he could use his height against her, but he’d forgotten that she kept low grade explosives in that utility belt of hers. They sent him flying.
It really was time to head for higher ground now. In the haze of smoke, he jumped and climbed his way up a fire escape. She was following, but just making it to the roof might give him a bit of a reprieve.
She tackled him to the ground as soon as he made it up, but it gave him room to stab a knife into her cape and get away. He turned to throw a punch that landed but not hard enough to do any damage, rolling off her jaw as she tilted her head to the side. She threw a punch back, tearing away from where she was stuck, and jabbed to incapacitate.
She’d taught him to fight to incapacitate too. But Talia al Ghul had taught him to fight to kill, and he had moves Batman had never seen before.
She tackled him again, hooking her feet behind his knees to send him crashing to the ground. In desperation, he grabbed for her cowl, pulling it off and leaving her face open to the world. It didn’t seem to faze her much, as she settled back into a fighting stance.
“I guess we should keep this even,” Shunpei said, undoing his mask and pulling it off.
“Shunpei.” She didn’t look particularly surprised.
“Hello, Okaasan,” he said, grinning at her.
“I don’t want to fight you,” she said.
“I have a few new bruises that say you do.”
“Let me help you,” she said. “Please. I know what happened.”
“You heard from Talia?” Shunpei asked. “Did she tell you I went off the deep end because of her resurrection pools? Is it easier for you to believe that?”
“I’d like to hear your side of the story, actually,” she said. “I still don’t know everything.”
“You’re inviting me back to the manor?” Shunpei asked. Somehow...he never thought he’d get this far. He’d thrown himself into his plan to build a place for himself, to get his family’s attention, but he never thought they’d actually let him come back. Not as he was.
“Of course I am,” she said. “Come home, Shun-chan.”
Next time: Aya and Sanada talk it out, and Sanada sees everyone again
Sanada's side of the story, and a reunion
I've honestly been so excited to write the Young Justice reunion, even if Young Justice doesn't exist anymore.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Shunpei wasn’t sure what to expect when he went back to the manor. Anything seemed fair game, honestly. He was still reeling from the idea that his mother might want him back at all.
Sitting across from her in the kitchen, pink hair soft around her face and a sweatshirt thrown over the thin shirt she wore under her suit, wasn’t helping his feeling of dissociation. Maybe this really was all some dream.
Shunpei didn’t see Alfred anywhere, but that didn’t mean much. He was probably somewhere, waiting for an opportune time to step in. The three years Shunpei had lived in the manor had convinced him that Alfred had evolved beyond the need for sleep.
“Why are you just staring?” he asked. Maybe it was an interrogation technique.
“Sorry.” She smiled to herself, just a little, looking almost sheepish. “You just...you grew up.”
Shunpei blinked. Apparently his brain finally got the message. He hadn’t been able to drop the image of her as Batman, not until now. Before, she’d been fighting her, and even when he’d seen her face, he couldn’t escape the way she’d always seemed larger than life, despite not even clearing his shoulder.
But she’d never just been Batman. For three years, she’d also been his mother.
“I was gone for...what, almost two years?” he asked. Somewhere in the back of his mind, it registered that his seventeenth birthday had been recent. “That happens.”
“I never thought I’d get the chance to see it,” she said. “So. What’s your side of the story?”
“I’m sure you know most of it,” he said. “Talia al Ghul brought me back after I died. I wanted to come home immediately, she convinced me to stay, I left a few months ago anyway, and here we are.”
“How did she convince you to stay?” his mother asked.
“She told me you’d never let me avenge myself,” Shunpei said. “She offered to teach me how to do it myself. I didn’t even realize the Joker was dead until I left.”
His voice twisted bitter at the end. There had been more than one reason he hadn’t gone straight home as soon as he left Talia.
“You’re angry I let Ryou do it,” she guessed. Somehow, it only made him angry that she was so close.
“I’m angry that you didn’t,” he snapped. “Ryou never liked me, but you told me I was your son. I was your partner, at least. Why wouldn’t you avenge me yourself? Was I ever worth anything to you?”
“Of course you were,” she snapped right back. “Shun-chan, I loved you just as much as I love your brothers. I mourned you, we all did.”
“Then why wouldn’t you do anything about it?” Shunpei demanded. “Why is it okay for Ryou to kill the Joker?”
“Because I can’t!”
“Why? Because of that moral compass of yours?” Shunpei laughed without any humor. “Is it really that hard to kill someone who deserved it as much as him?”
“Of course not!” Shunpei finally stopped, really looking at her. Her cheeks were flushed, her eyes surprisingly pleading. “It would be so easy.”
“You think I didn’t want the Joker’s head on a spike after you died?” she asked. “You think I didn’t want to reduce him to a bloody puddle? Of course I wanted him dead. But there’s no going back for me if I cross the line.”
“I’m not asking to kill everyone,” Shunpei said softly. “I’m not asking for you to kill Penguin, or Scarecrow, or Black Mask. Just Joker. Just the person who hurts so many people, who’ll keep hurting people until he’s dead. Just the one who killed your son.”
“I know,” she said. “But that’s not the point. Ryou could kill the Joker, and then stop. You could’ve killed the Joker, and you could stop after.”
Shunpei’s eyes widened.
“But you couldn’t?”
“If I crossed the line, I would never come back,” she said. “I’d never want to. And Gotham...this world wouldn’t bear it, if I was a killer.”
Shunpei didn’t think he’d ever seen his mother like this. He’d put her on a pedestal, thought of her as some untouchable titan. But in the end, she was human, too.
“You know, I’ve made a lot of mistakes as a mother,” she went on. “You died, Ryou left, and I’m sure I’m messing something else up with Haruichi and the girls. I’ve made more mistakes than I could possibly count. But there’s one thing I can be proud of.” She smiled sadly as she tucked her hair behind her ear. “None of you ended up as broken as me.”
Shunpei was a little too busy processing that for a second to respond, and when he did, it probably wasn’t what she was expecting.
That made her laugh for real.
“Their names are Yui and Sachiko,” she said. “Turns out I have a habit of bringing home strays. I found them a lot like I found you.”
“Trying to steal the wheels of the Batmobile?” Shunpei asked, grinning in spite of himself. The memory was funny now, the way he’d seen Batman coming back to see him stealing her wheels, and he’d been so sure he was going to die. Instead, he’d found himself at a fancy mansion, given as much food as he could eat, and the training he needed to become Robin.
“Nothing so dramatic,” she said. “They’re both daughters of villains, and both of them rejected their parents. Eventually, they found their way here. If I believed in magic, I’d call it fate.”
Shunpei delicately didn’t point out that he’d come back from the dead, which seemed pretty magical.
“You’ll meet them soon enough,” she continued. “We left your room alone.”
“About that,” Shunpei said, lifting his hand to his hair self-consciously. “I’m grateful. I really am. I didn’t think you’d take me back like this at all. But…”
“You want your own space,” she finished for him.
“It’s easier to work the way I do if I’m closer to the ground,” he said. “And I’ve been on my own for so long, I don’t think I could just go back to living with people.”
“You’re more similar to your brother than I think you realize,” she said. “Speaking of, do you really think Ryou hates you?”
“He told me he did,” Shunpei said. “Maybe he backed off a little after I was here for a while, but he never liked me.”
“I think he’d surprise you,” she said. “But even if you don’t move back in, will you still come for dinner sometimes?”
“I...of course.” Shunpei was still reeling from the fact that he got to have his family back.
“And stick around for long enough to tell everyone you’re alive,” she said. “Ryou already knows, and I think Haruichi and the girls suspect something’s up. They’ll all want to see you.”
“I want to tell my old team as well,” he said. He wasn’t actually sure what had become of them, but he knew Young Justice didn’t exist anymore.
His mother made a face. There was no way to do that without revealing his identity, but Shunpei was okay with that. There were some secrets he didn’t want to keep from the people close to him anymore.
“Haruichi is out with the girls tonight, and I’m sure Ryou is with his team,” she said. “I’ll let them all know to call it a night.”
Alfred chose that moment to walk into the kitchen.
“Good evening, Miss Aya,” he said. “Master Shunpei, I was just thinking about baking a batch of those cookies you used to like so much.”
Shunpei might have made a small orgasmic noise. Alfred’s cookies. He was definitely coming back for dinner. Maybe once a week. At least.
“Everyone’s coming back,” his mother cut in. “At least, Haruichi, Ryou, Yui, and Sachiko are all coming. I’m not sure how many former Young Justice members got the memo.”
Shunpei hung around in the kitchen with Alfred, trying to pretend he wasn’t panicking a little at seeing everyone again. He’d been on his own for so long, and now he was about to be surrounded by people. He had no idea what he wanted to say to them, but he couldn’t wait to see them anyway.
Haruichi got back first, bounding up into the kitchen ahead of two girls that must have been Yui and Sachiko. His hood was already down, and his hair was cut back to reveal his eyes. He froze when he saw Shunpei.
“Hey,” Shunpei said. He was almost nervous that it would become awkward, but then Haruichi was throwing himself into Shunpei’s arms with a cry of “ Shun-chan! ”
Shunpei hugged him back. His relationship with Haruichi had always been so simple, and he’d missed his little brother.
When Haruichi jumped down, Shunpei looked up to take in the girls, and saw Ryou had come in behind them. He was just unpinning the black hood he used to cover his pink hair, which wasn’t going to give Shunpei nearly enough time to prepare for this.
As easy as Shunpei’s relationship with Haruichi had been was as complicated as his relationship with Ryou was. He expected a joke, or a dig, or something sideways and squinty that would be just the wrong side of mean, or…
Ryou hooked an arm around his shoulders, pulling him down into an awkward hug.
“I’m glad you’re not dead.” Shunpei stared. Coming from Ryou, that was an expression of the highest affection.
“Thanks for avenging me,” Shunpei said. Ryou waved his hand.
“No trouble,” he said. “Don’t need avenging again.”
Shunpei wasn’t done feeling like his life had entered an alternate dimension when the old members of Young Justice walked in. All of them.
This would be interesting, considering he’d been instructed to keep his identity a secret from them. They’d never really known what he looked like.
A girl removing her tiger mask caught his attention first, and her eyes widened in shock. Shunpei gave her a half smile. All of Young Justice hadn’t known his identity, but Katsuko had met him before he ever became Robin.
She made a tiny sobbing sound, throwing herself forward into a hug. Shunpei cradled her close. The last time they’d seen each other, she’d still been taller than him.
“Hey guys,” he said, addressing the rest of his old team. “Sorry for dying on you.”
He saw the light of recognition in Wakana’s eyes first, saw it in the way that she breathed “ Robin ”, and then everyone was launching themselves at him, sending them all into a heap on the floor.
And Shunpei started laughing, because there was none of the awkward transition he’d feared. This was his old team, these were his friends, and in some ways, it was like he’d never left.
It might get harder soon, as he explained what had happened and heard their stories, but for now, he could take comfort in having people he belonged with again.
Next time: everyone else finds out Sanada's not dead
A multi-team reunion
This fic is more or less done! I just want to do a small epilogue to segue into the sequel. This was a lot of fun to write!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Kazuya settled more firmly into his seat in the corner, watching the chaos unfolding around him. In all the time the Titans had lived in the Tower, there had never been so many people in it, even though they had the space. It had always been the six of them, never changing much once Sawamura joined. Even when they’d worked with the second generation of Young Justice, they’d never gathered like this.
And now, for the first time ever, the room looked full to bursting. The Titans, the newly formed third generation of Young Justice, and the few from the second generation that either hadn’t wanted to join again or had already aged out spread out around the room, mixing and laughing.
Kazuya didn’t think Ryou had intended for this to be a party when he’d invited everyone over to make the announcement that Sanada wasn’t actually dead, but that’s what it had turned into. Everyone lounged around, playing games, eating food, and just generally laughing their way through the night.
It almost felt like a family reunion.
“Not much for being the center of attention?” Kazuya jumped. Even for how long he’d known Ryou, he’d probably never get used to the habit every Kominato had for disappearing in and out of the shadows. Sanada just gave him a grin.
“This is fine,” Kazuya told him. “Everyone’s having fun. I like watching.”
“I relate,” Sanada said. “I missed everyone, but they’re kind of a lot when they’re all together like this.”
Kazuya looked over everyone. Sawamura was yelling at Furuya, his self-declared rival, about some rule that Furuya wasn’t following, while Kuramochi and Haruichi tried to resolve it. Haruno had pulled herself into Takako’s lap to more easily talk to Katsuko and Nori. Wakana and Jun had somehow gotten into a pie eating competition.
It was loud, and bright, and beautiful. Maybe Kazuya was just feeling unusually sappy, but he couldn’t entirely keep the smile off his face. This was the family he’d chosen for himself.
“I’d be more concerned if they didn’t act like this,” Kazuya said. “At least they’re all happy.”
“I guess they are,” Sanada replied. “I’m glad Young Justice isn’t gone forever. Hopefully this time they can make it last.”
“Hopefully,” Kazuya agreed.
It was too early to tell, but he had a good feeling about this one. Haruichi wasn’t the absolute leader that Ryou and even Sanada had been, and that was probably a good thing. He shared power in a way neither of his older brothers had, and because of it, a lot of the weaknesses of the last two generations were gone. Plus, they’d rebuilt with a good mix of old and new heroes. Haruno, Jaime, Bart, Seto, and Okumura had all come back, and now they had Furuya too. Maybe this time, they’d finally built a team meant to last, a team that could be the gateway to the Justice League like it had been intended.
Kazuya considered Sanada. He’d never been that close to the second Kominato brother, but they’d been friendly. Now, though, Kazuya thought they might have a lot more in common than he’d thought before.
“I guess you’re not going back to Young Justice?” he asked. Sanada shook his head.
“I won’t steal Haruichi’s thunder,” he said. “Besides, the kind of work I do works best alone.”
“Sounds lonely,” Kazuya said.
“Yeah. It is.” Sanada looked over their friends with what almost looked like sadness. “Guess I’ll have to get used to working without my partner. She looks happier here.”
Kazuya tracked his eyes to where Katsuko leaned against Nori’s side.
“You’re not going to try and get her back, are you?” Kazuya asked carefully. He knew Sanada and Katsuko had once been best friends, and maybe something more. But he was morally obligated to be on Nori’s side.
“Of course not,” Sanada scoffed. “What kind of asshole would I be if I got in the way of her happiness? I’ll figure out how to work on my own again.”
Kazuya considered him again.
“You know, our dad gives us a pretty long leash,” he said. “If you ask, I bet she has time to help you out.”
Sanada gave him a sideways look.
“You think so?”
“Yeah.” Kazuya let that sit for just a minute. “You could ask Tetsu-san, too. If you want a heavy hitter.”
It was just a hunch, but from what Kazuya knew, he thought Sanada’s style might suit Tetsu better than Ryou’s. Everyone might be happier if Tetsu could work with Sanada for some of the time.
“What about your Sawamura?” Sanada asked. “Wonder Boy could let loose a lot more on drug dealers than he could on covert missions.”
“Don’t even think about it,” Kazuya said hotly before he could think twice about it. Part of him was afraid Sawamura would actually like the offer.
“Fine, I’ll leave your boyfriend out of it,” he said.
“He’s not my boyfriend.”
“Keep telling yourself that.” Sanada sighed. “There might be something big coming. I really could use a team again.”
“Something big?” That had Kazuya’s attention.
“It’s just a hunch,” Sanada said. “I’ve heard whispers. The underworld knows things before anyone up here does. It might be nothing, but I want to be ready, anyway.”
Kazuya felt a weird shiver go up his spine. Some dark premonition, a bad feeling he couldn’t drop. He didn’t have any proof, but he did have instincts that had kept him alive, and he’d gotten good at seeing threats coming before anyone else on his team.
“Miyuki Kazuya!” Sawamura was on his feet, stalking towards them. “Come help me kick Furuya’s ass!”
“Maybe I’ll help Furuya kick your ass,” Kazuya teased, shaking off his dark mood and throwing his arm across Sawamura’s shoulders. He ignored the way his heart turned over at the contact. Sawamura was eighteen now, but he was still off limits. Or so Kazuya kept trying to tell himself.
“No you won’t!” Sawamura protested. He was the same height as Kazuya now, and it let him get up in Kazuya’s face with ease. “I’m your favorite.”
“He already said he would help me,” Furuya said. “Maybe I’m his favorite.”
“You’re both wrong,” Kazuya said. “Nori’s my favorite.”
“Leave me out of this,” Nori called from across the room. Kazuya couldn’t help the way he dissolved into cackles. Maybe there was something coming, but for now, his team was safe, and alive, and if there was relief in the way he laughed, no one had to know but him.
Next time: Ryou, Aya, and the next big threat
A new threat appears
This fic is done! It was a ton of fun to write, and I'm really excited to keep playing around in this world. If you're familiar with Young Justice (the TV show), you'll probably be a lot more familiar with this fic's sequel.
Ryou couldn’t say he was surprised when his mother called him back to the Batcave. He had seen her considering something carefully since Sanada had come back. He didn’t know what, exactly, but it was something big.
She didn’t bother with formalities when he got there. Maybe she knew he already knew something was up. Instead, she just started opening windows on her computer.
“Recognize anyone?” she asked, after she’d finished putting pictures across the screen.
“That’s Lex Luthor,” Ryou said, pointing. “That’s Queen Bee of Bialya. I know that one is Vandal Savage, and that’s Deathstroke.”
“Good,” she said. “The rest are Klarion, Ultra-Humanite, and Gretchen Goode.”
“Why are you showing them to me?” Ryou asked.
“Shunpei said a few things that bothered me when he came back,” she said. “I looked into them, and I came up with these seven.”
“They’re working together?” Ryou asked. That could be problematic. The chief virtue of most supervillains, in his mind, was most didn’t want to work together. It was hard to rule the world when you had to share with someone else, after all.
“I think so,” his mother replied. “If I’m right, they’re consolidating power, and they have been since before you even formed the first generation of Young Justice.”
Ryou stared. This wasn’t just problematic. It was dangerous. How had all these people managed to group together without anyone realizing it? How were they only now finding out, and only because Sanada had been shoved into the underworld they lived in.
“What do they want?” he asked.
“I’m not sure yet,” she answered. “I’m still looking. But we have to assume it’s something bad. I want you to keep an ear to the ground. I’ve already warned Shunpei, but I know you sometimes work in the underworld too.”
“What am I looking for?”
“Anything, until we know more.” His mother closed all the windows, shutting her screen down to black. “I do think I know what they’re calling themselves, though. While you’re out there, keep your ears open for mentions of the Light.”