"I hear you like to fight cops."
The big guy says it lightly, with a big friendly smile that makes him look like a Golden Retriever. Eager and stupid. He stands just outside the door of her tiny room at the Wayne Care Centre, hands folded in front of him, and beams those puppy eyes at her.
Richenda 'Dixie' Grayson looks him straight in the eye (Well, not really straight. The guy is tall) and says "Fuck the police."
"You're twelve," he shoots back in that cheerful dimwit voice, and Dixie rolls her eyes waiting for the language, young lady lecture. "You're not allowed to fuck anyone for at least another four years."
"Huh?" Did he just say that? What the hell, old guy?! She crosses her arm and glares at him. "Who are you?"
"I might be your guardian, if you're interested. May I come in?"
Guardian? No one asked her about that. Aren't they supposed to talk to her first? But he seems chill, and maybe his house will be easier to break out of than the Wayne Care Centre.
"Sure." The room isn't big, and he's in and across it in two steps. With him standing right next to Dixie she can see that he's more than just big. He's obviously built, even under that sweater and blazer combo.
"I do extreme sports. I get banged up sometimes." And this close his voice is a lot deeper than it sounds. Does that make sense? Somehow he has a deep rumble like an announcer, but he manages to come across as soft. "Can I have a look at that black eye?"
The blazer looks expensive. The hands gently brushing her face are heavily calloused, and remind Dixie of her parents. The callouses aren't exactly the same though. His knuckles look like he's been punching rocks.
"Closed fist." Dixie flinches. All softness is gone from his voice. He doesn't even sound like the same man. "Gotham cops."
The big man takes his hand away from her face. "I have an ointment for bruises. I brought some with me if you want it."
This new voice is hard but not mean. It seems more like him somehow than the dimwit voice did. Dixie watches as he leans on the wall across from her. "Thanks."
"Tony Zucco isn't in Gotham."
Dixie flinches and looks away, through the room's narrow window. Not much to look at, given that the window is translucent, but she looks anyway.
"He's not in Gotham anymore. He turned a routine shakedown into a high-profile murder investigation. His bosses in the Falcone syndicate aren't happy. If the cops don't get him, they will."
"I'll find him," Dixie mutters. She looks at him and says it loud. "I'll find him."
"I know you'll try."
Who is this old guy anyway? "The social worker said they have to talk to me before they can place me anywhere. How'd you even get in here? Who are you?"
"You can call me Bruce. This centre is named after my parents."
"Oh." She's seen a documentary and a really bad made-for-streaming movie about the Wayne murder. Dixie sits on her bed and runs her hands across the blanket, smoothing out a wrinkle.
HIs place is probably easier to break out of than the Wayne Care Centre. And he didn't try to make her talk about feelings, when she doesn't even know if she really feels anything yet.
"Gimme ten," she mutters. "I'll get packed."
This is bad. It's going to get worse.
Four men have her cornered behind a parking garage. There were six, but she actually managed to get the drop on two of them. Four is going to be less bad than six, right?
She thought she was better at sneaky than she actually is, and her attempt to play spy in the back room of a bar has ended in this alley. There are no convenient window ledges or closed dumpsters for her to jump up on. It's just bare concrete and old cinder block walls.
Breaking out of Wayne Manor took more work than the care centre. She shouldn't have done it.
She's twelve. She wonders if telling them that will help her.
The man closest to her pulls a knife. "Okay kid. Lets - "
Something big and dark falls on him. He makes a noise between a grunt and a yelp and collapses under the black wings. The dark thing stays low, kicking at the gang, sweeping their legs out from under them. Men hit the concrete hard, none of them with any idea how to break their falls. Dixie hears at least a couple of bones break.
The fight is over in seconds.
The Batman stands like a shadow pulling itself off the ground. It points to the end of the alley. Dixie flattens herself against a brick wall and edges her way towards the open street, avoiding the men on the ground. The Batman follows.
What looks like a four-door sedan with tinted windows is parked across the entrance to the alley. The doors unlock as Dixie and the Batman approach.
The Batman adjusts a control in his gauntlet. When he speaks again his voice isn't scary or distorted. It's just kind of -
Tired. Like her mom or dad catching her doing something she should have known better than to do but they really should have seen coming.
Voice tired, Bruce Wayne tells her "Get in the car, Dixie. We're going home."
"It looks like a chop shop."
She realizes that makes him sound like a criminal and looks over at him. If Bruce is offfended he doesn't show it.
"It is," he replies. That hard voice, dark and serious, is definitely the real him. "But the cars are mine."
Bruce Wayne likes fancy cars. Everyone knows that. Looking down into the cave, Dixie Grayson sees what he uses those cars for.
Four cars sit on a big metal platform. Three are stripped down to the frames, the fourth has its hood open. A walkway runs from the car platform to another that sits above an underground river. The parts on that platform look like dismantled jet skis. And maybe some sort of glider?
Above the platforms is a big... Dixie's not sure what to call it. It's a building inside the cave, like an L-shaped house with big windows. This side of the L is a big computer room and workshop. The other is a miniature hospital. From inside the workshop Dixie leans against the window, looking into the cave below.
"How did you build all this?"
"I didn't. My great-grandfather built the wine cellars. My father commissioned this level above them as a reading room and spa for my mother."
"And all that grating and stuff down there?" There are tool racks, and armour racks, and car parts, and crates of supplies, and...
"Industrial scaffolding. Alfred and I assembled it."
Bruce Wayne loves fast cars and high tech toys. Bruce Wayne loves MMA and dangerous sports. Bruce Wayne shows up badly hungover for public speeches. Bruce Wayne is Gotham's crazy drunk uncle.
Bruce Wayne is the goddamn Batman.
Dixie presses her hand against the glass. "This is the best thing in the world."
"This is the weirdest homework in the world."
"This is about learning to see past the stories people tell you, to what's behind them," Alfred reminds her. "And while it's not an ordinary course of study, you can't be said to be preparing for an ordinary career."
Dixie shakes her head. "No, see, I've got it all planned out. I'll do my internship with Bruce, get a degree in crime-punching, and then marry some rich guy and volunteer on charity boards. Completely ordinary career path."
Bruce is only a few feet away, working at another computer console. Dixie actually thinks she hears him stifle a laugh.
Alfred snorts. "Yes. You'll fit in so well with all those wealthy women at conferences. Keep at your studies. Lunch will be ready in forty-five minutes."
Her homework now is to study the difference between actual events and what people make of those events. As her case study Bruce and Alfred have assigned Lex Luthor's extremely well documented high school career. Dixie has read copies of various police reports, news reports, and eyewitness statements. Her copy of Chloe Sullivan's "You're All Just Jealous Of My Death Ray" is heavily annotated. And now she's watching that awful series made a couple of years ago.
Lex Luthor's high school best friend Cantrell Kent is barely visible in the police reports. She shows up as 'CJ' in Sullivan's book, a STEM-inclined tomboy devoted to a girlfriend who clearly belongs in the high-security (Hah!) wing of Arkham. In the series she's played by a twenty-something swimsuit model who spends a lot of time pointing her breasts at Lex and taking deep breaths.
Over at another console Bruce is watching a news report. Coverage of Kala Jor-El, the so-called 'Superwoman' or 'Supernova', and her recent testimony to congress. Every once in a while Bruce makes a rude comment.
On Dixie's screen 'CJ' is failing to help Lex, played by an ex pop star with hair dyed an unconvincing shade of cheeto, at his latest robotics project. She whines loudly about how heavy the battery pack is.
"Bullshit," Bruce mutters.
Dixie rolls her eyes and sighs. Come on, Bruce. Let her do her homework in peace.
The video AMA for her fans was a great idea. After all her mixed feelings about it, Dixie is surprised to see how many people really cared about her parents. Happily surprised. She almost cried at a few points.
Alfred screened the questions. That's probably why there are no unhappy surprises in them.
Alfred also talked Bruce into taking a few questions. Dixie wants to know what Alfred has on Bruce. The last time she saw Bruce this grumpy Cobblepot was trying to stab him in the dick with an umbrella. Not even a fancy dagger-hidden-in-an-umbrella thing. Just a plain black umbrella.
"So next question," Dixie tells him. "You've met the Supernova. What's she really like?"
"She prefers Superwoman. Or Kala Jor-El."
"Did Kryptonians really run around calling each other by their full names all the time?"
"From what she says, yes."
"Huh. Anyways, what is she really like?"
"What?! Seriously? Bruce, you met her at a charity event! How is that terrifying?"
"A charity event that was attacked by terrorists."
"And she captured them! What was scary about that?"
"The part where she drank the nerve toxin they were threatening us with, and then told them that next time they should bring tabun because she prefers the fruity bouquet."
"Yeah no, that's cool. You're just being weird. Okay, follow up question - " Dixie turns a bit pink. She's actually surprised Alfred let this one through. "Um. Everyone knows your reputation with women. Did you have sex with Superwoman?"
"... That's it? Just no?"
"Okay, but she's sort of your type. One of your types." She looks into the camera. "Bruce has a lot of types. He's a complete slut."
"Dixie. Don't be judgemental."
"But why didn't you? I mean, if she was into it?"
"You're twelve. Why are you asking me these questions?"
"I'm twelve. So did you even try?"
"You can't just leave it at that! The internet has a right to know! Why not?"
"Are you seriously asking me why I didn't try to have intimate contact with a woman who had just consumed enough nerve toxin to kill a blue whale?"
"I won't let you steal the batmobile," Robin tells Ivy. "I just washed it."
Poison Ivy glares at her. "The 'batmobile'? Are you serious?"
"Red!" Harley Quinn puts her hands on her hips and pouts at Ivy. "Don't be mean to tweety bird! Batmobile is a great name!"
"Fffffffine. Fine. We'll steal a cop car."
Robin slaps a gloved hand over her mouth. Now would be a really good time to develop invisibility powers, or maybe just die. Did she just actually say that?
Catwoman smirks at her. Standing on the ledge of the roof, Batman is doing his best 'I am surprised by nothing' blank face that really means he's kind of shocked.
"Batman," Catwoman manages to make it sound like a purr. Robin has always kind of wondered how she does that. "Give me and the pretty bird a minute."
"I'll be by the car." Batman steps off the ledge and vanishes in a flutter of synthetic wings.
Oh God. Is it possible to spontaneously combust from embarrassment?
Catwoman doesn't walk across the roof to Dixie. Catwoman never walks anywhere. Catwoman struts. It's really amazing how she makes even a dirty rooftop into her catwalk. She stops far too close to Robin.
"I'm sorry." Even through safety lenses Robin can't meet Catwoman's eyes. She settles for staring at the older woman's chin.
"Selina," Catwoman says, and it turns out she can talk without the purr.
"Oh. Hi. Um. Batman never told me your name. Does he know it?"
"Oh yes. Bruce and I have a history." There's the purr again.
"I knew, but thank you. So, do you call him dad?
Spontaneous combustion spontaneous combustion come on spontaneous combustion please put this girl out of her misery. "I'm sorry."
"I'm not mad. I'm just curious."
Dixie crosses her arms and shuffles back a bit from Cat - From Selina. "I haven't. I might. I don't know."
Selina crosses her own arms, mirroring Dixie. Somehow she makes the pose look graceful. Every time Robin and Catwoman have crossed paths Dixie has come away feeling clumsy and unfeminine. Dixie can actually do the parkour and building swinging stuff better than her, but Catwoman makes it look good. Catwoman makes woven synthetic body armour look good.
"I'm only twenty," Selina says. "I'm not actually old enough to be your mother."
Spontaneous combustion will not save her. "I'm sorry I called you that," Dixie says out loud. You're old enough to marry Bruce, she thinks.
Behind the lenses Dixie sees Selina's eyebrows shoot straight up.
"That - I didn't that say. Say that."
"Yes pretty bird," Catwoman can barely hold back the laugh. "You said that out loud."
Dixie's face is so hot it's probably burning brighter than Gordon's batsignal. "I'm sorry!"
Catwoman touches Dixie's face, briefly. "Bruce and I aren't really the marrying types. But he has my number, and you can call me if you want. As for calling me that... Let me think about it, okay?"
"I'm, I'm - "
"Don't apologize. It was kind of sweet." She sighs. "Thirteen and he's got you running around the city in body armour. That man is a maniac."
"I know it's weird but I wanted to do this. I actually like doing this."
Catwoman hmms. "I've always wondered, does he?"
Licking her lips, Dixie thinks about it. "I don't think so. Do you like it?"
Catwoman struts over to the ledge. "You know what?" She says, just before leaping off. "Go ahead. Call me mom."