Rating: Adult. If you're under eighteen, please go elsewhere now.
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to me.
One Month Earlier
Bruce couldn't breathe. One of the gang had gotten a thin cord around his neck, and despite the cowl's protection, it was biting into his throat, cutting off his oxygen. He struggled as hard as he could, but he couldn't get away. Dark spots began to dance in front of his vision, and the world turned gray.
He was going to die out here on the streets of Gotham, dying in service to the city he loved. There were worse ways to die, he knew.
But he didn't want to die at all, not when he'd barely begun the work he'd taken on.
There was a sudden whoosh and several thumps, and suddenly Bruce found he could breathe again. He fell back against the grimy brick wall, gasping for oxygen, and struggled to focus, to figure out what had happened.
The gang members were all sprawled on the pavement, alive but unconscious. All of them. Ten men, taken out in a single instant. His eyes widened, and he looked around.
A big guy was standing in a pool of watery yellow light from a streetlamp.
Bruce thought the guy looked quite a lot like he himself did, big and broad-shouldered and dark-haired. But on second glance, he realized the guy was quite a bit younger. Only a kid, really, maybe twenty or thereabouts. He had the overcocky, arrogant posture of a punk kid, but there was something in his eyes that was disturbing, something that looked like pure ice.
"Hello," Bruce said cautiously-- because a guy who could take out ten men at once was someone to be cautious of. "Thank you."
The younger man swaggered over to him, looking him up and down. "What the hell are you supposed to be?"
Bruce spoke in the low, gravelly voice he affected while in costume. "My name is Batman."
"A bat. Cool." An eloquent eye roll expressed plainly that he didn't find it cool at all. "Did they move Halloween to September, or what?"
"Don't you read the papers? I'm trying to clean up the streets."
"Looked more like the streets were cleaning up you," the kid observed wryly.
Bruce felt like he could stand up, so he straightened up, and found himself looking straight into the other's eyes. They were very close to the same height. "No one's perfect."
"Dude, you aren't anywhere close to perfect. What were you thinking, taking on ten guys at once? Maybe you should call yourself Stupidman."
Bruce refrained from snapping back a retort. He had been stupid, and he knew it. There wasn't a lot of point in debating something he knew to be true.
The young man stepped even closer, getting right into Bruce's face. He wore a black jacket over a red shirt and jeans, and he had eyes as green and hard as jade, set into a face that could have been carved out of marble by Michelangelo. Bruce wasn't into guys, but he still couldn't help noting that this was an extraordinarily good-looking young man.
"Just an off night," he said coolly.
The kid rolled his eyes again. "Want me to kill them for you?"
"No," Bruce answered, a little more harshly than he would have liked. He didn't like to lose his cool, and he had a feeling losing his cool with this young man could be dangerous. Maybe even fatal. "We'll let the police take care of it."
"The police?" The young man let out a raucous laugh. "Dude, this is Gotham. The police don't even dare go into the donut shops here."
"I don't care." Bruce straightened to his full height-- possibly a quarter inch taller than the other man-- and glared at him. "I don't kill people."
The kid sighed. "You're never gonna get Gotham cleaned up with that attitude, man."
"Maybe not. But I'll clean it up my own way." He hesitated, then uttered words that didn't come easily to him. "Thank you for saving my life."
The kid lifted a hand, pushing heavy bangs out of his eyes, and Bruce saw a class ring glint on the hand, its stone as red as the kid's shirt. He squinted, trying to get some clue to the young man's origin, but the hand lowered before he could read the school name inscribed around the stone. "Don't mention it," he said coolly. "I'm sure we'll meet again. But probably next time, we'll be on opposite sides."
Bruce felt his heart sink. For some reason he liked this young man, and hated to think of him turning to a life of crime. And he was so young. Old enough to be on his own, but just barely.
The young man, he thought, needed a mentor. Someone who could help him turn his abilities, whatever they might be, toward good.
"Hey," he heard himself saying. "You need a job?"
The kid turned back toward him. There was an odd, wry smile on his mouth. "Not really," he answered. "I can get all the money I could possibly want, any time I want."
Bruce felt his lips press together. Somehow he didn't like the idea of this young man robbing banks, or selling drugs, or whatever he did to get by. It was strange, but he had the odd conviction that the kid was better than that, or should be.
"Look," he said. "I'm offering you a legitimate job helping me patrol the streets. I get the impression you have some special abilities that could be useful. Am I right?"
"Maybe a couple," the young man said warily.
"I could use someone who can knock out ten guys at once," Bruce said. "I'm good, but I'm still learning the ropes. I still need backup. I have a feeling you'd make great backup."
The kid hesitated. "That is a pretty sweet car you drive, dude. I've seen it zooming around the streets."
"Driving my car is not part of the deal, sorry."
"You're harshing my squee, man. So what do I get for helping you, then?"
"A boatload of money," Bruce said evenly, "and the satisfaction of knowing you're making the world a better place."
"Ooooh," the boy mocked. "I just know there's nothing better than making the world a better place." He cocked his head, pretending to consider the matter carefully. "Nah, just kidding. I like money better."
"Fine," Bruce said, exasperated. "A boatload of money it is. You're hired."
"Hang on, I'm not through yet. Can I have a cool code name, too? If you're the Batman, I want to be some kind of bird."
Bruce looked at the red shirt and blurted out the first name that came to mind.
"What about Robin?"
The young man broke into his raucous laughter. "Oh, sure, that fits me so well. Tweet, tweet!" He flapped his arms in an imitation of flight, then threw back his head and roared with amusement.
"No," he said a moment later, still chuckling. "I was thinking of a bird of prey. A cool bird. You know, Eagle. Hawk. Peregrine. Something like that."
"Maybe we can come up with something adequately cool later," Bruce said, simultaneously amused and exasperated by the young man's apparent inability to focus on things of relevance. "But right now, come on. Let's get going before they wake up."
He turned, his dark cape rippling behind him, and stalked toward his car, keeping to the shadows-- of which there were plenty in Gotham. He was aware of the kid's booted feet striking the pavement behind him.
"I know what you're doing," the young man said. "You're trying to keep me out of trouble. It's an admirable impulse, but honestly? Nothing in this world can keep me out of trouble."
"Can't blame a Bat for trying." The Batmobile's doors opened silently at his approach, and Bruce gestured to the passenger seat. "Get in."
The kid slid in-- without any smartass commentary this time, thank the Lord-- and Bruce sat down in the driver's seat. "Okay," he said. "Let's get out of here."
The young man looked at him for a long moment, something slightly warmer gleaming in his green eyes.
"Thanks, Bruce," he said.
Bruce jerked his head around and looked at him, startled. The kid grinned, clearly amused by his reaction.
"Did I forget to mention that I have x-ray vision?" he said.
More to come...