"This is the last one," Tim Drake said as he put the last box into the back of his father's SUV. "Felt like I had a hundred boxes to bring home."
"I lost count around thirty-seven," his father Jack Drake replied. "Come on and get in here. Dana will have dinner waiting for us." Tim laughed and climbed into the passenger seat. They had about forty-five minutes until they arrived back in Gotham from Brentwood Academy where Tim attended private high school.
"Dana and I have been thinking and we don't think having you at Brentwood is such a good idea anymore. You're grades aren't bad...but you haven't been excelling either."
Tim swallowed at the mention of grades, knowing full well that his activities as Robin kept him in bed more than in class. He had passed many classes by the skin of his teeth.
"Well, Dad, you know how it is...a new school, new surroundings, it took me awhile to adjust." He shifted in his seat. "Next year will be a totally different story."
"I agree," Jack replied as he turned onto the Gotham City exit. "You're not going back to Brentwood this fall. I've already enrolled you at Gotham Heights."
"Really?" Tim smiled. "Thank goodness!"
"This doesn't mean that you're off the hook Timothy. I expect results. You're mother would've never stood to see you fall to a 3.1 grade point average," Jack stated. "But Dana and I have plenty of faith in you."
"I know Dad, I know," Tim's voice trailed off at the mention of his mother. Jack reached up and messed up his son's hair.
"Go back to sleep, Tim. Go back to sleep..."
"Again!" King Snake barked. No sooner did the words leave his lips, a figure leaped into his midst and attacked. King Snake blocked the first chop at his neck, but barely deflected the kick aimed for his midsection. Just as another blow came flying at his nose, Sir Edmund managed to duck and execute a sweep that sent his attacker to the cold concrete.
"Get up, you piece of shit!" he screamed. "You wanted training, so train!" The words had barely escaped his lips as tug at his leg sent him to the floor as well. He tried to counter but before he knew it he had a foot at his throat. And this, surprisingly, brought a smile to his lips. "Good. You're learning to focus your anger. That's enough for today."
The foot was removed and both men gathered themselves. A small bow was exchanged and the figure exited the room. Edmund wiped the sweat from his brow and leaned against the rail of the large dance studio. He had purchased it from a dance instructor several months earlier when he could no longer afford the rent. He's good, he thought. Almost too good. I need to start watching him more carefully...I've never even seen his face.
"Ladies?" he called out. On cue, two beautiful ladies walked into the room and stood in front of him. "Will you two please be dears and lead me back to my office?"
"Of course, Sir Edmund," they smiled in unison. They each took an arm and led the blind martial arts master away.
In a cramped corner of the building, another individual was going through a workout of his own.
"Stupid numbers!" Thomas Jacobs yelled as he knocked everything off his desk in an aggravated gesture. "I need an account, Thomas! I need a glass of water, Thomas! I need my feet rubbed, Thomas!" he growled as he mocked his employer. "Stupid blind bastard! One day I'll show you! I'll show all of you! Thomas Jacobs isn't anyone's keeper!" He was interrupted by his telephone. "Yes?" he asked as he picked up.
"Thomas could you bring me some extra towels so the ladies and I can enjoy the hot tub? It seems we're out on my end," King Snake's voice bellowed into his ear.
"Right away, Mr. Dorrance," Jacobs answered. He hung up and shuffled out of his office grumbling.
In Gotham Heights, Tim was pulling the last piece of clothing out of his last suitcase and hanging it in the closet. The familiar red and green costume shone brightly under his bedroom lighting as he carried it to his secret compartment he had built into the back of his closet.
"Hello there, old friend," he grinned. He pressed his thumb to the electronic pad Bruce had outfitted for him, and seconds later the false back wall opened, revealing his mini arsenal designed to be used in his never ending fight against crime and evil. He careful hung it on a hanger and placed his thumb back on the pad, causing it to close and lock back into place. A knock at his door brought him out of his reverie. "Come in," he answered.
Jack stepped halfway through the door. "You have a phone call," he said as he held the portable phone towards him. "Remind me to get you added to our cell phone plan; I can't have you gossiping your life away."
Tim laughed as he took the phone. "Thanks, Dad." His father leaned back out and closed the door behind him. "Hello?" Tim said into the receiver.
"Hey!" a young woman's voice said on the other end. "I heard you were coming back into town!"
"Ariana!" Tim smiled. Ariana Dzerchenko and Tim had dated for a little more than a year right before the Gotham earthquake had turned the city into a no man's land. Unfortunately, when Ari's uncle caught them in an unexplainable awkward position, they had broken up. "Yeah, I'm back in town, actually for good. No more Brentwood."
"That's great Tim. So how have you been?"
"Good, good," Tim said as he sat on his bed. "Just doing the school thing, but it's good to be back in the city. How is everyone?"
"Um," Ari hesitated. "There's not really much of 'everyone' left. Ives moved to New York with his family, and a lot of people never came back after they reopened Gotham."
"I guess that makes sense," Tim said. "I wish I could've said goodbye to him. I'll have to Google him."
"Good luck," Ari giggled. "But I was wondering what you were doing tonight. I thought we could go grab something to eat and catch up."
Tim gulped. As much he would love to spend time with Ariana again, he knew he still had to see Stephanie Brown sometime. "I can't tonight Ari, but I'd love to get a rain check."
"Okay," she replied, her disappointment evident. "Well, you have my number now, so give me a call sometime before school starts."
"I'll be in touch soon, I promise. Bye, Ari." He hung up the phone and fell back onto his bed. I can't wait to see Ariana again. It's been so long. But Stephanie and I still have to discuss things since she found out my secret identity from Bruce. He closed his eyes and contemplated a few more hours of sleep, but something was still nagging at him. He stood up and headed out his room. "Dad?" he called.
"He just stepped out, Tim," Dana Drake, his stepmother replied. "What do you need?"
"I just wanted to let someone know I was heading to see Bruce and Alfred for awhile," he said as he walked downstairs into the kitchen.
"Do you have to tonight?" Dana asked as she wiped her hands on a towel. Even though she was ten years younger than Jack, Dana was still a stunning sight to see, even in sweatpants and a t-shirt. "I was gonna make you a welcome home dinner."
"I'll be back for dinner," Tim insisted as he kissed her on the cheek.
"Okay, but do not spoil your dinner on any of the food Bruce never seems to eat."
Tim laughed as he grabbed his house key and went out the front door. "I won't!" He began to walk down the street and realized he could get there quicker as Robin, but thought it better to talk to Bruce before the Boy Wonder made his grand reappearance in Gotham. I guess it's the bus for me. He got to the bus stop and sat down, immediately noticing a squishy noise under him. He stood up and saw a string of freshly discarded gum running from the seat to his jeans. "Dammit. I bet you Superman has never sat in gum. Never." Then he noticed the elderly woman looking at him strangely. "Sorry," he smiled as he sat back down. "But he's still a boy scout," he grumbled.
On another bus, Stephanie Brown was nervously fiddling with the piece of paper she had scrawled on earlier. The address was for Jack and Dana Drake in Gotham Heights, the fourth Drake she had visited today. Since Batman had told her boyfriend Robin was really Tim Drake, she had been constantly thinking of how to approach him as Tim. She figured the direct approach was her best option.
There are five Drakes in Gotham Heights, and this is the last one. This has to be him. As the bus came to a stop, she stood up and adjusted her baseball hat and made her way up front. She stepped off and looked around, finding herself surrounded by beautifully designed houses, a stark change to her apartment she shared with her mother in the heart of Gotham.
"Excuse me," a young man quickly said as he brushed against Steph's shoulder. She turned expecting to see him looking at her but instead saw his back as he boarded the waiting bus.
"That's okay," Steph replied softly. What a distinguished gentlemen he was. She looked at the address again and decided to start searching to the left of the bus stop. I sure do hope Mr. or Mrs. Drake are home. I'd look foolish leaving a note.
"Edmund," the girl whined. "Can't we rub your back again, please?"
"No, my dears," King Snake retorted. "I have a very important client coming to see me. I need you two to leave."
"Edmund," the other girl whispered in his ear. "Please don't make us leave..."
The three were interrupted by someone else in the room clearing their throat. As the two women went shrieking out of the room, King Snake pulled himself to a sitting position.
"I see you've let yourself in, Lotus," he began. "If you'll give me a moment I can properly attire myself for this meeting."
"That is not necessary, Mr. Dorrance," the female responded. "But enough chatter. What did you request this meeting for?"
"From what I've heard, you and your Shaolin Clan ninjas are among the top assassins in the world. I'd like to hire your squad for a minor annoyance that keeps rearing its ugly little head." Lotus walked closer to Edmund, her shoulder-length hair and emerald eyes becoming visible as the room's little bit of sunlight touched her.
"Who is it? The Batman?" she asked. "You realize that would be a very steep price for such a high ranking member of the superhero society."
"No," King Snake waved his hand. "Robin."
Lotus covered her mouth to stifle her laugh. "A boy? You want to send professional killers after a mere child?"
"You don't know this child," he replied as his pupil-less eyes turned into slits. "He's as dangerous as the Bat can ever be."
Lotus put her hand on her hip and glanced out the window. "Fine. One hundred fifty thousand, cash."
"After confirmation," Dorrance hissed.
Lotus smiled and put a finger to her lips. "Seventy-five thousand, now."
King Snake sat for a moment before extending his hand. "Deal." Lotus took his hand and shook it firmly. Edmund stretched to his right and pressed a button near his bed. "Thomas? I need you to bring in that cash we were discussing earlier..."
"Would you like anything to eat, Master Timothy?" Alfred Pennyworth asked. Tim had barely gotten through the door and Alfred was trying to feed him.
"No thanks, Alfred," Tim replied as he headed for the grandfather clock in Bruce's study. "When's the last time he came up for air?" he asked referring to Bruce.
"You know our boy," Alfred said as he watched Tim turn the hands on the clock face. "He hasn't come out since he met with Lucius yesterday afternoon."
The grandfather clock pulled away from the wall, revealing one of the many entrances to the Batcave. Tim and Alfred descended down the many stairs into the heart of Wayne Manor as bats swirled above their heads. The true habitant of the Cave sat looking at one of the massive computer screens.
"Bruce," Tim said as he approached his friend and mentor. "Don't you think a bath may be in order?"
"I'm only portraying the state that my city is constantly in," Bruce said as he turned in his chair to face his partner.
"Sorry," Tim said as he sat down. "Dad took me out of Brentwood. I'm enrolled at Gotham Heights for next semester."
"Interesting," Bruce said as he folded his hands. "I've been trying to decide how to expand your role. This may be a great opportunity to do that."
"How so?" Tim asked with a raised eyebrow.
"I wanted you to work more independently. Of course, we'd still be partners but this could give you a chance to operate within your own parameters."
"Sounds good. Just let me know what's going on," Tim said as he looked at the floor. "When do you want me to start active patrol again?"
"Tonight. You'll be on your own though, I have some other things to attend to."
"Of course." Tim stood up and began to walk to the steps. "Sorry I can't stay longer, but Dana is cooking a welcome home dinner, so I have to be back." He started up the stairs.
"Tim." He turned to look at Bruce. "It's good to have you back in the city," Bruce smiled and tossed him the keys to the Redbird.
"It's good to be back," Tim replied. He waved goodbye to Alfred and bounded out of the Cave.
Stephanie took her hat off and wiped the sweat from her brow. "This is ridiculous," she panted. She had been walking around the street for at least an hour and could not find the address she needed. Now she was almost back to the bus stop where she started.
Frustrated, she let herself fall into the closest yard available, if only to rest for a little bit. That's it. I'm carrying myself back to Gotham, getting some sleep, and then I need to get to the Batcave so I can continue training with Batman. It would not look good to be late.
"Excuse me," a male voice said from above. "What are you doing on my lawn?"
Stephanie leaped from the grass. "I'm so sorry! I've been looking for this address and I've had the worst luck ever. I just need a break." The man smiled and handed Stephanie her hat.
"That's quite alright young lady. I just don't need pretty girls laying on my lawn and distracting my son. I'm Jack Drake," he offered his hand.
"Jack?" she asked. "Is Dana your wife?"
"Yes I am," Dana answered as she walked out to join them. "And what is all the commotion about?"
"That's what I was trying to figure out," Jack said. "And how did you know my wife's name?'
"Tim," she replied. "I know Tim. He told me about you guys and I was just trying to stop by and see him."
"Oh," Dana grinned. "Are you Tim's girlfriend?"
"Yes, well, maybe, kinda, no...I don't know," Steph laughed. "I just know he's supposed to be back in town and I wanted to see him."
"Well, he should be upstairs..." Jack began.
"No, he went to see Bruce," Dana interjected. "He'll be back before dinner."
"Can you just tell him I was here then?" Steph asked.
"I sure will...what was your name?" Jack asked.
"Stephanie," she replied as she headed back to the bus stop. "Stephanie Brown."
"I hate my job," Thomas sighed over his drink. A few minutes away from King Snake's, this bar was the only place Thomas could find sanctuary from his boss' constant...needs.
"Another rough day Thomas?" the waitress asked.
"You don't know the half of it," Thomas said. "Give me another, please." The last swallow of his first drink was barely down when he picked up some strange conversation beside him.
"Tonight is the only time he'll be alone in there. During the day he has his errand boy, and those chicks, and gangsters, everything under the sun. But tonight my friend, Sir Edmund Dorrance will be no more!"
"I can toast to that!" another voice responded. They're going to kill King Snake! Thomas could barely contain his joy. No more of his bullshit! No more..., he stopped. "Dammit." He quickly got rid of his second drink and dropped some money on the counter. "Keep the change." He then rushed out of the bar.
"I can't eat another bite!" Tim said as he leaned back in his chair. After sitting down to a meal of steak, mashed potatoes, stuffing, biscuits, and chocolate cake, it was all Tim could do not to fall asleep at the dinner table.
"I have to agree honey," Jack said. "You really outdid yourself."
"It was nothing," Dana replied as she began to clear the table. "Do you think you could help out with the dishes though, dear," she said as Jack groaned.
"I think Tim would rather do it."
"No way!" Tim shouted. "I'm heading upstairs to my nice warm bed, probably for the night." He stood up and headed for the stairs.
"Slacker!" Jack called after him as Dana pulled him by the arm.
Tim entered his room and checked the clock. Seven o' clock; I guess I could lay down for awhile before I go out tonight. He laid down on his bed and was fast asleep within a matter of minutes.
"Find her," Lotus barked. "Find her, and then you call for me."
"But master," one of the ninjas objected. "How is this going to lead us to our quarry?"
"You dare question me?" she asked. She walked forward as the large group of ninjas parted like the Red Sea. She was breathing in the insubordinate ninja's face in moments.
"N-No..." the ninja started, but Lotus lashed out before any other words escaped his lips. The blow snapped the ninja's neck and left him on the ground.
"Now!" Lotus screamed. "If I was able to do that to my own brother, just imagine what I would do to anyone else who dares ask questions!"
The throng of ninjas were silent.
"As I was saying," she continued. "Find the Spoiler and she will lead us directly to the Boy Wonder. Only break your mission if I tell you otherwise!"
The ninjas still responded with silence.
"Now get out of my sight!"
The ninjas disappeared without a sound.
The moon was full for the first time in a month as midnight fell upon Gotham City. To the naked eye, it seemed like another peaceful night was in store. Until the sound of a grappling hook gun broke the silence.
Robin swung up above the rooftops, Gotham Cathedral a few swings away. He landed soundlessly on the next rooftop, his eyes darting back and forth to avoid prying eyes. Assured, he fired another line that brought him to the top of city hall.
Guess who's back, Gotham, Robin thought proudly as he looked over the rooftop. "No matter how much I may bitch or complain, there's nothing like Gotham City on a warm spring night." He started to launch another line when he heard screams. "And leave it to some overzealous goons to ruin it," he sighed.
He darted across the roof towards the screams. As he ran, he pushed a small button located on his belt and his night vision lenses snapped into place. He jumped the gap between buildings and heard the screams just ahead. Taking a few more steps, he leaped off the buildings edge. Within a matter of seconds, he withdrew his bo-staff and extended it to its full size.
Just as a knife was about to penetrate the screaming woman's throat, Robin dropped between her and her assailant, his cape draping over him.
"Back away now," Robin growled.
"Ooo, the Boy Blunder. I'm so scared," the attacker laughed. He dropped his knife and pulled out an uzi. "Try this on for size!"
Robin leaned out of the way of the first bullets, rolled under the next volley, and leaped to his left to cause the next to miss. He executed a kick that sent the gun flying. "What else you got?" he taunted.
The thug lunged at the Boy Wonder, but Robin easily grabbed his arm and twisted it behind his back.
"Okay, okay!" the thug yelled. "Enough!"
Robin released his grip and slammed his boot into the man's back, sending him face first into a puddle. Robin ran back to the woman and helped her up. "Go, I got it from here."
"Thank you, thank you, thank you!" the woman shouted with joy as she ran out of the alley towards the streetlights.
Meanwhile, the thug smiled to himself as his fingers curled around the knife he dropped. "You need to learn to finish the job!" he shouted as he hurled the knife in Robin's direction.
A thought wasn't even needed for Robin to react. Reaching in his belt, he withdrew it, armed, and threw three batarangs. He stepped to the side to avoid the knife and as it passed by, he snatched it out of the air by the handle.
While his attacker tried to process what he had seen take place in less than three seconds, he didn't even see the batarangs. The first struck him in his knee, the second glanced across his forehead and the third nailed him in his right hand.
"You son of a bitch!" he screamed. Even though the dark concealed the aftermath, Robin's lenses displayed a deep cut across the forehead, another cut across his knee, and one batarang lodged in his hand.
Robin smirked as he approached him. "You need to keep your mouth shut," he said. He lashed out with his left fist and barely tapped the thug, who slumped to the ground immediately.
"Oracle," Robin spoke into his communicator. "Send the police to 14th and Fromme. I got a would be rapist here to see what prison is really like."
"You got it," Oracle replied.
Seconds later, Robin was back above the streets. That felt great! My reflexes have never been better it seems! He dropped to another rooftop in the center of downtown Gotham. "It feels like nothing can stop me," he smiled to himself. It was then he heard the sounds of battle below him.
Removing his night vision lenses, he looked down to see the combatants. In the middle was a purple and back clad woman fighting what seemed to be an endless amount of ninjas. She was winning for the most part as ninja after ninja fell from her blows. She may have even won the battle if not for the flat side of a katana slamming against the back of her skull. The blow sent the girl sprawling and the ninjas piled on, but just as quickly the scattered away from her. Before her a female ninja appeared, a katana raised high to deliver a fatal blow.
Before he realized, Robin was off the rooftop and dropping into the ninja's midst. "Get away from her!"