DISCLAIMER: The characters herein are used without permission. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Both of Greg Rucka's runs on "Detective Comics" are, with the exception of "Gotham Central" (another Rucka book), my favorite books. In his first run (issues #742-775), he took a relatively minor everyman character, Renee Montoya, and gave her shading and nuance, along with a larger place in the world of Gotham. Not to mention setting her on the road to being the lead in "Gotham Central." In his second run (issues #854-#863), he took probably the most over-hyped "new" character in DC's recent history, Batwoman, and gave her an origin story and mythology to rival Batman's. In my little take on Gotham, "Detective Comics" is mostly Renee's world, because she is after all, one of Gotham's finest detectives.
SPOILERS: Through Final Crisis: Revelations and the main feature of Detective Comics #854-863. Vaguely in keeping with DCU continuity where Dick Grayson is Batman and Bruce Wayne is presumed dead by his friends.
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ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SERIES: Follows Gotham Again #0
Detective Comics #1: Hitting the Streets
By Sharon Bowers
God, it had been so long...
So incredibly, painfully long...
The body intimately entangled with hers was far more muscular and well-defined than it used to be, but the skin her lips grazed over was even more soft and supple than she remembered. A wondering touch traced the elegant line of one collarbone, and she reverently kissed the indent of her lover's throat to evoke the same purring sound of pleasure that the gesture always had. Forever might separate the then of who they were and the now of who they are, but one thing Renee would always know was where and how Kate loved to be touched. She nestled closer to the other woman, reveling in the warm scent of their lovemaking, the gentle lassitude slowly seeping into her bones.
"I liked it better longer," Kate murmured. Nonetheless, her fingers stroked through Renee's shorter curls, down her neck and along her shoulder; She repeated the motion time and again, pausing only to brush soft kisses against the crown of her lover's head. "You should grow it back out."
Renee couldn't contain the long shudder of desire that even this barest touch evoked in her, and fairly arched into each caress, silently asking-- hungering-- for more. "Maybe," she replied, hesitating, her voice just as hushed as Kate's in the quiet intimacy of their joining.
"...But you won't be in Gotham long enough for me to see it."
"Probably not," Renee agreed, although her arms tightened their embrace as if to give lie to her words.
She pressed a kiss against the side of Kate's neck and closed her eyes, not wanting to have this conversation because a part of her knew it was a conversation they would be having in some fashion or another for the rest of their lives. Coming together only long enough to sate the fire that still burned after ten years. Coming together only long enough to fall apart again. Still, something demanded to be said. She sighed softly.
"That's a child's answer."
"I guess it is, if that's how you want to hear it," she agreed, tilting her head to take in the greenest pair of eyes she had ever seen. She still remembered the first time they had locked onto hers, full of anger and defiance, churning with an energy that demanded a response. At that moment, part of her had been instantly lost to their demands. Now was no different-- though that gaze held far more wisdom and maturity and the demands they made were far more serious. "But still true."
"Why won't you stay in Gotham?"
As if that particular question really needed an answer, but she differed one anyway. "Gotham's no good for me," she said quietly. She ran her palm down the graceful arc of Kate's neck and between her breasts, finally coming to rest on the ugly scar over her heart. The dagger was in her hand without either of them even realizing it. "And it's even worse for the people I love." Their mouths met again, and she stole one final kiss-- her lover's sound of delight turning into one of terror as the dagger plunged home...
Renee jerked upright from where she had slumped over on the couch, the angry noise of the city and the storm outside doing nothing to lesson the phantom sounds of Kate's scream. She shook her head forcefully, as if the sudden physical movement could dislodge the horrifying image from her mind. Dreams might carry messages in Nanda Parbit, she told herself, but in Gotham they were nothing more than mirrors to the freakshow that was the city itself.
She shook her head once more, rubbing the last of her fitful sleep from her eyes. She hadn't meant to nod off, but the journey from Bangladesh had been a hop here, a skip there, and a jump from airline to freighter and back again that had left her no time for real rest. As if the news she had learned there and along her travels would have allowed her any in the first place.
She pulled a small device back onto her lap, thumbed it from its sleep mode and reviewed the information on the screen once more. The machine might look like an ordinary eePC, but Tot, with his all-things-electronic genius, had souped it up with so many bells and whistles she wouldn't be surprised if she could use it to override Checkmate protocols if necessary, should she have a yen to wipe out a country. Charlie might have been partial to traveling with his files stacked floor-to-ceiling in a VW van, but Renee preferred her information to be a bit more streamlined. As an MCU cop, she had always had to be able to think outside the box-- she dared anybody to try and pin the Joker down to a single modus operandi-- but the ability to free associate herself into a solution the way Charlie had amidst all his helter skelter paper debris and then keep it all his conclusions stored neatly away in his head whenever he needed it-- well, that talent continued to escape her. She had changed a great deal in the last three years, but there was still too much old-fashioned cop in her. She might transcribe her observations for virtual safekeeping, but the originals were still jotted down on the same kind of notebook she had been keeping since Harvey Bullock had given her the first one.
Her Intel said that Intergang had been run out of Metropolis-- and at first glance, a good old-fashioned street mob decamping to Gotham from the City of the Future and home to a newly-returned Superman didn't seem like such a stretch. Except Intergang had already taken a run at Gotham equipped with its new brand of apocalypse. That run had failed. Setting themselves up for a round two just didn't make any sense.
Renee snorted to herself as she shut down her computer and secreted it in a conveniently scored gash in the pillows.
Sense. When did anything in Gotham ever make sense?
The deluge had lightened into nothing more than an annoying more-or-less continuous drizzle but since the temperatures hadn't relented with the drop of the sun, Renee left the leather jacket off. She kept the fedora on, however-- still carrying Charlie everywhere she went. Tripping lightly up the stairs to the top floor of the building, she managed to jimmy open the illegally locked fire-door and slipped out onto the roof. She took a minute to survey the city of her birth. The mist and sheen of the rain coupled with the fallen night to remind her of other nights long gone by. A different rooftop. A different tenement. Her parents fast asleep seven stories below and a Bat-signal shining so far up above. There wasn't a signal tonight, which, for Renee's purposes was just as well. She'd had her fill of Bats-- enough to last a lifetime and then some-- and tonight they would only get in the way.
She eased her way down the fire escape, more out of fear that its less-than-up-to-standard fastenings would give way under her weight than for any need of stealth. That would come later, but it was always good to get into practice early. Down the last of the ladders and away through the alley out onto the street, and if there was a slight swagger and spring to her step, she decided to take no notice.
She turned left down Delgatti and crossed north towards downtown to the fringes of the gentrified area near Hamilton Street. A pub crawl wasn't what she had in mind but it was exactly what she wanted others to see and think. Meanwhile, she'd sew a few seeds, let the speculative whys and wherefores of her return begin making the rounds. She started at Molly's. That particular visit wasn't strictly necessary for the task at hand, but... well, it was Molly's. And just like in Casablanca, where everyone came to Rick's, everyone in Gotham came to Molly's.
Everyone who was queer and female that is.
Except Charlie. As always, he had just invited himself into the party and started asking questions. One in particular.
Who are you?
It echoed in her thoughts as she slid onto her old barstool as if it had been sitting there waiting patiently for her for the last three years.
"That boi must have fucked me blinder than I thought," the woman on the other side of the bar said offhandedly, dark brown eyes raking Renee over and back again. "Cause you look a whole fucking lot like Renee Montoya."
"Well, your boi must have looked a whole lot better than she fucked," Renee replied easily, doffing the fedora from her head and sitting on the stool next to her like a companion. "Cause you're not blind, Jill. I'm back."
The words hung between the two women for a moment before the bartender started laughing and shaking her head. Bar owner and regular customer, they had been friends after a fashion, so Jill offered a hand that Renee gladly shook. The lines had always blurred at Molly's because of the nature of the establishment, the town and the reason they all came to drink-- to not be alone yes, but more importantly, to not be the different one for a change. Gotham was a big city indeed, but what had she told Sawyer? It wasn't San Francisco, it wasn't Metropolis and it sure as shit wasn't Paradise Island (wherever that was these days)-- and places like Molly's were little islands where the only passport needed was knowing where it was and why it was here.
"Damned if you're not, Montoya," Jill agreed, opening a bottle of Lit and sitting it squarely in front of her. Lit had been her brand back in the day before she had begun using it as a different sort of passport-- one out of the hell that she had made of her own life. "Beer's on the house for your first night back, but if you want the harder stuff, you're gonna have to pony up."
She considered pushing the beer back. Jill wouldn't care one way or the other and would serve her a bottle of Soder or water just as happily-- maybe even more so-- than the beer. Justified keeping it as strategy for down the road. She had plans for her time in Gotham and an image as a reformed teetotaler wouldn't do. "Thanks," she said, the bottle fitting into her hand as effortlessly as if it had never left. "What makes you think it's my first night back?"
"You're here, aren't you?" The bar owner snickered and busied herself picking up the detritus beside Renee left from the previous patron. Then, noticing the two women glancing in their direction with poorly concealed interest, she drew two more beers off the tap before sauntering down to the other end of the bar and no doubt began spreading the news of the ex-cop's return.
Renee absorbed and dismissed their looks, taking the opportunity instead to study surroundings that were still familiar despite the patina of newness covering everything. Tasteful prints had replaced the tacked up posters of Chrissie Hyde, Patti Smith and other rock goddesses whose music had been equally replaced over the sound system. Some underage-sounding soprano now warbled about boys and girls and why-oh-why did she have to choose? Or some such nonsense to Renee's uncomprehending ears. She had stopped paying attention to music right around the time she had heard her first police scanner-- calls for 10-20s, 100s, and 187s were far more harmonic to her than any track the Wilson sisters ever laid down. The seats of the few booths scattered around the back wall of the bar had been recovered in faux leather with a tastefulness matching the prints on the wall. The pool tables had been relocated to the bar leaving the space nearest the booths as a dance floor and a small stage, she guessed, looking at the single amp and guitar situated near a stool against the wall. The overall message was that the queers in Gotham were moving up, and apparently so were their bars. She was just assuming the gentrification didn't just extend to Molly's but she wasn't about to crash Malone's to find out. She had been there once on an MCU raid based off a sighting of the Joker, which turned out to be the result of too much Special K in one patron's diet. The entire raid, however, was made worthwhile just to watch Cris' reaction upon seeing his first man in assless chaps.
She took a long swig of the beer, shivering more from the memory of her dead partner than at any semblance of coolness in the muggy heat of the bar. Some things about Molly's, she realized as the sluggish air from the ceiling fans overhead brushed against her skin, hadn't been upgraded-- the air conditioning was one of them. Maybe, she mused looking behind the bar at the two stainless steel coolers still shiny with new, those were supposed to be the remedy for the heat. "Place looks good, Jill," she remarked as the bartender strolled back to her position front and center.
"Mind you keep it looking that way, Montoya." The other woman's reply was only half in jest. "Insurance picked up for the repairs after that damned meteor smashed the city up, but they're not so accommodating when it comes to ex-cops with chips on their shoulders."
That damned meteor had been the Rock of Infinity, but Renee didn't bother to correct the bartender. Renee had seen it smash to the ground when the gods had come to Gotham that day, bringing their never-ending wars literally down to earth. The world had begun ending all around them, although some-- like herself-- wouldn't realize it for some time and many, many others never would. For them it had been just a damned meteor.
"Subtle way of asking me not to get into any fights, Jill? I never started them." A half truth at best. Letting some butch's girl slip you the tongue was not exactly conducive to keeping the peace around Molly's.
"Yeah, I know, Hon," Jill replied wryly. "It's just you finishing them is what kept busting the place up." Seeing Renee's beer was halfway to nowhere, she twisted the cap off another and put it down. "I do gotta say that I never expected that someone as scrawny as you could lay Lil out in five minutes flat." She eyed the definition of Renee's bare arms and set of her shoulders speculatively. "Looks like it wouldn't even take that long now."
"Don't worry, Jill, you won't be finding out." She grinned and hopped off the stool, pushing the second beer away untouched and sliding a fifty across the bar as she did so. "Keep hold of that for me in case I need to come back for the hard stuff later."
Three bars later and she was pretty sure that the word on this side of town would be leaking back to the street. Those people would hear Montoya was back. After she hit the next row of places on her mental checklist, others would hear about that ex-cop with a chip on her shoulder and an attitude to match. She was hoping that the net result would wake some of her old snitches up and pry some rocks loose from which new sources might be found. Two places she planned on staying away from were Finnegan's, a bar for the wrong kind of cop-- which in Gotham was most of them-- and the Outer Rim at Xenon's. Mostly because nobody there would know who the hell Renee Montoya was, nor would they care if they did know. Especially not the restaurant's Executive Chef.
She knew it was going to happen inevitably, but it was not going to happen tonight.
Daria Hernandez would have to be another encounter for another day.
Gotham was smaller than it looked when it came to the physical divide between the haves and the have-nots, and the alleyway containing this pile of filthy blankets-- that might have been a passed out drunk just as easily as someone's trash-- was less than five miles from the bright lights of the shopping district she had just left behind. Nonetheless she still wouldn't have minded one of Huntress' grappling hooks right about now. Of course that would mean knowing how to use the things, Renee thought wryly, remembering the one time that Helena had tried to show her and the ensuing disastrous results. A couple of low-rise apartment complexes in the Outer Banks would never be the same. Still, she reckoned, whipping from rooftop to rooftop would be a hell of a lot easier than dealing with the trouble heading directly her way.
She had seen them long before they noticed her and took the few extra moments to flip the latch on her belt buckle and release the binary gas, allowing her to smooth the faceless pseudoderm mask into position. Though she doubted these punks could answer any question she might have, it wouldn't hurt for a few rumors about a new-- she always hesitated to call herself a cape-- presence, she compromised mentally, in town. Five teenaged boys would never cop to having their asses handed to them by a single woman, so a faceless ghoul she would be.
Through the mist she identified the colors that marked them as Burnley Town Massive-- BTM slingers, the shields called them-- junior members she judged from the way they moved. The five youths were all swagger and no stealth, as if they didn't know that being BTM might make you part of a pack, but for some predators they were still nothing but fresh meat. As they drew closer, habit made her reach to the small of her back for the nunchucks she normally carried. Only when she touched bare skin did she realize that she was defenseless.
Well, as defenseless as someone who had studied with Richard Dragon and fought alongside the Huntress could be.
That Queen song-- the one with the brim pulled way down low thrummed a backbeat between her ears as she watched them fix on her silhouette as it came into view.
"Mamacita!" one of them called, while another let loose a string of obscene DR slang about some of her more womanly attributes and what he would like to do them. Leave the jacket on next time, Montoya, she thought. Despite the fact that she knew that she could-- and would-- dismantle these guys in no time flat, the sheer brazenness of their verbal assault chilled her. Her pace remained steady as the narrow alley funneled her towards the youths. Despite the mask concealing her features, Renee could see them quite clearly. Tot had tried to explain the pseuoderm's chemical properties, but she had dismissed it all and, in doing so, tried not to think about the binary gas and the smoke and the cancer that had taken yet another friend way from her. Those thoughts were far away tonight as she watched her adversaries, noted that while they were smart enough to fan just a bit to cover the space's width, they weren't experienced enough to register that they were still too bunched up. A cluster tight enough so that one blow could serve two purposes.
The catcalls, jeers and taunts echoed in the confined space, their confidence growing in proportion to each step that drew her closer to their reach.
Then, as so often the case in Gotham, the mist cleared and the clouds parted just long enough for a sliver of yellow light to bathe them all. Moon-- not bat-- light cascaded over them all.
Renee raised her face to the light and smiled.
"Bitch ain't got no face."
The litany went on and four of them faded back, but the cockiest one stood his ground, cracking his neck from side to side. His stance was slightly spread, weight balanced on his knees, and from the way he held his arms Renee knew this one was their ringleader. A few more fights under his belts than the others, a few more scars on his body, a few more-- she refused to think about what else he had a few mores of as his eyes raked over her. "Don't make no dif, Manny. I ain't lookin there."
"Yeah," Renee replied laconically. "And it saves you having to put a bag over my head, right?"
"You said it puta, not me."
Why was she not surprised that his words were accompanied by the familiar snick of a blade opening? In a world where thirty-first century technology is dropping from the sky all over the place, they still use switchblades in Gotham. She would have laughed at the irony were it not so, well, unironic. Renee well knew there was nothing politically Luddite to be said about the use of blades in this alleyway. The simple truth was: Gothamites just wanted to see the damage they did up close.
"A whore would charge you a hell of a lot more for the beat down I'm about to give you," she replied easily, her body instinctively sliding slightly to the left of this right-handed fighter. She focused not on his eyes or shoulders but the set of his hips and the almost minute rise of his heels from the ground. She saw the movement almost the instant it occurred and ducked under the swift twisting thrust, hitting him squarely in the solar plexus with the heel of her hand.
The breath left his body with a heavy whuff and he staggered backwards but stayed on his feet long enough for a hard uppercut followed by a sweeping back kick that sent him firmly to the pavement. Renee stood over the sprawled out form of the boy-- she couldn't think of him any other way now, seeing him on his back with his ungainly arms and legs flailing for purchase on the slick and filthy ground. Gently, she placed her boot on his chest until he stilled, her gaze returning to the still-hovering figures of his buddies. "We done here?"
She watched the other four exchange uneasy glances, flickering to her no-face and back again to each other.
A second drifted into a moment, and it was only when she heard a soft groan below her foot did she realize she had been incrementally increasing the pressure on his downed figure. She eased back and regarded the bangers anew. "I'm not asking twice."
One of them-- maybe he was the one the leader had called Manny?-- jerked his chin in what she assumed was surrender. The flickering glint of another switchblade in someone else's hand quickly cured her of that assumption. Always the hard way... she thought grimly. Using the fallen banger as a springboard instead of a trophy, she pivoted to the right, kicking the knife from Manny's hand and landing roughly its handle. She separated the blade from its casing with a brutal stomp of her heel and swept the mess out of her way as the group foolishly charged her.
She was conscious only of the smooth working of her arms and legs, the clean hit of fist upon flesh, the nimble dodge of the thrust and parry. None of their strikes came even close to touching her. Time always elongated for her in these kinds of encounters, but Renee knew only a few moments could have passed until only she and Manny remained standing. He was untouched as well but only because he remained out of the battle, letting the others take the beating instead. General or coward? Renee didn't know or, for that matter, particularly care. The low sound of groans from the youths bemoaning various bruises and fractures rippled through the alley, crawling up the walls and back again into Renee's ears. Beating the snot out of a bunch off kids not old enough to drink hadn't been on her agenda for the evening, and she was angry as a result. In her peripheral vision, a hand faintly struggled towards another knife. She stepped on it without thinking, her eyes never leaving Manny's. "Now we done?"
She hoped for his sake it was.
"Yeah," he finally said. "We done."
"Good. Now get the fuck outta my way." She waited until he stepped to the side and then strode past him, deliberately turning her back on him as she continued her path without further molestation. She didn't even hesitate when she heard what could either be a taunt or a promise.
"We done for now..."
To Be Continued in Detective Comics #2
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