Chapter I


Gotham City was cold, dark, and dreary when Raven woke up. She looked outside at the gray skies and sighed. She generally wasn't the type of person to particularly enjoy or dislike any sort of weather, but she had a bad feeling about today. My kind of weather, she thought, as she slipped into the shower. Cold water ran in little rivulets down her skin and within five minutes she was done. She brushed her teeth while her hair was tied up in a towel-turban; a quick blow-dry, and she was ready to leave. Breakfast was a granola bar.

She pulled her small, silver car into the back lot of a smooth, gray marble building with only "Gotham City" written in gold copperplate letters on the front. Otherwise the building was unmarked. Raven pulled her dark coat tighter around herself as she walked inside to her office building, not removing the dark glasses she wore.

Her dark violet hair was a major source of contention between herself and her employers. They desperately wanted it gone; she flat-out refused. They said it stood out too much—she argued that people would remember the hair, and not the face under it. Raven ended up winning, not so much because her logic was superior but because the Gotham Society could not afford to lose one of its premiere, élite members: one of the select few on the Bat Team division of the Gotham Society, the semi-secret organization of detectives, spies, and crime fighters.

An iris scan at the first door authorized her to enter, and the knob-less door slid smoothly into its groove in the wall. Through that there was a fingerprint check; authorized once more, yet another smooth steel door moved silently out of her way. She nodded to the two men on guard duty, who had her frisked and—as she expected—waved her through without a word.

Raven's suspicions about the day's portents came true barely an hour after she had settled into her office. Her beeper vibrated against her hip—she looked down, noticed it was the head of the entire organization, sighed, and went to him. The hallways of the Gotham Society, as the organization was euphemistically called, were like those of a hospital or of a laboratory. Everything was white or stainless steel; the lights were fluorescent and harsh; although unlike a hospital, the hallways of the Society were often silent, save the staccato tapping of a member's shoes as he walked briskly down. No one was caught in the halls walking slowly; no one was caught wasting time.

The Head spent his time in a huge, mahogany-paneled study lined from top to bottom with bookcases filled with heavy tomes. The doors leading into this magnificent room were heavy, dark wood, with gold handles set low, as the doors stretched almost up to the ceiling. It looked more like the entrance to a wealthy man's library, or a deluxe suite at the Sheraton hotel, than to the study of the chief of an intelligence organization. Sighing, Raven pushed open the doors, not looking forward to the coming meeting.

Like most others, she harbored no love for Slade Wilson, who held the prestigious position of Head of the Gotham Society. How he got up there Raven didn't know: surely, as a rule, the Bats and others were secretive, but Slade seemed positively antisocial. Raven imagined one would need at least some amount of social skill to land a job that did, in fact, require personal contact. And yet, when she had first come here, fresh with her degrees in psychology and chemistry, hadn't they taught her that the fewer people you saw or spoke to, the better? Perhaps, Raven thought fairly, perhaps Slade was simply exemplifying one of the most stressed points of the Society Training Academy—though she did think he took it to rather an extreme. She loved the room, however.

"Mr. Wilson," Raven said, coughing discreetly. Slade was, as was his custom, sitting sunk into a large, impressive leather armchair he kept recessed in the shadows. His back was turned from her; she doubted he had even heard her come in. She had only been in here twice before: once when she had first came, ready to be sent off to Training Academy along with ten other university graduates; the second, when she had been inducted into the élite Bat division, an honor that indeed required the congratulations from the Head himself (although Raven was sure he had called her into his office because it was compulsory, not out of any personal motivation).

It was a moment or two of silence before Slade finally turned toward her. "Ah yes. Raven," he said, and though he was set back in the shadows, she could see his thin-lipped smile. His voice, too, made her shudder: it was cool, impersonal, almost inhuman. They did whisper about him, Raven knew; she had listened eagerly when she had first come here to find out all she could. Back then, reports had differed widely, from rumors that Slade Wilson was the most handsome man at the Society to he was a mindless android controlled by space aliens (this was from Garfield Logan, who worked as an intelligence director—highly ironic, thought Raven, considering he would often, in perfect gravity, suggest such ludicrous explanations).

Again, he paused for a few moments before speaking once more. Idly, she wondered why he allowed abnormal lengths of time to pass before he spoke. "You haven't had a major assignment lately, have you?" he asked. Raven was startled for a moment, but then shook her head; then, thinking he might not have seen it, she said she hadn't. "Perhaps you'll enjoy this, then, a chance to get out of Gotham."

Raven stood up a little straighter. An assignment, like one she hadn't had in ages. And perhaps this time, she'd be able to travel farther than she had before. A job like hers did not give much time for frivolous vacation. "I'm ready," she said, then added, "sir."

Again, that thin-lipped smile. "Jump City," he said. "A thief, a trouble-maker, calling himself Red X. Our normal ops have failed." He pushed a few glossy photographs over his desk and Raven stepped forward to pick them up. The shots were blurry, as the subject was in quick motion; but she could make out all the important details. He had on a dark costume; a white, skull-like mask, decorated by a large slashing, uneven red "X" on his forehead obscured his face.

He's real original, Raven thought sarcastically. If he's going to make trouble, he ought to at least be creative about it. Slade wasn't one to appreciate such sarcasm when she knew she was supposed to be serious. So she took the rest of Red X in, as much as she could glean from the low-quality pictures: he appeared to be rather thin, but that was as much information as she could collect, as he was completely covered from head to foot. Raven also tried to forget the disappointment she felt when Slade had told her she was going to Jump City: why, that was only the next city over, nothing special.

Slade's creepy voice brought her back to reality. "I trust you can carry this assignment out?" he asked her. "At this point, we can't spare any back up—though if you do happen to need it, please do not hesitate to call at once." They both knew she wasn't going to need help. She'd catch Red X by herself, because that's the way she worked, quickly, neatly, and alone.

"When do I leave?" Raven said, after another few moments. She hated their conversations, with all these pauses, like a faulty train. She wasn't quite sure if she couldn't wait to leave or if she really didn't want to, not, of course, that she had much of a choice.

"Immediately," Slade said. "You will not be driving your regular car. Instead, a company vehicle will be awaiting you outside this building in five minutes. You will then go to your house and pack one suitcase with all you think you will need, including any supplies, arms, etc. From there, the company car will convey you to Jump City, where you will check into the Sheraton hotel. Your bill has been paid already."

"But, what will happen to my Fiora?" Raven couldn't help but ask, referring to her own little car. She was quite attached to the Fiora. It had taken her years of hard work and saving to get it and she shuddered at the thought of anyone else touching it, besmirching it with their greasy fingers. In the few years she had owned the small silver Fiora, she had never let anyone touch it.

Slade waved an impatient hand. She was surprised he made even this much motion as a response to her question. It will be taken care of, the gesture seemed to say, worry about yourself. As though I have any interest in your car. The movement dismissed her and tucking the photographs into her pack, she left.

The weather had not improved. The black car that came for her came complete with a chauffeur that ran out to her, unfurled an umbrella, and held it out to her. In a way, she was relieved; there was no reason for her to be treated like royalty by having him hold the umbrella over her (although, once she had seen the expensive black company car, she was half-expecting him to). She was surprised the Society went through this much effort for her—although, she reasoned, as she settled comfortably into the back seat—she was a Bat, she was part of the special ops elite team, and certainly she deserved a few moments of comfort?

The grayness had only intensified during the rather short drive to Jump City. Personally, Raven had never liked it much. It was a bustling metropolis, she knew, but it lacked the austerity and the—she couldn't think of the right word; prestige came to mind although she knew it wasn't right—quality of Gotham. Jump City was like Gotham's younger sibling, or perhaps close cousin, who had about caught up with its older counterpart in size but not yet in substance. To be fair, however, she hadn't visited the place many times—if one lived in Gotham, why would one even wish to go to Jump City?

The company car and the company's generosity ended at the stylishly fashioned façade of the Jump City Sheraton. A long, narrow, covered walk led up to fancy doors flanked on either side by elaborately dressed doormen with shiny gold buttons. As Raven approached, she noticed they had rather odd expressions on their faces—they looked at her from over the bridges of their noses, with their eyebrows slightly arched.

"Excuse me…miss," said one, in a rather haughty tone. "Are you quite sure you've come to the right place? Perhaps you've mistaken this hotel for the Sheptown motel right down the street."

It's the purple hair, Raven thought, and she bit down the acid remark she was about to make. The purple hair turned a lot of people away from her. She hoped she wouldn't be spending too much time here. So she smiled back as politely as she could and hoped she looked charming.

"Oh, not at all," she replied. "I quite meant to room here." Her lips were closing over her shut teeth now. She put a hand to her head and laughed ruefully. "Don't mind this, it's only temporary…" The doormen looked only a little less skeptical as she walked quickly past, feeling the greatest relief when she was inside and able to drop her "charming" mask.

Once she had gotten settled in her deluxe suite (she'd never forgotten the perks of being a Bat) she decided to poke around Jump City. There was little else to do. Perhaps she would even be able to start looking for this Red X character…. She stuffed the pictures into her bag after looking at them once more. With a mask like that…Red X could be anyone…he might not even be in Jump City! For all Raven knew, he might even actually be a "she"—although the thin figure seemed to suggest otherwise.

She hadn't quite planned on the rain. When she left the Sheraton the city was dank and gray, but he clouds didn't seem ready to burst yet. She was waiting at a bus stop (even in Jump City, private transportation was close to impossible and simply impractical) when the sky changed its mind and ruptured, releasing a deluge of water. Raven closed her eyes and swallowed deeply, willing herself to stay calm; she hadn't thought to bring an umbrella with her. Within a matter of seconds she was almost completely soaked.

And then suddenly the water stopped hitting her. She could hear it splatter on the ground and she knew it was still raining so why was she not getting any wetter? Her eyes flew open and the first thing she noticed was a large, black umbrella held high overhead—at such a distance to accommodate for the owner. He was looking straight ahead with a slight smile, apparently not noticing that he was shielding someone else.

Raven's first impulse was to push him away from her and demand an explanation, but two things prevented her. First, she liked being protected from the rain; and second, her training as a Bat kicked in and told her to carefully study her companion, memorize him, as he might be important sometime later.

He was tall, she noticed, though not a giant. He had very slim hips—she doubted if they were any wider than hers—and though he was thin, he was proportional: his torso widened out gradually into broad shoulders, although (as she noted with approval) he wasn't at all top-heavy. He had a strong face, and very dark hair held back with copious amounts of gel. Now she just needed to get a view of his facial features—and it would be nice to get his name, profession, etc. It was always good to make a few friends in a new city.

"Thank you," Raven said. The man turned to her. He was maybe 25 years old, just about a year older than Raven. He had a handsome face, this mystery man, with striking eyes. They carried a glint of mischief in them, and he seemed to wear a slightly cocky expression. He grinned and the expression only intensified his good looks.

"You're new here, aren't you?" he said, laughing. "Anybody who's lived here for more than two days knows to never leave home without an umbrella. There's a reason Jump City is called the Rainy City." As he spoke, he surveyed the girl next to him. Not so much girl, he realized; she was close to his own age. Quite pretty, though, he noted. The petite figure was neat and curvy; her delicate face featured huge purple eyes to match her hair.

"I've just come over from Gotham," Raven replied. "I'm here on business." She hoped he would introduce himself soon—he looked intelligent, and having an intelligent contact was always good.

"I hope you won't be bored with Jump City, then," he said. Suddenly, he stuck out the hand that wasn't holding the umbrella. "I'm Robin. Nice to meet you."

Raven shook his hand, noticing he had a firm grip. Strong and confident, without being too…grippy. She returned the pressure.

"Your hands are cold," Robin said with some surprise.

Raven grinned. "Cold hands, warm heart," she said. Robin smiled back, and then she realized that she ought to introduce herself also. "I'm Raven," she said, as they pulled apart. Her hand tingled although she couldn't think that it had a reason to.

The bus pulled up and they got quickly in. It wasn't very crowded, but Robin took the seat next to Raven. Now she was starting to feel uncomfortable. She never was much of a "people person" and she didn't know how to make conversation. Especially with a handsome stranger.

"How long have you been living here?" Raven asked.

Robin shrugged. "Most of my life. I went out of state for university, but I came back here for my residency."

"Residency already? But you seem so young…" said Raven, the response startled out of her. So he was a doctor…. If he were a resident, she had misjudged his age by about two years.

"I got my B.S/MD degrees at the same time," Robin replied. "Now I work over at Jump City General. I'm hoping to be a trauma surgeon."

Seven-year med, Raven thought with approval. This man was smart. So she hadn't misjudged him at all—quite 25, and intelligent also. All of a sudden, her visit to Jump City was looking better.

"How about you?" Robin said, cutting into her thoughts. "Gothamites generally don't come over here."

Raven knew she couldn't tell him the whole truth; she couldn't compromise her position as a Bat. So she just repeated her old answer. "I'm here on business. I'm in criminal justice, actually." She suddenly felt very inferior—how could criminal justice compare with seven year med?—so she quickly tacked on an answer. "I did my master's in psychology, too."

She noted with a strange and inexplicable happiness his approving nod. "Did you really? That's some heavy stuff," he said. Raven gave herself a mental shake—there was no reason for her to feel happiness at his nod; and besides, the tone and the arched brow with which he said it clearly indicated he was on the verge of laughing, treating her like a small child. But Raven didn't go on the offense, contenting herself with looking out the window.


A/N: Well, here's a new story, hope you all enjoy. Credits for the "hair" line near the beginning belong to Tamora Pierce, in Trickster's Choice.

So...who is Red X? Will Raven find out more about the handsome young man she just met (and how much does she really care?) And I can tell you we haven't seen the last of Slade Wilson...And yes, I suppose I do have sort of a thing for making Robin a form of doctor in all my stories. It's just that it's what I want to be, so it's easier for me to write him since I relate to him that much more.

On another note: you all know that I absolutely adore Batman; I've just recently finished watching the four films from 1989-1995. I was so amped for The Batman series now on Toonami, and it was pretty rad. In terms of animation, it follows a lot from Batman Beyond and Justice League. This Bruce Wayne isn't particularly good-looking (really ought to keep the cowl on) but is totally awesome. They did introduce a couple of new characters but most of them follow fairly faithfully from the comic books. I'm going to see Batman Begins this Friday. I hear the Batmobile got totally pimped out. Awesomeness. Seriously, the Batmobile is one sexy car.