WIND AND THE SNOW

DISCLAIMER: Robin, Batman, Spoiler and all the other Bat-characters belong to DC, Warner Bros, and whoever else. Not me. My original characters, however, do belong to me, so please ask before you run off with them. I'm making absolutely no financial gain from this piece of fiction, and am not worth suing.

NOTES: This fic takes place in the universe I set up in my previous story TWENTY, after the events described therein. Hence, while you can certainly read this story without knowledge of the first, it probably won't make a lot of sense if you do. However, as I'm pretty bad about reading novel-series in order myself, there's a quick recap provided in the prologue. But please go and read TWENTY, and write me feedback on either or both of these fics. I love feedback! Feeeeeeeeeeedbaaaaaaaaaaaaaak!! cookie monster impression

PROLOGUE – or, What Has Gone Before

as should be blatantly obvious this is a SPOILER ALERT

Robin is kidnapped after Batman betrays his identity. The organisation that takes him is headed by the sinister Doctor – an expert in mind control and personality alterations who has plans for Robin, plans that involve the 'reprogramming' of the talented teen into an ultimate assassin. Also undergoing reprogramming is a Japanese boy, Kaze, with whom Robin becomes friends as they struggle to maintain their lives and selves. When Robin finally caves and tells the Doctor his secret identity, thereby allowing him to research and thus erase his mind and memories, Kaze, whose training is nearly completed, escapes to seek help. Robin is turned by the Doctor into the assassin Vingt, and set loose upon his first target, the Batman. The attempt, and a subsequent one, fail, and Vingt's identity as Robin is revealed to the Bat-gang and Superboy. The Doctor, despairing of this, orders Vingt to kill himself, but his suicide is foiled by the quick-thinking (i.e. desperate) Superboy. However, the mindset of Vingt is destroyed, and melds with the remnants of TimDrakeRobin, creating an entirely new person, someone both familiar and not, with elements of both personalities. This new person, whose sense of self hinges on being Robin, decides that 'Tim Drake' must die, and a new secret identity be sought. He puts this plan into action shortly after hearing of the death in police custody of the Doctor (at the hands of Kaze, who also died in the attack).

Now, Robin faces a new challenge . . . school. Bryleaf Co-Educational Academy just gained a new student, one Van Casey.

GLOSSARY of terms can be found at the end of the fic.

PART ONE

Assumptions are interesting things. They colour our minds, are in fact the very framework through which we see the world. They vary from trivial to fundamental; from the assumption that unleaded petrol is, indeed, better to the assumption that the people we 'know' are in fact exactly who and what we think they are. Some assumptions are unconscious. Some aren't, but are never questioned.

This, of course, rarely poses a problem. That is, unless the assumption is a false one.

Even Batman makes assumptions.

Beneath his mask, sweat ran into his eyes. His hands, clenching his weapon from within their gauntlets, trembled with fatigue. Last one! Robin sized up the figure in front of him. Diminutive, the other fighter held her stance with poise and cool assurance. A distinct difference to the oversized and muscle-bound goons Robin often found himself fighting. A distinctly intimidating difference. I'm going to do it! I will! Robin had already faced off against twenty or so of her compatriots, hence the fatigue that seeped through every muscle in his body. Last one.

As if reading his thoughts, the figure spoke. "C'mon. Last one. Don't tell me you're gonna wimp out here!"

The voice spurred him on, and with a strangled cry, Van rushed at his final opponent, finishing the last of the brutal set of exercises with muscles screaming. The spectators (a crowd made up almost entirely of the aforementioned compatriots) roared their approval.

Afterwards, as he slumped on the floor in a breathless state that was not entirely feigned, the rest of the team congratulating him on his 'initiation', Van smiled to himself. Taking up Kendo was proving to be an interesting decision. Time will tell if it was a wise one. The action of pulling off his mask and tenugui allowed his hair to flop back around his face; Van took advantage of the screen the black (and currently sweaty-damp) mass provided to look around for the source of the voice that had goaded him earlier.

He spied her in the corner of the Dojo, carefully packing away her armour and shinai, while animatedly conversing with another of the club seniors. Despite the furtiveness of his gaze, the girl immediately noticed his regard and, smiling, waved him over.

With a catlike grace, Van slid to his feet and, slinging his own armour bag and shinai over his shoulder, went to join them. Or, really, her. Exhaustion forgotten, she was, to his mind, all that mattered at the present moment.

Yuki. Mireba Yuki. Year mate, classmate, senior player of the Bryleaf Kendo club.

Kaze's cousin. With his looks, his voice. Even, sometimes, his movements.

God, it could be him. It really could be. Except he's a she. Except she's so totally different in mind and manner, and even in the things she says with that so-similar voice.

Why am I doing this to myself? Kaze, my friend, is dead. She is not him. Is it because, with all the questions I have, I need her to be him? Tough, Robin. If that's the case you're way out of luck!

"Hey! Earth to Van! Wow, I guess we really did work you too hard, ne?"

"Eh?" Van asked, intelligently.

"Like I said, how does it feel to finally be armouring up? Good isn't it?"
"Yeah. I really feel like I've made progress, now that I'm in armour and can actually join in all parts of training." Van smiled as he replied, which was not unusual. Also not unusually, the smile was of his mouth only, not reaching his eyes. His smiles never reached his eyes, never touched the hidden sadness within.

But almost nobody noticed, just as they'd never noticed. After all, with his constant, easy smile – and manner to match - Van was easily one of the most cheerful guys around campus.

Yuki noticed. She always had. Her observational skills were another of the things about her that served Robin as a constant reminder of Kaze.

Vacating the Dojo for the Karate club session that followed theirs, Van, Yuki and the others walked to the storage cupboard where they left their armour between trainings. Watching her stow her gear with the same graceful economy of movement he'd become so familiar with in months of captivity, Van reflected on the first time she'd reminded him of Kaze. It had been, unsurprisingly, the first time they'd met. His first day at Bryleaf.

EARLIER

He'd been sitting in the principal's office, a location he intended to make sure he saw only infrequently. Having welcomed him to the school (despite it being well into semester, money made a number of things, including the academic transfer, easy), the principal was discussing various points about his study. One, at least was giving Robin some concern.

"You'll find the way we organise Gym class here is a bit different to what you're used to. In our school, you get to choose. Within reason. You play one sport at any given time; different ones for summer and winter, or a year-round one, I don't care. As long as you do them. No shirking." He eyed Robin's weedy-seeming frame pointedly. Inwardly, Robin was pleased; he and Alfred had worked long hours fitting the uniform to make him look as skinny as possible, to disguise his wiry musculature. It wasn't hard to do, but the principal's tacit confirmation that the artifice was working was good.

"Here's the list of sports we offer. You're too late for many of the beginner classes, though, so is there any sport you're already good at?"
"N-not really, sir."

The principal nodded, his suspicions confirmed. With a paternal pat on the boy's shoulder he continued, "Well, try your best. You have about half an hour to decide, which is when your course counsellor will see you."

Recognising the dismissal for what it was, Van rose and, quickly thanking the principal, saw himself out.

His concern arose he perused the list, waiting for the counsellor to finish with whatever she was doing. Mrs Felter was running quite a bit late. Dredging up his first meeting with her from his memory, Van figured it to be a student emergency. Nothing else was likely to stop that model of efficiency from running on time.

The list was worrying. Two seasonal sports, or one year-round one. Gymnastics, Karate and Judo he dismissed out of hand; he didn't feel particularly inclined to make keeping his Robin identity secret any more difficult than it had to be. Football was out; he wouldn't risk either a sporting injury, or allowing his agility to become common knowledge. More than that, football and basketball tended to attract a lot of attention in schools and even the media. Attention he wanted to avoid.

The remainder wasn't particularly encouraging either. Track and field, now that might be an option . . . Rubbing absently at his wrist, his fingers encountered the ridges of scar tissue, palpable through the cloth of his uniform to his sensitive fingers. He sighed. Nope. Nothing that makes me wear shorts, or tank-tops, or even short sleeved shirts. Nothing where anyone can see the scars. I've enough trouble with arranging the make-up and my hair to cover the scar on my forehead without needing to worry about disguising the . . . marks . . . I have elsewhere.

For the same reason, swimming was out, as was tennis. He lingered a bit longer over archery, until he realised that it counted as only a half sport (as it only exercised the upper body) and this was compensated for by time spent in the gym. Wearing shorts and tanktops.

Van was starting to get desperate as he neared the end of the list, no neat option in sight. Part of having a secret identity was camouflage. Not standing out, but blending into the surroundings. Something he couldn't do with either scars everywhere or a permanent sick note excusing him from sports.

The solution that presented itself was so simple as to be ludicrous. The kendo team. One of the smallest clubs in the school, at about twenty members, they'd gotten few new enrolments at the start of the semester. As a result, they'd probably be fairly happy about taking on a new student, even now, to maintain their numbers.

More importantly, it was specified that the appropriate uniform was to be worn from day one. Consisting of loose-fitting hakama and gi, it would cover him from neck to below his ankles. His wrists would be bare, at least until he started wearing the armour, (which included a mask, gauntlets and breastplate) but I can wear sweatbands until then. I'm sure I can get or make a pair wide enough to cover the scars.

Unexpectedly, Van had found a thrill of anticipation creeping through him. This activity was going to be very novel; his 'programming' at the hands of the Doctor had included intensive instruction on the uses of bladed weaponry, but had stopped short of actual swords. The Doctor had held that as they couldn't be easily concealed, they were useless to an assassin. Having watched Azrael training in the Cave and, once, in action, Van wasn't so sure. But blades tended to be lethal, so there was little chance he'd learn how to use them under the Bat's tutelage (though he'd certainly studied diligently how to counter them). Van was glad that neither himself as Tim-Robin then, nor himself now, had ever shown any special interest in the weapons in front of the Bat.

Closer perusal of the blurb put out by the club had indicated that as well as kendo, done with the bamboo swords known as shinai, the team also undertook training with bokken. These heavy wooden swords were used only for doing kata, or forms, but Van suspected the training would be equally as interesting as the sparring with shinai.

He'd been so engrossed in the pamphlet and it's implications that he'd scarcely noticed when the door to the counsellor's office opened. He had noticed, though, when the girl had walked through it and into him.

"A-ah! I'm sorry! I didn't see you there."
"It's oka . . ." She had looked at him, and Van had felt a shocking jolt of recognition. Her face, though rounder and currently blotched with tears, was one he knew better than his own. "Kaze?" He breathed.

Her head snapped up, eyes actually focussing on him, focussing with the same complete attention that Kaze had evinced.

"How do you know that name? Do you . . . did you know him?"

"I . . . I . . ." Van faltered to a stop, smiling slightly to hide his confusion. Think! Think, you moron! Without compromising your cover story! Think! God, she looks like him. Like Kaze . . . Stop it! Stop reacting and think!

The girl grew impatient and it seemed as though she would have said more, (indeed, she looked ready to drag him off and interrogate him with all the determination, if not the skill, of the Doctor) when he was saved by the grizzled head of the counsellor, poking around the door and summoning him within.

Grateful for the reprieve, he slunk off as quickly as he could, following the old woman into her office. He remained there for an hour, as she confirmed his subject preferences, and actually grinned about his choice of sport. She was, he decided, actually quite nice, and possessed of a singularly wicked sense of humour. Counsellor Felter. I think I'd very much like not to get on her bad side. Ever.

As he'd anticipated, though not truly expected, the girl was still there when he exited the office, her body language screaming suspicion and determination. That was okay; away from the shock of seeing her face, Van had rapidly and easily come up with an explanation for her if – when – he saw her again. It was a stupid explanation, but, he hoped, one that was plausible and unlikely to generate any further interest on her part. He spoke before she could, surprising her.

"I'm sorry about rushing off earlier. You were asking me something?"

"Yeah. Yes, I was about to. You said 'Kaze'. Why?"

"Oh, that." Despite the turmoil her voice engendered in him, a voice so like Kaze's had been (though with an American accent rather than Japanese), Van managed to shrug. "I have a younger cousin who often doesn't really look where she's going. So she runs into me a lot because I'm pretty short myself, and then feels really bad about it. When we were growing up, she'd say 'are you okay, then?' To which I'd say 'I'm okay, then.' It got kinda silly in the way that family jokes do, and we started doing it with accents. When you ran into me, I sort of said it automatically." He flushed. There, how stupid and uninteresting can you get? Let me keep my low profile, one that I'll lose with you constantly here, reminding me of Kaze by your looks, your presence.

He got the opposite reaction to what he'd desired.

"Cousins," she said softly, with such heartbreak that Van's sympathy would have gone out to her even if she hadn't sounded like Kaze. At least it was obvious she believed him. A moment later it was equally obvious she needed to talk.

"I had a cousin. He was like my brother, almost a twin. Heh. I guess we could have been, too; both our parents were sets of identical twins that married. Our mothers were each other's twin. Our fathers also. We were born on the same day, so I really feel like we should have been as well. But we weren't, even though we grew up together.

"When I was ten, my parents and I came to Gotham to set up the American branch of Mireba industries – that's our family corporation - but my cousin and I visited each other every holiday. He was a really good pilot, so he could fly over to see me." She paused, for the first, and only, time completely unaware of Van's emotions, so wrapped up in her own was she.

"A year ago, he went missing, right after arriving in America, before he got to Gotham to visit. Missing from the San Francisco airport. The family was in an uproar, but I knew he wasn't dead. It was fading, but I could still feel the spark that I knew was him for months. Two weeks ago, I was proven right; he'd been alive the whole time. He resurfaced in the Gotham police station, where he died of a head injury. Before I even saw him, he was dead." Her lips contracted into a snarl of frustration.

"But nobody will tell me why! My cousin's dead and nobody . . . nobody can, or will, tell me why. Not the police, not my family who don't know either. No one! So when you said . . . when I thought you said his name, I was hoping maybe you could tell me more."

"I'm sorry." The tortured sound of his own voice made him wince. He wanted to tell her. He wanted to erase the mystery if only a little, to ease the mind of at least this one innocent. He couldn't. If he did, he'd endanger them both. Himself for giving up secrets he'd worked hard to protect and, some, create. Her, because she'd then know those secrets, and others. Secrets of the Organisation and the Doctor. Secrets even the Gotham police had not become privy to. And if someone wanted those secrets so hushed up that even after the Doctor's death they hadn't told the family of the most obvious of his victims, even when that family was a powerful corporate clan . . . Then that 'someone' would likely not be fazed by the idea of killing a simple girl. A lot can be deduced from what she has said, and she's told me more than she thinks. It looks like the Organisation is still alive and kicking, even if the Doctor isn't. That, or someone's picking over its' bones. Either way, I have to be extra careful.

The girl had been embarrassed by her outburst, the rush of emotions expressed to a total stranger so, to make up for it, had offered to act as his guide around the school. (She had, she insisted, time until the next day, when she officially returned to class following her two-week absence to attend the family funeral and mourning held for Kaze.)

This had worked out particularly well (much to Van's initial consternation) because of the number of classes that by fluke they happened to share. Further, it turned out that she was one of the senior players on the kendo team. A position held despite her youth, because, as she told him with forced cheerfulness, part of her education as a child in Japan had been tuition in kendo. Van remembered Kaze mentioning his own ninjutsu training, and wondered what else the girl was capable of.

She had scampered off after giving him the tour, and getting him equipped from the school store with the requisite uniform and shinai for kendo.

"W-wait!" Van had called after her retreating form. Obligingly, she had paused and half turned. I can't believe I'm doing this! My cover . . .

"What's up?"

"I . . . My name's Van. What's yours?" She'd coloured prettily, and that alone had made Van more comfortable; in all his memories, Kaze had never blushed. She isn't him. Get used to it. Muttering something about it being 'impolite' and 'stupid' of her, she'd executed a short bow.

"I'm Yuki. Yuki Mireba." With a shy smile and a flip of her long braided hair, she'd departed, leaving Van with a heart full of ache and head full of thoughts. Not of Yuki, but of another who'd looked and sounded very like her. In Van's brain the harsh American tones of her English were replaced with the curious lilt of another's Japanese accent. Kaze . . .I . . . miss you. I need your help to stay grounded, focussed . . . to survive as me. Whoever that really is.

PRESENT

"You're doing it again," Yuki said, breaking him out of his reverie.

"Eh? Doing what?"

"Smiling like that. Not a real smile, but that smile you use to protect yourself. When you look like that I get this feeling that you're just smiling because the only alternative is screaming. That you hurt so badly you're smiling like mad to hide it, hoping it'll go away or at least that the world won't notice." She paused, choosing her next words with care.

"I know you well enough not to ask what's wrong, even though we only met a month ago. You'll never tell me about your demons, your secrets, and I respect that." Her eyes shadowed with her own pain briefly, then cleared. "But if you ever need a friend or even a friendly sparring match to work off steam, well, I'm in the next residential block over, the Girls' wing. G'night."

She left him standing in the corridor, jaw agape, wondering just how see-through he really was. Not very, he finally decided, not at all. I can fool the Bat, Nightwing, Oracle. None of them are even vaguely aware of my new secret identity, so I mustn't be particularly obvious. But to her, like Kaze, my emotions are as transparent as a pane of glass. He did not find the thought comforting.

A memory arose, of Kaze awakening in his arms after a particularly brutal 'session' with the doctor. Of the other boy taking one look at him and seeing right through him as Yuki now did. Seeing that he'd broken, that he'd given the Doctor what he wanted; his civilian name.

Recollections of the promise Kaze had extracted, and his desperate escape to go for help - with its tragic consequences - plagued Van for the rest of the evening and well into the sleepless night.

ELSEWHERE

Also later that night, but in a different place entirely, another group of people did not sleep. In this case, however, it wasn't an acute attack of adolescent angst that plagued them, but rather an assignment. A very profitable venture, should they successfully pull it off. There seemed no reason why they wouldn't either; they simply had to get into the ruins of a (no longer) heavily armoured and hidden research facility. Once there, they would have to pick their way though the wreckage to a deep bunker, in which a single computer sat isolated and (hopefully) intact, in contrast to it's surroundings. Then, disassembling the computer and taking it with them, they simply had to get out again.

The group, a diverse bunch of mercenaries including one ex-retrievalist, managed this with a minimum of fuss. ('Minimum' being two dead and three injured from a variety of still-functional defences that the ex-retrievalist hadn't known about. Nobody really wanted to clobber him for it, though, as he had been the first to die and had done so in a spectacularly messy fashion.)

Upon exiting the site, the now much-whittled down group wasted no time in heading for their drop-off site. Once there, the computer was swapped with a shrouded figure for a suitcase of bank notes, and the group departed to split the spoils.

The woman – for that's what the receiver was, under the concealing and disguising clothes she was bundled in – transported the computer to another facility. Unlike the previous one, this one remained well hidden and well guarded, though a lot more livable. Taking the computer to a singularly luxurious suite, the woman set about restoring it to a semblance of function. She did this with the familiar ease of both an expert programmer, and one well acquainted with her surroundings (this was, in fact, precisely the case; were it not for the importance of the handover, the woman would never have left these apartments. Or her father's side.)

Dawn was breaking when her vigilance was finally rewarded. The hacking program she had designed and initiated (based on a profile of the man who had created the computer program she was trying to slice) cut through to the computer's mainframe.

The data, though breathtaking, was less complete than she'd hoped. Her father expressed a similar sentiment when he arrived, mere moments later.

"But, father," she conceded, "it is still well worth the investment money. Though we do not know his civilian identity, we now know the codename and codes for the completed work. Finding him should not be so difficult with our resources. Also, this other is of great interest. Look. There's only one, and it isn't that of the finished work, but look."

A few moments later, after perusing the newly unearthed information, the father-daughter team were as thrilled as they'd hoped.

"Excellent! A complete copy of the nearly-finished assassin's neuronal blueprint. This is exactly how his mind looked shortly before . . . he escaped? Interesting. I wonder why . . . ah. The other. His friend. He went to get help for the one who would become the first finished work.

"We can use this. We can take this blueprint and insert it elsewhere. We can make our own . . ." He checked the number of the file, "our own Eighteen. Or should that be our own 'Dix-huit.' All we need is someone who matches this profile as closely as possible."

"I'll begin searching at once, Father. Both for the successful subject, this Twenty, and for someone who can fit Eighteen's profile."
The woman paused, and favoured her father with a brilliant smile that transformed her already lovely face into the nearly angelic.

"We will find the success. We will find Twenty. And when we do, we will take him. Or take him down."

Ra's al Ghul nodded once, then, escorting Talia on his arm with courtly grace, they left the suite to commence a manhunt. One that would span every continent of the globe. A hunt for a boy. A hunt for an ultimate killing device. A hunt for an assassin called simply 'Twenty'.

END PART ONE

GLOSSARY -
Tenugui – a cotton cloth wrapped around the head and worn under the helmet in Kendo.

Kendo – Japanese fencing (I wince at this definition, but it's vaguely accurate, I guess)

Shinai – the bamboo sword used in kendo. Made up of four matching slats of bamboo strung together under a soft leather handle.

Bokken – wooden practice sword. Varying weights and designs, depending on what you wish to use it for.