DISCLAIMER: All recognizable characters belong to DC Comics.
CHAPTER ONE: Taken
"We are certain about this? There can be no mistakes made in this endeavour."
"We are certain."
"We were to believe that the Atlantean led the children."
"That is truth, but also temporary."
"Yes. Another is being groomed for the task."
"The youngest of them."
"We believe so. He is apprentice to the leader of the Justice League."
The shrill clang of the bell signalled the end of the last period of the morning and before the reverberating sound diminished most of Gotham City Academy AP Calculus class had already gathered their things and was heading for the door.
"Tomorrow," Ms Reckolson's voice called over the sudden rise in student conversation, "we continue our practical applications of the extreme value theorem so I want you to have the next two chapters in your Differential Calculus Texts read and the practice equations at the end of the chapter calculated and graphed before you step food in this classroom. Mr Grayson, this also means just the next two chapters, please do not finish the book like you did last term."
Richard Grayson, adopted son of Gotham billionaire Bruce Wayne, slid his textbook into his sling-pack and allowed a wry grin to tug at his lips. "Sorry Ms Reckolson, I finished last weekend. It was a quiet Friday Night."
He exited the class as the instructor sighed and shook her head, and the remaining students' explosion of laugher echoed into the hall. As the only seventh grader in a room of twenty upper classmen, seniors mostly, Dick was use to their teasing and amusement at his expense. He was also use to them approaching him when they needed help. Most people, teachers and administration included, felt his class attendance a mere formality.
Ah, the joys of being a genius.
The swell of students heading for the cafeteria and lunchroom would have swept up any other student, especially one of Dick's small stature. Dick, however, was most definitely not just any other student. With the agility of a boy raised amongst agile circus folk, a skill trained to near perfection by Gotham City's own Dark Knight, he wove his way through the throng of bodies until he was standing in front of his locker in the Junior High Grades' hall.
"Dude!" a voice all but shouted as a body slammed into the wall of lockers next to him. "You totally missed a humiliation of epic proportion in Life Studies this morning. They will be talking about this for weeks! Months! Decades even!"
Suppressing a sigh of annoyance, Dick pulled the door of the locker open which gave him a barrier from the ramblings of his 'best friend'. Hamilton Hill III was the son of the current mayor of Gotham City, and had latched on to Bruce Wayne's ward after meeting at a fund raiser a couple years back. Despite the barely veiled feelings of loathing Dick held for the teen, the other boy just couldn't take the hint.
"You going to tell me what happened, or just keep me in suspense for the rest of my life?" Dick asked in a bored tone. He slid his pack from his shoulder and hung it on the hook inside before removing his school blazer and hanging it as well.
"I don't know, man," Hamilton said with an oily chuckle. "I'm not sure us plebeians are up to the standards of one as high and mighty as you."
"So nothing happened, again, and you're just ragging on me again for my placement with the upper classmen." Dick reached to the shelf and retrieved his Blackberry and Bluetooth earpiece. "We do this every Thursday. Can't you think of something original for once?"
A smile found its way back to his lips as he turned his head to the side to acknowledge the new greeting. "Hey Crock."
The lithe blonde freshman returned the smile as she continued on with her friends. Dick entertained the brief thought of what her reaction would be if she knew the truth of who he was.
"So not fair, Dude!" Hamilton moaned as Dick let the phone fall into the back pocket of his slacks and he clipped the earpiece over his lobe. "How is it, that one as popularity challenged as you knows all the hot chicks? You have seriously got to introduce me to the new transfer!"
"Hamilton," Dick nearly growled as he closed the door to his locker and finally allowed his steel blue gaze fall onto the other boy. "Give it a rest, okay? I met Artemis at the Alumni banquet hosted by the Wayne Enterprises' Foundation for Academic Excellence last month. She's one of the ten Scholarship awardees that accepted the placement here at the Academy. We say hi to each other as a social nicety. That's it."
Hamilton snorted. "Yeah, right."
There was no withholding the annoyed sigh this time. "Whatever. I need to get to the courtyard before Alfred calls to check in." The central area of the Academy, a large outdoor area for the students to congregate was the only location cell phones and laptops were permitted. "Bruce won't get me a replacement if I get another phone confiscated this year."
"The old man still makes you do that?" The boys were some of the last to finally make their way out of the hall.
"Three time a day." Even Dick had to admit to the ludicrous notion that anything would happen while at the school. As the daytime home to the children of the Gotham elite, security was tighter than Fort Knox. But in the pursuit of keeping their secret identities just that, Batman and Robin agreed the pretence of a paranoid guardian was just another necessity.
"Seriously, Dude," Hamilton griped as they separated at the doors to the cafeteria, "Wayne needs to lighten up a little! Let you breathe!"
Grateful for the silence that descended with the departure of his "friend" Dick made his way out to the courtyard and took his normal spot on the stone bench partially hidden within the drooping branches of the large willow tree. No sooner had he sat, leaning forward with his elbows resting on his knees, his phone chirped alerting him to an incoming call.
"Afternoon Master Richard," the jovial British accent of Alfred chimed in his ear when he answered.
"Master Bruce wished me to remind you that you will not be going to Rhode Island this weekend and to pack your things this evening."
"The conference in Budapest? I thought that was next week and Bruce was going by himself?"
"It is, and he is, but you and he will be leaving directly after school lets out tomorrow for the Wayne Enterprises plant inspection in-"
"Dubai," Dick groaned an pinched the bridge of his nose. "Crap, I totally forgot. Kaldur and I were planning on working on tactics this weekend."
"You will need to inform him of the oversight, Master Richard."
"Yeah, I'll pop over to the Cave after patrol tonight. Maybe we can work it into next week's schedule before he-."
The sudden silencing of the din of conversations around him drew his attention to the courtyard. He swore under his breath as he slowly got to his feet as a trio of masked and armed men exited the school. "Change of plans, Alfred," he hissed, barely moving his lips as the eyes beneath an all too familiar mask scanned to students.
"Get Batman." Dick flicked the Bluetooth from his ear and let it fall into the grass beside the phone he slipped from his pocket, using the tip of his shoe to push both beneath the bench. Only a few seconds later one of the gunmen stepped into the shade of the tree and pulled him into the open with the others.
"Everyone on your knees," Sportsmaster snapped the order. "Heads bowed, hands on your head, wrists crossed."
It was an awkward position, but none of the teens hesitated to comply with the mercenary.
The girl to his right was shaking visibly and the guy to his left was muttering under his breath. It took Dick a moment to decipher it. "We're gonna die…we're gonna die… we're gonna die…"
Sportsmaster shouldered the assault riffle he carried casually, walking up the row of students as the other two men lifted the heads of the male students.
They're looking for someone…
The gunmen reached the boy next to Dick – a sophomore he shared Algebra with – and the strong smell of ammonia assaulted his nose. He couldn't fault the guy. If he had been a typical thirteen year old Dick probably would have pissed himself too.
But it had already been established that he was not a typical thirteen year old.
A leathered hand painfully gripped his wrists, gloved knuckles digging into his scalp as the fingers encompassed both his wrists and much of his hair at the same time. He allowed a yelp of pain to pass his lips as his head was yanked back and brought a flash of fear into his eyes.
The mercenary stared at him, and although he couldn't see the man's face, Dick could tell by the look in Sportsmaster's eyes that he had found who they were looking for.
There was no faking the quickening of his heart when Sportsmaster leaned over and the hard mask brushed against the side of Dick's face. The hissed words were barely heard, and Dick doubted anyone but he heard the words that froze the blood in his veins.
Artemis Crock sat, bored, her elbows on the table between her and her new friends. The girls were what one would expect to find in the freshman class of any high school: gossipy, narcissistic, and incredibly shallow. No different than the girls at her old school, Gotham North, but at least she'd had a few years to get use to them. These girls… their current choice of conversation was making her wish she could stun them with one of the new arrows Green Arrow was designing for her. Or at the very least, smack them upside the head.
"It's a shame he's so young," Mari, the 'leader' of the clique, sighed as she opened the bento box in front of her with her perfectly manicured hands. "And sooo skinny! Why do you bother even talking to him, Artemis?"
Repressing an annoyed sigh of her own, the blonde resisted the urge to strangle the debutante. "Dick's a nice enough kid."
"And there's no denying he's going to be a hotty when he grows up," one of the others chimed in. "I mean, seriously, have you seen him in the gym? He may only be a seventher, but he's got some meat on those arms. And those eyes!"
"Not to mention those billions! When Wayne kicked it, he gets it all." Mari smirked, a less than flattering dreamy expression on her face. "That definitely makes up for any deficiencies he has."
Artemis felt nauseous. If they thought Bruce Wayne was going to let his kid have anything to do with gold diggers like them, they were in for a very rude awakening. She'd enjoy seeing that. She snorted, a sound she was unable to cover, and the girls at the table with her looked her way. Instead of answering their questioning glances, she rose from her seat and slung her back pack over one shoulder. "I'll see you in class. I need to double check my English paper before I hand it in."
"You study too hard, Artemis." A petite redhead informed her with a nose wrinkled in disgust.
"Some of us have a scholarship to maintain." She started for the cafeteria doors without another word, or a thought of what her 'friends' would think. No doubt they were already gossiping about the 'charity case' they were allowing in their midst's. Girls like them didn't hang with girls like her.
The halls were surprisingly quiet when she stepped out of the mild roar of nose from inside the lunch room, but she welcomed it. Silence allowed her to think about things.
Like why she found it necessary to say hi to a kid two years younger than her when she had only actually met him that one time. She hadn't lied when she told the others that he was nice. He really was. He'd gone out of his way at the dinner to talk to each of the Scholarship awardees, telling them about Gotham City Academy. She had expected him to be just another rich jackass, but Dick Grayson was anything but.
Definitely not your typical rich kid.
A faint series of beeps sounded over the PA suddenly and her heart leapt into her throat as she noticed the open doors around her swing shut on their own and the automatic locking mechanisms engaged. She remembered what this meant from her orientation. Something was happening that was putting the school into lockdown.
And she was one of the few students in the hall and in the open!
Artemis threw herself into the doorway of one of the closed doors, curling herself into a ball as they had been instructed. She noticed what few teenagers in the hall doing the same. For what seemed like an eternity, nothing happened and she felt herself wondering if maybe this was just a drill.
That was until she heard the gunshots coming from the courtyard and saw the doors forced open from the blast.
It was hard to fight her gut instinct to jump at the masked gunman when he stepped into the hall. Even more so when the second came out. But as she tensed to jump them as they drew nearer, her body froze when the third gunman entered the hall, gloved hand viciously clutching the arm of a student.
The dark haired boy was fighting against the grip on his upper arm, a task made difficult as it appeared his hands were secured behind his back with some form of restraints. But it was the familiarity of the third man's mask that made her heart all but stop.
In the terribly quiet of the hall, her breathless exclamation was still loud enough to be heard.
Sportsmaster paused, the eyes beneath the mask – eyes nearly identical to her own – roaming the hall until they landed on her.
"Now this is a surprise," the mercenary growled.
His hostage stilled momentarily in his struggles and Artemis saw who it was for the first time.
Before she realized what she was doing, Artemis was on her feet and standing between the gunmen and the school's exit. "Let him go!"
"Crock, no!" Dick shook his head.
The blonde watched as the boy was shoved into the arms of one of the others, and she was able to see the wire that was coiled around his wrists. Her stomach dropped when she noticed the faint traces of crimson already staining his bindings.
Heavy booted steps drew her attention back to the man approaching her as he drew to a stop only inches from her.
"What are you doing here?" The man snarled.
She swallowed the lump of fear in her throat and forced herself to look at Sportsmaster. "I – I go here. Now. Scholarship." When he didn't comment, she whispered. "Let him go, Daddy. Please."
The humorous glint in his eyes answered for him.
"Get away from her!"
The shout was followed by a grunt of pain and a moment later the once captive was barely into Sportsmaster and knocking him away from his daughter. Artemis was moving again before she realized it, intending to pull Dick back from the mercenary, when the butt of a riffle was driven painfully into her solar plexus.
Air was expelled from her lungs explosively, doubling her over before he knees buckled and sent her to the tiled floor. As she gasped to regain her breath she could hear the scuffle off to the side, a striking of leather against flesh, and a groan. A moment later a shadow fell over her and she looked up at Sportsmaster.
Father and daughter stared at one another, but in the background she could see the two other gunmen dragging a limp Dick Grayson between them toward the door.
She cringed and cried out as a heavily booted foot stuck hard into her abdomen. It was not the first time Lawrence Crock had hit her, but it had been a while and it still brought tears to the corner of her eyes. The shadow moved on, leaving her whimpering on the hall floor.
"Artemis!" Something had changed in Dick's voice and Artemis snapped her head to the side at the familiarity of the tone. He was fighting again, his dark blue eyes boring into hers with an intensity she had never seen before, and yet knew all to well. "Artemis, tell Bruce – tell my father – 'broken wing'! Tell him!"
And then he was gone.
Whispers broke out around her, reminding her that she was not alone in the hall. She felt the moisture from her eyes tickle down her temples and to the floor. A hand on her shoulder caused her to flinch but she did not turn to look at the student that now knelt beside her. A spot of blood on the tiles, only a few inches away from her face, kept her attention. It was followed closely by a second drop, and then a third, several more staining the floor in the direction of the door.
"Are you okay?" The boy, a freshman she shared a couple classes with, was the only one that had moved.
She clenched her eyes shut, her body trembling in shock, and shook her head.
She was so far from being okay.