ISSUE #1 (February 2020) Written by Emma Woods Featuring:
"SHADOW OF THE BAT" PART 1
Wayne Tower, R&D, Fox Division…
One Week Ago…
Given the man’s past, Luke Fox was surprised to find his guest to be so unassuming.
Jean-Paul Valley was unobtrusive in his presence, smartly dressed and sat to one side, long hair pulled back into a neat ponytail, a pair of spectacles perched comfortably upon his features. He smiled easily, if briefly, the twitch of his lips rarely spreading far, his eyes never quite matching his uplifted mood.
Truthfully, Luke was paying far more attention to Jean-Paul’s property than he was the man himself. He’d held his breath when the stasis casket delivered earlier that evening had first opened, the metallic cylinder hissing wide with the heavy, dull clunks of retracting dead bolts. The container, boasting a security system that would rival most vaults, was large enough to contain a man or, to be more precise, a suit of armour that could be worn by one.
“Damn,” Luke exhaled, taking in the deep blues and greys that stood revealed before him, arguably the most infamous suit in Gotham’s history. “Sometimes I wonder if I went overboard with my look, but you just went all out, didn’t you?”
That smile again, quick to appear and just as swift to vanish. “It all seemed so reasonable at the time, an addition here, a modification there,” Jean-Paul reflected, his manner sombre as his sipped from his tea. “Tim saw what was happening long before I did. I should have listened; it should never have come to… that.”
Luke took it in, now that he could see it both clearly and, for the first time, in person. He could still remember when it happened, the one time, the only time, that [i]everyone[/i] in Gotham had been afraid of Batman.
No-one spoke about it, but everyone remembered the name the year had been given.
“I hear that’s what Robins are for,” Luke cleared his throat, finding that looking at the cowl for too long made him feel uncomfortable. He turned to his workbench, the familiarity of his tools centring his thoughts, “keeping Batman on the straight and narrow.”
“Perhaps,” Jean-Paul nodded, “I would have done well to heed mine.”
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Luke queried while looking up from his bench. “Now me, I’ve got no reservations about taking this sucker apart and seeing what makes it tick, but is this a rabbit hole you want to go back into? I heard you’d moved on from all of this conditioning.”
“I have,” Jean-Paul nodded, putting his cup down before he leaned forwards. “I am. Bruce has been an invaluable guide, helping me to hone my skills without the indoctrinations of the Church of St. Jumas, but that doesn’t mean that I can escape them. When I first donned the Azrael armour, I unwittingly allowed centuries worth of memories and methodologies to overwrite my own, several lifetimes worth of experience dumped into my brain in a single instant. I was to be the blade of the Church of St. Jumas, but I was not a sword forged by a master smith, I was bludgeoned into shape by a single swing from a sledge hammer.”
For a moment of reflection, Jean-Paul paused, looking upon the armour that been the literal personification of his demons. “When I first put on the Azrael armour, I let a voice into my head. If I am to ever, truly move on, I need to understand what it was saying.”
Stephanie Brown couldn’t quite shake the feeling that they were trespassing. She tried her best to, but the suspicion persisted, settling in her gut as nerves as she nibbled on her bottom lip. Regardless of her trepidation, however, she dared not turn back, the thought of getting caught driving an unexpected thrill to run throughout her body, and the simple security of holding onto the outstretched hand of another fuelled her with a courage that, nary a few months earlier, she would not have believed that she possessed.
She was blindfolded, just as she had agreed to be from the moment she had climbed onto the back of Tim Drake’s motorcycle for the evening (which her Uncle would most certainly not approve of), and now she was being lead upstairs in parts unknown. Stephanie had been able to deduce that they were somewhere on the mainland, the sea breeze unmistakable as they crossed the bridge connecting the Narrows to the city proper, but as to what building they were ascending, she could not even begin to guess. For all she knew, Tim was guiding her to her cell in the GPD for, of all things, breaking into the GPD, but she reassured herself with the thought that he was far too much of a gentleman for that.
“We’re almost there,” Tim released her hand for just a moment, turning his attention to some other matter as Stephanie, feeling they were on the cusp of their destination, swung her arms idly at her side to give them something to do. She tilted her head ever so slightly sideways as she could hear him tapping some manner of combination into a keypad and, with a ping that sounded distinctly positive, the loud clank of shifting gears proceeded the opening of a heavy door.
Stephanie immediately began shivering as she was blasted by an unexpected chill of brisk, night time air, the outside world welcoming her unexpectantly.
Upon witnessing her discomfort, Tim wasted nary a moment in apologising for his lack of foresight, removing his own jacket without prompting and wrapping it about his fellow teen’s shoulders.
Gratefully, Stephanie pulled it tight about her smaller body, immediately comforted by its warmth as, once again, her companion continued to guide her up the last few steps. Some part of her, as she stepped out into the evening, filed away the thought she enjoyed the smell of the garment she had been given, encouraging her to pull it about herself tighter.
“Here,” Tim brought Stephanie to a stop, reaching up to remove her blindfold. “Don’t be startled, we’re no-where near the edge.”
Despite his warnings, Stephanie fidgeting in anticipation, she was still taken aback by the sheer majesty of the vista placed before her as soon as the world was revealed to her once more. She gasped almost audibly, blinking several times as her eyes readjusted to the light, and it took her even longer to process the spectacle of her new view.
Gotham, the entirety of Gotham splayed out before her like a kingdom beneath her feet. The city was huge from her current vantage, striking out in all directions and dominating the landscape it had been built upon. It was larger than she had ever even imagined it to be, the girl who had grown up in the cramp confines of the Narrows, and it was difficult to take in.
Tim didn’t even flinch, the view as familiar to him as the one outside his window and, as Stephanie stole a gaze at his profile in that instant, she realised then that vigilante that she knew as Red Robin loved his city. For all its flaws, he loved it with a passion, he did so as only one who had been born there could.
It was a feeling that she could understand.
“Where are we?” she asked, not really wanting to think about high up they were.
“Wayne tower,” he confirmed, running a hand through his raven coloured hair.
“This is Wayne Tower?” Stephanie exclaimed; the young woman known as Batgirl momentarily feeling her earlier trepidations return with full force. They were defiantly trespassing if she was in Wayne Tower.
“Tallest building in Gotham,” he confirmed with no small amount of pride. “At least, it is now following the latest renovation. I’m sure in a few years the Kanes will want to see about fixing that.”
“This is Wayne Tower,” she repeated, only this time not as a question, Stephanie letting it sink in. As children, the residents of the Narrows would dream about it as though it were a fantasy land, the Ivory Tower of the Prince of Gotham. They all boasted that one day, when they were older, that they would go there. None of them actually believed it. To live in a Castle, you had to be a Princess.
“Alright, spill it,” Stephanie steeled her resolve, managing to break her gaze from the majesty of the horizon and focus her attention on Tim Drake. “Who are you, [i]Timothy[/i], how do you have access to Wayne Tower?” she insisted on knowing, her brow perked in enquiry. “Do you work here? Are you Bruce Wayne’s son? Does he have a son? I heard he has a son.”
Tim held up his hands, immediately on the defensive, “Stephanie…”
“No, no, no,” the teen cautioned with a swish of her finger, “not again, don’t be giving me the sad eyes.”
He gave her the sad eyes.
Stephanie groaned with outward disappointment, grumbling to herself concerning the underhanded nature of his tactics. The sheer sincerity of his reluctance about keeping her in the dark forcing her to, once again, quench her curiosity for the time being.
“I still think it’s unfair,” she did, however, voice her earlier complaint. “I mean, you guys know everything about me.”
“I know,” Tim conceded. “It’ll come,” he promised.
Stephanie didn’t answer, preferring to sulk instead. It didn’t last long, not after she sighed deeply and looked back to the horizon, Gotham in all its glory stealing back her attention. It really was a spectacular view.
Still, she felt the need to try out at least one theory, just to see how the sound of it rolled off her tongue, uttering the handful of syllables with almost idle curiosity. “Timothy Wayne.”
With a dejected exhale, Tim closed his eyes and shook his head, “Please don’t say that in front of Robin, you’ll only wind him up.”
With a furrowed brow, Stephanie looked at the young man in mild confusion, “why would that wind him up?”
Suddenly, as realisation dawned on both of their expressions, despite Tim’s best efforts to cut her off at the pass, Stephanie’s eyes lit up as pieces started falling together.
“Is Robin Bruce Wayne’s son?” she exclaimed, suddenly unable to contain herself. “He is, isn’t he? I’m right, aren’t I?” she grinned, immensely pleased with herself. “Robin is Bruce Wayne’s son, and I worked it out! Deduction bitches!!”
“Stephanie, please,” Tim tried his best to regain control of the situation.
“Does Bruce Wayne know?” Stephanie asked, stopping him in his tracks.
With a pause, the young man known as Red Robin considered all of his available options before answering, “…No.”
“Huh,” Stephanie released a sharp, excitable exhale, her cheeks all aglow with a sense of personal achievement, “I guess I can see why you would want to keep that quiet. Robin is Bruce Wayne’s son, that’s insane.”
Tim cleared his throat, recovering with commonable swiftness considering how close he had come to dropping the ball or, at least, the biggest one. He smiled, despite himself, seeing how pleased with herself Stephanie was feeling, almost glowing with her achievement.
It made him want her to feel that way all the more.
When Luke Fox awoke, it was with a start, the young man taking a few moments to realise he was sitting at his workbench, blueprints spread out before him where he had left him. With his vision fogged by disturbed slumber, he rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand before forcing himself to sit up straight, a fresh kink in his back protesting as it was forcibly straightened.
It took a little longer for full clarity to return, Luke attuning to his surroundings, the familiarity of his private R&D lab at Wayne Tower helping him to centre as he almost idly shuffled his scattered blueprints into a neater pile. They represented several different projects, some well into development, others only an inkling of an idea. Given near unlimited resources, he was finding it difficult to focus on one idea, and there just wasn’t enough hours left in the day for him to pursue all of them.
“Bad habits, Luke,” he berated himself mildly, this was not the first time he had fallen asleep at the lab. “Need to nip this one in the butt.”
He stood up, something in his spine popping before he pulled his jacket off the back of his chair, slinging it on about his shoulders and resigning himself to going home. Luke reached into his desk draw to find his keys before he immediately froze in place.
Something was amiss, the hairs on his neck standing on end.
For a single, solitary moment, he knew that he was not alone.
That realisation may have come too late to save him…
“I suppose you would like your jacket back?” Stephanie suggested as they exited the stairwell, Tim opening the door for her that lead into a long corridor, one that terminated in an express elevator to the ground floor at the far end. She turned about, keeping a few steps ahead of him as she back peddled, perking her brow as she pulled it on more tightly about her shoulders.
“I was hoping that I would get it back eventually,” Tim admitted with a shrug, hands sat assuredly in his pockets. “I’m starting to think it might cost me.”
“Well, I am starving,” Stephanie confessed, the duo taking a leisurely pace down the corridor, a glass panelled wall separating them from the lab that took up the majority of the floor. “When you invited me to join you on non-bat related shenanigans, I assumed food would be involved.”
Tim didn’t require a great deal of convincing, “We can get something to eat, I know a place nearby.”
“Somewhere I can afford?”
The vigilante known as Red Robin thought the matter over, “There’s a vending machine downstairs.”
“Hilarious,” Stephanie scolded Tim, not overly seriously, “do better Boy Wonde…”
She stopped, a quizzical expression betraying her surprise as her borrowed jacket began vibrating.
“Sorry,” Tim apologised, retrieving his phone from the coats pocket, his manner suddenly sombre. There was only one type of call that he received from this device. “Wait, that’s…”
He was moving before he was even consciously aware of why he was doing it, Tim Drake diving forwards and tackling a startled Stephanie Brown to the ground. The glass panelling beside them exploded outwards a moment later, showering the immediate vicinity with flying shrapnel and noise.
Instinct took over, Red Robin rose to the fore as he shielded his companion from the debris, his shoulders peppered with fresh cuts as broken glass imbedded itself in his back. With gritted teeth he compartmentalised the pain for later, just as he had been taught to, filing it away until he was ready to deal with it. For now, it was all about observation and evaluation, ensuring that the shellshocked Stephanie was still in one piece and then turning back to the site of the sudden violence.
The involuntary projectile responsible for the damage revealed itself to be Luke Fox, the young man bouncing off the far wall before hitting the deck, groaning in a stupor as the lights above dimmed and began to flicker.
Tim cursed, on his feet swiftly and, with a few, swift interactions with his phone, was able to activate Wayne Towers emergency alarm, calling for a full building evacuation. He didn’t have time for any further preparations, not as Luke’s mystery assailant saw fit to step outwards from the shadows, a towering figure of sharp angles and dark hues and a cowl that looked back at him from his nightmares.
The first time they met, he had been barely more than a boy and, now as he stood upon the cusp of being a man, Tim found himself as frozen now as he had been then.