The Red Hood adjusted to chaos easily; it was part of his world, and he had been its agent more than once. Anyone who mistook him for a mere seed of disorder, however, had failed to see the bigger picture. He had been trained by some of the best martial artists in the world, and discipline of mind and body was part of that.
He was back in Gotham City now, lying low. Nightwing had spotted him once, but he’d ditched Dickie-bird and stayed in for a few nights, waiting to see if the rest of the Bats came hunting. The only one actively hunting him was Spoiler, and he couldn’t blame her. Jay had put her boyfriend in the hospital, and he might do it again if he had to look at that sanctimonious I’m-the-best-Robin face one more time, but he bore her no ill-will. The blonde girl had been a Robin, too, and Daddy Bats had booted her out. She didn’t go home and cry about it, though. She put her old Spoiler uniform back on and got right back out there, fighting with Oracle’s crew. Pretty much told Batman where he could shove it. Jay admired moxie like that.
Of course, if Spoiler actually found him, he’d knock her out and drop her on the Clock Tower doorstep. She was nowhere near the fighter he was, and he knew he could take her if he had to. But he wasn’t shopping for a sidekick, and he didn’t want her trying to bring him down when he was in the middle of something important, so Jay just avoided her.
At the moment he was just putting out feelers, trying to figure out the lie of the land. Gotham’s greasy underbelly was still rumbling from the havoc he’d wreaked on it, but things were getting back to normal. As normal as it could be, anyway. Gangs, drugs, guns, and dirty money everywhere. Black Mask was sitting in jail, but he had his agents out there, and Jay knew if one of those found out he was in town, he’d have a hefty price on his head.
It wouldn’t be the first time, and probably not the last, either. Mask was too goddamned cheap to hire the kind of talent it would take to put down Red Hood. Besides, with his caliber of training, Jay felt like he only had to worry about the League of Shadows. And he figured that no matter how pissed Ra’s al Ghul was, he wouldn’t accept anyone else’s fee to kill him. If the old man wanted revenge for that unauthorized swim in his freakin’ fountain of youth, he’d take it himself.
There were a couple of mercenaries and independent assassins-for-hire who were good enough to give him a headache, but Jay thought he’d see them coming a mile away. And Mask, flinty bastard that he was, would give him plenty of warning by hiring second-stringers first.
No, his primary concerns wore bats on their chests. Including the new Batgirl, whom Jay had spotted once by pure luck. That one moved like a true ninja, and Jay had a lot of money out there waiting for any kind of information on her. So he kept his head down, built things up slowly, working on reestablishing himself. This time around he wasn’t going to go toe-to-toe with Bruce and his little nesting dolls. No, the plan now was to be the Batman Gotham deserved. Forget taking control of the gangs, just hit ‘em hard enough to keep them cowed and running scared. Kill the ones that rose above the rest in competence or cruelty. Crime couldn’t be stopped, but it could be throttled down to a bare minimum. He had to vary his methodology too, make it less obvious that he was an ex-Robin, if he wanted to keep working, so he chose the cautious approach.
And that led to his errand tonight. No matter how much he might try to keep his head down, there were some things Jay couldn’t ignore. In the process of gathering information, he’d stumbled across a ‘hotel’ that charged exorbitant rates in a seedy neighborhood—hourly rates, at that. Didn’t take long to figure out that the rooms in the hotel came with some very exotic amenities.
It always came down to kids. Selling drugs to kids, or selling kids themselves. Either one would earn Jay’s wrath, and he couldn’t hold back. When he heard a whisper that the ‘hotel’ catered to those who liked their meat very young and tender, he decided to investigate.
Only took a day to decide the place was going down. How could Bruce and company let something like this slide under their noses? (Well, every nutjob with a mask capering around on the rooftops begging for Bat-tention didn’t help.) And if they found out, how the fuck could they stand not to slice and dice the bastards running it? He sure didn’t know, but one thing was sure. None of the fuckers were gonna get out alive. Jay stocked up on ammo, checked blueprints for access points and escape routes, then headed in.
And found that someone else had been there first. The back-door guard was dead behind his desk with a slashed throat, two more in the hallway. Jay froze, every sense on alert. Someone else was in his town, doing his job. Hell no, Daddy Bats and his morals wouldn’t let anyone play vigilante-killer in Gotham. This had to be new.
Or it was someone taking out the competition. He could be walking into a fight. Jay shrugged; the safety was already off his gun, and his only concession to danger was to move more stealthily and cautiously.
That ended when he got to the basement. He’d come in early, before the place was officially open—one former employee had admitted, after having a couple fingers broken, that the merchandise was locked up in the basement during the day and only let out just before guests started arriving. So whoever was shooting down there was running the risk of hurting the kids, and they had suffered enough already.
Jay burst in with guns blazing, taking out two assholes who were spraying lead all over the place. He had a moment to think scornfully that no one bothered to practice with fully automatic weapons anymore, just assumed they were point-and-click, which was why half their rounds were going into the ceiling as the force of recoil pulled the guns upward.
What he was looking for was the opposition, and he didn’t see it. The guys standing between him and a frightened huddle of children were concentrating their fire on a bank of steel lockers, and Jay figured anyone who’d tried to hide in there was thoroughly perforated by now. So he kept his attention on the men shooting at him, and mowed them down.
The air rang with echoes when he lowered his weapons. “It’s all right, kids, you’re getting out of here,” he said. And then the hair on his neck stood up, every sense screaming that he wasn’t alone.
Intuition deeper than knowledge warned against trying to whirl on the adversary, and Jay stood with both guns held loosely at his side. He felt a presence behind him, and then a careful touch just beneath his helmet, where the reinforced collar of his jacket had a tiny gap for flexibility.
That was too much to bear, and he turned with the blinding speed he’d learned over the last four years. To Jay’s shock, he was countered, the gun he’d been raising swept out of his hand, and the other smacked down before he lifted it. Fucking hell, no one got the drop on him like that!
Falling back, he grabbed for the knife, but had a sword-tip at his throat even as his fingers closed on the blade, and husky feminine laughter rang in his ears. He’d only known one woman who was both faster than he was, and carried a sword with authority. For a second Jay though, Talia?!
But no, Talia never did the mask thing, and the skin beneath the mask was too pale. Not to mention the long hair was pure white. Jay’s memory caught up a second later, matching the uniform to the identity—well, the father’s identity. “Ravager,” he said, calmer than he felt. Too late he remembered that Deathstroke had some kind of psychic sense that told him what opponents were about to do. Maybe his daughter had it too, and that was how she got him.
“Red Hood,” she replied, and gave him a flash of white teeth in savage amusement. “I really thought about taking your head to Black Mask for the bounty.”
Jay rolled his shoulders, acting like he was trying to relieve tension, but really just trying to get her used to him moving. “Oh yeah? The money’s that good, to tempt a Titan?”
“Forget the Titans. Too much drama in that club,” Rose said dismissively.
So she was on her own, or pretending to be. Thinking about going for hire like her father, maybe? Killing people who needed killing, too. Jay knew how the guards’ throats had been slashed, looking at the crimson stains on her blade. And trespassing on Bat-turf, not that she seemed to give a damn. “What stopped you?”
She hiked one shoulder. “You came here for the kids. Same reason I did. So maybe I can let you live.”
Jay chuckled, tipping his head forward as he did. “Well that’s really generous of you, Ravager. I’ll be sure to leave a reference on your mercenary file.”
He knew that would piss her off, and he’d been making subtle little moves the whole time. The next thing Rose knew, he’d grabbed her sword by the blade with his armored glove, and had his kriss up to her throat. “Uh-uh, don’t reach for the other sword, you’re already too late,” Jay informed her, and watched the smile slide off her lips, replaced by a bitter, angry expression.
Rose didn’t back down, though, just glared at him from behind the mask. Jay grinned evilly. “Well, since you came here for the kids, I guess maybe I can let you live.”
At that moment, when her mouth was twisting in a sneer, they both heard sirens outside. GCPD, late as always, but they damn sure couldn’t get caught in the middle of a pile of bodies. “Wanna take this conversation elsewhere, or just wait ‘til we get busted?” Rose said, stepping smoothly back from the knife in the instant that Jay was distracted by the sirens.
He smirked beneath his helmet. “Your place or mine?”
She made a scoffing noise. “Last I checked, neither of us is even supposed to be in this town. But if you wanna piece of the assholes who were sending them the kids, you’ll come find me.” And with that Ravager was gone, and Jay took his own exit route, sparing a glance at the huddled children.
At least now they were safe; Gordon’s cops were solid. Jay knew he was going to track down Rose to figure out whoever had sold these kids, and put a stop to it.