Jason sits atop one of Gotham’s tallest skyscrapers, taking in a deep breath and savoring the smells he hasn’t breathed in so long. With just that one inhale everything comes back to him. All the nights he spent alone in the city’s alleys, trying to survive. All the nights he spent chasing criminals with a shadow watching over him.
Even though it has been several years since those nights, he can still remember them so clearly it almost hurts. His thirst for approval and acceptance when in the end it had been futile anyway. He’d met his early end despite it all.
But even then, he wasn’t allowed to rest.
The first few years after his death are still hazy and tinged in green and rage and hate. If it hadn’t been for Talia and Granny Ducra and their training, he is sure he wouldn’t be half as in control as he is now. He would have given into his urges and his instincts and acted recklessly. Probably running into an early second grave while he was at it.
But he hadn’t and he won’t, even if this city is evoking too many of these old emotions.
He shakes his head, trying to rid himself of these thoughts. He knows better than to get hung up in them. Every time he does, it ends with him either wasting a day calming his nerves and meditating, fighting off panic attacks or nightmares or with him letting off some steam by chasing down the worst of the worst and showing them what real fear is.
He releases the breath and with it some of his tension. He turns to the still figure next to him. One of his best friends resides there in stony silence, giving him a sense of normalcy and grounding him.
“Good to know you still got my back,” Jason says, patting the gargoyles head with his gloved hand. He is happy to see that despite everything that has changed in all these years, his best friend is still watching over the city in his stead, just waiting for him to return and tell him some more stories of him and the Dark Knight.
Only there aren’t any stories left to tell about him and the Knight. Those times are over. Now he has stories of an ancient order that gave him meaning and support, an old lady that showed him the right path and a young woman he almost dares to call mother.
He returns his gaze towards the bright scenery below. Cars speeding down the streets, passersby weaving through the masses that still dare to walk the streets at this hour and thugs looming in the darkened alleys, waiting for their prey. He ignores all of it, disregarding it as white noise in the back of his mind and scans the roofs for the reason he returned to this city. For the reason he broke his promise to himself and everyone that helped him to get where he is now.
Not that anyone would care.
His family is dead. Ducra is gone and with her all sense of normalcy Jason has managed to regain for himself after years of uncertainty. If you can call hunting the supernatural normal.
They died when he wasn’t there to help them. They died because of an evil he was supposed to defeat. He knows it’s wrong to blame himself, but he can’t help but think that maybe he could have saved some of them if he’d been there when the attack happened.
When he’d returned to the Acres of All and the sight of his family, massacred and killed in cold blood, had greeted him, he’d remembered what it’d felt like to find out that his supposed Dad had replaced him. He’d taken all that rage and hurt and anger and directed it towards the ones responsible for ripping away his family. But it hadn’t taken long for him to track down the Untitled and kill every single one of them and when he’d finally struck down the last of them, there was still so much left. There’s still so much anger and hurt left. But worst of all is that emptiness he feels until this day.
Filling his days with hunting the evil and supernatural has helped, but there is still so much left.
And after almost one year of constant hunting, he suddenly hears about him.
The Red Hood.
He can still recall the day he first thought about making Bruce kill the clown and showing him what happens when he drags children into this crusade of his. But he’d let go of that plan a long time ago. He’d discarded the idea of the Red Hood showing the Batman what real justice is.
Now imagine Jason’s surprise when he suddenly hears of a Red Hood doing exactly what he’d planned. Except there is no justice in what he’s doing. He kills ruthlessly, leaving rivers of blood, sorrow and chaos in his wake. And as if that isn’t enough, it seems the bats can’t handle the situation as well as they should because the Hood is still running amok in Gotham’s streets.
Deep down Jason knows there is a distinct possibility someone else had the same idea to wear a red helmet and fight crime, but he also knows the chances for that really being true are so slim he wouldn’t be able to see them with a microscope.
So, he returned to the place he never wanted to return to, to take care of whatever this was.
He watches the roofs carefully, waiting for any sign of the Red Hood.
A scream filters through the noise below and gains his attention. It’s a sound he’s familiar with but will never get used to. It chills his bones and ignites his muscles in a way nothing else ever will. The thrill travels through his limbs and he rises from his perched position. He quickly scans the immediate area to make sure there are no bats to potentially run into and when he’s sure he’s alone in the sky, he jumps.
Wind speeds past his ears and throws his hood back, revealing raven locks and white bangs. He watches the buildings zoom by and revels in the feeling of free fall for a few more seconds. Then he quickly shoots his grapple towards the next building and rises back up into the air. The motion repeats until he lands on a lower rooftop, looking down at an all too familiar scene.
A man, holding a gun and pointing it at a young woman. Behind the woman is a little boy, trembling like a leaf and clutching tightly at the woman’s coat. The man shouts something at them, waving the pistol around. The woman screams in response, the boy cries, but Jason tunes it all out.
He pulls his hood back up, drops down from the roof, landing behind the thug and erupts into a blur of motions.
Before any of the three people in the alley know what happens, the thug lies on the ground, disarmed and unconscious, a gunshot echoing in the alleyway. Jason stands over the motionless man, holding the gun in a loose grasp. He watches the blood escape from the thug’s split lip and yearns for more. He can’t help that it’s never enough for him. No matter how many criminals or creatures he puts in their place, it’s never enough.
He knows it’s not sane to feel that way, that it’s wrong, but after all this time he’s stopped caring and instead embraces his thirst for justice and revenge. He’s never known anything else after all and the short times he did, it was ripped away from him by the cold clutches of death herself that he can’t seem to escape from.
He looks up at the woman that seems frozen in place, her eyes wide. For a short moment he wonders why she’s so surprised, this is Gotham after all. But then he remembers he’s not wearing a bright uniform with an ‘R’ on his chest and there is no Batman looming in the shadows behind him. No, instead he is wearing the All-Caste’s uniform with his modified faceguard, his hood pulled deep down to obscure his features. At the moment he probably looks more terrifying than the thug that threatened her just seconds ago.
“You should leave,” he says, locking his eyes to hers, even though she can’t see them.
Before he even finishes his sentence, she turns, grabbing the boy with a firm grip and high tails out of the alley. A soft groan returns Jason’s attention to the thug on the concrete. For a short moment he ponders what to do with the man, but in the end, it isn’t really a question. He props the man up against the wall and scales back up the building.
He’s not equipped to lock up thugs and rescue citizens. The gear he took with him tonight is solely aimed for apprehending an imposter at any means possible, nothing more and nothing less. Everything else is just a means to kill some time while he waits for his target.
In the end, he doesn’t have to wait that long after all. He barely reaches the top of the building he jumped off earlier, when there’s a thud on the other side of the roof. Looking up, the first thing he sees is the bright red helmet, white lifeless eyes fixating on him. Jason registers the gun pointed at him only as an afterthought while he studies the man before him. Or would creature be more accurate? Considering the thrumming of his soul, alerting him to an evil presence he thinks the latter term is more suitable.
“Who the fuck are you supposed to be?” the other drawls, his voice distorted with the help of a voice modulator.
Before his arrival in the city Jason hadn’t been sure what would await him. Dimension travel? Cloning? Time travel? Every one of these options would have been a pain in the ass to deal with, but this? He can feel the All-Blades calling for blood and death and he knows this will be over before it started. He would be far away from this city before sunrise and there would be nothing left holding him here. He could finally leave his past where it belonged, once and for all.
“Your downfall,” he says just loud enough for the other to hear and charges. A bullet misses him only barely, grazing his shoulder just enough to rip through the fabric of his uniform, but not enough to draw blood.
Jason knows his best chance to winning this fight is to reduce the distance between them and turn this fight into a close combat one, rendering the other’s weapons useless. Answering to the thrumming of his soul, he lets his energy flow through his arms, gathering in his hands and materializing in the form of his trusted blades.
The Red Hood catches onto his plan quickly and before he even tries to fire more shots with his guns, he holsters them and draws a kris from his boot. Metal clashes with metal, sparks erupting from Jason’s blades. The Hood is strong, he has to give him that. He’s big and bulky, more even than Jason himself, but where he strides in muscles, Jason does in speed and experience.
The Hood may fight thugs, bats and rogues on a nightly basis, but Jason fights creatures five times his size and speed on top of that. He knows how to use his disadvantages in his favor.
They pull back and the fight begins. Blades speed through the air, reflecting the cities lights in a dance of bright colors. Blows and cuts are exchanged, never reaching their desired target. Jason evades another of Hood’s attacks, somersaulting over the other’s arm. He turns in the air, twisting his arm back to deliver another cut with his blade. The Hood dodges the attack to avoid a crippling injury to his hip, but not quickly enough. The sharp edge cuts through the thick fabric and Kevlar like it’s made of silk and penetrates the skin below.
Before Jason can watch the blood well up in satisfaction, the Hood turns and swings his blade at his face. Jason jumps backwards, feeling the sting of the blade cutting through his skin. He feels the warmth of blood running down his cheek and lets out a quiet tt. He swipes the blood away with his sleeve and watches the Hood inspect his hip in gratification. He may have suffered a cut of his own, but at the same time he’d also found the final proof that the Red Hood was not human. Not only did the All-Blades react to his presence, but they were also capable of inflicting an injury to the man. As powerful as the blades seem, they are useless against beings with no malicious intents.
“What are you?” Jason mutters under his breath. He expects no answer, but suddenly the silence on the roof is cut by an unnerving laugh.
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Hood cocks his head to the side and stares Jason down. He’s sure the other hide’s a grin under that stupid helmet of his. “To be honest I’m quite surprised you actually managed to hit me. But don’t worry,” he mocks, returning into a fighting stance, “I won’t give you another chance like that.”
And with that, the Red Hood is on him again, his kris coming dangerously close to Jason’s throat. He evades, but only barely and feels the blade slicing his skin. He doesn’t feel any blood, so the blade only cut through the first few layers of his skin, but it’s still close enough to make Jason uneasy. He returns the attack with the same vigor but misses the Hood by a long shot. The fight picks up in speed and Jason slowly but surely loses the upper hand he had until now.
He hates to admit it, but he underestimated the Hood. He’s faster than he lets on and his hits are calculated, aiming to slow Jason down. With every cut Jason gains, he can feel his irritation and anger growing. This was supposed to be a quick job. Get in, kill, get out. But right now, he isn’t even sure if he will win this. The only thing he can hope for is that his blood spilling onto the rooftop will strengthen his blades enough to turn the tables again.
Pushing his thoughts back, he concentrates on winning this fight, instead of speculating over the possible outcomes. Jason blocks the next few swipes and punches aimed at his face. In the process he grabs one of Hood’s arms, holding it tightly and disarming him. But before the kris has even touched the concrete, Hood punches Jason in the gut several times, definitely bruising some of his rips.
Jason releases the other and delivers a roundhouse kick in hopes of disorienting him for a few seconds. His foot is caught in the air instead, held in a firm grip and he knows he won’t get out of that hold without breaking his leg. Instead he jumps into the air with his other foot and uses his momentum to bring himself and the Hood down to the ground, both of them crashing down hard onto the concrete roof. He quickly rolls on top of the other and lifts both of his blades to deliver the final blow.
Before he can bring his blades down completely, Hood delivers a blow to his left armpit. He grunts and curses when his hand releases one of the blades. The other one, however, comes down and almost pins the other to the concrete, but inches before meeting fabric the blade stops.
Jason watches with wide eyes as the Hood holds the blade between both hands. He shouldn’t be able to touch them like this. The All-Blades should react to his touch even through his clothes. The confusion only holds for a few seconds, when the anticipated steam finally starts to rise from where Red Hood’s hands touch the blade.
A scream tears itself from the Red Hood and with a final push of strength, he redirects the blade, so it pierces through his shoulder instead of his heart.
Jason wrenches the blade out and aims a second time, intent on using Hoods dazed state to end this, when suddenly there is a hand gripping his hood and hauling him backwards.
He lands on his back, arching upwards to alleviate some of the pain. Then he quickly stands, putting his hood back on and turning towards the new threat.
His breath catches in his throat for a second when he looks into the cold, white eyes of Batman, but he quickly regains control over his priorities. He looks past the bat onto the concrete and curses.
The Hood is gone. Of course.
Because why should anything ever be simple in Gotham. Not only has he failed to complete his mission, no, he also managed to alert the bat of his presence.
Thank you all so much for all the positive feedback on the last chapter! Sorry it took so long to answer.. I had some stuff to do for university (even procrastinating couldn't save me from eventually having to finish it), that's why I didn't answer sooner, but trust me, your comments made my day and helped finish this chapter even faster!
I hope ou like it!
Taking in the scene before him, Jason isn’t sure what exactly led him to believe that he could hide from the Bat when he returned to Gotham.
The concrete behind Batman is covered in Hoods blood, his kris lying between him and Jason on the roof. Blood splatter cover the concrete from where the two of them managed to strike each other. Jason can feel every single one of his wounds acutely on his body. Every cut and bruise. The strain of his muscles after fighting someone stronger than him. And lastly, the frustration at failing to kill the imposter.
Looking at the man in front of him he realizes he has to put all of these thoughts on hold and concentrate on how to handle the situation. Because even if his life isn’t the most enviable right now, he likes his anonymity and would very much like to keep it.
With Hood gone, he feels the energy of the All-Blades slowly leave his body. He releases his blades and lets them return to his soul, relaxing his stance at the same time. First, he can’t keep them materialized when there’s no evil around. Second, and more importantly, putting his weapons away is a clear sign to Batman that he isn’t here to fight him–that he’s no danger to him. At least he hopes Batman will see the action for what it is.
Watching the Dark Knight closely, Jason tries to read what little he can see of his face, but his expression is schooled, the small bit of skin out in the open revealing nothing. Batman’s posture on the other, hand is easier to read. He’s tense, ready to spring into action at a moments notice, but not openly hostile.
Good. Jason can work with that.
“I’m not here to bring harm to either this city or any of its citizens,” he starts, lifting his hands, palms turned outwards to show that he really is unarmed. He does have several blades and other weapons hidden on his person, but that is something Batman doesn’t necessarily need to know.
“I’ve just watched you trying to kill one of those citizens,” Batman counters. The clenching of his jaw at the word ‘citizen’ shows how much he believes that statement himself. Jason stifles a snicker as he listens on.
“Give me one good reason to believe you.”
Jason let’s out a long-suffering sigh. Of course, he had to present the Bat hard evidence before he would – hopefully – be left alone.
“I wouldn’t call that thing a citizen.”
Apparently, that was the wrong thing to say, because Batman’s jaw clenches more – if that was even possible – and he makes an aborted move forward. Even with the cowl on, leaving only white lenses to look at, Jason can feel the glare thrown at him.
Jason is, in all honesty, surprised to see that reaction from the man. Considering what the Red Hood has done, one would think Batman would agree with him.
But on the other hand, this is also the same man who thinks the Joker deserves to live.
Before Batman can respond, a blur of traffic sign lights stops at his side. The colors are duller, not as vibrant as Jason remembers them on his own body and the design is drastically changed, but there is no doubt that the latest edition of the Robins just landed next to the Dark Knight. The heir to the Demon and the blood son.
Jason can barely suppress his sneer.
“I’ve lost sight of him.” He almost misses it as Robin’s shoulders sag just the tiniest bit. Then they start to tremble and Jason isn’t sure anymore if the kid’s angry or on the brink of tears. “I apologize for my failure,” he presses onward. The words are whispered, meant only for Batman’s ears, but Jason hears them anyway and judging by the tone of his voice, he’s now pretty sure the little Robin is angry.
Batman grunts a reply, but never breaks the eye contact with Jason – never mind that neither of them can see the other’s eyes.
“Who are you,” Batman says, and somehow Jason knows it’s not a question, but a demand that he’s expected to answer. He does, because he knows out of experience that refusing will only complicate things further.
“That’s classified information,” Jason says, even though that’s not quite true. It’s not like there’s anyone left to punish him for telling the Bat about the All Caste, but they’re still part of his family and yelling out their secrets above Gotham’s rooftops for everyone to hear still feels wrong and treacherous.
Additionally, now that the Bat knows of his presence and his attempted murder, Jason is quite sure that he won’t be able to finish his mission on his own without interference. Better to try and get on Batman’s good side now so he can operate in the city freely.
Before the Dark Knight can do more than clench his fists in response to the unsatisfactory answer, Jason continues. “If you have a place where we can talk in private, I will gladly cooperate as much as I can.”
He can’t help but be annoyed by the tut he hears from the kid. This conversation is already aggravating enough without his snide remarks. Sadly enough, Robin continues to speak.
“You are an imbecile if you expect us to believe whatever you have to say. Scum such as yourself should-”
“Robin!” Batman interrupts the boy’s rant – and who would have thought Jason would ever see Batman snap at another boy in these colors beside himself. He has to admit, he’s more than a little surprised by what he’s seen so far. He’d expected father and son to be in perfect sync – a perfect little copy of Batman himself to follow his every order. Apparently, he was very wrong with his assumption.
He barely holds back a smug smile – even if they wouldn’t be able to see it anyway. Not even the blood son seems to be good enough.
Despite the dark Jason can see the red creeping onto the boy’s cheeks as he abruptly goes silent. For the first time since the conversation started, Batman turns away from Jason to look at the kid.
“I want you to return to the cave immediately. Agent A will be awaiting you to check for any injuries.” Batman says. It’s clear he expects obedience from his little bird, but Robin’s head snaps back up and he meets the Bat with an incredulous look. But Batman’s stern look shuts anything the kid has to say up and he answers with a quick nod. Then he turns and jumps into the night.
“Mouthy little bird you’ve got there. No doubt it’s hard finding good employees who fit the criteria nowadays,” Jason says, unable to hold back the unnecessary commentary when Batman turns his attention back to him. He should be focusing on his mission and not try to agitate the Bat more, but he simply can’t help but feel satisfaction at their interaction.
Within seconds Batman has his fists in Jason’s collar, griping tightly and probably also trying to lift him off the ground – not that he can. Jason may not be as bulky as the Red Hood, but he’s still bigger than his uniform makes it look like and to his own surprise, he’s almost as tall as Batman, maybe an inch or two smaller. Even with the Bat literally breathing down his neck, there’s no fear that holds his smug smile back this time.
“Who are you and what do you want with the Red Hood,” Batman growls and jostles Jason slightly. “I won’t ask a third time.” The last part barely makes it past the pursed lips and Jason knows he’s gone too far. Another slip-up and this conversation will end with one of them bloody and broken at the other’s feet.
And to be completely honest, considering his condition from the previous fight and the possibility of more birds lurking in the shadows, Jason isn’t sure who would win.
He raises his hands once again, trying to calm the Bat back down. “As I already said, I’m not here to harm either you, your little birds or any of Gotham’s citizens. My only objective is to cleanse this city of its evil.”
“And said evil is supposed to be the Red Hood,” the Bat states and he gradually loosens his grip.
Jason can only just hold back a sigh at the reply – he couldn’t recall his conversations with Batman being that frustrating. If he really has to question whether said evil is the Red Hood, then maybe he’s getting too old for this gig.
“It’s more complicated than that, but in short? Yes.” Jason expects a fist to the face or a tranquilizer to his neck, but instead Batman let’s go of his collar completely and takes a step back.
Jason takes the action for the olive branch he thinks it is and carries on before his chance is gone again. “I’ll tell you more when we’re somewhere more private, but if it calms you somewhat, I am part of the League of Shadows and a close associate to Talia al Ghul. You can ask her to confirm it if you want.”
He hates having to drag Talia into this, but the shared past between the two could help him verify the sincerity of his actions. As far as he knows, Batman and she are on good terms at the moment. At least good enough to talk and not be at each other’s throats within seconds.
True, it has only been a few months since Talia revealed to Batman that he has a son, but hopefully the elapsed time since then has been enough to appease his anger towards her.
Batman’s hand twitches almost imperceptibly at the mention of Talia’s name, but despite that he doesn’t react in any other way. Jason takes it as a win and waits for Batman’s final verdict.
After a long silence, he finally answers, though not with words. He produces a pair of cuffs from one of his many pouches and holds them out in front of him. It’s more than obvious what he wants Jason to do and he complies reluctantly. He walks towards the Bat and turns around, holding his arms out behind his back.
Waiting for the Bat to finish his work, Jason catches the movement of a shadow only a few feet away from where he’d been standing previously. To his shock, a dark figure separates from the shadows, a wakizashi in hand and obviously ready to intercept in case he decides to make a wrong move. Jason feels his uneasiness peak, a slight tremble rushing through his fingers at the realization that the vigilante had been there, waiting in the shadows the whole time and he hadn’t even noticed their presence.
He heard of her joining the bats, but actually seeing her and feeling the danger radiating off her is something else entirely. Looking at the Black Bat – Cassandra Cain – Jason now knows for certain that he would have lost the fight against Batman if it came down to it. Maybe he could take her on his own, but not in his current condition and while also fighting Batman. Even then, he isn’t sure he would win.
The cuffs close with a soft click and bring him back to the present. Jason can’t help but tense in response to the sound. There is no doubt to him that he can escape them at a moments notice, but it still makes him queasy feeling the heavy metal around his wrists.
Only once his hands are securely cuffed and Batman has a secure hold on his cuffs, does the Black Bat put away her weapon. The moment she does, Jason can feel himself relax, though he tries not to show it.
He doesn’t know much about her, except that she is an excellent fighter and a deadly force he should avoid at any means possible. Since that option is out the window now, his last option is to try and keep the upper hand with Batman. She’s working with him, so logically he should be fine as long as Batman doesn’t consider him a threat.
This is getting more and more complicated by the second. Just peachy.
The soft sound of rustling suddenly reaches his ears. The tension immediately returns to his body and before he even makes his move, he knows the situation just went from manageable to out of control.
A slight maneuvering of his feet confirms the location of Hood’s kris and with a quick movement he swings it up to his hands in the same motion as he ducks under the syringe Batman aimed at his shoulder. With a jump he brings his arms back in front of his chest and thrusts the kris upwards. He’s acutely aware of the shadow in his peripheral, rushing towards him, so before his blade meets its target, he freezes.
His blade hovers inches from a small gap in Batman’s chest plates a regular assassin from the League shouldn’t even be aware of, but to be completely honest, he currently doesn’t give a single fuck about that. He doesn’t care that Batman now knows that he has knowledge about his suit only close associates to Talia or himself know of. He won’t just stand around and let the Bat sedate him and do who knows what with him while he’s unconscious.
The hot drip of blood running down his throat reminds him that he probably shouldn’t have stopped with the blade as close to the Bat’s chest as he has. Black Bat is next to him, her blade positioned at his carotid and staying dangerously still. One slight push and he would bleed out within seconds.
At the same time, he can feel the push of Batman’s batarang against his abdomen. Even with the kevlar protecting him, the sharp blade would most certainly still go deep enough to do some serious damage.
He’s in a quandary no matter what he does, but despite the dire situation he currently finds himself in, it does nothing to quell the anger rising in his chest.
“I’ve been nothing but cooperative so far,” he manages between clenched teeth. “I know who you are and where your base of operation is, Wayne, there’s no need for your secretiveness. So either you finally let me explain myself, or I will start operating on my own again.”
It would be hard, maybe even impossible, to escape his current predicament, but he is the epitome of impossible, so he has no doubt he would somehow manage to do it. Still, he would much more prefer to work with the Bat and not against him. It would make his mission infinitely more complicated to not only locate the Red Hood and end him but to also stay hidden from the bats.
A long silence stretches between the three of them and Jason already prepares to fight for his freedom, when suddenly to not only his, but apparently also Black Bat’s surprise, Batman sheathes his batarang as well as the syringe and steps back.
After only a short moment of hesitance, Black Bat follows suit and goes to stand by Batman’s side.
Jason doesn’t relax, not yet, but he loosens his stance, turning the kris in his hand so he ends up holding the blade of the weapon, holding the hilt out towards Batman. The other reacts quickly, reaching out and taking the kris, storing it in one of his pouches.
Batman turns around, walking towards the edge of the roof, the other bird hot on his heals. Before stepping over the edge, he turns back towards Jason.
“Follow me. Then, explain.”
Maybe you've noticed, but in case you didn't, I added the total number of chapters this is gonna have. I made a rough outline of the story and as it stands there are gonna be around 14 chapters total. The number could change, but if it does it most likely won't be too big of a change. This is also going to be a series with at least one continuation, maybe two.
And just so you're warned, I have some exams at the end of this month, so as much I would like to, I probably won't update this for the next few weeks. (If there's still an update then, yay, happy you and bad me, you should be studying!)
I hope you enjoy this chapter!
The drive to the cave is silent.
Jason sits in the backseat, Black Bat next to him to make sure he doesn’t try anything funny. He can’t help but feel like he’s gained a new enemy with his earlier attack on Batman.
Said man is as silent as always in the front seat, weaving the batmobile through Gotham’s empty streets. Jason knows he should probably be more worried than he is, considering he’s practically being kidnapped by Batman, but the only thing important to him right now, is paying close attention to his surroundings and the other passengers in the car.
It doesn’t take long for them to reach the suburbs. Not soon after they pass the Memorial Bridge and finally enter Bristol. When Batman steers the batmobile in a different direction than Jason knows the manor to be in, it shouldn’t surprise him. Even if Jason has already made it more than clear that he knows who Batman is under the cowl, the other won’t risk taking him straight to his front door to enter the cave.
It’s smart, though unnecessary.
But in doing so, Batman gives Jason the reassurance that he still considers him as only an assassin that maybe heard one or two things about him from Talia. Either that or he wants to lull Jason into a false sense of security.
Finally, they enter a dark tunnel. If Jason didn’t know for certain that there is in fact a road he would be worried to crash into a wall or a stalagmite. But he does, so he isn’t and soon enough the path is lit by pale lights, embedded in the stone walls.
Slowly but surely Jason can feel his uneasiness intensify. He thought he’s prepared to come back here, but now he isn’t so sure anymore. Still, this part of his life is over, this shouldn’t turn into a problem.
He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, exhaling through his mouth as subtly as he can. This is just the cave of Batman and his brood. Not a place he’s spent some of the best days of his childhood in. Just a cave. Just Batman’s base.
It means nothing to him.
When he opens his eyes and looks ahead to see one of the caves many entrances open, he catches Batman’s gaze in the rearview mirror before the other quickly returns it back to the road ahead.
Jason doesn’t have time to think about what that means, because suddenly the car is engulfed by the light in the cave and they come to a halt on a raised platform near the entrance.
Batman is the first to exit the car. He walks around the front and stops in front of the passenger door on Jason’s side. When he opens it and reaches out a hand to grab and apparently haul him out of the car, Jason backs away from his hand. Ignoring the surprised noise from Black Bat when he bumped into her, he watches the limb with disdain.
“I can walk on my own,” he states coldly and waits until the hand finally retreats and Batman takes a step back.
Reluctantly, Jason exits the car and stands opposite Batman, his hands still cuffed on his back. He locks his gaze with the white lenses of the cowl and contemplates for a second whether he should speak or keep his opinion to himself.
Then he decides that he doesn’t care and says, “I might be cuffed but I’m not your prisoner. I’m here of my own accord, so don’t even think for a second I will do your bidding, let alone let myself be manhandled by you.”
For a moment his only answer is silence, until Batman finally makes himself talk – or rather grunt. It’s the only acknowledgement Jason gets to indicate that Batman heard him. Not that he agrees.
With that the Bat turns and heads deeper into the cave. Jason swallows a groan and turns to follow him. His steps echo loudly on the metal, closely followed by Black Bats, and he can’t quite keep himself from taking a look around to observe the cave.
There are some changes since he’s last seen it. He expected them, but they still manage throw him off.
The most prominent change to catch his eyes is the computer. Batman’s equipment has always been ahead of its time, but the giant monitor, surrounded by several smaller ones, still manage to impress him.
His gaze roams through the cave, taking in every detail. The vehicles, the entrances he can see, the med bay and, of course, the stair leading up to the manor. Without wanting to, his thoughts wander up into the old house and to its inhabitants. To the people living in its rooms and roaming its halls. To a past he’s long since left behind.
To a particular room he can’t help but wonder what happened to it.
Suddenly, there’s a black wall in front of him and before he realizes what happens, he walks straight into Batman. The vigilante turns back to him and Jason can practically feel the raised eyebrow, but he ignores it.
They’ve reached the center of the cave. From here he has a perfect overview of the whole place but is still close enough to the entrance to make a run for it if necessary.
“You wanted answers from me,” he diverts and brings his attention back to the matter at hand. He can’t let himself be distracted by memories or nostalgia. The past is in the past and he has accepted that a long time ago. No reason to start thinking about it now of all times.
To his surprise, Batman doesn’t question him immediately. When he speaks it isn’t directed at him, but at the other bat behind Jason.
“Go. I will handle the rest.”
Black Bat hesitates for a second and then, for the first time since Jason met her, speaks.
It’s said in a wavering voice, as if she’s unsure whether she’s allowed to speak or not. After a look at Batman though Jason reconsiders. He doesn’t seem upset by her speaking, quite the opposite in fact. He almost looks… pleased – and isn’t that a bewildering thing to associate with the Dark Knight?
Batman gives a curt nod and turns his attention back to Jason while Black Bat makes a silent retreat. If Jason hadn’t known she was there, he probably wouldn’t have heard her in the first place.
The tension in the room is palpable, Batman’s gaze locked onto Jason with no intention to let him out of his sight.
“We’re alone. No prying eyes or ears, so talk.”
Which is a lie, Jason knows. There are cameras everywhere in the cave, recording every second of every moment. But there’s no use in thinking that what he’s about to say will stay between the two of them anyway, with or without cameras. By the end of the night, all the bats and birds in Gotham will know of this conversation. Batman won’t risk his partners’ safety and keep them in the dark about a possible threat.
“As I’ve already told you, I’m affiliated with the League of Shadows,” Jason begins. “However, I have left the League many years ago. I apprenticed to an ancient group of warriors whose sole purpose is to protect the world from unspeakable evil.”
“Ancient group of warriors?”
Unsurprisingly, Batman’s immediate concern is the All Caste. He knows of the League and he already has enough evil in this city. The caste, however, is unknown and everything unknown is a potential threat. Especially now that Jason is here in his city.
“You don’t need to worry about them. The caste has been wiped out over a year ago. I am the sole survivor.” He deliberately doesn’t mention Essence or S’aru. There is no need for Batman to know of their existence. Jason is the only one involved in this mission. Besides, he hasn’t seen or spoken to either of them since his fight against the Untitled. He doesn’t even know if they’re still alive or if they would care.
It hurts, talking so indifferently about the caste. He trained himself to do so, after all it wouldn’t do him any good if he has an emotional breakdown every time he talks about them. But they were still his family. They taught him so much. How to fight, how to rationalize. But they also taught him how to distance oneself and take control of a situation.
And that is exactly what he needs to do right now.
At first, the only response he gets from the Bat is a grunt. “You said you want to cleanse this city of its evil,” he finally says and waits for Jason to answer. He gives a curt nod and Batman continues, “Gotham has enough protectors. What makes you think we can’t handle it?”
The question isn’t surprising in the least, but it still infuriates Jason that he really thinks that highly of himself. There’s no doubt that Batman and his flock of birds are capable fighters. They’re good at what they do and they’ve handled their fair share of superior foes, alien invasions and whatnot, but Batman should know that there are things out there that even he can’t vanquish without help.
Supernatural creatures are one of those things. Obviously, considering that the Red Hood is still on the run.
“What makes you think that you can?” Jason snaps back, because despite all his years with the League and All Caste, his training and everything he learned, there are some things he never managed to get rid of. His temper is one of those things.
Batman’s hands curl back into fists in return to his snarky question.
Jason would love to continue to rile the other man up, because as good as he might be, his insufferable hubris is not only getting himself into danger, but the kids following his every order as well. Despite that, Jason knows it wouldn’t be the smart thing to do, since his goal is still to gain Batman’s trust, not antagonize him.
Before Batman can make his displeasure further known, Jason reigns back his annoyance and takes a deep breath before he tries to speak again.
“Forgive me,” he says. “That was uncalled for. But you cannot deny that there are some things brute force just isn’t enough for. I’m sure you have already realized that something isn’t quite right about the Red Hood, haven’t you?”
He already knows the answer to that question. Batman wouldn’t have brought him here if he wouldn’t be suspecting that something was going on, but letting the man voice it would probably help him to realize the situation they’re in better. Just ignoring the Red Hood and throwing him into Blackgate or Arkham now and again would only serve to escalate the situation even further. His body count has already risen considerably during the last couple of weeks and it wouldn’t get any better in the near future, Jason is certain.
“What makes you more qualified than us?” Batman asks instead of answering Jason’s question, which in and off itself is already answer enough.
“You have seen my swords before.” Jason starts and waits for the minuscule nod from the Bat before he continues. “The blades are bound to my soul and only manifest when a supernatural creature with evil intend is near me. They are ineffective on everything else and won’t inflict any injury on innocents.”
“The swords you held on that rooftop?”
“The swords I stabbed the Red Hood with, yes,” Jason retorts and the cave grows silent for a moment. Whether Batman believes him or not is hard to say, but there is no denying that he stabbed the Hood with them and they disappeared in a bright flash of flames afterwards. It helps that Batman saw both of these actions with his own eyes. However, Jason is unable to prove anything beyond that to the man, so he would have to trust Jason’s word.
In other words, he won’t trust Jason at all.
Finally, the silence is broken again. “If he isn’t human, then what is he?”
Jason falters for a moment before he dares to answer the question he doesn’t have a definite answer to. “I can’t say for certain. I have never seen anything like it.”
He doesn’t dare voice his suspicions. Though, even if he would, he isn’t sure it would answer the question any better. He can’t think of a creature that would need to take on his appearance just to wreak havoc upon Gotham.
It doesn’t make sense for it to masquerade as a former Robin in a new costume and to kill seemingly randomly. There doesn’t seem to be a greater goal behind it either, other than killing as many as possible. On top of that, the Red Hood doesn’t seem to be aware of who Jason is. He was genuinely surprised when Jason attacked him, or more importantly, was able to injure him.
“Fine,” Batman finally says, although his clenched fists tell Jason that it’s everything but. He can relate, he’d love to have a straight answer to that question too but dealing with supernatural evils is more often than not complicated.
“Come with me,” he continues and then starts walking deeper into the cave. Jason faintly remembers where they are going, passing the giant dinosaur, which, wow, he still has that?
The closer they get to their destination, the stronger the sterile smell of disinfectant gets. Before they reach the med bay though, Jason stops and waits until the Bat follows suit only seconds after. There is no way he would voluntarily enter the med bay and leave his DNA all over the place. He’s already painfully aware of the blood Black Bat managed to collect from him. He can only hope Batman won’t get his hands on that one, because, apparently, he started to believe in miracles.
“There’s no need for this. Most of my wounds are superficial and already stopped bleeding. A bit of rest is all I need,” he declares. For a moment he isn’t sure if Batman will ignore him or not, but then the other finally moves again, passing through the med bay and entering a part of the cave Jason would have loved to avoid.
The small cells at the end of the cave have always given him chills. They are airtight sealed, the glass door at the front the only connection to the cave. He could already feel his claustrophobia creeping up, readying itself to make his stay here even worse than it already is.
“What about the Hood,” he says in a futile attempt to spare himself from this torture. He only has to get the Hood and then he could be out of here, forget this ever happened and return to that construct he called life.
“He’ll still be around tomorrow,” Batman growls and then goes to open the cell door. “I have to think about this some more before I decide what to do.” He steps to the side and gestures into the empty cell. “In the meantime, you stay here.”
“I would much rather stay out here, to be honest,” Jason says, unable to keep a slight quaver from his voice.
“You said yourself you won’t let me manhandle you.” Batman retracts his hand and widens his stance, as if readying himself to do exactly that. “Don’t give me a reason to.”
The sad truth is, that he knows the Bat would do it. After a small debate, Jason concludes that it isn’t worth the hassle and hesitantly enters the cell. As soon as he fully entered it, he turns back around to face the Dark Knight. “I won’t need these if I’m in here,” he says, jostling the cuffs around his wrists to shift Batman’s attention on them.
Before Batman answers, the door to the cell closes with a quiet hiss and he turns around to leave. “I’m sure you can get out of them easily.” Then he is out of sight.
Jason only barely holds himself back from uttering the words out loud. Of course, he can free himself easily, but it’s still a pain in the ass to do so. As he begins working on his cuffs, he silently curses Batman and all the choices he made in his life that brought him here to this moment.
Though he’s pretty sure the one he should curse the most is probably the one where thought he could steal the batmobile’s tires.
He’s almost out of the cuffs when he hears a noise from somewhere higher up in the cave. His first thought goes to the bats residing in the cave system, but he quickly corrects himself. The sound is too loud to come from a small bat, but also too quiet to belong to one of the other birds, except–
“You want to come out or do you like it up there, birdy?”
With a soft thump the boy lands before his cell doors, rising from his crouched landing position with surprising grace. Even if he hates to admit it, Jason knows good body control when he sees it. The kid’s definitely trained and not only from Batman. He’s what, eleven years old? You don’t have this kind of control from just a few months of training with Batman. He’s got training from before that, and good one at that as well.
It shouldn’t surprise him, with what he knows about the boy’s parentage.
“Tt, I cannot believe Batman really brought you here,” the boy says, a sneer adorning his features. He’s only in a pair of sweats and a turtleneck with only his domino mask on his face to keep his identity secret, not that it’s necessary.
Damian Wayne, the son of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul. It still puzzles him how Talia could ever love the man under the cowl, but he doesn’t dare ask her. Not when she always looks so delicate when she thinks about her son and ex. It feels wrong seeing her like that, as if she’s suddenly a completely different person. And he knows she hates it too, if her cold shoulder after those few conversations is anything to go by.
“It seems like your father decided to trust me enough to bring me here,” he counters, finally slipping out of his cuffs and throwing the stupid things into the far corner of his cell. Jason almost misses the small twitch the kid makes at the word father because of the action. Almost.
“Yes, I know who you are.” Jason pauses for a second, savoring the tense set of the boy’s shoulders. “But don’t worry, I’m only here for the Red Hood, your secret is safe with me. For now,” he drawls, unable to keep the small hint of a satisfied smile from spreading on his face. Not that it matters, since he’s still wearing his whole armor, mask included. He knows he should stop riling the boy up, but he can’t help it, not with how his ears turn that same shade of pink they have on that rooftop. The whole picture is just adorable, really.
“You insignificant, little…” Robin starts, but falters and stops in the middle of his sentence, letting out a deep breath. All of a sudden, it seems like all the tension leaves his small body and he looks more in control than he has the whole night.
“The Red Hood,” he begins, wavering for a second before looking Jason square in the eyes – or where he assumes they are behind the mask – and continues, “is it true what you told my father? Is he really…?”
Jason doesn’t know the kid, but his hesitation still feels unusual from the attitude he’s shown until now. It’s all gone, replaced by a kind of uncertainty that actually suits his age.
More important than his behavior though is the fact that he somehow already knows about the Red Hood. Batman had barely left the cave when he heard Robin sneaking around, so he definitely didn’t hear it from his father.
The kid must have heard it either through the comms they’re surely still using or he’s better than Jason thought, if he managed to listen to their whole conversation without either of them noticing.
“The possibility is very high,” he says instead of straight out confirming it.
“I see,” Robin responds, growing silent. He dwells for a few seconds by Jason’s cell, before abruptly turning around and leaving Jason to puzzle over that reaction on his own in his small cage.
The only thing left to do now is wait for Batman to make a decision and hope that the Hood doesn’t do anything in the meantime. Else, Jason might be forced to act, with or without the Dark Knights blessing.
Sorry for the long wait, here's the new chapter. Enjoy!
The following hours are mostly quiet, unnerving and, to be frank, boring.
Jason doesn’t know precisely how long he’s been left alone in his cell, but thanks to his training and his inner clock he guesses it must have been several hours already. Judging by his slowly building hunger it must be late in the day. Why nobody has shown up in all the time since Batman left him alone here is beyond him. The only company he has are his thoughts and the bats, rustling about in the high ceiling of the cave.
Having so much time to himself is rarely a good thing. His mind will wander and go to places he knows aren’t safe. He tried to meditate and, though it worked to some extend to stay focused, he’s never managed to meditate continuously for long periods of time. Now is no different. During one of his breaks of meditating, the unavoidable finally happens and he starts to think about all the possible outcomes to this mission and all the ways he would most likely come up short.
The biggest inevitability and the thing that plagues him the most is Batman finding out his real identity. He can try and pretend all he wants to not be Jason Todd, his blood sample will say something else. And once Batman has even a hint of a clue as to who he could be, Jason doubts he will let him leave. The thought creeps up in his mind, nesting like poison and making it harder and harder for him to concentrate. After all he is a zombie, a walking dead man, risen from his grave – quite literally and he forcefully pushes the bits of memories he has from that night down in the deepest pits of his consciousness. Batman will want to find out how he is alive. A detective like him won’t pass up an opportunity to study someone, a phenomenon, like Jason.
That thought is all he has in his cell. It festers, grows more and more, until he can barely think of anything else. He can feel himself slowly losing control. This whole situation is a giant mess and no matter how much he tries, there’s no sugarcoating this anymore. The life he knows is over, he’s fucked up. Talia will tear him a new one, give him a lecture on where exactly he fucked up and how he could have prevented this.
Do more research, be better prepared for all complications and surprises. Take every player into account, no matter how unlikely their interference is.
Needless to say, he knows all this, but he still didn’t do it. He rushed in, afraid of what could happen if his theory really was true. And with everything he managed to gather until now, all indicators point towards him being right.
The Hood’s build and fighting style. His whole get-up, the helmet, the jacket, the knife, it all reminds Jason of the sketches he made when revenge was his sole purpose to live. When the pit had roared in his ears and screamed at him to kill, kill, kill the Bat.
Then he thinks of Batman, saving the Red Hood from his rightful end. Defending him. Defending a murderer. He and his flock can’t handle the situation, clearly, so why is it that he still refuses help, that he holds onto his rules when they’re obviously not working. A certain green haired maniac can probably answer that question with an in-depth presentation.
And then his mind wanders further.
The brat. Robin.
At first, Jason wasn’t sure, what the kid’s problem is. Why not just stick to daddy’s commands and wait for him to tell him what to do? Isn’t that what Robin was supposed to be? The soldier that blindly follows Batman’s orders. Apparently, that doesn’t include the blood son. Running around with his big mouth and his nose up high towards the sky.
But instead of waiting for more orders the kid hid in the shadows and listened in on their conversation. The way he asked about the Hood is still puzzling Jason. He can’t pinpoint whether the kid is relieved or scared about the truth of the Hood’s identity. But the fact that he showed any reaction at all just solidifies Jason’s suspicions that they know the Hood’s identity. Or they at least have a guess of who it might be.
Whatever the answer, the one thing Jason knows for certain is that Batman is not a fan of his accusation of who – or rather what – the Red Hood is.
No matter how much Jason thinks about it, he can’t get an answer to that question. It doesn’t make sense for Batman to feel such concern towards someone like the Hood. Why would he care about that thing and not about–
It’s not fair, why didn’t Jason–
He tears his eyes open the same moment he feels his breaths quicken. The room feels hotter and smaller than it has the whole time he’s spent in here and it’s finally getting to him.
All the thinking and brooding, getting lost in endless thoughts and theories and… fearangerpain, it finally catches up with him and he can’t handle it anymore.
He abruptly stands, walking in circles within the small cell for a few seconds, then looking out into the cave through the glass door. The heat in his cell feels like it’s rising by the minute. Air getting too hot for him to breathe, his mask making things even worse. It takes all he has to not rip the thing clean off his face and suck in the much-needed air.
Instead, he takes off the upper half of his uniform, relishing in the feeling of cool air on his sweaty skin. He’s surprised to find that the air in the cell is actually quite cool, soothing, really, in contrast to the hotness he felt before.
Jason is painstakingly aware of the missing fabric over his torso and his head, but now that his breaths slowly start to even out, he can’t bring himself to care about it. Sitting down on the floor, his legs crossed and each forearm resting on one of his knees, he closes his eyes again. While meditating is the reason he almost spiraled down into this panic attack, he can also hear Ducra’s scratchy, yet calming voice, carefully guiding him through the process of this special kind of meditation.
The type of meditation he’s doing now helped him to calm his thoughts and ground himself many times in the past. True, it didn’t work the first few times he tried it, but he grew since then. Learned more about himself and how to work with his emotions.
He might never have learned to completely let go of them, like Ducra – and Talia before her – always tried to teach him, but instead he learned how to channel them.
Concentrate on the negative emotions. Clear your mind, focus on the darkness and accept it. Pushing them down, ignoring his emotions until it was too much and they exploded almost brought him down a dark path once. The same path the Red Hood was currently on. The same one, the Hood was slowly succumbing to.
So instead of ignoring them, he learned to accept them as a part of him.
Accept the darkness. Commune with it. He repeats those words in his head. Over and over and over, until he can feel his heartbeat returning to normal and his breaths evening out.
It doesn’t matter what the bats think. It doesn’t matter who the Red Hood is, except that he needs to be stopped and Jason is the only one who can do it. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t. Matter.
Jason calmed down considerably by the time his trained ears register a new sound in the cave.
It’s a crunch, as if someone is walking on gravel. Or as if someone is chewing very loudly on something crispy. Something like cereal.
Letting out an annoyed huff, Jason opens his eyes and, just as he suspected, leaning against his cells glass door with a bowl filled with cereal and milk in hand, was Nightwing. Another loud crunch reaches Jason’s ears, before the vigilante swallowed.
“Is that normal?” he said, gesturing to Jason’s chest with the spoon in his right hand. “You know, the whole glowing-in-the-dark-like-a-glowstick thing.”
For a second Jason contemplates just ignoring the man. But then he decides against it and takes a deep breath before he answers. “Yes, as a matter of fact, it is.”
Nightiwng nods, making a hum of understanding before returning his attention back to his bowl of cereal. They lapse back into silence, never taking their eyes off the other.
Nightwing has changed, Jason observes. The first and most notable change is his uniform. An all-black, skintight suit with the exception of the red stripes down his arms and meeting over his chest in the form of a V. Why he bothers wearing his domino, Jason doesn’t know. Maybe, to be on equal footing, since Jason hasn’t taken off his own mask either. Or Batman simply hasn’t told him that he knows who they are yet.
All in all, he hasn’t changed all that much, but at the same time he also looks like a completely different person. At first Jason thinks it’s the suit or the hair. But then he realizes it’s the same thing as with Batman. It’s the deep lines, etched on his face, making him look older than he actually is. Giving his features a hardness that Jason feels shouldn’t be there.
Keeping up with the latest gossip about Gotham’s vigilantes isn’t part of Jason’s daily routine, but he distantly recalls reading about Bruce Wayne’s absence for several months and Batman’s sudden changes afterwards and it all clicks into place.
Seeing the changes wearing the cowl did to Nightwing, makes Jason kind of glad he didn’t have to struggle around with that burden. He doesn’t envy the man before him, not in the least. He can hardly stand seeing the suit. Imagine him wearing it.
With one last swallow, Nightwing puts the bowl down on a table off to the side, out of Jason’s field of vision. Then he stands in front of the glass, crossing his arms over his chest and watches Jason through the lenses of his domino mask.
The cave is silent for a few minutes before Nightwing speaks. “What do you really want in Gotham?”
Jason lets out a sigh, gathering his thoughts. He knows what Nightwing is doing here and it annoys the hell out of him.
“I already told Batman everything,” he replies.
Nightwing stays unmoving. Silent.
“I want to kill the creature known as the Red Hood.”
A muscle in Nightwing’s jaw twitches at the mention of Hoods name. “You say creature like he’s not human. Why?”
“As I already said, that’s because he isn’t human. Talk to Batman if you have questions. I’m not here to repeat myself a million times.”
“Just spit it out already!” Nightwing snaps, punching hard against the glass with one of his fists.
Jason’s brows rise to his hairline in response to Nightwing’s outburst. But before he can make a snarky remark that he’ll regret later, their conversation is interrupted.
“Nightwing!” Batman’s voice booms through the cave, catching them both off guard. It’s hard not to hear the Robin in the reprimand, something Jason heard so many times directed at himself. Nightwing grinds his jaw as he begrudgingly turns around towards the newcomers. Batman, Robin and Black Bat make their way over to Jason’s homey cell, the former’s jaw just as tense as Nightwing’s.
Jason quickly rises again and puts his armor back on, covering the already fading tattoos on his chest, before the three come to a halt next to Nightwing.
“I told you to wait,” Batman says, crossing his arms over his chest in a freakily similar way to Nightwing.
“I only wanted to see if he was telling the truth or making this all up,” Nightwing defends himself, not backing down from Batman’s stare. Not surprising, considering the history between the two of them. Memories of shouting matches and arguments come back to Jason, unbidden.
He's certain the two of them would have continued with their bickering for quite a while if it wasn’t for Black Bat’s intervention. She steps forward and places a hand on each of their chests. Even through her completely covered eyes, she somehow manages to diffuse the situation with only a glance at each of them and Jason can’t help but wonder where she was when it was only him in the manor with the two of them arguing constantly.
Nightwing releases a breath and turns away, Batman mirroring his movement, turning back towards Jason.
It doesn’t seem as if the few hours helped him to come to a conclusion about all of this. Normally, that wouldn’t be Jason’s problem, he only has to kill the Hood and then he can leave, but he can’t do it without Bats’ permission anymore. He still has to win him over.
“You’re still not convinced,” he begins in a calm voice.
“How can I condone you killing a man with nothing more than your word as assurance. If you really want to–”
“You fought him many times now,” Jason interrupts. He can see Batman pursing his lips in annoyance, but he carries on, hoping that he can finally convince him with his next words. “Has there never been a moment when you fought or encountered the Red Hood and he did something he shouldn’t be able to do? Did something no regular human should be able to. Disregarding a wound that should incapacitate him.”
Slowly, Batman’s crossed arms lower back down to his sides, a contemplative aura surrounding him. Jason doesn’t have any proof for his claims, so he has to try and convince the group before him with their own experiences with the Red Hood.
“I know, you don’t trust me, but you do trust your own judgement. I’m sure there must have been something that bothered you. Some inconsistency that doesn’t add up.”
He can see Batman’s gears working, coming to a conclusion in Jason’s favor, when Nightwing opens his mouth and ruins it all.
“Like you said, we don’t know you. How are we supposed to trust you if we don’t even know your name. You can tell us all you want about–”
Nightwing looks at him, surprise evident on his face.
“My name,” Jason explains. It may not be his real name, but it's still dear to him. Back before the caste was wiped out and Jason took his very first mission as one of them, Ducra gave it to him. Ever since then, he’s held the name dear and only ever used it if absolutely necessary.
“You don’t look like an Amar,” Nightwing says skeptically.
“Not everyone can live up to their namesake like you, Dickface.”
At that, Nightwing takes a surprised step back and finally lowers his arms as well. He opens his mouth to say something, but never gets the chance.
“Amar,” Robin suddenly says, every head turning towards him. “It means moon.”
Regarding the boy, Jason can’t help but return to his earlier thought. Something about him is off, as if he knows something, but won’t reveal it. That he knows what Amar means in Arabic is less surprising than the fact that he lets Jason insult Nightwing and does nothing to intervene. After all, if Jason recalls correctly, the two of them worked together for quite a while. Their friendship, or rather brotherhood, must surely be strong.
Or at least stronger than what he saw between Robin and Batman so far.
“Among other things,” Jason replies and earns himself a puzzled look from the boy in response. But he quickly recovers and takes a step forward.
“I say we trust him.” The words barely leave his mouth when the cave is already filled with surprised exclamations, but Robin just keeps on talking, ignoring them. “He’s giving us the perfect reason to finally rid ourselves off the Hood. We should be happy Todd will no longer soil our–”
“Damian, that is enough!”
Silence fills the cave, the echo of Batman’s booming voice the only thing to be heard. Then, Robin opens his mouth again and chaos erupts.
Jason barely keeps track of the following argument. The first thing he concentrates on is the fact that he’s right. The Red Hood is masquerading as Jason Todd. But then his thoughts wander to the other fact this argument reveals to him.
They know. Batman knows who the Hood is – or pretends to be. The Dark Knight’s refusal to kill a criminal shouldn’t surprise Jason. Not after …
But for some reason it still does. For the first time since he started this mission, he, at last, stops to see the Red Hood as just a villain, a creature, killing innocents. Instead he see’s what the vigilantes before him do. Because while for him Jason Todd and Red Hood are two completely separate people, for this family, for the bats, they’re not. They’re one and the same.
For them, Jason Todd has become a brutal killer, something unrecognizable. And now he barges into their midst with a surreal story and tells them to kill the man. Their hesitation shouldn’t be surprising to him, now that he starts to really think about what he asks them to do. Their hesitation suddenly turns into a lump in his throat that he can barely breathe around. But then Batman’s voice echoes in his head – or maybe in the cave, Jason isn’t sure anymore.
We don’t kill!
As quick as his heart beat only a moment prior, it stops, his chest aching with the realization that hits him. The axiom. Batman’s one line that is never to be crossed. His most important rule. That is the only reason the Hood still breathes and not because of some past connections with the Dark Knight.
There’s a fuzzy feeling spreading in Jason’s head and it takes him a painstakingly long moment to realize that it’s because he stopped breathing some time ago. He gulps in the much-needed air and slowly returns back to the cave, to all the shouting and angry voices.
“– you feel the same way, father. Stop denying it!”
“I said enough!”
“Grayson knows it as well, why can’t you!”
“What? Dami, I–”
Nightwing is standing between Robin and Batman, keeping them apart. Black Bat stands off to the side and with a startle Jason realizes that she’s watching him, probably has been for the past however long he’s been drifting.
He puts himself back together as inconspicuously as possible and takes a step forward. The thing he feared most from the moment he laid eyes on the Dark Knight is happening. He’s losing control, his focus on what really matters and why he’s here shifting. Their bickering is contagious, feeding his long-buried hopes, bringing them back to live. But he gave up on them, hasn't he? He let go of these foolish thoughts long ago.
So why does it still hurt to see his fears confirmed like this.
Suddenly, the shouts are silenced by a loud and repeated beeping. Then, the last voice Jason expects to hear speaks up and he can’t help but let a hint of a smile show. His mind snaps back into focus within the fraction of a second. The chances of him finishing this mission just went up to 95%.
“I think we can all agree that this has gone on for long enough, isn’t that right, Bruce?” A cold, yet grounding voice resounds in the cave. Jason can see the calculating features of its owner on one of the batcomputer’s many screens in the distance, watching them intently.
The Dark Knight tenses even more, if possible, as he turns around towards the displays and grounds out one word, a name, that could turn this whole situation in Jason’s favor.
I'm really sorry this took so long, but this chapter just didn't want to be finished.
Anyway, prepare for some feelings, angst and a ton of emotions.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Watching the most important people of two very different parts of Jason’s life clash like this is disconcerting, to say the least.
Batman, the man who took him in, saved him from the streets and gave him a new home, maybe even a family. Jason remembers days where he could barely believe this was really happening to him. That he really had been so lucky to be taken in by Gotham’s famed billionaire.
And Talia, the woman who saved him from himself and the ravenous poison that is the Lazarus Pit. Maybe she never outright said they were family or anything even close to that and at times Jason isn’t sure himself what she is to him, but it must be somewhere between mentor and mother, he’s sure.
“What do you want?” Batman’s voice barely carries over to where Jason is still standing inside his cell. One arm is propped up on the sleek surface of the glass, his head leaning against his lower arm as he listens to the conversation as much as he can.
“Hello to you to, Bruce, you look well, though I have to say a bit stressed,” Talia counters coolly, unimpressed by Batman’s apparent anger.
“Stop playing games and answer me.”
“I think we both know what I want.” Talia’s eyes harden as she glares down at the Batman. “I want to speak to my subordinate.” At that, Nightwing’s head turns back to Jason. Some of the tension bleeds out of him, but in turn Jason can see he’s still uncomfortable. He sees it in the man’s stance, his arms crossed over his chest, closed off and his shoulders slightly hunched.
Even if Talia just confirmed that some of his story is true, it also confirms that he works for her and whether or not that will help him gaining their trust is something he’ll need to find out.
Robin and Black Bat stand next to his cell and watch the conversation from afar. While Black Bat looks relatively relaxed, there’s a tightness to Robin’s expression that is apparent, even when partially hidden by his domino mask. The brat probably thinks he’s subtle with his display, but the way his body language screams uncomfortable and nervous is painfully obvious.
Just as painful as it is to know how Talia feels towards her son. Seeing Robin’s anger and resentment towards her and simultaneously knowing how much she cares about him is heart-wrenching. All the times Jason listened to her stories of Damian’s childhood always managed to bring a smile to his face.
But despite all the wrongdoings in his upbringing, Jason knows Talia did what she could to keep him safe. That she herself doesn’t know what a normal childhood is, isn’t her fault. It’s almost cruel, thinking of all the resentment towards her he sees in everyone’s faces. They don’t have the right to judge her when they don’t know the first thing about her.
Though he has to admit Talia’s lack of communication isn’t helping her case, you can’t fault her for respecting her son’s decision to stay with his father. The kid obviously chose Batman over her. Them now letting their anger out on her feels kind of hypocritical, in Jason’s opinion.
“I won’t ask a second time, Bruce. Either you bring him to me, or I’ll come personally and get him.” Talia continues once Batman still hasn’t made any move to follow her request. “And don’t think I won’t be able to. We both know the answer to that.”
There are a few more seconds of silence before, finally, Batman turns back towards the rest of his flock and Jason. “Bring him here.”
With poorly disguised displeasure, Nightwing trudges to the glass door. After a quick gesture for Jason to step back, he punches in a code into the numeric keypad off to the side and the door hisses open.
Jason steps forward, expecting Nightwing to immediately cuff his hands back together. But instead, the vigilante simply glowers at him and says, “don’t try anything funny, Flashlight. Trust me, you’ll regret it.”
“Sure,” Jason simply responds, though it’s hard not to smirk at both the nickname and the threat.
He comes to a halt next to the Bat and looks up at the woman on the screen. She looks good, healthy even, but the disappointment in her eyes is unmistakable. She’s clearly not happy with his actions and he already dreads the coming conversation.
“Habibi,” she starts, the word eliciting a series of gasps from the other people in the room.
“Talia.” He hopes the tone of his voice carries over his indisposition to revealing their relationship to the bats. They don’t need to know more than necessary. Them knowing that they’re more than just mistress and subordinate is already enough.
“I am most disappointed in your behavior. While you are trained to fight supernatural beings and are adept at it, you were also trained to make proper preparations. Seeing your company, I can’t help but come to the conclusion that you neglected said training in favor of quickly finishing this mission. I expected better from you.”
Jason can’t help but duck his head at the lecture. They both know he’s aware of his mistakes, but that doesn’t mean he will get away easy. He failed her training and Talia, as his mentor, will make sure he won’t repeat that mistake.
“Yes, mistress.” Lowering his eyes, he listens to her words, prepared for more. But to his surprise her next words aren’t directed at him anymore.
“I know you have questions, Bruce. Ask them.”
Without missing a beat, Batman speaks, his voice stoic and deep, sending a shiver down Jason’s spine. The agitation is palpable in the reverberation of the Bat’s voice. Whether it is because of Talia or Jason, he’s not sure.
“Is it true. About Ja– the Red Hood. That he isn’t human.” As always, it’s more of a demand than a question and it grates on Jason’s nerves to be reminded of all the times the same voice was directed at him in the last few weeks of his past live.
Talia’s left eye twitches the tiniest bit at the sound of Hood’s name and it doesn’t go unnoticed by either Jason or Batman.
Jason clenches his jaw at the revelation. Whatever her next words will be, they decide whether he will actually listen to her lecture when he returns or just ignore her. He will listen to his mentor’s words, but not to those of a hypocrite.
“I cannot say for certain, as I have only met him once,” she says and Jason’s breath catches in his throat. His gaze snaps back up to look at Talia and despite his anger, the apologetic look she throws him catches him off guard. “But I can tell you that he is not your son.
“It was almost four years ago now. One of my subordinates heard a rumor, about a homeless teenager in Gotham. A teenager that someone recognized as Robin. As it turned out said teenager was Jason Todd, but he wasn’t… well. However he returned from the dead, not all of him made it back. He was catatonic, most of the time, only surviving on pure instincts. I took him in, in hopes of healing him and returning him to you. But to no avail. His condition didn’t improve, no matter what I tried. So, as a last resort I used the Lazarus Pit. I don’t know what went wrong, but the thing that emerged... it wasn’t human. I could barely catch a glimpse of it, before it escaped. When we finally pulled Jason from the pit, he was already dead. It seemed whatever brought him back was removed by the pit.”
If it weren’t for his gloves, Jason’s sure his palms would have started bleeding a long time ago, his nails digging deep into his flesh. She met the Hood and never told him about it. She knew of him and chose to keep Jason in the dark. He knows he’s losing control again, but this time he doesn’t care. He wants to be angry, to allow himself to feel.
Talia is the one person he dared to trust again after his resurrection. She saved him, healed him and cared for him. But if she kept this from him, what else did she not tell him?
“I know my word won’t be enough to gain your trust, but for now it is all I can give. It’s up to you to meet him in the middle. Give him a chance to prove himself.”
“What gave you the right?” Batman whispers, completely ignoring her last words. His words are just loud enough for Jason and Talia to hear, his voice only a shadow of its usual steadiness.
At the change in the Bat’s voice, Jason can’t help but turn to the man and watch a myriad of emotions flicker over the small part of his face that is visible. “First you keep Damian from me, and now Jason?”
“Bruce, I never–”
“Enough lies, Talia! Where is my son?!” Batman snaps at her, the anger clearly vibrating through his limbs, hands shaking at his side. Jason can’t help the flinch that racks his body at the sound.
To his immense shock and disbelief, he realizes that this isn’t Batman standing next to him anymore. At least not entirely. He’s trying to conceal it, to play it over with stoicism and not let them see it, but he doesn’t quite manage it.
It’s this reaction and Batman’s words, that manage to shake Jason, to unbalance his focus and make him waver.
Son. He called Jason his son.
The show of emotions stands in such a stark contrast to his indifference just a few minutes prior. Then, the Red Hood, Jason Todd, was nothing more than another madman in Batman’s eyes. Another man to put into Arkham and hope to bring to his senses. But now? Now he’s Batman’s son. Someone who is worth to lose control over.
There’s a mist of confusion clouding Jason’s mind. He doesn’t know what to do with this information. Why this sudden change of mind? Just because now it’s about a dead boy that is mourned and not a confused soul that doesn’t know where to go, what to do and who he's supposed to be?
Talia’s voice is uncharacteristically soft when she answers. “I cremated him. My father was interested in Jason the moment I brought him back with me. I couldn’t risk the boy’s body falling into his hands.” She wavered for a moment, her eyes roaming over the cave’s occupants, briefly fixating on Jason before returning to the Bat. “Regardless of what you think of me, Bruce, I’m not heartless. I never meant for any of this to happen and I am truly sorry for all the grieve my decision has caused you.”
There’s a heavy silence in the cave for a moment in which Talia seems conflicted on whether she should continue or not. Apparently, she decides for it and adds: “But, in your own interest, keep him save, Beloved.”
The name of endearment startles Jason. She hasn’t called the man that in a long time and he thought it was a sign she finally moved on.
“You expect us to buy this bullcrap?” Nightwing suddenly speaks up, mirroring his father’s anger as he steps up on Jason’s other side.
“I don’t expect you to do anything, Richard,” she replies, her voice returning to the stone cold one Jason is so familiar with. “I am merely suggesting you try and broaden your horizon. The world isn’t as black and white as you are so fond of thinking.”
With that, she turns back to Jason, ignoring Nightwing’s following profanities. “Habibi, be careful. Don’t be reckless and despite how much you despise it, stop fighting alone. If not for yourself, do it for me.” Her eyes bore into him, imploring him to follow her request and he barely keeps from scoffing.
She knows how much he loathes fighting with others. On his own, he can fight like he needs to, in order to win a fight. He doesn’t have to keep watch over any weak links or worry for the safety of a teammate. It only slows one down and makes one vulnerable.
He managed on his own until now and he will continue to do so for however long his fight will continue.
She must know he doesn’t intend on doing what she’s asking him to, but that doesn’t mean he won’t try and appease her. “Yes, mistress.”
With that, the call disconnects and the screen fades back to black. Silence reigns in the cave for a few moments and Jason relishes it before the storm he knows will soon follow erupts.
Whether Talia managed to convince Batman to give Jason a chance or not, he isn’t sure, but a quick glance to the side tells him that she did manage to rattle him. His eyes are still locked onto the screen, the hands at his side uncharacteristically loose and his shoulders slouched. Only on a second glance does Jason see the small tremors running through the older man’s arms.
“The nerve of that woman,” Nightwing shouts enraged, turning on his heels and storming off towards where Jason vaguely remembers the training mats to be back in the days. Following the older vigilante with his eyes, Jason realizes that he isn’t the first one to leave. Sometime during the conversation Robin must have left unnoticed.
It’s only him, Black Bat and Batman left in the main area of the cave.
Before he can say anything he’d no doubt regret later, the young girl walks towards the pair and, after regarding Jason for a few seconds, no doubt a hateful glare beneath that mask of hers, turns to Batman and puts a hand on his chest.
After a few heartbeats, the Bat moves his head again. It’s a jerky, almost violent move, as if he has to force himself to tear his eyes away. The man looks down at his daughter, white lenses meeting black ones. Jason feels uncomfortable watching their interaction. It feels like they’re having a silent conversation only they can understand. And he’s the intruder, listening in without intending to. But Batman’s body language is painfully obvious and screams all of the pain and confusion out into the world, like a silent and despaired cry for attention and help from whoever is willing to listen.
But Jason isn’t.
He turns away, navigating through the cave with quick steps. He’s surprised that no one tells him to stay put, but he supposes they have other worries at the moment. He just needs to be away from them right now. Far away from their confusing reactions and emotions.
They’re all so… Angry? Sad? Hurt? Lost? It feels like a melting pot of emotions is gathered in the cave and Jason’s right in the middle of it, at a loss as to what to do.
He’s not the best with emotions. Never was and never will be.
Their reactions are unexpected and so different. Nightwing’s heavy punches carry over from the training area while Batman and Black Bat’s silence sits heavy in the air. Jason walks further away, purposefully taking the opposite direction to not be confronted with the older man’s blatant fury or disturb the other pair’s grief.
Thinking about whatever Talia’s words evoked in his– the bats is already giving him a headache and he’d rather not think about all of this. Let them be angry. Let them be sad. Let them be whatever they need to be. It’s not his problem. He only has to wait until they’ve calmed down and finally finish what he came here for.
Except, he’s the catalyst of this whole mess, isn’t he? He’s the one who urges them to choose to kill someone who, in their eyes, apparently is a victim and one of them. He’s the reason why they’re all having a collective breakdown right now.
A small part of him feels almost bad. A part that whispers to him in a traitorous voice, desperately trying to make him see that it’s him they’re mourning.
The bigger and louder part though is in a state of ecstasy. That part hopes they hurt just as bad as he did, when he found the caste massacred. The same pain he felt when he held Ducra’s cold, dead body in his arms. The pain he felt when Talia told him of the new Robin.
The same pain he felt, when he realized that his supposed family simply replaced him and forgot him. That they moved on like he never existed.
But they obviously haven’t, that same traitorous voice whispers in his head. It sounds suspiciously like a young teenager he thought he’d successfully left behind a long time ago. Somewhere between the exploding warehouse and the green waters of the Lazarus Pit.
He clenches his fists, hoping to ground himself and return back to the cave, back from his thoughts and that voice, before it’s too late and he can’t come back without losing a part of himself.
“She’s lying.” A soft voice reaches his ears and his head snaps back up from where he’d been watching the floor.
A few feet away sits the new little Robin Jason thought had fled the cave during Talia’s call. He was wrong, apparently. The boy had merely escaped from the main area, retreating to where Jason now realizes all the old costumes are kept in their cases. Kept in perfect condition and preserved for who knows what. Maybe nostalgia?
He looks at Robin and for the first time since he knows the kid sees exactly that. Not a brat with his nose up so high he can’t see where he’s going, but a child, confused and alone. The picture somehow makes something in Jason squirm in discomfort and he blames that feeling alone for his next words.
“She’s not, I’m sorry.” The words startle him, eyes going wide beneath his mask as he watches Robin mirroring his reaction. Then the kid’s face scrunches up and he looks at Jason with an expression somewhere between anger and hurt.
“No, he can’t be gone. Mother would never allow Jay to be hurt.”
Jason freezes up at the sound of his first name. But he doesn’t get the chance to think much more of it, because suddenly his vision is filled with angry Robin.
“I do not know who you are or why mother would ever bother with someone like you, but do not think I will stand by and watch as you hurt father with any more of your lies. Jay may have been the first thing I ever had to a brother, but that doesn’t change the fact that Grayson and father are my family. Hurt them and you will regret it.” Robin bumps his shoulder into Jason’s hip and starts to leave, but before his steps fade away completely Jason turns and speaks without thinking.
“You knew him?” The moment the words leave his mouth he regrets them. As much as he feels like he needs to know the answer, he also dreads it. Because wouldn’t that mean that he forgot Robin? That he forgot having a brother? He has no recollection of ever meeting the kid before last night. The only thing closest to a brother he ever had was Nightwing and even the thought of calling that brotherhood is a stretch.
Robin turns back around, regarding him with clear disdain. “I know him.” He spits, before quickly taking his leave.
Jason feels lightheaded watching the boy go. No matter how hard he tries, he can’t remember Robin. There’s nothing but a thick fog when he tries to think of his early days in the League. There’s not a trace of a small boy calling him Jay or brother.
Nothing. Nothing at all.
He barely registers the domed glass at his back, as he slides down one of the cases, his legs finally unable to hold him upright.
A shuddered breath leaves his lungs when he reaches the ground and he looks upwards into the depths of the cave. He squeezes his eyes shut as soon as he feels the telltale burn of the tears he feared since Talia started talking about the Hood.
This is all turning out to be one big mess. A mess he couldn’t have dreamed of ever being prepared for.
He’s no longer certain how this mission will end.
And a small but steadily growing part of him isn’t sure he even cares anymore.
Poor Jason, but sometimes it has to get worse before it gets better.
Urgh, this chapter really gave me a headache. The sad truth is, it was almost finished in the middle of september, but Damian and Jason's conversation just didn't want to be written... I had like six versions of it and in all honesty, I'm still not super happy with it now, but I've dragged this out for long enough and I don't think it's getting any better any time soon. Maybe I'll change it later, but don't worry, if I do I'll let you know.
What? Another chapter within less than a week? I know. Witchcraft!
Surprisingly this chapter came about rather easily so I was able to finish it in record time!
I also wanted to finish this before the next week, because university starts again this tuesday and I don't know how much time I'll have once the chaos returns.
Also, thank you all for your nice comments on the last chapters! Reading them all really makes my day, you're the best!!
Time becomes a blur as Jason sits alone, trying to reign in his feelings yet at the same time relishing in finally being able to let go a little bit. Even if it’s only for a small moment.
As much as he would like to just turn his back on this whole mess, he can’t. He’s got no choice but to finish this now, no matter what happens at the end.
His head thumbs back against the glass case and he squeezes his eyes shut one last time, getting rid of any residual dampness. Then, he slowly opens his eyes again, letting his gaze wander through what little of the cave he can see from here.
A life ago he dreamed of inheriting this from Batman. He dreamed of fighting alongside him, saving Gotham from its own darkness until maybe they could someday cleanse her from it all. But now, after years of experience, of getting wiser, of dying, he knows better.
This is a futile battle, one that will never end, no matter how many kids in tights help Batman. Jason finally realized the truth, even if it took him dying and losing everything in turn. Maybe Batman will too, one day.
Why he ever wanted to wear the cowl is a mystery to Jason. It’s a burden and a curse. He can see it in the way the Bat holds himself and how he acts around his flock of birds and bats. A broody, stone cold man, unable to see what he’s doing to those teenagers and kids he calls his children.
To be fair, he’s always been a bit broody and distanced when wearing the cowl, but not to this degree. Jason isn’t sure when or why that changed so drastically, but that should have been the point the man stopped.
Or when he saw what wearing the suit for a few months did to his oldest. It’s clear when he sees the tense way Nightwing holds himself. In the way he interacts while in costume – or out of costume. It’s not like Jason knows what he’s like when he’s not wearing it-
His gaze travels to his left, lingering on an object that was hidden to him before by some of the cases. Another glass case, positioned on a pedestal, and more secluded from the others.
Inside the case is one of the older costumes, but something feels off about it. It’s one of Robin’s suits, but not the one from the brat and also not from Jason’s successor. The scaly pants evoke an unwelcomed feeling in Jason, making his skin crawl beneath his armor with a shiver.
Something about this suit is painstakingly familiar. More than the fact that it’s the same version he and Nightwing wore. It’s the rips and cuts in the fabric, the stitches holding it together and the darker patches in the red tunic that finally make him realize what this is.
It’s his suit. The suit he died in.
The asshole kept. Kept it and put it on display like a prize.
His eyes travel along the fabric, along the many cuts and slashes over his torso where glass and wood cut into his skin. Where his flesh was ripped from his bones like it was butter. Parts that were churned and burned away from hot flames searing over his skin.
His fingers are broken in the green gloves, bent in wrong directions from trying to deflect the dreaded crowbar. Smoke fills his lungs and he tries to breathe, to get air into his lungs, but he fails. His lungs won’t expand, won’t allow him to breathe.
He rips the lower part of his mask from his face in a futile attempt to get more air. The rational part of his mind is desperately trying to remind him that the same strategy didn’t work back in his cell, but that voice is drowned out by screams and laughter. They echo in his head, pounding on his skull as if it was a fucking punching bag.
In one last desperate attempt to fight this off, he scrunches his eyes shut and slings his arms around his midsection. He buries his fingers in the fabric of his uniform, holding it in a death grip. Then, he tries to breathe in. Slowly but surely, Jason can feel his arms being pushed back, air filling his lungs. He repeats the motion, concentrating on the feeling of his arms moving up and down with his steadying breaths. His fingers strong grip loosens little by little, and he finally feels them again. Feels every single finger, whole and unscathed.
They’re not broken or bloody. His stomach isn’t ripped open by the explosion and his body doesn’t hurt with that blinding pain every time he tries to breath or move even the slightest bit. Because he’s not there. He’s not dying.
Minutes pass, filled with quiet tears streaming down his face, he didn’t know he was still capable of shedding after his melt down only a few minutes ago. Big, sating breaths fill his lungs and the tremors in his hands slowly subside.
He dares to open his eyes again once the tears stopped, staring at the metal flooring where the lower part of his mask lies discarded.
As much as he relishes in the feeling of fresh air on his skin, he picks the item up and puts it back in place over the lower part of his face. He wears it for a reason after all.
It’s supposed to keep him distanced from all this. But now Jason realizes it’s foolish to rely on something as idle as a stupid chunk of metal to keep him grounded. At least it does its job at concealing his identity from the bats. Or it would, if he stopped taking it off all the fucking time.
He reluctantly looks back up at the case and catches sight of a plaque at its bottom.
A Good Soldier.
A bitter laugh escapes Jason and he feels the disdain and hatred towards the old man resurface tenfold. Of course, what else would he be for the Bat if not a good little soldier. Following commands, doing as he says and being the storybook Robin Batman had searched for when he picked up the street rat.
Except in the end he wasn’t so perfect after all. Disobeying orders and paying the prize for it.
Fists clenched on his sides, Jason stands up, striding over to the glass case. It shouldn’t surprise him that Batman would keep his old suit. He probably thought it was an act of remembrance, honoring the memory of a soldier, fallen in battle. But Jason was more than that, wasn’t he? At some point at least he’d believed that.
He can’t help but be grateful for the suit, in a twisted sort of way. While the damn thing is like a punch to the face, that is also exactly what he needed right now.
He spent enough time losing control in the past few hours. Batman’s feelings towards him are more than clear now, so there’s no need to waver, no need to be uncertain and think that maybe – maybe – he isn’t just a mistake and that the Bat really cared.
He doesn’t. Not now and never has. So, there’s no need for Jason to do so either.
He’s still uncertain how this whole thing ends and no matter how much he tries, the unease at that thought won’t go away any time soon, he knows. But regardless of the outcome, he’ll still be a free man. He doesn’t owe anyone anything. Not the Bat and certainly not the dead Robin he can see lingering in his reflection.
The past is gone and there’s no changing that.
He’s been able to think of his two lives as separate for years now. That this place and these people have managed to stir up some long-buried feelings only means that he was too careless.
Time to refocus.
The reflection in the pristine glass of the case warns him of Nightwing’s presence before the other manages to catch him off guard. The moment the vigilante realizes what Jason’s looking at his shoulders tense.
As much as Jason would love to talk about it, rub the pain in a little more, he resists. Instead he simply turns to the older man and looks at him, unimpressed. “What.”
Nightwing takes his time to answer and Jason wonders if maybe he fights the same battle he does at the moment. Trying to resist the temptation of hurting the other in order to make himself feel better. It’s ugly and disgusting, but he knows from past experience that sometimes, it’s the best way to keep himself from doing something even worse.
While Jason managed to keep from rising to his urges, Nightwing fails. He steps up next to Jason and regards the case with downturned lips.
“Considering your connection to Talia, I’m not sure if the word is even part of your vocabulary, but maybe some sympathy would help you understand why we don’t just believe you, never mind trust you.”
Jason considers his words, before answering. “Sympathy is deceptive, especially in my type of work. So, excuse me for not walking on eggshells around you guys.”
Nightwing clenches his fists, the movement alerting Jason to his bandaged knuckles. Looks like control still isn’t part of his vocabulary then.
“And that right there is exactly what I’m talking about,” Nightwing bites out between clenched teeth. Another few seconds pass as Jason watches the others features slowly relax. Then, Nightwing lets out a sigh and turns to him.
“B wants to talk to you. He made a decision.” And with that he turns his back to Jason, expecting him to follow without further prompt. After another short glance at the glass case – or rather the memorial – he follows Nightwing back to the others in the main area of the cave.
On the other side of the big conference table the other three bats are gathered, watching him with wary expressions. Jason comes to a stand a few feet away from the others and waits for Nightwing to take his position next to Robin, who immediately inches closer to the man, before he speaks.
“What is your final decision?”
He’s expecting some brooding silence and a bit more prodding on his side for the Bat to answer him, but to his surprise he doesn’t need to.
“You can go after him. But I will go with you and supervise the mission. Only once I am convinced that you are indeed telling the truth are you allowed to… end him.”
Jason can’t help the sigh escaping him at the Bats reluctance. “You can make this a whole lot easier by finally stopping to consider that thing human.”
His advice is met with stony silence and another of those downward turned lips from both Batman and Nightwing. It's scary how similar they look at that instance.
“Or you don’t,” he relents, lifting his hands in the air in the universal sign of peace, “I’m fine with that. As long as I get my job done and are allowed to leave afterwards, of course.” At that, he lowers his hands once more and throws Batman an imploring look. The lack of answer to the latter of his requests is disconcerting.
“That would be my other condition. If the Red Hood turns out to be what you say he is, you will take us to Talia.”
Suppressing the twitch that wants to run through his hand at hearing Talia’s name is hard, but he manages. They just won’t rest, will they? No matter what he tells them, they won’t stop until they have it black on white, with some photographs and preferably some physical evidence.
“She’s kept two of my sons from me without batting an eye. I won’t suddenly start believing her lies now. Not after everything.”
Nightwing and Robin look at him with equal amounts of surprise, not unlike Batman’s reaction next to them. They obviously didn’t think he would agree this quickly.
It’s not that he likes taking them to Talia or indulging in their futile attempts to ease their guilt, but as long as he informs Talia beforehand and gives her a head start, he’s sure she can think of something. Then, all that’s left to do is wait until this blows over and he can go back to his life.
Batman is the first to get a hold of himself, shaking of the surprise in stride and walking over to the batcomputer.
“All right. We’ve gathered some information on the recent sightings of the Hood.”
A map of Gotham opens on one of the screens, showing several red dots spread throughout the city in a random pattern, but mostly concentrated in the center of Gotham.
What the hell is the Hood planning, running all over the place? Whatever it is, it can’t be good. The sooner they get started, the more lives they can hopefully save.
“What is Red Robin’s ETA?” Batman asks. At the same moment another one of the screens lights up and the green image of a face is looking back at them.
“He should be here within the next hour. I’ll fill him in as soon as he’s landed in Gotham,” a female voice answers, one Jason couldn’t forget even if he wanted to. Oracle, another victim of the hated clown, but at the same time a woman Jason respects to the heavens. Going through what she did and coming out of it even stronger deserves all the respect he can give.
While he never wants anything to do with Gotham and her vile whims anymore, there are some parts of his live here he can never forget. Barbie is one of them.
But as much as he would like to talk to the woman, like he did back then, he can’t. She’s no longer a part of his life. He has other things to worry about, as does she. She’s no longer the older sister he sometimes wished he had.
Now she’s someone he has to be wary of. Her skills are to good to disregard. There’s not a shroud of doubt in him that she already found out as much as possible about him. Though the problem isn’t with the things she was able to find. It’s with the things she wasn’t able to dig up.
The problem with being a part of the All Caste is that they’re not really up to date when it comes to the law. Jason doesn’t exist, not as Amar and certainly not as Jason Todd. He’s dead, in every sense of the word. He never wanted to legally return to the living, and since he spent most of his second life in a secret assassin base or a mountain in the Himalayas there’s never been a reason for him to change that fact.
The emergency ID behind the name Amar is good enough for the regular police department or security check, but there’s not a chance in the world it would stand up to a brilliant hacker such as Oracle.
The lack of information on his identity would only further feed into the bats distrust.
“What about the–”
“Already uploaded to your files, you’re welcome,” she interrupts Batman before he can finish his sentence.
Then her tone shifts as does her attention. She may only be a voice and an immobile picture right now, but Jason can very well feel her eyes on him.
“You must be Amar,” she says. Jason doesn’t know which camera she’s using to watch him, so he decides to look up at the one just to the right and above the computer.
He doesn’t respond. Instead he opts to wait and see what she has to say.
“It means immortal,” she says and after second of more silence continues, “an interesting choice of name.”
“I didn’t choose it. It was a gift.”
“From Talia?” Batman asks quietly, his face half turned towards Jason.
“No,” he answers simply, effectively ending the subject with that one word. He remembers the first time Ducra had called him Amar. The confusion he’d felt until she explained the name’s meaning to him. He’d refused it at first. He already had a name and to be honest he quite liked it. But she’d changed his mind. Until he couldn’t accept his past and what happened to him, the name Jason would only serve to trap him further, preventing him from moving on. And, in some way, she’d been right. It had helped, having people refer to him as someone else than Jason, because he wasn’t that boy anymore.
But he never quite managed to let him go completely. He can’t live without the safety net that was Jason Todd. He just can’t. Because despite all the time that has passed, he still isn’t quite sure who exactly Amar is either.
“Regardless of who you are, entering Gotham was your first mistake. Thinking you can kill in this city was your second. I’ve got my eyes on you, no worries.”
Jason tenses at her words. Not because of what she said, but because of the sad truth behind them. No matter how this end’s, the Bats will know he exists and be more cautious. It’s going to be a lot harder to stay undetected after this.
The sudden resounding of an alarm on Oracles end is the blessing that safes him from any further questions or threats. At the same time of the alarm, a red warning pops up on the screen previously showing a map of Gotham.
“Oracle,” Batman barks, typing on the keyboard and pulling up the map again.
“There was a big explosion at Arkham. Looks like a few inmates escaped.”
“I don’t know yet,” she responds, obviously just as annoyed by the fact as Batman.
“Get ready,” the man says without turning around, eyes focused on the screen where now several security cameras show footage from within Arkham. Chaos and smoke fill the screens, security trying to get the situation under control and keeping the inmates as calm as possible.
Nightwing, Robin and Black Bat get into motion, preparing for a no doubt stressful night while Jason watches onward.
Batman finally turns around as well, coming to a stand in front of Jason. The man doesn’t look to happy as he says his next words.
“You want to earn my trust,” he begins and waits for Jason to answer with a small nod. “Then get ready. You’ll stay with Nightwing. You make one wrong move, you’ll be back in that cell. So, don’t test me.”
Before Jason can say another word, Batman pushes a communicator in his hand and turns away, his cape billowing behind him as he strides towards the batmobile.
“B,” Oracle speaks up again. “Something’s fishy about this.”
“I know,” the man answers before he closes the door to the batmobile.
A shoulder collides with Jason’s and he watches as Nightwing walks past him, waving his hand for him to follow. “Get a move on.”
He does as he’s asked and follows the older man to his bike, watching as both Robin and Black Bat climb on their own bikes respectively.
Putting in the comm, Jason takes a seat on Nightwing’s bike, listening as four engines roar to live simultaneously. One of them makes his heart almost skip a beat at the familiarity, but as soon as they reach the tunnels the sounds all merge together into one deafening roar. In his ear he listens to Oracle’s voice, updating them on the situation.
Despite how much he doesn’t want to, he has to agree with her. Something about this whole thing stinks to the heavens. It’s too convenient, feels too planned.
They leave the tunnels, fresh air rushing past them and he watches Gotham’s skyline as the sun already begins to settle in the distance. A feeling of foreboding settles in his gut as they drive through the cooling evening.
As it turns out, only a total of three inmates have escaped the asylum. Mad Hatter, Scarecrow and, of course, the Joker. Considering the circumstances of him being in Gotham and the timing of their escape, Jason shouldn’t be surprised that the damned clown is free as well.
They split up in order to catch all three of them as quickly as possible, Batman pursuing the Joker – thankfully; Jason doesn’t want to be anywhere near that monster – Black Bat handling the Mad Hatter and Nightwing, Robin and Jason taking care of Scarecrow.
The quicker they reach the three escapees, the sooner they could get back to their original task, which is why Jason didn’t even think to argue with the Bat about his orders. He knows where his priorities lie. He shouldn’t waste this opportunity to prove his trustworthiness.
After separating the three of them immediately headed towards Chinatown, Scarecrows last known whereabouts according to Oracle.
There’s a part of Jason that feels almost giddy as he races over Gotham’s rooftops again. He had a taste of the nostalgic feeling the night prior, but the big difference now is that there is nothing holding him back. He doesn’t have to hide or try to merge with the shadows as he was taught to do by too many of his teachers to keep track.
With Batman and his brood with him, he can ignore the nagging voice in his head, telling him to be as inconspicuous as possible. There’s no need to hide, no need to watch his every step because there could be a bat hidden in the shadows, just waiting for him to make a mistake.
The only ones he needs to stay hidden from are Gotham’s usual lowlifes and that has stopped being hard a very long time ago. Back when he’d always admired Batman and his skill to become one with the shadows and blend in with Gotham’s grime and ugliness without any effort. Back when it was something he looked up to, aspiring to one day achieve that level of prowess himself.
Now that he reached that point, he isn’t sure whether he should be happy or proud about the fact it has become second nature for him to fade into the background like white noise. Disappearing in a crowd or a lone field, hiding from creatures thrice his size and never leaving behind a hint to his presence except for a fake name and a fake story.
A fake life for a fake boy.
He tries to ignore his wandering thoughts and watches Nightwing’s back. Watches as the older man soars over Gotham’s skyline. How the other manages to fly and stay earthbound at the same time, conversing through his comm without a single care in the world. Jason watches how him and Robin fall into cadence as if it were as easy as breathing and with a startling realization, he recognizes the envy crawling up, intent on staying right where it maybe never really left.
While it’s not a foreign association with the other man, the emotion still throws Jason off as he follows the other two. But somehow it feels different this time. It isn’t the poisonous sort he felt back in the day, when he watched the other excel at everything he did, widening the gap between Jason Todd and the Golden Boy more and more, maybe even without realizing it. No, this is different.
It isn’t that Jason’s envious of the way Nightwing flies through the air, or the way he leads them through Gotham’s night with an air of confidence and pure levity. It’s something else. Something Jason can’t put his finger on, no matter how hard he thinks about it. Or maybe it’s that he doesn’t want to think about it.
Not that it should matter to him anyway.
“What’s wrong?” Nightwing asks from his position next to him, startling Jason out of his thoughts. He didn’t realize he stopped, but now that Nightwing stands before him, his look a mix between annoyance and concern, he does.
“It’s nothing,” he answers.
They’ve abandoned Nightwing’s bike a few blocks away, choosing to travel the rest of the way by foot to hopefully attract less attention from the scumbags loitering the alleys below. So far there was no sign of any inmates in the city. It’s quiet. One could even say, too quiet. It’s a cliché, Jason knows, but when he lets his gaze travel over the city, lets his hears focus on the sounds from below and shifts his concentration from the distraction next to him and onto their mission instead, it’s the first thing that comes to mind.
And it stays there, settling down and spreading an uncomfortable feeling of dread.
“I remembered what Oracle said.” At Jason’s casual use of her name Nightwing throws him a tight look, before he agrees with a small nod.
“She’s right. But that doesn’t mean we can just wait and see who makes the first move.” He turns away from Jason. “We need to be prepared if we want to prevent the worst.” With a quick and graceful jump, he makes it to the next rooftop, where Robin waits impatiently for the both of them.
Jason follows them, keeping a short distance between the other two vigilantes and himself. The fact that Nightwing is playing his babysitter was to be expected, but the brat tagging along is a surprise. In hindsight though, thinking of the small interactions he witnessed between Batman and Robin it isn’t that big of a stretch the Bat would send the boy with his brother, rather than take him himself.
The two of them don’t seem to get along as good as one would expect of father and son.
On second thought, it could also be because Batman has chosen to go after the Joker and made the choice to keep Robin far away from the clown deliberately. Maybe the man did learn from the past after all. Though the two Robins who came after Jason clearly contradict that reasoning.
Jason can’t belief that a person who lost someone dear to them would willingly put others in the same position, knowing full well what that could mean for them. Even less when those people were their children.
But of course, that thinking can’t be applied to the Batman. He defies reason, accomplishes the impossible and paints a picture of infallibility and superiority in order to do his job. Anything less and this city would mercilessly devour him.
If he started thinking about his actions, what they mean for himself and the people around him, what it means for the city and its citizens, then he would no doubt come to the same conclusion that Jason did years ago.
This fight is a futile endeavor that brings more bad than it does good.
Had Jason not so willingly taken the mantle of Robin in his youthful ignorance, maybe–
“Nightwing and Co have arrived. Any new information on our guest, O?” Nightwing says as they come to a halt on one of Chinatowns many curved rooftops.
With a soft thud, Robin lands next to Jason, throwing him a deprecating look, before he turns to Nightwing and listens as his brother and Oracle start up a small conversation.
Jason turns away from the pair to the edge of the roof with a roll of his eyes.
Below he can make out a group of arguing teens.
“Still no clue to his whereabouts?”
“Nothing,” Oracle replies. “Keep your eyes and ears open.”
One of the older teens starts to throw their fists at one of the others and the argument quickly turns into a sloppy fistfight. Jason watches as they break their own hands on each other’s jaws with an amused smile.
“Black Bat tracked Tetch down in the Coventry,” he hears Oracle inform them through his comm as he looks back up at the skyline of the city. As Nightwing and Oracle’s conversation turns into inane chatter, Jason starts to tune them out, concentrating on the more important matter. Hopefully they would find Crane soon as well. Preferably before he unleashes his toxin on the citizens of Gotham.
The city might not be his home or his concern anymore, but the citizens are still innocents. People who are simply trying to live their life as normally as possible. Granted, they chose the worst city to do so but to each their own. Just because they live here doesn’t mean they consent to be gassed by crazed criminals or killed in a shootout between two rivaling crime families.
Jason himself didn’t chose for his path either. If he can at least save others, like he’s been saved numeral times, he’ll do it. It’s not that different from what he’s been doing until now anyway. The only difference is that he isn’t be hunting the supernatural but a human. A despicable human, but a human, nonetheless.
Silence settles over the roof, as well from the comms as from the street below. Curious about the sudden change, Jason looks back down and finds the alleys and streets empty. The teenagers have disappeared, as have all the other passersby, leaving the streets in a portentous atmosphere.
“Nightwing,” Jason says, not averting his eyes, keeping an eye on the shadows below.
“I know.” Is the others immediate response, all joke gone from his voice and replaced by professionalism and seriousness. “Seems like you were right, Oracle. Somethings definitely going on here.”
“I’ll look around,” she says.
Jason lets his gaze wander over the city once more, hoping to find a clue as to where to begin, but it seems almost futile. Their best bet would be to split up, to cover more ground and find Crane faster, but there’s no way that’ll happen. The only thing they can do is wait and hope that Oracle finds a clue as to where Scarecrow is located or they find him themselves.
Suddenly, loud and quick steps alert him to the alley below. A man exits it and runs across the street, clutching his ears, muffled screams escaping his mouth erratically.
Jason doesn’t have to look up, to know that Nightwing and Robin have seen – or rather heard – the man as well. The older vigilante’s grappling hook is already in the air, a line shooting out at the buildings adjacent. With that Nightwing jumps off the roof, following the man into the dark streets below.
Jason and Robin quickly follow suit and keep a short distance in order to give Nightwing and the man some distance. Both to not crowd or scare the man further. While the screams haven’t been too alarming, they were still hysteric enough to ring Jason’s warning bells.
He was either a poor soul, simply needing help with a robbing or suchlike or they didn’t need Oracle’s help to find Scarecrow after all.
They stay at the edge of the rooftop, overlooking the alley where Nightwing is talking to the hysteric man, or rather tries to. The man isn’t listening, shaking his head from left to right and cowering beneath the vigilante.
“Fear toxin,” Nightwing finally mutters. “Scarecrow must be close.” He pulls out a small syringe and administers its contents to the man. It takes only a few seconds until his hyperventilating breaths slow down and he slumps onto the concrete. “We need an ambulance at our location, O.”
“On their way,” she answers. “I tracked this guy’s steps back to a building a few blocks away. I’ll mark the location on your maps.”
“Let’s go, Nightwing,” Robin says next to Jason, tapping his foot impatiently.
Barely a few seconds later they’re in the air again, quickly approaching their destination.
Sloppy, Jason thinks. It’s unusual for Crane to screw up so quickly after escaping. In fact, it’s been suspiciously easy to find any of their targets so far. Black Bat already located Tetch after only a few minutes of searching and if the pattern continues, it won’t take them much longer to find Crane either. Either Gotham’s villains are severely slacking nowadays, or something is seriously wrong about this whole situation.
When they arrive, they land on the roof of a warehouse – because of course it’s a warehouse – and surprise to all surprises, Crane is there.
Crouching low on the roof and watching the man ordering around his henchmen through a window, Jason’s bad feeling is continuously worsening. There are too many people, considering he escaped Arkham only a couple hours ago. The crates spread throughout the warehouse are filled with guns and other firearms. There’s no way Scarecrow was able to gather all of this in this short amount of time.
“Something isn’t right here,” Nightwing says, pulling out a batarang and forcing the window open. “You two stay here, I’ll take a look around.”
He grips the windows edge, ready to pull it open, but Jason quickly stops him. “Going in there alone is foolish. As you said, something is wrong, which means we should be cautious and investigate before we act.”
“Which is what I’m about to do. I’ll do the investigating part while the two of you stay here and keep an eye out for anything suspicious. The moment you find something, you tell me. Got it?” Nightwing pulls his hand from Jason’s grip and opens the window just enough to silently slip through.
“Idiot,” Jason hisses, ignoring the sharp look it earns him from Robin.
“Nightwing is proficient. Your concern is unnecessary and misplaced.”
“No one asked you,” Jason bites back, because he’s neither concerned, nor does he want to hear the kid’s opinion.
He can feel Robin’s eyes boring into him while he watches Nightwing. The man is good, sticking to the shadows and staying undetected while he surveys the warehouse. It’s no surprise no one notices him, though his prowess doesn’t change the fact that going in alone is reckless and dangerous. They don’t know what they’re dealing with yet.
So Jason watches. If Nightwing can’t hold himself back, then Jason’s only choice is to keep an eye on the vigilante and his surroundings and hopefully figure out what Scarecrow has planned before it happens. He doubts letting Nightwing get hurt will earn him any good points with the Bat.
From the window Jason can only see so much and it’s not long before Nightwing vanishes from his sight. As if it isn’t bad enough already to have Nightwing out of his field of view, Scarecrow follows only shortly after in the same direction.
Immediately, Jason lifts his hand to his ear and opens a line to Nightwing’s comm. “Nightwing, Scarecrow is coming your way.”
When there’s no answer from the vigilante, Jason quickly but quietly stands.
“You stay here,” he says to Robin, crouching low, to not call unnecessary attention to his or Robins location. “Keep an eye on the situation.”
“What do you think you’re doing,” Robin hisses through clenched teeth, though it’s obvious the tension is not only because of Jason. Not getting an answer from his brother seems to bother the kid more than he wants to let on. “Nightwing told us to wait.”
“I’ll make sure he doesn’t walk right into a trap.” If he hasn’t already, Jason thinks grimly.
When did this all turn into him helping Gotham’s nightly crimefighters? They should be better than this.
At the pinched look on the boy’s face, Jason knows he won’t protest any further. Without giving Robin time to answer, he turns and moves along the side of the roof to the other end of the building, keeping an eye on the happenings inside. Most of the rest of the building seems rather empty in contrast to the previous hall. There are less people, less crates and weapons.
It looks more like a hastily acquired hideout for an escapee and less like a well-planned out lair for a villain to scheme.
On top of that, there’s still an unnerving lack of Nightwing and Scarecrow. The two of them must be in another part of the building. After a quick look back at the small figure of Robin in the distance to make sure he’s still where he’s supposed to be, Jason changes his direction.
Taking the path between the windows to the other side of the roof, Jason tries to contact Nightwing once more. Still no answer.
With clenched teeth he suppresses a curse and carries on towards the next window. The room below is another hall, but in contrast to the other two, this one is completely shrouded in darkness. Jason can barely see ten feet into the room. The only light source he can detect – beside the windows – is the faint light coming from the other sections on the far end of the room, leaking through the small slits in the doors and partitions.
He decides his best chance on finding Nightwing is to go in and look for him and not wait here and hope for the other to return. Something has to be wrong for the other not to answer his comm. At least Jason hopes so. If this is part of their protocol now, he’s even more thankful for not being one of them anymore.
He forces the window open with practiced hands and slips inside. Landing on one of the higher up beams, he takes in his first look of the room. As he suspected from the outside, the room is empty, except for the storage systems built into the walls of the warehouse. The floor-to-ceiling shelves themselves though are empty. Nothing in this part of the building looks like it’s meant to be used as a hideout. This was just an empty warehouse before, but somehow Crane managed to have dozens of henchmen preparing this for him before his breakout.
While that isn’t unheard of, it’s still peculiar, especially considering the fact that this was a mass breakout.
Crouching low, Jason makes his way to the end of the room. Once he reaches it and stops over one of the doors, he can make out the faint sound of voices coming from down below. He slows his breathing and concentrates on the voices that barely reach his ears so high up.
“…n’t belief we got stuck with this shitty job. What’s the boss thinking, suddenly helping those crazy bastards.” The voice is rough and deep. Deep enough to make it difficult to make out all the words but Jason manages. He’s been trained for this kind of stuff after all. Not only by the Bat, but also by the League and the All Caste.
“Shut up,” another voice says. “We’re not getting paid to chatter. I’d rather not lose my head because of your loose mouth.”
Lose their head?
The temptation to get more information out of the two eggheads is big, but Jason knows he needs to focus on more important things right now. He doesn’t have the time to get distracted and gather the information he so desperately wants. Like, who is their boss? What are they doing here with Scarecrow? But instead of doing what his trained brain wants him to, he does the opposite.
Dislodging a small knife from his belt, he holds it out and lets it drop to the ground next to the door. The metallic clink echoes loudly in the empty hall. The response is immediate.
“Did you hear that?”
“Fucking hell.” The obvious trepidation in the voice is all Jason needs to know that he’ll enjoy this, probably more than he really should. He might not want to go back to his life as a vigilante but fucking with clueless henchmen will always bring him joy, no matter who they are. Be it cultists praying to Death themself or thugs in a crappy city such as Gotham.
The door slowly opens and a bulky man enters the room, an assault rifle held securely, yet in a sloppy hold in his hands. The flashlight of the gun is turned on, its soft light catching on the metal of the shelves at the other end of the room. The door is held open by the other man. This one cleverly decides to stay back and watch the scene unfold from a distance, his rifle at the ready as well.
Jason waits patiently and watches. His fingers itch to take action now but he’ll be nothing more than swiss cheese if he doesn’t wait. And wait he does. The two of them take their sweet time to look around the room but making sure to never leave the safe area of the door. Thankfully, this also gives Jason the needed time to listen for any more noises from the hallway. But it seems like there’s no one else there. At east no one he can hear from his position.
Finally, the slenderer of the two flashes his light sideways. It catches the glint of Jason’s knife on the floor and their attention is averted to the object lying innocently on the floor.
“Hey, over there,” he calls to his partner, who quickly turns to the knife.
“What the…” the bulkier one mutters. And then, like a switch being turned, the two of them seem to remember what city they’re in and who is protecting it, albeit a few seconds too late.
Jason’s knife is already speeding through the air and spearing through the slender man’s ankle by the time the two of them manage to lift their heads. Pulling the line attached to the knife taught, Jason jumps off the beam. The moment of distraction as his partner is hauled into the air with a muffled cry, the fast working sedative already setting in, is the bulkier man’s downfall. Jason lands on-top of him, knocking him out cold with a quick hit to the head.
Soft moans are the only sound remaining in the else silent room, as Jason lowers the unconscious man from the ceiling. He works quickly, not knowing whether anybody has heard the commotion or how fast the two missing men will be noticed. After tying them both up, using parts of their own clothing and hiding them under the lowest levels of the shelves, shadows concealing them sufficiently, he makes his way to the door.
Luckily, it’s quiet outside, so no one seems to have taken notice of his assault.
He pushes the door open, looking into the hallway beyond. No guards, no Scarecrow and no Nightwing.
Entering the hallway, he closes the door silently and carefully heads onward. The light above flickers continuously, because of course it does, irritating him further. The hallway is silent, except for the distant sound of voices. By the sound of it, their origin must be further down this hallway and around the corner, past several rooms and a staircase Jason can see in the distance.
The first room he inspects is empty. The only thing he can make out in the darkness is the wet floor and a drain in the center of the room.
As he moves to enter the second one, a new set of voices reach his ears from inside.
“I don’t care who you’re working for,” Crane’s raspy voice filters through the door loud and clearly. “Either you do as I say, or you’ll regret it. Just because he helped me, doesn’t mean he is in charge of my people.” There is a strangled cry, followed by quick gasps of breath before Scarecrow continues. “And neither are you.”
The soft sound of whimpers are growing louder from within the room, which quickly start to turn into soft cries for help. With a queasy feeling settling in his stomach, Jason is reminded of why he hated Scarecrow back in the days. The cowardice and ugliness of his actions is one of the worst Gotham has to offer. Using something as personal and painful as people’s deepest fears against them – killing them with said fears – is sickening.
His attention returns to the room when he hears steps resound from inside. Quickly, he takes off and with silent movements slips into the empty room from before. To his luck, the steps are slowly receding to the opposite direction from where he came. He waits a few more seconds, just to be sure, before he leaves his hiding spot and emerges from the room.
Quick, yet silent steps carry him past the room Scarecrow just emerged from, intend on following the madman and hopefully figuring out what was going on before anything worse than a poisoned thug was on their plate.
But as he passes the room a distinct lack of cries catches his attention. The formerly screaming henchman is silent. As Jason presses his ear to the door, the only sound that reaches his ears are whimpers.
What? Jason thinks confused, as he remembers with clarity that Crane’s toxin has never been known for its short duration of effect. Even if Jason doesn’t wish such a nightmare on anyone – well, there are some people he’d wish would suffer worse fates than this – but the man should still be convulsing on the floor, calling for his mommy to help him.
Gripping one of his knives securely in one hand, Jason reaches for the handle to open the door, only to have it slip from his grasp, as the door is pulled open from the other side. He can barely dodge the sizzling stick that is aimed at his throat. With a quick turn of his wrist he has his knife at the attacker’s throat, pressing down hard enough to stop his opponent’s movements.
“What are you doing here.”
The flat voice is the first thing that registers to him, before the black and red colors of Nightwing’s suit remind him that the person in front of him is not an enemy.
He quickly pulls his knife away, stashing it back inside his pocket.
“Searching for you,” he answers briskly, because Nightwing has no right to sound this pissed after not answering his comm for the past seven minutes.
Confusion spreads on Nightwing’s face. Before he speaks though or Jason can question him on his radio silence, the older man pulls him inside the room and closes the door once again.
“What do you mean you’re searching for me,” Nightwing asks, his voice holding a hint of strain in it, as the question rushes past his lips.
The room is a mess. A table in its center is flipped sideways, paper strewn across the floor and soaking in whatever liquid or dirt has gathered on the ground. Two unconscious men are lying next to the table, while a third is curled in on himself on the opposite side of the room. The third one is unarmed and clearly the source of the former screams and whimpers, if the sounds he’s still making are anything to go by.
Amidst the mess lies a metal grate and Jason’s gaze wanders up to the ceiling where he can see the opening to the vents. That at least explains how Nightwing was able to enter the room without Jason or Scarecrow noticing.
“Exactly what it means.” He turns back to the vigilante, noticing the tension that has not only taken residence in his voice but also in his shoulders. “You didn’t answer your comm after you went inside.”
The confusion from before deepens. “But you never called,” Nightwing says. “At least I didn’t get a signal…” As the words are spoken, realization dawns on Nightwing’s face at the same moment as Jason most likely comes to the same conclusion. His face immediately darkens as the pieces click into place.
The words barely leave his mouth when Nightwing already turns to the door. His hand is on the handle when Jason manages to catch him and yank him back by the shoulder.
“What are you doing?”
Despite the clear annoyance on his face, Nightwing answers him promptly, almost hurriedly. “If your signals didn’t reach me, then mine didn’t reach you either.”
The tension in his shoulders seems close to snapping when Nightwing speaks and finally Jason understands that it’s not his presence that has put Nightwing in this mood. Neither is it the fact that he disobeyed his orders. No. It’s something entirely else that has his hands clenching to tight fists by his side and his legs trembling imperceptibly.
“What did you find?” Jason asks with apprehension.
“I found explosives spread throughout the ventilation system. This whole building is rigged to go up in flames within the next four minutes.”
So sorry this update took so long. This chapter was surpisingly hard to write.. But here it is, and I'm actualy quite happy with it!
You maybe have noticed, the total chapter count went up by one and that's thanks to this chapter being waaay longer than I anticipated it would be. This and the next chapter were originally supposed to be one but I had to split them up, else we'd end up with an overly large chapter.
I hope you enjoyed this one, and once again, thank you all for all the amazing support on this story. Thank you for reading and all the kudos and bookmarks and comments, you're the best!!
(I have to go now, so if there are any major errors, I'll correct them later. I just really wanted to post this chapter now.)