For what feels like the millionth time that night, (twenty-first, he's keeping count) Jason slides up his sleeve and checks his forearm for any new marks that may have appeared since he last looked six minutes ago. But alas, his skin is bare except for old scars and the original message written by his own hand.
'Dear Soulmate, where the fuck are you??'
It’s stupid, but Jason feels his stomach twist something awful everytime he looks and sees no reply to his message.
He's never met the person on the receiving end of his messages, Jason doesn't even know their name or what they look like, but he knows it's not like them to take so long to write back.
They've been communicating pretty regularly all things considered, with Jason's gig as a criminal/vigilante and whatever the other person did with their time. This whole radio-silence feels all kinds of wrong. It’s routine that they take turns everyday to update each other of their general situation.
Their routine started a couple of months ago when Jason had a particularly bad run in with one of the drug gangs he was trying to chase out of the docks for not conforming to Red Hood's terms. He won, but they got in a few good hits.
Jason dragged himself back to his nearest safehouse, peeled his bloody uniform off, disinfected a bullet-graze wound on his arm, slapped on one of those miracle medical adhesives to "stitch" the wound closed, took a couple of painkillers (plus antibiotic just to be sure), and promptly passed out in his underwear.
He stayed knocked out for thirty-four hours.
When he woke up he was covered with writing on every inch of skin in his immediate line of vision.
They're asking if he was okay, why was he not replying, did he need help, where he was, and so on. The amount of messages had been overwhelming.
His soulmate usually wrote with black ink, but some of the words Jason saw were in red. Almost as if they've written so much but got no response and figured the situation called for some next level shit, and they had to switch to a red to better call attention to the messages.
(A stray thought of maybe his soulmate was a teacher and they were grading papers passed through Jason’s sleep-hazed mind.)
As Jason blinked, he saw new words forming on his left thigh (which was also quickly running out of space) saying 'I'll come find you' and that's when the gravity of the situation finally got through to Jason's sleep-muddled brain.
He couldn't have his soulmate looking for him. Fuck that.
Jason won't have the one person unfortunate enough to be tied to him by fate without their consent to see what Jason truly is and experience Jason's gritty world of blood and bullets.
And consequently be placed in immediate danger. No.
He needed to reassure them quick and let them know Jason did not need to be visited or whatever crap his soulmate had in mind. He dove out of bed, swallowing a groan from his jostled arm. He shook off the pain, fumbled around for his pants to fish out the pen he kept in there, and quickly scribbled his reply.
'It's ok, I’m fine.'
He was expecting his soulmate to reply back instantly. But it was a few moments before the red ink came back into writing.
'Where the hell are you?'
Jason felt himself snort on a laugh. He could tell from the handwriting and the choice of words that the other person was mad but also relieved.
There was a tilt and unsteadiness to the newest message that was absent from the previous ones. Like his soulmate was forcefully keeping their calm while waiting for Jason to finally fucking reply.
But now that Jason had written back at last, it seemed his soulmate had let some of the calm fizzle out of their system and let a bit of rage and relief seep through.
'Back at my house,’ Jason answered, which is technically not a lie, since a safehouse IS a type of house, and it was Jason’s so… ‘ Just finished a long job. Sorry for not writing back earlier.'
Again it took a few moments before his soulmate replied. Like the other person was thinking hard about what to write next.
'Do you need help?'
Warmth squeezed Jason's chest. God what did he do in his past life to deserve a whole real live person kind enough to worry about his stupid-ass's well-being?
Well, considering he was Robin for a while before he died, maybe that earned him brownie points.
'Nah, I have things handled. Was just distracted for a while and couldn't reply.' Jason wrote back.
'I vote we keep each other updated of our situations. Daily. We can take turns asking each other.'
Jason felt his eyebrow raise.
'Do you think that's really necessary?'
'You don't get a vote. You went radio-silent for 2 days.'
"It was only thirty-four hours!" Jason retorted aloud to his empty safehouse like a crazy person. It was unbelievable, the kinds of ridiculous reactions this faceless person on the other side of the written words were pulling out of him.
'So you're 100% of the voting population in this case?' Jason wrote back instead, knowing the sarcastic tone would carry through.
Apparently his soulmate was immune to sass because the reply came back with a serious no nonsense feel.
'Yes. Today's the first day this agreement is in effect. Since I did all the asking today, tomorrow you get to ask about me. Like I said we'll take turns.'
'What happens if one of us doesn't write back?' Jason asked, deciding the best course for now was not to argue his case, but to gather full intel on this new agreement.
It took two full minutes before Jason got a reply. Like his soulmate took some time tailoring the terms.
'If the person being asked hasn't replied after 24 hours. The asker gets a free pass to use the Link to know the other's location and go to them to make sure they're okay.'
The Link was written with a capital L. It was impossible to miss.
Jason was shocked at the terms.
(He dialed back his “Teacher” theory and moved firmly to “Lawyer” at the back of his mind, at what his soulmate could be doing for a living)
Jason took a moment of his own to breathe and think about the new terms.
They had a standing agreement from early on that they did not need to not meet in person yet, and they should keep their names to themselves for now. Part of that agreement is the unspoken (unwritten) understanding that they will not use the Link to seek the other out.
It wasn't one-sided on Jason's part. After the first doodle of a question mark appeared on the back of his hand which he replied to a few minutes later (after stopping himself from having a panic attack) with a rather crude drawing of a hand with the middle finger raised, he received a quick ‘I really hope you’re not a literal child’ in response (that made him laugh again and Jason had to stop himself from getting hysterical for the second time in ten minutes).
Jason got himself back together enough to write back ‘Not a child you paranoid snob. How can I be if people get linked after 18??’ And then they basically started casually bantering and chatting until it lead up to some ground rules agreed upon by both of them.
'I don't think it's a good time for us to meet' 'I think we can manage without specifics, call me anything you want.' ’We don't really need to have THAT kind of relationship, but it IS nice talking with you.’ 'Should be no problem, we communicate okay via writing anyway.’ Those initial agreements have continued for about a year then, and they've been doing okay.
Jason was glad for small miracles and never really challenged why his soulmate wouldn't want to get specific with him. Hell knows he had a lot of things to hide and he appreciated the easy truce of them not wanting to get too close with each other at the time. He tried to mostly see them as a pen pal of sorts. Mostly.
Neither of them have brought up the possibility of meeting again, until then.
Oftentimes, Jason still had trouble coming to terms that he really did have a soulmate. He was almost convinced he'd just dreamt up everything because he was sick of being lonely all the time. But then he'd see the marks appear on his skin and he'd feel less alone.
When Jason was eighteen and had freshly broken out of the League of Shadows’ clutches, he tried a grand total of once to see if he had a soulmate; someone out there in the universe that he was irrevocably linked to. He wrote a quick hello on the back of his left hand.
That hello remained unreplied to until eventually, Jason's blood, sweat, and tears washed it away.
(For a while he stared at his unanswered message, slowly feeling sharp ice form in his chest and sink to his stomach. It was the first time Jason felt truly alone.)
He lived in solitude for a couple of years until he was twenty and then that damned red question mark sprouted on the back of his hand. Then he's twenty-one and have managed to keep up communicating anonymously with his soulmate for a year, and neither of them have driven the other insane. Yet.
Aside from the nifty Instant Messaging feature that kicks in once both parties have reached eighteen, soulmates also develop the ability to get in touch with the Link inside them.
If they concentrate hard enough they'll feel a pull that will let them know the location of their partner anywhere in the world, essentially tracking them. (There was a record of a woman in Tunisia sensing her wife from Macau.)
It was considered a breach of privacy by most of society and was only done generally with consent of both parties beforehand. Usually anyway, it wasn't needed to meet each other. Soulmates just normally set a meeting via writing one another.
Jason wasn't too hot about putting his soulmate's tolerance of him to the test by letting the poor sod track him down and experience Jason Todd in person. Not to mention he didn't want his soulmate involved in his criminal lifestyle. He's kind of wanted by both police and fellow criminals so there's no shortage of people wanting to gun him (and people in his general vicinity) down.
Jason stared hard at the message he got, unable to formulate a response that would dissuade his soulmate into reaching out through their Link to locate him, other than agreeing to the previously stated terms of keeping each other updated daily. He must've taken a while because his soulmate's handwriting popped out again before Jason managed to reply.
'Are you okay with that?'
The words felt hesitant and Jason snapped himself back into focus. It wasn't fair to keep worrying his soulmate. It wasn't like they chose to be tied to him. If agreeing to this would bring some peace of mind to them, then Jason thinks it's more than a fair trade.
He just needed to make sure to take care of himself so he doesn't pass out for more than twenty-four hours at a time and they can keep their routine going. It looked like the only viable choice to keep them at a safe distance.
'Yeah, I'm okay with it ,' Jason wrote back.
'Okay great. It's a promise then.'
And that was that. As the bible said “as it is written, a formal binding contract has taken place” or whatever the quote was.
Everyday for the past couple of months, Jason and his soulmate have stuck through with their agreement. Aside from their usual conversation, they take turns asking each other if they're okay. Sometimes when they’re busy, it was the only message they exchanged for the day. Without fail they've managed to keep it going.
It's Jason's turn to ask today and he sent out his message of 'Dear Soulmate, how're you?' about ten hours ago, when the sun was out in the sky. On the seveth hour with no reply forthcoming to his message, he sent another one reading 'Dear Soulmate, where the fuck are you??' out of frustration due to the lack of reply.
Now the sun's long gone and Jason’s out on patrol, but he keeps distracting himself by checking his arm for non-existent replies and keeping mental count of each hour that passes.
He’s almost tempted not to wait for the full twenty-four hours and just use the soulmate GPS now. The remaining fourteen hours felt like an eternity to wait out. His soulmate had never taken so long to reply before.
Jason knows for sure that he’s plenty distracted from his patrol when someone gets the drop on him without him sensing until it was too late.
The Red Hood is about to swing to the next building's roof with his grappling gun, when it got knocked out of his hand by a projectile. It sails a low arch and lands with a clutter, away from his reach.
Jason looks with annoyance to his grappling gun lying pathetically on the gritty rooftop and almost growls at the sight of the batarang stuck to it that knocked it out of his hand in the first place.
He hears a swish of a cape and a soft thud as someone lands behind him. He feels his annoyance kick up a notch.
Red Hood turns and raises his gun (the one loaded with rubber bullets but no one except him needed to know that) pointing straight to the figure clad in red black and green in front of him.
“My toys aren't funded by the big Bat like yours are, so you better pray you did not break my grappling gun or I will shoot you," Jason snaps through his helmet.
"Oh please. We all know you have secret funds of cash from all your criminal activities Red Hood," Robin replies waving an empty hand, not even bothering to act scared of the gun in Jason's. ”I'm sure you can cope with light scratches to your equipment.”
"What do you want Replacement?" Jason says, cutting to the chase. He isn't in the mood to play with Robin's cheek tonight.
"I'm here to ask for help," Robin says back without missing a beat.
The new (or as new as being on the job for three years get) sidekick seems to not be in a mood for any games either. But fuck that, the Red Hood doesn't play well with Bats. Except for Oracle. But she's cool, she’s her own boss and takes no bullshit from Batman so Jason feels a kindred spirit in her.
"I'd laugh in your face but I've done it so many times before, I don't think I can go again without looking crazy," Jason replies.
"Well you were crazy for a short while there after you came back from the Pit-," Robin begins, and stops when Jason cocks his gun "but not the point. I could really use some backup tonight Red. There's something big going on and lots of people are in danger."
"Then get the Bat to help you." Red Hood clicks the safety back on and brings his gun back into his thigh holster. He starts walking away to retrieve his battered grappling gun.
"He can't," Robin says, hurriedly following Jason's heels. "Boss is tied up right now. Oracle and Batgirl are already responding to the situation, and I'm on my way there. But we're down one guy since Batman can't join and it's a delicate situation with lots of people in danger. We could really use your help."
Jason clicks his tongue in annoyance. He decided to at least hear The Annoyance out since Oracle's been name-dropped and he kind of owes her for giving him intel now and then. "What’s up?"
Robin smiles that cocksure smile only Robin can do and proceeds to brief him about the situation.
There is a charity event at the new children's hospital (because of-fucking-course it had to be at a CHILDREN's hospital) which Bruce Wayne is attending as a guest of honor as one of the top donators for the year, together with other of Gotham's wealthiest. Somehow scumbags thought that it would be a great opportunity to take the rich people hostage while drunk and partying, because yeah it totally is.
The whole hospital got put in lockdown and the hostages are tied up. The hostage-takers have sent out ludicrous demands for each rich guy and gal they have in their clutches. It's the grand opening so no patients are in the facility yet (thank god for small fucking miracles), but the guests are all kept hostages.
Batman couldn't help out, because as Robin said earlier. He’s tied up, literally it seems. Surrounded by other hostages who would clearly notice if he slipped away to don a Bat costume.
Jason is following Robin's lead the second the words "Children's Hospital" was mentioned by the younger vigilante. They both land on the hospital's rooftop a few minutes later, which is somehow not crawling with scumbag lookouts, and they're met with the masked face of Batgirl.
"Two guards. Knocked out," She says in way of greeting. She doesn’t seem to find Red Hood's presence surprising. She wordlessly holds out a comm to him, which he takes and feeds into the helmet's earpiece mechanism. Oracle's voice is not an unwelcome sound.
"I have feed of the security cameras and can guide you three into the building. They have lots of guys, armed and playing lookout but I have their patterns down and you should be able to have minimum encounters." Oracle says.
"How long have they had the hospital?" Jason asks
"Close to eleven hours," Oracle replies.
"Shit," Jason says. With feeling.
"We only got word of the situation when B raised his silent alarm and Oracle hacked the cameras inside," Robin explains. "We think they knocked the hostages out but he managed to shake it off early because of his built tolerance to poison and stuff."
"Went around. Scouted," Batgirl says, "No panic seen from outside. Hush job. No cops."
"I raised a tip to the police. Turns out they knew about the whole thing hours ago but the infiltrators demanded to keep things under wraps or they'll start killing VIP hostages,” Oracle's voice sounds in Jason's ear. “GCPD said they're arranging to meet the demands, but we all know we can't be sure the bad guys won't hurt anyone. I didn't want to send Batgirl in alone after I saw the number of guys inside," Oracle says. “I counted at least fifty hostiles. They're all pretty well armed.”
Robin whistles an impressed tune. “Well prepared.”
“Stop complimenting the bad guys Robin,” Oracle says with a flat tone, even through the voice scrambler.
“Yeah, sorry,” Robin replies easily, with a smile so charming and bright and fake, Jason had to force himself not to shield his eyes dramatically.
Batgirl though, seems to have lower tolerance for fake behavior, and punches the other vigilante in the arm, much to Jason’s glee.
He manages to turn his involuntary laugh into a scoff. “Can we hurry this along? I was sort of busy before I was dragged here against my will.”
Jason doesn’t know if he should consider this distraction a pain in the ass or if he should see it as a good thing. Surely running himself crazy by thinking about his radio-silent soulmate would not do his already-fragile psyche any favors… Maybe he needs a proper distraction for a few hours so he won’t just count the seconds left to the deadline for their agreed Soulmate GPS usage while writing increasingly paranoid messages on his skin.
“Okay kids here’s the plan,” Oracle says and Jason gets hit with nostalgia of days when he was still wearing the scaly short pants and Babs would deign to grace him with her presence during patrol and share her strategies with him.
He wants to protest out loud that he isn’t a kid, but Babs has enough dirt on him so he doesn’t contradict her too much. He forces himself to listen and let his training take over.
In less than ten minutes, Red Hood, Batgirl, and Robin have been briefed and have taken their positions into starting a terribly understaffed stealth rescue-slash-takedown operation. They know the importance of silence in this particular mission. Any alarm raised by the goons could potentially get hostages killed.
It’s a good exercise for Jason’s stealth and focus. He gives himself a pat on the back for always remembering to pack his gun silencer. He keeps the kill count to zero, since he feels like Batgirl will drop kick him if he kills anyone in front of her, but he doesn’t feel so bad about drawing enough blood and giving kidney shots and throat punches that the bad guys will need medical attention before they get put away.
All henchmen may have been wearing bulletproof vests but Jason knows a hundred different ways to get around that. His zero kill count is purely due to choice.
“That makes mine sixteen,” Robin brags while zip tying a couple of unconscious thugs together. “Puts me in the lead right?”
Jason grunts a gagging noise. He wants to strangle the smug newbie.
Around the corner, three more armed guys appear and look at them in shock. Before Jason could pull his trigger or Robin could throw batarangs, Batgirl (who was literally just behind them a minute ago) descends from the ceiling and knocks all three men out with an admittedly well executed roundhouse-suckerpunch-nervestrike combo.
“Eighteen for me,” She says simply before walking ahead.
Jason smirks at her back, impressed despite himself. Then he turns to regard Robin and does a slight double take at the unmistakable dreamy look and heart eyes the kid has on. Obvious even behind the domino mask.
“Good luck Replacement,” Jason says with a sharp grin. He reaches out to ruffle Robin’s long messy blonde hair. “She’s going to eat you whole.”
“Shut up Red, or I’ll punch you,” Robin grumbles, pushing him away and trying to fix her hair in vain.
Jason just laughs at her as they follow in Batgirl’s wake.