Tim really was getting a hang of this new identity thing. Robin would never have made that dramatic speech he just made to Tam. I’m going to take them down from the inside out. Christ. Now that was a Red Robin speech. Only an identity forged from an insane cascade of identity crises and an intense downward spiral would say something like that about not just one but two assassin cults.
Well if there was one thing Tim’s parents didn’t pay other people to raise it was a quitter. He’s got three hours before he has to leave to enact his super Salvage My Morality, Take Down the League of Assassins and Those Spider Dudes and Save Bruce From the Timestream (Hell Yeah) plan, patent pending. The best part was the plan was only three steps long. 1) Organize three fake hits to lure in the Spiders for capture and questioning 2) Prevent the League from killing any of the spiders (somehow???) 3) Take down the League of Assassins. Boom. Easy.
So easy in fact that he had time to investigate his weird hunch. If there was any instinct that Bruce had honed to perfection in him during his time as Robin it was the instinct to pursue a mystery to its conclusion even at great risk to life and limb.
Like the knowledge of Batman and Robin’s identities, like Bruce being alive, this mystery felt more like faith than logic. Like a line hooked in his chest drawing him in. The clues were unspooling before him beckoning him on, he only had to follow. From the oblique mentions in Ra’s computer system, tangentially tied to files on the Detective and on Talia, from his red lit room deep in the Cradle through winding corridors, to the solid wooden door before him, far away from any well trafficked area, hidden, protected.
When he raises his hand to test the handle he finds the door unlocked. It swings open soundlessly. The room does not contain mysterious weapons or files or rows of tubes containing baby Bruce clones. It is a bedroom, and there is someone in it.
Tim immediately assumes a ready stance. Snooping in someone’s room in the base of the League of Assassins probably warrents a murder attempt. The figure doesn’t immediately turn and charge Tim however. They remain where they are- head bent over their lap flipping lackadaisically through a book, not reading any of the pages; seemingly occupied with the action alone. Tim quickly takes stock of them. Dressed in typical League fashion, dark colored robes and leathers with the hood pushed back. Not very large, height was hard to judge while they were hunched over, but Tim wouldn’t put them at more than 5’ 6'' maybe less. Sex was probably male, skin was light brown, a head of short dark hair hid their face.
“Hey,” Tim says. Any thoughts of how he'll follow that up are instantly wiped from his mind when the figure looks up.
Blue eyes, a spray of dark freckles, a scar splitting the left brow from a knife nearly dodged, a head of dark curls, features changed by the years gone by, but nonetheless instantly recognizable.
“Jason,” Tim says. How many times has he talked to this dead boy’s memorial case in the Batcave hoping he was listening? How many times has Bruce visited a grave that was empty? Because it must be empty. This was Jason. He knew it like he had known that Bruce was Batman and Dick was Robin. He knew it like he knew that Bruce was alive. He had the same scars, a clone wouldn’t have those, an imposter wouldn’t have those. They wouldn’t know to. No imposter could know this face as well as Tim did. How many nights had he spent following this boy across the Gotham sky? How many times had he framed his matchstrike smile in his viewfinder? How many hours had he spent, developing those pictures? How many hours had he spent looking at them, in pride, in admiration, in mourning?
Christ. Christ. It’s Jason.
“Jason,” Tim says again, more urgently. Frantic with some kind of suspense. Like jumping from a roof and waiting for his grapple to catch.
Jason turns to look at Tim, and there is absolutely nothing behind his eyes.
This is fine. This is absolutely totally fine. He just needs another plan, a new plan, a better plan, he needs to add a fourth prong to his incredible three prong plan to solve his life. He’s Robin. No he isn’t. But he had been Robin. He had fought side by side with Batman, proved himself again and again and again to the man. He had saved people.
Christ. He had been Robin. He had been Robin because the boy- the man, in front of him had died, and left the role empty.
He stops his frantic pacing to stare at Jason for another few moments, bringing his time spent staring at Jason dumbfounded up to 17 out of the last 20 minutes.
Jason has gone back to reading his book, or rather flipping through it. Tim didn’t think he had the ability to absorb it right now, to process it. He reacts to stimuli; light, sound, touch. He has the same physical skills that he had before he died. Tim rubs at his aching jaw once more. He had grabbed Jason’s wrist to take his pulse and Jason had snapped out a punch to his jaw so fast he hadn’t even felt it until after his head had already jerked to the side. Clearly some amount of muscle memory remained. The question was what else did?
Is Jason simply empty beyond that? Is he body but not soul? Is he really in there, buried too deeply for his anger or his quick wit or his match strike smile to surface? Is he trying to dig his way out or is he too hurt to?
There are too many questions. Questions of how long he’s been alive, and how he even is. His face has changed, matured. He has been alive for at least some of the four years since he had died. His scars remain, along with new ones. The divot in his cheek is probably from the crowbar. Tim can see the edge of red waxy skin peeking out from the shoulder of his tunic. The explosion. Tim wonders for a moment, terribly, if he opens the tunic up if he might see the Y of an autopsy scar on his chest. Nausea rolls through him and he has to swallow the flood of saliva in his mouth twice before he can redirect his thoughts.
Saving Jason; he has to do it. Jason was his Robin. His hero, his hope, his guiding light. Jason is a person who deserves to be saved for once in his life, instead of the other way around, even if it was years and years too late.
Okay. Saving Jason. Step one: information.
“Jason, can you understand me? Just nod or shake your head if you can’t speak,”
Jason looks up at the sound of his voice, but his eyes slide away after a few moments, uninterested. He jiggles his knee and thumbs at the edge of his book, fanning the corner of the pages.
“Robin,” Tim says and Jason jolts like he’s been electrocuted. His gaze returns to Tim again more intent than it’s been since he entered the room. There is a struggle there, working it’s way across his face.
Jason reaches a hand out and grips his cape. He works his jaw for one moment, two, three then finally; “Ro-” His voice dies halfway through the word but Tim can read his mouth moving through the last of the word. But Jason was Robin; he grits his teeth and swallows and tries again, always again. “Robin,”
Tim needs to save him.
“I’m going to save you,” Tim says. “I’m going to save you, Jason.”
Tam is mad. She’s pissed, furious, a thousand other adjectives for being so angry it’s keeping her calm.
She’s mad at her dad for controlling her life, for making her go after rich boy extraordinaire Tim Drake. She’s mad at Tim for turning out to be some fanatic vigilante wearing the stupidest costume known to man. She’s mad at Tim for getting her mixed up in this crazy cult and leaving her in a cave to go fight the stupidest most gimmicky assassins on Earth. She’s mad at Tim for leaving her here without saying anything, only leaving the most cryptic note ever penned; a crudely drawn map of the cave system she’s in with an x over one of the rooms and the message Go here for help. Most of all right now she’s mad at these stupid assassin cultists for sucking so bad at being ninja’s and getting slaughtered by these spider guys.
“I’m mad,” she reminds herself and jolts herself from her hiding place to keep moving. If she stops being mad for even a second she thinks she’s going to lose her mind and stop being able to move. She’s never seen this much blood in her life before. She tries to block out the sounds. The wet tearing, the screaming. It’s not happening. Not to her. She needs to move, she needs help.
She runs from the room and deeper into the Cradle. She memorized the map the morning she woke up to find it and the anger makes it easy to remember, to be brave.
“Left,” she whispers to herself “Left, second right, left,”
Her heart is pounding out of her chest. “Left,” she whispers and hears something moving behind her. A voice.
“Girl, little girl.” it sing-songs “Come out, come out wherever you are,”
For a second she almost forgets to be mad, almost trips into the pit of fear and drowns in it. Sound, rasping, movement on stone. She ducks right.
Weapons, thank God weapons.
She grabs a gun and a sword and ducks down. She remembers her training. The self defense classes, the sweat and sore muscles and satisfaction and safety found in them. She remembers the shooting range, the gun a heavy weight in her hand. She remembers the muffled sounds of fire through the ear protection, the jerk of the recoil, the paper targets.
There are the sounds of footsteps from the door. The voice promising her that she’ll be fine. That she’ll be host to his children, his spiders, that they’ll eat her from the inside out. She holds her breath. Presses her back hard to the crate.
She isn’t prepared for this, isn’t trained for it. She isn’t ready. She remembers her teacher for Krav Maga telling her the most dangerous thing is hesitating. Any move, even a bad one is better than hesitating.
She swings around the crate and brings the sheathed sword down across the man’s face and runs. Takes a left and then the second right and then-
The man slams her into the cave wall and all the breath bursts out of her.
“Now you’re going to suffer,” the man says and she secures her grip on the gun, “What’s the matter? Scared?”
“Yes,” she says and raises the gun, jams it under the man’s chin so she won’t miss no matter what. But even as she does it she knows something’s wrong. Can feel it by the hair on the back of her neck rising. She’s talking and he’s talking and she can’t hear any of it- can’t-
“Don’t move or I’ll-” she says.
“You’ll die,” a new voice behind her answers.
In her mind she is praying. Dear God Dear God. She doesn’t want to die. I repent all of my sins oh God have mercy-
“Help,” She says out loud no understanding of how loud it is beyond the pounding of blood in her ears.
The monster behind her raises a clawed hand, the monster before her a sickle, and the moment is so long. So long and she can see it coming from a mile away.
Then so fast she can only take it in in pieces. Silver. A wet thunk. A scream. A dark blur slamming into the head of the giant behind her like a freight train. It grabs the beast’s mandibles and rides it to the ground. There is a crack of skull on stone.
The blur unfolds and she can see it’s a person, small, dressed in black like the rest of the ninjas. The other monster, the one that looks human, is clutching a knife in his shoulder when she looks.
The ninja takes position before her. Out of the corner of her eye she can see an open doorway. Help. The help that Tim promised her. He hadn’t left her here all alone.
The two monsters, the man and the beast, do not stay down for long.
The beast roars up and charges the ninja. They collide and grapple, and the ninja is driven back easily. It isn’t really a contest. The beast is inhumanly strong and has four more arms than her ninja. But just as he’s about to be crushed the ninja jumps back. He walks his feet backwards up the wall and flips over the beast’s head, forcing him to release his grip.
The ninja’s heel comes down on the man’s injured shoulder as he lands, forcing him back to the ground just as he began to rise. Then the ninja bends and rips his knife free.
Tam can only watch the fight, it is so fast, so brutal. The ninja is small, and quick, like a hornet he darts in and stings; his palm slapped down hard over the man’s ear, bounding off the wall to slam his knee into the monster’s face. Then he darts away, darts between them, tangling them up in each other before slipping out from between them like an eel. He takes his own hits silently, rolling with them, bouncing away from them, elastic, but never wounded, or at least never acting it. It’s almost playful, except that his face is utterly blank, his eyes still and empty, like the flat surface of a pond.
Exactly what the fuck has Tim gotten her into?
The ninja’s dagger is a gleaming silver thing. The wavy blade seems to slither and move in the dim light as he flips it easily between his hands. Silver then red then silver again as the blood slides free.
The ninja is incredible. He is a machine. His face is still the glass surface of a pond, it doesn’t ripple as he slams his blade home in the monster. It doesn’t ripple at the touch of spiders crawling up his arm. It doesn’t ripple as he swipes his arm through the flame of a wall mounted torch to kill them.
The monster slams him in the gut and he crumples like his strings have been cut. The other one raises his sickle and a tide of spiders rises along with it. The ninja’s expression remains placid. Still in the face of death.
Tam jolts forward and slams the butt of her gun down on the man’s face. The ninja looks up at her above him and his expression ripples. He seems surprised. Jesus.
“Come on,” Tam says yanking on his arm “Let’s go,”
The ninja flows to his feet with Tam’s momentum and follows it through into a vault. He uses her shoulders like a springboard slamming his heel into a cluster of the monster’s eyes. With the moments chance he’s earned them they begin to run, his hand fisted in the shoulder of her sweater to keep her with him.
Tim fucked up. Tim fucked up big time.
He had completed the first two steps of his plan with a one third success rate. One member of the Council of Spiders acquired alive and well. There were only two steps left; save Jason and take down the League of Assassins. Then Tim had fucked off to get yelled at by his zombie parents and not tell Dick anything about his undead brother even though he maybe probably should have. It was just that he didn’t want to be called crazy again. Cause he wasn’t.
Tim fucked up. Now Tam is alone in a League of Assassin base that’s under siege by Spider Assassins, with her only hope of rescue being a single ex-Robin of questionable capacity. Sure Jason had punched Tim in the face, but he got punched in the face a lot; it couldn’t be that hard.
Back to business. If he could just make his way to the main computer terminal he could review the security footage and find Tam and Jason and then his plan would be back on track. He just had to get to the computer terminal. Then he could find them and save them and destroy the League of Assassins. If he could just get to the computer terminal he could still be a good person. He could still save them. They would still be alive. If he could just do this one thing, if he didn’t fail.
“Please,” he says to no one at all.
Then he encounters his first bit of luck all year; Jason and Tam charging down the corridor towards him. The burst of relief and joy is so foreign as to be almost unrecognizable. For the first time in so long a weight had been lifted from his shoulders instead of added.
“Jason!” he shouts “Tam!”
Tam keeps running. Her lungs are burning and her muscles are splitting, but it feels so far away. Separated from her by a blanket of dark fear.
She doesn’t know where she’s going and Ninja Boy hasn’t shown any signs of life since she saved his life.
Her hand trembles. The blood on her grip around the gun feels tacky. She’s never hurt someone like that before. The wet crack of the man’s nose, the burst of blood, the flare of shock and satisfaction in her at the instinctual violence.
Just keep running. That’s all. She doesn’t have a next step. She doesn’t know anymore. Tim hadn’t left her any other cryptic notes.
Then they turn the corner and there's the man himself.
“Jason!” he cries “Tam!” and for the first time since Tam has known him he doesn’t look sad. Hope, real hope, thrums to life in her chest in response.
Her ninja bodyguard, Jason apparently, assesses Tim for a long still moment, his hand fisted in her shirt still, his eyes flat and blank like a shark. Then tension eases from him and he releases her to approach Tim. Something in Tim’s eyes lights up at that. Like every miserable fire that’s been banked in him, that’s been suffocating, has finally been given a breath of air.
Jason turns from them to face the hallway behind, assuming a ready position, dagger drawn. Tim’s eyes stick to him a moment longer, drinking him in. His shoulders square, his chest expands, like just the sight of Jason can prop him up, like that easy approval is all he needs to keep his spine straight.
Who the fuck is this Jason guy?
“We just have to get through this door into the core and-”
“We have to run,” Tam interrupts “there’s two behind us and I don’t know how many more,”
Tam is afraid. Tim adds it to the pile; of things he should feel guilty about, of things he doesn’t have the bandwidth to feel right now. It’s a short list; bloody determination and a small curl of warmth in his chest.
Should it really mean so much that his predecessor judged him safe for a civilian in a danger situation? Probably not, but damn does it anyway.
“I can hear them,” Tam says. His heart drums away in his chest.
“I’m sorry,” he says “I never meant to involve you,” almost. Almost almost almost. “I have to do this,” and he does. He needs to be good again. He needs to earn Jason’s regard. Robin, Jason had said and Tim wants it back so bad. He wants to be that again.
“What if there’s more inside?” Tam asks and Tim can feel the jinx in that hook into his chest.
The door hisses open and there stands Ra’s Al Ghul.
Fuck. Fuck. Double fuck.
“Come on,” Tam says but none of them move. “We have to go,”
“Ra’s, you’re under attack,” Tim says but his mind is buzzing. It makes no sense. “You have to get to safety.”
“The Demon’s head fears nothing.” Ra’s says and Jason’s hand is tangled in Tim’s cape trying to pull him back.
Then Ra’s Al Ghul is suddenly dead on the ground.
Then the shadows of the room are peeling back to reveal the faces of the Council of Spiders and Wanderer is purring “The game is over,”
Tam is talking, her voice high and thin with fear, but Tim can’t hear her over the thoughts in his head. This isn’t right. Ra’s isn’t the type to be killed by a threat he saw coming. The body on the floor is a fake; it’s not him. As soon as Tim registers the thought he hears the real Ra’s Al Ghul in his ear.
Ra’s is asking him to tell him what he learned in the desert so that the information isn’t lost with his life. Bruce and Tam and Jason. His burdens just keep multiplying, heavier and heavier. If he doesn’t live through this no one will know to save Bruce. No one will know to save Jason. They’ll never know that he’s been alive and breathing here. They’ll never know that Bruce is still alive and breathing somewhen else.
“Go to hell,” Tim says.
“Maybe I’ll see you there,” Ra’s simpers, then a click, then dead air.
One more second. One last moment before Wanderer realizes. A thousand thoughts jolt through his mind, a crackling cascade of chemical reactions. Deductions lining themselves up and knocking themselves down. His brain working always working, just like Bruce taught him.
“This is not Ra’s Al Ghul,” hisses Wanderer
“Move!” Tim shouts and leaps.
Think. Think think think think. That’s all Tim has. Think of what he’s been taught. Guilt and self-pity and all his burdens, he sheds them one by one. Faster. That’s all that matters now. Anything else is asking to die.
Jason is moving beside him and it is good. It is so good. So nostalgic. To move with someone else trained by Bruce. Tim slams one of the spiders in the face and Jason is there crouched and ready to flip them over his shoulders into the next enemy. The jolt of it lights him up. That little hit of Robin magic he’s been missing.
Widower’s blade swings for his neck and he dodges. Too slow. Jason leaps forward and springs off his back. Tim goes down, Jason goes up, the blade passes through air between them. Jason slams knee first into Wolf. There.
“Tam!” Tim screams “Door!” and God bless her, Tam starts to run, Jason right there to snatch Sac by the hair as he runs after her.
Can Tim really shout the instructions to her? Do they have the time? Tim and Jason were trained by Batman but these are seven highly trained assassins. Pain reactions only last milliseconds for them. The fight just isn’t sustainable. Every time they buy a moment with one there’s another one in the way. They’re hopelessly outgunned.
Then Pru is there and the White Ghost isn’t far behind. Thank God. Their odds just bettered themselves tenfold.
“Get to the computer.” he shouts to Tam, but is quickly intercepted by the Widower.
Widower is talking a bunch of shit about the desert and Tim’s luck. Why does every villain who fails to kill him properly have to make it into some kind of personal vendetta. Though, as Tim shoots him in the face with his grappling hook, he has to admit that the vendetta may not be entirely one sided.
“Pru, Ghost, you have to get out of Cradle now!” Tim orders. They don’t of course, instead preceding him into the control room. He turns to follow “Jason, cover me,” in the millisecond it takes him to turn he sees Jason’s lips pursed and eyes narrowed. It’s a Robin expression, the most he’s seen from Jason so far, I’m listening, it says, but not obeying.
Jason catches Wanderer’s kick to the chest, and nearly slits her achilles tendon before she slips back.
Jason can’t hold the line forever. Tim gets to work.
“You’re out of time,” Tim says to Pru and Ghost “Get out while you still can. There’s no future for the League of Assassins,”
Ghost doesn’t listen of course, starts ranting. Tim keeps typing. Prudence, turns and walks away, listening for once.
“Goodbye,” She says and it thuds in his chest.
There’s a crash and Jason is driven back into the room bleeding.
The computer asks him if he’s sure.
“What are you doing, Redbird?” asks Wanderer.
“Winning,” Tim says and presses Y.
A thousand computers around the world short out at once. Thirty second until detonation.
“What have you done?” seethes Ghost. Just another person to add to the end of a very long list of people who want him dead.
“Expediter was right. Letting me in here was a mistake. I know who I am Ghost, and I’ll be coming for you,” Tim says “All of you. Consider this your head start. In fifteen seconds the Cradle is going away. I suggest you listen this time and run.”
Another successful speech by Red Robin.
“Jason,” Tim says and Jason darts forward from across the room, snatching Tam and crushing her between them. Tim fires his grapple, and they shoot upward through a vent towards safety.
The building shakes and fire follows them up the tunnel, but they’re finally free. They land and roll across the grass, their huddle unraveling as they go. The sky is bright and blue overhead and all the bad guys have been defeated, everyone saved. Tim feels like laughing.
“I can’t believe it,” Tam says breathless “I’m alive,” she shouts “I’m alive!”
Tam is alive. Tim’s alive, and so is Bruce. Jason-
Jason is huddled on the ground shaking with his hands over his ears.
“I need a word, Timothy,” Ra’s says in his ear. It just never stops.
“Hey, Ra’s. Anything exciting happening where you are?” Tim asks, trying to muster that Robin charm, but it’s thin. Jason’s forehead is pressed to the ground, back bent, revealing the slick red burns scars that creep up the back of his neck, from the last time he was in an explosion.
“You are a very dangerous young man,” and from the mouth of the serpent it feels like a condemnation.
“I’ll take that as a compliment, coming from you Ra’s. I told your White Ghost and I’ll tell you,” he swallows unsure if the high whine is his ears is from Jason or the explosion “I’m coming for you next, you murderer.”
“Oh I have no doubt,”
“Really? Just calling to tell me how dangerous I am? That crippling your entire League is no big deal?”
Ra’s keeps on telling him that the damage is nothing to him, but Tim is listening to Tam.
“Jason?” she says her hand on Jason’s back “Jason, can you hear me?”
“I’m calling to tell you I believe in an eye for an eye,” Ra’s says and Tim feels the tension restring itself across his spine “As you hurt my business, I shall destroy yours. I will see you soon Timothy,”
Click. Dead air.
It really never ends. Tim goes to his knees beside Tam and Jason laying his hand beside hers on his back.
“Let's go home,”