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1. Kiss of Life
“A little help might be nice,” Tim said, knocking one guy's gun aside with his bo-staff. Jason was two rooftops away, watching the proceedings at the docks with feigned disinterest.
“You're doing fine, Red,” Jason said. Technically, he was taking a smoke break. His hood was off, the night air was cool, and he hadn't had a hit of nicotine in several hours. He deserved this. “Just watch your left. You're dropping your shoulder again.”
Tim immediately corrected, and continued to press his opponents. It was some low-level street gang that had decided to get in on the drug trafficking trade, and Tim had happened to interrupt their heroin buy at the docks. The four guys weren't trained fighters but they were plenty pissed off.
“Duck,” Jason said, watching as Tim did it automatically and a metal pipe sailed harmlessly over his head. They should've been down already, given some of the hits Tim had gotten in, but they seemed to keep coming, and Jason was starting to think maybe the guys weren't feeling any pain. Pros didn't tend to use the products they were buying or selling, but these guys weren't pros.
Metal pipe guy managed to get in a hit across the back of Tim's leg, sending him to his knee, and Jason lost track of him for a second.
“Shit,” Jason said, tossing his cigarette and pulling on his hood. “Hang on, Replacement. I'm coming.”
He fired three shots into the air, and watched the gang scatter, looking everywhere for the threat. Tim was down momentarily, and as Jason ran across the roofs, he saw two of the guys grab Tim's hands and feet and toss him off the dock and into the Gotham Bay.
Jason swung himself down from the rooftop, hitting the ground running.
“It's the Red Hood!”
Jason stopped long enough to turn to the disoriented thugs and say, “If he's not breathing, neither are you,” before he dove into the water where Tim had disappeared.
Thank God the kid's costume was red, Jason thought as he sank into the depths. The water was murky, but he could see Tim's limp body easily. He grasped him under the arms and kicked towards the surface. He grabbed the ladder at the edge of the dock, and hauled them both onto the wet wooden planks. The gang was long gone.
“Come on, Timbit. Wake up.”
Jason tore off his hood and his gloves. He laid Tim on his back and checked his breathing. Nothing. He did five quick chest compressions, then took a deep breath, tilted Tim's head back, sealed his nose, and blew into his mouth. He did it again.
Jason hit the emergency panic button on Tim's suit, and hoped whoever was monitoring the frequency was close and not back at the Cave. He kept at it, compressions and breaths, and all the while he was thinking how stupid he was not to have gone to Tim's aid the second he asked for help.
“Breathe, damn it,” Jason said, pushing frantically at Tim's chest. He breathed into him again. “Come on, Tim. Breathe.”
Five more compressions. Jason was about to breathe into Tim again when he came around suddenly, spitting up water and coughing in Jason's face. Jason was so relieved, he started to laugh, wiping away the water that had hit him. He turned Tim on his side, so he wouldn't choke, and patted him on the back while he wretched on the bay water.
When Tim was able to sit up, he looked at Jason suspiciously.
“My mouth tastes like an ash tray. Did you ...?” He pointed to his mouth.
Jason grinned wickedly. “No, of course not. I sat and waited while you miraculously started to breathe on your own.”
“Gross,” Tim said, making a face and wiping his mouth against the sleeve of his uniform.
“Okay, next time I'll let you drown.” Jason sat back on his haunches. “I believe the expression you're searching for is 'thank you for saving my life.'”
“Thank you.” Tim rolled his eyes. “Just don't tell anyone about the—”
Again, he gestured, and Jason remembered Tim was sometimes a typical teenager after all.
“What? The mouth-to-mouth? The kiss of life?”
Tim made a face. “Yeah, that.”
“I hit your panic button, so Bats and Baby Bird are probably on their way.”
Even as he said it, Jason could hear the familiar distant rumble of the Batmobile. He wanted to be long gone by the time Bats rolled up. He stood up and extended a hand to pull Tim to his feet.
“I'm out of here,” Jason said, jogging away from the docks. He slapped on his hood and gloves as he ran.
“You'll keep this between us, right?” Tim called after him.
“My lips are sealed.”
“I hate you,” Tim said.
“Right back at you.”
Jason grabbed for the fire escape on the nearest building and hauled himself up. By the time he hit the rooftop, Batman and Robin were tending to their bedraggled bird. Batman suddenly looked up at the roof, and although Jason took a huge step back, not much escaped Bruce's notice.
So what if he'd helped out the Replacement? It didn't mean anything. It wasn't like he was going to make a habit of it. He just happened to be in the right place at the right time. That's all there was to it.
2. Timing is Everything
Dick Grayson hated the charity gala circuit, but sometimes he was expected to do his part and show up, especially when Bruce was away. It was his duty as the eldest, as a representative of the Wayne family, but Dick always felt a bit like he was being sized up as potential marriage material by Gotham's elite and it made him uncomfortable. His lifestyle wasn't exactly conducive to settling down and raising a family.
Dick excused himself from a small group of wealthy patrons, and found his way to the bar.
“Tonic water and lime,” he said, catching the bartender's eye.
“Nice to get away from the crowd for a minute, isn't it?” the man beside him said. Dick looked up into dark brown eyes and an easy smile.
“Yes, it is.”
“You're Dick Grayson, right? I'm Sonny Falcone.”
Dick smiled and put out his hand. It wouldn't do to brush off Carmine Falcone's son.
“Nice to meet you.”
They chatted about the gala as they waited for their drinks, and Dick considered it was too bad that someone as charming as Sonny was following in his father's footsteps. Batman had been watching Sonny's rise to power with interest, and the rival mob bosses were paying just as much attention.
When their drinks arrived, Sonny stepped in closer and lowered his voice. “You know, if you're interested, we could get out of here. Go someplace more fun. Or more private.”
He took a sip of his scotch and looked at Dick appreciatively, then laid a hand on his arm in a way it was impossible to misread. Dick dropped his eyes, and let out a breath. Not that it didn't happen often enough; it's just that he was never sure how to politely extract himself from the situation without offending someone.
Dick was about to smile and give Sonny the “I'm flattered, but no thanks,” speech, when he felt another hand, warm against the small of his back, and a deep, familiar voice ghosted by his ear.
“Richard, aren't you going to introduce me to your friend?”
Dick couldn't help but grin as he looked up into Jason Todd's five o'clock shadow. He was genuinely happy to see him. “Jay, this is Sonny Falcone.”
Falcone's son took a step back, but extended his hand to Jason. “Nice to meet you.”
Jason shook his hand, moving his other arm up around Dick's shoulders in a proprietary gesture, and Dick flashed Sonny an apologetic smile.
“Some other time perhaps,” Sonny said, raising his glass to Jason before slipping away.
“Nice timing,” Dick said, as Jason dropped his arm.
“I wasn't sure you wanted me to interrupt,” Jason said, knocking back a glass of champagne, “but I figured you'd introduce me as your brother if that was the case.”
Dick sipped his tonic water. He glanced at the tuxedo Jason was wearing. It looked like Armani, and it suited Jason every bit as well as his usual cargo pants and leather jacket ensemble. No one would be able to tell either of them hadn't been born to a life of luxury.
“Did Alfred help you pick out the tux? It's nice.”
Jason rolled his eyes. “I might not have come from money, Circus Boy, but I learn fast.”
“I'll take that as a yes,” Dick said, and Jason flushed. Busted. “What are you doing here, anyway? You used to hate these kind of things.”
“Still do. Got a line on a weapons deal happening tonight. One of Falcone's rivals. Alfie told me you'd be here, so I thought I'd drop by and say hi before checking it out.” Jason drained his glass. “You want to come with?”
“I thought you'd never ask,” Dick said, grinning. “Meet you on the roof?”
“Try not to get picked up by anyone on the way,” Jason teased, dropping his champagne glass onto a passing tray, and heading for the stairs. “Little brother might not always be around to save you.”
3. Broken Wing
Damian was hurting. His left arm hung uselessly at his side. He suspected he knew how a pinata felt now, and he didn't like it. He struggled to free himself, but he was tied tightly, and his legs were at least six feet off the ground. The pinata metaphor was entirely too apt for his present predicament.
Marchand's men were busy a few tables over, pouring over plans for some kind of heist, waiting for the boss man. Damian could tell them they weren't going to be successful—the plan was overly complicated, and they hadn't accounted for the new museum security that had been put in last month. But Damian wasn't about to share that tidbit of information.
Suddenly, there was a loud explosion from somewhere in the front part of the club, and Damian looked up hopefully.
“Stay with the kid,” a heavy with a Quebecois accent said before taking two guys with him to investigate the explosion. That left two guys behind, and still Damian couldn't do anything tied up as he was.
Damian hated feeling helpless. It was embarrassing when he had to be rescued by Batman—or anyone, really—even though Grayson had told him a hundred times that it happened to all of them. Sometimes even Batman required rescue.
“What if it's the Bat?” one of the men said, a tremor in his voice. The other man, dark and quiet, just pulled the slide back on his weapon.
“Bat's not bulletproof.”
Another explosion, closer this time. The doors to the back room of the club were kicked in, smoke pouring into the room, sweeping around the legs of tables like the ghosts of snakes. Damian could just make out a large frame, a shadow in the smoke. Then Damian saw the Red Hood and the illusion was shattered.
“Demon Brat?” Todd shouted.
Damian rolled his eyes because honestly, he shouldn't have to acknowledge someone who called him that. It was one thing to do it when they were off-duty, but entirely another to do it in front of criminals.
“Here,” Damian called out, though even Hood couldn't have missed him hanging from the chandelier in the centre of the room.
Todd took cover behind a marble pillar, exchanging fire with Marchand's men. One went down with a shot to the shoulder, and the other kept firing. His aim was wild, and Damian hoped he wasn't going to end up as a perforated pinata.
“Hang on, kid,” Todd said.
“Is that supposed to be funny?” Damian asked, twisting around to get a look at his would-be rescuer. All it did was start him swinging, and the pain in his arm was blinding.
Todd dropped a smoke grenade in the room, and there was another round of automatic weapons fire, followed by a single shot and a whimpering cry. Damian tensed as he felt movement near him.
“My arm's broken,” he said through gritted teeth . The hands reaching for him were gloved and more careful than the thugs would've been, so Damian tried to relax and let Hood work. He hoped the lug didn't drop him. “Where are Marchand's men?”
Todd shrugged, cutting through the layers of rope with a combat knife.. “Zip-tied, bleeding, or gone. GCPD's on the way. Put your good arm around my neck and hop on.”
“Where's Grayson?” Damian demanded petulantly, although he did as he was told and clung to Red Hood's back. It wasn't very dignified, but it was better than being carried princess-style.
“Sorry, Baby Bird, you're stuck with me.” Damian didn't know for sure, but he thought Todd sounded genuinely sympathetic. “We had four possible leads on your location and we each took one.”
“Did you know I was in here, or did you just blow up the place for fun?”
Damian didn't need to see Todd's face to know he was grinning under the helmet.
“It's not really a rescue unless something blows up. But if Bats asks, it was completely necessary.”
Red Hood moved through the smoke easily, and Damian reminded himself that the helmet was equipped with a lot of high-tech. He probably had infra-red. He held on with his right arm and dug his knees into Todd's side for a better hold.
“I'm not a freakin' pony. You could lighten up on the bony knees, Boy Hostage.”
“Don't call me that.”
“Aw, kid, we've all been there. It's part of the gig.” They were in the back alley now, and Damian could hear sirens close by. Todd set Damian on his motorbike and climbed on behind him, revving the engine with one hand and holding onto Damian with the other. “There's no shame in needing an assist now and then.”
They rolled out slowly, Damian trying to maintain his balance with one arm and his knees. He let himself lean back against Todd—only because it would stabilize them both—and contemplated how much trouble he was going to be in for going off on his own and getting caught.
“This is Red Hood. I've got him,” Todd said into his comm., and Damian didn't need to be hooked in to know the chorus of relief that came pouring in. Damian knew how it felt to be on the other side, waiting to see if someone was okay.
“Broken wing, but no other damage. At least not on our side.” There was a long pause while someone else spoke. “Of course blowing the front of the building was absolutely necessary! I'm hurt that you would even suggest that I would be responsible for such wanton destruction of property without a good reason.”
Red Hood sounded unrepentant, and Damian wasn't sorry that Marchand's business had gone up in smoke. He was hurting and embarrassed and more than a little afraid that his father was going to take Robin away from him this time. Grayson was going to give him the “I'm disappointed” face, but at least he'd follow it up with a hug because more than anything he'd be glad Damian was alright. He didn't really care what Drake thought.
“Hey, Damian, you still with me?”
“It's going to be okay, you know.”
Damian couldn't do anything except shake his head. His eyes were hot and scratchy, and he didn't trust his voice. It had been an awful day, and the information he'd gained from his recon on Marchand had been minimal compared to the damage he'd sustained. Maybe he didn't deserve to be Robin.
“No matter what Batman says, remember he's just grateful you're alive,” Todd said quietly. “And someone will always come for you, Baby Bird. Don't ever doubt that.”
If he was bitter about his own death and Batman's failure to save him, it didn't show in his voice, and for the first time in their entire acquaintance, Damian felt he could take Todd completely at his word.
“Thank you,” he said, and got a one-armed squeeze. They rolled down the lane towards the manor, and Damian was glad that it had been Todd who'd rescued him. He would never lecture him about going off on his own or blame him for getting caught, and he would stand beside him to face the consequences.
Damian felt as if he finally understood something about the man Grayson called his brother.
Jason seemed to have picked up the knack of being in the right place at the right time, which if you asked him was about damn time considering that his childhood seemed to have been made up of moments when he was in exactly the wrong place at the worst possible time. It was the story of his life, and definitely the story of his death.
“Red Hood to Nightwing.”
“Little busy right now,” Nightwing came back, sounding winded. Well, he was in a pretty knock-down drag-out fight with a half-dozen of the Yakuza, and Jason wouldn't have interrupted except ...
“Yeah, I know, but you've got snipers.”
“Well, there were three. You're welcome, by the way.”
“And the other two?”
“I'm getting there. Hold your horses.”
Jason knelt at the edge of the rooftop, shouldering the rifle. The guy he'd taken it from was zip-tied and duct-taped beside him. Sniping had been one of the things Jason had learned when he'd been filling in the gaps in Batman's training. It was easier if you could go for the head or chest, but since Jason was trying to behave, he was forced to find something non-lethal to aim at.
He sighted through the scope, admiring the lines of such a precise weapon, and gently squeezed the trigger.
Nightwing didn't say anything, but Jason could sense the question anyway. He sighed.
“No fatalities. He might never play the piano again, but he probably wasn't that good anyway.”
“I didn't ask.”
“You were wondering.”
“No, I really wasn't, Little Wing.”
Jason used the scope to check out the street-level fight. Dick had knocked three of the men out of action, but there were still three who were bringing the fight pretty hard. Jason focused on the rhythm of the exchange and waited for his shot. The guy nearest to Dick went down, clutching his knee.
“Was that you?”
“It sure as hell wasn't their sniper,” Jason snapped.
“What's eating you? Knee-capping not good enough for you?”
Nightwing dropped another guy with a kick to the head, and concentrated on the one man still standing. Jason had turned his attention back to the other sniper, and just as Jason had expected, the man had hunkered down and found cover after seeing his two compatriots fall. Jason didn't have a shot.
“What's eating me is that I've got no shot, and once your guy goes down—”
Nightwing delivered a double shock with his escrima sticks.
“—you're going to be completely exposed. Get down!”
Nightwing hit the concrete and rolled, stowing his sticks as he went. If Jason hadn't been so pissed off at him for leaving himself wide open, he would've been impressed. Jason blasted away with his pistols in the general direction of the sniper across the square, but there was no hope of hitting him, and the guy knew it.
“Move!” Jason shouted. Nightwing was on his feet and running, zig-zagging across the open square towards one of the darkened doorways. The sniper fired, and a piece of concrete erupted at Dick's feet. He darted sideways and changed his trajectory.
Jason grabbed the rifle and shot out the streetlamp Dick was running towards. At least he could give him that, although if the other guy had a night-vision scope it wouldn't make much difference.
Dick made it to the doorway, and tucked himself in close to the building. Jason could make out part of a leg, and the other sniper had a better angle than he did.
“If you don't want to be bleeding out from your femoral artery, pull your goddamn leg in.”
There was another shot, but Dick had already started to move, and Jason could only assume he'd gone up. It's what he would've done.
The sniper was on the move, but staying low, and Jason still didn't have a shot.
“I'm coming to you,” Nightwing said, and Jason shook his head because that meant Dick was planning to launch himself off a building and swing across the square.
“Negative, Spidey! Too risky.”
But it was too late, and Jason could already see Nightwing in the air. He turned towards where he'd last seen the sniper and fired off what was left in the rifle on semi-automatic. Maybe it would be enough to buy Dick the time to complete the swing up to the rooftop.
Of course, as he watched, Dick Grayson couldn't simply swing from one location to another. No, he had to execute some kind of quadruple somersault with a twist as he swung, and it probably saved his stupid life. Jason heard the rifle's report, but Dick hit the roof and rolled expertly, coming to a stop ten feet away from Jason's perch. He didn't appear to be hit.
When Jason glanced over at him, Dick was sitting on his haunches, grinning.
“You're a moron,” Jason said, shaking his head, and dismantling the rifle out of habit. “What the hell was that?”
“I know what it was!” Jason snapped back. “I mean, what were you thinking? You could've gotten shot.”
“You had my back,” Dick said, appallingly calm, and Jason kicked the downed sniper out of spite. He didn't particularly want an audience for this conversation, but he didn't think Dick would stand by and let him beat the guy senseless either just for a bit of privacy.
“What I had was a total of 6 shots to cover your acrobatic ass.”
“Well, it worked.”
“It shouldn't have! By all rights, I should be explaining to Batman how his number one son bought the farm because of that stupid stunt.”
Dick stared at him, not saying a word, and Jason wondered if he'd gone too far, but he was angry at Dick for taking such a chance.
“You could've waited. If I'd done that,” Jason said, “you would've been all over me for being reckless, for not valuing my life enough.”
“You're right,” Dick said. “I'm sorry. It was a calculated risk, and I knew you'd cover me.”
Jason let out a sigh. “I don't know if I like you having that much trust in me.”
“Too bad, Little Wing,” Dick said, slinging an arm around Jason's shoulder. “Let's see if we can find that sniper, shall we?”
5. Family For Sale
Jason moved through the rafters of the warehouse, senses on high-alert. He had Oracle in his ear, but nothing from Nightwing or the two Robins in over two hours.
“You're sure they're here?”
“According to the trackers in their suits, they're there. Their comms are still down.”
Jason heard the sound of men entering from the other side of the warehouse, and he caught a glimpse of the two Robins with hands tied being marched across the warehouse floor. They didn't appear to be injured badly, although Tim was limping slightly. Behind them, two men came with Nightwing between them, obviously unconscious. There was blood at his temple, and his chin was swollen and bruised. Another half-dozen men with guns were milling around a squat middle-aged man in a grey suit who seemed to spend all his time on a cel phone, cigar stub hanging from the side of his mouth.
“You seeing what I'm seeing?” Jason whispered as quietly as he could.
“Please don't turn this into a first-person shooter, Hood,” Oracle said. “Try to stay calm.”
Jason nodded to show he understood, but it was easier said than done. He needed to get closer, figure out exactly what the deal was. The boys and the unconscious Nightwing had been lashed to a pair of support posts. A couple of guys, not wearing suits, arrived with cases full of technical equipment and started setting things up—lights, a camera, sound recording equipment. Jason swallowed hard and tried to figure out the best way to get them all out of there. The sooner, the better.
A smarmy guy with slick blond hair and a sky-blue jacket arrived, and Jason wondered how many other people were going to show. This was going to be a logistical nightmare or else a bloodbath, and he really couldn't afford for it to be the second. Too great a chance of hurting the people he was there to rescue.
“Oh, God,” Barbara said suddenly in Jason's ear. “They're setting up to live stream. Looks like a pretty exclusive invitation list, but—”
She was interrupted by smarmy guy shuffling his cue cards and practicing his announcer spiel. Jason felt his stomach turn when he realized the repercussions.
“It's an auction,” he murmured. “And they're the livestock. Still want me to stay calm?”
“Just get them out of there, Jay.”
“Can you cut their internet feed?”
“I'm trying. What are you going to do?”
Jason counted fourteen men total, ten armed. He dropped easily down from the rafters and walked towards the man with the cel phone. He heard the sound of rounds being chambered, but he stood his ground.
“So, can anyone get in on this thing?” Jason asked, and the man didn't blink, which told Jason he was used to dealing in blood because pretty much everyone blinked when confronted with a heavily armed man in combat gear and a mask.
“Who are you supposed to be? Iron Man Lite?”
The guy chuckled at his own joke, then looked around and all his henchmen started to chuckle too. It was a little bit creepy.
One of the tech guys piped up. “Fuck, Johnny, don't you know fucking anything? That's the fucking Red Hood!”
Johnny was obviously an out-of-towner not a Gothamite and didn't seem impressed. “And he can bid on the merchandise like everybody else.”
Johnny slung an arm around Jason's shoulder, and it took every ounce of Jason's willpower not to nerve-strike the bastard.
“You like the younguns? Or how 'bout that Night Bird fella? Maybe he got some payback comin' to him, yeah? Maybe you'd like to mess up that pretty face o' his.”
“Something like that,” Jason managed to get out, and it was hard with Barbara in one ear like the voice of Jiminy Cricket and Johnny leading him by the arm to check out the merchandise for himself, “since the damn Internet's actin' up.”
Jason approached the support pole where Tim and Damian were tied together. Neither of them gave the slightest indication they'd ever seen the Red Hood before.
“How do I know they haven't been ...” Jason broke off, glad for the slight voice distortion his helmet provided, and Johnny happily filled in the blank.
“Spoiled?” The man chewed around his cigar and fixed Jason with a big smile. “Nah, Tourquette's the only one who likes the boys, and he didn't do more than squeeze a handful.”
“Jason, stay calm,” Barbara said. “You're their only chance.”
“What about him?” Jason said, pointing at Nightwing.
Johnny shrugged. “Boys said he took exception to the way Tourquette was talking about the younguns. Had to subdue him, but he ain't hurt bad.” Johnny looked Jason up and down. “Big guy like you should have no trouble with 'im.”
“You got that damn Internet workin' yet?” Johnny shouted, and Jason could hear the frantic tapping of keys in his ear.
“They're catching on, Jason. I can't stall them indefinitely.”
“How much do you want for them?” Jason asked, and he could practically see the dollar signs lighting up in Johnny's squinty eyes.
“What are you doing?” Barbara asked.
“Well, I couldn't let 'em go for less 'n a million—”
“Done,” Jason said, too eager to get everyone the hell out of there.
“—apiece,” Johnny continued. “Couldn't let 'em go for less 'n that, and honestly, if the auction goes, I'd probably get more. A lot more. Especially for the little 'uns.”
“Three million. Cash transfer. Now. And you don't have to have your auction.”
“Jason, I can't make that happen.” Barbara said.
Johnny handed over his cel phone and Jason input an account number and password, hoping to God that the back door he'd left open a long time ago was still exploitable. He waited, holding his breath, until the transfer went through.
“Nice doin' business with you, Mr. Hood,” Johnny said. He snapped his fingers, and immediately the warehouse started to clear. In ten minutes, it was as if they'd never been there, and Jason was left with two tired-looking Robins and an unconscious Nightwing. He cut Tim and Damian loose, then did the same for Dick, lowering him gently to the ground.
“Oracle?” Jason said. “Get us some transport out of here.”
By the time they made it back to Dick's apartment, Dick had come around.
“I can't believe I missed the whole thing,” Dick said, settled on the couch with an icepack to his chin.
“You snooze, you lose,” Tim teased.
“Where the hell did you get that kind of money, Todd?” Damian asked. “No doubt some sort of ill-gotten gains?”
“Damian,” Dick said, disapproval in his tone.
“No, no,” Jason said, “it's a fair question. And, truthfully, it wasn't my money, kid.”
“Whose money was it?” Tim asked.
“South American drug cartel.” Jason shrugged. “Hey, I'm sure they'd be happy to know that I used it to rescue my family from a life of enforced prostitution.”
“If they knew about it,” Dick said.
“Oh, they'll know there was a transfer to Johnny's account, but thanks to Barbara, they won't be able to trace it back to me unless they visit Johnny in person, and if that happens ...”
“Johnny will have other problems,” Dick finished.
“He's going to anyway,” Jason said, voice hostile. “I'm going to pay the man a little visit and make sure he doesn't try that with anyone else's kids.”
“I'll come with you,” Dick said.
“I thought you might.”
+1 Between Brothers
Jason wasn't sure what hit him. One minute he'd been following a guy down a back alley, and the next ... ow.
Turned out it was Harley's mallet. When Jason's vision stopped showing him a double feature, he could clearly see the blood on the end of it. Yup. One more broken nose. That's why most of the time he wore the damn hood even when it was less convenient than the domino.
“Mr. Jay, he's waking up!”
Jason woke up on the Gotham subway without his mask. He had no idea how long he'd been unconscious or how long he'd been riding the damn train. A couple of people around him looked up now that he was awake, but that was about it. Gothamites tended to stay out of other people's business this late at night.
The train slowed, coming into a station, and Jason turned to see which one. Except he couldn't move his neck. There was some kind of collar around it, like the kind they put on when you've been in an accident.
He faced the window and in the reflection there he could make out the cervical collar. He pressed it gently with his fingers, feeling for what was under the padded roll. It felt entirely too much like a bomb, and Jason heaved a sigh, and turned to the woman sitting across from him.
“What's the last stop on this line?” he asked.
Close to the waterfront. Not well-populated. It would have to do. He just hoped he had enough time.
Jason felt a little bad about pocketing the compact of the woman who'd given him the information about the subway lines, but he was going to need something to see what he was doing. Once he was clear of the subway station, he headed for the docks. At least if he blew up, he wouldn't be taking many people with him.
He ran to the end of one of the lighted docks, and frantically pulled out the mirrored compact. Joker had left him his knife, and Jason cut as carefully as he could into the padded material until he could see the workings of the bomb. There was a digital alarm clock duct-taped inside, the count on it reading approximately three minutes. Well, at least he didn't have long to wait.
Suddenly he saw three figures running towards him down the dock, and Jason blinked, sure he was hallucinating. It couldn't be.
“Stay away,” Jason yelled.
“Jason, we know about the bomb,” Dick called, not slowing until he was within a few feet.
“We need to take a look at it,” Tim said.
Jason glanced down at the mirror in his hand. “Less than three minutes.”
“Let me look,” Tim demanded, and Jason knelt so Tim could see what they were dealing with. Damian shone a flashlight on his neck. “Damian, check for traps.”
Dick knelt in front of Jason, and put his hands on Jason's arms. “How're you doing?”
“Oh, you know me, don't know where my head is at some days.”
Dick's mouth twitched. “Jay.”
“And I think my nose is broken.” Jason decided not to try twitching it. “But at least I get to go out with a bang.”
“You did last time, didn't you?” Damian said, examining the wiring carefully, and Dick made a horrified face that started Jason laughing.
“Hey, hey, hold still,” Tim said.”Delicate work going on here.”
“Two minutes,” Damian announced.
“It's going to be okay,” Dick said, sounding as confident as only he could sound under the circumstances.
Jason looked at him, understanding how important it was for Dick to believe that to the end if necessary, and Jason reached out and touched the bridge of Nightwing's mask.
“Take it off.”
Wincing, Dick pulled the mask off, blinking as his eyes adjusted.
“I'm right here, Jay-bird. What do you need?”
Jason's mouth was dry. “Exactly how big a bang is that going to make, Timbit?”
“Pretty big,” Tim said. “There's a block of C4 here that I can't move.”
“We just got you back,” Dick said plaintively, a savage hurt showing on his face, and Jason nodded at him in understanding.
“And it's been great. I didn't plan on checking out this soon, but sometimes we don't have a lot of say in that.”
“No, Jason,” Dick said, just as Damian stepped back in frustration. “There are too many wires. It doesn't make any kind of logical sense!”
“That's the Joker for you,” Jason said, “Can't even make a simple bomb.”
No one laughed, and Jason murmured, “Tough crowd.” He saw the shadow that was Tim shaking his head, and the wetness creeping into Dick's eyes.
“Okay, Timmy, time to go,” Jason said, voice firm.
“I'm so sorry. If I had more time—”
“No way, kid. You did your best and that's all you can do. Now take Damian and get the hell out of here. Big Bird's going to be right behind you.”
Jason felt two sets of arms wrap around him quickly from behind, and then they were gone, running away down the dock.
“I'm not leaving you,” Dick said, and Jason smiled at him, the kind of big honest grin he'd been known for before he'd died.
“You have to, Dick. Those two kids need you. Batman needs you. And I need you to keep on living.”
Jason got to his feet, pulling Dick with him and into an embrace. Dick clung to him with every bit of strength he had, and Jason didn't want to let go, but he heard Damian's “thirty seconds” carried on the breeze.
“You've been the best big brother I could've had,” Jason said, looking Dick square in the eye, then he shoved him away. “Now get the fuck out of here.”
“Love you, Little Wing,” Dick said, and then amazingly, he did what Jason asked, and sprinted down the dock, away from him. It hurt to watch him go, and Jason still wasn't sure Dick would be far enough away, so he turned towards the end of the pier and dove into the bay, hoping the explosion would be tempered by the volume of water.
He swam down, counting in his head, and when he got to three seconds, he closed his eyes.
“Love you guys,” he thought, and waited to be swept into darkness.
Dick was still running when he heard Jason dive off the pier. He knew the sound, he knew the intention, and everything in him wanted to run back and drag his brother out of the water, rip the bomb off Jason's neck with his bare hands, but he couldn't do that to Tim or Damian. They were going to be losing one brother, and Dick couldn't make it two, nor could he put Bruce through what was already going to be an unimaginable hell. He'd never forgiven himself for being late the first time Jason died, and Dick doubted he'd forgive himself for being off-world the second time.
Inside his head, Dick was counting, just as he had been since he'd seen the timer, and he knew Jason had only seconds left. It wasn't fair.
“Little Wing,” he whispered, as if it was a prayer, stopping as his internal countdown hit zero.
But nothing happened.
Two more seconds passed, then ten, and Dick turned to where Tim and Damian were running back toward him.
“It didn't go off!”
“Could the water have—?”
“I have no idea.”
Dick turned and ran all out back to the pier, not stopping when he ran out of dock. He dove into the water where Jason had just surfaced, and swam the few strokes to his side.
“I am getting this goddamn collar off you right now,” Dick said, reaching for it, and Jason bobbed to the side: “It could still go off.”
Dick wasn't listening and Jason knew the look in his eye. Determination. Jason let Dick get the collar off him, and watched as it disappeared beneath the waves.
“Let's go home.”
Back at Dick's apartment, Jason and Dick were both bundled in warm clothes and blankets on the couch. Damian and Tim had changed back into civvies, and Tim had made hot chocolate for everyone. Dick had set and taped Jason's nose and he was feeling warm and tired after a handful of painkillers.
“I like the miniature marshmallows,” Damian commented, oblivious to the main conversation, and Dick reached out and ruffled his hair. Jason would normally have teased the kid, but since Dick had done basically the same thing to him moments earlier, Jason decided he had no room to talk. He liked the miniature marshmallows too.
Dick's cel phone rang.
“It's Barbara,” he said, and put it on speaker. “What's up, beautiful?”
“Another message for you,” Barbara said, and everyone tensed. Nightwing and the Robins had learned about Jason's predicament from a message sent to Commissioner Gordon. A message from the Joker.
There was a moment of static and then the voice from Jason's nightmares filtered into the room.
“Hello, boys! How's the family reunion? Too bad Batsy couldn't be here, but he probably wouldn't have gotten there in time anyway.”
Dick reached out and put a hand on Jason's arm, giving it a squeeze, and Jason breathed deeply, trying to keep his emotions in check. It was just Joker trying to push his buttons. He did it too damn well.
“Just wanted to remind you all this nauseating moment of togetherness was brought to you by your favourite Uncle J. Blow you next time.”
“Well, that's disturbing,” Jason said.
Joker's grating laughter spilled from the phone's speakers, and Barbara cut off the transmission mid-laugh.
“That's it. Seems like he never intended the bomb to go off. GCPD divers retrieved the apparatus. It took the bomb squad twenty minutes to sort through the wires, but everything was looped. Nothing was actually hooked up except the timer.”
“It figures he'd want to wait until Batman could be around,” Tim said. “For greatest effect.”
Jason looked at him and Tim backpedalled. “Not that your death wouldn't have been traumatizing for all of us.”
“Tim, stop talking,” Dick said fondly.
“Speaking of Bats,” Jason said. “No one tells him about this. Not a word.”
The other three nodded, and even Barbara agreed. Batman protected them, and so it was only right that sometimes they protected him too. This was something he definitely didn't need to know, and Jason didn't think he could deal with the haunted look that came into Bruce's eyes whenever the subject of Jason's death came up.
“What happens between Robins, stays between Robins,” Tim said cheerfully, ignoring Jason's raised eyebrow and Dick's sputtering laugh. “Except for what makes it onto social media.”