It’s December the first, and it’s cold as fuck in Gotham.
But the nice thing about the city, Tim thinks, is that he’s never out of work. Like last week, for example. For some obscure reason, the Mad Hatter decided that the last week of November is just about the perfect time to abduct people. Then Scarecrow was apparently of the opinion that four weeks after Halloween is just as good a time as any to break out of Arkham.
And during all that, the Red Hood has been up to… something. To be more exact, he’s done nothing. No fights, no provocations, no violent outbursts, which probably means that he’s up to something big.
Tim would sure sleep a lot better if he only knew what that something was.
Now that Hatter and Scarecrow are back in Arkham, he thought that maybe he could look into that, but no, of course not.
It’s a murder spree that’s caught his attention.
People die in Gotham, sure, but over the last few weeks a pattern has been developing. Blood drained, bite marks, usually about half a dozen per body. And it’s so widespread and oddly timed that it can’t possibly be just one person.
Probably a cult of vampire-wannabes. There’s been something along those lines before, if Tim remembers correctly. Crazy priests, some sort of Satanic Lord, a whole sect of people believing that following their “dark master’s” laws and “feasting on mortals” would make them immortal.
Tim just hopes it’s not them again. He was with the Titans at the time, but Dick looked sick for weeks after taking them down.
Not to mention that almost-cannibals are really creepy, even for Gotham.
Jason is… not happy, to say the least.
He’s not unhappy, per se, but also not happy. It’s… complicated, okay?
There are murders piling up, and while that’s really not a new thing, it’s certainly not common that the bodies appear to be bitten. By people.
Just when he thought he’s seen Gotham’s worst.
Usually he wouldn’t bother with it. A lot of people get murdered, the bats will see to it that these particularly gross murders get stopped; it’s not his business.
And hey, he’s really not doing too bad. He’s got his own turf carved out for him, and he and the rest of his so called “family” don’t try to kill each other anymore. That wasn’t really a big change on their part, he admits, but they mostly leave each other alone.
Except now the dead bodies appear in his parts of town, too.
Jason knows what happens on his streets. Or, at least he thought he did. The two bloodless, mangled corpses in the dumpster in front of him make it quite clear he doesn’t.
Hell, he doesn’t even know how they got here. He’s pretty much got the entire alley wired with cameras because it’s close to the bats’ routes.
He’s just about to go closer - there have to be DNA traces with all those bites - when he feels something pressed between his shoulder blades.
"Step away from the bodies," Red Robin growls, voice low and muscles tense with anticipation.
A rough laugh, distorted and metallic through the helmet, rips through the almost-silence in the alley.
"Now, Timmy, do you really think you can threaten me with a staff?" the Red Hood mocks, and even though Tim tries to be prepared, Jason manages to grip the end of his staff and whirl around.
Tim wrenches free and backs away, staff raised, but… Jason doesn’t retaliate. Odd. Tim narrows his eyes.
At least Hood has the decency to take off the helmet, red domino mask over his eyes already. He’s probably learned from that one time Tim managed to hit the bo staff against the helmet. That can’t have been too pleasant.
Of course, hitting Jason’s head full force without the helmet would be even more effective, but… A bit too violent for Tim. He doesn’t want to accidentally kill his predecessor, and judging by that infuriatingly wide grin, Jason knows that.
"Relax, Replacement,” Jason draws out the world and it makes Tim’s skin crawl, makes him tense even more in anticipation of the attack that has to come, that always comes when Jason goes down that track.
"What do you know about these murders?", he asks, trying to sound business-like and calm, trying not to sound as if he’s planning how to best take the taller man down.
"What, you don’t think I did it? I’m really flattered." Jason’s still grinning and Tim doesn’t like it, doesn’t like it at all how smug and confident he sounds because it probably means Jason’s got something nasty up his sleeve.
He takes a deep breath. Calm. Focus. “What do you know?” he presses again. It’s true. He doesn’t particularly suspect Jason of joining cults or drinking blood. But he also has to keep in mind that Jason might be working with… whoever does that. And the Red Hood’s not exactly known for reasonable or humane behavior. Add to that that Jason hasn’t really denied any involvement, and that gets him a really ugly picture.
Jason’s eyes narrow under his mask. “You think I’m in on this?” he asks, and this time his voice is a growl, low and angry. Tim would be glad about the sort-of-confirmation that Jason’s not involved, if the older man didn’t look so much like he was about to attack him, shoulders tense and squared, fingers twitching to form fists. “You think I would- Those are kids’ bodies!”
Tim takes a cautious step back, raising his staff higher. “I seem to remember you being quite fine with killing people randomly when you were-“
"When I was what? ‘Crazy?!’ I don’t just start murdering kids because you all think I’m insane!" Jason is shouting now, fists tight, and feet - unconsciously or consciously - slipping into a fighting stance.
And Tim knows he shouldn’t let this escalate, but damn it, Jason’s lying to himself here. “Oh, really?” he hisses, adjusting his grip on his bo staff as he sees Jason twitch. “And what exactly were you trying to do then when you tried to slit my throat the last time I let my guard do-“
Tim doesn’t get farther than that because Jason charges at him. Dodging the first few blows is easy, even though it’s close every time. But then Jason full out ignores the hit Tim places on his arm with the staff. He must’ve changed his armor, his arm should be numb, the thought flashes through Tim’s mind. He’s sure he hit the correct spot, but it distracts him enough that Jason’s next hit grazes his hand, and suddenly Tim’s staff is clattering to the ground.
Tim tries to move closer. Without the staff, his best chance is to get so close that Jason can’t get any good hits in, but it’s difficult with the long arms swinging towards his chest and head.
Jason looks angry, furious even with the mask overshadowing his eyes, and maybe if Tim’s lucky, he can use that to his advantage. He twists and dodges until they’ve switched places. His staff should be right behind him; if Jason thinks he doesn’t know that-
Jason tries an uppercut that Tim back steps, foot landing on the staff. He drops to the ground as expected, and Jason moves right in, thinking he has Tim down. Tim can see the triumphant smirk twitch across Jason’s lips, and that’s what he was waiting for. Just before he hits the ground, he turns, catching his fall and sweeping Jason’s legs out from under him.
Tim grips the staff, twisting back up to hit Jason’s stomach, but somehow, Jason’s managed to turn while falling, and now he’s grabbing Tim’s ankles and making him stumble. The back of his head hits the pavement, the pain and impact disorienting him for a moment, just long enough for Jason to get the upper hand.
He feels himself get pulled up, then thrown back down, or maybe it’s against a wall- everything’s still spinning. His head’s shoved against something cold and hard again, and Tim thinks he’s going to faint, but then the onslaught stops.
He blinks, still dizzy. A double ‘click’, cool metal and a weight around his right wrist. Jason’s handcuffed him to something, he realizes, and he’s finally about to get his orientation back when he’s pulled up by his throat.
Breathing gets a bit difficult, and Tim tries to pull himself up a little more, but his right arm can’t move that far, so he’s scrabbling around quite helplessly with his left hand. The spinning in his head finally stops, and Tim opens his eyes, focusing back in on the world, only to see Jason directly in front of him.
The eyes beneath the red mask still look twisted with anger, and with his free hand, Jason’s pressing a knife to the few inches of Tim’s throat that he’s not squeezing.
Tim feels cold dread well up in him.
Jason wouldn’t just kill him here… right?
He knows Jason doesn’t aimlessly murder people when he’s in his right mind. But, is he in his right mind now?
It’s not like he hasn’t tried to kill Tim before. Maybe that’s what he was working on: Another attempt to get rid of his “replacement”. Tim doesn’t actually know.
For a few long moments, Jason just stares at him. Tim’s already trying to plan his way out of this. It’s difficult with Jason standing so close, but should Jason actually try to kill him, he doesn’t really have any choice; he needs to try everything. Should Jason try to kill him though, he’s dead before he can do anything at all.
Reckless. He should never have engaged; the others probably don’t even know where he is.
Jason’s still looking at him, and Tim doesn’t have any idea what for. It’s like he’s being studied, but he doesn’t know-
Does Jason want to kill him? Does he see the fear bubbling up in Tim’s stomach? Does he want Tim to be afraid, to consider the option that Jason would just slit his throat right here and now-
A shrill, high-pitched scream tears through the night.
Jason looks into the direction it came from, and Tim would, too, if he could move his head and wasn’t otherwise occupied. He twists up, manages to kick his leg against the arm Jason’s holding the knife with, his other leg readying to knee Jason in the stomach, the crotch, anywhere, but then the taller man’s already backing away on instinct.
The Red Hood looks back at him, gaze twisting from Tim to the cuffs to the knife that’s now lying on the ground before he turns around and runs to where the scream came from.
Tim watches him leave. His breathing is completely off, he notices. Jason disappears from his line of sight, and then his knees just… give out under him.
Tim slumps to the ground. The handcuffs on his right wrist dangle against the metal pipe the other ring’s fixed to. Tim notices the cuffs are similar to the ones he and the rest of the bats use; cracking them shouldn’t even take half a minute-
He sucks in a trembling breath of cold night air.
The knife’s still right next to him, blade dull and dark. There’s a bit of blood on it.
Tim feels for his throat. There’s a little cut there, very shallow. Nowhere near as deep as the scar right next to it, the one that’s burn is now reminding him of the last time Jason held a knife to his throat.
Well, and here he is, still alive and kicking, he reminds himself.
Tim gets up and starts working on the cuffs.
By the time he makes it to the alley that he thinks the scream came from- secluded and dark, just like the one he came from; really, what are people even thinking when they walk into those?- the Red Hood’s not there. Tim can’t help but feel relieved.
There is, however, a woman. Curled in on herself, trembling badly.
Red Robin moves closer carefully, making sure his steps are loud enough for her to notice him.
The woman looks up. Her jacket’s pulled down, just barely hanging on one wrist, but Tim can’t see any injuries. She looks like she’s in her early thirties, Asian, dressed like she came from a club. She’s crying, and the mascara has drawn black stripes down her cheeks.
After checking if she’s actually alright and not hurt, just a bit traumatized, Red Robin makes sure she gets to a hospital. Asking her questions hasn’t given him much.
She was attacked by a young woman. She called the attacker a “vampire, trying to suck her blood,” which doesn’t add up with Tim’s theory of groups or a sect. After she’d screamed, the Red Hood appeared, and then pursued the alleged vampire.
By now, however, both the Red Hood and the “vampire woman” are gone, and no matter how long he looks, Tim can’t find either one.
It’s way past midnight, anyway. Maybe going through the police reports and autopsies again will get him something.
11:54 pm, December 1st
The Red Hood jumps. He barely makes it over to the next roof, and he has no idea how that woman in front of him managed to make that distance.
She doesn’t move like anyone he’s seen before. She’s too small, too short for the kind of movements she makes. She just does it anyway. Jumps further and higher, runs faster and longer than Jason thinks even he can. Maybe she’s a metahuman; that would explain it.
Still, she apparently doesn’t know the city like Jason does because she just jumped straight down into a dead end, and climbing those walls back up should be impossible even for her.
Or maybe it’s a trap.
Then again, Jason’s pretty sure he can handle her. He lands on the ground as well.
The woman’s standing at the end of the alley, her long red dreadlocks swishing through the air as she turns around. Pale green eyes focus on him, and Jason’s actually quite amazed no one’s given a description of her yet, because there’s a complicated black tattoo all over the right half of her face, and that should make her quite distinguishable. She seems to be in her mid-twenties, pierced ears, pale skin, wearing a leather jacket. And then there’s that knowing smirk on her lips, as if everything’s exactly how she planned it.
Trap it is, then.
"So, let me guess. You can tell me something about the murders that have been happening here recently?" he starts, cocking his gun and carefully moving closer.
The woman doesn’t answer, just smiles at him knowingly. Her posture is entirely relaxed; it’s like she doesn’t feel threatened at all. Jason doesn’t like it.
Jason’s eyes narrow. “Answer me. What are you and those other wannabe-vampires up to?”
Her smile gets wider, a smirk even, white teeth glinting even though the moon’s still hiding behind dark clouds. “‘Wannabe-vampires?’ Oh, I think you misunderstand,” she hums, voice light and amused. She suddenly moves towards him.
Her speed is more than an average human should be capable of, but Jason should still be able to push her back. Should, but isn’t because he hasn’t anticipated the strength that her thin little arms really shouldn’t possess.
Up so close her eyes look really odd, it’s not the tattoos but something else. And Jason can see a strange necklace, a wide leather band around her throat that has ‘Cornelia’ written on it, with a pitch black tear-shaped stone attached to it. If that’s actually her name, Jason’s going to have a meltdown. He has not been looking for someone with a half-tattooed face and her name spelled out on her clothes, right?
Before he can even do so much as push her off, she’s pushed him back against a wall and torn away the protection at his throat. Struggling against her does nothing to get her away from him; no matter what Jason tries-
He tries reaching for his gun again, but his hand has barely twitched towards it when the weapon’s already clattering to the ground.
The woman leans in, and Jason’s confused for a second because her eyes have suddenly gone from green to black. “Hmm… You should do,” she hums, smirking.
Then she leans even closer and Jason can’t focus on anything anymore, because-
He feels her teeth sink into his neck.