Tim turns, flips, bounces off the wall, and kicks out, managing to catch the guy under the chin. He drops with a groan, and Tim grins down at him and mimes dusting off his shoulders.
“That’s why you shouldn’t-” is all he gets out before there’s a white-hot pain driving through him. He pulls in a breath, then another, and chokes on what he dimly realizes is probably his own blood. Punctured lung, his brain tells him. You’re bleeding into your chest cavity.
“Asshole kid,” someone – presumably the guy who had just stabbed him – sneers. “You fuck with the Hanoi Ten, they fuck right back with you.”
Tim watches, trying to pull in even breaths and failing more and more with each attempt, as the guy grabs his friend and stumble-walks out of the alley. There’s protocol for this, he knows, something that he’s supposed to be doing, but it doesn’t click in his head until he sees a shadow dropping from the roof above him. It takes a little longer than it should to materialize into the blue and black of Nightwing’s uniform, and it’s not until Dick is dropping down beside him that Tim realizes that he should have called Dick as soon as he’d been hurt.
“Dick,” Tim says, tries to say, chokes instead. He can feel the bubble in his mouth burst, and the warm trickle running down his lips is almost certainly blood. Dick is speaking frantically, mouth moving too quickly to read, and Tim can’t parse the sounds of it. He concentrates on moving his hand, grabbing for Dick’s fingers, squeezing with all his might. “Dick.”
“Tim,” Dick mouths helplessly. Tim feels his lips twitch toward a smile as Dick pulls him in carefully, and then everything fades to black.
Tim wakes up in the Cave. He’s in the med bay, which isn’t surprising; all of the monitoring machines are off, which is. He shrugs and sits up carefully, wincing preemptively for the pull of stitches that doesn’t come.
He stops moving and glances down. He’s in street clothes, which is strange but not entirely unprecedented. He pulls at the tee, peering down at his chest, where there’s a thick red line just below his heart.
Tim frowns. It looks healed, if not faded; given the placement, he should have a broken rib or two along with the residual pain from the injury itself. The fact that he doesn’t is… confusing. Maybe Alfred has had the chance to concoct a more efficient painkiller?
Tim shrugs it off and stands slowly. There’s no lightheadedness, no pain, not much of anything, really. He takes a deep breath when he’s upright, expecting the pain in his chest again but not really surprised when he doesn’t feel it. Whatever Alfred had given him, Tim thinks, should probably be bottled and sold. It’s pretty good stuff.
It’s a little weird that Alfred isn’t down here, actually; come to think of it, it’s weird that there doesn’t seem to be anybody in the Cave at all. Bruce’s general policy for everything is err on the side of caution, so when someone is down for the count, there’s usually another person hovering nearby until everything is okay again. Tim frowns. If there’s nobody in the Cave with him, something big must be going on.
It’s a bad idea and Tim knows it, but before he can really think about it, he’s in his Robin suit and heading for the Cave’s exit. He feels fine, really, and if he’s been under for long enough that he’s healed to the point of scarring, he’s not really risking anything by going out. He’s not going to pop a stitch if there aren’t any stitches left to pop.
“Damn,” Tim swears when he lands on the rooftop overlooking Second and Main and taps at his radio. There’s no hiss and click, which means his radio had been damaged in his last fight and Bruce hasn’t sent it to Babs for repairs yet. Weird, yes, but not the important thing at the moment. Tim focuses on the mouth of the alley he’s perched near, straining to pick up the voices he can hear just past what he can see. One is unfamiliar – cowering, hiccupping around something that might be sobs – while the other is low-bodied fury echoing in metal.
Tim swings down and folds himself into his cape, waiting near the mouth of the alley. He’s clearly here on the tail end of this conversation; the guy on the ground is babbling and crying, and it takes some time to get to that point.
“-don’t know nothing, I swear,” the guy gasps out.
“Bullshit,” Jason growls, and wow, Tim has heard him angry before, but this is something else. Tim hopes the guy does actually know whatever Jason is asking about, because Jason sounds ready to kill if he doesn’t hear what he wants to hear. “You know what, Morris? You have ten seconds to tell me who was behind it or tell me who does know something. Ten.”
“I don’t know nothing!”
“What happens if you get to zero?”
“I shoot you. In the gut. Seven.”
“I swear, man, I don’t-”
“Six.” There’s a click that’s probably Jason cocking his gun. “Five.”
“Ryerson,” Morris blurts. “I wasn’t there, man, but Ryerson – he was bragging about how he put a knife through that skinny kid’s chest. Talk to Ryerson.”
“Ryerson,” Jason says thoughtfully. “You know, Morris, if I get to Ryerson and he tells me that you’re the one who was bragging like that, I’m going to kill you slowly and painfully.” It’s matter-of-fact, and the way Morris is gulping tells Tim that he knows that Jason means every word. “I’m going to count to ten again, and if I can still see you when I’m done, I’ll shoot you anyway.”
Morris tears blindly out of the alley and races down the street before Jason gets to five. Tim waits until Jason is done counting before he slips into the alley. Jason has his hood off, held in his hands, and his head is bowed, eyes squeezed shut.
“So was that for me?” Tim asks when Jason shakes his head and opens his eyes again. Jason goes completely still for a moment before whirling around to face Tim, eyes now almost comically wide. “Skinny kid, knife in the chest, there can’t be too many of those around here, right? Not ones that would have you threatening people in alleys without the cover of night, anyway. I always knew you cared, at least a little.”
“Oh my fucking God,” Jason says clearly. “What – Jesus Christ.”
Tim frowns. “Was I not supposed to overhear that?” He cocks his head. “Again, probably would have been better if you’d waited until the middle of the night, and maybe chosen a better alley.” He glances around. “This one is on my patrol route.”
“Jesus Christ,” Jason repeats, and there’s a weird kind of wavering in his voice. “Not you, too.”
There’s something aching in his tone that Tim has never heard there before, and that worries Tim more than his words, which just don’t make sense. “Red Hood? Is something wrong?”
“Tim,” Jason says. Tim quickly opens his mouth to chastise him for using names on the street, but then Jason adds, “You’re dead.”