They hadn’t known that it was a trap until the League of Assassins had already overwhelmed them. Naturally every single member of the bat clan had fought hard and determinedly, but in the end it just hadn’t been enough. One after the other they were brought down and restrained, until they all found themselves kneeling in a wide, loose circle on the cold, wet ground of a half-decayed warehouse, with hard hands digging into their shoulders and necks and several watchful guards at each of their backs.
Tim could see Bruce still trying to struggle from where he sat, straining again and again against his captors’ grips. Dick was bleeding heavily from a head wound and swaying slightly from side to side, unable to keep completely still even now, but not capable of escape all the same. Steph was spewing abuse with a wild look in her eyes, leaning unconsciously towards Damian who, in comparison to the rest of the family, was completely motionless for once. And Cass, Cass was shaking silently, tensely eyeing the people surrounding her, knowing something that seemed to escape everybody else.
Tim had no idea where Jason was and tried to bury the snide little voice in the back of his mind that insisted that he had been in on this ambush from the start
Finally, the heavy doors opened one last time and every unoccupied assassin bowed low as Ra’s al Ghul and his daughter entered. They came to a stop right next to where Tim knelt, the Demon’s Head sparing him a single gaze, then the green eyes swept over Tim’s family until they eventually came to rest on Cass.
The boy felt himself relax minutely at the realization that Damian was safe.
Then his previous fear returned with a vengeance, because Lady Shiva melted out of the darkest shadows of the vast empty room. Given how the rest of Tim’s family flinched at her sudden appearance, nobody else had noticed her either.
With a faint nod in Ra’s al Ghul’s direction, she stepped right into the middle of the circle that Tim suddenly recognized as a makeshift arena and smirked down at the now frozen form of her daughter.
“The time has come to finally end this. The Demon’s Head was so kind as to offer his assistance. Just to make sure that you can’t run again.”
Taking this as their cue, one of the guards at Tim’s back leaned forward and pressed the cold steel of a blade against his suddenly tight throat. A quick glance around showed that the rest of his family save Cass was in a similar predicament. Not that it seemed to stop Batman from desperately trying to figure a way out. On the contrary, judging by his wide-opened, rapidly moving eyes, he seemed to have become even more frantic. Tim certainly understood why.
Cass was shaking now, but still she shrugged off the hands of her guards and stood up to meet her mother in the middle of the ring. Tim felt his chest grow tight with something close to panic when instead of the warrior with a spine of steel he’d grown used to, he saw a broken girl instead.
Shoulders bent and head hanging low, Cass had already been defeated. Because every member of the batfamily knew that she would never allow herself to kill again.
“Do it,” she murmured, her voice quiet but sure. Accepting of her fate; and no matter how much Tim wanted to yell at her for it, he saw no way to save her. Not without somebody else dying in her stead and he knew that Cass would never allow that.
He saw Shiva’s smirk shift into a look of pure disappointment and closed his eyes when she drew her fist back. He probably owed it to his sister to bear witness to her final moments but Tim just couldn’t bring himself to watch her death.
He flinched at the sharp noise of a hit connecting, then frowned when he heard no other sound. Warily, he opened his eyes again and gasped when saw that his missing brother had somehow appeared at the last second and blocked the strike for Cass.
Jason stood tall and proud in the middle of the circle, his expression unreadable behind the bright red of his helmet. Cass was blinking at his back in mute disbelief for just a moment then curled her fingers into his jacket in a sign of silent thanks.
Lady Shiva seemed to get over her surprise quickly, a chilling smile curling her lips, but Tim could see Ra’s faintly trembling with rage out of the corner of his eyes and abruptly remembered that the Red Hood had always been the Demon’s Head’s least favorite bat. The same couldn’t be said for his daughter though and when Tim chanced a glance at her, he thought he saw a faint hint of real concern on her face before she hid it behind disapprovingly pursed lips.
Movement drew Tim’s attention back to the middle of the room, where Jason had just taken off his helmet and thrown it far away. To everybody’s surprise his guns soon followed, then various knives and other gadgets went flying into the dark.
Tim wasn’t even aware that he had been yelling in renewed panic until a piece of cloth was firmly shoved into his mouth. A wild check around showed him that the rest of his family hadn’t fared any better, the only bright spot being that Steph had apparently managed to bite one of her guards’ hands bloody.
Forcibly gagged, they could only look on in desperation as Jason carefully freed himself from Cass’ suddenly iron-hard grip by slipping out of his jacket, then he turned around and murmured something inaudible to her. She shook her head, pleading with him to let her end this, to let her die, but he simply, but still infinitely gentle, shoved her away.
At a sign from an increasingly smug looking Ra’s al Ghul, a few of his assassins stepped forward and restrained her again. Jason watched it happen with a scowl then he turned back around to face his opponent again.
Lady Shiva was the picture of easy relaxation, her smile even wider now and strangely amused.
“Silly boy. You dare to challenge me?"
Jason smirked right back at her, but it was an ugly, nasty thing.
“Yes, I do. That a problem?”
Shiva’s eyes glinted with amused anticipation and she settled back into a low fighting stance, waiting patiently until her opponent did the same.
“Not at all.”
Tim could all but feel Ra’s radiate dark satisfaction at his side.
For a few heartbeats nothing happened, then, as if reacting to some unheard signal, Lady Shiva suddenly darted forward, one hand lashing out in a low feint while her other hand went right for her opponent’s throat – only for Jason to shift his weight the moment she began to move, turning to the side to evade both of her attacks and use his own momentum to let loose a furious roundhouse kick. Shiva had to spring into a half roll forward to escape, only to catch her fall on her fingertips, twist around and launch a side kick of her own at Jason’s standing leg. He was in the air before she was even halfway done with the motion, switching legs and then trying to bring his whole weight down on her to break something. Somehow she got away and brought some distance between them again, both opponents using the opportunity to collect themselves and size each other up for another moment.
Jason looked calmly focused in a way Tim would have never expected of him, while the only thing wider than Lady Shiva’s eyes was her steadily growing grin. It was bright and joyful and blinding and full of a wildness that struck Tim suddenly as unnervingly familiar even if he was sure that he had never seen it expressed on Cass’ face before.
A breath passed, two, then both opponents shot forward again and engaged in a furious exchange of blows while their stunned audience only could try to keep up somehow.
“He held back,” Ra’s quietly observed, speaking aloud what Tim had also dazedly managed to deduce by now. “All this time, he actually held back.”
By now Lady Shiva had slowed the fight down a bit, switching between styles and martial arts as if to test Jason on his knowledge and skill in them. He was having none of it, though, and attacked her with a single-minded focus that seemed to delight her.
Tim barely heard silk shift when Talia moved, eyes still firmly locked on the fight before him.
“Did you really think that I would send my Beloved a subpar challenger, father? Anything but the best would be an insult to him and myself both.”
Where Ra’s had sounded slightly disgruntled, Talia was nothing but smug, her previous concern apparently forgotten for a moment – or firmly hidden away for now.
A harsh crack sounded through the warehouse as the first bone broke. Jason stumbled back with a hand twitching to his ribs, then he turned it at just the right moment to catch Shiva’s follow-up strike and use it to pull her into his raised knee instead. Blood sprayed and the older woman gave a short huff of laughter through bloody lips, then forced her opponent to let go of her with an attempted nerve strike with her free hand and a side kick while he flinched back. He caught her leg and threw her to the ground, but she didn’t stay down long enough for it to really count. Soon they were in motion again, dancing in a way that Tim had never before seen from anyone but Lady Shiva and Cass.
“A dangerous game you played there, daughter, given how hotly the boy’s anger still burned when I last saw him. If he’s really as good as you say, you risked the Detective’s life when you sent him your pet. It’s a miracle it didn’t turn rabid and cut a bloody swath through the Batman’s brood and Gotham both.”
Lady Shiva had speed and flexibility on Jason, and more experience to boot, but Jay knew how to use his larger reach and weight to his advantage and could take hits that would have sent her reeling. A quick combo, a feint, a punch, and another crack echoed through the darkness as Shiva’s arm broke. She got him back by kicking him straight into the stomach, smiling the whole time. There was a greedy light in her eyes now that scared Tim almost as much as thinking about just how much they all had underestimated Jason before and how badly it could have ended for them.
Talia probably tried to sound modest and demure with her next sentences but failed miserably, “It wasn’t easy to find the right balance between motivation and skill, but I succeeded in the end, so that when Jason was finally capable of killing his family he didn’t actually want to do so anymore. I count it among my greater accomplishments.”
A pause then Ra’s muttered quietly, “Consider me impressed. Well done, Talia.”
He actually sounded proud of his daughter but it was clear that her ‘pet’ still disgruntled him. In any other situation Tim would have chanced a look at his face to see what else he could read on it, but the fight in front of him had shifted from on second to the next, entering its final stage.
Both opponents were bloody and exhausted, both showed beginnings of bad bruises and had to compensate for broken bones. Lady Shiva had finally stopped smiling but Tim was sure that she still enjoyed this fight all the same. If it was possible the attacks became even more vicious now, dodges and blocks happening barely in time.
Suddenly Jason seemed to stumble and Tim felt his breath catch in his throat. Shiva only laughed, seeing the intended trap and aiming a lethal hit for the place Jason’s attempted feint would leave his throat vulnerable for just a moment instead. But the feint turned into reality when her opponent let himself fall forward, into her, the woman’s blow just grazing his neck and breaking his collarbone instead. Jason shouted in pain, Shiva’s eyes widened in surprise and she swayed for a moment when his full weight hit her, then he shoved her away and in a vicious move born of years on the streets lashed out at her eyes in turn.
Shiva’s shriek of agony echoed through the whole room.
Everybody else would have stopped there, Cass would have stopped there, but Jason gritted his teeth against his own pain and ruthlessly pressed his advantage. A kick to Shiva’s chest broke some of her ribs and made her scream abruptly cut off as she choked on her own breath. Another kick to one of her knees and she couldn’t keep herself upright anymore. He caught her wrist and broke it with a vicious twist then snapped his flat palm forward underneath her chin and her head flew abruptly back.
She fell backwards to the ground and stayed down, whimpering in pain and trying to catch her breath.
The audience was completely silent, frozen at yet another unexpected turn of events. Jason’s sudden appearance and following challenge had surprised all of them but nobody had actually expected him to win.
It was Lady Shiva who broke the silence in the end, with a soft, stuttering chuckle while she somehow fought her way back onto her knees. One of her eyes was a gaping, bloody ruin, while she kept the other one open on pure will alone, but her smile was wide and impossibly bright for her condition and filled with a strange mixture of ruefulness and approval.
“It seems I made a mistake when I disowned you.”
Even short on breath and tight with pain, her voice still held the familiar tones of arrogance and limitless confidence. The notes of affection and faint regret were new, though.
“Why did you do it then?” Jason had relaxed out of his fighting stance by now but his face was unreadable and his gaze was still completely focused on the woman kneeling in front of him.
Lady Shiva shrugged as much as it was still possible for her, her lips curling in a small, soft smile. “That there were two of you was a surprise. One baby hiding the other… Even your heartbeats were in synch. And Cain only ever demanded one child, so – “
“You gave him your daughter and simply gave me away?” Jason harshly interrupted her. He was trembling slightly but he still had a firm grip on his temper.
Tim, meanwhile, needed a moment to realize what exactly was being said, then he finally understood and would have gaped in astonishment if not for the gag in his mouth. He managed a quick glance at Cass, who was wide eyed and frozen in shock, then his eyes were firmly fixed on mother and son in front of him.
(Next to him he could more feel than hear Ra’s turn sharply to his daughter. “You knew?”
It was almost an accusation.)
Lady Shiva shrugged again, her eternal amusement at life back in full force once more. “It was the best solution in my mind. I’m not exactly the motherly type and the doctor already knew somebody who would take you in… To be honest, I never expected to see you again. Without proper training in your future, you were of no more importance for me.”
“Of no more use, you mean!” Slowly but surely, Jason was losing the fight to keep his face blank and rage and pain flickered over his features.
Shiva’s answering smile was sharp and cruel. “Isn’t that the same?”
(“No,” denied Talia quietly, then corrected herself. “Yes. Maybe… I first wondered about the possibility once I witnessed how well he protected himself despite being pretty much brain dead at the time. It was only the deplorable state of his body that ever seemed to cause him to lose…. In the end, I never followed up on my suspicions but –”
There was a mean little smile accompanying her next words, Tim was sure. “Call it a woman’s intuition.”)
“It seems as if I gave Cain the wrong child, though. Your sister may be faster and maybe even stronger than you, but she lacks the right mindset to ever truly be my heir. A pity, really.” Lady Shiva practically beamed at him, “but you will be a magnificent successor.”
Jason snorted bitterly, “I’m sure. So glad I’m an acceptable consolation prize…” The ‘again’ was unspoken but clearly heard by everyone. Tim couldn’t help but wince in sympathy. “You sure you wouldn’t rather prefer another Lady Shiva? Or some little girl that could keep Carolyn’s memory alive?”
For the first time something other than delight or concentration showed on Lady Shiva’s face and Jason bared his teeth in vicious satisfaction at the hurt and rage he had just caused.
“Don’t speak about things you know nothing about!” hissed his mother but Jason’s ugly grin only broadened, because he knew that he was right. It was a pyrrhic victory at best, but Tim suspected that Jason had come to accept these long ago as long as he could be certain that he caused his opponent pain as well.
In the end this particular line of conversation would lead nowhere, though, and after a few more tense moments Jason relented. “Why Jason?” he asked, sounding calmer than he had been before.
Shiva slowly regained her composure as well but didn’t seem to be sure what he meant.
“You named me,” Jason clarified slightly impatiently. “It wasn’t the Todds. I knew.” The way he emphasized the last word sounded off to Tim’s ears but caused Shiva’s remaining eye to gleam strangely.
“Like I said, I didn’t expect you. At first I wanted to name you after a seer as well, but when I couldn’t find a name that was still in use in modern times quickly enough, I settled on giving you a hero’s name instead. Maybe I should have tried harder…” Shiva suddenly leaned forward, despite the pain it must have caused her, and stared up at her son with the same unsettling greed she had displayed before. “Because you do see, don’t you? Tell me, Jason, how did you learn?"
For a moment it seemed as if Jason wouldn’t answer, then he slowly, painfully began to laugh.
“How did I learn?”
It had to be torture thanks to his broken bones, but he just kept laughing, dark and bitter and slightly hysterical. It was unnerving and sent a shiver down Tim’s spine and he couldn’t help but hold his breath when it finally stopped.
“I always could!”
There was the pit in Jason’s eyes now as he made a harsh motion in the direction of his sister with his uninjured arm.
“Do you have any idea what that even means? Sure, Cass’ childhood was horrible with the constant training but at least Cain loved her in his way! He sheltered her from the rest of the world! Everything, no matter how painful, was a fucking game she could master in the end! He was fucking proud of her, his greatest achievement!”
Any semblance of calm had shattered by now and Jason’s face was a mixture of pain and hate.
“But I grew up in Crime Alley, were nothing good can ever hope to survive! Do you have any idea what it is like to be a little kid and ask yourself every day why your daddy doesn’t want you or why your mommy may love you but loves her pills more? Why your neighbor plans to hurt his wife when she comes back from work? Why the women at the corners always smile despite being in pain? Why even the kids you meet can’t trust and fear each other and the guy three doors down will end his own life tonight? Why there are so many dead bodies running around, still existing somehow but with nothing left inside that can be called alive anymore?”
Another sharp gesture. Stepping unconsciously ever closer, Jason was almost in Shiva’s face by now.
“All this rage and fear and hate and despair… Do you have any idea how it is to grow up and see the worst of humanity every day?”
For a moment mother and son stared at each other.
Jason’s next words were quiet enough that Tim had to actually strain to hear them.
“It’s funny, you know? I heard Cass actually went looking for you in order to learn how to see again when the first skill I ever perfected was how to look away!”
Shiva’s lone eye was searching the face of her son and maybe, for once in her life, there was something like true regret hidden in it somewhere.
“When you went looking for me… You could have saved yourself.”
Her voice was almost as quiet as Jason’s and Tim honestly couldn’t say if she meant from herself, Sheila Heywood or the Joker, but in the end it didn’t matter anyway. The outcome would have been the same.
Jason’s answering smile was a small, sad, miserable little thing.
“I’m aware. But I simply didn’t want to see. I guess I just wanted to believe in the good of the people around me instead.”
He leaned back, away from her again and shrugged awkwardly with his good shoulder.
“And even though it killed me in the end, I just can’t seem to stop doing it.”
There was only silence for a long, long minute and Tim noticed with a painful clench deep in his chest that Shiva and Jason shared the same sad smile. The longer he spent looking the more and more similarities seemed to become apparent to him. It only made what was to come so much worse.
“Do you have any other questions?”
Jason gave a short shake of his head, his face showing just the faintest hints of resignation.
Lady Shiva in turn smiled up at him and shifted into a better position.
“You will end it then?”
A beat, then Jason nodded slowly, his face turning to stone.
Next to Tim, Ra’s made an aborted attempt to stop what was happening, already dreading the loss of one of his finest weapons to somebody he considered unworthy – Or had considered so until recently, Tim had no idea what Shiva’s last great revelation meant to him. – but only a choked off grunt escaped him, probably courtesy of his daughter.
Tim really wished she hadn’t stopped him but then he doubted that even the Demon’s Head had any say left in the proceedings, not matter that he had helped Lady Shiva arrange the whole ambush at the beginning. Everything was in Jason’s hands by now and even without looking at Cass’ shaking, whimpering form, Tim knew that he would end it.
“I will. This has gone on long enough.” A beat. “And I’m not my sister.”
Lady Shiva’s smile was uncharacteristically soft as she spoke, “No, you’re not. I’m proud of you, my son. I couldn’t have asked for a more worthy heir.”
Jason nodded one last time – then his hand snapped forward almost too fast to follow –
And Lady Shiva was no more.
She crumpled to the floor like a marionette with her strings cut and yet for the first time in her whole life Lady Shiva, the Destroyer, looked actually peaceful. A bloody smile on her lips even in death.
While Jason simply stood there staring down at his mother, Tim felt bile rising in his throat. Faintly he was aware of Cass crying quietly only a few feet away and he felt horrible that one of the many emotions battling for dominance inside of his head was nothing but a mix of pure relief and gratitude for the eventual safety of his sister.
It was Ra’s who eventually broke the silence, trying to save what face he could now that a highly esteemed and respected title had passed on to a person he had made no secret of hating and looking down on before.
“Lord Shiva,” he acknowledged through gritted teeth.
Cold, greenish blue eyes slowly turned to Ra’s and locked there. The more time passed, the more Tim felt the man next to him unconsciously tense and the guards at his back tremble and a small, nasty, horrified voice in the back of his head couldn’t help but wonder what exactly this terrible all-seeing gaze saw.
Finally Jason broke the silence.