Even though there are no ways of knowing for sure, there are ways of knowing for pretty sure.~Lemony Snicket.
Somewhere in Paris; Now:
Had Jason been asked what his ideal vacation looked like, the answer would pretty much have been : "Anything but this "
Well, maybe not anything. Ethiopia was buried pretty low at the bottom of that list.
Of course, as was often the case -especially since Jason's tentative return to the utter mess that was the band of misfits he called family- no one had actually asked him for his opinion before dropping him in the middle of this particular headache of a situation.
He'd thought the fact that Roy wasn't with him this time would perhaps keep things from spiralling too far out of control (and seriously how did the redhead even end up in those situations ? It had to be some kind of superpower ). But the Universe had quickly robbed him of that notion. So of course, in Its supreme prettiness, it had to make Jason fight clowns. Was Jason supposed to go through the whole circus ? Wasn’t having Nightwing as a brother enough ? How many types of clowns were there, even ?
It wasn't that Roy wouldn't have come, had Jason asked. Thing was, Jason had kind of been on schedule when he'd left his apartment in downtown Gotham, so he hadn't actually taken the time to phone his best friend. Plus Roy had his monthly dinner-fight with Oliver going on that night and Jason could respect complicated mentor-sidekick relationships.
So yeah, in retrospect maybe he should have called Roy. But hey, insight was 20/20 and Jason had dug his way out of worse situations before.
No matter, he would get through this.
“Mais vous allez me foutre la paix, oui ?! ”
With only the strict minimum required when it came to complaining and cursing
“Argh, bordel! ”
He wasn't responsible for other people's potty mouths though.
“Cet enfoiré a tiré sur Cédric ! ” Bad move there Clown-Thug#3 ... Dropping names like that would get you booted out of the field pretty fast in the Bat Orphanage of Suspiciously Jacked Children. “Ca pisse le sang! ”
Well, he had promised Batman to stop killing, not to let every clown he fought against get away scot-free.
“Et tu t'attendais à quoi, crétin ? C'est le Red Hood, pas un enfant de chœur ! ”
Good to know at least one of them had a brain. Though Clown-Thug#3 did look pretty pissed and that amount of muscles could somewhat compensate for any lack of intelligence.
Aaaand now he had a gun, how cute. He even looked like he believed he could take Jason down with it. Follow your dreams, #3!
Never let it be said that the Red Hood wasn't supportive.
Jason propelled himself upwards and- using a relatively low balcony rail guard ( old houses in small Paris' alleyways were both beautiful and useful for fighting, he could give the damned city that )- swung himself behind #3. Crouching, he then swept with his leg and the thug dropped like a stone.
Jason caught the gun, flicked the safety back on and strapped it to his leg all in one graceful movement. He then made sure the thug wouldn't be anymore trouble with a quick punch followed by a well-aimed kick.
The high pitched scream was particularly satisfying.
Five down, two to go.
Jason turned just in time to deflect the knife coming down towards his neck. He took hold of his attacker's wrist and shoulder and twisted the guy's arm to force him to bend, then using his momentum to ram his knee into the poor bastard's gut.
Those thugs were not Gotham-quality if they went down from just that. But hey, it made his job easier so he certainly wasn't going to complain.
Turning to the last guy -who had up until now been taking care of Cédric (and wow was #3 right that wound really was leaking blood everywhere ) - Jason let his hand flicker towards his newly acquired gun and smiled.
It was very much not a nice smile.
Not that the guy could see it through the helmet of course. But when you spend your formative years training under The Bat's wing, you can't help but learn that Theatrics(Tm) are an important part of one's arsenal. It was about being efficient, not being a Drama Queen, no matter what Roy Harper had to say on the subject.
Case in point, the last of the thugs fled from his employer's side. See, Roy ? Efficiency.
Jason let his hand drop and walked to the downed man.
“Soooo... Cédric. ”
The Red Hood crouched down, so that he was face to mask with the scumbag.
“A little Birdie told me you were the one responsible for getting the last shipment” he sneered- “ out of Gotham. ”
Wow, that colour really couldn't be healthy. Jason smiled a bit wider and drew his gun. The man whimpered.
“Now, you may not have heard, but me? I have a bit of a problem with scumbags that touch children.” He pressed the gun against a sensitive part of the man's anatomy before continuing. “- and unluckily for you, I've had the worst past two weeks. So I would really recommend not pissing me off right now. Keeping that in mind, tell me-”
He cocked the gun.
“- who the hell did you sell the kids to?”
Crime Alley, 2 weeks before Now :
'-we're reporting live from Arkham Asylum. Despite the new security measures installed this afternoon, the Joker once again managed to escape - '
Jason shut the television down with a snarl and hurled the remote at the wall.
And then a book. Then he cleared the table of everything on it with an angry sweep of his arm.
He took two too quick breaths and ran his hands through his hair, trying desperately to calm himself down. Of course He had to get free when Jason was recovering from an encounter with dear old Crane.
The Joker was free. He was free and probably scheming something and about to torture or kill or get into another grand plan of his and Bruce would be too late for yet another series of victims and –
Breathing. Right. Breathing was good.
Had his apartment always been so cramped and dark ?
He could do this. Find five colours, touch five different things, hear five different sounds. Easy. He'd done it plenty of times before.
Okay. Yellow mug. Green plant. Red shirt. Grey sky. Grey smoke and orange flames and oh god no please it hurts and I can't breathe, Dad please help-
Except no. He wouldn't come anyway. And while his ribs and arm did hurt, it wasn't anything like back then. More of a 'typical Saturday for a vigilante' type of pain then a 'got beat to up Hell and back' kind. Though on bad weeks the line between the two tended to blur.
He was in his apartment and he was safe.
(For the time being. )
And of course He would escape. He always did after all. It was just Jason's luck that it would be when he had just tentatively managed to reconcile with his family.
Inhale. Exhale. (A car's honk outside. The neighbour's television through the wall. Someone talking loudly in the street)
Compromises had been made. Bruce had even managed to talk about his feelings for about five minutes. And while they had yet to cover a lot of ground, they were getting there. Things were better than they had been in years.
He couldn't screw everything up. Not when he had just gotten them back. But he couldn't stay here and let the Joker live without doing anything either.
Fine. He was the one that would have to go then. Away where the Joker couldn't get to him. Away from the way his family would side eye him, waiting for him to snap.
Away where he could actually do some good.
He had meant to take a vacation anyway.
With his breathing back under control and that decision firmly in mind, Jason already felt a bit more together. He got up from where he had backed himself against the wall in his panic, put a hand on the wall to ground himself, then started moving.
He took one of his duffel bags and started randomly stuffing clothes and hygiene products in it. Okay, what else did he need? His new phone and new helmet ( Yesterday's encounter with Crane's toxin had not let his gear get away unscathed. Or rather the dip Jason took in Gotham's harbour to put out imaginary flames had thoroughly grilled what Scarecrow's goon had left intact. ) Fake identity papers, fake official papers allowing him to take his guns on a commercial flight with him.
He didn’t exactly want to see them, much less ask for a favour, at a time like this.
He almost felt like a law-abiding citizen. Transporting guns legally without freaking anyone out and everything.
He just needed a destination now. That one he didn't have to think too long about: Paris.
Not that he loved the city -quite the opposite actually. But Tim had come by to drop a file last week, following their takedown of the Gotham based branch of a new child trafficking ring -you'd think the bastards would learn- and the rest of the organisation apparently was based in Paris. Jason would have gone sooner ( or at least anonymously tipped some of the French capes) but Crane had then decided to yet again be the human equivalent of a toothache.
Decision made, Jason grabbed his bag. Machinally dodging his street's cameras, he exited his apartment and made his way towards the airport.
He only stopped to change, put on a passable disguise and take care of a few burst stitches before catching the first flight to Paris he could get a ticket to.
Batcave; A week and six days before Now:
Bruce Wayne had been staring unblinkingly at the Batcomputer's screen for about three minutes when he was hit in the back of the head with a sponge.
And, while he was proud of his eldest's aim this was not what he had in mind when he had encouraged the young man to cultivate his throwing skills, all those years ago.
“What?” He ground out, glaring at his son.
Dick smiled cheekily.
“You're doing the brooding thing again. Want to tell me what's on your mind or should I take a guess? That was at least a 6 on the Batglare chart. ”
“Oh just something Tim and Cassie gave the rest of us after — Never mind. Want to tell me what's going on ?” Dick asked, walking over to Bruce's chair and draping an arm on the back of it.
Just what had they been up to now? He probably didn't want to know. No, scratch that, if both Tim and Cassandra were involved he most definitely didn't want to know.
And hell, despite keeping his cheerful appearance, his eldest son actually looked a bit worried now, his smile just a tad too sharp and his back just a little too straight.
“The Joker escaped Arkham.” There. Perfect excuse, not one that would worry Dick needlessly -And it had to be needless. Anything else was unacceptable.
“Cut the crap B.” Dick said now both angry and worried. “ You're not usually this gloomy when he escapes. Especially the first few days when you know he's only in the planning stage. What. Happened. ”
Well, that had quickly backfired. Perhaps Alfred had been on to something when he had left "The idiot's guide to communication " on his bedside table.
“The Joker escaped more than twenty-four hours ago ”
Dick looked about ready to explode so Bruce clarified.
“And there has been no reaction from the Red Hood.”
Dick's mouth clicked shut and his eyes widened a little. Then his face smoothed and a fake grin slid back in place.
“I've sent Jason a few messages, but he hasn't answered yet. I can't tell —” Bruce stopped talking and turned back to the computer. He heard Dick sigh behind him.
“You can't tell if he's ignoring you or not and you don't want to barge into his apartment because that would ruin the fragile trust you guys just got back. ” Dick put an arm around his shoulder and dragged him into a hug. Bruce did his very best not to cling to his oldest son. Judging by the small wince he could feel Dick's face doing into his shoulder, he failed.
“How long ago did you send the messages ? ” Dick mumbled into his chest.
“ Twenty minutes” Bruce gave his son one last squeeze before letting go of him and turning to check the Batcomputer yet again.
“And yet, you're wearing civilian's clothes in the Cave and checking the cameras outside of Jason's apartment. How long were you going to wait before rushing to his place ?”
Bruce continued to stare at the images in front of him. According to the timestamps, Jason had gone out at 7:02 yesterday, came back at 10:27 (Breakfast with Tim? Jason sported a few bruises and stitches from his encounter with Scarecrow. He also was a bit jumpy. Residual fear gas? Was he sleeping enough? ) and hadn't left his apartment since.
Behind him he heard Dick grumble “Right, stalking is caring, I forgot who I was talking to. ”
A traitorous corner of Bruce's mouth turned up.
He walked to one of his most discreet civilian cars -nothing Brucie Wayne would be caught dead owning- and sat inside. The passenger’s door opened.
“Oh so twenty-two minutes, then. Good to know.”
Sassy little sh-
None of the alarm systems Jason had installed - and Bruce had stealthily modified afterwards to render more secure - were active.
Warning bells were shrilling all around Bruce's brain.
Jason's safe house was right in the middle of Gotham's most dangerous neighbourhood -except perhaps for the Amusement Mile - and his door was basically unlocked.
A tight feeling began gripping at Bruce's throat like a vice. Something was definitely wrong.
He entered the apartment and froze.
Trinkets, papers and files strewn across the living room. (Flipped table : someone thrown into it ? Perhaps. Flipped to provide cover ? No. No bullet hole. No scratch marks either. )
A book lying forgotten on the ground near the windowsill, open as if thrown. ( Jason cares about books way too much. Probably isn't his doing. )
No visible sign of forced entry from the window. None from the door either - He would have noticed. He always noticed. (Whoever had attacked Jason was both good enough to disable the alarm system and to break in without leaving a trace. Probably waited in the apartment for Jason to come back. )
Scratch marks on the wooden floor, leading to -or from – the wall. Traces amounts of blood in the marks.
A smear of blood on the wall. Bloody handprint, male (?), next to it. No arterial spray -that he could see. No dried puddle either, just a few smears on the ground and on the wall. ( Wound, superficial. Burst stitch or light cut, no major vein or artery touched. )
From the state the room was in, one could also deduce that whoever had broken in did not care about hiding what happened. They either were confident about no one finding out, or they wanted someone to find out. Both implied the attacker knew Jason's identity. Neither bode well for his son.
No unusual smell ( chances of fire, dead body, fumigen or airborne drug: low).
Apartment untouched since the break-in. (No noise alarming enough for the neighbours to come and investigate. Though in the middle of Crime Alley that did not mean much)
He would need his gear to investigate further.
“Babs ? ”
Bruce inwardly startled. Right, Dick was in the room with him. And apparently had a quicker reaction time then he did.
The tight feeling in his throat had grown into a full blown elephant sitting in his chest. He couldn't lose Jason again. He wouldn't let it happen. Not his son. Not when he had just gotten him back. He would find Jason and whoever attacked him and fix this. He would accept nothing less - except that line of thinking hadn't worked so well last time had it ?
“Yeah it's me. Could you track both Jason's phone and his helmet ? It's kinda urgent. ”
Bruce headed to where he knew Jason kept his forensics supplies and started a more thorough sweep of the crime scene, keeping an ear on Dick's phone conversation all the while.
“Thanks. I'll explain later. Has Jay said anything to you about pissing someone off recently ? ”
A pause. Bruce finished taking pictures of the room and began sampling the blood on the wall.
“Thanks anyway. I'll ask Tim or Steph. Yeah. ”
Another pause, slightly longer this time.
“What the hell do you mean, no signal?! Dami bugged both his phone and current helmet last week. ” Dick was standing still in the middle of the room, which meant he was truly getting worried now. One could correlate Dick Grayson's mental and/or physical state with the amount of movement he displayed. Tim had. The graph was saved on Bruce's computer.
Dick's piercing blue eyes were trained on him, analysing his every movement.
“I'm sorry. I didn't mean to snap at you. Could you please ask the others to come to Jay's main safe house ? Yeah, as quick as they can. Thanks. ”
Bruce started searching the wall and the furniture surrounding it for other bloodstains patterns or any type of D.N.A sample he could find.
“I have to go, I'm pretty sure B's having one of his inwards panic attacks. Love you. ”
Dick hung up.
Bruce resolutely did not look at him and continued his analysis of the room.
He grunted an answer.
“B, look at me.”
Dick sighed when Bruce did not acknowledge him any further
“Jason’s smart. And resourceful. He's probably fine. ”
Except that, judging from his tone, Dick was trying to convince himself just as much as he was trying to convince Bruce. And while Jason really was smart, sometimes that just wasn't enough. Sometimes, you did everything right only for everything to go wrong in the end anyway.
You could also be smart and still make mistakes. Costly ones.
Bruce knew quite a bit about that
After all, hadn't his last–no, his latest. This time it would only be his latest- conversation with Jason been an argument back Then, too ?
Contrary to popular belief, Dick Grayson was a smart man. Sure, he put on a front for the general public -and genuinely nice people always were underestimated anyways – but he was every bit as good of a detective as the rest of his family, just in a different way.
While Bruce saw facts and searched for concrete evidence, Dick looked for connections. Connections between people, places, objects, patterns. Possible motives. When on a case, Bruce searched for the when, where and how. Dick searched for the why.
Oh, he didn't dismiss the hard facts, quite the opposite – they were more than essential to work a case- but Dick liked to understand.
In short, while Bruce and most of his family were emotionally constipated, Dick was not.
His family repressed. Dick expressed. And when he felt, he felt deeply, so he expressed a lot. Be it joy or anger -unless he had a good reason to hide it- when Dick Grayson felt something, people knew it ( He had a bit of a temper sometime, so what? It wasn't a crime. ).
Dick also thrived in a social environment. He loved working with a team. And once someone was part of his family there were part of it forever. No take-backs. Which, to be fair, was true for all of them. Probably an aftereffect of being a bunch of traumatised lonely people.
So when he discovered his little brother's apartment absolutely trashed, his first instinct was to call for Babs for more info. Then take care of his dad. Then call Tim for even more info when the first two didn't work.
Except Tim didn't know anything either.
And there was blood splattered on the wall.
His little brother who absolutely hated for his space to be messy– either Alfred's influence or trying to at least have control over one part of his life, if Dick had to guess- would not have left his apartment in that state unless something was deeply, deeply wrong.
It implied Jason had lost a fight.
Except Jason didn’t just loose fights. Even with both legs and all his ribs broken Jason didn't give up. He’d drag himself up by his teeth and stab his opponent with a rusty spoon just to piss them off. If anything, he fought better when he fought out of pure spite.
That character trait -when combined with the decidedly small amount of blood found – indicated a very short fight, one ending with Jason unconscious. Or worse. But Dick wasn't thinking about that because his brother was resourceful and Dick wouldn’t fail him twice.
Paris; A week and a half before Now:
All things considered, Jason was having a pretty good day.
Which of course, probably meant it would all soon go to shit. But right now Jason was seated at a café's terrace, under the warm July sun, siroting a Pastis. Even better, the café he was sitting in was not far from one of Paris' best libraries.
So yes, despite his week's hellish start, Jason Todd was very much enjoying himself.
The side effects from the fear gas had finally faded. And while he cringed just thinking about the state his apartment was in, Jason couldn't find it in him to regret his decision.
Black Canary had always talked to him about 'Healthy Coping Mechanisms ' when he was Robin. Well this was probably what it felt like. Like this, he could keep his promise to Bruce, respect his own moral code and remove himself from a harmful situation that would just damage his already fragile psyche. (Yes, Jason read self-help books. Books were amazing and he definitely needed help, shut up. ). Not that his so called father cared at all. There hadn't been a single message or phone call from his family in the three days since the Joker's escape. Not even a simple ' U ded?' from Steph.
That hurt, if he was being honest with himself.
And they had no excuses. They were all perfectly fine, Jason had checked. Though the vigilante’s sightings website he got the information from did report that all the Bats were appearing more often than usual. Probably running ragged trying to find the Joker. See, that was why Jason's way of doing things was more efficient.
Maybe he was feeling a bit bitter.
Whatever. He hadn’t done it for them anyway. This was his vacation and he wasn't going to waste anymore time thinking about his problems. He didn't even have to worry about work right now. There was nothing he could do about it before tomorrow night.
And, as Lemony Snicket had once very well put it into words: “Reading is a form of escape. Running for your life is another.”. Jason was kind of an expert in both disciplines. It was time he trained one more than the other.
He took another sip of his drink, pushed his sunglasses a bit higher up his nose and turned back to his book.
Civilian life had its own charm sometimes.
Batcave; Three days before now:
A careful examination of the security footage from Jason’s apartment's street had revealed no tampering nor suspicious activity in the two-months preceding his disappearance.
Oracle had a facial recognition scan constantly running, and alerts were set for any mention of Red Hood's name. They had even contacted Jason's fri– known associates, to no result. He had not contacted them for help.
There had been no ransom demand. If whoever had his son knew about his identity, they weren’t interested in his money.
Which would have been one of the better case scenarios.
And the Joker still hadn’t made any move either. Except perhaps this one.
Which was one of the worst case scenario.
The samples he had taken in Jason's apartment had revealed no foreign D.N.A. They had no lead and the bloody handprint on the wall was Jason's.
Bruce threw yet another punch at the piece of training equipment in front of him, breathing hard.
Sand began trickling down on the ground at his feet and for a moment, he could do nothing but watch.
“ Father!” came a shaky voice.
He whirled around, eyes already scanning the Cave for any kind of danger, feet propelling him towards Damian as fast as he could.
His youngest looked fine if a bit scared, eyes wide and staring at him.
“ Father, you're bleeding.”
He was? Oh. He was.
Stupid. He couldn’t afford to have damaged hands when found Jason.
Damian took his elbow and carefully led him to the medical cot.
He was making his son take care of him. He needed to get a grip.
(He needed to find a lead)
“This exercise in futility has to cease, Father. I’d expect this kind of behaviour from someone like Jordan, not from you.”
He wasn't that bad.
Damian cleaned his hands of blood and sand, a worried crease between his eyebrows.
“You are of no use to Gotham nor to Todd if you injure yourself.”
Bruce could see the dark circles framing his youngest's eyes, and felt all the fight bleed out of him.
When Damian had finished bandaging his right hand, Bruce snuck an arm around his waist and crushed him to his chest. His youngest stiffened and stayed very still for a few seconds before melting into the hug.
“I’m sorry. I'll do better.” Bruce whispered.
Damian pulled back and turned slightly away to scrub at his face. Bruce pretended not to see.
“See that you do. Injuring oneself while training is a beginner's mistake.”
Which was really just Damian-speak for “I'm worried about you, please take better care of yourself”.
Bruce got up and ruffled the eleven years old's hair. He then turned away and walked to the lockers, to change into the Batsuit.
Damian's expression turned feral as he changed into the Robin suit.
They had a clown to find.
Three days before Now; An abandoned building near the police station:
“Now there's buff-fellow Jim and buffalo Jim. And Jim-buffalo now –” The slightly out of tune singing got darker and more insistent. “didn't you know?”
The screech of metal slowly scraping on the floor contrasted starkly with the sound of steps that happily pounded the floor to the beat of the song.
The Joker was dancing.
“Jim, Jim, Jimmy it's your last cigarette”
A terrified little moan rose from the figure tied to the chair in the middle of the room. Pleading eyes looked up at the clown as beads of sweat rolled down to a mouth that was taped shut.
The Joker frowned, green brows joining together on his too pale face and mouth set in a disappointed pout. The dim lightning of the room made his expression look darker than it actually was.
“That’s not good Jimmy. That wasn't in time with the song. ” a crestfallen look “ Are you not musically inclined? ”
His face lit-up, an expression of childish glee overtaking his features.
“Oooh I know! I can help you keep up with the ” a cackle “beat.”
He raised the metal pipe he had been dragging around and resumed singing.
“Your uncle J. ”
A muffled scream rang out.
The Joker frowned again.
“Now see, that's why I hate interruptions. I can't get back into the song, it's just not the same.”
He dropped the pipe and went to pick up a chair from the far corner of the room. Skipping back to his victim, he set it back down and sat, crossing his arms on the backrest of the chair then putting his chin on them.
“Where was I? ” He cocked his head to the side, looking calmly at the sobbing man in front of him “ Ah, yes. Why I hate people named Jim. ”
The man desperately tried to cough to clear his airways, his face growing steadily redder when the tape over his mouth didn't allow him to.
The Joker put his index near his mouth as his eyes drafted upwards, a pensive expression painted on his face.
“Well there's that pesky police commissioner, of course. Always has to suck the fun out of everything.” his gaze settled back on the chocking man in front of him “ in fact, that's something you two have in common ! ”
He grinned wide.
“ Is that why you sold me out, Jiminy ? Because you both have a lot in common ? ”
He ripped the tape from the man's mouth. Spit and snot spewed everywhere as coughs and rattling breaths reverberated around them.
The Joker leaned back.
“ You got me caught by Batman, Jim-Jim. And when I had such a beautiful plan crafted, too. ” he took out a white handkerchief and theatrically blew his nose before using it to delicately wipe the man's face “ You should have kept on being a good little goon and stayed loyal, namesake or no namesake ”
The handkerchief got discarded on the ground.
“Please. W’sn't, I swear, swear, wasn't me; didn't b’tray no one, please, please please ”
Green eyebrows rose high on a white forehead.
“What’s that you say? It wasn't you? ” Jim shook his head emphatically “Oh. ” A too pale hand patted a tear-streaked cheek affectionately “I believe you.”
Jim's shoulders slumped in relief. The Joker smiled.
“But I don't really care. I need an example, you see, I can't have my henchmen betraying me at every turn. ”
He straightened up and tidied his purple suit before drawing a pistol and pointing it between the other man's eyes.
“Say bye-bye, Jimm–”
A shower of tiny shards of glass rained down on them as Batman and Robin dropped from the ceiling.
The Joker let out a high pitched giggle of delight as he jumped back.
“Batsy! You didn't tell me you were dropping by! ” he made a sweeping gesture at the tied up man in the middle of the room “I would have tidied up.”
Batman straightened from his crouch.
The Joker's victim began to sob anew, though this time relief coloured the sound.
Slightly behind the Bat's back, the tension in Robin's shoulders eased a little.
Completely ignoring the mess around him, Joker put his pistol back in his holster.
“To what do I owe the pleasure? ” he asked conversationally, the beginning of a smile playing at his lips.
Batman stood still.
“Robin. Take the victim to Gordon. ”
“But, Father! ”
“Now, Robin. ” his tone left no room for discussion.
The child's back stiffened and he gave a curt nod. Defiantly, he attached a grappling gun to the chair the man was still tied to and glared at Batman before firing and reeling them out of the room.
The vigilante sighed and resisted the urge to rub at the bridge of his nose as the end of the victim's high-pitched scream of terror rang out in the air.
The Joker cackled.
“Ooooh, sassy. Someone's entering adolescence.” He side-eyed the other man, his smile growing ever larger “ I wonder if this one will actually get to make it out of it?”
He could barely blink before he was slammed against the wall.
“Touchy, touchy, Batsy. ”
“Where is he? ”
A cruel glint of triumph entered dark eyes.
“Is little Hoodie missing? You really should keep a better eye on him, Bats. That's the second time you loose him. ”
“What. Did. You. Do?”
“Why? Will you kill me if I hurt him? ” he chuckled “Is the Big Bad Bat finally going to do it? ”
He leaned in close to the other man's face.
“He was right you know. Maybe you just don’t care enough about him. And after he begged you so beautifully, too. That was downright cold, Ba–.”
He was cut off by a fist to the face.
The bone-chilling sound of his laugh echoed in the dark, mostly empty room.
Paris; one day before Now:
Jason stared at the news article his phone, surprise and curiosity warring with stubbornness in his mind.
The Joker had been sent back to Arkham. Preliminary medical reports detailed several broken bones and extended bruising.
Batman wasn’t usually unnecessarily violent. He preferred helping his Rogues to fighting them. Hell, the Bastard had killed Jason and there had been virtually no consequences. Just a nice little “Hey, now, back to the Asylum with you, please do refrain from killing my sidekicks in the future. I may actually care about those ones. On an unrelated note, know anything about recruiting children ? ”.
That amount of injuries was... Surprising. And worrying.
It meant something had gone very, very wrong.
Yet there was still no indication of anyone in the family being hurt.
There had been sightings of all the others the night before. Except Oracle, obviously, but a quick search of a few well chosen terms showed nothing unusual. The death, or assault, of the daughter of a police commissioner as beloved as Gordon would have made the news. (Even if it gripped at Jason to define Barbara by her dad's accomplishments and not hers. )
He also liked to think that even if they didn't care much, he'd at least be informed if something had happened to a member of the family.
Though Dick apparently hadn’t even been notified of his funeral, so who knew?
No. They were fine. He had checked.
(One more quick check couldn’t hurt, though. )
He put his phone back in his pocket. He could always call them when he was done with his job here. It probably wouldn’t be too long anyways.
He turned back to his research and sighed. Why was it that every time he visited this damned city he ended up fighting clowns?
“Red Hood! You're surrounded. Drop your weapon, now! ”
Oh well, sure buddy, he'd drop his weapon. Don't mind the other two guns, eleven knives and five grenades he had on him now.
And the explosive helmet.
And the utility belt, full of useful bat-things. Like batarangs and smoke bombs.
And the bazooka that was just a meters away.
Red Hood and Arsenal, whether Roy was there or not.
Jason chuckled at his own pun and dropped his knife.
He had all the information he needed.
“Hands behind your head and turn around. Slowly.”
He did so, adding a little cheeky wave and a wink directed at the camera a news anchor was talking to. A dark haired policeman was desperately trying to get them to walk safely farther back, but the young woman was having none of it.
“On your knees.” Barked another officer.
Yeah, no. Sorry, pal.
He threw the smoke bomb he had concealed in his hand at the ground and jumped to cover.
Not that he needed to. They couldn’t risk shooting the piece of garbage Jason had just gotten his information from.
Still. Better safe than sorry.
He ran out of the alley and started making his way to the hotel.
Now, to send the information to someone who could actually do something about it before more kids ended up hurt.
Wayne Manor, Now:
“I am going to murder him.” Tim slowly told the room at large, voice flat and tightly controlled. He was pouring coffee directly besides his mug, dark circled eyes never once leaving the television.
Red Hood attacks Parisian politician. Screamed the headlines. On the screen, Jason was waving cheekily at the camera.
Damian hummed in agreement, trying to dislodge his jam covered knife from where he had stabbed it in the breakfast table when the news had appeared on the screen.
“You shall not stand alone in this endeavour, Drake. ”
Tim's eyes left the television to stare at Damian in astonishment. Was the ten years old actually agreeing with him ?
“We do not condone killing in this house, young masters. ” Alfred's tone was less stern than it should have been, however.
Murder was really bringing this family together.
An hysterical little chuckle escaped Tim at the thought.
Relief started to course through his veins and he put his head in his hands, resisting a stupid urge to cry.
Two weeks. Two weeks of watching everyone fall apart and trying to find a lead. Of working day and night on the case, patrolling Gotham and still trying to held them all together.
Two weeks of being terrified he'd have to help Bruce through get his grief again, even though a small ball of bile-tasting panic menaced to choke him at the very thought.
Two weeks of thinking he'd lost yet another member of his family.
His breathing hitched and he screwed his eyes shut tightly.
He was going to kill Jason. Possibly even set Damian on him. Then lock him up in a Bat-proofed cell with Bruce and swallow the key.
He allowed himself another two breaths before he regained control and raised his head up again.
His younger brother quickly turned his head away and said nothing.
Tim risked dismemberment and squeezed the kid’s shoulder, even going so far as to smile shakily at him.
He hadn’t been the only one that had nearly lost part of his found family, after all.
Damian allowed the touch for a few seconds then stood up.
“I shall go and wake Grayson. ” he nodded at Tim. “I suggest you deliver the news to Father. ”
He poured a cup of coffee and slid it over to the sixteen years old.
“I thank you for breakfast, Pennyworth.”
A determined look took over his young face. Shoulders squared, he marched out of the kitchen and towards the stairs.
Wide eyed, Tim looked at his coffee cup before turning to stare at Alfred.
“That happened, right ? ”
The older man smiled at him. His eyes looked a bit wet.
“Indeed, it did. Now, I suggest you heed your younger brother's advice and go tell Master Bruce that our search has come to an end.”
Tim nodded determinedly and stood up.
He took his newly poured cup of coffee with him. He needed the courage the liquid would provide him. And coffee shouldn’t go to waste.
That was all it was, really.
He clutched the mug a bit tighter and made way down to the cave, where Bruce would undoubtedly be destroying equipment and/or his joints training, just like he had for the past week, whenever he wasn’t in the field.
He was greeted by grunts and the sound of feet hitting training mats.
Bruce practicing his flying kicks was always hypnotising to watch.
The man was precise, flowing from stance to stance flawlessly. For a moment Tim could do nothing but stare.
Then his dad turned around and raised a questioning eyebrow in his direction.
The stupid wave of complete and utter relief came crashing back over him at the sight of Bruce. He hadn’t lost his brother and he wouldn’t have to be the family's crutch this time.
He felt guilty for being relieved about that, but he couldn’t do it. Not again.
Tim felt tears well up in his eyes.
And hated himself for it. He hadn’t relied on anyone for emotional safety since he'd been four and his father had told him to get over it already.
He put the cup down and wiped at the tears angrily.
Bruce looked stunned for a second, before bursting into motion. He gathered the sixteen years old in his arms and began rubbing his back with one hand.
“Tim? Tim, what's wrong ? ”
And Tim wanted to tell him, he really did, but his throat had formed a knot and his chest was a mess of scrambled emotions. The hug felt like it was the only thing keeping him grounded.
He buried his face in Bruce's shoulder and willed the tears away.
“Come on. Talk to me, kiddo.”
He sniffled once, told himself to get a grip and steeled himself to be discarded away again as soon as the other got the news. He would probably want to rush to Jason as soon as humanly possible.
He was tired of being left behind.
“We found Jay.”
He felt Bruce stiffen and the hand on his back stilled for a second. When the man spoke, his voice was hoarse.
Tim mentally cursed himself and started explaining as quickly as he could.
“He’s fine. As far as we know. He's in Paris, flipping off policemen and waving at cameras andDamianandIaregonnakillhimand–”
He realised he was rambling and cut himself off. He braced himself for the reprimand. For the hug to end. For Bruce to walk quickly to the plane and leave Tim standing in the cave like an idiot and scrambling to find a way to get to Paris.
The hand on his back started its up and down motion again. He nearly recoiled in surprise.
The hug grew tighter. Tim wanted to melt into it.
“He’s fine ? ”
“He looked fine.” Tim confirmed.
He felt Bruce heave in a breath.
“Okay. He’s fine. Okay. ”
Bruce started to draw away from the hug, and he let him. The loss of contact was almost physically painful.
He was surprised when the other man only slightly withdrew, and placed his hands on Tim's shoulders, gaze searching his face.
“What’s wrong, Tim ? ”
The stupid tears were welling up against his will again. He shook his head angrily. He was acting like a child and making everyone loose precious time when they could already have started preparing the plane.
He needed to get a grip.
“Nothing. We should get moving.”
He wiped viciously at his eyes again only for a larger hand to catch his wrist and draw him into a side hug, one arm draping over his shoulders.
“Okay. You don’t have to tell me now if you don't want to.”
Bruce visibly struggled with words for a few seconds before sighing.
“I’m not good at this. You're important, Tim. If there's anything I can do, I want you to tell me, okay? ”
The sixteen years old nodded mutely. His dad squeezed his shoulder.
Tim slowly relaxed in Bruce's side as they walked towards the plane.
Barely two minutes later, Dick was vaulting down the Cave's stairs, barefooted and still clad in his Superman pyjamas, Damian slung over a shoulder and hanging on for dear life.
Tim grinned a wide, shining smile.
They had an asshole of a big brother to retrieve.
It had not taken very long for Jason to come back to his hotel room, helmet and armour carefully hidden in a duffel bag that was constantly close at hand.
Much as he hated to admit it, he needed to give the info he had just gathered to the Bats. Even if that meant being the one to make the first move.
Even if they hadn’t even cared enough to call him.
He braced himself and took out his phone. Opening his contact list, he tried to find the number he had saved under Iris.
Why was his contact list empty of anything but French numbers he had saved on his temporary SIM card?
Jason frowned and went to his phone's parameters.
What did they mean ‘Slot 2: no SIM card'?
He very carefully did not freak out and opened his phone. He had a distinct memory of putting the card with his number in this new phone, after the old one got grilled. He took the battery off.
And immediately wanted to brain himself on the nearest flat surface.
His reliable, only mean of contact since he had also changed helmets, SIM card was inserted in the Micro-sd slot. He'd still been under fear toxin when he had changed it.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuckity-fuck-fuck-fuck.
Jason stood up and started a more creative string of swears.
They were going to murder him.
Or worse, confine him to the Manor.
He put the card where it belonged and turned his phone back on.
They had called.
They had called a lot. He looked at the time and date of the first call. It was from Bruce and dated a day after the Joker's escape.
A small, needy part of him rejoiced at that. A larger part of him dreaded to think just how angry they’d be. Not contactable or track-able for any amount of time?
That was a solid number two on the Bat-list of “don’ts”.
He'd tried his best to not create more conflict and still only managed to make things worse.
He ran a hand through his hair and took two seconds to muster up the courage to call the Manor.
Before he could do just that, the very characteristic sound of the Batplane’s engines echoed above Paris' streets.
Which was really Bruce announcing his presence and telling him to get moving. The plane could be silent if they wanted it to.
Jason allowed himself a second to hope that the Bat had other business to attend to in Paris, before sighing and gingerly going to find the helmet and put it on again.
Time to face the music.
He climbed up to the roof to wait and felt like an idiot for a moment. Should he make a bat signal of some sort? Maybe grow facial hair and put on a trench coat?
Before he could ponder much more about how he'd look like in thirty years, one of the larger planes the Bat used landed on the flat roof of the building.
Well, Bruce called them planes. The rest of the family argued that it was more of a modified spaceship than anything else.
A tall, dark-clad figure got out.
Jason waved awkwardly.
“Erm, hi? In my defence, it's really not what you think it is. ”
Batman started advancing menacingly on him.
“It was really less of a 'trying to be an asshole' thing, and more of a 'not thinking clearly' thing.”
The other man was not stopping. Jason took a step backwards and raised his hands, his tone becoming biting.
“ Of course, if you'd taken care of the Joker from the start, we wouldn’t be in this situation. But I guess–”
Bruce gripped his leather jacket and pulled, crushing him in a hug.
What was happening.
Where was the yelling?
Others silhouettes were leaving the plane. Red Robin, Robin and Dick in Superman pyjamas and his Nightwing mask.
Bruce still wasn’t letting go.
Jason tentatively raised his arms to return the hug.
“Congratulations, Hood. You’re now officially a thoughtless asinine cretin of cosmic proportions. ”
“Good to see you too, squirt. Most of the words you just used are redundant.”
When would Bruce let go? Jason discreetly tried to free himself, only for the arms around him to tighten. Okay. This was his fate now. Death by suffocation. His second life had been good while it lasted.
(He was only relaxing in the hug because he was tired. That was all it was. Tiredness.)
Robin scowled and crossed his arms, a haughty look on his face. Before he could retort with another sassy remark, Red Robin threw in his two-cents.
“Using redundant terms can be necessary when you're arguing with an idiot. ”
Were the Robins actually agreeing on something? Would wonders never cease?
Dick was being suspiciously silent. Jason side-eyed him distrustfully.
“What about you? Not going to join in the ‘Let’s burn Ja–’ ”
“Names.” Batman grunted in Jason’s hair.
Overcontrolling asshole. He'd tell him so as soon as the other man let go of him.
Self-preservation instinct. It was in the interest of his ribs. He didn’t feel bad about what happened in any way and he absolutely wasn’t enjoying the hug.
“I’m just waiting for my turn. ” Dick grinned.
“What are you talking about?”
“You’re right. Waiting is stupid. ”
He joined the hug.
“Oh, Hell no. ”
“Shut up. You deserve it. ”
Batplane; Later on:
Jason shuffled in his seat. There was something digging in his back, making it impossible to get comfortable. He took his jacket off to investigate.
“Did you slap a tracker on me?” He indignantly spluttered.
Bruce hummed. From his seat behind the Batplane’s controls, Dick frowned at him.
“After that stunt, you're lucky it's not a sub-cutaneous one.”
“It wasn’t on purpose! And that’s a gross invasion of my privacy.”
“Oh no. An invasion of your privacy. How out of character for B.”
“Watch it, sassy. I can still whoop your ass in training. ”
Damian raised a dubitative eyebrow.
“You could certainly try.”
This was betrayal of the highest order. Jason opened his mouth to retort but Bruce silenced them all with a glare.