It was four in the morning when her phone rang and for a moment Barbara Gordon felt the urge to strangle whosoever was on the other end of the line with her own bare hands. A second later, the feeling faded into feeble annoyance. Bats don’t kill. Once a Bat, always a Bat. Bats don’t kill. With a heavy sigh, Barbara reached for her phone and accepted the call.
“Barbara Gordon here. Unless this is an emergency, please call back after 10am.”
There was an uncomfortable pause. Then, a hesitant voice came through the speaker. Young. Female. Insecure. A rookie. Great. “Um… this is Gotham Mercy Hospital—“
“Oh God, which one this time?” Her mind had snapped back into full alert at the end of ‘Mercy’, sharp as a cracking whip. Barbara had had so many calls like that in her young life. Too goddamn many…
“Excuse me, ma’am?”
“I know several people who work really dangerous jobs,” Barbara explained as patiently as she could, while slipping on her glasses and pinching the bridge of her nose. “Which one got himself shot this time?”
“I’m calling about Mr. Peters,” the woman said, still sounding like she kind of regretted ever having dialed Barbara’s number. Babs had a feeling that the next thing she was about to say was not going to make it any better.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t know any Mr. Peters.” She didn’t. Barb was very definitely sure of that. She had a photographic memory after all. She remembered every name she had ever added to any of her address books and there had never been a Mr. Peters. She indulged the thought of one of the others having checked in under a false ID for a minute, but she knew most of those as well. No Mr. Peters. Nope.
“His first name is Todd,” the woman from Gotham Mercy all but asked, even if it was phrased like a statement. “Todd Peters. Please, ma’am…” Suddenly, the girl sounded almost scared. “Yours is the only named number he’s got in his phone. All the other numbers are companies and emergency services—” She took a breath deep enough for Barbara to hear it clearly despite the howling storm outside of her apartment. “Please, Ms. Gordon, I have already had five John Does in the last thirty minutes. Please tell me you know this man.”
She did. She also didn’t. Barbara held the phone as far from her face as she could for the beleaguered sigh that forced its way through her mouth. She had known a Jason Peter Todd once. A bright, but troubled young boy, who had strived to do good and died in the process. She had never met the man Jason Peter Todd, but by all accounts, he was a far cry from the boy she had known. He had turned criminal, a drug lord. He had killed. He had almost killed Damian. He had almost killed Tim. Twice. He had made Dick’s life hell, also twice, although she wasn’t fully clued in on all the details. He had tried to twist Batman into something he had never been and never should be, and when that didn’t work and Bruce had vanished, he had tried to do the job himself. He had left a trail of devastation across Gotham more than once.
“I knew him long ago,” was what Barbara finally settled on. It was the only thing that didn’t sound like a lie. That didn’t mean she wasn’t going to regret it later. “We haven’t spoken in years. How bad is it?”
“Unfortunately, I am not allowed to divulge any patient information via phone, ma’am,” Barb could all but hear her bite her lip, “but I can tell you that, if you have any knowledge of Mr. Peters’ medical history, our doctors would very much appreciate your input.”
Barbara frowned and swallowed another sigh that was threatening to crawl up her throat. This was getting weirder by the minute. Jason had always hated hospitals, even when he liked the attending doctors. He always used to say that the only good thing about a trip to Leslie’s was Leslie herself. Chances were good that this trip to the ER had not been his choice, yet the fact that he had any ID on himself suggested that he hadn’t been out and about as Red Hood, or Nightwing 2.0 or Murderous Batman.
But if that was the case, what was stopping him from putting any relevant information in a place that was easily accessible, such as his wallet? She remembered Alfred talking about how Jason had donated blood almost religiously, on the dot, every eight weeks, and how he had carried the blood donor pass with his blood type stamped on the front in his wallet every single day. She remembered he had had an organ donor card. She remembered he had carried a medical disclaimer informing doctors of his allergies towards thimerosal and benzocaine. So why ask about his medical history now? If he was not out and about as Red Hood, then what was Jason hiding?
“I’ll be there in about an hour.”
Barbara hung up without waiting for the answer. There was a part of her mind that insisted she was going to regret this, but then again she had never shied away from a mystery or a challenge. Right now, Jason was both.
She got to the hospital four minutes sooner than predicted and more fatigued than she liked. Who could blame her? She had only just called her night job quits at three, and one hour of sleep was really not enough. She ditched the now empty extra-strong cup of espresso she had bought on the way in the garbage bin next to the entrance to the hospital reception and made her way inside.
The girl working the front desk was the same one who had called her. Barbara recognized her voice and if she wasn’t completely mistaken, ‘Diane’, as her name tag read, recognized her as well. There was an unmistakable wince of ‘oh my gosh, I’m so sorry I had you drag yourself out here in your wheelchair at five in the morning’ when Barbara told her who she was and whom she was here to see. Barbara suppressed the urge to roll her eyes at what she had long-since come to call ‘benign ableism’.
The room number she was given was on the fourth floor, the intensive care unit. Barbara was not surprised. If Jason had been conscious and able-bodied enough to be moved to the general ward, he would already have left. The waiting room at the entrance of the ward would have been empty at this hour in any other city. Hell, most other cities had specified visiting hours for intensive care units, but Gotham…
In Gotham, death never slept.
The nurse who was responsible for “Todd Peters” and his right-hand neighbor arrived quickly, warned her that she had all of twenty minutes for her visit, and then led her straight to the room. It was a dance Barbara had done many times before. The sight of someone she knew tucked into a hospital bed and hooked up to a dozen different tubes had become familiar long ago.
And yet she felt like someone had punched her in the gut when she finally saw him.
Jason had rarely looked… vulnerable. Even as a child, he had usually had an aura of wariness about him that made him look older and less approachable than he really was. Some of it was a conscious choice, a defense mechanism honed through years of childhood trauma. Some of it was an unconscious result of said trauma, a general distrust of the world around him that Barbara wasn’t sure Jason himself had been aware of.
Now, with a tube shoved down his mouth to keep him breathing and various other tubes connected to his body to pump him full of pain blockers, sedatives, and God only knew what else, with his pulse, heartbeat and body temperature monitored around the clock, Jason looked utterly defenseless, and as much as she tried to tell herself that this was no longer Jason Todd, the thirteen-year-old from Crime Alley who had tried to steal Batman’s tires, but Jason Todd, the man more widely known as Red Hood, who had committed enough crimes to accumulate dozens of life sentences... as much as she tried to remember that, all she could see was a broken boy.
And what wonder, Barbara realized with a pang of guilt. Even assuming that Jason had come back to life the same year he had died, he was only twenty years old. He was not even old enough to drink.
The chart with all his information was pinned to the foot of the bed and Barbara skimmed it quickly, while the nurse watched her, Jason, and the other patient like a mother hawk. Seven gun shot wounds, from a Glock. Three to his chest, one of which had made it into his left lung, three to the shoulder, one to his neck just below the only pre-existing injury that Barbara did not recognize. Todd Peters was lucky to be alive. There was the name of a police officer marked at the bottom of the page who had requested contact should the patient live to wake up and talk. Barbara made sure to remember his full name and number before turning the page.
The list of pre-existing conditions was almost empty. No information on allergies. No information on medical history. The only part that didn’t have question marks was the list of pre-existing trauma. Barbara winced as she looked at the long list of bones that showed previous damage. She had seen that list before. In Jason’s autopsy report. The memory still stung. Barbara swallowed hard and turned the page once more to look at the results of his vitals and blood work.
Barb was no expert, but even she could tell that something was seriously wrong here.
Jason’s body temperature was a solid two degrees Celsius beneath normal, yet he showed no other signs of hypothermia. His blood work looked normal, except for the presence of an unclassified element that fell in just behind iron in terms of grams per cubic centimeter. Great. So now she’d have to hack Gotham Mercy’s blood analysis database as well.
“So... that’s a whole bunch of numbers...” Barbara said sheepishly as she put the chart back into place and turned to the nurse. Playing dumb often came in handy. “How bad is it, really?”
“Honestly...” The nurse, Fiona Wilson, raised her eyebrows. “He is much more stable than he should be. If he keeps on recovering at the rate he has since the surgery, he’ll be in the general ward before the end of the week.”
Now that was surprising. Especially since it was already Friday. Barbara put on her brightest smile and clasped Jason’s hand carefully.
“That’s great news. You hear that, Todd? You’ll be better soon.” Jason didn’t answer of course. This time, Barbara actually had to fake the sigh. She turned back to the nurse and shook her head. “I guess I’d better go now. He needs all the rest he can get. I’ll come back tomorrow.”
The nurse nodded slowly, checked her watch, and took out her pen to start noting down more numbers on the charts. Probably Jason’s vitals. Barbara was almost out the door when she turned around once more.
“Oh, and by the way: he’s allergic to thimerosal and benzocaine.”
Gotham Mercy’s patient database was a joke. A sad, mildly alarming joke. Barbara wasn’t entirely sure which was worse: that she had been able to hack pretty much every patient record within two minutes with very little effort or that the system seemed to have zero tools implemented to detect unauthorized access. It was like taking candy from a baby.
A baby that held the confidential medical data of thousands of Gothamites in its tiny hands. Lovely.
The analysis that had been done on ‘Unknown Chemical Agent 041’, because yes, Gotham was the kind of place where you would find unknown chemicals in a person’s blood after an ordinary shooting with enough frequency to keep a consistent numbering scheme, was as thorough as it could be within what little time had passed. It was neither radioactive nor toxic, as far as the hospital could tell, but fuck them if they knew what it was made of. According to the notes at the bottom of the preliminary lab report, a sample had been sent to federal agencies for further investigation.
“Great, now I’ve got to send Cass to break into a federal security facility. Again.”
Really, the only thing Babs could give Jason credit for was that he had probably not meant to get shot. And that he might not even know what was in his blood. To Barbara, the values from the tox report looked vaguely familiar, but she couldn’t quite put a finger on it. She fed the data into the batcomputer to let it check against all known records, then dug into her second data query.
GCPD’s systems were much more secure than the hospital’s, though that could mostly be attributed to Barbara having worked on them before. Of course, that also meant that she knew exactly how to get in and out of the system quickly without leaving a trace. Finding the records of the police officer who had requested to be contacted was easy.
It had happened during a shoot-out at a grocery store. Barbara read the first couple of lines of the report twice to make sure she got that right, but even so, her eyebrows threatened to climb off of her forehead. The idea of Jason Todd, Red Hood, Murderous Batman™, having a shoot-out in a grocery store was just surreal. Especially since the other shooters hadn’t even been drug lords or their enforcers, just your average, run-of-the-mills neighborhood crooks who wanted payback and some cheap change. They hadn’t even been ambitious or subtle about it.
It was not until she had almost reached the end of the report that Barbara realized what was really making the hairs on her neck stand up.
All of the shooters had been run-of-the-mill neighborhood crooks. And they had all been arrested.
Jason hadn’t been involved in the shooting as one of the perps. He had been collateral.
That was just wrong on so many levels.
Apparently they had come in, guns a-blazing, and had immediately hit four people, including Jason. That’s where the shots to his neck and shoulder had come from. Never one to be deterred by something as trivial as a hospital-worthy injury, Jason had charged, knocked out two of the four gunmen and had only ended up getting shot in the chest because one of the other shoppers had tried to take the opportunity to run. One of the shooters had panicked, aimed for her, and—Barbara stopped reading, adjusted her glasses, and made sure she read that correctly.
Jason had jumped in and taken the bullets that would have killed her.
“Huh. Guess he’s not completely lost it after all.”
He had claimed that his goal had been to protect, both when he had tried to play Batman in Gotham and when he had tried to play Nightwing in New York, but given how much death he had caused in the process, Barbara had considered that doubtful at best. And yet here he was. In hospital because he had taken three bullets meant for an innocent bystander.
Perhaps not all was lost.
The access hatch on the roof on Barbara’s ten o’ clock beeped quietly, before opening to let in a gust of fresh air and a black shadow that dropped to the ground, silent as ever. Barbara caught her reflection in one of the monitors and gave a quick smile.
“Hey Cass! Long night, huh?”
“Yes.” Cassandra pulled the cowl off of her head, discarded it on a nearby chair, and walked over slowly. “I thought you had gone to sleep already?”
“I had...” Barbara took a deep breath. “Then Gotham Mercy called. Jason got shot during a robbery. Collateral. He was not among the shooters.”
“Jason?” Cassandra raised an eyebrow and Barbara could all but see the gears turn in her head.
“Jason Todd? Former Robin? Back from the dead last year? Recently pretended to be Batman and nearly got Tim and Damian killed?”
“Oh.” Whatever gentleness there had been in Cass’s face vanished in an instant. “Him.”
Barbara didn’t know what else to say. The first time Cassandra had heard about him was on the anniversary of his death, on what would have been his eighteenth birthday, when Bruce had taken her to Jason’s grave. She had no previous emotional connection to him and could only trust everyone’s word that he had once been a good kid and a great person. To say that his recent actions did not sit right with Cass at all would have been an understatement.
“Every time I think I know him he does something crazy that makes me reconsider all over again,” Barbara finally admitted with a deep sigh. “Apparently I was the only actual person in his phone book, which is more than strange. I mean, we got along well when he was a kid, but we haven’t spoken since he came back, and he used to be much closer to Bruce, Alfred, and Dick than to me. I honestly don’t know what he was thinking.”
“Bruce is dead,” Cassandra said flatly, although Barbara could tell that she still couldn’t quite believe it. Bruce, who had always seemed like such a force of nature... “Jason attacked Dick in New York and here in Gotham, so why would he call him?”
“You’ve got a point...” Barbara grabbed one of her pens from a nearby drawer and started chewing on it. A silly old habit she had developed as a child and never quite managed to ditch. “I probably wouldn’t want to put someone who kicked my ass twice as my emergency contact either. Especially not if I was the one making their life miserable.”
Not to mention what had happened with Damian and Tim. But why would he assume that Barb would think any differently of him than Dick? Surely Jason knew that the boys were keeping her in the loop? He couldn’t have gone so far off the rails that he would think she’d be okay with him attacking everyone like that?
“I don’t know about Alfred,” Cassandra eventually continued. “He is always very kind to me. And Jason lived at the manor, too, right?”
“Right.” Barbara nodded. “He was the first one Bruce officially adopted. He lived at the manor for almost three years and as far as I remember, he and Alfred were very fond of one another.”
Which meant that whatever had happened between Bruce and Jason—whether during that time Jason tried to kill the Joker or by proxy of Bruce’s will—it must have been bad enough to sour Jason not only towards Bruce, but also towards Alfred.
“Your computer is trying to tell you something,” Cass said suddenly. She pointed at a flashing tab on one of the monitors and Barbara suppressed the frown she wanted to give. What Cass had in reading people, she lacked in reading machines.
“Those are Jason’s blood work results. I ran them through the batcomputer to identify an unknown... agent... oh my God...”
Barbara felt her eyes widen at the data on the screen. The batcomputer had found a match, but now she wished it hadn’t. The results were undeniable though. The unknown agent in his blood was not unknown to the Bats at all.
“It’s Lazarus.” Barbara pulled up the results in detail and double-checked to make sure that all chemical markers were in fact the same. Sadly, there was no denying it. “There is a mystical liquid called Lazarus fluid that has incredible restorative powers. Ra’s al Ghul and his family use it—“
“To extend their lives and even come back from the dead,” Cassandra finished for her, much to Barbara’s surprise. “I saw Nyssa al Ghul use a Lazarus Pit when I searched for my mother.”
“This is beyond ‘trouble’.” Barbara’s fingers raced across the keyboard, spawning a dozen database searches for activity of the al Ghul family that would have coincided with Jason’s return to Gotham or preceded it by a short amount of time. If Jason had ties to the al Ghuls... if Ra’s or Talia were involved in his destructive attacks on Gotham and/or New York, then everyone was in for much more trouble than they would have thought. “The Lazarus Pits are known to drive people insane.”
“I know. I saw.” Cassandra shuddered at the memory. Of course Barbara didn’t miss it. When she looked at Cassandra with the obvious question on her face, Cass merely shrugged. “I watched Nora Fries get put into the Pit. She came out... wrong. Crazy. She even tried to kill her own husband.”
“If Jason was really exposed to a Lazarus Pit, then that would explain how he came back from being... you know... dead, but it also means he must have been alive for a lot longer than any of us knew,” Barbara continued. “It would also explain why he seems to be strangely cooperative sometimes. Tim said he was actually pretty nice when he came to listen to Bruce’s will. And you don’t jump in front of a loaded gun to save somebody else unless there’s some good left in you, but...”
“But?” Cassandra leaned against the desk, careful not to touch any of the keys on the dash board. Barbara had to wonder whether it was truly necessary for Cass to get a better look at her face. If she wasn’t mistaken, her tone of voice already said everything that needed saying.
“But if the Lazarus Pit is really a factor in Jason’s behavior since his return, then what’s the point? No-one has ever figured out how to undo the psychological effects of the Lazarus Pit. We don’t know how to cure pit madness. How the hell are we—how is anyone supposed to be able to help him? I mean, I know Bruce always insisted that anyone can be rehabilitated, but if it’s the Lazarus Pit that’s messed up his brain...”
“You want to give up on him,” Cassandra concluded and there was something so sharp and bitter in the way she said it that it made Barbara cringe. “You think there is no hope that he is ever going to stop killing people and that that’s why it is okay to give up on him.”
Barbara sighed. She should have known better. Give Cassandra a good look at someone’s face and yes, she would be able to extrapolate an entire train of thought from just a few words. She hated herself for the answer that came over her lips. “Yes.”
Cass’s reaction was almost instantaneous. It was as if someone had forced her to swallow a glass of spoiled orange juice, as if Barbara’s words had disgusted her to the point where it made her sick to her stomach. “Then you should give up on me too.”
“Your recent... missteps,” Barbara argued, trying to find the right word for the entire episode of what-the-fuck that had been going on with Cass and Deathstroke recently, “were a result of Deathstroke’s brain washing. You don’t get infected with pit madness just by being near one of the things.”
“I wasn’t just ‘near’ it,” Cassandra lobbed back and the words hit like a truck. Barbara recoiled in her seat.
“I died.” Cassandra closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “I looked for my mother. I found her working for Nyssa. One of my father’s... failed experiments attacked me and killed me. Mother revived me.”
Barbara opened her mouth. Closed it again. Rinse, repeat. She wanted to say something, but all the words seemed to be stuck in her throat. What?!! When? Where? How? Why was this the first she heard of this? Did anybody else know? Why had Cass never told anyone? Why?
“Sometimes I still feel the rage,” Cassandra said. “I still feel the Pit... calling. If I feel sad, I do not just feel sad. I feel... devastated. If I feel angry, I do not just feel angry. I feel furious, enraged. Like I could kill somebody. It is not easy.”
“Except you are not going out pretending to be Batman, trying to kill half of us.”
“No.” Cassandra closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “But I also did not come back to Gotham to find that everyone had moved on just fine without me.”
Whatever Barbara was planning to say to her was lost as Cassandra retrieved her mask, slipped it on quickly, and retreated through the access hatch. Barbara remained where she was, all but petrified, staring at the sliding mechanism as if she was expecting Cass to come back any second.
Except Barbara knew she wouldn’t. She couldn’t read people like Cassandra could, but she knew enough to know that she had hit a very, very vulnerable nerve.
She also knew that she knew nothing.
Apparently, Cass had found her mother, died, come back to life via the Lazarus Pit and then somehow run into Deathstroke all without anyone knowing what had happened to her in a little more than a year. Which begged the question: what in name of all that was good and holy had happened to Jason? How much did they not know? How much had Bruce found out, but never bothered to tell anyone? How much had Dick found out for that matter? She had heard the short versions of what had happened during Red Hood’s escapades in Gotham and New York, but what hadn’t they told her?
Barbara took off her glasses, pinched the bridge of her nose, rubbed her temples, and put the glasses back on. Then, she got herself a fresh pot of coffee from the kitchen and returned to her computer.
This was going to be a long, awful day.
It was almost midnight when Barbara arrived at the hospital once more. True to her code name, the day had been long and awful.
First, she had left three messages on Cass’s voicemail, because really there was no way to accurately package a sincere apology along the lines of ‘sorry I implied that you were not worth saving because someone killed you and then resurrected you using magical crazy juice’ into just one minute. Although Barbara was sure that Cassandra had listened to the messages before going to bed, the reply had not come before sunset, and not without plenty of hooks attached.
‘If you are really sorry, help him like you all helped me.’ That part of Cass’ message had been easy to decipher at least. ‘I will help you, but I will need your help to keep my promise now.’ That one was harder. What promise? To whom? How? Why? Barbara had so many questions and very little of an idea of when and how to ask them.
Secondly, she had contacted Alfred, about Red Hood’s initial return to Gotham. She had even agreed to swing by the manor so they could talk in private. After all, she’d have to talk to Dick later anyways. Alfred had been the pinnacle of cooperative—and just as shocked at the revelation of the Lazarus particles in Jason’s blood as Barbara—but in the end, she hadn’t managed to glean much more information from him than from Batman’s case file. Bruce had been... particularly tight-lipped about this incident and sadly Barbara knew him long enough to know that it meant he had probably done something Alfred, and any sane and loving person, really, would deeply disagree with.
No, Jason had not come back to Gotham in a good way, but Bruce had failed spectacularly in resolving the situation. Whatever he had done had apparently made Jason’s state of mind worse.
Her third task had been Bruce’s will, and it had only underscored her suspicion that Bruce had screwed up talking to Jason spectacularly. She remembered sitting there, in the cave, mouth wide open in utter shock at what she had been hearing. How someone like Bruce Wayne, who had spent hundreds of hours studying psychology, could be so tone-deaf towards his own child, had boggled her mind and made her once again regret that they hadn’t been able to retrieve Bruce’s body. By the end of the holo message, she had been ready to dump him into a Lazarus Pit, just so that she could bring him back and punch him black and blue for what he had said. This was not the same Bruce who had loved his son more than anything in the world and if this was whom Jason had come back to upon his return to Gotham...
She could not condone Jason’s actions, but she was starting to understand how he had gotten there. She was starting to see the pattern.
Fourth and last on her agenda had been talking to Dick, and, boy, had that not gone the way she had expected. Following the conversation with Alfred, she had agreed to keep the knowledge of Jason’s current condition between him, her, and Cass, and while Barbara had become very good at lying long ago, Dick was also a master detective. Trying to extract information from him about what had happened in New York and in the Gotham subway had been like pulling teeth, only she wasn’t sure which one between the two of them was the dentist. Maybe it had been Damian, who had sat nearby, grumbling about what a waste of time it was to discuss ‘Todd’ and how they should just put him out of his misery next time they saw him.
It had been so, so very tempting to say ‘maybe he wouldn’t be quite as much of a terror if your family had not fucked him up by dumping him into a Lazarus Pit’. In the end, Barbara had held her peace. She had kept her secrets. So had Dick. The only new detail she had found out was that he had shown Jason Bruce’s will again.
That was the moment Barbara had set down her tea, grabbed her coat, and asked Alfred to take her back to the clock tower. No matter how much Dick wanted to help her help Jason—and she truly did believe him when he said that he wanted to help Jason—he had just disqualified himself from having even the slightest hint of involvement in what she had planned.
And so, Barbara had found herself nailing down the details of her recovery plan with no-one but Alfred for companionship in the middle of the afternoon, tired and disappointed, but restless in the knowledge that time was of the essence here. If Jason had Lazarus particles in his blood, they needed to take care of the logistics, fast.
Six hours later, just after eleven in the night, the call had come from Gotham Mercy. Mr. Peters was awake and lucid enough to have a full conversation. It was a miracle. He was on his way to the general ward, where detectives would question him about the shooting. Then, he would be allowed to have visitors at any time. If he continued to improve as steadily as he had, he’d technically be healthy enough to leave within two days.
Of course, Gotham Mercy would not let him walk. They would keep him ‘for observation’, before informing him that something strange in his blood work required transfer to a ‘more specialized’ facility. That facility would be a high-security government lab, where they would do God knows what to him to test and isolate and replicate the Lazarus particle. Barbara knew all that from the communications she had intercepted between the lab that had been sent his blood work and some of the shadiest secret branches of the government she had seen in her time.
She also knew that if she were to let that happen, Jason would not hesitate to kill everyone between himself in the exit, which meant she couldn’t let it happen.
It was time for a preventive jailbreak.
This time, the receptionist at the hospital greeted her with a wide smile and Barbara forced herself to return it in kind. After all, her old acquaintance Todd Peters had miraculously recovered so quickly from practically fatal gunshot wounds! It was a miracle! Praise the Lord! She kept the chatter light and the tone whimsical until she got into the elevator.
She had paid for Jason to get a private room in the hospital and so it came as no surprise that they were all alone when she got there. She wasn’t sure what kind of sedatives they were pumping into him to keep him in his bed, but it wasn’t enough to keep him under deep enough to prevent him from recognizing his visitor. Barbara supposed she was owed a bit of schadenfreude at the way his eyes widened in shock when he saw her. After all, she had had one hell of a day. She deserved this.
“Welcome back to the land of the living, ‘Todd Peters’.”
“A little late for that, Babs,” Jason lobbed back at her. He glanced around at the machines he was hooked up to, then back to her. “What the hell are you doing here?”
Barbara laughed. “Apparently I’m your emergency contact. Or at least that’s what the nurses seemed to think, given that I’m the only actual person in your phone book.”
“Right...” She watched the instinctive snappiness in his face melt away into bitterness. “I guess by now you are.”
“By now?” She gave him a minute to respond, but instead, Jason merely stared out the window. It was the pointed kind of glare that signaled ‘we are done talking’. But Barbara was not. “You had Bruce in there before, didn’t you? And Alfred?”
“And Dick,” Jason added quickly. “Makes no difference now, though. I know what they think of what I have become. I know there’s no going back.”
“There’s always a way to go back,” Barbara argued. “But I don’t think you can do it alone. Not with the Lazarus Pit in your blood.”
That made him bristle, but his eyes remained focused on the brick wall of the building outside his window. He was waiting for her to leave. To give up. Barbara had seen that behavior many times. Mostly in kids from abusive households. It made her rage at Bruce’s will and whatever else he and Dick might have said to Jason boil up once more, but she forced herself to remain calm.
Then Batgirl suddenly appeared in the window, like a living shadow jumping out of the darkness, startling Jason into the only pitiful excuse of a jump he could muster in his bed. It made Barbara giggle like a child.
“Jesus fucking Christ!” Jason rolled his eyes. “I guess even Batgirl’s gotten darker and edgier since I pushed the daisies.”
“My name is Cassandra,” Cass said almost indignantly, before perching on the rails at the foot of his bed, ready to disappear at any second if needed. She turned to Barbara. “I destroyed all the blood samples. The data?”
“All deleted,” Barbara said proudly. “Now we just need to get him out of here.”
“Me? Where? What’s going on?”
The machines Jason was connected to started beeping just a little quicker. Barbara could not blame him. He had every reason to be nervous. She hesitated for a moment, then placed her hand on his left lightly. The way he almost recoiled broke her heart, but it was to be expected. Jason didn’t trust any of them anymore and they didn’t trust him. Someone had to take the first step.
“Long story short, they were going to transfer you to a government facility to investigate the Lazarus particles in your blood, but we’re getting you out of here right now. You are sick, Jason. You died, you came back to Joker being still alive and a new Robin in your place, you’ve got traces of Lazarus fluid in your blood, Bruce’s will fucking sucks, and I don’t even know what he or Dick did or said to you when you first met them, but it clearly didn’t help. I’m not saying that any of that excuses what you’ve done since you came back to Gotham, but you do—need—help.”
“And you’re the one who’s gonna give it, huh?” Jason laughed, but it wasn’t the joyous laugh one would expect. It was bitter, like every other word that had come out of his mouth so far. “You and creepy bat Cass here?”
“Yes, me and your sister.”
For once, Jason seemed truly stumped. The word held no malice, just utter surprise. Suddenly, it was as if he was looking at Cass in a completely different light, even though she hadn’t moved an inch. Barbara decided to take that as a good sign.
“Sister, yes. Bruce adopted her shortly before...” Barbara swallowed hard. “Shortly before he died. She’s died and been brought back by the pit too. And while her body count doesn’t compare to yours, she’s also done a lot of things recently that go against everything that symbol on her chest stands for. The difference is... we... the family was there for her, but we weren’t for you. It’s time to fix that.”
“Fantastic!” Jason rolled his eyes. “So what? Now you’re gonna take me back to the manor? Think a bunch of hugs and lectures can just fix me?”
“Not to the manor,” Cassandra corrected. “To my place. No-one knows where I live right now, except Barbara and Alfred.”
“Suffice to say I wouldn’t trust Dick to be anywhere near you right now and I wouldn’t trust you to be anywhere near Damian and Tim,” Barbara continued, “but I would trust Cass with my life and I certainly trust her with yours. And Alfred misses you, probably more so than anybody else in the family ever did.”
This time, Jason opened his mouth to speak, but clenched it shut again immediately. It was good to know that there were some lines that even he did not dare to cross. One of which apparently included trash-talking Alfred.
“What if I refuse?”
“Then Cass and I will leave right now.” Barbara shrugged. “You go back to doing whatever you were doing before you got shot and the next time trauma and the Pit get the better of you, you’ll be all alone with no-one to help you. I mean, you do have my number and I will pick up if you call, but let’s be honest: you wouldn’t call me, would you?”
“No.” If Jason was disappointed or angry at her bluntness, he didn’t show it. “I wouldn’t.”
“We’re offering to help you, Jason. All we want in return is no more killing. Aren’t you at least tempted to give it a try?”
Barbara was firmly expecting him to say ‘no’, just out of spite. Jason had always been suspicious of offers to help. Life had been rough on him even when he had just been a child, teaching him that there was a catch to everything, a trap behind every gesture of kindness, a knife in the left hand for every right hand extended in peace. Whatever progress they had all achieved in un-teaching him all that had probably gone up in smoke in Ethiopia. She knew it was a long shot.
“Okay...” The sigh that escaped him was somewhere between anxious and exasperated. “I’ll try.”
Or maybe those were just the sedatives talking. Either way, Barbara was not going to look the gift Robin in the mouth. She reached into the backpack hanging from her wheelchair and tossed the bag she had prepared into his lap.
“Fresh clothes, a cowl, and a grappling gun. Alfred will be waiting for you at Cass’s place and she’ll make sure you get there. I’ll go to the bathroom now and when I get back, I expect the two of you to be gone so I can pretend to be shocked and terrified and cry my eyes out to some poor nurse. Got it?”
Jason, apparently still one to love truly melodramatic displays, grinned. “Yes, ma’am.”