Jason sits atop one of Gotham’s tallest skyscrapers, taking in a deep breath and savoring the smells he hasn’t breathed in so long. With just that one inhale everything comes back to him. All the nights he spent alone in the city’s alleys, trying to survive. All the nights he spent chasing criminals with a shadow watching over him.
Even though it has been several years since those nights, he can still remember them so clearly it almost hurts. His thirst for approval and acceptance when in the end it had been futile anyway. He’d met his early end despite it all.
But even then, he wasn’t allowed to rest.
The first few years after his death are still hazy and tinged in green and rage and hate. If it hadn’t been for Talia and Granny Ducra and their training, he is sure he wouldn’t be half as in control as he is now. He would have given into his urges and his instincts and acted recklessly. Probably running into an early second grave while he was at it.
But he hadn’t and he won’t, even if this city is evoking too many of these old emotions.
He shakes his head, trying to rid himself of these thoughts. He knows better than to get hung up in them. Every time he does, it ends with him either wasting a day calming his nerves and meditating, fighting off panic attacks or nightmares or with him letting off some steam by chasing down the worst of the worst and showing them what real fear is.
He releases the breath and with it some of his tension. He turns to the still figure next to him. One of his best friends resides there in stony silence, giving him a sense of normalcy and grounding him.
“Good to know you still got my back,” Jason says, patting the gargoyles head with his gloved hand. He is happy to see that despite everything that has changed in all these years, his best friend is still watching over the city in his stead, just waiting for him to return and tell him some more stories of him and the Dark Knight.
Only there aren’t any stories left to tell about him and the Knight. Those times are over. Now he has stories of an ancient order that gave him meaning and support, an old lady that showed him the right path and a young woman he almost dares to call mother.
He returns his gaze towards the bright scenery below. Cars speeding down the streets, passersby weaving through the masses that still dare to walk the streets at this hour and thugs looming in the darkened alleys, waiting for their prey. He ignores all of it, disregarding it as white noise in the back of his mind and scans the roofs for the reason he returned to this city. For the reason he broke his promise to himself and everyone that helped him to get where he is now.
Not that anyone would care.
His family is dead. Ducra is gone and with her all sense of normalcy Jason has managed to regain for himself after years of uncertainty. If you can call hunting the supernatural normal.
They died when he wasn’t there to help them. They died because of an evil he was supposed to defeat. He knows it’s wrong to blame himself, but he can’t help but think that maybe he could have saved some of them if he’d been there when the attack happened.
When he’d returned to the Acres of All and the sight of his family, massacred and killed in cold blood, had greeted him, he’d remembered what it’d felt like to find out that his supposed Dad had replaced him. He’d taken all that rage and hurt and anger and directed it towards the ones responsible for ripping away his family. But it hadn’t taken long for him to track down the Untitled and kill every single one of them and when he’d finally struck down the last of them, there was still so much left. There’s still so much anger and hurt left. But worst of all is that emptiness he feels until this day.
Filling his days with hunting the evil and supernatural has helped, but there is still so much left.
And after almost one year of constant hunting, he suddenly hears about him.
The Red Hood.
He can still recall the day he first thought about making Bruce kill the clown and showing him what happens when he drags children into this crusade of his. But he’d let go of that plan a long time ago. He’d discarded the idea of the Red Hood showing the Batman what real justice is.
Now imagine Jason’s surprise when he suddenly hears of a Red Hood doing exactly what he’d planned. Except there is no justice in what he’s doing. He kills ruthlessly, leaving rivers of blood, sorrow and chaos in his wake. And as if that isn’t enough, it seems the bats can’t handle the situation as well as they should because the Hood is still running amok in Gotham’s streets.
Deep down Jason knows there is a distinct possibility someone else had the same idea to wear a red helmet and fight crime, but he also knows the chances for that really being true are so slim he wouldn’t be able to see them with a microscope.
So, he returned to the place he never wanted to return to, to take care of whatever this was.
He watches the roofs carefully, waiting for any sign of the Red Hood.
A scream filters through the noise below and gains his attention. It’s a sound he’s familiar with but will never get used to. It chills his bones and ignites his muscles in a way nothing else ever will. The thrill travels through his limbs and he rises from his perched position. He quickly scans the immediate area to make sure there are no bats to potentially run into and when he’s sure he’s alone in the sky, he jumps.
Wind speeds past his ears and throws his hood back, revealing raven locks and white bangs. He watches the buildings zoom by and revels in the feeling of free fall for a few more seconds. Then he quickly shoots his grapple towards the next building and rises back up into the air. The motion repeats until he lands on a lower rooftop, looking down at an all too familiar scene.
A man, holding a gun and pointing it at a young woman. Behind the woman is a little boy, trembling like a leaf and clutching tightly at the woman’s coat. The man shouts something at them, waving the pistol around. The woman screams in response, the boy cries, but Jason tunes it all out.
He pulls his hood back up, drops down from the roof, landing behind the thug and erupts into a blur of motions.
Before any of the three people in the alley know what happens, the thug lies on the ground, disarmed and unconscious, a gunshot echoing in the alleyway. Jason stands over the motionless man, holding the gun in a loose grasp. He watches the blood escape from the thug’s split lip and yearns for more. He can’t help that it’s never enough for him. No matter how many criminals or creatures he puts in their place, it’s never enough.
He knows it’s not sane to feel that way, that it’s wrong, but after all this time he’s stopped caring and instead embraces his thirst for justice and revenge. He’s never known anything else after all and the short times he did, it was ripped away from him by the cold clutches of death herself that he can’t seem to escape from.
He looks up at the woman that seems frozen in place, her eyes wide. For a short moment he wonders why she’s so surprised, this is Gotham after all. But then he remembers he’s not wearing a bright uniform with an ‘R’ on his chest and there is no Batman looming in the shadows behind him. No, instead he is wearing the All-Caste’s uniform with his modified faceguard, his hood pulled deep down to obscure his features. At the moment he probably looks more terrifying than the thug that threatened her just seconds ago.
“You should leave,” he says, locking his eyes to hers, even though she can’t see them.
Before he even finishes his sentence, she turns, grabbing the boy with a firm grip and high tails out of the alley. A soft groan returns Jason’s attention to the thug on the concrete. For a short moment he ponders what to do with the man, but in the end, it isn’t really a question. He props the man up against the wall and scales back up the building.
He’s not equipped to lock up thugs and rescue citizens. The gear he took with him tonight is solely aimed for apprehending an imposter at any means possible, nothing more and nothing less. Everything else is just a means to kill some time while he waits for his target.
In the end, he doesn’t have to wait that long after all. He barely reaches the top of the building he jumped off earlier, when there’s a thud on the other side of the roof. Looking up, the first thing he sees is the bright red helmet, white lifeless eyes fixating on him. Jason registers the gun pointed at him only as an afterthought while he studies the man before him. Or would creature be more accurate? Considering the thrumming of his soul, alerting him to an evil presence he thinks the latter term is more suitable.
“Who the fuck are you supposed to be?” the other drawls, his voice distorted with the help of a voice modulator.
Before his arrival in the city Jason hadn’t been sure what would await him. Dimension travel? Cloning? Time travel? Every one of these options would have been a pain in the ass to deal with, but this? He can feel the All-Blades calling for blood and death and he knows this will be over before it started. He would be far away from this city before sunrise and there would be nothing left holding him here. He could finally leave his past where it belonged, once and for all.
“Your downfall,” he says just loud enough for the other to hear and charges. A bullet misses him only barely, grazing his shoulder just enough to rip through the fabric of his uniform, but not enough to draw blood.
Jason knows his best chance to winning this fight is to reduce the distance between them and turn this fight into a close combat one, rendering the other’s weapons useless. Answering to the thrumming of his soul, he lets his energy flow through his arms, gathering in his hands and materializing in the form of his trusted blades.
The Red Hood catches onto his plan quickly and before he even tries to fire more shots with his guns, he holsters them and draws a kris from his boot. Metal clashes with metal, sparks erupting from Jason’s blades. The Hood is strong, he has to give him that. He’s big and bulky, more even than Jason himself, but where he strides in muscles, Jason does in speed and experience.
The Hood may fight thugs, bats and rogues on a nightly basis, but Jason fights creatures five times his size and speed on top of that. He knows how to use his disadvantages in his favor.
They pull back and the fight begins. Blades speed through the air, reflecting the cities lights in a dance of bright colors. Blows and cuts are exchanged, never reaching their desired target. Jason evades another of Hood’s attacks, somersaulting over the other’s arm. He turns in the air, twisting his arm back to deliver another cut with his blade. The Hood dodges the attack to avoid a crippling injury to his hip, but not quickly enough. The sharp edge cuts through the thick fabric and Kevlar like it’s made of silk and penetrates the skin below.
Before Jason can watch the blood well up in satisfaction, the Hood turns and swings his blade at his face. Jason jumps backwards, feeling the sting of the blade cutting through his skin. He feels the warmth of blood running down his cheek and lets out a quiet tt. He swipes the blood away with his sleeve and watches the Hood inspect his hip in gratification. He may have suffered a cut of his own, but at the same time he’d also found the final proof that the Red Hood was not human. Not only did the All-Blades react to his presence, but they were also capable of inflicting an injury to the man. As powerful as the blades seem, they are useless against beings with no malicious intents.
“What are you?” Jason mutters under his breath. He expects no answer, but suddenly the silence on the roof is cut by an unnerving laugh.
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Hood cocks his head to the side and stares Jason down. He’s sure the other hide’s a grin under that stupid helmet of his. “To be honest I’m quite surprised you actually managed to hit me. But don’t worry,” he mocks, returning into a fighting stance, “I won’t give you another chance like that.”
And with that, the Red Hood is on him again, his kris coming dangerously close to Jason’s throat. He evades, but only barely and feels the blade slicing his skin. He doesn’t feel any blood, so the blade only cut through the first few layers of his skin, but it’s still close enough to make Jason uneasy. He returns the attack with the same vigor but misses the Hood by a long shot. The fight picks up in speed and Jason slowly but surely loses the upper hand he had until now.
He hates to admit it, but he underestimated the Hood. He’s faster than he lets on and his hits are calculated, aiming to slow Jason down. With every cut Jason gains, he can feel his irritation and anger growing. This was supposed to be a quick job. Get in, kill, get out. But right now, he isn’t even sure if he will win this. The only thing he can hope for is that his blood spilling onto the rooftop will strengthen his blades enough to turn the tables again.
Pushing his thoughts back, he concentrates on winning this fight, instead of speculating over the possible outcomes. Jason blocks the next few swipes and punches aimed at his face. In the process he grabs one of Hood’s arms, holding it tightly and disarming him. But before the kris has even touched the concrete, Hood punches Jason in the gut several times, definitely bruising some of his rips.
Jason releases the other and delivers a roundhouse kick in hopes of disorienting him for a few seconds. His foot is caught in the air instead, held in a firm grip and he knows he won’t get out of that hold without breaking his leg. Instead he jumps into the air with his other foot and uses his momentum to bring himself and the Hood down to the ground, both of them crashing down hard onto the concrete roof. He quickly rolls on top of the other and lifts both of his blades to deliver the final blow.
Before he can bring his blades down completely, Hood delivers a blow to his left armpit. He grunts and curses when his hand releases one of the blades. The other one, however, comes down and almost pins the other to the concrete, but inches before meeting fabric the blade stops.
Jason watches with wide eyes as the Hood holds the blade between both hands. He shouldn’t be able to touch them like this. The All-Blades should react to his touch even through his clothes. The confusion only holds for a few seconds, when the anticipated steam finally starts to rise from where Red Hood’s hands touch the blade.
A scream tears itself from the Red Hood and with a final push of strength, he redirects the blade, so it pierces through his shoulder instead of his heart.
Jason wrenches the blade out and aims a second time, intent on using Hoods dazed state to end this, when suddenly there is a hand gripping his hood and hauling him backwards.
He lands on his back, arching upwards to alleviate some of the pain. Then he quickly stands, putting his hood back on and turning towards the new threat.
His breath catches in his throat for a second when he looks into the cold, white eyes of Batman, but he quickly regains control over his priorities. He looks past the bat onto the concrete and curses.
The Hood is gone. Of course.
Because why should anything ever be simple in Gotham. Not only has he failed to complete his mission, no, he also managed to alert the bat of his presence.