There is something so intrinsically intimate about writing letters to the deceased, especially to someone who wasn’t close to the heart but not far from it either. At times, it was Robin that Tim wrote his thoughts to, and at others, it was Jason who he never knew except from stories and remaining evidence.
At first, the letters were just another way to come to terms with the death of Robin, another way to have something to do while Bruce sat there, lost in thought and grief. Then it became a way for Tim to feel closer to the nearest thing he had to a friend. Everything Tim ever felt like telling his somewhat imaginary friend went down on paper: his parents' lack of attention, Bruce’s misery, why one of Gotham’s shutdown power plants should be converted into a skate park, all of it.
Tim wrote hundreds of letters to a dead boy and didn’t have the foresight of knowing they would make their way to their recipient. He’s been waiting ever since, waiting to see what would come of bearing parts of his brain and soul to someone he’s long admired.
His wait is over.
“Kid, it’s time we had that talk.”
Jason asks him to meet up, and there is only one answer Tim can give to that.
Tim suits up and prepares for battle. He’s not scared of things getting heated, so much as he is preparing himself for a quick escape from an awkward conversation. Everything will be fine, Tim tells himself. The very worst Jason can do is tell Tim to get lost.
The scratching sound of shovels against soft dirt is the only thing heard in the middle of the trash dump. Without any form of light, the entire place is covered in darkness, and night vision lenses is the only reason that any digging can go on without pause.
“We were having a heart-to-heart just an hour ago. Why are we burying a dead body?” Red X moans in despair.
“Stop talking,” Red Hood grunts, “and shovel faster.”
“There are easier ways to get rid of a body than this.”
“We want this bastard to be found. Just not immediately.”
The local gangs like to use this particular trash dump to bury bodies, which has the effect of GCPD sweeping through the place once a week. There are a few days before the next sweep which will hopefully buy them enough time to keep Batman from pinning the murder on them.
“You know, I’m already traumatized from killing one man already,” Red X says, voice full of blame.
“Now you can tell your therapist that you’ve done it again,” Red Hood shoots back. “How’s that going, by the way?”
“Slow-going because of the anonymous aspect, but the Child Soldiers Care Group is really good at what they do. You should give it a shot,” Red X says casually before waving his shovel in a specific direction. “Unlike this dead body.”
“You started it,” Red Hood tells him, sounding more approving than anything.
“Well yeah, but I didn’t mean to. Not that it’s really bothering me. He was so evil that it almost feels like a civic duty to send his body to the morgue,” Red X grunts while heaving a particular hard piece of soil.
Red Hood pauses in his shoveling to give him a meaningful stare. It takes a moment for it to sink in that Red X truly feels no regret for murdering someone. That he did what he had to, to save lives without remorse.
“Huh,” Red X leans on his shovel in revelation, “guess hanging out with you did more for my mental health than any remotely sane therapy.”
“You’re welcome,” Red Hood says smugly.
How an awkward but peaceful conversation turned into hiding a body begins like this:
The moment the sun sets, Tim is waiting for Jason on a rooftop a block away from a cheap, off-the-books taco stand that operates from sundown to sunup. He’s trying not to vibrate a hole into the concrete of the rooftop when the smell of grease and an ungodly amount of beans hits him.
“Here,” Jason suddenly appears and throws one of the two bags in his arms at Tim, “hope you don’t mind maybe chicken.”
“Maybe chicken?” Tim asks, catching the bag and wrinkling his nose at the amount of grease dripping from it.
“The dude claims it’s chicken, but it doesn’t quite taste like it,” Jason answers with a roll of his shoulder.
“And you are feeding me this?”
“You’re lucky I’m feeding you at all.”
Slapping on a domino mask and unzipping the leather jacket hiding his body armor, Jason slinks to the edge of the rooftop to sit with his legs dangling over it precariously. Tim removes his outer mask and joins him a moment later. The shuffling of paper bags is the only thing breaking the sudden tense atmosphere between them.
“I, shit,” Jason begins before looking down at the questionable taco in his hands. “I don’t know what to talk about.”
“How about your general feelings? Such as do you want to hit me. Let’s start with that,” Tim suggests, accidentally falling back into the usual pattern of dealing with clients.
“What? No! Why would I?” Jason gapes at him.
“You hated me when we were younger,” Tim points out, thinking of all the times Robin tried to take a literal stab at him.
“I didn’t hate you! Never had. Wanted to beat your smug unknown face in, yeah,” Jason snorts, lips curling the slightest bit, “but I sometimes threw Batman off your tail and let you get away.”
“You did what?” Tim’s thoughts come to a grinding halt.
“Don’t sound so surprised. You were doing good, kid.” Jason takes a bite of out his taco and proceeds to talk with his mouth full like a barbarian. “B tries, but he doesn’t get it. How far a stolen watch can go when you’ve got nothing.”
“I lived a rich life too. It’s not like I ever suffered going without,” Tim says, trying to remember his childhood without the assassin and murder part attached to it.
“You would have given it all up in a heartbeat if you thought it’d help. B can’t do that, won’t do that.”
Of course, Bruce wouldn’t. Being Batman practically requires the resources and freedom of a billionaire, and that’s not even getting into Bruce’s inability to let go of the past which includes the family manor and business.
“Wealth is power,” Tim says, “but unlike him, I can get it all back with some work.” A few sleepless nights in the arms of a gargoyle maybe, but all he needed was a big enough score to fence to be back on top.
“You also don’t put people into neat little black and white boxes. Don’t label them as either good or evil. People like that exist, sure, but it’s not always so clear cut,” Jason continues as if needing to convince Tim that he is somehow better than Bruce in a way.
“I think it’s a good thing he’s got rigid morals. If B ever lost it, he doesn’t even need to be in a cowl to take the world down,” Tim argues.
Thanks to his dimensional mishap, he’s already ran across an evil Batman. To work against an evil Bruce Wayne on top of that—the amount of assassins and doomsday weapons that man could buy with just a signature doesn’t bear thinking about.
The mood shifts as they both get lost in their thoughts.
The sounds of Gotham at night fill the silence as Jason contemplates the current conversation. Tim debates seeing if he can throw his now cold taco into the trashcan on the other side of the street below.
“Did he really kill the Joker?” Jason asks quietly.
“Who knows? He thinks he did in any case,” Tim tells him just as somberly.
“And that monster came back. Just like me.” Jason hangs his head, drowning in ideas that are both painful and obviously absurd. Tim smacks his shoulder with a huff.
“You’re no monster if that’s what you’re thinking. Not like him. Never like him,” he says. “When Joker pranked us with a corpse that looked like you, Nightwing tried to kill him for it. B stopped him, but that other dimension showed he probably wouldn’t have stayed dead even if B hadn’t.”
Finding out that the victim had been made to die just like Jason had been enough to make even Tim snap. While he hadn’t followed Dick’s example to beat Joker to death, he had gone behind Batman’s back to make sure his next stay in Arkham had been like hell on earth.
“Whatever brought you back must have decided to counteract whatever brought him back,” Tim says, believing it wholeheartedly. “You’re a force to be reckoned with, and you’re a good one.”
Jason stares down at the street below them. Maybe one day he’ll believe Tim’s words.
“I’m going to find a way to kill him for good. Somehow, someway,” Jason vows.
“I’ll throw B off your trail when you do,” Tim offers, and Jason smiles like he’s holding back a laugh.
They down their cold tacos as the beautiful sounds of glass breaking and a car alarm going off wash over them. A peaceful Gotham night is truly a wonder to behold.
“You gave out way too much information about yourself. I ended up burning some of the worst letters, but I can’t forget them anytime soon,” Jason eventually says.
“Sorry? I thought I removed all the too personal ones beforehand.”
“You removed—then what about the—you know what, I no longer care.”
“That’s the spirit. If it makes you feel better, I compiled such an extensive biography of you that it borders on creepy and invasive,” Tim tells him brightly. “We both had the same Gray Ghost action figure by the way. You have good taste.”
“It doesn’t make me feel better,” Jason scowls before jabbing a finger at him, “and stop looking at me like that. That stupid toy was something B forced on me!”
“Then explain why it’s so worn—” Tim’s words die as movement from an alleyway across the street catch his attention. Jason sees what he does and goes rigid.
Silently, they watch as what looks like a giant doll steps out of the shadows on stiff legs to approach a rundown car. It rips open the trunk and picks up a bulky body bag. The doll moves back into the shadows quicker than it appears capable of.
They share a look.
“Looks like we’ll have to revisit this later.” Jason balls up his greasy taco bag and throws it into the trash can across the street.
“I’m fine with ending it here if you are,” Tim says before doing the same.
“Most of the important stuff has been said,” Jason considers.
They put their outers masks on and rush to follow the trail before it goes cold. Evenly paced footsteps imprinted into the grime of Gotham’s streets lead them to the closest entrance of the sewers, where its manhole cover has been tossed aside.
“Should we call for backup?” Tim stares down into the darkness with trepidation.
“Killer Croc is locked up. Don’t be a wuss,” Jason says before jumping into the manhole without hesitation.
“You mean don’t do the smart thing,” Tim grumbles to himself before jumping down after him.
The sewers aren’t pleasant by any means, but the filter in their masks make it bearable. They look for high wet spots on the walls and continue following the trail. Red Hood keeps a pistol at the ready, and Red X holds a shuriken between his fingers.
“If you ever want it, I wouldn’t mind calling you Robin,” Red Hood says lowly, seemingly out of nowhere.
“Where is this coming from and why now?” Red X spares him a glance but sees nothing alarming in his stance.
“Just a thought. It’s better than Duckboy.”
Red X grimaces at the joke that popped up thanks to the Quackmobile and B’s sick sense of humor. If Tim ever chooses to be a hero, he is not going by the Japanese word for duck.
“It’s Ahiru—you know what? Never mind. Just know I have no desire to go on the straight and narrow,” Red X hisses before admitting, “but thanks. Those words mean a lot. A long time ago, I wanted to be part of Robin’s legacy more than anything.”
He remembers tracing the pictures of the first and second Robin and daydreaming of being the third. Of solving crime and being that special bright light in Gotham. If that wasn’t possible, he had conceded to himself, then he could be Robin’s own sidekick at the very least.
“I know. You wrote that down somewhere between ‘My parents neglect me’ and ‘My babysitter thought hunting criminals made for a fun fieldtrip when I was six,’” Red Hood snorts.
“I’m starting to see why you think it was too much information,” Red X says dryly.
“And you’re not allowed to be alone on your birthdays anymore,” Red Hood throws out.
As much as he wants to think it’s a desire to keep Tim from celebrating by himself, he knows better. It may have been a while ago, but he remembers what he wrote.
“Slade?” Red X guesses.
“Slade,” Red Hood confirms.
The wet spots suddenly vanish, and it takes a few seconds of backtracking to find the hidden doorway. Moving stealthily with Red Hood taking point, they follow the new tunnel into a sectioned off space that lacks any sign of sewage.
Lights accompanied by the sounds of generators means they creep forward cautiously. Discarded medical equipment give hints to a secret lab. The tunnel finally ends in a spacious room, and Red X is dismayed to see he was right; a man in a pig’s mask wearing either a surgeon or a butcher’s outfit waves a power drill over a gagged man strapped to a metal table.
“Oh, oh,” a deceptively calm voice straining with madness says, “such ugliness, such terrible choices you have made. But no worries, Professor Pyg is here to make you perfect. Don’t struggle, just lie back and let the pain transform you.”
The finger hits the trigger of the drill, and the victim lets out a terrified scream around the gag. Four unblinking people-sized dolls hover around like nurses on standby.
The drill lowers and there’s no time to strategize. Red Hood motions for him to go right while he takes left. Red X keeps a shuriken between his fingers and a hand close to his bō staff as he sneaks towards the victim strapped to the table.
“Here piggy, piggy,” Red Hood croons before vanishing behind a nearby crate.
The drill stops, and Professor Pyg whirls around. Red X takes the chance to move closer to the table. He just needs to get the man out of harm’s way, and then Red Hood can go ham on them.
“You know, the ugly one is the guy in the pig mask.” Red Hood dashes towards the doll creatures, staying just out of Pyg’s sight.
“Who’s there?” Professor Pyg shouts, head whipping around frantically.
“And you’re one to talk about terrible choices,” Red Hood says, standing in the open and allowing Pyg to finally catch sight of him. If Pyg recognizes the once king of Gotham’s underworld, he doesn’t let it stop him from pointing at him and shouting.
“Dollotrons, get the intruder! He must not live!” Obeying immediately, they go from staring at nothing to rushing forward with jagged movements and sharp instruments in their hands.
“Yeuck, poor bastards,” Red Hood says once he catches sight of the stitching on the so-called dolls. “Don’t worry I’ll put you out of your misery.” A bullet goes into each forehead, fast and accurate. All four go down without fuss or mess.
“My dolls!” Professor Pyg wails.
“Shut up, you disgusting monster,” Red Hood spits. “These aren’t dolls, they’re people. And people don’t win against guns.”
Nothing left to lose, Professor Pyg turns his attention back to his victim, drill in one hand and scissors in the other. Pyg snarls once he sees Red X cutting the straps off with a bright red shuriken. The scissors are thrown, and Red X ducks to avoid being skewered.
“I will not allow you to undo what I started!”
The power drill whirls to life and Pyg throws his arm back to gain momentum to slam it down into the gagged man’s face.
“No!” Moving quickly, Red X throws the shuriken at Pyg’s hand.
Red X is neither accustomed to the weight of his new shuriken or being so close to his target. His aim is off, and instead of knocking the drill from the villain’s hands like he intended, the X-shaped weapon bounces from the drill and into Professor Pyg’s left eye.
Red X only just manages to cover the victim’s face with his cape before it can get blood all over it. Pyg steps back while writhing in pain, shuriken point still embedded in his skull and screaming loud enough to wake the dead.
“I’m putting you down for good,” Red Hood somehow manages to say over the deafening screams.
Instead of letting the monster bleed out or, heaven forbid, giving him some emergency medical care, Red Hood kicks the back of Pyg’s knees, waits until he hits the floor, and unloads an entire clip into his body.
And so ends the life of Professor Pyg.
The victim still strapped to the table does his best to disappear into the metal beneath him. Red Hood stabs the poor bastard with a sedative, and he passes out.
“I thought you promised B no more killing. B might buy the mercy kills, but not this,” Red X stares down at Pyg’s corpse before lightly kicking it. Somehow even more blood gushes out. “He’s going to be so pissed off.”
“Shut up and help me bury this thing.”