By the time Jason Todd caved and admitted to himself that he was going to have to ask for help with his current problem, he was well on his way to a tension headache. The half a pack of smokes he had gone through hadn’t helped and now he had a wicked case of cotton mouth and a desperate need for a glass of water.
The half smoked cigarette he was currently chewing bobbed on his lip as he continued cursing at the flickering security image in front of him. He had known for some time that his equipment wasn’t quite up to snuff but it had been awhile since he had had the time or energy to sneak into Wayne Manor to snag some replacement parts. He had been operating under the assumption that he could keep putting it off but if the minute and a half lag he was currently watch buffer again was anything to go by, he had already run his computer into an untimely death.
He tapped a random beat on the banged up table in front of him as he tried to come up with any other way to solve this without having to purposefully seek out Red Robin. After several minutes of frustrated silence, he slapped his hand down on the table and then reached for his cell. Glancing at the time glowing on the tiny screen, he tried to remember where Drake was likely to be at this hour. It wasn’t that late yet so he crossed his fingers and dialed Tim’s personal cell.
While he waited, he tried refreshing the feed on his laptop repeatedly. It just figured that the stupid thing would pick tonight of all nights to take a metaphorical shit all over his plans. He had been tracking this drug ring for several nights now and tonight was supposed to be the night he found out who was running the show.
He glanced down at his left leg, stretched out in front of him and swathed in pristine bandages. If he wanted to get really technical, he should be blaming himself for shitting all over his plans by not sticking what should have been a routine roof landing. He had gotten distracted at the last minute and didn’t see the jagged piece of metal he was swinging directly at. That had been followed by a rather unpleasant visit to Dr. Tompkin’s clinic; complete with stern lecture and double dose tetanus shot.
A sudden throbbing down his thigh killed any half baked ideas he had to make the trek down to the warehouse currently frozen on his screen. If there was anything Alfred would be proud of, it would be that Jason had begun to learn that sometimes, the extra strain on his body just wasn’t worth it.
Just when he was convinced he was going to voicemail, there was a click and Tim’s voice came down the line.
Jason rolled his eyes at the suspicious tone Tim was using but he couldn’t exactly blame him. It wasn’t like they were best buds and while they could now be left in the same room alone without the family obsessively checking in, it wasn’t so long ago that Jason had tried to kill him with extreme prejudice.
“Replacement. So glad you’re free. As much as it pains me to say this, I need your help.”
“Who said I was free?”
Tim sounded distracted but he couldn’t have been that wrapped up in anything important. If he was, he would have ignored any call that hadn’t come in on a secure line.
“You did when you answered. I know you have caller ID.”
Suddenly Tim’s voice was coming through loud and clear. And annoyed.
“You’re right. I have no idea why I answered. Good night Jason….”
Jason sighed and took a second to make sure Tim hadn’t hung up on him.
“Ok, look. I need your help.”
That was as far as he could get before he heard Tim sighing (in an overly dramatic fashion if he had anything to say about it) and he had to shut his mouth in an effort to not mention it and start a fight. He shoved the cigarette back between his lips and listened to the unhappy whirring noise his computer was making as it tried to reboot.
“Am I going to regret asking what kind of help?”
Annoyed by the assumption that he was knee-deep in something illegal, Jason let out an aborted growl before yanking the cigarette out of his mouth and stubbing it out in the ashtray next to him. His leg gave another throb at the sudden movement.
“It’s nothing morally compromising, Replacement. I just need some techie help. If that’s too much just let me know. I can always call Harper.”
Come to think of it, why hadn’t he just called Roy to begin with? When had he started drifting back to his family when he needed something? His stomach clenched for a moment but a quick glance at the loading circle that seemed frozen on his monitor had him forcing his rising irritation back down.
Tim’s voice had gained a note of curiosity and Jason silently mouthed bingo as he listened to what sounded like a backpack being zipped up on Tim’s end of the line.
“Yeah. I’ve been burning the midnight oil on this project for work and the stupid computer is too crappy to handle it.”
He knew that most likely, Tim had some sort of scrambling system for any phone calls he received but he wasn’t willing to take the chance.
“Too crappy, huh? That doesn’t really explain the problem. What’s too crappy?”
“If I knew that, Boy Wonder, I wouldn’t be calling you now, would I?”
He tried to keep the sarcasm to a dull roar but he had been sitting in this chair for way too long and he was still thirsty and his leg hurt. The throbbing was growing more insistent and Jason pulled the phone away from his ear to check the time. Damn. Missed his last dose.
“Alright, don’t get your panties in a twist. I have something to finish up and then I’ll be over.”
With that, Jason hit the end button and tossed the phone onto the table next to the ashtray. He sighed and ran both hands through his hair and tried to resist throwing his laptop out the window. What a fucking waste of a night. By the time Tim showed up and diagnosed whatever the issue was with the piece of shit in front of him, the meeting he was trying to get intel on was going to be long over.
He pushed his chair away from the table and stood carefully, avoiding putting any weight on his bad leg as long as possible. It had been three days since the doomed roof jump, but he had managed to get the rebar right through the meaty part of his thigh. Between the rather deep cut, the residual bruising around said wound, and the resulting stitches, he had yet to get any lasting relief.
It was a slow journey to the small kitchenette that took up residence in the back corner of the tiny apartment he was using at the moment. Normally, when he was in the middle of a case, he stayed in one of the craptacular safe houses he had scattered around the city. Unfortunately, he had been in no condition to argue with Leslie Tompkins when she suggested that he “find some place a little more hospitable than whatever shithole you’re sleeping in these days”. He knew that she was talking about the Manor but Jason wasn’t ready to take that step yet. At this point, he didn’t know if he would ever be ready.
It took a handful of painful attempts to walk normally before he gave up and hopped the rest of the way. Leaning against the sink, he grabbed the bottle of painkillers that was standing in the place of honor next to a chipped mug still full of the dregs of that morning’s coffee. He popped the top off the bottle with his teeth while picking up the mug in front of him. After digging out two of the largest pills he had seen in a long time, he tossed them back and followed it with the last of the cold coffee.
Now there was nothing left to do but wait.
It was about an hour later that there was knocking on his door, which was Jason’s first indication that he was about to be graced with Tim Drake’s presence and not that of Red Robin’s. If he was in full costume, Tim wouldn’t have bothered with the door.
Jason was feeling loopy from the pills and had absolutely no interest in getting up. He was mostly sure that the door was open and even if it wasn’t, Tim would have no problem letting himself in.
Sure enough, a few seconds later, Tim poked his head around the door and did a quick visual sweep of the room. Jason snorted. The little shit wasn’t even trying to hide that he was looking for booby traps.
“Replacement, if I was going to try and take you down again, I wouldn’t bother with a stupid cover story about a broken computer.”
Tim seemed to consider this for moment before opening the door fully and cautiously entering the room.
“You’ll have to forgive me for not being entirely convinced.”
His voice had a wry note to it.
Jason turned his head away from where he had been watching the cracks in the ceiling and locked eyes with Tim’s.
“What’s up, little bro. Welcome to mi casa.”
He spread his arms much like a game show host would when showing off a prize. He knew he was laying on the false cheer a bit thick, but he was perfectly willing to blame the painkillers. Sitting up slowly, he calculated the distance between the couch and what was passing as his coffee table these days.
Tim snorted somewhere behind him and he heard the sound of something heavy hitting the ground. Curious, he leaned forward to see around the arm of the couch and was surprised to see such a large duffle bag on the floor by Tim’s feet.
He slowly looked up to where Tim was watching him carefully.
“You were a boy scout, weren’t you?”
Tim scrunched up his face and shoved his hands into the front pockets of his jeans. He seemed to be studying Jason. If the way he visibly relaxed a moment later was any indicator, Jason wasn’t coming off as particularly threatening.
Made sense, since he didn’t feel particularly threatening at the moment. He was wearing the oldest tank top he owned and a pair of beat up basketball shorts he had probably stolen from Bruce. The bandages around his left thigh began above the bottom of his shorts and stopped just above his knee. Following Tim’s line of sight, he figured this was what had made him relax so quickly.
Snorting, he carefully pulled himself to his feet and stood still for a minute, leaning lightly against the coffee table, and waiting for his equilibrium to catch up.
“Ah yes, don’t worry Boy Wonder, I couldn’t hurt a fly right now even if I wanted too. Now, why don’t you step into my office?”
He turned towards the back of the apartment and carefully limped the five feet to the table where his piece of shit laptop was sitting. From behind him came the sound of dragging and he glanced back to see Tim pulling the large duffle around the back of the couch.
He dragged the only other chair in the room closer to the table and gestured Tim towards it.
“Shall we get right down to it? This is my current problem. I was trying to watch a meet that would have given me the dipshit in charge of my most current little problem and this stupid thing won’t behave.”
Tim, who had sunk into the chair slowly like he was expecting something to happen to him, reached out and pulled the computer towards himself. For the next half hour or so, there was nothing but the sound of Tim’s occasional hmm’s and well, that’s not good’s punctuated by clicking sounds coming from the lighter Jason was playing with.
It was taking so long, that he had completely zoned out and was therefore startled to hear Tim’s voice calling his name. He was still clicking away on Jason’s laptop but now there was another one on the table next to it; a thick cable attaching the two. By the tone of his voice, this wasn’t the first time Tim had tried to get his attention.
“So what did you do? Piss off some mid-level cronie? Wrestle with Doc Croc? Try to cook?”
Tim was smirking now and Jason frowned in his direction before sliding the pack of cigarettes closer to him. Pulling one out, he leaned back and lit it, blowing the smoke in Tim’s direction before answering.
“Had a run-in with a piece of rusty rebar during patrol.”
Tim winced and paused for a minute, glancing in his direction.
“Ouch. You taking anything?”
Jason took another drag, nodding at the same time.
“Some version of the usual.”
He didn’t mention Leslie; the last he had heard, she and Bruce were still on bad terms. He was 100% sure that would have spread to the rest of the little birdies as well.
Tim returned to his work and Jason took the time to study him out of the corner of his eye. He seemed tired, but from what Jason understood, that was normal. He was wearing civvies; a black hoodie over a pair of well worn jeans. His hair was in the usual artful mess he spent so much time affecting. If Jason didn’t know better, he would say that it looked like Tim had come over straight from school but that wasn’t possible. Not at the time Jason had called him. Something must have gone down if Red Robin had been grounded.
He stuck the cigarette into the corner of his mouth and ran both hands through his hair before taking a deep drag and exhaling loudly.
“No patrol tonight?”
Tim paused so briefly that if Jason hadn’t been looking for it, he would have assumed Tim hadn’t heard him.
His response, when it came almost a full minute later, was very quiet and definitely disgruntled sounding.
“Not tonight. No.”
“Hmm. What’d you do?”
Tim reached between the computers and disconnected the cable.
“What makes you think I did something?”
He sounded way too casual; like when Jason had been younger and trying to pull one over on Alfred.
“Fess up. It’s not like it matters if I know. I’m the reigning black sheep, remember? There’s nothing you could do that would put you further down Bruce’s list than I am.”
He thought he had managed to make his words sound carefree, but the way Tim looked up at him sharply, he assumed he hadn’t quite managed it. Well, fuck it. He had nothing to prove to anyone. Certainly not the kid who had replaced him.
“If you must know, I got in a fight with Damian. Dick came in during the middle of it. It was…unpleasant.”
Jason snorted. Oh, I’m sure it was.
“Oh really. I don’t see any injuries.”
“Probably wouldn’t have seemed so bad if there had been.”
Tim sounded like he was still angry but trying hard to pretend he wasn’t. Jason was very familiar with that particular tone. Still, he knew enough to read between the lines to what Tim wasn’t saying.
Damian had a particular way with words that was so biting and awful that even now, some of the things that came out of his mouth shocked Jason. Tim wasn’t easy to rile up, but once you had, he could hold his own in an argument no matter how rude or personal things got. The difference was that afterwards, he at least seemed to feel bad about what he had said. Damian? Not so much.
“So let me guess…Dick benched you and took demon brat out on patrol?”
“It wasn’t really a command, more of a strong suggestion but…with everything else that’s been going on lately, it didn’t seem like a good idea to push it. Dick’s been a little strung out between Bludhaven problems and trying to civilize the brat.”
While he was talking, Tim had been busy pulling up several windows on the laptop that he had brought with him. Jason leaned closer, trying to keep the smoke out of his eyes so he could see what Tim was doing. On the screen in front of him, was the same scene that Jason had been watching before his computer had decided it was done with life.
“Shit. That’s awesome. Thanks kid.”
“Don’t call me that.”
The response was automatic. Tim wasn’t even looking at him when he said it and there was no heat behind the words.
“So I can’t fix your hunk of junk, but I was able to transfer the files to my laptop and with that, I pulled up the security cameras in the area you were watching. I got the last six hours of data. Obviously that doesn’t help now, since your guys are long gone, but you can at least watch the footage and see who the meet was with.”
Jason was impressed despite himself. He knew Tim was good with electronics but he had sort of assumed that was only when he was working with state of the art equipment that could be replaced if anything went wrong.
He watched the footage as it spun past backwards and was confused for a minute when he thought he saw a third figure in the space where there should have been only two. He shook his head and glanced in the direction of the sink. He knew the pills Leslie had given him were strong, but she never mentioned anything about hallucinations. Smart move on her part; he never would have taken them.
It took less than a minute for Tim to get to the start of the data and it was at that point that Jason realized that he hadn’t been thinking clearly and didn’t want to watch the whole six hours.
“Sorry, spaced for a minute. Can you move ahead to 9pm?”
Tim immediately moved to locate the correct section of footage.
“Spaced out, huh? That stuff must be strong. No wonder you’re being so nice.”
Jason flicked his eyes in Tim’s direction but chose to file that comment away for later because Tim had paused at the requested time and something wasn’t right. There were already three people on camera when the meet hadn’t been scheduled to take place until 9:30. Jason had only picked 9 o’clock because he wanted to check to see if anyone was lingering around beforehand. He pulled the computer closer to him, squinting at the figures to make sure he was really seeing who he thought he was.
There was the low-level dealer he had been following to begin with, the man he assumed he was meeting, and then…there was Angela. What the hell was she doing there? He hadn’t heard anything about the local girls being involved in the drug business but he supposed if any of them were going to give it a try, it would be Angela. She was smart and knew her way around a deal. That didn’t make her violent though, and Jason’s stomach sunk as he watched the deal fall apart in front of him.
The guy he had been following was backing slowly away from the other man and was pulling Angela with him. At first, it looked like he was trying to protect her but the longer he watched, the more Jason became convinced that she was not going willingly.
“Shit. Shit! SHIT. Angie, what the fuck are you doing?”
Tim, who had been swinging between watching the footage and watching Jason’s reaction to the footage, looked startled.
“She’s not part of the deal?”
He sounded cautious; like he was afraid of setting Jason off.
“Not that I knew of and it doesn’t look like she’s leaving willingly either. Something got fucked. This is not good. I need to find her.”
He shoved his chair back and away from the table, stumbling a little as he stood; in his agitation he had forgotten that his leg couldn’t hold his weight. He pushed off from the table and tried heading for his bedroom.
“Wait, what are you doing? You can’t go anywhere. You can barely walk right now!”
Tim pushed his chair back as well, standing and putting his arms out in front of himself like he was about to talk Jason down from a ledge.
“Just calm down for a second and let’s think this through. Ok?”
Jason ignored him as he looked wildly around for his boots and mask. He had to go find Angela now. He didn’t have many acquaintances that didn’t instinctually fear him but Angie had always been an exception. She was a big help whenever Jason needed it; wrangling the girls and keeping them off the streets when he knew something big was going down. Now she needed help, and he would be damned if he wouldn’t give it to her.
“Jason just stop for a minute. Are you really going to go out like this? You don’t even have pants on! What are you doing? What the fuck are you on? HOOD! Stop moving!”
Jason paused, startled by the authority coming from Tim. He turned to look at his visitor, domino mask dangling from his hand.
Tim paused, shoved his hands into his pockets and sighed deeply.
“Why don’t you just sit down for a minute and we’ll come up with a plan. Ok?”
“Yes, we. What kind of brot…person would I be if I let you run out the door like that? Just sit. Give me a chance to figure this out.”
Jason shuffled over to the couch and slowly sat down. As soon as he stopped moving, his leg started throbbing again. He looked down at the bandages and was incredibly annoyed to see the beginning spots of blood coming up through the bottom layers of gauze. He covered the spot with his hand and waited as Tim brought the laptop over to him.
“Ok. Who is the guy with your friend? Where can we find him?”
Jason was momentarily stunned into silence. He had been so frantic that he hadn’t thought about where he was headed at all. He looked down at his shorts-clad legs and felt his stomach drop.
“The Hollows. He’s in The Hollows.”
“Great. So how about you put together everything you know about him, and I’ll go suit up and go after him.”
“I’m coming with you.”
“No. You’re not.”
“Yes I am.”
Tim looked pointedly at Jason’s leg.
“No, you’re not.”
“Look, I am heading after this bastard regardless of what you say. I will wait until you leave this apartment and go out the window if I have to. So why don’t you just say yes and we can move on.”
There was a long moment of silence before Tim sighed.
“Ok. Here’s the deal. We’re taking my bike. No rooftops. You wouldn’t make it more than a block. You tell me where to go and when we get there, you wait outside. I’ll go in and get your friend and book it. Deal?”
Tim raised an eyebrow at him. He looked perfectly calm, like he could wait all night for Jason’s answer. He probably could.
“Great. Glad we cleared that up. Now, tell me what you’ve got on this guy.”