Jason got a very different text the same night. Tim’s hurt bad. Meet me at GGH. That was from Cassie, coming in on an ordinary Tuesday evening, and making it anything but ordinary.
By the time Jason got the news, Tim was already out of surgery and recovering in a private room in Gotham General Hospital. According to the second message he’d received, Tim was in stable condition and would probably go home after a night of observation. Alfred and Dr. Thompkins plus the Bat-Cave’s resources were more than enough to ensure his complete recovery.
Jason dropped in anyway, wanting to see for himself. He found the window ledge outside Tim’s room rather crowded. Steph was there, of course, worrying her lower lip and staring inward. Dick was perched on the other end of the sill, also looking in. Cassie had settled for hovering, which Jason couldn’t do, so he managed to balance on the narrow upper ledge.
Cassie was the one who looked up at his arrival. “He’ll be okay,” she said. “He woke up, and he’s talking to Bruce now.”
Of course Bruce would be inside with his youngest. “What happened?”
Dick shifted uncomfortably, but Steph was the one who answered. “That sonofabitch Red Hood got hold of him. Vandalized the Cave, then hunted Tim down while wearing a version of his old Robin uniform, and tried to kill him.”
“Wait, what?” Jason yelped. “Did you say…?”
“Yeah,” Dick said, his voice freighted with grief. “Red Hood is Robin Number Two. And as soon as he knew Bruce knew, he decided to go after his successor.”
“He’s not right in the head,” Cassie explained.
“Yeah, and after he went ten rounds with Tim, he’s probably not right in the body either,” Steph growled.
Jason had to concentrate on hanging on to his perch. The other Jason, Bruce’s second son, the second Robin, the one who’d died. The one whose uniform had sent chills down Jason’s spine when he saw it hanging ghostlike in the memorial case. He was the new crook in town, this Red Hood who killed wantonly and defied the Bats’ attempts to catch him.
That was when Batman stepped out onto the ledge. He looked at the assembled Titans, and said only, “He will recover. And this will not happen again.”
“Damn right it won’t,” Steph snapped.
The cowl turned to her, but the words were for all of them. “Do not go after Red Hood. Leave him to me.” With that he stepped off the ledge, spread his cloak, and soared off into the night.
Steph stepped into the room, going to the bedside, and the rest followed her. By now the staff of Gotham General had certain standard procedures whenever one of the caped crowd came in. Masks stayed on, identities were preserved, and visitors who didn’t check in downstairs were expected. So the nurse who walked in to check Tim’s vitals didn’t even bat an eyelash at four costumed heroes in the room. She only said with a hint of scolding in her voice, “He needs his rest.”
“Don’t worry. We won’t bother him. It’s just … we had to see for ourselves,” Steph told her, taking Tim’s hand. The nurse checked his chart and left. Only then did Tim’s eyes open, and Steph whispered softly, “You look like shit, Robin.
Tim smiled gamely at her. “Should see the other guy,” he managed to mumble.
Dick took his other hand. “You’ve got to get better, little brother. You lost the last card game, and you’ve got to wash my car this weekend.”
That got a weak laugh, and Jason eased up alongside Steph. “I see. You set this up just so you wouldn’t have to do any more paperwork, huh?”
“Busted,” Tim managed to say. He was half falling asleep again in front of them, and Cassie had just enough time to say they’d keep watch over him before his eyes slipped closed and his breathing evened out.
“What’s he even doing in Gotham General?” Cassie asked quietly.
“Civilian found him,” Dick said. “I was en route; Oracle caught part of the fight and sent me to assist, but it was over by the time I got there. No trace of Hood, either, so I came here.”
They talked about treatment and recovery time and who would take over which duties while Jason listened with half an ear and nodded at the right times. He was watching Tim carefully, listening to his heartbeat and breathing, as if by doing so he could somehow help him heal. Once again he was struck by the fact that all of his powers were utterly useless here. He could deflect bullets, outrun a cheetah, jump a sixty-story building, and pick up a freaking train, but none of it could help Tim.
The two had met when Jason went to Gotham when he was sixteen, and after a false start caused by Jason’s factual assertion that he couldn’t be hurt—and Tim taking it as a challenge to his martial arts prowess—they’d become fast friends. These days Jason considered Tim his best friend. One of two best friends, actually, because he still kept in touch with Dustin Carmichael in Smallville. It was sort of like having a best friend for each half of who he was. Although Tim knew him as more than Superboy, they didn’t get to hang out in plainclothes all that often. And Dustin didn’t know his best pal was half-alien.
Tim was—well, he was a lot of things. A hell of a lot better trained than Jason himself, but then, he had to be. Gotham chewed up capes and spit them out in pieces, so if you couldn’t bounce bullets off your chest, you had to get really good at dodging them. Like Jason, Tim could be very serious and dedicated, but he took it a step further and Jason saw it as his duty to lighten him up occasionally. Another thing they had in common was geekitude. While Tim didn’t share his taste in monster movies, they did like most of the same sci-fi books and films.
Sometimes Jason forgot that things like this could happen to people he knew and cared about. He should’ve known better; his own mother had never quite regained all the strength in her right arm. But it was very human to forgot, to pretend that bad things never happened to good people, to think his love could shield his friends from the cold truths of the world. Perhaps that was how the mind protected itself. If he had to remember every day that someone could shoot Tim, or Kala, or Mom, he’d go crazy.
“Hello, Earth to Superboy? Come in, Krypto-Clone?” Jason startled when Cassie waved her hand in front of his face. He’d been so lost in his thoughts he hadn’t followed the conversation at all. “Come on, we’ve got to go. Robin will be safe here tonight.”
“You’re sure?” he couldn’t help asking.
Dick smiled. “Oracle and I will be keeping a very close eye on him.”
“And besides, Batman didn’t actually give us permission to be here,” Cassie added, glancing toward Dick.
He shrugged. “You’re welcome in Blüdhaven, but in Gotham, it’s Batman’s rules. So let’s go ahead and … where’s Spoiler?”
Jason and Cassie both turned around to where they thought Steph was standing, but she was gone. Realization struck them all at the same time: she’d gone after Tim’s attacker. “Oh, shit,” Jason whispered.
Cassie turned and grabbed Dick’s arm, leaning in close. “Quick, ‘Wing. Where would she look for Hood?”
“Probably somewhere in the Bowery, that’s his turf, but…. Oh, hell. You two go get her, I’ll distract the Bat.”
A moment later there were only shadows in the room, and Tim slept, not knowing that his girlfriend was out there spoiling for a fight with the same guy who’d put him in the hospital.
That night wasn’t a good one for Gotham’s criminals. With two hurried, harried super-powered teens rifling through the worst side of town, they seemed to find new crooks and creeps around every corner. When Jason saw a guy raising a metal pipe over someone on the ground, he reacted without even seeing if it was Steph, snatching the pipe and throwing the man across the alley.
“Run,” Cassie said to the confused man on the ground, who was grabbing for a set of brass knuckles. Only then did Jason realize he’d broken up a fight, not saved a friend. Watching them both scatter, Cassie shook her head. “This isn’t subtle, Superboy. We’ve got to be more careful or the Bat’s gonna come down on us.”
“We’ve got to find Spoiler. Doesn’t Oracle have a lead on her?”
They leaped to a rooftop before Cassie replied, “Spoiler was trained by Oracle, too. She knows where most of the cameras are.”
Jason’s heart was racing—worry that Bruce would put an abrupt stop to their rescue mission, fear for Steph, anger at this asshole who’d shot Tim. In light of that, what happened next shouldn’t have been a surprise.
“What’s got you so worked up, Superboy?” The velvety voice out of the darkness startled Cassie, but not Jason.
One of these days he was going to have to get better at regulating his reactions. Oh, yeah, it’s so much fun being a super. My twin can hear my heart wherever she is. I should have expected her to turn up in a situation like this. Unable to resist a sheepish grin despite the severity of the situation at hand, Jason quickly updated her. “Blur. Robin’s been hurt. Spoiler went after his attacker. We need to find her and stop her. Batman thinks this one is a threat to any of us.”
“Especially when she’s too angry for caution,” Cassie interjected.
“Shit! Why doesn’t anyone pick up a phone and call me? Is T—Robin gonna be okay?” The lapse was tiny, but Jason turned sharp eyes on Kala anyway. They shared irritated frowns then. No real names in the field, that was a cardinal rule, and she knew it. But he supposed he could let it slide, considering the circumstances. And, bad situation or not, he hadn’t seen his twin sister in weeks. A tiny slip amongst friends could be forgivable tonight. Freaked as he was trying not to be, having Kala where he could see her gave him a little more focus.
It was weird to see her out here in plainclothes, a black top and jeans under a long black coat that fluttered in the breeze, but at least she had a mask on. Kala kept one handy for emergencies, even though she didn’t have an official uniform—or membership on the team, for that matter. Then again, the Blur was just the nickname the press had given her. They knew something faster than any camera’s shutter speed sometimes turned up when Superboy and his friends were in danger, but no one knew anything about her. Even the caped crowd was mostly in the dark.
Cassie knew who she was, but the two girls didn’t really know each other. Kala only knew Tim because he was Jason’s friend. She didn’t know Steph, either, but she was game to try, and that was a good thing. Anything that got them out of Gotham without a Bat-lecture was a good thing.
“All right, do you have any kind of lead on her?” Kala asked.
“She’s probably somewhere in the Bowery,” was all Jason could give her.
Kala scowled. “Okay, fine. I’ll go high and see if I can eagle-eye her somewhere. There shouldn’t be much else out tonight that’s that particular shade of aubergine.” Without waiting for confirmation, she was off.
Cassie looked at Jason with a raised eyebrow, and he shrugged. Kala should’ve waited for confirmation, but she wasn’t used to working in a team. He and Cassie kept up their sweep, Jason listening for his sister’s pulse. His hearing wasn’t quite as good as hers yet, he didn’t hear her unless he thought about it, but he could always find her. And right now she was quartering above the city.
Just as he and Cassie crossed another street, he heard Kala change direction, heading back toward them. He put on a burst of speed, racing to meet her, and bounded from one roof to the other.
Kala swept down to them, saying, “Five blocks north and two west, she just went into some kind of abandoned factory.” Having conveyed the message, she was off again, heading back to Steph.
“Does she even know Batman has the city on lockdown?” Cassie asked, flying slowly enough that Jason could keep pace.
“Probably not,” Jason admitted, and then they were there.
A moment too late, it seemed, as a batarang came winging out of the darkness to slam into a support column. “Hey, watch it! I’m on your side!” Kala called, and Jason groaned.
“It’s us, Spoiler,” Cassie called.
Steph turned to face them all, her blue eyes ablaze with fury. “If you’re here to drag me home and put me to bed like a good kid, you’ve got another think comin’,” she spat. “I’m not gonna sit on my thumbs while Robin’s in the hospital and Batman’s off brooding somewhere!”
“No one said you should,” Kala cut in, before Jason or Cassie could speak.
Glaring at Kala, Cassie stepped up. “Listen, Spoiler, this isn’t the time. This guy is on full alert right now. He has to know we’re after him. So going up against him right now, when we’re all pissed off and he’s as ready as he’ll ever be, that’s not the best choice. We need to give him time to get secure again, and then we can hit him like a ton of bricks. Okay?”
“I hate to say it, but Batman knows him better than any of us. We should at least wait and see what he’s doing before we plan our own strategy,” Jason offered. Later on they could talk Steph down from her one-woman crusade. Right now they just had to get her to defer it long enough for rage to settle down and let her thought processes—the ones unrelated to relentlessly kicking Red Hood’s ass, anyway—come back online.
She wavered, just for a second, and then her voice was much softer when she asked, “What if we don’t have time? What then?”
Cassie took Steph’s armored shoulders and held her still, looking past the cowl into pain-filled eyes. “Honey, it’s Robin. He’ll be fine. He didn’t even get shot anywhere vital. He just lost some blood, took some bruises, and got a concussion. Except for the blood, he’s done worse training.”
Kala looked at Jason as if she was about to say something, and then her expression changed, her eyes going unfocused. “Shit! S—my BFF just got back to the hotel. I gotta fly or he’ll wonder where I am.”
The twins exchanged a look and Jason nodded. It was a lot more dangerous for Kala to be caught out than usual, her life so bound up in the civilian world than his own. Those closest to Kala still hadn’t the slightest idea where she occasionally ran off to; not even Sebast was aware of just how out-of-this-world his best girl really was. And remembering that made Jason all the more grateful for her intervention tonight. And it was obvious that she knew, Kala giving him a tiny grin and nodding. She knows. She always knows. “I’ll update you later, Blur,” Jason said as she rose into the air again, and then turned all his attention to Steph, where it belonged.
None of them knew the chase and confrontation had been captured by several of Oracle’s cameras. In the circumstances, though, she decided not to share that video with Bruce.