Author’s Note: This chapter deals with a major event in canon. Yes, we’re writing AU, but some things just don’t need to be changed and probably couldn’t be improved. Therefore certain lines of dialogue in this fic are taken directly from Batman: Under the Red Hood. Credit for those lines—which the authors personally feel are amazingly powerful and should not be tampered with at all—should be given to Judd Winick. *hats off, deep bows*
It had been coming for weeks, all of Gotham in lockdown and Tim safely sequestered in Titans Tower, when the situation in Gotham finally exploded. But nothing prepared the young heroes for what they saw and heard that night.
Silently they watched the drama unfolding on multiple screens around them—but not in silence, for the air was filled with the noise and cross-chatter of Gotham’s comm frequency. Tim stared as images of Gotham City—his city—flickered across the screen. The usual nightly crime, but things had escalated. The streets were wild tonight. Two days ago, Black Mask had done something unprecedented. He’d called a meeting of all of his lieutenants.
And promptly killed them all.
He’d finally decided to throw in with Red Hood. There seemed to be no other way out for Mask. Fighting the Hood didn’t work; he was better trained than anyone Mask could recruit. Hiring assassins to take him down didn’t work either. With a little help from Batman, Hood had escaped that, too—and he’d killed one of them with a stun gun to the eyes. There was one undisputed master of the city’s underworld at the moment, and he ruled by blood and terror at levels that freaked out Gotham’s masked rogues. So Mask had had no choice but to throw in with him.
When he did, Hood changed the terms of the deal. In a rage, Black Mask killed him, but it turned out to be an impostor, dressed as Red Hood. Everything had been arranged so that Batman would arrive at the scene of the confrontation just in time to watch the impostor die at Mask’s hands. Just so he could relive Jason Todd’s death again. Tim hated him for that. He knew what losing Jason had done to Bruce; he’d become Robin because Batman wasn’t whole without a Robin. Bruce needed that balance, and Tim had stepped into the role for Bruce’s sake.
It only got worse. Tim had been watching the ripples spread out over his city for two days, trapped in Titans Tower by his stupid cast. Bruce wouldn’t let him come home while he recuperated, and Dick wouldn’t side with him either. Both of them thought Jason Todd was too damn dangerous, and too vindictive, to risk him coming home again. Babs was willing to patch Tim in on the communications, but only if he stayed safely at Titans Tower. And to make sure he stayed there, she’d sent her protégé Steph to keep an eye on him, concocting a fake field trip to account for her absence over the weekend.
Now things were coming to a head. Driven to desperation, Black Mask had sprung Joker out of Arkham. True to his nature, Joker had turned on his benefactor, using Mask and some of his men as bait to lure out Red Hood. That, according to the news broadcast playing on the screens right now, had been Hood’s plan all along. Everything else was just window dressing. The real goal had been to get Joker out into the open.
And, as Tim watched, Red Hood snatched up the Joker right from underneath Batman’s nose. While the Batwing was busy putting out the fire Joker had started—saving the lives of Black Mask and his goons—Hood escaped with his hostage.
“Holy shit,” Steph muttered beside him. “All that, all of that, just to get Joker out where he could nab him. What the hell?”
“Joker’s the one who killed him,” Tim murmured, watching the screen and listening to Bruce calling Oracle. His next destination was Crime Alley, where it all began. Where Bruce’s parents had died. Where Jason had drawn Bruce’s attention by trying to steal the tires off the Batmobile. Tim knew this was the final showdown. The end was the beginning was the end.
Tim was so absorbed that he hadn’t heard the door open behind him, and didn’t realize Cassie was in the room until she said his name. He started slightly, glancing away just long enough to register her presence. And then the scene gripped his attention again, as Batman and a former Robin fought it out in Crime Alley under the watchful eyes of Oracle’s camera network.
Cassie placed her hand on his shoulder and squeezed slightly. There was nothing she could say, no words of comfort. Steph was sitting on the arm of his chair, snuggled as close to his other side as she could get, but in spite of both of them Tim felt hollow and alone.
The sad part was, he’d idolized Batman and Robin. And not just Dick. He’d been a fanboy of the Dynamic Duo; he’d been thrilled by Jason when he was Robin. So much vibrant, insouciant life, so much daring. So very unlike his own blue-blooded upbringing. If he’d had the chance to know him, Tim thought he would’ve liked him.
Not now. Now Jay was doing everything in his power to wound Batman, coming within an inch of killing him. They fought it out, no holds barred, and Tim saw a side of Batman he thought he’d healed. The violence, the anger, the guilt, all those things that had driven Bruce so close to the edge, it was all right back in his face again. It was as if he’d never been there, like his contribution to the legacy had been erased, like the clock had been rolled back.
The door opened again, and Tim heard Jason’s voice. “I got here as soon as I could.” He came in and went right to Tim, putting both hands on his shoulders. At that moment, Tim was completely wrapped up by his friends, but nothing could touch the ice in his heart.
Jason saw what was happening on screen, and took a shaky breath. “Oh, man.”
“Yeah,” Steph said, lacing her fingers between Tim’s. Oracle had them patched into Batman’s audio, and they could hear Jay as well as Bruce could, hear the raw heartbreak and rage in his voice. Steph bit her lip; a distant, analytical part of Tim thought she was feeling pity for Jay. He could’ve warned her that pity would only get her killed, against this one. Better that Steph had never gone against him.
Jay leaped, Bruce followed. Now there was nothing to see but the empty alley, as the fight continued into an abandoned apartment. Bruce spoke then, harsh syllables freighted with grief. “I know I failed you. But … I tried to save you, Jason. … I’m … I’m trying to save you now.”
Tim bowed his head, his shoulders tensing. To hear Batman’s voice that broken, that pained … his idol and mentor brought low at last. And there was nothing, nothing, that anyone in this room could do about it, regardless of powers or skills. Either Jason or Cassie could’ve made it to Gotham in seconds, but for once Bruce was right. None of them had any place in the coming confrontation.
“Is that what you think this is about? Your letting me die? I don’t know what clouds your judgment worse: your guilt, or your antiquated sense of morality,” Jay spat back, his voice on the ragged edge of sanity. And then, abruptly, it smoothed for the space of one sentence. “Bruce, I forgive you for not saving me.”
Tim stiffened. Was there hope, maybe just a shred of hope? Shreds were all they had to cling to some nights, and out of those tattered hopes they’d woven a legacy and a mission and a family, even. Perhaps, just perhaps, even this nightmare might come to an end that wouldn’t leave them all shattered….
His hopes were in vain. Red Hood snarled, “But why … why on God’s earth….” A crash, splintering wood. “…is he still alive?!”
And then the laugh, that godforsaken laugh, like the howl of a rabid coyote in a bombed-out wasteland. Every Bat knew that laugh, every one of them felt skin-crawling fear at the sound of it. Over the comm, Tim heard Babs gasp, and beside him Steph cringed.
Realistically, they’d known this moment would come. Red Hood had taken Joker for a reason, and this final confrontation—the three of them, Batman, his son, and his foe—was the purpose behind the months of plotting and planning. But knowing Joker was in it somewhere, and hearing him cackling in delight at this reunion, were two different things. Tim felt like he couldn’t breathe.
“Who’s got a camera?”Joker asked. “Get one of me and the kid, first. Then, you and me. Then the three of us.”
That he had the audacity to say that to Batman made Tim grind his teeth in rage. Oh, he hated Jay Todd for a multitude of reasons, and the cast that was still on his arm was a score they needed to settle, but the Joker was an enemy all of them could unite against.
And then Joker added, his voice sly, “Then one with a crowbar.”
In spite of everything, Tim snarled at that.
Jason’s heart seized in his chest, and he shuddered at that maniacal voice. It was the cheer in his tone that iced Jason’s blood. The sheer, empty glee, like the darkness between stars. He might not have gotten the crowbar reference if not for the way Tim snarled at the words, and then he knew.
He beat Jay Todd to death with a crowbar, Jason thought, chills dancing down his back. This boy who shared his name—this boy who had turned so deadly—had been horribly beaten, and Joker was laughing about it, making sly little asides. In that moment Jason hated him as fervently as any of Batclan.
“Bastard,” Steph growled, her voice choked with tears. Not so long ago she’d wanted to take a chunk out of Red Hood’s hide—and Jason was sure she still did—but she wanted Joker more. All of them wanted to pound him into a bloody smear.
“I’m cutting you out of the feed,” Babs’ digitized voice abruptly said. In spite of the layers of encryption, they could catch a hint of a tremor, and remembered just who had fired the shot that paralyzed her. Obviously they were only hearing what Bruce heard, not transmitting to his unit. Oracle wouldn’t have risked distracting him at a moment like this.
“No,” all four of them replied in unison. Tim continued, “We deserve to know how this ends, Oracle. It’s Batman’s showdown and we won’t interfere—we’d get killed if we did, Hood’s proven he’ll target us—but we deserve to know.”
A new voice on Babs’ end of the line: Dick Grayson. “Leave it up, O. And—God help them both.”
Jay’s voice was getting louder and harsher, each word ripped from a place of terrible rage—and pain. “…the thousands who have suffered, the friends he’s crippled, I thought … I thought killing me—that I’d be the last person you’d ever let him hurt.”
Jason could spare a thought for Babs, hearing this, knowing she was part of Hood’s motivation. Maybe she was right, maybe none of them should’ve been privy to this, but it was too late for that. They were here, bearing witness to something awful and painfully honest.
Red Hood was saying that if Joker had killed Bruce, Hood would’ve hunted him down and sent him to hell. Jason could understand that. If Luthor had succeeded in killing Mom—or Kala, who was onstage somewhere and safe from all this—Jason would’ve found him, no matter how long it took. No matter how sacred the code was, no matter how unfair and dishonorable it was for a Kryptonian to use lethal force. Dad had stopped him the once, but if he’d had to deal with the actuality of it, had to stand in some cemetery during a funeral for someone he loved, taken by murderous whim…. Jason had always had the most even temper of the two twins, but it was really just a very long fuse. Most things didn’t bother him, and he let even major irritations pass. Once he actually got angry, though, he was far more frightening that his hotheaded sister. He knew himself and what he would’ve done.
“You don’t understand,” Bruce began, and Jay snarled at him. Jason shuddered again as Bruce told him why he didn’t kill—not that it was too hard, but that it was too easy. How very much he wanted Joker dead, and all the torture he’d put him through beforehand. Beside Tim, Steph curled into a tight little ball, snuggled as close as she could get. Jason put a hand on her shoulder, too. Obviously Bruce had forgotten all about the audio link in his comm; he was one scary sonofagun, once you got beneath the cowl and the stoic demeanor.
“But if I do that, if I allow myself to go down into that place … I’ll never come back,” Bruce finished, his voice harsh.
Cassie looked over at Jason at those words. Her blue eyes were stormy, troubled. The Amazons occasionally used lethal force, but she herself had never come close to killing. The thought of Bruce—whose rule against killing was absolutely inviolate—admitting to wanting to murder Joker that much was terrifying. Jason slid one arm around her shoulders and drew her close. Not that any of them could protect each other. Batman hadn’t been able to protect his son, what would make any of them think they could guard each other from such things?