Part Two:

The Hunt Begins

"Basically, run." – the Eleventh Doctor, Doctor Who

The first thing Jason does is rewrap his side for the second time that night (morning?). It feels pointless, since he just did it not very long ago, but he needs to be able to move comfortably, while at the same time having the bandages tight enough and thick enough that should his stitches rip again he won't bleed to death. (He's angry, not stupid.)

This takes about five frustrating minutes to get right. Now that he's made up his mind, he wants to get out there right away. There are surely Bats already out and about, some having still been patrolling when he came home and went to sleep about three and a half hours ago, and he doesn't want them butting in on his search. Of course, it's bound to happen anyway – they're all looking for the same person, after all – but a guy can dream, right?

He's not sure what they'll do when they catch wind of his movement. It's hard to believe they'd just leave him to it, even if it's the Joker, especially if it's the Joker, but he also can't see Br-Batman wasting manpower on sending some poor bastard to tail him. Regardless, he finishes off the wrapping with a careful knot and closes his eyes briefly, mentally composing a list of what he'll need.

This is dangerous. He knows danger, deals with it every damn night, but this is different. Like the Incident was different. Like it was different all those years ago. And he is not going to get himself killed through his own recklessness and naiveté, not again.

Opening his eyes again, he leaves the bathroom and pulls his best Red Hood gear out of the closet. The shirt and pants are armored but easy to maneuver in, with hidden pockets to stash extra ammo in. It's a bit of a struggle to get into them, trying not to stretch the stitches too much too soon, but eventually he's shrugging one of his leather jackets on and slipping into his boots. Now for the guns.

Despite popular belief, he doesn't usually use lethal ammunition – at least, not anymore. It's a lot easier to get along with the Bats that way. (Not that he needs their approval for anything, he just. Doesn't want to fucking deal with their badgering all the time.) But he thinks, like a mantra repeating in his head, over and over, tonight is different. Tonight is special.

It's time to break out the killers.

He's got room for four guns, two in the holsters at each hip, and two in the holsters hidden inside the jacket. There's also a special pocket for his favorite knife, the kris that can cut through even Batman's utility belt, and holsters for two more knives attached to his boots. Taking a deep breath, he carefully fills three guns with bullets, real bullets, and stuffs them into their proper holsters. He'll use the last holster for his grapple, he thinks, then hesitates. Maybe he can fit one more gun somewhere. His boot? His belt? Pocket?

Something. He'll figure it out. After all, he can't be too careful, not when it comes to the psychopathic clown that destroyed his life.

Just one thing left, now. He slaps a red domino mask over his eyes and picks up one of his many red helmets. This one's got some pretty fancy tech in it – if Oracle is as distracted as he suspects she'll be, he might even be able to listen in on the Bats' frequency without getting noticed. Then he stops short, realizing with a tinge of disgust that he's going all out for the Joker.

Shaking his head, he secures the red helmet over his head and checks the television one last time, to see if the press has gotten a hold of any new info in the last twenty minutes since he first saw the coverage.

"—nothing on the Joker's latest escape, though word has it the entirety of Gotham's caped community is out on the streets—"

Damn. He lets out a sardonic chuckle. Everyone out already, all except him . . . though he doesn't expect anyone to count him. He was hoping to get a head start, at least on some of them, but it's obvious that his determination to be prepared for anything made him much slower than he anticipated. Oh well. He can work with that, right?

"—no sightings of the infamous Red Hood, who for reasons unknown has long had it out for the clown—"

"Everyone has it out for the Joker," Jason mutters with a roll of his eyes behind the helmet, shutting off the television and locking up. This may not be his nicest safe-house, but it's his and he doesn't want anyone getting into his shit. With one last glance around, he slides open the window and leaves. The window shuts behind him, and with that he is no longer Jason Todd, he is the Red Hood, and heads are about to fucking roll. Possibly literally.

The easiest way to find the Joker would be to follow the trail of carnage the clown usually left in his wake, but this time it seems the psychopath is being sneaky. Probably planning something gruesome, Red Hood thinks as he stalks the rooftops. No signs of any other vigilantes out here, either, which is a little disconcerting. Either they're off chasing a lead in some other part of the city, or they're ignoring him. He doesn't want to think about the third option.

The next of his options for tracking the Joker is a little more difficult, but manageable. He has contacts in almost every criminal organization in Gotham, willing or not. The Joker couldn't have made such a chaotic escape without some help, help that he needed to have hired. Which means he had to have advertised.

So it's time for the Red Hood to do a little interrogation.

He reaches the edge of a low rooftop and drops down the fire escape on the side. One of his informants frequents the bar next door, and is likely to have a promising lead. He enters the bar through the back door, taking care to remain in the shadows, and surveys the scene.

The place is crowded, dirty and dingy; the air thick with alcohol and sweat and broken promises and dreams long thrown away. The patrons sitting at the counter are sipping from dusty glasses and grimacing at the taste, while others crowd around a dilapidated pool table, arguing. Swiping at glasses with an old rag that's probably covered in grime, the bartender side-eyes everyone there with a well-placed suspicion. It's a familiar scene, an atmosphere long remembered from a childhood spent seeing Willis Todd frequent bars exactly like this one. For a minute, as he breathes in the stale air, he's thrown back to those days, when father-son bonding time meant supporting his old man as the drunk stumbled out of bar after bar, night after night.

He shakes his head in disgust, banishing the memories into some dark corner of his mind. Willis Todd had never really been his father, not in any way that counted, and now is not the time to be going over old hurts. Scanning the small, greasy bar again, he finds what he's looking for slumped over the counter in the corner near the door.

With a smirk hidden behind his blood red helmet, he swaggers over to the man, a hush coming over the place as he goes. Samuel "Stretch" Samson doesn't notice anything, just takes a swig of his beer and wipes clumsily at his mouth. Clearly well on his way to getting completely smashed, if not already there.

"How's it goin', Stretch?" the Red Hood asks casually, watching with an almost sadistic satisfaction as Samson nearly chokes on his drink. He claps the man's back, harder than strictly necessary, and leans against the bar. "Not good? That's too bad."

"…Hood," Samson gasps, clutching his chest. "I thought—"

"That I'd be home, all tucked up in bed?" Hood clucks, tilting his head. "I was. Well, I was home, anyway, but guess what I just happened to see on the television?"

Samson's face starts to gleam with a greenish tint. "I dunno," he says uneasily. "I was here all night, I was. I wouldn't know."

"Oh, but you do know what I'm talking about." The Red Hood leans in close, the blank surface of the mask looming over the pathetic, trembling man. "And you know exactly why I'm here. Now tell me: where is the Joker?"

"The Joker?" Samson squeaks. Gotcha. "Why would I know where he is?"

"Because you're a lowlife scumbag, and you're going to tell me what you know before I have to get . . . persuasive." He reaches into his jacket and slides out the kris, which understandably makes the other man pale severely. "I'm sure you don't want that. Just tell me what I need to know, and I'll be on my way."

"I don't know," the man blurts, eyes still on the knife. "I don't know where that psycho is, honest, but word went round that he was hiring about a month back, offering some crazy money for some kinda mystery job."

"And why," growls Hood, pressing the knife lightly into Samson's leg, "didn't you come to me when you heard this? You know I don't tolerate the Joker, or any of his hired lunatics."

"I-I-I," Samson stammers, looking like he's about to piss his pants. Rolling his eyes, Hood stows the knife back in his jacket.

"Who else knows?"

"I-I heard it from Jimmy Higgs, over on Park Way. Said his cousin was desperate for cash, he mighta taken the job. I don't know anything else, I swear!"

He regards the other man for a second, decides that he's being truthful, and nods. "Mention this to anyone, and I'll kill every single one of you," he says, loud enough for the entirety of the eerily quiet bar to hear despite not having turned away from Samson. "Painfully."

Satisfied, he turns and exits the seedy bar the same way he came in; with a casually threatening swagger among the terrified hush. He's pretty sure Samson might have just wet himself from relief, but it's not like he's about to turn back and check; he needs to find this Jimmy Higgs and find out whether this lead is just a dead end or not.

With the Joker on the loose, wasting time is not a luxury he can afford.