A/N: Rated for language and violence.
Jason knew that Robin was in the far corner of the club. He spotted that scrap of bright yellow before the fight even started, but he hadn't been overly concerned. The kid was probably knocked out or tied up, and the demon spawn could stand to be taken down a few pegs. It wasn't like the kid was in danger.
Cobblepot isn't stupid.
So the Red Hood took the time to clear out a few minor thugs and put a little extra fear into the more uppity villains. He was usually on good terms with the Penguin and was doing him a favor in cleaning house. Of course annoying 'siblings' can wait a bit . . . and doubling back, Jason may have prodded the bundle of yellow and red with his foot first. He narrowly intercepted the blade aimed for his throat, and flipped it out of the boy's hand.
Tucking the knife into the waistband of his jeans, Jason crouched to inspect the stained fingers of Robin's gauntlet. That was when a few things start to come together: the smell of blood, the way Robin was still curled up on the floor despite his usual Houdini-like tendencies, a reddish smear across the dance floor in the half-light, and mostly the lack of verbal barbs.
Jason dropped fully to his knees, flipping the boy easily with one hand while wrestling a flashlight free from his belt. Shadows are for the Bat; Jason's got too many things to do to waste time stumbling in the dark.
In the weak glow of the flashlight, Damian's blood-stained teeth still glint in the normal snarl. Further down, a formerly-green gauntlet clutches at a tunic that hides the color of blood too well. Jason knocked it aside and ripped the fabric open. The Kevlar underneath was driven into the kid's chest from several points.
There was a freaking hole ripped into the Kevlar by the biggest piece and that was where most of the blood is coming from. Location wise, there was no way that didn't miss a lung.
There was an incredibly distinct difference between being struck by something that exploded and exploding yourself, but it's a small difference. To Jason, there was a half-dead kid in a Robin suit that was surviving on sheer determination. It was like the flip of a switch.
"It's gonna be alright, sweetheart," he fucking cooed at the kid, already efficiently wrapping Damian in the cape so as to minimize blood loss and treat shock. "Gonna get you home, don't you worry."
Blood streamed down Damian's chin in a harsh laugh that finally unclenched the boy's teeth. "I am not a child."
"Fuck that," Jason returned cheerfully. There was the little pain-in-the-ass that Jason put a bullet in himself just last year. "C'mon, sweetheart. Up you go."
Damian sucked in a painful, ineffective breath as Jason hefted him, exhaling involuntarily when he collided with Jason's chest. He still managed to speak: "I do not permit even Grayson to call me that."
"You're not exactly in a position to stop me," Jason informed him, settling the kid's legs around his waist and arms around his neck. "In fact, I'm gonna share it with Baby Bird. He could use a laugh. Now save your breath; I gotcha."
Jason patched into the Cave frequency ages ago, and Bruce never kicked him off it. The big guy was in Hong Kong this week according to the usual chatter, but Tim was never far from the communicator and Jason wasn't sure where Dick might be, considering the damage his Robin was suffering in Jason's arms.
"Birdies, listen up," he called. "Red Hood has absolutely no time for pissing contests right now. Prep the Cave for immediate blood transfusions and even faster surgery. The kid took the whole Robin Redbreast look too far."
"Understood, Hood," Tim returned immediately; the replacement always sounded calm and professional when the rest of them fell apart. "A is standing by."
"If someone can fetch Doc Thompkins, they probably should," Jason admitted, as the shift of his collar dripped the kid's blood down his neck.
"I'm not far from the Alley," a feminine voice broke in. "Beat you back to the cave, boys."
"And can anyone put eyes or ears on the Bat? I didn't have time to search."
"I'm right here, Li'l Wing. Batman and Robin were not scheduled to patrol tonight."
Dick's voice was deceptively mild, and Jason whistled as his bike came into view. "I think your ass is grounded, Robin." That didn't get a response. "Robin?"
There's no good way to get an unconscious patient from here to the Cave on a bike, and they don't have time to wait for the Batmobile.
"C'mon, kid. Wake up, sweetheart," he tried, hoping for another irritated rejection. "C'mon, Robin, Rob. Brat. Demon-spawn. Damian, Dami, Damian . . . Damian!" Jason barked, feeling the smaller frame startle in his arms.
"Yes, father," is sputtered into Jason's collarbone.
"And we were getting along so well . . ." Jason grimaced, cradling Damian's head in one hand. "Why do you gotta insult me like that?"
"Please focus, Hood," Tim's even tones interrupted. "I've hacked the traffic lights. You've got a clear path from Robin's current location to the cave."
"I think you might be my favorite, Baby Bird," Jason informed his replacement seriously. "Alright, kiddo, are you still with me?" There was the dig of a pointy chin into his shoulder that Jason took for an affirmative. "This is probably going to hurt, sweetheart."
Damian's response was unintelligible, but undoubtedly profane.
Jason straddled his bike, seated further back than recommended to settle Damian in front of him. It's an old-school bike which is the only reason that Jason can get away with this; Tim's modified racing bike would be impossible. "Don't try this at home, kiddies," he muttered, and then drowned out any response of Damian's with the sound of the engine.
"Shush," Jason said anyway. "I gotcha, little brother."
Tim is as good as his word. Jason makes it to the cave in record time, somehow beating Batgirl and Dr. Thompkins in the process. Dick is right there, hands on Damian before Jason's even killed the bike. Pulling the kid away from Jason's chest after some of the blood has dried makes even Talia's kid scream. Getting the Kevlar off won't be fun.
Jason would be leaving that part to Tim and Alfred. The kid was already surrounded by more useful bodies than Jason's. That was fine; Jason had bigger fish to fry.
Jason made for the computer and the open link to Bruce's hotel room. The older man sucked in a breath when Jason came into view, because yeah, Jason happened to be wearing a lot of Damian's blood right now.
"What are you still doing there, B?" he growled.
"Waiting for the plane," his former-guardian shot back, and Jason lifted one brow in surprise. At least the mask hid it, but dang . . . it had been awhile since Bruce could hold his own in an argument with Jason. "Report."
"No," Jason shook his head. "Because all I've got is that your eleven-year-old is half-dead and I don't work for you anymore. You want details? Then you can wait for Tim to finish helping Alfred fix him. Fly the damn plane yourself, and you can wait with me for the same thing."
"Did you hurt him, Jason?"
Jason snorted. "If I had, I wouldn't have brought him home and you know it."
"I had to ask. I know you shot him before—"
"He ticked me off, and it wasn't fatal." Jason dropped into the chair and settled his elbows on his knees, leaning forward to rest his head in his hand. "I was kinda messed up at the time and not completely sure that the kid was human. Besides, I knew Talia was on call." Jason closed his eyes tiredly. "I know she isn't now."
"That's none of your business, Jason."
"Someone tried to blow up a Robin, Bruce. I'll make it my business if necessary," Jason reached out blindly for the console. "Hurry up and get to Gotham. Maybe I'll be willing to look at you by then."
Blessed silence for all of ten seconds before Blondie opened her mouth. "That takes guts," she murmured approvingly, squeezing Jason's cleaner shoulder as she hopped up onto a smoother portion of the console. She nudged his knee too as if to prove she wasn't put off by all the blood. "I slapped him once, and I like to think I'd do it again, but you just hung up on him mid-tirade . . ." she nodded firmly. "Guts."
"I'm just really pissed," Jason acknowledged generously. "How's the kid?"
Steph shrugged. "Leslie washed up, and moved in without a word. Tim didn't even look up." She nudged his knee again. "It's never a good sign when Tim is drafted to medical duty."
"Probably should have taken the kid to the hospital," Jason rested his head in his hands again.
"Damian would never have forgiven you," she countered. "Robin is everything to that kid, so don't worry. Damian's tough. He's going to be fine and ready for Gotham long before we're ready to let him out again." She gave a mournful sigh. "It's so hard to keep you boys in bed long enough to heal."
"I'll have you know that I'm the perfect patient," Jason informed her, looking up from under his two-toned curls. "I am perfect in Alfred's eyes, and I'm totally Doc Thompkins' favorite Robin.
Steph snorted, and brushed the wayward hair from his face to carefully peel away his mask. "Uh-huh. I lived with Leslie for a year, and the stories I've heard . . ."
"Dang," Jason muttered, rubbing at the gum still clinging to his cheekbone. "I thought she had my back." Steph hummed appreciatively, her fingers finding their way into his hair once more. They sat quietly like that for a while.
"You did good," Steph told Jason when Dick stumbled out from the curtained off medical facilities—even as she leaned in towards the original Robin for news.
"I was in the way," Dick admitted reluctantly. "They had to set up a second blood transfusion after getting the Kevlar off, and there just wasn't room to stay with him as deadweight."
Steph made the appropriate sympathetic noises, but Jason couldn't bother. Dick actually reached out and squeezed Jason's shoulder, like the Red Hood was in need of comfort.
"You did good," Dick echoed Stephanie's praise. "Thanks . . . for saving him."
Jason shifted. "Don't thank me just yet; I didn't do much."
Dick shook his head, leaning back against the console and Stephanie. "You brought him home."
"Well, what was he doing out, about, and off the leash?" Jason demanded. "I didn't spare him a second thought in the Lounge until I realized you weren't there."
Dick shrugged. "I don't know. It's our night off, and I thought he was in bed. It could have been anything—maybe Ra's is in town, or Colin called with some kind of information. Heck, he might have just been angry with Tim."
"We'll ask Damian," Steph nudged Dick. "Right?"
"Right," Dick nodded. "And ground him accordingly." The other man sighed heavily. "What happened out there, L'il Wing?"
"Don't know. Got a call to clean house for Cobblepot—there have been some unsavory types trying to repurpose his club as of late—and I saw the kid when I got there. He was already down, but I didn't realize he was in trouble until I was finished. Never did see Penguin, now that I think about it . . ."
"He wouldn't stick around for one of us to find Robin like that, even if it wasn't him," Dick agreed with Jason's unvoiced speculation. "And the Penguin's smart enough not to call you in if he's got a damaged Robin on his hands." Dick gave a weak grin. "You've been known to deal . . . poorly with a bloody Robin suit."
"Sorry to be predictable," Jason bared his teeth. "I'll be sure to check my trauma at the damn clock next time."
No one speaks after that.
Jason was still awake when Tim emerged, exchanging a quick word with Dick before the older man slid inside. Tim actually paused a moment when he spotted Jason, but then continued closer. Jason shifted the weary Batgirl off the console automatically, because Tim could get kind of anal about his precious computers. Steph slid into his lap with a sleepy grumble, and Jason waved grandly at the computer setup.
Tim just acknowledged the gesture with a curt nod, opened a new window, and issued a few terse words to the clone before closing the conversation just as quickly as he had opened it.
Steph reached out to catch Tim's arm before he could walk away again. "Damian?"
"He needs another blood transfusion," Tim responded immediately—for her, only for her, "and none of us are a match."
Lousy odds, right there. Six people in this cave, and no one matched the little Demon? Jason knows for a fact that he has the same blood type as both Alfred and Tim.
"Babs might be able to find . . ."
"I know someone," Tim reassured her, and of course the Replacement would. He had files on them all. "Reinforcements are on their way, Steph." Tim cautiously wrapped Batgirl's hand in his own. "Don't worry."
Tim's spotless hands over Steph's made Jason want to crawl out of his own skin. Some of the blood had dried on his hands and neck, but the cave was damp enough that his jacket just wouldn't dry out. The smell would linger no matter how many times Jason cleaned his suit.
"Alfred need anything else?" Jason asked, just to break the moment. "You know, besides the plasma? I can always knock over a few pharmacies for the greater good."
Jason wasn't sure what the look on the Replacement's face meant to convey, but hastily defended himself from the obvious disapproval. "C'mon, it's for the kid. It's not like Bruce won't have the place reimbursed and restocked by morning."
"Why are you still here, Jason?" and that irritation just rubbed Jason the wrong way; it had been a long-ass night.
"What the fuck are you mad at me for, Replacement?" Jason returned hotly. "I brought the kid home! That's my good deed for the week, and then some. It put a big kink in my plans for the night, so I think I deserve to know if he makes it or not."
"When you put him on that table?" Tim demanded. "I don't think so!"
"I didn't lay a finger on the kid," Jason growled, irritated at having to defend himself from the same accusation twice in one night. "I wouldn't have brought him home if I had, so if you want to be pissed at someone, go be pissed at the Penguin for not keeping his patrons under control."
Tim stared at him with a blank expression and a steady blue gaze that was as unnerving as Bruce's in a completely different way. "I want to believe you, Jason. It would be so very nice if every time I stuck my neck out for you, you'd keep from whacking it off."
Jason shifted uncomfortably, and it was because the chair's built for Dick's figure instead of Jason's—not because Tim had an alarming habit of siding with Jason even though it never ended well for the third Robin. Honestly, it was as if the Replacement didn't have an ounce of self-preservation in his body.
"He needs another blood transfusion to be safe, but we've done everything else we can. Normally, I'd say that it's 'up to Damian' but that seems redundant, considering—well, Damian."
"Was that so hard?" Jason teased, already feeling a little lighter. The little stubborn bastard was a fighter. They all were.
Tim raised one delicately arched brow and tossed a clear petri dish to Jason. "You tell me . . . I just dug that out of Damian's chest."
Even bloody and fragmented, Jason recognized it. He must have flinched, or paled, or done something, because Steph crouched beside him again for a better look. "What is it?"
"It's a bastardized batarang," Tim returned. "If it wasn't so flat, or if it had been turned even fifteen degrees further, it would have ripped Damian's lung to shreds." Tim crossed his arms. "Luckily, it only nicked the lung and somehow remained lodged in place or Damian would have been dead before he hit the ground."
Jason very carefully wrapped Stephanie's fingers around the cheap plastic dish, pressing the slim white hand back against the insignia on her chest. She'll keep it safe, and Jason can put words into the correct order now that the scrap metal is out of sight. "Excuse me, Blondie. I need to have a few words with the Penguin."
Jason was back on the blood-stained bike, his once-damp jacket blown dry by the speed achieved in a rage-fueled drive back across the city. He'd need to track the man down; Robin had been injured on Cobblepot's turf and the Penguin knew what kind of trouble that could bring down on his head.
Bad luck for the dapper villain that Red Hood was in town and the Batmen were otherwise occupied.
The other Robins were his. His property, his enemies . . . his brothers (even Steph). Now maybe the crazy people are incapable of remembering that, but anyone with a working brain knew that messing with what belonged to the Red Hood was a bad idea.
It's one of those rare instances where the vigilante won't kill you; he'll just make you wish you were dead. Repeatedly.
When Jason found his prey, he became a towering rust-stained figure of vengeance. Jason hadn't bothered to change, and if the Penguin took the wrong idea from the sheer amount of dried blood and the Red Hood's haste . . . well, it wouldn't keep Jason up at night.
Bad enough to assault a member of the Bat family, but to use the Red Hood's own tech!
Because that was his 'bastardized' batarang, and Jason made all his own tech. He wasn't financed by Batman Inc. Those devices were meant to dispose of goods lacking the Red Hood's stamp of approval. He used them to blow up guns and drugs and sometimes bad men. The incendiary device strapped to that blade was meant to take things apart . . . permanently.
"Morning, Handsome," Jason drawled pleasantly, taking a seat at the bar in full costume, mask and bloodstains. "Sorry to have missed you last night; so much to catch up on, you know?"
To his credit, Cobblepot doesn't run. The other patrons fled with varying degrees of haste and attempted stealth, but the Penguin simply finished his drink. "Yes, Hood."
"Where to start?" Jason mused, folding his hands together and resting his chin on them. "Well, I did what I could with your place, but next time, you'll probably want to call an exterminator. Oh, and I ran into my baby brother last night. Funny, you didn't tell me that he was visiting."
"I do not know what Robin was doing in my club."
Jason brought his fist down, upsetting the empty glass and making his companion squawk. "Being blown up ring any bells?"
"It was an accident!"
"You threw a bomb at my brother on accident?!" Jason bellowed back, seizing the Penguin and slamming him against a nearby pillar.
"No . . . no," the Penguin gripped Jason's wrists, his beady little eyes wide with terror and monocle gone. "The dealers were back. I didn't know what to do. I didn't know what the thing did. You said to use it on the goods, and I was going to, honest!"
And yes, that's what Jason gave Cobblepot the tech for in the first place.
"It just seemed more expedient to use it on the dealers. They're new to the city. They don't fear the things they should. Someone needed to teach them the rules."
And Jason had okayed that move too—suggested it even with a wink.
"I'm a businessman," the Penguin protested. "Legit. I thought they'd dodge, and they did." The little man licked his lips nervously. "I tossed it at them. They dodged as expected, but no one expected Robin to jump on top of it." Penguin scrabbled at the hand around his throat even though they in no way impeded his ability to speak. "I'd swear to the Bat himself, Hood. The boy jumped on top of it—to minimize the blast or something, I don't know—and then all hell broke loose."
"You've never seen hell, Cobblepot," Jason exhaled slowly.
"It was an accident," the Penguin begged. "I didn't even know the kid was there. He's sneakier than the others were. I was just trying to get those fools out of my club."
"You're the fool," Jason shook his head as he slowly lowered the Penguin to the floor. He didn't let go of the expensive jacket though. "Robin saved all of your miserable lives tonight. That shrapnel ripped through Kevlar."
"He . . . he was a credit to the Bat," Penguin licked his lips nervously. "A . . . a toast—"
"Is," Jason corrected. "Robin is a credit to the Bat. You thought he died?" Jason shook his head back and forth making the tsk sound under his breath. "He's tougher than the rest of you put together," Jason let go of the Penguin, smoothing the jacket as he gave a wicked grin. "If my littlest brother was dead . . . we'd be having a very different conversation."
There was that compulsive swallow.
Jason stepped back, dusting off his jacket and still ignoring the blood. "So here's what you're going to do, Cobblepot. You're going to pick a caper, march down to the GCPD and turn yourself in. If you're back out on the streets before Robin returns, I'll have to look at you. And if I have to look at you, I may rethink my generous offer."
Penguin cautiously edged around Jason. Glancing from the Red Hood to the door and back again, the shorter man straightened his clothes and fetched his hat. "Understood," he nodded, continuously backing towards the door. "Always a pleasure doing business with you, Red Hood. Best wishes to young Robin and all that. Good-bye."
Jason counted to ten. Then he opened his eyes, reached behind the bar to liberate a bottle, and took his seat again. Not a soul entered the bar until he was finished.
He had saved the kid.
The kid wouldn't have needed saving if Jason hadn't built the tech in the first place.
It would be a long walk of shame back to the Cave.