Present Day… Gotham City…
Neal felt as if he were walking around in a dream.
Though being shot at and hearing Kate’s voice the night before had done a lot to unnerve his general state of mind, at least while he was in New York City things still felt like they had some basis in reality. Ever since he rolled into Gotham, things felt significantly less real.
It was disorienting being in this dark, dangerous city. Neal knew that this town used to be home, once upon a time. He was born here. He grew up here. His parents lived and died here. He remembered telling Alex a long time ago that he left Gotham City because of all the painful memories this place held for him.
An eerie realization struck him while he was having lunch in a small mom and pop diner near uptown.
“You’re a new face,” the kindly waitress with silver streaked brown hair said as she poured Neal a cup of coffee and offered him a menu.
He smiled back at her. “Is it that obvious?”
“I know my regulars,” she smiled back. “And they’re not half as cute as you. So are you in town for business or pleasure?”
“Ah,” Neal’s expression faltered a little. “Well, neither. I suppose you can say I’m here for love.”
“Really? In love with a Gothamite?”
“Actually no. She’s not from around here. I was, a long time ago.”
“Grew up here, huh? Whereabouts are you from?”
Neal opened his mouth automatically, reflexively prepared to share an answer that he should have known like the back of his hand. However, nothing came out.
“Is something wrong, hun?”
His expression became pained and his massaged his temples. “Forgive me. Migraine’s been plaguing me most of the morning. Happens whenever I skip breakfast.”
The waitress gave him a sympathetic look. “I’ve got some aspirin in the back. Would that help?”
“Yes, please. Thank you.”
As the waitress disappeared into the back, the pained expression vanished as well, only to be replaced by a look of confusion. For the life of him, Neal could not remember the part of the city where he grew up. He wracked his brain for that one important detail of his past until the moment the waitress returned with the aspirin.
Though Neal indulged in idle chatter with the friendly waitress whenever she came to refill his coffee or just check on how he was doing, the majority of the time he was lost in thought. He picked at the food he was served, drank a two cups of coffee, left a generous tip, and returned to the ramshackle hotel he’d settled in when he arrived in the city. Once inside the privacy of his room, Neal fished a blank pad of paper out of a nightstand drawer beside his bed, pulled out a pen, and started writing.
The sun had been set for hours when the ringing of his cell phone finally tore Neal’s attention away from the scattered remains of the notepad that now littered his bed. He gave the offending pieces of paper one last parting glance before turning his back on them and putting his focus squarely out the window.
“Not exactly,” a familiar male voice said on the other end of the line.
Neal growled into his phone. “Fowler!”
“I have a lead on Tim,” Barbara said over the com link in the jet as Batman and Nightwing were making their way back to Gotham City. “I can’t trace the source of the incoming call, and the encryption on the transmission will take at least several hours to crack, so I can’t tell you guys what’s being said. However, I can triangulate Tim’s position from the signal of his phone.”
“That’s great, Babs,” Nightwing said.
“We’re still at least twenty minutes out,” Batman stated. “Who’s on patrol tonight, and who is closest to Tim’s location?”
There was a moment of pause. “Damn it.”
“There are only two guys on patrol tonight. Batwoman’s on one end of the city, and Red Hood’s covering the the other.” Barbara sighed. “Guess who’s closest to Tim’s location.”
“Cr*p,” Nightwing muttered irritably.
Batman sighed. “Jason only tried to kill Tim twice, right?”
The dark knight shook his head. This evening was going to aggravate his ulcer. He just knew it. “Our choices are limited.”
Nightwing bristled. “If he hurts Tim in any way, I reserve the right to break every bone in his body, then blow up every weapon cache he has hidden in the city while he’s stuck in traction.”
“Duly noted,” Barbara said over the com link. “Sending him in now. Hood should arrive at Tim’s position in five.”
“Normally I’m not sorry to disappoint either of you,” the Red Hood said sardonically over the com link, “But considering the threat Dickie-bird made towards my toys, I’m not sure I should be the bearer of bad news.” The helmeted black sheep of their clan of vigilantes normally wouldn’t even bother with personal requests from the big, bad Bat or the perfect son. However, he was curious and it was a slow night. What could be so important to the original dynamic duo that they would be desperate enough to turn to him, of all people, for assistance?
“No one’s there?”
“No one’s here except yours truly. Whoever this Neal Caffrey is, he’s already long gone.” Red Hood said as he picked up a sheet of paper from the dozens littered on the bed. “Does this guy have amnesia or something?”
Nightwing glanced over at Batman. They were still a good fifteen minutes away from Gotham. “Why ask?”
“Cause this guy seems to be having some sort of identity crisis here. The room looks like a notepad exploded. There’s just one personal question scribbled on each sheet of paper and no answers far as I can see.” He flipped the paper over to make sure nothing was on the back and nodded to himself when he was correct in his assumption.
It was Batman himself who spoke up next. “What is the question?”
Jason resisted the reflexive urge to snap at his former mentor. “Multiple questions,” he clarified stiffly. “One per page.” He snatched several more pieces of paper and started reading their contents off. “What’s my mother’s name? What’s my father’s name? Where’d I go to school? Do I have brothers? Do I have sisters? What neighborhood did I grow up in? Blah. Blah. Blah.” Each sheet went floating over his shoulder as he finished. When he had no papers left, he went out to the fire escape and straddled himself on the windowsill, one leg in the hotel room and one leg out. “You know, if you guys send me a picture of the guy you’re looking for, I can probably track him down for you. He probably hasn’t gotten far.”
As the Red Hood sat there, halfway in, halfway out of the hotel room, listening to the radio silence that had to be the Bats conversing amongst themselves, an unexpected sound caught his attention from above. He tilted his gaze upward and listened more closely. It sounded like the gravel which covered the rooftop was being walked upon.
“Hmm… Hold whatever thoughts you guys might be having,” Jason said to anyone who might be listening. Then he quietly made his way up to the roof via the fire escape ladder.
Neal had gone to the roof as soon as he’d gotten off the phone with Fowler. Mostly, he wanted to get away from the room, from all the unanswered questions that had been plaguing him since lunch. He needed to clear his head so that he could return his focus back to the reason why he came to Gotham City in the first place. Being on the rooftop, with its constant crosswinds and unique view of the urban cityscape, was calming. It also had an unexpected benefit. As he stood there looking out over the city, he realized with surprising clarity that it all looked mostly familiar. He pulled out the address he’d jotted down earlier, then moved from one side of the rooftop to the other, until he found what he’d been looking for.
“There,” he murmured to himself as he tipped the brim of his black fedora up a little. “That’s the building.” Even though the towering skyscraper looked like it was still under construction, only about halfway completed, it was in the precise spot Fowler told him Kate would be. The bastard had given him one hour to get to Kate. Now that he knew where she was, it would take less than half that to get there.
“Well, what do we have here? Why is it that all the interesting, mysterious people in Gotham City gravitate to rooftops? You wouldn’t happen to be a Mr. Neal Caffrey, would you?”
Neal froze. The unfamiliar voice sent a chill down his spine, and it took a great deal of self control to keep from bolting outright. He could hear the cocky smirk in the man’s words, and it made his skin crawl. Neal didn’t have to see the man’s face to know he was wearing a crocodile’s smile. Then he slowly turned to look at the newcomer, tucking the address back into his pocket. A small curse echoed in his head as he was greeted by the faceless red helmet. “I suppose it depends on who’s asking.”
Though he couldn’t see the Red Hood’s expression, the man’s voice gave a lot away. Like right now, he was very surprised. “Wow,” he murmured. “OK. Now I see why you guys didn’t want me to meet Neal face to face.” Jason laughed hollowly. “Oh man! It’s been a long time since I’ve been caught this off guard. Bravo, Daddy Bat. Bravo.”
“Jason!” Batman growled in a warning tone into Jason’s earpiece.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” the Red Hood taunted. “You guys seem to be breaking up. Must be a bad connection.”
“We’re on wireless 6G com links, you son of a--!” Nightwing snarled. “The connection can’t break-“
“Click!” Jason said as he touched a button on the side of his helmet, muting the sound of his family’s voices.
As the Red Hood was distracted by his own amusement, Neal took a quick glance around his surroundings, trying to figure out the best way out of this increasingly bad situation. He turned his attention back to the masked vigilante just as the man turned his own attention back to him. “Who are you?” Neal asked suspiciously.
Jason sneered behind his mask. “You really have no idea who I am, do you?”
Neal put on his second best poker face. “Don’t know and don’t care really. You’re just one masked man in a city full of masked men,” he said dismissively. “Besides, I’m just passing through.” He tried to walk past the Red Hood toward the exit, but his path was immediately barred.
“I’m hurt, little bird!” Jason exclaimed with obvious theatrical bravado. “To think you could forget me after everything we’ve been through!”
Neal’s desire to escape the rooftop was quelled, for the moment, by his curiosity. “You know me?”
Though his prey couldn’t see it, the Red Hood was grinning maliciously behind his mask. “Perhaps,” he said cryptically. “But you know, Mr. Caffrey, Gotham City can be a dangerous place for guys like you.”
“What do you mean, guys like me?” Neal asked, backing up as Jason started moving towards him.
Red Hood chuckled. “Guys who don’t know who they really are, of course.” He approached Neal slowly, deliberately, as he continued speaking with a casual, conversational tone. “Folks who don’t have a strong sense of self tend to be chewed up and spat out by a place like this, especially at night.”
Neal’s subconscious retreat was cut off when his back hit the ledge of the roof. “Who am I to you?” he demanded, trying to mask his unease.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Jason taunted with a shrug of his shoulders. “I could be just about anyone.” The masked man took a step forward. “I could be a friend.” He took another deliberate step. “I could be a brother.” The dark vigilante reached out with one gloved hand to stroke the side of Neal’s face in an affectionate gesture. “I could be a lover,” he purred before his voice took on a more sinister undertone as he finally got close enough to put his helmeted face right next to Neal’s ear, “I could even be a mortal enemy.”
The closer the Red Hood got to Neal, the more anxious the former con artist became. He was acutely aware of the way the stench of sweat, gunpowder, old leather, and stale blood clung to the menacing man. It was a strange, yet familiar odor that repulsed him on a visceral level. The sound of his voice grated on his nerves, setting his teeth on edge. Every word that came out of the Red Hood’s unseen mouth instinctively rang false in Neal’s mind, save for two.
“Get the h*ll off of me!” Neal growled as he grabbed Jason by the lapels of the masked man’s open leather jacket.
Laughing, Jason allowed Neal to shove him away, easily dancing out of reach of the tightly clenched fist that came flying at his face. He could tell that the man was in no condition to be any sort of threat to him. Oh Neal might be fit, and he obviously took very good care of himself over the years, but he was no Robin. He just didn’t have the strength or the agility he had in his youth. Jason almost felt sorry for him. There was just one problem with that notion…
Jason never felt sorry for anyone.
Neal’s hat had fallen off in the scuffle. It laid there on the ground between the two men. The younger man’s jaw was set visibly tight as he slowly knelt down to retrieve it, never once taking his eyes off of the Red Hood. With a slow, deliberate flourish, Neal flipped his hat end over end in one hand before settling it on his head. It rested there, cocked at an impudent angle, as he backed himself up to the edge of the roof again. Neal and Jason stood there, eying one another for a long moment. Clearly, the masked man was not impressed.
“What? Have you traded the Bat Pack for the Rat Pack now?”
Neal didn’t know what the Red Hood meant by that, and frankly he didn’t care. He simply hopped up onto the ledge and took one last parting glance over his shoulder. “Thank you,” he said unexpectedly.
“For what?” Behind his mask, Jason raised a quizzical eyebrow.
Neal grinned humorlessly as he rose to his full height. “For reminding me of why I never visit this city.” Then, with a hand atop his hat to keep it from flying off his head, he took a confidence step off the rooftop.
“The h*ll?” Jason gasped in surprise. He rushed to the ledge and leaned over the short concrete wall, expecting to see the remains of the former boy wonder splattered all over the pavement. A litany of curses tumbled out of his mouth when he saw, a survivable length down, an empty balcony and an open sliding glass door that led into the hotel room right beneath his feet. As the Red Hood tossed himself over the ledge and onto the balcony, he heard the startled exclamation of the room’s current occupant as Neal Caffrey ran past her and slammed open the door leading into the hallway.
Though Jason was slightly irritated that Neal had decided to run, mostly he was just amused. The idea that this guy honestly thought he could run from him was absolutely laughable. It also appealed to his darker nature that he would get the chance to chase down the former imposter Robin again. While seven years had quelled the hostile feelings Damian had once held for Timothy Drake, the same could not be said for Jason Todd. If there was anything Jason knew how to do, it was how to hold a long-lasting grudge. He thought it would be a simple matter to catch up to Neal, rough him up a little, and leave him tied up like a present for Batman and Nightwing on the curb.
Neal, however, had other ideas. The moment his feet touched down on the balcony, he was off like a shot, his mind racing a mile a minute to put his plan into action. While on the rooftop, letting the Red Hood run his mouth, he’d been furiously working on a plan to escape him. Though he had been very intrigued by how the masked vigilante seemed to know him, every cell of his being had been screaming at him that this was a dangerous man and that he needed to get away from him as quickly as possible.
While he was dashing through the hotel room, Neal did two things before Jason had a chance to land on the balcony behind him. First, he grabbed the nearest large amount of paper he could see, which just happened to be the newspaper the current room’s occupant had just bought. Then he dropped it into a small metal trashcan that was the standard in all the hotel rooms and snatched that as well.
His adrenaline racing, Neal darted out of the room and into the narrow hallway, making a beeline for the stairwell entrance, which was right next to the elevators. After taking a quick glance back to make sure that the Red Hood was still hung up in the room, he both pressed the button for the elevators and loudly kicked the nearest stairwell door open. The sound of the metal door crashing against the wall and rattling on its hinges echoed down the hallway. Instead of going into the stairwell, however, Neal quickly and quietly darted around the corner, hiding in the hallway that ran parallel to the one he’d just escaped from. Silently he stood there, his back pressed against the wall, heart thudding in his chest as he listened for any sign of his pursuer.
Fortunately, Lady Luck decided to smile on Neal at that precise moment. The Red Hood was not at all subtle as he burst out of the hotel room and ran down the hallway. His attention immediately focused on the still swinging stairwell door and he dove right through it. In his haste to catch his quarry, Jason didn’t even check to see where his prey was when he decided to cut corners and leapt down several flights of stairs. Only afterward did he notice that there were no signs of anyone running down them. Only then did he hear the sound of the something being shoved through the handle of the stairwell door several flights above him.
Neal listened with satisfaction at the sound of the Red Hood struggling to open the door. He’d taken a broom from a nearby cleaning cart and shoved the wooden handle through the u-shaped door knob, making it impossible to be opened from the stairwell. It wouldn’t hold forever, but it would hold long enough. As Jason kicked repeatedly against the door, Neal took out the silver Zippo lighter he always carried and flicked it into life. Though he didn’t smoke, it had been a habit that Mozzie had encouraged him to develop. The little man had told him that you never really knew when a lighter would come in handy. He made a mental note to thank Moz if he ever saw him again as he ignited a corner of the newspaper and dropped it into the metal trash can he’d placed in the middle of the waiting elevator. The flames eagerly licked at the paper and the dry towels Neal had also pilfered from the cleaning cart. Plumes of gray smoke quickly rose up from the can as Neal lit up every floor button in the elevator car before stepping out of it himself. Once the elevator was on its way down, he casually walked over to a nearby fire alarm and pulled it before heading for another stairwell entrance on the opposite end of the hallway.
Jason was startled by the ear-piercingly loud fire alarm siren going off right above his head. He futilely tried to cover his ears through his crimson helmet. As he backed away from the stubbornly barred door, he noticed the rest of the stairwell below him was filling up with frightened and confused people. Many weren’t sure what was going on. Some of the people mentioned the smell of smoke in the hallway. One or two said something about seeing a fire in one of the elevators, but that conversation was quickly swallowed up by the growing crowd trying to escape down the stairs.
With a muttered string of obscenities, the Red Hood tore down the stairwell, heedless of the men and women he startled along the way. By the time he got to the ground level, there were swarms of people milling about everywhere. His eyes darted around feverishly, scanning for any signs of his prey. He grinned triumphantly when he spotted a familiar black fedora weaving towards the rear of the crowd. Jason shoved people out of his way as he dashed for his target. Soon as he had a clear shot, he pulled out a batarang attached to a line and flung it with spot on accuracy at the retreating man. The bat-shaped boomerang wound itself tightly around the man’s ankles and down he went hard to the pavement.
Triumphant feelings turned to something far more sour as the Red Hood reached his captive and flipped him over.
“I didn’t do anything man!” the college-aged stranger cried with alarm as he stared at the ominous red masked vigilante.
“Where did you get that hat?” Jason growled.
“Some dude gave it to me in the lobby! Asked me if I wanted a free hat!”
“F*ck!” Cursing, Jason turned his gaze skyward. His bad mood only worsened when he noticed a familiar set of silhouettes gliding down to the rooftop of the hotel.
“All you had to do was keep an eye on him! He was right in front of you! How could you lose him?”
“Well excuse me, but I didn’t think the imposter would ever have the balls to go take a walk off the roof and then set an elevator on fire just to lose me!”
“Maybe if you’d just left him alone and kept your mouth shut for once, you wouldn’t have given him a reason to run from you in the first place!”
“Oh, screw you, golden boy!”
“Go to h*ll!”
Batman ignored the two former Robins as they snarled and snapped at one another. They were inside the hotel room that had once been Neal Caffrey’s, looking for clues to where he might have gone. As irritated as he was with Jason’s actions, he couldn’t honestly say that he was surprised. It had been a calculated risk sending the Red Hood to keep an eye on Tim, knowing the history the two had with one another. Now it was time to regroup and refocus. Where was Tim headed to now?
Three pairs of eyes turned toward the balcony. The current Robin, Damian Wayne, was now making his way into the hotel room.
“Wonderful. Now we can really make this an official disfunctional Bat-family reunion,” Jason muttered as he passed Damian on his way to the window. He removed his helmet, revealing he still wore a red domino mask beneath it, and placed an unlit cigarette between his lips.
Damian ignored the Red Hood as he went straight to where his father and eldest brother stood. “Oracle informed me of what was going on as soon as we returned to Gotham City airspace.”
“Where’s Batgirl?” Dick asked?
“She’s trying to pick up Tim’s trail. Oracle has been scanning traffic and security camera feeds in the area, looking for signs of him, and sending Batgirl in that general direction. At last report, it looks like he’s making his way towards the business district.”
While he listened to his youngest son’s report, Bruce noticed the remains of the notepad that Tim had been writing on earlier. Most of the pages had been ripped out, leaving behind only six or seven blank sheets on the cardboard-backed pad. He picked it up and studied it for a moment.
“Did you find something, Batman?” Dick asked.
“Are you going to scan it for Oracle?” Robin asked.
Batman picked up a pencil that was sitting on the desk. “That might not be necessary.” With a bit of old school ingenuity, he ran the side of the pencil lead over the blank sheet of paper. As he shaded the yellow sheet, the impression left by the last thing Tim had written began to reveal itself. When he was done, an address was clearly visible on the paper. He couldn’t help but frown as he read it.
“Recognize the address?” Bruce said as he showed the note to Nightwing.
Dick took a look at the paper and paled. He nodded.
“Son of a b*tch!”
All eyes turned toward Jason. The cigarette he’d been trying to light had been thrown to the floor in frustration. “That little sh*t!”
“What’s wrong?” Batman asked, eyes narrowed.
“He stole one of my guns!” Jason exclaimed.
Everyone stared at the Red Hood in shock. “What?”
Jason pulled aside his leather jacket to reveal the holsters tucked beneath his arms. Just as he’d said, the pistol that should’ve been underneath his right arm was missing. The Red Hood had only just realized its absence as he’d searched his jacket for his lighter.
Dick was absolutely flabbergasted. “What? When? How?”
“It must’ve been when we were on the roof,” Jason muttered as he ran over his memories of the last half hour. He remembered how he’d been taunting Neal, and had seemed to push the younger man to become angry enough to grab him and try to strike him. It was the only time during their entire encounter that he was close enough to lift his firearm. “D*mn it!”
“This is bad,” Damian whispered anxiously. “This is really, really bad!” He turned to Nightwing. “Dick! Does Drake have a reason kill anyone? Is there anyone here he’d want to see dead?”
“Because of something my mother told me she did! Damn that woman!” Damian threw a clenched fist into the nearby wall in frustration.
“What did Talia do?” Batman asked.
Damian took a measured breath. “Before Drake was sent to Prague to become Neal, she had a mental trigger implanted into his subconscious. She said it was to prevent him from becoming another Jason, but I think it she did it out of sheer spite.”
“What’s the trigger? What does it do?”
“The trigger was created so that if Drake ever kills anyone with his own hands, all the memories of his past that he’d lost would come back to him at once.” Damian shared a pained, knowing look with Dick. “All his memories. She said that getting the rush of memories at once, especially those ones, would essentially overload his mind and throw him into a coma if…”
Dick paled. “If?”
“If it doesn’t kill him outright.”
Bruce was already disturbed by the description of the trigger and what it would do to his son. Though he wanted nothing more than for Tim to have all his memories of the past and his family back, he didn’t want it to happen because of someone else’s death. However, his concerns increased when he saw the deeply troubled expressions shared by his eldest and youngest children. He suddenly remembered that there had been a large gaping hole in Dick’s earlier story of how Tim had become Neal.
“Dick,” Bruce said quietly. “How exactly did Tim lose his memories?”
Nightwing closed his eyes and swallowed hard. He clearly did not want to reveal this information to his father, but at this point he had no choice. Tim’s very life was at stake. “Ra’s… Ra’s repeatedly tortured Tim to death, while reviving him with a Lazarus Pit.”
There was nothing, literally nothing, that could’ve prepared Bruce for the truth. Dick’s reluctant revelation shook the man behind the Batman’s mask to his very core. Grief was etched on his face for a moment before Bruce forced himself to rein in his emotions. He could indulge in his personal emotional torment later. There wasn’t time for it now! Tim was in greater danger than he’d originally thought, and they needed to find him before something bad happened!
“Robin,” Batman ordered. “Get the address to Oracle and have her send Batgirl to scout the perimeter immediately! If she can intercept Tim before he gets into the building, then for Christ’s sake, do it! The rest of us will get there by the rooftop.” He turned to look at Jason, but when he looked toward the window the Red Hood was nowhere to be found. Bruce resisted the urge to sigh. He’d understood if Jason wanted nothing to do with rescuing Tim. A small part of him wondered if Jason had heard about Tim’s fate, and how he was taking it. Once upon a time, Talia had saved his life, after all. He set the thought aside, though, and turned to his other sons.
“We’re getting Tim back tonight. Let’s go!”
Nearly the entire Bat-clan is back in Gotham City now, with the exception of Alfred who is still in New York. We also have an unexpected reunion between Neal/Tim and Jason Todd.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Batman mythos, here’s a quick breakdown of the history of Jason Todd:
Dick Grayson was the first Robin. When he got older and decided to work solo under the alias of Nightwing, Jason Todd entered the picture to become the second Robin.
Unfortunately, Jason’s tenure as Robin would end tragically when he was murdered by the hands of Batman’s arch-enemy, the Joker. The Joker beat Jason to within an inch of his life with a crowbar, then locked him in a building rigged with explosives. Batman was literally seconds too late to save Jason.
Unknowing to Batman, Jason would return to life and end up in the hands of Talia al Ghul. She nursed him back to health. However, when he regained his senses, Jason would become enraged by two revelations.
The first revelation that infuriated him was the fact that, after murdering him, the Joker was still alive. Batman could never bring himself to cross the line and kill the monster responsible for the death of Jason (though in actuality he came pretty damn close).
The second revelation that added fuel to Jason’s fire was that a third Robin (Tim Drake) was working at Batman’s side. To Jason, Tim was an imposter, a usurper, a replacement. Jason despised Tim almost as much as the Joker.
Because of all that, Jason Todd returned to Gotham City using the identity of the Red Hood. He became a vigilante on his own terms, one who had no qualms about using lethal force to exact his brand of justice on criminal scum. He has attempted to kill the Joker, though was foiled by Batman himself. He has also attempted to kill Tim Drake on several occasions, but succeeded in only seriously wounding him to the point of near death most of the time.
In this story’s timeline, over the past seven years prior to this tale, Jason has a grudgingly civil relationship with the Bat-clan, so long as he’s only associating with members other than Batman and Nightwing. He’s curbed his use of lethal force considerably over the years, but will not hesitate to shoot anyone if he feels they deserve it.