"Let's play!" Joker screams, raising a large, metal wrench high in the air over a dazed looking Nightwing.
No! The sight of his older brother lying at the Joker's feet sends static waves of terror through all of Red Robin's nerves as he kicks in the back door of the auto shop; as soon as he's back on his feet, he sends a birdarangs whistling towards the sadistic clown, the sharp blade embedding itself in the white, fingerless gloves clutching the wrench. There's a screech that's ripped from bloody red lips, and Nightwing manages to scramble several feet away on his elbows and knees while Joker clutches his injured hand, dark liquid dripping onto the concrete floor.
Insanity manages to jerk him out of the pain far faster than normal, and those wild eyes swing dazed around the shop for a moment before landing on Red Robin and Robin, who are now trying to get Nightwing to his feet. He looks back at his hand, then the vigilantes, then his hand again. Something deadly sparks on his horrid face. "That's not funny," he growls, and Red Robin feels himself grow goose bumps.
When the Joker makes a mad dash for the exit, none of them are surprised. "Robin, stay here with Nightwing and those cops!" the masked Tim Drake calls out, already sprinting forward in pursuit. He chooses to ignore Robin's indignant protests, along with the worry for Dick that's making his gut churn. He's fine, he reminds himself. Saw some blood, but he was conscious and not screaming in pain. Damian can take care of him for now. C'mon, Drake, focus! Focus on catching him. Joker, despite being a demented maniac that had sliced off his own face and stapled it back on, is fast when he wants to be. He can just get a few glimpses of a purple jacket and pale white skin as the psycho begins to disappear in the darkness of the Gotham slums; the weather isn't helping at all as dark clouds release large clumps of frigid white fluff down on the world below. When chasing on foot proves not to be effective, Red Robin hastily scampers up a fire escape and then leaps off the rooftop, opening his arms wide and allowing his new glider feature to come into play. The dozens of light plastic strands attached to his suit, resembling feathers, quickly catch the wind, and he glides over alleyways and the empty streets, slowly gaining on his prey. Damn it, Joker. He grit his teeth as the sadistic suddenly changed course and made a sharp right; in his attempt to follow, Tim felt his glider nearly fold in on him. Why is he so fast? Ugh, need to retrofit these wings for winter flight – the cold and the snow certainly aren't doing me any good.
"Red Robin?" Oracle's voice interrupts his mental rambling.
He risks lowering one of his artificial wings to tap his earpiece. "Go, Oracle."
"Are you aware that you're heading directly for the highway?"
He looks around, squinting through the quickly thickening snow. "Uh… huh. Yeah, I guess I am. I should probably try to catch this slime ball before he gets there, should I?" He makes a deep swoop down, and curses when the Joker once again takes a sudden turn, this time to the left. He's swerving, but he's definitely heading for the highway. "Hey, Oracle, have you heard from Nightwing or Robin yet?"
"Yes, they're both fine; but Tim, if he gets across that highway, you'll have to postpone the chase."
Now that's confusing. "What are you talking about? We need to catch him this time, I'm gaining ground, I can do it…"
"The highway, Tim."
There's a pause. "Red Hood's territory? Across the highway? Ring a bell?"
Gears churn in the teen's head, and suddenly he lowers his arms and lands on a store's rooftop, watching as the slick fugitive let out cackling laughter as he dashed across the now empty highway lanes, disappearing into the distant shadows. "Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit," he drawls, resisting the urge to hit something. He stamps his boot against the ground instead, and then leaps downwards so he is once again on solid ground. Unbelievable. So close! Damn it, damn it, damn it! Stupid Hood, with your petty boundary rules. Stupid Batman, for actually agreeing to those rules. Stupid me, for being so weak that I know I'll get my face wiped across Gotham's pavement if I break those rules.
He can hear sympathy and exasperation in Oracle's voice as she spoke. "I'll talk to the boss here and see what we should do next. Don't worry, Tim, we'll get him next time."
He finds his mind wandering away from the present reality and thinking back to a few months ago, him first being forced to fight Red Hood nearly to the death by the Joker and then being captured with the rest of his brothers in order to break the Batman. The memory haunts him, even now, and at that moment he makes a decision. Since fighting Hood last we've gotten… I dunno… a better understanding of each other. He's still exaggeratingly fierce over his territory; but if he hears that it's in order to catch Joker maybe he'll relent a bit. He'll probably relent a bit. I just bet he'll relent. Maybe he could even help, if I can stop him from shooting the clown in the head before I get him back to Arkham. Yeah, yeah, okay. I can do this, alright then…
He breaks out into a swift run once more, quickly clearing the highway; then, before he knows it, he's past it and slipping down an old alleyway filled with backed up sewage and garbage and filthy yellow snow drifts. He leaps over the larger obstacles, and then finds himself in a rather large, open area, with a broken fountain in the middle surrounded by tattoo parlors, bars, and dingy night clubs that pulse with loud, off beat music. Oracle is yelling in his ear, telling him to turn back around and not to be stupid; he raises one hand and shuts the comm. off, no doubt going to get a heck of a scolding later by the former Batgirl. Yet, strangely enough, he can't bring himself to truly care. He's too busy studying his surroundings, attempting to discern where the Joker had disappeared. C'mon, you freak, show yourself.
Directly up ahead, a club called the Warp suddenly has its doors flung open, and scantily clad drunks pour outside, screaming. One man, his pants hanging down to his knees, trips and falls in a drift of snow – he's still clutching his beer and he's as white as the frozen water beneath him, breathing coming out in heavy gasps. He looks as if he's about to have a coronary.
Well… that's as good a place to start looking as any.
Oracle sits at her post, speechless for quite a moment. She's never been too fond of the Jason Todd, ever since he'd become the Red Hood. He'd been an amusing child as Robin; but the violent, trigger happy vigilante he ran around as now always made her uncomfortable. Dick said he trusted his brother with his life; but she'd seen the marks on all three of the Batman's current partners. Hood never went easy on any of them if they crossed the line. The line that Tim had just broken tonight. She spins her chair around to glare at the man standing behind her, whose face is as unreadable as always. "Have you trained all of your sons to be so impulsive?" she demands, frowning. "Because Red Robin just crossed the highway and then cut me out."
"I've been tracking the Red Hood's movements for the past several weeks," Bruce replied, ruffled yet now showing it. Barbara Gordon was perhaps the only person besides Alfred and his surrogate offspring that could talk up to him as such and leave unharmed. "He's busy with a drug bust tonight on the other side of his territory – he shouldn't be anywhere near Tim tonight."
"And if Jason does show up?" she challenges, eyes holding his gaze steadily; a feat she may not have achieved had he been wearing the cowl. "Do you think he'll be all pleasant with having Tim and the Joker trespassing? Breaking the rules you both set up and agreed to?"
He doesn't answer, but the way his muscles tense and his lips purse together tell her all she needs to know.
The Red Hood has never been a very popular reputation; and Jason Todd has never been very trendy using that reputation. He doesn't mind. It just makes keeping a low profile easier, allowing him to slip into the rich New Gotham streets and then slink back into the slums with the skills of a professional prevaricator. It gets him into the dirtiest, seediest places available in the city, where the lowest of the low gather around to drink and fuck and fight and make complete fools of themselves.
It also gets him free beer, because apparently, the owner of the joint he's currently in is in need of protection tonight; and Red Hood can provide that protection for a never ending tab of burning alcohol. It's why he's now lounged in a corner window booth, two empty bottles on the filthy table before him and another in his hands. His red helmet sits on his lap as he swings the cool beverage up to his lips once more; just as he swallows, he notices the Warp across the street get suddenly evacuated, all its pathetic customers flooding out the gates as if the place is on fire. He doubts there's any real trouble. He knows the owner of the club is a drunken asshole who completely loses his mind after a few drinks too many; no doubt Buzz ran all those people out himself. He takes another sip of his beer, than glances down at the bulge from underneath his leather jacket and white t-shirt. He knows the lump is formed by the bandages his ribs were completely wrapped in – the drug bust from earlier had gone well except for those few broken bones. It makes breathing a bitch, but the drinks are already numbing that negative effect; and besides, he had reason to celebrate. No more Donnie Franco dealing amphetamines to high school saps. No more Donnie Franco period. It felt good to have that oaf off his streets, knowing those teenagers would be rid of Franco's pep pills, and Jason managed a sloppy smirk to himself. Good work tonight, Jason, he complimented. Good work…
His peripheral vision picked up a flash of red and black against the gray/white backdrop, and he choked on his next gulp of beer. To see the Red Robin dashing across the broken little plaza and leap through the Warp's front door is certainly not expected, and Jason lets his drink fall from his hands, replacing it with his helmet as he slams the protective gear over his head. "…the fuck...?" He passes by the bar's owner, whose yelling at him to come back, that he still needs protecting. Red Hood shouts back at him, something about keeping his dick in his pants and that he'll be back in no time, before charging out into the frigid winter air.
By the time he reaches the Warp, its fairly obvious what has caused the people to panic and explains Red Robin's presence. The Joker stands is standing on the small stage, the one used to show off exotic dancers, and in his hands he clutches a hand pistol he must've pulled from one of the guards. R. Robin is perched on one of the overturned tables, his boa staff held in front of him as he tries to gauge if/when/where his opponent will shoot. Red Hood stands in the doorway, blood boiling at the sight of the clown freak, his own impressive firepower slipping out of their holsters and into his palms.
Joker is the first one to spot him, and playfully levels his weapon at the bright hood. "Hey there, Hoodie!" he calls out, making Red Robin spin around in surprise. "Would you look at that! It's all three of us, back together again, just like old times!" He laughs – of course he's gotta laugh – and then yanks the safety off the pistol. His voice drops three octave lower, and he tilts his head in a mockingly seductive matter. "Let's get this party started, shall we?"
He's diving for cover even before the first bullet is shot at him. He crashes to the ground and looks up to see Red Robin performing an elegant dance, leaping from one table to the next, slowly getting closer and closer to the enemy. He's gonna take him down, truss him up, and drag that clown's ass all the way back to Arkham; and once again, Jason will lose his chance to rid the world of this bastard's cruelty for good. Oho no you don't… not this time, baby bird. He's back on his feet in a second, and striding forward towards the stage, fingers slamming down on his triggers in an attempt to get this job done before 'baby bird' gets close enough to interfere.
One bullet ricochets, and Tim barely has time to dodge it before it rips past his shoulder. "Watch it, Hood!" he calls out angrily. "You don't have to go 'round shooting like some drunk cowboy!" The younger boy pauses a second, considers tazering Jason and getting him out of the way, and then decides against it. It'll just make things more difficult in the long run.
"Ya can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen, baby bird!" he calls back, still shooting, gritting his teeth. " 'the hell you doing here anyway?! On my land!"
Once again, the cowboy metaphor comes to mind, but Red Robin shoves it aside. "Would you rather me let this sicko get away, trashing up your business?!" he exclaims, ducking and gliding with a grace that has always left Jason a bit jealous. Heck, a lot jealous.
Damn replacement and Dick and demon spawn, always showing off. Damn Bat for teaching them all this crap and not me. He's almost at the stage, but so is the other boy. And the Joker… he just keeps skipping around, not fazed by the fact that almost all of Hood's projectiles are only centimeters away from their mark. Hold still, ya ass! "If he wanders into my territory, than you leave him to me!" he states, growling. He's taken off guard when R. Robin slams into him from the side, and nearly dislocates the sixteen-year-old's jaw with his uppercut slam. "Back off!"
"Can't let you kill him," Tim grunts, kicking Hood in gut before scrambling to his feet.
"My property, my rules!" His regains his grip on his guns and once again begins shooting. Only the clown isn't on the stage anymore – he's moved over near the drink bar. He and Tim lock eyes for just a second before both break out in a mad race to reach their prey first.
Joker looks and them, and waggles his eyebrows; a motion Jason wouldn't have thought he could still pull off with his face like that. "Aw, you two fighting over little ol' me?" he coos. "I take back what I said before – this is much better than a date with the Bat!"
Oh, so he's doing all this just to get to Bruce. Of course he is. He notices that somehow, Tim has pulled ahead of him, dodging objects while he just smashes through them. He considers shooting the kid for a moment – nothing lethal, just maybe in one of the legs – but then relents a bit. He doesn't feel like killing the Batman's partners anymore, at least not Tim or Dick. He's still considering his thoughts on the demonic nightmare that's called Damian Wayne.
His ribs scream at him in protest as he breaks right through a heavy wooden table, and he stifles a cry. He releases a heavy torrent of profanities instead, and when both he and Red Robin are near enough, they both take crazed, flying leaps through the air, ready to tackle Joker to the ground and fight over him like cats over a mouse.
But Joker gets to throw his homemade Molotov cocktail first, and throws the small explosive happily at them. "Catch, boys!"
It crashes against Jason's hood – because of course it would hit him and spare the replacement. But both of them go flying back from the impact, flames quickly spread all around them as Joker unleashes several more of his toys. There's enough alcohol in the place to make it light up like dead grass. How did I not see him making those? he thinks with a groan as he sits up, gasping at the agony that is his chest, just barely aware of how Red Robin is groggily trying to regain his balance on his knees. Goddamn it!
Smoke… its everywhere now. Little sensors in his helmet begin to flash warnings and beep periodically. Thank you, little helmet sensors. Like I didn't already know I'm knee deep in shit right now. He tries to sit up more, until his chest shrieks at him not to move another muscle or it'll rip itself from its body. Waist deep. He blinks a few times, trying to regain his vision behind the lenses of his red mask.
Tim is stumbling around, coughing into the sleeve of his Red Robin uniform as he begins babbling to someone he can't see. Ghosts? No, that's stupid. Jason frowns as he tries to get his brain to think straight. Oracle. He's probably talking to Oracle. He knows that means others will be showing up soon, but can't bring himself to care much. Probably because his mind has become as smoked up as the room, and his chest feels afire – maybe it actually is – and he's trapped in this hell with princess Timothy Drake. Well, at least it's not the demon spawn. Red Robin… Jason decides that for the moment, he can tolerate Red Robin.
"…and we're… Oracle? Oracle?! Shit!" Tim is using his fingers to go all woodpecker on his ear – Jason hisses as he gets to his feet and observes just how stupid the kid looks. He considers a snappy insult, but then a beam nearby crashes to the ground, and he decides full blown mocking can wait until they're both out of the Warp-turned-oven. "Something wrong, baby bird?" he calls over teasingly, managing a pain laced smirk.
Red Robin scowls at him from behind his black mask, but doesn't seem too irked. "I can't get back in contact with Oracle," he says grimly. "And I didn't tell her about you being here either."
"Doesn't matter – I'll be outta here in just a few seconds." He stumbles over towards where the front door had been; it's now covered by three flaming chunks of roof and other debris. He tries to move a piece; but his body won't let him, and he's forced to lean back against a piece of wall that is not yet aflame. "Ugh…" He shuts his eyes, shakes his head in an attempt to clear it. "…gimme a minute… to, uh… to think…"
"Don't hurt yourself," Tim tells him dryly. "We can't waste time, we've gotta get out of here now…"
The center beam comes crashing down, and Red Robin is the first to hear the ominous creaks and groans of the building.
"Hood, c'mon we need to… JASON, MOVE!"
The ceiling comes crashing down on them a split second later.