Jason hasn't seen any of his fellow District 3 Victors in a long time, but there they all are now- projected on screens 100 ft high. They're standing up on the platform next to the District Escort holding their breaths as the name is drawn. Jason can barely catch a glimpse of the stage over the heads of the crowd despite his own impressive height, but the screens don't lie: They're all up there right now, even the demon brat- Bruce's kid, who at 10 is still too young to be reaped.
They look good, damn them, in their impeccable suits, 100% pure Gotham style with only the slightest hint of Capitol about them. Even Cassandra has a tie on. Defiance through kick-ass fashion. Jason has to hold back a snort. It's such a Bruce thing to do. Dramatic empty gestures have always been his forte.
Bruce shouldn't have been able to win the Games. It was plain fact. He had been barely even 12, and hailed from Gotham's very thin upper crust. He wasn't a hardened slum kid or a hulking factory worker. He was the son of the wealthiest people in Gotham district- so rich they lived on their own Estate right up against the district fence on the outskirts of the city. Or they had.
Bruce shouldn't have won his Games but he did. And Jason will probably never know just how he did it but he knows that however Bruce had done it the Capitol had not liked it.
It's been more that 20 years and people still talk about the Wayne Executions.
Jason can't help the twisted grin that spreads across his face at the thought. The Capitol truly was idiotic. Gotham had always be a galloping horse of a district, too big, and too wild to be completely under the thumb of the Capitol.
People here lived by their own rules. To control Gotham, you had to know Gotham. The Waynes had known Gotham and been the Guardian angels of the place for generations, holding it all together and just barely keeping a lid on things. The Capitol thought killing them would keep people in line. They should have realized that once you killed the people holding it all together, things tended to fall apart and fast.
Really, Jason couldn't help thinking, if the Capitol hadn't killed the Waynes than the peacekeepers wouldn't be too scared to venture into anywhere but the outskirts of Gotham City.
And the best part was: The Capitol couldn't even admit they didn't have control anymore. Because it was their own damn fault.
Jason catches sight of Brucie's vapid smile out of the corner of his eye and grits his teeth. Okay, he was man enough to admit that the Batman had helped the Capitol lose it's grip on the City.
Jason's tucked away in the melee of the crowd watching the reaping with those too old or too young to be chosen. Most of the district didn't bother turning up, but there are enough people that Jason's sure he's inconspicuous. He hates being out like this without his helmet. He feels naked without it these days.
It's not like the years in the Capitol. He reminds himself. It's not.
The crowd reacts to something and Jason looks back up at the screen. Someone's been reaped- the girl. Dick's smiling and throwing an arm over her shoulder while tossing out a couple words to the crowd.
The crowd laughs and roars it's approval. They love him and the girl (14 or 15 years old) is looking at him with complete trust. She looks like she believes he can save her.
Jason knows she'll be dead in a couples of weeks, and he suspects Dick does too.
Jason would really really like to be able to hate Dick. But, he suspects the man has to be some sort of muttation because Jason just can't seem to manage it. Like everything else he does, Dick had made winning the Hunger Games look easy. The first Gotham Victor since the infamous Bruce Wayne, he'd been around the same age as that girl he's got up there with him. 'The Boy Wonder' they still sometimes call him, despite the fact that he hasn't been a boy in a long time.
Damian and Tim are watching Dick nervously now, not that anyone in the crowd except Jason would be able to tell they're nervous. Jason idly wonders if the Capitol has something nasty cooked up for Dickie-bird and that's why he's stalling. It's unlikely. Bruce may be the 'Prince of Gotham' but Dick Grayson is everybody's 'Golden Boy'. And the Capitol loves him even more than Gotham does.
More likely Dick's the one planning something dangerous. The idiot. You'd think after everything that happened to Jason the bastard would learn.
But apparently not, since he's up there hamming it up for the crowd and smiling at that girl. He's even got her laughing now.
Jason will admit that if he was that girl Dickie's the mentor he'd want.
Dick's always been the best at mentoring the long shot hopeless cases.
Jason doesn't know how he does it, and still keeps on smiling the way he does.
Dick can only slow things down for so long though, and now they're drawing the next name. Jason doesn't care. Everyone he gives a shit about in Gotham is safe, either too old (like Selina) or too young (like the demon brat) or already a victor (like Tim and Cassie).
Of course that will only last for a couple more years, Jason has no doubt that once he's of age Damian will eventually be reaped. The son of the Dark Knight and the most elite of elite Career trained killers, a boy who was raised in District 1 but transferred to District 3 on a paternal technicality? It would make for too good of television for any Gamemakers to resist for long. The draws are rigged when it suits the Capitol. Everyone knows that.
The odds would be in the little demon's favour though. Jason's pretty sure Damian could cut through the rest of the tributes easily enough now- in a couple of years there wouldn't be much chance he's lose. Damian wasn't just trained for these Games, after all; He was bred for them.
The name of the boy tribute is drawn and Jason bolts to attention when he sees that it's Tim and not Bruce who steps forward to meet him.
He's absolutely sure there's a plan now. Dick mentors regularly, but every year without fail either Bruce, or Alfred makes the journey to the Capitol- for nearly 20 years without a single exception. Tim's only mentored twice before, both times with Bruce along for the ride.
They wouldn't just make a change like that on a whim.
Jason tries to study Bruce, but the cameras are lingering on Tim and his tribute and it's too far for Jason to get much of a look at Bruce.
What is he doing? What is that bastard thinking? He'd never give up that sort of control.
And then ice-water fills Jason's stomach. What if it wasn't Bruce who was behind it?
Damian and Tim nervously watching Dick. Dick's delaying tactics.
Dick's the one you want with you if you have to face the inevitable.
Had the Capitol asked for Tim specifically to mentor for these Games?
The idea makes Jason's hands itch for his guns. He knows what happens to pretty little Victors that are specifically requested to mentor. Never mind that Timmy's still a teenager and so shy and awkward that Jason has his doubts as to whether the kid's ever even kissed anybody.
It had never occurred to Jason that the Replacement would ever be that kind of danger from the Capitol. Volunteer or not, the kid may have the looks, but his personality (not to mention his performance in the Games) was kind of terrifying if you're not ready for it.
Not demon-brat levels of course and Tim's gotten steadily better at faking the charm for the cameras but, well, Dick's really the only one of the Bats that's got anything like a winning personality. Bruce is a master of faking it, though.
Dick had spent quite a bit of time in the Capitol during the years right after Jason had won his Games. It's why Jason had been forced to mentor next to Bruce for a while and had never gotten to know his older 'brother' too well- Dick had been too popular in the Capitol to take time off to mentor or spend time with his fellow Victors, even if they were also his newly adopted little brother.
Jason tries not to think about how that whole era had turned out.
The speeches are over and the crowd starts to disperse. Parents elbow forward to grab their children, reassured that they are safe now- for another year at least.
To be honest the reaping isn't so bad in Gotham. It's the second largest district. There's hundreds of thousands of kids here. The odds of any one particular child being chosen are astronomical.
(Unless you're Damian Wayne, and your fate's been sealed since the day you were born).
Jason keeps his head down as he cuts through the crowd, even though it's unlikely he'd ever be recognized. It certainly hasn't happened before.
He's changed a lot since he was Bruce Wayne's other protege: The Second Boy-Wonder. The name was, quite frankly, insulting since he'd had nothing in common with Dick-face except dark hair (which has been dyed anyway) and Bruce as a mentor. And anyway he'd never been a particularly popular Victor, not unexpected like Bruce, or flashy like Dick or dramatic like Cass.
Jason had entered his arena with decent odds. And systematically cut his way through it till he was the last one standing. No showmanship, no surprises. He'd come to kill and he'd left alive.
They don't even say his name in Gotham anymore. Jason Todd died an unremarkable death years ago as far as the people are concerned.
He's almost back to his current safe-house deep in the most tangled alleys of the Narrows (not home, you can't have a home when you're moving every couple of weeks), where the paths between buildings are so tight that Jason's broad shoulders practically brush both walls.
To say Jason's surprised when the Demon-Brat appears out of one of the narrow alleys leading to the infinitesimal little court in front of Jason's building, where he had apparently been lurking and lying in wait, would be an understatement.
The kid must have gotten there via the roofs. It's the only way he could have beaten Jason here and still had time to change into non-descript street clothes.
“Todd.” Damian says solemnly. From anyone else it would be a greeting, but Damian has a strange habit of saying everything like it's a statement of fact.
Jason nods at the kid, and gives him a “What-the-fuck-do-you-want-child-of-the-demon?” glare.
“I need to speak to you.” Damian declares. Jason has seen some fucked up shit in his life but this 10 year old is definitely the weirdest person he's ever met.
Jason is busy unlocking the door and doesn't bother giving Damian the 'no-shit' look he deserves for that bit of stating the obvious.
“I would like your advice and possibly assistance on a matter tha-” The kid stops abruptly mid-sentence once Jason gets the door unlocked.
Jason jerks his head towards his now open door. Damian hesitates. It's the first time Jason's ever seen the kid do that. Uncertainty isn't not a good look on him.
Jason rolls his eyes. Honestly, you nearly kill a kid (and Tim hadn't even been a kid he's been a Victor and a teenaged one at that) one time during a psychotic break and suddenly everyone starts acting like you're planning on filleting any child who gets left alone with you.
Jason steps inside but the kid is still hovering on the doorstep. Frustrated Jason punches his own throat and then gives Damian a significant look.
Damian looks embarrassed. “Oh, of course. You wouldn't bring your Voice Synthesizer with you on the day of a reaping.”
Jason huffed. Obviously he wouldn't. He's not an idiot.
Damian followed him inside and waits as Jason resets his security.
Jason's place is technically a squat. The building's officially abandoned and no one's got a clue that it's where Jason's set up shop.
Jason shoots a glance at the kid.
At least, almost he had thought no one had had a clue.
He grabs the voice synthesizer rig from where he's hidden it and carefully puts it on. It's his cheaper one, small, and made of a bunch of pieces easily disassembled into unsuspicious looking component parts. He wears it when he need to go out and the helmet with it's built in high quality synthesizer would be too conspicuous. Unfortunately, because it's so small and cheap it only produces a computerized voice without a single inflection or emotion. He carefully glues the sensor to his throat and turns the little speaker on.
Both of the rig and the helmet are completely illegal, of course. When the Capitol takes your voice they get peeved at anyone who tries to give it back.
But, Jason has no tongue and he must speak so- he finds a way. He always has and he always will.
“what do you want demon-brat.” he asks, trying not to wince at the grating computer voice.
“I want a lot of things Todd.” the kid replies pensively.
This is weird. All of Jason's other encounters with him had involved attempted maiming. Philosophizing is more Tim's thing.
“spit it out i don't have all day.”
Damian rolls his eyes. “Of course. Drug dealers and Peacekeepers won't murder themselves.”
Jason makes a face at the kid. It's more eloquent than a reprimand in an emotionless computerized voice would be.
Damian is clearly working his way up to something. Finally he blurts it out: “How did you get away? How did you get out?”
Jason stares at the kid blankly. “i didn't get away i got caught.” he opens his mouth and points at where his tongue used to be. “avox remember.”
Damian looks unimpressed. “But you escaped from that and got back here. You could do it again. I'm know you leave the District regularly.”
The kid is sharp. Jason has to give him that. Everyone else ignores the things they believe are impossible. Damian had his father's knack of seeing what was really there.
“this about whatever happened at the reaping.” Jason asks.
“This is about what's happening in Panem, Jason. Not just the reaping.”
“what are you going to do bring down the government you're ten years old”
“ Why shouldn't I? You're trying to. I want to join you in your crusade.”
“aren't you already part of daddybat's crusade seems like being a child soldier in more than one army might be overkill.”
“I find myself disillusioned by my father's methods.”
“hey join the club.”
Damian crosses his arms and yells “I just don't see what the point is in being symbols of hope to our District if we're helpless to keep the people we love safe!” For a minute Damian seems almost like a normal 10-year old getting angry at the injustices he hasn't had time to just accept yet.
At least Jason knows what Damian's little visit is about now. Drake and Grayson's trip to the Capitol is worrying him.
“that's the point of the system damian we're all helpless i can't do anything any more than bats can.”
Damian grimaces. “Drake is not well suited to the Capitol.” he mutters.
Jason grins. Damian's cute when he's pretending not to care about someone. “no one is well suited to the capitol.”
Damian glances up at Jason. “Just let me know if I can ever be of use to you. I need to do something. Father's way isn't enough. Not anymore. And we both know I have the skills to help you.”
Jason shrugs. “grayson won't like it.” Bruce won't either but Grayson's the one who has real pull with the kid. Even Grayson knows that (though Bruce and Damian aren't quite ready to admit it).
Damian nods and meets Jason's gaze head on. “I know. But I'm doing this for him.”
This isn't Damian's usual icy calm rage. This is something fiery and destructive that Jason's only ever seen before in the mirror.
He raises his eyebrows. “what brought this on? i thought you'd drunk that kool-aid.” He sighs internally. His witty quips just aren't as satisfying when delivered in computerized monotone.
Damian looks away suddenly. “I learned some things. Recently”
Ah, Jason thinks. Because of Tim going to the Capitol someone had sat Damian down and told him what he might have to look forward to if he made it through his Games alive. Once you're reaped the Capitol owns you for life. Even if you win. At some point every Victor has to lie back and think of whatever is is that keeps them going.
Damian's learned what Grayson went through, what Bruce still goes through and what Tim is just now walking into.
No wonder the kid is pissed.
Jason unlocks one of his gun lockers and hands the kid a pistol. He doesn't ask if he knows how to use it. The kid's a Career, it goes without saying.
“if i can use you i'll contact you.” he promises.
Damian takes the gun and tucks it away in his clothing, before he nods decisively at Jason. “I'll be following your exploits with interest.”
Jason grins back at Damian.
“well keep watching kid you ain't seem nothing yet.”
Damian grins back.
Damian's an assassin and Jason is a dead man.
Together they'll have blood. Together they'll make the bastards pay for what they've done to Jason, what they're doing to the people they love, what they'll do to Damian if they get a chance.
Jason isn't really surprised when Bruce crashes his meeting with his criminal lieutenants- like Jason he's in full costume. The people of Gotham learned long ago that it's harder for the Capitol to arrest someone who wears a mask.
The black cape and cowl of the Batman vigilante bleeds into the darkness. The red helmet and shirt of the Red Hood mob boss just bleeds.
“Hood.” Batman growls.
With a jerk of his head. Jason send his lieutenants out of the room. He appreciates Bruce using the name of his persona. Most of Gotham may have a good idea of what Billionaire Bruce Wayne gets up to in his spare time, even if the Capitol is still desperately trying to track down the mysterious vigilante, but no one outside the family has the slightest clue who's under the Red Hood.
“I know Robin came to see you.” Batman states.
Jason rolls his head since Batman won't be able to tell if he's rolling his eyes. “What can I say?” He snarls through his helmet. “He was distressed about learning his big brothers' have been pimped out.”
Batman bristles. “I explained to him-”
“Yeah, well your explanations aren't gonna cut it” Jason drawls. “Not with how things are. The little demon is at least smart enough to want to kill his enemies. To try and really change things.”
“It can't work like that. We need to keep control. Blood in the streets isn't going to help our cause.” Batman growls.
Jason laughs. It comes out muffled by the helmet but it's his real laugh. Not something generated by the software in his helmet.
“Blood in the streets is about the only thing that's gonna help us now, Batsy.” He sneers.
Bruce doesn't respond, he just vanishes into the darkness with a swirl of black cape like the utterly ridiculous drama queen that he is.
Jason flips off the corner where the Batman had disappeared, calls his minions back in and gets back to work. He has a criminal/resistance network hybrid to run after all.
Jason doesn't watch the games this year. Not even the required viewing in the evenings. He hasn't watched any of it in years. One of the many perks of being a dead man. But he lingers in Gotham longer than he should, listening to the gossip about the Games, (and about the mentors).
Dick's girl died on the second day, surprising absolutely no one. Tim's boy makes it to the top 10 but not the top 8. Both Dick and Tim are seen out at parties with the elite of the Capitol. Dick's always smiling in the pictures, but Tim just looks bored and resigned. It makes Jason's blood boil.
They should be safe. After everything he's done, and everything they've done, they should be safe.
Jason pretends he's not staying in Gotham for any particular reason, but he's not fooling anyone, least of all himself. He lingers in the dreary city, even after the Games are through and the new Victor from District 11 is crowned. A blonde girl with a bright smile who looks good in blue.
About a month after the reaping he runs into Grayson on the roofs. It's not unusual. Nightwing, owns these rooftops even more than Batman does and mask or not Grayson's always had a very special relationship with gravity. What is unusual is that Grayson has the kid in tucked up in his arms, dozing against his chest, that stupid green hood flipped up over the kid's head and the even stupider yellow cape gathered round him like a blanket.
That's enough to stop Jason in his tracks.
“He hurt?” Jason asks. It's not like Damian to tolerate being cuddled. Even less like him to sleep in uniform.
It takes Grayson by surprise, and Jason sees him tense to run.
Jason hold his hands up. “Hey, Goldie” He quips. “No need to worry, s'just little ol'Hood.”
Grayson face stretches into a smile beneath his mask, and Jason can't help the little flip of guilt he feels at that. Jason's spent years hating Dick Grayson, or trying to. More time even than that trying to hurt him or the people he loves, and despite everything Grayson's genuinely happy to see him.
“Nah,” Grayson whispers after a minute. “Ivy just got in a lucky dose. I'm letting him sleep it off. He needs it.”
Jason nods and sits down next to Dick on the edge of the building. “How was the Capitol?”
Grayson shrugs. “The same. It's always the same.” He sounds resigned.
Jason wishes he could have this conversation without his helmet on, but without the helmet he can't speak. At least not the way he needs to.
“Is Tim okay?”
It's hard to tell with the mask, but Jason thinks that Grayson glances at him from the corner of his eye, before he smirks. It's a practiced expression, Jason realizes with a shock- he's seen it before on television. He suddenly wonders how much of the seemingly effortless perfection of Dick Grayson the Boy Wonder that has so infuriated Jason as the younger less brilliant Victor had been like his acrobatics: something he's practiced till it was perfect.
“Have you been here since the reaping?" Dick asks with a smirk. "Or did you figure it out just from both of us little birds being in the Capitol?”
Jason is tempted to lie. To say his powers of deduction were so great he'd seen through it all with just a television broadcast.
He tells the truth though. He's always preferred it. Nothing hurts like the truth.
“I've been here since the reaping.”
Dick nods. “When did Dami come and see you?”
Jason rolls his eyes. Of course Grayson knows, Jason's pretty sure Grayson knows everything about that kid.
“Right after the reaping.” Jason grudgingly admits.
Dick chuckles. “Figures.”
Jason nods. “He was pretty pissed about what was going down with Tim. Whose bright idea was it to tell him, by the way?”
Grayson winces. “You need to take the gun back. The Capitol is watching our family very closely. If they catch him with it, or find it in the house...” he trails off, he doesn't need to tell Jason what the consequences could be. He's lived through most of them.
Jason makes a face under his mask. “Puh-lease, the kid's way too smart to put it anywhere those schmucks could find.”
“Why am I the only person who remembers that little D is 10 years old? Sure he's a genius, and a martial arts and armed combat prodigy but he's still just a little kid.”
“You're the only person who believes 'little D' was ever a kid.”
Grayson is glaring at him from under his mask, Jason can tell. It makes him stifle another chuckle.
Then Jason sobers as he remembers why Damian had come to him in the first place. “He has a right to be angry you know. A right to do something. It'll be him soon enough. You know that as well as I do.”
“He's a child, Jason.” Dick protests. As though being a child had ever been protection against anything. Least of all having to fuck someone you'd rather not just to stay alive. Jason knows that better than anyone.
“A child who's been training to kill since he could walk. A child who's been on the streets and the rooftops, with you, fighting crime since he got here.” Jason tries to keep from yelling but it's hard.
Grayson runs a hand over Damian's head where it's tucked under his chin.
“And what the hell's going on with Tim and you anyway?" Jason demands "I thought after what I did they weren't making anyone from this District do that anymore.”
Grayson shrugs. “Things change. You've been dead a long time little wing, and people in the Capitol have short memories. Tim hadn't made the rounds yet. People were curious.”
It makes Jason sick to his stomach to hear Dick talk like that. As though curiosity was good enough reason to ask to fuck a teenager.
“Is Replacement okay?” he asks.
Grayson shrugs again. “Not really. It wasn't too bad or anything, but he's young and he's never been too good with people.”
Jason snorts. That's a bit of an understatement. Tim is naturally a quiet, serious sort of kid.
“Serves him right for Volunteering like a moron.” he mutters.
“Jay!” Dick snaps. “Don't” and there's a warning in his voice now.
Jason knows better than to push it. Despite the fact that he's now taller and heavier than Grayson he's entirely confident the older man could take him down if he was motivated enough.
He holds up his hands. “Sorry.”
There's a long pause broken only but the slow deep breathing of Damian.
“So, are you back on escort duty or...?” Jason trails off. He hopes it was just Tim. Tim's pretty enough but he's not popular in the Capitol like Dick is. He'll get passed around the Capitol circuit a few times and then be left to live his life in Gotham when someone younger and more interesting wins the Games. Dick's a Capitol Darling, if he's back up for purchase there's going to be a lot of demand for his...services.
Dick shakes his head. “Not yet. There's been rumblings though. About him.” he jerks his chin at Damian. “They can't do anything yet. He's still to young to reap but the second he is-”
“-they'll have the leverage they need and you'll be back on the circuit.” Jason finishes for him.
Dick nods. Resigned. “I will say that I have missed the Capitol couture.” he jokes.
Jason hates it.
He hates that he's only just now realizing that Dick's effortless good-natured charm is probably as practiced as his acrobatics. Something he can make look so easy that everybody watching forgets the toll it takes.
“You won't be able to put them off forever, no matter what you do. The son of Talia Al-Ghul and Bruce Wayne, the Grandson of the Demon? He's going to go into that arena Dick.”
Dick shrugs. “Maybe not, maybe the odds will be in his favour.”
It's a hollow joke.
Jason sneers. “You should just let it happen, Dick. The kid's going to win anyway.”
Dick shakes his head. “You can't know that for sure, Jason. No one can.”
Jason's so angry he needs to kill someone. He's lingered too long in Gotham, gotten too caught up in the past. He's forgotten what's really important. He needs to start moving again. He needs to burn the god damn kingdom down.
Jason gets up, glad after all that he had this conversation with his helmet on. “If you can convince the kid, have him drop the gun off at the place where he found me. He knows where I mean. This doesn't mean I'm letting him off. It's just I know he can kill just as well without it."
Dick nods at him over Damian's head.
Jason hesitates for a second. "And if you've ever decided you've had enough. You want out of town? Just call my name and I'll get you guys out."
Dick sighs. "That's sweet of you Jay. Really, but me? In the woods? I wouldn't get five miles."
Jason stands at the very edge of the roof. He shrugs. "Yeah, well. Figured I should offer." He shoots his grappling gun and calls over his shoulder as he swings away. “And tell Replacement I hope he feels better.”
He thinks he can just make out another of Dick's blinding smiles when he lands on the building across the street. It's hard to tell with the mask and the distance but Jason's pretty sure.
He strings up a couple of peacekeepers who got too cocky and ventured into the winding alleyways of the Red Hood's turf. He writes a note in blood on the wall reminding the people of Gotham who has the real power, and who the real enemy is.
That very night he slips out of Gotham through the river, with little more than his guns, the clothes on his back and his helmet.
He doesn't plan on coming back for a good long while.
"The legend of the Red Hood is not as well known as that of the Batman but is much more frightening. No one knows anything for sure about Red Hood, except that he wears a red helmet. Rumour has it that he was once an Avox: a traitor whose tongue was cut out before he was forced to serve as a slave in the Capitol. They say that's why he wears the helmet and that's why he wears red. After all why else would he choose the colour as his calling card? Though how a man could escape not just slavery but the Capitol itself and mount a war against it is a mystery. Unlike the Batman the Red Hood is not a figure of justice and mercy but is instead a monster lurking in the shadows ready to pounce on any Capitolite or supporter of the current regime who goes wandering in places that they shouldn't. He follows no code and leaves none of his enemies alive." Urban Legend of District 3
In Panem red means blood but it also means slave.