The Interloper

April 23, 2017:

Red Robin is determined to prevent needless killing, and his shrewd tactics send Juno into a panic.

New York City

Characters

NPCs: Some gross human traffickers

Mentions: The Winter Soldier, Elena Kuznetsova, Oliver Pearce

Plot:

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

On a rooftop two blocks away from her target, she's lying down on her stomach, propped up on her elbows. She's using the scope of a long-distance rifle to watch the side door of an older building. Soon, a van will pull up. A man will open the door. And people will be taken from the van into the building, or from the building into the van.

Juno is waiting for one man in particular to show up - he's one of the regional bigwigs in this particular circle of Bad People, and that means Juno is going to put several holes into him at the first opportunity.

Juno really, really enjoys the work that Miss Elena is having her do!

Up here, she doesn't have to worry about being spotted by normal people. The door to the roof is blocked by a heavy barrel, and just about anybody would have lots of problems trying to climb up here! Certainly she would notice before anybody could sneak up on her, which is important because she doesn't have a spotter to assist her.

People like Juno rarely do.

"<Hurry up already, you dog's son,>" she whispers quietly to herself.


Truthfully, there's never really a shortage of Bad People.

New York City isn't really Red Robin's usual stomping grounds, but he has his reasons for being in the city currently; by tomorrow, he'll be out of the country, headed to Germany as part of one of the cases he's been working for the past few months. But also, there are some other threads he's been following, trouble that stretched beyond his usual haunt of Gotham. Earlier, it took him to a portside warehouse with Wonder Girl and Miss Martian. And today…

One of the very good reasons people like him operate on the rooftops is that most people don't look up. They focus on what's around them, on their elevation; criminals especially are more concerned with that sort of immediacy, with the possibility that a threat might come around the corner, with keeping an eye out for flashing lights.

Even in the City of Yesterday, with all the years Batman and those who've followed his example have been operating, it's hard to get over that basic human instinct.

Sometimes, though, being up on the rooftops results in some strange encounters.

Still and silent, a shadow watches Juno as she waits for her target, with wary curiousity. The foolish would dismiss the girl as a danger simply because she was young and harmless-looking, but a fool would've been in a grave a long time ago, living the life he does. So he waits, and he watches. He listens. He checks for information about this mysterious assassin on his suit's heads-up display, and finds… Nothing of any use. Not the League, she wouldn't be operating alone then. So who…?

The audio enhancements in his cowl pick up the quiet whisper. Russian?

"<Perhaps he decided to stand you up, Miss,>" says a voice from the dark, itself concealed by an electronic blurring. Of course, the voice doesn't seem to emanate from where Red Robin crouches; he threw it to seem to come from another direction entirely. Spooking somebody with a gun is generally not the greatest idea, after all.


Humans have lots of strange habits. Some are more understandable than others, some are instinctual and some are learned and some will get you arrested if someone else sees you doing them. It's pretty funny, when you think about it!

Some people use those habits to their advantage. People like Juno and Red Robin.

The instant she hears a voice, Juno instinctively ghosts. The tiny electric chips embedded all over her body activate, but she remains still save to crane her head around and try to peer over her own shoulder at the expanse of rooftop.

Juno thinks for a moment before speaking. "<What do you want?>" she asks, eyes bright and voice vaguely cheerful. There's no point in asking where they are, because if they're hiding now then they probably won't reveal themselves just because she asks them to! "<I'm working, so now isn't a good time.>"


Something happens, though Red Robin isn't sure what; the lenses in his cowl let him see more than what his otherwise normal human eyes ever could, simple neural impulses allowing him to switch between different forms of vision. Low-light is always a useful one, for someone who primarily works at night, creeping around in the dark shadows of the world, or thermographic. Others are more niche, like ultrasound imaging. But now, his suit picks up subtle electromagnetic changes, something unlike the baseline current that runs through the human body.

Curious, he thinks to himself, noting it down in the vast, labyrinthine memoriae regis he's constructed in his mind.

"<Not a very good job to have,>" the vigilante notes. "<You should probably just give up and go home. Nobody needs to die tonight, Miss.>"


Hmmm. They're not leaving. But they're not stopping her yet, either. And they don't seem too keen on coming out where she can see them. Juno, unlike some, doesn't have enhanced vision - though her eyes are usually plenty good in the dark. So she looks back through the scope to make sure nobody has arrived yet. Still clear for now…

"<Actually, someone does have to die,>" she corrects him, still in that bubblegum-neutral teenage girl voice. She might as well be telling him about her math test. "<Are you one of these Bad Men?>" Juno asks, glancing back over her shoulder at where she supposes he is (by sheer dumb luck she is only off by about twenty-five degrees). "<Are you going to stop me from saving people? Because if you do, I'll need to kill you as well.>"

Juno isn't overly concerned by the thought of having to add another target to her list. She can't fail this mission. Not because she would be punished - she doesn't know why nobody punishes her for mistakes here - but because she has to succeed.


It's a little unsettling, to be sure.

Most of the people Red Robin has heard speak of killing so casually have been more… Well, overtly crazy, but perhaps that's just the nature of life in Gotham. It would he hard to call a teenager who talks about having to assassinate someone in the same offhanded way you'd discuss needing to do a load of laundry as sane, certainly, but there's nothing rabid, there. No sense of malice, or the zeal of those who kill for some specific 'greater cause'.

Are you one of these Bad Men?

"<No,>" is the reply. "<If I was, would I have spoken? Or would I have struck before you knew I was there? I'm someone who stops Bad Men, Miss. But I put them in jail, not in the graveyard. Tell me, what have they done that has marked them for death? Who are these people that you need to save? I guarantee you, there's a better solution than bloodying your hands.>"

Bloodying them more, he assumes. Someone who hadn't been inured to violence and killing wouldn't be so calm at the trigger. It's sad, in its own way - he could probably come up with a dozen hypotheses off of the top of his head about what caused the girl to be like that, so calm about the idea of assassinating these 'Bad Men' from a shadowy rooftop - but there's no time to mourn over innocence lost, right now. Lives are at risk.

Above all else, he can't just sit back and let her kill anyone, no matter how despicable they might be.


Juno does very few things with passion. She has yet to go on any rambling monologues about how her way is the Only Way, Really, and You Heroic Types Are Idealistic Fools or about how Nobody Can Stop Her Because She Is Justice Incarnate, Etcetera.

She kills because it is the only thing she knows how to do. Because she can be pointed at nearly anyone and they will die. Because she has been raised to believe that she is a thing, and not a person, and things obey their owners.

She doesn't tell Tim any of this, of course, because he didn't ask the right questions! Instead, she raises an eyebrow. "<Maybe you're a Bad Man, and you think you can trick me, and then you'll take me as well when I'm unguarded.>" It might be a good idea to remember for later if she needs to get in deeper undetected, but Juno at least has some awareness of the fact that she doesn't know how to Be People correctly and that tends to make other people suspicious. She isn't good at spycraft and she knows it.

"<Besides. If you want to know why I stop Bad Men, then watch them from here. Because they're going to bring in more cargo tonight for processing. You'll understand then,>" Juno nods, smiling a little bit. Surely he will.


"<If I was,>" Red Robin reiterates, "<I would have attacked while you were distracted. I was watching you for a few minutes… Operating by yourself is a dangerous habit.>"

That is, of course, the best sort of 'do as I say, not as I do' hypocrisy, his favourite kind: He goes out of his way to operate alone, most of the time. Taking things on his own shoulders in the hopes of reducing the suffering of others. He's better about it at some times than at others, of course… But it might be one of the lessons the Batman most deeply ingrained in him without ever meaning to.

Slowly, smoothly, a section of the roof's shadows moves, splits off as Red Robin rises to his feet. With his cape draped around him, the red parts of his costume are largely hidden, turning him into a forbidding splinter of darkness, tall and lean. On his chest, though, there's that logo: A circle of gold, a bird's head in profile on a field of black.

"<Cargo? Human traffickers, or drug dealers, then?>" he wonders, moving closer to where Juno is, easing down to rest on his heels. "<In any case, I didn't ask why you stopped Bad Men. That they're bad, that they would hurt people is reason enough. I asked why you felt the need to kill them. Are you so wise that you should decide who dies and who gets to live, Miss?>"


He's been watching her for a while now? "<That's creepy,>" Juno informs him cheerfully, and checks the scop again. She can hear a vehicle approaching from a few blocks away, but she doesn't know if it's the one she's looking for.

"<Human,>" she nods, ponytail brushing against her shoulderblades. Juno turns her head to glance up at him as he joins her; she's got big blue eyes and faint freckles dusted over her nose. She doesn't look like a killer. "<I don't understand why you're asking me though,>" she frowns. Below them, a van gets closer and closer to the building. Juno's attention returns to her watch.

"<I don't really feel the need to, I guess,>" she muses after a minute or two, rolling one shoulder in a shrug. "<It's just a thing that has to be done. Why would I be the one who gets to choose?>" Does she look like somebody that would know these things, Juno wonders. Does she look like Miss Elena or Bukiy at all? The idea of it makes her happy.

A grey box van pulls up to the side door, and two men get out of the cab. They speak to each other with quiet voices, in Russian. The door to the building opens, and Juno's finger lowers to rest on the trigger as she waits for some cue. "<Besides. If I kill enough of them, they may stop existing. So isn't that good?>"


Creepy, she calls his earlier silent, stealthy observation of her. Someone seeing Juno in this particular situation might attach that descriptor to her, though. Especially given the way she talks, the disconnect between her appearance, her behaviour, and what she means to do.

"<Why wouldn't you?>" is the question asked in return. "<You're the one looking down the scope of a rifle. You're the one who chooses if you pull the trigger or not. Right now, you're deciding. You could point that gun at someone, and if you hit them in the right place, they just… Stop.>"

It's more complicated than that, he supposes; he's been to Hell, after all, been involved in a months-long conflict over the immortal soul of someone he cares about very much. But atheism has been ground into him by the life he's led over the past several years. It's hard to think in terms of what might really come after death, even having come face to face with at least one deity.

"<Do you know how bad people happen, most of the time?>" he wonders. "<There are people who are truly evil, for one reason or another… But most of them, the vast majority of them, are people who didn't see any alternative for themselves. They grew up in places where they had no options, where they could be hunters or they could be meat. Do you think that you'll ever change that, by killing them?>" He watches what's happening below, of course, switching over to thermographic vision. Looking for signs of life, to see if there are captives already in the van or not.

"<Do you know if any of those Bad Men have families? Wives, children? Do you think, Miss, that if you use that gun and take the head off of one of these criminals, a little boy or a little girl will cry themselves to sleep wondering what happened to their papa? How do you think that child would grow up? Maybe they'll have to become a hunter just to survive. Maybe they'll follow in their father's footsteps. Maybe you should cut to the chase, then, and slaughter their whole families. Of course… That would make you the bad one, Miss.>"

He straightens up again, standing on the edge of the roof as though it were the most normal thing in the world. His balance doesn't shift, doesn't tremble. He got over that a long time ago.

"<All your gun will do is make more bad people, not less. Killing always leads to more killing. You could start a war between your Russian friends down there and their rivals without even trying to, and then innocent people could die in the crossfire. Who would you have saved then?>"

He's seen that, too. Up close and personal. Watched a classmate's life bleed away, and for all his training, all his skills and knowledge, he couldn't save her.

"<There's a better way, Miss. That will save the people you came here to save, and put those men in jail, and not create more victims. Some of them might even learn to stop being Bad Men.>"


He keeps saying words. Inwardly, Juno frowns. If he distracts her, and she misses…

How many mistakes can she make before she has to pay for them all at once? How much will it hurt when she does?

By necessity, she built a shell over most of her emotions a long, long time ago. They get in the way most of the time… things like fear and sadness and self-pity and anger, they'll trip her up. That barrier is still there, and it's as strong as she could make it. Somewhere deep underneath it, at her core, Juno is afraid.

You only have to hit a dog so many times before it learns fear.

"<…I don't know if they have families,>" she admits after a long silence. "<What about the people in the van? Don't they have families too?>"

I miss them every day. I wish they were still here, alive. I loved them, very much.

What can she do? What can she do about people like this? How do you stop something like this? It's too big. It's too big and this person, this man with a bird on his shirt, can just come up to her and do this to her? Why? Why did he have to come here? Of course, she is already a Bad Girl. If she were good, she wouldn't be here. She wouldn't be… she wouldn't have been…

Juno is very still, and silent, but her finger is unmoving on the trigger.

In the van, there are several heat signatures. Mostly smaller, Juno's size. Younger teenagers, probably. Her tongue slides out to wet dry lips. What can she do, what can she do, she doesn't want to hurt again-!!

Another man steps out of the building. His shirt is clean, a button-down over slacks, but there's something mean about him… something that doesn't show on the clothes or the skin but in the air someone breathes out.

Juno makes a tiny, pitiful noise in her throat - it sounds like a whimper - and pulls the trigger.

His shoulder explodes in red.


It's difficult, in situations like these, to say if you're making any progress or not… But, as always, the only way is forward. The only option is to keep trying.

That's the job, after all. That's the Work. Solving mysteries, stopping crimes is very much a part of it, a key part of it, yes… But at the heart of it, the Work is stopping people from dying. It isn't as though Red Robin has never found himself contemplating that terrible calculus, never thought to himself: 'Would it be better if this person simply stopped existing?' But the number of people in his line of work who've never thought about that is probably a terribly small number.

Worse, more dangerous is the visceral desire to kill someone. Cold contemplation can be reasoned with, but wrath tries to push reason away from itself. He's felt that, too, facing the likes of Zsasz, or seeing someone he cared about tortured by Johnny Warlock, or thinking about the man who killed his mother. Or, more recently, the people who'd done such terrible things to Zatanna.

He knows Spider-Man managed to talk Barnes down from killing the man behind all of that… And sometimes, in the dead of night, he wonders which side he would've taken, if he'd been there.

"<They do,>" he affirms on the subject of the captives in the van. In truth, they might not; people without families disappear all the more easily. "<That's why we rescue them, Miss.>"

Red Robin waits. He's careful about acting in haste, about jumping the gun in what could be a terribly literal sense; his attention split between the van, the building, and the young woman with the rifle. He has to trust, here. To hope that she makes the right choice, even if her instincts are screaming at her that it's the wrong one. It's clear now that she's no garden-variety vigilante, not just some girl who picked up a gun and decided to go Charles Bronson. Something was done to her, by someone. He'd like to have a long talk with that someone.

And probably with their kneecaps.

She pulls the trigger, the sound of her quiet little whimper nearly devoured entirely by the gun going off, silencer or no. But it wasn't a lethal shot; whether she did it on purpose or accidentally, it gives the vigilante a distinct sense of relief. It doesn't last long, of course.

Because he jumps off the roof.

That cape flutters in the air as Red Robin is reeled in on a grapple line, rushing towards the van, towards the other side of the street; he doesn't go without leaving a parting gift, though, a small sphere rebounding off of the rooftop towards the side of Juno's rifle… Its contents meant to spatter against the trigger, a rapidly-hardening glue gel that will gum up the firing mechanism pretty effectively.

Once he lands on the roof of the cube van, he keeps moving, a sudden eruption of pitch-black smoke engulfing the area, nearly swallowing up the van entirely, to blind the Russians.

But not, of course, Red Robin himself.


Even Juno isn't sure whether or not her missed shot was on purpose. He may still bleed out, he may lose the arm. But he is still alive, and he is bellowing in pain and shock, clutching at his shoulder and reeling back against the doorframe. The two who had been driving the van are not paid enough for this shit - one takes off running into the streets to be soon lost, the other shoves his way past the wounded man, disappering into the depths of the building.

Tim's boots on the roof of the van cause screams and other noises of distress to echo from inside the cargo area.

On the roof, Juno ghosts again at the first glimpse of that little tiny ball of sticky doom. The gun gets well and truly splattered, quickly becoming useless - and Juno scrambles to her feet, eyes wide in panic, and leaps after Red Robin.

Juno does not have a zipline for convenience.

She lands with a grunt, only able to soak up so much of her inertia by rolling, and stands shakily. Her internal checklist now includes the very real possibility of a fractured tibia, but she takes off running for the man she only wounded.

There's little to her, right now, other than the panicked drive to finish what she started.


Though from a practical standpoint, Red Robin is glad that the other men decided to flee at the sight of trouble, he has a certain level of professional disappointment.

That would never happen in Gotham.

The smoke is already dissipating by the time Juno gets down from the roof the hard way, and the costumed vigilante hops down off of the roof of the cube van, looking towards the building with a faint frown on the visible portion of his face. There might be more information inside. There might be something about other victims, or even others being held inside the building, and the man who'd run through the door could cause all sorts of mischief.

Might be, might be. Could do.

In front of him, though, is cold reality: A badly wounded man, and a little assassin racing towards him, probably intent on finishing the job. He's no stranger to difficult choices, and this is just another one. Does he leave this man, who no doubt profits from the exploitation of the helpless, to that little wolf on the chance that there might be other people inside who need his help? Or…

"The authorities are already on the way," Red Robin rasps out in that electronically modified voice, crouching down over the injured man, the apparent ringleader. It's not a lie: He had his computer ping 911 on the way down. "Cooperation now might help your case. Is there any more 'cargo' inside?"

He waits, for all of two seconds, before he continues:

"It might take a few minutes for the paramedics to arrive. I'd be a lot more inclined to help make sure you get to keep that arm if you're honest and cooperative with me."

'Alive' doesn't always mean 'intact and able-bodied,' after all.


He's going to stop her. He's going to stop her. He's going to stop her—-!

Juno runs as fast as she can, but despite ignoring the pain in her leg she can't beat Red Robin to her quarry. He mantles over the man, and even Juno can tell that he won't let her get anywhere near him.

She's going to be punished she's going to be punished SHE'S GOING TO BE PUNISHED!

Juno stumbles to a stop maybe ten feet away from them. Does she fight him? She should, right? For making her miss? For protecting her target?

What kind of family does the stranger wearing the mask have?

She chokes back a shout of frustration and panic and whyareyoudoingthistome, whywhywhywhywhy. Outwardly, she only shivers once. Of course she has a pistol on herself. Of course she has knives. But now she would be up against an assailant who looks stronger than she is, who has unknown weaponry (though so far it seems non-lethal), who is protecting her target. Who has called the police.

She can't be caught here. This is already bad. This is already bad, she's failed, she's failed, and every time she does it will get worse…!

"Nnngh!" The wounded man gasps for breath, bloodstained fingers held up as if he could ward Red Robin away like just one more monster. "You- son of a bitch, how did you-?!" But fear is a terrible thing. And the fear for one's life is maybe the most terrible of all. "I- fuck you! Fuck you, fuck you, oh god, oh god, my arm…!"

Before she can stop it, before anything else, before she even realizes what's happening, tears well up in her eyes. Juno grits her teeth and covers her face with her hands.


Truthfully, Red Robin was worried it would turn into a fight.

It wasn't something he was looking forward to, by any stretch of the imagination; she had some sort of as yet unknown metahuman ability, given the weird electromagnetic reaction earlier, and she seemed to know what she was doing when it came to the business of killing. Probably she'd be fighting him as lethally as she could. Win or lose, it would be messy… And the time it took might see the man laying on the ground bleed out, or his accomplices come back, or any number of other possible troubles could arise.

Of course, the wounded man is not being cooperative in any sense, but Juno isn't attacking. She doesn't seem to be doing much of anything, in fact, which wasn't what Red Robin had anticipated at all.

But, first things first.

From his utility belt, he produces a small spray canister, the quiet sound of pressurised gas being forced out filling the air under the wounded man's cursing as the canister's contents - an advanced synthetic 'flesh' designed to close wounds and stop bleeding; it should be enough to keep him alive. It might be enough to save his arm - are sprayed on the injury.

His other hand clamps onto the man's lower jaw. That face, mostly hidden, obliviating the identity and the humanity of whoever's behind the black cowl, fills the man's vision.

"I saved your life," the vigilante rasps out. "I want you to remember that. Every breath you draw from now on, every second that ticks by for you, you owe to me." The sirens are audible now, the police and paramedics drawing closer. Response times in New York are much better than Gotham, he thinks to himself. "Your arm, well… Maybe you'll be lucky."

Red Robin moves again, shifting, and metal clicks on metal as he clasps one end of a set of handcuffs around the man's uninjured wrist, dragging him by it over to the back of the van, and securing the other end of the cuffs to one of the metal grille of the truck's back 'step'.

And then he turns to Juno.

Behind his cowl, unseen, the vigilante's dark blue eyes soften when he sees that she's crying.

"<We'll have to leave the rest of this to the police,>" he tells her, slipping back into Russian though his tone is more gentle now, despite the electronic disguise. "<They'll be here momentarily, and I doubt you want to be around when they show up. Not killing him was the right thing to do. You still saved all the 'cargo' in the van, and the police can start dismantling the whole operation.>"


The nameless man is already going into shock. Cold medical goop plastering itself over the insides of his wound brings a harsh groan, and the words, "My arm… fuck…" Cold sweat beads across his face as his body shuts down system after system to try to keep him alive.

In general, Gotham's criminals are much higher quality. Higher standards, you know.

He's starting to shake by the time Tim cuffs him to the van, and it's not sure whether or not he heard Red Robin's words… though the sentiment behind them absolutely got across.

She can only watch. She wants to stop the intruder, she wants to kill him, she wants to complete her assignment and go home to Miss Elena and Pearce and be told that she did well.

Juno stares at him through her fingers. "<You don't understand,>" she tries to explain. "<You don't understand, I can't keep messing up like this, it'll get worse, it'll-!!>"

Children like Juno weren't supposed to be able to walk away from failures. She has no frame of reference. She doesn't know what to do.

But she knows enough to clam up after that, to cover her mouth instead of her eyes, to turn and run. Juno turns to dart away from Red Robin, though she's slightly slowed by her injured leg. Get the rifle. Lose the intruder. Disappear.


The girl stifles herself from saying anything else, covering her mouth with her hands… But really, she's said more than enough already.

I can't keep messing up like this.

It'll get worse.

Though Juno could never have seen it, hidden behind that cowl as it is, Red Robin's softened expression is swallowed under a hooding gaze, an anger at whoever it is that she's afraid of failing. Whoever was using a teenaged girl as an assassin, and keeping her in line with fear.

There are worse ways to be kept under control, he's seen them. Nanomachines, implants, psionic or magical mind control…

It says something about his life that he's much more familiar with the existence of coerced assassins than he'd like.

She turns, she bolts before she can say anything else damning, looking to elude him and get away, but of course his first reaction is to follow, to get answers - to kidnap her if he has to, though he's not sure exactly where he'd stash her on such short notice, and she'd probably be a liability in Germany - but that's when the lights and the sirens grow their loudest, the police cars pulling up, and armed officers piling out.

Aiming their weapons at him, of course.

"GET ON THE GROUND!" the cops shout at the vigilante, giving Juno more than enough time to vanish into the shadows, forcing Red Robin to bolt in the other direction, a quiet *paff* of compressed air announcing the launch of another one of his grappling lines, pulling him up and away. There's no time to stick around, to try and explain himself. No time to double back and try to find the Russian girl.

"Damn it," he mutters, swinging away, vanishing into the night. For now, there's nothing else he can do.

But like the Dark Knight himself, Red Robin doesn't forget. And he doesn't give up.

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