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The Urban Vigilante vs. the Common Cold

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The rooftop was cold and desolate, lit only by the sickly orange glow of light pollution reflecting against a layer of smog. Broken glass and gravel threatened to crunch under any incautious step. The man known only as Red Hood (well, and Jason Todd, and That Crazy Son of a Bitch, and The Other Nightwing, and, once upon a time, Robin) stepped lightly as any ghost across the uneven terrain of tar paper and cement, stealthily approaching his quarry.

Until, that is, the Red Hood took a deep breath and -- sneezed. Several times.

Under other circumstances, Jason would have found the sight of Nightwing jumping like a startled cat to be hysterically funny and fully worthy of mocking. But he was a little distracted by the suddenly urgent need to get his full-head helmet off so that he could fucking well breathe.

"Sounds like you've got a nasty cold," Nightwing said, amused. Fumbling his helmet off, Jason paused to give him the finger. "You know, I've been meaning to tell you, that helmet really isn't very practical. Plus it kind of makes you look like a dildo. Well, the head of one, anyway."

Searching through his pockets for a clean tissue, Jason snarled, "Pardon me for not taking costuming advice from a guy who used to dress like Freddie Mercury on acid." At least, that's what he tried to say-- what he actually managed to say was something more like, "Pardod be fuh nod daking cosdubing abice frob a guy..." Well, you get the picture.

"Need a kleenex?" Nightwing asked, producing a little plastic travel pack of them out of -- somewhere. Jason had yet to figure out how the guy carried anything on him, considering that his costume was skin-tight and he apparently had something against the Bat-standard utility belt.

Jason eyed him suspiciously. "Why are you being so nice to me?"

Nightwing shrugged. "How about we make a deal -- I'll give you the kleenex if you agree not to hold a gun on me this time. Call me crazy, but the idea of a guy who's sneezing violently pointing a gun at my head tends to make me a little nervous."

Ah, fuck it, he really needed to blow his nose. "Fine," Jason muttered. Goddammit. How did Dick manage to reduce him to the level of a sullen teenager every damn time?

Smirking, Nightwing tossed him the packet. "So, about that information you claimed to have --" And that, thought Jason, was the end of that.

Except that apparently it wasn't, because every time he turned around for the next few days, there was another of the Bat-freaks, not trying to capture him or anything. They were almost -- trying to take care of him. It was really fucking disturbing.

That creepy new Batgirl appeared out of nowhere (scaring five years off his life, swear to god) and handed him a package of Vitamin C tablets and zinc lozenges. He ran an analysis on the damn things, and they weren't even drugged. Oracle broke into his secure communications channel and, sounding about as put-upon and pissy as a computer-distorted voice could sound, interrogated him for several minutes about his symptoms and whether he'd been drinking enough fluids and getting proper nutrition and rest. Jason was almost certain that he hadn't hallucinated that one, but admittedly his fever was spiking pretty high at that point.

If Huntress showed up, Jason was just gonna check himself in to Arkham, because at that point he'd know for sure that he was losing his mind. That is, unless she wanted to play Naughty Nurse or something.

He started to catch on to what was really going on when the new Robin, who Jason knew damn well would as soon spit on him as look at him, knocked at the door of Jason's lair and wordlessly handed him a tupperware container full of chicken soup. Not just any chicken soup-- Alfred's chicken soup.

"Kid," Jason called down the hall after him. The new Robin turned and faced him expressionlessly. Leaning against the doorjamb, Jason scrubbed a hand through his sweaty hair and said, "Tell Al thanks for me."

The new Robin raised one eyebrow. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

Coughing, Jason flapped a hand at him irritably. "Yeah, whatever, Spock. Just tell him. And, uh, tell B-- Batman that he can stop having you guys follow me around now. I'm fine."

"Fine by me." And with that, the new Robin disappeared out a broken window.

Jason sighed loudly, and immediately regretted it when sighing led to wheezing led to uncontrollable coughing and the feeling that his larynx was being carved open from the inside. "Argh," he moaned, clutching the tupperware to his aching chest as he retreated back inside his lair. (Okay, so it wasn't so much a "lair" as a crappy apartment in a bad part of town, but his last lair had gotten blown up and he hadn't gotten around to setting up a new one yet.)

There was a small envelope taped to the lid of the container. Jason opened it and pulled out a note written on thick, cream-colored paper in Alfred's handwriting.

Master J.--

I have been informed that you are under the weather and would benefit from a batch of my chicken soup. Reheat the soup on the stove-- not the microwave-- over medium-low flame, stirring occasionally, until warm. Make sure you rest and drink plenty of fluids as well, or my culinary efforts will be all for naught.

I feel morally compelled at this point to note that this in no way implies any sort of approval of your reprehensible actions since returning "from the dead." You were raised better than this, young man, and your appalling behavior would lead me to believe you an impostor were it not for the incontrovertible proof of your identity.


PS. I refuse to believe that the young man whose skinned knees I once bandaged and whose tears I once dried is entirely gone. Forgiveness is not impossible, with sincere repentance and an honest attempt to make amends for your wrongdoing.

PPS. He misses you.

Smiling crookedly, Jason padded on bare feet into the tiny, grimy kitchenette, popping open the lid of the container so that it hopefully wouldn't explode in the microwave. He started the microwave up and wandered out into the living room. Sliding open the blackout curtains, he braced an arm above his head and leaned against the window, looking out into the night. It wasn't much of a view-- tenements, a couple of abandoned factories-- but he wasn't looking for the scenery.

A patch of deeper blackness in the shadow of a graffiti-defaced billboard on top of the building across the street caught his eye. Too big to be the new Batgirl, too -- broody to be Nightwing. He misses you.

Jason flattened his other hand out against the glass, fingers spread, watching the unmoving shadows. "You think chicken soup will fix me, Bruce? I don't think it's that easy --"

The shadows appeared to twitch slightly. Or maybe that was just his imagination.

The microwave dinged. Jason glanced away, and when he looked back, the patch of darker shadows was gone.

Jason smacked his palm against the glass, hard enough to rattle the window in its frame but not hard enough to break it. "Never could let me have the last word, could you? You son of a--" His hand balled into a fist, ready to smash into the window.

Jason stopped. Made himself think about what he was doing. The corner of his mouth twitched. "Oh my god, I'm having a domestic dispute with a patch of shadows. This is a new low."

Shaking his head, Jason went to grab himself some soup. Alfred still liked him. That was something, anyway.

As for the rest of it -- he'd figure it out later. After he got over this damn cold.