Everything was going fine, until suddenly it wasn’t.
Tim was perched four stories up and three-quarters of the way through a stakeout. He’d been sitting there for hours already, his cape draped over his shoulders for a little extra warmth, eyes trained on the building across the street. He’d added a nifty new sensor to his cowl that displayed heat signatures through the lenses of his mask, and that, paired with the bugs he’d already placed in the facility, gave him a pretty clear idea of what was going on in the building—specifically, a drug-running operation of a particularly nasty variety of the newest and hottest drug that was mainly being distributed in Gotham’s nightclubs. Unfortunately, the big boss behind the operation—one Anton Voronin—wasn’t in yet, and the longer Tim crouched on the roof across the street, the more doubtful he was that Voronin would show up at all tonight.
He was just internally lamenting the fact that he’d probably have to come back tomorrow night and spend another several hours sitting motionless in the cool autumn air when suddenly he felt…funny.
Tim blinked, shifted. Took a breath. This was…okay, now he felt dizzy. Without fully intending to, he plopped down backwards onto the bitumen, his limbs suddenly feeling a bit noodly. Tim took another breath, swallowed. Made a move to stand up, and abruptly changed his mind. Right. Dizzy.
What was going on? Had he been dosed with something? Tim ran through the night in his head, but quickly dismissed the possibility. Unless he’d been dosed with a very slow-acting agent, he couldn’t have been drugged by any of his enemies while he was Red Robin. He’d been focused on this case for the past couple nights; he hadn’t even gotten into a fight or encountered any villains.
Logic only really left one possibility; he was sick.
Tim groaned to himself in frustration and dropped his suddenly heavy-feeling head into his hands. Why did this always happen to him? He was always getting sick back when he was younger, but he’d been hoping his immune system might have finally caught up.
But all in all, it wasn’t so bad, he reasoned. He slowly got to his feet, taking another deep breath to help steady his spinning head and wobbly muscles. He’d had worse. He ruefully cast a glance back at the warehouse across the street, but really, there wasn’t any point in staying, especially since he was relatively certain Voronin wouldn’t be showing tonight. He’d be better off if he went home now, drank a hot mug of tea, and slept for a full night—say six hours. If he did that, he’d probably be good as new by morning.
Tim began making his way across the rooftops to where his motorcycle was stashed a few blocks away. He used his grapple when necessary, but mostly stuck to running and jumping, stopping every few rooftops to catch his breath. He decidedly ignored the fact that his rest breaks were drawing closer and closer together and his breath was becoming harder and harder to catch.
It was during one of these pauses that he heard it—a brief scuffle, a muffled shriek, hissed whispers. Nothing that spelled anything good. Tim peered over the roof and saw an ugly scene; a man pressing a woman into a dark corner, a knife to her throat, the whites of her terrified eyes gleaming in the darkness.
“You make another sound and I’ll cut your fucking throat,” the man hissed.
Tim had seen far more than enough. Silently, he stepped into the air and landed with a light thump behind the man, extending his bo staff simultaneously.
Tim would have liked to say he made short work of the man, but he proved more of a challenge than he would have liked. By the end of the fight, Tim was breathing hard, the world was spinning, and he also felt like he might throw up. Or faint. Or both. But the important thing was that the man had bat-cuffs around his wrists, a gag in his mouth, and was currently tied to a lamppost, a neat package for the GCPD to haul away once they arrived.
The woman was cowering near the back of the alley, tear tracks shining on her face. Tim walked over to her slowly, and not because he was trying not to alarm her, but because he was beginning to doubt the ability of his legs to hold him upright. He was definitely sicker than he realized he was fifteen minutes ago, and it was getting worse by the minute. But there was also no way he could just walk away right now.
“It’s okay,” he said, swallowing to keep his growing nausea at bay. “You’re safe now.” He held out his hand cautiously, aware that she might not be willing to take it.
The woman slowly rose to her feet, clutching her arms around herself. She didn’t take his hand.
“Do you want me to wait with you, for the police?” he asked softly. She nodded hesitantly.
The next fifteen minutes felt like a year.
His symptoms were going from bad to worse, fast. His weak muscles were developing into a painful ache, he could feel his glands swelling up beneath the cowl, and his nausea was nearly unbearable. The dizziness was the worst though; the woman had joined him at the entrance of the alley, sitting on the shallow curb against the wall and hugging her knees. Tim started off by leaning against the wall nearby, then slowly found himself sliding down it until he too was sitting on the curb. He was hoping he managed to pass it off like he was trying to be a comforting presence and sit at her level, but he wasn’t fully confident that he was successful.
He couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt this terrible this quickly from a natural illness. He was beginning to think he never had.
Finally, finally, he heard the tell-tale sound of an approaching squad car. He needed to get the hell out of here—one traumatized person who had never seen him before was one thing, but he couldn’t let a member of the GCPD see him this weak. The police may not be enemies, but they weren’t always friends either, and even when they were, it was never really a great idea to show weakness in front of those who relied on your strength. He really didn’t feel like ruining Batman’s—and by extension, Batman’s associates’—near-mythical reputation as a relentless force of the night. At least not because of something as stupid as the flu.
With a great effort, Tim pulled himself to his feet, sucked in a breath, and smiled at the woman. “The GCPD are coming now,” he said, and nodded in what he hoped was an encouraging way. It seemed to work, at least a little, because the woman smiled back at him.
“Thank you,” she said seriously. “I…just…thank you.”
He grappled up to the roof just as two GCPD squad cars and an ambulance rolled around the corner, and watched from the rooftop as the man was read his rights and maneuvered into the back of one of the patrol cars. Another officer took the woman’s statement as an EMT draped a blanket over her shoulders. Then Tim promptly turned around to the tarry roof and vomited all over it.
Tim gasped and rolled away from the mess onto his back, eyes closed against the starry night, his hot breath billowing out before him. Vomiting didn’t help; he felt just as nauseous as before. He needed a bed, he needed a warm drink. He maybe needed a hospital.
He shook his head. That was stupid; he didn’t need a hospital. In his family, doctors were for when you were bleeding out and in immediate danger of death—he wasn’t dying, even if he felt like he might be. He just needed—
He didn’t finish the thought, because he was overtaken by another wave of intense nausea. He rolled onto his hands and knees and curled his body around his stomach, his arms shaking from the effort of holding up his torso, his head hanging heavy and limp.
He…he…he needed to go home. But home wasn’t anywhere close by—his loft was across town, which seemed like an unimaginable distance to him now. Even if he could get to his bike, he was in no condition to ride it. And in his full Red Robin uniform, he couldn’t just hail a taxi and ask the driver to take him home. He could use his comm, but he dismissed the thought before it was even fully born; Bruce was away in Europe on either WE or League business, depending on what persona he was wearing when you asked him, Dick was in Blüdhaven, and there was no way in hell Tim was going to allow the demon spawn to see him or even learn that he was in the state he was in now. And besides which, the kid was prohibited from patrolling while Bruce was away. Not that Tim realistically thought that would stop him, but all the same, he didn’t really want to encourage him either. Or give him any more ammunition in his unceasing efforts to discredit Tim in any way possible.
He needed someplace safe; somewhere he could lay low for a few hours without running the risk of someone dangerous coming across him while he was so weak; somewhere that had water and blankets and hopefully a toilet; somewhere close by, so that he wouldn’t need to use his jump lines or motorcycle to get there.
They had several safe houses across the city stocked up for if one of them were ever injured and unable to easily make it back to the Cave. Shakily, Tim pulled up a map of the city on the small screen embedded in his gauntlet to help him get his bearings, hoping against hope that there was one nearby.
There wasn’t, but there was something else.
Tim wasn’t sure if this was some kind of cosmic joke, and honestly, if he hadn’t been feeling like he was about to vomit again, he might have even laughed a little.
Jason was exhausted—he’d just gotten back from a week-long undercover op and was looking forward to getting some much-needed shuteye—or at least he had been, until he heard the smallest of scuffles coming from his living room. He swore under his breath and snatched a gun from where it was taped below his bedframe as he rolled out his bed. Barefooted and dressed only in an undershirt and sweatpants, he wasn’t in the best state to be dealing with potentially very dangerous intruders—he’d just pissed off some very important people in the Maretti mob, and the thought of them having discovered his safe house was not a happy one. The Red Hood’s anonymity was paramount to Jason—the only people in Gotham who knew who he really was under the helmet were the bats, and most days, he wasn’t happy about even that.
Sometimes he regretted ever revealing himself to Bruce. But then again, there were a lot of things he regretted, and generally, he put in a great deal of effort into not thinking about them.
Carefully, Jason eased into the dark hallway, his gun held ready and his back to the wall around the corner from his living room. He stood silently, pricking his ears for any noises. And there it was—the sound of breathing—from one person, it sounded like. He could hear the barest whisper of fabric, and the breaths were shaky and unsteady. Slowly, Jason turned and peered around the corner, and in the darkness he made out a shadowy figure crouched at the base of his window.
Jason decided to take a calculated risk—his eyes were adjusted to the darkness and turning on the lights would result in a moment of blindness, but he’d be ready for it and the intruder would not. He was counting on the advantage of surprise, and also counting on the intruder being alone. It was risky—just because he only saw one person didn’t mean they were alone, and just because they were crouched on the floor didn’t mean they were actually weak. In another life, he might have been inclined to think it was a simple home intrusion, but the fact that none of his carefully placed and meticulously constructed alarms had been set off was telling him otherwise.
Jason slammed the switch on, his gun already trained on the intruder. “Hands up right now, or I will fucking shoot you in the face,” he snarled. Then he blinked, his vision clearing, and swore again.
He’d forgotten to account for the third option—that a wayward and apparently injured bat had broken into his apartment, and fuck if he didn’t have the worst possible luck in the entire fucking universe.
He’d rather it were one of Maretti’s hitmen.
“Crap,” groaned Tim from the floor. “I was really hoping you wouldn’t be here.”
“Excuse me?” asked Jason, incredulous. “I live here. What the flying fuck are you doing here? Actually, never mind, I don’t care. Out,” he said, gesturing toward the window with his gun.
“Nice to see you too,” muttered Tim, curling in on himself a little.
“Actually, scratch that too,” continued Jason, ignoring Tim’s muttering and training his gun back on him. “How did you find this location, how did you bypass my security, and why the fuck did you think it was okay to come here?”
Tim stared back at him, a slight grimace of pain on his face. “Can we please skip this part for now?”
Jason’s eyebrows shot up. “I have a gun pointed between your eyes, and you really think you’re the one who should be asking questions?”
“You’re not going to shoot me,” sighed Tim, struggling to his feet.
“Oh?” said Jason, following Tim with the gun.
“No,” said Tim, leaning part of his weight against the windowsill.
And really, the only reasonable responses to that kind of statement would be to either shoot Tim between the eyes and prove him wrong in the process, or put the gun down.
Glaring, Jason lowered the gun.
Honestly? He didn’t really feel like murdering Tim tonight. Or, more accurately, he didn’t feel like dealing with the manhunt that would inevitably follow, the barbed words, all the reminders of every way in which he had ever failed Batman, etc., etc.…suffice it to say, he really wasn’t in the mood. He’d successfully gone over a year without speaking a word to or laying eyes on Batman, and murdering one of the bat-brats seemed like a surefire way to end that streak. The Jason of two or three years ago was screaming in the back of his mind that this was a perfect opportunity to get back at Batman, show him how wrong he really was, to strike him where it would hurt most…but that was then. Now, Jason was just tired; tired of being angry, tired of being hurt, and though he wouldn’t ever be happy about it, he was willing to continue living under the unspoken truce he and Bruce seemed to have established, which basically consisted of both of them pretending the other didn’t exist. You mind your business, and I’ll mind mine.
“Why are you here,” he said instead, spitting the words like bullets.
“It was closest,” said Tim weakly. “Couldn’t…get home. And—” Tim broke off, his eyes widening a bit, then pushed past Jason, making a beeline through the doorway and down the hall, straight to where he shouldn’t know the bathroom was.
Jason spun around after him, just in time to hear the wet sounds of retching. He stopped on the threshold of the bathroom, his nose wrinkled in disgust. Tim was crumpled on the floor, his weight half supported by the toilet bowl, his forehead pressed against the porcelain.
“What fresh hell is this?” Jason uttered under his breath, taking in the sight. Without looking, Tim fumbled for the flush handle and, after a few tries, found it and pulled it in an effort that seemed to require the strength of his entire arm, before letting the limb drop to the floor with a thump.
“Sorry,” mumbled Tim, his forehead still resting against the toilet. “I’m…not feeling so good.”
“Yeah,” drawled Jason, leaning against the doorframe. “I can see. And smell, for that matter.”
Tim groaned, scrunching his eyes closed.
“What I still don’t understand” continued Jason, “—and keep in mind, this is ignoring all the great questions like ‘how did you find my safe house’ and ‘why do you know the fucking floorplan of my safe house, because, yes, I caught that you knew to turn left down the hallway instead of right to find the bathroom’—is why you thought it would be okay to come here, of all places, after you got dosed by whatever psycho you were probably fighting tonight.”
Tim swallowed, and turned his head to face Jason, the side of his head still resting on the bowl. “You’re not naïve enough to think that none of us keep tabs. I’ve known about this safe house for over eight months, so of course I pulled the floor plan. I also know about that prostitution ring you busted, and your current one-man war with the Maretti mob.” Jason clenched his teeth, anger bubbling up in his gut. He was trying so fucking hard to move on with his life and leave the bats behind, and yet—
“And I didn’t get dosed with anything,” muttered Tim. “I think I have the flu.”
Jason blinked. “You’re serious,” he said after a moment.
“Yes, Jason, I have the fucking flu, okay?” said Tim. “I’m not exactly thrilled about this situation either.”
Jason raised his eyebrows, both at the curse and that for the first time in a long time, one of the bats had called him by his given name.
He wasn’t sure it was a feeling he liked.
“You still haven’t answered my question,” said Jason, glaring. “In case you missed the memo, you and your so-called family are not welcome here. I don’t want you in my cases I’m working, I don’t want you making social calls, and I most especially do not want you in my home.”
Tim sat up, returning Jason’s glare with equal ferocity. “In case you’ve forgotten, it was me who broke you out of prison only to have you come back and stab me in the chest with a batarang, so sorry if I’m inconveniencing you, but from where I’m standing, I’m not the one who should be offering apologies.”
Jason’s not sure what he would have said next, because before he could reply, Tim’s eyes grew suddenly wide again and he turned back to the toilet, retching and gagging as he vomited violently. Tim gasped for breath, his shoulders shaking with residual tremors.
Wordlessly, Jason turned and vanished from the doorway, and returned a minute later with a glass full of cool water and a clean washcloth. He set the glass on the bathroom counter, and then threw the washcloth at Tim’s face. The younger man didn’t even react to catch it, and it flopped off his face into his lap.
“Thanks,” he said after a minute, and picked up the cloth and wiped his mouth. He flushed the toilet again, then turned and leaned his back against it, drawing his knees to his chest, his breaths weary and ragged.
“Can we…” Tim started, licking his dry lips and swallowing with a shudder. “Can we please do this later?” his voice was small and hoarse, and for a moment he actually looked like the teenager he was. He’d pushed his cowl back before coming into the bathroom, and his hair was matted and sweaty, his face gaunt, and his body was periodically wracked by shivers.
And…Jason’s not sure why he does it. Maybe it’s because the kid looks so pathetic, and really, he’s going entirely soft. Because Tim was right; it wasn’t long ago that Jason was trying to kill him. He’d tried more than once, actually, and underneath his anger at Tim for breaking into his home and ruining the modicum of security he’d finally felt he had in Gotham, he knew that the other reason he kept demanding why Tim came here was because he couldn’t fathom why Tim would feel safe around Jason. He didn’t understand how Tim knew he wouldn’t fire that gun.
If it had been Batman who’d broken into his home tonight, Jason’s sure Batman wouldn’t have understood that he was bluffing. The past several years, Batman had seen nothing but the worst in him.
But then again, if it had been Batman who’d broken in, he’s not sure he would have been bluffing.
Jason sighed, running a hand through his hair. “No,” he said, but he said it with an air of defeat. “We can do some of this later, but there’s one thing I need to know now: if you know where my safe houses are, then should I expect Batman to show up and break down my door and accuse me of poisoning you or some other shit?”
Tim gave him the oddest look, one that Jason couldn’t quite decipher. “Batman’s in Europe,” he said after a moment. “So no. And he doesn’t know where your safe houses are.”
“Bullshit,” said Jason. “If you know, he knows.”
“Bullshit,” echoed Tim, rolling his eyes in annoyance. Jason raised his eyebrows again. That kid had some nerve. “I figured out your location using my own database, and Batman doesn’t know anything about it. And honestly, even if he did? He doesn’t want to know.”
Jason stared at Tim stonily for a moment, then turned on his heel and closed the door firmly behind him. He wasn’t sure what hurt most; knowing that if Batman were here now, he’d see Jason as a threat, or that after all that’d been said and done, Batman hadn’t even tried to find where he was. That he didn’t even care to know.
Tim groaned, then let his head drop to his knees. That had come out wrong…hadn’t it? Even through the fog currently in his head, he was aware enough to know that he was still angry with Jason, and that those were words designed to hurt him. Tim wasn’t usually one for barbed insults or hurtful accusations (well, except maybe with Damian sometimes, but that was a totally different situation), but Jason had been getting under his skin, and he was feeling terrible, and he’d said the thing that he thought would make Jason go away the fastest. And…it had worked.
That didn’t mean he didn’t feel bad about it, though.
But it also didn’t mean he fully understood Jason at all, because five minutes later, Jason was throwing open the bathroom door and glaring daggers at Tim.
“Okay, here’s how this is going to work. I don’t owe you; you owe me. I’m willingly allowing you to park your pathetic ass in my bathroom and vomit in my toilet on the condition that you owe me sometime in the future.”
Tim shuddered again, chills wracking up his spine. “Fine, that’s fine,” he said. “As long as—”
“Yeah, as long as the favor falls within the parameters of your inane bat rules, I got it,” said Jason, rolling his eyes. “Additionally, you do not tell Batman any of this. If you stay here, that means you don’t call him, you don’t tell him you were here, you don’t tell him you know this location, you don’t even tell him you’ve spoken to me. In fact, that goes for all of the bats. No Nightwing, no Robin, no Oracle, no Batgirl—none of them.”
“Okay,” said Tim, closing his eyes. Like he was really going to admit this embarrassing episode to anyone anyways. Tim got a sudden vision of how Steph might react if she ever learned he was reduced to a shivering, vomiting mess in, of all places, the bathroom of the dreaded Red Hood—Tim shuddered, and this time, it wasn’t from his illness.
“Also, Replacement? You’re going to stop keeping tabs on me.”
“Okay, that’s fine,” said Tim quickly. He could feel something happening in his gut, and it wasn’t good.
“Don’t look for me here again, because after tonight I won’t be here, and don’t look for me anywhere else.”
“I’m finished with the bats, and Batman’s made it clear he’s finished with me, so kindly keep the fuck away from me—”
“—because as soon as you’re done with your little puke-fest I am giving you a change of clothes and putting you in a taxi and then you and I are never going to speak to each other again, except when I call in the favor that you will definitely owe me for this. And—”
“I will owe you five favors if you leave right now,” said Tim urgently. Something very bad was happening. From somewhere deep in Tim’s gut, there came a very loud, very alarming gurgle.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” said Jason, but Tim was thankful that Jason obeyed him and turned and closed the door behind him.
“If I get sick from this too you will owe me ten favors,” Jason called through the door.
Part of Tim’s mind knew that ten favors was excessive even for this situation, but the rest of him was too preoccupied by the pain in his gut and the urgent need to undo the clasps on the lower half of his suit to protest.
Half an hour later, Tim’s body may have decided it was done voiding itself of anything he’d eaten in recent memory, but if anything, he felt worse. His limbs were shaky and weak, and despite the fact that there was nothing left in his stomach to throw up, the nausea was still rolling over him in waves. But worse than anything, he felt cold, right down to his bones. He was lying on the floor at the foot of the toilet, half curled around his stomach, clutching the cape he was still wearing to his body for warmth. He had a distant thought that he shouldn’t be so cold—the WE SmartTech insulation in the base layer he wore beneath his suit was reactive to the wearer’s body temp, and it had kept him warm enough during some of Gotham’s most biting nights—but he was overcome with another wave of nausea before he could finish the thought.
There was a sharp knock, and the door opened by a fraction, just wide enough for Jason to see into the room. “You still alive?” he asked.
Tim groaned in response.
“Y’know, there are probably more comfortable places for you to collapse in,” said Jason, staring pointedly at Tim’s position on the floor.
“’m good here,” mumbled Tim. “Don’t feel so good.”
“Clearly,” said Jason, wrinkling his nose. “You don’t smell too good, either.” Tim ignored him and shivered again, pulling his cape tighter around his body. If he’d been looking, he would have seen Jason purse his lips together into an exasperated expression before turning away, leaving the door slightly ajar. Tim sensed him leaving and wished he’d at least closed the door after him; he could feel the slightly warmer air of the bathroom getting sucked out into the rest of the apartment.
Tim was just debating whether it would be worth the discomfort of sitting up and closing the door when something soft and bulky flopped into his side. He craned his neck around to see a blanket, still folded, that Jason had tossed at him from the threshold.
“Don’t puke on it,” said Jason, and closed the door.
It took a moment for Tim’s brain to catch up to the new development, but once it did, he decided not to look a gift horse in the mouth and tugged the blanket across his body, not even bothering to completely unfold it, and laid his head back on the floor.
The blanket helped, but it wasn’t enough to make him feel warm, despite its thickness. It was soft and stormy gray and slightly scratchy; machine-knitted wool, thought Tim, pulling it closer.
He groaned as another shiver wracked though him, his breath quivering across the fibers of Jason’s bathmat. That was dark blue and very clean, almost like it was new. Tim wondered how much time Jason really spent in this apartment, or if he was just scrupulously clean—Tim hadn’t really thought it was possible to own a bathmat that didn’t have a single stray hair on it, but then again, he’d been told his standards for cleanliness weren’t exactly on par with the rest of society’s…
Tim shuddered violently and pulled the blanket closer. Society’s…society…why had he been thinking about society? Society made him think of galas, the sound of fake laughter and violins and the clink of champagne flutes, of broad and glittering ballrooms—or boardrooms, the clink of a business man’s whiskey glass, a too-firm handshake and a leering smile, designer leather briefcases—and suitcases, those too, designer suitcases in a broad empty hall, with…marble floors, he remembered, and the sound of his parents’ retreating footsteps, the lingering scent of his mother’s perfume, which would fade, like it always did, within a day, until he’d hardly remember the scent…
And once, once when he’d been very small, the brush of his mother’s cool hand against his forehead as he lay in bed with a fever; her whispered assurance that when she and his father returned, he’d be better, and how much that touch, despite its brevity, despite that it had preceded a month-long absence, had meant to him, back before the days when he at last understood that all the assurances and promises added up to nothing.
And maybe, maybe in another life, Tim thought hazily, maybe instead of chasing Batman and Robin around Gotham, he’d convinced his parents to let him come along on their travels; maybe instead of focusing on breaking through to Batman, he’d focused on breaking through to his parents; maybe instead of taking over Wayne Enterprises, he’d learned at his father and mother’s knees and taken over Drake Industries; maybe instead of being so focused on Robin, he’d put more effort into spending time with his dad before it was too late; maybe, maybe if he hadn’t been so distracted, maybe…maybe things would have been different.
But then…but then what would have happened to Bruce?
Tim groaned and clutched the blanket, curling in tighter on himself, not because of his nausea anymore, but because he was so cold.
He remembered one night, years ago: it was December, and he and Batman were high above Gotham’s sleeting streets, puzzling out the latest of the Riddler’s clues. This was before WE had developed the SmartTech baselayer he now wore beneath his uniform…merino wool, he remembered, they’d relied on wool and movement to keep from freezing…and because it was December, there were holiday shoppers out, even that late at night, their breaths billowing out in clouds he could see even from where he was perched with Batman, and all the buildings were shining with frost and lights…
It had been half an hour since Jason had thrown his warmest wool blanket at the kid, and though the terrible noises coming from Jason’s bathroom had stopped, the replacement still hadn’t emerged.
Jason supposed that meant he should check on him again.
Jason sighed and rolled his eyes, splaying the worn paperback he’d been halfheartedly reading over the arm of his chair.
This entire situation was incredibly stupid. And he didn’t really buy that the replacement had broken into his safe house because it was the only place close enough—the kid could have contacted anyone in the Gotham bat network, and he also had an entire lineup of young superheroes that were loyal to him at his beck and call from when he’d led the Teen Titans. So maybe Batman was in Europe—that didn’t mean that Red Robin was suddenly without resources.
Red Robin was working an angle—Red Robin was always working an angle. Hell, every god-damned person on the planet was working an angle, if you gave them long enough to figure one out. And sure, Jason would concede that the kid was genuinely sick—but that didn’t mean he was going to buy for a second that he’d shown up on his doorstep out of desperation rather than calculation. Honestly, Jason was a little insulted that the kid seemed to think that Jason would believe this wasn’t some roundabout attempt to bring him back into the fold.
Jason hated it. And what was more, he hated that he was playing right into it.
Because out of all the bats, it was Red Robin who had placed the most faith in him over the last couple years, strange though that was. There was a time when he would have thought Dick would have been the one who would keep trying to mend fences that Jason didn’t feel inclined to mend, but in Jason’s view, there was now nearly as much bad blood between him and Dick as there was between him and Bruce. Sure, he and Nightwing had teamed up a couple times, traded information, but things had soured considerably between them since those days. He’d…he’d gone a little off the rails, after he heard Bruce’s Last Will and Testament. And while he now acknowledged that that didn’t excuse his subsequent actions, didn’t excuse how he had attacked and tried to kill both Tim and Damian, didn’t excuse his sudden and violent personal vendetta against Dick Grayson, well…
None of that excused the fact that Dick had locked him in Arkham. Some things, you couldn’t just forgive.
(A tiny part of him liked to whisper that maybe it was by that same logic that Dick had felt the need to lock him away. He had tried to murder Dick Grayson’s precious little brothers, and damn near succeeded, and that was just one more unforgivable offense added to the pile of unforgivable offenses Jason had been accumulating ever since his return from the grave. But thoughts like these led to thoughts about how Dick seemed to actually care for the other boys as brothers, but never seemed to view him as one; thoughts about the feelings that had been dredged up by Bruce’s will; thoughts that had him seeing with a tinge of green at the edge of his vision; and so there was a reason he avoided thinking about any of this very much at all.)
But Red Robin…for whatever reason, that kid kept coming back. Despite some initial hesitancy, he was the one who had given Jason the means to escape prison the first time. And true, Jason had followed that up with his second attempt on the kid’s life, but despite it, here he was again, on his doorstep, completely vulnerable, seemingly certain that Jason wouldn’t attack him.
And seemingly right. Because in truth, Jason didn’t want to fight with the bats anymore if he could avoid it. These days, he just wanted them to leave him alone.
Well, so much for that, he supposed. He was already making plans to abandon this safe house, to raze every piece of evidence that suggested he’d ever even stepped foot in the place—he owned the building and was its only occupant, so he could easily blow the place up, or set it on fire, though that did seem sort of a shame. He wasn’t attached to it, per say, but he did have a certain resistance to destroying perfectly good things. It felt like a waste. But all of that was irrelevant, because he didn’t really think for a second that after tonight was over, he wouldn’t be getting other visitors from Bruce’s brood, or, god forbid, Bruce himself. Hanging on to his safe house simply wasn’t worth the headache.
Sometimes he wasn’t sure why he stayed in Gotham at all. Some things though…maybe there were some things you couldn’t get out of your blood.
Jason shook his head. That was tomorrow’s problem. Tonight, he needed to make sure baby bird hadn’t passed out in his bathroom.
Jason knocked on the doorjamb again, and when he got no response, opened the door and peered inside. The kid was right where he’d left him; on the floor and half-wrapped in Jason’s blanket. “I think that’s enough lying on the floor for one night, replacement,” he said, frowning when he got no response. “Rise ‘n shine, puking beauty,” he said, venturing into the bathroom and nudging the prone form with his foot. He got a weak, barely audible moan in response. “Kid?” Jason asked, nudging him again.
“’s cold,” mumbled Tim into the bathmat.
“Yeah, and it’ll be warmer on the couch,” said Jason. “I have a space heater and everything.” Tim didn’t move. “Christ,” muttered Jason under his breath, dragging his hand though his hair. “This is ridiculous,” he grumbled, bending down and hoisting Tim up under his armpits until he was sitting upright. The blanket slipped off Tim’s shoulders, making him shiver violently. His eyes were still closed and he seemed to be doing his best impression of a cooked noodle.
“The hell?” said Jason, grabbing Tim’s limp hand from where it had become uncovered after the blanket fell away. Tim had taken off his gloves around the same time he’d pulled back his cowl, and that meant that Jason could see the kid’s bare hands; the nailbeds were tinged a sickly blue, and his fingers were freezing to touch.
“Shit!” said Jason, grabbing Tim’s other hand. It, too, was turning blue from cold. “Shit, shit, shit,” he muttered under his breath as he laid Tim back on the floor, then rummaged around in his medicine cabinet for a thermometer. He probably should have done that from the start, he thought, it was always the first thing Alfred did when anyone came down with something—it had been the first thing his mom had done too whenever he’d gotten sick as a kid. But hell if he was supposed to be Red Robin’s nursemaid—he hadn’t asked for this, and he didn’t want to take any responsibility for this, he had a strict policy of staying out of the business of any and all bats, only now he had one possibly going hypothermic on his bathroom floor, and the cherry on the cake was that he hadn’t even been the one who induced it, hadn’t even done a single thing to hurt the kid, but he was willing to bet his entire financial stake in Gotham’s underworld that he would be the one to take the blame if things went south from here.
“Fucking fuck,” muttered Jason as he pulled out the thermometer, then roughly stuck it in Tim’s mouth. “Don’t open your mouth,” he said. Tim nodded at him through half-open eyes. A minute later, the thermometer beeped and Jason read the temperature: 96.6 degrees. Low, but not dangerously. Not yet.
“The hell, Timmy,” said Jason, placing the thermometer on the counter. “You’re supposed to get a fever when you’re sick, not turn into an ice cube.” Again, Jason pulled Tim upright and propped him up against the cabinet under the sink. “We need to warm you up,” he muttered. Jason turned to go, then turned back and tossed the blanket back over Tim before turning around and leaving again.
Tim shivered weakly and pulled the blanket a little closer.
He couldn’t remember ever feeling this terrible because of an illness before. Sure, he’d been injured, drugged, you name it…but this was different. This was his body rebelling against him in an unpredictable way, in an unprecedented way. He had a dim thought that he should be embarrassed; here he was, helpless, and of all the people in the world, Jason Todd was taking his temperature. But he was far past the point of shame—he couldn’t focus on much besides the persistent ache of his body, and the coldness that seem settled in his bones.
Jason was back, he registered dimly, and saying something, but the words were slipping past his ears like oil on water. He did notice however, when Jason pulled away the blanket, removed his cape, and started undoing the clasps of his uniform.
Tim instinctually squirmed and lashed out, batting Jason’s arm away with a pathetic strike. “What’re you doing?” he asked. “Stopit.”
“You’re going to take a hot shower, dummy,” said Jason, ignoring Tim’s flailing arm, “which I told you not twenty seconds ago. When you failed to respond to me, I took matters into my own hands—unless you want to go in fully clothed.”
Tim’s eyes slid from Jason to the shower behind him, which he now registered was running and steaming, to the portable shower chair that had appeared in it that hadn’t been there before—and, Tim belatedly realized, was what Jason must have gone to retrieve when he’d briefly left him a few moments before—and then slid back to Jason’s face. He was scared, Tim realized, Jason’s face was scared, and he was the one scaring him.
Oh, how the tables had turned.
If only he’d known the key to getting back at Jason Todd was just getting severely ill on his doorstep, he might have done it years ago.
Then again, a couple years ago and Jason might’ve just killed him instead.
Tim blinked, and realized he’d zoned out again, and in that time Jason had finished stripping him out of the top half of this Red Robin uniform. “Stop, I can do it,” said Tim, weakly pushing Jason away. This time, Jason acquiesced, but frowned at him, lips pursed. There was something in that expression that Tim couldn’t pin down, but before he could give it more thought, Jason interrupted.
“If you fall down and break your head open on the tile trying to get in the shower by yourself, I will murder you myself,” he warned.
“Jason, please go away,” said Tim, ignoring the empty threat. Jason shot him one more glare, then exited the bathroom and closed the door with a click.
Tim took a moment to gather himself, then pushed himself into a semi-standing position, hunched over, his arms supporting his upper body weight on this sink. He glanced at himself in the mirror, which was already beginning to cloud with steam—he looked haggard, and pale. He looked like shit.
Tim turned away from his reflection and stripped out of the rest of his uniform, the shivering growing more violent with each piece of his uniform that he removed. He stepped into the spray of water on unsteady feet, then sank onto the chair that Jason had placed there for him.
Tim huddled into the stream of water—it was tremendously warm, but the air in the room still felt drafty and cool, and every inch of his skin that wasn’t in direct contact with the warm water felt freezing. He closed his eyes and breathed the steamy air, exhaled. Focused on the warmth, the steady sound of water rushing from the pipes, the patter of each warm and golden drop against his skin, one by one working to banish the chill. He opened his eyes, droplets catching on his eyelashes. The nailbeds of his toes were still blue, but slowly turning more pinkish.
The longer he sat there, the more his shivers subsided. He was grateful for the shower chair; his legs couldn’t hold him up right now, and although at this point he would have shamelessly sat on the floor of the shower, he was glad he didn’t need to. He supposed Jason had the chair on hand for when he had injuries severe enough that he couldn’t stand for the length of a shower—a situation Tim himself was familiar with.
Ah, the glamourous life of a non-superpowered vigilante.
Tim’s body had stopped shaking, but he stayed in the shower until his skin was bright red and the water felt like it was beginning to run cold—though Tim suspected it wasn’t really, because he could still see steam coming off it, and that in actuality his internal thermometer was just so off kilter that it only felt like the water was beginning to run cold—but regardless, Tim was loathe to turn off the water; he knew as soon as he did he’d feel freezing cold again, simply by virtue of being wet.
He stayed in the shower until he felt the temperature of the water drop by another degree or so, and then reluctantly turned off the taps. He opened the shower door and almost immediately began to shiver violently as the cool air met his wet skin, but there was a dry towel folded on the countertop waiting for him. He snatched the towel up and dried himself as quickly as he could with his shaking hands, then pulled on the sweatshirt and too-large pair of sweatpants that he found folded on the counter next to the towel. He was still shivering, but he felt more clear-headed than he had before going into the shower, which he supposed was a good sign.
He wasn’t quite sure what to do next, but he guessed that lying back down on the bathmat probably wasn’t the best course of action, despite how tempting it was. So, arms pulled tight around his middle and hood of the oversized sweatshirt pushing his damp hair into messy spikes, he ventured into the hallway.
Fuck, it was colder out here. He started to shiver even more, and made it halfway down the hall before feeling like he was going to collapse. Jason appeared a moment later and quickly appraised him.
“Y’know, this is probably the most pathetic sight I’ve ever seen in my life,” Jason said, and walked over to him and hauled him up from where he had started to slouch against the wall and steered him down the hallway. “In fact, I’d say you look half dead already. And I should know, seeing how I’ve died and all.”
Tim shot him a disturbed look. “Um?” he said.
“Right, I joke about that,” said Jason. “If you’re gonna hang out with me, get used to it.”
“We’re hanging out now?” asked Tim through his chattering teeth. Maybe he was still in a fever dream. Or whatever the opposite of a fever dream was, considering he’d had a low temperature, not a high one.
“Shit, Timmy, you’re the one who broke into my place to vomit,” said Jason, shouldering open a door. “I’m not exactly sure how to categorize that, but it means you get deal with my fucked up sense of humor.”
“That’s…okay,” mumbled Tim. “Fair enough I guess.”
“Damn straight,” said Jason, depositing Tim on the bed.
Tim sat on its edge for a moment, a little baffled. “I thought you mentioned the couch earlier.”
Jason rolled his eyes dramatically and pointed to the bed. “That was before you went all Icicle Jr. on me. For god’s sake, just get in the fucking bed.”
Tim didn’t need to be told twice, and quickly slid beneath what must have been at least six blankets. “Didn’t know you cared,” he said.
“Don’t fuck around and pretend like this is a newsflash, but I don’t actually want you dead. Anymore,” amended Jason. “But don’t mistake that for caring, either,” he said. Tim had a feeling it was supposed to come out threatening, but it sounded more like a grumble to his ears. Tim nodded absently, already rolling away from Jason and pulling the blankets up over his head.
“Thanks,” he mumbled in the pillow, not knowing or really even caring if Jason heard him.
“Yeah, yeah,” muttered Jason, flicking off the light.