Warnings: Disturbing imagery, references to character death; use of different font colors.
Word Count: 1258
Summary: What does Jason fear?
Prompt: I'm counting this as fever/delirium for hc_bingo, cos I really need to get on with that.
Note: a little bit inspired by Blood is the Beginning by saavikam77, insofar as the plot-point of Jason being dosed by fear toxin.
Three Parts Dead
"Those who fear life are already three parts dead." --Bertrand Russell
Red Hood doubled over from the punch to his stomach, gasping for breath just as the Scarecrow released another dose of fear toxin from the vents up his sleeves. He choked, the gas burning his throat as it was inhaled, and mentally cursed himself for deciding to forgo the helmet tonight. He could have switched on the in-built respirator in that case. But no, now he was stuck getting a dose of fear toxin as the Scarecrow laughed. Red Hood jabbed hard with his fist, feeling a thrill of satisfaction as the punch landed -- to Scarecrow's ribs, when Red Hood had been aiming for his solar plexus, but that was the hallucinogenic properties kicking in and there wasn't anything he could do about that.
The Scarecrow's laughter changed -- the sound twisting like a rope, like a noose -- into the painfully familiar cadences of the Joker, howling with glee as he hefted a crowbar that dripped with dark blood. There was another blow -- on one level, Red Hood was aware that it was made with a fist and hardly registered through the layers of Kevlar he wore -- but the fear toxin was accessing his darkest memories and he felt his bones snap under relentless metal, a fresh wave of agony that drove him to his knees. A few of the Scarecrow's thugs circled round him, kicking and punching -- his poisoned mind relived the horrible pain of his fatal beating. He struggled for air -- blood and saliva dripped out of his gasping mouth, and every breath seemed to drive the broken ends of his ribs deeper into his lung. Everything inside him felt broken. He raised his head, caught sight of the horrified blue eyes of Sheila Haywood, and he tried to plead, tried to crawl -- 'Mother... Mother, please! Why are you letting him...' -- mocking laughter and jeers from the Scarecrow's thugs, since Jason was unaware that he was screaming now what he had only been thinking back then. She turned away from him, and the Joker struck hard at his head... the soft gold of her hair went red as blood stained his vision.
"No..." Red Hood moaned. 'No, I know this... I dream this. This is not real, this is not --'
With another scream, this time one of defiance, Red Hood lashed out at his tormentors -- as they scattered, the nightmare visions scattered as well. The pain faded back down to the dull aches from the real blows he'd suffered tonight. The hideous mask of the Scarecrow was looking down at him, Crane hissing angrily, "A fear you've already faced? No matter... this will take care of you!"
The familiar sting of a needle -- veins turning to ice so cold that it burned -- and blackness.
"I'll check it out; thanks, Oracle," Robin said. He turned his gaze skyward for a moment and allowed himself an annoyed sigh before he fired off his grapple line and swung off the roof. Oracle's network had caught Red Hood entering a building on the Lower East End, and since Catwoman was busy stopping a crime several blocks north of the location, it fell to Robin to make sure that the man wasn't making trouble. Red Hood had been off their radar for a while now, but that sort of thing fit his usual operating procedure. Lay low until most people had forgotten his last caper, get information on the current situation, raise hell, repeat.
Robin was not fond of Red Hood in any way -- not that he had a reason to be -- but the man was still, in a way, part of the family. Whether they liked it or not. Besides which, he'd seen what Jason's first death had done to Bruce and Dick and Alfred. He really didn't want to see that happen again.
So when he got to the address that Oracle had given him, and he saw signs of Scarecrow setting up shop, Robin started to worry. When he removed the glass in one of the skylight panes, and heard the sound of ragged, broken sobbing, Robin feared the worst. He quietly reported his suspicions to Oracle, and -- deciding that the current situation warranted extra precaution -- took a respirator out of his utility belt and slipped it on.
Time to go rescue his brother.
The man cried out wordlessly and pressed his hands harder against his ears, trying desperately to block out the screaming, the pleading, from a well-loved and familiar voice.
"Jason... Jason, help me... please, young master, I --" The voice broke off into another scream of pain. Red Hood howled with agony, thrashing -- in a way that seemed strangely restrained, as though he thought he were in a smaller space than he really was. The concrete floor around him was puddled with blood, and at least one of his fingers looked to be broken beneath his shredded gloves. Robin ran to his side.
"Red Hood?" Robin tried again, after removing the respirator. With the Scarecrow restrained and unconscious -- and the police rapidly closing in, as Oracle reported -- he felt confident that he wouldn't need it anymore. He reached out and firmly grabbed the older man's shoulders, and his voice was much quieter as he asked, "Jay?"
Red Hood sucked in a huge, shuddering gasp of air, and his wild blue eyes focused on Robin -- framed by broken pine, the smell of dirt and blood heavy in the air. The hallucinogen made Robin's face a horror, demonic and strange, but Jason fought down the initial terror response. Red Hood forced the words out of a tortured, hurting throat,"Alfie... he's got Alfie..."
"Joker..." Red Hood sobbed. "Don't you hear him? Don't you..."
The high, half-hysterical laughter of the Joker, rising in counterpoint to Alfred's choked cries of pain, drowned out whatever Robin had to say. Red Hood shoved hard at the younger man's chest, forcing him back; he struggled to stand, but vertigo claimed him and he collapsed again. Hands tugging at him, a rising pressure in his head... Red Hood begged, "Save him, save him... leave me, save Alfred..."
With those words, Robin understood. As he prepped a dose of fear-toxin antidote for Red Hood, he murmured reassuringly, "Batman's got him, Jay, rest now..."
"Batman..?" Red Hood said dazedly.
"He told me to save you," Robin replied, tilting Red Hood's head to one side so he could administer the antidote. There was no harm in playing along with Red Hood's delusion, and it might even help him break it. "Batman will save Alfred."
Despite his words to the contrary, Jason was one of the few Robins who could believe fully in a Batman that would not let him down. Unlike Tim -- who had seen Batman broken by his burden, grieving for his failures, rendered truly and inescably mortal by injury -- Jason had had the luxury of knowing Batman in a time when good had seemed able to triumph simply by virtue of being good. He had known a Batman whose greatest failure had been that of a child unable to intervene, rather than that of a man who had raced against time and lost.
The screams stopped. The laughter stopped. Awareness faded to the sounds of fighting, to the sound of Batman's voice... but he couldn't make out the words...
"I'll get you out of here," Robin promised, as Red Hood's frightened eyes lost their focus and drifted shut.
The muse is fickle these days, folks. I just knew that once this idea -- of what Jason Todd really fears, what maybe all of the Bat Family fears -- came into my head, I had to write it. I'm not sure where this is going, but it's also the first time I've been able to write sympathetically for Tim. And I just couldn't resist the trick of switching font colors. It honestly worked better for me than bolding or italicising would.
Hey, if any of you like this enough that it inspires you to write (even if you want to turn it into Jason/Tim, haha), go for it. I really don't know where to go from here, not without outright copying Saavikam's plot. Just let me know, and post a link if you do end up writing and posting something. :)