The flames leapt up the wall of Dick's room. Jason, in an uncharacteristic panic, tugged at the burning drapes until they fell to the floor. The smoke alarm started beeping at a shriek, making Dick cup his hands over his ears. Jason was still busily stomping the fire out, when Alfred entered the room in a panic.
Seeing the smoldering pile of fabric under Jason's control, Alfred switched off the alarm, then turned to the invalid, Dick, who seemed to be having convulsions in his bed. Recovering from nearly terminal cancer cured by an illegal bone marrow transplant, had rendered the acrobat thin, wan and strengthless. And now he'd caught a bad case of chicken pox from Lian Harper's teddy bear. Seeing Dick's body shaking, his arms pounding and face caught in a rictus of a grin, Alfred was seriously worried.
"Master Dick!" Alfred reached out to pin Dick's writhing shoulders to the mattress. "Master Dick! What is wrong? Jason! He is in convulsions! Telephone Dr. Thompkins immediately, then dial 911 for an ambulance. What have you done?" Alfred cast a gimlet eye towards Jason.
Jason blanched, gave the drapes a final stomp and turned a terror-stricken face towards Dick.
"No...No, Alfie!" Dick gasped. "I'm...LAUGHING! God, everything that doesn't hurt, itches but..." Slowing to giggles, Dick patted Alfred's hands affectionately. "I'm not convulsing, just laughing...at Jay...Mister oh-so-cool-and-controlled..." His giggles slowed into snickers, then he took a deep breath, his face still plastered with a big grin. Alfred backed away from Dick and focused his gimlet glare on Jason.
Jason scowled. "It was an accident," he said. "I dropped a cigarette butt and…"
"And that is the reason we have a 'no smoking' policy inside the house. I trust that you will remember it next time," Alfred said blandly. "And as for you, Master Dick, I hope that you are feeling well after your...er..fit?"
"Go easy on him, Alfie," Dick grinned, with his thin arms wrapped around his bony ribs. "I haven't…haven't laughed like that in….hee!...forever."
Alfred frowned, first at a very cowed Jason and then at Dick and decided that no harm had been done. "Very well," he said, tucking a blanket around Dick and reclining the bed further back. "I shall bring a bucket of water and scrub brush. Master Jason can entertain you further by cleaning up his mess and removing the scorch marks from the bedroom wall."
"You're not gonna tell…Him? Are you?" Jason asked, feigning a nonchalance he clearly didn't feel.
"No. He has enough to worry about. You," he pointed at Jason. "will leave Master Dick to rest while I bring up his luncheon. After he has recovered from this incident, you will restore the wall to its prior condition."
Dick lay back in his bed, his eyes mere slits. "You're not gonna make me eat again, are you Alfie?"
"Food is necessary to restore your body to its usual…er…exuberance. Chicken broth should be both soothing and nourishing." He moved towards the door when Jason piped up.
"How about me, Alfred? Don't I get anything?"
Alfred scanned the cheeky grin plastered across Jason's face. "You may go downstairs and join Masters Damian and Timothy at lunch.
Dick settled into bed, still occasionally bursting into quiet giggles while Jason left for lunch downstairs.
At the dining table, Tim and Damian were already chowing down on plates of pasta. Jason served himself and took his usual seat across from his two 'brothers'. Surprisingly, he'd been getting along better with them both since their unauthorized and completely illegal trip to get Dick compatible bone marrow. He'd never considered the possibility that he'd be working in a team with the Replacement and the Demon-child. Still, he'd teamed up with worse.
"How is he doing?" Tim asked. Everyone knew who 'he' was. The focus of the entire bat-clan had been lasered on Dick Grayson for far too long.
"Doing okay," Jason said, deciding to omit the adventure with the curtains. "He's breaking out with what looks like a really bad case of the zits." He carefully rolled his pasta on his fork and studied the mysteries of Alfred's marinara sauce. "I know that Alfie's glad you've both had chicken pox."
Damian snorted. "I have never had the disease. We al-Ghuls come from superior stock and do not become ill as others do. Immunizations are unnecessary."
"Wait a minute," Tim said, laying down his fork. "You've never had it? You've been spending a lot of time with Dick lately, Damian. Chicken pox is incredibly infectious." Tim stared at Damian's face, then got up and turned more overhead lights on. "What's that on your chin?"
"What?" Damian glared back at Tim. "It's probably spaghetti sauce."
"Have you been feeling tired and headachy?" Tim demanded, reaching both hands under either side of Damian's jaw before the child could slap his hands away. "Your lymph-nodes feel swollen."
Damian was batting at Tim's hands as Alfred entered the room. "I am fine. Al-Ghuls do not get childhood diseases! I do not have the pox!" Damian shouted.
Tim stifled a grin. "Alfie, would you check Damian? I think maybe he's coming down with the chicken pox as well."
Alfred bent down and examined Damian quickly, then popped a thermometer into the boy's mouth. Pulling it out and reading it, the butler sighed.
"I am afraid, Master Damian, that you have the chicken pox as well. Let's see you upstairs to your bedroom and get you tucked in. Your case will probably be light, since you are still a child. Come then," he gestured and shooed Damian out of the kitchen. As Damian left the room, he cast a dark glare over his shoulder at Tim and Jason.
They waited until Damian was out of earshot before they broke into laughter.
"So, the demon spawn is human after all," Tim said, wiping his eyes. "I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it. Well, looks like I'm patrolling Gotham alone tonight."
"You...uh...need a hand or anything?" Jason asked tentatively. "Bludhaven has been pretty quiet lately."
Tim's eyebrow went up. "You think I need help?" he asked in a careful voice.
Uh-oh, Jason realized that the peace was more fragile than he thought. Tim was getting defensive. "No, I just like to enjoy Alfred's cooking every once in a while. This gives me an excuse to get a couple free meals. Mattress is better here, too."
"Uh, sure, okay," Tim responded after eyeing Jason carefully. "I figure we could go out about eight p.m. Okay with you?"
"Sounds good," Jason replied. "I'll be downstairs in the cave, warming up."
"All right, I have homework to..." Tim's voice was drowned out by a loud yell and the sound of something thumping. "That's Alfred!" Tim said and ran for the door, Jason close behind him.
The thumping sound had stopped, to be replaced by a low moaning. They found Alfred crumpled at the foot of the grand staircase.
Tim knelt to check the butler's condition while Jason circled, looking for intruders. It wasn't unknown for Wayne Manor to have uninvited visitors.
"Alfred?" Tim checked his pulse and found it strong and fast. "Alfred? Can you hear me?" His eyes were open and he looked dazed.
"Master...Timothy?" Alfred blearily focused his eyes on Tim. "Oh dear..."
"What happened, Alfred? Did somebody attack you?" Tim asked urgently, eyes following Jason's patrol.
"No...no, not at all. A moment's dizziness," Alfred said and put out a hand to haul himself up. Tim helped him up, but the butler cried out and crumpled when he tried to put weight on his right foot.
"Alfred?" Tim asked anxiously.
"I believe that I have broken my ankle, Master Tim. Would you please telephone Leslie? That is...Dr. Thompkins?"
"I'll help him," Jason appeared behind Tim. "You make the call. C'mon, Alfie, let's get you settled," Jason said.
Under protest, Jason put Alfred on the couch and brought an ice pack for the offending leg.
By the time Dr. Thompkins arrived, both of Alfred's patients were out of their rooms, peering curiously from the head of the stairs.
"Is Alfred okay?" Dick asked, clinging shakily to the upstairs railing.
"Master Richard! Get back to bed this instant!" Alfred expostulated from his couch. "You are still very weak. Master Jason, if you would..."
"Yeah, I got him," Jason said over his shoulder, halfway up the stairs.
"Oh no you don't," Dick said, gripping his handrail firmly. "I haven't thrown up in half an hour and I want to know what's going on."
"I wish to know, also!" Damian piped up from behind Dick, clearly helping to prop him up from behind.
"Both of you should be in bed," Jason said in what he hoped was a reasonable tone of voice. You never knew with Bats, though.
A door slammed below, drawing attention away from the upcoming show-down. Dr. Thompkins had arrived.
"So, Alfred fell down the stairs?" she said, briskly moving over to Alfred's couch. She performed a quick examination.
"It doesn't look like your ankle is broken, but it is badly sprained," she said, then took a closer look at Alfred. "You say you had a brief dizzy spell and that made you fall?"
"Yes. Very brief," Alfred replied. "It's been a dreadfully busy day, since Master Dick is down with chicken pox and Master Damian apparently has contracted it as well."
With a quizzical look, Leslie brought out a pocket flashlight and examined Alfred's face and arms carefully. "Alfred, have you ever had chicken pox?"
"I...Well, I don't really remember. I have been exposed to it multiple times as an adult and have never contracted it. I've always assumed that I did, as a young child like most people do..."
She got up with a crooked smile on her face. "I'm sorry, Alfred, but I'll have to add you to the sick list. You have chicken pox as well. I wouldn't advise you going back upstairs again. Is there a bedroom downstairs somewhere in this pile that you could occupy?"
Alfred frowned. "I am in the process of caring for the two masters, who are both ill. How am I to do that?"
Leslie glanced around, spotting Tim and Jason. "You have a ballroom on this floor, don't you?"
All three gave her perplexed looks. "Yes, there is," Alfred said.
"Good," she replied. "Boys, I want you to move some cots or beds into the ballroom down here. We'll put all those affected with chicken pox in there; a sort of sick ward. You two will care for them there." Her sharp gaze focused on Tim, who was scratching his arm. "Let me see that."
Dumbly, Tim stretched out his arm and Leslie examined it closely. "Looks like you're joining the quarantine ward, Tim. You've got it too."
"What?" Tim yelped. "But I had it already, when I was five! I remember! I can't get it again!"
With a shrug, Leslie let go of Tim's arm. "I'm sorry, Tim, but that's a myth. It's rare, but people do get the chicken pox a second time. It looks like this batch is especially virulent. Let's move you all downstairs and make you comfortable." She looked around. "By the way, where's Bruce?"
The ballroom was fitted out with multiple beds, soon occupied by Alfred, Damian, Tim and Dick. Jason was left to care for them, although he had already called Bruce to cut his business trip short. Beside each bed was a plastic lined trash can. "Because I'm not gonna clean up vomit for four people!" Jason said, lovingly placing the final can next to Dick's bed.
"Hey, Dick is the only one who's upchucking so far," Tim protested as Dick grabbed his can and began to use it. Jason watched dourly and took the used can, handing Tim's to Dick for a second round.
"Oh," Tim said.
Two days later, Bruce arrived on his private jet. He was met at the door by a hollow-eyed Jason.
"Oh, thank God you're here!" Jason said. His clothing was stained and hung on him. Bruce also noticed a ripe smell surrounding his son that normally wasn't present. Jason had always been a very clean boy. "Didn't you get the message I left with your secretary?"
"Message? No. What is it? What's happened?" Bruce dropped his briefcase and prepared for battle. "Where is everyone? Dick? Is he okay?"
"Todd?" Damian, in pajamas and covered with spots, wandered down the hallway. "Grayson and Drake have both vomited again and the room smells like a charnel house. You must provide them with fresh trash cans immediately."
"Damian!" Bruce glanced at his youngest son. "What's going on here?"
"Everybody's got chicken pox except for me. Leslie's quarantined all the sick ones in the ballroom!" Jason said, as near hysteria as Bruce had ever seen him.
Bruce's lips quirked up just a tad. "And you're the only able-bodied one left to care for them? What happened to Alfred?"
"Sprained ankle, plus chicken pox," Damian said blandly. "Father, Todd has proven an incompetent care-giver. I must insist that you hire a professional at once."
Bruce's lips curved up a bit more. He rolled took off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves. "Show me."
Inside the ballroom, five beds had been prepared. All but two were occupied. Dick was reading a magazine and looking...disgusting. The rash had blossomed into acne-like spots, crusted with pus. Dick, however, looked livelier than Bruce had seen him in a very long time.
Tim was curled up in bed, sleeping, with one hand hanging down. Alfred lay propped up, reading Shakespeare, with leg bandaged at the ankle. Damian scurried to his own bed and scratched himself discreetly under his shirt.
"Sir, welcome home!" Alfred said cordially, laying aside the book. "As you can see, we are all camped out here."
Smile growing into a grin, Bruce snagged the trash cans and began emptying them and replacing the plastic. "How is everyone doing? Dick?"
"Looks worse than it is," Dick said with his own smile. "Jason stopped rubbing calamine on my rash yesterday. He said it was too gross. Damian's got a light case and Tim's still mad that he's having his second dose of chicken pox."
"I see," Bruce said. "It looks like Jason needs some help," he looked kindly at his second son. "Jason, I'll take over here. Why don't you go get a shower and take a nap upstairs." He made eye contact with his black-sheep son and added. "Thank you for holding the fort, Jason. I'm proud of you."
Jason didn't say anything but walked out of the room with a new spring to his step.