For any readers of my previous works (in the categories of DGM, Hetalia or HP), this might be a "For Goodness Sake, Stop Starting up New Fics before You've Finished Your Older Ones"-kind of moment. However, in my defence, this fic has been complete for months and has just been collecting imaginary dust on my hard drive. Hence, posting it – all three chapters of it – won't interfere with my other writing.

For any new readers – as well as old ones – greetings, I'm Hane no Zaia. This is my first fic in the Batman/Young Justice universe, and I do hope it's readable. In any case, if you've got the time and will, feel free to give it a read and judge for yourself whether it is a story deserving of your review(s).


- o0o -


- o0o -

Somehow, I always knew I would never die peacefully.

I was a kid of the streets; and recent changes in accommodation aside, I see that I will be staying true to my origin, all the way through.

Street kids rarely die peacefully. If they do, then they drop off to their eternal rest by an overdose or they get smothered in their sleep by their less than ideal parents; that is, if they ever had any in the first place. Street kids tend to die violently, in Gotham at least. Some get run over by cars, some get involved with the gangs and others, others just end up making trouble for themselves in other ways, making trouble of themselves so that they need to be disposed of.

I was one of the latter.

I would've liked to think that my troubles began the day when I tried stealing a couple of tyres I shouldn't have, but in truth it probably began much earlier than that. Even so, that day was probably the one which sealed my fate and which sent me heading down a spiral which would eventually lead me to my own destruction. From that day and onwards, I tried to be different – tried to be someone else – but in the end I died violently, like the street kid I was, at the hands of a madman armed with a bucket load of insanity and a crowbar. However, neither killed me directly; their combined force did beat me within an inch of my life, but in the end it was the blast that killed me.




He was coming for me, I knew that, somehow. He was coming for me, but it was already too late; I knew he wouldn't make it. The bomb exploded before he could reach me.

- o0o -

I was fifteen when I died, or at least I think I was; my memories are all jumbled up and confusing.

I was fifteen – or at least I think I was – when I died, or at least I think I did; with things being the way they are, I can't really be sure of anything anymore.

- o0o -

I woke up to a world of pain, drugged out of my own mind. It took quite a while before I was coherent enough to understand what was going on around me, and once I did, my confusion increased tenfold.

I was back in Gotham – Gotham of all places – years previous to the day I died, and it was about then that I realised that I had somehow ended up in my own personal Hell. Even so, it was only later on that I would come to realise the full extent of it.

Not quite knowing what to do with me, social services had me put in an institution, and over there I made a name for myself. The other boys – a cowardly bunch, the lot of them, finding courage in numbers and in tormenting those weaker than them – tried messing with me and I showed them why messing with me is a really bad idea in general. Hence, the people in charge of that place put me down as "violent when provoked", which is true enough, but an understatement nonetheless.

Anyhow, after that little episode, the other morons in this place knew their place and kept their distance, and that was the way I generally preferred things, even though I still found myself craving a decent fight sometimes.

Oh yes, I did refer to this place as my own personal Hell, didn't I?

Stay around and you'll find out why.

- o0o -

From the rather violent and exaggerated way in which I perished, I had already concluded that the divine entity I had never really bothered with – God, you know – hated me and did so with passion. However, up until that day I had yet to realise the full extent of that hatred. That day was the day when a maybe ten-year-old Dick Grayson – Goldie, the first Robin, in the flesh – was shoved into the room – aka cell – I had previously occupied all on my own, and a perky – aka sadistic – supervisor informed me that he was going to be my new roommate.

With all due truthfulness, I would have considered it a mercy if they had just brought out a gun and shot me in the head right then and there. Then again, I realised while surveying the red-rimmed eyes of my dejected predecessor, maybe it would have been the most merciful to shoot him then and there and spare him of the torment of living his life in this hellhole with me as a roomie. With a critical eye, I surveyed his pathetic self, his frame trembling slightly from fear and his eyes glistening from unshed tears, and I realised that the kid wouldn't last a day in this place if he remained in the state that he was. I shouldn't have cared, but somehow I did, and before I knew what I was doing I had crossed the room and wrapped my arms around his shivering frame. It was rather uncharacteristic of me, I admit, but at the time I failed to care; I was dead after all, so what I did and did not do did not matter.

Hands curled into fists, clutching the fabric of my t-shirt, clinging to me desperately as the brat – the young promising acrobat who had only just lost the comforts of his loving parents – continued to sob and proceeded to cry his heart out. The side of my neck and the area close to the neck lining of my t-shirt got wet, but I couldn't bring myself to care. I was dead after all, and dead people really don't have to care about such stuff.

- o0o -

The kid had nightmares.

I wouldn't have cared about that, but the brat kept waking me up all the time with his thrashing and screaming and whatnot.

I got up and climbed down from the top bunk I had commandeered. Feet impacting on the cold floor below, I paused, my light-sensitive eyes falling on the tear tracks visible on the brat's cheeks as he thrashed and moved about, his mouth opening slightly to make way for a silent scream.

I was never the caring type, never the comforting type; I had always minded my own business and never really cared about things or people outside of that. I had never been a hero; I had just been masquerading as one, and I had never been a brother either, even though the Dick I had known had eventually put me down as such, instating himself as the big brother. The Dick I had known – or rather known of, since I did not see him all that often even back when I was alive – had been older; how old, I could not remember. The Dick I had known had been a hero – a periodically angst-filled and adolescent one, yes, but still a hero in every kind of way. Goldie, both Bruce's and Batman's Golden Boy – their favourite – the Boy Wonder I myself could never become.

Bitterness may have filled me back then, but back then I was still alive enough to care about such things. Dying really helps putting things into perspective, even though death itself might not turn out to be as permanent as promised.

Regardless of which, the Dick Grayson before me was no Robin and he was certainly no Nightwing. He was just a freshly traumatised little kid who had been dumped into a godforsaken pit filled with poisonous snakes or into a den of starved lions. It was bloody obvious that he wouldn't last. Wonderful, just absolutely wonderful, I thought to myself, pinching the bridge of my nose as the load draped over my lap shifted slightly before once again going almost completely still, breathing regular slow and steady breaths. My legs were falling asleep on me, but moving about would've woken up the kid all over again so I remained in the same position, staring out into the darkness while contemplating things. If I recalled things correctly, it would only be a question of time before Bruce came around to check on the kid anyhow, meaning that he would soon be out of my hair, or at least so I hoped.

Bruce was coming for him, I honestly thought he would, but as days came and went and no one showed up, I finally decided to take matters into my own hands.

Earlier, making a full recovery from the extensive beating I had suffered at the hands of the madman who killed me had kept me reasonably distracted from making any plans to bust out from this place.

Later, the subsequent arrival of Dickiebird had served a similar purpose.

However, by the time I realised that the Bat wasn't coming, I had once again set to work on making my escape.

I escaped three days later.

For whatever reason, I took the young robin with me.

- o0o -

My decision to drag Dickiebird with me back out into the real world was probably a great lapse of judgement on my part, but then again, I had already decided not to dwell too much on the past. Even so, we lived, even though we by no means thrived.

I took up stealing again, and after a while Dickiebird joined in; it proved hard for him, initially at least, since the righteous principles which had been hammered into him at some point took some time and effort to break. Even so, overall I found it surprisingly easy to corrupt this Golden Boy of all things good and righteous, but I never saw the point in pushing him to do anything. I walked, he followed; I demonstrated, he imitated. Perhaps he saw a survival guide to the streets in me and stuck to me for such a reason, perhaps he did so because he imagined there was some sort of emotional bond between us, that we were attached to each other in some way. Either way, I failed to care which and let him believe whatever he wanted to believe. Perhaps this was a grave mistake on my part, perhaps not, but either way he stuck around.

One of the earliest things I discovered about Dickiebird was that his Golden Boy tendencies aside, he could very much be taught to see reason. For one thing, Dickiebird proved to have much less qualms about stealing from criminals than from other folks, and I saw the worth in that, mostly since the run-of-the-mill criminals of our district probably possessed at least one or two or a dozen items I found myself craving. For another thing, I discovered that somewhere along the way, Goldie had learnt about vengeance.

I was the one to pull the trigger.

Reloading the handgun, I stepped back to admire my achievement. Anthony "Tony" Zucco's brains were splattered all over the wall behind him, and I found myself wondering why I wasn't getting sick over and over at the sight or at the dawning prospect of this utterly vile deed of mine. With all due truthfulness, I should have been doing what Dick – No, Robin – was doing, aka emptying the contents of my stomach out a nearby window. I should have done that, but I found that I didn't really feel anything, not even as I registered the fact that I had just levelled up from being a mere thief to becoming an actual murderer in this world. Then again, I realised, as I put the gun away and measured a kick to the guy's head for the mere kicks of it, I was probably a rotten apple all along, a criminal masquerading as a hero.

Besides, for some reason I felt like I had owed Dickiebird a favour, and even if Zucco had been brought to justice with his brain still intact it would only have been a question of time before he would have been out terrorising the streets again, with the cops as corrupt as they were.

It may not have been a pretty kind of justice – it had been nothing at all like the ideal, lawful way mainstream society would've liked – but it had been swift and it had been permanent. At least this way, Zucco himself would never make another kid an orphan, even though it meant that my own hands had to be tainted to ensure that. In return, I had become a murderer, and I didn't even feel bad about it.

As I mentioned earlier, dying really helps putting things into perspective, and as such, I knew much better than anyone what a fickle and fragile thing life is. My own life had been extinguished once and I knew the feeling of everything just slipping away, echoing off into nothingness, just as I knew the pain of returning. I had died – been killed, murdered – yet I had returned, though not as an avenging angel but rather as a grim reaper in disguise.

I adjusted the hood of my red hoodie, heading off to fetch Robin. We needed to get out after all, before people arrived, bringing trouble with them.

- o0o -

I cannot recall exactly when oddity became normalcy in my continued existence, but I experienced this odd sense of déjà vu when I one day, bearing a crowbar, encountered the eerily familiar shape of the batmobile in an alley I had intended on passing through. I paused in my stride, staring at it with both feelings of nostalgia and feelings of distaste – mostly the latter – recalling that fateful day a long time ago – in the future – in another time. For a brief moment, I considered it, weighing the crowbar in my hands, but then I shrugged it off and walked past it; Robin was waiting for me, waiting for my return, and getting kidnapped by the Bat had never been very high amongst my priorities.

Momentarily, I entertained the thought of bringing Robin there, hoping it would somehow whisk him off to a better life with Bruce Wayne, but I reasoned that if Bruce hadn't bothered coming for Dick while he was at the institution, the man deserved no Robin to look after. Perhaps time and whatever madness death might have inflicted on me had made me sentimental, but for whatever reason, I almost liked the kid by then, almost. Or rather, I liked him enough not to cart him off to live with Bruce Wayne on a whim, even though I knew somewhere that it would probably have been better for him if I had.

From that day and onwards, whatever paranoia I might've worked up beforehand increased tenfold. I kept seeing shadows out of the corner of my eye sometimes, and sensing danger I found myself wanting to keep Robin close, within my sight, all while I also found that I wanted to distance myself, to distance myself so that he wouldn't be dragged into whatever was after me.

I cannot recall which alternative I went for in the end, but supposedly, the result would've been the same anyway.

- o0o -

I don't think, I don't feel, I just am. I lie motionless, beaten and bruised, my red hoodie even redder than it used to be.

Robin is crying. I find this mildly upsetting for some reason, but at the same time I am relieved, because he is not injured, just restrained.

Somehow, I know the Bat – the Dark Knight – will come for him, that he will arrive in time to save the trapped little bird, and that he will bring it back to the cave and piece it back together before letting it fly freely once more. Somehow, I know that he will come – he didn't come for me in time, but he'll come for Dick, of that I am certain, just as I am certain that he will make it in time to save the robin.

As for the bleeding jay with broken wings lying on the floor, I am still highly pessimistic.

I don't think, I don't feel, I just am. I lie motionless, beaten and bruised, darkness steadily closing in on me, ready to swallow me up at any point in time. Strangely enough, I find an odd kind of comfort in that, that in the end, the thick darkness of death is right there, waiting, eager to welcome me into its loving embrace and hopefully not let go of me this time around.

I was a street kid – I still am – and street kids rarely die peacefully. The means which bring about my second demise are violent, but I feel strangely at peace with it all, strangely reassured by the fact that death is ready for me this time around.

Street kids tend to die violently, in Gotham at least, and I was – I am – no exception.

A crowbar – stained in crimson by blood, my blood – rushes down towards me as I close my eyes, a part of me almost eager to leave this ugly world behind, eager to forget the visage of a psychopath who will have killed me twice by the time this is over with. Being killed by the same madman twice; talk about irony, not to mention overkill.

As I said earlier, that day I tried stealing some tyres I shouldn't have was probably the one which sealed my fate and which sent me heading down a spiral which would eventually lead me to my own destruction, but even so, I cannot help but think that I too helped it along somewhere along the way.

I had tried to be different, I had tried to be someone else, but in the end I still died violently, like the street kid I was, at the hands of a madman armed with a bucket load of insanity and a crowbar.

Now, rinse and repeat, the madman is back to finish the job, because last time around he got a bit sloppy. Back then, it had ultimately been the blast that had killed me.

Now… 13… 12… 11…

Unlike last time… 10… 9… 8…

This time around…7… 6… 5…

There is no one coming to save me. 4… 3… 2… 1…

- o0o -

I was a street kid – I still am – and street kids rarely die peacefully.

I died violently the first time around, beaten within an inch of my life before being blown up; it really doesn't get much better than that.

The second time around, I didn't really die at all, though certainly not for lack of effort on the part of my aggressor, I can assure you.

Batman dropped in to save the day, disarming the bomb before proceeding to beat the Joker up while Robin, freed from his bonds, rushed to my side.

- o0o -

I don't think, I don't feel, I just am. I lie motionless, beaten, bruised and bloody like some disturbing piece of art.

"The Death of the Red Hood, perhaps," I muse inwardly, tilting my head slightly to the side even thought it pains me, contemplating it.

Robin is crying again, and yelling at me too from the looks of it, but I really can't tell since I can't hear anything and my sight is blurring and darkening in this very moment.

I have no strength left; it has left me already, pouring out onto the floor or vanishing in the face of cracked bones and battered tissue. Even so, something commands me to reach out and I do so, using what little strength might've remained within me. My fingertips ghost across his cheek and he flinches; I imagine they're cold, because I feel really cold. He rapidly recovers however, seizing my hand, grasping it tightly. He is saying something again. I can see his lips moving, vaguely, but I can't hear anything; white noise and silence intermingle within me as darkness – Death – takes hold of my other hand, holding it gently while waiting for me to breathe my last so that I can leave this world behind and be guided to wherever Death leads me.

- o0o -

I died violently the first time around.

The second time around, I didn't really die at all.

The third time however… well… you know what they say, with the third time being the charm and all, right?

Warm hands – I can't exactly feel them being warm, but I imagine they are – hold mine – limp and cold – between them, sharing imagined warmth.

If a person could ever die happy, I imagine this is about as close as it gets. Sounds corny, I know, but can you truly blame a dying man?

Even so, I cannot help but wonder why life – however ugly, miserable and outright troublesome it may have been – always tempt you so when it is already out of your reach.

That's a rather good question actually, now that I think of it. I have to remember to ask my Maker about it if I ever meet him, right after I spit him in the face.

- o0o -

I was a street kid, and street kids rarely die peacefully.

I did, but it took three times to do the trick and it's nothing I can recommend because dying hurts like a bitch… sometimes.

However, in the end, it's not death itself that you should be worried about; the thing you should really worry about is coming back to life again, like I did.

In one way or another, death changes you, and changes are not always for the better; at least that's what I think.

My name is Jason, Jason Peter Todd, but no one really calls me that anymore.

I am the Red Hood, and I am here to stay apparently, for better or for worse.

- o0o -

Death changes you, and dying not once but twice ought to fuck you up real good on the inside.

Death changes you, and it's not always for the better.

Regardless of whether you're the one to go or if it's another, death leaves no one untouched.

Death changed me, and in a way I became death itself, or at least a grim reaper sent out to do its bidding. I am forever tainted by it, and so is everything I touch. Hence I am alone in my continued existence, making sure I touch no one with my bare hands. Black leather gloves conceal them, but these hands of death of mine do it anyhow, deliver judgement whenever I see fit. The safety is off and I take aim, my index finger ready to press the trigger. I do, and the shot rings out followed by several others, and then all is silent once more.

I am death personified, a grim reaper dressed in red and black, but instead of a scythe I carry guns and knives and cords to do my bidding. I need none of those though, not really; I could kill with my bare hands if I wanted to, but for whatever reason, having an arsenal – small, but efficient – at my disposal is just the way I do things.

My time as Robin in my first life taught me to always be prepared, hence I am, even though I know that I have very little to fear from death.

Speaking of which, Gotham is no longer my turf.

The Bat and his bird proved a bit too enthusiastic in their efforts to bring me in once they learned of my apparent resurrection, so I decided to go off and explore a bit of wider territory.

In the end, Blüdhaven, in all its grimy and gory glory, became my temporary place of residence.

For one thing, it was because of the high crime rates; if one is looking for good hunting grounds, it only makes sense to go where there's prey, right?

Secondly, it suffered a distinct lack of a protector; I myself had no intention whatsoever to become that protector, but because there was none and because the police force was even more corrupt and more incompetent than Gotham's, there was no actual competition and as such I could go about doing my work as I pleased.

My current lifestyle has made me nocturnal, because even the undead have to sleep sometime, and for me that time is a few precious hours of the day. At night-time, I lurk in the shadows and more often than not, my life is a waiting game with me positioning myself somewhere – in alleyways, in warehouses, on rooftops – waiting for my intended target to show up so that I can dispose of them quickly and then disappear back into the night with the deed done and no one the wiser. I say "intended target", but in truth I rarely plan very far ahead, so I mostly pick my targets as I cross paths with them; this applies to the small fry at least, because hunting them down on purpose would seem kind of pointless since they are dime a dozen in a place like this.

As for the big fish, tracking them down is rarely much of a hassle; the hassle lies in waiting for the opportune moment to strike, since patience has never been one of my strong points. Still, I know the value of doing at least some planning ahead and most of all, I know about fear. My time with the Bat back in my first life may have been cut short in a rather gruesome fashion, but the lessons he taught me about fear seem to have left quite a big impression on me.

With the big fish, timing is of essence, because if you can get that one right, you will strike fear in those that remain in eliminating just one of them; if you can get away with what you're doing undetected and eliminate all those who've caught more than just a glimpse of you, they will fear you because you're an unseen assassin and a rarely glimpsed shadow which leaves a trail of bodies in its wake.

I knew I wouldn't be able to remain hidden forever, not with the track record I had going and with the trail of blood which followed along with it, but I have to admit that I was surprised when I coincidentally picked up a newspaper while I was out to restock my food supplies and found a picture – enlarged and blurry, but still a picture – of myself exiting the scene of the crescendo of one of my most recent hunts.

"Red Hood Revealed" the headline read, and I scoffed inwardly as I moved along.

Apparently, some hardworking journalist or lucky amateur had managed to snap a picture of me in all my hooded glory, but that was hardly enough to reveal me. The red hoodie itself was generic and by no means incriminating by itself and the hood had done its job in shielding my face from prying eyes. The Bat had his cowl, and I had my hood, and even if someone did manage to tear that off it wouldn't matter much anyhow since I had a domino mask beneath it anyway. Besides, I was dead after all – dead, buried and resurrected – so the prospect of being unmasked and to have my true identity displayed for all the world to see did not intimidate me all that much to be completely honest.

That photograph – however blurry it may have been – still held consequences however, and before long I had the Bat running around in my backyard. Robin also turned up after a while, but I was by no means delighted at being graced by the presence of either. Having been left to my own devices for so long, I did not find the competition welcome in the least and I liked it even less because the Bat and the Robin had not turned up with the specific purpose to clean up the city of Blüdhaven; they had obviously come to hunt me down, either with the purpose of bringing me to justice or with the purpose of bringing me in for treatment and it would suffice to say that I would appreciate neither.

I don't appreciate interference; I never have, and I especially do not appreciate interference from an overgrown bat and an overly concerned and utterly misguided bird wreaking havoc in my hunting grounds. They're good at what they're doing and they've nearly nabbed me a couple of times already, but even though they make an excellent team I still have the advantage of fighting on my home turf; I know the layout and the workings of this city like the back of my hand, and my familiarity with their future counterparts allow me to predict their movements to a limited degree, something which neither of them is able to do to me because I do not have a pattern, or not a very solid one at any rate; I am erratic and impulsive, yet also cunning, so I imagine myself to be quite a puzzle for the Dark Knight to figure out.

Still, though I hide well and avoid them to the best of my ability, they still have the advantage of knowing what my real face looks like, meaning that unlike with the others in my hunting grounds, I will not be able to shed my identity simply by pushing down the hood. I might be a bit older now compared to back when I died the second time around, but outwardly I really haven't changed that much.

Then again, I could just drop this stupid game of hide and seek and just have a go at shooting them or something, but even though death has changed me a whole lot, I find that I am still not dead enough to kill them, even though I know well that these people are a bit different from those I knew. Even so, I muse, I could probably just shoot to injure and see if that'd keep them the Hell away from me. Then again, with me being the screwed up person I am, I don't ever really do things halfway now, do I?

Having tracked me down for the umpteenth time in these last couple of weeks, Robin lands on the rooftop where I have lain in wait. He has a look around, his eyes seeking me, but I keep to the shadows and calmly take aim. I suppose I should have some sort of qualms about killing the person whose future counterpart once instated himself as my oldest brother, but as I said, death changes you, and I don't really have qualms about anything anymore. I press the trigger, only to be rewarded with a slight click informing me that I've run out of bullets.

Snorting inwardly, I dash forward with great speed and before he realises what's going on I've already rammed the butt of the gun into his temple, effectively knocking him out. The force of it is enough to send him toppling over the edge of the building, but before he is able to do so I find that my own hand has shot out, grabbed hold of his wrist and pulled him back from it.

The next thing I know, his body slumps against mine and with a surprising amount of gentleness I ease him down into a seated position, leaning his back up against the wall. Momentarily, my fingertips press against his throat, confirming his pulse before moving upwards, tilting his head a bit to the side so that I get a better view of whatever damage I've dealt his temple. I only need to take one look at it to confirm that it's probably going to hurt like a bitch once he wakes up, but that is of no concern to me and I withdraw, determined to make my getaway before an angry Daddy Bats turns up to kick my ass.

- o0o -

I am not a hero, not by any means. I might be a villain, but then again, I've never really cared for labels and even though people have labelled me a lot of things, few of those tend to stick for very long.

Then again, if I am a villain who hunts other villains then I might as well start calling myself a vigilante, because I do fight crime – kind of – though mostly by eliminating those involved in it. I care little whether they're regular dealers or crime lords, because I do not allow morality to get in the way of my own sense of judgement.

You see, crime lords are a problem; they are like a cancerous tumour upon society, gradually killing it with blackmail and bought influence. Even if they are arrested and "brought to justice" as they say, they will soon be back out on the streets anyway, doing the things they have always done. Few – none in my opinion – reform and turn to more lawful ways, and as such, confining them for a limited amount of time is pointless if they're just going to go back out and continue from where they left off.

Criminals, regardless of whether they are small-fry or big fish, are problems, and society's way of dealing with them is highly ineffective. Putting them through prison and treatment is like putting a band-aid on an already festering wound; it looks like it's doing something, but it has no real effect.

Society's way of dealing with crime is highly ineffective. My way is swift, highly efficient and thoroughly illegal, but even though I myself am very much a criminal I strive to contain this cancer of society rather than spread it even wider than it already is, but sometimes I fail to see why I bother in the first place; I'm dead after all, so why should I care about what happens to society anyway?

It's a bit ironic, isn't it?

I keep on dying over and over because I meddle, but for whatever reason, I can't seem to stop.

I am not a hero, not by any means, and that is a fact which is not lost on the costume-clad freaks that from time to time turn up inside my territory. Most of the time, they're only in Blüdhaven to pursue some particular criminal in the first place, but it is not lost on me that they are a bit unnerved by my presence. Some have even tried to hunt me down and bring me to justice as they see it, failing to see that few of them stand a chance at catching me inside my own territory.

I may not have super speed, super strength, X-ray vision or any of those other fancy abilities or gimmicks, and my arsenal is limited to that which I can either acquire or craft by myself. Still, seeing to the fact that the Bat himself – hailed as the world's greatest detective and whatnot – hasn't caught me yet, I am probably quite hard to catch. It's either that or due to lack of effort on his part.

Or, as I came to realise when Superman the Boy Scout turned up to try his luck at bringing me in, I just have a really enthusiastic fan base. I have died twice and seen a whole bunch of things in life, both in this one and in my previous ones, but I must admit that I have never seen the Big Blue be peppered with rotten eggs by civilians of all things – children, pregnant women even – yelling at him to leave me the Hell alone and go back to Metropolis.

"You're not wanted here, you alien asshole!" they shouted. "This city needs only one hero and that's the Red Hood!"

Heroes, for whatever reason, always seem to be strangely concerned with the opinion of the public, but then again, that very opinion is probably what separates most of them from the criminals themselves. As such, few heroes – Batman being one of the exceptions – deal well with unfavourable publicity, and in the face of the possible scandal, Superman let me go and sped off – presumably with the tail between his legs – leaving me to deal with the aftermath.

A bit concussed as I was, I then came to learn of the reason as to why my homicidal hide was suddenly so very popular amongst a fair deal of the population of Blüdhaven; apparently, my nightly killing sprees amongst the worst criminals the city had to offer had ensured a drastic and likely permanent drop in the crime rates, enabling women and children to venture into the streets after dark without necessarily risk getting kidnapped, raped or murdered while doing so.

Unintentionally or not, I had become a hero – or at least they had come to view me as such – and they wouldn't take no for an answer, somehow managing to haul me in and cart me off to the nearest hospital. Normally, I would've killed them – that much goes without saying – and I would've done so with my bare hands, but having your head repeatedly smashed into brick walls, the pavement and most of all the thickest skull in the universe – Note to self: Never ever attempt to headbutt an alien – can make you a bit woozy, especially in combination with whatever painkillers people kept stuffing down your throat because said thick-headed alien had apparently managed to break a few bones in his perfectly justifiable quest to see me brought to justice.

I spent the next week or so more or less incapacitated, pumped up on painkillers and whatnot. I really can't say I enjoyed it very much, but I have to say that I did enjoy it a tiny bit more when one of the nurses turned up with a laptop tucked under her arm and then proceeded to show me just what had taken place those last couple of days.

Apparently, someone – I strongly suspect my newly discovered fan base was behind this – had launched a massive hate campaign against Superman and the rest of the Justice League, both on the Internet and in the local media. It shouldn't have amused me, but somehow it did even though I could see the credibility of this so called Justice League suffering from the public outrage that was in certain areas when someone – either someone who'd been present at the scene of the fight or someone who'd treated me at the hospital – leaked copies of a report cataloguing the multiple injuries I had suffered at the hands of the Man of Steel, along with another report stating that I had admitted to being underage when interviewed by hospital personnel – I can't say that I have any recollection of ever having participated in such an interview, but then again, when you're doped up on morphine I imagine you can say just about anything…

Anyhow, regardless of how they got that piece of information out of me – they could have just guessed, I suppose – the result was the same and I, scanning the headlines of the online editions of a few of the newspaper agencies operating in the area, found that some journalists – not all, not many, not by any means – had twisted and bent the scenario and were reporting to the public that Superman had beaten up a local under-aged vigilante in a misguided attempt to bring about justice and that said misguided attempt had landed said under-aged vigilante in a hospital with a severe concussion, multiple abrasions and quite a few broken bones.

I can't say that I relished in the thought of having been degraded from a murdering antihero to a reckless teenager who'd just gotten the shit kicked out of him, but I firmly believed that my ego suffered the most of all. Then again, my bruised ego and injured self aside, I swiftly realised that I had landed myself in quite a pickle.

First of all, due to a couple of broken bones on my part, I wasn't about to go anywhere for quite a while unless I wished to either injure myself further or fling myself out the window and kill myself. Then again, I swiftly concluded, if I ever tried such a stunt then I would no doubt end up being strapped to my bed for my own safety or maybe even put into a medically induced coma so that my injuries would be allowed to heal in peace, and since I favoured neither I simply forced myself to stay put, even though I could tell that I was resting up on borrowed time.

I knew well that before long, someone would turn up to get me, but I did not know for sure whether that someone would be from the law enforcement, a crime syndicate, the Justice League or even social services. As you can imagine, I fancied neither, but I also knew that no matter how protective certain citizens of Blüdhaven may have become of me, the world would come and get me sooner or later, regardless of whether I was allowed visitors or not.

However, seeing to the fact that I was never a very idle person, I decide to get myself out of there before anyone else turns up to do it. I am still feeling rather woozy when I pull out all the needles and cords attached to me and I make sure to kill the alarms and the monitors to make sure they won't give me trouble. Pain blossoms up when the soles of my feet impact on the floor, but it helps clear my head up a bit so I'm not overly worried. Once I had managed to locate my regular clothes – they'd been washed up and repaired somewhere along the way – I shed the abominable hospital gown before going through the positively agonising task of dressing myself. My ribs protest against almost every movement I make, but I've had cracked ribs before and these have been set properly so I'm not worried; besides, it takes more than a few cracked ribs to kill me, as has already been proven.

Bringing a hand up to my face, I confirm that the domino mask is where it should be before I pull the hood up over my head and head towards the window.

I make it about halfway before a sudden blast shakes the building.

A minute or so later, the Joker announces his arrival through the speakers scattered across the building, informing us that he's got more bombs scattered around the building and that he will start killing off hostages one by one if I do not show myself within the next five minutes or so.

I am not a hero, not by any means.

I am a vigilante, but I don't just hunt criminals; I kill them, and that makes me a criminal and a murderer, but I've been called worse things in life.

I am not a hero, I know that, but I still turn, heading off in the other direction.

I know I'll probably die today, mostly because fighting with these injuries would equal suicide in the mind of any sane man… but then again, I am not all that sane now, am I?

I grew up as a street kid, attempted to reform and then I died, the first time around.

I woke up in the past, saved my predecessor from a life in misery and partially corrupted him to a life of crime, and then I died, again.

I woke up in a casket the second time around, buried six feet deep. I cannot recall how I made my way out of there, but once I was out, I went about and killed and killed and killed. I may have lost the last shreds of my own sanity around there somewhere, because I find it mysteriously missing as I, escorted by clown-faced henchmen, make my way up to the elevator which will bring me down to the madman who has already killed me twice.

They say the third time's the charm, and I wonder whether or not this time will be like all the others before it; I wonder if it will still be him armed with a crowbar and a bucket load or insanity or if he'll actually have a gun and shoot me this time around.

Unsurprisingly, I find myself rooting for the latter.

- o0o -

I don't think, I don't feel, I just am. I sit motionless, strapped to a chair, and my head hangs limply, just like my hair – matted with blood – hangs into my eyes and obscures my unmasked face.

I am alone, in the darkness, waiting for the madman to return, waiting for him to just end it, because I know he'll come; I know he'll be coming back for me, that he'll come back here to end it.

There is no one coming to save me, I know that, but in truth, I was never in much need of salvation anyway, was I?

The first time around, I died as an indirect result of my own foolishness.

The second time around, I died for just the same reasons.

And the third time around… well… you get the pattern, don't you?

- o0o -

Death changes you, and dying not once but three times ought to fuck you up real good.

Death changes you, and it's not always for the better, because death leaves no one untouched.

Death changed me, and in turn I changed myself and turned into a self-styled grim reaper, a decision for which I now reap the consequences.

Fate – or is it God? I really can't tell – has arrived to laugh me in the face and has decided to do so by appearing in the shape of the selfsame madman – the grinning psychopath of a clown – who has killed me off twice already.

Judging from the crowbar in his grip, I guess my luck hasn't improved much, but then again, I can't say that I ever even expected it would.

The Joker – the Clown Prince of Crime, the Harlequin of Hate, the Ace of Knaves – stand before me, I wonder whether or not the third time will really be the charm, whether death will actually be permanent this time around, but I don't get my hopes up; I gave up on hope a long time ago.

Hope, eh? Say, whatever do I have to hope for? Whatever do I do with it?

…You don't know either, huh?

In any case, I am about to reap the consequences of my actions.

However unwittingly on my part, I became a hero.

Hence, it is only befitting that I die as one too, tragically.

Death leaves no one untouched; it changes you and those around you, and not always for the better.

Death changes you; it fucks you up real good, inside and out, but that's just the way things work.

Shit happens, I suppose, and shit keeps on happening.

And then you die, and that should be the end of the story, but sometimes it's not, not if you're Jason Todd.

Even so, even the undead have to sleep sometime, and this time is as good as any.

- o0o -

I was not a hero, not by any means.

I was a vigilante, but I didn't just hunt criminals; I killed them.

I killed and killed and killed and got killed in return.

And that's all there is to it.

- o0o -

Or so I thought.