Midnighter was finishing the last of the pancakes when Dick Grayson finally got up, slow and clearly aching from his hangover.
"Good morning, sunshine," Midnighter said cheerfully. "Thought you were waking up. Pancakes?"
"Um," Grayson said. "What...why'd you bring me to--this is your place, right?"
"Yep," he said. "Figured no one would come looking for you here. I can put chocolate chips in if you want. Andrew likes chocolate chips."
"I'm sweet," Andrew said. He'd finished breakfast, but he was still sitting at the end of the table, reading news on his phone and glancing up to watch Midnighter cooking in his boxers. "That's why." He looked over at Grayson. "Hi."
Grayson waved. "Um, Andrew. Hi."
"I know who he is," Andrew said. "You said when you brought him back last night."
"Somebody had to be sure he was still breathing," Midnighter said.
"Altruistic," Andrew said, with a little wry affection in his eyes.
"To the end. Look, I'm even making pancakes." He turned back to Grayson. "You didn't say if you wanted chocolate chips."
"Sure. Is there milk or something? I'm dehydrated as hell. Was it sodium pentothal?"
"Think so. Just wanted to throw you off your game is my guess." They hadn't expected Midnighter to jump in through a dimension door, throw a dizzy Nightwing over his shoulder, and disappear back into the night. Midnighter smirked at the memory.
"Milk's in the fridge," Andrew offered. "What'd you do to them?"
"Got their faces," Midnighter said. "Figured you'd want to sort it out later."
"Thanks," Grayson said, walking to the fridge. He was wearing a fresh pair of boxers: Midnighter's, not Andrew's. They looked damn good on him. Loose on his hips, but they still clung to his cheeks as he got out the milk.
"I know you're staring," he said. "Keep those pancakes warm, I'm gonna take a shower first." He glanced at the cupboard. "Where are your glasses?"
Midnighter pointed. Of course Dick Grayson would carefully take a glass out of the cabinet and pour himself some milk. Someone had taught him to be a good guest. No way it was Batman. Probably the butler.
Once they heard the shower running, Andrew finally spoke. "Well," he said. "That explains a lot."
"And what does that mean?"
"You're right about his ass," he said, getting up from the table. "Among other things." He leaned over and kissed Midnighter on the cheek, just a little tease, but a nice one. A good one. "I've got to run, but--you going to be out with Dick tonight?"
Midnighter grinned. "Maybe. I'll call you."
"Try not to kill too many people," Andrew said, as he grabbed his coat.
Grayson took his time in the shower, which was kind of fun to think about, and then came out in a towel to eat his pancakes. Midnighter wondered sometimes if Grayson was actually trying to kill him, or just see how far he could go before Midnighter chewed his own arm off. For a guy who wouldn’t drink out of his host’s carton, he sure liked to push buttons. "You kept 'em warm?"
"Of course," Midnighter said, smirking as he passed over a warm plate of pancakes. "Put 'em in the oven for you."
"You're too kind," he said, sitting down. Midnighter decided to be a gentleman and not try peeking under the towel. "So, I have to confess, the night got a little fuzzy. I think they were mobsters, and they sounded Ukrainian, but--let's just say I wouldn't testify to it in a court of law."
"They were speaking Ukrainian," Midnighter said. "A couple of them sounded like they were from the coast, and the one giving the orders had an accent. Romanian, I think."
"Could be Moldova," Grayson said, digging into his pancakes. "I think they're running up and down the Black Sea at this point. Taking opiates and putting them in the liners of shipping containers, sending those into Bludhaven as their American distribution point. Pretty clever, actually."
"Where they getting the drugs from in the first place?"
Grayson shrugged. "I haven't gotten that far. They got the drop on me first. I'd expected bullets, not spring-loaded delivery systems." He shook his head. "Damn it, I'm still thirsty."
"I'll get you more milk," Midnighter offered.
"Thanks. And thanks for the save last night. How'd you know I was there?"
"I was at a bar," he said. "Somebody ducked their head out to watch the excitement, and there you were. Like a little bird fallen from the sky." He fluttered his hands to illustrate. “So I suited up and got you out of there. Bridal carry. Picturesque.”
"Didn't realize you were a romantic," Grayson said.
"You should have asked Andrew."
"Oh," Grayson said. "So that's how it is."
"That's how it is."
Grayson just shook his head and started in on his pancakes.
Turned out, Dick Grayson also did a damn fine job filling out a pair of leather pants. “Didn’t realize you had so much clubwear."
"You pick up good intel in bars," Grayson said, nonchalantly.
Midnighter had picked Grayson up at his apartment before taking them back to last night’s bar. Midnighter had heard the landlord was mobbed up, so they’d chosen it as a starting point. The place was still quiet; normally the crowd and the music didn't really turn up until after nine. Midnighter had wanted to get in place early, though, in case someone wanted to come looking for them. "You're okay with this being a gay bar, right?"
"Like I thought you'd be anywhere else?" Grayson had a good deadpan.
"I go into straight bars sometimes." He scanned the room. Maybe twenty people. Mostly on dates, but a few people were starting to prowl. One guy with a taser he didn’t know how to use, one solid fighter with a knife not looking for trouble. Two martial artists, one who could fight, one who was useless, but they weren’t up to anything more than getting laid. The place was quiet, at least for now. "I can do more than just freak out the normals."
"You're normal enough," Grayson said. "I mean, you can pass."
"Not very well."
"You pick fights, don't you?"
"Does 'existing in a public space' count as picking a fight?"
Dick eyed him. "...maybe when you do it."
"Yeah, yeah." A skinny redhead had his eyes on Grayson's ass. Get your own, Midnighter mouthed at him when he finally looked up.
The redhead rolled his eyes, but he didn't move in. Good.
"You want a drink?" Midnighter offered.
"Get me something I can carry around," he said. "But I don't want to get slowed down. Had enough of that already. Just...something that looks right."
Midnighter nodded and went up to the bar. "Scotch," he said. "And...I dunno, ginger ale with a cherry in it or something for my friend there, he's not drinking but he needs something to carry around."
The bartender didn't bother hiding his amusement. "Rehab?"
"Medication," Midnighter said. "Doesn't want to have to answer questions all night."
"Isn't ginger ale with a cherry a little girly?"
The fucking redhead was moving in on Grayson. Damn it. "He's secure in his masculinity."
"Body like that, he should be." The bartender got the drinks. "He feels lonely, you send him my way. I promise I'll take good care of him."
"Keep dreaming," Midnighter muttered under his breath.
Instead of ginger ale with a cherry, the bartender had done something layered, with an umbrella. It was...okay, it was pretty impressive.
Grayson's eyebrows raised when Midnighter handed him the glass. "That's...that's something."
"Don't look at me, I'm drinking scotch." Wasn't too watered down, either. He'd always liked this bar.
The redhead was standing right in Grayson’s space, watching them both, trying to figure out if he should stay or scram. Midnighter glared, which should've been enough to seal the 'scram' message, but the guy just hovered, uncertainly. He didn’t feel like a fighter. Midnighter couldn’t sense any enhancements. Just a horny guy with a working set of eyes.
Midnighter still ran through half-a-dozen ways to break his weak jaw.
"You want to get a booth?" Midnighter suggested. "Give us a little privacy?"
The redhead decided it was his last chance. "I thought--you don't want to dance?"
Grayson favored him with one of those toothpaste-ad smiles. "Maybe later, man."
Well, that would be good for the redhead's spank bank, anyway. "Okay," Midnighter said, taking Grayson's arm. "Enough flirting for you."
"You getting jealous? Because you had a blond at your place this morning, I seem to remember."
"I'm not jealous," Midnighter said. "But you can do better." He guided Grayson to a booth with a view of the back door. "So much better."
"...always liked redheads," Grayson said, a little wistfully. "Though he was kind of...awkward, I guess."
"Too skinny," Midnighter said, filing that little line about redheads in the back of his mind for future reference.
"Whatever you say." Grayson sipped at his girly drink. "This is pretty good, actually. A little sweet, but not as...crazy as it looks."
"He thought you were cute."
Grayson looked him over. "Huh."
"Figure the smart thing to do is just sit here in the back, see if anyone tries to start trouble. Little later in the night, we can head back to where you got drugged.”
Grayson’s eyes narrowed a bit as he took another drink. "You just wanted to get me drunk and dance with me."
"Maybe the dancing," Midnighter conceded.
Grayson smirked. "You don't recognize the redhead, right?"
"Definitely not. But it's your city, not mine. I only know a couple of the regulars." There was a hot Thai dude he'd picked up a couple of times. Nothing serious; Rob didn't do serious. One of the things Midnighter had appreciated about him, back when he was single.
Grayson nodded. "I'll let you know if anyone rings a bell. I usually remember people who've tried to kill me. And you’ll remember the guys from last night?”
He and Grayson had talked about this when they planned the night out. Grayson had been working to expose these gangsters for a while. Mostly they specialized in human trafficking and drugs. Nothing different than what most cartels were up to. They were good at paying off cops, though. Too good. Grayson figured on a mole. Sounded right to Midnighter. Grayson had a shortlist of Vice cops who might fit the bill, but he didn’t have anything more than suspicions, and he wasn’t the type to act on suspicion.
"Should we dance?" Grayson asked.
"Not yet, it's too quiet. We don't want to draw too much attention."
"I'll follow your lead."
"I'm gonna hit the head and see if you get any nibbles." He winked. "Don't do anything I wouldn't do."
"Wouldn't dream of it," Grayson said into his drink.
The redhead was leaning over their table when Midnighter came back. Maybe, Midnighter thought, it would be better to break his wrist. Or shatter a kneecap. Kneecaps were painful. "Didn't I tell you to fuck off?" he said.
"It's a free country," the redhead said. "And your friend here doesn't seem to mind."
"I told you, I'm here with someone," Grayson said, pleasantly enough. "And he does seem to mind, so maybe..."
Midnighter glowered. "We're enjoying our drinks," he said. "Together."
"Whatever," the redhead said, and wandered back off.
Midnighter sighed. "You think he's up to something?"
“Maybe. He claims to be one of the local cops, but I don’t know his face.” Grayson wiggled the straw in his empty glass. "I think he wants to get in my pants."
Everyone in this bar wants to get in your pants, Midnighter thought. “First cop I’ve ever met with zero hand-to-hand training, let’s leave it at that.” He noticed the new face coming in the door. "Found one of our friends," he said, draining his glass. "Coming into the bar. I'll get eyes on, you stay inconspicuous."
"Us. Inconspicuous." Grayson said dryly. "That's cute."
Midnighter winked at him as he got up. "I'm not wearing the costume, am I?"
He could just hear Grayson mutter "not yet" into his drink.
Midnighter recognized the man, and also the half-moon bruise over his eye; Midnighter had ducked so the two thugs he'd been fighting had collided with one another. The bigger guy had a ring on. Mr. Bruise was talking with the bartender, his body language tense and threatening.
Would've been more threatening without the bruise, but some people just aren’t that smart.
Grayson would probably play it cool, hang back and see what the thug was promising. Midnighter didn't have the patience. "There a problem here, boys?" He set his empty glass down with an audible thump. "'Cause I'm looking for a refill."
"Sorry, I'll get right to that," the bartender said, eyes down. Not the flirty guy he'd been for the first drink, that was for sure. Midnighter frowned at Mr. Bruise, who was packing a gun in the back of his pants. More firepower than he needed and probably more than he could handle.
Mr. Bruise frowned back.
Midnighter thought about baring his teeth, but he figured that might make him look familiar. Instead, he asked, "Come here often?"
"This ain't my kinda place," Mr. Bruise said. His accent was faint, but clearly from the Black Sea. "I'm just talkin' with Harrison here about the rent."
"You know I'm not the owner," the bartender said with sullen resignation.
"You can still pass on the word."
"It's going to start getting busy, and I'll need--"
"You can get me a beer," Mr. Bruise said. "Then I maybe won't call the cops and throw you all out tonight."
"I think you can pay for your beer," Midnighter said.
The bartender flashed him a look: don't.
"Who the fuck are you?" Mr. Bruise challenged.
"Just somebody who wants to drink in peace," Midnighter said. "This is a nice bar. You want the rent paid, you don't stop the bartender from doing his job, right?"
"This ain't your business," Mr. Bruise said. "And I'm giving you one more chance for you to realize that. One."
"Thing is," Midnighter said, stepping a little closer, "I like pushing my luck."
Mr. Bruise lifted up his hands and went to push him away.
Midnighter stood his ground. "Like I said."
"You're making a mistake."
Midnighter let the grin spread across his face, slow, easy. "Yeah, no. You wanna step out, or do you want everybody here to watch you cry?"
The guy swung. Too easy. Midnighter caught his fist and squeezed.
Twenty-seven bones in the human hand. At least twenty fractured in the first half-second.
Midnighter had to give Mr. Bruise a little credit, though. The guy didn't cry. He winced pretty good, but no tears. "So, you want to move on now?"
"I'm going to fucking kill you," the man growled.
"You should quit while you're behind," Midnighter said. He hadn't released his grip. "Just get out of here."
"Don't think I won't be back," Mr. Bruise spat from between gritted teeth.
Midnighter leaned in, enunciated every word clearly. "I am counting on it. Name’s Midnighter. I’m sure I’ll see you around."
Mr. Bruise hobbled off.
"Great," the bartender said. "I'll be lucky if we don't get a Molotov cocktail through the window."
"Not a chance," Midnighter said. "He'll want a piece of me, personally. He won't take any chances."
"I hope you're right."
"Trust me. I know the type."
"They've given us trouble--"
"I know," Midnighter said, and reached over to touch his hand. Reassuringly. Mostly reassuringly. "Maybe it ends tonight, maybe it doesn't, but it's ending. Soon."
"Just because you can knock heads doesn't mean--"
"I'm not alone," he said. "Let's just leave it at that, for now. Now...why don't you get me another whisky?"
The guy still looked skeptical, but he poured.
The crowd had picked up a little by the time Midnighter had finished the drink. Grayson had replaced his girly drink with a seltzer and lime. He hadn't bothered commenting on the scene at the bar. "Want to dance?"
"Sure." Like Midnighter would pass that up.
Grayson moved like the acrobat he was, smooth, graceful. Pretty good sense of rhythm. Didn’t mind being stared at. Not a bad way to spend an evening. They got about half an hour in before Midnighter started hearing the crowd gathering outside the door. "You ready for the party?"
Grayson nodded. "Let's get some fresh air." They got up and wound their way toward the back.
Midnighter paused at the fire exit. "You gonna change? I'll get you a door."
"Maybe." Grayson's mouth was pretty when it was twisted in thought. "Though being your incognito sidekick might be illuminating."
Midnighter shrugged. "Your call. I'm gonna change. I like this shirt, I don't wanna get blood all over it. You want a mask? I’ve got a spare."
Grayson thought about it for a second. "Sure. I might learn something. Remember I want to talk to them.”
"I won't kill any more than absolutely necessary," Midnighter called as he went through the door. “And let me draw the fire.” It’d been too long since he had a good fight anyway. Maybe they’d bring out the big guns, now he’d pissed somebody off.
Midnighter opened a door on the roof and snuck a peek before he went back into the bar.
Ten men, all with guns. Mr. Bruise had a spring-loaded dart thrower like the one that got Grayson last night along with his gun. They were angry, which would make them sloppy. Midnighter placed them in his mind and played it out, backward, forward again. Grayson split his pants in one scenario, but then got shot--Midnighter tweaked it, but couldn't get one without the other.
You can't always get what you want, he told himself. He settled on minimal damage, Grayson's shirt nicely ripped. He opened a door in the men’s room--one of the stalls, people got freaked out if you popped out of nowhere too many times--and walked to the back where Grayson was waiting. "Two to the left, both of them with military training. .45 caliber pistols. The taller guy's gun is going to jam. He doesn't clean it. Him first."
Grayson nodded. It was good working with him. He never asked 'why?' or 'are you sure?' He just got on task.
And when he was on, he was something to watch.
They pushed open the back door and went to work.
One of Grayson's picks--the guy on the left with the fucked-up gun--started, dropping down from the fire escape like he thought he was an action hero. The gun jammed, according to plan, but by then Grayson was already swinging up, balletic, his knee slamming into the guy's stomach.
The men aiming at Midnighter were almost too easy. Eager, sloppy. One bullet whizzed over his head without him having to make an effort. Mr. Bruise put his all into it, but he was weak as ever. Midnighter started by catching the broken hand and crushing the rest of what was there, then taking the guy by the arm and swinging him into a few more of his opponents. Three down, and Grayson already taking out his second man.
He'd have to hurry before Grayson started making him look bad. He did love a challenge.
Another shot, this one just past his right arm. Sawed-off shotgun. Those were always fun. Midnighter came at the shooter at a run, jumped so his feet landed squarely in his chest and grabbed the sawed-off. Pumped it, one bullet took two more down. One left if Grayson had--
All according to plan. Two men down, Grayson's shirt slightly torn. Ah, yes. Midnighter licked his lips. One man left, and he was running.
"Let me," Grayson said, and hell, Midnighter was in a good mood, so he he nodded his head and leaned back as the batarang flew from Grayson's fingers.
The guy went down.
"It's not going to be this easy, is it?"
"Probably not," Midnighter said, grabbing Mr. Bruise by the shirt and pulling him up to face level. "Hey, asshole. How's that hand feeling?"
"Fuck you," Mr. Bruise spat.
"I can do a lot better than you," Midnighter said. "Tell me who you're working for or I'll crush the other one."
"Do we have to do it like this?" Grayson said. He was fiddling with his torn shirt, trying to get it to cover his chest a little better. Wasn't going to work.
Damn, this was a good night. "Yeah," Midnighter said. "Remember? I know how this ends." He took Mr. Bruise by his good hand and tightened the pressure, enough so he could feel it. "You want me to break all the bones at once, or should I take my time?"
"You're insane," Mr. Bruise said.
Midnighter shook his head. "Not answering my question." He squeezed tighter, and the guy yelped. “We’re going to have company,” he warned Grayson. “Twenty seconds.”
“From the bar.” They were trying to be quiet, which was funny. Five minutes with Google would have told them not to bother. "You got 'em?"
"Yeah," Grayson said, and Midnighter looked up so he could watch Grayson's back muscles move. Hell, he'd hardly broken a sweat.
Good thing Midnighter didn't let himself get distracted. He pulled up on Mr. Bruise. "I'm running out of patience."
He saw it play out a half-second too late. The shot--
Mr. Bruise's head, shattered from the gunshot. Grayson moving, acrobat graceful, toward the shooter. Midnighter dropped Mr. Bruise--he wouldn't be a factor--and sent a few stars toward his companion.
Grayson brought the shooter down, but his friend stayed up. His computer told him something else: enhancements. Midnighter grinned.
He took it back; this was a very good night.
No known associations, this guy was new to the game or he'd hidden well. Enhanced strength, slightly better-than-average reflexes, night vision. The challenge was going to be the telekinesis.
"You wanted a date, you could have just said so," Grayson said, falling back. "Asked for my number, maybe."
"You think I didn't know it was you?" the redhead from the bar said.
Shielding his telekinesis. He’d have to run through it after the fight and see where his enhancements had failed. Frustrating, but it wouldn’t make a difference, now the power was out on display. Roll the scenario back and forth, in a fraction of a second. Still couldn't get Grayson's pants off.
Well, you can't have everything.
"He's fast," Midnighter said, "be careful." Too bad they hadn't worked out a code for telekinesis. Something to work on.
"Not just fast," the redhead said, and pushed--
Wrong direction, wrong target. Easy to dodge the blast. "Nice try," Midnighter said. "Did you forget who you're dealing with? I told your man my name, before I crushed his hand. I know what you've got. And I know you don't have anything I can't handle."
The redhead sent a blast meant to take Midnighter's feet out from under him. Amateur hour. Someone had taught him to shield, but not how to fight. Not against an acrobat. Grayson took the opening to send a batarang in his direction, which the redhead parried easily, sending it spinning back toward Grayson.
Don't worry about him, he'll take care of himself.
The telekinesis had about a fifty-foot radius; self-protection came automatically, like instinct, but actually attacking took concentration. He wasn't as skilled as he thought he was. Still, that little shield of his took some skill to crack.
"Keep him busy," he told Grayson. "Door."
The trick was to never give him a single spot to focus on, to keep moving through the doors quickly enough that the redhead--Grayson should've gotten his stupid name--couldn't keep track of where he was or what he was attacking with, wouldn't be able to defend. Grayson could move fast and keep the attacks focused elsewhere.
The doors were above him, at knee level, a few inches from his right ear. Mostly Midnighter faked, but he hit the shield a couple of times, just to make the redhead feel tough, build up his overconfidence.
The guy had the balls to look shocked when Midnighter's fist finally landed squarely in his stomach.
Once you were under the guard of the telekinesis, it was a lot easier to make contact. A punch to the chin first, then another stomach punch, then the all-time favorite--kicking your opponent when he was down.
"Don't kill him, I want to talk with him."
"Don't worry, I'm just making him unconscious," Midnighter said. You could restrain telekinetics like this guy, but it was a hell of a lot easier to do when they weren't awake to try and stop you. "Then you can spend as much quality time with him as you want." One more kick was enough to get him down. "He'll be out for about half an hour." He hauled the redhead to his feet. "Go through his pockets. Let's see if he's really a cop."
"On it," Grayson said, and oh, wasn't he pretty on his knees? He pulled out a wallet. "Jonah MacCallum. No badge, but there's a Rick MacCallum over in Vice--one of the guys on my suspect list. Might be a brother, some other family connection. Won't take long to confirm." He got back up. "Thanks. I can call in a friend and they'll...have a chat with him."
Midnighter raised his eyebrows. "What kind of 'friend' are you talking about?"
Even in the dark it was easy to see Grayson rolling his eyes. "A cop friend. We'll get this guy in custody without tipping any of his buddies off."
Midnighter pulled his zip ties out and got MacCallum's wrists secure. "You want me to put a little scrambler on him?"
"Do I want to know what a little scrambler is?"
"It's not much more than an electronic tag. He'll think straight, but it'll disrupt the electrical signals that power his telekinesis."
"It won't hurt him?"
Midnighter shrugged. "Not long-term. I don't figure you're gonna have a lot of long conversations."
"No," Grayson said. "He'll get passed up the chain." He looked straight at Midnighter. Damn he was pretty. "Thanks for this. All of it. Saved me a lot of work."
"Glad to help," Midnighter said. "You know all you have to do is call."
"Yeah." Grayson tapped his comm. "We'd better get out of here. Save us some questions."
Midnighter nodded. "Just remember me next time, all right?"
Grayson crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back against the back wall of the alley, like he spent all his time waiting around piles of unconscious men. Hell, maybe he did. "I told you I would. You're hard to forget."
"I am a natural redhead."
"I know," Grayson said, and his smile could melt glass. "Thanks for the pancakes."
Midnighter's first theory was right. Definitely trying to kill him. "Any time," he said, and called for a door.
A week later, he got a newspaper clipping in the mail.
No return address, but it had to be Grayson. Who else would send an actual, literal clipping from a newspaper? The article was about the downfall of a small-time drugs and human trafficking syndicate based around the Black Sea. No note, but a little XO in the corner.
He was putting the article in his recycling bin when he realized there was one more thing in the envelope. A little cardboard card.
A Flying Graysons trading card. Complete with the tiny star of the show, Dick Grayson. Just about jailbait age, as far as Midnighter could tell.
"Actually trying to kill me," he muttered to himself, and shoved the card in his pocket.