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Cats bring home dead mice and birds.

Dogs bring the occasional stick or cast away wand.

Demons --

Demons bring home whatever catches their fancy. That can range from jewels older than the earth around them to vials of bubbling black blood that belongs to infernal, immortal gods from other dimensional planes of existence.

It's been five years since their initial contract and Bruce still brings Richard the best presents.

Sometimes, Bruce brings him magic texts that are so potent with ancient magic, that Richard's eyes sting just from glancing at them out of the corner of his eyes. At other times, Bruce brings food for Richard that look better than anything that was ever offered at the consortium's massive dining halls. Sweet breads and sharply spiced meats that keep in the pantry far longer than anything that Richard brings home from the market during their infrequent trips into town proper.

Occasionally however, the present that Bruce brings to the home that Richard has lived in since before starting at the consortium is another demon.

*

When Bruce steps out of a portal with Alexander Luthor's unconscious familiar draped over his back in between his leathery wings, Richard isn't surprised. Annoyed at the thought of returning Hope back to her prying spy of a master perhaps, but not surprised.

"Where did you find this one?" Richard asks without looking up from the crackling parchment stretched out in front of him on one of the spindly tables in the lab. This is the third time in as many weeks that Bruce has brought back a familiar that was too close to their home than either of them can be comfortable with. "And is she bound properly? I don't want Luthor using their bond to make an appearance in my labs."

Hope's body drops to the floor with a thud heavy enough to send a cloud of dust into the air. Even in their smaller, more compact forms, demons still take up enough space that no mere human can cart them back and forth. What Bruce can do with ease would take handfuls of spells and charmed jewelry for Richard to even attempt.

With the intruder out of their hair for the moment, Bruce turns his attention to Richard, crossing the lab so that he can stand in front of the young wizard. The weight of his regard does what stepping out of a portal with a demon draped over one broad shoulder could not manage.

Richard looks up from his papers and into Bruce's gleaming crimson eyes. All at once, Richard finds himself feeling overwhelmed by the demon's handsome face and his piercing gaze.

In this form, his familiar doesn't tower over him, but Bruce still seems to take up as much space as he would in his natural form -- the giant masked demon that would have destroyed Richard and Gotham with him if not for Richard's grasp of the magical arts.

Richard's mouth moves before his brain can catch up with the rest of him. "Well? Did you bind her or not?"

Bruce frowns, his wide mouth tensing up with his displeasure.

"Bound by blood, Richard," Bruce says and the bitter note in his voice is obvious. He raises one thick eyebrow and looks at Richard with annoyance clear on his face. "As though I would do anything less than a proper binding for a demon of Hope's status. She was attempting to break through the wards near the mandrake grove when I found her. She never noticed a thing."

A sigh pushes out of Richard's mouth and he sets his pen down with a clatter, looking up at Bruce's face instead of staring down at the notes he's been working on since first dawn. 

"I didn't say that --" Richard cuts himself off and then sighs, pushing his ink-stained fingers into the disorganized mess of his dark hair. "I didn't mean to say that you wouldn't bind Hope properly, Bruce. I'm just --" Tired. Tired of dealing with wizards that won't mind their business and demon familiars that aren't half as interesting as Bruce is. "Sorry," Richard breathes, ducking his head as shame warms his cheeks. "I'm sorry."

For a long moment, silence stretches taut between Bruce and his master.

"You are the last son of the Gray," Bruce says in a tone that seems almost... upset. "Luthor and the others at the consortium would rather you work towards their goals rather than your own. If you went back --"

Richard shakes his head hard enough that the headache he has been nursing for the better part of the past few hours flares up like stars in the back of his head.

"No," he snaps. "Going back is not an option, Bruce. Luthor and Dent would unbind us in an instant and you'd have to leave me."

"But it would make your life easier," Bruce says lowly, eyes never leaving Richard's face for even a second. "You would be able to help more people or relax the wards so Leslie could come to you instead of always having to make deliveries to the hospice. Wouldn't it be easier --"

Again, Richard cuts Bruce off.

"I don't want easier," Richard says with a snarling note to his voice that makes him sound like the demon in the room. "I want you and I won't let Luthor or any of the other wizards in that crooked consortium take you away from me."

Crossing his arms over his chest where the deep neck of his robe reveals the bonding scars from his initial contract with Bruce, Richard scowls up at his familiar as though expecting some kind of disagreement or the sort of scolding that Bruce has become fond of in their five years together.

"I won't go back to them," Richard barks out. "Not when they just want to take you away from me and use me to repopulate my family line so that they can feel less guilty about sacrificing my family line on foolishness. They'll unbind us and burn the hospice down for the hell of it. I can't have that, Bruce. I won't have that."

Instead of scowling in return or providing Richard with a list of reasons why the consortium is a better place for him, Bruce smiles down at his master and reaches out to brush the tips of his claws over Richard's cheek in a tender gesture. The sight of his needlelike teeth should frighten Richard the way it does frighten nearly everyone else, but the sign of genuine pleasure on Bruce's face makes Richard reveal a smile of his own.

"Let me handle the consortium for you," Bruce offers and the eagerness in his voice does not bode well for the Luthor heir and his territory. Bruce makes his way around the table so that he can take Richard's callused hands in his own. "It would be my pleasure to send a message for you, Master."

Richard's nose wrinkles.

"Don't call me that," he mutters, but it isn't a dismissal of Bruce's request. He glances at where Hope's small body lays crumpled and still aside from the faint rise and fall of her chest. "We'll keep Hope for a few days to scare Luthor a little. Then, when you take her back you can send him a message on my behalf."

Richard purses his lips in a frown. "I know I don't have to remind you my feelings on casualties, but Bruce, please try to keep the panic contained to a small area."

Bruce inclines his head in a sharp nod.

"As you wish," Bruce murmurs with his eyes fixed firmly on Richard's mouth. "I live to serve... Master."