Chapter 1: I'm Glad You're Here
He could hear school bells in the distance.
Jason Todd stirred, moaning. "Nooo," he pleaded, like he'd used to when Alfred came into his room to wake him after a long night of somersaulting into people's faces. "'nother five minutes. Please…"
He felt around for a pillow to plop over his head; those bells weren't quitting. They didn't sound that distant anymore, really, either; more like … uncomfortably close.
There was no pillow.
Somehow, he smelled fresh grass.
It had to be one of those dreams. He'd had them ever since he'd been a miserable teen. In them, he'd get up and go to school, but he'd find his classroom covered in blood and his classmates in a pile, all murdered because he hadn't been there in time. They'd have no faces, because he always had a hard time remembering their faces … the only features they'd have were those cold, dead, accusing eyes staring at him. And then, he'd hear that maniacal laugh, and then … and then … that voice would say …
"Hey, dork. You're not 'sposed to do that. Get moving!"
"Whu - "
Jason shot up, and the bright morning sun almost blinded him when he opened his eyes. A leaf was stuck to his cheek. He was spread out underneath a tree, which explained the smell of grass, on what seemed to be a school yard, which explained the bells. But how …
He looked around. Huh. How did he end up here…?
Oh well. It happened.
He yawned. For whatever reason, he felt extremely well-rested, like he'd slept for years. That was weird, but it wasn't as if he couldn't use it –
"Hey, are you deaf? I said move it. You're not allowed on the green!"
Jason looked up. He was being glared at by a tall, quarterback-looking type in a varsity jacket who looked about sixteen. That made him chuckle. Cute. The kid was feeling territorial about his school, so much so that was he was willing to take on a dude twice his size. How sweet. Jason himself had never known that school spirit, and this boy was exactly the kind of jock whose ass he'd always yearned to kick back then, only he couldn't because nobody could know that the orphaned little rich boy was actually the Boy Wonder. In hindsight, it all seemed ridiculous.
"Not allowed?" He echoed lazily, shielding his eyes from the sun. "That's too bad. This is a great spot."
The boy put his hands to his hips in a way he probably imagined was commanding respect. "Yeah. You heard me, son," he grunted. "I'm school grounds marshal, and you're going to listen to me!"
Son? Come on, now.
Smirking, Jason got to his feet. He had no intention to actually start something with this … child. The kid probably thought Jason was a hobo or a perv of some kind, which he couldn't be blamed for, and apart from that, he really was eager to get home and hit the shower.
He winked at him. "School grounds marshal? Is that like, a real thing these days, or is that something you made up and wrote in your scrapbook because you thought it sounded cool – "
The words died on his lips when he realized that he was standing, and the kid was still taller than him.
That couldn't … that wasn't right.
Jason looked down at himself, and felt slow, mounting terror creep into his heart. He forgot all about the scowling quarterback. His hands started shaking. His hands … were so much smaller than they were supposed to be. He stared at his skinny-ish legs in a pair of blue jeans, his narrow hips, his scrawny-ish arms in a red shirt and worn-out leather jacket.
It was devastating.
His fingers shot up to his head and he realized that he was wearing his black hair in a sleek, slicked-back 'do that he hadn't sported since he'd been Robin, and couldn't figure out if he'd rather wanted to emulate Bruce or Dick.
He was … he was that miserable teenager again.
And the bully was right. He looked like a total fucking 80's dork.
This had to be a nightmare. Had to be. Had to be.
The quarterback flinched in surprise as Jason stumbled towards him, wild-eyed and looking like a madman … madboy?
"Punch me," he hissed.
"Wait what?" The kid took a step back, looking full-on disturbed now. "What are you, some weirdo?"
"Punch me!" Jason insisted, desperately. He had to snap out of this somehow, and a punch was as good a way as anything. "Are you deaf, Biff Tannen?! It's not that hard! I'm giving you a freebie. Here. Punch me, right fucking now -"
"There you are!"
Jason turned around, and felt his jaw dislocate from the rest of his face, that's how hard it dropped to the floor.
Granted, he was used to the sight of Tim Drake coming at him at top speed. But not usually with a terrifying rigor mortis smile on his face. And addressing him like he was a puppy that got away.
And he was …
Oh hell, no.
Whatever it was, it had gotten to him, too. Tim Drake was sixteen again. He was even tinier and scrawnier than Jason was, looking like a nerdy 90's kid with his spiky hair and sneakers and his Green Day T-Shirt. He even had a pack of books flung over his shoulder like the obnoxious cover-child on a "Learning Is Fun!" brochure. It was mind-boggling and all kinds of wrong.
And somehow, that frozen smile was still the freakiest part.
"Hi!" He greeted them through his teeth, and then proceeded to fling his arm around Jason's shoulders. Jason flinched. The touch was unwelcome, but it was the one thing that he'd needed to confirm that this was, indeed, not a dream.
Next to him, the pretender started babbling. "Hi. Hello. I'm Tim. This is my brother, Jason. We're new."
Holy crap, his voice was so high. It would've been hilarious if all of this had been any less horrifying.
"Um. Whatever." That seemed to appease the school grounds marshal a little, even though Jason could tell that he was profoundly weirded out by the both of them. As he should be.
He didn't offer his name in return. Instead, he pointed his finger at Jason. "He used the F-word."
Jason rolled his eyes. Tattle tale.
"We don't use that 'round here," the boy droned.
"Yeah well," Jason shot back, "FYI, you're also not supposed to use 'deaf' as an insult, so."
The quarterback glared at him. "You did that, too!"
"Apologies for my brother," Tim said hastily. He was still grinning like a maniac. "We transferred from an inner-city school."
His arm around Jason's shoulder might have looked friendly from the outside, but it was slowly taking on a vice-like quality. Jason could've flung the entirety of Tim Drake across the yard without trouble of course, but it was probably advisable not to hold the bully's attention any longer.
He had to talk to Tim alone, soon. And then they had to find the person responsible, and then kill that person.
"Uh. Yeah," he mumbled. "It's pretty rough where we're from. I was just … "
He looked at the quarterback dude, and then at Tim Drake, who seemed all kinds of on edge underneath that smile, and he knew what he was expected to do.
"I…I'm sorry I said that," he grumbled. "And I'm sorry I sat under your dumb … under your tree."
"Good." The boy seemed content with that. And also eager to get away from them. "Don't let me see you doing that again. I got my eye on you, punk."
"Douche," Jason muttered under his breath as he walked away.
They turned on each other as soon as he was out of sight.
"Okay, what happe - " They both started simultaneously. And then, they both went pale.
"You don't know?"
"You don't know?"
Tim Drake ran his hand through his hair, then looked at it in disgust as if he hadn't expected all that gel. "Okay," he muttered, like someone talking themselves down from a panic attack. "Okay. I remember waking up on a pile of books in a study room. I went outside to see what was up, and I was … in this place, and then I caught a glimpse of myself in a glass door and I – "
He grabbed Jason's arm again, looking at him as if seeking comfort. In which case he was barking up the wrong tree, really. "Jason, I don't know what I did last night," he whispered. "That never happens to me. Never."
"Me neither," Jason admitted. Everything up to awakening underneath that tree was a fuzzy blur.
Tim looked him up and down. "And … how are we the same age? It makes no sense!"
"Oh, right, that makes no sense," Jason replied sarcastically. He brushed off Tim's arm and finally plucked that leaf from his cheek, frowning. "We weren't … together last night, were we? I mean, in the same spot?"
"No!" Tim protested, as if being in the same place as Jason would have been some sort of terrible misconduct on his part. "Why would we?"
"I don't know, Drake, geez. Calm down."
Jason narrowed his eyes and looked across the yard at the school building. It was a shoddy looking place; not terrible, not the kind of place you usually only got to see whenever Bruce Wayne was making rounds inspiring disadvantaged children or whatever. But humble, very humble and in need of some repairs, probably. It was eerily quiet, but that was most likely just because everyone had gone to class. He could see a math lecture being taught through one of the windows. There was a normal-looking teacher, talking to normal-looking kids. It all looked so very normal, and yet everything about this was wrong.
That was when he caught a glimpse of the sign over the main door.
"Limbo High?" He muttered. "What the hell kind of name is that? Aren't schools named after people? Who's Limbo?"
Tim waved his hand dismissively. "It's supposedly because it's the traditional school dance or something, and they're very good at it," he said distractedly, as if he was just resigning himself to the fact that all of this was crazy, "There's a display in the main hall and a trophy case and everything. I saw it."
"That's ridiculous. Competitive limbo dancing is not a thing."
Tim looked at him with mad, fevered eyes. "Really, Jason? That's the thing you decide to get hung up on?"
Jason gritted his teeth and said nothing. Limbo. As in underworld. As in, the place where restless souls went when they had nowhere else to go.
"It's not just a dance. It has another meaning, you know," he pointed out.
Tim rolled his eyes at him, but his voice was tense. "I know." But then he bit his lip, turned to Jason, and abruptly said: "I'm glad you're here."
It sounded harsh, almost rude somehow. Jason cringed. He could tell how awkward it was for Tim to say that; probably as awkward as it was for him to hear it.
Tim looked embarrassed. "When I woke up here, I thought I was the only one," he explained. "And it made me feel …"
Lost. Alone. Scared.
Jason knew. And he also knew what a bitch it was to admit that out loud. Especially if you were … them. He was also reminded that Tim Drake was younger than him, even though they were the same age now, somehow.
He cleared his throat. "'s always good to have someone to bounce ideas off of, right?" He said briskly, saving Tim – and himself – further awkwardness. He snickered. "And come to think of it, it's kinda funny."
The other boy frowned. "No it's not," he insisted.
"Is too," Jason said, as if they really were bickering siblings. "Look at you. Look at your hair."
"Look at your hair, Fonzie!" Tim shot back, but there was a miniature smile twitching around the fringes of his mouth.
"Let's agree that we both look fucking stupid."
"Fine. Your voice sounds odd like that," Tim told him dryly.
Jason, who hadn't paid attention to that till now, let out a groan. "Mine too, eh."
He'd forgotten how much it had sucked to be a teen.
He hadn't been called 'punk' in so long.
"Anyway," Tim said, "I was going to head over to the registration office, to see if we're on … some kind of list." He sounded collected, but you could tell that he was dreading the outcome one way or the other. "You want to come?" He sounded almost shy when he asked Jason that.
Jason huffed. "Like I have anything better to do," he muttered, unwilling to admit that it was a good idea.
Tim nodded. Then he took a deep breath, and asked: "Jason, do you think we're dead? Honest answer."
It was like taking a hot needle to a raw, twitching nerve. Jason's eyes narrowed. "And how d'you suppose I would know that," he growled dangerously.
"I don't. Seriously. Honestly." Tim didn't look the least bit intimidated. He shrugged. "But it's something I'm wondering. Like you said, you're the only one I can bounce this stuff off of right now."
That was disarmingly sincere. And practical. Damn him.
Jason debated whether to tell him, or whether to throw caution out the window like he would a child molester, and slap him around for even bringing it up, school ground marshals be damned.
But he decided against it. Tim was right. They did have more pressing problems.
"No, we're not," he told him. "Death is - " He hesitated. "There's no high school in death," he then went on, irritated. It felt nuts to even have to explain it. "Or green grass, or trees, or even obnoxious little twits you don't really wanna talk to. There's … nothing. That's what it is. A whole big slab of nothing."
He let out a sharp breath, and looked at Tim. Well. At least he'd gotten him to look uncomfortable now.
"Oh," was all that Tim had to say to that. "That's what I thought. One thing we can rule out, then. Good."
"Yeah. Ain't it great."
"I appreciate the honest input."
"Drop it." Jason avoided his gaze, and shot Limbo High a grimly determined look. "Now, d'you want to find out what's really going on?"
From the corner of his eye, he could see half a smile on Tim Drake's face. "I would like nothing more. Let's go."
Chapter 2: P.Y.T.
Warnings: Contains one instance of gender swap (none of the Robins though), and lots of really silly shit. ^^*
They went to the registration office, where the secretary, a preppy blonde named Miss Maude, assured them that yes, they were properly listed as students at Limbo High, starting today. Then, she gave them a stern lecture because they'd apparently skipped Phys Ed this morning. Jason noted that Tim Drake looked genuinely guilty about having missed his bizarro class at Mindfuck High. That boy was pathological.
There was no info on how they got here, however, or who had brought them, or where they lived.
Jason flinched, hard, when Tim suddenly asked, all boyish innocence, "Do you need our folks to call in? To sort out the paperwork?"
It was tough to hear. To Jason, the mention of parental figures was like suddenly stepping on a wasp hiding in tall grass. He couldn't imagine it was Tim Drake's favorite topic, either. But he understood why he did it. They had to find out if they had parents in this twisted world, even if they were pod parents. If they did … if they did, Jason would manually remove all the teeth from whoever had done this to them before he murdered that person.
First though, he'd go buy his pod person mother some flowers because he was, apparently, a sentimental buffoon.
The dream was soon crushed, however.
"Oh don't worry, honey," Miss Maude crooned, balancing an open binder in front of her ample cleavage. Jason would have considered hitting on her if he hadn't been dramatically underage right now. "Your guardian already took care of everything!"
Jason and Tim exchanged a look.
Tim Drake's fingers were twitching. Jason could tell it took him all the restraint he had to not hurl himself across the desk and tear that binder from her fingers and see for himself.
There was no way for them to ask who the guardian was without looking like crazy people, amnesiacs, or tiny, shady undercover cops, so they thanked her and left the office. Though, only after Tim grabbed a brochure about afterschool club activities, asked if he could take it, and then stuffed it into his pocket when Miss Maude said yes.
"Aren't you precious," she called after him. "You'll have so much fun here!"
It was lunch break by now, and the halls were swarming with students, comparing notes, chatting, flirting, hanging out at their lockers, and doing other normal-ish things.
They were the least normal thing here; it was freaky.
Some of the kids were casting curious looks in their direction. Jason saw some dudes seizing them up, and some girls looking pretty interested, which made Jason, who'd left dating teenage chicks behind a long, long time ago, feel all kinds of creepy. Tim Drake was flat-out ignoring them while he marched down the hallway as if he had someplace to be.
"So," Jason shot up to him. "I'm sure we both know what's going to happen, right? We'll wait until everyone's left, and then break into that office."
"Keep it down," Tim told him through his teeth. "There's no point in bothering with the office, we'll sneak out and go look for him right away."
The way he said that. Like Bruce Wayne, if he was even here, would wave some magic batwand around and make it all go away. It was grating.
Jason snorted. "Oh no, and ditch school,?" He teased.
Tim Drake in all seriousness looked conflicted for a second. "Yes. This is more important," he then concluded, as if it had been a question in the first place. Good lord.
They walked down the hall cautiously, as if they were moving through a herd of zombies. For all Jason knew, the other students could be zombies. Or assassins. Pod People. Peter Pan's lost children. You never knew.
"Try to blend in," Tim whispered. Jason shot him a dirty look. Sure, like he looked at all natural with that uncomfortable smile plastered across his face.
"Ever been the new kid in school, precious?" He sneered. "We're supposed to look terrified."
"Are you?" Tim asked him promptly. "Terrified?"
He couldn't tell if Tim Drake was worried about him, or testing him, or making conversation, or what. Jason could accept that he and lil' preppy were a team now for the time being, but he still didn't feel like answering that.
So he deflected.
"Hey." He pointed at the large sign ahead of them that invitingly spelled 'Cafeteria'. "Before we slip out, d'you wanna maybe grab some lunch?"
He'd known that would throw Tim off. His lips stopped doing that freaky smiling thing and curled up in disapproval instead. But then, he opened his stupid mouth, and what he said was this: "Was that your attitude while you were working with Bruce, because that would explain a lot."
And Jason tripped him.
He didn't know why he did it. Oh, he wanted to hurt him, sure. But tripping him wasn't as straightforward as a punch, or as good a put-down as a slap, and yet, it was what he did. It was the shittiest, pettiest thing is body could come up with in that moment.
For a singular, beautiful moment, it looked as if the little snot would actually do a swan dive in the hallway, but of course he didn't, of course a former Robin and current Red Robin didn't fall. Instead, he caught himself with ease and spun around, where he found Jason glaring at him.
"You don't get to talk to me like that," Jason spat. He was shaking. At the same time, he knew it was ridiculously stupid to get this worked up over a low-level burn like that. But he was filled up to here with teenage hormones, transporting him back to a time where he'd woken up every day to the feeling of not being quite good enough.
"You don't … you don't know," he stammered, and he knew he was blushing, and he hated it. "You don't know anything!"
Tim Drake gave him the weirdest of looks. "Oh. I do know," he said cooly. "I've studied you."
And then, he anticipated the slap before it came, and snatched Jason's wrist out of the air in a grip that would've sent someone with a lower pain tolerance weeping to their mom, presuming they had one.
"No fighting, this is a school!" He hissed, like a hall monitor incarnate. "What are you, crazy? Wait, don't answer that. Do you want to get in trouble? Do you want to get detention? We don't have time for this!"
"Let go." This was the third time today that Tim Drake tried to control his body with his stupid hands, and Jason was getting sick of it. "You started it!"
"I did not."
"Yeah? Is this how you always react when people ask you to lunch, because that would explain a lot."
"Tell you something," Tim Drake's right eyelid was twitching. It was still weird to see him without his mask, but Jason was already getting tired of his pointy face. Their little team-up was clearly not working. "We can go outside, we can find a rooftop, and settle this, but not here. Not now."
"That…" Jason licked his lips. "That's the first good idea I've heard from you today."
"I strongly disagree, but fine."
"F - "
This would have probably gone on for a while, if they hadn't suddenly heard a familiar, melodic laugh wavering out of the cafeteria.
Familiar; but different.
Jason blinked. A chill went down his spine. "Was that…?"
"Yeah." Tim Drake looked like a ghost had passed through him.
"We have to -"
He let go of Jason's wrist, and weaseled his way towards the cafeteria entrance. "Sorry about that," he whispered over his shoulder, as an aftherthought.
Jason went after him. "Yeah, yeah. Shove it up your ass."
He'd barely entered the cafeteria when he bumped into Tim again, who stood, frozen and apparently in awe.
And Jason could clearly see why.
"Oh fuck me," he groaned.
Seeing Tim Drake as a teenager had been a shock, but not that much of a shock; because Jason had seen him as a teenager, back then when he'd totally not stalked him. But seeing … him …
It was unreal.
Dick Grayson looked like something straight out of a 50's cereal commercial, in his crisp blue shirt and a sportive cream-coloured sweater draped around his shoulders, with his smooth face and charming mop of hair. Jason noticed that his hair must have been really tidy at some point, but Dick had mussed it; it had probably been the first thing he'd done.
He was sitting at one of the tables, surrounded by an entire flock of adoring boys and girls; like he was holding court. Jason even spotted the hunky school grounds marshal, who was staring at Dick like he was the catnip. Everyone was practically hanging on his lips as he related some anecdote.
"… and then, we try to row back to shore, right? We're soaked to the bone, all of us, and then suddenly, she loses her bikini top – no, Becky, I didn't peek! I told you, I'm a perfect gentleman …"
Dick gave the girl named Becky a cheeky wink, and waited for the laughter to subside. Jason gaped at him. Why were these people laughing so hard, anyway? The story didn't seem that great. How did he do it? Was it his hair? His shiny teeth?
"Can you believe that fucking guy?" He muttered to Tim, anger replaced by very familiar frustration for the moment.
"No," Tim Drake said. "No...but that's just him." He let out an exasperated sigh. "Let's go say hello."
Nobody paid attention to them when they approached the table, way too caught up in the re-telling of Dick Grayson's Amazing Beach Babe Adventure. That was, nobody except for Dick.
"…so we all fall over ourselves to fish for the top, rocking the entire boat again, and then of course the dog chooses that moment to jump - "
That was when he spotted them. His bright blue eyes went saucer-wide. He closed his mouth. He opened it again. Then he closed it again. And then, he proved to the Limbo High cafeteria and the whole word that he was so much better at fake-smiling than Tim Drake.
"Hey you guys!" He greeted them, three octaves too high and three notches to chipper, "I was wondering where you were! Because I'm … absolutely not surprised, or shocked, to see you here!"
This prompted the other teens at the table to take a look at Tim and Jason. School grounds marshal started to frown. "You know these fellas, Richard?" He growled.
"We're brothers," Dick, Jason and Tim said without hesitation.
It was … all things considered, it was kind of a beautiful moment.
"Well." School grounds marshal pointed at Jason, "That one's a troublemaker."
Dick put a friendly hand on the dude's shoulder, which seemed to appease him right away, like Dick's hands were made of magic. "Nah, he's a total sweetheart, really," he said, winking at Jason, who scowled at that. "Give him a chance, Marshall!"
"Marshall?" Jason crossed his arms, smirking. "You call yourself school grounds marshal, and your name is Marshall?"
The gorilla glared at him and seemed ready to flip a table. "You think that's funny, punk?!"
"Whoa there!" Dick had truly mastered the art of sounding super-nice even when he raised his voice. He patted Marshall's shoulder like you would an unstable rottweiler's, but Jason knew that Dick's hand could turn into a deadly kung-fu grip in a matter of seconds. Pfft. Like Jason needed any help against a schoolyard bully like that.
"Hey, listen," Dick spoke up before the hostilities could break out for real. "It was real fun getting to know y'all. Becky. Marshall. Gwynnifer. Brett. Stan. Wendy. Pippin. Glitter. Shortstack. Bluto. Marten. Peter, Tony, Steve … but would you guys mind if I spoke to my brothers alone for a moment?" He capped it off with the sweetest of apologetic smiles. "We're new, and we have a lot of stuff to discuss. You know. Normal type stuff."
The kids collectively "awwwed", but apparently nobody could say no to him.
"We still need the ending to that story, though," Betty chirped as she turned away. "I insist."
Dick gave her a wide smile. "Later. Guaranteed!"
"See you around, Richard," said one of Marshall's hunky friends, who looked about ready to propose to Dick. "And think about what I said! Our Limbo League needs swell guys like you!"
"I will," Dick promised as he waved to his new friends and Jason wondered what issue of "Teen Romance" he had stepped into.
The carefree smile dropped off Dick's face as soon as they were gone.
"Oh god, I'm so glad you're here!" He blurted out. "I mean. Not really, because we're obviously in trouble, but I thought I was the only one, and it freaked me out."
Jason pointed a thumb after Dick's new fan club still giggling in the distance. "That's you when you're freaking out?"
Dick gave him a stern look, which didn't jibe at all with his boyish, sixteen year old face. "Making new friends is an underestimated skill, Jason," he pontificated. "Getting to know the people here can't hurt. Oh, and - "
He made a serious face as he beckoned them to come closer. "I've already found out that the coach might be turning the boys to the dope!" He whispered. "Guys, we have to do something about this –"
Jason looked at him, stone-faced. "Forget it. I'm not here to re-enact your favorite Hardy Boys adventures with you."
"Backburner, Dick." Tim sat down across him. "This place might not even be real. We need to find out who brought us here, who else might be there, and then figure out how to get back." He paused. "And … before we leave, we can look into the dope thing if you want," he offered as a concession.
Jason still stood, his arms crossed. "That was bullshit just now," he said poutily. "That story you told 'em. There's no way that really happened to you."
"Oh, it did." Dick flashed him a mischievous smile, reminding Jason that he wasn't actually a blow-dryed ditz. "I just replaced 'burning helicopter' with 'banana boat', and 'her right arm' with 'her bikini top', and it totally happened to me. Come on, sit with us."
It was hard to turn down an invitation from Dick Grayson, even if your relationship with him was kinda complicated. Jason shrugged and sat down. They stuck their heads together.
"Dick, do you have any idea what you did last night?" Tim asked hopefully.
Dick looked embarrassed. "No I don't, actually. And that's weird. That hasn't happened to me since college when I ate that brownie and spent the rest of the night hugging everyone. Or so I'm told."
Tim seemed disappointed, thought not surprised. "Yeah, we don't, either. But there might be a lead. We went to registration, and - "
"You?" Dick looked and Jason and Tim, mouth twitching. "You two did something together? Aw, I like it!"
Tim impatiently waved his hand. "Yes. And then we nearly tore each other's heads off. Anyway, not important. Listen, the school secretary told us we have a guardian."
"A guardian." Jason could see a mix of hope and apprehension cross Dick's face. "Really? Do you think it might be – "
"Excuse me," a soft voice said.
Startled, they turned around. Behind them stood a very pretty, raven-haired girl with sharp features and a ponytail. She seemed awfully old-fashioned in her elegant blouse, sweater vest and modest black skirt. She also carried a tray completely stacked with tater tots, which she was very purposefully pointing in their direction.
She started to beam as soon as they'd turned to her. "It's really you! What a relief. I've brought some food. It's not much, but I've tasted it, and I can assure you it's at least safe for consumption."
The boys simply stared at her.
Jason was the first to throw his hands in the air. "Okay, I give up." He announced. "I've been trying to go along with this, but I don't know who that is."
Tim Drake observed her with narrowed eyes, as if he had a suspicion; but he said nothing.
"Oh dear." She bit her lip. "I should have known. Of course this would be confusing. It's me, Alfred."
Everyone at the table was stunned.
The girl let out a sigh, and then she used the ensuing silence to sit down at their table, placing the tater tots in the middle with a flourish that was, indeed, reminiscent of a trained butler.
"All right then," she said, straightening her skirt. "You," she pointed at Jason. "Owned 18 pairs of sneakers when you were a boy, but they all had to be some shade of either green, black, or red, or you wouldn't wear them."
Jason huffed. "That proves nothing," he told her. "Like I remember how many sneakers I had."
She looked a little heartbroken, but then she turned to Dick. "Your favorite brand of toothpaste was 'Schroeder's Finest' which was sadly discontinued eleven years ago," she said. Then, she pointed at Tim. "Your favorite breakfast food is warm scones with salted butter."
She smiled wistfully. "And you all would always pretend to like my waffles, even though I'm aware they are less than stellar."
There was a moment of complete silence.
And then, Tim was the one who said it: "Okay. I think this is Alfred."
She breathed a sigh of relief. "Oh thank god!"
Jason frowned at her. "Why didn't you just say, I dunno, 'Bruce Wayne is Batman'?" He wondered.
She gave him a scolding look. "In public?"
It was totally Alfred.
She folded her hands in her lap. "I have to say," she said, her eyes shimmering. "Despite the circumstances, it is a delight to see you all like this. So many memories, all in one place."
Nobody said anything. Alfred Pennyworth was here, and he was also a sixteen year old girl. They couldn't stop looking at her. At the same time, it was really weird to look at her.
"Boy," she said after a while. "This is awkward, isn't it."
"Alfred," Dick still looked like he'd been hit with a sack of bricks. "Why … are you hot? I mean, girl. Why are you a girl?"
She blushed. "Wouldn't I love to know, Master Richard. I awoke on a bench in the school yard like this. It was quite unsettling at first. I've been sixteen before, but at no point in my life have I ever been a woman. However, I have to admit – it's … it's nice to be young again." Her face lit up. "Oh, you boys have to see this!"
She hopped off the bench, and then flipped into a perfect handstand, holding her skirt between her legs so it wouldn't fall.
"I haven't been able to do this in years!" She declared.
Jason snickered. "Alfred's pretty stacked," he whispered.
Tim elbowed him. "Shut up," he whispered back, mortified.
"I'm right, though."
"Ah!" She came back to her feet and sat back down, collecting herself like a proper lady. "That was nice. Anyway, back to the more pressing matters at hand." She looked at all of them in turn. "We have to find out what caused this predicament. I'm willing to provide any help I can. Though …" She smirked. "For the time being, this is quite refreshing. Some of the lads here even invited me to something they call a 'kegger'…"
"You're not going!" They all said at once.
"Of course not." She cocked an eyebrow. "It's still me. Don't worry, I've been young before, I know all the pitfalls inside and out. But I'm very moved by your concern. Now really, won't anybody eat those things?"
They each took a few tater tots to please Alfred (which had been a good idea after all, because they'd been too distracted to notice how hungry they were), and then went back to discussing their actual situation. They didn't get too far, though, before they were interrupted again. At least this time it wasn't the Black Mask who'd been transformed into a talking bear or something.
It was one of the kids from before, a stunning black girl in a cheerleader uniform with a distinct Prom Queen vibe around her, closing in on Dick Grayson like a guided missile.
"Richard," she purred.
"Hi!" Dick looked up, quickly covering up the very crude drawing of an inter-dimensional event they were working on. "Tiffany, right?"
"Aw, man." He scratched his neck in a perfect impression of charming flusteredness. "It's my first day. Can you possibly forgive me?"
She shot him a flirty smile. "All is forgiven," she said breathily. "So. I was wondering if you'd like to stick around after class? I thought you'd might want to take a look at our … extracurricular activities."
To Jason's relief, Dick looked appropriately appalled at being asked out by a teenager. "I, um … gee, Gwynnifer, I -"
"I'm interested," Tim piped up, waving his brochure around in a way that made clear he actually wanted to look at the school clubs.
"Well?" She ignored him, still looking at Dick.
"He can't," Alfred said briskly. "He has to study after class. I can't leave him off the hook, I'm very sorry."
Gwynnifer seemed to finally take note of the fact that there were others at the table. She gave Alfred a critical examination. "Who're you?" She asked cooly. "Can't say I've seen you before."
"I'm his tutor," Alfred told her with a sardonic smile. "I'm very strict."
"He's … she's very strict," Dick agreed, looking grateful.
Alfred and the girl stared each other down for a while, until Gwynnifer had to admit defeat. For now.
"Too bad," she pouted. "You're missing out." She scrunched up her nose, taking another curious look at the three boys. "You guys really look awfully similar, you know that?" she remarked. "And you're the same age, too. What are you, triplets?"
"Yes!" Dick hurried to confirm. "That's exactly what we are! Crazy, isn't it? We should join the circus or something."
Under the table, Jason kicked his shin.
"Aha." Gwynnifer turned to leave, but then she seemed to remember something.
"You sure you don't mean quadruplets, though?" She asked. "Because I saw another new kid this morning. A boy, black hair, blue eyes, a lot like you. A little more tanned, maybe. Come to think of it, he looked kinda scary; and pretty mad. Anyway, guess you know better how many brothers you have than I do. Laters!"
As she walked away, Dick Grayson had turned as pale as a sheet. Jason knew exactly what he was thinking. And the way their day had gone until now, he was probably right.
"God help us," Dick whispered. "We have to spread out, and find him. We have to find him right now."