Jason sat bolt upright in bed, his heart pounding and his skin covered in a thin sheen of sweat, and then he cursed under his breath. Another dream.
"Fuck this!" he muttered, throwing off the bed covers and padding across the room to the balcony doors in just his shorts.
He tapped a cigarette from the pack he'd grabbed from the bedside table and was disconcerted to realise that his hands were shaking almost too badly to light the damn thing. He just about managed though and exhaled the smoke slowly as he settled on the floor of the balcony with his legs dangling over the side.
Nightmares weren't new; he'd been having them on and off since he'd returned from the dead, but these ones... They weren't the usual dreams of crowbars and laughter or the ones with the feel of splintered wood and dirt beneath his nails as he clawed his way up through the earth; these dreams he couldn't remember. Or rather, he couldn't quite remember. It was like they were there just outside of his grasp and he couldn't shake the feeling that whatever was in them was important.
He stared out at the sea view, beautiful in the predawn light, and was completely unsurprised when he heard the sliding doors of the next room open and the sound of someone walking towards him.
Roy dropped down next to him and stole a cigarette from Jason's pack. "Same dream again?"
Jason gave a curt nod without taking his eyes off the view. "Did I wake you?"
"Nah," Roy said. "Kori's snoring made it impossible for me to fall sleep."
Jason snorted at the lie. "You'd better not let her catch you making that shit up about her."
"It's all a grand scheme to get her to punish me," Roy retorted and Jason didn't even have to look at him to know there was a leering expression on his friend's face.
"Disparage me again and your punishment will not be the enjoyable kind," Kori's voice sounded from above as she apparently floated from her and Roy's room to join them.
Jason groaned and closed his eyes. "I woke you both?"
"A minor inconvenience," Kori assured as she wrapped herself around Jason from behind and propped her chin on his bare shoulder. "We are concerned about you, Jason. You've been having these dreams for weeks and the lack of sleep is wearing on you."
Refusing to acknowledge how right that was, Jason still couldn't stop himself from leaning back into the additional heat Kori's body always gave off. "Did you at least manage to make out anything I was shouting this time?"
"I don't think it was in English," Roy answered. "In fact, I don't think it was in any language I've heard before."
At that Jason opened his eyes and looked at Roy for the first time since he'd joined him on the balcony. "That's...worrying. Are you sure it wasn't just gibberish?"
Roy shrugged, worry reflected in his eyes for all the nonchalance he exuded. "I'm no expert, Jaybird, but I don't think so. I think you were saying something, just that we couldn't understand it, you know? I'll set up a recorder tomorrow night and run it through the ship's database, see if we can get a translation."
There was no doubt that Jason would have the dream again the next night; he'd had them every night since Gotham. He wasn't much of a sleeper at the best of times and knew how to work on minimal sleep but right then he was getting an hour's rest if he was lucky. Kori was right, he was exhausted and it was throwing him off his game. It was the main reason that they'd all agreed to take some much needed downtime and headed back to St Martinique for a vacation.
"I appreciate the company," Jason said at last. "But I'm alright. You two should go back to bed."
"What about you?" Roy asked, flicking his cigarette butt over the railing.
Jason just shook his head. He could never get back to sleep after the dreams; they left him too on edge.
Kori's arms squeezed him even tighter. "You should join us. Strenuous sex may help."
"She has a point," Roy joined in. "Sex with Kori always wipes me out enough that I could sleep for days after. And with the two of us? We'd probably put you down for a week. Besides, I've always wondered if something other than meditation can make those tattoos of yours glow," he added, exaggeratedly waggling his eyebrows.
Jason laughed. "I'm not sure that I want to know you that well, Harper."
This was familiar banter for the two men. Kori was never shy when it came to sex and these offers had made Jason and Roy a little uncomfortable until they found a way to joke around it. It wasn't that Jason didn't think Roy was a good looking guy; there was just no attraction there outside of being friends.
"You're missing out, Todd," Roy shot back as he pushed himself to his feet.
Kori gave Jason one last squeeze before letting go and following Roy back to their room, leaving Jason alone with his thoughts again. Maybe he should have told them that the dreams apparently made his tattoos glow; he always caught them fading after he woke, but then he'd have to explain about them. So far, he'd let Kori and Roy believe that he got the tattoos from the All Caste but the truth was that they'd been there when he came back to life. Ducra had believed that they were a sign that he had a great destiny, probably the only reason she kept training him long after anyone in their right minds would've kicked the smart assed kid he'd been to the curb. She also believed that the rage inside him kept him from accessing what they were, what they meant.
After everything that had happened in Gotham, everything that the Joker had put the family through, that rage was finally subsiding. When he'd woken up from the incident with the mask and the acid, Joker's last calling card of chaos, Jason had seen just how much Bruce truly did care for him and something inside him had just dissolved. He was still quick to temper but he always had been. He figured that was an inborn trait, but that all encompassing hatred and anger at remaining unavenged then replaced like a broken toy was slowly but surely disappearing.
Then came along the mystery dreams and the glowing. Jason sighed and absentmindedly rubbed his hand across his chest, almost tracing the tattoos. Maybe his old teacher had been onto something after all and now it was too late to seek out her advice. He thought that he knew what she would've said though; trust his instincts and allow them to lead him to the answers. There was only one direction they could lead him because if the rug was going to be pulled out from beneath him yet again it would most likely happen in the same place it had happened so many times before.
~ X ~ X ~ X ~ X ~
"I don't like that place, Jason," Kori put in with a frown. "It has the reek of evil over it."
"I'm not asking you to come with me, Princess," Jason pointed out. "I'm just telling you where I'm going."
Roy snorted. "Yeah, like we're going to let you go there on your own. You do remember what happened the last time you were there without us? You and your crazy family got kidnapped by the Joker; we had to fight joker zombies with the Teeny Titans..."
"They are called the Teen Titans," Kori interrupted and Roy waved a hand dismissively.
"Potato, potahto," he muttered. "You almost had your face burned off, Jason!"
"I know what happened, Roy, it was less than a month ago." Jason snapped then scrubbed a hand tiredly over his face. "Whatever's going on with me, it started when I was there. If I'm going to get to the bottom of this, Gotham's where I need to start looking."
Roy and Kori exchanged a worried look, probably more over Jason's defeated tone than the prospect of going to Gotham.
Kori then gave a determined nod. "If this is what you need to do then we will accompany you."
"Hey, I'm not going to turn down an excuse to fly the ship," Roy added then shovelled a huge mouthful of bacon into his mouth as if that signified the end of the conversation.
Jason shook his head in exasperation. "If I told you that I wanted to do this on my own, you'd follow me anyway, wouldn't you?" He received twin nods and puppy dog eyes. "Fine but if I say that I need to go somewhere or talk to someone by myself then you'd better listen to me."
He didn't know where this whole thing was leading but he didn't want to put his friends in any additional danger.
They were back in Gotham by the time night fell over the city.
"I'm going out to try and catch some of the Bats on patrol," Jason told Roy and Kori as they settled into one of his remaining safe houses.
There was always the chance that the dreams and everything else was happening as a result of something Joker might have done, he wanted to check if the others were experiencing anything weird too.
Roy jumped up off the sofa to join him but Kori faltered as Jason knew that she would. She may say that she didn't remember people after they'd left her presence for an extended period of time, and maybe that was true, but she definitely remembered enough about Dick and their relationship to not want to run into him.
"I'm just going to check in with them, make sure everything's okay," Jason said. "You may as well both stay here, order in. I'll call if I run into anything bad."
With a frown, Roy opened his mouth to protest but Kori grabbed onto the excuse Jason had just given her.
"If Jason is meeting with his family we should let him do it alone, the relationships are still so delicate." She then ran a finger down the side of Roy's neck. "You can entertain me while he is gone."
Roy glanced between Kori and Jason, obviously torn. "You promise to call when you run into trouble?" he finally asked Jason.
"Scout's honour." Jason smirked as he held up three fingers. "Spare room's through there, knock yourselves out."
Kori had dragged Roy to the bedroom before Jason even left the apartment which caused him to chuckle as made his way up to the roof. He stood there for a moment to take in the familiar night air of what would always be his city. Then he jumped off the roof and swung to the next one.
It was never difficult to find one of the Bat family; just head for the nearest sign of trouble and one of them would show up soon enough. In this case Red Robin had reached the trouble before Jason and was currently beating the shit out of a group of muggers. Jason dropped down into the alley behind the fight and leaned against the brick wall, waiting for Tim to finish; ready to jump in if needed but knowing that Tim had it covered.
"I would've joined in but it looked like you were having fun," Jason commented when the muggers were unconscious and Tim was busy binding their wrists.
Tim didn't even flinch despite having had his back to Jason the entire time; of course he'd known that Jason was there. "Back in town so soon?"
"You know me; I can never stay away for long," Jason replied.
Tim finally stood up and turned to face him. "I thought it would be longer this time." Jason could hear the unspoken 'after everything that happened'. "Is there anything we need to be on alert for?"
"Can't I just visit family?"
Tim raised an eyebrow at that. "You can. You just haven't been inclined to do so in the past."
Jason shrugged. "Things have changed."
Tim stared at him for a long moment before nodding. "Yes, they have. Want to patrol with me?"
Jason grinned even though Tim wouldn't be able to see it beneath the helmet. "I thought you'd never ask."
He waited until after they'd taken down a guy trying to rob a convenience store before asking, "How has everyone been?"
"Batgirl's still pretty pissed; she hasn't been back to the manor and is refusing to take B’s phone calls," Tim replied. They were both crouched on yet another rooftop, scanning the area. "Robin's pretending he's not bothered by it all and Nightwing is hugging everyone even more than normal."
Out of all of them, Jason figured that Dick had suffered the worst at the hands of Joker. He'd heard what happened with the circus; Dick had lost a lot of people he cared about, not to mention the loss of the circus itself. As much as Dick claimed that his hugs had the power to heal the people he loved, they all knew that he did it because he believed they healed him too. It was why they let him get away with it...well, Jason used to let him. Back before he died.
"So...no weird after effects or anything?" As soon as the words left his mouth, Jason wanted to facepalm at his complete lack of subtlety and in front of the smartest guy he knew outside of Bruce.
As expected, Tim narrowed his eyes at him. "You’re having problems? Come on, let's go back to the manor; Alfred can look you over."
"There's nothing..." Jason started then shook his head, like Tim would believe him now. "Just answer the fucking question, Red."
"No after effects," Tim told him, still looking concerned yet determined. "But then we didn't get a dose of Joker's acid concoction straight in the face."
He obviously wanted to say more but he suddenly stopped and tilted his head slightly in a way that Jason knew meant someone was talking to him over his comm. link.
"How many?" Tim asked then paused as whoever it was answered him. "I've got Red Hood with me, we're on our way."
Jason was already on his feet, grapple gun in hand by the time Tim finished the short conversation. "Someone in trouble?"
"Nightwing's had word of an illegal delivery down at the docks," Tim told him. "There's too many guys to take out by himself so he's asked for backup. We are finishing this conversation afterwards though."
Jason rolled his eyes behind his mask but, to be fair, it was his own fault.
It took them less than ten minutes before they were dropping down next to Nightwing, who was crouched behind some storage containers.
"What have we got?" Tim asked, straight to business.
Dick nodded at Jason quickly then turned his attention to Tim. "Two Face's men. They've just received a shipment of weapons but their transport is...late." He smirked to indicate that he'd already taken care of the transport. "The shipment's bigger than I expected though and Two Face sent a lot more men to secure it."
Jason had been busy scoping out the area while Dick caught them up on the situation. "Not to mention Penguin's guys waiting to steal the shipment once it's been loaded on the trucks."
Dick frowned. "What...?"
At the same time, Jason and Tim pointed to some shadowy figures crouched on a gantry to the left of them.
"Aww, don't feel bad, Golden Boy. You'd have seen them eventually," Jason snarked and earned himself a roll of the eyes from Tim.
“We passed them on the way here,” Tim assured Dick while Jason sniggered.
“Just for that, you can take care of Penguin’s men,” Dick informed Jason. “Me and Red Robin will go after Two Face’s lot.”
Jason and Tim nodded and Jason began to move out but Dick stopped him with a hand on his shoulder.
“Remember, Hood, you’re on our turf...”
“Turf? Really?” Jason shook his head. “No killing while in Gotham, I know. Have some faith, bro.”
He circled around behind Penguin's guys and climbed up onto the platform above them. There were only five of them but they were toting some serious weaponry; Jason would've been jealous if he didn't know that Roy could make him better toys with his eyes closed.
"There's someone else down there," muttered one of the goons who was surveying the area through his scope. "Aw, hell! It's one of the Robins!"
"Shit!" Another one spat. "That means that Batman must be here somewhere."
"I'm not sure," the first one replied. "It's that one that works on his own. Robin Red Breast or whatever the fuck he's called."
The second one began fidgeting nervously and Jason rolled his eyes; Copperpot really needed to hire some better thugs. "Still though, maybe we should leave. We can tell the boss..."
A third one smacked him upside the head. "We can tell the boss that we got the guns and took out one of Batman's gang. Stop pissing your pants and think of the reward we'd get for that, rookie."
"If luck's on our side, we won't even have to do much," yet another one agreed. "We wait up here, let them fight each other. Either the Robin will take down Two Face's guys for us, or they'll take him down; no matter which way it goes, whoever's left will be too worn out to put up much of a fight when we swoop in."
Jason had heard enough, he jumped down off his platform to land behind the group and held out a gun in each hand. "Hate to break it to you idiots, but luck's really not on your side."
"Fuck! It's Red Hood!" Rookie cried and started to shoot wildly in Jason's direction.
Jason ducked beneath the hail of bullets and swept his leg forward, catching Rookie behind the ankle to make him fall backwards. At the same time, he opened fire on the others; aiming only for knees and shoulders to make them collapse to the ground or drop their weapons.
"Seriously? That's all you've got?" Jason straightened and kicked the guns away from the groaning men.
"They've got me," a voice said behind him and Jason swallowed a curse; he was so off his game.
He spun around to face the new guy who was pointing a semi automatic at him with one hand and was carrying a tray of coffees in the other. Which answered the question of how Jason had missed him.
"You were on a coffee run?" Jason asked incredulously.
"Bad guys can't get thirsty?" New Guy sneered. "Put the guns down. Slowly."
Jason shrugged, dropped his guns to the gantry floor with a clatter then dived off the side. He grabbed hold of a pipe and let his momentum swing him around behind New Guy, crashing into the back of him and taking them both to the ground. Before the man could get his breath back, Jason pulled a zip tie from his belt and wrapped it around the guy's wrists. He also smacked the guy's head into the platform for good measure. Quickly using more ties on the rest of the group, Jason popped his head over the side to check on Dick and Tim. They seemed to be handling things but there really were a lot of thugs down there; probably too many for even those two to take on by themselves.
"This was fun; we'll have to do it again," Jason told Penguin's men as he ran for the stairs and laughed at the string of curses that followed in his wake.
He threw himself into the ruckus happening in front of the shipment containers, putting bullets in more than a few legs and relishing the crunch of bone beneath his elbow; there really was nothing like a good fight.
"You take care of Penguin's lot?" Dick called over as he kicked a thug who'd been trying to sneak up behind him.
"They're in need of a doctor but they'll live," Jason shouted back.
"That's not what I meant," Dick said as he fought his way over to Jason. "You said you wouldn't kill them and I believed you.”
"Of course you did," Jason drawled, delivering a roundhouse kick to the back of someone's head.
"Ladies, this is not the time to discuss your issues," Tim pointed out as he swung his bo staff into a guy's stomach.
"Why not?" Jason asked at the same time as Dick said,
"Sure it is."
Jason chuckled and heard Dick doing the same as Tim shook his head at the pair of them.
"It's like old times," Dick commented, ducking, and Jason couldn't help but agree; it was like their own form of family bonding.
Eventually there were only a few goons left. Jason dodged another bullet and cold cocked the guy who'd shot it at him before turning to check on the other two. Dick had just about taken down his guy but out of the corner of his eye, Jason could see that Tim was struggling so headed in that direction. As he grew close to the battling couple Jason's steps faltered. Despite the fact that he didn't pause in blocking Tim's attacks, the thug's attention was entirely on Jason. Even more disturbingly, the thug's mask had come off at some point and it looked like his face was melting; the skin bubbling and boiling as something shifted beneath it.
"What the fuck?" Jason breathed.
Melty Face Man suddenly began to laugh. "You're the best they can send against me? Look at you, so fragile; I'll make you beg for mercy before this night is through."
"Sorry to disappoint but I don't do begging," Jason retorted even as he shuddered from the sound of the man's voice; it sounded like nails being scraped down a blackboard. "Who the fuck are you? Because you're certainly not one of Two Face's men."
"You don't even know that?" Melty laughed again and Jason winced. "You're even more pathetic than I suspected."
"Uh, Hood?" Dick had come to stand next to Jason and was looking between him and Melty in confusion.
Even Tim had stopped fighting and stepped back with a perplexed expression on his face.
"You care for these two, I can sense it," Melty observed. "I'll make you watch as I eat their hearts then I'll rip you apart."
There was a disgusting tearing sound as claws suddenly pushed their way through the man's fingertips. Then with enough speed that his arm became a blur, Melty plunged his hand into Tim's chest causing him to scream and fall to his knees. Jason was moving before he even thought about it. He pushed Tim away and then swung forward with all his force.
"Hood! No!" Dick screamed behind him as the sword cut through Melty's midriff as easily as a knife through butter.
Everything froze for a second then Melty threw his head back and viscous black liquid spewed from his mouth before he collapsed onto the ground.
Jason felt Tim climb shakily to his feet and push past him and heard Dick yelling but he couldn't take his eyes off the sword in his hand. Where the fuck had that come from? He may be a little screwy but he was pretty certain that he didn't own a flaming sword which appeared from nowhere.
"He's still alive!" Tim said in a disbelieving voice and Jason finally tore his eyes away from the sword to see Tim leaning over Melty with his fingers on the man's neck. The front of Tim's uniform was ripped although Jason could see that the skin beneath was unmarked. "Hood, what's going...?"
Tim's voice trailed off as he lifted his head to look at Jason, his eyes growing wide behind the domino mask. Dick followed Tim's gaze and let out a loud gasp.
"Why are you two gaping at me like I'm your prom date?" Jason demanded as he managed to find his voice, as shaky as it was.
Dick just pointed behind him and Jason quickly spun around but there was nothing there.
"'E's...'n'angel..." Melty coughed, startling them all and, when Jason looked, the man's face wasn't all melted anymore. He looked normal and he was giving Jason a tired grin. "Thank...you..."
With that the man's eyes rolled up in his head and he passed out.
"What the fuck is going on?!" Dick suddenly yelled and Jason blinked at him because he couldn't remember the last time he'd heard Dick swear. "Who is that guy? What the hell were you talking about? Where did you get that sword? And what are those things?"
He pointed behind Jason again and Jason glanced over his shoulder to confirm that there was still nothing there.
"Is this the weird after effect you were talking about?" Tim asked.
Jason shook his head, helplessly. "No...I...I don't know..."
Tim studied Jason then nodded. "Alright...first, we wrap things up here and call Gordon in to deal with this lot. Then we go back to the manor and..."
"Not the manor!" Jason cut in; he wasn't sure that he wanted Bruce to know about this yet. Their still rebuilding relationship was fragile and Jason was pretty sure that this type of crap would ruin it.
"My place then," Dick said in an understanding tone.
"Right," Tim agreed. "Then we'll try and figure this all out."
Jason hesitated, causing Dick to throw his hands up in exasperation. "I thought we were past the whole 'not trusting each other' thing. Let us help you, J...Hood, or so help me I will kick your ass all over the damn city; mystical sword, wings and all!"
"I'd like to see you try," Jason retorted automatically then he sighed and poked Dick. "You're buying breakfast! And I promised to call Roy if anything bad happened so don't be surprised if he shows up at your place too. He's in mother hen mode."
Dick gave him a relieved smile. "Pizza counts as breakfast, right?"
Jason snorted and began to walk towards the thugs they'd taken down before pulling up short. "What the hell do you mean 'wings'?"
~ X ~ X ~ X ~ X ~
Tim pulled his cowl back and detached his cape, folding it neatly over the back of a kitchen chair before going to put a pot of coffee on. He seemed entirely recovered and had told Jason and Dick that it had felt like fire in his chest but the pain completely disappeared when Jason hit Melty with his sword.
"You really didn't see them?" he asked over his shoulder.
"Nope," Jason shook his head as he dropped into another of the chairs around the rickety kitchen table. He removed his helmet then thought 'to hell with it' and pulled the domino off too.
They'd restrained all the men at the docks and waited long enough for the GCPD to show up before heading to Dick's place. Dick and Tim had both called in to Bruce to update him on the takedown, mentioning that Jason had been with them but neither of them said anything about Melty and that whole weirdness. Jason had then called Roy and had to put up with a lecture about not calling him and Kori sooner before he announced that he'd see him at Dick's and hung up.
A sudden hammering at the door announced his arrival and Jason got up to answer it, ignoring Dick's grumbling from the bedroom about how Roy knew where he lived. Jason guessed that he was just doing it to hide his nervousness about seeing Kori again but when he opened the door Roy was alone.
"She said that as you weren't in immediate danger, she'd see you back home," Roy whispered at Jason's raised eyebrow. "Any idea what the hell happened between them yet?"
Jason shook his head; he'd had no idea that Dick and Kori had even known each other until he saw the old Nightwing uniforms on Kori's spaceship. It must have happened when he was dead or training with the All Caste.
"In that case..." Roy pushed the door closed behind him before raising his voice. "I told you to call me when you ran into trouble not afterwards when some weird shit happened! I specifically remember emphasising the 'when'!""
"There were three of us, Roy. Trust me when I say we had no problem with the goons, the 'weird shit' was the trouble," Jason replied calmly, walking back to the kitchen and gratefully accepting a cup of coffee from an amused looking Tim.
"Wow, you weren't wrong about the mother hen mode," Dick said, emerging from the bedroom in jeans and a t-shirt; throwing an oversized hoodie to Tim who gratefully pulled it over his torn uniform.
Jason didn't miss the way his eyes flicked to the front door for a moment. He also didn’t miss just how tightly Dick’s t-shirt stretched across his abs but he pushed that thought away.
"Don't start with me, Grayson," Roy snapped, angrily pointing a finger at Dick reminding Jason that Roy had his own problems with Dick; what with the whole ‘Dick being his best friend then abandoning him to drink and drugs’ thing. He turned back to Jason. "How weird are we talking here?"
"I managed to materialise a sword out of thin air," Jason told him, wishing he could make his coffee a little more Irish.
"He cut a guy in half but didn't kill him," Tim put in as he took a seat next to Jason.
"Let’s not forget the wings," Dick added helpfully as he got Roy a coffee; probably as some sort of olive branch.
"I didn't have fucking wings!" Jason argued as Roy's eyes threatened to bulge out of his head.
"There were wings," Dick assured. "Also you and that guy were talking in that weird language, what was that?"
"What?" Jason and Roy said together and both stared at Dick in shock.
"You didn't know that?" Tim looked just as surprised. "You had a whole conversation."
"Let me guess? In a language you've never heard before?" Roy asked then gave Jason a meaningful look when Tim and Dick nodded. "It's definitely all connected then."
"Okay, why don't you just tell us what's been going on; from the start?" Tim leaned back in his chair and looked at Jason expectantly.
With a rueful shake of his head, Jason began to fill them in; first by telling Dick and Tim about everything that had led to him coming back to Gotham, then by telling Roy what had happened at the docks. He got another lecture from Roy about full disclosure when he mentioned the tattoos but managed to successfully distract him by explaining Ducra's theory on them and why he thought that this was all happening after he and Bruce had made a kind of peace between them. By the time he was finished, they'd all devoured the pizzas Dick had picked up on the way home and were sitting around the table thoughtfully.
"Alright," Tim started. "You can apparently speak a strange language without knowing that you're doing it and you're seeing things that no-one else is."
Jason nodded, his brothers had already said that they hadn't seen the way that Melty's face had, well, melted or the liquid that poured out of his mouth after Jason cut him with the sword.
"Have you seen anything else that others can't?" Tim asked.
"Just Essence but she does that on purpose," Jason replied.
When Tim exchanged a worried look with Dick, Roy added, "It's true; one moment Jaybird's talking to thin air and the next there's a crazy smoke girl fighting us all in the middle of the ship. Me and Kori both saw her...eventually and I don't think that she's got anything to do with this." He glanced at Jason questioningly as he said that last part.
"She doesn't," Jason confirmed.
"I say that we question the guy...umm, Melty," Dick commented with a roll of his eyes at the nickname. "Me or Tim can do it later today."
It made sense that Nightwing or Red Robin went to talk to him. Jim Gordon wouldn't let Red Hood go waltzing into lockup unless he was arresting him which meant that Jason would have to break in and that was a whole lot more work. Even so...
"I think I should go with you." Jason held up a hand to stop the arguments against that. "I'm the only one who can tell if his skin goes all bubbly and understand him if he starts speaking in tongues again."
"You've got a point," Tim admitted. He tapped his fingers on the tabletop then turned to Dick. "Put him in a disguise?"
An evil grin began to spread over Dick's face and Jason shook his head vehemently. "No way, I'm not dressing up as a woman, Dickie Bird! You can fucking forget that!"
Dick pouted. "Aww, but then it really would be like old times."
"This family is so messed up," Roy muttered, but everyone ignored him.
"We'll think of something that's doesn't involve heels and fishnets," Tim assured Jason and they all continued to ignore Roy as he choked on thin air. "Also...I know you don't want to but I think you need to let Bruce in on all this. If nothing else, he could put us in touch with someone who can help us figure it all out."
Jason shook his head. "I can't, not yet. You know Bruce; he'll immediately assume that it's a sign that I'm evil or something. I need to find out more before I talk to him."
"I think you're underestimating him, Jay," Dick said. "But we'll do it your way for now. Although if there's any sign that this is putting you in danger, you'd better believe that I'll be telling him everything."
~ X ~ X ~ X ~ X ~
He leaned his head back against the wall of the building and closed his eyes, listening to the sounds of the city going about their day as his racing heart slowed. He'd never been so tired in his life and, after everything that had happened the night before, he felt on edge; waiting for the next bit of craziness to hit.
Despite everything, he was glad that Dick and Tim had been witness to it all. He knew that Tim was right, that he'd have to tell Bruce eventually and Jason hadn't been exaggerating when he said he thought Bruce would have a bad reaction to it. At least now he'd have them to back up his story. Also, it had been sort of...nice, hanging out without all the masks. He and Tim had done it before, sharing the occasional meal or drink while trading information but it had been a very long time since he'd spent time like that with Dick.
He stubbed his cigarette out against the wall. As he was up he may as well do something useful. He spent the rest of the day holed up in his room doing research. He even trawled the internet's tin hat forums for any mention of flaming swords or melted faces; to no avail unless he was actually a character in an MMORPG.
Eventually, it was time to meet up with Dick and Tim for their visit to GCPD. The plan was to meet up at Dick's apartment again then Dick and Jason would go to speak with Melty while Tim and Roy monitored the situation from a nearby rooftop in case of trouble.
"I'm coming too," Kori announced when Jason and Roy were getting ready to leave.
Jason paused and looked at her. "Princess..."
"I'm your friend, Jason," Kori interrupted. "More importantly I am a warrior and second daughter of the throne of Tamaran; I will not abandon such a close ally because of any...discomfort I feel."
"Okay." Jason nodded.
It was obviously more than just discomfort between her and Dick but it looked like the two groups would be working together and it was better for them to stop putting off seeing each other; it may even help them to get past whatever issues they had although Jason wasn't holding his breath on that part.
He considered calling ahead to warn Dick but his decision not to was more than paid off by how comically white Dick's face went when he opened the door to see Kori waiting on the other side.
Dick's mouth opened and shut a few times before he managed to recover and wave them into the apartment.
"Koriand'r," he said with an attempt at a smile. "It's good to see you."
"Richard," she replied archly then dismissed him by walking away to inspect the rest of the apartment.
Jason swallowed a smirk; oh yeah, she was in full princess mode. She also knew exactly who Dick was which proved Jason's theory about her 'memory problem'.
"Here you go." Tim suddenly materialised out of nowhere dressed in jeans and holding a bundle of clothing out to him. Jason blinked at the clothes then looked back up at Tim who shrugged. "It was yours first and it hides your face."
Jason hesitated then took Tim's spare uniform out of his hands. "Gordon's going to know it's not the Red Robin he deals with normally. We're completely different builds, Tim."
"You'll be with a Nightwing who's definitely the same one he deals with normally," Tim pointed out. "That'll be good enough for him."
"What about you?" Jason asked, pointedly looking over at Roy and Kori. "Tim Drake can't be seen hanging out with Arsenal and Starfire."
"I've got it covered," Tim replied.
"Fishnets?" Jason smirked and Tim whacked him upside the head.
"Just go and change!"
Jason chuckled as he walked into Dick's bedroom. The smile fell off his face as soon as he was alone and he stared at the clothing in his hands. He definitely hadn't been expecting to put on his old costume and had to fight against a rush of memories. He shook his head to clear it and as he did so, his eyes fell on a collection of framed photos on Dick's desk. He stepped closer and picked up one in particular. It was of him and Dick in the good old days, probably about a year before he'd died; both of them mugging for the camera, their eyes sparkling with mischief. There was an outline from the bottom of the frame left in the dust on top of the desk which meant that the photo had been there for a while. There was a sudden tightness in Jason's throat and he put the frame back down with a thud.
Irritated at himself for getting so emotional over both the costume and the photo, Jason began to undress with angry, jerky movements while muttering under his breath. He'd just got the uniform up over his waist when a sound behind him made him spin around. Dick was in the doorway staring at Jason with wide eyes.
"Sorry," Dick said. "I thought you'd be done by now. Uh...so those are the infamous tattoos, huh?"
Right, Dick hadn't seen them before.
Jason glanced down at himself. "They've got a sort of tribal quality, don't you think?"
"I thought they were only on your chest; I didn't realise about the ones on your back," Dick replied.
Jason frowned. "I don't have any on my..." He closed his eyes in frustration. "Please tell me you're kidding and that more of these things haven't suddenly appeared."
"I would if I could." Dick winced. "If it helps, they look good."
"When's this going to fucking end?" Jason muttered tiredly to himself as he pinched the bridge of his nose.
"Hey, we're going to figure it all out, okay?" Dick was suddenly right in front of him with a hand on his shoulder and Jason's eyes flew open; not just at the fact that Dick had snuck up on him but the spark of electricity he felt when Dick put his hand on Jason's bare skin.
What the hell?
Dick obviously felt it too and the two men stood motionless and staring at each other until Roy interrupted them.
"Are you dressing for your goddamn wedding in here or something? Come on..." He trailed off and looked between Jason and Dick. "What's going on?"
Jason took a deliberate step away from Dick then turned so that his back was facing Roy.
"Whoa! Those were not there two days ago!" Roy exclaimed and walked closer. "When did they appear?"
"I don't know, Roy. Funnily enough, I don't get to look at my back all that often," Jason snapped, still reeling from whatever the fuck had just happened with him and Dick.
"Right," Roy said, completely unperturbed. "Oh! I've got an idea!" There was the sound of rustling then the snap of a photo being taken. "There you go; you can look at it now."
Jason took the phone from Roy's hand and looked at his new tattoos. They reminded him of the tribal style of tattoo, just as the front ones did, but these were more sporadic and dotted across shoulders.
"Alright, we can worry about these later," Jason said decisively. "After we've got some answers from Melty."
There was a murmur of agreement from Roy who was apparently absorbed in studying the new additions but when he reached out to trace one, Jason shrugged Roy's hand off him which apparently brought him out of his stupor.
"Later, got it!" Roy plucked the phone out of Jason's hand and walked back towards the door. "Get dressed already!"
Jason was glad to finally reach the GCPD building. There was way too much tension in the group as they went over the plan and made their way across the city; which wasn't helped by Roy and Dick snarking at each other the entire time. It looked like Dick had figured out Roy and Kori were sleeping together and he really wasn't happy about it which, for some reason, made Jason's irritation levels rise. He tamped it down though; they had a job to concentrate on.
"Let me do all the talking," Dick said when they landed on the GCPD roof. "Gordon will know you're not the normal Red Robin but there's no need to rub it in."
Jason gave a curt nod then they both settled in to wait for Gordon to take one of his coffee breaks; he still took them on the roof even though he'd cut out the cigars. Tim, Roy and Kori reported in on the communicators periodically to let them know that things were quiet out there but apart from answering those, they both sat in silence.
Eventually Gordon appeared with his steaming coffee cup. "Nightwing. That was quite the haul you got us last night."
"Just doing our job," Dick smiled. "We need to talk to one of the guys you arrested though. The one we told you to keep a close eye on."
Gordon's eyes flickered over Jason for a moment before looking back at Dick. "Nash. We put him in the high security cells but aside from some crazed ramblings about God saving him, he's been quiet so far. I can give you five minutes with him."
He led the way down the stairs into the precinct towards the block of cells. Dismissing the guards outside one of the cells, Gordon unlocked the door and let them in, relocking it behind them.
Melty...Nash jumped off the cot when he saw them. "You were there, you saw me get saved!"
"We saw you go crazy and try to kill people," Jason corrected. He gave Dick a quick shake of his head to indicate that the guy's face and voice hadn't changed from that of a normal man.
"That wasn't me! You have to believe me!" Nash protested. "I was possessed. I have been for months now."
Dick crossed his arms and frowned. "That's your defence? I'm pretty sure that's not going to hold up in court."
"What are you?" Jason demanded.
"I'm just me now. The evil's gone, Red Hood killed it." Nash stepped closer and dropped his voice conspiratorially. "You both saw the wings, right? Red Hood's an angel. An avenging angel with his fiery sword of justice."
Jason groaned and rolled his eyes. "You've got to be fucking kidding me."
Dick kicked him hard in the ankle. Right, no swearing while pretending to be Tim.
Nash held his hands up. "Look, I'm not saying that I've been a good man. I've done some nasty shit but about six months ago, Two Face sent a bunch of us to deal with a group of punks muscling in on his turf. During the altercation I slipped on an oil slick on the ground and landed right on my ass, got covered in that goop; it was fucking disgusting. Then it started to move, I couldn't believe my eyes, this black goop had a life of its own. It was The Blob, you know that movie? Travelling up my arms, up my body. I tried to yell to the others for help but when I opened my mouth the whole lot just slid down my throat. That's when I felt it. Evil. That stuff was pure evil."
Jason exchanged a look with Dick. He kind of believed Nash despite all the angel nonsense; after all, he'd seen that black liquid pouring out of the guy the night before. And it wasn't really any more farfetched than a sword appearing out of nowhere or tattoos that glowed.
"It was like torture, man," Nash was still saying. "I was trapped inside my own fucking body. That evil was controlling it and all I could do was watch."
"Say that we bought your story," Jason began. "Why was it controlling you?"
"To do bad stuff," Nash replied as if it was obvious. "Who's going to think that it’s out of the ordinary if a long time scum bag like me starts acting psycho? Jesus, the things it made me do...but it's okay, right? God must forgive me that's why he sent the Red Hood to save me."
"Red Hood the angel," Dick smirked at Jason who bit back some choice curse words.
There was the sound of the cell door unlocking.
"Time's up," Gordon said from the doorway.
Dick made little hitching breaths the entire way back up the stairs and onto the roof.
"Oh, just do it already," Jason grumbled then sighed as Dick let out loud guffaws of laughter.
"I'm going to...make a little Red...Hood to go on top...of my Christmas tree..." Dick gasped, literally clutching his sides.
Jason punched him in the arm as hard as he could then stalked towards the roof's edge.
"Head's up, Hood. You've got company," Roy suddenly said in Jason's ear and all Jason had to hear was the swish of material behind him to know who it was.
He turned to face Batman who was glowering at him and Dick with his arms crossed. "Which one of you wants to tell me what's going on here?"
Dick sobered quick as a flash. "Just following up on the arrests last night."
Jason blinked in surprise at Dick lying to Bruce for him.
"Is that right?" Bruce drawled. "So why exactly is Red Hood in Red Robin's uniform?"
"Red Hood. Red Robin. These guys really need to come up with names that don't all sound alike," grumbled a new voice.
Jason spun to the side to see a strange looking guy in, what appeared to be, a version of Nightwing's disco uniform with his hand stretching towards Jason.
Jason immediately grabbed the guy's wrist. "Who the fuck are you?"
The guy visibly startled, staring at Jason's grip on him. "You can see me? Holy shit, you can touch me?"
Jason quickly glanced at the other two to see them staring at him; Dick in concern and Batman in shock. Great, something else that only he could see...and in front of the one person he didn't want to know about all of this yet.
He glared at the strange guy. "Answer the question."
"The name's Boston Brand but I go by Deadman; on account of being dead and all," the guy said. "I'm on your side, just ask Batman."
Jason didn’t need to. "You’re Deadman?"
"You can see Deadman?" Bruce burst in while understanding dawned in Dick's eyes. "How?"
"Isn't that the $64,000 question?" Jason muttered, letting go of Deadman's wrist.
"Well in my experience, only people who use magic or those of a supernatural inclination can see me," Deadman said helpfully. "I have to say, I didn't have you down as one of those, kid. That's why I was going to take over your body for a few minutes; it's the only way I can talk to Batman."
Jason pointed at him. "Stay the fuck out of my body!"
Deadman held his hands up. "No problem."
He eyed Dick and Jason growled. "His too!"
"Oh, come on! It's not like he'd know or even remember it," Deadman protested. "I'll be in and out, just long enough to say hi to Batman."
"Batman, Deadman says 'Hi'," Jason told Bruce in a sarcastic tone then looked back at Deadman. "That's as good as you're going to get."
"I kind of like you, kid.” Deadman chuckled. “Fine, tell him that Madame Xanadu sent me. She’s seen trouble brewing hereabouts; apparently she saw something about a mystical sword and a darkness about to rise.”
At those words, Jason’s eyes flickered to his own hand, the one that had held the sword, as it clenched into a fist. “What else did she say?”
Deadman studied Jason’s reaction with interest. “Just that it will directly affect his family.”
Jason clenched his jaw then nodded. “I’ll tell him.”
“Thanks, kid.” Deadman grinned at him wickedly. “Look me up sometime; I’ll possess a rube and buy you a beer.”
Then he jumped off the edge of the building in a perfect somersault; ever the acrobat, even in death.
Jason took a deep breath and made himself look at Bruce. “He’s gone.”
“What did he...?” Bruce began then cut himself off. “You know what? We’ll discuss that back at the cave along with everything else you’ve apparently been keeping from me.” He shot Dick a glare then turned it to a nearby rooftop. “You too, Red Robin. Red Hood, tell your team that you’ll see them back at your base later.”
He stalked away in a swirl of cape while Roy and Kori made indignant protests over the comms.
~ X ~ X ~ X ~ X ~
“Shut up, half pint,” Tim growled at him and Dick gave a long suffering sigh.
Bruce had, of course, made it back before them and was sitting in the computer chair exuding waves of annoyance and disapproval.
“Seriously, Todd. Why are you wearing that?” Damian darted in front of Jason and blocked his path.
Jason sighed. “It’s a disguise, Batbrat.”
“Why?” Damian now had his hands on his hips in a stance so Robin that it made Jason’s chest hurt a little.
“That’s what I’d like to know,” Bruce cut in, his tone broking no argument. “But maybe you should start at the beginning.”
Jason pushed the cowl off his head and wished that he’d worn his domino beneath it; discomfort be damned, it was preferable to Bruce being able to see his eyes.
He plastered an unconcerned expression on his face because that was better than no mask at all and slumped in an empty chair. “From the beginning? Fine. Just before I left here the last time, I started having these dreams...”
Then he told Bruce everything that had been going on; well, almost everything. He didn’t mention that he thought Ducra had been right because this had all started when he let go of his anger; Bruce was smart, he could figure that out on his own. Tim joined in when he reached the part about the docks and Dick relayed the conversation they’d had with Nash before Jason took over again to give Bruce Deadman’s message.
When they finished Damian was staring at them in disbelief while Bruce looked concerned.
“I want to see these new tattoos that have appeared and to take a closer look at the original ones,” Bruce said and Jason nodded. Bruce had seen the first lot of tattoos while Jason had been recuperating from Joker’s attack, probably dismissing them as another of Jason’s acts of rebellion. “I also want to take a blood sample and rule out this having to do with anything Joker may have done to you. I’ll have Alfred make up your room; you’ll be staying here.”
Jason frowned. “Thanks for the offer, B, but I’ve got my own place.”
“This isn’t up for debate, Jason. We need to monitor you until we’ve figured out a way to fix this,” Bruce replied, already beginning to turn to the computer.
“Monitor me?” Jason growled, his hackles rising.
“It’s for your own protection,” Bruce replied.
“Or to protect other people from me, right?” Jason spat back. He looked at Dick. “Underestimating him, my ass! I fucking said what would happen if we told him!”
Dick frowned. “Bruce, Jason isn’t a danger to anyone.”
“We don’t know that,” Bruce told him and even though Jason had known how Bruce would react, it still hurt. “What happened at the docks is worrying enough but put together with Madame Xanadu’s message, I just can’t risk letting him go.”
Jason snorted. “You really think you can keep me here?”
“I’m with Dick on this,” Tim said, ignoring Jason’s outburst. “Nothing I saw last night led me to believe that Jason is dangerous; no more than normal, anyway, and it only happened because he was helping us. Madame Xanadu’s message is as cryptic as ever, Bruce; it doesn’t mean that Jason is the ‘darkness’ she’s seen.”
“Oh, please. Of course it does,” Damian interjected. “He’s the one with this supposed ‘mystic sword’, right? And Todd has never been exactly stable or have you forgotten him trying to kill us?”
Jason narrowed his eyes at the brat using finger quotes as he spoke and resisted the urge to snap those fingers; that wouldn’t exactly help his cause.
“That’s when he was crazy,” Dick argued hotly. “He’s not crazy anymore!”
Jason raised an eyebrow at that. “Excuse me?”
Again he was ignored as Damian walked up to Dick and poked a finger at his chest hard enough to make Dick wince. “And I suppose that next you’ll be telling me you believe that nonsense about him being an ‘avenging angel’. Really, Grayson, I don’t know how you’ve survived in life this long.”
“Says the ten year old,” Tim muttered and Damian glared at him.
“That’s enough!” Bruce snapped.
“Yes, it is,” Jason agreed. “I’m out of here.”
“Jay...” Dick protested as Jason walked towards the stairs.
There was a sigh from Bruce then, “Damian.”
Next thing, the youngest Robin appeared in front of Jason in full fighting stance.
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me!” Jason glared back at Bruce over his shoulder.
“Bruce!” Dick said in a scandalised voice. “You can’t seriously be going through with this. It could be that this sword is supposed to stop whatever’s coming, like it stopped the thing inside Nash from killing Tim last night. If so; Jason’s the only one who can use it!”
Tim stepped forward. “You want him monitored, fair enough.” He held up a hand to cut off Jason and Dick’s protests. “But if we’re going to get answers, we need Jason to help us find them. Locking him up isn’t the right solution.”
If he wasn’t so angry, Jason would have been more than a little impressed at Tim and his calm logic; Bruce actually appeared to be wavering just a little.
“He can stay at my place,” Dick jumped in immediately to take advantage of that. “We’ve been working from there anyway, along with Roy and Kori. I’ll keep an eye on him, he’ll be my responsibility.”
Bruce stared them all in silence for a few long minutes. “I’ll expect daily reports and you contact me immediately if anything happens; I don’t care how small it seems. In the meantime, I’ll search for answers from here.”
“Father!” Damian protested.
Jason kept quiet despite feeling like a pet that they were all fighting over; if it came down to it, Dick’s place was a hell of a lot easier to escape from than the manor.
Dick agreed to Bruce’s stipulations and they quickly went through the drawing of blood and photographing of tattoos before Dick nodded at Jason for them to get out of there before Bruce changed his mind.
“Jason...” Bruce’s tired sounding voice stopped Jason as he began walking up the stairs. “I don’t want to think the worst about you. I just have to consider everyone; the family, the city...”
Jason studied him, taking in how old Bruce looked in that moment; then turned and followed Dick out of the cave without a word.
The two men were quiet as they made their way through the city, apart from a call to Roy and Kori to let them know that Jason was crashing at Dick's that night; he didn't bother to go through the full reason, there would be time enough for those fireworks the next day. Finally, the two of them were collapsed on Dick’s sofa with beers in hand.
“I thought that would go a lot differently,” Dick said, sounding a strange mix of disappointed and apologetic.
Jason hummed as he took a long drink from his bottle. “It would’ve if it had been about you, Tim or the brat.”
It wasn’t an accusation but Dick flinched anyway. “Jay...”
“Don’t!” Jay shook his head. “Don’t fucking deny it, Dick. You know I’m right.”
Dick sighed but didn’t argue the point; instead he fixed Jason with a look. “He does love you.”
Thinking back to that last sorrowful look on Bruce’s face before Jason left the cave, Jason swallowed hard. “I know.”
He couldn’t say that his anger had evaporated at that look, he was still pretty pissed, but it had made him feel sad and that overrode the rest. Even if Jason gave up killing bad guys tomorrow and threw himself wholeheartedly behind Batman's ideals, that expression told him that Bruce would always have that kernel of doubt about him. Too much had happened between them to make it any different. Hell, Jason suspected that even if he'd run back to Bruce as soon as he came back to life it would be the same way; it's not like they knew definitively why he'd come back so Bruce would always be suspicious of it, it's who he was.
"I know," he repeated, his throat scratchy. "But it's not enough; for either of us."
There was obviously nothing Dick could say to that so they fell into silence again; finishing their beers, until Dick announced that he was calling it a night. He told Jason that, as he was the guest, he could take Dick's bed while Dick crashed on the couch and Jason was still feeling irritated enough at having to stay there at all that he didn't try to argue.
~ X ~ X ~ X ~ X ~
"...got you, Little Wing. You're safe and we're going to figure this all out," Dick promised him in a gentle voice. "You're not on your own, Jaybird; I'm not going anywhere."
Closing his eyes tightly, Jason accepted the support that Dick gave him and allowed the familiar voice to soothe the trembling and his racing heart to more manageable levels.
"You know, the last person who woke me from a nightmare ended up with a broken nose," Jason finally said and Dick gave a strained chuckle.
"Roy or Kori?"
"Roy," Jason answered, wryly. "Kori's got more sense. I'm not feeling any violent tendencies right now though, so it's probably safe to let me go."
"Right," Dick said, his voice slightly embarrassed as if he only just realised he was pressed up against his brother's back with his arms firmly clamped across Jason's chest. "There was a lot of flailing so I figured this was the best way to get close enough to calm you down."
When Dick let go, Jason sat up and leaned back against the headboard; giving him an arch look. "I don't flail. My movements are smooth and graceful; even when I am asleep."
"Keep telling yourself that," Dick grinned, shifting up so that he was sitting next to Jason.
Jason didn't miss the fact that Dick made sure they were still touching from shoulder to ankle, no doubt to keep Jason 'grounded' after his nightmare or some such Grayson type of claptrap.
"I remember something," Jason admitted. "Just a flash but definitely something."
"Go on," Dick urged eagerly.
"I was looking at images on a wall and they were...not out of focus but distorted, I guess," Jason said. "As if the images were being projected onto the wall but the wall itself was cracked and crumbling."
"Do you remember what the images were?"
Jason nodded. "People. Thousands of people and they all had melted faces like Nash did."
Dick blinked. "Thousands?"
"Okay," Dick looked thoughtful. "So do you think that means there are more people like Nash out there? That the dreams are trying to show you who they are?"
Jason shrugged tiredly. "I don't know. Maybe it's just what I saw with Nash affecting the dream; maybe it doesn't actually mean anything."
"You don't believe that." It wasn't a question because Dick knew Jason better than that.
"No, I don't." Jason sighed in frustration. "But it feels like I'm just remembering a snap shot of the overall dream and the bit I do remember is all a bit hazy."
Dick nodded understandingly. "At least you're beginning to remember what's in them. It's a start."
Jason drummed his fingers on his thigh. "I want to talk to Madame Xanadu; find out exactly what she's seen."
"We can do that," Dick told him. "We'll go and see her later today if we can use this fancy ship of yours to get there."
Jason huffed in amusement. "We'll have to talk Roy into it; that ship's his baby. So play nice with him today."
Dick grumbled under his breath and Jason could just make out something about 'keeping his hands to himself'.
Right, so they were going to have to talk about this. Jason shook his head; a hippy type chat about feelings was not what he did but it was what Dick did. And if the two groups were going to work together then they had to get past all this stuff.
He grit his teeth and dove in. "Look, I don't know what happened with you and Kori but you have to accept that she's moved on. And I promise you that he makes her happy."
Dick's head spun to look at him. "Wait, what are we talking about? Are you telling me that Kori and Roy...are together?"
"You didn't know?" Jason was taken aback. "But you were at each other's throats yesterday; I thought you'd figured it out."
"Seriously? Kori and Roy?" Dick looked shocked but not like he was going to immediately sic Superman on Roy or something ridiculous so Jason relaxed a tiny bit. "That's...unexpected. He really makes her happy?"
"She was keeping him at arm's length at first but that changed after he fought Crux for her, then rescued her sister...generally made it clear that he adored her. You know Roy, heart on his sleeve," Jason told him.
"Good," Dick nodded. "Good, she deserves someone to treat her like a...well, like a princess. God knows that I didn't."
"Anything I need to kick your ass for?" Jason asked.
Dick gave an unamused chuckle. "Definitely. She's amazing and I tried to love her, almost convinced myself that I did but in the end the only person I actually convinced was Kori. Which hurt her even more when I called it quits."
Jason whistled lowly, yeah that would explain the reactions from Dick and Kori over the past few days. "I'm surprised she didn't set you on fire for that."
"She did," Dick replied glumly. "The suit's fire resistant. Still, it took a while for my hair to recover. It was all in singed clumps and I had to have a buzz cut to get rid of it."
Jason couldn't help but burst out laughing; long and hard, until he was holding onto his sides with tears of mirth rolling down his cheeks.
"It's not that funny," Dick griped even though his lips were twitching in response to Jason's reaction.
"So is..." Jason gasped. "Tell me that someone took a photo."
"No, no photos," Dick said, entirely unconvincingly.
Jason immediately started to run through the most likely candidates to have it and finally settled on Barbara; resolving to hit her up at some point to get a copy.
"We should check your tattoos," Dick said in the most unsubtle way of changing the conversation ever. "Just in case. I wasn't really paying much attention to them when I was trying to calm you down."
With a sigh at having his problems crash back in after that brief respite, Jason nodded. A quick glance down showed that the front ones were unchanged but, as they had been the same since he came back, those weren't the tattoos they were worried about. He shifted around so that Dick could inspect the new tattoos on his back, almost anticipating Dick's words before he said anything; it was just the way his life was going lately.
"There's more of them."
"Of course there are," Jason replied. "Where are these ones?"
He expected Dick to go and grab his phone to take a photo, the way Roy had earlier. He didn't expect Dick to show him by tracing the new tattoos with his fingertips. That same electricity from the day before shot through Jason and he had to fight to stop himself from shuddering at the feeling.
What the hell was wrong with him? He'd managed to dismiss what had happened then as some weird by-product of the stupid rush of emotions brought on by the Red Robin uniform and that photo. It shouldn't be happening again.
He tried to block out the feeling Dick's touch was eliciting and just concentrate on where he was being touched, where the new tattoos actually were, but it didn't work. His eyes fluttered shut and a tiny groan escaped.
Jason barely had time to register the way Dick's tone had deepened before Dick grasped his chin, forcing him to turn his head enough that Dick could reach Jason's lips with his own.
Holy shit! If fingertips on his back caused sparks it was nothing compared to what Dick's kiss was doing to Jason. He kissed back hungrily, twisting his body so that he was fully facing Dick and then straddled him, pushing him back down onto the bed as he chased for more.
This was a long established fantasy come to life for Jason...sort of. When he'd been Robin, back before Joker and the crowbar, Dick had been number one in his spank bank. But when he came back from the dead he couldn't even think of Dick or any member of the family without wanting to punch something or, more likely, shoot something and that kind of put a dampener on the mood. So he'd stopped thinking about him, buried it deep enough that the long held attraction faded to a passing acknowledgment of Dick's good looks; usually in the form of insults. This though, took him right back to those nights in his bedroom at the manor.
Of course, in those teenage fantasies Dick had completely submitted with awed gasps at the size of Jason's cock and his awesome sexual prowess. Reality was a lot different; for a start Dick did not stop moving. He writhed beneath Jason, his hands seemingly everywhere at once; tugging Jason's hair, scratching down his back, pulling him closer. Then when they broke apart for air, he didn't shut up; muttering into Jason's shoulder and his neck as he licked and kissed his way across them, too low for Jason to make out the words but there nonetheless.
All in all, reality? So much better than those old fantasies because this was Dick as he really was and Jason couldn't understand why he'd ever expected him to be any different.
"This is such a bad idea," Jason murmured even as he sucked on Dick's earlobe.
That was apparently a bit of a hot spot as it made Dick's hips buck up against Jason's and caused both men to groan loudly.
"Spectacularly bad," Dick agreed but then tugged Jason up for another mind blowing kiss.
Jason's skin felt like it was on fire wherever Dick touched and he couldn't get enough of it, couldn't get enough of him. He needed more so he reached down and grabbed hold of Dick's legs, pulled them up to wrap around his waist and revelled in the whine Dick made against his mouth at the new angle that gave them. Jason rocked down as Dick rocked up and, forget electricity, there were fucking lightning bolts racing along Jason's spine.
"Jay..." Dick gasped. "...Christ...more, need more..."
Totally on board with that sentiment, Jason snaked his hand between their bodies and desperately shoved both sets of underwear out of the way so that they were free to slide against each other with no restrictions.
"Fuck!" Jason moaned, burying his face in Dick's shoulder almost overwhelmed by how good that felt.
Dick tightened his legs around Jason and his hips started to speed up, encouraging Jason to do the same, while he did that muttering thing again; although this time Jason was able to pick up on a few words here and there. Dick was actually spewing a string of curses in various languages and Jason would've made some smartass comment about that if his brain wasn't currently reduced to 'faster, harder, more'.
Sooner than he would've liked, Jason felt the familiar build up of tension along with the way his movements were turning more and more erratic. He raised his head to give a warning but the sight of Dick, head thrown back on the pillows; face flushed and looking so debauched, caused Jason's orgasm to hit him like a freight train before he got a single word out. He cried out as the pleasure swept over him in waves and it felt like the air was crackling around them as he distantly heard and felt Dick follow him.
They stayed as they were for a few long moments before Dick started to fidget and poke Jason in the side until Jason rolled off him.
"That was...a really bad idea," Jason panted, staring up at the ceiling and generally trying to pull himself together after the best orgasm he'd had since...well, for a while anyway.
"You said that already," Dick pointed out from beside him.
Jason nodded. "It bore repeating."
"Yeah," Dick agreed.
Jason waited for the inevitable 'we never mention or do this again' so was surprised when the next words out of Dick's mouth were, "If it helps, it was all your fault."
Frowning, Jason propped himself up on his elbows and stared at his very dishevelled brother. "How the hell was it my fault? You're the one that started it; all stroking fingers and kissing."
"Because you were the one that put on Tim's uniform yesterday," Dick burst out. "Do you have any idea how tight that thing was on you? It was practically obscene!"
"Of course it was tight on me, he's half my size and it's not like he'd got my original costume hanging..." Jason's eyes widened as Dick's words caught up to him. "You were perving on me all night, weren't you? From the moment you saw my hot ass in some tight pants!"
"You do not have a hot ass!" Dick protested although his face coloured tellingly then he grumbled something under his breath which sounded suspiciously like 'stupid thighs'.
Jason laughed triumphantly and fell back onto the mattress. "How much of a struggle was it to keep from jumping me, Dick? Did you get all hot and bothered thinking about my very hot ass, thank you very much, while we were waiting on the rooftop?"
Dick covered his face with his arm. "For the love of god, stop talking!"
"I'm going to take that as a yes." Jason chuckled. "Wow, Dickie Bird, I'm really shocked and kind of flattered. I don't even have red hair."
Dick groaned, and not the good kind, before turning so that his back was to Jason which caused him to do some more snickering before deciding to give Dick a break.
He rolled to his side too and slung an arm over Dick's waist. "Would it make you feel better if I admitted that I've had my share of impure thoughts about you too? Of course I was a teenager with hormones going wild but you act like a teenager most of the time so..."
"Not as helpful as you appear to think, Jay," Dick gritted out and Jason winced; yeah, that had sounded better in his head.
"Look, it may have been a bad idea," Jason tried again, "and I'm probably going to get killed by a really long list of people for defiling their precious golden boy. Not to mention Kori's fiery reaction when she finds out. But I wanted it too, Dick; so much I could barely think straight."
He felt Dick slowly relax against him. "It wasn't just yesterday. It's been there for a while but I mostly managed to ignore it until I walked in on you changing."
Jason smiled against Dick's shoulder blade. "Yeah, that's pretty much when my old crush reared its ugly head again."
Dick relaxed even more and turned his head to look at Jason. "So what do we do now?"
"Go with the time honoured Wayne family classic?" Jason suggested.
Dick gave a huff of amusement. "Pretend it never happened and repress like we've never repressed before?"
"That's the one." Jason nodded despite the odd clenching feeling in his stomach at that idea and then he gave Dick a wicked smile. "Seeing as that whole 'the guest gets the bed while I take the couch' thing didn't quite work out, I get to have first dibs on the shower instead, right?"
"Yeah, right!" Dick snorted, just as Jason knew he would, then launched himself from the bed, falling face first into the carpet when Jason grabbed his ankle to trip him up.
There followed an epic battle to make it to the bathroom first with both men employing every dirty trick in their arsenal, laughing and catcalling the entire time.
~ X ~ X ~ X ~ X ~
"I walked into a toaster," Jason told him, shooting a glare at Dick who was sniggering from his seat opposite him.
The glare was only half hearted because Jason was feeling far too smug about the weird crisscross bruise on Dick's forehead from the waffle iron Jason had thrown in retaliation.
"Ooookay...." Roy drawled and turned back to his flying. "Scratch that, I don’t think I want to know.”
“Will this Deadman be there today?” Kori asked from her seat at the front of the ship, next to Roy. “If he even tries possessing me, he’ll be in for a nasty surprise.”
“No idea,” Jason shrugged. “I don’t think he works for her or anything.”
“Actually,” Dick cut in. “They’re some sort of team. Deadman, Xanadu, Zatanna, Constantine... People are calling them the JLA Dark.”
Jason sent him an incredulous look. “Someone put Constantine onto a team? With other people? I wonder what they had on him to pull that off.” He paused and thought about the man he’d once briefly met in a bar in London. “Actually, I wonder what they bribed him with.”
“A lifetime supply of cigarettes?” Dick suggested. “A new coat?”
With a snort of amusement, Roy said, “Maybe you can ask him if he’s at Xanadu’s.”
The tension between Roy, Kori and Dick had eased somewhat after Dick had made a point of apologising to them both before they left Gotham. Actually it had been a lot more like grovelling but it had the desired effect, especially when Dick had admitted that Roy was a much better match for Kori than he ever was. There was still a lot of hurt between all three of them but it was a start.
Roy landed the ship on top of the building Madame Xanadu’s shop was in and they all disembarked. The ship was still cloaked from the flight so they didn’t have to worry about any authorities coming to check it out.
“Welcome to Greenwich Village,” Roy said. “Ooh, can we go see the Blueman Group while we’re here?”
Dick’s eyes lit up at that suggestion and Jason shook his head in dismay at his two companions. “No, we can’t.”
“Spoilsport,” muttered Dick and Roy nodded; maybe it wasn’t such a good idea that they’d made up after all.
Kori, meanwhile, just looked confused. “There are blue men in New York?”
“It’s all paint, Princess, and they look ridiculous,” Jason assured her with a wink. “You’re the only one who can pull off brightly coloured skin as far as I’m concerned.”
She flicked her hair as if to say ‘of course’ and shot Jason a small but genuine smile, reaching over to squeeze his hand. The action caused a sudden memory of her orange skin beneath his and he blinked as he realised all three men on that rooftop had slept with Kori at one point or another.
“If we’re not allowed any sightseeing, let’s get this show on the road, shall we?” Dick interrupted, looking between Jason and Kori a little suspiciously and Jason suddenly remembered a similar look on Dick’s face when Roy had touched Jason the day before.
That right there answered Jason’s question of why Dick wanted Roy to keep his hands to himself if he hadn’t known about Roy and Kori yet.
He swallowed a smirk at that revelation and nodded, pulling on his helmet and leading the way to the fire escape down the back of the building.
Madame Xanadu was waiting for them when they entered the shop. “Red Hood. Or shall I call you Jason, Mr Todd?”
Jason narrowed his eyes at that even though she couldn’t see them. “Let’s just go with Red Hood.”
“As you wish,” Xanadu conceded with a small nod. “You have come to find out what else I saw in my vision but first I have some questions for you.”
Jason snorted. “What? You don’t know everything already? You obviously know my name.”
Dick kicked him from behind but Jason didn’t care; he didn’t like people he’d never met knowing his identity.
“My gifts are...tricky,” Xanadu replied, unconcerned. “Some things I see clearly and others are much more murky. I saw your name and the fact that you were to come here but not what you are or how you were able to see Boston Brand.”
Jason heard Dick hiss ‘Deadman’ to the other two who were obviously looking confused at the use of Deadman’s real name but he didn’t turn away from Xanadu. “I’m not a ‘what’, lady. I’m just your standard, non-super powered vigilante.”
“That’s not quite true though, is it?” Xanadu studied him carefully. “You’re different. Only magic users or people with supernatural abilities can see Boston Brand and it doesn’t take a psychic to know that you aren’t a mage. Even if you were, I’ve never known of anyone who could actually touch him.”
“I can’t help you there; I’ve no idea how I did it,” Jason told her.
She hummed thoughtfully then indicated for Jason to follow her to a nearby table.
“Tarot cards? Really?” Jason scoffed as they all took a seat around the table.
“Don’t dismiss that which you don’t understand,” she chided him lightly as she placed cards face down in some sort of pattern.
Jason rolled his eyes when the first card she turned over was the death card. “Colour me surprised.”
She gave a slight smile. “Don’t be scared by that; it’s a common misconception that this card means the death of the person being read.”
Roy gave a slight cough. “I think that’s exactly what it means in this case.”
“I don’t understand,” Madame Xanadu said, confused.
“You know who I am,” Jason reminded her. “So you must know my history.”
She shook her head. “I just got your name when I saw you were approaching New York to meet with me.”
“He died,” Dick said softly and shrugged when Jason turned to look at him. “You need answers, Hood.”
“That certainly changes things,” Xanadu said thoughtfully. “How did you come back?”
“I don’t know,” Jason admitted. “There are a few theories being batted about but none of them really felt right to me so I stopped worrying about it.”
Xanadu turned over the rest of the cards and stared at them for a moment. “No, something stopped you from worrying about it. There was a fog surrounding you; thick, impenetrable, poisoning your mind. But I see no fog around you now; your aura is clear.”
Jason startled a little at that. A fog, that’s how Ducra had once described the rage Jason felt; a dark fog.
Xanadu eyed him shrewdly. “That means something to you.”
“Maybe. What else is in those magic cards of yours?” Jason asked.
"That you're on the right path," she replied. "But it won't be easy."
"Nothing ever is," Jason smirked.
"And your message did say that a darkness is going to rise," Roy pointed out. "Stopping that doesn't sound particularly easy to me."
Kori leaned forward. "What exactly did you see in this vision your message mentioned?"
"I can't give you an exact account of it," Xanadu told her. "It was more disjointed than that; random images and feelings. I saw the sword, it was on fire. There was evil, so strong that I felt like it was suffocating me, mixing with fear in the air. Then I could see Batman grieving because...because his son was dead."
"Damian..." Dick whispered, his eyes wide.
Jason knew that if he could actually see those eyes behind the white lenses of Dick's domino, they'd be reflecting the same dull horror he felt. He may not particularly like the brat but he was still family and there was no way in hell that Jason was going to let another Robin die.
"How do we stop it?" Jason demanded.
Madame Xanadu faltered and Jason had to resist the urge to reach across the table and make her talk.
"I only see the outcome not how to affect it. But..." she added before they could all start yelling at her. "...I do know that the wielder of the sword has the best chance. I could feel that, the sword was made in order to fight evil."
She fixed Jason with a look and he wasn't particularly surprised that she figured out that he was a wielder, considering that he'd come to talk to her as soon as he could after they'd received the message and then there was all the weird Deadman stuff.
"I don't know how," Jason told her. "I don't know how the sword works or why I can use it..."
"Yes you do." Roy suddenly said. "It's in the dreams, it's got to be. We just need to find a way for you to remember them. The full thing, not just the little bit you remembered from last night."
"Dreams?" Xanadu questioned.
As Jason gave her a quick explanation, Xanadu's eyes lit up. "I think I can help you with that."
She left the room and returned with a small velvet bag which she handed to Jason. Opening it, he saw it contained some small pills. "What are these?"
"They're...medication," She replied. "I use it to focus my visions."
"Drugs," Roy said, dryly.
Xanadu raised an eyebrow at him. "You're going to judge me? Without these pills I would be bombarded with visions of every possible future, every minute of the day. With the pills, I can filter them until I just see the most likely future. I believe that they will work the same way for Red Hood; filter out the poison that the fog left behind and allow him to focus on what these dreams are trying to tell him."
Jason gripped the bag tightly. "Roy?"
Roy glanced down for a moment then nodded, his expression serious. "You have to save him, I get it. But I can't be around when you use them."
"We'll go back to my place," Dick said quietly. "He can use them there while you and Kori go to your safe house. We'll flush anything that's left over, I promise."
Letting out a harsh breath, Roy nodded again and Jason saw Kori take his hand, offering comfort and strength.
~ X ~ X ~ X ~ X ~
"I will," she assured Jason then took his face in both hands and gave him a deep kiss before turning to a shocked looking Dick. "You look after him. Or me setting your hair on fire will seem like a luxury compared to what I'll do this time, Richard."
Dick nodded dumbly then Roy and Kori left, after extracting a promise for one of them to call as soon as Jason woke up. Dick turned to Jason and raised an eyebrow.
Jason sighed. "We slept together once, just after we met and both needed a little comfort. That's it. She's...Kori; she's very tactile around her friends, you should know that."
"And Roy?" Dick asked.
"No," Jason shook his head. "No attraction there at all. He's more like a brother; ironic, huh?"
Dick smacked him upside the head. "Repressing," he reminded Jason then his face softened. "Thank you for doing this. I know Dami acts like a little shit around you, and everyone else really, but he's a good kid."
"Did you think I wouldn't?"
Dick gave him a gentle smile. "No, I knew you would."
Jason felt that warm feeling inside him again and ruthlessly quashed it. Repressing. "Lets get on with it then."
As soon as they got back to Dick's apartment, Dick phoned the manor to update Bruce and Tim while Jason headed to the bedroom with the pills and a glass of water. He sat and stared at them for a moment. It wasn't like he'd have any problem falling asleep, he was just worried that it wouldn't work. He shook his head at himself; no, he was worried that it would work and he wouldn't like what he found out.
"Tim's going to talk to Barbara and they'll take over my patrol between them so that I can stay here," Dick said from the doorway.
"And Damian's already on lockdown," Jason said, nodding. "Do you think this darkness has got anything to do with what’s already going on there?"
"I don't know," Dick answered. "It's as good a theory as anything else we've got."
"Until I do this," Jason pointed out. He sighed. "Okay then, bottom's up!"
He popped two of the pills into his mouth and washed them down with a huge gulp of water; making a face at the bitter taste in his mouth. Xanadu hadn't told them exactly what the pills were but they were definitely fast acting. Jason looked around the room and objects suddenly started standing out in sharp relief and clarity while everything around them blurred into incoherent shapes.
"Whoa..." Jason breathed, staring at a pair of socks hanging on the back of the chair. Jason could see every fibre and felt like he could look at them forever and not get bored.
"Okay, I know that my dirty laundry is not that interesting so I guess the pills are working," Dick said before he padded across the carpet and gently manoeuvred Jason so that he was lying on the mattress. "Go to sleep, Jay. I'll be right here to make sure that you're safe."
Jason nodded automatically but, in truth, he barely heard what Dick said, he was too caught up in staring at Dick's eyes. They were just so very blue.
He reached up with one hand and stroked a line over Dick's eyebrow. "Beautiful."
Dick chuckled then he caught Jason's hand in his own, giving the palm a quick kiss before he placed in on Jason's chest. Right, sleep.
Jason's eyes fluttered closed and just before he drifted off he heard Dick say, "You should look at yourself sometime, Little Wing."
~ X ~ X ~ X ~ X ~
He whirled around as he heard a noise behind him. "Finally, I want to get out of here!"
The man who had entered the room, despite the fact that there wasn't a door; Jason had checked, smiled at him. "You are not going anywhere, Jason Todd. Not yet, at least."
Jason eyed the man; he was in his Robin costume so how the hell did this guy know his real name? "Who are you?"
"You can call me Terrel," the man replied. "I am to explain to you what is happening here."
"Okay, Terrel," Jason crossed his arms. "Explain away. Tell me exactly why you've kidnapped me and have been holding me here for god knows how long. I'd love to hear it."
Terrel chuckled then took a seat on the only piece of furniture in the room as Jason kept staring at him. He looked to be in his late forties and Jason could see that his body was in great shape; that of a fighter, judging from the scars littering his bare arms. His eyes were keenly intelligent as they looked back at Jason and he knew, instinctively, not to underestimate this man.
"What is the last thing you remember before being here, Jason Todd?"
"That's a question, not an explanation," Jason pointed out then huffed when the man continued to stare at him expectantly.
He thought back; he remembered getting into a fight with Bruce over something then seeing the Batmobile driving out of the cave. He'd been benched. Jason frowned, recalling how sick he'd felt at that. Then...
Then the email. Everything suddenly poured into his mind at once like a damn had burst and Jason almost staggered under the force of it. The photo showing that his mother was still alive, Ethiopia, Joker, feeling his bones shatter, knowing that Batman couldn't save him and it was Jason's own fault, then the heat of an explosion.
"I...died?" Jason's voice was barely above a whisper.
"You did," Terrel confirmed with a sympathetic look on his face.
Jason looked at his hands clad in his green gauntlets and clenched them into fists. "No! No, I'm alive. It's a trick; you're messing with my head somehow."
"You are not alive, Jason Todd." Terrel stood and came to stand beside him.
Immediately, Jason hit out at the man but his fists passed through him as if the man wasn't there. No, that wasn't right. It was more like Terrel was there but Jason couldn't hit him because Jason wasn't solid anymore. He was incorporeal; a ghost.
His stomach heaved and he bent over dry retching. From the corner of his eye, Jason could see Terrel's hand hover over his shoulder as if he wanted to offer comfort but couldn't.
"It is a lot to accept, especially for one so young," Terrel said. "I, at least, was a man when this happened to me."
Jason straightened and looked at Terrel in confusion. "What do you mean? You're alive."
"I am now," Terrel grinned at him. "Because someone made me the same offer I am about to make you but I am getting ahead of myself. Come, I will show you something."
Jason blinked and suddenly there was a doorway. Terrel exited the room and Jason quickly followed, looking around curiously but the hallway they walked down was as boring as his room had been. Empty, cold and old fashioned; the walls and floor made of stone as if they were in some sort of ancient castle.
They finally emerged into a cavernous room, still empty of all furniture, but one of the walls caught Jason's eye and he stepped towards it. There were moving images all over the stone wall as if thousands of tiny movies were being projected onto it at once but there were no projectors in sight. When he grew closer he saw that each of the movies was showing a different person except their faces were distorted, melting and bubbling.
"What's wrong with them?" Jason asked when Terrel came to stand beside him also looking at the wall.
"They are possessed," Terrel said. "Each and every person on this wall had been possessed by a demon."
Jason shot him a disbelieving look. "A demon? Like from Hell?"
"Exactly like that," Terrel said, looking a little amused at Jason's reaction. "You are dead, yet you are somehow here and talking to me. Is the existence of demons so hard to believe?"
"Yes!" Jason exclaimed.
"Let me put it another way," Terrel turned to face him. "I watched your life play out on this wall before I came to talk to you. I witnessed the people you fought, the horrors you have seen. Can you deny the existence of evil?"
Jason pictured the Joker standing over him. "No."
Terrel nodded. "Good. Demons are the purest of evil infecting a person. If you believe in evil then you must believe in demons."
"If you're trying to tell me that every bad person out there is a demon then you're wrong," Jason said, hotly. "You're just giving a convenient excuse for their behaviour."
"That is not what I am trying to tell you," Terrel replied. "Some people do not need a demon's help to perform depraved acts. These are not those people. The majority of the people on this wall were once innocents just living their day to day lives until a moment of weakness allowed a demon to slither inside them. Can you imagine what it must be like? Being trapped inside your own body, unable to do anything as you watched yourself committing atrocious acts. That is true evil at work."
Jason was silent for a moment; his eyes moving across the wall. "Okay, that is beyond fucked up but demons?"
"Demons," Terrel said firmly.
"Shit!" Jason shook his head. "Just when I thought the world couldn't get any worse."
"So do something to make it better. Fight them."
Jason eyed Terrel. "That's the offer?"
"It is," Terrel nodded. "You were a warrior when you were alive; one who was taken too soon. This is a chance for you to return and keep fighting. Become a Paladin, as I did."
"So I'd work with you?" Jason asked.
Terrel smirked. "I work more effectively alone. Most Paladins do actually; all the travelling we have to do to find the demons does not make for happy partnerships, not on the road. I would train you before you were sent back, though."
Jason hesitated. "Would I still be me?"
"Exactly as you were," Terrel assured him. "So it would probably be best to avoid people who knew you or, at least, those who know that you died."
"Because who'd believe I got sent back to fight demons?" Jason chewed his bottom lip and looked over the wall again. "The Joker's not one of the people on this wall, is he?"
It wasn't a question but Terrel answered anyway. "No."
Jason nodded, unsure how he actually felt about that. "Okay, I’ll do it. Train me up, old man."
~ X ~ X ~ X ~ X ~
"Not so fast, baby Paladin," a voice whispered all around him. The voice sounded like nails being dragged down a blackboard and Jason shivered even as he fought to swim upwards.
There was suddenly an intense pain across his back and Jason tried to scream but only succeeded in letting go of the breath he'd been holding. He kicked out again, with everything he had. The grip on him let go and Jason swam for the surface. He'd almost made it when a feather light touch brushed over his head, leaving a white hot trail in its wake which quickly spread through the rest of him.
With one last kick, he broke the surface of the eerie and green glowing water and threw his head back in a howl of pure fury.
~ X ~ X ~ X ~ X ~
"It's okay. You're awake, it's over," Dick said and Jason slowly relaxed back into him. "Did it work?"
Jason nodded as he stared across the room, out of the window. It was fully dark which meant he'd definitely slept for more than an hour this time.
"I remember everything."
And he did. Not just the dream but all of it; the training, the days spent studying the wall of images with his heart in his mouth in case anyone he knew was on there. Everything.
"I'll call the others, get them here so you only have to go through it all once." Dick squeezed him once more and then climbed off the bed.
Jason followed at a much slower pace, stopping to change out of the costume he was still wearing into one of the more casual sets of clothes he'd grabbed from the ship. When he finally wandered out into the kitchen, Dick handed him a bottle of cold water and then went to flush the rest of the pills as promised.
"Bruce dropped by while you were asleep," Dick commented when he left the bathroom, empty velvet bag in his hand. "He wanted to check you were okay."
Jason gave a ghost of a smirk. "He probably wanted to check you were okay."
Dick shook his head. "He was really worried about you, Jay. I got all the disappointed looks for letting you take a drug we knew nothing about; which, in retrospect, was pretty damn stupid."
"We were just told that our little brother was going to die if I didn't take them," Jason pointed out. "Anyway, it was my decision not yours."
Dick seemed to accept that but didn't look any happier. Instead he stared at Jason with a frown until he made a frustrated noise then grabbed the front of Jason's t-shirt and pulled him into a frantic kiss. One which Jason returned with equal desperation.
"You were screaming towards the end and I had to just stand there and watch," Dick muttered against his mouth when they pulled back. "It killed me not to be able to wake you up and stop it all."
Jason leaned his forehead against Dick's. "I think it was the last time. I don't need to have those dreams any more so I think it stops here."
"I hope so," Dick said.
They jumped apart guiltily when someone knocked on the front door and smoothed their clothing back into place before Dick went to answer it. Jason was getting a little scared of how easy it was to be affectionate with Dick; it hadn’t even occurred to him to put a stop to that kiss even though they’d agreed that it wasn’t going to happen again.
He took a long drink of his water as he listened to Dick letting Roy and Kori in; he was going to put this last kiss down to Dick being scared for him and Jason needing some comfort after what he’d just found out then go back to ignoring the attraction sparking between them.
Tim arrived not long after the other two and brought Chinese takeout with him which almost made Jason give him a hug; there was nothing in Dick’s kitchen except boxes of ridiculous cereal blatantly aimed at children not full grown vigilantes.
As they ate, Jason told them all about the dream. This was beginning to become a thing; eating in Dick’s kitchen while confessing weird shit.
“The Lazarus Pit...” Tim groaned when Jason finished, as if he was mad at himself for not thinking of that himself.
“So...are you saying that you got possessed when you went into the pit?” Roy asked.
Jason shook his head. “No, I’m saying that the pit itself is possessed. A demon lives there, controls it. He uses the power of the pit to influence the people who use it by exploiting any tiny weakness in them.”
“Like residual anger at being killed,” Dick said quietly and Jason nodded.
The demon had taken Jason’s anger and used the pit to increase it exponentially to the point that it blocked everything else out.
“Then Talia fed it and directed it towards Bruce.” Jason sighed; he had no words to describe how he felt about that right now.
“So the demon’s influencing Talia?” Dick asked.
“It has to be,” Jason said. “And Ra’s...”
“...Calls himself ‘The Demon’s Head,” Tim finished. “He’s been using the Lazarus Pits for centuries. I think we can safely say that the demon’s influencing him.”
“Does this have anything to do with what Madame Xanadu’s vision?” Kori smacked Roy’s hand as he tried to steal some of her crispy beef.
Jason took advantage of that distraction to steal one of her won tons. “Xanadu saw Damian dying and Talia’s put a price on his head; half a billion dollars to the assassin who takes him out. It might not be connected but it’s one hell of a coincidence if it’s not.”
Roy shook his head. “She orders a hit on her own son; so fucking cold.”
There were murmurs of agreement from around the table as they all continued to eat.
“So what language were you speaking?” Roy lifted his head to look at Jason. “It’s been bugging the hell out of me? Paladinian?”
“A very archaic form of Latin,” Tim answered before Jason could then shrugged. “I finally managed to work it out before I went on patrol, thanks to Roy’s recording...and Damian may have helped.”
Tim looked so disgruntled at that last part that Jason chuckled and exchanged an amused look with Dick.
Roy, on the other hand, stared up at the ceiling thoughtfully. “Nah, I still prefer Paladinian.”
“Paladin,” Kori tried the word out. “A demon hunter. That job will suit you, Jason.”
“Us too,” Roy told her. “It’s not like we’re going to let him do this without us; we’re a team.”
“Of course.” Kori took on a considering expression for a moment. “Yes, we will make good demon hunters.”
“Damn straight!” Roy replied.
“You know, it’s pretty fascinating if you really think about it,” Tim said, breaking up the mutual ‘we’re just that awesome’ fest that Kori and Roy had going. “The salient points were there all along. You knew that you were supposed to kill bad guys; you just couldn’t remember that the bad guys you were supposed to go after were actually demons. You knew that you had to travel to look for these bad guys which is why you never stayed anywhere for longer than a month. You’re tied to the supernatural and mystical side of life and, even without knowing that, you still ended up training with the All Caste. It’s like your subconscious refused to let you forget everything completely.”
Dick nodded, “I get what you’re saying; like, deep down he knew he wasn’t supposed to let people who knew he was dead see him so he got that stupid helmet.”
“Fuck you!” Jason growled but couldn’t help giving a small smile at the mischief twinkling in Dick’s eyes. He threw a fortune cookie at Dick’s head. “You’re just jealous of it.”
Dick laughed as he plucked the cookie out of the air before it could hit him and popped it into his mouth. "Not as jealous as I am of the wings. Now those are cool."
"They're not wings, they're just shadows." Jason rolled his eyes when everyone just looked at him expectantly. "Basically, they're sort of a nudge to the person who's had a demon removed from them. A not so subtle hint to keep to the straight and narrow from then on."
"They already know that demons exist so why not imply that angels do too?" Tim shook his head. "That's particularly sneaky."
"It's not like it was my idea," Jason pointed out with a shrug. He had a feeling that he'd probably forget that they were even there; he couldn't see them for himself, after all.
"Okay so it would be cooler if you could actually fly with them, Little Wing...still better than the helmet though." Dick's eyes sparkled with mischief as he grinned at him.
Jason couldn't help but smile at the teasing and almost gave a snarky comment in return but he caught Kori giving them both a strange look so he quickly turned his attention back to the subject in hand.
“There are still a few questions I need answering; how I ended up stuck in my coffin when I came back, for one. That definitely wasn’t supposed to happen,” Jason admitted. “So I need to talk to an old friend later. Luckily for those of you who are insisting on following me around right now, that means we get to go dancing.”
“Yes!” Roy punched the air. “I love it when we have to meet a contact in a club!”
Kori laughed and Jason shook his head in amusement. When they’d first started working together, Roy had been nervous about the times they’d had to go to a bar to get information and doubly so when it was a nightclub. Then slowly Jason and Kori had learned that he relaxed if they deliberately kept him away from the bar itself and any of the darkened corners. These days, Kori would lead Roy to the dance floor while Jason got what they needed and, unless the information was time sensitive, the three of them would end up having a few hours of fun; dancing and forgetting their responsibilities for a while.
Tim rolled his eyes at their behaviour. “I think I’ll give that one a miss; I have to patrol.” He looked at Dick. “Am I covering for you again tonight?”
Dick nodded. “I’ll make it up to you, Timmy.”
“Yeah, you will,” Tim agreed then stood up from the table. “I’d better go and give my report to Bruce about all this. Call me when you get more information.”
Jason smirked. “Tell Bruce...” He’d been about to say ‘I told you so’ but the automatic taunt about being proved right died in his mouth. “Tell him, I’ll come and see him soon.”
Tim gave him a look that said he knew what Jason was originally going to say but just nodded and left.
Despite not having been awake for long, Jason began to feel tired again; he did have a lot of sleep to catch up on after all. Despite Bruce’s orders, he thought it would probably be best if he went back to his own apartment with Kori and Roy. He didn’t want to tempt fate with Dick and this new thing between them. Plus he was pretty sure Bruce’s insistence on monitoring him would be lifted after Tim’s report anyway.
Dick didn’t argue the decision but he didn’t look particularly happy about it; mirroring Jason’s own feeling on the matter, if he were honest with himself. But it was for the best.
~ X ~ X ~ X ~ X ~
“I thought you only smoked those after a bad dream,” Kori commented as she stepped barefoot out through Jason’s bedroom window onto the little gantry to join him. “Did they not leave you? I didn’t hear anything.”
“Slept like a baby,” Jason told her with a grin. “But considering I had those dreams every damn night, I guess this has become a bit of a habit.”
Kori sat next to him and put her head on his shoulder. “I’m glad it worked; I’ve been worried.”
“I know, Princess,” Jason replied, putting an arm around her and making sure to blow the smoke in the opposite direction. “It’s not over yet, though.”
Kori hummed. “We’ll be by your side.”
Jason smiled. “I know that too.”
There was a long moment of comfortable silence before Kori spoke again. “What’s going on with you and Richard?”
Jason couldn’t help tensing. “What do you mean?”
“He looks at you with a certain light in his eyes,” she said. “I recognise that look. And you are...happier when he’s around. I’m not a fool, Jason.”
Closing his eyes, Jason let his head thunk back against the brickwork behind him. “Kori...I...I honestly don’t know what’s going on with us.”
“But something is.” She nodded, her theory proven. “Have you had sex yet?”
“Yes.” Jason swallowed thickly after that admission but Kori didn’t seem pissed, she seemed sad.
“It won’t end well, Jason. Richard loves the idea of being in love but he just hurts people. I don’t want him to hurt you too.”
Jason tightened his arm around her. “If it helps, we’ve agreed that we’re not going to do it again.”
“Do you believe that you’ll keep to that agreement?” Kori asked dubiously.
“Maybe...” Jason hedged and Kori shook her head.
“Keep your heart safe. Don’t let him break it.”
Jason sighed and didn’t answer. Instead he flicked his cigarette over the railing and leaned into Kori’s warmth as they stared out over the city.
When they met up with Dick that night, Jason wanted to bang his head against a wall. They’d agreed to go to the club in civilian clothes and Dick had apparently taken that to mean the tightest things he owned. Sure his costume was pretty tight but Jason was used to seeing him in that so it lessened the impact. But those pants and that shirt were just begging to be peeled off him.
“I figured that you were due some payback for the Red Robin costume,” he murmured lowly to Jason as the group walked to the club.
“Yeah, thanks for that.” Jason sent him a mild glare.
There was a queue outside the club but the eldest heir to the Wayne fortune and a smoking hot alien chick not wearing many clothes ensured that they could walk straight in. Kori immediately dragged a grinning Roy off to dance while Dick made to follow Jason.
“Sorry, Dickie Bird; I’m doing this one alone,” Jason told him.
Dick frowned. “No. What if you get into trouble? There’s no way I’ll be able to hear it over this music.”
“I think I’ve proved that I’m a big boy who can look after himself.”Jason smirked and patted Dick’s cheek condescendingly. “Besides where I’m going, you can’t follow. Go and dance with the others, I’ll join you all when I’m finished.”
Instead of doing what Jason suggested, Dick just leaned against a nearby pillar and crossed his arms; making it clear that he was going to wait right there until Jason returned. With a shake of his head, Jason turned away and walked towards the ‘Staff Only’ door tucked away at the back of ‘Oblivion’. He watched as a glass collector emerged through the door, revealing the corridor behind and waited until the girl had left and the door had shut completely. Then he opened the door for himself and stepped, not into the corridor he’d seen before, but into the ‘Oblivion Bar’.
He hadn’t exactly been sure what to expect from a bar which existed between dimensions but it looked pretty ordinary apart from the patrons. It was full of supernatural beings and magic users, which made sense because no one else could actually enter the bar but it was still a little jarring to witness. Jason’s eyes swept over the entire room and then he ordered himself a beer before making his way to a table tucked in a corner.
The man currently occupying the table watched him approach then said, “Young one, when you get into trouble you certainly do it in a spectacular fashion.”
“Terrel,” Jason acknowledged as he sat in the seat the other man had nodded to. “It’s been a long time. Of course I didn’t actually remember that you existed until yesterday.”
Terrel nodded. “I heard that your memories were returning. That is why I have been waiting here for you.”
The details of the bar had been one of things Jason had remembered when he woke up from that dream. Terrel had told him that the Paladins often used the Oblivion Bar and if Jason ever needed help from him, to leave a message there. Jason had figured that The Powers That Be, or whoever was in charge of this whole operation, had to have been aware that Jason had finally managed to use his sword and would pass word to Terrel. At least, he’d hoped they had.
Jason leaned back in his chair and looked at the Paladin who had trained him, had become a friend during those long months in that stone building. “What the hell happened?”
“A demon by the name of Malphas discovered that you were to be the newest Paladin and sought to control you for his own ends,” Terrel said, his voice full of anger. “He used a conjurer under his influence to alter the magic used to bring you back to life just enough that, instead of joining your soul with your newly healed body in Scotland as we discussed, your soul was joined with your still greatly damaged body in Gotham. He then sent another under his control to bring you to him.”
“So this Malphas is the demon controlling the Lazarus Pit and the Al Ghuls?” Jason asked and Terrel nodded.
“For some reason he could not actually control you though. I personally think that he underestimated how ridiculously stubborn you are, young one.” Terrel gave him a pointed look and Jason chuckled at the familiar complaint. “Instead he severed your connection to us and made sure that you were blinded to your true purpose.”
The runes tattooed on his back represented his connection to The Powers That Be. They served as a conduit, allowing Jason to communicate with them via meditation and for them to communicate with him through his dreams on those rare occasions they needed to; which explained a lot. The runes tattooed on his front were what allowed him to access the gifts needed to fight a demon; his sword and the ability to see them and talk to them. He just hadn’t known how to use those runes until this Malphas’ influence faded and he actually came across a demon.
“It wasn’t the greatest plan,” Jason pointed out. “The runes grew back and all that anger he manipulated in me faded away.”
“That was not supposed to happen,” Terrel told him. “It only takes being immersed into the pit once for Malphas to exert a control which lasts as long as he desires. I repeat; you are ridiculously stubborn and you fought it otherwise you would not be here now.”
“I don’t know about that, old man.” Jason picked at the label on his beer bottle. “I don’t remember fighting it, I wasn’t even aware that I had anything to fight. I feel like I’m being moved like a chess piece in a game that someone else is playing.”
Terrel frowned. “That is not true. You did this yourself, Jason Todd. The boy I trained...”
“I’m not that boy anymore,” Jason broke in. “Maybe someone else has just taken the control from Malphas and is using it for themselves. Maybe this is some new manipulation. I mean, if I let someone do that to me once then who’s to say that it couldn’t happen again”
“You get to say it!” Terrel leaned forward and pinned Jason with a look. “You are correct; you are not a boy any longer. You grew up and despite the anger that burned through you, demanding that you act, you went out of your way and took the time to hone your skills as a warrior. Even under the influence of evil, you dedicated your life to helping people. Because instinctively you knew that it was the right thing to do. Trust those instincts, young one, and no one will be able to gain control over you again.”
Terrel sat back and Jason blinked at him before giving a rueful chuckle. “That simple, huh?”
“That simple.” Terrel tilted his beer towards Jason in a toast then took a long sip.
Jason repeated the gesture and took a drink of his own beer. “I don’t think that I’ve seen the last of Malphas. Not if I’m right about what’s coming.”
Terrel frowned suddenly and began drumming his fingers against the edge of the table; something Jason now remembered as a sign of him being uncomfortable with the subject matter.
He narrowed his eyes and pinned Terrel with a look. “What do you know?”
“That...I am unable to help you,” Terrel admitted. “Just as I could not help when we discovered what Malphas had done to you. Those that are in charge of us will not allow it.”
“What? Why not?” Jason questioned. “I’m a Paladin too and this is all about stopping a demon. Something that they’re rather enthusiastic about, if my newly returned memories are to be believed.”
Terrel sighed. “When you fell under Malphas’ influence you were no longer a Paladin. As far as they were concerned, you became a casualty of war.”
“And now?” Jason was getting more and more pissed off by the second. “Because I still have the fancy sword and all the artwork.”
“Now you have this one chance to prove that you still have what it takes to be a Paladin,” Terrel said, not sounding any less annoyed by that as Jason. “You’re no longer the innocent you were before Malphas, young one. You have to prove that, despite this, your intentions are still pure before you will be allowed to work with other Paladins.”
Jason growled. “So all that bullshit you just gave me about my instincts and doing the right thing...”
“It was not bullshit,” Terrel interrupted. “I truly believe that and I would be happy to fight at your side. But they don’t know you the way I do; they believe there is the chance that you might still be a danger to us and, unfortunately, I have to do as they say.”
Jason put his bottle down on the table with a thump and leaned forward, his eyes flashing. “My baby brother is stuck in the middle of this right now and the goddamned Powers that Be are leaving me blind. So you go back and tell them that if anything happens to him, they’d better believe that I’m going to be a danger to them.”
With that he stood up, his chair scraping the floor, and turned to leave but Terrel caught his arm.
“My hands may be tied here, Jason Todd,” he said in a low voice which Jason had to strain to hear. “But I will not leave you completely helpless. I have some friends, one of whom you have already met. He’ll be waiting for you.”
Then he abruptly let go of Jason and continued drinking his beer as if he hadn’t said anything. Jason eyed him for a moment before giving a subtle nod and made his way out of the bar back into the nightclub.
After the quiet of the bar, the thumping bass of the club hit him like a punch and it took a moment for Jason to reorient himself again. His eyes immediately went to the spot where he’d left Dick and found his brother already walking towards him with a frown.
“You okay?” he asked as soon as he got close enough to be heard.
“I need a drink or four,” Jason replied. “Strong ones.”
“That bad, huh?” Dick followed Jason as he strode towards the nearest bar.
Jason ordered three whiskies and, when they arrived, handed one to Dick, knocked back the second and glared into the third.
“Well, I do appreciate a man who can hold his liquor.” A pretty blonde girl sidled up to Jason and lay a hand on his arm flirtatiously.
Jason blinked at the faint red glow that surrounded the girl then her appearance flickered slightly and he groaned. “You have got to be kidding me!”
Dick looked between Jason and the girl. “What am I missing?”
“It’s Deadman,” Jason told him then raised an eyebrow at the ghost inhabiting the pretty blonde. “Getting in touch with your feminine side?”
Deadman smirked and ran his hands over the blonde’s body, stopping to squeeze her breasts. “I’m dead, kid. Gotta get my kicks somehow.”
“So disturbing,” Dick muttered while Jason pointed a finger at Deadman.
“That, right there, is why you’re never allowed to possess me or anyone I know.”
With a chuckle, Deadman stopped feeling up the blonde and leaned back against the bar. “Anyone ever tell you that you’re a party pooper, kid? And when I’m here to help you too.”
Dick stepped closer interestedly. “Madame Xanadu had another vision?”
Jason shook his head. “No. A mutual friend sent you, right?”
Considering how quiet Terrel’s voice had been when he was talking of his intention to try and help discreetly, Jason figured it was best not to say his name out loud.
Deadman smirked again. “Should’ve known you were an acquaintance of his as soon as you touched me. He punched me in the face the first time we met; apparently tracking my possessions had distracted him from hunting the real bad guys.”
“And you call this guy a friend?” Dick asked him dubiously and Jason smiled at the fact he’d quickly picked up on Jason and Deadman’s reluctance to say Terrel’s name so didn’t ask for it.
“After so many years of not being able to feel anything that punch was a gift,” Deadman told him. “So I tagged along with him for a while; helped out where I could. Yeah, he’s a friend.”
Jason frowned. “You spent time with him and didn’t realise what the fiery sword in Xanadu’s vision was?”
Deadman rolled his eyes. “She didn’t tell me the sword was on fire, remember? Just mystic. It could’ve had King Arthur attached to it for all I knew. It all made sense when I thought about it later but by that time Xanadu already seen that you were headed her way for a visit and I thought it best to keep quiet. Most Paladins are a bit touchy about other people knowing about them. Instead I paid him a visit to let him know his little protégé was back on the scene. He already knew but took advantage of the fact we’d actually met in order to set up this plan.”
“And what exactly is the plan?” Jason asked.
“He digs up whatever information he can on what the big bad is up to and I pass that along,” Deadman said as if it was obvious, which it actually was. “Also, I’m never one to pass up a good fight so I’m going to hang around here for a while coz this one looks like it’s going to be a doozie.”
“The more the merrier,” Jason drawled, glad to have yet another person at his back even if he wasn’t exactly sure what good a ghost could do in a battle. “Any info to start us off?”
“Rumblings of the big bad rising from the pit to rule the world. You know? The usual baddies’ claims.” Deadman gave Jason a pointed look then took the untouched whiskey from Jason’s hand and knocked it back. “Also your partners, over there, should find a room before they get kicked out.”
Jason and Dick turned to look at the dance floor where Roy and Kori were definitely beginning to attract attention as their bumping and grinding grew ever lewder.
“Every time.” Jason muttered but he couldn’t help but give a small smile at their familiar antics. He turned back to Deadman. “How can we contact you?”
“Don’t worry, I’ll find you.” Deadman smiled then that smile turned a little wicked. “Now, I’m going to make the most of the time until that fighting starts. This lovely lady has an equally lovely friend that I’d like to get better acquainted with. I’ll see you soon.”
Jason watched Deadman sashay into the crowd and shook his head. Dick gave an exaggerated shudder as he did the same thing and Jason chuckled.
“So what do we do now?” Dick asked.
Jason paused then shrugged as if he was feeling a lot more nonchalant than he was. "We find out more about what Talia's been up to."
"We go talk to Bruce," Dick translated. "Okay, that's good. I wanted to check on Damian anyway."
They informed Roy and Kori where they were headed and the couple decided to stay and dance a while longer as they weren't needed; which was a nice way of pointing out that they weren't exactly welcome at the manor. Despite the churning in his gut at having to see Bruce again after what happened last time, Jason had to smile at the sight of a certain pretty blonde getting a drink dumped over her head by an equally lovely friend as they walked past.
~ X ~ X ~ X ~ X ~
"Master Damian is currently in the middle of his nightly sulk at having to stay home," Alfred informed them as they walked through the corridors.
"How can you tell the difference from his normal self?" Jason asked and winced at the look Alfred shot him.
"Perhaps your presence will help draw him out of it," he continued as if Jason hadn't spoken.
"Todd!" As soon as they entered the kitchen, Damian leapt onto the table with his face drawn into a snarl. In lieu of having any weapons to attack Jason with, he began throwing the cookies with unerring accuracy. "This is all your fault!"
"Oww! Shit!" Jason immediately grabbed a nearby tray to hold in front of him as a shield and at the same time backed slowly away from the growling beast that the brat called a dog.
"Master Damian, stop that at once!" Alfred commanded. "Those are freshly made and I will not have them used as missiles!"
Dick meanwhile had moved out of the range of fire and was chortling at the scene in front of him. Judas.
"At least I was allowed in the Batcave before," Damian was yelling, still throwing the cookies. "But now I have to stay here being babysat by the help while father is on patrol! All because of this ridiculous story you've concocted. You may have pulled the wool over everyone else's eyes, Todd, but I see you for what you really are; a pathetic wastrel desperate for attention!"
"Right; that's enough, demon child!" Jason growled.
He threw the tray with some great accuracy of his own, hitting Damian's wrist and causing him to drop the plate of cookies with a surprised yelp. Before the brat had time to grab something else to attack him with, Jason pulled off his button down with one movement and summoned the sword to his hand.
He glared at Damian. "Still think it's a ridiculous story, huh? You going to keep pushing me, brat?"
Damian froze in the act of throwing a banana from the fruit bowl and blinked at the half naked man with brightly glowing tattoos, a flaming sword and, judging from the direction of Dick's gaze, shadowy wings standing in the middle of the kitchen
"Master Jason!" Alfred looked as shocked as Jason had ever seen him, which amounted to his eyebrows rising slightly higher than normal.
"I'm alright, Alfie," Jason assured him then glared at Damian again. "Do you have any idea how much I've gone through in the last couple of days because of you, you little shit? You should be thanking me not attacking me."
"Language..." Alfred muttered faintly.
Damian recovered more quickly than the butler and crossed his arms, sneering. "I didn't ask you to do anything for me, Todd."
"You didn't need to," Dick said quietly but firmly. "You're his little brother."
Damian faltered a little at that then apparently decided to just scowl at the world in general.
By the time Bruce returned home with Tim in tow, order had been restored to the kitchen; mainly by Alfred making Damian clean up the mess while stoically ignoring the kid's repeated questions of what Alfred was actually paid for if he didn't clean. Damian's bad mood wasn't helped by the fact that Dick kept, helpfully, pointing out bits he'd missed nor the way Alfred fussed over Jason no matter how much Jason told him the tattoos didn't hurt.
Bruce paused in the doorway, taking in the sight of his son on his knees with a dustpan and brush while Dick and Jason happily munched on some cake Alfred had magically made appear in lieu of the cookies, and just shook his head. He accepted a glass of wine from Alfred and sat down without a word.
Tim, on the other hand, snorted when he saw Damian. "Nice to see you've finally found something you're good at."
Damian jumped to his feet and made to rush Tim but backed off when Bruce said his name warningly. "Father, please tell the elderly one that I am his superior and that his attempt to humiliate me by forcing me to do his job has only resulted in his termination."
Jason, Dick and Tim all sniggered while Bruce exchanged a long suffering look with Alfred.
"Damian, we've been through this; I'm not going to fire Alfred." Bruce sighed. "Did you make the mess?"
"That shouldn't matter! It's his job not mine!" Damian insisted then huffed when Bruce just raised an eyebrow at him. "Todd should at least be forced to clean it as well; it was his fault."
Jason held his hands up. "Hey, I just walked into the room. You were the one who decided to pelt me with cookies."
"You attacked Master Jason unprovoked," Alfred agreed. "In a fit of pique because you couldn't get into the cave."
"Which is his fault," Damian repeated, crossing his arms.
"It's not Jason's fault," Bruce told him. "It was my decision based on the new information Jason has brought us. We're just trying to keep you safe; all of us."
"We know you can look after yourself, Dami," Dick said, stopping Damian's next argument before it started. "But sometimes you need to step back and let us look after you instead."
Damian made that tutting noise but didn't argue any further, it seemed that even he couldn't go against Dick at his most earnest. Jason was beginning to wonder if that was Dick's undeclared superpower.
"You're looking better," Bruce told Jason. "The dreams have gone?"
"Well, it's only been one night but I think so," Jason replied. "I just needed to remember what they were trying to tell me."
"Why you were sent back," Bruce stated and Jason nodded.
It was all kinds of awkward so Jason was thankful when Tim stepped in to move the conversation along.
"How did that meeting go with your 'old friend'?"
"Good and bad," Jason told him. "I found out that the Lazarus Pit is controlled by a demon named Malphas and that he's the darkness that's coming. Apparently he's 'rising from the pit to rule the world'. But I also discovered that we aren't going to get any help from the guys who sent me back in the first place or any of the other Paladins."
"Why not? Tim asked.
Jason scrubbed a hand through his hair. "They don't trust me; think I'll be a danger to other Paladins unless I prove that I'm free of any demon influence. They've given me this one chance to do that and if I don't pass the test then...well, I guess all my swanky new powers get taken away for good."
"Is that it or will they kill you?" Dick asked, his voice a little strained. "I mean, they brought you back to life; can they take that away again?"
"I think they would've done that already if they were going to," Jason replied, resisting the urge to take Dick's hand and comfort him. "Terrel said that they considered me killed in action before it all started coming back to me."
"Damian?" Bruce suddenly asked, looking past Jason and Dick who both turned to see Damian looking thoughtful.
"I've heard that name before; Malphas," Damian said. "Whenever I asked about it, mother would say that I'd find out when I was ready. She must have meant for me to be controlled by this demon too."
Tim and Bruce exchanged a look which Jason took to mean that they'd figured something out that they didn't want to say in front of the kid.
"Try to remember everything you heard about Malphas," Bruce told Damian. "Every single thing, no matter how inconsequential. Then I want you to use it and research this demon; we need to know as much as we can, especially any weaknesses we can exploit."
Damian eyed him. "I'll need access to the computer in the cave if you expect a comprehensive report."
Jason hid a smile; the kid was tenacious, he had to give him that. Definitely a Wayne.
"I'll allow it," Bruce conceded. "But you will work solely on this project and will not have access to any of the costumes or weaponry. I won't have you leaving and putting yourself in danger."
In the space of a few seconds Jason went from trying not to smile to trying not to squirm in his seat, knowing that he was the reason that order had to be given. Bruce had already lost one Robin that way.
Damian nodded with a triumphant smirk. "Come, Titus!" He patted his leg then left with the dog trailing after him.
"I guess, I'll finish sweeping the floor," Alfred commented dryly before picking up the discarded dustpan.
Jason looked between Bruce and Tim. "Want to fill us in?"
"If Malphas has been controlling Talia all this time then it's likely Damian isn't just a product of her sudden desire to have a child," Bruce said after a moment. "It could be possible that she wanted an heir specifically for Malphas to possess."
Dick frowned. "He could possess anyone, why go to all that trouble?"
"Maybe he didn't want just anyone," Tim suggested. "Maybe he wanted the perfect someone. We know how much Ra's admires Bruce; that has to come from Malphas. Put that together with the DNA of someone with Talia's skills..."
Jason nodded. "Okay but why send the kid here? And why put a hit on him if Malphas is looking to possess him?"
"The reason for the hit is the same as it's always been," Bruce said. "To distract us from whatever Talia has planned. Although, in light of all this, I'm not sure why she sent Damian here. Maybe he just proved too wilful."
Tim laughed and Dick joined in but the comment, so similar to what Terrel had said about him, got Jason thinking yet again about how alike he and Damian were. He chanced a look at Bruce and caught him studying Jason thoughtfully.
He wasn't entirely surprised when Bruce asked to speak to him alone as he, Dick and Tim were leaving.
"Jason, thank you," Bruce said, closing the door to the study behind them. "For doing this for Damian."
Jason shook his head. "People keep thanking me for that." At Bruce's questioning look he clarified, "Dick."
Bruce nodded his understanding. "Perhaps that's because the two of us witnessed what you put yourself through when you took Madame Xanadu's drugs."
About to say that Dick had actually thanked him before that, Jason suddenly stopped. "You were still there when I started yelling in my sleep? Dick never mentioned that."
"He was probably trying to keep the peace, considering what happened the night before," Bruce pointed out then paused. "I'm glad that I was wrong about what was happening to you, I just..."
"I know," Jason cut in, not wanting to rehash that conversation again.
"Right." Bruce coughed, obviously feeling just as uncomfortable as Jason. "I'll contact you as soon as we find out anything more on Talia or Malphas."
"Everything okay?" Dick asked after Jason left the study and they trailed Tim and Alfred towards the front door.
"Yeah," Jason nodded. "No yelling or accusations, just an incredibly awkward conversation. I think we're growing as people."
Dick rolled his eyes. "Smartass!"
"Master Jason," Alfred interrupted them. "I do hope that your dropping by tonight is a sign of things to come. You're always welcome here."
"You said that the last time I was here," Jason reminded him.
Alfred gave him a pointed look. "I did and one of these days you may believe it."
He then handed all three former Robins a package filled with food and saw them out.
~ X ~ X ~ X ~ X ~
Jason spent the days training Kori and Roy on tell tale things that they could look for when tracking a demon. Both of them had cornered him when he got back from the manor that night and made it clear that they were deadly serious about becoming demon hunters by his side and demanded lessons. Jason wasn't a natural teacher but it seemed to be going well and Roy had some ideas on toys he could make to help cover for the fact they couldn't see the things Jason could.
Of course the interactions with the Batfamily while on patrol had changed greatly. All animosity between the two teams had gone and when they ran into each other the insults had become teasing, tips were given freely and any offers of help weren't seen as a disparaging comment against the other person's skills. Jason had even managed to make Batgirl laugh and got a promise out of her to make him a copy of that photo of Dick with singed hair. At one point Jason thought he'd have to hold Roy up to stop him fainting when the Outlaws had helped Batman battle some of Ivy's out of control plants and Bruce had quizzed Roy on his alchemical arrows in an almost impressed tone of voice.
Throughout all of it, Jason missed Dick. It was absolutely ridiculous; he'd spent a few days in the guy's company and suddenly he was looking for him in every shadowed piece of rooftop and hoping he'd swoop in during a fight with a bad pun at the ready. It didn't help that the couple of times they did run into Nightwing he gave Jason the sort of smile that said he was genuinely happy to see him; like maybe he was missing Jason too. That he seemed to make a point of touching Jason; a hand on the shoulder, arms brushing against each other. It all led Jason to the kind of thoughts he should be repressing but couldn't hold back once he'd made it back to the safe house and fallen into bed.
"Where are the other two?" Dick asked when Jason walked up behind him as he stood on the edge of a roof.
"Sent them home," Jason replied, surveying the distant sight of the GCPD picking up their handiwork and throwing them into the back of some vans.
It had been a productive night; Deadman had dropped by and shown them just how helpful he could be in a fight by possessing some of the gun-toting mobsters and forcing them to knock themselves out (Jason was particularly amused by the running them into walls method). A territory war between two of the Families had been defused with no civilian casualties thanks to the intervention of the entire Batfamily and Outlaws; with the exception of Damian, of course.
Roy had caught a bullet ricochet to the shoulder; nothing serious it just required some stitches and, judging by the expression on Kori's face, a lot of mothering so Jason had sent them back to the safe house to get started on that while he stuck around for the clean-up.
Dick nodded. "Batman?"
"Gone to calm down Robin who was pretty pissed at missing the fight," Jason told him. "Red Robin's gone with him...probably to do the opposite."
"And Batgirl left to try and salvage a girl's night in with her roommate," Dick said then turned away from the flashing lights of the police cars to study Jason.
"Just the two of us left, then," Jason commented carefully and a grin grew on Dick's face.
Jason's helmet hit the ground at the same time as his back impacted with the wall of a nearby alcove. He reeled Dick in for a kiss and revelled in the feeling of rightness that swept over him. He held in the girly sigh though and instead turned his mind to driving Dick out of his.
"Jay..." Dick breathed when he pulled back. "Needed this. Couldn't stop thinking about it."
"So much for Wayne family classic. I think we both failed miserably," Jason chuckled before pulling aside Dick's collar and bending his head to suck a mark into his neck.
Dick made a dismissive noise as he tilted his head to give Jason more room. "How many times do you think Bruce had to repress the fact that he slept with Catwoman that night?"
Jason snorted and gave a final lick to Dick's neck. "True but not exactly helping the mood, Dickie Bird."
"Aww, are you getting some performance anxiety?" Dick's smile turned wicked. "Let me help you out with that."
Dick dropped smoothly and Jason choked on thin air. Dick Grayson, motherfucking Nightwing, was on his knees in front of him and the fantasies of the past few nights didn't even come close to the actual sight. Dick leaned forward to nuzzle Jason through his pants and the cup which was already uncomfortable quickly reached unbearable status.
"Dick..." Jason whined and received a low chuckle in reply.
"What do you want, Little Wing?" Dick's voice vibrated against Jason's inner thigh. "Tell me."
"Want you to fucking get on with it!" Jason groaned. "I...just...do something!"
There was another sinful chuckle then before Jason could complain again, Dick deftly unbuckled and unzipped. There was a shock of cool air against his skin accompanied by the slight burn of stubble as Dick nuzzled him once again, this time without any barriers. He licked and kissed and nibbled until Jason was gasping for breath and his hands were clawing at the wall behind him then, with a cheeky wink, swallowed him down in one go.
"Fuck!" Jason cried, bringing his forearm up to his mouth in an attempt to muffle the sound.
His other hand blindly found its way to tangle in Dick's hair as Jason's entire world contracted to the wet heat of Dick's mouth, his oh so clever tongue and the feeling of his tight throat rippling against Jason as he swallowed.
Jason was sure that he should be embarrassed at how quickly Dick had sent him over the edge but when Dick pulled off him, spluttering a little, with drool running down his chin, all Jason could think was how he wanted, no needed, to return the favour. He shoved Dick until he fell backwards into an almost ungainly sprawl considering that this was Dick, then straddled him; leaning down to kiss him roughly, chasing the taste of himself.
"Jay...please..." Dick panted when Jason finally let him up for air.
Jason quickly disabled all the security protocols on Dick's costume before practically ripping it open down the front and proceeding to show Dick that he was no slouch in this department himself. It had been a while but Jason remembered all the tricks he'd picked up and he put them to good use; moaning when just the right twist of his tongue had Dick gripping his hair almost too tightly as he shuddered beneath him.
Jason rested his head against Dick's thigh as they took a moment to collect themselves.
"You know the repressing thing might be a little easier if the sex wasn't so good," Dick commented and Jason laughed, forcing himself to climb back to his feet.
"Are you telling me that you want me to be purposely bad at it?" he asked as he straightened his clothes. "Because I'm just not sure that I can dial back on my natural awesomeness like that."
Dick snorted, refastening his costume. "Actually, maybe the repressing thing would be easier if I just remembered what a big ego you've got."
Jason resisted pointing out other big things he had; that was too easy. Instead he raised an eyebrow at the other man and said, "This coming from 'I think I'm god's gift' Nightwing?"
Dick grinned at him. "You're just jealous because you know it's true."
"Oh look, you're delusional too." Jason smirked and Dick chuckled before stepping closer to cup Jason's face with one hand.
"It would definitely be easier if I didn't enjoy this, us, so much, Jaybird," he said softly and Jason had no idea how to respond to that. It was true for him too but he wasn't used to these feelings. "Join me for patrol tomorrow."
"Just the two of us? We're throwing the whole repression thing out of the window, huh?" Jason stepped back, pushed those feelings away and plastered his normal shit eating grin on his face.
Dick gave him a knowing look as he dropped his hand. "Meet me here at 9."
Before Jason could answer he ran to the edge of the roof and jumped off.
"Fucker!" Jason murmured but he had a small smile playing at the edge of his lips.
He retrieved his helmet from the ground and left in the opposite direction. He took a long, meandering route back to the apartment in this quiet time just as the sun rose; enjoying the thrill of swinging through the city without the urgency of being on patrol and deliberately not thinking about Dick or these new emotions the other man was making him feel. Which all came to a crashing halt when he landed on the roof of his apartment building to find Nightwing waiting for him.
"Forget something?" Jason asked, removing his helmet and raising his eyebrows in surprise.
"Yeah," Dick told him then pulled him into a kiss far rougher than any they'd shared so far.
At the sharp pain and coppery tang of blood that from Dick biting his lip too hard, Jason's brain came back online and he shoved Dick away.
"What the hell?" Jason wiped the blood away from his mouth with the back of his hand. "Seriously, you know that there are at least two cameras pointed at this rooftop and Bruce is definitely going to..."
He trailed off when Dick's face shifted as if there was something beneath the skin. Jason felt something hard and cold settle in his stomach as he watched his brother's face slowly begin to melt.
The sword was instantly in his hand and he swung it forward but the demon wearing Dick's body back flipped out of its path.
"Did you see that?" the demon crowed, using that shiver inducing voice they all had and ducking beneath another swing before kicking Jason in the stomach. "I think I'm going to like possessing this one. Gotta love the muscle memory."
"Get the hell out of him!" Jason growled, recovering from the kick and delivering one of his own.
The demon staggered back a little then performed a series of twists and somersaults until he landed on the other side of the roof. "Touched a nerve have we? Think of it as a message; Malphas is coming and if you get in his way, he will take everything you love. Starting with Hot Stuff, here."
Jason rushed forward but pulled up short when the demon held suddenly clawed fingertips against his throat; against Dick's throat.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," the demon said. "I may like this body but don't think for a second that I won't kill him. I can always find someone else to possess."
"I'm going to destroy you," Jason promised.
The demon laughed. "You have no idea what you're up against, do you? You've killed one lower level demon but now you're facing one of the upper echelon. Malphas has dozens of demons under his control. You get rid of me, there'll be plenty of others to take my place and this boy is so beautifully ridden with suppressed guilt that it'll take seconds before he's possessed again. I barely had to make any effort to take him."
"If Malphas is so all fucking powerful then why is he so concerned about me?" Jason's eyes were on those claws, so close to Dick's jugular, feeling frozen to the spot.
"Entertainment?" The demon shrugged. "Although I guess that even a baby Paladin like you could get a lucky shot in. Best to keep you out of the way and this is by far the best option for doing that, don't you agree? Now be a good boy, stay home tonight and let Malphas finish his plan then you'll get your big brother back. After that you can continue your incestuous little affair for as long as you like."
The demon gave him an exaggerated wink then, keeping one hand on Dick's throat, pulled out a grapple and swung off the building.
"Fuck!" Jason yelled, his heart clenching at the thought that evil had infected Dick's body. Evil which was taking him away to do god knows what while Dick could only watch helplessly.
Jason closed his eyes and breathed hard through his nose, trying to get control of himself, before he pulled out his cell phone.
"B, they've got Nightwing..."
~ X ~ X ~ X ~ X ~
All questions stopped when Bruce pulled up the camera footage and everyone witnessed Nightwing kissing Red Hood enthusiastically. Jason carefully avoided looking at anyone instead concentrated on using the computer to sync up the audio recording once the demon had Dick's throat in his grip. The kiss could have been explained away by the demon trying to mess with Jason's head, he did shove him away after all, but 'everything you love' and 'incestuous little affair' spoke for themselves.
There was a long moment of silence after the demon was seen leaving and Jason paused the recording. He closed his eyes for a second then turned around to face everyone; his expression just daring anyone to make a derogatory comment. Instead he received a wide array of facial expressions which would probably be comical in any other situation. Roy looked surprisingly unsurprised, Kori sympathetic, Tim considering, Damian quietly furious and Bruce was carefully blank.
"Play it again," Bruce eventually said.
They all watched the footage once more and this time when it finished they concentrated on the demon rather than the outing of Jason and Dick's relationship.
"Tonight...why tell you that?" Roy asked. "He has to know that you're not going to bow to that kind of intimidation."
"Malphas wants Jason there," Bruce replied. "Taking Dick is his way of ensuring that happens and telling him to stay out of the way will just ensure he does the exact opposite. Don’t forget that this demon knows Jason."
Jason nodded. "And I doubt he's very happy that I broke away from his whole ‘rage fog’; he's probably looking to punish me for it."
"And Richard got caught in the crossfire," Damian said hotly. "You put him in this situation."
"No," Tim disagreed. "I think one of us would have been taken anyway. It's not only Jason that Malphas wants there. He's got an obsession with Bruce; he's shown it through Ra's, through Talia, through Jason...If he's got as many people under his control as that demon claims, he's probably been watching us all for a while and has seen that we've been working together."
"He knew that I'd come here and let Bruce in on what happened." Jason sighed.
"So we've got the why, we just need to figure out the where and what," Roy said.
"Damian found something that helps with what Malphas has planned," Bruce told them and then nodded at his son.
Damian approached the computer and punched a few keys to bring up a photograph of a huge whale carcass. "This was recently taken in a bio-factory in Yemen. The factory's purpose is to turn ordinary people into superhumans to be used as bodyguards for the ultra rich."
"What does that poor creature have to do with Malphas?" Kori asked, leaning forward to take a closer look.
Damian rolled his eyes and turned to obviously berate Kori for interrupting, only to be faced with scantily clad boobs inches from his face. He flushed and immediately looked back at the screen while Roy patted his shoulder sympathetically.
"As well as researching Malphas, I began tracking mother's activities and discovered that she made a significant investment in the bio factory," Damian finally replied, regaining his equilibrium. "She has also made several trips to Yemen in the past couple of years."
"She's made a superhuman for Malphas to possess," Jason guessed with a groan.
"I believe that she's gone further than that, Todd," Damian told him. "When I disowned her and grandfather, she made sure to show me that there was already a replacement; a clone of me. It was still growing in the artificial womb then but with the factory's involvement she could accelerate the growth of the clone. Judging from the pelvic damage to this carcass, I think that's exactly what this whale was used to achieve."
"A demon possessing a superhuman body which is half made up of Batman's DNA." Roy gave a low whistle. "Yeah, I'm definitely backing Tim's theory of Malphas being seriously obsessed with you, big guy."
Bruce glowered at Roy who quickly ducked behind Tim.
Jason drummed his fingers on the edge of the console. "You know if he's this into Bruce..."
"...Then he's probably going to be somewhere connected with Bruce too," Tim finished with a thoughtful nod. He raised a questioning eyebrow at Jason. "Wayne Tower?"
Jason nodded. "The Manor's out so that would be my guess."
"I agree," Bruce said with a frown. "Which poses a problem getting the civilian night staff out of the building." He looked at Roy and Kori. "Can you provide enough of a distraction to get them out of harm's way?"
Roy laughed and waved a hand encompassing Kori's form. "Have you seen her? Distraction's her middle name and I have some new arrows I'm itching to try out. Consider it done."
"Damian, you're going to be in charge of monitoring the cameras," Bruce told his son. "We need you to be our eyes in there. Malphas and your mother are going to have some tricks up their sleeves, you can give us advance warning if you spot anything."
"What? No!" Damian protested. "I'm not staying in the manor. Grayson needs rescuing so I'm coming with you."
"No, you're not," Bruce said firmly. "Despite what we now know, that price is still on your head and we still have Madame Xanadu's vision to consider. I'm not going to risk you getting hurt; not when Dick is already in so much danger. You stay here. That's an order, Robin."
Damian huffed, grumbled and generally acted like a sulky kid while the rest of them worked out the plan for that evening. Jason could see the genuine worry for Dick beneath that stroppy veneer though, the same worry they were all feeling.
He made a point of stopping next to Damian as the Outlaws were preparing to leave. "I'll get that demon out of him, I promise."
Damian visibly startled, then those wide eyes narrowed. "You better had, Todd, or that fancy sword won't save you from what I'll do if you fail."
"I wouldn't expect any less," Jason told him.
Damian frowned and tilted his head, studying Jason for a few moments, then he gave him a curt nod.
~ X ~ X ~ X ~ X ~
Eventually the other two left him alone and disappeared into their bedroom to take their own advice but he wasn't alone for long. When they'd first arrived back home, Jason had phoned Madame Xanadu and asked her to contact Deadman.
"I take it that we're about to go to battle."
Jason was pacing a hole in the floor and didn't even jump when Deadman slid through the wall. "We are but first I need you to pass a message to our mutual friend."
He proceeded to tell Deadman everything they'd learned and what they guessed Malphas was up to. The Paladins may be forbidden from helping but Jason thought that they deserved to be forewarned in case Jason failed; it wasn't their fault that they had shitty bosses.
For once Deadman didn't have a trademark quip to hand. Instead he winced at the idea of a demon with superhuman and supernatural strength and left straightaway to let Terrel know; promising to be back in time for the fight.
Jason went back to working on that hole in the floor and willed time to move quicker but it seemed like an eternity until he was crouched on a rooftop across from Wayne Tower.
"All quiet so far," Tim said through the comm. link in Jason's ear.
"Everyone hold their places," Bruce instructed.
Jason glanced at Batman crouched beside him, so still that he could've been a gargoyle, and had an almost overwhelming sense of déjà vu. So much so that, for a second, he had to resist the urge to check that he wasn't wearing his old Robin costume.
"Are we sure they're going to be here and not somewhere else?" Roy asked after another half hour passed quietly.
Bruce sighed. "You need to be patient, Arsenal."
They could clearly hear Damian snort at that, no doubt watching footage of Roy fidgeting in the shadows of the underground parking lot. Jason knew from experience that his friend hated the waiting around for something to happen part.
"I believe I've spotted our targets," Kori suddenly informed them. She was flying high above the city, keeping an eye out for anything unusual. "There are some large vans driving together several blocks to the west of your location."
"Robin?" Bruce questioned.
There was a couple of seconds silence before Damian answered. "I've got them on the traffic cameras. They definitely seem to be headed your way."
"Starfire, get back down here and into position," Jason said. "You and Arsenal are on."
"At last," Roy muttered.
There were a few more minutes before the muffled sound of a small explosion could be heard from the parking lot beneath Wayne Tower. At the same time an unused office towards the top of the tower caught fire. The twin attacks from above and below ensured that the security and cleaning staff quickly ran to the reception area and out of the front doors where Red Robin was waiting to usher them out of the area.
"There are a couple of heroes headed down the north stairwell. Their guns are out," Damian said.
"On it!" came the answer from Roy.
Jason frowned. "Careful, Arsenal. They may have been planted in the building by Malphas."
"The fire is now out," Kori informed them. "Minimal damage."
"Civilians are clear," Tim added.
Jason blinked when Alfred suddenly came on the line. "The 911 calls have been rerouted to the cave. I have informed the callers to stay away from the building until Emergency Services deem it safe."
"Thought of everything, huh?" Jason murmured to Bruce; in his distraction over Dick he'd completely missed the fact that the evacuated staff would call the police.
"I hope so," Bruce replied quietly.
"The two guards are out cold," Roy said over the comm. "I think we can safely say that they weren't civilians and that my new mistletoe arrows are a winner."
"Good job," Jason told him with a small smile.
The mistletoe arrows were one of Roy's new inventions to help with demon hunting. Shot at the floor in front of a possessed person, the mistletoe filled tip would catch fire and when the demon inhaled the resulting smoke it would knock them out. Very old school; Roy had discovered that mistletoe had been used against demons in Medieval times.
"The vans are two blocks away from the tower," Damian said.
The first part of the plan had gone off without a hitch. All the civilians were clear and it was time to move. Without a word, Jason and Bruce used their grapple guns to swing across to the tower, entering through a window which Kori held open for them.
"Red Robin?" Bruce asked once they were safely inside and began making their way down to the main entrance hall.
"Just entering the parking lot," Tim replied.
"Yeah, I can see you," Roy told him. "I'm over by the generators."
"Got you," Tim confirmed. "B, we're in place."
Jason, Bruce and Kori got into their positions overlooking the entrance hall just as Damian informed them the vans had arrived. They stayed silent and watched as people streamed into the building followed by Talia and an enormous man wearing some kind of middle eastern inspired armour. His face was covered but Jason didn't need to see the usual melting to know that he was looking at Malphas; the air of evil which surrounded the man was so strong that Jason was pretty sure normal people would be able to sense it. No wonder Xanadu had felt like she was suffocating on it.
There was a flash of red in the corner of Jason's eye and he spun in his small hiding space then sagged when he realised it was only Deadman.
"Sorry, kid," Deadman whispered as Jason pulled the sword away from his throat. "That chat took a little longer than I expected."
Jason nodded his understanding. "You're here now."
Deadman slipped forward so that he could look down into the hall. "He's definitely big and bad, I'll give him that."
Jason didn't answer; one of the men on the opposite side of them had just taken off his helmet to reveal a very familiar head of hair.
"Nightwing's here. Next to the reception desk," he murmured into the comm.
"I see him," came Bruce's whispered reply. "Now, Red Robin."
There was a pause then the lights dimmed as the generators powered down and the clicks of all the doors automatically locking echoed through the room.
"I take from that you received my invitation, Batman," Malphas boomed. "I assume that the baby Paladin is here also; in a valiant attempt to save his lover."
The possessed Dick slunk over to stand next to Malphas who ran his hand down the side of Dick's face. Jason gritted his teeth at the show and forced himself to stay still.
"Wait, what?" Deadman hissed into his ear. "I thought he was your brother."
Jason ignored him and turned his attention to a couple of shadows crawling into the room on a balcony across from him. Tim and Roy had joined them; time to get this show on the road.
As if he could hear Jason's thoughts, Bruce moved out of his hiding place and dropped into the hall, cape swirling around him until he landed with a thud in front of Malphas.
"You can't deny that the man has style," Deadman commented in an impressed voice.
Malphas apparently agreed. "An impressive entrance but I didn't expect anything else. Finally we meet, Mr Wayne."
"My detective is never less than impressive," Talia agreed, raking her eyes over Bruce in a way that made Jason roll his own. "How is our son?"
"Staying far away from you," Bruce told her before turning his attention to Malphas. "I'm here so what is it that you want?"
"To make you an offer," Malphas told him. "Join me, rule with me. Together we could bring this world to its knees."
Batman scoffed. "You've apparently been studying me for years, demon. Do you really expect me to take you up on that offer?"
"No, not really," Malphas replied. "Your interactions with Ra's have shown me exactly how stubborn you are. I merely hoped that you would see sense considering how hopelessly outmanned you are but perhaps you don't see the full picture yet. Allow me to demonstrate."
Malphas raised his head and looked directly at Jason's hiding spot.
"Shit!" Jason muttered. "Time to move!"
"Good thinking, Todd," Damian drawled in his ear when Jason dived out of the little alcove just before lasers suddenly erupted from Malphas' eyes and blasted the tiny space where Jason had just been.
"Holy shit!" Roy hissed.
"Paladin," Malphas called up to the balcony Jason was lying on. "You may have broken free from the rage but I still have the ability to sense your presence. Now, stop cowering like a child and face me!"
A growl ripped its way free from Jason's throat and he vaulted over the railing to land next to Batman. "Say that again; I fucking dare you!"
Malphas threw his head back and laughed. "Careful, Paladin, your anger is showing and we all know how well that worked out for you the last time."
Talia hummed thoughtfully and walked in a circle around Jason. "I don't know, my son. I've always liked it when Jason gets angry; it makes for some very good sex. Right, lover?"
Bruce gave a tiny flinch and Jason winced beneath his helmet; he'd really hoped to keep that quiet. He braced himself for the barrage of outrage from Damian but, surprisingly, the boy stayed quiet; he was probably busy plotting ways to kill Jason if they all got out of this.
"Ooh, you too?" Demon!Dick asked. "Our little Paladin certainly gets around. I may have to sample it for myself."
"When Hell freezes over," Jason muttered with a glare.
"I don't think he likes you very much, Fleta," Talia commented.
"Ladies," Malphas said and Jason did a double take; the demon inside Dick was a girl? "Let's get back to the matter in hand, shall we?"
"Let's," Bruce said. "As impressive as your little display was, I'm still not taking your offer."
Malphas sighed. "That is a shame. I guess that I'll just have to kill you along with the Paladin."
Jason grinned. "I was hoping that you'd say that."
Almost immediately a volley of arrows landed at Malphas' feet, exploding into little clouds of smoke. Fleta and Talia danced backwards, out of range, but the demons who ran closer to protect Malphas got a face full of the smoke and immediately dropped.
Malphas, however, just stood there. "It was foolish to believe that such tactics would stop..."
He stopped gloating when several fireballs hit him squarely in the chest as Kori swooped over them. It may not have hurt him but the draped cloth covering his armour caught fire and Bruce and Jason immediately took advantage of the distraction, both leaping forward. Bruce aimed a punch at Malphas' head but the demon caught hold of his fist and tossed him away as easily as a doll. At the same time, Jason targeted Malphas' side with his sword however the demon's leg swept out, catching Jason's ankle and taking him off balance enough that the sword merely glanced off the armour.
As quick as a flash, Malphas' hand shot out and gripped Jason's throat, lifting him off the ground. "Did you really think that you could beat me? You're pathetic, Paladin, you always were. That's why it was so easy for me to cloud your mind in the pit."
Jason lifted both feet and used Malphas' chest as a springboard to push himself backwards out of the grip, making sure to kick the demon's chin as hard as he could as he somersaulted through the air before landing in a crouch on the floor.
"If you're still judging me by that kid I used to be, then you're in for a rude awakening, demon. You made me into something far more lethal," Jason told him before rushing forward and using the sword in a sequence of attacks which had Malphas stumbling backwards to avoid them.
Just when Jason was sure that he was beginning to get the upper hand, someone barrelled into him from the side and took him to the ground.
"Uh uh uh!" Fleta shook Dick's head at him in mock disappointment. She straddled Jason's waist, deliberately placing her knees on Jason's arms to hold them and the sword out of the way. "It almost looked like you'd forgotten about me and we can't have that. It hurts a girl's feelings."
"I'll hurt more than your fucking feelings," Jason promised her, raising shoulders off the ground and head butting her in the face. There was a crunch of bone beneath his helmet and Jason tried not to think about the fact that he actually just broke Dick's nose, he was sure Dick would forgive him if it meant getting his body back.
She screamed and held her hands to her face but didn't stop holding him down no matter how much he bucked and twisted. He looked around for something that could help him, at the same time noting what was going on in the rest of the room.
Bruce had engaged Malphas and they were busy beating the shit out of each other, although Jason got the impression that Malphas was holding back as he evaluated Bruce's fighting firsthand. Kori had gone after Talia and they definitely weren't holding back, Talia had several scorch marks and Kori had a nasty gash across her stomach. Roy had somehow managed to get inside the old propeller plane which was hanging from the ceiling and was gleefully shooting arrows at the minions who were either shooting guns at him or trying to climb up and reach him. Those who weren't focussed on Roy were busy battling Tim and Deadman. It looked as though Deadman was having a little trouble possessing bodies which were already possessed so was concentrating on the people that, Jason assumed, were only under Malphas' influence and Tim was going after the rest, his bo staff spinning every which way.
"You broke my fucking nose!" Fleta screeched and Jason smirked up at her.
"It's not yours, bitch!"
"It might as well be," Fleta sneered although the blood pouring from her nose ruined the effect. "You don't really think I'll give him up do you? I'm keeping this one and the last thing you'll ever see is the man you love killing you."
"Sleep with a guy twice and suddenly it's love," Jason muttered.
"Are you saying it's not?" Fleta made an exaggerated sad face. "Poor Dickie. He thinks it's true love while you're just looking for a quick fuck? He probably won't mind me breaking your heart in return then, only in your case it's going to be a bit more literal."
Jason just had time to see those claws reappear before Fleta plunged them into his chest. It was just as Tim had described, like fire spreading through him. One of his hands clenched tighter around the sword while the other scrabbled against the floor but Fleta's hold was immovable. He twisted his lower body, desperately trying to find some way use his legs to get her off him but she had shifted her weight back onto his thighs making it impossible. He felt like he couldn't catch a breath, as though his lungs were filling with smoke, then the claws squeezed tighter around his heart and Jason let out a gasp of pain, feeling his heartbeat fall out of rhythm.
"You failed, Paladin," Fleta hissed. "Now die!"
"Not before he fulfils the promise he made me," came a familiar voice before a boot kicked Fleta in the chest.
She fell back and as soon as her weight moved off his arm, Jason sat up and plunged the sword into her stomach. There was an earsplitting scream then Dick vomited up the now familiar black liquid.
"Dick!" Jason pulled the other man into his arms. "Talk to me. Come on, you bastard, say something!"
"Did you have to break my nose?" Dick gasped and Jason sagged in relief that it was Dick's voice he was hearing.
"Don't you ever do that to me again," Jason muttered against the side of his head. "I was going out of my mind."
"You were worried about me?" Dick clumsily patted the side of Jason's helmet. "Knew it was true love."
There was the sound of someone clearing their throat then, "If you are quite finished being so nauseatingly sappy, this fight's not over yet."
Jason looked up at Damian in his full Robin get up. "You need to leave, now."
Damian scowled at him. "I just saved your ass, Hood. Nightwing's too."
"And I appreciate that. Really. But you're still in danger," Jason told him. "Xanadu..."
"Oh, forget that idiotic vision. As if I'd believe in such things," Damian scoffed. "We're all in danger, all the time. That's the job."
There was a yell of pain from the other side of the room and Jason looked to see Kori clipped by Malphas' lasers; it seemed that he wasn't holding back any longer.
"Fine," Jason said to Damian. "But you stay here and keep these fuckers from getting their claws back into Nightwing."
Both Damian and Dick made complaining noises about that but Jason had already started moving. This ended, now!
Malphas was stalking towards where Bruce was doubled over, coughing; his costume torn and bloodied. Jason scanned the room for assistance. Roy was busy, now standing in front of the fallen Kori and fighting off attackers so Jason headed over to Tim, using his sword on the three demons Tim was battling while they had their backs to him.
"I need a distraction," Jason told him, nodding his head towards Bruce and Malphas.
Tim looked around the room, his gaze finally landing on the ridiculous giant coin. "I can do that."
Jason patted him on the back and went to talk to Deadman who was currently making a minion tango around the room, complete with a rose taken from a display between his teeth, and using the high kick to knock out other minions.
Jason quickly explained the plan and Deadman gave him a dubious look. "You sure? He's not going to like it."
"I'm sure he'll prefer it to being dead," Jason pointed out and Deadman shrugged before leaving the body he was occupying and flying straight into Bruce's body instead.
Jason punched out the minion Deadman had left and turned to see Bruce straighten up, surrounded by a red glow, just as Malphas reached him. Malphas struck out and Bruce fluidly ducked beneath the blow, kicked Malphas in the stomach and flipped away, as only an acrobat could; definitely not a middle aged man who'd been beaten badly, even if that man was Batman.
At the same time there was an ominous rumble and Malphas turned just in time to see the giant coin rolling towards him, kicked in his direction by Tim. He dived out of the way and Jason took the opportunity to jump in. He leapt on Malphas' back and smeared some of the disgusting, sticky, black, ex-demon liquid he'd grabbed off the floor, across the visor of Malphas' helmet, temporarily blinding him. Malphas roared and tried to buck him off but Jason held on tightly. The bucking made it difficult to use the sword so Jason concentrated on twisting Malphas' helmet to the side which would block Malphas' ability to use his laser sight far more effectively than the black goop quick fix.
"Try all you like, you still won't defeat me," Malphas growled in what Jason now recognised to be Roy's 'Paladinian'. "All you are doing is annoying me and prolonging the time until you die a second time."
"You keep telling yourself that if it makes you feel better about me kicking your ass," Jason returned in the same language.
Malphas obviously decided that he'd had enough and reached up in an attempt to grab Jason's head and Jason immediately shoved the sword into the gap in the armour beneath Malphas' arm. It slid in smoothly and Malphas gave a howl of pain as he fell to his knees. Pulling the sword free again, Jason hopped off the demon and came to stand in front of him, waiting for the black goop explosion.
Instead Malphas began to laugh. "You're a bigger fool than I believed you to be if you thought that the same methods you used on lesser demons would also work on me."
Jason frowned and lifted the sword to strike again but found himself pulled backward into a hold with another sword pressed against his throat.
"You fought well, Jason, but it's over," Talia said into his ear and Jason could feel a small trickle of blood run down his neck from the pressure of her sword.
"Mother, stop it!"
Jason could see Damian, still standing next to Dick, glaring at Talia as he yelled across the room.
"Robin, stay out of this," Jason growled, willing him to just stay where he was.
"Shut up, Hood," Damian snapped. "Mother, you're better than this. You're Talia Al Ghul and you can fight this demon's influence. If Todd can do it then you can!"
"You're mistaken, Damian. I'm not under Malphas' influence," Talia replied. "He offered me a place at his side and more power than you could imagine; I chose to take it, as should you. Look at your father and your so-called new family, they're defeated and will die but the Al Ghuls will live on and rule the world."
Damian gave a cruel laugh. "You don't even realise that he's been controlling you, do you? Well I'd rather die alongside the family I chose than become another one of his puppets alongside the family I disowned."
"That can be arranged, brother," Malphas said as he turned to look at Damian, his helmet righted again.
"Get down!" Jason shouted at the same time as the now Deadman-free Bruce yelled,
It was like time slowed down. Bruce started to run towards his son, Kori managed to get the strength from somewhere to fly in the same direction. Roy fired an arrow at Malphas from behind while Tim threw a batarang but they were all too late or too far away. Dick grabbed hold of Damian to pull him out of way but even that was too slow as Malphas' laser hit them both and sent them each flying into the wall behind them.
Talia's grip slackened, probably in shock, but Jason didn't really care why; he just took the opportunity to throw his head back, connecting with Talia's chin and knocking her completely away from him.
Malphas had staggered forward from the blows of the arrow and batarang so Jason leapt into the air towards him, swinging his sword forward until it connected with Malphas' neck and cut his head clean off his body. Malpha' torso hit the ground with a dull thud, black liquid pouring from the wound onto the floor but Jason paid it no attention, he was already running across the room to his brothers.
"Jason..." Kori stepped into his path to stop him and shook her head, tears running down her face.
He looked over her shoulder at Bruce who was cradling Damian in his arms. The air left his lungs and it took him a moment before he realised that he could see Damian moving and coughing in his father's hold. Jason looked back at Kori, at the open grief on her face and the blood started rushing in his ears.
Kori grabbed his arm. "I'm so sorry."
He pushed her out of the way and stumbled to where Dick lay, unmoving against the wall. His eyes were closed and it looked almost as if he was simply unconscious except for the gaping wound in his side where the laser had hit him. Jason felt like he was suffocating and he threw his helmet off, not caring where it landed, as he fell to his knees besides Dick.
"No, Dick. Come on, wake up," Jason said, pulling Dick's limp form into his lap. "You have to wake up, Dickie Bird. Please, just...just..."
His voice broke and Deadman crouched next to them, placing a hand on Jason's shoulder. "He's gone, Jason. I saw him go. I’m sorry."
Jason shook his head. "No. No, he can't be. He..."
Tattooed arms wrapped around him from one side while orange arms hugged him from the other. Jason buried his face in Dick's hair and let his grief go, trusting his team to hold him through it.
~ X ~ X ~ X ~ X ~
Alfred had called the police as soon as the building was demon-free so the two teams left the clean-up to them. Jason wasn't sure what excuse Batman had given Gordon for the mess and the befuddled people, not to mention the giant decapitated corpse, but he was sure that it was a good one. Jason hadn't really paid much attention to anything except Dick; carrying him back to the manor and sitting, holding his hand for hours afterwards.
In the end, Alfred had forced him to leave the bedroom Dick had been laid in and made him eat; standing over him and watching every mouthful until he was satisfied. Jason was pretty sure that Alfred had done the same thing with all his 'masters', including Bruce, always attentive to those under his care even as grief lined his own face. Jason wondered if he'd done the same thing when Jason had died but it wasn't the right time to ask.
When Jason had finished the meal that he'd barely been able to taste, Alfred sent him to the study where Bruce was sitting in an armchair staring at nothing. Tim was curled up in the window seat, a mug of something in his hands, as he looked out of the window.
"You really loved him," Bruce finally said, just when Jason was about to give up and go back to sit beside Dick's body.
"Yes," Jason answered, leaning against one of the bookcases as he finally admitted it.
Bruce nodded. "I think he loved you too. After what Joker did he'd been subdued but since you came back to Gotham he was...happier, lighter somehow. It made sense when I found out about the two of you."
'Knew it was true love.' Dick's voice echoed in Jason's head and he had to close his eyes against another wave of pain.
Tim pulled his eyes away from the view outside to join the conversation. "I agree and I think that's why he felt guilty enough for Fleta to take him. That he'd found happiness when so many people he cared about had been hurt by Joker's attack."
"It doesn't really matter now, does it?" Jason said.
Bruce looked at him for the first time since he'd entered the room. "Yes, it does. It matters that he was happy; that you made each other happy."
Jason swallowed hard, looked away and the room fell silent once more.
"Where's Damian?" Jason eventually asked.
"He's hiding in the gardens," Tim answered. "He thinks it was his fault."
Jason shook his head. "It wasn't."
"I know that." Tim gave him the ghost of a smile. "But he thinks that if he'd stayed here and actually believed Madame Xanadu's vision..."
"She said 'son' and we all assumed she was talking about Damian," Bruce suddenly murmured quietly, staring into his glass of scotch.
"Because he's your real son," Jason pointed out.
"You're all my real sons," Bruce replied. "Just because you're adopted doesn't make me love you less, doesn't make it hurt less when any of you are taken from me. I, of all people, should have remembered that instead of assuming."
Jason pushed himself off the bookshelf and, before he could second guess himself, walked over to give Bruce a very awkward hug. "It wasn't your fault either; Dick's death or mine."
Bruce reached up to grip Jason's arms, squeezing it tightly, before they both let go.
"Even if we'd figured out the vision was about Dick; it's not as if you could have ordered him to stay in the cave while we went to fight," Tim said as Jason stepped back. "Can you imagine his reaction if you tried?"
Even Jason had to give a tiny chuckle at that; Dick would have been furious.
He left the study soon after, with the intention of returning to Dick's side, but found himself heading for the gardens instead. He found Damian sitting on a stone bench and was transported back to the last time they'd been in a similar spot, after they'd defeated Joker. A lot had changed since then.
Jason sat down on the bench. "How's your mother?"
Damian gave him a surprised look; that obviously wasn't the question he'd been expecting. "Vengeful now that the confusion has passed."
Jason snorted. "Yeah, that sounds like her."
"Yes, I understand that you got to know her pretty well." Damian sniffed.
Jason winced at the inference. "I hoped that you'd missed that part."
"I did," Damian admitted. "I was already on my way to the tower by then but I've listened back to the recordings."
"Trying to see what you could have done differently," Jason guessed.
"I could have followed orders and stayed here. Then Richard wouldn't have..." Damian trailed off and glared at a nearby tree as if it had hurt him personally.
"Okay, so we're playing that game?" Jason sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. "How's this for you? If you'd stayed here, Fleta would have killed me. Then there would have been no one who could stop Malphas or get that bitch out of Dick. The very best scenario would have been the rest of the team beating a strategic exit, leaving your mother and Dick in a living nightmare."
Damian scowled at him. "At least he'd still be alive."
"You think he'd have wanted to live like that?" Jason shot back. "As a puppet? Forced to watch whatever evil plans Malphas had come to fruition? He died a hero. He died saving his little brother. Don't you dare take that away from him because you feel guilty."
Damian frowned, obviously thinking hard about what Jason had just said. "He was a hero."
"Yeah," Jason agreed.
~ X ~ X ~ X ~ X ~
More than a few of them also appeared to know about his and Dick's burgeoning relationship and stopped to give Jason hugs and words of condolences. Even Superman told Jason how sorry he was; of course, he backed that up with a lecture about what would happen if the Outlaws returned to their old ways. It was almost enough to make Jason take his team out to shoot some criminals just to spite the self righteous prick.
When the service was over and everyone had made their way back to the house, Jason lingered at the gravesite.
"You can come out now," he said and watched as Terrel stepped out from behind a nearby monument.
"I am sorry about his death." Terrel came to stand next to Jason and looked at the newly placed gravestone.
Jason just nodded.
Terrel turned to face him. "They want to talk to you."
"I know," Jason replied. Ever since he'd defeated Malphas, the runes on his back had been tingling and when he slept he had dreams filled with summons and locations. "But I don't want to talk to them. They could have stopped this if they'd helped us."
Terrel sighed. "Probably. But you cannot just ignore them, Young One."
"Stubborn," Terrel muttered then pointed at the grave. "Would he have wanted you to give up your mission?"
Jason had Terrel's throat in his grip before he was even aware of moving. "You don't get to bring him into this! You don't have that right, any of you!"
"Answer the question." Terrel seemed completely unbothered by Jason's hold. Jason looked at the gravestone and sagged, letting go of Terrel, which was answer enough. "Go to them. Yell at them, tell them how wrong they were; they deserve it. But don't give up. You're a Paladin and you're worthy of that title and that role."
Jason sighed and thought about how excited Dick had been when they discovered the whole Paladin thing. He gave a curt nod and Terrel clapped him on the back before walking away.
He left Roy and Kori at the manor and went to the weirdest meeting he'd ever had. Even when he'd been training, Jason hadn't actually met the Powers That Be and he wasn't sure he'd met them now. He'd gone to the location given in his dreams and when he walked through the door he discovered that he'd been transported back to that stone castle-type building he'd spent months training in. In fact, he was back in the big room with the flickering images on the wall.
As he'd studied the images and tried to work out which ones were new since the last time he'd been there, voices suddenly started talking in his head. Five distinctly different voices, all talking to him in Paladinian; these were the Powers That Be and so began an hours long meeting where Jason yelled at an empty room and voices replied inside his head. Eventually those voices told him something that made him stop, that made him agree to keep working for them. Something that led to him standing outside an old wooden door, willing his heart to stop beating so fast.
Jason stepped through the door and froze at the sight before him. Dick was pacing the small stone room, growling in frustration and Jason couldn't stop the grin that spread across his face.
"That costume really does hug you in all the right places, Dickie Bird."
Dick spun around and stared at Jason in shock before running towards him.
Jason held a hand out. "Wait! Don't..."
But he was too late and Dick fell right through him. Jason sighed and turned to look at Dick sprawled on the floor.
"What the hell?" A whole lot of emotions flickered across Dick's face as he realised what had just happened and what that meant. "...Jay?"
Jason dropped to the floor beside him and nodded at the unasked question. "You died. That laser hit you full on and..." He clenched his fists and swallowed hard, forcing himself not to relive it again. "You saved Damian though. He's fine; as fine as he's ever been, anyway."
"Okay." Dick closed his eyes. "Damian's okay. That's what matters. That's worth dying for."
"Or not," Jason said.
Dick's eyes flew open again, filled with indignation. "Of course it is! He's my little brother!"
"I meant the actual dying part...well, staying that way," Jason told him then began to smirk. "I'm here to make you an offer you can't refuse."
~ X ~ X ~ X ~ X ~
“It’s been too long,” Jason murmured, moving lower to trace Dick’s new runes with his tongue.
There had been months of training where they had been unable to touch; although Dick had instigated a challenge of trying to dirty talk each other to orgasm at the end of each day. Then as soon as Dick had been returned to Gotham, healthy and whole again, they had been forced to have a celebratory dinner at the Manor which almost made Jason regret telling the family that Dick had been made a new Paladin and wish that he’d just dragged Dick off somewhere secluded for a few days first.
Eventually the dinner was over and, after many many hugs and ‘welcome homes’, Jason and Dick were able to escape to Dick’s room. They’d barely closed the door before Dick had slammed Jason against the wall and kissed him for all he was worth. Jason had pulled him closer and kissed back with more than a tinge of desperation before he moved his hands down to Dick’s thighs and lifted him off his feet. Over the past few months Jason had heard way too many of Dick’s fantasies involving a shower to let this opportunity pass and had quickly carried Dick to the en suite.
“Jay," Dick gasped, arching back into him.
Jason chuckled against the skin of Dick's back. "I've got you."
He kissed his way down the runes, dropping to his knees and nudging Dick's legs further apart. Then he bit down on one cheek eliciting a high pitched squeal from Dick that had Jason sitting back on his haunches and laughing helplessly.
"Bastard," Dick said, trying to glare at Jason over his shoulder but failing miserably in the face of Jason's amusement.
"Sorry," Jason told him, not feeling sorry at all. "Let me kiss it better."
He leaned forward and pressed a smacking kiss to the slightly reddened area.
"You'll have to do better than that," Dick grumbled and Jason grinned.
"If that's what you want."
He gave another, lingering kiss to the bite mark then gently pulled the cheeks apart and ran his tongue between them.
"Holy..." Dick rocked forward and his hands scrabbled against the tiles.
Jason wrapped one arm around Dick's hips to hold him in place, blinked water out of his eyes and put all his attention into licking Dick open. Revelling in the mix of the musky taste of Dick and the freshness of the water beating down on the both of them, he kept going until Dick had descended into that foreign swearing he did when he really lost it.
Jason stood up and crowded Dick against the wall, kissing a spot beneath his ear tenderly.
"Jason...Little Wing..." Dick whined. "Please..."
Jason hushed him and stepped away quickly to grab the bottle of moisturiser he'd spotted on a nearby shelf and a condom from the pocket of his abandoned pants. He slicked himself and grabbed onto Dick's hips before pushing himself slowly into gloriously tight heat.
"Fuck...Dick..." he gasped, dropping his head to Dick's shoulder in an effort to keep a tenuous hold on his control.
"Move, Jay," Dick panted, shifting restlessly in Jason's hold.
Jason kept still for a moment longer until he was sure that this wouldn't be over before it began, then he pulled out smoothly and slammed back in.
Dick threw his head back. "God, yes! Again!"
The runes on Dick's body began to glow softly, diffused through the droplets of water, and Jason's breath caught. "So fucking beautiful, Dickie."
He adjusted his stance until he found just the right spot inside Dick then made sure that he kept hitting it with every stroke, gaining force and speed until Dick clenched around him with a howl. The feeling of those muscles working around him made Jason white out for a second, crying Dick's name before they both tumbled to the floor of the shower.
They stayed where they were a while, Dick leaning back against Jason as Jason held him tightly, enjoying the fact that he could hold Dick again.
Eventually Dick elbowed him gently in the side. "Come on, the water's getting cold."
"Liar," Jason mumbled into his hair. "The hot water never runs out in Wayne Manor."
Dick chuckled. "True. Okay then; just take me to bed, Jay."
Jason smiled and loosed his grip, allowing Dick to climb to his feet before he followed then grumbled half heartedly when Dick insisted on drying him off with a ridiculously fluffy towel.
"Well," Dick said, once that was done. "Aren't you going to carry me there? I thought that was your new thing, Caveman Todd."
"Fuck you!" Jason laughed. "You loved it, Princess!"
They kept playfully bickering until they were both under the blankets on Dick's king size bed. Dick tucked his head under Jason's chin and threw a leg over him and Jason put a possessive arm around Dick's waist.
"I love you. You know that, right?" Dick said quietly.
"I know," Jason said gruffly. "Me too."
He half expected Dick to protest and make Jason say the actual words but instead he just snuggled closer, seemingly happy with just that for now. Jason smiled and closed his eyes only to open them a few seconds later.
He frowned towards the door and the scuffling he could hear on the other side of it. "We did lock that, didn't we?"
Dick lifted his head. "I didn't. Did you?"
Before Jason could reply the door opened a crack and he could see an eye peering in before the door opened fully to reveal Roy and Kori.
"Thank god, we didn't think you'd ever finish," Roy announced, walking into the room and taking a seat at the foot of the bed.
Kori followed, closing the door behind her. "They needed to make up for lost time," she chided lightly before turning an eye on the two men cuddled up in the bed. "But we have been waiting out there for some time."
Jason groaned and covered his face with his hand while Dick said indignantly, "You were listening to us?"
"Jaybird listens to us all the time," Roy said, shifting over to make room for Kori.
"That's not through choice," Jason pointed out but they all ignored him.
"Umm...why are you in here?" Dick asked, sitting up and carefully making sure the sheet stayed covering him.
"Team bonding," Roy replied as if that was self explanatory. "I mean, you're joining the team now, right? We're all demon hunting together?"
Dick nodded slowly. "Yes but why are we bonding now?"
"This is when we do all our team bonding," Kori said.
"After sex?" Dick asked with a raised eyebrow.
Kori and Roy looked at each other then nodded.
"Only because they're always at it," Jason felt he needed to point out.
Roy waggled his eyebrows. "That's because we're so very good at it."
Jason threw a pillow at his head which Roy caught and tucked behind his back, making himself more comfortable and ignoring Jason's growl.
"Richard," Kori began in a serious tone. "I was rather...disapproving of your relationship with Jason. However, after witnessing his heartbreak after you died and then watching the two of you at dinner this evening, I withdraw my protests. You obviously have genuine feelings for each other and I would be happy for you to join the team."
"Thank you," Dick told her in a surprised voice.
Kori nodded at him. "But if you hurt him I will pull your innards from your body with my bare hands and feed them to a..." She paused and looked at Roy.
"A rabid warthog," Roy prompted in a way which clearly showed that they'd already discussed this.
"Yes, that." Kori pointed at Roy then looked at Dick expectantly.
Jason ducked his head to hide a smile at his team's protectiveness while Dick looked a little scared as he said, "I'll bear that in mind."
Roy clapped his hands together. "Good. Now that's out of the way, we need a new name. The Outlaws doesn't really work when we're not actually outlaws anymore."
"Maybe if we piss Superman off enough..." Jason tried and Dick poked him in the side. Always the Superman fanboy.
"What rhymes with Paladin?" Dick asked.
Kori tilted her head. "Roy and I aren't Paladins so that wouldn't work."
"How about Demonbusters?" Roy suggested and everyone groaned.
"Why do we even need a name?" Jason asked.
Roy frowned. "Because we need to explain to people who we are, without having to waste time actually explaining to people who we are."
"Also, Deadman asked," Kori added.
"What does Deadman have to do with anything?" Dick gave Kori a confused look. "He's not on the team as well is he?"
"No, he's got the whole JLA Dark thing going on," Roy replied. "He has found us a job though. Apparently there are demony type things happening in New York. We thought we could head there when you're done with your honeymoon period."
Jason sent Dick a questioning look and he nodded. "Sounds good to me."
"Excellent," Kori said. "I wish to see these blue people you mentioned last time we were there."
"Blue Man Group!" Roy and Dick cheered and Jason groaned, pulling a pillow over his head.
Dick rolled on top of him. "Come on, Little Wing. You know that you're going to give in; you love us."
He was right. Jason could already see his immediate future, with Dick and Roy painting themselves blue and confusing the hell out of Kori. But he could also see further than that, the life he was going to have with the three of them; laughing, loving and saving people. For the first time in a very long time, the future looked great.