All their most outlandish missions inevitably involved magic and madmen.
"Another day, another secret lab," Artemis muttered, looking around at the basement under the farm building they'd broken into. They were in pursuit of a man calling himself the Harvester, a name that appeared innocuous until the moment that one learned he was calling himself that because he was harvesting organs from corpses dug up from cemeteries and using magic to regenerate them.
The Harvester was then selling the replenished organs on the black market. They would decay again within days, as most magic of that nature did, and so the Harvester was leaving a trail of fresh corpses behind, giving himself a constantly renewing source of bodies to harvest from.
Returning to harvest from those who'd been killed by his actions had been how Red Hood had tracked him down in the end.
"Secret lab under a barn." Red Hood leaned forward and tapped at one of the specimen jars on a shelf. The liquid inside was green and bubbling. "I'd like to say that this was a first for me."
Artemis grimaced. "I have a bad feeling about this place."
Bizarro stood in the center of the room, arms folded and frowning. He kept sending the large vats distrustful looks.
The sound of a lock turning was their only warning before a door on the other side of the room was thrown open and a man stumbled through. He froze, blinking at them in shock and staring down the barrel of the gun Red Hood had raised.
"Don't move." Red Hood clicked the safety off. "Trust me, I can shoot this gun a lot faster than you can cast a spell."
The sound of crashing glass came from behind them. Artemis whirled around.
The same man was standing on the opposite side of the room. Bizarro scratched the back of his head, watching the newcomer. Artemis quickly glanced behind her.
Red Hood had not turned away from the first man, but as Artemis watched, he shimmered at the edges and then the magic illusion shattered.
At the same time, the other one did the same. The lights went out, leaving only the eerie glow of the bubbling vats to see by.
Laughter echoed through the lab.
"Great." Red Hood slid his gun away in its holster, glancing around. "I hate creepy laughter."
Artemis tensed. In such a confined space, with liquids of such dubious composition, she did not wish to cause damage to their surroundings. They would need to tread carefully.
A light flared on the edge of her vision.
Hands shoved her and she stumbled, snarling a growl back at Red Hood as she tripped over the leg of a lab table and fell to the ground, catching her weight on her hands.
Red Hood dodged the light, which hit the vat of liquid behind him and shattered it, drenching him in a thick red concoction that looked eerily like blood.
Bizarro yelled, thrown back by a second strike of yellow light. He hit the back wall and slumped to the ground. Artemis climbed to her feet, frowning.
"Fuck." Red Hood started to shake, teeth chattering. "A-Artemis. Bizarro's not good with m-magic."
Of course. Bizarro had all of Superman's weaknesses as well as his strengths. Her fingertips tingled as she called for her axe.
When the Harvester appeared above Bizarro, hands glowing with the light magic, Artemis spun and threw the axe. The Harvester didn't get more than a choked bark of laughter out. He looked down at the axe embedded through his chest, expression going from shocked to the blankness of death.
"You couldn't have k-knocked him out?" Red Hood asked. He had slid to the floor and was curled there, arms around himself and shivering violently.
Artemis moved to the body and jerked her axe free of it, before turning to arch an eyebrow at the little one. "You care?"
"He still had info I wanted." Red Hood shuddered, jerking his helmet off and tossing it aside. "Fuck."
Bizarro climbed to his feet, shaking his head. "Bizarro feel weird."
"You'll recover." Artemis knocked her shoulder into his as she walked by to Jason's side. She knelt next to him and felt his forehead. His skin was unnaturally hot to the touch, beading with sweat and ashen grey. "We need to get you into a shower and wash this off. This isn't right."
Jason gave a jerky nod. His jaw was clenched tight. Artemis wasn't sure if it was in pain or to stop the chattering.
Bizarro knelt on his other side, running one hand up the little one's back. "Me carry?"
Artemis nodded. "It'll be faster. Take him straight back to the motel and get him in the shower. Burn the clothes after."
With a nod and a tight smile, Bizarro gathered Jason up into his arms and then sped away, faster than Artemis' eyes could track.
Artemis gave one look around the room and clicked her tongue. She wanted to set it alight and watch it burn, but if there was something wrong with Jason that a shower couldn't fix then they might need to return. She glanced over at the dead body.
That, at least, she could dispose of.
The hotel was a small, worn little place just outside the rural town in southern Georgia that Jason had whisked them away to, once he’d discovered the location of the Harvester. It was quiet, remote, and the owners didn’t ask questions—everything that Jason looked for in a temporary safe house. Artemis closed and locked the door behind her. The television was still blaring away in the middle of the room, drawing her eye. The bright, scrolling banner at the bottom told her that nothing had changed since they’d left on their hunt, and why Jason cared so much about a breakout in Gotham, Artemis had yet to puzzle out.
“Bizarro?” She couldn’t hear the sound of the shower running, but with the volume of the television that wasn’t entirely surprising. Hunting through the couch cushions revealed the remote and she shut the television off, leaving the motel room in silence.
The shower was definitely not running, and a quick look around the tiny main room and kitchen showed no sign of either of her teammates. Frowning, Artemis knocked twice on the bathroom door. “I’m coming in, don’t bother pretending to be modest.”
The door swung open easily and Artemis did a double-take, nearly crushing the doorknob in surprise. “Where did you get that ?”
Bizarro glanced away from the small child he had wrapped up in both a towel and his arms. “Red Her?”
Something like panic clawed up her throat as the small boy blinked wide, tearful blue eyes at her. Artemis released the doorknob and pinched the bridge of her nose, taking a calming breath. “Bizarro, we have discussed this. Children are not strays to be taken off the street.”
“It Red Him,” Bizarro replied, sounding utterly confused. “Red Him shrunk in shower.”
She opened her mouth to reply, to say any number of scathing things about Bizarro’s poor timing in utilizing the sense of humor he was picking up from Jason, but then the child wriggled and gave a familiar little huff, and she looked at him again, closer this time. The coloring was certainly the same, and the boy wore a similar scowl, but it wasn’t until her eyes caught and held on the streak of white, just barely starting to regrow, that her throat closed up in horror.
Artemis clenched her teeth together, and she couldn’t believe she was thinking it but she suddenly wished she had not killed the Harvester.
They were completely out of their depth.
“How did this happen?” She backpedalled out of the bathroom as Bizarro moved towards her with the child—with Jason—held securely in his arms. The little one’s hair was still dripping from the shower, and Artemis couldn’t tell if the streaks down his cheeks were tears or just water. He followed her with his eyes as she moved to lean against the counter in the small kitchen, putting more space between them.
Bizarro carefully lowered the bundle of small child onto the couch, patting him on the head when the boy made a noise of protest and reached up for him. “Bizarro get Red Him blanket. Red Him wait with Red Her.”
The little one turned around and went back to staring at her with wide eyes while Bizarro went to the small closet tucked away in the back of the room behind the beds, returning within only a few moments with a light blue blanket.
Bizarro wrapped the little one snugly in the blanket, removing the damp towel and tossing it over the back of the couch.
Jason fisted his hands in the blanket and tugged it closer around him, turning to fix his little scowl on the damp towel.
“Has he spoken?” Artemis asked Bizarro, as he followed the little one’s unvoiced complaint and picked the towel up to put away properly.
Jason’s eyes snapped to her. “I can hear you, lady.”
The offended annoyance was familiar, even if his higher voice was not. Artemis crossed her arms and eyed him. “How much do you remember?”
The boy shrugged, eyes darting towards the motel door and then Bizarro’s back as he disappeared into the bathroom.
Her eyes narrowed. “Do you remember us?”
“I’ve never seen you before in my life,” the little one said, eying her up and down. He sucked his lip into his mouth and started to chew on it for a moment. “You’re really tall.”
“I’m an Amazon,” she replied, crossing her arms and shifting back slightly against the counter.
Jason’s eyes widened. “Like Wonder Woman?”
Lips twitching, Artemis shook her head. “Better.”
“Do you even have a lasso?” Jason asked, scrunching his nose up and giving a little huff of breath.
Snorting, Artemis uncrossed her arms, extending one out. “I prefer my axe.” The magic gathered slowly, letting the little one’s attention catch on her hand before she summoned the battleaxe. She swung it in a careful arch.
Jason’s eyes were impressively wide. “Can I touch it?”
“No.” Artemis may not have been fond of small children but at the very least she knew not to hand them dangerous weapons.
She shook her head, dismissing the axe to remove the temptation and ensure the little one’s fingers remained out of reach. “You are too young to play with battleaxes.”
Jason heaved a dramatic sigh and flopped back against the couch. “Arty, come on.”
She startled, blinking at him in surprise. “You remember my name?”
“Lady, I’ve never seen you before in my life.”
“You just said my name.”
“I didn’t,” he insisted, sitting up and rubbing at his eyes with the back of his hand. He grumbled to himself.
Curious, Artemis knelt in front of the couch, closer to eye level. “Little one, what is my name?”
He frowned, peeking at her from behind his hand. “I just told you I don’t know.”
For a long moment he simply stared at her, brows furrowed and lips turned out into a slight pout, before dropping his hand and tilting his head to one side. “Artemis,” he said finally, with a determined nod.
Something like relief blossomed in her chest. “That’s right.”
Bizarro reappeared, wet towel replaced with a clean bundle of Jason’s clothes. He placed them down on the couch next to the little one and shrugged. “Clothes not fit.”
Tiny hands darted immediately for the leather jacket on top of the pile. Jason pulled it close, hugging it to his chest. Artemis eyed the clothing. If the Harvester’s magic affected Jason the same way it had the organs he’d been selling on the black market, Jason would return to normal in a few days.
“He’s going to need new ones.” Artemis craned her neck to look up at Bizarro. “I trust you’re up to the task?”
Bizarro nodded. “Me like shopping.”
“Don’t go overboard.” Artemis stood and went to hunt down Jason’s stash of money.
For the time being Jason ended up wearing the jacket, one of his cotton shirts and a pair of boxers, all far too big but the best that could be managed. Artemis had handed Bizarro half the stash of cash that Jason had hidden in one pocket of his duffel bag, more than enough to get temporary clothes for the small child in their company.
Artemis left the little one on the couch while she showered and changed out of her armor. By the time she returned, the television was switched on and Jason was sitting on the floor in front of it, absorbed in watching the news reports on Gotham’s current crisis.
She sat down on the couch and started carding her hands through her damp hair, keeping one eye on the television. It didn’t seem inappropriate for a child of Jason’s size, and he clearly possessed some unconscious knowledge of his prior state. For the past several days Jason had been practically glued to the reports, even as he’d whisked them away to hunt down the Harvester and stopped taking his family’s phone calls.
Jason turned around. He had the cuff of the jacket in his mouth and was chewing on it.
Artemis nodded to the television. “Must you?”
Jason’s eyes flicked to the hair she was still running her hands through. Abandoning the television, he scrambled up onto the couch beside her. He let the sleeve drop out of his mouth and offered the television remote clutched in his other hand. “Your hair is pretty.”
Freeing one hand from her hair, she took the remote and switched the television to another channel, then let the remote drop to the couch beside her. Jason’s eyes were fixed on her hair and his fingers were flexing like he wanted to touch.
“Thank you,” she said, arching a brow as he wriggled closer. “I need to braid it.”
“I can braid,” Jason said, finally reaching out and sinking his hands into the hair flowing loose down her shoulders. He glanced at her and when she did nothing to stop him turned back to her hair and started combing his fingers through it. “I braid Mom’s hair.”
Artemis watched him work away at her hair for a few moments before sighing and sectioning that part away and turning her own attention to the rest. “You don’t talk about your mother.”
Jason sucked in a breath, hands pausing in his task. “Mom’s dead.”
Her gaze snapped to him. Jason was back to chewing on his lip, brows drawn and nose scrunched up as he thought. Artemis grimaced, hoping he wasn’t about to start crying. “Your father is still alive.”
Snorting, Jason shook his head and grimaced. “Who cares? He’s useless.”
She smirked. “You think Batman is useless?”
“What?” Jason’s hands tightened on her hair, pulling it hard enough to be mildly uncomfortable. “Are you crazy, lady? Batman’s not my dad.”
Artemis hummed, not quite willing to pick at the issue. His memories seemed to be sensitive, buried things, and it was probably best not to disturb them—he would likely revert to normal by the end of the weekend at any rate.
She felt the slight tugging that meant he’d turned his attention back to her hair and left him to it, finishing her braid and tossing it over her shoulder. The section of hair she’d left to Jason, a decent chunk from behind her left ear, could be tied back with the rest when he was finished.
“Can you turn the news back on?” Jason asked quietly, so soft and hesitant that Artemis grabbed the remote and changed the channel back without a second thought. “Thank you.”
“Why you’re so engrossed by it, I don’t know.” Artemis sighed. Jason shrugged and continued working a loose braid into her hair. It wasn’t bad, considering his tiny little fingers. She probably wouldn’t even need to redo it.
A glance at the television screen revealed the status quo had not changed, the bright red words scrolling across the bottom of the screen the same as they’d been for several days: Escape at Arkham Asylum, Joker still at large.
The front door rattled. Artemis hooked an arm over the back of the couch and leaned over, watching as it swung open on squeaky hinges and Bizarro walked through, shopping bags hooked over his arms.
A lot of shopping bags.
Artemis shook her head. She should’ve known. “Did you buy every piece of clothing available in this town?”
“Stop moving,” Jason said, tugging on her hair. “I lost my place.”
“These clothes are for you.” Artemis reached over, stilling his hands. “Go get changed into something that fits you, little one.”
“I was helping.” The protest was accompanied by wide eyes that started to water.
Artemis cringed. “You can help after. My hair isn’t going anywhere.”
Bizarro moved over to the couch, piling the bags onto Jason’s lap until the child was half-buried and giggling. He grinned triumphantly at Artemis.
“Yes, yes,” Artemis muttered, extracting herself from the couch and retreating. “We all know you’re the best with children, Bizarro.”
“You got a lot of stuff.” Jason pushed some of the bags off his lap and over to the other side of the couch. “It must have cost a lot.”
“Not really,” Artemis replied. Jason seemed to possess an endless amount of what he termed ‘petty cash’, usually drug money or from another of his more dubious operations, appearing out of nowhere when he needed it. He’d yet to really even look twice at what they did with it.
The only time either of them had gotten a reaction had been when Bizarro had accidentally purchased a bakery, and the only part that he’d been concerned with was how in Hathor’s name it had been an accident.
When Jason pulled the red Wonder Woman hoodie out of the bag, Artemis rolled her eyes. She wasn’t the least bit surprised when it was one of the items that Jason gathered up to take into the bathroom to change.
It wasn’t until she was in the kitchen, holding a glass under the tap in the kitchen that she realized another important factor of childrearing. She grimaced, putting the glass down before bending and opening the refrigerator and looking inside. It was empty. “We need to feed him.”
Bizarro glanced over from where he was sorting the little one’s new clothing. “We take Red Him out?”
Artemis sighed, hanging her head. “Yes, it’s probably best.”
At the very least getting him outside would pry his attention away from the television for a short while.
Dressed in jeans and the Wonder Woman hoodie, Jason looked somehow even smaller than when bundled up in his old clothes. He looked like any other normal small child, and even possessed the same tendency to wander absently into traffic.
The third time he slipped away and Artemis nearly had a heart attack as he darted out in front of a car, she took him firmly by the wrist and refused to let go despite his endless complaints about it.
“I’m not a baby,” he said for the fifth time, pulling against her hold. “Let me go.”
“No,” Artemis replied. She glared down at him. “You have a severe lack of self-preservation instinct, and that hasn’t changed with age.”
He scowled, tugging his wrist again. “I’ll bite you.”
“Go ahead.” Artemis snorted. “We’ll see how much damage your little teeth can do to an Amazon.”
For a moment, as Jason subsided into silence and walked along at her side, she thought that might be the end of it. Then, heaving a sigh, the boy went limp, pooling to the ground in a sulk and refusing to move. Artemis stopped and stared down at him. She was strong enough to continue to pull him, and he likely knew that, but if she did she risked damaging his fragile body.
“You will regret this decision,” Artemis told him. She released his wrist, but before he could scramble to his feet and try running from her, she picked him up under the arms, propped him on her hip and started carrying him instead.
“No, Arty.” Small hands pushed at her grip around his waist. “This is humiliating.”
“This is your fault.” Artemis kept walking, ignoring Jason’s protests, Bizarro’s twitching lips and everything else around them.
By the time they had been through the store and were at the checkout counter, Jason had his face buried against her neck and was refusing all attempts at communication. He managed to pull his face away to pout at the woman behind the counter when she cooed at him in that annoying voice people used with children.
“Your son is adorable,” the old woman said, looking at Jason fondly.
Artemis stared blankly back. “He is a small, frustrating little monster and his outward appearance is a biological trick designed to prevent him from being abandoned after birth.”
Jason snickered. “That’s mean, Arty.”
“No one has ever accused me of being nice.” Artemis took their bags, ignoring the scandalized expression on the old woman’s face and left Bizarro behind to pacify her.
She could feel Jason’s hands at the back of her neck, delving into her hair. The child hooked his chin over her shoulder and settled, seemingly giving up his attempts to sulk his way into an escape.
“Me take bags,” Bizarro said, coming out of the shop behind them, holding his arms out.
Artemis tried to give him the child instead, but Bizarro just smiled widely and dodged around her, sliding the shopping bags off her free arm and hurrying off with them. “Bizarro!”
“Red Him comfortable,” Bizarro called back.
She craned her neck to get at the right angle to look at the little one’s face. His eyelids were fluttering, expression going lax as he dozed.
“Fine.” Artemis adjusted the boy against her hip and followed after Bizarro. “But you stop smirking at me like that, or I’ll knock you into the ground in our next spar.”
Bizarro laughed, clearly not even the least bit threatened, and continued racing away ahead until he disappeared from sight.
Artemis narrowed her eyes. She had been going far too easy on him.
“Are you gonna fight?” Jason’s head lifted off her shoulder and his eyes brightened. “I want to referee.”
“You are a terrible referee,” Artemis replied. “You indulge Bizarro far too much.”
“I don’t.” Jason pouted, kicking her in the thigh with one of his feet. “I’ve never met you before today.”
Artemis rolled her eyes and didn’t reply. She did not particularly want to set the little one’s mind on the track of wondering why it was he’d met them only today and yet apparently trusted them so much.
A distrustful Jason was not an experience she wanted to deal with, especially not at his current size.
“First you need to eat,” she said, ignoring his muttered grumblings. “Then, if you do not fall asleep, you can watch us spar.”
“I won’t fall asleep,” he said, wriggling again in an attempt to gain freedom. “Arty, come on!”
She put him back on his feet and took his hand. This time he glared up at her sullenly but walked at her side the rest of the way back to the motel, tugging free of her the minute they were within sight.
“Bizarro!” Jason burst through the door into the motel room and ran to their large teammate, who blinked down at him. “Kick her butt.”
Bizarro glanced up at her and bit his lip. “Red Her?”
“Feed the child.” Artemis walked to the couch and sat down, summoning her axe and examining it with a critical eye before settling in to clean it quite pointedly. “Then we will fight.”
Bizarro sighed, much less enthused now that she was no longer weighed down by a small boy and he was unable to flee her.
Artemis smirked to herself and listened absently as the little one prattled on.
Between one moment and the next, Artemis snapped awake. She tensed, glancing around the shadowed motel room, eyes catching on the television, muted but illuminating the room faintly. Jason sat on the floor in front of it, close enough that Artemis cringed in sympathy for the strain he was putting on his eyes.
“Little one, why are you awake?”
His head snapped around, staring at her with wide, tired eyes. He’d lasted halfway through the spar before becoming grumpy and irritable enough that Bizarro had seized on the opportunity to put him to bed.
He had the sleeve of his pajama top in his mouth and continued to chew away at it while staring at her. Finally, with a shrug, he turned back to the television and continued to stare at it.
Artemis sighed, sitting up on the couch. “Come here.”
Jason got up off the floor and clambered up onto the couch next to her. The sleeve wasn’t removed from his mouth and his eyes quickly found their way back to the television. Artemis gave the glowing box a dismissive look. No change in Gotham; she wondered what his family were even doing.
“You should be sleeping,” she told him, reaching out with one hand to gently remove the sleeve from his mouth. “Has something frightened you?”
Slowly, Jason nodded. “Monsters.”
Artemis hummed, looking around the small motel room. “You have me and Bizarro here, do you really think we’d let monsters get you?”
He hesitated, frowning, before slowly shaking his head. Even so, his eyes darted around the room before returning to the television.
Artemis tapped her fingers against her knee and thought back to small, frightened sisters in Bana-Mighdall, back in better days. “Shall we check the room?”
Jason looked up at her and nodded, this time with more enthusiasm.
“All right.” Artemis got to her feet, casting one glance at Bizarro and hoping he remained asleep. At least one of them should be well rested the next day. “We’ll start with the bathroom.”
Jason trailed behind her as she made a circuit of the small motel room, opening everything that could be opened, looking under everything that something could conceivably hide under. Halfway through the search he grabbed the loose pants she was wearing and clung to her leg.
By the time they were back on the couch, having discovered no trace of monsters in the motel room, he was visibly less anxious, but still seemed reluctant to go back to sleep.
“You are not satisfied.” Artemis watched as his eyes drifted to the television again. She had to resist the urge to switch it off, if only because total darkness was likely to scare him more. “Have I not sufficiently proven that there are no monsters in this motel room?”
Jason licked his lips and shrugged. The end of her braid was between them on the couch. He picked it up and fiddled with the end. “They’re only there when I close my eyes.”
“Those are the worst kind.” Artemis ran a hand over her face and resisted the urge to yawn. When she looked back at Jason, he had the end of her braid in his mouth and was chewing on it absently. She gently tugged it out. “Do you trust me to keep you safe from the monsters?”
He looked up at her, nodding with only the slightest hesitation.
Slipping off the couch, she knelt before him to better look him in the eye. “If I promise that I will kill any monster that tries to hurt you and bring you back its head as a trophy, will you be able to sleep?”
“Any monster?” Jason asked.
“Any,” she said, nodding. “Even the gods themselves should they dare.”
His nod this time was much more enthusiastic. Artemis got to her feet, nodding towards the bed that Jason had abandoned in his fear. “Then you should be fine to sleep now.”
Jason looked back over to the bed, wrinkling his nose. “I’m not sleepy yet. Arty, have you killed lots of monsters before?”
“Plenty,” she replied. “If you get in the bed, I’ll tell you about one of them.”
That had him scrambling eagerly off the couch and into the bed, wriggling under the covers and then fixing her with an expectant look. Her lips twitched into a smile and she rolled her eyes, sitting down next to him and leaning back against the wall. The little one pressed against her side and poked her.
“Story,” he said.
“Very well.” Artemis sighed, tilting her head back against the wall. “A long time ago, a very old and powerful sorceress came to Bana-Mighdall in disguise.”
“Was it Circe?”
Artemis frowned, glancing down at Jason. Of all the things for him to remember. “Yes, it was Circe. Shall I continue, or would you like to guess the rest of the story, too?”
Jason wriggled further under the covers. “Keep going.”
“Circe has always been fond of her chimeras,” Artemis said, continuing the story and watching as the little one’s eyelids fluttered closed. He was asleep before she was far past the beginning the story. A good enough thing, she supposed. As enthusiastic as he’d been, she hardly wanted to give him more nightmares of monsters to plague him.
“Rest, little one.” Artemis shifted more comfortably against the wall. “I will guard your sleep.”
Her best efforts made little difference. The little one’s sleep was stolen several more times throughout the night by nightmares, leaving him lethargic and irritable in turn by morning. Even leaving him to nap through the morning didn’t help. The light of day did not soothe away his troubled dreams.
Artemis had little to reassure him with. The magic causing his change of form would wear off within the next day or so, leaving the child to disappear as if he’d never been. Discussing the truth of his situation would hardly comfort him.
Jason migrated from the bed to the couch and stayed there the entire day, watching the news reports and drifting to sleep, only to jerk awake almost as soon as he’d settled into something restful.
Bizarro hovered over him, shooting Artemis concerned glances with ever increasing frequency, but she was at a loss. She knew very little about caring for a normal child, let alone one under such...circumstances.
“Watch him,” Artemis said once evening had fallen. She finished wrapping her arms and slid the guards on, tightening them until they were secure.
Bizarro nodded from his place on the couch beside the little one, who had clamped onto his side like a limpet and fought with him over ownership of the television remote.
“Where are you going?” Jason demanded, frowning at her.
“Nowhere you should concern yourself with.” She ignored his protests and left him with Bizarro, walking out the door and closing it firmly behind her. She could still hear his muffled, outraged complaints and the lower murmur of Bizarro soothing him.
Her armor was more conspicuous than the Man’s World clothing she possessed, but it made no difference in the low evening light. The town around her was quiet and the streets empty. Artemis took the same backroads they had originally taken when hunting the Harvester, back to the site of their confrontation with him.
The farm that hid the laboratory remained undisturbed. The Harvester had owned the property under his real name, and Jason’s digging had found no living relatives or friends.
Artemis stayed on high alert as she made her way down the secret entrance to the partially destroyed lab beneath the barn.
It was exactly as she’d left it. Blood still smeared the ground where the Harvester’s body had fallen, the only remaining evidence of his death at her hands.
She pursed her lips, staring at the dark stain.
It would not be long until Jason returned to normal, but she did not trust the unpredictable nature of magic, and the Harvester’s bubbling vats of liquid looked more like the science of Man’s World than the magic she was familiar with.
There was a tray of empty glass tubes on a nearby workbench. She picked one up and approached the broken vat that had shattered over Jason. The bottom was still filled with the eerie red liquid that had caused his current state. Artemis carefully filled the glass tube with liquid, sealing it with the small rubber stopper and tucking it away in one of the pouches at her waist.
Grimacing, she took one last look around before leaving again. She wanted to burn the entire thing to the ground and leave no trace, but until Jason was returned to normal she could not risk destroying something important.
The second he was returned to normal, she would let him blow the place up with his explosives.
Night had fully settled when she exited the barn. She was just beginning the walk back when she caught voices on the air. She tensed, ducking low to the ground. A few seconds later and the voices were clear enough for her to discern.
She buried her face in her hands and heaved a deep sigh, before straightening to her feet and glaring at her teammates.
Bizarro was ambling towards her, sheepish smile affixed to his face, while the little one sat on his shoulders, kicking his feet and pointing in her direction.
"I said watch him, not let him talk you into an evening stroll." Artemis scowled at him. Bizarro's cheeks colored, standing out against his pale skin even in the darkness.
Jason looked unrepentant. "You didn't say where you were going. We were worried."
"We?" Artemis arched a brow. "I'm not an idiot, little one. I know you are the mastermind behind this."
"It's a walk, not a theft." Jason pouted. "I don't see what the big deal is."
Of course he didn't, and Artemis likely couldn't even explain it to him properly without terrifying him into more nightmares.
"We will return to the motel," she said, instead of arguing the point further. She strode past Bizarro and started towards the gate at the end of the dirt drive. She could hear Jason muttering to Bizarro under his breath. "If you even think of flying away, Bizarro, you will not like what I do in response."
"Me follow Red Her," Bizarro said to the little one, voice small and gratifyingly cowed.
Artemis smirked and continued leading the way.
It shouldn’t be long now until the little one returned to normal.
Another day came and went.
The Harvester’s magic had worn off the enchanted organs within two days, but Jason’s state remained unchanged.
His inability to sleep grew only worse. His disposition became dour to the point that attempting to take the remote control from him resulted in him biting her and then immediately bursting into tears.
“We are in over our heads,” Artemis said, as Jason utterly refused to calm down, even rejecting Bizarro’s comfort, leaving the large Kryptonian hovering over him and wringing his hands. “I am taking you straight back to Gotham.”
Jason choked on a sob, rubbing at his eyes and shaking his head. “No!”
Before Artemis could even open her mouth to respond the little one was moving, leaping over the back of the couch and running for the front door. He managed to get the door swung open and had one foot outside when Bizarro appeared next to him and scooped him up into his arms. Jason struggled, but it was a futile endeavour when matched against Bizarro’s strength.
Bizarro closed the front door and carried the boy over to the couch where Artemis waited, arms crossed. Placing Jason gently down on the couch, Bizarro ran one hand through the little one’s hair. Jason flopped over, hiding his face against the couch cushions and very pointedly ignored them both.
A very loud, exaggerated sniff was her only response.
Artemis rolled her eyes and left him to sulk on the couch, going straight to the front door to lock it properly. She turned around to find Bizarro sitting on the couch and lifting Jason into his lap, the little one back to sobbing with his arms flung around the Kryptonian’s neck.
“Red Him am sad,” Bizarro told her, brow pinched in obvious worry. He rubbed his hand up and down the little one’s back, but Jason continued to climb more and more towards hysterics. A particularly loud shriek had Bizarro wincing, pulling his ear away slightly.
“Shrieking like that is only going to hurt Bizarro,” Artemis said, to which Jason’s only response was to get even louder in his histrionics and start his chest heaving like he was having difficulty breathing.
“Red Her should not say that,” Bizarro said, proving his skill with children once more by willingly putting himself closer to the hysterical shrieking in order to coo comforting noises in Jason’s ear. “Red Him be okay, me promise.”
Feeling inadequate and with the pounding of a headache crawling its way across her temples, Artemis slipped away, grabbing Jason’s phone out of the charger it had been sitting in for the last few days and taking it with her.
Outside, she could barely hear the little one’s sobs. She took a deep, calming breath and unlocked the phone, scrolling through Jason’s contacts—not many, on this phone—until she found the right number. She stared at it for a moment before jabbing the call symbol with a sigh of resignation.
“—you okay, little wing?”
Artemis clenched her jaw. “It’s Artemis.”
An audible inhalation. “What happened? Is he okay?”
“He is not—” Artemis licked her lips, grimacing “—injured.”
“Somehow, I am not filled with confidence.” There was the sound of tapping computer keys in the background.
Artemis stared up at the night sky while crickets chirped and Nightwing heaved a sigh that sounded both frustrated and worried.
“Where’s my brother, Artemis?”