Chapter 1: Awakening
Tim waits under the huge clock at City Hall for midnight. He doesn’t know why all city halls like to sport a giant clock like it’s all the rage, but whatever. It seems like the best place for a bit of melodrama. (Besides, he’s taken tips from the best drama queen cough starts with a ‘B’ and rhymes with juice cough ). The hand strikes the top and the clock booms, each gong vibrating his body underneath the clock face and finally— finally —Tim turns eighteen.
And Tim Drake Wayne gets what he’s been waiting for.
Sparks crackle under his tongue as his pupils narrow for a moment to take in the stars through the miles of smog. His skin ripples impatiently as his mother’s magic bubbles up and wakes in his bones at last. Finally, he thinks rubbing his chest at the fire that freaking hurts thank you very much right under his sternum. That’s gonna take awhile to get used to. Finally, he smiles when he looks down his shirt to see the muted glow flickering in time with his heartbeat. Ready to burn when necessary.
It's beyond totally rad.
Awaking his inner core is like being Robin for the first time again. Where everything is brand new: the sights, the smells, even the air tastes fresh with chemicals Tim can only begin to decipher coating his roof of his mouth. His heart beats hard at how exciting and dangerous it all is, just enough to make normal people run away screaming.
But then again when has he ever been normal?
Not since Mother set him on her knee to tell him what he is, what she is. Tim absentmindedly pulls off a gauntlet to claw the side of the building, trying to soothe his itching and aching nails as flashes of her pass through his mind.
Like the night when Mother thawed enough to remember her duties to her clutch egg. The eight-year-old boy fitting tight in her lap as she tends to his hands.
“We’re lucky your claws are soft enough for obsidian,” she muses as she efficiently moves from digit to digit, the volcanic glass snipping quickly. “When you’re older you'll have to grind them down with something more...durable, metal for instance, over and over to sharpen them to your liking.”
(Like he’s doing now. Augh. He’ll have to find a parking garage or something. Somewhere loud enough to cover the screeching nails on chalkboard sound, somewhere where the grooves he’s making will go unnoticed.)
The boy bounces once or twice and then bites his lip. “Mother?”
“Yes, my pet?”
“Did you marry Dad because his name was Drake?” Tim asks, looking up. There’s a scale somewhere at the base of her jaw, he just knows it.
“No.” But her tone mildly suggests otherwise. At Tim’s sceptical face she adds, “It might have made me more susceptible to his advances, however.”
“Oh my gosh, you so did.” His mom kept his dad over a pun.
Janet hums, bemused at her clutch child. What a silly thing. When his nails are done, she grooms his hair, double-checking for signs to hide. A charm or two can go a long way. Besides, she and Jack leave in the morning and it will not do for one of hers to be unkempt. Sometimes she wonders if the only reason she convinces Jack to return is for this, to sate the itch, the biting lips, the shaking of her fingers that will only stop if she checks and accounts for the hoard. Not that her human mate knows that everything in the quiet mansion is a part of her treasure.
“Are you ever going to tell Dad?”
“Tell him what?” She goes still. Her child is growing clever too fast. Not as easily placated as before.
Tim carefully moves, tracing the lone black piece that glimmers in the hollow under her ear.
She cocked her head at him, the crack her neck makes is unnatural. Her eyes flare a tiny bit bringing the purple out of them, the same purple that hides in Tim’s eyes. “No. Humans always panic.”
Tim cringes. “Always?”
“Always. And their weapons, their toys, my pet? Have gotten much, much better.” At his crestfallen face, she swoops down to press a kiss to his forehead. It burns. He knows there will be a light mark tomorrow, but he’ll still treasure it and outline where it used to be when it’s long gone. “Besides I’ve already decided to spend the rest of my days in this form with your father. Why tell him about something he’ll never see?”
The notion is irritating and Janet refuses to waste time considering it. Humans are so hard to convince. Hard to convince that the idea of your very being is real and then hard to convince that you mean them no harm. Janet huffs. A dragon’s patience is not limitless.
“Well, don’t you need to tell him about me?” He peers at her through his bangs.
Janet purses her lips. “Perhaps. We do not know how your father’s blood will mix with mine. We’ll see if it’s necessary when you come of age...but I doubt when your lessons are done that you’d be so foolish to slip and reveal yourself.” A hint to fang escapes her at the thought.
Tim gulped loudly.
“Oh, stop that. Your emotions are too clear, Timothy. Remember: cold face, cold voice. Let no one know your belly’s hot.”
Tim schools his face and tries his last question. “Do you really have to go?”
“Oh, my son, one day you will understand the call to find, to take, and hoard for yourself. But never collect people, Timothy.” Her sharp nails rake carefully over his scalp. The next words are softer, almost gentle for the ruthless woman. “Humans are too hard to keep, they don’t stay where you leave them...your heart weeps when they never stay.”
(Tim should have listened. There’s an old ache beyond the fire in his veins. Steph, Kon, Bart, Bruce...Dick. Yeah. He was an idiot. Then again...he shouldn’t have thought they were his in the first place.)
She turns him and settles the young child into bed. Pats the covers and turns off the lights. “If nothing else comforts you, remember this...you and your father are the only people in my hoard.” The glow of her eyes lulls him to sleep.
And the phrase did comfort him. No matter how rare it was for her to be warm, no matter how long their ‘trips’ were, no matter how utterly alone he felt among the priceless antiques and artifacts that multiplied over the years. He had a place to belong.
He was hers.
She just wasn't...his.
In the present, he stands and shakes himself loose from the wall. The others will be coming for him soon. Or at least Dick will. Something about birthday wishes and all that. You never know what is really going to hit the vigilante as super important, though it’s funny to see him shake up the bunch of bats. Tim even thinks he saw Damian kicking wrapping paper under the bed. Dick really did a number on him.
Speak of the devil and he shall appear. Tim smirks, and slips from the roof to meet the boy on another. (Gotta leave the evidence behind somehow, right?) He hears boots clip the side of the building with an angry huff.
Too bad Mother’s adages have their limits. The traditional favorite of ‘Eat him’ is just not going to cut it. No matter how tempting the solution is whenever Damian decides to be annoying, or vicious.
It’s regrettable sometimes.
Luckily, the boy has mellowed out from ‘let me stab you’ to ‘let me stab your insecurities’. It’s progress. Dick is so proud.
“Where have you been?” Damian snarls, getting up into Tim’s space. “Father and others have been wasting precious time looking for you everywhere. Even Grayson has cut back patrol for this ridiculous farce of a celebration.”
“Oh, did he? I didn’t get the memo.”
“Yes, you did,” the preteen hisses. “Grayson has sent text messages all day. If you say your phone has not been vibrating itself into oblivion, then you shall be the filthiest liar in my association.”
Aw, Tim feels so honored. “My phone is dead?”
Damian puffs up and Tim with his new sight can even see his face flush red in the dark. “Must you be absolutely impossible? How could you–” He freezes and sniffs the air primly. Then he turns to the man enraged. “Drake...have you been smoking ?”
“Why would I be –yes.” Tim switches tracks so fast his own head spins a little. “Yes. I’ve been smoking.” Fuck, he didn’t think that effect would take place so soon. He swallows down the version of nitroglycerin lingering in his mouth awkwardly and breathes through his nose to drown his sparks. But hey, the excuse would work, huh? Even mother carried a box of cigarettes just in case.
“Alfred shall be most displeased.” Damian narrows his eyes in disapproval.
“Well, Alfred should know that I’ve turned eighteen. I’m now an official adult. Free to destroy my body in any way I choose like the Waynes before me. Be grateful that I’ve picked my vice in coffee and smoke instead of the horrible wiles of flesh...like Dick.”
The line earns him a wrinkled nose and glare. “You are completely despicable, Drake.”
“I am,” Tim continues. “But don’t you fear, you won’t catch me smoking. Ever. No secondhand smoke ruining your lungs for you.”
“How beyond gracious of you,” Damian snorts. Tim smiles. Damian pushes on his back towards the edge of the building. “Now come. Everyone is waiting for you and you will not waste my time a moment more.”
For that, Tim deliberately takes the long way home, just to hear Damian angrily spew curses behind him. It’s his birthday, let him have this.
He takes into account other changes in the meantime. His steps are a little quicker, his jumps higher, longer until he uses his grappling hook only as a means to not to arouse suspicion to the boy struggling to keep up behind him until Tim actually slows down to keep the distance between them short. He bets he’s stronger too, but any other tests will have to wait. He’s probably not as strong as a meta, like Kon or Clark...not like this of course, but it won’t be something to laugh at.
Like how well his skin can take a hit..or a bullet now.
Poor B. The Bats really pride themselves on being completely powerless. Using tools and toys to compete with the whole superhero community (and generally come out kicking all their asses). Tim was gonna have to work twice as hard to cover up his tracks to avoid any...realizations. It’ll take a detective to fool a detective or take a few more ‘Titan’ missions out of Gotham to keep things under wraps. Missions that are more working on the tight pinch growing between his shoulder blades that’s starting to get real annoying. After a few hours he’ll definitely have to find a place to shift soon. Shed skin and fly until light cracks over the dirty city.
Will he have the same coloring as Mother? Dark ebony scales that merge into the night? Is he the size of a horse? A house?
Tim can’t wait to find out.
“H-Hurry up, Drake!” Damian wheezes when he gets the lead for a second or two. You know, when Tim pauses enough to let him catch up.
He can’t wait to see what kind of Drake he is. In his ear, he can almost hear an echo of his Mother’s voice.
‘Happy Birthday...my pet.’
Happy Birthday indeed.
Chapter 2: Fights and Reveals
Tim is a detective...who lives with a bunch of detectives. The other Bat's start noticing something different about one of their own. And Tim realizes that he can't hide forever.
First I want to thank all the readers who left such lovely comments to inspire me to continue. Your words really motivated me even when the writer's block was strong and I ADORE you for it.
Next I couldn't have posted this without the incredible wintersnight and All seer. All seer was brilliant at editing and catching my terrible grammar mistakes and wintersnight (WHOSE TIM DRAKE STUFF IS AMAZING AND YOU SHOULD CHECK OUT HER STUFF RIGHT NOW) helped out with the last part of this chapter. The muse took her over and she wrote most of the fantastic fight scene at the end. (I watched with popcorn, it was great.)
Overall I'm happy with this chapter and I think you'll be too. Enjoy.
Like finding gold dust on a blood moon, there are times Tim will hear about his Mother. It’s difficult to encounter another drake, they’re too rare, too widely spread that it’s a miracle that Tim has met two. But it’s always a surprise to hear that Janet Drake is considered a romantic, sentimental imbecile to other dragonfolk.
To mate with a human is one thing, but to shift and willingly live beside them in their pitiful metal ant hills? Preposterous.
And to carry young on that state? Inside of their own bodies instead of in a proper shell as hard as diamonds? Unheard of.
What foolish unnecessary risks.
Tim felt his core bubble in warmth whenever he hears such slander. That Mother would care that much. Once, he did approached her on the subject.
“I spent many centuries as a upstanding, model drake.”Janet sniffed disdainfully, steering Tim from a fuming man at one of Gotham’s many galas. The drake from the east is starting to show, smoke passing from his nose uncontrollably. How embarrassing, her Timothy showed more restraint when he was three. “Now I find it much more valuable of my time to do as I please. Besides, the fact remains that my line will continue to endure and adapt unlike most bloodlines that will taste stone and dust.”
Tim summed it up to, ‘I do what I want. Leave me alone or burn.’
She glanced behind her to give the man a subtle sneer. What a fool to think that she would accept such an inadequate betrothal for her son. And, to add insult to injury, the man’s daughter hadn’t even bothered to present herself. “A dragon is a dragon, Timothy. It doesn't matter if you are half, a quarter or only possess a single drop of our blood. Magic doesn't care. It will still take, you will still shift, you will still fly. And if those incessant pathetic hair ribbons say anything different, show them there are still ways to make a dragon fry.”
Tim loved his Mother.
It’s...a shame he’s the only one who knew how she died.
And it wasn’t from that stupid water Obeah left, no matter how traditional to dragon slaying poison is. True it weakened her to the point of inducing a death-like coma, but if Tim lifted an eyelid the iris would still flash and respond. If Tim pressed his hand to her chest, he’d still feel the hint of fire tucked within.
Robbing the cemetery had been a pain though. It’s not like he could just tell Dad that, ‘Um hey, mother’s not dead. No, I know she seems like she’s dead. Yes, I know she doesn’t have a pulse, but you see–’
Yeah, not happening.
He abused his connections for a nice cave carved out of the cliff face next to the manor. It’s not like Mr. Wayne was using it. It could be accessed from the rocky beach if necessary, the entrance tight until you were a couple meters in. Then it stretched enough for his mother’s body to shift unconsciously, so the dragon could heal and sleep in peace.
Tim had thought it was perfect.
It didn’t matter much in the end.
Not when Mother finally woke and could smell Tim’s lie about Dad. Not when she stopped eating. The young teen would find, hunt, and drag dead deer and antelope into the cave only to rot around her body as she stared emptily at the stone walls. She waited for death. Nothing could change her mind...no matter how much he begged and pleaded.
“Please!” He stroked her rough eyelid, thoughts racing for any excuse for her to stay with him. To not leave him alone. “Isn’t there something you still have to teach me?”
His hand falls away as a lazy violet eye cracks open. It’s bigger than his head and the pupil focuses so achingly slow. “You’ve known all since you turned twelve, my pet. Our race never repeats themselves, not with memories like ours.”
“B-But I need–”
“You have my hoard, you will not go without means. You have my brain, you will do well and even thrive. You have a territory, a perfect environment for your future form and most of all you possess a purpose to keep your heart beating. Even if it is as ridiculous as looking after those silly humans. I am satisfied...now let me die in peace.”
“No please, m-mother, stay with me.”
“Oh, my darling. One day you will understand. Our love... is a terrible thing.”
And with that she stopped responding. Tim reasoned, screamed, cried while the reflection of his distraught face became clear in those unblinking glassy eyes. His throat raw as he hit and scratched uselessly at the black scales going grey, like the ashy rock dripping behind them until the camouflage of her skin was truth and she was stone.
Like all dragons when they die.
That’s how Timothy Drake inherited Gotham, sobbing on his knees as the refuge became a crypt.
It takes several years before Tim raids another grave...his father’s.
After all, Mother would appreciate his skeleton crystallizing next to hers. She would have liked that.
Timothy still loves his Mother.
It's a slow night and Jason’s gonna explode. He's stopped four muggings, seven car thefts, and a couple of kids trying to make a molotov cocktail. Okay, Jason felt bad at stopping the last one, come on what is he turning into? A twitchy cop? Geez, let kids be kids and fuck the police. He’s about to shoot his own damn foot for some excitement when he sees something in the corner of his eye as he hits the next roof.
Oh-ho? In the curve of hanging gargoyles menacingly scowling at those is a hint of red that tugs a smirk on Hood’s lips.
Well, alright, he hasn't meant that name in a bad way for a while. It's not like Jay wants to carve a new one in Mr. Serious anymore. Sure, he’s an annoying prude with the biggest stick up his ass, hangin’ off Bats’ every word like the good guard dog, the good tool he is, but, hey, he ain't a bad guy. Saved Jay from enough pinches that he feels right and guilty about the whole almost bleedin’ him out thing. So he makes it up the only way he can..with tough love. Plus, the more Jay can shake that Babybird nice and loose, the better. He takes in the former Robin’s figure, how he’s hunched in upon himself. His head of black resting on his knees as the crouch tucks him right under one of the silent stone guardians.
Babybird snoozing on the job? Have some shame.
Not that Jay has any of that. He barely stops himself from snickering, giving himself away when the helmet goes static for it, and creeps closer. Close enough to get the best view of the little shit’s face. It takes a Bat to sneak up on a Bat, you know. A grin spreads wide on his cheeks as he pulls his gun from his holster (it’s only rubber bullets now, calm the fuck down) Then, he aims to the sky and fires.
The crack of the bullet gives Jay the most beautiful flinch and jerk you ever did see–
–but the returning blast of burning hot possible death that floods the ledge is not.
It takes every scrap of speed he has to not singe his fucking eyebrows off. It’s more fire than force, but thank Batman for quick reflexes and the tell tale click near Red.
“What the hell, Babybird?” Smoke billows, curling around the two and Jason coughs, waving his arms madly.
“I could say the same for you, asshole.” In the black mess, a spark sputters between Tim’s teeth, just like an annoying lighter that flickers and hurts your thumb the more you try, as he tries to control his shaky breathing. Inhale. Damn, that really startled him. Exhale. His fangs sink into his lower lip, drawing blood over the rude awakening. He shakes his head like a dog, forcing what was sharp canines into blunt square human teeth. “Gunshot really? Gosh, you always have to be a dick, don’t you?”
“Do you always have to throw something flashy when ya wake up? Ain’t that Robin’s way?” Jason brushes his clothes, disgruntled. He didn’t see a flash grenade or anything, but Bats right? More prepared than a Girl Scout.
“Maybe.” Tim wonders how long he’s going to get convenient excuses.
“What? Ya sleep with them or something? Didn’t know ya needed a teddy bear, Replacement.”
Tim smirked, “Oh, come on, Hood, didn’t you learn to let sleeping dragons lie?”
“Ha, ha. Whatever, call it a night, you pyromaniac piece of shit.” Jason puts his gun away and fishes for a peace offering under his collar. He thrusts the white cigarette at the other, “Smokes?”
“Not right now, Hood.”
“Your loss, Replacement.” Jason lights it, dragging a puff to cover up a pout. Hmpf, stuffy princess. Doesn’t drink with him (I’m not legal to drink, Jason). Never smokes with him (We have set an example to Damian, Jason). Jay should be offended cause nowadays Tim carries the hazy scent round like a club’s perfume and Jay knows he’s hiding the good stuff somewhere.
He’s just never seen Tim do it.
Tim observes the turn of Jason’s mouth and jerks his head towards the street below, “Not smokes, but you hungry enough for hotdogs?”
“This is Gotham, baby, when I am ever not down for hotdogs?”
The two shoot their grappling lines towards a vendor who’s too used to this shit to give one. But as Tim rattles off their order, something itches at Jason. Something that’s off.
(The Gargoyle they left above bares new marks along its side. The side that Jason couldn’t see. They were not chiseled in, but Tim is sure most wouldn’t notice the new additions.)
He’ll figure it out.
Timmy’s been sleeping more.
Dick is so grateful he wipes at an imaginary tear, sniffs, and whips out his phone to snap a picture again. Tim doesn’t snore, but that’s definite drool on his chin, niiiiiiiiiiice. Dick takes in the scene and gets another shot from a different angle. He almost has a full album now titled, Behold the Cryptid Sleeps, it’s only fair after all the pictures Tim took of them when he was their cutest little stalker. For now, Dick just calls it karma and texts Babs to back the good stuff up.
But, okay, Dick admits it’s starting to get weird.
And Timmy’s sleeping habits have always been weird. Before he had stolen Bruce’s crown and title of Sleep Dep King. Working on case after case, day after day only to finally pass out, usually with something like,
“How many days does it take to start hallucinating again, Bruce?”
“Huh, so that’s why you’re purple with seven eyes.”
It usually takes a lot to get Timmy to crash and burn into a bed, usually (always) in the form of Alfred and good food laced with sedatives. It’s not that Timmy doesn’t know that they’re in the food, it’s just that no one says no to Alfred Pennyworth. No one.
But now it’s like Tim is on an egg timer and it’s wonderful.
After about 24 or 26 hours, against his will, Timmy starts swaying on his feet and lurches grumpily towards a safe, soft spot to snooze. True, Dick notes sometimes they’re odd places, like underneath the desk of the bat computer, nestled in much of the wiring. Or head resting on the kitchen table, his angry eyes drooping with, “I don’t understand. Coffee has failed me, Alfred.”
“Our bodies change over time, Master Timothy. One cannot expect caffeine to sustain them forever.”
“You’re...lying. You did something to the coffee, admit it!”
“I have not...this time.”
“You must have I...can’t even–” But Tim doesn’t get to finish the response.
“Master Dick I believe Master Timothy needs to be escorted to his room. If you would–” Alfred leaves the sentence open, because anytime Dick can hold an unconscious, not struggling brother? You know he’s all over that.
Bruce has even started to prioritize breaks in the patrol schedule for Tim. Or, to be more accurate, he’s encouraging (enforcing) Tim to use the breaks that have always been there.
But…really the switch in the dynamic is kinda odd, especially when Dick finds Tim on one of the Manor’s couches after patrol, his skin paler than milk and shivering in his sleep. When the room is set to 75 degrees….and he’s under at least five blankets.
Dick pads over and cups the younger vigilante face in two hands. “Holy Batman, Timmy, you're as cold as ice.” His brow furrows when Tim barely responds to the statement, his eyes half open to blurrily peer at Dick. That’s not a good sign. Plus, he’s is not kidding. Tim’s skin is cool to the touch, it could compete with one of the dripping stalagmites in the cave.
“S’cold Dick…and tired.” The words push out of his lips clumsily. He raises his arms to grasp the Dick’s wrists as if he was going to push the hands off his cheek and then just forgot. The heat’s too inviting. “Just need sleep, m’fine.”
“I think you're a liar that lies, Babybird.” Dick leans back only to pull the covers off enough to slip beside Tim onto the couch. He tugs the boy in with an arm until Tim's head finds a comfy spot on his shoulder. Heck yeah, it's cuddle time. The best way to share body heat ever. He looks around the den and sees the remote for the T.V. It takes a few tries to stretch in a way to get it, especially without moving too far from Tim, but Dick’s not an acrobat for nothing.
Tim huffs a weary laugh against Dick’s neck, “Well, I'm the guy that lies to Batman, you know.”
“Shhhhhhh, he’ll hear you.” Dick pats Tim’s hair, starts clicking channel after channel (a thousand channels is just not enough) for something to watch.
“M’good, you can go.” Tim didn’t expect it would take so long for his core to normalize. Fire might smoulder under his breast, but damn it, it’s sucking most of the heat from his extremities. To his calculations, it may be months before his body can adjust to the change...if ever. Tim can already imagine the mountain of clothing he’ll need for Gotham’s winter. Mother got away with it by layering and calling in fashion. How is Tim going to spin it when he’s jumping off roof-tops fat with every wool item he can find? Oh. Or he could design heaters in his clothing. That could work. But still, this is the reason why most drakes live near volcanoes. Temperature regulation is a bitch.
Dick hums above him and breaks Tim’s line of thought. Oh well, he guesses he’ll stay here for a bit longer, just until he thaws out and stops being an Tim-icicle. It’s not that Dick minds, right? He fades away at the sound of a bad romantic comedy playing in the background.
He doesn’t see the frown on Dick’s face.
Or hear him quietly whisper into his com, “Alfred, could you run some tests for me?”
Alfred would have a conniption.
“Drake, you wretched slob.”
Damian must see to it that the competent butler never visits the former Robin. Ever. The man is old and truly must be spared from any health issues that may occur from witnessing this vile display of chaos. In fact, Damian wishes he could spare himself from the scene, yet Father did request him to fetch the evidence and Dick is off planet. How dare he.
Damian squints pass the entrance only to flinch back. There in the dark, two pinpricks of purple follow his every move...and hiss.
The Robin swallows and forces the door open all the way, allowing the dim light from the basement to flood the room. There are no light switches. It’s...odd. The boiler hums nearby explaining the heat that’s almost sweltering. Heaps of objects litter the floor, making narrow pathways here and there. Fortunately, food must be absent in the debris since the smell lacks rot. Instead what perfumes the air is what Damian associates with his predecessor, the smell of spices burned with a touch of something chemical. Gasoline, perhaps? Damian’s breathing finally evens out when he spots a mess of black hair poking out from a mountain of bedding.
Blearily, Tim focuses on the intruder. “Damian? What are you doing here?” he sleepily grumbles.
Though Grayson might find the tone endearing, Damian does not.
“I have come for the Spear of Enue. Father requires it and has requested me to retrieve it from you. He said it was in your possession?”
“B needs to leave my stuff alone.” Tim sits upright, staring emptily for a moment and clearly displeased about being awake. Then, with a groan he sluggishly works himself out of the bedding. “But a case is a case, I guess. Yeah, I have it, just give me a sec to get it.”
“The spear is here?”
A hum. “Sure, it is, why wouldn’t it be?”
Well, at least Drake seems more amenable when half-awake. Robin crosses his arms and strives not to look too haughty. Usually collecting data from the older vigilante takes more coaxing (threats) and persuasion (heavy bickering) to get the desired result. Perhaps he should lend his assistance.
“Drake, where are your lights? Two pairs of eyes would obviously be quicker than one.”
“Lights?” A confused tone. “Why would I need lights? I can see just fine.”
“Tch, I’m surprised you can locate anything in this outrageous dump.”
“Mother always said I was a messy hoarder, but I have a strong belief that mess is a matter of perspective. Besides, I know exactly where everything is.”
Tim slinks out of bed and makes his way toward a pile that seems to have earned the category of lethal and shiny weapons. Damian attempts to move towards the same direction, but his foot hits an item and he just manages to make the trip look intentional. Of course, Drake was not even looking. Wait.
“Drake, is that my katana?” He points to the hilt barely poking out from the bottom, half of the weapon slithering from under the bed.
It’s a silly habit that Tim can’t shake from childhood to put the most prized things under his bed, like the old cardboard box full of pictures, a few stacks of spanish golden doubloons marked from a toddler’s teething, a cursed ruby the size of a skull, you know the usual.
“...Yes?” Tim’s head bobs up from his search and glances over at the weapon. Then, he pauses for a moment or two, his expression shifting so fast (Mine, not mine, mine, not mine) that Damian cannot place it, “Oh, sorry. I guess you’d want that back. I mean, of course you do, it belongs to you, I only had it because you were gone and–”
Drake cuts off, making no movement towards the old katana. Damian reasons it must have been acquired while he was not among the living. He doesn’t know how to feel about Drake keeping that kind of memento, yet he notes there is a definite lack of rage that usually accompanies such a theft. In addition, Drake looks like a petulant child.
“It does not matter. I no longer require a child’s katana.” Damian waves a hand to the other heaps. “The spear, however, Drake, Father needs immediately.”
It is then he notices Drake’s unusual attire. The vigilante groggily separates the pile for what Damian seeks in boxers and a baggy Gotham U sweatshirt that keeps sliding over a white shoulder. How peculiar, Drake never went to college so why...ah, yes, Dick. But what really has Damian’s brows rising is the two thick watches on Tim's wrist. One that he's definitely seen on his father once before and a glint of something shiny peeking from the sweatshirt.
“Do you often sleep in diamonds, Drake?”
“They're nice to look at before bed,” Tim muttered absentmindedly.
“Is that a slogan for this new fashion statement?” Damian walks over and curiously pulls down the collar to look at it more closely. Many of the gems are larger than an egg as they lace together in the metal filigree. It covers a wide band over Drake’s collarbones before cascading towards his sternum in delicate chains. “This piece is familiar to me. Drake, are these the jewels we recovered from Catwoman?”
“One, I demand the fundamental human right to always be pretty, witty, and gay. You’ll understand when you’re older. Two, I bought these from that auction fair and square, so Selina should have keep her mangy paws off them.”
Suddenly, Damian remembers that specific tackle to take down the thief had been...more enthusiastic and vicious on Drake’s part. Usually Father is the one to handle any incidents with her, but perhaps all it takes is emotional investment to pin down the slippery woman.
Tim pries off Damian’s fingers only to press what he seeks in them. “Here, the spear. Now, get out. If you’re gonna mock and insult me, I want four more hours of sleep first.”
The spear is heavy, but Damian manages with a tilt to this lips. “Very well, I’ll skin and eviscerate you later, Drake.”
Drake snorts. “And, hey, you have a spear and everything. All you have to do is be knighted and we’d have the perfect fairytale set up. Farewell, Sir Brat.” He waves to the door before collapsing onto the bed, preparing his nest the way he wants it.
Damian watches the ritual all the way to the door. Stops to take in the scene one a final time. It’s strange, but it does seem like a lair from one of his grandfather’s monster stories. Dark, warm like a breathing thing, full of hidden treasure...and danger.
How right he is.
But he comes to the realization later...much later.
Bruce has seen a lot.
He’s fought aliens on ships millions of lightyears from Earth and tangled with kraken under the sea. He’s negotiated with Circe for Diana’s sake and fed viruses to ruin robot armies for Clark’s. He’s handled witches, sorcerers, and time-travellers from around the world. Every night he tries to plug one of Gotham’s bleeding holes as they gush out the vile and the crazy with the Joker, Ivy, Harvey, and more.
Bruce has seen a lot.
But the universe keeps surprising him one way or another. And sometimes? Closer to the heart then he expected.
“So, you’re the drake that rejected my proposal.”
“And you’re the dame that didn’t even bother to show up to make it.”
Bruces eyes flicker back and forth between his third son and the young, literally steaming woman in front of them. Her pale white hair whips behind her like something alive. The villain of the month does the same. Apparently, Gotham has the perfect waterfront property for the taking, especially with the leyline that cuts right through the city or so the warlock just finished monologuing about.
“What are you doing? I said destroy them.” The fuming sorcerer demands pointing at the Bat-clan. Golems rise in various stages around them being the only opponents beyond the man and woman. They’re all near the Manor by the beach, a few miles from the city but even with the home field advantage...Bruce feels a thread of concern to see Dick, Jason, Tim, and Damian joining him to put their backs against the cliff face below his family home.
“Just a moment, Master, I have some unfinished business to attend to.” The woman raises a hand and starts to undo her cloak.
“Master? My, my.” Tim flicks his bo to the side. It’s not going to be useful here. Ugh, this is not how he wanted this to go. “Just how low has your line fallen? Mother was right to refuse to even consider you as a candidate. Do you follow his every command or do you just lick his boots?”
“How. Dare. You.” The woman’s eyes glow yellow and her voice’s pitch becomes grating.
Tim snorts. “Look at you. You can’t even control your shift…pathetic.”
“Red Robin, the situation, now.” Bruce tries striking another golem, but Tim ducks to put himself between the Bats and the newcomers.
“You judge me, when you wear human flesh so much that you stink of it? Your true scent barely bleeds through.” The odor of rancid sulfur strikes the air. The woman peels off her clothes, layer by layer until a pile litters the sand. “ Half-breed.”
Rude. The human and dragon are both his scents. Tim thinks he smells fine, thanks.
“I said–” The villain tries to command but the dame strides towards Red Robin.
“How are you different from me? The warlock will save my line and give us power, but you? You play at human.”
“I do what I want,” Tim icily states. “Which is more that I can say for you. Now get out of my territory or burn.”
“No, I think I’m going to put a male in his place. Beneath me.” And the woman lets out a cry that turns into a roar. The other Bats watch as the woman’s form hutches over, makes a terrible crack and then grows. And grows. And grows. Scales take shape as her neck elongates and it’s sickening. Before them a white dragon rises and crashes a claw on the beach. It’s the size of a house.
‘Well…’ Bruce thinks. ‘That’s something new.’
“A dragon, come on. You have to be fuckin’ kiddin’ me,” Jason snarls, shooting at the beast. The rubber bullets do nothing but irritate the overgrown Godzilla-wanna-be.
“Wait, it gets better,” Tim mutters. “So, burn it is. This is why we can’t have nice things between dragons. What a pity...bring it.”
And there is a collective gasp.
Because Tim smirks and the beach is overcome with a violent blast. When the smoke clears...there’s nothing?
Nothing but the golems on the beach, the Bats fighting them and the warlock hissing out commands to a white giant worm, who is diverting much from his cunning plan.
But no Tim.
The white dragon shrieks in fury and raises her giant wings, preparing to crush those on the sand when something large slams into her side. She lurches over and peers over her shoulder. Nothing. But several of her scales are cracked from the impact.
Then, it’s as if thunder booms right in front of them, making their eardrums ring from the force of the sound. Under the blow, the white worm topples forward attempting to steady herself.
It’s shadowy and massive, a heavy body and the thumping beat of wings. It’s slowly moving into the moonlight on the beach, kicking up sand.
The Bats shields their eyes even with the whiteouts down, the gust knocking into kevlar and nomac. Nightwing automatically throws an arm out to keep Robin from falling; Hood makes an unconscious grab to the other arm.
And when he lights down, massive razor-tipped claws digging into the sand, the black scales and shiny leather of wings give the Bats one hell of an answer to all those burning questions.
Timmy’s always cold.
The cave, the hoard.
The night vision.
The ever-ready exploding “pellets”.
All of it comes to a sudden dawning realization.
The baddie of the night looks from one dragon to the other, trepidation leaking in because who would have thought two dragons at once.
Low muttering, winding a spell even as the new dragon throws back his power neck and roars . It shakes them down to their very bones, a sound unlike any they’ve heard before.
The shift of muscle, dark eyes narrowing, and the first lunge is punctuated by the abrupt cries of the Bats who have come to the realization this is one of their own.
But there’s no pause when claws come up to strike, when the first is a good one, raking into her side, putting his first blow into soft underbelly, close to the intended target.
(Only one way to kill a dragon, the heart has to go.)
“Mother fuck--Tim! ” But Hood can do nothing but watch the blood, ripe and rich in the night splatter the beach, hoping stupidly it ain’t all Red’s.
“Get to the sides!” the Batman roars, already moving, already reaching for the next weapon in his belt.
He sees the opening when both dragons rear up on hind legs for the next blow, his gauntlet spitting out flash pellets.
It’s go time as the rest of the Robins take it all in and move. Robin pulls a duck and dodge through legs with a batarangs ready for the baddie on the other side.
Hood pulls a whole lotta how ya’ doin’ when the .45s spit a few rubber bullets right on the gouge marks, sliding through the sand as the bigger dragon leans down to latch teeth into Tim’s neck and hold the fuck on.
Nightwing leaps, even with the sand trying to bog him down, both sticks out in a double blow at the exposed weakness behind the white dragon’s ear. He has enough time to cringe at the sound of pain tearing into the night, to see the gleam of claws sinking into her belly in a knee-jerk reaction.
The fight going on behind them, the golem starting to shift and move at the sorcerer’s botched command, and Robin just breathes out a deep damn sigh because honestly, some of us have homework to dumb down. But he shifts, pulling out pellets in rapid succession as he moves closer to the army. The abrupt, “huu,” is just more proof he is a superior marksman. The mental note to pick up the tome from which those accursed spells emanate from is another task on the night’s to-do list.
The abrupt shock of Nightwing’s stick and the barrage of bullets takes its toll, getting the white dragon to jerk away from that black jugular, to rear back with pain.
The claws sink deeper, Red growling low, smoke curling from his maw. His eyes slide to the sides, making sure the Bats are out of firing range before he opens his maw with that familiar and suddenly very telling click.
“Down!” It’s Batman that throws the last exploding batarang within range to the white dragon’s injured belly, so the blast of burning blue flame ignites, sets the soft, vulnerable innards to char.
Red, however, takes the last blow for his own (because she picked the wrong fucking city, the wrong family, the wrong dragon to fuck with), claws sinking in, and the meaty thump in the center is just at the right place to reach.
With a low gravelly huff, “try me.”
“You wouldn’t,” her voice cracks from agony.
“Threaten what’s mine, and I won’t think twice.” He gives just the smallest squeeze to punctuate the point.
“Better not fuck with him, bitch,” Hood’s voice, lazy through the synths while he eyes the army Demon has started to rip into, “he ain’t one ta joke.”
The white dragon growls and the iridescent black dragon can feel her tensing up as if to give her last hurrah, to go out with a bang, but he’s having none of that. He snarls, the sound deep from within his chest as he snaps his jaws just in front of the dame’s face, sparks clicking behind his gleaming ivory teeth. “You should know,” he practically purrs, “there are fates worse than death. Don’t. Push. Me.” His threats, thankfully get the right reaction. She sags with a trailing growl, eyes glittering with malice and defeat.
“Go. Get out of my territory.” The words leave no argument.
“W-Who...” she spits blood, dotting the sand, “who would want...your... shoddy terr-territory anyway.”
Slowly, he retracts, pulling his claws back while the click echoes against the bluff, a warning and a promise. But the dame doesn’t move to start the fight up again. She needs time to heal the grievous injuries. The mage will earn his own fate.
“And now, next on the list,” Nightwing sighs, looking from the dragon to where Robin has starting whipping out the tricks and traps on the moving golem.
“By the way, Timmers,” Hood’s neck cranes as he look up at the massive face hanging low, the chest heaving with that little scuffle. “You ever think, hmm, I dunno to say you might be a mother fucking dragon or some shit? I mean, don’t they say that shit right off the fucking bat?”
The dragon huffs down at him as Hood holds up a hand to demonstrate, “‘nice ta meetcha. Name’s Timmy. Like long flights ‘round the beach, beatin’ the shit outta assholes, and literally roasting my enemies. Ya know, just the usual shit for Gotham.”
Now that huff is a laugh, he’s godamned sure of it.
The wings make a massive move, shimmering in the moonlight, and his back legs shift. His head comes down, nudges at Hood’s back for a little let’s get a move on.
“Sure, sure. Not gonna say a damn thing ‘bout the colors, asshole. Makes ya look awful pretty tho, don’t it?”
“I can’t believe you’re being so mean.” Nightwing shakes a finger at him and lifts one hand to pat Red on top of the head. “He’s awesome. Timmy, I want a ride, okay?”
“Less talk, more walk.” Batman gives no shits about being anything other than the boss and pushing past his sons to get to the next fight. “Tim, we’re having a meeting after this, and Alfred is taking care of those injuries. No backtalk.”
The next noise is definitely something probably a whine because c’mon, it was only a little blood this time.
But the Bats move. Even with the heavier steps, they make it work like a team.
Red’s tail moves in a crushing sweep, giving them enough time to leap over it when needed, sending shattered bits of rock clay all over the place.
Robin is knee-deep and fighting, makes an abrupt leap up and lands on the back of Red’s neck to rebound, tugging on Red’s ear to direct using a pointed finger. A slash of claws and huffing roar takes out the next slew. Nightwing and Hood have a back-to-back bonding moment when fists and long punches do the job right.
B is, of course, water and wind, flowing in sweeping shadows to make each shot count. Twice.
There’s a mound of debris, one unconscious mage, and a dragon flopped over to give it a rest when it’s all said and done.
Hood breaks open the helmet because if anyone ever deserved a cigarette right now, it’s him.
“Tim?” Nightwing already has hands roving over the scaled neck, craning down to see how bad the injury is, “Tim, talk to me if you can.”
He might be nonverbal, fights take a lot in this form, but an affirmative huff is pretty much the usual I’m fine.
Robin tentatively leans down to be within one of those large, familiar eyes, “Drake, there is no possible way we can carry you back to the Manor without the Batwing. Tell me you have at least enough working brain cells to return to your smaller form?”
The Bat, however, tisks away, “It’s fine. We’ll manage. I have several superheroes on speed dial for just such an emergency.” Then, Bruce’s hand lands on the back of Tim’s neck. “By the way, Tim... you have some explaining to do.”
And with that Tim realizes there’s more scarier things than a twenty foot long, fire-breathing dragon.
Like a man.
That calls himself ‘The Night.’
Chapter 3: Confessions and Fairytales
Things get said.
The Bats find out why no one should know Tim's a dragon.
Tim worries over matters of the heart.
This has been a long time in the making. Thanks so much for your encouragement and suggestions. :D Enjoy!!!
Tim would like to remind all vigilantes present that he is a dragon. An actual fire-breathing lizard with claws that can scratch through cement like styrofoam and is currently much, much bigger than any human in the Batcave.
Tim is a dragon. A freaking dragon, he doesn’t deserve this.
“Tim, this is the last time I’m going to say this. Stop moving. Right now.” Tim freezes at the unyielding tone in Bruce’s voice. “Alfred can’t finish the stitches in your right shoulder when you move like that.”
“Bruce, I’m fine. I’m a dragon, I don’t need this,” he repeats very, very slowly as if the fact will finally sink into his audience’s brain if he says it enough.
“So you have said for the last eighteen times, but that’s not going to stop me from grounding you if you keep this up.”
Maybe he needs to try nineteen times. “You can’t ground me, I’m emancipated.”
“Try me. I’m sure I can find one way or another to keep you benched for months.”
“I’m bigger than you.”
“Magical transformations do not count. Not when you’re usually 5’5”. Damian only needs one more inch and bit to beat you and he’s almost 12.”
Damian snickers from where he’s admiring ebony claws, Tim reflexively makes a loose coil of them, paw up and the Robin just plops downs to gleefully compares the sizes of each one. Each is longer than his head.
“Drake, do you shed these like other reptiles shed skin?” Damian asks.
Tim’s second eyelid, the clear one, slowly moves across his iris to blink, “No, but I guess I could pry one out for you. It’s like ripping off a nail, but they do grow back. It’d make a wicked dagger huh?”
Damian for a moment looks his age and damn that’s sorta sweet, nothing beats dangerous pointy objects for little boys. Plus, it’s nostalgic in a way, Mother used to pull out a few scales for him to keep and play with. He’d spend hours tilting them from side to side, their iridescent shine flickering in the light. Tim makes a motion with his other paw to follow through with the idea when he flinches at the next sharp dig of a sailing needle.
“Master Timothy, I believe we’ve already discussed the unhealthy nature of self-harming tendencies. Do we need to have that conversation again?” The disapproval bleeding from the butler's face is more excessive than from the wound he’s closing.
“...No, Alfred.” Though really if Alfred honestly thought talking worked, he’d strap all the bats to the table and never let them leave. Tim mock whisper-growls out of the side of his snout, “Robin, I’ll save one for you if I ever break one in a fight.”
Is that an honest smile from the kid? Oh my gosh it really is. The boy ducks his head as if to cover it but Tim caught it and he’s going to hack the feeds as a birthday present to Dick later.
Dick is a grown man.
Does he really need to use his back spines like a jungle gym? Nevermind that it’s the man’s motto, no mountain, building, monument, dragon unclimbed.
He whistles as he comes up near Alfred to examine the shoulder, “Wow, she really took a big bite out of you!”
“I still beat her.”
“Yah, barely. Shoulda let us in the know before she tore into ya. Especially if yer gonna pick fights with every bitch twice the size as ya.”
“Dames are supposed to be larger than males, Jason!”
“Sure they are, Mister Tiny.”
“Don’t make me squish you.” He flaps his wings warningly, Jason flips him the bird and makes his way to plop down on the steps for a better view of the show.
“Just try it, ya overgrown gecko.”
“Guys, guys, can we not fight?” Dick attempts to soothe ruffled feathers and scales. “Tim, calm down. Jason might be *gasp * implying that he cares about the beating you got.”
“I won, Dick. Why is everyone forgetting that?”
“And, Jay, knock it off. Tim’s big enough that fighting in a cramped cave is not going to be pretty–”
“Cramped cave, my ass,” Jason snorts and points a finger up at the expanse of the cave. “Betcha he can’t reach the ceiling.”
“That’s it.” Tim’s claws grate on stone, a flicker of heat in his throat. Not that he’d really hurt Jason...too bad. Just enough for a good scare and singe that stupid leather jacket a bit. A weight settles on his paw and he peers down to see Damian nonchalantly sitting on it, inspecting the sharpness of a batarang in his hand.
“This show of useless machismo bores me, what is the phrase? Ah yes, ‘Girls, you’re both pretty.’ Father, have you decided how this new development will affect Drake’s role in the team? Or will you allow this petty dispute to continue?”
Bruce raises an eyebrow amused. “Dispute? What dispute? I doubt either of the boys could forget who’s currently on Tim’s back?”
Which they had.
And B doesn’t mean Dick. Alfred snips dainty, the sound clear in all their ears. The butler raises his head to give Jason one look, one and the man wilts, shoving his hands in his pockets gruffly.
Jay knows when to keep his trap shut.
“But to answer your question, Damian, I think we need to gain a little more intel,” he gives Tim a pointed stare, “before changing any team dynamics. Luckily, Tim’s injury gives us just the time we need to talk, and then to deliberate on who to tell and what to share.”
Because Tim is not going anywhere and B knows it.
Dick perks up, “Ohhhhh I vote Justice League! Or at least having Zatanna in the loop. Or Timmy’s team! We should tell them you’re a dragon, then no one would underestimate you. It’s like intimidation factor times eleven.”
“Well, why should we inform anyone of Drake’s nature?” Damian rolls his eyes at the obvious conclusion. “There is no benefit in his case, after all everyone knows of the tale,‘The King and his Dragonheart?”
Dear all the crazies in Gotham, Tim hopes not.
“Oh really? I dunno it so it can’t be everyone, you little turd.” Jason says blankly.
Dick swings, somehow, from the small ridges on his neck to his head. “Ooooohhh, I love stories. You should tell us the story, Dami!”
At that request, and Damian was always bad at telling his former, his first Batman ‘no,’ “Fine. But I’m only telling it once, I shall not be reduced to your bedside nanny, Grayson.”
Dick wiggles, Tim’s ears flicker backwards as the man drapes himself on his stomach dramatically to listen.
Damian huffs and folds his arms over his chest as the rest of the family turns toward him, staring at him. He shifts on his feet from side to side then begins:
“Once there were dragons. Rare, yet in the Golden Era it was not uncommon to catch sight of one on a full moon. Some beasts would plague empires, the acting fire and brimstone of the gods. In the East, others had kingdoms under the sea and could be persuaded to share knowledge and treasures of pearls...for a price. Our tale starts in a small kingdom, with a king much loved by his subjects. He was brave, clever, and fair upon his people from the highborn to the lowest serf.”
“Which is probably why they liked him. Can anyone say tax break?”
“Quiet, Drake. But bravery does not stop wars. As mentioned they were a small fiefdom, crowded with tempestuous mountains on all sides but one. There they grew their fields, herded their cattle and there their enemies would strike first. Every Autumn, war torched their land with pillages, slaughter and famine. The King with his army fought as lions, each man killing twenty, yet every year the King’s citizens dwindled in numbers.”
“Where’s the dragon? Ain’t there supposed to be a dragon in this?”
The glare Damian gives Jason could freeze ice. “Ahem. One Summer day before the tides of war, a poor shepherd rushed to the small palace gates to plead for aid. A mighty beast, a dragon, was eating the man’s flock, one by one. Enraged the King rushed out on horseback immediately. Swifter than any soldier, he made it to the beast first...only to be struck in awe.
There before the King, was the most magnificent creature he had ever seen.”
At these words, Tim spine straightens to become more regal. Don’t be mistaken. It’s not like he’s preening or anything.
“Scales glimmered in hues of the sunset. The beast’s eyes dark and wondrous but barely taking notice of the King that slowly descended from his horse to approach them during their meal. One by one, the Dragon ate the sheep with vigor. In minutes ten were swallowed whole and then the King remembered his anger.
‘I did not know Dragons were such thieves. I had believed they were much more noble then to destroy the livelihood of my poor vassal.’ The King finally said.
The Dragon lifted their muzzle, blood dripping from its teeth to soak the grass. 'Perhaps they are my vassal, not yours and I am just taking my just due.'
‘Your due? I am the King here. These are my lands.’
The Dragon snorted at this arrogant phrase. ‘How dare you assume to claim my territory? The hollowed mountains with caves aplenty, the trees of wild pine that are much older than thee, the fields you now sow have belonged to my kin long before the first of your kind crawled over its surface like ants. Be silent. Or shall I end my feeding with you.'
It was a long time before the King found an answer to that. He waited and watched how the scales shifted shades from crimson to orange gold. He waited the Dragon was done with licking its wicked claws clean. 'If these are truly your lands and we are your vassals, what have you done to earn those fifteen sheep. Every ruler must serve to be served.' He finished quietly.
Surprisingly the Dragon didn’t respond with ire and fire. 'Oh King of men, why I protect this territory from trespassers of my kind. After all, it is not a dragon that has scorched your valleys, burnt your cities to ash and stone or killed your men. I have even only taken this tribute of fat useless prey for humans have cleared the forests of any game. Your people have diminished my resources, it is only fair that I do the same.’
‘It is not fair. Far better food than gold in the biting winter. We needed game for we had options none and now for every sheep that you have eaten fifteen families may starve.’
‘Why should that matter?’
‘It should matter, it does matter. If you are going to declare yourself ruler, and all inhabitant vassals, then care. If not then accept your true title, Villain.'
The King huffed and puffed until almost red as their scales. Amused the dragon flared out its wings and watched the gust knock over the human. 'The how should I care?'
The Dragon crackled, snarled like thunder, 'You would demand I part with one part of my hoard?'
The King thought fast. 'No. No my Lord Dragon, but allow this vassal to beg for one boon. Each Autumn our enemies rage against us.'
'You wish me to fight? Me, a glorious being taking part in the battle of flightless worms?'
'No. All I ask is that you stand on mountains nearest to our side of the fight. Just your presence will cause enemies to quail in fear. That is all we need. If you do so...I will insure that this field is stocked with sheep for your pleasure. It will be our Lord Dragon’s flock.'
The Dragon laughed. It laughed and laughed and laughed, smoke clouding the green with every snort...but the creature agreed. ‘I fear I like the title Lord Dragon too much, very well my Royal Subject. I give you this facade of support.'
And for once the King knew hope again.
When Fall painted the trees and the armies came in tides hungry for blood, the Dragon stood on the mountain craig causing the King’s enemies to quake. At the sight his few dear men rallied and fought harder until victory was no longer a dream. As promised the King outlined a plot for the Dragon’s flock and marked with a red golden banner in their likeness. The Dragon was pleased.
“This is finally getting good!”
“Seasons came and went. If the tide of any battle dimmed morale, the Dragon would fly over the ranks to raise their spirits in awe. If a low village was attacked...the Dragon would eat well. Years passed and with every summer the king and dragon became close. Speaking to each other as equals in the green field where they first met so long ago. The people came to fear and respect the Dragon as much as they loved and bowed to their king. The kingdom even knew enough peace for the King to marry. In the woods, he saw her, the most magnificent creature he had ever seen. A woman with hair of golden fire like the hues of the sunset and eyes dark and wondrous as the night, of course she must have a place next to his throne–"
“Wait a fucking minute–”
“Shhhhhhhhh Jay, let him finish.”
“The King knew happiness with his new bride. The only oddity in their marriage being his queen’s urgent request to return to her family each Autumn. Yet how could he refuse? It was a perfect way to keep the new monarch safe from Fall’s bloody might. And bloody it was. Their enemies grew so sore in loss, they banned together to launch one final attack on the small kingdom. It proved too much for the good King. He fell in battle, arrow striking true, piercing him through the chest. There was a single roar and the world turned to fire. Any enemy was laid to black waste as humankind learned what it means when a dragon fights. The people learned how long it takes for a corpse to burn. How long until even bones are ash. Only when there was none left for rage to be spent on, did wrath turn to grief. The Dragon loved the King. The beast crashed to the ground, curling tight around its new treasure, the King guarded in its clutches. It snapped and snarled at any approach until the King’s physician begged to see him. And the doctor wept.
It is not good,’ the doctor said. ‘The heart is ruined and will cease to beat. Our king will die.'
'No. It cannot be!' The dragon roared, 'I refuse. I will not have it.'
And before their eyes the dragon transformed. Bones cracking, they twisted and shrank and the woman shook out her hair of golden fire, tears rolling from her dark eyes. Only then people realized that the dragon was not a lord, but a queen. Their King’s queen. Their Queen Dragon.
‘If he needs a heart, then take mine. It has beat for two for this long, so why should it matter whose chest it’s in?” With nails sharper than any dagger, she ripped at her flesh to pull out the heart. In her hands, dripping purple organ beat on it’s own. Ba-bump, Ba-bump, the melody rang as she and physician worked to replace it with the King’s. They prayed. To the crowd’s astonishment the King coughed and woke.
‘What is wrong with me? My chest is as heavy as lead!’
‘That’s the weight of a dragon’s love, now be silent, be still.' And he was silent and still just for her kiss. That is the story how the first dragonheart was passed. The end.”
“Did they live happily ever after?” Dick asks of course.
A long sigh. “It is said the Kingdom finally knew a lasting peace and prosperity with such rulers at its side.”
“And they had babies?!” To Jason this is a very important part. “Tell me ‘bout the kids.”
Damian cheeks glow pink as he hops off Drake. “How am I to know such trivial matters? The point of the tale is that dragons can transform. Or that their hearts can be removed and can exist outside the body for extended periods of time. Such organs are said to provide long lives and strength to the supplicant. Is that correct, Drake? Was the story of the King and his dragonheart true?”
Tim thinks of how the folktale is spun for different listeners. For humans, it gives a thrill of magic and what it can do. For dragons, for Tim, the story is told to shame and warn. From Mother, he can still hear the crackled frostiness in her voice. Driving in an eight year old’s head the points of how foolish the dame was for working with humans, how stupid to get so tangled with a human man’s life to expose their abilities to an audience. How one dragon can put their entire kind in danger. These were the details said softly, bitterly to a young dragon at night.
Alfred finishes the stitching knot and with dirty rubber gloves pats his charge lightly. Tim hums remembering the former question, the sound as loud as a bus, “I don’t know. There could have been a king. Dragons do make deals like that...all the time. It could have happened. But it’s a much prettier story than the ones we tell about hearts.”
“Oh really? What happens in those?” Dick asks.
“Well...the stories are tragedies. Usually they involve a poacher and some idiot dragon that didn’t hide themselves well enough. The poacher listens for rumors, waits for any murmur of a dragon and hunts for the its lair. Once there they cut out the dragon’s heart while they’re sleep. Then the dragon wakes to find...they’re now the poacher’s slave. Bound to the new heartbearer’s bidding and to do whatever the piece of filth says.” The vibration under Dick’s body, the growl gets more and more pronounced the longer Tim thinks about it, “The poacher might force them to fight, give up information on their kin, trapping more sorry victims, or they could demand the dragon to hold still while they rip out scales one by one and drain their blood. Dragon parts sell for high prices on the magical black market. The poacher grows rich until the scales stop regenerating or the heart bearer feels the stolen organ inside them start to lag.”
There’s a sudden stillness on all sides of him.
Tim slowly blinks and twists his head to find a horrified expression on each face.
Panicked he hurries on, “But most stories end with the dragon outsmarting the asshole. See, the dragon can’t eat or burn the heartbearer directly but they can kill the sucker by creating dangerous situations or using natural disasters. That way they both die, but the dragon is...finally...free?”
Alright Tim realizes that the last statement did not help. At all.
“Okay. Okay, change of plans, we’re not going to say anything, right? ” Hysterically Dick plasters himself to Tim’s head as if he can protect the dragon from imaginary foes. “Right, no one says anything. Not to the Justice League, no one. No freaking poachers for my Timmy, nope, nope, nope.”
“I think we can agree on that strategy, Master Richard.” Alfred calmly collects his tools in a bag, prompting Tim crouch down, a kind of finality in his demeanor. “Some secrets are better left to the shadows.”
“Ha, well, we got enough of those to take to the grave.” Jason crosses his arms with a smirk, “Hell, we could write a book series each, what’s one little secret more?”
“I wouldn’t call it exactly little.” Bruce eyes his third son. Yes, his son, dragon the size of a bus or not, “On another note, why haven’t you changed back yet?”
Tim waits until the butler is on the ground again before he stretches in all directions. His haunches touching the dinosaur in the back slightly and for a moment he considers knocking it over. Just because. He doesn’t care about Dick. If Dick falls off his head, it would serve him right. And he’d laugh. Finally he answers, “Change back? It’s weird to hear you say that. What if this is my original form all along and you’re asking me to change into my human disguise?”
“Fine, okay. Stop looking at me like that. They’re both representations of ‘me.’ Being smaller–”
“You mean tiny,” Jason snorts.
“–Being smaller and compact is more suited for day-to-day things anyway. So I’ll twist into that shape after I sleep this off.” With his entire head, he motions back to Alfred’s handiwork, “The dragonform is better for healing and it sucks to shift with a gash this big.”
“Sleep it off?” Dick says. His fingers curling, trying to hug whatever piece of scale he can reach. Worry floods him, especially with this new tidbit that dragons are more vulnerable while they sleep and out there somewhere are big, evil poachers lurking to cut out his baby brother’s heart.
“It’s just a few days.” Tim will be out like a light soon. He can feel it. Feel his body shutting down, one system at a time to the bare vitals so all resources can be directed more efficiently. The blood beginning to slow, weariness weighing down his bones. He drags himself to face in the direction of batmobile port, “Then I’ll wake good and shiny as new. I just have to crawl back to a safe hideyhole and–”
“You’re not going anywhere,” Bruce states. He steps to stand in front of Tim, illustrating authority with two folded arms.
“You’re staying right here where I can see you. There’s no safer place for you to rest and hide than the Batcave. That way if anything goes wrong we will be there. It’s easier to protect homebase, you know that Tim.”
“Nothing is going to go wrong, I’m just sleeping–”
“You can sleep in the cave, on one of the heliports. Would that work?”
“Well, yeah, but it’s cold,” Tim complains.
“I’m sure as a billionaire Master Bruce can make your accommodations far more comfortable if necessary and it is far easier to monitor the state of your injuries here,” Alfred primly adds. He also plants himself next to Bruce and rests one hand on Tim’s snout. Already the butler's mind is working fast to consider space heaters, how fast he can acquire them and how many he’ll need to place around the young drake.
Just wow, Alfred, how is that even fair?
“Plus I’ve made up mind. It’s final. For...how many stitches did Tim get Alfred?”
“Forty-five,” Alfred answers with a proper sniff.
“For forty-five stitches, you’re officially grounded.” Jason and Damian gleefully smirk at the punishment, Dick openly laughs.
The thing is, unlike Bruce, Tim has friends. Alright fine, Bruce has friends too, but does he have pushy teenage friends that after a week and a half of nothing but white noise who get kind of antsy?
Does he have the Teen Titans on speed dial?
Does he have a motherhenning team of doom?
He does not.
He does avoid the first ten calls to the Manor and Batcave out of pure spite however. Only when his private phone, Tim’s private phone beside it, and the Batcomputer line from the Justice League clog up with multiple calls that happen all at once...repeatedly for over an hour, Bruce suspects the speedster, does the Bat finally pick up, bringing them up on the screen.
“Batman here. What is it Teen Titans?”
“Um, so hey I was wondering if you knew where our leader is? You know him, five-foot nothing tall filled with brim with coffee and bad decisions? We haven’t heard from him in nine days and he didn’t mention going underground or anything and have you seen him?” Is said all in one breath.
“Oh,” Bart shouts loudly behind him, “Hey guys, Red’s in Gotham!” Other team members press around the speedster, Superboy, Wondergirl, Raven, Beast Boy all trying to peer through to catch a glimpse of their man.
Bruce in his large chair by the Batcomputer doesn’t turn, just pleased that the screen’s cameras can’t catch one of the far platforms in the back.
“So, where is he? Can we see him?” Superboy asks hovering beside the Speedster.
“Come on man, it’ll only take a second. Just let us ream him for not checking in WITH the team that he’s alive.”
“He’s alive. He’s fine. But as I mentioned he’s grounded. No visitors. Red Robin will get back to you when he’s allowed to.”
“No.” And Bruce ends the call. He thinks for a second, one finger on his chin and then turns his phone and Tim’s to silent.
Then he gets up and paces through the cave, bats twittering the background as he checks on his son. The first thing anyone notices about the platform is the buzz of the space heaters. The red glow providing enough light to illuminate the black form taking up most of the space of the platform. It’s a tight fit. Tim’s curled in a tight ball, yet a leg hangs off the side here, a tip of a wing brushes the corner of the second step by Bruce’s feet there.
Stuck in any crack of a limb are pillows, plush throws and blankets over the top spines of Tim’s back. Dick strikes again with his attempt to make it more ‘homey.’ It’s like a pillow a day. Something added, piled upon, anything more to disguise how still the Dragon is. ‘Resting’ Tim is still as stone, like any gargoyle perched on city heights, only when Bruce’s hand reaches out to touch his flank can he sense the warmth within. Only if he holds his fingers directly under his snort can he feel the barest trace of breath, the air barely moving against the skin of his fingertips. He knows because Bruce checks at least twice a day.
Yet that’s not counting Alfred’s inspections, Dick post-patrol laying over Tim to give a full retelling of the day, Damian snarling at him to wake up when he thinks no one is looking, or Jason leaning with his back against him taking a smoke.
Bruce hums in the back of his throat.
There’s not going to be problem with team dynamics...or in relationships. True, it might be possible that the bats will be more overprotective over this adjustment. New protocols will need put to be place to insure Tim is not outted to friend...or foe.
Bruce’s fingers clench into a fist, his nails digging into the palm of his flesh.
Someone had to tell Damian the story of “The King and his Dragonheart.”
Someone who most likely would very much like a drake of their own.
Someone who already had too much...interest in his son.
Yes. New protocols are needed. New trackers. New cameras.
But he’s Batman he can handle it.
He’s got time.
It takes fourteen days for Tim to change back.
Fourteen days and seventeen minutes for bones to crack, for scales to shrink, for Tim to somehow crawl out of the giant mess of cloth and fluff he was buried under. Sleep still half-seals his eyes with gook, but if he could reach it he knows the skin on his back would be whole and smooth. Weakly he forces his muscles to work, struggling to his feet while his balance is still shot. It’s always strange to switch from being a quadruped to a biped. Then he wraps a blanket tightly around his naked form, shivering at the touch of cold stone under his feet.
He’s not alone.
Don’t keep people, Tim repeats to himself as Dick sweeps him up and carries him upstairs. They have legs, and anytime can get up and run away.
Don’t keep people, he thinks when Jason slams a book on his bed and demands to start his ‘education’ into fine literature. They have minds that can change anytime.
Don’t keep people, he pleads to himself when Alfred gives him a cup of coffee with a soft smile. Or when Damian leans against the far wall to ‘check on him.’ Or when Bruce reaches out to brush his hair out of his face.
Don’t keep people. Tim prays but it might be already too late. They have hearts...and one day they won’t beat.
Will his heart stop too when theirs do? Will he make the same choice she made so long ago?
Tim doesn’t know.
He doesn’t know.
Chapter 4: Sacrifices
Tim’s in a sticky situation because of...Ra’s. Therefore sacrifices have to be made. Personal ones.
Thank you for all the positive response for this fic! I've really loved your comments on the world building I've made and each comment makes my day. :) Hopefully you like this installment (the longest one yet because Ra's is a dick) as well.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
There are few things out in the world that can startle a drake.
Ra’s al Ghul is one of them.
In fact, Tim would like to put the Demon Head near the top of that list. Especially when the villain morphs into the edge of his peripherals at another charity event the Waynes are required to attend. Guess who’s the lucky token Wayne this time?
Yep. Apparently being a dragon doesn’t increase your luck when pulling straws.
Tim manages to repress a flinch when he spots the flash of gold and green. The surprise makes his heart pound in the most unpleasant of ways. Ninjas do that after all.
“Please excuse me, gentlemen, we’ll have to continue our conversation later,” Tim smiles with charm towards a throng of investors.
He takes his drink in hand and carefully makes his way to the wall...where Ra’s watches the crowd. No, that’s not right. Where Ra’s watches him, and Tim can feel that gaze rove over his form like dirty fingers as his stride become a more purposeful march. At this museum, Tim vaguely and spitefully compares the man to the mess of artwork around him. Flowing, unironic, stupid cape arranged over a well-tailored suit, Surrealism matches the feelings the criminal provokes, a gnawing infestation under his skin. Tim’s wine glass moves to hover in front of his chest, over his core instinctively.
The man is dangerous.
He’s the type that scratches and digs to find what you hold dearest and wait for the right moment where destroying it would hurt the most. The kind with patience, the kind with knowledge, the kind that Tim knows would just love to hunt down a mythical creature of his own. Ra’s could make a poacher very...very happy and wealthy.
Tim can take him.
“What are you doing here.” It’s not a question, it’s a demand. Tim’s face might be stuck in a pleasant countenance for their surroundings, but his voice is more frigid than the Arctic.
Ra’s gestures grandly with a hand around them, “Why to admire the innovative talents that Gotham has to offer.” A crooked smirk begins to cut across his face. Sharper than any blade. “The possibilities are astounding.”
“Huh, somehow I doubt you’re here to support our talented artists for the Wounded Warrior Project.” Tim’s lip curls into a sneer, “Instead of protecting veterans, you tend to sacrifice them instead. Isn’t that way your recruitment rate is so high?”
Ra’s uncoils from his relaxed pose against the wall. “How rude, Detective. My fallen are honored, especially when they give their all to my purpose. In fact, the esteem, the respect, the glory they earn is never retracted. Tell me, is the notion the same with the Bat’s broken little boys?”
It’s a jab against Jason. Maybe even against him. Tim’s smile fractures in the corner of his lips, a fang scraping the inside of his cheek and he sets down his glass harder on passing tray than he needs to. A deep breath, two. It would be a paparazzi dream come true to capture the money shot of Timothy Drake-Wayne socking an unknown foreigner in the face. But he’s no fairy godmother. “Why don’t we take this fascinating discussion elsewhere? Somewhere more private if you want to know what else can break.” Like your face. Or his arm, Tim’s not really picky. “That way you can be out with it. You’re not here just to trade quips to piss me off. You want something.”
“You would be correct in your deductions. I require something in this cesspit, a diamond in the rough so to speak. For me to claim success, I must have your assistance.” Ra’s tilts his head in agreement. “Yet for more precise details, lead on.”
“Great, let’s go. I can’t wait to tell you no.”
Tim storms off, Ra’s following leisurely behind them as they part through the crowd. His hackles raised as he’s forced to give the assassin his back. The two make their way past the less inhabited exhibits, then into the hall towards the back offices where new art pieces are received and cataloged.
“Oh, Timothy, I am sure you know why few have dared to refuse me. Yet before our business, I must inform you, Nyssa sends her fondest regards.” Tim jerks at the whisper brushing his ear.
He twists on his heel to snarl at the looming man. Obnoxiously tall man.
“Tell her mine are not as much and next time she wants to try for free ‘seed,’ she should take the guy out for dinner first.”
Ra’s simply waves a hand for them to continue forward, “Perhaps uncouth, unconventional, and yet–”
“She chained me to a wall.”
“–Yet what a vision you must have been. Helpless, bare and dazed from the blow…truly a sight wasted when it could have been shared.” Ra’s expression turns way too salacious and Tim’s knuckles itch with possibility. “Still no matter how forward perhaps, she regrets how short your time in her clutches was. It is unbearably unfortunate your knight in shining black armor appeared so early.”
“Well, Black Bat is always to kick a rapist’s ass anytime, anywhere.” And if the criminal tries anything like that again it won’t be just Cass, it’ll be a full-size dragon ready to fry the Ghul into ash. Really, it’s just self-defense, maybe Bruce will understand.
“Some battles are worth any wound for the prize.”
Tim manages not to gag. Barely. Instead, he decides not to give Ra’s the pleasure of a response. He goes to open a door only to find it unlocked. His fingers bite into the doorknob, how many rooms did Ra’s men make available for this...meeting? How long did Ra’s plan this?
The pause gives Ra’s a chance to prompt, “A penny for your thoughts, Detective?”
“Only the one I wish I crushed you with.”
“Our first meeting was truly memorable. It is not every century, a giant piece of currency attempts to take my life.”
“Regrettably, you have this terrible habit of dodging.”
“What a wretched inconvenience I am to you,” Ra’s purrs. Though in the Detective’s favor, the experience was quite the introduction. The memory still strong of being absolutely stunned, as this pale wraith of a child maneuvered an enormous slab of copper to split him from the Bat.
“I know, right?”
“Then it is only fair for me to return the favor.” He herds the Detective into the small office. The shelves are full of covered paintings and bookkeeping litters the lone desk in the center. The smell of dust and resin permeates the air.
“You didn’t answer my question, why are you here, Ra’s?” He watches the way Ra’s prowls around examining their surroundings and Tim carefully puts the heavy desk between them. He’s not afraid. Not even nervous. Honest. But there’s no harm or shame in placing obstacles in a monster’s path.
Ra’s hums and rests his hands in the small of his back, he arches an eyebrow at the Detective. “To declare that perhaps I was too quick to judge the city of Gotham.”
“What? No,” Tim draws out sarcastically, “You think?”
“After all, why allow this filthy cesspit my presence long enough to evaluate it in full?”
“I’m surprised more people don’t punch you in the mouth whenever you open it.”
“Power, my dear,” he says absentmindedly, “However, now I see the error of my ways. I was too quick to strike, though I still long to destroy this hell, wipe it off the face of the planet like the divine fires of Gomorrah.”
“Is this the way you ask always for help? Because you suck at it.” Tim folds his arms across his chest.
A dark chuckle, “Oh, Timothy, I never ask for assistance. I demand it. Yet allow me to get to the point. Before Gotham meets its predestined fate, it may possess something of value after all.”
Tim arches a brow at him, this close from rolling his eyes.
“It is a thing...most precious. Something that must be recovered by the League at any cost, by any means possible.”
“I’m not a mind reader, Ra’s. Spit it out and get out of my face.”
“A creature. Behold these are the marks of a creature with certain properties I find...desirable.”
Yeah sure, I freaking bet.
Ra’s tosses a sheaf of papers. No. Photos. In pretty black and white, they hit the top of the desk and fan out before Tim’s eyes.
‘Ice,’ the wraith of his mother whispers, Tim feels the memory of her nails digging into shoulders. The way she’d spin him to face the mirror and press her cheek to his. ‘Be as ice. Let the blue of your eyes harden for why should they know any intention of yours?’
Her old lessons crack like an egg over his brain, drip down his veins and out of his mouth, “Am I supposed to ooh and ahh over grappling hook marks?”
Ra’s picks up on photo to thumb the edges.“Ah. It is true they do appear similar, do they not? Yet not, Detective, such grooves are not made with any tool,” he says.
Tim’s heart starts to pound.
“Nor can these distinctive charred marks be any coincidence.”
“To what? This is Gotham. Home of unusual and burnt up buildings everywhere. I’m still not following, spit it out.” Before he does. Tim’s mouth floods with nitroglycerin, it’s thicker than saliva and coats the back of his throat. A viscous layer ready at a moment’s notice, all it needs is a spark. All it needs is a reason to burn. He swallows it down roughly. He needs to prevent any evidence, not create it, remember?
“Forgive me, you know how much I love to build up the suspense.” Ra’s crooked smile widens and he pulls something heavy from his jacket pocket, “Allow me to lay out my conclusion.”
Between his fingers is a scale.
“Somewhere in Gotham is a dragon.”
The only thing that keeps Tim breathing is that the scale isn’t black...it’s white.
“A what? You’ve gotta be kidding me.” Tim keeps the thread of arrogant disbelief strong in his voice. Mother would be proud. “Aren’t you too ridiculously old for fairy tales?”
“It is not a simple tale for the bed weary child,” Ra’s loses his patience. His obsessive greed bleeding through as he forces the scale into Tim’s hands. “This piece of evidence is authentic as the pit itself.”
“It just feels like a spray-painted piece of the batplane.” Tim carelessly taps it on the side of the desk. “Like a mix of plastic and alloy.”
“Be careful with that!”
Tim hits it harder against the surface. Just to hear the man growl. The keratin in the scale is weak. Seems like the dame he fought once upon a time wasn’t just stupid but malnourished as well. Scales are like nails, they show health and the brittle nature of it gives the detective more than enough to work with. In fact, if he jumped on it at a certain angle, he might be able to snap it in two.
Ra’s rips it from his fingers. Spoilsport. “That is quite enough,” he hisses through his teeth and tucks the scale protectively back into his stupid, melodramatic cape.
“So whoop-dee-doo, the Demon’s Head believes in Dungeons and Dragons. Is there a point to this lame show and tell?”
“Because I require the services of a Detective.”
“Oh goodie, I think this is my favorite part in our conversation so far. How about a Hell No?”
Ra’s hands slam against the desk caging Tim in. Tim doesn’t flinch, perhaps berating himself for not noticing Ra’s getting into range yet he stares dead straight into those jade eyes.
‘Be stone.’ Janet’s voice reminds, ‘Give them nothing to predict, nothing before you strike.’
“You forget your debt to me, Timothy,” Ra’s says venomously.
Tim tilts his head to the side eerily. There’s a coil of unease winding inside him. The word debt is a serious concept to a dragon and the instincts around it are hard to shake. “What debt? I owe you nothing. Though if you mean that lovely kick through a window, I could totally repay you for that. This art museum has a lovely roof, let’s go.”
Ra’s presses in, Tim reaches behind himself to grab his own wrist. His nails are becoming too long for his liking. A flash of desire, of digging, of gouging, of letting the intestines fall as they may. Ra’s isn’t wearing any armor...probably. “I gave you resources when you had none. When all thought your grief had turned you mad, only I believed your hypothesis that the Bat remained alive. Only I gave you that validation.”
“Fuck you, I didn’t ask for your help. I would have been fine.” His nails draw his dark blood under the sleeve of his suit.
“Your future was to be a bloody corpse on a cheap hotel bed if not for me.” Ra’s grip on the desk behind him creaks.
Tim could headbutt Ra’s, doesn’t know why he’s continuing to hear him out.
“Which wouldn’t have happened in the first place if it wasn’t for your war on the Council of Spiders. The one you gave no warning or intel for. Technically it’s you that owes me a spleen, I wasn’t the Widower’s original target after all. I was a bonus kill.”
“Come to the pit then if you are so keen for the organ’s return.” Ra’s hovers above him with malice, with interest at the notion.
“And go crazy like you? No thanks.”
“Regardless I provided aid for your quest, now it is time for you to take your aid in mine. Furthermore what better than a Drake finding a drake?”
“And what would the other dear Waynes think of our past association.” Ra’s finally leans away from him, his hands trailing on the wood before gesturing behind them. Ah, so that’s Ra’s real angle, blackmail. Go figure. “The Bat may think that our interactions were justified for your noble cause, yet somehow I think otherwise. I admit I am beyond curious for his reaction to those lovely months we spent together.”
Tim could rattle off a thousand reasons why that rationale was a pile of shit. That, okay. Fine. Bruce would glower, brood, and never trust Tim again, but, hey, after the Boomerbang incident maybe that ship has sailed to the Bahamas and back. Plus, if B can’t weigh the definite pros to the whole knocking out the Council of Spiders and taking Ra’s down a peg as a decent notch on his vigilante belt, well...Tim is a big boy anyway.
A big dragon.
Pieces of your hoard don’t have to trust you anyway. They just need to stay alive and safe.
Safe. Wait, oh.
“You’re such a bastard, Ra’s.” Tim grits out, but he’s going to take this deal. Not for Ra’s ‘debt’ and how the term makes his inner wyrm burn. Not for Bruce’s sensibilities. But for the most important thing, his mother drilled into his head over and over again.
The safety of control.
His face is cold, but his belly is hot. “Where do we start?” This is a mess to clean, his show to run, and his plan is solid.
So does Tim. He can’t wait to see the assassin’s’ aspirations go up in flames after all.
He manages to keep the Bats uninvolved for a record of forty-eight hours. It’s an accomplishment Tim should take note of really.
For example, he managed to scramble Barbara’s cameras subtly, though he’ll a semi truck of gourmet coffee to get back in her good graces when she finds out, just so Ra’s can show off various pieces of evidence his men have found around the city without surveillance. Tim had dutifully nodded during lengthy monologues only to innocently suggest that wouldn’t it be better to catalog all their data in one place? It’s so easy to convince Ra’s to have the marked roof tiles and stones removed, so easy to retrieve them later. Mother would scold him for how clumsy he had been. The least he can do is exterminate the crumbs that a wolf took advantage of.
Meanwhile, he throws out other morsels to divert and distract, “Looks like your ‘dragon’” Tim mockingly uses finger quotes. “Hasn’t been here for long. Maybe two months at most.”
“Oh? How can you deduce that?” Ra’s crouches down to trail his fingers over the grooves where Tim had stupidly filed his claws weeks ago. Stupid hygiene.
“The lack of erosion. Gotham has had a rainy year. Notice the iron embedded here and here next to the mark?” He points at the orange strain spreading over the bricks, “If made last year, the rust would bleed into the scratches yet note the chunk lacks any of that.”
Ra’s purrs, “Clever, Detective. So our drake must be new to the city. What a godforsaken place for it choose for its migration.”
“Not if it has the ability of camouflage.” Tim shrugs. The wind ripping through his cape as he eyes the security camera trying to turn their way and glitching. He has another three minutes before Babs catches on.
“In bright hues of white? I think not,” Ra’s scoffs.
“You said that dragons have powers beyond your ken. Is it really out of the realm of conception? If moths can do it, why can’t fire-breathing imaginary creatures?” Two minutes.
“What an excellent point. It would give a reason for it to stay as well. My resources tell me that old cities provide the best nooks and rubble for one to hide their trove. Plus, the larger the city, the more ease the drake has to blend in.”
“Blend in?” Tim parrots. Shit.
“Why, of course. Not only does a dragon have strength and intelligence, but over eons, their best defense is to hide in plain sight.” Ra’s straightens to stand and looks to the night skyline. Tim thinks about the scales that not even makeup can hide behind his ear. The black iridescent ones that dot his collar bones that Dick once poked at and cooed before smothering him without another blanket.
Heat regulation is still a bitch.
“Gotham.” Ra’s draws out the name. “Full of blind spots, full of soft brick and lead to dig through, full of abnormalities that over time each turns into a just another mundane occurrence to the public. Yes. I can now see the appeal that could persuade a drake.”
He sounds so much like his mother that Tim’s posture becomes still and rigid. His fist clenches on his knee. She always did mention that this was the perfect breeding ground for similar reasons. Even when he was young, she’d encourage him to stalk the city instead of stay in the mansion, her hoard, just in case. Even to the point of taking him into an alley since he was five, turn her face into one wall and slowly count to twenty. His record in evading her? Three hours.
If Tim wanted to disappear, really disappear into Gotham’s underbelly? He could.
He knows how to hide.
“It seems we have been discovered, my Detective.” Ra’s smiles at him from the side. “What a pity. Our progress to this point has been phenomenal.”
But there’s always a time and place to hide and when the clock hits forty-eight hours and fourteen minutes, Tim doesn’t bother to make any move against the flash of a cape in his peripheral. “Not your detective, Ra’s. Have your men collect the rest of the samples and we’ll reconvene once I analyze the possibilities of your fairy-tale whereabouts.”
“Very well. Oh, and do tell your mentor that I find myself sorely disappointed at his waning skills of concealment. A true agent of the night would never be drawn from the shadows so easily.”
Tim mutters, “He’s doing on purpose. If he didn’t want you to see him, you wouldn’t see him.” It’s more of Bruce waving a goddamn flag of ‘I know you’re in my city, get out of my city.’
“Besides every hunter knows how to distract dangerous prey,” a new voice says disdainfully.
They turn to the slight figure who managed to sneak only a foot or two away from them. One steel-toed green boot (a present from Jason) tapping the roof impatiently. Crossed arms over the Robin uniform, Damian Wayne has mastered the art of glaring with a domino on. “Grandfather, must your ninjas multiply like ants?”
Ra’s huffs through his nose, “Many hands make light work, Grandson. Farewell, Timothy. I await your every enlightenment.” And like a true magician, he throws his gaudy cape over a shoulder and disappears into the night.
Tim’s shoulders release, but he notes that Damian’s do not. Oh. He’s mad at him. Though to be fair, that is Damian’s default emotion to anything.
Damian begins his hissing tirade, “I should submit you to Arkham myself. Such displays of insanity, must you attempt suicide in the most ridiculous of complex fashions? Why else would you positively associate with my grandfather?”
“One, I know what I’m doing. Two, there is nothing positive about it.” He gets up and away from the building edge before Damian gets the magical idea to shove him off it. Again.
Damian gets closer, one finger stabbing in his direction, “Why does video evidence say otherwise? You are clearly working in tandem with his aims. To think that father would even believe that you are being coerced is beyond my ken. Do you wish to die, Drake?”
The name is emphasized more than normal, and Tim gets his implication immediately.
“I have this under control, but thanks for worrying, brat.”
“Worrying? Why would I be worrying? You must be insane, yes, this is further evidence that padded walls would suit you.”
“Padded walls are flammable,” Tim reminds him.
With his thumb, he makes a small gesture and Damian’s breath hitches minutely. Even Tim can smell the Demon Head’s men. He can hear them. Their rabbit-like heartbeats underneath the awning are enough in his limited range. “But you’re right in a way, I am going along with Ra’s for a bit. For as long as it suits both our purposes. Though why he would willingly work with someone who double-crossed him before definitely needs the lesson of, ‘Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Tim then hums in the back of his throat. “Actually, he’s probably already expecting that. It sounds like just the game he loves to play.”
“But is it one that you are assured to win?” Damian grabs his wrist to tug him along. Grayson wants him home immediately. The moment Oracle sent a live feed of Tim’s current companion to all the Bats, Robin wondered if he would have to take measures to aid his mentor through a panic attack. It was not pleasant. Grayson is very...concerned over the welfare of his brothers.
Tim snorts, “Please, who do you think you’re talking to?”
“A fool.” Ouch, Babybat doesn’t need a katana to cut him in half. The grip on his arm tightens, even as they descend into the alleyway where the Batmobile waits. It sits with the top already open, eager to trap Tim so specific overprotective brooding vigilantes can sit on him.
Somehow telling the Bats of his true nature has multiplied every unnecessary precaution by a factor of eleven.
Damian shoves Tim into the vehicle. B moves in the driver seat to stare at him. A lot, not bothering to twist back to look out the windshield, just pushing the button for autopilot in a very pointed manner.
Damian presses the com in his mask subtly. So anyone on the line can hear his interrogation. “Now tell us. What shall you do in the matter concerning my grandfather? This is beyond a simple threat against your very person.”
Tim thinks of the scattered white scales he scraped off the dame. How they must litter the sand on that beach like sparkling stones. He thinks of the trail he could plant, not that he can just point the League of Assassins in her direction, not even when the offensive white plastic bag of a dragon deserves it. No, he needs to create the perfect dead end to Ra’s little expedition. But how could he–
The light bulb comes on and blood fills his mouth as his fangs drop. Can he really?
“Oh, you know what? I’m going to give him exactly what he wants, Damian.” Tim decides grimly, “I’m going to find him a dragon.”
Tim is going to throw up.
The stalactites drip around him, the sound that was once soothing but now every drop that hits the wet floor makes him want to retch. He shouldn’t be here. They shouldn’t be here.
Not in this particular network of caves.
“Are you sure the creature will be found here? The opening is far too small to accommodate their size,” Ra’s demands. The band of his men are few, only the chosen may aid him in this task to witness what the Detective has wrought. They have traveled approximately twenty minutes, yet with every second his appetite grows at the possibility, at the results of Timothy’s work. The boy is clever. However, the tunnel narrows here and there, scraping their chests as the rock practically hugs their forms.
“Stop doubting me. You said dragons are shapeshifters right? So why couldn’t they transform back and forth to crawl in here and hide? I’m only going off of the intel you gave me, Ra’s. The beach where you found the scale is not far from here. Plus look at these.” His boots make a hard crunch in the dim light of a torch.
Ra’s is a traditional, dramatic egoist, of course. A freaking torch.
“Prey,” the assassin breathes out. His eyes glittering in greed. It makes Tim want to shift forms, to roar at this filth entering this place with such hunger. Under their feet, stretching for a good thirty feet is a cemetery of bones. Most of the skeletons clearly intact with white and yellow rib cages on display.
“There must be at least a hundred of them,” Ra’s declares.
There are not. There are only forty-three. Tim does not correct Ra’s though.
The antechamber begins to widen until it has about a fifty-yard radius. The light flickers, yet the shadow of Ra’s’ hand gives an obvious signal, “Spread out. Search. This area appears most...promising.”
Tim wanders among the wet stone in a pretense of looking around as Ra’s men discrete this place with their presence. He avoids the west side of the chamber. His gloves running their hands on a wet large skull or two. Kills he had been proud of once upon a time. Those kills he had been sure would entice his–
“My lord! We have found something!”
–his mother to eat.
“No.” A voice roughly snarls. “No!”
On the ground, a few white scales lie in patches next to a giant boulder that stretches alongside the back cave wall. The details of long limbs and a tail are obvious and simple.
Tim’s fingers come up to squeeze the backs of his elbows, hugging himself for a moment. His inner core fluctuating, his heartbeat loud but he manages to repress the urge of curling up by her.
“This cannot be!”
What would mother think of him? To use her corpse as a diversion like this? To give Ra’s an empty platitude of what he wants? Would she be proud?
Ra’s fury and despair gets loud, “I have only just found you! Why? How could I be too late?”
Janet always scolded Tim for his soft sentimentality. A tool is a tool. A resource is a resource. It is truer to their nature to use any means to fulfill their objective.
“The dead are dead, my pet,” Mother reminded him whenever she took him hunting, the claws of her painted nails sweeping delicately under his eyes when she found him sniffling over the wild kill of a deer. “They do not feel your tears. Our long memories exist to never forget what was. Now eat, the meat will soon grow cold and you make a mockery of the life by wasting it.”
No, Tim never got the ‘stop playing with your food! You should be grateful, some people in China are starving’ approach to picky eating. And Mother always kept him fed one way or another.
Tim comes up behind Ra’s, “So this is your dragon. Huh, is it supposed to look like that?”
Ra’s twists to snarl at him. “No, it is not. Not unless it is–”
Tim admits Ra’s is rocking the look of utter anguish right now. If he wasn’t steeling himself, keeping his voice and expression blank he’d be howling with bitter victory.
“What happened to it?”
Ra’s reaches out to pet rough features of a jaw morosely. “The legends say that once the lifespan of such a beast ends, they naturally calcify into stone.”
Tim very much wants a copy of those legends. Too many things they’ve gotten right. “I thought they lived forever?”
“No,” Ra’s says, schooling his grief into something more palatable. “They do not, yet they can live on for several centuries.”
“Like you,” Tim points out. “With the help of the pit that is. Why do you want a dragon anyway?”
Carefully he steps around the man, trying to angle his cape a certain way.
“Why does any man seek power and beauty? Such things are what drive and keep the human race alive. With a dragon, I would be absolutely unstoppable.”
“You are already pretty unstoppable, how about you give the rest of mankind a fighting chance? You got power, check. You got the ultimate green regimen against aging that every older woman would gladly beat you to death for, check. Maybe you should just stick with trying to rule the world bit instead of chasing magical creatures.”
A chuckle. How interesting that the Detective can sway his despondent mood so easily. Oh, how he longs… “Even I need a pet project, Timothy. Besides do you not think the years would pass more gracefully with such a companion, such a specimen by my side?”
“Somehow I think the specimen would be more inclined to end your years rather than spend them with you.” In fact, Tim is sure of it.
“Ah, but what is life without the thrill of surprise? Whatever bond we forge will never be without fire.”
Tim snorts. Well, that’s an understatement. Still, he lifts a glove to trace the stone closed lid of an eye. Just like he did so many years ago, he’s positioned himself well. Maybe they won’t find his–
“What do we have here?” Ra’s pushes past him with an air of curiosity.
Gosh, how many times will Tim bite his lips raw tonight?
“Lift that up.” Ra’s motions his men to hurry. True the beast would be far more preferable breathing, but he can still catalog the proof of their existence. Plus even this is a find. The body is wedged tightly between the stone paws but any resistance is solved with a strong pull. “Come, Detective, you must see this.”
Reluctantly Tim stands near the new find.
How long did it take for him to swallow his grief? Just to pull off stealing his dad’s corpse? To crack open the heavy mahogany coffin and wrap the rotting remains carefully in a sheet. The fabric soiling quickly with the putrid oozing bits. It wouldn’t do to have flesh remaining, not on the body of a mate, but the cave bugs and open-air took care of that. In fact, Tim only had to wait a month to adorn the skeleton befitting of his worth as a dragon’s husband.
With the sockets clear, Tim worked in two egg-like sapphires the same shade of his eyes. A border of pearls and pink stones for a nose. He weaved fine chains of gold as a delicate filigree in and out of ribs. Each piece back then gave a sense of calm. Tim always knew this task would fall to him one day, never so soon, but, hey, that’s death for you. Final. Inevitable. He's most likely bound to do it for his brothers, for Bruce as well.
There’s a final piece attached to the hips in braided silver; the first “discovery” Janet and Jack Drake found on an archaeological dig together. A saber sword almost appearing of Assyrian origin. Mother may have recounted the story a few times to send Tim to sleep. How adorable, her mate looked waving around one of her fangs excitedly like that. How easy it was to convince him to display the treasure in their private home, right above their bed. How quaint to watch the man fondly as he stoked the sword before bed when her dear had no idea what it really was.
It had been one of Tim’s favorite bedtime stories. Where sleep took him fast at the warm purr in Mother’s voice.
“This is a meager compensation, but it will have to do.” The Demon Head yanks the sword from Tim’s father’s bones. It cracks both the radius and ulna of the arm and Tim sees red. “It would be a shame for a treasure such as this to waste away here. A fang. A real fang, my dear Detective.”
“Are you done playing graverobber? It won’t be long before Batman catches your trail.” Tim manages to bite out. His eyes narrowing under the cowl. His eyesight too clearly taking in the breaks in the stone and bone, the footsteps that mock this place, the way the ninja crawl over his mother like black maggots.
He needs them gone. Now.
Ra’s eyebrows raise, “Our trail, Timothy. Yet why waste this moment of limited triumph? Allow me at least to bask in the sight of the creature.”
“Bask later.” There is a second of tension. Where all ninja in the cave go still, ready for the command to attack. Their bodies tighten. Tim casually turns on his heel and walks towards the cave opening. Then with a roll of the Demon Head’s shoulders, a minuscule tilt of the head orders the ninja to concede to the vigilante’s wishes. Besides, Ra’s sweeps his gaze over the beast and plans. They require more men, more tools to recover this...treasure. So he follows after Timothy, to the edge of the cave and back into the dark, one hand almost hovering over the small of his slim back. His fingers twitch when the boy says, “Is this the first time you’ve seen one?”
“No, it is my third.” Tim’s face pinches at that. “The first happened in my earliest centuries, capturing the sight of one in flight. The second during a war campaign, in human form.”
Ra’s eyes slide over Tim’s body. “Did you know they look exactly like us, Detective? Almost identical in every conceivable way. If not for a few errant scales here and there hidden under their clothing.”
Tim’s own tender scales itch under the suit. “How could you tell?” Tim asks.
Ra’s smirks, “Drakes reveal themselves in times of high emotion. They are easy to rile. Then it is quite simple to observe their flashing eyes and other tells.”
Janet Drake could be milliseconds from ripping off his head with not a hair out of place, Tim can be, will be the same.
The skyline reflects over the water as they emerge from the narrow opening in the rock. Each building’s light almost looks like a star in the smoky haze. Under their feet, except for the lapping waves, the beach is quiet as not one of the party makes a sound.
The silence breaks. “Are you finished? Did you get what you needed?” Tim fiddles with something in the pouch over his chest.
“Never. Not until a drake’s heart beats in my own chest. Yet my eyes have seen another fine specimen, my suspicions have been confirmed...and my trophy is adequate.” Ra’s caresses the dragon fang sword now adorned at his hip. “I am done with Gotham for a season.”
“Good.” And Tim lifts his hand showing the detonator.
Ra’s eyes go wide, his mouth opens to shout.
Tim presses it.
His eyes remain glaciers while his back feels the rush of heat and smoke from the explosion behind. It bellows around him as the earth shifts violently, shudders and settles. Ra’s ninja bend over to protect themselves from the blast as Ra’s himself coughs over and over into his fist.
Tim doesn’t bother. He doesn’t turn around either.
It’ll hurt too much if he does.
‘The dead are dead, my pet.’
“Detective.” Ra’s face is contorted in a grimace of rage.
“What’s wrong, Ra’s? You said it, not me. You were done. Now I believe I’ve repaid any debt to you in full, a mystery for a mystery and gosh don’t you think that’s enough sightseeing of Gotham for you?”
“I could have sent teams to investigate those remains further. With the discovery of such a preserved creature and you–”
“Graves are for the living. The dead don’t care,” Tim says with a chilling smile, “Maybe I grew tired of watching you break and fondle old bones.”
“You destroyed the cave! The incredible wonder. How is that preferable to my actions?”
The crumbling rock should be enough to cover up the nearly-silent sounds of boots, of Gotham’s shadows taking their final positions twelve seconds after the explosion as planned.
Through the haze, Red Robin smiles white in the night, “It’s preferable because I get to piss you off. Now get out of my city, I promise you the only drake here is me.”
“And I promise you, Detective. The destruction of your city will be just as quick and ruthless as that cave.” Ra’s storms towards him, but the shadows take shape, and the yellow insignia comes through the dusk, the glint of the red helmet, and maybe a little blue and black mixed in, all the colors of the night flaring out over Red Robin’s shoulder, a heavy hand, gloved and gauntleted, ready for the fight, gives a brief squeeze of encouragement.
“You heard my son, Ra’s. it’s time to leave our city.”
But Nightwing gives a laugh, twirling one escrima stick through his fingers, “Nah. I think you should stay a while. This would make good fighting terrain. How many ninjas do you think made it out of that blast again?”
There’s a snort through synths and Red Hood nudges Robin, who’s standing next to him, “Gotta say, I don’t think it’s gonna be enough to keep the five of us interested for long, you feel me here, Baby Bird?”
“Tt, we were promised a sensational final brawl, Drake, and here you have failed to deliver.”
“I’m not Santa Claus, Robin. How was I supposed to know Ra’s men would be so lame?”
“I had expectations that your plan would yield better results.”
Tim’s lips twitch. “Pfft. Next time, you can plan the bad guy takedown, and I’ll go get roof tacos with B, N, and Hood. Deal?”
“I think for now,” B interrupts the witty banter, moving with a swish of his cape to stand by Red Robin’s side, putting them shoulder-to-shoulder, “we’re going to say it one. Last. Time. Get the hell out of our city.”
And the depth of B’s voice is the thing that makes him the most feared man in the city. It’s enough to make Ra’s al Ghul pause and narrow his eyes over at Red Robin.
“Touche, Detective. As always, you never fail to disappoint during one of our little...games.” And even if he doesn’t move any closer, doesn’t even tighten his hold over the fang, Tim feels a shiver run down his spine. “Enjoy your victories for now, Timothy, but one day you may see this very fang again, and your blood will sate it.”
And even if it’s just way overdone, Ra’s gives barely a twitch of his fingers and the shadowy assassins leap away, running as they’re bid, and Ra’s himself turns sharply on his heels, clutching the fang by his side.
The Bats all take a collective breath.
As one, four heads swing to the vigilante in the middle, arms crossed and toes tapping.
“Okay, so not my best plan maybe, but it’s been one hell of a night. Can we just call it and go home?” Red Robin looks again at the rubbled remains of his family’s burial site, the space in his chest hollow even with the victory.
“I’m pretty much on board with that plan,” and because B knows about pain like this, sharp and biting when it comes to things that can never be regained. He pointedly grips one of Red’s shoulders, turns him gently away from the remains. “Besides, we have a meeting tomorrow and I need you to make me look like a rich idiot, remember?”
The returning laugh is tinged with sadness and B gives him another pat before leading the way back to the Batplane waiting for them all.
“We’re riding with Timmy!” Nightwing calls, already wrapping himself around one of Red’s arms. Hood lays a hand on Red’s other, giving a gentle squeeze.
Robin chuffs at them and leaps into the cockpit with Batman, waving them away to the plan Red came in to meet Ra’s.
Hood takes over, warming the plane up to fly while Nightwing hangs in the back with Red, pulling off the cowl so Tim couldn’t hide.
“Tell me really, are you okay, Baby Bird?” Dick gently tugs his brother into his body, taking in how he sags into the hold.
“I’m...fine.” Tim grips the arm half around his neck, careful of his claws under the gauntlets. “I just, you know, destroyed the grave of my parents. Let the most disgusting man walk away with my mother’s fang. I just–”
“Ensured your safety by leading Ra’s around by the nose.” Bruce finishes through the comm link in the planes. “The Demon Head will never suspect your nature now. When he returns it’ll be for your head, not your heart...we can work with that.”
“Yeah, death is just so much easier to work with than being hunted, captured like a pretty pet and trained as one,” Tim mutters.
“Plus Bats never stay dead!” Jason yells back in an ugly fashion.
“Seconded,” is Dami deadpanning in the back.
“I’ll worry about it when the day comes. Until then, I’m going to be very glad my secret is safe.” But Tim sits heavily, head dangling between his shoulders, so fucking tired. A hand reaching back pats his calf while Jay stays at the controls, and Dick flops beside him, already wrapping a long arm around his ribs.
“You’re safe,” Dick says low in his ear, low enough that the plane’s microphones can’t pick it up. “That’s what matters. You’re safe with us, and when that day comes, we’ll be here, Tim. We. Will. Be. Here.”
After the reassuring squeeze to his calf and the vigilante crushing his spine, hearing the low purr of B and Robin’s engine through the comm link, knowing Alfred is at home waiting with coffee and food and bandages, all of it makes him feel that much better.
“Our love is a terrible thing,” his mother’s voice whispers from memory. “But take comfort in this, you are mine. Now, until my last breath and forever.”
Tim...can work with that.
A special thanks to my dearest friend, Wintersnight who helped me with the batfluff at the end. She's truly a masterful writer so check out her stuff when you can!