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To Rise Above

Chapter Text

Damian Wayne steadily worked his way through the piles of correspondence in his father’s study. With his father and older brothers away on a mission to broker peace between two neighboring kingdoms who were always at each other’s throats, it was up to him to keep up the day to day management of the kingdom of Gotham. It was a daunting task, one that kept High Lord Bruce, as well as his eldest sons Richard and Jason, occupied much of the time.

With all three gone, the task fell to Damian’s young shoulders. He felt he was up to the challenge, even if he did find it mind numbingly tedious.

The morning light soon shifted overhead and Damian stretched when he heard the noon bells. Lunch would be arriving soon.

Rather than start a new pile of papers, the youngest Wayne went to the open window in hopes of catching a stray breeze. The great height from his window to the courtyard below fazed him not. Young he may be, but he’s been trained for the skies for as long as he could remember.

Soon, he’d turn sixteen and would leave on his own quest to find his dragon. It could not come soon enough.

All the Wayne’s, adopted and blood, were dragon masters, though they themselves used the term loosely as the bonds they shared with their dragons were more of a partnership than master and servant. At present, there were three dragons mewed in the massive stables Damian could see off to his left.

Bruce was bonded to the wonderous Diana, a massive female dragon whose colors shifted from blue and gold to red and gold depending on her mood. She was easily the queen of their little flight, but she was gracious and patient with all who approached her. It was not a common trait in females, but to those who knew Bruce, the complimentary bond was apparent.

Richard, the eldest son and heir apparent (which still galled Damian at times as he was the blood son, bastard though he may be), was also bonded to another female dragon. Koriand’r was as fiery as the sun in the sky and had an attitude to match. Diana had put her in her place upon her arrival, though it would not surprise Damian if she were behind the random fires that often broke out in the stables. Unsurprisingly, she adored Richard with all her being, his good nature balancing them out.

And Jason…Damian gritted his teeth. It was just like the second adopted son to come home with a woe-begotten runt. The only male of their flight, Timothy was much smaller than the two females, though as he understood it, the male was also quite young (which surprised Diana to no end when Timothy was introduced to them) so there was still potential for him to grow. His colors were primarily red and gold, but Jason had discovered that at night, his companion could shift into dark greens and black. A rather interesting trait, though Damian couldn’t see what use it would be.

He dreamed of what his dragon would be like. Male or female made no difference to him, as the physical and emotional traits were what made the bond in the first place. Damian knew all too well that he’s arrogant and full of pride, but under no circumstances did he believe his dragon would be meek and mild. Theirs would be a true partnership just like the others.

As he stared contemplatively at the stables, a small dot appeared on the horizon. As it grew closer, Damian could see it was a dragon. The flash of red didn’t help in placing it at this distance, but it quickly became apparent there was only one.

It was much too soon for the peace treaty to be negotiated and signed. Something was wrong.

Damian flew out of the room and down the stairs, almost running into the serving maid carrying his lunch. As he gained the main floor, he veered left to a small side gate used most often by his family for the stables.

Outside, he spotted the dragon almost overhead, recognizing it instantly as Timothy. Normally graceful in his movements, he was floundering as though staying airborne was a massive task. He could see why a moment later.

A long tear had almost sheared his right wing in half. It would heal, but it would take time.

Damian’s stomach sank at the implications of what the injury meant.

The bright red and gold dragon landed as best he could with his injured wing, but he still hit the ground hard and too fast, crying out as he did. One of his legs was apparently damaged as well.

Stable hands raced forward as close as they dared, torn between wanting to help and keeping their heads in one place as an injured dragon was not to be trifled with. Damian pushed forward through the crowd.

As much as he may dislike Timothy, he could not leave the dragon in such obvious distress.

“Timothy,” Damian said soothingly as he approached. “You’re home. You’re safe. What’s happened?”

Rather than answering, the dragon rolled carefully onto his side, revealing his back. Nestled against his sharp spines where his neck met his torso was his rider’s saddle. Jason was strapped in and not moving.

“Shit,” Damian swore and raced forward. “Healers! Get the healers!” he shouted as he undid the straps holding his brother in place.

Up close, Jason was a bloody mess and Damian’s pretty certain his leg was not supposed to be angled in that direction. He moaned as the last strap was removed and fell into his youngest brother’s arms. Damian couldn’t help but stagger under the man’s weight.

“You need to go on a diet, Jason,” he growled out. “You’re almost as heavy as Father.”

Jason’s teal eyes opened a crack. “D…trap. Ambushed,” he gasped out before his eyes rolled back into his head and he passed out again.

The message had been relayed though and Damian’s stomach sank as he knelt in the dirt with his brother in his arms. “Father. Richard. Come on, Jason, wake up, damn you!”

“We were attacked,” a new voice chimed in, deep and low and sibilant like all dragons, but with a hint of lightness that betrayed his youth. It was Timothy. Damian looked up to catch the dragon’s slitted blue eye. “It was obvious from the start that something was off about the whole thing, but Bruce insisted on staying.” The dragon coughed, a stream of hot smoke escaping his gaping maw.

“Do you know who broke the parley?” Damian stood as the healers arrived to deal with Jason and approached the dragon’s head.

“The Kandorians. They brought in the Jokers under the cover of darkness.”

The news could not be worse. The Jokers were a band of fiends from the far northern wastelands known as the Phantom Planes. They started off as human, but whatever it was the master fiend himself did to them, they were forever changed. Their cannibalistic tendencies were the stuff of nightmares.

“Father’s best friend is Kal-El of Kandor,” Damian protested. “I cannot see him being privy to this.”

Timothy shook his head, a movement he’d learned from his human handlers. “He was not. From what I could tell, it was an insurgent group who was protesting the treaty with Atlantis.” He coughed again.

“You are injured, Timothy.” Damian ran practiced hands over the sides of the dragon. Runt he may call the majestic beast, but he was still larger than a standard barn. “The wing is obvious, but where else?”

“I was hit by a bolt of mage lightning and fell off the side of a cliff.” The flatness of Timothy’s tone indicated exactly what he thought about that.

“That doesn’t answer my question.”

Another cough and another plume of smoke settled in the stable yard before the dragon replied. “Ribs. Cracked or bruised, I cannot determine. My right hind leg may be broken.”

Damian quietly shuddered. The fall had to have been from a great height for a dragon to have injuries of this caliber. Their hard scales protected them for the most part. But if he remembered correctly, Timothy had just gone through a molt and shed his scales as new, bigger ones took their place. These scales may not have had enough time to harden.

“What news of my father and Richard?” he asked as he went to take a look at the aforementioned leg.

“I know not,” Timothy replied. “Jason had us up in the air as soon as the attack came so that we could scout out the Joker’s forces, but I did not see Bruce or Dick on the ground. Diana and Kori had taken their stations at the castle gates, but with all the mage lightning in the air, they could not get airborne.”

It irked him that the dragon used the more familiar form of Richard’s name. “Why did you leave them?” Damian all but growled as he carefully probed at the obviously broken leg. It was a match for his rider’s.

“Orders,” the dragon bit out. “Diana relayed instructions from Bruce that Jason and I were to leave at once to gather our forces here and march to Kandor.”

He did not sound happy at being sent away, a sentiment Damian could heartily agree with as he’d been left behind as well. “Your leg is just as twisted as Jason’s. Rest now and let the healers tend to you. I will make sure you are kept appraised of Jason’s condition and any news that may come from Kandor.”

With that, the young man strode away, instructing the handlers they could safely approach as he did. He needed to find Alfred. The Lord Chamberlain would be able to help him sound the muster.

*****

As it turned out, mustering troops was more difficult than Damian expected. The lords that owed fealty to Bruce did not see it as owing him the same. Even with Jason’s assistance from his sickbed, it was slow going.

“Why won’t they just do as they’re told?” Damian groused as he paced the length of Jason’s room, a scroll in hand with a list of names of who’s responded and who hasn’t. “They are sworn to Father and therefore to Gotham. They are disobeying.”

“I know, D. I know.” Jason sounded as tired as he looked. In the three days since he and Timothy crash landed in the keep, he’s been in and out of consciousness, doing the best he could while he was awake to help his younger brother. “And when we get Bruce and Dick home in one piece, you can bet he’s going to take note.”

Neither one spoke about what would happen if Bruce didn’t make it home. The line of succession was already tenuous at best with two adopted sons and a blood son born out of wedlock. But Jason was the elder of the two of them and the throne would fall to him if Bruce and Richard were killed. Damian already knew he’d support Jason’s claim if he wanted it. His father would expect him to.

“Has Timothy heard from Diana or Koriand’r?” he asked instead. Dragons were capable of some limited telepathy, although the distance between Gotham and Kandor was likely to make it difficult.

“Only in the sense that he knows they’re still alive,” Jason replied, his face downcast. Dragons were hard to kill at the best of times and even though their riders wore armor made from their molted scales, it didn’t make them any less human. When a bonded pair was broken, it was usually due to the death of the human, as dragons lived a much longer lifespan than they did. Depending on the nature of the death, the dragon’s rage could level cities.

“What good does that do us?” Damian can’t help but snap. He tossed the scroll onto Jason’s bed, the cream of the paper standing out against the green coverlet.

“Not one damn thing,” Jason retorted. “But listen up, D and listen well. Right now, you’re the only shot we have of saving Bruce and Dick. So suck it up, stop pouting, and do it.

The word struck Damian hard just like his brother intended them to. Say what he did about his second brother, the man had a way with words that rivaled most bards.

He drew himself upright, standing tall at the end of the bed. “We need information. Nothing is coming out of Kandor right now. Even the scrying stone is black. All the relay posts between Kandor City and the Metropolis Mountains are gone. That level of coordination is beyond the Jokers. Another party has to be involved.”

“The insurgents were led by General Zod,” Jason said, his face crinkled up as he recalled what he’d seen. “The man was exiled to the Phantom Plains several years ago by Kal. Who knows who or what he encountered there.”

“If only Timothy were capable of flight, he could use that camouflage of his to sneak over the mountains under the cover of darkness.” The dragon was recovering from his ordeal well enough. He didn’t like the splint on his leg in the slightest and there was nothing they could do for his bruised ribs (it would take miles of bedsheets to create a wrap for them). But his torn wing…the healers were most concerned about it as the membranous tissue was notoriously slow to heal.

Jason didn’t reply right away, the vacant look in his eyes indicating he was speaking with Timothy through their bond. “About that…” he finally said slowly. “There is a way for Tim to fly right now. But he’d need a rider.”

“What do you mean?” Damian asked, curious.

“It’s something we’ve been experimenting with,” Jason continued. “You know we both like to tinker and come up with new things.”

Damian knew this all too well. The redesigned dragon saddle was amongst their more recent accomplishments. It undoubtedly saved his brother’s life when he’d fallen over that cliff with Timothy. He nodded.

“The best way I can describe it is like a patch,” his brother explained, gesturing with his free hand as the left was broken and bound close to his chest. “It unfurls along the ripped part of the wing and hooks on to the talons at the end. The problem is, it gaps when he flies, so Tim can’t control his flight as well. He needs a rider to help keep the patch in place.”

The youngest Wayne can’t help the shocked expression on his face. “This is something you’ve practiced?

“Sort of?” Jason shrugged. “It’s all theoretical at this point as Tim’s never ripped anything before. But the math and the mechanics work out. From what you’ve both described to me, it sounds like he needs something to seal the tear. It can probably be anchored into place with a few rings and some sealant.”

“You’re complete and utter imbeciles,” Damian muttered, shaking his head. “I assume you were just asking Timothy about attempting this ridiculous maneuver? You’re in no condition to fly.”

Jason smirked. One of those gods awful smirks that always made Damian want to smack him as it never boded well for whoever it was directed at. “Nope, but you are.”

What? Have you completely taken leave of your senses?” One did not simply ride another person’s dragon. It was almost impossible without a bond. A certain amount of trust was needed. And he and Timothy, well, to say they didn’t get along was an understatement.

“I must have to even consider this,” Jason replied wryly, his voice laced with dark humor. “But we need to know what’s going on and Tim’s willing to try if you are. He cares about Diana and Kori the way we do Bruce and Dick.”

Damian continued stalking around the room as he thought it over. The biggest risk was that the patch would fall off midflight, leaving them stranded behind possibly enemy lines. He wasn’t concerned in the slightest that the dragon would refuse him as a rider, unbonded though he was. He’s trained for this all his life.

But perhaps…perhaps if they’re successful and Father and Richard returned home safely, then maybe he’ll be allowed to leave on his dragon quest sooner rather than later.

He stopped once again at the foot of Jason’s bed and nodded firmly. “Fine. We shall try this lunacy. What do we need?”

 

Chapter Text

Damian stood in the middle of the training field, dressed in his dragon armor made from Diana’s molted scales. She’d been blue and gold at the time, so the scales had darkened to a dark blue rimmed with gold when the light hit it at the right angle. He hadn’t appreciated the color at the time, much preferring red, but he couldn’t deny the color’s appropriateness now.

In front of him, Timothy stood tall, glaring down at him, his normally red and gold scales already shifted to shades of black and dark green. The colors stood out in the afternoon light but if they got this right, neither of them would be seen when they took to the skies that night.

Jason sat off to the side on a camp chair, his broken leg sticking straight out in its splint. The chief healer, Pam, had said he was lucky it hadn’t been crushed during Timothy’s fall and would heal soon enough. She was one of those rare touch healers, a person capable of assessing a wound and using the person’s own energy, as well as her own, to heal the wound or break more rapidly than a person would on their own. At Jason’s request, he’d asked her to focus those energies on Timothy so as to get the dragon back up in the air as soon as possible.

Pam stood next to him, along with Alfred. Damian didn’t see any reason for them to be there other than to observe the communication failures he and Timothy would undoubtedly have.

“You know you’ll need to kneel in order for me to get this on you.” He gestured to the long strip of dark hide they were using for the patch. It had taken the seamstresses the better part of the morning to sew it together using the measurements provided by the stable handlers.

“I kneel to only one human and that is not you,” the dragon rumbled.

“Tim,” Jason called from the fence line. “I know it sucks and it’s demeaning as hell, but you are not submitting to the little shit by kneeling before him. You want up in the air tonight, you’ve got to let him get close enough to your wing.”

“You heard your master.” Damian can’t help the snide tone in his voice. He’s never gotten along with Timothy so the chance to see the proud dragon put in his place was a bonus for the night’s endeavor.

Timothy growled deep and lowered his long neck so that he was face to face with the youngest Wayne. He huffed and a wave of air washed over Damian, hot enough that he could feel his skin prickle and redden from the assault. “Let’s keep one thing straight, Damian. You need me as much as I need you right now. Under no circumstances will I ever kneel before you again.”

With that, the dark dragon lowered his large body before Damian, extending his right forearm and wing as low to the ground as he could get it.

The position did not look comfortable so he got right to work, connecting the far end of the thin hides to the two sharp talons on either side of the tear. This close, he could see the membrane that made up the dragon’s wing in more detail than he ever had before. There were many different types of dragons in the world and Timothy was the first he’d seen where his wings fused to his forearms and the side of his body, rather like how a bat’s wings did. When he walked around on all fours, his wings folded in, but also stuck up and out at an odd angle rather than folding smoothly along his back and sides like Diana’s did. Koriand’r was even more rare as she did not have wings at all, but rather flew through the air using her own innate ability to levitate and fly.

Inspecting the rip, Damian could see where it had healed already thanks to Pam’s efforts, but it would still take the better part of a month before the two parts were fused together again and still another month after that before the membrane was tough enough to withstand the pressures of flight.

He hoped this worked.

The hardest part of this would be where he has to literally pierce the membrane in a few select spots where it connected to Timothy’s forearm and wing tendons. The hide can’t whip about like a sail or a flag in flight and this was the only way to keep it stable.

Damian approached the first spot, the anchor point for the entire contraption where the membrane connected to the underside of the dragon’s arm. He withdrew a long bone awl from his pouch. “I’m about to stab you,” he warned. “Brace yourself.”

He pushed with all his strength, knowing this part of the wing was thickest and hardest to get through. It bled a little as the awl pushed through, but the dragon didn’t make a sound. Damian removed a small container of ointment from his pouch and dabbed it around the sides of the wound.

“It’s like piercing your ear,” Jason commented from a lot closer than Damian expected.

Turning, he saw his brother standing beside Timothy’s head, one hand on his snout to keep his balance. Next to him, Pam was standing with his crutch. “You would know,” Damian retorted, but he kept rubbing the ointment into the hole in soothing circular motions like he’d been instructed.

His brother was quite taken with piercings and had several running up and down his ears, all the studs being precious or semi-precious stones that matched his dragon’s unique colors. Timothy also sported piercings, but in the soft tissue around the outer corner of his eye. His thin gold hoops were huge and easily could be worn by his master as arm bands if he were so inclined.

Small wonder these two were bonded. A matched pair of idiots as far as Damian was concerned. He would do no such thing when he was finally bonded.

Pam came closer to inspect the hole and ran her fingers over the outer edges of it. The bright red wound instantly dulled as a fresh layer of skin covered the raw flesh. She nodded, pleased with that she saw. “Slather the cording generously when you pull it through. The last thing Timothy needs is friction causing him discomfort.” The red haired healer stepped back.

Soon enough, the patch was in place and all three humans took their places along the fence so the dragon had enough space to flap his wings to get a feel for the foreign object strapped to it. He rose up on his back legs (still favoring the broken one, Damian couldn’t help but notice, even with Pam’s help in speeding the healing process along; it would make landings tricky) and started flapping, much as he would when about to take off from a ground position. Timothy preferred to take off by throwing himself and his rider over the edge of the high promontory the castle sat at the top of.

After several beats, the dragon settled back to the ground. “I can feel the drag,” he announced. “I don’t think I can take off from this position.”

Jason nodded. “You couldn’t last time either, so that’s not a big surprise. If you dive off the cliff, do you think you’ll have enough lift to stay airborne? We can put the adhesive on now or later.”

“Later,” Timothy replied firmly. “I want to avoid that if possible. I may be off center until I can account for lost lift, but I can stay in the air.”

“It’s your call.” Jason nodded again, then looked at Damian. “Get Tim saddled up. You’re going flying.”

*****

Damian sat securely in Timothy’s saddle, looking down over the dragon’s strong neck but more importantly, at the city of Gotham sitting at the base of the cliff. He’s flown before, but always on Diana with his father behind him. This was his first solo flight and it made him slightly sick to his stomach that it wasn’t with his own dragon. He’d overheard Richard saying once that the first time riding a dragon by yourself was akin to the first time non-riders had sex. Jason had been about to leave on his dragon quest and blushed at the words, but he’d wholeheartedly agreed upon his return to Gotham with Timothy.

Yet another experience the present situation was depriving him of.

Beneath him, Timothy shifted, his dark claws grasping the edge of the cliff. “This will be bumpy,” was all the warning he gave before launching himself out into the open air. Damian barely had enough time to pull his goggles down.

The dragon’s wings snapped wide open and rather than focus on the ground coming closer and closer, Damian turned his head to watch Timothy’s right wing. He could see where the force of the wind was pushing the patch up and creating gaps where air was blowing through. But the dragon overcame it and soon was rising up on one of the thermals, riding it like one of his father’s prized falcons.

Still, as Timothy maneuvered through the air, it became obvious he was struggling. Damian leaned forward and tapped the dragon three times on the base of his neck, the predetermined signal for him to return to the keep.

He could hear the dragon’s growl over the wind, but he obeyed.

The landing was less than perfect back at the cliff, but it was a sight better than the last one Damian witnessed.

Alfred and Pam rushed forward. “Well?” the old man asked as he took careful hold of Timothy’s snout. He was the only person outside of Jason who could handle the dragon with impunity. “I’ve seen many of Timothy’s takeoffs and that one certainly looked challenging.”

“Too much air is escaping between the gaps,” Damian said as he dismounted and removed his helmet and goggles. “We need to seal it as I doubt Timothy wants more piercings in an already compromised wing."

“Agreed,” the dragon rumbled. “It was a struggle to stay in the air, more than I’d anticipated.”

Pam held her hand out and waited until Timothy nodded before approaching his wing. “I’ll get the goo,” she said as she ran a hand on the underside of the wing, inspecting it for damage. “It’s stickier than glue, but won’t tear at your wing. At most, it’s only going to last a few hours with the force you’ll be putting on it.”

“It will only take me a couple hours to reach the Metropolis Mountains,” Timothy replied confidently. “Damian can reapply it there before we go further, then again on the way back. I know several landing and takeoff spots between here and Kandor City.”

“But other than the shitty drag, that’s all you felt?” Jason probed. He looked tired, which was understandable considering everything his own body was going through.

The dragon paused to think before he answered. “That’s all. If the patch is sealed properly, then I only need a rider to reapply the sealant every couple of hours.”

He didn’t say it out loud, but Damian picked up the unspoken words anyway. If it weren’t for this lame wing, I’d be more than capable of getting the information we need.

Damian took it as a challenge. He will be of more use than Timothy expected. Than they all expected.

 

Chapter Text

In the early hours of the night, Timothy landed on a sheer cliff face Damian would have thought impossible to scale. But with his slender build and bat-like wings, the dragon easily found purchase where no others could.

Luckily, this was not a place where Pam’s sealant needed to be reapplied as the rider was hard pressed to figure out how such a feat would be possible here.

“Where exactly are we?” he asked instead.

“We’re about thirty leagues from Kandor City as the dragon flies,” Timothy replied, his voice a low vibration that Damian felt rather than heard. “I’ve flown many times at night in these parts, but what I see disturbs me.”

Damian raised his goggles and looked around. The sky was shrouded in hazy clouds, the light from the half moon faint and the starlight nonexistent. Despite the clouds, it didn’t feel like rain. The air lacked the heaviness and the moisture he associated with a pending downpour. On the ground below, he couldn’t see anything. All was shrouded in darkness.

“I don’t see anything.”

“That’s what bothers me,” Timothy replied, shifting on the rock face to take some pressure off his hind leg. “Normally, the road to Kandor is dotted with light from the various towns and villages. Even the crofter’s farms have a lantern or two burning to ward against the night. But there is nothing as far as my eyes can see.”

The statement was concerning in more ways than one. Damian knew full well how strong a dragon’s eyesight was. “Where is the closest town?”

“Not far. Two leagues perhaps.”

“How close can you get me so that I can take a look around?” There was a part of Damian’s childhood he would much rather forget, but on rare occasions he would find some of the skills imparted to him by his mother to be useful. Skills he and his father pretended he didn’t have.

A ninja.

An assassin.

Tonight though, he needed his stealth and while he may be out of practice with garroting someone from behind, he still knew how to be sneaky.

Timothy doesn’t question why. “There’s a large field just south of town I can drop you in. I don’t dare land, so you’ll need your rope.”

“Fair enough. Let’s go.” Damian lowered his goggles again as the dragon released his claws from the rock and spread his wings. To his surprise, they glided in the direction of the town. Timothy beat his wings only occasionally as he rode the currents down.

It wasn’t something Damian had ever seen Diana or Koriand’r do, but as he thought about the dragon’s body type, it made perfect sense. Timothy was built for speed, yes, but he was also stealthy in his own way. He was a dragon his grandfather would love to get his hands on.

Damian squashed that thought down hard. Grandfather would get his hands on Timothy over his and Jason’s dead bodies.

As they approach the landing zone, the sound of voices had Timothy pulling back up into the air, his wings beating hard as he twisted and veered upwards. “There are people down there,” he growled.

“Then drop me in the trees as close as you dare,” Damian ordered and readied his knotted rope. “Those voices didn’t sound right.”

Timothy looped around and made another pass. When he leveled out again, Damian undid the straps holding him in the saddle and swung a leg over the side. He double checked the rope to make sure it was securely fastened. Satisfied with the knots, he rappelled down the side of the dragon’s neck and into the air below. The rope was knotted every foot, making it easy for him to get purchase even with his heavy gloves.

There was a time he used to do this barehanded.

The dragon slowed down to the point where he could be considered hovering and Damian felt the top of a tree through his boots. “Lower,” he growled quietly and he abruptly dropped another a few feet. His feet found purchase on a branch and he reached out, grasping another branch. He yanked once on the rope. “Half a candle mark,” he said in a low voice and let go.

He didn’t hear Timothy flying away, but he knew he’d been heard.

Damian climbed down the tree as quietly as he could in the almost pitch blackness. He wasn’t concerned about the dragon not finding him again. Rather, he was more concerned about locating the right spot himself.

When his feet finally hit the ground, he looked around, marking the spot well in his mind from all angles. He could just barely make out voices in the distance and made his way stealthily in that direction. As he got closer, it became easier to see. There was some unknown light source up ahead, one that could not be seen by air.

Magic. It was the only explanation.

He wondered how Timothy missed that scent. Dragons were particularly attuned to the mystical forces that made up the word, being creatures of magic themselves. Damian smirked, knowing he’d enjoy rubbing this in the dragon’s face when they rendezvoused.

The voice grew louder and Damian became even more wary. Before long, he was crouched at the edge of a clearing. His eyes widened in horror at the sight before him.

White skinned fiends danced raucously before several massive bonfires that burned with pale green fire that no natural forces he knew of could create. The creatures were long limbed, gaunt to the point of emaciation. Hollow, wide eyes were bright with madness. But even more telling, each and every one wore the same wide rictus grin, mouths stained red in the eerie light.

The mark of the Joker.

Damian shuddered and forced his body to move. The very thought that Joker’s fiends were so close to the border of his homeland gave him strength. He needed to find out how many there were, but more importantly, he needed to discover what happened to the village Timothy said was close by.

Judging by the stewpots he spotted around the fires, he suspected he knew. Joker fiends were known to eat anything that had a heartbeat. His father once told a tale where he’d seen a pack of the fiends tear down a fully grown horse and leave nothing but cracked bones in less than a hundred heartbeats.

He did the best he could in the time allotted, but he only made it halfway around the large field before he was forced to turn back. He’d counted fifty of the fiends, much more than in any story his father ever told.

This was not good.

Damian scrambled his way back up the tree, as silent going up as he was coming down. After a moment, the rope brushed against his face and he grasped it, giving it a light pull before he started climbing up. Timothy didn’t wait for him to reach his saddle before he flew off.

Climbing a swinging rope while dangling from the side of a flying dragon was an impressive feat and one he’d have to remember to practice with his own dragon in the future.

“Well?” Timothy grumbled as he distanced them from the ground.

“Joker fiends,” he gasped as he hauled himself back into the saddle and immediately strapped himself in. “About fifty of them in the clearing. They’ve got some witchlight burning at what I think were the four cardinal points.”

The dragon swore, words he undoubtedly picked up from his master. “I couldn’t sense a thing,” Timothy said vehemently. “Not a thing.”

“What kind of magic can befuddle even the senses of a dragon?” Damian can’t help but ask as he pulled his goggles down again.

“Powerful magic,” the dragon growled in return. “Let’s fly as close as we dare to Kandor City. I know of one good landing site within a league of the outer walls. It should be safe enough."

And close enough for Timothy to reach Diana or Koriand’r with their limited telepathy.

It took them another hour to reach the spot the dragon had in mind. It was a high promontory that overlooked the wide river that surrounded the island city. For the moment, they didn’t see anyone, but the unnatural darkness had only grown thicker as they got closer. At the same time, they could now clearly see the witchlights burning beneath them.

Damian shivered as he dismounted and removed the container with the sticky substance the chief healer had whipped up. As they flew deeper into the darkness, the colder it had gotten. His armor protected him from the worst of it, but his face was still bare to the elements. “Will this distract you?”

Timothy stretched out the wing for him to reach. “No. Just don’t tug at it.” He settled in and stared intently at the city.

It galled Damian that they were so close his father and oldest brother and yet so far away. Knowing what he did now of Timothy and his abilities, he had no doubt they could get closer if they had to. But this was a scouting mission, not a rescue mission. Jason and Alfred had drilled that into him before they left Gotham. They were here for information.

He peeled off his riding gloves and put on the sticky gloves he removed from the pouch he stored them in after he’d applied the second application of the sealant back in the Metropolis Mountains. If he didn’t know better, he’d say honey was one of the binding agents, but Pam was a master of plants and herbs and combining them to form different remedies and concoctions like this. She did warn them both not to lick the sticky mess.

The third application was halfway done by the time Timothy rumbled in happiness. “I have reached Diana,” he announced quietly.

Damian couldn’t help the gasp that escaped his lungs. “Father? Richard? Koriand’r?”

“All are well considering the circumstances, but Kori’s burned herself out. She needs the sun in ways Diana and I don’t.”

It took a moment for Damian to understand. Koriand’r’s breed was essentially solar powered. They thrived under the light of day and weaken considerably when shut away from the sun’s rays. The dragon has a habit of greeting the sun every morning back in Gotham with a ululating cry that echoed throughout the countryside. The farmers and crofters appreciated it as she was more reliable than any cock’s crow.

“Is she all right?” he breathed quietly.

“For the moment,” Timothy replied, but he sounded distracted, so Damian kept his mouth shut and continued applying the sealant.

A few minutes later, the dragon rumbled again, this time in displeasure.

“What?”

“Diana woke up Bruce and informed him of our presence. He’s ordered us to return to Gotham immediately and to summon the Lady Zatanna and the Warlock Constantine.”

Two of the most powerful magic users Bruce and Kal-El claimed as allies. It made sense, though the orders stuck in his craw.

“How long can they hold out against the horde?” A true horde it was. As they had gotten closer to the great city, the enshrouding darkness rose further into the sky and away from the ground, allowing Timothy to spot the fires and do his own rough count of the Jokerized fiends around them. Each easily contained at least fifty fiends, just like the first group they’d discovered. Damian had also been correct in that the fires were set at the cardinal compass points, a strong indication of more magic.

“A couple weeks at most,” Timothy replied. He did not sound happy.

“What about the scrying stones? Have they tried using it?” Damian knew Kal-El had a stone like his father’s. The two rulers used them often.

“Something is blocking it.” Timothy snorted, hot air streaming from his nostrils. It fogged up immediately in the unnatural cold.

“Do they know who is assisting the Joker? Besides Zod?” Damian finished applying the sealant and was starting to remove his gloves before Timothy finally replied.

“Diana believes it’s Circe.”

“Oh, shit,” Damian breathed and leaned against the dragon for support as his legs wavered. He’d met the sorceress once as a child. Her particular skills were needed by his grandfather to assist the League of Assassins. His mother had paraded him before the powerful woman for some reason he never understood, but even then, he’d been practically petrified in her presence. There was an aura of unutterable evil around her that still scared him spitless.

The dragon nudged him with his snout. “Are you all right?” he asked, in what sounded like concern.

Damian took a deep breath and stood tall. “I am. I simply recalled a rather unpleasant moment of my childhood that involved her.”

If the dragon had eyebrows, he was certain they’d be raised in surprise. What he said next was completely unexpected. “That must be why you have no sense of humor. She apparently stole it from you.”

The youngest Wayne huffed indignantly and slapped his hand against the dragon’s thick hide, wincing as he hadn’t yet put his gloves back on. “Shut up, Timothy. You’re the one who thinks Jason is funny.”

“He is. Especially compared to Dick. I don’t know what Kori sees in him.”

*****

The return flight back to Gotham was uneventful, even though Timothy did take a few broader sweeps across the darkened country so they could get a better idea as to where the horde was moving.

When they finally landed, the sun was just peeking over the edge of the horizon. Damian was surprised to find that he’s missed Koriand’r’s cry these last several days.

Jason, Alfred, and Pam were waiting for them. From the bags under his eyes, it was apparent his brother hadn’t slept much the night before, worried for his dragon and little brother.

Damian dismounted and stumbled a bit upon his landing. He was tired, but there was no doubt the dragon behind him was more so. “I’m not sure what Timothy has told you already, Jason, but we need to summon Zatanna and Constantine,” he said without any preamble. “There’s a magical darkness completely encompassing Kandor City and the surrounding countryside. The Joker’s hordes are massed in the thousands. Somehow, General Zod convinced the sorceress Circe to join forces with them.”

“Already done, though Tim didn’t go into quite that level of detail when he got in range,” Jason walked over carefully, grasping his crutch with his good arm. He stopped in front of Damian. “You guys did good. I’m proud of both of you.” He looked up at Timothy. “I know you two don’t like each other, but you put that shit aside for what needed to be done. Now get some rest.”

Timothy lowered his head to gently nuzzle at his master. “Only if you do too,” he said. “You’ve been up all night.”

It was an oddly private moment Damian didn’t think he was supposed to witness. But he had a saddle to remove, so he ducked under the dragon’s chest to start working at the straps.

He still ended up hearing Jason’s reply. “I just need to send word to the Bristol garrison about what to keep an eye out for during their patrols. I’ll be in bed soon. Promise.”

If Damian didn’t know better, it sounded like a promise for something else. He knew all he could about the dragon bond at this time, but there were some things Bruce and his brothers said he would only discover once he’s bonded. Yet again, he wondered what those things were.

There’s nothing he can do about it now, so after Timothy’s saddle was removed and Pam was fussing over his wing and his leg, Damian walked away. He wanted a bath, breakfast, and sleep. Not necessarily in that order.

 

Chapter Text

A few days later, Damian stood on the battlements of his father’s castle staring north. On a clear day like today, he can just make out the Metropolis Mountains in the distance. They’re a dark smear on the horizon when usually their perpetually white-capped peaks shined brightly in the noonday sun.

The sun. He looked up at it, then back down quickly. For the first time in his life, he truly understood and appreciated its life giving powers. Timothy had relayed through Jason this morning that he barely could sense Koriand’r anymore.

He fisted his hands tight. They couldn’t lose the vibrant dragon. Losing her would mean losing Richard. While a dragon could survive the loss of their human bond mate, a human did not often survive the death of their dragon.

They’d heard back finally from the Lady Zatanna. She was on her way to Gotham and would be there soon. She didn’t define how soon that really was, so as far as Damian knew, it could be a few hours or a few more days. They had not heard back from the Warlock Constantine, but no one was surprised by this. The man had a tendency to walk the edge of the Abyss when the whim took him and he’d be out of contact for weeks.

Damian wanted to do something. Anything. The waiting was horrible, especially not knowing if anything had happened to his father or Richard. They were his family and he would do everything within his power to help them.

But the magic surrounding Kal-El’s city was too strong for just any average mage to penetrate. Jason had already sent the court mages to support the Bristol garrison in the far north of Gotham’s borders. They’d reported back saying they were unable to do anything about the thick wall of darkness that now lingered on their northern border.

He sighed in frustration. If only there was something capable of negating magic completely…

His head jerked up at the thought and he mentally kicked himself in the ass for not remembering it. There were very few things he’d brought with him from his former life when his mother left him with his father. But one of the things she’d pressed upon him before she took her leave was of more importance than the sword and knives he’d ferreted away.

“Take this, my darling son,” Talia whispered in his ear and pressed a small pouch into his hands. “This stone allows its bearer to not feel the effects of magic. Keep it wrapped up, keep it safe. Should you ever need it, wear it against your skin. Tell no one you have it. Your grandfather sacrificed many children with that witch Circe to make this it. Do not let it fall back into his hands.”

She kissed his cheek and with one last look at Bruce standing behind him, Talia turned and walked away.

He hadn’t seen or heard from his mother since.

The stone she’d given him had stayed safely wrapped and stashed away behind a loose stone he’d found in the wall in his bedroom.

Damian sprinted down the stairs and into the keep like the hounds of hell were on his heels. Everyone got out of his way when they saw him coming, although he once again almost ran into a maid carrying a lunch tray for someone.

Upon entering his room, he locked the door behind him and shoved a chair against it for good measure to ensure his privacy. With that done, he rounded his large four poster bed and knelt on the floor between his nightstand and the first of his many bookcases. Reading was a pleasure Bruce ensured all his sons enjoyed, though only he and Jason really took to it. Carefully, Damian worked loose the fourth stone up from the floor. He hadn’t touched it since he placed it there, for fear of giving away the hiding spot.

The small leather pouch was just as he remembered it.

He took it out, but was uneasy about opening it. Over the years, he’d learned a little something about magic and knew the knots tying the pouch shut were at least minor wardings. His mother had said the stone needed to be worn against the skin in order to work, so he supposed anything was possible.

Damian tucked the pouch into his pocket and replaced the stone in the wall. Mortar chips fell to the ground, but at the moment, he didn’t care. A plan was starting to formulate in his mind, but in order for it to work, he needed Timothy. This was going to be the hard part.

*****

The dragon was less than impressed when Damian approached him, but by now, he was convinced this was Timothy’s default expression when dealing with him.

“What are you doing here?” the dragon asked, his tone purposefully bored and disinterested. He was basking in the sun, his wings spread wide.

Damian decided to cut right to the chase. The dragon would either help him or not. “I have a plan that will allow us to save Koriand’r without having to wait for Zatanna to arrive.”

This caught Timothy’s interest and he raised his head slightly to look directly at Damian, his blue eyes keen as they focused on him. “Do tell.”

“I have an anti-magic stone.” Damian explained what he knew of it and how it worked. It hurt a bit, admitting certain things to the dragon that his father and brothers did not know about, but he knew for his plan to have even the slightest chance, honesty was the best policy. “My plan is this. We fly back to Kandor City tonight and find the witch. I put on the stone and slip past her wardings. I kill her and that act should cause all of her spells to weaken or cease to exist. The sun will finally rise tomorrow morning and Koriand’r will be saved.”

“Along with Diana, Bruce, and Dick,” Timothy added for him. “Don’t try to pretend you’re doing this out of the goodness of your own heart. If Kori dies, so does Dick.”

“I know,” he growled. “What do you think?”

“I think you’re a harebrained fool." The dragon's blue eyes bore into him. "You are positive this stone will work?"

Damian didn't back down, but he was surprised Timothy didn't ridicule him. Stones like this were the stuff of legend and here he claimed to have one. "My mother would not lie to me. Not with something like this."

If Timothy had eyebrows, that last comment was sure to have raised it. As it was, his stare intensified. "There’s no way Jason would approve of this,” he finally said.

“Jason doesn’t have to know until we’re gone.”

The dragon’s tail lashed back and forth in agitation. “I do not lie to my master. Much.”

“I am not asking you to lie to him. Just don’t tell him we’re gone until it’s too late for him to do anything about it.” The fact this game has gone on for this long was giving Damian hope the dragon was about to cave. Timothy enjoyed banter.

The dragon eyed him again, then pointedly stared at his still torn wing. “We’d need that adhesive and the patch from Pam.”

Yes.

“I can get my hands on both.” The healer’s attention had been divided evenly between her two ornery patients. Neither were back to full strength, but Timothy’s ribs were fully healed now. He hadn’t complained about them once during their flight a few nights ago, but once he was back in the stables, he almost collapsed from the strain. Damian felt slightly guilty over not being there to help.

“And my saddle. And whatever gear you decide to bring.”

“Is that a yes?” Damian had to check. He needed to be certain the dragon wasn’t just stringing him along.

Timothy huffed in annoyance, the hot air aimed somewhere over his head for once rather than in his face. “Gods help me, it’s a yes. Jason confirmed Zatanna won’t be here until tomorrow and I fear it may be too late for Kori if we wait any longer.”

“Then meet me at the cliffs at sundown. I’ll have everything ready.”

“I’ll make sure I’m saddled. But you’ll have to apply the patch quickly before anyone sees us.”

Damian smirked, something he’d long since learned from Jason and wasn’t ashamed to admit it. “I’m the son of one of the best assassins in the world. No one sees me unless I want them to.”

 

Chapter Text

They’re halfway to the Metropolis Mountains before Timothy spoke up. “Jason is livid with us.”

“He just now discovered we’re gone?” It had taken longer than Damian expected. Timothy may be small for a dragon, but he’s still a dragon. It’s not exactly like they’re hard to miss.

“Yes. He’s cursing like a sailor at me through our bond. I didn’t know he knew how to swear in that many languages.” The dragon sounded amused.

“He’s the son of a sailor, it shouldn’t be that surprising.” Both Richard and Jason came from humble origins. It was one of the reasons the local lords under Bruce were chomping at the bit for him to have a legitimate heir, even though both young men had proven capable of the dragon bond and could claim to be dragon masters. That status alone should be enough to support either of their claims. Damian would be lying if he said he didn’t think his own status would rise in their eyes once he came home with a dragon of his own.

“Well, he certainly gets creative when he puts his mind to it. We’re both in for the tongue lashing of a lifetime if we make it home in one piece.”

“We will.”

They stopped in the mountains to reapply the sticky goo to the dragon’s patched wing. It was an odd place this time around, with normal night behind them and true dark before them. Timothy stared intently into the gloom. “It’s darker than before. Thicker is the best way I can describe it. Almost…tangible.”

“Where is the witch getting this kind of power from?” Damian wondered as he put away the container and another pair of ruined gloves.

“My guess is from the horde. They’re sacrificing the people of Kandor to their cookpots.”

Damian growled at the dragon’s words. “All the more reason we need to act now.”

“Agreed. I am ready when you are.”

Taking flight once again, Damian can’t help but brace himself when they entered the preternatural darkness. Unlike last time where it came upon them gradually, this entrance was marked by a definite barrier. The cold hit him like it hadn’t before and made him grateful for the warm dragon underneath him. Timothy radiated heat, even when his inner fires were stoked and awaiting the next time he brought them forth.

Damian hoped he’d get the chance soon and that he could watch it.

Timothy flew unerringly towards Kandor City, his eyes somehow able to pick out landmarks that were invisible to his rider. All Damian could see were pinpricks of witchlight dotting the landscape below.

The light grew brighter as they approached the city. The dragon landed on the same cliff as last time. He sniffed and coughed, hot air streaming from his mouth to freeze in the air around them. “Much has changed in just a few days.”

“How so?” Damian unbuckled himself and slide out of the saddle. He again changed his gloves to reapply the adhesive to Timothy’s wing. Better to do it now than wait until later if they need to make a fast exit.

“The magic in the air for one. It was subtle before, but is much more pervasive now. There are more lights around the city too. Look at the base of each bridge at the size of the encampments. We can see the south and the east bridges from here. I am willing to bet one of my favorite rubies the north and west bridges are the same.”

“I do not doubt you.” Damian knew better than to accept a bet with a dragon, especially Timothy. The dragon always won, although it was entertaining to listen to Jason grouse about it. “Any ideas as to where we can find Circe?”

Timothy rumbled as he thought. “We could fly over each encampment to locate where the strongest traces of magic are or I could simply ask Diana. She’s bound to notice I’m here soon enough.”

“Let’s not go that route unless we have to. The last thing we need is her overriding your will.” Damian wasn’t entirely sure how that worked, but it was a characteristic of dragons belonging to the same flight. The strongest or the most powerful could force weaker dragons to submit to their influence. As far as he knew, Diana only did it once when Koriand’r arrived and they started butting heads. Richard had said it was like watching two princesses get into a cat fight over a favorite dress.

“She can only do that if we’re in mental contact, so if I avoid reaching out or responding to her, we’re safe.”

“Safe is a relative term right now.” Damian put away the sealant and his gloves. He walked out to the edge of the cliff to stand next to Timothy’s dark head. His mottled black and green colors blended well in the darkness. He’d be all but invisible when in shadow. “Considering all the factors, it’s my belief the north encampment will be where the witch is. The Phantom Planes are to the north of here, so the witch would have to have arrived with them.”

“True, but the richer homes are to the south. Why stay in a tent when she can appropriate someone’s house after feeding them to the Jokers?”

Damian sighed. The dragon was also correct. “I suppose we’ll find out soon enough. Let’s fly.”

As it turned out, neither of them were right in their assessments of where Circe could be. The strongest source of magic Timothy could sense was in the town to the west of the bridge leading into Kandor. It was also the town with the smallest horde encampment. Damian wasn’t sure what to make of that, although he could come up with a few reasons, the foremost being even Circe wouldn’t want to be around the Jokers for very long. They reeked of death and decay.

“So she settled for the second best house in the area,” the dragon sniffed as they circled over the town. Under the lurid witchlight, Damian could barely see the burned-out husks of warehouses and other buildings along the waterfront. Further back, the town appeared to be mostly intact.

“Women never make the logical choices.”

Damian could feel the rumble of laughter from the dragon beneath him. “I’ve never understood them either. But I suspect this reason has more to do with mystical forces neither of us understand.”

“You’re probably right. How close can you get us?”

“I have an idea. Make sure you’re securely strapped in.” With that, Timothy arched into a steep dive towards the river. Damian held on tightly as the dragon reached speeds he hadn’t previously experienced from him. At this point, he decided he would no longer make fun of the dragon’s small size. There were some obvious advantages to it that he’d never realized before.

Swift and sure, Timothy flew over the dark water, a black shadow moving with the current. Upon reaching the bridge, he banked sharply and twisted, inverting his body so that he landed on the underside of the stone bridge. His claws grasped for handholds and he tucked in close.

Damian experienced a moment of vertigo at the sudden maneuver and grabbed tightly at the pommel of the saddle. He had no fear of falling, strapped in as he was, but the abrupt change was jarring. “Well, this wasn’t what I had in mind, but it works.”

The dragon rumbled in low laughter. “Jason got sick the first time I did this with him.”

“I won’t be vomiting, thanks.” Looking around, Damian grimaced. It was almost pitch black under the bridge. He pushed back his goggles, but it didn’t make any difference. “I can’t see a thing.”

“I’ll get us closer. It’ll be bumpy.”

Bumpy was an understatement. The dragon lurched from side to side as he grasped for unseen handholds to haul himself and his rider along the underside of the bridge. Damian closed his eyes and held on, focusing solely on keeping his stomach under control. He heard Timothy huff once in frustration as his still broken leg gave out from where he’d placed it. It was easy to forget he still had the injury when he flew so smoothly through the skies with a patched wing.

Timothy reached the end of the bridge and like the bat lizard Damian was starting to think he was, he easily made his way down the side of the bank and back so that he was facing upright.

“Where did you learn to climb like this?” he couldn’t help but ask.

“In my nest. As much as it galls me to admit it, you are right when you call me a runt. I learned how to climb long before my wings developed enough to fly. The skill stayed with me.”

“It is a very useful skill,” Damian agreed as he started unstrapping himself from the saddle. Timothy had done his part in getting them this far, it was his turn now. “I…I apologize for calling you a runt. You will not hear me do so again.”

“Thank you.” Timothy huffed softly and carefully shifted. “If memory serves, the biggest houses in this town are along the top of the bluff several streets away. You will have quite the distance to cover.”

“I’ll be fine,” Damian assured him as he checked his gear. The stone was still in his pocket. “I won’t be taking to the streets unless I absolutely have to.”

“If everything goes to hell, shout as loud as you can. I will be listening for you.”

Never in a million years did Damian ever think that Timothy would have his back. In spite of their rocky past, they’re working surprisingly well together. “Thank you, Timothy.”

Without any further words, he climbed up the dragon’s neck and onto his face so he could grab hold of the bulwarks in front of them. He highly doubted that any other circumstances would allow for such an affront to the proud dragon.

Soon enough, Damian was climbing up the underside of the bridge along the edge of the bank. Some effort had been put into shoring up the bank to support the long expanse, so it was easy to find the right hand and toeholds he needed to make his way up. Small wonder Timothy could find purchase here. The dragon was several feet below him at this point but was completely invisible in the shadows.

Damian listened intently before pulling himself up and over the edge of the stonework. It was quiet. Too quiet for what would normally be a bustling river town, even at night. All he could hear was the sound of the river lapping at the bank below, but even it was muffled. Above him, two torches of witchlight burned brightly at the foot of the bridge, casting lurid shadows that writhed across the ground. He hugged the stone wall behind him and dug the sealed pouch from his pocket.

It was time.

He broke the knots sealing the pouch closed and tugged it open.

Damian’s not entirely sure what he was expecting, but the plain stone certainly was not it. In the light, it was hard to tell the exact color other than that it was dark and smooth like a well polished river stone. The shape vaguely resembled an hourglass, for which he was glad as it made tying the cord he brought with around the middle that much easier as there was no hole to thread it through.

Placing it over his head, he tucked it down into the neck of his armor. He didn’t feel any different, but the stone was cold against his skin.

He took a deep breath and, after glancing around to ensure no one was around, he darted off into the night.

Once Damian was past the burned area, it was the work of a few minutes to gain the rooftops, the sloped roofs and their stone tiles as easy for him to navigate as the empty streets below. Somewhere in the distance, he heard the raucous voices and screams of the Jokers. For the moment, they were of no concern, as long as they stayed away from his escape route and the bridge.

The houses Timothy mentioned as possibilities for the witch soon rose out of the darkness. Merchant houses, every single one, Damian would guess as he crouched in the shadows across the street and looked up the hill. Only the bourgeoisie were capable of such tasteless extravagance, although he supposed a case could be made for certain nobility of his acquaintance too. Money did not equal good taste.

All the houses were dark save one. Witchlights burned where lanterns would normally shine. What made Damian certain this was the right place though were the two massive boars pacing the stone walkway leading up to the front door. The witch was known for changing men into beasts, particularly pigs.

He could not suppress the shudder that swept through him and prayed the stone would work.

It had to. Because the alternative was not one Damian was prepared to deal with.

 

Chapter Text

Damian quietly, carefully, crept along the dark hallway. He’d managed to gain entry into the house through a back window up near the roof. Boars may have notoriously poor eyesight, but to compensate, they have acute hearing and a strong sense of smell, so he’d had to put everything he could into avoiding them. But he still was uncertain about whether the stone was actually working or if he was being led by his nose to his doom. 

He hoped it was working as the latter wasn’t something he was wanted to contemplate to closely. 

Rather than risk the main staircase leading down, Damian opted for the servant’s stairway. Cramped it may be, but there was less of a chance for him to encounter anyone who may still be living in this house. He gained the second floor and took a chance, opening the door and listening for all he was worth for any speck of sound that indicated he wasn’t alone. 

Nothing. 

As tempting as it was to explore each floor, time was of the essence. Circe needed to be dead before dawn. And if not dead, then at least incapacitated to the point where the magical murk would dissipate and the sun would rise over Kandor City. How he was going to accomplish this, Damian still wasn’t certain, but his training had taught him to make the most of every opportunity granted to him. 

On the first floor, he finally heard something when he poked his head out to listen. There were voices speaking in the distance. It was hard to make out any words, but he picked out at least two distinct voices. Leaving the protection of the enclosed stairwell, Damian crept out into the main hall. The voices were coming from the ground floor, traveling up the large staircase. He crept on silent feet to the landing and peeked through the railing. 

There was a fire burning somewhere below. A real fire that cast bright yellow light as opposed to the lurid green of the witchlight that he was growing accustomed to. Damian bit his bottom lip as he thought and tried to remember the typical layout of a merchant house. There wasn’t much of a difference between Gotham and Kandori architecture (save for the Kandori love of windows) so there had to be a sitting room, library, or a study of some sort below the stairs. He was betting on a sitting room considering how close to the front of the house he was now. 

Damian crept back to the servant’s stairs and went down to the main floor. Opening the door a crack, he listened again. The voices were much clearer now, but he didn’t dare risk the cover of his hiding place until he knew who he was dealing with. 

That answer came soon enough when a woman spoke, frustration evident in her melodic voice. “Zod, I’ve told you this before and I’ll say it again. Those fiends are out of control. You need to rein them in.”

A man chuckled in response. “Let them run rampant and have their fun for now. When they’re done clearing out the riff raff here, they’ll set their sights on Gotham. The Joker in particular has a bone to pick with High Lord Bruce.” 

The confidence in his voice pissed Damian off even more than the shudder of fear that the Jokers were coming for his home next. 

“I for one have no interest in Gotham, so they’ll be doing it without my assistance.” This had to be Circe. Damian had never heard her speak before, but the arrogance and confidence in her voice was similar to his mother’s. Well-earned in her case and there was no doubt in his mind that the witch’s was too. 

“My lady, they’ll need your darkness to travel…” Zod tried to say, but Circe cut him off. 

“Don’t my lady me,” she snapped. “I am not traveling with those fiends anymore. I did my part in getting them here, now it’s your problem to get them to leave.” 

Dissention in the ranks. Damian smiled grimly as he listened to them bicker. It became clear that Circe and Zod did not like each other but that Zod was paying her handsomely for her services. It crossed his mind that perhaps Circe could be bribed to wander off and bother some other kingdom, but then her next words stopped that thought in its tracks. 

“The fire-maned dragon will be dead shortly after dawn,” she was saying. “When the horde overruns the gates into the city, they’d better leave her body be. The spells I can create from just a single one of her hairs will be worth this entire debacle.”

Never come between a witch and her spell components. It should be an adage, one that Jason would be proud of. Damian clenched his fists tightly. No, Koriand’r couldn’t be allowed to die. She must not die

He took a deep breath to calm his rage. As tempting as it was to burst out of his hiding place, he could not while Zod was here. The man was one of the finest warriors in all the lands, someone even Bruce respected in terms of skill. But he was also a narcissist of the highest order and it was his callous disregard for life that put him and Kal-El at odds with each other. His father could challenge him and beat him, of that Damian had no doubt. But his own skills were not up to that level yet. 

It wasn’t much longer before he heard the sound of a chair scraping against the paneled floor. “As much as I’d love to continue this pointless discussion, I have preparations to make. Be ready at dawn, Circe.” 

Damian closed the panel quickly and listened as booted feet tread heavily past his hiding place. The front door opened with a slight creek and closed firmly after the man. He counted to ten and opened the door slightly, listening intently. 

Circe was growling and muttering angrily. “That man. The arrogance. He’ll make a nice addition to my menagerie when this is over. As will Kal-El and Bruce once Diana is under my control.” The growl stopped only to be replaced by a throaty laugh that sent shivers down his spine. “If Bruce only knew what Diana is capable of…” she trailed off, laughing some more. 

Damian couldn’t help but be confused by her ramblings. Was she after Koriand’r or Diana? Or was it both of them? He knew Diana was powerful, one of the strongest dragons in existence, but she was also one of the most kind. Admittedly, he hadn’t met that many dragons outside of his family, but the few he had were arrogant and prideful. Either way, he needed to act. 

Now would be a good time for that. 

He pushed the panel open wider and slipped out into the hallway. To his right was the open door to what appeared to be a sitting room. Peering in, he spotted the witch standing before the fire, her long dark hair appearing almost purple in the low light. Damian clutched at his chest, feeling the press of the stone against his skin. It was freezing to the touch now. An idea came to him. Would it work against Circe if he managed to get it in contact with her skin? 

The thought made him smirk. The very stone she created used against her in the end. Irony at its greatest. He couldn’t take it off yet, not until he was much closer. At the same time, the armor he wore was not conducive to quick removal either. Damian reached behind his neck to start tugging at the clasps to loosen it around his throat. 

His heart felt like it was about to beat out of his chest, but he knew it was time. Quietly, he slid his long knife out of its sheath and rushed into the room on silent feet. 

Quick and efficient was how his mother taught him to kill someone. No need to drag it out, no time for a monologue like in the stories. Real assassins got in, did the job, and got out. The knife slid in smoothly between Circe’s ribs and she gasped loudly, shuddering as she braced herself against the mantle of the fireplace. “Who dares…” 

“I dare,” Damian said as he leaned into the stab, blocking the witch from turning around and seeing him. The length of the knife should easily have reached her heart, but the witch wasn’t falling to the ground. It didn’t even look like she was bleeding. And what he had taken to be shuddering was the witch suppressing laughter. 

Shit. He knew this wasn’t going to be easy. Damian started scrambling at his throat, trying to draw up the cord his stone hung from. He cursed as it snagged on the laces of the padded shirt he wore beneath his armor. 

The laughter grew louder. “I don’t know how you got in here, young warrior, but you’ll be regretting it soon enough,” Circe growled in anger. “The Joker’s cookpots await you.” She attempted to pull away from the dagger buried between her ribs, but Damian held her in place. Her gaze was rumored to turn men to stone if she so wished. Why hadn’t he remembered this until now? 

“I don’t think so.” Damian finally ripped the cord over his head and in one deft move hung it over Circe’s. It was the only thing he could think of to do and he hoped to the gods that her dress was in the latest fashion with those scooped necklines that always seemed to catch Richard’s eye. 

It must be because Circe screamed in agony before going limp against him. Damian reached an arm around her waist and lowered her to the ground, withdrawing his knife as he did. A trickle of blood ran from one corner of her mouth, but other than that, she appeared to be sleeping. He took care to ensure the stone stayed against the flesh of her chest, making a point to tuck it between her ample breasts and anchor it there. 

Richard would be teasing him for the blush he knew was on his cheeks for the liberty he was taking, but he was under no mistaken assumptions that the sorceress was truly dead. Not one of her caliber. For the moment though, she was out of commission and Damian could only pray it was enough. 

He worked quickly, ripping the hem of her dress to fashion a blindfold for her eyes and to securely tie her hands behind her back. There was not a lot of time, but he couldn’t leave the body here, not where it could so easily be found. This wasn’t something he and Timothy had discussed, but the only thing that came to mind now was to bring Circe back with them to Gotham for Lady Zatanna to deal with. 

Jason was sure to love that. 

The rug before the fire was large enough to wrap a body in, so Damian did, making sure that the stone did not move from where he tucked it away. He could just imagine Richard laughing at him and prayed yet again that this would work. Hefting the witch’s body over his shoulder, Damian sprinted up the stairs as fast as he could. When he gained the second floor, he shouted “Timothy! To me! Timothy!” 

The dragon had said he’d be listening for him after all. 

On the third floor, Damian kicked open one of the gabled windows and poked his head out. Below him, he could hear screams and shouts from the Jokers, louder than they’d been before. The witchlights that had been burning throughout the town were dark, not that light was needed for the fiends to see by. 

“It worked,” he breathed. “By the gods, it worked.” He climbed out the window, hauling Circe with him. There was a narrow ledge he easily traversed and scrambled up to the roof. He could be excused for not taking care if the witch got banged up a bit in the process. “Timothy!” he shouted again for good measure. In the darkness and raucous noise below, he couldn’t sense a thing. 

The shouts grew closer. 

Damian unceremoniously dropped Circe and ran for the front of the house to peer over the edge of the roof. Torchlight was approaching from down the street, the pounding of hooves from a mounted force closing in. 

It had to be Zod and his band of renegades. They’d be the first to recognize what the disappearance of the witchlights indicated. 

“Come on, you blasted dragon,” Damian muttered. “I don’t have all night.” 

“Then you should have come up with a better plan than this,” a low voice rumbled from above. 

Damian’s head jerked up and there was Timothy, hovering several feet above him on silent wings. 

“Thank the gods.” He ran back to where he’d left the witch and picked up his bundle. “Are you able to land?” 

“Land, yes. Take off again, probably not.” Timothy flew as low as he could and not touch down. “That needs to come with us?” He flexed his good hind leg, claws extending to catch hold of the rug. 

“Yes,” Damian snapped, grabbing hold of the rope he’d left dangling over the dragon’s saddle to start hauling himself up. “It’s Circe.” 

Timothy lurched in the air, so great was his surprise, but he didn’t let go of his bundle. “Do I get to drop her in the river?” 

“I wish.” Damian settled into the saddle and started strapping himself in. “We need to get out of here. Now.” 

“That’s Zod down below,” Timothy rumbled as he beat his wings hard to gain height. 

“I suspected as much.” Damian drew a deep breath as he finished with the straps. He felt a bit giddy. They’d done it. Or rather, they’d almost done it. 

“Zod is the one who made me fall off that cliff.” There’s a sharp edge to the dragon’s voice that was hard to miss. He’d let himself fall in order to save Jason. It had to gall him, knowing the man who caused him and his master so much pain and suffering was right there, just barely out of reach. 

Damian grinned sharply. “Then why don’t you show him the error of his ways?” 

Timothy didn’t reply but he banked sharply in the air and sucked in a long breath, awakening the fires within. He grew warmer in the still cold night, but Damian didn’t care. He’d never seen a dragon in battle before, especially not one about to unleash his fire. More than ever before, he couldn’t wait until his father announced it was time for his quest. He and his dragon would be a force to be reckoned with, he just knew it. 

The street grew closer and Damian could hear the terrified shouts of dragon! from the warriors below. His grin grew more bloodthirsty but he didn’t care. These were the renegades who’d taken his father and oldest brother from him, who’d put his home in danger. They deserved what was coming to them. 

The blast of dragonfire ripped through the night like the sharp crack of thunder. It was everything Damian thought it would be and more. The extreme heat melted cobblestone under its intensity. Horses screamed and men shouted, but those cries were silenced under Timothy’s second salvo. 

The dragon huffed in satisfaction and rose into the air once again, smoother this time as he caught his own updraft from the fire burning below them. 

“Zod is dead?” Damian asked as they banked and headed south. 

“He is dead,” Timothy replied proudly. “And Diana is screaming at me to turn around and come back to the city. She doesn’t know Circe is dead yet and thinks we’re in danger.” 

“She’d not technically dead,” Damian said, glancing back at Kandor City where his father and brother were waiting. “I think we’ll need Lady Zatanna’s help to ensure that happens.” He started telling the dragon what happened and what he’d overheard between the sorceress and the renegade Kandori general. 

Timothy rumbled in agreement when he finished. “No, she is definitely not dead. I would stake half my hoard that she keeps her heart separate from her body for just this sort of occasion.” 

“She can do that?” Damian can’t help but ask incredulously. 

“I’m certain of it.” The dragon had a much wider knowledge of magic than he did, so Damian could only take him at his word. 

“Are you still within speaking range of Diana?” 

“Not for much longer. I will tell her we have incapacitated Circe and killed Zod just before we’re out of range. I don’t want to be forced back tonight. Jason is already worried sick.” Timothy beat his wings harder at that, putting on another burst of speed. 

Damian sighed and leaned back in the saddle. The blood rush from battle was leaving him and the exhaustion was settling in. “I will take a nap, if you don’t mind, Timothy.” 

“Sleep, Damian. I’ll wake you when I have need of you.” 

The young dragon rider slumped forward in the saddle, already fast asleep.

 

Chapter Text

Timothy’s landing a few hours later left much to be desired. Damian didn’t realize the dragon had pressed on rather than landing in the usual spot in the Metropolis Mountains for the reapplication of his sealant and was only awoken by his roar as the sun rose in the distance, illuminating the castle they both called home. 

Circe was dropped rather unceremoniously during their first pass of the keep. Damian could hear Jason barking orders as they rose up in the air again. He had a feeling his brother was just warming up. 

“How badly do you think we’re in for it?” he asked as the dragon circled the towers of the castle. 

“Pretty bad,” Timothy replied. He sounded exhausted. “He’s been ripping into me since we came back in range, even with the good news.” 

“Why didn’t you waken me sooner?” 

“Because I plan to pass out as soon as I land, so you get to explain everything.” 

“Thanks,” Damian replied dryly. 

The landing was rough. Timothy stumbled as his strong hind legs hit the ground, the broken one collapsing right away while the other seemed to just bend. He barely caught himself on his front legs, wings folding up as he tucked them in and under his body. Damian scrambled out of the saddle, feeling the dragon’s labored breathing underneath him. 

“You moron!” he chastised as his feet hit the ground. “You should have stopped in the mountains to rest!” 

Timothy just grunted at him and closed his eyes. 

“Stupid dragon,” he muttered. “Stubborn as hell.” Damian started unbuckling the saddle. 

“He’s not the only who’s stupid,” Jason’s voice spoke up from behind him. “Damian…” 

“Just stop,” Damian said, raising his hand to interrupt his brother from the tirade he’d undoubtedly been working on all night. “I know we took a massive chance. That we risked not only our lives, but yours as well. But there was no way you’d agree if we didn’t and Koriand’r…” he stopped as he realized it’s just after dawn and Timothy had said nothing about the solar powered dragon before he passed out. 

Damian turned and faced his brother, eyes wide in desperation. “Kori…is she? Is Richard?” He can’t bring himself to say it. 

Jason ran a hand through Damian’s windswept hair, tugging it slightly as he drew him in close for an awkward hug. “They’re both alive. Whatever you did to Circe, apparently it worked as Tim said just before he landed that he can still sense Kori.” 

Relief washed through him and Damian sagged into his brother’s good arm. “Thank the gods.” 

“I’m gonna yell at you later. Both of you. For now, just go get some sleep. I’ll make sure Tim’s okay and figure out what to do with Circe. I have two magicians I plan to wake the fuck up if Tim’s roar didn’t do it for them.” Jason ruffled his hair again and let go. 

“Check his leg,” Damian offered, biting back a jaw breaking yawn. “He spent a good part of the night clinging to the underside of a bridge.” 

Jason groaned and glared at the sleeping dragon. “He flipped you, didn’t he?” 

I didn’t get sick.” Damian grinned as he walked away, Jason’s curses echoing in his ears. 

*****

A few days later, Damian stood on the ramparts of the keep with Jason, both of their gazes on the northern horizon. Bruce and Dick, along with Diana and Koriand’r, were expected to be in sight any moment. In the massive stable yard below, Timothy was sunbathing, his wings stretched out and shimmering gold in the light, but he too was alert if the twitch of his tail was any indication. 

“Where are they?” he muttered. “It’s past time they should be here, surely.”

Jason clapped his good hand on his shoulder. “Yeah, but Kori’s probably flying slower than usual.” His eyes took on that distant expression he always got when speaking with Timothy through their bond. “Tim can sense them clearly. They should be here soon.” But even he couldn’t hide his impatience. 

Damian huffed and rocked on his heels. As excited as he was to see his father, he couldn’t help but feel a certain amount of trepidation as well. He and Timothy had disobeyed express orders, even if their doing so ended up saving them all. The day after their safe return, Jason had ripped him a new one and afterwards, when he went and hid in the stables, he learned from Timothy that he’d had his own tongue lashing as well. His brother’s anger was warranted, they both granted him that, but Timothy had to remind him that Jason’s anger was because he cared deeply for both of them. 

The siege of Kandor and the surrounding countryside was over. As soon as the sun rose, it ate away at the magical murk that protected the Joker and his fiends. The creatures of darkness were turned to ash under the light of day. After a few days to help with recovery efforts, Bruce and Richard were finally returning home. Undoubtedly, it would only be temporary as Bruce would return to Kandor to help his best friend, but he did have his own affairs to tend to. Namely a witch who was still locked into a magical coma in one of the castle cellars, but there were also the nobles who refused to come when Jason called the muster.

Minutes passed with nothing passing between them. That was one thing Damian appreciated about his older brother; Jason did not feel the need to fill the silence with chatter the way Richard had a tendency to do. Their oldest brother was quite the character, but Damian knew there was a spine of steel under his easy going exterior. He would be a good High Lord when the time came, may that time still be far in the future. 

“There!” Jason called out, pointing to a flash in the sky that Damian’s eyes had also picked up. 

It was Koriand’r, her long mane flashing fire as she glided through the air. Only Richard could safely ride her, as her mane was actual fire when she flew. His armor protected him, but it was also the strength of their bond that gave him immunity to her flames. 

Damian leaned forward on the wall, his hands pressed firmly against the stone. Where was…there. “Diana is flanking.” Usually it was the other way around, but no doubt Diana’s protective instincts were still in full gear. 

“She’s blue, too,” Jason added. “Hopefully that means she’s mellowed out. She was raging red when I saw her last.” Red was a color the majestic dragon only wore when she was mad or preparing for battle. 

Damian swore to himself that he’d never again wish for armor from her red scales. His deep blue armor was much more practical. Hopefully, his next set would be forged from the scales of his own dragon. What color would they be? Green or black like Timothy’s night colors would be perfect. Or even a dark blue. He honestly didn’t like purple, even if it was the color of royalty. The brighter colors like gold and red did not appeal any longer. He would be content to tease Jason about the red helm he often wore while flying. 

“Come on,” Jason tugged Damian’s sleeve. “Let’s go greet them.” 

His brother was still somewhat slow with his mostly healed leg (Pam had at least healed him to the point where he could walk unaided), so Damian easily beat him to the stable yard. Timothy hadn’t risen yet, so the rip in his wing was still clearly visible. 

“Why haven’t you spoken with Pam about your wing?” Damian asked when he was close enough to the dragon’s head. He no longer feared getting snapped at by him, but that didn’t mean he could touch him without invitation. Only Jason was permitted the honor. 

“Because she’ll need her energies for Dick and Kori,” Timothy rumbled in response. He slowly sat up, folding his arms beneath him to rise onto three of his legs. His back leg had a massive splint on it still, even larger and bulkier than the first one. He’d broken it again during his botched landing the other morning. “I’ll be fine healing on my own.” 

“I thought you didn’t like Diana mothering you,” Jason added as he joined them. “She’s gonna, especially with that big boot of yours.” 

“Fuck you.” 

Damian couldn’t help but snicker because it was rather hilarious to hear a dragon swear like a human. Jason grinned and looked like he wanted to say something in response, but he bit his tongue. 

Before he could wonder what it was, Koriand’r circled the castle, letting out that oh so familiar cry. From the town below, shouts and cheers erupted as the sound pierced through the air. Timothy roared in response, his head held high as the graceful fire dragon landed in the stable yard. She walked over to them and immediately started nuzzling the smaller red and gold dragon. 

“I think Diana isn’t the only one who’ll be smothering Tim,” Jason commented. 

“I doubt it,” Richard replied. Even with his helm and goggles on, it was clear he was grinning as he unstrapped himself from his saddle to leap to the ground with his usual acrobatic flair. 

Damian resisted the urge to run forward and tried for a more sedate walk, but Richard wasn’t having it. He rushed forward and grabbed hold of him and Jason to drag them into one of his infamous strangle hugs. For once, he didn’t fight it. 

“You are in so much trouble,” Richard said even as he rested his chin on Damian’s head. “Just be glad you did end up saving the day, otherwise Bruce would seriously be considering delaying your dragon quest for a year.” 

He couldn’t help but groan at that. “Please tell me you talked him out of it.” 

“Of course, I did. Once I woke up that is.” 

“Woke up?” Damian forced his way out of his brother’s embrace to get a better look at the man. “Were you injured?” Timothy did say Pam was reserving her energies for him and Kori, but his oldest brother appeared to be moving just fine, if a bit slower than usual, which he chalked up to exhaustion. 

Richard let go with obvious reluctance and pushed back his goggles and removed his helm. Damian gasped as it looked like he’d aged a couple decades. Silver streaked his once raven black hair and little wrinkles dotted the corners of his eyes. Under his fingers, Damian realized this what he thought was his brother’s normal flesh was now just his blue and gold armor (as Koriand’r didn’t molt the way Diana and Timothy do). While he’d never been as muscular as Jason or even Bruce, even that lean tone he had was gone. 

“I couldn’t let Kori die,” he said simply. “I just couldn’t.” 

“What? How?” Damian didn’t understand. How did this happen to his brother? 

Jason sighed sadly and tugged him back into their hug. “It’s the bond, Dames. It’s rare as hell, but it can be used this way.” 

He finally understood. “You shared your life to save hers.” Damian wet his lips and blinked hard as the guilt struck without warning. “I’m sorry,” he said quickly. “If I only remembered the stone sooner, I could have spared you this.” He ran a hand through Richard’s hair. 

“Don’t blame yourself, Little D.” Richard let go of Jason to hold him tight. Damian pressed his face into his brother’s shoulder. He would not cry. He would not. “None of us blame you. You still saved us in the end. You and Tim.” 

“I never thought I’d see the day where the two of you would work together.” A new voice spoke up and Damian looked up to see his father approaching. Somehow, he’d missed Diana’s landing. He could be excused this time for not paying attention. 

“Father,” he said clearly, straightening up and letting go of Richard. His brother let him, but he still stood squarely at his shoulder, Jason on his other side. It was comforting. 

“Damian,” Bruce replied. His steel blue eyes rested on him for a moment before landing on his second son. “Jason.” 

“Bruce,” Jason said, a smirk dancing on his lips. Of course, he had nothing to be afraid of. “Don’t be too hard on the little monster. Desperate times call for desperate measures. You know that.” 

Bruce sighed and nodded. “I do.” His gaze settled back on his youngest son. “Damian, the ruler in me is very proud of what you and Tim did. You saved Kandor and you also saved your brother and Kori. You saved us all. But the father in me…” He reached out and rested a hand on Damian’s shoulder. “The father in me was absolutely petrified each time Diana told me you were there. We saw Tim’s fire from the western shore and had no idea what was going on until he finally opened himself up to communication with her. After your first trip, and learning what his injuries entailed, I knew that he could not have been there without a rider. With Jason also injured, that left you.” 

“I did it because I was the only one who could.” Damian stared up at his father. He too looked exhausted, his face more haggard and worn than before his visit to Kandor. How did that line go from that play Jason liked so much? Something about a heavy head and a crown… 

“I know.” Bruce finally tugged his son into his arms. Hugs between them were rare, even though Damian saw Richard and even Jason sneaking them from him on occasion. “And I am proud of you. Both of you.” He directed his attention over to Timothy. Damian couldn’t help the snort of laughter as the small dragon was absolutely smothered by the two larger females. Diana appeared to be grooming him while Koriand’r was simply wrapped around him and purring loudly. He couldn’t tell if Timothy was enjoying the attention or was biding his time for an escape. 

Timothy rumbled, but didn’t say anything. 

Another voice spoke up, low, melodic, but still distinctly feminine. “As am I,” Diana said, nuzzling the smaller dragon as she did. “All of you are like my own hatchlings. A mother always worries for her young and wants nothing more than to protect them. It is a harsh reminder that sometimes, it’s the parents that need to be saved. We should accept that fact gracefully.” 

No one missed the pointed look the majestic dragon shot Bruce. 

The ruler of Gotham shrugged it off, but Richard and Jason both laughed. Bruce glared at his older sons. “One day, you’ll have children and will understand.” 

“May that day be far away,” Jason retorted with a broad grin. For some reason, Timothy huffed in quiet laughter. Damian felt as though he’d never understand those two. 

“I hope not,” Bruce replied as he gathered up his sons and started walking towards the castle. “I’m getting too old not to have grandchildren.” 

The thought of Richard or Jason procreating was enough to make Damian’s stomach churn. But rather than make a smart comment, he let it slide and enjoyed the firm hand his father kept on his shoulder as they entered the keep, Jason already discussing what Zatanna and Constantine had done with Circe’s body. That was a problem to be dealt with later. For now, Damian debated whether it was time to bring up the early start to his dragon quest. 

There was a dragon out there for him, he just knew it. And their bond would be the stuff legends were made of.