Bruce Wayne and Jason Blood sit in one of the many sun rooms of Wayne Manor after a long night of solving an occult mystery. And behind it all? Two stoned teenagers and a misread satanic symbol.
Wayne Manor was a different world from that of Gotham city or even the house of mystery he now shared with John Constantine. If you looked out the windows of the third bedroom you could see the lights of Gotham harbour and the ships pulling into port. It looked beautiful until you got up close and the stench of rotten seafood, tobacco, and diesel filled the air like a low-hanging mist. The car fumes of the congested motorways couldn’t reach the outskirts of the Manor’s garden no matter the wind direction. And for all of the distance between him and the heart of Gotham, no one knew the streets better than Bruce. Save perhaps, for Jason, who had perched himself in the centre of demonic and spiritual activity as the very foundations of the oldest of Gotham’s banks were built.
The two men sit at a round white table - perfect for catching the morning rays of the sun and doing the crosswords in the Gotham Gazette - and breathe in the stillness of the early morning.
Alfred approaches from behind, his footsteps so familiar they no longer make Bruce jump when he approaches without warning. The tea cups hardly rattle as he places the tray of tea and biscuits on the table. His hands were steady, but not a butler’s hands - they were surgeon hands; a soldier’s hands.
“Tea, sir,” he says, pouring one for both of them.
Jason nods in appreciation, but was far too exhausted to speak.
“That will be all, Alfred, thank you,” Bruce says as he reaches out to clasp the older man’s hand firmly, “You should get some sleep. Jason and I will clean up.”
“Goodnight, Master Bruce. Master Jason,” he says, nodding politely at them both before turning to leave. Jason knew far better than to talk of Alfred as if he were simply a butler.
“How is he, Bruce? With the PTSD and everything?”
Bruce sips his tea and breathes in the steam, “Much better. When I was younger I remember he had nightmares. When he served father, he stayed in Arkham to recover from active service for a few weeks. Of course, back then there were no “supervillains” in Arkham.”
Jason grimaces, “John has had his fair share of less than apt mental health facilities.”
Bruce grunts in agreement, “I’m working on a program, actually.”
Bruce's eyes light up at the opportunity to explain one of his great plans for the city. Always a kind heart and a far more creative mind, no matter how many layers of kevlar and leotard he decided to hide behind. "A sort of halfway house between full integration back into society and being in Arkham," he begins, gesturing like he were trying to sell something on TV, "That way, residents have housing and can form support networks in order to find employment, a place to live, etcetera. Otherwise they end up back in Blackgate or Arkham again.”
Jason smiles knowingly as he sips his tea, “This wouldn’t have to do with a certain Harvey Dent being almost ready for release because of good behaviour, would it, Wayne?”
Bruce grits his teeth. The only time Jason called him that was to tease him. And damn it if the other was not only hitting the nail on the head, but finishing the whole house, too. Bruce decides to change the subject and forgive Jason for his playful stab into Bruce’s constantly questioned sexuality by both the media and Bruce himself.
“How’s Astra keeping?” he asks. As he looks out through the enormous sunroom window, he notices that the last few stars are fading; almost sunrise.
Jason runs his tongue over his particularly sharp k9 tooth as he ponders the question, “Thanks to your deep pockets, she has the best child psychiatrist there is. But... before Etrigan and I went to rescue her, she had been in hell for almost a year.”
Jason can feel an anger building in his stomach like angry wasps when their nest is struck. He can’t help but confess to Bruce, one of his oldest friends, “Though I fear her time on earth under her father’s care was far worse. That man makes both Etrigan and I angrier than you would believe. Still, she came to John and I with no knowledge of how to care for herself or read and write; now she’s planning to audition for a ballet school here in Gotham.”
“We do have some of the best, thanks to my Mother and Nora Fries.”
Bruce traces his thumb around the thin lip of the China teacup he was holding in thought, “Perhaps soon she could come to the manor. I know Dick would love some friends. Though, he is older.”
Jason chuckles at the thought of Bruce having a son. They had met each other in a secluded school of the body and mind in the Alps when Bruce was a mere teen. Both of them trying to control their angry inner demons; Jason’s, of course, more literal. The image of a wild eyed, but stoic teenage Bruce had never left Jason’s mind and sometimes it was hard to imagine him as a grown man. The years passed so fast when he wasn’t paying attention. Jason yawns, displaying his particularly demonic-looking sharp teeth which glint in the fading moonlight like dangerous pearls. The physical effects of sharing a body and soul with a demon for so long were starting to show.
"John is well, thank you for asking," he announces, flicking a glance at Bruce, who lets out a tired sigh.
"I don't know how you came to love that man," Bruce groans, hiding his playful smile with another sip of tea.
Jason laughs, "He can be... a right bastard, but he's got a good heart. And he adores his family. I couldn't ask for any more."
Bruce inclines his head in consideration, "I suppose you could question me about Harvey or Selina just the same."
Jason declines to answer and sips his tea, but gives Bruce a look to say 'you know damn well I could, kid'.
A weary voice calls out from the darkness of the other side of the room, "Bru-u-u-ce?"
Bruce turns, a bemused smile on his face, "What is it, Dickie? You should be sleeping."
The two are greeted by Dick in his cotton pyjamas and silk robe, clutching a stuffed sloth in his left hand and rubbing at his tired eyes.
"I had a bad dream," he confesses, shuffling closer to Bruce for comfort.
Bruce picks Dick up in his arms and sits him on his lap in the same way his own father used to.
"Dick, this is my friend, Jason. We work together sometimes."
Jason points to the sloth Dick was holding as he leaned back into Bruce's chest, "Hello, Dick. You know, my daughter has a toy just like yours."
The boy's face lights up, "Bruce bought it for me."
"What was your bad dream about?" Jason asks.
Dick bites his lip, "My parents. They slipped while they were swinging on the trapeze and a giant monster swallowed them whole. This house is so old and creaky, I keep thinking that it's coming for me, too."
Jason hums in thought, "Do you believe in magic, Dick?"
Dick frowns, a scoff escaping his throat. Being backstage at the circus for all of his childhood up until a year ago had revealed to him the slight of hand and secrets behind stage magic tricks.
"Oh?" Jason arches his eyebrow, "Come on, show me to your bedroom and I'll prove it to you."
Dick looks at Bruce in confusion for a moment before a playful grin consumes any doubt, "Alright, you're on!"
Dick leaps from Bruce's lap and quite literally hits the ground running. He was eager to prove an adult wrong. Bruce gives the other man a look of warning, but follows behind the two despite his apprehension.
"Now," Jason begins, and retrieves a pocket-knife from the inner pocket of his jacket. Expertly, he starts to carve a magic circle into the wood of Dick's dresser. In the back of his mind, he can hear Alfred's exhasperated sigh the next morning. "This is a very special circle. I carved one in my daughter's dresser too. It protects you from any bad dreams. It doesn't mean you won't have them, but it ensures that no monsters from your dreams can come and harm you once you're awake."
Dick exames the circle and the symbols inside skeptically, tracing the edges with his finger, "This isn't magic, it's just destroying property."
Jason mocks offense with a loud gasp, clutching at his chest, "Okay, okay. You want something better, then? You little scoundrel?"
Dick beams, grinning like a hungry hyena that just found a carcass, "Yeah!"
Cupping his hands and pressing them to his mouth, Jason utters an incantation into them. With a throwing motion, he releases hundreds of tiny balls of light into the air. The throwing motion wasn't necessary, but kids liked dramatics. Dick lets out a cry of pure joy and, out of the corner of his eye, he can see Bruce's child-like amazement, too.
"Time for bed now, chum," Bruce says as the spell begins to fade, "The sun is coming up any minute now and you need to get as much sleep as you can."
He tucks Dick back into bed, smoothing the blankets of any wrinkles. To his amazement, Dick is sound asleep by the time he comes to brush stray hair from the boy's forehead.
Jason leans close to him to whisper, "Don't worry, it's only a mild sleeping spell with a bit of lighting effects. And the symbol on the door is something John and I made up to help Astra sleep. All a bit of a show."
Bruce pats Jason's back as they leave the boy to sleep peacefully, "Thank you."
"It's tough... losing parents who loved you," he concedes.
They return to the sun room just in time to catch the sky change colour like a kaelidoscope as the sun rises.
"Do you need me to call someone to drive you home?" Bruce asks, gathering the dirty tea cups onto a tray.
Jason waves his hand dismissively, gives Bruce a farewell hug and points to the Wayne Manor garden where the House of Mystery had materialised for him.
Jason clasps Bruce's shoulder, "'Til you need my expertise again, then?"
"Or Astra needs a playmate," he assures the other.
He nods, does the button to his suit jacket up and pushes the door to the garden open. With his hands in his pockets, Jason Blood vanishes inside the House of Mystery and Bruce is left staring at the pink-blue sky of sunrise. Sometimes, it was good to have a friend to talk to.