“What the hell were you thinking, Damian?” Dick shouts. Damian flinches backwards. Tim held the base of Damian’s neck, thumb slipping under the leather collar to rub at chafed skin.
“It’s been a rough case, Dick,” he says tiredly. “Drop it. You can yell at Damian later.” Dick starts to respond, and really, in other circumstances, Tim would be sympathetic. He must have nearly had a heart attack when Damian disappeared. But it’s been a bad few months, and Damian’s been Tim’s responsibility for all of it.
“Apologies,” Damian mutters sullenly, curling into Tim’s side and hiding his face in Tim’s wool sweater. Tim cups the back of his head, glares at Dick when he opens his mouth, and pulls both of them into the relative safety of the car.
Jackson Todd was the spoiled younger son of an American millionaire, who came to Russia following the young, rich, and amoral set. When asked, he always said he stayed in Russia for the pretty girls. Which was true, in a rather darker sense than most suspected. Tim felt slimy just playing him
“Has the auction started yet?” Tim asked with Jackson’s characteristic drawl, edging it with the slightest hint of an affected whine. “Hopefully the merchandise will be of a slightly higher quality than last time.”
One of Jackson’s new acquaintances laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. “Are all you Americans this particular? If I was in the market, I would have bought the blonde like this.” He snapped his fingers to demonstrate.
“It’s so charming how simple your needs are.” Jackson smirked as the crowd hooted at the jab. “For myself, of course, I could have stayed back in the states if all I wanted was a pretty thing to warm the sheets. We can own people too. They’re called ‘Trophy Wives.’” Scattered laughter followed that pronouncement.
“What are you looking for then, darling?” asked one of the few women of this crowd. Alisa Rosenbaum. Jackson didn’t bother to remember names, but Tim needed to. “Something special?”
“I’ll know it when I see it, sweetheart. And I haven’t seen it yet.”
A polite cough, amplified over the discreetly placed speakers, bought the conversation to an end. Tim mentally added another broken finger to the punishment he would inflict on the ringleaders. It was sickening that an auction like this should take place in this clean, elegant location. Something so vile shouldn’t be allowed to hide itself behind silk drapes and maple paneling.
In the safety of the car, Tim unbuckles the leather collar. Damian shudders subtly and runs his fingers over the collar gall that had started to form. Tim catches Damian’s hand and places it back onto the seat.
“Don’t pick at it, you’ll only make it worse.” Damian rolls his eyes, but obeys. Though the threat is over, the habit of obedience is already established. Tim examines the abused skin, checking for damage more serious than chafed skin and healing scrapes.
“Feels strange not to be wearing it,” Damian comments.
Tim snorts. “Looks strange not to see it. We’ll get used to it. Feet.” At Tim’s command, Damian toes off the loose slip-on shoes he was wearing and swung his bandaged feet up onto the seat. Tim began the job of carefully unwinding the blood encrusted things.
When Dick gets into the car, the pile of bloodied bandages on the car’s floor gets a startled look. Tim keeps his eyes locked on their older brother as he finishes re-wrapping Damian’s feet. Tim helps Damian pull his canvas slip-ons over the bandages, and nods to Dick.
“There were complications getting out,” Tim tells him, answering the unasked question. Damian, back facing Dick, pulls a face and rolls his eyes. Tim covers his mouth to hide a smile.
“-tt-. Overstatement. A minor delay, at best.” Damian waves off, twisting around in seat to look at Dick. Dick doesn’t look reassured by the statement.
“Complications that got Damian’s feet shredded?”
Jackson yawned, eyes half-shuttered to the parade of human flesh crossing the stage. “Boring, boring, boring. Pretty girls for the ugly old men. When will we get something interesting?” Hopefully never, as far as Tim was concerned. He’d really prefer not to actually buy somebody.
“I hear they picked up something special at their last stop,” said one of the many German ex-pats that congregated at this particular market. Karl Strojek, he thought the name was.
“Really?” Jackson asked, incredulity dripping from his voice. “What? No, no, let me guess. ‘Exotic’ right? Possibly under the age of sixteen? The adjective ‘untamed’ will probably be thrown in too.”
Strojek laughed. “All true. But quite different from what you’re thinking.” Breaking the man’s nose would ruin his cover, Tim reminded himself. Even if Jackson thought he’d like to do it too.
“Enlighten me, then,” Jackson challenged, swirling his wine idly. Strojek shook his head, smirking.
“And give you advanced warning? I’d rather see you react. It’s coming up next.”
“Well, in that case. I would just hate to disappoint.” Jackson made a show of straightening up out of his lounging position and setting down his wine, settling into the position of an attentive schoolboy.
The next person lead out on the stage wasn’t another frightened, half-starved woman. That much was true.
Jackson raised an elegantly waxed brow. “I may have to concede this one to you. That is interesting.” Tim cursed internally. What the hell was Damian doing?
Damian’s eyes were drug-glazed, pupils constricted and gaze unfocused. When the man escorting him shoved him, Damian stumbled over his own feet and nearly fell. Not a good sign.
Damian may have been younger and smaller than the rest of his brothers, but between the genetic tampering in-womb and his prior training, his drug resistance by weight was better than everyone besides Bruce. He had to be riding the edge of a fatal overdose for it to be affecting him that strongly.
“Poor darling,” Jackson sighed. “He’ll be picked up by some sick perv, I just know it.” He picked up his wine to sip idly at it. “Tragic.”
Strojek whistled admiringly. “Cold, Todd.”
“Not my problem,” Jackson shrugged, “Unless our dear mister Vladimir decides he wants him, of course.” Vladimir was near universally despised even by the low standards of this group. The obvious alias was necessary to prevent somebody from turning him into the police out of pure spite.
Alisa laughed. “So you mean to say, it is your problem.”
“There’s always the chance he’ll pass this one up.” A very, very small one. Tim was counting on it.
Sure enough, as soon as the bidding opened, Vladimir put in a bid. Two thousand rubles. About sixty dollars, American. Damian would have been furious at the insult if he was at all lucid.
“Three thousand,” Jackson contradicted lazily, and raised his glass to Vladimir. The gesture he got back was evocative. Deeply so. Tim smirked and leaned back in his chair. He had hated the man since the day they’d been introduced. Petty vengeance was sweet.
For the next fifteen minutes, the bidding war between Vladimir and himself escalated wildly, and the other man’s expression darkened with every bid.
“Seventeen thousand.” Tim didn’t bother hiding his smirk when Vladimir failed to respond. “And I believe I’ve won. Let me go collect my winnings.”
Tim holds back one of Jackson’s cutting remarks. “Things happened. Can we explain later? Please.”
Dick frowns. Damian, newly sensitive to such cues, drops his eyes slightly and edges back toward Tim.
Dick winces. “When we get home, we need to talk. Both of you.” Dick surveys both of them, worry tightening his features. Tim feels a stab of guilt. It’s hard to remember other people might have good intentions after so long in that pit of vipers.
“Yes, Dick,” Tim promises wearily. Dick closes the door, and walks around to the driver’s side.
Before Dick gets back into the car, Tim runs an affectionate hand through Damian’s hair. “Nice work, Damian.”
“Not that difficult, Drake.” Damian’s smile is smugly pleased.
“Little sociopath.” Tim says fondly.
“Pot. Kettle.” Damian shoots back easily.
Tim hustled Damian off the auction floor as quickly as possible without breaking cover. As soon as they were out of sight, Tim scooped Damian up and rushed to his nearest R-point.
“Damian,” Tim said firmly. Damian’s eyes drifted toward him, seeming to focus slightly. “What did they drug you with?”
Damian blinked several times. “Drug…?”
“Yes. What?” Tim tried to keep his question as simple as possible. He knew how hard it was to think when you were that close to the edge.
“Drugged…” Damian frowned. “Morphine. Think.”
Tim nearly shook from relief. Morphine he could deal with. He sliced open the twine tying Damian’s wrists together, and examined the damage. Not much bleeding. Good.
“I’m going to give you a dose of naloxone. Hold still.” Tim prepped the syringe mechanically, most of his attention on making sure Damian remained conscious.
“Arm,” He ordered. Damian obliged him with a flinch. Damn. Damn. Somebody was going to hurt for this. What the hell had they done to his brother? The protective fury he felt at the thought surprised him. He doesn’t even like Damian that much. But Damian is his brother, and nobody is allowed take away any more of his family.
“Drake,” Damian said about a minute later. “I. Thank you.” Damian glared at him, daring him to make something of it.
Nearly three hours later, they arrive at the Manor. Tim gets out of the car first, Damian at his heels. At first, Damian falls back into the familiar position, one step back and one step to the right of Tim.
Dick looks at them oddly, and they both flush. Damian hurries ahead of Tim, shoulders stiff with embarrassment.
Jackson mutters darkly in Tim’s head about what should happen to people who upset his puppy. Tim shoves him firmly into the back of his thoughts. Jackson isn’t needed anymore, so he can just go away.
“Well?” Dick asks. Tim bites down on Jackson’s insolent ‘well what?’
“We needed to get copies of the auction’s finances, and one of the ringleaders turned up unexpectedly.” Tim allows himself to grimace. “Damian distracted him while I stole the files.”
Dick can read between the lines as well as anybody. “They whipped the soles of his feet.” He looks sick.
“Caned, actually,” Jackson corrects with cold fury. “Death would be too good for those bastards.” Tim groans internally. What is it about Jackson that’s making him so hard to discard?
“So what did you do to them?” Dick half asks, half demands. He loves Damian too, Tim reminds himself.
“There were a substantial number of broken bones, and in the interest of plausible deniability, I won’t say more.” Tim offers up a razor-edged smile. Dick laughs, and ruffles his hair.
“Then I know nothing, little brother,” he promises.
Jackson was staying with one of the auction’s frequent customers, a slightly older man named Karl Hughes. It was a useful setup, simultaneously establishing Jackson’s bon fides and allowing Tim much closer access to potentially useful records. He hadn’t accounted for the possibility of having to shelter somebody else when he made arrangements.
“I’m based in enemy territory,” Tim told Damian. “We need to get our cover stories straight before we head in.” Tim paused, giving Damian an expectant look. Damian fidgeted.
“I may have underestimated the security set-up,” Damian admitted at last. “These people caught me investigating the warehouse the trafficked victims were kept.”
“The ring thinks you’re just a kid who wandered into the wrong building?” Tim asked to confirm. If anyone had suspected Damian of being a vigilante, he would already be dead.
Damian nodded. “Daniel Harris, English citizen. On vacation with his parents. You?”
“Jackson. American. He’s sociopathically indifferent to morality, but not a sadist. Daniel’s safer with him than anybody else who would have bought him.” Tim took one of Damian’s hands in his, and began removing the remaining twine from around Damian’s wrists. “Also a narcissist, so there’ll be an excuse for you not to be wearing rags.”
“-tt-. Small mercy, Drake.” Damian kept reaching for the weapon’s belt he wasn’t wearing. Tim winced.
“If everything goes as planned, I’m here for another three months. Can you handle that?” Tim put his hands on Damian’s shoulders. “It’ll be difficult. You can’t lash out at anybody, and you’ll need to keep your temper under control. We can cut and run right now if you can’t.”
“I can do this.” Damian said, with all the offended dignity of a cat caught falling off a fence.
Tim nodded. “Alright. Let’s get started.”
Tim tracks Damian to the kitchen, where his little brother is determinedly going through the contents of the cabinets.
“I just want food I actually choose,” Damian grumbles as discards several boxes to one side.
Tim says nothing as hunts down the electric kettle. Jackson, stereotypical American that he was, drank coffee. Cheap, awful coffee. Tim wants tea badly.
He turns to ask Damian to make some. Bites back the impulse. Tim does not own Damian, and shouldn’t command him. He repeats that to himself several times while the water boils.
Damian, meanwhile, is clenching and unclenching his fists. He’d taken two plates, had started preparing food for two people. Instinct. Habit. Survival mechanism. One of those.
Tim kept his hand on his Damian’s shoulder as he lets them into Hughes house. The man’s own ‘property,’ three teenage girls under the age of seventeen, are all waiting quietly at the kitchen table. They relaxed when they see it’s not their owner.
“Hi, girls,” Jackson greeted carelessly. “This is Danny. He’s mine. Any of you have a spare collar I could borrow?” One of the girls nodded silently and retreated to their shared bedroom.
Danny waved hesitantly at the two remaining girls. Tim’s impressed. Damian’s acting skills have improved since the last time he saw him.
“Well?” Jackson prompted. “Introduce yourself.” He gave Danny a gentle push towards the table. Damian sat down across from the youngest girl, and glared at Tim from beneath his lashes. Jackson smiled, slow and sardonic, and took the proffered collar from the returning girl.
Jackson leaned on the back of Danny’s chair. “I’ll get you tags later, puppy. But collar now.” Damian stiffened as Tim looped the leather band around his throat. Fury and humiliation radiated off him. Tim set his hand against the base of Damian’s neck, stroking the skin beneath the collar. Slowly, Damian forced himself to relax.
Tim stepped away from the table, and gave Damian a brief, approving nod. Damian tipped his head to the side in acknowledgement.
Tim shrugs his shoulders, trying to get used to the feel of his normal clothing after wearing Jackson’s finery for so long. Damian opens his mouth to ask what Tim needs done. Shuts it with a shake of his head.
“We need to work on this, don’t we.” Tim says, glancing at him sympathetically, before turning his eyes back to his wardrobe. He sighs gustily.
Damian clicks his tongue. “-tt-. It’s not like we weren’t crazy already.”
“No fair using my own jokes against me.” Tim shakes his head, smiling helplessly.
“Fair play’s for suckers, Drake,” Damian says in a fair imitation of Jackson’s drawl.
A few minutes later, when Dick came to collect Damian, he was bewildered to find them both laughing.
Danny leaned against Jackson tiredly, face turned inward. Jackson hooked a sympathetic arm over the boy’s shoulders.
“Long night, puppy?” Tim shifted them so they weren’t in Vladimir’s sight line. Damian’s lips twitched, and he mouthed something at Tim. Tim bit his cheek to keep from laughing. Now that he thought about, Damian’s observations about the probable amphibian blood in Vladimir’s family did seem rather likely.
Danny hummed his agreement. “It’s noisy in the dorms.”
Tim allowed himself a moment of relaxation, resting his head atop Damian’s. Damian was done. They could get out of here.
“How terrible,” Jackson said, flamboyantly affected sympathy filling every syllable. “I’ll take you away from this horrible, horrible place.” A few near-hysterical giggles slipped out of Damian before the boy could contain himself.
Alisa shot Jackson a dirty look. It was her party he was insulting, after all. Jackson winked, and ushered Danny out into the hall.
“Financial records, and then we’re shut of this,” Tim told Damian. “You go grab our go bags, I’ll rifle through the books.”
Damian nodded crisply. “Be careful, Drake.”
“You too, Damian.” Tim hugged Damian impulsively, and ducked into the office.
Tim slips into Damian’s room through his window. Damian sits up in bed, and scoots over to make room for Tim.
“Couldn’t sleep either?” Damian asks. Tim nods, and sits down next to Damian.
“Nightmares,” Tim says. “You?”
“I keep thinking there’s somebody in the closet,” Damian admits. Tim wraps his arm around Damian’s shoulder.
“We are so screwed up right now.”
Damian lets out a huff of laughter. “We’re vigilantes, Drake. It’s a job requirement.”
“Fair enough,” Tim agrees. He hums contemplatively. “Next time we patrol… want to share territory?”
“On one condition.” Damian says.
Tim raises an eyebrow. “Listening.”
“Call me puppy again, and I get to maim somebody. Preferably you.” Tim keeps his face neutral by dint of heroic effort.
“I can work with that.”
“Good.” Damian yawns, and snuggles into Tim’s chest. Within moments, he’s asleep. Tim laughs quietly, and closes his eyes.