He asks Tim for some time to think about it, but when it comes down to it, of course Jason eats the egg. Magic was never something he felt he needed in his life before—even when things were at their worst, he still managed to take care of himself, after all. But now it turns out half the people he vaguely thinks of as his friends are apparently witches or something, one of the other tenants in his building is a dryad, and he's dating a dragon. The last one is the main deciding factor, since he's more than willing to stick his head in the sand about everything else, but it's pretty hard to ignore it when your boyfriend has to stop and lay an egg each time you have sex.
"I can't believe you're making a magic egg into an omelette." Tim leans forward, watching with interest as Jason adds mushrooms and carmelized onions to the egg in the pan.
"You said cooking wouldn't have any effect on its properties, and I'm not in the mood for hard boiled," Jason says.
"Most people just eat them raw. It's sort of traditional." A slim red tail wraps Jason's neck, further securing Tim as he leans forward even more. "Don't know why. That smells really good, and I'm saying this as someone who's been eating eggs with nearly every meal for the past month."
"I'll make one for you after I'm done with this one. Got to get through all those eggs in the fridge somehow."
"Best boyfriend," Tim trills, licking Jason's cheek.
Jason ducks his head. Clears his throat. Since they're on the subject anyway, now is as good a time as any to bring up something that's been bothering him ever since Tim came clean about the whole dragon thing. "Hey, so. About those eggs."
"I told you, they're not going to hatch. Anything that might've been alive in them died when I stuck them in the fridge. It's fine." There's another lick to his cheek, and then a gentle nip to his earlobe.
"Good to know, but not what I was going to ask about. It's just… I've noticed that you only ever seem to make one egg at a time." Now that Tim no longer has to rush off to produce an egg in secret each time they get frisky, Jason is finally getting his post-coital cuddles. His fridge has its own small collection of speckled eggs, though it's nowhere near as large as the one in Tim's.
"I'm pretty young so my body doesn't generate enough magic to manage more than one at a time," Tim says, snuggling up around Jason's neck.
"Yes, alright. That's all well and good. It's." Jason coughs, trying to think of a delicate way to put it. "If you only make one egg every time we fuck, there are a lot of eggs in your fridge."
The little body around his neck suddenly grows warm, Tim's tail tightening to a point where it's not-quite choking him. "Oh. Oh, uh."
"Look, it's alright if you. I mean." Jason's stomach twists as he it occurs to him that it's very much not alright with him if Tim is seeing someone else as well. They never outright stated they'd be exclusive, but he'd thought—well. It was pretty much implied when you started referring to someone as your boyfriend, especially if you haven't had any poly negotiations, right?
The tail around his throat loosens and a weight lifts from his shoulders. The air behind him shivers, and a pair of very human arms wrap around his waist. "Jason? You okay?"
"I just. I'm still new to this whole dragon thing, and I'm trying to respect your culture, but I thought. That is." He clears his throat, turning off the heat as he slides the finished omelette onto a plate. "If you're. Making eggs with someone else…"
"Oh! Oh, gods, no! I mean yes, but not really at all! The extra eggs, those are. I mean." Tim hugs him tighter, pressing his face into Jason's back. It's both reassuring and nerve-wracking, since Tim rarely thinks to conjure clothes when he transforms, and this is a conversation Jason doesn't want to be distracted from. "It's sort of embarrassing," is mumbled into his back, so muffled he has to strain to hear it.
"You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to," Jason says, feeling slightly sick to his stomach.
"No, you asked a perfect reasonable question and you deserve to know the answer." Tim inhales deeply, then pulls his face away from Jason's back. "Alright. So. So dragons make eggs when they… feel strongly about something. Someone."
"Alright. Fair enough. I'd hate to have to worry about accidental egg babies after a one night stand, so that sounds like a good way of doing things." And, of course, it's also nice to know that Tim apparently feels that strongly about him.
"Right. So, when we feel strongly about someone and we feel, uh, really good. We make an egg. But it's. It's not just. It's… gods, this is so embarrassing!"
"Hey." Jason turns and wraps an arm around Tim's waist. "It's okay. Like I said, you don't have to talk about it if you don't want to. I trust you."
Tim makes a frustrated noise, his cheeks bright red as he refuses to meet Jason's gaze. "It's really not what you think, Jason. Look, dragons make an egg every time they orgasm when they're in love, okay? Good talk, I'm just—gonna go put on some clothes now. Right." He tries to pull away, but Jason tightens his arm slightly, lets his hand spread out across all that warm bare skin.
"You love me?" he manages, trying to wrap his head around that. "I. I don't know if…"
"Love, feel strongly, whatever. You're very important to me and I care about you a great deal," Tim says, waving a hand and still refusing to meet Jason's eyes. "You don't have to say it back."
He presses a kiss against one of those hot cheeks—Tim's control must be slipping some since the red is looking more scaley and less like an embarrassed flush. "Hey. Despite all the problems it could bring me, I'm about to eat a magic egg because it'll help me better understand this ridiculous man I've somehow found myself dating. I care about you 'a great deal' too, you overgrown lizard."
"I'm just the right size for my age," Tim mutters, slumping forward against his chest, his arms slipping around Jason's waist.
"Of course you are." Jason smiles, reaching down to tilt up Tim's head so he can kiss his lips this time.
Tim hums into the kiss, hands sliding into Jason's back pockets to squeeze his ass. "You keep this up and that egg is gonna get cold. Cooking it doesn't affect the magic, but nuking it might."
"Yeah, okay," Jason concedes, drawing back and tugging Tim's hands from his pockets. "Though I still don't get why you were so embarrassed about explaining to me about the eggs."
Tim shoots him a look over his shoulder as he heads to his closet to grab some clothes. "Excuse me if I didn't feel like telling my boyfriend I've been jacking off while thinking about him for ages. Have you not seen how hot you are? Like, holy crap, your thighs. They're honestly pornographic and I'm not sure how you're allowed out in public in anything other than parachute pants. Possibly a kilt."
Jason chokes—he hadn't quite realized what Tim was attempting to imply, before. "You know you're supposed to go commando under a kilt, right?" he says, because it's only fair that he get some kind of revenge when his very naked boyfriend leaves him with that particular mental image right before running off to put on clothes.
"Oh gods, please don't remind me."
So, yeah. Jason eats the egg. What happens after that is kind of, well.
(The sex is pretty good too.)
Grace waylays them on their way out to dinner a couple nights after the egg, firmly planting herself at the bottom of the stairs and refusing to move when they want to pass. "So. Mau tells me you two have been getting busy making eggs."
That is… more than a little terrifying. Grace is a tall woman, and while Jason tries to stay fit, he is in no way capable of successfully taking her on. She has combat talents (and, quite frankly, muscles) that he can only dream of. Also, he'd really like to know why his landlady is interested in Tim's eggs. "I don't see why it's any business of yours?"
"Jason, relax," Tim says, holding up a hand when Jason would move to stand in front of him. "We're being careful. All the eggs are going in the fridge right after I make them, you're not going to get a dragonet infestation."
'Infestation?' Jason mouths at Tim, who ignores him. Probably just as well.
"He didn't spring for extra fire insurance when he moved in," Grace says, jerking a thumb in Jason's direction.
"Wait, fire insurance?"
"I can breathe fire when I choose to. It's believed—incorrectly, I'd like to note—that dragons can be a bit… trigger-happy when it comes to controlling it." Tim glares up at Grace, setting his feet more firmly on the step. "I'm not going to set fire to Jason's apartment anymore than I'm going to set fire to my own."
"It's well-documented that dragons occasionally forget what they're doing when in the throes of passion," Grace says. Her tone is full of a stubborn sort of determination, and she crosses her arms and leans against the doorframe like she's prepared to settle in for a long while if need be.
"Oh, hey. Not fair. I didn't even know he was a dragon until he sneezed himself into scales. Tim has excellent control of his flame," Jason insists. It proves to be the right thing to say because, if nothing else, Tim beams up at him and gives his hand a squeeze.
"Either way, your apartment is going to need to have its wards reinforced now that you're a practicing magic user," Grace says. "Renee's agreed to do it, she'll be by Friday evening. No spell-casting on the property in the meantime."
"Wards? What in the who now, Grace?"
"Oh, didn't lizardboy tell you? I may not be a witch or anything so fancy, but I am an Amazon, and we take the protection of what's ours very seriously." She shoots him a grin, sharp and terrifying, and finally steps out of the doorway. "But you are a compatriot now and, as such, you may call me Artemis."
"Uh. Thanks? I guess?" Jason gives her a shaky wave and carefully edges past, dragging Tim along behind him.
Tim waits until they're halfway down the block and well out of hearing range before saying anything. "Oh gods, I'm so sorry. I didn't even think to consider that your lease might have different clauses on account of your being a mundane when you moved in."
"Was she serious? About the Amazon thing?" is what Jason really wants to know. "I mean, I take it that's probably more of a mythical Greek warrior woman and not so much a person from South America or a manifestation of a popular shopping website."
"Not so mythical, obviously, but yeah," Tim says, bobbing his head. "They're pretty much your basic humans, though they've got a bit of extra oomph. All of them are functionally immortal, for one, even the non-magical ones. They can only be killed by edged weapons, so they're basically impervious to magic."
"Aphrodite, more like it. They're literally blessed by various goddesses, so they can be pretty terrifying. One of my closest friends is one; she's the one who recommended I look Artemis up when I moved back to Gotham."
"Sorry, it's just hard enough to wrap my head around the idea that my very hot landlady could be old enough to be my grandmother," Jason admits.
"Try many, many times great-grandmother," Tim corrects him. "My friend is sort of the exception—most Amazons are several hundred if not thousands of years old."
"If they're all like Grace, they could probably take over the planet." He's seen her go toe-to-toe with Kory when they're just sparring in their free time and it's absolutely terrifying.
"Eh, not so much. Aside from exceptions like Cassie and Artemis, they mostly keep to themselves on their invisible lesbian paradise island."
"Okay, now I know you're pulling my leg."
"Am I, Jason? Am I really?"
Apparently, Tim is supposed to act as some sort of magical Jiminy Cricket now that Jason's magic has been awakened, or at least that's the reason Tim gives when he starts spending a lot more time hanging out in Knight & Page, leaning over Jason's shoulder, stirring up trouble behind the counter. Jason would complain, except he's seen a definite uptick in sales since it started, so it's not like he can claim it's hurting business.
"I don't get it," Tim says late Wednesday evening. "Why a comic and game shop when you're obviously not that into either?"
"Excuse you, it's a book and hobby shop," Jason points out. "I like books."
"Jason. You complain about the unrealistic body physiques in the superhero comics, the contrived plots of the manga, and you make a really weird face every time you have to restock the comic adaptations of classical works." Tim fixes him with a look. "You may like books, but you definitely look down your nose at comics."
He sighs. "Honestly? I inherited the place. I was working at 24-hour diner over on the edge of New Town when Barbara showed up, said I was a hard guy to find, but some uncle I'd never even heard of before had passed and left me his apartment, his shop, and all his worldly possessions. Only catch was that I had to keep running the shop for at least ten years if I wanted to get anything." Jason shrugs—it sounds pretty improbable, but that's what happened. "Truth be told, I'm still not entirely sure she got the right person, but this is way better than what I had before."
"Huh." Tim leans back against the counter, considering this. "That actually explains a lot. Like I've said, places like this shop tend to be gathering places for magical people. Our oddities don't appear as out-of-place around the mundane customers, and if any of the mundanes do find out our secret, they tend to be a lot more accepting than your average mundane."
"You figure the last owner was a magic-type person also?" It would make sense—sure, the Tuesday night spacecop group is all mundanes according to Tim, but the Thursday group is a coven all in and of itself and the rest of the building's tenants are hardly anywhere near normal, despite what he thought for years.
"You did say Barbara was the one to track you down. She's a sorceress who has a pretty powerful gift of foresight," Tim observes.
"Yeah, but she found me because she was his lawyer and the executor of the old guy's will, not because of any magic mumbo-jumbo," Jason protests. Sometimes it's frightening how many hats Barbara wears, but he's learned to just roll with it.
"Ah, well. Actually." Tim clears his throat. "Oracular sorcerers frequently act as the executors of wizardly wills since they're the only ones capable of finding someone that fits the specifications the wizard has set down. Namely that the inheritor be a magically inclined blood relative. Sometimes they specify other stuff as well—that the recipient be aligned to either good- or ill-intentioned magic, or that they be a particular sort of practitioner, that kind of thing."
"If they're gonna be that picky about things, you'd think these wizards would keep better track of their relatives. Or, y'know. Actually acknowledge those relatives' existence while they're around and kicking." If Jason had known he had a supposed magical uncle while his mom was still alive, maybe he would have been able to do something more than just hold her hand as she wasted away in the bed of some dingy little hospice. Maybe he wouldn't have had to endure three years bouncing from one overcrowded foster home to another before finally running off when he realized he could do a better job taking care of himself than any of the adults that were barely in his life at the time.
"Hey. Jason." Tim catches his hand, squeezing it gently before turning it so he can kiss the palm. "Relax. You look about ready to tear that apart."
Glancing down, Jason blinks in surprise when he notices that he's been gripping the edge of the counter so hard his knuckles have turned white. "Sorry," he says, forcing his hand free. "It's just. I had a hard time, growing up. It would've been nice to know that I had some uncle who could've helped out somehow, rather than just ignoring my mom and me. I mean, if he even was my uncle. Sometimes I think Babs just wandered down to Crime Alley and tapped the first sucker who looked like he had half a brain; anything to get the shop back open again." Considering how dedicated she is to the Thursday night game, it wouldn't surprise him.
"Well, all things considered, he probably was your uncle."
"I'd never heard of the guy before Babs showed up," Jason protests. Not that that's saying much—neither of his parents were big on talking about their families when they were still around and alive, and if the birth certificate he tracked down at one point is to be believed, Catherine wasn't even his biological mom.
"As I said, wizards are pretty particular about who they pass their property on to when they die. All the same, they're prone to getting wrapped up in their own lives and aren't too good at paying attention to much outside their small bubble." Tim squeezes his hand again, then laces their fingers together. "I mean. Chances are he was more of a great-great-great-uncle than an uncle. Wizards have long lifespans—gives them a lot of time to rack up nieces and nephews to choose a worthy heir from."
"All that time, you'd think they'd at least manage to have a kid or two of their own."
"Wizards are also notoriously gay, everyone knows that." Tim frowns, apparently once again disappointed by Jason's ignorance when it comes to the magical world.
"They must've covered that after I'd already dropped out of school."
"I thought it'd be obvious. I mean, anyone who spends that much time polishing their staff…" He raises his eyebrows.
"Well, hate to disappoint you, but I'm very bi," Jason says. Though he supposes he should update that to pan now—he is dating a dragon, after all.
"Duh, wizards are gay, but witches cover a whole spectrum of queer. Sometimes they're even straight? I dunno, witches do their own thing." Tim shrugs, kicking his heels and threatening dire destruction to the very expensive display case he's seated on top of.
"Well, I'm a guy, so… warlock?" Jason suggests.
"Oh, gods no," Tim says immediately, a look of absolute disgust on his face. "Uh, I mean. Men can be witches also."
"So are warlocks just not an actual thing, then?"
"Warlocks are… well. Let me put it this way—warlocks are pretty much the 'Nice Guys' of the magical world. No one decent wants to be a warlock."
"Wizards gay, witches queer, warlocks incels, got it. And which are you? Or does all of that only apply to humans?" Though Tim did say a while back that Pam is both a dryad and a witch.
"I would be a sorcerer. It means my magic talents are innate and can be accessed and made use of without added things, like spell components or wands." Flashing a small, secretive smile, Tim purses his lips and breathes out a small jet of flame.
"Holy cow, that's very cool. Please never do it again around all my very expensive and very flammable merchandise. If nothing else, you could set off the sprinkler system, which would be nearly as bad as fire."
"I would never," Tim grumbles. "Anyway, I can do that, the magic eggs, and limited telekinesis. And I can do a little witchery, though honestly half my spells never work, even when I have all the ingredients and say the right words."
"Is that normal?" Jason asks as he starts clearing up the counter, getting ready for closing. "For someone to only be good at one particular brand of magic?"
"Varies from person to person. Pam is really good at the plant sorcery aspect of dryadic magic, but she's also a competent witch. I'm just apparently 'not dramatic enough.'" Tim rolls his eyes as he curls his fingers in air quotes. "Whatever, I can breathe fire, so it doesn't matter whether I'm any good at protection spells."
"You do realize it's generally frowned upon to set people on fire, right?" Jason checks, leaving off his tidying to step forward and bracket Tim's slim hips with his hands.
"If someone is foolish enough to encroach on a dragon's territory, they deserve everything they get." Tim tilts his chin up, an unspoken request.
Jason rolls his eyes but gives in, dropping a kiss to those pouting lips. "Aren't you technically the encroacher? I mean, Dinah was here first."
"Dinah is also part siren, so she really doesn't get any say when it comes to draconic claims. Unless, of course, you want to let her hoard you?"
"Is that what you're doing? Hoarding me?"
"In this economy? Please. I can barely manage to hoard dice, and they're a lot less expensive than the traditional gems and precious metals." Tim smiles slightly, a sly smirk that never fails to make Jason's heart beat just a little faster. "Besides, if I hoarded you, we'd have to move in together. It's pretty much required that a dragon sleep atop their hoard."
"You do sleep on me an awful lot," Jason reminds him.
"You're not my hoard, but you are a part of my territory. I have to mark you some way."
"Well, when you put it that way, I guess I really don't have a choice now, do I?" This time, the kiss is longer and deeper, hot enough that he'd suspect Tim of breathing fire if it weren't for the fact that his mouth feels more like it's tingling than burning. Out of the corner of his eye, Tim makes a small gesture with his hand, and there's a soft click as the front door of the shop locks. "That's awfully handy," Jason observes, pulling away slightly to watch as another gesture has the security grate sliding down in front of windows and latching itself in place.
"You come back here and I'll show you just how handy I can be."
Jason is hauling boxes in from the morning delivery when Tim comes bounding over and starts making shooing motions at him. "You can't be out here right now, it's not safe," he insists.
"Stop rushing me," he says, batting away Tim's hands when he tries to shove him inside. "I'm going in anyway, but I'm not about to leave boxes of perfectly good merchandise in the alley where just anyone can pick it up and walk off with it."
Making a frustrated noise, Tim stacks the boxes on top of one another and picks them up with apparent ease. "I've got them, just go inside! Please."
"Shit, okay." Jason hurries to the door, holding it open for Tim while glancing around. It's not that early, but none of the other business that abut the alley have their doors open. Probably nobody is around to take notice of a man lifting an impossibly heavy weight.
Once inside, he turns and locks the door while Tim strolls over to the new release wall and sets down his load. Then he's bouncing back upright, hurrying to the front window to peer around the items displayed there like he's looking for something.
"Wanna tell me what this is all about?" Jason asks, crossing his arms and leaning against the back door. "Not that I don't appreciate the help, but I kinda had the impression you're trying to maintain the illusion that you're a completely normal human."
"Got a call from Pam. Apparently her girlfriend's ex is prowling about, trying to find a way into the building."
Pam and Harley have run Adventure Thyme on the other side of Battle Acts since before Jason ever took over Knight & Page, so he's well acquainted with both ladies. He's also heard more than his fair share of stories about Harley's ex-boyfriend, who's shown up once or twice to harass them until Artemis ran him off. "The guy's a creep, but mostly harmless. I could probably take him if I had to," Jason says, shrugging a shoulder.
Tim lets out a noise that can't be described as anything other than a squeak. "You've met him? Interacted with him? What the hell, I didn't realize you had a death wish, Jason!"
"Weird guy with green hair who looks like he needs to get a bit more sun, right? Sure, I've met him. He popped his head in once, though he never came inside." Still, Tim looks pretty upset by this bit of news, so maybe there's something else going on. Jason sighs. "Don't tell me, he's some kind of magical beastie, isn't he?"
"No-o," Tim says, shifting nervously as he draws out the word. "He's human alright. But he is a magic user, a really nasty one. The kind that steals other people's magic without their permission, sucking it right out of them until they waste away into nothing. People like that—they'll trap anyone with magic they come across if there aren't any protections in place to stop them."
"Hey." Pushing away from the door, Jason crosses the store to stand beside Tim, wrapping an arm around him and tugging him close. "He's never bothered me before. I'm sure it's fine."
Tim shakes his head, pressing his face into Jason's chest. "He didn't bother you before because all your magic was dormant. Probably didn't even realize your potential."
He likely has a point—come to think of it, the creep hasn't been by since Jason ate that egg and had a whole new world unfold for him. "Well, no worries. There's only one person around here who's allowed to suck anything out of me, and it sure as shit ain't him," he jokes, running a hand down Tim's back.
"You're kind of an idiot sometimes," Tim says, hitting Jason's chest and completely failing to show any of the inhuman strength he exhibited earlier. "Just because you say you won't let him doesn't mean you'll actually be able to hold him off. He's much older and more powerful than either of us, from what Harley told me."
"Eh, Artemis usually runs him off before he can really bother the customers. Too bad there's no magic police we can report stalking to."
"Oh. Yes, an Amazon would be something one of his kind would be afraid of." Tim nods to himself, relaxing somewhat though he still makes no move to step away from him. "Plus, there's Mau, of course."
"Oh come on. I know she's psychotic and just one report short of being hauled off by Animal Control, but what's a cat going to do against some guy who can use magic?"
"Jason," Tim says slowly, "you do know Mau is a three-thousand-year-old Egyptian guardian spirit, right? It would take an equally old being to stand up against that, and there aren't that many around that care to hang around the likes of us."
"Wait, what?" Jason stares down at his boyfriend, more than a little stunned by this news. "Are you telling me that all the stuff Artemis says about the furball is true?"
"If she's said anything to imply Mau isn't a normal cat then yes, probably."
"Dammit," Jason swears. "That means the fucking cat actually is our landlord."
Eventually, Pam calls to sound the all clear. Tim relaxes enough to release Jason and let him get back to what he was in the middle of doing before being so rudely interrupted by a very distressed boyfriend. Namely, getting the new stock onto the shelves and making up pull stacks for his regulars.
"Shouldn't you be getting to work?" he asks as he kneels down next to the boxes and unstacks them. "It's nearly nine o'clock."
"I already called in sick. Roy will understand," Tim says, waving a hand dismissively as he settles down on the carpet beside him.
Jason isn't entirely sure he wants to know why it is that Roy will understand (doesn't want to consider that his best friend may have been keeping freaking magic secret from him for years), so he chooses to ignore that comment. For now, at least."You were really freaked by that guy, weren't you?" he says instead, pulling a box cutter out of his back pocket and breaking into the boxes.
"I don't have any personal experience with warlocks, but someone I'm close to, he had… There was some really bad stuff that went down. Not quite the same Harley's situation, but a warlock took advantage of my friend's dad and it, well. It messed up his family for ages." Tim sighs heavily, leaning against Jason's side as he starts pulling stacks out of the box.
"Hey, it's okay," he says, pausing for a moment to wrap his free arm around Tim. "This is obviously upsetting for you to talk about, and it's not like I need to know it anyway."
Face pressed against Jason's chest, Tim shakes his head. "Except you do need to know it. Because, if nothing else, you need to know what kind of terrifying things you could be getting yourself into now that you're firmly a part of our world." He takes a deep breath, then pushes himself away. "I know I talk it up a lot, but it's really not all fun and games."
"I sort of got that when you freaked out on me earlier." Jason wants to reach for him again, but Tim's the one who drew away. Instead, he busies himself separating weekly pull piles from the new books.
"The whole thing was really fucked up and not my story to share." Beside him, Tim looks vaguely sick. "Mostly, warlocks stick to taking advantage of weaker magic users who are new to their power and don't have much in the way of a support system. They’ll siphon off magic, energy, lifeforce. There's a good reason no one likes them."
Jason isn't sure how to respond to that, feels badly that he didn't take him more seriously before. That Tim's friend had to ever had to deal with anything so horrible, that Harley can't seem to get away from her own brush with bad magic. He still wants to pull Tim close and comfort him, but he's not sure how much that would be appreciated right now. Needing something to do, he stands and starts the tedious task of shelving the new books.
After what feels like ages, Tim clears his throat and straightens, slowly climbing to his feet and comes over to stand beside Jason. He won't help—he says it's best if he handles the merchandise as little as possible, so he doesn't get attached and start thinking of it as part of his hoard—but it's still nice to have him there, in easy reach.
Somehow, between one thing and another, he's gotten use to Tim always being there, in spirit if nothing else. That probably says something about him, about their relationship, but he isn't sure if now is really the time to think about it.
Jason is bounding up the stairs to grab a fresh shirt after an unfortunate incident with someone's bubble tea when he nearly runs into a pretty brunette on her way down, catching himself on the railing at the last minute. "Sorry about that."
"It's fine, I wasn't watching where I was going," she says.
There's something oddly familiar about her face and voice, but Jason doesn't have the time worry about that right now, since he left the shop untended except for Mau and he's still not sure if the cat counts as a legitimate responsible adult or not. He's about to head on his way, when a hand grabs his arm. "What, no hello kiss?" the woman asks, staring up at him through half-lowered lashes. "I guess the romance really does go out of a relationship by the fourth month."
"Look, lady, I don't know who you think—" he starts to say when he's interrupted by a peal of laughter.
"You should see your face. I don't think you've blushed that much since you completely failed to say you wanted to date me."
"I don't—wait, Tim?" Now that he's looking closely, he can definitely see the resemblance, though the face is a little rounder, the hair several shades lighter, and wow, that shade of lipstick makes his (her?) lips look like sin. "What the hell?"
"Pam and Harley and some of Dinah's coven invited me to join them for Ladies' Night at a magic-friendly bar they know of," Tim says, tucking a loose strand of caramel-brown hair back behind an ear. "You do remember the part where I'm an agender shapeshifter, right?"
"Right," Jason says weakly. "Is this something you do a lot of? Be a woman?"
"Not really. It's awkward because I technically only legally exist in the human world as a man. Plus, I'm pretty used to that shape after all this time, and most of my clothes were bought with a man's body in mind. I had to borrow this from Harley, and then I had to adjust my shape because she's a bit bigger in the chest than I normally go for." Stepping back onto the landing, Tim does a little twirl, very reminiscent of the one he did when he first turned into a dragon for Jason.
"Well it's… A very nice dress?" Jason licks his lips and swallows. It is a nice dress, and being a shapeshifter definitely has its advantages since Tim fills the tight red satin out perfectly.
"It doesn't look too weird without heels? Dinah said I should really have heels for something like this, but I always manage to stumble when I wear anything higher than an inch, which is just embarrassing for someone with telekinesis."
"The sandals look fine," Jason reassures her (him?), trying hard not to let the twining ribbons criss-crossing Tim's legs distract him again. "You're gorgeous."
Tim beams at him, leaning down from the higher level of the landing to kiss him soundly. "Thank you. Like I said, I don't do this very often, but it's nice sometimes to try something a little different."
"Right," Jason says weakly. Hell, he still has nearly three hours of spacecops to slog through—he has no idea how he's going to keep his mind on that. "Well. Enjoy yourself?"
"I will! And maybe if I get back early enough, we can both try something a little different tonight," she says with wink, laughing to herself as she bounces past him and down the rest of the steps.
For his part, Jason clings to the banister and whimpers.
Thursday night, Jason pulls Barbara aside after the game is over. "Look. I was wondering… There's something I need some advice on."
"If you want to know more about your Uncle Hiram, you should really talk to Alan. I may have been his lawyer and a regular at the shop, but Alan was part of the same circle and could tell you more," Babs says, which, hey, good to know. But not even close to what Jason was going to ask about.
"Cool, but. I was wondering if you could help me with, uh. A spell, I guess?"
"You want one of the others, then. I'm strictly sorcery, no witchcraft for me." She starts to wheel away and Jason panics slightly.
"They can't help me. They aren't, well. They don't have to deal with a fridge full of dragon eggs."
"You just cook them like normal eggs. As long as no one besides you and Tim eats them, it's fine. Heck, he doesn't even need to cook them—a lot of dragons eat them as soon as they’re laid if they aren't interested in clutching at the moment," she says.
"Yeah, fine, that may work for older dragons, but Tim says he can't eat that much so often," Jason explains, his voice dropping to a whisper as he eyes the lingering remnants of the Thursday coven milling about the room.
"Well, you could just tell him to calm it down," Barbara says, her eyes dancing under the fluorescent lights. "But I guess that would be mean. I'm pretty sure Dinah has instructions somewhere for an amulet that should cut down on any jointly made eggs; I can email it to you if you like. It won't get rid of them all, but it might help some with the surplus."
"Thank you. I'm pretty creative in the kitchen when I want to be, but I just can't take any more egg-based recipes."
"Mm. As long as you don't share anything you make using the eggs with anyone besides Tim, you should be fine."
"He said it's the shells that are valuable? That, aside from the magic egg, there's nothing to be concerned about?" Wow, Jason really hopes it's not dangerous for him to be eating his boyfriend's eggs (which… a lot to unpack with that sentence, he's just going to avoid thinking about it).
"Oh, sure, when they're only being consumed by the creators. You're both just taking in your own concentrated magic that way." Babs pauses, tilting her head to the side. "You do know that dragon egg yolks are one of the primary ingredients for an elixir of youth, right?"
All these eggs are getting to be something of a nuisance.
He puts off thinking about it, but about a week after the incident with the warlock, Jason runs into Harley when he's taking out the trash. "Hey. You doing okay?"
"Yeah, I guess." She's sitting on the short wall that borders the building's tiny parking lot, kicking her sneakered feet and staring gloomily down at the jungle of potted plants that make up Pam's personal garden. "Sorry about the other day with Mister J."
"Don't be. It's not your fault you got caught up with a bad guy, it happens to everyone," Jason says, coming over to sit beside her.
"I was just… so stupid about the whole thing. I didn't grow up with magic, y'know? So when I met J, and he could do all this stuff… it seemed like something out of a fairy tale. My own Prince Charming, only he could turn dandelions into roses and rocks into diamonds and it was all so amazing, I didn't even notice how tired I felt all the time, or that he wouldn't let me go anywhere on my own, even to class." She laughs, bitter and awful, scrubbing at her make-up streaked cheeks.
"People like that, they know how to make you feel like the center of the world without letting you see just how small your world's become until it's too late," Jason agrees. He's been lucky enough to avoid relationships like that himself, but he saw how his father dragged his mother down when he was around, and he narrowly escaped Sionis's web back when he was a stupid teenager.
"Yeah, I guess. I never would've made it out, except I ran into Dinah at the clinic when I went for—well." Harley sniffs, blinking her eyes several times. "No one wants to mess with a dragon if they can help it, and Dinah took me to Artemis, said J couldn't get me as long as I stayed here, that it's protected. And then I met Pam."
"You got out and you're keeping yourself safe and happy. That's what's important." Cautiously, Jason reaches out, not quite touching her.
Harley grabs his hand in hers, clinging tightly. "Thanks, Jason. You're a good friend. And I'm still sorry Mister J is bothering you and Tim. You two are sweet, you don't deserve anything like him in your lives."
"No," he agrees. "Nobody does."
With a print-out of Barbara's email clutched in his hand, Jason pops into Adventure Thyme on his lunch break. The store is empty—a lot of the business is mail-order, from what he's heard in the past—which is fine with him considering he's not entirely sure he's ready to do this.
Pam beams at him as soon as he crosses the threshold. "Jason, what a pleasant surprise. Don't tell me your young man has caught another cold?"
"Ah, no. We've had a long talk and I think I've convinced him it'll go more smoothly in the future if he starts taking better care of himself and just avoids getting sick in the first place." Now that he knows the store isn't the simple herb shop he always assumed it to be, it's a lot easier to notice all the little peculiarities. The crystals mounted in each of the cardinal points, the curling knotwork designs on the walls that look awfully runic in nature, the potted plants apparently choosing on their own to grow in strangely complicated shapes. He wonders how he never realized it was a magic shop before.
"Looking for something to season your eggs a little differently, perhaps?" Pam suggests, tucking a stray wisp of red hair back into her bun.
"Yes and no. I was, ah. Hoping you could help me find all of these?" He holds forth the print-out with its list of ingredients.
"These herbs… A magical contraception amulet?"
"Well, more contra-egg amulet? Just, we're running out of space in both our fridges and I enjoy an egg or three at breakfast as much as the next person but it's getting a bit… Excessive." Jason is pretty sure he's blushing and it's only through great self-control that he doesn't rub the back of his neck in embarrassment.
"You know you can always use them to fuel spells instead of eating them, right? Each egg is effectively a small magical battery that takes the magical energy produced by your union and compacts into a small package for later. By using a dragon egg to power a spell, you're able to avoid tapping into your internal magical reservoir, thus avoiding magic fatigue."
Jason was freaked out enough by Barbara's talk of an elixir of youth that he didn't even think to consider the larger implications of what dragon eggs could be used for. "Isn't that sort of like sacrificing a living thing? Since the eggs have the potential to be new life and you're effectively nipping that in the bud if you use it to power a spell?" Though, of course, the eggs that Tim produces on his own without Jason's participation are never actually fertile in the first place, but still.
"You're already eating the eggs, I don't see how it's an issue," Pam says. "Though, of course, cultural taboos regarding infant sacrifice would be why it's generally considered bad form for anyone other than the dragon who made the egg and their chosen mate to use it in any kind of spell."
Ugh, Jason is really starting to regret this entire conversation. "Infant sacrifice is only okay when the parents are the ones doing it?"
"Of course. Why do you think all reputable herbalists are dryads?" She fixes him with an icy stare and Jason shivers. Maybe buying seeds and bits of plants from a dryad is not his best move ever.
"It was weird enough when we were vaguely talking about my sex life, but now this conversation has veered away from slightly unsettling to definitely creepy. I'm thinking I might just forget about the amulet entirely and focus on not hopping into bed with my boyfriend quite so often," Jason says, reaching to take the paper back.
"Oh, don't be like that. I'm sure Tim has been careful to refrigerate the things as soon as he makes them, so it's not any closer to infant sacrifice than it is every time a human female menstruates." Pam deftly avoids his hand and slips out from behind the counter with a roll of her eyes. Catching up a basket from the beside the door, she starts wandering about the shop, pulling bundles and bottles off shelves as she goes with occasional glances back at the list.
"You don't have to do that. If it's all on the shelves, I can find the stuff myself."
"Psh, a lot of these have alternate names and you're green enough wood that you probably don't even know the difference between lemongrass and lemon balm." Dropping a wrinkly little bulb into the basket, Pam shakes her head. "No, much as I'll be disappointed to lose such a steady source for dragon-egg shells, I'd also prefer the building not burn down around our ears just because some hatchling has a issue with control. You'd be surprised how much fire power something three inches long can have."
"God, we're not going to hatch any of them. Not any time in the near future, at least," Jason says, more than a little terrified at the prospect. He's far from ready for commitment on that level, and besides, both he and Tim live in studio apartments. Sure, Tim is tiny in dragon form, but that's hardly the point.
When Pam rings it up and tells him the total, Jason does a double-take. "Excuse me? Are you sure you didn't accidentally misplace a zero in there somewhere?" Teas have always run a little steeper here than other places, but he figured that was more because the ladies make custom blends and organically source all their inventory. This particular package doesn't look that much larger than a tea bundle, but the price…
"Spell components are priced slightly different than the teas. Most of what you're getting are simple herbs, but laserwort fennel is rare and the price reflects that," she tells him.
"But that's…" He glances over the wall behind the counter, finding fennel there. "The shelf price is only $8 an ounce? Plus, I know I've seen fennel at a lot of those yuppie 'world food' stores? How the hell does it qualify as 'rare'?" He wants to support his friend and local businessdryad, but Jason's mom also taught him to keep an eye on his wallet and be mindful of blatant overcharging.
Pam glances at the price on the wall and raises an eyebrow. "Like I said, spell components are priced differently. That price is for the tea, which I get from a supplier in Maine. This," she taps the small paper package on the countertop, "I grow myself and harvest it with a blesséd silver blade in the light of the full moon to help ensure purity and potency. You're welcome to try the mundane, but it won't work nearly as well. I assumed you'd want maximum oomph since this is for a contraception amulet."
Flushing furiously, Jason mutters, "It's not a contraception amulet," even though it pretty much is. Sort of. 'Contraovum' just sounds weird, even to his own mind, so he doesn't press the issue.
"Uh huh. You keep telling yourself that." She glances at him through half-lowered lashes. "So, now that you have a better idea of how spell components work, do you still want the laserwort, or would you rather risk it and go with tea? It'll still work, I just can't guarantee the efficacy."
Much as it hurts him and his wallet to do so, Jason digs out his card and passes it over. "It just seems weird to associate 'money' with 'magic.' Feels like they don't belong anywhere near each other."
"Magic is just another skill. It's no different than having to pay for the raw materials for a recipe or a craft project." Pam takes his card and is about to swipe it when she stops, hand arrested in mid-air.
"Something the matter?"
"You're not entirely wrong. Since it's difficult to explain the intricacies of magical pricing to most IRS agents, we do a fair amount of bartering, when it comes down to it," she says, lowering the card. "I have a spell that I could use an extra pair of hands to help with, another witch to shore up the casting. I am willing to let you have these components all free of charge in exchange for your aid."
"You do realize I've never actually done any magic?" Unless cooking and eating the magic egg counts. It probably doesn't, since Tim said that most people just eat them raw. "This amulet was going to be my first attempt at anything."
"That's fine. I need raw talent more than anything else. You would just have to repeat the words with me, I would do all the brewing and the like." She stares at him, green eyes bright and intense, and a shiver goes down Jason's spine. He wants to trust her—does, mostly, after all these years—but Tim's cautions about the dangers of magic are still fresh in his memory and Pam, when it comes down to it, isn't exactly the person he always thought she was.
"I'm not getting involved in anything I don't know the purpose behind. Or in any dark stuff," he warns.
"I want to do a spell to protect Harley. J is getting very close to finding her. This last time, he even made it inside the shop before the Amazon chased him off. Harley hasn't slept the night through since. I can't let that happen again," Pam hisses.
There's a faint rustle, and movement in Jason's peripheral vision distracts him. The various plants that decorate the shop, spilling out of hanging hanging pots, overflowing from shelves, tumbling across counters, all shiver and sway, reaching for the dryad. Pam herself is looking less human than ever, her skin taking a queer greenish cast as the vines tattooed up her arms twist and curl just like their living counterparts.
Jason shivers and fights back the instinct that tells him to step away from the counter. "Why not just ask Harley to help? Or one of the ladies from Dinah's coven?" he asks. He's all for getting a discount on his purchase, but his mom also didn't raise any fools, and he can't think of a good reason why Pam would want a complete newbie to help her, even if all he has to do is stand there and look pretty.
"Wouldn't be much of a surprise if I had Harley help me," Pam easily replies. "And as for the other, well. The spell I'd like to use calls for a very specific kind of ingredient, and this sort of thing works better when at least one of the casters has a… personal connection to the component in question."
Understanding dawns and Jason takes an involuntary step back from the counter. "Holy shit, you want one of Tim's eggs." Tim said the're highly sought after as spell components, but he'd just been talking about the shells.
"As I said, a dragon egg is essentially a magical battery of sorts, even when no longer viable. Using one can greatly increase the power and potency of a spell. Unfortunately, they tend to backfire if used by someone who didn't have a hand in their creation. They're 'user-locked,' if you will."
"That's not… I can't make that call," he decides. "Those are Tim's eggs, even the ones that I, uh. Helped with. He's the only one who can decide who gets to use them and for what." Jason may not be ready to be a dad any time soon, but he also understands that each of those eggs is a testament to Tim's feelings.
The dryad nods slowly, then finally swipes his card. "Very well, then. If that's how you feel about it, I will respect your feelings on the matter." She waits a moment, then hands over both the card and the paper-wrapped package she made of his purchases. "Thank you for your business, Jason."
Grabbing both, Jason stutters a goodbye and quickly leaves. He meant to make the amulet as a surprise for Tim, but he's thinking it might be better to sit down and finally listen to the lecture on magic Tim's been aching to give for ages now.
Jason does magic! Tim is protective.
"Jason, why do you have a package that smells like fennel?"
"Oh, yeah. I wanted to talk to you about that." Jason doesn't look up from the quiche he's preparing, but that's more because he's still not sure how he feels about his earlier conversation with Pam than because it actually requires all that much attention.
"Holy—don't tell me you actually paid this bill! These prices are grossly inflated. Unless every ounce is grown and harvested by Demeter herself, you've been swindled," Tim says, coming around to hop up on the counter. Jason grumbles and shifts to the side slightly, practically on top of the hot plate at this point. There really isn't enough space for him to sit there, but he's not about to stop him.
"Pam said that was because she grew them herself and—"
"—and that is why you have to be careful when buying plants from a dryad. She probably tried to sucker you into trading one of my eggs for the whole thing," Tim finishes, eyes narrowing. "You didn't, did you?"
"You know I wouldn't do something like that, not without asking you first." The eggs may be getting a bit excessive at this point, but they belong to Tim, no matter what hand Jason may have played in their making. Plus, he's still leery about giving eggs to anyone after what Barbara said about elixirs of youth.
Tim beams at him. "This is why you're my favorite."
"Really? Because I was under the impression I'm your favorite because of that thing I do with—"
"Yes, okay, that too," he says in a rush, his cheeks turning so rosy Jason wonders if he's going to burst into scales. Apparently Tim is wondering the same thing, since he pauses for a moment, clearly waiting. When nothing happens, he trundles onwards. "First of all, she was definitely scamming you. There's nothing special or unique about any this, I'd be able to smell it if there was. Secondly, you should never give a whole dragon egg to anyone without the express consent of the dragon—particularly an egg created with a second person, even if that person is you. Eggs can be used as totems of a person, like hair or teeth. With all the magic that's packed into a dragon egg, it could pretty much be used to create a self-perpetuating curse."
"Jesus. Pam said she wanted it for a protection spell to keep Harley's ex away on a more permanent basis, only she started out by just saying she wanted me to help with the spell in exchange for the ingredients. The egg only came up later," Jason admits.
Tim settles back, a thoughtful look on his face. "I suppose that makes sense. You're newly come into your magic, so it's not spread thin across lots of little spells, and since some of the magic in the eggs originated from you, you can do things with it that other magic users wouldn't be capable of."
"I didn't agree to anything. Like I said, I told her I couldn't do anything with the eggs without first talking to you. There's enough of this magic stuff I'm still in the dark about that I don't need to get involved in whatever revenge plot she's cooking up."
"Sound reasoning. You're really not ready for any kind of complicated spellwork yet, and while I can't fault her for wanting to help Harley, it was very irresponsible of her to try and rope you in." Tim pauses, tilting his head to the side. "That said, I have to ask—what were you doing buying spell components anyway?"
"Oh, that's, ah. I wanted to surprise you," Jason admits. "Babs gave me directions for making an amulet that should stop the eggs until we're really ready for them. I was hoping to get it done earlier, but to be honest, Pam spooked me. Figured I'd be safer waiting until you were home to walk me through it."
"Oooh. Yeah, a contraovum amulet would be a really useful thing to have. You're a wonderful chef, but I'm getting a little tired of eating eggs all the time and I'd rather not put our sex life on hold just so we can liven up our diets a bit." Tim glances around, spotting Barbara's directions where Jason stuck them on the fridge. "This is a pretty straight-forward spell. I don't have enough witchery to cast it myself, but I can definitely help walk you through it. Shouldn't take more than thirty minutes, tops."
"Great, we can do that while the quiche is in the oven."
"Actually. Hold that thought." Tim hops down off the counter, a grim look on his face. "First, I'm going to see about giving a certain dryad a piece of my mind and getting you a refund. Then we can do the spell."
It's been over forty minutes and Jason is starting to worry when there's short, vaguely annoyed rap on his door. Somehow, he finds he isn't the least bit surprised to be greeted by the sight of Artemis holding a small red dragon by the scruff of his neck when he opens it.
"This, I believe, belongs to you. He was bothering the ladies on the fourth floor, something about a bad business transaction?"
Tim is clearly simmering, small puffs of smoke leaking out the corners of his mouth. At least there isn't any flame—thank heaven for small mercies. "The dirty dryad tried to get Jason to perform a protection ceremony with her! I had every right to lodge a formal complaint and call her out! It's a clear violation of my prior claim and an infringement on my property!"
"You haven't filed a formal petition to hoard Jason, so you really don't have a leg to stand on with that," Artemis says, waiting until Jason has a firm grip on the dragon before releasing her hold.
"Excuse you, but I'm nobody's property," he protests, fighting to keep Tim from escaping. It's quickly becoming apparent that Artemis must be even stronger than he previously estimated, since she made the task seem so effortless.
"Of course you're not, I would never hoard someone without their permission. Besides, I still have student loans to pay off, I'm in no position to start hoarding people, that's expensive," Tim is quick to reassure him, nuzzling one of the hands around his middle. "I meant that I've obviously staked a claim as your mentor, so she shouldn't have been approaching you for that sort of thing without consulting with me first."
"If he's not your hoard, then how is it an infringement on your property?" Artemis demands. "It's rude for her to bypass you, sure, but that's etiquette more than anything else. Mentorship isn't a formal position, after all."
Smoke starts pouring out in a thicker, more constant stream and a surprisingly deep growl issues from the dragon. "That no-good witch tried to trick Jason into handing over one of my eggs for the spell! Not just the shell, the entire egg! Without asking me first!"
A switch seems to flip in Artemis and she straightens out of the casual stance she was in. "She did what? Drake, that's a serious accusation. You should have taken it straight to Mau and me and we would have dealt with it."
"My eggs," Tim grumbles, snuggling into Jason's arms, claws poking small holes in the worn cotton of his T-shirt.
"Yeah, babe, I know." Readjusting his grip so he can hold the dragon one-handed, he runs a hand down the ridge that follows Tim's spine. Glancing at Artemis, he frowns. "Is it that big a deal? Wanting a dragon egg for a ritual? Pam said it would act like a battery, and Tim made it sound like they can be used as voodoo dolls in the wrong hands, but I hadn't realized…"
"I don't know about you, but I take conspiring to kidnap and potentially traffic children very seriously," Artemis says, gaze steely.
Tim peeks out from the weird nest he's currently fashioning Jason's shirt into, looking vaguely sheepish. "Well, I mean. All my eggs go in the fridge within half an hour of my laying them, plus a large number aren't, uh, exactly fertile? So it's not really that bad? But still! I expend a lot of magic making those and I already told her I'd give her a fair price on the shells once they've been emptied and cleaned!"
"Ah, actually." Jason isn't entirely sure he should say anything, but since this whole thing is apparently a lot more serious than he originally thought, it might be better if he did. "Look, she didn't say it outright, but I got the impression that Pam was building up to ask for a fertile egg. Nothing she said, more just a vague feeling I got."
"What?" Tim snaps, the question punctuated by a loud tearing sound as Jason's shirt meets an untimely end at the claws of one small dragon. "You said she wanted to do a protection spell! You don't need a viable dragon egg for a protection spell."
Artemis makes a noise of angry disgust. "I've half a mind to evict her, no matter what Mau may say. Isley has every right to be upset about the damned warlock, but trying to trick a witch into voluntarily sacrificing his child in order to fuel a death spell isn't right in any situation."
"A what spell? Oh, hey, no, I'm pretty sure that's not—I mean, Pam would never…" Jason trails off, his stomach in knots. He still isn't sure if he considers any of Tim's eggs his children (has, to be honest, rather avoided thinking about it in those terms since their initial conversation on the subject), but he'd like to think Pam isn't the sort of person who would purposefully kill someone in cold blood, no matter how awful they may be.
"Jason, there are only a few spells you specifically need to have a viable dragon egg for, and a death spell is definitely one of those," Tim growls. "The others, well. They're definitely not the sorts of things a dryad would have any interest in performing, and they wouldn't do anything to counter a warlock."
"Oh." He swallows, feeling suddenly very sick to his stomach. "That's…"
"Hey, shh," Tim says, rearing up to grasp Jason's cheeks between his tiny hands. "You didn't know. And you didn't agree to anything, so you're in the clear."
"I guess," Jason says, not that he feels any better. Sure, he doesn't want to be part of anything that kills a person, but at the same time, he can't get the terrified look on Harley's face out of his head. It's not hard to understand where Pam is coming from.
Artemis eventually leaves to consult with Mau on what's to be done about the Pam situation. Supper finishes baking while Jason changes his shirt and Tim gets dressed in a borrowed pair of boxers—who even knows where the clothes he was wearing before ended up—so they end up eating dinner and putting off all spellwork for later. Just as well, probably—after the earlier hullabaloo, Jason would just rather Tim get plenty of time to calm down before they start messing with arcane rituals.
"Wait, this is all you got? You don't even have a thing to make it into an amulet," Tim says when they lay out the collected spell components on Jason's table.
"I thought that was what all this shit was for?"
"No, these are just for doing the spell. You need a focus to attach the spell to when you're done, otherwise it'll just dissipate after an hour and you have to do it all over the next time you need it. I think I have some blank amulets in my apartment, I'll run down and get them." Tim stands up and stretches, then wanders over to the door, where he spends the next minute or so frowning in confusion and looking all around. "Did you see where I left my shoes?"
"Babe, as nice as you look, you're going to need a bit more than just shoes if you're planning on going anywhere." He's probably safe to go down a floor to his own place, but Jason's boxers really don't fit him that great and he's an indecent exposure case waiting to happen.
Tim blinks, looking even more confused when he realizes he's just a step away from being naked. "I guess I left everything up at Pam and Harley's?"
"I would assume that to be the case, since you were human when you left and dragon when Artemis brought you back."
"I should… probably get that?"
"How about we leave that for another time. Look, you left your keys and wallet here, you wanna throw on a hoodie and run down to get whatever it is we need?”
"I really like those shoes, though," Tim whinges, but he obediently pulls on the hoodie Jason tosses in his direction. "Guess I should put on some real clothes while I'm at it, also."
"Probably a good idea," Jason acknowledges. Though he's normally a fan of Tim wearing as little as possible, it just doesn't feel like a responsible move when playing with the arcane forces of the universe. "Why don't you grab an extra set while you're at it? Might be a good idea to keep some of your stuff around here, just in case we have a repeat situation sometime."
"Not that likely. I do try to avoid threatening to set the neighbors on fire," Tim grumbles.
"Yeah, well. Sometimes they've earned a good scare and I'd hate to cramp your style." Jason smiles down at him, handing him his keys. "Thanks for having my back with all of that. Sounds like I was a lot more out of my depth than I realized and I really dodged a bullet with the whole thing."
Tim makes reaches for the keys, then at the last moment grabs Jason's hand instead of taking them, using the grip to tug him down into a kiss. "I gave you the egg, Jason. That makes you my responsibility, at least when it comes to magic. Plus, I'd rather you not get yourself arrested for killing someone, no matter how much he deserves it."
Maybe it's all the Warlocks & Warriors he gets subjected to day in and day out, but when Jason hears the word "amulet," he always thinks something palm-size, large and ostentatious. This is… something of a disappointment. "How is this an amulet? It's half the size of a dime, it could slip down a drain if you're not careful."
"It's meant to be worn during sex, of course you don't want something bulky that might get in the way," Tim reminds him. "A lot of amulets these days are about this size or smaller. Makes it easier to put them on charm bracelets."
"Charm—? You're not serious, are you?"
"Uh, why wouldn't I be? Maybe some witches and wizards like to cultivate the hippy vibe, but a lot of modern magic folk work hard at fitting in. It's a lot less unusual to wear a charm bracelet than a bunch of necklaces with arcane symbols dangling off them. Of course, some of us still prefer to take it a step further." Tim tugs down his left sleeve, then seems to peel back the air to reveal a slim silver chain sporting three charms similar in size to the one lying on the table.
"What the heck?"
"Simple glamor spell on the chain to hide the whole thing except for when I want it visible. Guys get weird looks when they wear stuff like this, plus it'd get in the way at work."
"Doesn't it slip off when you go tiny?"
Tim immediately bristles at the question. "Excuse, I am not tiny, I am a perfectly respectable size for my age and—" He stops and takes a deep breath, clearly making an effort to calm himself. "The chain is also spelled to shrink or expand to fit the wearer in a comfortable manner. Bought it off a dwarf at a con freshman year."
"Shiny," Jason comments, poking at the charms dangling there. One is a disk like the one they just enchanted, but the other two are small crystals, all twisted up in tiny, intricate wire cages. "Do I get to know what they all do?"
"The white crystal is a single-use shield, the purple crystal is a single-use teleport, and the disk is a notice-me-not spell. That one I did myself, so it's not great. It only mostly counters when my control slips and I get a little scaly." Tim grimaces, flicking the little disk with a finger. "Like I said, I'm not that great of a witch. Just having the knowledge of how to do something isn't enough if you haven't got the right kind of power to do it."
"If you still have the directions around, I could try to make a new one?" Jason offers. "Though I guess we should wait and make sure the contraovum amulet works first. Could be I'm no better a witch than you are."
"I can already tell you that you are a way better witch than me," Tim reassures him. "I may be crap at complex spells, but an innate understanding of magic and an ability to accurately gauge a person's power potential go hand-in-hand with being a dragon."
Jason isn't sure about that—he's fairly certain he flubbed a line or two of the incantation when he was empowering the contraovum amulet, and he nearly had a coughing fit when he accidentally breathed in the smoke from the herbs he had to burn as part of the ritual. "Probably should have started with something a little simpler for my first try."
"Nope, this is perfect. Useful and straightforward. If it works, we'll know right away, and if it doesn't, it won't be the end of the world, just some more eggs to shove in the fridge." Tim seems positively gleeful as he clips the new amulet to the chain with the attached jump ring. He makes a gesture over the bracelet, and it disappears from sight once more.
"Hey, I meant to ask you about that. The doing magic thing, I mean. It's not… I don't have to worry about any nasty consequences for bending the rules of the universe for selfish reasons, do I? Like, is personal gain an issue here?" Jason asks as he works to clear the spell paraphernalia from the table.
"While I'm ecstatic that you're taking your magic cues from something other than Harry Potter, I'm a little disturbed that you're going with Charmed. Especially considering the kind of stuff you sell for a living."
"Hey, just because I sell it doesn't mean I actually look at any of that crap."
"Jason. I am literally a part of a classic W&W game that relies heavily on an in-game magic system. You can't pretend you don't know have a clue how this kind of thing actually works," Tim says, the expression on his face as flat as his voice.
"A game that's half-named after a really nasty kind of magic user," Jason reminds him. "I'm not gonna depend on it for my magic-knowledge needs."
"That hardly means you should instead binge the wiki of an outdated '00s supernatural sitcom in a poorly directed attempt to educate yourself."
"It seemed like a good idea at the time? And, hey, it's accurate about some stuff—witches good, warlocks bad, magic real…" It wasn't like he'd set out to use it as a basis for his understanding of this magic stuff, he just did a few searches trying to find some more information without prevailing upon Tim, one thing led to another and, well. Yeah.
"Right. First of all—witches sometimes good, warlocks always bad. Wizards, sorcerers, dragons, most other magical people—sometimes good, sometimes bad. No angels, no source of all evil, no magic school, not even the Harry Potter kind. Personal gain is okay, but generally there's an element of karma or consequence—if you magically create gold out of nothing, there's a good chance it'll disappear on you when you need it most, stuff like that."
"And where does 'making an amulet so my boyfriend and I aren't up to our necks in eggs' fall?"
"Definitely not in the personal gain category no matter what. Do you have any idea what would happen if even half those eggs hatched in the middle of a city? Dragonets can usually manage at least a few of their powers within a week of leaving the shell, and there's a chance any kids I have will share my fire-breathing ability," Tim says, grimacing. "My parents had a place in a nicer part of Gotham-proper before they had me. They moved out to Bristol when they finally decided to hatch an egg. Our nearest neighbor was over half a mile away and they still had to fireproof the entire house. They kept me in a twenty-gallon tank until I was about six months old, and I spent the rest of my first year sleeping in a bathtub just because it was the safest place they could think of."
"Okay, so. What I'm getting from this is that we probably should have made this amulet a lot sooner," Jason says slowly. He's a little wigged out by the idea of his kids accidentally setting Gotham ablaze. He'd honestly thought Artemis was joking when she talked about the dangers of an 'infestation' of dragonets before. Her insistence that they rework his lease is making a lot more sense.
"Oh, well. Like I said—dragon eggshells go for a lot, and I have student loans to pay off. Now that I finally have the ability to produce them, I didn't want to stop making eggs too soon."
So now Jason apparently has a secret subterranean lair.
Pam stops by Knight & Page the next morning. "It was brought to my attention that I may not have been entirely fair with you," she says, not meeting his eyes as she drops a bag on the counter. "You now have a line of credit with my shop that should last for some time."
Peeking inside the bag, Jason catches a glimpse of the worn sneakers Tim was wearing the night before. "I don't appreciate people trying to trick me into committing crimes," he says, setting the bag on the floor next to his feet. "Particularly when the crime in question is murder." It's something he'd really hoped he left behind after moving away from Crime Alley and he's not too keen on falling back into that pit.
"Strictly speaking, I merely wish to trap his mind for all eternity so that he can never hurt anyone again. But I suppose I can see how some might view that as a less than noble cause," she stonily informs him.
He sighs. "Look. I like Harley, okay? She's always got a smile for me and it sounds like this guy really screwed her up and still won't leave her alone. I want to help you, but not if it means doing anything that could earn us bad mojo," Jason tells her. "From what Tim and Artemis have said, though, they aren't all that happy about him coming around either. Instead of trying to be all sneaky and lone-wolf about this, maybe try talking to them? Or even Dinah's coven—they all like Harley, and while I may be new to the whole scene, I got the impression that no one is particularly fond of warlocks. Chances are, they'll help if you ask."
She frowns, bright red lips thinned and anxious. Gently reaching out, she touches the sad little African violet Charlie left with him last month, the leaves immediately perking up at the dryad's attention. "Harley is… a unique and wonderful woman. I suppose it is worth considering," she finally says, before turning to leave.
Which, hey, great and everything. But he's definitely starting to regret her visit an hour later when he has to take a box cutter to the violet before it overruns the counter. Here's hoping Pam doesn't psychically sense his haphazard pruning job and come after him about it later.
Dinah corners Jason after the game the next evening. "Did you tell Pam we'd help her with her revenge plot?"
"Not in so many words? I may have implied that she was better off asking for your help instead of just trying to trick random people into helping her. Though, in her defense, she did say she's not planning to kill him."
"You realize that just because we dislike a warlock doesn't mean we automatically take him out, right?" Dinah asks, eyebrow raised. "They're a nasty bunch, but technically as long as their victims are willing, we're not really supposed to touch them."
"That being said," Babs adds, rolling over, "if Isley is interested in taking out J, I'm all for helping. Don't know what I can do, but I say we roast his ass."
"You would," Dinah shoots back.
"Sorry, but I have a hard time letting go of a grudge. Bastard damaged my coat and I'm going to make him pay," Babs mutters.
Dinah's face softens and she smiles down at her. "I suppose you have a good point. We should probably take care of the pest before it gets any worse."
"I'm sorry, but I'm still stuck on the fact that you're willing to trap someone for all eternity because he ruined a jacket but not because he wrecked someone's life?" Jason says, his eyes darting between the two of them.
"You have to understand, coats are serious business to selkies," Babs says. "If that bastard hadn't damaged mine, I wouldn't be in this chair and I'd still be able to swim."
Friday evening, Jason's getting ready to turn off the lights and head upstairs when there's a knock at the door. Glancing through the glass, he's surprised to see a small crowd standing on the sidewalk outside, most of them familiar-looking.
Feeling a little uneasy, he cautiously opens the door. "What's this, a community meeting?" he asks Artemis, who's standing front and center, Mau perched on her shoulder.
"Pretty much. The princesses are down for a weekend visit, so Dinah called up her coven and we're going to take care of the warlock once and for all." She nods to a couple of brunettes standing to her right. Both are tall and muscled like Artemis, and so alike they could be twins.
"Okay… Still doesn't explain why you're here," Jason says, glancing around at the assembled people, noting that even Pam and Harley are there, despite not being part of Dinah's coven. "I'm not a part of any coven and I've only ever done one spell. And I'm still not letting anyone use one of Tim's eggs without his permission."
"Don't be silly, we're going to use one of mine," Dinah says, producing an egg that looks distinctly different from one of Tim's out of a pocket. "Not as powerful as an egg created out of young love with a newly-minted witch, but still pretty decent, if I do say so myself."
"We're here," Babs adds, rolling forward through the crowd, "because Hiram had a pretty solid magic circle that he always let us use for any group castings. And because Knight & Page is above the exact center of the nexus the building is on top of."
Jason narrows his eyes. "Fucking knew I shouldn't've listened to Tim's bs about Charmed not being a dependable source for info about magical shit." Of course there's a magical nexus under the building, it makes so much sense—why else would a 3,000-year-old guardian spirit choose to make her home in a hellhole like Gotham?
"To be fair, he probably didn't know about the nexus. It's not exactly something we like to advertise, and Mau does a very good job masking its presence," one of the supposed princesses says. She has a bit of an accent, though he can't quite place it—Greek, maybe? Probably one of Artemis's fellow Amazons, visiting from her lesbian paradise.
"You're welcome to come in and try to find this magic circle-nexus thing, but it doesn't sound like anything I've seen around here, and I did a really thorough inventory when I took over things," he says, standing aside so the ladies and Hank can come in.
"That would be because it's in the portion of the basement that can only be accessed through this shop," Zinda explains as she breezes past him.
"Wait, what basement?" This is definitely the first time he's heard anything about the building having a basement, though he supposes that makes sense—the boiler has to be hiding somewhere, after all.
"Hidden basement only people with magical abilities can see," Artemis says. "Did I forget to tell you?"
"Yes, you forgot to tell me."
"Huh. I was wondering why you were still bothering with the laundromat down the street. Well, on the plus side, I'm pretty sure Hiram stopped storing inventory down there when his knees got bad, so at least there's that."
The entrance to Knight & Page's secret basement is hidden behind one of the bookshelves in the back room he rents out for gaming sessions. "I always thought this butted up against the restroom on your side," Jason tells Artemis, watching in wonder as everyone troops down the stairs he'd never even suspected of being there before now.
"It does. The staircase actually exists in a pocket dimension," Dinah says as she disappears into the dark space below.
"Not true. It was just very good planning on the part of the architect," Artemis says, who turns and blocks his way when he would follow her down. "You're staying up here with Barbara and Harley. You're right about not being any use in something like this, this kind of casting is way too high-level for a beginner."
"It's my shop. Don't I get any say in this?"
"It's Mau's building, and she's backing up Artemis on this one," Barbara tells him, patting his hand. "Come on. You can help keep me and Harley entertained."
"Why are they leaving you out?" Jason regrets asking the question as soon as it's out of his mouth—obviously, Barbara can't exactly handle the steps down to the super-secret magic basement. And it's probably not the best idea to let Harley be directly involved, considering how she tends to fall to pieces when the subject of her ex comes up.
The selkie shrugs. "I'm strictly a sorceress, no magic spells for me. The Amazons are more attuned to the nexus and can help the witches channel it, while Dinah needs to be there to give them full access to her egg. I'd be useless down there."
"Why come at all, then?"
"Figured someone had to keep you company until Tim got off work. Plus, like I said yesterday—I want in on anything that's going take down this bastard. He's been terrorizing the city for far too long." Her eyes don't flash the way Tim's sometimes do, but for a moment her voice goes strange, a sort of animal-like growl underlying the words as she speaks, angry and upset.
"He really damaged your coat?" Jason asks, eyeing her nervously as he pulls out a chair for the abnormally quiet Harley to sit.
"Caught me unawares and sliced a huge chunk out of it. Didn't even realize how bad it was until I tried to go home for a visit and the bonding went wrong. Magical repercussions of physical representations." She swallows, leaning forward to rub an non-responsive leg. "I was lucky and Dinah was there, planned to come along with me. If I'd been alone…"
He shivers, not even wanting to imagine what that must have been like. "I'm surprised she didn't do anything about this guy then."
Barbara snorts. "J has been around for several decades at least. We haven't touched him because there's always a risk, taking on warlocks."
"Because they fight back?"
"Because they pick up bits and pieces of the magic they feed on. J has probably expended all of the foresight he got from me since that was over a decade ago, but he may still have some of Harley's power, and who knows who or what else he's been feeding on."
"So what you're telling me is that he's basically Rogue from X-Men." Jason grimaces—it does not bode well for this entire venture if this guy is anywhere close to being that heavy a hitter.
"Seriously? That's what you take from this?"
"Hey, I run a comic shop," he says with a shrug. "What did you expect?"
When everyone finally emerges from the basement, they cluster around to give a run-down of what will be happening and make sure everyone is aware of their part of the plan. It's the first time Jason's ever seen the long table completely filled, and as it is, some people have to stand since there simply aren't enough chairs.
"We decided to go with Pam's plan to trap him in his head," Dinah explains, showing the symbols etched into the shell of the egg. "You pull his soul into this, and all that's left behind is his body. His brain will be there, his person will be intact, but he won't really have any oomph behind him anymore."
Jason eyes the egg nervously, making sure to put plenty of space between himself and it. "That doesn't sound any better than killing him, to be honest."
"Of course it is—this doesn't leave us with a corpse to dispose of, and Harley has connections at Arkham Asylum. She'll make sure his body is well looked after, while I'll take the egg to the sea dragons and have them hide it in the deepest, darkest part of the ocean."
"That still… Isn't that somehow worse than killing him? I mean, then he'd at least be dead instead of trapped in some sort of limbo state for eternity." Jason understands that it's important to get take care of the warlock, to stop him from hurting anyone else, but he's also pretty attached to his humanity. He'd hate to have to sacrifice that in order to make the world a little safer.
"It's not for eternity," Helena says, rolling her eyes. "Sure, this schmuck has been around the block a few times, but once he's no longer sucking magic out of people, he'll age just like a normal human. Maybe even faster, since he's already lived more than his fair share of years."
"I thought magical folk had longer-than-average lifespans?" He glances around, hoping for some confirmation.
"We live a little longer than mundane humans," Zinda allows. "But, with the exception of wizards, it's rarely more than, oh, 120 years without artificial aids."
"Well, aside from warlocks who will suck the literal life out of people, there are… other ways to extend your life," she says, giving him a wink. "You are dating a dragon, after all."
Jason flushes, pointedly turning his back on her. As much as he likes the witches in the coven, he'd really rather not discuss his sex life with them if he can help it. "Right, okay. So this guy's only got a few years left if he stops stealing life from other people?"
"From the timeline Mau and Pamela have put together, I would estimate that your warlock has about a decade left in him, if that," the elder of the princesses says. "He has been terrorizing this city for a very long time."
"And you're sure he'll actually die when his body kicks it? This isn't going to be some kind of kooky horcrux thing?" Because wouldn't that just be a peach—conquer the evil warlock only to accidentally give him the means to live forever while taking him down.
"The way I understand it, once his body dies, the egg will crumble to dust, releasing his soul to go onto whatever awaits it in the hereafter," Dawn reassures him. "As long as the egg isn't broken prematurely, we shouldn't ever have to worry about him again."
"Thus the reason to hide it someplace no one will ever find it," Dinah concludes.
"Great, glad to hear it. You guys ready to head out now? It's just that Tim's working late this evening and I promised I'd feed him, so I'd really like to close up sooner rather than later."
Dinah and the Amazons share a look and then, in a rather uncanny way, Mau leaps down from Artemis's shoulder and crosses the table to lay a paw on Jason's arm.
"I know we've already asked a lot from you," the younger of the princesses says, "but I don't suppose it would be possible for us to beg one more favor?"
Since it's apparent the coven won't be done readying the shop for the big showdown anytime soon, he calls Tim and informs of the change in plans, asking him to pick up some dinner on the way home. It's probably safe enough to leave the ladies and Hank to their own devices, but he's more than a little curious to see how this all plays out and he doesn't want to leave and chance missing any of the action.
Tim shows up a little after eight with enough Thai take-out to feed a small army. "I figured everyone would be hungry when they finished, so I picked up extra." He smiles at Harley when they enter the back room, sitting down in an empty chair next to her and squeezing her hand. "Hey."
She sniffs hard. "Sorry about all this. I never meant to be any trouble. If I'd known Pam was after one of your eggs, I would've—"
"Hey, no," Jason interrupts her as he lays out the food. "We've been over this already. None of that's your fault. And Pam, she had her heart in the right place, even if she was a little misguided about the whole thing. You should never feel guilty about wanting to feel safe."
"Or about somebody else's actions," Tim adds. "You didn't know what she was doing."
"I guess. Just… Mister J has a lot of power. I don't want any of you getting hurt because of my stupid mistakes."
"You're not the only one he's hurt, Harley," Jason says, eyes flicking over to where Barbara is spooning green curry out onto rice. "From what I've heard, he was terrorizing the magical community in this city for a long time. You're just one of his latest victims."
"We've got more than one dragon to back us up as well as Mau and three Amazons," Barbara says, not glancing up from her plate. "We should be fine."
"Yeah, but. All of them aren't going to be there when it's time to spring the trap, and Jason's an untrained witch," Harley says before he can stop her. "It's awfully dangerous."
"Excuse me, but what is she talking about?" Tim snaps, his head whipping around.
He swallows, staring down into the bag of food and focusing all of his attention on taking out various containers. "Dinah and Artemis asked if I wanted to help out. Apparently I make ideal bait, on account of how I'm all new and untapped, magically speaking."
"You can't. It's dangerous, taking on a warlock all on your own!"
"I'll have the trap spell and the coven's promised to help me put some other precautions in place as well. It'll be fine."
"Hey," he says, fixing him with a look. "Weren't you just saying yesterday that I don't belong to anybody but myself? I want to do this, Tim. I want to help."
Tim shakes his head and pushes to his feet, his face so pale that it's distressingly obvious when the skin shivers for a moment, a wave of red scales passing over before disappearing into his hairline. He stomps around the table, arms encircling Jason's waist as he presses his face into solid muscle. "I can't stop you, but I don't want you to do this. Warlocks are really dangerous, and this one has be around for a long time."
"I think I have a pretty good idea of just how dangerous they can be," he says as he rubs Tim's back, his eyes meeting the gazes of two of the villain's most recent victims. "All the more reason to help if there's a chance I can do some good."
"I guess it was too much to hope for that I hadn't fallen for some idiot determined to do the right thing."
"What can I say? It's part of my charm."
In the end, the entire thing turns out to be a lot easier than Jason ever expected. Dinah hands him the egg when the coven is done doing their thing, and Renee helps him draw salt circle at in the chosen trap point in the store and lay a mat over the top. He doesn't even have to buy the mat—the ladies bring it up with them from the basement. It has chalk smudges and bits of salt clinging to its underside, which speaks as a testament to the fact that this is not the first time Knight & Page has been used for this sort of thing.
Mau and the Amazons do… something that causes the entire building to shiver, and then the rest is apparently up to Jason.
"Don't worry," the younger of the two visitors reassures him as they part ways on the stairwell that evening. "I know the young dragon is concerned for your safety, but you are a strong witch. Even though you're untrained, my sister and I can see that the heart of a warrior beats in your chest."
"Yeah, well. I think Tim's main worry is whether that heart a) keeps beating, and b) remains in my chest," Jason jokes, running a hand down the spine of the half-asleep dragon curled up around his neck. He's got Tim's clothes and things in one of the takeout bags, but he doesn't even bother to drop the poor guy off when they pass the door to his place. Date night is totally ruined, and he highly doubts anything will be happening, but he figures they could both do with some cuddling, all things considering.
"There are always dangers when dealing with the immoral and unjust," the princess says. "But there is also power in refusing to allow injustice to perpetuate. And, of course, you are made stronger by simply being in a place of power for your bloodline. Hiram was a formidable wizard in his day, he would be glad to know that his successor does not take his responsibilities lightly."
"Yeah, well, good for him," Jason grumbles, because he still isn't too sure how he feels about the many-times great uncle who never cared about his family until he needed one for something. "Goodnight, princess."
"Goodnight, Jason. And please, call me Donna. We are comrades in arms now."
Jason does some more magic.
A very vague (there-and-you'll miss it) threat of sexual assault is made by a character in this chapter. If you think that might upset you, just skip the paragraph that begins "This won't hold me, not for long," and you're good.
Saturday is far from an ideal day for fighting off evil, since it's one of Knight & Page's busiest days. This Saturday in particular isn't one Jason would have chosen if he'd had a choice, since there's also the peewee game scheduled. However, the witches insist that it's unlikely the warlock will show up immediately despite the building's wards being down, and Barbara seems unconcerned about Charlie manning the counter even with the added risk.
"She knows what to do if he comes in," Barbara says, attempting to fix Charlie's sweater and getting an eyeroll for her efforts. "Don't you?"
"Get the bystanders out of the way, call for Jason," Charlie dutifully replies. "And no teleporting unless my life is in jeopardy."
"Wait, teleporting? Seriously?" Jason had figured it was likely both Dinah and Barbara's fosters had some sort of powers, since he can't believe a dragon and a selkie would choose to take in just any kids, but that's ridiculous.
Charlie grins at him and winks. "Don't worry, I'm very responsible with it."
"She means she makes a big pink cloud when she does it, so it's not something she should be doing in public," Barbara comments, giving the girl a stern look.
Yeah, he can see how that might be counterproductive when trying to stealth out of a situation. "You get me immediately if I'm in the back room. Don't try and pull any heroic bs."
Charlie gives him a doubtful look and rolls her eyes. "I have more training than you."
"Yeah, well. You're a kid and I'm not and that's how it's gonna be."
"To be fair, one of the boys probably has more power in his little finger than either of you ever will," Barbara comments. "I'm sure his father is giving him the exact same talk."
Jason's eyebrows shoot up. "Uh, is that wise? I mean, mundanes and all…?"
Charlie snorts. "If you think the Kents are just any old mundanes, you're seriously out of touch with reality, old man."
"The family has something of a history with warlocks," Barbara explains, frowning at her.
"Shit, maybe I should call and see about rescheduling the game to next week."
"Seriously, Jason, it's fine. Dinah and I called Clark last night to warn him, he's fully aware of the circumstances. If nothing else, he feels better about Jon being here to keep an eye on the other boy just in case something does happen," Barbara says, reaching over to squeeze Jason's hand.
"Tim promised to do that," he says, absentmindedly touching the red body firmly curled around his neck. Theoretically, Tim was only supposed to be around for a session or two, which was the whole point of allowing him to take over a planned NPC and power him up like crazy. That had somehow fallen by the wayside as he managed to have Obleric become an integral part of the party. Jason is still trying to figure out how he'd done it, though, truth be told, he isn't trying as hard as he could be, mainly because he really does appreciate having another adult in the room. And, of course, there's the added bonus of that adult being his boyfriend. "Speaking of, someone should be getting himself to the back room and changing. I've got to open up in five."
"Ugh, okay. But I'm only doing this because Babs and Charlie are here to look after you," Tim grumbles, reluctantly slipping down to grab the waiting bag of clothes and flying off to the back of the store.
"He does realize we're next to useless in a magical fight, right?" Barbara comments, raising an eyebrow.
Jason sighs. "Honestly, considering how clingy he's being, I think he'd attach one of those kiddie leashes to me if he thought he could get away with it."
"Maybe he should ask Renee if he can borrow her handcuffs," Charlie suggests, which earns her a strangled laugh from Barbara. "What?" the girl asks. "It's a legitimate suggestion."
"Yeah, no. I'm gonna let Dinah explain that one to you. I'll be back at five to pick you up," Barbara says, giving the teenager a one-armed hug. "Jason. Good luck with everything. I'm sure you'll do wonderfully."
He should probably check and make sure that's an actual prediction and not just empty words, but at this point, he doesn't want to jinx anything.
Swallowing past the lump in his throat, he unlocks the door and lets her out, flipping the sign in the window to Open.
In the end, Charlie doesn't have to get him, because Mau informs him first, jumping up on the table and plopping herself down in the middle of a dungeon. She's considerate enough that she doesn't knock over any of the miniatures, though she does seem to very deliberately push a die off the table with her tail.
"Come on—I just rolled that," Tim gripes, getting down on his hands and knees to chase the die under a chair.
Jon glances over to the half-closed door and sucks in a deep breath. "Mr. Jason, I think they need you in the store," he says even as Jason's phone starts vibrating in his pocket.
Mau whines in agreement and hops forward to push his laptop closed as he digs out his phone to read the text from Charlie.
"Hey, guys, I gotta go up front to help with a customer," he says, patting his pocket to make sure the egg is still there, whole and safe. "Tim's in charge until I get back, you two behave yourselves."
Tim's head pops out of from under the table, his eyes wide and full of fear. He can't say anything—no well-wishes or protests, because they have to maintain the fiction of normalcy as long as Damian is in the room. Still, Tim's lips move, and he silently mouths words that make Jason's heart clench and really wish he wasn't so hell-bent on doing the right thing.
The warlock is already inside the shop, wandering toward where life-size replicas of legendary W&W weapons are mounted on the back wall, which is good—that's where the mat is hiding a mostly finished salt circle, after all. Point to Harley for knowing the guy's weaknesses.
Jason closes the door firmly behind him and double-checks that the sachet of valerian, evening primrose, and god knows what else that Pam made up for him the night before is still tucked behind the battleax before clearing his throat and speaking. "Can I help you?" He tries to sound confident and normal, like any store-owner might be when faced with a strange-looking customer getting uncomfortably close to some of the priciest stuff in his shop.
"Just checking out your… merchandise," the man says, drawing out the end of the last word so it's almost a hiss. He's just as strange-looking as Jason remembers, with green-black hair, pasty-pale skin, and bright red lips. The sclera of his eyes are a jaundiced yellow, and the overall effect is so disarming that Jason can't help but wonder how Harley was ever drawn in. But everyone looks awful under fluorescent lights and maybe there was some other odd factor going on when she met him, something magical in the worst possible sense.
Jason shifts to the side and, for one brief moment, he sees the man through the break in the hidden salt circle, the break that Renee assured him would keep anyone from sensing the circle until it's too late. Without the circle to cancel whatever spell the warlock has on him, he doesn't look so bad—a little too pale, a little too slender, but not nearly as terrifying as he was a moment ago. A part of him remembers what he told Tim only a few weeks ago, that Harley's ex was harmless and he could take him if need be. Holding onto that feeling, he strives to pretend that this is nothing more than a normal exchange with a normal customer. "We have a bunch of different things available, though I don't let anyone handle the weapons without some proof they can actually pay if they damage anything. They look awesome, but are definitely just for show. Would probably fall to pieces if you tried to hit anyone with one."
J smiles and with one eye Jason sees a pale guy simply curious about what the shop has to offer while with the other eye he sees the hungry, too-sharp smile of a predator intent on luring in its prey. "I appreciate the warning. I wouldn't want to… damage anything," he replies, though now he's completely turned away from the wall-display, his attention fully on Jason. "Not before I've had a chance to try it out."
Jason's senses are sending him conflicting messages, half of them insisting he needs to act now, before it's too late, to take himself out of this situation and as far away as possible. The other half is slow and sluggish, cajoling as it drawls that this is fine, the witches must have exaggerated, there's no danger. It takes conscious, concentrated effort on his part to step to the side, away from the gap that's allowing the warlock's power to escape. As he moves, he pulls his hand out of his pocket, pouring the last small bit of salt needed to complete the circle. It won't be as strong as if the circle were all together on the same level, but Renee assured him it'll be close enough to work. Jason really hopes she's right.
He glances once more at the sachet behind the ax, verifying that it's still there, projecting the strong notice-me-not spell it was enchanted with, then takes a step forward. "You aren't going to be 'trying' anything out ever again. Not if I have anything to say about it."
The warlock hisses, red lips drawing back to reveal teeth that are a little too sharp in gums that are slightly too sparse. "Oh? And I suppose you figure you have enough power to stop me? You'll never manage, you're weak and untrained. Gotham's been mine since before you were even a twinkle in your father's eye."
"Just because you live in a place doesn't make it yours. Even if it did, that would still mean it belongs to everyone else here, not just you. And, hate to break it to you, but we held a vote and decided it was time to kick you off the island." Jason pulls his hand free from his other pocket, this time drawing out the egg.
It's larger than Tim's—not by much, but just enough. Larger and darker, the tint of it closer to puce than pale pink, the speckles across its surface more brown than maroon. The egg of a more mature dragon and their mate, with many more years of experience under their belts, and, with that experience, significantly more magical power. Sigils and symbols are scratched into the shell, describing things that make Jason's skin crawl even though he has yet to gain the learning to ken their exact meaning.
In front of him, the warlock sways forward, obviously entranced by the power hidden below the delicate surface of the egg. "That's not the product of your pet lizard," J says, hunger reverberating under his words. "That's a real dragon egg. Have those idiot witches been filling your head with silly stories about brave young tailors, boy? If they told you it's possible to slay me, they lied. The city may not be mine, no, but I have roots sunk into it so deeply that no one will ever get me free, not even that blond bitch of a dragon and her little circle of sycophants."
Jason narrows his eyes, momentarily allowing himself to be distracted by J's taunts. "He's not a pet, he's a person. Though I guess I shouldn't be surprised you're too dumb to tell the difference between the two."
Black eyes flash and the warlock surges forward, teeth bared and hands raised like horrible, grasping claws, ready to tear flesh from bones if he has half a chance—only to come up short when he slams against the edge of the salt circle. Still, Jason jumps back automatically, glancing around the shop to make sure no one noticed. Charlie is watching him warily from behind the register, but the customers are oblivious to everything that's occurring in this corner, their gaze simply skittering elsewhere whenever they happen to glance in his direction.
"This won't hold me, not for long," the warlock snaps, sounding more than half-crazed as spittle flies free of his mouth and he flattens his hands against the invisible barrier. "And when I get free, I'll drain you dry. You and all those busybody witches, sticking their noses into other people's business and messing about where they don't belong. And when I'm done with them? Then it's your little lizard's turn; I'll have it popping out eggs constantly, until it can't do anything but mindlessly beg for release, just like the animal it is."
Jason… isn't entirely sure what happens next. One moment he's a foot or two away from the circle, intent on putting as much space as he dares between himself and this creature he all but invited into his store. The next moment he's snapping out the release word Pam made him memorize, crushing the small crystal she gave him the night before, dangling from a slim silver chain around his wrist. The result is immediate and sudden, the tiny seeds scattered within the circle bursting into life, twining around the the warlock's legs, torso, arms, holding him fast even as he struggles to break free.
"You are never getting near any of them ever again," he growls, stepping over the circle to grab J's vine-wrapped front. "And if you even touch Tim, I will personally put a bullet through your head myself."
The warlock tries to speak, to move, to do anything, but Pam's spells hold him fast, the vines blooming flowers into his mouth, silencing him to the the point of almost choking. Jason wants to linger, to revel in the power and gloat just a bit longer over this thing that has no respect for others, but he has to keep his focus, to stay centered on what his aim is. The coven made it clear that neither the circle nor the vines would hold the warlock for much longer than it would take to complete the spell.
Taking a deep breath, Jason raises the egg and presses it against J's forehead, slowly moving it downwards as he speaks the binding spell, repeating the words he memorized but doesn't quite understand that are inscribed on its surface. "Release," he says in a language he doesn't know and is quite sure one should avoid ever speaking aloud if they possibly can. "Release yourself from this vessel."
J sways, eyes going glassy as the egg travels down, pulling his soul free, entrapping it within a container without seam or opening, in a cage so powerful it will keep its contents tight and secure forever. As Jason goes, still chanting, still sliding the egg, the warlock's struggles cease and eventually stop. When he reaches the man's toes there is one final, brief, full-body shudder, and then vines crumble to dust, leaving nothing to keep the empty body from crumpling to the floor.
Jason collapses beside it, shaking and clammy, his whole self feeling drained. Vaguely, he thinks he hears someone calling his name from some far-off place. Then his eyes roll back, and the world disappears.
Tim is there when he comes to, squeezing his hand so tightly he's pretty sure it's starting to interfere with his circulation. "Hey, lay off a bit, won't you? I still want to be able to use those fingers."
Immediately, the grip slackens slightly. "Sorry. I was just. You went straight down! I've never seen anything like it."
"Guess it took a bit more power than everyone thought it would," Jason says. "Wait, if you're here, who's looking after the kids?"
"I called Clark and had him pick them up. Or, well. Technically, Mau called him—did you know she has the passcode for your phone memorized? I just talked to him since she's not so good at communicating over electronic devices."
Jason coughs and sits up, leaning heavily into Tim. Glancing around, he's surprised to see he's in his own bed, rather than the store. "What the hell? How long have I been out?"
"A couple hours, now. Artemis carried you up while we were waiting for the ambulance to come from Arkham. Mau and I made an executive decision and had Charlie close up the shop early, on account of a customer having a fit and knocking out the owner," Tim explains, climbing into the bed beside him and snuggling close. "I think you really worried the Amazons when you passed out. They didn't realize J had gotten as strong as he had, that the soul-trapping ritual would take so much out of you. I think they would have had one of the more experienced witches do it if they'd known."
"Yeah, well. It was like I said—I made better bait, so it had to be me." Jason wraps an arm around Tim's waist, pressing a kiss to his cheek. "Thanks for looking out for the kids. I know it must've killed you to be stuck back there while everything went down."
"Well, it wasn't as bad as it could have been."
"I don't know if you realize this, but dragons have excellent hearing," Tim murmurs, turning his head to nuzzle Jason's neck. "And we kind of disregard notice-me-not-spells in general on account of how we're not entirely rooted in the present."
"Good for you, I guess?" Jason's pretty sure it's supposed to have some kind of significance, but his brain is still mushy enough from earlier that he just can't parse the meaning behind Tim's words.
"Generally, dragons are the possessive ones in relationships. It was really nice to hear you defend me like that. Very nice," he murmurs, mouthing at Jason's neck as his hand slides down lower under the covers.
"Oh! That was—of course I had to defend you. I know you can look after yourself, but the way that creep was talking about you—" Jason shivers, shaking his head. He doesn't want to know how J figured out that he's dating a dragon, let alone that that dragon isn't exactly overwhelming in size.
"He'd have a hard time getting me to do anything for him," Tim growls, trying to tug him closer.
Jason resists, shaking his head. "I should really get downstairs and reopen the shop. Hopefully I haven't lost too much business." He starts to swing his legs out of bed when a hand on his arm stops him. "What?"
"You just completed a really big working. You should keep it easy the rest of the day. Plus, well…" The hand on his arm turns from gripping to lightly stroking as Tim's eyelashes lower. "I was thinking that we never got around to trying out the amulet you made the other day. And since the shop is already closed…"
"You remember that Saturday is pretty much my busiest day, right? That some of us are our own bosses and can't just fuck off if we feel the slightest bit under the weather?"
"The way things are going right now, no one's going to be doing any fucking," Tim grumbles. "Look, it's fine. You hardly ever have a day off, and you would probably have to close the shop if it had been a regular emergency anyway. I think Renee said something about how it could be considered a crime scene, on account of how J assaulted you?"
Jason sighs. Tim does have a point—he hardly ever closes the shop, a break would be nice. "Well, I guess. If it's a crime scene anyway."
"You wouldn't want to disturb the evidence."
"The evidence that I totally worked magic on that guy?"
"Don't be silly—the coven cleaned that all up before the bus from Arkham got here. Now, come on. I want to make sure all your bits are in working order after the horrible trauma you suffered."
"Well, when you put it like that…"