We begin with a reimagining of the Batfamily, if Bruce didn't go to the circus one particularly fateful night...but Zatanna Zatara did.
Let us be clear, dear reader, that this is pre-new 52 comic book continuity, in which Zatanna is of Bruce's generation rather than Dick's. Definitely not Young Justice. Cuz otherwise this shit would just be straight up weird. Not that its not anyway, but. Y'know. Degrees of weirdness. Its all relative.
In this particular era of comic book continuity, Zatanna and Bruce have a long history of being acquainted. Before he was Batman, when he was still traveling the world and learning from every teacher he could, he frequently visited circuses and carnivals and the like. They were where he learned escape artist tricks, picked up things from magicians’ acts like Zatanna’s (such as sleight of hand and misdirection, etc), and acrobatics. In many retellings of Dick's origin, its literally the reason Bruce was at Haly’s Circus the night the Graysons died - he came with a date, of course, but really he was there scoping out their act to see if there were any tricks he could learn from or incorporate into his own repertoire.
But just as Bruce knew Zatanna even before they teamed up in the Justice League, because he frequented circuses, carnivals and traveling shows that Zatanna worked with.....so too, is there every possibility that there exists a universe where generations of Zatara stage magicians had at times met or even become family friends with generations of Grayson acrobats.
So! AU where Zatanna was in Gotham visiting friends at Haly’s the night the Graysons died. And rather than watch Dick get shoved into an uncaring system when they took him away from his home and refused to let him stay with his circus family and community, the Mistress of Magic spirited Dick away and took custody of him herself.
Which of course leads to Dick being raised by Zatanna instead of Bruce, where he continued to work as a performer alongside her - but as her magician’s assistant instead of an acrobat. (Though he still kept up with his acrobatics thanks to Zee’s acrobat friends letting him train on their trapeze whenever he had the itch to fly again). Dick grows up learning all the escape artist tricks, all the misdirection and sleight of hand Bruce learned from magicians and later taught him, but straight from the source this time rather than via Bruce.
And eventually, Dick - child prodigy that he is - discovers that Zatanna’s act is the equivalent of hiding in plain sight, the perfect misdirection to cover up that she is a real magician, a homo sapiens magi, born naturally gifted in the mystic arts and one of the most powerful sorceresses in the world. Dick might not ever have her natural aptitude for her type of magic, but there are many kinds of magic in the world. And thanks to her work (both as a professional magician and as a reserve member of the Justice League and occasional superheroine herself) Zatanna knows all the other best and most talented magicians and sorcerers in the world. And many of those, Dick can learn from.
All of which leads to him eventually sneaking out at night as a vigilante on his own. Dick combines his acrobatics with things like knife throwing and flashy misdirection that disguises his actual conjurings and spellwork when in the midst of battle. His specialties are illusion magics, spells of disguise and manipulation of shadows...vanishing into smoke and conjuring temporary doubles out of mirrors, and much, much more.
Just enough of what he does isn’t real, villains never see it coming when Dick conjures a real fireball right after they’d identified just enough of the previous ones as harmless illusions, they thought it was safe to stop dodging. He makes up for not having the raw power of other magicians by capitalizing upon his ability to build and sell an act.
Eventually he forms the Teen Titans with other sidekicks like Wonder Girl, Speedy, Kid Flash and Aqualad…as well as Barbara Gordon aka Batgirl, protégé of the Batman. Even if you asked them, his best friends couldn’t say how much he’s actually capable of either. Though with them, its not because he doesn’t trust them....its just that he’s a total troll.
Dick always dismisses any talk of him being a sorcerer or calling what he does magic. Instead he just grins and winks and says he knows a few tricks, that's all. What he considers ‘a few’ or how far he stretches the definition of ‘a trick'....well, that’s anyone’s guess. His entire hero career and reputation spins out of the fact that as far as everyone else knows, he could be one of the more powerful sorcerers to walk the earth….or he could simply be a great actor who makes the most out of a relative handful of lesser spells that are within his capabilities. Even his own teachers can’t say for sure. Every time someone thinks they’ve got his range figured out, he mischievously pulls out a new spell his previous shows of power have never hinted he’d be capable of, just to keep people guessing.
And maybe Zatanna and Dick are back performing in Gotham one winter. Dick’s off visiting Batgirl while they’re in town as Zatanna takes a late night stroll and passes through Crime Alley. No particular reason, its just an expedient route and she's hardly someone who needs to be concerned by its reputation.
Which is when a homeless street kid named Jason Todd tries to pick her pocket.
Naturally, it doesn’t exactly work out too well, given who she is. But Zatanna Zatara is one to appreciate the irony of someone trying to pick her pocket…as well as impressed at how close he comes to actually managing it. She takes him to a diner to feed him, coaxes enough of his story from him she figures out he has no one to look out for him and will never trust Gotham’s foster system (not that she’d blame him, given what she saw of it when she first took custody of Dick and had her doubts about whether she was doing the right thing for him). And figuring since it worked out well for her the first time she went down this road, she offers Jason a fresh start elsewhere with her and Dick.
It isn’t long before Jason’s intellect and skilled hands prove equally effective at sleight of hand and magician’s tricks. Additionally, he's an eager student for every bit of actual magic his new big brother shares, along with what he learns from the teachers Zee and Dick both introduce him to. Over time, he gravitates towards different tutors and specialties than Dick. Illusions and mindgames, smoke and mirrors…that fits Dick’s natural showmanship and performer’s nature, but its not Jason’s style. Oh, he can bluff the hell out of anyone, make no mistake. Never play poker with him, and his natural bravado easily translates into working a crowd and playing a stage alongside Zee and Dick when they're all working. Its just not his preference.
No, Jason goes more for practical magic, straightforward approaches to achieving his intended results. Cut out the bullshit. Spells of primal force and elemental magicks. Charms and runes of strength, healing and protection that augment his capabilities when he wades into a fight fists first and just starts brawling. He’s not afraid to summon a demon or two and make a bargain to achieve his ends - he’s even got the names of a couple inked into his skin as tattoos, a summoning shortcut that lets him call on his personal faves in a moment of desperation. Even demons have trouble circumventing a summoning or breaking free of its parameters when those things are etched permanently onto his body.
Dick does tend to have a few elemental spirits always nearby and easily summoned without much notice or prep time, but Dick being Dick, in his case its just because he made friends with them. There’s a couple of wind sprites always hanging around on the off-chance he gets into a fight and might need their help. They find such instances to be extremely fun and exciting, and also they’ve adopted the fun little bird human who flies as a kindred spirit.
In contrast, Jason comes home one day and Zatanna catches him trying to change the coverings on a new tattoo without her noticing. She's not mad because he's fifteen and not supposed to be getting tattoos. She's not exactly thrilled about that either, but no, of greater concern to her is the fact that the tattoo is a name written in a long dead alphabet. A name she recognizes as that of a primordial demon she was extremely clear about being one of those forces beyond her teenage son's ken, and which he most certainly was not supposed to be messing around with.
Jason's expression tightens mulishly and Zatanna longs for the days when that was just purple prose she read in books sometimes while wondering vaguely how that even worked and what that actually looked like.
"Dick said I had to," her younger son says. He folds his arms across his chest defiantly. Zatanna closes her eyes and counts to five.
"I did not!" her older son yells right on schedule. The air shimmers like heat waves rising off pavement on a hot summer day and Dick drops the cloaking spell he's been using to eavesdrop. She's not sure why he even bothered with the thing; they both knew he was there the whole time. Not because his spell hadn't been text book perfect and beyond even her ability to pierce mystically, but because Dick tended to forget all the magic in the world can't keep predictable behavior from being predicted.
"You literally said Jason, you gotta do the thing," Jason insists, doubling down. Dick's arms flail like an anthropomorphic windmill tripping on shrooms.
"No, I literally said Jason, don't do the thing," Dick shrieks, cartoonishly outraged. Zatanna fights back a small smile despite the situation. She's seen her eldest smoothly engage a minor deity in a verbal chess match as the fate of his fellow Teen Titans hung in the balance, all without once breaking a sweat. One blatant lie delivered straight to his face by his younger brother though, and he went zero to sixty in two point five seconds, skipping straight past the realization he was being played. Zee still had every intention of grounding her youngest for the next decade for being so dumb as to ink himself with a mystical tether to a demon that once ate an entire civilization - yes, ate - but that didn't mean she couldn't also be impressed at Jason's attempt at finessing himself out of this situation. He'd jumped straight to the only thing that had even had a prayer of distracting Zee from his teenage idiocy - Dick at Defcon Five. Now if only she could get him to apply that same level of forethought to things like oh, the possible longterm consequences of giving a supernatural Being of Mass Destruction a direct dial up connection to him....
Dick turns desperate eyes on her. "Seriously Mom, I swear. I said the actual words 'Jason NO.'"
"See?" Jason flings his arm at his brother in triumphant vindication. "Have you met me? Everyone knows that's code for 'Jason YES.'"
"Oh my god, I will curse you to rot the pages of every first edition you touch," Dick hisses dramatically. Jason pales briefly, but rallies.
"And really, how is this any different from when you slept with Batgirl and I said that was a really bad idea and its totally gonna end up biting you in the ass, and then you said that I shouldn't have told you to do it then?"
"That's completely different," Dick howls, reverting back to Windmill, Drunk In A Windstorm. "You said 'Don't be mad, but that new scrying spell I was trying accidentally locked on to Batgirl instead of Batman and I saw her walking home from school out of costume just for a second before I shut off the spell but spoiler alert, she doesn't wear a wig while in costume, she really is a redhead even with her cowl off, which means now you gotta sleep with her, like, we all know its gonna happen anyway now. PS its Barbara Gordon, that's the punchline, you're already obsessed with her, oh crap now you're gonna be insufferable huh.' Which by the way, I so am not. Jerk."
"Yes," Jason says slowly and with exaggerated patience. Zatanna's migraine builds and builds. "And then I said, 'Dick, no, stop, I was making a joke, you don't actually have to...' and you said 'No, but I gotta'. Your shirt was practically already off by the time I finished saying 'redhead.'"
"Well, duh! Of course it was! Have you met me?" Dick volleys back in what Zee really hopes is her eldest making a deliberate callback to her youngest's earlier crack, and not some bizarre teenage superstition that has him actually thinking nope nope those thoughts are in the Bad Place, Zatanna, its absolutely believable that Dick is actually still twelve and the boys are just using embellishing language to feel grown up. C'mon, if you try hard enough you can milk a good thirty more seconds of denial about your son's sex life, you're literally magic, you can do this.
The ludicrousness of it all is so effortlessly identical to his brother's idiocy just moments prior, Zatanna has a brief, uncharitable thought that the Graysons had a second child they gave up for adoption and nobody ever told either of the boys. She opens her mouth to put a stop to the nonsense, but what comes out:
"You slept with Bruce's protégé?"
Dick pauses mid-rant and fidgets uneasily. His eyes dart around the room as if expecting the Batman to appear, summoned by the power of his name. "Umm. Only a couple times?" he says slash asks, warily.
"On several different occasions," Jason adds gleefully. Zatanna rubs her temples and rounds on him before Dick can return fire.
"And you tried to scry Batman?"
"Umm," Jason stutters. Stops. Aims an accusing finger at his brother again. "Dick dared me to!"
"That's it! Curse coming right up," Dick snaps, fingers crooking into arcane gestures.
"Enough! Both of you!" Zatanna feels slightly guilty when both boys fall silent and hunch over, metaphorical tails between their legs. Even when they were being obnoxious, it was still weirdly charming in a way - eww, who even was she right now? Maternity was a mistake. Still, she couldn't find it in herself to bring down the full force of her ire when all they were doing really was being....ridiculous boys being ridiculous brothers. She sighs and contemplates telling them just to go to bed, they'd discuss it in the morning after she'd had time to cool off and think about it....decides god no, that risks all of this happening all over again. Splits the difference and calls it a night.
"Jason, you're grounded for a month for whatever you did to even get someone to give you a tattoo while under eighteen without parental approval. And you're grounded from any spells outside of lesson plans and homework assigned by one of your tutors until you can tell me in detail why I'm concerned your choice of tattoo was an absolutely terrible idea, and you can present me with no less than three different wards or counterspells that prepare for the possibility of that absolutely terrible idea becoming an absolutely terrible catastrophe. Not a word," she finishes sharply with a pointed finger, when he starts to protest. He sulkily subsides again.
"Dick, one word answers only, no explanations, excuses or qualifiers. You made sure Barbara knew exactly who you were and that you knew exactly who she was before you both....made it extremely awkward for me to look Bruce in the eye at the next Justice League meeting?"
"Yes," Dick says wincing.
"You used protection....each time on each different occasion?"
"Yes," her eldest says, examining the floor as if weighing the likelihood of it opening up and swallowing him whole.
"You're not being every gross stereotype of teenage boys as normalized by Hollywood, using or objectifying girls in the name of toxic masculinity - you actually have feelings for this girl?"
"Yes," he says firmly, meeting her eyes again. Zatanna nods, letting that linger as she absorbs both his sincerity and the passage of time. Where did the last decade and that little eight year old with the baby fat and chipmunk cheeks go? But then, this is good too, she decides, and she nods, satisfied. Course, a little embarrassment is good for the soul, she figures.
"You understand that the world is full of other smart, beautiful redheads you could have chosen to pursue with far less complications?"
"Be right back, have to go die now," Dick announces loudly, and Zatanna chuckles and takes pity on him. Jason's paler Irish skin goes red at the drop of a hat, but it takes a much higher level of mortal humiliation for Dick's darker skin to betray any kind of blush.
"Nothing to get all red in the face about, sweetheart," she says because okay, she can be kinda a bitch sometimes, look her kids had to get it from somewhere. Jason cackles, doubling over with mirth and Zatanna makes her exit while her youngest is too busy being amused at his brother's expense to remember he's ticked about being grounded.
She lingers on the other side of the wall, drinking in the sound of Jason's laughter and Dick's sulking, long enough that she's still there to overhear when Dick silences his brother's entertainment:
"Saved your ass, you manipulative little shit. Don't think I didn't know what you were doing there. You owe me for playing along."
"Yeah, yeah, all hail Benevolent Big Brother Dick," Jason grumbles, but there's gratitude beneath the grumbling. Zatanna's eyes narrow as she reflects on how much lighter a sentence Jason ended up with, compared to what her first instincts had intended. Well, crap. Dick hadn't been the one oblivious to all the layers of that little episode at all, had he? That was annoyingly humbling. Still, Zatanna shakes her head at herself and goes to bed with a smile. She respects the art of the con too much to be upset her children learned more from her teachings than she'd realized.
Well played, boys.
The brothers' respective preferences in summonings aren't the only places they differ. Where Dick has a half a dozen spells of invisibility or intangibility on stand by in case he needs to sneak into a heavily fortified place, Jason stays stocked up with an equivalent number of spells capable of just blowing the front door off its hinges.
Jason’s most likely got more raw power and talent than Dick in terms of natural magical ability to be drawn upon, while Dick has more finesse and outside the box creativity in making the most of what he's working with. And also unlike his brother, Jason's definitely not concerned with embellishing or disguising his true capabilities. Instead he just lets his magic do the talking.
Oh, the art of the con is still as much a part of him as it is Zatanna and Dick. He just manifests it in different ways. Where Dick likes to keep people on their toes and guessing at what he’s capable of, Jason’s more than happy to whip out a showy display of pure power to establish his bonafides. Its his intentions he likes to keep them uncertain of. He’s more mercurial by nature than Dick in many respects. Dick's unpredictable and whimsical in his specific actions, but they all fall well within the range of being chaotic good in theory and effect. Jason prefers a more chaotic neutral stance.
He likes to toe both sides of the line, making sure nobody ever takes his motivations - or him - for granted. He gets a kick out of people being obvious about trying stay on his good side in case they ever need him or his talents. Jason's not actually all that bothered by people only wanting him around for what he can do for them....as long as he can tell the difference between those people and the ones who are genuinely invested in having him around simply because he's him. If he’s gotta guess at what people want from him or their agendas, he’d rather keep all that out in the open and honest. On his terms, not theirs. Respect what he brings to the table or don’t invite him to the party. It’s that simple, as far as he's concerned.
And then of course, Tim Drake being Tim Drake, his inclusion into their little family happens exactly as you’d expect.
He literally follows them home one day.
His neglectful absentee parents are archaeologists, after all. They spend more of their time away at dig sites than they do at home with him. When they are home though, they make a show of caring, a spectacle even. They take him out to the circus and to shows, parading him in public so everyone can see what a nice family they all are and how much they dote on their only child.
So just like in canon, Tim’s there at the circus too, the night the Graysons are murdered. And in the years to follow, he’s at a number of the Zataras’ magic shows as well. Even without finding footage of a quadruple somersault performed midair between rooftops, Tim puts together that Dick and Jason are the two masked and mystical teen superheroes who spend as much time doing flips as they do weaving spells. Throwing punches as often as fireballs and vanishing via subterfuge as easily as they do by sorcery.
And Tim's parents, being the kind of archaeologists who grew up as rich bored white Gotham elites who picked archaeology as their field of study because its not like they actually needed to work and they’d watched Indiana Jones so often, they were like, yes, excellent, I will model my life adventures and career path after this movie and its obviously accurate depiction of archaeology…So they’re the kind of archaeologists who have no actual respect for the artifacts they dig up and just like how they look in their home or behind glass museum cases with plaques about who donated them.
Tim however, is not dumb, way better than his parents, and has a lot of free time and a hobby of researching everything. So eventually he discovers the real origins of a lot of artifacts his parents have around the house, and determines that a) they really shouldn’t be here, and b) some of these have spiritual and even mystical reputations and power and are possibly very dangerous in the wrong hands or even just when removed from their resting places or lands/cultures of origin, so they really shouldn’t be here.
So the next time the Zataras’ magic show comes to Gotham, Tim (carefully) stuffs his backpack full of as many as he can carry, and he sneaks out to go watch the show. And then he follows them back to where they’re staying. He introduces himself and says he knows who they are and could they please help him return all these artifacts to where they belong and also hurry because some of them might blow up the world if they’re gone too much longer and that’s not WHY he wants to return them, like they should just because its the right thing to do, but he thought he should mention it because it seems like it could potentially be an important factor. He’d do it himself, except he’s not allowed to go on a plane without an adult. But he did write apology notes to go with each artifact for his parents taking them without asking, and also could he have their autographs?
Dick blinks cartoonishly large eyes, sweeps the ten year old off his feet into a giant hug and announces: “We’re keeping him.”
Zatanna tries to do this in an orderly fashion, of course. “Tim, where are your parents? Do they know you’re here?”
Dick huffs dismissively. “Irrelevant. We’re keeping him. Look how adorable he is, is there really anyone who could possibly appreciate his adorableness more than us? No. Ergo. We’re keeping him.”
Jason rolls his eyes. “He’s not a pet, asshole. And adorableness isn’t a word, stop making up words, I will punch you, I swear to God. But also yeah, we’re keeping him.”
Tim’s heart is having a full on meltdown at the thought that two of his heroes want him to stay, but he’s a Drake and Drakes are very big on Proper and Protocols and Decorum, and all kinds of other things gratuitously capitalized because Pretentiousness. He’s pretty sure this isn’t how things work. “I’m not actually supposed to be out by myself, so I definitely should be home before nine because that’s my bedtime…”
Dick takes him into his bedroom, drops him on his bed and says: “There you go. You’re in bed and its not even eight o’clock yet. Problem solved.”
“…I think it only counts if I’m in bed in my bed?”
Dick snaps his fingers and the headboard is mystically inscribed with"Tim” in a flourish of colorful sparks. “See? Its your bed now. It has your name on it and everything. This can be your new room and I’ll bunk with Jay. We can’t have you share a room with him, he snores and you’re too adorable to inflict that on. Growing boys need at least eight hours of restful sleep.”
Tim chews his lip. He’s not entirely sure the older boy’s logic is sound, but when laid out in that fashion, it doesn’t sound completely unreasonable, right? He makes one last token attempt to get up. Jason sits on him. Gently, but still.
“Oh no, we’re holding him against his will. We’ve officially kidnapped him at this point,” Jason says cheerfully. “Mom, you better go find his parents and tell them their son is missing and being held hostage and won’t be released until they can explain to the police why their son’s kidnappers had to notify them that their son was missing and had wandered all the way through Gotham at night alone.”
Tim protests. “Its not a big deal. I do that all the time!”
Jason and Dick look at him. Look at each other. Look at Zatanna. Arch their eyebrows pointedly.
Zatanna sighs. As ridiculous as her boys are being, this has played out about how she expected it would the second she realized the ten year old was completely on his own and used to it. And face it, she says to herself. They’re only like this because she’s like this. She regrets everything except also she regrets nothing. Not that she’ll tell them that right now. They both look a little too smug in her opinion. Let ‘em sweat for at least a few hours.
“I’ll go see what the situation is and figure out what to do next. Stay here and don’t let him eat too much sugar. And if you watch TV, nothing R-rated.”
Dick rolls his eyes. “We know. We’re not gonna scar the kid in like, the couple hours you’re gone.”
“You made your brother watch The Babadook when he was eleven.”
“Well that’s different. He was being an ass. Timmy’s being adorable. Completely unrelated situations,” Dick says in the tone of someone who thinks they’re being reasonable.
Jason scowls. “Wow, are you seriously victim blaming me for the nightmares I got from that shit? Way to make fun of my psychological trauma, asshole.”
“Hey, I didn’t make you watch that movie. I told you to go to bed.” Dick idly examines his nails. "You’re the one who said you were too old to have a bed time and you could stay up as late as I could and anything I could watch you could watch too.”
“Oh please. That’s basic reverse psychology. You knew exactly what you were doing.”
“But Jay-jay, I thought you were too smart to ever fall for my tricks the way all my dumbass friends always do! Are you saying that’s not true? Did I actually manipulate my brilliant little brother who has always been much too clever and much too observant to ever be tricked into doing exactly what I wanted him to do? Is that what you’re saying?”
“Hey good news, Tim, neither of us will have to share a room after I murder this assface in his sleep.”
“Don’t worry Timmy, that’s just Jason-ese for I love you.”
Zatanna sighs again and leaves before they can see her grinning. She enables their antics far too much as it is.
Within a week, the Zataras officially have custody of Timothy Jackson Drake. The boys are pretty sure that’s way too quickly for it to have happened legally, and there might have been a spell or two speeding up the process. But they don’t actually care, so. Yeah.
Unlike his brothers, Tim is the only one to fully embrace the titles of magician or sorcerer. His mind is his strength, research is his specialty, and its just inefficient in his opinion to waste time with the acrobatics and brawling that come naturally to them but would need to be acquired skills for him. Instead he just devotes all his studying to the mystic arts, learning from teachers with all kinds of specialties, but also just as much from his research of old texts and his theorizing on the natures of various forms of magic and how they interact. He happily spends hours poring over a dozen different translations and scribbling notes as he goes, distilling complex rituals into new forms that allow for the substitution of more commonplace ingredients and thus greatly widen the scope of his repertoire.
He has a talent for doing all the legwork on a dozen different spells of incredible complexity and then leaving them ‘hanging’ - specially tweaked to allow him to leave just the last bits incomplete, easily stored in his eidetic memory and ready to be called upon and triggered in mere moments as he finishes the last bit of any given spell with just a few words. Thus doing in the heat of battle what other sorcerers would require hours to replicate.
All three brothers end up gravitating to different superhero teams as they grow older, but all of them have their reputations within the hero community at large. Its generally expected that if you have a problem that needs a magical solution, and you’ve got enough time for preparation and planning - you call Tim. If you need to blow shit up and in a hurry - you call Jason. And if you’re just plain fucked and need a Hail Mary - you call Dick.
You’re usually gonna get all three anyway though, so whatever.
At some point when Tim's around fifteen or so himself, the Court of Owls ends up trying to get their Talons on Dick, because they suck and are terrible and entitled and their only real possible value comes from being a wasted potential metaphor for how often everyone seems to have their own ideas or expectations for what Dick should be doing or saying or feeling at any given time, with most of the things others get pissed about him for in the comics essentially boiling down to Dick doing or saying or feeling things that don't match up to their expectations or presumptions, and that people wouldn't bat an eye about anyone else doing or saying or feeling, its just Dick's supposed to be different, he's doing (x) wrong, ugh he can't even be traumatized properly without him usually ending up apologizing to other people for the fact that he was the one who was just screwed over, weird, its almost like these things are connected. I mean whoops, this is story time, not meta about all the thoughts and feels I, the dastardly fourth wall breaking narrator, have whilst butthurt on behalf of Dick. My badness.
Yes, when last we left our intrepid heroes, rich entitled bastards with a pervy penchant for nursery rhymes and child assassins had set their sights on claiming Dick and turning him into their mindless zombie bird-themed killing machine.
In all fairness, they did lead with the extremely persuasive argument of 'look we totally called dibs before he was even born, so.....step off??'
Then they kidnapped him and attempted to turn him into their mindless zombie bird-themed killing machine.
Compelling argument though that may be, Dick's brothers are not impressed. They are, however, magical, hyper-competent and extremely petty slash vindictive.
All of which is to say, Tim turns the Court into a bunch of actual owls. And then Jason summons a giant murderous hawk-demon from another dimension that eats all the owls.
And then they wait for Dick to wake up from all the drugs the Court pumped him full of in preparation for The Ritual of Zombie Assassin Making. And Tim just has to ruin it, that asshole.
"You know, hawks aren't naturally the enemies of owls," Tim says out of nowhere. Well. Not out of nowhere so much as out of concern, because Tim's natural physiological response to being worried is to get pedantic.
"What," says Jason flatly. Which is his natural physiological response to Tim being. Y'know. Tim.
Tim shrugs, his eyes intent on their older brother, who is still making like Sleeping Beauty and sooooo gonna get razzed by them for that later, once the Worry and Anxiety have all exited stage right. "It just felt like you were going for a theme. Which is fine, I'm just saying, owls don't actually have natural predators. One might occasionally get killed by a hawk, but usually that's more of a territorial dispute and still pretty much an outlier in terms of statistics."
"Why would you even say that to me right now," says Jason flatly. Not asking, because its a rhetorical question and he's currently glaring the answer to it straight at Tim's back, and that answer is ugh you are such an annoying little shit sometimes.
Which is why when Dick groggily starts to come to, he's greeted by a soundtrack of:
"God, I'm so sorry, I'm just the worst for giving you information that you didn't know before, since clearly if you had you wouldn't have gone with a hawk!"
"Well what the fuck should I gone with, a demonic taxidermist? Like excuse me for being in such a rush to heap vengeance on the pretentious shits who kidnapped our brother, I didn't have time to go to wikipedia and figure out the most appropriate dramatic irony!"
"First off, why would you ever go to wikipedia as a source, we have literally had this exact argument several dozen times - "
"First off, are you seriously giving me bullet points right now. Seriously. Bullet points. Right now. That's a thing that's happening."
"You are such an infant. How are you five years older than me? I make one little critique and you bite my freaking head off - "
"What's happening?" Dick croaks out into one of the few synchronized pauses for breath. "Where are we?"
"The secret underground lair of an evil society of ornithologists who kidnapped you because your milkshake brings all the weirdos to the yard," Jason says crankily, still glaring at Tim.
Not that fuzzy, barely conscious but always guilt-prone Dick could possibly know that its not actually him Jason's ticked at. Tim face palms at his middle brother because what are bedside manners, clearly.
"A bird-themed cult calling themselves the Court of Owls pre-selected you to be turned into the general of their elite zombie assassin army," Tim recites quickly, predicting Dick's likely request for further information.
"Well that's rude," Dick frowns. He cracks open one eye experimentally, winces when even the dim lighting is enough to give his pounding headache a booster shot. Tries the other eye. Nope. Both eyes are in agreement. Light is the enemy of all that is good right now. Ugh. Definitely rude. He likes light. How dare someone incite this unforgivable betrayal from his BFF, light? "I don't think I care for their recruitment strategy. Although at least they wanted me to be the Boss Zombie Assassin I guess."
"Yes," Tim replies dolefully. "That does appear to be the silver lining here."
Despite their antagonism of thirty seconds ago, Jason snickers. They're nuanced like that.
"Well his usual priorities seem to be in place, so I think its safe to say we got to him before they could do any actual brainwashing," Jason says. "All in favor of blowing this popsicle stand?"
"Wait, there are popsicles?"
"No, there aren't popsicles in the evil cult's secret underground murder lair. Its a figure of speech, dumbass."
"Hey," Dick pouts. He coughs once, weakly, but Jason's eyes narrow in sudden suspicion of Milking It Syndrome. "Be nice to me. I was just kidnapped and almost made an Elite Zombie Assassin Boss and my head hurts and is all fuzzy and you know how I feel about popsicles. You shouldn't joke about them if you don't have any, that's just mean. But uh, should we be rushing? If the bad guys are coming back soon I do vote for the not being here option, like, just in case turning me into the Zombie Apocalypse is still on the evil cult agenda."
He would manage to latch onto the Elite and Boss part of that info dump, wouldn't he, Jason muses. What's the timeline for how long you have to express sympathy for your almost-brainwashed brother before you can yell at him for being insufferable about it? Is half an hour long enough?
"No, its fine," Tim assures their brother. "We uh....were slightly miffed about the whole kidnapping you thing, and so we were.....efficient? I guess you could say? About making sure they wouldn't do it again. I turned them all into owls."
"And then I summoned a hawk demon that ate them. You're welcome," Jason adds, not about to be left out. Even if he's going to have words later about being characterized as 'miffed.' The walking almanac knows more words in more languages than anyone in human history, pretty much, and he goes with miffed. The fuck, Timmy. The actual fuck.
"Aww, you guys, that's so sweet." Dick beams at them. Albeit at somewhat lower than his usual wattage. Then his forehead wrinkles slightly in confusion. "Why a hawk demon? Do owls not like hawks or something?"
Tim smirks at Jason viciously.
"I hate you with the searing intensity of a thousand suns," Jason tells his brat of a younger brother. "Also, gonorrhea."
Zatanna then teleports into the middle of the room with a flash of light and a hurried rush to the side of her lying-on-the-ground, suddenly flailing eldest son.
"Gah, evil light is evil! Curse your betrayal!" Dick wails dramatically, flinging an arm across his face despite the visible effort movement is still taking. Because he really is just that invested in keeping his Melodrama Game on point, willing to play through the pain if necessary. Jason rolls his eyes. If nothing else, he can at least respect his older brother's ability to commit.
"What happened here?" Zatanna wastes no time before asking, even as she begins running her hands lightly over Dick and muttering chants to divine for unseen injuries or influencing substances. Tim catches her up to speed with another dry recitation of the day's events. It doesn't sound any less ridiculous the second time around.
"And you two decided to just rush right into the heart of a criminal organization's secret headquarters with no plan, no way of knowing what you were jumping headfirst into and no back up?" Zatanna snaps out in a biting tone that's 70% Frantic Motherly OMG I Could've Lost All Three Of You I Don't Know What I Would've Done and 30% How Are You Seriously This Dumb, No, I Really Want To Know, You Boys Share Zero Genetics So It Can't Possibly Be Mutually Inherited Dumbness And Yet Here You All Are Being This Dumb, How, Why, I Strenuously Object.
At least, Jason's pretty sure its 70/30.
Eh. Maybe 60/40.
He looks at Tim and they both shrug. "We left a note," Jason offers lamely.
Their mightily miffed mother - and Jason totally gets it now, good call on that one actually, Timbo, Miffed can totally be intimidating, turns out - is not even slightly appeased.
"Yes, I did see your note," Zatanna says, slow and dangerous, an ominous cold front that's frosty enough to reverse global warming. Jason shivers. "The one that read 'Dick kidnapped by crazy bird freaks. Went to go get him. Somewhere in Gotham's sewers. Ugh why is it always sewers, I fucking hate sewers. Be back later. Love, Jason and Tim.' That note?"
Jason's honestly not sure what the problem is. All the relevant information was there. Tim glares at him.
"I knew I should have written the note," he hisses like an angry cat. Jason rolls his eyes again, because really, what other weapon does he have against his brothers' Drama?
"We had time for me to write a note, Tim. We didn't have time for you to write an essay with fully annotated footnotes all properly accredited according to MLA approved guidelines."
"I can be brief!"
"Name one time that you have ever been brief about anything. Ever."
"Just because I can't think of anything right this second doesn't mean it didn't happen! You're just putting me on the spot," he sulks.
"Whatever. I'm not going to apologize for being in a rush. We had an older brother to save from evil brainwashing birdwatchers, remember? Would everyone prefer we took our sweet time and got here and found Zombie Dick instead?"
Tim wilts. Their mother thaws. Jason savors the moment. He so rarely gets to enjoy the moral high ground. Its nice, really. He can kinda see the appeal from up here, actually.
"That's Elite General Zombie Dick to you, peon," Dick chooses that moment to interject. Jason inhales through his nose. Five seconds. Five whole seconds that lasted.
"Seriously?" He asks his older brother. Dick blinks innocently.
"I am very traumatized by my near undeath experience," he explains. "That's just my coping mechanism."
Jason's eye twitches.
Later still, Jason somehow winds up getting into it with the Joker of all people, in Ethiopia of all places. Seriously, what, he still doesn't understand how or why any of that happened. His life, man. So fucking random.
But that's a story for another day. It doesn't end all that badly, all things considered, not nearly as bad as it could've. The moral of the story is essentially that six out of seven days, Jason is still the brother best avoided in dark alleys, but on the seventh day....Dick and Timmy are perhaps best avoided as well.
And later still, some jackass with a Wizard of Oz fetish decides that Tim-napping isn't just the worst colossally bad fucking idea any misfiring synapses have ever conceived. In this AU though, we stan brothers who check, double check and triple check before calling a time of death, because like the saying goes, fool us once, shame on you, fool us thirty seven times in just any single given decade, then yeah, that's probably on us at that point....
But non-brother approved Tim Tormenting is highly frowned upon in this universe, so Dick and Jason make like the Brothers Grimm, sharpen their spells and go questing down a literal yellow brick road that Dick conjures to lead them straight to the mysterious Mister Oz. And one of these days, Jason would really like to know where Dick gets some of his spells, he really would. Because. Yeah. Never mind, that's best unpacked another day, he figures.
Truthfully, that's all a story for another day as well, as Dick and Jason and Tim probably need to compare notes first and clear up a few things among themselves. None of them are entirely sure they even get what all of that was even about at all. It all seemed very strange and unnecessary, the standard villain monologues were a lot less explanatory than usual, nobody ever really satisfactorily explained Why You So Creepily Interested In Our Baby Bro, Bee Tee Dubs, and the deeper down the rabbit hole they all went, the more every reveal seemed to lead to an increasingly smaller Russian nesting doll hidden inside in the previous one.
And maybe the bad guy was Superman's dead dad from Krypton, which...okay, weird, whatever. And maybe he was just a patsy and the real monster all along was this giant glowing blue guy who seemed to have every power imaginable except for the power to put on a freaking pair of pants? I mean, everyone needs a gimmick, I guess. And then behind that funhouse mirror they found maybe the real villain all along was some rando in a toga who called himself Ozymandias and claimed to have been a hero, and nope, nuh uh, Jason isn't buying that for a second, he says you named yourself in reference to a line that literally says Look Upon My Works O Ye Mighty And Despair and you're saying everyone just went yup, that checks out, we've got ourselves a hero here, pure intentions through and through? Nope, sorry, not buying it.
And Ozy's face got as purple as the costume that would've gotten him in the door to any frat party but not much else, and honestly, as much as it flaps in a firm breeze its not even a step up from Dr. Moons Over Manhattan's permanent residency at a nude ranch he takes with him everywhere he goes, more of a lateral move really....
And he opened his mouth to say something suitably villainous and to do something no doubt dastardly, but that's when Dick cut him off with a yawn and a "Oh my god I have never been this bored in my life, I honestly don't care. Literally nobody asked." And he conjured up his yellow brick road again, told them he had no idea which of them needed the brain, which the heart and which the courage, but like...discuss among yourselves, and then he and Jason punted all three losers off to see the Wizard except Dick shrugged after shutting down the spell and said that guy died, like, five years ago. Its just no one else there has figured that out yet. Whoops. Oh well.
Look, its as clear and understandable a resolution to that particular adventure as anyone else might have doled out over an unnecessarily padded number of weeks until the patience of everyone involved was stretched well past the point of reason, so....whatever. That's what happened, the end.
And then Jason blows some shit up until he feels better about how obnoxiously pointless all that was and there's lots of yelling about worst bad guys ever, is there no vetting process anymore, are the inmates running the asylum, has the whole universe gone mad. Which somehow segues into Tim yelling about is Jason seriously upstaging him at his own Dramatic Rescue, how is this about him, oh my god, can't I even get five whole minutes to angst without you carjacking the family Waah-mobile.
Meanwhile Dick leans back contentedly against the one wall still standing as a convenient backdrop, and watches the baby bros go. And Mom says they don't have any family traditions.
He actually really enjoys these moments. At least the ones where nobody's yelling at him.
But again, as I said....really all that's a tale for another day. On this day, what remains of significance is the universal truism that no matter the universe, the timeline, the place or the time or the people.....
If there be a Bruce, then that Bruce is gonna Bruce.
And we all know what that looks like.
That is to say:
Meanwhile, back in Gotham, events unfold in strangely familiar ways. Even if some of their usual players are currently preoccupied sojourning their way back across the dimensions before they're late for dinner and Momma Zatara has their heads. Adopted though her kids may be, Zatanna is still an Italian mother. And you do not fuck with an Italian mother's family dinner plans.
That's how people die.
But fractionally less dramatically than Zatanna sits awaiting her boys' late arrival to dinner with a A Damn Good Explanation For That, Bruce meets Cassandra Cain and rescues her from her father.
He’s still Bruce Wayne, even if events played out differently for his first three canon kids. So he does what any Bruce would do and adopts her.
And then Cass brings Stephanie home and says she’s a runaway and her dad was a villain and well, what’s Bruce gonna do, not adopt her? Don't be absurd.
And then Talia shows up on Bruce’s doorstep and shoves a ten year old Damian at him and says "Congratulations, its a boy. Please take care of him while I go and try and kill my father and sister without getting killed by them first. I’m not sure how long that will take but my father has managed to last six centuries despite countless betrayals so I suspect it might be awhile."
I imagine these events all happen roughly in the span of a month, because there is no such thing as a world where Bruce knows how to pace himself.
There’s also no such thing as a world where Bruce knows how to gracefully ask for help. But even at his most stubborn he’s capable of recognizing when things fall outside his skillset and his best move is to seek advice from experts in fields outside his expertise. Like parenting.
And his old friend Zatanna has raised three boys who are well loved and respected by the entire hero community, so she must know what she’s doing. Yes, absolutely, his frazzled mind decides. Zatanna will have all the answers. His logic is sound. He's double checked his math and everything. Yes, he has equations for this sort of thing. No, they're not scientifically or empirically accurate, but just because one has arbitrarily assigned numeric values to various events, decisions and possible outcomes in order to justify to oneself that one's intended course of action is Endorsed By Data and Scientifically Derived Conclusions, like....that doesn't mean those values are all arbitrary and the conclusions and data that derive from them are fictitious and meaningless.
Shhh, shhh, don't question that last sentence, just nod and smile and accept that you're just not quite brilliant enough to understand the genius that is Brucenometry, and that's totally understandable and the real reason Bruce hasn't shared the math system he invented with the rest of the world. We just wouldn't get it, you see?
(And yes, he absolutely calls it Brucenometry in his head, because despite what the Batmen of other universes would have us believe, all the eight year old incarnations of Dick Grayson are naught but a scapegoat for the emotionally stunted manchild who absolutely devised the labeling system of 'what if I put Bat in front of every word tho and that's how you knew it was mine, yes, good, this is obviously the most logical and efficient taxonomy possible, its practically the Occam's Bat-Razor of nomenclatures, huzzah I am the smartest in all the land, eat my Batshit I mean guano I mean crazy I mean shut up no you're dumb.' And if you don't think Bruce sounds like that in his head you're just drinking the Kool-Aid, dear reader. Pick up any issue where Bruce is having an emotional fight with someone and skip to where he insists on having the last word before sweeping dramatically into the darkness, and substitute that last word with 'nuh uh, your face'. It reads practically the same, I swear.
Anyway, thus Brucenometry is only Brucenometry instead of Batnometry because he came up with the math first. The math is literally how he calculated that combining crime fighting with his fursona was by far the most expedient route for building a better, brighter Gotham? Duh? Like if you don't get it, he really can't explain it any more clearly than that, and this is possibly one of the reasons he doesn't let the Martian Manhunter in his head. Well, that and all the equally Scientific Ponderings on how accurate a label 'Buns of Steel' is for Superman's butt, and how might this best be tested. Y'know. For Science.)
It's possible I've gotten off track here. I blame Bruce. Bruce blames Clark's ass. Its this whole thing.
So Bruce decides Zatanna has all the answers to all his questions, clearly. Because you see, Bruce knows practically everything that's worth knowing, so anyone who knows something Bruce doesn't already know, ergo, ipso facto, must therefor in conclusion be smarter than Bruce. And if they're smarter than Bruce, as smart as Bruce already is and knowing as much as Bruce already knows, well then, they must know literally everything.
Bam. You've just been Bat Logic-ed.
Bruce sends a message. He waits. He's expecting something along the lines of a call back, but one minute he blinks and the next minute Zatanna's in the middle of the disaster his new brood of three have made of his living room, hands on her hips, shaking her head as she looks around.
“What did you do?” She asks, exasperatedly.
He really doesn't understand why so many people take that particular tone with him. All of his choices are excellent and backed by Brucenometry. He can show his work and everything.
Bruce would respond, but he’s distracted by the three unknown variables. He admittedly had not expected her to bring all three of her boys along with her. Then again, they're magicians and magic always messes up his calculations. Its the worst. Stupid magic. He keeps himself from glaring at the teenager, practically still a teenager, and fully grown man chugging down a Pixie stick while playing what sounds like Candy Crush on his phone with his free hand.
Zee just shakes her head at him when Bruce tries to turn her question back on her with a pointed look.
“They were with me when I got your message and they wanted to come. Given how non-informative and vague the information you gave me was, it seemed plausible they might have a helpful perspective. Don’t change the subject. What did you do.”
“In all fairness, I should clarify that we were mostly just bored,” Tim says dryly.
“Also, this sounded amazing,” Jason adds, smirking.
Dick bounces up and down. “I’m very excited to be here for this! By the way, what is this, what's happening, what's going on? I was not totally paying complete attention, maybe. Oooh, does this place have an indoor pool? I bet it has an indoor pool. God, I love how completely unnecessary old rich people houses are, its amazing.”
That’s when a ten year old mini-Bruce wanders in, parentage apparent in every premature scowl line on his face. “Father, who are these people?”
Dick emits a gleeful sound that lends credence to his spirit friends’ theory he’s not entirely human and just appears right next to Damian, sweeping him up into a hug. His brothers blink, unsure if he had a teleport spell they didn’t know about, or if his natural ability to seek out anyone in need of a hug like a heat-seeking missile could actually allow him to move faster than the eye can see. Could go either way, to be honest.
“Oh my god, he’s like a tiny baby bat, he’s adorable,” Dick says, words rushing out at a speed normally achievable only by speedsters.
Damian has frozen at the unexpectedness of his behavior, but the outrage swiftly sets in. “What did you just call me?”
“A tiny baby bat!”
“Not that, the other thing.”
“How dare you!” The ten year old produces a knife from somewhere and attempts a stabbing that results in said knife being transmuted into a Twizzler. Dick twists in that unnatural way only his body is capable of and somehow mid-hug still manages to eat the Twizzler, because why not, apparently.
“I’m keeping him,” Dick declares, right on schedule. "He is my new brother and also now my weekend favorite, sorry not sorry. Jason is now my Monday and Friday favorite and Timmy is my Tuesday and Thursday favorite. Wednesdays can be my me time."
"But Dick," Tim deadpans in a lifeless monotone, now absorbed in doing something with his own phone. "How can I not be your Wednesday favorite? On Wednesdays we wear pink."
Jason rocks back on his heels, rolls his head back on his neck and stares up at the room's high, vaulted ceiling despairingly. "I hate that I get that reference. I hate that so much. I just don't know if I hate Tim for saying it, Dick for being the reason he said it, or me for hearing it and getting it. Quick, somebody tell me who to punch, I can't make this decision, its too hard."
Zatanna pinches the bridge of her nose and exhales. Cass and Steph lurk in the doorway and stare at the scene, bemused. Bruce is statue still. It’s possible his complete inability to process anything that’s happening right now has computer-crashed his every system. See kids, this is what comes of spending too much time trying to emulate a robot. Don't do drugs. Stay in school. Emote.
“Dick, I know that worked out for you the last two times you tried that, but its not going to fly here. This child actually has an emotionally invested parent capable of providing for him, and I don’t believe the Batman is likely to relinquish his claim without a fight,” Zatanna says, her exasperation now redirected at her eldest.
Dick remains unphased; merely diverts his attention from Damian to the boy’s father, raking his eyes up and down Bruce as the older man reenacts the pose of Rodin's lesser known work: The Oh God, What Was I Thinking.
He sniffs. Once. Pointedly unimpressed. “I am willing to work out a shared custody agreement,” Dick says regally.
Bruce gradually twitches his way back into the realm of actual human activity and motion.
“What?” He shakes himself all over, a bit like a dog. Then he seems to reboot his higher cognitive functions as he draws up to his full height and towers over the younger man. “I’m not sure what you think you’re playing at here, but this is not why I called your mother and I do not need some boy barely out of his teens to tell me -"
Dick cuts him off, rolling his eyes even as Bruce, Steph, Cass and Alfred’s eyes all widen at the sheer novelty of that. Even Damian goes silent and still, no longer fighting Dick’s octopus like limbs as he’s too busy flicking his attention back and forth between Dick and Bruce like he’s a spectator at a tennis match, watching it unfold.
Jason and Tim just smirk knowingly. Zatanna regrets everything.
“Yes, yes, we’re aware the Batman has a million contingency plans for any given scenario. We’re all very impressed. Your IQ is huge,” Dick says flatly. “Quick question though, how many of those contingency plans involve hugging?”
Bruce blinks. “What?”
“That’s what I thought,” Dick continues smugly. “Now, in your history as a crime fighter and a benefactor of numerous children’s charities, do you dispute that all children at certain times need to be hugged?”
“No?” Bruce answers uncertainly. He…has no precedence for this. What is happening right now.
“Mmm,” Dick hums, nodding. “And in your personal self-assessment and in light of all your established behavior to date, would you say with confidence that you are capable of always recognizing when a child is in need of a hug, as well as being able and willing to provide that child with said hug yourself?”
Bruce frowns. Everyone in the room takes that as a no. Seals in Antarctica look up and take that as a no, without any idea why they just did that or what it even is they just did. Also, what the hell is a no, they have no clue. They still somehow know the answer to that question was no.
“Exactly,” Dick says. “So, to sum up, we’ve established that your children need hugs, you need to be taught when and how to identify when your children need you to hug them, and until such a time as you’re capable of that, your children still need hugs. In conclusion, my services are direly needed and I am willing to teach you everything I know about providing adorable children with emotional support in exchange for the role of their designated Hug-Giver for the time being. Do you accept my offer?”
“I…” Still stuck on the unprecedented feeling of being at a total loss for words, Bruce is slow to answer. Not that it matters.
“Trick question!” Dick announces cheerfully. “There was no offer, its already been decided. I can start immediately. You're welcome.”
He shifts Damian to his hip with one arm and raises the other to offer the boy his hand for a shake. “Hi Damian, I’m Dick, I’m your official Hug-Giver for now. Nice to meet you!”
Damian shakes Dick’s hand, more out of confusion than anything else. Clearly, nothing in his training or experience offers him any obvious alternate response to Dick’s behavior. “Father, who is this man? What is happening? I don’t understand.”
“That makes two of us,” the goddamn Batman says helplessly. They can all see his face spasming, his muscles twitching as if periodically glitching while he tries to compute and come up with a course of action that adequately counters Dick’s….whatever the hell you describe Dick and his entire….essence, as.
Gods have tried and failed to accurately describe Dick and his whole….Dick-ness. The Batman never stood a chance.
Tim takes pity on him. He’s mostly preoccupied hacking the Manor’s wi-fi on his phone, trying to see if he can backdoor from there into the famed Batcave’s computers. No real reason, he’s just curious. But even barely paying attention, he can still tell the difference between Dick’s more generic ‘oooh a squirrel!’ ADHD reaction to all adorable children or animals in his general vicinity, and the genuine emotional attachment his brother has clearly already formed with the confused child assassin. It’s too late now. Whether he’s even realized it or not, Damian stopped trying to escape Dick’s hug practically from the word go, even if he is unconsciously using his confusion to blind himself to how he’s already started to sink into it. Not even Superman himself could pry the kid out of Dick’s arms at this point.
“You can try all you want to come up with ways to keep this from happening, but you’ll just be wasting your time and energy,” Tim advises, still intent on his phone. Two passwords down, nice. Only….ninety more to go? Jeez. Oh god, if he’s this redundant about his cyber security, he’s gonna try and be stubborn about this, isn’t he? Ugh, how inefficient.
“Look, no matter how many plans you come up with, it doesn’t matter what you throw at him or how convoluted or well-crafted it is. At a certain point Dick’s just going to say screw it and dig his heels in, and no offense, but I’ve seen him out-stubborn demons. He once got a Duke of Hell to release a claim on Jason’s soul by committing to “I know you are but what am I” until the ageless being composed of pettiness and spite got frustrated and gave up. My brother on a mission to dole out affection is an actual force of nature. Like hurricanes. Even Jason lets Dick hug him. And Jason hates everything.”
“Die screaming,” Jason says conversationally.
“See a therapist about your Cain complex,” Tim returns, equally pleasant.
“I thought I told you boys to be on your best behavior,” Zatanna says. Either exasperated again, or just still. Hard to say.
Jason cocks an eyebrow at her quizzically before looking around the room. “Umm, we are, aren’t we? I mean, we’ve been here for at least five minutes and nothing’s on fire or broken yet. You gotta admit that’s like, a record for us.”
Zatanna sputters helplessly for a moment before collapsing onto the couch with a sigh. “The bar is too low,” she mutters. "And don't think I didn't catch that bit about a Duke of Hell having a claim on Jason's soul at some point. We will be circling back to that later, at home."
"Dude," Jason hisses, glaring at his little brother. "Spoilers!"
"Sorry," Tim says distractedly, with a distinct lack of sincerity. "In my defense, we lie about a lot of stuff and I forget to keep track of it all."
"You have an eidetic memory."
"Okay, so I forget to care about keeping track of it all," Tim amends, shrugging.
"That's just because you never get in as much trouble as me and Dick. Helps to be the baby of the family," Jason grumbles.
Tim hums softly in agreement, tongue poking out of the corner of his mouth as he peers intently at his screen. "The perks are nice."
Zatanna interjects as she eyes her two younger sons, a slight edge in voice. "Exactly how much stuff am I being lied to about? Ballpark figure."
Jason glares at Tim again. "You're a goddamn menace."
"I should probably be stopped," Tim agrees.
“Nonsense!” Damian’s aggrieved voice cuts over everyone else in the room. “I am an al Ghul, and heir to the Batman. If this tournament you speak of were truly a contest of champions, I would certainly have heard of it before now.”
Dick returns his glower with his usual beaming grin. “I swear by every being of both the higher and lower planes to ever lend me power or aid. Super Mario Kart is a test of manual dexterity, hand-eye coordination and reflex agility. Any true warrior should be more than capable of defeating all competitors at it.”
Damian stays trained on his face for a good minute, searching it for any hint of deception. Finally he turns and sweeps his imperious gaze around the room, jumping back and forth between his father to Jason and Tim, though the latter is still absorbed tracking to crack the thirty-sixth password to the Batcomputer. “Is this true?”
“Technically yes,” Jason says with the smirk to end all smirks. Sometimes his older brother is a total toolbag, but sometimes it really is like watching a master at work. How to Lie Without Telling a Single Lie by Dick Grayson-Zatara.
Damian harrumphs like the eighty seven year old that he is at heart, but with a secondary affirmation and no one speaking up to offer a counter-claim, his pride seems to allow him no alternative to accepting Dick’s challenge.
“Very well,” he says grudgingly. “I will engage you in this competition of supers and carts. But when I inevitably prove victorious, as consequence for your failure you and your babbling are to be banished from my father’s estate, never to return.”
“K!” Dick grins. “But if I win, you have to initiate three hugs a day for a solid week straight, at which point you may challenge me to a rematch and reclaim your honor.”
“Preposterous! One hug a day. No more.”
“One hug a day, but after two weeks I can challenge you to a rematch at my home instead.”
“I shudder to think what you might consider an acceptable abode. No, if I must vanquish you twice before you realize the folly of challenging an al Ghul, you shall return here only for the purposes of engaging in this ‘rematch’, and only after two months have passed, so that you may reflect on the futility of such.”
“One month, final offer.”
“Tt. Your terms are acceptable,” Damian decides at last. Dick’s already brilliant smile grows impossibly more blinding, as it is wont to do. The whole defiance of physics thing he does so well. Unprepared for it, the startled boy blinks, corners of his mouth twitching ever so slightly upwards before he regains his normal stern countenance. “Now lead me to these carts at once. I wish to see you defeated before supper, so I do not have to suffer your presence through my meal.”
“You got it, lil D!” Dick chirps happily, bouncing through the doorway and down the hall, where Cass and Steph exchange glances that condense an entire conversation to thirty seconds of back and forth facial expressions. They then race down the hall after the two. Damian’s outrage drifts back behind them.
“My name is Damian al Ghul-Wayne, you buffoon! It is a name of power and significance, heavy with meaning and intent. How dare you reduce it to a simple reference to physical stature!”
“Aww, I’m sorry bud! It was meant as an endearment not an insult. I give nicknames to all my friends and family. What if I called you Dami? Is that better?”
“….I suppose if my full name is too difficult for you to manage, Dami is at least marginally more tolerable. But only if it is understood that we are hardly friends!”
“Whatever you say, Dami!”
Their voices fade into the distance after that. Jason puts his hands in his pockets and strolls casually after them.
“That was amazing. My faith in humanity has like....risen reborn from the ashes. I might even believe in Santa Claus again? Not sure yet about that last part," he muses to no one in particular. "I’m so happy right now.”
Tim shrugs and trails after him. If everyone else is going, well. No reason he can’t finish hacking the Batcomputer from wherever they end up.
Bruce watches them disappear down the hallway before staggering over to the couch and dropping down onto it next to Zatanna. He stares blankly at the wall.
“What.” He utters helplessly.
Zatanna pats his leg. “You get used to it. Eventually.”
And that’s how even when Dick’s adopted by Zatanna Zatara instead of Bruce Wayne, he, Jason, Tim, Damian, Cass, Steph and those to follow all still end up siblings in every way that matters.