Rarely does Red X have to deal with aliens or sorcerers inside Gotham’s gloomy walls. It’s not Batman's efforts he has to thank for that but Joker's. It’s a terrible truth, but his existence keeps other villains from going over-the-top and prevents others from making their way into Gotham.
Batman may instill fear, but Joker is a long, terrifying nightmare that makes even the bravest waver. Red X would even go out on a limb to say that the Joker is the sole reason those guys in owl masks remain hidden away.
(“Happy birthday to you,” Deathstroke sings to him, voice low and distorted as black blood pools beneath his boots. “Happy birthday to you.”
By his feet lies a man in a glowing owl mask, who moves enough to make it obvious that he’s looking straight at Tim. Those yellow eyes seem to bore into his while a sword dipped in acid hangs over the man like a guillotine.
“My present to you. Watch carefully,” Deathstroke says before lowering the blade. “This is how to kill the unkillable—”
Repress, Tim, repress.)
Point is, it’s unusual that Batman and Red X are taken by surprise because a magic-user couldn’t keep it in their pants. Unfortunately, when it does happen, things typically go from bad to worse before they get better.
To put it into perspective: Red X is now cursed to teleport to random spots in Gotham at random times. Batman, on the other hand, is cursed to speak only in song, opera style. Considering B is actually debating on sewing his lips shut, Red X doesn’t know who has it worse.
By the time they get their wits about them, the magic-user has skipped town, and the first sorceress available to help undo their curses sends them on a long arduous quest to locate Artifacts of Power. A single mistake sees them stuck with each other’s curse-breaking item until the sorceress can figure out how to swap them.
Red X is now teleporting randomly while hauling around a wine glass, and Batman keeps to the Batcave, glaring wordlessly at the small diamond ring in his hand.
“Do you know how breakable a wine glass is?” Red X complains bitterly before letting out a swear as he’s dumped onto the roof of a speeding vehicle. A quick release of the blades in his gauntlets keeps him from becoming paste in the middle of the highway.
“Go ahead and break it!” Red Hood laughs over the communication line. “Might do Bats some good to stay quiet for a bit.”
“Might I remind you that you will have to take on all the usual duties until this curse business is taken care of,” Agent A points out, tone suggesting the torture that is Wayne Enterprises.
“Defend that glass with your life, Little Red,” Red Hood says immediately.
The vehicle beneath him moves to shake him off, and Red X shifts until the hard case strapped around his shoulder is secured in between his arms. He’s pretty sure the people inside the vehicle are screaming their heads off.
The sensation of magic tingling down his spine is a welcome relief.
The next landing sees him surrounded by kegs and glass bottles. The room is dark despite the exposed lightbulb hanging overhead. The room is dirty, has no windows, and is somewhat cool; he's pretty sure this is someone’s wine cellar. There are no signs of recent traffic, so he can relax for a moment.
Looking from the hard case in his arms to the nearest wine bottle, the sudden urge to experiment comes over him.
When Nightwing comes rolling through the door as if dodging an imaginary hail of bullets, Red X is sitting on the floor and holding up a wine glass detailed in gold runes. They stare at each other with something like shock.
“Are you drinking alcohol?” Nightwing rears back as if deeply offended.
“It’s my wedding day. Mazel tov,” Red X says, swirling the wine in his hand mockingly.
Nightwing looks at the open bottle on the ground and makes a face. Red X knows that look; it’s the look of an adult being appalled at his life choices.
“Cut the act. We both know you’re just a kid,” Nightwing says, placing his hands on his hips.
“Oh? And what makes you think that?” Red X tilts his head.
“You’re tiny, you’re properly proportioned, you’re using a voice changer—”
“Which you should too, Mr. Sunglasses-Are-All-I-Need,” he interjects snottily.
“—my butt is also a great distraction, thanks—and the most obvious of all,” Nightwing pauses dramatically, “is that you are still growing.”
A tingling sensation goes down his spine, and Red X grins madly beneath his mask. Messing with Nightwing is the height of fun. It’s totally worth the effort to convince everyone else to keep him in the dark on Red X’s identity.
“A compelling argument, but have you thought of the one thing that makes all arguments invalid?”
“What’s that?” Nightwing asks warily.
Red X pours out the wine and puts the glass back into the case. After ensuring the hard case is strapped to him properly, he stands up and throws his arms out grandly.
“Magic,” he says before vanishing in a well-timed series of sparkles.
“I hate him.” Nightwing considers before amending, “Well, strongly dislike with the growing need to squeeze him until he cries in agony.”
“Can confirm that red wine does nothing for the artifact,” Red X says while eyeing his surroundings.
This time he’s in a luxurious office that no legitimate professional would use. The desk he landed on is built to survive an explosion, and there’s a dart board with Red Hood’s picture taped to it on the opposite wall.
The guns rigged to shoot anyone stepping through the door without the proper clearance doesn't exactly scream "law-abiding" either.
He feels no shame in picking the locks and rifling through the desk. He stuffs anything that looks expensive in his hidden pockets while searching for the true treasure—information.
“So you called in Nightwing to help, but you didn’t tell him any specifics?” Red X asks, looking over a file while idly spinning in Black Mask’s office chair.
“I didn’t call him,” Red Hood refutes. “B sent him a text telling him to get his shiny butt to where you were and nothing else. I didn’t know about it until just now.”
“It seems there is an additional part to the curse. As of now, he can only communicate verbally in song or write in an old dialect of Italian.” That’s amusement in Alfred’s voice.
Red X takes photos of every piece of paper he comes across before putting them all back where he found them. With the missing goodies, Black Mask will know someone's been in his desk. This is just to mess with him.
“That explains why all those spam messages appeared in my BTS system. I’ll have Kaiser unblock you, B.”
When the sorceress contacts them with the ritual to swap artifacts, they wait until Red X teleports near the Batcave to get started. No one tells him that the ritual resembles a marriage ceremony until Batman is kneeling on one knee, ring held out and belting out the worst love song in history.
Alfred is nowhere to be seen, and Red Hood is nearly bent over in laughter from where he's recording everything on his phone.
"I hate magic," Red X says, holding his hand out reluctantly.
With the way Batman's lips twitch as he pulls the hand gently into his, either Batman agrees wholeheartedly, or he finds the situation more amusing than he'd like. Maybe it's both.
The gaudy, diamond encrusted ring slips over the fingertip of Red X's right index finger and comes to a sudden stop. A firm push causes him to let out a hiss.
The ring, it turns out, is too small. Batman does not appear to get the memo.
“Ow, ow, nope, stop!” Red X yelps while attempting to yank back his hand. “See, this is why fattening me up is not a good idea!”
“Kid, if it can’t fit a shrimp like you, it was never meant to fit anybody.” There's a hitch in his voice, but Red Hood moves to call the sorceress.
“Try the other fingers before we consider this a doomed prospect,” Red X says with a sigh.
Maybe the ritual is an old marriage ceremony because when the ring finally slides on, it’s onto the left ring finger. Nightwing bursts into the cave just in time to witness the scene. He looks from the still kneeling Batman to the diamond ring on Red X's wedding finger.
“Mazel tov,” Red X says in the deafening silence.
Looking Nightwing straight in the eye, Red X picks up the wine glass by his feet and hands it to Batman, who throws it as far as he can. It shatters into pieces, and the sound of tinkling bells fills the cave.
“Mazel tov,” Batman deadpans, visibly slumping in relief at the lack of singing.
It's when Alfred comes down the stairs with a big, white cake that Red Hood loses it. Beginning with a high-pitched giggle, he ends up laughing so hard that he double overs before collapsing into a seizure.
Nightwing places the back of his hand to his forehead, sways dramatically, and then faints.
“It’s not really a marriage vow. The whole ‘equal trade of magics tied to the soul’ thing was often used for weddings that formed alliances. Hence the resemblance,” the sorceress says when Bruce calls to make sure they didn’t actually tie the knot.
“Now if you want a true wedding ritual, contact my PA once the kid is legal. I also do birthday parties that everyone remembers as being great but can’t remember what actually happened.”
Tim being Nightwing and Red Hood’s stepmom becomes a long running joke that only he and Bruce find funny. Of course, it’s Jason who suffers the most since Nightwing doesn’t know his identity as Bruce’s son is already known.
“Good morning, darling,” Tim greets from where he’s shoveling down Alfred’s approved breakfast.
“Good morning, dear,” Bruce replies with a straight face before settling down at the table with a newspaper and a cup of coffee.
“I am not calling you, ‘Mom,’” Jason states firmly while waving a spoon at Tim, who flutters his eyes.
“When honeybun dies, I’m locking you in the attic, Jaserella.”
Tim sticks out his tongue, and Jason attempts to lunge across the table. Alfred’s sudden appearance keeps Jason in his seat; he settles on crossing his arms and whispering threats.
“Be good for your mother,” Bruce says blandly before burying himself in the newspaper.
For all the grief that Tim gives him, he really does care about Dick. The first Robin remains his hero even as they exchange blows as each other’s personal enemy. When Nightwing decides to move to Blüdhaven, Red X has his contacts keep an eye on him.
The fact that someone else is keeping an eye on Nightwing does not escape him. Tim decides it’s time to intervene once the stalking goes from nearly harmless to breaking into Dick’s apartment while he’s at work.
“Stop being a creeper,” Red X says.
He looks down at the unfamiliar city from the top of a well-lit skyscraper. Blüdhaven is much brighter than Gotham, and it’s making him uncomfortable. He doesn’t know how Dick stands it.
“I don’t recall asking for your opinion.” Deathstroke melts out of the only shadows the roof has.
“And yet I still give it.” Red X bares his teeth beneath his mask. “All for you, Daddy.” He dodges the kick aiming to knock him off the skyscraper.
“Never say that again,” Deathstroke uses his best authoritative voice to bring Tim to heel.
“Then stop creeping on him,” Red X shoots back.
Deathstroke faces the direction of Dick’s apartment and strokes the hilt of a sword strapped to his back. Red X fights down the urge to gag. He doesn’t know whether the man wants to make Nightwing his apprentice or his apprentice. He doesn’t think Deathstroke knows either.
“My interest is none of your concern.”
“Maybe, but I think he’s concerned,” Red X says, turning around and jamming a thumb behind him.
The Batplane rises on cue, and its machine gun attachment filled with syringes whirs loudly. Behind the darkened glass, one very angry Batman presses down on a trigger.
Dick lives in a pigsty. Tim should have seen that one coming, but he didn’t think letting the man live on his own would be that bad. For heaven’s sake, the moment he sat down on the couch things started to crunch.
He’s going to tell Alfred all about it the next time he sees him.
“What are you doing in my apartment?” Dick, still in police uniform, takes one look at Red X lounging on his couch and pulls out an escrima stick from behind the doorway.
“I am here to comfort you in your time of need, Son,” Red X says, being careful not to move. “Momma’s not going to let the bad man touch you.”
“Get out.” Dick closes his eyes as if willing the degenerate on his couch away.
“On a serious note, my mentor slash father figure is currently being hauled to South America. You won’t have to worry about him for, I’d say, three months.” That should be about when Deathstroke forgets his lesson.
“Thanks?” Dick looks at him with a lost expression.
Now that touchy-feely time is over, Red X needs to catch his train back to the smog and gloom of Gotham. He backflips off the couch, bounces off the wall above it towards the open window, and slides through.
“Wait, how’d you know—” Dick sighs as the window closes with a slam. “—who I was.”
Batman doesn’t take Deathstroke to South America; he takes him to Norway. Tim only knows because he gets a short message on the BTS along with a picture of a postcard that reads, “Wish you were here.”
“Wait until your next birthday,” Tim reads the text aloud with a shiver. “Great.”
Time to get started on that dimensional portal gun, so he can get out of dodge.
The way Nightwing discovers his identity is completely by accident and truly anti-climactic. Dressed in an eye-searing pink shirt with too-tight khaki pants, Dick walks into the kitchen looking for Alfred only to find Tim eating a sandwich in full Red X costume sans mask.
“What the,” Dick blinks then blinks again. “What.”
“You’ve never seen anyone eat a sandwich?” Tim asks, raising an eyebrow. The jig may be up, but he’s going to be as annoying as possible about it.
“What. No. Tim? Tim Drake?” Dick’s mouth twitches at the corners as if not knowing which direction to go in. “It can’t be. Not—little Timmy?” Ah, there is that sound of despair.
“Hello, sonny boy.” Tim smirks and flashes the diamond ring he slid onto his finger without Dick noticing.
The amount of color Dick’s face goes through upon catching sight of the gaudy diamonds makes Tim feel warm and fuzzy inside. His only regret is not turning the reveal into a true spectacle.
“Bruce!” Dick turns around sharply on his heel to yell. “Bruce, I need to talk to you, face-to-fist!”