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The Witching Hour

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Damian crouched on the fire escape, peering down at the alley below him, a small scowl on his face. He’d been fervently tracking and monitoring demonic energy for the last few weeks, noticing a series of unusual influxes here and there across the city. For about a week straight now, his wards had been activating at least once or twice every few hours, which was highly suspicious. Even for Gotham.

So here he was, clambering around on the rooftops, following the latest string of demonic pulses, determined to find whoever thought they could mess around in his father’s city. In all honesty, he had expected to find a sort of overly dramatic cult or something, messing with powers beyond their understanding or control. It wouldn’t have been the first time, after all. What he had not been expecting was a pale, wiry kid, probably not much older than Damian himself, cowering behind a dumpster and muttering to himself. Damian watched as he continued to tug nervously at his worn sweatshirt, eyes darting this way and that like a cornered animal. He didn’t look dangerous, but Damian had had plenty of experiences to support his running theory that the less threatening something looked, the more likely it was to try to eviscerate you. So he waited, studying this kid and straining to hear the bits and pieces of “conversation” that floated their way up to his perch.

“I don’t want--”

Silence, boy. Or shall we return to the closet?

“No! No… please…”

Good. Now…

Damian narrowed his eyes, beginning to make his way quickly and quietly downwards. Despite the way it appeared, the kid was definitely speaking in two very distinct voices, and Damian was pretty certain he recognized one of them. Pair that with the overwhelming miasma of demonic power permeating the area and there was really only one possible conclusion he could draw. Carefully, he lowered himself to the asphalt and crouched behind a pile of rubbish, just out of the kid’s line of sight. If this was going to work, he was going to have to maintain the element of surprise. Digging around in his utility belt, Damian produced a stick of chalk, a container of salt, and a slim, wooden rod. Working quickly, he drew a simple activation spell, prepping and arming the ward before pocketing the chalk and pouring out a handful of salt. Taking a slow breath, he focused, then, calmly and surely, stepped into the open.

Geranos!” Damian poured power into the word, calling out the demon’s name as he moved forward.

The kid froze, eyes wide and body unnaturally rigid. The demon’s voice slipped out, “No… NO! Not you!

Damian persisted, walking forward as he raised the salt, prepared to scatter it at a moment’s notice. “Geranos , you know why I am here. As I name you, so must you heed my words.”

The demon forced the kid to stand, the movements jerky and strange. “No! I will not be bound by you!

The demon lunged, but Damian was ready. He tossed the salt between himself and the advancing threat, swiftly raising the rod. Grounding himself as the demon reeled back, Damian tapped into the nearby ley line, forcing power into the ward’s trigger, shouting, “Geranos! Be still!”

An echoing boom sounded as the ward activated, bright light springing up around Damian and the demon. It screeched, but was forced into motionlessness by the weight of the ward and its own name. Damian held the rod out before him, channeling power through it as tiny carved runes lit up along its length. As he approached, the demon hissed, “No! You have no right , witch!

“I think you are mistaken, Geranos . Correct me if I am wrong, but you have made no contract with this host. That makes you fair game.” Damian grinned, enjoying the way the demon flinched. “But, I am willing to… negotiate a deal.”

The demon visibly paled, clenching and unclenching the kid’s hands.

Damian smirked. “Truthfully, Geranos , you don’t have very many good options here. Take my deal, or I will forcibly remove you from this boy’s body.” He gestured with the rod meaningfully.

I… I have heard of your… methods…

“Then you know I am not to be trifled with, demon. So, accept my terms or suffer the consequences.”

The demon hesitated, seeming to shrink into its host. “What are your… terms?

Damian grinned. “They are simple: You leave the body of your own free will, I do not cause you any lasting damage, and, as payment for the time you have taken from this host, you shall offer an appropriate recompense. Let us call it… a contract in retrospect . Of course, I shall bind you to your word, whatever it may be. So,” Damian said, expression becoming completely serious, “what say you, Geranos?”

The demon swallowed thickly, eyes trained on the ominously flaring ward. “You drive a hard bargain, witch. Though I suppose it is little choice at all.” Grimacing, the demon conceded, “I shall accept your terms. I shall, as you say, recompense this… boy, for his services, and will depart.

“Excellent.” With a short movement, Damian flicked the rod against the kid’s forehead, tracing a swift pattern of runes there. They burned briefly as he wrote them, binding the demon to it’s word and ensuring that the host would remain safe during the process of the demon extricating itself. With a whooshing sound and a billowing of dark smoke, the demon was expelled, reforming in the rough shape of a man with glowing eyes. It hovered by the wall of the ward as Damian caught the now unconscious kid, lowering him gently to the ground. Turning back to the demon, he grinned, “See, was that so hard? Now, the recompense. I will judge its acceptability.”

The demon glared, but gestured in the air, leaving behind a set of demonic runes which Damian read quickly. “If it is… satisfactory, this shall afford the boy the ability to… access demonic strength at will.

Damian considered the wording of the runes. “There will be side effects…”

The demon rolled its eyes. “Obviously.

It wasn’t a bad deal, probably better than the kid would have gotten had he negotiated a contract with the demon himself, but Damian knew the side effects of using demonic power of any kind could be crippling. For a moment, he considered the unconscious boy. There was nothing in the wording of the demon’s spell that would require him to ever use the power, and if he did want to use it, there was nothing stopping Damian or one of the others from teaching him…

Well?

Damian was about to respond when there was a groan and a shuffling sound. Turning, he saw that the boy was waking up and looking around blearily. At once, Damian was at his side, checking him for any residual negative effects of possession. This close, Damian could make out the red of the boy’s hair in the light of the ward, and a dusting of freckles across his nose. The combination made the boy appear younger, and gave Damian a moment of pause as he took stock of possible injury. The boy appeared confused, but otherwise unharmed, and Damian breathed a sigh of relief. When the boy caught sight of Damian, and subsequently the hovering smoke of the demon behind him, he started, attempting to scramble backwards as he stuttered, “No! No! Get away!”

Daiman let the boy shift away from him and stayed very still, remaining crouched in an unthreatening way. Lifting a hand slowly, he attempted to placate the boy. “It’s alright. The demon’s not going to hurt you. I’ve bound it so it can no longer harm you.” The boy seemed to relax slightly, focusing just on Damian. Feeling confident, Damian shifted forwards slowly, extending his hand a little more, palm up. “Could you tell me your name?”

“C...Col-Colin…”

Damian smiled, not something he was particularly used to if his adoptive siblings had anything to say about it, but the effect seemed to be positive as Colin appeared to calm down even more. “Hello, Colin. My name is Damian. I would like to help you, if you would be so inclined.”

Colin looked wary, glancing back and forth between Damian’s offered hand and the demon hovering behind him. “I… I don’t know…” He curled into himself a little more. “What… Did you… take that thing…?”

Damian nodded. “Yes. I exorcised the demon from you. It is my… professional obligation, if you would like to call it that.”

“So you’re a priest?”

Damian frowned. “What? No. Why would you think that?”

Colin shrugged. “Priests are always the ones exorcising demons in the movies.” He frowned a little, giving Damian another hard look, muttering, “I guess you are a little young to be a priest…”

Not sure whether or not to be insulted, Damian decided to let the comment slide. “No, I am not a priest. I am a witch.”

“But witches are girls, right? Wouldn’t that make you a wizard? Like… Like Harry Potter or something?” Colin frowned a little, then looked slightly apologetic. “I… I mean… unless you are a lady, and then I’m really sorry for assuming. I know I shouldn’t, but you’re just pretty tall and kinda muscly and…”

Damian wasn’t really sure how to respond to that. It wasn’t often he needed to explain what exactly a witch was, since most of the people he regularly interacted with were already a part of the magical community. After blinking a moment and attempting to process the unceasing apologetic diatribe pouring from Colin, Damian coughed slightly, and Colin immediately quieted. “I am a witch, but I am not a woman. Witches are not necessarily women, though European tradition does support that misconception. A witch is simply a human who has an affinity for tapping into the naturally occurring magical power which flows through the ley lines and shaping it into whatever they need.” Damian paused, looking pointedly at Colin.

“I...suppose that makes sense?” Colin still seemed a bit leery, but seemed to have relaxed slightly more, having unfolded himself from the fetal position.

Shifting, Damian offered his hand again. “Would you like help standing, Colin?”

“Oh...um…” Cautiously, he reached out, tentatively placing his hand in Damian’s. “Th...Thanks…” Colin stammered as Damian pulled him up easily. He was lighter than he looked.

“Of course. Now,” Damian turned towards the floating runes, drawing Colin’s attention to them, “as part of the process of exorcism and binding, I have engineered a retroactive contract with this demon in order to compensate you for the time you have lost while possessed against your will.”

“I… What?” Colin appeared completely lost, his green eyes glittering in confusion and caution. “I don’t understand…”

“These,” Damian gestured to the runes again, “will provide you with the ability to access demonic energy and increase your physical strength if you so wish.”

Colin backed away, expression growing more and more panicked. “I don’t want to be possessed… I don’t… I can’t…”

Damian kept his tone even. “This would not cause you to be possessed. I swear this as a sacred oath on the River Styx itself.” This did not seem to calm Colin at all, so Damian tried again. “This is what the demon is offering as payment for the time it took away from you. Does that make sense?” Colin nodded slowly, still looking uncertain, and so Damian soldiered on. “There could be… side effects if you choose to accept this and use the power, but I could teach you to minimize those effects. Of course,” he added quickly, “you do not need to accept this at all, though it is likely the best offer you will receive.”

Colin was silent, eyes flickering between the runes, the demon, and Damian. His hands were twitching, fingers weaving together nervously. Damian could see the thoughts flying across his face: uncertainty, but also a dose of curiosity and determination. He could sense the demon hovering behind him growing impatient, but he trusted that the threat of his mere presence would keep the creature quiet. Damian didn’t want to rush Colin, after all. From the brief time they had interacted, Damian found that, while certainly prone to anxiety and likely various phobias, Colin seemed to be well grounded, but curious and unwilling to back down. Considering all he had been through, Colin was taking all this quite well, and Damian could feel a newfound sense of respect drifting around the corners of his mind.

“You said you’d help me? Learn to… to use it?” Colin’s voice was soft, but his eyes held Damian’s with certainty.

Damian gave a curt nod. “Of course. It is my duty to aid in my father’s mission to educate those new to the magical world and bring to justice those who break his codes. I will make certain that you are completely trained to properly and safely use your new abilities. You have my word.”

Colin let his words sink in a moment, eyes flickering once more towards the runes, before turning to face Damian squarely. “Alright. I’ll do it.”

Damian inclined his head solemnly, stepping forward to stand beside the floating runes. Glancing at Colin, he stated, “I’ll be needing a personal item, preferably something which is on your person at all times.”

“Oh… um…” Colin glanced up and down at himself, patting his pockets as he tried to think of something. Suddenly, his eyes lit up and he reached inside his ratty old sweatshirt, pulling out a chain with a simple gold ring hanging from it. “Would this be alright?”

“Yes. If you don’t mind?” Damian held out his hand. Slowly, almost reverently, Colin pulled the chain from around his neck and dropped the ring into Damian’s outstretched palm. Damian considered it a moment, reaching out to get a sense of the object he was working with. There was certainly an old, lingering attachment to it, both from an aura that must be Colin’s, but also another one, one much older and slightly faded. Judging from the strength of the auras, Damian figured it would be unlikely that anyone else would be able to use the ring once he placed the runes on it, which was quite the relief. “Please stand back.”

Colin looked slightly alarmed, but did as he was told, hovering by the dumpster as he watched Damian turn back to face the floating runes. Closing his eyes, Damian reached out, brushing up against the pulsing of the ley line currently feeding the ward. Tapping into it again, he channeled the energy through his feet, into his legs and chest, then down through his arms and into his hands. A gentle humming filled the air as he reached out, curling his fingers into the smoky substance of the runes, willing them into a firmer existence, before tugging sharply, drawing them down towards his other hand and the ring held there. For a brief moment, the runes flashed a deep red, burning against his hand and making the metal white hot, before dimming, leaving nothing more than thin white smoke. Lifting the ring up to the light, Damian peered at it, making note of the line of miniaturized runes now etched into the metal. Satisfied, he turned back to Colin, holding the ring out to him.

“There you are. This ring will now act as a focus for the magic. Keep it with you always.”

Colin approached with wide eyes, gingerly lifting the ring from Damian’s hand and staring at it in awe. Slowly, a grin stretched across his face, his eyes lighting up with almost childlike glee. “It’s like the One Ring! Holy crap, this is awesome!”

“What?”

Colin stared at Damian as if he had grown a second head. “The One Ring? You know, from Lord of the Rings?” Damian simply continued to stare at the dumbfounded redhead. “Holy shit… I need to educate you on popular fiction…”

“Um…” Damian coughed awkwardly, turning to the still hovering demon. “Geranos , you are free to go. See to it that you refrain from attempting such an act again. I shall not be so lenient the next time we cross paths.” With a quick flick of his fingers, the ward fell and the demon dissipated into the air. Turning back to Colin, Damian studied him for a moment, still studying the ring with a bright fascination in his eyes. It was… somewhat charming, if Damian was being honest with himself, and he wasn’t quite sure what to do with that strange feeling. After a moment, Damian shifted, drawing Colin’s attention and awkwardly offering, “Well, I suppose I could escort you to your residence, if you would like. It is rather late and this is not the most pleasant of areas at this time of night.”

It was hard to see now with the light of the ward gone, but Damian suspected a light blush crossed Colin’s cheeks as he rubbed somewhat embarrassedly at the back of his neck. “Oh, uh, sure. That’d be… That’d be nice. Thanks.”

Damian nodded, stepping aside so Colin could lead the way out of the alley. Smiling as he slipped the chain with the ring back over his head, Colin slid past Damian and took a left, walking into the better lighting of the street. Damian remained at his side, appearing relaxed, but maintaining a constant awareness in case something or someone unpleasant was drawn to the scent of fresh magic lingering around the two of them. Colin was chatting almost nervously, words spilling out of his mouth just to fill the space.

“It’s not very far, just a few blocks. Do you live around here? Actually, that’s probably a silly question… I mean why would you? You don’t really look like you’d live around here. I don’t know why I even asked that…”

Damian raised an eyebrow, but didn’t interrupt, simply allowing Colin to speak out whatever insecurity or anxiety he was experiencing. Goodness knows, Damian had enough experience with endless chattering, having grown up with Grayson’s ever present, cheerful babbling. Not that he minded, really, it was actually quite calming to listen to Colin’s voice, and before he knew it, they had arrived at the door to a rather shabby looking apartment building.

Colin paused, fingers fidgeting again. “Um, well… Thanks for walking me back, and um… for the whole exorcism thing. That was pretty amazing. I mean… um…” He glanced around, cheeks brushed with a light blush. “So… When will you, you know, teach me?”

“I must report to my father, but if you are free tomorrow, I would like to return here to place some wards on your residence. Then we may begin.”

“Oh, yeah, sure. I get off work at two, so…?”

“I will meet you promptly then. Remember, keep the ring with you at all times, and do not attempt to use it before I show you how. Good night, Colin.” Nodding his farewell, Damian made his way back the way they’d come, disappearing into the darkness.

Chapter Text

The Cave was silent when Damian returned, slipping in through the back entrance. Unconcerned, he made his way past the medbay and practice rooms towards the control room where, as per usual, he found his father sitting in front of a rather extensive bank of computer screens. As loathe as he was to admit it, Drake had done a rather impressive job with the whole set up, almost flawlessly integrating an entire, top-of-the-line computer system with the natural flowing pulse of the major ley line which ran through the whole Cave. It was truly a marvel, since most magic was prone to frying anything electrical within ten or so feet. Damian had been carefully studying Drake’s work for years now, but no amount of observation, or practice it seemed, could make up for the man’s natural affinity for charms.

The mastermind himself appeared to be out, but Damian paid Drake’s absence no mind, instead approaching his father and peering at the map that was currently dominating the central computer screens. “What is all this, Father?”

“Tim’s been working on centralizing all the information we’ve collected in the past months. He’s been running algorithms to find patterns, but nothing has shown up yet.” He tapped a few buttons and a smattering of red and blue dots appeared on the screen, little annotations hovering next to them.

Damian scoffed. “Of course Drake would…”

“Oh, just admit you’re impressed and get over your little nerd crush, Dami.” Heads turned as the newcomer skipped down the stairs, mischievous grin on his face.

Damian scowled, the expression somewhat childlike with its petulance. “Silence, Grayson. Your opinion is far from desired.”

Dick snickered, sidling up to Damian and ruffling his hair, despite the teen being several inches taller. “Oh, you’re just adorable.”

“Dick. What have you got for me?”

He left Damian alone, turning to look up at the screen. “The city’s been fairly quiet, Bruce. Nothing out of the ordinary. Jason’ll probably have it covered.”

Bruce’s frown deepened slightly, but he said nothing, considering the map before them.

Damian shifted, gesturing to the Narrows. “There was an incident which I addressed just here that might be of some interest.”

Dick raised an eyebrow. “There’s been a lot going on in the Narrows recently… think it might be centralizing there?”

“Tim hasn’t pulled anything up yet, but it’s not beyond reason,” Bruce mused, turning to Damian, he pressed, “What exactly happened?”

“There was a boy, likely eighteen or nineteen, who had been possessed by Geranos . I took the opportunity to relieve him of this burden and… convinced the demon to compensate him.”

A slightly awkward silence fell across the three of them, Bruce’s expression unreadable, but Dick’s face a strange mix of alarm and curiosity, his mouth hanging open slightly. Eventually, Dick managed to choke out, “You convinced a demon to do what ?”

Damian shrugged, eyes meeting Dick’s gaze evenly. “It was only logical to demand recompense for the unlawfully taken time. I saw fit to correct this.”

“And what was the payment?” Bruce’s tone didn’t quite give him away, but both young men were familiar enough with his terseness to note borderline disapproval when they heard it.

Damian pursed his lips, considering before he answered, “ Geranos offered runes to create a focus which would allow the boy to access demonic strength at will.” The room was silent, Dick gaping at his younger brother while Bruce simply narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. Damian shifted, annoyed pout on his face. “What? I’ll train him to use the focus so he won’t be an issue.”

“That’s not the problem, Damian--”

“How the fuck do you even do something like that?” Dick was running a hand through his hair, eyes staring into space as if attempting to contemplate the meaning of life. “I mean… that is… I don’t even know where to start…” He wandered aimlessly around the large space, hands gesturing as if they would help him solve this conundrum.

“Damian.” Ignoring Dick for now, Bruce’s tone was even, which made it that much more intimidating. “Was this boy already part of the community?”

“No… but he had potential, however buried it may have been.”

Bruce sighed, deciding he was too sleep deprived to argue. “Fine. I want a full, written report tomorrow. And Damian, this kid is your responsibility. I don’t need another wild card. There’s enough going on as is.”

“Of course, Father.”

A pinging sound drew their attention to the screen once more where a blinking yellow dot was moving towards the docks. Dick paused his pacing, crowding into Damian’s space as he leaned forward to listen as a crackling over the speakers as one of their coms came online. Stabbing his finger down on the console, Bruce growled into the mic. “Tim. Where the hell have you been? I gave express orders that no one was to move without backup.”

Calm down, B. Cass is with me. Plus, I had to check this out myself.

“That’s not the point, Tim.”

Yeah, yeah. I’ll be in and out. It’s just surveillance. I’ll give a report when I get back .”

“Tim--”

The distinctive static of the connection failing cut him off and Bruce grumbled irritably as he sat back in his chair. That was probably the biggest issue with the coms: Tim had made them, so he was the only one who could turn them off whenever he wanted. It had caused Bruce more sleepless nights than he’d like to admit. A hand on his shoulder made him glance up, only to meet with Dick’s unflappably bright smile.

“Don’t worry about him. Tim can handle himself, and you know Cass is second to none in a fight.”

Damian snorted, crossing his arms grumpily as Dick shot him a snide smirk. Sighing, Bruce knew his eldest was right, but it didn’t do much to settle the wariness that settled low in his stomach. Gotham had never been a safe place, magic practitioner or not, but lately things had begun taking a turn for the worse, and their inability to trace the source made him uneasy. And if there was one thing Bruce Wayne hated it was being kept in the dark. Rubbing at the bridge of his nose, he figured there wasn’t much more any of them would be able to do until Tim returned. “Fine. We’ll reconvene when Tim and Cass get back.”

Dick smiled, this time softly, with sincere warmth. “Why don’t you lie down for a bit, B. I’m sure Alfred wouldn’t mind whipping up some food for later. Damian and I can spar a bit, I’ve been itching to give this cocky kid a lesson in real combat magic.”

Damian scoffed, immediately rising to the bait. “Please, Grayson. As if you could do more than ruffle my hair with one of your little breezes.”

“Is that a challenge?” Dick raised an eyebrow tauntingly.

“Hah! Most certainly.” With a confident smirk, Damian marched away down the hall towards the practice rooms, calling over his shoulder, “Be prepared to wallow in the humiliation of defeat, Grayson.”

Dick chuckled, shaking his head. “Sometimes that kid is just too much.” Turning back to Bruce he added, “I was serious about the nap. I’ll wake you up when they’re back, don’t worry.” And with that, he strolled after his younger brother, leaving Bruce to consider the tempting call of his bed.

 

--

 

“...I’ll give a report when I get back.” Reaching up to tap the silence rune on the side of the com, Tim nodded in satisfaction as the sound from the other end cut off. Sure, he knew Bruce wanted them to keep him in the loop at all times, but Tim had been getting antsy, unable to sit staring at those giant screens for another minute. He hadn’t really lied to Bruce, though. He did have a good lead, one that might just be the final link to their mystery demon problem. All he had wanted to do was confirm it with his own eyes. Tim was like that. And really, Bruce didn’t need to worry. Tim had brought Cass with him after all. Glancing to his right, Tim caught a series of hand signals, flashing almost too quickly to interpret.

We’re getting close. Are the veils active? Cass tilted her head, accentuating the question.

Gesturing in response, much more slowly and with significant less grace, Tim replied, Just activated. You watch for bad. I look for information.

Cass smiled at his choppy wording and nodded, slowing her pace as they finally reached the warehouse in question. Dropping down from the neighboring roof, they snuck forward on silent feet, their forms disguised by a thin veil. Unless someone was looking specifically for them, they would be invisible, light bending around them in a sort of visual block. Tim sank into a low crouch at the edge of the roof, peering down at the dock below. Several burly men were loitering around, not really doing anything in particular, but clearly armed to the teeth. If that weren’t strange enough, a quick survey of the adjoining alleyway showed a large truck, also guarded by a pair of heavily armed thugs. For now, it seemed that they were just waiting around, none of the men seeming to be particularly on guard. All the better to get the drop on them.

Shifting, Tim was about to reach for a pair of binoculars when a shiver ran down his spine, his senses suddenly on high alert as he sensed a new aura. Whirling around as quietly as possible, Tim reached for his belt, prepared to pull out his bo staff at a moment’s notice.

“Heya, Replacement. Fancy meeting you here.”

Leaning against a ventilation shaft not two yards from where Tim and Cass were crouching was a tall, broad shouldered man, his face shadowed by the hood of a red sweatshirt worn under a well used leather jacket. His left hand fiddled with something small which caught the meager moonlight as it twirled in his grasp. Stepping forward a bit, he tossed back the hood, unnaturally green eyes bright as he smirked down at them.

Frowning, Tim grumbled, “Jason.”

Chuckling softly, Jason slipped what Tim now recognized as a lighter into his pocket, hands flickering in a swift series of signs almost too fast to follow. Hey there, Cass. When’re you guys gonna to stop by for another euchre night? Lian’s been dying to learn some more moves.

Beside Tim, Cass smiled warmly, eyes crinkling at the corners. Stephanie is finishing up finals, but perhaps next week? It really has been too long. How are Lian’s signs coming along?

Tim pouted as the two continued their conversation for a few moments. Despite his bad boy persona, Jason Todd was an academic at heart, literature and language nerd on a level Tim couldn’t even imagine. When Cass had first arrived, it had taken awhile to figure out a way to communicate with her, making everyone stressed beyond belief for a few months. But then, out of pure coincidence, Cass had run into Jason on patrol and the two had struck up an easy friendship. Within a week, Jason had learned the basics of her sign language, and within a month, he might as well have been fluent. Three years later and Tim was still struggling to get the hang of quite a few grammatical structures, not to mention colloquialisms and idioms. In all honesty, he wasn’t sure whether or not to be impressed or jealous of Jason. At least he was still managing better than Damian--

“Yo, hey, Replacement! Tim!”

Tim blinked, looking up to find the other two staring at him. Cass tilted her head, question evident. “Uh… Sorry, what?”

Cass signed a little slower, more deliberately. Jason was asking what we were doing here.

“Oh… Wait. What are you doing here?”

Jason simply stared at him, eyebrow raised slightly. “Seriously, Timbers? The docks are my turf. Well, these ones anyway. Plus, Roy and I have been tailing these yahoos for a week or so. Got a tip from a guy that something big was going down, so…” He raised his arms, gesturing as if to say, here we are . “What’s your story? Bruce knows I don’t like it when you guys mess around in my territory.” No offence, Cass .

None taken, Jay . Cass smiled.

Tim rolled his eyes. “It’s not like we’re beholden to do whatever Bruce says.”

“Coulda fooled me.”

Tim glared. “We’ve been keeping track of demonic activity. Even you must have noticed a rise in incidences recently.” Jason shrugged and Tim continued. “I’ve been running some algorithms to see if we could find any trends, but it still seems fairly random. A few locations have more frequent flares of demonic energy, but that’s not all that unordinary.” Tim glanced over the roof’s edge, noticing the thugs below hadn’t really moved all that much, still milling around aimlessly, looking pretty bored if he were being honest.

Jason scoffed. “That still doesn’t explain what you’re doing out here.”

“Since just tracking energy flares wasn’t pulling up anything, I figured I should switch perspectives. Demonic summonings require specific ingredients, many of which are pretty difficult to get your hands on legally. So I started tracking incoming shipments of some of those items.”

Jason tilted his head, voice laced with a bit of surprise. “You have black market contacts?”

Feeling a little bit of an ego boost, Tim grinned. “Sure,” he waved his hand, trying to appear nonchalant, “I have my ways of getting info. I’ve been keeping tabs on the magic and non-magic black markets for a few years now.”

Raising an eyebrow, Jason said nothing, choosing instead to move forwards, crouching next to the roof’s edge and peering over himself. This close, Tim could see the faintest glow of Jason’s eyes. Unable to stop himself, he muttered, “Holy shit, Steph was right…”

Snapping his head to the side, Jason fixed Tim with a suspicious look. “The hell you talking about, Replacement?”

“Uh…”

Cass snickered, and when Jason turned her way, casually signed, Stephanie told Tim your eyes glow like night lights. You know, like those little green ones we got for Lian?

Jason just looked incredulous, saying and signing at once, “What the hell does that have to do with the black market deal going on down there?!” Glaring at Tim, he added, “I thought you were supposed to be the responsible one.”

Sniffing dismissively in his best imitation of Damian, Tim turned back to the task at hand, hoping to hide his momentary embarrassment at the slip. Pulling out his binoculars, he took a closer look at the dock and the truck, filling Jason in as he did. “My intel said there was supposed to be a trade at eleven. A boat’s supposed to be coming with the cargo from one of the freighters out in the harbor. Cargo goes in the truck, money goes with the boat. Deal done.”

“You know who’s bringing in the goods? Who’s the buyer?”

Slipping the binoculars away, Tim shifted, trying to shake the pins and needles out of his foot and lower leg. “The supplier’s still uncertain, but the group who’s making the trade is a small time gang from the Narrows, probably working for Cobblepot or Two-Face.”

Jason frowned. “It’s not Two-Face. He’s been pulling goods from the south side of Gotham for the past few months. No, this feels more like Cobblepot. He’s always been a little better at covering his tracks, and what a better way to do that than to hire a bunch of thugs to make a trade this far outside your own territory?”

“Yeah… Wait,” Tim frowned, mentally running through the big black-market bosses he knew of, suddenly realizing that this area had only recently been vacated by Black Mask. Glancing over at Jason curiously, he pried, “Whose territory is this then?”

Meeting Tim’s glance with an almost feral grin, Jason replied, “Well, it would be mine, Timbers.” Below them, a boat was pulling up to the dock, riding low under the weight of its cargo. Grin widening, Jason reached into his pocket, pulling out his lighter. “And I don’t much like people messing around in my territory.”

A moment too late, Tim reached out, trying to pull Jason back. “Shit, Jason! Fuck!”

Below, screams cut through the night air as massive tongues of flame began to lick along the warehouses and dock. Tim groaned, rubbing a hand over his face as he vividly imagined how the conversation with Bruce would go later. Beside him, Cass shifted, patting him consolingly on the shoulder. Pulling back briefly, she signed, Don’t worry. I’m sure he won’t kill them. Tim glared. All.

Another scream drew their eyes back towards the fairly one-sided battle raging below. Jason was currently flinging masses of burning rubble at fleeing thugs, a somewhat manic glint in his eye. Tim frowned. Should help?

Jason or the thugs? Cass grinned cheekily.

Sighing, Tim replied, Jason.

Cass shrugged, rolling back and rising smoothly to her feet. Tim could see her eyes flickering between Jason and each of his adversaries, drinking in every detail of their movements. Her fingers twitched before quickly signing, Let’s go. In a flash, she disappeared over the edge of the roof, silent as a shadow. Sighing, Tim eased himself up, grimacing at the utter chaos below him. Oh yeah, Bruce was going to love this. Without another breath, he vaulted over the side of the building, plummeting down to join the battle below.

 

--

 

Bruce was strongly considering asking Alfred to spike the coffee with something, anything . Rubbing at the bridge of his nose, he attempted to maintain his usual stoic calm demeanor. “So… Define ‘it will just be surveillance’ for me again?”

Tim pouted, rolling his eyes as he leaned heavily against a display screen currently playing a looping video feed from a security camera at the docks. The film was grainy, but the fiery wasteland of rubble and ash was clear enough to attest to the severity of the situation. “Well, I did say that before Jason showed up and got all trigger happy. No one died, they were just, and this is a direct quote from Jason, ‘maimed a little bit’.”

Bruce fixed Tim with a withering stare.

“What? How was I supposed to know his little criminal empire included the docks? I mean, last we’d heard he was mostly holed up in Crime Alley.”

“Well, where’s Roy living these days?”

Two pairs of thoroughly confused eyes swivelled around to look at Dick who had just emerged from the showers, toweling off his hair. Narrowing his eyes, Tim pried, “What does that have to do with this?”

Frowning slightly, Dick flopped into one of the extra chairs, tossing the towel aside and running his fingers through his hair in lieu of a brush. Catching sight of Cass perched on a table just across the way, he signed a quick hello before offering, “Jaybird’s always tailored his territory to wherever Roy is.” Silence prompted Dick to continue. “C’mon, you guys never noticed? He found Roy when he was still hanging around the Narrows. So when Roy got his new place up around Farrow, Jay moved Uptown. I’d say he probably controls about, what… half of Uptown by now? You guys seriously never noticed?” Dick looked incredulously between Bruce and Tim who were making a point of finding the burning warehouses very interesting.

“Don’t waste your time, Grayson.” Damian appeared seemingly from nowhere, traipsing over to pick at the array of snacks and beverages Alfred had left for them. “Drake enjoys playing at detective, but we all know how atrocious his observational skills are.”

Staring daggers at the young man’s back, Tim all but growled, “Like you knew what Jason’s been doing. You can’t even stand to talk about him, let alone keep tabs on him.”

“That’s beside the point, Drake.”

“Beside the… Ugh. Whatever.” Tim pushed himself forward, glowering at the screens as he attempted to change the subject. “Isn’t the more important issue that Cass and I managed to salvage some of the cargo?” They all glanced towards the slightly charred stack of boxes sitting on one of the work tables across the room, looking worse for the wear, but still intact. “I mean, this is a big deal. There’s a shit ton we could learn from whatever’s in those boxes. Like narrowing down the type of summoning they might be using. That’s pretty important.”

Bruce made a low noise of agreement, rising and walking slowly over to the boxes. Considering them for a moment, his frown only deepened. “There’s no obvious markings on them… You said Jason suspected Cobblepot?”

Cass leapt lithely from her perch, drawing Bruce’s attention as she replied, He mentioned that Two-Face has been operating in the south and that Cobblepot is far more likely to attempt a trade in the middle of a competitor’s territory.

“Hm… That’s disturbing. Cobblepot’s more dangerous than he seems.”

Dick snorted, shifting to reach over Damian and snatch up a cookie. “Being able to read omens can’t have that many benefits.”

Bruce spared his oldest a wry glance. “Dick, you of all people should know that one’s specialty does not preclude formidable skills in other aspects of magic. Cobblepot’s a well-learned, if not a little eccentric, practitioner. We need to be cautious.”

Tim moved forwards, circling the table so he was opposite Bruce, and studied the crates closely. Running his hand just a fraction of an inch above their surface, he focused some energy into his palm, feeling out any possible abnormality in the boxes. “There doesn’t seem to be any charms or spells on them. They should be safe to open up.”

Nodding, Bruce made a small motion for Tim to back away, and then moved his hand over the boxes, fingers tracing a series of runes in the air above the charred wood. A soft hum accompanied the gentle shivering of the wood as the nails began to loosen themselves, wood and metal floating apart to reveal the contents. There were three boxes in total, and the first to be disassembled was no bigger than a milk crate. Inside was what appeared to be bottles of some type of red, stringy plant, its smell unmistakably that of saffron. Considering the deepness of the red color as well as a distinct lack of yellow strands, the spice was likely of the highest quality. The second box was slightly larger, and as its sides fell away, revealing thick bars of iron, stacked one on top of the other. The third and final crate was much smaller, revealing by far the strangest contents yet. Twisted into strange and almost fluid looking shapes, several miniature sculptures of some sort of shining metal twisted upwards within their individual glass containers.

“What’s that? I’ve never seen metal do something like that…” Dick peered curiously at the little glass containers.

Bruce picked one up, turning it around in the light. “It appears to have been melted, perhaps the result of the fire. Some transition metals have very low melting points. My best guess would be Lead, or possibly Zinc. Cadmium could be a possibility as well. I’ll run a few tests to see.” Setting the container down, he turned instead to the iron bars, running his fingers along a set of letters and numbers pressed into the metal. “These look like manufacturers’ stamps. We should be able to figure out who made these and then trace the line back to the buyer. Tim,” Bruce nodded towards the computers, “I’ll leave that to you. Dick, you check in on Cobblepot, see what’s going on at the Iceberg Lounge. I want to know if there have been any strange shipments similar to this one in the last few weeks. Cass, talk to Stephanie, see what information she’s been able to gather. I’ll visit the Oracle and see what she can give us.” He paused, glancing around at their tired, but determined, faces. “Get some sleep, we’ll reconvene in two nights.”

Chapter Text

Colin was fairly sure he’d never been quite so aware of the passage of time in his entire life. It seemed that every five minutes during his shift, he was glancing up at the clock, expecting an hour to have passed, only to be disappointed. He was antsy, well, more antsy than usual, so much so that his supervisor, Harper, pulled him aside and asked if he was doing alright. Blinking a little owlishly, Colin had simply stared at her concerned face for a moment, before stuttering out, “Oh, I-I’m fine.”

The strange part, he realized as she sent him back to the register, was that he actually did feel fine. This was not a common experience for Colin, and he felt himself drifting a little as he considered this new found calm. By noon, he had concluded that the feeling must be the result of one of two things: the fact that he was no longer possessed (which, if he was being honest, hadn’t been all that much worse than his normal struggles with his own phobias) or the fact that a very attractive young man was going to be in his apartment later that day. By one o’clock, if the raging butterfly convention in his stomach were to be trusted, Colin decided that option number two was clearly the culprit. As the minute hand dragged itself towards the forty-five mark, all signs of the previous calm were gone, replaced by a mish-mash of panic and excitement threatening to drag Colin’s meager lunch back up for round two. His mind was racing a mile a minute as he mechanically prepared drink orders.  What if I dreamed all that last night? What if Damian doesn’t show? What if it was all an elaborate joke? Did I clean the apartment? Oh god, what if I left my underwear drawer open? What if--

“--olin. Colin!”

“What?!” Almost dropping the mug in his hand, Colin spun around, eyes wide with alarm.

Harper tilted her head, raising an eyebrow. “You alright?”

“Oh, uh, yeah. I’m f-fine.”

“Well, your shift just ended, so let me finish up here. You had something you needed to do right after work, right?”

“Ah! Yes, yeah, I…”

Harper shook her head, grinning even as she sighed, nudging him towards the back. “Go on! Get going.”

Rushing into the back to hang up his apron and grab his bag, Colin could feel his heart racing, excitement flooding his system until he was sure his ribs were going to break from all the pressure. Dashing back out, he waved goodbye to Harper who shouted after him, “And make sure you get his number!”

Blushing from head to toe, Colin almost tripped on the threshold, stumbling a bit before taking off at a sprint down the street. Trust Harper to know exactly what buttons to push to make Colin a blundering mess, as if he needed help with that. Dodging between pedestrians, Colin raced along, keeping his eye on his watch. It was only three past, but something told him that Damian was one of those people who thought being on time was late, and for some reason, he really, really didn’t want to get off on the wrong foot. Damian had seemed so nice the previous night, calm and patient with him. Colin still remembered how coolly he had handled Colin’s jumpiness. People who were willing to put up with his particular… mannerisms were few and far between, and even then, plenty of people seemed to see him as more of a pity case than anything else. Harper was great, but she was used to it, having taken care of her brother all on her own since she was young. Cullen wasn’t nearly as bad as Colin was, but both Harper and her brother had been through a lot of shit and knew what it was like to come out not-so-okay on the other side. Other than them, however, Colin hadn’t really met anyone who treated him the way Damian had, not since he was back at the orphanage anyway.

As he neared his building, he could see no sign of Damian. Slowing down, he peered around the front steps glancing up and down the road, but there was no one but Mrs. Tiller who ran the little convenience store across the street. Deciding he might as well take advantage of the time, Colin took the stairs two at a time, until he reached his floor. Fumbling the key out of his pocket, he let himself into the little studio apartment. Making sure to lock the door behind him, Colin scrambled further in, passing his messy kitchenette and bathroom before ducking into the main room.

“Wilkes, your accommodations are horrendous.”

“AGHHH!” Colin literally felt his heart leap in his chest as he tumbled face first over one of his chairs, wildly attempting to keep himself from crashing into the table. As he attempted to untangle his limbs from the furniture and relearn a proper heartbeat, Colin gaped towards his bed, on the foot of which sat none other than Damian. He was dressed casually in a pair of dark jeans, black boots, and a leather jacket that Colin was fairly certain cost at least twice as much as his monthly rent. All in all, Damian looked entirely out of place and yet so very in command of the space. Finally succeeding in freeing himself, Colin blushed a bit as he caught Damian watching him stand up, brushing down the front of his jacket self consciously. “Uh...h-how…?” He waved his hands around aimlessly as if to illustrate his question better.

Rising smoothly from the bed, Damian shrugged noncommittally, striding over the the little window and running his finger along the sill. “I’m a witch. There’s not a great deal that I cannot do.” Turning to look at Colin from over his shoulder, a small frown appeared. Suddenly he was across the room, just far enough away from Colin that he wasn’t intruding on his personal space.

Colin squirmed as Damian inspected him with brows furrowed. “Uh… D-Damian…?”

“You hit your head when you fell. Do you have first aid supplies?”

Damian’s face was so close now that Colin could make out the little golden specks in his otherwise vibrant green eyes and it was all he could do to keep from hyperventilating. “I… uh, yeah, in… in the b-bathroom…?” Colin cringed at the breathiness of his voice, but Damian didn’t seem to notice, and if he had, he made no comment. Guiding Colin to sit in one of the chairs, Damian swept off to search the bathroom for whatever medical supplies he needed. As he listened to the sounds of rustling in the other room, Colin took a moment to attempt to calm his still furiously beating heart, willing the blush to leave his face. “Okay, okay. You’ve got this, Colin. You’re fine, yeah, fine…” Colin mumbled to himself, running a hand distractedly through his hair.

“Here.”

Colin jumped in his seat as Damian dropped a pile of bandages, tissues, and a bottle of rubbing alcohol on the table, dragging the other chair over so that he was facing Colin head on. Giving Colin a side-eyed glance, he opened the bottle, pouring a little bit of the alcohol out on a tissue. Turning back to Colin, Damian paused, asking, “Is this alright? I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.”

Unable to stop the blush from returning again, Colin nodded quickly, stuttering, “Y-yeah. G-go ahead.”

Leaning forward, Damian brushed Colin’s bangs aside, rough fingertips trailing lightly against the skin there, before pressing the alcohol soaked tissue to what must have been a small cut. Jerking a little at the sting, Colin bit back a hiss, forcing himself to remain still as Damian quickly and efficiently cleaned the cut, drying the area and then pressing a bandage into place. When the task was done, Damian gathered up the used tissues and bandage wrappings, tossing them quickly in the kitchen trash before returning the alcohol to the bathroom.

Twisting his hands together, Colin sheepishly caught Damian’s eye as he returned. “Um, th-thanks. Sorry I’m so clumsy. You just startled me.”

Damian tilted his head, small frown on his face as he glanced away a bit guiltily. “I suppose it may have been untoward of me to enter your home uninvited. I simply wished to gain an understanding of its layout.” Fixing Colin with a fervently sincere gaze, he bowed his head slightly. “My apologies. It was my carelessness which caused you to become injured.”

Colin squirmed on the chair, blush back in full force as he attempted to get his head around the whole situation. From the moment he had entered his apartment, the whole situation had become something far stranger than he could have imagined, but all Colin could think about was this frankly gorgeous man, standing in his dingy little home, apologizing as if he had caused Colin some sort of grave offense. Laughing a little breathlessly, Colin nervously pushed a bit of his hair behind his ear, glancing anywhere but at Damian who seemed to be waiting for some sort of response. “Uh, it’s… Really, it’s not your fault. I, uh… Why don’t you sit down and you can, um, do whatever it is you came to do…?”

Nodding, Damian pulled out the extra chair, reaching over behind the table to pull out a bag Colin hadn’t noticed before. Setting the bag on the table, Damian quickly began removing several items, offering an explanation for each as it appeared. “These are talismans, made from sheep’s leather and stamped with protective charms. There are four and will need to be placed on the walls at the four points of the compass. Your apartment is aligned ideally for that.” Setting the little leather pieces to the side, he pulled out another item, this time a bundle of some sort of herb. “This is sage. Usually I would burn it and let the smoke waft around the living area, but I have already taken the liberty of researching the fire regulations for your building, and it does not allow for burning of incense. No matter, the same effect may be produced by crushing the leaves and smearing a bit of the juice near window sills and thresholds.” Finally, Damian pulled out a pair of strange looking bowls made of a sort of white ceramic with a spiral design filled with strange letters on the inside. At the very bottom of the bowls were small stylized images of what Colin could only describe as monsters. “These,” Damian said slowly, catching Colin’s eye for a short moment, “are incantation bowls. They are a very old type of magic, used often in the ancient Mediterranean as a means of capturing malevolent daimones , or in this case demons.”

“Wait, aren’t those the same word?”

Damian narrowed his eyes slightly, but simply set the bowls down, taking a slow breath and explaining evenly. “ Daimones are spirits, they can be either good or evil and come in many different forms. Sometimes, they may be the souls of the departed, or simply spirits of nature. Demons are of a very different tradition, the Abrahamic faiths. They are inherently evil, according to the scriptures, and seek to corrupt humans and secure their souls in the name of the Devil, Iblis , Shaytan , or whatever name you so choose.”

Colin nodded slowly, glancing at the bowls again. “Oh… I guess that makes sense…?”

Damian smiled slightly. “You are very new to these things. I cannot expect you to know the history of magical beings or have knowledge of our world. After all,” he smirked slightly, “we have done a great deal to keep our secrets well hidden.”

“I… see? Um…” Colin peered closely at the items laid out across the table. “So, do we just… put the bowls wherever?”

Pulling a small hammer, some nails, and a miniature mortar and pestle, Damian replied, “Traditionally they would be buried below the threshold or in the corners of rooms. Since you are not on the ground floor, that would be slightly difficult. For now, simply placing them in the four corners of your apartment should suffice. I will be linking a ward between the talismans anyway, so the likelihood that the bowls will be activated is very low.” Picking up the items in question, Damian held them out. “Would you like to place them? The opening should be face down.”

“S-Sure.” Colin took the bowls cautiously, but was encouraged by the small smile and nod of approval from Damian. Glancing around, Colin realized that it might be more difficult a task than he had originally thought. Deciding to start off with the easiest options, he pushed back his chair, crawling beneath the table to place the first one. Behind him, he could hear Damian muttering something in a language he didn’t know. Scooting back out, he glanced over and watched for a moment as Damian’s fingers flickered over the talismans which he had laid out side by side on the table. As his fingers moved, Colin thought he saw little lines of light following them. Unwilling to interrupt him, Colin placed the second bowl upside-down on his dresser and then grabbed the spare chair and dragged it alongside the cabinets. Climbing carefully, he slid the third bowl on top of the corner cabinet. That done, he clambered back down, glancing at the bathroom with a concerned frown. The shower’s in the last corner. That could be pretty weird…

“Are the bowls in place?”

Colin jumped slightly, glancing back to see Damian gathering up the hammer and nails. “Uh… the last corner is actually in my shower…”

“Hm…” Damian paused, glancing into the bathroom briefly. “If you place it on either side of the shower, it should be alright. The running water from the spray would weaken the magic anyway.”

“Oh… okay.” Hurrying to place the last bowl, Colin quickly put the chair back by the table and watched as Damian began hanging the little talismans on the walls. As he went, he began muttering again, and Colin was sure this time that he was seeing little glowing lines appear and then disappear as Damian moved. The whole process took a little over ten minutes, and as Daiman put his tools away, he directed Colin in the best way to grind up the sage. A few minutes later and Colin’s window sill and door frame were smeared with the pleasant smelling herb. While Damian washed the mortar and pestle, Colin hovered, unsure of what to do now. It felt strange, to feel so out of place in his own home, but he couldn’t help himself. He didn’t get visitors often, aside from the occasional visit from Cullen or Harper. To have Damian there felt so natural, as if they had known each other for years instead of days. Well, less than a day.

“So…” Colin shuffled from foot to foot, fingers reaching up to tug at the chain around his neck. “Were we going to go over the, uh, ring… thing?”

Damian nodded, setting the dishes aside to dry and turning to look at Colin directly. “I have determined it would be best to stick to the basics for now. Only so much so that you will not be a danger to yourself or others.”

“Haha… that sounds good.” Colin ran a hand through his hair and gestured at the table and chairs. “Um… should we sit down? Sorry there’s not really a lot of room…”

Damian took a seat, shrugging. “Not everyone is of means. This does not make a home less welcoming. Now…” He pointedly eyed the other seat and Colin hurried to sit down, blush creeping back across his face. Holding out his hand, Damian requested, “The ring, please.” Hastily pulling the chain from around his neck, Colin handed it over, watching with sudden excitement as Damian checked it over. “It seems the runes have taken very well. They should be ready to use in a few days, once they have had time to acclimate to your presence.”

“Acclimate?”

Damian nodded. “A magical item like this we refer to as a focus. The talismans I placed earlier are another form of focus. Foci are used to channel and stabilize magic, and sometimes they can be used as a trigger.” Damian frowned slightly, casting around for the best description. “Imagine that the magic you wish to use is like water contained within a cup. If you attempt to pour out the water, it will come out too quickly and likely splash everywhere. However, if you were to add a spout, the flow of water is more controlled. Does this make sense?”

“Sort of?” Colin paused, eyebrows drawing together. “So… a focus is like the pointed cap on those little puff paints?” Damian looked confused, so he tried again. “Or… or like when you’re making a really fancy cake and you use those piping bags!” This Damian seemed to understand, nodding slowly.

“Yes, like that. So the focus gives you fine control over magic. In this case, the ring is the focus. It links the demonic power to the user, you, through the runes. With the runes inscribed on the ring, they bind the power to something uniquely attuned to your aura. This will make it very difficult for another to use the ring.”

“Okay, so it’s kinda like a fingerprint or retina scanner!”

Damian paused. “...Yes.”

Colin’s eyes sparkled. “So. Cool!”

A small smile of amusement touched Damian’s lips and he pushed on. “For now, I think it would best to simply keep the ring on your person for the next few days. This will allow the magic to acclimate itself to your aura.” Here his tone became incredibly more serious, eyes sharp and all signs of amusement gone from his face. “It is utterly vital that you keep this ring secret from all others. This is for your safety as well as theirs. Do not let this ring out of your sight.”

A tense silence fell between them as Damian held Colin’s gaze. Colin felt a cold sweat break out across the back of his neck and he nodded slowly, and with as straight a face as he could manage, sounding somewhere between hysterical and terrified, he said, “Keep it secret, keep it safe.”

Damian simply stared, face unreadable, before nodding resolutely and handing the ring back to Colin. Tears and laughter threatening simultaneously, Colin took the ring without a word, slipping the chain over his head. It was all he could do to keep from bursting into hysterical laughter and Colin coughed awkwardly instead, rubbing at the back of his neck as he watched Damian pack his things. “This should suffice for now. I will arrange a time to meet with you early next week to begin training.”

“Um…” Damian paused, glancing around at Colin who was now blushing slightly, the urge to laugh metamorphosing into fluttering nervousness in his stomach. “W-Would you like to… um… stay? For a bit?” Damian seemed confused, so Colin soldiered on, unwilling to let this burst of bravado go to waste. “Uh, I mean, we could hang out a bit. I’ll make something to eat? We could watch a movie? As thanks! For, uh, for helping me out yesterday. And today. And in the future…”

Hand resting on his bag, Damian seemed to consider it, glancing over at the beat up alarm clock on Colin’s dresser. “I… suppose I could… stay…” When he turned to look back at Colin, his expression seemed curious and a little apprehensive, as if Damian were unaccustomed to offers like this.

Overjoyed, Colin leapt to his feet, beaming as he announced gleefully, “Awesome! I have just the movie!”

Chapter Text

Jason waved at the little old lady from across the hall, who, as per usual, was eyeing him suspiciously. She hurriedly closed her door and Jason sighed. It wasn’t like he wasn’t here every day for the past year and a half. The neighbors should be used to him by now, right? Then again, this wasn’t the best part of town by any measure, and people generally weren’t all that keen to take too kindly to scruffy looking strangers. Particularly when they were tall, muscled young men, probably looking to start trouble. Silently, Jason made it his goal to get on good terms with at least one of Roy’s neighbors before New Years.

At long last, the door swung open, revealing a very haggard looking Roy, flour in his hair and spatters of something decorating his quaint little apron, balancing Lian on one hip while his other hand held a spatula. As soon as she laid eyes on him, Lian squealed happily, launching herself into Jason’s arms. “Jayjay! You’re late!” She pouted, putting her little fists on her hips and attempting a glare which only managed to make her look even more adorable.

Jason schooled his face into a look of mock hurt. “Lian! You wound me! After I went through all the trouble of bringing you this?” He patted the bag at his side.

Lian wavered a bit, curiosity piqued as she peered down at the bag. “What is it?”

“Ah, ah! Not so fast. Let’s go inside first so your dad can get back to…” Jason trailed off, giving Roy another once over, to which the redhead replied with a dramatic eye roll.

“PANCAKES!” Lian shouted, wiggling in Jason’s hold and waving her hands excitedly.

A questioning look.

Roy sighed. “I haven’t gone shopping in awhile, so it’s the best I could scrape together.” He led the way into the little apartment with Jason and Lian close behind. The kitchenette looked a mess, bowls and spoons scattered over what little counter space there was and flour on everything .

“Holy shit, Roy. What happened in here?”

“Hey! Language.” Roy snipped as he approached the frying pan as if it were an alligator waiting to bite off his hand.

“You owe a quarter now, Jayjay!” Lian happily chimed in, pointing enthusiastically towards the little jar on top of the fridge labeled in bright red crayon: Papa and Jayjay’s Bad Word Bank .

Sighing, Jason set Lian down, fishing a quarter out of his pocket and plunking it into the already alarmingly full jar. Behind him, Lian had clambered up into a chair at the table, busying herself with coloring while Roy glared at the frying pan in front of him. Deciding to take pity on the poor man, Jason sidled up beside him, gently wresting the spatula from his grip and flipping the rather lumpy and slightly burned pancake with ease. “I can handle this if you want to clean up some.”

Attempting to appear less grateful than he was, Roy scowled at Jason, tugging at the ties of the apron. “Guess it might be a shame if they all went up in flames…” he conceded, tossing the apron on a chair and making his way to the sink.

The apartment was small, barely two and a half rooms, if you were including the bathroom. What passed for a “kitchen” took up one wall of the main room, sporting a two burner stove, small microwave, a half-sized fridge, and a woefully tiny sink. The rest of the room was taken up by an old card table, a few mismatched folding chairs, and a beaten-up, hand-me-down couch. Books and toys were stacked on makeshift shelving around the room as well. The second room was much smaller, holding only a double bed, and a chest of drawers. Every time Jason came by he itched to just buy Roy and Lian a new place, set them up in an actual apartment, in a better neighborhood, somewhere Lian could go to a good school… But he knew that Roy would never stand for it. Jason had offered once, about a year ago, and Roy had flatly shot him down, saying that while he appreciated everything Jason had done for them, this was something he needed to do on his own. So, Jason had backed down.

Back when he’d first found them, they hadn’t even been in an apartment, just squatting wherever they could. Jason had taken them in, helped Roy get his life together, get a job, find his feet again. He can still remember that warm feeling that had filled his gut when Roy came home one day, bright beaming smile on his face, to announce he’d just made the first month’s rent on an apartment of their own. Sure, Jason had been sad, well, devastated if he was being honest, that Roy and Lian were leaving, but he couldn’t help but feel a swell of pride at how far Roy had come in just six months. And now… Jason smiled to himself as he flipped two more pancakes, eyes trailing over Roy as he scrubbed at a mixing bowl, chatting happily with Lian. Well, now he couldn’t be more happy just to see the two of them doing so well.

The rest of the pancakes cooked quickly, and soon Jason was switching off the burner, scooping up the plate of warm food and heading over to the table. Behind him, Roy gathered three plates, some cutlery, and a bottle of maple syrup. At the sight of the mound of pancakes, Lian’s eyes lit up, absolutely quivering with excitement. At Roy’s request, she quickly cleaned up her coloring book, tucking the pages and crayons away and racing back to her chair to await her prize. Moments later, the three of them were all settled, tucking into warm, syrupy goodness.

Lian dove straight in, stacking her pancakes one on top of the other and attempting to eat way too many pieces at a time. Jason couldn’t help but laugh as Roy fretted over the mess she was making, almost too distracted to focus on his own dinner. Nudging Roy’s elbow, Jason grinned. “Hey, let the kid have her fun. She’ll learn her lesson when she’s gotta sit still while you’re cleaning syrup out of her hair.”

Roy huffed, stabbing at his pancakes. “You mean, when you’re cleaning syrup out of her hair. I swear, you’re a bad influence on her.”

“Aw c’mon! I can’t be that bad!” Jason smirked. “Hey, Lian! I’m not a bad influence, am I?”

Lian paused in her pancake massacre, fixing him with a deadpan stare as she stated grimly, “Papa says he’s worried you’re gonna be the fun dad and he’s gonna be the cranky dad.”

Jason burst out laughing, tears pricking the corners of his eyes. Beside him, Roy had grown very pale, a look akin to horror on his face as he just stared at his daughter. As Jason’s laughing died down, he wiped at his eyes, glancing over at Roy and belatedly noticing his now somewhat terrified expression. Quirking an eyebrow, Jason started, “Hey, Roy. What’s so…” And then it clicked, just what Lian’s words might have implied. Jason’s eyes grew very round, his mouth moving soundlessly for a moment, before simply saying, “Oh…” Coughing awkwardly, Jason looked pointedly down at his pancakes, brain whirling in about fifteen different directions.

Shit! You just made everything hella awkward, Todd. Nice job! But what if… No. NO. We do not go there! It was probably just something that slipped out one time, a joke, yeah, a joke. And, and Lian just latched onto it! Yeah! It totally doesn’t mean anything. Why are you making such a big deal out of this…? Glancing out of the corner of his eye, Jason saw Roy shovel a mechanical forkful of pancake into his mouth, trying and failing to keep from looking at Jason. For a brief, awkward moment, their eyes met, before the two of them hurriedly focused back on their food.

Apparently oblivious, or unsympathetic, to their dilemma, Lian was happily back to terrorizing her food, already babbling on about something else entirely. Mentally kicking himself to get it together , Jason fixed his face into a smile, determined not to let things get any stranger than they already had. Laughing at some terrible joke Lian was repeating from class, he forced himself to ignore whatever weird tension had fallen over them. After a few moments, Roy seemed to pick up on his willful ignorance, and began to relax a bit as well.

Once the plates were all clear and set in the sink to soak, Jason reached for his bag, pulling a little box out of one of the pockets. Waving for Lian to come join him on the couch, he sat back, making room for her to clamber up onto his lap, little feet kicking back and forth in excitement. From his seat at the table, Roy watched the two of them, faint smile on his face. Grinning down at Lian, Jason waved the box around. “Hey, what’s this?”

“A present! A present!” Lian waved her hands, trying to snatch it out of his hand, only to have Jason move it just out of her reach.

“Ah, ah! Not so fast, pumpkin.”

“I’m not a pumpkin!”

“Is that what your dad’s been telling you?” Jason looked mock askance at Roy. “What lies are these?!”

Lian giggled, poking Jason hard between the ribs. “I’m not a pumpkin! I’m a dragon!”

Jason raised an eyebrow, but Roy only shrugged. “A dragon? But last week you were a pirate.”

“I’m a pirate dragon. How else do you think I get all my gold?” Lian gave him a look that dared him to try and dispute the matter.

Surrendering, Jason cracked a smile, handing the box over to the excited four-year-old. “Well, then. I guess you’ll just have to add this to your treasure hoard.”

With the same ferocity she had shown the pancakes, Lian tore into the box, tossing the ribbon and lid aside to peer down at the contents. Inside was a little chain with an iron pendant. It was round in shape, roughly the size of a quarter, and featured a spiral of minute silver lettering etched into the iron. For a moment, Lian was very quiet, picking up the necklace almost gingerly, running her fingers along the surface as if deep in thought. Then a wide grin spread across her face and she looked up at Jason with bright, happy eyes. Flinging her arms around his neck, she squealed, “Thank you! Thank you, Jayjay! I love it!” She pulled back quickly, shoving the necklace at him and insisting, “Put it on me! Put it on!”

“Okay, okay. Calm down.” Jason chuckled, settling the chain around her neck and fastening the little catch in the back. “Alright, there you go. Now show your dad.”

Lian leaped off his lap, racing over to Roy and holding out the pendant so he could get a good look at it. Jason settled back on the couch, watching them with a soft smile on his face. Roy was nodding as Lian babbled happily, pointing at the little markings with obvious glee. They were adorable, really, and all Jason wanted to do was make sure they were safe. After a moment, Roy suggested Lian settle down with her coloring book, and she happily skipped off, setting herself up at the table while Roy moved to sit beside Jason. They watched her for a moment, humming some song to herself as she set to work.

“So… What exactly is that? Pretty sure you didn’t pick it up at some jewelry store downtown.” Roy side-eyed Jason curiously.

Jason shrugged. “It’s an amulet. Works similarly to an incantation bowl. ‘Cept on this the writing disorients demons and repels them instead of trapping them.” He grinned, remembering the rather excellent blackmailing he’d done to get the piece made. “The demon brat helped, so you can be sure that’s the best damn protection amulet in the city. Or country, if we’re being honest.”

Roy raised an eyebrow. “Damian helped? I thought he hates kids.”

“Eh, he doesn’t like to show it, but I think he’s got a soft spot for Lian. Particularly when he heard about what she did the first time we met.”

Chuckling softly, Roy nodded. “Yeah, I guess he would enjoy the fact that you got beat up by a pipe wielding three-year-old.” Grinning, he nudged Jason’s shoulder. “Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it. Oh, I’ve got something for you, too.” Reaching over to where he’d left his bag, Jason rummaged around for a moment before pulling out a slim case and handing it over to Roy. “Compliments of Tim.”

Looking at the case curiously, Roy pried the lid open to reveal a pair of sleek, surprisingly fashionable looking glasses. Raising an eyebrow in confusion, Roy lifted the glasses out of the case to get a better look at them. “Uh… You do know I’ve got perfectly good eyesight, right?”

“They’re not reading glasses, stupid. Put ‘em on.”

Giving Jason a suspicious look, Roy flipped the arms out, sliding the spectacles up over his ears and settling them on his nose. Immediately his eyes widened, mouth forming a little ‘oh’ as he glanced around in awe. Jason probably shouldn’t have been distracted by how good he looked in the glasses, but he took a moment to admire the view before explaining. “I had Tim work on charming those to let you see through glamours and stuff. Figured it beat using seeing stones.”

“Wow… these are… they’re awesome. Holy crap, Jason. Thank you.” Roy turned to look at him, big goofy grin on his face, and it took all Jason’s willpower to keep his expression casual.

“No problem. Why have genius brothers if you can’t exploit them every once in awhile. Plus, I think Tim had way too much fun working on them.” Smile softening a bit, he added, “I’m glad you like ‘em.”

Roy shifted, prodding at the glasses a bit before facing Jason fully, fixing him with a serious expression and asking, “Do they look alright? I don’t look like a nerd, do I?”

Jason swallowed thickly, taking a long moment to look Roy up and down. He was dressed no different than any other day: simple, slightly torn jeans, loose flannel shirt with the top couple buttons undone. His long red hair was tied back in a haphazard bun that Jason was sure Stephanie would be jealous of, and a hint of five o’clock shadow visible on his chin. Altogether, particularly with the addition of the dark framed glasses, Roy looked like some sort of hipster woodsman straight out of a college girl’s fantasy world, and damn if Jason didn’t feel like one of those girls right now. Taking a moment to attempt to control the sudden rush of heat heading south, Jason coughed slightly, readjusting himself so he was slightly more angled towards Roy. “You look fine. You’ll have college girls throwing themselves at your feet in no time.”

Roy raised an eyebrow, somehow multiplying his attractiveness. “College girls?”

“Y-yeah, you know… You look all…” Jason gestured aimlessly up and down as if that would help illustrate his point. “You know… uh…”

Thankfully, Lian chose that moment to shout for Roy to come help her, giving Jason a moment to attempt to erase his memory of the last ten minutes. Ducking his head, Jason took a few slow breaths. C’mon, Todd! Get it together! You are not some teenage kid dancing around some stupid crush. Shifting awkwardly on the couch, he looked around for something to distract him, eyes landing on a book he had been reading the last time he crashed at Roy’s place. Picking it up, he flipped through to the page he’d left off on, trying to appear nonchalant as he read the same sentence over and over. A dipping of the couch signaled Roy’s return, and Jason could feel his eyes on him.

“I still can’t quite get my head around how much of a lit nerd you are. I mean, what the hell’s so interesting about Pride and Prejudice .”

Jason looked up, face schooled to look mildly affronted. “Roy William Harper. How dare you blaspheme the sacred works of Jane Austen. She is a saint, blessed by whatever gods you want to believe in with divine writing powers.” Whacking Roy with the paperback, Jason cried, “Repent! Repent your wicked ways and accept Jane as your new savior!”

Laughing, Roy attempted to fend off the half-hearted attack. “Okay, okay! I’ll join your cult! Just put the book down!”

Grinning smugly, Jason sat back, fiddling with the pages as he mused, “You really should read it, though. She’s a great writer. Straight up savage sometimes. I think you’d like her.”

“I could be convinced to take a stab at it…” Roy trailed off, propping his feet up on the couch to nudge at Jason’s thigh.

Raising an eyebrow, Jason pried, “‘Convinced’? What, I have to bribe you to read now?”

Roy ducked his head, the faint hint of a blush evident on his pale cheeks. “Yeah… I’ll read it if you, uh… go out for drinks with me?” It ended up as more of a question, which left Jason wondering what Roy was trying to get at.

“Uh, we go out for drinks all the time…”

“Well, yeah, but I thought, maybe… you know, if you’d like to… maybe, go as a… date?” Roy was now full on blushing, running a hand nervously through his hair as he grinned sheepishly at Jason.

For his part, Jason was frozen in his seat, eyes blank as he just stared at the squirming red-head at the other end of the couch. Had he just heard right? Had Roy fucking Harper just asked him out on an honest to god date ? It was taking all of Jason’s self control to keep from straight up jumping the guy, still painfully aware of Lian sitting at the table just a few feet away. Shit, shit! Get it together, Todd! “Uh… that, I… I mean… um…”

Ring! Ring! Ring!

Jason nearly leapt out of his skin as the phone in his back pocket vibrated, ringing obnoxiously loud. Fumbling for it, he caught Dick’s name on the caller ID. “Fuck,” he groaned, running a hand through his hair and looking apologetically over at Roy. “It’s Dick. I gotta take it. Just… give me a sec?”

Roy nodded and Jason slammed his finger down on the answer button, storming off to the little entranceway by the front door. Growling into the phone, he spat, “Someone had better be dead or dying, Dick, or I swear to god I’m gonna rip you a--”

Jay! Shit just hit the fan. Cobblepot’s not working alone. This is big, real big. Like, bigger than even Bruce could have expected. And, and… shit. Did you know there are witches that can time travel? I mean, what the fuck…

Jason’s brow furrowed. Dick was usually the calm one, all happy-go-lucky and nauseatingly positive about everything. Hearing him so shaken up meant that something was really wrong. And the “call Jay first” kind of wrong was never a good sign. Taking a slow breath, Jason cut in, “Dick, Dick! Calm down. Call the others, we’ll meet up at Spoilers in an hour.”

Okay, okay… Yeah. I can do that. ” Jason could hear him take a few slow breaths. “ Right. Okay. I’ll see you there, Jay .”

“Yeah. See ya.” The line went dead and Jason leaned his head back against the wall, internally groaning in frustration. Dick really did have the worst timing. Sighing, he shoved his phone back in his pocket, heading back to the living room where Roy was flipping distractedly through Pride and Prejudice . “Uh,” Jason rubbed sheepishly at the back of his head as Roy looked up, eyes a little concerned. “Dick’s run into some trouble, so I’ve gotta go meet him and the rest of the brats.”

“Oh.”

Jason didn’t miss the hint of disappointment in Roy’s voice and he inwardly cursed Dick with all his being. Grabbing his bag, he ducked over to say a quick goodbye to Lian before walking back to the door with Roy. Halfway into the hall, Jason paused, hands shifting nervously on the strap to his bag. “Hey, uh, about those drinks, um, date… I’d, uh, I’d like that.” Roy’s eyes lit up, surprise and excitement on his face. “You free Saturday? Steph has that night off, so we could probably get her to babysit…”

Grinning, Roy said a little breathlessly, “Really? I, yeah. Yeah, Saturday would be great. I’ll text her. Uh… wow…”

For a moment, Jason was overwhelmed by a year and a half of caged up emotions, and without a second thought, leaned in to place a soft, chaste kiss on Roy’s lips. When he pulled back, mildly horrified at himself, Jason couldn’t help but grin at the stunned look on Roy’s face. “Well, I’d, uh, better get going. G’night, Roy.”

“G-Good night… Jay…”

Chuckling lightly, Jason turned, making his way towards the stairs, feeling a bright rush of warmth fill his chest.

Chapter Text

Fumbling in his pocket for his phone, Dick clicked on the one person who he trusted to ground him when everything was going to hell.

After a few tense rings, he picked up, growling “Someone had better be dead or dying, Dick, or I swear to god I’m gonna rip you a--

“Jay! Shit just hit the fan. Cobblepot’s not working alone. This is big, like real big. Like, bigger than even Bruce could have expected. And, and… shit. Did you know there are witches that can time travel? I mean, what the fuck? How is that even scientifically possible? There’s no way that should be able to work, right? Am I crazy? Did I just dream up the last--”

Dick, Dick! Calm down. Call the others, we’ll meet up at Spoilers in an hour.”

Forcing himself to breathe, Dick focused himself, nodding as he replied, “Okay, okay… Yeah. I can do that. Right. Okay. I’ll see you there, Jay.”

Yeah. See ya.”

 

Not half an hour before...

 

Dick fidgeted restlessly, eyes fixed on the windows of the building just across the way. So far, things had been fairly quiet, a fact which should have comforted him, but only seemed to make him more suspicious. The Iceberg Lounge, as proclaimed proudly by the downright obnoxious neon sign on the side of the building, was the headquarters of one of Gotham’s most notorious magical ne'er-do-wells, Oswald Cobblepot. The son of a very old Gotham family, Cobblepot was a rather unique type of witch, one which traced its origins back to the ancient Romans and their obsession with omens. An Augur, and a damned good one too, Cobblepot boasted a rather unique affinity for reading the future from bird behavior, a skill which the little man took perhaps too close to heart. The witch surrounded himself with a veritable menagerie of the feathered creatures, filling his personal apartments above the Lounge with almost every type of bird he could get his hands on, legally or illegally.

Bruce had hoped for a brief period of time that Cobblepot might prove to be a decent ally in his campaign against the misuse of magic in Gotham, but they had soon found the round little man to be far too infatuated with the potential for personal gain to bother cleaning up the city. Still, Dick had been almost disappointed when the cargo from the docks seemed to implicate that Cobblepot might be mixed up in the trouble that was brewing with the demons. But, Dick supposed, Cobblepot likely could find no wrong in an endeavor that promised profit.

So here he was, perched on the building just next door, freezing his ass off while he attempted to peer through the windows with a pair of high-powered binoculars he’d had Tim enhance to be able to switch between regular vision and “magic vision.” Now, with a flick of a switch, the binoculars would show him a display much like infrared, only the bright patches indicated a surge of magical energy as opposed to concentration of heat. Letting the binoculars drop against his chest, Dick leaned back and sighed as he glanced at this watch. Ten forty-five. He’d been staking out the place for just over three hours now and still, nothing. Well, nothing worth bothering Bruce about, anyway. There had been a rather sketchy looking hand off of what looked to be a mob of emus…

Deciding he’d waited long enough, Dick shifted, floating himself up to his feet as he tucked the binoculars away. Glancing across at the Iceberg Lounge, he gauged the distance between his roof and the other building’s before backing up several paces. Bouncing on the balls of his feet, he relaxed himself into the sensations of the air moving around him, feeling each brush of wind against his fingertips, his eyelids, through his hair. Breathing in, he synchronized himself with the movement, feeling a smooth smile cross his lips as he leaned forward, feet pushing off the gravel of the rooftop. Racing across the roof, Dick didn’t even bother glancing down as he launched himself up and out, over the edge, reaching out with a burst of energy. Immediately, he was flying, gliding upwards with the remnants of an updraft from the passage of a subway train far below. Resisting the urge to laugh out loud at the sheer thrill of it, Dick maneuvered himself up, alighting nimbly on the rooftop of the Lounge without a sound.

Stepping down from the ledge, he took a swift look around, making certain no one had seen his arrival. When no gouts of flame or energy blasts materialized to zap him back off the rooftop, he made a beeline towards the stair access door. Slipping inside, Dick made his cautious way down, keeping his ears pricked for any sounds, but he seemed to be alone in the stairwell. The Lounge was nineteen floors, twenty in total if you counted the “fake” thirteenth floor. Like most buildings constructed in the late 1800s in Gotham, the Lounge had elevators which bypassed the thirteenth floor out of superstition, though even that was a lie. Through a detailed investigation into the building, Bruce and Dick had determined that the thirteenth floor was, in fact, accessible by elevator, though it required a key. The stairwell, however, required no such thing.

Pausing when he arrived at the unmarked door Dick knew to lead into the supposedly unoccupied thirteenth floor, he pulled out the binoculars again, switching them to magic detection mode before raising them to his eyes. Angling them towards the interior of the building, Dick could make out no obvious flares of magical power, but a twisting in his gut told him that something was wrong here. Packing the binoculars away again, he reached into another pocket, pulling out a pair of short iron rods, lines of runes etched into the sides. Channelling a little bit of energy into the rods, he stepped forwards, carefully opening the door and slipping inside.

The room beyond was dark, the only light spilling in behind Dick from the bare bulb in the stairwell. Quickly closing the door, he crouched, waiting a moment for his eyes to adjust. Only… they didn’t. The room remained dark as ever, and a creeping sensation of dread began clawing its way through Dick’s gut. Something was wrong, very wrong… Edging forward, keeping close to the ground, he felt his way into the room, straining with his ears to hear something, anything . After what felt like hours, Dick felt the tip of one of the rods nudge something solid. Flipping it around, he brushed his bare hand against the object, having just enough time to register it as wood before a sudden, blinding light flooded the room.

Reeling back, completely disoriented, Dick could do nothing as what seemed like an army of men rushed him. Attempting to blink the stars out of his eyes, he stumbled backwards, only to be grabbed roughly, his arms wrenched painfully behind his back. Shouting wordlessly, he was forced to drop the rods, wrists bent almost unnaturally as he struggled to get free from his captor. Through the spots in his vision, Dick could make out the forms of maybe six men, all big and burly, likely hired muscle from the Narrows. Grimacing, Dick reached out for the nearest ley line, thinking that if he could just reach it, then maybe--

“Well, well. What have we got here, gentlemen?”

Whirling around, Dick could make out a distinctly shorter form, one he knew well enough. “Cobblepot…” The sharp prod of an umbrella’s point made him cry out, twisting in his captor’s unyielding hold in an attempt to get away.

“I must say, I am a bit surprised that worked so well. Aren’t you Wayne birds supposed to be clever? Hm?” Cobblepot tottered closer, monocle flashing in the light. By now, the floating spots had faded and Dick could see that several floodlamps were set up surrounding a low, rough wooden table. He suspected that was what he had run up against before, and upon a second look, Dick felt his stomach twist. It was an altar, a very old altar at that, featuring a carved circle with several geometric designs etched inside. It was a basic summoning circle, one which could easily be modified with chalk for any specific purpose. At the moment, Dick could tell that it had been set up for what looked like a particularly nasty summoning, the runes complex with a few he couldn’t read. Yeah, this was definitely what Dick had been expecting to find, though not under such disagreeable circumstances.

“Enough theatrics, Cobblepot. We are on a time table after all.”

Another man stepped into the light, this one a little taller, heavy-set and oozing confidence. His bald head reflected the floodlamps in a way which would have been amusing if Dick didn’t know just who this man was. Swallowing thickly, Dick breathed, “Luthor...”

“Yes. Hello again, Mr. Grayson. I had hoped you and your family might give me at least some respite after that last little fiasco with the dragon, but it would seem fate has other designs. It is a shame though that you had to stumble into this particular endeavor. I truly think you might have made a formidable enemy given the time. Oh well, I suppose some things just aren’t meant to be.” Luthor brushed a piece of imaginary dirt of his lapel. “Cobblepot. Shall we proceed?”

“Of course, of course.” Grinning toothily up at Dick the monocled man sneered, “I hope you don’t mind, birdy boy, but I might just need your help with a little, hm, project we’ve got here. You don’t mind, do you?” Cobblepot chuckled. “No, of course you don’t. Now, let’s just--”

A flickering at the center of the room, just beside the altar, drew everyone’s attention, Cobblepot’s monologue cutting off suddenly as he stared, wide eyed. The flickering grew more and more solid, the shape of a person filling in slowly until, finally, the strange flashing motion died away. Standing there, looking around with an expression of surprise, was a young man, his bright red hair tucked under a ragged baseball cap and clothes that could have been straight out one of Dick’s high school days. After a moment of stunned silence from all present parties, the man chuckled slightly, rubbing a nervous hand on the back of his head.

“Well… this is a little… awkward…” At that moment, his eyes landed on Dick and his expression morphed into concern. “Hey, now… I know I just crashed whatever little shindig you’ve got going here, but I’m not sure the handsome gentleman over there looks like he wants to stay. So…” Suddenly, the flickering returned and the red-head vanished, making everyone in the room jump. A second later, a sound like the rustling of pages in a book sounded just by Dick’s ear, followed by the brush of a hand on his arm. “I think I’ll just see him out. Alright?”

Then, Dick was being pulled free, a warm hand tugging him along at a breakneck pace towards the stairwell. He didn’t dare stop, hearing the shouts of surprise and anger behind them as they booked it out of the room. When the redhead tried to go down, Dick pulled up short, shouting. “Up! Up! I can get us out that way!”

Without a second glance, Dick’s savior switched directions, hand still guiding him along as they pounded up the stairs. Below, they could hear the sounds of the burly thugs hot on their tail. Breathing hard, they burst out onto the rooftop, cool air hitting their faces like a bucket of cold water. Sprinting towards the edge, Dick began to pull ahead, gathering the air around them like a whirlwind. At his elbow, the redhead said, “Uh… where are we going? What are you--WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”

Without looking back, Dick launched them off the side of the building, shouting into the wind, “Just trust me!”

Air pressed up against them, pulling the two of them up and away from the Lounge, arching out over the buildings below. Laughing with the sheer thrill of it all and the adrenaline fueling him, Dick could feel his companion clinging to his arm for dear life, muttering, “Holyshitholyshitholyshit…”

Below them, buildings slipped by, the lights of Gotham guiding their way as Dick piloted them through the sky. Spinning a bit so he could get a better look, Dick felt his breath catch as he was met with dazzling green eyes, bright and a little alarmed, but so, so gorgeous. “Hey… uh. T-Thanks, you know, for the save.”

“Thank me after we’re back on solid ground, okay? I’m just trying not to puke right now.”

Dick tried to hold back a laugh as the other pulled even closer, one leg now latched around one of Dick’s. “You know I won’t let us fall, right? This is kinda my specialty.”

“Sorry, dude, but people don’t just fly, okay.”

Dick scoffed, staring at his passenger incredulously. “You’re joking, right? Because people just appear out of fucking nowhere all the time.” His last comment was dripping with sarcasm to which the redhead responded with an adorable little scowl. Shaking his head, Dick began to lower them towards the ground, aiming for an alleyway not far from where he’d parked his bike. Releasing his hold on the winds slowly but surely, he set them down gently, waiting patiently as the redhead took his time prying himself from Dick’s arm and leg. Once he was back on his own feet, looking more relieved that Dick thought completely necessary, he looked up, taking his baseball cap off to wipe at his forehead. “Well, that was something, wasn’t it?”

Dick smiled, shaking his head a bit. “You’re kinda strange, but I think I can get used to that. I’m Dick Grayson, by the way.”

The redhead grinned, replying, “Wally West! Nice to meet ya!”

“Same, same…” Dick trailed off, a little bit distracted by the sheer brilliance of Wally’s smile. “Hey, uh, thanks again, by the way. That was… I’m actually not sure what that was, to be honest, and I’ve seen some weird shit in my time.”

Wally tilted his head, running a hand through his hair and staring a spot just to the side of Dick’s head. “Yeah… No problem. I was, uh, around… And it wasn’t like I was gonna just leave you there. I mean it looked like those guys were cookin’ up something pretty bad, and, well, you know…” He scuffed a foot on the pavement.

Dick took a long look at him, taking note of his worn cargo pants and outdated polo shirt. It really was as if he’d been cut straight of the mid 2000s. “Do you mind me asking, your clothes…?”

Wally’s eyes widened, looking down suddenly as if he had forgotten where he was. “Oh shit. Forgot about those. Um… This might sound a little weird, but I might have just come from 2005…”

Dick raised an eyebrow. “‘Might have’? What? You time travel?”

“Yeah. Pretty much.”

Dick wasn’t sure what to do with that information. He had been joking, but the way Wally just shrugged, saying it as if he were discussing the weather made Dick do a double take. He had seen some crazy, logic defying things since joining up with Bruce, but time travel? That was so far outside of the realm of possibility, he might as well be sitting in Wonderland. There was one thing about magic that had always helped Dick remain grounded, and that was that no matter how strange or fantastic it seemed, there was always some way to explain what was happening within the laws of physics or nature. Tim had regaled him enough times about equivalent exchange and using the ley lines properly that Dick was pretty sure that something like time travel would have to be pretty impossible, if only for the sheer energy it would take to accomplish. Then again, Dick was no trained scientist by any stretch… Maybe there was something to what Wally was suggesting.

“So, uh... I should probably go, but…” He paused, mind reeling and unsure of what exactly to say. Sure, Dick wanted to see Wally again, but he didn’t even really know anything about him. “I’ll see you around?”

Wally’s face split into a brilliant smile. “Of course! I’m sure we’ll run into each other again. I mean, how many flying people are floating around Gotham?” He chuckled at his own joke, and Dick couldn’t help but join in. Giving a small wave and one last smile, Wally began to dissolve into that strange flickering, the sound of rustling pages filling the alley. Waving back, Dick stood there a little dumbfounded as he completely faded from view. Shaking his head, he turned, walking over to where his bike was stashed behind a false dumpster.

As the events of the evening started to sink in, Dick found himself beginning to panic a little. Holy shit, Luthor’s here. In Gotham… This can’t be good. Nothing good ever happens when Luthor’s involved. Shit, shit! Panicking, Dick pulled out his phone, making a quick and dubiously helpful call to Jason, the unofficial family in-case-of-emergency-call-for-extreme-and-likely-unnecessary-action person. When the connection cut off not a minute later, Dick sent a few quick texts before sliding his phone back into his pocket. Slipping on the helmet and kicking up the stand, Dick revved the engine once, pulling out into the late night traffic, mind filled with red hair and dazzling smiles.

Chapter Text

A gentle vibration against his leg almost went unnoticed as Damian focused intently on the heart wrenching scene before him.

“You can’t help me anymore. Frodo intones, eyes vacant and exhausted.

The stirring music drowns out the sound of another message vibrating his phone insistently.

Tears shining at the corners of his eyes, Sam pleads, “You don’t mean that.”

“Go home, Sam.”

A third vibration finally convinces Damian to tear his eyes away from Colin’s computer screen, begging apology as Colin leans over to pause the movie. Fishing his phone from his jeans, Damian scowls down at the notifications. Three texts from Grayson. Likely they’re some sort of drivel, but still… Tapping on the screen, he reads, eyes narrowing.

 

Grayson: Dami! stakeout a bust! meet @ spoilers in 60

Grayson: Dami! hypothetically if time travel were real wwyd?

Grayson: (>n<)

 

Frowning, Damian rereads the texts, knowing that despite his often childish behavior, Grayson was rarely one to exaggerate a situation. If he was calling them together, there was surely something of importance amiss. Sighing, he tapped out a quick acknowledgement before turning to Colin. “I must apologize, Colin. My… associates require my assistance, and unfortunately it is urgent.”

Colin gave him a weak smile, unable to hide the disappointment in his eyes. “That’s okay. I don’t want to keep you from something important.”

Feeling a small tug of what he could only assume was affection, Damian pursed his lips, glancing around before offering, “Perhaps… we could continue our film another time?”

At once, Colin’s eyes lit up, a brilliant smile on his face. “Oh yes! That would be fantastic! Um, you… you really want to?”

Damian smiled, shifting towards the edge of the bed they had been sitting on. “Certainly. These films are quite profound, despite their strange insistence on repeating several glaring inaccuracies about magic. And…” Here he trailed off, unsure of how to put into words what he was feeling. Frowning slightly, Damian shuffled his feet, venturing, “I… enjoy your company. You are much easier to talk to than some of my associates.” Taking a quick peek back at Colin, Damian was surprised to see the redhead was blushing deeply, a strange mix of elation and nervousness on his face.

“T-That’s… um… wow, t-thanks, Damian.”

Making a short tsk ing noise, Damian shrugged, feeling the beginnings of a blush touching his own cheeks. “Anyway, I should be going.” Swiftly, he crossed the room to gather up his bag of tools, tugging his coat on and attempting to avoid eye contact. Really, pull yourself together! You’re not Grayson, for heaven’s sake! Fastening the last button, Damian turned to see Colin standing a little sheepishly to the side, fingers fiddling with the hem of his shirt. “So…”

“Ah! Um, well… thanks! For the, um, wards and bowls and stuff. I really appreciate it.” Colin offered Damian a lopsided smile, chuckling nervously.

“It is no problem. Please, if anything seems amiss, contact me immediately.” Damian reached into his bag, pulling out a sheet of paper and a pen and quickly scribbling down his phone number. As he handed it over, Colin seemed about ready to pass out, his face redder than his hair.

“Y-Y-Yeah… I’ll d-do that. D-Definitely…”

“Good. Are you available tomorrow evening? I should like to visit again.” When Colin gaped at him, Damian continued, “In order to teach you how to use the ring?”

“Oh… ah, yeah. Yeah, um… I’m done at the grocery store at, um… eight? So, we could, ah, meet here? Around nine?”

Damian nodded, giving Colin a small smile which seemed to calm him slightly. “I look forward to it.”

“Yeah,” Colin murmured, “me, too.”

 

--

 

Stephanie Brown was a practical person. She prided herself on that fact, revelled in it, even. She couldn’t be bothered to overthink how the regulars at the bar where she worked were more likely to have green skin or shoot sparks out of their asses than work a desk job or bother with taxes. Hell, Steph had been a member of what Bruce so fondly called “the community” since she could remember, so when a man who seems to be glowing slightly ordered two beers, glancing over toward his companion with a love-sick puppy look, the weirdest thing about him was probably the lame ass dad jokes he seemed unable to stop spewing.

“Here ya go.” She slid the drinks across the polished wood to the dorkily grinning brunette. “Tell your boyfriend I like his jacket. Looks vintage.”

The man spluttered a little, glow intensifying for a moment, before blushing and chuckling while trying to explain, “He’s not-- I mean, we’re more like-- The jacket’s actually mine… and I guess he is, too. Kinda. You know how it is.” He tossed her a sidelong grin with just a bit too much we're in  love in his eyes to come across as we’re just bros .

Steph snickered, waving him off. “Go get ‘im, tiger.”

The man just smiled and shook his head, taking his drinks with a nod. She watched as he settled down across from his boyfriend, a handsome blond who laughed at whatever the man said as he sat. Smiling softly, Steph wiped down the counter as the familiar sound of heels clicked up behind her. Without looking, she quipped, “S’up, Boss?”

Kate Kane was more a force of nature than a woman. Tall and imposing, she commanded a room without even trying, her aura enough to quell any thoughts of unruly behavior. The trait wasn’t uncommon amongst vampires, but Kate Kane was a league above the rest, if Steph had a say. Plus, any woman who could rock a well cut suit was good in Steph’s book. From the moment she’d met her, Steph had immediately taken to the woman’s stern but fair sense of leadership. Plus, it was amusing to rile her up a bit. At the moment, Kate was frowning slightly, perfect brows furrowed as she glanced towards the door. “It would seem your friends will be gracing the establishment this evening, Ms. Brown. Do see to it that they do not cause any more damage. Their last visit was… unfortunate.”

As if on cue, the door to the bar swung open, a chorus of familiar voices rising in an ever present cacophony of argument. Shaking her head, she gave Kate a thumbs up and a smile, as if to say, don’t worry, Boss, I got this , and made her way to the opposite end of the bar. Passing by their newest bartender, who was eyeing the newcomers with a mixture of alarm and disdain, she advised, “Don’t worry about ‘em, Duke. They’re rowdy, but they grow on ya. Even the midget devil child.”

Ducking around the end of the bar and making her way towards the corner booth they had claimed, Steph tossed her towel over he shoulder and took up a no-nonsense stance with her arms crossed and the best imitation of Kate’s I- will -destroy-you face she could muster. “Alright, kids. Time to settle the fuck down and let the nice patrons enjoy their drinks in peace, yeah?”

Their reactions were as varied as the individuals themselves.

Cass, who had seated herself at the edge of the booth, flashed Steph a brilliant smile, gesturing a quick missed you, love under the table. Steph leaned down for a quick kiss and replied with a fluid same, sunshine .

Dick, as per usual, attempted to leap over the table, knocking into Damian’s elbow while parroting, “STEPHANIIIIIIEEEEEEE!!!”

Before Damian could attempt to eviscerate the older man, Jason was dragging Dick back into his seat by his belt, snapping, “Sit down, Dickhead. What are you? Five?” Glancing at Steph, he nodded a greeting while simultaneously attempting to shove Tim off the other open end of the booth. Without a second glance, Steph caught Tim, righting him while raising an eyebrow at Jason who just shrugged. “What?”

Sniffing, Tim glared at Jason, offering a, “Hey, Steph. How’s it going?”

“Who gives a damn about Brown, Drake? We’re here for business.”

“Watch it, gremlin. I will card you and kick you out.”

“I’d love to see you try, Brown.”

“Don’t mind if I do, brat.”

Steph and Damian were practically in each other’s faces by the time Cass gently pushed them apart, fixing both with a stare that quite clearly read despite knowing this is how you show your affection, please refrain from alarming others without needing actual hand gestures. They both backed down and Steph took a moment to consider the group.

She’d always been a natural at reading auras. The skill wasn’t necessarily something to write home about, but it had served her well over the years. To Steph, auras were like arcs of light which gathered around a person, flaring and shifting as their moods changed. At first, she hadn’t been able to stop seeing them, growing up with the understanding that people naturally appeared at the center of their own personal light shows. But as she got older, met Bruce and trained, she had developed the ability to essentially turn her ability on and off at will.

Looking around at the strange family before her, Steph let her vision adjust, pulling their auras into focus to get a better read on what the situation was. Almost immediately, her view was filled with a riot of color, each hue swirling and brushing the others in a dance that screamed concern, fear, confusion, anger . Cass’ gentle indigo billowed like waves soft linen, calm and serious as it brushed soothingly against Steph’s own vibrant gold streams. Damian’s deep olive spiked outwards almost viciously, though the tendrils which hugged close to his body seemed more relaxed and even cheerful. The normally dark, soft feathers of blue which cocooned Dick were shot through with anxious shades of neon, bright and alarmed, while Tim’s confident swaths of crimson jerked and snapped as though in a terrible storm. As always, Steph found it hard to look at Jason’s aura, usually a sickly blend of murky black highlighted with jagged seams of toxic green entwined with fading lines of sky blue. Today, it seemed stricken as ever, the lightning bolts of green flashing and striking out at the auras around him, but to Steph’s surprise, the normally dim lines of blue were pulsing strong, coiling around the green as if attempting to quell their fierce outbursts.

A gentle tap to her elbow snapped Steph to attention, her view of the auras slipping away as she glanced down at Cass. Are you alright, love?

Raising an eyebrow, Steph smiled. Yeah, ‘course, sunshine. Just getting a read on the situation . “So, y’all seem a little uptight. The usual?” Dick nodded gratefully and Steph spun on her heel, heading back towards the bar and Duke, who was side-eyeing their table with suspicion.

“You know those yahoos?” Duke gestured warily with the glass he was polishing, eyebrow raised as Steph starts preparing drinks.

“Probably not the exact word I’d use for them, but yeah. We go way back.”

“Not gonna lie, Brown. Summa them give me the creeps.” Duke set the glass on the shelf and reached for another.

“They’re a good bunch, really. Sure, they keep you on your toes, but they do their best to keep us all safe.” She leaned over conspiratorially as she shook up Dick’s drink. “Ya know, the cute one’s my girlfriend.”

Duke started, almost dropping the glass as he floundered to apologize for insulting Steph’s girlfriend. But Steph was already laughing, collecting the rest of the drinks and arranging them on a tray. “Hey, Duke. It’s fine, really. I’m just trying to mess with ya.” Gathering up the tray, Steph called, “You alright handling the bar yourself? Kate wanted me to make sure these fools don’t try to burn the damn place down again.”

Eyes growing very round, Duke nodded, flashing another quick and wary glance at the table of potential arsonists in question.

“Thanks!” With a quick thumbs up, Steph flit away, returning to the now somewhat less rowdy bunch. “Okay! Drinks are served! Scooch over, midget, so we can get this shindig going.” Steph was mildly surprised when Damian did as she said with minimal grumbling, moving closer to Dick so Steph could slide in beside Cass. Tray pushed to the center of the table, everyone reached for their beverage, the practice old hat by now. Tim immediately snatched up his steaming cup of Irish coffee, taking a long drought despite it being near scalding hot. Dick nabbed his Sex on the Beach, sipping happily while Damian looked askance, reaching for his own glass of chocolate milk. ( “It’s an ideal beverage for replenishing key nutrients and proteins, Brown.” ) Jason took a slow sip of his ginger ale, preferring to keep his head clear, as Cass claimed her tumbler of bourbon. Everyone settled in, Steph leaned forward, eyeing them all up before prodding, “Sooooo… What’s the emergency tonight?”

Jason huffed, fixing Dick with an irritated look. “Yeah, I’d love to know, too. What the hell were you babbling on about time travel for?”

“Time travel?” Tim’s head tilted curiously, eyes sharp and suddenly very interested. “You didn’t mention anything about time travel. Just a weird summoning circle.”

Steph raised an eyebrow, staring holes in Dick as he downed at least half of his drink before responding. “Uh, yeah… Well, the stakeout didn’t go quite according to plan.”

“Meaning you botched a simple assignment. As per usual, Grayson.”

“I get antsy!” Dick raised his hands in exasperation. “I’d been sitting there for hours . HOURS, Dami!! I figured, what could be so bad about taking a little peek.”

Jason rolled his eyes, taking another sip from his drink while Tim just looked ready to slam his face into the table. “Yes, Dick. What could possibly go wrong with barging into Cobblepot’s hideout without back-up or any actual plan?” Tim drawled.

“Who says I didn’t have a plan?”

“Your horrendous track record, Grayson.”

“Rude, Dami!”

The bickering was interrupted by Jason’s fist meeting the table none too kindly, a look of near murderous irritation on his face. “Cut the shit. If you called me away from a perfectly pleasant evening, I can assure you that accidental gas leaks and coincidental fires might just ruin your next night in.” Steph had to stifle a snicker at the way Dick’s face blanched, fully aware that Jason would follow through with the threat if he believed his time was going to be wasted.

“Okay, okay! So, I got bored staking out the Lounge and decided to take a peek inside. You know how the thirteenth floor’s only accessible by the stairs and the elevator with the key? I figured if anything sketchy was going down, it’d be on the thirteenth floor. But when I got there, I was ambushed.”

Tim’s eyes narrowed. “Wait, so Cobblepot knew you were there?”

Dick shrugged. “Honestly, I don’t know, but it sure seemed like it. But guys…” And here Dick paused, face uncharacteristically serious. “Cobblepot’s not working alone. Luthor’s in Gotham.”

Any lingering atmosphere of lightheartedness immediately dissipated, replaced instead with cold, tense silence as they each digested this new and disturbing piece of news. Cass had gone almost unnaturally still beside Steph, and Jason looked drawn and pale. Tim broke the silence first, sliding effortlessly into what Steph liked to call his detective mode . “You’re sure? You saw Luthor there?”

“I wouldn’t joke about this, babybird. After a couple of Cobblepot’s goons nabbed me, Luthor put in an appearance. It looked like Cobblepot and Luthor were in the middle of starting some sort of summoning. There was an altar with some sort of circle chalked onto it.”

“Do you remember what the circle looked like?” Damian prompted, producing paper and a pen seemingly out of thin air.

“I… I’m not sure, but I’ll give it a try…”

Dick began to sketch, the whole table watching with bated breath. Steph recognized the expression on Damian’s face as deadly focused, eyes soaking in each rune Dick drew and reading them effortlessly. It was a skill Steph still couldn’t quite understand, Damian’s natural affinity for understanding demonic languages. Runes came to him almost instinctively, and it got Steph to thinking about how far off the mark the nickname demon brat really was. As it stood, Steph wasn’t really interested in asking and Damian sure as hell wasn’t going to offer anything up.

Finally, Dick leaned back, a small frown on his lips. “That’s as much as I remember. I didn’t notice much else to indicate what they might be trying to summon, but...” He shrugged. “I was a little preoccupied at the time.”

Damian had pulled the sketch towards himself, hunched over it and muttering under his breath. Across the table, Jason was staring at Dick, expression unreadable as he seemed to be mulling over something. “So,” he started slowly, drawing Dick’s attention, “how does any of this connect to time travel?”

At this point, Dick actually blushed, piquing Steph’s curiosity as he began fidgeting in his seat. “Well, ah… you see…” Dick pushed a stray lock of hair behind his ear, staring longingly at his now empty cocktail glass. “So, with Cobblepot’s goons holding me and Luthor there and--well, you get the idea--anyway, I pretty much had my hands tied. But before they could do whatever it was they were going to do to me, this guy just... appeared .” Dick splayed his fingers out, wiggling them theatrically for emphasis while Jason and Tim looked on unimpressed.

“Just ‘ appeared ’?” Jason reiterated. “Out of thin air?”

Dick nodded enthusiastically. “Yeah! It was crazy! One second, it was just Cobblepot and Luthor threatening to do something horrible, and then there was this weird rustling sound and this guy just sort of… flickered into existence!” Dick was shaking his head now, as if he almost couldn’t believe it himself. “He seemed kinda surprised to see us, actually. Which is pretty weird considering he just appeared out of freaking nowhere --”

“Who was this guy?” Steph cut Dick off mid-ramble, knowing how easily distracted he could be at the best of times.

“I… I don’t really know. When he saw what was going on, he disappeared and reappeared right next to me. Helped me escape and I flew us off the roof. I’ve never seen him before, so he can’t be local. And I didn’t recognize his name either. Wally West?” Dick glanced around, but no one seemed to recognize the name either.

Cass tapped the table, catching the group’s attention, and signed, So this witch, he told you he could time travel? Not simply turn invisible?

“Yeah, I thought of that for a moment, too, but there was no way he could have crossed the room as fast as he did.” Dick’s gaze shifted slightly, as if he were looking at something far away. “It was kinda weird. He was wearing really out-of-date clothes. Said he had just come from 2005…I don’t know, he seemed pretty nice. Don’t know how Bruce is gonna feel about it, though.”

Next to Dick, Jason had gone stiff, brows furrowed. Tilting her head, Steph took a peek at his aura, tamping down on the urge to flinch as she watched the sickly green bolts lashing out. Pushing the image away, she leaned forward, murmuring softly, “Hey, Jay. Are you alright?”

“What?” His eyes snapped back into focus, their unnatural glow slightly brighter than normal. “Yeah… yeah, I’m fine.”

Steph didn’t believe him, but decided it was best not to pry as Damian surfaced at last. Pushing Dick’s sketch to the center of the table, Damian began, “I believe I have deduced the basic intent of this circle. You can see here it is based on a simple design: outer circle and inner circle with spells of summoning and the demon’s name, Antecessor .”

“Should you be saying it’s name? Won’t that like, draw it here or something?” Steph frowned.

“Please, Brown. If simply saying the creature’s name were to summon it here, why on earth would Luthor and Cobblepot need a circle at all?”

Steph shrugged. “Hey, I’m not a demonologist. I just pour the drinks, dig the dirt, and watch the colors dance.”

Damian narrowed his eyes for a moment before turning back to the sketch. “As I was saying, the design is rudimentary, but practical. I would surmise their intention was to simply speak with the demon, likely to outline the details of a complex contract. You can see here,” he tapped a symbol and then another, “and here are the alchemical symbols for iron and cadmium.”

“Like we found at the docks…” Tim mused.

“Precisely, Drake. For this circle the actual metals are not necessary, but for an actual physical summoning…” Damian paused, fixing them each with a grave look, not needing to elaborate.

They were silent for a moment, considering the implications of Damian’s words before Dick spoke, slow and serious. “So what you’re saying, Dami, is that they’re planning on eventually summoning this demon, after making some sort of complicated contract with it?” Damian nodded. “But… why?”

“I cannot be certain,” Damian began, pulling the sketch back towards himself to consider it again, “but considering the demon’s name means he that goes before and the associations of both iron and cadmium with interdimensional travel and communication… They are summoning a scout.”

Chapter Text

Wally was about ready to set the freaking polo shirt on fire by the time he shouldered his way into the extended stay hotel where they’d set up shop. Kicking the door shut behind him, he was already clawing his way out of the monstrosity of a fashion disaster as he entered the small living space.

“Whoa. Dude. Did not need the impromptu striptease. And what did that shirt ever do to you?”

Hurling the offending garment aside, Wally tossed a withering glance at the lanky young man stretched out across the little couch. “Shut up, Bart. It’s not like it’s anything you haven’t seen before. We are literally living in the same room right now.” Glaring at the polo, he growled, “Plus, the stupid thing knows what it did…”

Bart chuckled as Wally ducked into the bedroom they were sharing for this little excursion, rooting around in his bags for a decent shirt and coming up with his favorite tee which featured a wombat on a unicycle. Pulling the shirt on and swapping out the cargo pants for some comfortable sweats, Wally reemerged and made a beeline for the kitchenette while Bart flipped absently through the channels. Settling on reruns of Say Yes to the Dress: Bridesmaids Edition , Bart scooched over to make room as Wally flopped down beside him, taking a swig of the cheap beer Hal had bought the night before. Grimacing, Wally frowned at the label, musing, “I don’t know how Hal drinks this stuff all the time.”

“He’s a cheap old man. Bet it’s better than whatever stuff they were drinking at the air base back in the day.” Bart reached out, stealing the bottle and taking a sip, only to immediately gag and pull a face.

Wally chuckled, reclaiming his beverage. “I know this stuff is better than the piss water they had ‘back in the day’. Speaking of which, they back yet?” He eyed the door in the corner that led to the second bedroom.

“Nah. But they should be soon. Pops said they’d be back before midnight.”

“It is literally so uncomfortable when you call him that.”

Bart smirked, shrugging dramatically. “What can I say? I love my Pops. My G-paw. My--”

Shoving a pillow unceremoniously into the other’s face, Wally shouted, “Okay!!! That’s enough of that !” They scuffled a bit, Wally nearly losing his shitty beer in the process before finally managing to subdue Bart by sitting on him.

“Get off!” Bart wheezed, pushing uselessly against Wally’s significantly more muscled legs.

“Only if you stop calling Barry ‘Pops’ and making me feel old and shit.”

“Fine, fine! Just stop crushing my chest!” Bart wiggled uselessly, but Wally refused to relent.

Smirking, he added, “And admit I’m more handsome than you.”

“Oh, that’s going too far…”

Laughing at the grave look on Bart’s face, Wally flopped back onto the couch again, letting Bart get his breath back. Settling down, they watched the drama unfold on the TV, taking turns critiquing dresses and badly imitating the ladies on screen. By the time the door opened, Wally was three beers in and Bart was making an impassioned argument for why Deondra should go with the teal dress over the magenta one.

“The magenta clashes with everyone’s complexions, Wally. Everyone’s !!”

“Hey! We’re back!”

Both Wally and Bart twisted around, waving hello as Barry and Hal walked in, shedding their shoes and jackets. While Barry tucked their things neatly in the hall closet, Hal poked his head further into the room, grinning as he saw what they were watching. “Oh man, I’ve seen this one. She goes with the magenta dress.”

“NOOOOO!!!!” Bart screeched, draping himself dramatically over the arm of the couch.

Hal nodded knowingly. “It was a tragedy. The teal was really better with everyone’s complexions.”

Poking his head around Hal, Barry raised an eyebrow, glancing between the three of them before focusing on Wally. “Hey there, Wally. How’d it go? Did you find anything?”

Wally took another sip of his beer, considering how exactly to answer that question. A few years ago, Barry had convinced Hal and Wally to help out with a witch who was conducting  pretty shady experiments with Unseelie magic and fey DNA. The witch in question was one, Lex Luthor, and while they had managed to shut down his operations in Central City, he had escaped and disappeared before they could apprehend him. Just a week ago, however, one of the fey they had been working with got in contact with Barry, giving him some troubling news about rumors of Luthor causing problems in Gotham. The fey had asked if they would look into the issue, and ever the hero, Barry had agreed. While Hal and Wally needed no convincing on the seriousness of the matter, Bart had been another issue altogether. At first, he had been adamant that they not go to Gotham, revealing a rather serious side of his personality that the other three rarely saw. But with assurances from Barry that they’d be doing nothing more than simply checking into the rumors, Bart had eventually relented.

Having just arrived in Gotham the day before, Barry had asked if Wally would do a quick sweep of the city’s history, pulling up whatever strange occurrences had happened in the magical community and see if anything could be linked to Luthor. The research had been sparse at best, limited to a few suspicious looking news articles detailing cult sacrifices and conspiracy theories. Nevertheless, Wally had determined to go check the incidents out for himself, while Barry and Hal went to scout out the local magical community.

“It went alright, I guess. The first few cult stories led nowhere, but there was one that seemed legit. You know, the one I showed you? From 2005?”

Barry nodded, settling down on one of the kitchen chairs as Hal fished in the fridge for a couple of beers. “Yeah, with the circle and the human blood.”

Passing Barry a bottle and planting a kiss on his forehead, Hal moved to sprawl across one of the armchairs, taking a pull from his own drink. “That was actually pretty creepy sounding. Sorta wish the pictures were in better focus, though. Probably could’ve told you if the circle was anything real or not.”

“Yeah, well…” Wally trailed off a little, uncertain how Barry might take his next news. “So, you know how Bart said he had a ‘ feeling’ that bad things were going to go down here?” Wally made air-quotes for emphasis, drawing a small frown from Barry.

“I said might. Might go down!”

“Well, I might have stumbled across some seriously bad looking dark magic shit.”

A rather dour silence fell across the room, stretching out until Barry prompted, “How bad are we talking about?”

Wally rubbed at the back of his neck, taking a slow breath as he recalled what he had seen in 2005. “Real bad. Human sacrifice bad. Attempts to summon apocalyptic demons bad. I mean…” He swallowed thickly, stomach turning. “I didn’t get a chance to sketch out the circle, it was too complicated, but… well, it was definitely Luthor, and some other witch I didn’t recognize, but they were trying to get something big and nasty to physically manifest. And they were using what looked suspiciously like human heart.”

Three sets of widened eyes fell on Wally. “A human… are you messing with me?” Hal sounded shocked, something Wally was not accustomed to hearing in matters of magic.

“It was definitely a heart. And I would bet anything it was  human. Look,” Wally tried to refocus on finishing his story, “it was pretty grisly, but I think something went wrong.”

Barry raised an eyebrow. “Wrong?”

“Yeah, it almost looked like the demon was gonna get through, but then… well, it was kinda like someone pulled the power cord or something. The whole summoning just… stopped. I couldn’t risk hanging around any longer, so I paged back to the present, but--”

“Oh for fucks sake, I thought you said things, and I quote, ‘went alright’?” Hal was giving Wally an incredulous look.

“Hey! I meant that in the ‘I figured out what I went to figure out’ kinda sense, so it’s still a legit description of the evening!”

“Wally!” Barry called, drawing everyone’s attention. “Focus.”

“Right. So, after I paged back, I was kinda in the middle of another summoning. But, like, not as intense. Luthor and that other witch were there again, and it looked like they’d kidnapped some guy, so I couldn’t just leave him there--”

Bart shifted on the couch beside him, eyes strangely focused. “Who--?”

Wally shrugged. “He was a witch. Actually, he legit flew us off a building, I shit you not. It was so terrifying and so cool all at the same time.”

“Who was he? What was his name?” Bart insisted.

“He said his name was Dick. Dick Grayson.” Wally trailed off, thinking about Dick Grayson’s downright beautiful smile. “He was… nice. Kinda charming.”

“Yeah…” Bart’s brows were furrowed, eyes looking far away. “I bet.”

“Well, seems like you had a fun night. Better than we did anyway.” Hal chuckled as Barry shot him a scathing look. “Not that I don’t love your company, hun. I just didn’t get to stop any nefarious demon cults.”

“Wow,” Wally drawled sarcastically, setting his now empty bottle beside it’s fallen companions, “really sucks to be you, Hal. So, what’d you guys find?”

“Aside from the weird-ass clientele?” Hal mused.

Barry shot him a look .

“What? Place was full of aura readers and solitary fey and demon hybrids--”

“Demon hybrids?” Barry sounded somewhere between surprised and alarmed.

Hal nodded. “Yeah, at one of the booths. Seemed chill, though. Anyway, there’s gotta be some sort of taint in the ley lines here. Never seen a place so full of potential nut jobs.”

Barry pursed his lips, but seemed to decide against enabling Hal any further. Steering the conversation back towards something more productive, Barry said, “We didn’t get too much info. All in all, Gotham’s community seems pretty standard, if not a little… eccentric . I did , however, manage to get the contact information for the local big-wig.”

Hal grinned. “What he means is, he managed to stutter his way through a conversation with the scary-ass bar owner and convince her we just want to help.”

“I did not stutter,” Barry reproached indignantly. “Though I will admit I have never been quite so intimidated in my life. Nevertheless, considering what you found, Wally, it might be best to get in contact with this guy. See if we can lend a hand. What do you think?” He glanced around, gauging everyone’s thoughts.

“I’m down,” Hal offered, finishing off his bottle.

“Same,” Wally agreed. “That shit was pretty nasty and I’d hate for it to happen again.”

Three pairs of eyes turned to Bart who was now curled up in the corner of the couch, eyebrows drawn together in uncertainty. Smiling softly, Barry prompted, “Bart? What about you?”

“I…” Bart hesitated, eyes flickering back and forth between Barry and Wally. After a tense moment, he seemed to deflate, muttering, “Yeah, alright. Let’s do it.”

 

--

 

Bruce stood in front of the frankly unremarkable apartment building, trying desperately to think up any reason not to go inside. It wasn’t that he didn’t like Barbara Gordon, otherwise known as The Oracle, it was more that she made him feel uncomfortable, a fact he would never admit to out loud. The thing was, Bruce liked certainty. He liked to know that he knew as much as humanly possible about a situation beforehand. Quite frankly, Bruce just liked to be the one person in the room who knew more than anyone else. It was a quality that had served him well up to this point, even if it had disenchanted him to more than a few people. So, when it came to Barbara Gordon, arguably the most powerful and downright clever clairvoyant on the eastern seaboard, Bruce was miles outside of his comfort zone.

Gritting his teeth and mentally chastising himself for showing such weakness, Bruce jogged up the stairs, pressing the buzzer for apartment 405b. After a moment, there was a click, and Bruce let himself in, taking the stairs instead of the elevator as he made his way to the fourth floor. Before his knuckles could even touch the wood, the door swung open, revealing a man in his early sixties with thick rimmed glasses and a mustache that would have been more at home in the seventies. Smiling, the man stepped back, saying, “Bruce, it’s good to see you. Come in. Barbara said you’d be coming.”

Stepping past the man, Bruce nodded. “Commissioner Gordon. It’s a pleasure.”

“I’m not the commissioner anymore, Bruce, you know that. It’s just ‘Jim’ now.”

Bruce couldn’t help giving a small huff of amusement. James Gordon was an old friend, though they had come to meet each other under perhaps the least ideal of circumstances. When Bruce’s parents were brutally murdered, Jim had been a young beat cop, the first to stumble onto the scene. Most of Bruce’s memories of that night were blurry and suppressed, but the kindness Jim had shown him was not. Over the years, as Bruce grew into his magical heritage and Jim rose in the ranks, they had grown closer, close enough that Bruce had revealed his powers to Jim only a few years after Barbara was born. All the better, because as Barbara got older she began to show signs of magical abilities, and Jim had immediately turned to Bruce for help. That first encounter with Barbara’s clairvoyancy had shaken Bruce, and memories of the monotone voice of an nine year old telling him how his son would die in gory detail still haunted him to this day. At the time, he had just taken in Dick, and became prone to panicking over every little danger, imagined or real, that he faced. It was only when Jason came along, was murdered brutally and returned broken and angry, that Bruce truly understood Barbara’s vision. Since then, Bruce and Jim had maintained a working relationship, with Jim consulting Bruce on cases that seemed to involve the supernatural, and Bruce doing his best to keep the non-magical population of Gotham safe from the magical one.

Leading the way into a modest living room, Jim offered Bruce a seat, ducking back into the kitchen to pour two cups of coffee. “It’s been awhile, Bruce. I thought you might have forgotten us.”

“Not at all, Jim. I’ve just been… busy.” Bruce accepted the offered mug, taking a sip and realizing disconcertedly that it was his favorite blend. Despite her well-meaning, Barbara’s “gift,” as Jim liked to call it, could be quite unsettling.

Jim settled on the couch, setting his own mug on the coffee table. “Barbara mentioned you’d be stopping by this week. I assume from your expression that it’s not for a social visit?”

Bruce offered a wry smile. “Unfortunately, no. I was hoping to consult Barbara on some recent developments in a case we’ve been working.”

“Must be serious,” Jim mused, fixing Bruce with a look that said he knew Bruce was holding back important details.

“Oh, come on, Dad. You know you’ve got a better chance of getting him to do the hula than tell you the details of a case,” came an amused voice from behind them.

Both Jim and Bruce turned to see Barbara rolling into the living room from a small hallway. Maneuvering her chair into an open space beside the couch, she smiled, clever eyes bright behind dark-rimmed glasses. “Hello, Bruce. Enjoying the coffee?”

Inclining his head slightly, Bruce replied, “Barbara. Thoughtful as ever.”

She shrugged, smirking a little. “I just can’t resist ruffling those stoic feathers. Blame Dick for passing on bad habits. So,” she leaned forward, fixing him with a pointed stare, “what brings you here today?”

Bruce sipped at his coffee, taking the moment to gather his thoughts. He hadn’t really wanted to come to Barbara, but the case was grinding to a halt, despite the leads Tim, Jason, and Cass had managed to uncover at the docks. Several pieces of the puzzle just weren’t settling into place, incidents like Damian’s uncontracted possession for one, and even Bruce knew when it was time to call in the last resorts. Setting his mug back on the table, he started, “As you know, we’ve been investigating irregularities in demonic activity across the city.”

“Yeah, you’ve been at it for months. Honestly, I thought you’d amble over sooner. So,” Barbara raised an eyebrow, “why are you here now ?”

“There’s been… a development, but not enough to give us a clear picture. I wanted to… consult you on the matter.” Words felt awkward on Bruce’s tongue, his explanation hanging weakly in the air between them.

Watching him silently for another painful moment, Barbara tapped at her armrest thoughtfully. “Hmm… You know, it was you that insisted I not divulge any of the specifics of what I see. Something about ‘maintaining the integrity of free will’? So, I’m not sure how you expect me to help.”

Bruce sighed, frown deepening. “I’m not asking for anything specific. No names, no places. Just confirmation that we’re on the right track, maybe some… advice for how to proceed.”

A sly smirk curled Barbara’s lips as she replied jokingly, “My, my! Bruce! That’s some pretty specific stuff if you ask me. Getting soft in your old age?” When she received nothing but a sour look in response, Barbara actually chuckled, shaking her head. “Look, Bruce. I respect you and what you do. It’s incredibly important and because of that I’m not going to let you sacrifice your morals because it might ‘be in the best interest of everyone’ or whatever.”

Bruce furrowed his brows. “That’s no--”

“Ah, ah, let me finish.” Barbara held up a finger, fixing Bruce with a look that allowed for no discussion. “I’m not going to tell you if you’re on the right track, I’m not going to play games to nudge you in the right direction. You don’t need me to. What I will do, is ask you to one, pull your head out of your ass and accept help when it’s offered.”

“But--”

“AND TWO,” Barbara talked over him, “Trust your family, all of them, to do the right thing. I’ve known you for years, Bruce. You taught me how to control my powers and use them for good, and for that I am thankful. But damnit if you aren’t one of the most obnoxiously stubborn and paranoid people I’ve ever met, and I live with a former cop.”

Jim just raised his mug in acknowledgement, giving Bruce a knowing look.

Unrelenting, Barbara continued, “So despite the guilt you feel about Jason, or hesitancy to let Damian out on his own, truly on his own, you have to learn to trust them. They might not approach a problem the way you would, but that doesn’t mean their way isn’t right.”

The room fell silent, Bruce fighting the urge to fidget uncomfortably in his chair. Instead he just frowned, taking a moment to mull over Barbara’s words. There were very few people who Bruce would really listen to on matters like this, and somehow, over the years, Barbara had become one of them. Perhaps it was the fact that her abilities already made him uncomfortable, but Bruce had long ago accepted that Barbara Gordon was a force to be reckoned with, and one which would not go unheard. Almost deflating a bit under Barbara’s patiently knowing gaze and Jim’s somewhat amused one, Bruce sighed.

“I… I appreciate it, Barbara. And… I understand that I can be unreasonable at times.”

“Most of the time,” Barbara corrected.

All of the time,” Jim muttered.

Some times,” Bruce growled, “and I will… try, to be better at accepting help. I just… struggle with trusting others. But if it means protecting this city, my family. I’ll do it.”

Barbara smiled, tone remarkedly more teasing. “I know. It’s one of your few stellar qualities.”

Shaking his head, Bruce finished off his coffee, standing as Jim mirrored him. “Thank you for seeing me. I will try to stop by more often.”

“We’d like that, Bruce. Gets lonely just the two of us.” Jim took Bruce’s mug, heading to the kitchen to clean put them away.

Leading the way towards the door, Barbara paused, fixing Bruce with a thoughtful expression. “Sometimes help can come from the least likely of places. Don’t forget that you have friends in many places, some farther away than others, but no less willing to lend a hand.” Opening the door and rolling back out of the way, Barbara smiled, “And some have been all but knocking on your door for years just waiting for a chance to be let in.”

“I’m not sure I follow…?” Bruce raised an eyebrow, hovering just outside the door.

“Oh, you know. Just thinking out loud.” Barbara shrugged, waving her hand dismissively. “Anyway, have a good evening, Bruce. Don’t be a stranger. Oh, and you should probably answer that.”

“Answer wha--?” Bruce cut off as his phone began to ring in his pocket. Glancing around, Bruce found himself alone in the hall, the door to the Gordons’ apartment already closed. Grimacing, Bruce fumbled in his pocket, tapping the phone icon and lifting it to his ear. “Bruce Wayne speaking.”

Ah, yes. Hello. Um, my name’s Barry Allen. I just got into town recently, but I think I might be able to help you out with your demon problem .”

Chapter Text

Damian nosed at the soft fabric of the scarf Grayson had forced on him as he was leaving the manor. Despite his determined and well-structured arguments against the additional garment, Grayson had been insistent, claiming that the weather was taking a final turn towards winter and that Damian would thank him later. Loathe as he was to admit it, Damian found himself thankful for the scarf when a light flurry of snow began to fall just as he was making the turn onto Colin’s street. Huffing grumpily, his breath passing before his eyes in a small cloud, Damian decided to never breathe a word of such thoughts in Grayson’s presence. Ahead, he could see Colin’s building, rising from the rather decrepit street, its walls dotted with a patchwork of crumbling brick and grimy windows. Even from here, if Damian narrowed his eyes, glancing slightly out of his peripheries, he could make out the faint shimmering that marked the hasty wards he’d left after his previous visit.

Damian had mentioned this shimmering effect once, while attempting to improve Drake’s remarkably abhorrent lack of ability in binding magic, and had been met with confusion and disbelief. Upon further investigation, Damian had come to the conclusion that he alone seemed able to actually see the wards rather than simply sensing their presence. The knowledge was not something of comfort, but he figured an explanation of this phenomenon was better left unexplored. After all, perhaps this ability was simply an aspect of his affinity for wards and bindings. Damian certainly wasn’t keen on assuming otherwise.

He took the stairs to the front door two at a time, frowning a bit as he pulled one hand from the relative warmth of his jacket to press the button beside Colin’s apartment number. A moment later, there was a screeching noise and Damian tugged the door open with only minimal force necessary. Opting for the stairs over the downright deadly-looking elevator, Damian soon found himself outside Colin’s door, knocking twice before stepping back slightly. A loud crash, followed by the sound of soft cursing and then insistent footsteps preceded the door opening to reveal a rather bedraggled looking Colin, flour dusted across his flannel shirt and in his hair.

“Hey, um… Hi! Ah… s-sorry about the mess. I was, I was trying to bake cookies?” Colin smiled nervously, shifting from socked foot to socked foot. The warm, rich scents of chocolate and vanilla wafted into the hall, and Damian couldn’t help but breathe a little more deeply.

“They smell rather delightful, Colin. Do you mind if I come in?”

“Oh, oh! Yes! Please! Sorry, sorry for all the… well, I just get a little messy when I bake so the apartment’s a little…” Colin stepped aside, letting Damian pass by him and into the disaster zone which was once a perfectly serviceable galley kitchen. Batter, flour, and some substance Damian was not willing to inspect covered every surface. The sink was overflowing with bowls and measuring cups and spoons, while the counters were lined with baking sheets, cooling racks, and upwards of a dozen mismatched tupperware containers filled with various baked goods. Damian turned, eyebrow cocked as Colin shut the door, chuckling as he ran flour-dusted fingers through his hair. “Yeah… I just… I bake a lot when I’m stressed. Or anxious. Or depressed. Or--”

“Would you like some assistance cleaning?”

Colin looked taken aback, mouth moving without making a sound for a solid minute before the oven timer went off, causing him to jump and let out an undignified squeak. “Ah! Yes, um… let me just, let me get these and um… yes, I would really appreciate the help. Thank you.”

They set to it in companionable silence, Colin moving to pull the last batch from the oven as Damian tugged off his jacket and scarf, rolling up his sleeves and diving in. It was mindless, almost meditative work, and Damian quickly found himself settling into a comfortable rhythm at the sink. Before long, he began to sing softly to himself, an old song he was sure he’d heard back when he was still living in his mother’s care. That had been some eight years ago now, but nevertheless the tune came easily to him. Letting himself sink into the meditative rhythm of song and motion, Damian failed to notice Colin pause, turning to watch him as if mesmerized. Only when the counter was piled high with precariously stacked dishes and his fingers began to wrinkle, did Damian start out of his reverie, eyebrows furrowing as he glanced around. Catching sight of Colin whose mouth was open slightly, a frankly adorable blush on his cheeks, Damian asked, “What is it?”

“I… You…” Colin struggled for words, hands moving with increasing frustration as he attempted to put together a full sentence. “You just… the singing, you were… and the lights. It was all so… beautiful.”

“The lights?” Damian’s head tilted sideways as he dried his hands, eyes never leaving Colin’s flustered face.

“Y-yeah. W-While you were singing, they just kinda… appeared? Not at first, just… gradually.” Colin smiled nervously, shifting from foot to foot. “What… What song was that? It didn’t sound like English… It didn’t really sound like any language, actually…” Colin murmured the last thought more to himself than Damian.

“I learned it from my mother. She raised me until I was ten. It’s…” Damian paused suddenly as he tried to remember what language the song was in, only to come up blank. Brows furrowing, he tried to quash the wriggling sense of unease that curled low in his chest, saying, “I… I actually don’t know what language it is…”

“Oh, well… That’s cool. It was really, really cool. The singing. You’re voice is really nice and relaxing.” Colin’s blush deepened as he caught Damian’s eye, running a distracted hand through his hair. “Um, but yeah! Ah… You came to teach me about the… ring? Yes?”

Damian nodded, moving over to the little table and pulling out a chair for Colin before sitting himself. Rummaging in his bag, Damian set several items on the table between them: a worn and dog-eared book, a leather-bound journal bulging with scraps of paper and other oddities, a small censer, and a vial of frankincense. Colin watched in silent curiosity, fingers trailing subconsciously to touch his shirt where the ring hung beneath it. As Damian set everything up, he began, “The use of the ring itself is fairly simple. Like most foci, you simply need to know the proper manner in which to activate and deactivate it. In this case, the activation and deactivation are achieved through reciting the runes that make up the spell.”

“But I don’t… I don’t know how to read these…” Colin said, frowning slightly as he drew the ring out from under his shirt. At Damian’s request, he pulled the chain over his head, passing the ring into Damian’s hand.

“You needn’t worry about that. I will teach you to read them, but first it is imperative that you understand precisely what the consequences of using this power are. And for that, you must learn some of the basics of demonology.” Pulling the dog-eared book towards them, Damian flipped through a few pages before smoothing out the page, pointing to a simple diagram. “This shows the basic differences between a number of beings which are commonly referred to as ‘demons’.”

Colin leaned forward, eyes flickering across the page with curiosity. “Wait, so… there’s not just one type?”

Damian shook his head, tracing the diagram with his finger as he explained, “The term ‘demon’ comes from the Greek daimon , meaning a spirit or lesser deity. Christian scholars later adopted the word and lent it the more nefarious connotation we use today. Colloquially, many things are referred to as demons that are not strictly demons in the Christian sense, but rather the original Greek sense. Here.” Damian grabbed the journal now, paging through until he found a sketch of a tall man, smoke rising from his severed neck and a head under his arm. “This is the Dullahan , a folk creature from Ireland. Sometimes it is referred to as a demon or demonic, but it is truly more of a spirit. But this…” Here, Damian flipped to another illustration, this one depicting what looked to be a person with rather ambiguous features sitting atop a camel, clever smile on their face and an elaborate crown on their head. “This is Paimon, one of what we refer to as Divine Demons. They are a creation of the Architect and possess powers similar to that of an Angel.”

Tracing his fingers over the drawing, Colin looked up, amazement in his eyes. “Did you draw these?”

“What?” Damian furrowed his brows, confused at the abrupt change of topic.

“These drawings, they’re really, really good!” Colin insisted.

“Um…” Damian was floundering a bit, unsure of how to respond. “I, well… Yes, these are my personal notes. I find it helpful to add accurate representations of all the creatures I study.”

“Wow…” Colin breathed, leaning over even further to look at the details. “It’s like they’re real…”

Damian was definitely blushing now, shifting awkwardly in his seat as Colin flipped through the journal in search of more drawings. “Well, um… perhaps we should continue? With the lesson?”

“Oh! Sorry!” Colin sat back, face reddening in embarrassment.

“I’ll lend you the journal, if you like,” Damian ventured, rubbing self-consciously at the back of his neck. “To study. For later.”

“Really? Wow, Damian. Thanks!”

Colin’s utterly brilliant smile felt like a physical blow to Damian’s chest and he coughed awkwardly, turning back towards the book at its diagram. “So, as I was saying… There are spirits that are called demons colloquially and then there are ‘true’ demons, those born from the Architect and Chaos respectively.”

“Who’s the Architect?”

“That is… complicated. The Architect is what Judeo-Christian traditions refer to as ‘God’, but the Architect is in many ways very different from the Judeo-Christian God. They’re… the concept of creation itself. Of order. Just as Chaos is the concept of destruction and, well, chaos . Two forces which are constantly at odds in the world, but are both equally necessary. Neither is inherently good or evil . Simply present.” Damian glanced over at Colin who’s face was set in an expression of extreme concentration.

“That… kind of makes sense?”

Damian smiled knowingly. “It is not important to understand them beyond knowing that the Architect equals creation and Chaos equals destruction. All their ‘children’ follow those designations.”

“Okay… I think I can manage that.” Colin gave a brave smile, though some confusion remained in his expression.

“Excellent. So, ‘true’ demons are of two distinctions: Divine and Infernal. Divine Demons are children of the Architect, the equals of Angels in power and essence, and reside in Hell as governors of sorts. Infernal Demons are children of Chaos and are likely what you imagine when prompted to think of a demon. The demon which possessed you, Geranos , was one of these demons.” Damian paused, checking Colin’s body language quickly. Despite a small tensing of his shoulders, he seemed otherwise fine, so Damian continued. “Because of this, the ring and the spell woven into it carry Infernal power, which is destructive in nature and requires energy from the soul to work.”

“Wait…” Colin had grown slightly pale, glancing at the ring in Damian’s hand with newfound alarm. “So… th-that ring eats my soul ?”

“Not in any permanent way, if you use it properly. Yes, the ring will drain your soul’s essence, but with rest, your soul will recover.”

“Like… Like getting sick?”

Damian nodded. “In a manner of speaking, yes. Overwork your body while you are ill and you run the risk of worsening the illness’ effects. The same is true of the ring. If you attempt to use its power for too long or to too great a degree, you could damage your soul permanently.” Damian’s tone was grave, imparting the seriousness of his words. “That is why I am going to train you. Knowing your own limits is the first and most vital step to being able to wield the ring’s power safely.”

Colin was silent for several moments, staring at the ring with an intense focus. Nodding shallowly, his expression became determined as he met Damian’s eye. In a tone of the utmost seriousness, he said, “Alright. But first, I really need a cookie.”

 

--

 

Jason stared into the mirror as if it might hold the meaning of life itself. He turned left, then right, scowling before beginning to unbutton the shirt he had on. From the corner of his eye, he caught a flicker of motion in the mirror.

That is the third shirt you’ve tried on, Jay. You are overthinking this.

Pouting at the mirror, he signed, I’m not over-thinking anything! I just want this to go well…

From her perch on his dresser, Cass smirked, knowing glint in her eye as he reached past her knee to rummage through a drawer. Sure , her fingers danced, and it has nothing to do with the fact that you’ve been pining after Roy since you met him like some lovesick puppy with a penchant for arson.

The look Jason gave her was one of the utmost betrayal. I don’t know what you mean.

A single raised eyebrow was enough to get Jason’s frown to deepen, and he determined to hide his face by way of tugging the new shirt over his head. Turning back towards the mirror, he glanced up and down at his reflection, still not really feeling it. “Ugh…” Caaaasssssss… I invited you over to help me, not mock me. Heeeeelllllppppp….

Shoulders shaking as she shook her head and grinned, Cass slid lithely off the dresser, heading towards Jason’s open closet. Rifling through the hangers for a moment, she pulled out a few options, tossing them at Jason. There, try those. Honestly, you have so many clothes, I don’t know why you’re finding this so hard. Tilting her head slightly, Cass seemed to consider the pile of shirts in Jason’s arms. Actually, try the red one first. With the black jacket.

As Cass returned to her seat on the dresser, Jason went about changing once again, shedding the t-shirt and pulling on the red button-up Cass had suggested. He had to admit, once he added the black leather jacket, it did make for a rather dashing combo. Damn, Cass was just too good at this. Yeah… This’ll work.

Damn straight, Cass signed, flashing a Cheshire grin. But not too straight.

Jason rolled his eyes, offering a short nod of appreciation for a pun well played. Glancing around, he caught sight of the alarm clock on his bedside table and nearly choked, suddenly jumping into a flurry of motion. SHITSHITSHIT!!! Cass, why didn’t you tell me it was so late?! FUCK!

Language , Cass mocked. And it’s fine. Steph texted earlier and said Roy was freaking out just as badly. He probably hasn’t even noticed. Now c’mon. I’ve got a date with two lovely ladies and a pint of Rocky Road.

Jason couldn’t help the fond smile that tugged at his lips, or the blush that spread across his cheeks. At Cass’ insistence, he tugged on his shoes, leading the way out the bedroom towards the door. Snagging his keys and helmet, he tossed the spare to Cass who grinned, eyes bright with excitement. Hey, no funny business this time, Cass. You keep your hands around me and not flailing around like some suicidal idiot.

She grinned slyly. I was fine , Jay. It’s not like I wasn’t holding on.

Fixing her with a flat stare, he replied, wrapping your legs around my waist does not constitute a safe riding habit. With that, they headed down to the parking garage, walking to the back corner where Jason had a little storage area he could lock up. It had been one of the biggest selling points of the complex when he’d come looking for places to set up shop. Inside, there were shelves along the back wall holding all manner of dried herbs, boxes of crystals and stones, and several magical implements he was sure Bruce would never approve of him owning. Which, honestly, was one of the biggest reasons he kept them. The rest of the space was taken up by a pair of motorcycles that couldn’t have been more different.

To the left was a sleek, black Ducati, one of the newest on the market, that Jason had been tweaking for a few weeks, working a few stabilizing and protection charms into the mechanics. On the right was Jason’s pride and joy, one of the only pieces of his previous life that he had kept. Lovingly refurbished and imbued with some of Jason’s best spellwork, the 1940 BSA M20 was a sight to behold. It was to this bike that Jason led Cass, slipping on his helmet before maneuvering the machine out of the storage locker. Once he’d locked the unit behind them, they clambered onto the bike, Cass dutifully wrapping her arms securely around Jason’s chest before they sped off into the the evening traffic.

 

“Okay… Okay. I’m cool. I’m fine. It’s just drinks. With Jay. But like, romantic drinks… Shit. Shitshitshit...” Roy began to hyperventilate as he looked into his bathroom mirror, eyes wide with terror or apprehension, he wasn’t sure. His heart was racing, sweat starting to break out on his forehead as he tried to calm down and completely failed.

“So, what about this? I think the flannel just screams ‘classy lumberjack’-- Whoa! Hey, calm down there, buddy.” Stephanie stepped into the bathroom, immediately taking in Roy’s anxious body language and dropping the shirt she’d been carrying. Guiding Roy to the toilet, she had him sit, leaning over on his elbows while she rubbed at his back. “There you go. Just breathe. You’re fine.”

After a minute or so, Roy’s breathing began to even out and he felt significantly less dizzy. Pushing himself up to lean back against the tank, he smiled weakly at Stephanie. “Thanks, Steph. It’s just… I don’t think I’ve ever done this before.”

“Gone out for drinks or on a date?”

Roy chuckled, running a hand through his hair and absently thinking he ought to put it up. “An actual proper date. With someone I have… feelings for. It’s just kinda weird and terrifying and thrilling all at once and I feel like I’m on a pirate ship in the middle of a storm or something.”

“Pirates?! I’m a pirate!”

Roy and Stephanie turned to see Lian poking her head around the door, grin wide underneath the construction paper eye-patch Stephanie had rigged up for her earlier. Feeling his nerves settle as they always did around his daughter, Roy couldn’t help but smile back, standing to scoop Lian up in his arms. “That you are, pumpkin.”

“It’s pirate ! Not pumpkin!”

“Okay, okay,” he conceded, ruffling her hair as he led the way out of the bathroom and into the living room. Setting Lian loose to play with her collection of Shiny Objects™ and dinosaur toys, Roy settled on the couch, smiling thankfully when Stephanie handed him the flannel she’d chosen earlier. “You really think this’ll be good?”

“Hey, I resent your lack of faith in my fashion sense. Anyway, Jay would swoon over you even if you were wearing a unicorn onesie. Trust me, you don’t have to worry about it. But also flannel suits your Urban Cool Dad™ aesthetic, so just roll with it.” Plopping down on the floor beside Lian, Stephanie immediately began assisting the four-year-old in concocting an ambitious coup to overthrow the tyrannical stegosaurus king. Shaking his head, Roy slipped the flannel on over his t-shirt, adjusting the cuffs so they were rolled up just below his elbows. Digging in his pockets, he unearthed a spare hair-tie, gathering his unruly hair up in a simple bun. The faint sound of a phone buzzing caught his attention and Roy looked over just in time to catch the fond smile Stephanie wore as she typed out a quick message.

“Cass says they’ll be up in a few.” Catching Roy’s eye, she asked, “You feel ready?”

Roy laughed nervously, resisting the urge to run his hands through his hair. “I guess?”

“Papa!” Lian sprang up, expression deadly serious as she gestured at him with a comb-turned-sword. “You gotta sweep Jayjay of his feet!”

Behind her, Stephanie was doing her best to choke down her laughter, eyes bright with tears from the effort. For his part, Roy just stared at his daughter, dumbfounded as his short-circuiting brain attempted to formulate a response. “I… That’s… Look, pumpkin, I’m not even sure that’s physically possible. I mean, have you seen --”

Lian shook her head gravely, reiterating with the most solemn expression, “You gotta, Papa. It’s the only way.”

Roy gaped, expression confused as Stephanie began rolling on the floor, nearly choking. “The only way to what?”

“To win Jayjay’s heart, acourse! Papa! This is ‘portant!” Lian cried as Roy dissolved into tears of laughter. “Papa! Listen! If you don’t sweep Jayjay of his feet, you can’t kiss him! Papa! Don’t laugh!”

“I’m sorry… I’m sorry. I know it’s important, pumpkin.” Roy forced out, wiping at his eyes as he reached out to pull Lian into a tight hug. “Thank you. I’ll remember to sweep Jayjay off his feet. You don’t have to worry.”

Lian nodded, satisfied, and returned his hug before adding, “Good. ‘Cause if you marry Jayjay, then I’ll have two dads. That’s more than any other kid’s got!”

Before Roy could respond, a knock came at the door, making all three of them jump slightly before Stephanie leaped up to get it. Anxiety resurfacing full-force, Roy had to take a few deep breaths as he stood, giving a shaky nodd to Lian’s downright adorable double thumbs-up. Seconds later, Stephanie came around the corner, Cass tucked comfortably under her arm and Jason bringing up the rear. It was all Roy could do to just breathe, looking Jason up and down as if it were the first time he was seeing him. He looked good as he ran a hand through helmet tousled hair that still managed to look perfect. Roy couldn’t help smiling, and when Jason caught Roy’s eye, he blushed, tugging at his hair and turning away. It was just too adorable.

“Alright!” Stephanie’s voice cut through the moment with precision, her grin mischievous as ever. “Y’all need to clear out because I’ve got some sweet plans for this evening involving these two lovely ladies, and you’re not invited.”

Roy pressed a hand to his chest in mock offence. “Stephanie Brown! You would throw me out of my own house?!”

“Damn straight.”

Jason and Roy’s eyes met and then smirked, intoning together in preparation for the inevitable, “Oooooooooo…”

“STEPHNEEEEEEEEEEE!” Lian shrieked, pointing accusingly at Stephanie who was only just realizing her mistake. “You owe a quarter!!!”

“Aw, shhhhhhhiiiiitake mushrooms,” Stephanie muttered, relinquishing her hold on Cass to dig out her wallet.

“And on that note,” Jason said, holding a hand out to Roy. “We’d better get going. Roy?”

“Uh, yeah… yes! Yes!” Patting his pockets to make sure he hand his wallet and keys, Roy hesitantly took the offered hand, sure he was blushing like a complete fool.

“Have fun, Papa!” Lian called, waving furiously as Roy waved back with his free hand.

“You too, pumpkin.”

“‘M not a pumpkin!!!”

Jason turned to Cass, signing, I’ll have him back before two.

You know we can stay the night if things get… well. Cass smirked, raising an eyebrow as Jason flushed.

Tugging on Roy’s hand, Jason tried to hide his face as Stephanie and Cass laughed. “C’mon. It’s gonna be late before we even get there.”

Smiling fondly, Roy waved back at the girls while Jason tugged him out the door, the feeling of their fingers intertwined leaving a warm glow in his heart. Jogging a bit in the hallway to catch up with Jason’s long strides, Roy squeezed his hand encouragingly. “I’m really glad you agreed to do this.”

Taking the turn for the stairs, Jason rubbed at the back of his neck with his free hand. “Yeah, well… I mean…” He pulled up, looking at Roy with an expression that said he was struggling to put feelings into words. “Roy… Having you and Lian in my life… I don’t know that I can really explain what you’ve done for me. You pulled me out of a really dark place, gave me something to live for.”

Jason’s face was solemn and open, and Roy could feel his own pulse pounding through his veins. Overcome with a wave of emotion, he reached forward, cupping Jason’s cheek and pulling him into a slow, gentle kiss. Jason melted against him, their motions foreign, but comforting. Roy didn’t believe in anything as romantic as ‘true love’ or ‘soulmates’, but as they pulled away, eyes locked, he knew with a warm certainty that whatever this was between them was something good.

Chapter Text

They went to Spoilers because, honestly, there wasn’t really anywhere else they could go. One of the first things Roy had learned about Jason was that he rarely ventured outside of the magical community. Some might say this was rather pretentious of him, but it really just came down to practicality. After all, a man who was supposed to be dead didn’t turn too many heads in a bar full of creatures straight out of folktales.

Kate was behind the bar when they walked in, speaking softly to the new bartender. The bar was fairly quiet for a Saturday, but Roy wasn’t complaining. He wouldn’t call himself a regular, but he was familiar enough with the usual crowd to recognize a few faces and be recognized in turn. Jason led the way to the bar, flagging down Kate, whose expression morphed from mildly annoyed to curious to knowing in a matter of seconds. The first time Roy had met Kate, he’d been immediately on edge, having spent the majority of the previous two years actively hiding from anyone even remotely related to magic and that world. But after the initial fight-or-flight instinctual reaction, he found her to be fairly amicable. She’d been surprisingly enthusiastic when he’d mentioned Lian, eagerly pulling out a picture of her wife, Renee, and daughter, Carrie. After that little bit of parent bonding, Roy was pretty sure they could be called friends.

Sliding up to the bar beside Jason, Roy gave a little wave. “Hey, Kate.”

“Hello, Roy. How is Lian doing?”

“She’s doing really well, thanks. Enjoying preschool way more than I thought she would, honestly.”

Kate gave a small smile. “Ah, yes. They are quite excitable at that age. Don’t worry. I’m sure she’ll be complaining about homework and teachers in no time.”

“Ugh, don’t make me think of that! She’s gonna stay my little baby forever!”

This time, Kate actually laughed, fondness in her eyes as she pulled out a pair of glasses, scooping in some ice and filling them with their drinks of choice. Pushing the drinks across the bar, she gestured, “I saved a booth in the corner for you. Stephanie mentioned that this outing is… a special occasion. Congratulations.” The look she gave Roy clearly added a Finally .

Blushing slightly and only half-registering Jason choking as he took a sip of his ginger ale, Roy grabbed his drink and Jason’s wrist, muttering a flustered, “Thanks.” Finding the promised booth, Roy slid in, tugging Jason after him.

“I swear… Stephanie’s going to be the death of me.” Jason shook his head.

“You and me both,” Roy agreed, taking a long drink from his glass as he snuck a look at Jason. It was the first time that night that he could do so uninterrupted and he was not going to waste it. Jason looked happy and pretty relaxed, despite the shadows beneath his eyes. Roy knew things had been stressful these last few months, what with the increase in demon attacks and unrest in the magical underworld. Jason tried his best, but sometimes his strained relationship with Bruce could get in the way of him effectively coordinating with the rest of his family. It couldn’t be easy, but Roy knew Jason was trying his best. He even made sure to set aside time for Roy and Lian despite all his other responsibilities.

“Roy? Rooooy…”

“Wha?”

“You were staring.” Jason smirked, eyes glowing slightly in the dimness of the bar. “What? Just can’t get enough of these good looks?”

Roy hummed, flicking the little tuft of white hair that curled just above the center of Jason’s forehead. “You got that right.”

Mouth already open to deliver what Roy was sure Jason thought was a witty comeback, Jason faltered, looking slightly surprised by the answer. After a moment, Jason managed a weak, “Oh.”

Smiling fondly, Roy reached across the table, taking Jason’s hand in his own. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to throw you off, but I…” And now Roy was blushing, words devolving into a stuttering mess. “I j-just… well, you-you’re just so… well, damn, Jay, have you s-seen yourself?”

Silence followed his words as the two of them stared at each other for a long, silent moment, before simultaneously bursting into laughter. “Oh for fuck’s sake…” Jason wheezed, shaking his head and squeezing Roy’s hand in his. “You’d think we were middle schoolers.”

They tried to gather themselves for a few more moments, Roy wiping at his eyes before glancing up and feeling the breath stolen straight out of his lungs. Jason was smiling, bright and open and honest, and Roy was fairly certain he had never seen something so beautiful. A wild rush of courage overtook him and suddenly Roy was reaching out, drawing a surprised Jason down to press their lips together in a soft kiss. It was slow and natural, Jason melting against Roy as if he had been waiting for this moment for years. Only then did it dawn on Roy, as Jason slid one large, calloused hand to settle at the nape of Roy’s neck, that maybe he had been waiting.

Pulling back, Roy looked at Jason with slightly bashful eyes, flushed and excited. “Hi.”

“Hey.”

“Hello, boys.”

Roy had never had to fight so hard against screaming in his entire life. Heartbeat skyrocketing, both he and Jason sprang away from each other, staring wildly at the honest to god black cat that was sitting on their table. If it was possible for cats to smirk, Roy was certain that this one was, it’s clever green eyes flashing with amusement. Only after a moment did Roy register that, seeing as there were no other people even remotely close to them, the cat must have spoken.

“Uh… Jay…d-did that cat just…?”

“Goddamnit, Selina…” Jason growled, pouting at the cat with an expression of utter betrayal.

Before Roy’s eyes, the cat tilted its head and began to change. It was mildly terrifying and oddly intriguing, watching limbs lengthen and fur give way to skin until a woman in dark leather lay comfortably across their table, head resting on one perfectly manicured hand. Intelligent green eyes, still with their slitted feline pupils, flickered between Jason and Roy, before she purred, “I truly am sorry, kitten. But I wouldn’t have crashed your little soiree unless it was important.”

“You crash Dick’s dates all the time.”

“Yes, well, Dick’s a special case. He needs minding.”

Roy was now looking back and forth between this woman and Jason so quickly he thought his neck might start cramping. Mouth opening to ask Jason what was going on, Roy managed a very eloquent, “Uh…”

Jason’s luminescent eyes snapped to Roy, his expression apologetic as he slipped his hand around Roy’s beneath the table. “Um, yeah. So, Roy, this is my, um… well, this is Selina. Selina, Roy.”

Selina turned clever eyes on Roy, a dangerous smirk curling its way across her bright red lips. “Ah… So this is the famous Roy. We’ve heard ever so much about you, dear. I was beginning to wonder whether the wedding invitations got lost in the mail.”

“Oh, uh… well…” Roy flickered panicked eyes over to Jason who looked like he were ready to die.

Selina ,” Jason hissed, face red as a beet and eyes pleading.

Jason ,” Selina parroted back, grin widening as she slid lithely into the seat beside Roy, effectively hemming him into the booth as she leaned on the table and into his space. Now completely ignoring Jason’s indignant noises, Selina inquired, “So Jason tells us you have spurned the delightful words of our lady and saviour, Jane Austen…”

“Selina, please !”

Raising her perfectly manicured hands in mock defence. “Alright, alright! But in all honesty, Jason, we’re delighted.” Selina gave Roy a smile with surprising warmth and added, “For both of you. Jason’s told us a great deal about what you’ve been through, Roy, and we’re just happy to see both of you happy.”

Roy felt himself blushing, and as he glanced over at Jason, was proud to see he wasn’t alone. As Roy watched Jason give Selina a look of fierce fondness, he couldn’t help the rising warmth in his own chest. He wished he could freeze that expression, if only to keep such a content and happy look on Jason’s face, but sadly, it wasn’t meant to be. Just as quickly as the moment came, it was gone, Selina sighing disappointedly as she grew serious.

“I am truly sorry to have to ruin such a wonderful moment, kitten, but I do have some important information that cannot wait.”

Jason slid into what Roy recognized as his ‘work’ persona, eyes hard and demeanor calculatedly cool. Under the table, their hands remained entwined, but Roy could sense the tension racing under Jason’s skin. “Ivy and Harley?”

Selina shook her head, smiling wryly. “I appreciate the concern, but my darlings are quite alright. You know they can handle themselves.”

Some of the tension seemed to leave Jason at this news and Roy squeezed his hand supportively. Shooting Roy a grateful smile, Jason asked, “I know, but it doesn’t stop me worrying.”

“Such a gentleman…” Selina sounded almost melancholy before continuing, “Actually, this has some connection to the demon issue. There’s been word, here and there amongst the Solitary types that the Unseelie King is mobilizing.”

Jason froze, blinking as if in disbelief. “You… You’re sure?”

“Kitten, I don’t trust in rumors,” Selina chided, baring her teeth in a distinctly predatory manner. “I vetted the information myself.”

“You did what ? Selina, the Dark Court is not something to fuck around with!”

Selina raised a perfect, dark eyebrow, regarding Jason like a cat considers a yapping puppy. “Jason. Darling. I have been around longer than you seem to be able to recall. I have had my fair share of dealings with the Winter Fey. Played for a time in their ranks, if you care to remember.” Her tone was amused, as if this were a conversation they had had many times before. “Anyway, the important part is, the rumors held some weight. Zod is preparing for something, something big, and he has help. I’ve never seen that many Winter Fey in one place. I’m honestly surprised Bruce hasn’t gotten word by now, considering how… destructive they tend to be in large groups.”

Jason leaned forward, gaze shifting across the table as he processed Selina’s news. “And you’re sure it was Zod? Not a lieutenant? The Winter Knight?”

“Would either of those options be much better?” Selina countered. “I saw Zod himself, and at least three of his lieutenants. The Winter Knight was not present, but that doesn’t mean she’s not lurking around somewhere. What concerned me, though, were the clear signs of a witch’s aid.”

Jason paled slightly. “A witch…?”

Selina nodded. “The warehouse where the Court is gathering was warded. Expertly warded, I might add. This is no ameteur, and considering the rash of demonic summonings recently… Well, it doesn’t seem like coincidence to me.”

“But… Zod hates witches more that basically anything. Why would he work with one…?” Jason frowned, brows furrowed as silence spread between the three of them. Slowly, as Roy watched, a disconcerted realization seemed to cross Jason’s face. Raising his eyes to meet Selina’s, Jason practically whispered, “Unless he was given an offer he couldn’t refuse.”

“But what witch would be mad enough to offer Zod help with that mad crusade?”

Jason shook his head. “They wouldn’t have to have intentions of following through, just so long as they had the right words and the juice to back an offer up.”

“You don’t mean…” Selina suddenly sat up very straight, cat-like eyes wide and alarmed. “He’s not here. That’s not--” She cut off as she saw the haunted look on Jason’s face. Taking a slow breath, Selina whispered, “You need to tell Bruce. Now.”

Jason grimaced, but nodded in agreement. Glancing guiltily over at Roy, he told Selina, “I’ll rally the troops. Thanks for the tip off. I really appreciate it.”

Reaching out to gently brush a stray lock of hair out of Jason’s eyes, Selina smiled sadly. “I’m sorry to have had to ruin this moment for you both. Let me know if you need any assistance, Jason. You know how to contact me.” Without another word, Selina stood, transforming smoothly back into a black cat and disappearing into the bar crowd.

Sighing heavily, Jason tilted his head back against the wall. “Fuck.”

“Hey, it’s alright. You guys’ll figure this out.”

Jason offered him a wry smile, guilt plain in his eyes. “Yeah, but… shit, this was supposed to be a nice night out. I’m sorry, Roy. Maybe… maybe--”

Roy cut off the thought he knew Jason was about to voice, reaching over to cup Jason’s cheek in his hand and turn Jason’s face towards him. “Hey. None of that. I know what dating you entails. I lived with you for the better part of a year, remember? So don’t you go thinking you’re a burden.” Roy smiled, leaning over to touch their foreheads together. “I want this. I want you and everything that entails. Okay?”

Jason let out a slow breath, eyes wide and pupils maybe a little dilated. “Yeah… Yeah, okay.”

Dropping a quick peck on the corner of Jason’s mouth, Roy pulled back. “Good. Now, are you going to walk me back to my door and kiss me goodnight on the front stoop like a good gentleman?”

Chuckling, Jason followed Roy out of the bar, waving to Kate on their way. The night had grown even colder, and Roy huddled deep into his jacket as he caught sight of a few flurries dancing in the light of the streetlamps. Glancing over at Jason, Roy felt a wave of courage wash over him and stepped forward, sliding his arm through Jason’s before tucking his hand in his pocket. Raising an eyebrow, Jason just shrugged, settling in as they began to walk towards the place they’d parked the bike.

“So…” Roy ventured, watching how his breath fogged in the cold air. “How do you know Selina?”

“It’s… kinda complicated,” Jason began, staring up at the cloudy sky. “After I… left Bruce’s house, I wasn’t managing so well. Selina found me on the street one day and kinda took me in. Well, her and Harley and Ivy took me in.” Jason smiled a bit, as if recalling fond memories. “They’re all kinda crazy in their own ways, but they really cared, ya know? It was… nice. I really appreciate what the did for me, getting me up on my feet and all.”

Roy nodded. “Are they witches, too?”

At that, Jason actually laughed out loud and they had to stop for a moment so he could catch his breath. “Sorry, sorry! I just… god, I can’t even imagine the three of them… it’d be like the witches in Macbeth or something. Man, Harley’d get a kick outta that.” Gathering himself a little, Jason explained, “No, they’re not witches. They’re what the Community refers to as Solitary Fey, which are basically fey without Court connections. They kinda do their own thing and don’t bother the Courts so the Courts don’t bother them. Usually. Anyway, Selina’s a Cat Sidhe, which are actually pretty rare these days, especially this side of the Atlantic. Harley’s a pixie, but not like the Tinkerbell ‘sunshine and rainbows’ kind. Like the, ‘I replaced all your favorite crayons with razorblades’ kind.” Roy looked alarmed, but Jason just waved it off. “She’s got a malicious streak, sure, but she’s mostly harmless thanks to Selina and Ivy. Speaking of, Ivy’s the spirit of a rose bush, but she’s got these crazy abilities to control plants. It’s actually kinda cool.”

“So… you’re moms are a cat, a crazy lady, and a plant?”

Jason scrunched his face up before shrugging, “Yeah, sounds about right.”

“This explains so many things…”

After a moment of silence, they both broke out laughing, faces red in cold air and eyes bright. By that time, they’d made it to the bike, and moments later, Roy tucked comfortably up against Jason’s back.

 

--

 

Bruce actually choked a bit on the tea he’d just swallowed when the message came in, Alfred raising one spectral eyebrow at him before floating away towards the stairway to the main house. Setting the mug down carefully, Bruce hurriedly tapped on the screen, pulling up the message from Jason. It was short, to the point and rather vague, but Bruce knew that if Jason was actually messaging Bruce of his own volition, the situation must be serious. Despite Bruce’s general disapproval of Jason’s methods, he couldn’t deny that Jason had access to a great deal of information that would take Bruce months to uncover. Rereading the message, Bruce took another long drink of tea and wishing it would actually calm his frayed nerves like the box claimed.

When was the last time Bruce had even talked to Jason? He couldn’t quite remember, and the heavy weight of guilt that came with that knowledge lodged itself firmly in Bruce’s chest. He didn’t hate Jason, despite what Jason thought. Bruce just worried, and that worry more often than not manifested as something far too close to disappointment. Jason thought Bruce saw him as a failure, but that wasn’t true. It was Bruce who had failed Jason all those years ago, when he couldn’t protect him, and then later when he couldn’t reconnect with him. Of all the many regrets Bruce carried, the words he’d spoken to Jason when he’d returned ten years ago were the heaviest.

The sound of approaching footsteps drew Bruce out of his thoughts and he looked up to see Damian, scowl firmly in place. Before Bruce could speak, Damian grumbled, “Father. I assume you received Todd’s message.” Bruce nodded, not really sure what to say and banking on Damian’s trademark grumpiness to continue the conversation on his own. “Who does he think he is, calling us all here without any indication of why .”

“Jason obviously has some important information,” Bruce reasoned.

Scowling, Damian seemed to think for a moment before muttering to himself, “I suppose that makes sense if he contacted you…”

Bruce internally winced, but took it in stride. Luckily, he was saved from having to reply by Tim, who appeared in a whirlwind, tapping on a laptop and nearly bowling Damian over on his way to the main computer. Tuting indignantly, Damian hissed, “Drake! I know you have the intellect of a small child, but at least try to maintain a passing semblance to appropriate adult behavior.”

“That’s nice, Damian.” Tim waved a hand distractedly as he hooked his laptop up so that its display appeared on the large central screen. The map of Gotham on which they had been plotting the signs of demon activity filled the majority of the display, only now there were even more different colors with lines interconnecting them in a seemingly random pattern. Off to the side, Tim had made a small key, not that it was any easier to decipher to people who were not Tim.

“Drake, what is this nonsense?”

“Glad you asked.” Tim grinned, eyes burning with a light only found in the insane and those who had been awake longer than forty-eight hours. “I think I finally figured it out. It’s not that the activity is centralizing anywhere. They’ve been searching .” Tim paused, glancing back and forth between Damian and Bruce.

Bruce coughed awkwardly, but covered it up by sipping his tea and nodding.

Damian’s scowl only deepened. “Searching for what , Drake?”

“Rifts!” Tim practically shouted, grin bordering on maniacal.

Bruce raised an eyebrow. “Rifts?”

“Yes! Places where the border between our world and Hell are thinnest, making summonings easier!” Tim jabbed his finger at the map as if that would help clarify the situation. “Look! If you sort by relative strength of the demons, number, etc. and then cross reference that with naturally occurring demonic presence and historical demonic summonings… Well, the map speaks for itself. Luthor and Cobblepot have been looking for a place with the thinnest or most fragile border. Thinner border means less energy required to pull something big through.”

Damian was actually peering at the map with a sort of irritated intensity, as if unwilling to admit he was actually impressed or curious. “That would make sense given the circle Grayson provided…”

Bruce frowned. “Circle?”

“Yes, to summon the demon scout…” Damian replied distractedly, eyes flickering back and forth across the screen. “Did Grayson not inform you of his kidnapping and subsequent rescue?”

Eyebrow twitching, Bruce growled, “No. He failed to mention that.”

“- tt - I’m not surprised.” Damian pointed to a set of green dots that were connected by lines in a slightly lighter shade. “Drake, these indicate the areas with the thinnest borders?”

“Yup. A couple of them are recent, but most of them I pulled from our database. The Iceberg Lounge is both, since…” Tim glanced sidelong at Bruce, as he trailed off. “Well, you know. Stuff. Anyway! You can bet that if we have this info, they do. Luthor’s not an idiot and he must have figured out there’s a series of rifts.”

A soft series of chimes alerted them to the deactivation of the Cave’s wards, curbing all discussion until moments later, Cass entered the room followed by a sullen looking Jason. Bruce had to school his features into something neutral as he quickly took in Jason’s tired appearance, the way in which his eyes flickered between glowing and dull. He wanted to reach out, to ask how Jason’s been, but he couldn’t bring himself to make the first move. Instead, they made awkward eye contact for a brief moment before Bruce glanced away.

Tim stared at Jason, eyebrows furrowed as he squinted. “Jason?”

“Yes?”

“Hm… just makin’ sure, I guess.”

Jason sighed, clearly fighting the urge to roll his eyes, and hovered uncomfortably by the door. “So, you got my message.”

“We did.” Bruce decided to keep it short and simple. Less opportunities for shouting matches.

“Good… Well, Selina crashed my-- she came to tell me to tell you that Zod’s a player in this demon stuff now.”

The room went silent, all eyes turned to Jason who was scowling while managing not to meet any of their gazes. It was Tim who spoke up first, stuttering out, “Y-you… what? Are you s-serious?”

“I trust Selina,” Jason said simply, fingers twitching slightly.

Cass gestured for their attention and signed, Jay gave me the run-down. Based on what Selina saw, the Winter Court is gathering and their base has been warded by someone skilled, Likely Luthor.

Everyone seemed to relax as the burden of carrying conversation was lifted from Jason. Bruce caught Jason’s fingers flicker some comment to Cass that Bruce wasn’t quick enough to read. Cass smiled softly in return. Eyes narrowed, Damian studied Jason for a moment before saying, “It makes little sense for Zod and Luthor to be working together. The King of the Dark Court despises humans and witches in particular.”

Exactly , Cass countered, dark eyes glimmering in the light of the computers. If Zod wanted to actually succeed in his dream of wiping out humanity, he’d need help. Human help. And who’s more suited to wreaking mindless destruction that Luthor?

Bruce frowned. This new information was extremely disturbing, especially given the conversation he had had with one Barry Allen only yesterday. If the fey were to join this… whatever it is, things were going to get bloody. Fast. He sighed, glancing back at Tim’s map. The way things were shaping up, Bruce wouldn’t be surprised if they were actually facing some sort of apocalyptic plot. Turning back towards the center of the room, Bruce began, “Damian, do you have a copy of this cir--”

“Hey guys! What did I miss?”

Five heads swiveled in unison to watch as Dick came all but skipping down the stairs, take-out coffee cup in hand. Tim eyed the cup with the hunger of the addicted while Damian rolled his eyes, scoffing, “Just Todd’s dramatic reveal that we will likely be facing the Battle of Armageddon shortly.”

Dick promptly spit out the sip of coffee he’d just taken, blue eyes round and alarmed. “The what now?!”

“Where have you been, Dick?” Bruce interrupted.

Laughing nervously, Dick shuffled from foot to foot. “Oh, you know… patrol and… stuff .”

“You were stalking that time traveler, weren’t you?” Tim deadpanned.

Dick spluttered, eyes flickering between Bruce’s deepening frown and Tim’s smirk. “I--Wha--How dare you… I don’t know what you mean.”

“This would be the kidnap and rescue story, Father,” Damian added, leaning back against a bank of computers to watch with mild amusement as Dick turned brighter and brighter shades of red.

“...that’s just-- What lies are these? How could you betray me, Timmy?”

“Dick.” Bruce’s voice cut across the room, effectively halting all conversation. “What is this about time travelers?”

“Um…” Dick blanched, gesturing futily with his coffee cup. “Well, I might have maybe been caught for a little bit when I was casing the Iceberg and then maybe been rescued by a really cu-- clever witch who can apparently time travel?”

Bruce didn’t reply for a long moment, letting Dick sweat it out, before nodding slowly. “I received a call yesterday from a witch claiming to be able to time travel. He said that he and his… team might be able to help with the demon situation.” Everyone stared, expressions all varying levels of surprise. “The witch claimed they were from Central, and though I have some… contacts there, I wasn’t able to uncover much on them. I don’t like unknowns.

“Yeah, but…” Eyes turned to Dick who seemed to have overcome his earlier bout of extreme embarrassment. “Bruce, there’s not that many of us. If we’re looking at some sort of demonic invasion--”

“And Dark Court murder rampage,” Tim added

“Right-- Wait, what?” Dick gaped at Tim who just shrugged and gestured towards Jason. Shaking his head, Dick continued, “Okay, and apparently the match made in hell team-up with the Winter Fey… Bruce, we need allies.”

No one said a word as the tense reality of the situation seemed to hang precariously over all their heads.

“Dick’s right.” Everyone turned to look at Tim who had grown more serious, arms crossed and expression dark. “We can handle a lot, but this? A full scale demonic invasion? With witch and possible Unseelie support? We can’t handle this alone.”

Damian sniffed. “Much as I hate to agree with Drake, we could use some support, Father. Colin may be convinced to help us, but he is woefully untrained. Or perhaps Todd’s stray, but even then, we will remain at a glaring disadvantage.”

They all fell silent, watching expectantly as Bruce scowled at the screen before him. He didn’t like to think about it, but… they were right. This was growing way beyond the family, perhaps beyond Gotham, if they didn’t do anything about it. They needed allies, and fast. He knew Dick was itching to suggest these new time travellers, but Bruce still had his doubts. Though he was incredibly loathe to do so, Bruce could only think of one other solid option. He grimaced. Maybe the utter destruction of humanity was preferable to… No, no, Bruce reasoned, it will be...horrible, but not that horrible . Looking up, he met each of the other’s curious gazes, before sighing and rubbing at the bridge of his nose. “I… think I may have a solution. For now, just… remain vigilant. Keep up regular patrols and counteract what you can. Dick, keep tabs on these new witches. If this works, we should be ready in a few days.”

Taking that as a meeting adjourned, the others nodded and began to file towards the stairs. Dick hung back a moment, gaze searching Bruce’s face. “You don’t seem to sure about this, Bruce.”

He grimaced. “It’s less uncertainty and more… wariness.”

When Bruce failed to elaborate, Dick nodded, still not quite convinced, but trusting enough to leave the older man to the task at hand. Once the four boys disappeared up the stairs, Bruce leaned back in his chair, inwardly groaning. This was not going to be pleasant.

Chapter Text

Um… Bruce? I, well, I hate to complicate things, but…

“Yes, Dick?”

Well, it would seem that a contingent of Seelie fey just arrived in the city .”

Bruce grimaced to himself before replying. “Yes.”

Dick sounded a little hesitant and maybe a bit unbelieving. “ Um, Bruce? I’m just going out on a limb here, stop me if this starts to sound crazy, but I’m starting to think that maybe, just maybe? You? Asked them… to come?

“That would be correct, Dick.”

There was a brief moment of silence before, “ ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME, BRUCE?! SINCE WHEN DO YOU HAVE ENOUGH CLOUT WITH THE SEELIE TO CALL IN A FULL ON WAR PARTY?!?!

Bruce held the receiver well away from his ear as Dick continued to spout a diatribe of disbelief and confusion. Once the shouting died down, Bruce ventured to put the phone back to his ear. “I realize that I… may have forgotten to mention that I have history with the king of the Seelie. I simply called in a favor.”

Dick sounded downright exasperated now. “ Bruce. You and I both know one does not simply call in a favor from a FAERIE KING!!!” There was a small, surprised sound and then muffled voices for a moment before Dick spoke, rather dazedly, “ Um… I think I was just formally asked to issue a request for your presence at the Court in... Lemmars Park, in, um , half an hour? ” There was another brief exchange before Dick was back, this time in a whisper. “ Uh, I don’t really know what’s going on, Bruce, but this pixie’s calling me Son of the Consort? What the hell is going on? What does that even mean ?

Bruce repressed a groan of annoyance. “Just… ignore it. I’ll be there in a half an hour. Call the others. I’m sure Clark will insist on meeting you all, anyway.”

Wait, Clark? Who’s Cla--

Click.

 

A half hour later, Bruce stepped out of his car. Making his way into the depths of the park, he huddled deeper into his coat, resisting the urge to simply turn around, call the whole thing off. This was going to be traumatizing in more ways than one and he was seriously considering the pros of demonic armageddon as he stepped into the clearing Dick had texted him about.

The sheer wonder of seeing a full fey court never ceased to amaze him. It was true, what Dick had said about the Seelie bringing a full war party. Several cohorts of elven knights were milling around, adorned in elaborate armor and carrying weaponry of glass and obsidian. Off to the side, where the clearing opened onto an inlet from the river, Bruce caught sight of several nixies, a few kelpies, and even a group of merfolk. Gaggles of other assorted little folk were gathered around as well, and a veil of unnatural warm light seemed to fall over the entire place. It wasn’t hard to locate the royal entourage: a makeshift dais of twisted branches had been erected at one end of the clearing, two thrones made of the same branches resting there. Near the dais, Bruce could see Dick, Tim, Damian, Jason, and Cass, all looking slightly uncomfortable as they kept to themselves. Tim spotted him first, pointing so that the others looked his way as Bruce made his way through the throng of fey towards his family. It was a little surreal, but as he walked, the fey moved aside like parting waters, each group he passed growing silent and watching with unconcealed curiosity.

Just as he reached the others, a voice, low and smooth and all too familiar, called out, “Bruce! It has been too long!”

With almost pained stiffness, Bruce forced himself to turn, facing the tall, stunningly handsome faerie making his way towards the little group of humans. The faerie was broad in the shoulders, a somewhat strange trait amongst the fey, and had eyes that seemed to be cut from the very movement of the air on a clear summer’s day. There was something warm and inviting about his appearance, but his aura hinted at an unfathomable and terrifying strength behind the bright smile. Bruce forced himself to return the gesture, certain it turned out more of a grimace than anything else. “Clark.”

Before he could react, Bruce was suddenly enveloped in Clark’s strong arms, face pressed into the fey king’s shoulder. “Dearest one! I was so glad to receive your request for aid. You exercise your rights far too little for my tastes.”

Bruce could practically feel the shocked stares of his family behind him, and it was all he could do not to roll his eyes. “I prefer to manage my own matters when I can.” He turned as Clark loosened his grip, the faerie’s arm remaining around Bruce’s shoulder in a relaxed grip, keeping Bruce pressed to his side. “Ah… These are my, er, associates.” He gestured to them in turn. “Dick, Tim, Damian, Jason, and Cass.” Bruce could see the looks of utter disbelief on all their faces as he continued. “This is Clark, King of the Seelie Court.”

Dick shakily pointed between the two of them, eyes fixed on the casual way Clark was holding Bruce. “Uh… how…? How do, do you…?”

Clark’s eyes widened, glancing down at Bruce, chiding, “Have you not told them, dearest?” Turning back to the stunned humans, Clark beamed while Bruce blanched, proudly proclaiming, “Bruce is the Royal Consort of the Seelie!”

“C-Consort, like… Consort ?” Dick squeaked.

Jason looked about to bust a gut, holding back his laughter as Tim simply stared with a look of near horror. Cass was unreadable as ever, but Damian wore an expression of profound alarm, staring down his father as if he had just grown another head. Bruce counted to ten in his head before slowly extricating himself from Clark’s grasp.

“It’s… a long story…”

Jason finally couldn’t hold back his laughter, letting out a full on cackle. “Oh, you are so telling us everything when we get back!”

Bruce grimaced, but nodded in a somewhat defeated manner. Turning back to Clark, he attempted to sway the conversation onto other, more pertinent matters--

“Ah! Dearest! I must introduce you to my court’s newest addition!” Clark gestured enthusiastically for one of the elven knights to join them. The knight in question appeared rather young, though Bruce knew looks could be deceiving amongst the fey, and appeared startlingly like a younger version of Clark himself. Though, when Bruce looked more closely, the knight’s eyes carried less of Clark’s warmth, looking more like the tense haze of a storm about to break. In all the overwhelming summery light of the court, this knight carried a shard of something darker, immediately putting Bruce on edge.

“Yes, my lord?” The knight’s voice was unassuming, smooth and almost eerily calm.

Clark grinned, turning him to face the contingent of humans. “Dearest, friends, I would like to introduce Conner, the Autumn Knight.”

Bruce took another moment to collect himself before putting on his CEO smile. “It’s a pleasure.”

Clark clapped Conner on the shoulder, eyes bright and all too knowing, while the knight seemed slightly uncomfortable. “Conner has been an excellent addition to the Court, and I am looking forward to seeing him at his best. He’s a clever one, and quick on his feet.”

Despite Clark’s determinedly cheery disposition, Bruce still couldn’t quite shake off the uneasiness he felt. Perhaps he’d bring it up to Clark later, in private. For now, there was business to discuss. “As… pleased as I am to see you again, Clark, the circumstances that brought you here…”

“Mmm, yes. I was quite disturbed by what you told me. The Unseelie do not work with humans lightly. I shudder to think what they were promised in return for their cooperation.”

“Not to mention, the fey and demons have never been the best of friends,” Tim muttered.

“All too true. The fey have long separated ourselves from heavenly and demonic beings. There have been far too many… misunderstandings between us which have ended with catastrophic consequences. It was in the best interest of us all that we remain separate.” Clark’s expression clouded, his brow furrowed. “Truly, I can think of only a few who could convince even Zod to break such ancient traditions…”

Bruce scowled. “I hadn’t mentioned it before, Clark, but… We have strong reason to believe that Luthor is somehow involved. A number of minor summonings we’ve come across have his M.O.” Clark’s eyes grew dark, his aura tightening and gaining a dangerous edge. “Considering his history, I think it would be well within his ability to sway Zod to a cause, however unsavory his associates may be.”

“You are not in error to think this way, dearest.”

Bruce produced his phone from his pocket, pulling up a copy of the map that Tim had been working on. Gesturing Clark over, Bruce began giving him a quick run down of the situation, leaving out most of the details of what Barry Allen had told him and dancing around his consultation with Barbara. Unfortunately Clark was fairly perceptive, smiling knowingly when Bruce purposefully offered vague information. It was infuriating, but predictable, and Bruce pointedly ignored the looks, continuing on until the situation had been laid out. “I think it would be best, for now, if you kept as low a profile as possible. Keep tabs on the Unseelie movement as best you can, while my side focuses on the witches. We need to figure out what their next move is, and cut them off at the source.”

“This is soundly suggested, dearest. How shall we maintain communication? Unfortunately, me and mine are not capable of adapting to such modern devices as you.” Clark gave Bruce a fond smile.

Squirming a little under the gaze, Bruce pondered the issue, glancing over at his family who seemed to be in a strange staring contest with the Autumn Knight. Frowning slightly, Bruce decided to ask later. Bruce would have given the responsibility to Dick, but he was already keeping tabs on Allen’s group. Damian was busy with Colin, and it would take too long to teach the fey Cass’ signs. Jason… well, Bruce was fairly sure that anything he asked of Jason would be automatically shot down so that left… “Tim.”

“Hmm?” Tim snapped out of his staring match, expression still dark and focused.

“I need you to be our contact point for Clark’s people.”
Brows furrowing slightly, Tim began, “What--?”

“Excellent!” Clark interrupted, beaming as his gaze flickered from Tim quickly to the Autumn Knight and back. The thoughtful look that followed did nothing to make Bruce relax, particularly when Clark added, “I shall send Conner to parlay with you. He is more… suited to work in the city than most of my party.”

“What?!”

Twin exclamations rang out, paired with duplicate horrified expressions as Tim and the Autumn Knight turned to look at Bruce and Clark. Each shot the other an incredulous glare, both seemed equally displeased with the arrangement. Unfortunately, there was little Bruce could do about it, so he settled for fixing them with a steely glare that he hoped screamed, I am 110% done discussing this . Waiting until Tim and the Autumn Knight backed down, Bruce turned to Clark. “Alright. That settles it. We should trade weekly reports barring anything drastic.”

“Very well. It shall be done.”

Bruce blinked, unsure of how to close this conversation, and settled on a short nod before turning to gather up his family to go. Before he could completely turn away, Clark reached out, catching his wrist in a deceptively light grip. Glancing back at the fey king, Bruce could feel his heartbeat flutter before angrily tamping it down. Fingers lightly tracing across Bruce’s pulse, Clark smiled. “It is good to see you again, dearest. Do visit, if time allows. I would be delighted to share your company once again.”

“I-I’ll see what I can do.” His brain suitably scrambled, Bruce tugged free of Clark’s grip, pointedly ignoring the looks his family was giving him, and began leading the way back across the clearing. He could hear the others follow, and he didn’t stop until he emerged on the dimly lit park pathway, the cold Gotham air chasing snowflakes to the ground around him.

 

--

 

Tim wasn’t sure what he had been expecting when he showed up at Lemmars Park following Dick’s frankly cryptic text, but it certainly wasn’t this.

“Uh, Dick? You wanna share?”

Dick was standing awkwardly just off one of the pathways that crisscrossed the park, glancing down every so often at the downright terrifying looking fey woman standing beside him. Tall, even compared to his brother, the woman fixed him with a gaze like a clear arctic sky and Tim found himself trying to catch his breath as he came to an unbidden halt on the concrete walkway. Forcing himself to tear his eyes away from hers, Tim stared pointedly at Dick.

“Yeah… so, Bruce wanted us all to meet up here to talk to the, uh… Summer Court.” Dick rubbed nervously at the back of his neck, glancing sidelong at the woman beside him who still had not relented in frowning and glaring at Tim. “This is Kara. Kara--”

“I am not interested in making you or your companion’s acquaintance,” Kara stated curtly, gaze finally unpinning Tim as it slid to Dick.

“Oh… right. Um…”

Tim frowned, eye twitching slightly. He’d had a long couple of days, and several gallons of coffee only went so far towards improving his social graces. “You don’t need to be an ass about it. We’re not all that interested in hanging around you either.”

Dick gaped at him while Kara’s glare just darkened. From behind Tim, the crunch of boots was all that warned him as a large hand came down on his shoulder. “Damn, Replacement. Them’s fightin’ words.”

Tim turned slightly, all the better to roll his eyes at Jason who was smirking like a fox in a hen house. Shaking off his hand, Tim grumbled, “Yeah, well why don’t you try keeping it civil on three hours of sleep.”

“Today or this week, Timbers?”

“Shut up.”

Jason just laughed, shifting so that he could fix those unnerving eyes on Dick instead. “So, Goldie, what’s this all about? Get tired of the time traveler already?" Flicking a glance at Kara, he added, "Gotta admit, I didn’t think blondes were your type.”

Dick blushed, sputtering indignantly before managing to spit out, “That’s not--! Wha--?! Rude, Jason! This is strictly business!”

“I was not informed that such an unnatural thing would be amongst your party.”

Three sets of eyes turned to Kara who had a hand on the hilt of the glass sword that hung at her side. How Tim had missed that was beyond him, but he didn’t have much time to dwell on it as he could already feel the noxious pulses of Jason’s aura from beside him. While their romance had been brief and passionate, Stephanie had taught Tim a few helpful tricks about sensing auras, something he was eternally grateful for in situations like this. Tactfully sidling a few steps further from Jason, Tim watched silently as Kara and Jason squared off.

“Oh?” Jason said, eyes glowing in the falling light. “Care to elaborate, princess?”

As literal sparks began to fly, the situation was salvaged as, like a stealthy and majestic angel, Cass lept down from gods only know where, planting herself firmly between Jason and Kara. Raising a slow eyebrow as she assessed Kara, Cass quickly signed, Jason, be calm .

Waiting for Cass to glance back at him, Jason signed and said, “Oh, I’m mad fucking calm.”

“Jay, please!” Dick seemed to have collected himself, taking a short step to stand beside Cass.

The Summer Fey are not our enemies, Jason. And we can’t afford to make them enemies. Please, calm down. She doesn’t know your situation, or you. Don’t prove her right. Cass leveled a steady gaze at Jason and Tim was once again amazed by her ability to cut to the core of Jason’s anger. Like a kettle removed from a flame, Jason took a slow breath, closing his eyes for a moment. When he opened them again, the furious boil had died down to an irritated simmer.

Fine. Why you always gotta be right about everything? It was subtle, but Tim could see the light joking in Jason’s movements.

Cass smirked. I know all, Jason. Never forget that.

Yeah, yeah. All hail the queen .

“What are they doing?” Kara’s irritated tone cut through the air and they all turned to look at her, slightly surprised.

“They’re, uh, talking,” Tim offered, waving his hands very unhelpfully. Cass snorted and Tim suddenly blushed, realizing what he had just accidentally signed. Tucking his hands embarrassedly into his pockets, Tim continued, “ Anyway … Cass can’t talk, so she signs.”

Kara’s eyes narrowed, but before she could respond, Dick made a strange staggering step forward, arm waving and eyes bright as he looked just past Tim’s head. “Dami! Hey!”

“Grayson, please. You are an embarrassment to us all with these antics.” Damian paused several yards away, observing the strange stand-off they were in with a disapproving glance. “Can you people not avoid confrontation for more than several minutes?”

“Says the master of picking petty fights,” Tim drawled, rolling his eyes at the indignant squawk that earned him.

“What was that, Drake?”

“Heh, nice one, Replacement.”

“You’re next, Todd!”

“Children, please!” Dick whined.

It was Cass who finally managed to pull the four of them apart. Damian had managed to drag Tim forward by his shirt while Jason ruffled Damian’s hair and Dick tried to push everyone apart, making everything worse. Sighing, Cass stealthily insinuated herself into the melee, jabbing the four of them in the stomachs. In unison, the boys reeled back, clutching at their midriffs. Tim wavered on his feet, blinking the sharp pain out of his eyes as he shot a look of betrayal at Cass who simply shrugged in return.

You deserved it and you know it. Smirking at Tim’s pout, she turned to Dick who looked like a kicked puppy, signing, Is this everyone?

“Ugh… yes? Yes.” Turning to Kara, who now wore an expression of extreme confusion, Dick said, voice slightly shaky, “Uh, this is all of us, Kara. Should we…?”

“You are by far the strangest humans I have ever encountered.”

Without another word, Kara spun on her heel, heading off into the woods. Shrugging at one another, the rest of them followed, picking their way through the underbrush in her wake. Tim tried to focus and remember the path they took, but it was hard, trees seeming to blur into one another like a never ending reel. Kara walked in front of them with confidence, never turning to check if they were keeping up. Eventually, Tim’s curiosity got the better of him and he asked, “Why do the trees seem to be repeating? And why is this taking so long?”

He was met with silence and figured Kara just hadn’t heard him or didn’t care, but suddenly she said, “Only those of the Court or with the Court’s favor may simply walk into our sanctuary. Otherwise any foolish human or dangerous outsider could stumble upon us.”

Taking a moment to let that sink in, Tim glanced at Dick. “Why didn’t we wait for Bruce?”

Dick shrugged and Kara responded, actually glancing back with a strange look. “He does not need to be guided. He has the highest honor the Court can offer a human, after all.”

Surprised and confused glances were shared all around, but questions were cut short as Kara led them out of the trees at last and into a dreamscape. The air was shimmering with a warm golden light that seemed to surround and come from everything in the clearing. Tim tried to blink the effect away, but nothing changed, and after a moment, he realized he was growing overly warm in his coat. Glancing from side to side, there didn’t seem to be any indication of the cold evening they had just left. As far as Tim could tell, Kara had led them straight into a bottled memory of a warm summer afternoon. The smells came next, blended scents of lilac and honeysuckle filling Tim’s awareness to the point that he thought he might be sick. Stumbling slightly, Tim felt his arm caught in a firm grip and nodded appreciatively to Dick who looked just as overwhelmed.

“Where… What is this place?” Tim struggled to put the words together, brain bogged down by sensory overload.

“This is Sumor,” Kara said, but the way the word fell on Tim’s ears was strange, as if it had physical weight or a texture like brushing his fingers against the raised veins of a leaf. It was disorienting, and it took all of Tim’s will to keep from following the sensations into whatever strange fey mind magic this was.

“...Right.” Glancing at the others, Tim tried to get a read on how they were faring and maybe some insight into how the fey magic worked. Dick seemed to be laboring under a similar problem as Tim, while Cass appeared to be running through a breathing exercise as she kept her eyes screwed tightly shut. Damian looked about the same as ever, though his eye seemed to twitch every so often. In comparison, Jason looked no worse for the wear, sweeping his gaze left and right with an expression only a few shades less than hostile.

A soft sound like wind chimes and the humming of insects forcibly dragged Tim from his observations, sending him reeling mentally again as he attempted to reorient himself and glance around. At first, there didn’t seem to be anything other than the strange shimmering light and overly floral plant life, but then, as if his eyes were adjusting, Tim began to see them, figures moving through the clearing. When the vision finally solidified, Tim started, tripping backwards a bit into Jason in surprise.

“Hey, watch it, Replacement.”

“I…” Tim was too startled at the sudden appearance of what seemed to be an entire Court of fey, all milling about and watching their little group of humans with undisguised interest, to compose a properly biting response.

“Uh… What just happened?” Dick’s voice was slightly strained, eyes wide as he sidled a little closer to Tim.

Jason glanced between the two of them, brow furrowed. “What’re you talking about? Blondie just led us into a camp of fey. How did you miss that?”

Tim and Dick just gaped at him a little, Cass finally opening her eyes only to close them again swiftly. Damian looked at the three of them curiously, then at Jason and said, “Perhaps it is your… condition , Todd. The experience may be distinctly different for us than for you.”

“Huh…”

Tim nodded in agreement, still trying to figure out why Damian seemed less shaken by the sensory deluge. An irritated cough interrupted any helpful thoughts, however, and their little group turned back to look at Kara, who had been momentarily forgotten.

“Here,” she snapped, holding out a handful of smooth vines woven into small rings. “They should help to stave off the worst of the effects.”

Dick snatched one up at once, slipping the little item onto his finger and sighing contentedly as soon as it settled there. Slightly more hesitant, Tim reached out for one, turning it over in his hand before deciding that enduring the nausea wasn’t worth taking the time to inspect the ring too closely. Immediately, the assault on his senses ceased, the light and smells and sounds fading into a duller, more normal level. Tim breathed deeply and took the opportunity to look around again.

The clearing was still unnaturally summery, but now he could see the fey more clearly. There were hundreds, it seemed, all talking in small groups or setting up what looked like elaborate tents made of vines and some sort of silky, translucent cloth. There were bunches of the wee folk running here and there, and Tim thought he caught the glint of light off a mermaid’s tail down by a small inlet. Perhaps most alarming were the elven warriors, all gathered up around a dais of woven branches. Tim had heard of War Parties before, but he’d never thought to see one. The warriors were all quite tall, as elves tended to be, with features that were just this side of inhuman to cause a shiver to run down Tim’s spine. Their large, unblinking eyes followed as Kara, who had finished distributing the rings, led the group of humans up toward the dais.

“The Consort will arrive shortly. Wait here.” And with that, she disappeared into the crowd.

Tim watched her go, feeling a little betrayed, but not surprised. The others seemed equally unnerved, and Cass kept fiddling with her vine ring. Out of the corner of his eye, Tim caught Jason signing something, but the movements were too quick to catch. Judging by the way Cass smiled, it must have been something consoling.

It might have been an hour or just mintues, but suddenly Tim caught sight of a flurry of motion and turned to see the fey parting as Bruce came strolling into the clearing, looking completely unaffected by the strange magic that had incapacitated Tim, Dick, and Cass when they’d arrived. Getting the others’ attention, Tim pointed and they watched in wonder and confusion as the entire camp fell quiet around them, the fey moving aside to create a path for Bruce. The whole scene was a little surreal and when Bruce made it to their little group, Tim opened his mouth to ask, only to be cut off by a voice embodying the sensation of lightning crackling along your skin.

“Bruce! It has been too long!”

Like the dashingly handsome stranger from some Victorian novel, a towering faerie swept out of the crowd, eyes shining impossibly bright and fixed on Bruce, who had turned to face the newcomer with an uncomfortable look. “Clark.”

Tim was fairly certain his brain short circuited as he watched the tall faerie, Clark, reach out with unnerving speed and wrap Bruce in an enveloping embrace. Beside him, Dick’s mouth actually dropped open as the faerie proclaimed, “Dearest one! I was so glad to receive your request for aid. You exercise your rights far too little for my tastes.”

Voice tight with discomfort, Bruce replied, “I prefer to manage my own matters when I can.” The large faerie relaxed his hold slightly, though only just enough for Bruce to shift awkwardly around to face the five of them who were now gaping at the two. With a bland expression, Bruce sighed. “Ah… These are my, er, associates.” Tim cocked an eyebrow at that, but said nothing as Bruce pointed each of them out, carefully not sharing their full names. “Dick, Tim, Damian, Jason, and Cass.” They continued to stare, disbelieving as Bruce grumply finished, “This is Clark, King of the Seelie Court.”

Dick recovered first, pointing with a shaking hand between the two. “Uh… how…? How do, do you…?”

Clark blinked, eyes wide with surprise as he glanced down at the extremely disquieted Bruce. “Have you not told them, dearest?” Tim heard Jason snort softly behind him as Clark turned his beaming gaze on their little group, proclaiming proudly while Bruce attempted to disappear into thin air, “Bruce is the Royal Consort of the Seelie!”

“C-Consort, like… Consort ?” Dick squeaked.

At that, Jason lost it, failing miserably at hiding his laughter while Tim looked on in utter horror. The others all seemed to be taking the news with varying degrees of alarm, to which Bruce responded by expertly extricating himself from Clark’s grip.

“It’s… a long story…” Bruce offered, vaguely.

Jason positively guffawed. “Oh, you are so telling us everything when we get back!”

Bruce’s expression screamed his displeasure at the thought of that particular conversation, but he nodded nonetheless. Turning as if to say something else, Bruce was cut off as Clark rather enthusiastically announced, “Ah! Dearest! I must introduce you to my court’s newest addition!”

The fey king waved enthusiastically and one of the elven knights detached himself from the group to join them. Tim watched the knight carefully, glad for the distraction from the awkward interplay between Bruce and Clark. There was something unsettling about the knight, though Tim couldn’t quite place what it was about him. The knight was of a similar build to the fey king, a little stockier than the average elf, and his eyes, though still disconcerting, might easily have been mistaken for human if one were not looking closely. What caught Tim’s attention, however, was the sword hanging at the knight’s side, its pommel gleaming with an unnaturally metallic sheen. As the knight came to a halt beside his king, he caught Tim’s eye for the briefest of moments, the weight of his stare rooting Tim to the ground and sending a startling chill down his spine.

“Yes, my lord?” The knight released Tim from his gaze, but the sound of his voice, like a turning chill in the air, kept Tim on edge.

Seemingly unaware, Clark smiled broadly. “Dearest, friends, I would like to introduce Conner, the Autumn Knight.”

There was a moment of awkward silence before Bruce offered a strained version of his business smile. “It’s a pleasure.”

Tim couldn’t help but feel a little pleased at the mild discomfort that crossed Conner’s face as Clark clapped him good-naturedly on the shoulder. “Conner has been an excellent addition to the Court, and I am looking forward to seeing him at his best. He’s a clever one, and quick on his feet.”

The disquieting atmosphere did not lift, and Tim shifted from foot to foot as Bruce almost managed to sound casual as he said, “As… pleased as I am to see you again, Clark, the circumstances that brought you here…”

“Mmm, yes. I was quite disturbed by what you told me. The Unseelie do not work with humans lightly. I shudder to think what they were promised in return for their cooperation.”

Tim huffed, adding under his breath, “Not to mention, the fey and demons have never been the best of friends.”

Clark’s sharp eyes turned on him and it was all Tim could do to keep from jumping. “All too true,” Clark replied, eyes curiously studying Tim in such a way that Tim felt like a bug under a microscope. “The fey have long separated ourselves from heavenly and demonic beings. There have been far too many… misunderstandings between us which have ended with catastrophic consequences. It was in the best interest of us all that we remain separate.” Brows furrowing, Clark turned back to Bruce and wondered, “Truly, I can think of only a few who could convince even Zod to break such ancient traditions…”

Tim glanced at Bruce, watching his expression sour. “I hadn’t mentioned it before, Clark, but… We have strong reason to believe that Luthor is somehow involved. A number of minor summonings we’ve come across have his M.O.” It was as if someone had blasted through the clearing with a snow machine. Tim caught the way Conner’s body went rigid, eyes flashing in agitation. Bruce continued, “Considering his history, I think it would be well within his ability to sway Zod to a cause, however unsavory his associates may be.”

“You are not in error to think this way, dearest.”

As Clark and Bruce continued to discuss the situation, Tim turned his attention back to the Autumn Knight who had begun to fidget slightly. As if sensing the look, Conner’s head turned, eyes locking onto Tim’s with the same paralyzing weight as before. Sucking in a quick breath, Tim schooled his expression into something bolder, determined not to back down. Focusing in an attempt to feel out Conner’s aura, Tim grimaced, only just managing not to physically draw back from the confusing jumble of sensations like brittle branches and the threat of the first frost. Beside him, Dick could feel the strange tension between the two, and surreptitiously edged slightly closer to Tim, as if his own, clamer aura might soothe the tautness of his brother’s.

“Tim.”

“Hmm?” Tim broke eye contact to glance over at Bruce who was wearing his we’ll talk about this later expression.

“I need you to be our contact point for Clark’s people.”

Screwing up his face in confusion, Tim managed an eloquent, “What--?”

“Excellent!” Clark interrupted exuberantly, glancing with disconcerting enjoyment between Tim and Conner. “I shall send Conner to parlay with you. He is more… suited to work in the city than most of my party.”

Stomach churning, Tim blanched. In eerie unison, he and Conner blurted, “What?!”

It appeared that the Autumn Knight was no more enthusiastic than Tim, which did little to assuage the acute feeling of nausea roiling in Tim’s stomach. They two shared a disbelieving glare before Bruce gave them a look which effectively put an end to any more complaints. Seeming satisfied, Bruce turned back to Clark. “Alright. That settles it. We should trade weekly reports barring anything drastic.”

“Very well,” Clark agreed. “It shall be done.”

While Bruce and Clark traded awkward farewells, Tim tried hurriedly to start heading anywhere but near the Autumn Knight. These attempts were thwarted, however, as a firm grip took hold of his upper arm, pulling him to a halt as Dick, Cass, Damian, and Jason went on ahead. Turning with eyes blazing, Tim practically ripped his arm out of Conner’s grip, glaring daggers at the faerie as he snarled, “Don’t ever touch me without asking.”

The venom in his voice seemed to actually put the Autumn Knight off guard, and Tim mentally patted himself on the back. “Right…” Conner took an unnerving amount of time to size Tim up before continuing, “We should have a way to contact one another.”

Tim’s extremely rattled, over-caffeinated, sleep-deprived mind chose to take control of his mouth at that moment and spew, “Are you asking for my number?”

They both stared at each other, one in horror and one in extreme confusion, before Conner ventured, “I… do not believe so…?”

“Uh… right, I meant, yeah, I’ll figure something out. For now let’s just meet here, or, here- ish every week. Same time?”

Conner nodded stiffly. “I will wait by the path just outside of the woods next week.”

“Great, yeah… okay then…” Suddenly feeling like he understood Bruce on a whole new level, Tim awkwardly nodded before all but turning and fleeing after the others’ retreating backs. By the time he’d caught up with them, Bruce had led the way back out into the cold Gotham night. As a snowflake landed against his cheek, Tim brushed the point of cold away and breathed out a slow plume of mist, eyes following its trail into the darkening sky.

Chapter Text

Dick pushed his sunglasses further up on his nose, wriggling a little in his chair to get more comfortable. He’d carefully chosen this particular table as it was tucked away in a corner, easy to watch people from and avoid being watched. Tim had laughed at him when they entered the bustling Bluebird Cafe and he’d made a beeline for this particular table.

“You’re acting ridiculous, Dick.”

“This is the best table for a stake out!”

“Right. A stake out… Can’t you at least take off the glasses?”

“They’re a part of my disguise, Tim!”

“Dick, you’re wearing a trenchcoat and sunglasses. That’s hardly a disguise.”

Dick huffed as he recalled the conversation, distractedly adjusted his sunglasses again as he caught sight of Tim weaving his way between patrons and tables, two mugs clutched precariously in his hands. Dick perked up as Tim settled the one nearly overflowing with whipped cream in front of him.

Glancing at Dick askance, Tim said, “I don’t know how you drink those things. They’re basically diabetes in a cup.”

“Oh, because you’re so much better, Mr. Intravenous Caffeine,” Dick shot back, making a face at the mug of black coffee Tim was sipping.

“Everyone’s got their drug of choice, I guess.”

They sat in silence for a few minutes, enjoying their beverages as people streamed in and out of the cafe. Dick watched as Colin flittered back and forth between the machines, cranking out orders with surprising deftness despite the fact that he apologized to his coworker at least once a minute. In the few weeks that Damian had been working with Colin, Dick had made sure to meet him, weaseling his way into one of their movie nights. (Dick had been just as horrified as Colin that Damian hadn’t seen Star Wars .) After that, Dick had quickly grown fond of the little redhead, making a point of stopping by to say hi whenever he was going to be passing by the Bluebird. A habit which, ironically, had resulted in the discovery that this very establishment was frequented by none other than the mysterious time traveler Dick had met all those weeks ago.

Just like Bruce had asked, Dick had been trying to keep tabs on the mysterious time traveler, but he proved harder to find than Dick had thought. He checked local hotels for the name “West,” but came up empty. Tapping into the local Community hadn’t turned up anything either. It was by a stroke of luck that a week before, Dick had been visiting Colin (while simultaneously appeasing his sugar cravings) and who should walk in but one Wally West, dressed a little more fashionably than the last time they’d crossed paths. In a panic, Dick had bolted before Wally could catch sight of him, but from that day on, Dick had been monitoring the Bluebird for signs of the time traveler.

True, he hadn’t seen Wally again, but only Colin knew how to make Dick’s favorite drink just right , so…

Dick shrugged to himself, deciding to throw caution to the wind and shuck his disguise. It was warm in the cafe and the glasses were making it difficult to actually see what was going on around them. Setting the glasses to the side, Dick took another long sip of his drink and glanced over at Tim. He looked only slightly less sleep deprived than usual, the dark circles under his eyes more of a mottled purple than ashen grey. Dick was tempted to ask how much sleep Tim had gotten in the last forty-eight hours, but he knew from experience that that particular conversation would only end in Tim spouting information from scientific studies that Dick couldn’t follow. Instead, he tapped at the rim of his mug, drawling, “Soooo… You wanna talk about it?”

It was an old tactic, but effective. As soon as the words left Dick’s lips, Tim shifted, eyes narrowing and mouth turning down into a little pout. “There’s something off about that Autumn Knight guy and I don’t like it.”

“Mmm?”

Tim was on a roll now, so Dick let him go, nodding as appropriate. “There was this… this weird tension in his aura. I can’t see them like Steph, but there was definitely something off. And did you see the way he acted? How the other fey didn’t really interact with him? Something’s up and I don’t like unknowns. I’d say he’s Dark Court, but that doesn’t seem right either, you know? Like, I definitely felt on guard around him, but it wasn’t like that sickly feeling when you have a run in with one of the Winter Fey. It was… agh! I don’t even know! And I hate it…” Tim trailed off, face set in an annoyed grimace.

Dick considered Tim’s thoughts for a moment, eyes taking in the way Tim’s fingers drummed rhythmically on the table and his eyes seemed brighter despite his irritation. He knew that look well enough and Dick couldn’t help a little knowing smirk. “Sounds like you’re pretty interested in this guy…”

“W-What?!” Tim stared at Dick incredulously, mouth moving soundlessly as he tried to find the right words to presumably tell Dick how very, very mistaken he was. “Tha-That’s the most… I don’t even… What the fuck, Dick? I am not interested in that creep!”

“Sure, Tim,” Dick conceded while not really conceding at all. He grinned over the edge of his nearly empty mug. “But you know, you’ve got that look like the time you stayed up for four days straight translating that Aramaic spell because Damian bet twenty bucks you couldn’t?”

Tim’s frown deepened as he muttered, “Damn you, Dick Grayson.”

Shifting to face Tim more directly, Dick dropped his joking tone. “But in all seriousness, Tim, are you alright with this? I know Bruce basically said you had to work with him, but Bruce is an ass at the best of times. If you’re not comfortable with it, we can figure something else out.” Dick smiled a little sadly, reaching out to pat Tim’s hand. “You just seemed shaken up the other day.”

Pouting a little, Tim crumbled under the pure sincerity of Dick Grayson, rolling his eyes as he sighed dramatically. “Thanks, Dick, but I’ll be fine. I’m just a little… sleep deprived…” Tim’s voice trailed off towards the end as he blanched, Dick fixing him with a stern, brotherly glare.

Refusing to let go of Tim’s hand now that he’d admitted his own poor sleep habits, Dick took a deep breath, preparing to launch into a long diatribe about self care. The words caught like splinters in his throat, however, as his gaze was suddenly captured by a pair of all to familiar green eyes. Tim frowned at the strangled sound Dick made, brows furrowing as he shifted to look behind him at the two young men now making their way towards their table. Before Tim could ask, the two were upon them, green eyes sparkling as their owner grinned from ear to ear.

“Dick! What a surprise!”

Dick swallowed thickly, smile a bit crazed as he forced out, “O-Oh, h-hey there, Wally…”

 

--

 

The first thing Tim noticed was the overwhelming wave of fierce positivity rolling off the aura of the taller, redheaded one. Tim didn’t need Steph’s subtle skill to feel like his soul had just run into a wall of honest happiness. After the initial blinding brightness, Tim carefully filtered the sensations down to something manageable, taking a good look at the young man who Dick had just identified as one Wally West, the time-travelling witch they were supposed to be observing and not chatting with amicably. Self-proclaimed detective that he was, Tim immediately began soaking up every detail about this Wally, filing them away mentally for later analysis. His aura didn’t set off any warning signs, seeming honestly delighted as his cheerful greeting implied. Tim noted that Wally was of an average build, lanky like a runner, but nothing special. His most noticeable features were his fiery hair and piercing green eyes, like some sort of caricature leprechaun in worn jeans and a sweatshirt.

The second thing Tim noticed was the flickering look of nauseous horror that crossed the face of Wally’s companion when their eyes met. It was strange, the glimmer of half-recognition in widened eyes, the almost imperceptible intake of breath. Tim was certain he had never met this young man before, but for that brief moment he couldn’t shake the feeling that they knew each other. And then, just as suddenly as it came, the moment passed. A quick study told Tim that the young man was definitely a family relation to Wally, with his olive eyes and auburn hair, but beyond that, there wasn’t much Tim could tell. With a startling realization, Tim found that he couldn’t sense the young man’s aura at all.

“How’s it going? Been a few weeks since we, uh, well, the whole kidnap and rescue thing.” Wally chuckled, picking distractedly at the sleeve of his sweatshirt.

“Yeah… I’ve, uh, been good… um…” Dick glanced over at Tim, eyes lighting up as he hurriedly spluttered, “Oh! Hey, uh, this is my little brother, Tim! Tim, Wally.”

“Nice t’ meet you, Tim. Are you, uh…” Wally nervously wiggled his fingers and glanced at Dick, as if unsure how to ask if it was okay to talk magic in front of Tim.

Rolling his eyes, Tim intervened to save Dick the embarrassment of attempting to speak full sentences in front of someone he clearly thought attractive. “Yes, I’m a witch. Would you like to join us?”

“Sure! Bart and I-- Oh! Yeah, this is Bart, my, uh… cousin.” Wally clapped his hand on Bart’s shoulder, grinning as broadly as Bart was uncomfortable, which was to say, very. Turning his focus to his cousin, Wally said, “Why don’t you pull us up some chairs and I’ll go order!”

An awkward sort of silence fell over the three left in Wally’s wake, Bart eyeing Tim and Dick with a strange mixture of fear and distrust. Curiosity piqued, Tim leaned forward to ask Bart a question, but Bart took that moment to turn hurriedly away and grab a pair of chairs from a neighboring table. Brow furrowing, Tim made room, shifting his chair around to sit on Dick’s left. Tucking in the chairs he had procured, Bart hesitated a fraction of a second before hesitantly taking the seat across from Dick to Tim’s right. Tim noticed that Bart sat forward in the chair, muscles tense despite clear efforts to appear relaxed.

Ever the chatterbox, Dick shot Bart a wide grin, asking, “So, are you from out of town like Wally?”

The change was almost imperceptible, but Tim watched as Bart seemed to slide into the conversation, mouth softening into a smile, body adjusting to convey interest and openness. It would have seemed natural, if not for the way the smile didn’t quite reach his eyes and each motion seemed calculated. Tim immediately felt his guard go up, even as Bart replied warmly, “Yeah. I live out in Missouri with Wally and our uncles. Just finished school at Central U and thought I’d spend a year working to try and figure out where I want to go from here.”

“Oh! What were you studying?” Dick appeared unaware of Bart’s strange behavior, eager as always to get to know someone new. Tim frowned a little, sipping at his cooling coffee.

“History and Engineering, if you’ll believe it.” Bart chuckled, the tone, length, and sincerity too perfect to be natural. “All my professors thought I was crazy, but I like how they complement each other. Makes it hard to figure out what I want to do, though.”

Something was up with this guy and it was driving Tim insane. Thankfully, Wally returned at that moment, two mugs in his hands, and settled into the remaining seat as he slid Bart’s drink over towards him. “There y’ go! Don’t know why you like those things, man. They’re like, a million calories.”

Tim was honestly surprised to see the drink was eerily similar looking to Dick’s outrageous order: all whipped cream and sugary sin. Bart shrugged, smiling a little as he took a sip and surprising Tim with the genuineness of the expression. “I’m still a growing boy, Walls.”

“Growing boy, my ass,” Wally shot back, sipping tentatively at his steaming cup of tea.

“So,” Tim began, trying his best to be subtle as he kept his eye on Bart, “what are time travellers from Missouri doing in Gotham?”

Bart’s eyes flickered briefly to meet Tim’s, sharp and determined, but still with that edge of fear. “It’s compli--”

“A friend of Uncle Barry’s asked for a favor, thought something might be going down in Gotham that needed a few extra hands,” Wally offered, seemingly unconcerned with sharing this information with ostensibly complete strangers. “Barry got in contact with some guy who’s supposed to be the big man in town and offered to help with whatever’s going on, but it’s been pretty much radio silence since. Though, I think Barry mentioned that that friend of his actually ended up coming himself, so…” He shrugged. “Maybe we’ll be heading out soon?”

Tim’s mind was racing a mile a minute, only vaguely aware of Dick giving him a concerned look when he started muttering to himself. If the time travelers had come at the request of some friend, that friend must be part of the Community. That didn’t make sense, though, because why wouldn’t this friend just come to Gotham himself in the first place? Unless he couldn’t… Still, this friend must have contacts, connections in Gotham if he was concerned. So someone well connected but unable to travel… The easiest solution would be the Fae, but--

“Holy shit.”

Three sets of eyes turned towards Tim as he nearly toppled his near empty cup of coffee. Wally appeared startled, Bart cautious, and Dick concerned. Tilting his head slightly, Dick said, “Uh… You okay, Tim?”

Staring for a moment at Dick as the thought solidified in his head, Tim slowly turned his gaze on the two time travellers, voice a little shaky as he said, “You were sent here by the Summer King, weren’t you?”

Chapter Text

Bruce was watching numbers and data flash across the screen, the results of the program Tim left running before he headed out with Dick to spend the afternoon checking in on the time travelling witches. While he’d taken Barbara’s advice and answered the phone when Barry Allen had called all those weeks ago, Bruce still wasn’t comfortable bringing witches he hadn’t personally vetted into the investigation. Call him possessive, but Bruce was protective of Gotham, and the last thing he wanted was to let a group of unknowns into the equation. Barry had contacted him a few more times since the first call, but mostly just gentle reminders that they were there to help if Bruce wanted it. The contact had practically stopped all together after he’d finally broken down and contacted Clark. What that meant, Bruce wasn’t sure, but he didn’t have time to worry about it now. Not with a certain faerie king occupying all his attention.

“Master Bruce.” Alfred’s demure tone floated through the otherwise silent Cave and Bruce had to fight from groaning. Speak of the devil … “Master Kent is here to see you. Shall I escort him to the Cave?”

Letting out a slow sigh, Bruce stood, trying to work the kinks out of his shoulders as he started towards the stairs. “No, I’ll take him to the garden. Don’t need him messing around down here where he’s liable to get himself in trouble.”

“I assume you mean more trouble than usual, sir?”

Bruce cracks a wry smile at that. Clark had only been in the Cave once, but Alfred was already close to banning him from the Manor entirely after the catastrophe in the medbay. Old and powerful he may be, but Clark was just as susceptible to iron and steel as the next fae. As he resealed the wards on the Cave, Bruce called, “Alfred, would you mind bringing some tea out to the pagoda? That nettle stuff that Dick got last year and never used.”

“Of course, sir. Master Kent is waiting in the Greenhouse.”

“Thank you, Alfred.”

Bruce takes the long way, detouring through the reading room in a thinly disguised attempt at delaying the inevitable. It wasn’t that he couldn’t handle dealing with Clark, it was more the fact that he’d successfully avoided having to do that for the last twenty odd years and Bruce wasn’t quite sure he wanted to stop avoiding Clark now. If he had a choice, he never would have contacted Clark in the first place, would have continued holding the overbearing Summer King at bay until Bruce was on his deathbed. But the situation was dire, the city, his family, at risk. And for that, Bruce was, begrudgingly, willing to put up with Clark and all this Consort nonsense.

Finding little in the reading room to actually keep him from continuing on to the garden, Bruce sighed, making his way towards the large, open room that dominated the back of the manor. Seven sets of french doors dominated the outer walls and a large skylight let in the brilliant afternoon sun. The room, lovingly referred to as the Greenhouse, was filled with plants of all kinds, in pots and raised beds, some even in jars on little shelves. A few little tables and vintage garden chairs were scattered around, some covered in tiny potted succulents, others with miscellaneous gardening implements. It was by one of these tables that Bruce caught sight of Clark, the faerie king looking both right and home and hopelessly out of place all at once.

Bruce could remember, in vivid detail, the first time he had met Clark Kent. If he could do it all over again, Bruce would have dragged John out of that diner and left Smallville in the dust, werewolves be damned. But he hadn’t. Bruce had fallen fast and hard for a man he barely knew, not even recognizing all the signs of what Clark really was.

A sharp intake of breath pulled Bruce out of his memories and he instinctually frowned at where Clark was standing, shaking his hand as he pouted down at a gardening trowel. Rolling his eyes, Bruce walked purposefully forward, making sure his footsteps announced his presence. “I can’t leave you be for a second without you mucking around with things you shouldn’t.”

Clark looked up immediately at Bruce’s voice, his summer sky gaze lancing straight through Bruce’s chest to steal his breath. Grinning broadly, Clark seemed to forget about the light burn on his fingers. “How are you, my love?”

“I’d be better if you didn’t keep randomly showing up at my home.” Bruce did his level best to keep his expression on the irritated side of neutral. “You do know I have work to do? And that we agreed that Tim and Conner could work as go-betweens while we try to sort this demon business out?”

Tilting his head like an overgrown puppy, Clark ruined the facade of innocence with a knowing and almost dangerous grin. “Who said I’m here on business? Can’t I visit my beloved for a social call?”

Bruce didn’t even bother trying to hide his exasperation, narrowing his eyes at Clark and gritting his teeth. “Look, it’s not that I’m not grateful for you coming to help, but I’d really rather keep all this ,” he waved his hand vaguely between the two of them, “strictly professional.”

Reaching out slowly, his fingertips running lightly against the curve of Bruce’s jaw, Clark let his expression soften. “I remember,” he murmurs softly, “But it does not mean that I can help the way the very sight of you reminds me of the first glimpse of starlight on a summer evening. Bold and bright and beautiful.” There was a moment of stillness where neither dared to look away, gazes locked as lightning raced across their skin. Clark broke the moment, taking a slow breath and stepping back to a polite distance. “My apologies. It was not my intention to make you uncomfortable, Bruce. I shall do my best to respect your boundaries.”

As if a weight were lifting from his shoulders, Bruce felt himself relax, knowing that the word of a king of the fey, particularly when so plainly stated, was not to be taken lightly. Clark would do his level best to honor the agreement they had made, and he was a man of his word. Feeling slightly more at ease, Bruce gestured to the doors outside. “I appreciate that, but I suppose since you’re already here, we might as well talk. Walk with me?”

Clark bowed his head slightly, gesturing for Bruce to lead the way. The doors from the Greenhouse opened onto a large patio that stretched from the corner of the dining room to the reading room, offering a bit of a transition space between the house and the grounds. A small koi pond skirted one corner of the patio, marking the start of a winding path that led down a gentle slope and into the expansive gardens. Bruce had spent hours in the library, researching why the gardens seemed to always be in perfect order, never having known of any type of magic that could have possibly persisted beyond the life of its maker. The best he could come up with was that the Manor had been built directly on top of a ley line and as a result was steeped in a magic so raw and natural that it had become something altogether different. It wouldn’t be the first, or the last, place or building to have done so.

As they walked, Clark looked around the garden with almost boyish delight and Bruce couldn’t help but think about how he seemed to fit so naturally into this space. In all his travels, Bruce had encountered hundreds of different magical creatures, beings as old as the Earth itself, embodiments of storms and stones and streams. But none of them had captured his interest like Clark. And here, surrounded by the natural world, he appeared the king he was. At some point, Bruce realised he was staring and felt a hot blush rise in his cheeks as he hurriedly turned his attention elsewhere.

“These gardens are lovely, Bruce. They are… content. You must tend them well.”

Bruce huffed, reaching out to brush his hand along the soft tufts at the top of some sort of ornamental grass. “I don’t do anything. They take care of themselves.”

Clark’s eyebrow rose, but he didn’t pry, only followed as Bruce quickened his pace. The sooner he could get this whole… whatever this was over with, the better. Being around Clark again was pointedly reminding Bruce of why he’d left him in the first place. Thankfully, the pagoda wasn’t too far, and in a minute or so they had reached its shaded cover. The structure itself was made of riverstones, stacked together with a level of skill that could only have been accomplished with supernatural aid. A wide, sweeping red-tiled roof perched atop the six support columns casting the space beneath in shadow. Inside, the low stone walls that ran between each of the columns bordered a raised wooden platform, upon which sat an array of cushions and a low table. A teapot and two cups were already in place on the table, so Bruce led the way, gesturing for Clark to sit as he poured them both a cup.

“So,” Bruce ventured, not certain he actually wanted to know, “what brings you here today?”

Clark took a sip of the tea, humming softly in approval, before catching Bruce’s eye. “If truth be told, I came to check on your well being. You do not seem well, my love. You are pale and drawn and have none of your usual vigour.”

It was Bruce’s turn to raise an eyebrow over the rim of his cup. “It’s been over twenty years since you saw me last, Clark. It’s pretty normal for humans to ‘lose their vigour’ as they get older.”

“That was not my meaning,” Clark replied gently, his expression leaving no mistake that he knew Bruce was avoiding the actual question.

“I’m fine, Clark. It’s just work. As you’ve probably noticed, things have gotten a little hectic lately.”

Clark nodded solemnly. “I had. I was not pleased to hear Luthor was troubling your home. He is not a man to be taken lightly.” This last part was said with an edge that felt as jagged and quick as lighting.

“So I hear,” Bruce muttered, considering Clark with a slightly more critical eye. Logically, Bruce knew Clark couldn’t lie, none of the fey could. Still, that didn’t mean he couldn’t come up with some clever workarounds, and Bruce had the distinct feeling that there was some part of this picture he wasn’t seeing. “You know,” Bruce began, keeping his expression as neutral as possible, “I’ve heard that Luthor was causing trouble in Central City recently. That’s pretty deep into your territory, isn’t it, Clark?”

“Mmm,” Clark agreed, returning Bruce’s look with one of his own, a thin facade of innocence that could not hide that he knew what Bruce was doing and was letting him. It was infuriating.

Gritting his teeth, Bruce forced a smile, “It’s interesting, don’t you think, that right when Luthor starts causing trouble here that some witches would show up offering to help out. I wonder how they found out before we even knew who was behind the demon problem?” Taking a slow sip of his tea and locking eyes with Clark, Bruce dropped the smile. “You don’t happen to know anything about that, would you?”

The silence was heavy and charged between them, both knowing the question was too pointed to give Clark much opportunity to deny it. And yet… Clark leaned back, his gaze appreciative and almost proud, as if Bruce’s astuteness had only served to strengthen Clark’s infatuation. Bruce wasn’t amused, tilting his head and fixing Clark with a glare as irritation flared in his chest. Smile turning sharp, Clark finally replied, “I would happen to know something about that, my love.”

“Damnit, Clark,” Bruce was not proud of the way his temper flared, his emotions getting the better of him and spilling over in ways they hadn’t since he’d been twenty and foolish enough to fall into bed with a fey king. The embarrassment of just how much Clark’s presence could throw him off only served to stoke the fire, and Bruce snapped, “I told you to leave my business to me. I don’t want you interfering in my life! I can take care of myself!”

“I am well aware of our agreement, Bruce.” The use of his name sent an unbidden shiver down Bruce’s spine, only slightly curbing his anger as Clark continued in that mellow tone, “That is why I sent Allen in my place. I figured he would be less of a threat in your eyes. Your autonomy is your pride, and I respect that, but I know what a man like Luthor is capable of and I could not simply sit back and watch as he destroyed what is precious to you. I apologize if I overstepped my bounds, but I did give Allen specific instructions to only take action with your approval. As I understand it, he has done just that.”

As quickly as it had arisen, Bruce felt his anger subsiding in the face of Clark’s response. Despite how easy it was to blame him, Bruce knew that what Clark said was right. He hadn’t broken the agreement they’d made all those years ago, just bent the rules enough to offer what help he could in a situation that he believed warranted it. Now, sitting with a rapidly cooling cup of tea, Bruce felt the sour twist of shame in his stomach at having lost his composure. It was unseemly, he wasn’t a child anymore. How could he expect anyone else to maintain a level head and professional demeanor if he couldn’t even control his own emotions? Even now, Bruce could see how Clark’s expression softening, his knack for attuning himself to Bruce’s emotional state showing itself and only serving to make Bruce’s shame deepen.

Mentally kicking himself for giving into a moment of weakness, Bruce shifted, rolling his shoulders and pointedly sitting up a little straighter as he fell back onto his businessman persona. “Well, what’s done is done, and it would seem having Allen and his team around will work out for the best in the long run. We will need all the assistance we can get if Luthor is actually trying to spur on an invasion.”

Clark took the shift in stride, setting his cup aside and masking his disappointment well. “I believe your assessment is correct. Luthor must be stopped at all costs.”

For the second time that afternoon, Bruce took note of the uncharacteristic bite to Clark’s tone and immediately felt his curiosity stirring. “You know, you’ve never mentioned what it was that Luthor did all those years ago.”

Clark’s gaze was the inviting gleam of the summer sea with a deadly undertow lurking just beneath. “It is Court business and has been dealt with.”

“I am technically part of the Court,” Bruce countered, investigative urges flaring to life as Clark didn’t even bother attempting to be clever in his circuitness.

Standing smoothly, Clark held out a hand to help Bruce to his feet. “Ah, but have you not expressed an interest in separating yourself from Court politics, my love? I would not want to impose.”

Bruce let Clark lead the way back towards the Manor, scowl deepening. If he pushed the matter, he might as well have admitted that his outburst earlier was unwarranted. Damn it, Clark, you sneaky bastard . They were silent all the way back to the Greenhouse, Bruce’s mind working overtime as he retroactively analyzed every conversation he’d had with Clark since the Seelie’s arrival in Gotham. Whatever had happened between the Luthor and the Summer Court was serious enough for Clark to consider taking an action which might have broken an agreement sealed by an oath. That was no small matter, and Bruce knew that sooner or later the implications of whatever had occured would rear their head. Bruce paused by the front door, reaching out for the handle so that Clark wouldn’t needlessly burn himself again. He stopped mid turn, mind snagging on a detail that might just be a clue.

Glancing over his shoulder, Bruce asked, “When we met in Lemmar’s Park, you mentioned that Conner was a recent addition to the Court. How recent?”

A storm was brewing off the coast of Clark’s gaze, and for the first time, Bruce understood why the fey inspired fear as much as awe. But as quickly as it came, the moment was gone and Clark replied with his usual knowing look, “Four years ago.”

“And just what--” Bruce was silenced by a soft but insistent press of fingers to his lips.

“Not yet, my love,” Clark insisted, his tone uncharacteristically honest. “Soon, but not yet. And now I must go.”

Wordlessly, Bruce let Clark draw away, waiting a bit before pulling the door open and letting the fey king step out into the falling light.