Hal stumbled down the steps, wobbling as his toes clenched for purchase and flapping his sleeved arms to maintain his balance.
Damian looked up his nose at him from beside his father and the rest of the Bats. He stared at the side of Bruce’s head, questioning his taste, even as Bruce stared at the monitors in front of him.
Bruce narrowed his eyes, focussing in on a section of the main screen like a camera lens. The keyboard keys clicked as his fingers tapped them at an erratic pace.
The footage enlarged on screen and he zoomed into a corner of the video surveillance. He played the short clip again, this time with the reflection of the witness more pronounced. His mouth movements were blurred and none of them could make out any clear words. He switched to a visual display of the audio, filtering out any background noise, before turning back.
He replayed the clip and the Bats leaned forwards, concentrating harder. The screen turned to static mid-speech and Bruce rewound once more.
“Scott Kohr? Kore? Did the witness know any Scotts?” Tim asked, his cowl leaving only the turn of his mouth visible to show his apprehension.
Jason narrowed his eyes. “No. He was friends with a lot of scum, but Johnny boy didn’t know any Scotts.”
“You sure about that, Red? Just ‘cause he worked in your territory ‘doesn’t mean you know all of his friends,” Stephanie pointed out, her hood pulled down—unlike Tim’s—and her expression betraying her disbelief.
“I know that,” Jason responded, forcing the words out through clenched teeth. “Except he’s– he was one of my informants. As a precaution, he told me everything from his mum’s surgery dates to”—he waved a prompting hand—“the names of everybody he ran across. Fat lot of good it did him though. Booted out of the military for a bullet wound and now he’s in a medical coma.”
Stephanie looked like she was about to carry on anyway, so Jason moved his hands from beside his guns and crossed them across his chest into a position that screamed back down.
Barbara cast them a too-casual glance, turning back to Bruce. “Why did the CCTV cut out?”
“Faulty wiring,” Bruce answered, his steepled fingers casting a shadow over his face.
Tim tugged his cowl off his head, pulling a hand through his hair in an acquired tic. “I’ll get on that later. After we’ve dealt with this, and after I’ve gotten ahead on this month’s Neon Knights paperwork.”
Dick dropped a hand on his shoulder, dragging his hand up his nape through his own hair. “Don’t worry about that right now. It’s more important to focus on whoever he was talking about.” He addressed the last to Bruce, before turning to Jason. “Do you have any clue what he was talking about, Jason?”
Jason considered. If the situation had been less serious and less personal, he would have been in more of a mood to bask in their dependency on him.
“. . . He was off his meds.”
Bruce spun around in his chair. “He took his prescriptions regularly without fail. And he looks pretty steady, considering the circumstances.”
“He’d finished his last dose already, so he was planning on picking up his prescriptions on the way home. And nothing says that without his meds he immediately switches to jumping at shadows. He gets overwhelmed; he’s not getting high on Fear Toxin.”
“Tt. You couldn’t have mentioned that earlier, Todd?”
Jason knew Damian would have something to say.
“I didn’t know earlier. The only way it could make sense is if he was being chased a whole hour longer than everybody here predicted.”
Dick latched onto Damian to hold him back.
Barbara pulled a handheld from her bag, plugging the USB cable into the mainframe. “If that’s the case, it’s a good thing we’re all here. It’s a bigger problem than we realise.”
Bruce leaned backwards in his chair to give her better access to the computer keys.
“This level of preparation is unorthodox. And it explains a lot about why all the criminals in Gotham have been acting all weird lately. Like they know something we don’t.” She stopped typing for a blink, then started up again, her fingers striking the keys with undeserved vengeance. “The only problem is . . .”
“They were right,” Bruce sat up straighter and joined her, processing her searches and setting up his own algorithms.
The computer let out a chirp, signalling the search’s end.
Dick’s eyebrows shot up. “I know we were expecting a lot of hits–”
“But that’s a lot of hits,” chimed in Stephanie, her own gaze affixed like his to the number emblazoned in red across the screens.
“The sooner we start narrowing them down, the quicker this is over.” Tim’s words weren’t as comforting as he thought. In all fairness though, his forehead was creased in that way it got when he realised he was going to spend full days with minimal sleep.
Hal was still perched on the stone stairs. He took a leap to the ground and slunk towards them with an air of practiced innocence.
"Hey, guys—I didn’t know Scott Cawthon was visiting Gotham!”
In that moment, the Bat family had one mind, and only one thought. What?
“If I’d known he was visiting, I’d have gotten some autographs for my nieces and nephews!” said Hal, watching the looped video shifted to a corner of the centre screen.
“What?” None of them could tell you for sure who or which of them asked the question.
“They’re huge fans. It’s kinda creepy. How can they not be scared? Some of them haven’t even hit puberty yet!”
Bruce stopped typing, and stared intently at the main screen.
“I suppose it’s not the worst thing in the world—better than shooter games or, doing drugs, I guess?”
Bruce turned his gaze on Hal.
Damian slammed a fist on the desk and barked out a response before Bruce could speak.
“Who is this Scott Cawthon? And why do you know him?”
“Oh, please.” Hal rolled his eyes. “As if none of you know who Scott Cawthon is—Wait. If he travelled to Gotham, that wouldn’t exactly be publicised . . . Have you guys been stalking Scott Cawthon? ‘Cause I get it—I wanna know if he’s actually sticking to deadlines with this one—but there’s such a thing as boundaries.”
Another anonymous “What?”
“Sometimes I worry for the younger kids, my older nieces seem to waver when it comes to morality. But, then again. Isaac and Natasha said that they couldn’t be scared because their favourite uncle is Green Lantern . . . I am not looking forward to when they get old enough to start lying.
“I wish Cass was here.”
“Isn’t that her on the ceiling?” Hal pointed upwards.
And lo and behold, there she was.
She swooped her way down and shot the others an unimpressed look. “Detectives.”
“Do you think he’d be upset if I asked for an autograph? And maybe a photo? Might even buy him a drink as thanks for the whole”—he flopped his hand over in the air—“everything.” He tilted his head; considering. “Maybe I’ll get him to spill some info about the next one.” His lips quirked mischievously. “The kids’ll go ballistic.”
“Explain, Jordan!” Damian stared Hal down through the lenses of his mask.
“Scott Cawthon’s in town?” Hal’s voice rose in pitch at the end—it dawned on him that he seemed to be on a different page.
“Who. Is. He?”
“The game designer. Creator of the Five Nights at Freddie’s series. Well, franchise.”
Damian huffed, still visibly fuming.
Hal looked from him to the others. “Is this a crime thing?”
“Got it in one, little green nightlight.”
Tim held a hand over his face, looking as weary as a man three times his age.
Damian flung his head to glare at Stephanie. He twisted back to bark out something derogatory at Hal.
Jason stepped in front of him, blocking his view. “You know anything that could help us find the shitheads that got my guy?”
“How low you’ve fallen, Todd. You expect him to help us?”
Jason shrugged. “I care more about making things right by Johnny than I do about your ego, kid.” He ignored Damian’s scoff and spoke to cut him off. “Do you know why someone would link Scott Cawthon to some gun running?”
“Apparently, a ton of Gotham kids are fans too. Louise said her pen pals in Gotham had gotten together with a bunch of kids from other schools to deck themselves in FNAF stuff for Friday the 13th. ‘Cause, you know, horror. There’re supposed to be a few schools in a bunch of districts getting involved. I think some of the richer kids are buying toys to send to the others that morning. Charity’s a good thing, but I’m guessing the guns’ll be smuggled in the trucks and the toys.”
“. . . Thanks, Hal.”
“No problem, Jason.”
“I’ll send you guys any intel I can scrounge up in the next few hours.” Jason called over his shoulder, directing his words at Bruce mostly.
Bruce had already opened up a dozen forums, and was scanning them to isolate any posts talking about the day.
“Oh!” Hal called out to Jason. “And maybe check the sewers around those schools too.”
He regarded Jason’s quirked eyebrow.
“They needed places they could get into near their school to store stuff without anyone seeing it—janitors and teachers get more vigilant in the lead up to Halloween. Besides, what kids use warehouses?”
Jason acknowledged his words with a nod, then slammed his helmet onto his head.
“I’ll come with you. I need to stop off downtown anyway, and I’ll liaise with some of the clean police officers.” Tim trotted over to him, drawing his cowl over his face. He swung onto the bike behind Jason.
Jason revved his bike, and they screeched out of the cave.
“I’ll go butter up my dad.”
“I’ll go with you, Babs.”
“Aren’t dads supposed to hate their daughter’s exes? It’s like my dad likes you more than me.”
“At least me being there will justify talking about police work for an hour straight.”
Dick rested a hand on Damian’s shoulder, urging him upstairs, as he and Barbara made to leave.
Stephanie turned to Cass, the only one left besides Bruce and Hal, trying to avoid the growing tension. “Feel like getting a burger, Cass?”
“Cheeseburgers. With fries.”
“Deal!” Steph briefly linked their pinkies.
The cave was left in silence as they followed in the wake of Jason and Tim.
Hal smacked his lips. “So? You planning on going anywhere too?”
Bruce spun around in his chair and steepled his fingers. “They can investigate this on their own—they’re enough to cover all of Gotham easily. I can provide them with back-up from here. It’s more important to collate all the info on this I can get from their correspondence.”
“Do you really need to be here to do that? Or can the computer do it on its own?”
“The search is automatic and according to protocols I’ve already set in place.”
“So, in a word: no.”
“And Alfred can cover them from here. Right?”
“I suppose.” Bruce rubbed at his temple. “I don’t look forward to co-ordinating all of them.”
Hal smiled—he always enjoyed getting Bruce to slip out from under the professional burden of Batman. “So . . . you’re not busy then?”
Bruce quirked a brow in an almost exact copy of Jason.
Just less objectively endearing, thought Hal. But subjectively very endearing.
“I’m just saying, we could spend the rest of the day together. In bed. Or the shower. Whichever you prefer really.”
“It’s the middle of the afternoon, Hal.” Bruce still had some walls up, turning back to the computer and ignoring Hal sashaying his way over to him.
“I just got up. Doesn’t that count as mid-morning sex?” He leaned over Bruce. “I’m only saying, you don’t want to be working and I’m giving you an out. Don’t you miss seeing me naked?” He planted a quick kiss on Bruce’s lips, then spun away, dashing out of reach.
Nobody moved for a second.
Bruce leapt to his feet, smashing his lips to Hal’s and nearly knocking the man over.
Hal held Bruce’s face and slowed the pace, nipping and biting and sucking wetly.
Bruce lined Hal’s neck with kisses, gently scraping his teeth along the skin to mark his way.
Hal moaned, tossing his head back to give Bruce more room. Seeking out Bruce’s mouth, he drew forwards again.
Bruce caught his lips and licked his way into Hal’s mouth . . . Then he ripped away from Hal and stomped back to the computer.
Hal looked at Bruce like he’d just whispered ‘Hail Hydra’ in his ear.
Bruce jammed his finger onto a few keys, then sighed as confirmation messages popped up on screen. He thundered his way back to Hal and let Hal leap into his arms like the overly spoilt cat he wished he could be.
Bruce carried him to the lift, holding Hal securely to avoid jostling him as he stepped out into the study. Bruce pressed the clock entrance shut with his foot and carried Hal to his room, letting the man flop onto the bed unceremoniously and stretch across the sheets.
“You’d think you were the one doing the heavy lifting.”
Hal opened an eye. “What can I say? I’m still tired.” He pulled himself up. “And whose fault is that?”
Bruce smirked. “What can I say? You were the one who wanted something to make up for your time away.”
Hal collapsed back onto the pillows. “Fine. It’s my fault. Now punish me by taking the lead.”
“I can think of better things.”
Suffice it to say, Hal didn’t have any more energy when they were done.
. . . But enough to agree to storing the footage of their tryst deep within Bruce’s archives where none of the kids would find it and where it would remain unwatched . . . until the next week, when Hal returned from another brief spell away on Lantern business.