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Taking the Red Pill

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Disclaimer: Mankind lives on a placid island of ignorance amidst black seas of infinity. The dolphins can't say they blame us for not going swimming.



CHAPTER FOUR:

Three Hundred Thousand Dollars for a Magic Doorknob




Play it cool, Jason. 

“I was invited, you twat. What’s your excuse?”

Not that cool!

The vaguely-familiar chauffeur-looking dude sniffed. “Somehow, I severely doubt a young rapscallion such as yourself is any acquaintance of the Drakes.”

Just keep lying, just keep lying…

“I’m not. I’m friends with Tim. We hang out after he gets done at school.”

For some reason, that seemed to relax the gentleman just a tad. “I see. Krav Maga, then?”

Jason had absolutely no idea what Krav Maga was, but he nodded his head anyway. 

“In that case, my sincerest apologies, Master….?” the man prompted. 

“Jason. My name’s Jason. And you are?”

“Master Jason, then. Allow me to introduce myself,” the man said with a slight bow, “I am Alfred Pennyworth, Butler of the Wayne Estate. And as to my excuse for being here, I’m afraid the indomitable Miss Francis is feeling a bit under the weather, and requested that I fill in for her today.”

Ever so subtly, Jason adjusted his grip on the tire iron behind his back. “If I know anything, dude, it’s that the Miss Francis’s of the world don’t ever admit to being ‘under the weather’. That’s strike one. Strike two, mister: you came to the front door. Not the back. Didn’t think people like us were allowed to do that. Unless all those black-and-white movies lied to me.”

The gentleman gave a small huff. “I can assure you sir, they did not. The reason for my point of egress is quite simple: Miss Francis is actually in the hospital, young sir, and as such was unable to deliver me her key. I therefore elected to come to the front first on the off chance there might be someone at home in order to let me in after I had rung the doorbell.”

This time it was Jason’s turn to snort. “Don’t know much about the Drakes, do ya? They stay outta the country as long as they possibly can. Tim and Miss Francis are the only ones that actually use the place.”

If Jason hadn’t been looking for a reaction, he would never’ve caught the man’s little jerk of surprise. “Indeed? Well. It seems my plan was an extraneous one, then.”

“Eh.” Jason shrugged. “Worth a try. So, what were you gonna try next? Breaking and entering?”

The man had the decency to actually look affronted at that. “Of course not! I merely intended to utilize an old skeleton key I had lying around. No breaking involved.”

“Uh-huh.” Jason held out his hand. “Key.”

The man just looked at him. “Surely you jest.”

“Never in Gotham, dude. And don’t call me Shirley. Key; gimme.”

With a sigh, the man handed the prescribed item over. “I trust I shall see it returned to me at some point in the not-too-distant future?”

“When you’re done, old man. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got snacks to finish making for me and Tim.”

“Oh! That reminds me,” the gentleman began to fumble around in his overcoat. Jason immediately tensed; he’d seen too many people shot dead because their mark hammed up their incompetence in order to draw their gun without suspicion. But to his relief, the man only produced a bag of what looked suspiciously like… 

“Miss Francis did inform me that Master Timothy enjoys his coffee, and that he was due for his weekly delivery.”

For what felt like forever, Jason just stared at him. Then finally, he laughed. “Couldn’t have led with that, dude? Even I know about Tim’s caffeine addiction.”

A sheepish look spread over the man’s face. “Yes; yes I suppose you would, young Master. If you would be so kind as to show the way to the kitchen, I will gladly deposit Master Drake’s nectar of the gods there.”

“Sure thing, lemme just,” Jason ducked behind the door just long enough to shove the iron back up his sleeve, “there we go!” 

He swung the door open wide. “C’mon then; I’ll just finish cooking then leave you alone.”

“Cooking?” Alfred said as they walked (for some reason, Jason found himself unable to call the man Pennyworth). “What exactly are you preparing?”

“Oh y’know, just some egg sandwiches with fixings.”

“Egg…sandwiches? I must confess I am unfamiliar with the dish.”

“Shocker.” Jason said dryly. “For one, they’re usually made in microwaves. Two, they’re cheap. Not exactly English snobbery.”

“I see. How, exactly, does one prepare an egg sandwich, Master Jason?”

“Well, first off…”

 


 

He remembered where he knew Alfred from halfway up the stairs to Tim’s room. 

The Weir. The Weir of the World. The Weir of the World that flowed from the Rock of Eternity. The Weir that had shown him flashing images and glimpses of the life he once could have led. 

That Weir. 

That life with Batman, that life as Robin…Alfred had been there. And not just as a bit-player; no, he’d been there on the regular. Which meant only one thing: Alfred knew who Batman was. 

Should Jason…no. He stopped himself less than halfway into the thought. He’d promised Tim he wouldn’t go looking. So Alfred knew Batman; so what? Neither of them had been able to save Jason when it really counted. Well, not in this life, but still. The less Jason had to do with either of them, the better. 

He still trusted them, though. Trusted them to at least try to help. Which was more than most other people. 

Reluctantly, Jason resumed his trudge up the stairs. 

So…first question: how involved was ‘Paladin’ gonna get with the Justice League? Cause if he got in too deep, there was a very good chance they’d find out he was really a kid, and then that would mess things up for both him and Tim. 

Not that he thought he’d be able to get that deep to start with: Batman was a founding member, after all, and Jason had already caused trouble in ‘his’ city. The Bat wouldn’t like that. If Jason wanted help at all, he’d have to make a good impression on at least one of the others. But which one should he concentrate on first?

Squirming his way into Tim’s closet, Jason began to search for one of the many notebooks Tim used to cover up his photo stash. It’d been awhile since Jason was last in school, but he still remembered how helpful it was for him to make a list of everything to better concentrate. 

Notebook: acquired. Back out of the closet he shuffled. Now to find…a-ha! A pen!

He sat down at the table next to Tim’s bed, and began to write. 

League Member Numero Uno : the Green Lantern. Instant disregard. Jason knew next to nothing about the guy, and even less about how to find him.  

Numero Dos: the Flash. Better odds there; ‘Paladin’s costume even vaguely resembled the Speedster’s, which was sure to win him some points there. And Flash was also supposed to be a whole lot nicer about dealing with metas in Central City. Even brought in some super-powered outside help a couple of times. 

Three: Aquaman. The current ruler of Atlantis. Which, normally, would’ve put him to the top of Jason’s list if not for one thing: Jason had no idea how to talk underwater. When…whoever the voice in his head had been there, it had been as the guest of Poseidon. Which meant the King of the Sea had been the one to take care of everything. Including providing an oxygen bubble. 

An oxygen bubble…if Jason could make his whole body mildly electric, it could potentially split enough water into oxygen to breathe in. But the bubble would be nowhere big enough for anyone else to step into to listen to what he had to say. Scrap that plan.

Gillyweed was extinct, so that was out too…yeah he was out of ideas. If he had to, he could always come back later. 

Potential Friend Number Four: Superman. Protector of Metropolis, Last Son of Krypton, The Man that Came Back to Life. Lovely titles. In theory, Jason wasn’t all that impressed with him. The man had a tendency to shoot first and ask questions later; especially since Doomsday had leveled his hometown. 

In practice, Jason was a huge fan. Seriously, how cool was it to have laser-beam eyes? Stupd cool, that’s how cool. But unfortunately, he couldn’t let his admiration influence his decision. Superman was a maybe, but still dangerous. 

Which led him to the last current member of the Justice League: Wonder Woman. 

Aka the most likely to give him the time of day, but also the most likely to kick his ass if given half a reason. Which Jason would probably somehow manage to do, and do well. 

The Wizard had said the Greeks would welcome him with open arms, but well, the Amazons weren’t exactly what you’d call normal Greeks. They hated men, for one. And sure, Wonder Woman apparently got along pretty well with her male teammates, but she also avoided them whenever possible. Which said quite a lot without her really having to say anything at all. 

On the other hand, she was the only member of the League who was openly magical. How magical, Jason couldn’t say for sure, but something told him it was way higher than your normal Amazon. Maybe she’d already heard of the Rock of the Eternity and Shazam, which would save quite a lot of time on Jason’s end of the explanations. 

Also, while she may seem to drift in and out of the public’s eye, Jason was pretty sure he could locate her if he put his mind to it. She must still keep at least some ties with her home of Themyscira; hopefully the Queen of the Amazons would be able to point him in the right direction. True, it would mean actually stepping foot on Themyscira, but they’d allowed him in the past, right? 

Right. 

No worries, no problem! He’d just have to make sure he showed up as peacefully as possible. Now, how exactly to go about doing that was the real question…

“Heh-hem.”

Over went both Jason and his chair. “Jesus, Alfred! You scared the shit out of me!”

“My apologies, sir; that was not my intention.” Alfred said, peering down at Jason’s scribblings. “I merely meant to inquire as to whether or not you believe Master Timothy would prefer this room cleaned as well.”

“Um…” shit, would he? Tim’s room hadn’t been all that clean when he’d dragged Jason in for the first time, had it? “I think it’ll be alright. If not I’ll clean it up myself.”

“Very good sir.” replied Alfred, not taking his eyes from Jason’s notes. 

Shit, Jason’s notes. Out in the open for anyone to read. 

“Uh…whatcha looking at there, Alfred?”

“Hmm?” Alfred turned to look at him. “Oh! My apologies again, Master Jason; it’s just been some time since I’ve come across a student with an interest in Classical Greek.”

Classical Greek? What the hell was Alfred talking about? Jason had been writing in…

Koine. The letters stared up at him from the page. Jason had been writing in koine Greek. And he hadn’t even noticed. 

On the one hand, whew! Life-saver! On the other hand…

What the hell?!

He barely noticed as Alfred’s hand began to move down the page. “Excellent handwriting, young sir; although I must confess my ineptitude in anything that is not either English or Latin. This seems to be a list, of some sort, but of what I’m afraid I can’t say.”

C’mon, think Jason, think. 

“Uh, it’s a…shopping list. For school. You know, one of those exercises they give you to take home and do on your own.”

“Indeed.” Jason could practically see the doubt layered behind that one word. “This must be quite an extraordinary school indeed, to give you a weekday off but also teach perfect archaic languages.”

Hoh-boy. “Teacher Work Day. To catch up on grading.”

“Hmm.”

Oh no; the humming. Jason hated the humming. Because when people were humming, that meant they were thinking.

But Alfred said nothing further. He merely nodded to himself, and then left the room as quietly as he’d come in. 

Jason briefly wondered if he’d learned that from Batman, or if Batman had learned it from him.

 


 

“The indomitable Miss Francis will hopefully be returned to young Master Timothy next afternoon; however, due to the hour of her release, I shall be assuming her duties tomorrow as well.”

“Fine with me, Alfred. Just don’t go poking this,” Jason held out the skeleton key, “in the front door anymore.”

Alfred took the item with unbreakable decorum. “Very well, Master Jason; I shall endeavor to keep my activities confined to the rear.”

“Good man. You got a car to drive home in?”

“No sir; I shall merely slip through the hole in the back fence and then walk back to Wayne Manor.”

“Oh, so you know about that?”

The instant the words left his mouth he regretted them. 

Idiot. Now you know what it feels like when Tim slaps his hand over his mouth. 

Alfred, thankfully, just smiled. “Of course. I have lived in Wayne Manor long enough to remember when the young Master who lived in this house would sneak through the hedges to visit my charge down the lane.”

Jason’s ears perked up at that. “Young Master? You mean like, Tim’s dad?”

“Heavens, no! I mean the family that lived here before; tragic accident, very tragic. The Elliot family, they were called. Only their son survived.”

“Oh.” Because really what else was there to say to something like that? 

“Yes. Well, I must be off. Master Wayne will be expecting his lobster bisque.”

And with those parting words, Alfred Pennyworth donned his top hat, gave it a quick tonk, and was off down the back lawn. 

Jason watched him go with trepidation. He still didn’t entirely believe that the still-unseen Miss Francis had really fallen ill; but what cause could a butler have to want to poke about the Drake Manor?

Tim might know. So Jason was gonna ask him. Right after the kid got home, of course. 

 




“Hey kid; how was class?”

Tim dropped his bag with a groan. “Horrible. The English teacher wants a 700 word essay on the life and times of Jane Austen, which would be boring enough on its own, but then the Geography teacher went and gave me detention for arguing with him in class.”

“Really?” Jason said as he shoved their sandwiches into ziploc bags. “What’d you argue about?”

“Whether or not Palestine should be counted as a Middle-Eastern country. I didn’t put it down on the quiz from the day before yesterday, so when I got it back I made the mistake of asking why she’d taken points off. I’m Jewish; I’m allowed to disagree with Palestine being a real country for religious reasons alone.”

“But the teacher didn’t see it that way.”

“She’s a fan of Lawrence of Arabia.”

“...No idea what that has to do with it, but okay.”

Tim just groaned again. “Nope, not explaining it. Too long. I’m gonna take a shower, then I’m gonna take a nap, and then I’m going out. Provided the house doesn’t fall down on me before then.”

“Wait Tim, there’s some things I need to…”

Too late. By the time Jason turned around, Tim was gone. 

He shrugged. Oh well; he’d already waited this long, what was the harm in waiting just a little bit more?