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Taking the Red Pill

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Disclaimer: Can you hear the Whispermen?




“One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small,

And the ones that mother gives you don't do anything at all;

Go ask Alice, when she's ten feet tall.

And if you go chasing rabbits, and you know you're going to fall,

Tell 'em a hookah-smoking caterpillar has given you the call;

He called Alice, when she was just small.

When the men on the chessboard get up and tell you where to go,

And you've just had some kind of mushroom, and your mind is moving low,

Go ask Alice; I think she'll know

When logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead,

And the White Knight is talking backwards,

And the Red Queen's off with her head,

Remember what the Dormouse said:

Feed your head, feed your head!”

 

- “White Rabbit”, by Jefferson Airplane




CHAPTER ONE:

What Kind of Insufferable Fool Drops a Hotdog?



The Batmobile. 

The goddamn Batmobile, and it was here. 

Here, in Crime Alley!

Would miracles never cease?

Alright, enough drooling. Jason still had a job to do, as the weight of the tire iron in his hand so eloquently reminded him. But even as he knelt down next to the first hubcap, he found himself stalling. 

It just…it was the Batmobile! The most badass car on the East Coast, if not the planet! And here Jason was, about to pop off its tires just to pay for next week’s food. Heck, maybe some warmer shoes on top. Whatever Bat-tires went for, Jason was willing to bet it was a whole lot more than the regular junk he’d been pulling lately. 

So why were his hands still not moving?

A hundred reasons flew through his mind. If word got out someone had boosted the treads off the Batmobile, one of the bigger crazies in town might decide they’d like having someone like that in their corner. And the last thing Jason wanted was the attention of someone like the Joker. 

Batman himself might get all uptight and pissy about the swipe and get Jason sent to one of those fake-ass Wayne Foundation houses. The ones where everyone knew the guys in charge were running meth, but no one was stupid enough to mention it. Jason doubted Batman would go that far; he and Wayne seemed to hate each other, judging by how hard they seemed to work to avoid each other, but still. 

Some of the cops were tight with Batman too; even if the dude himself was cool with it, that Commissioner Gordon might decide to make an example outta Jason. Send him to juvie, or worse. 

All perfectly valid reasons not to mess with things above Jason’s paycheck. But that was just it; Jason didn’t have a paycheck. And boosting these tires would probably be the closest he’d come til he got a job when he turned fifteen. 

The tire-iron slid onto the first lug nut.

Jason raised himself up to drop all his weight on the thing…and stopped.

He couldn’t do it. 

And not just cause of all those thoughts buzzing round in the back of his head like bees. No, it was much, much simpler than that. This was Crime Alley; every cop around was either crooked, a pervert, or both. Jason hadn’t seen a real cop in…well, forever, really. And the same could be said for pretty much everyone else that called the Alley home. 

They’d all assumed the same would apply to Batman. That the big black shape dancing on the moon wasn’t meant for them; it was meant for the folks in Gotham that actually counted for something. 

For Batman to be here, out in the open…

Either something truly terrible was going on, or the Batman might actually be starting to care about the streets over which he flew. 

Jason’s heart beat just a little bit faster at the thought. If Batman started to care, then others might follow his example. Things could get better. 

But they wouldn’t get better if some street rat disassembled Batman’s ride on the first night here. 

And on the other hand, if one of the uptown crazies had finally decided to brave the shark-infested Alley, then they definitely needed Batman on their side. 

Jason yanked the iron off the lug and shoved it back up  his sleeve. One advantage to being so small; baggy clothes let you get away with hiding next to everything. A trick he’d used to surprise attack quite a few come-ons before people started taking the hint to leave him alone. 

He shoved his hands in his pockets, hunched his head over against the wind, and began once more to trudge through the snow. 

 




All in all, he hadn’t made out too bad. Few side-view mirrors, couple of license plates, even the tires off a fancy black motorcycle some idiot had locked up in one of Jason’s regular spots. He would’ve taken the whole bike if he could’ve figured out how to get past the new lock the idiot had put on the door. But hey! Holes in the fence were still a thing, and the tires had fit just fine. 

And if Marco now knew here to keep an eye out for future ‘acquisitions’, what did Jason care?

Granted, it meant he’d have to find another haunt in that part of the Alley. Jason tended to circle-slash-circle through a bunch of little hidey-holes he’d found over the course of his Alley career, with backups in case some of them got too hot. 

If Batman was circling around, things were most definitely too hot.

Tomorrow, Jason would go back out and try to find someplace new. It was a backup he’d found the motorcycle in, so it wasn’t like he didn’t have anywhere to sleep tonight. Or rather, this morning, since it was already two o’clock and ticking. But for now, it was time to slip his way back to his pad and crash. 

Damn but he was already done with this snow. Thank God the wind had died down; if there was anything worse than being cold and wet, it was being cold, wet, and blasted with freezing air. 

Jason Todd…

The hell? 

His head whipped around, looking for the source of the voice. 

No one. Absolutely no one. Sleep deprivation; had to be. He whacked himself in the head a few times to clear the cobwebs. 

Unfortunately, this also had the effect of knocking the snow out of his hair and into his face. Real bright there, Jason. 

As he finished scraping the last of the wet white fluff from his eyes, they lit on a sign he couldn't recall ever seeing in this part of Gotham. A sign that, up until now, he would've sworn no one else had ever seen either. 

Because it was the sign of the Gotham Subway. 

A few years back, there’d been a few rumors about the city pushing for a rail line to Crime Alley. Part of the big Restoration Movement, so they said. Then the Mayor himself had announced the Subway was coming, and people in the Alley began to look up for the first time in a while. 

Two weeks later the Mayor was dead and his reputation ruined after all of his underhanding deals were exposed. And that was the last anyone had heard of renovation in the Alley. 

But if the renovation had already been underway when the Mayor bit the dust, then maybe…

Just maybe…

The doorknob turned beneath his fingers. 

Click. 

Creeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeak….

And the darkness swallowed him.

 




The subway was warm and well-lit. 

Two things that immediately set Jason’s hair to standing on end. 

The only places in Crime Alley that still had that sort of power at night, to say nothing in the middle of the snowstorm, were all owned by one gang or another. Money equals electricity, after all. And the only ways to get money in the Alley were all varying degrees of bad. The more bad, the more money, the more power. 

If one of the bigwigs had set up here, then Jason was in a whole lotta trouble already. 

But Marco would pay good dough to know if someone had set up shop without him knowing about it. Marco knew everyone in the Alley; and everyone knew Marco. Even Ma Gunn left the information broker alone; sometimes she even went out of her way to let Marco know when to keep his runners off the streets. 

If whoever owned this place was skiving off their duty to Marco, then that was bad news. 

Maybe even Batman levels of bad. 

Which was why, despite the danger, Jason found himself creeping down the stairs with tire iron gripped firmly in his fist. 

The stairs abruptly opened up into a platform. Two pillars, left and right, supported the immense amount of earth above. Cracked and broken tiles adorned the walls; cheaply made and cheaply placed. Just like everything else around. In fact, the only thing in the place that looked somewhat taken care of was the passenger rail car sitting on the tracks in front of Jason. 

Just the car; no engine attached. And yet, the lights inside were still buzzing brightly. If a gang was using a subway car as a portable base of operations, then hiding it here when the heat was one was a stroke of genius. 

Too bad Jason had stumbled into it. 

Slowly, he crept toward the door. It slid open with ease. 

Nothing. No whirring computers, no tossed files, no splattered blood. Nip. Nada. Zip. Zilch. If someone was using this thing as a base, they were doing a shit job of it. 

The door slammed closed behind him. 

Already he was scrambling. If he’d missed an automatic alarm, if someone had just locked him in remotely, the very last thing he wanted was to still be there when they showed up. 

Door was locked. Same for the windows. Good thing he had a glass breaker. 

He reared back with the tire iron…then came crashing down on the floor as the car suddenly moved. 

Riding, rushing, racing into the darkness Jason went. His last thought before everything went black was something along the lines of:

There’s no earthly way of knowing…which direction we are going…

Score one for Willy Wonka. 

 




“Jason Todd.”

“Mmf.” 

“JASON TODD.”

“G’way.”

“JASON TO-ACH!”

Jason reluctantly cracked one eye open to see just who, or what, he’d kicked. 

An old man, apparently. Like, really old. Like, older than Gandalf old. Maybe Merlin old. Come to notice, the dude was wearing the same kinda clothes as Merlin. All robey and stuff. 

“Are you Merlin?”

The old man rubbed his jaw (so that was where Jason had got him). “No, my boy; I am not Merlin. Although I suppose you could make the claim that I was his predecessor.”

It was too early for Jason to be thinking words like predecessor. “Well older Merlin, I’d appreciate it if you’d let me go back to sleep.”

“My boy, you have been asleep for over ninety-six hours.”

That woke Jason up in a hurry. “I’ve been what?!”

The old man just blinked. “Been asleep for ninety-six hours. Your hearing hasn't been damaged, has it? It’s been so long since I’ve opened a portal, you see; a little bit out of practice. As it was, I was surprised you arrived with all your appendages.”

If Jason had been panicking before, he was in full-blown panic now. “PORTAL?! What portal? Where’d the subway go? Are you with the gang? Are you who the Batman’s after? Are…”

“SILENCE. Please.” The old man massaged his temples. “It just so happens that I have a monstrous headache, and I’m afraid we do not have much time. To answer your questions: the portal that brought you here, look behind you, no, and no.”

Jason’s head snapped around. Sure enough, behind him there sat the very same railway car he’d climbed into just…three days ago. 

Three days. “Shiiiiiiiii…shoot.”

A chuckle from the old dude. “Quite, my boy. Let me tell you, it was quite hard to keep that station hidden all these years.”

Jason’s panic was back with a vengeance. “Hidden? What do you mean, hidden?”

“I mean hidden, my boy. Come, come! I shall explain as we walk.”

And the old man shuffled off, leaving Jason rushing to catch up to him. 

“You see my boy,” the man said over his shoulder, “ I always knew there would come a day when I needed a successor. Merlin, as you called him, was once a candidate for the position. Bit flighty though; and much too popular with the ladies. And he put entirely too much stock in foresight; entirely too much indeed. You, however; you seem to be a remarkably practical person, Jason Todd. A flair for the dramatic, perhaps. But what’s a good wizard without that, eh?”

A wizard. Jason should’ve been able to guess. “So, when you said ‘position’, you meant…?”

“The position of Wizard, my boy. That’s Wizard with a capital W. There have been quite a few wizards with a small W, but for the past three thousand years, I have been the only one worthy of being called the Wizard. And, should the Pantheon deem you worthy as well, it is a title you shall hold when I am gone.”

Jason opened his mouth to say rather more than something about that, but the wizard just kept right on talking. 

“But don’t worry about that! If you had not already proven yourself, you would never have found my hidden station! I keep them all over the world, you know; I’ve always loved a good train station. Ever since I first saw one oh, two and a half thousand years ago? Something like that, anyway. Took five hundred years of my life to master Divination, can you believe it? Then again, that was always more the Oracle’s area of expertise. But now, with no Oracle left, it’ll be yours too! Should only take you about half the time it took me!”

Jason had just enough presence of mind to think ‘Half of five hundred is two-fifty. Two hundred and fifty years! That’s a godda…”

The reason he stopped thinking after that was because he finally realized exactly where the Wizard had apparently led him. 

The cavern they’d been following had opened up into an absolutely mammoth underground structure. It was vaguely dome-like, but with massive stalagmites and stalactites sticking out everywhere. Water poured in a curtain around the rest of the room from somewhere up above, so Jason couldn’t even see it. And in the center…

A throne. A throne of completely obsidian rock, as wicked-looking as a dragon waiting to pounce. There was power in that rock. Jason could feel it; the way his fingers suddenly brushed across his pants with static electricity. 

“Welcome, Jason Todd,” gestured the Wizard, “to the Rock of Eternity. And for three thousand years, I, the Wizard Shazam, have been its guardian. A title that I hope today to pass to you."

"Whoah, whoah, whoah, time out!!!" Jason said, teeing his hands together. "What kind of a say do I get in this? I mean, I did apparently break into your subway car, so I can kinda understand why you'd want me to make up for that, but nobody said nothing about becoming no Wizard! I ain't fricking Harry Potter dude! I'm twelve, for one; not eleven. For another, I ain't got an ounce of magic in me! If I did, don't you think I woulda wished myself someplace a little nicer years ago?"

"But of course!" Said Shazam calmly. "It is precisely because you are non-magical that you were chosen as a candidate. For all who are born with magic are born with a predisposition towards one area or another. The Rock of Eternity encompasses all magic, and so also must its guardian. No natural magic, no natural inclination. Perfectly adept in all areas. You see?"

Sadly, Jason did see. So he decided to attack from another direction. "What about my age, then? You said it took you five hundred years to learn Divy-whatever it was."

"Divination."

"Yeah, that. I'm just a regular human kid; if you want someone that'll last five hundred years you'd be better off with something like, I dunno, an Amazon."

"Ah," the Wizard held up a finger, "but the Amazons are already supported by the magic of both Zeus and Ares. And most other immortals of the magical variety suffer from the same problem. As for the modern methods...well, let us just say that nothing comes from nothing. Which is why we are making you the guardian now; you get a young start, plus the immortality the position comes with. Right as rum punch, eh?"

Jason's voice squeaked. "IMMORTALITY?"

"Certainly, my boy. What, you didn't think I'd dump everything on a kid with no experience at all, did you? Do I look like bloody Dumbledore?" 

Inside Jason's mind, the word immortality was still bouncing around.

The Wizard let out a long sigh. "Look, my boy; I quite understand. This has all been quite a shock, and you have not really had the time to process. But as I said before, we are running low on time. I may not place as much faith in Divination as I once did, but I can still read the Weir of the World. The water that flows around the Rock of Eternity. Here; look."

Jason looked. 

And in his reflection in the falling sheen,  he could see his life. Flashes and echoes of the life that could have been. That now never would. 

Stealing tires. Meeting Batman. Becoming Robin. Going to school. Having friends. Reunion with his mother. (His mother?)

And finally…

The crowbar.

Which hurts more? A…

Jason flinched.

Or B?

The end. 

"You see now, my boy, why you were already a candidate. For above all else, a guardian must be pure of heart. And yours is by far the purest in Gotham."

Something warm and salty trickled down Jason's cheek. "Didn't do much good, did it."

"It did more good than you think, Jason Todd. Quite a lot more. But if you truly believe that you could have done more; nay, should have done more...then you are truly as worthy as I believed you to be. 

What I offer you, Jason Todd, is a blessing...but also a curse. You will have the potential to do the most good imaginable; but it will come at the cost of time. Time itself, bearing down upon you for...well, Eternity. 

I am old, my boy. Old and tired. If you do not accept this, then I shall of course erase your memory and return you to the life you would have had. And then I shall wait another ten years for a little boy in Fawcett City to step into my station. But I must be honest, Jason Todd. I fear I will not last another ten years. Opening that portal drained me far more than I had been expecting. And if I should die, the Rock will lay undefended. It needs a protector, my boy. Or great evil will, I fear, come to it. 

And so I ask you, Jason Peter Todd...will you accept?"

...Well when he put it that way. 

His throat was suddenly very dry. He swallowed. " ...What must I do?"

Wordlessly, the Wizard gestured to the throne. The meaning was clear. And so, gritting his teeth, Jason marched right up…

And sat in it.

Nothing happened.

"...Now what?"

"Hmm?" Said the Wizard. "Oh, yes! The test! Here!" 

A staff of indescribably ancient wood appeared from thin air. The Wizard handed it to Jason. "Water, wood, and earth. Just missing one more! Now, if you would kindly my boy, just take this rod…"

Jason did so.

"...That's right! And now, when you're ready, just say my name!" 

"...That's it?"

"More or less, yes."

"Where's the fourth?"

"Hmm? Oh yes, the fourth! Don't worry, that'll come to you. Now, fire away!"

Jason shrugged, and held the staff (excuse him, rod) aloft.

He cleared his throat. 

"...Shazam?"

As the word left his lips, he thought he heard the Wizard say "I say, fire away; rather a good one, eh?"

And it was right about then Jason was blindingly told, in no uncertain terms, exactly what kind of rod he was holding:

It was a lightning rod.

 


 

The wisdom and experience of Solomon. 

S.

The strength and endurance of Hercules.

H.

The heart and courage of Achilles. 

A.

The power and speed of Zeus. 

Z.

The cunning and drive of Alexander. 

A.

The fortitude and skill of Moses. 

M.

And Enoch was not. 

And Elijah was not. 

And Shazam was not. 

And Jason was not. 

I AM.

“SHAZAM!”

 

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: Every time it rains, it does not in fact rain pennies from heaven. Scooby-dooby!



CHAPTER TWO:

Fun and Mental is Fundamental



The world was changed. 

He could see it in the water. 

He could feel it in the earth. 

He could smell it in the air. 

Somehow, he didn’t think those were the normal side effects of a lightning bolt to the face. 

He looked down. 

He was…taller. Broader. Red material seemed to run all the way down to his knees, with some indiscernible shape on his chest matching the gold of his boots and gloves. 

Hold on…precisely when had he started using words like ‘indiscernible’?

Or ‘precisely’, for that matter?

“Since you gained the wisdom of Solomon, of course.”

“GAH!” Jason threw himself backwards, away from the literal ghost that had just popped into existence inches in front of his face. “WHAT THE HELL?”

The wizard frowned. “Is something wrong, my boy?”

“You’re a ghost! Like a real, proper ghost! A specter! Ghoul, phantom, shade!”

“Yes, I’m well aware of what I am, my boy. I thought I had explained this to you.”

“NO! NO YOU DIDN’T!”

“Ah. Then you have my sincerest apologies. You see my boy, when the title of guardian is passed from one person to another, the previous guardian is finally allowed to have some semblance of rest. It’s not Elysium, but it’s certainly less stressful than the alternatives. My soul is now tied to the Rock of Eternity until such time as you yourself choose a successor. A couple thousand years without a care in the world sounds remarkably blissful so if you don’t mind, I have just a few more things to tell you and then I believe I shall turn in for a nice long nap. 

Article number one: you have a duty to not just the Rock, but to the world at large. Magical threats are, of course, to be your priority, but with a heart as pure as yours, feel free to grant your assistance to all in need. Article two: there are multiple Pantheons in existence, and while all gave grudging acceptance that the Rock should be served by just one champion, some might be more welcoming to you than others. The Greeks, Egyptians, and certain denominations of Christians and Muslims will all welcome you with open arms. The others, I fear, will not be so friendly. Article three: you must never use your powers for your own personal gain. In defense of yourself or those you love is acceptable; but should you be forced to choose between one of the former and the fate of many more, the many must take precedence. Of course, you would not be the guardian if you did not save the ninety-nine and still seek to save the one. Some leeway is more than acceptable. 

And finally, article four: to be the guardian at all times can prove a burden in more ways than one. Should you wish to return to your previous body, merely stand beneath the sky and utter my name once more. And the same when you wish to become a guardian again. You are still young, Jason Todd. Live your life well. 

“And with that,” the Wizard clapped his hands, “I’m off. Fair falling, Jason Todd. And do remember to close the portal after you.”

There was a gust of wind, and the Wizard was gone. 

“...Close the portal?” asked Jason. “And how exactly am I supposed to do that?”

No sooner had he asked when the answer came to him in a flash. 

An Egyptian Ka-hieroglyph ought to do the trick. 

…How the hell did he know that?

Again, the answer came back:

The experience of Solomon. Although Moses probably would’ve known that as well. 

Solomon and Moses. Two people Jason had always assumed had been either made up, or had their deeds heavily exaggerated. 

Apparently not. 

Wait a minute…Solomon. Hercules. Achilles. Alexander. And Moses. 

All demigods. 

It made sense, he supposed; the last thing the god would want is for their representative in the mortal world to ever match their level of power. As for Zeus…well, Zeus wasn’t exactly known for being repressed in the ego department. He probably figured he could take on anyone; even someone with the exact same powers as him. 

That would be putting it mildly. 

Okay, this whole inner running commentary was getting old. He needed some fresh air; a place to just sit and think. 

The portal; the portal was still open. 

Back to Gotham it was. 

 


 

Huh; a Ka- hieroglyph really did work. 

Say what you will about the Egyptians, their transport system was still unmatched. Sure, the Duat was full of dark and nasty things, but when it came to pure speed, you just couldn’t beat it. 

The snow was long melted by the time Jaosn finally emerged once more onto the streets of Gotham. That was New Jersey for you; one day it would be below freezing, the next in the upper sixties. 

Now, where was a good place that Jason could be alone for as long as he wanted?

The roofs. No one ever went up on the roofs; the solidarity wasn’t worth the risk of falling through what was beneath your feet. At any given moment the odds of a roof in Crime Alley collapsing beneath you were at least half-and-half, if not more. Especially after snow. 

But when you were the Guardian of the Rock of Eternity, you got to do cool things like laugh at physics. 

At least, Jason thought he did. 

Sucking in a deep breath, Jason looked to the sky…and willed himself upward. 

And slowly but surely, he began to rise. 

He could fly! Hah! Take that, Batman! Who needs grapple guns? Not him, that’s who!

With a grin still firmly fixed on his face, Jason locked his arms to his sides…and flew. 

 




He didn’t even make it half-a-block before trouble caught up with him. 

There were five of them. Five men, all standing menacingly around what looked like a nine-year-old kid. 

Oh, Jason didn’t like that. Not. One. Bit. 

So as the men continued to chuckle and close in, Jason silently allowed himself to float to the ground behind them. 

At least, that’s what he tried to do. 

Instead what he ended up doing was slamming into the ground at somewhere around the speed of sound, concrete crunching beneath his feet. 

So much for stealth. Oh well; Jason had always prefered going loud and proud anyway. 

“What seems to be the problem here, gentlemen?” he asked as he brushed some imaginary dust from his cape’s shoulder (cape! he had a cape!).

The ugliest one of the bunch just sneered at him. “None of your business, freak.”

“Now, now,” Jason strode forward, “that’s no way to speak to your betters.”

Shing!

Oh look; a switchblade. 

“I ain’t got no betters, freak! Now scram, afore I turn you from a rooster to hen with one snick!”

“Hmm.” Jason crossed his arms. “Big words for a man that already acts like a chicken. Five of you to take on one child? Hardly seems fair.”

“I got news for you, freak; life ain’t fair. Get him!”

There may have been five of them; but Jason was Jason. 

They never stood a chance. 

The first one went for Jason’s face. Jason ducked the knife, and then rammed the guy right in his chest. The crunch that came from the dude’s thorax informed Jason he’d probably broken something important; good. 

Dumbass number two was a bit smarter; he went for the uppercut under Jason’s armpit, aiming between his ribs for the left lung. The blade caught on Jason’s arm as he instinctively blocked. 

It snapped. 

Jason’s first punch sent the man hurtling through the air to crash through the brick wall at the back of the alley. Not into; through. If the guy ever walked again, Jason would call it a miracle. He should probably start pulling back a bit; his conscience twinged a bit at the thought of accidentally killing someone. 

Numbers three through five were apparently the smartest of the bunch. Runners, to the last one. Didn’t even have the decency to drag their downed friends with them. Just left ‘em to die. 

Jason was half-tempted to go after them; but there was still a kid that needed help and two people that needed medical attention. So reluctantly, he turned away. 

The kid was still huddled down beside the dumpster, clutching what appeared to be a camera close to his chest. One of the old-looking nice ones; the kind Gotham’s elite would drop a couple grand for easily. No wonder those idiots had wanted it. 

“Hey”, Jason said, bending down, “hey, it’s alright. They’re gone. You’re alright. You’re okay.”

Slowly, the kid uncurled himself. “Are…are you sure?”

“Yes, son,” (son? Why was he calling the kid son?) “I’m sure. Now, I can understand if you do not wish to tell me your name, but if you have a place you wish me to deliver you safely, I will be glad to do so.”

“Uhhhh,” the kid’s eyes darted around the alley, “shouldn't you get those two to the hospital first?”

The hospital. Right. “Indeed I should. And I would…if I was aware of where the hospital was.”

It wasn’t like he'd ever had reason to go there before.  

“Umm…” the kid’s face scrunched in concentration, “there’s a clinic I know not far from here. Just outside of Park Row.”

Park Row; definitely a rich kid then. Only the rich ones didn’t call it Crime Alley. 

“Would the owner of this clinic be willing to treat criminals?”

The kid nodded. “Uh-huh! Doctor Thompkins treats everybody! Even…”

The kid must’ve been about to say something he shouldn’t, because he clapped his hand over his mouth like a secret had almost slipped out. 

Jason held up his hands placatingly. “Hey, so long as they’ll be treated, I’m fine with taking these two there. But you’ll have to climb on my shoulders if you’re going to direct me; I don’t think I can safely carry both you and them with only two hands.”

“Yeah; yeah, you’re probably right.” the kid stood. “Up then!”

The kid settled onto Jason’s shoulders like he’d been born there. Gently, Jason picked up both of the fallen thugs, and with a final admonition of “Hold on!”, he began to fly once more. 

 




“So…you’re new in Gotham, aren’t you?”

Jason and the kid had deposited the two injured at Doctor Thompkins’ clinic with little to no fuss. It made Jason wonder just how often the good doctor was forced to deal with the seedier side of Gotham, and just exactly why it was the place had yet to be robbed for drugs. 

An investigation for another time. For now, Jason had a kid to deliver. “What makes you say that, son?” he replied. 

“It’s just…I haven’t ever seen you around before. Ever. And the way you were fighting was all wrong.”

“Oh?” Jason’s ears perked up. “Wrong how?”

“It was like…well, like you hadn’t ever fought that way before. Like you were used to fighting with something in your hands, instead of just with your bare fists.”

Like a tire iron, for instance. Jason doubted he’d ever see it again. Unless he’d kept his clothes and everything in them when he’d transformed. 

What to tell the kid, though? Not the truth. Heroes needed secret identities; even from kids as nice as this one. 

“...A bolt of lightning.” he finally answered. “I am accustomed to using somewhat more…potent, countermeasures against my opponents. A physical bolt of lightning serves as an excellent weapon, in both melee and ranged combat.”

Atop his shoulder, he could feel the kid stiffen. “Lightning. Like…like Zeus?”

Damn. The kid was sharp. “If you are inquiring as to whether or not I am the presiding ruler of Mount Olympus, the answer is, I’m afraid, no. I am merely a servant of the Pantheons; and it has been many thousands of years since I last walked upon this world.”

Nice save, Jason. And not, technically, a lie. 

The kid began to squirm. Presumably, in excitement. “Oh! So you’re like, the Champion of Mount Olympus!”

“Guardian, actually. And not just of Olympus. Or else I wouldn’t be here, would I?”

“No; no I suppose not.” The kid was practically bouncing now. “So, like, are you gonna be Gotham’s guardian? Cause like, we have Batman for all the bad things that happen at night. But if you, like, wanted to take the day-shift, I’m sure he’d appreciate it!”

Yeah; Jason doubted that. “I go where I am called, young one. There are many places in this world that the Batman cannot reach.”

Crime Alley, for one. Although if Batman was finally starting to get his act together, maybe Jason could travel around a bit. Helping people across the globe. He kind of liked the sound of that. 

“Oh.” the kid said sadly. “I…I understand. Gotham isn’t the only place that needs help, is it?”

“No. No it is not.” Jason would have left it there, but the uneasiness in his gut prompted him to continue. “That being said, I am accustomed to having at least some form of permanent residence. I see no reason why that cannot be Gotham.”

He really didn’t. Crime Alley was still his home, after all; be a shame to leave it behind entirely. 

He couldn't see it, but he just knew there was a face-splitting grin on the kid’s face. “Awesome! So, like, what’s your name? Cause you know, if I’m gonna be calling or praying to you, it’d be nice to know.”

“I…” What to say? Jason was Jason. Full stop. But one could hardly go around fixing things with a name like ‘Jason’, could they? And ‘Shazam’ wasn’t all that much better. 

“I…I do not know my name for this age.” he finally replied. “It has no direct translation into English. Or any other language, for that matter.”

Again, technically, not a lie. 

“That’s okay!” The kid was bouncing again. “We can find you one! So…you said you were a guardian, right?”

The guardian, yes.”

“Would you say you’re, like, a defender? A protector? A knight in shining armor?”

“No armor, I’m afraid. But the general sentiment does apply.”

“Cool! So, here’s what I’m thinking: Gotham already has a Dark Knight. So it’d be really neat if, like, you were the White Knight!!

“I’m not so sure White Knight is all that appropriate, considering how little white I actually wear.” Jason said dryly. 

“That’s fine! Like you said, it’s just the general sentiment! What’s another word for knight…hmm…you said not Champion…how about…Paladin?”

Paladin. The name rolled around in Jason’s mind. Paladin. Images of brave heroes of ages gone spun past his eyes, conjuring a sense of romanticism and longing. Paladin. Those who would stand at the gate, face down the oncoming army, and calmly say No. You move. 

“...Paladin.” The word was sharp as a sword on his tongue. “Paladin. I like it.”

Once more, he could practically feel the kid grinning. “Pleased to meet you, Paladin. My name’s Timothy Drake.”

“An honor, Timothy Drake. And I believe that the house below us is your stop.”

“Huh?” Timothy shifted to get a better look. “Oh yeah, that’s it! If…if you wanted to, like, come in, you could, you know.”

If Jason could’ve given him a look, he would. “It is nearly nine o’clock at night, young one. I rather suspect your parents might have something to say about you being out with a strange man this late. It would probably be wiser for you to slip in through your window.”

“Um, yeah; about that…my parents, kinda…don’t live with me?”

Jason was suddenly very, very interested in Timothy’s home life. “Don’t they.”

He could feel the kid wince. “Not…exactly? I mean, they’re both away on business most of the time, so most days it’s just me and the housekeeper, Miss Francis. And she usually goes home around seven or so.”

“Seven or so.” Jason’s fists were clenching. “And other than that, you’re all on your own?” 

No wonder the kid had wandered into Crime Alley. He probably knew more than most of Gotham about how to survive on your own. 

“I mean, yeah, pretty much. I walk to school just down the road every day, and then walk back. Eat supper, wait for Miss Francis to go home. Then I go out to take pictures.”

“Son,” and oh wasn’t Jason trying not to let his rage come through, “somehow, I don’t think that wandering the streets after twilight is exactly the safest thing in the world for someone of your age to be doing.”

“Oh, but I’m not, I promise! I usually just stick to the rooftops! And three days ago was the first time I’ve ever gone to Park Row, I swear! I just wanted to see what it looked like from the ground!”

The rooftops. The fricking rooftops. “Son, I don’t know if anyone’s told you this, but there isn’t a roof in Crime Alley that wouldn’t love to drop you three stories straight down and break every bone in your body. If you ever…”

A lightbulb went on in Jason’s head. The rooftops. Three days. First time in Crime Alley. 

“Timothy.” Jason said calmly. “Would I be correct in deducing that if I were to check the film in your camera, it would contain mostly pictures of a certain being that prefers to frequent the skyline of Gotham?”

Timothy said nothing. And that was answer enough. 

At that moment, Jason wanted nothing more than to murder the parents of Timothy Drake. How this kid had survived the first five years of his life, Jason didn’t know. “Son…”

“I know, I know,” Timothy said. “It’s stupid. It’s reckless. It’s…”

“Tremendously dangerous.” Jason finished as he set them down on the balcony. “Yes; yes it is. But you’re not going to stop. Are you.”

Silence again. 

The self-preservation instincts of a squirrel on crack. Funny thing was, Jason didn’t even blame him. He knew all too well the effect of no good role model had on kids. 

Welp, looked like he’d have to take the job on himself. “Alright. I won’t say anything, kid. And…and I think maybe I’d better come in with you after all. Something tells me I’m going to be seeing quite a lot of you up on those rooftops.”

“Nuh uh!” stated Timothy. “No one sees me! Ever! Not even Batman!”

This time, Jason was able to give him exactly the look he wanted. 

“It’s true!” protested Tim. “C’mon, I’ll prove it to you!”

With a suppressed sigh, Jason allowed himself to be pulled inside. 

 




Jason didn’t know how the kid had managed to take photos of every Gotham rogue from Penguin to Killer Croc, and frankly, he was too scared to ask. 

Ah, who was he kidding. Courage of Achilles to the rescue. “Son, as impressive as all this is, I can’t help but be a bit worried. Some of these people look like they would’ve killed you with absolutely no hesitation if they found out you were watching them.”

“Oh trust me, I know.” came Tim’s voice from somewhere inside the closet. “Why do you think I don’t have any pictures of the Joker? All the people I follow have a history of letting kids slide.”

Did they. Interesting. “Even Batman?”

Especially Batman. Hah! Found it!” Tim’s face poked out of the closet. “Proof!”

Gently, Jason took the offered item. Sure enough, silhouetted against Gothams’ night sky, there stood the Dynamic Duo themselves. 

“Huh.” said Jason eloquently. “You know, is it just me, or does Robin’s outfit look a little…chilly?”

“It’s thermo-shock insulated neoprene. Flesh-tone. Give people a fake weak point, and they won’t bother looking for the real ones.”

“Good point. Do you have any more of these?”

It turned out that was exactly the right question to ask. For the next half-an-hour, Tim did nothing more than animatedly describe not only each and every photo he had, but also when and where he’d been when taking them. It was fascinating, if a little insane. 

Finally, when Tim’s scrapbooks had been exhausted, they sat together in companionable silence on the bedroom floor. 

Part of Jason wanted to adopt this kid immediately, if for no other reason than to beat the rest of Gotham to the punch. The other part of him wanted nothing more than to drag Jack and Janet Drake back to Gotham by the scruff of their necks and force them to realize just how terrible they were at being parents. 

“Timothy…”

“Just Tim is fine.”

“...Tim, then. Have you thought about what happens if one of these people finds out just how talented you are at getting places without being noticed? Batman already has a partner; I suspect it will be only a matter of time before someone like this Catwoman decides to acquire one of their own.”

To Jason’s surprise, Tim seemed to shrink into himself. “No; no, I don’t think so. Robin’s…well, he’s not around anymore. Hasn’t been for a month or more. I think he got too old; decided to go somewhere else that needed help.”

Or he’s dead, Jason’s mind unhelpfully supplied. “So with no Robin, you believe Batman’s enemies won’t be in as much of a rush to find a successor of their own?”

Tim’s eyes began to drop to the floor. “His enemies, yes. But Batman himself…”

Oh. 

Oh no. 

“Tim, are you implying that you are currently trying to become Robin’s replacement?”

“Well, not so much implying…”

Zeus help him, this child was going to turn him into an old man. “Tim, I can understand wishing to be of assistance, but running around on rooftops is already more than dangerous enough for a nine-year old.”

Tim’s chest puffed out. “I’m almost ten! And that’s how old Dick was when he became Robin!”

Dick. Robin’s real name was Dick. 

Tim knew who Robin was. 

And if he knew Robin…did he know Batman?

Did he know the identity of the infamous man behind the cowl?

Tim’s hand clamped down once more over his mouth. Oops. Looks like someone had realized how badly they’d just messed up. 

“Tim,” Jason gently reached out to place a hand on the boy’s shoulder, “Tim, it’s alright. I’m not going to go looking for Batman’s secret identity. I have secrets of my own, and it would be hypocritical of me to expect others would share theirs with me without returning the courtesy.”

Slowly, Tim’s hand came down. “You’re…you’re sure?”

Jason nodded. “Positive.”

Tim practically collapsed in relief. 

“Now,” Jason said, removing his hand, “don’t think I’ve forgotten about your desire to become a costumed vigilante apprentice. While I cannot ethically approve of such an effort, it would once again be hypocritical of me to expect you to defer to my wishes.”

Mostly because Jason himself was now technically an underage superhero. 

“But I still care about your safety, Timothy. So, I am asking, as a personal favor, that you refrain from pursuing physical combat until you are at least eleven.”

Tim opened his mouth to protest, but Jason beat him to the punch. 

“I know, I know; Robin was only ten. But since I am unaware of exactly how close he was to his eleventh birthday when becoming Robin, I feel it is better to err on the side of caution.”

Tim grumbled, but grudgingly nodded his agreement. 

“Very well. Now, I’m afraid I must be on my way.”

“You’re…you’re not staying?”

Tim looked heartbroken. Oh Zeus, what had Jason done? Had he drastically misunderstood something? “I…I mean, I…” oh Zeus, what was he supposed to say? “I guess I…could? I have some…items, I’ll have to retrieve, but…if you really want me to…”

Tim sniffed and nodded vigorously. “Yes, please.”

Zeus have mercy, this kid was starved for love. Jason sighed. “Very well, then. But I hardly think it appropriate for a full-grown man to spend the night in the same house as a child. So if you will excuse me for a moment, I believe the application of some magic is in order.”

Jason stood and made his way out onto Tim’s bedroom balcony. If he remembered correctly, ass he had to do to transform back into regular old ‘Jason Todd’ was to make sure there was sky above his head, and then say,

“SHAZAM!”

The lightning struck. 

And then everything went black.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: I swallowed shampoo; I’m probably gonna die!



CHAPTER THREE:

We Got a Nervous Slinky




Warm. 

Soft. 

Comfy.

GRRRRRRR…

Goddamn it, his stomach. 

Slowly, Jason cracked his eyes open. 

Room. Not his. Basic beige. Nice curtains. A whole lot nicer than he was used to. 

Tim!

He bolted upright in his…bed? How’d he end up in a bed? The last thing he remembered was…

Ohhhhhhhh. He’d passed out. 

Had Tim tucked him in? Damn that kid. Jason was supposed to be taking care of him, goddammit; not the other way around. 

Speaking of, where the hell had Tim gone, anyway? He wasn’t in the room, as far as Jason could tell. Then again, it wasn’t like the nightstand lamp was doing all that great a job of lighting things up. 

Another sweeping look around, and Jason was forced to conclude that no, Tim wasn’t in the room. So where was he? 

GRRRR….

Right, his stomach. He hadn’t eaten in…what, four days? Did time at the Rock of Eternity count? Or was it one of those magical things where time kinda stood still but not really?

Either way, he was starving. So off went the covers, and then it was down the hallway he went, looking for either Tim or food. Whichever came first. 

As luck would have it, he found both in the first-floor kitchen. 

Although he was hesitant to call the mutilated eggs in Tim’s pan ‘food’. 

“Tim?”

Tim whirled. “Oh my gosh, you’re okay! I thought you were dead! And then I checked your pulse and you weren’t, you were just passed out, and you were a kid, and I didn’t know what to do, so I put you in my bed and then I slept in the chair and now I’m making you breakfast even though all I know how to make is cold cereal and I’m so sorry I can’t cook I’ll get you something else…”

“TIM! Breathe!”

Tim did the hand-over-mouth thing again, then nodded and breathed in and out deeply.

“Hey, Tim; it’s fine. I passed out. It happens. I probably just forgot to eat again and tried to use too much magic.”

“You’re…” oh Zeus, Timmy wasn’t gonna cry was he? “You’re sure?”

Jason nodded solemnly, even though he really wasn’t. “Positive. Now sit your ass down in that chair; I’m cooking.”

Tim’s eyes went wide. “You can cook?”

Over three thousand years, must’ve learned sometime.

Yeah; over the propane camping stove he’d been forced to use when Mom started…

Okay, no. Just no. Not thinking about that. Instead, Jason just forced a smile to his face. “You know it, squirt. Watch and learn.”

 




Egg sandwiches. Jason had made ‘em a hundred times before. But this was the first time he’d ever been able to put things like cheese and bacon on ‘em. 

“Dif if fo good!” Tim glomphed as he chewed.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full.” Jason said absentmindedly as he fried his own breakfast. “You might accidentally spit something out, and that’s a waste of food.”

“Sorry.”

“You’re fine.”

Ding!

Jason jerked. “The hell was that?”

“The coffee pot!” Tim chirped, bounding over. “It always finishes at six o’clock!”

“Whoah, whoah, whoah,” Jason grabbe Tim by the scruff of the neck just in time. “There is no way in hell I’m letting a nine-year old drink black coffee at this hour of the morning.”

Tim hissed at him. Actually, properly, hissed. 

Jason just smirked. “You keep making sounds like that, and I’ll start to wonder if you’re angling to become Catwoman’s sidekick instead.”

“Coffee!” Tim squirmed, trying to get free. “Gimme!”

Jason sighed. Was it worth the effort? …Nah, probably not. “Fine. But only one cup. Definitely not the whole pot.”

Tim gave a loud ‘harrumph’. “You’re no fun.”

“I’m more fun than you, squirt. Don’t you know only old men drink their gut-killer black?”

Tim’s eyes fell to the floor. “Yeah; that’s what my dad says. S’why he always loads his up with expensive creamer.”

Ah. So the kid was trying not to be like his dad. And if he knew Tim, Jason was willing to bet the kid only got coffee when his parents weren’t around. Boy howdy, did Jason know the feeling. So Jason just wrinkled up his nose and went, “Ew. That’s just…ew. Even black’s better than that.”

“I know, right! I’d take it with sugar, but well, with my allowance, I can only pay Miss Francis to pick up the grounds. And my parents would notice if some of the sugar or milk went missing.”

Jason froze. “...Tim. Are you telling me. That your parents keep a record of what you freaking eat?”

The mug in Tim’s hand froze halfway to his lips. “I…well…you see…that is…they don’t…like me…in…the kitchen? Exactly? I mean, I can fix myself some cereal, but…that’s pretty much it.”

Oh Jason was going to kill the Drakes. Never mind the kid obviously couldn’t cook worth a shit, that was what practice was for. “Tim, I’m going to ask you something, and I want you to answer me honestly. Are your parents going to notice the missing sandwiches?”

Tim’s hands were imperceptibly shaking as he set his mug down on the counter. “I mean…the bread, probably not. But, like, the eggs and other stuff…probably, yeah. My mom likes to think she’s a chef. Not even dad touches her ingredients.”

Here lies Jack and Janet Drake. Killed by their own stupidity. Namely, annoying the Paladin. 

Jason’s mind began to whir as he stared down at the frying egg. He had to replace it. He had to replace everything. The last thing he needed was Tim getting in trouble for being a decent human being. 

Money. He’d have to get more money. What he’d gotten from Marco the other day wouldn’t cut it. Not when he knew for a fact the cheese alone was probably worth a stupid amount of cash. 

He’d have to sell some of his things. But it’d be worth it. 

“Alright,” Jason exhaled and flipped the egg onto the bread. “Alright. I’ll take care of it, Tim. I’ll get everything and put it back the way it’s supposed to go.”

“Do…” Tim cleared his throat. “Do you need money? My parents gave me a debit card; I’m only supposed to use it to pay for lunch and dinner out, but we can…”

Jason cut him off mid-sentence. “Nah, they’ll probably notice you’ve swiped it at someplace that’s not a fast food joint. Don’t worry squirt; I know a place to get the cash.”

“Really?”

“Really really. Now finish your breakfast; you’ve got school to get to.”

God, Jason was starting to sound like a dad. He was too young for this nonsense. 

Tim swallowed, then frowned. “So…you can turn into a kid.”

“...Yesssss…” Jason hesitatingly replied. 

“And you can…fly?”

“Uh-huh…” Jason really wasn’t sure where Tim was going with this.

“Plus super strength and lightning bolts.”

“Correct.”

“So, like…what else can you do?”

Jason opened his mouth, then stopped. “For instance?”

“Well…can you teleport?”

“Err…sort of?”

“Coooooooool.” Tim breathed. “Can you shoot lasers?”

“Uh, no.”

“Awwww. Can you go to space?”

“Yes.”

“Can you survive in space?”

“Yes.”

“Can you freeze things?”

“Magically, yes.”

“Can you melt things?”

“Same answer.”

“Are you fireproof?”

“Yes.”

“Bulletproof?”

“Yes.”

“Waterproof?”

Jason did a double-take. “Waterproof?”

Tim blushed. “Sorry; got carried away. Meant to say, can you breathe underwater?”

“Breathe, no. Survive, yes.”

“Cool! So you could, like, visit Aquaman if you wanted.”

“Yes. But I wouldn’t be able to say much without air. Trust me, I speak from experience.”

“YOU’VE BEEN TO ATLANTIS???!!!”

Had he?

Yes. He had. 

Okay, if that inner monologue popped up one more time, Jason was gonna slam his head into the wall. He could answer his own damn internal questions, thank you very much!

No need to get so pissy. 

That did it. Jason swiped his mug from the counter and in a single gulp, downed the rest of his coffee. It may have been black, but it was more than Jason usually got, so he wasn’t complaining. 

“Right!” He slammed the mug back down. “I’m going to get my things. Things that I should have gotten last night, not in the middle of the day. What time does this Miss Francis normally show up?”

“Uh, around eleven o’clock. Had a half-day of classes once and got home before she came.”

“Got it. Dump my stuff here and be out again by eleven. You,” Jason pointed, “are sleeping in your own damn room tonight. Not some fricking chair. I’ll crash on the couch or something.”

“But…” Tim started.

“Nuh-uh.” Jason waggled his finger. “No buts. Full stop. All I need you to tell me is how you normally sneak outta this place, and then I’m gone.”

Tim just stared at him. 

“...What?”

“It’s just…you’re not talking the same way you were last night.”

Was he? Huh. Weird. “It’s called code-switching, kid. I’m trying to blend in.”

Tim gave him a sideways glance. “If you say so…”

“I do say so. Now, exit, please.”

“Fine. I keep the balcony door unlocked. I climb down, and then there’s a hole in the back fence. You crawl through the hole and go right in the hedge. Go left and you’ll end up at Wayne Manor.”

“Wayne Manor? That round here?”

“Yeah, I just said so. They’re technically my neighbors.”

He’d known the Drake’s were rich from the size of their roof alone. He just hadn’t known they were that rich. 

“Huh.” he said. “Noted. Don’t go left. You got everything for school?”

Tim responded by holding up a backpack that was almost bigger than he was. 

“...I’ll take that as a yes. Have a good day, don’t get in any fights, and if you do, make sure you have blackmail on everybody.”

Tim nodded like it was the most important advice he’d ever heard. Which, to be fair, it probably was. 

A bob down the hallway, and Jason was left all alone. 

With an entire kitchen to clean up. 

Joy.






Jason may have been dumb, but he wasn’t a dumbass. There was something decidedly funky going on. 

And no, he wasn’t talking about literally everything that had happened to him in the past few days. 

Although, now that he was thinking about it, he probably should be including all of that everything under ‘something funky’, but every time the thought occurred to him, it just sort of…slid away. Almost like some hidden part of him was going nah, this is all perfectly fine and normal, nothing to worry about here. 

And the more he didn’t get worried, the more he did. 

Tim may have been the first to notice it, but as he flew onwards into Gotham, Jason could begin to see more differences than he cared to. For one, his complete flip of attitude between the lack of safety Tim’s parents had left him with and the kid’s literal desire to run around and punch supervillains. 

For another, Jason’s decision the previous day to escort the injured criminals to the clinic. If it had been literally any other day, Jason would’ve left ‘em to die and good riddance. Where had his sudden morality come from? 

And speaking of morality, why had he just up and forgotten that Batman notoriously hated anything non-human in ‘his’ city. Poison Ivy was the only exception to the rule, and that was because even Batman was hesitant to get on her bad side. But aliens/magicals/metahumans? Nuh-uh. No way. Even the Justice League stayed out of Gotham in deference to Batman. So why had Jason so willingly agreed to stay in Gotham at all?

Actually, no, that should be the other way around: he was Crime Alley borned and raised, dammit! And he was sticking with it! Where in Zeus were these delusions of bounding around the globe coming from?

Thirdly! (Or was it fourthly?)  His language! Things were even more different than Tim had noticed. Going from calling him ‘son’ and ‘young one’ to just plain ‘kid’ or ‘Tim’ was one thing; starting to punctuate his swears with Greek deities was another entirely. 

No doubt about it. Something decidedly funky going on. 

Had becoming the guardian ( Paladin) changed him more than just physically? He already knew waaaaay more than he should about what he was capable of. Not to mention what he could eventually master given time. Divination, yes, but also Evocation, Transmutation, Invocation, and a whole bunch of other -ations. 

Maybe even Damnation (ha! Good one!).

But seriously…he was changing. And whether it was a change he wanted or not, he didn’t know. Much less how to fight it if he didn’t. 

He’d have to look into it. For now, his first hiding place in the Alley was fast approaching. Best to get on street level and change to regular old Jason Todd to get his stuff. Marco might not be pleased to have a costumed superhuman come in trying to do business. 

 


 

The motorcycle Jason had found was parked out in front of Marco’s. With new tires on it, of course. Marco must’ve found a buyer already. Sweet. 

Now, what Jason had to sell wouldn’t exactly set him up for life, but it’d at least pay for cheese and bacon. His heart panged a little at giving up his dog-eared copy of Pride and Prejudice, but after two hundred read-throughs, he was pretty sure he could quote the entire thing from memory. 

The rest of his cooking gear was in his bag as well. One propane stove with no propane, one half-melted spatula, various assorted pots and pans he’d never actually used but always hoped he’d have a reason to someday. 

They’d been his mom’s. 

He didn’t want to…he really, really didn’t want to…but then he thought of Tim’s tear-stained face, and he shoved all those feelings deep down inside to never, ever, come back up. Ish. 

So he gritted his teeth, stepped around the corner…and froze when he saw who was inside. 

Black leather, from head to toe. A coiled whip, hanging from a clip. Stilettos that any Italian mobster would be proud to own. And from the back, Jason could see a cowl that flared out ever so slightly on the side in the semblance of ears. 

Catwoman. 

As if his life couldn’t get any more surreal. 

“You listen to me, Marco,” she said, leaning over the counter, “I’m gonna give you to the count of three. And if after that, you still haven’t told me the name of the brat that pinched the tires off my ride out there,” Catwoman jerked her head back towards the door, “then I’m going to start with your hairline and work my way down. Slice. By. Slice. Am I clear?”

“Looka Miss Cat,” Marco stammered, “I ain’t a-got no idea whattya talking about!”

Catwoman hissed. “Wrong answer. One.”

This was bad. This was so bad. Jason had left the Batmobile, but to make up for it, he’d gone and robbed the fricking Catwoman. 

“Two.”

He had to fix this. He had to. Marco was gonna get sliced up into kitty liver. Marco was too nice to be made into kitty litter. The Alley needed him; he was the only one around that actually cared about the runners. 

“Three. Time’s up, love. Say bye-bye to those few remaining locks.”

“SHAZAM!”

Jason strode forward, the door blowing open with a flick of his finger. “Is there a problem here, Marco? It seems like this nice young woman is causing you a bit of trouble.”

Catwoman hissed again (really, what was it with all the hissing lately?) “Clear out, James Garner, this is between me and the pond scum here.”

Oh, now Jason was mad. “Ma’am, if you were in any way familiar with Crime Alley, you would be aware that the good Mister Ramierez here is hardly pond scum. And he certainly has more honor and loyalty than you. So,” Jason allowed himself to float ever so slightly into the air, adding a hint of lighting to his eyes as he spoke, “how about you be on your way, and we’ll forget that this little affair ever happened.”

Catwoman just smirked. “Somehow, I don’t think you’re ever gonna be forgetting this, Captain Handsome. Catch!”

The glowing green knife came hurtling through the air. Kryptonite. Because of course the best thief in all of Gotham had access to Superman’s Achilles heel. 

The knife tumbled once; twice; hit…and just like the blade from the day before, shattered against Jason’s chest. 

Catwoman’s stunned look was one Jason almost wished Tim was around to photograph. “Very well. Let it not be said that I did not give you a chance.”

And with that, Jason turned and floated for the motorcycle. 

CRUNCH!

SCREEEEEEEK!

WHUMP!

It had physically pained Jason to do that. He was more of a classic car guy, but even he could appreciate the appeal of what had once been a brand new Ducati. 

“This is your only warning, Catwoman. There are rules in this Alley. Rules that everyone plays by; even me. And rule number one is this: you don’t lean on Marco. Now, run along, Miss Cat. Something tells me it’s past your bedtime.”

The devastated look on Catwoman’s face was quickly replaced by one of sheer rage. “The Bat will run you out of town in less than a week, you monster. And I’ll be back to help him do it; mark my words.”

“Good.” Jason replied. “If Batman starts to actually care about things here in Crime Alley, then it’ll be the first good thing he’s done since putting on that mask. And now, Miss Cat…”

Jason traced the oh-so-familiar Greek letters in the air, then shoved. “Tell the Commissioner that Paladin sent you.”

And with an explosion of rainbow color, Catwoman disappeared. 

Shakily, Marco pushed himself back up into his chair and straightened his glasses. “Where…where did you a-send her, son?”

“The rooftop of GCPD Headquarters, via the Greek parcel system.” Jason smirked. “That ought to dampen her fur somewhat.”

Marco snorted. “Good. Up-a-town brat; got-a no business running around here. Now then; whattya do I owe you-a for the protection, Mister…Paladin?”

“Nothing at all, sir.” replied Jason. “I know how essential you are to keeping this area civil. Let’s consider your safety a matter of…community service.”

“Community service.”

“Yes sir.”

“Well in that a-case…I believe-a the fee for delivery of recovered litter to the a-proper disposal site is four-hundred dollars per ton.”

“...I’m not sure I follow you, sir.”

“Well,” Marco pointed to the now thoroughly scrapped Ducati, “don’t that-a look like a half-a-ton of a-litter to you?”

Understanding dawned. “You know, sir,” Jason grinned, “I really think it does.”

“Then-a congratulations, son. Cause this-a just-a became a proper disposal site. Two-hundred-a dollars, coming up!”

And Jason hadn’t even had to sell the stove. “And what about these kryptonite shards on the floor, sir?”

“Kryptonite?” Marco shrugged and began walking into the back. “I don’t-a see no kryptonite.”

Even better. 

 




As Jason shuffled his way through the hole in the fence, he finally got a good look at Tim’s house from the back. Weird shapes; angles that didn’t quite meet; roof that went nowhere fast. Circles where there should be squares and squares where there should be circles. 

Jason was suddenly hit with a recollection of a movie he’d once watched on his mom’s old black and white TV. A film about a family of city-slickers that moved into a house out in the country. With a mom that liked to cook, a dad that liked to be left alone, and a kid that enjoyed photography. 

“Beetlejuice. Wack.”

If he ran into any ghosts by the name of Maitland, he was conducting an exorcism; tragic backstory or no tragic backstory. 

Ah-ha! Just as promised, Tim had left the balcony door unlocked. Jason let himself in silently (he hadn’t seen a car in the driveway, but still better safe than sorry), and then crept his way through Tim’s bedroom and down to the kitchen. After, of course, stashing his bag in the closet (where he tripped over something that turned out to be his tire iron. How it'd got there, he had no idea.)

Once downstairs, into the fridge went the cheese (forty bucks!), the bacon (twenty!), and finally, the eggs (only five, but still!). Which meant he still had most of a block of cheese, three-quarters of a slab of bacon, and ten eggs to make himself lunch and dinner with. Sweet!

Out came the pan Jason had already washed once that day. Stove, turned on to about seven. Egg, cracked and sizzling. Now all he had to do was watch and wait.

While he sat, he began to think. Big mistake, he knew. But it was bugging him: what had an uptown skank like Catwoman been doing down in Crime Alley? She was infamous as one of those fake Robin Hood types; only stealing from the rich to feed herself. The closet anyone ever came to ‘rich’ in the Alley was ‘drug lord’, and somehow that didn’t seem like the sort of person Catwoman would be stupid enough to bother. So why?

She’d had a kryptonite dagger. A dagger that was undoubtedly worth a lot of money. Maybe she’d stolen it and was using an Alley fence to sell it. But why not use one of her uptown fronts to sell?

Batman. Batman had shown up in the Alley at the exact same time as the Cat. She must’ve stolen the dagger from him, and he had retaliated by going after her fences. It wasn’t much of a theory (Jason could already see some holes in it), but it made more sense than Jason liked. 

Because if Batman had only come to the Alley for Catwoman…then he still didn’t care at all. Didn’t care about all the little people whose heads he flew over every night.
Jason should’ve known. 

Sighing, Jason flipped his egg over and sprinkled some pepper in. Well, it’d just have to be him then, wouldn’t it? The defender of Crime Alley. Joy. He could hardly wait. 

RING RING!

The hell?

Was…was that the doorbell?

Why the hell would the housekeeper be ringing the doorbell? She had a key, for crying out loud!

RING RING!

Aw hell, maybe she’d been locked out. Jason could see it now; one of those tiny little biddies that absolutely refused to use a cane and called everyone ‘dear’ no matter how old they were. The Miss Francis-es of the world, Zeus bless them. 

Should probably let her in.

Sure, if it actually was Miss Francis standing out there. For all he knew it was a nosey salesperson. 

There was a gate at the end of the drive you could see in a flyover. Meant to keep salespeople out. 

True. Ah well, what harm could it do to check?

Jason slid the pan onto a cool burner and then killed the stove. His tire iron slid into his hand as he stealthily made his way to the front door. 

There was a peephole in the door, just barely at Jason's eye level. He looked through and...nothing. No one. 

Had the ringer left? Given up? Or had they just been a delivery man, dropping off a package? Rich people still had those, right?

Well if no one was around, then Jason was going to check.

Lock one, lock two, bolt, chain, and…

The door swung open to reveal a frail old gentlemen squatting on the doorstep. Suspiciously close to the keyhole. 

Jason blinked. 

“...Something tells me you ain’t Miss Francis.”

The gentleman pulled himself upright as he straightened his cravat. “Somehow, young sir, I don’t believe you are, either. What, pray tell, are you doing in this house?”

Chapter Text

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?