I can feel their claws trying to dig their way in...
"I give my body to kings; but I hide my deceit in dreams."
Chapter 34: Nightmare
It had been three days and people were dying and they were chasing down shit leads, Jason realized as he leapt from rooftop to rooftop. Batman was ahead of him, grim and scary as fuck. Making moments such as these unbearable to wear the new Robin suit. When his red and dark green uniform weighed him down. Also, it really made Jason crave a cigarette. Something Alfred would kill him for doing, while Bruce would glare or give Dick a call and his brother would then proceed to give him the guilt trip from hell and no, just no.
So, no matter what, he was screwed. As were the thirteen people Crane, a.k.a. 'Scarecrow,' put into the hospital, all of them raving mad. The victims all trapped in nightmares, which apparently, if you died in them, you stayed dead. An eleven year old girl had been the first victim. She'd been staying at a friend's house for a slumber party. She died thirty minutes ago, the last of Batman's antidotes failing.
Worse still, nothing seemed to be able to slow Crane's new toxin. Hence why they were currently dashing across the Narrows at a dead run, Crane probably hightailing it off the planet with how pissed The Bat was. They stopped at a warehouse and peered through the fogged glass. Down into the lab below where Crane seemed to be scrambling about, searching for something. His brown knit mask hanging off his face like a pale ghost.
"Wait, here." Batman ordered, "Hack the computers once the goons are taken care of." He growled, which more or less seemed to reverberate through the air and Jason wondered how on earth Bruce did that.
"How do you figure I do that, boss?" Jason asked and Bruce stepped back and jumped forward, shattering the glass and going down. The screaming and gunfire started almost immediately. Jason wondered why the idiots even bothered.
He was about to follow down when the shadows seemed to move, the motions to fluid to be one of Crane's men. Before he even realized it, Jason was up and following in a heartbeat as he heard the crazed psychologist scream below.
Jason only had to catch sight of the figure in a sliver of moonlight for him to know who he was chasing. Instantly it had him pushing his limits, pulling out a sharpened disk, aiming it at the teens back with practiced movements.
He threw it, watching as it sailed and was sliced in two by a katana so thin it appeared unbalanced. The sword being sheathed as quickly as it was drawn. The ninja pulled up short, regarding Jason with a blank sense of curiosity. Prompting Jason to stop running and grin a bawdy grin.
"Shadow, you know, for a ninja you sure suck at staying hidden." Jason taunted watching as the older teen tilted his head to one side, ice blue eyes terrifyingly cold. One hand pocketing something.
"Perhaps I wished to be seen, kid?"
Jason bristled at that, "shut up. You're under arrest and I'm asking nicely, please resist." He begged and somehow he knew the older teen was smiling.
Suddenly, Jason was extremely glad Lucius—no, sorry—Mr. Fox, had improved the Batman and Robin suits to be lighter and faster. Because shit, Shadow could move. And the teen wasn't pulling his punches. Not like last time, when the teen had the audacity to sneak into the old JLA headquarters and steal data, no this time Shadow was aiming to damage. To hurt.
"So much for venting my frustration." Jason growled, dodging a blow that would have left him benched. He twisted, and put all the force he could into kicking the teen's side, feeling bone give. Not enough to break, but it would sure hurt like a bitch.
Right when the younger of the two Robins was really starting to get into the fight, Shadow suddenly jerked away, heading towards the edge of the roof.
"No way are you getting away." Jason hissed, when in one last —albeit stupid move— he lunged forward, and tackled the teen from behind. Shadow let out a shocked noise, the two going down onto the pavement. Rolling around like a couple of children until Shadow actually had to shove Jason away before diving off the edge and disappearing into the darkness.
Jason sat up and groaned, "What rattled him?" He asked rubbing his jaw from where Shadow had elbowed him.
"I did." Bruce growled, landing with a slight thump (a testament to how pissed off he was) as he stalked forward to glare over the edge before turning that same glare on Jason, who felt he was entirely underserving of receiving the batglare.
"I gave you strict orders, Robin."
"Yeah, and if I'd followed those we'd have nanta." Jason retorted, grinning up at Bruce while holding out a small vial. Which the Bat took and pocketed and Robin hopped up from where he was sitting, figuring it was probably safe to move.
"So, am I off the hook?" Jason asked, Bruce's only response was to step off the building's edge and into the batmobile that had just pulled up.
"Show off." Jason grumbled but he none the less hopped in the car.
It wasn't until they were illegally driving through the streets of Gotham that Bruce gruffly said, "Good job." Then promptly went back to ignoring the world.
Jason counted it as progress.
When they pulled into the cave, Alfred was already waiting for them. The aging butler calm as always.
"Hi, Alfie!" Jason called, as he pulled off the Robin mask and dashed forward. "We found something. Well, I found something but semantics." Jason said as Bruce strode past, lowering the cowl.
"We're running out of time." Bruce said, "And Crane pleaded that he knew nothing about the side effects his new drug would cause. He said he was being used."
"Strange." Alfred admitted, smiling fondly to Jason as the two of them followed behind Bruce, who held the vial in hand.
"I take it that is what Master Todd was referring to?" Alfred asked, when he received no answer from Bruce, turned to Jason.
"Huh? Yes, jeez, why am I always the spokesperson?" He questioned.
"Because being The Bat has certain requirements, one of them is to never give away facts until absolutely necessary. Dire even." Another voice answered and Jason and Alfred both turned to see Dick descending the stairs. His black hair shorter but still spiked, his uniform darker then Jason ever remembered seeing. And his sky blue eyes held an air of seriousness to them that had not been present six months ago. In short, his older brother looked like a younger version of Bruce in the making, which was all sorts of creepy coming from the normally cheerful acrobat.
"Ah, Master Grayson, welcome home."
The leader of the Titans sighed, hugging the butler tightly, "Alfred, how many times must I ask that you call me by my name?" Dick asked and the white haired man smiled.
"At least once more." He replied and Dick chuckled before turning to Jason. Those eyes lighting up in pride, "Hey lil'bro, so what's this I hear about you besting Shadow?"
Jason beamed, his chest swelling in happiness and although their world seemed to be going to hell. That wasn't anything Jason couldn't handle.
"Yeah, I kicked his black ninja ass."
Dick burst out laughing while Alfred had to restrain from rolling his eyes. Instead, settling on a sigh. Jason on the other hand felt himself relax, watching the tension in the sixteen year old fall away.
"That doesn't surprise me. By the way, sorry about missing your birthday, here," Dick said holding out a rectangular package, carefully wrapped in dark green paper that had crisp folds and a black bat on it. Jason felt his throat constrict at the sight but he coughed to cover it up and tore into the package with exuberance.
"Holy…. Please tell me these are for real?" Jason said, taking out the throwing knives with reverence. The blades holding a faint blue glow. Dick merely smiled and handed Jason the sheath, "Yep. Alfred told me you'd been practicing, so I made you some. I interlaced the blades with ghost fighting material so they're lighter but still durable." He said watching fondly as Jason spun the knives then throw them into a target some distance away. The metal embedding itself easily into the wall behind. Proof of the younger Robin's strength.
"Master Todd!" Alfred exclaimed and Jason beamed, "what?" he said looking completely unrepentant to the butler. Who seemed to be trying to decide if he should praise or scold the thirteen year old for such recklessness. Dick only smiled and took a step away from the butler in case he decided to turn his ire on him.
"What are you doing here anyway? I thought being the leader of the Titans took up all your time?" Jason asked and Dick was about to answer when Bruce stepped forward, the same serious expression on his face as always.
"I called him. Alfred, please run this vial through the mass spectrometry, it's not showing up on the scans."
"Of course, Master Bruce." The butler said, taking the vial and disappearing into the lab.
Dick watched him go before turning back to his former mentor.
"You know, if you keep scowling like that your face will get wrinkles."
To this Jason snorted to cover his laugh, "that's what I keep telling him but he won't listen. And I'm telling you now, women won't dig the brooding billionaire-playboy thing."
As both Robin's smirked up at Bruce with identical expressions, the man had to fight the urge to snap at them for acting so lighthearted. Instead, his shoulders dropped by a millimeter and he let the corners of his mouth loosen.
"Focus you two. Dick, I called you for the information you've gathered on ghosts and manifestations. Specifically, how they can affect our world."
"Alright, but why now?" He asked as the three of them gathered around the main computer console. Bruce pulled up a screen where hundreds of articles, genetic codes, science reports, and news sightings of seemingly random attacks all appeared. Dick's mouth went slack at the sheer mass of information.
"You see what I have to deal with." Jason whispered before the Bat continued.
"As you know, the number of ghost sightings has gone up by twenty percent and it continues to rise. Three months ago a criminal known as Shadow broke into the base under Happy Harbor and stole the schematics for the JLA's newest ghost shields and weapons database." Bruce said not even looking at the keyboard or screen as he pulled up the surveillance, the teen in high focus.
"Tonight, Scarecrow claimed Shadow stole the vial containing the antidote to the latest of his nerve toxins which has caused one death and put thirteen in the hospital, with more teens coming in by the hour. Crane might be psychotic but he wouldn't lie about this."
"And why is that?" Jason asked frowning. Bruce merely pulled up the cameras showing the man in a hospital bed clasped in restraints.
"He wouldn't have used it on himself. After he collapsed the only word he kept repeating was Nocturne."
"That ghost who attacked Gotham a year ago?" Dick said surprised and Bruce nodded.
"I'm guessing the teen uses his skills for hire. What do you know about him?"
"Other than when Shadow helped us escape from Brother Bloods headquarters, not much. I haven't seen him since." Dick answered.
"Then we'll worry about him later. Right now I've placed Wayne's satellites in orbit to scan the city for any ghost activity. Once we locate Nocturne, we'll imprison him and send him back into the Ghost Zone. After, we'll track down who Shadow is working for." Bruce said pulling up the real time feed of the city and Jason let out a low whistle.
"So that's the modified tech Danny 'gave' you." Dick said not being able to stop the slight anger from creeping into his voice at Bruce's blatant disregard for the time the Justice League had imprisoned his friend. Jason elbowed Dick in the side and the Titan knelt down so his little brother could whisper in his ear.
"Don't worry, we're working on expressing remorse and apologies next." Jason said in a cheeky tone that made Dick smile, eyes alight in mirth.
"What are you working on now?" He asked.
Bruce pointedly ignored his two birds as they both broke out in laughter. Choosing instead to focus on Alfred as he walked up.
"It seems Crane's story checks out, this vial contained the counteragent to his new drug. It seems to raise the bodies' temperature, triggering a massive immune response while effecting the part of the brain that controls movements inducing a hyper-jerk thus awakening the patient. After that the ectoplasum in the body is broken down and passes through the system naturally."
"Wait, ectoplasum? What exactly is in Crane's new toxin?" Dick said in shock as Bruce asked Alfred to send the vial to Lucius for mass production, the butler already saying it was done.
"His usual concoction that places the body into a panic induced and hallucinogenic state, only there were large amounts of adenosine interlaced with dormant ectoplasum, that when introduced to a host through aerosol form activates, spreads through the host, and once Crane's poison makes the person pass out from fear, the ectoplasum works to keep the victim asleep until they die."
"What?!" Dick said in horrid shock, "how's that possible?" He growled to himself as the three prepared to leave, the satellites zeroing in on a historic mansion near the outskirts of Gotham. Which meant it was completely run down and made Jason's skin crawl as he hopped in the back of the batmobile, Dick going to his motorcycle.
"So, when will I get my own wheels?" Jason asked to the back of Bruce's cowl as they sped through the tunnels.
"Focus, Robin." Batman growled while Jason heard his big brother snort into the comm. link.
"How about next year?"
"No." Bruce interjected as both teens snipped back and forth.
Danny dropped down into the old mansion with quiet ease. His ice blue eyes having no trouble adjusting to the nearly pitch black room. With his hand on the hilt of his katana, he navigated the halls until coming to the living room. If one could call it that, the place was big enough to house over one hundred people comfortably. Only now it was saturated in sickly green light from the Sleepwalkers who floated about. Staring at him with blank, unseeing desire, it made Danny skirt around them as he headed to the sun room where Nocturne sat.
The ghost of dreams gazing up at the night sky, white energy flowing into him, and he in turn released a dark blue aura from his jet black hands into vials of poison. Sighing, a blissful expression came over the ram's face. It made the blood in Danny's body run cold and he could feel the terror of nightmares try and lock him in illusions. He hissed suddenly when a stray walker crept too close at sensing his distress, and Danny's sword was out in one smooth motion, decapitating the beast.
"It is not wise to do that, Shadow." Vlad Masters said stepping out of a dark corner and Danny turned to give him a small bow.
"Forgive me, it will not happen again." He replied lilting his voice as he heard Nocturne chuckle.
"Leave him, Masters. My children's deaths are of little consequence, for they are a testament of my growing strength."
"I take it then that the drug is working properly?"
To this, Nocturne opened his blood red eyes and hummed in contentment.
"Yes, I can feel my poison taking root with each drug induced sleep. So many addicted teens, such horrifying nightmares. They are truly delightful. Even you child," Nocturne said turning jewel eyes upon Danny. "I can taste your fear even through the shields you guard your mind in." the ghost said, floating forward in a robe of stars and Danny could feel a haze settle on him. As if he would fall into those stardusted arms. Danny was lost in that red gaze. A cold hand squeezing his neck.
"I want nothing more than to devour you." The fanged beast said.
Danny wrenched away when Vlad stepped between them, grinning while he raised his palms to placate the being.
"Come now, it wouldn't be professional of me to let my associate lose his apprentice simply to state your hunger." Vlad chided while Nocturne moved away to resume his tasks. Danny caught his breath as Vlad turned eyes full of false concern on him.
"Are you all right, my boy?"
I'm not your boy, Danny thought as he shoved down his revulsion at having been saved by the older man and gave a low bow. "Yes, thank you, sir."
Vlad gave a proud smirk and looked back to the ghost.
"How much longer will it take?"
"Not long. Soon I will have enough power for my Sleepwalkers to go forth and spread my poison over the entire city and then I will devour it all into the realm of nightmares."
"And I will finally be able to locate the bat's cave and put a stop to that man's blasted meddling in my affairs." Vlad growled low in his throat and Danny felt proud that Robin's mentor was putting such a dent in the fruitloops life. Especially when the halfa couldn't do it himself. Danny jolted when he heard Vlad address him.
"Shadow, were you able to retrieve the vial from Crane's lab?" the man asked and Danny shook his head.
"I'm afraid not. The younger bird who is always by Batman's side managed to take it from me." Danny answered and Nocturne gave a yell of rage before he whirled around to face the ninja, and struck him in the chest with midnight ectoplasum.
This time, Vlad only gave a glancing look as the teen crumbled to the ground.
"You foolish mortal! That vial is the only thing that has the power to stop me! And you lose it to a child?!" Nocturne raged. Striking once more and Danny bit down hard on the inside of his cheek to muffle the cries. When it became apparent that he wouldn't scream, Nocturne turned away his starry robe fluttering in agitation.
"It matters not, soon I will be strong enough to cover the whole city in my poison and by then there will be nothing anyone can do."
Danny had only spit out the blood and struggled to his feet when the entire building blazed with glowing blue light and Nocturne let out a piercing scream. The windows shattering inwards as Batman and his two Robin's rushed in. A strange gas filling the room making Danny feel buzzed and strangely hyper while he pulled out the Dragon's Gale to deflect the bo staff that Robin used. The teen noting that his blade seemed to be glowing dully as the Sleepwalkers dissolved into mist.
"What the hell?" Danny said, and the older Robin smirked through his gas mask.
"Not exactly." And he charged, leaving Danny to feel off kilter. His head swimming as he fought the Titan who nearly succeeded in taking him down while trying to get to Masters. The gas in the room was dispersing and Nocturne was screaming in rage and pain as he fought the dynamic duo. Yet Danny couldn't focus on that, for Robin had managed to sweep past him and charge at Masters who stood calm in the corner, a dark shadow behind him.
Before anything could happen to his friend, Danny was vaulting through up into the air, sheathing his sword as the familiar charge of lighting surged through him. In a twist, he landed in front of Vlad whose eyes widened at the ninja in front of him, and Danny released a burst of electricity from his palms into the Titans chest. Sending the teen back five feet as they heard Nocturne give a final cry before being sucked into a black ghost thermos.
"We need to go, Mister Masters." Danny said drawing his sword as the younger Robin ran at them, blades dropping into his hands. Vlad seemed to shake off the strange look in his eyes and in a bored fashion surveyed their predicament.
"Yes, I suppose we should."
With a snap of his fingers a clone of Plasmius appeared who prepared to teleport them away. Danny having to fight not stabbing the black gloved hand that gripped his shoulder. When the younger Robin growled.
"Oh, no you don't!" And threw two glowing knives. It was an automatic reaction, Danny moved and caught the blades, rotating them in the same motion and flinging them back to Robin, knowing full well that they would miss the younger teen by centimeters. But from another's perspective, it was quite different.
Before black energy swirled them out of sight, Danny caught sight of his Titan friend lunging in front, right as the blades sank home.
Jason felt horror grip him as he watched Dick stumble into his arms with two blades protruding from his shoulder blades.
"Shit! Br…Batman!" Jason called, lowering his big brother onto the ground as the teen winced through his black domino mask, the lines of his red suit growing darker.
"I'm fine, little wing." Dick said attempting a smile that turned into a grimace as Bruce strode over, glare firmly in place beside the Titan. Dick noticed Jason squirm guiltily.
"What happened?" Batman ordered and Dick sighed in frustration as his wounds were examined.
"I saved little wings life." He snapped before hissing as a blade was pulled from his shoulder only to be replaced by pressure.
"That's not what I asked." Bruce snapped, the second blade came free and this time Dick couldn't contain his scream. Beside them Jason paled before seeming to break down.
"I'm sorry, I aimed that attack at Shadow. He was getting away and it was meant to incapacitate him and the ghost beside him so that you could take them on and apprehend Masters. I didn't know he would be able to catch them and throw them back!" Jason pleaded his hands nervously rubbing together as Bruce scowled at him.
"That was a possibility you should have considered. Always assume the enemy can out maneuver your weapons. If Robin hadn't anticipated it, you would be dead."
Jason seemed to flush at this. His eyes falling to the ground, body taunt, and Dick let out a growl as he stood up, being careful not to move his arms.
"Batman, relax. He made a mistake, nothing I didn't do at his age and a ton of stuff I know you're grateful he hasn't done. Besides, at least we know my blades work the way I wanted them too."
Jason shot the Titan a grateful look before hearing Bruce give an indecipherable grunt as he turned away, heading towards the car parked outside the mansion in the grass.
"Let's go, you still require medical attention."
Dick let out a sigh and shot Jason a comforting smile, "good job, little wing. I'd ruffle your hair, but my range of motion right now is pretty shot." He said as he watched the younger teen shoot him a glare, "like you could catch me, golden boy." The Titan raised a curious eyebrow at the nickname but still accepted Jason's help getting back into the batmobile. When Dick was strapped in he suddenly realized the problem.
"Wait, my bike!" Dick said whirling around to see his brother grinning like the chesire cat.
"Don't worry, I won't crash it!" The younger Robin called, waving the keys he'd pickpocketed from Dick's belt in the air. As Bruce sped back to the cave he pointedly ignored the holes his oldest charge was attempting to burn in the back of his cowl.
"You already taught him how to ride a motorcycle?" Dick hissed, no longer sounding like the carefree acrobat or apprentice to the Batman. He sounded like the leader of the Titans and Bruce wasn't sure if it was a good change.
"In fairness, he already knew how to ride them due to his time living on the streets." Bruce justified. It didn't impress the Titan at all.
Danny was kneeling in front of Brother Blood as the man ranted about the failures of the growing generation and specifically, him.
"Of all the things Shadow, to let yourself be beaten by a child. I cannot fathom what must have been running through your mind for that horrid slipup? Your grades, what you wanted to eat, girls? It better not be your hormones." Blood said whirling around on him with a panicked look and Danny was extremely grateful for his mask as he shook his head.
"No, sensei." Danny answered as Blood let out a frustrated yet relieved huff and turned to Vlad who was gazing at the scene with a sense of amusement and curiosity.
"Forgive my pupil, this is the first time such a failing has occurred and understand, he will be dealt with, strictly." Blood answered to Vlad who hummed never taking his eyes off the teen.
"Oh, do not worry yourself too badly. Shadow handled himself admirably and I still managed to get more information than I anticipated. Tell me, how long has he been able to produce lighting?" Masters asked looking back to Blood in innocent curiosity. Danny silently begged Blood not to fall for that false mask. Yet the man with wispy white hair only sighed in exasperation, flitting his hands around as he went to grab a glass of wine.
"Oh, for about six or seven months. Shadow tried to hide it from me since it has the ability to stop his heart but I wasn't about to let that possibility stop my pupil from progressing." Blood chimed motioning for Danny to rise. He did so, quickly darting into the shadows behind the man so he could watch Vlad give a smirk the teen knew all too well.
"Hmm? It must be difficult developing such a painful power. Well, I know a thing or two about fire cores, it applies to ghosts but…call me if you're ever in need of a teacher." Vlad said, his eyes burning red before he disappeared in a swirl of ecto-energy.
Danny felt himself stiffen from Vlad's words. Had he realized it was him underneath the mask? It didn't really matter and soon it was far from the human's mind when Brother Blood strode forward and a clawed hand gripped under his chin forcing his eyes to meet blood red.
"Now, Daniel, tell me everything that transpired and all that you thought."
Danny felt his body give a violent tremble, pain lancing every synapsis in his mind. Forcing memoires to rise up unbidden to the forefront and he found himself opening his mouth to answer, his own eyes a clouded red.
"I carried out my mission as asked. I served Vlad Masters and retrieved anything he required which included stealing hospital records in Gotham and the vial of antidote from Crane's lab. I lost it to the younger Robin who works with Batman. The child taking me by surprise, he actually tackled me from behind to get the thing. I thought he was only trying to hold me until Batman arrived, like last time, but apparently not.
When the mansion was attacked by the trio, I fought the Titan leader utilizing my lightening ability in order for Mr. Masters to escape as he teleported us away. But not before the younger Robin threw throwing knives at me. I redirected them to go over the child's shoulders but the other one, the Titan, jumped in front of them. From what I could tell, he'll live."
With this, Brother Blood released the teen, and Danny stumbled back gasping for breath, sweat beading his brow, eyes icy blue once more as he undid the ties of his mask. Letting it pool around his neck, showing a blackening bruise. Blood had a thoughtful frown on his face. "Why did you simply not kill the bird?" He asked watching carefully as Daniel's eyes flashed, countless emotions crossing the teens face. Before settling on resolve that Blood knew came from the teen struggling not to lie to him now that he was free of his control. It made the old man's heart swell in pride.
"I couldn't kill him. I don't think I'm ready for that, or to be hunted by the Batman my entire life." Danny said after a moment, visibly shuddering and Blood grinned at that, pleased with his apprentice.
"You will, one day. However this will put you back from meeting my longtime friend Ra's Al Ghul, and I so wanted him to be the one to perfect your swordsmanship." Blood said in disappointment. Danny raised an eyebrow but said nothing.
"We will add four more hours to your training session and I expect you to work on teamwork with the Red Huntress and Bumblebee now that I've taken them on as well, understood?"
Danny bowed, "Yes, sir."
"Good, then I will see you bright and early in training room three. The others are being renovated at the moment." Blood said dismissing Danny shortly after.
The now human teen beat a hasty retreat, winding through the halls being built, the construction being done by robots. Danny ignored them, choosing instead to take the halls with the least. He'd had more than enough of mindless drones for the day. Feeling exhausted, but knowing that sleep would elude him. Danny opened the door to his room and stepped inside, shutting it with a press of his palm before leaning against the metal.
Valarie looked up from cleaning her weapons to gaze at him in worry and surprise.
"Danny? I thought Blood had you living in the city?" She said getting up to greet him with a hug that hurt his sides. Danny hugged her just as fiercely.
"I may have been called back after screwing up a mission." He said, running a hand through black hair and feeling it snag in messy tangles. Valarie momentarily looked panicked as she noticed the bruise lining his neck.
"Blood didn't…" She trailed off tugging the outer part of his shozoku down to get better access to the wound and Danny held his palms up.
"No! It was a ghost called Nocturne who did that, and Batman and his two birds ended up capturing him in a thermos. So my guess is we won't be seeing him for a while." He explained moving out of her embrace with the sole intent of getting into the steam shower for the next hour or so.
Valarie however, looked unconvinced and frowned, "Danny, I don't like this. You're putting yourself at risk." She said ignoring the way her heart fluttered as he untied the belt at his waist before barring his chest. Jeez, she'd forgotten how clueless he could be. Just because they hadn't done anything and they shared a bed didn't mean that she didn't…fantasize about him. As Valarie's face turned a brilliant shade of scarlet at that thought, a frown overtook Danny's face.
"We've been through this Val, I'm not doing anything risker then what you're doing." He growled, the Dragon's Gale coming to rest on the desk. Valarie crossed her arms and glared.
"I'm not the one already being sent out on missions by a…the Headmaster." She caught herself saying, instead of madman.
Danny met her eyes, his own chips of ice, "that doesn't matter." He hissed.
"Doesn't matter?" Valarie's scoffed, striding forward to glare up into those eyes, "Danny, that's the only thing that matters. Look at what you're becoming?!" She snapped before gripping one of his hands and raising it to their eyesight.
"Can I still trust you? Are you still Danny? Are you still Fenton?" She accused, yet pleading, and Danny recoiled, trying to jerk away from her. But Valarie's grip was stronger than the weapons she carried, leaving Danny to force away the phantom sensations of trying and phase his arm free. Even though he knew such a power no longer resided in his body.
"Let go, Valarie."
"Or what?" She countered.
Danny didn't know. He didn't know what to do, and at that moment he wilted. His whole form sagging and he rubbed at his eyes tiredly.
"Valarie, please, can we not do this tonight? I'm tired, I just want to take a shower and sleep before I have to wake up to four extra hours of training….well, today." He admitted, turning his eyes to see her own golden ones staring at him in openness. Emotions he couldn't name swirling in them. Yet Valarie quickly masked them and she dropped his arm and stepped away.
"Fine. But don't think this is over, Fenton." She mumbled and Danny smiled fondly and gave in to the urge to place a kiss on her forehead.
"Don't think this means I'll surrender." He shot back before stepping into the bathroom and shutting the door. Seconds later Valarie could hear the sounds of rushing water before she sighed in worry.
"Danny, what aren't you telling me?" She whispered, touching her still tingling forehead from those slightly chilled lips.
"Really, Master Grayson," Alfred tutted, "if you don't like stiches, then I suggest you avoid being target practice to throwing knives." The butler said as he finished tying the knot to the thread before handing the Titan a loose shirt.
Dick only rolled his eyes and pulled the large hoodie on, well he tried, Alfred had to help him with that as well.
"It's not like I was actively looking to get injured, things happen. It was either me or Jason and of the two of us, I picked myself. Comes with the territory of being a big brother." Dick said smiling as said teen walked in, sea green eyes glaring.
"That's a stupid rule." Jason said before stuffing his hands into his pockets.
"Bruce wants to see you, let's go."
With a quick nod to Alfred, Dick hopped off the examination table and followed after Jason as the two descended into the deepest parts of the cave.
"Um, where are we going?" Dick asked after they passed the lakes of water, the waterfall no longer being heard.
"Well, after apprehending Phantom and 'borrowing' his information, Bruce really started digging into the whole ghost tech stuff and well…he kind of built, this." Jason said pressing a button that opened the wall of rock to reveal.
"A Ghost Portal?" Dick exclaimed walking in. It was the only thing in the lead lined, ghost proof room. Besides Bruce, who was busy typing in codes and activating the portal. Yet Dick noticed as the room became encased in green light, a shimmer of white swirled in front of the ecto energy, Bruce empting the thermos into the Ghost Zone before closing the portal once more.
"Why?" Dick found himself asking as he walked forward to the older man who was no longer wearing the cape or cowl.
"Why not? Unless you planned on keeping Nocturne in the thermos, which isn't designed for long term containment. This allows me to study the Ghost Zone indefinitely and nothing can get past the iris I installed." Bruce answered handing over the design specs to Dick before he even asked and Jason snorted at the Titans stunned face. But before the young teen could give a witty retort, his wrist watch beeped and Jason let out a disgruntled noise.
"I completely forgot, I have a science exam today that I didn't study for!" Jason groaned before whirling around and racing out of the room, missing Bruce's exasperated frown and Dick's fond smile.
"I seem to remember that if I did something like that you'd bench me till I made up the exam, one that always seemed to be ten times harder." Dick said eyeing Bruce who didn't so much as flush in embarrassment.
"You were my first ward. Of course I'd have high expectations. Plus, those tests kept you from swinging around on the chandeliers and bringing Alfred down on both of us." Was the reply that he seemed to be sticking too.
It brought a smile to Dick's face. "So the whole second child thing is true. Even the infamous Batman isn't immune to it." He said smugly.
Yet no remark came and Dick looked up and froze at the look on Bruce's face. The one that said he was far away, thinking at speeds the Titan couldn't hope to keep up with. It both infuriated him and awed him.
"You are playing a dangerous game, Dick." Bruce said and the Titan froze, and he found himself stumbling.
"What makes you say that?"
Bruce turned his eyes on the Titan and saw the eyes of the detective break him apart before they returned to normal, and Dick was staring at the man who'd raised him since he was nine, once more.
"When by my, Alfred, or Jason's sides, you unconsciously relax, you willingly step aside to my leadership. A thing that wouldn't have changed so soon, regardless of the fact that you've led the Teen Titans for more than a year. You were too angry at me when you left, to reckless."
Dick wanted to protest to this, but found that his throat wasn't working. And Bruce didn't give him the chance to speak. "But, when you fight alone, when you think I can't see, your face hardens, your shoulders straighten. And I can tell you haven't been sleeping well."
"How?" Dick demanded, glaring to cover up his fear. Bruce met him with a look and Dick found himself rolling his eyes, "Right, Batman."
The corner of Bruce's mouth kicked up at his ward's grumble before he placed one hand on Dick's shoulder and gave it a comforting squeeze.
"I don't know what you're planning, but know that you can always come to me for help. You've never been alone. You will always have a home here."
Dick looked up at that, he could feel the honesty burn in those words and it made his heart squeeze in painful warmth.
"I know. But you don't have to worry so much either, I've got a strong team and they are what makes me great." He stated and Bruce smiled.
They walked back to the main cavern in companionable silence. The massive console awash in blue light and code, endlessly scanning over Gotham, filtering reports from the Justice League, compiling data over the Ghost Zone that Bruce would go over later, and countless other tasks.
Bruce walked over to get a cup of coffee and raised an eyebrow in surprise when Dick handed him his cape and cowl, his own black domino mask firmly in place.
"You'll want to put this on." He said, Bruce did so and felt the air chill seconds before in a swirl of blue energy with the hand of an ancient clock, Phantom emerged looking more than a little nervous.
Batman gave Dick The Batglare.
"Robin." He growled yet the Titan only smirked, even as the ghost next to him seemed to be contemplating if should raise a shield around his friend.
"Relax, Phantom doesn't know where we are."
"Yeah, why'd you make me portal hop through ten portals? Do you know how hard that was to explain to Frostbite and then the Infi-map? I got lost twice and had to teleport to Clockworks for help. He's the one who opened the portal." Danny groaned, a green flush to his ears at remembering the amused expression the Ghost of Time had levelled him, the double doors already open in welcome.
"Really? You got lost?" Robin said surprised and Danny's eyes flashed a brighter green.
"Yes, finding this place wasn't easy and I feel horrible for imposing on Clockwork. I don't want him to think I just use his place for convenience since he knows everything." Phantom snapped, seeming to forget the still ticked off mentor standing in front of them.
"Robin…" Bruce started again his growl deeper and he noted in satisfaction the way the ghost teen hovered further away. His charge however only grinned cheerfully up at him. A smile so bright, Bruce momentarily forgot why he was mad, as an image of Dick ten years old flashed across his eyes.
"Oh, relax, we're leaving. Tell little wing that if he wants, he can have my bike as well." The sixteen year old said as Phantom settled beside Robin and wrapped one arm securely around the teen's waist, careful not to jostle Dick's injuries as if he knew to be wary. Power flowed around them both and Bruce watched as they hovered into the air then disappear into a swirl of power the hand of a clock taking them away.
They hadn't even landed in Titans Tower before Danny was apologizing.
"I'm sorry, I don't know what happened but are you okay?" Phantom said, floating in front of Robin, worry in his glowing eyes.
"Yeah, I'm fine, just took some knives…"
"Shush, yes and it was my fault. Next time I'll be more careful." Robin said but Phantom seemed to have tuned him out, a frown furrowing his brow. Eyes intently focused on the Towers glass, and the reflection he cast.
"Hopefully there won't be a next time." He said, hand coming to rest on the small device behind one ear.
As Robin headed for the living room he secretly hoped so too.
At HIVE Academy, Danny sat on the tiled floor in the shower. Steam fogging the air in thick clouds. The water burning hot as it raced down his back from his curled position on the floor, head on his knees. The steam curled around in dizzying heat, making it impossible to focus on any one thought. So to all prying minds, it would appear as if Danny were dreaming.
The images so strange and twisting to appear disordered, seeming to hold no relativity or purpose. It would drive anyone but a wanderer insane and kept Danny safe. However, no one was listening, so he could be that lost shadow. Danny could see Robin, with blades imbedded in his back, to Starfire handing him the jewel Raven had given him. Dash and Quan, Star and Paulina, all sitting around a small table. To Casper High, the dream catcher in Mr. Lancer's classroom, doomsday scratched across the board.
All of these things swirled like the fog around Danny's mind, some moving, and others still. It made him nauseous. Slowly, Danny breathed in and stood up, nearly collapsing as a wave of vertigo crashed upon him. Managing to catch himself on the towel rack, Danny gripped his head.
"You can do this, Fenton." He whispered, feeling the freezing brush of ice rush through his veins. Taking his hand away from the small device, Danny shut off the water, wrapped a towel around his waist, and whipped the condensation away from the mirror in long streaks till he could see his face. Only to him, snow white hair and glowing green eyes gazed back.
"I don't give up."
Alone in mind, Danny stepped inside Fenton works. His home. And heard Robin's voice, "Project Endgame: phase two, now active."
AN: Read and Review
The characters ages in my story are now roughly: Jason Todd is 13, Beastboy is 15, Dick Grayson leader of the Teen Titans is 16, Starfire is 16, Raven is 15 approaching 16, Cyborg is 19, Valarie is 18 and Danny is 18 approaching 19. Terra died when she was 15. About a year and a half has passed in my story since it started.