"You think B would let us build a Wayne Tower in our universe?"
He ducked behind the brightly-lit convenience store, only half-listening to Drake's attempt at a light-hearted conversation. It's not that he didn't appreciate the familiar voice in his ear, especially when he's navigating an unfamilar environment in the dead of the night; it's just that it's quite difficult to navigate said unfamiliar environment when someone kept asking about the differences between New York, and this so-called Gotham City every five minutes.
Four years of working with Drake had made him grow - dare he say it, fond - of his enthusiasm during missions, but Damian knew even he had his limits. Especially when Drake had consumed more than his daily dose of coffee intake. Because he would either be annoyingly chipper, and keep on chattering his ear off about something unrelated to the mission, or act like an annoying older brother through the comms. (As if Damian didn't have enough of his annoying older brother tendencies at home already.)
He would begrudgingly entertain his handler's questions if he wasn't in his current situation, but unfortunately, he still had to return to their universe before the capable people from Earth-0 (yes, that's what Father actually called this place in his files) realized what he did about half an hour ago. "Don't be ridiculous, Drake. We already have the Helicarrier, and the Triskelion; we do not need another headquarters."
"Not everything has to be for S.H.I.E.L.D. purposes, brat. And you're walking too fast. Somebody might get the wrong idea."
He rolled his eyes, but slowed down his pace. He might have trained directly under Madame Hydra for a decade, but his handler, as much as he hated to admit it, wasn't Stark's, and Gordon's protégé for nothing. Even Fury himself had been forced to admit that Drake truly was one of their best agents after he successfully managed to derail a skirmish between S.H.I.E.L.D. and S.P.E.A.R.
Someone bumped into him. Damian raised his head to glare at the civilian, but she merely stared back with furrowed brows. She opened her mouth, probably to ask something, but Damian pushed past her without looking back. He was well-aware how rude he was acting, but it was also the fifth suspicious glance he'd receive in the last fifteen minutes. He pressed his lips into a thin line. The number of paranoid people in this city could give both Fury, and Father a run for their money. "I don't like the way the people here look at me, Drake."
"Then maybe you shouldn't have went on the mission in the first place if you can't handle a few stares, huh?"
Damian bristled at his brother's words. "This was your idea!"
"I only asked why Bruce relegated you - us, really - to missions way below our level!" Drake retorted. Damian gave a non-commital grunt as he ducked inside an alley. It doesn't matter if Drake bitched and ranted about him constantly going on missions behind their father's back these past few weeks; he would still be glued to Damian's ear whenever he's on the field. "I didn't actually expect you to snoop through his files and pick the most difficult one! So, I'll ask you one more time: why the hell did B bench you, and why won't you tell me?"
Damian ground his teeth. "He didn't bench me. And you're exaggerating, this isn't the most difficult mission."
"You literally retrieved an 0-8-4 from a parallel universe. You're lucky Zach hadn't left for Europe, or you'd never have gone on your 'not the most difficult mission' today," Drake said. Damian rolled his eyes. He didn't know what magic Zatara did to make the comm piece function between parallel universes, and pick up a conversation if Damian was quiet enough, but he wasn't going to ask. "Plus, in case you forgot, lower-ranked missions are practically Bruce-speak for benching us until the next eternity. Or until Tony yells at him about it. So again, what did you do to piss him off?"
He tightened his grip around the briefcase. Why can't Drake ever not be nosy for once? He never pressed him when he went off-grid for a couple of weeks, and Damian had to be assigned a different handler. "It's none of your business."
"It is my business. I'm your handler. Hell, I'm your brother. I can't help you if you won't talk to me about what's bothering you - "
"He found out I kidnapped the Young Avengers," Damian snapped, cutting the rest of Drake's speech off. He'd heard it enough times he could probably recite it in his sleep.
"You what?! Christ, Damian, why?!"
Because Father was wrong, and he can be a team player if put his mind to it. Because he's more than capable of leading his own team even if he's the youngest agent S.H.I.E.L.D. has seen in years. Because he was more than his mother's son that Father only saw him as.
Because he wanted Grayson to come home, and if he created a racket huge enough to attract his attention -
"Because...I was lonely," he finally decided.
Drake's exasperated groan echoed through the comm link. "Jesus, I knew letting you join when you were only ten was a bad idea! I told Bruce about it. Repeatedly! Dick told him, too. Also repeatedly! But did he listen? No, he didn't. Classic Bruce." He could almost see Drake run a hand down his face in frustration. The thought made a faint grin tug on the corners of Damian's mouth. It was good to know his brother cared enough for his well-being no matter how many times Damian had 'accidentally' tried to poison him in the past. "Okay, y'know what? You deserve a treat. Screw the mission, get your ass back here. I'll make you your favorite falafel."
Warmth pooled in Damian's chest, but he pushed it down in favor of muttering, "I'm not a dog, Drake. And I just can't 'get my ass back' there so easily. I still have to wait for forty-five minutes."
"Wait for - the portal. Right." Zatara had also transfigured Damian's watch to act as a make-shift portal for the mission. Handy, but the spell had a two-hour cooldown, and would wear-off after only two trips. "In the meantime, maybe you could grab something from 7-Eleven? They have a 7-Eleven there, right?"
Damian chewed on his bottom lip. "I passed by one earlier."
"Okay, cool. Now, I know you're new to the whole parallel universe thing, and this might be your hardest mission to date, but you can always count on your favorite handler to guide you inside a parallel universe convenience store - "
Damian rolled his eyes. "You're my only handler, Drake."
"The only handler who hasn't had enough of your shit, you mean."
They fell into the banter as easily as breathing. Damian's ten year-old self would've been horrified to find out he was letting himself be humored by the person who could so easily claim his birthright in a heartbeat. But that was the thing, wasn't it? Even if Father would shove his legacy at Drake, Drake would never accept it. He was the kind of person content to remain behind the screen, directing field agents through the intricacies of their missions while he sipped at his coffee, and played whatever latest videogame he could get his hands on on his other computer. Damian made a face. He was getting sentimental. Perhaps the air in this city was messing with his mind.
Minutes later, the convenience store slid into view.
"…almost quit because of you! He's already stressed, you don't need to terrorize him even further - "
"Tt. I wasn't terrorizing him." Damian resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He was telling the truth, thank you very much. Besides, he knew no amount of terrorizing Stark could force him into quitting. Stark had his pride. Also, the whole premise of Stark-quitting-because-he-was-terrified-of-him was downright ridiculous. Did Drake even hear himself? If Stark really was afraid of him as Drake ridiculously claimed him to be, he'd have quit the day Damian had completed his first week at S.H.I.E.L.D. Shaking his head, he lifted his free hand to push open the door -
Because walking towards the counter, arms full of snacks, was a face Damian would recognize anywhere. Even with a stupid domino mask on.
"Brat?" Drake's voice pulled him out of his thoughts. "What's wrong?"
"It's Grayson," he managed to whisper. In hindsight, he was surprised, his voice even remained steady. "He's wearing some sort of ridiculous black spandex costume - "
"If he is, then he's probably a hero of sorts, which means there should be no names in the field, brat, c'mon. We've been through this loads of times before. That's, like, one rule. The number one rule." He could hear Drake frown from the other end of the line. "And are you even sure it's - "
"Yes!" he snapped, more forcefully than he intended to. Then he caught himself, and took a deep breath. "It's him, Drake."
"D, I'm sorry, but you have to go. We have protocols for a reason." Damian scowled as Drake's voice went soft, like he was afraid Damian would suddenly rush inside the store to hug Grayson, or something.
"Those protocols only apply to time-travel."
"You still wouldn't gain anything if you'd talk to him. You know that."
Damian bit his lip. He didn't want to admit it, but his brother was right. What would he gain from talking to the Grayson of this universe? He wasn't even sure if the Grayson here knew him. And if he did, what assurance would Damian get that he wouldn't turn him away like his own Grayson? Because what if the Grayson here was also the same as his own? With a frustrated sigh, he turned on his heel, and trudged towards one of the benches from across the street.
"Did he see you?" Drake asked.
He clicked his tongue. "No. And I don't think I'm in the mood for yogurt now."
A sudden noise from the corner of his eye caught his attention.
He tried to make himself look busy, but the girls on the other bench were still whispering. His eye twitched. He had a half mind to stalk over and ask them what on earth were they staring at him for, but he wasn't sure if the consequences would be worth it. There were protocols, after all. The girls continued to whisper. He narrowed his gaze at them, but they didn't even flinch. One girl even brought out her phone to -
Damian's eyes widened. He got to his feet, and hurried away before he could hear the shutter of the camera. What was he, some sort of celebrity in this universe? He knew Drake should've insisted for Zatara to let him bring his phone along. Maybe he could've looked himself up, and found out just why everyone in this damn city kept on staring at him.
He settled on a secluded bench, far, far away from annoying people who couldn't keep their eyes to themselves.
"D, what happened?"
"There were two girls staring at me. And whispering," he admitted, pulling the briefcase closer to his chest. He suddenly hated how small he sounded.
Call him paranoid, but stares, and hushed whispers had always made him especially uneasy. Not that anyone he knew (save for Tony Stark) was happy to be stared at, and talked about, but to Damian, they brought unpleasant memories he'd rather forget. He wasn't an idiot. He'd heard what the recruits at his three-month stint at the academy had whispered behind his back; and later, what the other agents whispered when they think he's out of earshot.
"It shouldn't even be allowed. He's ten, for God's sake. Why is he a field agent?"
"Dunno what made him so special. Oh, wait, let me guess: Daddy's money."
"Guess being the Director's son has its perks, doesn't it?"
" - are you listening, brat?"
Damian swallowed the bile in his throat. He forced himself to push those thoughts in the back of his mind. He can't afford to be distracted now. "I apologize, I didn't catch what you said."
"I said, maybe they think you're cute?"
"They looked like they were in their late teens, Drake." He picked at the edges of his jacket. He didn't like how contemplative Drake sounded.
"No, I mean, like. Maybe they have a crush on the you of this universe."
Damian paused. "So you're saying I might be older here."
"It's a possibility."
"Hm." He pressed his lips into a thin line. If he was older here, and the Grayson here looked like he was the same age as his Grayson, then how old would Drake, and Damian's own counterparts be in this universe? He shook his head. It didn't matter. He had more important things to worry about. "Have you found some information about the briefcase yet?"
"Yep. I had to hack into B's files, but the briefcase contains a Tesseract shard. It's probably why B wanted to retrieve it. Wouldn't want it to land in the wrong hands."
He tapped his fingers on the briefcase. "So, I don't need to wait for the portal?"
"Nope. We have...about thirty minutes until Bruce gets back. If you return here in five, I'll play Monk-E Monsters with you."
"You're on, Drake." Smirking, he got to his feet. He moved to pop open the briefcase, when the sound of footsteps reached his ears. He stiffened. He let his free hand drift to his jacket to pull out his knife -
"Dami? What are you doing here?"
He turned around, mentally cursing himself for letting his guard down long enough to be spotted, but the words died on his tongue. "Grayson."
"No names in the - fine. Fine, you know what? I give up. I'm gonna get myself a nice cup of coffee. Don't mess up this universe so much, okay? I believe in you, brat."
Damian rolled his eyes. And they call him a drama queen when it was Drake who'd obviously spent too much time around Stark. But Grayson was still looking at him like he was expecting an answer. He shifted on his feet. Were Grayson, and his counterpart here close in this universe? He bit the inside of his cheek. If there was one thing Drake told him about parallel universes, it's that there's always a constant in them. So it wasn't a far leap if Grayson, and him were also brothers here, weren't they? "I wanted to get some fresh air."
Grayson's face softened. He sat down the bench, and patted the space beside him. Damian immediately sat down again. "C'mon, Lil' D, what's wrong? You know you can tell me when something's bothering you."
Damian's throat constricted at the nickname. His Grayson never… Grayson continued to stare patiently - he knew this Grayson was staring at him with look of utmost patience on his face, even with his ridiculous mask on. He tightened his grip around the briefcase. "Nothing. I just - I missed you."
Grayson chuckled. "Yeah, me, too. Don't tell Timmy, but I'm planning to take three days off next week to spend some time with you guys."
So the Damian of this universe was also living with Drake. But this Grayson was living somewhere else. In his own apartment, perhaps? Here in Gotham, or a different city? Probably here in Gotham. He seems to be awfully fond of his Drake, and Damian. "That's…good, Grayson. I promise I won't tell Drake."
"Aww, don't worry, Dames, I know you wouldn't." Grayson lifted a hand to ruffle his hair. "The others never believe me when I tell them you have a heart, y'know."
Warmth rose to his cheeks at the praise. "Shut up, Grayson."
Grayson pulled away, raising his hands in mock-surrender. "Shutting up now."
They drifted into silence. Damian found himself staring at this Grayson, subconsciously looking for the similarities with his own. Still the same hair, the same body build, the same personality whenever his Grayson didn't have one of his episodes. But that was where the similarities ended because this Grayson... This Grayson seemed happier, somehow. Less tired. And his costume, obviously, was a far cry from the hooded costume Moonwing was known for. For a split-second, Damian couldn't help but wonder if this Grayson even knew he wasn't talking to his Damian. Grayson was far from stupid; and Damian wasn't sure if his behavior was similar to the behavior of his own counterpart in this universe. Ugh, he knew he should've listened to Drake. Nothing good would come out of interacting with the people he knew in other universes.
A cold wind blew through the street. Damian shivered. He was about to tug his jacket closer to himself, but Grayson had already reached out to tug it closer for him. "I…" He raised his head to meet Grayson's gaze. "Thank you."
Grayson broke into an achingly familiar grin. "No problem."
The brief respite was interrupted by Grayson suddenly pulling his hand away, fingers going to his ear. Damian resisted the urge to sigh. A comm piece. Of course. He watched Grayson's expression shift from relaxed, to resigned in a span of ten seconds. "There's been a break-out. Sorry, Lil' D, but I gotta go. Justice calls."
"Wait," Damian blurted out. Grayson turned around. "Do you know that I'm..."
Grayson tilted his head. "That you're from a parallel universe? Yeah. But it doesn't matter, does it? You're still my brother."
His heart leapt to his throat. He opened his mouth to say something, but Grayson had already left.
"So," Drake's voice cut through the pounding in his ears, "do you wanna go home? 'Cause B's gonna be here in about ten minutes, and I don't even want to know how Dick knows you're not from there - "
"Yes," he said.
"Huh." Drake sounded taken aback. "I take it your conversation went well?"
Damian bit his lower lip. He took a deep breath to stop the tears prickling in the corners of his eyes. He was better than this. A five-minute interaction with a sane version of his brother shouldn't have left him so weak. "You're right, Drake. Much as I loathe to admit it, you're right."
Drake fell silent. "Let's just get you home, brat - "
"I thought B had benched you, demon spawn."
Hastily shoving all thoughts of Grayson out of his mind, Damian turned around. A figure stepped out of the shadows. The light from the streetlamp threw the figure's red helmet into sharp relief.
"Jesus, who is it now?" Drake groaned.
Damian ignored his handler in favor of squinting at this... Red Skull look-alike person, if Red Skull's head was a helmet. He looked to be about Father's height, with a brown leather jacket, and an obviously muscular build. Damian frowned. Something about the way the Red Skull look-alike held himself seemed familiar. And there was also the way he talked. Even if he was using a voice modulator, there was something about the way he talked which reminded Damian of the old videos he'd seen about -
"Todd," he breathed quietly.
Either it must've been the wrong thing to say, or something must've shown on his face, because Todd took a step towards him. Damian automatically reached for the hilt of his knife. But to his surprise, Todd didn't move any closer, and just crossed his arms over his chest. "Hey, what's with you tonight? B's week-long sentence getting to your head?"
"Wait, did you say Todd?"
He almost missed Drake's question. Alarm bells were ringing in his head. He had to stop himself from actually pulling out his knife, and flinging it at Todd.
"Jason Todd? Like, Deathlok Jason Todd?"
Damian clicked his tongue impatiently to signify yes, Drake, keep up, dammit, because what other Jason Todd did they know?
"Shit." Drake sucked in a sharp breath. "D, listen. You have to get out of there. If he really is Jason Todd, then you have to go. Now. He's bad news."
He resisted the urge to snap that he knows who Jason Todd is. He'd read his file. Thrice. Mentally, he ran through everything he knew about Todd.
Todd was Grayson's protégé. He was recruited by the agency at 13 years old, and was set to become the next Moonwing while Grayson went to Oxford. S.H.I.E.L.D. had dismissed him after a mission gone wrong, and he'd blamed Father, and Grayson for his disgrace. He'd been presumed dead when he was caught in a bomb detonated by Hyena. Drake, who'd been a S.H.I.E.L.D. recruit at the time, volounteered to be trained as Moonwing in Todd's place. Father, and Grayson refused, and had Drake trained in agent handling instead. But it turned out Todd survived. Became the HYDRA agent Deathlok. Had half his limbs replaced by cybernetic parts. Last Damian heard, he attempted to murder Grayson during S.H.I.E.L.D.'s ground assault against HYDRA Base Omega.
If worse came to worse, he'd have to knock him out. The Todd here didn't appear to be part-cyborg, but if his past is anything like the Jason Todd's past in their universe, then Damian would be, as Fury often put it, goddamn fucking screwed.
Gritting his teeth, Damian turned his attention back to Todd. Todd seemed to be listening in on something, but the moment he saw Damian straighten up, he snapped to attention. "So. O's just updated me about a missing briefcase from the police station..."
Damian's blood ran cold.
"Fuck," Drake muttered. "D, run."
He didn't need to tell him twice. Tucking the briefcase closer to himself, he turned on his heel, and ran.
He wasn't an idiot. Todd would catch up sooner or later. He knew these streets better than Damian did. If only he was still in New York -
A large shadow dropped in front of him, forcing him to screech to a halt.
"Don't - " Drake began, but Damian didn't have time to listen. Blood pounding in his ears, he drew out his knife, and aimed for the juncture between Todd's ribs -
Nimble fingers grabbed his arm, twisting his elbow to the side. The knife disappeared from his grasp. A knee slammed against his stomach. He grunted, doubling over. Gasped for air. Managed to wrench his arm from Todd's hold. Raised the briefcase just high enough to swing it at his face -
But Todd, who obviously has all of his limbs intact here, was faster. Before Damian could bring down the briefcase, Todd had swept his feet from underneath him. He felt his grip on the briefcase waver. A split-second later, he lost his momentum, and hit the ground. Hard. Gods, Madame Hydra would be disappointed.
Bright blue light began to eminate from the briefcase. He squeezed his eyes shut, muttering a curse in Arabic. No doubt the briefcase had snapped open from the force of the impact.
" - told you to run, not fight! God, I'm gonna need more coffee for this... Do not, I repeat, do not apprehend Jason Todd. You can't take him. What you need to do is retreat, find a secluded area, grab the shard, and return here as soon as possible. Retreat, secluded area, shard. Copy?"
He opened his eyes with a scowl. He was certain he could hold his own against Todd, but with the unexpected addition of the damn Tesseract...
"What the hell, demon spawn? What'd you attack me for?! And is that fucking blue kryptonite?!"
"Shit - Damian, get out of there!"
He propped himself up on his elbows. "No names in the field, Drake."
"This is so not the time, Dami - "
He reached for the shard. Closed his fingers around it.
"What the fuck are you doing - "
The world disappeared around him.
Tim hates magic. Damian just hates Zach for stranding them in a parallel universe.
"What I don't understand," Damian growled, voice echoing around the empty entrance hall, "is why we have to get it for him when he could send someone like Parker to do it instead."
Tim rolled his eyes as he shut the door behind him. "Pete actually goes to school, y'know. He isn't Tony's intern full-time."
"Still." Damian glared up at him, arms crossed over his chest.
Tim narrowed his eyes at his brother. "Brat, what's got into you today? I thought you liked to drop by the Mansion - " Damian gave a slight flinch. To the untrained eye, it wouldn't have been visible, but Tim had been babysitting the brat for four years. Pressing his lips into a thin line, Tim moved closer to Damian to place a hand on his shoulder. "Is this about Bruce? Because if you're scared he'll find out you disobeyed him, then - "
Damian bristled. He wrenched his shoulder from Tim's grasp. "I never said I was afraid!"
" - I'll take the blame for you," Tim finished patiently, reaching forward to place his hand on Damian's shoulder again. "Okay, brat?"
Damian's eyes widened. "You're going to do that..for me?"
Tim tightened his grip on Damian's shoulder. Sometimes, it was easy to forget the kid didn't have the easiest childhood. He grew up with Madame Hydra as a mentor, for Christ's sake. He'd been trained to kill people before he could learn how to walk. The fact he had people who cared for his well-being had been an unfamiliar concept to him until the night Tim had sat him down, and explained it was normal for friends, and family members to care for each other. "Of course I will, Dami. Besides, I doubt B would actually get mad since technically, you only disobeyed him on Tony's orders."
Tim grinned when he saw the exact moment it clicked for Damian.
"You asked Stark to let me help you grab the report."
"Yeah." He nodded. "I figured you were about to rot with boredom in the penthouse."
Damian scrunched up his face. "It wasn't all bad. I was able to spend more time on my drawings."
Tim pretended to look thoughtful. "Is that so? Hmm, maybe I'll just leave you alone the next time B grounds you - "
"Thank you," Damian blurted out.
"What?" Tim cupped a hand around his ear. "I didn't catch it."
The brat rolled his eyes. "Tt. You heard what I said."
"I was joking, D. Sheesh." Tim ruffled Damian's hair, earning a squawk of protest from the brat. "But you're welcome."
The moment the words left his mouth, the temperature dropped. The smell of sulfur hit his nostrils. His eyes widened. Shit. As if reading his thoughts, the air behind Damian began to crackle -
Tim immediately pulled his brother away to try, and make a run for it, but the floor was already disappearing from underneath them.
"...wake up. Timothy, wake up."
With great difficulty, he opened his eyes. Damian stared down at him, brows furrowed. "Da…Dami? Where are we?" Then he caught sight of the entrance hall, and the bottom dropped from his stomach. "Shit. We're not - we're not in the Mansion."
"Brilliant observation," Damian said dryly, but Tim didn't miss the note of concern in his brother's voice. "The portal had transported us to Earth-0. Please remind me to kill Zatara when we get back."
Tim, who was in the process of propping himself up on his elbows, almost slipped back down marbled tiles. "Zatanna? Why'd you wanna kill her?"
"Not Zatanna," Damian hissed. "Her stupid cousin."
Tim had successfully propped himself up into a sitting position, but his head still hurt and he couldn't process whatever Damian's trying to say. "Why?"
"Because," Damian snarled, and Christ, his voice was not helping with Tim's focus, "it was his stupid portal that dragged us into this mess in the first place!"
Tim immediately shushed the brat. The last thing they'd want was to have this mansion's occupants discovering them, and turning them over to the police for trespassing. "How'd you even know it was Zach?"
Damian gave him an impatient look. "I recognized the portal. It had the same magical signature as the spell he placed on my watch when I made the jump here three weeks ago."
"Right. Three weeks ago." The haze in Tim's mind started to clear. If they were on Earth-0 like Damian said, maybe they could find Bruce, and ask him to help them get back to their universe. They could book a ticket to Manhattan, look for Bruce, ask him for help, then bam! Problem solved. "D'you still have the cash Bruce gave you for emergencies?"
Damian arched a brow. "Yes, but we cannot leave, Timothy."
"Why can't we - oh. We have to stay where we are. Gotcha." It was practically rule #2 when you were accidentally stuck in a parallel universe. S.H.I.E.L.D. would have a harder time locating them if they did leave for New York. "Okay, then change of plans. What d'you say to a lil' adventure inside the mansion?" The brat's eyebrow arched higher. "What? It's not like we're leaving. Besides, what if the owners are friendly?"
Damian stared at him. Tim stared back with all the patience he'd collected through the four years of having Damian Wayne as both his charge in the field, and his little brother. After what seemed to be an eternity, the brat's furious expression finally crumbled.
"Fine," he snapped. "I swear, only you would be naïve enough to think the occupants of the house we are currently trespassing in would not turn us over to the police."
"Maybe they wouldn't if we explained our situation," Tim offered. Damian snorted. Yeah, he knew the chance the occupants of this huge-ass not-Mansion would believe them was slim, but they could at least try, couldn't they?
"And if they don't believe us?" Damian asked.
"I'll deal with it," he promised. The brat grumbled under his breath. Tim pretended not to hear him in favor of asking, "You still got your knife?"
Damian's eyes lit up at the question. The sight almost made Tim want to pinch his brother's cheeks, and coo at him. "Of course I do. What kind of field agent do you think I am?'
"An adorable one."
His brother's face contorted into an expression not unlike Bruce's whenever Tony referred to him as anything other than their stoic director. "Just…don't, Timothy."
He held up his hands in a gesture of mock-surrender. "Okay, okay. Now, would you mind helping me up, or…?"
With a loud sigh, Damian grabbed his hands, and hauled him to his feet.
Tim had never felt more lost before in the last four years he's been an active agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. it was ridiculous; he was one of the best handlers, for Christ's sake. He'd helped Damian navigate through places worse than a freakin' mansion. Agent Drake didn't get lost.
"Are you sure we haven't passed by this hallway yet?"
He tried not to wince as Damian's voice bounced off the sleek walls. "Actually, I'm more concerned that we haven't seen anyone when we've been walking for like, what? Twenty minutes now?"
"Thirty," Damian replied, falling into step beside him. "Also, I refuse to believe the security system hasn't detected us."
Tim made a noise of agreement as they passed by another door. He was aware of Damian's attempt to change the topic, and gladly accepted it. "Maybe they just have a shitty security system?"
"Tt. Even Kaplan and his boyfriend's apartment has a better security system than this place."
"I hate to admit it, but you're right." He glanced at the next room for some sigh of life, then screeched to a halt as a familiar face caught his eye. "The heck?" Furrowing his eyebrows, he stepped closer towards the door, and pushed it wider.
His breath caught in his throat.
Situated above the fireplace was a portrait of Bruce himself.
But he wasn't alone. Around him stood five other people in neatly-pressed black suits. Or, in the Asian girl's case, a long-sleeved dress. With a jolt, Tim recognized Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Damian, and…
"It's us, Timothy."
He jumped at the brat's voice. Christ, he didn't even realize he'd followed him inside. "Dami, shit. We have to go. We can't be - "
The brat stared up at him with a flat, indifferent expression. "Does it matter? There's no other choice. You said it yourself. We can't leave."
Tim stared at his brother. "The protocols - " he began.
Damian glared back at him with the same indifferent expression he'd often associated with Talia. "Our situation's an exception to the rule."
Tim broke eye-contact to chew on his bottom lip. "Okay. Okay, yeah, you have a point." Damian narrowed his eyes. "No, you do, D. And okay, I may have been overreacting, because it's not like Fury would kill us. We'll just have to explain everything to him."
(Fury would understand. Bruce would, too. Who cares about the protocols when their situation's messed up enough as it is? Christ, and Tim thought he'd be spending the rest of the afternoon in the penthouse pouring over the latest videogame he'd purchased with Bruce's credit card, not trapped in a parallel universe with his brother. Loki's probably laughing at him somewhere, the ass.)
"Fury can wait," Damian agreed. Tim resisted the urge to flick the brat's forehead because Jesus, the brat was Fury's favorite, so of course Fury wouldn't chew him out. No, Tim's actually the one who'd be on the receiving end of his...fury. Haha. Good one, he'll have to tell Billy about it when they returned. "Now, tell me what you think about Todd being our apparent brother in this universe."
Tim turned back to the portrait. Weirdly enough, Todd had blue eyes instead of brown, making his resemblance to Bruce even more jarring. Upon closer inspection, the people in the portrait (Tim's siblings?) could all pass off as Bruce's children. Must be the eyes, and the hair. Or maybe they really were Bruce's biological children? But it would mean B slept around a lot… Tim grimaced at the thought. He glanced at the brat. "I can't believe he's - "
His heart leapt to his throat. The owner of the voice - the Asian girl in the portrait, he belatedly realized, stood in the doorway. In one swift motion, Tim stepped in front of his brother to hide him from view. Damian scoffed loudly. Tim pretended not to hear him.
The girl tilted her head to the side. "You're not them."
"We're from a parallel universe," Damian smoothly chimed in. Tim's eyes widened. He tightened his grip around his brother's arm, but the brat didn't even seem to notice. Stupid HYDRA training. "Are you our sister here?"
To Tim's surprise, the tension seemed to drain from the girl's shoulders. She straightened up, still regarding them with the look that sent a slight chill down Tim's spine. "Yes. My name is Cassandra, but you can call me Cass."
"Cass," Tim repeated. The name sounded light on his tongue. Briefly, he wondered if they have a Cass in their universe. Maybe he could ask Babs to look her up. "Nice to meet you."
"You, too," she replied. Then, in a softer voice, added, "Damian?"
Before Tim could stop him, the brat twisted himself out of his grasp. "Nice to meet you, Cassandra."
She gave a curt nod. "My… Tim, and Damian are gone. Your… counterparts here - my brothers - vanished, about half an hour ago."
Tim blinked. Dami, and him landed about half an hour ago, which means… "Yeah, that was a mistake from our side," he admitted. "We must've swapped places with them, if the timing was anything to go by. Blame our friend's unstable magic. But as long as he went straight to his superior - "
"Oh, please," Damian muttered.
He spared the brat a dirty look. "Damian. Okay, I know he fucked up, but that doesn't mean you get to talk shit about him. He's still our friend, y'know? Besides, as long as he informed T about the portal, we'd be back in our own universe by the end of the day."
The brat rolled his eyes, but snapped his mouth shut. Zach might have a huge enough ego to rival Tony's, but he wasn't stupid. He'd have rushed to Zatanna the moment he realized the Tim, and Damian inside the Mansion were from a parallel universe.
"You're…fond of each other," Cass spoke up, drawing Tim's attention back to her.
The curious look on her face made him chuckle. "Kinda hard not to be when I've been babysitting this brat for years." He yelped as an elbow made contact with his ribs. "What the hell, D? That hurts!"
Cass definitely looked amused now. "Is there anything I can do? To… help my brothers return?"
"No, our superiors will take care of it," Damian replied. Tim couldn't help but roll his eyes (fondly) at his brother's clipped voice. "Are you familiar with dimension-travelling protocols? I assume you do, since you didn't appear to be surprised when I mentioned we aren't from this universe."
"I am," Cass confirmed. "The two of you can stay in the Manor."
Tim let out a sigh of relief he didn't know he was holding. "Oh, thank God. We won't bother you, I swear."
"No, it's okay." Cass waved him off. Then her eyes lit up. "Do you…want to meet someone?"
Tim exchanged a look with the brat. It wouldn't hurt to spend time with their sister from a parallel universe, right? "Yeah, sure."
He cleared his throat. He'd lost count of the number of rooms they passed by about five minutes ago. Was the not-Mansion magic, or something? "Hey, uh."
Cass slowed down. She tilted her head to the side. "Yes?"
He ignored Damian's curious look from the corner of his vision as he focused his attention on Cass. "Can I ask you a question?"
Cass nodded, bangs falling over her eyes. She lifted a hand to brush them out of her face, and tucked the stray strands of hair behind her ear. "Of course."
He chewed on his lower lip. "Where's Bruce?"
"Bruce is in Paris," Cass replied slowly. "For work."
Tim exchanged a look with Damian. "Then who're you taking us to?"
He stopped in his tracks. An uneasy feeling churned in his gut. "Jason Todd? Why?"
If Cass noticed his distasteful tone, she didn't comment on it. "Dick is busy. I… texted him, but." She gave a shrug. "He won't come until later. Jason is the - next best thing."
Tim gawked at her. Okay, he knew he was being unprofessional, but it's not like Cass could blame him. Finding out he had siblings other than Damian in this universe was weird enough, but apparently, they were currently on their way to meet Jason Todd. Jason Todd, who was a bad guy in their universe, and whom Tim wasn't even sure was a good guy in this one. "So you're saying he's here now? In the mansion?"
"Manor," Damian corrected quickly.
"Manor, then?" Tim said. "Hey, can you give us a minute?" At Cass' nod, he pulled his brother to the side of the hallway. "Brat, I'm sorry, but do you really want to meet this universe's Jason Todd again?"
Damian crossed his arms over his chest. "Tt. What happened to you? I'm normally the more paranoid out of the two of us."
Tim resisted the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose in frustration. "This isn't a joke, Dami. What if their Todd's really like the Todd of our universe? Because in case you forgot, he almost killed you."
Damian gave him a pointed look. "If he is as...evil as you say he is, then Cassandra wouldn't bother introducing him, would she?"
Tim opened his mouth, then closed it. Okay, the brat had a point. Maybe Tim was overreacting. Maybe this parallel universe was messing with his mind. Besides, it's not like he can't take Todd if he did turn out to be a bad guy. Tim might be a handler, but he still trained at the academy. "Yeah, you're right. You're right, Dames. I just… Jesus, maybe Fury's rants about being vigilant, and shit at the academy is finally starting to sink in."
Damian, the brat, had the nerve to roll his eyes. "Look, Timothy, I'll deal with Todd if everything goes wrong. Okay?"
"Excuse you, that's supposed to be my line!"
"Too late." The corners of Damian's lips tugged into a rueful grin. Tim could feel himself returning the grin; the tension draining from his body at the echo of their usual banter. "Besides, I'm the one who has more experience in the field." Before Tim could open his mouth to protest again, Damian had already grabbed his arm to tug him back to Cass. "We apologize for the delay."
Cass nodded. "It's no problem. Let's continue?"
But the uneasy feeling in Tim's gut lingered with every step he took. Finally, they stopped in front of a large pair of double doors. Cass pushed a door open, and gestured for them to follow her.
The scent of old books hit his nostrils. For the upteenth time today, Tim felt his jaw drop.
He wasn't a huge fan of literature, but he had to admit, the library looked impressive. It reminded him of the library at the St Florian Monastary at Austria - minus the paintings on the ceiling. He almost forgot about the uneasy feeling in his stomach -
Until his gaze landed on the guy seated on the couch.
"You!" The guy - Todd, and Jesus, the portrait wasn't lying; he did have a white streak in his hair - leapt to his feet.
In a split-second, Tim had shoved Damian behind him, and reached for the pistol hidden inside his jacket. He didn't dare budge even as Todd took a step towards them. His heart hammered loudly in his chest, but he pretended not to hear it, choosing instead to narrow his eyes at Todd.
Todd gave a low whistle, gaze fixed on his gun. "Gotta admit, you've got guts, Timmy. What kinda world did you two come from?"
Tim, and Damian have waffles with their siblings from another universe.
He clenched his jaw. "Whatever world we come from is classified information."
Todd barked out a laugh. Tim tightened his grip around his pistol at the sound. Todd's laugh wasn't unnerving, per se, just... there was something about it that made the uneasy feeling in his chest return full-force. "Seriously? The two of ya had probably broke 'bout half the protocols when you talked to Cass. What's wrong with telling us where you came from?"
"Timothy." Fingers tugged at the back of his jacket.
A noise of irritation bubbled up his throat. "Not now, Dames." He shifted his attention back to Todd. "Protocol is protocol. If you have a problem with it..." he trailed off with a pointed glance at his gun.
"Huh." Todd tilted his head to the side. "Never thought I'd live to see the day Timbo wouldn't hesitate to kill me."
Before Tim could open his mouth to respond, fingers tugged at the back of his jacket again. "Timothy. Much as I loathe to admit it, Todd has a point. We've already broken the protocols."
Tim gritted his teeth. "Brat, you don't understand. They are literally protocols for a reason - "
"You agreed to break them," Damian retorted. "Todd isn't looking for a fight. He wants to talk. Trust me."
After a moment of tense silence, Tim gave in. He did trust his brother, and he'd learned to follow Damian's instincts without much resistance years ago. With a loud sigh, he stashed his gun back inside his jacket, just as Damian stepped out from behind him to stand by his side. He lifted his chin to meet Todd's gaze again, and forced a fake smile. "Sorry, we definitely got off on the wrong foot. To answer your question, Dami, and I came from Earth-9602."
"See?" Todd drawled. "That wasn't so hard." He yelped when Cass jabbed his ribs. "Okay, okay, geez." As he straightened up, Tim couldn't help but let his eyes linger on the white streak in Todd's hair. He had a feeling it wasn't just a fashion statement. "Nice jacket, demon-spawn-from-another-world."
Tim grabbed Damian's arm before the brat could try to murder Todd. "Can you stop with the nicknames? We don't really know each other, and - "
"Yeah, yeah." Todd waved him off. "I'm the bad guy in your world. I know, Timbo, you can cut the bullshit."
He narrowed his eyes at Todd. Was the guy deliberately riling them up, or was he just an ass? Tim himself didn't have the patience of a saint, but dealing with Damian had made him much more patient than most people, and Todd was fucking testing his patience. "Cass, can we go?"
"You're no fun."
Todd turned to his sister. "You're no fun, either."
"Wrong. I'm...careful." The way she said the word had Tim guessing if it was an inside joke she shared with Todd.
Judging by the gleam in Todd's eyes, it was. "Damn right you are, Cass." The corners of Todd's lips quirked up into a smirk. "So, Timbo. You wanna share the rest of your story here, or somewhere else?"
"Kitchen," Cass spoke up. Tim glanced at her. "If you...want to," she added.
"We do," Damian replied. "Timothy?"
"What he said."
"Alright." Todd gave a pleased nod. "You can stop judging me, Timmy. I ain't gonna kill the demon spawn. Or you."
Tim narrowed his eyes. "Are you always like this?"
"Nah, I'm just worried the real Timbo, and Damian wouldn't come back, and we'd be stuck with you instead." Todd paused, smirk widening. He definitely didn't miss the spike of irritation in Tim's voice - not like Tim made much of an effort to hide it.
"Jay, enough." Relief bloomed in Tim's chest at the clear warning in Cass' tone. At least somebody in this universe has a decent head on their shoulders.
Damian snorted from beside him. "You've got a funny way of showing it, Todd."
"Hm?" All traces of amusement had faded from Todd's posture. Tim instinctively made a grab for his pistol again. "What'd you say, demon spawn?"
"I said - "
Tim seized his brother's arm with his free hand, ignoring Damian's low growl. "Damian, don't."
Todd arched a brow. "You know, I never noticed it earlier, and - sure, it's not like I have room to talk, but you don't exactly look the most stable with a gun, Replacement."
Tim's heart stuttered in his chest as his brother tore his arm from his grip and launched himself straight at Todd.
Christ, how many times did he have to tell him not to be so reckless? He'd have thought the brat would've at least grown out of it; Bruce had been nagging his ear off about his recklessness for years. With an exasperated groan, he stashed his gun back inside his jacket, and stomped towards the fight to pull his brat of a brother off of some parallel universe version of Jason fucking Todd.
When did this even become his life? Crazy shit - the real, crazier shit, at least - only happened to superheroes, not random civilians like Tim. (Okay, he wasn't a civilian, but still. He doubted America or Kate had ever been stranded in a parallel universe because Zach had messed up again.)
"Tim." He jumped at the feather-light touch on his elbow. He turned to meet Cass' gaze. "I'm sorry. I… do you want me to help?"
He gave her the patented calm smile he reserves for civilians whenever things get downright ugly and he has to be deployed to the field. It's the smile Tony had taught him, the one where he pretends everything isn't going to shit, it'll be alright, don't worry, no, Thor hasn't been blasted into the sky by those alien-looking creatures - fine, he was, we'll get somebody to check up on him later. "I can handle it."
He turned his attention back to the fight. Todd had the upper-hand, of course, but… huh. He could tell the guy wasn't really taking Damian seriously. (He didn't know whether to be grateful, or offended on his brother's behalf.) Tim gave an impressed hum as Todd effortlessly blocked Damian's knife. So the guy was actually a decent fighter. Granted, he had an inkling of what Todd was capable of when Damian told him about their brief encounter during Tesseract fiasco, but to see Todd fight in person almost made him wonder what could've happened if their Jason Todd had never been fired from S.H.I.E.L.D.
For starters, Tim probably wouldn't have to put up with a whole bunch of crazy shit on his supposed afternoon off. Unfortunately, what's done was done. He's made his decision years ago; he had no choice but to deal with all the crap that came with the job, accidental dimension travel trips included. Shaking his head, he moved forward to pull Damian off of Todd. "Brat, stop it."
"No!" The brat continued to struggle in his grip. "Let me go! Let me go, damn you! I'll kill him!"
He ignored the brat's screeches to drag him to the other side of the library, far, far away from Todd. He took a deep breath, forcing himself to calm down. It wouldn't do either of them any good if he suddenly started to lecture the brat, no matter how much he wanted to. Damian didn't respond well to lectures. Or accusations of any kind, really.
"Damian," he began in a firm voice. But Damian stubbornly refused to meet his gaze. Tim could feel his disappointment crumbling. "Dames. Dames, c'mon. Look at me."
Still no response. Mouth set into a hard line, Tim lifted a hand to place it on his brother's shoulder. When Damian didn't recoil, he reached up to brush the brat's fringe out of his eyes. "D, c'mon. What were you even thinking? He could've hurt you."
That seemed to be the wrong thing to say.
"Hurt me?" The brat's stoic expression twisted into a snarl.
Tim jerked back to hold up his hands in a gesture of surrender. Christ, parenting your baby brother was hard. "I didn't say you couldn't take him - "
"He was insulting your honor! I will not let it be tolerated!"
Will not let his honor be what - oh.
Oh, wow. This was unexpected. Unexpected, but not unwelcome. So his efforts to make his brother capable of feeling emotions other than murderous rage really did pay off. He was definitely going to rub the fact he managed to turn one of HYDRA's living weapons into an awesome, kind-hearted, badass son, and little brother in Talia's face the next time they meet. But just because the brat finally admitted he loved him as much as Tim loved the brat doesn't mean he was going to let Damian off so easily. "Dami, I appreciate what you did, but you know I can stand up for myself. Besides, what if Todd did manage to hurt you? What would I tell B? And seriously, if you couldn't kick the guy's ass the last time you picked a fight with him, what made you think you have a chance now?"
Damian gave a loud huff, and slumped against the wall with a resigned expression. An adorably resigned expression, complete with his bottom lip jutting out into a pout. "I hate you, Timothy."
"Yeah, yeah. Come here, you little liar." He spread his arms in a gesture of invitation, which Damian took as a cue to peel himself from the wall, and fall into the hug. Whoever said his younger brother wasn't capable of being cute was wrong on so many levels.
"It's alright, brat." He rubbed the brat's back. "You're still the best field agent I've ever known."
"You're the best handler I've ever had as well," Damian murmured, voice muffled against his shoulder.
Tim let the corners of his lips lift at what had become an inside joke for the both of them. "Only because I'm the only handler who could put you in your place. The new recruits are scared of you. What did you even do to them?"
"Tt. Nothing much."
He rolled his eyes. Nothing much practically meant I threatened those idiots to do their best or else for Damian. "Just...don't try to antagonize them, okay? God knows we don't need any more recruits quitting."
Damian pulled away give him a dirty look. Once upon a time, the look had been the bane of Tim's existence. "If they made the cut, then you know they shouldn't have a reason to be scared of me."
"Brat, no offense, but they haven't had prior training before they've been dumped at the academy like you did, so maybe you could cut them some slack?"
The brat let his head fall back against his shoulder. "Fine."
"Knew I could count on you." Tim ruffled his brother's hair with his free hand. Despite the brat's numerous complaints with regards to everything Tim asked him to do, they were always more for show rather than actual resistance.
The brat raised his head to give him a dirty look again. "Gordon put you up to this, didn't he?"
"Tony, actually." He brushed back the brat's hair once more. Sure, Babs had nagged him to ask Damian to lay it off because God knows they don't need any more recruits quitting, but it was Tony who'd been on the verge of tearing his hair out, and Tony wasn't even in charge of the recruits. "You ready to talk to Todd?"
Damian untangled himself from the hug. He stared at Tim for a long moment. "As long as he doesn't insult you…"
Tim reached out to adjust the collar of his brother's jacket. "Don't worry, D. The jerk already got what he wanted from us."
He whipped around at the voice.
Todd's bewildered expression almost made up for the stupid stunt he pulled in the first place. Almost. "I can't believe Cass was right."
Tim rolled his eyes. "You're lucky I realized what you were trying to do, or I wouldn't have hesitated to put a bullet through your brain, you asshole."
"Fuck you, I had to see it for myself," Todd snapped, like baiting the parallel universe counterparts of his so-called brothers because he didn't believe they actually loved each other instead of just asking like a normal person wasn't a dick move for everyone involved. "I mean, our demon spawn dislikes Replacement with every fiber of his being, and vice versa. No way you two didn't feel the same." His face split into a shit-eating grin. "But no hard feelings, eh, Timbo?"
Tim gave him the middle finger.
Okay, so Todd wasn't much of an asshole as he initially thought he was. In fact, something about him reminded Tim of Tommy, but he can't pinpoint exactly what. Todd had served them waffles after a suggestion from Cass; apparently, the guy was a decent cook.
"You're not joking. You don't have an Alfred Pennyworth in your world?"
He rolled his eyes at Todd's horrified look. Seriously, Todd was more dramatic than Tony, and Tony was, like, the second most dramatic person Tim knew. (First place goes to Bruce, of course.) "We told you, it's only been me, this brat, and B since forever. Tony joins us for dinner sometimes, but that's it."
"Then at least tell me you have a Stephanie Brown."
He furrowed his eyebrows. Stephanie Brown? It was a familiar name, but he can't remember where he'd last heard it.
"She was a recruit," Damian spoke up. Tim stared at his brother in surprise. "She applied for the academy at the same time as Timothy, but she didn't make the cut." Damian's grip tightened around his fork. "Enough about our world. What are Timothy, and I like in this universe?"
"Well, you're not super spies, obviously," Todd said around a mouthful of waffles.
"Ignore him," Cass chimed in. Tim didn't miss the hint of fond exasperation in her voice. "We're - vigilantes. The whole family is."
…Okay, that was definitely not what he expected their counterparts to be. On the bright side, at least they weren't part of the mafia-slash-heroes-for-hire syndicate like he originally thought when he saw the family portrait earlier. But vigilantes? Really? He couldn't even imagine himself running around Manhattan in a costume like Peter, stopping muggers and saving cats from trees or whatever it is vigilantes did.
"Vigilantes?" He met the brat's perplexed gaze. "Like Deadpool?"
"The hell is Deadpool?"
The brat broke eye contact to sneer at Todd. "I wasn't talking to you - "
"Robin," Cass interrupted, pointing at Damian. "You're Robin here." Tim mentally sent her a huge thanks. He didn't think he could handle it if Damian demanded a rematch with Todd inside the spotless kitchen. He was pretty sure the counter alone costs two hundred thousand dollars. "Tim is Red Robin."
It took a moment for the information to sink in. "Wait, what? Red Robin? Like, the restaurant?"
"Yep. Sucks to be you, really." Todd, the asshole, was definitely enjoying the conversation. Tim resisted the urge to shoot him a dirty look.
"It's…not the best of names," the brat confessed, drawing Tim's attention back to his brother. "But it has a nice ring to it."
Todd made a choked noise. Or maybe he just choked on his waffles. Served him right. "Christ, did the gremlin just…? I can't be the only one finding this weird, can I?"
"It's nice," Cass commented quietly. She seemed to be biting back a smile. "You know it's nice, Jay."
Tim pointed his fork at Todd. "Basically, what you're saying is you could never picture us not hating each other."
Todd held up his hands in a gesture of mock-surrender. "Don't blame me. The demon spawn tried to kill you - our Timbo, I mean - more times than I ever did."
Jesus. Well, he supposed he really shouldn't have been surprised. After all, with the number of times his Dami tried to kill him in his first week at the penthouse? He'd lost count on the third day.
"Were you two also...?" Cass tilted her head to the side.
He huffed out a laugh. "Yeah, Dames, and I weren't on the best of terms when he came to live with us. Little shit tried to poison me in my sleep three nights in a row." He ruffled the brat's hair with his free hand. "But he grew out of it."
The brat batted away his hand. "You know, I could still try to kill you if you want me to."
"Uh-huh." He arched a brow at the brat. "Then who's gonna save your ass on the field?"
"Tt." Damian looked away after about fifteen seconds. "Tell me about Father, Cass."
Tim cleared his throat. "Ahem."
The tips of his brother's ears went pink. "Please."
Cass, to her credit, looked amused. The corners of her mouth twitched behind her straw. "Bruce is...Batman. The Dark Knight. Also the World's Greatest Detective."
The Dark Knight, huh? Tim abandoned his waffles to lean forward. Now he was interested. The Dark Knight sounded like an ominous title. His waffles could wait. "Body count?"
"Body...?" Cass' forehead creased. "Batman doesn't kill."
Tim stared at her. It wasn't a question. "He doesn't? Then what does he do?"
"Jesus Christ." Todd's jaw had gone slack. "He kills in your world?"
"Obviously." Tim didn't have to look at Damian to know the brat was rolling his eyes.
"Oh my God, this is priceless!" To Tim's surprise, Todd pulled out a phone from inside his jacket, and began to fumble with it. "Cass, can you introduce B to Timmy again? And Timmy, you gotta ask body count with your most serious face. Bet ya ten bucks everyone will have an aneurysm when I send this to the group chat - "
"Jason," Cass said, her voice dripping with exasperation again. "Bruce will cancel your credit card."
Todd waved her off. "Don't care. I can't fucking wait to see Dickie's reaction..."
Tim dropped his fork. Fuck. He almost forgot about Dick.
Meanwhile, in another universe...
The man from across him was nothing like Bruce.
It was the first thought that appeared, unprompted, in his mind. For starters, the Bruce here held himself different; his face also held no warmth Tim had come to associate with his adopted dad through the years he'd been a Wayne. It was, obviously, very weird. And alarming. But mostly weird.
Granted, the whole fuckin' afternoon had been a ride, but a Bruce who was the director of some sort of international agency (the details were hazy; he wasn't paying particularly close attention when Zatara gave them the rundown) was probably the cherry on top of the cake. It beat the news the Teen Titans didn't exist here by a huge margin.
"Where's Grayson?" Damian interrupted, forcing Tim to shift his attention to him. "Assuming he exists in this world, of course."
Tim glanced back at Bruce. The blank expression on Bruce's face didn't waver. "I'm afraid it's classified information, Damian."
"What about Todd?" the demon brat demanded. "If you say it's also classified - "
Tim decided to chime in before things got worse. He didn't have enough information on this world's counterpart of Bruce to establish a good enough read on him. "Bruce, please. We just want to get back."
"My subordinates are working on a way to get you back. No need to worry. In the meantime..." Bruce cleared his throat. "Agent Hill?"
Tim turned around. The dark-haired woman from earlier - the one with the pixiecut - stood by the doorway, hand propped on her hip. "Will they be staying at the penthouse, sir?"
He couldn't help but frown. The penthouse? Why not the Manor instead?
"The penthouse wouldn't be suitable," Bruce replied. "They'll be staying at the Mansion."
All he can say was he's glad he'd charged his phone before the portal sucked them in.
"Batman doesn't exist here."
He watched, with a small degree of satisfaction, Damian's eyes grow wide at his announcement. It's the closest to a look of surprise Tim has ever seen on his face. "What do you mean he doesn't exist here?"
A flicker of irritation fluttered in his chest at the brat's suspicious tone. "Exactly what I said, demon spawn. I looked it up. On the internet," he added, because looked it up might as well translate to hacked into the files in their line of work, but the security of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s servers was practically akin to that of the Cave's - unbreachable. Tim would bet half his inheritance his own counterpart had contributed to the unbreachableness. "Batman doesn't exist, and neither does the rest of the family."
The brat's grip on the book he'd buried himself in had loosened. "What about the Justice League?"
Tim spared his phone another glance. "They go by the Avengers."
Damian wrinkled his nose. "What kind of ridiculous name is that?"
He shrugged, leaning back against the couch. "Don't ask me."
"Is Kent still Superman?"
Tim shook his head. "No. I dunno. There weren't any results for Superman, so we can only assume Clark's going by a different alias. But he's still a reporter at the Daily Planet."
Damian snapped his book shut. "Wonder Woman?"
"Still Diana." Tim handed him his phone. "Here."
"What're we talking about?"
He bit back a snicker as a vein twitched in the demon brat's temple. Common sense dictated he shouldn't find it as funny as, say, the time, when Dick tripped over a coffee table, and sent the cameraman flying during a photoshoot for Vogue, but for some godawful reason, he found the whole scene with the demon brat pretending he wasn't five seconds away from stabbing the meta - Speed, or something - hilarious. Definitely priceless blackmail material, if the gremlin wasn't currently holding Tim's phone. "None of your business."
"Since when did you become so friendly?" Tim's attention snapped towards Zatara, who had made himself comfortable on the arm of the couch, and proceeded to lean against Speed.
"Fuck off," Speed retorted, but he didn't sound offended as Tim initially thought he'd be. "I can be friendly if I want to. Also, I'm not the one dying to ask them if I exist in their world."
"Yeah, yeah." Zatara rolled his eyes. He looked at Tim with a mixture of curiousity, and boredness in his face - a feat Tim previously thought only Kon had been capable of, but obviously, the Multiverse had proved him wrong. "What the asshole said. Do I exist in your world?"
Tim made a show of thinking about the question. Then he smirked at Zatara. "That's classified information, sorry."
He didn't miss the demon brat's quiet chuckle. Zatara's expression twisted into something ugly. For a split-second, he thought the magician might turn him to ribbons, before his expression smoothened into what Tim might call almost impressed. "Touché." Zatara glanced at Speed. "C'mon, Shepherd, they're not going to give us any answers."
"Yeah?" Speed sounded skeptical, but Tim watched the meta let himself be dragged away by Zatara. "How would you know?"
"Because if they're anything like our Tim and his brat, then we wouldn't get anything out of them."
"We'll let Wayne handle 'em?"
"If he wanted to interrogate them, he already would've."
Tim returned his gaze to the gremlin. The tense line of the demon's shoulders told him all he needed to know that something was bothering the demon spawn.
"Father's counterpart doesn't trust us," Damian finally said. "If he did, then we wouldn't be trapped here, would we? And those fools he sent to babysit us wouldn't be here, either."
"I heard that, you little shit!"
Tim rolled his eyes. "Gremlin, stop antagonizing them. You wouldn't be any use to me if you're dead."
The demon brat huffed. "Really, Drake?"
He winced at the reminder of the incident earlier. It wasn't his proudest moment, but it's not like he had a choice.
He swore under his breath as he bolted down the hallway after the demon spawn. Remind him why the hell did he have to open his big mouth again? Damian might act like emotions were beneath him sometimes, but he was still a child. Of fucking course he'd be hurt by his words. Tim practically implied he'd preferred the demon spawn be dead than get stuck in this world with him. And he was supposed to be the adult out of the two of them.
God, he was such an idiot.
From previous experience, Damian would give people the silent treatment until he deemed it acceptable enough to accept their apology. Which sucked, because the silent treatment would last for days depending on Damian's mood, and Tim did not have the luxury of time since, for one, they were stuck in another world, and if the brat wouldn't listen to him...
"Dames." He made a grab for the demon brat's arm.
Damian recoiled like he'd personally burned him. "What, Drake?"
Tim tried not to flinch at the venom in gremlin's voice. Yep, he definitely deserved that. At least Damian was looking at him now. He held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. "Dami, look. I'm sorry. I really am, I swear," he added, as the demon spawn's expression darkened. "It was a shitty thing to say, and I'm sorry. I know you're not happy to be stuck with me, of all people, but... you're still my brother. You're my responsibility. I don't want you to wander off by yourself and - " he almost said and get kidnapped or something because you're angry, but managed to hold his tongue at the last second, "because we're supposed to stick together. We need to come up with a plan."
"Fine," Damian snapped. "But this temporary truce you're asking for will only last until we return to our world."
Tim bit the inside of his cheek. On one hand, he'd have liked it better if Damian actually gave him a choice in the matter, but on the other hand, he couldn't say anything else because the demon brat's mood might get worse, and Lord only knows what shit Tim would have to deal with if it did. "Okay."
"It's settled." The demon brat's furious expression cleared, making space for his usual arrogant air. Tim inwardly rolled his eyes. "Assuming we're still in Gotham, we have to track down Father, and ask him for help."
"Gotcha. But if it turns out we're not in Gotham?"
"We'll cross the bridge when we get to it."
Tim's stomach dropped. Shit. Damian's answer meant he didn't have his wallet, either. He really wasn't liking their chances. They were stuck in another world with no money, and only the clothes on their back. Just his luck the portal snatched him right when he was getting ready for his movie marathon with Cass.
But he shouldn't be panicking. Panic wasn't in Tim Drake's dictionary, dammit. Worse case scenario, he should find a way to get them back to their world if Gotham doesn't exist here.
"Sure. Yeah." He forced himself to calm the fuck down. "First things first. You have your phone with you?"
"Of course." The demon spawn lifted his chin. "Do you?"
Tim's hand immediately went to the back pocket of his jeans, where he'd crammed his phone seconds before the damn portal made its appearance. "Yep. You think we should - "
"...I wouldn't put it past him to not put trackers on them. He's a paranoid bastard. Speed's words, not mine."
Tim snapped his mouth shut. The speaker was obviously male, but he didn't recognize the voice. He glanced at the demon brat for help. Damian shook his head. Well, fuck. As the voice drew nearer, he had to remind himself he wasn't Red Robin. He was Tim Drake, and the voice was probably going to be very traumatized if a random person suddenly appeared and tried to jump him in his own home.
" - blamed? Ask Wiccan if you want to. He'll vouch for me. The portal wasn't my fault!"
Anger coiled in Tim's stomach at the mention of the portal. He took it back; it was obviously the guy's fault they were stuck here. Or, like, part of his fault. He sounded too defensive for his own good. But the question is why did he create the portal in the first place, even if it was, quote, not his fault, unquote. Maybe he had a superior who wanted Tim and/or Damian dead? Tim made a mental list of the magic-users who had a grudge against him (or the demon brat) huge enough to warrant throwing him into another reality. His first thought was Klarion because of the incident with the Young Justice, except it was years ago, and Tim didn't know if Klarion even kept tabs on him for that long. Fauna Faust would also be a likely candidate; Tim had tracked her down, and helped arrest her, but he doubted she wanted to hire someone to transport him to a different world when she was probably capable of doing it herself.
The voice drew even closer. Tim balled his hands into fists.
"...Hulking, too. Or even Patriot. Ask them."
A shadow fell in his line of vision. It looked to be a suit, and reminded him, weirdly enough, of Zatanna. Five tense seconds later, the shadow stepped into view.
He barely had enough time to register dark hair, and a lean body in a well-fitted suit before something slammed into the shadow.
Wait, it was wasn't a something. It was a fucking someone.
More specifically, it was...
It was the demon brat, Jesus fucking Christ, what the fuck did Tim do to deserve this?
He quickly pushed the thought aside to get ready for a fight. It was an automatic response; one Bruce had drilled into each of his Robins. His relationship with the demon brat might not be like Dick's, and Tim was definitely closer to Cass, and Jason, but it doesn't mean he wouldn't protect Damian with his life if everything went to shit.
The demon brat had launched himself at the attacker, which made it easy for Tim to sneak upon the guy, and sweep his legs from underneath him while he was distracted.
But the victory didn't last long. A split-second later, Tim found himself gasping for air as he was slammed to the floor by an invisible force. Thick, sturdy ropes had appeared out of nowhere, binding his wrists and legs. He swore, and raised his head to glare at the attacker. "Let me go, you asshole - "
Tim's jaw didn't drop at the familiar face, but it was a damn near thing. Because out of all the people he expected to put them in this situation, Zachary Zatara had been on the very bottom of the list.
It really wasn't pleasant. The confrontation afterwards had been a whirlwind of death threats from the demon spawn's side, and a fuckton of sarcastic comments from Zatara because apparently, the guy was close - okay, not close, but he was friends with the Tim, and Damian of this world.
The quick tug on his sleeve brought him back to reality. He stared at the demon brat in surprise, but the demon brat only rolled his eyes, and let his fingers fall to the side. "I don't trust the people here, Drake."
I don't trust the people here who aren't our family, went unspoken. Except for Bruce. Tim was starting to dislike the Bruce here. He wasn't bad, but something was seriously off about him; Tim just couldn't place what. "Pretty sure the feeling's mutual."
"Yes." Damian chewed on his lower lip. Tim instictively straightened up at the movement; it was a tell the gremlin had, indicating he found something newsworthy, but was hesitant to bring it up. "Anyway, I found a lead on this world's Todd."
His eyes widened. "What? How?"
"Doesn't matter," the demon brat grumbled. "Just look at it."
Tim grabbed his phone. He frowned at the screen. "Huh. So he's also in Manhattan. I mean, it's not much, but... I guess it's better than nothing."