Crossover Gotham Hearts

Discussion in 'Written Works' started by Loxare, May 11, 2015.

  1. Loxare Hollow Bastion Committee

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    Alright! Here's a fanfic. It's written by me and my friend Arrow and it's Kingdom Hearts and Batman. And because Batman, it's a little violent. Seriously, people get stabbed all the time in this. This'll be the only warning you get. So yeah. For those of you who aren't Batman fans, Ihave a "necessary information" spoiler tag at the bottom. Just basic history on the characters. For example, there have been five different Robins. Well, five canon Robins, there's a bunch more who are alternate universe and retconned. Very sad. And here we go.

    GOTHAM HEARTS
    A wonderful product of late nights, too much boredom and not enough Batman​

    "Alright Sora, this is the place." Riku spun in his chair to stare at his oldest friend. "Xehanort was last seen going here. Apparently, something interested him, something big enough to distract him from Kingdom Hearts." He shifted, wincing slightly at the pain in his leg. A minor injury from a Neo Shadow, but enough to keep him off his feet and out of the field for another week. "Just find out what it is, throw a wrench into the works and get out. And be careful." Turning the chair back to the controls, he carefully piloted the gummi ship over a building. "It's called Gotham and it looks dangerous."

    *****​

    The first thing Sora noticed as he teleported into this new world was the smell of it. Smoke, damp wood, and gasoline all mixed together into something that wasn't very pleasant. The look of the place accompanied the small strangely well. Gazing around, Sora saw he was standing in a grimy alleyway, trash and mud splattered haphazardly around. It was nighttime, and Sora couldn't help but feel slightly uneasy. He had never come into a world that seemed to uninviting before. Better do some looking around then, he thought. There was a strange lack of people around, and Sora was longing to talk to someone. He couldn't help being curious about this place, even if it was, to put it simply, scary. He had just taken a tentative step forward when he heard something shift behind him.

    “Your wallet or your life, Kid.” The man tossed a knife – at least ten inches long and sharp looking – from one hand to the other. Sora smiled.

    “Hi! My name’s Sora!” Beaming, waving and generally unaware of the danger he was in, Sora strode towards the man with the knife. “Hey, have you seen a guy, tall, bald, yellow eyes…?”

    The man, just a mugger looking for an easy mark, stared in shock at the kid. “Are you deaf? I said give me your wallet!”

    “Um...” Sora said slowing to a halt a few feet from the practically snarling man. “I don't have one of those...uh wallets.” He looked at the man sympathetically. “Sorry.”

    The man took a step forward, brandishing the knife menacingly. “Don't give me that crap kid. I know you got cash, so SPILL IT!”

    Sora stared at the man for a few seconds then his grin broke into a smile. “OH, you just need some money!” he exclaimed happily, “Why didn't you just say so?”

    The man was now giving Sora a very strange look, but at the understanding in Sora's voice, held out his free hand expectantly. Pulling out a few strangely shaped yellow coins, Sora dropped about a dozen of them into the man’s hands and yet again smiled a friendly smile. The thug stared down at the coins, his expression turning from confusion to rage.

    “What the hell kind of crap is this?!” The man tossed the coins to the ground, then pulled a gun with his free hand. “Are you playing with me kid?!” Pointing the gun straight at Sora’s head, his trigger finger tightened and –

    – abruptly dropped to the floor as someone landed on him. “Benny! Long time no see!” Another man, this one wearing a leather jacket and with a red helmet covering his entire head, stood up and stepped off the thug. He grabbed the thug around the throat, shoving him against the wall. “And what have I told you about going after children?”

    The man on the wall thrashed, fear showing in his eyes. “I’m sorry Red Hood! Please, just let me go! It won’t happen again, I swear!”

    Red Hood cocked his head at the man. A long moment passed. Finally, he loosened his grip and Benny dropped to the ground. “You’re lucky I had a good day. Now get gone.” A quick glance over at the kid to make sure he was okay and…

    The kid was holding a giant key as if it was a sword, a serious expression on his face. “Kid, not even going into how impractical that thing would be as a weapon, or where you were keeping it because it is way too big for your pockets, why would you be attacking the person who just saved your life?”

    Sora tightened his grip on his Keyblade, giving the strange new man (Red Hood as the other guy called him) a fierce glare. “Save me!” He exclaimed! “You were getting violent! It looked like you were ready to hurt that guy! Why would you do that?!”

    The Red Hood just stood there looking at the kid thoughtfully. He was used to kids screaming, running away, breaking down in tears, but not this boy. He wasn't scared; to the contrary he was angry. Maybe it was just some really weird circumstances, but Jason was starting to think there was something wrong with him.

    “Let me get this straight,” he began, nonchalantly putting his hands behind his head and contemplating Sora with an air of amusement. “You think I am the bad guy here, because I just saved you from getting shot?”

    “Shot?” Sora asked tensely, refusing to relax his stance. “What are you talking about?”

    Yup. Jason thought exasperatedly. Either this kid is screwing with me, or there is something very wrong with him.

    He stepped towards the kid with his hands raised peacefully.

    Slinging an arm around the kid’s shoulders, he pulled out one of his guns. “A gun, kid.” He fired it into the wall, mostly to make a point, partly to shock the kid. “Remember now? Everyone knows what these are.”

    Recognition filled Sora’s eyes. “Oooh! Right! Captain used one of those. This one looks a lot different though.”

    “Captain?” Jason asked, “Captain what? Marvel? Boomerang? Atom? Wait, I bet it’s Cold with his weird cold guns.”

    Sora shook his head. “Nope. Captain Jack Sparrow. We sailed together for a while looking for Aztec gold.” He regarded the red-helmeted man in front of him. He didn’t seem to want to hurt Sora, so he relaxed and put the Keyblade away.

    Red Hood noticed and jumped back. “What the hell?”

    Sora looked around, as if trying to see what had startled the man so much. But he didn't see anything out of the ordinary. Hearing footsteps he looked back at the Red Hood who had taken a few steps away from him. His gun wasn't pointed in his direction, but Sora could see the entirety of the man’s muscles stiffen. What was really strange though, was that those glowing eyes were staring straight at Sora. Or to be more specific, at Sora's hand where his Keyblade used to be.

    “What's the matter?” Sora asked tentatively. “Don't worry, I don't want to fight you anymore. You just kinda startled me is all.”

    Hood seemed to be paying very little attention to what he was saying however. “Where did that thing you were carrying go?”

    “My Keyblade?” Sora asked. “It's right here.”

    With a flash of sparkling light his weapon reappeared in his hand. Red Hood flinched unintentionally at the reappearance of the weapon, but didn't step back this time.

    “How... how did you do that?” he asked. “That must be some pretty damn impressive technology. I've never even seen Batman use anything like it.”

    “Huh,” Sora said. “I don't know how it happens, it...just kinda goes away when I don't need it and comes back again when I do. But you can look at if you’d like.”

    He held out the Key to the man who after a few seconds of carefully considering the offer, stepped forward for a closer look. But right then a sound all too familiar to Sora resonated around the alley, and he jerked the blade away turning backwards and preparing for a fight.

    “Heartless!”

    Sora moved quickly, but the man was faster. Before he had even settled into a fighting stance, the Red Hood had dived forward, guns blazing. Racing down the alley, he ran straight up a wall and flipped onto a fire escape, shooting all the while. Sora stood, stunned, for a moment, then darted into the fray, Keyblade swinging. Red Hood, both guns out of ammo, leapt down, landing on a Darkball and vapourizing it under his boots. Pulling his knife, he slashed two Neo Shadows in one motion.

    Sora watched as he fought. Well, as much as he could. Red Hood was defeating so many Heartless so quickly, the entire area around him was filled with black fog. Not that Sora was doing too badly either. His Keyblade moved so quickly, it was little more than a silver blur.

    Soon – much sooner than Sora would have thought possible – the alley was clear of Heartless. Sora was breathing hard, the adrenaline from the fight leaving him. Annoyingly though, Red Hood didn’t seem any worse for wear.

    Jason sheathed his knife. The kid had done incredibly well. He fought almost as well as Jason himself did when he was still Robin. “Well, that was fun. So what was up with those things? You seemed to know what they were.”

    “Heartless.” Sora said, and Red Hood was surprised at his tone. He sounded, not so much dark, but sad and resigned. “They are creatures made from people’s hearts. Well, actually, they are made from the darkness in people’s hearts.”

    Sora sighed and Hood raised an eye brow at him, though he couldn't see it under his mask.

    “They are creatures made from people’s hearts?” he asked, his tone skeptical. “What do you mean, like experimented on or something? That kind of reminds me of the man-bats.”

    Breathing starting to return to normal, Sora looked once again at the red hooded figure. “No, not like that. These are people who have been overcome by darkness in their lives. People who have given up, lost their way.”

    Jason couldn't help it. He snorted at that, despite the kid’s unhappy expression. “Sounds like I should have turned into one of those a long time ago if that were true.”

    Sora looked up at him, a surprised expression on his face, but before he could say anything, a third voice echoed around the alley.

    “Aw, don't say that Jaybird. You're a good guy! You just tend to ignore it sometimes... or a lot of times.”

    Both of them tensed and raised their heads. Right above them, hanging upside-down from a rope, was another man. This one was wearing a black body-suit with a blue symbol splashed across his chest, similar in design to the one on Red Hood’s.

    Hood crossed his arms, relaxing his posture once again. “No names on the field Dickface.”

    “Hey!” Sora whirled, “That’s not nice!” His anger quickly turned to confusion as the other two burst into laughter. The new guy flipped himself upright and dropped, landing gracefully next to Sora.

    “Don’t worry about it kid, he wasn’t insulting me.” Sticking out his hand, the new guy smiled. “You can call me Nightwing. This incredibly rude person is Red Hood.” Red Hood moved to protest, but Nightwing cut him off, “Oh hush, I know you haven’t introduced yourself yet.”

    Sora smiled. Finally, something he was used to. “I’m Sora! Nice to meet you!” He grabbed Nightwing’s proffered hand.

    “So, where are you from Sora? You’re clearly not from around here.” Nightwing hopped onto a nearby dumpster so they could talk while Red Hood leaned against the wall.

    Sora started. Did protecting the world border still apply? What should he say? And how did they know? “What do you mean?”

    Hood snorted. “Oh please. You don’t go to Gotham without knowing what a gun is. And that’s clearly not from around here.” He gestured to the munny still littering the ground.

    “Well…” Sora scratched his head. How to explain? “I'm looking for someone.” He began. “Someone called Xehanort.

    “A friend of yours?” asked Nightwing.

    “What!” Sora started. “No way, not even close!”

    “So you and this person don't get along then?” Jason spoke up from his shadowy spot on the wall. “I hope you aren’t part of a gang or something, looking for a fight.”

    “Of course not!” Sora said indignantly. “Those Heartless we just beat up a few minutes ago, you could say Xehanort is responsible for those being here!”

    This seemed to pique both vigilantes’ interests. Nightwing cocked his head, concentrating on Sora while Red Hood stood up a bit straighter.

    “Why did he send them?” Red Hood asked. “What do they do? How dangerous are... Heartless? And are there more of them?

    “Uh-” Sora paused, overwhelmed by this sudden bombardment of questions, and not sure how to answer. “Well, yeah they are very dangerous. They attack people with weak hearts, making more and more Heartless as they go. For all I know, they came to this world because they sensed that there was a lot of people here with weak hearts who have a good chance of becoming Heartless. If Heartless are in this world, it means the people here are in danger. I have to stop Xehanort, and hopefully that will stop the Heartless here as well.”

    Jason was silent, but Nightwing’s face had concern written all over it. “Hold on just a second. You’re wanting to go and find this... Xeha-whatever person and try to defeat him all by yourself? You’re just a kid!”

    “And a short, skinny string-bean at that.” Jason added. “Also, hypocritical much ‘Wing?”

    “That’s different and you know it Hood.”

    He snorted, “How? A kid, some training, hanging out in back alleys beating up monsters. Yup. Totally different.”

    Nightwing smacked Hood’s arm lightly, but didn’t object to the reasoning. Instead, he turned back to Sora. “So, this Xehanort guy. Got a picture or description?” Sora opened his journal, pulling out the most recent picture he had of the villain. “Wow. Face like that, no wonder he’s evil. Check it out Hood. He’s got classic villain face.” Nightwing flashed the picture and Red Hood snorted again. “We’ll run a scan on the traffic cams for you Sora. If he passes one, we’ll find him.”

    “Really? That easy?” If Sora’s smile were any brighter, ‘Wing could have stuck it in the sky and called it the sun. He smiled back, unable to avoid the kid’s infectious good mood.

    “Ugh.” Jason groaned. “Just what I needed. More happy go lucky crime fighters. Careful kid, this guy can be pretty damn annoying when he wants to be.”

    Nightwing looked indignantly over at Red Hood who had crossed his arms and was once again leaning on the wall. “You're one to talk Hood!” he said, “You cause pandemonium wherever you set foot.”

    It was obvious from his voice Red Hood was smiling as he replied “Yeah, I do, don't I?”

    Shaking his head, Nightwing turned back to Sora. “Anyway Sora, how are we gonna stay in touch? Do you have a phone number we can contact you at or something?”

    Sora shook his head looking once again bewildered. “I'm pretty sure I have no clue what that is.” He said, glancing over at Red Hood who was throwing his hands into the air in exasperation.

    “Seriously kid, did you come here from a different planet or something!?”

    Neither Nightwing nor Red Hood noticed Sora stiffen slightly at this. “I'm just... not from around here,” he invented.

    “Well, in any case, I think one of us should stay with you for now.” said Nightwing.

    Hood gave him another exasperated look.

    “So we can stay in contact until the search results are up,” ‘Wing said shrugging. Though Jason saw he was still concerned about the kid.

    “Fine.” he replied, shrugging as well, “So the kid is coming with me.”

    It was more of a statement, not a question, which caused Nightwing to frown at him. “Why do you say that?” Jason wasn’t really the type of person to just volunteer to hang out with someone he barely knew, so it had to be something besides Sora’s sunny personality.

    Hood flicked Nightwing on the forehead. “Think Wingnut. You’re heading to the Cave with that photo. And Bats is still mad from last time I was here. We may be on better terms right now, but I’d still like to avoid the stop-trying-to-kill-the-Joker lecture. Besides, you can hack the traffic cams faster than I can. I’m out of practice.”

    “You’d be faster if you didn’t make Arsenal do all of the work.” Nightwing shot, a cocky grin splashed across his features. This caused the ground under his feet to explode a few times. He jumped, landing on the fire escape and smiling down at Jason, whose gun was still pointed at the spot where Nightwing’s feet used to be.

    Lazily, Red Hood moved the gun so it was pointing straight at Nightwing. “Just get going before I shoot you and then call Robin for retrieval. Not kidding here, I’m tempted.”

    Sora shifted at the words, moving back down into his fighting stance, but Nightwing could hear the grin in his brother’s tone, even if he couldn’t see it under the helmet. “Whatever you say Little Wing. I’ll call you as soon as I have something on the case!” And with parting words, he flipped up the fire escape and onto the roof, grappling away.

    As soon as Nightwing was out of sight, Jason pulled off his helmet. He ran a hand through his black and white hair and, double checking that the domino mask was still in place, turned to look at the kid. “So, Sora, you hungry?”

    Sora was still contemplating Jason with some uncertainty. Apparently his and Nightwing’s little act hadn't impressed him. He gave the kid a cocky grin (a rather rare sight for Red Hood) and put a hand on Sora’s shoulder.

    “Come on kid.” He said lightly stepping to the entrance of the alleyway and dragging Sora with him. “Me and my friend ‘Wing were just messing around. Nothing to worry about.”

    “If you say so.” Sora said, sounding unsure.

    “SO” Hood said loudly. “Food! I want some. You?

    It was at that moment that Sora remembered that he hadn’t eaten in a few hours. And that fight a few minutes ago had left him starving. “I am pretty hungry.” he admired. “If you are getting something to eat I guess I could too. If you don't mind me tagging along.”

    “Course not!” Hood said happily letting go of Sora and stepping into the dimly lit streets of downtown Gotham. “The tricky part is finding a place that sells something eatable.”

    “I'll pretty much eat anything!” Sora added helpfully.

    Red Hood laughed. “Not if you don't wanna get sick you won’t.”

    Five minutes of walking and the two ended up in a kind of square surrounded by shops. Food trucks littered the area, their smells melding together and causing both Red Hood and Sora to drool and look longingly up at the menus.

    “Take your pick.” Hood offered, waving his hand at all the different vendors. “My treat. Just do yourself a favour and avoid the Mexican place.”

    Sora ended up getting a fish fillet with mushrooms on rice. Jason went for the chilidogs, the cook greeting his best customer warmly. “Come on, it’s crowded as hell down here.” Jason pulled his grapple from his jacket. “I’ll go up and then lower the rope down.” He shot off the grapple at a low building nearby, only two stories. However, before he could turn to lower the rope, Sora jumped. And landed neatly next to Jason. “Crap. Are you a meta kid? Cause Batman doesn’t like metas in his city.”

    Sora’s face twisted into a confused expression for what felt like the millionth time today. “What’s a meta?”

    A quick expression of shock passed over Jason’s face before turning down into angry mistrust. “Seriously? I don’t care what kind of rock you’ve been living under, but no one goes through life in this day and age without knowing what metas are! The most backwater village in Asia has heard of metas, believe me, I’ve been there. So you’re going to start telling me where you’re really from or things are going to get dicey.”

    Sora frowned at the implied threat. “I’m not scared of you. I could be out of here in no time flat. Not like you could take me anyways.” He crossed his arms, takeout dish carefully balanced in one hand.

    Jason laughed outright at this. “Firstly, I could beat you in a dozen different ways before you could twitch. Second, if you leave, you don’t get the info on that Xehanort dude you’re looking for.”

    “I could still find him!”

    “Not as fast. And who knows how many of those Heartless things he could bring here in the meantime. How many people could die because you wouldn’t talk.”

    Sora’s expression flashed from defiant to troubled. Of course he didn't want anyone to get hurt. And as annoying as this Hood guy was, he had a point. The issue was now he had a decision to make. Should he tell Jason the truth? Would he believe him? There was probably a good chance he wouldn't. Sighing, Sora dropped cross legged onto the stone roof and began to eat.

    “Hey!” Jason snapped. “Don't just ignore me! I'm serious! You better not think I'm joking ‘cuz I'm not!”

    Sora looked up at him. “Fine, I'll tell you, but first things first, I think your food’s getting cold. You don't want to waste a perfectly good meal.”

    Jason was taken aback by the lack of hostility in the kid’s voice. “Hmmmph.” He grumbled sitting down next to Sora and taking an angry bite out of his chilidog.

    They sat like that for about a minute eating in silence. Jason was showing an amazing amount of restraint on his part to not grab the kid and shake him until he got answers. Finally, Sora seemed to have decided on something, and placing his half eaten dish in his lap, looked at Red Hood and said, “I'm not from this world.”

    Red Hood just sat there, chilidog halfway to his mouth, looking at the kid blankly. “Ok. So why didn’t you just say so?”

    Sora turned slowly to face him, shocked. “Wait, you mean you believe me? Just like that?”

    “Dude, I hang around an alien princess all day. Superman’s been flying around Metropolis for years now, flaunting his alien-ness. Just a little while ago, my idiot friend got kidnapped by some space mercenaries and we had to fly out there to get him and our ship back. Space travel isn’t that uncommon. And,” raising the hand not holding his chilidog to stop any protests from Sora, “if you’re from a different dimension, that’s not too uncommon either. So get on with it.”

    Sora opened and closed his mouth a few times. “Well. Ok then.” He took a few more bites of his fish to buy him some time before answering. Maybe if he said it all in one go, it would be easier. “So anyways. I’m a Keyblade Wielder from Destiny Islands and I fly around in my gummi ship with a bunch of my friends and we’re trying to save the worlds from darkness.” Yeah, that was pretty easy.

    Hood just took another bite of his chilidog. “So you’re a bunch of space superheroes. Alright. And this Xehanort guy, what’s he after?”

    “He wants something called Kingdom Hearts, which is basically the heart of all worlds. If he gets that, he’ll unleash darkness into the worlds and probably destroy everything.” Sora speared a mushroom on his fork and popped it in his mouth. “I just don’t know what he wants in this world.”

    Jason just nodded, finishing off his food with one last bite. “What kind of threat is he?”

    “Well, he has a Keyblade too. And an almost unlimited supply of Heartless and Nobodies.”

    “Nobodies?”

    “Heartless are the hearts of people who have given into darkness. Nobodies are the body and soul left behind. And if the person had a really strong heart, then the Nobody that gets created has a consciousness and looks almost identical to the original person.” Sora finished his fish, then tossed the container into a dumpster in the alley below.

    A strange expression crossed Red Hood’s face. “Huh.” As soon as it had come, the expression was gone, replaced by a careful neutral. “Well, thanks for sharing kid. Now, let’s start preparing.”

    “You mean how we're gonna fight Xehanort?” Sora asked excitedly.

    “Yup!” Jason said easily, now crumpling up his wrapper and throwing it neatly into a small trash can far below. “This guy has come into the Bat’s territory, so it's only natural that we help take him down.”

    “Bats?” Sora asked interested.

    “Yeah, see, there’s a guy who protects the people of this city, he is called Batman and he is a pretty, uh, impressive fighter. Then he has partners who work alongside him, y’know, helping him to keep the streets safe. There's Robin, Red Robin, Batgirl, and of course Golden Boy himself. Um, Nightwing that is. Couple others too, but those are the main ones.”

    “Wow!” Sora said impressed. “You guys all work together to protect people!”

    Jason stopped to think about that. “Sometimes we work together. Or at least, the rest of the Bats do. I on the other hand, tend to stay to myself. But forget about that, we need to start planning how to take care of this guy Xehanort. Do you have any idea as to where he might be? Does he like to hang in a certain place, or with a specific type of crowd?”

    “Well,” Sora said, putting a hand on his chin as he thought. “He sometimes likes to hang around bad guys. You know, people who are consumed by evil. Probably to make them into powerful Heartless, or to get them to help him with something.”

    “Hmmmm” Jason mused. “That could be a problem. We should probab-“

    What, are you doing here Hood?!” A young sneering voice sounded from above them.

    Jason winced. He did NOT need this right now. “Robin. When did daddy dearest let you out of the nest? Isn’t he worried you’ll stab someone?”

    The new person, someone even younger than Sora crossed his arms. “Tt. The greater risk is you Hood. Last I heard, you were shooting up Grandfather’s city with your usual subtlety.” He stepped out of the shadows, revealing a red tunic, green boots and gloves, and a black cape with yellow lining and a hood.

    “That was ages ago Demon Brat. Get with the times.” Jason ducked as a birdarang flew at his head. “Nice try. Now calm down, I’m not here for anything dastardly. Just helping out Sora here. Come say hello. Or has Agent A not taught you any manners yet?”

    Robin simply glared at the back of Red Hood’s head. Sora looked back and forth between them, suddenly nervous at the hostility emanating from the young bird. Finally, trying to diffuse the tension, he stood up and held out his hand. “Hi! My name’s Sora. You’re Robin?”

    After another moment glaring at Hood, who was nonchalantly ignoring the kid, Robin turned to Sora and grabbed his hand. “Yes. I assume you’re the one Nightwing told me about?”

    “He told you about me already? That was fast.”

    Jason’s phone suddenly went off, a quick vibrate indicating a text. Ugh, from Goldie. “Hey Little Wing~! I sent Dami over to meet Sora. I think he’ll be a good influence on our baby bat. Make sure they play nice now!! :D” Wait. Did Dick just dump another brat on him?

    “Hey, Robin?” Jason waved at the brat distractedly. “Could you keep Sora company for a little while? I need to go kill Nightwing quickly. Won’t be a moment.” He dived off the roof, his grapple line already attached to the building across the street. To his immense annoyance, Robin shot off his grapple and followed, pulling Sora behind him.

    The chase continued for another couple of blocks before Hood finally turned to the kids landing gracefully on the rooftop behind him. “Ok, why are you following me?”

    “I was told to follow you as long as you were in Gotham. Both of you. Nightwing said it would be good experience.” The Demon Brat looked annoyed. “Personally, I’d rather put you back in Arkham where you belong, but that’s not my call.” Under his breath, he said too quietly to be heard, “Yet.”

    Jason’s phone vibrated again. “Maaaaay have told him to stick to you like a burr. Heh. Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll all get along swimmingly~! Have fun Little Wing!!! :D :) ^_^” It took all of Jason’s control not to crush the phone in his hand.

    “Fine, I’ll shoot his sorry head off later. For now, let’s just hit one of my safehouses. I’m running short on ammo and Sora here needs some less conspicuous clothes.”

    Sora started. “What’s wrong with them?” he asked, looking down at his attire.

    Hood snorted. “Really? You can’t see it? That many belts and zippers is overkill, unless they’re used to hold useful things like batarangs or explosives. And your shoes? Yeah, you look like you could be one of Joker’s henches wearing those. You’re lucky Red Robin left some spare civvies at the safehouse we’re going to. You look about his size.”

    It only took them a few minutes of swinging from roof top to roof top (or in Sora's case jumping and gliding) to reach the shabby high-rise where Red Hood brought the procession to a halt. He perched on the railing of a fire escape about 10 stores up, and waited as the other two landed beside him.

    “I can't believe I have been tricked into wasting my valuable time hanging around here when I could be out helping to patrol Father’s city.”

    “Hey!” Jason said as he slid onto the metal grated floor and pushed open a window. “If you want to whine to someone, then go bug Goldie. He is the one who organized this little party.”

    Robin jumped nimbly through the window, leaving Sora to carefully climb in after him. He looked around examining the plain furniture and neatly organized books and folders taking up a good amount of space on the table and desk. Robin jumped onto the arm of the single sofa sitting against the far wall and stared at Sora. “You really do have some strange friends Hood.”

    “Hey!” Sora and Red Hood exclaimed in unison.

    “First off,” Red Hood started as he began rummaging in a small closet, “I'm sure Nightwing has informed you that I only ran into this guy about an hour ago. He is not my friend!”

    “What?!” Sora said sounding hurt. “But I thought we were!”

    Jason's head briefly popped out of the closet. “I don't know if you have noticed kid, but I don't really like many people.” Then he disappeared once again.

    Sora frowned and looked over at the other boy. “Seriously is he always like-

    Robin was no longer crouching on the couch. Instead, he seemed to have found a secret compartment filled with all sorts of weapons. He held a curious expression on his face as he picked up what looked be a long, cylindrical object. Sora couldn't help it, his curiosity won out and he walked over to the smaller boy.

    “Todd, what do you think you’re doing with a rocket launcher?”

    “No names in the- you know what? Never mind.” Jason poked his head out of the closet again. Just in time to see Sora pick up the rocket launcher from Robin. “Whoa! Hey, be careful with that! It’s still loaded!” He rushed over and grabbed the offending object from Sora’s hands. Quickly unloading the ammo, he stored it back in the compartment. “And for your information Robin, this particular rocket launcher has some special memories attached to it. I blew up Black Mask’s office with it once.” A fond smile crossed his face. “Good times. Now get out of my stuff!”

    He slammed the compartment shut and stomped back to the closet. Pulling the first set of Tim’s civvies he found, he tossed them to Sora. “Here. You can change in the bathroom if you want. I’ll call up Nightwing and see how far he’s gotten with the traffic cams.”

    Shutting the door behind him, Sora carefully unfolded the clothes he had been given. The jeans reminded him of something Riku would wear, and the t shirt and hoodie weren’t too different from what he normally has on. Hood had a good eye though. All of the stuff fit perfectly. The shoes fit similarly to the shoes he had worn in Halloween Town. He took a few experimental steps. It would be a bit of a hassle getting used to the smaller pair, but he should adapt quickly enough.

    He unlatched the door, just in time to hear Red Hood shouting into the phone. “You got BOTH of them involved in this?! Why would you do that?! I can understand telling Batgirl, but why does this have to be a whole family affair?”

    Sora plopped himself on the couch next to Robin. “What’s going on?”

    Robin gave him a sideways glance before frowning even deeper. “Tt. Nightwing told Batman, Red Robin and Batgirl about you and your search. Personally, the more people we have searching for this Xehanort person, the sooner we can find him. Then maybe you’ll leave.”

    “What?” Sora was hurt. He was hoping to make friends with Robin. He liked the kid, for all his bad attitude. “You don’t want me around?”

    Jason tossed the phone at the wall. “Grah! He really bugs me sometimes.” Running his hands through his white fringe again, he sat on the sofa between Sora and Robin. “Don’t take it personally kid,” he said, turning to Sora, “Robin doesn’t like anyone. Nightwing is the only one he tolerates. Well, Nightwing and Batcow.”

    “That’s not true!” Robin burst out, “I have affection for Pennyworth the cat and Titus as well!”

    “So wait, there’s a Batman, a Batgirl and a Batcow?” Sora knew he was interrupting the conversation, but this needed to be answered.

    Jason smiled at the expression on Sora’s face. Oh, he had no idea. “Batwoman too. And I think there was a Bathound back when Nightwing was Robin.”

    “Wait, Nightwing was Robin? I thought he was Robin.” Sora pointed at the 10 year old at the other end of the sofa. He was seriously confused.

    “Well…” said Red Hood. But he was interrupted by one of Robin’s signature tt’s.

    “There have been many Robins before me.” He said in a superior voice. “Though all of them have been greatly inferior.”

    Sora cocked his head at that while Red Hood growled his disapproval. “So...if Nightwing was Robin, why isn't he anymore?”

    Robin’s eyes might have been covered, but Sora could tell the younger boy was rolling them pretentiously. “Because he got too old for the mantle of Robin. He decided he no longer wanted to work with fa- Batman. I don't expect someone like you to understand!”

    “So,” Sora said unperturbed, “He was the one who left Batman? Why would you just leave your friend like that? I've known my friends for a long time and that hasn't made me feel any different.”

    “Whoa whoa whoa kid.” Hood cut in quickly. “Don't think for a second that Nightwing didn't have a good reason for leaving. Because he did. All of the Robins did.”

    Robin crossed his arms and leaned back into the cushions grumbling something about cowardice.

    “I don't think I would ever leave my friends.” Sora said determinedly. “We stick together no matter what!”

    “Well you don't know Batman like we do.” Jason grumbled standing up. It seemed he was too irritated to stay still in one place for too long. He walked over to his phone which was lying forgotten on the ground, picking it up, and inspecting the damage that had been done. “In fact you don't know him at all. But I'm sure that will change shortly.”

    Sora couldn't help feeling a bit excited at this. From what he had heard Batman was someone powerful and important. Respect seemed to be intertwined with the name. Though twisted in with that initial excitement was uneasiness. Sora couldn't quite understand why.

    Jason strode over to a window while tapping at his phone. It seemed to be working amazingly. He had broken many of them this way. He looked up slowly and gazed out the window seeing-

    “What the hell!!!”

    Sora and Robin bolted to the window, staring in abject horror at the street below. It seemed to be carpeted in a writing mass of darkness.

    “So, Sora, before we jump down into that, any tips on how to beat them?” Red Hood strode over to his compartment, grabbing another four or five guns and stowing them on various places on his body.

    Sora summoned his Keyblade. “Um… Well, they’re not usually very smart. They always have an attack pattern, and if you can figure it out, they’re not too difficult. However, the stronger the person’s heart was when they were whole, the stronger the Heartless and the tougher they are to beat. Besides that, they’re made of pure darkness, so if you have any lights or anything, it might help.”

    Robin reached into the compartment as well, pulling a few flash grenades. Grabbing a spare katana from the rack on the wall, he threw his leg over the window sill. “I’m going in. You probably won’t be needed.” He dropped, using a grapple at the last moment to slow his fall.

    “Like hell. Batman will kill me if I send you home in a bodybag.” Jason pulled on his helmet and put his head out the window, preparing to jump. Then pulled back in to stare at Sora. “Wait, you said they’re made of pure darkness. Does that mean pure evil?”

    “Umm…” Sora crossed his arms and thought a moment. “Yeah, I guess so. Why?”

    Jason grinned, even though Sora wouldn’t be able to see it under the helmet. “No reason. See you down there.” He pushed off of the window sill, not even bothering to grab for his grapple. Instead, he picked the largest Heartless he could and angled his body towards it. He landed feet first on it, the sudden vapourization of the creature enough to slow his momentum. He rolled, shooting at any Heartless stupid enough to come close to him.

    Once he had emptied his guns, instead of reaching for the next one, he drew the All Blades. Glinting wickedly in each hand, the Blades cut through Heartless as smoothly as a hot knife through butter and twice as fast. After he had cleared an entire block of Heartless, he paused to check the progress of the other two.

    To his surprise, Sora and Robin were nearly fighting back to back, both blades swinging wildly flashing in and out of the dark mist, while a wave of Heartless converged around them. Jason started. How had so many of the monsters appeared? He was sure he had killed at least a hundred of them! But it seemed like the creatures just kept coming.

    Instantly he changed course, pushing off the ground with all the strength he had and charging at the spot the two younger boys were standing just a few seconds ago, but which now resembled a slithering dark mass. To his irritation, fear rose inside his chest. He needed to move faster. Faster!

    Get a grip Jason, he snarled to himself. Just concentrate!

    It seemed like an eternity running back down that rundown street past screaming civilians and car alarms and a few Heartless here and there. He slashed his swords viciously almost absentmindedly at any Heartless who was stupid enough to get in his way. Finally he reached where the majority of Heartless had seemed to converge. He needed to be careful how he approached this. He couldn't just go in swinging his swords like crazy when he didn't know where in the mass of monsters Robin or Sora were. Jason swore. Why did things have to be so difficult!?

    With a few precise slashes he began clearing Heartless away, jumping nimbly around to avoid their attacks. Sora had been right: once you understood their attack patterns they were quite predictable. But the sheer numbers of Heartless made the task slow going.

    “Sora!” He called, hearing a bit more desperation in his voice then he would have liked. “Robin! Are you guys all right!? Can you hear me!?”

    There was a muffled response in reply, and Red Hood felt a spark of relief. But the sound came from fairly far into the crowd of monsters, and throwing caution to the wind (something Jason was good at) he began tearing through Heartless, making his way further into the chaos.

    It wasn't long before he spotted them. He saw Sora first. He was jumping around desperately, weaving in and out of the creatures’ reaches. His Keyblade was glowing and shooting fire at the closest of his opponents. He seemed to be circling something, and it took Jason a moment to realize what it was. Robin! He was on his knees, holding his arm which was bleeding. But the kid was snarling and seemed to be trying to stand. That meant that whatever happened to him couldn't be too serious. He was just about to reach the two when he heard a screech from above accompanied by a shadow crossing over him. Looking up, he saw five, no eight, huge dark bat like creatures who seemed to be made out of pure blackness dive towards Sora. The boy was far too preoccupied to notice this new assault. Without thinking Jason jumped towards him.

    *****​

    Swinging his Keyblade, Sora sliced through a Neo Shadow, using the momentum of the maneuver to block an attack from a Darkball. Robin was fighting fiercely next to him, twin katanas flashing in the streetlamps. Both of them used fairly acrobatic maneuvers, jumping to attack. In Robin’s case, he used the Heartless themselves as launch pads, stabbing and slashing before leaping off of another creature’s head and becoming airborne once more. Sora used the momentum of his swings to keep himself aloft for a combo or two, but had to return to the ground to regain his balance.

    It was during one of these times on the ground that he noticed a shadow directly beneath his ally. “ROBIN! LOOK OUT!” he cried, just as the Neo Shadow leapt from the ground spearing Robin’s arm, the katana dropping from his grasp. The brightly-clad hero swung down with his other arm, slicing off the Heartless’s arm. As he dropped to the ground, he speared its head. Sora ran forward, Keyblade swinging. He took up a defensive position in front of Robin, heart sinking as the circle they had emptied of Heartless filled again.

    He fought with all his might. A Darkball tried to rush him but found itself impaled. As it dissolved into dust, a Giga Shadow swiped at him. He blocked, skidding back a step, and then parried, twisting his body inside the Heartless’s swing and slashing with the Keyblade. Behind him, Robin was barely holding his own, the katana in his good arm either blocking or swinging in wide arcs, forcing the dark horde to move back. Sora was pretty impressed. If he had been in Robin’s position, he’d probably have been dead minutes ago. As it was, the kid seemed too stubborn to let himself give up.

    He continued on, attacking Heartless when he could and defending Robin when he needed to. He had finally cleared another circle around the two, giving them a little leeway. A screech sounded. It was pretty far away, so he ignored it. The second screech, a half second later, was right over his shoulder. Too late, he turned, watching as the Heartless (a new variety, he’d never seen it before), swooped down, claws extended. He braced for the inevitable. The sound of claws tearing into flesh echoed on the street, but no pain accompanied it. Slowly, he looked up…

    … at Red Hood, standing with the bat Heartless’s claws in his chest, his own sword stabbed up into its head.

    WARNING. THIS IS A LITTLE BLOODY. AND MAYBE VIOLENT.

    Time seemed to stand still as Sora stared up at the man who had just saved him, blood already starting to ooze from his chest. Sora was sure Red Hood was going to fall then and there, but no. The vigilante pulled back with a snarl of pain, even before the Heartless had fully disintegrated, ribbons of crimson blood fell from its claws as the creature disappeared. Hood’s swords were drawn in front of him in a sort of x, as he turned to face the sky. It was then that Sora realized there were more of those fierce black beasts. They were circling the three heroes, like vultures contemplating there victims, as streaks of black trailed behind them. Sora ran up to stand beside Hood, who was panting heavily, but there wasn't time to say anything as two more of the creatures dived straight at them.

    Red Hood moved first, jabbing his left sword at one of the approaching creature’s head. It twisted in midair to avoid the blade. Hood was too quick for it, lifting his other sword and slicing cleanly through the creature. Sora jumped forward then too, hitting the other attacker’s wing with an uppercut that sent it spinning to the ground. He finished it off with a quick stroke, then turned and froze. The last four creatures were heading straight for them, streaking down through the night sky like bullets. Red Hood was now next to Robin, swinging his blades in a wide arc so that Robin could stand and have a split second to regroup. Sora shot an ice spell up into the approaching Heartless, hoping it would give his two friends some time. Then the Bat creatures were upon them.

    The next few minutes were more of a blur then an actual memory. Sora didn't think he had ever had to fight so hard in his life. There were so many enemies that he could hardly hear himself think as he fought tooth and nail to avoid being overrun. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he wondered why there were so many of the creatures here. But that question was overshadowed by fear and adrenalin and self-preservation. At one point he had seen Robin when the boy had thrown one of his flash grenades, and a few times throughout the fight Red Hood had slid in and out of his vision, unfocused as it was.

    Finally, after what seemed like hours, there was just the three of them, standing a few yards from one another, panting and trembling in the cool night air. The calm after such a vicious attack was unnerving. Everything felt surreal, and Sora decided he should sit down as a wave of lightheadedness hit him. Out to the corner of his eye he saw Robin hesitantly slump to the ground as well. Even Red Hood had taken a few steps back and was now leaning on a light post, one hand clutching his chest, and Sora knew that if it wasn't for the man, they would have lost a long time ago. But it was over, finally.

    Jason took a shaky step forward, his vision swimming. Somehow, he managed to walk the few feet towards Robin, slumping onto the ground next to him. Pulling his knife, he grabbed Robin’s cape and reduced it to strips. Not sterile, but it should stop the bleeding until Alfred could take a look at them. Grabbing Damian’s arm (the kid was too tired to put up more than a token fight), he wrapped the cloth around the injury, then fashioned another strip into a sling and strapped the arm to his chest.

    “Red Hood.” Jason looked up. Sora had managed to crawl towards them, despite his exhaustion. It was really impressive that the kid had managed to hold out as long as he had and come out on the other end with no injuries. “Are you alright?”

    He paused to contemplate his own injuries. Two deep holes in his shoulders, a deep cut on his side and another hole just under his ribs. They were still bleeding, more now that he had torn them open during the fight. Hood took an experimental breath. No punctured lungs, that was good. The hole near his stomach was worrying, but if he had to guess, it had missed most of his organs. “Well, I don’t think I’m dying again. Although, that will change pretty fast if I don’t get some help. Or stitches. Or both. Robin, could you call Agent A or Nightwing or someone?” Too bad the Robin costume had such a short cape. With a Batman sized cape, he could have treated Robin’s injuries and at least one or two of his.

    “No need.” The deep voice behind them was unmistakable. Jason turned to see Batman looming over them. As he does.

    Sora, despite being exhausted, stood up. His Keyblade was falling from his grasp. “Heartless?” Batman watched the boy, but didn’t move.

    Red Hood grabbed the edge of his shirt, pulling him back down. “Only sometimes. Sora, meet Batman.”

    Sora could do little more than stare at the man looming over him. His limbs, which had been shaky, were now reduced to lead. “H-hello.” He finally stammered.

    “Sora,” the gravelly voice of the Bat relayed as he nodded his head, “I've heard a bit about you from Nightwing. You have information on the creatures that just attacked you?”

    But it was Red Hood who answered. “Apparently they’re called Heartless. And you should know right from the beginning Bats, that this kid and these monsters aren’t from Earth. In fact, I don't think they are even from our dimension.”

    “Is this true?” Batman asked addressing Sora.

    “Yeah.” the boy said faintly. “Definitely not from your world.”

    Contemplating that for a few seconds, the Dark Knight turned to Red Hood, tossing him a small battle of Iodine and some bandages from his utility belt. “Try to clean those wounds and put some pressure on them if you can. That laceration on your side is bleeding heavily. It needs to be properly examined immediately.”

    “Like I couldn't tell.” Hood mumbled, but he obeyed as best he could, wincing at the generous amount of iodine he poured on his injuries.

    Sora moved forward to help, but he held up a hand stubbornly. “I'm fine kid.”

    “No you're not!” Sora protested. “You're seriously injured! And it's my fault! And-”

    Red Hood gave a weak chuckle. “Believe me Sora, I've had much worse.”

    He laughed again at the appalled look on Sora's face. “So what were those things called anyways? You have a classification for them?”

    Sora, still shocked, nodded. “Yeah, all Heartless have names. But I've never seen that type before.”

    Jason mulled it over. “Myotis maybe? Either that or Bob, and I've already used that.” He carefully pulled his shirt away from his skin and started wrapping the bandages around one shoulder.

    Batman knew Jason too well to offer him any help despite every fibre of his being telling him otherwise, and once he saw that Damian was in no immediate danger, decided he better start sorting things out.

    “This sighting and the one Nightwing informed me of earlier aren’t the only appearances of Heartless in Gotham.” He stated. “There have been multiple reports of the creatures attacking citizens in the past hour alone. I need to put an end to it quickly to prevent as much damage as possible.”

    He gave Sora a pointed glare. “Apparently stopping Xehanort will stop these attacks, correct?”

    Sora could only nod before the soft hum of an engine announced that the Batwing had arrived. Without saying another word, Batman stooped down and put an arm under Red Hood’s shoulders, pulling him to his feet and leading the surprisingly compliant vigilante to the now waiting plane. Sora didn't know that the lack of an argument from Jason was setting off all sorts of alarm bells in Batman’s mind.

    Feeling if but slightly more rested, Sora pushed himself painstakingly to his feet and turned around to help Robin, but the kid was already standing and slowly but steadily walking over to join Batman. Just then it hit Sora that he wasn’t supposed to be following them. He hesitated for a few seconds before that gruff voice of Batman spoke up once again. “Come on son, we can't waste time.”

    Relieved that he could stay with the few people he knew in this world, along with wanting to make sure they were okay, Sora half limped half ran over to the Batwing and jumped into the open door. Instantly the opening shut behind him and they were lifted off into the air.

    Robin rolled his eyes. “I don’t see why we’re taking this simpleton to the Cave. Why should we risk our identities fo- Hey!” He cried out indignantly as Jason flicked him on the side of the head.

    “Shut up, you deserved it.” Damian glowered for a moment before lashing out with his good arm, punching Jason in the side. Right where his injury was. Jason doubled over, pain lancing through him. “As soon as this heals, I’m gonna kill you for that brat. Ow.”

    “Both of you stop.” After a quick Batglare through the rearview mirror, Batman passed a strip of cloth over to Sora. “I’m going to need you to put this over your eyes.”

    “Why?” Sora grabbed the cloth, already fitting the blindfold to his face.

    Red Hood laughed weakly from the back seat. “Because the location of the Batcave is this crazy important secret. We can’t even let someone who isn’t from this world know where it is.”

    “You know how we operate Hood. Even if he doesn’t use the knowledge himself, someone could get a hold of him and take the location from him.” The Cave was coming into sight. Batman flicked a few switches, diving through the holographic cliff face and landing the plane on the waiting pad.

    Sora smiled reassuringly. “Don’t worry. I would never tell anyone where you live. Not if you didn’t want me to.” The plane had stopped moving. Could he take off the blindfold now? It was itchy.

    Jason stood up, deciding not to mention that he might if he was tortured for the info. Instead, he pulled the cloth off of Sora’s head (really Batman, the itchy one? We have four other blindfolds, none of which are as bad as this one.) “Welcome to the Batcave kid.”

    “Whoa!” Sora jumped out of the Batwing, gazing with wonder at the Cave. An impressive display of vehicles, a giant copper circle, a massive playing card and a dinosaur, among other things, all graced the cavernous space. The Cave wasn’t silent. Rustling and squeaking could be heard from the depths, as well as the rushing of water echoing up.

    Over by the massive computer (which Sora would not touch. After what happened in Radiant Garden, he had promised Leon he would never touch a computer again.) Nightwing and a butler stood, looking over the shoulders of the person in the chair. Nightwing turned when the plane landed.

    “Hey guys! Took him long enough to get you didn-” His eyes widened as the plain emptied. “Oh my gosh! Hood, Robin, what happened!”

    He rushed over to his fellow crime fighters as both the butler and the figure in the chair (a boy dressed in a red costume with a domino mask and crossed belts on his chest) turned to see what Nightwing was so surprised about.

    Jason looked up at Nightwing’s worried face as he came running up to him, then promptly punched it. “Oh I so needed to do that!” he said happily.

    Nightwing stumbled back, surprised by the action, but more by the lack of force put into it. “Not cool Jay!” he whined indignity rubbing his chin, but it hadn't hurt so he walked back over to his brother, if but a bit more cautiously.

    “What happened?”

    Sora walked over to Nightwing hoping he could be helpful as both Jason and Robin headed for the medical bay, followed closely by Batman and the butler. A trail of blood followed Jason as he walked.

    “We were attacked by more Heartless. A lot more. And they were really strong. We almost didn't make it out of there in one piece.”

    Nightwing frowned. “Batman says they have been popping up all over Gotham. This isn't good. Especially if they are strong enough to do this much damage to Hoodie over there,” he indicated to Jason who was getting a shot of Lidocaine. “These things are gonna wreak havoc if we don't put a stop to them quickly!”

    “Um,” Sora said hanging his head, “Red Hood actually got hurt saving me. A Heartless was attacking me from behind and he jumped in the way at the last second.”

    Nightwing looked momentarily shocked. “Did he really?!” Sora nodded and he shot a rather proud look at Jason who produced a rude hand gesture in return. “Who would have thought?”

    At that moment the new boy walked over to the two and held out a friendly hand to Sora. “Hi,” he greeted good naturedly. “I'm Red Robin. It's nice to meet you Sora.”

    Sora took his outstretched hand and shook it, smiling right back. “It's nice to meet you too Red Robin.”

    He zoned out as Robin asked Batman where Batgirl was, his exhausted mind only catching something about another mission. He was hoping he would get along with Red Robin more than the other two. Red Hood and Robin just didn't seem to like him. But that isn't right, thought Sora suddenly, they act like they don't care but me and Robin fought together, and Red Hood saved me! This thought served to confuse Sora enough to miss the next few sentences of the conversation until a hand brought him out of his stupor.

    “Hello, Earth to Sora! Anyone in there?”

    Sora gave a guilty jolt and looked up to see both Red Robin and Nightwing staring intently at him. “Oh, I'm really sorry!” He stammered. “Just kinda dozed off for a second there. What did you say?”

    Nightwing and Red Robin looked at each other, then Nightwing grabbed Sora’s arm and dragged him over to an unoccupied bed and pushed him onto it. “You’re probably exhausted Sora, sorry.”

    “No, I'm okay really! Sora protested, trying to jump up but being pushed back down into a sitting position. “Seriously, I was just thinking is all. What were you saying?”

    It then occurred to him that everyone in the med bay was looking at Red Robin and Nightwing expectantly. Robin was fidgeting slightly while his arm was being properly cleaned by Batman while the butler carefully stitched up a rather irritated and drained looking Red Hood.

    Red Robin stepped forward.

    Grabbing a tablet from a table nearby, he consulted with it for a moment, “We may have found Xehanort. I ran the picture Sora gave us through the traffic cams and have a 73% match in a warehouse on the docks.”

    Hood snorted. “A warehouse? Even space villains are lacking in creativity. OW! A, watch it!”

    “Dreadfully sorry, Master Hood, but you really do need to hold still.” A pulled the needle through one last pass then clipped the thread. “Do lay down, sir. I need to get the one on your chest. It’s deeper than it looks.”

    As Jason complied, Red Robin gave him a withering glance. “Any more interruptions? Or can I continue?” Hood waved a hand, and Tim rolled his eyes. “Based on the pattern of Heartless appearances, we have a 94% chance of having the correct warehouse. However, we can’t go in there with Hood and Robin in this condition.”

    Sora frowned at the delay. Xehanort didn’t seem to want much in this world besides spreading Heartless. And the longer he stayed, the more people would lose their hearts to darkness. If only Goofy or Donald were here… Donald…

    “Oh!” Sora smacked his forehead. “How did I not think of this before?” He summoned his Keyblade and raised it vertically above his head. “HEAL!” Green light and the sound of bells filled the room. Lowering his Keyblade, he started as he noticed the rest of the room’s occupants were tensed and in an attack stance. Even Hood was sitting up, hand resting on the knife in his boot. “What?”

    “What was that?” His voice was flat, but Batman’s mind was whirling. He had already noticed the injuries on Jason’s chest knitting together, the thread gently pulling itself out. Robin’s arm was well enough for him to pull a birdarang from his belt when the light had hit, even though he hadn’t noticed. Sora had been exhausted a moment ago, but seemed much livelier.

    “Magic. A high level cure spell.” Sora smiled. “When I’m in battles with my friends, Donald normally heals me, well, he normally waits too long and then I heal myself and then he heals me again… but I should have remembered sooner. Sorry.”

    The Bats slowly relaxed their stances, Damian unwrapping the bandages from his arm. Jason swung his feet down to the floor, grabbing his shirt and jacket and pulling them on.

    Nightwing looked over the group, revelling in the feeling of having them all together and not trying to kill each other. “Alright then! Who’s ready to catch a bad guy?”

    “Kid” Jason said glancing over at Sora, “Who gave you one of those key things and where can I find them?”

    Sora laughed. “Sorry Red Hood. They Keyblades choose you, you don't choose them.”

    Hood crossed his arms and looked over at Nightwing who was now bugging Robin and Batman, grabbing their arms and rushing them forward. “Let’s go, let’s go!” He said cheerfully. “The city’s kinda in a state of panic if you haven’t forgotten.”

    Batman did infact pick up his pace, while Robin slapped away Nightwing’s hand. “Tt, I don't take orders from you Nightwing.”

    “Greetings Master Sora.” Came a crisp voice to Sora's left. He turned to see the butler standing beside him smiling. “I believe we haven’t been properly introduced, but I am Agent A. On behalf of my charges here I would like to thank you for that curious bit of magic you just performed. It was quite useful.”

    Sora put his hands behind his head as the two started walking over to the others who were double checking their weapons. “I just wish I had thought of it sooner.”

    “Indeed.” the elderly gentlemen agreed. “But it was still a great value to us, and for that I am grateful.”

    Sora found himself liking this man right away. Something about him seemed wise and unbreakable.

    “Happy to be of service.” Sora said as he jogged forward to join the others now pouring into the Batwing. “And thanks!”

    “Good luck sirs!” Alfred shouted over the roar of the engines. “I shall be monitoring your progress here!”

    Batman gave his old friend a quick nod before lifting the plane into the air and departing from the cave.

    At first the ride was quiet, each person chewing on their own thoughts, until Red Robin’s voice broke the silence. “Will we be enough to beat them? I mean, we saw what one of those hoards did to you three. What if there are more at the docks? What if Xehanort has all his strongest Heartless with him, or if he has convinced some villains to work with him! What if we get there and are overwhelmed and-”

    “Shut up Drake.” Robin had his arms crossed, the usual expression of disdain on his face. “There is nothing my fath- Batman cannot handle.”

    Hood flicked Robin’s head. “Wow, you and Nightwing both. Names and field doesn’t work brat.”

    “You keep saying that. No names in the field.” Sora piped up from his seat in the back. “What do you mean?”

    Four heads turned to face him (and one set of eyes in the rearview mirror). After a stunned silence, Red Robin piped up. “Um… You didn’t think that Batman, Nightwing, Red Hood, Red Robin, and Robin were our real names, did you?”

    He jumped in surprise. “They’re not?” Well, they were really weird names.

    Nightwing smiled. “As spectacular of a name as Nightwing is, it’s not the one I was born with, and not the one I use out of costume.”

    “Costume…?”

    A snort at that question from Hood. “We wear regular clothes when we’re not running around on rooftops stopping crime. Heck, you’re wearing proof of that! What made you think we were like this 24/7?”

    Sora shrugged. “Every world is different. I’ve been to a world where every day is Halloween, one where I got turned into a lion, underwater worlds, inside of a computer and one where people can fly if they think happy thoughts. I thought this was a world where everyone wore masks and had interesting names.”

    Red Hood held up a hand. “Wait. People can fly if they think happy thoughts?” He turned to Batman. “Damn B, I guess that means you’ll never lift off.”

    “Don’t be silly Jay, B has happy thoughts.” Nightwing had a massive grin on his face, mischievous and curling on the ends. “Batman’s happy thought is justice!”

    This drew laughs from the rest of the plane, except for Sora who didn’t understand the reference, and Batman, who only smiled a little.

    After calming down, the plane descended into content silence. Until Red Robin broke it, saying “If Nightwing ever went to that place, he’d never touch down again.”

    That put the plane laughing again until they arrived at their destination.

    Sora was looking forward to this. He was reasonably confident he could handle Xehanort, at least chase him from this world, and as soon as he did, the Heartless would die down to almost nothing. His new friends could definitely handle that. And he would be able to go see Donald and Goofy and Kairi and Riku…

    “Oh! Before you go!” He had forgotten another really important thing! “Robin, Red Hood, be careful not to strain where your injuries were too much. They’re healed, but only by magic. They still need time to rest and naturally recover. Otherwise, they can reopen and only time can heal them then.”

    The two previously-injured people took a moment to consider. “How far can we strain them? We have to face this threat to Gotham now.” Robin asked.

    He thought back to his own battles and how the Cure spells had lasted. “They should be able to hold for most battles. I’ve fought Xehanort before on Cure and it lasted for every bit of it. I just thought I should mention because my friend Riku reopened his leg wound a little while ago.”

    Batman stepped forward, looming over Sora. “What were the circumstances for this?”

    “Donald said it was probably because he was under a lot of stress. He was fighting Xehanort at the time and they have a bad history.”

    Hood nodded, his helmet bobbing up and down. “We’ll keep it in mind. Now let’s go kick some a-”

    “Language!”

    “-butt.”

    The docks had always been a favourite spot of Gotham's lowlifes, what with their rotting wood piers, murky water, and abandoned buildings. It was a spot recently visited by vigilantes and mobsters alike, and the Bat family couldn't help feeling a wave of familiarity as they stepped out into the cool midnight air. It was a cloudless night, and the area was quiet. Maybe a little too quiet considering recent circumstances. Bruce took a deep breath before turning to address his soldiers.

    “I want to do this right, no careless moves” he gave a pointed glare at Jason, “and no rushing in without using your head.” Damian gave the slightest of flinches at their leader’s words.

    “So what's the plan boss?” Asked an attentive Red Robin.

    “Sora, Nightwing and I will be taking the roof, preparing to jump in for a surprise attack. I want you, Hood and Robin to go in for a distraction so we can enter during the resulting chaos.”

    Robin gave an obvious “Tt” of displeasure though all but Tim chose to ignore it, the latter giving the youngest a pointed glare before refocusing on Batman.

    A few minutes of detailed explanations later, Sora found himself climbing down as silently as he could manage, into a maze of wooden support beams stretching out across the expanse of a vast warehouse's ceiling. It was a good thing he wasn't afraid of heights, because when he looked down, he realized they were about four stories up with very little between them and the cold concrete floor. Though, with a sinking feeling, Sora saw that there was indeed something between them. A collection of Heartless and Nobodies slithering around, twitching and slipping ninjas like into shadows. Ignoring these, he tried to spot who he was really looking for. Where was Xehanort? A minute of careful searching told him the man wasn't there. Or at least, he wasn't in the main part of the warehouse. Several doors lined the walls of the room however, and Sora guessed that the man they were looking for could easily be hiding within the depths of the old building. Batman was counting on that very idea, hoping that once the fighting began, the three of them hidden above could take him by surprise. Sora had never used strategies like this before. It felt weird, like he was deceiving his opponent. He knew that was a ridiculous though and that Xehanort wouldn't hesitate to do the same to him, but he couldn't help feeling slightly guilty. Despite the efficiency, this wasn't how he operated.

    “You good Sora?” Nightwing questioned from his left. Sora hadn't even noticed the acrobat settle down next to him.

    “Yeah, I'm ready.” He said, readjusting himself to get more comfortable. “When do we start?”

    In answer Nightwing gave a quick glance over at Batman who had a few fingers resting on his ear. Sora could just hear the gruff voice issuing commands.

    “We are in position. Move in.”

    There was a brief moment of silence where Sora noticed how tense he had become. Then, suddenly several things seemed to happen at once.

    A wall seemed to break apart, shards of metal and wood flying across the room violently, the unpleasant vibrations from the explosion making Sora tremble slightly. Small pops followed almost simultaneously, light flooded the room. Sora had to put a hand in front of his face because of the intensity of what he now realized were flash grenades. Heartless began to slither into the ground, becoming shadows, while the Nobodies conjugated at the enormous hole in the wall. If Sora hadn't been covering his face, he might have noticed small black projectiles flying into the room, resulting in several Nobodies vanishing on the spot. Then came the unmistakable explosion of Red Hood’s guns. At this point, Sora uncovered his eyes to see Robin, Red Hood and Red Robin putting up a very good distraction. Though unfamiliar with the attack patterns of the Nobodies, Hood and Robin seemed comfortable fighting the Heartless and dodged them with ease, their attacks more often than not hitting their marks. Red Robin's analytical skills seemed to put him at an advantage from the start. He waited, letting the enemies come to him, and then did some experimental dodging, quickly figuring out the most effective way to combat his attackers. Watching the three of them work was amazing.

    Then the motion of the room came to an unpredictably sudden stand still. It didn't make sense, one minute there was full blown chaos, the next the Heartless and Nobodies stopped in their tracks, becoming docile. The eerie creek of a door was the explanation. Sora looked to the right of the room, to a door that was slowly opening. He tensed involuntarily.

    The door swung open, revealing Xehanort. His eyes gleamed as he gazed across the stilled battlefield. Well, mostly stilled. While the monsters weren’t fighting back, Red Hood and Robin were stealthily attacking everything in sight. Red Robin had jumped onto some crates so he could get a better vantage point of the battlefield. Xehanort took all of this in, his eyes narrowing slightly when they rested on Hood. Then they moved on, sweeping to the rafters where Sora, Batman and Nightwing were hiding.

    “You might as well come down.” The amount of gravel in his voice could rival Batman, but while Batman’s voice was flat, devoid of emotion, Xehanort’s held a spark of manic revulsion. Revulsion for the light and all who served it.

    More Heartless streamed from the walls, more Nobodies from the floor. Sora was so busy watching the battle below, he had missed the Dragoon floating behind him. He managed to bring his Keyblade up in time to block, but the force of the swing knocked him from his perch, sending him crashing to the ground, vapourizing two or three Shadows with the force of his fall. Jumping up as quickly as he could, he swept his Key in a circle, destroying all of the Heartless around him. They still weren’t attacking, but he felt better with a perimeter. Nightwing was on the ground too, but Batman was nowhere to be seen. Hopefully still in the rafters. He didn’t seem like the type to get surprised.

    Xehanort was speaking again. “Much better. My failed vessel, I welcome you to the site of my victory. For it is here that I shall obtain the last darkness and bring about the Second Keyblade War.” His eyes glinted dangerously. “But for now, I need to prepare for the end. Fear not, I shall leave you with plenty of entertainment.” He disappeared through the door, the lock glowing as it was magically sealed.

    Nothing my Keyblade can’t open, Sora thought as he started towards the door. And was quickly stopped by an Invisible blocking his path. The silence which had descended on the warehouse when the Heartless and Nobodies stopped fighting returned just as quickly as it had vanished. Pandemonium filled the warehouse as the Nobodies slithered into motion, their quick, jerky, yet still fluid, movements leading to unpredictable and dangerous attacks. The Heartless were much less graceful, but no less powerful, overwhelming with numbers when strength was not sufficient.

    The Bats were faster and more powerful however. Nightwing flew above the battle, jumping off of Heartless, landing to jab a Nobody or two with his escrima sticks, then flipping off once again. Red Hood fought them directly, a gun barrel pressed to a Dancer’s head, and All Blade buried deep in a Neo Shadow’s chest. Red Robin watched the enemies, noting each type’s weak points before turning through the battle, bo staff and glider cape flashing. Robin preferred the deadly approach, simply slicing anything to cross his path in two, leaping above them to gain advantage of momentum. Sora’s Keyblade slipped through the horde effortlessly. After so long fighting these creatures, knowing how to defeat them was almost second nature to him. Above them all, a shadow in the rafters smiled proudly.

    Red Hood noticed when Batman dropped down into the fray. Presumably because he couldn’t break into where Xehanort was hiding. Whatever that glowing keyhole meant, it was probably lock pick-proof. He shot another one of the white things (a Nobody probably) in the chest, and swung his gun around to the next enemy, one of those Myotises. Copycat bastards. He lined up his sights and squeezed the trigger, giving a frustrated growl when it just clicked. Stupid thing was jammed. He dropped it, grabbing another from his belt, dispatching the Myotis with his All Blade instead. Too bad he wasn’t still bleeding; he could have powered up the All Blade and taken a group of monsters out in one swing instead of going one-by-one. An injury would just slow him down more than would be useful at this point, so he dropped that line of thinking and flew back into the fray. An explosion broke his concentration momentarily. His eyes panned until he found the source of the blast, getting one quick smile in before a massive Nobody with a claymore smacked him on the head. The helmet took the damage, shattering on impact. A piece of the shrapnel cut into his temple, the vicious river of a head wound starting up. Jason smiled a deadly smile and held the All Blade up, red blood dripping onto it.

    Tim had ducked out of the fight quickly, trusting his allies and family to handle it. Instead, he grappled up to the second floor, staring intently at the door, determined to figure out how to make it open. From the way Sora was fighting towards the door, he knew of a way to open it and needed to be at the door to do it. Or he could just be after Xehanort and would get stuck when he reached the door like the rest of them were. The lock was still glowing and, knowing magic, lock pick-proof. Would probably electrocute whoever tried too. Or turn them into a kitten. Tim almost preferred the electrocution. Another few moments of thought and suddenly, an answer came to him. Taking out a few explosive batarangs, he tossed them at a spot on the wall which, according to the blueprint he had memorized, led to the next room. Checking to make sure no one was close enough to get caught in the blast, he pressed the remote detonator.

    Nightwing was caught off balance by the resulting tremors of the building. He jumped into the air, and landed expertly on a nearby Neoshadow, righting himself in the process. He could see Sora stumble as he had been running towards the locked door, but the boy caught his balance quickly, swinging his blade above his head to avoid being slashed by one of those vicious bat Heartless. The room was suddenly covered in a cloud of dust and smoke from the explosion, and Nightwing could no longer see Sora or any Heartless more than 3 feet away from him. Flipping forward, he swung his escrima sticks with practiced ease at the sound of claws swinging towards him, or when he saw a flash of the black shadowy creatures through the cloud of dust. Thank you sensory deprivation training! He wanted to catch up to Sora and give him a bit of back up. Facing Xehanort alone was probably not in the kid’s best interest.

    “Oh crap, oh CRAP, OH CRAP! GUYS!!!”

    That was Tim's voice! Nightwing felt his stomach twist into a knot. Looking around frantically his eyes stinging from the grit and smoke, he called desperately “TIM!”

    His voice was drowned out, however, by a huge earthshaking crash. This time Nightwing couldn't help it. He fell to the ground, catching himself on his hands and knees, and looked up. Whatever had just caused that had also managed to blow most of the dwindling debris still present in the air away. Sora was lying on the ground about 10 feet in front of Nightwing, covered in broken pieces of wood and cement, and stirring slightly. Dick only had a moment to worry about that however, because as his eyes continued upward, he saw something that he swore made his heart stop. A huge black creature, arms the size of thick tree trunks, tentacles covering its face, twisted black wings jetting out from its curved back, and glowing yellow eyes that pierced the dark room with bone chilling celerity; it was crouched down staring straight at him. He didn't know it, but he was looking into the face of a Darkside.

    Jason was having a very good time as he tore through the monsters surrounding him, the All Blades powered up by his own blood. He hadn't had this much fun in... well, who knew when. He didn't often get permission from the Bats to go all out and take down his enemies the way he wanted. Now however, he could fight however he liked. No holding back. As his sword sliced through yet another wave of shadows, darkness trailing behind it like blood, he noticed his visibility dropping. He coughed as dust and smoke from what was probably Tim's explosion reached him. Unfortunately he didn't have his helmet on at the time which would have kept his throat protected. Suddenly he heard the distinctive sound of flesh connecting with flesh and turned to his left, just making out the glowing eyes and pointy ears of Batman.

    “We need to get to the door,” the man said roughly between strokes of his enormous fists.

    “I know.” Jason spat. “But I saw Sora and-”

    He had to stop as a Neoshadow rose from the ground right in front of him taking a cocky swipe at his legs. He simply kicked it out of the way seeing as both swords were preoccupied with enemies at his sides.

    “- and Nightwing and Red Robin all over there. So with any luck they can handle their own until we get to them. Where's Robin anyway? I lost track of-”

    This time something much bigger cut him off. He was thrown back violently by the force of it crashing down very close to where he and Bats were standing. He felt himself flying through the air and landed heavily against a metal wall. What the hell just happened? His vision was swimming, and he had to blink a few times to clear his head. What had enough force to knock him back like that? The visibility in the room seemed to be much clearer now, and Jason almost wished it wasn't. A huge black arm was drawing back towards that hole in the wall Tim just made. The arm of a huge black Heartless.

    Jason sighed and pulled his grapple from his belt. “You got this B? Cause I have something in the Batwing that might help with that.” Batman tossed him an Of-course-I-have-this look, punching another Nobody to the concrete floor. Jason smirked, aimed his grapple and took off, crashing through the window. He landed with a roll and took off running, towards the plane parked a half block away.

    Popping the canopy, he jumped into the back seat. Riffling under his usual seat, he pulled out a rocket launcher and four spare rockets. He had used this one to blow up half of the Chinese mafia a couple of years back. Not as fun as Black Mask’s office, but still one hell of a ride. Batman didn’t know he had stashed it here. Ok, he probably knew, but he never bothered removing it, so whatever. Slinging his prize over his shoulder, he barreled back to the warehouse. He launched his grapple through the window he had broken earlier and, angling his body as much as he could, landed right in front of the Heartless blocking the hole in the wall. Hood lined up his sights, aiming right at the monster’s head.

    As soon as the rocket left the launcher, Hood grabbed one of his spares, sliding it into ready position. He needn’t have bothered. The rocket hit the Heartless right in the eye, exploding on contact and blowing half of its head off. The creature dissipated. “Huh,” he leaned on his rocket launcher, taking a moment to be underwhelmed by the giant, “that was easier than I expected.”

    Sora had been making his gradual way towards the Darkside. Jumping and gliding over the horde had been useless with Beserkers all too willing to knock him back down. So he had gone the ground route, taking Nobodies out one-by-one, Heartless out in groups (what did they expect, standing so close together?). He knew what the Darkside could do and he knew he had to stop it before it could fire dark orbs at his friends or summon more Heartless. He was more than half way there when a dark shape flew right towards the Darkside’s eye.

    Another explosion, blowing half of the giant’s face off. Much faster than Sora could have done, the Darkside was defeated, slowly dissolving into darkness. Sora looked over to where the dark shape had come from, to see Hood leaning on a metal cylinder exactly like the one at his apartment.

    Shaking his head (he had more important things to worry about right now), he ran for the now-clear hole in the wall, Red Hood, Nightwing and Batman in close pursuit.

    The Heartless and Nobodies had finally stopped streaming into the room. From his vantage point above the battlefield, Nightwing was very pleased to see that entire sections of floor had been cleared away. Dropping his escrima stick onto another Nobody’s head, he landed next to Tim.

    “Red, Hood managed to get rid of that monster thing. Can you and Robin handle things here while I go in for Xehanort?”

    Tim snorted, “These guys are cake once you figure out their patterns. Not only do they never deviate from them, but if you interrupt them, they’ll try to pick up where they left off.” Jabbing the electrical end of his bo staff into another Heartless, he twirled, intercepting a lanky Nobody as it started to curl around his body. “I got this ‘Wing. You help Hood, Sora and Batman.”

    Using a Nobody built like Superman as a ladder, Nightwing launched himself into the air, landing on heads and shoulders as he made his way over to Robin. “Little D, me, Bats and Hood are heading into the next room! You finish up here and join us when you’re done!”

    Robin sliced a Nobody with swords in half. The fool things couldn’t even wield a sword properly. “Fine, Grayson. But this is the last time I’m cleaning up your mess!”

    Dick smiled. “You got it Robin!” Bouncing off of one last head, he landed right behind Batman and Red Hood. He had a feeling what was coming would need all three of them.

    SLIGHT VIOLENCE WARNING

    They ducked through the opening, tensed and prepared for sneak attacks and traps. The next room over was dark (not that any of the Bats would have difficulty with this). The only source of light was coming from the skylight, a single beam reaching down towards Xehanort, standing in the exact center of the room.

    “Finally, we have come to the hour of my victory!”Xehanort’s hands moved dramatically, his voice echoing in the empty chamber. “You have arrived, my thirteenth darkness, my final vessel. The last Nobody.” His face stretched into a mad smile, and he stared.

    Directly at Red Hood.

    Hood in response grabbed his gun out of its holster and pointed it directly at Xehanort. At the mad man’s words, something inside him shuddered. “What the hell are you talking about?”

    He looked over at Batman and Nightwing, whose faces resembled equal amounts of confusion, then he caught a glimpse of Sora. The boy was shocked, frozen in place and staring at Xehanort like the man had just said something horrible. Slowly, Sora’s grip on his Keyblade tightened and he took a step forward staring at Xehanort with a fierce intensity. “There's no way,” he said quietly, then louder, “There's no way you’re making Red Hood into another one of your puppets.”

    This statement seemed to break the villain from his gleeful trance and he stared right back at the young hero. “Puppet?” he asked in that gritty evil voice. “But my dear boy, haven’t you realized by now that it is natural for everyone to have darkness in their hearts? This young man will make the decision to join me of his own accord. All he needs is a small push in the right direction.”

    Red Hood seemed to be somewhat catching on, and took a few steps forward to stand at the side of Sora. “I might not see eye to eye with all the goody two shoes superheroes out there, but there is no way I would ever reduce myself to the likes of scum like you. These Heartless you release, they are killing innocent people. If you think I would ever be a part of that you are dead wrong. It's sick!”

    Sora gave a quick nod, and with a subtle flap of fabric and a slight breeze, both Nightwing and Batman were standing there too, silently supporting him. Hood was inexplicably touched by the action, but quickly blinked and looked back at his enemy. His trigger finger tightened slightly.

    Xehanort began to laugh quietly. He put his hands behind his back and shook his head slowly. “You are fighting a losing battle my friend.” he said to the room at large. “You are only trying to cover up your true nature... but if you won't join me that easily, then...”

    The tension in the room spiked, and Sora held his breath involuntary. Batman clenched his fists and glared at the man, frowning deeply as he did so. Xehanort disturbed him, possibly as much as some of the villains in Gotham. Even Nightwing was still, suppressing the urge to jump nervously on the balls of his feet. Jason was clenching his teeth. Who was this man that he thought he knew so much about him? The silence stretched on.

    Ever so slowly, more laughter vibrated softly around the room. But this sound was different then the humourless sound they had just heard from Xehanort moments ago. This was authentic, new, scary. Sora felt all the hairs on the back of his neck stand up, and swallowed hard. He looked around at his companions. Even under the cowl, the Batman’s face had twisted into something dark and inhuman. Nightwing had turned pale and was staring around the room with wide eyes. It was Red Hood however, that caught Sora's attention immediately. His entire body went stiff, his teeth were clenched, and he seemed to be breathing harder than before. He was trembling, and Sora realized that is wasn't because of fear, but pure rage.

    Xehanort flashed Red Hood a vicious grin. “I think you will come around to my way of thinking. It shouldn’t take long.”

    Batman was the first to move, his hand drawing a batarang and already taking a step forward.

    “I wouldn't do that if I were you.”

    A third voice, deeper and more gravely then the rest. Batman’s eyes were reduced to slits and he once again froze, analyzing a quickly deteriorating situation.

    “Oh no, not him too.” Nightwing breathed from beside Sora.

    Stepping out from the shadows draping the back of the room in darkness, Joker and Two Face emerged, surrounded by a wave of Megashadows.

    Sora leaned over to Nightwing. “Who are they?” he whispered.

    His eyes never leaving the villains in front of them, he replied “Joker and Two Face. A couple of our regular villains.”

    “Well, well. All of my favourite people, right here in front of me!” The Joker’s voice caused Sora to shudder involuntarily. Somehow, he didn’t think being a ‘favourite’ of this guy was a good thing. The clown’s eyes flicked to Sora once, briefly, then focused back on Batman and Red Hood. “And one extra, but I think I can let you two bozos take care of him.”

    Two Face flipped a coin into the air, catching it on his palm and slapping it onto the back of his other hand. A quick glance and, “Sorry. Looks like I’m out of this fight.”

    “Aw, come on now Harv, best two out of three.”

    He mulled over the idea. He did like twos. Flipping the coin again and again, the undamaged portion of his face stretched into a smile almost as wide as Joker’s. “Looks like I’m in after all.” He stored his coin, pulling out two pistols, firing at Batman the moment he had a shot.

    Batman had already moved, swirling in close to the former-D.A., his fist catching him on the good half of his face. The moment he had moved however, the room started filling with Heartless. No Nobodies this time, for whatever reason. These were Emblem Heartless. The patterns were different from the Pureblood Heartless the Bats had been facing so far, but Sora knew them. Keyblade in hand, he started swinging.

    Jason tried to go after Joker, but Nightwing held him back. He started fighting, mind beyond reason as he lunged towards the man who had killed him. Dick had to grab both of his arms, leaning his head close to his brother’s ear, “Hood, listen to me! Hood! Jay! Jay, you can’t go after the Joker. Just let me take care of him. I promise, he won’t hurt you again. Jay!” Eventually, Dick’s whisperings calmed him down. He could tell that Jay was still angry, but not in a way that could send him off the deep end. He looked past the domino masks adorning both of their eyes and an understanding passed between them.

    Nightwing nodded, then released Hood and flipped into the Joker’s path. The clown had been racing off to the side, probably to set a bomb or sneak attack them or something, but suddenly lurched back as Nightwing caught him in a roundhouse kick. This was one enemy he didn’t feel like holding back on. He wouldn’t kill the madman, but a broken bone or two wouldn’t be too bad.

    Jason was watching Sora fight while he was trying to calm down, and noted that Xehanort was just standing there, watching him. It would probably be a bad idea to fight him up close. Clearly, the villain had a plan and Jason fit in there somehow, despite having never met the guy before. So he darted towards Sora, pulling him out of the way of a fatass Heartless wearing a purple shirt. He shot the thing in the back, smiling slightly as it dissolved. “I got this. Can you take care of baldie over there?”

    The kid gave him the most indignant look. “Of course I can!”

    “Then get gone!” Shoving him with one hand, Jason shot at a flying yellow thing that shot lightning, knocking off its hat with the first shot, the second one going between its eyes.

    Sora cautiously approached Xehanort. The villain, his enemy since the beginning of all of this, hadn’t interfered in the fight yet, preferring to watch the chaos. Or maybe he was just watching Red Hood. Glancing back at his friend (currently leaping over a Large Body so he could reach an Air Soldier with his All Blade), he felt a rare surge of anger. Xehanort, this terrible excuse for a person, had caused so much pain and sadness to his friends. Riku, Kairi, even the ones he hadn’t met yet, but that Mickey had told him about, Terra, Aqua, and Ven. And now he wanted to add Red Hood to the list. Red Hood, who acted like he didn’t care but had gotten himself stabbed multiple times to protect Sora. Who had the worst mouth but toned it down when Batman asked him too. Tough, brave, and kind. Sora refused to let Xehanort hurt him.

    “Your fight is with me!” He growled, holding his Keyblade before him.

    The man’s gaze came back to rest on Sora. He sighed, shaking his head, but other than that, ignoring Sora as if he were little more than a slight irritation.

    “Why do you always feel the need to get in my way?” he questioned. “You know your power could never compare to mine, not when I am once again whole. But yet you are here, blindly challenging a master who could destroy you.”

    As Xehanort ranted, dark waves began to slither up from the ground, slowly encircling him. Sora leapt forward and swung down with his blade, which clashed against Xehanort's own darkness-covered Key. He was thrown back by the force of the parry, but caught his feet quickly and launched himself back at the man, righteous anger guiding him. Xehanort too ran forward, and once again their Keyblades met with a shower of black and white sparks. Sora spun to the left, landed and turned to stop his opponent’s weapon by inches. He griped his Key with both hands now, putting his body into pushing his weapon against Xehanort’s blade which was now coming at him in multiple furious strikes. Feeling his feet begin to slip, Sora ducked the next swing, and swept his Keyblade in a low arc trying to knock the man off his feet. Xehanort merely stepped on Sora's Keyblade while swinging his own at the boy’s face. Letting go of his weapon and falling back, Sora could feel the air following the strike as he summoned his blade back into his hand. He flipped back luckily avoiding another blow.

    Xehanort sent Sora a chilling gaze while the younger panted, regaining his breath. How could an old man such as Xehanort have so much stamina? Chancing a glance around, Sora saw Nightwing flip past him, the clown following in close pursuit, knife in hand. He didn't see Batman or Red Hood however. Instead his attention snapped back to Xehanort who was striding menacingly forward. Sora raised his Keyblade.

    “Fire!”

    Balls of flame shot forward, and were met with shards of ice and snow from his opponent. The two continued to shoot spells, every once in a while trying to get a lucky hit in with their blades. They were circling each other, jumping this way and that, trying to best the other. Sora found that though he was much smaller than Xehanort, he was also faster. He focused less on strength and more on the timing and precision of his attacks. Xehanort was the first to get a hit, striking Sora’s left shoulder. He stumbled back, but didn't miss a beat, sidestepping the next attack and rolling to position himself behind the man. He jumped up, slicing with his Keyblade, and he was so close to hitting the man. But his attack missed as Xehanort leapt heavily back. Sora wasn't going to give him time to regroup however. He sprinted forward, striking at the man again and again. It was draining work, but finally Sora saw an opening and instinctively took it. He thrust the tip of the Kingdom Key forward, feeling exhilaration rush through him as the blade made contact with Xehanort’s right side. The man grunted in pain and took another retreating step back. Sora took one forward. He could do this! He could defeat Xehanort.... well maybe not defeat him, but hold him off until the others were free to help. He attacked again and again. He was panting with the effort, but refused to give his enemy any sign of weakness. Xehanort's blade flew by his left ear, and he jerked to his right, then jumped, his Key already beginning to summon the magic.

    “Lightning!”

    Because he put up his blade to counter, Sora got a second to look at Xehanort’s face closely. He was starting to get tired! Though it was nothing to his own exhaustion it was a start! Thrilled Sora leapt forward for what had to be the hundredth time. Xehanort raised his free hand to grab Sora but the boy was ready. He kicked himself off of the man’s chest before he could grab his throat. Both went stumbling backwards, again giving Sora a much needed chance to catch his breath. This time however, Xehanort needed the reprieve as well. His face was a mask of anger.

    “It seems you have learned much in your years of traveling.” He said. “Your skills have improved a great deal. You know how to play your advantages.”

    Sora's blue eyes were fixed on the merciless yellow ones in front of him. He was ready for whatever move the man would make.

    Suddenly that evil scowl turned into a smile. “However, I know how to play my advantages much better then you, my young hero.”

    He was lifting his blade, Sora was preparing for what was sure to be a powerfully dangerous attack. The man pointed his Keyblade to a place behind Sora and shot a beam of pure darkness from its tip. Sora was moving before he could even comprehend the danger. The attack was heading for Red Hood, who was completely unaware of the threat. But could he make it? Sora gathered himself and shot forward in front of the attack. He tried to lift the Keyblade but it was too late. He felt the full impact the beam smash into him, and flew back into an unsuspecting Jason. The two smashed into the floor, sliding to a halt a few feet from one another.

    It took Hood a moment to realize what was going on, but as the scene unfolded in front of him, he scrambled to his feet and ran over to the young boy lying on the ground.

    “Sora!”

    He shook his friend frantically, and Sora's eyes fluttered open.

    “N-not fun,” he moaned.

    Jason watched helplessly as the kid passed out. After taking a hit like that though, he really couldn’t blame him. His masked eyes swept the room. Almost all of the Heartless were gone, but two squeezes of the trigger took care of those few remaining. He grabbed Sora and jumped out of the way as Xehanort’s Keyblade crashed down on the spot the two had occupied a moment before.

    He set Sora down just outside the room. A quick peek through the hole in the wall showed Robin and Red Robin laying on the floor, totally exhausted, but with the room clear of all creatures. After making sure their injuries weren’t too bad (Red Robin had a scratch on his chest but it was already clotting. Robin didn’t look injured), he turned back to face the cause of all of this.

    Sure, Jason was tired from fighting three different hordes of Heartless in less than a day. Sure, he had nearly exhausted his bullets and a Heartless wearing a turban (seriously?) had slashed his second favourite rocket launcher in half. And sure, maybe he had twisted his ankle a little in that last cartwheel. But with how much anger he had at this man, Red Hood knew he could take him down, no problem.

    Launching himself, All Blades flashing, he came in low. As the geezer swung his blade down to block, Jason stabbed one of the Blades into the ground, changing his trajectory enough to deliver a nasty gash on baldie’s leg. Xehanort merely gritted his teeth, and grabbed Hood’s wrist with his free hand, holding the All Blade in his leg, but also preventing Hood from dodging the next blow. The Keyblade swung upwards and Hood twisted his neck, just barely moving his head out of the way as the Keyblade sliced through his cheekbone. A dead feeling started traveling up his arm. With a shock, he realized that the wrist Xehanort was holding was freezing, and the ice was spreading. Faster than most people believed possible, his other Blade came up and stabbed Xehanort through the forearm. The old man cried out, releasing his grip. Red Hood jumped back a few paces.

    Baldie would take a moment recovering from both of his wounds. Both were deep and (Jason knew from experience) painful. Taking a moment, he gazed around the room, noting Batman still in combat with Two Face (who looked like Three Face with how his jaw was turning purple) and Nightwing chasing after Joker, who was laughing like it was a simple game of Chase Me. He turned his eyes back to Xehanort –

    – who was covered in green light, his wounds closing up as Jason watched. Seriously, this guy knew healing magic too? Fuuuuu…

    He burned with rage, but he had learned to control it. To work past the rage so he could still fight without losing control. He stood back this time, letting the villain come to him. As geezer-face sped towards him, Hood jumped and flipped over his bald head. Landing behind the villain, Hood jabbed one of the All Blades into his shoulder, the other into the back of his knee. The old man turned, slower now that his knee was ruined. Hood rained down a flurry of blows on his enemy, not giving him any time to cast another spell. Baldie held his Keyblade up, blocking as best he could, but with a gaping hole in his shoulder, his blocks were getting weaker and weaker. Finally, Hood smacked the Keyblade away. In a split second, he considered just running the old man through his twisted excuse for a heart. With a snarl, Jason instead smacked him on the head with the hilts of his swords, dropping the old man where he stood.

    He stood back, assessing the damage. Massive scratch on his cheek, not bad. Seemed like Sora had been right about the stress thing though. Both of his shoulders were bleeding, as was his side. The more dangerous injury on his sternum seemed fine though. He looked across the battlefield and was rewarded with Batman and Nightwing tying up Two Face and the Joker. Was the Joker’s leg broken? That angle didn’t seem natural. They both looked over to him and he smiled at them. Nightwing smiled back and Batman scowled less deeply. A rustle by the hole in the wall drew Jason’s gaze. Sora stood there, looking dazed, but awake and smiling. A half second later, all of their smiling expressions turned to alarm and horror. Jason turned just in time to see Xehanort, who should have been unconscious for another half a day, rushing towards him, Keyblade pointed –

    – nope. Plunging. Keyblade plunging straight through Jason’s heart.

    The world seemed to stand still. It was Hollow Bastion all over again! Chest throbbing and eyes streaming, Sora could only watch helplessly as Hood's entire form became still, then slumped as if all the fight had gone out of him.

    It was all Batman could do not to break down right then and there as the horrific scene played in front of him. The quiet couldn't have lasted more then a few seconds, but it seemed like torturous hours as the full weight of what just happened unfolded in Bruce’s mind.

    Nightwing broke the surreal silence. His voice, panicked and desperate, cried, “Jason!”

    He fell slowly. Batman was closest and caught him before he hit the ground. Sora was still stumbling his way towards them when the Bat's hand rested on Hood's cheek and, almost gently, he said, “No. Don't leave. You can't do this to me again. Jay...” Nightwing arrived and dropped to his knees, grabbing one of Red Hood's hands.

    Hood's body was already starting to glow. “Not like this is the first time. And hey, least I'm not alone this time.” He let out a weak smile, his eyes becoming dreamlike. There was a moment of silence where the two Bats just stared, hoping, and then a light exploded from his chest, where Xehanort's blade still rested. Flecks of white danced around his form, followed by a wave of darkness that devoured them. Looking up, Red Hood took a final shuddering breath and Sora watched as his heart, a mixture of light and darkness, broke away from his fading form and float upwards, shattering into thousands of shimmering diamonds.

    Batman and Nightwing could only sit in shock, hands still positioned as if they were holding a body, grasping a hand. Sick déjà vu crept over them.

    Jason Todd was gone.

    “No.” Sora whispered hoarsely. He was still very light headed, and was desperately trying to put the events of the last twenty seconds together. Heart beating wildly, he swayed on the spot, nausea raising its head threateningly.

    Suddenly a wild inhuman roar tore across the room. Batman was flying through the air and had Xehanort's neck in his hands. The older man spluttered and choked, but he still had a malicious grin stuck on his face.

    “What the HELL have you done to him?!” Batman snarled. “What have you done to my son?!”

    His voice was a mixture of hysterical desperation and uncontainable rage. With a single swift movement he slammed the man against the wall hard, but loosened his death grip just enough to allow Xehanort to speak.

    “Looks like you've lost Batman,” he gasped. “How tragic, the protector of an unforgiving city like this couldn't even protect his partner’s heart from being consumed by darkness.”

    Bruce ground his teeth together, trembling with rage. His grip was instinctively tightening. Xehanort's Keyblade appeared in his hand but Batman merely grabbed the man’s wrist, twisting and nearly breaking it in the process. Nightwing who had been standing frozen, staring unblinkingly at the spot Jason had occupied seconds earlier, turned suddenly and ran over to Batman. He touched the man’s shoulder, who gave a jolt and tore his gaze away from the struggling villain, glancing at his son. When his gaze returned to Xehanort, his hand once again slackened, very slightly, but enough.

    “Awwwww,” came a falsely moved voice from the back of the warehouse. Joker seemed to be awake again and enjoying himself as he watched the proceedings.

    Everyone ignored him.

    Sora, successfully casting a Cure on himself, walked slowly over to join the other three. He was angry, very angry. Red Hood was gone, and even though Sora understood it wasn't his fault, he felt guilty that he was unconscious while Red Hood had been fighting Xehanort. If he were there, fighting beside him, maybe none of this would have happened... He looked down, eyes stinging, as he stopped next to Nightwing.

    “I want a straight answer.” Batman ground out. “Tell me where Red Hood went, or I swear I will beat the information out of you.”

    “Well that's easy my dear man.” wheezed Xehanort. “He's right behind you.”

    The trio of heroes whirled. In the middle of the room, darkness seemed to coalesce. As it gathered, a dark silhouette formed. It had Jason’s build and height but no colour. Only blackness. Until its head formed. It covered itself in a red helmet, a white starburst on the forehead and a jagged line for the mouth to open. It opened its eyes, glowing yellow in the dim light of the warehouse. The mouth opened and an inhuman scream echoed in the chamber.

    Across the room, Joker put on a pout. “Poo. That birdy really doesn’t know how to stay dead.” Another moment of consideration, his mouth curved into its signature smile. “Oh well. I’ll just have to kill him again. Maybe I can stretch it out this time.”

    Snarling, Batman turned back to his captive, probably to ask “What have you done to him” or something along those lines, but Xehanort was gone.

    His voice filled the room, despite being nowhere in sight. “I would love to stay, but I have more pressing matters. My vessel needs to be found before it reappears. Farewell.” And the not-Jason creature attacked.

    Sora readied his Keyblade and charged, only to be grabbed by Nightwing and pulled out of not-Jason’s attack. The blow cracked the concrete. “What are you doing Sora? We can’t attack him, Xehanort said that was Jason!”

    “That’s why we need to attack him!” Sora dived forwards again, not-Hood dodging the swing of his Keyblade. “If we can defeat him, his heart will be released and then when we defeat his Nobody, Hood will be a whole person again.” Something Nightwing had said stopped him. “Wait. Jason? You said that before too.”

    Nightwing smacked his forehead. Oops. “Yeah, Red Hood’s real name. And Xeha-guy said Jason was already a Nobody. How does that work?” Reluctantly, Nightwing threw himself into the battle. It wouldn’t be his first time fighting his wayward brother.

    “Yeah. See, when someone loses their heart, the heart becomes a Heartless and the body and soul becomes a Nobody. Physically, they’re almost identical to the original. They remember their past lives, but they can’t feel emotions. Sometimes though, a Nobody can grow a new heart.” His words flowed out smoothly, despite the battle. Fighting a Heartless, even one as skilled as not-Hood, was easy compared to fighting Xehanort. He was glad Riku had made him memorize the Nobody-explanation that Yen Sid had written. Who knew it would come in handy in this situation? “Something must have happened to Hoo- Jason to turn him into a Nobody. But eventually, his longing for what he had or for something better caused a heart to grow in him.”

    Batman paused in his fighting, stunned. This explained so much about his second son over the past few years. His hostility at his explosive return and his eventual rehabilitation and return to the family. Nobodies came back almost physically identical to the original? Jason had had a white streak in his hair that hadn’t been there before. He stared at the creature in front of him. “So this thing is Jason’s heart?”

    The Keyblade wielder nodded. “Sort of.” Block a strike, parry. “It’s his heart, but it’s surrounded in darkness. If we can beat it, we can get his true heart out. Then we just need to catch it before it returns to Kingdom Hearts.”

    “What happens if it does?” Nightwing twirled his escrima stick, smashing it into not-Jason’s mouth.

    Sora paused to scratch his head, considering the question. “Nothing much. But according to Axe- ummm… Lea, the only reason it took so long to come back was because his heart had been in Kingdom Hearts for so long.” Not-Jason took another swing at him. He dodged, smashing his Keyblade into the Heartless’s spine. “But I have to be the one to land the finishing blow. If it’s defeated by anything other than a Keyblade, the heart will return to darkness and form another Heartless later.”

    Batman grabbed his not-son’s arm, twisting it up behind its back. “So all we have to do is subdue it?” Acting quickly, he grabbed the other arm and fell with the creature to the floor, effectively pinning it. Sora took his cue, moving forward to stab it.

    Not-Jason twitched at the blow, then started dissolving. A glowing light emerged from the body, floating upwards faster than Batman had expected. He reached and missed. A streak of black and blue above him snatched the light from the air.

    Landing as softly as he could, Nightwing looked at the light in his hands. It was small, but bright and warm. He dropped to his knees at the sight of it. “This is Jason?” He turned to Sora and Batman, staring at the light from over his shoulder. “This is my little brother?” At Sora’s nod, he turned back to the light. Wait, not completely light. There was a shadow in it. “What’s this?”

    Sora crouched down for a closer look. “Just a bit of darkness. Everyone has some. Well, everyone except the Seven Princess of Heart. And Ven, from what I hear.”

    Reassured, Nightwing held the light out to Batman. As gently as he could, he transferred his brother’s heart to their father and stood up. Bruce needed a moment, so he went to call Gordon to pick up Joker and Two Face.

    The light danced on his face, but Bruce knew he would rather see the mischievous glint in Jason’s eyes. “How do we get this back to him?” Sora seemed to be the expert, so Batman asked him. He resolved to learn all he could about this later though.

    Crossing his arms, his eyes twisting up into a look of concentration, Sora replied, “Well… We’d need to find his Nobody. Problem is I don’t have the equipment to track where it’ll appear, and no way to get back to the gummi ship…” His eyes brightened a half second later. “There! That green circle! That’ll get us there!”

    Following Sora’s pointing finger, Batman’s eyes widened slightly. There was a glowing circle of light on the floor which definitely hadn’t been there before. Balancing Jason’s heart in one hand, he fished a portable scanner out of his belt.

    “Yeah, Commish. Warehouse 42 by the pier. Thanks.” Nightwing ended his call, glancing back at Batman. He rolled his eyes. Give him his son’s heart, literally, and the man scans a green light thingy. Of course. He went to go check on Red Robin and Robin.

    The boys were walking towards the hole in the wall, Tim supporting Damian, who seemed to have a sprained ankle. Damian scanned the room as soon as he entered, narrowing his eyes. “What happened? Where is Todd?” Dick started, then hesitated, which only infuriated the youngest Robin. “I demand you tell me Grayson! Or so help me, I will inform Pennyworth of your eating habits!”

    “Alright, alright! Just… calm down a second.” And stop threatening my cereal. Quickly, he gave them the abbreviated version. Their reactions were pretty unsurprising. Damian grew angry at the idea that anyone would dare to attack a member of the Wayne family, even one as lowly as Todd. Tim descended into thoughtful silence, probably figuring ways to defend against Keyblades and planning how to get Jason back.

    After a minor tantrum from Damian involving savagely attacking a wooden support beam, they walked to the green circle. Sora was explaining to Batman, “So this Point is basically a health station. It heals all injuries instantly, without having to worry about reopening. It also restores magic, but that’s just for me. It can also teleport us to the gummi ship. My friend Riku is there. He can track where Jason will show up!” Now that he knew Jason’s real name, he refused to go back to calling him “Hood”. Briefly, he wondered what the other’s names were. Jason had called Nightwing “Dick” and Robin had called Red Robin “Drake”, but he didn’t know if those were their first names, last names, nicknames or fake names. He’d wait until they told him. He did wonder why they kept it secret though.

    Batman stared at the light in his hand, then up at his other sons. “Let’s go boys.” Then he stepped into the light.

    There was a slight sensation of falling, before Batman found himself in a small brightly coloured room. He glanced around at the odd block like technology that seemed to make up the ship. He had never seen something so simplistic looking before. As the others began appearing behind him, he saw a boy with silver hair, and who had to be a few years older than Sora, sitting at a type of control panel. Screens were littered in front of the young man, information of various sorts flashing across the constitutionally flickering boxes. Surprisingly, the boy didn't look back or even flinch as the party materialized one by one in the ships cockpit. He seemed to be immersed in some information on the screens. Had he had a way of knowing they would be coming?

    “Looks like you made a ridiculous amount of new friends again Sora.” He said accusingly, but not without some humour mixed into his tone. “I'm guessing you messed up and need my expert help yet again.”

    The boy in question walked forward, passing Batman and stopping next to his friend. “Hey, that was a crazy hard mission. I think you were trying to get back at me for the pie incident the other day.”

    This time Riku did flinch, then laughed. “Maybe I was. But I thought we promised to never mention it again. So moving on, I suppose the reason you're here has something to do with that heart your big scary friend is holding over there.”

    He indicated Batman with a shrug of his left shoulder and a glance behind him.

    “Yup!” chirped Sora. “We gotta find his Nobody and defeat it.

    “Ah, you want to make him whole again.” Riku said nodding his head wisely. “And let me guess who turned him into a Heartless in the first place. Xehanort?”

    “Who else?” Sora said bitterly. “This guy we need to make whole, he was way too strong to be taken down by a common Heartless. I bet you would have trouble defeating him Riku.”

    The boy snorted. “Keep dreaming. Just because you're a weakling doesn't mean I follow suit.”

    “Hey!” Sora burst out.

    But before he could finish his sentence, Riku held up his hand and typed a few keys into the ship’s computer with the other. Sora pouted and crossed his arms annoyed.

    “Let’s see, a Nobody, powerful enough to be like one of Organization XIII’s. Hmmmm. “

    As he typed, there was a cough from behind and Sora was brought out of his sulk. “Sorry guys.” He apologized giving the Batfamily a quick glance. “These are my friends I met in Gotham, Riku. There's Robin, Red Robin, Nightwing, and Batman. They’re all really good at fighting. We've taken down loads of Heartless together.”

    Riku nodded at Batman who nodded back. The two seemed to speak the same broody language.

    With a loud beep the computer seemed to finish its search. Riku tapped a screen and brought forward a map of brightly coloured dots. One dot in particular was flashing much more exuberantly then the others. “That's your man.” said Riku, reclining in his chair. “He is at an area called... Crime Alley. Sounds like a nice place.”

    “He would be there.” Piped up Nightwing from the back.

    “Alright!” Sora exclaimed briskly. “Sorry to just drop in and run Riku, but we gotta get to Ja- uh, Red Hood before he moves again.”

    Riku dismissed this with another wave of his hand. “Go finish the job I gave you and help your friend while you’re at it, you lazy excuse for a Keyblade Wielder.”

    Before anyone could say anything else, he had pressed a button and they were all vanishing from sight.

    SLIGHT VIOLENCE WARNING. SOMEONE GETS STABBED.

    Down in Crime Alley, Xehanort sat waiting behind an abandoned apartment building. The content, patient smile on his face grew to a full blown grin as light gathered in front of him. It took shape first, then details were added. The boy looked mostly the same as he did before, but the white in his hair had spread and the mask that had covered his eyes was gone. No matter. It was inconsequential to the plan.

    As soon as he was fully formed, Xehanort strode up to him. “Greetings, my final vessel.” The Nobody simply looked at him blankly. It was too early in his life for him to have more than basic memories and intelligence. Xehanort’s eyes narrowed, and he decided to indulge in a moment of uncharacteristic emotion. “I almost pity you. Empty inside, no heart, no memories, no life. And yet, you live.” He gathered darkness into his hand, retrieving the piece of his heart he had prepared for this moment. “Normally, I would give you a name. However, since you won’t have an identity, a name is useless.” Reaching his hand back, he plunged the dark shard of a heart into the boy’s chest.

    The Nobody lurched forward, gasping. The light that most creatures naturally carry within them was suddenly and violently extinguished. Darkness took over his entire being, a sensation not unfamiliar to him, but unwelcome nonetheless. He had been in the dark before. He didn’t want to be there now. Unfortunately, he didn’t have much of a choice.

    ~*~​

    Nightwing blinked the stars from his eyes as they materialized on a rooftop. On Jason’s old apartment’s rooftop. He raced to the edge, the rest of the Bats doing the same to the other sides of the building. Red Robin called softly across the rooftop. North end, on the ground below.

    Without hesitation, Nightwing streaked across the building, following his family over the edge. Shooting off his grapple to slow his fall, he was able to watch what was happening below in the seconds it happened.

    Xehanort’s hand filling with darkness.

    Come on, gravity, work faster!

    The hand pulling back.

    Terminal velocity clearly isn’t fast enough.

    The hand shoving the darkness into his brother’s chest.

    No!

    Too late, the Bats landed on the ground. They could only watch helplessly as Jason exploded with darkness, teal eyes full of pain. Then, the darkness receded, drawn back into Jason’s body. He blinked, once, twice, and then his eyes turned the same shade of yellow as Xehanort’s.

    “How unfortunate. Only a moment too late, but a moment late regardless.” Xehanort’s taunts fell on their ears, but they were too in shock to hear them. Sora landed beside them and summoned his Keyblade. He knew that fighting both Xehanort and Jason would be nearly impossible, but he had to.

    A bit of static in Nightwing’s comm. shocked him out of his stupor. “Hello? Testing! Who am I talking to?” Riku’s voice? What was Riku doing on the comm.? A reasonable question, so he asked it. “Oh, I piggybacked onto your signal when you came on the ship. So, tell me who I’m talking to, and then tell me what’s going on.”

    “Nightwing. And Xehanort put something dark into Hood’s chest. His eyes are yellow now.” He really hoped that that was fixable and that he could talk to Jason again soon.

    Up in the ship, Riku winced. That wasn’t good. “Alright, not as good as we had hoped. If Xehanort hadn’t done that, you could have just given Hood back his heart and that would have been it.”

    Crap. Nightwing was still staring warily at Jason. He was standing stock still, which was bad, considering who it was. “So we can’t go with Plan A, what’s Plan B?”

    “You fight. Same thing with his Heartless, you fight until you can destroy him.” There was a pause. “I'm not sure what you should do with his heart. If you keep it, he might materialize around it. Or, you might delay his return. I could go ask Yen Sid…”

    “Do it. Hood won’t be easy to beat. This’ll take a while.” Silence in his ear. Riku hadn’t even stopped to say goodbye. Quickly, he relayed Riku’s half of the conversation to the other Bats and Sora. They nodded and dropped into ready position.

    Across the lot, Xehanort grinned. “Vessel, I have one last thing to prepare. Keep these fools busy.” He disappeared into darkness.

    Jason still hadn’t moved. Tension lined every contour of his body, yellow eyes fixed on the ground. Taking a chance, Batman stepped forward, hand stretched out pacifyingly. “Jason…”

    Suddenly, he was a whirl of motion. He dived towards them, pulling a gun which didn’t look like his regular guns. The difference was explained a moment later when he squeezed the trigger. The projectiles that came out glowed red and were, based on how many shots he was getting off, unlimited. The Bats and Sora dodged his assault, then prepared for a long battle.

    Bullets tore through the air, leaving buildings and pavement cracked and dented. Nightwing was bounding off a variety of objects, performing complex aerial manoeuvres to escape the deadly projectiles. Red Robin had his bo staff out and was dodging what bullets he could while deflecting the rest. He seemed to be trying to shrink into the shadows, retreating into a place where he could collect his thoughts. Each bullet he deflected knocked him a foot back. Their power was incredible. Batman was already retreating. He despised himself for leaving his sons and Sora to whatever monster Jason had been turned into, but he had to keep the small beating light in his hands protected at all costs. This was Jason’s heart, and this time, Batman would protect it like a father should. Meanwhile Sora was also deflecting bullets, waiting for an opening. The darkness emanating off them made him feel sick. He circled Jason, trying to keep the Nobody's attention on him. Robin however, seemed to have abandoned all pretenses of a plan. He was charging forward, almost disregarding his safety. It seemed the little hero was determined to take his enemy face on.

    “Todd you coward!” Screamed Damian. “Would you let that man control you this easily? Are you really just giving up without a fight!?”

    Nightwing knew that this was Damian’s way of hiding emotions. Robin was so overcome with passionate hidden grief for his brother that he was oblivious to his light footsteps, or the growls of the savage Nobody in front of him, or the bullet that tore into his left shoulder. Robin just sprinted forward, katana raised and ready to attack.

    “Robin!! Stop!!” Came Nightwing’s petrified voice from above.

    Sora was already on Robin’s heels, as he was closest to the boy at the time. Jason leapt forward towards his attacker, firing his gun almost randomly. Robin ducked and lifted his sword to meet him. Twisting in midair, Jason dodged the blade, and his free hand became surrounded in a cloud of darkness. A shimmering black sword appeared in it, and swirling on one foot, Jason jabbed this new weapon at Robin, who just barely had time to put his own sword behind his head to block as he fell. The resulting clash of metal echoed around the alley way and seemed to bring a new sense of urgency to the atmosphere if that were possible.

    Leaping left to doge another bullet, Sora reached Jason's Nobody and swung his Keyblade at his arm, trying to knock away the gun. Jason sidestepped, then ducked and twirled his sword at Sora's legs, who leapt back quickly. Meanwhile Jason was still firing at Nightwing and Red Robin. Robin was up again, and as he charged Red Hood, Sora cast a quick cure charm to fix the kid’s shoulder. As soon as the magic was complete, he bounded forward to stand beside Robin and started to help the younger boy in driving the Nobody back. Jason wasn't losing much ground though. He was catching both his opponents’ swords on different parts of his black blade, and parrying with incredible strength. He seemed completely unperturbed that he was facing two opponents head on. Suddenly he pointed his gun directly at Sora and fired. Sora had to drop to his knees to avoid the surprise attack. In the process, Jason's sword slid off Robin’s, using the force to cut into Sora’s left arm. Jerking back and crying in pain, Sora stumbled to his feet, ready to back off, but it seemed Jason wasn't going to give him that chance. The black sword was glowing wickedly where red blood stained it and was pulsating. Jason slashed at Sora who put his Keyblade in front of him to block. The force of the impact literally lifted him off the ground a few inches and he barely caught his balance as he began blocking more vicious strikes. Robin was trying to attack from behind now, his cape and tunic a blur of colour as he moved. But Jason was matching his movements in reverse. Dodging while all the time attacking Sora and shooting at the others.

    Nightwing watched all this proceed with a rising sense of panic. He wanted to wait for a good moment to jump in and attack Jason by surprise, but he would have to leave that to Tim. The situation was deteriorating too fast for his attempts at strategizing to be an option. With a single graceful motion, he soared to a window ledge above the struggling heroes and let himself drop. Landing on Jason’s shoulders he drove his escrima sticks into his brother’s head, gritting his teeth as he did so. Who cared if he wasn't himself, attacking his brother really sucked.

    Instead of dropping to the ground like Nightwing expected him to, Jason jerked sideways and threw Nightwing off of him. Landing lightly, Dick turned to see Jason, blood dripping down his face, on all four legs, crouching as if to pounce. An instinctive fury flashed in his brother's feral yellow eyes. Sensing the danger Nightwing back flipped several times. Unfortunately, Robin didn't seem to have anticipated Jason's next attack. He charged forward, taking Hood’s silence to be a sign of weakness, and in that moment Jason pounced. Before Robin really knew what was happening, Jason’s sword was sticking out of his chest.

    He stood still for a moment, stunned, his sword held in mid attack. Then with a swift movement Jason lurched back, blood trailing his black sword's tip. Robin didn't make a sound. Just stumbled back a few steps before slumping to the ground. The Nobody raised his gun.

    “JASON!”

    Like a streak Nightwing rammed himself into Jason, the two flying several feet away. Nightwing blindly punching every part of the Nobody he could.

    Sora who had been healing his arm, now ran to Robin, who was barely holding himself up with a shaky arm, blood pouring from his chest. He was gasping and blood ran from his mouth. A bad sign. A really bad sign. “Tt, n-now would be a g-great time to use some of...that healing m-magic Sora.” He choked.

    “Right!” Sora said feeling dizzy. “Right, just hold still okay?”

    Robin grunted, and Sora lifted up his blade, his voice shaking as he cried, “Courage!”

    Robin’s wound began to close as Sora put as much power into the spell as he could. He rarely had to heal such extensive injuries. This was Donald’s expertise. He felt his magic leave him on account of the high level cure with each passing second. Robin’s gurgling breaths were becoming less laboured, more steady. Suddenly a bullet collided with the pavement inches from Robin’s foot. It broke Sora's concentration and the spell ended. It was just as well, he was out of magic. Not a drop left.

    Nightwing and Jason were in a desperately fierce battle. Metal and fists moving too fast for Sora to comprehend. All he could tell was that Nightwing was at a severe disadvantage. Jason's sword was glowing such a strong shade of red that it left a trail of faded crimson light as it twisted through the air. But the acrobat was determined. He wasn't letting Jason gain any more ground then was at all possible. Sora knew however, that he had to move Robin out of there now. The kid was too weak to keep on fighting. If truth be told it was a miracle he was alive. And if one stray bullet hit either of them now...

    Sora shook his head. No time for gloomy thoughts. The healing was as complete as it could get until Sora could recharge his magic, but at least Robin wasn’t in any danger on that front anymore. Carefully scooping up the boy, he scanned the area, trying to find Batman. If it hadn’t been for Jason’s heart glowing faintly, he knew he wouldn’t have been able to find him. The Bat blended into the shadows better than a Heartless. As it was, he still had difficulty. Robin cradled in his arms, he jumped up and glided over to Batman, figuring it would be quicker and smoother than running. Batman’s eyes narrowed at Sora’s approach, then widened when he saw what he was carrying. “Hey Batman! He’s fine, he just needs some rest.” He landed gently and dropped Robin behind Batman, leaning him against a wall. “I’m going to go help Nightwing!” And with that, he jumped into the fray.

    Tim, meanwhile, had been rapidly conferring with Riku, Yen Sid, Mickey and Kairi in a kind of interplanetary conference call. “So you’re saying it’s possible? Because I really don’t think we can beat him.” Red Hood had been a difficult adversary before. Strong, ruthless, incredibly smart, he had been one of their greatest villains. He had calmed down more recently, probably due to him growing a new heart, but he had still been a tough fight. Now though, with him as a Nobody, with Xehanort’s heart beating in his chest, it was almost impossible. If this other way worked…

    Yen Sid spoke up. “A method such as this has never before been attempted, but the theory is sound. Kairi’s experiences in Hollow Bastion together with Riku’s knowledge of the four of you during your visit may allow for this course to transpire.” Tim got the sense he was stroking his beard, even though he had never seen the man and didn’t even know if he had a beard.

    He nodded. “Alright. Patch into Nightwing’s comm. and explain. I’ll distract Hood.” Hopefully he could hold him off long enough for this to work.

    Swinging his bo staff, he managed to catch Jason’s sword before it could connect with Dick’s escrima sticks. “Red Robin, wha- ?” He broke off, probably listening to his comm. Jumping back, with a hand pressed to his ear, he left Red Robin to fight Red Hood.

    Tim grunted under the force of Jason’s swing as he shoved the Blade off of his staff. It had gotten a severe power increase when it had stabbed into Damian. Glancing down at where the sword had struck his staff, he was dismayed to see a crack. His staff was solid titanium alloy, to crack it was almost impossible.

    He looked back up just in time to see Jason leveling his gun, taking aim. Tim leapt to the side, just as Sora’s Keyblade swept up under the gun and the Nobody fired. The mysteriously glowing projectile slammed into the fifth floor of the building behind them. Sora jumped away, landing next to Red Robin.

    “Together then?” He asked.

    Red Robin shrugged. “Only way to survive this.” And they launched themselves at Jason.

    In the corner of the lot, Batman stood, itching to fight alongside his boys but knowing that he couldn’t. Not with Jason’s heart in his hands. Quite literally. So instead, he gazed at the warm light. So bright. He’d always known that Jason had a good heart. That was a large part of the reason he had taken him in all those years ago. To see it here, bright and shining, only confirmed what he already knew. He knew he couldn’t fail Jason, not again. He went back to watching the battle. He would know if Dick or Tim needed help. If they were in danger, he would jump in, regardless of the danger to himself. He would protect all of his sons.

    He watched as Red Robin took over the fight for Nightwing. His eldest flipped back, listening to his comm., then ran back towards Batman. “B, we have a plan.”

    Grabbing the necessary items from Batman, Nightwing dashed back towards his brother and new friend. He tossed a set of Batcuffs each to Sora and Tim. Together, they manoeuvered Jason back, dodging him as they lured him to a lamppost. When it was directly behind the Nobody’s back, Sora used what little magic he had recharged.

    “STOP!”

    Jason froze, unable to move. Red Robin and Sora moved to his sides, clapping the Batcuffs onto his wrists and guiding them quickly behind the pole. They secured the cuffs to the opposite wrists, effectively trapping him there, at least for the moment.

    Nightwing, in the meanwhile, was busy concentrating on all the moments he had shared with his brother, the moments he had treasured. Jumping onto a moving train. Talking on rooftops. Movie night, both at the manor and at their respective apartments. Jason’s passion in all things, the way he would take a bullet for those he saw under his protection, the ridiculous way his hair stood up after a good night’s sleep. Every big moment, every small moment, Dick remembered his brother.

    Watching carefully, Tim noticed the exact moment when Jason started moving again. “Nightwing, hurry! It’s starting to wear off!” Was it just him, or was Dick glowing a bit? Another moment later, and the spell had worn off. Jason was thrashing against the lamppost. Red Robin could hear the Batcuffs straining against the force, almost ready to pop. Just as the Batcuffs snapped, just as Jason raised his arms to continue the fight, Dick opened his arms and stepped forwards.

    Locked in his own mind, Jason was trying to fight his way out. His mind and heart were at war with each other, heart trying to solidify its control, head fiercely trying to remove the invader. He knew he needed a heart, but this one was wrong. He knew what his heart felt like. He had felt its rages, its passion, its longing, its hope, its loss, its joy and despair. This one only felt driven, and driven towards a goal Jason was fairly sure he wanted no part of. At the moment though, he had no choice. The heart was strong, with infinite darkness behind it. Jason believed he walked in the darkness too, but it supported this interloper more than it did Jason. He was just a dead man walking, not worth standing behind. The darkness closed in on him from all sides.

    A sudden light burst into existence around Jason. It surrounded him, driving away the darkness, burning into his mind. Memories swamped him, but not his memories. Memories of him living, protecting, memories of standing, not behind, but beside, fighting with him. Joy and laughter. Anger and sadness too, but tinged with hope, hope that the wayward bird would come home once again. Suddenly, he didn’t need the darkness to support him. He had his family. He might always have one foot in the darkness, but he could still walk with his family; in the light.

    Sora shielded his eyes. He hadn’t seen this, but Donald and Goofy had told him the story. If this worked, there would be a blinding flash of –

    “AGH!” Tim shut his eyes against the sudden assault. As soon as Dick’s arms had closed around Jason, light had exploded around them. A whirlwind of energy erupted, spinning tendrils of light and darkness. They whirled, darkness seeming to gain the upper hand until the light rallied. The darkness faded away, vanishing into nothing. Eventually, the light vanished too, but inwards, towards the brothers rather than away. Finally, all that was left was a battered Nightwing, holding an unconscious Red Hood.

    Slumping to the ground, Nightwing slowly lowered Jason down and took a few steadying breaths. That had been a rattling experience. He had felt the entirety of everything Jason was in the last few seconds; who was struggling fiercely to fight away the darkness and who was holding on to Dick’s heart like a lifeline. Dick had felt Jason’s terror and desperation and determination all mixed into one. It was a unique experience, but he felt the cold terror that was in Jason now in him as well. Losing the light in one’s heart was a fate worse than death. Dick shuddered. Jason needed to be whole again.

    “I guess, that is to say...” Tim hesitated as he blinked at the unconscious figure on the ground. “He is safe now right? It's not like he is going to jump up and start killing us? The plan worked?”

    Dick nodded wearily as Sora said, “He isn't whole yet, we need to give him back his heart. But the darkness in him is gone at least. Right now he's just a shell with no real feelings or emotions.”

    He looked over at Jason. “It's sad really, what a Nobody goes through. Having no heart is like being half a person.”

    Memories Roxas had shared with Sora come flooding back to him as he spoke, and he felt the weight of what Red Hood was going through. They needed to make him whole and fix this mess.

    As if in response to his thoughts, the heavy footfalls of Batman announced the Dark Knight emerging from his home of shadows. He was walking quickly, aware it seemed that returning Jason’s heart needed to be done as soon as possible. As he came closer, everyone marveled at the way he cradled the ball of light so gently in his huge powerful hands. A strange sight, especially when the man was wearing the cowl. Robin trailed about a foot behind Batman, shaky and obviously exhausted, but on his feet all the same. Weak as he was, his footsteps were as silent as if he weren’t even there. Batman stopped slowly, carefully, next to Sora and looked down at his second eldest son. Jason was pale and uncharacteristically fragile looking where he lay on the cold pavement, sleeping. But he was breathing easily and the rage which seemed to have enveloped his face was gone.

    Without taking his gaze off of Jason he murmured roughly “What now Sora? How do we make him Jason again?”

    Sora cocked his head to the side considering. “His heart should naturally want to go back to his body now that the two are free. Just let his heart go and it will do the rest I think. “

    Batman seemed unsure as he clutched the shining orb closer to his chest.

    “Are you entirely sure?” He said. “I refuse to participate in any activity that will further endanger the life of Red Hood.”

    Sora had to resist the urge to shake his head in exasperation. The man was just being a worried father or mentor or whatever Batman was to Jason. What Sora didn't know was that he was experiencing the family famed-overprotective – sometimes irrational – habits Batman could display so easily if one of his children were threatened. Red Robin and Nightwing just rolled their eyes knowingly.

    “He'll be fine.” the boy replied. “Every heart belongs with its person. I guess if worst comes to worst we can just jump up and grab his heart again right?”

    Sora smiled reassuringly at Batman, who seemed to falter. He looked at Red Robin and Nightwing then down at Jason’s heart, before slowly holding out his hands and freeing the glowing orb from his care. It floated there silently in the air for a few seconds as if it was contemplating what to do next while everyone held their breaths. Then slowly, it began to move towards Jason. Sparkles of light trailing after it as it floated down. All eyes were fixated on the glowing ball is it approached Jason’s chest. It seemed to stop for a millisecond before touching the unconscious hero and splitting into a million shards of light. As the brilliant brightness from the exposed heart faded, the silence seemed to press in around the group of anxious onlookers. Jason was lying quite still. Nightwing reached out a tentative hand.

    With a jolt Jason bolted up into a sitting position and gasped, causing everyone to jump back, alarmed. He sat there for a few seconds simply breathing and shaking, before blinking in confusion and looking around.

    “Are you alright Hood?” asked Batman, who was unable to keep the flooding relief he was experiencing out of his voice. “Do you... remember what happened?”

    Jason looked up at Batman for a moment, then seemed to deflate and placed a tired hand to his forehead. “God” he whispered. “That was... that was terrifying.”

    Sora watched Jason contemplating all that had just happened to him. He could relate to the man; he remembered all too well what being lost in darkness felt like. First and foremost, it was unbearably lonely.

    Suddenly Dick seemed unable to contain himself anymore and leapt forward, enveloping Jason in a bear hug.

    “Hey!” Jason spluttered in surprise before Tim overcame his slight hesitation and jumped in to hug his brothers too. Jason fell backwards with their combined weight. Sora smiled and jumped on top of everyone, laughing and effectively turning the hug into a kind of dog pile. Next was Robin who gingerly approached with a look of half amusement half disgust and then seemed to give up and leapt onto Sora. By this point, Jason was gasping for air, laughing with the people who were effectively crushing him. Batman stood off to the side awkwardly until Nightwing jumped up and forced him down. Jason couldn't help it. He was grinning from ear to ear. He loved his family, every last stinking one of them! He began the task of trying to stand up which turned into a frenzy of chaos as his brothers attempted to cling onto him. But in the end he broke free and jumped to his feet, the rest of them following happily.

    “Alright!” Jason growled feeling better than he had in months, maybe years. “Let's go beat the crap out of that sad excuse for a villain!”

    Batman clapped a hand on Jason’s shoulder, preventing him from doing anything reckless, like jumping through the first Dark Corridor he saw. Holding a hand up to his ear, he asked, “Riku. Is Xehanort still in Gotham?”

    There was a sound of keys clicking, followed by a loud crash. Riku’s long suffering voice came through everyone’s comm. “Donald, stop letting Goofy fly the ship. To answer your question Batman, no, he’s not. If he was re-gathering his thirteen darknesses, he probably went back to The World That Never Was.”

    Dick sighed. “That is such a long name. Can’t we shorten it?”

    “Neverland?” came the helpful suggestion from Tim.

    Which Sora immediately vetoed. “Nope, that’s the world where you can fly.”

    A growl of frustration sounded through the comm. “No shortening, please. The worlds are named that for a reason.” More keys clicking. “Ok, that’s interesting.” A pause, probably so that someone would ask what. Sora obliged, and Riku went on. “It seems Gotham isn’t always linked to the Corridors. It kind of… jumps, on and off of the darkness.”

    “Explain.” Even though Riku couldn’t see the infamous Batglare, he could hear it in the man’s tone of voice.

    “Alright, so Gotham, based on the journal entry Jiminy had time to make up at some point, is basically a hotbed of insanity, right? The minds there destabilize everything. Even the connection to other worlds. So even though it’s coated in darkness, the minds in it prevent the Dark Corridors from latching on all the time. If we didn’t have the gummi ship and could physically fly to the world, I don’t think we would be able to get here at all.”

    Frustrated, Jason snarled. “So how did Xehanort get here then? If he travels by Dark Corridor, right?”

    “Actually,” Sora raised his hand cautiously, “Xehanort got here by Heartless ship. We followed him directly.”

    Tim rubbed his eyes. “Fantastic. So Riku, when is the next time the Corridors can attach to Gotham? And can Xehanort get here by ship again?”

    “Not now that I’m here. If he approaches the world, I’ll Ultima-G him to bits. That’s a good enough final battle for me. As for the Corridors…” he paused, thinking. “I don’t really know. Not for another day at least. When it does happen though, I can let you know.”

    His hand still on Jason’s shoulder, Batman nodded. “Please do.” Cutting out the communication, he called the Batmobile and started pulling his wayward son to the closest street. He motioned for the rest of the boys to follow him, which they did.

    “Hey!” Struggling against his grip was futile, but Jason still tried. “B, let go!” The Batmobile pulled up, door opening automatically.

    Batman tossed Jason gracelessly into the back seat, then jumped in himself. There was a bit of a scuffle as the other three boys realized that there was only five seats. By the time the Batmobile pulled away from the curb, Tim was in the front seat beside Batman, Sora was in the back between Jason and Dick and Damian was scowling on Dick’s lap.

    “Why do I have to sit on Grayson’s lap? This is entirely beneath me!”

    Grinning wickedly, Jason addressed the ten-year-old. “Because Dami, my lap is off limits, Batman is driving, Sora is our guest and we don’t want to put him through that and you would have killed Red. Seriously, ‘Wing is the only person in this car you can stand.”

    Between them, Sora scrunched up his face, thinking. “So Robin’s name is Dami?”

    Silence descended on the car. Every pair of eyes turned towards Batman. He glared at each of them in turn. When they didn’t back down, he sighed. “Fine. But if you make me regret this, I will personally ensure that the rest of your lives are miserable.”

    Dick was the first one to stick out his hand. Of course. “Hi Sora! My name’s Dick Grayson! It’s great to finally tell someone!” With his free hand, he pulled off his mask.

    After Dick was finished with his overly enthusiastic handshake, Jason put his out, the other cradling his face, elbow resting on the window. “Jason Todd. But you probably figured that out from the way these idiots were shouting it left, right and center.”

    “Tim Drake,” reaching back, Tim pulled off his mask as well. “Pleased to formally make your acquaintance.” He shook Sora’s hand warmly.

    Next was Damian’s turn. He didn’t stick out his hand, but he did pull off his domino mask. “Damian Wayne. Remember it, for I shall be the next ruler of this world.” He gave off an un-ruler-like squawk as Dick grabbed his wrist and extended it, forcing him to shake hands with Sora.

    Batman wouldn’t pull off his cowl until they were safely in the Batcave. “Bruce Wayne. A pleasure.” Sora shook his hand timidly. Even without the cowl, Bruce was intimidating.

    “So B, what are we doing back in the Cave anyways?” As soon as the Batmobile pulled up, Jason had sauntered over to the lockers, where he kept his spare equipment. He grabbed out a new helmet and domino mask, as well as two new guns (his old ones had vanished somewhere). Batman didn’t approve of him using guns, but as long as he kept his fatalities within the city at zero, he was allowed to keep a stash here.

    Alfred chose this moment to walk in, carrying a large silver tray with enough tea and cookies for everyone. Grabbing a cup, Bruce stated simply “Resting. Riku said it would be another 24 hours until Xehanort could come back. We need to be at our best.”

    “Does that mean you actually intend to sleep sir?” Alfred drawled as Dick and Tim grabbed their cups gratefully. “Will the miracles never cease?”

    Skillfully ignoring his oldest friend, Bruce continued, “I also want to run some tests Jason. Make sure you’re back to normal.” Jason rolled his eyes. Of course.

    Alfred offered his heavily laden tray to Sora as the others ran off to change into “civvies” as Dick put it. “Welcome back Master Sora. As I assume you know everyone else’s identities, I would like to reintroduce myself. I am Alfred Pennyworth, caretaker here at Wayne Manor.”

    Sora, unable to shake the butler’s hand while he was carrying the tray, eagerly grabbed a cup and a cookie. “What’s Wayne Manor? I thought this place was called the Batcave.” These were seriously the best cookies he had ever had. He grabbed another one.

    Alfred smiled a knowing smile. “Follow me young sir. I shall show you to the room you shall be using for the duration of your visit.” Placing the tray on a table, he preceded the Keyblade Wielder up the stairs…

    …and out of a grandfather clock, leading into the most luxurious room Sora had ever seen. If Beast’s Castle hadn’t been in ruins, it might have looked a little like this.

    “Whoa!” He said looking around at it all.

    He was particularly mesmerized by all the antique items being displayed, and by the strange architecture of the house. This place was super cool.

    “Shall we go then?” Alfred asked.

    Sora nodded and the two made their way out of the study and into a wide open room that had both a large oak front door and a huge staircase leading up to a second story. Alfred turned and took the staircase while Sora followed, his attention flickering from furniture to pictures to architecture. They reached the landing, passed a few doors, turned left, and walked forward a few more paces. Finally, they arrived at what was supposedly the room Sora was to stay in. Alfred opened the door for him courteously and with a quick thank you Sora stepped forward, eager to see what awaited him inside.

    The room was spacious, with rich dark wood flooring and a huge four poster bed in the far right corner. Light shone in lazily from two high windows on the far side of the room, and a screen was mounted on the wall facing the bed. A metal and glass desk took up the closest corner, along with a dresser and a comfortable looking arm chair. Two other doors lead into a closet and bathroom on the remaining wall. The overall effect was a very neat and modern feel.

    “Dinner shall be ready in about 20 minutes Master Sora.” The butler said as he smiled down at the excited boy marveling at his new surroundings. “If you need anything do feel free to call. I shall be in the kitchen if you need me. Do come down when you are settled. The rest of the Wayne household will be there as well.”

    “Okay Alfred, and thanks!” Sora called as the butler walked back down the hall.

    After lying on his bed for a few minutes and taking in everything that had happened to him in the past few hours, Sora got bored and began to explore his room. The dresser had more spare clothes, and Sora found a hoodie with a large S symbol that he liked and decided to put on. He discovered that the TV had a lot of interesting things on it, but he got weirded out by a show about talking ponies. He wasn't sure why though. Atlantica was almost as strange. After splashing some cool water on his face, Sora was itching to go down and see the others. The tantalizing aroma of what he assumed was Alfred's cooking was making its way through the huge house and Sora noticed just how hungry he was.

    He left his room and began wandering down the hall following the smell before he ran into a problem. He had no clue where the kitchen was. He couldn't just follow his nose because by this time Alfred’s cooking had permeated the entire house. Sora decided it was more likely to be coming from downstairs and headed in that direction. The only problem was when he reached where he thought the stairs should be, they weren’t there. Sora blinked and looked around. If only he had had a map! How could he get lost in a house? He backtracked to where he thought his room was, but couldn't remember which door was his. Didn't matter though. He reasoned he had just come the opposite way when he left originally. He turned right and started walking, but when he came to a hallway where he could turn either left or right he was totally and utterly confused.

    “You are so lost.”

    Whirling around, Sora saw Damian leaning on a door frame and smirking at the indignant look on his face.

    “Am not!” Sora countered before he really thought. “I'm just...exploring is all.”

    “Tt, you are an awful liar, spiky head.” Damian drawled. “You really are quite horrible at keeping a straight face.”

    Moaning, Sora admitted defeat and walked towards the youngest bat. “Riku and Kairi used to say that all the time.” He muttered.

    Damian started and the slightest trace of a grin flashed across his face when Sora turned towards him, but seemed to catch himself and asked “This Kairi must be another friend of yours?”

    Sora nodded. “So, um, could you show me where the kitchen is? Alfred said to be there but I have no clue where it is.”

    “Such remedial tasks are beneath me.” Damian sighed. “However, I believe father would wish for me to help a guest. Very well, follow me.”

    The two boys made their way through a maze of twists and turns before finally reaching the stairs. They appeared on the left side of the staircase, opposite from the side which Sora had originally come with Alfred. He had no clue how he had accomplished getting that lost. They had just made it to the main lobby when a bark broke Sora’s train of thought. He turned just in time to see a huge dog come hurtling towards them. A massive, enormous, slightly terrifying dog! Sora thought the thing was going to run him over – or eat him – but it swept by him and jumped up to lick Damian's face! To Sora's astonishment the boy smiled.

    “Okay Titus, get off!” He said pushing the dog away.

    It immediately dropped down and wandered over to sniff Sora quickly before replacing its self at Damian's side.

    “This is Titus.” The boy said simply, offering no other explanation, before they began to walk again. When they reached the dining room, Bruce, Jason, Dick, and Tim were already there. Dick raised his eyebrows and grinned at them as they walked in. “You’re lucky.” He chuckled. “Another minute and you would have been late. And Alfred does not like it when we’re late.”

    The others around the table shifted uncomfortably. Even Bruce, who looked up and caught sight of Sora's hoodie.

    When an oh-so-familiar confused expression crossed Sora’s face, Tim leaned in conspiratorially, “Alfred gets rather creative with punishments. It’s not outright, but after making him mad, things start happening and they’re never pleasant. We can’t ever prove it was him either.”

    Damian nodded. “When I first arrived, I lopped off the tops of most of the trees outside. For training purposes, of course. Immediately after, most of my katanas and throwing daggers blunted themselves.” For once, he didn’t seem arrogant or pretentious, simply resigned. “I spent four hours resharpening them, and then when I turned my back, they had blunted again.”

    Sora paled at the prospect. It seemed like a minor thing, but frightening all the same. As he sat down, he noticed Bruce staring at his sweater with a slightly disturbed look on his face. Suddenly it occurred to him: what if he wasn’t allowed to wear the sweater? It had been in the guest closet, so he had thought it would be ok, but what if it had been a gift for someone or if the last person to stay there had forgotten it? Flustered, he was about to blurt out an apology when Bruce turned his gaze to Dick.

    “I thought you had gotten rid of that.” His tone was flat, but almost disapproving.

    Dick, so far successfully avoiding his father’s gaze, grinned sheepishly. “Nope. I probably won’t either. It’s too much fun! Besides, it was a gift. It would be rude to throw it away.” He turned to look at Sora, his grin evolving into a warm smile. “Looks good on you Sora. Warm enough?”

    So he was allowed to wear the sweater. Ok! “Yup! Is there something wrong with it though? Why would you need to get rid of it?”

    “That’s a Superman sweater. Just like how Batman has the Batsymbol on his chest, Superman has that one.” Dick’s tone didn’t convey much, but his eyes glinted mischievously. “It was a gag gift for Bruce a few Christmases ago. Not sure if he’s ever worn it though.”

    “Nope, but pretty much everyone else has.” Joining in, Tim’s eyes had the same glint. “It bothers the Big Bad Bat quite a bit.”

    Sora was about to ask why, when Alfred walked in, bearing the most delicious smelling things that had ever graced his nose. The dished landed on the table, and everyone helped themselves. Dinner passed mostly in silence, small snippets of conversation about mostly nothing filling the air. After all the plates were clean, Alfred came in again with a pot of tea and a large plate filled with cookies. The group headed to the parlor to enjoy them. The nothing-conversation continued, until a small beeping in Bruce’s pocket interrupted them.

    He fished out a small tablet, glaring at the screen. Jason, who had a good idea what it was, glared at Bruce, willing him to react, give him some idea of good news or bad news. Finally, he broke down and asked “Well? Am I good to go or what?”

    Jolted out of his thoughts, Bruce glanced up at his son, sometimes ally, sometimes enemy, and said cautiously, “It seems like you’re back to normal. There was some residual substance in your blood samples early in the testing, but they disappeared about half way through. Presumably, the same happened with the substance still in your body.” He paused, Bat paranoia screaming at him. “Just in case, I’d like to take a fresh sample. Knowing what I’m looking for, it won’t take as long this time.”

    Sighing, Jason sat back in his seat. He’d had a feeling that was coming. “Fine.” He grabbed the last three cookies off of the plate, glaring at his brother’s small cries of outrage. “Hey, I’m losing a lot of blood here. I need the sugar.”

    He was saved from fratricide by Alfred’s once again timely arrival, bringing another pot of tea and a steaming pile of fresh cookies. Jason grabbed another three, then followed Bruce down to the Cave. After a moment of deliberation, Sora grabbed a stack of treats for himself, then followed.

    The Cave was as cold as ever, making him very grateful for the hot tea and cookies in his hands, not to mention the sweater. Bruce and Jason had been moving very fast apparently, neither of them being anywhere in sight when Sora finished walking down the stairs. He followed their voices to the medbay, taking another sip of tea to ease the sudden chill down his spine.

    “Seriously B,” Jason was saying, “Might as well stick a shunt in my arm and be done with it. All this poking is getting annoying.” He nodded in greeting when Sora walked in. He was sitting on one of the beds, sleeve rolled up with Bruce bending over a needle in his arm, the vial attached to it filling with deep red liquid. When the container was full, he pulled the needle out of Jason’s arm and quickly pressed a cotton ball to the small hole in his skin. Jason held it there as Bruce turned to the nearest computer, dropping the sample in for testing. “What’s up Sora?”

    “Not much.” He took a bite out of his cookie, demolishing half of it in one go. Once it was safely swallowed, he said, “Just curious.”

    “Ah.” Jason jumped off the table, and led him to the computer. “Well, this is one of our diagnostic computers. We can stick pretty much any substance in there and it’ll tell us what it’s made of, what’s wrong with it, and hand out a list of things we can do about it.” He tossed the cotton ball into the garbage and rolled down his sleeve. “Within reason of course. If it’s an unknown substance, it can give us a good guess. We still have to do quite a bit of the leg work to figure what else it is.”

    Bruce, his face obscured by the microscope he was looking down, grunted an affirmative. “Which is why I needed another blood sample from Jason. To see if the unknown substance is still there and, if it is, determine what it is.”

    “And?” Sora prompted. “Is it still there?”

    Bruce spent another moment or two staring down the microscope, eyebrows creeping towards each other until they were almost touching. “Yes.” Finally looking up, his expression was grim. He did not like the idea of some mystery substance swimming around in Jason’s bloodstream. “It keeps vanishing at a rapid pace though.” He had a suspicion of what it was, but he wanted confirmation.

    Jason sighed again. “I’ll get a shunt.” If the stuff kept disappearing once it left his body, Bruce would need an almost steady supply to figure out what it was. He would accept a shunt, but he didn’t want a million needle holes in his arm.

    While Jason was rummaging in the supply closet, Bruce brought up a recording of the substance, floating around Jason’s red blood cells.

    It was like nothing any of them had ever seen; a dark slithery kind of substance that seemed to attach itself to Jason’s red blood cells before breaking apart and forming into an almost symmetrical copy of the cell, losing its shape and dissolving into a liquid-like substance again. Bruce stared at the display, playing, pausing, and rewinding the footage as he observed the strange reaction. This was odd, very odd, and Bruce didn't like his lack of knowledge on the matter at all. This could be a poison, a negative kind of immune reaction to whatever Xehanort had done to his son, or something even more sinister. He had a bad idea that this was the latter.

    “Whatever this thing is,” Sora began, “wasn't here until Jason was made into a Heartless right?”

    Bruce nodded absentmindedly as he studies the cell’s reactions.

    “Well.” Sora said. “I was turned into a Heartless just like Jason was. Could I have the same thing in my blood that Jason has in his?”

    That caught Bruce's attention. He swung around in his chair and stared at Sora. “The same process happened to you before?” He asked carefully.

    “Well yeah.” Sora said, faltering a little under the man’s intimidating gaze. “It's a long story, but my friend's heart got trapped in me and I had to release it, and the only way to do it was to use a Keyblade and turn myself into a Heartless.”

    “You stabbed yourself!?” Came Jason's surprised voice as he popped his head out of the drawer he had been rummaging in.

    “Like I said, long story.” Sora shrugged dismissively. “The point is… well, I don't really know about any of this science stuff, but maybe I could be helpful in finding out what is in Jason's blood because of my blood?”

    “Hmmmm.” Bruce scratched his chin thoughtfully.

    It was something to go off of at least. In any case, he could narrow down his options. “It's worth a try if you're willing to help,” he said finally.

    “’Course I am! Just tell me what I have to do!”

    Bruce directed him to a bed and told him to roll up his sleeve. He then went through the process of cutting off the arms circulation and then, after disinfecting the spot with alcohol, carefully sticking a needle into the crook of Sora's arm. He flinched slightly – he had never done this before – but otherwise sat patiently through the process. As soon as Bruce had a vial of blood he wasted no time dropping it into the computer’s scanners and analyzing the data.

    “Ah, found one!” Jason finally reappeared from the medical cabinet.

    He looked from Sora to Bruce, then tossed the supplies on a bed and walked up behind the older man, studying the screens. “Well look at that.” He said roughly, comparing the two videos playing. “You and me match Sora!”

    Jumping off the bed, Sora came over to gaze at the screen with the others. He could see the strange substance surrounding his blood cells, taking on the circular shape perfectly before dissolving once again. Sora simply watched, mesmerized. Whatever Jason had, Sora had it too.

    “It can't be.” Came Bruce’s astonished voice. Both boys looked down at him. He was again studying blood under a microscope, his face creased with concentration.

    “What is it B? Give it to us straight. How long do we have?” Jason joked. But Bruce didn't laugh, just kept peering down at the slide, focusing intensely.

    After a couple of seconds the man straightened up. “I'm sorry but I am going to need both of you to stay down here tonight. It is vital that I isolate whatever this foreign matter is and analyze it personally. We can't take any chances.

    Jason leaned against the wall huffing while Sora stuck his hands into his hoodie pockets thinking.

    “What do you think this stuff in our blood is?” he asked Bruce. “Do you have a theory or something?”

    Jason was the one to answer as he shook his head slowly. “He's not gonna tell us anything until he figures out for sure what this stuff is kid. That's just the way he works. Annoying as hell, but not much we can do about it. All that's left is to leave him to it.”

    So for the next few hours, Sora and Jason sat on the beds in the med bay, leaning against the cold wall and dozing on and off. Bruce had in fact placed intravenouses in both their arms and was drawing blood regularly. At one point Sora had woken up to see that blankets had been placed on both him and Jason. Definitely Alfred’s doing. He had fallen back asleep, and woke again when something wet touched his face. He blinked and looked up tiredly into the face of the dog Titus. Sniffing and walking around in a circle, Titus plopped down beside Sora who smiled and stroked his warm head. He could hear Damian's voice and assumed he was talking to Bruce. Unfortunately at that point he fell asleep again. It was almost 4 AM, according to the clock on the wall, and it had been quite a long exhausting day.

    The third thing that woke him up was hands shaking his shoulders. “Sora, wake up!” That was Dick’s voice. “Bruce says it's important that you get up now!”

    Startled but awake, Sora looked around confused. Titus had left, and was curled up on the floor next to Damian who was asleep leaning against a desk. Tim was also there, curled up in a chair and stirring in response to Dick’s grave voice. Bruce was shaking Jason, waking him up too, the latter not being all too happy about it.

    “Jesus Bruce. What time is it?” he snapped. Jason had never been a morning person.

    “Irrelevant,” the man said mechanically. “You two need to come with me now!”

    Halfway through a stretch, he stopped at the man’s tone. “What’s going on?” Sora opened and closed his hand a few times, preparing himself to summon his Keyblade at a moment’s notice.

    Instead of answering, Bruce and Dick grabbed the other two’s hands and pulled them towards the main computer. Filling the screen were two side-by-side videos, clearly of blood cells, one labeled “Jason”, the other labeled “Sora”. Sora’s blood hadn’t changed from the time of the first sample. The dark substance, whatever it was, still replicated his cells, then dispersed. However, in Jason’s, the substance was steadily getting more abundant. It copied the cell and then stayed, duplicating itself even as more of the substance copied another cell.

    Mouth set in a grim line, Bruce spoke, his level tone betraying none of the dread he had inside. “These are the samples from an hour ago. As you can see, the substance is no longer dissipating, even now that it’s outside of Jason’s bloodstream.” He fiddled with the keyboard, typing a few commands. “This is the only difference I could see in the two samples.”

    Sora’s half of the screen zoomed drastically. In between the cells were tiny flecks of light. Whenever the substance tried to replicate a blood cell, the flecks would gather, attacking and dispersing it. Shocked, Sora held up his hands, staring at them as if he could see through the skin, as if he could see the tug-of-war happening in his blood stream. The entire idea made him slightly queasy. Thus far, all Heartless attacks hadn’t really injured him. They were either blunt force trauma or directly affected his heart. If he got stabbed in the chest, he wouldn’t have bled: his heart would have simply flown off into Kingdom Hearts. For some reason, all this talk of blood didn’t sit well with him.

    He looked up at Jason, wondering if this was as difficult for his friend as it was for him. Probably not. The Bats seemed… not comfortable with blood (who would be, really), but used to it. However, the look of abject horror on Jason’s face caught him off guard. He was staring at his hands as well, which were threaded with very faint dark lines, following his veins and arteries perfectly.

    Bruce, still contemplating the two screens, noticed the second Robin’s unusual silence and turned. His eyes widened at Jason’s expression, then further when he noticed the lines. Before anyone in the room could blink, he had grabbed Jason’s hand and shoved it under a microscope. “Sora. Any ideas why you have these light particles and not Jason?”

    Sora sat on the ground, knuckles to his forehead, wracking his brain for anything, anything, that could help. He had been carrying Kairi’s heart and had stabbed himself with the Keyblade of People’s Hearts to release it. Then he had gotten turned into a Heartless, and the light in Kairi’s heart had turned him back when she had hugged him. “Kairi?”

    Bruce’s head snapped up, turning immediately to Sora. “Explain. Thoroughly.”

    “Kairi is a Princess of Heart. That means that she has no darkness in her heart, none at all. Over a year ago, our island got swallowed by the darkness and Kairi lost her heart. But since it’s impossible for her to turn into a Heartless, it sort of went inside me. I carried it around for a little while, until I used the Keyblade of People’s Hearts to free it. Her heart was returned, but I got turned into a Heartless and then I wandered around Hollow Bastion for a while. I ran into Kairi and she recognized me and hugged me and the light in her heart turned me back.”

    Dick’s eyes widened. “Kind of like how I turned Jason back?” Suddenly, the subject of their conversation stiffened, his face contorting in pain. His eyes flickered yellow and back.

    Bruce wasted no time. He grabbed Dick, pushing him towards Jason. “Whatever you did last time, do it again.”

    Grabbing his brother in a tight hug, he again thought of all the good times he had had with Jason. He closed his eyes, trying to focus. If he had kept them open, he would have noticed a soft light building in between them, and a faint dark cloud floating off of Jason’s skin. The lines on his hands faded, his muscles slowly relaxed. Finally, both light and dark vanished, leaving Jason, for the second time in as many days, passed out in Dick’s arms.

    Bruce allowed himself a moment to feel relief, then went back into business mode. He grabbed a spare vial and attached it to the shunt in Jason’s arm, grabbing yet another sample of his blood. He prepared a slide, dropped it on the microscope stand, and stared at it for a long minute. Two pairs of worried eyes bored in to the back of his head until he finally sat back with a sigh. “It’s back to how it was ten hours ago.”

    Both Sora and Dick sagged in relief. Dick gazed at the brother sleeping peacefully in his arms. “Now all we have to do is figure out how to stop it from happening again.” He sighed as well, then hefted Jason’s substantial weight in his arms and carried him off to a gurney in the medbay. Tim and Damian had both fallen back to sleep. Dick couldn’t blame them. It had been a long day after all.

    Back in front of the computer, Bruce and Sora were staring at the screen, trying to will an answer to appear for them. Venturing a suggestion, Sora said, “Maybe we should give this info to Riku. He might have an idea.”

    Batman’s eyes narrowed at the thought of sharing anything before he could figure it out. But he had to admit that this kind of thing was out of his knowledge base (for now), and until he learned more, it might be a good idea to get an expert opinion. Without answering Sora, he opened a link to one of his satellites, searching around until he found the gummi ship’s frequency in orbit above Gotham. He hacked in, the pitiful security giving him no trouble. He edited the file, taking out Jason's name – just because he trusted Sora with that information did not mean he trusted Sora's space friend – and then sent the entire thing over.

    ~*~​

    In the ship, Riku had been napping in his seat, feet propped up on the console. The loud beeping of a received file woke him, startling him out of his chair. He bumped his injured leg on his way back up, but was pleasantly surprised to find that it didn’t hurt anymore. Maybe he was healed! Riku’s happiness at this lasted until he opened the file that had rudely been shoved into his computer.

    Uh oh.

    ~*~​


    “Can you hear me Batman?” Came Riku's voice from out of the computer’s speakers.

    “Yes.” Batman replied. “I assume you have received the files I have sent?”

    “Yeah, I did. And you could have just asked to transmit them instead of hacking my system. But that's not important right now. Do you know what you just sent me?”

    “Only partially.” Bruce admitted hesitantly. This was no time for pride. “We know that Sora doesn't seem to be negatively affected by it, while Red Hood lacks whatever is in Sora's blood stream that is showing a resistance to it. But we don't know what this substance is or what it does. I...we were hoping you might be able to assist us with that.”

    “I wish I didn't know about it,” Riku's voice was hoarse, “but I have some firsthand experience with it. Not in the same way Hood does, and the information has never been presented to me in this way, but I think I know exactly what is going on.”

    Batman stiffened, every fibre of his being focused on the voice vibrating out of the computer. He didn't notice as Alfred seemed to magically appear beside him, placing down a steaming mug of rich coffee.

    “It is possible,” Riku began slowly, “to accept total darkness into your heart. To use it to your advantage and turn away from any source of light in the world. By doing this, you can use the darkness to gain amazing powers. But it has a price. Having no light in your heart...well, it's not a nice concept as I'm sure you can imagine.”

    Bruce placed both elbows on his desk, leaning further towards the computer and clasping his hands together.

    “Most people are always fighting with this darkness and light. It is a normal struggle. But sometimes, people are less immune to darkness then others. It seeks them out, and slowly takes them over.”

    There was a pause as Riku studied the information on the screen carefully. “I've never actually seen the existence of darkness presented to me like this before. I knew there was a physical reaction to it, but not at a cellular level. I can only guess that Hood and Sora's hearts, which were unprotected and completely exposed to the world, developed a kind of... I don't know, magnetic quality to darkness. The Keyblades must have something to do with it, because this reaction doesn’t appear in people who have lost their hearts to Heartless. But it looks like the process of releasing someone’s heart with a Keyblade attracts darkness more readily then is the natural process.”

    Bruce's head was spinning as he listened to the young man talk. This whole subject was so far out of his understanding, which was unacceptable. But in any case, he needed to focus, to understand what Riku was trying to tell him.

    “So what you are saying,” Bruce said slowly, “is that Red Hood is attracting this darkness, and that if it builds up, it will turn him back into a Heartless?”

    “Not a Heartless.” Riku corrected. “He will be whole, but it will be up to him to fight his way back out of it. And that... it isn't easy. “

    “Can anything be done to negate the effects?” Bruce asked, his calm voice greatly contrasting the emotional turmoil he was experiencing.

    “Unfortunately a Princess of Heart like in Sora's case won't work for Hood. Sora's heart was brought back with a heart of complete light. Hood's was not.”

    Riku typed on his keyboard surfing quickly through a few files. “I don't know of any other ways.” He said finally. “But I can look for you. I have some contacts I can ask if you want.”

    “Yes.” Bruce said quickly. “Whoever you can. Ask anyone who might know something. It is very important!”

    “Of course.” Riku agreed. “I'll get back to you as soon as I have any new developments.”

    With that the channel closed. Bruce leaned back in his chair, rubbing his face with his hands. He spied the coffee Alfred had left him. It was now lukewarm but still wonderfully inviting as he took a sip.

    What a mess Jason was in.

    Glancing back Bruce spotted Sora standing a few feet away, looking tired yet alert at the same time.

    “Get some sleep.” Bruce said to the kid, standing up. “It's late and we all need the rest.”

    Bruce was surprised at his own advice.

    Sora nodded and slowly walked over to the medbay, digesting all of the previous conversation as he went. He would rather sleep down here with everyone then trudge back up to his room. He was way too exhausted for that.

    Bruce went to sit down in another chair in the med bay close to his boys. There was nothing to it, Riku was much better equipped to research this topic then he was. Bruce was simply out of his element. Jason would just have to deal with Dick and his hugs until they found a solution. Bruce smiled at that. Jason would not be happy. Not a bit. And with that last thought, he settled into his chair, wrapping a warm blanket that had been mysteriously placed around his shoulders, and fell quickly asleep. Despite the caffeine, despite the worry and stress, and despite the enormity of the past day, exhaustion won out.

    He woke up slowly, not quite remembering when he had fallen asleep. Cracking one eyelid, the sudden burst of bright white light had him snapping it shut. Blearily, he took stock of his situation. His head was pounding, but that seemed to be the only ache he had. Ouch, never mind. He still had those injuries in his shoulders. Eh, they were healing. Shifting on the uncomfortable surface he was laying on (medbay bed. Had to be) his eyes flashed open at the warm weight splayed across his chest. Ignoring the way the light added to his headache, Jason glared down at Dick, who was laying right next to him on the narrow bed, arms wrapped around his torso.

    “Dick, what the actual fu-,” he started, but the sudden appearance of Alfred at his side stopped the curse before he could finish it. Alfred was holding food, pancakes to be specific, and he didn’t want to miss those. The butler put the pancakes down, just out of reach, and started checking Jason’s vitals, displayed on a screen next to the bed.

    Jason’s sudden movement and loud almost-cursing managed to stir Dick slightly. “Jay, go back t’ bed. I’m shleepin’.” The eldest former Robin made another few contented murmurs, then settled back down to sleep.

    Like hell he was allowed to sleep. Jason shook him. “I can see that. Why are you sleeping on my bed with your stupid arms wrapped around me?” Dick, being decidedly unhelpful, simply buried his face in the pillow and smiled, still asleep.

    “He has to.” Bruce walked in, clearly having just come from the gym. He grabbed a water bottle and joined Alfred at Jason’s vitals screen. “He’s keeping the darkness in your system down.” He grunted at the data on the screen, then went to sit down, grabbing a mug of coffee on his way. Alfred delicately lifted the pancakes and handed them to Jason.

    He flung Dick’s arm off his chest and sat up. “So why can’t someone else do it? Does it have to be Dick?”

    Bruce smiled over his coffee. He knew Jason would be difficult about this. “Yes. Dick was the one to, as Riku put it, ‘rid you of the darkness’ the first time. He’s going to have to be the one to do it from now on.”

    Fork halfway to his mouth, he blanched. “This isn’t a forever thing, is it?” If it was, his life was over. That was it. Might as well kill him now. He could not go through life with Dick hanging off of him every day.

    “No,” the corners of his eyes crinkled at the obvious relief that crossed Jason's face, “but it will continue until we can figure out how to stop the substance completely.”

    “Does he have to be hugging me all the time?”

    “No, once every few hours should do.”

    Jason grabbed his plate and stood up. He rocked slightly as his body reminded him that he had spent all of yesterday giving out blood like it was a slightly more macabre Halloween, but didn’t let any more of his faint weakness show. Moving quickly, he strode out of the room and up the stairs.

    Sora woke up about a half an hour after Jason. As if by magic, Alfred appeared the moment he sat up, a plate piled high with pancakes and various cut fruits in his hands. Tim and Damian had apparently woken up already, and after a brief spat involving Damian trying to slip a dagger through Tim’s ribs, had gone their separate ways. Damian had departed to the gym, and Alfred recommended not bothering him until he had worked off some steam. Tim had gone to the library though, and Sora hadn’t had enough time to chat with him. So, after quickly finishing his pancakes and dropping the plate off in the kitchen, he headed to the library.

    “Hey Sora!” Tim was reclining on a sofa, laptop on his lap and a few dozen books open and spread across the table next to him. “What’s up?”

    “Nothing.” Sora plopped down on an open stretch of sofa. They sat in silence for a few moments, Tim absorbed in his work, Sora being content with the silence for once. Finally, he asked, “What’re you working on?”

    Tim shifted so Sora could see his screen. “I hacked the files your friend Riku had on the gummi ship. Just sifting through them, trying to find anything that can help.”

    Somehow not surprised at Tim’s confession to stealing Riku’s files, Sora simply shook his head. Maybe he’d been in this world too long. “Anything?”

    An evil grin spread across the other boy’s face. “Besides a video of you singing Cruella de Vil in your room?” He pressed a button, starting the audio.

    “WHAT?” Sora reached for the laptop, trying to figure out how to stop the music. “Gah, how do I get this thing to stop? Please tell me this is the only copy?”

    Grin still in place, Tim shook his head. “Sorry. Already emailed copies to the entire family.”

    Somewhere in the house, laughter that sounded suspiciously like Dick’s rang out. Turning beet red, Sora dropped his face into his hands. “So that’s five copies?” The look on Tim’s face said no, so Sora added Alfred. “Six?” Tim cocked an eyebrow. Desperately, Sora searched his memory for who else might have a copy. “Batlady? That makes seven?”

    Tim barked out a laugh, “It’s Batgirl. And no. The Batfamily is pretty massive. Most of them wouldn’t get the context though, so it’s just us five, Alfred, Batgirl, Black Bat, Spoiler and Catwoman.” He leaned in conspiratorially. “Catwoman loves this song.” He then left Sora to his moping.

    Had Sora said he hoped he could get along with Tim? This kid was more mischievous than Stitch on a bad day, and that was saying something. He glanced over at the current source of all the problems in his life. Tim had sunk in to work mode, eyes flicking over the laptop screen as he read and absorbed information. His mouth was still curved in to a smile though.

    After a few minutes, Sora had gotten over most of his embarrassment. He glanced back over to the screen, reading a few paragraphs over Tim’s shoulder. “Riku entered that in wrong. Vanitas didn’t fall asleep, Ventus did. Vanitas was returned to Ven’s heart and then Ven’s heart mysteriously vanished. Mickey wasn’t sure where it had gone.”

    Tim looked up, startled at the interruption. “Wait, how much do you know about this?”

    Crossing his arms, Sora thought. “Quite a bit. It’s mostly hands on knowledge, but Mickey has spent a few days telling me stories of the other three Keyblade Wielders, and Yen Sid gave me a few books to read. Why?”

    “Hm. If I have any questions, could you answer them?”

    “Sure, as good as I can.”

    Tim didn’t respond; he simply smiled a less evil, more grateful smile, then went back to his work. Sora sat back, no longer regretting his decision to come up here.

    The regret came back instantly when Damian appeared in the doorway. He marched across the room, not looking at the sofa or its occupants, grabbed a book and then marched out. Right before he left, he turned back to look Sora straight in the eye. “Tt. Pathetic Sora.” He exited the room, leaving the door open behind him.

    Sora’s head went right back into his hands and Tim’s evil grin crept back up. It only got worse when Jason walked by, humming Cruella de Vil with a wicked smile on his face.

    He did feel better a few minutes later when Dick’s voice rang out throughout the manor. “Jaaaaaason~! Time for your hug!”

    Something crashed, and there were sounds of a scuffle. “No! Dammit Dickhead, get off of me!” Another crash, then a dull thud.

    “Gotcha!” Dick's voice rang out. “Seriously Jason wha- Ow!”

    Sora cocked his head, interested in whatever was going on. He stood up glancing at Tim and gave him a parting wave (the boy wasn't even paying attention) and then strode out of the library casually following the sound of distress. On his way he passed Bruce. The man looked at him, raised an eyebrow, and moved on. Sora couldn't resist the urge to face-palm once again.

    “Sneak up on me one more time dick, and I swear I'll stab you!”

    Sora walked into the large front foyer and leaned against the doorframe, watching events transpire.

    Both Jason and Dick were having a stare off, the difference being that Jason was scowling heavily while Dick was smiling mischievously.

    “You know the rules Jay.” Dick sang happily. He seemed to be quite enjoying himself despite sporting a painful looking black eye. “I'm the only one that can keep you from going crazy and turning into a dark blob or something like that.”

    “At this rate I'm going to go crazy faster from you being in my personal space than by any stupid cellular darkness crap!”

    He turned and took a few steps towards the stairs, then glanced back. “Look, if you have to hug me, then tell me when you're gonna do it. Don't sneak up on me. And only every 6 hours, got it! I don't care what Bruce says, that's plenty of time compared to the roughly ten hours last night!”

    With that Jason stomped away angrily, muttering curses under his breath. Sora watched Jason stock off, then turned to Dick who glanced back at Sora with a mischievous glint in his eye. Before Sora could ask him anything, he had left too. Darn the bats were good at vanishing.

    Sora couldn't help being interested in how this was going to turn out. But with nothing else happening in the room, he started making his way down to the cave. He wanted to take a look at some of the Bats’ weapons. Maybe Bruce would even let him throw one of those small sharp blade things. Once he had descended the stairs into the chilly damp depths of the cave however, he found Damian again. The kid was practicing with a sword, slashing at moving holograms appearing around him. Sora stood back and watched with interest as the kid worked. The movements with an actual sword were much less fluid then with a Keyblade. More tight and controlled. But that allowed Damian to be less open to counter attacks. Suddenly Damian stopped and glared at Sora.

    “What are you doing?” He growled.

    Sora shrugged innocently. “Just watching.

    “Well stop, it's ruining my concentration.”

    “I dunno.” Sora countered. He was getting used to the kid’s attitude and wasn't deterred in the least. “You looked like you were doing fine to me.”

    “You wouldn't know the first thing about sword play.” Damian snapped.

    “Oh yeah?” Walking over to a stack of wooden training swords, Sora grabbed one and spun it around in his hand playfully.“Try me!”

    Damian shot him a bland look of irritation. “Tt, fighting an amateur such as yourself is beneath me.”

    “So you're scared then?”

    The immature tactic seemed to work perfectly. Damian clenched his teeth tightly and took up a defensive stance. Sora smiled and stepped forward. He wished he was wearing his usual clothes but he was the one who started this after all. He would just have to deal with it.

    The two rushed each other, Sora easily repelling Damian's initial thrust and twirling around, slashing at the kid in response. Damian ducked it and swiped his wooden sword at Sora’s ankles. Jumping back, Sora brought his sword down at the kid, who held his own sword up above his head with both hands. Sora's weapon bounced off and Damian used the few seconds of recoil to swing out at Sora’s chest. The blow connected and Sora stumbled back slightly. It stung, but that was a lot better than the alternative. He could deal. Damian was smiling smugly. Sora took the opportunity to charge him. To his surprise it worked. The kid dodged, but not before his attacker’s sword grazed his shoulder.

    That didn't make Damian happy.

    For the next forty minutes or so they kept at it, Sora getting knocked down often, but always bouncing right back up again. Damian had his fair share of hits too. Sora might have been used to fighting hordes of monsters rather than close up combat with a single individual, but he was pretty amazing at it for having such little experience. Was that a sliver of respect Damian was feeling? No, couldn’t be. Ridiculous.

    Just as the two were clashing swords and reveling in their exhaustion, a British voice called out, “Would either of you care for a drink?”

    Both swords broke apart as their owners made a bee line for Alfred who was holding up a tray with ice cold lemonade balanced precariously on it.

    “Lunch will be served in twenty minutes young sirs” He said before turning to venture back up the stairs. “I would suggest you get cleaned up before the meal. “

    Sipping his lemonade, Damian walked over to the storage cabinet and tossed his practice sword back into the pile. “You could have been worse,” was all he said before stalking away.

    “Thanks!” Sora called back smiling. “You weren’t so bad yourself!”

    Twenty minutes later, and everyone in the Wayne manor found themselves seated not at the large oak dinner table, but instead on stools around the eat in kitchen counter. They were all munching sandwiches with mysterious yet wonderful things in them. Damian and Tim were having a staring match to the death while Jason was pointedly avoiding looking at Dick while devouring his food. After the expected ridicule about the video Tim had sent out, Sora decided now was a good time to ask Bruce if he could try throwing one of those bat shaped objects, the reply being a blatant no. He was expecting that. In a mere five minutes Jason had finished eating and after rinsing his plate, had practically sprinted out of the room while shouting a word of thanks at Alfred over his shoulder. Bruce was next to go, and with Alfred bustling around in the back kitchen, it was just the four of them.

    “So guys?” Dick said leaning forward and grinning evilly after a minute of silent eating. The effect was ruined by the purplish bruising still surrounding one eye. “I have a little proposition for you.”

    The other three leaned in. “What kind of proposition Grayson?” Damian’s face had the exact same expression as Dick did. Actually, looking around the table, Tim did too. Sora shrugged. Must be a Bat thing.

    “Jason wrangling.” Three raised eyebrows popped up at him. He sighed, his grin melting into a semi-serious frown. “I’m worried. He doesn’t want hugs, I get it, but he needs them right now. So!” Maniacal grin back in place, Dick held up a finger, “I figure we should kill two birds with one stone! We have nothing to do while we wait for the Corridors to link back up. I’m bored out of my skull. Jason needs affection. Hey, maybe we can make it three birds and teach Sora some skills. His stealth needs work.”

    Sora opened his mouth to protest, but Tim spoke before he could. “So, what’s the plan?”

    Dick motioned them closer. Heads almost touching, he whispered his plan.

    ~*~​


    Sitting in one of the more unused rooms of the manor, Jason was rebuilding his helmet. It was mostly done. He had even raided Bruce’s store of materials and added the newest tech he could. Twisting one final screw, he sat back satisfied. The new helmet was definitely better than the other one. And, hopefully, less breakable.

    A sudden shuffle from the hallway caught his attention. This entire wing was only used when Bruce had one of his charity balls. By all rights, he should be the only one here. So who…?

    Opening the door a crack, he peeked out. Nothing in the hallway. He paused, listening, but there were no other sounds. Quietly, he stalked back to the table and grabbed his helmet. Slipping it on, he activated the new infrareds in his lenses. These were special infrareds. Recently developed by WayneTech, these could spot an ice cube at two hundred yards through a concrete wall. There, hidden in one of the vents. Based on the size, it was the Demon Brat. And there, just above the chandeliers. Probably Dick.

    Rolling his eyes, he simply walked over to the window and dropped down. Right into an almost-invisible net wired up. Infrareds still on, Jason saw as Dick leapt down from the chandelier and dashed into the room Jason had just jumped out of, Damian following. Moving fast – he had a feeling he knew what this was about and it made him sick – he scrambled out of the net. Just as he landed, smoke bombs went off all around him. He smiled. These wouldn’t work. Again, infrareds. Since he had just installed them, his brothers probably didn’t know he had them.

    Someone – either Tim or Sora, but he was guessing Tim based on the glider cape – swooped down from the roof as he ran out of the cloud. Jason leaped as Tim got close, jumping onto Tim’s back and crashing him into the ground. Dick landed right behind him, so Jason grabbed Tim and hurled him into the former Boy Wonder. He kept running, lunging forward to avoid Damian, who was swinging a katana at him. Seriously, who kept letting him use these things? He caught himself with both hands, snapping a foot out and catching the brat on the chest, throwing him backwards. He rolled, smoothly flowing onto his feet and then continuing his run. He tapped his helmet: the infrareds had stopped working. He probably had to recalibrate them. Rounding the corner of the manor, he saw the tree standing right next to his window. If he could make it there, he was basically home free.

    Ten steps from the tree, the window right in front of him popped open and Sora jumped out, hands extended. Jason grabbed one of his wrists and threw him (gently) into the tree. Well, that escape route was useless now. Sora was already up, and while he could probably get around the kid, he didn’t want to hurt him. Running a wide circle around the tree, and relative safety, he started for the kitchen door. Dick, Tim and Damian were already on his heels, each throwing an array of nets, batarangs and insults to try and slow him down. Yeah, like he was falling for that.

    He made it into the kitchen and was almost to the front hall when a wooden pole pushed itself into his path at ankle height. He tripped, falling flat on his face, very grateful that he was wearing his helmet. Dazed, he pulled it off and looked up to see Alfred, sweeping the floor.

    “My word Master Jason, where did you come from? And what have I told you about running inside?” Alfred looked shocked beyond belief to see Jason, so he probably hadn’t tripped him on purpose. The damage was done though. Dick burst through the door Jason had left open and all but leaped onto his brother, arms going tight around his shoulders. Tim, Damian and Sora stood in the doorway, watching.

    This was honestly Jason’s first time watching this. Last night, he’d been unconscious and this morning, he’d been busy punching Dick in the face to get a good look. Where Dick’s arms touched him, a faint light shone. He shifted uncomfortably as flecks of darkness lifted off of him, dissolving into nothing.

    Finally, the steady stream of darkness died down and the light faded. “Dickhead?”

    “Yeah, Jaybird?” Jason couldn’t see his face, but he could hear the smile in his voice.

    “What did I tell you this morning?”

    “That you would stab me if I snuck up on you?”

    “That’s the one.”

    “Didn’t sneak up on you. I chased you.”

    “Your logic is terrible and I choose to ignore it. Alfred, could you grab me a cleaver? Heck, a paring knife would do. I can’t summon the All Blades without pure evil nearby. Wait, the Brat’s here. Maybe I can summon them after all.” He mock concentrated, pretending to draw his blades.

    “Haha, Todd. You’re a riot.” The other three dropped to the floor next to Jason and Dick. Alfred stared for a moment (they were sitting right where he was about to sweep), then wandered off to see if Bruce needed food.

    Jason just rolled his eyes. Maneuvering his hands in between their chests, he pushed hard, trying to get Dick off of him. Dick just held on tighter. “Hey, Timmy, could you get Dick off of me?”

    Tim just shook his head. “If I do, he might relocate to me. I’m not risking it.”

    Jason looked pleadingly at Sora, who raised his hands. “Don’t look at me. As much as I like hugs, I feel like this is more of a brother thing.”

    Damian was already shaking his head, the most deadpan expression on his face. “Don’t even think about asking.”

    He sighed. “I didn’t want to do this Dickiebird, but you really aren’t leaving me much of a choice.” He jabbed his fingers into a pressure point on Dick’s side. Dick released his death grip immediately, curling in on the spot. Jason then stood up and kicked him in the stomach, not hard enough to do any damage, but hard enough to hurt. Finally able to see his face, he was vaguely disappointed to see the black eye gone. Sora must have healed it after lunch.

    A polite ahem caught the attention of the boys. “Master Bruce would like to see you all downstairs. Master Riku has contacted him.” The smiles all melted and seriousness set in. If Riku called, that meant that the Dark Corridors were about to connect again. Jason grabbed his helmet off of the floor and followed the others to the study.

    As soon as they arrived in the cave, Bruce was already gearing up and gestured to the screen quickly before turning to check his weapons. An audio channel was open, directly linked to Riku. “What's up Riku?” asked Sora. “What did you find out?”

    “Nothing about Hood’s problem if that's what you were thinking. Sensors have picked up an enormous surge of dark energy on the outskirts of Gotham. We're talking about hundreds of Heartless, at least. And not the wimpy kind either. “

    But no Xehanort?” questioned Jason.

    “Well that's just it.” said Riku. “I think that Xehanort is summoning all of these Heartless to make sure he accomplishes his goal properly. This time he has back up. I think he also wants to try and turn Hood evil again. The large concentration of Heartless will probably speed up the process.”

    “How do we know that he is aware Hood is back to normal, or even that he has this darkness issue?” asked Tim.

    “We don't. But considering that we are dealing with Xehanort here, I wouldn't put it past him to have found out. He still has that piece of his heart in Red Hood remember, so it's very likely he knows about his condition. Maybe he thinks Hood will come to his side willingly if he is overcome by darkness.”

    “Will he?” asked Dick before Jason could speak.

    “Don't know. It's up to Hood. Darkness affects people in a variety of ways. But it is never good in the long run. In the end it all comes down to will power; if you can control the power the darkness brings or not.”

    “So just to get this straight: you think Xehanort is going to turn up in this area that all the Heartless have appeared in, and bring the other vessels of darkness with him?” asked Sora wearily.

    “Scanners already show that something other than the Heartless is creating a portal there. And I can't imagine it would be anyone else.”

    “Wait a second!” Tim said sharply. “We're just supposed to run into that mess without a solid strategy? The odds are way stacked against us! Why aren't we taking our time and coming up with a plan?”

    “Yet again, the matter of your self-proclaimed intelligence proves to be questionable.” Damian growled. “We have to go and defeat the Heartless before they attack any more innocent people, Drake.”

    “We won't be much use if we are overrun by, what was it, thirteen dark warriors and hundreds of Heartless?!”

    “Only twelve now that Hood's back to normal,” interjected Sora

    Tim rolled his eyes. “Well, that's a relief. Seriously, isn't anyone worried about this?”

    Batman had had enough of the bickering. He walked over to the group of boys pulling on his cowl. “I understand your concern Red, you're absolutely right. But innocent people’s lives are at stake here. If in every single crisis we chose to strategize instead of act, many people would die because of our inability to take the initiative. We will have to stay close to one another and work as a team.”

    He shot a warning glare at Jason and Damian.

    “It is also vital to use your comm. units and stay in touch. With this kind of battle, initial strategies usually fall apart because of the unpredictability and number of the enemies. The most important thing is to stay in contact with one another, and work together when possible. Improvise and strategize as you go. Understand?”

    All present nodded, though Tim looked hesitant.

    “Get ready then!” Batman ordered. “I want us out of here in three minutes.”

    Riku’s voice crackled to life again. “If you're lucky you will be able to take down most of the Heartless before Xehanort and his buddies arrive. It will be difficult enough just facing them.”

    “Understood.” Batman ground out as the others rushed away to get ready.

    Ten minutes later the Batwing was nearing the specified location. An air of tension surrounded the group huddled inside. Everyone could tell this was not going to be an easy battle. Even Damian and Tim refrained from snapping at each other, merely glaring out opposite windows. Sora stared out the window too, trying to spot their enemies the moment they came into view. It wasn't difficult. A speck of black was rapidly approaching, vividly standing out against the surrounding greenery as Batman brought the plane into a quick decent. With dread, Sora watched as the black blob became more defined; it seemed to be slithering and bubbling with the volume of creatures that made it up. Then, they were close enough to make out the sheer unimaginable number of Heartless that were slithering amongst each other. As they came to a bumpy stop roughly 100 yards from their enemies, it was as if a blanket of black shadows covered the entire field for miles in front of them.

    The Heartless weren’t too far out of Gotham. In fact, a major road expanded through the mass of creatures, effectively cutting off civilians. The tall black forms and twinkling lights of buildings contrasted vividly among the setting sun.

    They exited the plane quietly, all waiting for an order from Batman, who in turn put a finger to his cowl.

    “Riku, I assume no humans have turned up yet?”

    “That's correct, though as I said, the portals have been established. They could come at any time.”

    Batman then turned to look at his fellow crime fighters. “We are going to fight in pairs, and I don't care if you don't like it. We need to have each other’s backs at all times. I want everyone to stay close regardless, but pairs will help us to avoid unnecessary risks. Red Robin, you're with Nightwing. Red Hood, go with Sora. Robin, you're with me.”

    The waves of Heartless were already beginning to drift towards the intruders, their yellow eyes locked on to their victims.

    “Go!” barked Batman, and the three teams charged forward.

    The moment the order left his mouth, Batman launched himself at the mass of darkness. He grabbed one of the Heartless (from the files he had downloaded from Riku’s computer, he knew this one was called an Invisible) around the neck and twisted. The neck didn’t break, but the head did pop off, so he counted it as a win. It didn’t seem like these creatures had much of a skeleton though, which took breaking bones and crippling them out of the picture. He would either have to pummel them until they dissipated or go for fatal blows. The idea made him a bit ill, but it would be faster than beating them. Besides, the creatures would simply return to this “Kingdom Hearts” place and reform as Heartless once again.

    He activated the shock pads in his gloves, located right above his knuckles. He shot a right hook at a Wyvern. It was a glancing blow, just clipping one of the wings, but electricity coursed through the Heartless and it evaporated. Using the momentum from the attack, he kicked out his foot, right into the jaw of a Stalwart Blade. Its head snapped sideways and it too vanished in a cloud of darkness.

    Keeping an eye on his Robin (always), he positioned himself to cover him. Robin would lash out with his katana, sometimes throwing a batarang, Batman would block a blow or three, never relenting in his melee assault. After years of fighting with his Robins, his body automatically readjusted itself to provide the best cover for the smaller figure by his side.

    A sudden earthshaking explosion sounded from the direction Hood and Sora were in. Both Batman and Robin lost their balance. There was a moment of concern when a flying Angel Heartless took advantage of their moment of weakness and swooped down, but, by some sort of coincidence, Red Robin flew through the air, colliding with the creature. He landed heavily, but due to the Angel slowing his fall, sustained no injuries. Red Robin stood, nodded quickly to the Dynamic Duo, and launched himself into the air, using another Angel as a stepping block to go higher. Once he had attained maximum altitude, he spread his glider cape and flew down to Nightwing.

    Batman grabbed another Heartless (a Cymbal Monkey), and smashed his armored forehead in between its eyes. It dissipated, giving him a moment to check his suit. The shock gloves were running out of power. No matter. He had a few back-up cells in his belt. No serious damage to the suit, although a Luna Bandit had gotten a lucky shot in and scratched the Kevlar on his side. It would hold up. He went back into position next to Robin.

    Resisting the urge to roll his eyes at his father’s protective antics, Robin decided on a much more useful outlet to his minor frustrations. Namely the massacre of every single creature in front of him. He was secretly glad of the nature of the opponents. Although he fully believed in Batman’s code, he could not help but chafe under the rule, unable to use his abilities to their full potential. Now however, he could make the most of his training, the training he had been receiving since he was a small child. These creatures could not truly die, so killing them wasn’t a sin. And Robin made full use of this, with every swing of his sword. Still, this battle was growing stale. The creatures had no individuality, no real challenge.

    A thought popped into his head, one which would hopefully alleviate his boredom. Tapping the comm. in his ear, he spoke quickly, “Dr- Red Robin. Shall we have a competition?”

    A bit of static preceded Drake’s reply. “What kind of competition Demon Spawn? Who can defeat the most Heartless?”

    “Indeed. Father and myself versus you and Nightwing.”

    More static, but instead of Drake replying like he expected, Todd’s voice came on, “Ooh, I like the sounds of this. I want in. Winners get new motorbikes, paid for by the losers.”

    Sora piped in, slightly panicked. “Ja- I mean, Hood! I don’t have any money from this world!”

    “Don’t worry Sora,” Nightwing was, as always, quick to reassure. “Hood knocked over the entire Chinese mafia a few years ago. He has enough money to buy a fleet of motorcycles, with more besides.” Damian could almost hear the dazzling smile in his brother’s voice. “I’m game.”

    Red Robin and Sora both accepted the bet. There was a moment of silence before Batman realized that they wanted him to be in on it too. Rolling his eyes, he simply grunted. The boys had been with him long enough to know what it meant: Fine, but be careful.

    A wicked grin spread across Robin’s face. “Then we are agreed. Starting now!” Not one to lose an advantage, he launched himself at the creatures. With renewed fervor, he slashed his way through a ridiculous looking Heartless with no legs and an eye dangling out of its unusually round head. Setting his mind on partial autopilot, he made note of every Heartless’s attack patterns, lopping off a limb or slicing open a chest with every opening. Batman had replaced the power cell in his gloves, sending Heartless after Heartless to an electrified end. He was keeping track of how many both he and Robin had defeated. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust his son to keep the proper count. He simply didn’t want the temptation in front of the boy.

    They kept up their assault. At one point, Robin scaled Batman’s back while he was sweeping a Defender’s legs out from under it. When Batman straightened, Robin jumped, using the combined momentum to leap twice as high. He brought his sword down, slicing through the Defender like a hot knife through soft butter.

    When the area was finally cleared of threats, Robin turned on his comm. “We defeated one hundred and forty-seven of the incompetent beasts. What is your count Red Robin?”

    Tim replied, grumbling the whole way. “One hundred and forty-two.”

    Robin crowed with victory! “I expected no less from a lesser being. Surely, the only reason you got that much is because Nightwing was helping you.”

    “That’s not true Robin!” Nightwing, interceding again on their argument. When would he learn to stay out of it? “Red actually got most of them. And don’t celebrate just yet. We don’t have Red Hood and Sora’s count.

    Robin’s grin fell. He had forgotten about Todd and the intruder. Cautiously, he asked, “Hood? How many did you slay?”

    There was a moment of smug silence. “Well baby bat, since you asked so nicely, I feel obliged to tell you…” a dramatic pause. Damian rolled his eyes, “about the one hundred and fifty-eight Heartless Sora and I knocked off.”

    WHAT?!” Todd had not only beaten him, he had beaten him by eleven Heartless? Todd would face his wrath for this.

    “It’s true Robin.” The almost too-helpful voice was undeniably Sora’s. Sora would face his wrath too. And Drake. Grayson too, but only if he tried to get in the way. “We were both keeping score.”

    Damian was about to tell them exactly what they could do with their scores when a sense of deep foreboding settled over him. He shivered, not knowing why. From the silence on the comm., the others were feeling it too.

    He looked up to his father, who showed no sign of discomfort. Instead, Batman moved, towards the feeling, which was coming from the other side of a hill to the north of the field. Robin followed, keeping close.

    Near the crest of the hill, the other two groups met up with them. Batman’s eyes narrowed at their conditions. Nightwing and Red Robin were both pale under their masks, and sweating more than they should have been from the amount of exercise they had gotten fighting the Heartless. Sora was decidedly ill-looking, his face pale and his eyes unfocused. It was impossible to tell what Red Hood’s face looked like under the helmet, but his posture was slumped and his movements a bit slower than usual.

    They sat for a moment, almost at the top of the hill. A moment simply to sit and rest. All of them wanted to spring into action right at that second, but they knew it would be a bad idea to go in at less than full strength. After a while, the feeling of dread slowly faded. Or perhaps it simply affected them less. Either way, the group finally stood and walked those last few steps over the hill.

    There was a moment of stunned silence, broken by Sora’s almost hopeless voice. “No…”


    ~*~​

    As soon as Batman barked “Go!” Dick leapt into the action, showing off his overenthusiastic acrobatics as usual. Red Robin followed close behind, bo staff clutched tightly in his hands. Nightwing hit the first Heartless feet first, throwing it backwards as it dissipated into dust. With a fluid motion he pulled his escrima sticks from their compartment and turned sharply on one foot, downing another three shadows that were closing in on him.

    Tim ran up the first large Heartless he saw (a Neoshadow), and flipped off it swinging his electrified bo staff in a wide arc, effectively wiping out four Heartless. As they vanished, a few Gargoyles took their places, surrounding Tim as he landed. He struck out at them in quick successive strikes, and though they stumbled back, it was obvious that they were too heavily armoured and wouldn't fall easily. He wished he could just use some kind of anaesthetic gas on these guys, but he knew it wouldn't affect them. The creatures didn't even breathe air. They had to have a very interesting biological make up. Leaping to his feet, Tim took out a few batarangs and aimed them at the weaker looking spots between the Gargoyles plated skin. One of them stumbled back and vanished, while the other three swiped the projectiles away with their claws and charged. Tim pushed off the ground with his bo staff and leapt onto the head of the nearest one, dodging its deadly looking claws. He shoved his bo staff into the creature’s neck, then flipped off it behind another. He kicked out at its legs, and leapt aside as it fell heavily. With a final kick he finished it off, then turned to face the last one. But it had disappeared.

    Suddenly a huge explosion rocked the battlefield. The ground seemed to tremble and both Red Robin and Nightwing, along with all the Heartless around them, lost their footing and stumbled. What the heck had that been? Tim turned his head in the direction of the noise, Jason and Sora's direction.

    A huge force slammed into Tim's side, forcing him off his feet and up into the air. He hadn't accounted for the airborne Heartless that hadn't been affected by the tremors. He scowled; that was pure carelessness. Once airborne, he was unprepared for how open and unprotected he was as numerous winged Heartless closed in around him. All he could manage was to put his staff up in defense before a charging Avalanche's claws thrust him backwards with surprising force.

    “RED!” Nightwing yelled as his partner went flying far into the ocean of Heartless.

    Concerned, he began fighting his way through the hordes of creatures in Tim's general direction. It was like trying to beat back a moving wall. The more enemies he took down, the more appeared in front of him. He was about to contact Jason and ask if he and Sora were okay when Red Robin came gliding back in his direction. Relief immediately flooded through him.

    “You okay?” He asked as Red Robin landed.

    “Little winded, but fine.” Tim ground out. They were both breathing hard from the amount of time that had passed since the beginning of the fight.

    “I caught a glimpse of Hood and Sora while I was gliding back by the way. There's a huge flaming hole in the ground, but whatever caused it seems to have avoided damaging either of them. Hood was stumbling a bit, but I didn't see any injuries.”

    Sighing in relief, Nightwing flipped backwards. “Thanks for the info Red!”

    Nightwing then began jumping from Heartless to Heartless, jabbing at them before twisting away and hopping onto the next one. He had just landed on a Windstorm who had been causing a particular amount of trouble when he heard Damian’s voice come through his comm.

    “Dr- Red Robin. Shall we have a competition?”

    Grabbing the Heartless's wings and performing a move which was very much like a German suplex, Nightwing glanced over at Red Robin a few yards away.

    The kid had paused for a millisecond in mid attack before ducking the Heartless's razor claws and then back flipping, kicking up at the creatures head when he was on his hands.

    “What kind of competition Demon Spawn?” he panted as he punched a Darkball that had gotten to close. “Who can defeat the most Heartless?”

    Tim could nearly hear the overconfident smirk in the kid’s voice as he replied. “Indeed. Father and myself versus you and Nightwing.”

    Tim was preparing to respond with a subtle insult when another voice broke in. “Ooh, I like the sounds of this. I want in. Winners get new motorbikes, paid for by the losers.”

    “Ja- I mean, Hood!” Sora's concerned voice piped up. “I don’t have any money from this world!”

    So Jason wanted in too. This was getting interesting. Tim sidestepped another Neoshadow’s attack and swung a deadly strike at it with his staff as Nightwing joined the conversation.

    “Don’t worry Sora. Hood knocked over the entire Chinese mafia a few years ago. He has enough money to buy a fleet of motorcycles, with more besides.” Lashing out at a Dustflier, Nightwing jumped back and displayed an evil grin. “I'm game.”

    There was a pause as they waited for Batman's approval before a grunt gave them all the affirmation they needed. It was one that said: Fine, but be careful.

    “Then we are agreed. Starting now!” Damian barked.

    Both Nightwing and Red Robin set into their work with a renewed drive. There were no more interruptions to their combat. They were circling each other, constantly taking out Heartless as quickly and efficiently as they could. Tim was keeping precise track of the creatures slain in his mind. Nightwing was aware and left the record keeping to his younger brother. He was concentrating on precise strikes that would take enemies out the fastest. With something to focus on, the task of clearing the battle field passed much more quickly. As Nightwing sliced through a Mega Shadow, it came as a shock to him that when he whirled around in an attack ready position. There were no more enemies to face.

    “We defeated one hundred and forty-seven of the incompetent beasts. “ Damian’s voice rang out over the comm. link. “What is your count Red Robin?”

    Tim frowned and crossed his arms. Nightwing couldn't help grinning at the reaction. Was he pouting?

    “One hundred and forty-two.” Tim mumbled.

    As expected, Robin’s voice was laced with unsuppressed superiority. “I expected no less from a lesser being. Surely, the only reason you got that much is because Nightwing was helping you.”

    Nightwing raised an eyebrow. “That’s not true Robin! Red actually got most of them.” He paused and turned towards the figures of Red Hood and Sora, which were too far away to talk to directly, despite being visible in the now empty field. “And don’t celebrate just yet. We don’t have Red Hood and Sora’s count.”

    “Hood? How many did you slay?” Robin asked slowly.

    “Well baby bat,” Hood’s voice rang out, “since you asked so nicely, I feel obliged to tell you…”

    Nightwing held his breath despite himself while Red Robin rolled his eyes.

    “…about the one hundred and fifty-eight Heartless Sora and I knocked off.”

    WHAT?!” Robin's angry voice shouted through the comm., making Tim flinch.

    Sora's happy voice finally joined the conversation. “It’s true Robin. We were both keeping score.”

    Suddenly the conversation fell silent. Tim stood still, feeling his senses prickle with fear. He glanced over at Nightwing who was standing stock still and frowning. Red Robin wondered if his face was as pale as Nightwing's. Probably, if how he felt was any indicator.

    Fighting off a wave of nausea, Tim saw Batman and Robin start to move towards the direction the feeling seemed to be emanating from. Ignoring their instincts, he and Nightwing followed. By the time they had all met up with one another, everyone was looking pale and weak. Sora especially seemed to be effected badly by whatever this was. But the colour began returning to their faces after a few minutes passed. Resting was obviously the smartest option before facing whatever it was that seemed so foreboding. Nightwing was thankful that Batman was allowing it.

    Finally Batman began walking forward and the rest obediently trudged behind him. But when they saw what was waiting for them, the little colour they had regained vanished.

    “No.” Sora whispered.


    ~*~​

    Hood surged forward the moment Batman barked the “Go!”, guns blazing. With startling accuracy, he managed to fire into the seething darkness and get headshots every time. Sora could only stare in wonder, even as he blocked a claw headed for his heart. He ducked inside the swing, running the Lance Soldier through the chest. Momentarily blinded by the rush of darkness, he heard rather than saw the Driller Mole coming up from behind him. Almost lazily, he stepped to the side and slashed through it when it drove past him. This entire adventure in this world may have been one confusing thing after another (masks and metas and blood tests and guns), but he knew Heartless, and he knew how to fight them. Gripping his Keyblade with both hands, he did what he did best.

    Thankful he had thought ahead this time, Jason pulled yet another magazine out of his pocket, reloading his gun for what seemed like the millionth time. He was facing off against this massive Heartless with tusks curling out from its lower jaw and a horn sprouting from its forehead. Not going as well as he had hoped. The thing was ridiculously armored. It lowered its head, trying to gore him with the horn and he got an idea. Diving to the side and grabbing one of the tusks, he rode the monster as it straightened, launching himself into the air. Landing lithely on top of its head, he grabbed the horn and reached down, discharging his freshly loaded magazine into its eye. Well, until his gun jammed. Unfortunately, that only seemed to make it mad. It shook his head, launching him again.

    Carefully standing up (ribs, only bruised, not broken), he growled. A round-headed Heartless tottered its way into his path and, frustrated, he kicked it towards the massive creature, just as the larger one gave out a roar. Somehow, the tiny round thing landed in the big one’s mouth. Sighing, Jason dropped his jammed gun and summoned an All Blade, walking back towards the monster –

    – which exploded. Jason, luckily out of the blast radius, still managed to catch a piece of tusk on his helmet. That, plus the earth below him moving in response to the explosion, had him without balance for a few moments. Hoo. Dizzy.

    Sora, hearing the explosion just behind him, whipped his head around. “Hey, are you alright?”

    “Just peachy.” Shaking his head to clear out the cobwebs, he asked, “So why did the thing explode? Was it the tiny Heartless it swallowed?”

    “It swallowed a Heartless?”

    “Well, the one I kicked into its mouth. Round black head, cracked open like an egg, skinny, no arms, swirl on its head?”

    “That was a Minute Bomb. Those explode.”

    Under his helmet, Jason grinned. Excellent. He could do something with that. Exploding Heartless had the potential to liven up this otherwise pretty boring battle. Heartless were easy. Before he could reply though, his comm. crackled. “Dr- Red Robin.” That was Robin’s voice. Wonder what he was up to. “Shall we have a competition?” Ooh, that sounded fun.

    “What kind of competition Demon Spawn?” There was a dull thud in the background, as if Tim had punched something. “Who can defeat the most Heartless?”

    “Indeed. Father and myself versus you and Nightwing.” The poor child seemed so confident. Well, he did have Batman on his side.

    Wait.

    Were they planning on doing this without him? Not gonna happen. So Jason piped up. “Ooh, I like the sounds of this. I want in.” Should probably make it more interesting though. He did need a new motorbike. “Winners get new motorbikes, paid for by the losers.”

    Suddenly, Sora was pulling at his sleeve, the most worried look on his face. “Ja- I mean, Hood! I don’t have any money from this world!” That was a good point. His weird translucent yellow coins were worthless here except as interesting baubles.

    Nightwing, unable to keep quiet as always, spoke up. “Don’t worry Sora. Hood knocked over the Chinese Mafia a few years ago. He has enough money to buy a fleet of motorcycles, with a lot more besides.” This was true. More thuds, followed by Dick’s most annoying, evil tone. “I’m game.”

    There was a slight pause as everyone else waited for Batman. He grunted. Jason grinned and shut off his comm.

    Sora was, again, confused. “I don’t get it, what were we waiting for?”

    “Batman. If he’s not in on the game, it’s not as fun. That grunt is Batspeak for ‘Fine, but be careful’.”

    Sora blocked another strike. “How could you tell that?”

    “Years of practice. Now focus kid. I really want that motorcycle.”

    Sora shrugged. He wondered if motorcycles were anything like the Light Cycles from Tron’s world. Still, a competition seemed like fun. Jumping, he landed himself in the middle of a group of Heartless. Bringing up his Keyblade, he fought off six of them at once, smacking one and either pushing it back or dazing it, then moving on to the next one. He fought around the circle, attacking before any of them had time to recover. He finished them off then leaped into the next group. The entire encounter took about thirty seconds. He was careful to keep count of how many Heartless he took out. Keeping track of Jason’s was a bit harder, but he managed.

    Running another few Heartless through, well, the hearts, Jason smiled to himself. A competition was just the right motivation. Keeping track of both his and Sora’s kills was simple, he still had one of his guns and the All Blade made everything easier. Spinning under a Heartless carrying a book, he slashed upwards, spearing it, while at the same time firing off his gun at another three Heartless. He stuck close to Sora, mostly so he could keep count, but also because he was starting to get a feel for the kid’s fighting style. Back in the streets, when they had been fighting their first horde, he had noticed that Sora had a very loose style, not like the tightly controlled styles of anyone trained by Batman. He had though at the time that it was a weakness, but looking at it again, it fit. Against a group of thugs, the kid could put up a fight, but would probably lose. But one on one or against a group of mindless creatures like the Heartless and Nobodies, this style was definitely best.

    All too soon, they ran out of Heartless. They were exhausted, but happy. Jason turned his comm. back on, just in time to hear Robin’s smug little voice. “We defeated one hundred and forty-seven of the incompetent beasts. What is your count Red Robin?” He pulled off his helmet and smiled at Sora. He knew where this was going.

    “One hundred and forty-two.” Ouch. Jason could almost hear the pout in Tim’s voice. Losing to the Demon Spawn had to hurt.

    Of course, Robin made everything worse by gloating. “I expected no less from a lesser being. Surely the only reason you got that much is because Nightwing was helping you.” He was gloating too soon. He was completely ignoring the fact that Jason and Sora were in the competition. Oh well. This was entertaining to listen to.

    “That’s not true Robin!” Dick, ever quick to defend his younger brothers. “Red Robin actually got most of them.” This was probably true, but Jason wouldn’t have been surprised if Nightwing had weakened a bunch of them before Red Robin finished them off. “And don’t celebrate yet. We don’t have Red Hood and Sora’s count.”

    A small silence, followed by Robin’s voice, full of trepidation. “Hood? How many did you slay?”

    Jason grinned. “Well baby bat, since you asked so nicely, I feel obliged to tell you…” He stopped, just realizing that he hadn’t confirmed his count with Sora yet. Switching off his comm., he asked, “Sora, just double checking. One fifty-eight?” Sora nodded, and Jason turned his comm. back on, continuing, “about the one hundred and fifty-eight Heartless that Sora and I knocked off.”

    WHAT?!” The enraged shout made everything he had been through in the past two days worth it.

    Sora smiled. “It’s true Robin. We were both keeping score.” He didn’t really care about the prize, but the competition had felt really good. It reminded him of fighting (and usually beating) his friends back on the island.

    Did that mean they were friends now?

    That happy thought was washed out of his head a moment later when a feeling of dread washed over him. Almost instantly, he felt sick. He hadn’t felt this way since he had stabbed himself. He looked to the hill across the clearing. Somewhere on the other side, something massive and dark was happening.

    He turned his eyes over to Jason, who looked just as sick as he felt. Grimly, his companion pulled his helmet back on and started towards the hill. Sora followed, noticing that the other two groups were doing the same. When everyone had sat down near the top of the hill, he took a moment to check on his other friends’ conditions. Nightwing, Robin, and Red Robin were all pale and sweating. Batman didn’t seem to be affected, until Sora noticed that his mouth was pressed tighter than usual and his hands were tight fists on his lap.

    All too soon, Batman stood up. The rest of the group followed, seeming to be feeling much better. Sora still felt sick though, and from Jason’s slight stumble when they started up the hill, he did too. He didn’t have time to dwell on the fact though. They climbed over the hill, and what Sora saw horrified him. Unable to speak more than a whisper, Sora spoke. “No.”

    Xehanort stood, calm and proud, amongst eleven other black hooded figures. Behind him was yet another army, but this time there were Nobodies along with the Heartless. Worst of all however, was the trembling group surrounded by a ring of Gigas Shadows and Gargoyles. Children. Xehanort was using innocent children as hostages! The air was thick with tension as a deadly quiet seemed to settle over the battlefield. Sora could feel the others shaking with rage beside him. Xehanort stepped forward, a malicious grin on his face. Only then did Sora notice that he was wielding two blades. The addition was sickeningly familiar. The Keyblade of Heart, the very weapon he had stabbed himself with all that time ago to release Kairi’s heart. He shuddered.

    “I saw into your heart when my Keyblade connected with you Red Hood,” hissed Xehanort. “I saw everything. Your strengths, aspirations... fears, weaknesses. “

    Sora gave Red Hood a sideways glance but with the helmet on it was impossible to tell his reaction.

    “I knew that if your friends were successful in rescuing you, I would need a way to make sure my plans succeeded. I refuse to endure another failure. So I used what I learned about you, you and your family, to seal my victory.”

    Batman was practically growling with suppressed rage as he stepped forward. “You sick-”

    Xehanort raised a hand coolly, then glanced at one of his companions. The hooded figure broke away from the group to retrieve one of the children. The kid came stumbling forward whimpering and shaking.

    “Here's how this is going to work,” the man growled. “I and my associates are going to release every single one of your hearts, to ensure that none of you ever interfere in my plans again. And if you fail to comply, we shall turn these children into Heartless here and now.” He pointed his Keyblade at the wild-eyed child beside him.

    Sora was shocked, frozen. Xehanort had never taken things this far before. Shaking his head, he attempted to rationalize the situation. He was sure many kids had been taken by darkness before now. Heck, entire worlds had been destroyed. Why should they give up now? Even if they did surrender, Sora knew the man would leave the children to the Heartless anyway. ...But, that still didn't make sacrificing them right. In fact, Sora felt in every fibre of his being that leaving the children to the Heartless was evil and despicable in every way possible. Feeling dread close in around him, Sora gazed around at the others.

    “This is so wrong.” Dick whispered hoarsely.

    “Nothing we haven’t dealt with before” Batman mumbled. “You all need to keep him distracted while I come up with a strategy.”

    Tim raised his eyebrows at that, and despite everything Jason couldn't help but grin.

    “We can try,” Dick said. “But hurry up B. There's only so much monologuing a villain can manage.”

    As Batman disconnected from the conversation to concentrate, the five others stared blankly at each other at a loss. Finally Red Hood stepped forward.

    “Isn't making all of us into Heartless a little much baldy?” He questioned. “Technically you only want me right? You could turn me into an evil zombie right here and now, use my Nobody for whatever it is you need it for, and the others couldn't do anything about it because of the hostages. Turning us all into Heartless is overkill really. “

    Shaking his head Xehanort sighed. “Have I not made myself clear? I am not taking any more risks with you or any of your comrades. You might have fooled me once, but it won't happen again.”

    Now Sora came forward to join Jason. “You know Xehanort, using children is pretty low. Even for you.”

    This time the man laughed. “My dear boy,” he grinned, “aren’t you a child yourself? And I have used you for my own gain in the past. Why then should this come as a surprise?”

    Sora bristled. But before he could counter, Robin joined the others and surprised him as he said. “Sora isn't a child. Nor am I for that matter. We are distinguished warriors, not defenseless innocents. What you are doing is an unforgivable and cowardly act.”

    Sora looked over at Robin gratefully, but the young crime fighter was too busy glaring heatedly into Xehanort's eyes to notice.

    Xehanort inclined his head, frowning. “Your disrespect is concerning, but not altogether unexpected considering your age.”

    The two simply glared daggers at one another for a few seconds.

    “I grow tired of this little game” Xehanort said at last, hoisting his Keyblade up so that it's tip rested on the petrified boy's chest. “Come forward now, or I shall release this child’s heart.

    “Go” Batman whispered quietly. “When visibility is reduced, I need everyone to begin a surprise attack and fight to protect the hostages until I can evacuate them to safety.”

    Sora had no clue what the man was planning, but he understood there wasn't time to ask. They would all have to trust that things would make sense in due time.

    They were walking forward now, hands held up in a placating gesture, and Batman whispered so quietly that they all had to strain to hear, “Sora, you stay by the group of hostages and take down any Heartless. The rest of you, hold off the cloaked figures.”

    Then he fell silent as they approached the awaiting enemies. Stopping several feet from them, the Bats and Sora watched as Xehanort directed six of his warriors to move forward, Keyblades raising menacingly. Panic coursed through Sora. The figures came nearer with each step. Their fleeting chance of escape was practically nonexistent. Nothing was happening! Time seemed to slow down as the dark Keyblade Wielders lifted their weapons for the final strike.

    A low quiet hum radiating over their heads was the only warning before a series of hissing noises erupted from the surrounding area and smoke began to swirl into the air, reducing visibility in seconds. All of them knew that this momentary distraction was the time to move. Leaping into action, Jason drew his swords and lashed out at the two hooded figures in front of him. Tim kicked at the one before him on Jason's left while Batman seemed to have completely vanished on his right. In a matter of seconds the entire scene had dissolved into chaos. The Bats were using the distraction to the fullest of advantages, pushing their enemies back and refusing to let them find their bearings between a blur of slashes, punches, and kicks.

    Sora darted in the direction of the children the moment the fighting had begun. He only found them when he was within two feet, the smoke was so thick. There were five kids, all huddled together and cowering as Heartless surrounded them. With a fluid motion Sora cut through the creatures and circled around the children checking for more enemies. Heartless and Nobodies were lurking a few feet away but hiding in the shadowy smoke. It was only then with a jolt that he remembered there was another child with Xehanort. Only moments after the thought struck him, Nightwing came sliding to a stop next to Sora and placed the kid on the ground; he was either to weak or too scared to stand. With a quick wave Dick leapt back into the smoke, leaving Sora to circle around the children, protecting them as best he could.

    It was extremely difficult to fight when he couldn't see. It came down to lashing out at anything that came into view. Sora desperately hoped his friends would stay away from him, as he wouldn't be able to distinguish them from the enemies. But from the sounds of metal clashing on metal and angry or pain filled yells, he was fairly confident that they were being kept preoccupied.

    Jumping off an approaching Darkball and reducing it to a cloud of swirling darkness, Sora flipped over the group of children to come face to face with a Dragoon. It caught him by surprise and he made to jump out of the way of its lance before remembering the children were behind him. Planting his feet into the ground he flicked his Keyblade up and took the entire impact of the attack. It broke his defense and he stumbled back, barely managing to catch himself before he tripped over the kids now huddling together on the ground.

    “Don't worry guys.” He said encouragingly despite the huge, menacing creature approaching them. “I’ll make sure nothing happens to you!”

    Sora would have preferred to attack the Nobody from behind, but knew he couldn't in this situation. So he charged foreword, directing his blade into a break in the creature's armour. It flinched, but didn't dissipate, instead swinging its lance heavily back down. Knocking it away, Sora sidestepped and twisted his Keyblade into another weak spot as the creature thrust its lance at him yet again. It dissolved from his attack just as its lance tore his sweater, half an inch from his skin. Too close. A muffled scream had Sora turning instantaneously to see three Mega Shadows closing in on the children. His heart sank. They were so huge. He raised his Keyblade quickly. Sora had been hoping to preserve all his magic for possible injuries but this couldn’t be helped.

    “Fire!”

    The first creature stumbled back, flames licking its chest. The other two stopped in their approach long enough for Sora to lunge at them. He swung his Keyblade smacking the Mega Shadows backwards. All three enemies were now a safe distance away, but they hadn't dissolved. It would take more than that to down these monsters. Sora braced himself, but just as they began to charge, flashes of light tore through the smoke and cut into the creatures, making the area explode in dark mist. Seconds later, Sora was staring up at the Batwing, with Batman leaning over its side, hovering several feet above the ground. At Batman's outstretched hand, he understood immediately and picked up one of the children, carefully handing the crying child up. He felt exposed as he knelt down again and again, knowing that an army of Heartless and Nobodies hid just out of sight. But Batman was taking care of any enemies that ventured to close with exploding batarangs. Finally all the children were secure and Batman sped off into the open sky without another word. Feeling a wave of relief, Sora turned to find out that much of the smoke had cleared by the presence of the plane, and what he saw terrified him.

    Dick was lying on top of a bush, not moving. He had a bunch of Braig’s arrow-laser-things sticking out of his chest. Mercifully, his chest was still moving, but he needed medical attention right away. Tim was lying still and, based on the long narrow crater between him and Isa, he had been thrown pretty far. Was his leg supposed to bend that way? Damian was lying next to him, half-frozen. Literally. And Jason…

    Jason was kneeling in the middle of the clearing, holding his upper arm, blood running down his fingers. His helmet was broken again, showing off a good portion of his upper left face. Xehanort had the Keyblade of People’s Hearts leveled directly at his chest. Isa and Braig were standing on either side of Jason, hands pressed firmly on his shoulders. The other nine hooded figures were standing back, not getting involved until they were needed.

    Braig leaned down close to Jason’s ear. “Now, be a good boy, or I’ll shoot the little one full of holes. Got it?” He raised his arm towards Robin, his finger tightening on the trigger.

    However, he wasn’t able to finish his threat. At that moment, Sora dived in, swinging his Keyblade so it knocked both the Arrowgun and Xehanort’s Keyblade off of their intended courses. His next swing blasted both Braig and Isa away from Jason. Finally, he whirled, aiming his Keyblade at Xehanort.

    Free to move now that that nut job with the eye patch wasn’t pointing a gun thing at his brothers, Jason drew his gun with his good arm. Eye Patch hadn’t quite caught his balance from Sora’s attack, so he leveled his gun at him and fired. Repeatedly. The first shot landed in the *******’s shoulder, but the rest passed through thin air. He looked around wildly, trying to find where Eye Patch had teleported to. A small metallic click had him diving to the side, glowing purple arrows slamming into the ground behind him. Jason looked up. Eye Patch was dangling upside down in midair, ponytail swinging above him, an angry grin on his face.

    “Oh dear, now that’s just not polite. Shooting before your opponent is ready?” That condescending tone twisted in Hood’s gut. He really wanted to shoot this ass in the face. Before he could, Eye Patch vanished again.

    Pulling his helmet off, he closed his eyes. Years ago, Batman had given him some sensory deprivation training. He hadn’t really used it since he had come back from the dead (or from the darkness or wherever Nobodies came from. He hadn’t been listening), but he hoped he remembered enough to be useful now.

    There were the sounds from Sora and Xehanort’s battle. Metal clashing against metal, the scuff of feet on the grass, angry banter, the distinctive whine of magic. Dick, Tim and Damian, breathing, barely, but breathing. The nine other hooded figures were breathing as well, almost as still as his fallen brothers. And the small click of a trigger, to his left.

    Red Hood lifted his gun in the direction of the noise and squeezed off four shots. Three thuds hit flesh, and the ponytailed ******* cried out in pain. Opening his eyes again, a fierce grin spread across his features. None of the injuries were fatal, but with three bullets in his legs and one in each shoulder, Eye Patch wasn’t going anywhere any time soon. All that was left was X-Face.

    Sora was winning. It didn’t seem like Xehanort had recovered from his fight with Sora and Jason the previous day. Had it really only been a day? Seemed like longer, but then, if it had been, Xehanort wouldn’t be limping from a knee injury or wincing from a shoulder wound, would he? Jumping back, Sora tossed his Keyblade in a Strike Raid. The Keyblade of People’s Hearts went flying, landing in the dust half a field away at the same time Sora’s Keyblade smacked into his palm. He dashed forward, sweeping his Keyblade in a move which would definitely toss Xehanort’s other Keyblade out of his hand.

    The nine hooded figures raised their hands simultaneously, glowing darkly. Nine dark orbs crashed into Sora’s chest and sent him flying back. He landed heavily, vision swimming. A shadow fell over him as he fell unconscious.

    Jason’s heart stopped. X-Face was standing over where Sora had landed. The Bats were crumpled behind him, still breathing, but not looking too good. Mullet head had a massive claymore positioned over Dick. “Enough. It is clear that these pitiable creatures are the things tying you to the light.” He turned his cold yellow eyes up to Jason. “Perhaps, if I eradicate them for you.” He raised his claymore, then brought it down, straight for Dick’s head, in what was sure to be a killing blow.

    Time seemed to freeze, and then suddenly, he was falling. Everything went dark. He closed his eyes. He had reached terminal velocity, the fall would kill him. Wait. Something was slowing him down, turning him upright. His eyes snapped open as he landed, both feet touching solid ground. Jason looked around, confused.

    He was standing on a black surface, surrounded by infinite darkness. “Where am I?”

    It is called Dive to the Heart. Jason whirled towards the voice. Standing in a spot which Jason would swear had been empty a second ago was, well, Jason. The entirety of its being was made of darkness though, with the exception of glowing yellow eyes. Unlike the Heartless Jason had seen so far though, this one stared at him with intelligence in its eyes. It is normally a place for Keyblade Wielders to Awaken. But it is also a place we may speak.

    “Who are you? What do you want?”

    I am your darkness. And I want to help you.

    Jason snorted. “Yeah right. Why should I believe you?”

    You must. Or the ones you have given your heart to will die.

    “So that’s it then. I give in to darkness, and Xehanort wins.”

    No. I am your darkness. He wishes to put in his own darkness. His wishes are not mine.

    He blinked. This was unexpected. “What do you mean?”

    I am your darkness. You must be you. I do not exist otherwise. Dark Jason cocked his head slightly. I can give you power. To save the ones you have given your heart to.

    Tempting. “What’s the catch?”

    I am your darkness. I wish to continue. Do not drive me out again.

    Hmmm. “If we do this, we do it my way. You don't try to take over-”

    It was not I who tried to corrupt your heart. Xehanort had very persistent darkness. It was a piece of this which tried to express itself. But what hurts it also hurts me.

    “Fine. But we have to figure out a way to get rid of that later. You help me with that, I won’t let Dick do his little ‘light hug’ again. Agreed?”

    Dark Jason paused, mulling it over. Very well. He melted into the floor, and Jason stepped back in surprise. As soon as his foot landed, light burst out, the darkness peeling from the floor like butterflies. He raised his hands to protect his eyes.

    When he lowered them, he was standing on a stained glass window. The design was strangely personal. It featured him, his eyes half closed as if he were falling asleep. He was wearing his uniform, but his helmet was in his outstretched hand. His other hand held an All Blade and a gun was strapped to his thigh. The background was ringed with the symbols of his family. The Batsymbol. Nightwing’s bird. His own bulkier version of the Batsymbol. Red Robin’s sigil. Robin’s R. A more delicate version of the Batsymbol, the one Batgirl uses. The middle was littered with disjointed images. A tire iron, exactly like the one he had used to steal the Batmobile’s tires. A cookie. A batarang and a birdarang. A green circle, overlaid with a crowbar. Red crossed arrows over a starburst. It was his life, done in brightly coloured glass. The light shone again, and Jason opened his eyes.

    Time flowed. The claymore was the barest inch from Dick’s head when Jason crashed himself bodily into it. He moved faster than he ever had before, swiping his hand at X-Face’s face. Strange. His arm didn’t hurt anymore. Stunned, X-Face didn’t have any time to block when Jason kicked out with his foot, blasting the ******* across the field and away from his family. He turned towards Xehanort, noting the smug looking grin on the man’s face, and relishing it as it turned into a look of horror.

    “What’s wrong baldie?” His voice was strangely layered, as if two of him were talking at once. “Plans not turning out?” He raced across the clearing, All Blades slowly appearing in his grip.

    Xehanort acted instantaneously, brandishing his own blade and tearing towards Jason. The first strike – fuelled by hatred on both sides – had so much force behind it that Jason's teeth rattled from the impact. Twisting himself away and pushing Xehanort's weapon back, Jason lifted up his second sword and thrust it at his opponent’s face, who just barely had time to duck in turn. Then something shining caught Jason's eye and he jumped back with cat like reflexes, just avoiding a black knife that was now flying back to its hooded owners outstretched hand. So this fight wouldn't be a fair one after all.

    Backing up slightly, Jason glared at the nine figures who, up until now, were merely observing, but were now all brandishing weapons or standing defensively. Instinctively, Jason moved back until he was positioned in front of his family. He would not let these bastards hurt his brothers, which he was sure they were after. Even at the thought of it, rage and hatred boiled up inside him, fuelled by the darkness which was sharing his body. He growled his hatred at his enemies and readied himself, clutching his swords until his knuckles turned white. He spared a single glance back at his brothers and friend. Dick was breathing shallowly and blood was oozing from his chest wounds, Tim was deathly still, and Damian seemed to be semi-conscious, violent shivers wracking his entire body. Sora was also obviously down for the count, his Keyblade lying idly by his side. Jason had to protect them! He refused to let them down. He was their only hope, at least until Batman returned.

    Xehanort jerked his head in Red Hood’s direction, apparently too annoyed for words, and at his command three of the nine figures stepped forward with Xehanort. Jason stiffened. He had no idea what these people’s powers were, and finding it out by trial and error would be dangerous. But what other options did he have? He wished they would at least lower their hoods so he could get a look at their faces, maybe read their expressions and learn something. But they remained hidden and secretive.

    Pointing his Keyblade towards Jason, Xehanort shot a freezing spell hurtling in his direction. Growling, Jason put up his swords in a crossed formation and sliced clear through the magic, reducing it to a cloud of sparkling vapour. Jason contemplated the four enemies moving ever closer. One of them lifted a gun like object while the other brandished the same knife Jason had dodged moments before. The last one didn't show any intention of attacking, simply walking closer with the others. So, they were trying for long range attacks. They knew that Jason had to stay put while they attacked him from far away, so as to not leave his family unprotected. Grimacing Jason raised his swords yet again. It was a big disadvantage. This fight would be on their terms, not his. But even now he could feel the power and energy of his darkness running through his veins. He had a chance, and that was something.

    Suddenly Knife Man and Gun Guy attacked simultaneously, one shooting several bullets while the other threw their glinting weapon directly at him. Time seemed to move slowly as Hood realized that while the knife was hurtling right at his chest, the bullets were heading for Tim and Sora, the closest two to him. Cursing Jason ducked the knife and threw one sword to the right expertly, while dashing to the left and deflecting the bullets there. Miraculously he had managed to stop the attack, but the next second there were more shots and Jason automatically back flipped with amazing speed, landing next to Sora and picking up his limp body with one arm before seeming to fly to Tim's side. It was sheer luck that the two bullets aimed at Tim missed both Jason and the boy. He felt them as they flew by his head and shoulder. Leaning over Tim, Jason grabbed his other sword which was lying deserted next to Tim, and then scooped his brother up under his other arm. He needed to move fast, which was difficult as both Sora and Tim were moderately heavy. But his new strength helped him to jump backwards in response to three more bullets. He was just reveling in his amazing luck so far and the fact that the guy with the knife hadn't attacked again, when it hit him. Literally. Sharp pain lanced through his right shoulder and he staggered, nearly dropping Sora and Tim. He looked backwards quickly and saw the hilt of the small blade sticking out of his back. Idiot! How could he forget this guy could control the knife!? He had seen it happen!

    Pushing himself further, Jason stopped by Dick and let his friend and brother drop to the ground lifelessly. It would be much more effective protecting them if they were all in one place. More shots rang through the air and Jason moved without thinking, blocking the bullets with lightning reflexes. He could hear the small projectiles as they were deflected off the strong metal in his swords. Xehanort took that moment to shoot a fire spell at Jason, who again blocked it. But this time he could feel the heat from the flames sear his skin, even as the fire dissipated into the air. His right arm drooped slightly which surprised him. He wasn't feeling any pain from his shoulder other than the initial entry. Could he be in shock or – a cascade of bullets and another fire spell came at him and he worked fast to deflect them – or was he not feeling the pain of his injuries for another reason? His darkness... was it blocking the pain for him? Even as he thought it, Jason knew it was true. He wasn't feeling pain, but that didn't mean his injuries couldn’t still affect him.

    Breathing heavily and refusing to take his eyes off of his enemies, Jason knew it was time to go on the offensive. He couldn't just hold out here, these guys would just keep shooting attacks at him until they weakened him enough to approach. But how could Jason take the initiative and bring the fight to them while in doing so protecting his brothers from harm? He was stuck. Stay here and be taken out slowly, or fight offensively and leave his family and friends unprotected. The man with the knife seemed to have more than one weapon, and threw another gleaming streak of dark metal at Jason, who deflected it feeling exhaustion start to creep in around the edges. He would have to leave and take the fight to them. It was the only way any of them would get out of this alive. Jason was just steeling himself to act when the final cloaked figure who stood by Xehanort finally moved. He took something from beneath his cloak, and threw it at Jason in the blink of an eye. Even with his increased speed, he barely got his swords up in time to deflect the object. But to Jason's surprise, he didn't feel it clash against the All Blades. Cautiously lowering his swords, watching as a small disk like object rotated slowly in front of him, seeming to levitate in midair. He only had a second to marvel at it before the object exploded violently. Jason couldn't breathe, couldn't react. He was flung backwards by the vicious explosion, hitting the ground and crying out with pain as the knife drove itself further into his flesh. The world was standing still as Jason tried and tried to catch his breath, but his lungs didn't seem to want to take in air. He couldn't hear anything except a high pitch ringing, though the sound of the blast was fresh in his mind. He blinked through watering eyes, trying to see something other than a blur of colours which was fading in and out, in and out. He couldn't think, he couldn't move. But he had to move. He had to get back up!

    Why did he have to get up?

    With an enormous effort, Jason rolled himself onto his stomach, and took in the smallest breath of air. It was a start at least. He blinked confusedly several more times before his vision began to refocus. His temporary loss of memories seemed to return with his sight. A cold sensation spread across his back, centered around the knife. Xehanort and the three cloaked figures were walking towards him...no, walking towards Dick, Tim, Damian, and Sora. Their eyes were glowing wickedly and their evil intentions seemed to radiate off of them.

    “No” Jason whispered hoarsely as he watched them drawing nearer. He had lost. His family was going to die and it was all because he was too weak to protect them. “G-get away from them... Don't you dare touch them!”

    Trembling Jason braced himself and tried to push up into a sitting position, but collapsed seconds later, feeling dizzy and sick with desperation. Panic stricken, he clenched his teeth and tried to pull himself towards his brothers with one hand, but it was no use. He was far too weak.

    The four were stopping in front of his family now. Preparing themselves to eliminate some of the only things in the world Jason loved. Stop. This couldn't happen. It couldn't. The world grew cold, and he felt the darkness in his mind begin to overtake him. The darkness!

    “Help me!” He yelled desperately, his heart pounding wildly in a fleeting last attempt.

    Suddenly Jason found himself in that place again. It was black and quiet, and he was relieved to feel normal. His injuries wouldn't plague him here. A solitary figure – his darkness – stood in front of him, looking at Jason with those intelligent yellow eyes.

    You are pushing yourself too far. it said

    “I don't care.”

    You could die.

    “I don't care.”

    The darkness blinked slowly, contemplating Jason.

    They stood like that in silence for a while.

    You should, it said finally.

    “Look!” Jason snapped angrily. “My family, and my friend, they're gonna die out there unless I...we do something! I don't like the idea of pushing myself to far either. But the people I love... they’re worth it.”

    For some reason, Jason felt fine admitting this – something he would never say normally – to his darkness. The figure in front of him was a part of him, and he knew it could understand what he said in a different way than his family. Admitting that he loved people felt good though, even if it was a bit too soft for his style.

    His darkness stayed quite for what seemed like a long time, though time didn't seem to exist in this place.

    I understand, it said finally.

    Jason nodded solemnly. “So you can help me protect them?”

    Yes, was all it said.

    Suddenly, a ripple spread through the darkness. Jason’s back burned and darkness descended on the stained glass, covering it again. His darkness spoke once more, but its voice seemed… off. I will help you.

    And Jason was thrust back into reality.

    His thoughts felt fuzzy. He knew it was dark outside, nothing but moonlight and the far off city to light his way, but everything seemed brighter. No, not brighter, he was just seeing through the darkness better. Everything was yellow, why was everything yellow? He slowly rotated his head, trying to get a better idea of his surroundings. There were people in front of him.

    One of them, one not wearing a cloak, was raising a sword above one of the ones on the ground. The sword (bad, will hurt, stay away), was pointing directly at the crossed belts on the other’s chest. There was a heart glowing in the smaller figure. He could see it flutter, wanted to take it for himself. The urge was overwhelming. A sharp pain in his head. A warning. Do not touch that heart. Save it. It was against every instinct he had, but if he didn’t listen, the pain would continue. So he turned his gaze to the one holding the bad-sword. And lunged forward.

    ~*~​

    Blearily, Dick opened his eyes. Why did everything hurt? Well, not everything, but his chest definitely. Oh. There was purple things sticking out of it. Well, that explains that. Now, who was leaning against his leg?

    Carefully, trying not to open his wounds further, he raised his head. Sora was against his leg, Tim was laying on the ground a foot away and Damian was just off to his left. None of them were awake and none of them looked too good. Especially Tim, who had Xehanort standing over him, Keyblade plunging down towards his chest. Dick panicked. He knew he would never make it in time, but he still grabbed a escrima stick out, ready to throw it at Xehanort’s head.

    Before he got his chance though, a wall of darkness slammed into Xehanort, knocking him far out of the way. Dick was still struggling to focus his eyes, so he couldn’t quite see what it was that had attacked –

    Oh no.

    Oh no!

    It might have been Jason. The build, the features, everything about it looked like Dick’s little brother. Except for the black covering it from head to toe, the yellow eyes burning through the domino mask. Wisps of darkness curled off of his shoulders. He sank into a low battle stance, hands held out threateningly. Protectively?

    One of the hooded figures in front of Jason(?) drew a gun, quickly aiming and firing it off at Damian. The bullets never hit their mark. Instead, they landed in the palm of Dark Jason. Slowly, he looked at the small rounds of glowing metal in his hand, then up at the one who had fired them. Faster than Dick could follow, he was behind the hooded guy, hand clear through his shoulder. He removed his arm, the guy falling to the ground, and turned towards the other hooded people.

    He couldn’t process this. How could Jason have gone dark so quickly? It had only been an hour, maybe two, since they’d been at the manor. He should have had at least another eight hours until something happened. What had happened since he’d been out? How –

    Movement against his leg broke him out of his thoughts. “Sora? Are you awake?”

    Sora looked up at Dick, almost as confused as Dick felt, and his eyes widened at the sight of him. “Di- Nightwing! You’re hurt!”

    Huh? Oh yeah, the purple things. “Don’t worry about me, Robin and Red Robin needs it more.”

    Summoning his Keyblade, Sora gave off a very Damian-like snort. “Don’t be stupid, you need it too. HEAL!” Green light descended on all of them. Dick winced as the purple things extracted themselves from his chest, flesh knitting together as they fell out. Tim’s leg straightened itself, bone snapping into place. Based on the way the light lingered around his chest, he had a few broken ribs too. Steam rose off Damian as the ice melted, his colour slowly returning.

    Feeling worlds better, Dick leapt up, eyes searching desperately for Dark Jason. He didn’t really have to look far.

    Halfway across the clearing, surrounded by badly injured, but still breathing, cloak-people, he stood, snarling at Xehanort, Ponytail Guy and Blue Hair as they opened a Dark Corridor and left. Once they were gone, he turned and stared at Dick. Just stared.

    Sora followed Dick’s gaze and frowned. “Why hasn’t he attacked us yet?”

    Starting, Dick looked down at Sora worriedly. “Should he be? I mean, that is still Hood, right? Red Hood would never hurt us.” Except for the time when he had first come back. But that was when Jason didn’t have a heart, and he had a heart now. Right?

    Jason stopped looking at Dick, shifting his gaze to Sora. Or, more accurately, to the Keyblade Sora still held defensively. “He never would, but he’s not himself right now.” He shifted the Keyblade in his hand, and Jason flinched.

    Suddenly, Jason vanished. Dick whirled, trying to find where his brother had gone, only to find him behind the group, a hand going through a Nobody’s chest. As is dissipated, he vanished again, going back to his original spot. His stance was still very aggressive, despite Xehanort and buddies leaving, despite there being no Heartless or Nobodies left.

    “Sora, do me a favour. Put away your Keyblade quick.”

    “What?! But if he attacks us-”

    “Tt. Then we will hold him off while you resummon it. Obviously.” Finally defrosted, Damian stood up, wiping excess moisture off of his suit.

    Sora, after a moment’s thought, complied. The effect was immediate and welcoming. Jason’s posture relaxed, and he sank to the ground in a crouch. The harsh yellow of his eyes softened. Emboldened, Dick started forward. “Hood?” Quieter, he ventured, “Jay?” Slowly, calling out to Jason in a calm voice, as if he was dealing with a wild animal, Dick approached his brother. There was a moment of panic when Jason raised his arm, but he only rested it on his own head, face contorting in brief pain before relaxing again. Finally, Dick was kneeling in front of his brother. Jason seemed content to let him sit there, but when Dick opened his arms, to hug him, to try and make him better, Jason vanished.

    “Whoa!” Tim’s startled shout told Dick where Jason had gone. He was crouching, just as before, right next to Tim. Dick tried again, walking quicker this time. Jason allowed him to stand next to him, allowed him to touch him, but the moment Dick went to hug him, he vanished again.

    Frustrated, Dick walked up to his brother and grabbed his hand, leading him back to the group. Jason complied. When they got there though, he got a pained expression on his face, and he lifted his free hand to his head again. Then it cleared, leaving Jason with a serene expression and Dick with a worried one.

    “Why does he keep doing that?” Dick cried. “Why won’t he let me hug him? What’s going on?” The sound of the Batwing returning prevented Jason from answering. Not that he could have anyways.

    Batman was not pleased to say the least, to find his sons covered in blood. When he caught sight of Jason he stiffened dangerously. Dick caught the Bat's eye and glanced quickly over at his younger brother, who was standing idly by Red Robin, almost like he was daydreaming.

    “Report!” Batman demanded.

    There was silence for a few seconds, as no one was really sure what happened.

    Sora decided he better explain as he was the last one conscious, but the thought of talking directly to Batman while he had so much tension emanating off of him was a difficult concept.

    “Well, after you left,” he began, glancing over at his new friends, “these guys had already been taken out by the cloaked people. They were probably badly outnumbered.”

    Tim and Dick nodded slowly in affirmation while Damian merely crossed his arms and let of a signature “Tt.”

    “Ja- I mean, Red Hood was hurt too. His arm was bleeding. But he was still conscious. I jumped in to help him as soon as you left.”

    Batman nodded, so Sora continued.

    “I started fighting Xehanort, and Hood went for the two cloaked figures fighting, Braig and Isa. Uh, the rest were just standing there watching us fight.”

    “Why is that?” Batman inquired.

    Sora shrugged. “Dunno, but it was a good thing they didn't step in, or we wouldn't have had a chance. Anyway, I was pretty caught up in my fight with Xehanort, I was winning, his injuries weren’t healed completely of course. A cure spell can only do so much.”

    Tim rubbed his head, and Dick his sore chest absentmindedly. Damian gave a small shudder.

    “I was just about to disarm him when the other cloaked figures, the ones not doing anything, all attacked me at once. They shot some sort of darkness out of their hands, and... I can't really remember much after that. I guess I passed out. But Hood was still fighting. At least, I'm pretty sure he was.”

    Batman was silent, pondering all of this information. He gazed at some of the unconscious cloaked figures on the ground. Gesturing to them with a sweep of his hand he asked, “And how did this happen?”

    This time Nightwing spoke. “I woke up first, and Sora, Red Robin, and Robin were all next to me. It was weird, like they were placed there or something.”

    “Yeah.” Sora added. “I definitely wasn’t right next to you when I passed out. Closer to Red Robin I think.”

    Batman looked thoughtful at this information. “Hmmm, so someone put you there in the time you were unconscious. Hood?”

    “Guess so,” Nightwing continued. “But as soon as I woke up, Xehanort was standing over Red Robin with his Keyblade raised, and he was gonna...”

    Nightwing paled as Batman nodded his understanding.

    “Anyway, Xehanort was just bringing down his sword when Hood crashed into him, except it wasn't the Hood from before. It was this one.”

    Nightwing placed a hand on Red Hood’s shoulder and give him a little shake, the latter not responding. “Anyway, Sora healed us, Hood took out the rest of the hooded guys, and here we are.”

    Before anyone could say anything else, Tim gasped. “Jason! Guys, look at his back!!”

    Everyone glared over at the dark figure, who chose that moment to gaze at Batman and raise his hand slightly before jerking back and holding his hand to his head.

    “That's another thing!” Nightwing said quickly. “There's something wrong with his head! He keeps doing that.”

    “Guys,” Tim said, half annoyed, half scared. “There's a knife in his back! Look!”

    They all moved to see what Tim was talking about as Jason grimaced and shook his head again.

    “It is a deep wound.” Damian said, as they glared at the hilt of the knife, half surrounded by dark vapour. “I am surprised he is still standing in this condition. It is admirable.”

    Dick frowned. “His arm was shot too. How can he be standing?”

    “Red Hood, can you hear me?” Batman said clearly.

    They all looked at Jason who didn't as much as twitch.

    “Can you heal him Sora?” Asked Tim.

    Sora looked doubtful. “Maybe, but I used so much magic healing us I don't know if it will work. If anything, I don't think I could produce a full cure spell.”

    “Do as much as you can.” Batman commanded quickly.

    Glancing nervously over at Jason, Sora nodded. “Alright, but someone needs to pull the knife out.” Dick immediately stepped up, curling his fingers around the handle. Concentrating as much as he could, Sora lifted his Keyblade. The moment the knife left Jason’s back he cried out, “Heal!”

    Beads of light circled around the wound. Jason didn't even blink during the process, merely staring ahead blankly. He held the spell for as long as he could, but before the wound could entirely close, Sora fell to one knee breaking the spell.

    “Sora!” Nightwing's and Red Robin's voices rang out.

    “Sorry,” the boy said in a small voice lowering his Keyblade. “That's all I can do.”


    “You did enough.” Nightwing assured him, as he walked over to Sora and helped him up, despite wincing himself. “If it weren’t for you I don't know how we would've survived that.”

    Sora smiled tiredly.

    The next moment a strange rushing sound had everyone whirling around to see darkness swallow up the injured villains on the ground, leaving no evidence anyone had been there seconds before. Just as suddenly, without warning, Jason gave a great shudder and dropped lifelessly to the ground, darkness peeling off him as the shouts of surprise and alarm echoed above him.

    Nightwing stared down at his brother, frozen in shock for a moment. The moment wore down quickly though, and his shock faded. Maybe now, Jason would let him heal him. Dropping to his knees, he grabbed Jason’s shoulders and lifted him partially off the ground. But the moment he went to put his arms around him, Jason pushed him off. Still unconscious, he fell to the ground. Batman rushed past him, grabbing up his second son and carrying him to the Batwing, arms curled protectively around his shoulders.

    Dick reeled, slightly confused, but mostly hurt. Why wouldn’t Jason…? He closed his eyes, ignoring Tim’s hand, trying to drag him to the Batwing. Jason would tell him if he woke up. When he woke up. Nodding, he stood and followed his family to the plane, knife still in his hand.

    Slowly drifting back to consciousness, his first sensation was a throbbing pain in his arm, head and back. Not the greatest way to wake up in the morning, but there were worse ways. Cracking his eyes open a slit, the lids slammed shut even before his brain registered the screaming pain the light inflicted on them. Deciding against opening his eyes again, he listened instead.

    Dripping, the screeching of bats, the slight hum of many computer screens, the steady beeping of a heart monitor. Most likely the Batcave’s medbay. Throwing his not-injured arm over his eyes, he tried to open them again. A quick scan and yup. Batcave. The motion attracted attention of course. Before he closed his eyes again (it still hurt to open them, even with his arm blocking most of the light), Alfred and Bruce came rushing in. They started with the usual twenty questions, (Are you alright? What hurts?), but Jason ignored them. Instead, he asked his own question, “Bruce? What happened?” Oh good. His voice still worked. With his eyes apparently on the fritz, he wasn’t sure what else was out of whack.

    The questions stopped abruptly. With the most worried look Jason had ever seen, Bruce regarded him. “What do you remember?” Always has to get the last question in.

    “Bald *******… Xehanort… He was going to stab Tim… ‘S cool though. Saved him. Fuzzy after that.” Fuzzy, but not gone. He remembered little bits of him fighting, snatches of conversation spoken around him, his head pounding.

    Bruce smiled, partially relieved. “You did.” He sat by Jason’s bed, Alfred running off to get a pot of tea and some cookies. Proper nourishment for the recovering hero, of course. The bonding time between Bruce and the erstwhile Robin was a bonus. They sat in silence for a few moments, before Bruce finally asked the question that had been bugging him since he had loaded Jason into the plane. “Jason? While saving Tim, you were covered in darkness. But you didn’t let Dick hug you, heal you. Why?” He probably should have asked how Jason had gotten that covered to begin with. Batman would have. But Bruce wanted to know why his son refused treatment, even while unconscious.

    Jason shifted, using the motion to buy a moment to think of the proper wording. Finally, he said, “I promised.” Bruce would ask the questions he needed to. Save him some energy.

    As predicted, Bruce asked, “Promised what? To whom?”

    “My darkness. I promised I wouldn’t drive it out again. I kept control, it gave me power.” He laughed weakly, “I guess in the end I lost control anyways. Didn’t attack family though.” Bruce started a little at the word, so Jason used it again. “Didn’t let myself attack family. Suppose that’s something.”

    Even with his eyes closed, Jason could feel Bruce’s uncomfortable shift next to him. “Jason… It’s good of you to keep you promise, but it can’t be healthy for you to stay like this.”

    Huh? “Like what?”

    “Open your eyes. There’s a mirror here.”

    “I can’t. Light’s too bright.” He heard Bruce get up and walk towards the dimmer switch on the wall. Carefully cracking his eyelids again, he was relieved when it didn’t hurt at all. He opened his eyes fully and pulled his arm off his face… Wait, what was that on his arm?

    Veins and arteries, black as pitch, standing out like a tattoo. It covered his entire arm, from his fingertips, to the sleeve of his t shirt and probably further. He reached out for the mirror Bruce handed him. The lines continued on his chest, up his neck, even over his face. And his eyes. Yellow. As yellow as the eyes of bastards he had fought tonight. This wasn’t right. He frowned. This wasn’t the deal.

    He needed to talk to his darkness.

    ~*~​

    “Yo, darkness! Get out here!” Once again standing on his stained glass tower thing, which was now a solid black tower thing, Jason crossed his arms and frowned. The rat wasn’t getting out of this one. If he had to wait for a week, he would wait.

    Finally, after what felt like hours (but was probably closer to thirty minutes), a spot of darker darkness appeared just a bit to his left. It widened, then stretched upwards, shaping itself into the darkness that Jason knew and rather hated right now. You called? Its voice was still off. Kind of… buzzing.

    “Yes, I did. Mind telling me what’s going on?” Jason waved out with one of his arms. Injuries didn’t show up here, but the dark markings on his skin did. “This wasn’t part of the deal. Take it off.”

    The darkness cocked its head at him. You asked for power. I delivered. Malice dripped off of every word.

    “Yeah and now I don’t need it anymore. Take. It. Off!”

    I cannot. It is part of you now. I am part of you. I will not leave.

    This day just kept getting better and better. “Can you at least make it, I don’t know, less visible? It’s worrying the crap out of my family.” And Jason. He was seriously freaked out. What had he gotten himself into? “Not to mention, my eyes are crazy light sensitive. Is that supposed to happen?”

    You are of the darkness now. It is expected. I can reduce the effects. But it will still be there. Jason got the feeling his darkness was smiling. Under your skin.

    It raised its arm. The marks faded from his skin, but Jason could feel them burrowing their way into his muscles, his bones. It was a feeling he wouldn’t wish on his worst enemy. Well… Nah, the Joker probably deserved this. And then a bullet in the head for good measure.

    Finally, it stopped. His arms were clear and he had the feeling that if he looked in the mirror, his eyes would be back to their normal shade of teal. His darkness stared at him, glowing yellow eyes boring into his. The deal stands. Do not drive me out. You will regret it.

    Before he could respond to the threat, light surrounded Jason and his world shifted.

    ~*~​

    Bruce was looking for a better word to describe Jason passing out after looking in the mirror, but “fainting” was pretty much the only one that came to mind. Which made no sense. Right before he “fainted”, Jason had this look of fury and absolute determination on his face. Passing out after that wasn’t really a “fainting” situation. Maybe “blacking out”…

    This was off topic. He was covering his worry about the situation with concern over his word choice. Forcing himself back into the worry, he rushed around, checking Jason’s heart rate and brain patterns. Everything seemed normal. Where had Jason gone?

    Suddenly, the marks faded from Jason’s skin. His face, deathly pale a moment ago, regained its colour. Lifting one of his eyelids, Bruce sagged in relief at the familiar teal. He moved back, tucking the blankets more firmly around his son, then sat in the chair next to the bed, waiting for him to wake up.

    After a minute or two, Alfred showed up, bearing a fully laden tray. “Oh dear. Has Master Jason gone back to sleep? I had hoped that he would relieve me of these baked goods.” The butler set the tray down on a nearby table, then regarded the teen in the bed. “At least his colour’s better sir.”

    Bruce looked up at his longest friend. “Yes Alfred. At this point, it’s more than I had hoped for.” They stood for a moment in silence. “How are the other boys Alfred?”

    “Resting sir. Master Dick’s chest has a few new scars on it, Master Tim is limping a bit, Master Damian has been equipped with an additional four blankets and a hot chocolate, and Master Sora is still asleep. All in all, we seem to have escaped relatively unscathed. Especially now that Master Jason is looking better.”

    Bruce simply nodded, then started preparing to have Jason moved to his room. He would be much more comfortable there.

    ~*~​

    Jason woke up slowly, blinking his eyes and then rolling his head into the soft something under it to avoid the light. Head throbbing dully, he blinked a few more times and then looked around carefully adjusting his watering eyes to the light. He was in his room, and Bruce, cautious as ever, had still put an IV and heart monitor beside his bed. Then Jason spotted a plate of cookies on his bedside table and instinctively dived for them. The movement brought his attention to his skin, which had very faint lines running across it. With a jolt, he remembered what had happened earlier. Shoving a cookie in his mouth Jason sat up, ignoring the pain lancing though his back and arm. No wonder his eyes were stinging and throbbing in response to the lazy beams of evening light shining through his window. His darkness had told the truth. He could dull the side effects but not stop them.

    The next plan of action was obviously sunglasses, because he was not dealing with throbbing, watering eyes everywhere he went. Peeling off the electrodes and pulling out his IV, Jason flicked off the switch to the EKG before someone came running and then stood up shakily. So he definitely wasn't at 100 percent yet. That was to be expected though. Slowly he trudged over to his dresser and pulled open drawers, searching for something that would give his eyes a bit of relief. It had been a while since he had been in this room, and he wasn't really sure where things were anymore. Finally he found a pair of dark shades and slipped them on. The result was instantaneous and he had to sigh with the relief his eyes were experiencing. Looking around, Jason wondered what he should do next. Bruce and Alfred would probably blow their tops if they knew he was out of bed, but that only made Jason smirk. It meant he couldn't get caught is all. Crossing his arms and considering his options, he decided it would be a good idea to go and check on his brothers and Sora. Images of Xehanort standing over Tim, helpless and unconscious, with his blade drawn back to kill, were still reverberating fresh in his head. Going and bugging the others would probably make him feel better.

    Crossing over to his closet, Jason grabbed out a sweatshirt and slipped it on before returning to his bed to grab a few cookies. He also took the time to sip some water that was sitting helpfully there as well. Munching contently on his snacks, he crept over to his door and listened.

    Nothing.

    Grabbing the handle, he ever so slowly prodded his door open, staring out into the hall beyond. There was no one out there, so he took his opportunity and slipped outside. It was now a game of cat and mouse. He would have to use some serious ninja skills to avoid the ever overbearing presence of Bruce and the trained eye of Alfred. Still nibbling a cookie, he made his way past doors on tiptoe, listening to every small sound with devoted attention. It sounded like there were people walking around downstairs, but that was it as far as footsteps went. All in all, the manor was extremely quiet. Jason wondered if Alfred was revelling in the break from chaos his boys seemed to initiate whenever they were all under the same roof.

    Finally after many pauses and glances around door frames or corners, Jason made it to Damian’s room. The door was closed, and the kid always insisted people knock before entering, but Jason enjoyed disregarding whatever his little brother said. So he quietly pushed open his brother’s door. To Jason’s surprise, Damian was curled up on his bed wrapped in what seemed like twenty quilts. A laptop was balanced on what was probably his legs, though it was hard to tell due to all the blankets. Jason was mildly surprised. The demon spawn rarely used technology outside of hero work. Damian seemed to be half dozing, watching something on the screen in front of him with fleeting attention. An empty cup of hot chocolate sat on his bedside table. Jason was taken aback by the normalcy of the scene. Honestly he would have been much less surprised if he had found Damian attempting to practice flipping off his walls or else researching the most effective ways to poison someone.

    In his drowsy state, and with his headphones in, Damian didn't notice as Jason crept up behind him. This would be a once in a lifetime opportunity. Jason was sure he could scare Damian enough to get a jump out of him. But as he approached, the blankets by Damian’s side moved slightly and a head poked out. To be more specific, a large hairy head with to big black eyes and a wet, slobbery tongue.

    “Quiet dog.” Jason hissed, but the Great Dane was already wagging its enormous tail and trying to stand up, effectively bringing Damian out of his stupor.

    “I told you before Pennyworth, I do not nee-”

    He froze when he saw Jason, who in turn was silently cursing the dog. They barely interacted for Pete’s sake! Why did it have to get all happy when it saw him?

    Damian stared at Jason for a while frowning. “Should you really be out of bed? It seems extremely unwise. Though I suppose that is why you are doing it.”

    Jason raised an eyebrow at his brother. “Aw, Damian, don't tell me you are actually concerned about me.”

    “Tt, I could never concern myself with the inconsequential proceedings of a less superior being such as yourself. Do not be mistaken Todd. I was simply wishing to avoid Father’s wrath when he finds out you have decided to ignore his orders to rest.”

    Jason shrugged. The kid had a point.

    “I wasn't just going to stay in my bed and sleep all day. Rest is for the weak.”

    Jason smiled as a muscle twitched in the demon spawn's temple.

    “That is completely absurd,” the younger huffed.

    Jason turned waving his hand half-heartedly. “If you say so kid. You just stay here and catch up on your sleep. I'm sure you need it. I'm gonna go check up on the others.”

    In a moment, Damian and the dog were trotting behind Jason's heels, the kid still wrapped in a heavy blanket.

    “Don't you dare imply that I am weaker then you!” Damian hissed.

    Jason simply smiled to himself, pleased with his ability to annoy his younger brother, and walked on.

    Cracking open the door to Tim’s room, Jason was unsurprised to see him awake and working at his desk, two laptops running simultaneously. Pushing the door back hard and ignoring the crack as it slammed into the wall, he and Damian walked in like they owned the place. In his own personal opinion, Jason, in his shades, looked much cooler doing so than Damian with his quilt. Tim merely raised an eyebrow, eyes not leaving the screen in front of him. “Why are you two in my room? And what’s with the shades?” Tim’s voice was missing its usual confidence. Hmmm…

    “Tim, I am hurt! We come to check on you and this is how you greet us?” Jason cried in mock pain. He sniffed, his voice lofty. “And for your information, the shades make me look awesome. Well, more awesome.” Dropping his voice back down to normal, he continued. “No but seriously, just checking on you. Do you know if Dick and Sora are up?” He wanted to get up to some mischief. He just needed a victim.

    Rolling his eyes at Jason’s poor attempt at dodging the shades question, Tim replied. “Dick is. Sora was still asleep last time I checked.”

    That had some promise. “Hm. Wanna go draw on his face?”

    “What?!” Tim turned to Jason, incredulity splashed across his features. Even Damian looked more than a little confused and surprised. “Why would you want to do that?”

    Jason shrugged. “No reason really. Boredom?”

    “Should you even be up?”

    “Should you?”

    “Yes actually. I still need to run through the files we got from Riku. There’s a lot on here.” Tim reached for a mug sitting innocently off to the side. Jason grabbed it up first.

    Giving the hot steam a quick sniff, he grinned maliciously. “Uh huh. Coffee this strong, when did you sleep last? Before the fight? Wouldn’t Alfred like to know that.” Yes, he did know what he was threatening.

    Tim blanched. If Alfred knew he wasn’t getting his rest… “Please don’t. I like my insides where they are.”

    “Then come on! A quick break will be good for you anyways!”

    Damian scowled. Well, scowled more. “Do we have to bring Drake? I’d prefer if we left him here.”

    Jason ruffled his hair, grin widening when the younger boy ducked out from under his hand and swatted at it. “Yes we do. Family activity! Let’s go find Dickiebird.”

    Dick wasn’t in his room, or in the library, or in the kitchen. They had split up to search, each moving as stealthily as possible. If Alfred or Bruce caught them out of bed when they should have been resting… Well, they would much prefer to go another round with a horde of Heartless.

    Jason finally found him, sitting on top of one of the chandeliers. How it didn’t fall under his weight was anyone’s guess. Although… Maybe after all the times Dick had crashed when he was younger, Alfred had reinforced them with titanium cabling. “Hey, Dickiebird!” He called up, “we’re going to go draw on Sora’s face. Want to come?”

    He landed mostly silently beside him. “Should you be out of bed?”

    Why did everyone keep asking him this stuff? “No, and neither should you Sir Pin Cushion. Now get down here before I bring you down.”

    Wide grin in place on his face, Dick followed Jason back up the stairs, both keeping an ear out for well-meaning butlers and overbearing bats. “So why are we drawing on Sora’s face?”

    “Damian and Tim seemed down. A bit of harmless mischief is the best medicine.” Dick did too, but Jason wasn’t going to bring it up until he did. Besides, maybe a marker and a sleeping face would cheer Goldie up too.

    They met up with the younger two outside Sora’s guest room. Cautiously cracking opening the door, four sets of eyes peeked in to make sure Sora was sleeping. Seeing that he was, Jason held up four markers in different colours. They crept in and silently started creating art.

    Damian started first, drawing green cats and dogs along the jawline. Tim thought for a moment before adding yellow Red Robin and Bat symbols on Sora’s forehead and left cheek. Dick went all out, blue happy faces on each temple, as well as a moustache and a goatee. Jason’s red marker added a very good likeness of his helmet to the right cheek and the words “Jason Todd was here” above one eyebrow.

    Finally, all markers capped, the boys took a moment to wonder at Sora. Seriously, the kid slept like a rock. Even if the feeling of people drawing on his face hadn’t woken him, Dick’s not-so-quiet giggles should have.

    Peering through his glasses at the others, Jason was glad to see smiles on all their faces. They’d been down about something. Probably the fight. All of them had come so close to dying. At the end of the day, side effects of the darkness and all, Jason didn’t regret a thing.

    Dick looked over at Jason, who was gazing down at the younger two with a smile on his face. Bruce had told him that Jason had promised his… darkness? that he wouldn’t let Dick drive it out again. He understood that Jason wanted to keep his promise, but he wished he wouldn’t. In Dick’s book, Jason’s health came before any promise to a dark entity with an unknown agenda. Clearly, he needed to talk some sense into his brother.

    “Alright kiddies, time for all the little Robins to get to bed.” Dick clapped his hands together, keeping a bright smile on his face. “We’ll find out what Sora thinks of his new makeup when he wakes up.”

    Yawning, Tim nodded. Even Damian seemed too tired to argue, only letting out a small “Tt” of annoyance. Followed closely by Titus and less closely by Dick and Jason, the boys tottered off to their rooms. Jason did too, probably to read rather than sleep, but Dick followed him in.

    Turning around lazily and spotting his brother, Jason gave Dick a glare that plainly said he wanted to be left alone. In response Dick walked over and plopped himself down on Jason's bed stubbornly. Jason rolled his eyes, though Dick couldn't see it.

    “Really Dickiebird, you're going to prevent your poor injured brother from getting any sleep?”

    Dick raised an eyebrow. “And you were actually thinking of sleeping were you?”

    Jason folded his arms. “Maybe. Look Dick, whatever's on your mind, it's obvious you aren’t gonna leave me alone until you say it. So spit it out.”

    Dick sighed and gazed at Jason coolly. “Do you remember how that battle yesterday ended?”

    Jason frowned and cocked his head to one side. “I- a little.”

    Dick looked unconvinced. “Really? Tell me about it then?”

    “I said a little, Dick, meaning the details are kinda fuzzy.”

    “Fair enough, but what do you remember?” Dick pressed.

    “I don't see why it matters.”

    “You're avoiding the question.”

    Taking a few steps back, Jason leaned against the wall and contemplated Dick. “No, I'm not. You're asking questions and so am I. It's only fair. Seriously, what are you so worried about?”

    Biting his lip, Dick forced himself to meet Jason's eyes, despite the sunglasses. “Fine. Yesterday, you saved us. Me and Tim and Damian and Sora that is. But there was something wrong with you. It was like you let your darkness take over.”

    Dick paused, but Jason said nothing, so he continued. “You were covered in the stuff, and you were being really violent. You nearly killed all those cloaked guys.”

    “They damn well deserved it.” Jason mumbled.

    “Jay, we were trying to talk to you but you weren’t listening. It was like you were an entirely different person. And when I went to hug you, you know, to get that darkness out of your system, you wouldn't let me. Even when you passed out, you pushed me away.”

    Dick looked troubled, and Jason was only now realizing that this was at least part of what had been bothering him when he had found Dick on the chandelier. He hadn't realized that his actions the other day had been so traumatic.

    “So your point is?” Jason questioned. But he was pretty sure he knew the answer, and he did not like it.

    “Bruce... Bruce told me that you said you were talking with that darkness inside you.” Dick said, his fingers clenching the bed sheets he was sitting on tightly. “He said you made a deal with it or something, that you wouldn't push it away anymore.”

    “Bruce and his big mouth.” Jason groaned.

    Dick jumped at his opportunity. “So it's true then! You did make a deal!”

    “Look, Dick, this really isn't any of your concern, and I would like you to kindly mind your own business okay?”

    Dick ignored him. “Jason, do you know how worried we've been since we saw you all covered in darkness?”

    Jason was surprised to see real fear in his brother’s face.

    “You obviously don't remember, but we all saw you. You know that knife wound in your back? And those bullets in your arm? You didn't even notice them. You pushed yourself way, way too far out there. It's like you didn't care how hurt you got!”

    Jason had had enough of playing dumb. “Think Dick!” He growled throwing up his hands. “There was a reason I fought so hard yesterday. If you don't really remember, everyone was seriously injured, and surrounded by bloodthirsty power crazy villains. I had an choice between dying with the rest of you, or fighting to protect everyone, to live another day. I chose to fight! And it's a good thing I did too or we would probably all be dead!”

    Dick paused for a second thinking. “So... you made a deal with that darkness to save us?” This seemed to upset him and he was no longer meeting his brother’s gaze.

    “Yes, I did.” Jason ground out. “And I don't even know why I am justifying myself to you.”

    Taking a long drawn out breath, Dick steeled himself for what he was going to say next. “Jason, I know we are all extremely grateful for what you did the other day, but...” He flinched as his brother’s fiery glare intensified. “I don't think you should keep whatever deal you made with this darkness of yours. It… it can't be healthy. Have you seen your skin? And I have a feeling those sunglasses aren’t for show. Jay, let me take that darkness away. Please?”

    A tense silence followed Dick’s words and seemed to suffocate both of them.

    “Listen to me Dick.” Jason said softly. “This thing that I am dealing with, it was my choice, not yours or Bruce’s or anyone’s. I know what I did, and I understand the repercussions. I get where you're coming from, but I can deal with this on my own.”

    “Jason” Dick said crossly. “You have never been one for thinking things through.”

    “That doesn't mean I can't!”

    Suddenly Dick stood up, agitation clear in his body language. “But I don't think you are thinking Jason!” He said, voice rising. “This is darkness you are letting take over your body. What if it hurts you! What if it takes control like it did the other day and hurts Tim, or Damian?”

    Jason felt a fleeting spark of amusement at how Dick hadn't included his own name in the list.

    “You're playing with fire, Jay. And you have a way out if you just let me help!”

    “It isn't that easy Dick.” Jason said. He was surprised and impressed that he was able to keep his cool so well in this little argument so far. Not so long ago, this would have turned into a fist fight five minutes ago. “You guys don't understand what I did. Breaking a deal with a dark being that is part of you, that might not have very pleasant side effects! Did you think of that?”

    Dick froze from where he was now pacing, because no, he hadn't.

    “What exactly was this deal Jay?”

    “Doesn't matter.”

    “Obviously it does!” Dick said exasperatedly.

    “Jesus Dick, you're acting as bad as Bruce. Why can't you just trust me to take care of things? It's my problem, I'll deal with it!”

    “And it's partly my fault you’re in it!” Dick shouted unexpectedly.

    Jason looked up surprised. Guilt was written all over Dick’s face. He sighed. This was Dick he was talking to, he shouldn't be surprised. “Grayson you idiot. None of this is your fault. My darkness, my choice, my problem.”

    Dick was now running a hand through his hair in a way that reminded Jason way too much of Bruce. “If I had stayed nearer to you, I could have stopped it from taking over, I could have prevented it!”

    Jason felt like banging his head against a well. “Are you kidding me Dick? There was absolutely no way you could have done that. We were fighting to protect the hostages remember. And there was smoke everywhere, and the whole damn place was utter chaos. You should be happy you’re still here, not guilty about preventing something you could have never known about.” Besides, if my darkness didn't step in I don't think either of us would be here to have this little chat. Jason thought the last part, but he believed every word wholeheartedly. He hated to admit it, but he owed his darkness the promise he gave it. Besides, he could live with the side effects. Maybe he and his darkness would have another little discussion about them later.

    Dick felt extremely conflicted as he studied his brother’s face. Jason really didn't blame him for what happened. What's more he was completely determined to keep whatever deal he made with his darkness. This conversation really wasn't going as planned.

    “Look Jason, can we just-”

    “Nope.”

    “But what if-”

    “Nope.”

    Dick stared up at the ceiling in an attempt to master his frustration. Jason took the opportunity to walk the few steps over to his brother. Placing his hand on Dick’s shoulder –merely to get the point across that Jason wasn't avoiding him – he said carefully, “Dick. Trust me.”

    Jason waited until Dick’s worried eyes finally met his determined ones, showing at least a sliver of understanding. Then with one fluid motion, he bent over and picked up a pillow, smacking his brother across the face with it.

    “Now get out of my room Dickhead, before my remaining patience wears off.”

    It was obvious that Dick wanted to say more as he backed away from Jason and his makeshift weapon, but before he got the chance, a sound came from out in the hallway that made their blood run cold.

    “Good heavens. Master Jason? You shouldn't be out of bed.”

    Both of them stiffened and slowly turned towards the still-open door. Alfred was standing in the doorway, a disapproving frown tugging at his mouth, a tray full of medical supplies in one hand. He clearly did not approve of his charge being out of bed. Just as he was about to hand down his sentence, Jason quickly blurted out, “Alfred, Dick’s disrupting my rest!” It was kind of true.

    Alfred didn’t believe it for a moment. Even if Jason's accusation was true, the electrodes and IV would still be attached to his skin, and the EKG would still be on. Dick knew better than to unhook a patient without express permission. Besides, Jason was wearing a sweatshirt, which he only would have needed if he was wandering the manor. The bed was plenty warm. He didn’t know how his young charge had thought that excuse would work; he wasn’t the butler to the World’s Greatest Detective for nothing.

    He conveyed all of this with a single raised eyebrow.

    The boys winced. Jason dived for his blankets, as if going back to bed would erase the sin of being out of it, while Dick carefully sidestepped around Alfred. As soon as he was out the door, he bolted, back to his room. If he knew what was good for him, he would be back in bed and sleeping by the time Alfred finished with Jason.

    Sighing a long suffering sigh, he walked to the bed. Jason had wisely removed his sweatshirt, although he kept his sunglasses on. Alfred busied himself with changing his bandages, hoping that when Sora finally woke up, he would be able to get at the rest of the damage he hadn’t been able to heal. It saddened him to see that the marks that had decorated Jason’s skin hours ago were still there, albeit so faint as to almost be invisible. As he finished up, he noticed that Jason hadn’t eaten all the cookies he had left out. Probably saving them for later. He packed up his tray and left without a word. Although, a small smile did grace his features at the groan Jason let out when he realized that Alfred had taken the baked goods with him.

    He disposed of the medical contents of the tray, but kept the cookies in case the other boys had been good. Damian’s blankets had been disturbed in a way that is only possible if he had gotten out of bed. Tim’s desk showed sign of recent use, and if the mug on his nightstand was anything to go by, he probably hadn’t slept since he had returned home. As for Dick, well, he had already noticed that some of the crystals on the chandelier were askew. Perhaps Sora would like some treats.


    ~*~​

    Pulling his communicator, Dick quickly buzzed Tim’s line. “Tim? You still awake?”

    Blearily, Tim answered. “Barely. I was just getting to sleep. What’s up? That thing with Jason still bothering you?”

    Dick smiled. Leave it to Tim. He knew Dick wouldn’t have called him if it wasn’t important, and the most important thing, now that Xehanort and his buddies were off world, was Jason. “You know it. He seems insistent that he needs to keep his deal.” Quickly filling Tim in on the argument, he continued, “I just don’t know if what he’s doing is right. He mentioned that removing the darkness at this stage might make things worse, but he doesn’t have to live with it! If he would just talk to us, we could figure out something to help him!”

    “I understand why you’re worried Dick, but there’s not much we can do while Jason isn’t cooperating. I mean, we could strap him down to a table and you could go from there, but he’d never forgive us.” A sigh came down the line. “We’ll just have to wait.”

    “But wait for what Tim? For it to be too late? Because we’ve gone down that road before.” Inwardly, he winced. Bringing up Jason’s death in any way was painful. Using it as a comparison to what was happening with Jason now was unbearable.

    “Not that long!” Tim said quickly, “Just until he realizes he needs help. You never know, something might happen that makes him realize that he can’t live with this.”

    Dick was about to reply when a polite cough sounded from his door. Somehow, Alfred had gotten the door open without Dick noticing. “Really now Master Dick, first you disturb Master Jason’s rest, and now Master Tim’s?” Dick was speechless. He’d gotten in trouble with Alfred twice in one day. With all the British-ness the butler could muster, he plucked the communicator out of Dick’s hand and pushed on his chest until he was lying down. Then, he pulled his covers up to his chin. Dick properly tucked in, the butler crossed to the window, drawing the curtains. Before he left the room, he half-turned back to Dick, and said, “When you’re feeling better, we shall have to have a chat about the appropriate use of markers.”

    Breakfast the next morning was an interesting scene to say the least. Alfred hadn't woken any of them up, letting everyone sleep in for a change. But as expected, around eleven, the telltale signs of life could be heard from upstairs. Bruce was the first to trudge into the kitchen, surprisingly. He had, of course, gone on patrol that night, as he always did in spite of any current circumstances, and his bloodshot eyes told of needing more rest. But that was how it always was, and Alfred didn't question his appearance. The man was almost supernatural like that. Maybe so many years of self-inflicted sleep deprivation had trained him in the art of functioning with minimal rest.

    “Good morning, Master Bruce.”

    “Morning, Alfred.” Bruce mumbled in response, sitting himself down at the table and grabbing the newspaper Alfred had left for him there.

    It only took a few minutes for Alfred to prepare Bruce’s meal, as he had finished all the prep work nearly an hour ago. As he came bustling out of the kitchen with a steaming plate of bacon, eggs, toast, and fruit, he spotted both Tim already at the table, head resting on his folded arms, and Jason walking through the dining room entrance lazily.

    "Good morning young sirs.” He greeted crisply, placing Bruce’s tray of food down in front of him.

    Tim bolted up and Jason flinched at the butler’s disapproving tone. Bruce looked over his newspaper and at the two boys before giving the butler a questioning glance. Had they gotten into trouble the previous evening that he was unaware of?

    Tim was the first to recover. “Hey, Alfred! Um, sleep well?”

    “Indeed I did, thank you Master Timothy. But by the looks of it, you yourself are still exhausted.”

    Tim gave a start. “What! No, I'm just...still waking up is all.”

    “Surely.” The butler replied dryly before turning back into the kitchen.

    Tim placed his head in his hands. “I'm so dead.” He moaned.

    Jason came and sat next to him. “You really need to improve on your acting skills Timmy. But for what it's worth, thanks for taking his attention off of me.”

    As if he could hear the whispered conversation from the other room, Alfred's voice rang out. “Master Jason, I do not remember giving you permission to be out of bed either!”

    Jason paled, then abruptly copied Tim, burying his face in his hands.

    “Serves you right.” Tim breathed.

    The room was then graced with the presence of Damian who came walking in moodily, but looking fully refreshed, followed by a rather bleary eyed Dick. Damian gave one look at his two brothers seated at the table and snorted.

    “It seems you two imbeciles have ignored Pennyworth's orders then?”

    “Hey!” Jason answered uncovering his face. “I slept at least. He can't expect me to stay in bed all day.”

    Dick and Damian both sat by Bruce, who was sipping lukewarm coffee and watching his sons’ proceedings with mild interest.

    Alfred came out of the kitchen again, balancing four trays expertly. The boys groaned as their food was placed in front of them. All grain, heart healthy flaxseed flakes. Alfred's favourite punishment.

    “Oh goodie, cardboard.” Jason complained, but was instantly silenced by one of Alfred's looks.

    “Don't be ridiculous Master Jason, this cereal is extremely good for you. Why the health benefits of flaxseed are-”

    But Alfred never got to list off the health benefits of flaxseed, for at that moment, heavy footsteps were quickly approaching the dining room. Sora came skidding to a stop in front of the entryway, his face covered in red, blue, green, and yellow. “Jason!” He yelped, pointing an accusatory finger at said young man while Bruce choked on his coffee. “You did this!”

    Jason looked up grinning from his cereal. “Well I can't take all the credit kid. I had some help.”

    The look of utter shock on Sora's face was enough to get some stifled giggling out of the boys at the table, despite Alfred's disproving glare.

    “Guys!” Sora whined. “This stuff is permanent or something! It won't come off, I tried.”

    “But it suits you so well!” Dick added unhelpfully.

    At Sora's words, the kindly elder gentlemen walked over to him, ignoring the snorts of laughter issuing from the table. “Years of experience have taught me there is a trick to it Master Sora. Come this way, we will get you cleaned up in a moment.”

    Sora followed Alfred out of the room, giving his friends an unusually dark look as he went.

    After the boys had calmed down enough to realize they were no longer under the supervision of the all mighty Alfred, they took turns feeding portions of their cereal to Titus, who would eat anything despite its flavor. Bruce merely turned a blind eye to these proceedings, not wanting to ruin his boys’ fun. They deserved it after the other day. It was Dick who realized that they couldn't give all their food to the dog, or else things would look too suspicious, so by the time Alfred and Sora came back, the latter with a marker free face, all the boys had about half a bowl of cereal left. If Alfred suspected anything he didn't show it.

    Sora took a seat at the table, still looking grumpy, however within five minutes, after Alfred had brought him a plate very similar to Bruce’s, he was laughing about it with all the others.

    “And I didn't wake up at all!?”

    “Nope, didn't even move. Not even when Dick started laughing.”

    Sora grinned widely before shoving a fork of bacon into his mouth. “Thanks a lot Alfred, this tastes great!”

    “I'm glad you think so sir.” The butler said happily as he cleared away Bruce’s dishes.

    The rest of the meal passed quickly as they all sat there talking and joking. It was a light sort of mood despite all that had happened recently, though Jason and Dick sometimes shot each other funny looks. Bruce didn't leave, but sat with them, waiting until Alfred had checked that the very last remnants of flaxseed had been consumed before getting the group's attention.

    “There's something you all need to know,” he said gruffly, even now feeling guilty about breaking up the pleasant atmosphere.

    Everyone seemed to sense his seriousness and mellowed quickly, directing their full attention to the man.

    “When I was patrolling last night... I found more Heartless.”

    What!?” they all bellowed in unison.

    Wincing at the noise, Bruce continued. “Only a few, but they’re still out there. Mostly the small ones that I could see. Sora, any way to get rid of the remainder?”

    Crossing his arms, Sora thought. “I think… The ones that are here are just the ones we didn’t beat yesterday. If we get rid of those, we should be good.” Relieved smiles across the tables. “But more might be attracted here.”

    A familiar crease developed between Bruce’s eyebrows. “What do you mean? What could attract them?”

    “Let me handle this one Sora.” The unexpected voice from the kitchen door had the entire family grabbing at the nearest objects, from kitchen knives to plates held like Frisbees. Sora broke into a wide smile and bolted for the door, tackle hugging the figure standing in the doorway.

    “Riku! It’s good to see you again! Are you all healed? Where are Donald and Goofy?” Recognizing the teen, the other occupants of the room put away their makeshift weaponry.

    Laughing, Riku returned the hug. “I'm fine Sora. Leg's all better. Donald and Goofy had to go to Halloween Town to help Jack with a small Heartless problem.”

    Releasing his hug, Sora regarded his friend suspiciously. “Wait, how did you find me? I didn’t tell you where I was.”

    Bruce frowned. “I’d like to know that as well.”

    Riku’s eyes widened at the man standing just past his best friend. “Wait, you’re Batman?” He’d been bored in the gummi ship, so he’d downloaded some recent news articles from the world. Then the not so recent ones. Then the obscure ones. The more he read about this guy and the rest of the so-called Batfamily, the more impressed he became. Seeing the man – in person, and without a cowl – was a bit overwhelming.

    Shaking himself out of his thoughts, Riku asked a question instead of answering. He pointed at the only person in the room with sunglasses. “Did you know he’s radiating darkness like an inverted lightbulb? The ship’s scanners could pick it up from orbit. That’s how I found you.”

    Stunned looks all directed themselves towards Jason, who was a bit shocked himself. He was what? Riku just nodded. “Yup. And that’s going to attract more and more Heartless. That and having two Keyblade Wielders here.”

    Tim frowned. “Two Keyblade Wielders? Sora definitely, then the other one is you, Riku? And what do you mean about Jason attracting Heartless?”

    Dick smacked Tim lightly. “Again with the names.”

    “Tt. He’s in the house, Grayson! It’s a little late to be worrying about keeping our identities secret.” Damian huffed and focused on Riku.

    "Oh! Should I introduce you properly then?” Sora seemed incredibly excited to tell Riku his new friends’ real names. At Bruce’s nod, he beamed, pointing at each member of the family as he introduced them. “Batman is Bruce,” a nod, “Nightwing is Dick (yes, that’s a real name),” a happy wave and a snort at the latter comment, “Red Hood is Jason,” he simply grunted in acknowledgment, “Red Robin is Tim,” a smile and a nod, “and Robin is Damian!” arms crossed, Damian lifted his mouth in a quick snarl. “Oh, he likes you! Oh! And that’s Alfred!” The butler, having just entered the room, raised an eyebrow at the new addition to his kitchen. Grabbing an apron, he started a batch of biscuits for the visitor.

    Riku waved to all of them. “Good to see you again!” Turning to Tim, he finally answered his question. “Yup, I’m a Keyblade Master. Heartless are scared of Keyblade Wielders and tend to follow them around, trying to… eliminate the threat, so to speak. They also follow darkness. They thrive in it. Plus, where there’s a lot of darkness, there’s a higher chance of more Heartless to be made. That tends to get their attention.”

    “So just me being here is putting Gotham in danger?” Jason asked. He sat back in his chair, a distinctly unhappy expression on his face. “Of frickin’ course.”

    “Well, if you’d just let me-“ Dick tried to grab Jason up in a hug, which the younger neatly dodged. “Jason! You heard Riku! The longer this is with you, the more danger you’re in! Those Heartless will follow you forever! Now just hold still!”

    Jason dived away, tripping on Titus who had positioned himself very unhelpfully underfoot. While he was trying to regain his balance, Dick managed to get both arms around his brother. Light built in the miniscule space between them.

    And Jason screamed.

    Releasing his brother, Dick stepped back. Jason’s sunglasses had slipped during the scuffle. Eyes wide and face contorted in pain, he just sat on the floor for a moment, trying to catch his breath.

    “Jason, what…?” Bruce started.

    Riku knelt next to Jason. Sending them a look that clearly said “stay there a second”, Riku turned towards Jason and grabbed one of his arms. Taking a long look at the faint lines running just under the skin, he sighed.

    “You spoke to your darkness?” Riku asked, his eyes boring into Jason’s. “How many times? And describe what happened each time.”

    His voice was quiet, tired. “Three. Once just after Sora went out. It gave me power. Then again, when Baldie tried to kill Tim. It took control. And then in the medbay. It pushed the darkness down, so it wouldn’t worry them anymore.” Jason gave off a weak chuckle. “But I guess it lied.”

    Snapping his fingers in front of Jason’s nose, Riku said sharply, “Focus Jason. That second time. Did anything seem out of the ordinary?”

    Jason’s eyebrows came together. “Yeah actually. It shuddered, and then the stained glass got covered. When it spoke again, its voice was off.”

    He nodded, like this was expected. “One last question. Any injuries between the first and second time?” At Jason’s nod, Riku said, “Let me see.”

    Turning around, Jason lifted his shirt, showing off the still-healing stab wound in his back. Sora had done a great job with it actually. It felt like a week old injury, not one that had been there less than a day. Based on the scattered gasps from behind him though, it looked much worse than it felt. He twisted, trying to get a look at the… wound, with a spiderweb of dark, dark, dark lines surrounding it.

    Riku placed his fingers lightly on the injury. “Thought so. He got hit by a container. And whatever was in that container aggravated the piece of Xehanort's darkness still in him, boosted its power. Do you still have it?”

    Tim nodded and jumped up to fetch the knife Dick had brought home from the Cave. He had wondered why Dick thought they would need or want it, but now he was really glad he had. By the time he got back, Jason was sitting at the table again, Riku beside him. He passed off the knife to Riku’s inspection.

    Holding the blade sideways, Riku leaned in close to examine it. “Yup. A container. You see, it’s a bit hollow here.” He pointed out a few grooves in the blade. “These used to hold darkness, Xehanort’s I’m guessing. But since Jason has already had a bit of that in him, he has a bit of an immunity. Not to mention the fact that his own darkness is trying to fight off Xehanort’s as we speak. That’s probably the only reason you’re still you at this point.”

    Jason shuddered. He had come this close to losing who he was, again. “You said my darkness was fighting. What happens if it loses?” His eyes traveled up. The grim expression on Riku’s face was all the explanation he needed. “Oh.”

    “Wait, so why can’t I just hug it out of him? Why did it hurt so much?” That would be Dick, always with the most affectionate questions.

    Ignoring Jason’s startled yelp, Riku grabbed one of his arms again and inspected it closely. “Yeah, don’t do that anymore. The darkness has moved down from the surface of his skin into his bones. Technically you could still remove the darkness. It would just hurt. A lot.”

    Dick recoiled, looking guiltily between his arms and his brother. “I didn’t… I didn’t know. Jay, I’m-”

    “If you say you’re sorry,” Jason interjected, “I’m going to punch you. Right in your face. There’s no way you could have known.” He sighed, like this had just been a possibility he had known would come to pass.

    Wait. Had he? He’d mentioned that breaking the “deal” might not have “pleasant side effects”. No, if he’d known, he would have used it in his argument. Knowing Jason though, he had probably suspected this, or something like it. A question burning in his throat, Dick turned to Riku. “Is there any way to fix this? Your files said that you had turned over to the darkness too.”

    Not even surprised anymore – these people were really good at getting at his files – Riku simply answered. “It was a little different in my case. My entire physical appearance had changed. And what changed me back was a one in a million chance from the Kingdom Hearts Encoder exploding. Not to mention, I never actually made any deal with my darkness. I never spoke to it. It was always Xehanort’s darkness, in the form of Ansem, that I spoke to.” The mood in the room dropped significantly.

    And was slightly lifted a moment later when Alfred placed his fresh biscuits and a pot of tea in the middle of the table. After a brief scuffle to grab the biggest one (they were all the same size), the group sat around the table, happily eating. Bruce finally spoke. “So, what can we do?”

    Riku shrugged. “Not much from down here. We could get Jason off the world, take him to see Yen Sid. Maybe he’ll have some ideas.”

    Before anyone could say anything else, Dick shot his hand into the air. “Wherever Jason is going, I’m going too!”

    Sora seemed to bubble with delight. “Road trip!”

    “Whoa! No way!” Jason shouted, standing up so fast his chair scraped against the wooden floor behind him. “I'm not having my whole family tag along with me!”

    Dick smiled and Jason stared at him. “What?'

    “That was the first time you called us family in a long time.”

    That took Jason back for a moment before he regained himself. “Look who’s avoiding the subject this time! You are not coming just so you can try to hug me again.”

    Dick bit his lip. “Jay, I promise I won't do that again if it hurts you, honest. I just-”

    “I think it's a good idea for Dick to tag along Jason.”

    At this, everyone in the room, even Riku, stared at Bruce, completely nonplussed.

    The man simply smiled at the boys’ incredulity. “I think you would enjoy the company, and who knows, you might just need his help.”

    That was the wrong thing to say. Jason snorted. “You know I can take care of myself Bruce. You just wanna set a watchdog on me.”

    “No.” Bruce countered. “You are considering traveling to completely unknown territory, and you have minimal knowledge of what you will face. Dick might be invaluable to you.”

    “Uh huh.” Jason said rolling his eyes. “I'll already have Sora and Riku with me Bruce. And they’re experts. In fact, why aren't you offering to come with me if you're so adamant I have a partner?”

    “Simple, I protect Gotham. I belong here. Leaving the city for an unknown amount of time isn't an option. You know that.”

    And I belong with the Outlaws. Jason thought. Though he knew they were off busy kicking some serious bad guy butt right about now. Or relaxing on the island. Both sounded really good right now.

    “How about the Replacement and Demon Spawn?”

    “Robin stays with Batman!” Damian added suddenly. “That shall always be the case.”

    Bruce glanced down at Damian with something some might just take for affection.

    “And I really need to get back to the Titans.” Tim added. “I've been gone long enough as it is. Miguel and Cassie contacted me this morning and wouldn't shut up about needing my help on a mission.”

    Jason crossed his arms. “I'm still not bringing Dick.”

    A small deliberate cough directed everyone's attention over to Riku, who was looking from Sora's confused face, to Jason's look of defiance, to Dick determined scowl. “The way I see it,” he began, “you need to go to other worlds. And traveling between them through the connected darkness is no easy task. So I am assuming you are wanting to use our ship.” Now Riku couldn't help grinning evilly. “Our ship, our rules. Sorry Jason, but I agree with the big guy. Dick could help us a lot with all those Heartless your darkness is bound to attract. He's coming.”

    Dick pounded a fist energetically into the air, while Jason groaned.

    “Sweet!” he sang, swinging an arm around Jason’s shoulder that was instantly shoved off, none to gently.

    Suddenly Alfred appeared from out of the corner. “I assume you will be needing some belongings to take with you, young sirs. I always keep extra uniforms packed down in the cave. Just give me a moment to fetch them and a few other things. I shan’t be long.”

    “Thanks Alfie.” Dick beamed as the elderly gentlemen left the room. “Where would we be without you?”

    “The idea is too dreadful to consider.” he called back.

    The next few minutes were spent with everyone seated around the table, munching on biscuits and sipping tea while discussing there next plan of action. It was decided that Jason and the others would go straight to Yen Sid if possible, though Riku again pointed out that they could be pursued by any number of Heartless drawn to Jason. That could put a flaw into their plans at any rate. The only real development that came from the conversation was that Bruce made Jason and Dick promise to stay in touch regularly. Jason wasn't nearly as accepting of this proposal as Dick. By the time Alfred returned, handing both boys a heavy duffel bag, and even giving Sora a backpack with his original clothes, the topic of who would watch over Bludhaven if something happened was being finalized. Batgirl and Batman could split the responsibility if need be.

    Without warning, and with tremendous force, the ground started to shake violently, making the chandelier above them sway from side to side, glass shards tinkling against glass. Standing up suddenly as the lazy atmosphere from moments ago melted away, everyone had to put their hand on the table to steady themselves (except Bruce) before staring around as if the cause of the shaking could be seen.

    “An earthquake?” Dick asked shakily. The sensation of the ground – usually so stable and reliable – shaking like this was alarming to say the least.

    “Unlikely” Bruce replied, even now walking a bit unsteadily across the room, his years of training the only thing keeping him up. “At least not a natural one. The likelihood of one occurring due to the positioning of the tectonic plates is extremely low.”

    “Couldn't it just be a coincidence?” Asked Riku.

    “I don't believe in coincidences.”

    Amazingly, and with a lot of stumbling, the entire group managed to be standing in front of the multiple florescent screens in the Batcave five minutes later. The lights in the manor had been flickering, but the Cave’s power source was much more reliable.

    Anxious figures watched, clutching desks and support beams for balance as Bruce began typing ferociously at his keyboard. Maps, satellite imagery, and radars flashed to life in front of their eyes before Bruce turned around, stony faced.

    “Looks like Xehanort might not have left the world after all.”

    Before any of the onlookers’ faces could do anything but convey shock, Bruce continued quickly. “There are two enormous power signatures, both on opposite sides of Gotham. They resemble the energy the Heartless and cloaked figures resonated “

    Jason spoke up suddenly. “This is my fault! I'm attracting the bastards here!”

    Bruce shook his head. “From what I have seen, Heartless do not organize like this unless ordered to do so by some being of higher intelligence. Is this right Riku?”

    “What? Oh, yeah!”

    Bruce nodded gravely. “Jason, you need to get out of Gotham, out of this world, now.”

    “Only after I beat the living crap out of those Heartless.” The younger replied intensely. “You're going to need all the force you have to take out these guys as quick as possible. We need to save as many innocent lives as we can.”

    Bruce couldn't help but swell with pride at his son's words. Sure, they had their disagreements, but deep down the kid had a good heart. At least, that was what he thought he was starting to understand. “You, Sora, Riku, and Dick go take out the group in the south quadrant then.” He indicated the point on the screen. “But get out of there immediately if the situation becomes exceedingly dangerous.”

    “Don't worry big guy, we'll be off this world before you know it.”

    Bruce nodded, stepping towards the changing rooms, but suddenly he looked back at Jason as if he wanted to say something else.

    The moment lasted only a second before Bruce had disappeared into the depths of the cave as the rest of the Batfamily followed closely behind as best they could.

    Everyone knew it was just going to be one of those days.

    Batman radioed Gordon and told him of the situation. The Heartless could be destroyed with regular weapons. They tended to stay away from bright lights, so the police floodlights would be useful. They would try to send as many civilians towards the police stations as possible.

    With the ground shaking, it wasn’t a particularly good idea to take the Batmobile. Batman, Red Robin and Robin piled into the Batwing, while Nightwing, Red Hood, Sora and Riku went for the Batboat. The ocean around Gotham would still be difficult to navigate, but much easier than trying to drive a car in a straight line.

    Landing on the southern point of the island, they took a moment to survey the damage. Jason gaped at the broken buildings, the screams of the civilians, the rush of darkness flowing at street level. This was his fault. Shaking himself out of his self-pity, he jumped out of the boat, running towards the nearest monster. He could wallow later. Right now, he had to do as much good as he could.

    Nightwing followed his brother, flipping up onto the back of the nearest Heartless the moment he got close enough. Jabbing his electrified escrima stick into the back of its neck, he leapt away before it could fully vapourize. He continued to flip his way further into the horde swarming his city, his progress only slightly hampered by the duffel bag strapped across his chest. He had grabbed it instinctively on his way out of the Cave and had noted with a small grin that Jason had done the same with his own duffel and Sora’s backpack. Bats were nothing if not prepared after all.

    Jolted out of his thoughts by the swipe of a sword from an Invisible (if he had read the files right), Nightwing fell backwards, catching himself with his hands and going into a back hand spring. He landed on his feet, then sprung forward, over the Invisible’s still-extended sword and jabbing his stick into its face and diving through the subsequent cloud into another Heartless. Tossing a few razor Batarangs into six Heartless’ heads, he flipped over the wall of creatures surrounding him, sticks sparking.

    A scream caught his attention and, using Heartless heads as launch pads, made his way over to the source of the noise. A group of people were being chased into an alleyway. He dropped a few flash grenades into the mass of Heartless pursuing them. “Are you alright?”

    One of them, a woman, grabbed onto the front of his suit. “My – my husband! He vanished! What are these things?” She burst into tears, dropping her head onto his chest. The people behind her were slightly more composed, but still frightened.

    One arm wrapped around the woman’s shoulders, he grabbed a few flash grenades and handed them off to a more composed looking young man. “Take these, try to get to the police station. Try and use them on big groups of the things.” Carefully, he passed the woman off to another, similar looking enough to be her daughter. “I wish I could stay, but I need to help.”

    The daughter nodded. “Get as many of them as you can Nightwing. For Dad.” Nodding grimly, Nightwing shot off his grapple and swung back into the fray.

    A few blocks away, Riku and Sora were fighting back to back, moving through Heartless like Ariel through the ocean. That is, quickly and with little resistance. Fighting had been their lives for over a year now, and they were very good at what they did. Riku noticed a of group people, trying to run. With a shout of “Sora, cover me!” he raced towards them, destroying all the Heartless pursuing them with a few quick strokes. Grabbing the pouch of flash grenades Batman had given him, he pressed it into the hand of the guy who seemed like the leader. “Take this, get to the police station. And stay out of dark spots!”

    The moment the man nodded, Riku High Jumped backwards, into the middle of a group of Heartless and, with a quick spin, obliterated the entire group. He fought his way to Sora, who had found his own group of people to save. One of the men was freaking out because his daughter was still in her room.

    Riku grabbed the man’s arm. “Which room?”

    “It was only going to be for five minutes, I was just going for milk-” The man clearly wasn’t thinking clearly, so Riku shook him and repeated the question, more forcefully. He swallowed and scanned the building. The moment the man pointed at a window on the fourth floor, Riku took off, jumping to the window and landing inside the room. He ran his Keyblade through the chest of the Heartless, its claw poised over the little girl’s heart. It dissipated and Riku dropped to his knees in front of the girl crying in fear. “It’s alright. It’s gone now. But I need you to come with me. I’ll take you to your dad.” Still crying, the girl let herself be picked up, grabbing a stuffed animal when they passed it. She gave a small squeal as he jumped out the window, and cried in relief when Riku passed her off to her much calmer father. Sora gave a pouch of grenades to another lady, rattling off the same instructions Riku had given to the other group.

    They continued this way for what seemed like hours, obliterating every Heartless between them and the next group, directing them to the nearest police station, repeating. It had been early evening when they arrived, but once full dark hit, it was both more stressful and more reassuring. More stressful because the Heartless were able to appear anywhere, at any time. But reassuring because the lights at the police station shone bright, a beacon to everyone who needed to get to safety. The street lamps provided some cover, and the flash grenades sparked up in random places, cutting through dozens of Heartless in moments.

    Red Hood was working in a similar fashion to Sora and Riku, gunning down every Heartless he saw. In the early battle, he was incredibly grateful for the light filters he had installed in his helmet, but as the battle wore down the daylight, he was able to shut them off. He noted that his vision was just as good as it used to be under full sunlight. It wasn’t surprising, considering the trouble he had had with light, but it was thoroughly depressing. Still, it was useful to be able to see without the night vision in his lenses.

    After exhausting his small store of magazines, he holstered his guns and summoned the All Blades. He had more in his duffel, but no time to pull them out right now. Saving any and all flash grenades for civilians slowed things down a bit, but he worked through it. Strangely, he wasn’t tired. He knew he had been fighting for hours – the small clock in the upper right of his helmet lenses told him so – and while he had great stamina, he should have been feeling at least a little winded. But he felt just as fresh as if he had just gotten a full eight hours and a shower.

    I wonder why that is. A voice sounded in his head, familiar. And not buzzing.

    “Darkness,” he said out loud. He didn’t feel like having a mental conversation right now, and the only ones around to hear him were the Heartless. The civilians had long since evacuated. Evacuated or… Nope, that was a dangerous line of thought. “What brings you to this side of my personal wakefulness? And how are you talking to me right now? I thought you were fighting Xehanort’s darkness.”

    Your brother’s embrace weakened the interloper enough to give me a rest. And I have always been able to speak with you. I simply have not. But I have been here. You have not been paying attention.

    “Sure I have.” And he had. For the entire battle, there had been a prick on the edge of his subconscious, a small spot that seemed darker than usual. “I was just hoping it was my wonderful sense of danger, or perhaps someone thinking about my stunning good looks. Glad to hear Baldie’s darkness isn’t feeling well though.”

    As am I. Be careful. It knows you wish to be rid of it.

    Jason snorted and sliced another Heartless in half. “It can try. Even if Yen Sid can’t do anything, I can stand a little pain.” Dick wouldn’t be happy to be part of anything that caused Jason pain, but he would do it with a little convincing. “Besides, after everything it’s taken away from me, it deserves to be driven to non-existence.”

    He felt a shift in his head, as if the darkness was… confused? What has it taken? Besides control and all that is rightfully mine?

    “Yeah, you keep telling yourself that. You can live here, but it’s still my house.” Pausing with his sword embedded in another creature, Jason considered the darkness’s question. “I enjoy sitting on the beach with Roy and Kori. Now, sunlight burns my skin. And eyes. Not to mention the worried and hurt looks Dick and the rest have been sending me. Especially Dick. The guy lives for hugs and it physically hurts me when he does that now.”

    I was under the impression that you hated hugs. Did it sound smug? Yes. Yes it did.

    “I do. But I suffer through them when I have to. He hugs when we need comfort, but he needs the contact just as much as he thinks we do.”

    The darkness seemed to be about to reply, but cut itself off. You might want to find the others. Something is about to happen.

    Ignoring the incredible vagueness of that statement, he acted immediately. Jason got the impression that it liked finishing conversations. If it was changing the subject, something big was about to happen.

    Grabbing a fire escape’s hand railing, he swung himself up so that he could see over the crowd of Heartless. It was hard to spot his friends in the chaos, but after about thirty seconds, he saw something metal glinting off the dull light of a street lamp. Kicking off from the building in that direction, Hood soared over dozens of Heartless before landing expertly on one, taking it out with a well-aimed thrust from one of his blades, then dropped to the ground and started running. What with all of the Heartless and the earth shaking as it was, he couldn't help but make slow progress. And yet that tiny voice was screaming at him to hurry, to move faster, because there wasn't much time. Much time for what?

    Rain began to fall slowly, hitting the ground in a gentle rhythm. But in moments, it began to increase, faster and thicker until water cascaded from Jason and the Heartless in small streams. Jason started at the weather. It had come so quickly. In any case, it was reducing visibility, making his task of finding everyone even more difficult. The building pressure in his head wasn’t helping either.

    “Red Hood! Is that you?”

    Sighing inwardly with relief and slashing another Heartless in two, Jason turned to where he thought he heard Sora's voice. It had sounded close by, but it was impossible to tell over the bombardment of rain crashing against the streets and being dashed on the sides of buildings. An ominous rumble hinted that the worst of the storm wasn't far off.

    Slashing a Darkball in front of him and literally kicking an Invisible out of his way, Jason spotted Sora in a flurry of movement. The kid was leaping from left to right, his feet never really touching the ground as he took out the seemingly endless stream of Heartless rushing towards him. Riku was there too. He also had a Keyblade, though it was little more than a streak of black as it tore into attacking shadows. Red Hood couldn't help noticing that Riku’s style of fighting was much more brutal then Sora’s. Something about the kid’s stance and ruthless aggressive attack patterns appealed to Jason. It was the kind of fighting that he himself lived for.

    Sora gave Jason a quick glance before refocusing on an approaching Neoshadow. “Knew it was you!” He said triumphantly while smacking a Heartless who then stumbled around confusedly slashing at empty air before being finished off with a quick stroke.

    Riku was more straightforward. “What's the matter Hood? Why were you looking for us?”

    Jason jumped in to help the two, taking out Heartless around the perimeter of the boys’ defences. He didn't want to mess up their attack pattern. “There’s something coming.” He breathed, dodging an unnoticed Shadow’s claws by inches. “Something big. Don't ask me how I know, but we need to find Nightwing.” He ducked another Invisible's sword before running it through with a brilliant uppercut. “As in now.”

    “Yeah.”Riku panted slightly. “I know exactly what's coming. And it's not good. You should know too Sora.”

    The youngest turned from several vaporizing black forms. “What! How come?”

    Riku merely shook his head as he slashed an approaching Darkball. “You're such an idiot sometimes. You know that?”

    Jason’s head gave a rather painful twang and before Sora could defend himself, he shouted urgently, “There's no time, we need to find him now!”

    Alarmed by the seriousness in his voice, the other two abruptly stopped their deadly attacks and bounded towards Jason, freeing any hearts that got in their way as they did so. A curtain of water was now falling fast and free from the murky sky above. And as the three began to battle through both the weather and the Heartless, Jason's heart began to sink. His killer headache said that this mystery thing was coming any second! Then he remembered with a mixture of relief and annoyance that they all still had their comm. units. Placing a finger to the tiny device Jason had to yell over the downpour and the splashes his, Sora's, and Riku's steps were making as they ran through the quickly accumulating water.

    “Nightwing!”

    No response. Just static.

    “Nightwing! You there!?”

    The static crackled suddenly into life. The voice issuing from it sounding exhausted.

    “I'm here Hood. You sound distraught. What's wrong?!”

    “Where are you?”

    Sliding in the nearly inch deep pool of water under his feet, Jason had to place a hand on the ground to steady himself, while kicking out at the Heartless who took the advantage. Sora and Riku were there in a second, Heartless already disintegrating into the rain.

    Jason heard Nightwing try to speak, but a flash of lightning cut through the sky, followed by the accompanied bang that left all of their ears ringing.

    Jason growled, annoyed. “What?”

    “I'm by that coffee shop on 85th street. You know, the one with the funny sign that looks like a coconut.”

    Rolling his eyes, Red Hood sighed. Wasn’t that just like Dick to be so lighthearted in moments of mortal danger? “Yeah, I know it. We're close, stay right their okay?”

    “Can do! But why?”

    Not bothering to answer as to put all of his attention towards killing the annoying creatures blocking their path, Jason began forcing his way through the waves of darkness, with both Sora and Riku working just as hard on either side of him. The rain was making their grips slippery on their blades and the constant flashes of lightning and roars of thunder directly overhead were distracting. In time, Jason could see the shop Nightwing had mentioned. A figure could just be seen leaping around and above the dark shapes crawling around the small stores, though the entire scene was distorted by a film of water.

    Another minute and Red Hood’s group was close enough to talk to Nightwing if they shouted over the storm. It was obvious that though there was a fair amount of Heartless attacking Nightwing, a much larger majority were surrounding Jason and the two Keyblade wielders.

    “Nightwing!” Hood shouted at his brother who was far too preoccupied with his enemies and overcome with exhaustion to notice his companions’ approach.

    A fierce wind suddenly started to tear at their hair and clothes as they moved closer, through the hoards of countless Heartless. Nightwing finally caught sight of them just as an enormous, truly deafening crack of thunder seemed to split the sky. They all looked up, and saw to their horror that the sky did seem to be tearing itself apart.

    Sora froze, now understanding exactly what was going on. “We have to get out of here!” He yelled, voice laced with raw panic, even as what had to be thousands of Heartless closed in, forcing the into a small tight group.

    The atmosphere had changed in an instant. Now the crime fighters and Keyblade wielders were back to back, pressed in so tight by their enemies that they could scarcely move, fighting for their lives. Nightwing electrocuted a Heartless with a quick jab, just as four more took its place. Unseen by all of them except maybe a small part of Jason's consciousness, darkness started to crawl up around their feet, rising ominously to create a dark smoke screen that surrounded the struggling group. The wind was now so wild that it was almost impossible for any of the heroes to defend themselves. It was all they could do to hold on to their weapons. Even if any of them wanted to talk to each other, the roar of the wind, the crashes of thunder, and the downpour of rain made hearing one another virtually impossible.

    Jason felt the tiniest prick of fear that he had been suppressing throughout the battle now rearing its head into life inside of him. He couldn’t see through the thick blackness, even with his enhanced vision, and the deafening noise was completely blocking out any distinguishable sound. All he knew was that he had to keep defending himself, had to keep destroying those yellow, pinprick-like eyes that poked out at him from the blackness. But his lack of senses was nearly complete, and the adrenalin coursing through his veins did nothing to subdue his fear.

    Xehanort’s darkness, not quite as incapacitated as Jason’s darkness had made it seem, jumped at this new found weakness, creeping into Jason’s mind. It pushed Jason into accepting the darkness around him. It pushed him to succumb to the fear pounding in his veins. And he fought it. It was him and his darkness, suddenly in a battle for control against the intruder, and there was no way in hell they were letting it win.

    Without warning, Jason was thrust off his feet and lifted into the air, as if he were being pulled viciously upwards by an invisible force. He couldn't help yelling in surprise, though through the wail of wind and cracks of thunder no one heard him anyway. He was flying higher and higher, and somehow the world was becoming darker. And darker. And darker...

    Blinking sleepily, all Sora could really think was, again? He had definitely been in this position before. Propped up against an alley wall, right after his world had been destroyed. Although… This time, it wasn’t his world. Slowly, his gaze turned to the bodies littering the ground near him. Riku was lying on his side next to the opposite wall. Dick was sprawled out in front of the crates at the end of the alley. Jason was on his side, right next to Dick, head laying on one of Dick’s outstretched arms. His helmet was a few feet away. Sora paused, then grabbed his backpack (lying right next to Jason), rummaging through it until he found the all-purpose communicator Alfred had packed. Dick had shown him how to use it on the boat-ride and, turning the lens so it faced the two crime-fighters, snapped a quick pic. Payback to Jason for drawing on his face. He’d show it to Dick later.

    Stashing his comm. back in his bag, he nudged Riku with his foot. “Riku, wake up.” Riku groaned, slowly, slowly coming back to consciousness. Sora shakily stood up and shook Dick and Jason’s shoulders’ as well. “Come on guys, wake up!” Dick stirred, but Jason remained stubbornly asleep. Suddenly, Sora wished Donald was here. He knew how much power to put behind a Thunder spell to wake someone up without hurting them. Sora, not so much. So he went back to shaking Jason.

    “No, Sora, that won’t work.” Dick, fully awake now, jabbed his fingers into a pressure point in Jason’s side. The previously-sleeping teen's eyes flew open, his fist flying straight towards Dick’s face. Skilled at waking his brother by this point, Dick simply caught the fist. “Morning sleepy-head! Time to wake up!”

    Sora sat back as Jason slowly went through the stages of waking up. When he finally sat up, he looked around, taking in his unfamiliar surroundings. “Where are we?”

    “Not Gotham,” Dick said, which earned him a look from Jason. He ignored him, instead looking up at the sky. “I don’t recognize any of these constellations. So not on Earth either.”

    Standing, Sora stretched, reveling in the feeling of his spine un-kinking itself. “Traverse Town. We’ve been here before. This is First District.” Walking to the end of the alley, he motioned to Riku. “So, that restaurant is still open.”

    “The one with the sandwiches?”

    "Best sandwiches in all the worlds. Guys!” He turned to Dick and Jason, still in their suits. “Do you have any less conspicuous clothes? I’m starving, but we can’t get food with you guys sticking out like sore thumbs.” They really did. Traverse Town didn’t have any superheroes, at least, not any who wore black body suits and masks. The two of them nodded and grabbed their duffel bags, pulling out some civvies. There wasn’t anywhere to change, so they took off their boots and gloves, and pulled jeans and t shirts on top. Dick covered his shirt with a hoodie, followed by a black jacket. Jason put his own jacket back on and replaced his helmet and mask with a pair of sunglasses. Surprisingly, Dick did the same.

    Noticing Sora’s questioning look, Dick simply shrugged. “Habit. B likes our civvies to partially hide our identities.”

    Riku crossed his arms. “You don’t really have to worry about that now. No one here has even heard of Nightwing and Red Hood, let alone Dick and Jay.”

    Jason simply shrugged. “It’s always good to be careful. Letting our identities out here could spell a world of trouble for us in the future.” Running a hand through his hair, he slung his duffel across his back and headed for the alley exit. “So, where’re these sandwiches?”

    A sandwich each, and a general admission that the sandwiches were pretty good (but Alfred’s were better), the four sat around the table. It was quiet until Dick asked, “So, you said during the fight that you knew what had been going on. What was it? And how did we end up here?”

    Sora looked helplessly at Riku. How to even being explaining…? His friend sighed, and started, “The Heartless got into the world’s heart. Gotham is lost to the darkness now, along with everyone on it except us.”

    Dead quiet across the table. Jason and Dick both looked mortified. Sora added quickly, “But we can probably get it back! We can find it! We had lost our Island too, but after we defeated Ansem, the Island came back!” He really hoped it would be the same for Gotham.

    Again, it was Dick who broke the silence. “So, where is it now? Where’s Batman and Red and Robin?”

    “Sleeping.” Riku sat back in his seat and crossed his arms. “When the world returns, they’ll wake up.”

    “But why us?” Even with sunglasses in the way, Riku could feel the intensity of Jason’s gaze. “Why are we the only ones to land here?”

    This one stumped Riku. In all the time since the Island had been destroyed, he had never figured out why he, Sora, and Kairi had gotten off relatively unscathed. He had assumed that it was because of the Keyblade, but Dick and Jason didn’t have Keyblades. “I have no idea. Luck?” He turned to Sora, who just shrugged.

    “Either way, we still need to get to Yen Sid. He’ll probably know the best way for us to save Gotham too.” A waitress came by and grabbed up each of their plates. Sora took one last drink and then handed his glass to her as well. “Any idea how we’re going to get there Riku?”

    Riku snorted. As if he had to ask. “I set the gummi ship so it would follow his specific darkness.” Jabbing a thumb at Jason, he continued. “All Chip and Dale have to do is fly it here. They should be arriving soon.” A strange whoosh sounded near the town’s gate, one which was very familiar to Sora and Riku. “Right on time.”

    Sora leaped up, extending his hand in invitation to the other two. “Let’s go guys! We have a world to save!”

    ~*~​


    The first thing Jason noticed about the ship was the squirrels. Animals on a ship would be strange enough, but these ones were wearing clothes! And what was more, they could TALK. As Jason came though the entrance to the ship and strolled causally behind Sora into the cockpit, he spotted the little creatures up on the main control panel and, to his later horror, jumped.

    “What in the…?! Are those squirrels? And is that one holding a wrench!?”

    Sora raised an eyebrow as he looked back at Jason who was now staring at Chip and Dale with the most extreme fixation.

    Chip abruptly stopped working on the circuit board he had been fixing and turned around to face the new passengers, his little black nose held indignantly in the air. “We are NOT squirrels. We are chipmunks. And I happen to be called Chip.”

    He flicked his tail at his brother who smiled a more good-natured, if not nervous smile. “This here is a chipmunk too. And his name’s Dale. We two are the main crew and mechanics on this ship.”

    Dale jumped onto the floor from his perch, and ran up to Jason who instinctively took a step back. “Great to meet'cha, Red Hood. Riku has told us all about you.” He turned to face Dick who was now crouching down next to him with a too huge smile on his face. He was obviously enjoying the talking animals immensely “And you're Ngithwing? It's nice to meet'cha too!”

    “The pleasure’s all mine.” Dick said, holding out his hand to be shook by the chipmunk's tiny paw. “But just out of curiosity, how did you know who Red Hood and I were? We aren’t wearing our costumes.”

    Chip hopped down to join his brother and shake Dick’s hand as well. The three of them seemed to get along very well. “That's because Riku made a very detailed report on you and your friends. I could guess from your voice file and body type that you were Nightwing. And Red Hood was easy. His white hair is very distinctive.”

    Jason gave Riku – who had his hands behind his head and was smirking – an annoyed look while Dick nodded, standing up. “You guys are just as smart as you look!”

    The two creatures beamed at him.

    “Well, now that all the introductions are through, and since Chip and Dale are fixing who knows what, wanna give our visitors a tour of the ship Sora?” Riku asked. With a start, Sora jerked to attention. He had obviously been day dreaming, and who could blame him? It had been a very long day.

    “Uh, Yeah! Sure thing.” With a wave of his hand, Sora turned out of the main control room and into a small hallway to their right, beckoning the others. “This ship has been renovated a lot since I first saw it a few years ago. It has all sorts of cool stuff now!”

    He led his two companions excitedly into a cozy little room lined with bookshelves, a few computer screens, and a comfy looking chair or two. “This is a rec room kinda place. It's for when we are traveling a long way, and we need something to do.” He explained. “Riku has started getting in the habit of collecting books.”

    Jason was already pacing around the walls, perusing the titles of books he had never even heard of. He concluded that this must have been because they were from different worlds. Then the thought struck him that the language the books were written in might not be English. Before he could check though, Nightwing was calling for him to follow as he and Sora left. Jason grudgingly obliged.

    Sora began pointing out the living space of the ship further down the hallway. Both Jason and Dick were impressed with the size management of the place. Somehow, everything was compact, but designed in such a way that one felt cozy and at home instead of claustrophobic. The boys were surprised to find that they would even have their own rooms. They were admittedly small, but the revelation of not having to deal with Dick 24-7 relieved Jason immensely. Dick looked slightly disappointed though, but perked up when he realized the two rooms were right next to each other.

    After exploring the rest of the ship, including a small kitchen, bathroom, storage area, and the main power generators, Jason found himself standing again in the main control room with all the others. He watched Dick laugh as the chipmunks ran up his arm and onto his shoulder with only the slightest shudder, due to extreme exhaustion. The surrealness of the entire situation was hitting him hard now. It hadn’t been so bad half an hour ago, maybe because of shock or adrenalin, but now he was having issues hiding how truly tired he was.

    “Well, while this is exciting and all,” he said stretching for effect, “I think I'm gonna go get some sleep. I am seriously tired after everything that happened.”

    He watched Dick, with his unmatchable energy, jumping on his toes and gazing over at Jason with the same concerned look he seemed to always carry these days. “That's probably a good idea.” He said. “You're looking a bit pale actually.”

    Chip, who was riding on his shoulder, nodded in agreement. “I thought so too.”

    “We probably all need sleep.” Riku put in. “But before any of that, I really think we should just run over our plans real quick.”

    Jason sighed inwardly. “What plans? All we're really doing is traveling to see Yen Sid right?” He was starting to get a bit light headed. Wait. Did people get light headed when they were tired? Maybe if they were as exhausted as he was.

    “Right.” Riku replied folding his arms. “But you and Nightwing need to know th-”

    “S'cool if you use our names here. I'm sure these little guys can keep a secret.” Dick interrupted.

    Riku shot the acrobat a glare which earned a half laugh, half yawn from Sora.

    Anyways, you guys need to know that it might not be so easy to get to Yen Sid. Heartless exist out here in the space between the worlds. We could be attacked and have to change our course, or we might have to stop at another world for supplies. “

    Jason shrugged. “The main goal is still making it to this Yen Sid guy. So I don't really care what we do between now and then. If you need me to fight, I will be happy to oblige. But until then, I really need some sleep.”

    This time no one argued as Jason trudged out of the cockpit, or at least they didn't say anything. He was too tired to notice their meaningful glances to one another. Slowly he made his way down the hall and to his room, eyes steadily drooping all the time. In truth he felt terrible. His head was pounding and his eyes were burning, despite the sunglasses. It was strange, he was all too used to lack of sleep, what with being a Bat and all. However, in all his years, he had never felt as crappy as he did now. Well, that one time when Ivy and Scarecrow had teamed up… He placed his hand on the door knob and stepped inside, stumbling slightly as his sight became doubled. He blinked hurriedly and his vision thankfully righting itself. Staggering forward, Jason fell onto his bed, letting the soft mattress and warm blankets engulf him. Without turning off the lights or changing into something more comfortable, he fell asleep. But just as the last strands of consciousness were leaving, he could have sworn he heard a very familiar buzzing echoing in his mind, You will regret this Jason Todd.

    He was jumping off rooftops, soaring free through the air.

    “Jason, wake up!”

    He could feel the cool wind rushing through his hair, and he sprouted wings so he could follow it.

    “Jason!! Seriously, it's been a day. Get your lazy butt out of bed!”

    He was flying, looking down at billions of twinkling light in the city. His city.

    “Jason! Seriously! Dude! How are you HUMAN!?”

    Suddenly another figure came gliding up to meet him from below.

    “Alright, I tried being nice. But you're giving me no choice.”

    The figure was a huge bat, with razor teeth and glowing yellow eyes. He punched it.

    “OW! Hey you did that on purpose!”

    Jason and the bat were falling fast, plummeting to the earth below! And a soft something was smacking his face hard. And Jason opened his eyes and bolted into the reality of wakefulness, smacking his head on something hard in the process.

    Eyes watering from both the light and the recent collision, Jason groaned and put a hand over his face. He heard another groan too. A familiar one. Sunglasses were pressed into his free hand, and after securing them snugly to his face, Jason felt safe enough to open his eyes again.

    Dick was standing beside his bed, nursing a bloody lip. Ha! Served him right.

    “Seriously Jay.” The older boy complained. “First you punch me in the lip, and then you headbutt me in the exact same place. Not cool.”

    Mumbling incoherently, Jason fell back onto his pillow.

    “Oh no you don't!”

    In an instant, Jason's pillow was pulled out from under him. Sitting up, Jason gave his brother a death glare.

    “I let you sleep for a really long time Jay. But now we are making lunch and you need to eat. So hurry and get up. Meet me in the kitchen in twenty minutes okay?”

    Grunting his understanding Jason watched blearily as his brother left the room before getting ready. After a quick shower and a new set of clothes, he found himself walking towards the kitchen. Jason delighted to find that he was feeling much better this morning compared to the previous night. So those symptoms must have been exhaustion. Well, he still had a small headache, but the events of yesterday could do that to a person. For a moment the previous night, he could have sworn he'd heard...

    Walking into the small eating area, Jason found Dick happily cooking with the help of the two squirrels. Acknowledging Dick’s exuberant wave with a halfhearted one of his own, he leaned against the wall and watched the three finish up their work. Within minutes, a steaming plate was put into his hands, containing a deliciously smelling omelet.

    “You can make food like this in space?” He asked Dick who was now leaning against the wall next to him.

    “I know, it's pretty amazing, right?!” he said, taking a bite out of his omelet. “Their space technology is worlds better then Earth’s. Haha, literally.”

    Jason face-palmed.

    “They have their own gravity field, and the whole thing is powered by some kind of replenishable energy I don't understand. But this whole ship is just incredibly advanced!”

    Nodding, Jason took another bite of his own omelet. Despite being hungry and having a delicious plate of food in front of him, he was finding eating hard. Probably because of the guilt and responsibility he was feeling deep down for the fate of his planet... his family. Or maybe it was the hidden fear of his darkness twisting in his stomach. However, Jason was smart enough to know when to eat, and forced himself to finish the entire meal as Dick chatted on happily. Unlike most occasions, Jason was actually finding he didn't mind his brother’s cheerful one sided conversation much. Just hearing a happy voice with hope in it was a comfort.

    Riku stepped into the kitchen to put away his dishes. “Good, you're both about done. You two better come to the control room. There's something I need to show you.”

    They followed him, stopping when they saw what was out the window. It looked like a rock sticking skyward. On the underside was a cluster of trees and an elephant skull. “That’s Pride Lands. Gotham was pretty far out, so we have to stop for a bit.” Riku explained briefly. “The ship doesn’t need refueling really, but it does need to cool down for a bit.”

    “Wait,” Dick held up a hand, clearly confused. Sora popped in at that moment, wearing the outfit he had been when he'd landed in Gotham, and seemed strangely happy to see Dick’s expression. “We’re landing there? Is it a world?”

    “Yup!” Seriously, why was Sora so happy?

    “Do they all look like that?”

    “Of course not!” Riku moved over to the computer and pulled up a few images. “This is Agrabah,” something shaped a bit like a teapot with a city on the lid and a black tiger head on the bottom, “Port Royal,” a ship with a skull and crossbones beneath it, “ and Disney Castle,” a white castle with a smattering of red buildings beneath it. “There’s a bunch more, but you get the idea.”

    Jason held a hand to his face for a moment. Nothing about this made sense. If Tim were here, he would be pointing out the scientific impossibilities each of those worlds had, like how none of them were big enough for an atmosphere. As for him, well, he figured it would be faster just to accept it. So he shrugged and said “Alright. Anything we should know before landing?”

    Sora thought a moment. “If Donald were here, you could change into animals, to fit in better.” Just accept it Jason. Explanations can wait. “I don’t know that spell though. Last time, my clothes did it for me, so I could turn into a lion if I wanted.”

    Plopping himself into the captain’s chair, Riku started the landing sequence. “Shouldn’t matter. We aren’t staying long. We probably won’t even run into anyone.” The other Keyblade Wielder pouted a bit at this, obviously hoping to do just that.

    The ship, as Riku explained it, didn’t actually land on places. Instead, it hovered while the occupants were teleported to the surface with some magic or another. The engines on minimum power, to cool down faster, the four of them teleported to the surface. Blinking spots from his eyes, Dick could only stare in shock at the change. What had been, from space, a completely strange looking world which shouldn’t exist, looked kind of... Earthy, from the ground. The sky was blue, there were trees and a single sun and dirt and dried grass growing everywhere. Actually, it looked a bit like Africa. There were even zebra grazing in the distance. So Dick asked, “Are we back on Earth? Cause this looks a lot like Earth.”

    “Nope,” Sora replied immediately, “these are the Pride Lands. You know, with lions and hyenas and stuff.”

    “We have lions and hyenas on Earth. Elephants too.”

    “Yeah, but this is different.”

    “I’m confused.”

    “And I am glad it’s not me this time. Seriously, Gotham was a really weird place.” Oh, so that’s why he had been happy earlier. Dick rolled his eyes, still hidden behind the sunglasses. He was really glad he had those actually. The sun was bright here.

    Letting his gaze roam, he was surprised to find Jason firmly planted under a tree. Normally, he would be pacing, or exploring, or something. So, he casually strolled over to his brother. “What’s up Little Wing?”

    His sunglasses were firmly planted on his face, so Dick couldn’t see his eyes, but his posture was stiff, nervous. After a moment, he finally mumbled, almost too quiet for Dick to hear, “Reminds me of Ethiopia a bit.”

    The very warm day suddenly turned chilly. Now more than ever, Dick wished he could hug his brother, not to rid him of the darkness, but of this memory. Ethiopia, where he had been beaten senseless by the Joker and then blown up. He had died and come back a Nobody. But Dick couldn’t. Not without hurting him. So he just sat next to Jason, shoulders touching, trying to show as much comfort as he could through this limited touch. I’m glad you’re here. I won’t let you be taken from me again. And they sat, in silence, with a world of words said between them.

    Warning for potential violence

    When the sun started setting on the world, a green circle appeared on the Savannah with them. Riku smiled. The ship was done cooling down. “Ok guys, should be good to go!” He and Sora had spent the last hour alternating between sparring with each other and discussing the relative merits of palm wood versus driftwood in raft making. Neither Dick nor Jason had asked to join the fight, preferring to sit under a tree. Which was strange. Jason seemed like he would always be up for a spar and Dick had mentioned earlier that he wanted to go a round with one of them later.

    Head shooting up, Dick nodded and stood gracefully. He reached back to grab Jason’s hand, pulling him to his feet. Setting both hands on his shoulders, Dick looked Jason in the eye and smiled. When they started forward, Riku turned away, following Sora to the Point.

    It happened fast. One moment, the Gothamites were following Riku and Sora to the Point. The next, there was a thud, and Dick’s shocked cry filled the quiet evening. Both Keyblade Wielders rushed back to the other two, Jason laying face-first on the ground, Dick kneeling next to him.

    “Don’t touch him just yet. What happened?” Riku asked, grabbing Jason to flip him over.

    Dick, clearly worried he might make Jason worse accidentally, hovered his hands over his brother, wanting to touch him but unable to. “I don’t know! He just fell over and – ” Dick froze midsentence as Riku finally pulled Jason onto his back.

    The lines, which not even a minute ago had been almost invisible, were back, thicker than before. Most of Jason’s skin was pitch black now, little bits of pale peeking out like stars. He was sweating, felt much too warm to be healthy and his eyes, visible since the sunglasses had fallen off, were yellow. Shocked, Riku took a step back. “Uh oh.”

    Dick was still in shock, so it was Sora who ended up asking, “Riku? What happened to him?”

    “Xehanort’s darkness. It’s reasserting itself. Trying to take over again. But it shouldn’t be able to do that. It shouldn’t have been able to find a mental hold over him…” Riku shook his head. None of this made sense. When he had had his own battle against the darkness, as long as he kept his emotions in check, he could control it. As long as he had a clear, focused goal, he had been fine. And Jason seemed like the most in control guy he knew. Sure, there had been a lot for him to take in recently, but he had been handling it.

    Something in Riku’s previous statement seemed to jolt Dick. Grabbing his shoulder, he shook Riku, shouting worriedly, “What made you choose this world? Why the Savannah?”

    Startled, he answered immediately, “Nothing really. It was closest. Why? Why is the Savannah important?” He had never seen Dick like this, and based on his friend's face, neither had Sora.

    Dropping his hand, Dick stared down at his brother, “It looks really similar to Ethiopia, this place on Earth. Where Jason died.”

    Understanding crashed on Riku like a tidal wave. Oh, was all he could think. Now it made perfect sense. No way would Jason be mentally or emotionally stable when reminded of his own death. While Jason had been sleeping, Dick had told them a brief history of the guy, hoping that the more information they had, the better they, and Yen Sid, would be able to help. He just hadn’t mentioned the location.

    Coming to a snap decision, he grabbed one of Jason’s arms, slinging it over his shoulder. Motioning to Sora to get the other one, they managed to haul him up and start dragging him towards the Point. Dick followed, and they were absorbed by the light.

    As soon as they made it to the ship, Sora and Riku gently set Jason down. Riku immediately started issuing orders. “Chip, Dale, we need to get to Yen Sid’s as fast as possible. Start us up. Sora, prepare your magic. We’re going to need a Stop pretty soon. Dick, you need to hug him.”

    Sora looked up, startled. If Dick did that then…

    Apparently, Dick was thinking the exact same thing. “I can’t! It’ll hurt him!”

    Clearly too upset to be nice, Riku grabbed Dick by the shirt collar. “And if you don’t you’ll lose him!” They glared at each other for a moment before Dick nodded. Riku continued, “Sora can Stop him so he doesn’t thrash too much, but we can’t stop him from screaming. I know it’ll be hard, but you need to keep holding on until I say so. I’ll be watching the darkness. As soon as it’s back down to safe levels, I’ll let you know and you can let go.” Leaning over Jason, still laying on the floor, Riku lifted his eyelids. “Jason’s darkness, I know you’re in there. You need to fight. Try and loosen the other’s hold. It’s the only chance for both of you.”

    They hoisted Jason into a sitting position, and Sora cast Stop. Dick’s arms clamped around Jason’s now-stiff torso and the light started building. Darkness started lifting off of his skin and screams poured out from his mouth. It was the worst thing Sora had ever heard. Long and drawn out, never seeming to stop for breath, and filled with so much pain. He wished he could cover his ears, but he had to hold the spell. As his magic drained, his eyes wandered back to Riku, who was staring intently at Jason. Suddenly, despite the Stop, Jason moved. His arms bent at the elbow and they grabbed at Dick’s hands, trying to pull them off. Sora pushed more magic into it, recasting it as Stopra. Please, let this be over soon.

    After an eternity, Riku finally shouted, “Let go!” It was barely audible over Jason, but Dick still heard and practically leapt off his brother. The screams died down, Sora released his spell, and Jason slumped to the ground.

    He laid there, twitching as his body slowly realized no more pain was registering. Dick automatically bent down beside his brother, who was now letting out a soft agonized groan. He felt sick at what he had just done. He didn't think he could even look at Jason right now, let alone touch him. But he had to. Dick needed to make sure he was okay. Well, in relative terms at least.

    -Jay.” He said shakily, putting his hand on the other’s shoulder as gently as possible. “Jay, are you awake?”

    No response. Well, not unless one counted his unsteady breathing. Panic building, Dick tried again.

    “Jason, bro, you gotta get up.”

    This time Jason, stirred. His left arm twitched slightly; not a convulsion, this was deliberate. Then ever so slowly, Dick saw his brother open his eyes before shutting them quickly and grimacing in pain. Frantically, Dick began looking around for his brother’s sunglasses before Sora came up beside him and placed them in his hand.

    “He dropped them when he fell.” The boy said simply.

    Nodding his thanks, Dick pressed the sunglasses onto Jason’s face and waited, but Jason seemed to have blacked out again. Biting his lip, Dick reached out and ever so gently shook his brother.

    “Come on Jay. This is important. Wake up. Please.”

    That seemed to do the trick. Letting out a shuddering breath, Jason's mind finally cleared itself and he opened his eyes and took in the scene around him. He was in pain first and foremost. Every inch of his body was screaming in protest even from the minute movements of his head. He could taste bile and possibly blood in his mouth, and he felt yet again light headed. Why did these things keep happening to him? At least he wasn't dead... Again.

    Jason had half a mind to punch Dick hard in the stomach for what he had just experienced. But he was having trouble breathing at the moment, so maybe it wasn't a good idea. And as he looked up and saw his brother’s worried face, he finalized his decision against it. Dick was looking hysterical.

    All Jason wanted to do was curl up in a little ball until the pain receded and fall sleep, but he ignored his body’s protests and pushed himself slowly forward into a sitting potion, working very hard to avoid conveying how much pain he was in. Upsetting Dick further at this point would really be counterproductive. But it was impossible to hide the violent tremors that ran down his entire body.

    “Calm down Dick. I'm here,” he said, slurring his words just a bit.

    The room then fell into a deep silence as Jason looked at Dick, working to make his expression as reassuring and calm as possible. Riku was standing further back, leaning seemingly unperturbed against the control panel, and only Sora could tell that he was tense. The other Keyblade Wielder stood a few paces behind Dick, concern written all over his face.

    The silence pressed on for another few seconds before Dick finally found his voice again. “Jason, I-I'm so sorry.” He choked.

    Holding up his hand, Jason slowly shook his head. “Don't be an idiot. You shattered that thing’s control... I was there Dick. I could see what was happening when it took over. It was like I was trapped in my own body. Sure your hug of death hurt like a *****, but it's a whole lot better than letting something evil take total control of you. It was all I could do to keep it from attacking you guys.” Jason paused then and looked into his brother’s eyes. “It was out for blood Dick.”

    “We're on a direct course to Yen Sid.” Riku said quickly. “It shouldn't be more than a couple of hours Jason.”

    “Good. Because in all honesty I feel like I just got run over by a train. I would love for this to all be over.”

    Dick suddenly stood up and put a hand over his face. “Oh god Jay. That was awful. I just...” He let his hand drop to his side and stared down at his brother. “Jason.” He said slowly. “That... that's not going to happen again is it? I mean, Xehanort’s darkness isn't gonna be able to take over again right?”

    Everyone in the room stiffened, but no one as much as Jason. Because the prospect of going through what he just had again was terrifying.

    Riku walked over to the two, looking thoughtful. “It...shouldn't.” He said at last. “I know you're not feeling at the top of your game right now Jason, but if you can manage to keep focused, and in control of your emotions, his darkness logically shouldn't have another chance to take over. Not with your darkness fighting it.”

    Simply nodding, Jason seemed to consider this for a while before looking up at Dick with an unhappy expression. “I really don't want to say this. I mean really don't... But, um, mind helping me to my room? I'm a bit sore, and I wanna sleep it off.”

    Bending down immediately, Dick threw one of Jason's arms around his shoulder before hauling his brother to his feet. Jason took in a sharp breath, but aside from that made no protests.

    “Well, at least you are learning to ask for help when you need it,” he said, smiling slightly.

    “Screw you! It was your hug that got me here in the first place.” He didn't even regret it. And if he was feeling uncharitable, he also felt like he was on fire. So there.

    Dick flinched slightly at that before looking over at Riku. “So, no long term effects right?”

    The boy nodded. “Shouldn't be. Nothing dangerous anyway. But he'll be feeling that for a while.”

    “Oh goodie.” Jason groaned.

    With that the two started for Jason’s bedroom in the back. Sympathy and guilt flickered in Dick's conscience as he felt his brother trembling against him. Progress was slow, as Jason was obviously extremely sore, not to mention exhausted. Eventually however, they made it to the small room in the back and Dick set his brother on his bed gently. It was strange treating him with such carefulness and caution. Usually the guy wouldn't let anyone touch him, let alone help him walk. It was so unlike the Jason he knew. Suddenly Dick felt a passionate rage rear up inside him against this dark monster. It was responsible for all the terrible things that had been happening to his brother. In a moment of blind and abrupt anger, he vowed then and there that he would see to it that the darkness was dead and gone as soon as humanly possible. He would have the old Jason back with all his anger and stubborn pride and thoughtfulness in no time. That was a promise he made to himself, and to Jason.

    Looking over at his brother, Dick wasn't surprised to see that Jason was already sound asleep. He had always been good at sleeping after all. Dick walked over and spread some blankets over his younger brother, relived that while Jay was asleep, he wouldn't feel any of the effects from their little stunt.

    Satisfied that Jason was as comfortable as he was going to get, and not wanted to wake him up, Dick crept out of the room silently, as only a Bat could, flicking off the lights on his way out. As he closed the door and turned around to meet with Sora and Riku, he desperately hoped that Jason would stay sleeping peacefully like he was until they reached their destination. He didn't think he could handle hurting his brother like that ever again.

    Moving almost automatically towards the kitchen, he started grabbing things out of the cupboard, not even stopping to see what they were. It wasn’t until he had a pot going that he noticed the cocoa powder, sugar and other things needed to make hot chocolate. Alfred’s hot chocolate. The only thing besides omelettes, soup and cereal he could make half decently. He smiled, measuring the ingredients into the water. If there was ever a time he needed some of Alfred’s cooking, this was it.

    Of course, Alfred had often added “a little extra” to Bruce’s hot chocolate to make sure he got enough sleep. Sometimes Tim’s too. Only on the days when he knew they could both afford to get the extra few hours but were too stubborn to close the case files. Thinking back to the haunted expressions on the two teens’ faces, they could probably use a bit extra as well.

    He carefully poured the drink into five mugs (two significantly smaller than the others) and walked back to the cockpit. As he had guessed, Sora still looked a bit shell-shocked, still horrified at what they had had to do. Riku looked the same as ever, but Dick had spent most of his childhood with a man who showed less emotion than a brick wall. The slight tensing of his posture, the tightening of the skin around his eyes and mouth, the way he wasn’t looking at anything in particular, yeah, Riku wasn’t doing so great either. The chipmunks were sitting on the control panel, Dale visibly crying and Chip trying to comfort him. Silently, Dick distributed the hot chocolate, scientifically proven to make any situation seem less stupidly horrible, and then sat down on the floor, cradling his own cup.

    It was a few long minutes before anyone spoke. Tentatively, Sora ventured, “Is he…?”

    “Yeah,” Dick replied. “He should be fine now. Just sleeping.” Sora nodded and the cabin descended into silence again.

    ~*~​

    Jason bolted awake. His chest, still aching from earlier, heaved. A nightmare, one of his usual ones, plaguing him since he had been resurrected. Crowbars and fire and laughter. They had receded around the time when he had reconciled with Bruce. It was probably Baldie’s darkness, trying to destabilize him again. Holding a hand to his chest, he felt his own darkness, waging war. Grabbing his blanket off of his bed, he moved for the door. With a tiny smile, he noted that most of the pain from earlier was gone. Just a few aches and pains here and there.

    The ship was dark and quiet. The only lights came from small bulbs lining the floor, and from the control room ahead. Pausing in the doorway, Jason had to smile. It looked like the occupants had had a bit of a powwow while he had been out.

    Riku and Sora sat slumped against the wall, shoulder to shoulder and very asleep. There was a squirrel on each of their shoulders, no more awake than the other two. Dick was adjacent, but had slid down so that he was on his side, back pressed to the wall, arm under his head. Mugs littered the floor. Grabbing the one closest to Dick, he gave it a quick sniff. Hot chocolate and… Was that some of Alfred’s special sedative? The stuff he used on Batman? Huh. Some of the older stuff – Alfred had long since tweaked the formula so it didn’t have a smell – but no less effective for it. If Dick had felt the need to drug them…

    Retreating back to the rooms, Jason grabbed the blankets from Sora, Riku and Dick’s beds, as well as both of his own pillows. Returning to the cockpit, he tossed Sora and Riku’s blankets over their respective forms, then turned to consider Dick. Grabbing Dick’s ankles, he pulled him away from the wall, shoving a pillow under his head and tossing the blanket over him. Dick, always a heavy sleeper, simply murmured sleepily and turned over. Jason tossed another pillow unceremoniously next to Dick’s, then stretched out on the floor, blanket wrapped around him. With his brother a warm presence at his back, he fell into dreamless sleep.

    Reminder! Chapters 21 and on are in the next post down. And Chapter 4, but to be fair, it was there first.

    Ok, so there have been five Robins. The first one was Dick Grayson, the one you're probably most familiar with. He gets all the TV show and movie cameos. General backstory is he was an acrobat in the circus, specifically a trapeze artist, when a mobster sabotaged their trapeze wires and his parents fell to their deaths. Bruce Wayne (Batman) happened to be at that show, felt sympathy for the kid and adopted him. Eventually, he became Robin, ran around saying things like "Holy Habanero Batman" and all that lovely sidekick stuff, and then lots later he got into a fight with Batman, left, became Nightwing and awesome.

    A bit after that, Batman had the Batmobile parked and went to go do something Batman-y. He came back and there was some kid stealing his tires. A tire iron to the gut, and a few other things later, and Jason Todd, street kid extraordinaire, becomes the second Robin. By the way, I'm going to mix his backstories a bit, but here it is! His dad was a scuzzbag and a bit irrelevant. His mom, Catherine died of a drug overdose but then it turns out the Joker faked her death and she was in Ethiopia. Jason went to go see her, told her he was Robin, Joker showed up, and he got beaten to near death with a crowbar and then blown up. Which did kill him. That's ok though, because he was resurrected by something, then got tossed in a Lazarus Pit which heals people but makes them crazy. He became Red Hood and started shooting all the criminals in Gotham to death. In this fic, he's pretty chill. Still uses guns though. Oh, and he did some training with magic assassins called the All Caste, so now he has swords called the All Blades that - as far as I can tell - are summonable.

    Tim Drake, after Jason died but before he got resurrected, noticed that Batman was flying off the handle with grief. You know, beating measly criminals within an inch of their life, taking more hits than he needed to, basically fighting with no sense of self-preservation. So he went to ask Dick to go be Robin again because Batman needs a Robin. Oh, and he knows their secret identities. He found out because Dick Grayson was one of the only people who can do a quadruple somersault and he was stalking Batman and Robin I and taking pictures and saw Robin doing a quadruple somersault. 1+1=2. So anyways, Dick refuses to be Robin, but goes to help Batman anyways, they get caught in a trap, Tim puts on Jason's old Robin costume and saves them. He becomes Robin III and stuff. He eventually goes on to be Red Robin.

    Fourth Robin is Stephanie Brown. She was the daughter of a criminal named Cluemaster who was basically discount Riddler. She became Spoiler to spoil all his clues (heh), fell in with the Bat crowd, became Robin for reasons that I haven't looked up yet and then became Batgirl # 3. She is also not totally relevant for this story.

    Fifth Robin is Damian Wayne. Yup, Bruce's son. His mom is Talia al Ghul, daughter of Ra's al Ghul, quasi-immortal environmentalist and leader of this army of assassins. Talia was also the one to toss Jason in the Lazarus Pit. Lovely. Anyways, Damian goes to hang with Batman but he has a few issues with not killing criminals due to his assassin upbringing.

    So far, all of the Robins have died in the comics except Tim, I think. Dick died recently when he was strapped to a machine that would destroy the world if he didn't. He was brought back about two minutes later, so it barely counts. Jason, of course, with the crowbar and the Joker and the bomb. Steph was beaten to death by Black Mask but then it turned out that the Bats' doctor, Leslie Thompkins, faked her death, or something. I haven't looked that up either. Damian died fighting his clone and was brought back recently with superpowers which he then lost. And none of this paragraph (except Jason's death) is relevant in the fic at all. Just fun info.

    I also have this posted on Fanfiction if you prefer that format. Chapters will be added both in their own post and in this first post as I update. So yeah. Happy reading. And have a good day!
     
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2015
  2. Loxare Hollow Bastion Committee

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    New chapter! Bit of a warning here, this one gets a tad bloody. And maybe violent. I don't know, I'm a terrible judge of these things. Once again, written by me and Arrow. And here you go!

    Time seemed to stand still as Sora stared up at the man who had just saved him, blood already starting to ooze from his chest. Sora was sure Red Hood was going to fall then and there, but no. The vigilante pulled back with a snarl of pain, even before the Heartless had fully disintegrated, ribbons of crimson blood fell from its claws as the creature disappeared. Hood’s swords were drawn in front of him in a sort of x, as he turned to face the sky. It was then that Sora realized there were more of those fierce black beasts. They were circling the three heroes, like vultures contemplating there victims, as streaks of black trailed behind them. Sora ran up to stand beside Hood, who was panting heavily, but there wasn't time to say anything as two more of the creatures dived straight at them.

    Red Hood moved first, jabbing his left sword at one of the approaching creature’s head. It twisted in midair to avoid the blade. Hood was too quick for it, lifting his other sword and slicing cleanly through the creature. Sora jumped forward then too, hitting the other attacker’s wing with an uppercut that sent it spinning to the ground. He finished it off with a quick stroke, then turned and froze. The last four creatures were heading straight for them, streaking down through the night sky like bullets. Red Hood was now next to Robin, swinging his blades in a wide arc so that Robin could stand and have a split second to regroup. Sora shot an ice spell up into the approaching Heartless, hoping it would give his two friends some time. Then the Bat creatures were upon them.

    The next few minutes were more of a blur then an actual memory. Sora didn't think he had ever had to fight so hard in his life. There were so many enemies that he could hardly hear himself think as he fought tooth and nail to avoid being overrun. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he wondered why there were so many of the creatures here. But that question was overshadowed by fear and adrenalin and self-preservation. At one point he had seen Robin when the boy had thrown one of his flash grenades, and a few times throughout the fight Red Hood had slid in and out of his vision, unfocused as it was.

    Finally, after what seemed like hours, there was just the three of them, standing a few yards from one another, panting and trembling in the cool night air. The calm after such a vicious attack was unnerving. Everything felt surreal, and Sora decided he should sit down as a wave of lightheadedness hit him. Out to the corner of his eye he saw Robin hesitantly slump to the ground as well. Even Red Hood had taken a few steps back and was now leaning on a light post, one hand clutching his chest, and Sora knew that if it wasn't for the man, they would have lost a long time ago. But it was over, finally.

    Jason took a shaky step forward, his vision swimming. Somehow, he managed to walk the few feet towards Robin, slumping onto the ground next to him. Pulling his knife, he grabbed Robin’s cape and reduced it to strips. Not sterile, but it should stop the bleeding until Alfred could take a look at them. Grabbing Damian’s arm (the kid was too tired to put up more than a token fight), he wrapped the cloth around the injury, then fashioned another strip into a sling and strapped the arm to his chest.

    “Red Hood.” Jason looked up. Sora had managed to crawl towards them, despite his exhaustion. It was really impressive that the kid had managed to hold out as long as he had and come out on the other end with no injuries. “Are you alright?”

    He paused to contemplate his own injuries. Two deep holes in his shoulders, a deep cut on his side and another hole just under his ribs. They were still bleeding, more now that he had torn them open during the fight. Hood took an experimental breath. No punctured lungs, that was good. The hole near his stomach was worrying, but if he had to guess, it had missed most of his organs. “Well, I don’t think I’m dying again. Although, that will change pretty fast if I don’t get some help. Or stitches. Or both. Robin, could you call Agent A or Nightwing or someone?” Too bad the Robin costume had such a short cape. With a Batman sized cape, he could have treated Robin’s injuries and at least one or two of his.

    “No need.” The deep voice behind them was unmistakable. Jason turned to see Batman looming over them. As he does.

    Sora, despite being exhausted, stood up. His Keyblade was falling from his grasp. “Heartless?” Batman watched the boy, but didn’t move.

    Red Hood grabbed the edge of his shirt, pulling him back down. “Only sometimes. Sora, meet Batman.”

    Sora could do little more than stare at the man looming over him. His limbs, which had been shaky, were now reduced to lead. “H-hello.” He finally stammered.

    “Sora,” the gravelly voice of the Bat relayed as he nodded his head, “I've heard a bit about you from Nightwing. You have information on the creatures that just attacked you?”

    But it was Red Hood who answered. “Apparently they’re called Heartless. And you should know right from the beginning Bats, that this kid and these monsters aren’t from Earth. In fact, I don't think they are even from our dimension.”

    “Is this true?” Batman asked addressing Sora.

    “Yeah.” the boy said faintly. “Definitely not from your world.”

    Contemplating that for a few seconds, the Dark Knight turned to Red Hood, tossing him a small battle of Iodine and some bandages from his utility belt. “Try to clean those wounds and put some pressure on them if you can. That laceration on your side is bleeding heavily. It needs to be properly examined immediately.”

    “Like I couldn't tell.” Hood mumbled, but he obeyed as best he could, wincing at the generous amount of iodine he poured on his injuries.

    Sora moved forward to help, but he held up a hand stubbornly. “I'm fine kid.”

    “No you're not!” Sora protested. “You're seriously injured! And it's my fault! And-”

    Red Hood gave a weak chuckle. “Believe me Sora, I've had much worse.”

    He laughed again at the appalled look on Sora's face. “So what were those things called anyways? You have a classification for them?”

    Sora, still shocked, nodded. “Yeah, all Heartless have names. But I've never seen that type before.”

    Jason mulled it over. “Myotis maybe? Either that or Bob, and I've already used that.” He carefully pulled his shirt away from his skin and started wrapping the bandages around one shoulder.

    Batman knew Jason too well to offer him any help despite every fibre of his being telling him otherwise, and once he saw that Damian was in no immediate danger, decided he better start sorting things out.

    “This sighting and the one Nightwing informed me of earlier aren’t the only appearances of Heartless in Gotham.” He stated. “There have been multiple reports of the creatures attacking citizens in the past hour alone. I need to put an end to it quickly to prevent as much damage as possible.”

    He gave Sora a pointed glare. “Apparently stopping Xehanort will stop these attacks, correct?”

    Sora could only nod before the soft hum of an engine announced that the Batwing had arrived. Without saying another word, Batman stooped down and put an arm under Red Hood’s shoulders, pulling him to his feet and leading the surprisingly compliant vigilante to the now waiting plane. Sora didn't know that the lack of an argument from Jason was setting off all sorts of alarm bells in Batman’s mind.

    Feeling if but slightly more rested, Sora pushed himself painstakingly to his feet and turned around to help Robin, but the kid was already standing and slowly but steadily walking over to join Batman. Just then it hit Sora that he wasn’t supposed to be following them. He hesitated for a few seconds before that gruff voice of Batman spoke up once again. “Come on son, we can't waste time.”

    Relieved that he could stay with the few people he knew in this world, along with wanting to make sure they were okay, Sora half limped half ran over to the Batwing and jumped into the open door. Instantly the opening shut behind him and they were lifted off into the air.

    Robin rolled his eyes. “I don’t see why we’re taking this simpleton to the Cave. Why should we risk our identities fo- Hey!” He cried out indignantly as Jason flicked him on the side of the head.

    “Shut up, you deserved it.” Damian glowered for a moment before lashing out with his good arm, punching Jason in the side. Right where his injury was. Jason doubled over, pain lancing through him. “As soon as this heals, I’m gonna kill you for that brat. Ow.”

    “Both of you stop.” After a quick Batglare through the rearview mirror, Batman passed a strip of cloth over to Sora. “I’m going to need you to put this over your eyes.”

    “Why?” Sora grabbed the cloth, already fitting the blindfold to his face.

    Red Hood laughed weakly from the back seat. “Because the location of the Batcave is this crazy important secret. We can’t even let someone who isn’t from this world know where it is.”

    “You know how we operate Hood. Even if he doesn’t use the knowledge himself, someone could get a hold of him and take the location from him.” The Cave was coming into sight. Batman flicked a few switches, diving through the holographic cliff face and landing the plane on the waiting pad.

    Sora smiled reassuringly. “Don’t worry. I would never tell anyone where you live. Not if you didn’t want me to.” The plane had stopped moving. Could he take off the blindfold now? It was itchy.

    Jason stood up, deciding not to mention that he might if he was tortured for the info. Instead, he pulled the cloth off of Sora’s head (really Batman, the itchy one? We have four other blindfolds, none of which are as bad as this one.) “Welcome to the Batcave kid.”

    “Whoa!” Sora jumped out of the Batwing, gazing with wonder at the Cave. An impressive display of vehicles, a giant copper circle, a massive playing card and a dinosaur, among other things, all graced the cavernous space. The Cave wasn’t silent. Rustling and squeaking could be heard from the depths, as well as the rushing of water echoing up.

    Over by the massive computer (which Sora would not touch. After what happened in Radiant Garden, he had promised Leon he would never touch a computer again.) Nightwing and a butler stood, looking over the shoulders of the person in the chair. Nightwing turned when the plane landed.

    “Hey guys! Took him long enough to get you didn-” His eyes widened as the plain emptied. “Oh my gosh! Hood, Robin, what happened!”

    He rushed over to his fellow crime fighters as both the butler and the figure in the chair (a boy dressed in a red costume with a domino mask and crossed belts on his chest) turned to see what Nightwing was so surprised about.

    Jason looked up at Nightwing’s worried face as he came running up to him, then promptly punched it. “Oh I so needed to do that!” he said happily.

    Nightwing stumbled back, surprised by the action, but more by the lack of force put into it. “Not cool Jay!” he whined indignity rubbing his chin, but it hadn't hurt so he walked back over to his brother, if but a bit more cautiously.

    “What happened?”

    Sora walked over to Nightwing hoping he could be helpful as both Jason and Robin headed for the medical bay, followed closely by Batman and the butler. A trail of blood followed Jason as he walked.

    “We were attacked by more Heartless. A lot more. And they were really strong. We almost didn't make it out of there in one piece.”

    Nightwing frowned. “Batman says they have been popping up all over Gotham. This isn't good. Especially if they are strong enough to do this much damage to Hoodie over there,” he indicated to Jason who was getting a shot of Lidocaine. “These things are gonna wreak havoc if we don't put a stop to them quickly!”

    “Um,” Sora said hanging his head, “Red Hood actually got hurt saving me. A Heartless was attacking me from behind and he jumped in the way at the last second.”

    Nightwing looked momentarily shocked. “Did he really?!” Sora nodded and he shot a rather proud look at Jason who produced a rude hand gesture in return. “Who would have thought?”

    At that moment the new boy walked over to the two and held out a friendly hand to Sora. “Hi,” he greeted good naturedly. “I'm Red Robin. It's nice to meet you Sora.”

    Sora took his outstretched hand and shook it, smiling right back. “It's nice to meet you too Red Robin.”

    He zoned out as Robin asked Batman where Batgirl was, his exhausted mind only catching something about another mission. He was hoping he would get along with Red Robin more than the other two. Red Hood and Robin just didn't seem to like him. But that isn't right, thought Sora suddenly, they act like they don't care but me and Robin fought together, and Red Hood saved me! This thought served to confuse Sora enough to miss the next few sentences of the conversation until a hand brought him out of his stupor.

    “Hello, Earth to Sora! Anyone in there?”

    Sora gave a guilty jolt and looked up to see both Red Robin and Nightwing staring intently at him. “Oh, I'm really sorry!” He stammered. “Just kinda dozed off for a second there. What did you say?”

    Nightwing and Red Robin looked at each other, then Nightwing grabbed Sora’s arm and dragged him over to an unoccupied bed and pushed him onto it. “You’re probably exhausted Sora, sorry.”

    “No, I'm okay really! Sora protested, trying to jump up but being pushed back down into a sitting position. “Seriously, I was just thinking is all. What were you saying?”

    It then occurred to him that everyone in the med bay was looking at Red Robin and Nightwing expectantly. Robin was fidgeting slightly while his arm was being properly cleaned by Batman while the butler carefully stitched up a rather irritated and drained looking Red Hood.

    Red Robin stepped forward.

    Grabbing a tablet from a table nearby, he consulted with it for a moment, “We may have found Xehanort. I ran the picture Sora gave us through the traffic cams and have a 73% match in a warehouse on the docks.”

    Hood snorted. “A warehouse? Even space villains are lacking in creativity. OW! A, watch it!”

    “Dreadfully sorry, Master Hood, but you really do need to hold still.” A pulled the needle through one last pass then clipped the thread. “Do lay down, sir. I need to get the one on your chest. It’s deeper than it looks.”

    As Jason complied, Red Robin gave him a withering glance. “Any more interruptions? Or can I continue?” Hood waved a hand, and Tim rolled his eyes. “Based on the pattern of Heartless appearances, we have a 94% chance of having the correct warehouse. However, we can’t go in there with Hood and Robin in this condition.”

    Sora frowned at the delay. Xehanort didn’t seem to want much in this world besides spreading Heartless. And the longer he stayed, the more people would lose their hearts to darkness. If only Goofy or Donald were here… Donald…

    “Oh!” Sora smacked his forehead. “How did I not think of this before?” He summoned his Keyblade and raised it vertically above his head. “HEAL!” Green light and the sound of bells filled the room. Lowering his Keyblade, he started as he noticed the rest of the room’s occupants were tensed and in an attack stance. Even Hood was sitting up, hand resting on the knife in his boot. “What?”

    “What was that?” His voice was flat, but Batman’s mind was whirling. He had already noticed the injuries on Jason’s chest knitting together, the thread gently pulling itself out. Robin’s arm was well enough for him to pull a birdarang from his belt when the light had hit, even though he hadn’t noticed. Sora had been exhausted a moment ago, but seemed much livelier.

    “Magic. A high level cure spell.” Sora smiled. “When I’m in battles with my friends, Donald normally heals me, well, he normally waits too long and then I heal myself and then he heals me again… but I should have remembered sooner. Sorry.”

    The Bats slowly relaxed their stances, Damian unwrapping the bandages from his arm. Jason swung his feet down to the floor, grabbing his shirt and jacket and pulling them on.

    Nightwing looked over the group, revelling in the feeling of having them all together and not trying to kill each other. “Alright then! Who’s ready to catch a bad guy?”

    “Kid” Jason said glancing over at Sora, “Who gave you one of those key things and where can I find them?”

    Sora laughed. “Sorry Red Hood. They Keyblades choose you, you don't choose them.”

    Hood crossed his arms and looked over at Nightwing who was now bugging Robin and Batman, grabbing their arms and rushing them forward. “Let’s go, let’s go!” He said cheerfully. “The city’s kinda in a state of panic if you haven’t forgotten.”

    Batman did infact pick up his pace, while Robin slapped away Nightwing’s hand. “Tt, I don't take orders from you Nightwing.”

    “Greetings Master Sora.” Came a crisp voice to Sora's left. He turned to see the butler standing beside him smiling. “I believe we haven’t been properly introduced, but I am Agent A. On behalf of my charges here I would like to thank you for that curious bit of magic you just performed. It was quite useful.”

    Sora put his hands behind his head as the two started walking over to the others who were double checking their weapons. “I just wish I had thought of it sooner.”

    “Indeed.” the elderly gentlemen agreed. “But it was still a great value to us, and for that I am grateful.”

    Sora found himself liking this man right away. Something about him seemed wise and unbreakable.

    “Happy to be of service.” Sora said as he jogged forward to join the others now pouring into the Batwing. “And thanks!”

    “Good luck sirs!” Alfred shouted over the roar of the engines. “I shall be monitoring your progress here!”

    Batman gave his old friend a quick nod before lifting the plane into the air and departing from the cave.

    At first the ride was quiet, each person chewing on their own thoughts, until Red Robin’s voice broke the silence. “Will we be enough to beat them? I mean, we saw what one of those hoards did to you three. What if there are more at the docks? What if Xehanort has all his strongest Heartless with him, or if he has convinced some villains to work with him! What if we get there and are overwhelmed and-”

    “Shut up Drake.” Robin had his arms crossed, the usual expression of disdain on his face. “There is nothing my fath- Batman cannot handle.”

    Hood flicked Robin’s head. “Wow, you and Nightwing both. Names and field doesn’t work brat.”

    “You keep saying that. No names in the field.” Sora piped up from his seat in the back. “What do you mean?”

    Four heads turned to face him (and one set of eyes in the rearview mirror). After a stunned silence, Red Robin piped up. “Um… You didn’t think that Batman, Nightwing, Red Hood, Red Robin, and Robin were our real names, did you?”

    He jumped in surprise. “They’re not?” Well, they were really weird names.

    Nightwing smiled. “As spectacular of a name as Nightwing is, it’s not the one I was born with, and not the one I use out of costume.”

    “Costume…?”

    A snort at that question from Hood. “We wear regular clothes when we’re not running around on rooftops stopping crime. Heck, you’re wearing proof of that! What made you think we were like this 24/7?”

    Sora shrugged. “Every world is different. I’ve been to a world where every day is Halloween, one where I got turned into a lion, underwater worlds, inside of a computer and one where people can fly if they think happy thoughts. I thought this was a world where everyone wore masks and had interesting names.”

    Red Hood held up a hand. “Wait. People can fly if they think happy thoughts?” He turned to Batman. “Damn B, I guess that means you’ll never lift off.”

    “Don’t be silly Jay, B has happy thoughts.” Nightwing had a massive grin on his face, mischievous and curling on the ends. “Batman’s happy thought is justice!”

    This drew laughs from the rest of the plane, except for Sora who didn’t understand the reference, and Batman, who only smiled a little.

    After calming down, the plane descended into content silence. Until Red Robin broke it, saying “If Nightwing ever went to that place, he’d never touch down again.”

    That put the plane laughing again until they arrived at their destination.

    Sora woke up the next morning to the smell of bacon, potatoes, and toast. Slowly, he opened his eyes, surprised to find himself covered with a blanket. He vaguely remembered sitting with Riku, Dick, Chip, and Dale last night, and the hot chocolate making him really, really sleepy. What he didn’t remember was getting a blanket. Quickly looking around the room, he saw that Riku had a blanket. Dick did too, and a pillow. Actually, there was two pillows laying on the floor, and an extra blanket tossed against the wall. And the smells and sounds of cooking bacon coming from the kitchen.

    Carefully removing his blanket, he grabbed Chip off of his shoulder and gently placed him on the still warm covering. Lifting Dale, he put him next to his brother. Then he nudged Riku. And again, harder this time. He kept poking at Riku’s side until he swatted his hands away, a rather annoyed expression on his face.

    “Cut it out Sora. Seriously, one of these days – hey, is that bacon?” Threat left unuttered, Riku stood up. He waited while Sora shook Dick awake, then the chipmunks, then the five of them went to investigate.

    The table was piled high with food. Bacon, eggs, three different types of hashbrowns, a small mountain of cut fruit, toast, pancakes, waffles, a pot each of tea and coffee, and four large jugs of orange, apple, berry, and mango juices. As they watched, another pancake was flipped onto the pile by Jason, who was supervising all four burners on the stove and probably whatever was in the oven as well.

    After a moment of them standing in the doorway, Jason noticed their presence. His eyes were covered in their usual shades, and the lines on his skin were worryingly darker than they had been before Pride Lands. Not a black kind of darker, but noticeable. “Oh hey guys. Seriously, how much sleep do you people need? Lazy asses.” Well, at least that hadn’t changed.

    Dick recovered first. A smile overtook his face, the likes of which Sora had never seen before. So bright as to almost be blinding, it wiped away every trace of stress that had been building up for the past few days, and was infectious enough to put smiles on everyone else’s face as well. “Jason, you made breakfast?” He dove at the table, grabbing a plate and loading it high.

    He couldn’t see his eyes, but with the face Jason was making, Sora guess he was rolling them. “Well, yeah. I don’t see anyone else doing it. Can any of you even make anything edible?”

    “Can you?” Riku asked cautiously, poking at a pancake with a fork. Sora understood the concern. As delicious as all this looked, Jason didn’t seem the type to know how to cook.

    “Mmfd mf mfrfrfed,” Dick said around a mouth full of waffles. Swallowing, he tried again. “You’d be surprised. Jason doesn’t cook often, but when he does, it’s on par with Alfred’s. And he can make waffles.” And with that, he stuffed another strip of bacon in his mouth, making small sounds of infinite pleasure.

    That was good enough for Sora. He started loading up his plate, pouring generous amounts of maple syrup over everything. “Wait, so Alfred can’t make waffles?”

    Jason forked a few pieces of fruit onto Dick’s plate. “Nope, those are the one thing he can’t make.” He shuddered. “Like paste.” Sitting down in his own spot, he filled his plate and grabbed a glass of mango juice.

    They spent a good long while in each other’s company, long stretches of silence punctuated by forks scraping on ceramic plates and compliments to the chef. Finally, the mountain of food miraculously cleared, Dick asked, “So Riku, how long to Yen Sid’s Tower?”

    Riku checked the clock on the wall. “Any minute actually. We should probably get ready for landing. Um,” looking down at the mess of plates, glasses and cutlery, he added, “You can just leave everything here. Merlin spelled everything to clean itself when the room is empty.”

    Jason raised his eyebrows at the comment. “That’s convenient. Wish I could get that for Roy’s room.” They left, heading to the control room. They picked up the blankets on the floor and returned them to the rooms, then strapped in for landing.

    This Yen Sid person lived in a very strange place. Or at least, that was what Jason thought as he walked up the tower to get to the rumoured man the others were putting so much stock into. The building itself seemed disproportionate, and there were funny dark corridors leading to unknown rooms filled with who knew what. The four were traveling up a long winding staircase in the dimly lit building. With each story they travelled Jason felt himself becoming more and more nervous. That in turn made him scowl. Why should he be nervous? If the others were right, this whole mess would be said and done in no time at all. But despite this thought, Jason felt fear steadily build up in the back of his head. It was when they were standing in front of the huge oak doors at the top of the tower that Jason noticed the fear he was feeling was Xehanort's darkness. In fact, its presence had been gnawing at him increasingly throughout the long walk up the stairs. Good, thought Jason. Let it be afraid. He decided with a sense of finality that it was definitely the darkness that was scared and not him.

    With a creak, Riku pushed the old wood doors open and they all stepped into a large dark room. Jason gazed around at the high bookshelves and funny pictures and mirrors lining the walls. The whole place was darkly lit, making the yellow tinge of the room look tan. Jason held back a shudder. If all be told the place gave him the creeps. Then his eyes came to rest on the old man sitting in the middle of the room, staring right at him. He stared right back, taking in the eccentric look of the guy. His face seemed learned and stern, while his long beard and robes clearly said he was a magician. Jason almost smiled; it was like something out of a Harry Potter book.
    nudged his leg, and he looked down to find the other three kneeling and bowing to the old man. Startled he dropped down too. Apparently this guy must be pretty important if they were supposed to bow. Jason wouldn't have bothered but all those long discussions and lessons about manners with Alfred were still drilled firmly into his brain. Why hadn't Riku and Sora warned him this guy was so well respected?

    After a few seconds Yen Sid waved his hand, allowing the four to stand again, Jason a bit stiffly because if truth be told he was still rather sore. Sora stepped forward humbly. “Thank you for meeting with us Master Yen Sid. We really need your help.”

    The old man nodded. “This I know.” He said in a deep wise voice. “I have been awaiting your arrival for quite some time now. Sora, Riku, it is good to see you are both well. Dick, Jason, I have heard quite a lot about you from our mutual friends.” He glanced at Sora and Riku then back at the other two. “It seems you have gotten yourselves mixed into the fight between light and dark.”

    “It's an honor, sir.” Dick – forever the charmer – said, taking another half bow. “And yes we have. My brother here needs some help. And we had been told that you could be one of the only people who might be able to.” He gave Jason a half glance before continuing. “See it's a long story, but-”

    Yen Sid put up his hand, stopping Dick in midsentence. “I am aware of young Jason’s predicament,” he said. “Riku has already thoroughly described it to me. And from the markings on your skin Jason, it seems time is of the essence.”

    “He collapsed on the way here Sid.” Riku said. “I didn't know, but I brought him to a place that triggered some old memories of his, which made him vulnerable. Xehanort's darkness took over, and we had to remove it by force… It… it wasn't pretty.”

    That was news to Jason. Dickhead told them about Ethiopia!? Not surprising he supposed.

    The old man nodded. “If we do not permanently remove the intruding darkness now, this process will likely need to be repeated. That is why it is vital we are pre-emptive.”

    Jason fidgeted uncomfortably while Dick looked worried. “What do we have to do then? I'll help with whatever you tell me to, to get this thing away from my brother!”

    “Ah,” Yen Sid sighed. “That is good, for your skills will likely be necessary.”

    This confused Jason. He thought getting rid of Xehanort’s darkness would be a task only he and his own darkness could face, maybe with some of the old guy's advice, yet Dick was nodding as though he had been planning on being included from the beginning.

    Yen Sid rested his hands in his lap and contemplated the two crime fighters carefully. “The darkness inside of you is fighting for dominance of your heart. Therefore, in order to win control of your heart like before, you must face and defeat the darkness in battle.”

    That came as an abrupt surprise. “What!” Jason spluttered. “But, how?”

    “There are two ways to face an intruding darkness. The first is to fight it alone in one’s heart. But this way would not be advisable seeing as Xehanort’s darkness already has such a strong control over you physically.”

    Jason nodded. He could feel the darkness steadily growing. Tackling it head on would probably not be wise. The thought had occurred to him to go to that strange place he and his darkness met, and just punch the thing, maybe knock Xehanort’s darkness off of it or something. It was his contingency plan actually. But he knew that if he was thinking that, so was the darkness. It would be prepared for him, and since that seemed to be the place it had planted itself, the chances of him succeeding didn't seem so good.

    “The second, is to enter a dream world, and face this creature and all of the darkness in your heart, with the help of your brother.”

    “The dream worlds!” Sora exclaimed excitedly. “I hadn't even thought of that!”

    “Me either.” Riku admitted.

    Dream world? What the heck? But before he found that out, Jason had another question he had to ask. “Why only Dick? Why can't Sora and Riku come and help me kill this thing as well?”

    Dick seemed confused about this too. As far as he was concerned, the more people helping to defeat this thing, the better.

    “Riku and Sora are not connected to your heart in the same way your brother is. Only half of this battle will be physical. One cannot help you defeat what plagues your heart without understanding it.”

    “Uh huh.” Jason said raising an eyebrow skeptically in the process. “And how do you know that Dick understands me that well?”

    The old man almost smiled. Almost. “The connection between families creates special bonds that bind the heart in unique ways. Your brother will not entirely understand that which haunts you Jason, but he will be able to assist.”

    Catching a glimpse of Dick’s grin made Jason scowl even more. Crossing his arms, he felt the darkness push aggressively on his consciousness as his vision flashed a deep yellow, and decided to bite back a few retorts. “Fine, whatever. Let's just get it over with then.”

    Riku hissed at Jason's disrespectful tone, but Yen Sid stood up suddenly. “Let this be a warning to you both, that if you are unable to defeat the darkness in the dream world, it will take over you at the time of your defeat, and drive itself into your vulnerable hearts. You will be lost to the darkness forever. There shall be no return.”

    Yen Sid's voice was stern, and the two couldn't help but shudder at his warning, but they nodded their understanding.

    “One question before we go in.” Jason shifted, hand straying unconsciously to his chest. “My darkness, the one that was there before Xehanort popped in. What’ll happen to it?”

    The old master frowned. “By this point, it has been taken over completely by Xehanort’s darkness. Defeating it will release both you and your darkness. After that, it is entirely up to you. I would recommend eradicating it as well. Darkness begets only darkness. However,” he held up a hand to stem Jason’s angry protest, “it seems as if your darkness only has your best interests at heart, so to speak. If you believe you can coexist, it may just be prudent to allow it to.”

    “Right then.” The magician said lifting his hand. “There isn't much time, and we need to act quickly. Are you prepared?”

    Dick flexed his shoulders and nodded while Jason let out a long breath before grunting his consent.

    “Good luck then,” the man said, before a bright flash plunged them into darkness.

    CAUTION: VIOLENT CHAPTER. REALLY VIOLENT.

    Dick didn’t think that Gotham could get any darker, but somehow, it was. The streetlamps, the windows, normally lit at nighttime hours, were all dark. The only illumination came from the moon, full and at least four times the size it normally was, and the Batsignal glowing on the clouds. The buildings themselves were black, not the usual grey stone, and a dark mist hovered at ground level.

    He was standing next to Jason at the top of Wayne Tower. Somehow, they were in their crime fighting clothes, all of their gear present except for their masks. Dick looked around impatiently. Normally, he wouldn’t be looking for a fight, but he wanted this thing gone and out of his brother. “Where is it?” Hm. His voice was a little distorted here.

    Another moment passed, both sets of eyes flicking across the rooftops. Finally, Jason’s arm crossed Dick’s view, pointing at the moon. “There.” A large bat was silhouetted against the moon, flying straight for them. It crashed its wings into them as it passed, knocking them off the building. Before Dick could grab his grapple, he landed, but not as hard as he had thought.

    “You alright Jason?” Giving himself a quick check, he was mildly surprised to find himself uninjured. This was technically a dream; did that mean physics didn’t apply?

    “Just fine. Weird.”

    A flapping behind them turned both of their heads towards the noise, dropping into ready position. The bat landed, wings folded to its sides. Its voice, when it spoke, was Jason’s, buzzing and soft. You are breaking your promise. I had thought you were better than that. I see that I was wrong.

    Jason snarled. “Nice try, but I didn’t promise you, I promised my darkness. And the last time I gave you control, you tried to kill my family. Repeatedly.” Startled, Dick glanced at Jason. Why hadn’t he told him this…? “I wanted to protect them and you went for their hearts. *******.”

    The bat took a step, but it was a booted, human foot that came forward. The dark shape of a man, of Jason, walked towards them, the bat-shape disintegrating behind it. Its skin was black, with yellow lines running across it. You may believe what you like. The one of which you speak is no more. I am your darkness now. What you promised to it is now mine. I am all that is left. And I will be taking my due.

    Stepping in front of Jason protectively, Dick growled at the thing. “You will be taking nothing. Jason owes you squat and if you have an issue with that, you’ll be going through me.”

    The not-Jason cocked its head to the side, regarding him. Very well. It drew a dark All Blade and attacked. Pulling an escrima stick, Dick blocked it, leaving Jason open to draw his own Blade and stab at it. Knocking the Blade away with a gun pulled from its thigh holster, not-Jason jumped back, firing at Dick, who flipped back to avoid them. He completed the flip, then pushed himself forward, easily breaching the distance between him and the not-Jason. He was about to jab the electric end of his stick into its stomach when it raised its hand and...

    He was in an old rundown apartment. It was empty, except for an old mattress lying in the corner and a few dirty dishes. The front door banged open and a child, no older than ten ran in. For some reason, Dick couldn’t make out his face. The kid didn’t even acknowledge Dick’s presence, racing instead to the bathroom and pounding on the door. His mouth was moving, but no sound came out. Finally, he succeeded in opening the door. A woman was lying on the floor, surrounded by syringes. Dropping to the floor next to her, the boy started shaking her, crying. Dick clutched at his chest. It felt like his heart was breaking. Tears slid down his face, but they didn’t feel like his tears. He felt despair, anger, at her for doing this, at himself for allowing it to get this far, hopelessness.

    The room started fading, as the child’s face became clearer. Jason…?

    Dick was back where he was before, his escrima stick still aimed at the thing’s stomach. It, however, had a gun pointed at his head, finger on the trigger. Jason tackled Dick midair as the not-Jason squeezed the trigger. The two boys crashed into the roof, but were back on their feet in seconds. “What the hell Dick? You had him! Why did you freeze like that?”

    Dick was still reeling. “It hit me with something. A vision, a memory, something.”

    His gun pointed at the thing, Jason froze. Slowly, he looked at Dick. “What memory…?” He asked reluctantly, dreading the answer.

    “I think it was when you found Catherine.” The tone Dick used made it obvious of what he was talking about.

    His face contorting in rage, Jason shot at the thing. “How dare you? How dare you use my memories as a weapon against my own brother?! Those are mine.” The sky, pitch black a moment ago, flared red. “And while you’re at it, you can stop looking like me, sounding like me. You don’t get to do that!”

    As Jason leapt at the not-Jason, Dick noticed with dread that his shoulder was bleeding. He had taken the bullet meant for Dick. Grabbing his other escrima stick from its compartment, he threw himself back into the fray.

    At first, it had seemed like Jason had the upper hand. Rage fueled his attacks, making them land faster and harder than the other’s. But the hole in his shoulder was weakening him, sapping his energy every time he leveled his gun. A dark All Blade swung at his neck, too fast for him to dodge.

    An escrima stick shot itself between Jason’s neck and the Blade, deflecting it. “Focus Jason. If you fly off the handle, you’ll be an easier target.” Dick smiled at him, one of the smiles that said “I’m fine, don’t worry.”

    Jason snorted. Yeah right. But he calmed himself down and together with Dick, continued his attack. They ran the darkness ragged, but just as they were about to get the upper hand, it raised its arm and…

    Jason and Dick stood in a startlingly familiar apartment. In front of them stood another Jason, this one with half a domino mask, with his arm curled around the Joker’s neck and pointing a gun at Batman. Batman held a gun by the barrel in one hand. His voice was strained as he spoke, “Stop this.”

    Masked-Jason simply tightened his grip on the Joker. “It’s him or me. You have to decide.”

    Jason could only watch, thunderstruck as the scene played out in front of him. Anger built in him, the same fury that had consumed him back then. How could Batman have done this? How could he have let him live? He was jostled out of his thoughts by Dick’s sudden hand on his shoulder. Turning to his brother, he could see that Dick felt the same anger as he did now, as he did back then. He was about to speak, when the other-him started counting.

    Faster than Dick could follow, Batman lashed out with a batarang. It bounced off of the wall behind Jason, stabbing him in the neck. Dick lunged forward, wanting to grab his brother, to stop the bleeding. So much blood. But Jason, his Jason grabbed his arm. Turning, Dick was shocked to see him looking resigned. But he understood. This had already happened. As much as he wanted to, Dick couldn’t change it. The scene ended as Joker pulled the trigger and the apartment exploded.

    Not-Jason’s boot collided with Dick’s chest, launching him back a few feet. Shaking his head to clear it, he felt phantom pains across his body, as if he really had been in an explosion. Something tickled his neck. Pressing his hand to the spot, it came back to him red. He was bleeding. He was bleeding in the same spot that masked-Jason had been in the memory. Whipping his head around, he tried to catch a glimpse of Jason’s neck as he fought Xehanort’s darkness. Damn. He was bleeding there too.

    It was shallow, not bleeding as heavily as it had been in the memory, so Dick stood up. He couldn’t keep letting Jason fight this thing by himself. Jason fired three rounds off at the darkness, forcing it to jump back while Jason retreated to Dick’s side. “So Dickie, what’s the plan?”

    “We keep pressing it. Don’t give it a chance to put us into another memory.” Quickly, Dick grabbed two adhesive bandages from a compartment and slapped one onto his neck. He pressed the other one to Jason’s neck, slightly gentler than he had done with his own. “I’m not sure we can afford the injuries we get from those. And… I’m sorry, but I feel what you’re feeling in the memory. That in and of itself is…” He broke off, not quite knowing what to say.

    “Really distracting and energy draining. Yeah. I know.” Jason wasn’t happy that his brother was feeling what he had felt. He had been in a bad place when this had been happening. A somewhat justifiable place, but a bad one nonetheless. Even now, Jason still wanted the Joker dead. But he knew that it wass never going to happen, not by Batman’s hand.

    Moving quickly, he shot his gun forward, not firing it off, but aiming the barrel at the darkness’s head. It hit with a resounding crack and while it was still reeling, he stabbed it in the arm with his Blade. Dick moved in, a batarang shoving its way into the other arm. The darkness growled. It spoke, continuing to block the vigilantes’ attacks as it went. Enough of this. How dare this interloper intrude?

    “Like you’re one to talk!” Jason shot out, both figuratively and literally. Xehanort’s darkness dodged the rain of bullets, skidding to a stop a few meters away.

    It faced Dick, and time seemed to slow. It didn’t raise its hand, it couldn’t with gaping wounds in both arms, but…

    Suddenly, he was in a warehouse.


    ~*~​

    “NO!” Jason raced over to his brother, catching him as he fell. Addressing Xehanort’s darkness, he screamed, “You *******, where did you send him?!”

    You will find out. It will take time. This memory is longer than the others.

    Jason dragged Dick to the fence surrounding the rooftop. Hopefully, that would keep him out of the way of the fight. He rested a hand on his forehead, then pulled his gun. Stalking slowly towards the ******* that did this to Dick, he aimed and fired.

    ~*~​

    The air was hot and dry. There was sunlight streaming through the windows, far too intense to be anywhere near Gotham. Dick tried to look around, find a window or something, but he couldn’t move. His entire being was fixed in place, looking at the door. After a long moment, a long, boring moment, the door opened and a blonde woman walked in. Followed by…

    The uniform was unmistakable. The confident way he carried himself and cocky little grin even more so. The breath whooshed out of his lungs. Jason. Jason, dressed as Robin, following the woman Dick knew to be his mother. They were talking, but no sound carried. Not in this memory.

    The woman, Catherine, and Jason spent a moment chatting happily. Then the door slammed shut. Catherine’s mouth moved in an unmistakable “I’m sorry” as the Joker strode forward. Before Jason could react, the crowbar had smashed across his face. Two of Joker’s goons pointed their guns at Catherine, keeping her from moving. The Joker started laughing, the first noise that Dick had heard since getting stuck in the memory.

    Struggling frantically, to release himself from whatever was keeping him in place, Dick tried. He really and truly tried to run to Jason, to throw himself in between his brother and the crowbar beating down mercilessly. It didn’t help that Dick could feel Jason’s emotions. With every swing of the crowbar, he was scared, sure, but he was also hopeful. Jason knew Batman would come. Despite having covered his tracks to get here, he knew Batman was too good of a detective to not find him. So Jason was hopeful, scared that his mom would get hurt, worried that if Batman didn’t get here soon, the recovery he was getting from this beating would keep him off the streets for ever. Pride when he managed to spit blood on the Joker’s face. All of this, to the soundtrack of Joker’s mad giggles.

    Finally, the Joker seemed to lose interest. The psycho tied Catherine’s hands to a support beam and left, his henches following. Jason – despite the broken leg, the crushed rib cage, the arms broken in six places, the dislocated shoulder and hip, and the million other injuries – stood up, shuffling his way towards his mother. He untied her and she pulled his arm over her shoulder. They shuffled their way to the door, but when she tried the knob, it didn’t open. Carefully leaning Jason against a nearby crate, Catherine started pounding on the door, trying to get it open, to attract attention. A beeping started, and in the distance, the faint whine of an engine.

    The engine noise came closer as the beeping became more insistent. The bomb, sitting in the corner reached 00:01 and several things happened. Brakes screeched, a car door slamming open, Jason threw himself in between Catherine and the bomb. And then the world burned.

    ~*~​

    “They’ve been in there a long time Master.” Sora sat in his chair, his eyes not leaving the two figures slumped against the wall. “Are you sure there isn’t anything we can do?”

    Yen Sid sighed at the young Wielder’s impatience. “There is not. Trying to assist at this point will only agitate the darkness. They have a better chance if we leave them.”

    Riku, leaning against the desk, understood Sora’s frustration. Both of them were people of action. Dick and Jason were too. Waiting around while someone else fought a battle of life and death wasn’t in them. Especially when…

    Dick twitched. Ok, that either meant he was waking up or… and it was the second option. Dick’s arteries and veins filled with darkness, spilling out into his skin, flaking off and evaporating. Sooner than any one of the room’s occupants were comfortable with, Dick was covered in darkness, it coming off of him in puffs of smoke.

    Sora immediately dropped to his knees beside his friend. “Master Yen Sid, what happened?! Is there anything we can do?”

    In a moment of incredible rarity, Yen Sid stood up and walked out from behind his desk. He knelt down next to Sora and grabbed Dick’s hand. “He fell. But the battle is not yet over. If Jason survives his trial, he will save both himself, and his brother.”


    ~*~​

    For the second time in the past five minutes, Jason was sent flying back. His darkness knew all of his tricks, which meant that Xehanort’s darkness knew them too, and it had a bunch of extra power behind its hits. He crashed into the fence and sank to the ground a few feet away from Dick. Seriously Dick, wake up any time now. Could use a hand.

    As if reading his mind, Dick’s eyes flashed open and he gasped for breath. Injuries started appearing on his body, flash burns and bruises and large ugly gashes. Jason knew those injuries. He’d felt all of those injuries.

    “DICK!” Jason scrambled over to him, checking his injuries and pulse and vitals and… Still alive. And luckily, it seemed the memory-injuries weren’t as powerful as the real deal had been. A broken bone became a fracture. Third degree burns were dropped down to second degree.

    Unfocused, Dick’s eyes landed on Jason. “Hey Jay. Don’ worry bro, ‘m ok. ‘m jus glad you’re alive.” He gave a weak cough and his eyes fluttered closed.

    The ******* had put Dick into that memory. How. Dare. He?! Pulling off his jacket, he folded it and put it under Dick’s head. Gun in one hand and All Blade in the other, he turned towards the darkness.

    “You're dead.” He choked, emotions showing in a rare moment of desperation and anger. “You just put Dick through a living hell, and now I'm going to do the same to you...”

    The dark form in front of him stared with evil yellow eyes, but Jason's gaze, though not glowing, was filled with so much hatred and fury that the darkness flinched slightly.

    It is just you and me now, it said. The intruder shall no longer interfere.

    Slowly, Jason began to walk forward. “You'll regret what you did to him.” he said quietly. Then his anger and hurt seemed to snap and he leapt forward, sword shimmering. “I'll kill you!”

    Not-Jason moved fast, seeming to dissolve into dust and reappearing to the right of Jason, whose blade swung down into empty air. He moved quickly, shifting his weight on one foot to swerve around and face it as the darkness swung its blade in a vicious semicircle. Jason ducked, narrowly missing the slash. He could feel it tear at the wind above his head. Instead of attacking with a weapon next, Jason launched himself forward from a crouch, dropping the All Blade to the ground with a clatter, effectively tackling the darkness and sending them both hurtling downwards.

    The creature hissed as Jason pinned its arm with the gun while he raised his other hand to strike. But as he brought down his fist, a memory flashed in front of his eyes. He was sitting on a couch, falling asleep next to Bruce, while they watched a movie. Jason shook his head and blinked, then brought his fist smashing into the *******'s face. It was trying to confuse him, dull down his blind rage, but that wasn't going to work. Jason refused to let this thing corrupt any more of his past. He brought his fist down again, revelling at the sound of flesh against flesh. But as he raised his fist for a third time, the darkness seemed to rally and jerked to its right, effectively throwing Jason off.

    Rolling away and using the momentum to bound back to his feet, Jason spotted his All Blade and dived for it, discharging his gun in the process. Xehanort’s darkness easily dodged the bullets, but had to flip backwards to avoid them, putting some room between the two. Growling, Jason reloaded his gun while running forward. Taking aim, his enemy discharged his own gun, and Jason's ears rang with the resounding bangs as he leapt from side to side, slowly advancing while dodging the deadly aim of his foe. His darkness stopped shooting and looked quickly back. It had come to the end of the roof, and the next building was a good fifteen yards away. It turned its head to see Jason flinging himself forward, sword pointing at its chest. With lightning quick reflexes, not-Jason raised its own Blade, and let the weapon take the full impact of Jason's attack. The force of the blow was too strong however, and it stumbled backwards, losing its footing. Jason had just come to a stop at the buildings ledge when the darkness's hand reached out and clutched at his shirt. Taken by surprise, Jason was pulled forward in a split second and found himself plunging straight down with Xehanort’s darkness towards the mist covered ground.

    The free fall didn't seem to faze the darkness. It flipped around in midair and expertly fired three shots in Jason's direction, the recoil from the gun leaving it spinning through the air. Jason could only watch as the bullets rushed up at him. He fought against gravity and the howling wind, tearing at his face and clothes, but only managed in deflecting two of the three bullets with the All Blade. Any other time then this, the feat would have made him proud. But as the third bullet tore itself into Jason's side, the following wave of pain left his mind too shocked and numb to celebrate.

    The world seemed to dim for an instant before the reality of the quickly approaching ground brought Jason out of his confusion. With an enormous effort, he reached inside his belt and brought out his grappling gun, firing a line to a nearby building. The line grew taught and Jason clenched his teeth as his shoulder was jarred by the speed of his free fall coming to an abrupt stop. Cutting the line, Jason swung down to a nearby fire escape, then began jumping from one metal railing to another. He wanted to check out his wound, but he had to keep all his senses on full alert for the darkness. It seemed to have disappeared when he blacked out.

    Reaching the ground, Jason raised his gun and turned quickly around to inspect all his surroundings. It had become far too quiet, the only sound Jason could here being his rapidly beating heart and unsteady breathing. “Come on out,” he breathed.

    Movement to his right had him firing several shots towards a dingy alleyway. He was savagely delighted to hear a hiss of pain. Suddenly, a shadow burst out from the direction of his shots, and Jason backed up several paces as Xehanort’s darkness came charging at him. It raised its sword and Jason raised his own in defence at the thing's sneak attack. The two blades clashed with a sickening metallic ring. Jason stumbled backwards, but launched himself forward again instantly, refusing to show weakness or give his darkness time to regroup. As the darkness dodged his forward attack, he spotted a shimmer of crimson on its shoulder and smirked. So he had hit it.

    Jason turned to keep up with his enemy and had to fall backwards to avoid a bullet to the face. He landed on his back roughly and rolled to the side, dodging the dark All Blade which stabbed into the pavement where his chest had been seconds ago. Springing to his feet he aimed a few shots at the darkness’s feet, thinking that this might slow it down. The creature merely jumped forward, performing an aerial flip as Jason leapt out of its way. He positioned himself behind it so that as it landed he could plunge his sword forward, confident he had it trapped. But no, nearly too fast for the eyes to see, it had turned itself in midair and was slicing upwards with its sword. Jason lurched back and simultaneously fired a bullet at the darkness’s head, which it expertly dodged. He felt its sword clip his chin, but ignored the small hit and fired off several bullets forcing not-Jason to duck and then roll away.

    He was breathing heavily now, and a quick look down told him his side was drenched with blood. In fact, his neck and shoulder were still bleeding freely as well. But he had to ignore all of that. Jason had learned early on that dwelling on one’s weaknesses in a fight was a weakness in itself. But he felt the exhaustion start to slow him down. Gritting his teeth Jason quickly reloaded his gun before sprinting forward. He would just have to fight through the pain just as he was fighting the darkness. For himself and for Dick.

    Surprisingly, the black form in front of Jason seemed tired too. But it was fighting for its life as well, and wasn't about to give up control so easily. Seeing Jason approach, it took a defensive stance, crouching low to the ground, almost like a wild cat. It held its sword in a ready position and lifted its gun. But Jason had a strategy as well. As his enemy fired bullets infused with darkness in his direction, he lunged forward and then dropped low, somersaulting forward twice before using the momentum from his last roll to spring forward and throw his sword at the darkness. It wasn't expecting that, and stopped shooting as it concentrated on blocking the spinning sword aimed for its neck. In that time, Jason shot at the darkness’s head while forming the other All Blade in his now empty hand. The darkness succeeded in blocking the first All Blade, and even managed to fall backwards to dodge the bullets flying at its head. But those two maneuvers in quick succession put it off balance. Jason smirked as he gathered himself and jumped into the air, plunging his sword straight towards the *******’s heart. But it surprised him. As it had lost balance and was falling backwards, its sword still flying down from the recoil of the last strike it had made, the darkness dropped its gun and brought its other hand forward and caught Jason's sword. Jason couldn't help but grimace as the sharp blade sliced deep into the creature’s yellow-lined hand, dark misty blood dripping from the gold metal. But the action had succeeded in saving its life. And with a jolt of fear, Jason realized that he was the one wide open now, in midair and with his sword caught in his enemy’s bleeding hand.

    Desperately Jason kicked out at the other’s chest as it raised its sword. He felt his feet connect and pushed off of Xehanort’s darkness with all his strength as its dark sword was slashed forward. His own sword slipped free and he flew backwards, but not before an excruciating pain across his chest told him he hadn't managed to dodge the blade entirely. With a shudder he found his feet and stumbled back, nearly collapsing as he saw his own blood flying through the air as the darkness swung the now pulsating red All Blade back to its side. Jason clutched at his chest, feeling the deep wound, and struggled to catch his breath while the darkness glared at him. He could taste the coppery tinge of blood in his mouth as his enemy’s glowing sword rose. Forcing himself to ignore the temptation to drop to his knees, Jason straightened up and looked at the darkness, who was now pacing slowly forward.

    Admit it Jason, it said in a sickeningly soft, buzzing voice. You have lost.

    “Go to hell!” He growled, putting as much malice into his voice as possible. “I'm just getting started.”

    The creature tilted its head, raising its sword as it closed in on Jason. You are stubborn. It said. I never liked that.

    Jason laughed humorlessly, fighting the sudden urge to cough. “I could say the same for you.”

    The darkness suddenly sprang forward, its sword raised to kill, Jason sidestepped it with an agility he didn't know he still had, and thrust his sword out, effectively slashing his enemy’s side as it landed. The darkness seemed surprised to see Jason move so fast despite his condition, and even more surprised to see the gaping wound on its side. Its eyes narrowed as it took in Jason, who was now stumbling backwards until he came to a wall he could lean against. His vision was swimming and he coughed weakly into his fist, not surprised to see blood on the back of his hand. He was fading fast and he knew it. They were both injured, but the darkness was still in a condition to fight while he wasn't.

    Fighting off the dark mist pushing in around his vision, Jason watched the darkness wearily stride towards him. It was dripping with blood but its eyes clearly said its next strike was meant to kill. In a mad moment of pain and desperation, an idea struck Jason which both made him sick and gave him a flicker of hope. He smiled as he clutched at his chest with his free hand, his gun long discarded on the pavement. Blood slowly dripped down his chin as his darkness came closer and closer. Yup, he was crazy. Absolutely insane. He watched, standing as still as he could as the darkness stopped a few feet in front of him and raised its sword.

    Good bye Jason Todd.

    It all happened a lot slower than Jason would have liked. His eyes followed the Blade as it streaked towards his heart. He waited, watching it come closer and closer. Its razor edge glinting evilly in the twilight. Closer...

    Now!

    With all the strength he could, Jason lunged to his left just enough that the sword missed its target by a mere inch. But that was good enough. He cried out in pain through clenched teeth as he felt the cold steel dig deep into his flesh. His stomach lurched with the addition of the awful pain, and he knew he had to move now while he still had a fraction of strength left.

    Jason looked up, and for a second glared into the darkness’s intelligent yellow eyes, before he gathered his last strands of energy and raised his sword with both hands, plunging it deep into his enemy’s heart.

    “Good bye.”

    Instantly the darkness let go of its own Blade and staggered backwards, clutching at the sword in its chest instead. Jason felt the hilt slip from his hands as he slumped to the ground. But he had to stay awake. He didn't know why, but that was extremely important. Stay awake. He told himself thought the pain. Don't pass out. Stay awake.

    The darkness was now falling to its knees, its eyes wide with shock. But Jason didn't see any pain in its distorted features. Can it even feel pain? he wondered as it raised its head and let out a blood curdling scream.

    Fighting desperately to stay conscious, Jason watched as the darkness gave him one more hate filled glare, before its entire frame seemed to shudder. The top layer of its skin dissolved into dust, which was swept into the night sky. It left behind his darkness, just as it had been when he had first met it. It was just as well because Jason felt the remnants of his strength drain away into nothing.

    He could just barely make out his darkness walking slowly towards him. He could have sworn he heard its voice, smooth and uncorrupted, as his consciousness melted away.

    Thank you Jason, it said slowly.

    He wanted to reply, wanted to get up and make sure it was really over at last, but he had no strength left. He fell to his side, the world becoming dark and cold.

    Jason gasped, his chest suddenly tight. Eyes flicking open, he caught sight of the last traces of darkness flaking off of his skin. Pulling off his sunglasses, he whipped his head around, vaguely panicked. Where was…?

    Sitting next to him, the darkness leaving his skin more slowly, Dick sat, unmoving. He didn’t have any injuries that Jason could see. Raising his free hand – the other one was being crushed in Dick’s fingers – he felt at his throat, checking his brother’s pulse. A little slow, but present. Letting out a small sigh of relief, he looked out into the rest of the room.

    It was only dimly lit by a lamp on the desk. The windows, which before had let in diffuse light, had curtains drawn over them. Sora and Riku were sleeping in a pile on top of Dick and Jason’s legs, which really couldn’t be comfortable. Yen Sid was sitting at his desk, staring at Jason. He was holding a pen as if he had been writing something.

    “Welcome back,” the old man rumbled. “It would appear you were successful in your endeavors. Congratulations.”

    Jason opened his mouth to speak, but all that came out was a wordless rasp. Clearing his throat, he tried again, “Dick…?”

    “He was defeated by Xehanort’s darkness?” At Jason’s nod, the Master continued, “He will be fine. The darkness will clear up with no lingering effects.”

    But what about…? “The darkness… it used my memories as weapons. We could feel the emotions that I felt in the memory, and at the end, injuries I got in the memory showed up on us.”

    Yen Sid’s eyes widened, and he stood up, walking around the desk. “Go on.”

    “A few years ago… I died. Got beaten bloody with a crowbar and blown up. It used that memory on Dick.” He looked worriedly at Dick again. “Will he be alright?”

    Yen Sid tilted Dick’s head up. “I do not know. Physically, he will be. But considering the trauma you went through then, and the trauma he suffered as a result, he will most likely have mental scars which won’t be easy to heal.” Tucking his hands into his sleeves, he turned to regard Jason. “It will help that you know exactly what he went through. You can guide him through this.” He extended his arm, resting it on Jason’s forehead. “You have been through an ordeal young man. Sleep.”

    There was something about that last word, something powerful. Suddenly, Jason found his eyes were incredibly heavy. His head dropped to his chest as the world dissolved into darkness again.


    ~*~​

    When Dick opened his eyes, he was surprised that the only soreness he had was the kind he got from sitting in one position for too long. His legs were numb – probably from the silver-haired teenager sprawled across them – his spine was kinked and his hand was stiff from being clenched in a fist for what felt like hours. No, wait, not a fist. He had a death grip on Jason’s hand, the latter actually turning slightly purple from the pressure. Quickly opening his fingers, he started rubbing the digits, trying to restore blood flow, while at the same time raking his eyes up and down Jason’s body, looking for injuries. To his never-ending relief, Jason was simply asleep, head tilted towards his chest, which was rising and falling steadily. His sunglasses were off, which was more welcoming than Dick had thought possible.

    Abruptly, the memory of what happened in the dream world assaulted him. His chest grew tight, his breathing became strained, he started sweating and shaking and… He recognized the panic attack, but couldn’t stop it. His hand tightened on Jason’s yet again.

    A hand came up, curling around his shoulders. Jason’s head rested on his shoulder, still breathing steadily. With all the willpower he had, Dick forced his breathing to match Jason’s. Slowly he relaxed into his brother’s half-hug. They sat like this as light gradually seeped into the room.

    Eventually, Sora twitched. He sat up, yawned and stretched and then flopped back down over Jason’s legs. The landing jolted Jason out of his sleep, hand falling off of Dick’s shoulder to scrabble for a gun that was not holstered at his hip. As it went, it smacked Riku in the head, startling him awake as well. Suddenly the room was full of noise as the Keyblade Wielders started asking Dick and Jason if they were ok, what had happened, if they won, et cetera. Jason simply moved one hand to cover Sora’s mouth. After a meaningful look from Jason – his other hand was still under Dick’s and Dick didn’t want to let go yet – he raised his own free hand and popped it over Riku’s mouth.

    “We’re fine, we beat the crap out of an ass, if we hadn’t won, we wouldn’t be here. Or we would be, but darker. Now shush. It’s too early for this crap.” Jason ended his little rant with a glare that promised repercussions if they continued talking and not-so-gently kicked Sora off of his legs. Wincing – his legs were so asleep by this point they were basically comatose – he nudged Riku off of Dick and pulled him up. “Come on Goldie, let’s head to the ship and find some coffee.” The two teens made to follow them, but Jason called back, “I swear, if you don’t give us at least ten minutes of quiet, I’m poisoning your next meal!”

    Mindful of their numb legs, they climbed down the infinite steps of the Tower. After one or two eternities, they made it to the front door and onto the ship. Jason sat Dick down in the captain’s seat and grabbed his shoulders. “You ok Dickiebird?”

    “Um… Yeah, fine.” Dick was avoiding his gaze though, looking somewhere over his left shoulder.

    One hand slapped Dick lightly on the back of the head before resuming its position on his cheek. “You’re a crap liar Dick.”

    Sighing, Dick met his eyes. “I… in the dream world… the last memory the darkness showed me was…”

    “My death,” Jason interrupted. “I know.”

    Dick looked startled. “How…?”

    “The injuries Wingnut. You got them from the memory, the same ones I had to live through. Now. Are. You. Ok?”

    “Jason, I- ” A tear slipped down his cheek. “You died. I watched you die. I felt you die!” Dick’s voice increased in urgency until Jason gently dropped his hand over his mouth.

    He gathered his brother into a hug, feeling Dick stiffen with surprise before relaxing into it. “I’m here now Dickie. I’m here and alive. What you saw, what you felt, that was in the past. I’m ok.” Jason gave his brother a moment to cry into his shoulder. Then he pulled away and put his hands back on Dick’s face. “But you haven’t answered my question. Are you ok Dickiebird?”

    Dick swiped a hand under his nose and gave a small smile. “I’ll be ok Little Wing. Thank you.” And he lunged forward, grabbing Jason’s shoulders in another hug. Jason endured it for a moment, then pushed his brother off. He was pretty sure Dick was lying, at least partially, but he’d keep an eye on him. For now, they needed coffee, stat.

    When Sora and Riku came down a few minutes later, Dick was sitting at the table with a steaming mug cradled in his hands and Jason was flipping pancakes. “If Yen Sid wants to see us, can it wait until after breakfast? I’ll even bring up some food for him, but after that fight, I’m starving like you wouldn’t believe.” Without looking, he flipped a pancake onto one of the five plates waiting on the table. Each of them now had three pancakes a piece, as well as some hashbrowns left over from yesterday’s breakfast, reheated in the frying pan. There was bacon in another pan, and some tomatoes in another.

    Soon enough, every plate was full and covered with foil for the long trip back up the stairs. Jason carried two plates, Dick and Riku each carried a plate and two mugs, and Sora carried one of each. Jason placed Yen Sid’s plate on the desk when they reached the study, and Riku put one of the mugs next to it. Yen Sid conjured some chairs while Jason reclaimed his mug from Dick and they all sat down to eat, and to find out how to save Gotham.

    To Jason’s chagrin, it became apparent after a few minutes of conversation that returning to Gotham and saving it would be no easy task. In fact, the more they discussed the possible locations the world was at or the methods of simply getting there, the more Jason couldn't help but feel slightly disheartened. He sat, quietly listening for a change, as he ate. It seemed Riku and Yen Sid were onto something. This was definitely more their expertise, so Jason was content to wait and see what kind of plan they would conjure up.

    “The question is,” Riku was saying, pausing to take a long drink of coffee, “will defeating Xehanort free the world, like it did in the case of Ansem, or is there a more sure-fire method?”

    Yen Sid bent his head, apparently deep in thought. After a few moments he looked up and replied, “There is another way which I believe is a reliable method of freeing a world. But achieving it shall be extremely dangerous. I do not know how easy it will be to accomplish finding Gotham, because this method is merely testing a theory. “

    Despite his warning, the other four at the table leaned forward, their interest’s piquing.

    “Well then,” Sora said, since Riku had an incredible amount of food in his mouth at the moment, “what's the idea Master Yen Sid?”

    Jason nodded. “It doesn't really matter how dangerous it is. As long as it's possible me and Dick are up for it.”

    The old man leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms. “To save Gotham, you will need to enter into the Realm of Darkness.”

    Sora and Riku both gasped, while Jason raised his eyebrows and Dick frowned at the Keyblade Wielders’ reactions.

    “And this... Realm of Darkness is?” Dick asked.

    “It's a sort of, well, it's what it sounds like.” Sora said a hand placed on his chin as he thought. “It's a dimension, made out of darkness. It's like the Heartless's home. You find all sorts of powerful monsters in there. And it's said it slowly corrupts you over time. A person can only be in a world of pure darkness for so long without their hearts being affected.”

    Dick looked appalled. “And you think we should go marching into the home of all the Heartless?” He asked the room at large.

    Yen Sid, who was now finished his meal, folded his hands patiently in his lap. “I do. Think Dick. Your world was completely engulfed in darkness, so it makes sense you would find it in a dimension of darkness, does it not?”

    Dick froze for a moment, comprehension flooding his features. He looked fearfully over at Jason, who was still silent and attentive at this point.

    “But Master Yen Sid,” Riku said, placing his cutlery on his now empty plate. “How are we even going to get into the Realm of Darkness? And how will we find Gotham once we get there?”

    “Ah. Both good questions. But I believe I have the answers. You shall be traveling to the Realm of Darkness through a Corridor I shall create for you. Similar, though not exactly like the ones Organization XIII was using.”

    “You can do that!?” Riku exclaimed amazed. As far as he knew, only Nobodies or those who had surrendered to the darkness in their hearts had that power.

    “I have before explained the balance between light and darkness to you and Sora. It is only natural that I understand how to control it.”

    Riku blinked, amazed, but he shook himself out of it, and in a few moments, more questions were buzzing around in his head. “But, that darkness in the portal and in the Realm of Darkness could corrupt us!” Riku stammered. “How can we withstand its effects? Especially me and Jason.”

    He would never straight out admit it, but Riku was definitely not thrilled about the prospect of re-entering that place.

    In response to Riku's question, Yen Sid raised his hand, and the next moment, black fabric appeared from thin air and fluttered onto each of the travelers’ heads. There was a bit of pandemonium that followed as both Jason and Dick leapt from their chairs, believing this was some sort of sneak attack or kidnapping attempt. Sora, confused by the commotion, managed to fall out of his chair, which once Riku had pulled the material off his head and saw it, caused the boy to burst out in hysterical laughter. It was a good minute before everyone was calmed down and seated once again around the table. Yen Sid, to their amazement, was frowning less than before.

    “As I was going to say,” the old man rumbled with a voice that was half annoyed and half amused, “after studying the cloaks used by the members of Organization XIII, and with the help of DiZ, I was able to create clothes with similar properties. These garments should act as shields against the darkness, as they do for the Nobodies.”

    Jason looked down at the thick smooth material. It was jet black, and seemed to be at closer inspection a cloak with a hood and a silver fastening. It was close enough to a cape that he didn't think he would mind it. He’d worn capes before. But he marveled at the idea that this could actually keep darkness away from somebody.

    “As for the matter of how to find Gotham in the Realm,” Yen Sid continued, “this is a simple case of testing a theory as I said earlier. However, because it is Gotham specifically, I believe that Dick and Jason will be drawn to their home world, and shall therefore be able to guide your party to the proper destination.”

    Dick was nodding his head as if what Yen Sid had said actually made sense, and Jason decided it was time to break his silence.

    “No offense,” he started skeptically, “But we have never even been to this Realm of Darkness place. How do you expect us to know where we're going?”

    “The heart can accomplish amazing feats. One just has to give it the chance. You and Dick are connected to those in Gotham through strong bonds. Your hearts should pick up on the connections quickly if you merely listen to them.”

    Jason rolled his eyes at that unhelpful explanation, and then again at Dick’s humongous grin.
    “So the plan,” Sora said slowly, “is that you're gonna create a corridor to the Realm of Darkness, and then we have to fight our way to Dick and Jason's world, which they should be able to find instinctively?”

    Yen Sid nodded.

    At that Jason stood up and swung his new cloak over his shoulders. “Alright then, I want to get this over with as soon as possible. I hate the idea of my family trapped in the darkness for any longer than they have to be.”

    “Before you go Jason, it may be wise to check in on your darkness. I assume you have made a decision regarding it?”

    Jason froze. He’d almost forgotten… “Yeah. It doesn’t want to hurt me. Besides, if it ever turns on me, Dickface here will probably kick it out.” The last bit had Dick throwing a quick smirk his way.

    “Can I come with? I want to meet it.”

    Jason thought a moment. “Can you come? I mean, it’s my heart space thing. I know we went to the dream world together, but I think this is different.” He turned to Yen Sid, who nodded.

    “It is indeed very different. Under normal circumstances, no one should be able to enter your heart but you. However,” a twinkle sparked in the older man’s eye, “I should be able to work something out.” Without waiting for them to prepare, he waved his hand and Dick and Jason crumpled to the ground, unconscious.

    ~*~​


    Dick opened his eyes. It took a moment for his brain to process what he was actually seeing, but eventually, after standing and pinching himself, he had to accept that it was for real. He was standing on a stained glass window, probably one of the most beautiful he had ever seen, featuring Jason. Jason himself was staring at a bit of it, a vaguely confused expression on his face. “That wasn’t there before.”

    “That” was a circle containing Gotham’s skyline in black with a small Batsymbol glowing above it. Actually, it was eerily similar to how Gotham had looked in the dream world.

    The glass changes as you experience life. The voice had both vigilantes whirling, hands going to weapons that weren’t there.

    Dick stared at the dark figure warily. Add a few yellow lines, and it would look exactly like the monster they had faced yesterday. But Jason visibly relaxed and let out a sigh of relief. “Good. I was a bit worried. No more Xehanort’s darkness running around in here?”

    It is completely eradicated.

    “And you’re sure?” Dick knew he was being overly suspicious, but after what happened to Jason, he felt he had a right to be.

    Jason’s darkness nodded at the same time Jason answered, “Yeah. It feels less bleak in here.” He turned to his darkness. “I’m glad you’re okay. I just wanted to bring Dick around to meet you. Well, no, that’s not quite true. He wanted to meet you and then Yen Sid tossed us both in here without asking.”

    Dick laughed. If he didn’t know better, he would almost call the look on Jason’s face a pout. But he did know better. He knew that if he did call it that, Jason would break his face. Turning to the darkness, he held out his hand. “Nice to meet you.” The darkness grabbed his hand and Dick clapped his other hand on its shoulder. “I just wanted to say that if you do anything to hurt my brother, I will personally destroy you. Also, I wanted to hug Jason, sooo…”

    To Dick’s surprise, the darkness only laughed at his threat. Worry not. Hurting Jason will only hurt me. All beings have darkness. Jason is simply… more accepting of his. As for hugging your brother...

    It paused, cocking its head to one side as if considering something.

    Jason shifted from foot to foot. “Aren’t we already healed of that... problem. We already hugged on the ship and nothing happened.”

    Those circumstances were different, the darkness stated. At the time he was not a danger to me. Dick needs light in his heart to push me away. In that moment there were very few thoughts that could harm me.

    Jason looked over at Dick, disappointed. “Oh.”

    Being in that sad dark state was extremely rare for Dick. The guy was just an explosion of optimism. It was impossible to ask him to turn that bright happy part of him off.

    The darkness then looked up, his thoughtful demeanor broken. I believe there is a way.

    “Yes?” Dick asked instantly, staring at the figure in front of him with hopeful eyes.

    The dark yellow eyes of Jason's darkness met Dick’s. You must allow me to touch your heart as well.

    Both Jason and Dick started. “W-what do you mean!?” Dick asked. “You don't mean corrupt me like Xehanort’s darkness did to Jason?”

    No. The dark figure replied, sounding alarmed. The only heart I am interested in is Jason's.

    "Damn straight!” Jason piped in.

    I do not wish to harm you. Nor do I wish to enter your heart. The process of which I speak is different. You can drive me out of Jason because the light in his heart is connected with yours. But I am not connected to your darkness. If you allow me to establish a connection...

    The darkness trailed off, though it didn't need to say more. They understood that if Dick opened his heart to Jason's darkness and allowed it to connect to his own, the overwhelming effects of Dick’s light would be subdued.

    Dick losing his one weapon against the darkness was not a reassuring thought. But he had faith in Jason's decision to trust it. And he could always enter the dream world and kick the thing’s butt if it ever messed with his little brother. Besides, the thought of being unable to hug Jay was eating away at Dick. His decision was easy, really.

    “Alright,” he said, taking a hesitant step forward. Jason looked over at his brother, slightly surprised at how quick Dick had agreed.

    The darkness moved to stand directly in front of Dick. It raised its hand and said, You must not fight back against me.

    Dick nodded slowly before closing his eyes. He felt a cold hand press against his chest, and instantly fought back the urge to draw away. A chilling sensation seeped its way through his veins, though it was not altogether unpleasant. More just... uncomfortable. He could tell that if he willed it, he could throw this foreign presence out of his heart. But he didn't fight. He let it reach him, his heart. Just as a feeling of acceptance and peace washed over Dick, Jason's darkness drew its hand away. It was only then that Dick realized the cold sensation from earlier had become warm, almost comforting. He looked up and smiled at the figure in front of him.

    “That wasn't so bad. So, are we good?”

    The darkness nodded. You can no longer harm me that way again.

    “Good!” Dick laughed and leapt at Jason, taking him by surprise and engulfing him in a bear hug in celebration of the occasion.

    Jason growled and shoved Dick roughly off. “Just because you can hug me, doesn't mean I'll let you!” But he was smiling all the same.

    Dick too was grinning ear to ear and jumping up and down on the balls of his feet. “So we ready to go? How do we get out of here anyways?”

    “I’ll take you out.” Jason grabbed Dick’s elbow and waved. “See you later.”

    Jason’s darkness gave a small wave of his own. Farewell Jason. Farewell Wingnut. I will be here if you require assistance.

    Dick waved as well as the stained glass blurred and they woke up.

    Jason groaned and stretched. Getting to his feet he asked, “Now can we go? Still not happy leaving Gotham in the darkness.” Sora, Riku, and Dick began fastening their cloaks. Yen Sid nodded solemnly, then stood himself.

    “Speaking to your darkness was necessary. You are correct however. Accomplishing your goal quickly is the most effective option at this point. Your connections to your world are still strong, but the longer we wait the quicker they will fade.”

    The man snapped, and a few bags appeared on the table between them. “These are provisions for your journey, which I have no doubt you will need. Once you have saved your world, I believe a doorway of light will swallow Gotham and return it to its proper place amongst the worlds, with you four in it. However, it will be extremely difficult to find another way out of the Realm of Darkness, so I suggest you be successful in your mission.”

    “Save Gotham, or die trying.” Jason clarified as he swung his pack over his shoulder. It was heavier than he expected. “Got it.”

    “Master?” Sora asked, pausing once he had fastened his cloak. “Do you know what we will be facing once we actually find the fallen Gotham?”

    The man sighed. “Unfortunately, I cannot say for certain what you will find. All I am sure of is that the evil that originally existed in that world will be drastically elevated.”

    “Good thing Gotham was such a wonderful place to live to begin with.” Dick groaned.

    “All right Master.” Riku said, glancing at his companions. “We're ready whenever you are.”

    “Hold up!” A girl’s voice preceded its owner through the door. A red-head in a pink dress and leggings walked through the door, followed by another red head in a black cloak. The first one, the girl, had her hair pulled back in a ponytail and was breathing hard, as if she had been exercising. The other one, male, had hair that defied gravity, sticking up in points that put Sora's to shame. He also seemed tired. The girl opened her mouth, her blue eyes fierce. “You are not going on another adventure without me! I’m coming with you!”

    Sora sputtered. “What? Kairi, no, it’s dangerous and you’re not trained and- ”

    The girl, Kairi apparently, pointed her finger between Sora’s eyes. “Yes Sora. You said I needed training, but sparring with Lea for days on end isn’t getting me anywhere. What faster way for me to learn than to go into combat? That’s how you and Riku learned!”

    So this was the infamous Kairi. The one who had hugged Sora back to light. Jason liked her so far. She had spunk. He sidled up to Dick and whispered, “Ten bucks on the chick.”

    Dick snorted. “Yeah right. She’s obviously going to win. Sora’s a push over.” Based on the way the conversation was going, Jason could only agree. Especially since Riku and Lea (?) were just leaning against the wall, matching amused smiles on their faces while they waited for the inevitable.

    “We didn’t start by jumping straight into the Realm of Darkness!” Sora started waving his hands around, trying to emphasize his point. “Well, Riku did, but that’s beside the point.”

    “It is not. I’m coming, and that’s final.” Kairi crossed her arms.

    Desperate, Sora looked over to Riku and Lea. Lea just raised his hands helplessly, smile still affixed to his features. Riku tried and failed to put a more serious expression on his face. “Sorry Sora, you’re on your own on this one.”

    When Yen Sid didn’t say anything about it, Kairi smiled triumphantly. “That’s settled then! Lea, did you want to come?”

    “No can do little red,” the taller red head drawled, his smile turning down into a rueful expression. “Merlin was going to start me on Ice magic this week. It’s my weakest element, so I need the practice.”

    While Kairi went to visit the Point for a refresher and Dick retreated to a side room to put on his Nightwing suit, Riku asked, “Does Kairi need a cloak too, or will the darkness not affect her?”

    “She would be fine in the Realm of Darkness.” Yen Sid waved his hand anyways, a fifth cloak and bag appearing in Sora’s arms. “But she should have one anyways. I hear the Realm of Darkness can get quite chilly.” There was a spark of amusement in his eyes.

    Sora grudgingly held out the provisions to Kairi, still grumbling at the lost argument. Dick came out and Jason took his place, stripping off the civvies as fast as he could and throwing on his shirt, pants, belt and boots. The jacket wouldn’t fit properly under the cloak-cape thing, but he refused to leave it behind. He left the room and with all five of them ready, Yen Sid nodded and again, raised both his hands. Jason could feel the hair on the back of his neck stand up. He instinctively drew his cloak closer around him.

    “Good luck.” The old man growled.

    The next moment, a huge twirling gate of black grey mist formed in front of them. All of Jason's instincts told him not to step forward, to back away, but he saw Riku stride towards the dark mass, and so reluctantly followed. In a few seconds, the portal had vanished, and the room was empty but for a red head leaning against the wall and a sad looking old man.

    “Be safe young ones,” he whispered.


    ~*~​

    Sora opened his eyes with a groan. He sucked in a breath and instantly regretted it. The air was heavy, oppressive. Shifting so that he was on his knees and elbows, he looked around. He was laying on a dirt path; just a path, floating in space. Kairi was still out, Dick was groaning himself awake and Jason and Riku were standing, peeking down over the edge of the path. Getting to his feet, Sora took a look of his own.

    Everything was dark, which wasn’t really surprising. There were other paths, both below and above them, and pillars of darkness, vast spiralling structures soaring out of sight. He gave a low whistle. This was his first time in the Realm of Darkness, not counting the time he and Riku had gotten stuck in the Dark Margin, and so far, it was pretty impressive. Scary, but impressive.

    Ripping his eyes away from the abyss, he turned to his companions, specifically Kairi. He knew she could handle herself in a fight, but this probably wouldn’t be like other fights. He had gone into Hollow Bastion’s heart and ended up fighting a Behemoth. And that was with Hollow Bastion still in the Realm of Light. There was no telling how many impossibly strong Heartless they would encounter while they were here.

    As Kairi shifted awake, Sora’s mouth tightened in determination. He would keep her safe.

    Dick and Jason were both stretching, Dick doing a one armed handstand and Jason doing some more simple leg stretches. The latter looked up, following the former into a hand stand. “You three might want to stretch too. We have time now and it might save your life in a fight.”

    Sora blinked. “I’m not sure I can do handstands…”

    Dick bent his spine backwards, his feet pulling towards the ground until he could stand upright. “Don’t worry. That’s standard fare for Bats, but we can take you through some stretches better suited for your fighting styles.”

    They did so and Sora had to admit, it did help. He had wrenched his shoulder during that last fight in Gotham and while he had healed it up really fast, it had been stiff. The stretching loosened it up. Maybe he should start doing this more often.

    Standing up from his last stretch, Riku asked, “So, Dick, Jason, where to?”

    Dick crossed his arms under his cloak. “I’m still not entirely sure what we’re supposed to do.” Jason nodded in agreement.

    “Hm.” Sora thought about what Yen Sid had said. “You know Gotham, right? And I mean, know Gotham. You should be able to feel that and pick a direction from it. I think.”

    “Of course.” Jason closed his eyes, remembering. “I’ve lived there for my entire life. The way the streets sound, the way the air feels, the smell of the docks in summertime, the way it seems like Crime Alley is watching you…” As Jason spoke, Dick closed his eyes as well. With both of their eyes shut, they didn’t see, but Sora, Riku and Kairi did. A small spark of light flickered beneath their cloaks, right near the heart. Immediately, their eyes snapped open and they pointed in the same direction.

    Following their hands, Sora frowned. Their path didn’t go in that direction. At all. He looked at the other paths above and below them. “There.” Far below them, one path went in the general direction of where they were pointing.

    Looking down at the path, Jason followed it with his eyes. “Looks good enough to me.” And with that he leapt off the edge, Dick following close behind.

    Riku gave Sora a jaunty mock-salute before he fell off the path backwards. Turning to Kairi, Sora offered his arms. “Kairi? You haven’t learned how to glide yet.” She nodded and he stooped to grab her under the knees, the other arm curling protectively around her shoulders. He stepped off the path just in time to see the others land.

    Riku landed perfectly in the center of the path. Dick was very off of his target, looking more likely to plunge into the darkness than land safely. This was probably on purpose as Dick laughed when he pulled his grapple, firing it onto a nearby path and swinging gracefully to the one he wanted. Jason sped past the path, firing his grapple onto it as he sped by. He swung in a circle and landed on the dirt with a thud. Sora landed gently next to him and set Kairi on her feet.

    “So, that way?” Riku pointed and set off. Dick and Jason followed, discussing possible strategies when dealing with large groups of Heartless versus single strong enemies, frequently asking Riku for advice and weaknesses.

    The silence at the back of the group was heavy. Not because of the participants. Sora and Kairi were perfectly comfortable with silence around each other, even with that argument still hanging in their minds. But the Realm of Darkness had a way of making every step a trial, every silence waiting to steal your next words away. Finally, Kairi broke it. “So Sora, tell me about your new friends.”

    Starting eagerly on the anecdote, Sora soon had Kairi nodding solemnly as he recounted Jason getting taken over by the darkness, laughing at chasing Jason around the manor, smiling at Dick’s obvious care for his brother and gasping at the horrifying episode on the gummi ship when Dick had had to hug him. Gotham and the rest of the Bats filled the otherwise oppressive silence of the darkness, the laughter and smiles seeming so foreign to the space. But so incredibly necessary. With every bit of light they brought into the conversation, Sora could feel his steps get lighter.

    By the time Kairi had been caught up and started on telling Sora how her training had been going, the other three joined in. Riku threw in a few stories of his time in the dream world, nothing new to Kairi and Sora but Dick and Jason were very keen to compare it to their own experiences in the darker half of the dream world. Eventually, Jason started sharing some of his adventures with Roy and Kori and Dick was recounting a particularly embarrassing scene from before Jason’s death involving a pie, Alfred and seventeen paper clips.

    They had had to stop their stories twelve times when Darksides and Neo Shadows attacked them. Yup, the stretching had definitely helped. Sora was really happy to see Kairi had gotten past the “flailing the Keyblade like a stick” thing she had had when she had first held her Keyblade. Now she moved through the Heartless like a dancer, landing quick devastating hits before twirling away.

    After hours of walking, they came upon a slightly wider area of the path. Riku set down his pack, calling for a break.

    As he cracked open a can of juice, Sora flicked his cloak over his shoulder. He had been having problems with it during the fighting. The hood portion hadn’t really been getting in the way, but the cloak bit had been flying in weird directions. It only reached down to mid thigh, but that was still long enough to flap into his face. But Jason and Dick moved like they were used to it. “Hey guys, any tips with these?” He held up one corner of the cloak.

    Dick looked over. “Depends. Does the cloak need to be in front of your shoulders for it to work, or is just wearing it enough?”

    Sora turned to Riku, who though for a moment. “With the old cloaks, they had to be worn head to toe and closed at all times to prevent the darkness from leaking in. But Yen Sid said he had upgraded them. Since they’re shorter now, I think just wearing them makes them work.”

    Jason nodded, shoved his apple between his teeth and started playing with Sora’s cloak. Not even a moment later, it was pinned back over his shoulders, exposing his chest and arms but keeping the cloak very much out of his face. Scooting over to Kairi, he did the same for hers while Dick tended to Riku.

    “That should hold you.” Dick sat back with a smile. “Me and Jason spent most of our teen years wearing something like this. You learn to manage.”

    Snorting, Jason pulled the apple from his mouth. “We still ditched the capes as soon as we could though.”

    Suddenly, both of the Gothamites stiffened. Sora jumped as they leapt to their feet, grabbing up all the food and shoving it into their bags. “Dick, Jason, what is it?”

    Jason turned his eyes to the other three. “You don’t feel that?” Something in his tone seemed almost happy.

    “Feel what?” Following their lead, Riku started packing up as well. Sora and Kairi looked at each other in confusion for a moment before doing the same.

    Dick’s grin was so wide and bright that they probably couldn’t call this place the “Realm of Darkness” anymore. “Gotham! It feels like Gotham and it’s close!” He was dancing from foot to foot, unable to keep still. Even Jason seemed like he was in a hurry, his eyes flicking back and forth between the Keyblade Wielders and the next turn in the path.

    When everyone had their packs slung over their shoulders, they broke into a run. Half way to the turn, Riku called out “Sora, race you!” Sora laughed as he poured on the speed. Kairi, after all of her training, was keeping up with them really well. Dick couldn’t resist putting a few flips into his run. Even Jason had a rare smile of true happiness on his face. Not a sarcastic one, or one put up because it’s what he thought Dick needed to see. Actual happiness.

    As Dick raced around the corner, his laughter died a bit. There was Gotham, not as he knew it, but how he had come to expect worlds to look during his travels in the gummi ship. The sphere, buildings jutting from the top, Wayne Tower, Ace Chemicals, Arkham, Gordon’s precinct. Clouds hung low, touching the top Wayne Tower and the Batsignal was displayed on them. Connected to it was the docks and a path that lead down to Wayne Manor on the bottom of the sphere. It was dark. Sure, Gotham had always been dark, but never this dark. All of the buildings were black. The clouds were black. Even the Batsignal seemed to radiate darkness rather than light.

    Sora strode up to him and clapped a hand on his shoulder. “Come on Dick. Let’s save your city.” With a smile that seemed to inspire hope, the teen led the way to Gotham.

    WARNING. VIOLENCE. JUST LETTING YOU KNOW.

    As soon as the group entered the dark world, they knew something was very, very wrong. That was to say, more wrong than usual. It was as if they were passing through a sort of force field which made the world heavy with gloom. All of the confidence and happiness they had felt just moments ago to evaporated slightly. Everyone sagged with the effort of stepping into the dark, lost place.

    Sora immediately summoned his Keyblade, the cold steel which formed in his hand slightly reassuring his frayed nerves. He glanced around at the rest of his friends. Kairi was pale, but her eyes were fierce, and her face determined. She too had taken out her blade instinctively upon arrival. Jason and Dick were standing close, obviously wanting to protect each other against whatever evil force was emanating from within the depths of the black city. Dick had his escrima sticks clutched tightly in his hands while Jason's All Blades seemed to form of their own free will, due to the pure evil that hung in the air. Riku stood next to Sora, a frown plastered to his face. He was staring intently into the black depths of the buildings in front of him, as if by looking at them, he would know what they would be facing.

    They stood there for a few seconds, everyone frozen as they slowly adapted to the overwhelming presence of hostile darkness all around them. It was Kairi who decided to take the first initiative step forward. It was probably due to her determination to prove herself, or her new-found stubbornness, but whatever the reason there was no way Sora was going to let her take the lead of their little procession. With a reasonable effort, he jogged forward towards the darkness to catch up to her. She gave him an exasperated look, followed by a slight eye roll, but then returned his smile as he fell into pace with her. Within moments they were all walking forward together in a group, wondering what awaited them in the city ahead.

    They had not appeared in Gotham itself when they entered the world. Instead the travelers were standing in the outskirts of the city, buildings towering in front of them like giants. It was quite odd for Dick and Jason, because they both knew Gotham extremely well, but at the moment, they had no clue where they were. Their surroundings were not familiar at all. Sure they recognized Wayne Enterprises well enough, towering above all else in the outlines of the city, but it was as if small details about Gotham had been changed, making the place unfamiliar, and more importantly, uninviting. The twisted dead grass, black sky, and absence of twinkling lights in the nearby city didn't help. The only light either came from the huge moon hanging in the sky, or the faint yellow the blackness seemed to emanate.

    “This isn't right.” Dick whispered. “Don't things just seem...wrong?”

    Jason nodded slowly. “The whole place feels different from the actual Gotham.”

    Soon enough, as the looming shapes of buildings grew larger with their approach, the sound of rushing water could be heard. Both Dick and Jason were filled with relief at the familiar sound. It was nice that not everything had changed. Hopefully, they would be able to better pinpoint their location in relation to the city if they could figure out which river they were at.

    Sora glanced over at Riku as the sound of rushing water grew nearer. “Should we, try to go around it?” He voiced the question they were all considering.

    The procession slowed to a halt as the boy merely shrugged. “We might be able to glide over it. Though I guess Jason, Dick, and Kairi won’t.” He stared into the blackness ahead of him, but the shadowy landscape was still hiding the water from view.

    “Crossing it depends on the river.” Jason said. “There are a few spots shallow enough to wade through, but most of them are deep and have fast currents. We'll have to wait and see.”

    “Makes sense,” Kairi and Dick said in unison. The two looked at each other and grinned.

    It didn't take them long to find the source of the noise. It was indeed a river, but one of which the likes they had never before laid eyes on. The water wasn't clean and clear, nor was it a polluted dirty brown. Instead, waves of blackness lapped at the banks as the angry tide swept by them. The river was at least 30 feet across, but with the swirling darkness running past them instead of water, it was impossible to guess its depth.

    Riku sighed. “That would be really risky to glide across, even without taking someone with us. There's no way we can carry Jason or Dick. I doubt we could get to the other side ourselves Sora.”

    “And there's nothing to grapple onto near us.” Jason put in, staring dully at the surrounding stretches of dead shrivelled grass. “So what, are we just supposed to swim across?”

    They all stared down at the churning black liquid with sinking hearts. No one wanted to go near it., let alone dive into the stuff. But it could take hours to find a bridge or good place to cross. Dick edged forward near to the bank, and crouched down to take a closer look at the water. Sora tentatively came up beside him, and dropped to his knees, staring down into the swirling pool of black. He could just make out the reflection of his face amongst the dark waves. Kairi came to investigate too, and stood next to him, observing the water from a slightly further distance. Sora would have rather she stayed back with Riku and Jason, and tried to swallow his concern. Kairi was a Keyblade Wielder in training. She could take care of herself. She could!

    A small gasp had Sora snapping out of his trance and once again focusing on the water. As his gaze met the black shiny surface, he only had time to take in a terrorized breath as he laid eyes on a scaly face and two enormous glowing eyes, staring up at him.

    Dick was trying to push Sora and Kairi out of the way frantically. “Killer Cr-”

    His voice was cut off in a rasping choke as an enormous green hand shot out of the blackness and clamped around Nightwing’s neck. The hand was followed by the head and shoulders of a huge revolting lizard looking creature wrapped in spirals of darkness. Its forked tongue flicked in and out of its gaping jaws furiously. The vigilante gasped, dropping his weapons as his hands flew up to the claws that were now digging into his skin as he tried to take a breath.

    The situation seemed to hit everyone at once. “Nightwing!”

    Sora was on his feet in a second, his blade swinging forward, but he stopped his attack at the last moment as Dick actually got in the way. The huge scaly monster was dragging a thrashing Nightwing down towards the water, the latter gasping and pulling at the thick fingers clamped around his neck. Kairi sprang forward too, and instead of attacking, grabbed onto one of Nightwing's arms and pulled him backwards. Sora's stunned brain couldn't help but wonder how this would be any help against the huge crocodile who had Dick in a death grip, but it seemed to slow Dick’s descent a bit, and seconds later Riku appeared next to Kairi and grabbed Dick’s flailing arm as well.

    A gun shot rang out and the crocodile man snarled as a bullet embedded itself in his exposed shoulder, but his grip didn't loosen.

    “What the hell are you doing Croc!?” Jason growled. “Sora, help me get him off of Wing!”

    Blinking confusingly, Sora managed to compose his thoughts enough to nod and once again run forward. The older teen took aim with his gun and fired again. The creature howled in pain, but its grip still didn't loosen. Dick's energy was fading fast, and his face was turning a scary shade of blue. His left foot was dragged into the water and instantly his eyes snapped open, his mouth open in a silent screen. Strands of the dark liquid were crawling up his leg from the river.

    “Don't make me do this Croc!” Jason yelled, pointing his gun at the monster menacingly.

    But the mutant didn't seem to be listening. In fact, it seemed as if he couldn't even hear Jason at all as he sunk deeper and deeper into the depths of the black river with his prize.

    Sora reached the monster holding Dick and thrust upwards with his blade as more bullets flew past his head and dug themselves into the crocodile's arm. This time, Sora's attack connected, leaving a gash across Killer Croc’s chest. That and Jason's bullets should have at the very least been enough to force the creature to relinquish its grip, but it didn't. Dick was now completely still, both legs engulfed by the black water up to his knees despite Kairi and Riku's best efforts. Panicking, Sora slashed again at the creature’s chest, and Jason ran up to him, this time aiming for the monster’s head. His bullets were not digging too far into the creature’s flesh due to its tough, scaly skin, not to mention the shield of darkness that seemed to be covering its entire body. Finally, after what seemed like hours, though it couldn't have been more than a few seconds, the crocodile man seemed to have had enough, and let Dick slide from its bloody hand. Kairi and Riku barely caught him as he slumped lifelessly to the ground. With a roar the crocodile flipped backwards into the river, a huge tail flicking up out of the waves as it descended, causing an assault of dark water to splash on Sora and Jason. As soon as the water touched their skin, it sizzled and spat like acid, and they both yelled and backed away, pulling their hands over their faces protectively.

    Jason was the first to turn around and face his fallen brother. “No, no, NO!!” He shouted, running up to the lifeless form. He dropped to his knees next to Kairi, placing his hands on his brother’s shoulders. “'Wing!” He said shakily. “Come on man. You're okay! You gotta be okay!”

    But he never got the chance to find out how okay Dick was, because the next moment, an enormous roar followed by the distinctive sound of streams of water splattering the ground erupted from behind him. Everyone excluding Dick turned to see a very angry Killer Croc, wrapped in darkness and bleeding badly from his chest and arm, standing on the shore facing them. The monster had blood-lust in its eyes, and stared at them for a long moment before the blackness surrounding him seemed to melt off his skin.

    “I knew it!” Jason yelled. “That wasn't Killer Croc! He was probably being controlled!”

    They watched, mesmerized, as the real Killer Croc fell limply to his knees, then the ground unconscious, a fading growl rumbling up from his throat as his darkness formed into a cloud in the air and transformed itself into a close replica of the mutant. Once formed it fell to earth, making the gravel tremble as its huge scaly feet touched the soft earth. It was all black now, with the addition of six inch claws and huge spikes lining its back. Without a moment's hesitation, the doppelganger charged forward right towards the group huddled around Dick.

    Sora was the closest to the water, as he was still standing in the same spot from earlier, digesting all the events of the last five minutes. When he saw that the angry creature was hurtling towards him, he acted purely on instinct. Clenching his teeth, he ran forward, jumping into a dive, which had him sliding inches away from the monster’s huge feet. With one swift movement, his blade had slashed deep into the dark Killer Croc’s right calf. The monster stumbled, and fell feet from where the rest of the group were now just drawing their weapons.

    The Heartless thrashed, enraged as it pushed itself up onto its feet. Jason took a swipe at its head with his All Blade, but the sword got caught in the creature’s mouth. Wrenching his head sideways, dark Killer Croc threw both Jason and the sword off balance, then turned to face Riku and Kairi who were now standing defensively in front of an unconscious Dick.

    “Watch out!” Sora yelled as Killer Croc pounced. The two Keyblade Wielders were ready though. In one fluid motion, they stepped forward simultaneously and swung upwards in a double strike, smacking dark Killer Croc with so much force that he flew backwards. It was then that Sora's and Jason's eyes both caught something. Where the Keyblades had hit, the darkness seemed to have been forced away from that area, leaving it less protected. “Riku, Kairi, did you-!?”

    “Yeah,” Riku shouted, while avoiding a vicious swipe from the monster's tail. “You guys thinking what I'm thinking?”

    In an unspoken agreement, the four warriors charged forward, surrounding the Heartless with a plethora of blows. The monster fought valiantly, thrashing its tail and snapping its razor teeth whenever it had the chance, but it was clearly overwhelmed in the flurry of flashing metal.

    From somewhere in the chaos, Jason's voice could just be heard calling, “Its chest! Aim for its chest”

    Sora took that as his time to move, and pushed off the ground, his Keyblade aimed directly at dark Killer Croc’s armoured chest. He felt a claw tear through the flesh in his arm, but the surrealism of the moment dulled the pain. He hit his mark hard, along with Kairi's and Riku's strikes. As expected, the thick darkness which had been acting like armour, receded around the Heartless’ chest. Jason took his moment and leapt forward, driving his blade deep into the monster with a twirl of his wrist, finally able to penetrate it due to the lack of protective dark scales.

    The monster gave an agonized inhuman howl, before Jason stepped backwards pulling his sword free, darkness trailing from its tip. They watching as the dark mass fell to the ground. The four of them were panting heavily, and stepped back abruptly as the huge scaly body started to dissolve into the air, blending into its bleak surroundings. No shimmering heart lifted into the sky however.

    Jason sighed. “Lucky that thing decided to ditch Croc’s body and fight us head on! Roy would have killed me if I had had to waste him.” He shrugged at the other three’s questioning looks. “Forget it.”

    With a jolt Jason remember his brother and turned around to face Dick. He ran the few steps towards him, and dropped to his knees, the All Blades clattering to the ground. Sora walked over and dropped down too, just then realizing how much he was trembling. He was followed by Kairi and Riku, both of whom looked shaken. Dick was breathing, but shallowly, and there was an angry purple bruise around his neck. His boots and uniform were covering any damage done to his legs, but from what Sora had felt from merely being splashed, he guessed it wasn't pretty. It was strange how the dark water didn't affect clothing, only human flesh.

    Jason was now bending over Dick, checking his pulse and opening his glazed eyes to peer into them. Dick just lay there, unmoving. With a gasp Kairi summoned her Keyblade once more. Sora automatically turned around to see which enemy was there to attack them this time, maybe Killer Croc as Jason called him, had gotten back up. But the girl simply cast a high level cure spell. Both Sora and Riku face palmed. Why hadn't they thought of that?

    It seemed to take forever as lights danced around Nightwing’s still body. Sora summoned his own Keyblade and was about to cast another healing spell, but Riku pushed his blade down again. “We're probably going to need to preserve our magic Sora.” He said grimly. “Why do you think none of us are healing any of these minor wounds?”

    Remembering his arm, Sora looked down to see a fairly deep cut running across it. The bleeding had already stopped however, so Riku was right. There was no need to waste magic. Living with minor injuries now could save their lives later. Sora glanced over at Kairi and saw a few scratches on her face. His stomach gave an uneasy lurch. Maybe just a little magic?

    Suddenly, Dick twitched, then bolted straight up!

    “Killer Croc!” He yelped with more than a little panic in his voice.

    Jason didn't even bother answering but launched forward in a rare moment of self-initiating affection and hugged his brother tightly. This shocked Dick enough to render him speechless, and the next few minutes were spent filling him in on what had happened while drinking some normal water from their packs and munching on fruit. Dick's strength seemed to slowly return over time, and within five minutes, he seemed to be back to full health. The party gathered their belongings and stood up, trudging over to the river once again, crossing by the unconscious Killer Croc on their way. Jason looked over and was relieved to see the steady rise and fall of his huge chest. As far as villains went, Croc wasn't that bad.

    They came to a stop, this time a few feet from the river’s edge, and once again stared into its glossy depths, contemplating what to do next.

    Kairi pulled her head away first. “So, do you think there’s a bridge nearby?”

    Dick swung his head wildly around. “Depends. Where are we…? Ah!” Behind them was a vast sprawling complex, long roads surrounding it. “I didn’t recognize it at first, but that’s the airport.”

    “Then the closest bridge is the Trigate.” Jason waved to a monolith a little ways off, swathed in dark fog. It extended partially over the water before abruptly ending. The gap between the two halves of the bridge was still too wide for gliding. “After that, there’s the Kane Bridge over that way,” he pointed the direction, “and the Brown Bridge on the other side of the Trigate,” pointing in a completely different direction.

    Sora noted the directions and jumped. If he could get high enough… Settling into a stationary glide, he looked over where the Kane Bridge was. Frowning, he swung his head over to the Brown Bridge. He was still frowning when he landed next to Kairi. “The Kane Bridge is broken too. And the Brown is covered in some sort of… plant? I think it was a plant.”

    Jason cursed. “Ivy. Damn. If it was just me and 'Wing, we could take her.”

    “Hey, what’s that supposed to mean?” Sora bristled. After all they’d been through, they thought they couldn’t handle themselves in a fight?

    Nightwing held up his hands in a placating gesture. “It’s not like that Sora. Ivy uses poisons. Mostly mind controlling, but some are fatal. Hood and I have built up an immunity over the years, but I don’t want to risk exposing you to that.”

    There was silence for a minute. “Well now what?” Riku finally asked. “None of the bridges are usable and we can’t exactly swim across the water.” The quintet shuddered at the thought.

    The air was suddenly filled with voices, all speaking over each other with a different theory. Sora wanted to try gliding across the bridge with a really long rope, ignoring that they didn’t have a rope long enough to stretch the gap. Riku thought they could freeze the water and walk across it. Kairi pointed out that they needed to conserve their magic and the spell would probably wear off before they could cast the next one. Dick tried calling the Batwing or the Batboat and when that didn’t work, suggested borrowing a plane from the airport. Which, based on a quick glance, had no planes.

    Jason was strangely quiet throughout. He simply stood, arms crossed, helmeted head cocked slightly. Sora stopped talking halfway through a mad plan to Firaga the Brown Bridge and hope the plants burned away before they could get poisoned (“We need to save our magic Sora,” Kairi reminded him helpfully) to watch him. After another minute of silence, Jason nodded and pulled off his helmet. “Don’t panic,” he stated, just loud enough to be heard by everyone.

    Before anyone could ask what they weren’t supposed to panic about, Jason’s eyes started glowing yellow through the lenses of his mask. Small black lines appeared around his mask, hairline and neck. Pulling two fingers to his mouth, he let off an ear shattering whistle which could probably be heard halfway across Gotham.

    He didn’t clap his hands to his ears even close to soon enough. “Hood, what…?” A great screeching sound filled the air before Sora could finish his question. A vaguely familiar screech. Looking up, he caught sight of three of the bat-like Myotises racing towards them.

    He dropped into an offensive crouch, Keyblade at the ready. He felt more than saw Riku and Kairi taking similar stances. Already, he was going through their attack patterns. They keep high in the air, diving really fast claws-first. Stay down a moment, get their bearings, then fly up again. Not a lot of time to attack, but it was an easy enough pattern to follow. Plus, if he needed to, he could just jump up and attack them when they weren’t expecting it.

    He was preparing for the dive when the Heartless landed, far out of reach of any attacks. Surprised, he relaxed his stance a bit, standing slightly and releasing his Keyblade with one hand. He was pretty sure he was seeing things when Jason started walking towards the things, hand extended.

    Holding his hand out, the Heartless bent its head to sniff at it. Jason’s eyes glowed brighter as he spoke. His voice layered, as if there was two of him speaking. “You will listen to me. You will fly myself and these others to the other side of the river. You will not attack us.” The bat Heartless’ eyes glowed briefly in unison. Jason gave off a satisfied smirk and turned back to the group’s surprised faces. “Alright. We can get going now.”

    Sora took in the dark lines, the yellow eyes, the layered voice, the Heartless, and summed up his thoughts succinctly and eloquently. “Huh?”

    “Um, Hood?” Kairi ventured, probably expanding on Sora’s thoughts. “What do you mean?” Definitely expanding.

    His face twisted in pain briefly before answering. “Yeah, I can’t actually hold them for long. I’ll explain on the comm.s on the way over.” One of the Myotises twisted its shoulder closer to the ground so Jason could climb on. “Let’s go people, two per bat.”

    Dick spent all of a second considering, then shrugged and climbed up behind his brother. Riku followed, claiming one bat for himself. Sora and Kairi climbed on the last one, settling between the head and the wings. Sora kept an eye on his Heartless. If it made a move towards attacking them, he could probably get a hit in first. As long as they were high enough and close enough, he could glide to the other shore. He might even be able to carry Kairi. Riku could take either Dick or Jason, but the other would be left to fall to the water. He really hoped Jason knew what he was doing.

    The bats lifted their wings. Dropping their wings, they created a windstorm that made Aeroga seem like still air. The Heartless and their passengers shot high into the air, level with a few of the shorter skyscrapers in Gotham.

    Once the Heartless had leveled out their flight, Jason’s voice came across the comms. “About the Heartless…”

    Sora interrupted. “Yeah! How did you get them to listen to you? Why are your eyes yellow? Will they attack us while we’re in midair? If they loop upside down, will we get a warning? Will other Heartless attack us while we’re up here?” He could have kept going, but Kairi smacked his shoulder lightly. He glanced back at her peeved expression and gave a quick, embarrassed smile.

    “As I was saying,” Jason’s voice was still doubled, so it seemed like he was twice as annoyed at Sora. “I was talking to my darkness and it said I could do this. These Heartless see me as a stronger Heartless right now. And since Heartless are mostly instinct, and it’s pretty suicidal to intentionally piss off a stronger being, they’re listening to me for now. But I can’t hold this for long. It takes a lot of concentration and kind of hurts a bit, so I would appreciate not being distracted.” That last comment was clearly directed at Sora. And probably Dick, who was trying to engage Jason in a game of Stella Ela Ola.

    To everyone’s great relief, they made it across the river with no problems. The creatures soared further upwards, towards the city, stretching their great wings for lift as darkness trailed behind the group. They flew through the sky and then steadily began to dip down as the Heartless lowered slowly to the ground. Sora saw Jason stiffen suddenly. The wind was too loud for him to pick up the sudden gasp Red Hood made, but Dick heard it and poked his head around his brother’s shoulder.

    “Uh, Hood, you oka-”

    Suddenly their Heartless bucked in mid-air, causing Dick to grab onto his brother’s shoulders to avoid being thrown off. As suddenly as it started, it stopped. The creature was once again making a slow decent towards the ground, but Nightwing’s heart was hammering a thousand beats a second.

    “Not... good.” Jason growled.

    Dick decided it was best to stay quiet, just as Sora's and Kairi's Heartless gave a sudden sharp turn to the left. Kairi screamed as she slipped from the creature’s back as it turned its body sideways, but Sora quickly reached out a hand and caught her wrist at the last second. With some difficulty he pulled her back up as the Heartless settled down and adjusted into the former flight path.

    “Hood!” Sora yelled over the howl of the wind. “What gives?!”

    Riku also wanted to know what was going on. He had a suspicion that Jason was losing control of the creatures, and clutched the back of his steed tightly to avoid splatting on the hills below.

    Jason's whole body was stiff, and his head was bowed in concentration. “We need...to jump.”

    “What!?” Kairi gasped looking at the good 50 foot drop below. “Are you crazy Red Hood?! We would die!”

    As she spoke, her and Sora's Heartless gave another wild buck that made their hearts rise to their throats.

    Jason gasped, froze, and then looked back at his friends stiffly. “Gonna… make them dive... Jump off at the last second. Then... fight.”

    Before anyone could ask for further explanation, the three Myotises lurched forward, and dived. Wind screamed around them and tore at their clothes. They clutched the Heartless as the ground surged forward to meet them. Sora braced himself, and at the last second grabbed Kairi's hand. He pushed off the Heartless's back as best he could, and the two of them went flying through the air, Sora letting go of Kairi’s wrist in the process. He had tried to hit the ground in a roll, letting the momentum bring him forward instead of harming him. But they had been moving at such a speed that as soon as he hit the ground he was slammed forward with so much force that he rolled along the grassy earth several times before he came to a stop, unable to breathe from the impact. He laid there for several seconds, blinking stupidly as he stared up into the sky. Then he saw the black shapes of the Heartless circling around above him, preparing to once again dive at their temporary riders. Taking in a small breath, Sora managed to push himself up into a sitting position before breathing in blessed gulps of air. He looked around for his friends, and saw a flash of white. Kairi was a few yards away from him, but sitting up groggily. Before he could spot anyone else, a terrible screech tore his eyes upwards once again to see the three bats diving down, furious.

    Instantly he stumbled to hit feet, and summoned his blade in a rush of shimmering light. A gleam to his left told him Kairi was doing the same. Before they could do anything however, one of the bats was upon him. It fluttered down, razor claws bared and mouth snapping as Sora slashed his Keyblade warningly. In an instant Kairi was at his side, and they thought the creature was going to back off. But the next moment, it dropped forward once again, its claw lunging towards Sora's blade. He jumped aside to avoid its grasp, and immediately regretted it. Kairi was now open to attack. But she didn't seem to mind. With a fluid grace, she ducked the monster’s other razor claw and twirled forward, bringing her Keyblade up to make a sizable gash along the monster’s back. Apparently that wasn't enough to vaporize it, because with a rush of wings the Heartless had turned its back on Sora and was now snapping pointed teeth at Kairi. She jumped back, and Sora saw his opportunity. He ran forward, and thrust his Keyblade into the creature’s back. It jerked and turned around to face him, before vanishing into millions of fading beads of darkness.

    Kairi laughed in a slight moment of victorious joy and smiled at Sora who returned it with a huge grin of his own. But the next second, Kairi's expression turned to fear as she raised a hand.

    “Sora look out!” She cried.

    Something hard crashed into him, and in a moment of complete shock, Sora was thrown high into the air before crashing back to earth in a daze. What had just happened? The world seemed far off and fuzzy as spots danced in front of his eyes. And for the second time in five minutes he couldn't breathe. But in moments his vision was clearing, and he was pushing himself shakily off the ground. A Heartless was flying straight towards him. Its yellow eyes were angry and its claws extended. Suddenly, Sora realized the Kingdom Key was no longer in his hand, and felt panic surge through his veins as he willed his weapon back to him. It wouldn't materialize fast enough! The creature was practically on him when something small streaked though the air and hit the creature's head hard, causing it to snap to the side. Whatever happened, it had worked. The Myotis stumbled slightly to the side, and Sora was able to roll out of its way in an act of pure instinct. The creature was not pleased. It swooped in a semi-circle, letting out a blood curdling kind of howl. Sora, still dazed, but now with his Keyblade, prepared to fight. But the next instant, someone streaked past him and plunged their weapon straight into the monsters exposed chin. With a roar of pain, it dissipated into thin air. Sora blinked. “Kairi?”

    She turned around a bit shakily. “Y-you all right?”

    He nodded a bit dazed. “...Yeah. And you?”

    “Oh, you know, just fighting huge bat monsters who want to eat me. Nothing too crazy.”

    The two were silent for a second, then burst out laughing in one of those weird moments right after something traumatic happens. They both felt giddy with their own success.

    “Hey!” Nightwing called. “You guys all right?” He was jogging up to them, one hand clutching an escrima stick white the other held three batarangs.

    “We're good Nightwing.” Sora said, stepping forward with Kairi to meet up with him.

    “Sora took a pretty hard hit.” Kairi piped up.

    “Yeah.” Nightwing said, nodding slowly. “I saw that. And you almost took another one. You sure you're okay?”

    “Fine.” Sora assured. “How's everyone else?”

    Nightwing looked behind his shoulder. “Hood was fine. He took care of the other Heartless. And Riku is passed out over there in the grass. I saw his Heartless twist while he was jumping off. I was gonna check on him, but I needed to make sure the Heartless bothering you guys were gone before anything else.”

    Looking around for his friend, Sora saw him lying in the grass about 30 feet away, with Jason crouched down beside him. The three jogged over to the two, and leaned over Riku. Sora reached out a hand and shook his friend lightly. To his great relief, Riku snapped open his eyes and then bolted upright, causing those around him to jump back. He took one glance around before spotting Jason, and grabbing the hero's shirt.

    “You tried to kill us!” he moaned, albeit jokingly, before releasing his grip and letting himself drop back onto the grassy soil. With a sigh, Sora did the same, and before long, everyone was collapsing down on their backs, looking up at that huge glowing moon and then over at the ominous city, which was very close now. It seemed to emanate evil.

    “Guys.” Jason said at last. “We're crazy.”

    “Yup.” They all said in unison.

    It was good to enjoy the peace while it lasted.

    It was briefly interrupted by a few Heartless popping up, but a few bullets, a batarang and a well-placed Fire spell – all without standing up – put them back down again. As signs go, this one pretty clearly said “Get moving, before something worse shows up.” So, after another moment of relaxing, the quintet stood up, stretching out their sore muscles.

    Sora tilted his head to the side, working out a kink. “So Nightwing, Hood, where do you think the Keyhole is? It’s normally somewhere very important to the world.” He flexed his fingers, making a small contented noise when they all cracked into place at once.

    “Hmmm…” Dick rotated his shoulder, then bent backwards further than any human should be able to. “Probably Wayne Tower. It’s the center of all the transit lines, plus most of the jobs in the city are connected to it somehow.”

    Dropping his ankle from where he had been holding it to stretch his quads, Jason smirked. “Let’s get going then.” He pulled on his helmet and set off.

    Riku, in the middle of realigning his spine, muttered something about impatience. Kairi laughed. “At least we don’t have to wait for them.” Turning back, she waved at Sora, who was trying to catch up after sitting to stretch his legs and back. “Hurry up slowpoke!”

    Riku smiled as Sora ran towards them. Dick and Jason were still walking, but Riku and Kairi stuck around to wait. When he caught up, they all walked forward together.

    Right into a cloud of gas.

    Riku inhaled in surprise. The gas filled his lungs quickly and his vision blurred. Dimly, he felt Kairi fall to the ground, crying. Sora whipped out his Keyblade a moment later, attacking an unseen enemy. The two Gothamites in front of him gave out shouts of surprise. The last thing Riku heard before his vision went black was fighting.


    ~*~​

    He opened his eyes to darkness. Carefully standing up, he whirled in circles, looking for a way out. The sound of metal on metal caught his attention. Behind him, a cloaked figure was fighting Sora and Kairi. And winning. Kairi was breathing hard and holding her shoulder. And based on the way Sora flinched when he landed after a combo, his left knee was injured. Riku tried to run towards them, trying to help, but he couldn’t move.

    The figure danced its way around his friends. Kairi fell first, a sharp jab to her stomach sending her flying. Then Sora was kicked to the ground. The figure raised its blade, point aiming straight for his heart. Riku cried out in distress, trying to reach him in time –

    – but his view shifted. His vision was obscured by a very familiar hood, his hands encased in gloves. He felt a smile stretch across his face as his Keyblade – not Way to Dawn, Soul Eater – plunged into Sora’s chest. Sora didn’t make a sound. His face contorted into an expression of extreme pain, absolute betrayal, before vanishing into darkness.

    Unable to stop himself, Riku pulled off the cloak. A brief glance down out of his peripherals didn’t show him his usual jeans-and-a-shirt outfit. He was wearing a white waist coat under a longer black jacket. Something he hadn’t worn since he had looked like Ansem.

    With a growing sense of dread, he stalked towards Kairi. She was shaking in fear and he felt a stirring of joy in him at the sight. Finally, these interfering Light Warriors would get their reward. His white-gloved hand raised Soul Eater one more time and slashed his friend across the chest. The look of betrayal in her eyes mirrored Sora’s as she slowly faded away.

    And Riku laughed, even as he cried.

    I’m sorry. I failed you. I fell to the darkness.


    ~*~​

    Kairi opened her eyes, surprised to find herself in The World That Never Was again. Just ahead of her, she could hear the sound of fighting, one she was familiar with. Sora’s exuberant battle cries along with Riku’s more subdued exclamations. She smiled and summoned Destiny’s Embrace, determined to help.

    She turned a corner and almost tripped on the Neo Shadow right in front of her. She grinned and slashed down on it. She jumped through the resulting cloud of darkness and fought towards her friends.

    Once she reached them, she fought by their side, just as she’d dreamed. They fought in harmony, one attack leaving the perfect opening for another. Covering one so that the other could lash out. Heartless dropped faster than they had ever before.

    Then something changed. The Heartless kept coming, and their pattern fell out of alignment. Suddenly, Kairi wasn’t keeping up. More and more, Sora and Riku had to cover her, sacrificing perfect openings to prevent a claw piercing her chest. She felt fine. She felt like she was at her prime. But it wasn’t enough.

    A crashing sound would have drawn their attention, if they hadn’t been so focused on the fight. As it was, Kairi didn’t notice the two Organization members not-so-subtly creeping up behind them. She didn’t notice the weaponry pulling back. She didn’t notice them plunging towards her, intent on impaling her from behind. But her friends did.

    There was a noise, like a rock splitting a coconut, and the world froze. Kairi turned, only to see Sora and Riku standing in front of her, Sora with an Ethereal Blade in his chest, Riku with purple arrows in his. The world shattered and she screamed.

    I’m sorry. I was a burden to you. It’s my fault you’re gone.


    ~*~​

    Sora sat up and stretched. A sleepy smile lit across his face as he gazed over the familiar water. Intent on going back to his nap, he lay back down.

    And shot up not a moment later when he saw the sky. There were dark clouds stretching from horizon to horizon and the wind whipped the trees. He knew this. He had seen this. He had to find his friends.

    He raced towards the bridge, going to the Paopu Tree. That had been where he had found Riku the first time, why wouldn’t he be in the same place now? Luckily, both of them were there. Unluckily, they were both unconscious, and there was a Darkside stretching its claws towards them. Suddenly furious, Sora raced forward and swatted the claw away with his Kingdom Key. He would protect his friends. This Darkside wouldn’t know what hit it.

    He attacked with everything he had. Every Firaga, every Ragnarok, every combo he knew. The Darkside didn’t feel any of it. The claw continued creeping towards his friends. Desperately, he attacked, but the claw didn’t deviate from its course. With a horrible slowness, the Darkside impaled his friends, and their forms shuddered into darkness.

    Sora was still for a moment, unbelieving. Then reality crashed down on him and he sank to his knees, screaming.

    I’m sorry. I wasn’t strong enough. I couldn’t protect you.

    VIOLENCE ABOUNDS

    “-ight?! Sora, wake up! Are you alright?!”

    Blinking his eyes, he wasn’t entirely surprised to feel tears on his lashes. What was surprising was the slight ache on one side of his neck, kind of like when Bruce had stuck him with a needle back in the Batcave. He lay there for a moment before what happened on the Island came back to him.

    “Riku! Kairi!” He bolted upright, wincing when his head protested. Loudly. A hand clamped down on his shoulder and he turned to face Dick. His eyes filled with tears at the sight of his friend. “I couldn’t save them. They were counting on me to protect them and…” His chest tightened beyond the point of words. He couldn’t speak, he couldn’t breathe, he didn’t know how he could continue like this. Riku and Kairi, his best friends since always, were gone.

    “Sora.” Dick’s voice was calm, too calm. Sora felt his anger flare up, rarely touched but always hot and ready to blaze. How could he be calm?! Riku and Kairi were gone and he just – “Riku and Kairi are fine. What you saw wasn’t real.” What?

    He whipped his head around. Riku was sitting on the ground, holding his head. Jason knelt next to Kairi, helping her to sit up. Both of them were alive. Tears filled his eyes again, but different tears. Tears of relief. And joy. Absolute joy.

    Standing, he wobbled and would have fallen if Dick hadn’t grabbed him. As quickly as he could, he stumbled over to his friends, needing to talk to them, to touch them, to know they were both real. He collapsed between them, wrapping one arm around each of their shoulders. They both seemed as surprised as he had been that they were all alive. That they were all ok.

    “What happened?” Riku was the first to break the silence. Sora couldn’t fault him. He wanted to know too.

    Jason’s face was invisible behind the mask, but his tone was grim. “Scarecrow. The same thing that happened to Croc happened to him. He released his fear toxin on the entire block. My air filters kept it out long enough to give Wing and myself the antitox. We would have given it to you three sooner but…” He shook his head, obviously upset.

    Jason stopped talking, so Dick continued. “Scarecrow kept us busier than we would have liked. He’s normally fairly easy to beat once you have the right antitox – no muscles to speak of – but with a Heartless on his side, we didn’t have any openings to take without leaving the other to serious injury.” His mouth tightened. Clearly, both he and Jason felt like they had failed. Sora couldn’t help but draw parallels to his… fear vision? He smiled at them, forgiving them instantly.

    Kairi’s eyes narrowed. “What’s your definition of serious injury? Because half of those look really serious.”

    He gave them a quick up-and-down. Nightwing’s suit was ripped in three places, blood weeping out of the large wounds on his chest and thighs. There was a bruise forming on his forehead that extended into his hairline. Red Hood had a large cut running across his Batsymbol and left arm, and he winced every time he shifted either his right ankle or his chest. His mask was cracked above one eye.

    Hood, having done his own survey, snorted. “We’ve had worse. A few cracked ribs won’t kill me.” He swore when Nightwing poked him in the chest.

    “No, but they will slow you down.” The acrobat turned his gaze to the three Islanders. “How about it? Got enough juice for a quick fix? I’m not looking forward to facing another inmate with a concussion.”

    Jason swore and grabbed his brother’s head, checking the injury. Dick winced at the motion and batted Jason’s hands away. Smiling at their antics, Sora summoned his Keyblade. “Heal!” Green light and the sound of bells filled the quiet Gotham air. The vigilantes’ injuries knitted themselves together, the bruise on Dick’s head fading to nothing. At the same time, the light rejuvenated the Keyblade Wielders. The shock and stress of seeing their greatest fears melted away. Not completely – it would always be there, hiding at the backs of their minds – but enough to bring the metaphorical sunshine back to their lives.

    It wasn't long before their group started towards the city again. By now the buildings of Gotham were no longer part of the skyline, but towered above them, blending into the inky sky above. No one could help but feel tension build as they approached the city. The repercussions of what they had already faced would weigh on their shoulders for a long time to come. Nonetheless, they kept trudging forward, until finally they stopped where the grass was suffocated out by concrete. Jason turned around to face the others.

    “Alright guys. I have no clue what's in there. But I know it's gonna be worse then what we've already had to deal with here. Whatever happens, we stick together. I don’t thinking we're going to last very long one on one.”

    The others’ serious faces told him they understood and with that, they crept into the depths of the city.

    The place was definitely different than the actual Gotham. The absence of flustered people bustling around the dirty streets, not to mention the loss of warm light glowing from street lamps, made the city feel dead. Even the rats were gone. Strangely enough though, garbage still littered the ground. To Jason and Dick especially, it just felt wrong. Nevertheless, they crept further and further into the maze of buildings, prepared to be ambushed at any second. They weren’t foolish enough to think they could just get to Wayne Enterprises without a fight. In fact, the more they walked, the more the building tension made them itch for something to happen. All that could be heard was their heavy breathing, and the crunch of their shoes on broken glass and forgotten flyers.

    “Well, well,” a deep smooth voice sank out from an alleyway to their right. “What do we have here?”

    Everyone stopped. It wasn't like they could run from anything they came across. Fighting was their best choice, and they sure as hell didn't want to turn their backs on the enemy.

    The person spoke again, but this time the voice was laced with a higher pitched, and if possible more sinister tone. “You certainly don't belong here. Not now. It's just... doesn't feel right, ya know.”

    Nightwing stiffened, now recognizing the voice. He locked eyes with Jason, who gave the minutest of nods, indicating he had come to the same conclusion.

    A dark figure melted out of the shadows, but the lack of light made it impossible to see any defined features. He stopped just outside completely revealing himself in the moon light.

    “Here's the question. Do I attack the Bats, or do I attack the little punks first?”

    Instinctively Red Hood and Nightwing stepped forward and drew their weapons protectively, even as the distinctive metallic ring of a coin being flipped into the air echoed around the alley. The shadowy figure caught it, and for a second there was silence.

    “... Bats it is! But don't worry. I have a few friends who would be more than happy to entertain the kiddies.”

    And in a split second, the world exploded into complete chaos.

    Kairi screamed as something grabbed her from behind. She fought and struggled to break its grip while summoning her Keyblade, as huge fingers tightened around her shoulders. Sora was already facing her, Keyblade in hand, and staring up at the huge form of a Dark Thorn. “Kairi!”

    He leapt at it without a moment’s hesitation, but something hit him from behind as well and he went flying forward, right into Riku. The two crashed into the pavement, and struggled to scramble to their feet as four Invisibles surrounded them. Kairi managed to twist herself enough to strike at the huge Heartless's arm. Unfortunately, that only seemed to make it mad, and it tightened its grip. She coughed as air was forced out of her lungs, but remembering her training, willed the panic out of her mind and quickly studied her enemy. There had to be a weak spot. The chains! Lurching forward, Kairi reached down and caught the end of one of the links on a chain wrapped around the Dark Thorn’s ankle, and pulled up. To her relief, the creature automatically lost balance and began to stumble forward. She quickly pulled her blade free and jabbed it into the Heartless's wrist. Reluctantly it let her go and she dropped free and rolled out of the way just in time to avoid its huge feet. She jumped up, turning to face it as the Dark Thorn caught its balance. It turned to face her, an angry look in its eyes. Kairi braced herself and ran forward to meet it.

    Jason and Dick were heaving problems of their own at the moment. One of the top villains in Gotham and a number one psychopath, Two Face was trying his very best to kill them. It was strange to fight him, because unlike the other villains, Harvey seemed to have at least slight control of his actions. He was very concise and aware of his surroundings. Or so it seemed. At the moment he had a gun in his hand, a big one, and was having a bit of a fire fight with Red Hood. Shots rang through the air as the two zigzagged across the alleyway, hiding behind dumpsters and building support beams. Nightwing was jumping from fire escapes to windowsills, gliding through the air and deflecting bullets with ease. His plan was to close in on Dent while he and Jason shot it out down below. But Harvey was smart. He wasn't letting his attention stray from one crime fighter for too long. As soon as Dick got close enough to attack, Two Face would send a hail of bullets his way, forcing Nightwing to retreat, all the while hiding from Red Hood's fire. All in all, the scene was extremely chaotic.

    Frustrated at how ineffective his plan had been thus far, Dick pulled out a batarang and aimed it directly at Two Face's gun. The villain was used to this kind of tactic and ducked the projectile before sending a few bullets Nightwing’s way. Nightwing growled and deflected them, then flipped down to regroup with Hood. The firing had stopped for the time being.

    “All this is doing is wasting your bullets Hood,” he whispered. “We need a new plan.”

    Jason glared at Nightwing through the mask. “You think I don't know that, idiot?! But what are we supposed to do? It's not like we can just walk up to him. I don't know if you noticed, but those are armour piercing rounds ‘Wing.”

    Dick bit his lip. He had noticed and Jason was right. Those bullets were extremely dangerous.

    “I wanted to try and bait him out of all his ammo. I'm sure you've noticed he's a bit trigger happy tonight.” Jason breathed.

    Dick nodded. It did in fact seem as if Harvey was simply attacking without a plan, which was quite unlike him.

    “Whatever he's doing, it has to be a trap.” Nightwing said. “It's always a trap with Dent.”

    Before Jason could respond, there was a yell and Sora came flying through the air and landed roughly on the pavement a few feet away from the two vigilantes, right in the line of fire.

    “Shi-” Jason shouted but gunfire cut him off. Nightwing was already propelling himself forward with amazing agility and with a few expert strokes from his escrima sticks the bullets went flying in three different directions. But now he was wide open too, and Sora was stunned behind him. Hood knew Nightwing couldn't be that lucky for long, and in a split second decision, leapt over the wooden crate they had been using for cover and charged the villain, who had likewise crawled out of his hiding place. Harvey scowled as Red Hood charged him, but aimed what looked like an AK-47 straight at him. Instinctively, Jason reached into his belt and drew out a smoke pellet. It exploded, billowing smoke into the air as Jason dived to avoid a hail of gunfire. He only hoped the bullets would avoid his friends as well. He rolled a few times to the left and then crouched low, surveying the scene. He was used to fighting in low visibility but his helmet made things even easier. He spotted the silhouette of Two Face running forward, probably trying to escape the cloud of smoke. He was going to pass Jason in seconds. Holstering his gun, Red Hood pulled out his taser and counted down. Three, two, one, NOW! He charged forward, ready to knock Two Face out with 50,000 volts, but instead of feeling his taser connect, Red Hood was thrust backwards with such violence he hit the stone wall of a building hard enough to hear something crack. His very disoriented mind hoped it was the wall and not him. He slid to the ground gasping, trying to figure out what had hit him. It couldn't have been Dent. He hadn't been able to see in the smoke!

    A rush of wind announced the presence of Nightwing landing next to him. Hood pushed himself into a slightly more dignified sitting position and coughed.

    “What happened?” Nightwing asked, looking very much alarmed.

    “Don't know. I was ready to take him out under cover of the smoke, and then... gah, something hit me.”

    Nightwing glanced up at the huge dent in the bricks lining the building. “Definitely wasn't Dent. No way he has that kind of right hook.”

    Jason groaned in agreement as Dick stood up and helped him to his feet. Pretty much everything hurt, but not enough to put him out of commission. Thank God for body armor.

    “How's Sora?” He asked, still catching his breath.

    “Fine. Just a bit winded.”

    “Good.”

    The smoke was clearing now. And the two were scanning the area for Two Face. He couldn’t have gone far in those few seconds. The sound of the Keyblade Wielder’s fighting echoed around the battlefield, but Dent was nowhere in sight.

    Nightwing shifted anxiously. “Where-”

    He was cut off by a sudden terrifying roar. Both he and Jason froze at the bone chilling sound coming from their right. They turned just in time to see a huge black dog oozing out of the shadows. And on its back, smiling menacingly, was Two Face, complete with glowing yellow eyes and black throbbing streams of darkness running down his skin.

    The dog Heartless was streaking towards them through the air and it was only thanks to years of training that they could duck in time to just avoid its snapping jaws and six inch claws.

    “I think I know what hit you Hood!” Nightwing shouted while rolling to hit feet.

    “Ya think!?” Hood shouted jumping up and looking wildly around. “That thing was freaking huge though! Did it just melt into the shadows?”

    In response, a growl had them both whirling to their right where the huge dog was forming once again from the shadows lining the alley walls. This time the two were ready, and ran to meet it. The dog gave a single bark that made the hairs on Jason's neck stand up, but as it streaked towards him through the air, he ducked down again and aimed three shots into the creature’s belly. It snarled and fell to the ground, making the earth shudder. But it wasn't defeated by a long shot. Darkness oozed from its wounds, but it circled around, quick as lightning and ran at Red Hood. This time Jason had to jump to the side to avoid its huge clawed feet. A blur was all he saw as he ducked away, but he knew Nightwing was going for Dent from behind. He heard an angry yell from Two Face, and a triumphant laugh from Dick. Scrambling to his feet, Jason turned around just in time to see Two Face on the ground with Nightwing standing next to him, one foot on the AK-47 while the other rested on Harvey himself. He was just about to knock Dent out with a quick jab from an escrima stick, when the huge shadow of the dog bounded towards him.

    “'Wing! Watch out!” He screamed.

    But it was too late. The dog already had its teeth around his shoulder.


    ~*~​

    Sora was fighting hard, but it seemed like they were getting nowhere. As soon as he had caught his breath, he had bounded back to help Kairi and Riku with the Heartless, but he had found that there were even more then when he had left. Invisibles could take a lot of hits before they went down, and the entire street seemed to be full of them. On top of that, the Dark Thorn was still thrashing around, with Kairi weaving in and out of its attack patterns. As he reached Riku and swung at the sword of a nearby Invisible, Kairi ran up to his side, panting heavily. A cold shock wave of surprise ran down his back when she approached. This was the first time he had really seen her injured. She had bruises lining her shoulders from the Dark Thorn’s iron grip, and blood was slowly trickling down her left arm from a gash in her shoulder. On top of that, she looked exhausted – probably not any more than the rest of them did – but seeing Kairi look that way made Sora angry. Really... really angry. He plunged the Kingdom Key into his Heartless's chest, and turned before it had even started to disintegrate.

    “Sora, Riku,” Kairi gasped. “More than one of us needs to fight that Dark Thorn. I can't land a solid attack when its focus is only on me. We need a distraction.”

    Riku laughed while swinging his blade downward, succeeding in vaporizing his fifth Invisible. “That's funny. It's the exact strategy these guys are using. Send the Invisibles as distractions while the Dark Thorn takes us out one by one.”

    The three then had to scatter as the Dark Thorn charged towards their party. Unfortunately, the Invisibles followed them, pressing in around each of them individually so that they had to separate from one another. But Sora knew that Riku and Kairi were right. They had to fight together. The Dark Thorn was going for Riku this time. Its huge, powerful, clawed hands swiping as Riku's Keyblade. He was off balance, and was stumbling backwards with each impact. Suddenly he vanished behind a wall of Invisibles surrounding Sora. He huffed in annoyance and swept them back with a single slash. But they merely blocked with their swords and advanced once again. Sora grit his teeth. Now that he understood what was happening, it was so much more frustrating. He had to back up further as three swords smashed into the ground where he had been standing moments ago. He parried the next blow, and tried his hardest to push forward through the crowed of Heartless, but he had to back up once again as they surrounded him. He could hear Riku and Kairi fighting, along with the roars of the Dark Thorn. He also heard gunfire in the background, and hoped that Dick and Jason were alright. Desperately, he leapt into the air and pulled off one of his more impressive aerial manoeuvres, knocking about seven Heartless off their feet. But it wasn't enough to defeat most of them, and with a sinking heart, Sora saw them get back up, even as the Heartless standing behind them closed in. Sora looked around thinking hard. He needed a way to get these guys off his back so he could go help his friends, and fast. Mercifully an idea came to him! All he needed to do was stop the Invisibles from attacking him so he could get to his friends.

    “Deep freeze!”

    A jet of icy wind shot out of his Keyblade and swirled around the Heartless closest to him, effectively rendering them frozen Invisibles while blocking the Heartless behind from advancing. Pushing off from the ground, Sora used one of the Invisible’s frozen swords as a step to push into the sky and flip over the heads of the remaining Heartless. He spotted the form of the Dark Thorn instantly and glided towards it. It seemed Kairi and Riku had managed to stick together for the most part, but Kairi was holding off the Invisibles from stabbing Riku in the back while he tried desperately to get a good hit in on the Dark Thorn. Sora saw his advantage and in a second, was dropping down, wind whipping his hair around, straight onto the creature’s unprotected head. He drove his Keyblade deep into its flesh. The Dark Thorn stiffened, freezing in mid attacked, then swung viciously to the left, throwing Sora off of its back and towards a building. He hit something hard. Very hard. And then everything went black.

    WARNING. VIOLENCE. LOTS AND LOTS OF VIOLENCE.

    “Sora!” Kairi screamed as her friend slumped lifelessly to the ground. But her attention was forced back onto the Dark Thorn. It was thrashing around, extremely angry and swinging its head back and forth. She knew Sora had done some serious damage, but it wasn't defeated yet. Riku was already being pressed on all sides by Invisibles, and they were closing in on her as well. She had to play her advantage while she had it. But it was hard to stay focused when she didn't know how hurt her friend was. Biting back tears, she sprinted ahead, right at the Dark Thorn. Unfortunately, it saw her, but she knew what she needed to do, and blocked its claws as best she could while focusing on her target. She knew she wasn't entirely successful in avoiding its attack when she felt something sharp tear into her side, but luckily, the adrenalin was keeping the pain at bay. Now close enough to its head, she thrust her Keyblade up in a wide arc, smacking the Heartless's head and causing it to rear up on two legs. Now was her chance. She leapt forward, yelling a battle cry in the heat of the moment, and brought her blade down on its belly where there were no armoured spikes or rough skin to protect it. The Dark Thorn bellowed in pain, then fell to one side causing the ground to shake as Kairi almost lost her footing.

    She leaned down, placing her hands on her knees and breathing hard, staring at the evaporating Heartless.

    “Are you freaking nuts!? Riku called. “That was suicidal!”

    She turned around to face him, a huge smile on her face. “But I'm still standing and he's not, so maybe I'm not as crazy as I look.”

    Riku only groaned half in frustration, and half at the effort of blocking two Invisibles swords at once. “Well if you're not too busy, mind helping me take down the rest of these guys?”

    Knocking the monster’s swords away and striking out at their now exposed chests, he ducked another sword and sidestepped to get himself into a better position. He looked back to see what Kairi's response was, but didn't spot her at first glance. “Kairi?”

    He had to refocus on the Invisible's in front of him again as four or five of them closed in. He jumped up and slashed downwards in a few successive strikes, pulling of an impressive combo. Landing, he ducked another sword before slashing at their legs. Caught off guard, the Invisibles fell to the ground, and it was easy to finish them off from there. Riku looked around, ready for the next challenger, but it dawned on him that there weren’t any. He knew he hadn't taken them all out. Had they left when the Dark Thorn was defeated, or were they waiting to sneak attack him?

    Suddenly Riku's eyes landed on Kairi and all thoughts of Invisibles were swept from his mind. She was lying on the ground, obviously passed out, and freely bleeding from a serious wound to her side. She must have collapsed while he was fighting!

    “Kairi!” Riku yelled, panic overloading logic as he ran towards his friend. He knelt down next to her and instinctively cast a healing spell. He had never been very good at them, but what else could he do? And where was Sora? Was he injured too? Riku could feel his magic seep away from him even as he thought it. This night just kept getting better and better.

    ~*~​

    About two hundred yards away, Jason was having problems of his own.

    The massive dog thing was surprisingly difficult to pin down, despite its burden. Dick was still between its teeth. He’d manoeuvred himself carefully so his legs were wrapped around the dog’s neck in an attempt to lessen the damage to his shoulder. But with the way his spine was twisting, his back had to be killing him. His other arm was trying to jab an escrima stick in the thing’s eye, but the angle was wrong. Hood had to be careful when firing at it. Hitting Nightwing accidentally when he’d already lost this much blood would probably kill him.

    After a dozen or so bullets lodged themselves in the dog’s hind, Nightwing finally got a good shot at its nose, electricity sparking off the end of the stick. It roared, dropping Nightwing. Hood moved in as Nightwing rolled to safety, squeezing off shots like no tomorrow. The dog got a lucky swipe at his left leg before he delivered two full into its face. It dropped like a rock.

    As the dog started dissipating, Jason dropped beside Dick, roll of bandages and bottle of disinfectant already in hand. He didn’t know if the Heartless had even had germs, but he wasn’t risking it. He dumped a quarter of the bottle on the punctures on the front of Dick’s shoulder and another quarter on the back. As he did, he realized with a sinking heart that the shoulder cuff was broken. The dog must have bitten down hard to do that. He wrapped the bandages around the injury quickly, set the bone and strapped the arm to Nightwing's chest to prevent the shoulder from moving. Hopefully, that would stop the bleeding until one of the kids could get a spell on it. He finished up and pulled Dick over to where Sora was still unconscious. A quick glance at the kid showed blood running down his face. Checking his pulse and sighing with relief at the strong beat, he wrapped Sora's head in bandages. He then administered the same treatment to his leg.

    Nightwing’s eyes fluttered open, then widened. “Hood, behind you!”

    He turned, heart dropping at the sight before him. The dog hadn’t been dissipating, it had been changing. The beast before him was massive and feline, with two heads, and split down the middle with its colouring. On one side, it was striped black and white, with a tiger head that looked ready to devour whatever stood in front of it. The other side was pitch black and rabid. The head was similar to the first, but with long, vicious canines. A rabid saber-tooth tiger. Great.

    Two Face, having stood up and recovered his assault rifle, nimbly leapt on top of the cat thing, straddling it just behind the shoulders. He slung his AK-47 over his shoulder and pulled his standard semi-automatic pistols from his jacket.

    Hood stood, half a block’s distance between him and the monsters, gun in one hand, All Blade in the other. Nightwing stood shakily beside him, an escrima stick clenched in his good hand with his other arm bound to his chest. Resisting the urge to argue – Hood knew he would need all the help he could get with this one – he waited for the cat to make its move.

    It wasn’t a long wait. With surprising speed it lunged forward, claws extended. On its back, Two Face was letting out a steady hail of lead in front of it. Both vigilantes leapt aside, Red Hood only slightly slower. They had both been trained to fight despite injuries. Their own individual experiences had made them able to fight well, injured. Nightwing’s blood loss and injured arm would slow his reactions, and Hood wouldn’t be doing any fancy flips or roundhouse kicks with his leg – not to mention the one or two cracked ribs – but hopefully, they would be able to last and might even win. Then again, against two uninjured enemies who would be formidable on their own, they might not.

    Could definitely make Two Face and his newest lackey work for their victory though.

    Pulling back his arm, Hood grabbed Nightwing and flung him towards Two Face and the Two Cat thing. The acrobat twisted in midair, barreling into Dent and knocking him off of the cat. They landed a few feet away, but the cat, unable to stop its momentum in time, continued towards Hood. He dived to the side, plugging a few good shots into each of its legs as it passed him. It wasn't a creature of flesh and blood, but it probably still wouldn't do well with holes in its legs.

    Sure enough, Two Cat stumbled, its front legs collapsing and sending both of its heads tumbling to the ground. Hood spared a glance at Nightwing. He was doing pretty good against Two Face, despite the arm. Two Face wasn't easy to go against though. With nothing to do in Arkham but stare at walls and chill in bed, Dent tended to practice martial arts in his spare time, which both of the former Robins knew very well. Batman had only shown them the security footage a million times.

    Flicking his gaze back to the cat, Red Hood barely dodged in time. It had gone from being twenty feet away with its face in the dirt to right in front of him claws extended in half a second. This would be the last time he underestimated its speed.

    Rolling to his feet, he grabbed a tuft of the cat's fur and pulled himself on its back. Immediately, it started bucking, trying to get him off. Turning the All Blade around in his hand so that the blade was coming out near his pinky, he plunged the sword into Two Cat's back, right on the line between black and stripes. The cat roared in pain, intensifying its efforts to dislodge him. But with the sword hilt-deep in its spine (or it would be, if the cat had had a spine), Hood had the best handhold he could ask for in this type of situation. Pulling his gun, he pressed it against the base of the tamer head and tightened his finger on the trigger.

    Just as the gun went off, something long and furry smacked into Hood's arm. The shot went through the cat's ear instead of its medulla and the force of the hit knocked him halfway off its back. What was...? The tail, waving back and forth challengingly. Stupid to forget about it, but he could fix that.

    He left the All Blade in the cat's back and pulled his knife. Holstering his gun, he summoned his other All Blade and used the two blades as climbing hooks, stabbing into Two Cat as he moved towards its rump. Unfortunately, from here Two Cat could and did reach back with its front claws. He twisted, trying to avoid the grasping paws. Finally making it to the tail, he slashed quickly, cutting it off at the base. The beast yowled again and contorted its body further than before. It hooked its claws into his already injured leg and flung him away. Hood crashed through a wall, breath escaping his lungs, right arm screaming. Shakily, he stood and tried to walk, his bad leg almost buckling under him. Looking out of the hole he made, he was pleased to note that the cat was pawing at its severed tail, trying to push it back onto its stump. That gave him a moment to check his injuries. Both his thigh and his calf shredded, right humerus broken from when he went through the wall, at least two cracked ribs. Two limbs out of commission, and the ribs would slow him down more than anything else. On the other hand, he had managed to cut off the cat's tail (more of a spite thing than anything else), put a few shots into each of its legs, and inflicted a few deep injuries all the way down its body. Still, things didn't look good for him. He pulled the last of his medical supplies from his belt, wrapping the leg and strapping his arm to his chest.

    Pushing himself out of the wall, he started towards Two Cat. It looked up at him balefully, studying him. Could it study him? Did it have the intelligence to? Apparently so, because it huffed at him and turned away, towards where Nightwing was still fighting Two Face.

    Hood felt his blood boil. It thought he was injured enough to be harmless? Clearly, it didn't know him very well. Giving off a malicious grin, he pulled his gun with his good arm and fired. The shot landed in Two Cat's neck. As the cat turned towards him with a downright murderous expression on both of its faces, he holstered his gun and pulled his grapple, shooting off towards a building far away from Nightwing's fight, then hit retract. The cat, predictably, followed him. He might not be able to win this fight, but he could keep the cat far away from Nightwing until he had beaten Two Face.

    Once he had reeled himself in, he fired again. Three blocks from Nightwing's fight, he landed on a fire escape. The cat was right below him, prowling, waiting for him to be a good little meal and come down. Yeah right. Pulling his gun again, he unloaded the rest of his clip into its torso. The cat, angry and impatient (and really, who would have guessed a Heartless could feel? Probably its connection to Two Face), snapped. It started attacking the building Hood was sitting on. It took a moment for his slightly slugging brain to figure out what it was doing.

    Then he felt the building shift beneath him. The entire face of the building dropped a foot or so. Two Cat jumped back, surprised. It probably hadn't expected this, only wanting to take out its frustrations on the building. Before Hood could jump clear of the fire escape – not that he could anyways, not with his leg – the entire wall fell forwards, burying him and the cat under a few feet of rubble. If Jason hadn't been busy, he would have seen the black smoke curling out of the scattered bricks and glass as Two Cat dissipated. He probably would have smiled and boasted his victory for a bit. He would have, if he hadn't been busy being unconscious and bleeding out under the wall of a building.

    ~*~​


    A few blocks away, Nightwing was having a hard time. The fight with Two Face had started bad and gotten worse. After tackling Two Face off of his cat-thing, he had landed badly (on his arm) and received a kick in his stomach for his troubles. Thrusting out his legs, he kicked Two Face's out from under him, using the momentum from his spin to twist himself into standing.

    For the next few minutes, he had the upper hand. By moving constantly, he was able to prevent the villain from landing a shot on him, although one or two came close. He flipped in range, landing a hit with his escrima stick before vaulting off of Two Face's shoulders and out the other side. He raced up the side of a building, the wall exploding with gun shots a half a second after his foot left the space. He arched his back, twisting away from the wall and diving towards Dent feet first. He landed hard on his shoulders, ploughing him into the ground. Stepping back, he allowed himself a small smile.

    A shooting pain piercing his side wiped it off of his face. It took him a moment to process the loud gunshot, to see the gun in Two Face's hand pointed at him. He would have sworn that Two Face had been very unconscious, but now he was pulling himself up. Looking down at his chest, he saw the hole near the bottom of his ribs. He took a breath and felt one of his lungs falter. So. The shot had hit his diaphragm, probably grazing the lung in the process. He pulled his last compress from its compartment and pulled his suit away from the hole, slapping the white square over the injury. He barely had time to wince (slapping an open wound was probably not a good idea) before Two Face was up and swinging.

    He dived backwards, jamming his escrima stick between his teeth. Hand free, he pulled a few batarangs, tossing them at the villain before him. Landing with his feet under him, he reversed his momentum, launching himself back at Dent and pulling the escrima stick from his mouth. He flicked on the electric setting, plugging a few thousand volts into Two Face's chest. The villain screamed, yellowed eyes closing in pain before the gun came up again. Nightwing ducked back, escrima stick coming off of its target as he avoided another bullet hole.

    Two Face hadn't spoken yet, but that didn't mean Nightwing couldn't. “What's wrong Dent? Wake up on the scarred half of the bed this morning?” He dodged an angry swing. “Whoa there, shouldn't you be checking with your coin? Who knows. My luck is normally pretty good.” Leaping out of the way of a few bullets, retaliating with batarangs. One landed in the muzzle of Dent's left gun, rendering it useless, but, predictably, he didn't release his grip on it. “Tell you what. Scarred side and I have to go through all the trouble of beating the crap out of you. Clean side, you surrender and we both get home before bedtime. Well...” giving a mock look at the sky, he shrugged his good shoulder, “maybe before dawn.”

    Through all of this Two Face didn't speak. He seemed a little beyond words at the moment. His eyes were wilder than usual, and any vocalizations he made were strictly limited to grunts and growls. Actually, he sounded a bit like his demon cat thing. Landing both feet on Dent's head, Nightwing risked a glance at Hood's fight. Hood was grappling away, the cat close on his heels. Turning his attention back to his own fight, he kicked both guns out of Two Face's grasp, then booted them far down an alley way. He ax-kicked Two Face across the shoulder blades as he tried to stand. A crash resounded in the distance as the villain landed in the dust and finally fell unconscious. Nightwing fell back into sitting, wincing when he jostled his shoulder.

    Someone shouted his name and he shot back into standing. He swept his eyes over the street until he saw Riku and Kairi. She had a very tired looking Riku's arm slung across her shoulder, but besides that, they seemed fine. “Hey guys!” Dick gave a tired wave. “Sora's over here. He has a nasty bump on his head, you might want to look at that.” If they had enough magic after that, maybe they could fix his side. Or his shoulder. Both would be nice too.

    Kairi gasped at the sight of Sora, laying motionless on the ground. She gently lowered Riku to the ground and ran towards the other boy, summoning her Keyblade as she went. Dick sat down again, next to Riku. Well, closer to laying down. He didn't think he could hold himself in a sitting position for too long, not with a hole in his abdomen. He knew that Sora had cast a wide-area spell on them before, but he also knew that Kairi wasn't advanced enough yet to do the same. She had told him herself on the walk to Gotham. So he would wait, and hopefully not bleed out or pass out before she got to him.

    Riku started when he sat, probably noting the copious amounts of wincing between vertical and horizontal. “Sorry.” Dick raised an eyebrow at the apology. For what? that one gesture said. “My magic is still recharging. It'll be a few more minutes.”

    “Ah. It's fine. I've had worse.” Shifting to a more comfortable position and regretting it when his shoulder screamed, he continued. “I probably won't be able to fight a horde of Heartless or an Arkham regular like this, but I could limp myself home and stitch myself up.” It was Riku's turn to raise an eyebrow, and he did so. Dick simply shrugged his good shoulder again. “I've done it before.”

    Thankfully, Riku let it go at that. It wasn't that he had a problem with talking about all of his previous injuries and subsequent ministrations. But it hurt to breathe and it hurt more to talk and he just kind of wanted to lay here for a bit.

    When the green glow faded, Sora sat bolt upright. The bandages Jason had applied fell away. His wildly flailing eyes landed on Dick who gave out another tired wave. “Nightwing! Hold up, I'll heal you!” He scrambled into sitting and cast. Dick closed his eyes in relief as he felt the bones and torn muscles in his shoulder pull together and mend, the hole in his side fill, the graze on his lung stitch itself shut. For the first time in too many minutes, he breathed deep. And stopped breathing when his head cleared and he remembered.

    “Hood. We have to find him!” Standing was easier this time. He looked in the direction Jason had gone, vaguely amused at the half-destroyed building. Jason simply couldn't do anything without breaking a building or two. He pulled Riku to his feet and started pulling him towards the building, Kairi and Sora following. As he got closer, his amusement turned to horror. He hadn't noticed any injuries when he had spotted Hood earlier, but there were splashes of blood stretching across the street in a zigzag. There was dark smoke coming from under the rubble of the building face. If Jason had dropped a building on the cat thing to beat it, he would have been on the roof across the street, laughing and waiting for the others to catch up. He got to the edge of the debris, letting go of Riku so he could climb in and check it out. As he had thought, the dark smoke was from the cat thing which was still dissolving. But where was...?

    A shape sticking out from what had been a window caught his attention. He knew that shape. That shape had kicked him in the face numerous times a few years ago, before Jason had come home. That shape still kicked him regularly during sparring.

    It took a moment for him to reconcile that shape with its implication. The shape that looked exactly like Jason's foot led to a leg that was buried under the building. And if that leg continued, that meant that Jason was buried under the building.

    WARNING: DESCRIPTIONS OF INJURIES.

    His eyes widened, his breathing quickened. “Jason!” He dived at the pile of debris, pulling bricks away from where his brother lay. “Jason no! I am not losing you again! Jason!” As he worked, the three Keyblade Wielders starting digging as well. Not with the same wild panic that Dick was, but it was pretty close. Dick just hoped, with everything he had, that this time, they wouldn't be too late to save the wayward Robin.

    Dick felt sick as he heaved heavy slabs of stone off of where his brother must be buried. How had this happened!? Jason seemed to be fine just a few minutes ago! Hood's fighting style had always been a bit reckless, but managing to topple an entire building on himself? Really?

    As the four dug deeper and deeper into the pile, the form of an unconscious Jason began to appear. He was covered in dust and – Dick took in a sharp breath – blood. He had sustained some serious injuries, and Dick wondered if they had been from the fight, or the few hundred pounds of debris piled on top of him. Then he spotted a hint of white under his bloody leg, and even a makeshift sling on his brother's arm like the one he himself had been wearing just a few minutes earlier. So at least some of these injuries occurred during the fight. But his helmet had a long ominous crack running straight down the middle effectively splitting the high tech device in two. If Hood had been hit with enough weight to crack that piece of armour, it meant the helmet had undoubtedly saved him from certain death. Or had it?

    “Jason!” Dick quietly half sobbed as he knelt down beside his deathly still brother. He lifted a shaky hand to Red Hood's neck, slipping his finger under his armour to find a pulse. It took him a while before he was rewarded with a weak heart beat, alarmingly weak, but he was alive. Biting his lip to keep from crying, Dick tore his gaze away from his little brother to look back at the Keyblade Wielders, who were now standing a few paces back, staring at the two with a mixture of shock and fear. “He's alive.” Dick said, his shaky voice betraying a title wave of emotions. “But he's weak. I don't want to move him, not sure if he has any internal damage. Can you guys heal him from here!?”

    Immediately the three began trudging over the debris to kneel next to Dick and Jason. Dick shot a nervous glance their way. It was obvious merely by their body language that they were utterly exhausted. He didn't know how much a high level healing spell like the kind they had all used cost them, but from their condition, he would venture a guess at a lot. They practically fell next to him, their heads drooping with tiredness, and Dick felt yet another pang of guilt as he watched them. He hated asking his new friends to do this. But he had to. Another glance at Jason told him they really did need to act now.

    “I need to warn you 'Wing,” Riku sighed tiredly. “I don't think we have enough magic to properly heal him, even between the three of us.”

    Dick had dreaded he would say something like that, but he merely nodded. “Just... do the best you can. Please. I'll take it from there.”

    As one, Sora Kairi, and Riku summoned their Keyblades in a wave of light and raised them above their heads. “Cure!”

    Instantly, a bright light and that feeling of warmth that Dick had come to love so much enveloped the group. He immediately backed up, making sure none of the healing magic was being directed towards him. He stood a few feet away from Jason and the Keyblade Wielders as they worked, watching with an increased feeling of anticipation as lights danced around his brother's still form. It didn't look like much was happening, and Dick wondered if the spell was even working. But very slowly, Dick actually heard rather then saw Jason's breathing even out, the harsh ragged gasps turning deeper and more rhythmic.

    Suddenly the light faded. Kairi bent forward so that her head was pressing against a cold slab of stone, Sora dropped his Keyblade which shimmered, vanishing into thin air, and Riku dropped his head, taking in slow deep breaths.

    “Guys!” Dick shouted, alarmed. “Are you-?”

    “Fine.” Riku gasped. “Just... need to catch our breaths. Check on Ja-Red Hood.”

    Though he didn't like to leave his friends in that kind of state, he hated leaving Jason lying there more. Hopping nimbly across the pile of cement, wood, pipes, and wires, Dick once again crouched down next to Jason, studying his brother's face. Hoping his friends' spell had at the very least taken Jason out of any immediate danger, Dick reached out and gently removed Jason's helmet. It came off easily, but when Dick saw his face, he swore.

    The helmet had done its work. Evidently there was no concussion or fractured skull. But a steady trail of blood was running from Jay's mouth, indicating internal bleeding. Dick clenched his teeth and began checking his brother over for any evidence of the injury that could have caused it. With any luck the spell had healed anything as dangerous as internal damage. But how could Dick know for sure? He ran a hand through his hair, a trait he had no doubt picked up from Bruce. It was impossible to properly check Jason over here in a pile of rubble. As much as his training went against it, Dick slid his hands under Jason and heaved him up. He was heavier then he remembered... then again, Dick couldn't remember the last time he had carried Jason like this. Years ago probably, while he was still a Robin.

    Making it onto flat pavement once again, Dick bent down and placed his brother on the ground as gently as possible. He hadn't seen anything too alarming in terms of some kind of external trauma. Again, he would just have to hope his friends' healing spell did the trick. He bent over Jason's leg, and started fumbling with the bloody bandages to get a better look. Suddenly Jason moaned.

    Dick started and turned to look at his face. Sure enough, the white slits on his domino mask were starting to open. Frowning, Dick moved over to Jason's head.

    “Hey, Hood?” He said quietly, “you with me?”

    Jason blinked up at Dick confusedly for a few seconds, then began to push himself up, grimacing. Dick knew this drill all to well, and placed a hand on Red Hood's chest, pushing him back down. “Stay put idiot. You've lost a lot of blood.”

    Jason grimaced even further as he laid back on the ground. And the pain in his voice was evident when he spoke. “That bad huh?”

    Dick glared at Jason, daring him to try getting up again, and then moved back to his leg. “Maybe, haven’t really had the chance to check. Just pulled you out of what was left of that building.”

    Jason cocked his head slightly to the left considering. “Huh, that's right. That stupid cat totally collapsed the – OW!” Jason jerked his leg back and glared at Nightwing. “The hell man?”

    Despite his brother's glare, Dick was actually relieved at Jason's reactions. He was alert, a very good sign. Unfortunately his leg was still bleeding freely, but it seemed that the magic had helped quite a bit if he was able to glare at Dick like he wanted to murder him. Maybe it had healed whatever internal damage their was, but didn't get to the more minor injuries. Dick hoped so.

    “Sorry, your leg's pretty torn up. Gonna need stitches for sure.”

    Red Hood sighed. “Wonderful. I don't suppose we have any anaesthetic? Do we even have stitches?”

    Grabbing his backpack, Dick rummaged in the pockets before pulling out a small first aid kit, grinning triumphantly. “Looks like the wizard guy came though!” He looked through the small pack for a second, then paused. “Um, except proper anaesthetic. It's a really basic kit.” He gave Jason a sympathetic glance. “Sorry Hood.”

    Jason laid his head back down on the pavement, looking the other way. “Just get it over with, will you Goldie?”

    Dick nodded. Carefully manoeuvering his brother, he managed to get his pants off so he could get at the injury better. Then, despite the situation, he had to choke down a laugh. “Nice boxers.”

    Jason craned his head to look at the Wonder Woman boxers. “Yeah. Gag gift from Arsenal. Honestly though, they're the most comfortable ones I own.” Dick nodded. He could appreciate that.

    Nightwing pulled out the necessary supplies, and was happy to find a bit of disinfectant. He poured some on his hands, seeing as there were no sterile gloves to work with (Alfred would have had a fit), and then dropped a generous amount of the liquid on the open leg wounds. Jason hissed and his hands tightened into fists, but other then that he was still. Nightwing was impressed. But then, Jason had always had a very high pain tolerance. Dick started threading the needle like he had done what seemed like a thousand times before now. His hands were shaking slightly from the adrenalin of the previous fight, and he had to take a few steadying breaths before he was ready.

    “Um, sorry in advance bro.”

    He began his work, quickly pulling the wounds closed, trying both to be quick for Jay's sake, and careful. The injuries were fairly deep, and there were a lot of them. It looked to Dick like Jason had been hit in the same place twice. That was never fun. He knew. Angry red claw marks only big enough to belong to that dog, er, cat Heartless, were crisscrossed along Red Hood's lower thigh and upper shin. Injuries from claws were always messy because they weren’t like blades. They tore rather then cut, and left jagged wounds that were difficult to patch up. By the time he finished, his hands were slick with Jason's blood. He always hated that, but he couldn't do much about it at the moment. He grabbed some bandages from the supplies and wrapped the leg tightly, then glanced at Jason. He looked pale, and was taking deep slow breaths, a pain management technique Dick recognized. Overall however, he didn't seem to be doing that bad. Nightwing pulled his pants back up and crawled up to sit beside his head.

    “Well that's done.” He said, taking on as cheerful a tone as possible. “What else hurts?”

    “Everything.” Jason growled.

    Nightwing nudged his side. “Seriously Hood.”

    Jason exhaled a long shaky breath. “Arm, I broke it during the fight, but it feels off again. I think something happened to it when I fell.”

    Nightwing nodded, and carefully removed the makeshift sling, and slowly worked to slip off Jason's jacket. After about a minute, the pale skin of his arm came into view, and Dick immediately grimacing at what he saw. Apparently his expression was pretty bad, because Jason lifted his head, trying to get a better view himself.

    “Oh, that's lovely.” He moaned.

    His arm was bent at such an angle that his fingers seemed to appear backwards, and the skin directly above his elbow was an angry swollen red. The break was nearly a compound fracture, as the misplaced bone above his elbow was clearly visible, but hadn't broken the skin. Thank goodness. Nightwing really wasn't equipped to deal with that.

    “I think it's a transverse fracture, which means I can realign it.”

    Red Hood stiffened. “You mean...you?”

    Nightwing raised an eyebrow. “Uh, yes me. Who else?”

    He was slightly hurt by the look of panic on Jason's face. Sure he wasn't the best of the Bats at first aid, but they had all learned enough to be reliable. Bruce had made sure of that. It came with the line of work.

    “Don't wimp out on me now.” He chided. “I've done this before and you know it.”

    It was hard to tell, but Dick thought Red Hood looked even more pale then a minute ago.
    - maybe we can just wait and get Sora to heal it or something?”


    Dick rolled his eyes and shoved a thumb behind his shoulder, pointing in the direction of the K.O.ed Keyblade Wielders. “Something tells me their magic is going to be out of commission for quite a while. They just spent every ounce of it fixing you up as best they could.”


    Jason fidgeted uncomfortably, gazing over at his friends. He bit his lip, seeming to think it over. Nightwing decided to let him, it was better then arguing. Though he did second guess how effectively Jason could reason what with the stitched up leg and broken arm and who knew what else.


    Finally Jason sighed, which made Dick smile as he recognized the defeat in his voice.

    “You better know what you're doing.” Jason grumbled,

    Inching forward, Nightwing ran his fingers over the arm, making sure he got a feel for what he had to do. “Aw, come on Hood,” He sighed. “You really think I could ever hurt you?”

    Jason started to chuckle. “Is that a trick que-?”

    SNAP

    Nightwing had to jump back as Jason bolted upright, half crying out in pain, half cursing Dick's existence.

    “God 'Wing, give a guy some warning won't you!!”

    Dick just smiled and pushed Jason back down again, which was a good thing since the sudden change in elevation made him sway.

    “Oldest trick in the book!” He chirped happily. “Much better if you don't know what's coming.”

    Jason knew it was true, but he still mumbled things under his breath which Alfred would have smacked him for. Dick felt the bone again, sliding his hand across it. He was pleased to find that it, to his knowledge, was completely realigned. Jason didn't know what he was talking about, he made a great doctor!

    As Jason muttered angrily, Dick grabbed some rebar from the wreck and placed it along the broken bone, bracing it. He carefully wrapped both in bandages, then replaced the the sling, intercepting a punch from Jay's good arm as he did so, and set about scanning him for any more injuries. Blood spattered his shirt, which was a bit worrisome, but all he found were a few minor cuts from what looked like shrapnel. He cleaned them as best he could with the disinfectant, and only had to stitch up one of them by Jason’s neck which was fairly deep, but overall nothing to worry about. Dick summed up Jason's general good fortune of not being dead to a combination of his protective armour and the others' healing magic.

    “Anything else wrong?” Nightwing asked, ignoring the death glare. He was starting to remember how awful of a patient his brother was. Suddenly he felt sorry for Alfred.

    Jason pushed himself up, then swatted away Dick's attempt to push him back down for the third time with his good hand. “Nah, I'm good. I busted up some ribs earlier, but I think they're okay now. Must have been that magic like you said.”

    As if on cue, the three younger heroes came trudging over, looking awful. Kairi was barely lifting her feet, and Sora seemed as if he was ready to drop down, curl up, and take a nap right there.

    Riku was the first to reach them. He knelt down tiredly beside Nightwing and Red Hood, glancing at Jason's leg and arm.

    “How ya doing Hood?” He asked, the strain in his voice evident. Both Kairi and Sora dropped down next to the others, looking almost as pale as Jason did.

    “Not half as rough as you.” Jason retorted, studying their exhausted faces. “Sorry if I drained all your magic. I didn't know it made you so tired. Will you get it back soon?”

    Sora shrugged. “It will probably take time to recharge. Not sure how long, but being surrounded by complete darkness probably doesn't help.”

    Riku nodded, shifting into a more comfortable position. “I don't think any of us are in a condition to travel, let alone fight. “

    Nightwing nodded and leaned back on his heels. “You're right. I think we should camp out here for a while, get some rest. “

    To his surprise, neither Jason nor Sora argued. Even Kairi remained silent, which he thought was weird. He had gotten the impression from her that she didn't back down easily.

    Immediately Jason fell back onto the ground, voluntarily this time, and stretched, then winced as he pulled on his stitches. “Guess he's right. Going against whoever the main baddie is in this place as we are is suicidal. We need to rest.”

    That seemed to settle the matter, not that anyone needed much convincing, and in a few minutes they were all sitting on small sleeping bags, huddling together against the chilly outside air. One look at any of the deserted buildings was enough to convince them to camp outside, Heartless or not. Jason especially, vehemently refused to take a step inside another building. After having a meal of bread, some dried meat, and fruit, Jason, Kairi, Sora, and Riku curled up and were asleep in minutes. Nightwing had volunteered to take the first watch, and gazed at his companions fondly. Despite all of the crappy things they had been through, he was happy to have them as friends.

    The night – if it was night, it was impossible to tell – passed uneventfully. Sora had mentioned that once cleared out of an area, Heartless didn't normally return unless whoever had cleared them left. Weird, but then again, Heartless were mostly instinct. A small Shadow appeared once, but a batarang took care of that. And so Dick sat, watching over his friends and brother. At one point in the night, Jason started shifting, clearly getting into a nightmare. It was something all the Robins, and probably quite a few other superheroes, had to deal with. Dick simply moved closer, laid a hand on his good arm and whispered in his ear, things like “It's ok” and “You're safe” and “I'm here”. Things that had worked with Tim, with Damian, and with Jason.

    An hour later, he woke Riku up for his watch. The teen rubbed his eyes, glad to see that his magic was almost fully charged. He sent Dick to bed with the promise that he would heal Jason a bit more and then settled in.

    Eyeing the injuries, Riku turned an idea over in his head. So far, all of his healing spells had been area-type magics. Actually, all of his spells were. It was useful in combat when he needed to wipe out six Heartless at once and didn't really have time to aim, but not so much in healing. He wondered if he could do something more precise.

    First things first though. Dick had been worried about internal injuries. He had probably gotten it when he had healed Jason the first time, but for this type of thing, it was better safe than sorry. So Riku quietly cast Cure, which should be just enough to clot any and all remaining injuries, and speed up the healing on any which were already clotted. Then he took a quick look around to make sure there weren't any Heartless around.

    Concentrating on Jason's arm, he cast Curaga, trying to will the magic to heal only that bone. Slowly, green light began playing over the injury, brighter and more intense than usual. Riku shielded his eyes, By the time the glow faded, he was incredibly pleased to note two things. One, the bone was completely healed. Or, at least the swelling and bruising around the area were gone. He wouldn't be able to tell if the bone was healed without either asking Jason or feeling the injury. He didn't want to do that though; Jason needed his sleep. Having a building fall on a person could be exhausting. The second thing was that the spell had used less magic than normal. Most magic had a minimum cost. Sure, he could extend the duration by using more magic, but every cast would use the same base magic. Using Curaga should have left him about half empty, but he still had three quarters of his magic left. Interesting.

    Maybe he should focus his magic more often, rather than just letting it run around willy nilly. If he tried this with a fire spell, could he make something explode? He'd try it out later. For now, he should probably focus on Jason's leg.

    This time, he didn't close his eyes, trying to see if there was anything else about the spell that he should remember. Even so, he almost missed the tiny movement. Moving his eyes up to Jason's face, he was shocked at the expression of discomfort. He was about to end the spell when Jason shot awake.

    “Ow, what the hell??!” Jason reached out and grabbed his leg with his good hand.

    Riku dropped the magic. “Sorry Hood. I was just trying to heal your leg.”

    “I can see that. Why did it hurt though? I've been healed before and that felt like sunshine and daisies.” Riku was glad Sora wasn't awake. That sarcasm would have gone right over his head.

    “Yeah, I tried something different. Spot healing. What did this one feel like?”

    “I don't know. Massive. Intense. Like all four weeks of healing pains had just up and decided to stab me in the leg all at once.” Jason was pulling off his bandages, probably to get a look at the injury. Riku started unwinding them from the bottom, curious as well.

    “Huh. And now?”

    “Nothing. Pain faded when the light did.” They pulled the last of the bandages off.

    His leg was mostly fine. There were still a few scabs, but they were of the “two days away from being skin” variety. There was a long coil of thread stuck to his skin that Jason pulled off and tossed aside, probably from the stitches. Jason whistled. “Alright, that pain was worth it.”

    Riku smiled, pleased that his friend was feeling better, even if it was spoiled a bit at causing him pain. “Good to hear. How's your arm? I did that first.”

    “Ah, that's what that was. That hurt too, just not as much.” Carefully taking the arm out of his sling, he flexed his fingers, rotated his wrist, bent his elbow. “All healed. A bit stiff, but I can work through that.” He raised his eyebrow when Riku yawned suddenly. “Go to sleep kid. I can keep watch now.”

    “But I still have another hour!”

    “Yeah, but you probably used most of your magic up again. Go to sleep. I'll keep watch, wake Sora when it's his turn.”

    Riku grumbled a bit, but went back to his sleeping bag. He really was tired. Hopefully, his magic would be back completely by morning. Or what passed for morning in the Realm of Darkness.

    Jason smiled as Riku's breathing evened out. Leaning himself against a wall, he turned part of his mind to keeping watch and allowed the other part to wander.

    He kind of wished Riku hadn't used so much magic healing him. He knew how to fight with an injury, he knew how to fight with only one working arm. Dick's stitches would have held, even if they weren't as tight as Alfred's. Then again, no one stitched as well as Alfred. Years of practice, he supposed, and not just with injuries. Batman certainly didn't sew his first costume. Sure, most of it was Kevlar body armour now, but back before Dick had been Robin, it had just been cloth. Batman had learned quick how bad an idea that was.

    Casting an eye over the group, noting blood still lingering on clothing, he couldn't help but feel all of this was his fault. They had to save Gotham because the Heartless had pulled it into the Realm of Darkness. The Heartless had been brought to Gotham by Xehanort. Xehanort had only been there because he wanted Jason. And Jason had only been viable as a vessel because he had been stupid enough to get himself killed all those years ago.

    How crappy was it that literally every single thing that had gone wrong in his life since meeting Bruce had stemmed from a single disobeyed order?

    Although, thinking about it, Jason probably wouldn't change anything.

    Except for, obviously, the situation they were in right now. He didn't want anyone getting hurt because of him. Except criminals. But that was different.

    But because he died, Tim became Robin. As much as he had hated the little Replacement a few years ago, the kid had a way of growing on him. Breakfast at Tim's had suddenly become something to look forward to, trading information back and forth, lightly insulting the Demon Brat, and just generally bantering with each other. Sometimes, Tim saved cookies from the care packages Alfred sent over (the island he, Roy and Kori were camped out at didn't really have a mailing address), and if Jason had time and got there early, he would make more than the chopped fruit and coffee that seemed to be all Tim could make. Well, that and waffles from a boxed mix. A boxed mix. Sacrilege. Still, better than Alfred's.

    Not to mention, since he had come back, he had an infinitely better relationship with Dick. Before he had died, Dick was busy being resentful over him taking over Robin, busy being mad at Bruce for being Bruce, busy with the Titans, just busy in general. But when Jason had died, Dick had apparently realized that he should treasure the brothers he had.

    His relationship with Bruce was still strained, and probably would be forever. Or until he stopped killing people. Same thing really. But they were still better than they had been when he was Robin, when the general feeling in the air had been disappointment. From both of them. Bruce had gotten a lot of practice at being a father since then.

    As for Damian... Well, at least he had someone to talk weapons now. There was that.

    Plus, he had Roy and Kori, his kind-of-but-not-really teammates. Things had been better since he had met them. Before, he had put up a good act, pretending to be happy and full of life. But it wasn't really an act anymore. All of them had been through crap. But all of them could pick themselves up, dust themselves off and keep going. Sure, it had been tempting to find a hole and lie in it for the rest of their lives, but that wouldn't change anything. Sure, nothing could get worse in a hole, but nothing would get better either. Always better to take a chance, grab life by the horns and punch it in the face, to live and fight like you have something to live for, until you have something to live for. Roy and Kori had taught him that, and he had taught them that too.

    The crap they were in right now was still his fault though.

    He didn't want his friends getting hurt because of him.

    So he would just have to do a better job of protecting them. Simple.

    He was glad Riku had healed him now. The better shape he was in, the better chance he had of stabbing a Heartless in the face before they got their claws into his friends.

    Speaking of. He flung a batarang out, hitting a Heartless in the place the skull would be if they had a skull. Or bones.

    Time was difficult here, but his internal clock was pretty reliable. He gave Sora an extra half hour of sleep, then shook him awake. Shoving his feet into his sleeping bag, he curled onto his side and fell asleep the moment his eyes closed.

    Sora was a little surprised when Jason woke him up. Not the waking bit, the Jason bit. When Sora had gone to bed, he had been hurt. Badly. Riku had probably healed him. Sora had never taken that kind of abuse before. No one Sora knew had ever taken that kind of abuse before. Well, there was that one time Goofy had taken the rock for the King and everyone thought he'd died, but it had turned out that he had only been knocked out. Still though. A rock to the head and everyone thought Goofy had died. Jason had had a building dropped on him, massive cuts on his leg, a broken arm and who knew what else. And before Sora had gone to sleep, he had been walking, talking, being alive. Sora knew he couldn't do that. Well, probably not. He'd definitely try, especially if his friends were depending on him.

    His friends. He had thought he knew what worry was, before, when he hadn't been able to find them. At least he knew they were probably ok. But now, when he could see them and wrap an arm around their shoulders or hug them whenever he wanted, he was even more worried. He had been there, right there next to them, and he had gotten thrown and knocked out. That seemed to be all he did these days, getting knocked out. And every time he did, terrible things happened. The first time, Jason had lost his heart. Then, the second time, Jason had had to give into the darkness to save the rest of them. And just a few hours ago, it had happened again. Kairi had gotten seriously hurt, so Riku had had to use most of his magic healing her. Sora being unconscious meant he hadn't been able to help with their fight or Nightwing and Red Hood's. Kairi had used her magic to wake him up, and Dick had been hurt, so he had used his magic to heal him, leaving next to none to heal Jason. It seemed like every time Sora messed up in a fight, Jason suffered for it.

    Not anymore. Sora roved his eyes around the street, intent on tripling his watchfulness. Nothing would get near his friends, not while he had anything to say about it.

    As he kept an eye out, one landed on Kairi. She had gotten hurt last battle. Because of him. He would protect her better. He would. Actually, he would do better than that. He would work with her to protect her. Keeping her safe would be easier if she was by his side fighting than if she was far away from him. Last time they had been separated, she had gotten kidnapped by Saïx. The time before, she had lost her heart. If he had been there, Saïx probably wouldn't have bothered going after her. He had been there when she had lost her heart, but him being there had pretty much prevented Maleficent from getting it and opening Hollow Bastion's heart to darkness. Him being there had prevented a bigger tragedy, and he intended to keep it up.

    His shift was over. At least, he thought his shift was over. He couldn't really tell. But it had felt like the right amount of time. Actually, it had felt longer, but again, there wasn't really a way to tell. Carefully, he stepped over Riku to get to Kairi, waking her for her watch. He would get some sleep and tomorrow morning (or tomorrow dark or whatever), he would protect her.

    He would protect all of them.

    He crawled into his sleeping bag and was lulled to sleep by gentle thoughts of sitting on the Paopu Tree again, all of his friends safe and happy.

    Kairi was happy. Well, a bit worried. Was this the kind of stuff Sora and Riku had gone through without her? She didn't think so, but it was possible. But she was with them and she was helping. She had taken down a Dark Thorn almost singlehandedly. Sure, she had taken a bit of an injury to her side. Riku had fixed that really quickly, and then she had gotten to heal Sora. Jason had been a bit harder to heal. Although, based on the small pile of bandages and a sling on the pavement next to him, he was just fine now. Riku probably, or maybe Sora. Sora was smiling in his sleep, as usual. Lazy butt. Riku always had this little crease between his eyes when he slept, like he was thinking of a better way to something. To build the raft, to beat Sora in a race, to pilot the gummi ship, to keep darkness at bay. He was always working to improve himself, to get better. Kairi admired that. She emulated it actually.

    She wanted to get strong too. She wanted to be able to fight alongside Sora and Riku and actually have them rely on her, to be useful and helpful. And she knew part of that was to keep smiling. Riku was always so close to the darkness, even before they had left the island. He was better now, much better. Being trusted with the title Keyblade Master had been good for him and he had earned it, a hundred times over. And Sora was always so happy, but he could fall into these moments of depression. Goofy had told her that he had been very sad when they had first met. He had lost hope that he would fine her and Riku. But with the gummi ship, his hope had come back, and his happiness with it. Still though, if anything happened to her or Riku, Sora probably wouldn't recover.

    So, she would keep smiling. She would work until she was strong and then she would protect them.


    It was impossible to tell when morning was, but everyone started waking up around the same time anyways. Nightwing first, then Riku, then Jason. Sora was last as always. A smile played about her lips. Sora had changed a lot since they had left the island, but some things would always stay the same.

    After they had all blinked the sleep out of there eyes, the group simply sat around for a few minutes as if their brains were trying to unfreeze. Jason saw this as a side effect of a very traumatic night and little sleep. Of course, the black murky sky didn't really tell him if it was daytime or not, but his internal clock said they might have gotten 5 hours of rest each if they had been lucky. “First things first,” He said, pulling his backpack towards himself and peering into its depths. “I'm hungry.”

    “You're always hungry, Hood.” Nightwing commented, plopping down beside him.

    In no time they had pulled out an assortment of food, and were munching away happily. Sora and Riku had gotten themselves into an arm wrestling competition with Kairi acting as judge. Apparently they had both bet their favourite food on the match. Riku dried beef, and Sora, chocolate. Unfortunately for Sora, he lost all three matches rather quickly. Riku wasn't affected by his friends dejected face as he carried away his prize. In the end, Kairi had broken down and agreed to share some chocolate with Sora. The three sat together in a small semi circle, laughing and joking for the first time in what felt like forever.

    Dick and Jason sat side by side, grinning and watching this exchange with an air of amusement. It was fun seeing how happy they were, even amidst the rather somber circumstances. With a jolt Dick remembered yet again that the three didn't have to be here. The only reason the Keyblade Wielders had rushed to Jason and Dick's aid was out of pure kindness. Nightwing's smile widened; they really were good people. The kind of people that kept the Bats out on the streets. Fighting the scum of the earth so that kids like these wouldn't have to live looking over their shoulders all the time. Well, the three were Keyblade Wielders and all, but both the older boys couldn't help feeling a surge of protectiveness as the younger three laughed.

    After about a half an hour, everyone was feeling better and in much higher spirits. They packed up their things quickly and started yet again trudging through the dark tangle of buildings and deserted streets, trying to avoid darker shadowy areas as best they could. They were all rather sore; magic was only able to do so much after all. But they were with each other, and for now, that was enough.

    Wayne Enterprises slowly drew closer as they worked their way forward. And as much as they tried to avoid it, no one could help but be filled with dread when they saw the huge tower. It was like willingly walking to their doom. Each step brought fear and uncertainty buzzing through their skin. Everyone's instincts screamed at them to turn around, tried to warn them that this place was dangerous. But they stuck close together, latching onto each others' presence like a lifeline. Jason and Riku took the front of the group, refusing to show fear and striding forward with fierce determination. Nightwing hung back with Sora and Kairi, every once in a while giving them reassuring smiles and getting nervous ones back in return. Heartless showed up every so often, clawing their way out of the ground to stop the groups' procession. Whenever this happened, they would all surge forward as one, overwhelming their attackers, while simultaneously learning how to work as a team. Maybe their fear grew the deeper into the city they wandered, but their trust in one another was growing too.

    Sora was just starting to think those towers were getting way to close when it happened. Riku suddenly froze, his posture becoming tight and rigid. The three behind him halted immediately while Jason took a few steps more before noticing he was alone and turned around.

    “Um, Riku?” Sora asked tentatively. He was starting to get a bad feeling. A very bad feeling.

    Riku didn't respond. So Jason tried this time. He stepped in front of his friend noting his glassy eyed expression. Muttering angrily under his breath, Red Hood waved a hand in front of Riku's face. There was no response. Riku didn't even blink. Frowning, Jason put his hand on Riku's shoulder and shook him slightly, Riku's head rocking back and forth with the motion as Kairi came to stand next to Red Hood.

    “Riku?” She asked uncertainly. Her friend's eyes ever so slowly turned to look at her. Cold fear shot down her spine, and she stumbled backwards. Riku's eyes were yellow.

    “Kairi!?” Sora was by her side in a second, which she hated and loved him for. “What's wro-” He fell silent when he saw Riku's eyes.

    “Oh no...” He mumbled under his breath. “No no no!”

    Suddenly Jason staggered forward as pain lanced threw him. It hit him fast and fierce, like burning fire licking along his bones. He groaned and fell to his knees, squeezing his eyes shut to deal with the sudden shock. Somewhere in the background he could register panicked voices, but his world was already melded into a white hot mist. The only thing he could fully comprehend was his body's violent tremors as it fought against the stabbing pain. Sound and sight were obviously not registering at the moment, so it surprised Jason when he heard a voice.

    Jason, it said simply.

    Fighting to form a thought, Jason searched through the haze in his mind for who was speaking. Suddenly his thoughts came together and it clicked.

    “D- darkness?” He managed.

    Jason! The voice said again. And this time he could hear the urgency in it. Attack. External force. Must stop.

    It took him a while, But comprehension spread threw Jason like an explosion. Some kind of foreign darkness was trying to corrupt him! And his darkness was fighting back.

    Need...help, the normally monotone voice of his darkness ground out.

    And suddenly, Jason knew what he had to do. Desperately trying to ignore the awful pain and gathering up all his will power, Jason focused everything he had on driving out whatever this foreign presence was. He could feel his conscious melding with his darkness, and together they began to slowly, very slowly, regain control. It was like pushing against solid air, facing something they couldn't see, but knew was there. They were winning, it was backing down! And just like that, the world came back into focus.

    Jason gasped. He was on the ground, trembling.

    Pushing himself up, he checked on his darkness. “Uh, you okay?” He thought at his darkness.

    Fine. Came a short answer in his mind as he blinked a few times to clear his head. Then, Thank you for the assistance.

    Jason was surprised. His darkness 'thanked' him? “Uh, you totally saved my butt.” He thought sheepishly. “I should be thanking you.”

    It was then that the full seriousness of the situation dawned on him.

    Kairi and Sora were fighting Riku and Nightwing!

    Jason froze, unable to take in what his eyes were telling him. Riku was charging towards Kairi, an angry sneer on his face as he swung his Keyblade at her retreating form. She nimbly twirled around and parried his strike, but the force made her stumble back a few steps. Lunging forward, Riku jabbed at her, and she jumped to the side. Jason caught a brief glimpse of her face, and felt dizzy. Not only was she scared out of her mind, she was hesitant to actually attack. That was all kinds of dangerous. Jason supposed he couldn't blame her, but as he saw her duck a vicious looking strike without taking the opening that followed, he knew something had to be done fast. No one could run forever, and even though she was doing quite well, Kairi was obviously outmatched. It was all she could do to dodge, using her small stature to her advantage.

    Just then, something came hurtling towards Jason and he had to back flip to avoid it. The object in question, turned out to be Sora. He was already scrambling to hit feet, a rather dazed look on his face. “Nightwing!” He shouted, jumping backwards, apparently unaware of Red Hood. “What are you doing!? Stop!?”

    But Nightwing wasn't stopping. He was charging forward, his eyes set on Sora, yellow through the mask. Despite the fact that his brother was attacking them at the moment, Jason couldn't help but notice the absence of aerial manoeuvres that were so deeply ingrained in Nightwing's fighting style.

    Of course, these thoughts all passed thorough Jason's head in about a second, and before he knew it he had drawn his good old knife and was face to face with Nightwing, glaring into those poison yellow eyes. His blade ground against Nightwing's escrima stick for a fraction of a second before the second stick flashed threw the air and he had to duck to avoid it. He moved swiftly to dodge Nightwing's knee to his face, then jumped to the side, sticking his leg out as he went. It absolutely shocked him when Nightwing didn't jump to avoid it and stumbled forward. But the next second the vigilante caught his footing and was heading towards Sora again, who was staring at Jason with a mixture of relief and uncertainty. He met Dick's next strike with his Keyblade, gritting his teeth against the impact. His eyes caught Jason's for a second before he was twisting around Nightwing to avoid getting hit again.

    “Hood!” He called while an electric escrima stick tore at the air inches from his face. “You okay?”

    Jason almost flinched. The kid was way too selfless. He started running towards them, eager to stop Dick from doing any major damage, though that was pretty unlikely seeing how viciously he was attacking Sora.

    “Fine. What's-”

    He had to pause as he flattened himself to dodge a kick, then was forced to do a handspring backwards to avoid another.

    “What's gotten into them!?”

    Sora spoke between blocking Nightwing's strikes. “No. Idea. Help. Kairi.”

    Jason wanted to argue, but he knew Sora was right. She had much less experience. He turned, and right on cue, a scream made his blood run cold. His eyes fell on Kairi, pinned against a grimy building wall with Riku drawing back his blade. The sight made him feel sick it was so wrong. Before he knew what he was doing, a batarang was flying threw the air and embedded itself in Riku's hand. He growled a very familiar sounding growl, one that had his own voice overlaid with a much deeper sinister one, as he dropped his Keyblade. To Jason's relief, Kairi took the opportunity to actually slash at him, and he stumbled back, dropping her. She landed on her feet and stumbled to the left, trying to get distance between herself and Riku. Hood was about to charge forward when-

    The shadows.

    “What?!” Jason thought in response to his darkness's sudden comment. He was already sprinting to get to Kairi before Riku did.

    Thankfully, his darkness elaborated. They are being controlled by a Heartless. It is the shadows.

    Blood was pounding in his ears with each step. “What are you talking about? The Heartless are always shadows.”

    This time his darkness sounded annoyed. They are being controlled. Look at their feet.

    Reluctantly, Jason's eyes left Riku's Keyblade for a split second to glance down at his feet. He had to do a double take. Long shadows were twisting along the ground, all conjugating around the boy, and moving to wherever he stepped.

    “How do we stop it?”

    He came to a stop in front of Kairi just as Riku did. There was a flash and both blades clashed against one another, followed by a second strike, then a third.

    Defeat its source. Then drive the darkness out.

    Growling while simultaneously ducking under Riku's blade, Jason looked around for a Heartless. The next moment a kick brought him back to his senses as he found himself sprawled on the hard cement. Riku was jumping forward, blade facing down. Jason rolled, barely dodging, then leapt to his feet.

    “Where is it?”

    His darkness replied quickly this time.

    The shadows lead back to it.

    Without missing a beat, Jason drew his gun with his free hand and discharged seven bullets in the direction indicated. The satisfying sound of a dissolving Heartless told him he had found his mark.

    Unfortunately, Riku was running up at him slashing like a madman, and Jason had to back up quickly to avoid the strikes. He could already tell however that the attack pattern was much more uncoordinated.

    “Now what?”

    Riku got a hit in, but luckily the blade just scraped against his armour.

    We must make contact for a few seconds.

    “What, like touch him? While he's swinging a razor sharp blade at us!?” Jason snapped as the razor sharp blade in question flew past his left ear.

    “Yes.”

    Jason blocked Riku's next slash with his knife, and the two blades once again scraped against each other in a stalemate.

    “Kairi!” He shouted. “Come hold his arms!”

    To his surprise, Kairi appeared behind Riku in seconds and grabbed his wrists, thrusting his arms back. She couldn't hold him for long. Jason had to act fast.

    Desperately hoping his darkness knew what it was talking about, he pulled off his glove and placed his hand on Riku's thrashing head. Instantly his darkness guided him to the foreign darkness that had latched itself onto his friend. Riku's darkness was fighting against it too, and with the extra effort of Jason, it was gone in seconds. Riku immediately stopped thrashing and drooped in Kairi's arms. Jason moved to help her, but noticed she was supporting the unconscious boy just fine. Without a second thought he whirled around to help Sora.

    He wasn't doing too good. Nightwing might not be able to use all of his moves right now, but he was still a formidable opponent. Case and point, his escrima stick was charged and raised for a finishing blow with Sora stunned and bleeding from a head injury on the ground. Jason shot forward, his knife intercepting the stick.

    Gritting his teeth at the electricity, he slashed, knocking back Nightwing's escrima stick, then kicking him in the stomach. Behind him, he felt Kairi move in, setting a Cure on Sora. Good. He would need both of them on this one. He launched himself forward.

    Nightwing was a great fighter, but one of the things that had had them fighting to a stalemate every time was his unwillingness to go for the permanently damaging hits, or the killing blows. In anyone not trained by a Bat, it was irrelevant. Hood, back when he was less than amiable with Nightwing, had used and exploited that constantly. But now, every attack was set on kill. Which rankled a bit. That was Hood's thing. Nightwing was stealing Red Hood's thing.

    Blocking a blow that would have shattered his collarbone with his gun barrel, he turned the knife upwards, aiming for the arm. Nightwing turned at the last second and instead of getting a knife through his arm, it just grazed him.

    He couldn't believe he was doing this again. He knew that it wasn't Nightwing's fault, or his, that this was happening, but he couldn't help the sick feeling in his gut that again. He was fighting another Bat again and even if he wasn't fighting to kill like he had before, he was fighting to win. For Jason, that was almost the same thing. His turmoil didn't show in his fighting though. Batman and the All Caste had trained him too well for that.

    As he fought, Hood raked his eyes around his surroundings, trying to find some way to stop his brother without hurting him. Well, without hurting him too badly.

    Well, there was an antiques store across the street. Apparently, they were having a sale on cushions. Grinning at the cliche, he grabbed Nightwing's fist and the escrima stick it held, and launched him through the window.

    Sora and Kairi were there immediately, desperately holding down Nightwing's arms and legs. Jason shoved in and clapped his hand on Nightwing's forehead. The older man bucked, trying to throw off Jason's touch, but he held on determinedly. Slowly, much slower than Riku's had, the yellow faded from his eyes and he stopped thrashing. It made sense, Jason mused. Dick didn't have the same darkness that Jason and Riku did.

    As the adrenaline from the fight started wearing off, he vaguely wondered about the screaming pain in his leg. He hadn't taken a hit there. But he ignored it in favour of dragging his brother out of the window of the shop and laying him next to Riku. Then, he, Kairi and Sora sat around them, waiting until they woke up.

    Now that he had a minute, he checked his leg. And then blanched. Idiot. Sora had told him this would happen, right after that first fight. Fighting when under a lot of stress would partially or completely undo a healing. And here he was, leg bleeding in half a dozen places. If Nightwing, if Dick saw this, he would blame himself, even though it hadn't been in any way his fault. But Sora had also said that when injuries reopened like this, he couldn't heal them again. So he grabbed his backpack, glad that Sora and Kairi were watching the other side of their group and too busy talking to pay any attention to him. He grabbed a needle and length of thread and set to work.

    ~*~​


    Kairi sat next to Sora, helping him keep an eye out for trouble. After a few minutes of silence, she turned a worried look to Riku, then back to Sora. “Sora? Do you think Riku will be alright?”

    From the look on his face, he'd been asking the same question. “I don't know.” His voice was uncharacteristically sad, almost defeated sounding. But Sora never gave up. “That's kind of what he's always scared of, fighting against, you know? Giving into the darkness, attacking us again.”

    “But this isn't like that. It's more...” She paused, trying to find an example. “Like the time Ansem took him over. He wasn't in control then and he wasn't in control now.” Sora gave her a look and she sighed. “Yeah, he won't see it like that.”

    They sat in silence for another moment. She looked back at a slight rustling behind her, but it was just Jason grabbing at his backpack. “Sora?” She asked the question that had been bothering her since they had landed in the Realm of Darkness. “Is this how your adventures always are?” Because if they were, she was never letting him out of her sight again.

    Sora seemed shocked at the idea though, which eased her mind a bit. “Oh no. Not at all. This is a lot different. More darkness and blood and pain but...” He smiled at her. “I met Nightwing and Red Hood and Red Robin and Batman and Robin. I think it's worth it.”

    She shook her head, smiling. She couldn't help but think back to their last day on the island, before all of this had started. He was so reliable. She had asked him not to change, and he never did.

    They sat in silence again, but this was a lighter silence. Cheerier. She was almost disappointed when Riku shifted behind her, but mostly she was happy he was awake.

    “Riku! You're awake!” Sora cried joyously, ignoring the way Riku cringed at the noise. Headache probably. “How are you feeling?”

    “Fine. I... What...?” He looked around, confused. For a brief moment, Kairi thought he didn't remember. Hoped he didn't. But then his eyes widened and filled with regret. “Sora, Kairi, I'm so s-”

    Kairi put a hand to his mouth, stopping the apology before it could form. “Nothing. You have nothing to be sorry for. All that matters is that you're here and none of us are hurt.” He nodded, not completely convinced. That was fine. They could convince him better later. After all of this was over.

    Dick opened his eyes before any of them could say anything more. He jumped up, crouching low into a fighting stance, a scary expression on his face. Quickly shoving something back into his bag, Jason stood in front of him, hands out to his sides. Kairi was surprised at the gentle tone in his voice. She'd never heard that from him before. “Calm down 'Wing. You're safe. There's nothing in your head.”

    His face stayed scary for another moment before relaxing into confusion. “Little Wing? Where-?” Just like Riku, his eyes widened when he remembered. “Oh no! Did I hurt you? No, I hurt Sora. Sora, are you alright?”

    Dick grabbed Sora's head, looking for injuries. Sora let him for a minute, then pulled away. “I'm fine Nightwing. Kairi patched me up perfectly.” At this, Kairi felt a rush of pride. She was getting better at magic. She knew she was.

    Kairi's eyes wandered a bit as she listened to Sora and Dick's banter. Both of them were fine. Riku would be ok, maybe not today, but really soon. She would make sure of that. Sora too.

    Determination renewed, she focused on the conversation again. Dick was saying something about not knowing Jason could sew. For whatever reason, that got him a bit flustered. “Yeah. The Two Cat shredded my pants pretty badly. You actually got a hit in on the exposed skin, so I thought putting it back together would be better. You know, for protection.”

    Dick scrunched up his face. “Nooo... I don't remember hitting you in the leg. I think I was mostly aiming for the chest and head areas.” The idea made him turn a bit green.

    “Well you did!” Jason snapped. Kairi didn't know him very well, but he seemed overly defensive. Dick's face fell immediately, which caused Jason's to soften. “I didn't mean it like that 'Wing. I'm just stressed about all this.” Dick still seemed sad, so Jason tried again. “Tell you what. When we're out of this, I'm taking you to Amusement Mile. Games, cotton candy, we'll even ride the roller coaster.”

    “And the spinning cups?” There was a definite note of pleading in Dick's voice.

    Jason just sighed. “And the spinning cups.” He braced himself just as Dick enveloped him in a hug.

    After another minute or two of excited chattering (“Amusement Mile is so much fun and there's fireworks at midnight on weekends and you guys should totally come!”), they packed up and started moving. Jason was limping a bit. Dick must have hit him pretty hard. Stepping back from the group to walk with him, she asked quietly, “Want me to heal that for you? I could use the practice.”

    He smiled. “Thanks, but no. Nothing about your skills, but magic can't do anything for this one.” At her inquiring eyebrow, he continued, “Sora told me that fighting stressed with a freshly Cured injury reopens it and that it can't be Cured again. It has to heal naturally.”

    She was confused for a moment, but then the horrible realization came in. “Wait, you mean...?”

    Jason nodded. “Yup. But don't worry, it's not as deep as it was. I already have it stitched up. Just do me a favour?” She nodded. “Don't tell Nightwing? He'll think it's his fault and get all upset about it.” A wry smile crossed his face. “Then I'll have to take him to Amusement Mile and the circus.”

    Finally, after what seemed like forever, Wayne Tower stood before them. The feeling of uneasiness that had been gradually building the longer they stayed in this world had reached an all time high. Sora could feel the hairs on the back of his neck stand up as they stopped to stare up at the towers in front of them.

    “So...” Jason looked hesitant. “I guess we just... look around then? Yen Sid didn't really know what we would be facing to unlock the Keyhole, so I suppose that means we have to find it.”

    Kairi shuddered in the damp chilly air. How were they going to defeat the master of this place when they barley survived the fights up until now? She looked over at Sora and Riku, who both had determination flashing in their eyes. Kairi was just about to agree with Jason when a sound rang through the air which made her freeze.

    HA HA HA HA!

    Jason and Dick visibly flinched at the noise, their expressions immediately turning grim. Even with the sound echoing from so far above, their eyes betrayed their fear and panic. Kairi flinched. Whatever could make those two scared was definitely dangerous.


    “Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that came from the top of the towers. And I'm guessing that would be the Joker guy I read about?” Riku muttered, trying and failing to look composed.

    Nightwing nodded stiffly. “No mistaking it. But like the others, his voice sounded off. Kinda hollow and overlaid.” Dick walked over to Jason who was still standing stock still, staring up at the top of the buildings far above. Placing a firm hand on his brother's shoulder, he succeeded in snapping Red Hood out of his trance.

    “Hood.” He said sternly. “We can't have you zoning out for this one. We all need you focused, or else this battle is going to end badly, got it?”

    Jason stared at his brother with an expression of anger and fear. Riku felt his stomach lurch. What had Dick told him? This villain Joker, he was the one responsible for... for Jason's death. Riku's eyes widened with the realization. No wounder he was acting strange. Riku nearly never felt sympathy, but as the full weight of what they were asking Jason to do dawned on him, he questioned if the guy could handle it. He doubted he himself could, if he were in the same situation.

    Slowly, Jason nodded before turning his gaze upon the buildings once again. “I wonder how much he's changed. Every villain we've faced here has been magnified and strengthened by darkness in some way. But darkness and evil just seem to be such a fundamental part of who Joker is, I can't imagine him getting any worse.”

    Nightwing shifted so that his cloak was fully covering him again, protecting him from the cold stagnant air. “Guess we won't know until we see him.” He paused, glancing around at their surroundings carefully. “But I would rather it be us sneaking up on him rather then the other way around.” He gazed up into the misty sky.

    Riku stepped forward, reading Nightwing's train of thought. “So the question is, how are we supposed to get up there without being seen.”

    It was more of a statement then a question, but Riku didn't seem to have an immediate answer, nor did Nightwing. Everyone began to glance around, taking stock of potential ideas.

    “Do you think he can see us right now?” Sora asked.

    Nightwing's eyes flicked up again nervously. “From that height and with it being so dark? No, he shouldn't.” His tone was definitely not one of confidence however.

    Finally, Jason looked up and let out a long breath before turning to the others and speaking. “Don't count on the darkness too much. Those yellow eyes aren’t just for show. It's like having night vision.”

    Riku nodded. “True. Even if he can't see us right now, we can't rely on the shadows for cover if we tried a frontal assault. He would spot us in no time. So would any other Heartless up there.”

    They were all quiet for a while before Kairi voiced what they were all thinking. “So why not just get to him through the building?” She gave the others a unsure look. “I know it's not the most appealing option, but it's probably our safest.”

    Jason nodded. “I think we would have the most success getting up that way too. But you have to remember that any time we go inside, we are trapping ourselves in a sense. There's much less room to fight, and enemies can easily hid behind furniture and walls.”

    “True.” Nightwing said. “But I think that's still the smartest option. Besides, if the building is similar to the real Wayne Tower, the elevator shaft should be reinforced glass. We can easily break it if we need to.” He paused, noting everyone’s wary expressions. “So, are you guys okay going this way?”

    They nodded, though Nightwing could sense the tension in the group. Especially Jason. His brother was desperately trying to hold it together. Dick almost wished he could tell him to stay out of the fight altogether, but he knew Jason would probably punch him if he mentioned that idea. Besides, what he said earlier was true. They would more than likely need Jay in whatever they were facing. Still, Nightwing knew, by the firm line of his mouth and the way he was clenching his fists, that Jason was scared. He put an arm around his brother's shoulders for a few seconds, giving him a one armed hug and trying to reassure him as much as possible, then turned and trudged towards the plain glass doors shimmering black in the dull light.

    Riku and Jason followed with Sora and Kairi taking the rear. The doors opened with an ominous creak, and they entered single file, their senses on high alert for traps or enemies. The front lounge of the building was surprisingly familiar to that of the one in the real Wayne Enterprises. In fact, as Jason took in the scene, he started to suspect their layouts and furnishings were identical. It struck him as odd, since there had been numerous fundamental differences between this world and the real one. The almost seamless similarity didn't help his already frayed nerves.

    The entire group ventured forward silently, following Nightwing who seemed to have caught on to the familiar floor plan. They all stayed close to one another, drawing on the comfort that being next to another human offered. Kairi caught Sora's eyes and the two had a silent conversation, promising to stay close. Sora was glad, he really hated the idea that Kairi was here in the first place, but this building in particular was enough to make him want to turn back. He had no idea how Kairi was dealing with it, what with this being her first real mission and all. But that only served to reminded him of how brave she really was, and he couldn't help smiling to himself just a bit as they walked. Suddenly, a weight lifted from his chest that he hadn't even noticed was there. He sighed with the relief. If all he had to do to feel better was to think of his friends, well, that was easy.

    Nightwing wanted to avoid the elevator at all coasts. There was no way he was going to get himself and his friends trapped in such a small enclosed space to be picked off by enemies. But as he stopped at the back of the lobby and considered the best way to reached the top one more time, he decided that the elevator shaft was in fact their best bet. Turning back, he addressed the Keyblade Wielders.

    “I know you can glide and jump, but I take it you can't fly?”

    Sora opened his mouth, then closed it again, not really sure how to respond.

    “No.” Riku said, deciding to keep it simple and not over-complicate things. They could fly after all, but not here.

    “Okay then. As I said before, getting up this way is the best option. The elevator shaft is made of mainly glass, and I don't think any of us want to walk up 90 flights of stairs. “

    “It would be nice to avoid that.” Kairi added helpfully.

    “Thought so. That means that we have to get up through here. Me and Jay can use our line guns, they can hold three people easy.

    Jason chuckled halfheartedly. “I've seen Batman's lines hold a helicopter before. They'll be fine.”

    “Wait!” Riku said catching on. “You want to carry us up there?”

    Nightwing shrugged. “Unless you’d rather climb.”

    Riku bit his lip conflicted while Sora gave Dick and Jason a huge smile. Robin had pulled him along through the city when they had first met, and it had felt like flying, except even more exciting and dangerous. He was fine with the idea.

    Kairi couldn't help grinning as she saw Sora's excited smile and Riku's annoyed scowl. Really it was amazing the two were still friends after all this time with how utterly different they were.

    “Well if that's settled,” Jason said walking over to the huge metal doors and slipping his fingers between them, “Shall we?”

    The others moved to help him, but there was no need. With a high pitched grinding of steel, Jason thrust the doors open, revealing a second set of elevator doors which he pried open just as easily. He and Dick walked into the elevator carefully, inspecting it for traps or hidden enemies. One could never be sure with how Heartless blended into the shadows. But after a careful inspection they agreed there was no danger. In another minute they had the emergency door unlocked. Jason climbed out first, followed by the Keyblade Wielders who were finding the elevator extremely fascinating. They could easily make the jump, but it took some time for all three of them to emerge. Finally Nightwing clambered out and stood with the others, appreciating the magnitude of the glass walls which stretched up for what felt like miles.

    Taking out his line gun, Nightwing nodded at Riku. “Hold onto the actual gun, otherwise the weight won't be distributed properly.” Riku complied, and Dick wrapped an arm around his friend before discharging the gun. It took some time, but when it finally found a hold the line immediately started to retract, and the two went shooting up, followed closely by Jason, who had both Kairi and Sora with him. The entire process only took about three minutes from start to finish, but by the end of it Riku was feeling quite ill. He did not like the sensation of being thrust through the air at high velocities. It was worlds apart from the gentle rhythmic pattern of flying he was used to in Neverland.

    Jumping off onto the service ladder as Nightwing instructed, he watched as the acrobat nimbly hopped onto the half a foot ledge in front of the door and pried it open. He still couldn't believe how much balance Nightwing had. Honestly it reminded him of Sora with all his aerial manoeuvres and flips. Sometimes he wished he were that agile, it would be a huge advantage in fights. But he knew his fighting style would never allow for it. He was about strength, not speed.


    He jumped through the opening just as Red Hood and the others reached the top. In a matter of seconds they were all through the doors, a large open room greeting them. Rich furnishings decorated the ornate tile floor while large glass windows gave them a spectacular view of Gotham city far far below. Usually it would be full of twinkling lights, but presently was dark and quiet.

    “Wow.” Sora breathed, starting to walking towards the windows in order to get a better view.


    Kairi grabbed the back of his cloak, pulling him again into line. “Not the time Sora. “ She said with the slightest sliver of humor in her voice.

    “This can't be the roof.” Riku observed, taking in their surrounding with mild interest.

    “No.” Jason agreed. “We have to walk up a few flights of stairs to get to the actual roof exit.”

    Looking around, he wished one of those Points would show up. If they appeared around major events, then one should show up now, right? He would never admit it to anyone, though Kairi and her annoyingly impressive observation skills had noticed, but his leg was killing him. Even now the wounds were throbbing with a growing intensity. It was a distraction he really didn't need during a fight. Especially this one.

    Nightwing led them towards a door on their right leading to a steep cement staircase. They climbed up for about thirty seconds, the knowledge that saving the entirety of Jason and Dick's world laid on this single fight waiting seconds away. The tower was well insulated, or at least Jason assumed this one was if it were like the original. But as they ascended, the bone chillingly familiar laughs that used to haunt his every waking hour echoed through the corridor. Desperately he tried to stop the building panic inside him. He needed to breathe. He needed to relax and stay focused, focused on never letting this mad man beat him ever again.

    Finally they stopped in front of the doors that would lead them outside, those echoing laughs the only thing piercing the silence. Automatically, everyone drew their weapons, and with a last look at his friends, Dick pushed open the doors and stepped outside.

    WARNINGS FOR VIOLENCE.

    The roof was a large domed structure, with a wide walkway surrounding it so civilians could make the most of the view. It was a popular location for tourists and school trips. It also normally had security guards patrolling to dissuade people from climbing on the rail. Unfortunately, the Joker had never been one for listening to security guards, even if they had been here. He was casually strolling along the rail, whistling something tuneless. In one hand, he held a drink umbrella, as if to safeguard against falling. His normally green eyes were a bright yellow, but that was the only change in his appearance.


    Based on all their experiences, once someone had been corrupted by darkness in this way, they didn't normally talk. Sora had seen it in Deep Jungle when Clayton had given in to the darkness. Riku had seen it when Ansem had awakened the darkness inside Maleficent. All of them had seen it in their fights against Croc, Scarecrow, Two-Face and, most recently, Dick and Riku.

    So they were all at least a little surprised when the Joker spoke. “You know, I could really learn to love a view like this. Of course, it's a bit dark for my tastes. We need a splash of colour here, and a bit there and, well, everywhere actually. I've already checked though. All the paint stores only have black left. Oh, and there isn't anyone to laugh at my jokes. You know, I don't think I like this view at all. There's no colour, no people and most of all, no Batsy.” Finally, he turned to face them, a particularly manic grin on his face. “I do have a bunch of new friends though.”

    At his words, Heartless formed on the walkway. Cymbal Monkeys and Rabid Dogs and Minute Bombs and Search Ghosts and Invisibles, all in variations Sora had never seen before. The colours were random, with no two of the same species matching. The only feature that was shared among all of them was a bright red grin splashed sloppily over the mouth.

    The Heartless stood waiting as Joker continued. “Of course, they're not really the laughing type. But maybe a really good joke will get a chuckle out of them.” He raised the hand not holding the drinking umbrella. There was a crowbar in it. “You know, my best joke was when I knocked off that pesky Boy Blunder. And look!” he gestured out, pointing at all of them, “Now I have two birdies to play with. And a few civilians too! That's always good for a laugh. Not sure when Batsy will get back, but he will. He always comes after me. And when he does, I'll have another joke for him to laugh at!” He started laughing and tossed the umbrella. With accuracy that would leave Roy jealous, it smacked into a small button, which was connected to a low level explosive. It wouldn't explode with enough force to damage any infrastructure, but it would hurt anyone standing next to it.

    Which the five of them were. “Scatter!” Nightwing yelled.

    The Keyblade Wielders jumped straight up and the Bats dove to each side, all of them just barely escaping the explosion. Joker split into two, his regular clown-ish self, and his Heartless, which shifted shapelessly for a moment before settling.

    It looked like Joker. Jason swallowed a bitter laugh. Of course. Joker was so evil that he was his darkest self. The Joker's darker half stalked towards Dick, and the never-ending Heartless were keeping the kids busy. That left Joker to Jason. Good old fashioned Joker. The one who had killed him all those years ago.

    Well.

    Now it was his turn to die.

    Red Hood pulled his guns and launched himself at the Clown Prince of Crime.


    ~*~​


    Nightwing dodged the first attack, drawing his escrima sticks in the same movement. The second attack came at him and he spun inside it, slamming the dark Joker in the chest.

    This thing was pretty unpredictable. It didn't keep to one shape for too long, sometimes shifting in claws or dispersing into gas, but always inevitably returning to the Joker-esque shape it had taken on at the beginning of the fight. Just in case though, Nightwing pulled on a rebreather. He wasn't sure what kind of gas the dark Joker turned into, but he was willing to bet it wasn't good for his lungs.

    He flipped, escrima sticks aiming for the dark Joker's neck, but just before he hit, the monster vapourized again. As he passed through the cloud, laughter filled his ears, loud, insistent, unbearable. He felt sick, his head started spinning and his ear drums threatened to burst. It was gone the moment he hit clean air again, but the effects lingered. There was movement to his side. Instinctively, he tossed a batarang. A smile crept into his face at the distinctive thud of metal hitting Heartless-flesh. It wasn't the same as hitting regular people. Kind of like hitting a water balloon. Stiff outside, mostly nothing inside.

    Leaping onto the dome, he gave himself a moment to recover. By the time the dark-Joker reattached its arm (and really, that was not fair), his ears were still ringing but the nausea had passed. Good enough for now. He dived back at his foe, feet first.

    Plant a solid hit on the shoulders, redirect the momentum upwards, flip, come back down for another hit, push backwards, knock over dark Joker and land a few feet away, push back and drive escrima sticks into Joker's stomach.

    That was the plan anyways, and it worked really well until the last step when dark Joker shifted himself a coat of spikes. Spikes which Nightwing was headed straight for and the one major disadvantage of midair combat came into play. He couldn't change direction. But he could minimize the damage.

    His left escrima stick was still ready to strike, he just had to reverse his grip. It still landed in dark Joker's gut, just not as hard as it should have. And the spikes did still stab him in the forearm, but only in a dozen or so places, and only deeply in three. And not in the chest, abdomen, or legs like it would have if he hadn't done anything, so that counted as a win. Sort of.

    The dark Joker wasn't showing any signs of slowing down though. It simply shifted from spiky back to its default. Nightwing was starting to see a pattern though. All Heartless had one after all. It could only stay in another form for six seconds before it had to return to being the Joker, for at least half a minute. More than enough time to change the tide of the battle, as Nightwing had just seen, but not enough time to make a difference in the long run. Especially not now that Nightwing had him figured out.

    Leisurely sheathing one stick and pulling out a roll of bandages, he started wrapping his arm. Both to stem the bleeding and to... Yes! Dark Joker took the bait, growling and shifting monster-like claws onto its hands. It lunged, and once its claws were almost at his eye, he spun.

    He dropped the bandages – they were wrapped tightly enough so that they wouldn't fall off; he'd secure them later – switching his escrima stick to his good hand and hit the button for a charge. He slammed it into the dark Joker's side, and it howled and blurred, electricity arcing between its claws. Nightwing gave a satisfied smirk as it dropped to the ground.

    But it didn't dissipate. Instead, it melted into the floor and came up behind him, morphing a joy buzzer into its hand and pressing it against Nightwing's neck. As his muscles spasmed and a scream tore through his throat, he could hear laughing in his ears, as if the dark Joker was chuckling at its own joke. Here, let me return this to you. Nightwing could almost hear the exact words it might have used.

    He was saved by Sora blasting across the walkway, Keyblade extended. It smacked the dark Joker full in the face, sending it flying. “You ok Nightwing?”

    “Fine,” he gasped. After a moment, he stood up straight and shook out his muscles. “I thought these things kept to a pattern. Why did it change?”

    “Ah!” And Sora had that same look on his face when he remembered his Cure spell the first time. Something totally important that he had forgotten to mention. “Yeah, really strong Heartless change their attack pattern when they get weak.”

    Nightwing just rolled his eyes. “So whatever pattern it has now will be the one it has until we beat him?”

    “No idea. Depends on how strong it is. But looking at it...” He stopped to consider. “Yeah, looks pretty weak. I'd say half dead. Should be the last one, unless it has another form hiding.”

    Snorting, Nightwing readied his escrima stick in his right hand, with batarangs between each of his fingers on his left. The dark Joker was finally standing up, and getting closer. “It's the Joker. Wouldn't put it past him.”

    Sora rolled his neck and crouched into his fighting stance. “Let's do this then.” And they launched themselves into battle.

    ~*~​


    Kairi risked a glance at Sora. She had told him to help Nightwing, that she and Riku would be fine. It had taken a little convincing, but he had agreed. Right on time too. Whatever it was that Nightwing had been fighting had come back up in a flash and was electrocuting him. Swinging her Keyblade through another three Heartless, she spared another look back. They were up and battle ready. She didn't know Dick well enough to know how he reacted to injuries, but she knew that Sora would fight and fight until he physically couldn't go on anymore. And even then, he would probably Cure himself so he could continue.

    Honestly, that kind of fighting couldn't be good for him.

    Not that she could talk. She hadn't taken many hits from this fight, but the ones she had were already healed. Riku had told her that they regenerated magic faster when they were fighting, and as far as she could tell, it was true.

    Speaking of, Riku had an Invisible creeping up behind him. She dashed forwards and blitzed it. When it actually worked, blasting the Invisible far enough away for it to be less of a threat, she beamed. Sora had been trying to show her that move for a week before he had left for Gotham. It wasn't perfect yet, but it was usable, and that's all she needed.

    She moved through the Heartless like water, flowing around them, Keyblade turning them into clouds. Sure, these Heartless were strong. The kinds that normally flocked around Ansem Seeker of Darkness. But Sora and Riku had fought them many times before. They knew all the weak points, the strategies to beat them, which meant that Kairi knew too. When an Invisible threw its sword to the ground, she should jump. A lot. Keep far away from Rabid Dogs, their bark hurts much more then their bite. Long rage attacks are best. Keep out of the Search Ghost's search light.

    So she was a little more than surprised when a Search Ghost materialized cymbals and crashed them together. The sound rang through her skull, vibrating through her bones. Then a Cymbal Monkey barked and the two sounds crashed together. All thought whited out. She fell to her knees, hands clapped over her ears. It did nothing. Tears flooded down her face and desperately, she tightened her grip on her Keyblade and shouted “THUNDER!”

    The noise stopped. She slumped with relief and wiped at her tears. Or, she had thought they were tears, but the back of her hand was smeared with red. That couldn't be good. Oh well, no time to worry about it now. She cast a quick Cure and jumped back into the fray.

    The Heartless were definitely getting weirder. Invisibles didn't attack until they saw her. Rabid Dogs alternated between barking and vanishing, turning into a ring of flames that she had to jump her way out of. A Search Ghost managed to impale her right forearm with a sword. Pain radiated through it, all the way up to the shoulder. Suddenly, her hand popped open, completely unwillingly, and she dropped her Keyblade. She didn't have any strength left in her grip. And she didn't have enough magic to heal yet.

    Grabbing it with her left hand, she shot off a Thundaga, spending the last of her magic on it. She cleared the area around her, but she wouldn't be able to heal her arm until she recharged. It would be faster if she fought but she wasn't confident she could fight any of these with her left hand. Working fast, she tore a strip off of her cloak, hoping that it would still protect her if it was slightly shorter. She placed the Keyblade in her right hand and wrapped the material around it, allowing her weakened muscles to keep hold of it. She then continued wrapped the fabric around her arm, making it into a makeshift bandage. She didn't have a belt like Jason or Dick, and all her supplies were in her backpack, which had gotten cut off near the beginning of the fight. This would have to do.

    She noticed Riku off to one side. She rolled her shoulders, lifted her Keyblade, and attacked every Heartless in her way.

    ~*~​


    This fight would be so much easier if the Joker would just shut up. The crowbar in his hand was covered in a reddish-brown coating, like old blood, and damn if that didn't make him flinch. But Jason could handle crowbars. Most villains did their nefarious deeds in warehouses, and warehouses were full to bursting with the things. And he could handle the small bombs Joker kept throwing his way. He even tossed a few himself, to keep the psycho from galavanting off and attacking the others. But the laughter. It was the laughter that sent him back to that day in the warehouse. Never mind that it was dark and cold and starting to rain, all things that screamed “Gotham City”. But with each screeching giggle, every halting chortle, he felt the steady thump thump thump of a ghostly crowbar hitting his back, the African sun beating down on his injuries through a window, the dry air filtering into his lungs. Whipping out his gun, he fired off three shots, if only to drown out the laughter with its sharp staccato.


    Surprisingly – he had been aiming for the Joker, but the clown was normally exceptional at dodging batarangs and bullets alike – one managed to lodge itself in Joker's shoulder. Giving out a pained chuckle, Joker tossed his crowbar in retaliation. Hood managed to dodge it, but it rebounded off of the dome behind him and clipped him on the back of the head. The Joker walked closer, picking up the metal bar as he went. Hood was still reeling from the blow which, unluckily enough, had hit hard enough to concuss. Already he was getting nauseous.

    “Awww, what's wrong Hoodie? Too many party favours?” The clown burst into laughing again and Jason squeezed his eyes shut, not completely closed, but enough that he didn't have to look at the Joker and listen to him at the same time. “You know, I remember this one shindig I went to. There were so many people! Mommies and Daddies and Babies too. But none of them were laughing. It was a weird party. Lots of screaming and crying, definitely not my kind of place. But I told a few jokes, spilled a few cans of gas and soon, everyone was rolling in their seats!” A gloved hand shoved its way into Jason's view and grabbed at his jacket lapels. “Maybe all you need is a bit of laughter, eh, Bird boy?”

    Desperately, Jason tried to jump back, to get away from the maniac in front of him. Last time he had fought the Joker, he hadn't had his heart back yet. Now he wished it was gone, if only so that he could stop thinking, so he could finish what he had started when he had first come back to Gotham. But the Joker slammed the crowbar into his leg and he cried out as his stitches tore. And another, in his chest, his side, his back.

    Jason. His darkness. Seriously, not good timing. Let me take over. I can fight this without being emotionally affected. It was tempting, but no. This was his fight. And he told his darkness so. Fine. But if your life is in danger I will take over. I will not risk us both for your pride.

    Jason was about to reply, but a hoarse scream caught his attention. Nightwing. Suddenly, he was completely present. Standing on top of Wayne Enterprises, in the cold and dark and rain, fighting the Joker and his brother was screaming in pain. He ignored the ache of cracked ribs. He ignored the blood running down his leg. He ignored the heat of yet another explosion to his left. And most of all, he ignored the laughter.

    He ignored it all in favour of attending his rage.

    He hadn't touched it in ages. Probably ever since he had gotten his heart back. Sure, he had made small dips into it, but none like this. Everything that had gone wrong in his life was because of this maniac, and now, Nightwing was fighting the Joker's twisted dark self and screaming. He dived in head first and everything turned red.

    Red Hood summoned an All Blade to his hand and blocked the next swing of the crowbar. Twisting, he sent the metal flying off the walkway, spiraling to the street below. Moving faster than should be humanly possible, he flicked his Blade into Joker's shoulder and dropped it, leaving it stuck in him like a pin cushion. He summoned his second sword and did the same to the clown's other shoulder. At the same time, he squeezed his trigger four times, sending two rounds into each of the Joker's legs. Finally, with the clown pinned to the dome behind him, he pulled his knife.

    He pulled back his arm to deliver the killing blow.

    Joker was laughing manically, his insane bloodshot eyes driving Jason's anger to an even higher peak. Inside his mind, a fierce battle was raging. His heart asked if killing the man was going to make all the hate and rage and pain go away, or make it worse. The darker side of him was crying for blood. It only took a split second before the all consuming rage won out. With a savage cry Jason swung his knife forward.

    “No don't!”

    Out of all his allies, Jason didn't expect to hear Riku. But he ignored the boy, his rage focused on the glinting knife already falling towards the madman's heart. Suddenly something rammed into him sending Jason skidding across the wet cement. He let out an angry growl and jumped up, spinning to attack the Heartless who had managed to catch him off guard.

    It wasn't a Heartless.

    Riku was standing in front of the Joker, turned to face Jason while his Keyblade glinted wickedly in the moonlight. He was panting hard and shaking, scratches and bruises covering the majority of his exposed skin. But Jason couldn't bring himself to care about that. He didn't care about anything. All he wanted was to kill that clown once in for all. For it to be finished here and now. He jerked his knife in front of him, pointing it at his friend.


    “Move.” He ordered savagely.

    Riku frowned, his teal eyes flashing wary defiance. He lifted his Keyblade into a defensive position. The Joker laughing manically beside him all the while.

    “Hood.” He said slowly. “Look at yourself.”

    Outrage burned through Jason. He was wasting valuable time. That madman could be dead by now. And Jason was ready to kill him. He needed to kill him.

    Red Hood stepped forward, glaring at Riku through his mask. “Last chance Riku. Get out of my way.”

    His voice slightly trembling, Riku gave a quick glance over at the Joker before saying. “Look at your hands Hood.” He tried to make the statement come out as a command but it sounded more like he was pleading.

    Clenching his knife in a death grip, Jason grudgingly looked down at his hand and froze. Threads of darkness were twisting around him, winding their way through his armour and, now that he was paying attention, in and out of his skin. They then floated into the air like wisps of vapour before being drawn back to surround him again. “What- Darkness?” He stuttered.

    “Not your darkness.” Riku corrected as lightning flashed in the dark sky above. “But your hate and rage is attracting it. Don't you feel it? Can't you see? You're losing control. You're letting the darkness win.”

    Jason's surprise immediately turned back to a title wave of rage. “It doesn't matter. As long as I can kill him.” He spat, his eyes burning suspiciously. “Who cares what I become as long as he's not around to ruin any more innocent lives?!”

    Riku met Jason's eye, then turned to face the Joker. “Then do yourself a favour and take a good look at the man you want to kill so badly.”

    Complying readily, Jason whirled around and glared at the madman, laughing as if this entire scene was just a huge hilarious joke. As if the pain he caused others was nothing more then a game. And of course, it was for him. Joker was just that sick and sadistic. Suddenly Jason's eyes widened as he began to comprehend what Riku wanted him to see. Dark threads were twisting off Joker's body in the same way they were twisting off him.

    He stumbled back as though he had been hit with a sledge hammer, the realization shaking him to his core. He wasn't bringing closure to his past by killing the Joker. He was becoming him. He was letting his own dark thoughts guide his actions, believing that he would be satisfied as long as he walked in darkness. That thought seemed to finally snap his fatigued brain out of its rage and his body got through to him. He slumped to the ground shaking.

    Riku sighed in relief. The hate emanating off Jason was dissipating at last. When he had felt the pure evil coming from Jason he hadn't been sure that he could stop his friend from being consumed by darkness. But in the end he had managed. Who knew his own experiences would end up saving someone else?

    Jason glanced up at Riku, his eyes grateful, before a look of utter terror washed over him. “Riku look-!”

    Too late, Riku turned around in time to see Joker's Heartless inches from him, his body only registering the pain when he was already on the ground, his Keyblade falling beside him uselessly.

    “No!” Jason yelled, already on his feet again, all notions of rest forgotten as his dissipating rage turned to a different, more pure form of anger. He took in the scene in less then a second. Riku writhing on the ground from an unknown wound, the Heartless responsible standing above the boy. It's glowing yellow eyes were locked on him, but he managed to look away, searching for any weapons the Heartless might have. His breath caught in his chest. Sora was in the monster's left hand, its fingers wrapped around his neck. He was kicking and twisting savagely, but his Keyblade was nowhere to be seen, his hands more preoccupied with trying to loosen the iron grip around his throat. Somewhere in the recesses of Jason's mind, he wondered where Nightwing was. If his brother was okay. But his main focus had to be freeing Sora and getting that Heartless away from his two friends.

    Putting on a burst of speed, Jason gathered himself when he was a few feet from his new enemy and jumped to the side, his battered nerves screaming in protest all the while. He landed sideways on the wall next to a hysterically laughing Joker, clenching his free hand around his sword hilt and drawing it out of its resting place with the force of pushing off the wall again. The move worked well as the Heartless hadn't expected it. The creature was just turning to face him as he launched himself at it, swinging the All Blade in a wide arc while stabbing his knife at its left arm. The sword missed as the Heartless ducked, but the knife found its mark. It sank satisfyingly deep into the monster's flesh. It laughed at the pain. As Jason had hoped, it dropped Sora. The knife had stopped Jason's frontal assault long enough for him to be in the air for a second before he could find his feet. Unfortunately the Heartless was good enough to use that to its advantage. Even as it stumbled back and Jason let go of his knife, it reached out its hand and grabbed him. Electricity coursed through his body and stars flashed in front of his eyes. Without really knowing what he was doing he thrust his arm out of the Heartless's grasp and stumbled backwards, instinctively raising his Blade for defense. He blinked the light out of his eyes just in time to see it charging once again. He dived right, somersaulting and coming up to swing his sword at its legs as it passed him by. The attack had only managed to graze it, but it was enough to make his enemy stumble. While it righted itself he charged in, but had to twist to the left to avoid another jolt of electricity. The two then circled each other, tension hanging in the air like a heatwave. Jason had to defeat this thing and find his brother. He had to check on his friends. But first things first. Killing Joke(r) might not be acceptable, but killing a Heartless was another deal entirety.

    ~*~​


    Kairi was having a surprisingly good time as she weaved in and out of Heartless, dodging attack patterns and cutting monsters down with her Keyblade. She had never been in a fight like this one before. Apparently injuries had the added benefit of adrenaline. She hadn't even managed to Cure her arm yet, but the pain was little more then a irritation in the back of her mind as she steadily progressed around the army of Heartless. She didn't know where Riku had gone. He had vanished a few seconds ago yelling something about Jason. She hadn't heard him properly, but she knew his absence meant she was left to fight the Heartless on her own. Yes, she should probably be scared, and yes, there were a lot more of them then there were of her, and yes, she didn't have anyone for back up if something else went wrong; But despite everything, Kairi was having the time of her life. She had fallen into a sort of rhythm, weaving in and out of enemies fluidly, while relying on instincts to attack instead of coherent decisions. She felt rather then saw the danger behind her back and rolled out of the way just in time to avoid a strike from a Cymbal Monkey. Springing to her feet, she waved her Keyblade in a wide circle, knocking a dozen Heartless off their feet. She grinned at her own strength. She was definitely getting better at this.

    That is, until she was plucked off the ground and into the air by the giant hand of an Invisible. The thing had her by the back of her shirt, and with a mighty swing of its powerful arm, flung her across the roof top. She felt herself crashing through at least a dozen Heartless before landing roughly on the hard ground. Her brain told her she didn't have time to be winded, so despite the new trouble breathing, she forced her sore muscles to spring her to her feet. Eyes immediately locking on the wall of Heartless charging her, she took a step forward to meet them before hearing something that made her freeze. Another shout of pain! Was that Dick?

    Kairi dived between the two Rabid Dogs approaching her and dispersed them with a single slash from her blade. Instead of running forward however she veered to the side, towards Dick's voice. Sure enough, after cutting down a monkey and smacking around an Invisible for half a minute she found her friend. Dick was lying on the ground in pain and obviously very agitated. Despite a heavily bleeding arm and what looked like a serious head injury, he was trying to push himself up, dazed but determined all the same. His eyes flashed when she knelt down next to him. The Heartless were almost caught up to her. It was a miracle they hadn't attacked Dick while he was down. The two didn't have much time.

    “S-Sora” Dick said, his disoriented voiced laced with panic. “Kairi we need to go help him now.”

    Kairi felt her veins turn to ice. She had told Sora to go help Nightwing who had been fighting Joker's Heartless, and now neither him or the Heartless were anywhere to be seen. Of course that honestly wasn't saying much seeing as all she really could see was a thick black wall of enemies encircling her and Dick. Where were they all coming from? Suddenly the pain in her arm became much more apparent to her and she flinched. “Where is he Nightwing?”

    “I, I don't know. The Heartless got a lucky hit. I think I passed out for a little bit. Don't know how long. But when I came to they were both gone.”

    Swallowing down her panic, Kairi lifted her Keyblade and conjured up all the magic she had regained from fighting. Thankfully it was a pretty good amount since she had been having such an awesome streak the past few minutes. “Heal!”

    She wrapped an arm around Dick and helped him to his feet even as the verdant green light danced around them, healing their injuries. A Rabid Dog charged at them and Nightwing lashed out at it, effectively electrocuting it into darkness. Already his eyes were clearing; he blinked a few times, letting the magic do its work. Her arm was starting to feel better too, the bleeding slowing down significantly. The magic stopped before she really wanted it to, but she had to use her Keyblade to fight anyway. The Heartless pounced.

    Dick kicked at a monkey and then used the momentum to twirl around, bringing his escrima sticks up to meet an Invisible's sword. Kairi, meanwhile, was dealing with a pack of Rabid Dogs. She had read somewhere that the difficulty with theses enemies was that they often hunted in packs. She was finding that to be true. As she twisted out of the way of the first one, three more came to meet her, biting and snapping at her arms and legs. She sliced through one, kicked another, and ducked to avoid the jaws of a third. An Invisible appeared beside her and she jumped to avoid its low sword swing. A Rabid Dog caught her in mid air, biting her left arm. Great. Now both of them were injured. Either way she merely gritted her teeth and jabbed the dog. It didn't release its bite until it disintegrated. Seeing a break in the Invisible's attacks, she swung at the monster's legs. To her relief it stumbled backwards. She lunged at it, but her aim was off. Stupid injured arm. As it was, she barely managed to avoid its retaliatory jab. Suddenly she felt herself pressing up to something and turned to see she was back to back with Nightwing. The crime fighter was swinging his weapons ferociously, taking on several enemies at once. Kairi always preferred to focus on one enemy at a time. Trying to take on all of them meant she wouldn't be able to defeat any of them quickly.

    “I can't see Sora or the Heartless anywhere!” She panted.

    “Neither can I.” Nightwng agreed. “One sec.”

    With an enormous effort Nightwing swung both his escrima sticks and batted his nearby opponents away, then launched himself into the air with the unmistakable speed and grace of an acrobat. Landing on an Invisible's head and using it as another boost to jump high into the air, he got a good view of the battle field. The next moment Kairi's attention was demanded by shock waves of sound making her once again fall to her knees. This time she was ready though. She flung her Keyblade in the direction of the sound. The pain in her head immediately stopped and despite the throbbing headache, she grinned as she summoned the blade back to her hand.

    Kairi was just stumbling to her feet when she felt her wrist being grasped by an unknown something. She yanked back before noticing the hand belonged to Nightwing. He gave her a grim sort of look that told Kairi he had found the others before pulling her roughly into the crowd of Heartless. She ran with him, slashing enemies determinedly all the while.

    ~*~​


    Sora coughed and took huge shuttering breaths as he laid on the ground. He had been close to blacking out when that stupid Heartless had dropped him. He wasn't entirely sure, but he thought he saw the distinctive gleam of Red Hood's swords before he was released. He relished in the huge lungfuls of oxygen he was able to take in. When he had finally caught his breath and his vision ceased being a blurry blob of colours, he quickly pushed himself up, blinking the black spots out of his eyes. He could hear fighting, but in his dazed mind it sounded fuzzy and a long way off. He gazed around, taking stock of his surroundings and saw...

    “Riku!”

    ~*~​


    Jason heard Sora's cry, but he couldn't spare the time to turn and look. This stupid Heartless had grown six tail things with swords on the tips and blocking them was harder than it should have been. He pulled his gun and shot one of them close to the base, severing it and three others. It would regrow, it had before, but for now, he had a little breathing room. And he intended to use it.

    Carefully maneuvering himself around the remaining tails, he leapt up a wall, using gravity and the force of his own jump to bury his Blades hilt-deep in the Heartless's thick hide. Kicking off, he pulled the Blades out again, grinning at the thing's distorted howl of pain.

    And let out his own startled gasp when he landed. The landing had torn a few stitches in his legs. The Heartless swept a claw towards him and he dived backwards, slightly slower than usual. This was going to be a problem.

    No time to worry about it though. He dodged beneath another swing, wincing as another two stitched popped. Throwing out a stream of curses in his mind, he fired off four quick shots, each one hitting the Joker-Heartless in the exact center of his forehead. In retaliation, the Heartless sent a claw forward. Jason dodged that one.

    But not the one that came up from beneath him.

    Twisting, he managed to avoid the worst of the damage. But one of his shoulders was useless now, and he had a hole in his side. Luckily, none in his organs though. That was good.

    This was going no where. He had to finish it now, before the Heartless could do any more damage.

    Sheathing his gun and allowing his All Blade to vanish, he leapt at the dark Joker's shoulder, where his knife was still conveniently located. Grasping the handle, he used his momentum to pull the blade down and across the Heartless's back. Dark smoke poured from the injury and the thing howled. It collapsed, falling backwards onto Jason.

    That was easier than he'd thought it would be.

    Hands grabbed at the Heartless above him, lifting it enough for him to crawl out. Dick and Kairi. They were ok. He allowed a small smile to cross his features before turning to Sora and Riku.

    Sora was kneeling by his friend's side, but it didn't sound too good. There was a fairly large hole in his chest and by the sound of his breathing, it had punctured a lung. Combined with looked like a fairly large acid burn running down his back.

    Sora didn't seem too good either. “I'm trying, but it's resisting the magic! I've never seen this before. What do I...?” He ran a hand through his hair, clearly on the verge of panic.

    “Calm down.” Dick ordered. “Can you close the hole a little? Just enough to cover up the lung? Everything else can be healed later.” But Sora shook his head. “Well. That's unfortunate. Jason, do we have anything we can use to cover this?”

    He pretty much turned out every pocket, but all he came up with was his driver's license. He did find some extra tape, gauze and disinfectant though. “Just this.”

    Dick looked at it, then raised an eyebrow at Jason, who shrugged. He grabbed the square of plastic, poured disinfectant onto some gauze and wiped it down before placing it over the hole in Riku's chest and taping it down. And Jason could immediately hear the difference. What had been breathless, broken gasps a moment ago settled into something more even. “That should hold, but we should really find the Keyhole soon. Sooner we get this done, the sooner we can get him to a hospital. A driver's license is no substitute for proper medical care. Now, let's have a look at that burn.”

    Jason let his mind wander. As much as he hated to admit it, Dick had been in much better contact over the years with Batman, and therefore, Alfred. He knew his stuff. Jason knew enough to stitch his own wounds and set bones, but this kind of thing was more delicate. So, he spent his time patching his own injuries and inspecting the others.

    Dick was busy being focused on his work. Eyebrows furrowed, masked eyes only leaving Riku to grab the disinfectant or some more gauze. Sora was a nervous wreck. He was still kneeling beside Riku, and Jason could tell by the way his mouth was moving that he was still trying to cure him, despite being out of magic. Kairi wasn't looking too good either. She was crouching, her arms wrapped around her knees, fingers tapping. She was pale and-

    A blade launched itself forward, spearing Kairi in the shoulder and pinning her to the wall next to Joker. Jason barely had time to turn, seeing the Heartless he was positive he had killed morphing into something else, before Sora shouted. And Jason saw Dick disappear, then felt himself get boosted into pure energy. And then noth-.

    Sora's world stopped. Riku was laying on the ground, probably dying, and Sora couldn't help him. At all. And then Joker's Heartless started shifting into a second form and hit Kairi and everything was going wrong all at once. He cried out in anguish, but that quickly turned into a cry of vengeance. That thing would regret hurting his friends.

    He didn't notice Dick and Jason vanishing. He did, however, notice the rush of power hitting him like a brick to the face. It felt similar to his Drives – the sudden burst of strength, the feeling of invincibility, the boost to his magic – but different enough that he knew he'd never been in this Form before. It felt similar to Final Form – he even had two Keyblades – but darker, like it had been meshed with Anti-Form. The Keyblades were very similar to each other, with pure black shafts and handles, and a gold guard. The difference came in the blades. One was blue and similar in shape to the blue bird on Nightwing's chest. The other was red, just like Red Hood's bat... symbol...

    Oh.

    Oh.

    A quick glance around confirmed it. He'd accidentally gone into Drive mode and his friends had somehow affected it enough to give him a new Form. His clothes were almost exactly the same, mostly black, but now his shirt had a blue bird on it and his jacket was brown.

    He stopped himself before he could waste anymore time. He hadn't meant to, but he was in Drive now, and those were limited. He couldn't waste it.

    He took one last look at Riku and Kairi, promising them that he would get this done soon so they could get proper medical attention, then hefted his Keyblades and charged.

    Pure energy. That was all Sora felt as he bolted towards the Heartless and broke through its defenses with a series of wicked fast slashes. As soon as his enemy was vulnerable, he thrust his Keyblades down, aiming for the Heartless's shoulders. It stretched out its hands with amazingly quick reflexes and caught his swords. Sora had to push off its chest, flipping up and tearing his weapons out of the creature's grasp. It hissed and lunged at him again. Summoning the energy within him, Sora willed himself to stay airborne for a few more seconds so he wouldn't fall right into the Heartless's path. It stretched out a hand, ready to electrify him, and Sora chose that moment to perform a complicated aerial maneuver, slashing the Heartless's chest and using the force to dodge left past the oncoming attack. As he fell, he turned in mid air as to keep locked on to it. As soon as his foot touched the ground, he launched at it again.

    The Heartless's new form was definitely posing more of a threat, which was troublesome seeing as it had managed to catch Sora off guard in its previous state. He had to abandon his frontal assault and flip backwards as it shot blades from the tips of jet black wings it now sported from its back. The creature also had razor sharp teeth that complemented its wicked smile. Three whip like tails slashed through the air in front of and behind it, acting as both an iron defense and a barrier. Sora studied the new form, wanting to find an opening again but unsure of the most effective way. Suddenly he didn't have time to contemplate anymore as it lunged forward, electricity crackling around its fingers. Sora jumped and flipped right over its back, but not before being slashed by one of the monsters tails. He skidded to a stop behind it and whirled around, throwing his red Keyblade at its exposed back. It connected and the creature let out a low giggly growl before turning and charging him again. He had to re-summon his second Keyblade to block the new assault of knives the creature was launching at him. He slashed them out of the air, amazed at his new reflexes. He wasn't even grazed. Then he thrust his blue Keyblade up to block a strike from one of the Heartless's tails. It lifted its wings, the tips of which were glowing, suggesting another dagger attack, as it meanwhile lashed out with its other two tails. Instinctively Sora sprang forward and caught onto one of the tails, using what had to be Dick's acrobatics to flip up and land on the Heartless's shoulders. He started attacking its head with everything he had, landing hit after hit, and though he was sure he had dealt a great deal of damage, the creature shook him off before he could finish it. Sora rolled forward as he hit the ground, and came to his feet just in time to see the Heartless launching itself into the air. He was just about to follow when something hit him. Hard.

    Pain blazed across his back and he fell to his knees, his mind immediately thrust into a confused daze. He managed to shake his head and jump to his feet, stumbling forward as he attempted to avoid blacking out. Luckily he was able to grasp the situation pretty quickly despite the new agonizing injury. An Invisible stood behind him, it's sword poised for another attack. How had he forgotten about the other Heartless? He slashed his red blade across its chest, the power behind the strike vaporizing it in seconds. But there were dozens more closing in. Okay, Sora thought. Air battle it is.

    This new form, whatever is was called, couldn't fly. He knew that. But that didn't mean it couldn't hold its own in mid air. He launched into the sky where Joker's Heartless flew, waiting for him, as he left the swarms of Heartless below. Blades shot forward to intercept his midair leap, but it had to be Jason's well trained eyes that gave him the power to strike aside the projectiles. Knives went spinning to the ground, gleaming in the pale moonlight as Sora got close enough to jab his Keyblade into the Heartless's left calf. It howled a crazy laugh as tails once again whipped around him. Having only one Keyblade free to defend himself, Sora took the brunt of the attack, concentrating on swinging upwards to grasp onto the monster's back. Trying to get a good grip on the Heartless was, of course, nearly impossible. Its skin was oily and smooth, so instead of trying to grab onto a shoulder, Sora stabbed his other Keyblade into the thing's lower back so he could keep climbing it. Just in time too, for at that moment it decided to take advantage of its new powerful wings. It plunged downwards, and Sora felt a sudden wave of nauseousness as it pulled out of the dive with milliseconds to spare, twirling in dizzying circles as it lifted the two of them higher and higher into the dark chilly air like a tornado. It was a good thing Sora wasn't afraid of heights. They were easily six stories above the tower now.

    When the Heartless's wings finally settled into a more rhythmic beat and the world stopped spinning, Sora could finally summon his second Keyblade into his free hand. The creature might not have been able to shake off his death-grip, but its tails were still dancing furiously around him, striking at his back again and again. He slashed at them until he had some breathing space, then once again gathered himself and grabbed the Heartless's wing joint, spinning himself until he was sitting directly atop the great appendage as it worked to keep them air born. He would never have been able to sustain his balance without this new form as the wing rose up and down, each time threatening to dislodge him. The Heartless tried to lash at him with its arms and tails, but he was sitting in just the right place so that it was unable to reach him with either. If this Heartless was going by a pattern which Sora guessed it was, that meant he didn't have much time before it tried to buck him off again, his sense of urgency spiked.

    Grasping both Keyblades tightly, Sora leapt up until he was a few feet above the thing's head. He gave himself a second to breathe, summoning the energy from his friends, then attacked, giving everything he had into the next flurry of strikes. His Keyblades ripped through the air, landing devastating hits that knocked the Heartless back, even in mid air. It kept flinching so he kept striking, using the momentum to push his attack further and further. A knife came flying at him and he flipped sideways, smacking the Heartless's neck as he went. Its hand swiped at his leg, but he was moving too fast, gracefully sliding through the air while dealing devastating blows to his opponent. He could tell the thing was on its last legs when his luck finally ran out. He felt the monster's cold, smooth fingers grab at his shirt and immediately a current of electricity ran through him.

    Sora's attacks abruptly stopped as white hot pain overloaded his thoughts. The world went dark, fading in and out as he willed his eyes to stay open. After what seemed like an eternity, he was able to blink the world into focus, and watched transfixed as he became aware he was falling while dozens of knives rained down upon him. He knew blocking was no use. His whole body was either pulsing with pain or completely numb. Suddenly his arms lifted of their own accord, as if drawn to the hail of metal and the giant Heartless now flying down towards him. Panic overtook Sora's thoughts as he watched the scene unfold. Then suddenly, his Keyblades began to glow, and without knowing what he was doing, Sora shot beads of swirling red and blue light from their tips. They were like abnormally large bullets as they flew skywards to intercept some of the knives directly in front of them, but their main target was clear. A cascade of light and dark bullets were on a direct collision course with the Heartless diving towards him. Even as Sora felt the knives that the bullets were unable to stop grazing him, he watched, mesmerized as the monster reeled back before being smacked point blank in the chest by the projectiles. Summoning them had happened in the span of about three seconds, and the Heartless was taken completely off guard as it froze, curled in on itself, and exploded into a cascade of darkness.

    And Sora was falling. Falling...Falling. His consciousness slipped away as he stared at the wave of darkness, blotting out the moon and falling through the sky to meet him.

    Wind was whistling in his ears and he knew he was falling. He'd jumped off of enough buildings to know the feeling. Cracking his eyes open, Dick took stock of where he was. Falling from Wayne Tower, but too far away to have jumped off. They were just passing the 75th, 74th, 73rd floor. And beside him was Jason, who was just waking up, and Sora, who was solidly out cold. Angling his body, he smacked Jason on the shoulder a few times, making sure he was fully awake (“Back off Dick, I'm up!”), then headed over to Sora.

    Grab around waist, pull grapple, double check the strongest cable is in, aim, fire. The hook flew and embedded itself in one of the gargoyles protruding from the building. The slightly elastic nature of the cord kept Dick's arm from being ripped off, but with his and Sora's combined weigh, along with the speed of their fall, it did get dislocated. Gritting his teeth, he hit retract.

    Jason alighted first, on the next gargoyle over. He raced over to help pull them up, something Dick couldn't do with his arm like this. Well, he probably could, but the risk of either dropping Sora or falling would be a lot higher.

    “Alright Dickie-Bird, let's get this set.” One sickening pull later, Dick's shoulder was back in place and throbbing. Jason continued, “Alright. We need to get back up there. I'll carry Sora this time.”

    Dick nodded. Clearly, the question of how they had ended up falling would have to wait until they weren't standing on a century old gargoyle. “See you at the top Little Wing!”

    “Is that a challenge?”

    “Always.” Gripping the grapple in his less-injured left hand, he shot upwards, Jason and Sora close behind.

    The first thing he did when reaching the top was check on Joker. If he had gotten loose, there wasn't much point in looking for Riku and Kairi. A morbid thought, but then again, he had been hanging around Jason for the past... he didn't even know how long anymore. There hadn't been a proper day and night cycle since they had landed in Traverse Town. Oh well. Not the strangest thing he'd seen. It would just make his report highly inaccurate.

    Joker, luckily, was still pinned to the wall, giggling about butterflies and copper piping. Dick stuck a tranq dart in his neck. And just around the bend of the roof, right where Dick had seen them last, were Kairi and Riku. He still wasn't doing too good, but Kairi was up. She had a hole in her shoulder that was hastily bandaged with what looked like strips from her cloak, but she was moving and she was trying to tend Riku.

    “Hey Kairi.” Kneeling down next to the girl, he checked Riku's wound. It still had the driver's license taped on it, and Riku was breathing mostly normally. A bit liquid sounding though. They'd better get him to a doctor before he got any worse. “Alright. We probably shouldn't move him, but leaving him up here with the Joker is probably more fatal. They're doing some renovation downstairs. Grab me two six foot two-by-fours, two one foot ones, and a bit of canvas or plastic sheeting. And a hammer and a bunch of nails. The more the better.”

    She nodded and dashed off. While she was gone, Jason arrived and carefully leaned Sora on the dome. Five minutes later, she arrived with all the supplies and, after a moment of fussing over Sora, declaring that he was being a “lazy butt”, started helping with the construction. Five minutes and four bruised fingers later (how Dick could throw a batarang with pin point accuracy but couldn't aim a hammer was beyond him), they had a makeshift stretcher, which they loaded Riku onto. It ended up being Kairi and Dick carrying it because Kairi couldn't carry Sora's weight and Dick still couldn't hold much on his shoulder.

    Finally, after much hassle and near spills – by the end of which Dick was convinced stairs were the devil – they ended up in Bruce's office, with the object of their hardships in sight.

    Jason stalked up to the pitcher of water sitting on a side desk, lifted it, and dumped it over Sora's head.

    The teen woke up sputtering. “Who- wha-” Finally focusing on Jason, he pouted. “Why did you do that?” Dick set Riku down on Bruce's desk before allowing himself to laugh. Bruce wouldn't mind. And it definitely wouldn't be the first time someone had been bleeding on the thing.

    “You're the expert on Keyhole finding. And you're useless in that capacity when you're napping.” Dick said, matter-of-factly.

    “I wasn't napping,” he said, contradicting it immediately by rubbing his eye. “I was drained. Drive takes a lot out of me.”

    “Drive?” They probably had a moment or two for Dick to indulge his curiosity.

    “Drive mode. It uses my bond with my friends to give me a massive power boost, a skill or two, other stuff. I kind of... used it accidentally after Kairi got stabbed. I beat the Joker's Heartless with it though.” He was looking up at them like using Drive without asking was some big deal. Dick didn't see it. Then again, being turned into energy to fuel someone else's attacks wasn't the weirdest thing that had happened to him.

    Jason seemed to have the same thought. “Kid, you know that conversation we had the day we met, the one on the rooftop?” Dick did. He'd been eavesdropping through the comms... “I've seen everything. Now calm down and let's get this Keyhole sorted.”

    Sora visibly brightened and started looking through the room. “Usually, we just run into the things, but they're normally in incredibly important places to the world. They give off a type of darkness that Heartless are attracted to, so finding Joker here is another good sign.”

    Dick sighed. “It's a big building though. And I really don't think we should move Riku any more. Me and Sora are least injured, so we'll go looking for it?” Jason made a noise of protest, which Dick cut off. “Don't even think about it Jay. Not even going into your shoulder and side,” which weren't bleeding anymore, but still looked pretty bad, “I saw you fight. Your legs are still hurt, aren't they?”

    Grumbling, Jason said, “Yes. They reopened during the fight with Joker.”

    That was a lie. Dick could see thread peeking out from a hole in his pants, and he wouldn't have had time to stitch himself up between now and then. Hm. Maybe not a complete lie. His leg was bleeding in a few places. Had he popped his stitches? That could wait though. “Great. So you're staying here and me and Sora will go looking for the Keyhole.” As he walked past, he clapped a hand on Jason's shoulder. “Keep them safe little brother.”

    “Course Dickie. Now get gone before I shoot you and take your spot.”

    Chuckling lightly, Dick followed Sora out of the room. “So, what does a Keyhole look like anyways?”

    “Like any keyhole I guess. Black, glowing a bit.”

    “Wait. Really? I've seen one of those.” At Sora's incredulous expression, he explained. “Yeah, back during my fight with Dark Joker. I thought it was another Heartless, but it didn't attack so I forgot about it.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Oops?”

    That got a laugh out of Sora. “It's cool. Now we know where to find it!”

    Once they got up to the roof, just as a precaution, Dick hit Joker with another tranq dart, then pulled Sora to where he had seen the Keyhole. High in the air and stuck to the back of the spire, it was pretty much invisible. Still, a fitting place. It was at the height of Wayne Enterprises, the building every eye turned to when entering Gotham, the most prominent building on the skyline. Really, Dick had only seen it because Joker's Heartless had thrown him.

    “So, how does this work with worlds that have already fallen to darkness?” As far as Dick could tell from all the stories the Keyblade Wielders had told him, locking the Keyhole would only keep Heartless from going in. Saving a world that was already lost... A bit trickier.

    “Well, normally, we'd go inside of it and defeat all the Heartless. But Master Yen Sid made this!” Reaching into his cloak, he pulled out a sphere, about the size of an apple and glowing slightly, as well as a slip of paper with “Instructions” written on it in flowing script. “It's pure light. He said it would 'eradicate all Heartless within an enclosed area'. He gave it to me while you and Jason were making breakfast.”

    “And we didn't use it before because...?”

    “It takes a ridiculous amount of magic. He started making this one over a decade ago. It's not his only one, but he'd like to save them as much as possible.” He gave the instructions one last going over, then summoned his Keyblade. Sticking the ball of light on the tip, he hoisted it and pointed it straight at the Keyhole. “Might want to close your eyes.”

    The warning came a second late. The sphere floated up a bit, then a beam of light coming from the Keyblade pierced it and ended at the Keyhole, glowing so brightly that Dick feared for his retinas. His eyes snapped shut, the harsh white light turning into the much dimmer red of his eyelids.

    “You can look now. I don't think you'll want to miss this.”

    He did so, looking out on Gotham. For a minute, nothing changed. Black stones, black lights, black sky. Then, suddenly, the darkness stared dissipating, beginning at Wayne Tower and spreading out. Small lights appeared on the streets which eventually became the people of Gotham, going about their business as if nothing had changed. The sky brightened in increments, still a nighttime black, but one lit with stars and light pollution. It was Gotham. Dirty, grimy, horrible Gotham. And Dick wouldn't change it for the world.

    Well, not completely true. He did want to get rid of the crime and make it a better place to live for all the people who lived here, but now he was getting off track and should probably listen to what Sora was saying.

    “All the people who lost their hearts to the Heartless will be back too. And unless they were directly involved with the events, they probably won't remember anything. It's all back to how it was.”

    Sora allowed himself one more glance at the newly restored city, only now fully appreciating that all the hardships they had been through had amounted to something so amazing, before turning on his heel and hurrying back to the roof entrance. Riku was seriously hurt. Even a world's heart being restored, along with all the hearts in it, wasn't enough to distract him from the dire situation of his best friend. Dick was right behind him as he swung open the door and bolted down the stairs three at a time.

    “Sora, wait!” Dick suddenly called out from behind him. “You're bleeding.”

    A slight wave of irritation shot through Sora at being delayed. Of course he was bleeding, he had been in the path of multiple razor sharp daggers right before blacking out, but none of the cuts had been too bad. Granted, he hadn't had time to really look himself over. He called back to his friend without slowing his pace. “It's fine Nightwing, just a few scratches. I'll cure them once Riku's better. Do you know where we can take him to get help?”

    The slight pause that followed told Sora Dick didn't want to switch topics, but to his great relief, Nightwing seemed to except that Riku was in the more immediate danger and answered. “Yeah, paramedics are gonna be his best bet. If Hoodie didn't get his head knocked around too bad in that last fight he probably already called them.”

    They were running past offices now, except that the large rooms were now occupied with important looking men and women going about their usual business as if it were any other ordinary day. As if their hearts hadn't just been sleeping in darkness. A few heads turned to look at the blurry figures streaking past, but by the time they had blinked to clarify what they had seen, there was nothing there. Luckily the upper levels of Wayne Enterprises were reasonably isolated, and the recent construction helped even more in reducing the number of people using the office space.

    Skidding to a halt in front of the door, Sora burst into the room, causing Kairi and Jason to look over at them quickly. A first aid kit lay open on the floor between them and Jason was helping Kairi to bandage her shoulder while she held a cloth to Riku's bleeding chest. Jason was just finishing tying off the bandage and limped over to them, ignoring the first aid kit, despite the obvious attention his leg, shoulder and side needed. Riku was still lying on Bruce's desk, his eyes half closed as he took what had become laboured breaths.


    “Please tell me you called an ambulance.” Dick said, looking pleadingly at Jason who raised an eye brow.

    “Course I did. I'm really not as heartless as you all think.” Then his expression melted into something more serious. “He's getting worse fast Dick.”

    Nightwing nodded, walking quickly over to Riku's side and stopping next to Sora who was looking extremely uncomfortable with the whole situation and slightly panicked. Nervously, the boy looked down at Riku, then over at Kairi. “Can't you just heal that?” He asked, nodding at her now fully bandaged arm.

    She shrugged, regretting it immediately with a wince. “I tried. But it wouldn't heal. Tried Riku again too, but no luck.” She bit her lip and looked over at him. “Maybe we've healed one to many times or something. Or the darkness that was so close to the world's heart corrupted our magic somehow. I don't know.” She shook her head desperately.

    “I think the problem is in all the wounds inflicted by Joker. They're the only ones that won't heal.” Dick said darkly. “Maybe his darkness has a special kind of power that corrupted any kind of light magic.”

    The room then lapsed into thoughtful silence.

    Calming down slightly in the resounding silence, Sora took the time to inspect the skin on his arms for injuries. He supposed it wasn't surprising when he found a few deep cuts. He hadn't even felt them with how distracted he'd been. But the majority of his body was quickly starting to ache and throb. He looked over at Kairi, then summoned the Kingdom Key and raised it. “Cure!”

    The spell sparkled around him, conjugating close to his cuts and bruises, especially a rather deep one on his back he hadn't noticed. That must have been what Dick was worried about. But in front of all of their eyes, the magic simply shimmered for a few seconds before fading, leaving his injuries raw and painful.

    There was a pause as they all took in the ineffectiveness of the magic that had probably saved all their lives by this point, before Jason stood up, breaking the silence. “Well, no use crying over it.” He said, roughly putting a hand on Sora's shoulder. “You magic users will just have to learn to deal with doctors for a change.” Despite the circumstances, he grinned. “If you're good Sora, you might even get a lollipop.”

    There was a weak laugh as Riku – apparently conscious enough to follow the conversation – turned to grin at Sora, who frowned at Jason. “You do know I'm sixteen right?” Sora growled.

    Dick joined in, giving a very exaggerated gasp. “What? You're such a shorty I thought you were ten!”

    Sora rounded on him indignantly before a wave of laughter burst through the room, stopping him in his tracks.

    “Guuuys.”Sora said irritably, his face slightly red. But he was smiling all the same.

    Still chuckling, Dick walked over to a door on the left, and rummaged through its contents for a few seconds before pulling out what were unmistakably a few pairs of clothes. He held them up for all to see. “Alright kiddies, we better get changed and come up with a good plan to tell the paramedics. I vote for Riku's injuries being a result of ignoring the rules and playing around with the construction equipment.”

    Even through his painful gasps, the teen still managed to give Nightwing a death glare Batman would be proud of.

    As it was, the next few minutes were hectic as everyone rushed to the bathrooms across the hall to slip on t-shirts and jeans, before coming back and hastily cooking up a plan in which Riku had ignored the many labels posted around the labs to sneak into one of them before tripping and injured himself. They hoped this would at least justify the ugly burn running across his back. The final plan had just been decided on when the paramedics arrived with a stretcher, quickly setting to work on properly treating Riku's wounds. They began checking his vitals and giving him oxygen, lifting him onto the stretcher and wheeling him away quickly. As they left, the previously busy atmosphere of the room fell strangely quiet and still. The remaining four looked at each other before Dick hurried over and dug some keys our of one of the desk drawers.

    Jason looked up hopefully. “Can I dri-”

    “No.”

    “Oh, come on Dickie you're such a slow-”

    “No!”

    Bruce didn't know where he was. He didn't like that. He couldn't remember what had happened to him. He didn't like that even more. Slowly, he opened his eyes, years of crime fighting putting his nerves on edge for what would follow. To his surprise however, he wasn't met with a mad lunatic or killer psychopath, though he was in his Batman suit as he had expected. He was standing on a sidewalk in one of the more affluent streets of Gotham, with rays of early morning sunlight bathing him in a warm comfortable glow. He blinked. This was Gotham right? He didn't have much time to think on it. Already, his presence was attracting quite a crowd, and his brain worked furiously to try to put the pieces of his memory back into something recognizable. Pulling out his grapple gun and shooting into the air, his thought process seemed to unjam itself. The resulting wave of memories was so distracting he nearly messed up his landing. But Batman didn't stumble. Ever.

    Desperately, he looked around from his now high vantage point on top of a tall white factory building as memories came rushing back to him. He, Tim, and Damian had been fighting heartless, protecting citizens, trying to stop the army of monsters from devouring them. Jason and Dick, along with the Keyblade Wielders, had split up promising to get off world to try and cure Jason. This entire revelation was making Bruce's skin crawl. Where were his sons? And why did his city look uncharacteristically peaceful and not like an army of evil creatures had just come storming through it, hellbent on corrupting people's hearts?

    If there was one thing Batman hated, it was being uninformed. And at the moment, he felt very much that way. Unable to spot either Damian or Tim, he reached a hand up to his communicator in his ear, speaking quickly. “Red Robin, Robin, Report.”

    There were a few numb seconds of reverberating silence, then. “Uh, hey, um, Batman. What...where are-”

    Tim's confused voice was suddenly cut off by Robin's.

    “Present and accounted for. But I seem to be suffering from a mild case of amnesia.”

    Tim growled at being cut off. “You and me both. What the heck happened?”

    Damian took in a sharp breath as if he were about to say something, but Batman swiftly cut him off. “If neither of you are injured, rendezvous on top of the old fabric factory on twenty-second street.”

    The two quickly complied, their channels falling silent, and in the resounding quite, Batman used the time to try and reach Jason and Dick via comm. links, which turned out to be a complete failure. Soon both of Batman's young vigilantes were standing next to him gazing up into his white-out lenses with slightly confused expressions, a chilly morning breeze making all three capes flutter around them dramatically.

    “Nightwing.” Damian began. “He and Hood, where are they?”

    Frowning, Bruce looked down at his son. “Communicators are a dead end, there's no response. It's possible they are off world, in which case we wouldn't get a signal.”

    Tim was frowning too. “Why is it that none of us can really remember how we got here? Maybe if we could figure out what happened between fighting all those Heartless and now, we could come up with a more accurate idea of where Nightwing and Red Hood are.”

    Batman found this a perfectly logical option, and was just about to say so when something very peculiar happened.

    His cellphone rang.

    Of course, this wasn't Bruce Wayne's normal cellphone that nearly every single woman in Gotham had, nor was it his dreaded work phone. No, this one was special; only to be dialed in extreme circumstances. Hearing its shrill ring echo through the air made his blood run cold, as well as freeze Damian and Tim in their tracks. They both knew that noise. Yet Bruce slide the phone from his belt and answered it on its second ring.

    “Bruce, you there?” Batman almost sagged with relief when he heard the familiar voice of his eldest.

    “I'm here Dick.”

    “Good, because I have a lot of explaining to do. Well, I guess me and Terry actually.” Terry? Who...?

    “Hey, leave me out of this Dick! OW, careful. This is the third time I've got stitches there you know.” The voice, clearly Jason's, could be heard rather far off in the background. They were using an alias. Necessary, considering Jason Todd was still legally dead.

    Ignoring it, Dick continued. “Anyway, we're at Gotham General. The emergency room actually.”

    Bruce stiffened immediately. They were injured seriously enough to visit the hospital? Why weren’t they at the Cave if they needed medical attention? In fact, why were they even in Gotham for that matter?

    “Are you okay?”

    “More or less. Terry's leg is pretty cut up though.” Bruce could hear the phone shift as Dick stood, followed by footsteps. Bruce knew Dick well enough to realize he was pacing, a recent habit of his high energy son when he became overly nervous.

    “Sora and Kairi aren't in the best of shape either, but Riku...” He trailed off, obviously at a loss for words. Bruce knew that kind of silence only too well.

    “I'll be there soon.” He said roughly before hanging up and facing the other two. “They’re here.” He said simply. “In Gotham.”

    Without another word, the three streaked off the building, and soon vanished into the brilliant sunrise, and out of sight.

    ~*~​


    Slowly coming to, the first thing Riku noticed was that his throat was sore. Really sore. So much so, that his immediate concern when he first opened his eye, was to find some water. Wherever he was, it was really bright, assaulting his vision and making him blink several times before closing his eyes again. However, in the little amount he did see, he became aware that he was surrounded by several people. It was only then that he realized someone was talking. He concentrated hard to make out the words.

    “I swear I saw him blink guys. No really. He's awake, I'm pretty sure!”

    “Go get the doctor Dick, will you?”

    “Sure thing.”

    “Hey Riku you lazy butt, hurry and wake up will you?”

    “Jeez you idiots, give the guy some breathing space.”

    “Was that supposed to be a pun, ya know with the collapsed lung and all?”

    “No Sora, it definitely wasn't...”

    “Tt.”

    Riku managed then to blink a few times, and stared around at everyone bleary eyed. He was in a white, overly clean room, which had his brain immediately thinking hospital. As he had thought, several individuals were sitting in chairs or standing around, looking down at him with concerned expressions. He shifted, realizing that he was indeed lying on a soft bed and covered in warm, if rather scratchy, blankets. Waiting for his brain to catch up with his eyes, he gazed at Sora who was standing to his right, a huge smile planted on his face as usual.

    “Hey Sora.” He rasped. “Got any water?”

    But it seemed Sora was so overjoyed to see his best friend conscious again that he didn't take in a word of this request, simply diving forward and wrapping his arms around Riku's neck, being careful of the bandages. “Oh my gosh Riku you’re finally awake! We've been waiting forever, well Bruce said it's only been like two days but that's still a really long time! How are you feeling? Any better? The doctors fixed up your lung and back and everything because we couldn't heal it with magic! But they said you’d be out for a few days while you healed and it's been what seems like forever! Did I say that already? Oh and I don't know how much you remember but we totally saved Gotham and Joker is in jail and-”

    Mercifully at that moment, Jason stepped in and put a hand around Sora's mouth, dragging him backwards while Kairi offered Riku a cup of water, complete with straw. He took it gingerly, realizing that moving was still indeed very painful, and sipped the water gratefully. It was cool and refreshing, soothing his throat somewhat as he drank.

    “Not too fast Riku!” Kairi said, taking his water away to his great displeasure. “The doctor said not to give you too much at first.”

    Grinning, Riku looked up at her. “Hey Kairi, nice to see you too.” It was then that he noticed a sling around her right arm, and he was suddenly bombarded with foggy memories about the previous fight. He could remember getting injured, but only bits and peaces from after that. Apparently everything had worked out for the best however, accounting for the fact that Tim, Damian, Jason, Kairi, Sora, and supposedly Dick were all present and accounted for. Though, as he gazed at all of them in turn, he couldn't help but notice that everyone involved in rescuing Gotham's heart was pretty banged up. Sora had bandages peaking our from under his short sleeve T-shirt, Jason's leg was in some sort of cast while crutches lay beside his chair, and as Dick walked back in with the doctor, Riku noticed more then a few bruises on him as well.

    Once the doctor came in, he checked his vitals, asked him how he felt, assessed his injuries, and explained to him he had had quite a serious case of pneumothorax, whatever that meant. As he left, the doctor went on exclaiming how miraculously fast Riku was recovering. Next thing Riku knew, Kairi and Sora were back, leaning over him and beaming.

    “You have to get better soon!” Sora was saying excitedly.

    “Yeah!” Kairi exclaimed. “We all need to heal up. There's something really important we have to do.”

    Riku raised his eyebrows questionably at them, but they just smiled mysteriously. Even Sora, who was usually awful at keeping secrets.

    “You'll see.” They said together, doing a spectacular job of annoying him.

    ~*~​


    Sora had never ridden a motorcycle before. Not a real one anyway. That was painfully apparent to Jason, despite the kid's claims to the contrary. His balance was way, way off as they rode down the busy streets of Gotham at the highest possible legal speeds. Jason had to keep reaching behind him and poking the kid into a better position. They would have been going faster, but Alfred, Bruce, and an assortment of crazy crime fighting children were driving behind them in a gratefully inconspicuous van. Jason had opted to ride his new motorcycle, courtesy of the losing teams – being the Demon Spawn, the Replacement, Bruce, and Dick. They had paid up on their side of the bargain, Jason had made sure of that, and now he and Sora were riding in front of them, rubbing in their victory as much as humanly possible. Sora had been bought a bike too, but as he was far to young to ride it here legally, it was safely stored in the cave. Which was just as well: Jason suspected the kid would cause some major chaos if he were allowed to ride one of these babies on his own. The bikes were beautiful, with one of the most powerful engines Jason had ever handled, and coloured red and black with a few streaks of white spread throughout its design. Needless to say, Jason thoroughly enjoyed the ride to their destination.

    Large flag poles, multicoloured balloons, screams of delight and glee mixed with the mechanical whirring of rides, the wafting smell of cotton candy, popcorn and corn dogs, and a lot of happy people met them as they pulled into the parking lot of Amusement Mile. Riku, only cleared to come out yesterday by his doctor, and the only one left in the dark, simply stared up at the large sign bearing the park's logo, before his expression slowly turned into a smile. Dick on the other hand, was bouncing around like he had drank about 8 cups of coffee in the past 4 hours. Which, in reality was totally possible. He danced around the group, happily questioning which rides they should go on first, and already pleading with Bruce to let them stay until the fireworks at 9:00 PM. Despite themselves, everyone began contracting his infectious good mood, Bruce, Damian, and Jason even cracking small smiles as they walked into the front entrance.

    Sure, it had its quirks, but in the end, Gotham was worth saving, if only so Jason could share it with his friends and family. Besides, he thought as they passed through the gates into the amusement park beyond, We've earned a little free time.
     
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2015
  3. Loxare Hollow Bastion Committee

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    Another chapter enjoy!

    Sora was looking forward to this. He was reasonably confident he could handle Xehanort, at least chase him from this world, and as soon as he did, the Heartless would die down to almost nothing. His new friends could definitely handle that. And he would be able to go see Donald and Goofy and Kairi and Riku…

    “Oh! Before you go!” He had forgotten another really important thing! “Robin, Red Hood, be careful not to strain where your injuries were too much. They’re healed, but only by magic. They still need time to rest and naturally recover. Otherwise, they can reopen and only time can heal them then.”

    The two previously-injured people took a moment to consider. “How far can we strain them? We have to face this threat to Gotham now.” Robin asked.

    He thought back to his own battles and how the Cure spells had lasted. “They should be able to hold for most battles. I’ve fought Xehanort before on Cure and it lasted for every bit of it. I just thought I should mention because my friend Riku reopened his leg wound a little while ago.”

    Batman stepped forward, looming over Sora. “What were the circumstances for this?”

    “Donald said it was probably because he was under a lot of stress. He was fighting Xehanort at the time and they have a bad history.”

    Hood nodded, his helmet bobbing up and down. “We’ll keep it in mind. Now let’s go kick some a-”

    “Language!”

    “-butt.”

    The docks had always been a favourite spot of Gotham's lowlifes, what with their rotting wood piers, murky water, and abandoned buildings. It was a spot recently visited by vigilantes and mobsters alike, and the Bat family couldn't help feeling a wave of familiarity as they stepped out into the cool midnight air. It was a cloudless night, and the area was quiet. Maybe a little too quiet considering recent circumstances. Bruce took a deep breath before turning to address his soldiers.

    “I want to do this right, no careless moves” he gave a pointed glare at Jason, “and no rushing in without using your head.” Damian gave the slightest of flinches at their leader’s words.

    “So what's the plan boss?” Asked an attentive Red Robin.

    “Sora, Nightwing and I will be taking the roof, preparing to jump in for a surprise attack. I want you, Hood and Robin to go in for a distraction so we can enter during the resulting chaos.”

    Robin gave an obvious “Tt” of displeasure though all but Tim chose to ignore it, the latter giving the youngest a pointed glare before refocusing on Batman.

    A few minutes of detailed explanations later, Sora found himself climbing down as silently as he could manage, into a maze of wooden support beams stretching out across the expanse of a vast warehouse's ceiling. It was a good thing he wasn't afraid of heights, because when he looked down, he realized they were about four stories up with very little between them and the cold concrete floor. Though, with a sinking feeling, Sora saw that there was indeed something between them. A collection of Heartless and Nobodies slithering around, twitching and slipping ninjas like into shadows. Ignoring these, he tried to spot who he was really looking for. Where was Xehanort? A minute of careful searching told him the man wasn't there. Or at least, he wasn't in the main part of the warehouse. Several doors lined the walls of the room however, and Sora guessed that the man they were looking for could easily be hiding within the depths of the old building. Batman was counting on that very idea, hoping that once the fighting began, the three of them hidden above could take him by surprise. Sora had never used strategies like this before. It felt weird, like he was deceiving his opponent. He knew that was a ridiculous though and that Xehanort wouldn't hesitate to do the same to him, but he couldn't help feeling slightly guilty. Despite the efficiency, this wasn't how he operated.

    “You good Sora?” Nightwing questioned from his left. Sora hadn't even noticed the acrobat settle down next to him.

    “Yeah, I'm ready.” He said, readjusting himself to get more comfortable. “When do we start?”

    In answer Nightwing gave a quick glance over at Batman who had a few fingers resting on his ear. Sora could just hear the gruff voice issuing commands.

    “We are in position. Move in.”

    There was a brief moment of silence where Sora noticed how tense he had become. Then, suddenly several things seemed to happen at once.

    A wall seemed to break apart, shards of metal and wood flying across the room violently, the unpleasant vibrations from the explosion making Sora tremble slightly. Small pops followed almost simultaneously, light flooded the room. Sora had to put a hand in front of his face because of the intensity of what he now realized were flash grenades. Heartless began to slither into the ground, becoming shadows, while the Nobodies conjugated at the enormous hole in the wall. If Sora hadn't been covering his face, he might have noticed small black projectiles flying into the room, resulting in several Nobodies vanishing on the spot. Then came the unmistakable explosion of Red Hood’s guns. At this point, Sora uncovered his eyes to see Robin, Red Hood and Red Robin putting up a very good distraction. Though unfamiliar with the attack patterns of the Nobodies, Hood and Robin seemed comfortable fighting the Heartless and dodged them with ease, their attacks more often than not hitting their marks. Red Robin's analytical skills seemed to put him at an advantage from the start. He waited, letting the enemies come to him, and then did some experimental dodging, quickly figuring out the most effective way to combat his attackers. Watching the three of them work was amazing.

    Then the motion of the room came to an unpredictably sudden stand still. It didn't make sense, one minute there was full blown chaos, the next the Heartless and Nobodies stopped in their tracks, becoming docile. The eerie creek of a door was the explanation. Sora looked to the right of the room, to a door that was slowly opening. He tensed involuntarily.

    The door swung open, revealing Xehanort. His eyes gleamed as he gazed across the stilled battlefield. Well, mostly stilled. While the monsters weren’t fighting back, Red Hood and Robin were stealthily attacking everything in sight. Red Robin had jumped onto some crates so he could get a better vantage point of the battlefield. Xehanort took all of this in, his eyes narrowing slightly when they rested on Hood. Then they moved on, sweeping to the rafters where Sora, Batman and Nightwing were hiding.

    “You might as well come down.” The amount of gravel in his voice could rival Batman, but while Batman’s voice was flat, devoid of emotion, Xehanort’s held a spark of manic revulsion. Revulsion for the light and all who served it.

    More Heartless streamed from the walls, more Nobodies from the floor. Sora was so busy watching the battle below, he had missed the Dragoon floating behind him. He managed to bring his Keyblade up in time to block, but the force of the swing knocked him from his perch, sending him crashing to the ground, vapourizing two or three Shadows with the force of his fall. Jumping up as quickly as he could, he swept his Key in a circle, destroying all of the Heartless around him. They still weren’t attacking, but he felt better with a perimeter. Nightwing was on the ground too, but Batman was nowhere to be seen. Hopefully still in the rafters. He didn’t seem like the type to get surprised.

    Xehanort was speaking again. “Much better. My failed vessel, I welcome you to the site of my victory. For it is here that I shall obtain the last darkness and bring about the Second Keyblade War.” His eyes glinted dangerously. “But for now, I need to prepare for the end. Fear not, I shall leave you with plenty of entertainment.” He disappeared through the door, the lock glowing as it was magically sealed.

    Nothing my Keyblade can’t open, Sora thought as he started towards the door. And was quickly stopped by an Invisible blocking his path. The silence which had descended on the warehouse when the Heartless and Nobodies stopped fighting returned just as quickly as it had vanished. Pandemonium filled the warehouse as the Nobodies slithered into motion, their quick, jerky, yet still fluid, movements leading to unpredictable and dangerous attacks. The Heartless were much less graceful, but no less powerful, overwhelming with numbers when strength was not sufficient.

    The Bats were faster and more powerful however. Nightwing flew above the battle, jumping off of Heartless, landing to jab a Nobody or two with his escrima sticks, then flipping off once again. Red Hood fought them directly, a gun barrel pressed to a Dancer’s head, and All Blade buried deep in a Neo Shadow’s chest. Red Robin watched the enemies, noting each type’s weak points before turning through the battle, bo staff and glider cape flashing. Robin preferred the deadly approach, simply slicing anything to cross his path in two, leaping above them to gain advantage of momentum. Sora’s Keyblade slipped through the horde effortlessly. After so long fighting these creatures, knowing how to defeat them was almost second nature to him. Above them all, a shadow in the rafters smiled proudly.

    Red Hood noticed when Batman dropped down into the fray. Presumably because he couldn’t break into where Xehanort was hiding. Whatever that glowing keyhole meant, it was probably lock pick-proof. He shot another one of the white things (a Nobody probably) in the chest, and swung his gun around to the next enemy, one of those Myotises. Copycat bastards. He lined up his sights and squeezed the trigger, giving a frustrated growl when it just clicked. Stupid thing was jammed. He dropped it, grabbing another from his belt, dispatching the Myotis with his All Blade instead. Too bad he wasn’t still bleeding; he could have powered up the All Blade and taken a group of monsters out in one swing instead of going one-by-one. An injury would just slow him down more than would be useful at this point, so he dropped that line of thinking and flew back into the fray. An explosion broke his concentration momentarily. His eyes panned until he found the source of the blast, getting one quick smile in before a massive Nobody with a claymore smacked him on the head. The helmet took the damage, shattering on impact. A piece of the shrapnel cut into his temple, the vicious river of a head wound starting up. Jason smiled a deadly smile and held the All Blade up, red blood dripping onto it.

    Tim had ducked out of the fight quickly, trusting his allies and family to handle it. Instead, he grappled up to the second floor, staring intently at the door, determined to figure out how to make it open. From the way Sora was fighting towards the door, he knew of a way to open it and needed to be at the door to do it. Or he could just be after Xehanort and would get stuck when he reached the door like the rest of them were. The lock was still glowing and, knowing magic, lock pick-proof. Would probably electrocute whoever tried too. Or turn them into a kitten. Tim almost preferred the electrocution. Another few moments of thought and suddenly, an answer came to him. Taking out a few explosive batarangs, he tossed them at a spot on the wall which, according to the blueprint he had memorized, led to the next room. Checking to make sure no one was close enough to get caught in the blast, he pressed the remote detonator.

    Nightwing was caught off balance by the resulting tremors of the building. He jumped into the air, and landed expertly on a nearby Neoshadow, righting himself in the process. He could see Sora stumble as he had been running towards the locked door, but the boy caught his balance quickly, swinging his blade above his head to avoid being slashed by one of those vicious bat Heartless. The room was suddenly covered in a cloud of dust and smoke from the explosion, and Nightwing could no longer see Sora or any Heartless more than 3 feet away from him. Flipping forward, he swung his escrima sticks with practiced ease at the sound of claws swinging towards him, or when he saw a flash of the black shadowy creatures through the cloud of dust. Thank you sensory deprivation training! He wanted to catch up to Sora and give him a bit of back up. Facing Xehanort alone was probably not in the kid’s best interest.

    “Oh crap, oh CRAP, OH CRAP! GUYS!!!”

    That was Tim's voice! Nightwing felt his stomach twist into a knot. Looking around frantically his eyes stinging from the grit and smoke, he called desperately “TIM!”

    His voice was drowned out, however, by a huge earthshaking crash. This time Nightwing couldn't help it. He fell to the ground, catching himself on his hands and knees, and looked up. Whatever had just caused that had also managed to blow most of the dwindling debris still present in the air away. Sora was lying on the ground about 10 feet in front of Nightwing, covered in broken pieces of wood and cement, and stirring slightly. Dick only had a moment to worry about that however, because as his eyes continued upward, he saw something that he swore made his heart stop. A huge black creature, arms the size of thick tree trunks, tentacles covering its face, twisted black wings jetting out from its curved back, and glowing yellow eyes that pierced the dark room with bone chilling celerity; it was crouched down staring straight at him. He didn't know it, but he was looking into the face of a Darkside.

    Jason was having a very good time as he tore through the monsters surrounding him, the All Blades powered up by his own blood. He hadn't had this much fun in... well, who knew when. He didn't often get permission from the Bats to go all out and take down his enemies the way he wanted. Now however, he could fight however he liked. No holding back. As his sword sliced through yet another wave of shadows, darkness trailing behind it like blood, he noticed his visibility dropping. He coughed as dust and smoke from what was probably Tim's explosion reached him. Unfortunately he didn't have his helmet on at the time which would have kept his throat protected. Suddenly he heard the distinctive sound of flesh connecting with flesh and turned to his left, just making out the glowing eyes and pointy ears of Batman.

    “We need to get to the door,” the man said roughly between strokes of his enormous fists.

    “I know.” Jason spat. “But I saw Sora and-”

    He had to stop as a Neoshadow rose from the ground right in front of him taking a cocky swipe at his legs. He simply kicked it out of the way seeing as both swords were preoccupied with enemies at his sides.

    “- and Nightwing and Red Robin all over there. So with any luck they can handle their own until we get to them. Where's Robin anyway? I lost track of-”

    This time something much bigger cut him off. He was thrown back violently by the force of it crashing down very close to where he and Bats were standing. He felt himself flying through the air and landed heavily against a metal wall. What the hell just happened? His vision was swimming, and he had to blink a few times to clear his head. What had enough force to knock him back like that? The visibility in the room seemed to be much clearer now, and Jason almost wished it wasn't. A huge black arm was drawing back towards that hole in the wall Tim just made. The arm of a huge black Heartless.

    Jason sighed and pulled his grapple from his belt. “You got this B? Cause I have something in the Batwing that might help with that.” Batman tossed him an Of-course-I-have-this look, punching another Nobody to the concrete floor. Jason smirked, aimed his grapple and took off, crashing through the window. He landed with a roll and took off running, towards the plane parked a half block away.

    Popping the canopy, he jumped into the back seat. Riffling under his usual seat, he pulled out a rocket launcher and four spare rockets. He had used this one to blow up half of the Chinese mafia a couple of years back. Not as fun as Black Mask’s office, but still one hell of a ride. Batman didn’t know he had stashed it here. Ok, he probably knew, but he never bothered removing it, so whatever. Slinging his prize over his shoulder, he barreled back to the warehouse. He launched his grapple through the window he had broken earlier and, angling his body as much as he could, landed right in front of the Heartless blocking the hole in the wall. Hood lined up his sights, aiming right at the monster’s head.

    As soon as the rocket left the launcher, Hood grabbed one of his spares, sliding it into ready position. He needn’t have bothered. The rocket hit the Heartless right in the eye, exploding on contact and blowing half of its head off. The creature dissipated. “Huh,” he leaned on his rocket launcher, taking a moment to be underwhelmed by the giant, “that was easier than I expected.”

    Sora had been making his gradual way towards the Darkside. Jumping and gliding over the horde had been useless with Beserkers all too willing to knock him back down. So he had gone the ground route, taking Nobodies out one-by-one, Heartless out in groups (what did they expect, standing so close together?). He knew what the Darkside could do and he knew he had to stop it before it could fire dark orbs at his friends or summon more Heartless. He was more than half way there when a dark shape flew right towards the Darkside’s eye.

    Another explosion, blowing half of the giant’s face off. Much faster than Sora could have done, the Darkside was defeated, slowly dissolving into darkness. Sora looked over to where the dark shape had come from, to see Hood leaning on a metal cylinder exactly like the one at his apartment.

    Shaking his head (he had more important things to worry about right now), he ran for the now-clear hole in the wall, Red Hood, Nightwing and Batman in close pursuit.

    The Heartless and Nobodies had finally stopped streaming into the room. From his vantage point above the battlefield, Nightwing was very pleased to see that entire sections of floor had been cleared away. Dropping his escrima stick onto another Nobody’s head, he landed next to Tim.

    “Red, Hood managed to get rid of that monster thing. Can you and Robin handle things here while I go in for Xehanort?”

    Tim snorted, “These guys are cake once you figure out their patterns. Not only do they never deviate from them, but if you interrupt them, they’ll try to pick up where they left off.” Jabbing the electrical end of his bo staff into another Heartless, he twirled, intercepting a lanky Nobody as it started to curl around his body. “I got this ‘Wing. You help Hood, Sora and Batman.”

    Using a Nobody built like Superman as a ladder, Nightwing launched himself into the air, landing on heads and shoulders as he made his way over to Robin. “Little D, me, Bats and Hood are heading into the next room! You finish up here and join us when you’re done!”

    Robin sliced a Nobody with swords in half. The fool things couldn’t even wield a sword properly. “Fine, Grayson. But this is the last time I’m cleaning up your mess!”

    Dick smiled. “You got it Robin!” Bouncing off of one last head, he landed right behind Batman and Red Hood. He had a feeling what was coming would need all three of them.
     
  4. Loxare Hollow Bastion Committee

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    Another day, another chapter. Slight violence warning, but it's a fight scene, what did you expect? Read and enjoy!

    They ducked through the opening, tensed and prepared for sneak attacks and traps. The next room over was dark (not that any of the Bats would have difficulty with this). The only source of light was coming from the skylight, a single beam reaching down towards Xehanort, standing in the exact center of the room.

    “Finally, we have come to the hour of my victory!”Xehanort’s hands moved dramatically, his voice echoing in the empty chamber. “You have arrived, my thirteenth darkness, my final vessel. The last Nobody.” His face stretched into a mad smile, and he stared.

    Directly at Red Hood.

    Hood in response grabbed his gun out of its holster and pointed it directly at Xehanort. At the mad man’s words, something inside him shuddered. “What the hell are you talking about?”

    He looked over at Batman and Nightwing, whose faces resembled equal amounts of confusion, then he caught a glimpse of Sora. The boy was shocked, frozen in place and staring at Xehanort like the man had just said something horrible. Slowly, Sora’s grip on his Keyblade tightened and he took a step forward staring at Xehanort with a fierce intensity. “There's no way,” he said quietly, then louder, “There's no way you’re making Red Hood into another one of your puppets.”

    This statement seemed to break the villain from his gleeful trance and he stared right back at the young hero. “Puppet?” he asked in that gritty evil voice. “But my dear boy, haven’t you realized by now that it is natural for everyone to have darkness in their hearts? This young man will make the decision to join me of his own accord. All he needs is a small push in the right direction.”

    Red Hood seemed to be somewhat catching on, and took a few steps forward to stand at the side of Sora. “I might not see eye to eye with all the goody two shoes superheroes out there, but there is no way I would ever reduce myself to the likes of scum like you. These Heartless you release, they are killing innocent people. If you think I would ever be a part of that you are dead wrong. It's sick!”

    Sora gave a quick nod, and with a subtle flap of fabric and a slight breeze, both Nightwing and Batman were standing there too, silently supporting him. Hood was inexplicably touched by the action, but quickly blinked and looked back at his enemy. His trigger finger tightened slightly.

    Xehanort began to laugh quietly. He put his hands behind his back and shook his head slowly. “You are fighting a losing battle my friend.” he said to the room at large. “You are only trying to cover up your true nature... but if you won't join me that easily, then...”

    The tension in the room spiked, and Sora held his breath involuntary. Batman clenched his fists and glared at the man, frowning deeply as he did so. Xehanort disturbed him, possibly as much as some of the villains in Gotham. Even Nightwing was still, suppressing the urge to jump nervously on the balls of his feet. Jason was clenching his teeth. Who was this man that he thought he knew so much about him? The silence stretched on.

    Ever so slowly, more laughter vibrated softly around the room. But this sound was different then the humourless sound they had just heard from Xehanort moments ago. This was authentic, new, scary. Sora felt all the hairs on the back of his neck stand up, and swallowed hard. He looked around at his companions. Even under the cowl, the Batman’s face had twisted into something dark and inhuman. Nightwing had turned pale and was staring around the room with wide eyes. It was Red Hood however, that caught Sora's attention immediately. His entire body went stiff, his teeth were clenched, and he seemed to be breathing harder than before. He was trembling, and Sora realized that is wasn't because of fear, but pure rage.

    Xehanort flashed Red Hood a vicious grin. “I think you will come around to my way of thinking. It shouldn’t take long.”

    Batman was the first to move, his hand drawing a batarang and already taking a step forward.

    “I wouldn't do that if I were you.”

    A third voice, deeper and more gravely then the rest. Batman’s eyes were reduced to slits and he once again froze, analyzing a quickly deteriorating situation.

    “Oh no, not him too.” Nightwing breathed from beside Sora.

    Stepping out from the shadows draping the back of the room in darkness, Joker and Two Face emerged, surrounded by a wave of Megashadows.

    Sora leaned over to Nightwing. “Who are they?” he whispered.

    His eyes never leaving the villains in front of them, he replied “Joker and Two Face. A couple of our regular villains.”

    “Well, well. All of my favourite people, right here in front of me!” The Joker’s voice caused Sora to shudder involuntarily. Somehow, he didn’t think being a ‘favourite’ of this guy was a good thing. The clown’s eyes flicked to Sora once, briefly, then focused back on Batman and Red Hood. “And one extra, but I think I can let you two bozos take care of him.”

    Two Face flipped a coin into the air, catching it on his palm and slapping it onto the back of his other hand. A quick glance and, “Sorry. Looks like I’m out of this fight.”

    “Aw, come on now Harv, best two out of three.”

    He mulled over the idea. He did like twos. Flipping the coin again and again, the undamaged portion of his face stretched into a smile almost as wide as Joker’s. “Looks like I’m in after all.” He stored his coin, pulling out two pistols, firing at Batman the moment he had a shot.

    Batman had already moved, swirling in close to the former-D.A., his fist catching him on the good half of his face. The moment he had moved however, the room started filling with Heartless. No Nobodies this time, for whatever reason. These were Emblem Heartless. The patterns were different from the Pureblood Heartless the Bats had been facing so far, but Sora knew them. Keyblade in hand, he started swinging.

    Jason tried to go after Joker, but Nightwing held him back. He started fighting, mind beyond reason as he lunged towards the man who had killed him. Dick had to grab both of his arms, leaning his head close to his brother’s ear, “Hood, listen to me! Hood! Jay! Jay, you can’t go after the Joker. Just let me take care of him. I promise, he won’t hurt you again. Jay!” Eventually, Dick’s whisperings calmed him down. He could tell that Jay was still angry, but not in a way that could send him off the deep end. He looked past the domino masks adorning both of their eyes and an understanding passed between them.

    Nightwing nodded, then released Hood and flipped into the Joker’s path. The clown had been racing off to the side, probably to set a bomb or sneak attack them or something, but suddenly lurched back as Nightwing caught him in a roundhouse kick. This was one enemy he didn’t feel like holding back on. He wouldn’t kill the madman, but a broken bone or two wouldn’t be too bad.

    Jason was watching Sora fight while he was trying to calm down, and noted that Xehanort was just standing there, watching him. It would probably be a bad idea to fight him up close. Clearly, the villain had a plan and Jason fit in there somehow, despite having never met the guy before. So he darted towards Sora, pulling him out of the way of a fatass Heartless wearing a purple shirt. He shot the thing in the back, smiling slightly as it dissolved. “I got this. Can you take care of baldie over there?”

    The kid gave him the most indignant look. “Of course I can!”

    “Then get gone!” Shoving him with one hand, Jason shot at a flying yellow thing that shot lightning, knocking off its hat with the first shot, the second one going between its eyes.

    Sora cautiously approached Xehanort. The villain, his enemy since the beginning of all of this, hadn’t interfered in the fight yet, preferring to watch the chaos. Or maybe he was just watching Red Hood. Glancing back at his friend (currently leaping over a Large Body so he could reach an Air Soldier with his All Blade), he felt a rare surge of anger. Xehanort, this terrible excuse for a person, had caused so much pain and sadness to his friends. Riku, Kairi, even the ones he hadn’t met yet, but that Mickey had told him about, Terra, Aqua, and Ven. And now he wanted to add Red Hood to the list. Red Hood, who acted like he didn’t care but had gotten himself stabbed multiple times to protect Sora. Who had the worst mouth but toned it down when Batman asked him too. Tough, brave, and kind. Sora refused to let Xehanort hurt him.

    “Your fight is with me!” He growled, holding his Keyblade before him.

    The man’s gaze came back to rest on Sora. He sighed, shaking his head, but other than that, ignoring Sora as if he were little more than a slight irritation.

    “Why do you always feel the need to get in my way?” he questioned. “You know your power could never compare to mine, not when I am once again whole. But yet you are here, blindly challenging a master who could destroy you.”

    As Xehanort ranted, dark waves began to slither up from the ground, slowly encircling him. Sora leapt forward and swung down with his blade, which clashed against Xehanort's own darkness-covered Key. He was thrown back by the force of the parry, but caught his feet quickly and launched himself back at the man, righteous anger guiding him. Xehanort too ran forward, and once again their Keyblades met with a shower of black and white sparks. Sora spun to the left, landed and turned to stop his opponent’s weapon by inches. He griped his Key with both hands now, putting his body into pushing his weapon against Xehanort’s blade which was now coming at him in multiple furious strikes. Feeling his feet begin to slip, Sora ducked the next swing, and swept his Keyblade in a low arc trying to knock the man off his feet. Xehanort merely stepped on Sora's Keyblade while swinging his own at the boy’s face. Letting go of his weapon and falling back, Sora could feel the air following the strike as he summoned his blade back into his hand. He flipped back luckily avoiding another blow.

    Xehanort sent Sora a chilling gaze while the younger panted, regaining his breath. How could an old man such as Xehanort have so much stamina? Chancing a glance around, Sora saw Nightwing flip past him, the clown following in close pursuit, knife in hand. He didn't see Batman or Red Hood however. Instead his attention snapped back to Xehanort who was striding menacingly forward. Sora raised his Keyblade.

    “Fire!”

    Balls of flame shot forward, and were met with shards of ice and snow from his opponent. The two continued to shoot spells, every once in a while trying to get a lucky hit in with their blades. They were circling each other, jumping this way and that, trying to best the other. Sora found that though he was much smaller than Xehanort, he was also faster. He focused less on strength and more on the timing and precision of his attacks. Xehanort was the first to get a hit, striking Sora’s left shoulder. He stumbled back, but didn't miss a beat, sidestepping the next attack and rolling to position himself behind the man. He jumped up, slicing with his Keyblade, and he was so close to hitting the man. But his attack missed as Xehanort leapt heavily back. Sora wasn't going to give him time to regroup however. He sprinted forward, striking at the man again and again. It was draining work, but finally Sora saw an opening and instinctively took it. He thrust the tip of the Kingdom Key forward, feeling exhilaration rush through him as the blade made contact with Xehanort’s right side. The man grunted in pain and took another retreating step back. Sora took one forward. He could do this! He could defeat Xehanort.... well maybe not defeat him, but hold him off until the others were free to help. He attacked again and again. He was panting with the effort, but refused to give his enemy any sign of weakness. Xehanort's blade flew by his left ear, and he jerked to his right, then jumped, his Key already beginning to summon the magic.

    “Lightning!”

    Because he put up his blade to counter, Sora got a second to look at Xehanort’s face closely. He was starting to get tired! Though it was nothing to his own exhaustion it was a start! Thrilled Sora leapt forward for what had to be the hundredth time. Xehanort raised his free hand to grab Sora but the boy was ready. He kicked himself off of the man’s chest before he could grab his throat. Both went stumbling backwards, again giving Sora a much needed chance to catch his breath. This time however, Xehanort needed the reprieve as well. His face was a mask of anger.

    “It seems you have learned much in your years of traveling.” He said. “Your skills have improved a great deal. You know how to play your advantages.”

    Sora's blue eyes were fixed on the merciless yellow ones in front of him. He was ready for whatever move the man would make.

    Suddenly that evil scowl turned into a smile. “However, I know how to play my advantages much better then you, my young hero.”

    He was lifting his blade, Sora was preparing for what was sure to be a powerfully dangerous attack. The man pointed his Keyblade to a place behind Sora and shot a beam of pure darkness from its tip. Sora was moving before he could even comprehend the danger. The attack was heading for Red Hood, who was completely unaware of the threat. But could he make it? Sora gathered himself and shot forward in front of the attack. He tried to lift the Keyblade but it was too late. He felt the full impact the beam smash into him, and flew back into an unsuspecting Jason. The two smashed into the floor, sliding to a halt a few feet from one another.

    It took Hood a moment to realize what was going on, but as the scene unfolded in front of him, he scrambled to his feet and ran over to the young boy lying on the ground.

    “Sora!”

    He shook his friend frantically, and Sora's eyes fluttered open.

    “N-not fun,” he moaned.

    Jason watched helplessly as the kid passed out. After taking a hit like that though, he really couldn’t blame him. His masked eyes swept the room. Almost all of the Heartless were gone, but two squeezes of the trigger took care of those few remaining. He grabbed Sora and jumped out of the way as Xehanort’s Keyblade crashed down on the spot the two had occupied a moment before.

    He set Sora down just outside the room. A quick peek through the hole in the wall showed Robin and Red Robin laying on the floor, totally exhausted, but with the room clear of all creatures. After making sure their injuries weren’t too bad (Red Robin had a scratch on his chest but it was already clotting. Robin didn’t look injured), he turned back to face the cause of all of this.

    Sure, Jason was tired from fighting three different hordes of Heartless in less than a day. Sure, he had nearly exhausted his bullets and a Heartless wearing a turban (seriously?) had slashed his second favourite rocket launcher in half. And sure, maybe he had twisted his ankle a little in that last cartwheel. But with how much anger he had at this man, Red Hood knew he could take him down, no problem.

    Launching himself, All Blades flashing, he came in low. As the geezer swung his blade down to block, Jason stabbed one of the Blades into the ground, changing his trajectory enough to deliver a nasty gash on baldie’s leg. Xehanort merely gritted his teeth, and grabbed Hood’s wrist with his free hand, holding the All Blade in his leg, but also preventing Hood from dodging the next blow. The Keyblade swung upwards and Hood twisted his neck, just barely moving his head out of the way as the Keyblade sliced through his cheekbone. A dead feeling started traveling up his arm. With a shock, he realized that the wrist Xehanort was holding was freezing, and the ice was spreading. Faster than most people believed possible, his other Blade came up and stabbed Xehanort through the forearm. The old man cried out, releasing his grip. Red Hood jumped back a few paces.

    Baldie would take a moment recovering from both of his wounds. Both were deep and (Jason knew from experience) painful. Taking a moment, he gazed around the room, noting Batman still in combat with Two Face (who looked like Three Face with how his jaw was turning purple) and Nightwing chasing after Joker, who was laughing like it was a simple game of Chase Me. He turned his eyes back to Xehanort –

    – who was covered in green light, his wounds closing up as Jason watched. Seriously, this guy knew healing magic too? Fuuuuu…

    He burned with rage, but he had learned to control it. To work past the rage so he could still fight without losing control. He stood back this time, letting the villain come to him. As geezer-face sped towards him, Hood jumped and flipped over his bald head. Landing behind the villain, Hood jabbed one of the All Blades into his shoulder, the other into the back of his knee. The old man turned, slower now that his knee was ruined. Hood rained down a flurry of blows on his enemy, not giving him any time to cast another spell. Baldie held his Keyblade up, blocking as best he could, but with a gaping hole in his shoulder, his blocks were getting weaker and weaker. Finally, Hood smacked the Keyblade away. In a split second, he considered just running the old man through his twisted excuse for a heart. With a snarl, Jason instead smacked him on the head with the hilts of his swords, dropping the old man where he stood.

    He stood back, assessing the damage. Massive scratch on his cheek, not bad. Seemed like Sora had been right about the stress thing though. Both of his shoulders were bleeding, as was his side. The more dangerous injury on his sternum seemed fine though. He looked across the battlefield and was rewarded with Batman and Nightwing tying up Two Face and the Joker. Was the Joker’s leg broken? That angle didn’t seem natural. They both looked over to him and he smiled at them. Nightwing smiled back and Batman scowled less deeply. A rustle by the hole in the wall drew Jason’s gaze. Sora stood there, looking dazed, but awake and smiling. A half second later, all of their smiling expressions turned to alarm and horror. Jason turned just in time to see Xehanort, who should have been unconscious for another half a day, rushing towards him, Keyblade pointed –

    – nope. Plunging. Keyblade plunging straight through Jason’s heart.
     
  5. Loxare Hollow Bastion Committee

    Joined:
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    Whoops. Totally forgot to post this. Heh. There you go.

    Warning. This chapter contains non-canon material and Riku. That is all.


    The world seemed to stand still. It was Hollow Bastion all over again! Chest throbbing and eyes streaming, Sora could only watch helplessly as Hood's entire form became still, then slumped as if all the fight had gone out of him.

    It was all Batman could do not to break down right then and there as the horrific scene played in front of him. The quiet couldn't have lasted more then a few seconds, but it seemed like torturous hours as the full weight of what just happened unfolded in Bruce’s mind.

    Nightwing broke the surreal silence. His voice, panicked and desperate, cried, “Jason!”

    He fell slowly. Batman was closest and caught him before he hit the ground. Sora was still stumbling his way towards them when the Bat's hand rested on Hood's cheek and, almost gently, he said, “No. Don't leave. You can't do this to me again. Jay...” Nightwing arrived and dropped to his knees, grabbing one of Red Hood's hands.

    Hood's body was already starting to glow. “Not like this is the first time. And hey, least I'm not alone this time.” He let out a weak smile, his eyes becoming dreamlike. There was a moment of silence where the two Bats just stared, hoping, and then a light exploded from his chest, where Xehanort's blade still rested. Flecks of white danced around his form, followed by a wave of darkness that devoured them. Looking up, Red Hood took a final shuddering breath and Sora watched as his heart, a mixture of light and darkness, broke away from his fading form and float upwards, shattering into thousands of shimmering diamonds.

    Batman and Nightwing could only sit in shock, hands still positioned as if they were holding a body, grasping a hand. Sick déjà vu crept over them.

    Jason Todd was gone.

    “No.” Sora whispered hoarsely. He was still very light headed, and was desperately trying to put the events of the last twenty seconds together. Heart beating wildly, he swayed on the spot, nausea raising its head threateningly.

    Suddenly a wild inhuman roar tore across the room. Batman was flying through the air and had Xehanort's neck in his hands. The older man spluttered and choked, but he still had a malicious grin stuck on his face.

    “What the HELL have you done to him?!” Batman snarled. “What have you done to my son?!”

    His voice was a mixture of hysterical desperation and uncontainable rage. With a single swift movement he slammed the man against the wall hard, but loosened his death grip just enough to allow Xehanort to speak.

    “Looks like you've lost Batman,” he gasped. “How tragic, the protector of an unforgiving city like this couldn't even protect his partner’s heart from being consumed by darkness.”

    Bruce ground his teeth together, trembling with rage. His grip was instinctively tightening. Xehanort's Keyblade appeared in his hand but Batman merely grabbed the man’s wrist, twisting and nearly breaking it in the process. Nightwing who had been standing frozen, staring unblinkingly at the spot Jason had occupied seconds earlier, turned suddenly and ran over to Batman. He touched the man’s shoulder, who gave a jolt and tore his gaze away from the struggling villain, glancing at his son. When his gaze returned to Xehanort, his hand once again slackened, very slightly, but enough.

    “Awwwww,” came a falsely moved voice from the back of the warehouse. Joker seemed to be awake again and enjoying himself as he watched the proceedings.

    Everyone ignored him.

    Sora, successfully casting a Cure on himself, walked slowly over to join the other three. He was angry, very angry. Red Hood was gone, and even though Sora understood it wasn't his fault, he felt guilty that he was unconscious while Red Hood had been fighting Xehanort. If he were there, fighting beside him, maybe none of this would have happened... He looked down, eyes stinging, as he stopped next to Nightwing.

    “I want a straight answer.” Batman ground out. “Tell me where Red Hood went, or I swear I will beat the information out of you.”

    “Well that's easy my dear man.” wheezed Xehanort. “He's right behind you.”

    The trio of heroes whirled. In the middle of the room, darkness seemed to coalesce. As it gathered, a dark silhouette formed. It had Jason’s build and height but no colour. Only blackness. Until its head formed. It covered itself in a red helmet, a white starburst on the forehead and a jagged line for the mouth to open. It opened its eyes, glowing yellow in the dim light of the warehouse. The mouth opened and an inhuman scream echoed in the chamber.

    Across the room, Joker put on a pout. “Poo. That birdy really doesn’t know how to stay dead.” Another moment of consideration, his mouth curved into its signature smile. “Oh well. I’ll just have to kill him again. Maybe I can stretch it out this time.”

    Snarling, Batman turned back to his captive, probably to ask “What have you done to him” or something along those lines, but Xehanort was gone.

    His voice filled the room, despite being nowhere in sight. “I would love to stay, but I have more pressing matters. My vessel needs to be found before it reappears. Farewell.” And the not-Jason creature attacked.

    Sora readied his Keyblade and charged, only to be grabbed by Nightwing and pulled out of not-Jason’s attack. The blow cracked the concrete. “What are you doing Sora? We can’t attack him, Xehanort said that was Jason!”

    “That’s why we need to attack him!” Sora dived forwards again, not-Hood dodging the swing of his Keyblade. “If we can defeat him, his heart will be released and then when we defeat his Nobody, Hood will be a whole person again.” Something Nightwing had said stopped him. “Wait. Jason? You said that before too.”

    Nightwing smacked his forehead. Oops. “Yeah, Red Hood’s real name. And Xeha-guy said Jason was already a Nobody. How does that work?” Reluctantly, Nightwing threw himself into the battle. It wouldn’t be his first time fighting his wayward brother.

    “Yeah. See, when someone loses their heart, the heart becomes a Heartless and the body and soul becomes a Nobody. Physically, they’re almost identical to the original. They remember their past lives, but they can’t feel emotions. Sometimes though, a Nobody can grow a new heart.” His words flowed out smoothly, despite the battle. Fighting a Heartless, even one as skilled as not-Hood, was easy compared to fighting Xehanort. He was glad Riku had made him memorize the Nobody-explanation that Yen Sid had written. Who knew it would come in handy in this situation? “Something must have happened to Hoo- Jason to turn him into a Nobody. But eventually, his longing for what he had or for something better caused a heart to grow in him.”

    Batman paused in his fighting, stunned. This explained so much about his second son over the past few years. His hostility at his explosive return and his eventual rehabilitation and return to the family. Nobodies came back almost physically identical to the original? Jason had had a white streak in his hair that hadn’t been there before. He stared at the creature in front of him. “So this thing is Jason’s heart?”

    The Keyblade wielder nodded. “Sort of.” Block a strike, parry. “It’s his heart, but it’s surrounded in darkness. If we can beat it, we can get his true heart out. Then we just need to catch it before it returns to Kingdom Hearts.”

    “What happens if it does?” Nightwing twirled his escrima stick, smashing it into not-Jason’s mouth.

    Sora paused to scratch his head, considering the question. “Nothing much. But according to Axe- ummm… Lea, the only reason it took so long to come back was because his heart had been in Kingdom Hearts for so long.” Not-Jason took another swing at him. He dodged, smashing his Keyblade into the Heartless’s spine. “But I have to be the one to land the finishing blow. If it’s defeated by anything other than a Keyblade, the heart will return to darkness and form another Heartless later.”

    Batman grabbed his not-son’s arm, twisting it up behind its back. “So all we have to do is subdue it?” Acting quickly, he grabbed the other arm and fell with the creature to the floor, effectively pinning it. Sora took his cue, moving forward to stab it.

    Not-Jason twitched at the blow, then started dissolving. A glowing light emerged from the body, floating upwards faster than Batman had expected. He reached and missed. A streak of black and blue above him snatched the light from the air.

    Landing as softly as he could, Nightwing looked at the light in his hands. It was small, but bright and warm. He dropped to his knees at the sight of it. “This is Jason?” He turned to Sora and Batman, staring at the light from over his shoulder. “This is my little brother?” At Sora’s nod, he turned back to the light. Wait, not completely light. There was a shadow in it. “What’s this?”

    Sora crouched down for a closer look. “Just a bit of darkness. Everyone has some. Well, everyone except the Seven Princess of Heart. And Ven, from what I hear.”

    Reassured, Nightwing held the light out to Batman. As gently as he could, he transferred his brother’s heart to their father and stood up. Bruce needed a moment, so he went to call Gordon to pick up Joker and Two Face.

    The light danced on his face, but Bruce knew he would rather see the mischievous glint in Jason’s eyes. “How do we get this back to him?” Sora seemed to be the expert, so Batman asked him. He resolved to learn all he could about this later though.

    Crossing his arms, his eyes twisting up into a look of concentration, Sora replied, “Well… We’d need to find his Nobody. Problem is I don’t have the equipment to track where it’ll appear, and no way to get back to the gummi ship…” His eyes brightened a half second later. “There! That green circle! That’ll get us there!”

    Following Sora’s pointing finger, Batman’s eyes widened slightly. There was a glowing circle of light on the floor which definitely hadn’t been there before. Balancing Jason’s heart in one hand, he fished a portable scanner out of his belt.

    “Yeah, Commish. Warehouse 42 by the pier. Thanks.” Nightwing ended his call, glancing back at Batman. He rolled his eyes. Give him his son’s heart, literally, and the man scans a green light thingy. Of course. He went to go check on Red Robin and Robin.

    The boys were walking towards the hole in the wall, Tim supporting Damian, who seemed to have a sprained ankle. Damian scanned the room as soon as he entered, narrowing his eyes. “What happened? Where is Todd?” Dick started, then hesitated, which only infuriated the youngest Robin. “I demand you tell me Grayson! Or so help me, I will inform Pennyworth of your eating habits!”

    “Alright, alright! Just… calm down a second.” And stop threatening my cereal. Quickly, he gave them the abbreviated version. Their reactions were pretty unsurprising. Damian grew angry at the idea that anyone would dare to attack a member of the Wayne family, even one as lowly as Todd. Tim descended into thoughtful silence, probably figuring ways to defend against Keyblades and planning how to get Jason back.

    After a minor tantrum from Damian involving savagely attacking a wooden support beam, they walked to the green circle. Sora was explaining to Batman, “So this Point is basically a health station. It heals all injuries instantly, without having to worry about reopening. It also restores magic, but that’s just for me. It can also teleport us to the gummi ship. My friend Riku is there. He can track where Jason will show up!” Now that he knew Jason’s real name, he refused to go back to calling him “Hood”. Briefly, he wondered what the other’s names were. Jason had called Nightwing “Dick” and Robin had called Red Robin “Drake”, but he didn’t know if those were their first names, last names, nicknames or fake names. He’d wait until they told him. He did wonder why they kept it secret though.

    Batman stared at the light in his hand, then up at his other sons. “Let’s go boys.” Then he stepped into the light.

    There was a slight sensation of falling, before Batman found himself in a small brightly coloured room. He glanced around at the odd block like technology that seemed to make up the ship. He had never seen something so simplistic looking before. As the others began appearing behind him, he saw a boy with silver hair, and who had to be a few years older than Sora, sitting at a type of control panel. Screens were littered in front of the young man, information of various sorts flashing across the constitutionally flickering boxes. Surprisingly, the boy didn't look back or even flinch as the party materialized one by one in the ships cockpit. He seemed to be immersed in some information on the screens. Had he had a way of knowing they would be coming?

    “Looks like you made a ridiculous amount of new friends again Sora.” He said accusingly, but not without some humour mixed into his tone. “I'm guessing you messed up and need my expert help yet again.”

    The boy in question walked forward, passing Batman and stopping next to his friend. “Hey, that was a crazy hard mission. I think you were trying to get back at me for the pie incident the other day.”

    This time Riku did flinch, then laughed. “Maybe I was. But I thought we promised to never mention it again. So moving on, I suppose the reason you're here has something to do with that heart your big scary friend is holding over there.”

    He indicated Batman with a shrug of his left shoulder and a glance behind him.

    “Yup!” chirped Sora. “We gotta find his Nobody and defeat it.

    “Ah, you want to make him whole again.” Riku said nodding his head wisely. “And let me guess who turned him into a Heartless in the first place. Xehanort?”

    “Who else?” Sora said bitterly. “This guy we need to make whole, he was way too strong to be taken down by a common Heartless. I bet you would have trouble defeating him Riku.”

    The boy snorted. “Keep dreaming. Just because you're a weakling doesn't mean I follow suit.”

    “Hey!” Sora burst out.

    But before he could finish his sentence, Riku held up his hand and typed a few keys into the ship’s computer with the other. Sora pouted and crossed his arms annoyed.

    “Let’s see, a Nobody, powerful enough to be like one of Organization XIII’s. Hmmmm. “

    As he typed, there was a cough from behind and Sora was brought out of his sulk. “Sorry guys.” He apologized giving the Batfamily a quick glance. “These are my friends I met in Gotham, Riku. There's Robin, Red Robin, Nightwing, and Batman. They’re all really good at fighting. We've taken down loads of Heartless together.”

    Riku nodded at Batman who nodded back. The two seemed to speak the same broody language.

    With a loud beep the computer seemed to finish its search. Riku tapped a screen and brought forward a map of brightly coloured dots. One dot in particular was flashing much more exuberantly then the others. “That's your man.” said Riku, reclining in his chair. “He is at an area called... Crime Alley. Sounds like a nice place.”

    “He would be there.” Piped up Nightwing from the back.

    “Alright!” Sora exclaimed briskly. “Sorry to just drop in and run Riku, but we gotta get to Ja- uh, Red Hood before he moves again.”

    Riku dismissed this with another wave of his hand. “Go finish the job I gave you and help your friend while you’re at it, you lazy excuse for a Keyblade Wielder.”

    Before anyone could say anything else, he had pressed a button and they were all vanishing from sight.
     
  6. tamale Hydaelyn's Chosen

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    This entire fic is great, and I've loved reading each installment. But I just need to say...


    This. This is a thing of beauty.
     
  7. Loxare Hollow Bastion Committee

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    I'm glad you're enjoying it so far! And yeah, It was a good line. Not one of mine, unfortunately. That credit goes to Arrow.
     
  8. Loxare Hollow Bastion Committee

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    New chapter! Those are always fun. I should probably warn you, someone gets stabbed in this chapter. Not like the last stabbing, which was a Keyblade-stabbing. Someone gets sword-stabbed. In the chest. Oh, that's a spoiler. Darn...

    Down in Crime Alley, Xehanort sat waiting behind an abandoned apartment building. The content, patient smile on his face grew to a full blown grin as light gathered in front of him. It took shape first, then details were added. The boy looked mostly the same as he did before, but the white in his hair had spread and the mask that had covered his eyes was gone. No matter. It was inconsequential to the plan.

    As soon as he was fully formed, Xehanort strode up to him. “Greetings, my final vessel.” The Nobody simply looked at him blankly. It was too early in his life for him to have more than basic memories and intelligence. Xehanort’s eyes narrowed, and he decided to indulge in a moment of uncharacteristic emotion. “I almost pity you. Empty inside, no heart, no memories, no life. And yet, you live.” He gathered darkness into his hand, retrieving the piece of his heart he had prepared for this moment. “Normally, I would give you a name. However, since you won’t have an identity, a name is useless.” Reaching his hand back, he plunged the dark shard of a heart into the boy’s chest.

    The Nobody lurched forward, gasping. The light that most creatures naturally carry within them was suddenly and violently extinguished. Darkness took over his entire being, a sensation not unfamiliar to him, but unwelcome nonetheless. He had been in the dark before. He didn’t want to be there now. Unfortunately, he didn’t have much of a choice.

    ~*~​

    Nightwing blinked the stars from his eyes as they materialized on a rooftop. On Jason’s old apartment’s rooftop. He raced to the edge, the rest of the Bats doing the same to the other sides of the building. Red Robin called softly across the rooftop. North end, on the ground below.

    Without hesitation, Nightwing streaked across the building, following his family over the edge. Shooting off his grapple to slow his fall, he was able to watch what was happening below in the seconds it happened.

    Xehanort’s hand filling with darkness.

    Come on, gravity, work faster!

    The hand pulling back.

    Terminal velocity clearly isn’t fast enough.

    The hand shoving the darkness into his brother’s chest.

    No!

    Too late, the Bats landed on the ground. They could only watch helplessly as Jason exploded with darkness, teal eyes full of pain. Then, the darkness receded, drawn back into Jason’s body. He blinked, once, twice, and then his eyes turned the same shade of yellow as Xehanort’s.

    “How unfortunate. Only a moment too late, but a moment late regardless.” Xehanort’s taunts fell on their ears, but they were too in shock to hear them. Sora landed beside them and summoned his Keyblade. He knew that fighting both Xehanort and Jason would be nearly impossible, but he had to.

    A bit of static in Nightwing’s comm. shocked him out of his stupor. “Hello? Testing! Who am I talking to?” Riku’s voice? What was Riku doing on the comm.? A reasonable question, so he asked it. “Oh, I piggybacked onto your signal when you came on the ship. So, tell me who I’m talking to, and then tell me what’s going on.”

    “Nightwing. And Xehanort put something dark into Hood’s chest. His eyes are yellow now.” He really hoped that that was fixable and that he could talk to Jason again soon.

    Up in the ship, Riku winced. That wasn’t good. “Alright, not as good as we had hoped. If Xehanort hadn’t done that, you could have just given Hood back his heart and that would have been it.”

    Crap. Nightwing was still staring warily at Jason. He was standing stock still, which was bad, considering who it was. “So we can’t go with Plan A, what’s Plan B?”

    “You fight. Same thing with his Heartless, you fight until you can destroy him.” There was a pause. “I'm not sure what you should do with his heart. If you keep it, he might materialize around it. Or, you might delay his return. I could go ask Yen Sid…”

    “Do it. Hood won’t be easy to beat. This’ll take a while.” Silence in his ear. Riku hadn’t even stopped to say goodbye. Quickly, he relayed Riku’s half of the conversation to the other Bats and Sora. They nodded and dropped into ready position.

    Across the lot, Xehanort grinned. “Vessel, I have one last thing to prepare. Keep these fools busy.” He disappeared into darkness.

    Jason still hadn’t moved. Tension lined every contour of his body, yellow eyes fixed on the ground. Taking a chance, Batman stepped forward, hand stretched out pacifyingly. “Jason…”

    Suddenly, he was a whirl of motion. He dived towards them, pulling a gun which didn’t look like his regular guns. The difference was explained a moment later when he squeezed the trigger. The projectiles that came out glowed red and were, based on how many shots he was getting off, unlimited. The Bats and Sora dodged his assault, then prepared for a long battle.

    Bullets tore through the air, leaving buildings and pavement cracked and dented. Nightwing was bounding off a variety of objects, performing complex aerial manoeuvres to escape the deadly projectiles. Red Robin had his bo staff out and was dodging what bullets he could while deflecting the rest. He seemed to be trying to shrink into the shadows, retreating into a place where he could collect his thoughts. Each bullet he deflected knocked him a foot back. Their power was incredible. Batman was already retreating. He despised himself for leaving his sons and Sora to whatever monster Jason had been turned into, but he had to keep the small beating light in his hands protected at all costs. This was Jason’s heart, and this time, Batman would protect it like a father should. Meanwhile Sora was also deflecting bullets, waiting for an opening. The darkness emanating off them made him feel sick. He circled Jason, trying to keep the Nobody's attention on him. Robin however, seemed to have abandoned all pretenses of a plan. He was charging forward, almost disregarding his safety. It seemed the little hero was determined to take his enemy face on.

    “Todd you coward!” Screamed Damian. “Would you let that man control you this easily? Are you really just giving up without a fight!?”

    Nightwing knew that this was Damian’s way of hiding emotions. Robin was so overcome with passionate hidden grief for his brother that he was oblivious to his light footsteps, or the growls of the savage Nobody in front of him, or the bullet that tore into his left shoulder. Robin just sprinted forward, katana raised and ready to attack.

    “Robin!! Stop!!” Came Nightwing’s petrified voice from above.

    Sora was already on Robin’s heels, as he was closest to the boy at the time. Jason leapt forward towards his attacker, firing his gun almost randomly. Robin ducked and lifted his sword to meet him. Twisting in midair, Jason dodged the blade, and his free hand became surrounded in a cloud of darkness. A shimmering black sword appeared in it, and swirling on one foot, Jason jabbed this new weapon at Robin, who just barely had time to put his own sword behind his head to block as he fell. The resulting clash of metal echoed around the alley way and seemed to bring a new sense of urgency to the atmosphere if that were possible.

    Leaping left to doge another bullet, Sora reached Jason's Nobody and swung his Keyblade at his arm, trying to knock away the gun. Jason sidestepped, then ducked and twirled his sword at Sora's legs, who leapt back quickly. Meanwhile Jason was still firing at Nightwing and Red Robin. Robin was up again, and as he charged Red Hood, Sora cast a quick cure charm to fix the kid’s shoulder. As soon as the magic was complete, he bounded forward to stand beside Robin and started to help the younger boy in driving the Nobody back. Jason wasn't losing much ground though. He was catching both his opponents’ swords on different parts of his black blade, and parrying with incredible strength. He seemed completely unperturbed that he was facing two opponents head on. Suddenly he pointed his gun directly at Sora and fired. Sora had to drop to his knees to avoid the surprise attack. In the process, Jason's sword slid off Robin’s, using the force to cut into Sora’s left arm. Jerking back and crying in pain, Sora stumbled to his feet, ready to back off, but it seemed Jason wasn't going to give him that chance. The black sword was glowing wickedly where red blood stained it and was pulsating. Jason slashed at Sora who put his Keyblade in front of him to block. The force of the impact literally lifted him off the ground a few inches and he barely caught his balance as he began blocking more vicious strikes. Robin was trying to attack from behind now, his cape and tunic a blur of colour as he moved. But Jason was matching his movements in reverse. Dodging while all the time attacking Sora and shooting at the others.

    Nightwing watched all this proceed with a rising sense of panic. He wanted to wait for a good moment to jump in and attack Jason by surprise, but he would have to leave that to Tim. The situation was deteriorating too fast for his attempts at strategizing to be an option. With a single graceful motion, he soared to a window ledge above the struggling heroes and let himself drop. Landing on Jason’s shoulders he drove his escrima sticks into his brother’s head, gritting his teeth as he did so. Who cared if he wasn't himself, attacking his brother really sucked.

    Instead of dropping to the ground like Nightwing expected him to, Jason jerked sideways and threw Nightwing off of him. Landing lightly, Dick turned to see Jason, blood dripping down his face, on all four legs, crouching as if to pounce. An instinctive fury flashed in his brother's feral yellow eyes. Sensing the danger Nightwing back flipped several times. Unfortunately, Robin didn't seem to have anticipated Jason's next attack. He charged forward, taking Hood’s silence to be a sign of weakness, and in that moment Jason pounced. Before Robin really knew what was happening, Jason’s sword was sticking out of his chest.

    He stood still for a moment, stunned, his sword held in mid attack. Then with a swift movement Jason lurched back, blood trailing his black sword's tip. Robin didn't make a sound. Just stumbled back a few steps before slumping to the ground. The Nobody raised his gun.

    “JASON!”

    Like a streak Nightwing rammed himself into Jason, the two flying several feet away. Nightwing blindly punching every part of the Nobody he could.

    Sora who had been healing his arm, now ran to Robin, who was barely holding himself up with a shaky arm, blood pouring from his chest. He was gasping and blood ran from his mouth. A bad sign. A really bad sign. “Tt, n-now would be a g-great time to use some of...that healing m-magic Sora.” He choked.

    “Right!” Sora said feeling dizzy. “Right, just hold still okay?”

    Robin grunted, and Sora lifted up his blade, his voice shaking as he cried, “Courage!”

    Robin’s wound began to close as Sora put as much power into the spell as he could. He rarely had to heal such extensive injuries. This was Donald’s expertise. He felt his magic leave him on account of the high level cure with each passing second. Robin’s gurgling breaths were becoming less laboured, more steady. Suddenly a bullet collided with the pavement inches from Robin’s foot. It broke Sora's concentration and the spell ended. It was just as well, he was out of magic. Not a drop left.

    Nightwing and Jason were in a desperately fierce battle. Metal and fists moving too fast for Sora to comprehend. All he could tell was that Nightwing was at a severe disadvantage. Jason's sword was glowing such a strong shade of red that it left a trail of faded crimson light as it twisted through the air. But the acrobat was determined. He wasn't letting Jason gain any more ground then was at all possible. Sora knew however, that he had to move Robin out of there now. The kid was too weak to keep on fighting. If truth be told it was a miracle he was alive. And if one stray bullet hit either of them now...

    Sora shook his head. No time for gloomy thoughts. The healing was as complete as it could get until Sora could recharge his magic, but at least Robin wasn’t in any danger on that front anymore. Carefully scooping up the boy, he scanned the area, trying to find Batman. If it hadn’t been for Jason’s heart glowing faintly, he knew he wouldn’t have been able to find him. The Bat blended into the shadows better than a Heartless. As it was, he still had difficulty. Robin cradled in his arms, he jumped up and glided over to Batman, figuring it would be quicker and smoother than running. Batman’s eyes narrowed at Sora’s approach, then widened when he saw what he was carrying. “Hey Batman! He’s fine, he just needs some rest.” He landed gently and dropped Robin behind Batman, leaning him against a wall. “I’m going to go help Nightwing!” And with that, he jumped into the fray.

    Tim, meanwhile, had been rapidly conferring with Riku, Yen Sid, Mickey and Kairi in a kind of interplanetary conference call. “So you’re saying it’s possible? Because I really don’t think we can beat him.” Red Hood had been a difficult adversary before. Strong, ruthless, incredibly smart, he had been one of their greatest villains. He had calmed down more recently, probably due to him growing a new heart, but he had still been a tough fight. Now though, with him as a Nobody, with Xehanort’s heart beating in his chest, it was almost impossible. If this other way worked…

    Yen Sid spoke up. “A method such as this has never before been attempted, but the theory is sound. Kairi’s experiences in Hollow Bastion together with Riku’s knowledge of the four of you during your visit may allow for this course to transpire.” Tim got the sense he was stroking his beard, even though he had never seen the man and didn’t even know if he had a beard.

    He nodded. “Alright. Patch into Nightwing’s comm. and explain. I’ll distract Hood.” Hopefully he could hold him off long enough for this to work.

    Swinging his bo staff, he managed to catch Jason’s sword before it could connect with Dick’s escrima sticks. “Red Robin, wha- ?” He broke off, probably listening to his comm. Jumping back, with a hand pressed to his ear, he left Red Robin to fight Red Hood.

    Tim grunted under the force of Jason’s swing as he shoved the Blade off of his staff. It had gotten a severe power increase when it had stabbed into Damian. Glancing down at where the sword had struck his staff, he was dismayed to see a crack. His staff was solid titanium alloy, to crack it was almost impossible.

    He looked back up just in time to see Jason leveling his gun, taking aim. Tim leapt to the side, just as Sora’s Keyblade swept up under the gun and the Nobody fired. The mysteriously glowing projectile slammed into the fifth floor of the building behind them. Sora jumped away, landing next to Red Robin.

    “Together then?” He asked.

    Red Robin shrugged. “Only way to survive this.” And they launched themselves at Jason.

    In the corner of the lot, Batman stood, itching to fight alongside his boys but knowing that he couldn’t. Not with Jason’s heart in his hands. Quite literally. So instead, he gazed at the warm light. So bright. He’d always known that Jason had a good heart. That was a large part of the reason he had taken him in all those years ago. To see it here, bright and shining, only confirmed what he already knew. He knew he couldn’t fail Jason, not again. He went back to watching the battle. He would know if Dick or Tim needed help. If they were in danger, he would jump in, regardless of the danger to himself. He would protect all of his sons.

    He watched as Red Robin took over the fight for Nightwing. His eldest flipped back, listening to his comm., then ran back towards Batman. “B, we have a plan.”

    Grabbing the necessary items from Batman, Nightwing dashed back towards his brother and new friend. He tossed a set of Batcuffs each to Sora and Tim. Together, they manoeuvered Jason back, dodging him as they lured him to a lamppost. When it was directly behind the Nobody’s back, Sora used what little magic he had recharged.

    “STOP!”

    Jason froze, unable to move. Red Robin and Sora moved to his sides, clapping the Batcuffs onto his wrists and guiding them quickly behind the pole. They secured the cuffs to the opposite wrists, effectively trapping him there, at least for the moment.

    Nightwing, in the meanwhile, was busy concentrating on all the moments he had shared with his brother, the moments he had treasured. Jumping onto a moving train. Talking on rooftops. Movie night, both at the manor and at their respective apartments. Jason’s passion in all things, the way he would take a bullet for those he saw under his protection, the ridiculous way his hair stood up after a good night’s sleep. Every big moment, every small moment, Dick remembered his brother.

    Watching carefully, Tim noticed the exact moment when Jason started moving again. “Nightwing, hurry! It’s starting to wear off!” Was it just him, or was Dick glowing a bit? Another moment later, and the spell had worn off. Jason was thrashing against the lamppost. Red Robin could hear the Batcuffs straining against the force, almost ready to pop. Just as the Batcuffs snapped, just as Jason raised his arms to continue the fight, Dick opened his arms and stepped forwards.

    Locked in his own mind, Jason was trying to fight his way out. His mind and heart were at war with each other, heart trying to solidify its control, head fiercely trying to remove the invader. He knew he needed a heart, but this one was wrong. He knew what his heart felt like. He had felt its rages, its passion, its longing, its hope, its loss, its joy and despair. This one only felt driven, and driven towards a goal Jason was fairly sure he wanted no part of. At the moment though, he had no choice. The heart was strong, with infinite darkness behind it. Jason believed he walked in the darkness too, but it supported this interloper more than it did Jason. He was just a dead man walking, not worth standing behind. The darkness closed in on him from all sides.

    A sudden light burst into existence around Jason. It surrounded him, driving away the darkness, burning into his mind. Memories swamped him, but not his memories. Memories of him living, protecting, memories of standing, not behind, but beside, fighting with him. Joy and laughter. Anger and sadness too, but tinged with hope, hope that the wayward bird would come home once again. Suddenly, he didn’t need the darkness to support him. He had his family. He might always have one foot in the darkness, but he could still walk with his family; in the light.

    Sora shielded his eyes. He hadn’t seen this, but Donald and Goofy had told him the story. If this worked, there would be a blinding flash of –

    “AGH!” Tim shut his eyes against the sudden assault. As soon as Dick’s arms had closed around Jason, light had exploded around them. A whirlwind of energy erupted, spinning tendrils of light and darkness. They whirled, darkness seeming to gain the upper hand until the light rallied. The darkness faded away, vanishing into nothing. Eventually, the light vanished too, but inwards, towards the brothers rather than away. Finally, all that was left was a battered Nightwing, holding an unconscious Red Hood.

    So yeah. Stabbings. Always fun!
     
  9. Loxare Hollow Bastion Committee

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    Another day, another chapter. Well. Sort of. Another Tuesday/Friday, another chapter? Yeah, that works.

    Slumping to the ground, Nightwing slowly lowered Jason down and took a few steadying breaths. That had been a rattling experience. He had felt the entirety of everything Jason was in the last few seconds; who was struggling fiercely to fight away the darkness and who was holding on to Dick’s heart like a lifeline. Dick had felt Jason’s terror and desperation and determination all mixed into one. It was a unique experience, but he felt the cold terror that was in Jason now in him as well. Losing the light in one’s heart was a fate worse than death. Dick shuddered. Jason needed to be whole again.

    “I guess, that is to say...” Tim hesitated as he blinked at the unconscious figure on the ground. “He is safe now right? It's not like he is going to jump up and start killing us? The plan worked?”

    Dick nodded wearily as Sora said, “He isn't whole yet, we need to give him back his heart. But the darkness in him is gone at least. Right now he's just a shell with no real feelings or emotions.”

    He looked over at Jason. “It's sad really, what a Nobody goes through. Having no heart is like being half a person.”

    Memories Roxas had shared with Sora come flooding back to him as he spoke, and he felt the weight of what Red Hood was going through. They needed to make him whole and fix this mess.

    As if in response to his thoughts, the heavy footfalls of Batman announced the Dark Knight emerging from his home of shadows. He was walking quickly, aware it seemed that returning Jason’s heart needed to be done as soon as possible. As he came closer, everyone marveled at the way he cradled the ball of light so gently in his huge powerful hands. A strange sight, especially when the man was wearing the cowl. Robin trailed about a foot behind Batman, shaky and obviously exhausted, but on his feet all the same. Weak as he was, his footsteps were as silent as if he weren’t even there. Batman stopped slowly, carefully, next to Sora and looked down at his second eldest son. Jason was pale and uncharacteristically fragile looking where he lay on the cold pavement, sleeping. But he was breathing easily and the rage which seemed to have enveloped his face was gone.

    Without taking his gaze off of Jason he murmured roughly “What now Sora? How do we make him Jason again?”

    Sora cocked his head to the side considering. “His heart should naturally want to go back to his body now that the two are free. Just let his heart go and it will do the rest I think. “

    Batman seemed unsure as he clutched the shining orb closer to his chest.

    “Are you entirely sure?” He said. “I refuse to participate in any activity that will further endanger the life of Red Hood.”

    Sora had to resist the urge to shake his head in exasperation. The man was just being a worried father or mentor or whatever Batman was to Jason. What Sora didn't know was that he was experiencing the family famed-overprotective – sometimes irrational – habits Batman could display so easily if one of his children were threatened. Red Robin and Nightwing just rolled their eyes knowingly.

    “He'll be fine.” the boy replied. “Every heart belongs with its person. I guess if worst comes to worst we can just jump up and grab his heart again right?”

    Sora smiled reassuringly at Batman, who seemed to falter. He looked at Red Robin and Nightwing then down at Jason’s heart, before slowly holding out his hands and freeing the glowing orb from his care. It floated there silently in the air for a few seconds as if it was contemplating what to do next while everyone held their breaths. Then slowly, it began to move towards Jason. Sparkles of light trailing after it as it floated down. All eyes were fixated on the glowing ball is it approached Jason’s chest. It seemed to stop for a millisecond before touching the unconscious hero and splitting into a million shards of light. As the brilliant brightness from the exposed heart faded, the silence seemed to press in around the group of anxious onlookers. Jason was lying quite still. Nightwing reached out a tentative hand.

    With a jolt Jason bolted up into a sitting position and gasped, causing everyone to jump back, alarmed. He sat there for a few seconds simply breathing and shaking, before blinking in confusion and looking around.

    “Are you alright Hood?” asked Batman, who was unable to keep the flooding relief he was experiencing out of his voice. “Do you... remember what happened?”

    Jason looked up at Batman for a moment, then seemed to deflate and placed a tired hand to his forehead. “God” he whispered. “That was... that was terrifying.”

    Sora watched Jason contemplating all that had just happened to him. He could relate to the man; he remembered all too well what being lost in darkness felt like. First and foremost, it was unbearably lonely.

    Suddenly Dick seemed unable to contain himself anymore and leapt forward, enveloping Jason in a bear hug.

    “Hey!” Jason spluttered in surprise before Tim overcame his slight hesitation and jumped in to hug his brothers too. Jason fell backwards with their combined weight. Sora smiled and jumped on top of everyone, laughing and effectively turning the hug into a kind of dog pile. Next was Robin who gingerly approached with a look of half amusement half disgust and then seemed to give up and leapt onto Sora. By this point, Jason was gasping for air, laughing with the people who were effectively crushing him. Batman stood off to the side awkwardly until Nightwing jumped up and forced him down. Jason couldn't help it. He was grinning from ear to ear. He loved his family, every last stinking one of them! He began the task of trying to stand up which turned into a frenzy of chaos as his brothers attempted to cling onto him. But in the end he broke free and jumped to his feet, the rest of them following happily.

    “Alright!” Jason growled feeling better than he had in months, maybe years. “Let's go beat the crap out of that sad excuse for a villain!”

    Batman clapped a hand on Jason’s shoulder, preventing him from doing anything reckless, like jumping through the first Dark Corridor he saw. Holding a hand up to his ear, he asked, “Riku. Is Xehanort still in Gotham?”

    There was a sound of keys clicking, followed by a loud crash. Riku’s long suffering voice came through everyone’s comm. “Donald, stop letting Goofy fly the ship. To answer your question Batman, no, he’s not. If he was re-gathering his thirteen darknesses, he probably went back to The World That Never Was.”

    Dick sighed. “That is such a long name. Can’t we shorten it?”

    “Neverland?” came the helpful suggestion from Tim.

    Which Sora immediately vetoed. “Nope, that’s the world where you can fly.”

    A growl of frustration sounded through the comm. “No shortening, please. The worlds are named that for a reason.” More keys clicking. “Ok, that’s interesting.” A pause, probably so that someone would ask what. Sora obliged, and Riku went on. “It seems Gotham isn’t always linked to the Corridors. It kind of… jumps, on and off of the darkness.”

    “Explain.” Even though Riku couldn’t see the infamous Batglare, he could hear it in the man’s tone of voice.

    “Alright, so Gotham, based on the journal entry Jiminy had time to make up at some point, is basically a hotbed of insanity, right? The minds there destabilize everything. Even the connection to other worlds. So even though it’s coated in darkness, the minds in it prevent the Dark Corridors from latching on all the time. If we didn’t have the gummi ship and could physically fly to the world, I don’t think we would be able to get here at all.”

    Frustrated, Jason snarled. “So how did Xehanort get here then? If he travels by Dark Corridor, right?”

    “Actually,” Sora raised his hand cautiously, “Xehanort got here by Heartless ship. We followed him directly.”

    Tim rubbed his eyes. “Fantastic. So Riku, when is the next time the Corridors can attach to Gotham? And can Xehanort get here by ship again?”

    “Not now that I’m here. If he approaches the world, I’ll Ultima-G him to bits. That’s a good enough final battle for me. As for the Corridors…” he paused, thinking. “I don’t really know. Not for another day at least. When it does happen though, I can let you know.”

    His hand still on Jason’s shoulder, Batman nodded. “Please do.” Cutting out the communication, he called the Batmobile and started pulling his wayward son to the closest street. He motioned for the rest of the boys to follow him, which they did.

    “Hey!” Struggling against his grip was futile, but Jason still tried. “B, let go!” The Batmobile pulled up, door opening automatically.

    Batman tossed Jason gracelessly into the back seat, then jumped in himself. There was a bit of a scuffle as the other three boys realized that there was only five seats. By the time the Batmobile pulled away from the curb, Tim was in the front seat beside Batman, Sora was in the back between Jason and Dick and Damian was scowling on Dick’s lap.

    “Why do I have to sit on Grayson’s lap? This is entirely beneath me!”

    Grinning wickedly, Jason addressed the ten-year-old. “Because Dami, my lap is off limits, Batman is driving, Sora is our guest and we don’t want to put him through that and you would have killed Red. Seriously, ‘Wing is the only person in this car you can stand.”

    Between them, Sora scrunched up his face, thinking. “So Robin’s name is Dami?”

    Silence descended on the car. Every pair of eyes turned towards Batman. He glared at each of them in turn. When they didn’t back down, he sighed. “Fine. But if you make me regret this, I will personally ensure that the rest of your lives are miserable.”

    Dick was the first one to stick out his hand. Of course. “Hi Sora! My name’s Dick Grayson! It’s great to finally tell someone!” With his free hand, he pulled off his mask.

    After Dick was finished with his overly enthusiastic handshake, Jason put his out, the other cradling his face, elbow resting on the window. “Jason Todd. But you probably figured that out from the way these idiots were shouting it left, right and center.”

    “Tim Drake,” reaching back, Tim pulled off his mask as well. “Pleased to formally make your acquaintance.” He shook Sora’s hand warmly.

    Next was Damian’s turn. He didn’t stick out his hand, but he did pull off his domino mask. “Damian Wayne. Remember it, for I shall be the next ruler of this world.” He gave off an un-ruler-like squawk as Dick grabbed his wrist and extended it, forcing him to shake hands with Sora.

    Batman wouldn’t pull off his cowl until they were safely in the Batcave. “Bruce Wayne. A pleasure.” Sora shook his hand timidly. Even without the cowl, Bruce was intimidating.

    “So B, what are we doing back in the Cave anyways?” As soon as the Batmobile pulled up, Jason had sauntered over to the lockers, where he kept his spare equipment. He grabbed out a new helmet and domino mask, as well as two new guns (his old ones had vanished somewhere). Batman didn’t approve of him using guns, but as long as he kept his fatalities within the city at zero, he was allowed to keep a stash here.

    Alfred chose this moment to walk in, carrying a large silver tray with enough tea and cookies for everyone. Grabbing a cup, Bruce stated simply “Resting. Riku said it would be another 24 hours until Xehanort could come back. We need to be at our best.”

    “Does that mean you actually intend to sleep sir?” Alfred drawled as Dick and Tim grabbed their cups gratefully. “Will the miracles never cease?”

    Skillfully ignoring his oldest friend, Bruce continued, “I also want to run some tests Jason. Make sure you’re back to normal.” Jason rolled his eyes. Of course.

    Alfred offered his heavily laden tray to Sora as the others ran off to change into “civvies” as Dick put it. “Welcome back Master Sora. As I assume you know everyone else’s identities, I would like to reintroduce myself. I am Alfred Pennyworth, caretaker here at Wayne Manor.”

    Sora, unable to shake the butler’s hand while he was carrying the tray, eagerly grabbed a cup and a cookie. “What’s Wayne Manor? I thought this place was called the Batcave.” These were seriously the best cookies he had ever had. He grabbed another one.

    Alfred smiled a knowing smile. “Follow me young sir. I shall show you to the room you shall be using for the duration of your visit.” Placing the tray on a table, he preceded the Keyblade Wielder up the stairs…

    …and out of a grandfather clock, leading into the most luxurious room Sora had ever seen. If Beast’s Castle hadn’t been in ruins, it might have looked a little like this.

    “Whoa!” He said looking around at it all.

    He was particularly mesmerized by all the antique items being displayed, and by the strange architecture of the house. This place was super cool.

    “Shall we go then?” Alfred asked.

    Sora nodded and the two made their way out of the study and into a wide open room that had both a large oak front door and a huge staircase leading up to a second story. Alfred turned and took the staircase while Sora followed, his attention flickering from furniture to pictures to architecture. They reached the landing, passed a few doors, turned left, and walked forward a few more paces. Finally, they arrived at what was supposedly the room Sora was to stay in. Alfred opened the door for him courteously and with a quick thank you Sora stepped forward, eager to see what awaited him inside.

    The room was spacious, with rich dark wood flooring and a huge four poster bed in the far right corner. Light shone in lazily from two high windows on the far side of the room, and a screen was mounted on the wall facing the bed. A metal and glass desk took up the closest corner, along with a dresser and a comfortable looking arm chair. Two other doors lead into a closet and bathroom on the remaining wall. The overall effect was a very neat and modern feel.

    “Dinner shall be ready in about 20 minutes Master Sora.” The butler said as he smiled down at the excited boy marveling at his new surroundings. “If you need anything do feel free to call. I shall be in the kitchen if you need me. Do come down when you are settled. The rest of the Wayne household will be there as well.”

    “Okay Alfred, and thanks!” Sora called as the butler walked back down the hall.

    After lying on his bed for a few minutes and taking in everything that had happened to him in the past few hours, Sora got bored and began to explore his room. The dresser had more spare clothes, and Sora found a hoodie with a large S symbol that he liked and decided to put on. He discovered that the TV had a lot of interesting things on it, but he got weirded out by a show about talking ponies. He wasn't sure why though. Atlantica was almost as strange. After splashing some cool water on his face, Sora was itching to go down and see the others. The tantalizing aroma of what he assumed was Alfred's cooking was making its way through the huge house and Sora noticed just how hungry he was.

    He left his room and began wandering down the hall following the smell before he ran into a problem. He had no clue where the kitchen was. He couldn't just follow his nose because by this time Alfred’s cooking had permeated the entire house. Sora decided it was more likely to be coming from downstairs and headed in that direction. The only problem was when he reached where he thought the stairs should be, they weren’t there. Sora blinked and looked around. If only he had had a map! How could he get lost in a house? He backtracked to where he thought his room was, but couldn't remember which door was his. Didn't matter though. He reasoned he had just come the opposite way when he left originally. He turned right and started walking, but when he came to a hallway where he could turn either left or right he was totally and utterly confused.

    “You are so lost.”

    Whirling around, Sora saw Damian leaning on a door frame and smirking at the indignant look on his face.

    “Am not!” Sora countered before he really thought. “I'm just...exploring is all.”

    “Tt, you are an awful liar, spiky head.” Damian drawled. “You really are quite horrible at keeping a straight face.”

    Moaning, Sora admitted defeat and walked towards the youngest bat. “Riku and Kairi used to say that all the time.” He muttered.

    Damian started and the slightest trace of a grin flashed across his face when Sora turned towards him, but seemed to catch himself and asked “This Kairi must be another friend of yours?”

    Sora nodded. “So, um, could you show me where the kitchen is? Alfred said to be there but I have no clue where it is.”

    “Such remedial tasks are beneath me.” Damian sighed. “However, I believe father would wish for me to help a guest. Very well, follow me.”

    The two boys made their way through a maze of twists and turns before finally reaching the stairs. They appeared on the left side of the staircase, opposite from the side which Sora had originally come with Alfred. He had no clue how he had accomplished getting that lost. They had just made it to the main lobby when a bark broke Sora’s train of thought. He turned just in time to see a huge dog come hurtling towards them. A massive, enormous, slightly terrifying dog! Sora thought the thing was going to run him over – or eat him – but it swept by him and jumped up to lick Damian's face! To Sora's astonishment the boy smiled.

    “Okay Titus, get off!” He said pushing the dog away.

    It immediately dropped down and wandered over to sniff Sora quickly before replacing its self at Damian's side.

    “This is Titus.” The boy said simply, offering no other explanation, before they began to walk again. When they reached the dining room, Bruce, Jason, Dick, and Tim were already there. Dick raised his eyebrows and grinned at them as they walked in. “You’re lucky.” He chuckled. “Another minute and you would have been late. And Alfred does not like it when we’re late.”

    The others around the table shifted uncomfortably. Even Bruce, who looked up and caught sight of Sora's hoodie.

    When an oh-so-familiar confused expression crossed Sora’s face, Tim leaned in conspiratorially, “Alfred gets rather creative with punishments. It’s not outright, but after making him mad, things start happening and they’re never pleasant. We can’t ever prove it was him either.”

    Damian nodded. “When I first arrived, I lopped off the tops of most of the trees outside. For training purposes, of course. Immediately after, most of my katanas and throwing daggers blunted themselves.” For once, he didn’t seem arrogant or pretentious, simply resigned. “I spent four hours resharpening them, and then when I turned my back, they had blunted again.”

    Sora paled at the prospect. It seemed like a minor thing, but frightening all the same. As he sat down, he noticed Bruce staring at his sweater with a slightly disturbed look on his face. Suddenly it occurred to him: what if he wasn’t allowed to wear the sweater? It had been in the guest closet, so he had thought it would be ok, but what if it had been a gift for someone or if the last person to stay there had forgotten it? Flustered, he was about to blurt out an apology when Bruce turned his gaze to Dick.

    “I thought you had gotten rid of that.” His tone was flat, but almost disapproving.

    Dick, so far successfully avoiding his father’s gaze, grinned sheepishly. “Nope. I probably won’t either. It’s too much fun! Besides, it was a gift. It would be rude to throw it away.” He turned to look at Sora, his grin evolving into a warm smile. “Looks good on you Sora. Warm enough?”

    So he was allowed to wear the sweater. Ok! “Yup! Is there something wrong with it though? Why would you need to get rid of it?”

    “That’s a Superman sweater. Just like how Batman has the Batsymbol on his chest, Superman has that one.” Dick’s tone didn’t convey much, but his eyes glinted mischievously. “It was a gag gift for Bruce a few Christmases ago. Not sure if he’s ever worn it though.”

    “Nope, but pretty much everyone else has.” Joining in, Tim’s eyes had the same glint. “It bothers the Big Bad Bat quite a bit.”

    Sora was about to ask why, when Alfred walked in, bearing the most delicious smelling things that had ever graced his nose. The dished landed on the table, and everyone helped themselves. Dinner passed mostly in silence, small snippets of conversation about mostly nothing filling the air. After all the plates were clean, Alfred came in again with a pot of tea and a large plate filled with cookies. The group headed to the parlor to enjoy them. The nothing-conversation continued, until a small beeping in Bruce’s pocket interrupted them.

    He fished out a small tablet, glaring at the screen. Jason, who had a good idea what it was, glared at Bruce, willing him to react, give him some idea of good news or bad news. Finally, he broke down and asked “Well? Am I good to go or what?”

    Jolted out of his thoughts, Bruce glanced up at his son, sometimes ally, sometimes enemy, and said cautiously, “It seems like you’re back to normal. There was some residual substance in your blood samples early in the testing, but they disappeared about half way through. Presumably, the same happened with the substance still in your body.” He paused, Bat paranoia screaming at him. “Just in case, I’d like to take a fresh sample. Knowing what I’m looking for, it won’t take as long this time.”

    Sighing, Jason sat back in his seat. He’d had a feeling that was coming. “Fine.” He grabbed the last three cookies off of the plate, glaring at his brother’s small cries of outrage. “Hey, I’m losing a lot of blood here. I need the sugar.”

    He was saved from fratricide by Alfred’s once again timely arrival, bringing another pot of tea and a steaming pile of fresh cookies. Jason grabbed another three, then followed Bruce down to the Cave. After a moment of deliberation, Sora grabbed a stack of treats for himself, then followed.

    Bam. Chapter. Whaaaat?
     
  10. Loxare Hollow Bastion Committee

    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2009
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    Female
    Location:
    Flower Field
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    Chapters, chapters, who wants some chapters~?

    Well too bad. You're only getting one.


    The Cave was as cold as ever, making him very grateful for the hot tea and cookies in his hands, not to mention the sweater. Bruce and Jason had been moving very fast apparently, neither of them being anywhere in sight when Sora finished walking down the stairs. He followed their voices to the medbay, taking another sip of tea to ease the sudden chill down his spine.

    “Seriously B,” Jason was saying, “Might as well stick a shunt in my arm and be done with it. All this poking is getting annoying.” He nodded in greeting when Sora walked in. He was sitting on one of the beds, sleeve rolled up with Bruce bending over a needle in his arm, the vial attached to it filling with deep red liquid. When the container was full, he pulled the needle out of Jason’s arm and quickly pressed a cotton ball to the small hole in his skin. Jason held it there as Bruce turned to the nearest computer, dropping the sample in for testing. “What’s up Sora?”

    “Not much.” He took a bite out of his cookie, demolishing half of it in one go. Once it was safely swallowed, he said, “Just curious.”

    “Ah.” Jason jumped off the table, and led him to the computer. “Well, this is one of our diagnostic computers. We can stick pretty much any substance in there and it’ll tell us what it’s made of, what’s wrong with it, and hand out a list of things we can do about it.” He tossed the cotton ball into the garbage and rolled down his sleeve. “Within reason of course. If it’s an unknown substance, it can give us a good guess. We still have to do quite a bit of the leg work to figure what else it is.”

    Bruce, his face obscured by the microscope he was looking down, grunted an affirmative. “Which is why I needed another blood sample from Jason. To see if the unknown substance is still there and, if it is, determine what it is.”

    “And?” Sora prompted. “Is it still there?”

    Bruce spent another moment or two staring down the microscope, eyebrows creeping towards each other until they were almost touching. “Yes.” Finally looking up, his expression was grim. He did not like the idea of some mystery substance swimming around in Jason’s bloodstream. “It keeps vanishing at a rapid pace though.” He had a suspicion of what it was, but he wanted confirmation.

    Jason sighed again. “I’ll get a shunt.” If the stuff kept disappearing once it left his body, Bruce would need an almost steady supply to figure out what it was. He would accept a shunt, but he didn’t want a million needle holes in his arm.

    While Jason was rummaging in the supply closet, Bruce brought up a recording of the substance, floating around Jason’s red blood cells.

    It was like nothing any of them had ever seen; a dark slithery kind of substance that seemed to attach itself to Jason’s red blood cells before breaking apart and forming into an almost symmetrical copy of the cell, losing its shape and dissolving into a liquid-like substance again. Bruce stared at the display, playing, pausing, and rewinding the footage as he observed the strange reaction. This was odd, very odd, and Bruce didn't like his lack of knowledge on the matter at all. This could be a poison, a negative kind of immune reaction to whatever Xehanort had done to his son, or something even more sinister. He had a bad idea that this was the latter.

    “Whatever this thing is,” Sora began, “wasn't here until Jason was made into a Heartless right?”

    Bruce nodded absentmindedly as he studies the cell’s reactions.

    “Well.” Sora said. “I was turned into a Heartless just like Jason was. Could I have the same thing in my blood that Jason has in his?”

    That caught Bruce's attention. He swung around in his chair and stared at Sora. “The same process happened to you before?” He asked carefully.

    “Well yeah.” Sora said, faltering a little under the man’s intimidating gaze. “It's a long story, but my friend's heart got trapped in me and I had to release it, and the only way to do it was to use a Keyblade and turn myself into a Heartless.”

    “You stabbed yourself!?” Came Jason's surprised voice as he popped his head out of the drawer he had been rummaging in.

    “Like I said, long story.” Sora shrugged dismissively. “The point is… well, I don't really know about any of this science stuff, but maybe I could be helpful in finding out what is in Jason's blood because of my blood?”

    “Hmmmm.” Bruce scratched his chin thoughtfully.

    It was something to go off of at least. In any case, he could narrow down his options. “It's worth a try if you're willing to help,” he said finally.

    “’Course I am! Just tell me what I have to do!”

    Bruce directed him to a bed and told him to roll up his sleeve. He then went through the process of cutting off the arms circulation and then, after disinfecting the spot with alcohol, carefully sticking a needle into the crook of Sora's arm. He flinched slightly – he had never done this before – but otherwise sat patiently through the process. As soon as Bruce had a vial of blood he wasted no time dropping it into the computer’s scanners and analyzing the data.

    “Ah, found one!” Jason finally reappeared from the medical cabinet.

    He looked from Sora to Bruce, then tossed the supplies on a bed and walked up behind the older man, studying the screens. “Well look at that.” He said roughly, comparing the two videos playing. “You and me match Sora!”

    Jumping off the bed, Sora came over to gaze at the screen with the others. He could see the strange substance surrounding his blood cells, taking on the circular shape perfectly before dissolving once again. Sora simply watched, mesmerized. Whatever Jason had, Sora had it too.

    “It can't be.” Came Bruce’s astonished voice. Both boys looked down at him. He was again studying blood under a microscope, his face creased with concentration.

    “What is it B? Give it to us straight. How long do we have?” Jason joked. But Bruce didn't laugh, just kept peering down at the slide, focusing intensely.

    After a couple of seconds the man straightened up. “I'm sorry but I am going to need both of you to stay down here tonight. It is vital that I isolate whatever this foreign matter is and analyze it personally. We can't take any chances.

    Jason leaned against the wall huffing while Sora stuck his hands into his hoodie pockets thinking.

    “What do you think this stuff in our blood is?” he asked Bruce. “Do you have a theory or something?”

    Jason was the one to answer as he shook his head slowly. “He's not gonna tell us anything until he figures out for sure what this stuff is kid. That's just the way he works. Annoying as hell, but not much we can do about it. All that's left is to leave him to it.”

    So for the next few hours, Sora and Jason sat on the beds in the med bay, leaning against the cold wall and dozing on and off. Bruce had in fact placed intravenouses in both their arms and was drawing blood regularly. At one point Sora had woken up to see that blankets had been placed on both him and Jason. Definitely Alfred’s doing. He had fallen back asleep, and woke again when something wet touched his face. He blinked and looked up tiredly into the face of the dog Titus. Sniffing and walking around in a circle, Titus plopped down beside Sora who smiled and stroked his warm head. He could hear Damian's voice and assumed he was talking to Bruce. Unfortunately at that point he fell asleep again. It was almost 4 AM, according to the clock on the wall, and it had been quite a long exhausting day.

    The third thing that woke him up was hands shaking his shoulders. “Sora, wake up!” That was Dick’s voice. “Bruce says it's important that you get up now!”

    Startled but awake, Sora looked around confused. Titus had left, and was curled up on the floor next to Damian who was asleep leaning against a desk. Tim was also there, curled up in a chair and stirring in response to Dick’s grave voice. Bruce was shaking Jason, waking him up too, the latter not being all too happy about it.

    “Jesus Bruce. What time is it?” he snapped. Jason had never been a morning person.

    “Irrelevant,” the man said mechanically. “You two need to come with me now!”

    Halfway through a stretch, he stopped at the man’s tone. “What’s going on?” Sora opened and closed his hand a few times, preparing himself to summon his Keyblade at a moment’s notice.

    Instead of answering, Bruce and Dick grabbed the other two’s hands and pulled them towards the main computer. Filling the screen were two side-by-side videos, clearly of blood cells, one labeled “Jason”, the other labeled “Sora”. Sora’s blood hadn’t changed from the time of the first sample. The dark substance, whatever it was, still replicated his cells, then dispersed. However, in Jason’s, the substance was steadily getting more abundant. It copied the cell and then stayed, duplicating itself even as more of the substance copied another cell.

    Mouth set in a grim line, Bruce spoke, his level tone betraying none of the dread he had inside. “These are the samples from an hour ago. As you can see, the substance is no longer dissipating, even now that it’s outside of Jason’s bloodstream.” He fiddled with the keyboard, typing a few commands. “This is the only difference I could see in the two samples.”

    Sora’s half of the screen zoomed drastically. In between the cells were tiny flecks of light. Whenever the substance tried to replicate a blood cell, the flecks would gather, attacking and dispersing it. Shocked, Sora held up his hands, staring at them as if he could see through the skin, as if he could see the tug-of-war happening in his blood stream. The entire idea made him slightly queasy. Thus far, all Heartless attacks hadn’t really injured him. They were either blunt force trauma or directly affected his heart. If he got stabbed in the chest, he wouldn’t have bled: his heart would have simply flown off into Kingdom Hearts. For some reason, all this talk of blood didn’t sit well with him.

    He looked up at Jason, wondering if this was as difficult for his friend as it was for him. Probably not. The Bats seemed… not comfortable with blood (who would be, really), but used to it. However, the look of abject horror on Jason’s face caught him off guard. He was staring at his hands as well, which were threaded with very faint dark lines, following his veins and arteries perfectly.

    Bruce, still contemplating the two screens, noticed the second Robin’s unusual silence and turned. His eyes widened at Jason’s expression, then further when he noticed the lines. Before anyone in the room could blink, he had grabbed Jason’s hand and shoved it under a microscope. “Sora. Any ideas why you have these light particles and not Jason?”

    Sora sat on the ground, knuckles to his forehead, wracking his brain for anything, anything, that could help. He had been carrying Kairi’s heart and had stabbed himself with the Keyblade of People’s Hearts to release it. Then he had gotten turned into a Heartless, and the light in Kairi’s heart had turned him back when she had hugged him. “Kairi?”

    Bruce’s head snapped up, turning immediately to Sora. “Explain. Thoroughly.”

    “Kairi is a Princess of Heart. That means that she has no darkness in her heart, none at all. Over a year ago, our island got swallowed by the darkness and Kairi lost her heart. But since it’s impossible for her to turn into a Heartless, it sort of went inside me. I carried it around for a little while, until I used the Keyblade of People’s Hearts to free it. Her heart was returned, but I got turned into a Heartless and then I wandered around Hollow Bastion for a while. I ran into Kairi and she recognized me and hugged me and the light in her heart turned me back.”

    Dick’s eyes widened. “Kind of like how I turned Jason back?” Suddenly, the subject of their conversation stiffened, his face contorting in pain. His eyes flickered yellow and back.

    Bruce wasted no time. He grabbed Dick, pushing him towards Jason. “Whatever you did last time, do it again.”

    Grabbing his brother in a tight hug, he again thought of all the good times he had had with Jason. He closed his eyes, trying to focus. If he had kept them open, he would have noticed a soft light building in between them, and a faint dark cloud floating off of Jason’s skin. The lines on his hands faded, his muscles slowly relaxed. Finally, both light and dark vanished, leaving Jason, for the second time in as many days, passed out in Dick’s arms.

    Bruce allowed himself a moment to feel relief, then went back into business mode. He grabbed a spare vial and attached it to the shunt in Jason’s arm, grabbing yet another sample of his blood. He prepared a slide, dropped it on the microscope stand, and stared at it for a long minute. Two pairs of worried eyes bored in to the back of his head until he finally sat back with a sigh. “It’s back to how it was ten hours ago.”

    Both Sora and Dick sagged in relief. Dick gazed at the brother sleeping peacefully in his arms. “Now all we have to do is figure out how to stop it from happening again.” He sighed as well, then hefted Jason’s substantial weight in his arms and carried him off to a gurney in the medbay. Tim and Damian had both fallen back to sleep. Dick couldn’t blame them. It had been a long day after all.

    Back in front of the computer, Bruce and Sora were staring at the screen, trying to will an answer to appear for them. Venturing a suggestion, Sora said, “Maybe we should give this info to Riku. He might have an idea.”

    Batman’s eyes narrowed at the thought of sharing anything before he could figure it out. But he had to admit that this kind of thing was out of his knowledge base (for now), and until he learned more, it might be a good idea to get an expert opinion. Without answering Sora, he opened a link to one of his satellites, searching around until he found the gummi ship’s frequency in orbit above Gotham. He hacked in, the pitiful security giving him no trouble. He edited the file, taking out Jason's name – just because he trusted Sora with that information did not mean he trusted Sora's space friend – and then sent the entire thing over.

    ~*~​

    In the ship, Riku had been napping in his seat, feet propped up on the console. The loud beeping of a received file woke him, startling him out of his chair. He bumped his injured leg on his way back up, but was pleasantly surprised to find that it didn’t hurt anymore. Maybe he was healed! Riku’s happiness at this lasted until he opened the file that had rudely been shoved into his computer.

    Uh oh.

    ~*~​

    “Can you hear me Batman?” Came Riku's voice from out of the computer’s speakers.

    “Yes.” Batman replied. “I assume you have received the files I have sent?”

    “Yeah, I did. And you could have just asked to transmit them instead of hacking my system. But that's not important right now. Do you know what you just sent me?”

    “Only partially.” Bruce admitted hesitantly. This was no time for pride. “We know that Sora doesn't seem to be negatively affected by it, while Red Hood lacks whatever is in Sora's blood stream that is showing a resistance to it. But we don't know what this substance is or what it does. I...we were hoping you might be able to assist us with that.”

    “I wish I didn't know about it,” Riku's voice was hoarse, “but I have some firsthand experience with it. Not in the same way Hood does, and the information has never been presented to me in this way, but I think I know exactly what is going on.”

    Batman stiffened, every fibre of his being focused on the voice vibrating out of the computer. He didn't notice as Alfred seemed to magically appear beside him, placing down a steaming mug of rich coffee.

    “It is possible,” Riku began slowly, “to accept total darkness into your heart. To use it to your advantage and turn away from any source of light in the world. By doing this, you can use the darkness to gain amazing powers. But it has a price. Having no light in your heart...well, it's not a nice concept as I'm sure you can imagine.”

    Bruce placed both elbows on his desk, leaning further towards the computer and clasping his hands together.

    “Most people are always fighting with this darkness and light. It is a normal struggle. But sometimes, people are less immune to darkness then others. It seeks them out, and slowly takes them over.”

    There was a pause as Riku studied the information on the screen carefully. “I've never actually seen the existence of darkness presented to me like this before. I knew there was a physical reaction to it, but not at a cellular level. I can only guess that Hood and Sora's hearts, which were unprotected and completely exposed to the world, developed a kind of... I don't know, magnetic quality to darkness. The Keyblades must have something to do with it, because this reaction doesn’t appear in people who have lost their hearts to Heartless. But it looks like the process of releasing someone’s heart with a Keyblade attracts darkness more readily then is the natural process.”

    Bruce's head was spinning as he listened to the young man talk. This whole subject was so far out of his understanding, which was unacceptable. But in any case, he needed to focus, to understand what Riku was trying to tell him.

    “So what you are saying,” Bruce said slowly, “is that Red Hood is attracting this darkness, and that if it builds up, it will turn him back into a Heartless?”

    “Not a Heartless.” Riku corrected. “He will be whole, but it will be up to him to fight his way back out of it. And that... it isn't easy. “

    “Can anything be done to negate the effects?” Bruce asked, his calm voice greatly contrasting the emotional turmoil he was experiencing.

    “Unfortunately a Princess of Heart like in Sora's case won't work for Hood. Sora's heart was brought back with a heart of complete light. Hood's was not.”

    Riku typed on his keyboard surfing quickly through a few files. “I don't know of any other ways.” He said finally. “But I can look for you. I have some contacts I can ask if you want.”

    “Yes.” Bruce said quickly. “Whoever you can. Ask anyone who might know something. It is very important!”

    “Of course.” Riku agreed. “I'll get back to you as soon as I have any new developments.”

    With that the channel closed. Bruce leaned back in his chair, rubbing his face with his hands. He spied the coffee Alfred had left him. It was now lukewarm but still wonderfully inviting as he took a sip.

    What a mess Jason was in.

    Glancing back Bruce spotted Sora standing a few feet away, looking tired yet alert at the same time.

    “Get some sleep.” Bruce said to the kid, standing up. “It's late and we all need the rest.”

    Bruce was surprised at his own advice.

    Sora nodded and slowly walked over to the medbay, digesting all of the previous conversation as he went. He would rather sleep down here with everyone then trudge back up to his room. He was way too exhausted for that.

    Bruce went to sit down in another chair in the med bay close to his boys. There was nothing to it, Riku was much better equipped to research this topic then he was. Bruce was simply out of his element. Jason would just have to deal with Dick and his hugs until they found a solution. Bruce smiled at that. Jason would not be happy. Not a bit. And with that last thought, he settled into his chair, wrapping a warm blanket that had been mysteriously placed around his shoulders, and fell quickly asleep. Despite the caffeine, despite the worry and stress, and despite the enormity of the past day, exhaustion won out.
     
  11. Loxare Hollow Bastion Committee

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    Here's a new chapter! Yay! It's the last of the rest chapters so next chapter will be violent. Violent towards Heartless though, not characters. It'll also be really long. Anyways, have 11.

    He woke up slowly, not quite remembering when he had fallen asleep. Cracking one eyelid, the sudden burst of bright white light had him snapping it shut. Blearily, he took stock of his situation. His head was pounding, but that seemed to be the only ache he had. Ouch, never mind. He still had those injuries in his shoulders. Eh, they were healing. Shifting on the uncomfortable surface he was laying on (medbay bed. Had to be) his eyes flashed open at the warm weight splayed across his chest. Ignoring the way the light added to his headache, Jason glared down at Dick, who was laying right next to him on the narrow bed, arms wrapped around his torso.

    “Dick, what the actual fu-,” he started, but the sudden appearance of Alfred at his side stopped the curse before he could finish it. Alfred was holding food, pancakes to be specific, and he didn’t want to miss those. The butler put the pancakes down, just out of reach, and started checking Jason’s vitals, displayed on a screen next to the bed.

    Jason’s sudden movement and loud almost-cursing managed to stir Dick slightly. “Jay, go back t’ bed. I’m shleepin’.” The eldest former Robin made another few contented murmurs, then settled back down to sleep.

    Like hell he was allowed to sleep. Jason shook him. “I can see that. Why are you sleeping on my bed with your stupid arms wrapped around me?” Dick, being decidedly unhelpful, simply buried his face in the pillow and smiled, still asleep.

    “He has to.” Bruce walked in, clearly having just come from the gym. He grabbed a water bottle and joined Alfred at Jason’s vitals screen. “He’s keeping the darkness in your system down.” He grunted at the data on the screen, then went to sit down, grabbing a mug of coffee on his way. Alfred delicately lifted the pancakes and handed them to Jason.

    He flung Dick’s arm off his chest and sat up. “So why can’t someone else do it? Does it have to be Dick?”

    Bruce smiled over his coffee. He knew Jason would be difficult about this. “Yes. Dick was the one to, as Riku put it, ‘rid you of the darkness’ the first time. He’s going to have to be the one to do it from now on.”

    Fork halfway to his mouth, he blanched. “This isn’t a forever thing, is it?” If it was, his life was over. That was it. Might as well kill him now. He could not go through life with Dick hanging off of him every day.

    “No,” the corners of his eyes crinkled at the obvious relief that crossed Jason's face, “but it will continue until we can figure out how to stop the substance completely.”

    “Does he have to be hugging me all the time?”

    “No, once every few hours should do.”

    Jason grabbed his plate and stood up. He rocked slightly as his body reminded him that he had spent all of yesterday giving out blood like it was a slightly more macabre Halloween, but didn’t let any more of his faint weakness show. Moving quickly, he strode out of the room and up the stairs.

    Sora woke up about a half an hour after Jason. As if by magic, Alfred appeared the moment he sat up, a plate piled high with pancakes and various cut fruits in his hands. Tim and Damian had apparently woken up already, and after a brief spat involving Damian trying to slip a dagger through Tim’s ribs, had gone their separate ways. Damian had departed to the gym, and Alfred recommended not bothering him until he had worked off some steam. Tim had gone to the library though, and Sora hadn’t had enough time to chat with him. So, after quickly finishing his pancakes and dropping the plate off in the kitchen, he headed to the library.

    “Hey Sora!” Tim was reclining on a sofa, laptop on his lap and a few dozen books open and spread across the table next to him. “What’s up?”

    “Nothing.” Sora plopped down on an open stretch of sofa. They sat in silence for a few moments, Tim absorbed in his work, Sora being content with the silence for once. Finally, he asked, “What’re you working on?”

    Tim shifted so Sora could see his screen. “I hacked the files your friend Riku had on the gummi ship. Just sifting through them, trying to find anything that can help.”

    Somehow not surprised at Tim’s confession to stealing Riku’s files, Sora simply shook his head. Maybe he’d been in this world too long. “Anything?”

    An evil grin spread across the other boy’s face. “Besides a video of you singing Cruella de Vil in your room?” He pressed a button, starting the audio.

    “WHAT?” Sora reached for the laptop, trying to figure out how to stop the music. “Gah, how do I get this thing to stop? Please tell me this is the only copy?”

    Grin still in place, Tim shook his head. “Sorry. Already emailed copies to the entire family.”

    Somewhere in the house, laughter that sounded suspiciously like Dick’s rang out. Turning beet red, Sora dropped his face into his hands. “So that’s five copies?” The look on Tim’s face said no, so Sora added Alfred. “Six?” Tim cocked an eyebrow. Desperately, Sora searched his memory for who else might have a copy. “Batlady? That makes seven?”

    Tim barked out a laugh, “It’s Batgirl. And no. The Batfamily is pretty massive. Most of them wouldn’t get the context though, so it’s just us five, Alfred, Batgirl, Black Bat, Spoiler and Catwoman.” He leaned in conspiratorially. “Catwoman loves this song.” He then left Sora to his moping.

    Had Sora said he hoped he could get along with Tim? This kid was more mischievous than Stitch on a bad day, and that was saying something. He glanced over at the current source of all the problems in his life. Tim had sunk in to work mode, eyes flicking over the laptop screen as he read and absorbed information. His mouth was still curved in to a smile though.

    After a few minutes, Sora had gotten over most of his embarrassment. He glanced back over to the screen, reading a few paragraphs over Tim’s shoulder. “Riku entered that in wrong. Vanitas didn’t fall asleep, Ventus did. Vanitas was returned to Ven’s heart and then Ven’s heart mysteriously vanished. Mickey wasn’t sure where it had gone.”

    Tim looked up, startled at the interruption. “Wait, how much do you know about this?”

    Crossing his arms, Sora thought. “Quite a bit. It’s mostly hands on knowledge, but Mickey has spent a few days telling me stories of the other three Keyblade Wielders, and Yen Sid gave me a few books to read. Why?”

    “Hm. If I have any questions, could you answer them?”

    “Sure, as good as I can.”

    Tim didn’t respond; he simply smiled a less evil, more grateful smile, then went back to his work. Sora sat back, no longer regretting his decision to come up here.

    The regret came back instantly when Damian appeared in the doorway. He marched across the room, not looking at the sofa or its occupants, grabbed a book and then marched out. Right before he left, he turned back to look Sora straight in the eye. “Tt. Pathetic Sora.” He exited the room, leaving the door open behind him.

    Sora’s head went right back into his hands and Tim’s evil grin crept back up. It only got worse when Jason walked by, humming Cruella de Vil with a wicked smile on his face.

    He did feel better a few minutes later when Dick’s voice rang out throughout the manor. “Jaaaaaason~! Time for your hug!”

    Something crashed, and there were sounds of a scuffle. “No! Dammit Dickhead, get off of me!” Another crash, then a dull thud.

    “Gotcha!” Dick's voice rang out. “Seriously Jason wha- Ow!”

    Sora cocked his head, interested in whatever was going on. He stood up glancing at Tim and gave him a parting wave (the boy wasn't even paying attention) and then strode out of the library casually following the sound of distress. On his way he passed Bruce. The man looked at him, raised an eyebrow, and moved on. Sora couldn't resist the urge to face-palm once again.

    “Sneak up on me one more time dick, and I swear I'll stab you!”

    Sora walked into the large front foyer and leaned against the doorframe, watching events transpire.

    Both Jason and Dick were having a stare off, the difference being that Jason was scowling heavily while Dick was smiling mischievously.

    “You know the rules Jay.” Dick sang happily. He seemed to be quite enjoying himself despite sporting a painful looking black eye. “I'm the only one that can keep you from going crazy and turning into a dark blob or something like that.”

    “At this rate I'm going to go crazy faster from you being in my personal space than by any stupid cellular darkness crap!”

    He turned and took a few steps towards the stairs, then glanced back. “Look, if you have to hug me, then tell me when you're gonna do it. Don't sneak up on me. And only every 6 hours, got it! I don't care what Bruce says, that's plenty of time compared to the roughly ten hours last night!”

    With that Jason stomped away angrily, muttering curses under his breath. Sora watched Jason stock off, then turned to Dick who glanced back at Sora with a mischievous glint in his eye. Before Sora could ask him anything, he had left too. Darn the bats were good at vanishing.

    Sora couldn't help being interested in how this was going to turn out. But with nothing else happening in the room, he started making his way down to the cave. He wanted to take a look at some of the Bats’ weapons. Maybe Bruce would even let him throw one of those small sharp blade things. Once he had descended the stairs into the chilly damp depths of the cave however, he found Damian again. The kid was practicing with a sword, slashing at moving holograms appearing around him. Sora stood back and watched with interest as the kid worked. The movements with an actual sword were much less fluid then with a Keyblade. More tight and controlled. But that allowed Damian to be less open to counter attacks. Suddenly Damian stopped and glared at Sora.

    “What are you doing?” He growled.

    Sora shrugged innocently. “Just watching.

    “Well stop, it's ruining my concentration.”

    “I dunno.” Sora countered. He was getting used to the kid’s attitude and wasn't deterred in the least. “You looked like you were doing fine to me.”

    “You wouldn't know the first thing about sword play.” Damian snapped.

    “Oh yeah?” Walking over to a stack of wooden training swords, Sora grabbed one and spun it around in his hand playfully.“Try me!”

    Damian shot him a bland look of irritation. “Tt, fighting an amateur such as yourself is beneath me.”

    “So you're scared then?”

    The immature tactic seemed to work perfectly. Damian clenched his teeth tightly and took up a defensive stance. Sora smiled and stepped forward. He wished he was wearing his usual clothes but he was the one who started this after all. He would just have to deal with it.

    The two rushed each other, Sora easily repelling Damian's initial thrust and twirling around, slashing at the kid in response. Damian ducked it and swiped his wooden sword at Sora’s ankles. Jumping back, Sora brought his sword down at the kid, who held his own sword up above his head with both hands. Sora's weapon bounced off and Damian used the few seconds of recoil to swing out at Sora’s chest. The blow connected and Sora stumbled back slightly. It stung, but that was a lot better than the alternative. He could deal. Damian was smiling smugly. Sora took the opportunity to charge him. To his surprise it worked. The kid dodged, but not before his attacker’s sword grazed his shoulder.

    That didn't make Damian happy.

    For the next forty minutes or so they kept at it, Sora getting knocked down often, but always bouncing right back up again. Damian had his fair share of hits too. Sora might have been used to fighting hordes of monsters rather than close up combat with a single individual, but he was pretty amazing at it for having such little experience. Was that a sliver of respect Damian was feeling? No, couldn’t be. Ridiculous.

    Just as the two were clashing swords and reveling in their exhaustion, a British voice called out, “Would either of you care for a drink?”

    Both swords broke apart as their owners made a bee line for Alfred who was holding up a tray with ice cold lemonade balanced precariously on it.

    “Lunch will be served in twenty minutes young sirs” He said before turning to venture back up the stairs. “I would suggest you get cleaned up before the meal. “

    Sipping his lemonade, Damian walked over to the storage cabinet and tossed his practice sword back into the pile. “You could have been worse,” was all he said before stalking away.

    “Thanks!” Sora called back smiling. “You weren’t so bad yourself!”

    Twenty minutes later, and everyone in the Wayne manor found themselves seated not at the large oak dinner table, but instead on stools around the eat in kitchen counter. They were all munching sandwiches with mysterious yet wonderful things in them. Damian and Tim were having a staring match to the death while Jason was pointedly avoiding looking at Dick while devouring his food. After the expected ridicule about the video Tim had sent out, Sora decided now was a good time to ask Bruce if he could try throwing one of those bat shaped objects, the reply being a blatant no. He was expecting that. In a mere five minutes Jason had finished eating and after rinsing his plate, had practically sprinted out of the room while shouting a word of thanks at Alfred over his shoulder. Bruce was next to go, and with Alfred bustling around in the back kitchen, it was just the four of them.

    “So guys?” Dick said leaning forward and grinning evilly after a minute of silent eating. The effect was ruined by the purplish bruising still surrounding one eye. “I have a little proposition for you.”

    The other three leaned in. “What kind of proposition Grayson?” Damian’s face had the exact same expression as Dick did. Actually, looking around the table, Tim did too. Sora shrugged. Must be a Bat thing.

    “Jason wrangling.” Three raised eyebrows popped up at him. He sighed, his grin melting into a semi-serious frown. “I’m worried. He doesn’t want hugs, I get it, but he needs them right now. So!” Maniacal grin back in place, Dick held up a finger, “I figure we should kill two birds with one stone! We have nothing to do while we wait for the Corridors to link back up. I’m bored out of my skull. Jason needs affection. Hey, maybe we can make it three birds and teach Sora some skills. His stealth needs work.”

    Sora opened his mouth to protest, but Tim spoke before he could. “So, what’s the plan?”

    Dick motioned them closer. Heads almost touching, he whispered his plan.

    ~*~​

    Sitting in one of the more unused rooms of the manor, Jason was rebuilding his helmet. It was mostly done. He had even raided Bruce’s store of materials and added the newest tech he could. Twisting one final screw, he sat back satisfied. The new helmet was definitely better than the other one. And, hopefully, less breakable.

    A sudden shuffle from the hallway caught his attention. This entire wing was only used when Bruce had one of his charity balls. By all rights, he should be the only one here. So who…?

    Opening the door a crack, he peeked out. Nothing in the hallway. He paused, listening, but there were no other sounds. Quietly, he stalked back to the table and grabbed his helmet. Slipping it on, he activated the new infrareds in his lenses. These were special infrareds. Recently developed by WayneTech, these could spot an ice cube at two hundred yards through a concrete wall. There, hidden in one of the vents. Based on the size, it was the Demon Brat. And there, just above the chandeliers. Probably Dick.

    Rolling his eyes, he simply walked over to the window and dropped down. Right into an almost-invisible net wired up. Infrareds still on, Jason saw as Dick leapt down from the chandelier and dashed into the room Jason had just jumped out of, Damian following. Moving fast – he had a feeling he knew what this was about and it made him sick – he scrambled out of the net. Just as he landed, smoke bombs went off all around him. He smiled. These wouldn’t work. Again, infrareds. Since he had just installed them, his brothers probably didn’t know he had them.

    Someone – either Tim or Sora, but he was guessing Tim based on the glider cape – swooped down from the roof as he ran out of the cloud. Jason leaped as Tim got close, jumping onto Tim’s back and crashing him into the ground. Dick landed right behind him, so Jason grabbed Tim and hurled him into the former Boy Wonder. He kept running, lunging forward to avoid Damian, who was swinging a katana at him. Seriously, who kept letting him use these things? He caught himself with both hands, snapping a foot out and catching the brat on the chest, throwing him backwards. He rolled, smoothly flowing onto his feet and then continuing his run. He tapped his helmet: the infrareds had stopped working. He probably had to recalibrate them. Rounding the corner of the manor, he saw the tree standing right next to his window. If he could make it there, he was basically home free.

    Ten steps from the tree, the window right in front of him popped open and Sora jumped out, hands extended. Jason grabbed one of his wrists and threw him (gently) into the tree. Well, that escape route was useless now. Sora was already up, and while he could probably get around the kid, he didn’t want to hurt him. Running a wide circle around the tree, and relative safety, he started for the kitchen door. Dick, Tim and Damian were already on his heels, each throwing an array of nets, batarangs and insults to try and slow him down. Yeah, like he was falling for that.

    He made it into the kitchen and was almost to the front hall when a wooden pole pushed itself into his path at ankle height. He tripped, falling flat on his face, very grateful that he was wearing his helmet. Dazed, he pulled it off and looked up to see Alfred, sweeping the floor.

    “My word Master Jason, where did you come from? And what have I told you about running inside?” Alfred looked shocked beyond belief to see Jason, so he probably hadn’t tripped him on purpose. The damage was done though. Dick burst through the door Jason had left open and all but leaped onto his brother, arms going tight around his shoulders. Tim, Damian and Sora stood in the doorway, watching.

    This was honestly Jason’s first time watching this. Last night, he’d been unconscious and this morning, he’d been busy punching Dick in the face to get a good look. Where Dick’s arms touched him, a faint light shone. He shifted uncomfortably as flecks of darkness lifted off of him, dissolving into nothing.

    Finally, the steady stream of darkness died down and the light faded. “Dickhead?”

    “Yeah, Jaybird?” Jason couldn’t see his face, but he could hear the smile in his voice.

    “What did I tell you this morning?”

    “That you would stab me if I snuck up on you?”

    “That’s the one.”

    “Didn’t sneak up on you. I chased you.”

    “Your logic is terrible and I choose to ignore it. Alfred, could you grab me a cleaver? Heck, a paring knife would do. I can’t summon the All Blades without pure evil nearby. Wait, the Brat’s here. Maybe I can summon them after all.” He mock concentrated, pretending to draw his blades.

    “Haha, Todd. You’re a riot.” The other three dropped to the floor next to Jason and Dick. Alfred stared for a moment (they were sitting right where he was about to sweep), then wandered off to see if Bruce needed food.

    Jason just rolled his eyes. Maneuvering his hands in between their chests, he pushed hard, trying to get Dick off of him. Dick just held on tighter. “Hey, Timmy, could you get Dick off of me?”

    Tim just shook his head. “If I do, he might relocate to me. I’m not risking it.”

    Jason looked pleadingly at Sora, who raised his hands. “Don’t look at me. As much as I like hugs, I feel like this is more of a brother thing.”

    Damian was already shaking his head, the most deadpan expression on his face. “Don’t even think about asking.”

    He sighed. “I didn’t want to do this Dickiebird, but you really aren’t leaving me much of a choice.” He jabbed his fingers into a pressure point on Dick’s side. Dick released his death grip immediately, curling in on the spot. Jason then stood up and kicked him in the stomach, not hard enough to do any damage, but hard enough to hurt. Finally able to see his face, he was vaguely disappointed to see the black eye gone. Sora must have healed it after lunch.

    A polite ahem caught the attention of the boys. “Master Bruce would like to see you all downstairs. Master Riku has contacted him.” The smiles all melted and seriousness set in. If Riku called, that meant that the Dark Corridors were about to connect again. Jason grabbed his helmet off of the floor and followed the others to the study.
     
  12. Loxare Hollow Bastion Committee

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    Here we go! An extra long chapter, just for you guys! And a bunch of other people on the internet...

    As soon as they arrived in the cave, Bruce was already gearing up and gestured to the screen quickly before turning to check his weapons. An audio channel was open, directly linked to Riku. “What's up Riku?” asked Sora. “What did you find out?”

    “Nothing about Hood’s problem if that's what you were thinking. Sensors have picked up an enormous surge of dark energy on the outskirts of Gotham. We're talking about hundreds of Heartless, at least. And not the wimpy kind either. “

    But no Xehanort?” questioned Jason.

    “Well that's just it.” said Riku. “I think that Xehanort is summoning all of these Heartless to make sure he accomplishes his goal properly. This time he has back up. I think he also wants to try and turn Hood evil again. The large concentration of Heartless will probably speed up the process.”

    “How do we know that he is aware Hood is back to normal, or even that he has this darkness issue?” asked Tim.

    “We don't. But considering that we are dealing with Xehanort here, I wouldn't put it past him to have found out. He still has that piece of his heart in Red Hood remember, so it's very likely he knows about his condition. Maybe he thinks Hood will come to his side willingly if he is overcome by darkness.”

    “Will he?” asked Dick before Jason could speak.

    “Don't know. It's up to Hood. Darkness affects people in a variety of ways. But it is never good in the long run. In the end it all comes down to will power; if you can control the power the darkness brings or not.”

    “So just to get this straight: you think Xehanort is going to turn up in this area that all the Heartless have appeared in, and bring the other vessels of darkness with him?” asked Sora wearily.

    “Scanners already show that something other than the Heartless is creating a portal there. And I can't imagine it would be anyone else.”

    “Wait a second!” Tim said sharply. “We're just supposed to run into that mess without a solid strategy? The odds are way stacked against us! Why aren't we taking our time and coming up with a plan?”

    “Yet again, the matter of your self-proclaimed intelligence proves to be questionable.” Damian growled. “We have to go and defeat the Heartless before they attack any more innocent people, Drake.”

    “We won't be much use if we are overrun by, what was it, thirteen dark warriors and hundreds of Heartless?!”

    “Only twelve now that Hood's back to normal,” interjected Sora

    Tim rolled his eyes. “Well, that's a relief. Seriously, isn't anyone worried about this?”

    Batman had had enough of the bickering. He walked over to the group of boys pulling on his cowl. “I understand your concern Red, you're absolutely right. But innocent people’s lives are at stake here. If in every single crisis we chose to strategize instead of act, many people would die because of our inability to take the initiative. We will have to stay close to one another and work as a team.”

    He shot a warning glare at Jason and Damian.

    “It is also vital to use your comm. units and stay in touch. With this kind of battle, initial strategies usually fall apart because of the unpredictability and number of the enemies. The most important thing is to stay in contact with one another, and work together when possible. Improvise and strategize as you go. Understand?”

    All present nodded, though Tim looked hesitant.

    “Get ready then!” Batman ordered. “I want us out of here in three minutes.”

    Riku’s voice crackled to life again. “If you're lucky you will be able to take down most of the Heartless before Xehanort and his buddies arrive. It will be difficult enough just facing them.”

    “Understood.” Batman ground out as the others rushed away to get ready.

    Ten minutes later the Batwing was nearing the specified location. An air of tension surrounded the group huddled inside. Everyone could tell this was not going to be an easy battle. Even Damian and Tim refrained from snapping at each other, merely glaring out opposite windows. Sora stared out the window too, trying to spot their enemies the moment they came into view. It wasn't difficult. A speck of black was rapidly approaching, vividly standing out against the surrounding greenery as Batman brought the plane into a quick decent. With dread, Sora watched as the black blob became more defined; it seemed to be slithering and bubbling with the volume of creatures that made it up. Then, they were close enough to make out the sheer unimaginable number of Heartless that were slithering amongst each other. As they came to a bumpy stop roughly 100 yards from their enemies, it was as if a blanket of black shadows covered the entire field for miles in front of them.

    The Heartless weren’t too far out of Gotham. In fact, a major road expanded through the mass of creatures, effectively cutting off civilians. The tall black forms and twinkling lights of buildings contrasted vividly among the setting sun.

    They exited the plane quietly, all waiting for an order from Batman, who in turn put a finger to his cowl.

    “Riku, I assume no humans have turned up yet?”

    “That's correct, though as I said, the portals have been established. They could come at any time.”

    Batman then turned to look at his fellow crime fighters. “We are going to fight in pairs, and I don't care if you don't like it. We need to have each other’s backs at all times. I want everyone to stay close regardless, but pairs will help us to avoid unnecessary risks. Red Robin, you're with Nightwing. Red Hood, go with Sora. Robin, you're with me.”

    The waves of Heartless were already beginning to drift towards the intruders, their yellow eyes locked on to their victims.

    “Go!” barked Batman, and the three teams charged forward.

    The moment the order left his mouth, Batman launched himself at the mass of darkness. He grabbed one of the Heartless (from the files he had downloaded from Riku’s computer, he knew this one was called an Invisible) around the neck and twisted. The neck didn’t break, but the head did pop off, so he counted it as a win. It didn’t seem like these creatures had much of a skeleton though, which took breaking bones and crippling them out of the picture. He would either have to pummel them until they dissipated or go for fatal blows. The idea made him a bit ill, but it would be faster than beating them. Besides, the creatures would simply return to this “Kingdom Hearts” place and reform as Heartless once again.

    He activated the shock pads in his gloves, located right above his knuckles. He shot a right hook at a Wyvern. It was a glancing blow, just clipping one of the wings, but electricity coursed through the Heartless and it evaporated. Using the momentum from the attack, he kicked out his foot, right into the jaw of a Stalwart Blade. Its head snapped sideways and it too vanished in a cloud of darkness.

    Keeping an eye on his Robin (always), he positioned himself to cover him. Robin would lash out with his katana, sometimes throwing a batarang, Batman would block a blow or three, never relenting in his melee assault. After years of fighting with his Robins, his body automatically readjusted itself to provide the best cover for the smaller figure by his side.

    A sudden earthshaking explosion sounded from the direction Hood and Sora were in. Both Batman and Robin lost their balance. There was a moment of concern when a flying Angel Heartless took advantage of their moment of weakness and swooped down, but, by some sort of coincidence, Red Robin flew through the air, colliding with the creature. He landed heavily, but due to the Angel slowing his fall, sustained no injuries. Red Robin stood, nodded quickly to the Dynamic Duo, and launched himself into the air, using another Angel as a stepping block to go higher. Once he had attained maximum altitude, he spread his glider cape and flew down to Nightwing.

    Batman grabbed another Heartless (a Cymbal Monkey), and smashed his armored forehead in between its eyes. It dissipated, giving him a moment to check his suit. The shock gloves were running out of power. No matter. He had a few back-up cells in his belt. No serious damage to the suit, although a Luna Bandit had gotten a lucky shot in and scratched the Kevlar on his side. It would hold up. He went back into position next to Robin.

    Resisting the urge to roll his eyes at his father’s protective antics, Robin decided on a much more useful outlet to his minor frustrations. Namely the massacre of every single creature in front of him. He was secretly glad of the nature of the opponents. Although he fully believed in Batman’s code, he could not help but chafe under the rule, unable to use his abilities to their full potential. Now however, he could make the most of his training, the training he had been receiving since he was a small child. These creatures could not truly die, so killing them wasn’t a sin. And Robin made full use of this, with every swing of his sword. Still, this battle was growing stale. The creatures had no individuality, no real challenge.

    A thought popped into his head, one which would hopefully alleviate his boredom. Tapping the comm. in his ear, he spoke quickly, “Dr- Red Robin. Shall we have a competition?”

    A bit of static preceded Drake’s reply. “What kind of competition Demon Spawn? Who can defeat the most Heartless?”

    “Indeed. Father and myself versus you and Nightwing.”

    More static, but instead of Drake replying like he expected, Todd’s voice came on, “Ooh, I like the sounds of this. I want in. Winners get new motorbikes, paid for by the losers.”

    Sora piped in, slightly panicked. “Ja- I mean, Hood! I don’t have any money from this world!”

    “Don’t worry Sora,” Nightwing was, as always, quick to reassure. “Hood knocked over the entire Chinese mafia a few years ago. He has enough money to buy a fleet of motorcycles, with more besides.” Damian could almost hear the dazzling smile in his brother’s voice. “I’m game.”

    Red Robin and Sora both accepted the bet. There was a moment of silence before Batman realized that they wanted him to be in on it too. Rolling his eyes, he simply grunted. The boys had been with him long enough to know what it meant: Fine, but be careful.

    A wicked grin spread across Robin’s face. “Then we are agreed. Starting now!” Not one to lose an advantage, he launched himself at the creatures. With renewed fervor, he slashed his way through a ridiculous looking Heartless with no legs and an eye dangling out of its unusually round head. Setting his mind on partial autopilot, he made note of every Heartless’s attack patterns, lopping off a limb or slicing open a chest with every opening. Batman had replaced the power cell in his gloves, sending Heartless after Heartless to an electrified end. He was keeping track of how many both he and Robin had defeated. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust his son to keep the proper count. He simply didn’t want the temptation in front of the boy.

    They kept up their assault. At one point, Robin scaled Batman’s back while he was sweeping a Defender’s legs out from under it. When Batman straightened, Robin jumped, using the combined momentum to leap twice as high. He brought his sword down, slicing through the Defender like a hot knife through soft butter.

    When the area was finally cleared of threats, Robin turned on his comm. “We defeated one hundred and forty-seven of the incompetent beasts. What is your count Red Robin?”

    Tim replied, grumbling the whole way. “One hundred and forty-two.”

    Robin crowed with victory! “I expected no less from a lesser being. Surely, the only reason you got that much is because Nightwing was helping you.”

    “That’s not true Robin!” Nightwing, interceding again on their argument. When would he learn to stay out of it? “Red actually got most of them. And don’t celebrate just yet. We don’t have Red Hood and Sora’s count.

    Robin’s grin fell. He had forgotten about Todd and the intruder. Cautiously, he asked, “Hood? How many did you slay?”

    There was a moment of smug silence. “Well baby bat, since you asked so nicely, I feel obliged to tell you…” a dramatic pause. Damian rolled his eyes, “about the one hundred and fifty-eight Heartless Sora and I knocked off.”

    WHAT?!” Todd had not only beaten him, he had beaten him by eleven Heartless? Todd would face his wrath for this.

    “It’s true Robin.” The almost too-helpful voice was undeniably Sora’s. Sora would face his wrath too. And Drake. Grayson too, but only if he tried to get in the way. “We were both keeping score.”

    Damian was about to tell them exactly what they could do with their scores when a sense of deep foreboding settled over him. He shivered, not knowing why. From the silence on the comm., the others were feeling it too.

    He looked up to his father, who showed no sign of discomfort. Instead, Batman moved, towards the feeling, which was coming from the other side of a hill to the north of the field. Robin followed, keeping close.

    Near the crest of the hill, the other two groups met up with them. Batman’s eyes narrowed at their conditions. Nightwing and Red Robin were both pale under their masks, and sweating more than they should have been from the amount of exercise they had gotten fighting the Heartless. Sora was decidedly ill-looking, his face pale and his eyes unfocused. It was impossible to tell what Red Hood’s face looked like under the helmet, but his posture was slumped and his movements a bit slower than usual.

    They sat for a moment, almost at the top of the hill. A moment simply to sit and rest. All of them wanted to spring into action right at that second, but they knew it would be a bad idea to go in at less than full strength. After a while, the feeling of dread slowly faded. Or perhaps it simply affected them less. Either way, the group finally stood and walked those last few steps over the hill.

    There was a moment of stunned silence, broken by Sora’s almost hopeless voice. “No…”

    ~*~​

    As soon as Batman barked “Go!” Dick leapt into the action, showing off his overenthusiastic acrobatics as usual. Red Robin followed close behind, bo staff clutched tightly in his hands. Nightwing hit the first Heartless feet first, throwing it backwards as it dissipated into dust. With a fluid motion he pulled his escrima sticks from their compartment and turned sharply on one foot, downing another three shadows that were closing in on him.

    Tim ran up the first large Heartless he saw (a Neoshadow), and flipped off it swinging his electrified bo staff in a wide arc, effectively wiping out four Heartless. As they vanished, a few Gargoyles took their places, surrounding Tim as he landed. He struck out at them in quick successive strikes, and though they stumbled back, it was obvious that they were too heavily armoured and wouldn't fall easily. He wished he could just use some kind of anaesthetic gas on these guys, but he knew it wouldn't affect them. The creatures didn't even breathe air. They had to have a very interesting biological make up. Leaping to his feet, Tim took out a few batarangs and aimed them at the weaker looking spots between the Gargoyles plated skin. One of them stumbled back and vanished, while the other three swiped the projectiles away with their claws and charged. Tim pushed off the ground with his bo staff and leapt onto the head of the nearest one, dodging its deadly looking claws. He shoved his bo staff into the creature’s neck, then flipped off it behind another. He kicked out at its legs, and leapt aside as it fell heavily. With a final kick he finished it off, then turned to face the last one. But it had disappeared.

    Suddenly a huge explosion rocked the battlefield. The ground seemed to tremble and both Red Robin and Nightwing, along with all the Heartless around them, lost their footing and stumbled. What the heck had that been? Tim turned his head in the direction of the noise, Jason and Sora's direction.

    A huge force slammed into Tim's side, forcing him off his feet and up into the air. He hadn't accounted for the airborne Heartless that hadn't been affected by the tremors. He scowled; that was pure carelessness. Once airborne, he was unprepared for how open and unprotected he was as numerous winged Heartless closed in around h