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. Spoiler: Chapter 1: Starting a New Journey 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. Spoiler: Chapter 2: Trading Stories 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!! ” 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!!! ^_^” 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.” Spoiler: Chapter 3: Strange Apparitions 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. Spoiler: Chapter 4: Cave of Wonders 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. Spoiler: Chapter 5: Consequences of Well-Meaning Explosives 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. Spoiler: Chapter 6: Master Plans and Monologues 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. Spoiler: Chapter 7: The Light Meets the Dark 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. Spoiler: Chapter 8: Protecting the Things that Matter 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. Spoiler: Chapter 9: Downtime 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. Spoiler: Chapter 10: Cause and Effect 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. Spoiler: Chapter 11 - Stab Threats and Singing 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. Spoiler: Chapter 12 - Something Wicked this Way Comes 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.” Spoiler: Chapter 13 - Darkness 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. Spoiler: Chapter 14 - Deeper 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. Spoiler: Chapter 15 - Bat-Style Resting 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. Spoiler: Chapter 16 - My Darkness, My Choice, My Problem 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.” Spoiler: Chapter 17 - Coming Storm 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.” Spoiler: Chapter 18 - Destiny Beckons 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... Spoiler: Chapter 19 - Gummi Ships and Squirrels 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. Spoiler: Chapter 20 - Fallout 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. Spoiler: Necessary Information 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!