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the cuddle prank

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Dick came up to lunch laughing.  The scrawls of permanent marker on his face were stark in the morning light, and he didn’t seem like he cared.

 

In contrast, Jason stomped into the room, his eyes an electric green, and hovered in the doorway with his mouth twisted into a snarl.  He raised a hand and, slow and deliberate and furious, traced a line across his throat.

 

Damian closed his fingers around the hilt of a knife.

 

Tim squeaked and nearly fell off his chair.

 

Cass stilled, lunch halfway to her mouth.

 

Steph watched Dick’s smile, open and amused and charming.

 

Jason made sure his glower landed on each and every one of them before he stalked out.  Dick followed him, still chuckling.

 

“It occurs to me,” Steph said, slowly and precisely, “That we may have made a mistake.”

 


 

They had no idea.

 


 

“So how are we going to play this?  Us against them?”

 

“Not a good idea.”

 

“We can take them.”

 

“I’m pretty sure that it’ll involve massive structural damage to the Manor, and then Alfred will be after us.”

 

“Fair point.  So we’re going for humiliation and blackmail material.”

 

“Turnabout’s fair play.”

 

“Divide and conquer then.  They’ll be easy pickings on their own.”

 

“We just need to ensure we get them in the correct order, so they don’t form an alliance.”

 

“Which means first up—”

 


 

Cass adjusted her sunglasses and followed Dick into the building.  Tim had given her a wide-eyed look when Dick had picked her up for ‘Wayne Foundation stuff’, but her little brother worried too much.

 

Cass liked the game they were playing—it was like developing a plan of attack, but for fun.  Steph was worried that they’d seriously upset Dick and Jason, but Jason’s anger was not attack-fury-rage, and Dick was only amused.  It was fine.  And Wayne Foundation stuff meant that she was Cassandra Wayne, not Black Bat, and Cassandra Wayne and Dick Grayson-Wayne wouldn’t be caught play-fighting each other.

 

“Mr. Grayson-Wayne!” one of the nurses stopped them with a beaming smile, and ushered them towards one of the rooms, talking about how great it was that they had the time to visit, and the Qi family would be thrilled to see them, and some medical words that Cass didn’t understand, but she caught the gist.  The Wayne Foundation had paid for the treatment of a little girl, and her parents wanted to give their thanks in person.

 

And then they stepped into the room, and Cass froze in the doorway.  Not a little girl.  A little baby.

 

It was so…tiny.  So small.  Cass could break one of its little fingers without even thinking.  She was worried that she could break one of its little fingers just by looking at it wrong.

 

And it was so quiet.  Not in the loud-noise way, because it definitely had a lot of those, especially when the mother handed the baby to Dick, but in the moving-acting way.  It wasn’t doing anything.  It just was.

 

It was so…peaceful.

 

And then she saw the razor edge of the smile on Dick’s face.

 

“Here,” Dick said, thrusting the baby towards her, “Say hi to Auntie Cass!”

 

What.  No.  She couldn’t hold it.  It was too delicate.  She was going to break it.  What if it moved and she thought it was an attack because she couldn’t see it?

 

Dick completely ignored her wide-eyed look and forced Cass to curl tense arms around the very small, very breakable child.  The mother adjusted Cass’s grip, smiling, and turned to say something to Dick.

 

Dick, who had his phone up.

 

Dick, who was grinning.

 

Dick, who was capturing every second of her terror.

 

Oh, Cass thought very distantly, this is why Tim was scared.

 


 

“The look on her face!”

 

“I thought she was going to faint, to be honest.”

 

“Oh, gods, I’m going to need like ten copies of this moment.  This was the best idea ever.”

 

“She refused to talk to me the entire ride home.”

 

“All’s fair in love and sibling rivalry, I always say.”

 

“Jason, you’re not exactly the best person to talk about what’s fair in sibling rivalry.”

 

“But this time it’s harmless.  And fun.  And next up is—”

 


 

Her uniform smelled a little weird, but Steph ignored it, already late for patrol.  Distant warning signs were blaring in her head—Jason made it clear that they were all going to suffer his wrath, and after how he tormented Dick, it was obvious that wasn’t an idle threat—but he wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize patrol.

 

Nothing immediately jumped at her from the shadows, anyway, so Steph tried to relax.  It was a quiet night—Steph crossed three blocks before she was interrupted by a quiet, plaintive mewl.

 

Steph stared down at the orange cat winding through her ankles, and couldn’t stop her heart from melting.  “Aww, you little cutie,” Steph said, snapping a quick picture of the cat to make Damian jealous, “Let’s get you back on the ground, okay?”

 

There was no collar, so Steph scaled down the side of the fire escape, intending to head to a shelter.  The cat was well-groomed, so presumably it was a pet, and hopefully it had been microchipped.

 

The instant she landed, there was another soft meow and a black cat pounced on her cape.  Steph stifled her giggle and bent down to extricate its tiny little claws from—

 

A mass of purring warmth landed on her back.  Meows echoed from all around the alley and Steph jumped up as several pairs of gleaming eyes stalked out of the shadows.  Oh no.  Someone had weaponized cats.

 

Steph saw a litter of kittens trotting behind their mother, and swallowed.  Oh, god, she hoped she wasn’t the one who had to tell Damian.

 

Before she could reach for her comm, there was a deliberate scuff of boot against metal and Steph looked up.  The Red Hood was lounging on the fire escape, staring down at her.

 

Help me, she opened her mouth to say, before she realized that he had a phone in his hand.  Pointed straight at her.  “What the hell did you do?” she hissed instead.

 

Hood raised a bag with colorful lettering.  The cats were clawing their way up her cape now, and there were so many of them, she couldn’t even adjust her position without worrying that she was going to step on one.

 

“You asshole,” Steph snarled, sorely wishing she grapple up to the fire escape.  One of the cats was perched on her shoulder and licking her neck and Steph tried to fight off the ticklish sensations.

 

“Don’t worry,” Hood said, tucking the phone away as he straightened, “Catwoman will stop by soon enough.”

 

“Hood, you can’t leave me here!  Hood!  Hood!”

 


 

“You should've seen Selina

 

“I thought Steph was going to die of embarrassment.”

 

“She’s going to be picking cat fur out of her uniform for weeks.”

 

“The pet store guy gave me a weird look at how much catnip I was buying, but it was worth every cent.”

 

“Steph isn’t going to be able to look at a cat for a long, long time.”

 

“Which paves the way for our next target.”

 


 

Damian was pleased that Grayson had chosen him to fill in as a partner for one of the classes he was teaching.  It was a visible indication that Damian had taken to Grayson’s acrobatics lessons better than anyone else.  He was aspiring to be the same nimble Robin that Grayson had been, and show all of the others that they had only been subpar placeholders.

 

“What class are you teaching today?” Damian asked as they stepped onto the mats.  Was it the uneven bars?  The balance beam?  The trapeze?  Maybe Grayson would let them run through the sequence he’d taught Damian, an old one from the circus—it was Damian’s favorite because he felt like he was flying when he was twisting through the air—

 

Dick was surrounded by children.  Small children.  Probably-still-wearing-diapers children.

 

“Toddler gymnastics,” Dick grinned, and Damian abruptly remembered the permanent marker incident.  “Class, say hello to my brother Damian!  He’ll be here to help us today!”

 

“H’lo Dami!” the small children echoed.  One had caught up to Damian and was tugging on his sweatpants.

 

No.  He was not going to face this indignity.  Grayson was distracted, and he was going to leave—

 

“Going somewhere, brat?”

 

Damian slowly turned to meet Todd’s shark-toothed smile, and suppressed a shudder.

 


 

“I didn’t know the demon brat could actually turn that color.”

 

“Look at him, he looks so miserable.”

 

“Oh, that was after one of the kids started calling him Dam-Dam.”

 

“Probably shouldn’t ever mention that to Tim.”

 

“I’m certainly never going to forget it.”

 

“Oh, this is so much fun.”

 

“Well, Dickface, there’s only one more target left.”

 


 

Tim was smarter than his siblings.  He had been on alert since Jason had come in scowling vengeful murder.  He knew full well what Jason was capable of, and he’d updated his defenses against the Red Hood the moment he realized how much the permanent marker thing had pissed him off.

 

So Tim wasn’t an idiot.  He didn’t follow Dick and Jason anywhere alone, he kept all his stuff under careful guard, and he double-checked his equipment every chance he got.  But neither of them had made a single move, and Tim’s tension only increased every time an opportunity for revenge passed him by.

 

Dick and Jason were almost…ignoring him.

 

For a moment, Tim wondered if that was their plan.  Break him with the anxiety.  But no, Jason didn’t have the patience to play a long game.  Whatever they were planning, it was going to happen soon.

 

Tim took one sip of his coffee and spat it out.

 

It was too sweet.  Like someone had dumped in three spoons of sugar to hide the taste of something else.  Tim spun around, but he couldn’t see anyone in the Cave, and no big brothers were looming near the Batcomputer.

 

“Original,” Tim called out, because he knew they were there, even if he couldn’t see them, “Laxatives in my coffee.”

 

No response.  Tim dumped out his mug and went to get another.

 

He set it down for a moment to type up some new ideas for leads, and when he went to take a sip it was the same artificial, syrupy sweetness.

 

Tim got up and looked all around him, and then looked up for good measure.  Nothing.  He grumbled and went to get another cup.

 

The problem was that reinforcing all his gear to withstand tampering had taken up a huge chunk of his time, and Tim was way behind on several of his cases and a bunch of W.E. work, and—would they stop messing with his goddamn coffee!

 

Tim snarled and threw the coffee out before stomping back to the computer.  Maybe Jason and Dick would get bored and leave.  Tim would try to get some work done in the meantime, and he’d make a new pot of coffee when he was finished with the W.E. work.  He rubbed his eyes, sighed, and squinted at the screen.

 

Half an hour later, he could barely keep his eyes open.  He closed them just for a second as the letters began fading out on the screen, and he jerked awake right before his head hit the keyboard.

 

“Did you drug me?” Tim asked blankly, because he’d taken a half-sip of each cup before he’d thrown them out, and maybe it was slow-acting, and—

 

“No, baby bird,” Jason said, low and amused, and Tim couldn’t even fight as he was tugged out of the chair.  “All we added to your coffee was sugar.”

 

“But I’m tired,” Tim groaned—he tried to push himself up as Jason casually threw him over one shoulder like he was a sack of potatoes, but Dick caught his fist easily.

 

“You haven’t had a drop of coffee in almost an hour,” Dick laughed, “And it’s two in the morning.  Of course you’re sleepy.”

 

“I’m not sleepy,” Tim protested immediately, “I have so much work—”

 

“Nope.”

 

“You can’t just—”

 

“We can and we did.”

 

“You can’t make me sleep,” Tim snarled, the exhaustion shortening his temper as they entered his bedroom.

 

Jason dumped Tim on his bed and dropped down after him, grinning wide, “You want to bet on that, baby bird?”

 

Tim swallowed.  He twisted away from Jason, looking imploringly up at Dick, but found no hope of relief in the older boy’s smile.

 

“You can’t do this,” Tim said weakly, but he was tugged back into Jason’s arms and he didn’t have the energy to twist away from the fingers running through his hair and soothing the low-level headache he hadn’t even realized was there.  Dick clambered in on Tim’s other side, trapping him between his older brothers, and started reading something in a language Tim didn’t understand, his voice low and lilting.

 

“Shh, baby bird,” Jason hummed softly, and bracketed by warmth, Tim didn’t have any choice but to surrender to sleep.

 


 

“How did you know the coffee thing was going to work?”

 

“The baby bird’s almost as paranoid as Bruce.  It was easy to turn that against him.”

 

“Poor kid.  He really needed the sleep.”

 

“Did you bring the permanent marker?”

 

“Of course.  Not going to forget the grand finale.”

 

“We work well together, Dickiebird.”

 

“I’m glad, Little Wing.  This was a lot of fun.”

 


 

“Master Dick.  Master Jason.”

 

Both Dick and Jason immediately froze, their chuckles dying in their throats as they hunched protectively over their stack of blackmail.

 

“Hey, Alfred, what’s up?” Jason tried a winning smile.

 

“I would like to congratulate you on keeping the property damage to a minimum,” Alfred said dryly.  Dick winced—Damian had thrown the mother of all temper tantrums as he tried to burn the evidence of his turn.

 

“And I wonder if you would perhaps like to aim your talents at one last target?”

 


 

Bruce woke slowly, and was far more well-rested than he’d expected to be.  The sun was shining through the curtains and Bruce almost groaned—he’d set an early alarm for a board meeting, and he’d had a late patrol and clearly slept straight through it.  He needed to check the time, make some hurried excuses to Lucius, calculate how much this was going to impact the rest of his day and—

 

There was a heavy weight lying half on top of him, pinning him to the bed.

 

Bruce stared blankly at the white streak of hair among the dark locks, and then at his eldest child, who was sitting cross-legged on his other side and grinning at the look on his face.  “What is this?” Bruce asked, slumping back onto his pillows.  He wouldn’t be able to move without waking Jay, and he absolutely did not want that.

 

Dick gave him an impish smile, “We were worried you’d feel left out if we didn’t get you too.  And someone told us that you haven’t gotten much sleep lately.”

 

Bruce aimed a pointed look at his slumbering second son, and arched an eyebrow, “You’re aware that Alfred played you, right?”

 

“Give us some credit, B,” Dick chuckled, “Besides, I don’t even want to contemplate what Alfred would call revenge.”

 

Bruce shuddered along with him, before sighing and resigning himself to spending the day in bed.  “My meetings—”

 

“Already canceled,” Dick said, squirming his way back under the covers, “All we have to do is keep you trapped till dinner.”

 

“You think the two of you can take me?” Bruce raised his eyebrows.

 

Dick grinned, “I think that all of us can take you, old man.”

 

The door creaked open and several near-silent footsteps padded into the room.  Damian settled into Dick’s side with a fierce scowl and Cass curled up near the headboard with a soft smile.  Steph sat down on top of his feet, giving him a triumphant grin, and Tim flopped down on top of Jason with a tablet in his hand.

 

“I don’t know why I ever chose to have children,” Bruce grumbled.

 

“Aww, B, you know you love us.”

 

Bruce stared at them, at all the kids that had wormed their way into his heart and filled it with enough warmth and light to chase away the loneliness he’d carried for sixteen years.

 

“Yes,” Bruce said softly, “I do.”

 


 

Alfred paused in the doorway, unable to contain the smile spreading across his face.  He made sure to disable the shutter click before he took the picture—a father surrounded by his six children, all of them peacefully asleep.