Dick didn’t resist Tim’s insistent pulling, as the IKEA doors slid open. The clean, cool, air giving way to oppressive and muggy late May heat. Jason appeared at his back, a self-satisfied grin on his face, nerf gun slung on his shoulder.
“We are never following your suggestions for family bonding time ever again,” grumbled Tim, blinking in the mid afternoon’s bright sun.
Dick winced. This hadn’t been his best idea, but it turned out alright in the end, hadn’t it? He knew they were lucky to escape this mess without too many consequences.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Jason smirked. “I think this was Dickie’s best bad idea yet.”
“Do you realize the number of problems we caused?” complained Tim, completely ignoring Jason. “PR will have my head for this, all our heads actually. I saw people filming us! This will be on social media before the hour is out. And don’t get me started on what Bruce will do.”
“Bruce will be happy we’re getting along,” Dick offered weakly. Which, you know, he would, if getting along didn’t also come attached to media scandals and a large bill. But Dick preferred to look on the upside here.
Tim pinned him with a stare. “No, no he won’t. And the only reason we might, I repeat, might have a chance at mitigating how much a fit he’ll throw is because he’s on another planet halfway across the galaxy.”
“That’s if Alfie doesn’t have our heads first,” Jason said, his previous grin tempered with the idea of what their long-suffering butler-grandfather would do. Lock them out of the cave? Subject them to his waffles? The patented Pennyworth look of I’m Not Mad I’m Just Disappointed?
“That too,” said Tim.
They approached the car, an older model Toyota that generally sat unused in the garage. It wasn’t often they traveled as a group unless it involved cape activities, in which case everyone split themselves between the batmobile and their respective cycles, or a fancy upscale event requiring the limo’s use.
Dick reached into his pocket, to hit nothing but air and lint, and groaned.
Jason raised a brow. “What’s the matter?”
“The French girl stole my keys.” Then, remembering the interaction which played out between them, “And my phone.”
“Mine too, plus my wallet and knife,” grumbled Jason, twidling with the trigger on the nerf gun.
Tim bit his lip, turning a thought over in his mind. “I thought I lost my phone in the fire’s chaotic aftermath, but I do remember bumping into a girl on my way to the back office.”
“Fire?” Dick asked. “What fire?” He was ignored.
“Congratulations world’s second greatest detective,” drawled Jason. “An untrained opportunistic civilian managed to pickpocket you.”
Tim shifted back and forth on his feet, barefoot against the parking lot blacktop. “And what’s your excuse?”
Jason rolled his eyes, “Oh shut it. They had me tied up. Plus, demon spawn probably would have ripped my head off.” He snurled his nose. “He’s head over heels for the chick.”
Dick’s concern about Tim and the fire took a back seat to this revelation. “Wait… what!?” Damian … had a crush ? “Really?” he asked, once he’d caught his breath. “I find that hard to believe. Teaming up with her is one thing, but having a crush…”
Jason shook his head. “Dickie, you didn’t see them.”
Dick raised an eyebrow. “I chased her through half the store, I’m pretty sure I did.”
“No, no, see them together. He defended her, called her by her first name , and deferred to her when she told him to stop insulting me,” Jason informed them, growing more and more frantic by the word.
Dick admitted that sounded like a crush. Damian showed similar tendencies around Raven before she and Garfield found themselves in a relationship.
“You’re making shit up,” Tim scoffed.
“I’m not! The little demon brat is either in love or bewitched!”
Jason’s words rang in his mind. Bewitched. “She does have magic,” Dick stated. “That’s how she knocked out the store’s electricity.” It was a common problem no matter how hard they trained, or how well they prepared they were always at risk of falling to powers they could not combat.
Damian may be fierce, but if he was under a spell…
Tim scoffed and rolled his eyes. “Yeah right, who’d want to bewitch Damian into a relationship? The brat’s an intolerable little shit on his best days.”
“I don’t know!” exclaimed Jason. “Someone crazy enough to take part in his sadistic little plans to torture us!”
“Both of you quit it,” Dick snapped, a rising headache forming at the neck’s base. How had he become the collected and responsible one here? Out of the corner of his eye, Tim shifted again and realized how painful it must be standing still on the scorching blacktop. “And Tim, sit on the hood, you’ll burn the soles of your feet at this rate.”
“Oh, so you’d rather I burn my ass off,” sniped Tim, but he jumped on the car’s hood. The bottom of his feet, a bright cherry red that would probably need checking over at home.
“You gotta admit, it’s one of your least attractive features,” teased Jason.
“Your face is your least attractive feature.”
“Really?” Jason asked, raising an eyebrow. “I always thought it was the autopsy scars.”
Dick clapped loudly, and both his brothers startled enough to stop snarking at each other. “If you could both focus on the bigger issue here; how are we getting home? If French girl-”
“ Marinette, apparently,” sneered Jason.
Dick rolled his eyes. “Okay, Marinette took the keys. How are we getting in the car?”
Jason picked up his leg and slid the sole away from his boot. “Bitch took my knife but not my lock picks.” He held a small lock pick set between his hands.
Tim crossed his legs, raising an eyebrow. “So… what? You’ll break into the car and use shoestrings and lint to hotwire it?”
Jason knelt by the car door. “I’ve been breaking into cars before you could walk Timbo.”
“Jason” Tim started slowly. Dick sighed; this would end up in another fight, wasn’t it? “Even if you could get in without tripping the alarm, which you can’t.” Jason’s face twitched. “You’d have to undo the entire console to reach the wires, which are kept in place by Wayne anti-theft tech.” He pinned Jason with a stare. “Vigilante stress-tested and approved.”
Jason scoffed a very Damian-like sound. “Pfft. So?”
“Large enough electric shock to render even you unconscious, especially without the proper equipment.”
Jason paused a moment, glaring at Tim in frustration, before leaning his head against the car door with a long-suffering sigh. “We don’t use this fucking car for anything!”
Dick rested a consoling hand on Jason’s shoulder. “When has that ever mattered in this family.”
“Oh no, no, no, don’t you include me in this family’s paranoid bullshit. I’m the normal one,” he said, sticking the lockpicks back in the hidden compartment. Dick felt it was kinder to let his brother continue living in a fantasy world where any of them could be considered, “normal”.
Tim, however, did not have that same consideration.
“You have at least four safe houses in Gotham alone, five money caches, a dozen weapons depots, more fake identities and passports than even Bruce, and you triple check your locks before you go to the bathroom. And you claim you’re normal?”
Jason glared. “You little shit, now I need to establish more safehouses.”
Tim perked up. “I found all of them?”
Jason grunted and leveled the nerf gun at Tim, shooting a foam dart right at his head. Tim leaned to the side, the projectile flying clean over his shoulder.
Tim glared. “Why did you take that stupid gun anyhow? Your real artillery cash is larger than the contents of some country’s entire stockpiles.”
Jason smirked. “True. But I didn’t have a nerf gun. I could wave this around the manor, and the old man wouldn’t be able to do a thing about it!” Jason crowed, with a manic smile.
Dick sighed. Of course, that’s where Jason’s thinking went; ‘ what was the best way to piss Bruce off?’ “Jay, one, you already do that with your normal guns, you never care about the consequences. And two, what on earth makes you think Alfred will let you bring that inside the manor?”
Jason scoffed. “ Please, like Alfred doesn’t have several shotguns hidden around the house. This is a nerf gun; totally harmless.”
“The fact it’s a toy gun won’t bother him, just the amount of chaos you cause with it,” mumbled Dick, leaning against the car. The sun beat down on his head and he shucked off his jacket. It was long past noon, but the weather was still hot and muggy and unbearable on the coast. Especially with no chance of air conditioning in sight.
“The real concern is what happens when Steph gets her hands on it,” mused Tim.
Jason’s eye twitched. “Well, that won’t happen, because blondie will keep her hands to herself if she knows what’s good for her.” He stroked the plastic toy’s barrel with the same reverence as he did his normal weapons. Dick would call it concerning if it didn’t even make the top twenty things about Jason’s personality he did find concerning.
Tim rolled his eyes again and tapped his fingers angrily against the car’s hood.
“Stop that,” complained Jason.
Tim didn’t. “What? I need something to do since without a phone I can’t mitigating the damage we caused.”
“You’re way too addicted to that thing.”
“Well, excuse me for having a day job that keeps us in spandex and kevlar.”
Dick groaned, ignoring their banter. “Dami knows he won, right?” he asked. “What’s taking him so long?”
Jason shrugged. “Like you said, the little shit could be bewitched. The French chick could have kidnapped him.”
Tim threw up his hands. “Oh well he’s gone, c’est la vie. He’ll be missed, etcetera, etcetera. Let’s find a good Samaritan and see if we can phone Alfie for a ride back.” He moved to slide off the car hood before Dick stopped him.
Dick stared in horror. “Tim that’s our little brother!”
“They set me on fire!” Tim snarked back.
“Tt. Do not be ridiculous Drake.” Dick startled, Jason and Tim doing the same, and turned around. Damian and Marinette approached the group. Dick hadn’t seen his brother since the morning and in that time he’d managed to completely change his outfit, dishevel his hair out of his normal severe style, and picked up a pair of glasses. The two victors casually walking side by side, holding ice cream in hand and looked pleased.
Damian continued. “We set fire around you, and merely signed your person in the process. It was controlled, you were in no actual harm. Unfortunately.”
“Ahh… the victorious bastards return,” drawled Jason, fidgeting with the nerf gun. “Tell me, little liar, did you place demon spawn here under a spell? Interested parties only moderately care if the answer is yes.”
The young woman looked unimpressed with his question. Damian, on the other hand, snarled, his grip tightening on his ice cream, the vanilla treat dripping onto his hand in the hot summer sun. “Fuck off Todd, Marinette has done nothing of the sort.”
“What?” drawled Tim. “Only looking out for your best interests baby bro.”
“My powers aren’t capable of that. I affect situational outcomes, and even then my input is loose and non-directional.” Dick didn’t think magic worked like that but also didn’t know enough to say it didn’t work like that. “So, no, I did not place your brother under a spell.” By the end, she stood right before Jason shooting him a pissed glare.
Damian placed his hands on her shoulders and slowly inched her back. “You have explained the situation to my satisfaction, you owe these cretins no such considerations.”
The young woman pulled herself back and huffed, calming herself. “No, no, Damian. They’re right. They don’t know me, all they’ve seen is me do magic, steal their things, and run away from them. They have a right to be concerned.” She offered her hand in Jason’s direction. “I’m Marinette, Marinette Dupain-Cheng.”
Jason scoffed and turned away. Tim looked like he would get off the car, but Dick sent him a firm glare, and his younger brother stayed put. Dick walked forward, not taking the proffered hand. Marinette dropped it, slightly disappointed, but resigned. Damian, on the other hand, inched towards explosive.
Not a good sign his little brother wasn’t under a spell.
Still, good manners were a top priority Alfred drilled into them and returned the greeting. “Nice to meet you Marinette. It’s not every day you find someone who can keep up with us.” He threw a pointed glance at Damian, hoping for a short, if not informative, explanation as to why she could keep up with them.
Damian merely raised an eyebrow and smirked in a way indicating he didn;t intend to tell Dick anything. Damn it.
“Can I have my phone back?” yelled Tim from atop the car. “I’m assuming you’re the one who took my phone.” He observed the woman with scanning eyes, his default mode for anything new that stumbled into Tim’s orbit.
Marinette flushed, reaching into her purse. “Yes, yes I did. You need to work on your situational awareness.” She pulled out a collection of phones, wallets, and the car keys.
“I had plenty situational awareness, little liar,” sneered Jason. The woman’s face twitched at the term. Funny. The rest of their standoffish behavior hadn’t affected her. “You cowards tied me up!”
“We trapped you fair and square,” said Damian, rolling his eyes.
“With lies and trickery!” spat Jason
“Completely within the game’s rules?” Marinette asked sweetly. Damian nodded, and she shrugged at Jason with a ‘what-can-you-do-about-it’ face. Jason sneered and swiped his phone, wallet, and the car keys out of her hands. He turned to Dick, “I’m driving.”
Dick shrugged, figuring that was not a fight worth having, at least it wasn’t Tim arguing to drive – his god-awful road rage would kill them before they hit the city. He grabbed his own phone and wallet and tossed Tim his phone. His younger brother caught it with ease. He stroked it like Jason did his guns; the behavior also not making the top twenty things concerning Dick about Tim – the first eight alone having to do with Tim’s utter disregard to his own health and wellbeing.
“You have good technique.” Dick chose to say to Marinette. “Your acting could have been subtler.”
The woman ducked her head at the comment, a guilt-tinged smile on her face. “I was trying to make you notice, not escape your attention completely.”
“Well, you succeeded.” The utter bafflement, and not the least bit of rage, he felt at her deception lingered in the back of his mind. It made sense his brother would be attracted to someone who caused chaos as easily as he did.
“Obviously she succeeded,” Damian commented, coming behind her and placing a hand on her shoulder. “She showed more brain cells concerning strategical, misdirection, and physical skills in the past few hours than you three miscreants combined.” Dick didn’t know whether to squeal because; look – his baby brother was flirting! Or roll his eyes, because ugh- his baby brother was flirting.
The girl blushed but didn’t pull away. “Thanks, Damian. I’m glad this turned out to be a fun afternoon.” Marinette glanced at her phone and paled. “I need to go, the bus will be here soon. It was really nice to meet you all!”
“Can’t say the same,” grumbled Jason. Damian tightened at his words and Dick prepared himself to jump in if necessary.
But Marinette brushed off his brusqueness. She turned to Damian with an embarrassed smile. “Oh, there is one more thing I wanted to know…”
“Yes?” asked Damian.
“You never told me your last name? Grayson, Todd, Drake, something else? I’m assuming not Drake, but…” she trailed off. Damian stood in front of her with eyes wide and panicked.
This would be fun.
Tim reacted first. “Wait!” he exclaimed, jumping off the car. “Wait, wait, wait, wait.” He stalked closer to Damian, who hadn’t moved an inch since Marinette’s question. “You’re telling me, you, Damian ‘Blood is the only thing that matters. Peasants bow before me. Father, dispose of the unworthy interlopers.’ didn’t tell her your last name?!”
“Jump off a cliff Drake,” Damian snarled through clenched teeth.
“Oh nah, kiddo,” Jason said with a malicious grin spreading across his face. “Go on, introduce yourself to the pretty girl.”
“I hate you all with undying passion.”
Dick stretched to ruffle his baby brother’s hair. Good god, the kid was getting tall. “No, you don’t, you love us.”
“No. I hate you. I’m returning to my mother,” his younger brother whined.
Marinette reached and rested her hand on Damian’s arm. “Damian…” she simply said, raising a brow. Such a look shouldn’t do much of anything; Damian regularly did what he wanted when he wanted, but the younger man deflated like a balloon under the woman’s touch.
“Wayne. It’s Wayne . The only blood son of Bruce Wayne. You know... the billionaire that owns half of Gotham.” Dick had never seen Damian so nervous to introduce himself as Bruce’s son before. Normally, he took a ridiculous amount of pride in being a Wayne.
A small part of Dick couldn’t resist the years of training in paranoia. Damian may have been insistent on Marinette casting a spell over him, Dick wouldn’t let the idea go. Not yet.
“We don’t own that much,” corrected Tim with an impish smile. “Maybe like… a quarter of it.”
Marinette’s eyes widened, before settling into a knowing smile. “Of course, I’ve seen you all in a few magazines before. My English reading skills were shakier back then, so I didn’t connect the names.” She placed her hands on her hips, the picture of a person Damian found interesting enough to partner with for the whole afternoon.
“Did you honestly think your last name would make me treat you any differently?”
Damian shrugged lightly, trying to maintain a superior air, and failing miserably at it. Dick wanted so badly to fish out his newly returned phone and take pictures but figured his brother was already embarrassed enough.
“Tt. Well, it has occurred before.”
She rolled her eyes and elbowed him in the side. Pausing for a moment. She peered at Damian before hugging him. Her tiny arms wrapping around Damian’s middle and her face buried into his chest. Dick blinked in shock; even he realized spontaneous affection and Damian mixed about as well as oil and water.
But instead of a knife or a rough shove, Damian’s arms settle firmly around Marinette’s shoulders.
“I didn’t know demon brat was capable of giving non-coerced hugs,” staged whispered Jason. Damian’s hackles rose, and the ex-assassin sent a kill-worthy glare at Jason, but he didn’t disengage from the hug.
Marinette pulled away, just an inch or so, but enough that Damian’s hands dropped from her shoulder to her waist. “We’ll keep in touch. It was a pleasure to meet you, Damian.”
Damian grinned, small and slightly sarcastic. “Most people do not express the same.”
The woman laughed, a bright and cheery smile; Dick knew it felt like gold to a besotted young adult. And Damian’s face showed it. “Well, I’m not most people,” she responded. She glanced over to Dick and his other two brothers who stood silently shocked over to the side. “And nice to meet all of you too. No hard feelings, I hope. It was only a game after all.”
Her slight smirk did not grant Dick any comfort. Jason shot her the middle finger, diving into the passenger seat before Damian retaliated, and Tim gave a little wave before following and slipping into the passenger seat. Great. Now it fell to him to make nice with Damian’s crush.
“Sorry about them, it’s been a long day. Good game, it was nice to meet you Marinette,” he said, pulling out his most convincing attitude. It wasn’t a lie. But it wasn’t the truth either.
Judging from the way Damian’s hands tightened at the woman’s waist he knew it. The smile on Marinette’s face didn’t quite reach her eyes; she knew it too.
Marinette pulled away from Damian’s grasp, laying her hand on his arm again, before whispering into his little brother’s ear. Damian’s face turned from shocked to amused and settled on a genuine smile. He nodded, and the girl turned and walked away with another wave and a happy, “Avoir une bonne après-midi.”
“Toi aussi ange!” his brother shouted back.
She turned around and shot him the middle finger with a laugh. His brother’s lips twitched in glee, and it was such a normal, open, emotional expression it left Dick breathless.
Damian had a crush.
His little brother was growing up.
Damn, he would be so disappointed if this Marinette girl turned out to be bad news.
Dick walked over and slung an arm around Damian’s shoulder. “Congrats on the win Lil’ D. Seems you had a fun time.”
Damian roughly shoved him away, the dopey smile melted off his face like morning fog into the afternoon sun. “You have the absolute worst ideas, Grayson.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” teased Dick. “I think it worked out for you.”
Damian didn’t respond to that, causing Dick to inch in closer. His baby brother seemed to be in a good mood, but that could change on a dime, and Dick didn’t want a knife pressed to his stomach today.
“Are you sure you’re alright? We could run tests in the cave before patrol.” Damian kept his eyes to the distance watching Marinette trek her way across the parking lot before she disappeared out of sight.
“I am perfectly fine Richard,” he said, his voice soft and calm. The same tone Damian used when appreciating a good piece of art, or spending an afternoon lazing with his pets. “As I stated, Marinette explained the scope of her powers to me, everything I feel is…” the young man paused. “I had… fun .”
“That was kinda the game’s point Dames.”
Damian rolled his eyes. “You cretins were not what made it fun.”
“Nah, I guess that would be your little girlfriend?”
Damian scoffed. “She is not my girlfriend, she is… a friend , who happens to be a girl. She proved herself an adequate partner against your combined efforts. A rare find.”
“Woah! Damian, are you giving someone a compliment?”
Damian shoved his shoulder. “I am capable of such, yes.”
Dick sighed. “Alright, as long as you’re sure. She seemed… nice .” No, she seemed like a chaotic little gremlin, and he desperately feared the girl meeting Steph. But with the way Damian acted, Dick doubted this would be the last they saw of the French woman.
Damian smirked. “There are many words I would use to describe Marinette. Nice is a weak and wholly inadequate one.”
“But not untrue?”
Damian hesitated; his hands firmly clenched at his side to prevent fidgeting. “…no.”
A loud honk pierced the air, breaking the conversation.
Jason had the window rolled down and a pair of shades covering his eyes. “If you two losers don’t get in here right now, Timmy and I will leave you behind.” The window rolled back up as Jason revved the engine.
Damian sighed. “Best to not keep Todd waiting.” He turned to the car and slipped into the back seat.
Dick smiled into the sun. Okay, so maybe the day had been a disaster. Maybe they were banned from IKEA for life. And maybe Bruce would have his head for letting things get so out of hand.
His brothers were together, and happy, if not a little inconvenienced from their crazy adventures. It was all Dick wanted for them; to be free and open enough to have fun without the weight of their lives bogging them down. So even if this hadn’t been the smartest idea, it had been a good one.
A movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention. The car was rolling away. Tim, seated on the passenger side, waved at him as Jason drove past.
Dick ran to catch the accelerating car. “OH, COME ON!” he shouted. Never mind, his brothers were disloyal idiots, and he didn’t know why he tried.
Oh well; he still loved them, even if they were absolute little shits.