Mysterious User

Life's a garden. Dig it.

Opening AN

Aaand we’re back! Happy PTSD Awareness Month (and let’s not forget c-PTSD)!

Chapter title most definitely inspired by my best friend and frequent co-creative, Sapphire, who has a fondness for humorous chapter & fic titles and made me feel both giddy and deeply honored when she labeled me her Write-or-Die™️. You know it, neshama sheli! Love ya!!

Seeing Red: Chapter 3 | You’re My Fry-or-Die

10 minutes later found a shaking Tim standing in the hallway of a dingy apartment building, absently taking in the chipping, yellowed paint, and popcorn ceiling and stained—okay, yeah. Right—never look at the carpet. Even he had better self-preservation instincts than that.

The door in front of him creaked open a sliver, the sound of grumbling emanating from within, before opening more fully. The bright glare of light spilled out, and Tim squinted for a moment before being cast in shadow by a very large frame.

"Replacement," the older boy drawled, leaning against the doorframe. He was dressed in basketball shorts and a gray tank top that had probably been closer to black in its earlier life. The faded Neon Knights logo was still just visible. "You know, for a society kid," he commented, giving Tim a lazy once-over, "it's amazing how rude you are."

Tim gave him a little smirk.

"No, I mean, really—here I was, set to have a perfectly nice, Outlaws-only night, and here you show up looking like a drowned rat." A glance downwards. "A drowned, bloodied rat," he pointedly amended, wrinkling his nose.

Tim only grinned, and then grinned even wider as the reason for Jason's distinct lack of actual heat showed up like a desert summer in the middle of Jersey.

"Tim!" the woman nearly shouted, hanging from Jason's shoulder now. "I did not think I would have a chance to see you this day."

"Honestly, same, but.…" He shrugged. "Glad it worked out this way, I guess."

Kori tilted her head at him for a moment, performing the same scan that Jason had, but her eyes focusing on Tim's own rather than the increasingly evident wound that he probably should've secured a little more before making like a ghost.

Kori turned to whisper into Jay's ear, murmuring something that prompted an eye roll from him.

She poked at his shoulder then, long fingernails helping drive home the point—albeit carefully so.

"Fiiine," he said in a tone that definitely counted as whiny, no matter what he might want to argue later.

Kori smiled, looking self-satisfied as she gave Jason a little nuzzle before heading back into the apartment.

"All right, Replacement," he said with a put-upon sigh, though he couldn't fully hide a smile. "Apparently you're welcome here. For some reason."

"It's one of the greater mysteries of the universe," Tim amicably acknowledged, one hand still gripping his go-bag and the other stuffed into his pocket as he shuffled into the apartment.

Jason summarily snatched the bag from him as soon as he was inside, launching it onto the couch before he locked up.

Still shivering a little from the cold and damp, Tim took a moment to examine his surroundings while Jason disappeared down the hall.

Sporting jean shorts, bare feet, and a blazing smile, Kori now reclined in one of the dining chairs, the remains of an elaborate dinner for two set in front of her. Chinese or Thai, going by both appearance and scent.

A towel came whipping towards his face and Tim almost missed catching it. "Thanks," he said dryly.

"You're fucking welcome. Now stop dripping your depression all over my floors."

Tim looked down at the spotless but worn linoleum, before slowly looking back up at Jason. "They're thanking me for the upgrade."

"Fuck off, emo. You eaten yet?" he asked a moment later, grumbling to himself as he pulled a plate from the cabinets and set it on the island.

"Uhhh," Tim began, with all due eloquence.

"Please," Jason said, snorting as he set a large skillet on the stove and let it start to pull heat. "You should know by now I'm fucking with you. We both know you haven't had shit yet."

Tim folded his arms. "You have no way of knowing that."

"I can smell the hunger pheromones wafting off you. Underneath the angsty-teenager stench."


"Oh, believe me…it's awful."

It was always a little hard to tell exactly how much Jason was ever bluffing when it came to his enhanced senses.

"So, how long exactly you planning on staying here?" he asked, glancing back over his shoulder as he pulled a bag of frozen green somethings out of the jam-packed refrigerator.

The humor of before dissipating, Tim sighed and raked a hand through his newly ruffled and still slightly damp hair, turning to track Jason as the latter headed to the kitchen table himself to take a seat. "Just need a place to crash until morning."

Jason lifted an eyebrow. "Uh-hunh. And why can't you do that at the Manor?"

Tim matched his expression. "Because I have work in the morning and I don't need Bruce up my ass until after then?"

Jason snorted. "Quotes like that, I see why the tabloids stay employed, boy genius."

Tim rolled his eyes. "Like you have any room to talk," he grumbled.

Jason gave him an appraising look. "You know I can still smell the blood on you, right? Try again."

Tim tried for a cheeky grin. "I'm pretty sure there's blood on us most nights."

Jason scowled, climbing to his feet with a dangerous grace.

"Okay!" Tim squeaked, raising his hands in placation. "I got hurt tonight and everyone's on my case about how I handled it. But I don't have time for this. I've got W.E. meetings in the morning!"

Jason snorted, taking a seat again. "When don't you? Also"—here he narrowed his eyes—"define 'everyone.' "

"Bruce, Dick…Damian."

Jason scoffed. "The demon brat doesn't even count for stuff like this…kid stays on your case like he's trying to make detective." He regarded Tim a moment longer, tapping his fingers against the table top. "What about Alfred? He on your side here?"

"He was…not happy. He's not gonna get involved—"

"But if he did, it wouldn't be against Bruce. Damn," Jason muttered. "The king has spoken."

"And it is not for us mere mortals to question."

"Smart answer," Jason replied, nodding sagely.

"Plus Alfred had to pretty much bisect the right leg of my costume, and I figured you'd want a look before I did anything else."


Tim folded his arms. "So, are you going to help me, or…?"

"Yeah." A toss of his hand. "Just try not to bleed all over my sheets."

"Like you do?" Tim pointed out, lifting both brows this time.

"Again, smartass: My sheets. Just be glad I ain't making your waifish ass sleep on the couch."

"Thaaanks, you're the best!" He skipped over to the table, approaching Kori. "May I?"

When she nodded, Tim snatched up the small container of mustard before squirting a sizable amount straight into his mouth.

Jason cringed. "That. Is horrifying. You're horrifying."

Tim swallowed. "Hey," he said, between licking his lips, "you don't complain when Kori drinks it."

Jason gave a huge eye roll in response. "Kori is an indigenous Tamaranean. You are a human, with human physiology."

Tim shrugged. "Allegedly."

"Uh-huh," Jason drawled, leaving the table again to check on the pan. "Kori?"

"Yes, Jason?"

"Get him warm. …Sit on him, if you have to," he added, with way too much cheer. Dude had definitely been hanging out with Roy too much.

"Hmm, I accept this challenge; someone should ensure he stays warm and rested if he will not do these things himself."

"Uh-uh, nope, I'm fine; I have a hoodie in my bag." Tim walked over to the couch and extricated the referenced item in proof.

"You little shit, that's mine!" Jason exclaimed when he saw it, catching the garment with a growl as Tim flung it at him.

"Fine, I'll get another," Tim replied, shrugging. Before snatching up the red hoodie that conveniently lay next to his bag on the couch.

"Just for that, I'm making this shit extra spicy."

"Oh, nooo, whatever will I do?" Tim returned, pausing to stick out his tongue at Jason before tugging the garment over his head and wriggling into the sleeves. Naturally, the article of clothing all but drowned him—just the way he liked it.

"Gremlin," Jason declared accusingly. "Clothes-stealing little gremlin."

"That's me," Tim replied gamely, hiding a smile in the sleeve and breathing in the scent of smoke and gun oil and Nomex even as other aromas began to permeate the air—ginger and garlic and bell pepper—as the skillet sizzled, oil popping and snapping at a low volume. "Stir fry?" he queried.

"Yep. Be done in a minute." Jason traipsed over to the refrigerator again, pulling out a large sheet pan full of steamed rice.

Tim flopped down in the seat Jason had previously occupied, striking up a conversation with Kori while Jay continued his culinary endeavors in the background.

He didn't miss the glances Jason kept casting his way throughout, but studiously ignored them all the same. If Jason really wanted to know, he'd ask.

He probably wouldn't. At least not until tomorrow. Outlaws-only days were to be honored.

…Present extenuating circumstances excepted.

In the meantime, Tim kept the focus firmly off of himself by asking Kori about the Outlaws' latest (mis)adventures, which quickly prompted no shortage of commentary from Jason, as well. Including some particularly pointed comments that left Tim more than a little longing to see exactly what happened when you combined Zytirian tech with explosives hailing from Earth.

He made a mental note to do some further investigation. And find out whether Earth held any moderately easy-to-obtain substances that were considered valuable on Zytir3a.

It didn't take long for the food to be finished, and Tim actually found himself looking forward to it. He was tired as hell, yeah, but for some reason his stomach had abruptly come to life during the conversation (maybe Kori's questions about whether he'd ever had daylily3b blossoms?), and eating didn't sound like as much of a waste of time as it had earlier.

When Jason finally dropped off the plate piled high with rice and veggies, Tim accepted the offering without further protest.

"Here," Jason said brightly, topping off the delivery with a dramatic flourish before switching tones, voice falling into a flat disappointment as he dropped a familiar bright-yellow condiment bottle in front of Tim, "now you have a little rice to dip your mustard in."

Tim blinked, looking up to see a mild grimace on Jason's face. And he couldn't help it: he wheezed.

Jason rolled his eyes and started back towards the kitchen.

…And Tim kept wheezing, truly unable to stop. It wasn't even that funny.

"What the—" Unfortunately, Jason seemed to agree with that assessment, staring at Tim for one frozen, wide-eyed moment before exploding towards him in a fury of motion. "Oh, hell no!"

Between one moment and the next, Tim suddenly found his jaw caught in an iron grip and Jason's face unnervingly close to his own.

Tim instinctively grabbed Jason in response, hands coming up to grip the elder's wrists. A late thought came shrilly: Did he just jump the fucking counter?

Yet despite the palpable anger and firm grip, Jason was still careful as he turned Tim's face first to one side and then the other, and it gave Tim's brain a few extra beats to put the pieces together.

Angry words from Jason confirmed it a moment sooner than Tim could say anything. "I know your little ass didn't show up here high. ¡Chale3c!" he hissed.

Oops. "I'm fine, Jay," Tim insisted, attempting to pry Jason's fingers away.

It was highly ineffective.

"Yeah, you don't fucking sound fine," Jason retorted harshly. "Believe me, Timbo—I know I'm fucking hilarious, but that wasn't even B-list material for me."

"Yeah, well, add that to like three hours of sleep in forty-eight hours, plus a little hypovolemia and—"


Tim held his tongue, unsure precisely where his misstep had been.

"I am aware hypovolemia is a serious condition for humans, Tim," a voice said behind him, sounding unexpectedly stern. "If you are currently experiencing that—"

"I'm not!" Tim insisted, glancing at Kori from the corner of his eye. "I already had a transfusion. And it was really only a pint or two at most."

"Maybe," Jason began slowly, finally relinquishing his grip on Tim's face as he straightened to his full height, "you oughta tell me exactly how this mishap everyone's so upset about happened."

…Maybe it was just a trick of the light, but the flare of green that seemed to glimmer from his irises as he loomed over Tim did not look promising.

"You do realize…what you did…was stupid as shit, right?"

Tim blinked. He had anticipated Jason might be a little_…unimpressed_ by his choices—or maybe just by the fact he hadn't pulled it all off more cleanly—but he hadn't expected this level of anger and distaste over it. He stiffened, feeling his own anger flare in anticipation of a fight now.

"You were bleeding out. You knew you were bleeding out. And you decided to keep bleeding out so you could complete the mission."

"Okay, I was bleeding out; I get it."

"No, I don't think you fucking do," Jason hissed. "If you did, you wouldn't have pulled a stunt like this in the first place."

Something in Tim chilled at the words. He'd heard the words—maybe in different tone, maybe in different wording, but always in same sentiment—a hundred times.

Silly little boy. You should have known better. I'm so disappointed in you, Timothy, really.

"What I understand," Timothy began slowly, testing the weight of each word like an Acejet Stinger before he released it, "is that I took care of the only two things that mattered tonight for that mission: getting the data off of Contreras's men, and making sure there weren't any fatalities in the process."

"Uh-huh." Jason gave a slow nod then, jaw working for several moments before he spoke again. "Yeah, Bruce needs to bench your ass."

Tim felt his fists clench. "Are you kidding me?"

"Do I fucking look like I am?" Jason replied, arching his brows. "Shit, if I were part of governance for the costume club, it'd already be a done fucking deal."

Tim was absolutely seething and he knew Jason had to sense the level of fury, but the elder boy remained unbothered, calmly flopping down on one of the dining chairs as he regarded Tim with a steady gaze.

"Look, Replacement: Believe it or not, I have a pretty good idea what I'm looking at here—and right now you're not even trying to hide it. You're turning into a walking disaster zone_—again—_and there's a thin fucking line between the kind of shit you're doing now and getting yourself killed."

Part of Tim wanted to leave right then and there, never mind the time that it would cost him to find another place to crash. He still had margin. Not much, but some.


"You do realize how bad it is for me to be the one saying that, right?"

"Never expected it of you," Tim said with a saccharine sort of brightness to his tone.

"Oh, stop making it sound like a grand betrayal or something. This is me trying to keep you from painting the rest of the city a very anemic red. Speaking of which.…"

Tim watched in brief puzzlement as Jason snatched the forgotten plate of food from the table and stalked back over to the counter, adding additional helpings of broccoli and asparagus to the already packed plate.

Kori took over then, halting any thoughts of trying to slip away unnoticed or come up with a quick excuse to depart. "Tim. You are exceptionally good at strategy. I have witnessed this in your missions with our team. I would not hesitate to have an individual like you on my council of advisors.

"But your actions tonight were reckless and did not provide enough strategic value to justify them. It was needless."

As if that weren't enough to process, Tim found his immediate retort cut short by Jason's none too quiet grumbling in the background.

" 'Oh, I'm fine,' he says. 'Just a little pint or two,' he says. Este pinche pendejo[This fucking idiot/asshole]…"

Kori favored Jason with an amused partial smile before soberly turning her attention back to Tim. "I agree with Jason; were you a part of my council as mentioned, you would be facing disciplinary actions for this incident."

"The Outlaws do reckless crap all the time!" Tim protested, incredulously glancing from Kori to Jason and back again. "You're basically known for it at this point!"

"Within limits," she replied, her eyes glowing more brightly now. "And with the knowledge that it is our mutual responsibility to keep each other in check."

Yeah, in between enabling each other, maybe.

Kori narrowed her eyes as though she had read the snark straight from his brain. "Your behavior is like Jason when he first came to live with us. When he did not think he was worth it," she added, voice growing softer.

Jason cleared his throat loudly in the least subtle move possible, apparently not so eager for his turn in the limelight as he stalked back to the table with the refilled plate and firmly set it down in front of Tim. "You're gonna need iron for all that missing blood. Not to mention brain matter."

"Still have more than you," Tim said with a shrug, prompting Jason to cuff him upside the head.

"Dunno, feels pretty empty in there to me. Think I heard something rattle."

"I understand dehydration and chronic malnourishment can also impair cognitive functions for your species."

"Yeah, that'd account for a whole hell of a lot with this one," Jason agreed.

"You know as well as I do that I haven't been malnourished in months, Jason."

"Your earlier bout of hysteria was not reassuring, Timothy Drake-Wayne," Kori noted airily, clearly unimpressed by his brilliant rejoinder.

"I'm fine," Tim groaned, though already resigning himself at this point to being under observation for the next several hours. "My blood sugar's probably still a little off, too, but see?" He shoveled a bite of steaming-hot rice into his mouth. "I'm eating."

Of course, the pair couldn't just leave it at that; Tim found himself summarily dragged over to the couch and Kori settled down next to him while Jason sprawled out on the armchair to his other side.

To his relief, though, they didn't actually seem to expect further socializing from him; they were content to instead let him eat in peace while they picked up in the middle of a totally separate conversation about the education provided to Tamaranean royalty. What they'd been discussing before Tim had shown up, if he had to guess.

"So Ga'inza was your history teacher, right?"

Kori nodded, her fingers absently carding through Tim's hair as she propped her elbow on the backrest of the couch. "One of them, yes. She handled the segments focused on the governments Tamaran has had over the centuries, as well as the failures and triumphs of their military leaders and royalty. Another of my favorite teachers was Izra'za; he was assigned to handle cultural history, and possessed a great love of the arts."

"I remember when we were on Chytopsis, you mentioned…General Oska'aune? That's where you got the strategy for the operation from, right?"

"Yes. Him, and several others Ga'inza taught me of. I was in particular thinking of his approach during the Battle of Zurith, though much of our own strategy needed to be adapted to steeper terrain."

"Yeah. Good thing none of us are afraid of heights," Jason noted with a grin.

"That would've been sad indeed," Kori nodded. "My skills of flight afforded an excellent view." The way her eyes narrowed sent a tiny chill down Tim's spine, even as he couldn't resist leaning into her hand.

Kori was unapologetically fierce in her defense of her people, her family, anyone she had chosen to shelter under her protection. And she didn't mind celebrating, either, when victory was obtained. It was simply the way of things.

Tim ate his stir fry in silence.

"I should send for 'Inza the next time we leave Earth. She should be able to provide you with copies of the books I studied. The collections of paintings from the Nassine & Sciambrahd Eras by Ki'err and the biographies of General Os'kaune & Royal Advisor Arda'an by Davi'tien are amongst my favorites."

"Really? You could—you'd actually be able to get those?"

"Of course. You don't think they'd respond to my call?" She pointedly lifted a brow.

"Yeah, but…they've been pretty…busy over there. Not sure they'd have time to—"

"You're a valued and trusted friend of myself and my people both," Kori said, voice and expression both turning stern. "It will be done. We have whole libraries collected, and you think we will miss a mere shade of those? In fact, you will not be depriving us of anything; it will be the work of moments to have copies requested and created so that we may continue to guard the original works. A simple matter." She leveled Jason with a narrow look.

Jason absolutely beamed at that, not even attempting to hide his excitement. "And that, Timbo, is why she's secretly a queen. Don't let the formal title fool you."

Kori's eyes sparkled in restrained mirth, fingers casually drawn through her long mane in a show of tidying it. "And beyond that, I doubt giving one of the foremost warriors I know materials further instructive in his endeavors would be considered a poor use of resources. You will honor our great ones well."

Jason blinked before blushing furiously at that. "Dunno about that," he chuckled lowly, scratching at the back of his neck. "Not exactly your standard military leader over here."

"So?" Tim piped up, ignoring Jason's arched brow (probably at the fact he still had a mouth full of food). "Some of the greatest leaders we have records of didn't lead formally organized armies. Back when I was still gonna do the whole college thing—"

"What do you mean, you were going to?"

"—I had this research project I was working on—"

"No, hold the fuck on!"

"—about the Maroon and Indigenous communities and resistance efforts across3d…"

And then they were both on a roll.

Of course, the peace couldn't last.

When did it ever?

Tim was just getting to a part of Puerto Rico's history he found particularly enthralling, when something in Jason's whole aura changed.

A subtle shift in energy rippled across the room.

The hairs on the back of Tim's neck lifted in tandem.

"Bedtime for little birds," Jason said, his announcement abrupt but quiet, his voice a murmur. He rocked forward to his feet in an unhurried way, movements smooth and easy, but someone who knew him well would spot the changes in his stance and the way he carried himself now. The deliberation, and how he kept his weight centered in a way so casual it almost seemed coincidental.

Tim knew Jason very well. And it was no coincidence.

Bats really didn't do—

"What are you waitin' for, old man? Engraved invite?"


"Jason. Tim."

"Asshole. Kori. Kori? Asshole. Whaddya know, all caught up. We're out of food for you, by the way. Since ya didn't RSVP."

Still in nearly full gear as he emerged from the shadows, Slade gave a pointed look in the direction of a kitchen island still covered in plates before turning his gaze back to Jason. "It was my understanding that this was your 'Outlaws-Only Night,' " he noted dryly.

"So?" Jason retorted. "Didn't stop the rugrat." He jerked a thumb in Tim's direction.

"You're two years older than me," Tim grumbled.

A grinning Jason tilted his head before sweeping his arms wide. "And what a difference those two years make," he said, addressing the room like a down-home sort of preacher.

"Yeah, well not all of us have been juicing with off-brand Nickelodeon slime."

"It's cute that you think that's what I meant. My point stands uncorrected, Timbo."

"We need to talk, Red Robin."

"No, we don't," Tim replied.

At that same instant, "Go right ahead," came from Jason. "I'll just be over here playing referee so your collective three brain cells don't crash together too hard.

"Tim has two of those three, for the record."

Slade turned back to Tim, who was having absolutely none of this shit, thanks.

"We don't need to talk about tonight, unless it's about the data packet I gave you. Did you find anything about Contre—"

"Don't try to deflect this."

"At least he knows how to," Jason commented from his spot leaning against the couch. "You pivot like a tractor, old man. Trust me, I would know. The Kents—"

"Your orders were to keep this low-key, discrete from any involvement with the Bats—"

I'm sorry**—what?**

"—and not only did you disregard the explicit mission parameters, you then compounded the situation by vanishing before the debrief."

Tim pressed his fingertips to the bridge of his nose. "Slade—"

Slade stepped forward, voice growing sterner. "If your intention was to convince me that you are not in need of supervision, running off after agreeing to talk—"

"I never agreed."

"Don't get smart with me, boy", Slade growled, jaw clenching. "Running off when you were aware that I intended to speak with you, and while you were injured, is a poor set of choices."

"Slade." Tim let out a small sigh. "I have meetings in the morning. Which is basically now, and soon going to be yesterday. I need to have these meetings, like, yesterday."

Slade held steady, clearly unimpressed.

"Look. Fine. My performance in the field is a little questionable at present time. Apparently everyone here thinks that. It should make you feel better to hear I don't plan on making any further moves with the operation tomorrow." He gave a listless shrug. "Too much stuff at W.E."

"And when exactly don't you have things at Wayne Enterprises?"

"O-kay," Jason interjected, pushing off the couch and positioning himself partway in front of Tim.

Who was sorely tempted to just let himself fall forward and take a standing nap against the towering wall of undead teenage angst standing before him. Jason was undead, Tim was nearly dead—they were definitely a good match. Very compatible.

"Apparently the one brain cell you have is only half firing, so you need a translator instead of a referee. Alas, I am a man of many talents."

" 'Alas' is used for regret," Tim mumbled…not entirely sure why he decided to open his stupid mouth then.

Jason craned his neck to look down at him, a look of mild disbelief on his face. "You're telling me you don't regret this entire conversation?"

Tim blinked. And gave in to the impulse to just bury his face in Jason's back. "Tired. Come back later."

Jason snorted before turning back to Slade. "What the barely functional gremlin child is trying to say here is that he's gonna be up at ass-o'-clock in the morning because he's a CEO and that is, theoretically, what CEOs do. And he's trying to keep the company from imploding."

Tim lifted his face just enough to get in an, "Again."

"Right. And as one of the heirs to that vast fortune, I consider it a very personal attack when my inheritance is in any way jeopardized. All that to say: Fuck off now; try again later."

Slade held silent for a few moments, his grappling visible even in his stillness. "He needs to return to the base," he said at last. "I want to be able to keep an eye on him."

Jason immediately folded his arms. "Oh, 'cause I can't? Please, old man. You have any idea how many times I've had to provide my own medical care? Seriously, you ever try doing a field cauterization after some League-trained motherfucker gets in a lucky shot to your liver?"

Slade went very, very still then.

Tim could hear the feral grin in Jason's voice as he continued. "Yup. All by my lonesome. Believe me, I can take care of this one."

Kori stepped forward then, coming up behind Tim to encircle him, arms laid across his chest. "Even if Jason would agree to relinquish Timothy, I would not. I promised to help Tim rest, and he and I are going to bed now."

Without further warning, Tim found himself swept off his feet and hauled into a bridal carry.

So he did the only thing left to do under the circumstances: fold his hands across his stomach like a good corpse and steadily focus on the ceiling instead of the looming figure in faded orange armor.

"Damn, I'm proud of the kid." Jason again, naturally.

Tim followed what he could of the conversation even as Kori carted him off to Jason's bedroom and shut the door behind them.

"Look, I'm not gonna throw you out. Yet. Kid told us what he did and I ain't happy with how tonight went down, either—and neither is Kori. That's really the only reason I haven't tossed you yet. But if you don't get why showing up here and doing whatever the fuck that was isn't helpful, you're already on thin fucking ice.

"So! You. Me. Rooftop. Now. …Don't make me bring my guns, Slade."

"You always bring your guns."

"Oh, good, you're learning. But don't make me bring the good guns, mmkay?"

A lingering moment passed.

"Touch that doorknob and I will."

Figuring either all would be well or the deafening sound of gunshots would be alerting him otherwise, Tim decided to cooperate and hobbled off to the bathroom once Kori gently set him on his feet, grateful Jason always kept a supply of disposable toothbrushes in his safehouses.

By the time he came back, the bed was covered with a veritable nest of spare pillows, and Kori was calmly floating upside down in a way that very much reminded him of Kon.

Lingering in the doorway, he tried to soak in the quiet of the moment. But he still found his mind drifting and his ears straining, even though he knew he couldn't really expect to hear the rooftop conversation from so far away.

Kori's eyes were closed, but evidently she noticed his hesitation—and the reasons for it—all the same. "Perhaps if you were an actual chiropteran[bat], Tim, but I do not think you will hear them from here."

Tim didn't even have time to answer before he found himself swept off his feet a second time, Kori fondly wrapping him in a floating hug like a mother otter with a pup. "Enough, Tim. Be at rest."

He sighed and let himself tune out after that, eyes shut against his racing mind.

Kori did make it easier, at least. He turned his face towards hers and felt a tickle against his nose as she leaned down to nuzzle him. Satiny curtains of hair drifted across his face, a caress of peppers and mint and cinnamon drifting through the air.

"I sense much fear in you," Kori murmured, gliding over to the bed. "But Jason will be fine. Slade Wilson came to argue, but not fight. And he cannot fight the both of us without more trouble than it's worth."

Tim decided not to mention the fact that she really needed to do a recount of their numbers, but— "Did you just quote Master Yoda?" His face flushed as soon as he'd asked it, but he couldn't just ignore what he'd heard, right?

Kori smirked, sparkling eyes dancing with silent laughter as she gently laid him down in the soft lighting of dimmed bedside lamps. "And if I did quote this master?"

Tim propped himself up on his elbows even as he hit the mattress. "How many have you watched?"

"It is my understanding that, of the ones done in live action, there are six numbered ones—"

Tim was going to buy whoever had explained that a damned house. Or Ferrari. Or really expensive gun using multiplanet technology.

"—and a lone one set before the first we were given. I have seen those."

"And which is your favorite? Actually, no—which order did you watch them in?" He barely registered the dull ache in his leg as Kori began arranging pillows to prop up the injured limb.

She laughed. "Tim. If I answered your questions, I believe we would be here most of the night. Doing things very much other than sleeping."

Tim groaned as he flopped back against the pillows. She was obviously right but he needed to know certain things. No one had even given him a heads-up about it! "Okay," he tried, propping himself back up, "so what if I promise I'll sleep?"

Kori tossed her hair. "I have already made that promise. You have no power here."

No. No. Damn. Way.

Tim's wide eyes must've given him away, for Kori bit her lip mischievously. "Roy and Jason use the meme often. I have not seen the films yet. I hear they are very worthwhile, however."

"Holy shit. Okay, I'm getting you my copies of the director's cut. Not like the copies for collecting, but I have the full set on digital and I jailbroke it so I can send it—what?"

"I know what a director's cut is, but the phrase always reminds me of how drugs are said to be cut."

"It's exactly like that," Tim replied with no hesitation. "Directors have the purest cut of it." He paused, head tilted as he decided how to clarify the next part fairly. "That's not always a good thing, for sure, but it's how you get real insight into their minds. You get to see their visions for the films, with fewer constraints. It's like you're sitting in the theater of the artist's eye and—" He cut himself off as a comforter was tossed on top of him. He pulled down the haphazardly thrown blanket and squinted up at one perfectly unapologetic princess.

"You should remove the hoodie. These will work better for us."

Tim pursed his lips. He knew she was right, but. And he knew it was stupid and he was being way too dramatic (even in the privacy of his own mind. …Although, to be fair, telepathic metas were always a thing and the stealthy ones were just. So fun. To deal with).

"You can still take your revenge hoodie later."

Okay…valid, right? He could deal with that. Satisfied with the plan, Tim shrugged off the garment, tossing it onto the foot of the bed. The holsters underneath, he parted with as well, the karambit bestowed by Roy joining the smoke pellets and other auxiliary weapons on the nightstand nearby.

He'd only been free of the armaments and outer layer for a moment before he found himself rapidly surrounded by a nest of blankets, Kori deep-diving Jason's apparently endless supply of them.

While she continued tossing spares onto the bed, Tim took a moment to surreptitiously wrap the main comforter around his shoulders, relieved to find that it wasn't so different from the hoodie: still that brisk scent of mint and mace and the same detergent Alfred used and a hint of smoke and fire. It was a strange brew, and even more so than average with Kori's own perfumes now settled into the fabrics, but remained a comforting one all the same. The scent of safety. He wondered how Jason would feel if he knew. Probably think Tim was weird for it, but then he already thought Tim was weird, so did it really matter?

Besides, as sensitive as Jason was to scents ever since emerging from the Pit, he probably had favorites of his own that he'd picked up on, right?

And given how much of his blood volume Tim had had to lose tonight to make it to this point, he hoped he had earned a little safety for a bit.

He took his time arranging the comforter across his legs, unable to fully stop himself from straining his hearing to see if he could catch any more of the argument. He knew Kori was right, but—

"Tim." A soft hand over his own halted his movements and interrupted his thoughts.

He looked up to find Kori knelt on the bed almost nose to nose with himself, her gaze so intense that it seemed to burn even without the trademark glow that came when her powers were active. "Tell me about Star Wars."

Tim's brain may have suffered a minor stroke at that exact moment. Just a tiny one.

Kori took advantage of the reboot to climb over behind him, squeezing between Tim and the headboard, and then wriggling her way down until she was lying on her back, sprawled at an angle across the bed. She tugged Tim down into a hold much like she'd had in the living room, only this time Tim was able to recline against her, his head resting just beneath her breastbone and his back pillowed against her in lieu of the actual pillows she had just expropriated. It was a good trade.

The fingers of her right hand wound around the fingers of his left, leaving them intertwined, while her left hand she let rest squarely over his heart instead, her thumb brushing slow patterns against the thin cotton of his shirt.

Everywhere they were in contact, Tim could feel the ambient heat radiating from her skin, and he found himself rapidly pulled down into a haze that made it incredibly difficult to string coherent thoughts together. Unfortunate, since he needed to stay sharp for this. "Okay! Star Wars!" he said, talking a bit louder than needed in hopes of jarring himself awake. "Where do you want me to start?"

"I wish I could be in Gotham more often."

Tim blinked at the non sequitur.

"We do not know why, but the energies I emit appear to help Jason with the headaches he gets that other remedies will not work for."

Tim's first suspicion was that it had something to do with how Jason had come back_…except_ Tim remembered a time a few months prior where he'd joined the Outlaws for a mission. He'd been left with a massive migraine by the end and had all but passed out on their couch.

He'd awoken twenty minutes later to find his head pillowed in Kori's lap and his headache gone, which was an insanely fast time frame for him. He was lucky at this point if the stupid things only lasted hours instead of days.

"I think we should start with A New Hope," Kori announced without preamble.

At this point, Tim was half-convinced she was doing this on purpose—extra mental energy drained with each abrupt shift of focus.

"I have seen the film, but I am aware that there are many stories of how it was conceived and created. I would like to hear about them."

This was a trap. This was totally a trap.

…But any good Star Wars fan understood that some traps were absolutely worth springing. To the spoils must go the victor and all that, right?

"Okay, well, to start off, it's important to know that A New Hope wasn't George Lucas's first film. I think there were elements of…"

Tim later stirred in his sleep to the soft press of lips against his forehead.

"I am sorry I cannot stay longer," came the whisper. "But Batman has departed and Jason is with you. On the seal of the Tamaranean Renewal3e, you shall be safe as you rest, dear friend."

Footnotes & Commentary



The Bats and Kori are of course DC's own characters, and so are the Tamaraneans as a whole. But the specific Tamaranean events and characters Kori references—as well as the interstellar locations (Chytopsis, Zytir, etc.), time era, and Tamaranean Renewal—are all my creations, so you won't be finding them on Google, ha.

From what I was able to find myself, it doesn't really seem like the Tamaranean language was particularly based in any real-life languages, and more that it was instead just meant to sound very unusual and not Earthling in nature.

The benefit for me there was that it was pretty much free real estate in terms of naming the characters. I drew from the names and works of several real-life historical figures—warriors, leaders, a painter—plus some authors whose work and/or activism I've loved.

[ ↑ ]


Daylilies are an actual plant, and they are edible (for humans, not just Tamaraneans!), though they're not a food I've eaten or prepared myself.

Daylily Fritters Recipe | Kitchen Vignettes | PBS Food

[ ↑ ]


There doesn't really seem to be a direct translation/equivalent for this in English, but it's basically used as an exclamation of surprise, or things like incredulity, exasperation, dismay, et cetera, along the lines of "Come on!" or "You gotta be kidding me!"

‘Chale’ – Meaning / Translation

[ ↑ ]


If this stuff sounds interesting to you, I highly recommend circling back and checking out these videos after you finish the chapter. And while I'm not fond of some of the ways younger folks consider themselves to be "educating the Boomers" (his words) about stuff, and the way language is being twisted around in absurd, illogical, and contradictory ways and losing its meaning_…this_ particular example is something I can definitely get behind.

It was interesting to see the debates about this, though, and someone noted that it partly depends on your educational system. Some folks consider America or the Americas to be a single continent, a la Eurasia, and say that North America, Central America, and South America are all subcontinents. Others are taught that North America and South America are two separate continents (and Central America is counted as the southernmost region of North America).

Although either option still means that America encompasses far more than the United States of America (this feels like a good place to point out that yes, the Indigenous peoples of Mexico and elsewhere are Native Americans, haha).

[Caution: The music video, which is shown in excerpt form in the interviews and full form in the Knox Hill breakdown, contains graphic violence and gore imagery, and that is shown in some or all of these other videos, as well.]

Latin rapper Residente talks new single, ‘This is Not America’ | Good Morning America

HE DISSED CHILDISH GAMBINO?! | Rapper Reacts to Residente THIS IS NOT AMERICA | Knox Hill

Residente "This is Not America" Letra Oficial Y Significado | Verified | Genius

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In the comics, both original Tamaran (ruled by Kori's biological parents) and New Tamaran (ruled by Blackfire) were destroyed. So also was Karna (yeah, the situation there was even messier).

The Tamaranean Renewal Project is my own concept, where Koriand'r has essentially set to work governing some of the surviving members of her people, and is working to gradually rebuild Tamaranean influence and stability while preserving what they still have of things like their cultural heritage and the knowledge they've gained over time.

She's taking a somewhat more decentralized approach than has been taken in the past for Tamaran, both to safeguard survival of the species in case of another apocalyptic situation and to hopefully minimize both internal and external conflicts. It's an interesting balance to pursue this yet also seek a sense of unity and community amongst her people as a whole—including the ones uninvolved with the project.

Her people are important to her, but so are her family and friends on Earth and elsewhere. And Kori has already—and yes, this list is from the comics—been tortured, been sold into slavery by her own supposed family, been raped, lost her parents, agreed to a political marriage, and been widowed twice, all for the sake or supposed sake of Tamaran and its people. There was also the child she conceived with her beloved second husband, General Ph'yzzon, before he was killed in New Tamaran's destruction. Since the unborn child was not mentioned later, I'm going with the fandom explanation that she tragically lost the baby—likely due to the sheer stress and grief of losing her husband and so many of her people yet again (yep, this is something poor Kori and Roy have both had happen: DC basically deleting their darned children from existence. And Jason was giving off way too much Lost, Forlorn Child energy—especially with how DC also treats _him—_to stand a chance of not getting taken in by those two).

Long story short, Koriand'r has already made more sacrifices as both a hero and royalty than could ever reasonably be asked or expected, and holds no guilt either about now prioritizing her current family and life or about refusing to commit to permanent rulership of the Tamaraneans or to remaining in space full-time.

Kori has an executive council whom she trusts to monitor things on a day-to-day basis, though she's still very much involved herself. For multiple reasons, she has for now declined to take on the title of Grand Ruler or Empress, but is nevertheless the de facto ruler and the last word on political negotiations.

[ ↑ ]

AJ's Casual Commentary:

One particular headcanon I really like with Tim is the idea that, as a result of being left to his own devices so much as a child and having to feed himself, he has an iron stomach…and taste buds that are pretty much shot to schitt. And besides liking very unusual food combos, I feel like he also has a very utilitarian attitude towards food when he even does remember to eat, so he'll still very willingly eat stuff that tastes gross or has an off-putting texture, as long as it provides needed nutrients efficiently.

One specific source of inspiration I can cite is the hilarious and very fun (although also somewhat angsty) story Into the Brighter Night, by shoalsea. I love the chaotic, ebullient dynamics we get to see between Tim & his YJ/Titans friends as the Bats slowly start to realize just how much they don't really know Tim themselves. It's been ages since I last read it, but I remember it as having such great characterization and sense of detail. I very much recommend it, although it was definitely sad for me to see how distant and strained the dynamics were when it came to Tim's relationship with the rest of the family.

…Yes, I fully realize the irony of my saying that in this book, tah!

Anyways, I feel like Tim has a few items (like coffee & tea) that he's more discerning about, but is largely blasé about stuff otherwise. And I thought his sharing Kori's penchant (canon, IIRC) for treating mustard as a stand-alone food/drink gave Tim some really fun goblin energy right here.

This also connects to another headcanon of mine, which is that one of the effects the Lazarus Pit had was to give Jason enhanced senses (by the way, it has happened before in the comics that folks end up with even more dramatic new abilities after a dip there, even if that scenario is an anomalous thing).

In any case, that's actually one of the reasons Jason's so particular about food and cooking—at least in this AU; he has an enhanced sense of taste, plus is more bothered by unpleasant scents. Thankfully, he's developed a pretty high tolerance for it all over again since returning to Gotham, but he still likes to minimize the more avoidable sensory hazards like his family burning schitt or horrendously botching recipes, haha.

And even aside from that, I already really loved the idea that it's actually Jason who has the discriminating palate, not the rich kid who spent more time growing up in rarified circles and might be assumed as snobbish.

And although this has definitely changed some in his time hanging out with the Young Justice / Titans crew and Jason, I think there's still a sense where Tim doesn't have the same emotional significance attached to food that many other people do, because meals were often not a very communal or familial thing for him while he was in Jack & Janet's custody.


Well, one good thing I can say about the Red Hood: Outlaws Webtoon is that it keeps inspiring me…by pissing me the heck off (at least the Batman: Wayne Family Adventures Webtoon has usually been FAR better—though it has a very different focus, which is the trade-off).

It's had bright spots here and there, but after a promising enough beginning, we've ended up with not only the Bad Robin nonsense but also, even more frustratingly, having Jason portrayed like he's largely just a thoughtless thug who just shoots his way through everything and doesn't know what the word plan means…versus being someone who managed: a rapid partial takeover of organized crime in a city as chaotic and ruthless as Gotham…as a teenager; keeping Nightwing and Batman on their toes; and being an incredibly skilled sharpshooter, martial artist, and athlete—and was freaking rigorously trained by the Batman himself in both physical AND academic pursuits before he even hit his teenage years. Plus he did schitt like casually breaking into a secret Israeli military base in order to access computer data on an agent of theirs (Sharmin Rosen)—and that was at freaking 15, BEFORE he was trained as an assassin by the League of Shadows AND given training in the spiritual and paranormal by the All-Caste. Of course, the Webtoon isn't remotely alone in pulling this kind of thing, and even the Outlaws stuff where Jason was allowed to shine more had the alternative issue of doing some major disservices to Kori and Roy instead.

(Speaking of which, I found a couple of amazing write-ups this one blogger did after RHATO debuted. I've been too nervous to read the Jason one yet [sensitive topic for me, and some of the comics—lovely, character-assassinating hot messes—have made him understandably hard to like], but I am incredibly impressed with just how comprehensive the ones for Roy and Kori were, and the massive amount of work that had to have gone into them. Highly recommend. Seeing the disconnect between the exaggerated perceptions of Starfire's sexuality versus the quite mundane reality of it was particularly noteworthy for me…as was finding out more about the Virgil House situation that I've seen referenced before. Yeahhh…I even more regret having cut Dick slack for that before. Of course, I already refuse to use much of that content anyways, so it may be a moot point.)

[Courtesy of a reader, I'd like to add this Content Warning.] Deconstructing “Red Hood and the Outlaws” – Part 2: Starfire | The Raging Fanboy

Deconstructing “Red Hood and the Outlaws” – Part 3: Roy Harper | The Raging Fanboy

Rage4Media: #19 The Rise of Arsenal

Fair warning: As bad as some of the Starfire stuff may have been…HOLY GODDARNED FREAKING HADES, has Roy been done dirty in the comics over the years. The more I learn, the more some of it looks like outright malicious attempts to demean and humiliate the character. And speaking of stuff like that…I read some interview material with Lobdell, and, well…it's good to know that even a decade ago, comic-book writers (amongst others) were busy blaming the fans for not liking insulting, brain-dead fap bait that is both a mess and strongly at odds with a character's history…history which you seemingly can't be bothered to look into decently despite being a PAID writer. I think the main difference these days is the degree to which writers & companies have recruited fans and the terminally online to serve as their attack force and blindly go after the fans who are willing to object to the stunts and shenanigans.

In any case, despite all of this, the silver lining is that the more I see aggravating stuff from either the comics or even individual people, the more inspired I am to push back against it (that's how my meta-filled monstrosity, Tale Spin, got started. Ha!)—and I know the same is true of many other folks, as well.

After one of the most recent times I saw Jason get screwed over in the Webtoon, I was hit with a renewed sense of vigor to go the opposite direction and give our boy his dues (this was back when I was still reading the Webtoon; I haven't in a while now, since I was tired of being strung along with crumbs and hoping it'd improve. I do plan to check in eventually, though, after more episodes have accumulated). And it wasn't just Jason. While the OG Outlaws are barely mentioned in the Webtoon, their personal AND professional relationships to Jason are super important to me, and those strongly tie in to the issue of Jason's being a smart, educated, and extremely capable individual.

Much like Tim is not the only smart Robin (#AllRobinsAreSmartRobins), Jason is not the only skilled and extremely competent member of the OG Outlaws. The vote of confidence that both Roy and Kori give Jason in being so willing to follow his lead is extra meaningful precisely because they're both experienced vigilantes in their own right and indeed have both been doing this even longer than he has. They were already Nightwing's comrades before Jason even became Robin, and I fvcking reject the idea that their working with and under him is more a mark of apathy or desperation, rather than of the trust and respect they have for him. Kori and Roy are not somehow just scraping the bottom of the barrel in hopes of finding someone marginally better off than themselves, nor is Jason doing so. The idea that all three have somewhat been disenfranchised or isolated, or were let down by people they trusted is a valuable one and I embrace it, but I draw the line at having it morph into the idea that they're all "failures" or that Jason's very presence is a scarlet letter that proves as much.

In my determination to give Jason his due credit, I was also sparked to make it darned clear that the others are also powerhouses themselves—not only in terms of raw fighting power and skill but also in other areas.

And now that I'm finally featuring Kori more directly in a posted story of mine, I did some research in hopes of being able to portray Kori well and give the woman her dues—honestly, I'd meant to do focused research already by locating and reading her best comics, but I haven't done that yet with how much stuff I'm constantly juggling. I'm also woefully behind still in my reading of Roy Harper works & Jason Blood (the host of Etrigan) comics, as well.

I also specifically wanted to avoid the trap as a writer myself where because I'm not that used to writing her, she ends up being a very peripheral character or only present to echo or briefly react to other characters' dialogue. In some ways I feel like that outcome would be worse than simply not featuring her at all, since I want to communicate her importance to both the Outlaws team & family as a whole, and to Jason personally.

…And as it turned out, there was actually more canon basis to the ideas I'd had for Kori than I'd even anticipated!

For having something of a space-hippie vibe (then again, there are definitely violent hippie types…), the Tamaraneans are no strangers to war and can honestly be cold-blooded (which has potential to be both a good and a bad thing, ha). They don't just follow the lead of positive emotions—they are influenced plenty by the negative ones, as well.

And Kori was the one expected to be heir, rather than her elder sister (though the reasons for that seem pretty messed up, frankly). It seems evident, as well, that this wasn't a dynamic where the female royals' main purposes were to produce heirs and handle social functions.

And I feel like between that, her membership in teams like the Titans and Outlaws, her participation in Tamaranean conflicts, and even her romantic relationships with men like General Ph'yzzon or Dick Grayson, it makes sense that things like tactics and strategy are areas of interest (and ability!) for her.

Despite the eye-roll-inducing eye-candy and social-messaging stuff that's been present with Kori in the comics (curious, isn't it, how Clark can absorb solar energy just fine without all that?), her story goes deeper than that, and she's more than just a heavy hitter with a sunny smile.

Hopefully that came through well in things like her conversations with Tim and Jason, and the touches of maternal energy I also tried to sprinkle in (that's also so valuable to remember. Having a kid and losing a kid are both hugely significant things, whether they happen before birth or after).

Something Princess Koriand'r, Roy Harper, and Dick Grayson all have in common is that, despite their sunny energy, there's actually a schittload of trauma and suffering in their backgrounds—and that itself really adds extra richness and impact when you see how much brightness they hold on to in spite of that. Of course…sometimes it's also just a veneer. I wonder just how many haunted nights Kori has had.…


I always get extra emotional when it comes to the particular song I chose for this chapter. Not only is Skillet my favorite band (while Michael Jackson is my favorite solo artist), but this specific song of theirs has also for years had special meaning to me. Even though there are some differences in circumstance and detail, the song really describes my relationship with my best friend, and I refer to it as "our song" at times; I consider it emblematic of our friendship. She's been there for me during some of the hardest times of my life, and I quite literally don't know what I would have done without her.

I was beyond thrilled when I realized that this chapter would be a fantastic place to finally feature this song, with how perfectly it fits what plays out in the chapter itself as well as the larger dynamics at play in this particular AU.

Skillet - Those Nights Lyrics | Syn

Closing AN

Friendly reminder, Slade: Princess Koriand’r is a scientifically enhanced, 193-centimeter[6’4"], grown-azz Tamaranean woman and she will throw down with you if she feels the need to.

…Don’t make her feel the need to, capisci?

In order to stay abreast of progress updates and the occasional sneak peek, or just gush with me over Gen Batfam in general, feel free to check out the still-fledgling Discord and drop me a line! Links to that, my blog, and other content here: Curated Links