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in labyrinths of reflections

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Everything hurts.

That’s not overly unusual, granted. Marc’s never hesitated to take a few hits when they’re necessary, or even when they're not, and he’s been in the business for a while. The days he aches are a hell of a lot more common than the days he doesn’t, but—

This just feels worse than normal, that’s all.

His breath bubbles in his lungs, tastes of copper and salt. Marc hisses out a breath that takes too much effort, curls. He’s not resting on the ground, but higher, and there’s something hard under his cheek, like metal, or maybe like bone. It’s blessedly warm, fighting off the chill that’s seeping in to replace the blood he’s losing, and Marc turns his face into warm metal and warmer cloth and feels like maybe, maybe, he can just go to sleep right here.

Warmed bone brushes at his cheek, through a wide tear in his mask. “Still awake, my son?” Khonshu asks, familiar reverberation and strange, clicking edge. It’s a voice that’s wound so tightly against Marc’s bones that he can’t not hear it, even if his head is swimming.

Khonshu is carrying him, he realized vaguely. Cradling him like a child, but even though Marc’s woken like this before, it’s not quite the same. Khonshu is moving, not sitting on his throne. There’s light spinning all around them, galaxies and worlds that Marc can see even behind his eyelids, and it makes him want to be sick. With a low groan, he grabs for Khonshu’s cloak, gets the bare edge of it. It burns in his fingertips, like light against eyes used to the dark.

“Khonshu,” he rasps.

Not a neat business suit under his cheek, like Khonshu tends to adopt when he visits. No, this is Khonshu in full armor and godly garb, the image of the man in the statue Marc has cursed and worshiped at too many times. Desperately, Marc tries to remember where he was, what was happening that he needed Khonshu's direct intervention, but—

Everything hurts, and that’s all he knows.

Soon,” Khonshu soothes, and Marc tries to pull himself up, even open his eyes, but he can't. “It has been a long trip, but it’s almost over now.

Something panicked flares at that, some deep-seated instinct that Marc normally manages to ignore. “Over?” he demands, and his fingers dig into Khonshu's cloak like claws.

There's a chuckle, low and vast, immense. It spreads like ripples on water, far out of sight. “Only this crossing, my son. You are still my knight.

Marc won't admit that something turns in his chest at that, wretched relief and too much gratitude. “Don’t need you,” he whispers, even though it’s stupid. Even though Khonshu is carrying him across somewhere vast and dense and terrible, weighty enough that he’s no longer the skeletal bird-headed creature Marc has seen so many times, but something fiercer. “Never did.”

There's a long, long pause, long enough that Marc almost thinks Khonshu is about to drop him, leave, never return. But then, soft, Khonshu makes a sound of amusement, and long fingers that feel like bone curl around his shoulder, tighten.

No,” Khonshu agrees, so terribly amused. “You never have. One of the reasons you are the greatest of my knights, my son.

Things are getting darker, like all the many stars around them are setting. “Test,” Marc spits as best he can without moving, and Khonshu laughs.

A test,” he agrees, wicked, and then stops. His cloak curls around them like a live thing, moving in a breeze that Marc can't feel. There's a brief moment of silence, and then Khonshu says, “Shen Li-Men. Or do you go by the Doctor now?

“Swift, if you don’t mind,” a woman says, firm, flat. “Do you have a reason for crossing into this universe?”

My knight is in need of care,” Khonshu says, and Marc wants to laugh, wants to snarl. Can't, because Khonshu is carrying him, and it feels like the full moon, like the only thing that’s keeping him alive, the warmth beneath his head. “And your universe is in need of a guardian for those who travel at night.

“You mean no harm to the occupants of this universe?” Swift asks, and she sounds suspicious.

Khonshu chuckles. “I would not refuse worship, were it offered, but my knight keeps me tethered well enough.

“Keep it that way, then.” Swift steps back, a brush of feathers all around her, like she has wings. “There are beings in this universe that would crush you easily, and if you step out of line, I won't hesitate to send them right to you.”

Give my greetings to the Century Babies,” Khonshu returns, unmoved, and starts walking. All around them, the air darkens further, but—

There's light, too. One single beam of it, like a pathway lit for them. Marc doesn’t like it. It could be a trap, or a sign for attackers. He twists, wants to slide down, but Khonshu holds him firmly.

Swift is a guardian, nothing more,” he says. “An incarnation of magic and human existence, back to the beginning of time. She will not stop us.

Marc wonders what kind of guardian lets an ancient god wander right into her universe without so much as a pat-down. A bad one, probably. Maybe this universe really does need his help.

“Left?” he whispers, because even if he can't remember how he got here, he knows he’s alone except for Khonshu. It’s fine, because Marc has never wanted people around him, only destroys the people who try to stay, but—

We left,” Khonshu confirms. Lifts Marc a little higher, and suddenly there’s a cool wind on his face. A city wind, rank with human smells, thick with smog. “The closest universes were about to start colliding. They will fix themselves in time, but there are worlds that need your care more right now, my son.

Incursions. Steve Rogers had called him, mentioned something about that, but Marc was too busy cleaning up a pocket of the Hand and hadn’t been able to spare the time. He deals with people, with street crime, not with world-ending events. Easier to keep his head down and keep moving, to punch people instead of worrying about the science. Tony Stark probably has that well enough in hand, anyway.

“Better have running water,” Marc mutters, and thinks he hears Khonshu laugh as he slides down the rest of the way into darkness.

 

 

“It’s a knockoff of New York,” Marc says, eminently unimpressed. “A bad knockoff of New York.”

He can see Khonshu out of the corner of his eye, slouched back in an armchair. It’s hard to tell if he’s making it look like the throne he’s always on or if Marc is just seeing things—well, seeing things other than the god—but he’s back to his skeletal bird look, complete with suit and tie. It’s more comforting than it has any right to be.

Metropolis is very similar, too,” Khonshu points out, and Marc grimaces.

“Three New Yorks is two too many,” he says, turning away from the wide window. “Maybe three too many.”

Khonshu taps his fingers against the arm of the throne, cocking his head. Behind him, looming in the shadows, his statue is an inexorable pull, the moon before a sea. Marc can't keep his eyes away from it. It was here when he woke up in the penthouse’s bed, Khonshu's cloak spread over him, and even with everything else familiar that’s turned up, the statue is the greatest promise. The greatest threat, maybe.

With a low, resonant chuckle, Khonshu rises. “And how are you feeling tonight?” he asks.

Marc doesn’t answer. One of Khonshu's aspects is healing, though he’s sparse with it. All the immediate aches have sunk into the background, settled. By the time he woke up, he could breathe freely again, without tasting blood on his lips, and that was sign enough that something has changed. Since the mental institute, Khonshu's been pulling back, letting Marc work on his own. Having his presence again—

It shouldn’t feel good. It should be infuriating. Marc reconciled all the other people living in his body, accepted them even if he didn’t banish them, and he doesn’t need Khonshu, anchored to the mortal world through his cracked, faltering mind. The god’s power isn't necessary, because Marc is good enough all on his own.

But hell, Marc had forgotten just how good it felt, having Khonshu's power so close.

The moon is waxing, barely a quarter full right now, but it’s enough. Marc can feel the light, can feel the wash of it across the city, the people out there. Travelers, with the moon watching over them, and Marc breathes in. He hasn’t sensed it so clearly in years.

With a hiss of cloth and a ripple of pure white, the cloak tossed over the shoulders of the statue comes loose. It slides down, moonlight pooling at the statue’s feet, and Marc swallows. Glances at the fallen cloak, then out at the city, and wants. He just can't tell what he wants, or who wants it.

It’s a big city,” Khonshu says, watching him with eyes that should be empty sockets, but Marc can see the universe behind them. Power, another dimension, a darkness that’s full of creation. “I'm sure there's someone out there who needs vengeance.

“In bootleg New York?” Marc mutters. “Probably.”

Khonshu laughs, rasping, sliding under Marc's skin to twist up his bones. My god, he thinks before he can help himself, possessive, but with the waxing moon outside the window, with that old force moving like a tide beneath Marc's skin, it’s almost impossible not to.

So many travelers,” Khonshu says, and he’s suddenly at Marc's elbow, the touch of a gloved hand on Marc's shoulder just slightly boney, just a little cold. “It’s not just the civilians, my knight. All who travel by night are mine to protect.

Marc looks down at the lit streets below, the passage of life through the dark. Khonshu is a watchful god, possessive. Only one true knight, but—those who protect don’t always know they do so in his name. He was always fond of Frank, back in New York. The Punisher did good work for him, whether he knew it or not.

There are people here, too, that are similar. A bit of extra weight to them, a little more brightness. Marc can sense them scattered across the city, stars against a black backdrop. Traveling, watching, fighting, and it makes something threaded through his blood curl just a little hotter.

His steps echo in the wide apartment, and when he crouches down to pick up the fallen cloak, he realizes that his heart is loud in his ears. The cloth is thick in his fingers, heavy, and he swings it around his shoulders even though he’s not wearing armor yet. Even though there's no reason to. It feels like a statement, but Marc can't quite tell what he’s supposed to be saying.

He did this before, the first time he died. Waking up with Khonshu’s presence in his head the first time, the beating tattoo of vengeance justice protection that carried him through the desert and right to Bushman, the cloak was a symbol. A sign.

Not just a mercenary anymore. Something greater. Something better.

When he looks back, though, Khonshu's pleasure is the heat of sun-warmed sand at night, tight against his bones. The god is watching him, a whole dimension in his eyes, and Marc swallows down the words I missed this. It’s not true, even though it is.

“You’d better have brought my good truncheons along,” he says instead, and goes to find his armor.

 

 

The universe has it out for Jason, and that’s a fact.

Fuck,” he says, squirming against the ropes, and hell but he thought he’d left being kidnapped as bait behind him when he’d retired so violently from being Robin. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”

“You know that’s not actually helping anything, right?” Tim grits out, wriggling like a netted fish where he’s hanging upside-down. He doesn’t seem to be getting any further than Jason when it comes to getting out, though, so Jason isn't about to accept any lip.

“Shut the hell up, Replacement,” he hisses, and kicks hard, trying to get the momentum to flip up and grab the rope holding him. The barbell dangling from his feet barely sways, though. “Fuck the Joker, fuck him with a bat full of rusty nails—”

“Where’s Harley with a grudge when you need her,” Tim mutters.

Watching Harley set her pet hyenas on the Joker would sure as hell lighten the mood right now. “It’s probably pretty shitty to wish that she wasn’t so happy with Ivy right now, but god damn it I really could use her beating in the Joker’s head with her hammer right now,” Jason agrees, and jerks at his hands again. No give, just like all the other times he’s tried. “I don’t suppose you left a handy note for your superfriends, or missed a planned check in?”

Tim snorts, twisting upward to keep his nose out of the vat of Joker toxin beneath them. The world is too shitty for Jason to assume it’s the non-lethal kind, especially since the Joker’s got them being lowered into it. “If Superboy is on earth, he’s definitely not listening.”

Which means that they’re out of luck, because Bruce and Dick and Steph are all busy disarming the bombs full of Joker toxin left scattered over the city, Kate is in Metropolis, and Cass is still in Hong Kong following a lead on Slade. Damian is laid up with a broken leg, so even if Jason was willing to get rescued by a snot-nosed brat, that’s out, too.

“Shit,” he says.

“About sums it up,” Tim agrees, and wiggles his toes. It’s about the only part of him that isn't completely wrapped in rope.

And then, of course, it gets worse.

“Boys, boys!” the Joker cheers, bounding into the room. The mooks in gas masks behind him aren’t exactly a promising sight. “What’s with the long faces? Smile! It’s a gorgeous day!”

“Fucking die,” Jason spits at him, and refuses to acknowledge the sudden pace of his pulse. He’s not scared of the Joker. The memories are just bad, that’s all.

The Joker laughs uproariously, like that’s the funniest thing he’s heard all day. “No, you!” he says brightly, pointing at Jason. If he was four feet closer, Jason would absolutely bite his finger off. “Oh, Batsy is going to be so sad he missed this, what a show! But I guess the city’s more important than a couple of washed-up sidekicks, huh, boys?”

“Yeah,” Tim says, all sharp edges. “How about you untie us so we can show you just how washed-up we are?”

The Joker wags a finger at them. “Ah, ah, can't spoil the fun! This is all so Batsy can find you in a few hours, all twisted up and laughing at him! Won't that be the joke of a lifetime!”

“I’m going to cut your fucking face off!” Jason snarls, and the edge of the barbell dips into the Joker toxin—

With a crash of breaking glass, a figure falls through the skylight.

For one brief, startled second, Jason thinks it’s Bruce. Thinks the lighting is off, or he’s seeing things, or something.

But it’s not Batman dropping from the ceiling.

Pure white, almost blinding against Gotham’s usual gray, a white cape flares out, perfect mimic of the crescent moon above. The man falling is in black, with equally white armor, a heavy hood that turns his face to black shadow, and he lands, rolls with a skill that says it’s something he’s done a thousand times. Rises—

“You're not Batsy!” the Joker says, offended. “Where’s—”

The man punches him in the face, so hard Jason can hear bones crack.

What,” Tim says loudly, but the stranger is already moving, leaping back to slam a white truncheon into the throat of one of the mooks. As the man reels back, gagging for air, the hero spins, and the tip of the truncheon shoots forward like a bullet. It catches the Joker right between the eyes, and a moment later the stranger hits him again, no special movements, none of the martial arts Bruce favors. This is just a fist to the sternum, to the gut, to the face, and Jason is so fucking on board with that. He laughs as the Joker goes staggering back, and the man’s head turns, just for a second.

A crescent-shaped white blade spins out, embedding itself right into the floor through a man’s shoe, and the hero lashes out as he screams, takes a hit to the ribs but doesn’t pause. Another white blade slices right through a gun as it fires, and red blooms along the edge of his suit. Even so, he kicks out the would-be shooter’s teeth with one hard blow, drops, rolls, and comes up with his truncheon leading, catching the Joker right in the jaw.

Jason sees the flash of the plastic flower an instant before it sprays.

“Poison!” he shouts. “It’s a toxin, move!”

Instantly, the hero flips up, over, down. He slams his truncheon into the Joker’s spine, kicks him forward, then darts low and quick around another minion, slams his head into the wall, and flings a blade. It misses the Joker by an inch, and he’s laughing as he staggers upright.

“No, no, this isn't right!” he laughs. “I'm Batsy’s boy, you can't be here. I might be a criminal, but I'm a faithful criminal! You're making me cheat on my main man, how cruel!”

Bone cracks, and the hero lets go of another mook’s hair, straightening. There are splashes of blood on his white armor, more on his cloak, but beneath the deep hood his eyes are moon-bright, strange. Jason can't see any other hint of a face, just darkness.

“You took two people who were traveling by night,” the hero says. “My god takes offense to that.”

Jason pauses, casting a questioning glance over at Tim. Tim's usually better at keeping track of all the various heroic types than he is, but this time Tim just shrugs, twisting himself up almost double to stay out of the vat of toxin. No help from that quarter, then.

“God?” the Joker asks incredulously. He laughs. “In Gotham? I'm the only god Gotham needs­—urk.”

The truncheon takes him in the throat, and a crescent blade slams into his chest.

“You're pathetic,” the hero says, eyes narrowed. Jason can't quite breath. He stares at the Joker’s face, those widening eyes, the way he staggers back a step, and it feels—

He’s not entirely sure how it feels.

“Khonshu,” the hero says, and the moonlight is suddenly thicker, brighter. Or maybe that’s just a break in the smog. Jason can't tell. “My god is the protector of those who travel at night. You intend to harm them, and I won't allow it.”

The Joker’s face contorts, and he laughs. “Look at you!” he jeers. “All in white, like some kind of angel! Don’t you know people are going to see you coming—”

The hero stoops, picking up a crowbar lying along the wall, and Jason really can't breathe.

“That’s the point,” he says, and turns his head, like he’s listening to something no one else can hear.

Somehow, even under the darkness, the mask, Jason is absolutely sure he sees him smile.

“Khonshu demands vengeance,” he says, and lunges.

The first swing of the crowbar brings a spray of blood with it, and Jason doesn’t look away.

 

 

“Well, that was fun,” Tim says disgustedly, shaking out his hands. They’re probably as numb as Jason's are; the Joker didn’t exactly allow for circulation when he tied them up.

Not that that’s going to be a problem now. Or ever again.

The bloody lump that used to be a body is sprawled in the corner, and Jason doesn’t need to go check for a pulse. Whoever this guy is, he definitely hasn’t heard about Batman’s no-killing rule, and honestly, Jason's not about to tell him.

“Yeah,” he says dryly. “Let’s do this again. How about next week?”

“How about never?” Tim retorts, and he’s pale beneath the Red Robin mask. Greenish, almost, but—he doesn’t have nearly the stake in seeing the Joker get beaten to death with a crowbar that Jason does, so Jason will let it slide this once.

“You have a place to go?” the hero asks gruffly, cutting through the last of the ropes around Tim's ankles with one of his blades.

“Yeah,” Jason says, and eyes the bullet graze in the man’s side, the way he’s favoring one knee, the deep slash that just missed the armor on his forearm. The skin he can see through it is almost startling in contrast to all the white.

Well. It used to be white. There’s a pretty liberal amount of red now, too.

“Do you?” he asks. “’Cause I have to say, anyone who kills the Joker can crash on my couch for fucking ever. I’ll cook you three square meals a day, even. And if you want a kiss square on the fucking mouth, just let me know.”

It’s possible Jason is still reeling. Maybe a little emotionally numb. The Joker is dead, and Jason knows precisely how painful getting beaten to death with a crowbar is. He couldn’t wish it on a better asshole, either.

There's a pause, startled and almost wary. Weirdly bright eyes narrow, and they actually give off light; it’s not just cowl lenses like most of the masks Jason is used to. “I'm fine,” he says shortly, and rises, sliding the knife back into his belt. Turns, cocking his head, and—

“I'm going,” he says, sounding annoyed. “Keep your bones on.”

Jason looks over at Tim, eyebrows rising, and Tim looks back, frowning deeply.

“Well,” Tim mutters, just loud enough for Jason to hear. “Time for my favorite game: actual god, crazy person, or demonic outerterrestrial entity masquerading as a god?”

Jason snickers, rising to his feet and offering Tim a hand. “So who the hell are you?” he asks the stranger. “And what brings you to Gotham?”

With the distinct impression that he’s frowning beneath his mask, the man looks over. “Moon Knight,” he says shortly. “I live here.”

Oh, Bruce is going to love that. Jason is going to make sure to tell him, and probably record his expression when he does. For posterity. He feels almost giddy with the thought, and if was Dick he’d probably try to hug Moon Knight at least once. “And this is a thing with you?” he asks grinning. “Taking out vengeance on shitheads who harass people at night?”

Moon Knight doesn’t answer, just turns. The tip of the truncheon shoots upward, and he grabs the grappling line, hauling himself up in a few quick motions until he can swing back up onto the roof. Then, with a flare of his cape, a perfect crescent of white against the darkness, he’s gone.

“I think I'm in love,” Jason says dreamily. “Holy fuck.”

“You would be,” Tim says, and Jason can hear him rolling his eyes. Then he pauses, swallows, and says more quietly, “B’s not going to believe this.”

So many fucking years, and everyone in Gotham’s gotten used to Bruce's refusal to kill, from the civilians to the criminals. And Jason can admire it, sometimes. Adjust to it, since he likes having access to all the resources that come with following along like a good little sheep. But—

He was fifteen, and the Joker beat him to death in a cold warehouse far, far away from home. He came back to life to find that nothing had changed, that the Joker was still out on the streets, that even losing someone he called a son hadn’t changed Bruce at all. And right now, having met someone who just—saw two people in danger and reacted with pure, utter violence, Jason realizes all over again that he wanted that. Just once, he wanted Bruce to lose control, to react, to grieve. To feel enough that he did kill the Joker. One broken rule, just enough to show he fucking cared.

“Shit,” Jason says, and staggers over to lean back against the wall, scrubbing his hands over his face. The Joker’s dead. Maybe not forever, because that’s how the world works, but­—

Dead. Like Jason was dead. And that’s more than good enough for now.

“Think they’ve gotten all the bombs disarmed yet?” Tim asks, and he’s very determinedly not looking over at the Joker.

Jason catches the thump of boots on the roof, tilts his head back to watch dark capes appear at the edge of the hole in the roof. “No, I think they're here because they're slacking,” he says, and flips off Dick on principle as he leans through the hole. Pauses, and tips his head over to look at Tim, and then says, “I get to tell B. Dibs.”

“On what, his aneurism?” Tim asks, but holds up his hands in surrender. “Be my guest, Hood.”

Gleefully, Jason heads for Bruce as he rappels down, but—he won't string out telling him about Gotham’s new resident. He’s got some research sto do and a trail to pick up, and he’s not about to let it get cold.

 

 

Gotham is insane.

As someone who’s built his whole life on insanity, Marc is pretty sure he can say that definitively. Gotham somehow makes New York look quiet and mild-mannered, well-handled by polite and easy-going vigilantes. In contrast, Gotham is a toxic stew of assholes and idiots in terrible costumes with ridiculous names, its protectors practically part of the hostile, crumbling architecture. Marc had stopped six muggings, a car-jacking, two robberies, and a kidnapping before he even made it to the next neighborhood over and promptly had to rescue those vigilante kids. It’s ridiculous.

“Ugh,” Marc mutters, staggering a little as he throws open the door of the penthouse and practically slithers inside. Everything hurts again. He’d thought he was in good shape, coming here, but apparently it’s just middling shape compared to what he’s going to need.

A good night?” Khonshu asks idly, like Marc can’t feel him practically vibrating out of his godly bones with glee.

It’s too far to the chairs. With a groan, Marc sinks down at the feet of the statue, shoving his hood down and his mask up. “There’s only one of me,” he tells Khonshu. “This city needs a hundred.”

Khonshu shouldn’t be able to smile, not when his face is a giant skeletal bird head, but Marc gets the sense that he is anyway. “Splitting myself into more aspects would limit your power,” he says. “Rather counterproductive. And besides, I only have one knight.”

“Fuck you,” Marc says, and tips his head back against the statue’s knees, letting his eyes close. He wonders suddenly, startled, if there are more priests of Khonshu here, if his cult is alive in this world. He never minded fighting for them back in his world. It was almost nice, having a cause. Having people to help guide him, who didn’t just think he was crazy and hallucinating a god. Maybe it was just a shared hallucination, or maybe Marc made it all up, but—

Even if he did, they believed, too.

“I only killed the clown,” he says, eyes still closed. He wants to say he doesn’t kill, not anymore, but he killed Randall in New Orleans. He killed Bushmaster. He killed Midnight. Redemption only lasts so long, and Sentry was right. There was temptation, and he lost.

He always loses that particular fight.

Where’s that Old Testament sense of justice?” Khonshu asks, though he mostly just sounds amused. Sounds close, too, and when Marc opens his eyes Khonshu is staring down at him. For one moment Marc can’t quite tell if he looks like normal, bird-headed and business-suit-clad, or if he looks like the statue above, a bare-chested man with a crescent-topped staff. A sapphire crescent, and Marc grimaces, closes his eyes again. Randall was lost, utterly lost, but—Marc used that blade to kill his own brother. It’s hard to look at it straight on.

“Where’s the begging for hearts carved out in your name?” Marc retorts, though it doesn’t have nearly the heat it once did. “One can’t be enough.”

One heart that dark will feed me for months,” Khonshu says. “You killed a man with more deaths to his name than you can imagine.

The words itch, ache, like a shard of broken glass lodged under his skin. “You’ve been telling me to kill for months,” Marc snaps. “You wouldn’t let me sleep, eat, anything. And now this?”

For a long moment, Khonshu is silent. Marc opens his eyes, expecting the god to have faded away, but instead he’s still there, watching Marc with endless darkness in his eyes. There’s a point of light, too, though, something warmer than Marc expects. Protector, he thinks, embracer, and it’s always easy to remember Khonshu’s violent, vicious sides, but—this is a part of him too.

Once,” Khonshu says, quiet, “I was the fiercest of all the gods. I drank blood and devoured hearts and waged war against anyone who thought to challenge me. But I changed, my worshipers changed, and like the moon’s phases shift, I turned to care. To see you go through the same phases, to make the same choices I did—” He leans down, touching the center of Marc’s forehead with the tip of one gloved finger. It feels like a falcon’s talon, or maybe like a blessing. “The colliding universes heralded a change, my son. And I am a god of change, of time. This time was right.

There’s no shimmer, no surge of energy. Between one moment and the next Khonshu is gone, like he’s never existed at all. Marc’s met a lot of people who say he hasn’t, that he’s all a production, an explanation, Marc’s fractured mind grasping at ways to make up for his past as a gun for hire.

But Marc believes. He believes in Khonshu, in the vestments, in the prophetic dreams. Believes in the four aspects that rest in his hands, like the people who live inside him. The Profile told him once that he couldn’t look at Marc when he was Moon Knight, that it hurt, that Marc was so crazy even the Profile’s mutation couldn’t manage to predict his actions.

Khonshu’s protection, Marc would call it. Like defeating the Sun King on Isle Ra, knowing deep in his bones that Khonshu was guiding him, strengthening him, watching him.

Through all the tests and trials, Marc’s never doubted. Cursed, sometimes, and strayed, but he’s never once thought that Khonshu was anything but real.

Maybe that makes him crazy. Maybe that makes him deluded. Marc has long since stopped caring.

“At least you dropped me somewhere I won’t get bored,” he says, and rises to his feet, tossing his cloak over the statue’s shoulders. It falls there, a perfect drape that looks like polished stone, but Marc can feel the softness beneath his fingers when he tugs it into place. Then, with a sigh, he turns away, and heads for his computer. Khonshu stuffed him into a life here that’s vaguely equivalent to his old one, but—best to figure everything out now, instead of waiting for the details to surprise him.

Steven Grant pulls up the first file on investments, checks the stock market, and sighs. “Marc, you’re terrible with money,” he mutters. “Or would that be Khonshu?”

There’s no answer, and Steven shakes his head. “I need wine for this,” he tells the screen, but doesn’t make a move to get it. Marc stopped drinking. They might all share a body, but imbibing just feels rude.

Chapter Text

“Hey th—oh my god, Jaybird, how much coffee have you had?”

That’s a promising start to the day. Jason rolls his eyes, grabs Roy by the front of his stupid ratty jacket, and drags him into the apartment.

“You’re late,” he says.

“Give me a break, Jaybird, I was in Mexico. Not everyone can call up a private jet on ten minutes’ notice.” Roy makes a quick scan of the safehouse, taking in the files spread over the table, the open laptop, the coffee machine within easy reach, and then pauses. He glances over at Jason, one brow rising, and says, “I’m guessing this isn't an apology sort of visit, huh?”

Jason isn't touching that with a ten foot pole. The Outlaws split up, and he wasn’t the first one to leave. If Roy wants an apology, he’s better off directing his mournful looks at Kori.

“I need your help finding someone,” he says.

Roy squints at him suspiciously. “My help,” he echoes. “In Gotham. Where Oracle sees everything people do and can hack anything. That makes sense.”

Scowling, Jason shoves him down onto the couch. “If Oracle finds him, she’s going to tell Bruce. I don’t want Bruce anywhere near him. Not until I’ve had a chance to talk to him.”

“This isn’t another run-off-to-the-Himalayas thing, is it?” Roy asks, and his suspicion hasn’t eased at all. “Some weird martial arts master who killed you once, or something?”

Jason’s breath rasps in his throat, caught around a laugh. “He killed the Joker,” he says.

Roy’s eyes widen sharply, and with a sharp exhale he sinks back into the cushions, rubs a hand over his face. “Like, killed-killed? Not mildly inconvenienced in the short term, or put into a deathlike state so he could be controlled by some telepath somewhere? Actually dead?”

“With a crowbar,” Jason says, and doesn’t even try to pretend there’s not pure satisfaction in his voice. Roy will understand. He’s heard Jason’s nightmares.

Maybe Bruce has a point about killing a murderer not doing much, but—the Joker had the highest body count of any villain in Gotham. More than the next handful of villains combined. Getting him off the street and into Arkham was fine, but it never actually worked in the long term. He just came back and kept killing more people.

This might not work, either. God knows the bad guys never actually seem to stay dead. But for now, Jason will take it.

“Wow,” Roy says, a little weakly, and then glances up. He studies Jason’s face for a moment, and then asks, “How are you doing?”

Jason doesn’t want to talk about it. He drops into the chair across from Roy, digging through his files, and ignores the question. When he comes up with the police sketch someone made, he shoves it across the table, and says, “This is the guy. He calls himself Moon Knight.”

“That’s one hell of an aesthetic,” Roy says, holding the paper up to the light. “He’s running around Gotham in white? Either his drycleaner has superpowers or he’s got enough suits to use them like Kleenex.”

“Probably rich as shit,” Jason agrees with a shrug. “A lot of these assholes are.”

Roy rolls his eyes. “Hal Jordan and I would like to contest that point,” he says. “I went to go crash on his couch last month and he was getting evicted again.”

“That’s what happens when you’re on Earth maybe a week every three months.” Maybe Jason will offer Hal one of Bruce’s spare bedrooms; that’s always a good way to torture Bruce for a few weeks, until Hal gets his next call from Oa. Then again, Hal has his thing with Dinah and Ollie, and he’s probably crashing there.

Roy makes a vaguely attentive noise, though most of his attention is on the sketch. “Moon Knight, huh? Not really a knight look, unless maybe he’s going Knights Templar or something.”

“I doubt it,” Jason says dryly. “Considering he kept talking about an old Egyptian god and saying shit like my god takes offense to your face.”

“Really?” Roy squints at him.

“Not the face part,” Jason relents. “Taking travelers at night and shit like that. The god’s Khonshu.”

There’s long moment of silence. “…So is it an actual god, him being crazy, or some sort of entity from another dimension that’s making him think it’s a god?” Roy asks warily.

Jason is honestly really fucking glad that Tim and Roy have never spent much time together. “Just—help me find him,” Jason says, shoving the computer at Roy. “Before Bruce does, preferably.”

Roy sighs at him like he’s a trial, but takes the laptop. “Fine, fine. But Jaybird, you owe me one.”

I owe you a lot, Jason doesn’t say. “I’ll buy you a burger,” he retorts instead, and snickers when Roy sticks his tongue out at him.

 

 

Bruce has a headache.

It’s not sleep deprivation, probably; at this point in his life his body’s more or less gotten used to functioning on a handful of hours here and there, long stretches of nightly activity in between. It’s also probably not the fact that Barbara keeps putting him on hold with some truly aggravating music every time he tries to call her, though that certainly hasn’t helped.

The investor’s meeting he couldn’t wriggle out of is his bet. Bruce truly hates the entire board of Wayne Enterprises, and listening to any of them talk is an exercise in frustration.

Any of them alone could change the city. Any of them giving up even a quarter of their wealth could do more good than Bruce putting all of his money into Batman’s crusade. And maybe that makes Bruce a hypocrite, but it sets his teeth on edge even so. None of the care about Gotham. Not the way he does. Not enough.

Breathing in through his nose, Bruce glances down at his phone, checking for a call from Barbara, but there’s still nothing. He would be annoyed at her specifically, but—

But the Joker is dead, and he wants her to find the man who did it. It’s no wonder she’s actively avoiding him.

With a sigh, Bruce shoves the phone in his pocket, then rubs at the bridge of his nose, frustrated and tired. A week and a half should be more than enough time to find a new vigilante in Gotham, but so far Moon Knight has turned up every night like clockwork, swept through the city like a hurricane, and then vanished again. The underworld is still reverberating with the aftershocks of the Joker’s death, and no one’s quite sure what to do with Moon Knight. He hasn’t killed again, but—

Bruce is absolutely sure that he will. At some point, he will. They always do.

He’s almost at the elevator, almost free, when a voice behind him says easily, “Ah, there he is. Bruce, there's someone I want you to meet.”

It takes effort not to just dive for the elevator anyway, but Bruce has known Lucius long enough to restrain himself. Plastering a bright smile to his face, he turns, and says easily, “Lucius! Any friend of yours, you know that.”

Lucius raises one greying brow at him, but doesn’t comment. “Bruce, this is Steven Grant,” he says, and the man next to him smiles charmingly. In his thirties, Bruce thinks, tall, with brown hair and a scar over his left eye. Not quite the clean-cut type; his hair is a bit shaggy, awkwardly trimmed even if he’s tried to hide it, and his suit can't quite conceal the fact that’s more fit than a lot of men who spend all day trying to get that way.

  “Mr. Grant,” Bruce says, and grins at him, offering a hand. This is the part where most guys start a pissing contest, but Bruce has shaken hands with enough of the super-strong crowd that at this point he knows how to protect his hands.

“Steven, please,” Grant returns, and his grip is firm, but he lets go quickly. There are scars there, too, Bruce notices. Just a few, but compared to most of the investors just leaving the room, they're significant. “Lucius was telling me about the charity you started, and I was hoping to speak with you about it.”

A flicker of suspicion rises, sharp, but Bruce doesn’t let it show on his face. “Of course,” he says cheerfully. “It’s my parents’ legacy, and I'm always happy to con a few dollars out of Gotham’s elite in their names.”

Grant’s expression doesn’t even waver. “Of course,” he says, and reaches into his pocket, coming up with a business card. “Let me know when you’re free and we can meet to discuss it. I’ve heard good things about Gotham’s dining scene, if you’re up to dinner one night.”

“I’d love that.” Bruce takes it, glancing down at the number. A Gotham area code, even though he’s never heard of Steven Grant before this. “How did you meet Lucius, may I ask?”

“An art exhibit,” Lucius says, amused. “Ancient Egyptian art, to be exact.”

Grant laughs. “I'm a bit of a collector,” he confesses. “One of the private displays was a bit too tempting, even though I've only been in Gotham a few months. Might as well be labeled an Egyptology nut right off the bat, right?”

Egyptian art. Tim had mentioned that Moon Knight referenced an Egyptian god, and it could be a coincidence, but—Bruce has never believed in such things. “Well,” he says, keeping his smile firmly in place, “in that case, maybe our dinner should be at the Gotham Museum of Antiquities. They’ve got quite the collection, and the restaurant isn't too bad either. Tomorrow night? Say, around six?”

“It’s a date,” Grant says easily. He offers Bruce a wink, then steps back, and Lucius nods.

“I thought you two would get along,” he says, and there’s a weight to his attention that Bruce can never quite decipher. There’s the possibility that he knows, but Bruce has never been certain.

With a chime, the elevator doors slide open, and Bruce steps in, mildly thankful that Grant makes no move to follow. He turns back to Lucius instead, looking cheerful enough. Bruce pretends interest in his phone, but keeps most of his attention fixed on the man as the doors close again.

He hasn’t met Moon Knight himself. There’s no way to be sure of height and build from a security camera’s image, but it seems suspicious. Bruce knows most of Gotham’s elite, at least in passing, and he’s never even heard mention of Grant before today. The local phone number, the presence at Wayne Industries, it speaks of connections, but Bruce doesn’t know them.

He doesn’t like that at all.

Alfred is already waiting in the parking garage when Bruce steps out of the elevator, car idling. When Bruce makes a quick check of the front seats and then slides into the back, Alfred closes the door behind him, then takes the driver’s seat and pulls away.

“A productive meeting, Master Bruce?” he asks.

Bruce looks at the card he’s still holding, turns it over in his fingers. The back is plain, with a simple black feather lying on its side. It could be a simple artistic choice, but there’s every chance it could mean something, too.

“I'm not sure yet, Alfred,” he says, and sets it down. “I have a dinner appointment tomorrow at six, but I’ll drive myself.”

“I’ll make a note, sir.” Alfred glances at him in the mirror for just a second, and then asks, “Should I ask Master Richard to drop by, then?”

The are you going to do something stupid is clear enough that it makes Bruce smile, and he snorts. “A potential investor for the Martha Wayne Foundation,” he says. “Lucius set it up.”

“I'm sure you will take all proper precautions, Master Bruce.”

Bruce had better, that tone says. “Of course, Alfred,” he allows, and checks his phone again. Still no Barbara, and he sighs, debates calling her again. But—

The Joker paralyzed her, traumatized her. She’s strong, and she’s moving forward, but asking her to find and give up the man who killed her attacker is probably too much.

Putting the phone away, Bruce tips his head back against the seat and closes his eyes. Breathes, and doesn’t think of the panic that rose when he realized the Joker had taken Jason and Tim and left him with a city full of bombs. He’d been so sure it was going to be another moment like the warehouse in Ethiopia, that he’d get there too late, have just enough time to pulls a body out of the rubble—

Except he hadn’t. He’d dropped down into the building to find Jason almost giddy, Tim pale-faced, half a dozen of the Joker’s hired thugs groaning through their clown masks or unnervingly still. And everywhere, darts of silver, shaped like crescent moons.

A calling card, from what Bruce has seen. A weapon, but a marker, too.

The Joker was dead on that warehouse floor, bloody and small and broken, and Bruce had stared at him for a long, long time, not sure if what he felt was relief or some kind of twisted pity.

“Master Bruce,” Alfred says softly, and Bruce opens his eyes to the sight of the house.

Sliding out, he rubs the stiff spot in his neck, and says, “Thanks, Alfred.”

“Of course, Master Bruce.”

There’s paperwork waiting for Bruce in his upstairs office, some minor repairs he needs to make to some of his gear. Instead, though, Bruce turns towards the cave, slips through the entrance and down the steps. The sound of a voice muttering makes him raise a brow, and he rounds the last turn to the sight of Stephanie slumped over in front of the main computer, halfway between her costume and her street clothes.

“Are you bleeding out?” he asks dryly, because there’s certainly no sign of it, but she’s muttering and banging her head on the desk in a way she must have picked up from Dick.

“Through the brain,” Stephanie says, muffled by the wood. With a groan, she lifts her head, drags her messy hair back into a knot, and jabs a pencil through it. “How many jewelry stores can these bastards hit without leaving a single clue?”

“Kate hasn’t found anything yet?” Bruce crosses the cave, leaning over her shoulder to watch the replay of the security footage. There’s a half-second glimpse of a man in a Halloween mask before the butt of a gun breaks the camera, and then nothing.

“Not yet,” Stephanie says, and groans, rubbing her forehead. “I like mysteries,” she says plaintively. “But I can't solve a mystery without clues! Even just one!”

Bruce debates for a moment, then sets a hand on her shoulder. “I’ll call in Harper,” he says. “She might be able to find something we’ve been missing.”

“I hope so,” Stephanie mutters, sinking back in her chair. Glancing up at Bruce, she narrows her eyes, and then says, “So why are you down here? Isn’t it a little early to suit up?”

“Lucius introduced me to someone today,” Bruce says. “I wanted to do a background check.”

“Ha! A distraction!” Stephanie shakes back her sleeves, sets her fingers on they keyboard, and clicks her tongue impatiently. “So, this introduction got a name?”

Apparently Bruce isn't going to escape the rest of the family learning his business. With a sigh, he settles against the edge of the desk and says, “Steven Grant. He has a Gotham phone number, but I’ve ever heard of him before.”

“Neither have I,” Stephanie says, frowning. That means either Grant doesn’t run in criminal circles where Stephanie’s contacts would notice him or he’s using an assumed name, and Bruce isn't sure which option he likes less. “Okay, common name, narrowing it down to Gotham, lots of money, anything else?”

“Egyptian artifacts,” Bruce says, and Stephanie pauses. She tips her head, raising a brow at him, and Bruce doesn’t let his face give anything away.

“Ooookay then,” Stephanie mutters. “But if Babs tanks the computer system, I'm telling Tim it was your fault.”

“She wouldn’t do that,” Bruce says, though he’s not entirely sure of that, honestly. Barbara is stubborn.

“Yeah, and I didn’t wear a purple catsuit and call myself Spoiler for years of bad fashion decisions,” Stephanie says, and then narrows her eyes. “Okay, got him. Steven Grant is in lots of public records as an investor, but a week ago he started moving his investments around and made a killing on some copper mining company based out of Africa. Near the Egyptian border, to be precise.”

Well, it’s a link. Bruce leans over her shoulder, scanning the list of organizations with Grant’s name attached. There are several in Egypt, particularly outreach programs, and the one with the most invested in it, as well as the most recent donations…

“Rebuilding a village?” Bruce asks, frowning. Grant is just about the only contributor, and with the amount of money he’s put into it, either it’s a passion project for a bored millionaire or there’s something going on.

“Yeah.” Stephanie grimaces. “Looks like it was all but razed by a bunch of mercenaries working for a local warlord. Vixen took care of him, but…” She trails off, frown deepening. “Okay, so, the village is less than an hour from a big archeological dig in Egypt, where the ruins of an old temple were found a few years back.”

The back of Bruce's neck itches, a sense of certainty rising. “The temple is to Khonshu,” he says.

Stephanie hums in distracted agreement. “Those mercenaries raided the temple, too,” she says. “A lot of artifacts were stolen.”

And there was a private showing of Egyptian artifacts the other night. Bruce is willing to bet that at least a few things from the temple ended up there, drawing Grant’s interest.

“You have some time?” Bruce asks, and when Stephanie nods, he says, “Find out what was taken from the site and see if you can track down the artifacts, especially any in Grant’s possession. And look into legends associated with the temple, and Khonshu in particular.”

“Yes sir.” Stephanie offers him a lazy salute, then stretches her arms above her head, twisting to pop her back. “Okay, I’ll throw my jewel thief case at Harper and then get to tracking smugglers. What are you doing tonight?”

“Looking for Moon Knight,” Bruce says flatly, and pushes away from the computer. It’s too early to go out still, but he can at least do a little digging as Matches Malone and then take to the streets later. Moon Knight’s been keeping erratic hours, but he has at least been showing up every night, and it’s about time Bruce finds him. Gotham’s only so big, after all.

 

 

If Marc had to compare Gotham and Metropolis on the basis of them both being bootleg New Yorks, he’d say that Gotham is the parts of New York that they warn tourists about, with darkened streetlights and all the doors locked after nine pm. Metropolis is the glitz and flash of Time Square at noon, trying to make an impression and desperate to blind so that people don’t look too closely.

Neither of them is particularly impressive, Marc decides. He stares down at the Metropolis streets, wrinkling his nose, and wonders when a rabbi’s son from the Chicago suburbs got spoiled enough by big city life to decide that New York was his, and that he was offended by any contenders for the name.

Probably Lockley’s influence. Marc sure as hell hasn’t gotten much more than annoyance and pain from that side of himself in years.

Still, Metropolis at least has better lighting than Gotham, and for all it’s a quick trip across the bay, it feels enough like a separate world that the jewel thieves who have been hitting Gotham feel safer here. Marc caught them at the tail end of a robbery, but they’re professional enough about the whole thing that he’s not about to just swoop in and start breaking heads; this kind of operation always has a mastermind, and given how they seem to know precisely what stores to hit, there’s got to be someone with inside knowledge. Marc doesn’t need to be Wolverine to smell a rat here.

Aren’t you worried, leaving Gotham’s guardians all alone?” Khonshu asks, seated beside him on the rooftop. He’s got a glass of wine in one hand, and he’s swirling it idly. Marc tries not to think how that’s Steven’s gesture; he doesn’t want to know which way the influence runs there.

“No,” he says shortly. “They’re big boys and girls. They can survive one night without me.”

Khonshu laughs. “Poor Batman will be so disappointed,” he says. “I think he was hoping to meet you tonight.”

Marc grunts, but doesn’t otherwise answer. Batman has been looking for him, but Marc is used to having even bigger, nobler heroes out for his head. Getting between Steve and Tony during the Registration fiasco was bad enough, and then getting dragged into the Secret Avengers was even worse. Looking for his redemption in other people has never ended well for Marc.

Captain America,” Khonshu says. “Now there’s a crush I never saw coming. At least no one can fault your taste, my son.”

Marc rolls his eyes. “Everyone gets a crush on Captain America,” he says, unimpressed.

Yes, well.” Khonshu’s attention is too sharp, too much. “Most people don’t spend their entire lives fixated on one person even after their connection is severed.

“I got a trip to Mars out of it,” Marc says, deliberately ignoring the thought of Marlene. The Sun King targeted her, and Bushman almost killed her, and the fact that Diatrice survived is down to sheer chance. Marc can’t be part of their lives. He and Marlene established that years ago.

Khonshu laughs, darkly, deeply delighted. “Old gods,” he says. “Old gods with no power, desperate for worshipers, to the point where they have to brainwash them.” He reaches out, tapping the crescent moon on Marc’s chest, and Marc can see the galaxies burning behind his bottomless eyes. “What a pleasure, not to count myself among their ranks.”

“Keep yelling at me and I might change that,” Marc says, and bats his hand away. It’s hard to tell if he means it; Khonshu’s been…better, since they got here. Still not kind, maybe, but—

Marc wouldn’t know what to do with a kind god, even if he got one.

Khonshu snickers, the strange, echoing click of his laugh just audible enough to raise the hairs on the back of Marc's neck, bones rolling across a polished stone floor. “You believe, my son,” he says, and Marc doesn’t look at him, doesn’t turn his head, but he can still see the flickering figure that is his god, looming beside him. Just for a moment Khonshu is a vast thing, casting a shadow that stretches all the way across Metropolis’s brightness. Marc can see the hawk’s head, the feathers, the sapphire crescent topping a silver staff. Khonshu's cloak envelops the city, covers it, and for an instant Marc's head spins with the force of life there, the glowing pinpoints of a hundred thousand travelers passing beneath the moon’s watchful eye.

“My belief,” Marc says through buzzing lips, through the thunder of a heart that’s beating loud enough to echo in his veins, “has never been the problem.”

Khonshu doesn’t answer. When Marc turns his head, he’s gone, and his shadow is receding. The intensity is falling away, too, and Marc breathes out in relief, rubs at his mouth underneath the fabric of his mask. It feels like adrenaline, or maybe like a high; it’s knowing, controlling, watching, and Marc wonders if Khonshu sees like that always, wonders how a god sees, with only a handful of faithful left to his name.

No one’s sealed Khonshu away. Not like they did the old god controlling that mining operation on Mars. Not like the Avengers have sealed away or kept sealed a hundred other gods over the years, shutting them away from humanity.

Marc wonders if that’s a mistake, honestly. Maybe a part of him always has.

“Watcher,” he says, and closes his eyes. Somehow, on his tongue, the word has the same weight that one of his father’s prayers once did, back before Marc lost faith. Back before the breaking, the psychiatric hospital, the wars, the path that fell into darkness. Back when the once-familiar words sounded like these ones, the same edges of grief and gratitude meeting in the center of joy. “My god watches over the sands beneath the moon.”

Gods don’t have borders. Not that Marc has ever found. Khonshu's eyes don’t stop at the edge of the sands Egypt once ruled, and here, a whole world away from what was familiar, Marc wonders if these places are new to him or if he’s always seen them. Wonders if they’re both lost souls here, or if it’s Marc alone, as adrift as he’s been since the moment he saw his father’s friend and mentor kill one of the members of his own synagogue and cracked under the terror.

Fingers close around his shoulders, boney, tipped with talons, and dig in. “You missed one,” Khonshu tells him, sharp, amused. “That’s only the second aspect. Don’t forget the third.”

Then his touch vanishes, the cold wind on the rooftop whirling in to fill the gap, but—

There’s moonlight on the stone, and Marc breathes in.

“Pathfinder,” he says, and the word rasps in his throat. “My god shows the way to those who are lost.”

“I think everyone needs that in their god,” someone behind him says.

Marc tenses. Doesn’t let himself flinch, or turn, but can hear the rustle of a cape in the wind, two meters back and one up. Flight ability, then; that always makes things tricky.

“Some people need it more than most,” he says, and rises from his crouch, pulling his cape closer around him and gripping the edges. If he needs to use the glider function to get to the ground, he wants to be prepared. It’s always harder when he gets thrown off a building, compared to jumping under his own power.

Marc's at least mildly familiar with the heroes who have been on the news since he got here, and Superman is one of the most obvious, most frequently photographed, and most easily recognizable. He cuts an imposing figure, too, and a dramatic one. The cynical part of Marc's brain wonders how long it took him to calculate the angles, so that he’d be perfectly backlit by the building behind him.

There’s not a scowl on Superman’s face, though, just steady attention, watchful without being hostile. He watches Marc for a long moment, then touches down on the rooftop and says, “I'm afraid I don’t know you. What brings you to Metropolis?”

Even being recognized as another hero isn't enough to bleed the tension from Marc's spine. He knows all too well how he usually comes off to the straight-and-narrow hero types. There's a reason he and the Punisher have always gotten along.

“Moon Knight,” he says flatly, and takes a step back until his heels are almost at the edge of the roof. “And jewel thieves.”

Surprise flickers across Superman’s face, and he pauses, turning his head. Like he’s listening to the whole damn city, and Marc's skim crawls a little. He’d hated registration, even if he went along with it to get Stark off his back. The idea of someone who can observe him at all times, just with a thought—

Well. Marc's not great with supervision at the best of times.

“No one’s hit any jewelry stores here,” Superman says after a moment. “If you heard of a threat, though—”

“Not here,” Marc interrupts. “They hit in Gotham.”

“Oh,” Superman says, blinking. “No wonder I haven’t heard of anything, then. They're in Metropolis?”

“Based here,” Marc says, watching his face. There's no indignation, no trace of anger at Marc butting in on his territory. Even Spider-man got tetchy when too many supers ended up in Queens. The only thing Marc can read in his expression is concern, but—Marc's not great with normal people when he’s not punching them, honestly.

“I see,” Superman says unhappily. “Do you need help? I'm not sure how well you know the city, Moon Knight, but I’d be happy to assist in any way I can.”

From just what Marc's seen on the news, that’s a hell of a lot of assistance. He’s a little wary, but at the same time, more hands isn't a bad thing, especially when Marc is pretty much baseline squishy human and said extra hands can rip through concrete as easily as paper.

“They’re in there,” he says, jabbing a thumb at the building across the street. “Went down into the parking garage. I didn’t see any other exits, and they haven’t come out again.”

Superman stares down at the building’s base for a moment like he can see through the people, the stone. Then, raising one brow, he says, “There’s a lead-lined room down there. That’s not something a parking garage usually needs.”

Marc snorts, and doesn’t bother asking how Superman knows. “Nice for a bolt hole, though,” he says, and Superman makes a tiredly amused sound of agreement.

“Any idea how many?” he asks, and slants a quick, sideways look at Marc. “And if I can ask, how did you find out about the robberies if they’re in Gotham?”

“I live there,” Marc says, and turns, putting his toes against the ledge. “Seven that I saw coming in. There are probably at least three more.”

“You live in Gotham?” Superman sounds outright startled. “I—do you work there?”

Hero work, he means. Marc ignores that question the way it deserves, rocks back on his heels, and then leaps over the side of the building in one hard push, tumbling down several stories before he lets his cape snap open to catch the wind. The jolt carries him across the street, straight down through the opening, and he lands on the concrete with a thump, scanning the interior of the building. Only a few cars, and no security guard that he can see, just an automated booth and a road leading down.

“You really do live in Gotham,” Superman says, amused, as he touches down beside Marc. When Marc casts a confused glance at him, Superman shakes his head and laughs a little. “You have the feel,” he explains, cheerfully enough. “Very dramatic.”

Marc isn't quite sure what he means of that, and looks away. “Down?” he asks.

“Three levels,” Superman confirms. “There must be part of the place that they’ve closed off from the public, or hidden away.”

“A treasure hunt,” Marc says dryly. “My favorite.”

Superman laughs. “X marks the spot?” he offers, and points ahead of them, where an X-shaped pillar stands directly in their line of sight.

“Good enough,” Marc decides, and lets the invulnerable man take the lead. He’s crazy, after all, not stupid.

Chapter Text

The truck that Marc followed into Metropolis is, ironically, parked right beside one of the X-shaped pillars, three levels down. It looks like it’s been abandoned, no trace of the thieves beyond a bit of dirt on the floorboards on the passenger’s side. Marc crouches down, checking underneath it, and rises again to Superman watching him with bemusement.

“I can see through things,” he says. “X-ray vision.”

Marc grunts, unimpressed. “I once wore a silver-plated suit to take out a werewolf,” he says. “People figure things out and get around everything.”

“I—a werewolf?” Superman repeats, following Marc a little helplessly as he scouts the edges of the small section. It’s a side room, fairly large, but—not large enough, given the size of the outer area and where the wall comes out. Where the lead-lined room is hidden, Marc assumes. “Do you hunt werewolves often?”

“It was a con,” Marc says, which is mostly the truth. The kid survived, anyway. “On the organization that wanted him.”

“Oh,” Superman says, and it sounds relieved. “An infiltration? That makes sense.” He comes to a stop, studying a section of the wall, and then says, “There are scuffmarks here.”

Marc pauses, then doubles back to check, and there are indeed. Just faint scratches, but they disappear under the wall in a way that’s definitely suspicious. Rising, he stretches up to check the ceiling, and makes it onto his toes for half a second before he’s suddenly being lifted. Sucking in a shocked breath, he grabs for Superman’s head to steady himself, and says, “Hey.”

A pause. “Oh,” Superman says sheepishly. “Sorry, I should have warned you. Should I put you down?”

The ceiling here’s probably twelve feet. Marc eyes the top of it, then twists to get a foot on Superman’s shoulder and pulls himself up to stand. “Just don’t move,” he says. It’s…casual, the way Superman uses his strength. Marc's just used to a lot of people who work harder on their strength, and treat it like something precious. But for Superman, it’s just—a part of who he already is.

“I won't,” Superman promises, sounding amused. “You know, I could just hover for a moment and look—”

“But I feel so tall right now,” Marc jokes, completely flat, and Superman laughs. “Step to the left.”

Superman complies, balancing Marc's weight like it’s nothing. Marc digs his fingers into the join between the wall and the roof, frowning, and then says, “It doesn’t slide up, but the edge is scuffed. I think it swings inward.”

“This many levels down, in this part of Metropolis, they probably don’t have to worry about being seen very often,” Superman says, and holds still as Marc jumps down, landing in a crouch beside him. “Going through the wall might be our only choice. I don’t like the idea of weakening any walls down here, but…”

Marc will admit he hadn’t thought of that part. Pausing, he eyes the meters of concrete above them, then blows out a breath. It’s almost the full moon, so he’s stronger right now, but—not that strong.

“We could stake them out, but they might have a back entrance I didn’t spot,” he says. Pauses, because he should have done some research on other heroes in this world, but Steven had control and all he was worried about was money and maintaining his image. His time at the tailor would have been more than enough to look up a few things, but—

Well. Steven doesn’t like Marc much, and Marc has to say that the feeling’s pretty much mutual.

“You can get through lead?” he asks, a little awkwardly. A lot of people in their crowd have strange weaknesses.

Superman gives him an odd, faintly thoughtful look. “Of course,” and steps back, considering the wall. “Cutting through shouldn’t weaken things too badly. Ready?”

Cutting? Marc opens his mouth to ask, but an instant later, Superman’s eyes burn red. The concrete splits like a red-hot blade was just shoved through it, and Marc frowns, watching Superman cut through. Not a power he’d expected to go along with super-strength and flight, but—no expected Sentry to be able to be able to play with concentrated sunlight, either.

Superhumans, Marc decides with aggravation, and watches the chunk of wall drop. Instantly, he launches himself up and over the falling stone, and right into a hail of gunfire.

“Moon Knight!” Superman shouts, but Marc twists, kicks off the ceiling, and lands feet-first on the closest man as he tries to get his gun up. Diving sideways, he rolls, comes up with his fist leading, and hits a second man hard enough to throw him back into a rack of ammunition, then twists to dodge a nightstick swung at his head. The truncheon on his thigh is easy enough to grab, and Marc slams it into his wrist, knocking his arm wide as he shouts, then drives his elbow into the man’s throat.

A ricocheting bullet bounces off his armor as he rises, and Marc glances over to where Superman is advancing right through the gunfire, apparently unbothered by it. The idiots with the guns don’t seem to have realized that they should try something else yet, either, and Marc rolls his eyes, slips around behind them, and slams the closest one into the ground. Leaps for the next, flinging a crescent dart through the barrel of another man’s weapon, and rises, coming face-to-face with a man in a cheap Halloween wolfman mask.

“Just like fucking Chicago,” Marc mutters, and leaps up and over and flings another dart. The man screams as it slices through his arm, but Marc doesn’t pause, sweeps his feet out from under him and slams his head into the concrete, then straightens. Two men go flying past him, guns bent into knots, and hit the far wall with a deafening crash of crates and boxes that tumble down on their heads, but—

There’s a woman in the center of the room, watching them with irritation, like them tearing through the wall and taking out the thieves is nothing but an inconvenience. She’s pretty, but Marc could lose her in any crowd in America if he wasn’t paying attention, and he doesn’t like that. Doesn’t like the way her eyes narrow at them, either, like she’s sizing them up, and his skin crawls. He takes a step back, but Superman steps past him, towards her.

“Ma’am,” he says firmly. “Are you part of this operation?”

“I am this operation,” the woman says dryly, and cocks her head. The expression on her face is a cat looking at a bug, and Marc sets his teeth, tightens his grip on his truncheon. He doesn’t like this at all.

Superman’s frown deepens, but he takes another step, putting himself right in front of her. “We’re putting a stop to this,” he says. “Surrender. We don’t want to have to fight.”

“Speak for yourself,” Marc mutters, but Superman ignores him.

We don’t have to, no,” the woman says, and smiles. That’s not an expression someone should be making in front of one of this world’s strongest superheroes, and Marc tenses, steps back—

As one, the gunmen pull themselves back to their feet, and Superman recoils with a scream.

“Fuck,” Marc says loudly, and lets the grappling hook fly like a weapon. One of the men intercepts it before it can hit the woman, though, takes it right in the chest and staggers but doesn’t go down. With a growl of frustration, Marc kicks the closest man in the face, wrenches the next man’s mask down and sideway to blind him, and throws a third out of the room and into the truck parked outside. Turns—

A blast of heat just sears the edge of his hood as he flings himself down, and Superman’s heat vision punches right through the wall where his head just was.

Fuck,” Marc says, more insistently, and hurls himself forward, rolling to his feet and diving behind the knot of gunmen. One swings at him with his bent gun, but Marc flips him into another attacker, body-slams another into the wall, and cuts the tendons in another’s wrist with a flip of a crescent dart. Rises, and Superman has another by the throat, face cold. The blue eyes are gone, replaced by another color entirely, and Marc's own eyes narrow.

Yeah, that expression doesn’t sit right with Marc at all. He’s only known the guy for an hour, but even he can tell this isn't normal.

“Superman,” he snaps, and orange-washed eyes flicker up, fix on his face. Instantly, Superman drops the thief, then steps forward, and Marc grimaces. “Khonshu,” he mutters, “I hope you're feeling generous tonight.”

There’s no obvious sign, but Marc thinks he hears sand across stone somewhere distant.

“Let him go,” he tells the woman, backing away as Superman advances. “Whatever hold you’ve got on him, drop it or I’ll make you.”

The woman laughs, like it’s amusing. “I don’t think so,” she says. “I’ve been good and kept under the radar, stolen my jewels and been happy with that. No one cares about a few people dead in Gotham anyway. But if you want to run me out of business, of course I'm going to fight back.” Looking from Marc to Superman and back again, she snorts. “You should probably give up now.”

“Yeah, well, that’s what they told me in the Marines, and then I got to beat my CO to a pulp. Every recruit’s dream, right?” Marc says, and flings a dart. It bounces off Superman’s shoulder without any sort of impact, and Marc contains a groan. If this is anything like fighting Sentry, he’s probably going to end up regretting this in the morning.

“I’d say sorry, but this is probably going hurt me more than you,” Marc tells Superman, ducks under his grabbing hand, and kicks him hard in the balls. Not even a flinch, and Marc curses, leaps over him as Superman grabs for his cape, dodges a too-fast punch that only just misses him, leaps back—

And is airborne. There’s just enough time to brace for impact before he hits the wall, breath exploding from his lungs, and then crashes into the floor, wheezing. He scrambles up immediately, shaking his head, and flings his truncheon right at Superman’s face. Not so much as a flinch, and Marc dives sideways, rolls, ducks a fist that drives deep into the lead-lined concrete behind him. Grabbing Superman’s arm, he wrenches around, uses the full weight of his body to slam Superman face-first into the stone, and then leaps back.

Instead of immediately following, though, Superman staggers. He shakes his head hard, like he’s coming awake, and raises his head.

Impact, Marc thinks, eyeing him. Or distance. Or he’s just got a strong mind. But letting him get fucked with again is too big a risk, even if he realizes the danger. Swinging around, he palms another dart, dodges left around a thief who swings at him, and lets the blade fly right at the woman.

One of the men steps in the way, taking it in the head, and drops.

“Moon Knight!” Superman says, ragged, and staggers to his feet. “She’s a telepath—”

Marc leaps over the body, and the woman’s eyes glow as she reaches for him. He can feel the first touch, the wash of foreign intent that curls through his bones, and smiles, all teeth.

“Yeah?” he says, and grabs her by the front of her shirt. “You want a look inside my mind?”

“Moon Knight, don’t—”

The woman grabs him by the edges of his cowl, delight washing across her face. “You think you're stronger than Superman?” she laughs, and then all Marc can see is orange, eating through his mind like acid. It’s like falling, like darkness, like being consumed, but—

High above, there’s a moon, white and shining, cutting through the sickly glow.

“No,” Marc says, “but I sure as hell think I'm crazier.”

He feels her falter, those foreign fingers in his brain hesitating. Too many cracks, and Marc falls back, back into that old temple, back into the institute, into shock therapy, into drifting without a body or identity, into Jake and Steven and Moon Knight, and above them all, beyond them all, the sky is broken. Khonshu looms, reaching through the cracks, something from far away, and just the very edges of his prison burn.

Marc's the pathway for a whole hell of a lot more, and in his cracked, fractured mind, overlapping identities like souls vying for control, Khonshu reaches back and touches the invading power with one gloved finger.

With a horrified cry, the woman wrenches back, orange light retreating. She claws her way back out of Marc's mind, staggers, rises. Marc turns as she bolts, flips a dart up and out and—

“No!” Superman says, but he’s still a beat off, still recovering. The dart takes her in the back of the neck, and Marc straightens as she falls. As all of her puppets fall, and Superman makes a sound that’s like grief, like regret.  

“She controlled you,” Marc says, and crouches down, checking one of the masked thieves for a pulse. There’s none, even though this isn't one Marc killed, and he grimaces.  “Her thieves are dead, too.”

Superman takes a breath, pushes himself upright. Still unsteady, Marc thinks, assessing. “If her death killed them,” he starts.

Marc shrugs. “I doubt it. Her power fucked you up within ten seconds, and that wasn’t even complete control. She was using them like puppets. I doubt there was much left beyond that.” Rising, he wipes a hand off on his black under-suit, ignoring the blood on the knuckles of his gloves.

Superman closes his eyes for a moment, expression tight. “Killing isn't the answer,” he says.

Marc's had this conversation far too many times, with far too many heroes. “Not always,” he says, and a shifting shadow draws his attention. Khonshu, falcon-headed and cloaked in white, leans over the woman, and burning eyes rise to meet Marc's. There’s a heart in his hand, and Marc looks away before he can see it devoured. He Who Lives On Hearts isn't just a menacing epithet, for Khonshu.

“There’s no way to make those decisions,” Superman says quietly, and when Marc glances up at him, his expression is firm. “They should be left to courts, to juries—”

“Sometimes,” Marc agrees. “But sometimes you can't.”

Superman’s mouth tightens. “How do you know you’ve never killed an innocent person?” he challenges.

The laugh cracks out of Marc's throat. Three wars in Africa, half a dozen more bloody conflicts in Eastern Europe and South America, and Marc was a mercenary who saw the worst parts of humanity and actively participated.

“I've killed a lot of innocent people,” he says. “That’s how I know the difference now.”

Superman pauses, watching him. Hesitates, looking at the bodies around them, and then takes a tired breath. “Please try not to kill in Metropolis,” he says quietly.

Marc pauses, but—it’s not his city, and he can respect that. “All right,” he says, and picks up the crescent dart he threw at Superman. The edge is blunted. He eyes it dubiously for a moment, then tosses it aside. He’s got more, and he’s found a place to get more made, so one dulled blade isn't a great loss.

“Sorry,” Superman says, hesitant again. “I—did I hurt you? You hit the wall pretty hard—”

“I'm fine.” Marc picks up his truncheon, two more blades, then turns and embeds one in the wall, marking the space. Like wearing white, leaving a calling-card makes sure people will know his reputation. He thinks he can hear sirens somewhere above them, and glances at one of the deeper patches of shadows. He can slip out that way, but—

“You play nice with the cops?” he asks Superman.

“Yes,” Superman says. “But if you don’t want to, I understand. I can meet you on the roof in about an hour?”

Marc isn't entirely sure what more business they have, or why Superman wants to have more, when their views clearly diverge, but he shrugs. “All right,” he says, and heads back up through the structure, ducking behind a pillar to avoid the fleet of squad cars that wail past.

Outside on the street, there’s a small crowd, but Marc avoids them too, finds a fire escape and leaps to catch it, starting his long climb towards the top of the building. Not having the Mooncopter is getting to be a pain, but Marc supposes that Khonshu couldn’t bring everything along when he switched universes. The fact that he thought to set up a life for Marc is already more than Marc would have expected.

Up on the rooftop, Marc checks the murmuring crowd, then sits down, lets himself fall back against the stone and closes his eyes. His ribs hurt, and his back is bruised, and there’s a tightness around his temples that means a headache is forming, but—not bad, for taking out some kind of telepath and all her men. The jewel thieves killed everyone they came into contact with in Gotham, so Marc doesn’t regret killing her in return. She was dangerous.

When he opens his eyes, there’s a throne settled on the rooftop like it’s always been there, and he’s lying at Khonshu's feet. Khonshu is staring down at him, head cocked, and there are worlds burning in his eyes.

“Are you in all the universe?” Marc asks. “Is that how it works?”

No,” Khonshu says after a moment. “There was a version of me here, but he died long ago, and left a space. Gods have more…immediate reflections across the universes than mortals.

Marc makes a sound of confirmation, closing his eyes again. “Can you see back?” he asks.

Another moment of silence, and Khonshu says, “Would you like me to tell you how they are?”

Yes, Marc wants to say, because he’ll always love Marlene, and he loves Diatrice. Loves Jean-Paul, too, and misses Samuels and Nedda. But—

They get hurt around him. All of them, but especially the people Marc loves the most. He’d thought it would be fine, lived that way for years with confidence in his own power, but Jean-Paul almost lost his legs, Marlene almost died, Diatrice was almost taken by the Sun King. Better to keep to a handful of other superheroes, in light of that.

“No,” he says instead, and means it. “Do they think I'm dead?”

Should I make them think that?”

Marc doesn’t answer, doesn’t know. “The universes will stop colliding?” he asks.

They will.” Khonshu is perfectly certain, unwavering. “This does not signal the end of your world. It will be repaired.”

Marc can live with that. Breathing out, he ignores the ache in his ribs, and says, “You ate her heart.”

A dark thing,” Khonshu agrees, pleased. “Beautifully greedy. Ammut would have loved her.

Marc grimaces, remembering the redheaded doctor who shifted so smoothly into a crocodile-headed monster in the institute Khonshu created in his mind. All a test, and it left Marc more at ease with his other selves, but—he hated every moment of it.

There are too many nightmares in his head, and that was just one, but it echoed too many real things. Marc still sees it in his dreams.

Khonshu's nowhere close to a kind god, but maybe here he can at least not be a dick.

Marc stays where he is, listening to the noise of the city and missing his motorcycle, for long enough that the aches start to fade a little, his breathing evens. He’s not quite on the edge of sleep, but certainly relaxed, when the sweep of a cape in the wind makes him open his eyes. Superman lands on the roof, and he offers Marc a brown paper bag with a smile.

“I don’t know if you eat burgers,” he says, “but there’s also a chicken sandwich if you don’t.”

“Burgers are fine,” Marc says, and sits up, taking the bag.

“Oh, good.” Superman sinks down beside him, crossing his legs under himself, and takes the burger Marc passes him. “Edna’s deli has some of the best in the city.”

Somehow, it’s entirely unsurprising that Superman would know that, right down to the name of the owner. With a quiet snort, Marc pulls his hood back, pauses for a moment, and then decides he doesn’t care and pulls off his mask as well. People here don’t know him, and Steven knows to avoid cameras.

From the catch in Superman’s breath, he didn’t expect that. Marc ignores him determinedly, unwrapping his burger and picking off the onions, then taking a bite.

It is good. Better than a lot Marc's eaten over the years, for sure.

“Thanks,” he says, and when he glances up, Superman is watching him thoughtfully.

“Do you know Batman?” he asks after a moment.

Marc shrugs. “I met two of his sidekicks,” he says. “In red, probably in their twenties.”

“Red Robin and Red Hood?” Superman asks, surprised. “But not Batman himself?”

“Not yet,” Marc says, and takes another bite.

There's a long minute of silence, and then Superman says quietly, “You're the one who killed the Joker, aren’t you?”

Marc blinks. Lifts his head to find that thoughtful expression hasn’t wavered from Superman’s face, and then says, “Yeah. Khonshu—my god wanted his heart.”

Wanted him dead, and dead painfully. He’d been the one to direct Marc's hand to the crowbar when Marc was going to start just hitting with his truncheon. Marc hadn’t been about to argue, not when he saw the look in the Joker’s eyes.

Superman glances away, out at the city, and the look on his face is the one Marc saw on Sentry’s, too aware of every wrong happening in the city and his own ability to stop it. Superman seems to have come to terms with letting people sort themselves out while he takes a moment, though, and that’s probably healthier than Sentry whipping all over the city every three seconds trying to keep every single person alive.

“Batman usually brings him back to Arkham every time he escapes,” he says. “The Robins, too.”

“Clearly if he keeps escaping, it’s not working,” Marc says, maybe a little acidly, but—that old saying about insanity being repeating the same action and expecting different results isn't quite true. That’s not insanity, it’s stupidity. “Arkham?”

Surprise flickers over Superman’s face. “Arkham Asylum,” he says. “It’s—most of the people Batman faces end up there.”

An asylum. Marc sets his food aside, and there’s ice threading its way through his veins. “Asylums have never helped anyone,” he spits out. “They don’t—it’s all shock therapy and—”

And tiny rooms, hard beds, dark halls. Doors that lock, and people with dead eyes, and nurses who don’t care except when they only care about hurting. Wrapping his arms around his legs, Marc curls forward, resting his head on his knees, and tries to remind himself to breathe.

There's a pause, and then a shift. A hand settles on Marc's back, light pressure, firm presence. “No,” Superman says softly. “I can't imagine Arkham has helped many people. But they can't be left on the street, and they can't go in a normal prison.”

“So you put them in an actual hospital,” Marc says. “So you help them. So they're not like the Joker, or like me.”

Silence, silence, silence, with only the whine of sirens rising to break it.

“You were in an asylum?” Superman asks, and it’s almost gentle.

“It got better,” Marc says without lifting his head. And—true. There were reforms, and the institute his father put him in when he was a child got better quickly, but—psychiatric help changed a hell of a lot over the years, and it started pretty damn badly. “There’s not—some things there’s not a fix for.”

“Sometimes you just have to live with it?” Superman sounds wry, regretful.

Marc shrugs. “I'm crazy,” he says, and he’s never hidden it. Not as Marc. Jake accepts it, mostly. Steven hates both of them, though. He’d like to think he’s normal. It’s one of the reasons he and Marlene lasted for so long. “I’ve made it useful.”

A breath, and Superman smiles. “Well,” he says, light. “I might not agree with all of your methods, but—thank you, Moon Knight. For finding the thieves, and then for getting her out of my head. Being controlled like that—it doesn’t end well.”

Marc can imagine not, for a man as powerful as Superman. “I was saving my own skin,” he says.

A thoughtful pause, and then Superman shakes his head. “You kept me from killing,” he says, “as soon as you realized something was wrong. Thank you for that, too.”

Marc looks away, doesn’t answer. “Jewels are going back to Gotham?” he asks.

Superman takes the change of subject gracefully. “The police will transfer them over once everything’s been counted. Do you have a way to get back to Gotham?”

“Yeah.” The train, but Superman doesn’t need to know that. Marc misses his motorcycle. He’ll have to see about getting another made. Or Steven will.

“Well.” Superman smiles at him. “You have time for a meal first, right?”

It’s probably not accurate to feel like a stray cat getting fed, but Marc eyes Superman anyway, wary. “Probably,” he says. The next train’s not until later anyway. “If you have dessert in that bag.”

Superman laughs warmly, and reaches in to pull out a lemon bar and a brownie. “Have a preference?” he asks.

Marc steals the lemon bar from his fingers and goes back to his burger. He still feels unsettled, not quite right in his skin, but—

It’s getting better.

Chapter Text

“Jason,” Barbara says, exasperated. “What makes you think I'm going to help you find him when I haven’t even helped Bruce?”

“Because you haven’t helped Bruce?” Jason suggests, giving her his most charming smile. From her unimpressed stare, it’s not working, but—given that Babs has been known to hold out against Dick and his puppy eyes, Jason knows he’s got just about no chance there. Changing tracks, he leans over the café table, nudging her coffee closer, and says, “Come on, Babs, you know who he took out. Both of us had a stake in that. It’s not like I'm about to turn him over to the cops. Or to Bruce.”

Still staring flatly at him, Barbara takes her coffee. “Get me a scone,” she says.

Jason groans, but shoves up from the table. A scone is a small price to pay for information on Moon Knight. “Lemon blueberry, or earl grey?” he asks.

Barbara’s smile is as sweet as sugar. “Mocha,” she answers, and Jason curses, all but flinging himself at the counter to elbow his way in and order the last mocha scone. He practically has to fistfight a businesswoman for it, and she gives him a dirty look as he retreats with the prize, only to find that his seat has been occupied. Roy is slouched over the table, drawing on a napkin as he gestures with his free hand, and Barbara is leaning into him, red hair falling around her face, expression intent. Whatever Roy’s pitching, it looks like it has something to do with a satellite network, and Jason grimaces. Roy and access to a global network doesn’t sound like the best combination.

Stealing a chair from the closest table, he drops down into it and sets Barbara’s scone in front of her. “Hey, scone, now where’s my information?”

Barbara pulls back, casts him a smile, and breaks off a piece, popping it into her mouth. “What does a scone have to do with your info?” she asks, smirking. “I just wanted one.”

Jason scoffs, tries to grab it back, and almost loses his fingers to Barbara’s fork. “Cheater,” he accuses, subsiding into his seat with a sour look at her. “That was cheating. I almost punched out a lady in four-inch heels for that, you jerk.”

Roy laughs, bracing his elbows on the table and adding another line to his diagram. “I think you mean she almost punched you out, Jaybird. I saw her, and that fight wasn’t going to end well for you.”

“It’s delicious, too, thank you, Jason.” Barbara offers a piece to Roy, who grins and takes it. And, because he’s fundamentally a nicer person than either Jason or Barbara will ever be, he breaks it in half and offers one of the bits to Jason.

Thank you,” Jason says pointedly, and makes sure to hold eye contact with Barbara as he shoves it in his mouth and chews. Barbara makes a face at him but doesn’t protest, just leans back in her chair and eyes him for a long moment.

“Jason,” she says, and that’s her serious tone, the teasing gone for now. “Why do you want to find this guy?”

Jason opens his mouth to say because he killed the Joker, but—stops. That’s not an answer, not really. Not the one Barbara wants, at least.

Barbara is watching him, careful, intent, and Jason swallows. He sinks back, considering, and—if anyone is going to understand in any real way, if there’s anyone among the circle of bats who will relate with the burning, searing sense of finally, justice that’s been boiling in Jason’s veins for almost two weeks now, it’s Barbara.

Of course, that doesn’t make saying it any easier.

“Because,” Jason starts, and then has to stop when his throat closes. Leans forward, bracing his elbows on the edge of the table, and breathes in. Roy is watching him, too, silent and steady, and Jason can’t tell if that makes things harder or easier. Roy’s seen his nightmares, dealt with the fallout of what the Joker did in Jason’s everyday life, and it feels raw, like an exposed nerve.

“Because it wasn’t personal,” he finally says, and swallows, meeting Barbara’s eyes. “He—he did that, and maybe he enjoyed it, but he didn’t want it. Not the way either of us would have. I just want to know why. Why he did it if he didn’t need to.”

Barbara’s expression slants towards something thoughtful, and she wraps her hands around her mug. Taps red nails against the ceramic, eyes distant behind her glasses, and then takes a breath. “You think he’s dangerous,” she says.

Jason opens his mouth to deny it, then stops himself. Maybe it’s all of Bruce’s lectures finally sinking in. Maybe it’s the fact that Jason ran with the Outlaws for years and saw a hell of a lot more darkness than even Gotham exposed him to. Maybe it’s just the fact that the Joker has been the biggest boogeyman of them all since Jason was fourteen and dying alone on a cold cement floor, and Moon Knight killed him with a crowbar in a handful of minutes, apparently unconcerned by the weight of his reputation, the level of his threat.

“Yeah,” Jason says honestly. “He’s really fucking dangerous. That doesn’t mean I want to stop him, though.”

Barbara smiles, just a little, and glances out the window. The street outside is busy, and there’s a rare fall of sunlight through Gotham’s ever-present layer of smog. It catches on her, makes the whole table bright, difficult to look at straight-on, and Jason has to swallow hard.

“Good,” she says, and unlocks her chair, pushing back from the table. “You're sticking around Gotham, Jason?”

“Obviously,” Jason says, and ignores it when Roy kicks him under the table. “We played your twenty questions bullshit, now where’s my info?”

“I’ll let you know next time I spot him,” Barbara says, unruffled, and smiles at Roy. “As soon as I finish with my scans I’ll take another look at the uplink. Thanks, Roy.”

“No problem.” Roy grins and gives her a salute, then pauses there, watching her wheel her chair out of the café. Some of the humor slides out of his face, and when his gaze flickers back to Jason, his mouth is twisted into something rueful.

“I know we’re not supposed to celebrate death,” he says, “but—ding, dong, the Joker’s dead. Halleluiah.”

Jason's huff of laughter is almost painful, feels like it’s wrenched right out of his chest to leave a wash of relief in its wake. “Fuck yes,” he says, and raises his coffee cup. Roy mimes toasting him in return, grinning, and then folds himself up in his chair like a big gangly bird and starts picking at the remainder of Barbara’s scone.

“So. Knight hunting tonight?” Roy asks, flicking a glance at Jason.

“Might as well.” Bruce has been out looking pretty much every night, too, but Jason's got more connections in Crime Alley, more people who are willing to sell out a hero for a few bucks. Moon Knight hasn’t been concentrating his work anywhere in particular, to the point that it’s like he’s been throwing a dart at a random part of the city and just working out from there, but he’s hit Crime Alley twice in the last week, so Jason figures his odds there are pretty good.

Barbara will help. Probably. She’s got a tendency to do whatever she thinks is right and a stubborn streak that means fuck anyone who gets in her way, but—

The Joker paralyzed her. Jason can't imagine that she doesn’t want to look Moon Knight in the face and say thank you just as much as he does.

“You know, Jaybird,” Roy says, and he’s watching Jason with sharp green eyes, “I was looking into that Khonshu thing, and he sounds like your kind of god.”

Jason rolls his eyes, because he might not entirely agree with Tim on the extraterrestrial entity thing, but he’s more likely to believe that than not. Their luck is never good enough for it to be actual gods. Diana’s about the only one who gets that.

“I'm not shopping around for a new religion, thanks,” he says dryly, and drains his coffee, then pushes to his feet. “If you want another coffee, I’ll get it to go. I want to look at that security footage from the other night again.”

“Sure,” Roy says easily, and grins at him. “Scone?”

“Fuck you,” Jason retorts, but when he gets to the counter, he adds two of the lemon ones to his order. Roy works better when he remembers to eat. That’s all it is.

 

 

Marc hauls himself out of the bath to a kind of bewildering lack of stiffness, none of the expected ache where he slammed spine-first into the wall last night. For a moment he just stands on the matt, dripping water and trying to take inventory of all the aches, but—

There aren’t any. His knees don’t even hurt.

Frowning a little, he wraps a towel around his waist, then passes through his bedroom and out into the main room, looking around. There’s no sign of Khonshu, which is odder than it would have been back in Marc's world; the god seems to have decided to stay close, in this one. The fact that he isn't around when Marc actually wants to talk to him is typical, and Marc rolls his eyes, but pauses in front of the statue. The shadows along the wall, stretching with the growing dark, don’t seem to touch it, and for all it’s plain grey stone, Marc almost feels like it’s glowing.

Maybe that’s just him seeing things again, though.

With a breath, Marc sinks down, halfway just for the lack of pain in his knees as he does, and sits at the statue’s feet, staring at the edge of the cloak draped over it. Bushman ruined his knees. That fall down the fire escape left him almost unable to walk, and the fact that he returned to vigilantism was down to sheer stubbornness and a refusal to let Khonshu be right about him. But—

He’s healed, he thinks, pressing his fingers to his knees and feeling none of the plates, the pins, the scars. None of the ache, bone-deep and unrelenting, that made him so terrified of never being able to walk again.

“I don’t know,” he says to the statue, to Khonshu, who’s always listening, “why you're so different in this universe.”

There's a pause, darkness a flickering wash all around the room. And then, between seconds, Khonshu comes clear, seated in his throne and facing Marc. His hands are folded in his lap, one leg bent over the other, just like every one of the countless times Marc has seen him since he woke up in the tomb. But, at the same time, there’s a lightness to him that didn’t exist before, a strange settled edge that doesn’t fit with what Marc knows of him.

Reality,” he says, like that’s all the explanation needed. When Marc raises an eyebrow at him, though, he snorts, and flicks one hand like he’s waving away ghosts. “How many people do you know who can twist reality to suit them, my son? How many in your universe hold the power of creation and use it as they see fit?

Marc pauses, a little startled. “Wanda Maximoff,” he says. “Her son. Sentry. Reed Richard’s kid, I think.”

Khonshu chuckles. “Yes,” he agrees. “And Doctor Strange as well. Jericho Drumm. Galactus. Jean Grey, for a time. Mephisto. All of them pull at the threads of the universe, distorting the warp of the tapestry. Too many tugs and the picture becomes unrecognizable.”

“And what? They manipulated you, too?” Marc challenges skeptically, because Khonshu’s gotten crueler, darker over the years, but—there’s always been a core of him that’s the same.

Khonshu is silent for a long, long moment, unmoving in his throne. “No,” he finally says. “Not as such. But I told you, I have reflections across the universes, immediate and identical. Humans vary, in the multiverse. Gods don’t. And there were differences in your universe that didn’t reflect, that festered like a splinter under the skin. Perhaps it was a natural change, but…” He cocks his head, watching Marc, and the air around him shifts. Not the dead dark place that Marc is so familiar with, but a living darkness, warmer. When Marc breathes in, it’s so fresh and clean it burns.

Your reality was about to be remade,” Khonshu says, and is silent then for a moment. Finally, he chuckles, spreading his hands, and says, “There’s every chance I wouldn’t have survived such a terrible, final change. And there was the chance that you wouldn’t, either. So I left.

It’s unsettlingly logical. Marc remembers M-Day, Wanda at the heart of it. He’s seen Wiccan, her son, and what he can do. Strange brought all of Las Vegas back from the dead in the space of a second. Time and reality are supposed to flow one way, but all the diversions, all the twists as mutants and wizards tied existence into knots—no wonder it was driving Khonshu mad. He’s the god of time as much as he is the god of the moon, and the ripples must have impacted him more than most.

“No reality warpers here?” he asks, glancing out the window into the darkening streets. It looks like rain is threatening.

Relatively few,” Khonshu confirms, and Marc can hear the dark pleasure in his voice. “I might take steps to ensure it stays that way.”

Marc grimaces, not sure what he’ll do about that. Maybe there’s a way to keep Khonshu from killing innocents, or to turn his attention away. He seemed fine enough with the guardian they had to pass to get here. Shen. Swift. Maybe she’d be willing to help, if Marc can find her.

“No more universe jumps without warning me,” he tells Khonshu, then sighs and glances at the clock on the wall. It’s almost four, and if Steven doesn’t have at least an hour to get ready for events, he gets pissy.

Khonshu laughs, and his voice is nothing but gleeful amusement when he answers, “I promise nothing, my son.”

Marc rolls his eyes, but breathes in, breathes out. Tips his head back against the legs of the statue and closes his eyes.

Steven opens them, blinks, grimaces. “My ass is cold,” he says, but stays where he is, looking up at the god in front of him. For a long moment, he doesn’t say anything, but then he sighs and offers, “Thanks for setting things up.”

You’re welcome,” Khonshu answers idly, leaning back in his throne as he studies Steven. “I’ll admit, I expected more protests from you, Steven. No mourning the life you left behind?

Steven snorts. “The life Marc and Jake torched before they played dead and ran away to Mexico to be a bare-knuckle boxer?” he asks dryly.

Khonshu is unmoved. “The life you had with Marlene,” he says.

“I didn’t have that,” Steven says plainly. “I haven’t for years. She—”

The words lodge in his throat, and he can’t pick the ones he wants. He’s better with words than Marc is, but—not for this.

Marlene was everything, for so many years. She was the one waiting when Moon Knight returned each night, sitting beside the pool in something pretty, happy to welcome him back. But it wasn’t easy. There were too many times when she said it’s like you’re different people sometimes, Steven, and Steven wanted to say I am, we are, we’ve told you that a hundred times.

Jake had suggested, at one point, leaving psychology books lying around the mansion, thick enough on every surface that she’d have to pick one up, but—they never had. Maybe it was fear of what her response would be, when she knew. Maybe it was the fact that all of them loved her, but there was always an edge of uncertainty about how she felt in return. After all, Steven was the one she spent most of her time with, was the one she said she loved. But—

Marc was the one who saved her life in Sudan. Marc was the one who got her father killed, attempting to save Bushman’s life. Moon Knight was the one who put her in danger a hundred times over, who nearly got her killed. Jake was the one she turned to after her divorce, but even he wasn’t what she wanted. He wasn’t you, she said, and—

Of course he wasn’t, Steven had wanted to tell her. I’m the only one who’s me, but which me do you mean when you say that?

It didn’t used to matter, or maybe it was just easier to overlook, what she meant when she said they confused her. All the little ways she didn’t understand, and the ways she stopped trying.

Steven doesn’t blame her for that, honestly.

Well,” Khonshu says, when Steven can't bring himself to finish. “It’s certainly not a factor now.”

Steven supposes that it isn't.

With a heavy breath, he levers himself up from the ground, then pauses there for a moment, taking stock. “Thanks,” he says at length. “For the healing.”

Khonshu laughs, quick and rattling, like die tossed across a marble floor. “Do mind the scars,” he says, and the darkness in his eyes burns even as the rest of him fades away. “I didn’t heal those.”

Just having working knees back is blessing enough, so Steven isn't about to argue. Beyond that, Marc's scars are their scars. Even if Marc was the one to get them, the one with the training and the time in the Marines and the years as a mercenary, this body is shared, and Marc didn’t have it the entire time.

Rolling his shoulders, Steven stretches, then runs a hand through his hair, grimacing at the shortened strands. “This was a two hundred dollar haircut,” he says, and isn't sure whether it’s directed at Marc or Jake. Either one of them is a potential culprit for going after his decent haircut with a penknife, and there’s no way Steven is going back to Marc's military cut to even it out. They’ll all just have to live with it. Which would be more satisfying if Steven wasn’t about to meet someone for dinner.

“Bruce Wayne has the ability to buy me four thousand times over and not even notice the dent it makes in his pocket change,” he says out loud, even though Marc and Jake probably aren’t listening. “Please let tonight go smoothly.”

No answer, which could mean agreement, refusal, or that Steven is going to be obeyed in exactly the way that most makes him want to rip his hair out.

Well. At least it might improve the hack-job.

Firmly setting the thought of the others aside, Steven finishes in the bathroom, which is now thoroughly cold, and then picks out a suit. The apartment Khonshu dropped him in is too far from the museum to walk, and there’s no self-driving car or Samuels to chauffer him, so he gives in and calls a car service, then hovers by the wide windows, trying to plan how tonight will go.

Bruce Wayne, from everything he’s found, is Gotham’s beloved playboy prince, richer than sin but happy enough to spread the wealth around while other people run his company. His charity will be a decent cover for learning the layout of Gotham’s high society, and give Steven connections that money alone can't provide. If Steven can ingratiate himself, earn a few introductions and make a few friends, his reputation as an eccentric with a passion for Egypt and an eye for investments should give him more than enough cover for Moon Knight’s activities.

Moon Knight’s identity back in his world was one of the superhero community’s biggest open secrets, but—that was a danger. And even if there’s no one here to endanger, Steven would rather not risk any future friends, acquaintances, or potential romantic entanglements now that he has the opportunity to start over with a blank slate.

Now if only Marc would stop taking off his mask at every turn.

Sighing to himself, Steven checks his reflection in the window, adjusts his tie, and then turns to collect his coat and take the elevator down. He’ll just have to be particularly vigilant about avoiding the press, which might be harder tonight than it would otherwise, given the company he’s going to be keeping.

A flicker follows him as he passes through the glass and chrome of the lobby, the figure of a falcon, or maybe a man. Steven doesn’t loot at it straight on, doesn’t turn to address the shape even when Khonshu sweeps across the door half a second before the doorman opens it for him. Smiles, instead, and returns the man’s greeting, then waves to the driver. It’s pleasant to be himself again, to not have to worry for a few minutes about crime or vigilantes or potential wrongdoing, and Steven slides into the car and settles in, checking the time.

“The Museum of Antiquities?” the driver asks, pulling out into traffic.

“Yes,” Steven returns, “the front entrance, if you wouldn’t mind.”

“Of course not, sir.”

Khonshu is reflected in the far window, watching him, so Steven looks out the other one, taking in the smooth shift between the streets. He lives on the edges of Uptown, and the museum is all the way across the city, by the park. All of Uptown is pretty and carefully wealthy, cultivated to impress, but it’s grim, as grey as the rest of the city, and Steven isn't impressed. New York, with its tall brownstones and treelined streets, skyscrapers and tenements, could feel uninviting, but—Gotham has it down to a science. Even when he’s looking, it’s hard to find anything that looks close to welcoming, or even mildly inviting.

And then, halfway through Uptown, the car rolls to a stop at a light and the curving shadow of a crescent moon cuts across the street.

Steven twitches before he can help it, jerks his head to the side to look out the window. He doesn’t recognize the street, but that doesn’t mean anything, not when he recognizes the spark of silver planted high above them in the metal casing of a traffic signal.

With a chuckle, the driver casts a glance back at him, grinning and clearly amused by his reaction. “Never seen one of Moon Knight’s calling cards before?” he asks. “He’s been Uptown a few times, even if he hits Midtown and the Narrows more.”

Because of course Marc wouldn’t keep to one area and try to clean it up. No, he’d focus on the whole city, because Marc is an overachiever in all the worst ways. Steven holds in a sigh, but leans forward and asks, “Moon Knight? The guy in white?”

“Yeah. Crazy bastard,” the driver says, but it sounds admiring more than anything. “He killed the fucking Joker, can you believe that? They should give him the keys to the goddamn city.”

Steven breathes out, can't quite look away from the crescent moon the dart casts across the road. “You weren’t holding out for a court trial?” he asks dryly.

The driver scoffs. “Insanity pleas were made to get the Joker off. And then what, stick him back in Arkham, hope this time he doesn’t just walk out? If I met Moon Knight, I think I’d kiss him on the damn mouth. My aunt got caught in the crossfire when the Joker went after Batman once, and she was one of…fucking thousands.”

Well. Clearly Khonshu knew what he was doing, demanding that heart in particular. “Good,” he says, and clears his throat, sinking back into his seat. “Good that he’s dead, then.”

The asylum is still something that needs to be investigated. Marc wanted to see if for himself, and Steven will let him happily, but…there’s no reason he can't start poking at things from his end. The Martha Wayne Foundation might be a good outlet to start pushing for better mental health programs. Steven only looked into a handful of incidents involving the Joker after Marc realized he’d killed the Gotham equivalent of the Kingpin, but—

Well. If all of Gotham doesn’t have some sort of PTSD, Steven would be shocked.

“Maybe there’s a chance things can get better, now that the Joker’s gone,” he says, and ignores Khonshu's beady eyes in the gloom.

The driver laughs, turning down another street that has an almost-familiar looming façade at the end of it. “Almost three thousand people got justice,” he says. “I sure as hell am hoping.”

Steven pauses, but—the words are on his tongue, and he can't stop them. Doesn’t want to. Marc isn't the only one who believes, after all.

“Moon Knight’s called on Khonshu a few times, from what I've heard,” he says, and keeps his eyes on the approaching museum. “One of the old Egyptian gods. A god of justice. And vengeance, too.”

There's a moment of silence as the driver pulls over to the curb in front of the building, and then he turns around to look at Steven. “Yeah?” he asks, and there's something in his face that Steven can't read. “What else is Khonshu the god of?”

“The moon,” Steven says, and glances up the stairs. There’s a familiar figure waiting at the top. “Travelers at night. Anyone lost. Time and healing.”

“Khonshu, huh?” The driver glances at him, then slides out. Comes around to open the door, and as Steven gets to his feet, he says, “Gotham could do with all of that.”

Steven smiles. “Guess that’s why Moon Knight’s here,” he answers, and passes him the fare, tipping heavily. “Have a safe night.”

The driver laughs a little. “Guess Gotham’s got another person making sure I do, now,” he says, and Steven heads up the stairs without looking back, watching Bruce Wayne talk with an older woman, easy and grinning and charming as he gestures.

Keep an eye on this one,” Khonshu says, almost gleeful, and a falcon lands on the marble blocks framing the stairs. There’s a universe of creation in its eyes. “Just look at all those shadows. You aren’t the only one keeping secrets, Stevie-boy.”

Steven doesn’t even glance over, doesn’t let himself respond. If Bruce didn’t have secrets, he’d be far more surprised, but—

Well. Khonshu's never really wrong, so it won't hurt to pay a little more attention than normal.

As he mounts the last step, Bruce turns, and his face lights up. “Steven!” he says cheerfully. “This is Mrs. Abadi, one of the museum’s former curators. Mrs. Abadi, Steven Grant, my dinner partner.”

“Mr. Wayne always seems to know the most interesting people,” Steven says, and shakes her hand when she offers it. “It’s a pleasure, Mrs. Abadi.”

“A pleasure indeed,” she says, smiling faintly at him, and then turns to arch a steel-grey brow at Bruce. “Is this business or a date tonight, Bruce?”

Bruce grins at her. “I think that depends on how well the night goes,” he jokes, and she snorts.

“Stay out of trouble,” she warns him fondly, then pulls her wrap around herself as a pair of women approach and heads for them, not bothering to look back.

Bruce chuckles, sliding his hands into his pockets. “Sorry about that,” he says, looking Steven over, one quick flicker of his eyes. Despite his words a moment ago, there’s nothing flirty about it, and Steven files the motion away, faintly suspicious.

He doesn’t let it touch his own smile, though, as he tips one shoulder. “The fact that you know a curator already gives me hope that I won't bore you too badly,” he returns, keeping his voice light. “Lucius was telling me some fascinating things about the collections here, especially the Egyptian art. I've been looking forward to it all day.”

Bruce laughs, and sweeps a grand bow to usher Steven forward. “Good, good, then I'm glad we decided on the museum. I'm afraid I don’t know much about any sort of Egyptian history, but I'd be more than happy to learn.”

“Exhibits first, then?” Steven asks, falling into step with him. The falcon’s burning eyes follow them through the towering columns that mark the front, into the grand lobby. There’s a woman at the desk without gives them both passes without pause, and Bruce ushers Steven down a hall, right the brightly-lit marble staircase that curls upwards.

“The second-best way to work up an appetite,” Bruce says, and grins at him.

Steven snorts, looking away. It’s potentially a little pathetic, but—he’s never really done this. Played at it, when he worked with the Secret Avengers, using his name to saunter into a fancy place with Natasha or Valkyrie on his arm. And—he and Marlene traveled the world once, went everywhere together except when Moon Knight had to work. Since her, though, Steven's never felt the urge for anyone else, never even wanted to try. This is unfamiliar territory, something strange. But…maybe not entirely unpleasant, even if it’s just a working dinner.

“Well,” he says, looking away, to where a banner announces the treasures of the pharaohs in bold, gaudy lettering. “I’d probably consider it second-best, too, but for different reasons.”

“Oh?” Bruce asks, amused. “So what takes first place, then?”

Steven casts him a smile, then turns to take in the hall. “Looking for such things myself,” he returns, which is only partially true, but a lie that comes easily enough.

“Really?” Bruce sounds surprised. “Isn't it dangerous, though? A man like you is worth a lot of money. That’s a tempting prize.”

“No one would know what to do if they had me,” Steven says easily, but his eyes are caught by the display of bone-white armor in the first case, and he pauses in front of it, doesn’t have to read the card to know what it is. One of Khonshu's priests wore this, once. The weight of eyes on his back is too heavy for him to lose more than a second, though, and he glances over to find Bruce watching him, smiles. “No family,” he says, in answer to the unspoken question. “And as much as my bank manager loves me, I don’t think she’d pay to ransom me back.”

“Customer service isn't anything like it used to be,” Bruce jokes, stepping up next to Steven. Their shoulders brush, but Steven isn't sure if it’s deliberate, accidental, or just another flirty gesture designed to put him…somewhere. Steven doesn’t know if he’s supposed to feel on edge or at ease in the face of it. Marc's definitely the worst with people, but while Steven can wear a mask better, he’s not the best with them either.

Easier to ignore it, Steven decides. Clearly Bruce has no problems being forward if he wants something, so he’ll say if he does. There are better things to focus on right now.

“Isn't this beautiful?” he asks instead, and touches the plaque beside the case.

Bruce's gaze flickers from the armor to his face, then back again, and he tilts his head. “Well,” he says judiciously. “For a warrior, sure. I'm afraid I've never liked violence all that much, myself.”

“It’s ceremonial,” Steven says, and steps back, turns away. “For putting down restless ghosts.” Smiles, as charming as he can make it, and adds, “Or so I've heard.”

Bruce watches him for a moment, thoughtful, and hides it behind a grin a moment later. “Well, I'm always down for a fancy ceremony. The canapes are usually excellent.”

Reflected in the glass, clad in the bone armor plus a flowing white cloak, Khonshu laughs, claws clicking against glass. “Now there's a lie,” he says gleefully. “Oh, Steven, keep a close eye on this one. I haven’t seen such a liar since the last time Set dropped by for tea.”

Steven was getting that impression, too. He keeps the smile on his face, though, waves a languid hand at the rest of the exhibit, and asks, “Anything that catches your eye? Let’s see if I can't hold your interest.”

Chapter Text

Quite frankly, Bruce wasn’t expecting a challenge tonight.

He’s dealt with plenty of Gotham’s high society. Plenty of people looking to climb social ladders or wring a little more wealth out of those around them. Even villains tend to relax a little after a night in Brucie Wayne’s company, content in the knowledge that they can kidnap him easily and get away with it. But—

Steven Grant is something rather bewilderingly different.

“This one’s mislabeled,” Steven says with a frown, leaning over an old dagger. Bruce doesn’t quite like the way it shines, like crystal or faceted diamond even if it’s just supposed to be glass, and keeps a wary distance while trying to look like he’s just bored.

“Really?” he asks, shading his voice with surprise. “The museum staff is the best in the world, I don’t think—”

An expression Bruce can't pinpoint flickers over Steven's face, and he straightens. “Well,” he says, easy, “maybe I'm wrong, but generally knives like these were used in the temples of the Theban Triad, and if it’s the age they say it is, it would have to be from Waset, not further north. The greatest temples to them were there, and this…” He hesitates for a moment. “This looks like it belonged to the head priest.”

If the night’s proved anything, it’s that Steven has enough knowledge of anything old and Egyptian to be suspicious, and it’s oddly specific. A targeted interest and an obsessive personality, maybe. Not that Bruce would know anything about that.

“I can get you a meeting with the curator, if you want,” he offers, watching Steven's face. “She’d probably like to know.”

Steven laughs, and it’s still a little startling, that he’s easygoing. That wasn’t Bruce's impression of him at Wayne Industries. Or maybe it’s that here, surrounded by things he knows, he’s more at ease. Not what Bruce would have expected of an investor with money to burn.

“You mean she’d toss me out on my ear,” he counters, and straightens with a wry smile. “I'm not an archeologist, so I can't imagine my opinion would have any weight. And besides.” His eyes flicker back to the knife for a moment, and he takes a breath. “People looking to steal things they think are powerful might take notice, if it was labeled correctly.”

Bruce wants to ask why, what about the dagger makes it that dangerous, that it’s best left hidden in plain sight. But he’s not supposed to care about that, so he laughs and slings an arm around Steven's shoulders, pulling him away from the case. “Gotham’s full of crazy people,” he says lightly, and feels Steven stiffen, just faintly. Grimaces internally, because he’s not sure what button he just hit, and forges on, offering, “I don’t know about you, but I'm starving. Can I drag you away from the displays for a bit?”

Steven laughs a little sheepishly. “Sorry, you should have said something. I’ve been known to disappear into a museum for a solid twelve hours before.”

“We all have our passions,” Bruce says cheerfully. “I think mine’s models.”

Steven snorts quietly, but instead of ribbing Bruce, instead of agreeing or talking about his own conquests or anything of the sort, he says, “And charity, from what Lucius was saying.”

Bruce waves a hand, dismissing that. “Good for a tax break,” he says, “and other people run it for me.”

Steven glances at him, but he doesn’t say anything. Just looks, and for a long moment Bruce is caught, can't quite find the edges of his Brucie-boy mask in the face of that expression. It’s expectant, amused, like Steven is humoring him, and Bruce can't tell whether he’s been knocked off balance or if it just sets alarm prickling down his spine. Maybe both.

Most likely both, Bruce thinks, and can't help but study Steven's scar as he looks away. It’s a straight cut down across his left eye, the scar years old but still clear, and the fact that it didn’t take his eye along with it is probably down to the devil’s own luck and a skill that isn't exactly common in wealthy stockbrokers. And maybe that’s down to Steven's professed interest in going on archeological expeditions, to a penchant for trouble in places where the police record won't stick, but—

He’s trim, muscular. Leaner than Bruce, but the shoulders under Bruce's arm don’t feel like a weightlifter’s, all carefully defined muscle that's pretty rather than functional. If Steven doesn’t practice at least one form of martial arts, Bruce will eat his cowl.

“Well,” Steven says, and looks away, even though he doesn’t duck out from under Bruce's arm. “It’s a good thing you're doing with it.”

Absolutely no wavering. No it’s a good thing they're doing with it, or anything of the sort. Not fooled, Bruce thinks, and that’s…startling. Bruce Wayne has a reputation, and people don’t look past it. Bruce has cultivated it for exactly that reason. Even people outside of Gotham take him at face value and don’t bother to look deeper.

“So,” Bruce says, determined to shift the subject back to steadier ground, “where’d you live before Gotham? Our city’s not exactly a hot piece of real estate right now.”

Steven smiles, quick, but there’s something almost sharp about it. “Several different places,” he says, “but originally I'm from Chicago.” Pauses, eyes flickering up to a large, ornate circle of silver hanging by the door, and then says, “My father was a rabbi there.”

“Chicago’s a great city,” Bruce says cheerfully, grips his shoulder tight and then pulls away, leading him down the stairs towards the back of the museum. “A bit colder than Gotham, though. The winters here should be a little nicer.”

“Here’s hoping.” Steven glances out one of the wide windows overlooking the statuary garden, then up. He smiles, just a little, and says, “Full moon tonight.”

The skin on the back of Bruce's neck prickles, and he looks, too. There's a bare break in the smog, but it seems to be getting bigger, stretching, like a shredded veil. In the gap, the moon hangs heavy and almost unnervingly bright, untouched by the clouds on either side of it. It turns the gardens into a maze of shadows, and Bruce stares down at them for a moment. A flicker of movement catches his eye, but when he looks it’s nothing but a statue with a pinwheel, the blades turning lazily in the breeze.

Eerie, Bruce thinks, in a way that Gotham doesn’t normally feel. Maybe it’s the moon, or maybe it’s the fact that the museum just feels heavy and old, a grand thing squatting low and looming in the moonlight.

“Beautiful,” Steven says, and his fingertips brush the edge of the window ledge, where the moonlight falls across it.

“It’s a nice night,” Bruce agrees, though he feels unsettled, an itch beneath his skin. “I thought it was going to rain earlier. This is a nice change.”

“There’s fresh air moving in,” Steven agrees, and keeps walking. Bruce keeps pace, reaching out to put a hand on his elbow and guide him left when the hallway splits. Beyond the ornate arch, there’s a murmur of voices, the clink of china and glass, and Bruce greets the maître d' with a smile and a murmured request. Agreeably, the woman seats them at a table at the far end of the dining room, by the largest window.

“I hope you don’t mind having a view,” he says as the waitress approaches, and gives Steven a smile that’s charmed more than one date here. “I like the statues.”

Steven smiles back, though his eyes flicker to the skyline again. “Not at all,” he says, and pauses. “It feels like a different world back here. Not like the city at all.”

“One of the reasons I like it,” Bruce confesses. “There are better restaurants, but…not many better views.” Seeing something beyond Gotham’s urban sprawl is nice, sometimes. Bruce Wayne might take a lot of vacations in the mountains or on the beach, but Batman doesn’t take any, and even Gotham, as much as Bruce loves it, can feel like a prison after enough months without a break.

“Luckily, I'm not too picky,” Steven says lightly, and smiles at the waitress. She smiles back, and offers him a wine list.

“Drinks, sirs?” she asks politely.

“A bottle of your best red,” Bruce says, without looking at the list.

Steven passes it back. “Just sparkling water, for me,” he says.

Bruce pauses, not having expected that. But—it’s a good enough reason not to drink, which he doesn’t mind. Especially when he’s planning a patrol tonight. “Then cancel the wine,” he tells the waitress. “A bottle of sparkling water, instead. And two glasses.”

“Of course, sir.” She sets the menus in front of them, then retreats.

“You don’t have to hold back on my account. I'm not an alcoholic,” Steven says, glancing up at Bruce as he opens the menu. “If you want wine—”

Bruce waves a hand lazily. “It’s not a hardship,” he says dismissively. “My doctor’s been telling me to watch my drinking anyway.” He studies Steven for a moment, the warm light of the restaurant shading his brown hair with red and gold, eyes shadowed as he reads the menu, and then says, “Can I ask why?”

Steven pauses, glances up to hold his gaze. “It interacts badly with my medication,” he says plainly, and when Bruce blinks, he smiles. “Mental illnesses,” he offers, and leans back in his chair. “I’ve been on medication for them since I was a child.”

Bruce isn't entirely sure what to do with the confession. Except it isn't a confession, just a fact. Simple, stated outright, and he considers for a heartbeat before he says, “I'm glad they're manageable.”

“Me too.” Steven holds his gaze, unruffled, and says, “I wanted to talk to you about Gotham’s mental health programs. The Martha Wayne Foundation provides funding to low income health clinics, and I'm hoping to start something similar, but for mental health.”

This is…not the track Bruce expected Steven to take. He’d been ready for a proposal for funding archeological digs, maybe something to do with the university or high schools. Group construction projects, maybe in Africa. Not—this.

“Like more psychiatric facilities?” he asks, a little warily. “The Foundation has funding, but not that much—”

“No,” Steven interrupts firmly, and his smile twists into something wry. “Clinics that will catch problems before people need inpatient care. There’s space for graduate students to work with real people, and for those people to get care before they can't function. But given the level of inequality, and with all the supervillain attacks…” He spreads his hands. “I can't imagine that that the people who need help the most are getting it.”

“That’s an ambitious project,” Bruce says after a moment. “Stopping more villains before they can—”

But Steven shakes his head. “This isn't about crime,” he says, and holds Bruce's gaze. “I was lucky. My father recognized that I had a problem and addressed it as best he could. If he hadn’t, I wouldn’t have grown up to be a criminal, but I would have suffered. You have Arkham for the criminally insane, but that’s locking the problem in a box and hoping it will go away. And it’s not the only problem. Regular people need help, too. More than the people who run around in costumes and rob banks, probably.”

It’s not a thing Bruce has considered. It’s not something he’s thought about. Mentally ill has always meant the Joker for him, or Jervis Tetch. But Steven doesn’t seem to have anything in common with them, and while he could be hiding it, could be waiting for a moment when Bruce is vulnerable, it doesn’t seem like it.

“I’ll bring it to the board,” he says after a long moment. Clears his throat, and smiles at the waitress as she deposits their sparkling water. “But if you have a proposal written up, I think I can get them to approve it. They’ll probably want a guarantee that you’ll be contributing funds as well.”

“Of course.” Steven eases back, and this time his smile is brighter, more genuine. More charming, too, and when he laughs Bruce feels a flicker of attraction like a tug in his gut. Steven is a handsome man, only made more so by the fact that he’s a little rough around the edges. Not quite the polished Gotham socialite that Bruce has gotten used to, after all these years. “I can have that for you by the end of the week, if that’s soon enough.”

“Sure, sure. I have a meeting with the Foundation on the first, so any time before then.” Bruce smiles, leans forward on his elbows, and casts Steven a look that’s turned more than one head over the years. “I’ll take any excuse to do this again, too. It’s been a delight.”

“Well, I appreciate you letting me drag you around the Egyptian wing.” Steven's smile is a little wry, and Bruce gets the distinct feeling he’s being humored again. For a man with both money and looks, Steven Grant doesn’t seem like he realizes he could have almost anyone he wants. Bruce isn't sure if it’s frustrating or amusing. It’s a challenge, mostly, and that’s intriguing.

“I learned a lot more than I ever did in history class. At least before they threw me out of college,” Bruce says, grinning at him. He can think about the things Steven brought up later, do research, investigate. Brucie has people to do that for him, though, and doesn’t have to linger on it. “I hadn’t realized there was so much.”

Steven laughs, picking up his glass. Bruce catches a glimpse of the scars on his hand again, long, deep things that climb up under the sleeve of his suit. There are smaller ones scattered over his fingers, the back of his hand, and they look like glass scars, with deeper, harsher calluses over his knuckles. Boxing, maybe, but more violent boxing than most people go for.

“The Great Pyramid of Giza are the only one of the Seven Wonders still standing,” Steven says. “And it’s a marvel, don’t get me wrong, but—there are a thousand other things in Egypt and Sudan that are just as important. Pieces of an old empire that are still alive today. It’s incredible.”

With a chuckle, Bruce raises his glass in toast, hiding all thoughts of Moon Knight, of the Joker’s body small and broken on the ground. Keeps his attention on Steven, on his smile, and says, “To the old empires, then, and to our new projects. A kinder empire.”

Amusement on his face, Steven taps his glass to Bruce's, then takes a sip. “At the very least one with better healthcare,” he says.

Bruce opens his mouth to answer, but a flicker of motion catches his eye beyond the window again. When he turns to look, though, there’s nothing.

Pausing, Bruce scans the garden, then turns and looks around the interior of the restaurant. The maître d' isn't at her station, and there are no waiters visible in the room. It prickles at Bruce's skin, sharp little spider-leg pricks climbing his spine as unease settles.

“She’s certainly taking her time coming to get our orders,” Bruce says, keeps his voice light as he taps his fingers against the tabletop. “Usually the service here is very prompt.”

Steven pauses, flicking a glance at him and then around the room, and Bruce can see the moment the strangeness registers for him, too, the faint tension that rises to the surface. “A problem in the kitchen, maybe?” he proposes, and Bruce smiles like he believes it.

“Probably,” he says, and glances out the window again, checking for movement. That pinwheel is still spinning, lazy flashes of metallic color in the moonlight, and he doesn’t like it.

When he turns back, Steven's eyes are locked on the window, like he can see something in the darkened glass that Bruce can’t.

Before Bruce can ask, though, the doors to the kitchen open, admitting a man in a waiter’s uniform, then another. Bruce lets out a breath, tries to tell himself that it was just paranoia. A break, or maybe a problem like Steven said. It’s not their waitress, but it’s possible she’s on break, or is doing something else. It’s fine.

Even so, Bruce reaches for the phone in his pocket. One text to Dick and he’ll come immediately, sweep the grounds of the museum and laugh at Bruce for his nerves going haywire over nothing. That’s—

“Gentlemen,” the waiter says with a smile. “Please stand up.”

Bruce freezes, sees Steven go still. The waiter is still smiling, still steady, but the other man is behind him, and he has a gun trained on their table, his eyes cold.

“Oh?” he says, keeps it light even as he sets his napkin aside and rises to his feet. “Is there a problem?”

“Yeah,” the first man drawls. “We’re broke, and you're our next paycheck, Mister Wayne. Hand over the phone. Both of you.”

Slowly, carefully, Steven sets his cell on the table, then rises, raising his hands. There's another man dressed as a waiter by the door of the kitchen, also armed, and a woman by the main door, watching them carefully. Too many bystanders to try something, Bruce decides. He’ll let them move him, get him somewhere secluded. A handful of gunmen aren’t going to be a problem in tight quarters.

“All right,” he says, raising his own hands. “There’s no need for violence. If you want me, I'm yours.”

The first man smiles, thin and vicious. “Yeah,” he says. “You are. Grab him.”

Another thug grabs Bruce by the arm, wrenching his hands behind him. The feeling of zip ties tightening around his wrists is unfortunately familiar, and Bruce has to hide a grimace. Cuffs are a hell of a lot easier to get out of. Beside him, Steven is getting the same treatment, looking grim and a little scared, and Bruce wants to say something but the kidnappers are too close.

“If anyone calls the cops,” the woman by the door says, “we won't provide the antidote for the drug we put in the wine. Think Scarecrow toxin, but worse for your liver.”

The rest of the restaurant is silent, still. Bruce looks at the woman as he’s pushed past her, and asks, “If I cooperate, you give them the antidote?”

The woman snorts. “Once we get the money for your ransom,” she says, and shoves him forward, out through the door to the patio. The statuary garden is a tangle of shadows and stark shapes in the moonlight, but Bruce can see an edge of lights beyond the fence that edges it. Probably a getaway vehicle, and he swallows a curse.

“Look,” he says, “if you just give them the antidote—”

“Shut up,” the man says shortly.

“Just—”

It happens almost too fast to see. The woman turns in a blur, bringing her gun up like a club, and slams it into the side of Steven's head. Bruce shouts, lunging to grab him, but is dragged back, and Steven hits the ground in a heap, perfectly still.

“May,” the man says, mildly annoyed. “If he’s dead—”

“October,” she returns sharply, and rounds on Bruce. “If he’s not dead, he’s about to be,” she says. “You listen to our orders. Got it?”

There’s a cold, calculating certainty rising in Bruce's chest, making it hard to breathe. He pushes through it, meets her eyes. “He lives,” he says. “I’ll go with you, but leave him here.”

“Sure.” The man tips his head, and the two men holding Bruce push him forward. “May, December, take him to the car.”

The woman arches a brow at the man, even as she falls in behind Bruce. “And what are you going to be doing?” she asks.

“Making sure this guy doesn’t leave,” October says, and levels his gun right at Steven's head.

“No!” Bruce snarls, but the men holding him shove him forward. When he tries to trip them, to lunge away, there’s a hiss of frustration, then a sharp pinch as a needle slides into his skin. Bruce jerks away, but it’s already too late.

The last thing he hears before his vision greys out into nothing is a gunshot.

 

 

Well,” Khonshu says, and bony fingers touch Marc's cheek, frame his face with a cool touch. “I certainly wasn’t expecting Steven to be as much trouble as you, my son.”

There's a strange weightlessness to Marc's body, a lack of the expected ache. Vaguely, fuzzily, he thinks he remembers the last few moments in the museum garden, the hit knocking Steven back, sending him into retreat. Marc is the one who’s good with violence, after all. Marc knows how to take a hit.

That wasn’t just a hit, though.

“Again?” he rasps, and forces his eyes open. The world is darkness, spinning stars, the edge of a distant dimension that’s beyond all others. Khonshu is seated in his throne, Marc sprawled over his lap, and there’s blood on Khonshu's white suit. Blood from a headwound, but Marc can't feel it.

Headshots are rather messy,” Khonshu says conversationally, and there’s a thread of amusement in the words. “You’re lucky I'm a god of healing, my son. Even other gods might have had a hard time bringing their avatar back from that.”

Marc groans, and can't help but curl a little closer, the strange star-warmth of Khonshu's body a comfort. Khonshu lets him, one hand splayed over the back of Marc's head.

“And I wasn’t even the target,” Marc mutters, closing his eyes for a moment. “That figures. Collateral in someone else’s kidnapping, killed by an amateur with an itchy trigger finger.”

Khonshu laughs, resting his other hand on Marc's knees where they’re slung over the arm of his throne. “Would you like vengeance for your dignity?” he asks.

“Yeah,” Marc says dryly. “But I haven’t seen it in a few years.”

Bony fingers curl in Marc's hair, gentle. “I think someone else needs your vengeance more, my knight,” he says. “Even if he is a liar.

Bruce. Marc opens his eyes, drawing in a breath, but when he goes to slide off Khonshu's lap his knees give way. He crumples at the god’s feet, breath rattling, and has to take a moment.

So easy. They killed him so easily, and if Khonshu wasn’t less warped here, if he cared a little less, that could have been the end.

But Khonshu saved him. Khonshu is watching him now, predatory intent and bloody anticipation, and when Marc raises his head he laughs and reaches out a hand.

I'm feeling peckish, my son,” he says, and Marc takes Khonshu's hand in both of his. Leans forward, pressing Khonshu's knuckles to his forehead, and can feel it in his bones when Khonshu smiles.

“I’ll bring you their hearts,” he promises, and opens his eyes.

The statuary garden. Darkness. A full moon. Blood on the ground beneath his head, but not even a faint ache remaining.

Pushing himself to his feet, Marc shakes himself, then heads for the edge of the garden. There’s a tall tree leaning over the street beyond, with a grunt he grabs on of the lower branches, hauls himself up. Planting his vestments here was supposed to be an easy way to get back to his normal nighttime routine after Steven's dinner, but it’s useful for more than that, apparently. It’s hardly the most inconvenient place Marc has ever changed, either.

Several moments later, Marc drops to the ground, tugging his hood up. Still no sirens, so the people inside the restaurant must still be obeying the kidnappers’ orders. Poison, Steven's memory says, and Marc frowns, considers. Through one corner of the window, Marc can see one of the gunmen still present, and he snorts. An easy target, leaning with his back against the window, like the diners are the most dangerous ones out tonight.

Flipping a dart up, Marc judges the angle, then glances up at the moon. Feels it, and feels the echo of wrongness that is Bruce's kidnapping, harm come to someone traveling beneath the moon. More harm to these travelers, and poison in the wine. It’s everything Khonshu is against.

With one hard flick, the crescent dart sinks through glass and straight through the gunman’s spine. Half an instant later, Marc follows, crashing feet-first through the window and right into the man as he crumples to the sound of screams. A slice across the gun’s barrel with another dart renders it unusable, just in case there’s another kidnapper hidden among the patrons, and Marc rises to his feet as his cape settles around him in a sweep of white.

“Anyone hurt?” he asks, and the man and woman at the closest table scramble away from the broken glass. Away from him, probably, and Marc snorts, but steps over the body, away from the glass, and over to where a middle-aged woman is pressing a napkin against a seeping headwound.

“I’m fine,” she says, looking up to meet his eyes. “I tried to keep my phone.”

Marc tips his head, the picks up the bottle of wine on her table. It’s still almost full, and he weighs it in his hand for a moment, then takes a breath.

There's a full moon tonight, and Khonshu has been well-fed on hearts these last two weeks.

“Khonshu,” he says, and lifts the bottle, framing the moon through the pale glass.

Falcon-headed, wrapped in burning silver, Khonshu leans back, curling his hand around the bottle for just a moment. His other closes over Marc's wrist, and the touch is pure moonlight, heat and power and darkness broken by a point of silver brilliance. Then he pulls back, and laughs.

Give them something to believe in, my knight,” he says.

The power burns under Marc's skin, and he almost stumbles as he steps towards the woman, head spinning, dizzy with it. His gloved fingers skim her temple before she can flinch back, and she gasps, jerks. Wrenches the napkin away, and all that’s beneath it is smooth skin and a smear of blood.

Marc almost wants to laugh. Leaning forward, he plants the bottle back on her table, and even in the restaurant’s glow it shines like trapped moonlight.

“A cure,” he says. “Khonshu is the embracer. My god heals all those who need it.” Then, deliberate, he turns, pulls another dart from his belt, and stabs it into the edge of the window, where the light trailing through the opening casts a perfect crescent moon across the floor.

“Wait,” a man says, and Marc pauses in the window. One of the older men rises, takes two steps towards him. “They took Bruce. Bruce Wayne, and another man. Can you…”

“I’ll find them,” Marc promises, and vaults out the window. Lands, light, then ghosts across the garden to where the fence has been cut. There are tracks in the street on the other side of it, but with the full moon, with Khonshu closer than ever, Marc doesn’t need a physical trace to follow.

Raising his head, Marc looks out across the street, down the road. The moonlight falls like an arrow, a path leading straight towards the harbor, and Marc snorts, rises.

“Predictable,” he mutters.

Next to him, Khonshu snickers. “Going to take a cab?” he teases.

“Fuck off,” Marc tells him, and then pauses. “Thanks for not leaving me dead,” he adds, a little grudgingly. He has a few manners left. Kind of.

Khonshu's laugh is the rattle of bones, cast out to tell the future. “Where would I be without my knight, ready and willing to bring me hearts?” he asks, and then is gone between one moment and the next.

Marc wonders how much energy a heart gives, compared to how much energy even a god needs to bring him back from a shot in the head. Maybe it’s the same, but…he finds himself doubting it, just a bit.

Khonshu's never lied to him, but he rarely tells the truth. Somehow, though, Marc finds he minds it less right now than normal.

“If Bruce Wayne doesn’t agree to Steven's idea after this, I reserve the right to come back and beat him up,” he mutters, but crosses the road and leaps for the nearest fire escape, climbing up it. No taxi, not for Moon Knight—Marc still has that much dignity, at least. Besides, with enough height his cape’s glider function works just fine, and the wind tonight should carry him more than far enough.

“You know Steven's going to have to look shot, after this,” he tells Khonshu as he makes it to the roof, pulling himself over and lifting his face to the breeze.

There's no visible sign of the god, but Marc can hear his chuckle. “Steven dodged,” he returns. “All he got was a head wound and a minor concussion.”

Marc grunts, willing to accept that. Steven seems to want to be extra careful with their identity in this world, and Marc can't entirely blame him. Getting yelled at to keep his mask on by Jake was irritating enough already.

“This,” he says to Steven just as much as to himself, “is why dates are a bad idea.”

But he’s so cute,” Khonshu mocks, fluttery voice and falsetto tone that makes Marc grimace. “And he was flirting, wasn’t he?”

“Was he?” Marc mutters, but his attention is on the way the wind is shifting. “I thought he was drunk.”

Khonshu cackles, delighted, and Marc takes two running steps, then flings himself off the edge of the building, sweeping his cloak out into the glider’s wings. There’s half a second of freefall, and then they catch, and he lets the wind carry him towards the distant harbor, the sweep of a falcon’s wings beside him in the dark.

Chapter Text

“This is worse than Red Hook,” Marc mutters, picking away across rotting tin roofs as he tries not to fall into the warehouses below. “Why does anywhere need this many warehouses? It’s ridiculous.”

Shipping town,” Khonshu points out, safely out of range as he turns lazy loops above Marc's head in falcon-shape. “Watch your step.”

“In Jersey?” Marc says skeptically, but he makes it to the edge of the last building in the row without ending up on his ass two stories down, so he’s counting that as a win.

Snickering, Khonshu comes in for a landing beside him, catching splintered wood with a flare of wings and then settling. He cocks his head to look down at the dirty road below, cut between the warehouses and littered with old crates and trash, and just for a moment Marc can see the edge of that other dimension in his eyes, the spinning stars and unnamable colors. There’s something hungry in the falcon’s stoop, in the weight of his attention as he peers through the grimy windows of the building across the street.

It’s not the one Marc is here for. That one is three back, two down the row, but there's a guard at the edge of the building. He looks like a drunk dockworker, slumped back against the side of the warehouse, but Marc can see the reflection of moonlight on metal; that’s not all he is.

It’s a young city,” Khonshu says, and turns one beady eye on Marc. Stares, and there’s nothing human about his attention, his intent. “But the pain and the darkness here, it’s seeped into everything. Can't you feel it, my knight?”

With a rustle of feathers, the falcon takes off, passing through a shaft of moonlight and then disappearing like a dream. Marc stays where he is for a moment, looking after it, and then takes a breath.

“I can feel it,” he says, but—

Khonshu is the god of the moon. He’s the god of the light in the darkness. Marc can feel that, too.

“Kidnappings are a pain,” he says, mostly to Steven, because this is absolutely Steven's fault. “Next time, leave me out of—”

Marc never sees the blur coming.

One minute, he’s on the edge of the rooftop, judging his approach. The next second, he’s tumbling towards the ground, pixie-boot prints on his chest armor, a stick swinging for his head. Marc stares up into a face twisted in a vicious snarl, kind of-sort of covered by a black domino mask, and wants to sigh.

Like getting shot in the head wasn’t indication enough that it was one of those days.

Not about to test Khonshu's generosity for the second time in less than two hours, Marc catches the stick, twists hard, and flips the kid off of him. Hits the ground feet-first, rolls, rises with his truncheon in hand, and blocks the stick that tries to take his nose off his face.

Somehow, it’s unsurprising to find one of Gotham’s resident protectors on the other side of it.

You're the kidnapper?” the kid spits, and he’s a definite prettyboy, but ferocious as he takes another swing at Marc's head. “I thought you were a hero!”

“Shit,” Marc mutters, ducking a blow, then dropping and lashing out with a foot. The kid in black and blue—Marc heard a name in passing, but damned if he can remember it—leaps over it, flips like an acrobat and comes down almost on top of him, but Marc's tangled with Spider-Man more than once, knows how tricky assholes like this are. He dives away, rolls back to his feet, and when the kid lunges at him again he grabs his arm, wrenches, and throws him into the side of the warehouse with all the strength that the full moon gives him.

He’s only a little sorry when the kid crashes right through the rotting wood and goes tumbling across the concrete floor inside.

Stepping into the hole, Marc lets his cloak sweep around him, casting a curved shadow across the cement. “Look,” he says, annoyed, “I don’t know what you're yelling about, but I'm trying to stop a kidnapping.”

“Yeah?” the kid challenges, pulling himself to his feet. He comes up with both of his escrima sticks out and ready, an expression on his face that would probably be more at home on the Punisher’s: stubborn as hell and not about to be swayed. “Then how did you get here so fast?”

“I followed them,” Marc says, annoyed, and turns on his heel. “If you want to keep yelling and tell them we’re here, fine. But I'm going to go rescue the idiot they grabbed.”

There's a moment of startled silence, then steps, quick and light. “Wait!” the kid says, and a hand grabs Marc's arm. Marc lets him keep it, since he’s feeling generous, but he turns and narrows his eyes at the kid even so.

“You're Moon Knight,” the kid says, wary, but still close. Marc isn't sure whether that means he’s an idiot or not, but he’s leaning towards yes. “You're—you saved Red Hood and Red Robin from the Joker.”

Marc snorts. “That’s one way of putting it,” he says, and knocks the hand away from his elbow. “Who are you?”

If it surprises the kid that Marc doesn’t know him, he’s good at hiding it. “Nightwing,” he says, and slides his remaining escrima stick onto the holster on his thigh. “The police weren’t able to find the kidnappers, even with a roadblock. How did you, if you're not with them?”

Marc scowls at him, even if the effect is lost behind his mask. “I followed them,” he repeats, and pulls away. “My god watches over the city at night. He saw.”

There's a pause, a second of startlement that washes over Nightwing's face. “Oh,” he says, and even though Marc stares at him narrowly, ready for the disbelief, ready for the step back, Nightwing doesn’t move. Lifts his chin, meets Marc's eyes, and says, “I didn’t realize it was that direct. Is that how you found Hood and Red Robin?”

Care. There's care in his voice, the tail end of fear that didn’t fade quickly enough. Marc remembers that kind of fear, the way he felt when Jean-Paul got hurt, or Randall attacked Marlene. I didn’t make it in time, that tone says, and Marc lets out a careful breath. Nightwing is older than either of the other vigilantes, and at least two of them are following a definite bird theme, so it’s reasonable to assume they know each other. Reasonable to think they worry.

“No,” he says, less brusquely. “That was luck.”

Nightwing winces, but a moment later he looks up and smiles. “Good luck,” he says, and hesitates, glancing past Marc towards the other side of the street. No one’s come looking, which is already more than Marc expected, but…he gets the feeling that even this close to Uptown the docks aren’t exactly a friendly place to be after dark. The kidnappers likely aren’t the only less-than-savory people hanging around.

Belatedly, Marc registers Nightwing's words about the police, then turns and looks at him, suddenly wary. “How did you know where they were?” he asks.

Startlingly, Nightwing laughs. “Oracle,” he says, like that should mean everything. “She caught them coming through the security checkpoint and told me. Batgirl and Red Robin are on their way, too, but they're checking the museum first.”

Great. An audience. Marc grimaces, but turns, and says, “They’re holed up over here. Don’t get in my way.”

“Don’t get in mine,” Nightwing retorts, but he falls into step with Marc without so much as a pause. “You realize they’re going to see you coming, right? The white is a nice fashion statement, but it’s not exactly subtle.”

Marc snorts, pausing at the edge of the next building. “That’s the fun part,” he says, then sends his truncheon’s grappling hook up and scales the line quickly, landing in a crouch on the edge of the roof. A moment later, there's a faint thump, and Nightwing leaps off a crate, bounces off a lamppost, and lands next to him in a crouch, perfectly balanced.

Unimpressed, Marc stares at him. “Show-off,” he says.

Nightwing laughs quietly. He’s a cheerful one, apparently. “So you're the distraction, Moon Knight?” he asks. “I can find a window, get in from the eastern side—”

“Do what you want,” Marc says shortly. “I'm going in the front.”

The bastards were willing to shoot an unknown as an intimidation tactic, to hold up a restaurant with poison, but—Marc is pretty damn sure they won't just execute Bruce Wayne. Not when they’re hoping for him to be their payday. More likely they’ll try to bolt out a side door with him, leave most of the crew to stop Marc and get out of the line of fire as fast as possible. Given how prepared they’ve been, it’s likely they have more safehouses ready and waiting.

Not that Marc is going to give them the chance to use them.

“Look,” Nightwing says, raising his hands, “I'm all for a dramatic rescue, but from the reports I heard they have guns, and they're not going to hesitate to use them. The cape is cool, Moony, but somehow I doubt it’s bulletproof.”

Moony. Marc pauses, almost caught off-guard, and—Spider-Man called him that. Usually to the tune of an exasperated Moony. Rhymes with loony, but—it’s a familiar nickname. It’s…odd. Too familiar in a foreign world, and Marc isn't entirely sure he likes it. Spider-Man never had a high opinion of him, after all.

“Don’t call me that,” he says flatly, and rises to his feet. It’s a short path over the edge of the next warehouse, then two more down, and he pauses on the overhang across from the slumped guard, assessing. No lights inside, but there’s a moment of motion as someone passes behind the darkened windows.

The moon is low and heavy over the water in the distance, and Marc smiles grimly. If Khonshu wants hearts, he’ll get them.

High and fast, a shape leaps him, sailing across the gap in an acrobatic twist. Marc doesn’t wait for Nightwing to get settled; he just drops, cloak flaring out like the sharp horns of a crescent moon, and flings a dart before the guard can even open his mouth to shout.

Disappointing. Marc likes it better when they know he’s coming.

Flipping his truncheon around, Marc grabs the door with one hand, takes a short breath. Under the full moon, he’s more than strong enough for this, and with a grunt and a heave he rips the heavy sheet of metal right out of its moorings, letting it drop at his feet with a deep clatter.

“I think this is the part where I say, freeze, scumbags,” Marc says, stalking forward. “But that’s no fun, is it?”

With a shout, the woman comes to her feet, gun rising. Marc flicks his truncheon up, and a second later the grappling hook hits her square in the face. The man who shot him is already up, and Marc dives sideways around a container as a spray of bullets slams into the concrete. Hauls himself up, over the top, and leaps off the top, dropping down on top of another man feet-first. They both hit the ground hard, but Marc is the only one who gets up, and he rolls to his feet, flings out a dart, and slams an elbow into the throat of the man coming up behind him.

“Stop!” the woman shouts, staggering up, and Marc can see bone through the blood on her face but she still raises her gun. “One more step and I—”

A crescent dart takes her in the neck, and she drops.

Even as two more men return fire, the kidnapper who shot Steven turns and bolts, heading towards a door in the wall. Marc hisses in irritation as a bullet hits him in the side, almost knocking him off his feet. It hurts, but he’s had worse, and it’s nowhere vital. He recovers in an instant, throwing himself forward into one of the gunmen instead of back, and stabs a dart into his chest, right through the body armor. Leaping back, he flips high over the second one’s head, drops as he flings his truncheon, and lands as it hits, putting the man down with a cry. Another dart to make sure he won't stand up again and Marc follows the shooter, a sweep of white cutting through the gloom.

Behind him, there’s a thump as Nightwing lands in the middle of a scattering of bodies, and he sucks in a sharp, horrified breath. “What,” he says, but Marc ignores him, booting the door open with one hard kick.

On the other side of what looks like a small office, the shooter snarls a warning and hauls the limp body of Bruce Wayne up against him, gun jammed against his throat.

“Not one more step!” he orders. “I’ll kill him before I let you win.”

Marc stops in the doorway, tipping his head. Unlike the low-rent thugs who kidnapped that mob heiress he’d rescued back in New York, this bastard will actually do it, he thinks critically. “That won't stop me from killing you two seconds later,” he says flatly.

The man bares his teeth at him in a vicious grin. “So? You’ll still have lost, and that’s good enough for me.”

Marc glances down at Bruce, pauses. Letting him die just so he can take out the kidnapper is counterproductive, and it will make Steven bitch. Besides, protector is one title Marc can take seriously, even if he usually goes about it in a more violent way.

“This seems like a lot of trouble for some quick cash,” Marc says, unimpressed. “Why don’t you just play the lottery like everyone else?”

The shooter laughs, and his eyes flicker over Marc's shoulder. Marc can feel the other presence, but the scuff of soft-soled boots is enough to tell him it’s Nightwing, rather than another kidnapper. “This has worked out pretty well for me so far,” he says. “Away from the door, both of you.”

Deliberately, Marc steps back, gripping Nightwing's arm and pulling the kid with him. “You won't get far,” he says flatly. “No matter where you go, Khonshu is watching. You took a traveler at night, and that means your heart belongs to him.”

Nightwing glances at him, quick, almost startled, but tips his head. “I don’t know about you,” he says to the shooter, “but personally I’d rather try my luck with the court systems than a god.”

“I don’t believe in gods,” the shooter says viciously. “You're just a bunch of psychopaths and bird-themed freaks running around in masks, seeing things that don’t exist.”

“Who’s a psychopath?” Marc asks, confused. Nightwing seems like a perfectly reasonable person, if a bit…friendly.

“You really want to risk it?” Nightwing asks, and he’s tense, ready to move even as he shifts back, gives the shooter room as he drags Bruce out, gun still pressed tight to his head. Carefully, Marc palms a crescent dart as his hand brushes past his belt, and refuses to be thankful for Bushman teaching him slight of hand all those years ago.

“Yeah,” the shooter says, and there's the faintest brush of cloth on cloth. Instantly, Marc grabs Nightwing and dives behind the half-open door as three knives hit, driving deep into the concrete where they were just standing. At the same moment, a woman shouts, “October, left!”

The shooter bolts, and the knife-thrower sprints out of the shadows, flinging a pair of blades with a strange glow to them behind her. Marc doesn’t need experience to know that’s a bad sign, and he throws himself back, Nightwing right beside him. The knives hit the door, and there’s a crackling whump.

The explosion that follows right after is hardly even a surprise, at this point.

A wave of force hits Marc, lifts him right off his feet and slams him through the rear wall in a gout of violet flames, and he hits the gravel hard, roll, rises. A screech of tires sends him right back down, tumbling out of the path of a familiar van as it roars past, and he lies where he is for a moment, feeling mildly scorched, unfortunately shot, and entirely annoyed.

With a groan, Nightwing sits up a short distance away, looking dazed. “Metahumans,” he says, and mutters something Marc can't hear but agrees with, just going by tone. “Okay, noted.” Steps crunch across the gravel, and a moment later Nightwing leans over Marc, expression concerned. “You okay?” he asks.

Marc closes his eyes for a moment, then grunts and levers himself up to sit, ignoring the burning ache in his side and the hot drip of blood. When Nightwing offers him a hand, he considers it for a moment, but takes it and lets the kid haul him to his feet. It’s been a shitty day. He’s allowed.

“This is a well-planned kidnapping,” he says disgustedly.

“Yeah,” Nightwing says with a grimace. “If they're going after Bruce Wayne, that’s a given.” Reaching up, he touches the earpiece he’s wearing, then flinches. “Whatever that was, it fried my comm.”

Marc snorts, not surprised. Magic’s a pain in the ass, speaking as someone up to his neck in it. Khonshu's magic is usually slightly less so, at least; more subtle, most of the time, if not more useful. And here, at least, it doesn’t come with the constant harassment for hearts—

A flicker of motion catches his eye, and he spins, dart in hand. Before he can even raise it, though, Nightwing lunges to grab his elbow, and says, “Batgirl!”

A blonde girl in a black and purple costume drops down beside them, and her grin is teeth. “Nightwing,” she returns, and looks at Marc. “And you're Moon Knight, huh?”

Marc doesn’t answer, because that’s obvious. Instead, he slides his dart away, then turns and starts walking. The sense of Bruce's presence is still clear, and Marc doesn’t want to give the kidnappers too long to get settled somewhere else.

“Geez, you're a friendly guy,” Batgirl says, taking several quick steps to catch up.

“Where’s Red Robin?” Nightwing asks, falling in on Marc's other side, and…Marc's not entirely sure when he agreed to an escort here, but he does know that he doesn’t like it very much.

Batgirl pulls a face, and she at least is wearing a cowl that covers half her head, unlike Nightwing's tiny domino mask. Marc is glad to see she has that much sense. “Oracle caught wind of someone trying to break into the—into Bruce Wayne’s mansion, so he went after them. Red Hood’s not answering, which means he’s probably ass-deep in his own trouble, and Robin is…”

“Still laid up and pissed about it?” Nightwing finishes with a laugh.

Batgirl's sigh is loud and aggrieved. “I can't talk to him, but then I'm not the Robin-whisperer in this group.” She casts a sweeping look ahead of them, then turns to glance behind them at the burning warehouse, pauses, and asks, “So where are we going?”

Marc rolls his eyes. “They stopped up ahead,” he says. “On the water.”

“A ship?” Nightwing asks, and a thread of worry twists through his voice. “If they take him out into the open ocean—”

“Still got Aquaman’s number?” Batgirl asks lightly, but she looks grim, too. “We just have to get there before they take off.”

“Cast off,” Marc mutters, because he really was a Marine before he got dishonorably discharged, but they ignore him.

“If they have a ship, there are more of them left than I thought,” Nightwing says. “We have to be careful how we approach—”

“Great,” Marc says, annoyed, as they hit a hill. “Have fun with that.”

Two quick steps give him speed, and he leaps, let the glider’s wings catch and lift. This close to the ocean, the wind is stronger, and he rises above the warehouses, above the harbor. The moonlight falls strongest on a cargo ship, and Marc arrows for it, passing the van abandoned beside the dock. There’s motion onboard, men calling, crossing the deck, but Marc drops down behind a row of containers without being spotted, lets the glider drop back into a cape and slides into the shadows.

The stairs to the lower decks are unguarded, and Marc makes for them, already feeling the rumble of the engines coming to life beneath his feet. A ship this size will take a while to get out of the harbor, so he doesn’t rush, just slinks past a man in a waiter’s uniform arguing with a sailor and ducks down the stairs.

It’s cramped. It smells bad. It looks far too much like the Sun King’s ship, headed to Isle Ra, and Marc is rapidly remembering that he really hates boats.

In the dull metal of the walls, following Marc like his shadow come to life, Khonshu laughs. “Leaving the baby birds to catch up on their own?” he asks.

“I'm pretty sure they’re on the no-killing diet, too,” Marc says. “If you want hearts, deal with it.”

Khonshu laughs, and Marc knows the sound isn't something anyone else can hear, but it echoes down the halls, skeletons scattering across the metal. “So thoughtful tonight, my son,” he says, and his image shifts as it slides across an open door, reflection to silver wraith and back to reflection. “Gotham is keeping me well-fed.”

Marc almost says don’t get used to it, but—so far there’s been no shortage of people Marc's willing to call dangerous enough to kill. “You know I live to make you happy,” he retorts instead, and Khonshu snickers.

That looks painful,” he says, eyes falling on the red staining Marc's vestments, smearing wet across the black suit and crimson across the white of his cloak and armor.

“I told you Steven needed to look shot. Leave it alone.” Which isn't why Marc got hit—his luck’s just shitty—but it’s a good enough outcome that Marc can live with it.

Make sure you leave a calling card,” is all Khonshu says, and when he hits the next open door, he vanishes.

“That’s helpful,” Marc mutters, but he ducks into the room anyway, stepping into the shadow of the bunks. A moment later, footsteps pass, and he narrows his eyes at the sight of the shooter heading above-deck. That means the woman with the explosive knives is probably still with Bruce, and her powers combined with a ship at sea doesn’t strike Marc as the best mix. With a frown, he considers, but—

Really, in quarters this tight, there's not much to do beyond come at her head-on and hope he can take her out before she can use her abilities.

Hopefully this goes better than the rest of the night has, Marc thinks with resignation, but—he’s not about to hold his breath.

 

 

Bruce wakes to an ache like a bruise between his shoulder blades and a mouth that feels like it’s been stuffed with cotton. His head pulses like a particularly terrible hangover, but he doesn’t let himself react, doesn’t even let his breathing change.

His hands are bound behind him, and that last gunshot still rings in his ears.

Staying still takes effort, but Bruce manages. Someone else is close by; he can hear them breathing, the faint creak of body armor and the rustle of cloth as they shift. There's a faint sway to everything, a rocking that his brain pegs as a boat after a moment of confusion, and the air smells musty and stale. The edge of metallic smell beneath anything tangles up in Bruce's throat, saturates everything like fresh blood, and he wants to gag.

The echo of the gun in the statuary garden overlaps and echoes the echo of a gun outside a dark theater, and Bruce breathes, breathes, breathes.

The crackle of a radio coming to life is loud in the silence, and with a huff the room’s other occupant answers, a woman’s irritated, “What now?” cutting through the static.

June, we’ll be out of the harbor in about twenty minutes,” a man says. “Keep your head down until then, and if anything comes through the doorway, kill it.”

“I know how to do my job,” she counters sharply. “Just do yours, October.”

October. The man who shot Steven, Bruce thinks, and has to grit his teeth. Not the same woman—she was May, if he remembers right. With the naming theme they're using, though, there are probably twelve of the kidnappers at least, and possibly more underlings. Steep odds when he’s still coming down from a drug and is tied up in the hold of a ship headed elsewhere.

Steep odds when the kidnappers have proven they’re willing to kill anyone nearby to keep him in line, and there’s no saying how many innocents are aboard.

And then, careful, slow, out of the corner of one eye, Bruce can see a shadow crawl across the cabin’s floor.

He freezes, wary, watchful. Like a living thing the shadow spreads, solidifies into one shape instead of a morass of darkness, and Bruce stares at the figure of a man with a skeletal bird-head, painted on the floor. There's a long, long moment of silence, the woman watching him oblivious to the change, and—

The door tears clean off the hinges, and with a growl it flies inward, heaved across the room with inhuman strength. Bruce flings himself to the side, rolling right up against the wall as the woman shouts, and there’s a thud like a knife hitting metal, a crackle—

Something white cuts through the cabin, flared out like a crescent moon. A man hits the door feet-first as it starts to flip, slams it down hard to the sound of a high, sharp cry, and flips over it. He drops down, and a moment later the door clatters to the side, scorched and glowing faintly with violet light. A body drops, and Moon Knight straightens from the tangle, dripping blood. Bruce can't tell if it’s his own or someone else’s.

“Yeah, well, thanks for nothing,” Moon Knight says, though it’s directed at a patch of empty wall by the door, not the woman’s body. He stands there for a moment, head tilted, and Bruce stares. It’s the first time he’s seen Moon Knight on anything but a grainy security feed, and somehow, in real life, it looks like he’s glowing. Not a lot, not like Green Lantern or other heroes Bruce knows, but—faintly, as if he’s standing in a patch of moonlight that’s made it through solid steel.

Beneath the deep hood, his eyes glow silver, and after several long seconds they slide over to lock on Bruce.

“Bruce Wayne,” Moon Knight says, and takes a step forward, then stops. It’s hard to tell between the hood and the full-face mask, but Bruce thinks he’s frowning. Then, slowly, he pulls one of the crescent-shaped blades from his belt and says, “Lean forward.”

Maybe it’s the drug, or maybe it’s the surprise of seeing someone who might as well have turned into a ghost these past weeks so close, but it takes Bruce a second to find his words. “What, no Batman this time?” he jokes, and manages to push up on his elbow, then flop ungracefully over on his stomach. Definitely still drugged, then. Damn. “Usually I rate Superman at least.”

Moon Knight snorts, unoffended, and cuts the zip ties in one quick motion, then steps back. Bruce wishes futilely for a tracker; that would have been the perfect moment to drop it on his cloak.

“No Superman,” he says dryly, then pauses. “I get the feeling Batman chases him out of Gotham whenever he tries to poke his nose into the city.”

That’s…not inaccurate, Bruce will grudgingly admit, if only to himself. “Batman's an ass,” he says, and pushes up, making sure to hiss at the pull of numb arms finally coming loose. Billionaire playboys aren’t used to sore muscles. When a hand grips his arm, pulling him off the bed, he adds an only slightly-exaggerated lurch to his steps and collides with Moon Knight as he tries to get his feet under him.

“Sorry,” he manages, and Moon Knight is exactly his height. Good for a reference. He can't remember if Steven—

His stomach lurches, and just for a moment Bruce has to close his eyes. That gunshot—Steven is probably dead. Which means that interest in Egyptology aside, Steven wasn’t Moon Knight. And if Bruce hadn’t thought he was, hadn’t dragged him to dinner just to investigate, there’s every chance he’d still be alive.

“It’s fine,” Moon Knight says curtly, and hauls Bruce's arm over his shoulder. He moves quickly, balanced like he knows every inch of his body—a trained fighter, Bruce thinks, and then swallows. Different. It’s—

Up a flight of stairs, into open air, and Moon Knight stops dead at the edge of the hatch.

“Oh, hey!” a familiar voice calls cheerfully, and Bruce lifts his gaze to where Dick is perched on the edge of a shipping container, swinging his heels. There’s a pile of rifles beside him, and he’s grinning like he just got away with something. “You found him, Moony!”

“I told you not to call me that,” Moon Knight says, but not like he thinks he’ll be listened to. Bruce sympathizes, deeply and immediately.

With a laugh, Stephanie leans back on her hands. She’s perched on top of three unconscious bodies, a spent cannister of knockout gas at her feet. The man who shot Steven is currently out cold, drooling and serving as her footrest, which is still too good for him. Bruce kind of wants to throw him overboard and let the Coast Guard fish him out.

“We’re still docked,” she says, offering Moon Knight a cheery salute. “Nightwing and I killed the engines and tied up the crew. Gotham PD should be here any minute, too.”

There's a long moment where it looks like Moon Knight doesn’t have any idea what to do with that information. Then, cautiously, he offers, “Thanks.”

“No problem.” Dick drops down, approaching, and it’s because Bruce knows him that he can see the worry on his face. “He okay?”

“He’s fine, thank you,” Bruce says with all the dignity he can muster. “I've been kidnapped before. This is old hat.”

The way Dick frowns says they're definitely going to be talking about this later. “I’ll take him, Moon Knight,” he says. “If the police are close, you might want to go. They don’t…” He pauses, wary.

Moon Knight just snorts. “They don’t like vigilantes who kill,” he finishes, and it’s not a question. Deftly, he slides out from under Bruce's arm and practically dumps him into Dick’s hold, the straightens and takes a step back.

“We don’t, either,” Dick says quietly, watching him.

Moon Knight just looks at him for a long moment. “I'm the Fist of Khonshu,” he says, like the title has weight and meaning and history. “My god protects those who travel by night in this place, but he takes hearts in return. I won't starve him.” Then, with a sweep of his white cloak, he spins, leaps. The wings of it flare out, stark against the darkness, and like a crescent moon he seems to hang in the air for a long moment before the wind pulls him up and over and away. Another moment and he’s lost to the darkness, disappearing back towards the city.

“Chatty,” Stephanie says, staring after him. “I just get the warm fuzzies from him, you know? Total cuddle-bear. Maybe he wants to be my pen-pal.” The kidnapper under her foot groans, and she kicks him in the head with one booted foot.

“I need to get back to the museum,” Bruce says, and feels Dick’s grip on him tighten. Squeezes his shoulder, forcing himself up straight, and says, “The people there were poisoned, we need to find and antidote—”

“Red Robin’s there now,” Dick says, and when Bruce steps away, he lets him, even though Bruce can see he’s ready to grab if something goes wrong. “One of the people who grabbed you must have been a chemist, but Oracle said there was a cure on-site.”

“Good.” Bruce breathes in, breathes out, tries to think straight. It’s a hell of a lot harder than it should be. “My date, he—” The words tangle in his throat, and it takes him a second to find a way to say it that will come out more easily. “Any fatalities?”

“I haven’t heard anything,” Stephanie says, an apology, and rises to her feet, turning to look back at the docks as the first hint of a siren breaks through. “Okay, we need to clear out. With us or with the police, B?”

It will be a nightmare to explain to the police why he left with Nightwing and Batgirl, but Bruce is still tempted. It will be quicker to get back across the city, but—

He can't risk it.

Breathing in, he sinks down to sit on the deck, and waves a hand at them. “Go on,” he says. “I’ll explain things. You two have other places to be—”

A grapple line hits the side, and Dick and Stephanie both flinch hard, spinning to face the intruder. It’s not a kidnapper who appears over the edge of the ship, though, or even Moon Knight returning. A familiar red helmet rises up, and Jason swings himself over the side, a smaller figure in red half a beat behind him.

“Where’s Moon Knight?” Jason demands, turning to look around the deck like Moon Knight is going to be hiding behind a pile of ropes somewhere.

“I think he remembered an appointment elsewhere,” Bruce says, desert-dry, and eyes Jason's partner in crime. “Arsenal.”

“Hey there, Mr. Wayne,” Roy says, and gives him a grin and a wave. “Looking a little rough tonight.”

“Kidnapped and drugged is the hot new aesthetic this month,” Bruce says, perfectly inflectionless, and gives Jason a look. “Hood?”

Jason flips him off. At this point, Bruce assumes it’s an automatic thing, like breathing. “Moon Knight was here, right? Which way did he head?”

“Towards Farrow, it looked like,” Stephanie offers, cocking her head.

“Thanks.” Jason gives her a look, still seated on her pile of kidnappers, then snorts. “Nice, Batgirl.”

Stephanie grins and gives him a thumbs-up, because of course she does. She and Jason have far too much in common for Bruce's peace of mind. “Don’t corner Moon Knight,” she returns. “I don’t think you’ll come out of it with all your limbs.”

If Jason cares about the warning, he doesn’t show it, just tosses them a salute and leaps back over the side, sliding down the grapple line.

“You didn’t tell me you were going to be around, Roy,” Dick says, and he sounds faintly hurt, with the wide blue eyes to match. Bruce contains a wince, even though that tone isn't directed at him.

Looking caught, Roy takes a step back towards the railing. “Sorry, Di—Nightwing,” he says. “Jaybird called me last minute, and I didn’t even know if we were going to stick around Gotham long. I’ll—”

“Come on,” Jason calls up from below, deeply annoyed, but—he didn’t just leave. That’s mildly astonishing, this being Jason.

“Later!” Roy says quickly, and vaults over the side. There’s a yelp from below, a crash, a thud, and Roy laughs wickedly. “Were you trying to catch me, Jaybird? That’s so sweet—ow ow ow, shithead, stop it—”

“Let’s go,” Jason snaps, and very definitely doesn’t answer the question.

Bruce breathes out a sigh and closes his eyes. The sirens are practically at the edge of the dock now.

“I’ll see you later,” he tells Stephanie and Dick, then rises to his feet. Doesn’t watch them escape over the side, but raises his hands and heads down the gangplank as the squad cars pull up. He’ll pacify the cops here, get a ride back to the museum to see what the damage is, and­—

Plan a funeral, maybe. Steven said he didn’t have family, and it seems like the very least that Bruce can do.

Chapter Text

“It’s glowing,” Harper says, highly skeptical.

“Yeah,” Tim says, equally suspicious, and peers at the luminescent liquid from the other side, tempted to find some kind of containment for it. He’s never really wanted to be a Green Lantern, but—the ability to analyze and classify a substance at a moment’s notice would come in handy right about now.

Carefully, Harper reaches out, nudging the bottle with one fingertip. It slides easily, still glowing, and Tim can't see a light source in the table or in the bottle itself.

“Huh,” Harper says, eyes narrowed, and picks it up, turning it around and then lifting it to check the bottom. Tim keeps half an eye on it, even as he pulls a used glass towards himself. A shot glass, but there's a film of liquid still clinging to it that glows the same way as the wine. Or what was wine, maybe.

“I don’t think there’s anything in the bottle,” Harper says after a moment, and sets it down where it was. “It’s definitely a cure?”

Tim shrugs, swiping the glass; the restaurant can spare it, and the computer in the cave should be able to help him analyze what the stuff in it is. “I mean, assuming there was definitely poison,” he says. “I’ve got one of the wine bottles these guys apparently poisoned, but—I wouldn’t put it past them to make that up. Placebo effect.”

There’s a sound of annoyance from behind them, and Tim twitches, ducking out of the way as a hand reaches past him. It’s not an attack, though—the middle-aged woman picks up the bottle, makes sure it’s corked securely, and takes a step back, giving both Tim and Harper a sharp look.

“It’s a cure,” she challenges, and there’s blood on her face, but no sign of a wound. “We all felt whatever they put in the wine working, and Moon Knight made this to save us. You can doubt all you want, but it’s true.”

“Hey, lady, we’re not trying to be rude,” Harper says, raising her hands. “It’s just not usual, is it?”

“Neither is getting poisoned in a museum,” the woman retorts. “Neither is whatever you lot get up to every night. Moon Knight was just helping us. He—his god was helping us.”

Tim exchanges glances with Harper, who looks like she doesn’t know whether to scoff or press for more information. He’s not entirely sure, either; it’s not like people claiming to work for or as gods are all that uncommon, as heroes, but—

Actual god, crazy person, or demonic outerterrestrial entity masquerading as a god. It’s still hard to say which it is. Even crazy could still apply, if the guy’s got magic but just believes he’s following a god’s will.

“Be careful with that, then,” Tim says, nodding at the bottle.

The woman laughs, a little ragged, a little disbelieving. “Believe me,” she says. “I'm going to build a shrine.”

Better than using it, Tim supposes. He watches her walk away, back to three other women who pull her into their group and immediately gather around her, and then sighs, rubbing at his forehead.

Harper claps him on the shoulder, less like she’s sympathetic and more like she’s laughing at him. “I’ll go see if I can't fix whatever these bastards did to the surveillance system,” she says. “Oracle wants to see if the feeds survived.”

Bruce getting kidnapped has thrown him off, Tim thinks. That’s—that’s not how it’s supposed to go. Usually their lives don’t cross like this. Bruce is always extra careful about that. But one crew grabbed him here, and another hit the mansion, looking for whatever they could steal. Thankfully Harper was there, and they had one of her Bluebird suits in the cave, but Tim still feels unsettled anyway. Not the first time the mansion’s been attacked, but—it’s home, in ways most other places aren’t.

“I’ll scout the gardens, see what traces I can find,” Tim answers, and watches Harper wave and retreat towards the kitchens before he ducks out through the broken window, landing lightly on the grass of the statuary garden. It’s a confusing, twisted tangle of greenery and modern art that seem to blend together into monstrous shadows, and even the lights scattered through the place don’t make much of an impact. A handful of yards in and Tim can't even see the restaurant’s patio anymore. It’s definitely perfect cover for an escape.

Carefully, Tim slips down the path, looking for any signs that someone’s still lying in wait. The police swept the area once, but—there are a hell of a lot of ways to hide from the police, and Gotham’s criminal underbelly is brilliant at that if nothing else. Beyond that, there are traces of strange, clinging violet light on the door the kidnappers must have forced their way through, and a metahuman with unknown powers being on the crew makes everything uncertain. There could be more than one, or—

A thump.

Tim freezes, waiting. Listening, because that was close by, muffled but not entirely hidden. The sound doesn’t come again, though, and after a moment Tim keeps moving, changing direction and heading towards the source. He’s close to the rear fence of the garden, where it abuts a quieter street, and if there's so sort of guard back here, or someone coming back, they could have gotten in easily while the cameras are down.

And then Tim's foot hits something soft.

Instantly, Tim jerks back, already reaching for a weapon, but there’s no movement. Just a low sound, pained, and he drops to one knee. There's a hand in the path, almost invisible in the darkness, and he follows it up to the edge of a shoulder, a body that’s been shoved under an arbor covered in leafy wisteria.

“Hey,” Tim says, because that hand is limp, and there’s something wet and dark staining the green leaves, visible in the moonlight. “Sir, I'm going to pull you out, all right?”

No answer, and Tim mutters a curse, carefully getting a hold of the man and easing him out from under the structure as carefully as he can. Definitely one of the restaurant guests—he’s dressed in a nice suit, and that watch is worth money. Or it was; right now it’s pretty thickly covered with blood, and the man has his hand pressed almost desperately against his side, where there’s more blood leaking between his fingers. Gunshot wound, Tim thinks grimly. Definitely a victim of the kidnappers.

“Bluebird,” he says into his comm, and barely waits for Harper’s response. “Get a medical team, send them out to the garden. I found a guy with a gunshot wound, and he needs help. By the back fence, next to the tallest arbor.”

“On it,” Harper promises, and Tim turns back to the man to find his eyes are open, watching him. His face is creased with pain, but he looks almost surprisingly conscious for how much blood he’s lost.

“Sorry to move you,” Tim says. “Paramedics will be right over, all right?”

The man’s eyes slide closed for an instant before he forces them open again. “Bruce,” he manages, and takes a breath. “They took Bruce, I couldn’t—”

Bruce's dinner guest, probably. Tim contains a wince, because that’s definitely going to put Bruce in a mood, finding out his date got shot. “Nightwing and Batgirl went after him,” he promises, and hears the sound of approaching voices. “Over here!” he calls, and a moment later a pair of paramedics hurry around an ugly statue made of big stone slabs and approach.

Tim slides back as they get the man on a stretcher, then ducks into the shadows to continue his sweep. He makes a quick loop around the rest of the garden without finding anyone else, and it’s a relief but also mildly concerning. The kidnappers definitely knew what they were doing, and didn’t hesitate to use violence, but…this was carefully planned and executed. The fact that none of them caught wind of it before it happened is worrying, especially because this is a new group. Or at least, new to Gotham—this level of execution says either their mastermind is one hell of a planner or they’ve made similar grabs before.

By the time he makes it back to the front, it’s to the sight of a handful of new squad cars parked by the museum’s restaurant entrance, a familiar figure sitting on the edge of an ambulance. Bruce looks fine, if a little rough, and Tim can't see any blood. He lets out a quiet breath of relief, then puts on his best I don’t know you, civilian face and heads for the ambulance.

“Mr. Wayne,” he says, and Bruce glances up and offers him a tired smile.

“Red Robin,” he returns. “I didn’t get a chance to thank Nightwing and Batgirl for their part in the rescue. Would you pass on my gratitude?”

“Of course.” Tim pauses, trying to frame the question right, and then asks, “Who was the other part, then?”

“Moon Knight,” Bruce says, and Tim can't read the look in his eyes. He glances past Tim, towards the doors of the restaurant, and then pauses. Tension bleeds into his face, and he says, “They shot the man I was with—Steven Grant, out in the garden as they were taking us—”

“I found him,” Tim assures him, and is a little surprised when Bruce's expression goes grim. Minefield, he thinks, but—expected, probably, if they shot the guy in front of Bruce. Tim had been thinking he’d followed, maybe tried to stop them, but—clearly it was an immediate thing. Flexing their muscle, maybe. “They’re bringing him out now, I think, he was stable enough to move—”

Bruce twitches hard, jerking around to stare at Tim. “He’s alive?” he demands.

Oh. Yeah, that would explain the expression. “Yeah,” Tim says, and jerks a thumb at the door just as it opens, the paramedics pushing the stretcher out into the street. “Over there, that’s him.”

Instantly, Bruce slides down from the ambulance, heading for the medics. Tim follows as unobtrusively as he can, and stays at the edge of a heavy shadow as Bruce leans over the stretcher.

“Steven,” he says, and the paramedics exchange looks but don’t chase him away. One climbs into the back, getting ready to load the stretcher, but they don’t immediately make to do it.

There's a breath, and then Steven's eyes open. He stares up at Bruce for a moment, like he can't recognize him at first, and then blinks. Awareness settles, and he smiles ruefully.

“Bruce,” he says. “They got you back.”

“I couldn’t finish a date without saying good night,” Bruce jokes, but he touches Steven's hand, ignoring the blood that smears across his fingertips. “I’ll come with you to the hospital,” he says. “If you don’t mind.”

“The best ending to any date,” Steven says, amused, but his eyes close a moment later, like he can't keep them open.

“Sir,” one of the paramedics says quietly. “We need to move him.”

Bruce hesitates, then nods. “I'm coming,” he says firmly.

There’s no argument—they’re probably more than happy to have an excuse to check Bruce out at the hospital, too, Tim thinks. He stays back as the woman closes the doors, then heads around the front, and a moment later the ambulance pulls away, sirens starting.

“He okay?” Harper asks quietly, folding her arms over her chest.

“Looks like it,” Tim says, and glances up towards the roof of the museum, half-expecting to see stark white against grey stone. Moon Knight apparently doesn’t stick around after a fight, though; the only thing up there is the full moon, low and heavy over the building.

It’s possible that’s something of a relief. Tim doesn’t scare easily, but—what Moon Knight did to the Joker is burned into his mind. The nightmares have been frequent. And as grateful as Tim is that Moon Knight apparently rescued Bruce, he has to wonder how many people died along the way. Criminals, but—one man being able to decide who’s a criminal and who’s not has never ended well for anyone.

Harper hums, sounding relieved, and then glances back at the building. “I got the systems up again, and Oracle’s checking them,” she says. “But I need to get back to Cullen. We good here?”

Tim should probably get to the hospital, too. Even if he’s seen Bruce is fine, Bruce Wayne’s adopted son should make an appearance to check on him after something like this. And—it might help settle him, to see Bruce face to unmasked face.

“We’re good, Bluebird,” he says, and gives her a grin. “Thanks for the assist at the mansion.”

Harper grins back. “I forgot what it felt like,” she admits, and looks down at her gloved hands. Curls them, like she’s testing the flexibility, and then says, “Well, school’s out soon. Maybe I can get back to some extracurriculars.”

“You know you’re always welcome,” Tim tells her, and holds out a fist. With a snort, she taps her own fist against his, then slips away into the darkened streets. Tim doesn’t watch her go; he does one more sweep of the restaurant and the garden, then heads for his motorcycle. It’s been a long night, but it’s not over quite yet.

 

 

By the time they get Steven out of surgery and settled in a room, the sun is coming up. The doctor wouldn’t give Bruce details, but there were assurances of a complete recovery, and Bruce lets that buoy him as he sits beside the hospital bed. Steven is quiet, pale but breathing steadily, and Bruce watches him, weighing paths forward.

“Here,” Dick says quietly, and Bruce blinks at the coffee cup that’s dangled in front of his eyes. Gratefully, he takes it, and gives Dick a small smile.

“Off today?” he asks.

Dick sinks down on the floor, apparently unconcerned that Tim stole his chair to use as a makeshift bed. “Yeah, I've got some vacation time saved up,” he says. “Head stopped spinning yet?”

“Horse tranquilizers,” Bruce mutters, but takes a sip of coffee. Whatever the kidnappers’ chemist added to the mix, it was effective; he can still taste cotton in his mouth. “Yes, I'm fine. Thanks for the coffee.”

“Just hide it from Tim,” Dick says, laughing a little.

“He’ll have to fistfight me for it,” Bruce says dryly, “and I still outweigh him.” He takes a sip and wants to make a face; it tastes burned and bitter and old, but at least it has caffeine. That’s good enough for now.

Dick snorts, leaning back on his hands, but his eyes are on the bed, thoughtful. “He’s the one you had Steph look up,” he says, and of course Stephanie would have passed that on.

Bruce swallows a sigh and inclines his head. Steven's asleep, still under the effects of the anesthesia, so it feels safe enough to say, “He has an interest in Egyptology. Given the recent appearance of someone who worships an Egyptian god, I thought I’d look into it.”

“Well,” Dick says wryly, “I guess it’s still possible, but…he doesn’t look like he’s in any condition to have been running around the docks with me.”

I thought they shot him in the head, Bruce doesn’t say. It might be worse like this, in a way. The kidnapper wounded Steven, then hid him, left him to die slowly. That’s sadistic, and maybe Bruce should be used to men like that, but—he always tries to expect better. Not blindly, but Batman is the drive towards a better world, where people do good because they can. Not this.

Breathing out a heavy sigh, he drains the rest of his coffee and sets the cup aside. “Everything in one piece at the house?” he asks.

Dick snickers. “Yeah. Harper’s got a thing for tazers, doesn’t she? I think Alfred's a fan.”

“She’s vicious,” Bruce agrees, and can't help a flicker of fondness. Harper was meant to be his Robin, but—she’s made her own path, and Bluebird suits her much better. “Damian?”

Dick rolls his eyes, but he’s grinning. “Staggered out of bed on his crutches, got all the way to the entrance hall, and then stuck around complaining that there was no one left for him to beat up,” he says. “I told him you’d come see him as soon as you got home, but he was still pouting when I left.”

At least the house is intact for him to be pouting in. Bruce has contractors on speed dial, but it’s always a pain getting the place fixed up after someone attacks it.

“You should take Tim home,” Bruce says quietly. “I want to be here when Steven wakes up, but there's no reason you two have to stay.”

Dick looks at him for a long moment. “Sure there is,” he says, even as he pushes to his feet. “I got you coffee, didn’t I?”

It’s not pointed. It’s just resigned, and somehow that’s worse. Bruce closes his eyes for a moment, listening to Dick’s quiet steps, and then says, “Dick. Thanks. For the coffee and the rescue.”

Just for being here, he doesn’t say, because he’s not sure he’d be able to get the words out.

There's another moment of silence, and then a sigh. “That’s what family is for,” Dick says determinedly, and Bruce watches him lean down to shake Tim gently. “Hey, Timmy. Come on, your back’s going to look like a squished pipe cleaner if you sleep here. Let’s go home.”

The fact that home is still the mansion, even with all the things that have happened, is one thing that gives Bruce the hope that he did something right, even with all the mistakes. He smiles a little to himself as Tim groans and grumbles and pries his cheek off the pleather of the chairs with an audible sucking sound, and when narrowed blue eyes turn on him, Bruce snorts.

“Go,” he says dryly. “You look like you haven’t slept in a week, Tim.”

“Nightmares,” Tim says vaguely, waving a hand, but he lets Dick steer him towards the door. “Ugh, light should be illegal.”

“Yeah, yeah, you’ve said that before.” Dick gives him a gentle shove out, then turns to look at Bruce. He pauses for a moment, and then says, “Want me to tell Alfred you need a ride? No car service, right?”

“I’ll call him when I'm ready to leave,” Bruce promises, and it’s understandable, Dick not wanting him to take the risk. A good reminder, too, in ways.

He sinks back against the wall again, closing his eyes. The coffee’s working, but it’s got an uphill fight to keep him awake right now.

Briefly, Bruce wonders where Jason disappeared to. Hunting Moon Knight, clearly, and just like with Barbara, Bruce can understand the drive. Jason needed what Moon Knight did to the Joker, needed it in a way Bruce has never been able to fill, never been able to answer or ease. And maybe, somewhere dark and deep and private, Bruce is glad that it happens. But…mostly he’s just tired.

Other heroes kill. Diana kills, when she has no other choice, and she’s one of the most moral people Bruce has ever met. Bruce works with her, with other people who take the same track, and he personally refuses to take a life, even the worst life, but—

He can see why they do, sometimes.

Of course, that doesn’t mean he wants it to happen in his city.

He needs to talk to Diana, regardless. She knows about gods and the ways they interact with the mortal world, and even if she knows the Greek pantheon, she might have insight on the Egyptian gods as well. Might have heard of Khonshu and his Fist, or at least know someone who does. Tim told him about the apparent cure for the kidnappers’ poison, what one woman said about being healed with a touch. He remembers, too, the shadow on the floor, skeletal bird head for an instant before Moon Knight broke the door down. Things that can be explained by magic more easily than any sort of science, and Bruce knows enough magic-aligned heroes that getting a few answers shouldn’t be too difficult.

“You look like you need sleep more than I do,” a voice says, amused and exhausted, and Bruce opens his eyes and jerks up to find Steven watching him from the bed.

“Tranquilizers,” he answers, and gives Steven a wry smile. “I like a good party, but even I haven’t had a hangover this bad in a very long time.”

Steven grimaces in sympathy, then shifts carefully. He winces, and when Bruce takes a breath in worry, he raises a hand. “I'm fine,” he says. “Just a little sore.” Sweeping a look over Bruce, he frowns, and asks, “They didn’t hurt you?”

“Tossed me in the hold of a ship and left me alone,” Bruce says, which is close enough to the truth even if Dick told him the actual story. Something in his chest twists, and he reaches out, catching Steven's hand. “You're the only one who got shot.”

Steven snorts. “And I hadn’t even tried to punch them yet,” he says, all tired humor. But he tightens his fingers around Bruce's for a moment, enough strength in the motion that Bruce fees a knot in his throat ease. “That’s incredibly disappointing.”

“I think Moon Knight took care of that for you,” Bruce offers. “From what I've heard, they were exceedingly punched when he got through with them.”

“Well, I’ll hardly object to that, the situation being what it is.” Steven smiles faintly, closing his eyes for a moment. “Did the doctor say anything about my release?”

Bruce has been weighing the matter for several hours now, and he presses his thumb against the center of Steven's palm, draws Steven's attention to him. “I was thinking,” he starts. “You said you don’t have anyone close in Gotham, and you're going to need help while you recover. My estate is a ways outside the city, but my butler Alfred is almost always on site, and he’s experienced at taking care of people. If you’d like to stay, I’ll have a room made up right now.”

Steven stares at him, startled, like the offer is entirely unexpected and something improbable. For a long second, it looks like he can't even find the words, but after a moment he blinks and says, “I wouldn’t want to impose—I'm more than capable of hiring help—”

“Nonsense,” Bruce says, and grins at him, bringing all his charm to bear. “You're hurt, and it’s better to be around friends when you're recovering. I know we only had a portion of the night to talk, but I’d like to think we’re at least more acquainted than a stranger from a caretaking service. Besides, I'm the reason you were shot, Steven. Let me make it up to you.”

Steven's eyes flicker away from Bruce for a moment, towards the darkened window that looks out over the city. He pauses, expression twisting for one brief instant, but then his face smooths out, and he turns back to Bruce with a smile. “Well,” he says lightly, “if you're sure I won't be an imposition. I heal quickly, so I should be out of your hair fairly quickly.”

Relief slips quicksilver though Bruce's veins, and he smiles. It will make his nighttime work harder, but—he’s the reason the kidnappers shot Steven to begin with, and the idea of Steven recovering alone, with no family and no close friends to even look in on him, sticks in Bruce's throat like anger with filed-down edges.

“Good,” he says, and squeezes Steven's hand again, then sits back. “I’ll talk to the doctors, then. They’ll probably want to keep you for another night, but I’ll make arrangements.”

“Thanks.” Steven smiles, but his eyes are sliding closed again, and the exhaustion on his face is clear. Bruce doesn’t say anything, just watches him slip back into sleep, and then he carefully detangles their fingers and sits back. For a long moment he studies Steven's face, the scar across his eye, and then he takes a breath, gets to his feet, and goes to find the doctor.

 

 

“You're such a fucking idiot, Steven,” Jake mutters, pulling the pilfered cap low over his eyes and trying not to look shady as he hurries down the hall. A note slipped into the medical chart will keep anyone from checking on Steven Grant for at least a few hours, which should give him just enough time to get back to the museum, find the damned vestments, hide them, and get back before anyone realizes the hospital room is empty.

Of course, signing himself out against medical advice would be the easiest solution, but Steven made quite sure that they couldn’t take the easy route, so Jake's way it is. And if it involves a bundle of stolen clothes, a trek across the city with a damned gunshot wound Marc made no attempt to keep from worsening, and a hell of a lot of risk, well. Jake couldn’t care less. Steven's the one who promised the overly-interested playboy they’d play house for a few weeks.

Like a ghost visible only to him, Steven flickers at the edge of his vision, moon-pale and scowling. “What was I supposed to say?” he retorts. “It’s logical, and he wasn’t going to give up.”

“Coward,” Jake mutters, shoving through the hospital doors. There’s a deep, burning ache in his side that isn't helping his mood, but the whirl of fresh air is at least a relief after a day locked inside. He doesn’t know how Steven can stand it.

“You do realize Moon Knight works at night,” Marc says, keeping pace with Jake even though he passes through the other people on the sidewalk. “And if we’re miles outside the city, we’re not going to be able to do anything.”

Steven rolls his eyes, looking mulish. “Well, what was I supposed to say, then? No, the moon god will heal me in a few minutes, don’t worry about me?”

“Yeah,” Jake says, “preferably.” He ignores the glances a few people slant at him, turning down a wide avenue, then crossing at a break in the traffic and turning down a quieter, narrower street. There are a handful of people, but not many, and Jake lets himself relax a little, keeping his eyes fixed ahead and his breathing steady. Marc's body is used to pain, at least, and even if he’s better at dealing with it, Jake's had enough practice to do what he needs to. He’s also been building a mental map of the city, since years of driving a cab in New York left him with a better sense of direction than either of the others.

“I'm trying to keep who we are a secret,” Steven says, exasperated. “We never had a chance in New York, but now we’d do, and I’d prefer not to have to go through…all of that again.”

Jake grimaces. “Agreed,” he says. “If someone would stop taking his mask off every time he meets a new hero.”

“Fuck off.” Marc gives him a dark look, then vanishes, and Steven fades away a moment later, leaving Jake in relative peace. He sighs, rubbing his forehead, and turns to cut across a small park. There’s a commercial street on the other side, and he can get a cab there, head for the museum hopefully before rush hour hits. Bruce will be gone at least a few more hours, and he’s got more than enough to do.

And then, halfway through the park, he hears a growl.

Freezing in the center of the path, Jake narrows his eyes. A thick stand of trees blocks the other street from view, obscures the turn of the path, and—

“Look, asshole,” a voice says, sharp and angry. “You put him down, we stop having a problem. But if you put so much as one scratch on the idiot, I'm going to turn you into a goddamn wall hanging.

Well. At least someone knows how to make a good threat.

There's another low growl, massive and rumbling, too big to be any normal sort of animal, and a choked sound. The angry guy curses, and gravel crunches.

“Arsenal,” he says, and that tone’s a definite order. “Arsenal, don’t move.”

“Just take the shot already,” another voice says, ragged, half-strangled. “Jaybird, just—”

Jake ignores the ache in his side, leans down, and grabs a fist sized rock from the side of the path. Three quick steps carry him around the curve of the trees, right into the middle of a scene that wouldn’t look out of place with Spider-Man as one of the main players. A massive, looming man-beast-thing, jaws full of sharp teeth dripping acidic slime, shaggy brown fur matted, its claws clenched around the throat of a redheaded kid in an equally red costume, already dripping blood. The kid Marc rescued that first night is there too, unmistakable in his red helmet, aiming a pair of guns at the creature and looking absolutely furious.

It’s very clearly a standoff. One hard jerk of the creature’s hand will drive its claws through the redhead’s neck, but one second of an opening and Red Hood will take the shot.

Well. Easy enough to break up a tableau like that, Jake thinks, and chucks the stone with all his might, right at the beast’s head.

It hits, and with a roar the creature wrenches around, straightening to its full height. In the same instant, Red Hood fires, four quick shots to the arm that send the beast leaping back with a howl. It drops the kid in red, and in a blur he spins, grabs something from the top of his boot, and lashes out. A long knife sinks into the creature’s leg, and with a howl it turns and bolts, scrambling towards a dislodged manhole cover near a water fountain. Jake is absolutely certain it won't fit, but it hits the hole and twists like its body has turned to smoke, surging back down into the darkness. Instantly, Red Hood bolts after it, slamming the cover back down.

“Fuck,” he says loudly. “I fucking hate going into the sewers, and that’s fucking why.”

The kid in red coughs, wiping blood off his neck, and then staggers to his feet, scooping up a bow that’s lying in the grass. “Have to say, I wasn’t expecting him to go all American Werewolf in London on us,” he says, and then glances up at Jake. “Nice aim,” he says, and grins.

Jake snorts, touching two fingers to the brim of his hat in lazy salute. “Nice stab,” he returns.

Arsenal makes a face. “Lost another knife,” he complains. “And I liked that one, damn it. Hood, I'm going to grab my quiver.”

“Stay away from the manholes,” Red Hood warns, holstering his guns. “I’ll let the Signal know there's shit going on down there. Later.”

“No sewer-diving? Aw, Hood, you're breaking my heart.” Arsenal waves over his shoulder, disappearing into the trees, and Red Hood stares after him for a moment, then shifts a narrow, wary gaze to Jake.

“So,” he says suspiciously. “Just a good Samaritan?”

Jake tucks his hands in the pockets of his stolen jacket and smiles. He doesn’t even try to make it friendly. “You were in the path, asshole. I'm in a hurry.”

Instead of taking offense, Red Hood snorts, stepping aside. “Yeah, well, so were we. Up until Big Ugly decided he wanted Arsenal as an early morning snack.” He pauses, looking Jake over again, and then asks, “You from this neighborhood?”

“What’s it to you?” Jake asks, raising a brow at him.

Red Hood scoffs. “You seen Moon Knight around here?” he demands. “The last couple of nights, maybe?”

Well. That’s interesting, isn't it? Jake grins, slow and maybe a little sly, and says, “Why do you want to know?”

There's a pause as Red Hood stares at him, and then a breath. “Because he saved my life,” Red Hood says plainly. “And I want to thank him.”

That’s definitely not a reaction Moon Knight usually gets. And…it’s interesting, Jake thinks. Red Hood has the same basic symbol on his chest as Red Robin, as Nightwing, as Batgirl. Clearly they’re all aligned in some way, but Hood doesn’t seem to care about the fact that Moon Knight killed the Joker.

He’d said that before, too, when Moon Knight first saved him. The fact that the Joker was dead was all he seemed to care about.

And…maybe it’s nice, to have someone that happy about Moon Knight’s work, once in a while.

“Sure,” Jake says, and watches Red Hood go still. “He’s around. Not over here, though. I usually see him in South City park when the moon’s setting, on the south shore of the lake.”

Marc's probably going to kill him for this as soon as they’re back in the same headspace, but honestly? Jake doesn’t regret a damn moment of making Marc's life harder when it’s for his own good. It’s for a good cause. Character-building.

Besides, Moon Knight could do with some backup, in a strange city. This is for the good of everyone.

And Marc's face, when he flickers into view, is absolutely priceless, so there’s that too.

Chapter Text

It is just slightly possible that Steven has miscalculated.

“Father!” a pre-teen boy on crutches calls as he hobbles through the doorway of the mansion, sounding vaguely homicidal in a way Steven is more used to in Marc than a kid. “Father, Drake will not relinquish his control of the main computer—oh.” Dark eyes narrow suspiciously, locking on Steven as Bruce helps him out of the car, and he says warily, “Father, who is this?”

Steven raises a brow at Bruce, who grimaces faintly. “Damian, you should be in bed,” he says, tucking a hand under Steven's elbow and supporting him for the first few wavering steps across the drive. Steven doesn’t precisely need the help, but he doesn’t want to say that in so many words, either. The moon god has already started healing me, don’t worry about it probably won't go over well, given everything.

Damian scoffs and clicks his tongue. “Staying in bed is tiresome,” he says, aggravated, and that too-sharp gaze takes Steven in with one swift sweep, head to toe and then right to the padded bandage on his side, where it’s half-hidden under his jacket. “I am Damian Wayne,” he tells Steven, and it brushes up against the bare edges of a challenge.

A son, then. Bruce hadn’t mentioned he had a son.

“Steven Grant,” Steven tells him, and as soon as they're close enough to the steps he offers a hand. “I see I'm going to have a fellow inmate. It’s nice to meet you.”

The suspicion doesn’t waver, but Damian looks mildly less ruffled as he shifts his crutches and takes Steven's hand. “I have already attempted to overthrow our jailor,” he declares. “But Pennyworth is too cunning.”

“High praise, Master Damian,” an older man says dryly, following Damian down the steps. He collects the bag that the driver hands him, then says, “I prepared the Blue Room, Master Bruce. However, if stairs prove too challenging, there is also the White Room.”

“The Blue will be fine, Alfred, thank you.” Bruce casts a smile at Steven. “I think this one can take a challenge.”

Steven snorts, but lets Bruce help him up the front stairs. Jake's adventures yesterday left him sore, if nothing else, and that makes it easy enough to play up the injury. “This isn't the worst I've had, you know. Stairs are fine.”

“Someday,” Bruce says dryly, “you're going to have to tell me about all these adventures you’ve had. On digs, I assume?”

“Among other things.” It’s not even a lie; Marlene went on several digs while they were dating, and Steven had come along. T'Challa could usually be convinced to meet if Steven was on the same continent, and as someone who accepted that Khonshu was real without hesitation, he was always one of Marc's favorites, too. And he got into the most amusing messes, for being a king.

There's a moment of silence, and when Steven turns to raise a brow at Bruce, he’s watching with an expression Steven can't read. It’s gone in a heartbeat, though, and he asks Damian, “Is anyone else here right now?”

Damian scowls. “Grayson went back to work,” he says, sounding entirely displeased even as he gets the door for them. “Drake is working here. Cain is in her bedroom.”

The names make Steven want to level another look at Bruce. That’s not just one kid, that’s four, and Bruce very definitely didn’t mention anything of the sort.

Then again, it’s not as if the kidnapping and shooting left them much time, so Steven supposes he can't hold it against him.

Bruce's breath is resigned. “I’ll talk to Tim,” he promises, then comes to a stop in the middle of the entrance hall. “Still up for the stairs?” he asks Steven, and Steven laughs.

“It’s only one flight,” he retorts, but still lets Bruce hold his elbow as they head up. Given some of the things Marc has put himself through—even during the good years, when Marlene was waiting at home and there were doctors on call and Khonshu hadn’t started sliding into pure cruelty yet—a single gunshot wound isn't much. Of course, that makes it harder to predict how he’s supposed to react to such things; even if he’s more personable than Jake and Marc combined, Steven's not all that great judging human limits, either.

“You were injured saving Father from the kidnappers?” Damian asks, and hobbles up the stairs with surprising skill. Though, Steven supposes, a thirteen-year-old boy with a lot of energy and stairs to scale every time he wanted to go outside would pick up the trick of it quickly.

“Not as such,” Steven says, and ignores the lie. “I was going to try for a punch or two, but they shot me before I could. It was a bit anticlimactic.”

There's a pause, and Bruce's hand tightens on his elbow. “Might I remind you,” he says, and it’s light but only with an effort, from the sound of it, “that you almost died.”

Steven sighs, remembering his one brief flare of panic as the butt of the gun hit him. He’d fallen, let Marc step forward to take the shot, and—well. It feels cowardly, in a way Steven doesn’t like to think about.

Marc's the one who’s died before, though. It’s traumatic, but—he was willing, he had experience, he’s Khonshu's chosen, so Steven left him to face death again. It worked, and he’s glad, but it still tastes a little bit like cowardice.

There’s always that edge of uncertainty, though, whether Khonshu will look on the rest of them as favorably as Marc. Moon Knight is all of them, but they're not Moon Knight on their own, and Marc is the one Khonshu picked as his avatar. Sharing a body means that Khonshu will bring them all back to keep Marc alive, but—he’s a capricious god, even when he’s not a brutal one. It’s a moment of uncertainty, a bit of doubt, but Steven's never quite managed to quash it.

They’re different people. Creations of Marc’s fractured mind, but—they’ve all had lives of their own, have memories and wills and personalities of their own. That makes them people. And maybe Steven’s biased, but he considers himself separate, knows Jake feels the same. Neither of them are Marc. They believe, they’re disciples, but—not Moon Knight. Not Khonshu’s avatar on earth.

Safer to let Marc take the bullet, knowing that.

“I know,” he says quietly, and Bruce’s hand squeezes his elbow for a moment. Then they’re off the stairs, in a long hall, and he pulls away.

“I’m afraid Lucius called me into the company,” he says, and when Steven meets his eyes that strangeness is back on his face. Steven can’t tell if it’s distance or unease or suspicion, a flicker that looks all too much like the expression Damian was wearing a few moments ago. Whatever it is, though, it’s hidden quickly, and Bruce smiles at him. “Sorry to drop you in an unfamiliar place and run, Steven, but I should be back in time for dinner, if you’re up for it.”

“Your investments probably like you more than mine do me right now,” Steven jokes, but he waves Bruce away. “I’ll be fine, Bruce, thank you.”

Bruce claps him lightly on the shoulder, then turns to Damian, who’s squinting at him like he’s trying to solve a puzzle. “Damian, you should go back to bed. Or at least sit down. You know you’re not supposed to be on your feet.”

Damian makes a derisive sound, and says, “I’ll show Grant to his room, Father.”

That, Steven notes with amusement, is definitely not a promise to get off his feet.

Bruce apparently doesn’t catch that, or realizes that arguing is futile, because all he says is, “Thank you, Damian. Alfred will get you settled, Steven. Excuse me.”

Steven watches him retreat towards the front door, long stride and shoulders back. And—it’s a good opportunity, maybe. Marc needs time to scout, and impressions shared between the three of them are serviceable, but Marc is bound to notice things Steven doesn’t even know to pay attention to. And, given that Damian and Alfred aren’t familiar with Steven, they likely won’t notice the change, or at least won’t remark on it.

“Master Bruce is a busy man,” Alfred says after a moment, when the silence has stretched too long. He pauses beside Steven, bag still slung over his shoulder, and asks, “Do you require assistance, sir?”

“No, thank you,” Steven says lightly. “The hospital wrapped me up well. I’m just a little slower than normal, sorry.”

“Father will make sure you don’t have to do anything that could strain you,” Damian says sourly. “He is very careful.”

That last word sounds like a curse, and Steven has to hide a grin.

“Broken leg?” he asks, and Damian huffs and stumps forward on his crutches.

“It’s only a mild break,” he says. “I am perfectly healthy otherwise.”

That’s a pretty big otherwise, not that Steven is going to say anything.

“To your right, Master Damian,” Alfred says mildly, and Damian turns like he was going in that direction anyway. Raising a brow, Alfred watches him for a moment, and then says, “Master Bruce mentioned that you are Jewish, sir. May I ask if you keep kosher?”

“I don’t.” There’s no good way to say I’m not religious but I'm also not secular because I worship an ancient Egyptian god who lives on hearts, so Steven leaves it at that.

Before he has to come up with anything else to say, thankfully, Damian shoves open a door and announces, “This room is yours, Grant. There is a view of the gardens.”

Down the hall a short ways, a door clicks open, and a young woman leans out. She blinks once at the sight of them, then waves, and Damian gives her a dignified nod in return before pushing into the room. Steven smiles at her, and it makes her brighten, but she ducks back into the bedroom and shuts the door.

“Please don’t take offense,” Alfred says, and Steven can feel the faint itch of eyes on the back of his neck. “Mistress Cassandra is a very quiet person.”

“None taken, of course,” Steven says firmly, and follows Damian, who’s opening the wide window with a grunt of effort. The whirl of fresh air is welcome, and Steven joins him, looking out over acres of green grass and trees, with a neatly manicured garden curled around the base of the mansion. From here he can just see the edge of the driveway, curling down towards the distant road, and then the city beyond that.

Marc's not going to be happy about that distance, Steven thinks wryly. If he wants to get back to the city, it’s going to take a solid hour. And hitchhiking, probably.

Jake's not going to be happy either. He’d been hoping to toss Moon Knight straight at Red Hood, preferably tonight, and there’s very little chance they’ll make it back to the city for a few days.

“It is stifling,” Damian mutters, and when Steven glances down at him, he’s scowling deeply. Marc was in the institute by the time he was thirteen, so maybe he’s not the best baseline to use, but Steven definitely doesn’t remember him ever wearing an expression like that. Though maybe that was the electroconvulsive therapy.

“Yes,” Alfred says dryly, setting Steven’s bag on the chest at the foot of the bed. “However, Master Damian, the doctors have said you will be released from your suffering soon, assuming the city is still standing then.”

Damian huffs, flushing faintly, and ducks his head. “I simply mean,” he starts, and then makes a frustrated face like he can’t find the words.

“Isolation,” Steven says quietly, and glances out the window, over the distant city. And—maybe it’s because thoughts of the institute are so close, those long, empty nights when he wasn’t Marc and wasn’t Steven and wasn’t Jake, had no idea who he was or even any certainty that he existed at all. But—for a moment he can see the grey walls and empty corridors and small, empty room, and it makes his smile rueful when he glances at Damian. “Being isolated feels like living in the Arctic, doesn’t it?”

Damian’s eyes are too clever, too intent. “Yes,” he says, slow. “But I believe I would find the Arctic far more interesting than the wallpaper.”

Steven snorts. “Fair enough,” he allows.

“Is there anything I can bring you, sir?” Alfred asks politely, and when Damian turns without a farewell and heads for the door, he raises a brow but doesn’t comment.

“No, thank you,” Steven says. “I’m all right. Do you know when Bruce plans to be home?”

Alfred’s expression gives nothing away, though Steven is fairly sure that Bruce hadn’t even planned on leaving. He’s not sure what motivated the sudden trip to Wayne Enterprises, but he suspects that it has something to do with him.

“I do not, forgive me,” Alfred says without missing a beat. “Shall I let you know when he arrives?”

Steven shakes his head. “I’m sure I’ll figure it out,” he says. “Thanks.”

Alfred inclines his head and retreats, and the soft click of the door closing makes Steven’s gaze drift back towards the window. There’s a lot of space between them and the city, and given how active Moon Knight has been, Marc is going to chafe at the restrictions.

Then again, he’s the one who got himself shot in the side, so maybe Steven doesn’t feel entirely sympathetic.

There’s a hiss of rattling anger, and instead of his own reflection in the window, Steven can see Khonshu, skeletal bird head and neat business suit, cobwebs dripping from his sleeves. “I bring you back from the dead and this is the thanks I get?” he asks. It’s languid, but intent, and Steven can feel the danger rising, triggered by that tone like the click of stepping on a landmine.  

But Steven snorts, because he’s not about to show his belly that easily. “You said the Joker’s heart was enough to keep you fed for months,” he says. “And Moon Knight’s fed you since then, too.”

The unearthly light inside Khonshu’s eyes is a weight, a tide. Steven can feel the edges catching at his mind, ready to drag him into that shadowed not-world in the cracks between dimensions. “I’ve lived on scraps for thousands of years,” he hisses, and a shiver wants to slide down Steven’s spine, cold and creeping. Not just a passing fit of pique, then. Marc is the only one who can endure Khonshu’s moods when he’s like this. “And now you would put a feast before me and tie my hands? Oh, Steven, I don’t think you’ll like my hunger pangs.

Steven swallows, takes a step back—

And Marc meets Khonshu’s eyes, unwavering, unhesitating. “Shut up,” he says quietly. “And screw you, this isn’t tying your hands. This is just the time between courses and you know it.”

Do I?” Khonshu cocks his head, and behind him the waning, day-pale moon seems night-bright in the sky. “You’ve denied me so many times, my son. Why should I think now is different?”

Marc scoffs, reaches out. He presses a fingertip to the glass, right above the image of Khonshu’s crescent-shaped cufflinks. “If I didn’t desert you when you were passing out power to everyone who looked at you sideways, why would I do it now?” he demands. “You’ll get your hearts, so sit down and wait a few days. You’re the god of time, it’s not that hard.”

There’s a long, long stretch of silence, and then Khonshu laughs. It prickles against Marc’s skin, a tangible pressure even in the sunlight. “Time is nothing but moments,” he says. “Memory traveling in both directions. Too many moments already I’ve spent waiting.” He spreads one hand towards the city, and asks, “Do you feel it, my knight? Just a seed, but it sprouts quickly. They believe.

Marc swallows. He can feel it. Like Khonshu’s laughter, like the weight of the full moon, like the knowledge of travelers passing. It’s small, tattered, like a veil made of worn old lace, but—

Like time is flowing in reverse, the lace gains threads, substance. The dust falls away, and the weave strengthens. Every moment of belief is power, flowing to Khonshu’s feet.

“Faith isn’t just having someone fall from the sky to save you,” he says, rough, and looks away. “If it’s not going to last three days without us, it’s not worth having.”

The silence feels like hair-thin glass poured over the world’s face. Khonshu watches, and the infinity inside him is a godly touch, burning.

You’ve doubted,” Khonshu says at last.

The laugh cracks out of Marc’s throat, and he presses his fingertips to the window, splayed over Khonshu’s face. “But I’ve always believed.”

Once, a very, very long time ago, he asked his father why he became a rabbi. Asked how he could believe, escaping from what he had. And Elias Spector was a good man, a better rabbi. He’d said faith is like courage. It’s not a lack of fear that makes you brave, and it’s not a lack of doubt that makes you faithful.

Those memories got hazy, in the institute. Even so, Marc’s never lost that one entirely.

A hand closes over his wrist, white glove and bony fingers, and Khonshu steps out of the reflection as if it’s a doorway. For a moment he stands there, staring, and then he reaches up. The tip of his index finger touches Marc’s forehead, right where the crescent moon on his mask would rest.

I am change and transformation,” he says, “and you are my son. My Fist. My priest. Six thousand years my avatars have walked this world, and every Moon Knight is a different phase.” He pauses, and for a moment the room shifts, shimmers, changes. A grassy, dusty plain, a woman in white with blood on crudely-made claws, and she opens her eyes, looks up.

Marc meets her gaze, the first of them, the most faithful. The nameless priestess who carried Khonshu's staff into a world outside of time, so that Kang could never reach her, and Marc remembers the touch of her belief, the certainty that let her step into nothingness, knowing she was walking beyond the reach of her god.

He was weak. He’d been tempted by the staff’s power. She hadn’t even flinched.

Marc doesn’t know whether he covets that kind of faith or loathes it.

Perhaps this phase is a full moon again, at last,” Khonshu finally says, thoughtful, and disappears without a sound, taking that ancient world and the image of the first knight with him.

Marc stares back at his own reflection in the window, then grimaces, turns away. Steven was wearing a tie, and it’s uncomfortable. He pulls it off, drops it on the bed, and goes to find something more comfortable to wear.

“Coward,” he mutters to Steven, because they haven’t switched places that abruptly since the shooting.

Steven is a half-there image seen out of the corner of his eye, and he raises his hands as if to defend himself. “You volunteered to take over,” he points out. “Don’t wrinkle that, I only just got it tailored.”

Marc ignores him, dumping it on the bed and stripping off Steven’s slacks. Those join the pile, and Steven sighs in irritation and vanishes, clearly giving it up as a lost cause. It makes Marc smirk, just a little, and he pulls on a looser sweatshirt, jeans, and checks the bandages. They’re fine, and the wound beneath is healing, though not at nearly the pace it could. Marc can see Steven and Jake's reasons for wanting to keep their identity as Moon Knight secret, but it’s a hassle. And honestly, they’ve got enough identity problems as it is.

Letting himself out of the room, Marc scans the hall, then heads back towards the stairs, itchy at being stuck inside. Even in such a large house, larger than Steven's estate back in New York, he can't settle. Maybe it’s the unfamiliar surroundings, or maybe it’s the fact that he won’t be able to leave the manor and it feels a little too much like being trapped. Marc's never dealt well with such things.

Coming here was a stupid idea. If Bruce Wayne wanted to play nursemaid, Steven could have at least argued for doing it in the apartment and saved them all a lot of trouble.

At the very least the mansion isn't quite as sterile as Steven's used to feel. There’s a book on the staircase bannister, a coat haphazardly tossed over the corner of a wardrobe, voices in the distance. Marc skirts the sound warily, heading for a side door where several sets of shoes are piled. There’s a glove on the floor, and Marc glances at it, mildly relieved by actual signs of habitation. Someone here has a thing for reinforced gloves, and he marks that, eyes the heavy combat-style boots shoved out of the way, and keeps moving.

The side door leads into the garden, like Marc was hoping. It’s silent, and from here even the road and its traffic is inaudible. There's just grass, a distant line of trees, and the city far away beyond them.

“Doesn’t feel like Jersey,” Marc mutters to himself, but he picks a patch of grass and sinks down, stretching out his legs with a wince. Even with Khonshu's healing, he wakes up more often than not with an angry, desperate certainty that he’ll get out of bed only to find that his legs don’t hold him, that his knees are shattered and useless again. It’s not a new nightmare. It’s not a new fear. There’s no Rob Duchamp in this universe, ready to bully him into physical therapy, and he doesn’t need it, but—

Carefully, slowly, he stretches out formerly broken legs, refusing to be afraid of those injuries happening again. Even with Khonshu and his mercurial nature, Marc's almost certain that Khonshu will heal him if it happens again. He’s different here. Wants more, maybe, Marc thinks; the reflection of Khonshu in this universe was dead, and left a gap. The version Marc knows is filling it, and he’s doing it with a vengeance. Pun mildly intended.

He tries hard not to consider Khonshu's words about the first Moon Knight, about him. A full moon again, but—

Marc doesn’t feel like a full moon set against the other Moon Knights. He feels dark, grim, unsettled. He’ll get through to the end, because there’s no other choice, because he’s never wanted to find another path, but…it’s too much, sometimes. Or not enough, maybe. He’s never really been able to tell.

No one’s ever been able to stop him when he put his mind to something. Not Bushman, not false gods, not Captain America. That’s his superpower, he thinks wryly. Not Moon Knight’s power, just—his own. A very human sort of bullheaded, unwavering stubbornness, but it’s kept him on his feet and moving since the day he died and came back. It won't fail him now, either.

Maybe that’s what Khonshu means by him being a full moon. Or maybe he means something else entirely. It’s impossible to tell, with a god like Khonshu.

Marc is halfway through a set when the door opens. It’s more than enough warning, so he’s not surprised by the thump of crutches approaching over the grass. The low growl is slightly more worrisome, but Marc's dealt with dogs before; he’s not about to flinch from this one.

“Damian,” Steven says, and he’s only half-there, a phantom in the sunlight. “His name’s Damian Wayne.”

The kid, not the dog, Marc assumes. He doesn’t make any sign he’s heard, just deepens his stretch faintly, pushing it until the gunshot pulls, and says, “Big dog.”

There's a pause, wary more than confused. “His name is Titus, and he is a Great Dane,” Damian says. And then, suspiciously, “Are you meant to be doing that, Grant?”

The urge to correct him is reflexive; it’s a habit they all picked up with Marlene, though at some point she’d stopped listening. Stopped looking for the differences, or acknowledging the fact that there were any to begin with. Still, Marc is good at undercover. He knows when to keep his mouth shut.

“My muscles are meant to,” he says, and carefully releases the position, straightening up. Damian is balanced on his crutches several yards away, staring at him with narrowed eyes, and when Marc raises a brow at him, Damian huffs.

“You have scars,” he says abruptly, and his gaze flickers to Marc's arms, bare with the sleeves of the sweatshirt pushed up.

“I ran away to Mexico once,” Marc says, which isn't a lie. He got several of his scars in Mexico, too. “There’s good money in the underground fights down there.”

“Is that how you gained your fortune?” Damian demands, and he sounds far too interested, all but leaning forward on his crutches. He takes a step forward, and Titus follows, pressed right up against his side and watching Marc warily.

“Only a small part,” Marc says, because it’s probably not great to push Bruce Wayne's son towards illegal prizefighting. “And I lost most of that money while I was down there, too.” Or rather gave it to the Zapata Brothers and Carmen, while keeping a large chunk for himself, but that’s probably not a great way to frame things if he wants Damian to lose interest.

Damian makes a sound of derision, and a moment later he thumps down on the grass, stretching his cast out in front of him. “Were you any good at it?” he asks, almost contemptuous, like he expects the answer to be no.

Marc raises a brow at him—the scarred brow. It makes for a decent statement. “I survived.”

Damian stares at him for a long moment, all narrow eyes and suspiciously thoughtful squint. Most kids would brush that off as an incomplete answer, but Damian looks Marc over like he’s actually weighing the words against his visible scars, and then huffs. “Everyone gets lucky sometimes,” he says haughtily, and it’s so unexpected that Marc laughs.

“Yeah,” he says, amused, and when Titus creeps closer to sniff his bare foot, he watches the dog without commenting. “They sure as hell do.”

And—it’s true. He misses Jean-Paul, Marlene, Diatrice. He misses Gena and her boys, Crawley, even Rob. But this is lucky. This is landing in a world where Khonshu isn't a terror, where people look at Marc and believe. Even if it’s only a seed, just starting to take root, it’s something. Back home everyone just thought Khonshu was a figment of Marc's fractured brain. Here, now? He’s a god, and people know it.

With a snort, Damian folds his arms over his chest, looks away like Marc wasn’t supposed to take that as a compliment. He mutters something under his breath, too, almost too soft to catch, but Marc hears it and raises his head, surprised.

“Baghdadi?” he asks.

Damian blinks at him, opens his mouth, closes it again. Then, utterly suspicious, he asks in Baghdadi Arabic, “You speak Arabic?

Sa’idi, mostly,” Marc says. “I was in Sudan for three years, near the border.” He pauses, studying Damian, and then asks, “Your mother?”

Precisely, Damian inclines his head, just enough to be an acknowledgement. “Your accent is very American,” is all he says, wrinkling his nose.

Marc snorts, leaning back on his hands. It pulls at his side, and he winces faintly, shifts just enough to relieve it. “My Spanish is better,” he says. Not that it had been of much use when he was in Mexico. Jake is terrible with languages, and he’d been in control the whole time.

“From prizefighting?” Damian asks skeptically.

From when I was a mercenary overthrowing elected governments, Marc doesn’t say. He regrets everything about those years, except for the fact that they brought him to Egypt. To Khonshu. Turning his life around, changing it into something that he can be at least vaguely proud of, was a step he wouldn’t have taken without that encounter.

“Something like that,” he answers, and Damian scowls at him.

“Did prostitutes teach you?” he demands. “Is that why you refuse to say?”

“Damian!” a woman says, and Damian winces. It’s the first time Marc's seen him make an expression like that, and he raises an eyebrow, looking over at the woman carefully wheeling her chair down the flagstone path. She’s pretty, young, and vividly red-haired, wearing a tank top that leaves the muscles in her arms entirely visible. There’s scarring on her knuckles, too, and scars on her shoulders. Marc hides a frown, flicking a glance at her face, and finds her watching him in return, sharper than he expects.

“Gordon,” Damian says derisively, though he’s pointedly not making eye contact. “Why are you here? Father is out.”

“I know,” she says dryly. “But I'm not looking for Bruce. Is Dick around?”

Damian's face twists. He covers it quickly, but disappointment and annoyance are clear for a moment before he buries the emotions. “No, Grayson is working. Supposedly.”

“He’s not answering his phone,” the woman says with a sigh. When Damian's head snaps towards her in alarm, though, she just rolls her eyes. “He probably broke it again.”

That’s enough to make Damian subside, looking irritated but relieved. “Very likely,” he says crossly.

With an amused slant to her mouth, the woman glances at Marc, then nods politely. “Hi,” she says. “Sorry about Damian.”

“I wasn’t going to answer,” Marc says, a little awkwardly. He’s terrifyingly bad with kids, but he knows that much, at least.

The woman snorts. “That wouldn’t have been enough to save you,” she says, and surveys him for a moment, gaze lingering just a second too long on where he was shot, even though the bandages are hidden by his sweatshirt. She knows, clearly. “I'm Barbara Gordon, a friend of Bruce's.”

“Steven Grant,” Marc returns. Doesn’t have any idea how to qualify what Steven and Bruce are, so he doesn’t even try. “Nice to meet you.”

Barbara smiles, quick and almost surprisingly warm. “Thanks for trying to save him,” she says. “I heard about the kidnapping.”

“I didn’t do anything—” Marc starts, but Barbara cocks her head, bright hair falling over her shoulders in a way that’s precisely calculated to look natural.

“Steven,” she says, and that tone makes Marc's mouth close sharply, automatically. “Thank you for saving Bruce.”

Chapter Text

Oh.

Marc stares at Barbara, so entirely caught off guard that he can't think of anything to say, and nods instead. She knows, then. He has no idea how, but—somehow, she’s aware.

Barbara’s smile widens, and she turns it on Damian. “Alfred's looking for you,” she tells him. “Something about a bath for Titus.”

Damian grimaces, but carefully, arduously climbs to his feet, getting his crutches under his arms again. “Very well,” he says grimly, like he’s about to walk to his execution. “Titus, come, it is time for our weekly torture session.”

With a quiet snort, Barbara watches them hobble away, up to the garden door and then through it. Then, deliberately, she looks back at Marc, folding her hands in her lap, and asks, “Is your name really Steven Grant?”

Marc hesitates, unsure what to say. Unsure what she knows, and what she’s going to do with that information now. Unsure how to answer, too—in the world’s eyes, it’s not, because it’s not the one Marc was born with, and he’s not Steven Grant, but—this body is Steven's, too.

Barbara waits him out for a long moment, but when Marc can't figure out an answer she snorts softly. “Your records are good,” she says, and wheels right to the edge of the path so she can face him. “They’re extensive, and airtight, at least in the system. But I called around and talked to people, and no one knows of a man named Steven Grant before three weeks ago.”

Thorough. Kind of terrifyingly so. Marc eyes her for a long moment, and then takes a breath. “That depends on what you mean,” he says, and meets her eyes. “Steven Grant’s a real person, but he’s not me. Not right now.”

It takes a moment. Marc watches her frown, the sweep of her eyes like she’s looking for clues in his body language. Then, after a long second, she sucks in a sudden breath and says, “Multiple personality disorder?”

“They call it Dissociative Identity Disorder, now,” Marc says, and shrugs. “You wouldn’t find anything on me as I am right now, either. Marc Spector. From another dimension.”

Barbara’s quick. He sees the moment she gets it, the understanding that settles. “Your god brought you here. Khonshu.”

“Yeah.” Marc pauses, wondering how to phrase what he wants to say, and grimaces. He’s not dangerous isn't even close to correct. He’s old and no one believes in him anymore except me is also quickly proving itself to be a lie. We’re not going to make a problem for anyone probably isn't all that true, either.

“Khonshu isn't evil,” he settles on, finally. “He won't hurt good people.”

And he won't. He’s made that clear. He’s a god of vengeance, of justice. Normal people don’t interest him. It’s one of the reasons he doesn’t mind picking on Marc, probably; Marc hasn’t been anything close to a good person in a very long time.

“You can never be sure of that,” Barbara says quietly, but there's something thoughtful in her face, an assessment that lingers. Marc tries to meet it, even though he doesn’t know what she’s looking for.

“You can't ever be sure of anything, really,” he says. “I'm more sure about this than anything else, though.”

Barbara smiles, crooked and quick, and looks down. She puts her hands on the wheels of her chair, a light grip, and says without looking up, “The way you killed the Joker was brutal. Did you know he beat someone to death with a crowbar once, too?”

Marc hadn’t, but hearing that fits the pieces together. “That’s why Khonshu told me to do it that way,” he says. “He wasn’t—he was dark. Khonshu wanted his heart. He likes wicked hearts.”

There's a long, long moment, and then Barbara raises her eyes, pushes her glasses up her nose. Her voice is matter-of-fact when she says, “The Joker is the one who paralyzed me.” Her mouth twists, unhappy. “As collateral. He wasn’t even after me. I think that makes it worse.”

Marc can imagine. Getting hurt is one thing. Being so disregarded that your injury isn't even a victory is salt in the wound.

“Should I have saved you a piece?” he asks.

Barbara laughs, and it’s only a little ragged. “I would have framed it,” she says, and pauses. Meets Marc's eyes, and then says plainly, “Thank you for that too.”

She doesn’t look like the kind of person who needs much, settled in her own skin, but—Marc's betting closure like that didn’t hurt. “I’d have shot him too if I’d known,” he says, tipping one shoulder in a shrug.

“I know.” It’s soft, almost warm, and Barbara smiles. Glances up, towards the ghostly moon, and says, “All of Gotham’s starting to look at the moon a little differently.”

For a moment, Marc can't find the words, doesn’t even know what he wants to say. Then, carefully, he says, “We didn’t—Khonshu didn’t come here to find worshipers.” And—truth. Khonshu has contented himself with Marc and his handful of priests since his worship faded the first time. Maybe Khonshu knew there was a space for him here, but it was happenstance, rather than the reason for their shift.

“Well, whether he wanted them or not, I think he’s finding them now,” Barbara says bluntly. “And you? Why aren’t you just enjoying life as Steven Grant?”

It’s a challenge, and Marc snorts softly, shaking his head. “I'm not,” he says. “Steven Grant. That’s not me. I’m…”

“Moon Knight,” Barbara finishes for him, and she’s smiling again.

It’s close enough to a fact that Marc nods. He’s never been overly careful with his identity; confirming it for her is hardly the end of the world, especially when she’s already figured it out for herself.

Pleased, Barbara reaches into her coat pocket, comes up with a small back square, like a jewelry box. Raising a brow at Marc, she tosses it across the space between them, and Marc catches it, surprised.

“If this is a proposal,” he says, “I'm flattered, but I think you should probably get checked for a head injury before this goes any further.”

Barbara laughs, bright and unrestrained. “I’ve already got enough tough guys with emotional issues and hang-ups on their identities in my life,” she retorts. “Though they don’t have more than one person in their head. Probably.”

Marc shrugs. “Just checking,” he says, and opens the box. There's an earpiece in it, small and subtle and clearly a piece of advanced technology. Raising both brows, he looks from it to Barbara, who’s leaning forward, elbows braced on the arms of her chair.

Barbara’s smile is a quick, sly thing, so like Natasha’s that it almost takes Marc's breath away for a moment. “My name,” she says deliberately, “is also Oracle. I run operations for all the heroes in the city, do research, hack security systems, and obscure whatever cameras catch them.”

“The cameras at the museum,” Marc starts, and pauses, frowns.

“Bluebird recovered the feed and sent it to me,” Barbara confirms. “I saw you slide back over the fence. Don’t worry, I wiped it.”

“Thanks.” Marc swallows, looking at the earpiece again. He hasn’t worked with a real team in a while. Jean-Paul, Gena’s sons, Crawley sometimes, but—not like this. Not in years.

Barbara waves that away. “It comes with an offer of transport back to the city for the evening,” she says dryly. “My father’s the police commissioner. I can tell Bruce you need to give another statement if you need an alibi.”

That…works perfectly, actually. “Sure,” Marc says, and gets to his feet. Snaps the box closed, tucking it into his pocket, and glances up. There are still a few hours of daylight left, but he needs to start figuring out transport anyway. Not a copter, maybe, but at the very least a motorcycle. He’s getting tired of public transportation.

“The kid, Marc,” Jake says, folding his arms over his chest as the figure of him comes clear. “At the park. Tonight.”

Marc contains a roll of his eyes, but otherwise ignores him. He waits while Barbara turns her chair, then walks beside her as she heads back towards the house. “You work with all the other heroes here?” he asks.

Barbara hums. “The Bats,” she says, and her smile is faintly bittersweet. “I used to be Batgirl, before.”

That can't have helped, when she got hurt. Not even the target, she’d said, and Marc knows what that’s like. “Any other heroes?” he asks.

Raising a brow, Barbara considers him for a long moment, then looks back towards the front of the house. “Some,” she confirms. “I run the Birds of Prey, when Black Canary can't manage it. And I coordinate with the heroes in other cities.”

“Any chance you know Swift?” Marc asks. Almost adds her name, but—he has no idea if she’s open with her name or not. Shen Li-Men being Swift could be a complete secret.

“From the Authority?” The expression of consideration doesn’t fade from Barbara’s face. “I can get a message to her, if you need me to, but it might take a while for her to answer. The Authority does a lot of jumping between dimensions.”

Good enough. Marc nods, and says, “Any way she wants to contact me is fine. I just need to talk to her.” Warn her, more specifically; if Khonshu takes exception to reality warpers in this dimension, and tries to reduce their number, someone he was mildly respectful of might be able to stop him. Marc won't be; he already knows that. That moment in the bedroom was enough to remind him that for all Khonshu's been better here, he’s still a god, still great and terrible and entirely inhuman.

“I’ll pass it on,” Barbara agrees, heading for a ramp that curves around the edge of the stairs and up to the front door. Inside, Alfred is just coming down the stairs with his arms full of towels, and he raises an eyebrow at them, but smiles faintly in greeting.

“Mistress Barbara,” he offers. “If you are looking for Master Bruce, the organization called him away.”

The organization has weight to it, meaning. Marc doesn’t allow himself to frown, but he wants to. That’s suspicious. So is Bruce's sudden departure, for that matter.

“Just Dick,” Barbara says with a smile. “And Steven, actually. The police want him for another round of questions.”

That makes Alfred slant him a worried glance. “I believe Master Bruce brought him here so he could rest. Perhaps they can wait.”

“I’ll be fine,” Marc says, and doesn’t even try to add Steven's easy sort of charm to it. Maybe Alfred will take it for tiredness, if he notices at all. “I’ll stay at my apartment tonight and take a car back in the morning. One evening alone won't hurt.”

Alfred's expression is faintly reproving, with a touch of worry, but he inclines his head. “I’ll alert Master Bruce when he returns. If you need anything, sir, just call.”

“Thank you.” Marc watches him disappear down a hallway, towards the sound of Damian's voice, and then glances over at Barbara, raising a brow.

She just smiles, turning back towards the door. “Come on,” she says. “You can tell me what you need on the way into the city. I assume Khonshu didn’t bring all your equipment with you when you came here.”

Well, that’s certainly easier than figuring out a whole new set of contacts who may or may not be trustworthy. Marc takes the passenger seat of her van as she locks her chair into place and pulls herself into the driver’s seat. The ramp folds back up with a smooth hiss, and she starts the car, then says, “You know, Batman wants to find you.”

It’s not a question, and Marc grunts, leaning back. His side pulls again, and he winces. “To chase me out of Gotham?” he asks dryly.

“Probably,” Barbara says, amused. Craning over, she waves out the windshield, and Cassandra, leaning out one of the upper windows, waves back. “He doesn’t kill. Most of the heroes here follow that code.”

Marc is silent for a long moment. It’s easier to kill than not to, in his experience. And he understands, more or less, the sentiments behind a code like that. Let the court system handle things, don’t put the power of judge, jury, and executioner in one person. Don’t kill for minor offenses. But—

Maybe it’s the Old Testament sense of justice that Khonshu likes about him. Maybe it’s the fact that Khonshu is the god of justice just as much as vengeance. Maybe it’s just that Marc isn't a good person and never has been, and shifting from scumbag mercenary under Bushman to Moon Knight didn’t change that.

“Khonshu's never been a god of mercy,” he says. “And I’ve never been one for mercy either.”

“Not even for yourself?” Barbara asks, too clever, too sharp, and her eyes are a weight on Marc's skin.

Marc looks out the window, towards the half-hidden city. He doesn’t answer.

 

 

“Sorry to call you in so suddenly, Batman,” Clark says, leaning over the back of Bruce's chair.

Bruce contains the urge to push him away. “Don’t loom,” he says instead, keeping his eyes fixed on the screen in front of him. “You said there are ten victims so far? Any more since you called me?”

“Not yet.” Clark straightens slightly, though he keeps one hand on the back of the chair. When Bruce shoots him a narrow look, he grins, bright and innocent. Bruce isn't fooled. “Flash was the first one to report it—I think he was looking for Zatana to come take a look, but no one can find her. Her manager said she took a vacation.”

With a grimace, Bruce crosses that option off his mental list. The hero community has a tendency to disappear randomly, and there are always equal odds whether it’s voluntary, an actual vacation, or a mission they don’t want to tell anyone about. “The energy signals are strange. I assume it’s magic.”

“That’s what Hal said, too,” Clark offers, and Bruce pulls a face he’s probably too old for. Agreeing with Hal on anything is bad for his blood pressure.

Clark laughs at him, because he has no sympathy and he’s not nearly as nice as most people seem to think. “He’s in Star City right now,” he offers. “Want me to connect you?”

Bruce gives him the look that question deserves. “J’onn?” he asks.

Clark shakes his head. “Half the League is still across the galaxy, mopping up. We can get them back, but it will take a while.”

Grunting, Bruce stares at the screen. Ten people in comas, inexplicable and apparently random. Four in Central City, two in Star City, three in Metropolis, and another in Coast City. The only link that Bruce can see is that they all suddenly dropped where they were standing, at precisely the same time. It probably wouldn’t even have come to their attention if Barry and Oliver hadn’t both mentioned it and then realized they were talking about the same thing.

Bruce doesn’t like it. Ten to start with, but—he has a sinking suspicion that it’s not going to stop there. It never does.

“See if you can call Constantine,” he says shortly. “He won't answer if I do it.”

“You did dangle him off the side of a building,” Clark points out.

“I was catching him,” Bruce says, but Clark’s the only one in the room, so he allows himself a faint smirk.

With a snort, Clark steps away. “All right,” he says. “Constantine, then. And I’ll see if Diana is back yet, too. She might have some ideas.”

“Doctor Fate?”

“Still MIA.” Clark sighs, and his smile is wry. “I thought having the Justice League would make this easier, but…”

“It’s like herding cats,” Bruce says, because he’s had plenty of experience with that.

Clark laughs, gripping Bruce's shoulder for a moment. “You're one of those cats,” he reminds Bruce, who eyes him without amusement.

“Good work catching those jewelry thieves,” he says instead of commenting, turning back to the screen.

There's a pause, long enough to be remarkable. “I had help,” Clark says, light, but he’s watching Bruce closely. It makes Bruce's skin itch. “Moon Knight seems like an interesting character.”

This is not a conversation Bruce wants to be having right now. “He does,” he says flatly. “How about you take him?”

“Metropolis wouldn’t suit him, I think.” Clark sounds amused. Bruce can see his reflection in the edge of the screen, and he’s smiling. “He’s much more the Gotham type.”

Bruce doesn’t answer, and after a moment Clark pats him on the shoulder and steps away. “He’s nice enough if you give him a burger,” he offers.

Of course Clark fed him. Bruce doesn’t roll his eyes, but it takes effort. “He kills,” he says. Dick told him the body count from the rescue, and—

Well. Moon Knight didn’t kill everyone, but Bruce had entirely expected him to.

“I asked him not to when he’s in Metropolis,” Clark offers, and Bruce stops. Slowly, disbelieving, he turns around in his chair to stare at Clark, who has the good grace to shrug a little sheepishly. “He agreed, for the record.”

“Of course you did,” Bruce says flatly, and pointedly turns back to the monitor.

“A little courtesy never hurt anyone,” Clark says firmly. “He’s not some kind of wild animal—”

“Then why were you feeding him?”

“I wouldn’t feed a wild animal,” Clark says, offended. “They’re wild.” He pauses, and Bruce tenses for impact. “Did you know Khonshu is a god of justice? He presided over the punishment, and Ma’at presided over the trial. It’s one of the reasons he’s the god of vengeance, too.”

“I like to think we’ve advanced beyond the ancient Egyptian legal code, personally,” Bruce says, as dry as dust.

“If Moon Knight is entirely devoted to Khonshu, he might not have,” Clark points out, and then his footsteps fade away. The hiss of the monitor room door sliding shut is the last sound before the silence settles, and Bruce breathes out into it, rubbing the bridge of his nose through the cowl.

Steven's still back at the house. Bruce didn’t even have time to get him settled before the call came in, and now he’s probably going to miss dinner. Maybe breakfast, too. Alfred will cover for him, like he always does, but—Bruce wasn’t expecting this.

There's a reason he doesn’t usually invite people back to the manor.

Before he can settle into grim thoughts, though, the comm beeps with an incoming call, and Bruce glances at the ID code, then grimaces even as he accepts it. “Lantern,” he says, a wealth of warning in one word.

“Hey, Spooky, the big guy finally managed to drag you out of your cave?” Hal says, like he doesn’t even notice. He probably doesn’t. Or he does and he just likes ignoring Bruce. Bruce honestly isn't sure which is more likely.

“Lantern,” he says flatly. “Was there something you needed.”

“Geez, find a sense of humor beneath that rock you live under,” Hal mutters, and then, before Bruce can end the call, he barrels on, “I checked all the databases on Oa. If this has happened on another planet, the Corps doesn’t have a record of it. Hard to tell the difference between alien energy and magic, sometimes, but if this is from space it’s something new.”

“Wonderful,” Bruce says, and wants to sigh, but won't let Hal hear it.

There’s a moment of silence, and when Hal speaks again, he sounds tired. It’s almost startling. “I’ll keep looking, maybe contact the Blue Lanterns or the Indigo Tribe. Someone there might have seen something like this. But Spooky? If this is a one-time thing I'm going to eat my left boot.”

“It’s a construct of will, you can't eat it,” Bruce says dryly, but he can't help a flicker of amusement.

“Who’s the Lantern here? I can eat it if I want,” Hal retorts, and Bruce can hear the sound of wind picking up speed as he accelerates. “I'm heading for Metropolis now, to check on the three there. Maybe one of them’s the origin point.”

“They all collapsed at noon exactly,” Bruce says. “There’s no first.”

Hal makes a rude sound. “Look, Bats, I'm doing what I can. Green glowing willpower doesn’t make me a doctor here, but if I can find anything—”

“I know,” Bruce says, more quietly. They all do what they can, and sometimes that’s not a lot. Like Hal, Bruce is stuck with what he knows, trying to figure out a chemical composition for something that’s probably magic, and scanning brainwaves looking for a change.

There's a breath, then a grudging huff. “I have alerts out to all the hospitals in the major cities, telling them to let us know if more cases come in. Dinah’s working on smaller areas, trying to see if we missed anything. Only ten makes me itchy.”

“Try actually washing that flight suit,” Bruce says, but he won't admit he agrees. Things like this have a way of snowballing. “And don’t take off on your own, Lantern. Even if you think you know better.”

Hal scoffs. “Just because you think you know better than everyone else, Spooky—”

Bruce closes the channel and feels no shame in it. He checks the scans again, but there’s no change, no shift in vitals and no new information coming in. Stasis, he thinks, and hates the word. Like they're being kept, frozen and still. Alive, but—for how long?

He needs to be back in Gotham. So many other major cities being hit makes him feel unsettled, like something will start happening in the city the moment he turns his eyes away. He’s got a duty to the league, though, and there are plenty of people in Gotham who can monitor things for a night. Tim is around, not with the Titans, and Dick will take up the task as soon as Bruce asks him. Stephanie and Cass are a good team, and Barbara will keep an eye on all of them.

It’s enough, Bruce tells himself.

Sending the text is still painful, feels a little like giving up, but—Bruce does it anyway, and makes sure Alfred knows to pass his apologies on to Steven. Batman's duties will keep him occupied for a while yet.

 

 

It’s already past moonrise by the time Barbara gets a full list of specs from him and turns him loose, so Marc doesn’t bother heading for the park. Red Hood can wait another night, and besides, there’s something that Marc wants to look into more than he wants to meet any more local heroes.

“Want to tell me which way to Arkham?” he asks into the comm, coming to a halt on the edge of one of the taller rooftops in downtown.

There's a pause on the other end, and Marc can almost feel Barbara’s surprise. “Arkham,” she echoes. “I assume you're not admitting yourself?”

Marc snorts. “I already did my time in a mental hospital,” he says.

This time the silence is thoughtful, and at length Barbara offers, “East. It’s down near the water, at the edge of the city. Once you're in the neighborhood I can guide you to it.”

Marc's not going to ask her to break him in; he can manage that much on his own. “Thanks,” he says instead, and leaps from the edge. The wind though the urban canyons is more than strong enough to catch the wings of his glider, and he lets it pick him up and toss him forward at a breakneck pace, soaring up over the buildings and towards the distant bridge.

“A little south,” Barbara murmurs after a moment, sounding distracted. “Across the bridge, then towards the Narrows. I need to take a call, hang on.”

The comm goes quiet, but Marc doesn’t mind. The trip down to the Narrows is a fast one with the wind at his back, and he doesn’t meet any other heroes along the way. He’d looked up the location of the asylum before he left his apartment, and once he’s got a vague location it’s easy enough to land near the right street and slip into the shadows.

Muting the comm from his end is probably rude, but Marc doesn’t give a damn.

Careful,” Khonshu says, a flicker of a reflection in the security gate pulled down over a building’s windows. Thick and heavy, Marc thinks, glancing at it. Probably to be expected, given what the place is close to. “I wouldn’t want to lose my knight to a breaking and entering charge.”

“The only danger is them locking me up with the rest of the crazies,” Marc mutters, but he pauses at the edge of the street, watching the narrow road that runs up to the gates in the distance. Ornate, dark, horrifying, and Marc hasn’t even been inside yet. “And I figure you want me out making people believe more than you want to fuck with me like that.”

Khonshu laughs, and Marc watches him reach out. He closes his fingers over the building, and just for an instant Marc can feel the pulse of every lost soul inside of it, the pain and the screaming and the laughter that’s even worse.

It’s a wicked place. Maybe Gotham is dark, but—Arkham is worse. And it’s not just the inmates making it that way.

Did you know the founder went insane?” Khonshu muses, and lifts his hand. Marc has to swallow at the sudden, almost jarring absence of that darkness. “He died an inmate of his own asylum.”

“Ironic,” Marc mutters, eyeing the guard. Just one, leaning beside the gate and looking bored. Looking away, distracted, and Marc crosses to the wall, leaps up and over and lands lightly on the other side without being seen. “Cameras?” he asks.

Like shadows slipping across the moon, Khonshu's outline spreads, a wash of darkness that covers Arkham and then falls away again. “I hope you're not expecting me to do anything about them,” Khonshu says lazily.

Marc snorts, because he can feel them now, the eyes. Watchers, in the darkness, and that’s Khonshu's role. “If you keep throwing your power around, you're going to run out,” he retorts.

Khonshu's laughter clicks and shivers. “Then you’ll just have to find me more believers, my son.”

Marc wonders, a little, how long it’s been since Khonshu had power to spare. Belief strengthens him, and it’s only just taking root, but—it’s growing, and that means Khonshu is growing too. He had power back in their universe, but not like this. Not so easy and readily available. In the timeline Kang created with Khonshu's artifacts, the belief of a handful of priests and a ragged collection of Moon Knights was enough to let him fling Marc through time again and again, and now Marc can't imagine it’s anything less.

“What do you think I'm doing?” he asks pointedly. “You like the crazies, right?”

You would know, my son.” Khonshu vanishes, and Marc slides around the blinking light of a security camera. He’s broken into a lot of places more high-security than this one; some of his missions with the Secret Avengers make this look pathetic, and he makes it into the building through the kitchen when an inattentive woman comes out to smoke without being seen.

The white’s not great for sneaking, but Marc makes do.

Carefully, quietly, he lets himself out of the kitchens and into long, narrow halls that twist and cross. It’s more than enough to confuse, but Marc can feel the lost souls, the weight of the misery here. He grimaces, sliding past a checkpoint with a sleeping guard and into another set of corridors, these ones lit with fluorescents in stark pools between the shadows. It’s not enough to brighten anything, just provide spotlights on the barred windows, the locked doors.

It doesn’t feel much of anything like the institute Marc was in, and he’s unspeakably glad for that.

Avoiding the light, he keeps moving, glancing through a handful of windows as he passes. Straitjackets, on a lot of patients. Others are heavily drugged, sitting and staring. One girl sits in a corner, curled in on herself and talking, and Marc has to pulls his eyes away and pass quickly.

Maybe he should just burn the whole thing down, he thinks grimly. That might be kinder.

“This isn't a hospital,” he mutters to Khonshu. “This is a prison, and everyone’s in solitary.”

“It does get a little lonely,” a woman says, voice a low, throaty purr, and Marc stops. When he glances over, there’s a face at one of the windows, shadowed by the bars, but she curls her fingers around them and leans in, looking Marc up and down in a long, slow sweep. Rose-red lips curl, almost the same color as her long, tangled hair, and she says wickedly, “Want to keep me company, handsome?”

Chapter Text

For a long moment, Marc stares at the woman incredulously. She stares back, lashes lowered, smile fixed in place and still predatory, but it’s getting more and more brittle as the silence stretches. After a minute, Marc is pretty sure he sees one eye twitch just a little.

“I'm wearing a bag over my head,” Marc says finally, flatly. “You couldn’t tell if I was the ugliest man alive.”

The woman’s eyes widen, and then in a rush she laughs. Her posture changes, and she tilts her head, but it’s not calculated this time, just amused.

“Like that’s ever mattered to any man before,” she says, and crooks a finger at him. “How about you come over here and show me?”

One of the lights flickers, and when it steadies, Khonshu is leaning back in his throne, cobwebs climbing his ankles. “If you came in here looking for crazy, my son,” he says, “perhaps you should keep moving.”

It’s interesting, really, that he’d be so dismissive. Marc glances over, taking in the way he has his hands steepled, the intent that curls around him, and raises a brow. Someone dangerous wouldn’t give Khonshu this reaction, and someone boring wouldn’t either. The only similar reaction that Marc can remember is when Khonshu first saw Thor, when she’d come to speak to Valkyrie at Secret Avengers headquarters; he’d been the closest thing Marc had ever seen to wary, even if it presented itself as cool disdain.

When he looks back, the woman’s eyes are fixed on Khonshu, aware and unwavering.

“Not here alone, then?” she asks, and her gaze flickers from Khonshu to Marc and back, like she can't decide which of them is more dangerous.

“I haven’t been alone in years, technically,” Marc says dryly. “It makes things awkward.” Pausing, he glances at Khonshu, not sure if he’s looking for direction or a clue as to why he’s suddenly visible, and asks, “You can see him?”

Surprise flickers over her face, and she pulls back. “Most people can't?” she asks suspiciously.

Another flicker, the lights wavering into darkness before they flare again, and this time when they come back up Khonshu is beside the cell, no longer skeletal and suited and languid. Ancient armor, glowing like the moon, and a crescent-topped staff in his hand as he looms, suddenly too vast for the hallway.

Child of the Green,” he says, pointed.

“For an old god, you don’t look nearly as decrepit as most,” the woman returns, expression wary, and takes a precise step back from the door.

Khonshu chuckles. “I have a knight to keep me well-fed,” he says, and just for a moment the world around them flickers, the dark edge of dimensions coming into focus for an instant. It’s enough to make the woman stiffen, jerk, her face going pale, and Khonshu laughs. Malevolence crawls from him, dark and heavy, and he raises his staff—

Marc grabs his wrist, stilling the motion before it can start. “No,” he says quietly.

The darkness and burning stars fade, winking out, and the asylum hallway comes back into focus. The world steadies, and with a ragged breath the woman catches herself on the wall of her room and stares at Khonshu. She looks like she can't decide whether to try to murder him or run.

“What the hell was that?” she demands, and it’s sharp, all fury. There's none of the purr left in her voice, and even less friendliness.

You are a child of earth,” Khonshu says, turning his gaze on Marc. “I am beyond it. Remember that.”

“Enough power-plays,” Marc says, annoyed. “I'm not here to help you terrorize people, asshole.”

Khonshu reaches out, and the sapphire crescent catches the light and burns. “Don’t get eaten, my son,” he says, almost a taunt, and then is gone.

The flickering lights steady, fading back towards their normal brightness, and Marc grimaces. He doesn’t apologize, but he glances at the woman and says, “Most people don’t even know he’s there.”

She’s still pale, but she straightens, snorts. “Lucky them,” she says, and folds her arms over her chest. “Who the hell are you?”

“Moon Knight.” Marc eyes her in return, and asks, “The Green?”

Her mouth curls, and it’s almost as hungry as some of Khonshu's expressions. “The elemental connection between all plant life,” she says. “I'm Poison Ivy.”

That’s probably supposed to mean something to Marc, if he really were from this dimension. Instead, he just nods. At some point he’s going to have to do a thorough search of all the heroes and villains in this world.

“Are you in Arkham for a reason?” he asks quietly, and Ivy’s expression twists, fury and offense and old, tired resentment.

“I took over the park,” she bites out. “They were spraying it, and they were ruining it, spreading cancer everywhere. So I turned it into a paradise and threw them out, but Batman took exception.”

Marc is mildly sympathetic, but…she’s not a good person. Not entirely, in a way that’s almost familiar. “You killed people,” he says mildly, and doesn’t know that, but it’s a solid guess.

Ivy scoffs. “They were killing plants,” she retorts. “And I made it better. Fruit trees that actually produce fruit instead of being forced to flower without purpose, trees to give the soil structure, plants to add all the stolen nutrients back into the earth. But it was wild, and when they tried to hurt it, it fought back.”

That, Marc thinks, isn't entirely the story, but it’s close. He studies her for a moment, and then says, “But you're not crazy.”

Ivy’s smile is all thorns. “Is any woman with a plan and the will to see it through crazy? But I speak to plants, and they talk back, so of course I'm unhinged and dangerous.” She tips one shoulder, and for all the languidness of the motion, there’s only fury in her eyes. “Besides, Arkham has better facilities for holding metahumans.” Reaching up, she touches the collar around her neck, half-hidden by her hair. It looks like advanced technology, and Marc grimaces a little.

“When I finally got out of the institute where they had me,” he says, “the first thing I did was run across a park. And then I ate my weight in ice cream.”

Surprise flickers over Ivy’s face, and she laughs. “Were you twelve?” she asks, amused.

“Thirteen,” Marc admits.

Ivy makes a face, stepping back up to the bars. She reaches a hand through, offering her fingers, and says, “This world is cruel to children and plants in similar ways.”

Marc stares at her hand for a moment, then glances up at her face. It’s a dare, he thinks. A challenge. She’s testing him.

Marc's never liked tests very much.

“The first thing you’d do?” he asks, watching her.

Ivy pauses, then pulls her hand back, curling it around the bars again. “Find my girlfriend,” she says, “and make sure she hasn’t gone back to her bastard of an ex. And then destroy a major polluter, just for kicks.”

Eco-terrorist, then. Understandable, given her powers and the way the world’s going. Marc should probably take a hell of a lot more offense at the thought, but—

She’s angry, not evil. Has done evil things, maybe, because Marc can feel the darkness to her, but she’s not entirely dark herself.

It’s three days past the full moon, so he’s not as strong as he was going after the kidnappers. Still, he should be more than capable of pulling a cell door off its hinges.

“Step back,” he tells Ivy, who gives him a narrow look but retreats, pressing herself up against the far wall. Taking a breath, Marc flexes his fingers, then reaches out, grips the barred window, and heaves.

It’s hard. Harder than he expects, and his side burns, his hands slip, but he grits his teeth, wrenches hard, and tears the door right out of its moorings.

Instantly, an alarm starts to shrill, lights flashing at the end of the hall. Before Marc can even open his mouth, though, Ivy is out of the cell, grabbing his wrist.

“Come on,” she hisses. “If this is a jailbreak, it’s a terrible one.”

“Everyone’s a critic,” Marc retorts, and when she makes to turn down the hall, he tugs her the other direction, back towards the security checkpoint. The guard there shouts, but Marc grabs him before he can get his gun up, shoves him hard and bounces his head off the edge of the door, and pushes past as he drops. Just ahead, a heavily bolted door marked for the janitors is waiting, and Marc can feel moonlight on the other side. He kicks it open, not bothering with the lock, and pulls Ivy in behind him as he slams it shut.

Not bothering to hesitate, Ivy grabs a shelf full of chemical containers and drags it down to block the door with a crash, then turns. “I assume you're not hung up on the idea of subtlety,” she says, pointed.

Marc snorts. “The white is my stealth costume,” he retorts, and eyes the barred window. There are bushes outside, neatly decorative, and that’s a hell of a lot easier than trying to cut through the bars with a dart.

“Any booby traps on the collar?” he asks.

Something like glee, or maybe like relief, surges in Ivy’s expression, and she gathers her hair between her hands, twisting it up and turning to Marc can reach her collar. “An electric shock if I touch the locking mechanism,” she says. “But I’ll be fine as soon as it’s off, even if it knocks me out.”

Marc will take her word for it. Warily, he checks the hinges, the lock, the faint glow, and then pulls a crescent dart from his belt. “Hang on,” he warns her, and sets the blade against the metal. Wishes, briefly, that his gloves were rubber instead of cloth, and slices downward where the faint gap of the hinge is.

Instantly, Ivy cries out, jerking hard for half a second before the blade is all the way through. Her eyes roll up, and she collapses, but Marc catches her, hauls her up against him. No shock, and he lets out a breath of relief, pulling the suppression collar open and tossing it aside.

At the same moment, something heavy hits the door, and there’s a muffled shout.

“Any time you want to be helpful here, I'm ready,” Marc tells Ivy, but drags her upright, then over to the window. She stirs faintly against him, and Marc shoves his truncheon through the glass, grabs her hand, and sticks it right against one of the pushes outside.

There's a pause, a moment when he thinks it’s not going to work. And then, slow, slithering, the bush’s branches curl, like they're reaching for Ivy, trying to climb her arm. She drags in a ragged breath, then lifts her head, and in the moonlight her eyes are glowing a bright, verdant green.

“My babies,” she croons, and there’s an edge to it that puts the hair up on the back of Marc's neck. He releases her, and she slumps forward against the window, tangling her fingers in the greenery that crawls up the side of the building. “Momma’s home,” she murmurs, and laughs.

The earth shakes, and Marc takes a prudent step back.

“Careful,” Ivy says without looking back at him. “This might get bumpy.”

The cement cracks, tendrils of green surging through, and Marc retreats to the window, grabs the bars. “Don’t let any other supervillains out,” he says, and Ivy laughs.

“I wouldn’t want the competition,” she says, and the barrier in front of the door cracks as she straightens. “All right, my sweets, time to make an exit.”

The world drowns in green, and a small hand pulls Marc up through the growth and out into the open air.

 

 

“Ice cream?” Marc asks dryly, but he takes the tub that Ivy waves at him.

“I didn’t even steal it,” she retorts, settling on the grass beside him. “You mentioning it made me want some.”

Marc snorts, pulling another leaf out of his hood. When he drops it beside him, it shivers, then immediately starts to root, and he eyes it for a moment before he says, “Thanks.”

Ivy digs her spoon into her own container, eyes fixed stubbornly on it. “I’ve been in Arkham for months,” she says, almost vicious. “They kept me away from the sun and medicated into obedience, and I thought I was going to be in there forever.”

It’s not a thank you, precisely, but Marc is willing to take it as such. He’s more comfortable like this, even. “Someone’s going to try to put you back in there,” he says, noncommittal.

“They can try,” Ivy says flatly, and takes a bite. Sighs, after a moment, and sets her ice cream aside, rubbing a hand over her face. “Damn it. Harley’s probably back with the Joker by now.”

The girlfriend, Marc assumes. He eyes Ivy, then looks up at the moon, and says, “That would be hard. I killed the Joker almost three weeks ago.”

Perfect silence. If Ivy’s even breathing, Marc can't hear it.

“You what?” Ivy finally says, ragged. When Marc glances over, she’s staring at him, eyes wide. That furious hope is back in her expression, rising, kindling, and Marc raises a brow.

“I killed him,” he says. “And my god ate his heart.”

Ivy laughs. It’s a wild thing, vicious and overjoyed and bloody around the edges, and she twists up onto her knees, grabs Marc's face between her hands. Her red hair glows like coals in the moonlight, and she leans forward. Marc stiffens, but she kisses him hard on the forehead, one firm press of lips, and then draws back.

“You killed the Joker,” she repeats, and laughs. “If you’d led with that, sweetheart, I wouldn’t have been planning to poison you to get out.”

Marc deliberately pushes her back, a hand on her shoulder. “I figured,” he says dryly, and then narrows his eyes at her. “There’s a lipstick mark on my mask, isn't there.”

Ivy laughs, sinking down onto her heels. “Like they’d let me have lipstick in Arkham,” she scoffs, and smirks at him. “Give me ten minutes to get back to the corner store and I can change that, though. I won't just leave them on the mask, either.”

With a roll of his eyes, Marc pulls the lid off his ice cream. “Chocolate?” he asks, checking the label.

There's a moment of silence, and when he glances back up, Ivy is watching him thoughtfully. Shifting, she sinks back, crossing her legs beneath herself again, but this time she’s facing him. “Are you asexual?” she asks, but it’s not an accusation. Not a demand for an answer, either.

Marc blinks, then frowns. “What does it matter?” he asks.

“It doesn’t,” Ivy answers, amused, “but I'm not wearing a bra and you’ve looked at my breasts maybe once tonight, and that was when I landed on top of you and you didn’t have a choice.”

With a shrug, Marc digs his spoon into the ice cream, more to have something to do than because he wants it. “I feel attraction,” he says. “But only after a while of knowing someone. You're beautiful, but…”

Ivy hums, picking up her own carton again. “I hardly object,” she says, and takes another bite. “It does make you harder to manipulate, though. I’d wondered what I was doing wrong.”

Marc snorts, because of course that’s her main concern. “Aphrodisiacs?” he asks.

“Pheromones,” Ivy corrects without hesitation, and licks her spoon, slanting him a smile. It doesn’t have the undertone it did before, and a line of tension in her shoulders has disappeared completely. “You’d be amazed how willing men are to be led around by the dick.”

With a grimace, Marc remembers all the times Valkyrie, Sharon, and Natasha managed to infiltrate some truly ridiculous places just by wearing low-cut dresses and pretending interest. “I really wouldn’t,” he says dryly.

Ivy laughs, and the leaves around them rustle, the trees leaning in. Closing her eyes, she leans back, letting out a long, slow breath, and then says, “Your god is going to take exception to you breaking me out.”

“No, he won't,” Marc corrects. “He’s just annoyed that you already belong to something besides him. Even if you believe in him, it won't be nearly as much as you do in the Green.”

With a thoughtful sound, Ivy tips her head. “Gods come and go,” she says idly. “The world stays. I appreciate the rescue, though.”

Marc shrugs, content with that. “Your girlfriend used to work for the Joker?” he asks instead.

“Harley Quinn.” Ivy’s expression is rueful, a little tired. “He…made her. Twisted her. He was everything bad in her life. She kept leaving him, but I never knew how long it would last.” Her mouth curves into a slow smile, and she raises her carton in a lazy toast. “Not that I have to worry about that now, thanks to you.”

“Good luck,” Marc tells her, and means it. “Maybe attack polluters more subtly, though At least for a while.”

Ivy smiles wryly. “No matter what I try, I can't save my plants,” she says. “I took over a deserted island in the middle of the Caribbean once, and even out there, people used it for weapon tests. The whole thing was destroyed.”

Marc isn't overly surprised. He saw more than enough ruthless, careless people as a mercenary, and in the various councils he’s infiltrated over the years. Taking them out was always a pleasure. “Adjust,” he suggests. “Let people still walk through the park, and don’t let things eat them just for looking.”

Ivy doesn’t look convinced, but she pulls a face and looks up at the sky, almost entirely hidden by smog. “Someday I’ll fix it,” she says grimly. “Somehow.”

Marc doesn’t try to argue. “You need help finding Harley?” he asks instead, and Ivy’s smile curves into something more natural.

“No,” she says. “There are a few places she’d go, with the Joker dead. I’ll look there.” A pause, careful, deliberate, and then she says, “I hope his heart fed your god well.”

“Khonshu enjoyed it,” Marc confirms, and hands her his ice cream, getting to his feet. “Here. You probably need it more than I do.”

Ivy takes it, setting it beside her. “I owe you,” she says plainly, meeting his eyes. “I’m not known for keeping my word, Moon Knight, but this—this I’ll honor. For my sake, but also for Harley’s.”

“I didn’t do it to earn a favor,” Marc says quietly, and means it. “Asylums shouldn’t exist. They definitely shouldn’t be catch-alls for anyone making a problem.”

“Why do you think I'm willing to keep this promise?” Ivy retorts, arching a brow at him. She puts two fingers to her lips and blows him a kiss, then says, “Don’t be a stranger.”

Marc waves, turning away, and heads for the edge of the park. It’s almost morning, and he pauses on the edge of the grass, considering where to go next. He got a look at Arkham, which was about the extent of his plan for the night, and—

Steven's reforms need to be a priority, he thinks grimly. They’ll take a while, but places like Arkham shouldn’t exist. A prison should be a prison, and a mental hospital should be a mental hospital, and they shouldn’t cross over. High security in an institute is one thing, but that—

That was carelessness, and no effort made to help people. Marc hates it. Arkham might as well just be that institute Khonshu created in his head, run by Ammut and her jackals, with even less chance for a happy ending.

Grimly, Marc crosses to the nearest building, shoots a grapple up, and lets the truncheon pull him to the top. It’s a short swing to the next building over, and then a long leap across the street, but he pauses there and reaches up, tapping the comm twice to bring it back to life.

There's a long, weighted pause, and then Barbara asks in amusement, “Do I want to know why someone just broke Poison Ivy out of Arkham, barely two hours after you wanted to know where it was?”

“She didn’t need to be in there,” Marc says. “And I didn’t let anyone else out.”

“I’ve worked with Ivy before,” Barbara allows after a moment. “She’s not evil. Mostly. Just…”

“Angry,” Marc fills in for her, and Barbara snorts, but not like she disagrees.

“Red Hood keeps yelling at me to find you,” she says instead. “He’s been skulking around South City Park since early this afternoon.”

Marc eyes the park he just left. “What end?”

“South shore of the lake.” Barbara’s laughing at him, he can tell. “If you’re willing to leave Ivy to take over the world, I think Hood’s partner at least would like it if you could end his suffering.”

“Ivy’s eating ice cream,” Marc says dryly, and leaps from the rooftop again, letting his cloak flare out into the glider again. “And then she’s going to go find her girlfriend.”

“Well,” Barbara murmurs, thoughful. “I guess she has more of a reason to like you than most. You got Harley away from the Joker.”

Marc doesn’t answer, but lets his cloak fold, twists, and drops down on top of a boathouse that’s been covered in scorch marks and graffiti. It’s not like he’s subtle, dressed all in white, so he rises to his feet and turns his face to the wind, breathing it in. The park is empty, and Ivy’s on the far side of it, so he doesn’t need to worry about Red Hood deciding to bring her in. And, besides, if she’s been labeled a supervillain she’s more than capable of taking care of herself.

After a long moment, Marc lets out a sigh and sinks down, letting one foot dangle off the edge of the roof. There's a low ache in his side, and it’s bleeding again, just a little, but not terribly. Besides, it’s more excuse for Steven to loiter around Bruce's house, pretending to be at death’s door, so he probably won't complain. Or won't complain much, at least.

The fall of moonlight on the lake draws his eye, and he watches it shimmer, reflecting the city lights like stars. He used to watch the moon like this in Central Park, some nights, and it was one of the few times he and Spider-Man could actually coexist peacefully, without bickering or insults. Well, as much as Spider-Man ever stopped insulting anyone. Marc misses it, a little. New York was the first place he put down roots after getting back from Sudan, and it was familiar. Gotham’s a knockoff, and Marc hasn’t wanted to take the trip north to the real New York just to find out it’s entirely different in this universe, so he’s stuck close.

He can't quite remember what was happening right before Khonshu took him away. A fight, probably, judging by how he’d hurt on the trip. He’d been in New York, he’s almost entirely certain of that, and he thinks he remembers Deadpool yelling something at him about representation in the media, but beyond that it’s all fuzzy.

Spider-Man was there, he thinks. Captain America, too. Kids. Maybe the Young Avengers, or whatever they’re calling themselves now.

“Was I dead?” he asks, and pulls his hood down.

There's a reflection in the water, something vast and pale and glowing. Khonshu looks the same as ever, though, standing on the rooftop beside Marc. “Would it matter?” he asks, and the weight of his gaze makes Marc's skin prickle.

Which probably means he did, Marc thinks wryly. “If you gave Captain America a heart attack, I think they put you down for a special circle of hell,” he says, because Steve was always very certain that Marc didn’t actually see a god and didn’t actually come back from the dead. Khonshu elbowing his way into a fight and dragging Marc off in front of him was probably at least a little shocking.

Khonshu's laugh ripples the water below. “If Captain America didn’t believe you, that’s his own business,” he says, and flickers out of sight. The image in the lake vanishes, too, and Marc frowns, resting an arm on his raised knee and leaning forward to study the dark water. There's no trace of what was there, and he thinks about reflect sunlight and wonders.

And then, loud and deliberate, boots land on the roof behind him. There's a pause, careful, and Marc waits it out, keeping his gaze fixed forward.

“You know,” Red Hood says, and clumps forward, not bothering to mind his steps. Or he just doesn’t want to sneak up on Marc. “For a guy in the whitest white I’ve seen outside of a Kleenex, you’re pretty good at vanishing.”

“Or maybe you’re just not good at looking,” Marc counters mildly, and glances up. The red full-face mask is gone, and Hood is only wearing a domino mask, small and black and practically useless. Marc's beginning to sense a theme with the heroes here.

Hood scoffs, folding his arms over his chest. “I've been looking,” he says crossly. “And you keep showing up in Crime Alley, which is my turf. How the fuck do you keep disappearing? And holy fuck, that looks creepy. Put the hood back on.”

Marc rolls his eyes and very deliberately doesn’t.  “I heard you wanted to talk to me?” he asks.

A suspicious pause. “That guy in the ugly hat knows you?” Hood demands, sounding offended.

Marc smirks, and files that one away to share with Jake later. “Well?” he prompts.

Hood frowns, and he’s younger than Marc would have thought, definitely not out of his twenties yet. “The Joker killed me,” he says abruptly, harshly. It almost sounds like he’s daring Marc to comment. “With a crowbar. When I was fourteen.”

“Vengeance was served, then,” Marc says quietly.

Hood hesitates, like he’s waiting for Marc to say something else. “Well?” he demands. “Don’t you have a story, too? Isn't that why you killed him? Because he hurt you or someone around you?”

“I killed him because he needed to die,” Marc says flatly, and looks up, meeting Hood’s eyes. “Do you disagree?”

Hood is silent for a long, long moment before he swallows. “No,” he finally says, and the sound of his voice is almost startlingly young, makes Marc revise his age. Not late twenties, but—early. Barely out of his teens, probably. “Batman doesn’t kill. Not even the Joker.”

“Good thing I'm not Batman, then,” Marc says, and rises to his feet, pulling his hood back up. When he moves to leap down, though, he pauses, and without looking back he says, “It was vengeance, but it was also justice, too. Dying isn't easy. Coming back is harder. You're here, so—you’ve survived. That’s good.”

Hood’s breath in is sharp, audible. “You,” he starts, and then stops. “You’ve died too?” he asks.

“Sure. But it was boring,” Marc says. “So I stood back up.” He steps off the edge, landing a little more heavily than he intends, but his side aches more now than a few minutes ago. With a grimace, he straightens, and slips through the darkness and into the trees.

Arsenal is waiting in the deep shadows, leaning back against a trunk. He looks Marc over, unmoving, and smiles crookedly when Marc freezes. Slowly enough that it’s clearly not a threat, he reaches into one of the pockets of his vest and comes up with a scrap of paper, offering it to Marc between two fingertips.

“It’s my number,” he says, “but I usually know how to get a hold of Hood, too, if we’re not already together. Just in case you need us.”

Marc considers for a long minute, then reaches out to take it. “It wasn’t a favor,” he says, even though no one seems to listen to him when he does.

Arsenal grins. “Yeah, I know,” he says, and passes Marc, headed for the boathouse. “But if you expected ganking the Joker not to earn you some friends, dude, you're out of your mind.”

Marc's coming to realize that. But—

Well. It could be worse.

Chapter Text

“Hey, Jaybird,” Roy says quietly. “You okay?”

Jason doesn’t look up, but the hand on his shoulder still isn't a surprise, nor is the warm body that drops down next to him, leaning into his side. He doesn’t let himself lean back, doesn’t react; if he makes any move right now he’s going to crack right down the middle, and he can't. the Joker’s had more than enough of him, and now that the bastard’s dead and gone, Jason refuses to give him any more time.

“Yeah,” he says, and closes his eyes. The moon is on the water and it’s too bright. “Yeah, Roy, I'm fine.”

Roy's silent for a moment, and when Jason cracks an eye open he’s got his knees pulled up to his chest, his arms wrapped around his shins. He’s looking at the lake, too, but his expression is twisted, tired.

“There are a lot of different kinds of fine, Jay,” he says after a moment. “Usually, when I'm the kind of fine you look right now? I need to call Waylon.”

“I'm not alcoholic, Roy,” Jason snaps, and regrets it the moment the words leave his mouth.

“No, you're just an asshole,” Roy says mulishly, and elbows him hard in the ribs. “Done?”

Jason looks away, doesn’t answer. He can't. It’s hard to swallow, hard to take a breath, but when he finally manages it, he says, “He died, Roy.” He doesn’t mean to sound like he does, small and tight and angry, but all he can think of is cold cement and blood and an iron bar coming down on him again and again.

With a sigh, Roy slumps into his side again, not a hug but maybe its socially awkward cousin. “Yeah,” he says. “I heard that.”

“It wasn’t just about the Joker. He didn’t have a reason. Not like…”

“Like everyone else in Gotham?” Roy smiles, small and crooked. “Yeah, I heard that too.” He pulls his stupid hat off, running a hand through his hair, but doesn’t otherwise move. Jason can see his freckles in the moonlight, scattered thick across his arms and the bridge of his nose. “Better or worse?”

“I don’t know,” Jason says, but it’s a lie. It’s better. It was a recognition from someone unaffected that the Joker was a madman worse than anyone else in Gotham, that he needed to be put down. This wasn't Jason wanting it, after being killed. This wasn’t Jason coming back wrong, without morals and without sanity. It’s been years since the Lazarus Pit, and Jason's mostly managed to stuff those thoughts way back into the depths of his brain, to focus on what’s right in front of him, but—

Moon Knight thought the Joker needed to die because he was evil. It had nothing to do with Jason, nothing to do with clouded judgement or lingering influences from the Pit. This was vengeance.

It was vengeance, but it was also justice, too.

Jason's breath rasps in his throat, and he digs the heels of his palms into his eyes, gritting his teeth. Justice. The Joker’s always needed to be brought to justice, but this—

This was a god, looking at him and deciding. This was out of Jason's hands, beyond Bruce's, beyond any court system. Moon Knight looked at the Joker, and without even knowing him he decided that the Joker wasn’t worth the space he was taking up. So he killed him.

“I’ve never,” he starts, and loses the words when his throat closes up. Laughs, scratchy, and tries again. “No one’s ever said it was a good thing that I came back,” he says, and hates how pathetic it sounds, all the little clinging bits of neuroses that linger in the words.

Roy is silent for a long, long moment, a warm weight against Jason's side. “Well that’s fucking stupid of them,” he finally says, and Jason laughs before he can help it.

“You're calling yourself stupid, too, shithead,” he points out.

“Yeah, well, we all knew that,” Roy says, and the curve of his smile is quick and a little guilty. “Too late to say it now?”

“You don’t have to—”

“Jason,” Roy interrupts, and it’s the serious voice he almost never uses. Reaching out, he grips Jason's wrist, and says softly, “I'm really, really glad your death didn’t stick.”

Jason's breath shakes, and he tugs at his hair, breathes out. Thinks about it for a long, long minute, and then laughs.

“Yeah,” he says, and it’s almost bewildering to realize he really, truly means it. “Me too.”

Roy leans over, dropping his trucker hat on top of Jason's head. “Don’t pull out your own hair, idiot,” he says. “You’d look really ugly bald.”

“Still better than you in these stupid hats,” Jason shoots back, and steals it. “Oh, hey, what if I lost it in the lake—”

“Hey, give that back! I like that one, asshole—”

“Too late, you gave it to me—”

“I was comforting you!”

“With an ugly hat?”

“Screw you, Jaybird, my hats are fashionable—”

“It says booty inspector, Roy—”

“I know that, it’s one of my favorites! Give it back!”

“I can't believe I'm friends with someone who wears a booty inspector hat—”

Roy tackles him to the roof of the boathouse. Not about to be pinned, Jason rolls them with a hard twist, crows his victory as Roy's hand just misses the hat—

And feels the moment the roof falls away under them.

Shit,” is all Jason has time to say before they hit the water with a momentous splash, startling fish and sleeping ducks alike. Roy's yelp turns into a choke, and Jason drags him up to the surface, spitting tepid lake water as they come up for air.

For a moment they stare at each other, treading water. Then, deliberately, Jason tips the water out of the soggy hat still in his grip, reaches out, and drops it on top of Roy's head with a wet squelch.

“Thanks, Jaybird,” Roy says sourly, gets a hand on his shoulder, and dunks him. Jason's too busy laughing to put up more than a token resistance.

“You're an asshole,” is the first thing he hears as he comes up again, still laughing. Roy's in the process of scaling the bank, leaving a trail of lake water behind him, and when Jason swims closer Roy gives him his best glare, then carefully sets his hat aside and strips off his quiver and bow. Jason snorts, getting a knee on solid ground and hauling himself up, but—

When he looks up, Roy is pulling his shirt off, and in the moonlight the scars twisting across his torso are obvious and almost shocking. From the Tamaraneans who tortured him, mostly, but Jason looks at him and he can name a hundred other moments where the fight has left a mark on Roy's skin.

His fingers itch to touch. He has to look away to keep himself from doing something stupid. Roy loves Kori, and before her he loved Dick. The fact that he’s glad Jason is alive is good enough.

Jason curls his hands into fists and tells himself that he’s not going to touch.

It’s harder right now than it’s ever been before, and Jason wants. Maybe it’s the death of the Joker making everything in the world seem at least fifty percent more possible, or maybe it’s that same giddy lightness that came in the aftermath, still lingering in Jason's veins.

Either way, Jason takes a breath, takes a moment.

“You know, Jaybird,” Roy says, collapsing back onto the grass with a vaguely wet squelch. “I think I want to call in that burger you owe me.”

Jason snorts quietly, but he flops down next to Roy. “Oh yeah? Because there’s a Big Belly Burger—”

“Oh, come on, I deserve diner food at least!”

“Not in that hat you don’t.”

Roy makes a face at him, and Jason makes one back, and even if it’s stupid, even if it’s dumb, it feels like he’s about to start laughing anyway.

 

 

“Coffee?” a low voice asks behind him, and Bruce lifts his head, hardly able to remember the last time he did. Diana is at his elbow, carrying two cups, and she offers one to him with a smile.

“Thanks,” Bruce says, and takes it. “You made it back.”

Diana’s smile has an edge like a knife, but she’s moving easily enough as she folds herself down into the empty chair. “Ares’s pawns aren’t easily cowed, but I sent them back to their master and left Hephaestus to repair his forge. There should be fewer godly weapons floating around the black market now, at the very least.”

Greek gods, Bruce thinks, not sure if it’s wry or rueful. He’s gotten more used to it over the years, tried to work it into his worldview, but—it’s still startling, sometimes.

“The gods have been quiet, recently,” is all he says.

Diana stretches out with a sigh, kicking off her boots and then picking up her coffee again. “They gather worshipers for petty infighting,” she answers wryly. “At some point they’ll find enough believers to be loud again, but I enjoy the relative peace.”

“Clark told you about what’s happening?” Bruce asks, because Diana is clearly fresh off a mission, her armor still scorched in places. There’s a long cut down one arm that’s healing as Bruce watches, but it can't be comfortable.

“That’s why the peace is relative,” Diana returns, and glances at the screens. “Have any more fallen to the sickness?”

“Not yet.” Bruce pulls up the monitors again, checking brain waves, blood pressure, heart rate. He’s done it every twenty minutes for the last eight hours, and there hasn’t been a single change. “Hal and Barry are checking the victims’ histories, trying to find something in common. Nothing yet, though.”

Diana lets out a slow, steady breath. “They fell at noon exactly?” she asks.

“Yes.” Bruce eyes her for a moment, then asks, “Could one of the gods be responsible?”

Pausing, Diana frowns. “Apollo rules the daytime,” she says. “But he is the god of healing, as well. I can't imagine he would sicken people with a purpose. Perhaps one of the others, but—the Greek gods are rarely subtle.”

Bruce snorts, because he’s been tangentially involved in a few cases with them, and that’s certainly true. “We’ll keep looking,” he says.

Diana hums in agreement, and says, “I saw no overt signs of magic on the victims, but I will look more closely. Whatever magician cast this spell, I do not like that they were able to reach so many distant souls.”

That’s been troubling Bruce, too. He grimaces, draining the rest of the coffee and setting the cup aside, and then pauses. Diana is here, and Bruce has a whole list of questions he wants to ask, but very few of them are about the coma patients.

“Do you know anything about the Egyptian gods?” he asks.

The abrupt shift in conversation makes Diana raise a brow, but she doesn’t otherwise react. “My sisters from Bana-Mighdal once worshiped the Egyptian gods,” she says. “Bast foremost among them. Since they returned to Themysicra, they have mostly followed the Greek gods again.” For a moment, she studies Bruce, then asks, “You believe one of the Egyptian gods is behind this?”

Bruce snorts. “No,” he says. “It’s—a personal problem.”

“Oh? And does this personal problem have a name?” Diana is smiling, and Bruce gives her a dirty look for it.

“I'm sure Clark will tell you all about him,” he says.

“His name is Moon Knight,” Clark confirms cheerfully, as the door slides shut behind him. When Diana casts him a warm smile, he smiles back, and takes the seat on her right without hesitation. “A new hero operating in Gotham. He stopped in Metropolis the other night, though, and I got to meet him.”

“In Gotham?” Diana's brows slide higher, and her gaze is heavy on the back of Bruce's head, though he tries to ignore it.

“He killed the Joker,” he says flatly, and can hear her sharp inhale clearly in the still room.

There are several long seconds of silence, and then Diana asks quietly, “Are you all right, Bruce?”

Bruce's hands freeze on the keyboard, and he stares at the vague, half-there reflection of Batman's face in the monitor, not entirely sure why being asked that feels a little like being punched. “It has nothing to do with me,” he says curtly.

“That,” Diana says, faintly dry, “is most certainly a lie, my friend.”

Bruce doesn’t wince, even though it is. “The Joker had Jason and Tim,” he says, and isn't sure why he does. “And he was going to bomb the city. I went after the bombs.”

There's a slow, careful breath. “Of course you did,” Clark says quietly. “You had to.”

Bruce doesn’t want to hear that. So many times now he’s picked the city over his children. Even in small things, and—nothing about this was small. He’s tried to tell himself that putting on the mask means an acceptance of those kinds of choices, putting the lives of a hundred thousand people above the life of one, but—

Sometimes that feels more like a justification than anything, and Bruce can't even look at the cases in the Cave, Stephanie's uniform, Jason's. He’d thought, until they reached the warehouse, that he was about to have to add Red Hood and Red Robin’s uniforms to the shrines standing in the darkness. But Moon Knight saved them before they were killed. He would have been too late. Moon Knight wasn’t.

“Bruce,” Clark says quietly. “We all do what we can. You had to save the city.”

Someone better could have done both. Clark probably could have. Bruce doesn’t look at him, but sets his hands in his lap. The leather of his gloves creaks when he curls his fingers into fists.

“Gotham is still standing, and the Joker is dead,” he says, flat, uninflected. “It worked out.”

He doesn’t kill. Other heroes do, but—Bruce knows himself. If he starts, he won't stop, and he’s terrified of that downward slide. It will be quick and complete and ruin him utterly, and he won't be able to turn himself around. Because Bruce is a murderer, for all he doesn’t kill. He knows that as much as he knows anything.

“The people of Gotham must be relieved,” Diana says, quiet. She’s still watching him.

There was no trial, Bruce wants to say, but—trials have never worked for the Joker. They just land him back in Arkham, ready to escape a handful of weeks later regardless of security measures. The Joker was never going to be convicted of anything except insanity.

“They are,” he manages. “There’s a power vacuum now, though.”

“You’ll be there to stop whatever oozes to the surface,” Clark says, and Bruce has to close his eyes. Clark’s faith in other people is…gutting. “And so will Moon Knight, it sounds like.”

“I won't let him kill in my city,” Bruce says flatly. “If his god wants hearts, he can go elsewhere to get them.”

“His god?” Diana asks, and glances from Bruce to Clark.

“Khonshu,” Bruce says shortly, and busies himself checking the vitals again.

Diana makes a thoughtful sound, leaning back in her chair. “The lunar god,” she says slowly. “I haven’t heard his name in a very long time.”

That makes Bruce raise a brow, and he glances up at her before he can stop himself. “You haven’t?” he asks suspiciously.

Diana raises a hand. “I will have to ask some from the lost tribe,” she says, “but I was given to understand that the moon god was dead, killed during a war in the heavens.”

A resurrected god. Bruce's skin prickles with chill, and it takes effort not to react. He doesn’t like that at all. “What could be powerful enough to bring a god back to life?” he asks.

Diana just shakes her head. “Belief?” she offers, but it’s more a question than an answer.

Bruce doesn’t have a marker, but—he thinks of Moon Knight’s words to Dick and Stephanie on the boat. He certainly sounded like a believer, and with the apparent healing he’d offered the poisoned people at the restaurant, the magical cure, there’s every indication that not only does he believe, but there’s a god for him to believe in.

“People are starting to believe,” he says, and his throat is almost too thick to get the words out evenly. “Everyone is talking about it. About Khonshu. And about Moon Knight.”

“He’s very faithful, from what I saw,” Clark says thoughtfully. “Not—not peaceable with it, but—he believes like belief itself is a weapon.”

Maybe it is. Bruce doesn’t know how gods like that are supposed to work. “Can you find out what happened to Khonshu?” he asks Diana.

Diana inclines her head. “I will,” she agrees. “But my sisters from Bana-Mighdal worshipped the Egyptian goddesses more than the gods. I don’t know that they will have all the details unless one of their goddesses was directly involved.”

At the very least they may have heard something, Bruce thinks grimly. “Good,” he says. “If something is brewing, I want to know before it actually breaks.”

Diana smiles wryly. “An understandable sentiment,” she says. “Bruce. Leave the monitors to us and go back to Gotham. You need rest, and it’s almost daybreak.”

It’s hard to tell that in space. Bruce swallows a sigh, pressing a knuckle against his temple. He doesn’t have a headache, but—one is coming. He can feel that much already. The vitals he’s monitoring don’t technically need someone to sit here and stare at them, and there haven’t been any new cases reported in almost sixteen hours. It’s probably safe enough to leave things to Diana and Clark and check in on Gotham. Steven will likely be expecting to see him at some point, too.

“All right,” he says, and rises to his feet. “I’ll be back in a few hours.”

“We know,” Clark says, amused, and he and Diana trade speaking looks. “Enjoy your morning, Bruce.”

Bruce just grunts. “Call me if anything changes.”

“Of course,” Diana murmurs. “Sleep well.”

That doesn’t deserve an answer. Bruce can count the number of times he’s slept well in almost thirty years on both hands and still have fingers left over, but—he makes do.

Gotham is still standing, so it’s worth it.

 

 

When Marc slides out of Barbara's van, tired after a catnap caught on her couch before they headed back to the mansion, Cassandra is sitting on the front steps. As soon as Barbara turns the engine off, she waves, rising to her feet. Dark eyes flicker to Marc as he slides out, and she tips her head, looking him up and down, and then nods in greeting.

A little awkward, Marc waves back. It’s still morning, but he can't see any other sign of movement past the open door.

“Morning, Cass,” Barbara says warmly, wheeling her chair around the van and then up the ramp. “Is everyone home?”

Cassandra shakes her head. “Tim's out,” she says, and then glances at Marc again. Her gaze immediately falls to his side, and she frowns. Looks to Barbara, sketching a quick sign that Marc can't catch between their bodies, and then cocks her head.

“He’s fine,” Barbara assures her. “Just tripped on my stairs and pulled the stitches a little, but I checked and he should be okay.”

Sharp, Marc thinks, a little wary. He’d wanted to meet a couple of the people around Bruce, but—maybe Steven should be the one to take over right now.

“I'm just clumsy,” he tells Cassandra. “It’ll be fine.”

Cassandra blinks, brows furrowing, and looks him over. A moment later, the expression slides back to something more neutral, and she offers her hand. “Cassandra Cain,” she says.

“Steven Grant,” Marc returns, and takes her hand. She’s got a hell of a lot of familiar calluses for being a little thing who’s probably a hundred and fifteen pounds soaking wet. A strong grip, too, and she meets his eyes without even the slightest hesitation.

Cassandra cocks her head, but instead of saying anything she tugs his hand towards her, turning it over. For a moment, she looks at his palm, at the scars there, and then glances back up at him, the question clear on her face.

Marc considers lying. Considers pulling his hand away and ignoring the implied question. But—

She has scars, too. Like Barbara, they’re clear to someone who knows what to look for. A hairline scar at her temple, another on her wrist. Sharp, straight, clean cuts that healed well but still left a mark. Maybe it’s just that as Bruce Wayne's daughter, she’s in danger of the same sort of kidnapping as he just went through. Or maybe she just likes to get into fights. But there’s a biting sort of suspicion rising, something sharp and steady in the back of Marc's mind, and he wonders if that’s all it is.

“Shrapnel,” he says in explanation, and doesn’t think about the mercenary in front of him stepping on a landmine. It’s worlds and lives away at this point, and Marc has seen worse.

Cassandra winces, loosening her grip. She turns his hand over and pats the back once, then steps away and smiles at him. Waves a hand towards the interior of the mansion, then motions like she’s eating.

“Breakfast?” Marc asks, and when she nods, he glances at Barbara.

“Breakfast sounds good,” Barbara says, and she’s smiling like she’s got a secret. When Marc frowns at her, she just smirks at him, nudging him forward with a hand on his back. “Just avoid the waffles.”

“Hey!” a bright voice calls from further inside, and a moment later a man jogs around the corner, grinning when he spots Barbara. “Babs!”

Marc freezes, suddenly unable to take a full breath as Nightwing leans down to kiss a laughing Barbara on the cheek. It’s very definitely him, from the pretty-boy haircut to the blue eyes. There wasn't nearly enough covered by that tiny domino mask to hide who he is now, when Marc's looking right at him.

“Dick,” she says, and loops her arms around his shoulders, hugging him briefly. “How’s Blüdhaven?”

“Full of crime, like usual,” Dick says, but he doesn’t look particularly bothered by this. “I’m liaising with Gotham PD for the next few weeks, though, so I’ll be around.”

“My father didn’t mention anything about that,” Barbara says, frowning. It fades a moment later, though, and she smiles again, tangling her fingers with Dick’s. “I'm glad you're home.”

Dick’s smile is a little crooked, but he squeezes back. “Me too,” he says, then straightens, giving Marc a quick once-over. “Hi, you must be Mr. Grant. I'm Dick Grayson, Bruce's ward.”

“Steven,” Marc corrects, though it feels like stepping into shoes that don’t quite fit. The irritation’s distant enough to ignore in the face of this, though. He hadn’t expected to come face to face with another of Gotham’s protectors. Not in civilian identity.

And—it’s odd. Barbara is Bruce's friend and masquerades as Oracle. Bruce's ward is Nightwing. Cassandra, likely another ward, has scars that a rich girl shouldn’t.

There’s a picture building, and Marc is pretty sure he knows what the full thing is going to be.

With a low, shivering chuckle, Khonshu leans on the doorframe beside him, elegant and languid. “Haven’t you been paying attention, my son?” he asks, and that unholy amusement means nothing good for Marc's peace of mind. “Gotham has several truly devoted protectors. They do my work without even knowing it.”

Without Marc knowing it, either, apparently. Or at least without him paying attention, because even though it’s not night, he’d be willing to bet that as soon as darkness settles, it will be entirely obvious that more than one of Bruce's kids is a protector. Travelers, but with a weight of other souls resting on them.

Marc definitely needs to read up on Bruce Wayne and his family.

“Steven!” a voice calls, and Marc flinches, turns—

Steven catches sight of Bruce and smiles, stepping past Barbara to meet him as he approaches. “Bruce,” he returns. “Sorry to run out on you last night, the police needed to ask me a few more questions.”

“I think I'm the one who ducked out first,” Bruce says with a chuckle, and asks, “Feeling all right?”

Marc was not kind to their body last night, so Steven feels no shame in wincing and saying, “Several mistakes have been made. Falling down the stairs was one of them, but I think I've learned my lesson.”

Worry flickers over Bruce's face, but his breath is rueful. “I hope so. The bed’s comfortable, I promise, so maybe try to spend some time in it.” He grins, quick and meaningful, and adds, “If you want an incentive, I’d be happy to offer.”

Steven snorts. “I think I’ll survive without,” he returns.

“Breakfast, then,” Bruce cajoles, and offers him his arm with a smile that’s almost a challenge. “Alfred went all-out.”

“I suppose I could be persuaded.” Steven sidesteps Bruce, making it clear he’s not going to take the arm, but Bruce just laughs, falling into step with him and steering him towards the dining room.

“I forgot to offer you full use of my library yesterday,” he says. “I’ve been collecting for years, and there are some books on Egypt in there that are fairly rare, if you’d like to borrow them. They're certainly not getting much use right now.”

“I’d love to,” Steven says, and when the door opens for them, he offers Damian a smile. “Good morning, Damian.”

Damian frowns at him, unimpressed by the greeting. “You left without alerting anyone,” he accuses.

“That was my fault,” Barbara says from behind them, and Steven steps out of the way so she can enter, Dick right at her back. “How’s the leg, Damian?”

“Almost functional,” Damian says, displeased, and hobbles towards the table. “Father, can Jon come over? He says he has a new game that I can't possibly beat, and I wish to prove that he’s wrong.”

“If you want,” Bruce says, and Steven can see the amusement he’s hiding. “Cass, Alfred said you were going to help him in the garden today?”

Cassandra nods, and as Alfred passes behind her chair he rests a hand on her shoulder briefly, a fond touch.

“I am grateful for the assistance,” he says. “Back in one piece, Mr. Grant?”

“Well, about as many pieces as I left in,” Steven says easily, and it’s a joke only Barbara gets. She coughs to hide her laugh, and when Dick gives her a look she waves him off. “Thank you for the food.”

“It’s no trouble,” Alfred says firmly, and settles a platter of pancakes between him and Bruce. “If I can be of any assistance, please don’t hesitate to tell me.”

Alfred makes Steven miss Samuels, a little. After Bushman almost killed Marc, he’s pushed him and Nedda away, and then Taskmaster and Midnight both terrorizing them had made them retreat to a safe distance, but for a long time they were something like a family.

It’s safer with Steven here and them back in the other world, though. Moon Knight was the only reason people ever went after them, and without Moon Knight, they won't have that same constant risk of being two people with knowledge of Moon Knight’s identity. It’s better like this.

“Thank you,” Steven says, and means it. He offers Bruce a smile when the man glances at him, then looks up.

Cassandra is watching him from across the table, expression thoughtful. She doesn’t say anything, or offer a sign, just turns to accept the pitcher of orange juice from Barbara.

When Steven looks away, though, he’s entirely certain that he feels her eyes on him again, unwavering.

Chapter Text

Dick is halfway down the hall, headed for the Cave, when a small hand shoots out of the shadows and grabs him. He has just enough time to yelp before he’s dragged sideways into a darkened room, the door slamming shut behind him.

There’s a moment of silence, and then a click. The lights in the media room come up in a rush, and Dick blinks to let his eyes adjust, then squints at his captor in disbelief. “Cass?” he asks, bewildered.

Cass doesn’t smile. She looks deathly serious, brows furrowed, and as soon as she sees that she has Dick’s attention, she jabs a finger back towards the dining room and makes an alarmed face.

“Is this about Bruce?” Dick guesses, and Cass shakes her head. “Babs?” Another denial. “Damian? Alfred? Do you want me to get you out of gardening?”

Cass levels a speaking look at him and frowns like she’s disappointed in his deductive skills.

“What?” Dick says, offended, and then remembers the guest. “Oh. Steven? Is this about Bruce flirting with him? Because that’s a little weird but Steven doesn’t even seem to notice, so…”

Cass is still staring at him, waiting.

“Not about the flirting, then,” Dick concludes, a little sheepishly. Tim is better at this than him. So is Stephanie, for that matter. “Is it Steven who’s the problem? Did you notice something?”

Finally, Cass nods. She opens her mouth, struggles for a moment, then makes a frustrated face and tangles her fingers in her hair, tugging sharply.

Dick catches her hand, brings it down and squeezes it gently. “Hey,” he says. “Easy. No pressure, okay? You’re fine, just take a second.”

With a grimace, Cass shakes her head, then looks away. Dick takes a breath, trying to put the pieces together, and says, “Okay, it’s about Steven. Is he bad? Some kind of villain?”

Cass starts to shake her head, then stops. Hesitates for a long moment, then tips one shoulder in an expressive shrug.

“You don’t know,” Dick concludes. “But there’s definitely something weird about him.”

This gets an immediate nod, and something in Dick’s stomach sinks. Of course. Anyone Bruce likes has very good odds of being a reporter, a villain of some sort, or mind-controlled. He isn’t sure why he was expecting this to be any different, especially when it’s all tangled up with Bruce’s reaction to Steven being shot in front of him.

“Is Bruce in danger?” he asks, a little grim, and Cass gives him another shrug in answer. That’s…not promising. “Do you know what it is that’s weird?”

Cass taps her temple, then holds up a finger.

“You think you do,” Dick translates, and she nods quickly, then steps sideways. They’re in the media room, and Dick frowns in concern as she reaches up on her tiptoes to grab one of the dusty old DVDs on the top shelf. Then, like an answer, she holds it up for him to see.

“The Exorcist,” Dick says, and frowns at her. “You think he’s an exorcist? Some kind of magician or something?”

With a huff, Cass leans in and smacks him in the forehead with the case.

“Hey!” Dick protests, pulling back. “I’m trying to help here—oh. Wait. You think he’s possessed?”

The roll of Cass’s eyes is entirely unappreciated, but she still nods.

Well that isn't what Dick was expecting, though he likely should have—it’s not like possession is exactly an uncommon thing for them to see. Scrubbing a hand through his hair, he pulls a face, then checks Cass’s expression and asks, “You saw glowy eyes or smoke or something when he was talking?”

Cass shakes her head, holding up two fingers. She holds one in front of her, then in a blur switches it for the other.

Dick considers that. The Steven who first accompanied Barbara into the house was quiet, and Dick probably wouldn’t have called him charming. More watchful, too, with a heaviness in his eyes. But then he’d seen Bruce, and suddenly he was happier, brighter. He’d smiles more widely, stepped forward to meet Bruce without hesitation, and Dick had put it down to Steven being uncomfortable with unfamiliar people so soon after he was shot, and maybe some shades of whatever attraction Bruce is trying to cultivate. But…

“You're sure they were different people?” he asks. “In the hall there, right?”

Cass nods, holding out a hand with the palm up. She sketches several lines on it, then taps the scar on her own wrist, from a run-in with Two-Face. Goes back and draws the scars again, mimes switching her hands again, and hides the scarred hand behind her back, covering her eyes with her free hand.

“The second Steven doesn’t see his scars,” Dick translates, and Cass beams at him. He grins back, glad she’s not too frustrated with him, and then pauses. “Okay, but…which is the real Steven?”

Cass pulls a face, then pauses. After a moment, she shrugs, then holds up one finger.

“The first one?” Dick hesitates. “I mean, what are the odds that someone would possess a non-millionaire just to make him money?”

That makes Cass frown, and she tips her head at him, conceding the point. Sketches a question mark in the air, then looks at him expectantly, and Dick chews on his lip for a moment. It would be easy to say they should wait and see, but—Bruce is in the line of fire, and given everything that’s happened Dick is pretty sure he won't jump on the idea that Steven is possessed. So that means they need proof.

“Do you know if Zatana is around?” he asks, and when Cass shakes her head, he sighs. “Okay, but—how much do you think Bruce would yell at us if we got an actual exorcist to come take a look?”

Cass is quick and clever. She doesn’t need more than an instant to put the pieces together, and she’s so startled she’s perfectly silent for a long moment. Then carefully, she asks, “Constantine?”

“Arion’s still stuck merged with his evil twin brother into some cosmic entity,” Dick says in explanation. “Jason Blood’s helping the Authority right now and I can't get a hold of him. So that leaves Constantine.”

Cass cocks her head, not looking sold on the idea.

“I know Bruce dangled him off a building,” Dick says, maybe a little wryly, “but he can't hold that against him forever, right?”

The look Cass gives him says a lot more than words can.

“I can try to get a message to Deadman?” Dick offers with a shrug. “But I have no clue who he’s possessing right now, so it might take a while.”

“Constantine,” Cass concludes, and offers Dick a wry smile. Dick snorts, smiling back, and tosses an arm over her shoulders, pulling her into a half-hug.

“Thanks for telling me, Cass,” he says into her hair, and Cass hugs him back, then pulls away. She leans up on her toes to pat him on the head, then pulls back, slipping out of the room and down the hall. Probably going to keep an eye on Steven, if Dick knows her, and he likes to think he does.

For a long moment, Dick stands in the empty room, then blows out a sigh and rubs his hands over his face. They dealt with a possession last month, so surely they're not due for another so soon. It’s not fair.

Then again, there's no more Joker. In light of that, Dick is more than willing to accept Bruce's latest love interested being possessed by something or someone. It seems like a decent trade, in his eyes.

Treat it like any other mystery, Dick tells himself, and straightens. This is just another case, even if Bruce is involved. Steven Grant has been possessed somehow, at some time, and while he’ll have to wait for John Constantine to do the actual exorcism, at the very least he can figure out the how, why, and when before Constantine shows up.

 

 

“Are you actually going to tell me what this is about?” Tim asks, faintly annoyed, as they drop from the top of the wall into the statuary garden.

“Where’s the fun in that?” Dick retorts, though mostly he just wants to see what Tim notices without any biases. He looks around the quiet garden, still closed while the restaurant window Moon Knight crashed through is repaired, and asks, “You met Bruce’s new boyfriend while both of you were conscious, right?”

Tim pauses, then gives him a narrow look. “It’s official?” he asks suspiciously. “I just saw them flirting.”

Dick shrugs. “He’s staying at the mansion. I don’t think Bruce would allow that if he didn’t at least want it to be official.” Which is incredibly disheartening, given what Cass saw; Bruce doesn’t usually fall into relationships, reputation aside, and the idea that Dick is going to have to tell him his first new date-date in months is possessed is not fun at all.

“Oh,” Tim says, frowning, but he brushes past a tall hedge and approaches a big arbor covered in wisteria. “Grant was over here. The kidnappers had a getaway vehicle on the street over by the maintenance gate—they fried the security with some kind of metahuman power.”

Dick crouches down at the edge of the arbor, pulling back red-stained leaves. There’s still a dark patch of it on the ground, but…not a lot, comparatively. Rocking back on his heels, Dick frowns at the spot, then asks, “What time did they grab Bruce?”

Tim is still watching him narrowly, clearly aware there’s something going on. “Just past nine. Bruce was definitely the target, too—they cut the cameras and went in as soon as he was seated.”

And Dick met Moon Knight at the docks about twenty minutes later. Their tangle lasted maybe six minutes before they went after the kidnappers, and the whole rescue took probably another twenty-five or thirty. But…Bruce was already back here by the time they found Steven, so add another twenty minutes on to that at least.

“Does that look like an hour’s worth of blood from a gut wound to you?” he asks Tim.

Tim’s eyes widen behind the mask, and he crouches down next to Dick, pulling leaves back. It only takes one second of looking for him to shake his head.

“No,” he says grimly. “That looks like a few minutes’ worth at most.”

That’s what Dick was thinking, too. He rises to his feet, balanced on his toes, and looks over the garden for a moment. “But Bruce heard the gunshot as he was being taken away. Steven did get shot. Except…”

“No drag marks,” Tim says grimly, and points at the neat gravel path leading up to the arbor. “That would show drag marks. Unless the shooter picked him up and carried him over here, which is more than most people would bother with, there would be some kind of track. Even if he just dragged himself.”

And, of course, there’s no way the shooter would have come back just to move the body, an hour after the kidnapping. By that time the police were everywhere, and Harper and Tim were both on site. They would have noticed something. There’s no blood trail to show Steven hid himself, and he was bleeding heavily enough that it would show. Dick doesn’t like this at all.

“We need to look at where he was shot,” he says, and without a word Tim ducks past him, heading for a side path. This one is flagstone, marked with boot prints, and cuts a neat path towards the rear gate.

“That abandoned syringe was back here,” Tim says, and follows the curve around a statue of a slightly evil-looking mermaid rising from a pool of water. From here, it’s almost impossible to see the museum, blocked as it is by tall hedges, and unease curls in Dick’s chest. “I didn’t bother checking for anything else, since you’d already found the kidnappers.”

A mistake he wont make again, judging by the slant of his mouth. Dick winces, and says, “Tim, you couldn’t have known—”

“Right,” Tim says shortly, but not at all like he believes it. He comes to a stop in the middle of the path, then turns, sweeping the area. “If Bruce was drugged here, and heard the gunshot before he passed out, it must have happened close by.”

“I’ll search this side?” Dick suggests, pointing to the area by the mermaid statue. Curtly, Tim nods, ducking past a bush and disappearing from view. Dick watches him go, worried, and has to swallow against the urge to call out. Tim doesn’t like dealing with emotions—he’s just like Bruce that way. And now that he’s convinced he missed something dangerous, he won’t stop until he’s fixed the mistake. It’s possible Dick should have called Harper instead, but she has finals, and she’s not the one who found Steven. She’s also not the one even Ra’s al Ghul calls Detective, and Dick doesn’t want to potentially miss something here.

With a strangled sigh, he skirts the terrible statue, then checks the grass beside the path, looking for a hint of anything. Several yards down, there are more scuffs on the stone, then one deep boot-print in a patch of mud. Dick checks it, trying to decide whether it’s from a kidnapper or an EMT, and—

Dark splashes on the grass, obvious in the sunlight. A fleck of red-stained white among the green that makes Dick recoil, and he rises, horror surging. The splashes of blood are wide, spread out, but at one particular point they pool, thick and dark and specked with something Dick doesn’t want to look closely enough at to identify.

“Red Robin!” he calls, and it takes effort to keep his voice from cracking. He knows what this is. He knows exactly what leaves a mark like this, and suddenly the fact that Steven is up and walking around and smiling at Bruce is a hundred thousand times more sinister.

“Dick?” Tim demands, mildly alarmed as he approaches. Dick holds up a hand to stop him before he can step in anything, and points to the grass. It takes a second, Tim’s eyes sweeping the area, but then he takes a sharp breath and steps back.

“That’s a piece of skull,” he says, and if Dick didn’t know him better he’d take that tone for emotionless. Since he does know better, he leans in, bumping Tim’s shoulder with his own.

“Looks like an execution,” he says.

“Did someone tell Grant that?” Tim asks, dust-dry. Then he pauses, expression twisting, and says, “Their hands were tied.”

“What?” Dick asks, confused. “You mean—”

“Bruce and grant both had their hands bound with zip ties,” Tim says. “Bruce told me. But when I found Steven, his hands were loose.”

Dick considers that for a moment, then swallows. “Cass thinks he’s possessed,” he admits. “She saw him become two different people, going by body language.”

There’s a second of grim silence, and Tim takes a breath. “He’s obsessed with ancient Egypt,” he offers. “I bet you five hundred dollars that has something to do with it.”

“Do I look like someone who takes sucker bets?” Dick retorts, and carefully doesn’t look at the blood again. “Okay, but did Steven get shot in the head, letting something into his body, or did he break the ties and shoot the kidnapper in the head?”

“No body, if he did,” Tim says, almost absently. He’s still staring downward, eyes on the shard of skull. “Also, what was he doing for more than an hour while you were rescuing Bruce? And how did he get shot again?” He pauses, then frowns and asks, “Did Moon Knight get shot?”

Dick shakes his head. “If he did, I didn’t see him notice, and I don’t think he’s that supernatural.”

Tim’s grimace says he’s discarding a theory. “Okay, but that still leaves us with a missing hour of what Grant was doing. He wasn’t under the arbor, and Oracle didn’t mention seeing him on the security feed.”

Dick needs to see that feed. Harper recovered it, and maybe Babs only looked at the interior views, the bits about Moon Knight. Maybe she missed something, because she didn’t know what she was looking for. Rubbing a hand over his face, Dick grimaces, then says, “Thanks, Timmy. I appreciate it.”

Tim huffs. “If whatever is walking around in Grant’s body is going to be a danger to Bruce, it’s a problem for all of us,” he says. “And our luck’s not good enough that it isn’t dangerous.”

Dick makes a face of rueful agreement. “Do you think it has something to do with Moon Knight?” he asks. “Two Egyptian-related bits of weirdness is two more than we usually have to deal with, and…”

“There’s no such thing as a coincidence,” Tim finishes for him. “I’d say it’s likely. You met Moon Knight before, right? Can you talk to him?”

“If I can find him.” Dick shrugs. Jason’s been looking and hasn’t managed it yet, as far as he knows, and Jason’s got a lot more contacts in Gotham than Dick does. “Maybe Babs can help me with that, even if she’s not helping Bruce.”

“Maybe.” Tim sounds doubtful, but he taps his fingers against his belt, frowning deeply. “Who are you going to call? J’onn?”

“He’s not back yet,” Dick says. “I left a message with Constantine, so unless he’s missing too he should get it in a few hours.”

Constantine?” Tim asks, incredulous. “Bruce almost dropped him thirty stories. He’s not going to help.”

“I'm the one asking, not Bruce. He likes me,” Dick counters, and pretends that he doesn’t know about all the times Constantine has checked out his ass. He’s not above using some of his assets to get his way.

“Oh my god, you ho,” Tim says, perfectly flat, and when Dick pulls a face at him he snorts. “You know what? Fine. If you want to seduce the infamously morally grey warlock with ties to Hell into performing an exorcism on Bruce's new boyfriend, who am I to say anything?”

“I'm not seducing anyone to do anything!” Dick protests, and Tim rolls his eyes at him, then turns away.

“I’m going to run down all of the info I can find on Grant. If I find anything, I’ll let you know. Is someone keeping an eye on him?”

“Cass,” Dick confirms, and a line in Tim’s shoulders eases. Cass is brilliant at what she does, and she wont let Bruce be hurt. He waves a hand, accepting that, and then disappears back into the garden. A moment later Dick hears the faint thump of him scaling the wall, and lets out a long sigh. That went both better and worse than he was anticipating, but at least Tim's on board now.

Deliberately, he sinks down on the edge of the pool with the evil mermaid, looking at the grass. It’s…a lot of blood. Too much blood loss for anyone to have survived, there’s absolutely no question of that. So either Steven died and came back, or things that kill normal people don’t kill him.

Dick isn’t sure which answer he likes least, but they both seem entirely too dangerous. Almost as dangerous, potentially, as telling Bruce that his new boyfriend is a possessed immortal who got shot in the head three days ago.

“Shit,” Dick mutters, and scrubs his hands over his face. This is not going to be a fun time.

 

 

Steven falls asleep halfway through the third chapter of his book. It’s Marc who wakes up, sore and aching, which is probably explanation enough as to why. Steven's not a fan of pain, and this is a good amount of it.

For a moment Marc just lies there, staring at the pale blue of the wall and trying to shut his dreams away. Images of Bushman with his face carved off are too close, and for once he knows they're not Khonshu's fault. This was Raoul in Sudan, the village, the women screaming as their husbands were executed. This was Raoul turning at Marc's warning shout as Marlene’s father tried to kill him, and his skinned face grinning back at Marc in thanks for the save.

This is Marc's own subconscious, all the way through.

Gritting his teeth, Marc hauls himself out of bed to check the dressing. It looks fine, if more healed than it should, but Marc's not about to protest. The faster they can get out of here, the better.

He feels restless, unsettled. There’s an itch underneath his skin that won't let him sit still, and he circles the room once, then again. Twitchy, that’s how he is right now. The walls are too close and the ceiling is too low and the color of everything is too close to the grey and white in his memories, and he can't stand it. Pretending to be Steven never works well, but Marc is tempted to duck out into the rest of the house and try it, if only for the distraction it would provide.

What he really wants is to put on the vestments and go out, into the city. Break a few heads, burn off some energy, knock out the teeth of a few mouthy idiots. See, up close, what kind of protectors Nightwing and his group are, because he’s only seen them during one rescue attempt so far, and there are more. A whole Avengers team, more or less, and Marc isn't sure whether he likes the idea or not. He’s worked with the Avengers, been an Avenger in several different forms, but—they were never fond of him. Or his brain. Maybe mostly his brain.

With a hiss of breath, Marc throws himself down on the floor in the corner of the room, curling forward and wrapping his arms around his knees. There’s a buzzing emptiness in his head, a biting, burning sense of I should be moving that he can't give in to. No amount of movement will be enough to satisfy it, after all. It will just get worse until he’s yelling at shadows and trying not to claw his own skin off.

Frank was good for moods like this. Frank always had a target, a hit. He’d point Marc in the right direction and let him go, then wade through and pull him out of the aftermath. Blood and hearts and bullet wounds, and Marc doesn’t want that but he does. Anything to stop feeling like this. Like his body is a foreign, separate thing that doesn’t fit.

Putting his head down on his knees, Marc tries to breathe. Tries to remember that this is his body, that what he’s feeling is all in his head. That he’s the one in control, and there’s nothing actually wrong, but—

It never works.

Khonshu doesn’t speak. He usually doesn’t, when Marc feels like this. It’s better, really; right now Marc is liable to see things that aren’t true, hear words that aren’t said. If Khonshu speaks to him, he might hear something else entirely, competing voices taking up space inside is head.

He counts breaths, tries to remember that they’re his own and not foreign, unsettling sounds in the bright room. Tries to ignore the too-loud rhythm of a heart that’s just slightly off. Closes his eyes, because there’s nothing else, and having them open just makes the drifting, itching feeling worse.

Somewhere, at some point, he thinks he feels a hand around the back of his head, a light touch of bony fingers that burns like moonlight. “You are strong, my son,” Khonshu murmurs, or maybe he doesn’t, and it’s all in Marc's head.

There’s too much in his head, sometimes.

 

 

The creep of the shadows across the floor just touches Marc's toes. He’s been watching it move for a while, morning light replaced with the warmer brightness of afternoon. Hours, and passing time eases the edges, settles him back in his own skin in a way nothing else manages. One breath in, one breath out, and Marc slumps back against the wall, still a little shaky, still a little wary of whatever is inside his own brain.

Steven and Jake are silent. Marc knows they’re there, fractured pieces but together to make a whole, but for the moment he’s as alone in his head as he ever gets, and he’s not entirely sure he likes it.

“You said,” he tells the empty room, the god who’s never more than one step to the left of him, “that you could look at everyone. See them. Can you?”

His voice sounds hoarse, too rough. Like he was screaming, maybe, but he hasn’t made a sound in hours. At least, he doesn’t think he has. Exhaustion weighs at him like a blanket of stone draped over every limb, but through the tiredness the logic is still reachable. Someone would have heard and stopped him if he had been making noise.

Of course, my son,” Khonshu says, lounging like a giant bird of prey in the armchair by the window. He’s all long lines and sharp edges, too vivid and alien in the light. Khonshu needs darkness to soften him. “All of the residents of that universe? Or would you prefer only a select handful?”

“Diatrice,” Marc says, and is a little surprised to hear the name. He hadn’t had any sort of plan, but—it feels right. “How is Diatrice?”

Khonshu turns his skeletal head, and there’s abruptly a sense of distance, of more time contained in each second than it should reasonably hold. He pauses for a long moment, and then says, “Jean-Paul is with her. He brought her a book, and he’s telling her how to throw a punch. A boy’s been mean to her at school.

“Hah,” Marc mutters, scrubbing his hands over his face. “That’s the last mistake he’ll ever make.”

He wonders, a little, what it would be like to know her. To have a daughter in every way. Wonders if Marlene knows to keep an eye on her; some mental illnesses tend to run in families. Marc's never been sure if he’s the first in his line or if it’s a recurring problem, since his father was the only one of his immediate family to escape Czechoslovakia, and he could never find any other survivors.

Marlene is clever, though. She’ll watch Diatrice, and Jean-Paul has been with Marc through all of his worst moments; he knows the signs. There are better treatments now, and more research, and better survival rates. Even if Diatrice is like him, she’ll have better options than Marc ever picked for himself.

“Frenchie?” he asks, and the name cracks halfway through. “Is he still walking?”

With a cane,” Khonshu confirms. “But he’s walking. Rob is there with him.

Marc is glad. Jean-Paul and Rob deserve all the happiness they can get, and Marc's never wanted to intrude on that. It ached, for a while, knowing Jean-Paul had loved him once and Marc just hadn’t noticed, but—he doesn’t, usually. Things like that don’t really make sense, and he needs them spelled out for him. Marlene was the one to approach him first, between them. Otherwise he likely wouldn’t have noticed that, either.

“Good,” he says, and runs a hand through his hair, breathing out. Wonders, for a moment, what Marlene is doing, but—he lost the right to ask a long time ago. Even if Jake dragged them back into things, even if he went behind Marc and Steven’s backs and fathered Diatrice, Marc isn’t Jake. Marc made a decision when he let Marlene leave. Her life doesn’t include him anymore.

“Is Marlene happy?” he asks, because he needs to know that much. Can’t have the details, but—this is like passing her on the street and seeing her face. It’s not an invasion of her privacy to know this much.

This time, the silence stretches even longer. Khonshu is watching him, a weight, a warning. “Yes,” he finally says, and chuckles, dry bones shaken in an empty vessel. “She grieved, and she moved on. She’s happy now.”

That’s more than enough.

Before Marc can ask anything else, there’s a knock at the door, about halfway down. Not Alfred, Marc thinks, eyeing it, but he sighs and says, “Come in.”

There’s a second of silence, and then the door swings open. Damian leans through the gap, looking suspicious, and a moment later Titus shoves his head under Damian’s arm to look in as well. Marc watches Damian do a sweep of the room, eyes narrowed, and raises a brow as that gaze finally lands on him.

“There is no one else in here,” Damian says suspiciously. “Who were you speaking to, Grant?”

“It was a prayer,” Marc says, which is more or less the truth. He usually prays with his fists, because Khonshu is a bloody god regardless of what aspect he’s in, but speaking to him probably counts, too.

Damian frowns, but he slips into the room, Titus at his heels. The dog immediately pushes past him and comes to shove his head in Marc’s chest, tail wagging. He licks Marc’s cheek, one wet swipe, and practically knocks him over as he tries to push underneath his hand.

“Titus!” Damian sounds deeply offended. “Titus, don’t be rude!”

“It’s fine,” Marc says, steadying himself. He scratches lightly behind one of Titus’s ears, and smiles a little when the big dog lets out a happy whuff of breath. “I don’t mind dogs.”

With a scoff, Damian hobbles across the room, hauling himself up into the armchair, and Khonshu’s image fades like moon-shadow as he does. “Titus is the best dog,” he says imperiously, but his gaze is on Marc and doesn’t waver, too sharp for a kid his age. “You are Jewish, Grant?”

“Yes,” Marc says. “But the Jewish god isn’t my god.”

Damian tips his head, eyes narrowing. “Then what god were you praying to?” he asks.

“The god who pays far too much attention to my life,” Marc says dryly, and when Damian scowls and opens his mouth, he adds, “It doesn’t matter, does it?”

“I suppose not,” Damian allows, grudging. He leans his crutches against the wall, and then says abruptly, “You were in Sudan. Why?”

Marc hesitates, looking down at Titus. Wonders what to say, but…the truth is a good alternative. “I was working for someone,” he says, and tries not to look into the other corner of the room. He sees Bushman far too often, especially on days like today. “And I had a friend who was an archeologist, just over the Egyptian border.” No need to say that she didn’t become a friend until after Marc got her father killed, after he’d saved her from Raoul. But— “She was excavating an old tomb there.”

Damian's eyes narrow, and on anyone else it might be annoyance, but Marc is fairly sure it’s actually excitement. “A tomb?” he demands. “From what dynasty? How far from the border?”

“Fifth,” Marc says, mildly impressed. Are thirteen-year-olds supposed to ask questions like that? Maybe they are. Maybe it’s a private school thing. Damian probably goes to private school. “And…less than ten miles.” It felt like an eternity, wandering the stretch of desert half-dead from Bushman’s beating, only vaguely able to keep dragging his feet towards…somewhere.

There’s no saying whether he felt a pull or if it was sheer chance that had him staggering into the old temple and its tomb, landing at Khonshu's feet. No saying if it was a destined thing, because Khonshu is the god of time; Marc's memories of him from childhood could be Khonshu touching multiple moments in time the way he sometimes does. Of course, the Khonshu from then could also be a hallucination, a false memory. Marc's never asked Khonshu. He isn't sure he wants to know the answer.

“That was the 25th century, yes?” Damian says, frowning. “Was it a royal tomb?”

“A priest’s,” Marc corrects, and the word wants to catch in his throat. With the temple beyond it, and the presence of Khonshu's statue, he’s always thought it must have been one of the Moon Knights buried there. A priest of Khonshu, passing on the mantle, and the idea is bittersweet but…not entirely unpleasant, maybe.

Damian cocks his head. “Better,” he decides, wrinkling his nose. “I am not fond of people who want to be kings.”

Living in Gotham, he’s probably seen a few, Marc thinks wryly. He still remembers the Joker’s words when Marc met him, I'm the only god Gotham needs, and—he can't imagine other villains are any more restrained. The Avengers certainly dealt with enough madmen who wanted to rule the world to make Marc suspect they're a common breed.

“Yeah,” he says wryly, and tips his head back against the wall, closing his eyes again. He’s tired. “Me neither.”

“You will tell me about this tomb, Grant,” Damian orders, but when Marc cracks an eye open, he’s sliding off the chair, grabbing his crutches. “But later. I will be waiting.”

Marc snorts before he can help it, because Damian has almost the same sort of attitude that Diatrice did, and it’s…something. Nostalgic? Amusing? He isn't sure. “Waiting?” he asks.

“For you to finish sleeping,” Damian tells him, as though it should be obvious. “I will tell Pennyworth to hold your dinner for later.”

He doesn’t wait for a response, just clumps towards the door, and Titus scrambles to follow. Marc watches him go, not entirely sure what to think of that declaration, but not about to contest it when Damian looks so set.

Beyond him, in the hall, he thinks he sees a small shadow move, but right now there’s every chance it isn't real, so he forces himself to his feet and ignores it, staggering back to the bed and collapsing face-down on the mattress. He sighs into the bedding, long and slow, and closes his eyes. Sleep isn't a cure-all, but any means, but—

He can't be Moon Knight tonight. Not on the tail end of an episode where it’s hard to even remember who Marc Spector is. It’s so easy to be Moon Knight when he’s in the vestments, when he’s moving and fighting and never having to think about more than the immediate. If he tries to be Moon Knight right now, he thinks he might forget Marc Spector entirely.

 

 

Deliberately, decisively, Damian closes Grant’s door, then turns, scanning the empty hall with narrow eyes. “I don’t need to see you to know where you are,” he says derisively. “And I am fully aware of what you are doing.”

There's a long moment, when he thinks he’s going to be ignored and starts to bristle. Then, just as he’s about to start yelling, Cain shifts out from behind a potted plant. She frowns at him, chiding, and Damian scoffs and crosses his arms over his chest.

“If he is a danger, it’s not to me,” he says contemptuously. “And I had Titus with me, even if he was. Which he’s not.”

Cain shakes her head, clearly giving up on arguing with him, and Damian makes a rude sound in the back of his throat. He hops past her, Titus following, and says pointedly, “I am fine, Cain.”

She doesn’t look convinced, but she rolls her eyes at him and lets him go, vanishing into her own bedroom as Damian reaches the top of the stairs. The door closes silently, and Damian pauses where he is, regarding it with a narrow stare. That’s something, clearly. Something that needs watching.

Grant is likely some sort of dangerous. Men don’t have scars like his without being so. But Damian is not convinced that he is a danger to them, even if he does act very differently around Bruce than he does Damian.

He doesn’t treat Damian like a useless, idiotic child, though, and for that, well. Maybe Damian is slightly more willing to put up with his father’s new beau than normal. It would be a tragedy if Cain and the others run him off before Damian can pick his brain about Egypt, after all.

Chapter Text

“Add one more to whatever tally you're running, Spooky. I just found another.”

Bruce glances up. Leaning in the doorway, Hal gives him a grim smile, dressed in his flight suit instead of his uniform and looking tired. Despite how insufferable he can be, Bruce feels a flicker of sympathy; he went home to play Bruce Wayne and sleep, but clearly no one yelled at Hal to do as much.

“Where?” he asks, already pulling up the program he’s cobbled together for tracking their coma patients.

“Crucible City,” Hal says, and a moment later he leans over Bruce's shoulder, pointing to the spot. “Here. She’s being transferred to the local hospital. Homeless. A guy named Mitch Shelley found her and brought her in.”

Bruce frowns, but it’s been a long time since he last saw the Resurrection Man, and he doesn’t have his contact info handy. This sort of thing isn't Shelley’s speed, anyway.

“See if you can get a number for him,” he says curtly. “If he knows the homeless population, that might help us get some accurate numbers.”

“Ollie’s already working on it.” Hal’s smile is crooked and exhausted. “Not all of us clocked out last night, Spooky. I’ve done enough cross-country trips for today.”

Bruce restrains the urge to roll his eyes. “I was checking Gotham,” he says flatly.

It makes Hal frown, but it’s thoughtful instead of angry, and he leans in, squinting at the screen. Silently, Bruce switches to the map, and Hal mutters a curse.

“Exactly,” Bruce says, and maybe it’s a little wry. “Thirty cases, with yours.”

Hal grimaces, but straightens. “Weird that it’s only hitting cities,” he says, and glances at Bruce, raising a brow. “And weird that there isn't even one case in Gotham when Metropolis has seven.”

Bruce keeps his mouth shut, staring at the map. It’s probably wrong of him to be glad his city was spared, but—Gotham has enough problems. “Star City only has two,” he points out, and makes his tone a warning. “Whatever you’re implying, Jordan—”

“Just on observation,” Hal retorts. “Unless you’ve got something to say—”

“I do,” Diana says dryly, and a moment later she pushes between them, apparently unconcerned. “These victims fell at noon as well. None of them have connections to each other from what Barry and I can find, but Kal is going to take readings back to the Fortress to see if we’re missing anything.”

Kryptonian technology will probably help, Bruce allows, and cedes the computer to Diana. “The increase is concerning,” he says as she takes is seat. “Twenty new cases and we don’t even know if we’ve found all of them yet.”

“I think we have,” Hal says, and it’s almost a challenge. When Bruce eyes him skeptically, he folds his arms across his chest and says, “It was ten yesterday, right? And it increased by that same amount today. I guess by tomorrow we’ll be able to tell if it’s doubling or just adding another ten to the tally.”

Bruce has been considering that, too. Adding ten is bad enough, but if it’s an exponential increase, they're looking at more than ten thousand victims within the first ten days, and he doesn’t like that at all.

“We’re looking for the source,” Diana says, and it’s calm, steady. “If there’s a common factor, we’ll find it.”

“I'm going to fly out to Doctor Fate’s tower, see if he’s in,” Hal says abruptly. “I just came back to recharge my ring. I figure if he doesn’t answer in person, he’s busy, but just in case he’s ignoring calls…”

He’s not you, Jordan, Bruce almost says, but that’s childish. And besides, Hal’s problems all stem from the fact that he’s too dutiful—he spends more time in space than any of the other Earth-based Lanterns, and Bruce knows his personal life has suffered for it.

“Good,” he says instead. “Get some sleep, too.”

Hal waves that off. “I need to call Ollie and Dinah, check in. I’ll sleep after that.”

“You’re useless if you lose consciousness,” Bruce warns him. “Even you can't hold a construct while you're out.”

Hal snorts. “Aw, Spooky, if I didn’t know better I’d think you cared,” he drawls, but leaves with a nod to Diana and a hiss of the door.

“I doubt very highly that this pattern is going to change,” Diana says into the silence that follows his retreat.

Bruce doesn’t let himself sigh, but he inclines his head. “We didn’t pick up any energy signatures when it happened,” he says, “and I was looking.”

“A mystery,” Diana says, wry, and eyes him briefly. “J’onn will be back by the end of the week. If nothing else he might be able to enter their minds and tell us what holds them captive.”

“I have nothing against J’onn,” Bruce says flatly, “but I’d like it if we didn’t need his help by then.”

“As would I.” Diana leans back from the computer, watching the file transfer, and then breathes out. “I would very much like to know why Gotham has been spared,” she says thoughtfully. “Most other major cities have at least one victim at this point.”

Bruce doesn’t say that they’ll have to wait and see if it’s a trend. He’d rather they didn’t, and fixed the problem. “Too many bad things in the city already?” he asks dryly.

Diana hums, sounding unconvinced. “You asked me about Khonshu,” she says instead, and Bruce raises a brow at the abrupt change of subject, but inclines his head. “My sisters who joined Themysicra from Bana-Mighdal said that Khonshu was killed eons ago, in battle. In their grief, his sister Hathor and his mother Mut took up his spear and his scepter and braved the power of the god who slew him, casting him down into darkness forever. They were too late to resurrect Khonshu, though—his soul had fled, and even Sekhmet could not find where he had gone.”

“Apparently he’s come back,” Bruce says after a moment. “Thank you.”

Diana smiles at him, a little tired. “I wish I could offer you more tales of him, but my sisters have very few. From what I have heard, though, he was a complicated god.”

Bruce isn't very fond of complicated. Especially not where Gotham is concerned. He grimaces, feels the light, comforting brush of Diana's hand on his elbow, but pulls away.

“Call if you need me,” he says, because there’s nothing left to be done here. All patient records have been searched, Clark is using the computer at the Fortress of Solitude, and until noon tomorrow they won't be able to know if Bruce's recalibrated scanners will pick up anything. Sitting around the Watchtower picking at details is only going to drive him insane, and there’s a whole city full of crime he needs to rein in.

“We will,” Diana promises, and Bruce can still feel her gaze on his back as the door slides shut behind him.

Out in the silent hall, Bruce pauses. Rubs a hand over his eyes, just briefly, but—

A dead god, soul hidden away. What would it take to bring something like that back to life, back into being? Bruce can't imagine the belief of one man would be enough. Maybe that’s the reason Moon Knight is operating in Gotham, gathering followers, building a cult, but…Moon Knight was already doing inexplicable things before anyone knew his name. Feats of strength, an ability to find the lost, an awareness of crime happening that could surpass Barbara's systems. Bruce has no idea what are involved in the mechanics of a god granting power to a follower, but surely a dead god couldn’t do that much.

If Khonshu was killed, it’s likely any worship of him died away as well. Centuries without any followers, and suddenly he has a knight, a Fist. Moon Knight talks like he knows his god, has seen him and spoken to him. Maybe he’s just a lone madman, but—

The cure at the museum. A steel door ripped completely off its hinges. And Dick said he knew exactly where to find Bruce when the kidnappers took him, like he was being led straight there.

Heroes being chosen by gods to do their work isn't usual. Diana is proof enough of that. But a murdered god managing it isn't within Bruce's frame of reference, and he doesn’t like it.

He doesn’t like it at all.

 

 

My son,” Khonshu hisses. “My knight, get up. Get up and fight. Bring me hearts. I starve, my son.”

“Ugh,” Marc says into his pillow, and manages to pry one eye open. There’s a shadow over him, and Khonshu in all his godly glory, glowing armor and staff topped with the sapphire crescent. He seems…big. Like he’s brushing the ceiling, even though he normally keeps himself to a more human size.

My son,” Khonshu repeats, and his voice is force and form, scraping Marc's bones. “Up.”

“Fuck you,” Marc groans, and drags the pillow over his head. “Fuck you with a cactus. Go the hell away.”

There's a long, long moment of silence, even though Marc knows Khonshu is still there, still looming. “Marc,” he finally says, and it’s a tone that makes Marc freeze, mouth halfway open to curse Khonshu again. Bony fingers brush his side, settle over the gunshot wound, and in an instant it’s gone, all the pain fading. Khonshu waits another moment, and then says, “My son, I know that you fought battles today. There is another that rises, though, and I require hearts to fight it. Bring them to me.

That’s not Khonshu being the divine equivalent of bratty. It’s a deadly serious tone, sharp like knives in the darkness. Marc shoves the pillow aside and sits up, tugging his shirt up. When he strips off the dressing, there’s nothing but smooth skin underneath.

When Marc looks up, Khonshu is still watching him, heavy, focused, but there’s an edge to it. Starving, Marc thinks, and swallows.

“I thought you said the Joker’s heart would last you months,” he says.

I did not account for outside forces,” Khonshu says, and it’s the closest thing to grim Marc's ever heard from him. “A tide threatens, and I will do my best to hold it back.

But without hearts, without belief, he won't be strong enough. Marc slides out of bed, staggers a step, and heads for the suitcase he packed. The false bottom comes away, and he drags his vestments out, then hesitates. The city is too far away to get to with his glider, and hitchhiking isn't something he wants to do dressed like Moon Knight.

With a strangled sigh, he digs through his bag until he comes up with the comm Barbara gave him, then shoves it into his ear and taps it twice to turn it on. “Oracle,” he says.

There's a long pause, then a faint click. “Moon Knight,” Barbara returns, sounding surprised. “What do you need?”

There's a sound behind her, like a hiss, and another voice demanding something Marc can't quite catch. Clearly Oracle isn't alone, and just as clearly she doesn’t mind other people knowing she’s working with him. Marc is a little amused, but he pushes it down, glances at Khonshu, and says, “I need a way into the city. It’s important.”

A moment of silence comes, and then a breath. “All right,” Barbara says. “How do you feel about riding bitch?”

Marc raises a brow, but doesn’t comment. “Fine,” he says. “I can wait at the closest intersection.”

“One mile down it, if you can get that far,” Barbara says, and then, more distantly, “Huntress, it’s just outside the city, past the first toll lane. Over the bridge and take a right—”

“I know where the toll lane ends,” a woman says, voice fading. There's a murmur, then Barbara's muffled voice, and a moment later she comes back more clearly.

“Your ride is on the way,” she says, dry. “Faster than a car service, even. Do you need a way out of the mansion?”

Marc considers the window, then his vestments. “Any idea how many people are home?” he asks.

“Alfred's in the kitchen, and Damian is supposed to be in his room,” Barbara says. “Otherwise the mansion’s empty. You should be fine.” There’s a pause, and then she says slowly, “You say that like—”

Marc snorts. “If Nightwing wants to keep who he is a secret, he should wear a real mask.”

Barbara laughs, quick and warm. “Most people don’t realize,” she says. “Then again, I'm pretty sure most people aren’t looking at his face when he’s in costume.”

Marc grunts, unimpressed, and starts pulling on his uniform. “Spandex,” he mutters, and hears Barbara's chuckle over the comm.

“It’s the industry standard,” she retorts. “Well, for some of us.”

The fact that Spider-Man survived as long as he did without any armor to speak of always ticked Marc off more than a little. Nightwing's costume doesn’t make him all that much happier. “Idiots,” he mutters, and pulls his mask on, then flips his hood up. He’s running a little low on crescent darts, but he has his truncheon, and that will have to be enough.

Khonshu is still standing by the bed, a looming figure that looks carved from stone, like a statue come to life. Marc meets his eyes for a long moment, then reaches up and press the side of his curled fist to the crescent moon on his mask.

“Khonshu,” he murmurs.

My son,” Khonshu returns, and is gone, nothing but a patch of moonlight on the floor remaining.

The darkness is good enough cover, Marc thinks, and slides the window open. He’s only on the second story, but there’s a decent breeze, and he leaps high, snaps his cloak out into a glider as he falls, and lets the wind lift him up and over the thick line of trees edging the property. There’s a natural hill, and Marc uses it to get as much distance as he can before he has to land, hitting the asphalt of the highway and rolling, then rising to his feet. It’s quiet, only one car approaching, and he steps to one side to let it, narrowing his eyes as he scans the road.

“She’ll be a few minutes,” Barbara says in his ear. “Start walking towards the city and she’ll find you.”

Marc makes a sound of acknowledgment. Waiting on other people is aggravating, but Barbara's contacts can only finish building gear so fast, and his motorcycle is going to take even longer. “Thanks for sending her,” he says instead.

Barbara doesn’t answer for a moment. “You’re in a hurry,” she says finally.

Marc considers what to say. Barbara didn’t have a problem with him killing the Joker, and he’s told her Khonshu eats hearts, but knowing he’s going out looking for them is something else entirely. Nightwing and Batgirl didn’t like him killing, and he’s getting the feeling that’s a common sentiment.

“Khonshu feels something happening,” he says. “He sent me.”

He expects, maybe, a touch of disbelief. Light incredulity, even, but Barbara's voice is steady when she says, “I’ll start looking. Anything specific I should be searching for?”

Marc pauses, not entirely sure what to do with that. After a second, he offers, “He said it was rising. That he’d keep back the tide.”

“Helpful,” Barbara mutters.

Marc just snorts. “I'm his priest, not his decoder ring,” he says. “He’s cryptic to me sometimes, too.”

That, at least, makes Barbara laugh. “From what I've heard, that’s just how gods talk,” she says.

It takes a second for the meaning of the words to register, and—even in a world where Marc was on a team with a goddess and Thor walked the earth, where Bast picked kings and Hummingbird was the reincarnation of the Aztec god of war, no one spoke of them that casually.

“There are other gods here?” he asks, and it’s quiet in the darkness. “That speak to people directly?”

“Of course,” Barbara answers, like it should be self-evident. “The Amazons still keep mostly to themselves, but they have a direct link to the Olympians. And there are several heroes who are the children of gods.”

Something to look into, Marc decides, and glances up, to where the waning moon is rising above Gotham. Wayne Manor isn't all that far outside the edge of the city; the bridge is ahead of him, small from this distance but still clear, and he breathes out. Tries to feel, even far away, what has Khonshu on edge, but all he can sense is the normal chaos of the city, tangled and dark. There’s work to do, but—there always seems to be work to do in Gotham.

He’s a little under halfway to the toll road when the sound of a motorcycle reaches his ears. A few have passed so far, but the night road in this direction is quiet, mostly empty, and he pauses, waiting. A moment later it crests the hill, and as its light washes over him it pulls a sharp U-turn in the road and glides to a stop beside him.

“Hey, stranger,” the woman says, flipping the visor of her helmet up. “I don’t normally pick up hitchhikers, but you look like you could use a ride.”

Another domino mask, Marc thinks, unimpressed. It’s a nice bike, though. “You're Huntress?” he asks.

She offers him a hand. “That’s me. Moon Knight, right? You’re the one who’s been running Batman in circles.”

Marc takes it, glancing at the crossbow holstered by her leg. “Not on purpose,” he says.

Huntress laughs. “That almost makes it better,” she says, amused, and leans back to unstrap the helmet behind her. Shoving it into his hands, she says, “Here, put that on. Where am I taking you?”

“Anywhere in the city,” Marc says, and pulls down his hood, fitting the helmet carefully over his mask. Swinging on behind her, he settles in carefully, and says, “I need to find a big group of assholes who deserve me.”

For a second, Huntress is silent, and then she glances back at him. “Yeah?” she asks. “How do you feel about organized crime?”

“They make for good target practice,” Marc says flatly.

“Oh, wow.” Huntress grins, all teeth and terror, and snaps her visor down. “You and me? I think we’re going to get along great, Moon Knight.”

“There’s a mafia in Gotham?” Marc asks over the growl of the engine as she starts it.

“Several branches,” Huntress confirms, and as soon as she comes off the curb she opens the throttle. “I've been watching a couple, but I know where they like to meet. Up for it?”

“Just point me in the right direction,” Marc agrees, and Huntress laughs.

“That I can do,” she agrees. “Oracle, how about changing some street lights for me? There’s some business going down in the Narrows right now. Breaking a few traffic laws should get us there in plenty of time.”

“Want me to send anyone as backup?” Barbara asks. “I linked your comms, but I can add someone else in if you want.”

“No,” Marc says before Huntress can answer. “We can handle it.” This is for Khonshu, after all. More people will just muddy the waters.

“What he said,” Huntress agrees. “Oracle, I sent you that file with the names of a couple of Black Mask’s hitmen. Any chance you can run them down for me? We might as well make a clean sweep of it.”

“Black Mask is involved?” Barbara asks, concerned. “I can get the Question or Lady Blackhawk—”

“No,” Huntress says firmly. “They're mine, Oracle.” There's a pause, and then she adds with a touch of amusement, “Or ours this time, I guess.”

Barbara sighs. “All right, but call if you get in over your heads,” she orders. “Moon Knight, you're healed enough for this?”

“Khonshu took care of it,” Marc says. It’s mildly surprising that she remembered that much, honestly.

“All right. I'm sending you coordinates, Huntress. The cameras around the bar are all out, even the street cameras. You're going in blind.”

“There are too many mob cops in this city,” Huntress mutters, and as soon as they cross the bridge into the downtown she makes a sharp left turn, then picks up speed. “Those lights?”

“You're clear all the way up,” Barbara promises. “Be careful.”

“Never,” Huntress says, at the same time as Marc mutters, “Why bother.”

“I'm starting to regret letting you two meet,” Barbara says, but she sounds like she’s laughing anyway.

 

 

“I hope you don’t mind going in through the front door,” Huntress says, and her smile is a dark thing in the shadows. “I can be subtle, but it’s more fun if they see me coming.”

Marc can't help but snort. “That’s what the white is for,” he says, and Huntress laughs.

“Perfect,” she says, and tightens the strap holding her quiver to her leg. “It’s one block down. The unmarked building with the goon outside.”

Marc inclines his head, but when he hears a loud engine approaching he steps back, deeper into the shadows. Eyes narrowing, Huntress ducks back as well, and they both stand silently as a semi truck makes a slow, careful turn at the end of the street. It passes them, rounding the next corner as well, and from the sound it doesn’t go far. Stays, idling, and Marc frowns, trading glances with Huntress.

“A little late for a delivery,” he says.

Huntress frowns. “That’s a big truck for this area, too,” she agrees. “Ten bucks says it’s bad news.”

“A bad pizza says it’s mob business,” Marc retorts, and Huntress snorts.

“Loser buys?” she suggests, and nocks an arrow.

“Either we’re both right or we’re both wrong with that bet.”

“Consolation pizza,” Huntress offers, amused. “We split the bill either way. Like a really bad date.”

Marc huffs a laugh. “You never take me anywhere nice,” he says.

“My company should be enough consolation,” she retorts, and Marc follows the sweep of her cape down the street. “Really, there's no romance in this relationship. No spice. You didn’t even bring me flowers.”

“I thought it was your turn to bring the roses.” Marc eyes the guard, the wire he’s wearing, and shoots a grapple up to the top of the closest building. Scales it, swings out, and lets go, just as Huntress puts her fingers to her lips and lets out an ear-splitting whistle. The guard jerks around, and Marc comes down on top of him, feet-first with his truncheon swinging. There’s a cut-off cry, and they hit the ground with a crunch.

“I brought you mobsters,” Huntress says, and brings one boot up. “Give me some credit. I’ll get you roses next time.”

“Promises, promises.” Marc flips his hood up, and she kicks the door open with a loud crash. Instantly, there's a shout, and Huntress dives left through the doorway. Marc goes right, and a spray of bullets almost clips the end of his cloak. He hits the ground, rolls under a table, and comes up with a chair in hand, breaking it across the closest man’s face. He goes down, and Marc leaps over him, crashes feet-first into another, and grabs a third as he falls, slamming him down into the floor. Dark, bloodstained, his soul, and Marc breaks his neck, rises with a crescent dart in hand, and flings it into the throat of a man coming up behind Huntress.

“You sound like you don’t believe me,” Huntress says, flipping a knife out of her boot. She tosses it across the room, spins and fires, and Marc leaps her, lands on the bar, and slams a man’s head down into the wood.

“Are you telling me you remember anniversaries?” he asks, and drops under another gunshot, hauling himself up and kicking a mobster in the stomach. Stabs him, crescent dart driving deep, and turns—

Runs, face-first, into the chest of a huge man, looming over him.

“Shit,” Marc says, eyeing him with disbelief, and Huntress laughs.

“On your left!” she calls, and Marc ducks the huge bastard’s snatch at his head, twists left, and grabs the knife she tosses him out of the air. At the same moment there’s a sharp jerk on his cloak, and Marc yelps as he’s lifted clear off his feet, hauled up until he’s face-to-face with the mobster.

“Hey, Tiny,” the man says. “Wrong bar.”

Marc doesn’t answer, just stabs. With a shout, the man drops him, recoiling with his hand nearly severed, and Marc lands, slams his shoulder into the man’s knee so hard there’s an audible crack, and sends him spilling down. Shoves a dart into his chest, rises, and slams a gunman’s arm wide as he goes to shoot. He grabs the gunman by the collar, hauls him up, and flings him into the wall of bottles behind the bar.

“Black Mask isn't here,” Huntress says, and slams the last man’s head into a table, then lets him drop. She steps over a body sporting several arrows, then scans the bar with a frown. “There are upper rooms, but I didn’t see anyone take the stairs.”

Marc grunts, shaking broken glass off his armor. “There aren’t enough people for a big meeting,” he says. “Not in here.”

Huntress eyes him, then the door leading towards the back. “Whatever’s happening tonight has been on the books for weeks. It’s not small,” she says. “The truck?”

“The truck,” Marc agrees, and looks around the bar one last time. Huntress works like the Punisher. It’s oddly comforting. “Batman lets you work in Gotham like this?”

Huntress’s smile is bitter and full of dagger edges. “These are my father’s men. Batman doesn’t like it, but that’s not going to stop me.”

Definitely like the Punisher, Marc thinks. Driven. Or maybe haunted is a better word for them. It’s a sensation Marc isn't unfamiliar with.

“Dibs on anyone?” he asks, and shoves open the door behind the bar. It leads into a narrow stockroom, then a breakroom, and the rearmost door is unlocked. Marc can hear voices from beyond it, several of them, and he glances at Huntress, raising a brow. She smiles thinly, bringing up her crossbow, and—

My son,” Khonshu says, and Marc turns to find the god on his throne in the shadows, too big for the small space, vivid as moonlight in the darkness. “Do you feel them? The lost souls beyond that door?

Marc pauses, frowning, and closes his eyes. And…now that he’s looking for it, he can. Lost souls, tightly grouped together until Marc can't tell how many there are, just outside the door. Off the ground, trapped somewhere dark, and they’ve been traveling.

“The truck,” he says, and raises his head. “It’s full of people, and it’s out here.”

Huntress’s mouth thins into a flat line. “Human trafficking?” she asks, and Marc shrugs.

“Maybe,” he says.

“We need to take out any guns first,” Huntress says grimly. “Depending on what caliber they're using, stray shots could go right through that thing.”

“Fast, then,” Marc mutters, and glances back. Khonshu is still watching him, fingers steepled in front of him, but he doesn’t offer anything else. He’s brighter than he seemed in the manor, though, and Marc wonders how many more hearts he’s going to need tonight.

Go, my knight,” he says, and Marc flips him off, shoves the door open, and flings a dart right into the gun-hand of a man in a skeletal black mask.

“Him,” Huntress says coldly, leveling her crossbow as the man recoils with a curse. “Black Mask is mine.”

“I get the rest, then,” Marc says, and she laughs, furious and sharp.

“Don’t be greedy,” she retorts.

“What the hell is this?” Black Mask demands. “Did you invite heroes to this little meet-up, Cassamento?”

“They must have followed you!” a man in a suit snarls. “You're the one who’s an enemy of all the heroes in the city—”

The grapple hits in him the face, and with a shriek of pain and fury and a spray of blood he goes down. Marc palms a crescent dart, and as twenty guns swing towards him, he smiles.

“Khonshu demands your hearts,” he says. “And I won't starve my god.”

“I think I like you,” Huntress tells him, and she’s grinning.

“I don’t hate you, either,” Marc tells her, and flings himself up. With a hard twist, he comes down in the center of the group, swings out with his truncheon. There are three gunmen behind the main knot of guards, and Marc doesn’t trust the camaraderie of mobsters enough to think that they won't fire right through the press while everyone else is too close. Lashing out, he kicks two men’s legs out from under them, grabs another, springs up using him as a vaulting horse, and crashes down into the first. The second gets one round off before Marc stabs him in the chest. Turns, truncheon up—

The last man is three paces farther back than he expects, gun already raised, and Marc wants to curse, moves to dive—

“Hah!” a voice—a young voice—cries, and a small shape in black and red tumbles off the top of the semi. He manages to kick the gunman in the face as he falls, twists, and lands heavily, slightly unsteady. Rises, and one leg is wrapped in what looks like a walking cast, green to match his boots. Less visible that way, less of an obvious target, Marc thinks, and grits his teeth. Slams an elbow back as someone grabs him, cracks two men’s heads together, and throws one of them into another as he takes a shot at the kid. The kid dodges, flinging himself under the truck, and Marc doesn’t wait for him to emerge, takes out the next gunman, punches another in the face. Huntress isn't in sight, but he can hear her cry out somewhere close by, probably on the other side of the truck. There's a rumble, a hiss, and like a looming shadow Khonshu rises, moonlight spilling over the area.

My knight,” he says, order enough, and Marc boots the last mobster out of the way and runs for the cab, where a man is trying to start the engine. He hauls himself up, wrenching the door open—

Just in time for the driver to come flying out with a cry, propelled by a hard kick. The vigilante boy lands on the ground, looking smug, and says, “Son of a dog, not in my city!”

Baghdadi Arabic. Marc closes his eyes, because that domino mask isn't doing anything to hide the kid’s face now that he’s standing still. Damian. That’s Damian, and for all that Marc has fought alongside the Young Avengers more than once, none of them are this young.

Don’t insult dogs like that,” he says pointedly, and Damian jerks around, eyes going wide behind his mask. Opens his mouth, then stops dead, staring at Marc with bewilderment clear on his face.

“I—Grant?” he demands.

Chapter Text

Telling Damian it’s complicated is probably a little too much for this sort of situation. Marc just doesn’t answer, and instead asks pointedly, “Don’t you have a broken leg?”

“It’s in a special cast,” Damian says haughtily. “My actions won't affect the healing.”

“Staying in bed would affect the healing less,” Marc counters.

Damian hisses in annoyance and levels a finger at him, deeply offended. “As if you are one to talk! You were shot!”

Marc rolls his eyes. “My god is a god of healing,” he says.

Instead of looking chagrined, Damian's expression takes on a calculating slant. “You worship Khonshu, yes?” he asks. “He demands hearts in return?”

There's a rolling, clicking chuckle, and Khonshu leans over Marc's shoulder, a bird-boned weight edged with the chill of that other dimension. “I think I like this one,” he says, delighted, and tips his head, considering.

Marc debates shoving him off, debates refusing. But Damian is still staring at him, eyes narrowed, out here in the middle of the night in costume with a broken leg, and—telling Khonshu not to bother is wrong.

“Why are you out here?” he asks quietly.

Damian huffs, crossing his arms over his chest. “A human trafficker entered Gotham earlier and Oracle sent the warning on,” he says. “I saw the alert, but no one else was available.”

“Funny that Oracle didn’t mention you needing help,” Huntress says, rounding the far edge of the truck. She looks displeased, and there’s a bruise blooming on the dark skin of her cheek. “Black Mask had an escape plan,” she says disgustedly, when she catches Marc's eye. Holstering her crossbow, she turns an expectant look on Damian and asks, “Does Batman know you're out here alone, Robin?”

Damian pointedly doesn’t answer. “This is the first time we have been able to follow part of this operation to its destination,” he says instead, pointed.

Clearly this isn't going to get them anywhere. Marc rolls his eyes, glances at Khonshu, and gets a low, pleased chuckle that drops into the air like stones into sand. “Go ahead, my son,” he says, almost gleeful. “Belief is belief, no matter the emotion that comes with it.

“You're an asshole,” Marc tells him, but when Khonshu lays his hand against his, he doesn’t pull away. The rush is easier to bear this time, a fraction of that lonely dimension cracking open in his head, one point of moonlight in a vast ocean of darkness, and he breathes through it, then crosses the two steps between himself and Damian and crouches down. “Hold still,” he says, and presses a hand to Damian's knee, right above where the cast ends.

There’s no difference in feeling, no waning. But Damian gasps and twitches and hops back, and this time when he puts weight on his leg it’s obvious that it was hurting before. The pain is gone now, and he stares down at it for a moment, then narrows his eyes and turns his gaze on Marc.

“You can heal?” he demands.

“Khonshu can, not me,” Marc corrects, and rises. Looks up at the truck, then over at Khonshu, and it feels as if the god is smiling, quick and hungry.

Hearts and believers both feed me, my son,” he says, and Marc breathes out.

“We need to get these people out,” he says instead of responding, and Huntress makes a noise of agreement.

“Oracle,” she says, and gives Damian a knowing look when he stiffens. “We’ve got a bunch of people either Black Mask or the Cassamento family were trying to sell here. Any options for them?”

Barbara sighs over the line, sounding faintly frazzled. “Tell Robin to turn on his comm,” she says, and then, “Probably girls they were looking to sell into sex work, or to a sweat shop. Check how they are, and I’ll try to arrange asylum for them. They probably need paramedics, but tell me if I need to send interpreters, too.”

“Will do.” Huntress checks the back of the truck, then grimaces. “It’s locked. I’ll see if Cassamento has keys—”

“No need,” Marc says, and steps past her to grip the lock. One hard wrench tears the metal completely, and he grimaces at the sting, dropping it to the ground. Deliberately, he raps his knuckles against the rear door in warning, then shoves it up.

Moonlight spills into the truck, a wash of silver, and in the darkness between the buildings Khonshu looms, a ghostly silver god in armor, hands raised. “Lost souls,” he says, and the darkness inside the contained is suddenly lighter, illuminated. “But travelers as well, now.” It’s stifling hot, and there’s a reek of too many bodies packed too tight, but—

Faces, in the growing light. Wide eyes, staring up, and Marc thinks that maybe he didn’t take nearly enough time with the assholes outside. They deserved a hell of a lot more pain.

“Are you all right?” he asks the closest girl, probably no more than fifteen, and she hesitates. Her eyes flicker from Marc to the bodies behind the truck and back again, and then, slowly, carefully, she nods. Shifts forward, reaches out, and Marc grips her hand. There’s a bruise around one eye, and he touches it, lets some of the heavy weight of Khonshu's power bleed off, and says, “Khonshu sees your path. You're a traveler beneath the moon, and he guards you.”

Her face twists, and she looks at Marc, at Huntress standing just outside the truck with Robin beside her. “Where are we?” she asks, each word careful. Not her first language, Marc thinks, but he can't place the accent.

“Gotham,” Marc says. “There are people coming, but they’ll help you.”

“They can't send us back,” the girl protests, and there are several whispers in the dark, afraid, hopeless.

“They won't,” Huntress says, and there’s a stubborn promise in the set of her mouth. “You don’t have to be afraid. You're safe now.”

The girl looks at Marc again, and he looks back, then raises his hand. The air shivers, ripples, and suddenly it’s so fresh it burns, and the girl catches her breath.

“Your power?” she asks Marc.

“My god,” Marc corrects. “Khonshu the Wanderer.” He lets go of her, and says, “If anyone is hurt, I can help.”

Her eyes are still a little wide, but she nods, turns, says something in a language Marc can't place. A moment later a slightly older woman is being pushed forward, another girl behind her, and Marc focuses on that and nothing else.

 

 

“A win for us, a big hit to mob business, and twenty terrified girls who hopefully end up somewhere better,” Huntress says, and lets out a breath, her expression wry. “I’d call that a good night.”

“I still didn’t get any roses,” Marc counters, and she laughs.

“I told you, next time. You owe me half a bad pizza and you don’t see me complaining.”

“What are you talking about?” Damian demands, wrinkling his nose. “Why would you choose to eat bad food?”

Marc snorts. “Because we just won,” he says, and Huntress snickers, offering him her fist. Marc eyes her skeptically for a moment, but when she waves it at him he sighs, reaches out, and taps their knuckles together.

Huntress grins like it’s a victory, then takes one more look at the police and paramedics and probably-important politician below, being hounded by an industrious news crew, and says, “Mayhem, violence, and a rescue—I think we’re done here.”

“It’s only mild mayhem,” Damian says with a sniff. “We could have done far worse. They should be grateful.”

“Hopefully the driver will talk,” Huntress mutters, watching as a pair of paramedics load him into the ambulance. There are more ambulances, and several body bags already laid out. “I wanted Black Mask back in Arkham, but I’d settle for his operation crashing down around his ears.”

Of course they put him in Arkham. Marc hides a grimace, but doesn’t say anything to that. Just stares down, watching the girl who speaks English translate for another girl, and breathes out.

The moonlight on him suddenly has weight, substance. Khonshu's fingers curl over his shoulders, and the god looms over his back, clean air and feathers and cold sand. “My knight, you’ve fed me well on hearts tonight. Will you grant me your mind?” he asks, and there's glee in his voice that Marc doesn’t trust at all.

“Since when have you asked” he retorts, and steps forward to the edge of the rooftop, putting space between them. Huntress slants him a startled look, but Marc shakes his head, ignoring Damian's suddenly narrowed, assessing gaze.

For a moment Khonshu is silent. Then, low and rattling, he laughs. “It’s a strain,” he says, like that’s any sort of explanation for why he’s asking.

Marc hisses out a breath, jerks around to face him, and there’s indignation sharp in his chest, maybe something like offense. Maybe something like anger, that after all this time, after so many abandonments when Khonshu turned his eyes away or let him fall just to watch him pull himself back up, Khonshu still doesn’t realize. Marc spent a decade serving a cold, cruel god with every breath, and this new Khonshu, one step to the side, still cold and cruel but in phases now with kindness in between—

“Since when,” Marc demands, “have you had to ask?”

Khonshu is too present in the moonlight. Too real. He makes everything else feel like images from a dream in comparison. There's only darkness for his eyes, the darkness of deep space and strange dimensions, and he reaches out, presses a fingertip to the crescent moon on Marc's mask.

My knight,” he says, and it’s the possessive curl Marc is used to, edged with dark delight and forged silver victory. He closes his eyes, bracing, and—

Somewhere else, far away, distant beyond terms of human understanding, an edge of moonlight slips through the cracked dimension. It falls like an arrow, and Marc has been a conduit from the moment Khonshu resurrected him. It burns through him, makes him stagger, and his foot slips but small hands grab him. There’s a cry, angry, but he can't hear it, can't care.

In the moonlight, in the darkness, in a thousand paths and places, Khonshu rises. Marc is the channel, the doorway, and Khonshu reaches through him, out into the mortal world for the first time in centuries. Like a shadow made of brilliance, he takes form over Gotham's skyline, a falcon’s wings sweeping out to cover the sky. Marc hears, distantly, how Huntress gasps, and the hands on him haven’t let go, but—

He can feel it. Whatever Khonshu is fighting, it’s beating at the edges of the city, fire eating away at the structure of it. They're surrounded on all sides, besieged, and Khonshu is keeping back the hungry, devouring light with his shadows, his kinder darkness. The power Marc gave him tonight bolsters the defenses, strengthens the walls, and Khonshu reaches out, burning hands, silver armor.

Belief. Marc feels it, a seed taking root, cracking the shell around it. In one instant belief starts to burn, Khonshu's shadow enveloping the city that already has started to have faith, and for the first time in his life Marc is entirely, wholly sure that he isn't the only one who sees his god.

Distantly, vaguely, Marc feels something wet on his face, smells copper. He wavers, and Khonshu raises his masked face, reaches. The battlements he’s built around the city burn, and Marc can feel reality twist, the edge of that distant dimension bleeding though. It slides through Marc's soul, out into existence, and he loses the battle to remain on his feet, stumbles and falls to one knee, and—

The waning moon above them is suddenly full, heavy and low and brilliant in the sky.

Khonshu's towering form shrinks. Fades, flickering out, and Marc can feel an exhaustion not his own crash into him. The full moon stays, the light is kept out, but Khonshu slips back into his dimension and settles out his throne, and the breath he lets out is long and slow.

Marc can feel the pressure easing, retreating. His head rings, and he grits his teeth, digs his fingers into his temples. When he looks up, he almost thinks he’s going to see the galaxies beyond Khonshu's dimension, but instead it’s normal darkness, stars distant and reduced to points of light.

“What,” Huntress says unsteadily, “the hell was that, Moon Knight?”

Marc's nose is bleeding. He grimaces, drags his mask up over the bridge of it, and tries to wipe it away as best he can. The white isn't exactly forgiving. “Khonshu,” he says, and Damian hisses in a breath through his teeth, sounding like he doesn’t know whether or not to be furious. Marc glances over at him, still hanging onto Marc's arm, and asks, “You saw him?”

“I think everyone in Gotham saw that,” Huntress says, disbelieving, but Marc's eyes are on Damian. After a moment, Damian meets his gaze, and he nods curtly.

Why is your god appearing?” he demands. “And what did he do to you?”

Carefully, Marc sinks down on the edge of the roof, bracing himself. “He’s guarding the city,” he says. “There's something that wants in, and he’s keeping it out.” Hesitates, because it’s never sounded good, but— “He’s in my head, so I just…let him come out.”

“Tt. Clearly it did not work well,” Damian says derisively, but he still has a hold on Marc's arm. “You almost walked off the edge of the building, Moon Knight.”

Marc glances up, at where the moon hangs low and full. “I think it did fine,” he says, and hears the catch in Huntress’s breath when she looks up as well.

“Moon god, right?” she asks carefully, and steps up behind him, fingers catching his chin to angle his head up towards her. “Are you bleeding anywhere else? Concussion?”

“Just strain.” Marc brushes her hand away, not trying to be rude. His nose has mostly stopped bleeding, though. “He’s the moon god, yeah.”

There's a moment of silence, and then Huntress lets out a wry breath. “Well, put me down as wrong,” she says, amused. “I guess there was still a little mayhem left to spread after all.”

Marc snorts before he can help himself, hears the huff of amusement from Damian. “I’m sure we could find even more if we tried,” he says.

Huntress laughs. “Think about Batman’s blood pressure,” she says. “He’s already going to stroke out at the thought of the three of us in the same block, never mind us working together.”

“Batman will live with it,” Damian says with a sniff. “He was the one who was not nearby to stop the traffickers.”

“Try telling him that,” Huntress mutters, and then grimaces. “Looks like we’ve been spotted, boys.”

On cue, there’s a shout. Marc looks down to find several cameras pointed in their direction, and echoes Huntress’s grimace. “Time to go,” he agrees, and when Huntress offers him a hand he lets her pull him up. He’s still a little unsteady, but it’s getting better.

“Robin, you brought your bike?” she asks.

“Of course.” Damian sounds miffed that she’d assume otherwise. “I do not need a ride from you—”

“Can you carry two?” Huntress asks, ignoring him. She’s used to the attitude, Marc assumes. It’s mildly amusing. “I need to run down Black Mask before he goes completely to ground, and I don’t think Moon Knight is up for another hunt tonight.”

“I’m right here,” Marc mutters, but he doesn’t protest. She’s most likely right. Khonshu doesn’t seem like he’s up for much after that display, either.

“It’s easy,” Damian retorts. “Come with me, Moon Knight. I am a better driver than her, anyway.”

Huntress rolls her eyes, but she offers Marc her hand again. “Any time you want to chase down some mobsters, let me know,” she says. “I’ve got a Christmas list I’m working on.”

“All naughty?” Marc asks, and she grins.

“You know it. Don’t let your god make you walk off any more buildings, even if he can fix you afterwards.”

“Call if you want company when you’re hunting,” Marc tells her. “Oracle knows how to reach me.”

“I’ll take you up on that.” Huntress winks at him, then heads for the stairwell of the building, waving over her shoulder.

Damian waits for the door to slam behind her before he tugs Marc forward, towards the far edge of the roof. “Over here,” he says, and grabs the grapple attached to the side, sliding down it easily. Marc just jumps, letting the flare of his cloak slow his fall until he can land lightly in the street. When he straightens, Damian is watching him narrowly.

“You’ve been a hero for a long time, Grant,” he says abruptly, and it’s not a question.

Marc hesitates, but—Damian already knows enough to justify him knowing everything. “It’s Spector,” he says quietly. “Marc Spector. And yeah. It’s been a while.”

Damian pauses, suspicious. “Steven Grant is an assumed identity?” he demands.

Marc sighs. “It’s…complicated. Steven’s real. He’s just…not me.”

Damian grunts. “You will explain,” he warns, and climbs onto his bike, starting the engine. Pauses, and looks back at Marc with narrowed eyes. “That’s why you ignored me at breakfast, then.”

“Steven did,” Marc corrects, and takes the rear seat, hanging onto the handles behind him. He takes a moment to tug his mask down, and Damian roars off down the street without pause. Another bike pulls up alongside them for a moment, purple and black, and Huntress taps two fingers against her helmet in salute and then pulls away, turning towards Uptown.

“Steven is very different,” Damian says, and Marc can only just hear him over the wind. He still sounds miffed. “You do not share memories, then?”

“No,” Marc calls back. “Not unless we’re trying.”

Damian pulls a face. “I prefer Spector, then,” he says abruptly, and then hits a main road and picks up speed. Marc couldn’t answer even if he wanted to then, and he’s a little too surprised to try. Steven’s the charming one, and Jake’s canny, good at reading people and making friends. Marc’s too quiet, too broody. A vagabond, Marlene called him once. He can’t remember the last time anyone preferred him.

Well. It probably doesn’t help that he’s spent most of his time as Marc being Moon Knight. There was never all that much of a chance for anyone to know him. Jean-Paul was the only other one who really bothered, and he’d known Marc since their time with Bushman, so Marc isn't even sure if that counts.

He still hasn’t decided by the time Damian steers them off the main road, past the gates of Wayne Manor and up the hill. He stops about halfway up, pulling a face, and says, “Pennyworth will notice if we come any closer, and neither of us are supposed to have left. You will have to find your own way back in, Spector.”

Unperturbed, Marc slides off, pulling his hood down. His bedroom window is probably still open, assuming no one noticed Steven was gone, and that makes for an easy entrance. “You have a way in?”

Damian scoffs. “Of course,” he says, and Marc supposes that with three of the people associated with the family being vigilantes, that was a given. Four, if Barbara's included. It makes him wonder who else is part of it. Bruce, maybe. Marc hasn’t gotten close enough as himself to notice, and Steven doesn’t always check for the right tells.

“All right,” Marc says, amused, and slips into the trees. He still has his truncheon, and while the wide stretch of open lawn is a little harder to navigate, there’s a path through the wood and then past an outbuilding that keeps him mostly out of sight until he reaches his window. He scales the wall, swinging up into his room, and drags his mask off with a sigh, running a hand through his hair.

It’s been quite the night, he thinks a little wryly.

“Khonshu?” he asks into the darkness.

There's no sudden appearance, no flicker of moonlight taking shape. Just a wind from that other dimension, smelling of age and nighttime air, and it’s gone in a moment.

Do me a favor, my son,” Khonshu says, just a voice in his ears, “and try not to get shot in the head for the rest of the night.

“I didn’t think gods could get tired,” Marc says, and strips off the vestments. He has a few new bruises, but nothing remarkable, and he pulls on sleeping pants and hides the uniform in his bag again.

Khonshu is silent for a long moment before he chuckles. “This world has been empty of my reflection for an eon. You served me well in your world, and I was far from starving, but crossing to this place was…not simple.

He’d said, in that dark place between, that it had been a long journey. He brought them somewhere there was no risk of the universes colliding, and Marc wonders just how far one would have to travel to escape the ripples of something like that. Multiverse theory is Reed Richards’s area, not his, but—to get away from the influence of so many people warping reality, and the universes themselves being set right, Khonshu must have come a long, long way.

Still. Marc thinks of Barbara, of Poison Ivy, of Huntress and Superman and Damian. Red Hood, thanking him so indirectly. The cab driver the other night, talking about hope. It’s not…bad, that they ended up here.

“At least,” he says, “you didn’t drop us in that world where Cap and Iron Man are married. They were already bad enough in ours.”

Khonshu laughs, fading out around the edges like static, or maybe sliding sand. “No superhero civil war here,” he promises.

“There has to be some trade-off for Arkham,” Marc mutters, and when a shaft of light spills across the room, he turns. Damian is standing in the doorway, out of uniform and watching him with an assessing stare.

“Praying,” he says, suspicious, like he’s just realized what Marc meant.

“Technically, talking to a god is praying,” Marc says, and tips his head to beckon him in.

Damian makes a rude sound, but limps in. He’s abandoned the crutches, and he’s moving a lot more easily than Marc has seen. “Tell your god that I am…grateful for the healing,” he says, and it only sounds a little grudging.

“If I heard it, he did,” Marc says with a shrug, and turns around to find a shirt.

There's a moment of silence, and then Damian says, “You have scars.”

“I was a mercenary,” Marc says without turning around. “That’s why I was in Sudan. And where a lot of the scars come from.” He pulls a sweatshirt over his head, then turns around to meet Damian's gaze and folds his arms across his chest. “You're a vigilante.”

“Robin,” Damian says, and puffs up. “Batman always has a Robin, and I am the most proficient.” He stops, a wary pause and then he says, “I was raised to kill Batman, but I joined him instead.”

That’s…not anything like what Marc was expecting him to say. Not anything unheard of, either—if he remembers his stories right, Bucky Barnes was a kid assassin, too. But—Damian's young. Marc doesn’t know a hell of a lot about kids, but he’s seen child soldiers. He knows the scars that kind of thing can leave.

Of course, Marc just saw Damian sneak away from home with a broken leg to take down a bunch of human traffickers on his own. Maybe Batman can tell Damian no and make him listen, but Marc's got a pretty strong suspicion that Damian does whatever the hell he wants and won't be told what to do.

It’s that that makes him keep his mouth shut on a chastisement about working alone. Instead, he says, “Next time, tell me you're going out. Khonshu lives on hearts, and I try to keep him fed.”

Damian smirks, and a thirteen-year-old has no right to be so threatening. “I would enjoy that, Spector,” he says, and seats himself in the empty chair with an air of expectation. “So you are Steven Grant and Marc Spector at the same time?”

“Not at the same time.” Marc hesitates, trying to think how to put it into words, and says, “I have Dissociative Identity Disorder. It means—”

“Multiple personalities,” Damian says, pouncing on the explanation. “And Steven Grant is another personality? Is Moon Knight another? Are there more?”

“Jake Lockley,” Marc says after a moment. Damian looks…surprisingly unbothered by learning this.

“You will introduce us, then,” Damian commands, but before Marc can do more than raise an eyebrow at him, he’s off to the next thing. “You met Khonshu in Egypt? In that tomb your friend excavated?”

“Yeah,” Marc says, and can't help but smile a little, sliding down to sit on the floor by the window. The full moon outside is a comfort. “I was working for a man named Bushman, another mercenary, and he killed my friend’s father. I stopped him from killing her and got her away, but…he beat me and turned me out in the desert. When I wandered into the tomb, Marlene found me, and hid me. But I died, in front of Khonshu's statue. And then I got up. Khonshu chose me as his knight.”

Damian is pale in the moonlight, silent, still. Then, slowly, carefully, he slides down from the chair and crosses the room. Thumps down next to Marc, back to the wall, arms around his knees, and says to the floor, “I died, once.” His expression twists, and he says more sharply, “I was killed.”

Marc isn't sure what to do. Isn't sure what’s appropriate here. Red Hood didn’t want anything but an explanation, but—

Damian is thirteen, and he went through the same thing as Marc did. Slowly, Marc lets out a breath, leaning his head back against the wall. “It hurts like hell,” he says to the reflection of the moon in the glass, and Damian snorts.

“Coming back hurts, too,” he says darkly.

Marc makes a sound in agreement, eyes closed. “It’s a good thing we’re too stubborn to stay dead, even if it does.”

Damian huffs, but it doesn’t sound like a disagreement. Deliberately, Marc lifts an arm, and Damian glances up at him with narrowed eyes, then pointedly looks away. He doesn’t say anything, though, and the only move he makes is to lean into Marc's space just a little.

Marc drops an arm over his shoulders, pulls him that little bit closer, and then doesn’t move. Doesn’t say anything, just watches the moonlight move across the floor. Damian doesn’t shift, either, just stays where he is, breathing slowly, and—that’s victory enough, for someone who’s been dead. Marc knows that from experience.

Sometime, in the early morning, there are footsteps in the hall beyond. Marc lifts his head, catching a glimpse of Alfred beyond the door as the steps come to a halt. For a moment, Alfred simply looks at him. Then his gaze slides to Damian, softens, rises. He inclines his head to Marc, precise and deliberate, and keeps moving, and once his footsteps fade the silence slips back in to fill the empty spaces.

 

 

“It seems,” Alfred says precisely, “that it was a busy night.”

Bruce, more interested in his coffee than any sort of conversation, grunts and hopes Alfred will show mercy just this once. It was a late night, or an early morning depending how one’s counting. He’s used to running on little sleep, but caffeine is necessary for that, and he hasn’t had nearly enough yet.

“It was,” Dick says, surfacing from his food long enough to give Alfred a grin. “Some big white apparition turned up in the sky and then vanished, and some people went a little nuts yelling about the end of the world. And there was a guy in West Harlow who rigged up a thing that let him climb walls like Spider-Man so he could steal from the top floor apartments. Someone’s been reading too many obscure comics, I think.”

“Spoken like someone who spent enough time reading obscure comics to know that,” Alfred says, perfectly mild. “But I was rather referring to someone else’s night.”

The sound of a tabloid landing on the table is familiar and hated. Bruce closes his eyes, trying not to groan, and says, “Dick.”

“It wasn’t me!” Dick protests immediately. “I spent all evening in the clocktower with Babs and then I met up with you! There was literally nothing else!”

Vaguely disbelieving, Bruce gives in and reaches for the tabloid. It’s one of the truly awful ones that runs regular stories about Superman being pregnant and the Justice League putting mind-control drugs in the water supply, and he gives Alfred a look even as he flips it over. Alfred just raises an expectant brow at him, and Bruce sighs, glances down, and freezes.

“Please say it’s Steph,” Dick says, rounding his chair to lean over his shoulder. “She never gets into trouble with the—oh.”

“Stephanie has blackmail on every tabloid reporter in Gotham, and probably most of the mainstream journalists, too,” Bruce says, still not entirely able to pull his eyes away from the front page. “Of course it’s not about her.”

No. It’s about Damian, because of course it is. The headline screams GOTHAM'S NEWEST SUPERFAMILY REVEALED! ROBIN’S REAL PARENTS IDENTIFIED! in massive letters, and right underneath is a picture of Bruce's son, dressed in his uniform, perched on top of a roof somewhere in the Narrows and hanging onto the arm of a very familiar headache. Moon Knight is siting on the edge, mask pulled up to his nose, with Helena right behind him, her hand tilting his head up towards her. It looks vaguely domestic, Bruce supposes, if one squints. Maybe also if one ignores the rising anger and indignation that Bruce has to push through, too. Damian definitely wasn’t supposed to be out last night, let alone out by himself. And being out with Helena and Moon Knight is almost worse. No, it’s entirely worse. Damian knows that Bruce has been looking for Moon Knight, and—

“The next page, sir,” Alfred says, and Bruce turns it, bracing himself.

One of the photographers was having an artistic moment, it seems. The picture with the article is beautifully shot and striking, with Damian's motorcycle centered. The long white flare of Moon Knight’s cloak cuts a stark swath across the darkened buildings, and Damian is a careful contrast with his black cape, the hood pulled up.

Bruce might find it a hell of a lot more interesting if his son wasn’t working with Moon Knight. Not to mention a broken leg.

“I don’t get where they got parents from,” Dick says, wrinkling his nose. “Damian's half Middle Eastern, and Helena is black.”

“Because tabloids are known for their racial sensitivity,” Bruce says, dust-dry. “I know you’ve seen the articles about Nightwing.” He glances up at Alfred, who’s watching him steadily, and asks, “He came back last night?”

“Yes,” Alfred says, and pauses. It’s surprising enough that Bruce blinks, and a moment later Alfred adds, “I believe he’s taken a shine to your guest, sir. They stayed up quite late talking, and Master Damian looked…comfortable.”

Comfortable isn't a word Bruce would normally use to describe Damian. Brilliant, always; prickly, usually; intense, without a doubt. But for all he’s mostly comfortable in his skillset he’s never quite been at home in his place in the world, and it’s more than a little surprising that Damian would reach out to Steven, of all people. Surprising that Steven would reach back, too—Damian is hard to deal with at the best of times, and Bruce wouldn’t expect them to have much of anything in common.

Steven and Moon Knight. At least Bruce can kind of understand the Moon Knight thing.

Deliberately closing the tabloid, Bruce hands it off to Dick, who likes them, and asks, “Do you still have Helena’s number?”

Dick freezes, looking wary. “Babs probably does? Helena spends a lot of time at the clocktower, and she’s still one of the Birds of Prey.”

Meaning that any attempt to get information from her will be met with the steel wall of Barbara's protectiveness for her team. Bruce resists the urge to sigh, and tells Dick, “Call Barbara. If Moon Knight was working with Helena, I want to know why. And how.”

“She’s not going to answer,” Dick says with a shrug. “You know how she gets. Moon Knight killed the Joker. He might as well be one of her Birds now.”

“Then see what Stephanie has heard,” Bruce counters, and rises to his feet. Silently, Alfred refills his coffee, and he says, “Thank you, Alfred. If you need me, I have some programs to run—”

“For a billionaire playboy, you certainly work a lot,” Steven says, amused. He pauses in the doorway, gaze flickering from Dick to Bruce to Alfred, and he pauses, some of the humor fading from his face. “Am I interrupting?”

“Of course not,” Bruce says smoothly, and smiles at him. “You’re looking better.”

Steven smiles back, and he does: his color is better than Bruce has seen it in a few days, and he’s not favoring his side. “I feel it. No offense intended to your hospitality, but I’ll be glad when I can get back to my stocks.”

“I would have bought the obsessive investor angle if I hadn’t seen you at the museum,” Bruce says dryly. “You're going to have to work harder to fool me into thinking you're shallow now.”

He means for more than just the interest in Egypt and the charity programs abroad. He hasn’t forgotten Steven's proposal for mental health clinics, and in light of learning that Ivy just escaped Arkham yet again, Bruce is maybe a little more willing to listen than he might otherwise be. Ivy on the loose is a reminder of how many people she’s gotten to, of the fear the people in Gotham face. That much fear on a daily basis can't be healthy.

Steven's smile is rueful. “It’s not just an angle,” he counters. “But thank you. And please, don’t let me keep you from your work. I just came by to beg some coffee.”

“I will bring you up a breakfast tray,” Alfred says immediately, stepping forward. “It would be my pleasure, Mr. Grant.”

“Perfect, thank you, Alfred.” Steven gives Bruce a nod, and then says, “I’ll be calling a car in a bit—the doctors want to check my progress in person. If you’re going to be in the office, Bruce, we should have lunch.”

“Seeing as our dinner was so rudely interrupted?” Bruce says. “You're sure you want to risk it a second time?”

Steven chuckles. “I'm hoping for aliens, this time,” he tells Bruce, grinning, and Bruce can't help that same flicker of attraction, low and deep in his chest. Steven is a handsome man, and when he smiles it’s particularly obvious.

“We should eat in Metropolis, then,” he returns. “Superman might fly by.”

Steven laughs a little. “Maybe closer to home this time,” he says. “Just in case your track record with restaurants bears out.”

“I’ve had plenty of uneventful meals in restaurants,” Bruce retorts. “Why couldn’t it be your track record?”

“Maybe it’s the two of you together,” Dick suggests without looking up, but Bruce knows an eye-roll when he hears one and reaches out to pinch his son. With a yelp, Dick skitters sideways out of range, and demands, “What? I'm just saying!”

“I guess we’ll see,” Steven says, amused, and pushes away from the doorframe. “Let me know about lunch, Bruce. If not today, then soon.”

“Soon,” Bruce agrees, because even if Steven isn't Moon Knight, Bruce's interest hasn’t seemed to have waned. Steven is still interesting, and that’s more than enough reason for a lunch date.

Still. There are other things to be dealt with right now. Bruce waits until Steven's steps have disappeared from earshot, then folds his arms across his chest and says, “Damian. Is there something you want to tell me?”

A muttered curse sounds from beyond the kitchen, and Damian slinks through the door a moment later, looking both surly and unrepentant, which is never a good sign.

“Father—” he starts.

“Damian,” Bruce says, pointed. “You have a broken leg. I benched you for a reason—”

“Moon Knight healed it,” Damian says, smug. Bruce isn't entirely sure what he did to deserve his son, but it probably involves at least one past life as a serial killer. “I am perfectly well, Father.”

“That,” Bruce starts, “is not the point—”

The doorbell rings.

“Jon is here,” Damian says, and makes his escape without hesitation. He’s probably going to make Jonathan cut off his cast, Bruce thinks, and rubs the bridge of his nose.

This is definitely a conversation they’re going to have to continue later.

Chapter Text

“What do you think the odds of being able to buy another cab are?” Jake asks, eyeing the intersection down the road. There have been a handful of familiar yellow cabs in the last few minutes—not nearly as many as in New York, but probably enough to make for good cover where poking around is concerned.

“I don’t know why you think that depends on me,” Steven says, a ghostly shadow on his right. “It’s not as if either of us has had much time out recently.”

On Jake's left, Marc snorts. “I took the backseat for a decade,” he says, and it’s ever so faintly bitter, tired in a way that sets Jake's teeth on edge. “I was the bad guy who died so Moon Knight could exist, while you two lived every day and had everything. Sorry for taking up time now.”

Jake bites back the sharp-edged comment that’s on the tip of his tongue, breathing through the annoyance. It’s true enough, after all—Marc Spector was a ghost for years, Moon Knight and nothing else. Steven had Marlene and Jean-Paul, and Jake had Gena and Crawley and Gena’s boys, and Marc was a shadow who sometimes got to play the villain undercover. It wasn’t calculated, and Jake knows that, but—

He and Steven both got full lives, and Marc died in a desert far from home, betrayed by someone who was once something like a friend.

“I thought we dealt with this,” he says, pointed, because the Sun King was good for that at least. Immediately, though, Steven winces and looks away, which isn't a great sign.

Marc snorts. “Dealt with it,” he echoes. “I guess we did.” He fades away, disappearing, and Jake sighs disgustedly and drags his hat lower over his eyes.

“You know,” Steven says, and Jake closes his eyes, not wanting to hear it. Steven makes a sound of exasperation, and says more pointedly, “You know, he has a point. Neither of us were mercenaries. And once we came back…”

Jake got his cab. Steven got his mansion. And Marc just…went to sleep for a while, coming out to work as Moon Knight or to deal with pain and loss. When everything was falling apart, Marc was the one in control, having to deal with it, having to live with the world crumbling and his body betraying him and Khonshu turning his eyes away. And even here, Moon Knight gets the nights, the shadows, the in-between moments. Steven's taking over the daytime, and Jake's looking to take back the mornings. It doesn’t leave a lot of time for anything else.

No wonder Damian deciding he liked Marc best was a shock. Even Marlene preferred Steven, despite Marc saving her life. Called him a monster more than once—a monster for the sake of good, a monster she helped create from the ashes, but still a monster she didn’t want anything to do with.

It’s hard to split up a body between four people, Jake thinks, grimacing. With a life like theirs, there's almost no way to make sure everyone gets an equal share of existence. And—they’ve all fought for that, the right to exist. None of them are going to give it up easily.

“What do you call a fair-weather friend you're sharing the same body with?” Jake asks, and Steven sighs and vanishes as well, slipping back into their mindspace. Jake rolls his eyes, not that he was expecting an answer; Steven's been alive longer than anyone but Marc, and he gets defensive. Defensive of himself and Marc in equal measure sometimes—after all, Steven got the lion’s share of their old life, and while it’s logical, given his position, Jake can imagine how it grates. Felt it, at times, even with his own social circles to run in.

He got his own time, too. With Marlene, because he loved her enough to ignore their silent agreement not to put her in danger. Loved her enough to go to her, to have an affair he kept from the other parts of himself, even if she didn’t love him back. Steven was the one she wanted, after all, the one she was used to. They fell apart, and—maybe it was shame that kept him from telling Steven and Marc about Diatrice, or maybe it was just the fact that he wanted something that was entirely for himself.

In Mexico, too, after Moon Knight faked his death and left, Jake was the one in control and didn’t give it up except to Moon Knight. Coming back was a stark reminder of how to share, and Jake still chafes, sometimes.

Especially now. There wasn’t a hell of a lot left for any of them in their New York, but Jake had more than most, and he misses it. Misses Gena, Crawley, Ray. Misses the freedom there, with a well-oiled routine and a world that made more sense to him than this.

With a breath, he shoves away from the wall, tucks his hands into his jacket pockets and heads up the avenue to where a residential street crosses it. There’s nowhere he has to be, no plan; this is just time for him to exist somewhere beyond the inside of Marc's head, and he’s willing to take it. He makes the turn, just because he can, and heads up towards the water, keeping half an eye behind him. This close to Crime Alley, Moon Knight’s been hard-pressed to keep up with things, and even the daytime isn't easing Jake's nerves any.

There doesn’t seem to be any risk right now, at least. The street is busy, but it’s all people headed elsewhere, a few children on the stoops of the apartment buildings. It’s a weekend morning, and there are blinds up, windows open. And—

A flash of white in one of them catches Jake's eye, and he turns to look automatically, then stops dead, right in the middle of the street.

There’s a crescent moon taped to the closest window, cut out of white paper. Rough, but clearly meant to mimic Moon Knight’s symbol, and Jake stares at it for a long moment, the raises his eyes.

In the window of the apartment above, there’s another mark. Different, this time—several moons, smaller, hanging on delicate threads and fluttering in the faint breeze, but still very obviously Moon Knight’s crescent.

Not entirely sure what to make of it, Jake eyes the moons for a moment, then starts walking again, keeping an eye on the windows. It’s not every house, but—now that he’s looking for them, the moons are easy to spot. There’s one taped to the streetlight at the end of the block, even, bright against the weathered metal, and Jake reaches out to touch it. Laminated paper—clearly someone put some effort into this.

“Moon Knight was here the other night,” a voice behind him says, and Jake turns to face the woman behind him. She’s older, but her eyes are sharp as she looks him over. “That’s to mark a sighting.”

Jake looks back at the moon for a moment. “Who’s putting them up?” he asks, a little wary. If it’s someone keeping track of where Moon Knight’s been—

But the woman snorts, shaking her head. “People,” she says. “I think Ava at the corner did that one—she works at a print shop, see. Two blocks down it was Mr. Lee at the grocers. Moon Knight tossed a burglar out of his store a week ago.”

Just people. Jake can't help the way his eyes flicker to the moon in the window above them, looking like it was cut from lace. “And the windows?” he asks.

The woman smiles. “Well,” she says. “Seems like it works for Moon Knight, doesn’t it? He got rid of the Joker, wearing that. I guess the thought is that it might make a god pay attention, throw a little protection their way. Gotham's got few enough real gods who don’t want to break everything.”

Belief, Jake thinks, and it’s a tingle in his blood, electricity and light. “You saw him last night, in the sky,” he says. “Looks like it’s working.”

She pauses, caught off guard. “You think that was Khonshu?” she asks. “Looking over the city?”

“Protecting it,” Jake says, and smiles. “Falcons and full moons when there shouldn’t be? I’d say that was Khonshu.”

The woman’s mouth twists, and she considers him for a moment. “It’s a mercenary thing, to believe in a god just because he might be real,” she says. “Just because he might believe in you, too, and fix your problems.”

Jake just tips one shoulder in a shrug. Khonshu's always had his gaze on them, at least a little. It’s hard to remember a time before they believed in return. “What’s it matter why, as long as you do believe?” he counters. “Besides, it seems like Moon Knight’s already fixing problems, and he’s Khonshu's priest. That’s close enough to a sign from Khonshu himself, to me.”

Thoughtful, the woman looks past him, to the paper moon. Smiles, just a little, and says, “Well, most people around here can spare some belief, just in case.” She pauses, and then adds, “Some girls on 29th Street are passing out some of those cut-outs, if your path takes you that way. Sounds like you believe, too.”

Jake tips his hat to her. “I've been a believer from the start,” he agrees easily, and crosses the street, dodging a slow-moving car. It’s true enough; in the wake of Khonshu resurrecting Marc, things…settled. Steven was always there, Marc's last resort for dealing with people he didn’t want to or couldn’t kill, and Jake came along later, in the Marines, a person who could deal with the rough humor that Marc didn’t like, the discipline, the structure that Marc chaffed against. It didn’t end well, of course—Marc went after an officer and got summarily ejected, and they fell into mercenary work and Bushman’s company a short while later.

Those years were hard. Marc tried not to be crazy, tried to stay in control, because he had to. Khonshu's entry into their lives was…better. Maybe it was the fact that his aspects gave Marc the opportunity to have aspects of his own without hating himself for it, or maybe they just became necessary. Either way, things improved. Jake got a life instead of being a defense mechanism, and Steven got a life too. And—

Maybe in the middle of their lives meeting, Marc got Moon Knight and not much else.

It’s easy to find 29th Street, three blocks down and one over, and Jake pauses at the top of it, sweeping the street with a careful look. It’s right on the edge of Crime Alley, and there are three houses that look like they were firebombed, left to crumble. An empty lot sits in the between two of them, and there’s a teenage girl sitting on the edge of the stoop, legs dangling over the edge. Another girl is below her, sitting in the dirt, and they’re laughing as the first girl carefully cuts out crescents of white paper and the second shifts around a pile of boards.

It’s what’s behind them that draws Jake's attention, though. In the middle of the empty lot, one of Moon Knight’s crescent darts is planted high up in the stone of the next building, casting a moon-shaped shadow across the bare dirt. Beneath it, a plastic crate is sitting in the dirt, covered with what looks like an old black tablecloth. There are white moons stitched to it, painstaking but clearly unpracticed, and an unlit candle on top. Flowers, probably picked from someone’s window box, occupy a glass, and beside it is another crescent dart.

An altar, Jake thinks, something close to bewildered. They built Khonshu an altar.

The curiosity is too much. Jake tucks his hands deeper into his pockets, tries to project an unthreatening air, and heads for them, picking his way down the street. He gets a few looks from passing people, but no one stops him, and he comes to a halt in front of the empty lot. Looks at the altar again, not entirely sure what to think of it, and—

“Want one?” the girl on the stoop asks, and when Jake glances up, she dangles a paper crescent from a piece of string. “They're like Moon Knight’s sign.”

“Sure,” Jake says, and reaches for his wallet. “How much?”

The girl shrugs. “Free,” she says. “Just hang it somewhere Khonshu will notice it.”

Jake takes the moon, holding it for a moment, and then looks back at the altar again. “That’s for Khonshu too?” he asks.

The girl with the boards pries two apart, then makes a frustrated sound when one splinters. “Of course it is,” she says, and glances up at Jake. “Moon Knight left that moon up there, so we thought it was a good place.”

She looks familiar, in a vague way. Like Jake's seen her face in someone else’s memories. He pauses, looking from one to the other, and then asks, “Saving you?”

The girls trade glances, and the one on the stoop tips her chin up, like it’s a challenge. “Saving Carly,” she says. “Someone tried to grab her when we were walking home.”

“Moon Knight cut him up,” Carly says, and her voice doesn’t so much as waver. “He said that he was claiming another heart for Khonshu. And I wanted to make something for him, too.” She hesitates, looking at their plastic crate, and pulls a face. “I looked up old Egyptian temples, but I don’t know what they're supposed to look like inside.”

Jake looks from Carly to her friend, at the paper moons, at the flowers and the crescent darts. “Like a little alcove, usually, for the smaller ones,” he says, and suddenly two pairs of eyes are fixed on him. Stepping into the lot, he crouches down, digging a finger into the dirt and sketching out a row of columns, an archway, and then a room behind it. “The inner chamber’s sanctuary usually had the statue of a god, and people could leave offerings at their feet.”

With a thump, the other girl slides down from the stoop, coming over to study the image. “The fence is still pretty sturdy,” she says, looking up at Carly. “We could paint columns there. My mom has some white paint left over from when she repainted the kitchen. And we can build a shelf or something, right?”

“We don’t have a statue, though,” Carly says, though she looks thoughtful. “Your sister takes ceramics, right? You think she’d make us something like that?”

The other girl makes a face. “It would be really ugly, she can't even make a cup yet.”

Carly snickers. “Maybe at the museum they have one?” she suggests, and hesitates, chewing on her lip. “Haerang, if we start asking for a couple of dollars for the moons…”

“No one’s going to pay for them, not around here,” Haerang says flatly.

“You forgetting I already offered?” Jake counters, and Steven has more than enough to spare. He pulls his wallet out, pulls out a few bills, and offers them to Carly. “Call it my contribution to the statue. Not sure if the museum will have one, but they might.”

Carly looks at him, then at the money, and she’s frowning. “We’re not going to give you anything in return,” she tells him, sharp.

Jake raises his hands. “Hey, I'm just a simple cabbie, lady,” he says, playing up the Chicago accent, and sees the laugh she’s trying to hide. “Look, I got a few good tippers today, and I’d rather give it to you than waste it on some takeout or a case of beer. Moon Knight’s a good guy. Khonshu's worth believing in.”

Carly catches a breath, eyes flickering to the crescent dart above. “He is,” she says, something fierce, and Haerang reaches out, twisting their fingers together. She squeezes back, then slips Jake's money into her pocket and nods to him. “Thanks.”

Jake grins at her. “No problem. I’m not too handy with a hammer, but if you need an extra set of hands, I’d be happy to help with that.” He tips his head at the boards Carly is wrestling with.

The girls trade glances, and then Carly says, “Sure. We should go get that paint, but then we can build the shelf.”

“Okay.” Haerang rises to her feet, pulling Carly up with her, and glances at Jake. “We’ll only be a few minutes.”

Jake tips his hat to them. “I’ll see about breaking these down,” he agrees, and takes Carly’s seat as the girls hurry down the street. The hammer is old and rusted, a little bent, but he pries the boards apart. They were probably a crate in another life, but they’re sturdy enough, and he sorts them by length, then tries to figure out how to put them back together into something that a statue can sit on. Gives up a moment later, because the girls probably have their own plans, and rises to his feet, crossing to the small shrine and crouching down in front of it.

“Looks like those believers are coming out in force,” he murmurs, and the moon-shadow shivers.

Khonshu's appearance is slower, this time, gradual instead of instant. He still feels tired, and his suit is vaguely wrinkled, but as he looks down at the altar, Jake gets the distinct feeling that he’s smiling.

My knight does good work,” he says, leaning down to brush his gloved fingertips over the flowers. With a shiver, they shift, the glass they’re in becoming a wide bowl of etched silver, the flowers themselves becoming golden lotuses.

“I didn’t realize so many people thought about you,” Jake says, rising to his feet. He watches the ripple of Khonshu's change spread, leaving the little altar mostly untouched but sweeping out, the bare, packed earth becoming stone, the fence shifting to stone bricks instead of listing wood. Khonshu's magic climbs the walls, too, and in its wake reliefs bloom, Khonshu's symbols writing themselves into the building, hieroglyphs following like water. Jake recognizes most of them—Khonshu with the moon disc, Khonshu in the underworld with bodies at his feet, crook and flail and scepter in hand.

At Jake's side, Khonshu chuckles. “This city was ready to believe in something,” he says. “The Batman is a symbol of fear for the wicked, but fear does not translate to belief. Faith comes from hope, and the death of the Joker was the seed. Everything since has only fanned the flames.

Jake snorts, passing the altar to reach up. There's a line of familiar hieroglyphs beneath a falcon’s outspread wings, and he splays his fingers over them. Khonshu in his brain means a familiarity with the language that always drove Marlene a little insane with frustration, but it means it’s easy enough to translate the words. They were in the tomb where Marc died, too, set above the sarcophagus there. Khonshu will be in the midst of eternity.

“There was a space, and you stepped right into it,” Jake says, and pulls back. Turns, watching the earth shift and turn, stone sliding over them into a roof. A shaft of light still manages to fall through, directly on the altar, and Jake smiles.

“Those girls were doing well enough on their own,” he says.

A reward for their faith,” Khonshu counters, and leans down, cupping one of the lotuses in his hand. Breathes out, and suddenly the air in the temple burns, fresh and clear without any trace of the city’s pollution. The lotuses shimmer, brighten, and their images curl up the columns flanking the entrance.

Jake watches him, rather than the temple building itself around them. “You never did anything like this in our world,” he says, not quite an accusation, but—it would have been nice, sometimes, to have assistance on this level.

Khonshu laughs, the hiss of sliding sand. “Oh, but I did. When Hawkeye and his Avengers were stranded outside of time, I helped them in many ways. But they were in a time when I had believers, priests and offerings and a whole empire that worshiped me. Your time was a darker place, twisted out of alignment, warped and without belief in me. Gods survive on belief, Jake. Without it, I was…diminished.”

And here, with people hanging moons in their windows, building shrines, he isn't. he’s growing. His showing the other night wasn’t something conceivable, back in their universe, but here he’s already mostly recovered from it. Apparently Marc going out every night to throw himself headlong into combating street crime is working.

“Well, if you’re looking to change a few minds, it looks like you’re on the right path,” he says, and touches one of the columns as he passes back out into the sunlight. Haerang’s paper moons are still in a pile on the stoop, and Khonshu leans over them for a moment, picks one up. There’s quite the pile in the little box, and he makes a sound of amusement and lets the one he’s holding fall. As it flutters down on top of the others, it starts to shine like trapped moonlight, and the glow seeps out, spreads, settles.

My cult once spread across all of Egypt,” Khonshu says, and he doesn’t sound wistful, just thoughtful. “I can't tell if this world will be better or worse for such things.”

Jake isn't sure, either. The internet’s probably good for spreading whispers, planting more seeds, but it’s a more secular world, even when the proof of a god’s existence is so clear. “I guess we’ll find out,” he says, and starts down the street. It’s tempting to stay and see Carly and Haerang’s faces, but then he’ll likely have to deal with questions, and he’d rather leave the source of the temple’s change a mystery.

“If you're not careful, those two might become priests,” he says, and Khonshu laughs, fading out of sight.

Don’t worry, Jake. You and Steven will always be mine, just as much as my knight.

Maybe, Jake thinks with a breath, Marc being Moon Knight isn't always a hardship for them—

A hand grabs him, three paces down the next street, and Jake takes half an instant to judge the grip—strong, tight, attached to a man as tall as he is, who’s even broader across the shoulders—a swings for his face.

There's a cut-off sound of indignation, a jerk. A hand catches his fist, wrenches, and Jake meets the guy with a knee to the gut, then to the face as he doubles over. Leaps back—

Right into another body, smaller and leaner, but faster, too. Before Jake can even start to turn, there’s a touch of cold steel under his chin, and a light voice says, “Hey, man, his mistake to grab you, but if you hit him again I'm going to have a problem with you.”

A familiar voice, especially together with the man who’s staggering up straight, trying to staunch his bleeding nose. Jake never got a good look at Arsenal’s face, but Marc saw Red Hood with just his domino mask, and when Jake reaches, Marc offers up the memory without hesitation.

Perfect match, minus the bloody nose. Jake breathes out a rough laugh, leaning back into Arsenal’s hold to get away from the knife.

“I guess you found your knife, then,” he says, and watches Hood’s eyes widen for a moment before they narrow dangerously.

There's a careful pause, and then Arsenal takes a breath. His voice is perfectly steady when he says, “No, that sewer werewolf probably still has it. You’re good with voices.”

Jake snorts, reaching up. He pulls Arsenal’s hand away from his throat, and Arsenal lets him, taking two quick steps back and one to the side. Putting himself out of the way of any crossfire, in case Hood goes for a gun, Jake thinks, and turns so he can see both of them.

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed,” Jake says, reaching up to check his throat for blood, “but I’ve seen linebackers built on daintier lines than your friend over there. That’s pretty memorable.”

Arsenal laughs, sheathing his knife in his boot. He’s dressed like a normal person today, but the hat is almost the same, and there’s red hair sticking out from underneath it. “Yeah, I’ve noticed, believe me,” he says cheerfully.

Hood shoots him a narrowed, almost uncertain look, then turns back to Jake. “What the hell were you doing back there?” he demands without pause. “Are you a metahuman?”

The temple, Jake assumes. “No,” he says, and gives Hood a smirk. “Come on, that’s the only explanation you can come up with?”

Hood’s expression twists with anger, but before he can take more than a step forward, Arsenal ducks around to grab his arm, holding him back. “Wait, Jaybird,” he says, and looks at Jake. “You knew where to find Moon Knight, too,” he says.

Hood pauses, frowning, and shakes Arsenal off, crossing his arms over his chest. “And those girls—that altar was to Khonshu,” he says brusquely. “Are you connected to him?”

Maybe it’s the fact that he’s been caught, or maybe it’s Khonshu's words just a moment ago. Jake gives Hood a smirk, pulling his hat off to run a hand through his hair, and says, “What? You're acting like you’ve never seen a priest of Khonshu before.”

Green eyes go wide, and Arsenal darts a look at his friend. Hood is frozen, stiff and still, and he’s staring at Jake with his jaw clenched.

“A priest,” he finally says. “And the building thing—”

Jake shrugs. “It’s not the great temple at Karnak, but it’s a start,” he says. “The girls believed, and they built something out of faith. Khonshu stepped in to give them something in return.”

Hood doesn’t say anything, but Arsenal steps forward. “That was Khonshu the other night, wasn’t it?” he asks. “In the sky.”

“Yeah.” Jake looks from one to the other, then says, “Something’s trying to get in, and he’s holding it back.”

Arsenal and Hood trade glances, Arsenal worried and Hood grim. “Moon Knight needs allies, then,” Hood says abruptly. “Where is he?”

“Like I'm about to give up Khonshu's knight,” Jake says, amused. “Go ask Khonshu yourself, if you want to know.” He nods to them, then steps to the side and keeps going, heading for the closest bus stop at an easy pace. Marc's almost out of crescent darts, and it probably won't hurt to pick up a few more weapons from the apartment while he’s around. Steven isn't due back at Wayne Manor for a few hours, and Jake isn't about to waste his time.

 

 

“Jay?” Roy asks, wary.

Jason doesn’t move for a moment, watching the man’s retreat. The priest’s retreat, since apparently one of Khonshu's priests wanders around in a beat-up windbreaker and a flat cap. But—

He believed what he was saying. Jason is decent at reading people, and that was easy enough to see. He’s a priest of Khonshu, and he just turned an empty lot into an Egyptian temple by standing in it.

Suddenly, the fact that he was willing to throw a rock at a sewer werewolf isn't so weird.

“I'm checking out the temple,” he says, and turns on his heel, heading back towards the lot. The two girls are still gone, but the temple’s very definitely there; when Jason raps his knuckles against the closest pillar, it feels like stone, with no hint that it’s an illusion.

“Pretty,” Roy says, slipping in after him consciously silent as he moves. Jason casts a glance at him, but for all he looks tense and wary, he’s not holding a weapon or reaching for his folded bow, so that’s good enough for Jason.

“Weird as shit,” is Jason's verdict, and he turns. It is pretty, though. Strangely beautiful, even; he’s seen pictures of Egyptian art, but they always look faded, weathered. The paint here is vivid, and there’s a strange glow to everything, like moonlight even though it’s the middle of the day.

Roy pauses by the rear wall, and his breath catches. “Jaybird,” he says, and Jason turns to look, then stops.

It’s the same image as was in the sky last night, the man in armor and a long cloak, face veiled, the staff in his hand topped with a crescent moon of shining blue. Jason saw him reaching out, saw the light that kindled on Gotham's borders, burning like fire on the water. A god, he thinks, and has to breathe out, long and slow.

“Fuck,” he says, a little strangled, and Roy laughs.

“It hitting you now?” he asks.

You seem fine,” Jason shoots back.

Roy pauses, frowns a little. Tips his head, and then says, “Don’t get me wrong, it was amazing. But I grew up on the rez, and…you can find the gods, if you're looking. People here have just started looking for Khonshu, I think.”

That makes sense, in a way. Jason looks back at the image, back at Khonshu, and it almost feels like he’s looking back, eyes glowing the same way Moon Knight’s do.

“Come on,” he says. “Let’s go.”

They're at the far end of the street when the two girls return, carrying cans of paint and a bag of brushes. About to cross the street, Jason pauses, watching them, and he can see their steps slow, the way they falter, stop dead in the street. For a long, long moment, there’s nothing, so sound, no reaction, and then—

“It’s Khonshu,” the black girl says, and brings her hands up to cover her face. “Haerang, it’s—that’s—”

The other girl wraps her arm around the first’s shoulder, pulling her close. “It is,” she says, and there’s bewilderment in her face, but—there’s joy, too. “He—he did this. He must have. It’s…”

“Impossible,” the first girl says, and she’s laughing, laughing like she’s about to cry into her friend’s shoulder. “It’s impossible but he did it anyway.”

Jason swallows, turns away. That’s a familiar feeling, he thinks, a little wry, and the image of the Joker’s body rises again. He breathes through it, and says, “I want to find someone to punch.”

“Back to the safehouse?” Roy asks, and he’s smiling.

“Careful,” Jason mutters, “or your face is going to get stuck like that and look even stupider.”

“Hey!” Roy says, but Jason ducks his halfhearted punch, goes to cross the road, and stops dead, one foot off the curb.

“Shit,” he says, and looks back at Roy in disbelief. “What the hell is that priest guy’s name?”

Chapter Text

“How many?” Bruce asks the moment he picks up.

For once, Hal doesn’t waste time with jokes. “More than thirty,” he says grimly. “We haven’t found everyone yet, but we know that much.”

Bruce closes his eyes for a moment. The video feed is off, so it’s fine; no one can see him. “How many more,” he says.

For a long, long moment, Hal is silent. Then, darkly, he says, “More than forty. I’ll call with an estimate as soon as we have one, Bats, but we’re still getting reports it. It’ll be another hour at least.”

There’s a brief sound of a scuffle, then a brighter voice comes over the line. “Batman, it’s Barry. I’m inputting all the data, so you should have access as we get it. The CDC’s been called in, and their lead scientist is sending me her findings, too.”

“Flash,” Bruce acknowledges, maybe a little pointed, but even Hal knows to use callsigns on the comms.

“Uh.” Barry’s voice slides into sheepishness. “Sorry, Batman. Ha—uh, GL, I'm headed down to check hospitals manually, if you’ve got stuff up here.”

Bruce raises a brow, because there’s no way Hal would allow himself to be grounded for anything less than an absolute order from Dinah. “Did Canary get to you?” he asks dryly.

He can just about imagine the face Hal pulls. “Canary’s a hypocrite,” Hal mutters, but the sound of distant raised voices distracts him, makes him turn so that his voice fades out mid-word. A moment later, it comes back, but he says, “Supes wants you in Gotham unless you absolutely have to be on the Watchtower. Something something burnout, but whatever, you're not going to listen—”

“Call me if you need me, then,” Bruce says, rolling his eyes, and shuts the channel. It is slightly possible that he was planning to go up before Hal said that, and equally possible that Clark only told Hal to say that because he knew Hal would mock it and Bruce would immediately do the exact opposite of what Hal expected, but that’s enough layers of speculation that Bruce can ignore everything except the fact that he now has the afternoon free.

It is…vaguely tempting to call Steven and see if he still wants to meet for lunch. That in itself is surprising, because Bruce doesn’t skip out on work for dates, no matter how crooked and charming said date’s smile is.

Besides, Steven is at the hospital, and Bruce has thousands of seconds of shaky cellphone camera footage to analyze.

The pictures from last night are everywhere. Not the ones of Damian, Helena, and Moon Knight, though those are rather more frequent than Bruce would like, but images of a vast silver shape in the sky, glowing like moonlight. A man in an ancient style of Egyptian armor, face veiled, fire rising from his fingertips to wall off Gotham, and Bruce didn’t even know until Stephanie sent him one of the videos, then another and another. Not faked, but there’s no saying what it actually is, and Bruce doesn’t like that at all. He was down in a tunnel, didn’t see it for himself, but—unless a powerful magician was using an obscenely thorough illusion, it was real.  

In the darkness of the cave behind him, there’s a faint scuff of a shoe, and Bruce lifts his head.

“I thought you were out with Barbara,” he says.

Dick pulls a face, sliding into the open chair beside him. “She’s busy,” he says. “Something about sunspots and electronic interference, and you know how she gets about her computers.”

“I can't imagine where she gets that from,” Bruce says dryly, and smacks Dick’s fingers away from the keyboard. The program is almost done running and he doesn’t want it interrupted.

Dick just laughs, curling up in his chair in a way that makes Bruce's joints hurt just looking at him. “Everyone out?” he asks.

Bruce grunts. “Jon and Damian are somewhere upstairs, probably breaking things. Cass is tailing someone, though she didn’t say who. Stephanie is running down some of the videos from last night, and Tim is upstairs, trying to reach any of the Justice League Dark members to get them here quickly.”

There's a long hesitation, long enough to put every hair on the back of Bruce's neck up. Mildly alarmed, he turns in his chair to stare at his son, eyes narrowing, and the look on Dick’s face isn't a comfort. He looks torn, biting his lip, but there’s a stubborn, protective slant to his mouth that means whatever’s happening, he doesn’t regret his part in it.

“Dick,” Bruce says warningly.

“Constantine is already on his way here,” Dick blurts. “I called him a couple of days ago, and he got back to me yesterday. He’s probably on a plane right now.”

A couple of days ago. Meaning that whatever the reason, it’s not related to visions of massive falcons and armored men in the sky. Bruce closes his eyes for a moment, wondering what he’s managed to miss this time, and asks, “Why is Constantine coming to my city, Dick?”

Dick pauses again, wavering. Then, slowly, stubbornness slides over his features, and he lifts his head, squares his shoulders, and meets Bruce head-on. “Because there’s something wrong,” he says. “Cass noticed it, and she pointed it out to me, and I saw it too. And then Tim saw the signs.”

That sounds…concerning. Bruce sits back, looking Dick over, and tries to pick his words. He values Dick’s opinion. Has learned to, over the years, because Dick is quick and brilliant and Bruce trained him carefully, thoroughly, without even counting the training he’s given himself. Add to that the fact that Cass, with her almost supernatural ability to read body language, was the first, and it means whatever they saw probably has deep roots in reality.

Bruce doesn’t doubt there’s actually a concern. He would like to know why Dick seems so hesitant to bring it up with him.

“I assume,” he says, dry, “that this isn't about the three-hundred-foot apparition, then?”

Dick hesitates. Potentially related, then. “You're not going to like it,” he says, instead of answering.

“I already don’t like it,” Bruce points out. “If it made you call John Constantine—”

That, at least, makes Dick smile a little, and he hooks a leg around the arm of his chair, uses its leverage to pull himself up a bit straighter. “Okay,” he says, and takes a breath. “It’s…kind of about the museum. And the kidnapping.”

Bruce stills, staring at him. Something cold curls down his spine, and he pauses for a moment to get it under control before he says, “Yes?”

On the stairs, a throat clears. Bruce turns to find Tim there, looking wary, but the relief that slides over Dick’s face is almost more alarming. Carefully, Tim takes the last few steps down, and then asks, “You're telling him? Without Cass?”

“Cass is out tailing him,” Dick says, and Bruce frowns, raising a brow at his sons.

Tim pulls a face. “Because you couldn’t wait for when we planned to tell him?” he asks.

“I figured this is better than Bruce just punching Constantine in the face when he gets here,” Dick retorts, which Bruce wants to defend himself against but can't. Constantine has a very punchable face. Especially when he’s doing things that are worthy of a punch.

Apparently Tim can't contest that, either, because he pauses, tips his head, and then concedes, “Point. Okay. Fine. Your way it is.”

Dick grins. It doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “We can go with your plan next time,” he says, and there’s a joke Bruce isn't getting, because Tim snorts and crosses his arms on the back of Dick’s chair.

“In the statue garden,” Tim starts, “when you and Grant were kidnapped, they tied his hands, right?”

This is about Steven. Bruce can't say what bleeds the certainty down his spine, but he knows. It’s in the look on Dick’s face, the determined set of Tim's mouth. And…maybe something cold is settling in Bruce's stomach, little bits of suspicion that he hasn’t allowed himself to recognize coalescing. Because Bruce is suspicious of everyone, and he hasn’t let himself be of Steven since the shooting, because of the shooting.

“Yes,” he says evenly, because the landslide is already barreling down, and there’s no use throwing up walls to stop it at this point. “Zip ties. Behind him.”

Dick looks at Tim, who looks back at him grimly. Then, deliberately, Tim meets Bruce's eyes, and says, “His hands were free when I found him. He was under an arbor near the back fence, but—” He breaks off, hesitating.

“It didn’t look right,” Dick says, picking up the thread. “Cass noticed something, so I went to look. There wasn’t enough blood for him to have been shot and left somewhere. But we did find evidence that someone was shot in the head right off the path. Not—not in a survivable way.”

Bruce would assume not, if there was enough blood to show several days later. He closes his eyes, replaying that moment in the garden, with Steven on the ground and October’s gun almost against his temple. October must have changed his mind, Bruce had thought in the wake of Steven's survival. Must have decided to be cruel instead of ending things quickly. But—

That doesn’t fit. They were an experienced crew, well-prepared and vicious. Giving someone a gut wound and leaving them is sloppy, and they weren’t.

“A headshot,” he repeats, and carefully keeps his breathing even, trying not to replay that ringing gunshot over and over again in his head. It sounds too much like another, echoing off the street outside a dark theater. “You're sure?”

Tim nods. “There was a piece of skull,” he says, and Bruce catches his breath even though he doesn’t mean to. A piece of Steven's skull, because he was executed in the garden, knocked down and—

“The bruise,” he says, opening his eyes, but there’s nothing in front of his gaze except that moment, the butt of May’s gun coming down. “He was hit in the face by one of the kidnappers, with her gun. It was hard enough to stun him, but…”

Now there’s no trace of it. In the passing instant Bruce noticed, he’s assumed he had seen wrong, that it had hit Steven where his hair covered the mark, but in light of everything—

Tim and Dick exchange looks again, and it’s speaking. “Cass thinks he’s possessed,” Dick says. “That’s why I called Constantine. She saw him with Barbara, and she saw him with you, and she said he acted like two completely different people.”

Suddenly, it makes far more sense that Cass is tailing someone. “She’s following him?” Bruce asks, rising to his feet.

“Yeah,” Tim says. “She was going to call in if anything happened, and Helena’s still in the area.”

Because Steven might be dangerous. Whatever is in him might be dangerous. Bruce sets his jaw, pretends that there isn't a sick, dark feeling bubbling up in his stomach, and says curtly, “I'm suiting up. Come with me or not.”

The boys scramble to get to their uniforms. Bruce is slower, precise, methodical as he pulls the suit and armor on. It would be smarter to wait for Constantine, to make sure they have magical assistance to take on whatever is apparently able to inhabit bodies and bring people back from the dead, but—

There’s a small voice in the back of Bruce's head, low, hissing, furious. What if Steven didn’t come back from the dead? What if it’s something in his shape, using his face, mimicking his smile, the steady warmth of his humor? What if he died because Bruce picked the wrong spot to have dinner, the wrong night to indulge his suspicions, and something got up in Steven’s place and kept moving?

He pulls on the cowl, breathes out. Tim is just checking his bō staff, and Dick is sheathing his escrima sticks, because they need weapons. There’s an enemy out there, and Bruce doesn’t know what they’ll find. Doesn’t want to know, but—

He blinded himself. He kept his eyes shut, because he felt guilt, because he felt attraction. Bruce has been in the game long enough to know just how frequently enemies can play on emotions like that.

“Let’s go,” he says, and sweeps towards the Batmobile, not about to let himself fall prey to sentiment again.

 

 

Marc isn't entirely sure what Steven and Jake said to each other after he retreated, but whatever it was, the result is that when Jake surrenders control, Marc opens his eyes instead of Steven. He stands in the middle of the apartment for a moment, frowning, and sends Steven the mental equivalent of a shove. There’s no response, though, just silence, and Jake doesn’t seem prepared to comment either.

“Really?” Marc asks out loud, annoyed. “Aren’t you the one who wanted to stay at the manor in the first place?”

No answer, and Marc sighs and drags his fingers through his hair, then glances up at the statue of Khonshu. It’s getting into evening, but it’s tempting to put on his vestments and go out anyway. Working at night is easier, because that’s Khonshu's time, but—

There's a full moon in the sky, day-pale but clearly visible, and that’s more than enough to work with.

“Do I even want to know how you’re screwing up the world’s tides with all of this?” he asks.

With a low chuckle that clicks like tapping bone, Khonshu turns away from the window overlooking the city and cocks his head. “The world will adjust,” he says. “My strength grows. Soon enough we will face the encroachment, and then I will return things to how they should be.

No question that they're going to win. Not to Khonshu. Then again, he did just guard Gotham's borders with a gesture and build a temple to himself out of nothing, so maybe he has reasons to be so smug.

“So who do I have to punch in the face for you this time?” Marc asks, unimpressed. “If it’s Dracula, you can do it yourself. He still owes me money.”

Khonshu laughs, leaving the window. He steps up beside Marc, looking up at his statue, and says, “You should speak to Oracle, my son.”

That doesn’t sound good, Marc thinks, eyeing the god. “Yeah? Any particular reason?”

The weight of Khonshu's humor is a bloody thing, like knives in the dark. “Because there is a task for you. One more night of hearts and I will be strong enough for it.

Marc grunts, looking away. “Build another temple,” he says, because Khonshu already looks stronger than he did when he appeared to Jake. Belief, Marc thinks. Khonshu was always a bloodthirsty god, but—he was called Khonshu the Merciful, too, more often than not. A god of healing, of protection.

He never showed those sides of himself in Marc's world. Not really. Not after a point. And maybe that should have been a sign that something was wrong, but Marc is a bloodthirsty man himself, and he’s thought—

Well. Hubris to think that he could influence a god just as much as the god influenced him, but…maybe not completely impossible, given how things have played out here.

Khonshu cocks his head, watching him closely. “Another?” he asks.

“If you want believers, make them,” Marc says, and checks the clock. He should go back to the manor, but Steven can probably claim he got caught up in his investments and stayed late to work on them. “Those girls believed enough to leave offerings. I doubt they're the only ones, if people are putting up symbols.”

For a long moment, Khonshu is silent. Then, low, he chuckles, and sinks back. His throne is behind him, cobwebbed and cracked, but the dimension that bends around his form is brighter, lighter. Like he’s closer to this world than he’s ever been, and Marc wonders how much of that is hearts and how much is believers. Hearts have power, but faith must have more. A thousand believers can't be worth less than a few wicked hearts.

Find me hearts, my knight,” Khonshu says. “And if there is another shrine…we shall see.

Now you’re picky,” Marc mutters, and reaches for the vestments. It’s not great for Moon Knight to be seen always leaving or returning to Steven's apartment, so he stuffs them into a knapsack and tosses it over his shoulder, checks that he has the extra crescent darts and his good truncheon, and heads out, locking the apartment and taking the elevator. He’ll find a quiet place to change, then see if he can't deliver some justice, get revenge for victims or find a few lost souls. There’s always street crime in Gotham, it seems like, and while it certainly keeps Marc from getting bored, he’s still convinced that there need to be a hundred of him to make a dent.

The doorman smiles at him as he leaves, gets the door and tips his hat, and Marc inclines his head in return but doesn’t pause. Takes the steps down quickly, into the afternoon crowd on the streets—

The hair on the back of his neck prickles.

Instantly, Marc turns, sweeping a look around the street, but can't see anything. Pauses, right at the edge of the building, and breathes out. There's a watcher, and he doesn’t need Khonshu's power to know that.

Well,” Khonshu murmurs in his ear. “This is certainly unexpected.”

If he’s saying that, it isn't. Marc mutters a curse at his meddling god, then raises his eyes, scanning the buildings around him. It takes a moment, but one half-instant of movement is enough to draw Marc's gaze right to the figure hunkered down in the shadowy tangle of a fire escape. Just slightly too dark for shadow, not still enough to be something inanimate, and Marc stares at the dark mask, featureless and blank, and feels a flicker of wariness that bleeds up his spine. All black, that costume, with a yellow bat across the chest. Another vigilante like Nightwing, but this one—

This one’s dangerous, and he knows that at a glance.

“Khonshu,” he mutters, and takes three steps forward, towards a side-street that cuts towards the financial district. “If you turned her on to me, I'm going to kick your ass.”

Khonshu laughs, low and wicked in his ear. “You're going to get caught if you’re just standing around, my son,” he taunts.

Marc tries to think of a reason someone would be lying in wait for Steven, watching his apartment. Specifically why a vigilante would be, because Steven hasn’t broken any laws, and the only person he’s really been associating with is Bruce, who has to be connected to all of this somehow. With two of his wards, his son, and his friend all vigilantes, either he’s the most oblivious person on earth or he’s connected to it somehow.

“Khonshu,” he hisses and ducks behind a newspaper stand. A moment later, a flicker of movement on another rooftop shows the vigilante is following. Marc watches her, trying to pick a way to handle this. He can play Steven Grant, wander around without care and pretend he just wanted the latest edition of the paper, or he can try to lose her, find a place, suit up as Moon Knight and figure out why she’s following him.

The following means she’s already suspicious. Playing innocent isn't going to get him much, but it might at least give him space to breathe.

And then, on another rooftop, there’s a flash of red.

Red Robin, Marc thinks, and picks a newspaper off the cart, offering the man at the counter two dollars. He waves off the change, trying for his best Steven Grant smile, and takes a moment to pretend to scan the headlines as he scans the surrounding high-rises. A wail of sirens on the main road gives him the opportunity to turn and look behind himself, and there’s a prickle down his spine that says he’s being watched from that direction, too, but he can't pick out who it is. Nightwing, maybe, or Batgirl. Red Hood seems to stick to Arsenal more than the rest of the group, so it’s likely not him.

Maybe they’ve realized he’s Moon Knight, he thinks, and deliberately folds the paper under his arm and keeps walking, heading for the little park that’s near the river. There's a half-collapsed railway tunnel beyond it that he can use to change, if he gets the opportunity. Or maybe he can just get to a station, buy a ticket to Metropolis—

Stay in the city,” Khonshu warns him, and if he had a human face Marc is sure he’d be grinning. “If my conduit leaves, the city will be defenseless.

“Fuck you,” Marc snaps, and passes behind a bus stop, then turns past a parking garage. The streets turn into a maze here, on the edge of the financial district, and it’s reminiscent enough of Wall Street and its maze of side streets that Marc has faith he can lose people there, even people familiar with the area. He cuts through the next parking garage, stays in the shadow of a bus that’s pulling away, and cuts down a street that’s covered by a construction crew’s scaffolding. The itch on his skin doesn’t disappear, and he mutters a curse, slips into a coffee shop, and pauses by the window, watching the skyline.

There’s a definite flicker of black and blue on the edge of the scaffolding, and Marc opens his newspaper, watching over the edge of it as Nightwing slides over the edge, leaps to the top of a parked delivery truck, and doesn’t move. Waiting, he thinks grimly. That’s fine. This shop has a back door.

Pulling Barbara's comm out of his pocket, he slips it into his ear, taps it to turn it on, and makes for the back of the shop. There’s a bathroom to the left, and he ducks into it, locks the door, and waits for a moment. When no one comes pounding at the door, he lets out a breath, and taps the comm again so Barbara will hear him.

“Oracle. Want to tell me why everyone in Gotham is suddenly out for Steven Grant’s head?” he asks.

There's a startled pause. “What,” Barbara says, and there’s a rising indignation in her voice as the line crackles. “Where are you?”

“Coffee shop off Washington and Seaward,” Marc says, and opens the narrow, barred window. The security bars are loose in their frame, something he noticed last time he was here, and he kicks them out, then slides through into the narrow street full of dumpsters and gusting steam. Here, at least, the itch of eyes is better, removed, and he watches the figure of Khonshu form out of the haze, smug and languid in his throne. “Asshole, what did you do?”

Do?” Khonshu asks lazily. “Nothing, my knight. But it’s so inconvenient that you haven’t met Gotham's other defenders on equal terms. Don’t you want to?

“No,” Marc says flatly, and turns for the park. “Oracle?”

“Nightwing cut me off,” Barbara says, and that’s a narrow, offended tone, audible even as static crackles across the line and almost completely swallows her voice. “He said they had it handled. Are you somewhere I can send a car?”

Waiting that long will definitely put a target on his back. Marc grimaces, but picks up his pace towards the park. “Handled, huh?”

Barbara sounds distracted. “I had to run some system updates, so I wasn’t paying attention to the comms earlier. They're looking for you, though. Black Bat is ahead of you, at the corner of Jefferson. Red Robin is on your left, closing in.”

Marc takes a right, then another, around a small café with umbrellas for cover and then into a tree-shaded avenue that borders the river. The park is up ahead, but there’s a hell of a lot of open space between him and it, and he doesn’t like his odds against several well-trained opponents.

“Any idea why?” he asks, annoyed with himself more than anything. Of course something would go wrong. He was just starting to feel settled here.

One step out of the trees and onto the walk that edges the river, and Marc can see the park ahead of him. In the same moment, though, a shadow falls over him, and he goes still.

“Who are you?” a gravely voice asks, and Marc turns, coming face to face with one of Gotham's defenders that he hasn’t met yet. Batman is an imposing figure, dark and still and looming, even though he’s the same height as Marc, and the cowl that covers half his face leaves too little free to read.

“Steven Grant,” Marc says, and thinks of the truncheon in his bag. So close, but getting the chance to use it is going to be a problem. “Batman, right?” He tries to think what Steven would do, but the tension is too much, the instinct to swing and run too strong to leave room for Steven's charm. Marc's never been good at charming, anyway.

“Lie,” a soft voice says, and Black Bat lands lightly on the railing above the river, cocking her head. She doesn’t say anything else, but she doesn’t need to; Marc eyes her build, matches the voice to what he remembers, and—he’s not completely sure, but he’d put money on it being Cassandra under that mask. At least she’s not wearing a domino.

“Steven Grant was shot in the head,” Batman says, flat, but the undertone of gravel wavers. Lighter, just for a moment, and Marc looks back at him. “Either you're a metahuman who can survive that or you're something else entirely.”

Shit, Marc thinks, and there’s a sinking feeling in his stomach. He’s not sure how they realized, but—it’s going to be hard to talk himself out of this one.

“Marc,” Barbara starts, but an instant later the comm crackles into pure static again, loud enough to make Marc flinch. No help from that quarter, then. Swallowing a curse, Marc eyes the river beyond Black Bat. It’s not an ideal escape route, but if he can make it past her it will be good enough.

Of course, the other option is telling them all that he’s Moon Knight. Batman's been looking for Moon Knight, though, and Marc isn't entirely convinced that this will end any better if he tries that route.

“So you all decided to jump me in the street?” he asks, and shifts his weight faintly. Instantly, Black Bat shifts too, blocking the railing he was thinking of aiming for. Marc doesn’t let his irritation show. “That’s clever.”

“You're not Steven Grant,” Batman says harshly, and it sounds like he knows.

Marc darts another glance at him, suspicious. Close contact with Steven, then, and there’s only person who can claim that recently. But if that’s Bruce under the mask—

Well. Everything makes a hell of a lot more sense and a hell of a lot less, all at once.

“Maybe we’re identical twins,” Marc says, dry, and steps back, towards the open street. There's a soft scuff of boots, and it’s doubtless Nightwing or Red Robin waiting to grab him, but Marc's fought Nightwing. He can probably get past him.

“Steven doesn’t have any listed family,” Nightwing says from above them, in the trees, and Marc wants to swear. Red Robin behind him, then. That’s less convenient. “Try again.” He lands, three paces to the left, and straightens, and there’s that same sharp anger on his face that Marc saw as Moon Knight. Nightwing's got a temper. “Whatever you are, get out of his body and leave him alone.”

Marc stops short. Get out of his body. That’s—

“You think I'm possessed?” he demands, not sure if he’s offended or amused.

Black Bat nods, bringing her hands up. Hesitates, and then drops them, and says, “Different people.”

“And your first thought was a demon?” Marc asks, and it takes effort not to roll his eyes. Looks at Batman, at Bruce, and there are lenses over his eyes but he holds Bruce's gaze anyway. “Look, I told you I was on medication.”

Bruce freezes, caught entirely off guard, but before he can say anything, Red Robin snorts. “That doesn’t explain the headshot,” he says, too close, and Marc ducks, leaps sideways. Black Bat is already dropping to meet him, but Marc slows, lets Nightwing leap to grab him, ducks under his body, and grabs his arm. Throws him forward, right into Black Bat, and there's a shout from further down the street, a step that’s a hell of a lot closer. Marc rises right into Batman's fist, takes the punch and grabs him, using him as a springboard to leap up and over. Lands, darting away from the stabbing blow of Red Robin’s bō staff—

Black Bat swings a foot for his head, and Marc grabs the truncheon out of his bag, blocks the kick, and in her brief second of surprise he shoves her hard, giving himself space. Darts back, flips a crescent dart at Red Robin and shears right through his staff. There’s a hiss of shock, then the broken staff flying at his head, and Marc twists past it, brings the truncheon up, and blocks Bruce's fist before it can hit him in the face.

“I have a mental disorder, not a problem with possession,” he says flatly, feels Bruce suck in a sharp breath—

“Hey!” a loud voice cries over the roar of a bike, and a black motorcycle skids to a sharp stop by the curb. Batgirl leaps off, but there’s another figure behind her who climbs off more deliberately. A blond man in a long tan trench coat, worn and a little tired, just like the man wearing it. He pauses at the edge of the street even as Batgirl approaches at a run, and Marc locks eyes with him just as Khonshu starts to laugh.

“Constantine!” Bruce shouts, a warning, but by then it’s half a second too late for it to matter.

Chapter Text

It’s probably safe to say that John has a problem with doing favors for people.

They are, granted, not always willing favors—blackmail’s come into play more than once—but a fair few of them are. People ask, and John helps, because usually it’s a good way to knock some of the darkness off his own ledger and stick a thumb in the eye of whatever low-level evil’s decided to start small. It’s a good way to catch things before they snowball, too, and besides that, John’s got few enough friends that he can afford to ignore the phone when it rings.

And, of course, when someone pretty asks, it’s even harder to say no.

That last bit is definitely at fault here, John thinks. Nightwing called, and maybe John’s always sort of had a thing for that black and blue suit, because he’d agreed despite finally managing to stake out a piece of London for himself again. Nightwing had said possession, probably recent, maybe something Egyptian, and he’d sounded worried enough to override John’s fairly unreliable sense of self-preservation.

Though, John reflects as the white-clad bastard in the middle of the street rises, if this is the sort of thing the Bats are going to call him about, it doesn’t matter worth a damn how well Nightwing fills out a jockstrap. Next time John’s going to hang up the second he hears the tosser’s voice. Minor, recent possession? Like hell.

Wreathed in silver and jet, wrapped up in enough magic that it makes John’s teeth ache, the one maskless man in the fight turns. He looks scrappy for all he’s probably twice John’s width, though maybe that’s just the bruise starting to bloom purple across one side of his face. Suspiciously similar to Batman’s fist, now that John’s looking. There’s light crawling across the bruise, flickering across his face, and his eyes glow with an unholy brilliance John really doesn’t care for.

John’s not a seer, per se. But he’s good at noticing the obvious when it’s staring him in the face, and right now the bloke with the glowing eyes is just an image, a mirage. Overlapping him, all around him, there’s a figure in silver and bone armor, brighter than the full moon, and one look at him hurts.

Of course the one time he gets invited into Gotham it would be to deal with a blighted god.

“Oh, it bloody figures,” he says, just as those eyes lock with his. Loud, raucous laughter washes over the street, sharp and dry like clicking bones, full of wicked humor, and—

There’s a shift, a twist, and the world wrenches sideways. John staggers, boots suddenly ankle-deep in soft sand, and curses as a gust of too-hot wind buffets him. Wrenches upright, taking three quick steps away from the base of the sand dune rising behind him, and then stills.

Gotham is gone. Or, rather, it’s changed. The streets are sand and moonlight and bone-deep heat, the air so fresh and clean it almost burns when John takes a breath, and in between the high-rises there are pyramids, capped with silver and black. Huge, sprawling temples of sandstone dot the city, and there are clouds of falcons wheeling in the night sky. Past the edge of the city, like walls, pale flames leap skyward, and beyond them a bright tide crashes against the barrier like a sea.

Not a vision. A psychic imprint or the like, John thinks, and closes his fingers around the Moonblade in its sheath beneath his coat. By all rights it should be no longer than a gladius right now, given the moon’s phase, but—

But there’s a full moon hanging above Gotham, and it’s real enough that the Moonblade’s turning back into a longsword. That’s sign enough that there’s something questionable happening.

In the middle of the sand-filled street, the stranger straightens. He’s watching John with narrowed eyes, and here that strange overlap is gone. He’s not just a man, but he looks like one, and John likes that even less than the glowing aura.

“Been redecorating, I see,” he says, and deliberately casts a look around not-quite-Gotham. “I’ll admit, it’s nice to see a break in the smog, but don’t you think you’ve gone a bit far in the other direction, mate?”

“Scared of a little sand?” the man asks, and it’s quiet, but carries. John looks him over, taking in the white suit, coat gone, sleeves rolled up. The shadows cling to him strangely, too stark and sharp, and as John watches the bruise blooms across his cheek, colors, fades, disappears.

“Bit overrated, if you ask me,” John says, and looks around again, trying to find a hint as to what he’s dealing with. Egyptian for certain, but that hardly narrows it down much. “Mind if I ask what you think you’re doing to Gotham here?”

But the man’s eyes slide past him, focus behind him, where a falcon-headed sphinx is half-buried in the dunes. “Khonshu,” he says, and the name has a force to it that pricks like needles across John’s skin, puts every hair on the back of his neck up.

My son,” a terrible, hissing, grating voice says, right over John’s shoulder, and he wrenches around, contains a curse as something vast and white takes form. It’s vaguely in the shape of a man, but it’s not, and as it looms the sky behind it turns to a darkness more complete than anything on earth, brightened only by the edges of unfamiliar galaxies spinning past.

A crack, John thinks, blood running cold. Someone’s cracked a goddamn dimension and let something out.

The gaunt, bleached skull of some vast bird can’t smile, but the god in the stranger’s mind doesn’t need to for the feel of cold amusement to bloom around it. It’s the same sort of thing as a cat with a mouse under its claws, pressing down on a frantic heart, and John swallows, steps back as it turns to look at him.

“Khonshu,” the man says again, and when John casts a wary glance at him, there’s a mark like a crescent moon on his forehead, an outline in pure light and silver.

John most definitely didn’t sign up for Egyptian gods when he agreed to help Nightwing out of a jam.

“Demigod, then?” John says, keeps it even as he shifts back further towards the dark streets. It’s not his best idea, to run from a god in their own creation, but it’s better than providing an easy target. John’s never gone out of his way to make anyone’s life easy, and he’s certainly not about to start. “I have to say, it’s a good thing you take after your mother.”

The man frowns, brow wrinkling like he’s confused, but he looks up at the god instead of at John and says, “If they gut me while you’ve got us stuck in this place, I’m never feeding you again.”

Khonshu laughs, and it rattles along John’s bones. “If they’re able to gut you so easily, I chose the wrong knight,” he counters.

The man scoffs, quiet and rude, and drops his gaze to John. “Who are you?” he asks.

John weighs his answers for a moment, but—a god accepting backtalk is probably a good sign. Or it means the bastard’s got a relationship with his knight that can withstand a little razzing, which means there’s likely no easy way to pry them apart. John likes that idea less. “John Constantine,” he says. Using the Moonblade on a god with a hell of a lot of moon imagery is probably going to be a lost cause, but he doesn’t release his grip on the sword. “Dabbler in the dark arts. And who might I have the pleasure of addressing in this hellishly hot sandpit?”

“Marc Spector.” Marc’s eyes flicker from John to his god, and he says, “You’re a reality warper.”

The way he says it, the you’re fucked, mate is heavily implied. John’s not a great fan of that, either.

“I think you’re mistaken,” John says, and tries not to eye the streets too obviously. From the look of all those falcons, he won’t make it far, but he can at least try if this god decides he’d rather step on John than let him trade barbs with his knight. “Reality’s punched me in the face a fair few times, and I've never quite been able to swing back.”

Marc snorts, but it’s more camaraderie than disbelief, which makes for a nice change of pace. “Not that kind of magician, then?” he asks.

“Like I said, I dabble.” John sweeps a look around them, then up at the looming shape of the god, and asks, “Bats know you’ve laid claim to his city, love? I can't image he’s taking that well.”

With a grimace, Marc shifts back, just a little. “What do you think you walked into?” he asks, and pauses. His gaze flickers to the brightness beyond the city’s borders, grimness sliding over his features for a moment, and he takes a slow breath. “Are you here for that?” he asks.

“I'm here for you,” John admits, and wants a cigarette. When Marc raises a brow at him, John gives him a crooked smile. “Cheers, mate. I was expecting an old Egyptian demon.”

Irritation flickers across Marc's face, and he sighs. “Because they think I'm possessed,” he concludes. “At least I'm not in Arkham.”

Minefield, John thinks, eyeing him. He’ll avoid that topic, at least until he’s out of the bloke’s mind. “So you're chosen of Khonshu, then?” he asks. “Not active enough for a cult, are you?”

“Not before,” Marc allows. Hesitates, looking up at his god, but Khonshu doesn’t say anything as he stares back. “You haven’t heard of him?”

John snorts, and politeness be damned, he pulls out a cigarette and a lighter. “I've heard of him, but you're serving a dead god, love. Khonshu was killed eons ago. Isis took his role as god of the moon, and all’s been quiet since. You might be able to find a few mentions in old books, but before you it’d been a bloody age since anyone mentioned ‘im.”

“Hear that?” Marc says, dry, and it’s only after a moment of confusion that John realizes he’s addressing Khonshu. “You shouldn’t be talking, because you don’t exist.”

There's another low, wavering, clicking laugh, and out of the corner of his eye John sees that white form shift. He twitches back hard, but Khonshu ignores him. Just slightly more than human-sized, he steps past John to approach his knight, and leans in like the bird his head says he is. “Oh, my son, but you’ve served me so well here,” he says. “How could I not exist, after you so deftly made me a space?

Something cold prickles along John’s spine, and he looks from Khonshu to Marc to the broken sky. “You're the crack,” he says, not sure if it’s disbelief that fuels the words or incredulity. “You're the crack between dimensions.”

Marc doesn’t look startled, or even vaguely surprised. Just amused, and he tips his head. “I have DID,” he says, and turns his face up to his god again. “My aspects and Khonshu's are…”

Reflections,” Khonshu supplies for him, and turns his head to look at John. The skull’s eyes have nothing in the sockets, but through them, there’s a world that pulls uncomfortably at John’s soul, a sharp tug behind his breastbone that drives him back a step before he can be pulled in. “My knight is my avatar in the mortal world, John Constantine.”

John thinks of that first glimpse of Marc, the overlapping image of a god, and doesn’t doubt it in the least.

“If you try to exorcise me, it’s going to end badly,” Marc says, less warning and more plain fact. There’s no edge of malice in his voice, no anger, just recognition. Normally John might push, might try and test it, but Khonshu feels like he’s smiling again, a dare edged with something bloodthirsty and the furthest thing from benign.

Carefully, deliberately, John drops his hand away from the Moonblade and lights his cigarette. “I can see that,” he says, eyes Khonshu again a little skeptically, and asks, “Made your point yet, then?”

Have I?” Khonshu asks amiably, but John’s dealt with more than enough things that have cheerfully tried to eat him that he doesn’t trust that tone for a moment.

“Unless you’ve got another warning you’re meaning to share,” John says, and jerks a thumb at the searing light beyond the city’s walls.

“He needs more hearts to deal with that,” Marc says, before Khonshu can answer. “Or more believers.”

John’s met gods before, old things, newer things. Belief varies, between them—sometimes believers are only the faithful, and sometimes believers are anyone who knows that they exist. He wonders which Khonshu is angling for.

“Hearts, is it?” Because that’s always the mark of a kind god.

Like he can hear the thought that accompanies the words, Marc smiles, small and crooked. “Wicked hearts,” he says.

Khonshu chuckles, and there’s no sense of movement, but suddenly bony fingers are on John’s chin. He doesn’t flinch, just glares at the god as Khonshu tips his chin up, but if anything that seems to amuse Khonshu even more.

Your heart would be a feast, John Constantine,” he says, and John can see the dimension he’s from in the depths of his empty eye sockets. There’s a pyramid of glowing light, a prison, but…

There’s not as much of Khonshu in there as there probably should be. He’s slipping out, escaping, and call John a pessimist but he tends to think that things that get locked up should probably stay that way.

“Sorry,” John says, and doesn’t mean it in the least. “My soul’s already spoken for.”

Khonshu cocks his head, and there’s interest in the weight of his gaze. “You modern humans have such funny ideas about souls,” he says. “But losing your soul when you die and having a god claim your heart are two different things entirely.” He lets go, pulling back just a little, and chuckles. “Your heart would be a meal indeed, and in return I could escort all the pieces of your soul on to the underworld, superseding whatever other bargains you have made. Would that be a fair bargain?

“Seeing as I’d be dead for it, not really,” John says, and this time when Khonshu reaches for him, he drops his hand back onto the Moonblade, ready to draw it.

Before he can, though, a hand in a white glove catches Khonshu’s sleeve, and Marc steps between them. “Can he get out of my head now?” he asks, annoyed. “I want to wake up before the idiots start yelling Latin at me.”

Khonshu laughs, letting Marc drag him back a step like he’s a friend with personal space issues and not an ancient, resurrected god. “It will take far more than a few words in a young language like that to separate us, my son,” he says, and it makes John grimace, because he’s hardly an expert, but Khonshu was around long before the Egyptian empire rose. Even if he’s supposed to be dead, even if he’s been dead for centuries, a god that old is sure to have some tricks up his sleeves.

Of course, dead once means he was killed, and if he was killed before John’s relatively certain they can manage it again, if they need to.

A gust of too-hot air whirls past them, so thick with sand that John has to jerk a hand up to shield his eyes, and there’s a sensation to freefall for just a moment. It snaps back into steadiness, and John grunts, staggers a step, feels his boots catch on firm pavement instead of soft sand. When he drops his hand, Gotham looks like the day-dark, brooding city it normally is, and the last light of evening seems bright against the moon and stars of the world inside Marc’s head.

“Constantine!” a sharp voice says, and a hand on his elbow steadies him. Grunting, John presses the heel of his hand to his temple, like he can wall off the sudden throbbing through sheer willpower, and looks up. Dark hair, a pretty face, and blue eyes fit to lose himself in. At least no one can fault him for his taste here.

“Next time you need me, love, check your sources first,” he says. “That’s no demon in him. It’s a god.”

Nightwing freezes, eyes widening, and a moment later he jerks around. Batgirl stares back, startled, from where she’s hanging on to one of Marc’s arms. Red Robin has the other, with Marc pinned between them, and his eyes narrow.

It’s Batman who steps forward, though. Batman who asks, sharp, “What god?”

Marc blows out a breath, and it’s exasperated and angry in equal measure. “Khonshu,” he says, and meets John’s eyes. “My god is Khonshu. I’m his knight.”

“His Fist,” Black Bat says, strange behind her mask, and cocks her head. She crouches down, picking up something that shines silver, and holds it up. A blade, wickedly sharp, that’s curved like a crescent moon.

“Moon Knight,” Batman says, just barely above a growl.

Well, that’s clearly a sore point, John thinks, and raises a brow at Marc. “Haven’t told him, then, mate?” he asks. “I take it he hasn’t seen what your god’s been doing to the psychic imprint of this place, either.”

Batman tenses, but if Marc cares he doesn’t show it. Just snorts, then closes his eyes, and—

In an instant, in the space if a breath, the scrappiness is gone. The man who opens his eyes lifts his chin, squares his shoulders, tips his head, and in a moment he’s someone else entirely. He holds himself like he can handle a lot, but more on the boardroom battle side of things than a street brawl, John thinks, eyes narrowing.

DID, Marc said. Aspects, in Khonshu’s words. A moon god with phases, and his avatar has them too.

“Batman,” the stranger in Marc’s body says, and it sounds like the name is unfamiliar, like he was about to use something else. “It’s not possession. If you’d let me explain, I think we can settle this without a fight. It doesn’t have to end badly.”

John’s close enough to hear Black Bat’s sharp breath, see the way she rocks back on her heels and then rises. She steps forward, right past Batman, and stops in front of the man. Tips her head, pauses, and then offers her hand. “Black Bat,” she says, like she’s introducing herself.

The man smiles, quick, amused. “I’m Steven Grant,” he says. “I think you met Marc before. Marc Spector.”

Batman is still frozen, unmoving, looming more than a little. John looks from him to Steven, brows rising of their own accord, because that look says it’s personal. Of all the people in the League, John had thought Bats was the best at keeping work and civilian life separate.

There’s a moment, and then Batgirl frowns. “Are you like Firestorm?” she asks. “Two people coming together in one body to make a separate hero?”

“Not quite.” Carefully but firmly, Steven pulls his arms away her and Red Robin, then straightens. Tugs his shirt straight, and says, “I’m not possessed. I’m another person. Marc Spector suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder. It’s one of the things that drew Khonshu to him in the first place.” He pauses, expression twisting, and says, “Bruce—”

“It’s Batman,” Batman says harshly, and steps away. “Black Bat, Red Robin, take him back to the Cave. Don’t let him out of your sight.”

Black Bat hesitates, but nods, stepping back to take Steven’s arm. Gently, she tugs him forward, and Steven goes without protest, though he casts a conflicted glance at Batman before he does. Red Robin brings up the rear, tense and not looking entirely happy.

Well, this is certainly a mess John doesn’t want anything to do with. Huffing out a breath, he rocks back on his heels, then says to Nightwing, “I’m flattered you think I’m in the same weight class as a god, love, but I think I’d rather keep my head in one piece. Cheers.”

He wants to get a look at Khonshu’s barrier before he leaves. At the brightness beyond it, too, if he can—whatever Khonshu is protecting the city from, it’s either good news or very bad, depending on whether it wants Khonshu alone or everyone else in the city.

“I didn’t know,” Nightwing says almost quietly, and he sounds…frustrated. John glances at his face, sees the lines of stress there, the confusion, and blows out a heavy breath. He didn’t sign up to play councilor in any form, but—

“Gods are a tricky thing,” John says. “Come on, love. You know the city better than I do. Show me a place where I can get a nice view of the harbor, yeah?”

“Sightseeing?” Nightwing says, and there’s an edge of forced lightness, trying for a joke. When John steps away, though, Nightwing takes the lead, heading for the park in the distance.

“Call it professional curiosity,” John says, and takes one last look at Batman standing frozen in the street before he turns away. Potentially John should offer his services to help clear things up, but—

Well. Last time they worked together John spent fifteen minutes dangling off the side of a New York skyscraper by one of Batman's grapples. He’s not feeling overly charitable at the moment. Bats can suffer for a bit. It does the soul good, John’s heard.

 

 

The moment Cassandra’s bike pulls into the apparent secret cave beneath Wayne Manor, there's a sound of deep indignation and bottled rage. Marc doesn’t even have to glance over to know exactly who it is.

“Grant!” Damian says, stalking across the huge room. “What are you doing with her?”

Cassandra pulls her mask off, rolling her eyes a little, and holds the bike while Marc slides off. She follows a moment later, shaking her hair out, and cocks her head at Damian.

“Of course I've met him,” Damian says, annoyed. “He’s staying in the mansion. I had thought you were cleverer than this, Cain, but I see Drake has infected you—”

“Shut up,” Red Robin cuts in, turning off his engine. “You haven’t met him, he’s—”

“Hi, Damian,” Marc says dryly, and Damian pauses, eyes narrowing.

“Spector,” he allows after a moment. “You were caught?”

“Apparently,” Marc says, and glances over to where Red Robin has his face screwed up in deep offense.

“You knew?” Red Robin demands, incredulous.

Damian scoffs, crossing his arms over his chest. “Of course I know,” he says, and there’s a thread of smug glee to the words. “Spector and I interrupted Black Mask’s human trafficking ring last night. Moon Knight is a decent martial artist.”

Cassandra puts a hand up to hide a smile, catching Marc's arm. She tugs him towards a bank of computers and a handful of chairs, guiding him into one, and then folds herself into another. Cocking her head at him, she taps her temple, mimes a shot, and opens her hand in question.

Marc frowns, trying to parse that. “What?”

“She’s asking how you survived getting shot in the head,” Red Robin says, sounding grumpy. He pulls off his domino mask, watching Marc, and says, “I want to know that, too, Grant. I saw the scene, and there was no way that shot didn’t kill you.”

Damian twitches, shoulders going tense, and Cassandra grimaces faintly. She reaches out for him, but Damian sidesteps her hand pointedly and grabs the edge of Marc's chair instead. “At the museum?” he demands, glaring at Marc.

Marc doesn’t take it personally, not when he knows how Damian reacted the other night to realizing he’d died before. “I'm not Grant,” he says quietly. “And I didn’t survive. Khonshu just brought me back afterwards.” He pauses, considering Red Robin for a moment, and then snorts. “That’s why you thought I was possessed?”

Red Robin frowns, but before he can say anything Damian hisses like an offended cat, bristling. “Possessed?” he demands.

“Like you would have thought something different,” Red Robin retorts. “Someone who should have died suddenly acting like two different people? Of course that’s what we thought.”

“That is because you are an idiot, Drake—”

“At least I'm not going to have to tell Bruce I knew and kept Moon Knight’s identity a secret—”

Cassandra sighs, and when Marc raises a brow at her she smiles wryly. Touches her chest, offers up both hands like an apology, and winces, and that’s clear enough.

“It was your idea?” Marc translates, a little amused. Cassandra nods, expression twisting into remorse, and Marc shakes his head. “It’s fine. I know the business. Possession happens. Just…not this time.”

Cassandra nods, twisting her fingers together. Reaching up, she taps her head, then says, “Tim was. Worried.”

About the headshot. About missing it, probably; he was the one who found Steven at the museum. Marc takes a breath, lets it out slow, and rubs a hand through his hair. “Yeah,” he says, and thinks of waking up on the ground with blood all around him. He hadn’t paused, because there was work to do, but…that instant of cold, precise terror when Steven fell away and he was left to watch October’s finger close on the trigger hasn’t faded. Won't ever, probably—the best Marc can do is keep moving it, bury it with purpose and drive. That’s all any of them can do, in the end.

“I'm not here to hurt the city,” Marc says, meeting her dark, watchful eyes. “I just want to stop good people from getting hurt.”

Cassandra’s eyes flicker over to where Tim and Damian's argument just increased in volume, then slide back to Marc. “Killer,” she says, not an accusation, but a statement.

“I don’t go out of my way to kill,” Marc says quietly. “But for some people? If they get in my way, I'm not going to stop.”

Mouth curling in a way that’s almost amusement, but tired, Cassandra nods. She pulls her legs up under her in the chair, wrapping her arms around them, and says, “I. Used to. Assassin.”

“Like Damian,” Marc says, because she’s young, too. Younger than Red Hood, certainly.

Cassandra flicks a hand between herself and Damian. “Just like,” she says, and then grimaces, rubbing at her throat. “Can't…”

Can't speak much, Marc realizes, and asks, “That part of it?”

She nods, then gestures at her face, mimes bringing her hands up for a blow.

“Body language,” Marc interprets, thoughtful. “No wonder you noticed Steven and I were different people.”

Cassandra grins at him, quick and bright, then points towards the rising voices. Marc turns to look, raising an eyebrow, and is just in time to reach out and catch Damian by the collar before he lunges for Tim, teeth bared.

“Wasn’t your friend over?” he asks, reeling Damian back in. He doesn’t fool himself into thinking it happens for any other reason than because Damian allows it, but at least it separates the two vigilantes a little.

Damian scoffs, folding his arms over his chest. “Jon returned home,” he says. “I was going to contact Huntress, but the comm lines are down.”

“Sunspots,” Tim says, like it’s automatic, and then scowls at Damian. “Wait, you and Huntress and Moon Knight, that’s when you blew your cover?”

“I did no such thing,” Damian says imperiously. “Spector is a good detective and realized it was me.”

They're not mentioning that it took Marc about ten seconds and one curse, apparently. Damian is very definitely avoiding Marc's raised brow, but since Damian's on his side Marc decides they can keep that a secret.

Cassandra hides another smile, her eyes dancing. Marc snorts, and says, “If it helps, I figured out Grayson first.”

Tim's expression twists into disbelief. “I'm never letting him live that down,” he mutters, and slumps over the back of Cassandra’s chair, frowning. “Khonshu can bring you back from the dead?” he asks. “Because you must have been really dead in the statuary garden. We found skull fragments.”

Damian stiffens, then turns. “Spector?” he demands, all cutting edges and something like desperation underneath.

Quietly, unwavering, Marc meets his eyes. “Khonshu chose me,” he says. “Like in the desert. If I die, I just get up again, for as long as I'm his knight.”

Damian doesn’t move for a long moment, doesn’t even seem to be breathing. Then, precise, he closes his fingers in Marc's sleeve and says, bitingly, “If you are forced to serve him—”

“No.” Marc glances up, to where Cassandra is watching him carefully, where Tim is starring with narrowed eyes. “Khonshu brought me back, but—he never made me serve him.”

And it’s true. In the aftermath of Bushman’s death, in the dark days when Marc was broken, in the long, empty stretches after Marlene left, Marc could have walked away. He could have stopped being Moon Knight, or become a different hero. There was nothing forcing him to Khonshu's side except his own belief, but—he’s always believed. Always known, steady and certain, that Khonshu is as real as anything, and Marc belongs to him with all the fervor of a lost soul finally given a path to follow.

It’s a dark path, with too many turns, but it’s Marc, and his feet might have faltered more than once, but he’s never stopped walking.

“You believe,” Cassandra says, thoughtful, and when Marc glances at her, she smiles. Reaching up, she taps her fist against her heart, then against her forehead, and says, “Faith. Power.”

“Yeah,” Marc agrees. “It is.” He leans forward, bracing his elbows on his knees, and runs a hand over his hair. “I have to—Khonshu is protecting the city. I need to go out and keep helping. He needs believers, hearts. I can't—” He breaks off, grimacing, because from what he’s heard, Batman isn't easily convinced of anything. Telling him that Marc's god needs to convert people all across the city to save it probably won't go over well.”

Tim looks down, and Cassandra looks up. They trade speaking looks, and then Tim says, “Protecting the city. From what?”

Marc just shrugs. “Something that wants to get in,” he says. “Something hungry.”

“Something,” a voice echoes, and Marc twitches, turns. Bruce is standing by the edge of the computers, mask in hand, and he’s watching Marc with a flat, expectant stare. “Specifics?”

Marc hesitates, then asks quietly, “Khonshu?”

Khonshu doesn’t appear, but there’s a dart of amusement, a flicker of agreement, and Marc rises to his feet, not bothering to tug his sleeve out of Damian's grip. “I can show you,” he offers, holding Bruce's gaze. “The same way I showed Constantine.”

Tim jerks upright, making a sound of protest, but Bruce raises a hand to stop whatever he’s about to say. Watches Marc for a long, long moment, and then says, “How.”

It’s not a question, and Marc snorts. “I can see it. If you're in my mind, you can see it too.”

For a moment, Bruce just stares at him, eyes narrowed. “Why should I trust you?” he finally asks.

Marc laughs, short and sharp. “I don’t know,” he challenges. “Why should you?”

“Father,” Damian says, and when Bruce glances at him he pulls himself up like he’s making a declaration and says, “I would trust him.”

Surprise flickers across Bruce's face, and he pauses. Watches Damian for a long moment, then lets his gaze slide back to Marc.

“Why did you kill the Joker?” he asks. “Why not let the law and the courts deal with him?”

There’s weight to the question, something Marc can feel in the still air between them. The silence stretches for a long, long moment as he considers his answer, and then he takes a breath.

“Because,” he says. “He was going to kill Red Hood and Red Robin, and I could make sure he never killed anyone again. I’m willing to make that choice.”

“It’s a heavy choice,” Bruce says, quiet. “And there’s the chance you could choose wrong.”

Marc smiles just a little, small and crooked. “I was a mercenary,” he says. “I did things that I can never make up for, because someone offered me a paycheck. I've seen good people, Bruce, and people who have made mistakes. I can tell the difference. And even when I can't, Khonshu can.”

Bruce pauses, like he hadn’t considered that part. “Khonshu is…”

“Vengeance,” Marc says, watching him. “But he’s the god of justice, too.”

There's a long, long moment of silence, and then Bruce inclines his head, just faintly. “All right,” he says. “Show me the threat.”

Chapter Text

“This is reckless,” Tim says, quietly enough that the man across the room won't hear them.

Bruce snorts, though he doesn’t pull away from helping Tim lay out the training mats. “Cassandra trusts him,” he says. “And Constantine survived.”

“Constantine’s the magical equivalent of a cockroach,” Tim points out. “And Cass thought he was possessed, like, an hour ago. You're sure you want to do this? I can—”

“Stay here and monitor brain patterns, and make sure no one barges in,” Bruce finishes, and when Tim doesn’t appear to be relaxing at all, he puts a hand on his shoulder for a moment before stepping away. “Tim, if there is a threat, we need to know what it is.”

Tim pauses, then shoots him a look that’s almost startled. “You think it’s related to that Justice League thing?” he asks, eyes narrowing, and Bruce can see the wheels starting to turn as he latches onto the problem.

“I think it’s strange that Gotham hasn’t been hit,” is all Bruce says, but steps make him turn to face the man approaching.

Marc Spector doesn’t move like Steven Grant. Steven is all ease and openness, and even if he’s not helpless, he doesn’t move like he knows his body is a weapon. Marc does, though. He doesn’t smile much, either; his expressions are quieter, more contained. Given to watching instead of immediately engaging, and Bruce suspects there’s military training in there somewhere, buried beneath the god.

“Ready?” he asks Marc, who flicks a glance at the mats and nods.

“You'll be in my mind, not yours,” he says, and it sounds faintly awkward, a carefully laid-out reassurance. “I won't see what you know.”

Not that it matters, since he identified Bruce with a glance. That hasn’t happened since Tim. Bruce tries not to grimace, but—even people who have guessed usually have to spend a hell of a lot longer around him to realize. Maybe part of that is the god thing. Maybe he’s just getting worse at hiding.

“All right,” he says, and ignores the way Tim is hovering right beside him.

Marc nods, then sinks down cross-legged on his mat. Straightens his back, tips his chin down, and rests his hands on his knees, then says, “You might want to be sitting down for this.”

Cautiously, Bruce mirrors him, watching the shift of shadows across his face as he breathes out, raises his head—

His eyes glow, the same white brilliance as Moon Knight’s trapped beneath his skin, and Bruce's breath catches despite himself.

“Khonshu,” Marc says, frowning. It almost sounds like a reprimand, and he reaches out, curls his fingers around Bruce's wrist where it rests on his thigh, and then says, “Hang on.”

Bruce isn't sure whether he means hang on to something or wait a moment, and he opens his mouth—

Breathes in sand, and shuts it quickly.

The world steadies around them, a whirl of sand clearing, and Bruce scans the area, quick and careful. They're on the top of a dune in the darkness, in the middle of a path lined with falcon-headed sphinxes, and the path marches down into the shallow valley to a rocky hillside. A tomb, Bruce thinks, eying it; the entrance stands open, and he hopes it’s not a sign that Marc is about to kill him.

“This is what your head looks like?” he asks, glancing back at his companion. “You have a thing for sand.”

Marc snorts, mouth curling faintly. His eyes slide open, and they’ve thankfully lost their glow, but he seems…different. Sharper, like he’s a drawing that’s suddenly become more defined. Maybe it’s the white suit, stark against the golden sand, but—maybe it’s not.

There's a crescent moon on his forehead, glowing faintly in the night.

“Khonshu likes sand,” Marc says, and rises to his feet in a smooth motion. “He was carried from Mesopotamia to Africa by people wiling to brave the desert, and then he just…stayed.”

Mesopotamia. An old god, then, Bruce thinks warily. He rises as well, turning to cast a longer look around them, and then stops short.

From the top of the dune, he can see all the way across the rolling sands, down to the green brightness of the river in the distance. Across it, burning with ambient light, is Gotham, but—

It’s not the Gotham he knows. He would have remembered the pyramids.

“It’s my head,” Marc says quietly beside him, like he knows where Bruce's thoughts are. “This isn't physical. But people have started worshipping Khonshu, and things…reflect that.”

“A magical imprint,” Bruce says, and Marc nods. It doesn’t help the tug of indignation beneath Bruce's skin, but it’s enough that he can keep breathing. Gotham being so different is uncomfortable. He pushes past it, files it away to think about later, and asks, “Is this what you see in Gotham?”

“Only when I'm looking,” Marc says, which isn't an answer. When Bruce shoots him a look, he just shrugs. “I'm Khonshu's avatar. The entryway to reality that he uses. Even without the mental illnesses, what I see isn't what everyone else does.”

Bruce has met a handful one people claiming to follow gods, or to be them. He’s never quite thought of it in terms of doorways, though, and the idea that Marc's existence is a doorway for Khonshu is entirely disquieting. Khonshu passes through him to access the world. Marc is himself a door, with a full-fledged god on the other side.

He shuts that away, too, to think about later. “The threat?” he asks, wishing he had a better name for it, but something encroaching on my city is too much of a mouthful.

Marc nods, starting forward down the path. “This way,” he says. “We can pass through the tomb.”

That’s rather less than comforting, and Bruce hides a grimace. “If this is going to turn into a remake of The Mummy…”

Marc laughs, startled and a little rough, but warm. Bruce's eyes go to his face, and—it’s Steven's face, but it’s also not. Like identical twins, and Bruce can feel the tug of attraction that isn't entirely beaten out by wariness.

“No mummies,” he says. “It’s not a pharaoh’s tomb.”

It’s not as comforting as it probably should be, but Bruce isn't about to protest. He follows Marc down into the valley, minding his step in the shifting sands, and tries not to think too much about the last time he was in a desert. Talia had been there, and as much as he loves Damian, as grateful as he is for Damian's existence, it’s hard to look at Talia now. He knows what she did to Jason, because Damian told him, and that will never be okay.

The flanking pillars by the entrance distract him from his dark thoughts, and he touches then briefly as he passes, eyeing the reliefs of lotuses carved into the stone. Beautiful, and not in the way he’s used to artifacts being; these don’t carry age, just a regal air, and it’s a strange thing to suddenly be reminded that all the temples of Egypt once looked different, looked new. Like taking a step onto Themyscira and suddenly realizing that the ancient Greeks lived just like that.

“If it’s not a pharaoh’s tomb, whose is it?” Bruce says, and a small, suspicious part of him with a loud voice is expecting Marc to turn and smirk and says yours before springing the trap.

That’s not what happens, though. Marc pauses several feet into the room, and his eyes are fixed on a towering statue of a veiled, cloaked man carrying a crescent-topped staff. At the statue’s feet is an elaborate sarcophagus, silver inlaid with sapphire glass, and the lid bears the face of a man who’s entirely too familiar.

“Mine,” Marc says, scratchy in the shadows, and touches a hand to the sarcophagus, a passing brush that makes the moonlight pooling on the coffin ripple.

Dying is a constant risk in their line of work. Coming back is a constant threat. Bruce curls his hands into fists without quite meaning to, thinking of Damian's body, the fight over his corpse because Ra’s was so bloodily certain that the Lazarus Pit was the best option. Like it didn’t matter. Like he hadn’t been the one behind Damian's death in the first place, creating the Heretic. Like Bruce hadn’t lost his son, and had to mourn and bury him with no idea if he really would return. No idea if he’d be right if he did.

“You came back,” he says quietly, and the curve of Marc's smile is a rueful thing.

“That was the first time,” he says. “Khonshu picked me when I died at his feet. Or—he picked me and I made my way to him, and then I died.”

Bruce pauses for a moment, trying to make sense of that. “That’s a big difference,” he says finally.

Marc snorts. “He’s the god of time. The Chronographer. Either he met me and decided to look backwards into my life, or I met him as a kid. He’s never given me a straight answer. I don’t think it really matters.”

Because it left him here, with a god in his head and a power that’s turned all of Gotham on its ear. A god of justice, Bruce thinks, and remembers his words to Clark in the Watchtower. I like to think we’ve advanced beyond the ancient Egyptian legal code, personally, but—

It’s a crack in his arguments. What if an innocent person gets caught in the crossfire, but if Marc can see guilt just from looking at a person, if he knows who’s done enough to earn death, what does that mean for Bruce's rules? He still hates the thought of the punishment being death, hates that Moon Knight works outside the legal system, but…

The Joker was never going to be convicted of anything except insanity. His lawyers used to joke that it was the easiest case they ever had to plead. And the Joker was evil in ways Bruce loathes, deep and dark in his heart. He hadn’t killed him because he doesn’t kill, but—if anyone could have tempted him to, it would have been the Joker.

“You see guilt,” he says quietly, and Marc glances away from the sarcophagus, looks at him for a long moment.

“Khonshu does,” he says. “He eats hearts. The more wicked the heart, the more he wants it. Ammut takes hearts that are found wanting. Khonshu takes those that actively do harm.”

Bruce still doesn’t like it. It sits uneasily in the back of his mind, because his life has proved that there's nothing in existence that can't be corrupted, twisted. “And you obey?”

Marc laughs, like it’s a joke. “If I want to,” he says, and the flash of teeth in his grin makes his face something arresting, almost startling. He’s more dour than Steven, more grim in ways that Bruce feels echoed in his own chest, but—humor is a transformation. Marc's steady in his own skin, knows himself, can laugh about it. There’s a will behind his crooked smile that Bruce would bet can rival a Green Lantern’s. “Khonshu gets pissy if I don’t feed him, though. It’s easier to work with him.”

Silently, Bruce nods, and steals another glance at the sarcophagus. It’s Moon Knight, on the lid, but the face is undeniably Marc's, bloody and bruised. First death, Bruce thinks, and it threads just a touch of coldness down his spine.

“But he brings you back from the dead,” he says quietly, and—

The gunshot in the garden echoes along his bones, rings in his ears. Not a gut wound. An execution.

Marc nods, touches the sarcophagus one last time, and then keeps moving, taking a doorway that leads deeper into the tomb. “He’s a god of healing. Khonshu the Merciful. I'm his knight, so he keeps me around.”

The words are too light. There's a wealth of things that Marc isn't saying trapped right behind them, but Bruce doesn’t know what to ask. Doesn’t know how, either. That tone says there's history, dark and heavy and painful, but if there’s strife between Marc and his god, Bruce hasn’t seen a sign of it yet.

“Some people might call that torture,” Bruce says, and his voice is a flat, echoing thing in the narrow corridor. “Bringing someone back from the dead over and over.”

Marc doesn’t look back at him. His white suit glows in the darkness, subtle but too bright to need torchlight. Like moonlight, Bruce thinks.

“It’s a choice,” Marc says after a long moment. “Getting up afterwards. I've never chosen to stay down.”

Which means he doesn’t know if Khonshu would let him. Maybe, one day, he’ll refuse to let Khonshu bring him back. Maybe then it really will turn into torture. But it hasn’t yet.

“Moon Knight,” he starts, and then pauses, weighing what he wants to ask. There are too many questions. Too many doubts.

“Khonshu is part of this city now,” Marc says without looking back. The corridor ahead of them opens onto green, the smell of moving water clean and sharp in the air. “You couldn’t pry him out with a crowbar and dynamite. People believe, and that will keep him anchored. He still holds Egypt, and it’s been thousands of years since his cult ruled there.”

Bruce steps out onto the bank of the river, and there’s grass under his feet instead of sand. Grass slopes down to meet the river, and there are stands of date palms around them. The water itself is edged with reeds, and lotuses grow in shallow inlets where the water is still. A reed boat bobs in the water, apparently impervious to the current, and Marc makes for it without hesitation.

Unable to help it, Bruce looks across the river, up the far bank. Gotham sprawls there, half-covered in drifts of sand, with the black-and-silver capped pyramids sprawling out across the skyline. It should feel unnatural, but from here, with his feet in tangled grass and the susurration of papyrus in counterpoint to the breeze, the strangest thing is that it doesn’t.

“I take it,” Bruce says dryly, “that he enjoyed his time in Egypt more than his time in Mesopotamia. Given the aesthetic.”

Marc snorts. “He got most of his power in Egypt. He shaped the worship, but it shaped him, too. Gods can't be separated from the human element. They change us, but we change them in return.”

It’s not as comforting to hear as it should be. Bruce loves Gotham, but he doesn’t trust it.

“You’ve been his avatar for a long time,” Bruce guesses, because Marc talks about Khonshu with a familiarity that says it’s well-trodden ground, can guess motives and feelings without pause.

Marc pauses for a long moment, and then shrugs. “He’s the god of time,” he says, like that’s supposed to explain everything.

If he’s pulled Marc through time, it probably does. Bruce frowns, considering, but when Marc jerks his head at him impatiently, he heads down the bank to step into the boat. Apparently unconcerned by the lack of oars, Marc steps in after him, sinking down to sit on the brow. Rightfully unconcerned, it seems; a moment later the boat turns against the current on its own, heading across the water towards the far side.

“Are you from the future?” Bruce asks finally, and maybe a little warily. He can't be blamed for it, really; Booster Gold is enough trouble on a normal day, regardless of how valuable he is. Maybe because of how valuable he is.

Thankfully, the only reaction that gets is confusion. Marc glances sideways at him, then shakes his head. “No,” he says, pauses, and—

There’s a figure in the water. Bruce jerks back a step, towards the center of the boat, as a hippo surfaces. Marc catches his elbow before he can move further, though, and inclines his head to the hippo, unwavering.

There's a long, long moment of tense silence, and then the hippo laughs. It’s a woman’s voice, low and heavy, and she nods back. A moment later, she sinks back under the surface, and Marc's grip eases. His breath out shakes, says he wasn’t nearly as at ease as he was pretending to be, and he scans the water for a long moment before the boat gently bumps against the shore.

“Moon Knight?” Bruce asks, suspicious.

“Just because it’s a magical imprint doesn’t mean there aren’t real things here,” Marc says quietly. “Khonshu has—I've been here in other places, and other gods existed there. Other gods went there.”

A god, then. Bruce tries to call up a roster of the Egyptian pantheon from memory, but he can't remember one that takes the form of a hippopotamus. Something to look up later, certainly, especially if she’s making the river her home. Bruce takes another glance at the water, but follows Marc onto the shore and up the slope, though a thick stand of palms and out the other side.

Gotham is waiting for them.

Up close, it’s the city Bruce knows, interspersed with parts he doesn’t, a quilt stitched together from the fabric of reality and the expanse of ancient history. Falcons wheel above them, thickly enough to cast spinning shadows across the moonlit streets, and the streets themselves are awash in sand. Here and there, flickers of motion like half-there ghosts pass, and Marc watches them for a long moment.

“Travelers,” he says. “Khonshu is looking after them.”

Bruce watches a group of college-age girls pass, arm in arm and laughing, before disappearing again. Gotham at night is always busy, always provides plenty of crime, and Bruce tries to keep an eye on it, tries to help where he can. This seems…more, though. A god’s attention on people, following them at their most vulnerable, not to hurt but to keep them from harm.

Batman has always focused on street crime, in between the greater threats. It’s what keeps him sane, what reminds him of why he does this. He’s noticed that, Joker aside, Moon Knight does the same. But for Moon Knight, the people are the mission. Not just a reason, but the whole point.

“Believers?” he asks, and traces the steps of a man and his daughter before they vanish behind a dune.

Marc just shrugs. “People. Khonshu claimed the city. That doesn’t just mean believers.”

It should, Bruce thinks, be an unnerving thing, feeding into his anger. Gotham is his. He doesn’t let other heroes operate here beyond his small circle of allies, and all of them have ties to Gotham woven deep into their souls. Moon Knight should lack that, should feel like an invader, an intruder.

Maybe it’s because Khonshu has tied him here, but Bruce can't quite manage to think of him as the enemy.

“Up here,” Marc says, before he has to come up with an answer, and turns around a corner, slips through the entrance to a low, sprawling temple, and disappears. Bruce pauses beneath the arch, wondering if he really trusts this world, but—

It hasn’t tried to eat him yet, he thinks, grimly amused, and pushes through.

The light shifts, and suddenly the wind howls. Bruce rocks with the impact, widens his stance and looks around. They're near the top of one of the pyramids, on a narrow ledge of black stone with nothing to save them from a tumble straight down the sloped sides. Bruce grimaces, catching himself on the edge of silver that runs upwards, and says, “Your mind has a taste for the dramatic.”

“I throw darts shaped like crescent moons and wear a bag over my head,” Marc counters. “And I dress in white. Of course it does.”

Bruce snorts before he can help himself. He turns to look over the city from this new height, all the familiar skyscrapers stretching out beneath them—

Stops, frozen, with his hand curling into a fist against the stone.

“That’s it,” Marc says, quiet, and steps back to stand beside him. “Khonshu hasn’t told me what it is beyond dangerous, but—it’s bad enough that he’s spending more power than he probably should keeping it at bay.”

It looks bad, at the very least. There's a wall of silver fire around the edges of Gotham, leaping towards the sky, and past it is a sea of light. Nothing kind, nothing warm—this light burns, searing and painful to look at, and eats at the barrier like a sea of acid. Bruce can see it wearing away in flashes and sparks, the light rushing in like it’s going to break through. Just before it can, though, the fire flares up, pushes it back and rises again.

There's so much barrier to hold, though, and a hundred times more light beyond it. Bruce has to wonder, cold and jagged like frozen glass, just how long Khonshu's shield can stand.

The light hurts, and after a long moment he has to look away, like he’d been staring into the sun. Shakes his head, trying to throw off the searing imprint that lingers, fingers of light in his brain, and—

Marc catches his arm, holding him steady on the narrow ledge. “Careful,” he says. “The fall’s still real enough to hurt you, and I think your kids will eat me if you come out of this braindead.”

“Damian is the only one I’d worry about, and he likes you too much,” Bruce says dryly, but he takes a moment before he brushes Marc's hand off. The wind whipping past them is less hostile than he’d expect, but there's a tiredness settling into his bones that’s strange, foreign. He can't tell if it’s the result of the light or this place, though. At this point, either seems suspect.

There's a pause, like Marc is surprised by the words. “Damian's clever,” he finally says, though he sounds wary.

“He is. A lot of people see the clever, though, and miss everything else.” Bruce glances up, meeting his eyes, and—

Marc Spector is nothing like Steven Grant, he thinks, except for all the ways he is. He remembers the look in Steven's eyes that night at the museum, right before everything went to hell. It’s very, very similar to the look that’s in Marc's eyes right now, something like will and stubbornness and a bare, bloody sort of belief that caught Bruce's attention better than a pretty face ever has. Conviction, worn down to its bones, Bruce thinks, and can't force himself to look away.

“They shouldn’t,” Marc says, careful, like he’s waiting for Bruce to take offense. “He’s devoted.”

“Reckless,” Bruce says automatically, because if Damian has one flaw it’s that. It’s like looking in a mirror to how he used to be, and Bruce doesn’t always appreciate it.

“Maybe.” Marc shrugs, looking away. Out towards the light, and he frowns, but doesn’t waver in the face of it. “He’s growing into it, though.”

Maybe, Bruce thinks, a little tired, Damian will stick around long enough that Bruce can see him grow into himself completely. Maybe he won't push Damian away, like he did Tim and Jason and Dick. At some point, Bruce has to learn his lesson, right?

“He is,” he agrees, and takes another look of the strange and familiar city. There’s a point of moon-bright brilliance somewhere in the distance, on the edge of Crime Alley, and he eyes it for a long moment, wondering if it’s a place where Moon Knight has collected a lot of hearts, or—

“A temple,” Marc says, and a faint smile curves his mouth. He rubs his fingers over the bridge of his nose, then turns, steps through the door with Bruce right behind him—

And they're on a street, standing in front of a grand temple that sprawls out across the block, shining stone and bright paint and long pools full of lotuses edging it. A pair of falcon-headed sphinxes flank the entrance, and as Marc passes, they bow their heads to him, practically kneeling.

Khonshu's avatar, Bruce thinks, eyes on the breadth of his shoulders as he traces Marc's steps. The imprint of a god on earth, contained in a mortal body. Though, from the sound of it, Khonshu's not too keen on the mortal part. That means everything in this imprint views him as an extension of his god, which is enough to make Bruce tense all over again.

Marc doesn’t seem to be about to do anything, though. He comes to a stop in the temple’s inner chamber, looking down at where the ghostly reflections of two teenage are sitting with their heads bent together. They look…odd. Draped in white, Bruce realizes, but it’s strangely insubstantial, even on a ghost. White cloaks, maybe. Just like Moon Knight’s.

“Aren’t they a little young?” Bruce asks quietly, trying to keep the threat out of it. Curls his hands into fists, because Marc has a reason for bringing him here, and if this is some kind of threat, if this is suddenly going to devolve into threats and danger and the whole city held over Bruce's head—

A hand closes in the front of Bruce's cloak, too quick, and he’s jerked forward. When he lashes out to knock Marc's hand away, Marc catches his wrist, and he finds himself suddenly eye to eye with Marc, the expression on his face twisted into fury.

“They have potential, that’s all,” Marc snaps. “Khonshu protected them, so they showed him faith and he gave them a blessing in return. He’s not doing anything to them.”

There’s violence in his expression, promised in his eyes. Bruce meets his stare squarely, calculating. He’s protective, of these two especially. Maybe it’s the fact that they're travelers, or maybe it’s that Khonshu wants them for something. If they showed him faith, that makes them believers, too, and given how few Khonshu must have in the grand scheme of things, that likely makes them even more valuable.

 Or maybe Khonshu just protects what’s his. If what Marc said about being brought back is true, Bruce suspects that he does.

“All right,” Bruce says, and curls a hand around Marc's wrist, pulling his hand away from his cloak. “This temple exists in the real Gotham?”

Marc scowls at him for a moment, but finally nods. “They built Khonshu a shrine. He just gave them a place to put it.”

A show of power, maybe. A way of gaining more followers. Or, maybe, a kind gesture meant to thank two girls who believed. Bruce isn't sure which it is, but—a mix of all three seems most likely. Gods are never just kind, in his experience.

Making a mental note of the street to check it later, Bruce inclines his head, then steps back out onto the street, leaving the ghostly girls to their discussion. Marc joins him after a moment, fingertips brushing the lotus columns as he passes.

“You saw the threat,” he says, coming to a halt. “Any idea what it is?”

Bruce pauses, weighing his options. It seems…suspicious, that Khonshu is holding back a wave of something, while Gotham remains untouched by the inexplicable comas happening everywhere else. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but after long enough in this job, Bruce has all but stopped believing in such things.

“Could you see if that light has effected other places?” he asks abruptly. “Metropolis, or Central City?” Those are currently the cities with the most victims, and Bruce has a suspicion he wants to see played out.

Marc frowns, but thoughtfully, and rubs his scarred eyebrow as he glances up at the sky. At the full moon hanging in it, echoing the out-of-rotation full moon that filled Gotham's sky earlier tonight. “Not yet,” he says. “Khonshu is spending too much power. People believe, but—he didn’t have a lot of power before, and now he can't catch up. I need to help him.”

Coming back from the dead can't be easy for a god, especially if they don’t have any worshipers waiting. Bruce considers for a long moment, then nods, and says, “If you're patrolling and more people see you, will that be enough to raise belief?”

“Not going to take me hunting for hearts?” Marc asks dryly, but when Bruce tenses, he just snorts. “Probably. But if I find someone who tips the scales, I'm going to kill them. Khonshu needs hearts.”

Bruce grits his teeth. God of justice, he thinks, and it sits like a weight in his stomach. Fantastic. “Believers,” he says, just shy of an order.

Marc raises a brow at him, unimpressed, but doesn’t argue. Bruce isn't deluded enough to think that means he agrees. “What’s in Metropolis and Central City?” he asks instead.

“You’ll see when we get there,” Bruce says, not inclined to be helpful right now. “Let’s go back. I want to leave as soon as possible.”

For a long moment, Marc surveys him narrowly. Then, mouth curling, he says, “Fuck off. I'm not one of your kids, and you don’t scare me. I don’t follow your orders, either.”

You don’t scare me. Funny that all Bruce can think of when he hears those words is Hal, facing him down at the edge of a battlefield. The man without fear, and the man who has a god in his head. It’s probably better for his sanity if Bruce makes sure they never actually meet.

“You don’t have to follow my orders,” he says, maybe a touch impatient. “I’m not going to give you a potentially incorrect summary of something that’s happened. I can't see magic. If you can, you might catch something I’ve missed.”

Marc doesn’t look entirely convinced, but he doesn’t push, either. “All right,” he allows, and turns. “Come on.”

Bruce takes three steps, feels the street ripple around them, and grits his teeth but keeps walking. Magic is a pain, and he’s never going to change his opinion on that. It stands to reason that a god’s magic would be exponentially more so.

Chapter Text

Marc watches until the last dark edge of Bruce’s cape has vanished from their world before he lets out a slow breath, then sinks down on the sand, crossing his legs beneath him.

“You’re a coward,” he says.

Steven, leaning back in the shadow of a sphinx where Bruce wouldn’t have been able to see him, just frowns at him. “I didn’t want to confuse him,” he says pointedly. “You were already doing plenty of that on your own.”

Marc grunts. He’s of the opinion that Bruce will adjust to them or he won’t; Marc’s tried the thing where he changes himself for other people, and it never works out well. Changing himself for himself never works out well, either, for that matter. Better to just—not try anymore. It’s getting easier to live this way, regardless. He knows what he is, and what he’s become, and this is where his path has led him.

Marc can stand being the person he is now. That’s a definite improvement over before.

“You’ll have to come out eventually,” he points out.

Steven looks away. “He made his opinion on us rather clear,” he says wryly.

“It’s not up for debate,” Marc counters, annoyed. “A quarter of this life is yours, and you’d better live it.”

“Marc—”

“Fuck off,” Marc says, in no mood to deal with Steven's hesitations. Steven's always been more hesitant about their illness, careful to keep it quiet. Better, here, when he’s moving to start something, but still. Marc's been living with other people in his head since Steven first appeared to him as a child, has had to take it every time someone’s called him a psychopath or insane; Steven can adjust to Bruce being hostile for a few days in the wake of finding out their secret.

“That’s not the biggest problem,” Jake says, short, and when Marc flicks a glance at him, he raises a brow. “I heard a bit about Batman's reputation. He’s not going to take kindly to anyone killing in his city.”

Marc grimaces, because he was getting that feeling during their talk, too. “He hasn’t stopped Huntress yet,” he says, and Jake snorts.

“Huntress clearly has some kind of history with him,” he points out. “We’ve got the fact that we’ve been giving him a headache for a few weeks now.”

Closing his eyes, Marc tries to think. They can't leave Gotham, and Khonshu requires wicked hearts to keep the devouring light at bay. Requires deaths, and Marc knows precisely why most people have a problem with him killing, but—

Khonshu's better, here. He wasn’t reliable, back in Marc's universe, but here and now he only reaches for wicked souls. Here and now he’s reasonable enough to know that Marc shouldn’t kill every petty criminal who crosses his path.

“I’ll call Huntress again if I need to,” Marc says quietly, and sighs, rubbing at his face. “Steven—”

Steven's mouth twists, and he looks down, tugging at his moon-shaped cufflinks. “Marc,” he counters. “I—it gets too much, dealing with people who don’t understand.”

Marc just looks at him, because he knows that better than anyone. Even his family never understood; they were gentle about it, careful, especially after the institute, but they didn’t know what to do with him. With any of them. At his father’s funeral, his mother had looked at him, and when Steven stepped forward—

She’d been tired. Despairing. Like it was all an inconvenience, and she loved him, but that was all it was to her, really. Between Elias’s death, Randall joining the military, and Marc being entirely unable to deal with the emotion of the funeral, she’d been…hurt.

Marc had felt Steven's flinch, in the face of that. Had left him to deal with it anyway, because he couldn’t.

Steven doesn’t deal well with that sort of thing. Not since then. Marc can't even blame him for it.

“That’s not everything,” Jake says, watching Steven closely.

Steven casts a glance at him, frowning like a rebuke. “Jake—”

Jake just snorts, folding his arms over his chest and leaning back against the edge of the tomb. “Well?” he asks. “What’s got you twisted up into knots over Gotham's biggest playboy?”

Steven pulls a face at him. “It’s not like that,” he says, as if they're not all well aware of that. Attraction always comes slowly, needs familiarity to settle, but—it echoes between them, once it does. Part of being so closely linked, Marc has always thought. It’s never mattered before, because Marlene is the only one in years, and that caused plenty of problems all on its own.

“Then what is it like?” he asks, and Steven sighs, rubbing a hand over his face.

“We like Gotham,” Steven says, which is true enough. “It fits us. But—if Bruce won't accept Moon Knight working here, I don’t want to stay. He shouldn’t be our enemy.”

Slowly, carefully, like moonrise breaking over the crest of a hill, light gathers. Khonshu takes form within it, slow and deliberate; he’s tired, Marc thinks, and the realization is almost unnerving, except that it puts Marc's hackles up, makes him want to fight. He curls his hands into fists, watching the god appear, and says, “Some things are more important than making enemies.”

Steven doesn’t argue, and Jake smiles thinly. “Right now, at least,” he says, and then asks, “How many temples would you need to build to keep that stuff out?”

Khonshu straightens, suit wrinkled and sagging over his frame. He looks bonier than he did a few hours ago, and Marc watches him carefully, assessing. “Too many,” he says, just this side of light. “If we had weeks, or months, it would be a good solution. Creating them would need more power than I would gain in return right now.

Khonshu changed the moon, gave himself more power. Built the temple, showed himself to people, healed victims of the kidnapping. He’s been sowing belief throughout Gotham, preparing for precisely this sort of thing since they arrived. Marc trades glances with Jake, seeing the same realization on his face, and says quietly, “You knew this was coming.”

Khonshu chuckles. “We filled an empty spot in this universe, my son. Someone wants to keep it empty, however, and I object to being pushed out of a place I've claimed.” The sense of a smile is thin as a dagger’s edge and twice as sharp. “Last time I didn’t have you, Marc.”

Marc snorts, unimpressed. “If you waste away like some Victorian maiden, you're not going to have me for much longer,” he points out.

Khonshu cocks his head, looking thoughtful. “Is that care for me I hear, my son? How sweet.”

“Shut up,” Marc tells him, and rises to his feet, shedding sand. “Whatever you're planning, I'm going to hate it, aren’t I?”

Khonshu laughs, twisting through Marc’s bones like razor wire. “So little faith! I wouldn’t endanger your place in this world, my knight.”

“That’s not an answer,” Jake observes, dry.

“I think it’s the opposite of an answer,” Steven agrees wryly. He straightens, approaching Marc, and rests a hand on his shoulder. “Khonshu, there's no way to feed you without killing?”

Khonshu is silent for a long, long moment, watching the three of them. “You tried, once, to stop killing,” he points out. “You turned your back on me and left my service. What did it achieve?

Nothing, in the end. When Marc needed more power, when Marlene and Diatrice were in danger, Marc went right back. It was always hard, too, not to kill. Harder than it would have been if Marc was anything close to a good person. He saw people who harmed others and—

Remembered. Remembered what he used to do, and how little he cared, and all the choices he made. He made the right choice, at the end, and saved Marlene, but—

He also made the wrong choice, and got her father killed.

“I learned what I can do,” Marc says. “And I figured out why I do it.” He pauses, and for a minute all he can remember is the village in Sudan, the bodies in the street. Closes his eyes, breathes out. He’d objected, but—too late, and far too little. It wasn’t the first time Bushman had done such a thing, and the rest of his little army had grumbled a few times, muttered about, but gone along with it. Bushman was a warlord, was their leader, signed their paychecks. A lot of them were bastards who tripped out of the armies in their countries, didn’t give a damn about anyone. Marc knows he was certainly that way.

Meeting Khonshu gave him something to fight for that wasn’t money. A cause, a path, a motivation. Vengeance turned into justice, and justice was something noble, even if Marc's way of getting there wasn’t. He’s never been a big believer in the ends justifying the means, but—

The means were fine when the only people getting hurt were bad, made the wrong choices knowingly and kept making them. Then Marlene got hurt, and Jean-Paul got hurt, and suddenly Marc wasn’t the only one in the line of fire. Changing hadn’t helped, in the end. Distancing himself from everyone else had.

Steven's hand slips down, curls around his elbow. “Marc,” he says quietly. “Not everyone thinks like we do. About justice, and about death.”

Marc pauses, considering that. Can't figure out why Steven is telling him something he knows, and eyes him a little warily. “Obviously.”

Steven rolls his eyes at him, which isn't appreciated. “I'm just saying. Bruce obviously has his own code, and it doesn’t align with yours.”

Khonshu hums, head cocking, and the image of his bird-headed form fades, replaced by the first version Marc ever saw of him, armored and veiled and stern. “Bruce once slashed Red Hood’s throat,” he says, “to stop him from killing a criminal. His own son wants vengeance against him. Isn't that interesting?

When they’d met by the lake, Marc had felt that Red Hood hadn’t gotten revenge against everyone who had wronged him. Knowing Bruce is one of those people makes his frown, and he glances at Jake again, sees the same dark edge on his face. Marc's never been kind to the people close to him, but—

He’s changed himself for them. Survived for them, killed for them, broken himself utterly for them. It’s…difficult, to think about nearly killing them. Nearly killing them for a criminal. Marc's world just doesn’t work like that.

“We need to talk to him,” Steven says quietly, and when Marc pulls a face, he snorts. “It won't actually kill you.”

“How would you know?” Marc retorts, because Steven doesn’t have the best track record with this kind of thing, either. When Steven splutters, Jake laughs, rough and amused.

“He’s got you there, Steven,” he drawls, and when Steven glares at him he raises his hands. “Don’t look at me. I talk about my feelings and I break out in hives.”

“You cried over Crawley’s story about his son,” Marc points out, merciless. “Shut up if you're just going to lie.”

“That wasn’t talking,” Jake protests, annoyed, but Steven smiles a little.

“Still,” he says. “He—this is important.”

Marc meets Khonshu's eyes across the sand, then turns, catching Steven's elbow in a light grip. “You're right,” he says evenly, and relief flickers across Steven's face.

“Good,” he says, relaxing. “You can just tell him—”

“You first,” Marc cuts in, and shoves him hard. Steven yelps, stumbling back, and loses his footing. Pinwheels his arms, but it’s not enough to save him, and he tips like he’s going to land on his ass in the sand—

And vanishes with a shimmer like moonlight.

Jake laughs, tipping his hat at Marc in a jaunty motion. “You’ve got your moments, idiot,” he says, and then fades out as well, leaving Marc alone in the desert with Khonshu.

Being a god of justice means a lot less than it used to,” Khonshu complains, and a strong wind whirls the sand around them but doesn’t touch him.

Marc snorts quietly. “Modern laws and standards of justice,” he drawls. “How terrible.”

Khonshu laughs, leaning into his space, and as he does he shifts, bird skull observing Marc out of depthless galaxy eyes. “Don’t act as if you’ve ever cared about mortal laws, my son. Even before I claimed you, you never bothered with them.”

“That’s a me thing,” Marc tells him. “My brain is different. Wired wrong.”

Khonshu's silence is deeply, wholly judgmental.

Marc huffs at him, annoyed. “I don’t care about them, but I'm just saying.”

With a low, shivering laugh, Khonshu reaches out. Touches Marc's skin, then cups his cheek in one bony hand, and says, “My son. My knight. What comes for us is a danger, and it won't pause until both of us have been devoured. But know that I have never regretted my choice of you, even in the darkest moments.

Marc closes his eyes, and Khonshu's touch is warmth, is relief. Like the first breath after drowning, or the sight of water after days in the desert. He exists so brightly in that one moment, and Marc exists with him, not overshadowed, not eclipsed, but part of the gentle brilliance that fills this world.

“The god of the light that shines in the darkness,” he says quietly, and reaches up, curling a hand around Khonshu's wrist. Opens his eyes, looking up, and says, “If I can't leave Gotham without breaking the barrier, and you can't hold the barrier without more hearts, and Bruce isn't going to let us kill criminals…”

Khonshu's gaze is steady, settled. “An adjustment might be in order,” he agrees.

Marc's biggest tactic has always been his ability to reassess and adapt to whatever an enemy does. To whatever life happens to be. To whatever Khonshu feels like being that day. He smiles a little, wry, and says, “You picked me for a reason, didn’t you? Time to put that reason to use.”

Khonshu chuckles, and just for a moment he’s a vast thing, everywhere, every part of this world. Marc's the doorway, and Khonshu is air and gentle light and the darkness that surrounds it, the careful tick of time advancing. “For many, many reasons, my son,” he says, and then he’s gone.

The barrier around Gotham flares, beating back the tide of light for another moment, and Marc breathes out.

He’s only one person, but he has faith. Dark, angry faith. Grateful, aching faith. Desperate, grasping faith. He’s never been able to say that he loves Khonshu, because Khonshu has never been the type of thing that anyone can love, but—

This is something deeper. Something that consumes, and devours, and which Marc gave himself up to gladly.

The barrier leaps higher, burns like the full moon above, and Marc sinks back into the sand and adds his strength to his god’s, keeping that terrible light at bay for a little while longer.

 

 

Marc,” Steven yelps, spilling sideways onto the mats. There is, predictably, no response from Marc, just a flicker of smug amusement from Jake, and Steven closes his eyes, breathing through his annoyance. Sends a jab of irritation towards Marc, then deliberately pushes himself back up to sit and opens his eyes.

Less than two feet away, Bruce is watching him, brow raised pointedly. He flicks a look over Steven, then says, “Mr. Grant, I presume?”

Steven smiles wryly. “Guilty, I'm afraid.” Carefully, he smooths his hair back, then sighs. “Marc is…annoying, sometimes.”

“Is it like having a sibling?” a voice asks over his shoulder, and Tim drops down beside them, expression warily curious.

“I assume it’s very similar,” Steven says with a touch of ruefulness. “But instead of fighting over the remote, you're fighting over one body split between the three of you.”

“Three?” Bruce asks, eyes narrowing. “Moon Knight?”

Steven hesitates, not sure how to frame things. It’s complicated, even for them. “No,” he says. “Moon Knight is—he’s all of us, but he’s mostly Marc. The other personality is Jake Lockley, but…” He grimaces. “They're not listening to me right now, so don’t expect an introduction.”

Bruce smiles, just enough to show. “Siblings,” he confirms. “From my own experience raising them.”

Tim makes a rude sound. “Your experience with siblings is Jason trying to kill me,” he says, offended. “And Damian trying to kill me. There's a definite pattern.”

“At the very least, sharing a body cuts down on the murder attempts,” Steven agrees, which is only mostly the truth. Marc was dead, for a while; he’d died right before Jake ran away to Mexico. Khonshu brought him back once they’d come to terms with things, but…it was an aching, gaping hole in their being. Steven's unspeakably glad they worked things out.

Bruce eyes him like he can hear what Steven isn't saying, but he doesn’t press. Doesn’t say anything, but rises to his feet in one smooth shift, turning away. His back is very stiff, and his shoulders are very straight, and Steven winces but follows him up anyway.

Marc can call him a coward all he wants, but it’s not true.

“Bruce,” he says, firm, and Bruce pauses but doesn’t look back. Not surprising, Steven thinks, even through the flicker of disappointment. Still, he doesn’t falter, just steps forward, close enough to lower his voice and say, “I’ve meant everything I've said about helping people. About what Gotham needs. I understand what it’s like to need help. I’m sure by now you can understand why.”

“I don’t trust gods,” Bruce says, flat. “I don’t trust anything that isn't human looking into people’s hearts and deciding they need to die. Even if they think they're incapable of making a mistake. Maybe especially then.”

“That’s why Marc exists,” Steven says quietly. “Khonshu is on one side of the door, but—Marc is the other. He has morals, even if you don’t agree with them.”

“I don’t ever agree with murder,” Bruce says, but he takes a breath and turns around, facing Steven. Not that it helps; Steven can't even begin to read his expression. “Making any one person an executioner solves nothing.”

Steven smiles wryly, because he knows what Marc used to be. “People deserve chances,” he says. “But how many do you get before you're a lost cause?”

“As many as you need to make the right choice,” Bruce says, soft.

Tim is watching them, and so is Cassandra. Tim's expression is twisted, and he looks away a moment later, turns his whole body aside. Steven remembers what Khonshu says, and he lets out a breath, closes his eyes, and then opens them to meet Bruce's gaze squarely. “Do you want to know,” he says quietly, “how many people want vengeance against you, Bruce? Not just criminals, but—family members.”

Bruce doesn’t even flinch. “Anyone who chooses to get into this fight understands the terms,” he counters.

“Sure,” Steven agrees, and smiles wanly at him. “And the same goes for criminals.”

He doesn’t wait for Bruce's response, but steps past him. There’s a flight of stairs heading up, a small form lurking at the base of them, and he offers Damian a polite nod as he nears. “This way up?” he asks.

Damian eyes him narrowly for a moment, then nods shortly. He leaps up the stairs ahead of Steven, and says over his shoulder, “Spector is all right?”

“Always,” Steven says, which is such a lie that it should probably burn his mouth like acid. The look Damian shoots him says he recognizes it for what it is, too, and Steven sighs, raising his hands. “He’ll be fine,” he says. “He’s helping Khonshu right now.”

Damian huffs, but accepts that easily enough. “I still wish to meet Lockley,” he says pointedly, and shoves a door out. A clock, Steven thinks, ducking out after him. That’s clever.

“I’ll pass on the message,” Steven promises. “Thank you for helping Marc the other night.”

Damian buries his pleased look. “He is an acceptable ally,” he says grandly, and pauses at the bottom of the flight of stairs. “Is Father going to allow Moon Knight to keep operating in Gotham?”

Steven just shakes his head. “I don’t think even Batman gets any say in what Khonshu does,” he says, rueful. “I imagine he’ll try, but…”

Damian looks torn. “Father wants what is best for Gotham,” he says, a little stiffly.

Steven is quiet for a moment, Bruce's anyone who chooses to get into this fight understands the terms ringing in his ears. Damian and Cassandra were child assassins before they came here, but—how old was Tim when he started? How old were Red Hood and Dick and Batgirl? They all seem quick and clever and precocious, but how much of that is from the job and how much is from them instinctively?

Their original universe was a dark place, at times, but even the Young Avengers were almost eighteen when they started. He likes Bruce, but—

“I realize that,” he says finally. “And—I understand that sometimes in looking at the big picture you forget the brushstrokes that make it up. But Marc and Khonshu and I—we don’t think like that.”

Damian glances away, then asks, “Is Spector going to come out soon?”

Steven pushes a question towards Marc's space in his mind, gets a flicker of affirmation in response. “Yes,” he says, and doesn’t laugh, even if he wants to. Marc doesn’t understand why Damian's so insistent, and it’s amusing. “Just a few more minutes. He’s helping Khonshu shore up a barrier around the city.”

“I will be waiting for him,” Damian says brusquely, and leaps up the stairs, vanishing around the edge of the bannister a moment later. Steven watches him go, then shakes his head with a smile and starts up after him. Marc's never been good at making friends—the closest people to him back in their world were Jean-Paul, Natasha, T’Challa, and Jericho Drumm, and Marc never saw any reason to keep up with them. The traumatized child assassin latching onto him is mildly surprising, but—

Well. At the very least Damian's stubborn enough not to let Marc push him away.

Sighing, Steven runs a hand over his hair, thinking of what needs to be done. Marc understands Khonshu's wants better than Steven or Jake ever will, for all that they're each a reflection of him. One of the perils, Steven assumes, of having a god pick one as his avatar. That means Steven can't prepare much of anything without asking Marc first, and it’s easier to simply let Marc take care of it later, since he’s distracted right now. He has one of his older suits in his room, which at least means he doesn’t have to go back down to the cave and see if anyone grabbed Marc's bag, which would be entirely too awkward to bear.

“Steven?” Bruce says from behind him.

Steven pauses halfway up the stairs and glances back, to find Bruce waiting at the bottom. Without the blinding grin, without the lazy air, he doesn’t seem much like the playboy Steven first met. More like the man at the restaurant, who put himself between Steven and the kidnappers without even thinking twice about it. Like the man who was in Steven's hospital room when he woke up, tired and worn, but unwavering.

I don’t understand you, Steven wants to say. You confuse me.

“Yes, Bruce?” he asks instead.

Bruce weighs his words for a long moment, considering, careful. “You said you take medication,” he says finally. “It doesn’t stop the symptoms?”

Steven knows what he’s asking. “No,” he says quietly. “I’m not a symptom, Bruce. Marc was the original personality, but—I’ve been alive almost as long as he has. There's no erasing me, or Jake. This is just how we are.” He smiles, bittersweet, at the expression on Bruce's face at the plural. Just a faint twitch, but—he’s heard enough about Two-Face to understand it. “Bruce. It’s not a flaw. It’s not going to make us evil. We struggled for years, but we’ve learned how to manage it.”

“By killing criminals,” Bruce says, even.

“How many people in the Justice League kill?” Steven asks. It’s a guess, but a solid one. “How many of the people in Gotham have killed? I'm not any more dangerous just because I have DID.”

Bruce's expression flickers. “I don’t think that,” he says. “But I'm here to protect this city. Just because I can't control everyone who fights with me doesn’t mean I should be fine with murder.”

Steven just shakes his head. “Once,” he says, “Marc Spector was a man who should have died for what he did. And he did, eventually. He just got up and kept fighting afterwards. He’s still redeeming himself. We’re still redeeming ourselves. We’re weak, but we’re trying every day to be better. That’s how we see things, and maybe half of that is Khonshu looking through us, but not all of it.”

“And you’d take the chance of redemption from other people?” Bruce asks.

Steven smiles wryly. “Bruce, with the amount of harm we’ve done, it should have been taken from us, too.” He turns, ready to leave—

“I don’t think so,” Bruce says quietly, but by the time Steven's caught his balance and turned, he’s already gone.

Chapter Text

“Spector!” Damian says gleefully, dropping from the bannister to land half a step from Marc. “You're going out?” 

“Yeah,” Marc says, mildly bemused, and clasps his cloak around his throat. “I need to see Oracle, and find someone.”

Damian wrinkles his nose. “Huntress is likely with Oracle. They are…close.” He sounds like he disapproves, and Marc raises a brow at him. When Damian catches it, he huffs and pointedly looks away. “They are both ridiculous with their rules,” he complains. 

Ah, Marc thinks. They told Damian not to do something, and he objected. “Where?” he asks, and when Damian gives him a crafty look, he raises a brow. 

“I will show you,” Damian offers, “if I may come with you.”

Technically, Marc knows where Barbara's clocktower is; he crashed there for a few hours the night he let Ivy out. Since he’s not sneaking around the manor anymore, he could just call a car and get there easily. But—

Damian is watching him closely, and Marc's not great at reading expressions, but the look on his face has something tense and wary underneath the surface, like he’s braced for Marc to tell him no. 

Marc probably should. Damian's a kid. But he was the next best thing to a soldier when he was even younger than he is now, and Marc's seen child soldiers before. Knows how Damian looked the other night, talking about his death. 

Treating him like a normal kid is probably a bad idea, on some level. So is treating him like an adult, most likely. Marc doesn’t have any faith in his ability to find a balance there, but at least he can try. 

“You driving?” he asks, rising a brow, and Damian lights up and then immediately tries to hide it.

“My bike is in the Cave,” he says. “I will meet you down there in ten minutes, Spector. Do not make me wait.”

“I’ll do my best,” Marc says dryly, but Damian's already flung himself over the edge of the bannister and dropped down to the ground floor. Marc snorts, amused, because he’s never interacted much with children, but somehow it seems like giving a thirteen-year-old boy the skills of a trained assassin and a bunch of mentors who fight crime is an invitation for ridiculousness that will end in broken limbs and an impressive amount of property damage. 

When Marc turns to take the stairs down—because he’s not thirteen, and he’d rather not strain his knees any more than he absolutely has to—Alfred is standing near the top of the stairs, watching him with a considering gaze. Marc freezes, feeling caught, and eyes the man warily for a moment before he nods. 

Startlingly, Alfred nods back, mounting the last few steps up to the hall. “Mr. Grant,” he says. 

“Spector,” Marc corrects quietly. “Marc Spector. Steven will be out again in a few hours.”

Alfred takes this in stride without so much as a hesitation. “Very good, Mr. Spector. May I ask if you will be returning in time for breakfast?”

“Yes,” Marc answers, because regardless of how his plans for tonight go, he’ll be back. then it occurs to him that that’s probably not the only thing Alfred is asking, and he hesitates, then says awkwardly, “Damian will be fine. I’ll get him back before dawn.”

Alfred's poker face is impeccable, but Marc is absolutely certain that his expression softens for just a moment. “Master Damian,” he says, “is a very particular boy, Mr. Spector. He has had…difficulties stemming from his time before us.” The butler passes Marc, then pauses. Without looking back, he says, “It’s quite rare that he takes to anyone outside of the family. To see that he has found a friend in you…it makes me quite glad.”

“He’s a good kid,” Marc says gracelessly, which isn't what he actually wants to say, but it’s what comes. 

Alfred smiles, just faintly. “Yes,” he agrees. “Quite good. Have a good evening, sir.”

“You too,” Marc manages, then deliberately pulls his mask down over his head and tugs his hood up. He feels exposed, hates it, and he moves quickly to find the clock that covers the entrance to the cave. It’s standing ajar, clearly left open for him, and that makes something flicker in Marc's chest, amusement but a little warmer. He steps through, carefully shutting it behind him, and takes the stairs down

Bruce isn't present, which is almost a relief. Neither is Tim, though Cassandra is stretching on the mats Bruce laid out earlier. She waves when Marc steps down into the low light, and Marc waves back, then comes to a sharp halt. 

“Definitely not possessed, then?” Dick jokes, still in his costume and perched on the edge of the computer console. 

He looks wary, tense, and Marc blows out a breath and resigns himself to this conversation. Pulls off his mask, if not the hood, and says, “They might have disagreed with me a hundred years ago, but no, I'm not possessed. I have DID.”

Dick winces, and his fingers tighten faintly on the desk. “I'm the one who called Constantine,” he says, but he doesn’t flinch away from meeting Marc's eyes. “I wanted to protect my family. It’s not an excuse, but it’s the reason I jumped to conclusions and didn’t just—talk to you or something. We’ve had…bad experiences.” He winces again and raises his hands. “That’s not an excuse either. Just—I'm sorry. I didn’t understand, and I didn’t try to. Cass said—the whole Exorcist thing was probably an overreaction on my part, and I—”

“You’re babbling, Boy Wonder,” Batgirl says, emerging from the darkness and pulling her cowl back. She’s young, with a bruise spreading across her jaw but a smile that’s bright regardless, and she turns it on Marc as she approaches with a bounce in her step. “Not possessed! That’s a plus! Does this mean you’ll actually be my pen pal?”

Marc stares at her for a moment, caught off guard, and raises a brow. “You want to be pen pals?”

Batgirl grins, wicked. “Sure. You're not always killing people, going by your record, and I love having someone else to break heads with.” 

Marc considers, remembering the pile of unconscious kidnappers she’d made a perch out of, and snorts. “Sure,” he says. 

“Not tonight,” Damian says, and it’s almost a threat as he stalks out of another room, slapping his domino mask into place. “Tonight is mine, Brown.”

Batgirl laughs, hauling herself up to sit on the back of a computer chair as it swivels. “Oh really? And what if I want to break some teeth tonight, squirt? You don’t get to hog Moony.”

“Don’t call me that,” Marc mutters, but he’s mostly given up on being listened to. 

As expected, Damian just bristles. “Spector and I have an arrangement already, Brown. Your presence is not welcome.” He huffs, folding his arms over his chest, and says arrogantly, “Given our talents and our specialties, Spector and I make a formidable team that should not be separated.”

Marc snorts and pulls his mask back on. “I think we need Huntress again if we’re going to make this work like before,” he tells Damian. “She helped.”

“I suppose,” Damian says grudgingly, though he unbends slightly. “Are you looking for Black Mask?”

“Don’t shove your way into Jason's territory,” Dick warns, though Marc can see he’s trying hard not to smile. “He’ll shove you in a duffle bag and drop you on the doorstep. Again.”

“Tt. Todd is no threat,” Damian counters, eyes narrowing. When Dick raises his brows at him, though, he flushes and pointedly looks away. 

“No Black Mask,” Marc says, bemused. “I need to talk to Oracle.” And potentially make sure she can't watch him right now, just in case she opposes his idea. 

“Babs?” Dick blinks, gaze flickering up to Marc. He pauses, and then his eyes widen. “Wait, you—Babs was helping you? You're in contact with her?”

“For all the good it’s doing right now,” Marc says, because he tried his comm before coming down, but the crackle’s still too loud to hear anything else. 

Dick looks betrayed. “She didn’t even tell me,” he says mournfully. 

Batgirl snickers, twisting to make her chair spin lazily. “And Roy didn’t tell you he was in the city,” she teases. “All your exes are being mean to you.”

“Roy's not an ex,” Dick protests, and when Damian and Batgirl make identical loud, skeptical sounds, he grimaces. “Okay, no, it wasn’t official so it doesn’t count.”

“Don’t tell Roy that,” Batgirl advises. “You’ll break his heart, and then Jason will have to punch you. A lot.”

From Dick’s expression, this isn't entirely an exaggeration. Pointedly, he gets to his feet and sails past Batgirl, who sticks her tongue out at his back. “I saw that, Stephanie,” he says, in the precise tone of older siblings everywhere. 

“You didn’t see anything,” Stephanie retorts, but she twists, flipping backwards over the chair, and lands in a crouch. “Where do you think you're going, Dickie?”

Dick makes an aggrieved sound. “You only call me that when you're mocking me,” he complains. 

“It’s with love,” Stephanie tells him solemnly, though she gives Marc a wink. He hides a smile, because this isn't much at all like the Avengers. This is…siblings. Family. It’s…not a bad change. 

“Ready to go?” he asks Damian, and the boy nods immediately. 

“I shall drive,” he says. “This way, Spector.” Turning, he takes a step towards where the bikes are parked, then stops short. “Grayson,” he says, miffed. 

Already on his own bike, Dick looks up and gives Damian a bright, charming smile. “What, Little D? I need to talk to Barbara, so I’ll ride with you.”

Damian gives him a suspicious look, but huffs in reluctant agreement and swings onto his bike. “Keep up,” he tells Dick smugly, and as soon as Marc is seated the engine roars to life. Marc grabs the handles, not appreciating the way Dick laughs at them. 

“Good luck!” he calls, very definitely to Marc, and salutes. “I’ll say something nice at your funeral!”

Damian growls, and Marc flips him off. Catching it out of the corner of his eye, Damian smirks, then peels out, the flare of Marc's white cloak cutting through the darkness and out into the open air. 

 


“It’s sunspots,” Barbara says, more frazzled than Marc has ever seen her before. Her hair’s been scraped up into a messy ponytail, and there are dark stains and several scorch marks on her tank top. “Nothing is working right now. I can't even contact the Justice League, and those comms shouldn’t be able to go down.”

“Easy there, Girl Genius,” Dick says, voice fond, and leans in to kiss her on the forehead. Barbara takes it, though she looks more resigned than anything. “Sunspots mean electromagnetic energy, right? Can you shield your computers?”

“I tried that,” Barbara says, frustrated. “I've tried everything, Dick.” Blowing a strand of hair out of her eyes, she wheels past him, almost running over his foot, and Dick yelps and leaps back. Marc gives her a look, but she passes him as well, not even bothering to glance over. “If you're here for any sort of tech help, I'm off the roster until these damn sunspots stop.”

“Just wanted to check in,” Marc says quietly, and follows her into a small kitchen. “And ask you if you knew where to find Ivy. Since you said you’d worked with her before.”

With a glass in hand, Barbara pauses. She tilts her head, then glances back, both brows up. “You want to find Ivy? Wasn’t your last escape from her pheromones enough? Trying to test your luck now?

“That would require me to have luck I could test,” Marc says dryly, and Barbara snorts a laugh. “I need her help.”

Barbara pauses, and for a moment the only noise in the clocktower is Damian and Dick in the other room. “You're willing to ask her?” she says after a moment. “Ivy’s not exactly friendly.”

“Neither am I.” Marc watches her for a second, and then asks, “Who better to ask for help doing something illegal than a supervillain?”

To her credit, Barbara doesn’t even falter. “If you're looking for Ivy, Harley’s going to be with her. Dealing with both of them can be a little like herding cats. Cats high on catnip. And tripping balls.”

Marc smiles, just a little. “I don’t want to herd them. I want to point them in a direction and let them go.”

Barbara snorts, pushing her glasses up her nose with a knuckle. “Why am I not surprised you know how to deal with them?” she asks dryly. “No, wait, let me guess. You're the same way.”

Marc just shrugs and doesn’t answer. Clint certainly thought he was that way. When Marc was under him in the West Coast Avengers, he tended to be one of the heavy hitters more often than not, even if he was just a squishy human. Possibly a good portion of that was Clint simply having no idea what else to do with him. 

Barbara gives him a considering look, but after a moment she nods. “I know a few of Ivy’s hideouts,” she says. “You’ll have to get in contact with her yourself, though. I'm not going to be able to do much coordinating right now except by smoke signals.” Without even glancing past that, she warns, “Damian, break that and I'm going to have you cleaning the Batmobile with a toothbrush.”

“I wasn’t going to break it,” Damian says, outraged, and a moment later he ducks into the kitchen, giving her an annoyed look. “Gordon, control Grayson, he is—”

Dick laughs, looping an arm around Damian and not losing it a moment later, even as Damian hisses and struggles free. “I'm the best,” he says mercilessly, and raps his knuckles against the crown of Damian's head. Babs, want me to stick around and play manual labor for a bit?”

“Think Constantine can spare you for that long?” Barbara drawls, and when Dick gives her an aggrieved look she laughs. “Don’t play innocent with me, Dick. How many dates did you promise him?”

“Probably not enough,” Marc says dryly. “Khonshu almost ate him.”

Dick grimaces. “Like, ate-ate? Chomping mandibles and drool and cracking bones? Or like, metaphysically almost ate?”

“Yeah,” Marc says. Dick gives him a frown, and he shrugs. “My god lives on hearts. And he’s a god. Normal rules don’t apply. But Constantine was almost an afternoon snack.”

“Well,” Barbara says judiciously, and taps a finger against her lips to hide her smile. “He is a snack.”

“Babs,” Dick protests, horrified, and Barbara laughs. 

“Come on, Dick, you’ve thought about it, too,” she teases.

“I definitely haven’t,” Dick defends. 

At Marc's side, Damian makes a pained sound. “Must we stay for this?” he mutters, looking disgusted, and Marc snorts. 

“Barbara,” he says, and when she glances at him, he asks, “Where?”

“The northwest edge of Giella Gardens,” Barbara answers steadily, but she raises a brow at him. “If you need backup, I'm not going to be able to help.”

“That’s why he has me,” Damian says, pointed. 

Marc doesn’t actually plan on getting into a fight tonight, so with some luck he won't actually need backup. “We’ll be fine,” he says. 

Barbara's gaze flickers from him to Damian and back, and she smiles. “All right,” she says, then elbows Dick in the side. “Dick, since you're my grunt tonight—”

“Always,” Dick says cheerfully.

“—I'm going to need that screen moved into the other room, by the far wall.” Barbara rolls her eyes at him, but it’s fond as Dick offers her a grin. “And once you're done here, find Constantine. Bruce might try to dangle him off another building if he gets into too much trouble.”

Dick pulls a face. “Bruce thinks Constantine breathing is too much trouble.”

“Considering he spent ten minutes in Gotham and then almost got eaten by an ancient Egyptian god, are you really going to argue?”

Marc leaves them to their bickering, slipping out of the clocktower’s main area with Damian on his heels, grumbling all the way. 

“They're insufferable together,” he complains as they hit the edge of the narrow balcony, and then glances up. Dark eyes lock on a patch of shadows across the street, high up on the mossy gargoyles crowning a building, and then he scoffs. “We have a babysitter,” he says viciously. “Cain is incapable of minding her own business.”

Marc just shrugs. He was expecting it, honestly; there’s no way the family is going to let him wander around with Damian unobserved, and they're not wrong to be careful. “It was Black Bat or Batman himself,” he says, a little dry. “At least this way I can pretend I don’t see her.”

Damian huffs, folding his arms over his chest. “They do not trust my skills,” he says. 

Marc hesitates, but… “It’s me they don’t trust,” he says quietly. “And they care about you.”

Damian makes a sound like an angry teakettle and immediately changes the subject. “Well? Are we going to the Gardens?”

Marc eyes the distance across the street, judging the wind. “Yeah,” he says. “Want a lift?”

“I have my grapple,” Damian counters. “How will you get across?”

With a snort, Marc takes one quick step, then throws himself off the side of the clocktower. Behind him, there’s a loud sound of indignant surprise, then a grapple line that shoots past him to hit the building across the street. Marc lets his cloak catch the wind, lift him up and drop him down on Cassandra’s building. A handful of running strides across it and he leaps from the far edge, twists and lets the glider catch again. Behind him, Damian crows with something that sounds like victory, and a moment later he soars past, tumbling through the air like an acrobat. Lands, perfect, and keeps moving, with Marc a pace behind him. 

“You can fly,” Damian accuses, even as he makes the next long jump. 

“Glide,” Marc counters, and lets the cloak fold, dropping down onto the roof of a bank. Ahead of them, across a narrow street, is an expanse of green Marc recognizes from Jake's memories of his encounter with Red Hood. 

Damian hits the ground beside him, immediately leaping up onto the ledge surrounding the rooftop. “Who are you looking for?” he asks, cocking his head. “The Signal alerted us to several new metahumans in the storm drain system here, but most of them are not dangerous.”

“Poison Ivy,” Marc says, studying the garden. Northwest corner, Barbara said, and—maybe it’s just his imagination, but it looks greener, more verdant than all the rest. 

“Ivy?” Damian says, mildly outraged. “She is a criminal!”

“She owes me a favor,” Marc says with a shrug. Pauses, looking at Damian, and says, “You can stay up high and be my lookout, if you don’t want to meet her.”

Damian scoffs. “One woman does not scare me,” he says, indignant. “I will come with you.”

“How about two?” Marc suggests dryly. “Her girlfriend’s probably with her.”

Amusingly enough, that’s what makes Damian go pale. “Quinn is with her?” he echoes, then grimaces deeply. “I will come, but she is the most aggravating woman in existence.”

Given Damian's general reaction to most people, Marc suspects he should probably take that with a grain of salt. Maybe two. “Ivy seems fine,” he points out, and Damian gives him a narrow look. 

“Poison Ivy has spent time in Arkham,” Damian says with a sniff. 

Marc doesn’t quite sigh, but it’s a thought. “I’ve spent time in a psychiatric institute, too, Damian,” he says quietly, and Damian stops short. There's a long pause as he turns that over, and then he glances up, frowning. 

“But you are…” he starts, and then pauses. 

“I have other people in my head,” Marc says, even though it’s clear that he’s working things out for himself. “And I see things that aren’t there. I'm crazy, Damian.”

“I think you wear it well, sweetheart!” a bright voice calls, and Marc twitches hard, spinning to face whoever’s snuck up on him. The woman isn't moving, though, just watching him, head cocked. She’d probably be cute if not for her strange paleness, the slant to her smile that reminds Marc of Deadpool more than anything. The sight of an oversized mallet slung over her shoulder makes him take a sharp step back, right to the edge of the building, but she’s not moving. 

Damian hisses like an angry kettle, taking one sharp step back. out of grabbing range, Marc notes, not sure if he’s amused or wary. “Quinn,” he accuses. 

“Heya, squirt,” Harley says cheerfully, though her eyes don’t leave Marc for long. “Bats let you off the kiddie leash for the night? Cutting the apron strings already? He must be fretting himself into a knot, huh?”

“Batman trusts me,” Damian retorts. “And Moon Knight requested my assistance.”

Marc doesn’t argue with the exaggeration. “Is Ivy around?” he asks Harley. 

Harley studies him for a long moment, smile slipping sideways into something sharper. “Sure,” she says cheerfully. “Gotta minute? I can take you to her.”

Marc inclines his head, then glances at Damian again. “Want to keep watch?” he offers quietly. 

Damian hesitates, then looks from Marc to Harley. “I will remain here and speak with Black Bat,” he allows after a moment. 

“Aww.” Harley pouts, taking a deliberate step closer to him and flinging her arms out. “No hugs from my favorite baby bird? C’mere, Robin, Auntie Harley wants to—”

Damian yowls like a cat getting its tail stepped on and dodges her lunge. “Keep your hands to yourself, woman,” he snarls, and grabs for his sword, even as Harley laughs and tries again. “I am not a plaything for you to snuggle—”

In what’s starting to become a familiar motion, Marc steps between them, grabbing Damian's sword by the sheath. Half a moment later, Harley collides with him with a comical oof, and Marc sets his feet rather than let her knock him over. She bounces instead, tumbling back to sit down hard on the roof, and huffs, shaking her pigtails out of her face. 

“Geez, Knight-Knight, you've been hitting the gym,” she complains. “You really need that much muscle? You're gonna crush sweet, unsuspecting clown girls.”

For a moment, Marc just stares at her flatly. “Knight-Knight,” he repeats. 

An echoing cackle of laughter, like dry bones beating stone, really doesn’t help. 

Harley beams at him, and there are teeth in that expression. “’Cause you make people go night-night, and you’re a knight? Get it? Aww, come on, don’t make me explain a joke, then it’s not funny!”

“It wasn’t funny to start with,” Marc tells her, unimpressed. He glances at Damian, who’s scowling but not fighting back against the grip Marc has on his cape; Marc has a feeling this isn’t an entirely uncommon occurrence, with him. “No swordfights. Nightwing will try to strangle me.”

Harley snickers, seemingly content to sprawl out on the ground with her jacket around her elbows. If Marc was a dumb man, he might underestimate her for it, but one hand is resting on the tip of her mallet’s handle, and with a weapon that size, one swing will be more than enough to pull her to her feet with momentum alone. “Yeah, but that’s half the fun, isn’t it?” she says brightly. “Those thighs around your neck, whatta way to go.”

Damian makes an angry, wounded noise. “Do not talk that way about Nightwing!” he hisses, and Marc carefully shifts his grip to keep Damian from going for his sword again. 

Giggling, Harley raises her hands. “I mean it with love!” she protests. “Admiration! He’s a hot ‘Wing, that’s all!”

Marc rolls his eyes. The Deadpool similarities are mildly horrifying. “Go find Black Bat,” he tells Damian. “I’ll be back soon.”

“Bye, baby bird!” Harley coos, and Damian spits an Arabic curse at her that even Marc’s never heard before and launches himself back across the rooftop, heading for the next building over. 

“Too bad,” Harley laments, but she’s grinning. “He’s so cute.”

Marc eyes her for a long moment, then says, “You’re angry.”

It’s obvious, when he looks at her. A pulse of fury, a desire for vengeance, deeply buried but still clear. And, as he stands there, her smile flickers, returns as a forced, plastic thing. Harley rises to her feet, brushing off her leggings, and tugs her jacket back up her shoulders. She doesn’t look at Marc, but crouches to pick up her mallet, and then stays there for a long moment. 

“Yeah,” she says, after a long stretch of silence. “You’re a bastard, you know that?” Pushing upright, she scrubs a palm over her face, smearing her makeup, and sniffs. “Always kind of figured Mr. J would just live forever, you know? He was a bastard, too, an’ I hate him, but…”

But she felt something. Abusive boyfriend, Ivy said, and Marc doesn’t doubt it, from what he saw of the Joker. But at one point Harley loved him, even if she hated him, and that doesn’t just disappear. 

It would be easier if it did. Marc closes his eyes, remembering Randall, remembering Marlene broken and bloody at the bottom of the stairs, and has to take a breath. 

“I’m not sorry,” he says honestly, and Harley laughs, wet and wry. 

“Yeah,” she says, and looks up. “I wouldn’t want you to be. I’m not sorry, most of the time. Just…sometimes, y’know?”

Marc doesn’t answer, because he does know. Harley nods like he did anyway, wipes her eyes again, and huffs, shouldering her mallet. 

“Come on,” she says determinedly. “I’ll take you to Ivy. She’s cooing over her bonsai right now or she woulda come out with me.” 

Marc nods, glancing at the side of the building and the garden beyond. “Want a lift?” he asks a little awkwardly. 

Harley blinks at him, big eyes and blond pigtails and smeared makeup that makes her look like a raccoon with a hangover, and then laughs. She ducks closer, and before Marc can dodge she plasters herself up against his front, arms around his neck. 

“You really are a knight in shining spandex,” she taunts, and Marc grunts and staggers as a hundred and twenty pounds of clown-themed menace is suddenly wrapped around his torso. 

“Fuck the hell off,” he growls, and gets a hand on her face as she tries to kiss his mask. She’s wearing a lot of lipstick, and he’s rather not run around the rest of the night with a black lip-print on his face. 

Harley laughs. “Weren’t you taking me for a ride?” she asks wickedly, and Marc does the only thing left to him. 

He falls off the edge of the building. 

Chapter Text

It’s a long drop straight to the ground.

Instantly, Harley shrieks, and the arms around his neck and legs around his waist become a stranglehold. Marc rolls his eyes, but twists in the air, lets the metal fibers in his cloak go stiff, and glides the rest of the way down into the garden, right past the locked gate. It’s a slightly faster descent than it would be alone, and when his feet hit the ground Marc is unprepared for Harley’s weight. He loses his footing, tumbling forward, and Harley tries to let go at the same time. With another shriek, she hits the ground, and Marc twists to miss her, lands on one hand, and springs over backwards to settle in a crouch.

Flat on her back in the grass, Harley wheezes. “What a ride,” she manages, and tips her head back to eye him narrowly. “You can’t fly, you jerk!”

“Squishy human,” Marc agrees, unperturbed.

“And you jumped off a building? Just so I wouldn’t kiss you?”

“I fell,” Marc lies.

Harley squints at him for a long moment. Then, abruptly, she starts laughing, bright and loud. “I think I like your kind of crazy!”

Well. At least she’s not trying to kill him for what he did to the Joker. Marc rolls his eyes and steps past her, heading for the edge of the garden that looks like it’s been getting the good fertilizer. The once-neat cobblestone path is overgrown, and the trees are heavy with fruit here. It makes Marc remember what Ivy said about how she got thrown in Arkham before, and he hopes, belatedly, that nothing decides to try and eat him. Khonshu’s a little too busy to save him from some kind of mutated Venus flytrap.

“Over here, c’mon,” Harley says brightly from behind him, and hands are suddenly on his arm, hauling him sideways and right into a thicket of bushes. Marc hisses as a dangling cane slaps him in the face, but manages to duck the next as Harley pulls him deeper into the greenery. Things don’t quite part for her, but she seems to have a lot less trouble pushing through than she should, and Marc sticks close to her for that reason.

“Ivy’s fine?” he asks after a moment, sidestepping a lone electric lantern hanging from a tree.

Harley glances back at him, head cocked. “Yeah, ‘course she is. Why wouldn’t she be?”

Marc shrugs and looks away. “They had a suppression collar one her,” he says. “And she was locked in an asylum for months.”

“Yeah, well, that’s nothin’ new, Knight-light,” she says, obscenely cheerful. When Marc scowls at her for the nickname, she giggles and dances a little further out of reach. “How do you think we met?”

Marc snorts softly. “I was assuming crime,” he says dryly.

Harley laughs, but there's an edge to it, teeth in her grin. “Ivy was one of my patients,” she says. “Before Mr. J. I'm a doctor, you know!” She pauses, tilting her head so her pigtails sway, and then makes a considering face. “Well, mostly. I haven’t checked, but they mighta taken away my license to practice after the whole clown gang thing. But they can't take away eight years of medical school!”

Marc wonders if the Joker was one of her patients, too, originally. Easy, really, for someone that twisted to twist someone right along with him. He doesn’t ask, though, just grunts, and Harley glances back at him. Pauses there, under a heavy plum tree, and looks him over.

“Crazy, you said?” she asks, and the tone is cheerful but there’s only assessment in her face, carefully considering. “Seein’ things?”

Marc grimaces. He didn’t intend for anyone but Damian to hear that. It’s not that he’s ever hidden things, but—there's a big gap between hiding things and handing knowledge out to a criminal who hates him to some degree. Still, Ivy owes him one, and she already knows, anyway. Hopefully she can keep her girlfriend from coming after him. “Dissociative Identity Disorder,” he says evenly, and Harley’s eyes narrow faintly.

“Full identities?” she asks. “Or fragmentary personality states?”

“Full,” Marc says, quiet, and Harley nods.

“Not just that, if you’re seein’ things, too,” she says. “You know that, right?”

Marc snorts. “It would be hard not to notice.” Seeing Jean-Paul as a walking corpse was particularly bad, but—there have been times it’s been worse, over the years.

“No treatment for DID,” Harley offers after a moment, but she looks more thoughtful now than she did a minute ago. “Psychotherapy’ll help, if you want me to find you a guy for that.” She grins, bright and angelic, and just for a moment Marc has a very unnerving flash of Deadpool hanging all over Cable and sounding like he was making that exact same expression. “I might not be practicin’ anymore, but there are a couple a’ people who owe me for getting them through med school.”

“I already did my time,” Marc tells her. “I'm not going back to a psych institute, and especially not in Gotham.”

Harley’s smile twists into something crooked. “That’s fair,” she says, wry. “Breaking heads helps more, right?”

Marc doesn’t answer that. He’s never tried another way of coping, and he’s not about to start now. Not when he’s finally managed to claw his way to a better place. “If you know anyone who’s looking to help,” he says quietly, “there’s a man who’s trying to start clinics. He could use the support. Steven Grant.”

“Another white knight for Gotham?” Harley laughs, and it’s all sharp edges. “Hope he’s better at avoidin’ acid than Harvey Dent.”

“He’s a priest of Khonshu. Khonshu won’t let him die.” Besides, that’s what Marc is for. As long as he’s paying attention, nothing will happen to Steven. Marc’s always made sure of that, from the time when he was a child and Steven first appeared.

“I might know a few people,” Harley says after a moment, still watching him. Then, abruptly, she turns and bounces into the trees, ducking around a particularly large oak and vanishing into a small cabin that’s completely covered in kudzu and flowering vines. From inside, there’s an echoing, “Red! Visitor for ya! And he’s kinda cute!”

“Not Batman, I presume?” Ivy drawls as Marc pushes in, ducking under a curtain of vines. It’s not a house; the whole thing looks more like a lab than anything, and there are plants everywhere, draping from the ceiling and curling through the room itself. Ivy is in front of a shelf full of delicate bonsais, clippers in hand and Harley wrapped around her like a limpet, face buried in her hair. One of Ivy’s hands is curled over Harley’s, and she’s smiling, small and soft. Marc looks away, trying to give them privacy, and studies the beakers along the far wall instead.

“Nah, he never comes to visit us,” Harley complains. “He’s too grumpy. We should help him lighten up, Red.”

“I remember last time we did that,” Ivy says dryly. “It ended with me hiding in a sewer for a week and having to break you out of Gotham PD.” She glances to the side, then pauses, surprise flickering over her face. “Moon Knight,” she says, and gently disengages herself from Harley. “I didn’t expect to see you so soon. Come to put me back in Arkham?”

Marc grimaces. “No,” he says flatly, and it makes Ivy snort. “Did you mean it, about owing me a favor?”

Ivy’s eyes widen faintly. She glances past him, around the room in a careful sweep, and her lips tilt down. “I did,” she says, and folds her arms over her chest, cocking a brow. “Where’s your hungry little god?”

“Guarding the city from something even hungrier,” Marc tells her. “That’s what I need help with.”

For a long moment, Ivy just considers him in silence. Harley is watching her, poised and waiting, but Ivy doesn’t so much as shift when she says, “I don’t know if you noticed, Moon Knight, but I’m not a hero. If something’s going to eat the city, good. Then my plants might actually have a chance.”

“They won’t,” Marc says, and knows it’s true. “Not against that. And I don’t need help fighting.”

Skepticism flickers across Ivy’s face. “You don’t?” she asks lazily. “Then why exactly are you here?”

“If you’ve seen a plant, can you grow it?” Marc asks. If Ivy’s as strong as Khonshu implied, she should be able to. There weren’t many heroes with similar powers back in his universe, but—Wiccan or the Scarlet Witch could probably have managed something similar. This is just a safer version, given how Ivy can’t actually bend reality out of shape, and Khonshu with it.

 “A plant?” Ivy pauses, surprised, and then nods. “Yes.”

No hesitation, and Marc breathes out. “Even somewhere it’s not supposed to grow?”

Ivy smirks. “Give nature an inch and it will take ten miles,” she says. “Everywhere is where it’s supposed to grow.”

With a laugh, Harley pulls herself up onto the edge of a table, kicking her heels. “Gonna start a weed farm in Gotham?” she asks. “That’ll help Batsy relax!”

Marc rolls his eyes. “I can show you the flowers,” he says. “They’re in the city, near Crime Alley.”

“It’s not like I’d ever refuse to add more plants to this terrible city,” Ivy says dryly. “Give me the address and I’ll meet you there.”

Marc inclines his head, accepting the lack of trust that’s implied. He’s not looking to trick Ivy, just get her help, but he’s still an unknown. He doesn’t blame her for the caution. “It won’t be me,” he says. “A priest of Khonshu will be there.”

Ivy frowns, glancing at Harley, who grins back. “I’ve got your back, Red,” she says cheerfully, and hooks a thumb at Marc. “You’re gonna pick up that baby bird you left on our doorstep before you leave, right? If the nest gets too empty, his momma bird might come lookin’ for him, an’ we’re not dressed for guests.”

“Baby bird?” Ivy echoes, amused, and looks at Marc.

“Of course I’m taking Robin with me,” Marc tells Harley, annoyed.

Harley giggles, but Ivy frowns suddenly, shoulders going stiff. “You’re working with Batman?” she demands, and all around the room there’s a slow, sinuous shift as plants tremble.

Marc calculates the best way out of the room if he suddenly has to start dodging greenery. Sadly, it’s not a great route, and he swallows a curse but shifts his weight.

“Yeah,” he says, watching Ivy. “Problem?”

Problem?” Ivy repeats, incredulous. “You broke me out of Arkham. You’re here. If Batman realizes, he’s going to throw you in Arkham.” She takes a step forward, and Marc thinks about retreating but instead holds his ground. “Are you an idiot? Because Batman thinks we’re all insane, and it’s worse for people who are. Arkham doesn’t help anyone, it’s a prison, and once you’re in there, I can’t break you out without three other supervillains and a global emergency to distract the Bat.”

Marc blinks at her, startled and not entirely sure what to do with that statement. Considers, for a long moment, and then says carefully, like picking his way around a minefield, “You're…worried.”

Ivy growls, stalking right up to him, and jabs a finger at his chest. “You're not just a hero,” she says, all sharp edges. “You're like us. Batman has his ideas about us, and sure, some of us need what he’s selling, but we all get shoved into Arkham whether we do or not. Will your god save you from that?”

Marc doesn’t answer for a long second, but finally he reaches up, catching her hand in a loose grip. “Maybe,” he says, because there’s no certainty with Khonshu. There are paths he’ll probably take, but he’s a changeable thing, and Marc's been around him for years at this point but can still never tell what he’ll do. “But I’ll survive whether he does or not.”

Ivy’s mouth twists, and she pulls her hand away. “My name’s not just for show, idiot,” she says sharply. “Watch the grabbing.”

Marc just steps back, watching her. Like us, he thinks, and it’s a little rueful. Angry. Dark and ruthless but mostly just angry. Marc's been angry for a long time, at himself and everything around him. It keeps him moving, on the good days. And on the bad days, well—injustices are good at making him angrier, at pushing him forward. It’s enough.

“Batman doesn’t understand,” he says quietly, and Steven's tired acceptance of that fact will never be Marc's. Then again, Marc's the fighter between them. “I'm working on it.”

Ivy snorts, folding her arms over her chest. “For all the good it will do you,” she says, but looks away. “Address?”

If she’s still willing to help, that’s more than enough. Marc gives her the street intersection, then nods to Harley and turns to leave.

He can feel Ivy’s gaze on him the whole way out of the garden, but she keeps her peace.

 

 

“You are Jake Lockley?” the kid asks skeptically, eyeing him, and Jake smirks at him.

“That’s me,” he agrees, and casts a look around the street. Marc's landed them outside of Crime Alley again, on a familiar section of streets. There’s a flicker of warning in the back of his head, Marc's image of Black Bat watching them, but Jake can feel the prickle of observation on the back of his neck and doesn’t need to look around to find her.

Damian's eyes narrow, and he says something in Arabic that Jake catches maybe two words of. He grimaces, and tells the kid, “Marc's already tried, kid. My brain’s bad at that kind of thing.”

The look Damian levels at him is unimpressed. “Languages are a matter of memorization,” he says snottily. “And I am not a kid.”

Jake rolls his eyes. “I memorized every street in this part of the city already, give me a break. And isn't it past your bedtime?”

Damian's expression curls like he’s just started sucking on a lemon. “It is eleven at night,” he says. It’s probably an argument. Jake just shrugs, because he’s not the kid’s guardian.

“Sure,” he says. “Going to pick a fight with the lady we’re meeting?”

“Ivy is not a lady,” Damian says disdainfully. “But Spector asked me not to.”

Which is enough to ensure he’ll do it. Some part of Jake wants to laugh, but part of him remembers Jeffrey Wilde, too. Jeff loved being Marc's partner with a mad desperation that was never going to end well, and it didn’t. Hopefully Damian's got more logic and reason to temper him.

“Good,” Jake says. “Because Khonshu's having a bit of a rough time right now.” He glances up, and even above the buildings he can see Khonshu's barrier, the flicker of moon-white light and careful darkness to hold back the light.

“He is?” Damian asks, suspicious. His eyes narrow, and he looks up too, though not like he can see anything. “What is he guarding against?”

“No idea,” Jake says with a shrug, and pulls his hat down a little further. Wishes, a little ruefully, for the stage mustache he used to wear, because it felt like him and he could never get Steven and Marc to agree to facial hair, but decides he’ll have to make do without it. Marc was at least thoughtful enough to pick up his clothes from the apartment. “Khonshu says it’s a threat and I believe him, though.”

Damian seems dissatisfied with that answer, but he’s not getting a better one. Jake glances up at the heavy full moon, then checks the name of the street ahead of them and turns down it, keeping his steps quick. Robin walking with him will probably deter anyone who wants to pick a fight, and if anyone tries, well. Jake could use a fight or two. He’s getting rusty.

“Do you spend much time here?” Damian asks, nose wrinkling. Jake frowns, opening his mouth to defend the living conditions, but before he can Damian adds, “This is Red Hood’s territory, and he is insufferable.”

“I've met him,” Jake says, amused. “Him and that partner of his. With the arrows.”

Damian scoffs. “Better Arsenal than the Joker’s Daughter,” he mutters, and when Jake shoots him an alarmed look, he pulls a face. “Not his actual daughter. A successor. She is insane.”

With a grimace, Jake shoves the information at Marc, feels his low curl of disgust. He’s never had much patience for legacy criminals. Not after Midnight. “Hope she avoids Gotham, then,” he says, and Damian mutters a displeased agreement.

“Are you looking for something here, Lockley?” he asks, scanning the street ahead of them with narrowed eyes. “The only thing nearby is Crime Alley.”

“I’m not looking, since I know where it is,” Jake counters, rounds the next street corner, and smiles at the sight of the temple looming in the moonlight. The air feels fresher here, and like the growth of moss along a branch, the sandstone and bright color of the temple is spreading out across the surrounding buildings. Halfway down, across the street, someone’s painted a crescent moon in white on the side of a building, and it glows silver in the darkness.

For a long moment, Damian just looks. Then, quiet, he says, “Moon Knight has spent many nights here.”

It was Marc's go-to, before things started pulling their attention away. He’d start out elsewhere, but usually end up in the neighborhoods around here before the night was up. Between that and the temple, it probably made an impact.

“Moon Knight’s meant to save people,” he says, and comes to a stop before the columned entrance. The water lilies filling the pools that curl around the pillars are still in perfect health, gleaming faintly. “Like a redemption.” He snorts, reaching down to touch a petal, and watches the lily curl towards him. “Well. Mostly.”

Damian stares at him for a long moment, then very deliberately looks away. “Ivy is late,” he says instead of responding, but his voice is tight.

Jake doesn’t push, just shrugs and tucks his hands in his pockets. “Marc says she’ll be here,” he says, unworried; Marc's not the best at reading people, but Ivy owes him a favor for breaking her out. Jake's pretty sure she’s planning to pay it.

Before Damian can answer, there’s a sound from within the temple, a voice. “You!” a familiar voice cries, and a moment later Carly ducks out, eyes wide. “You're back!” she says.

Jake grins, more than a little pleased, and tips his hat to her. “Miss,” he says. “Little bit of paint helped fix the place right up, didn’t it?”

Carly’s face twists, and half a second later she throws herself forward, colliding with Jake's chest and almost knocking him back on his heels. She hugs him hard, then pulls back and looks up at him, and demands, “Are you him? Are you Moon Knight?”

Jake shakes his head, but there’s a flicker of something warm in his chest as Haerang appears as well, grinning. “Moon Knight’s the avatar of Khonshu on earth,” he says. “I'm just a priest. Khonshu saw what you were doing, though, and wanted to thank you.”

“He saw through you,” Carly says, like she’s daring Jake to argue. “You're the reason he saw.”

Jake just shrugs. “You had faith. He would have seen sooner or later,” he says. “No problems here?”

“No one’s touched it,” Haerang says. “They know better.” She smiles, stepping forward, and hooks her arm through Carly’s. “We’ve been taking care of things, too. And passing out more moons.” She pauses, trading looks with Carly, and then says, “We saw him in the sky the other night. Khonshu. Is…everything okay?”

“There’s something trying to get into the city,” Jake says evenly. “He’s keeping it out.”

“Can we help?” Carly asks without hesitation, and Haerang nods. “We’re just—but we built the shrine, and that helped already, right? Is there anything else?”

Startled, Jake pauses. He considers them for a moment, and—this wasn’t part of his and Marc's plan, but…it’s workable. It’s an asset. “Well,” he says at length. “Got any more of those paper moons?”

“Hundreds,” Haerang says, grinning. “Maybe thousands. Our friends have been making them, too.”

“You might need them for this,” Jake tells her. “What are the odds you can hang one on practically every street in the city?”

Haerang blinks, caught off guard, but Carly looks thoughtful. “You’ve got family in Coventry, right?” she asks Haerang. “And Ellie goes to school in Chinatown, so if we ask her…”

“And Max has been hanging out near the Fashion District,” Haerang adds. “If his friends will help, they can cover the whole neighborhood.”

“Every street?” Carly asks.

“Many as you can,” Jake answers with a shrug. “It means something, that you made that. That you're hanging them, too.”

Carly smiles. “Would you tell Moon Knight thank you for me?” she asks. “I didn’t get to say it last time.”

“Sure. Be careful.” Jake inclines his head, then steps back so they can get around him, and watches them hurry down the street, heads together as they organize. Smart girls, he thinks, and looks back at the temple. Strong-willed, too. Though that was never in question, given how Marc met them.

“You know them,” Damian says after a moment, canny, and his gaze is sharp. “They are believers?”

Stepping into the moonlit inner chamber, Jake looks at the painting of Khonshu on the wall. It’s changed since he last saw it; Khonshu has a hand raised now, glowing, and the crescent moon topping his staff is more tarnished than it was, faded slightly even as the full moon disk shines. “They're whatever they want to be,” he says, and then turns, raising a brow. “Poison Ivy, right?”

In the shadows of the next building’s stoop, a figure moves. Ivy steps out, narrow eyes and thin lips and wary expression, and Jake can't see Harley but he has no doubt that she’s around. Hopefully Black Bat leaves her alone.

“Yes,” Ivy says shortly. “You're the priest Moon Knight was talking about.”

It’s not a question. Jake waves a hand at the lilies in the pools and asks, “These aren’t quite natural, but you think you can toss them out en masse?”

Ivy’s gaze stays on him for one more moment, then flickers over to the flowers. Instantly, her expression shifts, brightens, and she leans in, twisting her fingers through dark leaves and bright blooms. “Oh,” she says. It’s practically a coo. “My pretties. You're a new variety, aren’t you? How lovely, just look at you.”

Marc, Jake decides, definitely knows how to pick the weirdos. “Well?” he asks.

Ivy doesn’t even glance up at him. “Of course they're natural,” she says. “A god might have made them, but as soon as they were grown they became part of the Green. I can spread them.”

“Even in saltwater?” Jake asks.

At his elbow, Damian shoots him a sharp look. “The harbors?” he asks. “You plan to surround the city?”

Jake nods. “Makes sense, right? They’re Khonshu's, and he can't grow them right now, but if they’ve been grown, he can use them. He’ll keep them alive, even in saltwater, but getting them is the problem.”

“A problem I can most certainly fix.” Ivy crouches down, cupping a lily in her hands, and smiles. “A god made you,” she tells it, “but you grow for yourself, don’t you, my children?”

“You’ll do it, then?” Jake asks, watching her.

This time, Ivy does look up, and she casts him a smirk. “If the harbors are full of water lilies, fewer ships can come in to pollute the seas and strangle the kelp on the sea floor. Lilies in the rivers mean people won't clog the shore with trash while they go boating. And if a god can keep them alive, even in the ocean, I assume he’ll keep them alive despite the pollution, finally giving them a fair chance. Of course I’ll do it.”

One more thing Marc was right about, then. Not that Jake will tell him that. “Then do it, and that’s the end of your debt,” he says.

Ivy snorts, red lips curling. “No,” she says, and leans down. “I live in this city, too. I'm not saving it for anyone but my plants and Harley, but—if this will save it, I’ll do it for them.”

Yeah, Jake thinks, watching her close her eyes and take a breath. Marc says she’s not a good person, but he’s sure she’s not all bad, either. And it looks like this time, whether he’s normally bad at people or not, Marc's got Ivy pegged. No wonder he likes her.

“Works for me,” he says. “Need a minute?”

Ivy opens her eyes, and they're glowing, green and verdant. “Nature only ever needs a chance,” she says, and laughs. “Oh, my beauties,” she croons. “Mother loves you. Your god loves you, too, doesn't he? So grow.”