22 22: Bat Mom and Her Batlings

"Sean Caine. Designation: Mr. Barkeep. Alignment: Neutral. Threat Level: potentially Cosmic," Batman said somberly.

Flash snorted, "You've got a Cosmic threat running around in your city and you haven't done anything about it?"

"Yes," Batman simply replied.

"You have to admit, that doesn't sound like you, Bruce," Wonder Woman commented.

"He's been remarkably reasonable for someone with his power."

"If he's been so reasonable, why are we having this meeting?" Green Lantern asked.

"You'll see…" Batman answered ominously.

"He was quite nice when I met him," Kara chimed.

Superman leaned in over the table slightly, "You've met him, Kara?"

She nodded innocently, "Yup~! When I was hanging out with Barbara last night. We went to his bar."

Kara was the only one who didn't notice how stiff Superman went at that information.

Wonder Woman chuckled, "Down, Clark. She's old enough to go to a bar."

He deflated at her admonishment, grumbling, "I suppose…"

Kara continued unbothered, "He was very nice. And it was cool to see all the villains getting along like that. They were like old friends! Even with Barbara and I there, no one flipped out!"

"That's certainly… interesting," Superman said diplomatically. "But should we really be encouraging that sort of thing? Wouldn't giving the villains a place to gather just lead to more crime?"

"The Dead End's neutrality has had the opposite effect in Gotham," Batman corrected. "It hasn't all been positive. But even the troublemakers have been handled handily. We'll… get to that.

"So far, Mr. Barkeep has taken Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, Mister Freeze, Killer Croc, and Solomon Grundy out of the game in Gotham. He's given them all gainful employment and eliminated a few of their reasons for staying on the wrong side of the law.

"For example, Poison Ivy has taken to using her abilities in a legal way that still earns her funding for her true goals. And Mister Freeze has been united with his wife. In both examples, the villains haven't felt the need to return to crime in any major way."

The table went silent as everyone considered Batman's elaboration. Kara couldn't help but feel proud of what Sean and the Dead End were doing for some reason. She didn't know why but it filled her with warm fuzzy feelings.

She giggled, "And his stories give the villains something to do instead of running around outside at night."

"Correct," Batman nodded. "The establishment's role in reducing Gotham's crime rate cannot be understated. Part of that is due to it being a bar, offering a new source of nightly entertainment for the usual villains. The other part is due to Mr. Barkeep's stories. See: Addendum Reports 1-7."

Flash smirked, having already read the whole report twice over, "Those stories seem like something you'd have a problem with in their own right, Brucie."

"They could be considered concerning," Batman agreed without saying much.

Everyone started looking through the Addendum Reports he'd mentioned. Superman was the quickest to read through them all, after Flash, of course. The others weren't far behind. Their reactions were varied, from outright awe to humor and laughter. The Marceline and Ice King story got a few soft smiles, a nice break from the insanity of the rest.

"I can barely count how many Cosmic level threats he's just casually mentioned for STORIES of all things…" Green Lantern muttered.

"I liked the one about this 'Slayer' girl," Wonder Woman nodded in approval. "She sounds like she had potential. On the other side of the scale, this 'Lady D' sounds like she would fit right in with the worst of my sisters."

Superman shook his head in something close to awe, "This is… hard to believe."

"Unless you hear them from Mr. Barkeep's lips," Batman said.

"Mind control?"

"No. Not as far as any of us can tell. Zatanna or Constantine might have better luck in that field. It seems to be a magical effect that makes the truth apparent for all who hear it. He's not making people believe him. He's telling the truth and allowing them to see that fact plainly somehow."

"You couldn't fucking PAY me to start poking around in the inner workings of that place!" John Constantine physically recoiled.

Wonder Woman's brow furrowed, "That seems a bit extreme, John."

Zatanna shook her head sadly, "It's really not. Bruce, do you mind?"

Batman gave her the go-ahead with a slight nod. Zatanna fiddled with the tablet in front of her a bit. With a flick of her fingers, another report appeared on the rest of the tablets. As the gathered members began to read this new report, Zatanna explained it out loud.

"This report is something I filed independently of Bruce's investigation. Approximately two months ago, I caught the tail end of a TV news broadcast that was focused on the Dead End. It was largely uneventful. One aspect of it stood out though…"

"Stood out enough to write up a whole report on it?" Green Lantern asked skeptically.

"Yes, unfortunately," Zatanna confirmed. "Does everyone see the picture included in my report? This woman is what had me so concerned."

"For good fuckin' reason," Constantine snorted.

Zatanna continued as if he hadn't said anything, "This woman goes by the name Didi in the Dead End."

"Oh, I met her! She was really, really nice! I think I made a new friend~!" Kara interrupted so innocently and cheerfully that no one could convince themselves to get mad at her.

Zatanna pressed on, "I — and most of the magic community — know her by a different name. Didi is Death of the Endless. And yes, that is exactly as it sounds. She is quite literally the concept of Death personified. She was there when we were all born and she'll be there when we all die. She does this for everyone. Every. Single. Lifeform. In. The. Multiverse."

Despite everything the Justice League had seen and dealt with, that information still got visceral reactions from the members gathered for the meeting.

Aquaman's mouth fell open subtly, "What. The. Fuck…?"

Green Lantern was in a similar state of shock. Flash laughed at both of them, hiding the hints of cold dread he felt behind his humor. Superman shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Wonder Woman suddenly looked incredibly serious and 'deadly' focused as she thought about allies lost and enemies slain. Martian Manhunter was, as always, largely impassive.

"Huh," Green Arrow hummed. Black Canary placed a hand on his for support. "I thought she looked familiar."

"Oliver? "What do you mean?" Canary asked.

"Oh, I just… I think I saw her when I washed up on the island. She said it 'wasn't my time yet'…"

Zatanna nodded somberly, "I'm sure we would all have experiences like that if we stopped and really strained ourselves to remember them. Thankfully, Death of the Endless — Didi as she seems to like being called… — is a benevolent entity. Or not malign like so many other entities associated with Death, at least."

"How can an entity named Death be benevolent?" Superman asked, honestly curious as to the answer.

"Sometimes, Death can be a kindness," Wonder Woman said gravely. "That much cannot be denied. Not by me, at least. Likely, not by any true warrior."

Aquaman nodded slowly as he processed the unbelievable reveal and his colleague's words, "Nor any king…"

"Didi doesn't actually kill anyone," Zatanna elaborated. "That hasn't changed, as far as we can tell. She doesn't need to. Everything will join her eventually. She is Death. She is Eternal… Endless."

"Then what does she do as Death?" Green Lantern asked, shivering as the topic of conversation got to him slightly.

"She's simply there for the soul. When a soul comes into this world, she's there. When it leaves, she's there as well. Always and for everyone. Everything. She's the final friend a soul sees before meeting eternity. She's not a reaper or a gatekeeper as much as she's a guide. The only guide that truly matters…"

Silence greeted Zatanna's somber explanation. It was a Hell of a thing to have the realities of existence spelled out for you so plainly. As it turned out, there was an answer to the age-old question of what happened after Death. And its name was Didi.

"What's Death doing at a bar in Gotham?" Superman wondered.

"It's Gotham," Flash joked. "'Nough said!"

Only a few of their number were in any mood to react to his joke. Green Arrow and Wonder Woman laughed. Kara giggled. Something that could have been considered a smirk shadowed Batman's face. Only Martian Manhunter could say if it was for sure and he was currently a bit… unresponsive.

"Didi seemed quite happy at the Dead End," Kara said, pointing out what she'd observed during her time at the bar.

Her words reminded Superman that his baby cousin had met DEATH. He turned to her with an intense, examining look, "You're okay, Kara? Nothing happened? You're not feeling… suicidal or anything, are you?"

Kara rolled her eyes, "Yes, I'm fine, Kal. Nothing happened. Honestly, that's kind of disrespectful to Didi. She was a wonderful person. And hearing more about her, I think I'll always consider her a friend."

"Calm down, Clark," Wonder Woman chuckled. "Kara is fine. And she's right. That was almost rude."

Kara pouted, "Yeah! What would Ma say if she heard you imply that meeting a lady is enough to make someone suicidal?! Hmph, it's just disrespectful."

Superman paled, "Uh… Oh my… Yes, that was quite unbecoming of me. I apologize to your new… friend… Kara."

"You're forgiven~!" Kara's smile returned, as perky as ever. "You should meet Didi, Kal. I think you'd like her~!"

The humorous exchange seemed to help relieve the tension in the room. Flash and Green Arrow shared a pair of amused looks and laughed. Aquaman smiled. Martian Manhunter was as still as a statue.

Green Lantern adopted a considering look, "That still leaves the question of what she's really doing in Gotham. Do we have any idea of that? I'd rather not have Death running around on Earth if we can help it."

"Ya can't," Constantine deadpanned.

Zatanna shook her head in agreement, "We really can't. She's Death. Of the Endless. I can't think of many other beings that embody the three big 'O's as well as her. There's really nothing we can do if she wants to hang out with us mortals."

"And even if there was and you decided to do it, Z and I would be kinda duty-bound to stop ya," Constantine added. "The whole magic community would. Everyone knows you don't fuck with big Didi. Might as well get used to her, mate."

Green Lantern looked almost offended by that idea, all too used to having the authority to meddle with affairs that perhaps shouldn't concern him. He meant well. He was just a bit self-righteous and nosy. Having an entire sector of space under your sole protection did tend to affect how someone viewed the world.

"Well, people haven't stopped dying or anything…" Flash started.

"Yeah, I think we might have noticed if they did," Green Arrow smirked.

"So we know she's not on vacation," Flash finished, grinning for a moment before getting a bit more serious. "Do we know anything else about her motivations?"

"Yes," Batman answered. "Lady Death's interest in the bar seems to begin with Mr. Barkeep. Mr. Barkeep has referred to himself as Death's Hand on several occasions. I don't know the full extent of their relationship but as far as myself and Batgirl — who has had the most contact with the subjects of interest — can figure, they're lovers and partners."

Flash whistled softly, "Damn… Lucky guy."

"How does that even…?" Aquaman puzzled.

"Like every other relationship, wise guy," Constantine snarked. "Didi's about as human as the Endless get."

"I can corroborate the idea that Mr. Barkeep and Didi are lovers," Zatanna said. "I had it filed as a separate incident but-… where is it? Ah, there we go.

"This report details the situation surrounding a young magical girl who goes by the name 'Black Alice'. Miss Alice is a whole concern herself. She could have potentially become a worrisome threat but that issue has now been taken care of. I digress.

"Doctor Occult gathered a few members of the magic community to deal with Alice — someone he rightfully believed was a threat to the balance of magic. While pursuing her, he came across the Dead End. Alice had taken sanctuary inside under Lady Didi's protection.

"Lady Didi seems… quite protective of the girl. To the point that she and Mr. Barkeep have essentially adopted Alice together. Lending more credence to the idea that they are partners. Likely more than that."

"Oh, thank Hera!" Wonder Woman let out a great sigh of relief.

"What is it?" Kara asked, leaning over to see what part of the new report her older friend was on.

"It says that Cheetah's curse was been broken by Mr. Barkeep," Wonder Woman explained. "It's just a relief to hear Barbara is doing better now. It's always hard to have to fight old friends…"

Nearly everyone at the table had been in a similar situation to the one Wonder Woman described with Cheetah. Her words received a round of solemn nods. Except for from Martian Manhunter. Who was still completely unmoving in his seat.

"So let's see what we've got here. A bar that acts as a neutral space for heroes and villains to meet. Two unknowable Eldritch bartenders. And now an adopted daughter who could potentially be a threat to magic itself. Did I get all of that?" Green Arrow recapped.

"He also killed the Joker," Batman added as if he was just stating the weather.

The meeting went silent again. Everyone stopped to stare at Batman. Even for the Justice League, that information was… something.

"Oh yeah," Kara hummed. "I forgot about that. The Joker was locked in a mirror prison or something in the bar. He's kind of irrelevant now, from what I could tell. No one really pays him any attention."

"You're… fine with this, Bruce?" Superman asked carefully.

Batman smirked. Actually smirked. A few of the others jumped in shock at that expression on his usually gruff, stoic face, "I'm more than fine with it, Clark. I'm damn near glad he's finally dealt with. And that a hero didn't have to stoop to his level to do it."

Constantine grunted. "I'm just glad that fucker is going to stay dead this time."

"What makes you think that? The Joker has seemingly beaten Death before," Green Lantern said.

"Yeah," Constantine deadpanned. "And it's common knowledge that Didi had it out for him. Not 'cause he beat Death or avoided her. But because he CHEATED her. He's been right and properly dead before. Soul in the afterlife and everything. And something above even LADY DEATH brought him back. You don't get to do something like that and get away with it, no matter how nice and personable Didi is."

"That sounds potentially worrisome," Superman's brow furrowed. "Something above the Endless? Above the literal concept of Death? Do we know anything more about that?"

"I'm looking into it," Batman confirmed vaguely.

Constantine barked a laugh, "Yeah, I'm not touching that one with a ten-foot pole. I recommend the Justice League does the same. There are some things in existence that you just don't need to concern yourself with. The greater Narrative Force is probably at the top of that list. Life's much simpler if you don't think about how the universe seems to have an overarching plot…"

That was enough to make even the most hardened members of the Justice League pale. Wonder Woman considered herself one of the League's wisest members. As such, she just nodded, compartmentalized that information, and moved on.

"It sounds to me like this Dead End is ultimately more beneficial than it is harmful. While I am curious about it and I may pay the bar a visit, I don't think the League itself should concern itself with the place overmuch."

Batman nodded, "That's been my conclusion so far as well. But there is a new development to be mentioned. I observed Mr. Barkeep leaving the bar today. He disappeared from Gotham as far as I can tell. And began showing up in several cities across the world."

"What's Sean doing~?" Kara asked, cocking her head curiously.

"Unknown. Nothing harmful. But it should be mentioned. The one time I was able to get eyes on him was in Metropolis. He seemingly made a door. I'd need a magical expert to discern its inner workings. But I believe the image speaks for itself."

A new image appeared on everyone's tablets. It appeared to be taken from above and very far away. Even then, it was clear to see Mr. Barkeep turning to wave at the camera. Another image followed where Mr. Barkeep was nowhere to be seen. The time stamps put the images a single second apart.

The most interesting part of the image was the door Batman had mentioned. It was behind Mr. Barkeep in the first image and perfectly took up the center of the view in the second. It was a simple door in an otherwise featureless brick wall. Above the door, two words of neon text seemed to hang in mid-air, spelling out 'Dead End'.

Flash laughed, "Oh, that's good!"

"A connection between the door and the Dead End?" Superman wondered.

"Yup," Constantine said, popping the 'p'. "That's a portal if I've ever seen one."

"He's expanding," Batman concluded, already firmly convinced.

Flash smirked, "Looks like an invitation to me. You said he was doing this in multiple cities?"

"Yes," Batman simply nodded. He knew where Flash was going with this and he didn't feel all too bothered to stop him.

Flash's smirk grew even wider. Superman adopted a worried expression, "Barry… No…"

"Barry, yes! One to port!"

The Flash disappeared from the meeting room in a flash of light. Superman sighed and Kara just had to laugh at his exasperation.

She giggled, "I mean, really, Kal. Did you expect that to do anything?"

"Not really," Superman admitted with a slight chuckle. "I know Barry well enough to know this might as well be a checkered flag waving in front of him."

"You know, I think you should visit the Dead End as well at some point, Kal," Kara suggested. "Everyone was really nice! I like Didi and I like Sean too."

Superman came to attention so quickly it was like he'd sniffed Kryptonite smelling salts, "You 'like' Sean too…?"

"Not, not like that~!" Kara sputtered, blushing. "He's just interesting~! And he tells good stories! And Barbara likes him. And he's kind of nice to look at… And-"

Kara began to ramble. Superman got a worried look in his eye, directing it at Wonder Woman as if to ask if she was hearing this as well. Wonder Woman just smirked at him. Clark might be a bit overprotective but Diana would always support Kara's endeavors. Especially when it came to romance with a man who might just be able to match her, from what she'd learned today.

With Flash's departure, the meeting started to wind down. Green Arrow went back to his comics. Black Canary sighed and leaned her head on his shoulder, simply enjoying the support he freely offered. Aquaman muttered something about a dolphin and a drink to himself. Constantine got up to have that smoke he so desperately needed right now.

Green Lantern took his leave, looking slightly more worried than when he came in. His worldview had been turned on its head quite a bit by all the information revealed in the meeting, from Death and everything Mr. Barkeep talked about in his stories to the greater Narrative Force. He… had some thinking to do.

Superman was forced to listen to Kara ramble about Sean, slowly growing more and more concerned that his cousin had the start of an itsy bitsy warm fuzzy crush on the unknowable Eldritch Mr. Barkeep. And Wonder Woman's amused smirk wasn't making him feel any better. Perhaps the Fortress of Solitude had the Kryptonian equivalent of a 'shovel speech' in its databases…

Batman nudged Martian Manhunter. For the first time in the meeting, the Martian moved. He jumped so minutely that anyone other than Batman and perhaps Superman might not have noticed.

"I'm awake," His utterly calm tone of voice would have fooled anyone else.

Batman's silence was telling as to what he thought of that transparent deflection, "… You can take the minutes of the meeting from my mind, J'onn."

"Ah," Martian Manhunter looked around the table. "That might be for the best if the existential dread I'm feeling from some of our members is anything to go off of."


"Gooooood Morning, Gotham~!" Klarion called out as he entered the bar. He certainly knew how to make an entrance.

"Booooo~!" Harley jeered. "We're only about half as wartorn as Vietnam~! And you ain't the late, great Robin Williams, buster~!"

"Unfortunately, no one is…" Klarion said, shaking his head sadly.

"Ain't that the truth?" Harley agreed just as sadly.

As Klarion walked up to the bar, they both lowered their heads in a solemn moment of silence. Around them, a few others joined. It seemed even in a universe flush with superheroes, mundane heroes like Robin Williams wouldn't soon be forgotten.

"You know, I met him once," I commented, making both Harley and Klarion's heads snap up to look at me.

"Get outta town~!/Get out of here!" They exclaimed at the same time.

"You've gotta tell us that story, Gothboy~!" Harley insisted.

I chuckled, "Not much to tell for that one. I'm pretty sure he wasn't a part of that universe's main plot or anything. He was just an actor, not one of his roles like Genie or anything. But he was very funny. An all-around pleasant man to talk to."

"How'd ya meet him, how'd ya meet him~?!" Harley asked with stars in her eyes.

"Indeed, Mr. Barkeep. This is important!" Klarion added, equally as excited.

"It was during my time in Sunnydale, actually. Again, he was just his normal actor self. But he came to the Hellmouth one night for a stand-up set-…"

"You got to see him do stand-up~?!" Harley squealed.

"Yeah," I shrugged. "No disrespect to his legend but he was better as an actor."

Harley gaped at me as if offended and Klarion just nodded, "Yes, even I have to admit his stand-up acts weren't his best work."

Harley grumbled, "He's still a freaking legend…"

"No one's denying that. Anyway, he came to Sunnydale for a night. And of course, it being Sunnydale, he was jumped by vampires in the alley after his act. I dusted them, saved him, we talked for a bit, and then went our separate ways. Nothing more to it, really."

"Man… I wish I could have met him…" Harley marveled. "Do ya think he would have liked me?"

"I think he might have been able to appreciate your jester act," I nodded.

"The villainy might be a bit far though," Barbara smirked.

With Talia in town, she and the others had decided to stick around the bar for a little while tonight. Well, Damian decided that. Barbara and Jason didn't really have a choice. All Talia had to do was give them that expectant Mom Look #2 and they caved instantly.

The League of Assassins ninjas were sent home with their tails between their legs. Their mission was an utter failure and Talia made sure they damn well knew that. I figured her father would also find that out firsthand when Talia returned to him.

She couldn't really give him a talking-to. Even from his daughter, the Demon likely wouldn't tolerate that much. But I suspected Talia had a plethora of other ways of getting her point across. Daughters always did.

Klarion was my first actual customer of the night. I was a bit surprised that he'd come back. I would have thought his first visit dissuaded him from repeat visits. It certainly seemed to do so for the other magicians he was with — Doctor Occult and the woman I'd discovered was called Black Orchid. Cheetah didn't seem as intimidated by the bar and its owners but she hadn't come around for another visit just yet. The less said about Faust, the better.

Then again, Klarion was the type of person to thrive on Chaos. And you didn't get much more chaotic than the Dead End on a busy night. The Magical Nuisance would fit right in here.

"So," Still, I was curious. "Klarion… Bum Bum Bum… The Witch-Boy. What brings you to the Dead End tonight?"

Klarion was visibly startled by me using his True Name. He quite literally jumped in his seat, his butt leaving the stool for a moment. When he came back down, he seemed ready for a fight. His eyes began to glow pitch-black with magic power.

I just raised an eyebrow at him. 'Never fuck with a mage in his workshop' was advice that transcended realities. We both knew he wouldn't get far if he started a fight here. And if I wanted to cause him trouble, I could have done much more than simply call him by his True Name.

He forced himself to calm down with a deep breath, "A-Ahaha… I was, I was merely curious about this vaunted establishment. You and Lady Didi left quite the impression, you know. And I thought perhaps I could offer my services in some way."

"Sounds reasonable," I nodded. "Go on. What did you have in mind?"

"Your daughter, Mr. Barkeep, even with the demon behind her powers dealt with, she'll need training. I thought I might fill that role. I'm quite knowledgable about magic without any of the pesky political ties that other mages might come with," Klarion proposed, regaining some of his confidence.

"You do realize that I could tutor Alice as well, right?" I stared at him, my expression flat and unreadable. "I've probably forgotten more about magic than half the mages alive in this reality know."

"That…" Klarion went silent for a moment, processing my words. They seemed to strike the right cord inside him if his widening eyes were anything to go off of.

He cleared his throat, "Ahem… I don't doubt that. But surely, you're a busy man. And while your scope of knowledge might be wider… MUCH WIDER… my knowledge is more specific to this reality. In fact, perhaps I could tutor you as well?"

I thought for a moment and then shrugged, "I'll leave that decision up to Alice and Didi. If Alice agrees, you're free to teach her. I may just join in for the first few lessons too. You can make your offer to them when they get back. Shouldn't be long."

"Excellent~!" Klarion grinned wide and satisfied.

"I'm quite interested in meeting Lady Death and my new potential daughter-in-law," Talia said.

"Moooooooom~…" Jason groaned.

"Psst~! Bat Mom~!" Harley stage-whispered to Talia. "You probably shouldn't mention the 'daughter-in-law' bit to Alice. She might get skittish. You know how girls can be. Better to make her think the whole thing is entirely her idea and we're all just clueless, teasing adults."

"Ah…" Talia nodded. "Understood. My gratitude, Miss Quinn. I would not want to do anything to jeopardize the coming union."

Jason fixed me with a flat, dead look, "This is your fault somehow, Sean."

"Perhaps," I chuckled. "Try not to worry. I'll make sure nothing is forced upon either of you. Jokes are fine but we won't actually interfere all too much."

"'Jokes are fine' my ass…" Jason 'pouted'.

If he knew I was calling his expression a pout in my mind, I'm sure he'd get all up in arms and deny it until Hell froze over. But that's what made him so much fun to tease. He was way too young to be as broody as he was. I was more than happy to do my part to lighten him up. Talia seemed to be of the same mind, judging by the tiny twitches of her lips when she teased Jason.

It was kind of amazing how imperceptive kids could be when it came to their parental figures. Jason was anything but dull. The same could be said for Barbara. But when Talia was the one poking their buttons, they just shut off their brains to any underlying motive she might have.

Like, say, getting your son to lighten up from being a dark, broody, (rightfully) resentful teenager. Or pushing your daughter closer to the man she wanted but couldn't convince herself to come out and say it yet. Neither of them realized that Talia was helping them more than she was teasing them. The teasing was always a bonus to any parent worth their salt though.

"Esteemed Barkeeper," Damian got my attention. "I would like my headpats now."

Talia stopped dead as she heard her son's request. She slowly turned to look at us from where she was still stage-whispering to Harley. The action was so slow, I could almost hear her neck creak. She stared at Damian with a flat, uncomprehending look on her face.

"What. Is this…?"

"Mother. Have you not heard of the glory of headpats?" Damian answered her with a question. "Strange. I would have thought that they were a common occurrence between you and Father."

It was faint but Damian's statement brought a bit of color to Talia's cheeks, "Do not be so lewd, Dāmi."

Damian looked at her in confusion for a moment before making a little noise, "Ah. I did not realize headpats between lovers were so intimate. Why is that? They are pleasant even without feelings of romance behind them."

"Headpats in the bedroom are an entirely different beast from normal headpats, Damian," I clarified for him. "Much like holding hands, they take on a different context when done with someone you love romantically. It's a little bit early for you to be worrying about that though."

"Yes," Talia nodded quickly. "Entirely too early. No romantic headpats or handholding until after your 15th kill."

Damian frowned, "That seems slightly unfair, Mother. You know Father restricts my kill count when I'm with him."

"My word is final, Dāmi."

"Yes, Mother."

Damian was still frowning slightly so I reached over and ruffled his hair, patting his head in the process. His eyes closed and he purred like a bit cat.

"Look on the bright side, bud. You can always still enjoy normal headpats. Right, Talia?"

She nodded hesitantly, "Yes, I suppose this is fine. You're merely doing your duty as his brother-in-law."

"We're not married!" Barbara squeaked.

"Yet…" Talia smirked.

Klarion chuckled, "What a pleasant family dynamic."

"Yeah… I miss my mom," Harley said, sounding surprisingly vulnerable. She sniffled, "Damn…"

Despite being teased by a mother figure of her own, Barbara huddled next to Harley. She put an arm around the jester and pressed their heads close together. Klarion produced a handkerchief to hand to Harley. She blew her nose into it loudly and comically.

"H-Hey," Harley joked. "At least now I know she got to meet Didi before she passed to the other side. I can't think of anyone else I'd rather have to watch over Mom in her last moments."

Didi came back to the Dead End at the perfect time, suddenly wrapping Harley in a hug from behind, "Sharon was a lovely lady. She wouldn't stop talking about you while we walked together. She forgave you, you know? For everything you did. And she was still proud of what you could and did become. She loved you until the very end, Harley."

I reached across the bar to grab Harley's hand and squeeze gently, "I've had more moms than I can reasonably count. Losing them is always one of the hardest parts of a new life. She'll always be a part of you, Harley. Nothing will ever take that away from you."

Barbara's support, Didi's hug, my squeezing hand — even Klarion's show of kindness with the handkerchief — was enough for Harley. She gave us all a watery smile and laughed to herself.

"I still see her sometimes, you know? In my head. And in Meredith's comics."

"Meredith's comics?" Barbara asked curiously.

Harley waved her hand with a giggle, "Oh, you know, just some casual continuity and fourth-wall breaking. She's a fan of mine and she writes comics about my 'adventures'. Little rascal nearly destroyed the universe once but we figured something out."

Barbara blanched, "Oh, God… That's almost as bad as one of Sean's stories."

I laughed at her expression, "Existence is always bigger than you think."

She shuddered, somehow managing to sound almost disgusted by the idea, "Can it NOT be?!"

It was enough for Harley to bounce back, laughing freely to hide the weight thinking of her mom had left on her shoulders, "You live in Gotham, Girl-Bat~! You should know the answer to that one~!"

Didi and I shared a look, silently communicating about that same weight Harley was hiding. She did a good job of it but we both nodded, agreeing to carefully address it later.

Barbara just sighed, "And it's even worse around Sean and the Dead End… I really should know better than to compl~AAIIN~!"

She squeaked at the end of her sentence, "Talia?!"

"Shhh, my child," Talia just shushed her, hugging her eldest daughter tightly. "I need to hold you for a moment."

"T-This-! I'm not going anywhere, Talia!"

"Neither am I. But I feel the need to assure you that I love you very much. I will always watch over you, my child."

Damian grumbled, seemingly unsatisfied with the single headpat I gave him, "Lucky…"

Jason chuckled, "Heh."

Talia's eyes flicked up to look at both of them with the sharpness of a rapier, "Don't think either of you are excluded from this. Come here. Now. Both of you. Let me hold my children."

Jason paled, looking to and fro for an out to embarrassing motherly love. Damian didn't even hesitate, leaping back over the bar and practically straight into his mother's arms. Finally, Jason sighed a defeated teenage sigh and surrendered.

As the Bat Family hugged their Bat Mom, I glanced at Alice and smirked. She immediately saw my expression and said warningly, "Don't you dare, Sean…"

"Maybe the Dead End Family needs a nice group hug as well?" I suggested.

Didi giggled, "Perhaps that would be nice."

Alice paled just like Jason, torn between wanting to hug Didi and wanting to resist my teasing. Over Talia's shoulder, Jason shared a commiserating look with her. Harley was the one who made the final decision for my family group.

She hopped up to sit on the bar in front of me, giggling as she pulled Alice and Didi into her side with one arm. She pulled me in with the other arm.

"Dead End hug~!" She cheered, acting as a bridge between the other three of us.

"Fine…" Alice sighed, accepting the compromise with a sulking grumble that 'hid' her happiness at hugging Didi.

This was nice. Even if the children were complaining, the rest of us were enjoying the pleasant affection. I gave Talia a little smile over the girls' shoulders. She gave me one back over her children. If tears were glittering in her eyes, I certainly wasn't about to say anything.

"Aha!" After a few comfy moments, the door to the Dead End burst open with a blur of speed.

The blur stopped in its tracks immediately after its somewhat rude entrance, revealing a speedster dressed in red and yellow, "Uh… Am I interrupting anything?"

Talia glared at the most certainly interrupting Flash, "I don't know how. I don't know when. But I will find a way to make you pay for this transgression."

Even the fastest man in the universe faltered before Bat Mom's glare, "Ah… Haha… I'm in danger."

And I couldn't help but burst out laughing at how ridiculous the situation was.

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