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Duke-napped

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Duke wasn’t panicking. He wasn’t. He was just tied up, gagged, in the back of a van, with guns pointed at him, without anything to protect him. That was fine.

Who was he kidding? He was way out of his caliber.

It was his first kidnapping, ever, between both Duke Thomas and the Signal. It wasn’t like he wasn’t expecting this at some point, the others made him very aware that kidnapping was something to be cautious of, but he didn’t expect it so soon after Bruce had taken him in officially.

It wasn’t even like they had a big press announcement or interviews or anything. Bruce just filled out the paperwork and it was legally official. That was just a month ago. How anyone could find out and mastermind a plan to kidnap him in such short a timespan was beyond his understanding.

He supposed that was just how crazy Gotham was.

“You sure no one saw us?” the driver asked to kidnappers in the back of the van.

“Yeah, I’m sure.” He was wrong. Duke saw the cameras right under the store sign across the street he’d been picked up at. It was hard to notice, but those are the things you pay attention to when you’re adopted into the Batfamily.

“Good. I won’t want all that planning to go to waste.”

“How much longer?”

“An hour and a half.”

Man, they were going far. Duke wouldn’t exactly say he was panicking all that much, but at the same time, this was a little overwhelming. Although he followed protocol, he had the tracker on his phone (even thought they took that, sent Dick a text, and then smashed it), he pulled the emergency alarm in his watch, and he made sure to get into range of the store security camera so that Babs, Tim, or Bruce could see the car that took him.

He could admit to himself that maybe he should’ve taken some extra precautions to the whole being kidnapped thing. Duke was just going about his normal life, he didn’t think being the mostly anonymous ward of Bruce Wayne would really change much. The trip between home and the volunteer shelter was a little farther, but he could deal with that. In hindsight, he probably should’ve picked a safer route.

In his defense, the one he used was the quickest way to get back to a decent spot where he wouldn’t be embarrassed when Alfred came to pick him up in a limo, or Dick came in with his police car, or Jason came with a tricked out motorcycle. Duke just didn’t like that much attention on him when he was volunteering.

But again, in hindsight, maybe passing through an abandon parking lot to get to the bus station really did call for trouble. His bad.

“Call the warehouse and tell them to have the equipment set up when we get there. I want it quick before the Bats or some rogues get word of what we’re doing.”

“Already did before we even grabbed the kid. Remember? We’re jamming the signals,” the one in the back responded and the turned his attention towards Duke. “Hear that kid? So whatever fancy gadget or tracker Wayne’s got on you isn’t going to work right now. We know all about how you and the rest of the Wayne squad have some trackers sewed into your clothes.” Its in the watches, Duke thought to himself, but whatever. “We get around and hear all the stories of the quickly thwarted attempts at kidnapping because of those fancy trackers, so we came prepared.”

Alright, the watch-tracker plan was out of the question. That was no problem; this is exactly why he had plan “store-front security camera”. And even then, the others would find a way. Although, whether it would be before or after something dire happened was the real question. They still had an hour and a half to get to wherever they were going. Surely someone must have figured out something was up when Duke didn’t come home at the usually time.

But then again, with so many occupants in the house, who was really keeping track?

“Stop bragging,” the driver said. “The kid doesn’t need to know all that.”

The kidnapper scoffed and then brought his attention back towards Duke as he fiddled with the gun in his hand. Slowly, he got closer and pressed the barrel right onto Duke’s forehead. “Make one noise, or give me us any trouble,” the jerk said as he lowered the gun down to Duke’s knees. Duke stiffened at the gesture. “And I will gladly pull the trigger. Understand?”

Duke nodded and eyed his captor with fear. This was a man that pulled through with threats. He could feel it.

The man finally let up and Duke let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding. “Once we get to the warehouse, you’d better behave for the camera,” the man finished. Duke didn’t like the implications of that. For the rest of the ride, he was mostly ignored.

Was this what the others had to put up with every time they got kidnapped? This was crazy, and stupid, and generally well out of Duke’s level of sanity to comprehend.

Needless to say, Duke was a little scared.

***
“Has anyone heard from Duke?” Bruce asked as he entered the library. It was 7:00pm on a Thursday, nearly time to patrol, and Duke still wasn’t back. “He’s usually back by dinner.”

“Who forgot to pick him up?” Jason asked from his spot on the sofa. He was finishing up War of the Worlds by H.G Wells.

“I’m legally banned from driving until I’m 16,” Damian answered as he drew a portrait of Alfred the Cat sitting on Jason’s stomach.

“Alfred took my driving privileges away until I get at least 5 hours of sleep,” Tim supplied from the desk as he scrolled through WE files.

“Not my turn this week,” Cass chimed in with some concern.

“No need to panic, everyone,” Dick teased calmly. “I was heading to pick him up but he texted me that he was going to go to a study group with some of his volunteer friends from school. Said he might spend the night too.”

Bruce narrowed his eyes. That didn’t sound like Duke. Sure the kid had a life on his own that Bruce didn’t always get involved with, but Duke was also the only kid who actually listened when he knew it was for his own good.

Dick responded to Bruce’s “something is up” face with a very big and dramatic eye roll. “Bruce, he’s 15. Let him have some fun with his friends.”

“Do you know where he went? Or who’s house he was going to? Or who he was going with?” Bruce interrogated in rapid-fire succession.

“He said in an apartment near the Gotham Hotel, the one we had the Semi-Annual Gotham Leaders Family Gala last year. Its his friend Maxine’s, and there are a couple other people going that he takes biology with,” Dick supplied with ease. “He said that he’ll text when he’s done, but he’s got a test and he might want to stay the night.”

“Wow, Newbie is staying the night at a girl’s apartment,” Jason interrupted. “If anyone asks, I taught him that charm.”

“Shut up, Todd. Thomas is merely preparing for his exam. Plus, you couldn’t get a date even if you were good looking,” Damian quickly jabbed at Jason.

“Hate to break it to you Baby Bat, but, one, I was voted the hottest Bachelor in Gotham by teenage Gotham readers once I was legally brought back to life—so I am very good looking—and two, when someone, especially highschoolers, say they want to have a study group and stay the night, its means they’re going to—“

“Anyway!” Dick interrupted, “The point is you’re worrying too much, Bruce, and Duke is probably fine, studying for that exam. Just let him have fun. And also Jason, you only won that cause I’m dating Babs right now, so I’m technically not a eligible for that title, and proudly so.”

Bruce tuned the boy’s arguing out as he tried to piece together why Duke hadn’t just told him. He thought he’d made it very clear to always tell him or Alfred where he was going to be (he knew it wouldn’t really last long before Duke just decided to do his own thing without telling Bruce—just like the others did—but he was determined to keep an eye on him for as long as he could).

He sat down on the chair near the fireplace and opened an app on his phone. He promised his kids he wouldn’t be tracking their location every hour, but he always had the tracking app handy in case of emergency. Plus, he only checked it like, six, maybe thirty times a day. It wasn’t that bad.

That was when Bruce noticed something off; Duke’s icon wasn’t on the screen. Duke hadn’t turned on his emergency watch beacon, but something deep down in Bruce’s gut told him something was wrong. “Can anyone see Duke on the tracking app?”

“He probably turned off his phone because he doesn’t want you to track what him and his lady friend are doing.” Jason teased.

“What do you mean? What is Thomas doing with his lady friend?”

“Nothing, Dami. They’re just studying for their biology test,” Dick sighed and smacked Jason on the back of the head.

“Wait, did you say biology test?” Tim asked, making eye contact with everyone in the room for the first time since the conversation started.

“Yeah, he’s in a study group with some of the friends he made at the volunteer place. He said they all had a biology test they needed to study for.” Dick answered skeptically. Now he too was wondering whether there was something more to the story.

“Duke finished his biology class last year,” Tim explained, tapping his finger to his forehead and closing his eyes as if he was trying to remember something. “He told me he hated the teacher and that he was glad he didn’t have to take it again. His science this year is chemistry. He was asking me questions about it yesterday.”

The entire room grew slightly more intense. “Dick, when was the last time you talked to Duke?” Bruce asked as Dick began scrolling through his message history.

“5:15pm.” He answered.

“That’s a minute before the app tracked his final known location,” Jason offered.

“He didn’t activate his watch though,” Damian reasoned.

“Could be broken. Or jammed,” Cass rebutted.

“We need to find him, now” Bruce said as he left the library and went to the Cave. The others followed in tow.

Just as they informed Alfred and began suiting up, Bruce received a text message with just a link. He quickly changed out of the Batsuit and cowl, headed back up stairs, and opened the link on the laptop in his study.

On the screen was five men in black ski mask, surrounding a gagged, blindfolded, and tied Duke.

Chapter Text

Duke was in the dark. Both literally and metaphorically. He had no idea what was going on nor whether the others knew he was missing or not. He also couldn’t see, which usually didn’t scare him because he’s not afraid of the dark. However, he is slightly (very) afraid of kidnappers who seem to have some notable experience in their field.

He might not have been able to see them, but he could hear them quite well. They were talking about things like lighting and sound and positioning and were moving around him as he sat in the middle of some random room, tied to a chair. Duke tried to stay calm and remind himself that this was normal for a Wayne—even more normal for a Bat.

“If we’re ready, I’ll send the video link to Wayne. That’ll live-stream what we do here without being traceable, and also allow us to see him.”

“Hold up Jaz,” the kidnapper standing right next to Duke said, “I just need a little word with the boy about his…acting skills.” Duke couldn’t see it, but he knew the man was wearing a devious smile.

He felt a hand grip his shoulder a little too hard and tried not to flinch. “Hey there kiddo, you listening?” Duke nodded. “Good, now remember what I said about giving us trouble? And the knees?” Duke nodded again. “That’s good. All you need to know now is that that rule still stands, but now, you’ll also have to do what we tell you. Or else, got it?”

Duke nodded, but he was furious. He hated being told what to do by some bully with a gun. It didn’t matter who it was that kidnapped him. A bully was a bully.

“Very good boy,” the man patronized and patted Duke on the head. “Now you just gotta scream really loud so that Wayne knows you’re in pain. Shouldn’t be too hard.” He finished with a devious chuckle and slapped Duke across the face.

Shocked from the slap, Duke regained focus and prepared himself for the worst.

“Ok,” a woman said from somewhere in front of him, “We’re live in three, two…”

***
“Hello Mr. Wayne” the man in the ski mask standing next to Duke said. Bruce didn’t like the looks of things. There were five men with guns, weapons, and ski masks surrounding Duke, who was currently tied to a chair and blindfolded in the middle of what looked like a junk garage, if the broken pieces of pipeline and glass around was anything to go by.

“What do you want?” Bruce demanded. This wasn’t Bruce’s first rodeo. He knew how to play the game, what to say, and what to do to ensure the survival of the person on the other side. But that didn’t mean it this didn’t scare him.

“I think the boy can answer that one,” a man said as he came closer to Duke and undid the blindfold. Duke blinked a couple times to adjust his eyes to the lighting and looked at something above the camera. “Read it, kid.” The man threatened.

Duke glared at the man giving him orders, but reluctantly read anyways. “Um, its says they’re holding me for ransom, and you need to give them…,” Duke squinted to read the sign better, “a million dollars?! In the next 6 hours? That’s basically impossible!” Duke said angrily at the man beside him.

“No one asked for your opinion” the thug yelled and slapped him across the face.

“Leave him alone!” Bruce shouted at his screen, “He’s only 15!”

“ Then you better get us that money, Wayne!” the man threatened back into the camera, “Or else…” From behind Duke, one of the other kidnappers pulled out a knife, grabbed Duke’s chin, and pressed the weapon just slightly into is neck so that a small cut was made and blood oozed out. “There won’t be anything left of your son to save.”

“Just please don’t hurt him,” Bruce tried to reason, hoping to extend the video long enough for the others in the cave to get a location. “He’s just a boy. Only 15 years old. He hasn’t done anything wrong.”

“Yet.” The woman to Duke’s left answered. “But a lot can happen in 6 hours.” With that final sentence, the feed cut and Bruce was left staring at nothing but static. Without missing a beat, headed back to the cave.

“Dick, did you get that?” Bruce demanded as he entered the main area.

“Yeah I got the video recorded but we couldn’t trace it from here,” Dick frustrated answered. “The feed was too short and the signal was too well hidden to get any location, but I’ve already asked Babs for help and Tim and Jason are checking the security cameras near the area he would have been at.”

“Duke usually takes a 15 minute walk from the volunteer place to the place we pick him up,” Tim explained as he typed away, “there are a few cameras in the area, its just about finding one where we see the kidnappers.”

Jason stood next to him, eyes glued to the screen. “Once we find one, we either identify the kidnapper or identify the vehicle. But then, tracking either of those to a location may take a while.”

“So we need to act fast,” Bruce finished. 6 hours wasn’t enough time. It wasn’t enough time to gather a million dollars, and it wasn’t enough time to find Duke on their own. But at the moment, it was all they had.

It would have to be enough.

***
“That’s not enough time for anything,” Duke vented again after the feed cut.

“Let me repeat myself,” the man beside him replied, “Nobody. Asked. You.”

“No. You. Don’t. Get. It.” Duke hissed back, mimicking the man’s pronunciation. “Do you think he just has one million dollars lying around? That’s not realistic! People invest money or buy things, but they don’t just leave a million in the bank ready for kidnappings.”

“So let him sell his personal golf course, I don’t know and I don’t care how he gets the money. Just that he gives it to us.” The tension in the room was quickly escalating. The rest of the group seemed to understand Duke’s arguments.

Part of Duke knew it was a bad idea to be telling his captors that their plan was stupid from the very beginning, but another part of him was so done with his life trying to be one big drama. “Its way past time for anyone to be awake to help him sell it. Look, with the amount of time you gave, the realistic likely of Bruce being able to get that kind of money is very, very small.”

For that comment, he got a punch to the face the toppled him and his chair over, then a few kicks to the gut from the angered man.

Why didn’t anyone in this city have common sense?

“Gag him and leave him here,” the ring leader ordered, but none of Duke’s other captors moved.

“Is what he’s saying true?” one of them asked. “I thought you said you knew how this whole thing works.”

“I do! If you want to talk about this we can all go to the other room,” the main captor yelled. “Just make sure the kid isn’t going anywhere and can’t say or do anything. He doesn’t need to hear what we’re going to say.”

With that, the group finally did blind fold and gag him once again, afterwards heading to the next room. As for Duke not hearing what they were going to say, well he couldn’t help the fact the walls seemed paper thin and he could literally hear the entire yelling match going on in the next room.

So basically just like the cave on a regular Tuesday.

On the plus side, he knew the building they were in must at least be cheap. When they had actually let him see, he noticed the room was pretty standard but also pretty old.

In all honesty, with the small time Duke was able to see, he already figured several means of escape. Two doors, first one going to a room beside them, and another to who knows where? Probably outside. He was pretty sure they where in some kind of garage more outside Gotham, maybe the suburbs, considering how long it took them to get there.

And thanks to his fall earlier, he was able to slip a piece of broken glass into his hand before the kidnappers lifted his chair. He could cut through the ropes anytime he needed to.

As for the kidnappers, while they did have guns and he was still new to the whole vigilante life, and he was currently outnumbered and out matched, they were all having a shouting match over whether this whole thing was a good plan or not. They probably wouldn’t even notice if Duke escaped right now. They left him alone and that was probably a big mistake.

But escaping now wasn’t protocol. Once the message got out, he was supposed to wait for rescue. The kidnapee doesn’t know whether its been shown to the police or aired on public television or whatever. If he escaped on his own, it would raise a lot of questions.

And as sensible as that all sounded, Duke thought it was stupid. It was stupid to wait for rescue when he knew he could get out. There were so many rules and protocols to the whole civilian-vigilante life that he really thought was just the Bats’ need for a dramatic flair.

Sure, he might have been really freaked out at first with the whole kidnapping situation, but now he’s just done. As much as he didn’t want his life to be some kind of crime scene drama, it sure seems that way now.

He was a Bat now, and the thing that Bats apparently do during kidnappings is wait it out.

So that’s what he was going to do.

 

***

“Found him,” Tim finally announced, eyes glued to his laptop. “through a store front security camera. Its right on the egde of the screen but we can see the license plate and type of car he was taken in.”

“Finally some good news,” Jason sighed in relief, already gearing up. “How much longer does he have and where are we heading?”

“We still have four hours,” Dick answered as he inserted his escrima sticks into his back holsters. “Oracle, do you think you can give us directions?” He asked into his comm.

“Of course, Red Robin has already sent me the information and I’ve found the car on a few traffic cameras already.” Oracle replied, “Looks like they headed north towards the suburbs, still tracking exactly where though.”

“Good enough for now,” Batman grumbled, “we’ll need the exact coordinates soon, Oracle.” He grabbed the keys to batmobile and gestured at Robin and Red Robin to follow him. “Alfred, have the medical room ready in case of emergency. Black Bat, Red Hood, and Nightwing, you three take your motorcycles. We can cover more ground in the suburbs if we split up. Once Oracle gives us more specific coordinates, wait for my instructions. Understood everyone?”

There were affirmed head shakes all around the room, then the group went into action. Bruce watched as each person followed orders so seamlessly. Each of them knew exactly what to do when someone was kidnapped. He had trained them for it.

But Duke was different.

Not in a bad way, but Duke had only just started his life with them. The others had been in the business for years. And it was Duke’s first kidnapping (he really wished that “first” would be “only” but realistically, they were prone to such situations). Firsts were always one of the worst. He wondered if Duke was scared. He hoped Duke knew they were looking for him.

That was something that each of his children had also had trouble with: understanding that they would never be left behind. Dick, during his first kidnapping as Robin had openly expressed his fear of Bruce abandoning him; Jason just generally all the time when he was younger; Tim always trying to everything by himself; Cassandra by being able to do everything herself and almost distancing herself from the rest of them; and Damian who thought Bruce would leave him for not being good enough.

He hoped Duke wouldn’t feel that way. He made a mental note to make sure the boy didn’t once this whole thing was over.

“Batman!” Red Robin shouted from the batmobile, snapping Bruce out of his spiraling thoughts. “Everyone’s left and Robin and I are just waiting for you!”

Without another word, he hoped into the batmobile and headed north towards the suburbs.

Chapter Text

Thanks to the Bat training, Duke could keep very good time without needing a watch. He’d estimate he’d been waiting for about two, maybe 3 hours since the kidnappers had sent the video.

And that was a long time to be doing absolutely nothing.

The goons had kept their shouting match on for at least an hour and a half before they went their separate ways to cool off. Then Duke had been alone for an hour or so with nothing but his thoughts to keep him company.

Which was weird because he was used to the constant and ending noise of the manor now.

It gave him a lot of time to think about the situation he was in and the life he’d chose to live, and his place in the…family? Duke wouldn’t exactly call them that. Sure, he lived with them and fought beside them, but was he really part of the family.

Everyone had so much history with each other (a lot of good and bad history, but history nonetheless). They knew one another more than they would like to admit. And then there was Duke.

Duke wasn’t like them. He knew that. They tell him its just because he’s new to the family and that he would get used to the crazy, but that wasn’t what unnerved him.

Duke already had a family.

The others didn’t have much when they got into the vigilante life. Dick’s parents were murdered, Jason’s were dead, Tim’s weren’t even around most of the time, Cass’ dad was just plain abusive, and Damian’s mom was unpredictable at best. The point was that Bruce had been the parental figure they needed at the time.

And then the kidnapper had to call him “Bruce’s son.” It might seem like that to an outsider, but Duke was just a ward. And that’s all he wanted to be at the moment.

He didn’t really need another parent— not now at least. His parents weren’t dead. They were just…not there, for now. But they loved him and they would come back. He knew they would, one day.

And thinking about them made him wonder, would they approve of the life he chose? Admittedly, probably not— he is practically begging for trouble to come his way. He knows his mom would be terrified about the whole kidnapping situation, even though he has everything under control.

Then there’s the whole going out and stopping criminals and nearly getting killed at least once a week, and the fact that his “siblings” already got killed (both fake killed and real killed). His parents would hate that.

Suddenly his thoughts go to his “siblings” and their little Batfamily. He not exactly sure what it is half the time: a team, a corporation of Bat-related heroes, or an actual family? It was hard to believe he was part of that, and even harder to believe that he wasn’t sure how big of a part he wanted to be in it.

With all these loose thoughts swirling through his head, he’d almost missed the loud footsteps coming and smell of alcohol filling the room. The man threw the door open with a loud bang, dragged a chair inside, and pulled off the tape from Duke’s mouth. Even though he was blindfolded, from the strength of the alcohol scent alone, Duke could tell this guy had been drinking the entire time Duke had been alone.

“Ya’koow kid, you’re probably a better conversation-er then the rest of the dumb dumbs in the other room. They just keep yelling.” it was the ringleader of the group. He was talking way too slow to be sober. “This whole operation was my idea, and they out me on watchdog duty. They’re all stupid heads.” The man said then drunkenly giggled at his own bad joke.

Duke just stayed silent, hoping the others were on close by already.

“Hey! Kid, hey! Are you listening?! Say somethin’!” the man started again, “Hey, how come your daddy doesn’t pay faster? Does he, like, not care about you as much? Cause I get that, ya’know. I wasn’t my dad’s favorite either. He was always disappointed in me all the time. Think its because I didn’t make the football team.” Duke prayed the man would just shut up or black out already. “B-b-but, your dad is different. Heeeee,” the man said waving is finger in the air and then poking it right on Duke’s chest, “is rich. I mean, he should have enough money, but maybe he really doesn’t love you.” The man chuckled, but Duke had had enough.

“First off, he does care. Second, he’s not my dad,” Duke stated firmly, barely holding in the frustrations.

“Mm-mm,” the man responded negatively. “He is now. Aren’t your parents, ehhh, ya know, ummm, dead?”

“No they aren’t.” Duke was barely keeping it together now. “I’m just Bruce’s ward. My parents are going to be fine. They just need time.”

“Nope, nope, nope,” the drunken ringleader said, making sure to pop the ‘p’ each time. “I know about you. The joker venom and your parents. I mean, be realistic, sure there are a lot of people who can get over joker venom, but not if they been under for this long. I know about you kid. I do my research that’s why I’m the leader.” The laughed then said. “Face it kid, you’re parents aren’t coming back.”

Duke snapped. Screw the Batrules. He wasn’t going to let this guy keep telling him lies.

In an instant, Duke used the broken glass to cut the rope, ripped off his off his blindfold and swiftly knocked the ringleader out with a sucker punch. He didn’t want to hear it anymore. He didn’t want to be the center of drama for the Batfamily tonight, and he didn’t want to pretend to be helpless kid when he wasn’t anymore.

He gave the unconscious ringleader a nasty look before leaving the room. Duke quickly and stealthily made his way out of the garage, avoiding the other kidnappers, taking back his stuff on the way. It was easier than he would have thought.

In less than ten minutes, Duke was out and at least a block from the garage. Taking in the surroundings, he quickly spotted a street sign noted that they were just outside Gotham. He could find a phone or soemthing to signal for the Bats to pick him up.

Or he could just take the bus back. It might be longer, but honestly, Duke didn’t really want to be around the Bats right now. He needed to just be alone for a little while. Just to get his thoughts together about his family.

Which family, though, he wasn’t quite sure.

***
After about an hour of searching, Batman finally had a location. Oracle had taken a little longer than usually, but with the help of the rest of the team, they were able to pinpoint a garage just outside Gotham.

They still had about 2 and a half hours before the deadline for the ransom was to be paid, so the only thing they really had to worry about was getting Duke out safely. Considering Batman had five allies with him, it shouldn’t be a problem.

The group quickly and easily took out the kidnappers. In no less than 5 minutes the group had already apprehended and tied up the unconscious criminals. The only thing left was to find where they were keeping Duke.

“He’s not here,” Red Robin reported, leaving everyone anxious. “We’ve checked the entire building.”

“That’s impossible,” Oracle replied through the com line, “that was the only car of its type around the area, and there’s nothing else that moved on the streets during that time.”

“Do you think there could be more? Maybe this was their first stop and then they took him somewhere off the map where cameras couldn’t see them,” Nightwing suggested as they combed the area for more clues.

“He escaped,” Robin stated from a room further into the building. “There’s an unconscious moron here and cut rope. Looks like he used some broken glass.”

“Strange,” Black Bat hummed as she examined the rope.

“Yeah it is strange,” Red Robin added. “Considering these guys are just your standard kidnappers—nothing in their files suggested anything else— Duke should have just waited for us to get him.”

“If Newbie broke the Batrules about kidnapping, something must be up,” Red Hood suggested. “Has he tried contacting us? Do we know which way he might’ve gone?”

“That depends on his goal,” Nightwing offered. “Was he running from something or did he just decide to take matters into his own hands?”

With each new revelation came even more unanswered questions. Why would Duke go off-script like that? Was there something bigger at play? Should they be taking this threat more seriously?

Just as they were heading back to their vehicles, Oracle chimed in. “Guys, he just used his bus pass not that far away from you. About a 15 minute drive. Bus leaves in 20.”

“It’s him?” Black Bat asked. “Not someone who stole his pass?”

“Nope, I checked the cameras. Its definitely him. He’s just heading back to Gotham,” Oracle answered suspiciously. “Why didn’t he try to contact us?”

Batman was not only the World’s Greatest Detective, but also a veteran parent. He suspected there was more to this story than what met the eye.

“Nightwing,” he said turning his attention directly at the man, “Use the Batmobile with Robin and Red Robin to head to Gotham. I’ll need to borrow your motorcycle for now.”

“What are you planning, B? Do you need backup?”

“No, I’ll be fine,” he replied, then turning his attention to the rest of the group. “Go back to the normal patrol routes. I’ll get Duke and meet you back in the cave.”

“Oh, he’s gonna try to have one of his heart to hearts,” Red Hood added lamely. He turned back to his motorcycle and waved. “Tell me how your awkward session with Newbie goes then! Love to hear all about how you mess this one up too.”

With that, the rest of the group shrugged and let Bruce do whatever it was he was about to do. Bruce just prayed that Jason was wrong and this wasn’t going to be as bad as his other heart-to-hearts.

***
15 minutes later, Bruce quick changed into civilian headed towards the bus station. He parked Dick’s bike near the building and rushed into the bus right before it departed. There weren’t many people: a teenage couple in the back, a homeless man near the front, and Duke, just starring out the window on the fifth row. Bruce made his way there.

“Mind if I sit?” Bruce asked. Duke looked up at him, shocked at first, but then slowly resigned and moved over so Bruce could have space.

“Sorry,” Duke started, keeping it in a hushed voice so no one could here “About not following the script on civilian kidnappings. Is this going to affect my civilian identity?”

“No,” Bruce answered, keeping his eyes locked on the road ahead as the bus started its journey back to Gotham. “They only sent the video to us. We just say Red Hood got the word, helped you out, and then sent you to the nearest bus station. Cops don’t usually question Red Hood’s motives anymore. He’s a bit unpredictable like that.”

“That’s great.” Duke replied half-heartedly and went back to starring out the window.

The silence lapped between them, neither really knowing what to say or where to start. After 10 minutes, Bruce decided he needed to try something.

“Duke, I need you to know something,” Bruce began, still looking straight ahead. “I know being around us can be hard at times, and that there being so many, you might feel expendable. But I want you to know that’s never the case. None of you are soldiers in a war. You’re all important in your own way. Each one of you makes this team, this family, stronger.”

Bruce continued, “And that’s why, you should know that we will always come looking for you. You don’t have to save yourself. You aren’t alone. I know we took long this time around, but we were coming. Not coming was never an option and I’m sorry— “

Before he could finish his speech, Duke cut him off. “Bruce, man, no its not about that.” He quickly explained. Bruce glanced down at the teenager, only to find an exhausted and confused look. “I knew you guys were coming. I mean, I doubted if you guys would notice at first, but once the video got to you, I knew it would only be a matter of time before you showed up.”

“Then, why didn’t you wait for us?” Bruce questioned.

“It wasn’t your fault,” Duke sighed and slumped against the window. “I guess it was just…he told me that my parents weren’t going to come back. And I just, I’d had enough.”

“Bruce, listen.” Duke continued. “I know that you all care, and that you would come when I needed you, but tonight, I didn’t need you. I had everything handled and I didn’t need some dramatic Batdad flair to add to the whole situation. What I’m trying to say is that, I don’t need another parent. I have parents, and they’ll come back. I know they will.”

“I know, Duke.” Bruce replied, trying to give support but also urging the teen to keep going.

“A-and don’t get me wrong,” he continued. “I know my parents wouldn’t exactly be thrilled with the life I’ve chosen to live, and half the time I don’t even know how I got here or what I’m doing, but I know its right.* I can feel it. Being apart of this, whatever this is, I think its good…”

Bruce waited for Duke to gather his thoughts. There was more to that statement that needed to be heard. “But…” Bruce encouraged.

“But…” Duke trailed off. “I don’t really feel like I’m like the rest of you. First, there’s the obvious experience gap. But then there’s also so much history all of you share—good and bad—and so many things I don’t understand. A-and, you guys only really had each other to be family. They needed you just as much as you needed them. But that’s not me.”

“Duke, of course we need you. You’re part of the team, of the family.” Bruce tried to explain.

“That’s what I’m worried about,” Duke took a deep breath and starred into the darkness behind the window, “I get that you all want me to be part of the family because you know what its like to feel like you’re alone and you don’t want me to feel that way. But the people you lost, they aren’t coming back, but mine’s….” He paused. “Can I be part of this family if I’m still waiting for my other one to come back?*”

There it was; the reason why Duke escaped on his own; the reason why he was always seemed to be walking on eggshells when he was around the rest of the family. Bruce thought it was because he was new and things can always be on the crazier side when it comes to their lives. But it wasn’t really that at all.

Duke felt that he had to choose between his two families.

There was silence for some time. Bruce was out of his league on this one. Years of parenting and he still gets stuck. He’s never had a kid who still had people—good people—he was waiting for. Tim might have been the closest, but Bruce had his own opinions about Drake’s parenting and what Tim needed.

But Duke was right. He wasn’t like the others.

It felt like uncharted territory for Bruce. He’d never meant for Duke to feel like he had to lose one family to be part of another. Everyone in their make-shift clan had lost family and somehow they had all ended up together, but having a dead family wasn’t a requirement to join them. He wanted Duke to know that he had a place in the house, and a place in the Batfamily (as Dick fondly calls them). But not like this.

He closed his eyes for a moment and tried to think of an answer, anything that could stop the uncertainty curling in the teenager beside. Then, a memory passed through his mind.

“Dick had the same problem,” Bruce opened. “And so did Tim. Jason to a certain extent as well. They didn’t have anyone else to run to, but they made it clear I wasn’t supposed to replace their parents. And I never wanted to.” Bruce turned to look at Duke in the eye. “I know that your family holds a special place in your heart, just as my parents do. No one could ever replace the hole they left, so I am not going to try. I understand that you’re different. You’re right. The people we’ve lost aren’t going to come back. Yours are.”

“But Duke,” Bruce continued, “that doesn’t mean you have to choose between us. Being part of this family doesn’t mean that you can’t have anyone else. Being part of us means…” Bruce had to stop mid-sentence and think. What did it mean?

“It means fighting crime in awkward bat and bird themed costumes?” Duke offered humorously.

Bruce smirked. “Yes, that. But it also means that whatever disaster you get yourself into, some crime related hustle or some alien invaders or anything that you face, if you need our help, we will come running. When you chose to be hero, know that you are not alone. You have allies, a team, and people that care. People who are willing not only to fight along side you, but to fight for you.”

Bruce took a breath, then went on, “Losing people is not a requirement to be in this crusade. Its what pushes a lot of us to do it, but you don’t need to have so much tragedy to be a hero. You don’t even have to be like us to be a hero.”

“So who do I be like?”

“The measure of a person, of a hero, is how well they succeed at being who they are.”

“…”

“…”

“Did you just rip off Marvel’s Endgame movie?”

“Perhaps.”

Duke let out a small laugh at that, lightening up for the first time since the start of the conversation. “The others will never believe me even if I tell them.”

Bruce chuckled. “That’s the point.” He let the tension ease. It was time to wrap up this conversation. “Duke, you will never have to choose between us or you’re family. No matter where you are, we are here to support you. You’re not just a temporary member who just waiting for his parents to get better. Even when you have another family, we’ll still be here if you need us. You will always have a place with us.”

Bruce thought that was a good place to end, and if the small, genuine smile on Duke’s face was anything to go by, then he was right.

“Thanks Bruce.” Duke finally replied. “If it makes you feel better, Jason’s wrong about you being bad at heart-to-hearts.”

At that, Bruce let out an honest laugh.

***
Though Batman didn’t get to patrol that night, Bruce would remember it as a very productive night. It was a night that resulted in, hopefully, Duke finally understanding that he didn’t have to choose between his families. And all it took was a kidnapping and a bus ride home.

All things seemed to be right in the Wayne household, until the thud of footsteps came rushing down into the cave.

“Bruce!” Dick shouted from the cave’s stairwell. “Can I have my motorcycle back? I wanted to get in a few adjustments before bed.”

Bruce face palmed himself.

He took the bus home and left the motorcycle at the station.

The End.