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“It's an omega, Jay.”

No… no he wasn’t! It was impossible, he wasn’t… no!

The strip of paper with a blue mark on it was mercilessly the same no matter how long Jason started at it. It wasn’t the only strip littering the table in the medical section of the Cave.

“Jay, it’s not a bad thing.”

Bruce, bless him, tried to be delicate about it, even though he wasn’t as good as Alfred, but Jason didn’t appreciate is as much as it was expected of him. Bruce being delicate meant that there was a need for it, it meant Jason had to be handled.

Maybe he was. Maybe he wasn’t dealing with it as well as he should. But there was only one thing that mattered right now.

“I… can I still be Robin?”

Bruce’s expression told him all he needed to know. Tears came before he finished the deep breath meant to calm him, blinding him minutely, one more proof of how his life was slipping out of his control, because a month ago he didn’t use to cry so easily. Quite the opposite, he never cried! Now, once he started, he couldn't stop.

And the stripe with a blue dot confirmed that it won't be getting better, his body will change and then his brain, and he will end up soft and emotional and weak and only good for breeding. And Bruce will never take him seriously again, he will never be his ‘son’ anymore, he will be only the family’s 'omega' …he will never beat Dick at anything… won't ever be a Titan… or lead his own team...

“Jay…”

He knew he was being ridiculous, he just couldn't stop it.

“I don't want it!” Burst out of his chest, loud and tearful. “I don't want to be like this! Can we stop it?!” His eyes were swimming with tears, but he could still see the shock on Bruce’s face when he asked. “You know scientists… there has to be a way t-to s-stop it!”

“Jay, please...”

“I hate it! I hate it so much! I don't want it!”

“C’mere pup.” Big hands pulled him in and Jason found his forehead pressed to his dad’s chest, and that's when the waterworks really started.

“I’m not a pup! I wasn’t a p-pup before this ha-happened!” He sobbed.

“You are and always will be my pup, Jaylad, no matter what.” Bruce promised, stroking his head. “You don't have to be Robin for me to love you, I need you to understand that. You don't have to be anything else than what you are for anyone to respect you.”

“I want to be Robin! I n-need…!”

“You can be so much more, so many things. Being an omega isn’t a death sentence.”

At the moment it felt like it was. “You d-don't want me anymore t-to...!”

“I want you to be safe, that’s all I ever wanted, even before you put on the suit.” The arms around him tightened. “I was always afraid of losing both of you and Dick, and now there’s so many more things that can go wrong… I can’t have you out there, Jay, I can’t risk losing you to something neither of us can control. Not right now, not yet.”

“But I want to stay! You need help! You n-need someone… I n-need to be t-there…”

“I’m not saying you can’t help me. We just need to figure out a way for you to do it safely.”

The sobs overtook him and anything he wanted to say was washed away in the torrent of misery. He didn’t even know why it was so hard, but it left him exhausted, curled up in Bruce’s arms like a little kid and making these needy sounds he was ashamed of. The alpha nuzzled the top of his head and it felt so good, but it also felt horrible, because it was a sign of how different he was becoming. How needy and dependent he will be on the alphas around him. The need to appease Bruce was already there, to agree with him and stop causing fuss.

He wasn't even fifteen and he felt like his life was ending.

 


 

 

He wasn't allowed out on the streets and even his training was restricted to easy things that didn't pose danger of falling or stabbing himself.

"Not yet," Bruce said. "Not until you settle, Jay. Right now your scent will bring out the worst in the worst of the criminals we face, and your hormones are not up to dealing with that kind of stress. If you damage yourself now, we won't know how it will influence your development in the future."

Jason tried to argue, but it was enough for Bruce to growl at him once to prove his point - he cowed before the alpha like a scared child. Even if only for a moment, if he regained his balance in a second and snapped back, Jason knew it didn't matter. That kind of a reaction, that second of frozen stillness, could cost him his life on the streets where appearances were everything.

Begrudgingly, Jason agreed to step back until his hormones finished rebelling and his emotions got back in line. It wasn't easy when before so much of his life was built around Robin, it was hard to refocus on a normal life of a typical rich kid.

Thankfully, Alfred stepped in and with him an unending list of activities that 'a young gentleman of good standing should excel at' that were previously pushed to the side to make space for vigilantism. Now there was no excuse to skip the ballroom classes and the French, and the sport on Friday afternoons. Thank god, he was allowed to pick this one, even though Alfred looked a bit disappointed when Jason ignored cricket in favour of volleyball.

In turn, Jason tried not to show his disappointment when the hockey team rejected his application, ostensibly due to lack of placements, in truth because as far as he could remember there haven't been omegas on the team. He hoped that Bruce's name would help him with convincing the coach to bend the unwritten rule, but it did the exact opposite.

"Listen, kid, I'm not going to be the man responsible for a Wayne kid going back home with a broken nose."

A couple months ago no one cared when he went home with a black eye he accidentally got during basketball practice. Back then the coach gave him an ice pack and they laughed it off.

 


 

 

Meeting Dick after the secret was out was terrible, because it was as if nothing has changed while everything changed. It felt like all the progress they’ve made in befriending and learning to respect one another was not only wiped out – but entirely unnecessary, because now Dick came at him like a caring older brother he never strived to be. Now Jason was deemed worthy of his care, when he wasn’t wearing the uniform, when he stopped being competition. Now that he was something for Dick to protect, something inferior.

Now Dick had the time to visit the Manor and spend time with the younger brother he previously didn't even want all that much, as if nothing happened, as if Dick’s friends didn’t have a whole campaign of freezing the new Robin out of their circle just a few months ago. As if Barbara didn’t have a hate-on for him from the moment he’d inherited the suit from her secret crush.

It was humiliating, to be treated as if these things didn't happen, as if he was supposed to forget about them because they’ve changed their minds.

He wasn’t a weakling that clung to any scrap of attention given to him the way Grayson did, he was stronger than that! He was stronger than the pathetic sides of him that wanted to find comfort in being accepted, that tried to force him to take that change at face value! It was bad enough that he had to work for his anger!

But the worst came when Dick and Bruce argued. Because of course they still did, Dick’s presence at the Manor wasn’t a fix-all to their problems, no matter how Jason in the past wished it would be.

The first time it happened was, quite literally, hell. His brain went in three different ways at the sound of raised alpha voices, his instincts urged him in conflicting directions and in the end all he could do was to get his buckling knees to work and run away from the cave or risk falling apart.

Alfred found him hiding in his closet, curled up underneath a blanket, shaking and sweating bullets.

Later, the butler told him it was a stress reaction, a fucked up response of his fucked up body to the two mature alphas fighting. Neither of them was allowed to see him for three days and Jason tried to feel grateful – the assholes deserved to stay away – but it was a miserable time, because everything in him yearned for the calming presence of his alpha, it wanted his dad to come and tell him it was okay. Like he was some sort of a kid that needed to be protected from himself.

He guessed that now he really was.

 


 

 

The social outings were more of a struggle than ever before, with the knowledge of his designation making circles outside of their family.

Jason wanted to avoid them at all costs, but no bueno, he was required to attend – now more than ever, it would seem, because an omega child shying away from the spotlight was a cause for suspicion. His adoption was already bordering on scandalous (he wasn’t even a tragic orphan in need that the higher society could feel bad for, like Dick, just a normal orphan they tried not to think about too often) that throwing any shade of doubt on the purity of the arrangement was dangerous. Social services would step in in a snap to take him away.

Jason wondered where were these concerned adults when he was homeless and starving on the streets of Gotham. Where were they when he had to support himself and his mother? Why were they only paying attention when he was fed and clothed, and rich enough to never work a day in his life?

Regardless, he attended the galas like an obedient little heir, chatted with the old people and scoffed at the air-headed youths trying to get his attention.

...quite a lot of young people tried to get his attention nowadays.

And it wasn’t like he didn't know why, he was the most cynical person in any given room at any given time. Now that Bruce had an omega heir, the dogs were out, the race was on to fix him up with a good alpha from a good family that salivated at the prospect of joining their fortunes with the Wayne name.

Tough fucking cookies, Jason wasn’t interested in selling himself for cash when he lived on the streets and he sure wasn’t interested now.

“Master Jason, was it really necessary to push young Master Pentacost into the dessert trolley?”

“He’s lucky I didn’t push him into the goddamn fountain! That should teach him to keep his hands so himself!”

“While I understand and share your displeasure, I’d advise to find less disruptive ways of dealing with unwanted attention in the future.”

“I can punch him in the face, how’s that?”

“I guess leaving the scene and finding your father is a bit much to ask for?”

The thing was, he shouldn’t have to! He shouldn’t have to cut and run to Bruce for help, shouldn’t have to be expected to seek protection in the shade of an alpha when some upstart decided to get handsy with him!

Alfred knew it, Jason could tell from the look the butler sent him in the rear view mirror of the limousine, but didn't say a word, because what could be said? Nothing would change.

 


 

 

His first dry heat came two months later.

Alfred made sure Jason had Bruce’s and Dick’s clothes available in his poor excuse of a first nest, the scent of the alphas meant to calm down his instincts and make him feel safe. It worked to a degree, the one thing he didn't feel was unsafe. Unfortunately, the things he did feel sucked big time.

His stomach hurt and his scent glands were sore, and he felt terrible for the whole week. Alfred gave him some painkillers, but he threw them back up before they had a chance to dissolve. He couldn't drink or eat.

He ended up with an IV supplying him with liquids and mild sedatives, with Bruce curled around him, massaging his tummy and promising him it will be over soon, that first heats and ruts were usually like that, that it will get better with time.

Jason dearly hoped so, he couldn't imagine the rest of his life spent in this manner.

 


 

 

“Jay, you have to stop doing this to yourself.”

Dick wormed his way into Jason’s bed just like he used to worm his way everywhere else, by sheer persistence and refusal to listen when people told him to fuck off. He rolled the younger in a blanket and his long limbs, leaving an angry burrito of a boy; snarling and cursing, but overall harmless.

“If I could choose, believe me, I’d present as anything else!” Jason snapped back, pissed off by the assumption that it was somehow his fault that he ended up benched indefinitely.

Dick gave out an unhappy grunt and nuzzled the back of Jason’s head which shouldn’t feel as good as it did. “Being an omega really isn’t as bad as you’re making it out to be. It’s a change, sure, but we’re not living in middle ages, you’re not going to be a second-class citizen …”

“Dick,” Jason cut in, “how many omegas do you have on the team?”

Silence reigned. “Yeah, thought so.”

What the hell did Dick know about being a second in anything? Ever since he was taken in by Bruce at nine and a half he was living a privileged dream life, friend of everyone, a societal darling, the first Robin, beloved by the goddamn Justice League itself. The only person apart from Alfred able to stop Bruce in his tracks and force him to reconsider his decisions.

God, he was being pitiful, wasn’t he? Pitiful and unfair. Dick was at this game for almost a decade, he worked hard to get where he was. It wasn’t his fault that Jason’s designation was unfortunate.

(That’s what the Advisor at the Academy told him in so many words when Jason put forth an idea of applying to Med School. No, not for nursing or paediatrics, he wanted to be a surgeon, because Bruce’s father was one and Alfred always harboured a not-so-hidden hope that at least one of his wards will follow in the man’s footsteps.

“It’s a high-stress environment.” The Advisor told him as if Jason wasn’t aware of it. “I’m not saying it’s impossible for you to get the qualification, your grades are outstanding, of course, and passing the exam shouldn’t be a problem if you apply yourself, Mr Todd.… However, you must think of what will come after. It’s, ah, rather unfortunate fact that not many omegas graduate.”)

“Roy is one.”

That got his attention, pulling him out of the angry recollection. He wiggled in an attempt to face Dick, but the alpha didn’t release his hold. What an ass. “What?”

“Roy is one,” Dick repeated quietly, as if afraid of being overheard. “He presented late, only last year, so everyone thought he was a beta.”

Alright, so there was one omega on Teen Titans, Jason felt a spark of excitement knowing that. It meant that the way back in wasn’t barred to him forever!

“Ollie let him?”

Another long pause killed that spark like a bucket of cold water.

“Ollie doesn’t know,” Jason stated numbly. “Because, if he knew, he’d pull Roy out.” Because omegas couldn’t be heroes, couldn’t be allowed to risk their lives like everyone else. “Right, not middle ages.”

“No, come on, little wing, don’t be like that.” Dick nuzzled into his neck with doubled intent, purring up a storm, twisting himself around the boy like an ivy. “Bruce isn’t like Ollie, he won’t keep you benched forever. This will pass, I promise.”

“Let me go, Dick!”

“Not until you stop pouting. Come, get up, I’ll take you out, how’s that? We can see a movie and eat corn dogs.”

“Diiiick! Unroll me!”

“I will. In the car!”

“Dick!”

 


 

 

As far as helping Bruce with the cases went, it was rocky.

Jason kept getting emotional over the victims. That is, more emotional than it was usual for him. Jason was in this business not because some people needed to be brought to justice, but because there were people who needed to be helped and protected. His view on everything was different to Bruce’s or even Dick’s from the very beginning and he always thought it gave him a bit of an edge.

But now that tendency got in the way, kept him from focusing on the things important to solve the case. He couldn't step away like a real detective and in his preoccupation with the victims' fate he was missing crucial details.

Bruce didn't say nothing about it, but Jason felt that he was failing his mentor, that he was failing Batman who was simply humouring him by allowing him to take part in the investigations. To play act a detective.

And it hurt, because he used to be good at this, at finding out clues and seeing the bigger picture; with his experience on the streets, he was sometimes the one to suggest things Bruce would never think about. They used to be a team.

That even this was taken from him now… It was a harder hit than most.

He just – he needed to wait it out. Once he settled, he should be more stable, his emotional control will return. He will be able to go out again, shed the fat that started to accumulate on his hips and get back into shape. He will be Robin again.

 


 

 

Then, Drake appeared and all the resentment flooded back in an instant, chasing away the malaise taking over his life in the last year, almost suffocating Jason with its potency and weight.

The kid was gunning for the cape, for the position at Batman’s side – and somehow it was okay. It was fine for the little brat to force his way into their ranks whereas Jason was standing on the sidelines, waiting to be allowed to take part in it at all, to be deemed good enough.

It dawned on him it wasn’t about being good enough, not when Drake has been cleared for real training within weeks without Jason's input. This was about Bruce not wanting Jason in the field, about all of them trying to distract him for long enough until – what? He loses interest? Loses the last reminders of the skill he once had? Until he becomes an obedient little omega happy to stay behind and wait on the alphas to return with a hot meal and his legs spread like some fucking housewife?

Drake was lonely, that was obvious, he desperately needed a pack, a family, and Jason could feel it, could smell it. And in any other situation he’d be receptive to it, he’d try to make it better – but not when the family the kid was forcing himself into was his, when the place in it he was taking over was the one Jason held onto with his fingertips for the last two years…

It took a lot of him to step on his fucking instincts and reject the stray outright. Knowing he was acting like a prick and disappointing the rest of the family made it even harder, his omega side was shrivelling under the weight of it, but he held on to the last scraps of his dignity and refused to accept the interloper. He didn't have anything else at this point.

“If you’d only give him a chance, little wing,” Dick cajoled, all understanding smiles and soft touches. “Tim’s a good kid. He wants to be friends, you know?”

Jason didn't care what Tim wanted.

“Timothy is a decent young man, Master Jason, I think he’ll make for a good companion, being closer to you in age. You have quite a lot in common.”

Yeah, he had so much in common with some fuckwit rich pup that never had to work for anything he got and whose only worry was that mommy and daddy didn’t pamper him enough. There was probably a reason why they didn't want to spend time in his presence.

“Jay, I expect better from you!”

“Guess we’re both disappointed then, because I expected not to be replaced!”

Bruce’s face grew thunderous at his tone and that alone was enough to make Jason’s knees weak, but he held on. He had to. He wasn’t going to be cowed.

“Jay, I’m not replacing you...”

“No, just pushing me out of the Cave inch by inch! How long before I won't be allowed to get down here at all?!”

Bruce didn't look him in the eye and that gave the game away.

Because, that was the plan, wasn’t it? To keep pushing him away until he could be kept away… forever. This wasn’t just now, while he was a kid, like he stupidly believed, this was forever. He was right. Drake was there, because Bruce never intended to let him back in and Jason trusted his word like an idiot who didn't know better.

“I want you to be safe.”

“I hate you.” It came out of the bottom of his chest, from the place where he kept the ugliest things, the things that his new instincts kept pushing down. The things that old Jason Todd used to drive him forward and keep him alive when he had nothing else left. It came with a roar in his ears, even though his voice was strangled and whisper-like. “You lied to me.”

Bruce stood up from the console and made to step in his direction, but Jason stepping back froze him in place, unsure of what to do. Even now, he was treating Jason like an omega instead of a son.

“Jay…”

“You lied to me!”

“Jason, please…” The claiming tone, the slow moves, the pheromones signalling the lack of danger. Bruce was trying to handle him.

“You’re just like the alphas from the streets! A fucking liar!”

“Jason, listen to me.”

“I hate you!”

Then he ran back to his room and threw up, the sight of Bruce’s stricken expression on rewind behind his eyelids. He felt sick to his very soul, because he made his dad – his alpha – upset. The need to go and apologise was burning in his veins, to make it all better and keep the pack from splitting.

God, this was happening. He was disappearing inch by inch underneath that subservient omega bullshit and he didn't notice – did they hope that he wouldn’t? Was that the plan? Keep him happy until his brain boils out all that made him, him?

It was tainted now, everything was. All the good times, Dick taking him out to town, the movie nights, the food, Alfred teaching him things… it was all a ruse to make him complacent, to make him…

Was Drake’s presence the same planned thing? A good-kid alpha of a similar age to Jason, from a good family, wanting to be friends with an omega next-door… were they trying to set them up?

He needed to go.

He needed to get away from there.

He needed to run.

 


 

 

He tried.

He got as far as the backdoor.

And that’s where Alfred found him in the morning, with a hand on the knob, trying to force himself to twist it and go, to open the door and leave.

“Oh, my dear boy.”

The butler took him by the shoulders and guided him back upstairs, back to his room, where Jason curled around a pillow on his bed and sobbed into it until sleep claimed him.

 


 

 

So, that was his life now, being miserable and making everyone else miserable by association. Because a pack couldn't function with an unhappy omega at its centre, and Jason couldn't function with being stuck there. Worst of all, when previously his misery translated into anger, into something meant to push him along, give him strength, now it only fuelled the sobbing, whimpering unhappiness that made him weak and helpless.

A maiden dying of a broken heart, if there ever was one.

He slowly lost his voracious appetite and his need to socialise, he could barely make himself open up a book these days. Any mention of attending a social gathering as his public (and now the only one) persona broke him out in a fever.

His grades dropped and soon enough Alfred pulled him out of school altogether, explaining that homeschooling would be a better choice. It wasn’t, Jason could hardly focus on anything anymore.

There was a woman who came a few times to see him, a nice lady with a calming scent, who asked him about his feelings and wanted to help. But what else could he tell her apart from not wanting to be what he was? There was no way he could work through it and accept himself when the thing that he was becoming wasn't him. He didn't want the life that awaited him, why could no one understand that? He didn't want to find a good alpha and bond with them, he didn't want to have perfect little kids, didn't want to become a 'an excellent homemaker'.

He wanted to be a hero to more than his pups (the nice lady almost got punched after that one). He knew he could be more than that, than his designation was made for, but no one wanted to give him a chance!

The shrink offered him medicine, but he refused to take it. That’s how it started with his mom and he didn't intend to follow the same road. It hurt that he had to demand of Alfred to keep the meds away from his meals, because the butler was a king of subterfuge and it wouldn't be the first time when someone went straight to bed after lunch. This wasn't a case of running on too much excitement and too little sleep, however, this was more important. He was unhappy for a reason and no drugs could make it better.

He knew that Bruce came to his room almost every night, sat on a chair by the bed and stared at him, and they were both silent and miserable. He knew that on the other nights Bruce was out with the new replacement by his side where Jason should be.

It’s not that he purposefully made himself sick to get attention, he wasn’t that stupid or self-absorbed. In fact, as time went by he had less control over what his body was doing, if it was his choice, he’d pick not being a heroine in an Edwardian romance, thank you. He didn’t like the extra attention and the pitying looks, and hated the fact that he couldn’t even enjoy the simple things anymore – like reading or watching movies. That leaving the house was a nerve-shredding ordeal every damn time and that Bruce had to answer the questions from the ‘concerned’ parties about his son’s absence from the public eye. He hated that Bruce had to lie to keep him when the man was so obviously tired with this whole situation.

He wished something would happen, anything, to break the stelmate. Good or bad, no matter, just… something.

And soon enough it did.

 


 

 

It was the Joker, because of course it was, everything about Batman began and ended with the goddamn clown.

Well, not only the Joker. An Arkham breakout, big scale one, dozens of criminals flooding the streets, some causing havoc, some (the more dangerous ones) attempting to disappear from sight and lay low.

It was all hands on deck for Batman and associates – Batwoman and Bargirl, Nightwing and Robin. Any ally the Bat could scrounge up answered the call.

All except Jason, who was not even asked. Why would they ask him? A sickly, weakened ball of misery didn’t belong on the streets, not when his own body could kill him as easily as the crooks and criminals he was going after. He was left in his room, told sternly to stay upstairs and rest.

Yeah, no, fuck them. Jason has had enough.

He wasn’t sure where the sudden energy boost came from, but he didn’t question it as he rushed down the steps to the Cave for the first time in months, finding it cold and empty. Everyone were out already, fighting on the streets of Gotham – on Jason’s streets. They were his before they belonged to anyone else in the family, because he was the only one who came from the very bottom of Gotham not from a marble castle in the sky or a travelling circus. He wasn’t about to let anything and anyone keep him from helping his people, even his own body could take a big heaping spoonful of fuck off!

The computer station was unmanned, Alfred most probably busied himself with preparing the medical suite while there was still time, so Jason had a clear view on the map of the city and the chaos spreading down its streets – fires and break ins and shootings. And amongst it all, a handful of lonely dots that tried to stem the flood. They’d never make it, not with the amount of chaos raised by the Joker alone, not spread so thin.

Jason’s suit was in its usual case, propped up and pristine, as if it was really waiting for its owner to return. It was snugger around the hips than it used to and wider in the shoulders than Jason remembered it being, but he didn’t waste time to angst about his lost muscles or widening pelvis, he was needed elsewhere. The orphanage on the corner of Park and Gibson was in danger due to the spreading fire and Jason knew too many kids that lived there to leave it in the hands of firemen.

Luckily, the motorcycle was still there, so Jason swiped the keys from the locker and raced out of the Cave, for the first time in a long time set on changing his fate.

 


 

 

The patrol was easy and Dick couldn’t be more grateful. Gotham in midsummer was sweltering, the nights stormy and humid, running around in a skin-tight armoured suit was as close to torture as one could get. That’s why as soon as he stepped into the Cave he disarmed the protections and pulled the top part of the suit off groaning at the feeling of cool processed air hitting his skin. God bless air-conditioning.

He wasn’t the only one enjoying himself, to the left Timmy already shucked off his cape and gloves, gentlemanly sacrificing his own comfort to unzip Stephanie’s back. She grumbled at Alfred about designing a suit that zipped in that back instead of the front, but the butler ignored her with grace. Glasses of frosty lemonade he brought with him silenced all protests anyway.

They were all in good shape, even Bruce who stayed behind to dramatically chat with Commissioner Gordon while Dick herded the rest of the pack home. Well, most of the pack, a new game came out over the weekend and Duke decided to stay with his cousin for a few days needed to complete it. Bruce grumbled a bit, but even he wasn’t impervious to the power of youth and the fear of being ‘uncool’.

“Grayson!”

The shout almost gave him a whiplash.

“Oh man, here we go,” Tim grumbled and wisely got out of the way of the tiny storm cloud that marched down the stairs, smelling of distress and frustration.

Yeah, good call, Timmy.

“Little D, what’s up?” Dick steeled his smile and reached out to ruffle the kid’s hair as soon as he got in reach. It was a testament to the hard work he put into that relationship when the mini-alpha didn’t bite him. “Everything in order at the den?”

“I wouldn’t know!” The kid growled sullenly. “Todd wouldn’t let me into the Cave so I couldn’t keep an eye on your progress! He’s being especially bothersome and I demand you make him stop pawing at me right this instant!”

Uh-oh. Dick caught Tim’s eye and they exchanged a look full of concern.

“Master Jason has been quite restless today,” Alfred offered when their eyes rested on him. “It may have to do with the time of the year.”

Time of the…?

Oh, of course. Dick could smack himself on the forehead for being so out of the loop. He did, actually, and the slight pain brought back some of the clarity the weather outside robbed from him.

It was August, six months from Jay’s last heat. Next one was just around the corner and they haven’t made any preparations yet. Dammit.

“I’ll talk to Bruce when he’s back,” Dick promised. “We’ll sort it out.”

“Very well, sir. I advise showering promptly and following upstairs, the dinner won’t stay warm forever.”

As ordered, Dick pushed Tim and Steph into the showers and told a very disgruntled Damian to go ahead.

“Todd will accost me!”

“You’re a brave alpha warrior, I’m sure you can stand a few hugs.”

“He keeps trying to lick me!”

Oh, so it was that bad already. Damn. The wash-up was speedy and minutes later they were all rushing up the stairs.

Damian was right, Jason accosted him as soon as the pup cleared the clock, treating the rest to adorable sight of the pup trying to escape the tender scenting by... not struggling all that much. If he wanted, the kid would be free within moments, no ties could hold him for long, but that would mean potentially hurting the omega holding him and that… well, that was unacceptable.

“Jay, let him go, he’s nice and ruffled,” Tim spoke gently to the omega, stepping in close. “We’re back.”

As if on cue, Jason switched targets, releasing Damian and pulling Tim close instead, giving out a pleased coo when the older alpha didn’t fight him. It was adorable, because even if Jay’s figure was softer than Tim’s, he was two inches taller than Red Robin, allowing him to smother the alpha to his liking in his long arms and fluffy sweater.

Tim never fought Jason, not as far as Dick knew. Neither of them did, to be honest, the guilt was already suffocating enough, if they hurt him on top of that? It didn’t bear thinking about.

(It took Damian weeks to get back into his father’s good graces after he slapped the older boy once.)

Steph did her usual thing, quickly rubbing her face on Jason’s shoulder, smiling at him brightly and getting a smile in response. That was good, Jason always had a smile for her, even on his worst days his lips simply knew to stretch in her presence.

“Come, let’s go eat,” Dick gently pushed the kids in the direction of the kitchen.

They went, more obedient than he expected.

That left him alone with Jason in an empty corridor. He opened his arms and the omega obediently entered the embrace, face pressed in tight to Dick’s neck and fingers clenched tight on his cotton t-shirt. He was shivering a bit, but silent, breathing in the alpha’s scent and presence like a starved creature.

“It’s okay, Jay, we’re all back and okay,” Dick murmured into his brother’s smooth temple. “Nothing bad happened.”

Jay was always so much more anxious about them leaving for patrol near his heats and needed more reassurance than usual that everyone got back in one piece.

A soft murmur touched Dick’s neck. “Hm?”

“Bruce had a date with the Commish, you know how it is, will be back before you know it. Duke stayed with a cousin for the weekend.”

“Hmm.” It wasn’t an unhappy sound, but not a happy one either.

Dick was satisfied that the anxious tension left his brother’s shoulders and their embrace grew lighter, more comforting than desperate. Jason liked to have them all at the Manor, in one place where he could dote on them and see them happy and safe, and they strived to fulfil that want. The bad episodes were less seldom when they stuck together.

It wasn’t a struggle, exactly, the house was big enough to fit them all comfortably. Even Dick had to admit that staying with the pack made his life better in some ways, he felt more balanced nowadays, less on the edge of falling apart. It had a good effect on Bruce, too, to have his children close like that, working as a cohesive pack; he was warmer now, more approachable. It was a good thing, all in all.

It was unfathomable that the price for it was so high.

Dick nuzzled the dark tousled hair, noting absentmindedly that Jay was due for a haircut, ignoring the scars underneath that he could feel against his lips. It was enough that the white patch of the fringe served as a constant reminder of the tragedy that struck four years ago.

He closed his eyes tight when the memories assaulted him out of nowhere. Alfred’s call, the news that Jason left home and took his suit. That desperate search as chaos reigned in every corner. Joker’s laughter. The goddamn crowbar glinting red underneath the streetlamp. Jason’s body in his arms, so small, so light, as if he lost more than blood on the cobblestones. Bruce’s ear-splitting silence.

Joker hasn’t been a problem ever since, even though Batman left him with a heartbeat.

The hospital, overcrowded as it was and Bruce throwing his name and money around like neither mattered to him anymore. The string of operations, interchangeable faces of interchangeable doctors showing less and less hope. The nights and days spent in silence, waiting, praying, blame going around in circles and wounds they tore into each other like rabid animals until the boy at the centre of it finally opened his eyes to stare emptily at the ceiling.

And finally, the earth-shattering prognosis of no possible recovery, damage too severe, too delicate.

I’m sorry, he will never be the same.

But he recovered, Dick told himself harshly, chasing away the nightmares. Jason recovered. Maybe not entirely, maybe he wasn’t like before, but he was there, cognizant enough to recognize them and know they were his pack. To care for them.

(“He seems to be running on instincts mostly,” Leslie’s voice echoed inside of his head. “And the strongest instincts he has are dictated by his gender. Pure essence of an omega.”

“He’d hate it,” he remembered saying. His lips were trembling.

“Probably.” Her face was sad. “But that’s what he is now.”)

The thing was, Jason was happy now, they all tried to make him happy and it was working. If they allowed him to scent them and stay close, ate when prompted and took turns to sleep in his nest, he was content. The pack was better off too, with a dedicated omega at the centre of it they were healthier, better adjusted. It almost felt normal.

On most days the guilt didn’t even make him sick for thinking that.

“Come, Jay.” Dick released the embrace. “We can wait on Bruce with the others, I’m starving.”

The omega raised on his toes to lick his face and Dick had to stifle a grunt at the sudden move that had a much different meaning when done to him.

“Jay!” He was scandalised. Scandalised! He pointed to the rows of portraits bracing the room. “Not in front of the family!”

He could almost swear that Jason smiled at the joke like he used to do before, with a corner of his mouth twitching up.

He could swear.