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A Gift of Knowledge

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Batman barely registers Oracle’s mechanized voice in his ear as he approaches the location where two of his sons’ trackers stopped moving and then disappeared earlier this evening. The growing sense that something is terribly wrong drives him to move rapidly in the desperate hope that he can still intervene to save them.

She finishes her report, the sounds of rapid typing audible in the background. “I’m switching over to the situation in Robinson Park. I’ll continue monitoring your feeds, but it looks like Ivy’s escalating and the other boys need all the help they can get right now.” With that troubling update, Oracle goes silent.

Apparently, Nightwing and Robin are having a rough time of it. It’s only the fact that the others are out of communication entirely and potentially in critical danger that has him prioritizing their rescue over moving to assist against Ivy.

As soon as I have Red Hood and Red Robin, I’ll circle back and aid the others. There simply isn’t enough time to do everything, but I will make it work. I must. I won’t lose anyone tonight.

The Birds of Prey are out of town on a mission, along with Black Bat and Batgirl. It has been over forty minutes since they lost contact with Red Hood and Red Robin. Far too long, considering the great risks they all face in the performance of their self-appointed vigilante duties.

The timing on this is suspicious. What is the probability that all four of my partners would face critically dangerous situations on the very night everyone else who might come to their aid is unavailable?

He would have been here sooner if he could. He was out of contact chasing down a lead on Killer Croc in the sewers when the call for assistance at the Tricorner Yards went out. In light of current events, he’s beginning to suspect that lead may have been fabricated specifically to get him out of the way while two of his children were drawn here. But for what? A trap seems all too likely.

According to Oracle, they went in separately. Hood was already in trouble when she sent Red Robin to his location, but was either unable or unwilling to give her a complete status report. She said he was breathing loudly and didn’t seem to hear her speaking to him. Didn’t acknowledge her at all.

She said he sounded… afraid.

The emotional ramifications of his current train of thought are potentially distracting and most definitely unconstructive in solving the mystery, so he diverts his focus to an intense survey of his surroundings. The shipyards are quiet and still, the only sound the susurrus of the tides in the background and the creaking of the cranes overhead. He crosses the fabrication area, skirting around shadowed piles of sheet metal and other building supplies as he moves toward the location where the boys’ trackers went dark.

He resolutely avoids thinking about the fact that the last check in Oracle received from Red Robin was simply a rushed statement that Hood was down and he was going in after him. If there was fear gas involved, as seems more than possible based on the description of Hood’s state… His heart twists painfully at the thought of two of his children, helpless and trapped in their own nightmares.

As he moves in on the coordinates Oracle provided, his breath stutters in realization at the haunting familiarity of the scene before him. This is far too close to reliving one of his own nightmares.

A warehouse looms out of the darkness, tall corrugated steel sides uninterrupted by windows. Robin—no, Red Hood and Red Robin are inside. This is a different night and a completely different situation despite superficial similarities. There is no logical reason to expect the walls to suddenly blow out in a fireball as an explosion rips away another precious child from his side…

But he finds himself running forward at full speed anyway. His Pack is in danger and that’s reason enough to hurry.

He makes his way up to the roof first and quickly spots a roof-access door hanging open. An abandoned grappling line dangles there, disappearing into the depths of the building. Red Robin. Misgivings growing—Tim would never leave his line hanging, not unless something had gone devastatingly wrong when he was about to use it to escape—he moves to enter through the same roof-access door his son must have used during his attempt to rescue Red Hood.

This is not the first time he has approached a warehouse to try to save one of his boys. If tonight ends the same way…

May God have mercy on the souls of everyone involved, because I won’t.

He dons his gas mask, and then passes through the open door with an uncomfortable sensation akin to slipping into a dark, gaping maw. His skin prickles in horror at the thought of what terrible misdeeds he may find within. He braces as his eyes adjust to the darkness in the interior of the cavernous facility, preparing himself to react instantly according to the circumstances. His starlight lenses quickly capture what little light there is and provide him a view of the scene before him.

The adrenaline drains out of him and his worry for the boys ratchets another notch higher as he takes in his surroundings.

There’s no one there. There are, however, multiple clues which immediately begin raising red flags in his mind. He experiences a visceral desire to hurry, speed the search along so as to skip straight to the inevitable confrontation and rescue which so many of Gotham’s rogues seem hellbent on arranging. He has no patience for the arduous and uncertain process of solving this mystery when his children are in danger now.

But there is no other solution, no shortcut. The only answer is careful detective work. He must rely on himself to rescue his boys and bring their attackers to justice. He presses his anger and worry down and clears his mind, then begins to methodically process the scene. Any tiny, seemingly insignificant piece of information he gathers now may be what ultimately saves his children’s lives.

He notes characteristic rounded, ragged-edged holes in the sides of the structure at several locations which are allowing the sullen, dim light of the Gotham night to shine weakly into the warehouse. Careful examination reveals evidence of bullets which appear to have passed right through the steel walls. Without the casings or spent bullets to examine, it isn’t immediately obvious whether they were from Hood’s guns or his opponents’.

Rubber bullets wouldn’t have made these holes, he thinks grimly, but knowing Hood he may well have switched to live ammunition when the situation began to deteriorate. If he was truly terrified, whether due to fear gas or some other outside impetus, he may very well have been fighting for his life.

If he is finding it difficult to set aside his traumatic associations with warehouses, how much worse must it have been for Hood? Gritting his teeth, he continues his examination of the scene. When he finds the first rubber bullet, his hand clenches around it involuntarily and the corners of his mouth tighten.

Even outnumbered, even terrified, Hood kept to the rules. If I hadn’t been so strict, so unyielding… Would he be safe now? No, I can’t think like that. There’s no time for regrets.

He traces the trajectories of the live rounds to sniper positions at four locations in the upper reaches of the warehouse. Based on the pattern of bullet holes, he quickly surmises the snipers were firing at an assailant who moved around in the support struts and catwalks, cleverly tricking them to fire at and disable each other while evading their shots. He recognizes the tactics from his own training, although each of his partners over the years has added their own particular flair. In this case, the level of planning and execution is unmistakable.

This was Red Robin. Hood was standing on the warehouse floor prior to his collapse, based on the trajectory of the rubber bullets I've found. Red Robin must have arrived while Hood was pinned down and used his small size and the darkness to his advantage in order to draw fire and force his opponents to disable one another.

No way to tell how many assailants were on the ground, but likely at least a dozen based on Hood’s not inconsiderable strength and skillset. Even while severely compromised, he would still put up a formidable fight. And when Red saw Hood go down, he... what?

Batman leaps from the catwalk in a controlled descent toward the concrete floor. He spots the bloodstains at the last moment and manages to twist in order to avoid landing in the puddled blood. It is all too likely to belong to one of his sons. Stomach twisting at the thought, he collects samples while automatically calculating the potential volume of fluid present.

There isn’t enough to incapacitate someone, much less result in death. His relief at that realization is immediately overshadowed when he spots an object resting in the largest puddle. It’s stained red. The warehouse is still too dark to immediately make out what it is, but he has a terrible suspicion he already knows. He moves to inspect the item more closely, and is forced to suppress his gag reflex once he sees it clearly.

It’s a crowbar.

His heart rams painfully in his chest and his jaw tightens as rage roars through him untrammeled and threatens to send him into the red. He forces himself through breathing exercises until his body calms and the chance of losing himself in an alpha rage lowers to an acceptable range. It isn’t working; his heart rate is still far too high and he’s close to losing control. He needs to think about something else for a moment or he’s going to tip over the edge.

Growling under his breath, Batman drags his mind away from the vicious assault on his Pack and attempts to recall the biological mechanisms involved in his current situation.

The complex hormone overload which occurs in alphas and omegas known as the red zone is thought to have developed as an evolutionary adaptation to overcome desperate situations. Triggered by an extraordinary level of protective rage in defense of Pack, affected individuals temporarily enter a state marked by heightened senses and significantly reduced control. Alphas and omegas in the red zone have been known to perform feats of extraordinary strength and endurance to defend their Pack, their senses and physical performance temporarily dialed up to the peak of human performance and every action focused purely on Pack defense, lethal if necessary.

It’s a powerful response and everything in him burns to embrace the red and just let loose, but there’s nothing a red-zoning pack leader can do for his boys. Not yet, anyway.

Right now, they need the detective. Later, though, once he’s tracked down the foul mastermind behind what very much appears to be their carefully planned abduction… The one who clearly knows far too much about their history, and hasn’t hesitated to use that knowledge to hurt and terrify his son…

That will be a very different story. He’s only gone into the red a few times in his life, and normally abhors the violence and fury he exhibited during those instances despite the necessity. This time, against someone who has so grossly violated the safety and wellbeing of his children, his Pack…?

He thinks he just might enjoy it.

Besides the extremely telling weapon, there aren’t any other clues to the identity of the villain behind the kidnapping. It’s possible this isn’t what it seems, won’t turn out to be the worst imaginable outcome. But the number of villains who are familiar with the significance of a crowbar and a warehouse to Red Hood is vanishingly small. The only one who knows for certain and could recreate the circumstances of Jason’s torture and murder is the man who was there.

He remembers Oracle’s worried voice telling him how Red Hood seemed afraid, verging on a panic attack, and he knows. Deep down, he already knows.

Joker has them.

Batman searches the remainder of the warehouse, finding further evidence to support his strengthening theory that the Joker managed to attack and overpower first Red Hood and then Red Robin. Actually, it seems possible that his time taunting and threatening Hood may have been unexpectedly interrupted and mercifully truncated by the younger vigilante’s arrival.

A series of birdarangs lodged in pallets of building materials stacked along the walls indicate Red Robin managed to make his way nearly to where Hood lay before he himself fell. Based on the scuff marks on the floor, a blow from behind brought him down and then both unconscious vigilantes were dragged across the warehouse. Logistically, it is likely they were then loaded into a vehicle at the main entrance and transported elsewhere. Unless… His gaze cuts unintentionally toward the darkness of the Gotham River. Over the years, many bodies have been disposed of in those muddy waters.

It would have been so easy for them to—no. I cannot allow myself to consider that possibility, or I’ll go into the red right now and be useless for finding them. They have to be alive, they must!

“Oracle,” he growls with more than a hint of alpha rage bleeding through.

Her voice sounds annoyed even with the filters as she begins her report, irked at his inattention earlier while he was focusing on the scene. “I have footage of a van leaving the shipyard approximately forty minutes ago. The cameras on Seventh are on the fritz, so I lost it briefly and then picked it up again at Brown Bridge.”

Leaving the city? No, that’s not the Joker’s usual modus operandi. He prefers to stage his crimes somewhere in Gotham, and I suspect whatever showdown he has planned this time is no different. This is a red herring.

“Track it,” he instructs her anyway. Better to follow a false lead than to lose his boys through arrogance based on incorrect assumptions.

The comm crackles again, breaking through his train of thought.

“B, the situation over at Robinson Park is getting worse. I’ve lost contact with Nightwing and Robin.”

His blood turns to ice at her words. He’s moving before she finishes speaking, suspicions and half-formed theories crystallizing in his mind.

This was planned. All of it—my being called away on a spurious tip which led me deep enough into the sewers to be out of communication range, Poison Ivy providing a distraction for the others, even the fact that the rest of our usual backup is unavailable—all of this was planned.

There’s nothing more to be learned here and time is of the essence now more than ever, so he hastens back to the Batmobile. He drives as quickly as he dares, cursing the seemingly endless distance between the Tricorner Yards and Robinson Park as he crosses half the city faster than he ever has in his life.

It’s all part of a plot. If this is Joker… He’s trying to take them all. But why would Ivy be involved? There’s no love lost between those two. No, it’s still possible he simply opportunistically chose tonight because she was providing a useful distraction for her own reasons. I can’t imagine she would choose to work with him. Even so, Joker may take advantage of the situation and try to kidnap Robin and Nightwing as well. He knows full well how grievous a blow he can deal to me by hurting any of my children.

Behind the wheel, he listens to Oracle’s updates on the fight with Poison Ivy, which apparently went much as usual until she inexplicably began fighting far more viciously than normal. He frowns, listening more intently while considering possible explanations for the woman’s uncharacteristic behavior.

“Ivy released something into the air and Robin’s rebreather malfunctioned. Nightwing managed to get his own rebreather onto him, but then they both stopped answering their comms. The only reason I’m not panicking right now is their trackers are still online and you’re almost there.” Her voice catches with suppressed emotion and he spares a passing consideration to how the other alpha must feel, without any more backup to send and reliant on him to save the other members of their Pack.

I will not fail. We won’t lose anyone, not again.

The reassuring green lights showing his sons’ positions which have been steadily blinking on the dash display choose that moment to flicker and go out.

No. No! Dear God in heaven, no more…!

His heart clenches in horror and he has to fight back the rising rage once again.

The detective... I still need to be the detective. Not the alpha, not the father. My children need me to stay in control right now. It’s their only chance.

“You’re there,” Oracle rasps, fighting back her own reaction to the disappearance of the boys’ trackers. “I’m making a judgement call and pulling Black Bat and Batgirl back from their mission. There’s no way they can be here in the next few hours, but I have a feeling we’ll still need them then. One way or another.”

He acknowledges her, then jumps the curb and drives right onto the faintly smoking lawn, careening to a halt before he cautiously emerges to take in the hellish scene. Ivy’s domain is a wreck, bloated corpses of overgrown plant monsters lying on the rutted lawn like beached whales. Portions of the vegetation are smoldering while other areas are still on fire.

There are wingdings and birdarangs lodged in many of the fallen plant monsters and the withering patterns suggest the Bats’ most potent weed killer was deployed to combat the virulent vegetation. His frown deepens. This scene doesn’t make any sense. Ivy had no logical reason to stage an uprising in the park she considers very much her home. Her actions always have a defined purpose, generally in the realm of ecoterrorism, and are intended to help preserve the earth’s greenery.

Nothing about a violent outburst which resulted in the destruction of her own home benefits the earth. If anything, her actions tonight have resulted in more damage to the environment.

But as he continues to examine and analyze the scene, the worst of all is what he doesn’t see. There’s no sign of Nightwing or Robin besides the small traces of their having been present during the fight.

They’re gone.

But where were they taken?

A scent catches his attention and his eyes widen with true shock. Omega, red zoned, not Pack. Danger!

He spins just in time to fend off the attacking plant, but he catches the barbs in his shoulder as some penetrate through the suit. Damn! I hope those weren’t poisoned.

Even as he thinks it, he’s leaping back away from the attacking mutated plant and scanning the scene for Ivy. There.

Standing backlit against the flickering flames, brilliant red hair spilling down her back in waves, the omega looks truly unhinged. She throws her head back and screams. Looking at her, he realizes she’s too far gone for rational thought or conversation. There’s only one thing he can do for her.

The dart takes her in the shoulder and she growls in rage, baring her teeth at him in a vicious snarl even as she collapses. He manages to catch her before she hits the ground. To his relief, the remaining animate plants go quiescent as Ivy’s scent calms, sinking back into her normal omega scent as the biological mechanisms driving her into the red fade.

Strong sedatives are sometimes the only way to break a red zone, particularly if the affected alpha or omega has been separated from Pack members and there is no possibility of reuniting them in the immediate future.

When Ivy awakens, she should be lucid and in control again.

What the hell happened here? There’s no way anything Nightwing or Robin did would ever drive her to this. I’ve never seen Ivy go red before, not even when her plants were threatened. She has tremendous control. The closest she ever came to losing it…

He sucks in a breath, horrified at the thought coalescing in his mind. It was back when the Joker hit Harley. Her omega. Something’s happened to Harley, and Ivy’s… She’s grieving her omega. My God.

What the hell has Joker done?